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July 11, 2006

Welcome back to the Late Show. I’ve got another handful of fiendish films for your mid-Summer viewing, including a couple of advance previews of upcoming releases. Still no MASTERS OF HORROR reviews as yet – I’m getting to be something of a tease with that series, aren’t I? Anyway, let’s begin…

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Dark Sky Films is about to re-issue another fondly-remembered classic, with next month’s Special Edition of the Dan Curtis (DARK SHADOWS) television film TRILOGY OF TERROR (1974), starring Karen Black (FIVE EASY PICES, BURNT OFFERINGS).

Based on three short stories by master fantasist Richard Matheson (TWILIGHT ZONE, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE) – two of which were faithfully adapted for the film by Matheson’s friend William F. Nolan (Logan’s Run) while the maestro himself adapted the third – the made-for-television anthology stars the talented Ms. Black in four different roles and was a ratings smash when it aired in 1975.

The first of the three tales, “Julie,” stars Black as an uptight college professor who reluctantly goes out on a date with one of her students, who then drugs her, snaps some incriminating photos, and blackmails her. In “Millicent and Therese,” Black plays two rival sisters – a repressed spinster and a sleazy tramp – with supernatural secrets.

In the final and most memorable segment, “Amelia,” Black portrays a woman who purchases a “Zuni fetish doll” for her boyfriend as a gift. According to a scroll included with the doll, it embodies the spirit of an ancient hunter, “He Who Kills,” and if the gold chain around it is removed, the doll will come to life. Of course, the chain falls off and the screeching little monster goes postal, chasing Amelia around her upscale apartment, slashing her ankles with its tiny knife. As one might expect from one of the main writers of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, each of the three stories have twist endings.

Black pretty much carries the entire film, and is impressive in all her roles. As it was a Seventies network television program, there’s no gore to speak of, and while the movie’s not particularly scary, it is occasionally creepy, and the final story is still thrilling, giddy fun, despite the simple “special effects” involved.

Dark Sky’s disc presents the movie in its original, full frame 1.33:1 format, with a surprisingly sharp and clear picture that is a noticeable improvement over the earlier release of this title by Anchor Bay. The Dolby mono track is crystal clear. The disc also includes a very good audio commentary track with star Black and screenwriter Nolan. They seem to enjoy each other’s company, and Nolan discusses the changes made from the original short stories to the televised versions. Black goes into great detail about the third story, and the challenges involved in acting alone with a homicidal wooden doll. This Special Edition also includes two on-camera interview segments: one with star Black, and the other with author Richard Matheson, who discusses not only the film at hand, but some of his other collaborations with the late producer/director Dan Curtis.

TRILOGY OF TERROR hits the shelves on August 29, and is recommended for fans of Matheson, Curtis, Black, or old school horror.

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ei Independent Cinema’s latest entry in their Shock-O-Rama horror line is the cleverly-titled SHOCK-O-RAMA (2006), a CREEPSHOW-styled anthology directed by Brett Piper (BITE ME!, THE SCREAMING DEAD).

When bitter scream queen Rebecca Raven (ei starlet Misty Mundae, THE SCREAMING DEAD, SPIDERBABE, in a semi-autobiographical role) is fired by the B-movie studio that employs her, she heads for a quiet house in the country to get away from it all…. and battle an angry, flesh-hungry zombie.

Meanwhile, her former employers have discovered that the girl they intended as Raven’s replacement has become unavailable, and they desperately need a leading lady for their new film. They screen a couple of flicks hoping to find a new star, and these films make up two of the three stories in SHOCK-O-RAMA. In “Mechanoid,” a couple of tiny alien criminals land in a New Jersey junkyard and battle the yard’s owner (Rob Monkiewicz, BITE ME!) with a stop-motion, scrap-yard robot. In “Lonely Are the Brain,” beautiful young women in a dream research project are finding their subconscious fantasies manipulated by a sexually voracious female doctor (Julian Wells, DR. JEKYLL & MISTRESS HYDE) and a giant, evil brain from the future.

Completely tongue-in-cheek, SHOCK-O-RAMA is, nonetheless, a great ride, with excellent handcrafted special effects, beautiful girls, a witty script, and some extremely effective low budget visuals, especially during the final story’s dream sequences. Director and FX artist Piper even manages some economical but effective illusions worthy of the great Mario Bava, with ingenious combinations of sets, miniatures, lighting and accomplished camera work. The pace never drags, and the film possesses a sense of humor (especially in the Misty Mundae zombie segment) that’s reminiscent of Sam Raimi’s early work.

ei’s DVD includes a 1.78:1widescreen transfer with anamorphic enhancement, and looks great. The special features include an audio commentary track by writer/director/FX artist Piper and producer Michael Raso, a behind-the-scenes featurette, footage of the film’s NYC premiere, an on-screen Q&A with Piper from the same event, and the ever-growing Shock-O-Rama trailer vault.

Full disclosure: I handled the layout and design of the DVD cover for this ei release, and I’ve been doing package design work for them regularly for some months now. But I can honestly say that I would have recommended this movie even if I hadn’t been involved with it in any way. It’s exactly the kind of imaginative, entertaining exploitation effort that I love, and Piper and the ei crew have done a great job with this, the best Shock-O-Rama release yet.

SHOCK-O-RAMA will be released on September 5th.

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Anchor Bay has recently released the 1981 stalk n’ slash thriller VISITING HOURS, directed by Jean Claude Lord and starring Lee Grant, William Shatner, Linda Purl and Michael Ironside.

In this taut suspense flick, Lee Grant (THE SWARM) is a feminist television journalist who attracts the homicidal attentions of a woman-hating sociopath, chillingly played by Michael Ironside (STARSHIP TROOPERS, SCANNERS). He attacks her in her home, but she manages to barely survive his assault and is taken to a nearby hospital. Unfortunately, the killer is still after her… and the pretty young nurse that she befriends.

Lord’s direction follows more in the tradition of Hitchcock than Carpenter, emphasizing suspense and character over gory attack scenes, and the violence is relatively restrained, especially for the slasher-ific Eighties. That’s not to say that Ironside’s character doesn’t take out a few innocent bystanders in pursuit of his prey, though. The performances of the grown-up cast are uniformly good, with the legendary William Shatner wasted in – and forced to underplay – the thankless role of Grant’s producer and boyfriend.

Anchor Bay’s presentation of this better-than-average Canadian nail biter includes a very sharp 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The print shows its age somewhat, but overall it’s more than adequate, with bright, solid colors and good detail. The only extras are a handful of effective TV spots, a radio spot, and trailers for a few other Anchor Bay releases.

VISITING HOURS makes a suspenseful 105 minutes, and is definitely worth a rental, if only for Ironside’s disturbingly convincing portrayal of the psycho.

Next week… either those MASTERS OF HORROR discs… or something else entirely. Tune in and find out!

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