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Category:    Home > Reviews > Horror > Thriller > Mystery > Murder > Killer > Monster > Science > Doctor Blood’s Coffin (1961/MGM Limited Edition Collection DVD)/Horror Express (1972/Severin Blu-ray w/DVD)

Doctor Blood’s Coffin (1961/MGM Limited Edition Collection DVD)/Horror Express (1972/Severin Blu-ray w/DVD)

 

Picture: C+/B- & C+     Sound: C+     Extras: D/B+     Films: C/B

 

 

PLEASE NOTE: Doctor Blood’s Coffin is an MGM Limited Edition DVD and is available exclusively from Amazon through the right-hand sidebar of this site, while you can get this terrific new edition of Horror Express their and at other fine retailers.

 

 

For Horror fans who think they know it all and know the genre, they have much to learn, especially those who make so many bad projects imitating a few name films.  In real life, it has a rich, long history and this includes many films (including more independently made features than you would think) that have not been seen as much in recent years as they should be.

 

The real fans will suffer through poor prints (and as recent VHS prices in 2011 have confirmed, low definition copies of obscure releases) to watch what they want to see.  There is always something fun about watching a good or great film few people are watching, especially if it is in a hard-to-get film print and another fun aspect is when these obscure films are finally issued in new Blu-ray and DVD editions in prints so good you cannot believe such good copies still exist.  The latter is what we have here.

 

 

Doctor Blood’s Coffin (1961) may have dated a good bit since its first release 50 years ago, but MGM has (despite a disclaimer that this is the bets print they have) a really clean, consistent EastmanColor print of this early thriller by Director Sidney J. Furie about the title character (Kieron Moore) experimenting with life and death in a small village.  It is slow-moving and it had a low budget, but that is not what works against it.  Instead, it is limited in suspense (which is odd for the man who was about to direct the spy classic The Ipcress File) and it does not delve as much into its issues as you might expect, yet it has enough interesting moments to see it once, especially if you are a fan of the genre.

 

Hazel Court, Ian Hunter and Kenneth J. Warren are among the good supporting cast and the makers might have trying for a Horror film for those who did not want your typical Horror film, but that does not work here.  However, I liked seeing such a fine 35mm color print looking so good and am surprised MGM did not issue this as a Blu-ray.  Still, serious fans will want to catch up with this one and fans will be very happy.  Sadly, there are no extras, though there should have at least been a trailer.

 

 

Sometimes mistaken for a Hammer Film because it co-stars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, Eugenio Martin’s Horror Express (1972) is actually one of their best pairings as Professor Sir Alexander Saxton (Lee) has brought a mysterious package on board that he insists is left alone.  Dr. Wells (Cushing) becomes the moral center of things, especially when they big wooden crate is breached and a bizarre series of deaths plague the train.  Set in the early 1900s, it proves once again how films set on trains usually are very effective.

 

In their Hammer films, Cushing and Lee (hero or villain) are part of the usual tale of a supernatural menace threatening the power and establishment of Great Britain as both a land and idea, so the threat must be defeated by the end of the film to “restore order” but this film, along with Paul Morrissey’s Flesh For Frankenstein and Blood For Dracula (both released a few years after this film) were signs that the Hammer films had become the Hammer formula and other Horror films (from both studios and independent sources, especially since 1968) were about to spell the end of the great studio.  It is particularly odd that Hammer did not try to pick up where this film left off, but give or take underrated, bold films like Vampire Circus and Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter, they missed the boat.  In part because this film just did not stop at its initial set up.

 

Horror Express adds more twists and turns than anyone could have expected at the time, including a great turn later in the film by Telly Savalas that nearly steals the show, but the whole cast is so good as is the script, pacing and build up that he is just one of the many reasons this is such a fan favorite.  Seeing it in this remarkably good print, I have never enjoyed the film so much and being uncut helps.  The film is at least a minor classic of the genre and one of the best classic Blu-ray film releases of the year.

 

Extras are terrific and include Theatrical Trailers, an amazing 1973 audio interview with Peter Cushing at an audience-attended presentation with interviews that lasts almost as long as the film and is strongly recommended, Composer John Cacavas talking about the film and his career in the featurette Telly & Me, Murder On The Trans-Siberian Express interview/featurette with director Martin, an enthusiastic introduction by Fangoria editor Chris Alexander and Notes From The Blacklist featurette in which Producer Bernard Gordon talks about the disgraceful 1950s Hollywood witch hunts of often innocent people, how it affected the industry for the worst, his personal experiences and how he got back to filmmaking.

 

Severn has issued some great titles over the years and continue to do so, but I have a feeling this one will go down as one of the greatest titles they have ever issued and is yet another strong reason for you to get a Blu-ray player if you do not already have one!

 

 

Both films happen to be in the 1.66 X 1 frame and both know how to use the narrow-vision frame to best effect.  The anamorphically enhanced image on Coffin only suffers in its dark scenes because of the limits of the DVD-R, but Director of Photography Steven Dade (Zulu, City In The Sea, TV classics like The Avengers and Man In a Suitcase) does some of his most interesting work here and it is a real pleasure to watch the film.  Glad MGM found such a good copy.  The 1080p 1.66 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Horror Express has a 35mm print hat may have some damage and a few shots that are not as good as the best shots here, but it is great for its age, especially for an independent production and those use to the dozens of horrid VHS, Beta and DVD copies that have been circulating for the last few decades will find this a revelation.  The anamorphically enhanced DVD version included is good for the format, but no match for the Blu-ray.

 

Director of Photography Alejandro Ulloa (Diabolical Dr. Z, Vendetta, The Mercenary, A Reason To Live, A Reason To Die) does some amazing work here with the beautiful sets, production design, composition, color and darkness.  The film was also apparently issued in three-strip, dye-transfer Technicolor, though I could not confirm this happened in the U.S. from its independent distributor Scotia International as they issued it in 1974 and may have just missed the cut-off point to have the film issued that way in the States.  The print used has some great color and even a few demo shots that will stun fans familiar with the film and its home video history.  Watching the Blu-ray now, it feels like the film has been saved!

 

As for sound, both releases feature lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono and both sound good for their age, but I had hoped for lossless sound on the Horror Express Blu-ray and sadly did not get it.  Maybe a soundmaster will turn up (plus the masters to the scores by Buxton Orr and John Cacavas (his debut film) respectively could turn up) with other print materials making some miraculous upgrade possible down the line, but the sound is all cases will do for now, especially since the sound on those awful copies of Horror Express were usually as bad as the faded, damaged, tattered prints used.  Here, the film gets its due.

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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