American Horror Project Vol. 1 (Blu-ray/DVD Review)

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American Horror Project Vol. 1 (Blu-ray/DVD Review)
Rated: UR,R,PG/Region AB/Widescreen/1080p/Number of Discs 6
Available from Arrow Video

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Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1973)
Directed By: Christopher Speeth
Starring: Janine Carazo, Jerome Dempsey, Daniel Dietrich
1:85

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Arriving at a creepy, dilapidated fairground under the premise of looking for work, the Norris family are hoping to track down their missing son, who, they believe, is somewhere in the park. But it’s not long before they find themselves at the mercy of the fairground’s fiendish proprietors and the cannibalistic ghouls lurking in the caverns below.

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I found Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood to perhaps the bloodiest of this American Horror Project set. It might also be one of most obscure, as I had never once heard of it before this release. It might be a bit of an acquired taste for horror lovers, but this one packs enough of what folks like me enjoy for me to say this film was a treat to see right out the gate. The film sets things up at an old carnival that seems harmless enough, but when we dig deeper we find midgets, what seems to be zombies, weirdo, and a whole bunch of reasons for things to get a bit bloody, which I really enjoy. It is a tale of survival, cannibalism, and just one of those movies that make you feel like you might need a shower after seeing it. Don’t get me wrong, the transfer is solid enough, but it has a very grindhouse feel to it. That might just be what I enjoyed this one as much as I did. You just never know what strange or horrific thing is going to happen next and that means it is anything besides boring.

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This movie is totally what I’d call a trip. We get a weird plot anyway, but the use of background projection and just the looks and actions of some of the characters in all, make for a very strange time in front of the Blu-ray player, as you almost feel with some scenes that someone might have slipped you acid. Does everything you see make the most sense? Maybe not, but I don’t think too many of you will complain with how the movie unfolds or with how the look of the transfer looks. Arrow used the best of what they could find for each movie on this release and while some look better than others, nothing looks bad. Carnival of Blood probably looks better than it has any right to look and it is such a weird flick that we almost don’t notice the fact they were kinda ripping off more than a few horror classics along the way. Fun stuff regardless with this one.

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Extras

– Introduction to the film by Stephen Thrower
– Audio Commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith
– The Secrets of Malatesta – an interview with director Christopher Speeth
– Crimson Speak – an interview with writer Werner Liepolt
– Malatesta’s Underground – art directors Richard Stange and Alan Johnson discuss the weird, mysterious world of Malatesta’s underground
– Outtakes
– Draft script (BD/DVD-ROM content)
– Stills gallery

Quality of Transfer: 87%

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The Witch Who Came from the Sea (1976)
Directed By: Matt Cimber
Starring: Millie Perkins, Lonny Chapman, Vanessa Brown
2:35

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Molly (Perkins) experiences violent fantasies in which she ties up muscular men up before bloodily dispatching them with a razor. But when a news report announces the shocking double-murder of two footballers which strongly echoes one of Molly’s most recent depraved flights of fancy, the fantasy starts to bleed into reality – literally.

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The Witch Who Came from the sea is an odd one and I say that with all the love a cult horror fan can say something like that with. We see from nearly the first opening scene that our leading character, Molly, isn’t normal. She’s hanging out with her nephews, but her memories of her “Papa” are a whole lot different from that of her sister. On top of that, she seems to have people inside the TV speaking to her and as she day dreams something horrible it seems to come true. The movie is interesting more times than not, we get a great performance from Millie Perkins, and the movie doesn’t show us its hand right off the bat, as we take time to get the full story. If the movie does anything wrong, it would be that is sort of loses some steam about half-way in and the movie just feels like it was really trying to pad things out a bit for time. When our leading lady is into a downward spiral of madness, you sort don’t want that to stall for time, but this one seems to do just that.

