WARLOCK MOON (1973) Blu-ray
Director: William Herbert
Code Red Releasing

Before EIGHT IS ENOUGH and HILL STREET BLUES, Laurie Walters and Joe Spano fell in love under the WARLOCK MOON, on Blu-ray from Code Red Releasing.

One day after class, sociology student Jenny (Walters) meets cute with cub reporter John (Spano) who sweeps her offer her feet with a French spy impression and an offer of a picnic. Returning from the beach, they get lost and happen upon the long disused Soda Spring Spa. Kindly old caretaker Agnes Abercrombi (Edna McAfee) gives them a tour and some tea, but Jenny feels an unease about the place (citing the apparition of a bride wandering the grounds). The next week, John wants to take her back to the spa, having pitched a story on the property to the paper. She reluctantly agrees to meet him there since he will be coming back from covering another story, but she finds Mrs. Abercrombi's cottage empty and no trace of the woman herself. A local hunter (Harry Bauer) claims never to have heard of the old woman but tells her that people tend to avoid the property which was purportedly closed down in the thirties after a wedding celebration in which the owner discovered that female chef had killed and cooked his daughter and served her to the guests before disappearing into the night. Jenny is attacked by two axe-wielding brutes, but Mrs. Abercrombi and John believe she has experienced a fever-induced hallucination, and John is not any more convinced when Jenny believes that the old lady has drugged her. Forced to stay overnight, Jenny is beckoned by the ghost bride toward discovering the dark secret of the "bloody spa" as twelve sharp nears on the night of the WARLOCK MOON.

One of the more obscure 1970s "sleepers" consigned to late night television and a now hard-to-find VHS clamshell from Unicorn Video, WARLOCK MOON has no nudity and its gore is surprising when it comes but still relatively TV-safe, and the script is rather cagey about virtually everything (more so than the sometimes overly emphatic editing, however). That said, the film – also known as BLOODY SPA – sports a dreamy atmosphere, building up a lot of its suspense in the sunny surroundings of its key location – a disused tubercular hospital in Livermore, California – a la THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, and the contrast between the engaging, semi-improvised performances of Spano and Walters with the stock characterizations of the witchy old lady, the grizzled hunter, and the "folks 'round here don't take kindly to strangers" sheriff and deputy (in the extended television cut). The climax does not quite achieve the sense of delirium intended, but not for lack of trying on the part of the cast. Stay through the end credits for the real capper.

Given scant theatrical release by Enchanted Filmarts – whose only other release was THE HAMMER OF GOD – WARLOCK MOON found new life in late night syndication and on VHS tape in an extended television cut. Shriek Show's 2004 DVD offered up an anamorphic widescreen transfer of what was supposed to be the theatrical cut but an authoring error caused the disc to skip over a few minutes of footage. A commentary track by Joe Bob Briggs was actually quite entertaining and informative, offering up some tidbits about the production, including Herbert's possible association with Tobe Hooper who was also preparing a cannibalistic variation on the "Hansel and Gretel" fairytale with THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. A fixed disc was released by Shriek Show in 2007 as part of a CANNIBAL LUNCHBOX boxed set with Umberto Lenzi's MAN FROM DEEP RIVER and BLOOD FEAST 2: ALL U CAN EAT.

Code Red's Blu-ray presents two versions of the film: the theatrical version derived from the original 35mm blow-up IP (83:29) and the extended television version (89:06). The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen theatrical version is an improvement on the DVD transfer but the 16mm-lensed film still looks a bit hazy with wavering focus while the more saturated colors pop from the blood to Walters' red bellbottoms and blue top (the heightened resolution gives greater "focus" on her lack of a bra which is pointed out multiple times in the commentary). The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono audio is as good as the original audio which is a mix of location recording and clearer looped bits. The television version – which features a 1978 copyright while clipping the presentation and production company card (also blacking out the original copyright notice in the end credits) is also 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 with virtually the same framing, but the element (presumably a 16mm reduction of the 35mm blow-up) is softer, faded (particularly along the right side of the frame early on), with milky shadows and harsh-looking night exteriors. Although it runs just over five minutes longer than the theatrical version, the only difference I could spot is a minute-and-a-half sequence in which Jenny and John are pulled over by sheriff (Charles Raino, MAGNUM FORCE) and deputy (Ray K. Goman, ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ) before they stumble upon the spa. Presumably the rest of the footage is additional shots of Walters wandering around the spa grounds.

The theatrical version is accompanied by an audio commentary with actors Laurie Walters and Joe Spano (who also appear in a short introduction with "Banana Man" Bill Olsen), moderated by Jeff McKay and Damon Packard, in which they both reveal that they recall nothing about how they got involved. Both actors with the Berkeley Repertory Theater and living together as a couple at the time, they can offer little about the mysterious director Bill Herbert or the cast –apart from first victim Joan Zerrien who is Spano's current wife – but reveal that the script gave them plenty of opportunity for improvisation (with Spano penning the swimming pool sequence himself). When the moderators touch upon the Hooper connection, Spano reveals that he was cast in Craig T. Nelson's role for POLTERGEIST but Steven Bochco would not let him out of his contract.

Spano appears in an interview (11:18) recorded after the commentary in which he reiterates that he recalls little of the shoot but feels that the film is better than he thought it would be (having only seen parts of it in the years between), and revealing that he and Walters had recently done a play together. He also discusses some of his other credits towards the end of the featurette. Walters also appears in a video interview (14:44) in which she discusses how she started as a conservation major and switched to theater. She provides some more reflection on the screening of the film, noticing for the first time some of Spano's subtle touches, not recalling until seeing the film recently that she also played the bride and used a different voice and inflection for the character, and suggesting that people perhaps like the film because of its innocence from its makeshift construction to the performances. The disc also includes the film's theatrical trailer as well as trailers for SIMON: KING OF THE WITCHES and SLITHIS. (Eric Cotenas)