Vinegar Syndrome combines a 1970s Euro vampire movie (with footage shot in the good ol’ USA) and a rather obscure 1970s British attempt at ghostly gothic for this Blu-ray/DVD combo double feature.
Engineer Chris Bolton (Andrew Prine, THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS) travels to "Vampire Island" when his archaeologist father (Mariano García Rey, the film’s make-up artist) is deliberately crushed under a large tomb by Peter (Mark Damon, BLACK SABBATH), a fanatical, failed writer. In order to remove the body, they must open the lid of the tomb to alleviate the weight so it can be lifted. Peter plays nice guy in front of Chris, not knowing that he actually killed his father, and he gets the superstitious local fisherman to help unseal the heavy lid. The tomb actually belongs to Hannah, the wife of the 13th-century French crusader/king, Louis VII. Legend has it that Louis was too captivated by the vampiric Hannah's beauty to have her killed, so he sealed her alive (actually, undead) in a marble tomb. When Chris and Peter get the lid off, they discover a perfectly preserved woman, hardly looking her 700 years. Vampiric Hannah (gorgeous Spanish horror actress Teresa Gimpera, also in COUNT DRACULA, NIGHT OF THE DEVILS and THE LOVE BRIDES OF THE MUMMY, but best known for Victor Erice’s THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE) soon awakes from her long rest and rises out of her tomb to wreak havoc amongst the islanders with the help of a hideous, beastly “wild man” servant (Ihshan Gedik) who likes to play around with decapitated heads. She is seen transforming into a green mist and floating out of her coffin, and later changing into a wolf. Meanwhile, Chris gets romantically involved with Mary (Patty Shepard, THE WITCHES MOUNTAIN), Peter's school teacher sister. But Peter is now completely under Hannah's influence, and Chris wants to get Mary off the island and away from her crazed brother. What follows is more bloodshed, leading up to a fiery conclusion.
Also known as YOUNG HANNAH, QUEEN OF THE VAMPIRES (the on-screen title on the print presented here) and HANNAH, QUEEN OF THE VAMPIRES, CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD manages to run into every vampire movie cliché in the book, and it's brimming with inane dialog ("Do you really believe that Hannah is 700 years old? It doesn't make any sense." Reply: "It will make sense if you wake up some morning with two holes in your neck."), but it definitely can rate favorably on a "guilty pleasure" level and as far as the film’s look and feel, it certainly succeeds in the Euro horror category. The Turkish locations -- acting as a desolate island -- are rich in spooky ambiance, and Gimpera (wearing a tiara and white flowing gown) is poses a striking figure as the silent vampire queen, preying on poor villagers and animals in the dead of night. There's also the cool Prine (one of the most employed actors in exploitation films during the 1970s) as the mustached hero, and with his dark features, Damon (who also donned evil in the Italian-made THE DEVIL’S WEDDING NIGHT around the same time) is fittingly sinister (although his evil persona should've been revealed much later to give the proceedings more suspense). Alluring American-born Shepard who appeared in countless Spanish horror flicks (most notably as Countess Wandessa in THE WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN/WEREWOLF SHADOW opposite Paul Naschy's vicious werewolf) is an asset to the film, and it’s great to hear her own voice for a change. Another Spanish horror staple, grey-haired tough guy actor Frank Brana (RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD) plays a blind sailor who also falls victim to Hannah. There’s a terrifically haunting score by Philip Lambro which is perfect for the film, and a highly recommended soundtrack CD was released by Perseverance Records some years ago.
Since the film is believed to be in the public domain, as both YOUNG HANNAH: QUEEN OF THE VAMPIRES and CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD, it has certainly made the rounds on DVD through a number of different companies. Vinegar Syndrome now brings the U.S. theatrical version to Blu-ray, scanned and restored in 2k from a newly-discovered 35mm negative, and the results are quite nice. With the Salvador’s original footage being shot with a hard matte and Danton’s pick-ups shot open matte, past DVD transfers seemed to be letterboxed too tightly or misframed entirely, but here the 1.85:1 framing looks perfect. With the original source element being in terrific shape, the 1080p HD transfer boasts some truly revealing detail not witnessed in all previous DVD transfers, while colors remain vivid and nicely saturated throughout. There’s a light sheet of filmic grain on the picture (heavier in darker scenes), fleshtones look natural (with Hannah looking appropriately pale and ghostly) and black levels are deep for the most part. The DTS-HD mono English audio is also well executed, having clear dialogue, and music and sound effects are also robust. Optional English subtitles are included. It’s interesting to note that some brief footage of the wild man’s head-waving antics has been edited in, as taken from the theatrical trailer included here (the footage was never in any American theatrical release, but it’s extended even more in the Spanish version and somehow ended up in this trailer). This U.S. trailer (under the HANNAH QUEEN OF THE VAMPIRE) is actually very rare (and I mean rare!) with some rather comically hip narration (“Can you dig it?”, “You neck sucker”, “Burn Hannah, BURN!”). The trailer also has a few more seconds of Peter’s staking death scene, so look closely for that. Rounding out the extras is a short insert clip of the alternate CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD title (the film played in the U.S. under both titles for years).
