Directors: Mel Wells, Stephanie Rothman, Tom Kennedy, Joe Tornatore
Shout! Factory

As part of its “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” collection, Shout! Factory’s “Vampires, Mummies & Monsters” 2-disc set presents two highly popular erotic 1970s drive-in horror films along with two lesser-known 1980s genre flicks, resulting in another desirable DVD package that fans will not want to miss.

In LADY FRANKENSTEIN (Disc 1), Tania Frankenstein (Rosalba Neri, here billed as “Sara Bay”) is now a full-fledged surgeon, returning to the ancestral home of her father, Baron Frankenstein (Joseph Cotten). Along with his limping lab assistant Charles (Paul Muller, COUNT DRACULA), the Baron is interested in creating life, but makes the age-old mistake of housing a damaged brain into the body of a recently hanged criminal, resulting in a hulking monster with a hideous face (half of it scalded by fire during its electrical rejuvenation) with a massive, bald, bulb-shaped cranium. Frankenstein’s monster is a mindless menace from the start, crushing its creator the minute he attempts to check its heartbeat. It breaks loose, finding plenty of villagers, grave robbers and naked babes to toss around and pound on.

In the meantime, after Tania discovers her father dead, she tries to hide the notion of a monster by telling the very busy policeman, Captain Harris (Mickey Hargitay, BLOODY PIT OF HORROR) that it was an intruding burglar that did him in. Captain Harris remains suspicious of this, keeping a close eye on Castle Frankenstein while Tania and Charles form a close bond and continue to plot together. Since Tania can’t get past Charles’ crippled limp and his resemblance to Larry Fine of The Three Stooges, she devises a plan (which he reluctantly agrees to) to transplant his mind into the handsome but dimwitted handyman Thomas (Marino Masé, THE RED QUEEN KILLS 7 TIMES) to create the perfect lover and thus satisfy her sexual appetites. Will Tania’s own creation (complete with a Nigel Tufnel “Spinal Tap” wig to cover up temporary head scars) clash with the homely fiend her father assembled? You bet they will!

Made in Italy, LADY FRANKENSTEIN was produced and directed by character actor (and Roger Corman regular) Mel Welles (who had already helmed ISLAND OF THE DOOMED and several other pictures) and it was conceived by exploitation legend Dick Randall (who later did FRANKENSTEIN’S CASTLE OF FREAKS) and it’s near-perfect as far as Euro horror films go. With its impressive gothic set designs and costumes, its familiar international cast and enough gratuitous nudity and violence to secure an R rating, LADY FRANKENSTEIN agreeably blends the classic period feel of Hammer horror with typical early 1970s Euro trash attributes. The eerie score by Alessandro Alessandroni (THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE) is somewhat reminiscent of some of the music Bob Cobert did for the “Dark Shadows” series and the duo of theatrical features.

Glamorous and never afraid to undress before the cameras, Rosalba Neri had become a sort of new horror queen for the early 1970s (her other significant leading role being in THE DEVILS WEDDING NIGHT) and Hollywood legend Joseph Cotten was becoming more of a genre fixture than ever (THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES, BARON BLOOD). Cotten delivers his dialog with old-style ham, and is an asset to the film, even though his character is killed off less than 40 minutes in. Along with Swiss-born Muller and Hungarian-born muscleman Hargitay (the ex of Jayne Mansfield, who made a sort of career in low budget Italian films), Herbert Fux is in the cast as the scene-stealing, seedy graverobber Lynch. Fux had just been in MARK OF THE DEVIL (its vomit bag antics were playing at drive-ins at the same time as this) and here, his voice is deliciously dubbed by Wells himself (who also did the same for several other minor characters in the film).

