AMERICAN HORROR PROJECT VOLUME I – The Yankee Grindhouse Review

Arrow-Blu

I’ve been trying to promote the Hell out of the American Horror Project. I see this as Arrow Video’s true in road into the US market, and quite frankly I welcome their presence as a collector and as a genre fan. This is a company that puts out solid releases, spares no expense, gets the extras, gives me all the artwork I could want and always seems to wow me with their newly commissioned artwork no matter how much I love the original artwork. They work with the big names in the Horror industry to provide additional content and insight to create smarter Horror fans. Smarter Horror fans expand their horizons, buy more Horror media, make better Horror writers even on an amateur level and build a great community. That’s enough of me spouting off my love for Arrow. That could go on for the forseeable future.

What I love specifically about the American Horror Project is that it focuses in on movies that absolutely need to be preserved, filmed in the United States and may have only received subpar releases on VHS or DVD in the past. It seems so much time is spent focused on Italian Horror or Spanish Horror or Asian Horror or even particular subgenres like Giallo or Slasher that we forget to focus on good ol’ Merica as a subset. Now some of the biggest names in the industry were born and raised here and much of what we have been force fed is Hollywood Horror either from Made for TV movies or through the big box production studios. We need that stuff. Those are the building blocks, but we need the glue or sinew or cement or whatever metaphorical combining substance you want to use. The little guys make innovative Horror and drive the genre forward and have been doing so since the beginning of the genre. Folks with cameras making movies, scaring audiences, shocking people and creating terrifying art. This series will focus on the cult greats you haven’t heard of or that deserve reexamination.

arrowahp1I also think it’s important that we get this retrospective from outside the United States. We spend so much time analyzing the films from filmmakers abroad that we seldom allow our own films to be the focus as a whole. Stephen Thrower provided the introduction to each of the films in this first volume, and he is the defining voice in grindhouse cinema that originated in the seedy underbelly of America. His words are like brain food. Eat them up. This is why Arrow makes the perfect vehicle for this and future volumes. The outside eye looking in and providing us with a great big mirror with which to examine everything from pimple to perfectly drawn eyebrow.

Volume I is in our midst. Let’s dig in to each movie and the set as a whole.

THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA

This is a favorite of mine having already owned the bleak DVD, and also having had the pleasure to enjoy it on VHS and 35mm. I didn’t love The Witch Who Came From the Sea on my first viewing. I was examining this movie as part of a larger project during a discovery of the Video Nasties. Curious that the AHP focuses in on a movie that helped to create such controversy in the UK, the homeland of Arrow Video. What struck me upon my first watch was that it really didn’t deserve the censors mean spirited axe. This was a movie that focused on a disturbed woman who killed based on some strange goings on in her childhood. Her mind seemed to create an alternate persona to handle this trauma and in turn, a killing machine. My understanding of the Video Recording Act of 1984 is that any time you see blood and nudity in the same scene, you’re getting some kind of ban.

Though the violence in The Witch Who Came From the Sea isn’t exactly overboard there is plenty of it with that bright red, Crayola blood. It seems to always come in conjunction with debauched sexual moments further stimulating the viewer and creating some rather uncomfortable moments. Even in its lack of gratuity it has the power to disturb, and that’s what I came to love about it upon my subsequent viewing especially with a large crowd of unsuspecting theater goers.

This release is a handsome transfer especially in comparison to the previous DVD release. I’ve always thought that this particular movie looked washed out. The print is solid with minimal damage and the black look uncrushed, colors (especially that blood red) appear vibrant. It’s definitely an uptick from all other formats, even the rather marred print I saw projected.

The release comes with an interview/making of featurette that has Dean Cundey, director Michael Cimber and star Millie Perkins among others. Perkins goes through the aftermath of making a film with such objectionable material and is very candid. It’s lovely to see Cundey discuss anything (perhaps you remember him as the DOP on John Carpenter’s films among other classics?). Michael Cimber walks you through some of the back story behind the production including the origins of the story and the evolution of the picture.

Don’t forget to get your mermaid tattoos on your abdomens!

