When I was prepping this piece about Halloween's various color timings on home video, I thought it'd be amusing to include a shot from the VHS tape alongside its higher defined brothers. Alas, as I went to pop the tape in I discovered that my VCR had died at some point in between then and the day I moved into this home and set everything up, because I honestly don't recall if I ever actually watched anything on it. But then I had the thought: do I bother replacing it, and if so - could I? I checked the website for Fry's, an electronic store that never fails to produce whatever arcane component I might need for whatever reason (like one of these!) and the only listing for a VCR was a refurbished model that is currently out of stock but will set me back 350 bucks should it ever return. Obviously, I won't be doing that.
Now that we're in the 4K UHD era, we're three formats removed from those clunky analog tapes, and as streaming options continue to battle physical media for dominance, more and more films will fall by the wayside. Not every film makes it to a new format, so every time we get something better, there are less movies that will appear on it. Some films are simply lost forever due to vault fires and the like, others are forever tied up in legal issues, and every now and then you get something like The Day The Clown Cried where its filmmaker just refuses to let it see the light of day. This is why physical preservation on a standard, mass produced format like Blu-ray is so important; maybe we won't have the best version available, but there will at least be SOMETHING that will survive whatever the world throws at us. In 10,000 years, there will still be one of the eighteen releases of Army Of Darkness for some alien to find and say "Glurp! Rarrhgarh blonxblip thaxxxxagor!" (roughly translated as "Man, all these one-liners are annoying, I thought this was a horror series?")
Anyway, this is why I get so excited when minor, "not even well known enough to consider a cult movie" things like Grave of the Vampire are treated to Blu-ray releases. I saw the film on one of the Mill Creek budget packs (the "Pure Terror" set, for the record) and quite enjoyed it - it's even one of the selections in my book! - but wasn't expecting it to ever get a proper release. Why? Well, here's my thinking until I saw the disc on the Scream Factory schedule: its biggest claim to fame is that David Chase (yes, that one) wrote it, but in one of the only times he's ever mentioned it in an interview he said he was rewritten and then changed the subject, so he isn't likely to spearhead a campaign to get a special edition for it. And if it was on one of those budget packs, it's probably in the public domain and thus tracking down a proper version to give it a remaster would also be difficult, and in turn probably not worth the effort in this day and age when people would be too busy clicking around Netflix's labyrinthine menus to notice an obscure cheapo vampire movie hitting disc.
But I was wrong! Unfortunately they couldn't find a negative to give it a really spectacular presentation, but by using an interpositive they were at least able to give it a big upgrade from its budget pack days (the above image is what it used to like; the header image is what it looks like now), with a couple of historian commentaries and even a few deleted scenes to sweeten the deal. In other words, no, the transfer isn't going to be one you pull out to show off how amazing the Blu-ray format is, but the film won't ever go MIA either - there will be thousands of copies floating around out there for future generations to find as long as the Blu-ray players still work (and presumably they have their digital files backed up to bring it to other formats in the future). Will something like Evil Brain from Outer Space, on that same disc on the Mill Creek set, be as lucky? Or will the extent of its preservation being a low-grade (and cropped) transfer on a flimsy set with 49 other movies, i.e. easily disposable?
Because I fear this kind of thing, I would like to present a quick "wish list" of other budget pack movies I quite enjoyed but, to the best of my knowledge, have not been "rescued" as of yet. Sometimes you can find overseas releases that are an improvement, but for the most part these films are only going to be discovered in sub-standard presentations on outdated formats, and that is a damn shame. We should all want our kids to at least have the option to experience the same movies that gave us joy, without having to hook up some noisy old machine on its last legs because it's the best (or even only) option. These are only five of the movies; there are hundreds, but we gotta start somewhere.
