HELP ME... I'M POSSESSED
Color, 1976, 76 mins. 12 secs.
Directed by Charles Nizet
Starring Bill Greer, Deedy Peters, Lynne Marta, Jim Dean, Pierre Agostino
AGFA (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Code Red (US R0 NTSC) / (1.78:1) (16:9)
NIGHT OF THE STRANGLER
Color, 1972, 90 min. 25 secs.
Directed by Joy N. Houck, Jr.
Starring Chuck Patterson, Micky Dolenz, James Ralston, Michael Anthony, Jim Ralston, Warren Kenner, Susan McCullough, Ann Barrett, Katie Tilley
AGFA (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Vinegar Syndrome (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
CARNIVAL OF BLOOD
Color, 1970, 87 mins. 47 secs.
Directed by Leonard Kirtman
Starring Earle Edgerton, Judith Resnick, Martin Barolsky, Kaly Mills, Burt Young
AGFA (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Something Weird / Image Entertainment (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)
Continuing its excavations into the deeper recesses of exploitation films from yesteryear, the American Genre Film Archive pulls out a trio of 1970s indie oddities making their Blu-ray debuts here in the Blood-a-Rama Triple Feature with another heaping of drive-in style extra goodies designed to make it a true old school triple feature. Each of these has been out on DVD before in some form or another, but this marks their first time together for your viewing enjoyment in pure 1080p.
First up is the amusingly titled Help Me... I'm Possessed, a Southwestern-shot, ratty Gothic yarn that kicks off with a pair of young necking lovers getting offed in their car by a monstrous force in the pre-credits sequence. It turns out they were parked less than half a mile from Blackwood Sanitarium, a castle now functioning as a mental institution -- or as the supervising Dr. Arthur Blackwood (Greer) calls it, "a rest home for emotionally disturbed people." The investigating sheriff (Dean) comes snooping around but doesn't get too far with the doctor, who also stashes some of the more extreme patients down in his torture dungeon basement. In this secret lair, the doctor conducts weird experiments involving pretty women strung up from the ceiling in their underwear, and the ones who die are then dismembered by his faithful hunchbacked servant (Agostino) to fit in handy coffins they can bury in the desert. Enter the doctor's new wife, Diane (co-writer Peters), who meets the doc's infantile little sister, Melanie (Myrta), and gets a clue that something's amiss when a wandering patient named Edith warns her, "There will be more murders, more blood!" Boy, she ain't kidding.
Though it does contain a supernatural presence that looks like a bunch of long red hair ribbons in front of a turbo fan (and whose identity is only revealed in the final minute), this film doesn't really have any possessions per se. Instead it feels more like a throwback to '60s schlock films (especially basement mad scientist epics like The Brain that Wouldn't Die) thanks to hoary scenes like a man stuck in a guillotine poised to drop after a candle burns through the rope holding up the blade, and the paint-like blood gets sloshed around without any blades actually cutting anyone in graphic detail. There are also lots of women in their undies acting terrified, of course, along with an eye-punishing parade of overgrown sideburns, tacky wigs, and the most hideous interior decorations this side of a Ray Dennis Steckler film. Completing the retro atmosphere is an explosive finale shot at Bronson Canyon, site of sci-fi quickies like Robot Monster. It's also worth noting that this was the last theatrical feature from enigmatic, deceased filmmaker Charles Nizet, who had previously churned out odd programmers like Voodoo Heartbeat, Something Weird favorite The Ravager, and VHS trash staple Slaves of Love.
Barely released in theaters and briefly issued on VHS from Video Gems, this goofy, wildly entertaining cheapie has inexplicably remained undiscovered while many of its peers have gone on to cult film status. In 2013, Code Red released it on DVD (paired up with Demon Witch Child) featuring an anamorphic transfer does what it can with damaged, modest source materials. Colors are definitely on the faded and earthy side, not surprisingly, and the print's probably passed through more than a few projectors over the years. However, it's way better than the old '80s transfer and does a suitable job of capturing the seedy atmosphere of the original film. The AGFA transfer, as with the other two on the Blu-ray, is cited as being from the only print material in existence, so this is definitely a case of what you see is what you get; it's definitely faded and seen better days, but if you want that grindhouse aesthetic, it's here in abundance. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 English mono track, as with the others, is fine given the print source, and English SDH subtitles are provided.
In film number two, murder, funk music, and racial tension fuel Night of the Strangler, marketed as a horror film but closer to a cross between a giallo and a trashy airport paperback. Today it's best remembered as a rare starring vehicle for Micky Dolenz, who launched to fame on TV courtesy of The Monkees and enjoyed a long career as an actor on both the stage and the small screen for decades. However, the film also has plenty to offer on its own as a chunk of vintage drive-in insanity with a couple of truly nutty plot twists to keep viewers on their toes.
