The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - AMERICAN HORROR PROJECT VOL. 2 | The Movie Waffler

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Blu-Ray Review - AMERICAN HORROR PROJECT VOL. 2

american horror project volume two review
Collection of three obscure 1970s American horror flicks, all lovingly remastered.


Review by Eric Hillis

american horror project volume two

Co-curated by author Stephen Thrower ('Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents'), Arrow Video's 'The American Horror Project' sees the cult blu-ray giants resurrecting obscure American horror movies of the '70s drive-in and grindhouse era.

This second volume collects 1970's Dream No Evil, 1976's Dark August and 1977's The Child. None of these films are exactly lost classics, but this is far from a cynical scraping of the horror barrel on Arrow's part, as all three are presented in truly remarkable restorations, looking better than they probably ever did on their original theatrical releases.




Dream No Evil
dream no evil

From prolific schlockmeister John Hayes, 1970's Dream No Evil plays like the bastard love-child of Ed Wood and David Lynch.

A young girl, Grace, is dropped off at an orphanage and told her father is dead. Years later, Grace (now played by firecracker Brooke Mills) is part of the entourage of Evangelical preacher Paul (Michael Pataki), who travels the backroads of America saving souls and performing circus tricks. Grace's role is to climb to the top of a vertigo inducing tower and dive into the sandbags below. I'm not sure what this has to do with religion, but the Lord works in mysterious ways I guess.

While travelling around the country, Grace continues with her quest to find her father, and tracks him down to a mortuary/brothel (don't ask) where his corpse lies on a slab before coming to life and joining his daughter in their childhood home. Is all this madness really happening or simply delusions of Grace's troubled mind? Helpfully, the movie warps up with a Psycho style ending in which a psychiatrist gives us a flatly delivered lecture on Grace's condition.

Dream No Evil is the most batshit crazy, and thus the most entertaining of the three movies gathered here. Hayes shoots most of his scenes in single wide shots, which at times creates the illusion that you're watching a summer stock play performed by actors under hypnosis. The voice-over, which attempts but roundly fails to add clarity to the plot, wouldn't be out of place in an Ed Wood movie. Fans of David Lynch will get a kick out of the mortuary/brothel sequence, which surely had to have influenced Eraserhead and Blue Velvet with its grotesquely made-up prostitutes and a creepy pimp/mortician played by one-time gangster movie staple Marc Lawrence. As Grace's resurrected father, Edmond O'Brien has a blast, playing a squeezebox in the goofiest scene of a very goofy movie.


Dark August
dark august

Eschewing schlockiness for arthouse aspirations, Martin Goldman's 1976 thriller Dark August is the odd one out of this bunch.

J.J. Barry plays Sal DeVito, a none more Italian-American New Yorker who finds himself living in rural Vermont, where his life takes a turn for the worst when he runs down and kills a young girl with his car. Sal is cleared of any wrongdoing, but the child's elderly grandfather (William Robertson) holds him responsible, confronting him in the street and loitering around his home. Could the old man have something to do with the strange visions of a hooded figure Sal is plagued by, not to mention his increasing panic attacks?

Failing to mine any real tension or dread from an intriguing premise, Dark August is a bit of patience tester, but you have to give Goldman credit for aiming high with a movie that stylistically apes Robert Altman with its wandering zoom lens and overlapping dialogue, while delivering acting performances that wouldn't be out of place in a John Cassavettes drama. With his pot belly protruding from a double denim shirt and jeans combo, Barry is very much a '70s leading man, and his engaging performance just about holds things together. Somehow, veteran actress Kim Hunter was roped into this and adds some production value as a local occult expert.

With cinematographer Richard E. Brooks exploiting the natural beauty of its Vermont setting in some gorgeously composed vistas, Dark August is easily the most visually appealing of the three movies on Arrow's set.


The Child
the child 1977

On paper, director Robert Voskanian's 1977 The Child should be the most entertaining of the three films here - The Innocents meets Zombie Flesheaters - but it fails to make anything of its mish-mash of genre elements.

Laurel Barnett is Alicianne, who takes the position of nanny to precocious little Rosalie (Rosalie Cole), a creepy child who lives with her elderly father and brother on the edge of a forest plagued by spooky noises. Turns out Rosalie is pals with the residents of said woods, an army of zombies whom she feeds a steady diet of neighbourhood cats.

The Child takes forever to deliver on its promise, and its climax is marred by both a headache inducing discordant score and the incessant wailing of Barnett's heroine, who won't be making any lists of feminist icons of the horror genre. The best I can say about Voskanian's film is that its zombies look pretty impressive, and unlike any others I've seen.


Extras:

Dream No Evil: Video appreciation by Stephen Thrower; new audio commentary with Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan; 'Hollywood After Dark: The Early Films of John Hayes, 1959-1971' – brand new video essay by Stephen Thrower looking at Hayes' filmography leading up to Dream No Evil; writer Chris Poggiali on the prodigious career of celebrated character actor Edmond O'Brien; audio interview with actress Rue McClanahan discussing her many cinematic collaborations with director John Hayes.

Dark August: Video appreciation by Stephen Thrower; new audio commentary with writer-director Martin Goldman; video interviews with Goldman and producer Marianne Kanter; 'The Hills Are Alive: Dark August and Vermont Folk Horror' – author and artist Stephen R. Bissette on Dark August and its context within the wider realm of genre filmmaking out of Vermont; original press book.

The Child: 1.37:1 and 1.85:1 presentations of the film; video appreciation by Stephen Thrower; new audio commentary with director Robert Voskanian and producer Robert Dadashian, moderated by Stephen Thrower; video interviews with Voskanian and Dadashian; original trailer and press book.

All three features boast new 2K restorations from original film elements with original uncompressed mono audio, and come with reversible sleeves featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by The Twins of Evil. The limited edition set comes with a 60-page booklet featuring new writing on the films by Stephen R. Bissette, Travis Crawford and Amanda Reyes.

'American Horror Project Vol. 2' is on linited edition blu-ray June 24th from Arrow Video.




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