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Category:    Home > Reviews > Horror > Thriller > Supernatural > British > Slasher > Drama > Anthology > The Asphyx (1972/Kino/Redemption Blu-ray)/Mother’s Day (2010 remake/Anchor Bay Blu-ray w/DVD)/The Red House (1947/Film Vault/HD Cinema Classics Blu-ray w/DVD)/The Theatre Bizarre (2011/Severin/Image D

The Asphyx (1972/Kino/Redemption Blu-ray)/Mother’s Day (2010 remake/Anchor Bay Blu-ray w/DVD)/The Red House (1947/Film Vault/HD Cinema Classics Blu-ray w/DVD)/The Theatre Bizarre (2011/Severin/Image DVD)


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



Here are four new horror releases that you are bound to hear about, especially if you are a fan of the genre.



Peter Newbrook was a cameraman, cinematographer and well respected in the British film industry as well as outside of it, but like many cameramen, he decided to try out directing.  Several great Directors of Photography had successful careers along with that kind of work, so why not he.  By the early 1970s, other companies and independent productions were taking on the horror genre and in Britain in particular, ready to challenge and/or capitalize on the success of the Hammer Studios.  Newbrook made The Asphyx (1972) and it is one of the most ambitious of the A-level productions.


Robert Stephenson is a scientist who discovers one day that he has photographed something more than the dead on still images when he keeps seeing a dark spot that might be the soul of a given living creature leaving the body.  He researches this and while the people he shares this with are not certain, conducts further trials with the help of an assistant (Robert Powell) sworn to secrecy.  Eventually, he realizes that if he captures that soul spirit, or Asphyx, then places it somewhere else, then the mortal body cannot die until the two are reunited.  He has plans for immortality and more.


Of course, this will backfire, but the film believes it and it makes for interesting viewing.  There are two versions here, including a shorter U.K. version (86 minutes) that makes little sense and the longer U.S. cut (98 minutes) that is the intended film as best we know it and includes key footage that makes this a much better film overall than its reputation would have you believe from some quarters.  This is the latest gem issued by the Kino/Redemption label on Blu-ray and one worth your time, especially if you are a serious film or horror fan.


Problems in the film include a few idiot plot moments including mistakes that it is hard to believe a scientist this smart would make, even distracted by his project or brilliant results, the film can be talky at times in ways that slow it down and it follows some clichés of the genre as if a sense of doom and ramifications of mistakes we are all condemned to repeat are always inevitable, but the clichés undercut that.  The production design, costumes, locales, performances and feel of the film is like nothing make before or since.  Along with intended multi-channel sound and a modern filmmaking look by way of Newbrook’s friend (the great cameraman and sometimes director Freddie Young), this is a special film that was the step after Hammer in period horror and shows U.K. films could compete with U.S. horror product from the top studios technically, but it was issued the year of Friedkin’s The Exorcist and was sadly lost in the shuffle.


Still, it is an original work with its own world fully realized and obviously proud of its Britishisms, but also manages to retain all of their charm (down to old technological devices and there is a love of film, still and motion pictures as Stephens also takes silent film footage and his eventually sick passions reflect Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960), the banned U.K. classic film that might have caused some to turn on this film and get it censored to begin with) showing that they are not just nostalgia, but a permanent part of a past culture of innovation and worth taking seriously.  In that respect, the film is a tribute to all the Hammer films and their imitators (plus all those U.K. films with Ray Harryhausen DynaMation) as what we should rightly see as the final chapter of films in that cycle as Hammer started to get more graphic and had to go into new directions to survive advancing competition on both sides of the Atlantic like this non-Hammer film.


Extras include a stills section and the original theatrical trailer.



Darren Lynn Bousman’s 2010 remake of the 1980 film Mother’s Day is lame, awful, unnecessary and pointless, adding to the ever tired parade of bad horror remakes that have rendered the genre somewhat of a joke in the worst way and so flat and dull that I was surprised the cats did not fall asleep during production.  The one gag here is that Hand That Rock The Cradle star Rebecca De Mornay plays the mother who wants to steal other women’s babies straight from the hospital, but now she has some demented killer sons to do it with her.


She is bad here and by the standards of this story, probably too young to play this role, but doing differently did not come with any original ideas so the makers failed there too.  Jaime King Shawn Ashmore and Briana Evigan were the only names I was partly familiar with and at 122 minutes is way too long.  Bousman did the first three sequels to the overrated Saw and though this is not torture porn per se, it was torture of a different kind to see.  Embarrassing.  The only extra is a feature length audio commentary by Bousman and Ashmore.



Delmer Davies’ The Red House (1947) was originally released by United Artists and has now apparently fallen into public domain, so Film Vault and HD Cinema Classics have once again tried to come to the rescue of such a film, restoring it the best they can and issuing it in a Blu-ray/DVD combination package.  Edward G. Robinson plays an old married man who has a secret.  Meg (Allene Roberts) is his adopted daughter with his wife Ellen (Judith Anderson) and they live a somewhat secluded life, peaceful and the like, though Meg goes to school.


She brings home a male friend Nath (Lon McCallister) who tells them at dinner about the gossip about them, then intends to go home late, but Pete (Robinson) tells him to go the long way home and that the short cut could be dangerous.  Pete gets freaked out and comes back to their home.  However, the film thematically and visually is suggesting something supernatural.  Something is going on.


