LURKERS (1988)/DIE SISTER, DIE! (1972)
Director(s): Roberta Findlay/Randall Hood
Scorpion Releasing

In this latest double feature from Scorpion Releasing, Roberta Findlay's LURKERS are after your immortal soul while the fiends of DIE SISTER, DIE! merely want your money!

Ever since she was a child, cellist Cathy (Christina Moore, ALEXA) has lived in fear of the spectral presences called "Lurkers" who inhabited the apartment building where she grew up and drove her mother to murder her father. About to marry photographer Bob (Gary Warner, CLAIRE DOLAN), Cathy is once again tormented by visions of her murderous mother, a creepy little girl in white (Lauren Ruane), and a mysterious woman (Eva Baumann) who warns her repeatedly "not to go home". Bob seems loving and patient with Cathy's hysterics – more so than her priest brother (Gil Newsom, ALIEN OUTLAW) – but he may not be all he seems since he's already scouting new talent (Carissa Channing, FRANKENHOOKER) and has other sinister dealings with his partner Monica (Marina Taylor). Invited to a trendy party at Bob's studio – which happens to be in the very building where Cathy grew up – she discovers far too late what anyone who has seen THE SENTINEL has already guessed.

Described by disc hostess Katarina Leigh Waters as "interesting and surreal… and horrible", LURKERS is one of a handful of horror and exploitation films Roberta Findlay (SNUFF) shot and directed in the eighties which also included THE ORACLE, BLOOD SISTERS, TENEMENT, and PRIME EVIL following nearly a decade of hardcore films after the death of husband Michael Findlay. These films were produced, scored, and edited by sound engineer Walter E. Sear, whose synth accompaniment is as consistently overbearing (seemingly to compensate for the sparse sound design). Besides the KILL BABY, KILL-esque sinister girl in white (whose creepiness dissipates with each utterance in her thick Bronx accent), Findlay throws together a set-piece involving a sledgehammer-wielding assailant (Tom Billett, BLUE VENGEANCE) and a street gang who move in synch not only to terrify Cathy into entering her old apartment building, but surely also to further pad the film (presumably also the case for the scene of a pair of nude models discussing junk bonds as well as the cameos by Sear and sound recordist William Titus). Moore was also in Findlay's PRIME EVIL (and also appeared with Warner in Chuck Vincent's THRILLED TO DEATH), and it's hard to tell necessarily if she's a bad actress or if Findlay's construction of the scares in terms of framing, editing, and scoring has her alternately over- and under-reacting; but Warner is appropriately scuzzy. The secret society aspect of the plot is a recurring theme in the works of screenwriters Ed Kelleher and Harriette Vidal (who also scripted PRIME EVIL from their novel, along with both installments of the Canadian horror double feature VOODOO DOLLS/MADONNA: A CASE OF BLOOD AMBITION from Code Red), and Findlay used the predictable final twist again in THE ORACLE. DTV scream queen Debbie Rochon (TROMEO AND JULIET) makes an early uncredited appearance here as a party guest along with film critic Maitland McDonough. Ed French (BREEDERS) designed the make-up for the titular lurkers as well as a few scant gore effects.

A Crown International release, LURKERS was released on VHS by Media Home Entertainment and then by Rhino on DVD in the first volume of their two HORRIBLE HORRORS collections of Crown titles. BCI announced it as one of their Grindhouse double features with HORROR HIGH, but that release failed to materialize (HORROR HIGH was finally issued in its uncut form by Code Red while LURKERS appeared on two of current Crown library owner Mill Creek's multi-film sets). Scorpion's brand new HD-mastered 16:9 anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer is as gorgeous as the film allows in standard definition. Apart from a rare scratch here or there, the element is clean and the colors are bold (the saturated dark room scenes have better detail than the older master and are free of noise). The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is clean and quite vibrant. Walter Sear's score is available isolated on an alternate Dolby Digital 2.0 track which does strangely include some sound effects (only Cathy's footsteps in one early exterior scene but not the traffic or other sounds from the scene). The film is also playable with a Katarina's Nightmare Theater introduction and postscript in which the hostess highlights the credits of lead actress Moore and "hammer man" Billett as well as background on Findlay and Sear (who she tells us also composed the alternate music scores for the Aquarius Releasing US versions of Lucio Fulci's THE BEYOND and Marino Girolami's ZOMBI HOLOCAUST). The original trailer (1:18) is also included.

In the 1970s potboiler DIE SISTER, DIE! in which wastrel Edward Price (Jack Ging, HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER) hires down-on-her-luck ex-nurse Esther (Antoinette Bower, THE EVIL THAT MEN DO) to make sure that his wealthy older sister Amanda (Edith Atwater, FAMILY PLOT) – who hasn't been the same since the death of their domineering father (Robert Emhardt, IT'S ALIVE) – doesn't botch her next suicide attempt. Esther only seems to have part of the story, however, as the whereabouts of the siblings' other sister Nell (Peg Shirley, THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR) provoke suspicion from the family doctor (Kent Smith, CAT PEOPLE) and Amanda's sleepwalking constantly takes her to the house's locked cellar. As Amanda's behavior gets more erratic, Edward becomes less patient about letting nature take its course (that is, letting Amanda's own demons do her in); but it seems that the family may have some literal skeletons in the closet for Esther to uncover at her own peril.

Although it looks very much like a TV movie with its middle-aged cast, DIE SISTER, DIE! played theatrically with a PG rating through Cinema Shares International. Those looking for more LURKERS-type weirdness are in for a dull evening; but more relaxed viewers might slot this one in with other (admittedly more interesting) seventies "California Gothic" flicks like HOUSE OF TERROR, BLOOD MANIA, and PICTURE MOMMY DEAD in its combination of gothic trappings of old dark houses and familial madness with a murder plot. Lead Ging and Atwater try their best with the material – that Edward is open about his intentions to kill Amanda and that she is aware of it allows for some good scenes between the two – but Bower is the dull side of the triangle when the direction of the drama should really hinge on her shifting loyalties (it does, but it just feels mechanical here). One-off director Randall Hood and cinematographer Michael Lonzo inject very little style beyond a few nice compositions and lots of wavy distortion during the nightmare scenes. Art director Ron Foreman also worked on THE HOUSE OF SEVEN CORPSES and would move on to studio projects in the eighties like ROCKY III and BEDROOM WINDOW.

Released on tape through MPI Home Video's Gorgon Video line with wonderfully lurid Cinema Shares International poster art, DIE SISTER, DIE! first hit DVD first through Brentwood's single and multi-film sets using what was likely the same video master. Although the fullscreen version's framing also contributed to the TV-movie feel, Scorpion's 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen framing doesn't do much to create a theatrical feel with the compositions just looking okay for the most part. That said, the transfer itself is gorgeous with the gleaming wood of the Price house, the occasional splashes of blood, and Ging's blue jacket standing out boldly. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is free of distracting hiss or other artifacts. The score of Hugo Friedhofer – one of his last, and possibly stock cues from his other films – is presented isolated on a Dolby Digital 2.0 track. DIE SISTER, DIE! does not feature a "Katarina's Nightmare Theater" viewing option, but the original theatrical trailer (2:06) – which spoils a climactic reveal (although it should be obvious) – is included along with trailers for Jack Hill's SORCERESS, DOGS, and SAINT JACK. (Eric Cotenas)