MALATESTA’S CARNIVAL OF BLOOD

This is a strange one with really creepy surreal carnival images that don’t quite come together to tell a cohesive story. That being said, who needs a story when you have perfectly campy practical effects and makeup jobs like these? What is wonderful about Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood isn’t that it has the ability to scare you, it’s that the off-putting carnies and zombie/creature are so influential. You see this kind of haphazard take on the turn of the century traveling carnival in many pictures but usually your monsters or villains have debonair exteriors. What you get here is far filthier than movies like Vampire Circus. This is the kind of picture that paints a picture of the carnival closer to what Kathleen Hannah was singing about in Bikini Kill albeit more violent and less sexually assaultive.  While Carnival of Souls is mentioned on the back of the box for this release, it’s almost unfair to compare the two movies given the grit of Carnival of Blood (Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood itself not to be confused with the movie of the same name sans the Malatesta’s from 1970).

Yeah you’ve got the actor from Fantasy Island and Wax Work running around as a dominant force in the carnival hierarchy which makes for some unintentional laughs and actually a few disturbing scenes as well. That doesn’t really make up for some of the budgetary restrictions. This is the kind of movie that Andy Milligan fans are going to eat up. Raw. Somewhat raunchy pictures, perhaps less sexually explicit than Milligan but what it lack in booty it makes up for in bloody.

Both writer and director are interviewed for this disc. The movie looks damn good though admittedly this is my first viewing of it on any format. Only minor issues with the original print.

You want a movie that could have influenced House of 1000 Corpses? I give you Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood.

THE PREMONITION

Though I do not pretend to love it nearly as much, The Premonition remind me of Full Circle aka The Haunting of Julia. Full Circle may be a ghost story, but the same strange visions seem to accompany both female leads to the point of madness. While all of the supplemental material surrounding this release seem to dictate that psychic and parapsychological subjects were popular during this period I think the reason is because they most resembled powerful, turn of the century ghost stories which The Premonition definitely displays.

This was my first outing with The Premonition, and I found it to fit perfectly well into the period though it seemed to drag on with random psychic flair ups and disturbing images. Richard Lynch helps to cement the creepiness of the period. Robert Allen Schnitzer did only four films, but this is his sharpest thriller that doesn’t exactly mimic DePalma’s suspense but provides a more superficial look at the psychic Horror. Of the three movies in this set, this may be the most inaccessible and least gratuitous. There’s more brain than boob.

I greatly admire both the new cover art and the reversible, traditional artwork for this release.

The release comes in a cardboard sleave featuring the American Horror Project that is stunning. Each disc comes in a separate Arrow Video case without individual booklet but features update artwork on the sleeve and each disc (DVD and Blu-ray included) as well as traditional artwork for each release on the inside. A nearly 60 page booklet is included on high quality paper featuring stills from the movie as well as essays from the great Stephen Thrower, Kim Newman, Kier-La Janisse and Brian Albright that touch on various aspects of the film. Credits for each release as well as restoration notes are included.

You can order your copy of American Horror Project Vol. I from DiabolikDVD now:

http://www.diabolikdvd.com/category/Horror-[sl]-Thriller/American-Horror-Project-Vol-1–(Arrow-US)-(DVD-[sl]-Blu~Ray-Combo-All-Region).html

From Arrow regarding Volume I of the American Horror Project:

Everyone knows the classic American horror titles: Night of the Living Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and A Nightmare on Elm Street, to name but a few. But we want to tell you a different story – a story of the unsung heroes of American terror… Whether it’s a film that has languished in obscurity, or a movie that’s at risk of being lost due to lack of source materials, American Horror Project is here to ensure that these unique slices of the American Nightmare are brought back into the public consciousness and preserved for all to enjoy.

Volume I of this series presents three tales of violence and madness from the 1970s. Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (Christopher Speeth, 1973) sees a family arrive at a creepy, dilapidated fairground in search of their missing daughter, only to find themselves at the mercy of cannibalistic ghouls lurking beneath the park. Meanwhile, The Witch Who Came from the Sea (Matt Cimber, 1976), stars Mollie Perkins (The Diary of Anne Frank) as a young woman whose bizarre and violent fantasies start to bleed into reality – literally. Lastly, every parent’s worst nightmare comes true in The Premonition (Robert Allen Schnitzer, 1976), a tale of psychic terror in which five-year-old Janie is snatched away by a strange woman claiming to be her long-lost mother.

