The daytime soap opera star of the immensely popular “Dark Shadows” stars (along with a number of other cult movie icons) in one of his few features, which happens to be the first for one of Hollywood’s most celebrated filmmakers. The nearly forgotten SEIZURE makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Scorpion Releasing.
A horror novelist suffering from a recurring nightmare, Edmund Blackstone (Jonathan Frid, THE HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS) and his wife Nicole (Christina Pickles, MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE) host a weekend retreat for their snobby and greedy friends at their woods-surrounded house. Unfortunately for his house guests and their young boy (Timothy Ousey), Edmund’s sketched characters from the book he is working on come to life with such surreal and evil personas as the wicked Queen of Evil (Martine Beswick, DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE), a tall and horribly scarred executioner named Jackal (Henry Judd Baker, SHORT EYES) and a bearded dwarf called The Spider (Hervé Villechaize, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN) who terrorize the household. The three strangers, who appear as if they came out of a demonic fairy tale, infiltrate the isolated place home-invasion style, torment the guests by playing on their emotions and threatening to kill them one by one after forcing them to suffer through a number of rigorous challenges beforehand. Is this trio supernatural or a bunch of escaped lunatics?
As a number of noted American filmmakers had roots in low budget genre productions (look at the Roger Corman school for numerous examples), it’s not surprising that young New York-born Vietnam vet Oliver Stone’s maiden directorial effort would be in horror. Years later, after writing the screenplay for the highly praised MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, he would helm another horror feature (1981’s THE HAND with Michael Caine) and by the mid 1980s he reached atuer and household name status with films like SALVADOR, PLATOON and WALL STREET. Stone concocted the screenplay with Edward Mann (director of HALLUCINATION GENERATION and writer of several 1960s horror screenplays) and the results are a hodgepodge of morbid ideas, with the focus on the horror writer and his character creations who are transformed into living and breathing menaces. This basic idea was found earlier in a segment of the Amicus anthology THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD called “Method to Murder”, penned by Robert Bloch (the film also had the same distributor as SEIZURE in the U.S.) and probably a number of other TV and film presentations, but the execution of that premise here is quite trippy to say the least. It was obvious that Stone and company were trying to make something a bit smarter than the average monster or slasher film, resulting in an oddball and at times crude piece of filmmaking with far out editing techniques and a freeze frame method utilized in some of the violent scenes (which are actually tame with the film being given a PG rating) and some cheap-looking but surprisingly effective make-up. Produced independently and shot entirely on location in what must have been a very cold Ontario, Canada, SEIZURE’s casting is what makes it easily approachable and easy to watch, even when it comes off like an hallucinatory-induced episode of “Night Gallery”.
Fans of the ever popular “Dark Shadows” series will be delighted to see Frid (only a year or two after its cancellation) in familiar territory as another tormented being, and he holds the film together well (this would be his final feature appearance before Tim Burton’s failed 2012 in which he had a thankless cameo in a film released shortly after his passing). As the Queen of Evil, Beswick has never looked sexier and is picture perfect as the character and it’s noticeable that one of the twisted-looking sketches of her image was copied from the British advertising for Hammer’s DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE, which she made just prior to this. Villechaize is properly menacing (scaring the bejesus out of the guests by leering through windows) and is quite energetic, but it’s hard to visualize him as scary years after his cutesy “Fantasy Island” fame and familiar high-pitched French accent, so if anything, his performance is more of a novelty. Mary Woronov (DEATH RACE 2000) plays the bitchy trophy wife of loudmouthed businessman Charlie Hughes (Joseph Sirola, unforgettable as mobster Benjamin Sposato in the “Zombie” episode of KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER) whose character is introduced having a shouting match with a gas station attendant. Woronov is seen running from the house in nothing but a skimpy black top and black underwear, having a frightful encounter at said gas station, and getting into a deadly fight with Frid’s Blackstone by the Queen of Evil’s fetishy demand. TV actor Roger De Koven plays Blackstone’s elder statesman who attempts to make sense of the bizarre happening via some heavy-handed dialog, and his wife is played by Anne Meacham (DEAR DEAD DELILAH), subjected to a hideous witch-like image of her reflection as shown to her by The Spider. Future CRUISING star Richard Cox plays Blackstone’s lazy brother-in-law, and former 1950s and early 1960s heartthrob Troy Donahue (MY BLOOD RUNS COLD) plays a longhaired playboy type who’s done in fairly early (his name meant so little at this time in his career that it’s buried in the opening credits). The score by Lee Gagnon has a number of eerie and melodic high points and at times is reminiscent of the music in CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS.
Shot in 1972, SEIZURE saw U.S. theatrical distribution from Cinerama in 1974 (in a deal negotiated through AIP) and often played on a double bill with the Amicus werewolf picture THE BEAST MUST DIE. Released on VHS by Prism Entertainment (as well as several other labels) in the 1980s, a more recent grey market DVD (sourced from one of these VHS transfers) is not even worth mentioning. Scorpion’s Blu-ray (the film is also being released on DVD) is the first legitimate release of the the film in the digital age, sourced from the original vault elements and presented in a brand new HD master. The 1080p widescreen (1.78:1) transfer has the film looking better than ever, with consistent colors and decent detail. A few darker scenes tend to be on the murkier side and less detailed, but likely due to the original production values. Blemishes on the print source are minimal, and the English audio comes in DTS-HD mono track which replicates the dialog and music well enough. The Canadian version of the film, QUEEN OF EVIL, runs about four minutes longer, but the extra footage is primarily extra dialog (Scorpion’s release reflects the American theatrical release of the film, running 34:27).
Extras include an interview with Mary Woronov (15:12) who mentions how she got the part while living in NY and described the young Stone as a “rich kid” who wanted to make movies and later in the interview, as a “prince” since he went over schedule. She describes Frid as the nicest guy in the world (though like “Dracula” due to the fact that that it seemed he never slept), that hot tempered Villechaize refused to wear tights, and that the entire crew had a crush on Beswick. Woronov gives some anecdotes about some of her scenes in the film, and also touches briefly on SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT (directed by her then-husband Theodore Gershuny) and working with John Carradine on that film. Other titles like TERRORVISION and NIGHT OF THE COMET are also commented on. The second video interview has Richard Cox (23:17) who talks about being cast in his very first film and having to fly back out from Canada to NY to do the “Love of Life” TV soap opera. Cox mentions how he got on well with the cast, that he’s thankful to Stone for giving him his first film role, shooting a dangerous scene involving a gun, and that Donahue had a run-in with the special effects guy. He talks about other films in his long career, including of course CRUISING, but remembers practically nothing about 1985’s HELLHOLE. The final extra is Cinerama’s theatrical trailer (actually it’s a 60 second TV spot). (George R. Reis)
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