Black Waters Of Echo Pond (2009/Anchor Bay Blu-ray)/The Curtis Harrington Short Film Collection (1946 – 2002/Flicker
Alley Blu-ray/DVD Set)/Kiss Of The
Damned (2012/Magnolia/MagNet Blu-ray)/The
Stranger Within (2013/Sony DVD)
C+/B- & C+/B-/C Sound: B-/C+/B-/C+ Extras: C-/B-/C/D Films: C-/B-/C/C-
latest horror releases are from the past or harkens back to the genre’s past…
Bologna’s Black Waters Of Echo Pond
(2009) has some friends holding a party at a comfortable, isolated house in the
middle of nowhere playing a demonology game unearthed 90 years before. Thinking it will be harmless, they are of
course, wrong and people start dying one by one, but the bad script was dead
before the game was found!
the makers do this with a slightly coy sense of humor knowing they are
re-treading previous territory including in the casting of Danielle Harris
(from the awful Halloween remake),
Robert Patrick (from The X-Files and
Terminator 2 playing a weird
southern guy) and James Duval (the rabbit guy from the original Donnie Darko), but after that, the
makers have no idea what to do, where to go and come up with anything we have
not seen before. They do not know their
way around the genre.
not even make for a good curio, but in some parts, they were at least
trying. Too bad nothing really works
Alternate Opening is the only extra.
have ever heard the name Curtis Harrington, you may have noticed his name on
the occasional classic TV show as a director, as from 1970 to 1987, he helmed
episodes of some of the biggest hit TV shows (Baretta, Vega$, Charlie’s Angels, Wonder Woman, Dynasty)
as well as some of the best underseen shows of the time (Quinn Martin’s Tales Of The Unexpected, Lucan, Darkroom, the TV
series version of Logan’s Run) and
several TV movies when they were a new thing and treated often as events. However, he is best known for his horror
films like Night Tide, Games, Queen Of Blood, a trilogy of Baby
Jane-inspired thrillers (What’s The
Matter With Helen?, Whoever Slew
Aunt Roo? and the telefilm How Awful
About Allan) and Ruby, a howler
with Piper Laurie cashing in on her work in Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976, see the Blu-ray elsewhere
on this site) that is far better than the recent TV remake.
nearly an auteur and certainly one of the more distinct and competent
journeyman filmmakers of his time, but there is another side of his work that
has remained unseen for decades…until now. The Curtis Harrington Short Film Collection
(1946 – 2002) is a terrific new collection of his personal and private works
that show just how extensive his talent and love of both film and the visual
arts really was and at a very young age.
Save for two shorts (one he never wanted the public to see called Dangerous Houses, another never
finished called St. Tropez (both
1952), this is a complete collection that shows his most personal, private side
and love of the Horror genre as well.
follows is eight shorts, seven of which he produced on his own, two of which
are here as bonus content and all of which are featured in Blu-ray high
definition and standard definition DVD versions.
Fragment Of Seeking (1946, B&W 16mm, 16 minutes) is
accompanied only by a music score as a young man (Harrington in the lead)
starts following the mysterious figure of a beautiful, if suppressedly dressed
blonde woman and starts to uncover even more as his pursuit becomes more
Picnic (1948, B&W 16mm, 16 minutes) has
a group of four people trying to have a day at the beach until the handsome
young man of the group starts following a woman and then sees her
kidnapped. Can she save her… and
On The Edge (1948, B&W 16mm, 16 minutes) has
a older man walking among an industrial site that was built to take advantage
of some naturally occurring phenomenon, but he instead decides to interrupt an
old woman in a rocking chair doing her knitting and ruins to nowhere. Two soundtracks are available including the
original with a music-only score and a more recent upgrade that adds sound
effects that are so clear that they sound too new and make this suddenly seem
like David Lynch’s Eraserhead.
The Assignation (1953, Kodachrome Color 16mm, 8
minutes) follows a masked man in Venice who is mysterious and finds the mysterious
traveling down the canals in a gondola that leads to something much darker than
the sunny day he is swimming in. Music
by Ernest Gold.
The Wormwood Star (1955, Color 16mm, 10 minutes)
has artist Marjorie Cameron with her paintings (before she sadly destroyed
them) philosophizing and posing for the more abstract work that deals with
mythology, religion, the occult and other abstract thoughts. Music by Ernest Gold.
Usher (2002, Color 35mm, 38 minutes) is
a remake of his 1942 short film with Harrington playing both Roderick and
Madeline Usher as he had in the older film, but he is this time joined by
bonus shorts are The Fall Of The House
of Usher (1942. B&W 8mm (here in a 16mm blow-up), 10 minutes) that is
his oldest work here and more effective than most films anyone his age would
have made and…
The Four Elements (1966, Color 16mm (possibly shot
in 35mm), 13 minutes) which is a change of pace for him; an industrial film
contracted by the U.S. Government to show factories and productivity of various
industries when the U.S.
still had an industrial infrastructure.