Since LADY FRANKENSTEIN has been in the public domain, numerous home video companies have released the title (DVD Drive-In even attempted its own SE edition a decade ago), but none of the transfers were up to par. The biggest problem is that its hard-matted widescreen photography had always been cropped and compromised, but that has been fixed with Shout!’s new transfer of the title. Presented anamorphic in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, LADY FRANKENSTEIN finally is framed correctly and the 35mm print source offers a nice picture, with constant grain about, exceptional detail and colors looking stable throughout. The mono audio English audio also comes off fine. Along with the presentation of the U.S. theatrical version is the longer international cut, which joggles back and forth to a handful of scenes that have been re-inserted in their proper place. The scenes are mostly made up of dialog (Hargitay has far more screen time), some of it extraneous, and there's at least one extra shot of the Baron’s monster yelping. These extras scenes have been taken mostly from a passable German TV airing (the scenes are all in English), with several brief bits culled from a poor quality, stretched video source. The scene joggling is not exactly seamless, but Shout! has done an honorable job of bringing both versions to DVD (when you compare the two, you’ll realize why New World trimmed it by some ten minutes in order to keep a fast pace, as well as make it more convenient for drive-in double and triple bills). The theatrical version runs 1:23:37 and the extended version runs 1:35:44. Extras for LADY F include a full frame theatrical trailer, a TV spot and a brief poster gallery.

Disc 1 also features 1971’s THE VELVET VAMPIRE. At the Stoker art gallery in Southern California, a sophisticated woman named Diane LeFanu (Celeste Yarnell, BEAST OF BLOOD) makes the acquaintance of the young, blonde couple of Lee (Michael Blodgett, BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS) and Susan Ritter (Sherry Miles, THE TODD KILLINGS). As Lee’s wandering eyes become obsessed with Diane’s sensuality, a weekend invitation to stay at her desert abode is immediately accepted, with Susan feeling a bit iffy on the getaway. A very strange weekend is in store, as Diane happens to be a dune buggy-driving vampire feasting on raw chicken livers, claiming any victims she can sink her teeth into and remaining close to her dead husband, buried in the outskirts a century earlier. The voyeuristic, bisexual Diane watches the young couple through a secret two-way mirror, conveniently sucks the blood of Susan after a rattlesnake bite, and makes moves on both.

THE VELVET VAMPIRE has the distinction of being one of the few horror movies directed by a woman, with Stephanie Rothman having already having worked on AIP’s BLOOD BATH in 1966. A vampire tale set in a very hippyish early 1970s California, the desert proves to be a creepy, isolated setting, and although the film doesn’t break any ground script or performance wise, it compares somewhat in style with some of Jean Rollin’s French sex vampire films, as well as Harry Kumel’s excellent DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, made around the same time. Rothman’s arty direction is at times quite imaginative, including a dream sequence where Diane bursts out of a window to interrupt the couple from their love making (their bed being in the middle of the desert) as well as where Diane lies obsessively on top of the perfectly preserved corpse of her buried husband. Diane’s vampirism is also a bit ambiguous, as she is fangless and able to roam about during the daytime, though a great scene where she’s confronted by a crowd who take aim with the help of an outdoor crucifix shop, may answer a few questions.

As you can tell, the literary vampire references are in check (LeFanu, Stoker) and there’s plenty of the required New World Pictures quota of nudity, courtesy of lovely cult actress Yarnell and adorable TV thespian Miles, who wines her way through the entire picture and looks (unintentionally) like a dear with its eyes caught in the headlights. Blodgett is perfectly cast as the pretty boy beach bum type who has no trouble switching bed partners, so long as his momentary needs are taken care of. Robert Tessier plays a biker (what else is new?) who attempts to rape Diane in the opening scene and Gene Shane (you’ll recognize him as one of the bikers in WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS) is art dealer Carl Stoker. The music score by Roger Dollarhide and Clancy B. Grass III (THE STUDENT NURSES) is a haunting mix of electric and acoustic guitar strumming. Despite the poster art you’ve seen for this, there’s no shots of the vampire vixen waving around the heads of her victims! The film originally played on a double bill with SCREAM OF THE DEMON LOVER.

THE VELVET VAMPIRE was previously released on VHS by Embassy Home Entertainment, with the same transfer utilized for Image Entertainment’s laserdisc (the laserdisc was most likely the source for Cheezy Flicks’ unauthorized, bootleg DVD, which we won’t even get into). Anyone used to the old video transfers will find Shout! Factory’s DVD a revelation in terms of quality, as the film looks magnificent. Presented in a 1.78:1 widescreen anamorphic transfer, colors are deep and striking, detail is excellent, and the film source is in perfect condition, accept for a few fleeting cue marks. The mono English audio has some scratchiness and hiss, but it’s nothing too distracting. Actress Celeste Yarnell is on hand for a full audio commentary, moderated by Nathaniel Thompson. She remembers a lot about making the film, and shares quite a bit of information, including a funny story about her love-making scene with Blodgett on a closed set. She also mentions that she first saw the film at a drive-in theater along with her mother and her baby daughter. VELVET VAMPIRE’s original trailer and a still gallery are also included.

