Starting in the 1950s, and going on well into the 1980s, Crown International Pictures was a prominent source of exploitation and horror films for the drive-ins, sort of a poor man's American International Pictures. Rhino now holds the rights to the Crown International catalog, and have slowly been releasing them on DVD with mixed results (several of the titles here have been previously released by Rhino as single discs, while most of them are new-to-DVD). Horrible Horrors Collection Volume 1 is an eight-title DVD set spread across two discs, and along with Volume 2, seems to be a home video dumping ground for a good number of their genre pics. This is a budget set (retailing for $24.95 or less) and although the titles featured are officially licensed, we have to deal with full frame transfers (only one title is letterboxed), so-so prints (some which are just plain awful), and worst of all, cut TV prints. Here's a rundown on what Volume 1 has to offer.
SATAN'S SLAVE (1976) (Director: Norman J. Warren) This is the first of British director Warren's genre efforts, and his first collaboration with screenwriter David McGillivray (who also has a cameo as a priest). Nineteen-year-old Catherine (Candace Glendenning from TOWER OF EVIL) travels with her parents to see her estranged Uncle at his country mansion. Tragedy strikes when their car crashes in front of the house, with it being set on fire just as Catherine leaves to get help. Trying to recover from her loss, she is taken care of by her overly nice Uncle Alexander (Michael Gough sporting an enormous moustache), his peculiar son Stephen (Martin Potter) and secretary Frances (Barbara Kellerman). It seems that they are all part of a satanic cult and have a nasty plan in store for Catherine on her 20th birthday. For those unfamiliar with Warren's work, this is a good place to start, and although it's been criticized as tedious, the film deserves its place in British horror history. Set in modern times (with several witch-hunting flashbacks), its gothic feel and atmospheric setpieces pays homage to Hammer while adding loads of gratuitous nudity and grueling gore, including some truly over-the-top killings. Rhino's transfer is the stronger, "export" version (it was censored in the U.K.), but the main problem here is that the original 2.35:1 scope ratio had been cropped to fill a full screen. SATAN'S SLAVE will be released as part of a Pal DVD Norman J. Warren box set from Anchor Bay U.K., but this may be your only chance to see it at full strength, albeit full screen.
TERROR (1978) (Director: Norman J. Warren) The second collaboration between Warren and McGillivray was admittedly inspired by Dario Argento's SUSPIRIA, delivering what many deem a British giallo. With a centuries-old curse lingering over their family name, filmmaker James Garrick (John Nolan) is united with cousin Ann (Ann Garrick) when she stars in his latest low budget horror flick. At the wrap party, Ann goes under a trance and tries to slice him up with an ancient sword. Soon, people are turning up dead in the most bizarre ways, and the unseen assailant has a supernatural sway in his favor. Allowing the red stuff to flow freely, a woman is found pinned to a tree with knives, a dirty movie director is crushed by a hanging film light, a canister of film comes to life and leads to a beheading by a broken window glass, a policeman is repeatedly run over by a car, etc. The film is a matter of style (with some striking shots and color lighting schemes) over substance (the script lacks interesting characters, and too many for that matter), but you have to give Warren and McGillivray points for attempting to keep the genre alive and fresh at a time when the British horror cycle was already ten feet under. The film is a mixed bag of unintentional laughs (a floating, menacing car!) and every horror film device imaginable, but it certainly can be enjoyable. Look for cameos by McGillivray (as a reporter), Hammer heavy Milton Reid as a bouncer and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca in the "Star Wars" series) as a sinister mechanic. Rhino's uncut DVD transfer of TERROR is surprisingly good, with nice colors and rich detail, but its full frame open matte of what should be 1.85:1 letterboxed. The mono audio is very clear and clean.
POINT OF TERROR (1971) (Director: Alex Nicol) Helmed by character actor Nicol (THE SCREAMING SKULL), this slice of melodramatic sleaze is pretty much a vanity piece for its nauseating star/co-writer Peter Carpenter (BLOOD MANIA). Carpenter plays Tony Trelos, a groovy nightclub singer at a restaurant called The Lobster House (really) whose exhausting set consists of performing one tune in front of a tin-foil backdrop. Waking up on a barren beach, screaming from a nightmare (of his own dreadful nightclub act) he meets seductive Andrea (Dyanne "Ilsa" Thorne) who's wearing a white bikini. Taking a liking to the Tom Jones wannabe stud, we learn that Andrea is the wife of the crippled and frustrated head of National Records. She signs him on to the label, makes love to him in the pool (a fantastic nude Thorne scene), and later kills her wheelchair-bound husband in a fit of alcoholic rage. Tony witness the murder, tries to blackmail her with it, and then falls in love with her stepdaughter Helayne (Lory Hansen). Lots of plot twists follow. Sounds good? Not really. Did I mention that it has a Dyanne Thorne nude scene? Rhino's open matte transfer for POINT OF TERROR looks and sounds very nice, aside from some print speckling that's visible on occasion. This is probably the best looking title in this collection, with clear mono audio.
HORROR HIGH (1974) (Director: Larry N. Stouffer). Here's a title with a nice little cult following, due to frequent TV airings on such programs as WPIX's (NY) "Chiller Theater" in the 70s and early 80s. Geeky high schooler Vernon Potts (Pat Cardi), obsessed with chemistry, creates a formula that transforms friendly guinea pig Mr. Mumps into a raging monster. Vernon then uses the formula on himself, making him turn into a hairy murderous creature, as he gets revenge on all that make life hell for him: the gym coach, the school jock, the weirdo janitor and his mean English teacher. It also stars Austin Stoker (ABBY), Rosie Holotik (the nurse in DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT) and pro footballer John Niland. This cheapie has the extreme low budget working in its favor, with the eerie setting of a school after-dark, highlighted by effective scenes of the Hyde-inspired monster lurking from behind the shadows ( though we never get a good look at the make-up). This is one that really should be released by itself as a special edition with a commentary by director Stouffer. Rhino's transfer reflects the edited TV version (onscreen title: THE TWISTED BRAIN), with most of the murder scenes trimmed, and it's horribly murky looking and sounding. It's too bad, as this late-night favorite really deserves better.
FLESHBURN (1984) (Director: Ken Cage) In 1975, an American Indian Vietnam soldier deserts his fellow troops due to his spiritual beliefs. Tried and evaluated by four psychiatrists, they all concluded that he was unable to distinguish right from wrong and he is sentenced to a mental hospital. Years later, he escapes to kidnap the four, dumping them in the middle of the desert to fight for a survival and match wits with his Indian voodoo. LURKERS (1988) is from legendary exploitation filmmaker Roberta Findlay, as is PRIME EVIL (1988). Both titles (shot entirely in NYC) tell similar tales of devil worship and other satanic shenanigans by everyday-looking people. The transfers on these three 80s efforts appear to be old VHS full frame transfers, and they probably are as good as they're ever going to look.
Also on this set is THE HEARSE (1980). You can read my review of the previously released single disc (which uses the same transfer), by clicking HERE.
presentation of these Crown International horror "classics" are not
given the fanfare or respect (and no extras or even trailers) that one would hope
for, but at least the price is right, allowing you to add an assortment of campy
titles to your collection in one shot. (George R. Reis)
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