I’ve recently been binging a lot of Vinegar Syndrome releases, including a box set of made-for-TV mysteries, an odd bit of exploitation-horror made in Florida by a French director, and one of the most brain-bendingly bad movies I’ve ever seen.
Eureka’s new two-disk Blu-ray release Karloff at Columbia is a real treat for fans of the iconic actor. Although it begins with Roy William Neill’s atmospheric period Gothic The Black Room (1935), the bulk of the set is devoted to what became known as the Mad Doctor Cycle, five extremely low-budget sci-fi tinged horrors in which Karloff plays scientists dabbling in research which the establishment frowns on; the authorities’ resistance tends to push him over into madness and murder and mayhem ensue. Long held in low esteem, these cheap movies are all entertaining and Karloff delivers sincere performances no matter how silly the trappings occasionally become.
A recent Arrow box set showcases yet another regional filmmaker who built a career on determination and very little money. Bill Rebane built his own studio in rural Wisconsin and beginning in the 1960s made a series of genre movies whose reputation echoes that of Ed Wood. The big surprise of the Weird Wisconsin set is that some of them are genuinely effective and entertaining.
Vinegar Syndrome’s Home-Grown Horrors box set presents three ultra-low-budget regional movies on Blu-ray, really entertaining and looking better than they ever deserved to, and accompanied by surprisingly substantial extras about the fun and frustration of making movies without sufficient resources.
With their second pair of releases, the folks at Cauldron Films have again dug deep into the fringes of genre movie-making, this time unearthing Sergio Pastore’s The Crimes of the Black Cat (1972), an Italian giallo from the peak period of that genre, and Tomas Aznar’s Beyond Terror (1980), a Spanish film which begins as a nihilistic story about a gang of vicious criminals and morphs into a supernatural revenge narrative.
Continuing their recent run of classic Hollywood restorations, Criterion have released an excellent edition of Edmund Goulding’s Nightmare Alley (1947), a sordid story of madness and criminality starring Tyrone Power in his best role as an opportunistic carny who cons his way to the top of respectable society only to plunge back down to the lowest depths. A remarkably grim movie to have been made by a major studio on an A-picture budget, it still remains a potent glimpse of existential horror.
A selection of European genre movies from the 1970s and ’80s ranges from sadistic killers to cannibals to elegant vampires, from bad fashions and electro-pop music to old families sinking into decadence, from masters of exploitation like Sergio Martino, Lucio Fulci, Umberto Lenzi and Ruggero Deodato to the artful Harry Kümel.
Yet another wide range of titles from Arrow Video from a restored silent classic to aliens over Tokyo, woods infested with zombies, food which consumes those who eat it, apocalypse in an alternate future Los Angeles, friendship destroyed by political conflicts, rich people facing the loss of their wealth and a naively admiring time capsule of the U.S. on the brink of the ’60s.
Universal’s series of minor B-movies based on Simon & Schuster’s line of fiction and NBC’s long-running radio show called Inner Sanctum gave third-string horror star Lon Chaney Jr. a brief opportunity to get away from the monsters he played in the 1940s. Despite a low critical reputation, these atmospheric little movies are quite entertaining and receive a nice showcase in Eureka’s two-disk Blu-ray set.