First up, Arrow Video presents two classics from Italian cult legend Mario Bava’s vast back catalogue. The earlier of these two releases is the originally-banned black magic gothic horror, Black Sunday.
Like sweet nectar to the obsessive completist, both the original European version of the film (named at the time The Mask of Satan) and the re-cut/re-edited U.S version are included, alongside the nice bonus of the very first sound-era Italian horror film, Bava’s I Vampiri.
Black Sunday, first released in 1960, has aged well. The tale of a seventeenth century witch, played by Barbara Steele, brought back to life to seek revenge on a wealthy family features many memorable shots, a great spooky atmosphere and gloriously retro set-design alongside surprisingly brutal moments considering its age.
The second Bava release comes in the form of his late period favourite, 1972’s Lisa and the Devil. Controversially re-cut and renamed The House of Exorcism to shamelessly cash in on the success of The Exorcist, again, both versions are included in this set.
Lisa and the Devil, possibly Bava’s greatest movie, is a genre classic. Featuring a suitably creepy performance from Kojak himself, Telly Savalas, as a strange puppeteer, this is a delirious blend of Dario Argento stylish gore and Ingmar Bergman symbolic dream sequence made real. As Elke Sommer’s American tourist lost in Spain gets entangled with a family’s dark secrets and hidden past, the audience is treated to a colourful, beautifully-rendered vision of disturbing tension and weird eroticism made all the more dreamlike by the years.
Less esteemed (and rightly so) is the work of Spanish director Jess Franco. The man responsible for Vampyros Lesbos (you know what that’s about) made a few films with Christopher Lee in the seventies. One of which was The Bloody Judge, a kind of Witchfinder General with a different wig and Lee standing in for Vincent Price.
The story of a notorious real-life figure during the English civil war, unfortunately Franco’s film falls far short of the fascinating source material. With a barely-even faxed-in performance from Lee, seedy sexploitation more irritating than titillating and a frankly dull script, The Bloody Judge is best left forgotten.
A far more skilful sleazemeister is From Beyond director Stuart Gordon, whose silly HP Lovecraft adaptation from 1986 remains gloriously gratuitous. Produced by Gordon’s Re-Animator collaborator Brian Yuzna (also responsible for the deranged Society), From Beyond is a hugely enjoyable mix of parallel-dimension mutation, Hellraiser-esque bondage and the aforementioned schlong-shaped villains.
Another Re-Animator alumnus, Jeffrey Combs, pops up as our scientist/mental patient hero as the action is cranked up to the level of ridiculousness that only gory, physical effects-laden eighties pics can quite pull off.
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