Friday, August 26, 2016


Part the second! 

The South African made 1973 film House of the Living Dead is on this Blu-ray more as an extra than a full blooded second feature. The story takes place in the late 1800's in the Cape Colony of South Africa where an aristocratic English family own and run a large plantation farm. The family matriarch Lady Brattling (Margaret Inglis) is unhappy to learn that her son Michael’s lovely fiancée Mary (Shirley Anne Field) is about to arrive with her chaperone Dr. Collinson (David Oxley). Lady Brattling has advised against bringing outsiders to the plantation because of the unfortunate presence of her other son Breck (Mark Burns, playing both brothers) who seems to be deformed although we can't really tell since he covers his face in public. Breck hides away in his laboratory room conducting strange experiments based on a theory about capturing living souls through blood transfusion - paging Dr. Moreau! We see his tortuous experiments on a baboon he has captured in the jungle and it's clear his work is pretty unhinged.

Lady Brattling tries to stop the young girl from arriving believing that her family has a history of inescapable madness and that any outsiders will be in mortal danger. Of course, soon after Mary settles in to the big house Breck starts taking in unwilling humans for his experiments and things escalate out of control even as some of the deaths are attributed to voodoo curses which just adds to the confusion. The movie has a nice twist at the end but by the time you get there it is more of a curious moment than a surprise that makes the story resonate.

Shot in 1973, House of the Living Dead didn’t play in the states until years later and then only on the drive-in circuit so chances are good that this movie has been under the radar of most genre fans until now. I know I had never heard of it until I explored this release and after enjoying Hannah I was hoping for another little gem. Sadly, although the film’s production values are pretty high and the cast does a solid job overall  the film is fairly dull. The film starts well leading with plantation mystery and the ending is lively enough but the middle is a dead weight. This section of the movie just plods along with little energy often seeming to meander around to the point where I began to forget what was going on earlier.

If I had to guess I suspect that the producers were trying to give this the look of the Hammer Studio gothics of the 1960's. I will admit that I enjoyed watching the beautiful Shirley Anne Field work her way through the mystery hidden in the large house but she was really just required to scream a lot and then look pensive before screaming some more. If the film weren't so plodding it might be worth seeking out but that slow middle hour is deadly. This one is, at best, a one time watch for the Gothically curious but bring some caffeine for the ride.

Vinegar Syndrome's Blu presents the film sourced from a slightly scuffed up 35mm print and in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio - it looks pretty muddy in the darker scenes. Colors are soft with little detail except in bright sequences and a sometimes distracting amount of grain throughout. The soundtrack is fine with more detail in the design of the creaks of the old house than I expected. Vinegar Syndrome has included a DVD of both films in the package using the same masters found on the Blu-ray and they even put Crypt of the Living Dead extras (trailer; alternate title sequence) on it as well. 

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