Shout! Factory’s Scream Factory army delightfully pairs two sexy Spanish horrors from the same director, making for a must have Blu-ray of essential 1970s Euro monster movies.
Spanish horror film director Amando de Ossorio gained a place in the hearts of horror fans worldwide with his quartet of “Blind Dead” movies. Eerie, atmospheric and exploitive, the films were a highlight in a career of genre ups and downs (DEMON WITH CHILD and THE SEA SERPENT are prime examples of the downs). THE NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS (known in Spain as “La Noche de los Brujos”) uses successful elements from the “Blind Dead” series, mixed with generous doses of blood and breasts and an overall delirious attitude which makes it an absolute gem of European trash horror cinema, even if it might be so on a guilty pleasure level.
In 1910 Africa, a missionary woman (Bárbara Rey, THE GIRL FROM THE RED CABARET) is taken captive by a voodoo tribe. They rape her, strip her of her clothes with a bullwhip and decapitate her, only to have the head reattached to the body, which then takes the form of a bloodsucking vampire with large canine fangs. The tribe is shot by a troop of soldiers, but many years later, as a new research team mounts a safari in the same location, the macabre shenanigans begin again. Professor Jonathan Grant (Jack Taylor, COUNT DRACULA), macho hunter Rod Carter (Simon Andreu, DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT), two gorgeous blondes Elisabeth (Maria Kosti, THE DRACULA SAGA) and Carol (Loreta Tovar, THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF), and an exotic mulatto woman, Tunika (Kali Hansa, SINNER: THE SECRET DIARY OF A NYMPHOMANIAC) are the bickering group of campers now facing unknown, supernatural dangers deep within the jungle. The native tribe — sleeping for decades — rise from the dead and have sights on turning some fresh women into demon/witch/leopard/vampire creatures who stalk by moonlight.
THE NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS is the kind of film that can’t be taken seriously like some of Spain’s other exemplary genre works, but it’s hard to find a better-paced, more enjoyable exercise in sensationalism of its kind. It can’t decide what kind of horror movie it wants to be, so vampirism, voodoo, possession and the walking dead are all tossed in like a big salad, and a very tasty one at that. The film is also not afraid to spill blood or allow for some kinky sadism, notably in repeated rituals where pretty women have their blouses literally whipped off so that the lashes across their ample breasts could be exposed before further pandemonium occurs in the form of a wicked ceremony – their heads are hacked off, the natives dance around and feast on the flowing blood, followed by the head self-rolling back on the neck to reveal a very sexy vampire woman!
The sexy vampire women (King, Tovar and Kosti) are a sight to behold, and a large part of what gives this film such a cult appeal. All of them are extremely shapely and attractive, with their long canines, big hairdos and extended fingernails. But the icing on the cake is their attire: a leopard skin bikini top, grass skirt bikini bottom and a leopard skin cape (the image of them running and stalking their victims in slow motion is also reflective of the “Blind Dead” series). American-born Euro star Jack Taylor needs no introduction, but you’ll also recognize Simon Andreu as the husband in THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE and countless other exploitation films. Maria Kosti (or “Kosty” as it’s sometimes spelled) was often cast in Paul Naschy films (VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES, A DRAGONFLY FOR EACH CORPSE, EXORCISM) and was the lead in de Ossorio’s last “Blind Dead” entry, NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS. Barbara King would show up as blonde lesbian in the third “Blind Dead” film, THE GHOST GALLEON (aka HORROR OF THE ZOMBIES), Loli Tovar was the girl who discovered their undead horses in the second entry, RETURN OF THE BLIND DEAD, and she too was a fixture in 1970 Spanish horror. Another exotic beauty, Kali Hansa, will be a familiar face (and familiar body) to Jess Francophiles for her appearances in THE PERVERSE COUNTESS and several of the director’s other sexploitation epics.
Most older American viewers were introduced to NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS via television, as it was released in the U.S. straight to that medium in a heavily truncated version by Avco Embassy (TV prints used negative-exposure to blanket some of the nudity and violence during the voodoo dance sequences, but nothing like that is on display here). BCI released it on DVD a decade ago in a somewhat flawed edition (the English language track was off sync), so this updated Blu-ray edition is now a pleasure to have. The 1080p HD image is presented full frame (open matte), and compositions actually look very good, even if it was meant to be matted to 1.85:1. Since this HD master was transferred from the original negative, the picture is very clean and sharp, with excellent detail, tight grain structure and bright colors, and nighttime scenes are easily discernible. The film elements show no signs of significant wear. There are two audio options here, both DTS-HD Master Audio tracks in 2.0; the Spanish (Castilian) language track, and the more familiar English dubbed track. Both sound fine, and we’re happy to report that the English track is properly in sync. Optional English subtitles are included.
LAS GARRAS DE LORELEI (THE LORELEY'S GRASP) was released theatrically in the U.S. during the late 1970s under the title WHEN THE SCREAMING STOPS. In a William Castle-esque move, the film was re-edited to include a blood red screen that would flash moments before any scene deemed too shocking to those with weak constitutions. To further drive home the film’s scandalous content, vomit bags were handed out to each ticket holder warning them that “Because of the intense nature of this film, stomach distress may occur,” followed by the warning "Do not re-use." A curious caution, as I am unaware of any theater patron recycling their barf bag after watching MARK OF THE DEVIL, a film that used a similar gimmick during its stateside theatrical run. While you may not find yourself sick to your stomach, you will certainly be entertained as director de Ossorio has laid out a tale full of violent bloodletting, buxom young beauties and mythical creatures come to life.