Disc 2 moves us into the 1980s with TIME WALKER, which, despite the title, is a modern sci-fi take on the mummy film. Professor Doug McCadden (Ben Murphy, SIDECAR RACERS) goes to Egypt and discovers a sealed sarcophagus in a cave. Bringing it back to the university, opening it reveals a mummy brought back to life by radiation and it carries a green mold-like substance that devours the flesh of anyone who touches it. Five crystal jewels are stolen from the sarcophagus, and are then distributed amongst various campus students, but the walking mummy is on a violent campaign to retrieve them, and he has a very good reason as you’ll find out before it’s all over.

An ambitious but at times confusing mix of sci-fi and horror, TIME WALKER comes off as a slicker Don Dohler movie, and not surprisingly, it was lampooned on MST3K. There’s an interesting enough looking traditional mummy (with a shiny jewel incrusted in its torso) and a few somewhat gory killings and brief nudity despite the PG rating. During a silly mummy-themed frat party, you can spot one-sheet posters for Hammer’s THE MUMMY’S SHROUD and BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB hanging on the wall. The cast includes then-newcomer Shari Belafonte (as a student photographer), Antoinette Bower (DAUGHTERS OF SATAN), Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston (the latter two reunited from ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13) and James Karen (RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) as a dean. FLESH GORDON himself, Jason Williams, produced, wrote the story and has a brief cameo.

Disc 2 also features 1988’s GROTESQUE. Lisa Kruger (Linda Blair, HELL NIGHT) is a young woman traveling with her friend Kathy (Donna Wilkes, ANGEL) to visit her parents up in the woodsy mountains. Lisa’s father happens to be the famous Orville Kruger (Guy Stockwell), a veteran Hollywood make-up man and monster maker (though you wouldn’t know it from some of the generic Halloween masks hanging proudly in his display den) who likes to scare his family and houseguests. That night, as everyone tries to get a good night sleep, a group of punkish kids (looking like refugees from an early 1980s Billy Idol music video) invade the home, searching for hidden cash. As these weapon-wielding creeps terrorize the Krugers, they discover that the family has a horrible hidden secret, soon to be unleashed upon them.

Star Blair was also associate producer of GROTESQUE, a wholly unsuccessful film that blends “film within a film” cheats with a rather disjointed style of storytelling. Seeing characters killed off far earlier than expected, with new ones entering the picture to give it a total curve, keep things from being too predictable, but it’s hard to tell if this is supposed to be a comedy or a straight horror film with comic elements. The make-up on the central “monster” is terrible (which is ironic since the film involves a seasoned Hollywood make-up guy) and you’ll be dumbfounded to see Tab Hunter(!) turn up as the family’s uncle and eventually wanting sweet revenge. Another familiar B-movie veteran, Charles Dierkop (ANGELS HARD AS THEY COME, THE HOT BOX) has the best part, that of a sheriff with his own way of interrogating suspects. Old school monster movie fans will get a kick out of seeing Mike Lane, who played the creature in FRANKENSTEIN 1970, reprising his role as “Frank N. Stien”, a character he played on the 1976 Saturday morning series, “The Monster Squad.”

TIME WALKER is presented in a 1.78:1 widescreen anamorphic transfer, looking very nice with decent mono audio. GROTESQUE (which was most likely marketed for home video rentals) is presented full frame in an old video master, with passable quality, though the transfer looks as old as the film itself. TIME WALKER does feature several extras, including a video interview (8:56) with producer Dimitri Villard who discusses this (his very first feature), his meeting with Roger Corman, and some of his other movies (ONCE BITTEN, FRANKENSTEIN GENERAL HOSPITAL). Actor Kevin Brophy is also on hand for a video interview (9:40), as he played college student Peter, the wise guy responsible for the mummy going on a rampage. Brophy talks about this film, as well as his late 1970s series “Lucan” and his appearance opposite Linda Blair in HELL NIGHT. A trailer for TIME WALKER is included, but GROTESQUE doesn’t have any of its own supplements. (George R. Reis)