Elite Entertainment has just unleashed the third volume in its "Drive-In Discs" series, again embodying two feature films, as well as intermission adverts, shorts, etc. Although the first edition (THE SCREAMING SKULL and THE GIANT LEECHES) was denounced by most due to the inferior quality of the features, the second release (THE WASP WOMAN and THE GIANT GILA MONSTER) was a slight improvement. One of the main problems with the series is that the features are often public domain titles, and simultaneously available from numerous DVD companies. This installment, featuring I BURY THE LIVING and THE HAND is a mixed bag.
The first feature, I BURY THE LIVING, is a perfect sample of a PD title being done to death on the digital format. A few companies have released it, but MGM's edition (part of their "Midnite Movies" line) is definitive and pristine-looking since they actually have ownership of it through their United Artists association. Although MGM's release of the black and white film is open matte, it's far superior in clarity and sharpness. The Elite version is letterboxed at 1.85:1 with anamophic enhancement, and appears more theatrical in composition, but it's still a bit soft with mild speckling. It's definitely acceptable, but inferior in comparison.
For those not familiar with I BURY THE LIVING, the plot has Robert Craft (Richard Boone), newly appointed to director of the Immortal Hills cemetery. A heavily-accented and immediately suspicious Scottish caretaker named Scotty (Theodore Bikel) alerts Craft to a large wall map of cemetery plots whose occupants are marked by black and white pins. The occupied plots are black, while those living with purchased plots are represented by white. Kraft accidentally places a black pin in the wrong spot, and hours later, discovers that the owning couple have died in a car crash. Craft tells everyone, but they all think it a coincident, and sticking more pins where they don't belong causes more deaths. I BURY THE LIVING has its admirers, but most often plays like an extended episode of "The Twilight Zone" or "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour." Click HERE to read our review of the MGM disc.
The other feature is 1960's THE HAND, directed by Henry Cass who also gave us BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE. The British film was originally released by AIP, and is here making its DVD debut. It starts off during the end of WWII, with a group of British soldiers who are captured by the Japanese, only to each have a hand sliced off. Year later, an unknown killer is parading around London, severing the hands of his victims. I wish I could make it sound more exciting, but it's not. It's a very talky (very talky!) and confusing British thriller without the benefit of the familiar faces from Hammer and other 60s U.K. horrors. This is strictly a second feature (and that's the way AIP played it), so I only wish the first feature was more eventful with regards to this package.
Elite's transfer for the hand doesn't fair as well as their I BURY THE LIVING. It's letterboxed at 1.85:1 with anamorphic enhancement, but the sides look cropped, with talking characters at times being pushed off the screen. The black and white image is soft and somewhat grainy, and black levels are not solid in the least. A lot of film dirt pervades, and there are a frequent number of splices which produce jump cuts. The mono audio is acceptable, with some scratchiness apparent.
The disc also contains the optional DISTORTO track, making it seem as if you are hearing the films through a drive-in speaker. The film's audio plays exclusively through the front left speaker of your system while everything else filters through the remaining channels. Viewers can experience such sounds as crickets chirping, people stomping on pebbles, lovers slamming car doors as they go to the concession stand, and car passengers talking. At the beginning of the program, a guy tells his gal that he heard that THE HAND was scary. A great effect would have been the sounds of snoring while the picture was playing. The DISTORTO track is in Dolby 5.1 Surround and is authentic to the noise heard at a drive-in, but you might only be able to take so much, depending on your appreciation of the novelty.
The menu lets you play the features separately, or you can view the whole thing as one big drive-in show. Some of the intermission films include the famous "Let's All Go To The Lobby" ad as well as the amusing "Monsters/Fight Pay TV" promo. Some of the promos/commercials are black and white and date back to the 50s, while some are from the 60s and 70s, so it doesn't always meld right. Especially awkward are two color "Gumby" shorts ("Robot Rumpus" and "Mysterious Fires"). Art Clokey's animated classic never actually graced theater screens, and was only shown on television, and their original 1.33:1 ratio is matted to 1.85:1! Having "Gumby" TV shorts present in a drive-in show reproduction kind of makes it all less credible, but we do get trailers for BLOOD CREATURE (aka TERROR IS A MAN) and THE CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA.
Like is said, this third installment
of "Drive-In Discs" certainly is a mixed bag. Better features and
more appropriate shorts would make things more tasty, so I'll await a fourth
installment in hopes of vast improvement. The three drive-in discs are also
available as a boxed set. (George R. Reis)
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