The community of a small German village is shocked when one of their own, a beautiful young woman (Betsabe Ruiz, HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB), is found brutally murdered on the eve of her wedding night, her heart torn from her bosom. After laying the poor soul to rest, the townsfolk gather at a local pub to discuss what manner of creature could have caused such a heinous act. While the idea of a rogue wolf or forest bear are tossed around, it is the childhood recollections of a blind street musician that seem to fit most appropriately, the legend of the Loreley. According to the legend of the seven full moons, the beautiful maiden Loreley will take the form of a hideous beast. Her only goal is to rip out the hearts of people, required to sustain her centuries of sleep. The blind man’s story is passed off as myth but the town folk are scared nonetheless, especially gorgeous Elke Ackerman (Silvia Tortosa, HORROR EXPRESS) a professor at the nearby boarding school for girls.
With the girls’ school so far away from town, it is agreed that extra precautions should be taken to ensure the students’ safety, so local hunter Sirgurd (Tony Kendall, RETURN OF THE BLIND DEAD) is hired to track and kill the accursed beast. Upon his arrival to the school, Sirgurd is welcomed by a bevy of bikini clad beauties who are all thrilled to have man in their midst. All except for Elke, who is averse to Sirgurd’s charm and fears his presence may do more harm than good. Sirgurd quickly finds his hands full as each morning reveals a new victim outside the school, each missing their heart. Banned from swimming with the girls, Sirgurd frequents a nearby marsh where he uncovers a mysterious woman in a tiny black bikini (Helga Line, THE MUMMY’S REVENGE) who has a monk-robed strongman assistant named Alberic (Luis Barboo, THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN). Running away at their first encounter, the woman and Sirgurd finally meet and are instantly attracted to each other. As their encounters become more physical, Sirgurd learns that he may have unwittingly caught the creature he was hired to destroy, but will his heart allow him to complete the task at hand?
THE LORELEY'S GRASP is distinctive in that it takes the traditional trappings of a “beast on the loose” plotline and intertwines it with German folklore, specifically the fairy tale of the Loreley. Legend states that Loreley was a jilted lover who took her life on the Rhine river, returning as a mythical siren whose call would draw sailors to a deadly fate. If the legendary Loreley resembled Helga Line, the actress who portrays her, her enchanting voice would not be the only thing tempting sailors from their charted paths. Line is an arresting screen presence, whose slow motion, scantily clad romps through the village marshes, stands as one of the film’s more memorable and bizarre moments. For a movie brimming with attractive women, it would seem hard work for any one actress to stand out, yet Silvia Tortosa seems to do just that. Perhaps it is the fact that she remains relatively fully clothed in a film otherwise populated with young woman in various arrays of undress, which is a pity. Or it could be the transformation of her character as a reserved, almost prudish school teacher into a woman beginning to embrace her femininity in the presence of Sirgurd’s rugged machismo. Either way her appeal is unforgettable.
Those only familiar with the version known as WHEN THE SCREAMING STOPS may find the film dissimilar, as the Loreley’s night attacks come upon more sudden and violent without the red flashing screen to warn you of the assault. Shot primarily in shaky POV, the Loreley’s killings are erratic and unexpected, as if to mimic the attack of a wild animal. Initially only the creature's encroaching claw is shown, but as more of the legend of Loreley is revealed, so is her lunar form, that of a green scaled reptilian, shrouded in a black cape. Filmed in the middle of his succession of successful Blind Dead films, THE LORELEY'S GRASP allowed de Ossorio to take a break from undead Templar Knights and explore other elements of horror and fantasy. Amando must have had a particular affinity for leopard print bikinis (who doesn’t?), as the film's third act features a memorable and random cat fight with three young ladies (one of them played by Bárbara Rey) in the underwater cave of the Loreley. Their relevance to the plot is never explained but their inclusion is nevertheless welcomed. Similar wardrobe is of course a prominent fixture in NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS, making this Blu-ray pairing all the more appropriate.
Under the title WHEN THE SCREAMING STOPS, THE LORELEY'S GRASP has previously been available on VHS, red flashing screens included. This original home video release was confusing, considering the box art was grossly misleading, passing itself off as an entry in the stalk and slash genre. BCI released the film on DVD a decade ago, and now Scream Factory is unleashing it on Blu uncut, in a transfer mastered from the original negative. The film is presented 1080p HD in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and the image is quite flawless. Picture quality is pristine, with minor blemishes visible only in a short scene of stock footage, a panning shot down the Rhine. Colors are distinct, detail is impressive and flesh tones also look good. Although there is some grain about, its looks as though the HD master given to Shout! Factory might have had some DNR applied to, apparent in some facial close-ups; this is more of an observation rather than a complaint because the transfer on the whole looks damn good. Audio comes across clear and is presented DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 in both Spanish (Castilian) and English. Optional English subtitles are included.
Extras for NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS include an English language international trailer, a Spanish trailer, the Spanish main and end title sequences, and a section of alternate “clothed” scenes (some which still manage to reveal glimpses of female nudity), including stuff which was inserted in the U.S. television version. Extras for THE LORELEY’S GRASP include an international trailer (the narrator calls the film’s title out as “The Claws of Loreley” while the title screen flashes “The Loreley’s Grasp”) and the opening and closing Spanish credit sequences. There’s also new audio Commentary by Rod Barnett and Troy Guinn of the podcast, NaschyCast. Both gentlemen have just done three excellent commentaries on Scream Factory’s “The Paul Naschy Collection”, and are welcomed here as they give their views and observations on the film, share information about the film’s personnel, and their obvious passion for Spanish horror (and the lovely ladies on display) is infectious. They reveal that none of the film was actually shot in Germany, but that the producers bought some documentary footage shot there and inserted it in, and they have fun discussing the U.S. theatrical release and its wild promotional campaign, among many other subjects. (George R. Reis)
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