This psycho thriller isn't the best movie ever made, or even the best one on this list, but it's very special to me because it was the very first of these Mill Creek budget pack movies I ever watched, from the same Chilling Classics set that I'd find Cathy's Curse on. And despite its flaws it's a far more interesting movie than it's often given credit for; the marketing would have you think it's a slasher film when it's actually closer to the likes of Repulsion or De Palma's Sisters. May Britt stars as Ingrid, a woman who may be the next target of a local serial killer who uses scissors as his weapon of choice (clearly, Jordan Peele saw it), but is she just imagining things? Is the the killer herself? Cameron Mitchell costars as her uncle who may know more than he lets on, and he helps explain the final whopper twist. Alas, it's often difficult to understand any of it as it happens because the transfer is among the most abysmal I've seen on these things. Director Herb Freed went on to make the wonky (actual!) slasher Graduation Day, which got a nice Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome a while back - perhaps they can give the same love to this?
SCREAM BLOODY MURDER (1973)
This wacky flick stars Fred Holbert as Matthew (which doubles as the film's name on occasion), who loses his father and his hand in a tractor accident and is sent to an institution for the trauma. When he gets out he finds out his mother has gotten remarried, which sets him off on a killing spree. It's one of those oddities that would always delight me to find back in the Horror Movie A Day era (there's also a cameo from a certain future horror icon), and I would absolutely love to hear from its creators via interview and/or commentary to know what they were thinking about certain elements, in particular the insane climax. It might also be nice to if they could track down Holbert, who never made another film.
THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM (1967)
Look the title alone is enough to qualify this movie as one that needs to escape dump bin purgatory, but this German production is a surprisingly fun take on The Pit and The Pendulum. In fact it's a lot like the Corman/Poe/Price movies, with an original story that was reverse engineered to end at the part we know (the pendulum). Christopher Lee is in the role that Vincent Price would have played if it WAS one of those films, and it deftly combines elements of "Old Dark House" kind of movies with the atmosphere and vibe of those Poe flicks to make it an entertaining hodgepodge. Sometimes it's actually paired with Scream Bloody Murder (under Claw of Terror, yet another of its titles), and the transfer isn't as bad as some of these others, but still - it's too fun a movie to be treated as an also-ran.
(UPDATE: The film is indeed coming to Blu-ray as part of the The Hemisphere Box of Horrors set from Severin, available in April!)
BELL FROM HELL (1973)
This one actually got a special edition DVD a few years back, but there's just one problem: it was a cut version of the film! I'm not sure how you can have a "special edition" for a truncated copy of the film, but somehow they managed, and it's time to correct this (and upgrade to Blu-ray, naturally). It's a strange, not always easy to follow film about a man who is seeking revenge against his aunt and cousins after they had him institutionalized (who may be responsible for his mother's suicide as well), but hampered by the fact that he perhaps really should still be in the asylum. It's like a more Euro version of Dr. Phibes or one of those kind of revenge films, and - best I can tell from the terrible transfer - quite nice to look at. It also carries with it one of the more morbid bits of film trivia: the film's director fell (or jumped) to his death from the belltower on the final day of shooting. Let's honor his memory (and that of Juan Antonio Bardem, who finished the film and died in 2002) and do this film justice.
BLOOD OF DRACULA'S CASTLE (1967)
Mostly I just want this one to be rescued so I can confirm with more people that it actually exists and isn't just some drunken dream I had. Is there really a Dracula movie that resembles Manos more than anything Bram Stoker ever wrote, where a lady daydreams about being able to swim in the moat around a castle and someone else suggests that the sound of a woman screaming was, of all things, "probably an electric toothbrush short-circuiting". A proper edition could also present both versions of the film: the original theatrical cut, and the padded out TV version that inexplicably changes a (human) serial killer into a werewolf, because I guess the vampires and cult weren't enough plot for one film. One of the first films from cult filmmaker Al Adamson, and one of the eighty million or so with John Carradine (as Dracula's butler).
Now's your time to chime in - what forgotten flicks like this do you want to see rescued by the likes of Scream Factory or Severin? I'm not talking about "We need a Dawn of the Dead blu-ray!" kind of stuff - obviously those haven't been forgotten and it's legit reasons (or just stubborn producers) that they're in limbo. I mean the public domain/budget pack staples that have dozens of disc releases that are all seemingly sourced from the same bad transfer, that people might never even hear of (let alone actually see) unless given a brief moment in the sun. I'm just being greedy with the above since mine was Cathy's Curse, of course - everyone should be as blessed to see their pet weirdo film get a proper release instead of settling for whatever Mill Creek or their ilk crammed onto a disc with four other titles.