Curse of the Dead AKA House of the Living Dead AKA Doctor Maniac (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Vinegar Syndrome
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (25th June 2015).
The Film

Crypt of the Living Dead (Julio Salvador and Ray Danton, 1973): When archaeologist Professor Bolton (Mariano García Rey) dies in a mysterious accident, his engineer son Chris (Andrew Prine) travels to a remote Mediterranean island where his father was restoring a medieval church. Upon arrival and encountering the unfriendly and superstitious locals, Chris learns from Peter (Mark Damon) – a failed writer doing historical research on the island – that his father discovered a thirteenth century tomb beneath the church and was apparently crushed underneath a sepulchre when the aged supports broke. The tomb belongs to Hannah, the betrothed of Louis VII who took her with him on The Crusades to marry in the Holy Land only for her ship to crash on the rocks. According to a historical text, as read by Peter's schoolteacher sister Mary (Patty Shepard), the king disregarded warnings against setting foot on what was then known as "Vampire Island" and discovered that the surviving crew and Hannah had been turned into vampires. Still in love with Hannah, he spared her when destroying the other vampires and had her buried "alive" in the tomb. Although Mary disapproves of his plans to desecrate Hannah's tomb in order to recover his father's body, Chris resents the suggestion that his father bought into the local superstitions (especially upon learning that Peter helped his father lure fisherman back to repopulate the once deserted island) and intends to use his engineering prowess lift the sepulchre so that he may give his father a proper burial. Peter leans on the fisherman – lead by blind Abdul (Frank Braña) who can sense evil – to help Chris. When Chris breaks the seal on the tomb to remove to lid (making the rest of it lighter to lift), he is shocked to discover the perfectly preserved body of Hannah (Teresa Gimpera) in repose. He is unable to explain how it is possible (Peter suggests a vacuum or a forgotten embalming practice) but is also unwilling to believe Abdul's claims the next day that Hannah rose from her tomb as a wolf and killed his dog and will be going after humans now that she has recovered her strength. Abdul resolves to drive a stake through Hannah's heart while she is at rest, but he is unaware that Hannah has human help in the form of Peter – who has sampled every form of drug and spiritual belief in pursuit of enlightenment and settled upon the island's pagan traditions – and a disfigured, hulking Wild Man (Ihsan Gedik) who intermittently menaces Mary and kills any of the tomb's interlopers.

Released theatrically by Atlas Films as both Young Hannah, Queen of the Vampires and Crypt of the Living Dead – although also known elsewhere as Zompire and La Tumba de la Isla Naldita in some territories – this American/Spanish co-production was shot in Turkey was started by Julio Salvador – his last credit, and the first in five years after working sporadically through the fifties and sixties (he died the following year) – and finished by American actor Ray Danton, presumably on the strength of his Robert Quarry post-Count Yorga vampire flick The Deathmaster (American prints credit Danton while Spanish prints credit Salvador). Seventies grindhouse regular Prine and American-born Euro horror fixture Shepard do well enough as underwritten romantic leads, but the film makes a major miscalculation by inserting a few shots from the climax as a pre-credits teaser revealing Peter's true nature (especially since face is not shown in the subsequent scenes murdering Professor Bolton). While it probably would not have been a shock for viewers had the film preserved that mystery for the bulk of the film, the climax would have been strengthened as it shows that Peter has killed in desperation and hopeful, still unsure if his devotion will be rewarded, and even wavering towards Mary's offer to stay on the island with him rather than leave with Chris. Spirit of the Beehive's Gimpera – who had starred opposite Danton in Jess Franco's Lucky, the Inscrutable – has little to do or say – comparing poorly to Shepard's own turn as Erzebet Bathory-substitute Wandesa Darvula de Nadasdy in the Paul Naschy werewolf vehicle Werewolf Shadow – with little time to menace the island in the final reel before the fiery climax (the uncomfortable extension of which makes her somewhat pitiable). Two child characters (Shera Osman and Jem Osmanoglu) appear on the periphery of a few scenes before effecting a lame "surprise ending" that harkens back to the climaxes of the Yorga films, The Deathmaster, and even (The Fearless Vampire Killers) (which was also cribbed for actor Damon's other vampire outing The Devil's Wedding Night). Despite the understandably disjointed story, there is much to savor in the attractive cinematography of Juan Gelpí, the art direction of Juan Alberto Soler, and the scoring of Phillip Lambro – whose original score for Chinatown would be replaced by Jerry Goldsmith – which suggests Hannah's hypnotic influence while she rests. The reshoots featured Prine as well as character actors John Alderman and Edward Walsh as fishermen. Hannah herself was also doubled in a couple shots to give her more to do (menacing characters without actually attacking them onscreen), as well as a double for Braña for a beach scene that shoehorns another character (Jack La Rue Jr.) into the film.
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House of the Living Dead (Ray Austin, 1974): The practice of voodoo is forbidden on the Cape Colony vineyards of Sir Michael Brattling (Mark Burns), but the workers are more afraid of the experiments supposedly being carried about by his "loony" crippled brother Breck in the attic of Brattling Manor. When footman Simeon (Bill Flynn) disappears during the harvest festival and appears the next day with his head crushed, the workers suspect Breck, but Michael and foreman Jan (Ben Dekker) believe it to be the work of Sarasut, the ill-tempered stallion that has escaped the stables after being spooked by a cobra (although Michael does believe that the snake was deliberately set loose in the horse's pen). When news comes of the pending arrival of Michael's fiancée Mary Anne Carew (Shirley Anne Field) from London, his mother Lady Brattling (Margaret Inglis) asks how he could think of marrying and passing on the hereditary madness that has affected his brother onto a new generation of Brattlings, and she will not hide Breck for Mary Anne's benefit. By the time Mary Anne does arrive, she and fellow passenger from London Dr. Collinson (David Oxley) learn that Breck was attacked by Sarasut on a walk and has been gravely injured. Left alone with the cold Lady Brattling as Michael tries to maintain control over the estate in light of more deaths and the intrusive Captain Turner (William Baird Clark) investigating native gossip, she realizes that she is unwelcome and tries to learn more about Breck who she has seen on the grounds from her window at night, heard him limping in the hall, and playing the organ at night despite supposedly being confined to his room and will not see anyone but his mother and brother. When voodoo priestess Aia Kat (Amina Gool) is murdered, most of the workers and house staff decide to leave the estate, including Mary Anne's personal maid Lina (Dia Sydow) who is nearly killed while delivering an appeal from Mary Anne to Dr. Collinson to treat what she believes are Breck's physical injuries. Both Lady Brattling and Dr. Collinson – who is aware of the once brilliant medical student Breck's belief that the soul was an organic object that could be isolated from the body and contained – try to warn Mary Anne to leave, but she remains resolute to stand by Michael even as he tries to cover up Breck's crimes.
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The British/South African co-production House of the Living Dead was the last of only three feature credits for director Ray Austin – the best of which was Tigon's Virgin Witch if only for the abundant and oily X-certificate nudity – amidst a prolific career of episodic television on both sides of the pond. Although the South African settings are interesting in their contrast of the exotic and the Victorian and the main cast is notable (even if the technical credits are rather shoddy with impenetrable night scenes and day-for-night scenes), the film feels rather old-fashioned for seventies horror with its creaky old dark house dramatics (despite the loony in the attic, Mary Anne is more "I" in Rebecca than Jane Eyre), mannered characterizations, clueless and witless but spirited damsel in distress, as well as a thoroughly bland and dull hero in Collinson (Oxley made a more interesting villain as the demonic Sir Hugo Baskerville in Hammer's The Hound of the Baskervilles fifteen years earlier). The potentially interesting voodoo angle that turns out to be window dressing for a story as derivative of Psycho as The Black Torment or, somewhat more to the point, Hammer's Paranoiac (although the ending sort of anticipates that of the film adaptation of The Serpent and the Rainbow with less technical proficiency). While it is hard to imagine this film satisfying viewers on its own, it makes a suitable B-feature on Vinegar Syndrome's Blu-ray/DVD combo.