The South African-lensed HOUSE OF THE LIVING DEAD is here as a companion film on the Blu-ray that’s more or less a “bonus feature”. In the Cape Colony of South Africa, an aristocratic family with a lot of secrets and a lot of things to be ashamed of, own a seemingly-peaceful run plantation farm. The matriarch of the family, Lady Brattling (Margaret Inglis), has a normal son named Michael (Mark Burns, DEATH IN VENICE) and Breck (also Burns), and he’s the one to be embarrassed about. Breck covers up his face and hides in his laboratory room, conducting crazy experiments based on a theory about capturing living souls through transfusion, starting with a baboon he captured in the jungle. Michael’s lovely fiancée Mary (Shirley Anne Field, HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM) is set to arrive with her chaperone Dr. Collinson (David Oxley, Hammer’s THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES), but Lady Brattling is totally against her visit, believing their family has a history of madness and that lives are in danger. Of course, Breck starts taking on humans for his experiments, and a lot of the strange happenings are blamed on voodoo, which the locals very much indulge in.
Shot in 1973, HOUSE OF THE LIVING DEAD (also known here as CURSE OF THE DEAD) didn’t play in the U.S. until 1976, mostly on the drive-in circuit, and it wouldn’t be surprising if it played with CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD somewhere at some point. Although the film’s production values are good, and there’s a decent enough cast (Burns somehow was recognized as “Best Actor” at the 1974 Sitges Film Festival), the cinematography looks rather drab, so if this is a late attempt to recreate the look of a classic period Hammer Horror (or Robert Hartford-Davis’ THE BLACK TORMENT, which it resembles plot-wise), it actually comes closer to lower tier British scare films like DISCIPLE OF DEATH. Although the film is not always listed as being a product of Great Britain, this is largely a British production due to the cast and director Ray Austin, a former stuntman who did a few features and worked steadily on television. Since Austin had just directed the skin-exposing THE VIRGIN WITCH, it’s surprising how non-exploitive the film is and with no nudity and only brief shots of the mutilated faces of several victims, it got away with a PG rating. Getting to scream on screen a lot here, Shirley Anne Field was a fixture in early British horror and fantasy (appearing in Michael Powell’s PEEPING TOM and Joseph Losey’s THESE ARE THE DAMNED), so it’s nice to see her in this type of film again; she’s ravishing as ever even though technically she’s much older than your average 1970s Brit horror female starlet. The film has a twist at the end and a few effective scenes, but there’s way too much melodramatic plodding filling up the running time, so it’s a chore to sit through and there’s no “living dead” to be seen. It’s not the kind of film that will likely warrant repeated viewings, but it’s still nice to have for completists.
Another film believed to be in the public domain, HOUSE OF THE LIVING DEAD has suffered from a number of lousy budget DVD releases, most of them ripped from and old full frame VHS transfer and pretty much unwatchable. Vinegar Syndrome presents the film in 1080p from a 35mm print source, preserving the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Colors are mostly warm and muted (which probably means the original film source was badly faded) and tend to bleed, darker scenes drown out some detail and there’s a sheet of grain on the image, as well as sporadic dirt, debris and scuff marks. There’s still a decent amount of clarity and natural depth, so it’s great to finally be able to see the film in a more than acceptable home video transfer, and the DTS-HD mono English track is also suitably fine, with no noticeable problems. English subtitles are also provided. The DVD included in this package includes standard definition presentations of HOUSE and CRYPT (using the same HD masters found on the Blu-ray portion), as well as CRYPT’s extras. (George R. Reis)
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