Terror Tuesday: Horror Compilations from Mill Creek Entertainment

Almost entirely comprised of public domain titles, the Mill Creek packs have been a godsend over the past 3 (almost 4!) years, offering 50 movies per set, many of which are horror films that were produced during the years of the dreaded Production Code (and thus wouldn’t have any nudity or gore anyway).

Of the three, my favorite is by far the Chilling Classics

set.  Whenever someone asks what my favorite “find” has been throughout the course of doing HMAD, I usually pick a title or two from this collection.  Obviously, finding a new horror movie to watch every single day for nearly four years now has meant watching a lot of stuff I never would have bothered with (or even heard of) had I not been taking on this “job”, as opposed to the newer theatrical releases and classics I finally got around to like Rosemary’s Baby or The Exorcist II.  No, what makes HMAD worthwhile are those obscure gems that would have forever passed me by if not for my Horror Movie A Day “duties”.

First and foremost, I’d mention Cathy’s Curse, aka Cauchemeres.  It’s a Canadian Exorcist/Omen ripoff from 1977, featuring one of the most gloriously hateful opening scenes of all time.  After a confusing opening text, one that refers to “He” and “his” as if it was a sequel or describing someone we had already met, we cut to a bedroom with a little girl asking her father about her mother.  “Your mother’s a bitch!” the man replies, and then drags the kid away.  A few minutes later, they die in a wreck, and then we cut to 20 (30, whatever) years later, where a man (who, after 3-4 viewings, I finally figured out was the unseen brother of the little girl from the opening scene, now a father himself) is moving into the old family home with his wife (who just had a nervous breakdown) and his daughter, the sometimes eponymous Cathy.  Not too long after that, Cathy becomes possessed by some thing or other and starts making life a living hell for her family, as well as a medium who is brought in to figure out what’s going on with the girl (prompting the film’s best line, as a demonic Cathy sneers “Medium?  More like EXTRA RARE PIECE OF SHIT!”).  The film makes not one lick of sense, and it’s cruder than your average high school English class group video, but it’s all part of the charm.  Every few minutes there’s another line of dialogue that will have you rewinding to make sure you heard it right, not to mention frequently hilarious plot points, such as when Cathy teleports right in front of her mother, who just seems kind of annoyed by her behavior and tells her to stop playing games.  And if you enjoy it, I urge you to check out Simon Barrett and I doing some MST3k esque running commentary over the film – it’s easily the best of our “work”.

Another, more legitimately good film on the set is Messiah Of Evil, also known as Dead People.  It’s sort of a zombie movie, but it’s a slow burn of one, with some great creep out scenes (the movie theater!) and strange art design to keep your interest level high.  Also, it’s written and directed by the team responsible for Howard the Duck, so it’s worth a look so you can realize that they’re not the worst filmmakers in the world after all.  And going back a bit further, the Twilight Zone-ish I Bury The Living is also included, worth noting as it’s one of the rare 50s era films on the set that’s actually worth a look - most of them are dull variations on the “old dark house” scenario, or wretched teens in peril junk like Teenage Zombies (which doesn’t have any zombies).

Tales of Terror

doesn’t have as many “finds”, but it’s worth pointing out that Mill Creek went out of their way to provide better transfers this time around (you get what you pay for, folks).  Movies like The Vampires’ Night Orgy are actually presented in their original 2.35:1 aspect ratio (not anamorphic, though; however a smaller set from the Creek called Gorehouse Greats

DID boast several anamorphic transfers).   Orgy is also one of the better titles; combining a Texas Chain Saw-esque “our car broke down let’s look for help” plot with a cool vampire story.  Tales also has the aforementioned The Sadist, an early example of a real-time movie, featuring Arch Hall Jr. as the titular baddie.  It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s a solid thriller (Hall’s character is based loosely on Charles Starkweather), and it can boast being the first American film to be shot by Vilmos Zsigmond.  Also included is Crypt of the Living Dead, which stars Andrew Prine.  FACT – if you have gone through life without seeing an Andrew Prine movie, you have yet to truly live.

Horror Classics

is my least favorite of the bunch, because most of the good titles were ones I had already seen (Night of the Living Dead, The Terror), and I’d say 60% of the set were just lame mad scientist movies like The Monster Maker or Boris Karloff in The Ape.  However it does have a few Corman productions (besides The Terror, there’s Little Shop Of Horrors, Last Woman On Earth, Dementia 13...), and a cool George Zucco vehicle called Dead Men Walk, featuring early split screen effects.  Besides, you can usually get these things for about 20 bucks – if you get 5-6 movies out of it that you like, you’ve more or less gotten your money’s worth.

They’re also of interest to MST3k fans, because each set has several films that were featured on the legendary program, including, yes, Manos: The Hands of Fate, as well as the Coleman Francis epic The Beast Of Yucca Flats.  It was interesting to see these movies “for the first time” without Mike and the ‘bots talking over them, plus in their original edits (MST3k would often cut a film down to make room for the commercials and skits).  It’s also the first time I saw the bottom right portion of those particular movies.

As I mentioned, the lineup changes, so some of the movies mentioned might not be on there anymore (Deep Red and Bad Taste are definitely gone from the Chilling Classics

set – but titles like Snowbeast and The Hearse are on there now instead).  Check the Mill Creek site for the most current list of titles available on each set.  I just found a new one called Pure Terror, which seems to be made up of about half of the Tales of Terror titles (the Tales collection has seemingly been phased out completely), and half new acquisitions like House By The Cemetery, My Mom’s A Werewolf (!), and They Saved Hitler’s Brain.  Ebay might have the older versions if it matters that much to you (they usually change the cover too, making it easier to spot changes), but the new ones can usually be found at Best Buy or whatever.  They make perfect stocking stuffer or “Yankee Swap” type gifts, especially if you, like me, find yourself with a bunch of horror movie loving friends who already own all the ‘good’ stuff.

The Creek also does the same for pretty much all genres – Western, Martial Arts, Sci-Fi, etc – I assume those collections follow a similar pattern: a few eye-catching titles, a lot of filler, and an almost guaranteed sense of discovery.  Few are the folks who will ever watch all 50 movies (I came close with Chilling Classics though; HMAD boasts 44 reviews from that set), but fewer are those who won’t be satisfied with their low risk investment of a Mill Creek collection.