Video

Crypt of the Living Dead: Released on VHS in the early eighties by JLT and then United Home Video, the film initially found its way onto DVD in at least three versions: a fullscreen transfer under the Crypt… title from Rhino Home Video, a fullscreen transfer of the Crypt… version in black and white on some of the Mill Creek multi-film sets, and a non-anamorphic, letterboxed version under the Young Hannah… title. A television recording of the film's Spanish version titled La Tumba de la Isla Naldita popped up online revealing extended scenes of violence that were removed from the film's American versions, and that version turned up on DVD in Spain from Filmax from an older master and last year, Code Red released the Crypt…-titled version on a six-film, two-DVD set in a 16:9 transfer. Vinegar Syndrome's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 transfer is sourced from a 35mm internegative source under the Young Hannah… title (despite the title used on the cover, disc art, and menus), and it is a stunner with gorgeous colors and crisp detail that really makes one wish it were a better film. There are at least two instances where missing frames are digitally smoothed over but never the less cause millisecond jumps, and one or two reel change marks could not be entirely painted out; but this is likely the best the film has ever looked on home video. While it is a transfer of the American version, it has patched in from the theatrical trailer two extensions of the violence curtailed in the film (even in the trailer it was shorter than the scenes in the Spanish version, and the trailer cuts lead to abrupt transitions in the film).
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House of the Living Dead: Released on VHS by VCI during their earlier incarnation with generic box art sporting a still on the front and back cover matter advertising other titles and United Home Video with cover art based on the film's poster, Vinegar Syndrome's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen transfer of an archival 35mm print is nowhere near as stunning as the transfer of the disc's co-feature Crypt of the Living Dead (REVIEWED HERE); but seems as much due as much to the intermittently-damaged print source as the relatively primitive filmmaking in South Africa in the seventies up through the early eighties. The night scenes and dark interiors are so dark that the technician typing up the SDH subtitles could not identify the character of Lina as the one who screams when she finds a corpse.
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Audio

Crypt of the Living Dead: The film's mono audio is presented here in a clean DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 encode that emphasizes the more subtle music cues that herald Hannah's presence or influence. Optional English SDH subtitles are included but not selectable from any set-up menu.
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House of the Living Dead: The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 encoding of the mono track is as good as the film's mix and the print allow, with some hiss and a few passages of muffled audio. The aforementioned English SDH subtitles are very welcome.
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Extras

Crypt of the Living Dead: The sole extras – besides the additional feature House of the Living Dead – are the alternate Crypt… title card (0:15) and the trailer (1:54) using the Hannah, Queen of the Vampires title. While Damon and Prine are still with us (Shepard died in 2013) and stateside, it is regrettable yet no so surprising that there are no interviews since this double feature was bound for DVD until popular demand on Vinegar Syndrome's Facebook page led to this limited edition Blu-ray/DVD combo.
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House of the Living Dead: There are no extras.
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Packaging

Crypt of the Living Dead: The eye-catching packaging uses the Hannah, Queen of the Vampires upside-down cross artwork with the Crypt of the Living Dead title (although this variation may have also existed originally, I have not come across it).
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House of the Living Dead: The eye-catching packaging emphasizes the main feature while featuring the House of the Living Dead title in a reproduction of the poster font and background.
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Overall

 


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