The narration talks of the country’s strength through this work and
though some of these factories still exist, others have been left to rust and
taken apart to be sold in bits and pieces, a process that began only 14 years
after this film was released. That
offers as much terror as many Horror films.
other thing to note here is the issue of sexuality. An organization called Drag City
participated in the saving and restoration of Harrington’s films because they
are rightly also considered important as Gay/Queer discourses in independent
filmmaking before there was much independent filmmaking of any kind. The case credits him as a forerunner of ‘New Queer
Cinema’ which happened decades before AIDS gave us the brief Gay New Wave of
the 1990s and between him playing women and sometimes dressing like them, plus
his camera’s interest in “handsome, good looking young men’ in some shorts,
though the gayness may seem incidental, they are also about the alienation of
being gay at that time (still valid for too many LGBT persons today,
unfortunately) and found the Horror genre as the perfect outlet to show this
without compromise. That is why he
quickly became associated with the genre because he loved it, embraced it and
was able to reproduce it so vividly so early.
Therefore, these shorts are not shallow or simple, but works of art
everyone should see and in this HD digital age where everyone wants to direct,
they could learn priceless lessons from Harrington’s work here so they do not
keep making the same boring, tired, predictable, generic mistake we see
constantly in the glut of recent bad feature production… especially in the Horror
The Curtis Harrington Short Film
the man and the artist behind the memorable commercial and genre works and is
one fop the best compilation releases of the last few years!
the shorts in this set have gone under heavy restoration and most are sourced
from 16mm materials as noted above. The
1080p 1.33 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on all the shorts save Usher in 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High
Definition look as good as they are going to.
The newer the short, the better it looks, though the monochrome shorts
have fine black reproduction and those restoring Four Elements did their best to bring back the color of a fading
print. Still, the materials show their
age and it is remarkable they survived as well as they did. The 1.33 X 1 DVD presentations (save Usher in an anamorphically enhanced
1.85 X 1) all look good for the format, but lack some of the subtle detail,
Video Black and color range the Blu-ray offers despite the age and limits of
shorts have lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 sound in both formats that is usually monophonic, though Usher is in simple stereo and has some
simple Pro Logic surrounds.
the bonus shorts, other extras include Flicker Alley’s usual high quality paper
illustrated booklet on the films including informative text and two essays on
Harrington’s work (Lisa Janssen on an essay simply entitled Curtis Harrington and Conversations In The Back Of The Theater:
Preserving The Short Films of Curtis Harrington by Mark Toscano) that tell
us plenty about his work, while the disc versions add 2003 and 2005 on camera
interviews with Harrington worth watching after seeing the shorts.
Cassavetes’ Kiss of The Damned (2012)
is a rare vampire film (not for teens and children) directed by a woman and in
this case, also written, involving the unsuspecting, beautiful and quiet
alive-looking Djuna (Josephine de la Baume) who meets who see feels is a fine
looking moral guy named Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) and against her better
judgment starts a relationship with him.
Unknown to him, she is part of a larger community of female vampires and
they might not necessarily be happy with him.
them (and all kinds of talk about lesbianism) is her sister Mimi (Roxane
Mesquida, who looks like she’ll either go Goth or sing a medley of songs by
Garbage at any moment) could care less and does what she wants, no matter what
life she takes, but the sex amongst the various females vamps sometimes have
strange (nearly surreal) supernatural connections and the script as well as the
editing try to make that clear. We even
get a “classy:” party where all kinds of vampires meet and some good camera
shots at times.
the tale never really adds up, pays off or has much impact despite being a
mature effort and though I liked the cast and pacing, I never totally bought
it. In addition, despite this being a
convincing female discourse on the matter, it was always in the shadow of
Stephanie Rothman’s underrated The
Velvet Vampire (1971, reviewed in several versions elsewhere on this site)
which did all of this long ago and better.
More than a few shots even look like that film.
vampire fans might still want to check it out and Cassavetes can direct, so
we’ll see where she goes next.
2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer has been styled down on purpose
to fit vampire films and is not bad in this respect, yet sometimes this
approach is overdone and makes this more difficult to watch. Still, it has some nice shots and the blood is
not blackened liker too many productions in all genres of late of digital
shoots because HD has issues with Video Red.
DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix is towards the front speakers, but it
does use the quietness for atmosphere and suspense, then you get to encounter
the full range of the mix (try the club scene in Chapter 5), but dialogue can
be underwhelming and it could be more active.
a Xan Cassavetes feature length audio commentary track, two AXS-TV network
interviews (one with Ventimiglia, the other with Mesquida), an additional
Mesquida interview, a de la Baume interview and Original Theatrical Trailers.
we have Adam Neutzsky-Wulff’s The
Stranger Within (2013) with Estelle Warren as a married stage performer whose
loving husband (William Baldwin) is a psychiatrist. One day, he is not able to meet her after a
performance and she is abducted, taken away, put in a body bag, sexually
assaulted and nearly killed. Now a
survival of an ugly ordeal with a killer on the loose, the couple goes far away
to an isolated house on vacation…
What? Did they ever watch such films before? The film starts out like Sliver-lite (no wonder the Sliver
Blu-ray is coming out at the same time), then becomes a torture porn film during
her abduction, finally playing like a very bad enemy within thriller (think the
1990s) becoming sillier and sillier after that with awful dialogue, idiotic
plot twists and a conclusion that is so dumb, it only proved the makers had no
idea of what they were doing. Sarah
Butler also stars.
no extras, but the anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image is a little softer
than it should be, but it is a digital shoot that is a few years old and issues
are expected. The lossy Dolby Digital
5.1 fares better, but is not great and sometimes all you get is talk, so expect
lite-ness and sound towards the front channels.