One-time drive-in film purveyors Crown International were never acclaimed for their homespun horrors, churning out dreck like NIGHTMARE IN WAX, BLOOD MANIA and POINT OF TERROR. This disc presents two imports that Crown distributed in the U.S., THE DEVIL’S MEN (which they released here as LAND OF THE MINOTAUR), a U.K./Greek production featuring two well-known British thesps, and TERROR, a gore-drenched effort from British cult director Norman J. Warren. The films are far from the genre’s crowning achievements, but together they provide an ok backdrop for some late-night sofa loafing.
In THE DEVIL’S MEN, three young people go on an archeological find in a remote area in Greece despite the warnings of Catholic priest Father Roche (Donald Pleasance), an expert in demonology. Seemingly more interested in sex than uncovering any ancient marvels, they are taken prisoner in a ruined temple by some hooded Satanists who worship a half bull/half human idol (who periodically shouts out threats like some sort of deranged talking kids’ toy, and shoots smoke from his nostrils), and they are prepped to be blood sacrifices. Father Roche calls upon a private detective friend (Costas Skouras) from New York, and they are later joined by Laurie (Luan Peters) who is search of her missing beau. All this devil worship is linked directly to the most influential man in the village, Baron Corofax (Peter Cushing), who is in exile from the Carpathian Mountains.
Admittedly, THE DEVIL’S MEN doesn’t have very much to recommend it except for the presence of Cushing and Pleasance (Pleasance is constantly hamming it up, while Cushing seems initially disinterested, soon getting into his sinister character as best he can), and you have to believe they took this gig just to take advantage of a holiday in Greece. At least Luan Peters, one of the sexiest and most underused of the British horror film heroines (she had small parts in Hammer’s LUST FOR A VAMPIRE and TWINS OF EVIL) gets to wear hot pants and screams a lot. The direction, photography and sound recording are all on the crude side, and the plot is as predictable and unimaginative as they come. Not even the scenic Greek locations give the film any kind of distinction, though some of the ancient ruins in which the Satanic high jinks takes place are indeed atmospheric. Ex Roxy Music member Brian Eno provides a haunting electronic score that’s better than the film deserves.
But for some reason this time out, I found myself enjoying the film far more than I did in past viewings. Perhaps it was seeing two of my favorite horror kings pitted against each other on screen again, or to see the shenanigan-filled results of a very cut-rate Euro tag-along of the current crop of popular Satan cult movies of the time (especially THE DEVIL’S RAIN and RACE WITH THE DEVIL). Or maybe it’s because I’m getting to see it in its full, uncut form and not as some fifth-generation bootleg. That’s right, here Scorpion has released the longer U.K. version with all the gore and nudity (including the shapely Ms. Peters rising from her bubbly bath water) that was missing from Crown International’s watered-down PG theatrical version. Although it was available in the U.K as a Region 2 PAL DVD, this is the very first time this version of the film has officially become available in the States, and it's a long time coming.
TERROR is the second collaboration between director Norman J. Warren and writer David McGillivray, and it was admittedly inspired by Dario Argento's SUSPIRIA, delivering what many deem a British giallo. With a centuries-old curse lingering over their family name, filmmaker James Garrick (John Nolan) is united with cousin Ann (Ann Garrick) when she stars in his latest low budget horror flick. At the wrap party, Ann goes under a trance and tries to slice him up with an ancient sword. Soon, people are turning up dead in the most bizarre ways, and the unseen assailant has a supernatural sway in his favor. Allowing the red stuff to flow freely, a woman is found pinned to a tree with knives, a dirty movie director is crushed by a hanging film light, a canister of film comes to life and leads to a beheading by a broken window glass, a policeman is repeatedly run over by a car, etc.
The film is a matter of style (with some striking shots and color lighting schemes) over substance (the script lacks interesting characters, and there are too many for that matter), but you have to give Warren and McGillivray points for attempting to keep the genre alive and fresh at a time when the British horror cycle was already ten feet under. It’s pretty much a mixed bag of unintentional laughs (a floating, menacing car!) and just about every modern horror film device imaginable, but it certainly can be enjoyable. Look for cameos by McGillivray (as a reporter), Hammer heavy Milton Reid as a bouncer and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca in the "Star Wars" series) as a creepy mechanic. Mary Maude (familiar to classic horror fans for THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED and CRUCIBLE OF TERROR) also appears as one of the damsels in distress.
Both films were previously available from BCI as a double feature flipper disc as part of their “Crypt of Terror” line, but starting with the uncut DEVIL’S MEN (which runs about 9 minutes longer), Scorpion’s dual-layered presentation is better in every way. BCI’s rather murky LAND OF THE MINOTAUR transfer has been redeemed by Scorpion's uncut DEVIL’S MEN, which boasts strong colors, sharp detail and an attractively clean 1.66:1 anamorphic image which looks quite nice on HD televisions. The mono English audio has some slight scratchiness, but it’s not in the least bit troublesome and the track is much stronger than what could be heard on BCI’s presentation (which sounded as if it was recorded in a wind tunnel). This longer “international” version also contains a rocked-out end theme not heard on American prints. TERROR is presented 1.78:1 anamorphic (the film was first released on DVD open matte from Rhino as part of a “Horrible Horrors” package) and looks comparable to the transfer present on BCI’s previous disc. Aside from being a tad dark in some scenes, the colors are nice and detail is rich. The English mono audio is very clear and clean.
As this DVD is part of Scorpion’s ongoing “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” series, beautiful Katarina Leigh Waters hosts the movie, which you also have the option of playing without her opening and closing segments (you can view both features together, complete with both intros and closings). There are no extras for THE DEVIL’S MEN, but TERROR includes the “making of” featurette “Blood Good Fun” (40:43, erroneously labeled on the DVD’s menu as “Bloody Good Times”). Originally produced for the U.K. Region 2 box set called “The Norman Warren Collection”, this is a very satisfying little documentary which contains interviews with director Warren, producer Les Young, executive producer Moira Young, screenwriter David McGillivray and cast members Mary Maude, Carolyn Courage, James Aubrey and the late Elaine-Ives Cameron, who plays a Norma Desmond-type hostel owner. Recollections of the casting, locations, special effects and some behind-the-scenes stories are shared, and there’s even some test footage of the climatic flying sword thrown in. Two bits of brief deleted dialog footage (during the “Bath time with Brenda” film within-a-film scene, as well as the wild "Nightclub" scene) are included, as original American and French trailers for the film. Scorpion Releasing trailers for NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT, DOUBLE EXPOSURE and THE DEVIL WIHIN HER round out the disc’s extras. (George R. Reis)
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