From there, this is more of a drama than horror film, yet it is interesting how it keeps wanting to function as one with mysterious occurrences beyond its mystery and it has some elements of Hitchcock down to Miklos Rozsa (doing the score two years after his landmark work on Hitchcock’s Spellbound, now on a great Blu-[ray from MGM) and this includes the brief use of an instrument meant to imply psychological paranoia, the Theremin.  It is now associated with 1950s sci-fi alien invasion films.


That is among the elements that make this film date in odd ways.  The performances are good and we get fine early performances by Rory Calhoun (known later for westerns) and Julie London (who became a big singer later as well) so this is all worth a look, but expect some flat spots and even some unintentionally funny moments.  Otherwise, it is worth a look and deserves to get this special attention.


Extras include a postcard with the art of the case’s cover, original theatrical trailer and feature length audio commentary by William Hare that is more basic that usual but not bad.



By the 1980s, the one kind of horror film that was dead was the anthology, killed partly by TV, then by home video.  The first two Creepshow features were the rare exceptions pretty much, but The Theatre Bizarre (2011) wants to go back and try to recreate that kind of feature in a modern way.  Udo Kier is the robotic death host “terrorizing” a female visitor who has come to a theater not knowing what is in store and we get six tales including Mother Of Toads (Directed by Richard Stanley of Hardware; a tale of lust and death), I Love You (Buddy Giovinazzo; an attempt at an ironic story on the subject), Wet Dreams (Tom Savini; a male castration anxiety tale), The Accident (Douglas Beck; subverting fairy tales), Vision Stains (Karim Hussain; about a drug addict with a more serious problem) and Sweets (David Gregory; about various hungers).


Despite the talent involved, only Savini’s short seems realized, over the top eventually in his own sardonic, unique sense of humor way.  It starts up subtly and builds up, making the most of its time and being closest to Creepshow in spirit.  Beck’s short is as smart as any deriving its horror in more subtle ways throughout and while the others can be creepy, they are not necessarily horrifying or doing anything we have not seen before.  Jeremy Kasten directs the bridging Theatre Guignol scenes.  Not great, but at least ambitious, extras include commentary tracks on almost all the shorts, a trailer, director’s interviews and behind-the-scenes clip.


The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image on Asphyx and Day Blu-ray, as well as the 1080p 1.33 X 1 image on the House Blu-ray surprisingly are about evenly matched, but for different reasons.  Asphyx looks really good often (mastered from its 35mm negative, which seems to have been in really good shape) but the longer version has its extra footage only surviving as low-def widescreen footage.  The Day remake is styled down too much and is an HD Shoot and the House Blu is as restored as this public domain orphan film could be from the print they had, but is not really that much softer than the new shoot on Day.


Asphyx looks best in its best shots, lensed in the underrated Todd-AO 35mm anamorphic scope film format by no less than the legendary Director of Photography Freddie Young, B.S.C. (Lawrence Of Arabia, You Only Live Twice, dozens of others) uses the widescreen frame to show both great space, yet also great confinement.  The result is not just another widescreen film and is also something that is visually a step after and ahead of what the Hammer Studios would have done with the same material.  Visconti’s Conversation Piece (shot two years later, reviewed on Blu-ray and DVD elsewhere on this site) would use the format the same way, but to compare older spaces as very dense and newer as open.


They are both rare uses of the scope format, especially Todd AO 35, which (as I noted in the other review) became popular as an alternative (especially to Panavision scope lenses) to shoot big genre films in.  This is also a genre film and not a low budget affair, so Young was pushing this kind of British genre work into a new, fresh direction and look that could more than compete with what Hollywood, Italy (usually using inferior Techniscope/Chromoscope) and independent production into a fresh direction similar to what he did with his 1967 Bond film Twice.


Though the extra footage is poor low def quality since the 35mm (or even a 16mm version of it) seems to be lost for good (or for now), the majority of the film and its transfer look really good and even offer up some demo shots.  As a matter of fact, for those who have seen the film in lesser transfers, it will be a revelation in detail and depth as the Blu-ray for Horror Express (made the same year, also reviewed on this site) is.  Thanks to Blu-ray, you can see the full visual intent and get the idea of the full effect the film intended including the color, which was standard color and nothing fancy or more advanced like three-strip, dye-transfer Technicolor.


Day does not even create any kind of memorable atmosphere on Blu-ray, but House can despite its limits and Video Black helps override softness and detail issues, but its print’s age can is still an issue.  The anamorphically enhanced DVD of Day and 1.33 X 1 DVD of House are too soft for their own good with their share of problems.  The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image on Bizarre is also softer than I would have liked as the various segments are HD shoots.  Wonder how a Blu-ray might improve certain shorts and the bridging materials?


Originally touted as a Quadraphonic film in its credits, there are no records to show that Asphyx was issued in any kind of 4-track stereo sound release, but it is here in PCM 2.0 Mono throughout (the lesser analog footage in the longer, better version may be weaker, but also demonstrates some audio space the rest of the film lacks) is still good, surprisingly warm and clean.  Too bad it can also sound a little compressed and the 4-channel soundmaster could not be found.  Bill McGuffie did the pretty good music score.


The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 on Day should have been the sonic champ here, but I was surprised how limited the mix was, likely due to budget limits and too much of the sound is towards the front speakers, with dialogue too often ion the center channel.  This problem extends to the lesser, lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on the DVD version.


House has a DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 lossless Mono mix, but it is obviously from a dated, secondary source, though I give the company credit for trying.  If you listen to the lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on the DVD version, it is even more dated and poor.  That leaves the lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix on Bizarre, which also sounds too often like stereo spread around, but at least is a series of recent recordings that are not collectively bad.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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