Written by Tío Esqueleto
Not surprisingly, the new releases in the niche DVD market have shifted heavily towards “horror,” “thriller,” and “suspense” over the last few weeks. Many of these titles are making their way to the shelves for the first time, while others are simply finally getting the treatment they’ve always deserved. A perfect example is Warner Brothers Twisted Terror Collection, although I have to believe that a couple of these titles weren’t released, so much as they escaped.
With six titles to offer – The Hand, Someone’s Watching Me!, Eyes of A Stranger, From Beyond The Grave, Deadly Friend, and Dr. Giggles (the latter two being those that escaped), at an average price tag of just under forty bucks, fans of the genre have a lot to get excited about this holiday season. With the exception of Dr. Giggles, the remaining five titles are making their DVD debut. Two of these titles, The Hand and Deadly Friend, have been long-time fan requests via numerous online petitions. Warners is notorious for owning libraries of sought-after, out-of-print, genre films (most notably the harder to find titles in the Hammer Films catalog), with no intention of ever letting them see the light of day, despite evidence that the audience is there and the discs will sell. Whether intentional or not, they picked their six titles in twos. With each film running an average of ninety minutes, they make for great, drive-in style, double bills.
First up are The Hand and From Beyond the Grave. Upon first reading about this collection, these were the two titles I was the most excited for. I’ve signed more than one online petition to see The Hand released, and From Beyond The Grave is a lost AMICUS classic that certainly deserves its due. Both take me back to my childhood, as they were both staples of the after-school/Saturday afternoon horror shows bought in packages, and played in syndication, in the early 1980s.
The Hand (1981) stars Michael Caine as Jon Lansdale, a successful cartoonist (think Prince Valiant meets John Carter of Mars) who loses his hand and his livelihood in a horrific car accident. The hand is never recovered from the scene of the bloody collision, but still manages to make its way back into Lansdale’s life as a creeping, murdering, instrument of revenge. Everybody who angers Jon Lansdale, from his ex-wife, to his fellow teaching faculty (he takes on a job at a university after his ex-wife leaves him for her yoga instructor), to his trampy student lover, all fall victim to his not-so-phantom limb. Lansdale, now an alcoholic (it is fair to say the old boy’s been through a lot), blacks out whenever the murders occur, leaving the audience to wonder if it is really the severed hand, or Lansdale himself, committing the murders. Is it all in his head? You’ll have to watch and see. The Hand is presented in a matted widescreen format, preserving its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It also comes with a commentary track from screenwriter and director, Oliver Stone. Yes, that Oliver Stone.
From Beyond The Grave (1973) is an AMICUS horror anthology that stars the great Peter Cushing as the owner of an antiques shop (aptly titled Temptations LTD.) whose customers often get more than they’ve bargained for. Like every other AMICUS anthology, the film presents moral tales as each customer swindles Cushing out of whatever it is they desire from his shop, only to take it home and unleash a fate far worse than the few extra dollars it would have cost to go the honest route. Four tales make up this particularly fun anthology. From a haunted mirror to an old wooden door that leads to an ancient evil, nothing in Temptation LTD is what it seems, nor is the seemingly kind old man that sold it to you.
Guest stars include such great British character actors as David Warner (The Omen), Donald Pleasence (Raw Meat), and Ian Ogilvy (Witchfinder General); with the rest of the cast supplying enough British charm to fill the Tower of London. While not nearly as flawless and exciting as earlier AMICUS offerings, Tales From The Crypt or Asylum, From Beyond The Grave still delivers when it comes to quaint, British, horror anthologies. Aside from a gorgeous transfer in its original, 1.85:1, aspect ratio, the only other extra is a beautiful original British theatrical trailer.
Next up are two top-notch stalker thrillers. Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) is a made-for-TV movie directed by a young John Carpenter. It is the story of Leigh Michaels (Lauren Hutton), a live-television director who moves from New York to L.A., only to end up the victim of a ruthless stalker killer, watching her through the windows of her high-rise apartment, and torturing her via telephone. While not a completely original idea, it is the cast, and Carpenter’s direction, that really take this thriller above and beyond.
The cast is rather likable. Hutton’s Michaels is a strong, funny, female lead who, while a bit overly quirky at times (she does a lot of talking and laughing to herself for expositional purposes) has the viewer pulling for her with each step closer to fingering the party responsible for her torment. Also in tow are Carpenter’s future wife Adrienne Barbeau as Hutton’s extremely likable and openly gay assistant, Sophie; David Birney as Hutton’s love interest, Paul; and Carpenter staple, Charles Cyphers (Halloween/The Fog/Escape From New York) as the skeptical detective assigned to the case.
