Directors: Joseph Mazzuca, Marc B. Ray
Cinema Pops/VCI

After their beautiful special editions of BLOOD AND BLACK LACE and THE WHIP AND THE BODY way back in 2002, VCI's discs have been hit-or-miss affairs. Not only are they tough to find in retail outlets, but they are usually of questionable quality. Starting this year, VCI has launched a new label called Cinema Pops, dedicated to double-features of films of various genres. Coupled here on this SCREAM THEATER DOUBLE FEATURE VOL. 1 are two 70s obscurities, one of which has been making the rounds on countless public domain releases, the other a gory little mother which will leave most viewers' jaws on the floor!

During a college sorority house initiation game of Russian roulette, two beautiful pledges are put to the test. Unfortunately, one of them isn't well-liked by one of the sorority girls and a real bullet is placed in the chamber of the gun instead of the empty cartridge. Several years later, a series of mysterious letters and a wad of hundred dollar bills are sent out to the surviving five sisters. They're invited to spend the weekend at a lavish home in the middle of the desert, no questions asked, and for some reason they all accept....? But it turns out their secretive host is the father of the murdered pledge, who plans to murder each and every one of them.

SISTERS OF DEATH was shot in 1972, as the career of cult actress Claudia Jennings was on the breaking point, but wasn't actually theatrically released until 1978, a year before Jennings was to perish in a fatal car accident. This very low-budget drive-in feature isn't as dull as many have proclaimed (including Mike Weldon in his Psychotronic Video Guide); it plays like a kitschier version of Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians" with a cast of beautiful young girls. SISTERS resembles a cheaply-shot TV movie, and actually would fit well on ABC-TV in 1972: as for violence, there's only a brief pistol to the head in the opening sequence and a scissors-to-the-back shot, no nudity is shown and there are all the trappings of a TV Movie of the Week.

Fans of Playboy Playmate Claudia Jennings ("Judy") will probably be disappointed that she does not disrobe here (this one's rated PG), but she is the primary focus of the story and looks absolutely beautiful. It's obvious at this early stage of her career that the camera loves her. The same year this was lensed, she had her first big breakout role in UNHOLY ROLLERS, which is screaming for a DVD release. Two years after this, she would be a guest star on "The Brady Bunch" and would soon star in her very best star vehicle, GATOR BAIT, before meeting an early end in 1979 just as she was beginning to break into bigger things. Most of the remaining "sisters" are no strangers to exploitation cinema. Lovely blonde Cheri Howell would have a featured role in Beverly and Ferd Sebastian's THE SINGLE GIRLS (1973), also starring Jennings. Gorgeous brunette Sherry Boucher appeared in the moonshine-slinging hit WHITE LIGHTNING (1975), the blaxploitation action pic BLACK FIST (1975) and the TV horror Movie of the Week FER-DE-LANCE (1974). She is amazing in SISTERS OF DEATH! Comic relief Sherry Alberoni has the most interesting career of them all: she was an original Mouseketeer before voicing tons of characters for Hanna-Barbera shows like the bitchy Alexandra Cabot in "Josie and the Pussycats" and its off-shoot "Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space," "The New Scooby-Doo Movies" and "SuperFriends." All this led to stooping reaaaallly low to star in BARN OF THE NAKED DEAD (1973) with Andrew Prine. GAWD! She's really good here, too. And if you recognize Arthur Franz as the psycho dad, it's because he'd been acting for over 25 years by this time. In addition to featured parts in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN (1951) and Fritz Lang's BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (1956), he got in on the 50s sci-fi craze with MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS (1959) and THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE (1959). He chews the scenery like mad in this one, making bullets, creeping through secret passageways to peek on the girls in their rooms and playing the flute!

With familiar library music from KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, potent suspense sequences, a great claustrophobic atmosphere, a tarantula crawling through the house, all those familiar female faces giving capable performances and a great double shock ending, SISTERS OF DEATH is not nearly as boring or uneventful as its reputation claims. It just never reaches its full potential. But fans of cheesy 70s drive-in flicks will enjoy it, that's for sure, so give this one a chance.

On the flip side of the double feature is a completely different kind of movie: SCREAM BLOODY MURDER! This here is one sick puppy. As the film opens, a mop-headed youngster is watching his dad fix the family tractor. After cutting to a demented look on his face, the psycho kid puts the tractor into gear and runs down dear old dad! But alas, there is no such thing as a perfect crime, for when he tries to jump down from the still-running farm machine, his hand is mauled! Cue graphic cringe-inducing shot of little boy screaming with gory half-of-a-hand flailing! The boy is sent to a mental hospital, where he grows into Matthew, a creepy teenager with a hook hand. He returns home years later to find his widowed mother has remarried a nice friendly farmer with a handlebar moustache. When Matthew finds the newlyweds making out, he whacks stepdad a dozen times with his trusty axe, but accidentally strangles his mother when she protests the murder. Imagine that. He's picked up by a pair of eloped newlyweds, but sees visions of his dead parents in a creek they're swimming in and brains the groom with a rock and drowns the bride! Remember, this is all in the first 20 minutes. When Matthew reaches The Big City, he befriends Vera, an artistic hooker with a heart of gold. To provide an escape from her dreary lifestyle, he breaks into a mansion, butchers a sympathetic black maid with a cleaver and then stabs an old lady to death as she tries to beat him off with her two canes (!). He also kills a drunken sailor client of Vera's in a jealous rage in another nastily violent scene and a really disgusting scene has Matt kill the lady's poor defenseless dog!! When the killing stops, Matt has Vera held hostage in the sprawling mansion. Will she be able to escape?

Another one shot earlier (1971) then released at a later time (1973), SCREAM BLOODY MURDER is one hell of a weird movie. The character of Matthew is never explained; why did he run down his father? What's his obsession with his mother? What's his story?! The filmmakers probably didn't care, as long as they could pile on as many gory murder sequences and out-of-this-world psycho babble to creep out the audience. And to be perfectly honest, it works. The incredibly moist special effects will keep gorehounds happy and are truly unsettling. The surprise shock ending will either piss you off or crawl under your skin, but either way, it's a gutsy move by the filmmakers! It's a weird co-feature with the tame SISTERS OF DEATH, but both are great examples of lower-than-low budgets working in each film's favor.

SISTERS OF DEATH, which has appeared on several Brentwood multi-disc sets, looks better here than it has on any of those DVD's. While it's not culled from an original negative, the colors are solid and look pretty good. The transfer suffers from really dark night scenes and shadows obscuring characters in some shots. It's not very bright during daytime shots, either, but this is still the best you're likely to see this one until someone finds a negative. And it's probably not gonna happen anytime soon. However, SCREAM BLOODY MURDER looks like someone at VCI got a hold of the old videotape and simply used that for the transfer. No detail, fuzzy colors, lots of dirt and grain, this is a mess. Thank goodness the movie's worth watching anyway! Additionally, the film seems to be cut, with jumpcuts and music edits exposing the fact that the old video version is missing footage. Someone license this one pronto and get the negative!

The sole extras are previews for other Cinema Pops discs: DEATH GAME starring the incredible Sondra Locke and Colleen Camp, KILLING DEVICE, a 1993 action pic, THE CRY OF THE BLACK WOLVES with TV's "Tarzan" and "Doc Savage" Ron Ely, MURDER RAP and HOMEWORK with Joan Collins. Of all these, the only one which is essential is DEATH GAME, which must be seen to be believed. (Casey Scott)