Retromedia/Image Entertainment

Taking heartfelt inspiration from late 1960s era drive-in programs where four or five blood-soaked features ran together on one bill, Retromedia has assembled this “Super Chiller Blood-O-Rama” collection. Although the four films on this flipper disc never actually played together and don’t really have any common threads, the presentation here is easy to take a liking to, and at least several of them are very much worth having in your collection if you don’t already own them. Here’s a rundown of this super chiller quartet:

Side A commences with CLAW OF TERROR, which turns out to be a retitling of SCREAM BLOODY MURDER (the print source used here actually reads “Claw of Terror,” so it’s not a video generated credit). If you haven’t yet caught up with this 1970s sicky, it tells the story of Matthew (the unforgettably over-the-top Fred Holbert, who apparently never made another film), a hopelessly insane adolescent recently released from a sanatorium (as a child, he accidentally ran his Pa over with a tractor, and then did likewise to his own hand, forcing him to now bear a metallic hook claw). When he’s finally released, he comes home to find his Ma newly married, axes his stepdad, accidentally busts opens Ma’s head and later sees her garishly ghoulish dead image everywhere. Trying to impress a redheaded prostitute named Vera (Leigh Mitchell), he goes on a crime and murder spree, takes over the mansion of an elderly woman, and hold Vera hostage. If you want to read more about this disturbing early gore shocker, check out our review HERE of VCI’s release (on a double bill with SISTERS OF DEATH). Although Retromedia’s edition looks to be the same as the VCI/Cinema Pops version in terms of content, here the colors are stronger and the overall picture is brighter and clearer. There’s also a nice still gallery made up of German lobby cards. The film also boasts an early performance by Angus Scrimm (playing a physician and billed as “Rory Guy”) nearly a decade before PHANTASM. It was filmed in 1971 (if you look carefully, you’ll notice a theater marquee for THE OMEGA MAN) but not released until a few years later; all surviving video prints seems to be missing minor bits of violence, but the film is still satisfyingly bloody as it stands.

Side A’s next feature is 1984’s MOVIE HOUSE MASSACRE (directed by Rick Sloane but credited as Alice Raley) which Retromedia previously released as a single disc under its alternative title, BLOOD THEATER. In the opening flashback (we assume takes place in the 1930s), a movie house which does live stage shows is about to close, and the owner has just overheard that his usherette girlfriend is cheating on him. In a jealous fit of rage, he kills her and snuffs out the theater’s patrons as well. Fifty years later, the owner of the chain of “Spotlite” cinemas plans to reopen the old movie house where the murders took place. He sends a trio of snotty young employees (with a few more to follow) to fix up the joint in preparation for the grand re-opening. As you probably have already guessed, the spirit of the decades-old killer is haunting the balconies of the theaters (he specializes in knocking over overgrown plants and slamming doors) and occasionally slashes the annoying teens and at least one cheerleader. Certainly the worst film on this collection, it’s painfully bad, with some of the most uninspired killings you’ll ever witness in a slasher film. The pacing, dialogue and acting (not one likable character in the whole show) are also horrid and not even cult icon Mary Woronov (as a very stuck-up secretary) or lame attempts at film-within-a-film humor (CLOWN WHORES OF HOLLYWOOD, yikes!) can save this turkey. If this played in theaters, it must have been very briefly and on a limited run, and then released direct-to-video. Quality here is OK; full screen and a bit soft, not looking much better than an old VHS edition. The film’s original trailer (under the BLOOD THEATER title) is added as an extra.

