Retromedia has been labeled as a higher-profile budget label by the discriminating horror fan, but their releases have all rescued many drive-in titles from obscurity. With this release, the company has finally righted a wrong that has plagued one of the best Gothic horror films ever made: Riccardo Freda's THE GHOST has finally been restored, letterboxed, with its opening two reels finally in the correct chronological order!! And if that isn't reason enough to celebrate, one of the most infamous krimis, DEAD EYES OF LONDON, based on an Edgar Wallace novel, has been added to the package to make this one of the best Golden Age Horror releases of the year.
Dying Dr. John Hichcock (whether he is related the same doctor of HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK, also starring this film's Barbara Steele, is questionable) spends his ailing days trying to contact the spirit world via seances and relies on the beauty of his young wife Margaret to keep him happy. However, Margaret has secretly been having an affair with the family physician, Dr. Charles Livingstone, and the pair is plotting to poison John to gain his large inheritance. However, once the dastardly deed is done, they come to discover that getting their hands on the wealth is easier said than done, and the unjustly murdered man plans to seek his vengeance from beyond the grave.
For my money, Freda's THE GHOST is my favorite Italian Gothic horror film. Sure, it's in color and the pace is slow, but that doesn't keep it from being interesting and creepy as hell. Barbara Steele, with her wide eyes and their accompanying femme fatale persona at its peak, plays a fine villainess who is driven mad by the return of her husband's spectre. The eerie atmosphere that permeates the dark mansion could be cut with a knife, and many of the ghostly setpieces (Dr. Hichcock's wheelchair that pushes itself down the stairs, Hichcock possessing maid Harriet White Medin and speaking through her body, John's corpse emerging from the shadows to terrorize Margaret in her bedroom) rank among the best of the genre. Eurohorror fans have been vocal about their preference for Antonio Margheriti's CASTLE OF BLOOD and other black-and-white classics to this underrated little gem, but I still put this one on when I need a fix of creaky old-fashioned terror. Mario Bava favorite Harriet White Medin (WHIP AND THE BODY, BLOOD AND BLACK LACE) plays the psychic maid who senses foul play in the mansion, and Freda's claustrophobic, sparsely lit photography aids the spooky atmosphere immeasurably. And Francesco de Masi's musical score (a long way from his work in 1982's NEW YORK RIPPER) needs to be on CD!
Retromedia's transfer of THE GHOST, letterboxed at 1.66:1, is a definitive improvement over the plentiful public domain releases of this much-maligned film. Flesh tones vary from greenish to perfectly pink; blacks are never very deep or sharp, but aren't plagued with pixels or grain, either. Faint white lines appear from time to time, but the film's quite dark color scheme looks the best it has in a long while, no longer muddy or bleached, and there is detail and clarity previously unavailable in soft, pale transfers. The mono audio is weak, but this comes with the territory of early dubbed Italian films. Accompanying the film is the original U.S. theatrical trailer, which more accurately reflects the way the film used to look on home video.
As an added attraction (strangely labeled as the top of the bill on the DVD cover, but correctly listed as the bottom half on the DVD menu), Retromedia has included another letterboxed print of a rare Eurohorror classic: DEAD EYES OF LONDON, a 1961 German "remake" of 1939's THE HUMAN MONSTER, based on an Edgar Wallace novel. A crotchety old man walking the foggy streets of London is viciously attacked and killed by a giant bald brute with white eyes and a blind stare. The attack is just one in a series of unexplained murders committed all over the city, all rich old men, all foreigners, and all with hefty life insurance policies. The police investigate into a shady church populated by a dozen blind beggars and overseen by a questionable reverend. Could these blind men be the culprits of the sadistic butcherings?
DEAD EYES OF LONDON is a mildly entertaining crime thriller with splashes of horror thrown in to awaken the more easily bored members of the audience. A lot of talk bogs down the film's first half, and for a while the plot is a chore to follow, but once the puzzle pieces begin coming together, it transforms into a compulsively watchable krimi. Sure, there are better films in the genre, but this is a good starting place for the curious. Krimi regulars Joachim Fuchsberger and Karin Baal (who would later co-star in the Italian-German giallo-krimi hybrid WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE?) contribute excellent turns as the chief inspector and braille expert, respectively, teaming to uncover the mystery of the gruesome killings, and the unbeatable Klaus Kinski is a fake blind villain! The bizarre musical score by Heinz Funk is a major plus! Scene of note: a tongue's-eye view of a water pic toothbrush (!) before the Tor Johnson-like head blind killer, Blind Jack (Ady Berber), stalking a victim through his house.
Unfortunately, the transfer for DEAD EYES OF LONDON is not as pleasing as that of THE GHOST. It is quite grainy and soft, with little detail and evident print wear. It resembles the Something Weird transfers on their Mexihorror disc DOCTOR OF DOOM, indicating this was probably taken from a 16mm print. The mono audio is also nothing special, but does the job well enough. Extras for the film include the original U.S. trailer (in darker, rougher shape than the feature film) and a stills gallery comprised of foreign posters and lobby cards and promotional behind-the-scenes stills provided by The Mark of Naschy head honcho Mirek Lipenski (misspelled as "Lipensky"). A special bonus is the "Our Feature Presentation" psychedelic swirling intro before each film, a reel that used to precede grindhouse flicks during the 70s. It seems odd seeing it before films of the 60s, but it's a nice touch and Retromedia seems to be making it a permanent fixture of their discs!
This is hands-down one of the
best horror discs of the year so far, so add this killer double-feature to your
shelf pronto! (Casey Scott)
BACK TO REVIEWS