THE CURSE OF THE SCREAMNG DEAD
Color, 1982, 89 mins. 17 secs.
Directed by Tony Malanowski
Starring Steve Sandkuhler, Christopher Gummer, Rebecca Bach, Judy Dixon, Jim Ball, Mimi Ishikawa
NIGHT OF HORROR
Color, 1981, 72 mins. 44 secs.
Directed by Tony Malanowski
Starring Steve Sandkuhler, Rebecca Bach, Gae Schmitt, Jeff Canfield, Tony Malanowski
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Shot for pocket change in Maryland, the regional horror oddity The Curse of the Screaming Dead is most notorious today (if at all) for being cited by Lloyd Kaufman in his autobiography as being at the bottom of all the films Troma had ever released. Anyone familiar with Troma's output for the past decade or so will know that's far from accurate, but this film (also released as Curse of the Cannibal Confederates) is also something of an acquired taste as it takes its sweet time before finally delivering a memorable rising from the dead sequence and some very splashy gut munching. This was actually the second film by Tony Malanowski, who essentially retooled his feature right before this, the sleep-inducing Night of Horror, which made ample use of Civil War reenactors to set up a mild supernatural saga about the Confederate undead. Screaming Dead is a high-velocity rollercoaster by comparison, and though both films have been around separately on home video over the years, they've been brought together by Vinegar Syndrome as a 2023 two-disc Blu-ray set that could damage some brain cells.
The headliner here is obviously The Curse of the Screaming Dead, which spends its first half hanging out with six friends out in the woods for a hunting trip: Wyatt (Sandkuhler), Mel (Gummer), Sarah (Bach), Lin (Dixon), "Blind" Kiyomi (Ishikawa), and Bill (Ball). After many conversations, they make their way to a long-neglected graveyard filled with artifacts belonging to the soldiers buried there. Of course, Mel has to swipe a diary belonging to one of the deceased, and when night falls, the irritated corpses rise from their graves (superimposed with a fireworks display) and attack the interlopers. Much mayhem ensues including entrail ripping and flesh eating. On the other hand, Night of Horror is the bloodless tale of Steve (Sandkulher again), who tries to convince his pal Chris (Malanowski) to play in his band by inviting him over for the evening. That turns into a campfire story of sorts about Steve and some friends going across the state to a cabin only to come across some ghosts there of Confederate soldiers. Cue the long, very distant battle scenes with lots of singing. The most memorable thing about this one is its opening disclaimer (typos and all): "The film you are about to see, is a depiction of an actual event, well documented in the annals of the paranormal. The characters in this film are derivatives of the actual people to whom these shocking events occurred; being so changed to protect them from both adverse publicity, and any embarrassment which may be caused by unbelievers. This film is designed to be entertaining, as well as a warning to any and all who may, at one time or another, find themselves lost in a certain part of Virginia Mountain country."
The connection between these two films is a weird one, with Curse originating from a request to shoot some gory additions for Night to use in a promo reel and spice up the actual movie itself. Curse made the rounds on VHS from Mogul while Night was issued from Genesis Home Video in '87 and then briefly as a budget title from Star Classics. Some confusion arose in the fanzine era between the two films given the similar concepts and participants, with some who couldn't access both titles believing they were the same film. The whole saga about how they came about is covered in depth in the Blu-ray set, with Curse presented here in its original cut for the first time in ages without the doctored Troma credits (which shoved some of the graveyard zombie rising footage at the beginning). Image quality is great considering its technical origins, restored in 2K from its 16mm camera reversal, and the DTS-HD MA English 2.0 is fine given the opening disclaimer that all audio elements were gone and it had to be lifted from a tape master. As usual, optional English SDH subtitles are provided. Night of Horror was deliberately shot to be dark and murky (for reasons explained in the extras) and still looks that way, basically giving off the vibe of a Super 8 home movie. It is what it is. Both films are included on the first disc with the very animated Malanowski and Sandkuhler delivering audio commentaries for both features; you should probably hear the one for Night first if you're in for the long haul since the two tracks sort of flow in sequence. They're definitely not under any delusions about the merits of the final films and joke plenty about their reputations, but they remember everything about the shoots and have tons of stories.
Disc two is devoted to the video bonus features, which are more generous than any title Criterion has done in the past decade. We start with "Scream On! The Making of The Curse of the Screaming Dead" (50m32s), featuring Malanowski (appropriately sitting among some familiar Styrofoam tombstones), Sandkuhler, Bach and Gummer. There's a lot of great material here not covered in the commentaries including the thespian tensions between Dixon and Sandkuhler, the reason behind that whole "Blind" thing, the things they would have done differently, the solidarity shown by the director during one very cold outdoor scene, and much more. "Bart Mixon: The Man Behind the Masks" (12m33s) catches up with the special make-up effects artist who actually pulled off some pretty great zombie faces, and he's a passionate "monster kid" who tells his whole career story here eventually leading to a number of Marvel productions and classics like RoboCop. "The Score of the Screaming Dead" (15m8s) features composer Charlie Barnett and recording engineer Jim Crenca, starting off on a funny note before going into how the sound of the film evolved from their backgrounds including working with lots of "hippies." "Oh, What a Night... of Horror!" (43m50s) is basically a companion piece to "Scream On" with Malanowski, Sandkuhler, and Bach recalling the process of making that very threadbare film, which turned out to be way too uneventful to market on its own. You might want to watch this one first as well since it also focuses on their backgrounds a great deal and explains how the whole two-film enterprise started. In "A Morning After a Night of Horror: The 'Unmade' Making of..." (20m42s), editor Rosie Nakamura and animator Autumn Nakamura Neal talk about how they became big fans of the film at a young age when they came across it on VHS and realized there was "something different" that appealed to them. Finally in "I Put a Spell on You" (29m13s), Nightmare USA author Stephen Thrower is completely in his wheelhouse explaining how these films came about on a shoestring and exhibited the regional charm he embraces, with Maryland filmmaker Don Dohler (Nightbeast) having an influence along the way. Finally you get a reel of outtakes for The Curse of the Screaming Dead (8m31s) and a Curse of the Cannibal Confederates home video trailer.
Reviewed on October 20, 2023.