On to side A and the film BLACK MAMBO (directed by George Rowe), a Philippines-made horror effort starring the late, great John Ashley in one of the many exploitation films he starred in over there, and probably the rarest. A young widow named Elena (Pilar Pilapil) is shocked to discover the ring of her recently deceased husband on the finger of African American woman (Marlene Clark, who had also had the lead in another Philippines thriller, THE NIGHT OF THE COBRA WOMAN) who happens to be devil-worshipping, voodoo practicing witch. Elena makes the mistake of confronting the witch outside a church, and she in turn puts all sorts of spells and curses on the single mother, who lives with her caring sister (Rosemarie Gil, DEVIL WOMAN) and her brother-in-law (Eddie Garcia, star of countless Philippines movies, including a memorable turn as “Dr. Lorca” in BEAST OF BLOOD). The concerned Dr. Paul Morgan (Ashley) steps up to help, but it takes a lot before he believes in all the mumbo jumbo behind Elena’s dilemma. BLACK MAMBA is never as delirious, imaginative or exploitive as other Philippines horrors of the period and the story tends to be confusing. There are some nice moments tossed into the mix (a storekeeper who keeps hallucinating a Grim Reaper, Clark making love to a very ethnic-looking horned Lucifer, a snake crawling up a woman’s leg, etc.), but most red-blooded male viewers will naturally wish that the very lovely actresses (Pilapil, Gil, Clark) had shed some skin, so they could have looked at some photos and still shots, especially since this is 1974 we're talking about. Still, this is a must-see for Philippines horror/exploitation completists. The full screen transfer is very below par, looking extremely dupey and soft, with pale bleeding colors, but almost watchable knowing the rareness of the title. The mono audio is not bad but tends to screech during some of the louder moments.

The other film on side B is also the most entertaining of the bunch: THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM (directed by Harold Reinl), also known as BLOOD DEMON and CASTLE OF THE WALKING DEAD, but the original German title is “Die Schlangengrube und das Pendel.” The evil Count Regula (Christopher Lee) is impaled with a spike mask, then drawn and quartered in public for the death of 12 virgins. Declaring that one day he will get revenge, some 35 years later, a quartet of travelers ends up at his ruined castle. Handsome blonde Roger von Marienberg (former Hollywood Tarzan Lex Barker) and beautiful brunette Baroness Lillian (Karin Dor, ASSIGNMENT TERROR) were mysteriously invited to the castle (they also happen to be the descendants of the individuals who condemned Regula to death), and they arrive with the Baroness’ servant Babette (Christiane Rücker, aka Christiane Royce from FRANKENSTEIN’S CASTLE OF FREAKS) and a priest named Fabian (a scene-stealing performance by Vladimir Medar) who’s not all he’s cracked up to be. Inside the castle’s walls, they encounter all sorts of gruesomeness, carried out by a sinister undead lackey named Anatol (Carl Lange) who plans to reanimate the Count with the blood of a new batch of stripped-down female sacrifices!

Although the storyline is fairly ordinary and predictable, director Reinl (who had previously helmed a number of trendy “Krimi” films) fills this period piece with ample doses of visual flair, paying homage to the 1960s cinema of Mario Bava and Hammer in a more exaggerated, surreal manner. The art direction and set design are so unique, as our courageous travelers are greeted to a smoky forest full of human limb-laden trees, then visit a rotting castle which hosts skull-aligned catacombs, deadly snake pits, naked maidens drained of blood, macabre oil paintings, and various medieval torture devices – namely a looming pendulum featured in a scene which gives similar antics in that famous Corman/Poe film a run for their money. Christopher Lee’s scenes are limited to the opening moments and his character’s revival in the final act, but as with most of his villainous screen personas, he bestows us with a striking sense of menace as the pasty-faced vampire-like Count.

Taken from an old tape master (with a video-generated title card), the transfer here on TORTURE CHAMBER is far from perfect, but not bad. Colors are pretty good, and only a few shots come off murky, and the English audio is fine. Although the film’s original ratio is 1.66:1, compositions on this full screen transfer never look awkward. This version seems to be complete, as another release by Eclectic presented an inferior-looking, shorter cut of the film, and for those who purchase PAL discs from overseas, the film is available in Germany in an anamorphic special edition. But if you just want to own a nice copy of this worthwhile title in Region 1, this release should suit you fine for the time being.

Each feature starts off with a vintage black and white “spookshow” trailer, with the exception of TORTURE CHAMBER. That feature commences with a very cool “Blood-O-Rama Shock Festival” show which teamed up BLOOD FIEND (aka THEATRE OF DEATH), BRIDES OF BLOOD, BLOOD CREATURE (aka TERROR IS A MAN) and THE BLOOD DRINKERS (aka THE VAMPIRE PEOPLE) on one colossal drive-in program. The disc also comes with a gimmick “Certificate of Assurance” giveaway, included inside the packaging. (George R. Reis)