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None the less, we learn about papa for real. We have some detectives on the case of Molly. Blood does start to fly a bit more often, and we get to know a few other odd ball characters, like the tattoo guy with a tattoo on his own face and a cowboy who hangs around at the bar Molly works at. Keeping the theme of this set going, not only is this a lesser known horror flick from back in the day, but it may just be an acquired taste as well. This might be one of the more known movies of just this set, however, because I do remember it having a DVD release from someone before, but you can bet Arrow has went out of their way to make this one look really good, even if the movie as a whole is lacking a bit for me. You could certainly call this movie an artsy one in a way, so if you have an issue with those types of movies, you’ve picked up the wrong Blu-ray box set.

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Extras

– Introduction to the film by Stephen Thrower
– Audio commentary with director-producer Matt Cimber, actress Millie Perkins and director of photography Dean Cundey
– Tides and Nightmares – brand new making-of documentary featuring interviews with Cimber, Perkins, Cundey and actor John Goff
– A Maiden’s Voyage – archive featurette comprising interviews with Cimber, Perkins and Cundey
– Lost at Sea – director Cimber reflects on his notorious cult classic

Quality of Transfer: 86%

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The Premonition (1976)
Directed By: Robert Allen Schnitzer
Starring: Robert Allen Schnitzer, Anthony Mahon, Louis Pastore
1:85

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Mother Sheri Bennett (Sharon Farrell, Night of the Comet, Sweet Sixteen) is assailed by terrifying visions in which a strange woman attempts to steal away her five-year-old daughter Janie. Are these bizarre occurrences the result of some sort of mental disturbance, or is something much more sinister afoot?

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Featuring the great Richard Lynch as a clown trying to help his lady friend along the way (stealing a kid that belongs to her technically but not legally), The Premonition, might just be the more thriller-ish film you’ll find in this set. The PG rating should tell you right out of the gate that you won’t be seeing as much of a sleaze or gore show as you’ve seen in the other movies in this set, as this one seems to go more along the lines of trying for solid storytelling. This is still a strange little cult movie and while I do appreciate what it is trying to do here, I still have to say that I did find it just a bit lacking at times and I think this is one movie that could have used a bit more of the red stuff overall, even if it does manage to have at least a bizarre atmosphere to help drag it along its way from point A to point Z.

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The movie has its moments and does pack on some nightmarish scenes that really are strange, if I do say so myself. Those are the times when a movie like this is at its best, but there might not be enough of that sorta stuff overall in this psychic driven movie to keep everyone hanging on as strongly as they probably need to for it. This might also be the weakest in transfer from the best I can tell. Not that it looks bad, because it doesn’t. I just think our other flicks in this set manage to out-shine this one in the HD department. Anyone looking for something more moody will be happy to spend some time with this one, but just be sure you are ready for it, as it might also take a certain mood to really be able to appreciate it and hang with it all the time. Still, can’t deny it has a very good performance from Richard Lynch. Not every movie you see in a project like this will be a five-star film, but I can’t wait to see what Arrow will dig up and give at least a five-star treatment to next.

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Extras

– Introduction to the film by Stephen Thrower
– Isolated score
– Audio commentary with director-producer Robert Allen Schnitzer
– Pictures from a Premonition – brand new making-of documentary featuring interviews with Schnitzer, composer Henry Mollicone and cinematographer Victor Milt
– Archive interviews with Robert Allen Schnitzer and star Richard Lynch
– Three Robert Allen Schnitzer short films: ‘Vernal Equinox’, ‘Terminal Point’ and ‘A Rumbling in the Land’
– 4 Peace Spots
– Trailers and TV Spots

Quality of Transfer: 78%

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Other Extras/Notes

– Limited to 3,000 Copies
– Brand new 2K restorations of the three features
– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard DVD presentations
– Original Mono 1.0 audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-rays)
– English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
– Reversible sleeves for each film featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil
– American Horror Project Journal Volume I – Limited edition 60-page booklet featuring new articles on the films from writers Stephen Thrower (Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents), Kim Newman (Nightmare Movies), Kier-La Janisse (House of Psychotic Women) and Brian Albright (Regional Horror Films, 1958-1990: A State-by-State Guide with Interviews)

Screenshots borrowed from DVD Beaver.