Sweet young thing Denise (McCullough), a "lady of culture and breeding," flies back home to Baton Rouge from Vassar, or as her older brother Dan (Ralston) calls it, "that damn Yankee institution." At dinner with Dan and her younger brother Vance (Dolenz), she announces that she's dropping out of school... because she's pregnant and about to get married. On top of that her beau is black, which sends the incredibly racist Dan on a violent tirade as he insists she get an abortion. Denise takes off to find comfort in the arms of her lover only to have him shot dead by a rifle-wielding hippie sniper in front of her, and soon after she's bumped off herself by a glove-wearing assailant who drowns her in the bathtub and disguises the scene as a wrist-slashing suicide. Also newly returned to the area is Father Jesse (Patterson), a black priest who's sent off to help repair the rift that's formed between Dan and Vance over the whole Denise situation. On top of that the brothers have a weird romantic tangle with Dan now engaged to Vance's ex, Carol (Barrett), while Vance is now a raging alcoholic and dating the priest's colleague Ann (Tilley). Not surprisingly, Dan's big wedding turns into another fist fight complete with racist epithets, but that's just the beginning as a killer wearing white gloves seems to be on the loose. Poor Carol gets attacked by a venomous snake stuck in a bouquet of flowers, that hippie sniper tries to carry out another job, and for some reason Dan blames his brother for the murder. But could there be another motive at work here?
Sharp-eyed viewers who pay attention to Denise's note at the beginning should be able to parse out the basic gist of the film's big twist, but the execution and details of it are something else entirely. If you try to tackle this film as any sort of serious look at racial relations in the early '70s, you won't get very far apart from the fact that bigots are bad and revenge is a nasty business. Technically the film is something of a mess complete with muddy live sound recording, an inability to decide on the spelling of "Jesse" vs. "Jessie," and dialogue flubs aplenty (with Denise referring to her brothers by the wrong name on multiple occasions and Dolenz hilariously unable to pronounce the word "racist"). Of course, that also just adds immensely to the entertainment value, and the last-minute "sting" before the end credits is an insane bit of business that just muddies the waters even further. (Once you know the killer's motivation, it seems like a pretty extreme overreaction given the huge body count involved.) Loads of fun and never dull for one second.
The Night of the Strangler (which features no strangling and takes place mostly in broad daylight) was a bit of a tough sell for American distributor Howco, who also gave us the Gerald McRaney shocker Night of Bloody Horror. It landed on VHS from Paragon under the current title after theatrical reissues tried out a few alternate names like Dan's Dirty Women, The Ace of Spades, and Is the Father Black Enough?, and the presumably public domain film has been bootlegged several times on DVD from labels like Mutant Sorority and Synergy, all taken from that ancient '80s-era transfer and looking about as shoddy as you'd expect. The bare bones Vinegar Syndrome DVD from 2013 was another in their line of releases spotlighting AGFA, whose 35mm print was used for the fresh 2K scan seen here. Colors are on the faded side (with reds in particularly looking muted), but it was still the best we had at the time. The AGFA Blu-ray improves in the areas you'd expect with sharper detail throughout, and this one looks the best of the three with the print obviously kept in solid condition over the decades.
Finally film number three is Carnival of Blood, which first popped up on DVD in 2002 as a Something Weird double feature with its frequent theatrical co-feature, Curse of the Headless Horseman, and hit the bargain bin market in 2007 from Alpha Video (paired with The Undertaker and His Pals). Boasting an early "GP" rating (though easily an R in its current state), this was the directorial debut for New York-based Leonard Kirtman, who quickly jumped into the adult film industry through the mid-1980s (mostly under the name "Leon Gucci"). Shot on location largely at Coney Island and featuring a very young Burt Young (billed as "John Harris"), this one follows a string of murders around the boardwalk where the victims have all recently gotten a teddy bear from dart game barker Tom (Edgerton). Assistant district attorney Dan (Barolsky) decides to roam around the area a lot at night and somehow ropes his girlfriend, Laura (Resnick), into tagging along far more than logically feasible as bodies keep turning up all over the place.
Though only marginally effective as a horror movie in the vein of H.G. Lewis and Steckler, this one is pure bliss as far as regional '70s oddities go with tons of great location coverage and "you can't buy this" oddball atmosphere galore. Plus you get to see future Oscar nominee Young playing a sore-covered sidekick named Gimpy, so that's worth the retail price all by itself. The Something Weird DVD was pulled from a rare 16mm print that's apparently drifted off into the ether, so all that's left now is the 35mm print used here which has paler color but better detail (and about the same amount of damage, albeit in different spots of course). The film also comes with an enthusiastic partial commentary with Bleeding Skull’s Annie Choi and AGFA and Bleeding Skull’s Joseph A. Ziemba, who cruise through the film's element history, the Coney Island locations, Kirtman, the cast, the joy of early '70s horror, and more.
The whole shebang can also be played in one massive 4hr31m4s marathon complete with fun HD-scanned drive-in snipes (with the usual concession stand hawking), plus trailers for Curse of the Headless Horseman, I Saw What You Did (in much better quality than what's on that film's Blu-ray), The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio (whose crazy trailer was absent on its Blu-ray release), The Wacky World of Doctor Morgus (a slice of regional insanity that would make a great AGFA release someday if it still exists), The Love-Thrill Murders, and Peeping Tom (in B&W),
Reviewed on December 6, 2021.