Someone’s Watching Me! is presented in a matted, 1.85:1 aspect ratio which worries me as it was made for TV. Regardless, the transfer is great and, who knows, it could very easily have been shot it open matte. The only special feature is a phenomenal little featurette, “John Carpenter: Director On the Rise,” in which Carpenter goes on to explain how it directly influenced the way he shot Halloween (Someone’s Watching Me! was shot prior to Halloween, but aired the following November), his first real dealings within the studio system (he is and was notoriously independent), working with Hutton, and just what a positive experience it was overall. He is very proud of it, and for a little made-for-TV movie, he certainly should be.
Also included, and in the same vein, is Eyes Of A Stranger (1981), a little grittier, lot gorier, thriller where Lauren Tewes (The Love Boat’s Julie McCoy!) plays Jane, a Miami reporter who learns that a man living in the high rise across from hers (sound familiar?) is, in fact, a notorious serial killer/rapist whose been terrorizing the city. A nineteen-year-old Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Tracy, her younger sister who, due to Janet’s neglect, was kidnapped and raped as a child, the trauma leaving her psychosomatically blind and deaf. It doesn’t take long for the killer to learn who she is (after all, she is a television news reporter), and that she is on to him, and targets her helpless sister. Terror ensues as this sleazy thriller comes to a head that is part Rear Window, part Wait Until Dark.
Eyes Of A Stranger is directed by Ken Wiederhorn who is best known within the genre for the Euro-horror, Nazi-zombie classic, Shock Waves, and not much more. The real star behind the scenes here is special make-up effects legend, Tom Savini. This is an obscure blip on a resume that, to name a few, includes Dawn of The Dead, Friday the 13th, and Creepshow, and with no special features (other than a really crisp, uncut, transfer), is ultimately why this disc is to be celebrated.
Last, and certainly least, we come to Deadly Friend, and Dr. Giggles (groan). Not sure how they got included in the first place, but they certainly belong together. Both hail from the horror genre’s nosedive that started right around 1985’s Fright Night (one of the last great ones), and continues right up through, oh, let’s say, Dr. Giggles.
Deadly Friend (1986) is a Wes Craven-directed, Frankenstein story of sorts, about a genius teen scientist (Albert Ingalls himself, Matthew Laborteaux) whose unhealthy love for science and his friend’s next door neighbor Samantha (Kristy Swanson) and a really, really, really lame robot named BB (I can’t begin to stress how very lame!), translate into what has to be one of the worst offerings of the late ‘80s slump.
I’ll make this quick: Lame robot gets shotgun blasted to bits by crazy neighbor (Mama from Throw Mama From The Train) during failed Halloween prank. Genius boy can only save microchip brain, and is inconsolable. Coincidentally days later, neighbor girl is pushed down stairs by sexually abusive, alcoholic father and pronounced dead at hospital. Genius boy, and not-so-genius paperboy friend, drug not-so-genius mom, steal van, steal body from morgue, and insert robot brain chip. Problem solved, right? Wrong! Hybrid human/lame robot brain causes neighbor girl to wreak havoc on those who wronged her (and lame robot), leading to what has to be one of the single greatest scenes in Throw Mama From The Train lady’s short but illustrious career: a beheading (more of an explosion, really) by basketball! See she stole their ball earlier in the film, when it bounced over into her yard – Sweet comeuppance! I’ll leave the rest for you to discover.
Somehow, this is the same man responsible for The Last House On The Left and A Nightmare On Elm Street. I’m still not really sure how that’s possible; I only know it’s true. There are no special features here, only that after 90 minutes the movie ends. Oh yeah, and it is uncut…so you got that going for ya.
Dr. Giggles (1992) – don’t bother.
So, with six titles to choose from, either individually, or doubled up drive-in style, the Twisted Terror Collection offers quite a bit for your hard-earned Halloween buck. While they aren’t six great titles, each and every one of these titles deserves its DVD due for one reason or another, sans Giggles. From the early television works of now-legendary John Carpenter, to lost shockers, to obscure Savini splatter, this collection is more than worth it for the price. Even Deadly Friend was once the subject of countless online petitions for release (I know it’s crazy, but it is true), and here it is, uncut, in all its cult glory.
Now, if we can just get Warners to dip into that Hammer Films library. Vampire Circus, anyone?