Newly remastered from the best surviving elements and contextualised with brand new supplementary material, with American Horror Project we can re-evaluate an alternative history of American horror and film heritage.

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

  Brand new 2K restorations of the three features

  High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard DVD presentations

  English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

  Reversible sleeves for each film featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil

  American Horror Project Journal Volume I – Limited Edition 60-page booklet featuring new articles on the films from Kim Newman (Nightmare Movies), Kier-La Janisse (House of Psychotic Women) and Brian Albright (Regional Horror Films, 1958-1990)

MALATESTA’S CARNIVAL OF BLOOD – SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  Brand new interview with director Christopher Speeth

  Brand new interview with writer Werner Liepolt

  Draft Script (BD/DVD-ROM content)

  Production stills gallery

THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA – SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  Audio commentary with director Matt Cimber, actress Millie Perkins and director of photography Dean Cundey

  Brand new interview with director Matt Cimber

  Brand new interview with Dean Cundey

  Brand new interview with actor John Goff

THE PREMONITION – SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  Audio commentary with director-producer Robert Allen Schnitzer

  Brand new interview with composer Henry Mollicone

  Interview with actor Richard Lynch

  Three Robert Allen Schnitzer short films: ‘Vernal Equinox’, ‘Terminal Point’ and ‘A Rumbling in the Land’

  4 “Peace Spots”

  Trailers and TV Spots

From Arrow regarding the American Horror Project:

Arrow Video is pleased to announce the American Horror Project, a new series of box-sets which sees a variety of rarely seen and long-forgotten cult horror films being restored and returned from obscurity and risk of being lost forever due to fragility of original film material. American Horror Project will ensure that these unique slices of the American Nightmare are brought back into the public consciousness and preserved for all to enjoy in brand new High Definition transfers from the best surviving elements.

The first volume of the series will be released Feb 22nd (UK) and 23rd (US) 2016, with Arrow Video commited to bringing these lesser-known efforts of US genre cinema back into the limelight where they belong.

Volume I of this series presents three tales of violence and madness from the 1970s. Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (Christopher Speeth, 1973) sees a family arrive at a creepy, dilapidated fairground in search of their missing daughter, only to find themselves at the mercy of cannibalistic ghouls lurking beneath the park. Meanwhile, The Witch Who Came from the Sea (Matt Cimber, 1976), stars Mollie Perkins (The Diary of Anne Frank) as a young woman whose bizarre and violent fantasies start to bleed into reality – literally. Lastly, every parent’s worst nightmare comes true in The Premonition(Robert Allen Schnitzer, 1976), a tale of psychic terror in which five-year-old Janie is snatched away by a strange woman claiming to be her long-lost mother.

Newly remastered from the best surviving elements and contextualised with brand new supplementary material, with American Horror Project we can re-evaluate an alternative history of American horror and film heritage.

American Horror Project is a story of the unsung heroes of American horror cinema – films from the USA’s golden age of terror which, for a multitude reasons, have either slipped through the cracks or never gained the recognition they so richly deserve. Films that aren’t mentioned by movie fans in the same hushed tones of reverence as The Exorcist or Halloween – but are every bit as bold, bloody and bizarre as their more famous counterparts.

In much the same way that Stephen Thrower’s landmark study NIGHTMARE USA told an alternative history of the independent horror film during the 1970s and 80s, Arrow’s Horror Project aims to shine a light on a number of innovative and provocative films made during this period that for whatever reason, have been allowed to languish, under-appreciated and waiting to be rediscovered.

The majority of these films haven’t been seen for many years, and none of them will have ever been remastered for Blu-ray before. In some cases, they will have only been available on VHS!

So for every one of our titles, we’ll be restoring these films from scratch, seeking out the best existing source elements and (whenever possible) involving the original filmmakers to ensure that the films can be seen at the highest quality and in most historically accurate presentations possible. In many cases this may mean extensive detective work and piecing the films back together from a number of separate elements, given the lack of care that some of these titles suffered back in the day. Most of these films will never appear pristine, but viewed in the context of the Horror Project, will reflect their own unique production and distribution histories in a way that they’ve never been afforded before.

This was an incredibly prolific and creative period of independent filmmaking and Arrow’s HorrorProject seeks to rescue these important films from being lost to cinema history forever.

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