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Category:    Home > Reviews > Thriller > Mystery > Filmmaking > Sound > Italy > Science Fiction > Technology > Murder > Zombies > Nuclear > Berberian Sound Studio (2012/MPI/IFC Midnight DVD)/Demon Seed (1977/MGM/Warner Archive DVD)/Nightmare City (1980/Raro Blu-ray)/Sanitarium (2013/Image DVD)/Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972/Film Chest D

Berberian Sound Studio (2012/MPI/IFC Midnight DVD)/Demon Seed (1977/MGM/Warner Archive DVD)/Nightmare City (1980/Raro Blu-ray)/Sanitarium (2013/Image DVD)/Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972/Film Chest DVD)/Tenebrae (1982/Arrow UK Region B Import Blu-ray)/The Whip & The Body (1963/aka What/Kino Blu-ray)

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

PLEASE NOTE: The Demon Seed DVD is only available from Warner Archive at their website whose link can be found at the end of the page, while Tenebrae is a Region B Import Blu-ray that will only play on machines that can handle that format and is only available from Arrow UK at their website, which can be reached for orders at the link below for it.

2013 closes with a solid selection of horror thrillers (all but one here are new releases) that include five older films worth revisiting and two new ones that held much promise going in...

Peter Strickland's Berberian Sound Studio (2012) s the tale of an ace movie sound designer (the always underrated Toby Jones) to help an Italian Horror film sound more realistic joining a foley team, sound studio, bitter producer and self-centered director. It is not what he would like to be doing and he has flown there at his own expense (a mistake) as no one around seems very friendly save a few of the women providing some dubbing and screaming for what is a very vulgar, gross and shocking (by any measure of the genre) film.

At the time of the later 1970s, Horror films internationally, especially in Italy, the U.S. and U.K., were trying to outdo each other. For a while, this looks like it will go somewhere and be another smart technology/art thriller like Antonioni's Blow Up, Coppola's The Conversation or De Palma's Blow Out (all reviewed elsewhere on this site), but the screenplay wants to try something new and different. The problem is, only it knows what it wants to say, do and talk about, so we actually get nothing much more than a gimmick film running just past 90 minutes and wastes our time as well as some great ideas, a great set up, a good look and a decent cast. It could have even become smug, but it gets too boring, disappointing and lost to work.

Extras include a feature length audio commentary track by Writer/Director Strickland, Box Hill Documentary, Original Theatrical Trailer, Photo Gallery with commentary, Alternate Poster Gallery, Behind The Scenes and Deleted, Extended and Alternate Scenes that do not add much to what we already did not get.

Donald Cammell's Demon Seed is my favorite film here, a creepy thriller that MGM released in 1977 with high expectations that holds up pretty well as a scientific genius (the always reliable Fritz Weaver) has developed a new computer named Proteus IV with a mind of its own and surveillance powers, setting up at his home to the dismay of his wife (Julie Christie) then it can talk (voice of Robert Vaughn). It quickly becomes self-aware and decides it wants to find a way to escape the confines of the home it is stuck in, using her for recreation and procreation purposes.

Still bold in its themes and a very mature work, it was made at a time when portable computers, iPhones, laptops and the like were unthinkable and though that makes it a product of its time, it is not to say a sentient artificial computer intelligence would not consider trying to become human or semi-human by finding a bridge to connect with us carbon-based units. Cammell (Wolfen, Performance) made his best film here and it is too often forgotten, but Warner Archive has issued it on DVD and seeing it widescreen is the only way to really appreciate what the makers achieved. An underrated gem, catch it ASAP!

A trailer is the only extra, but you can read more about the amazing music score for the film by the late, great Jerry Fielding in its must-own limited edition CD soundtrack release (with Soylent Green, also reviewed on Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) all serious movie music fans should get a copy of while supplies last at this link:


Umberto Lenzi's Nightmare City (1980) is a fun if sometimes mixed (the make-up effects are not always great, plus they and some of the other visual effects are unintentional howlers) tale of a military plane flying through a deadly radiation cloud. When the plane lands, the men (in the best Marvel Comics tradition if you think about it) are not dead, but mutants and blood hungry zombies for that matter. The script attempts to cross the first two Romero Dead films with Romero's underrated, original Crazies (all reviewed on Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) pushing the public outbreak heath crisis angle that officials cannot do anything about.

Mel Ferrer shows up as a General and longtime actor Hugo Stiglitz is the doctor who will try to solve the crisis before it is too late. Superior to most films of its type today, Raro Video has issued a really nice Blu-ray edition of the film that really goes all out at points to work and keeps the plot points going. I had only seen this once a long time ago and was impressed by how well it held up and what a good film it really could be. Any serious film fan and especially fans of the genres it covers should consider this one a must-see, even when its limits kick in.

Extras include an illustrated booklet on the film, while the Blu-ray disc adds Original English and Italian Theatrical Trailers and (unlisted on the Blu-ray case) an interview with Lenzi on this film and his career.

It took three directors to make the anthology film Sanitarium (2013) and that turns out to be the beginning of its many problems, problems like those of Berberian that should not have begun to happen, but kept happening and happening. This attempt at an anthology film with three stories wrapped around a connecting narrative, but it also wants to keep telling the audience it cannot separate fantasy and dreams from reality when the script itself has cliché after cliché. Malcolm McDowell is the head of the mental institution of the title and our tales of terror include turns by Robert Englund, Lacey Chabert and Lou Diamond Phillips, but it is also too choppy for its own good and none of the tales stand on their own.

Philips gives his best in an extended performance, but he is battling against a lack of ideas and I was hoping one of the segments would work, but to no avail. It is like Night Gallery with no suspense and no point and the deadly doll thing is played out like so much here. This will be a curio because of the cast, a monster and that doll, but you've seen it all before.

There are no extras.

Theodore Gershuny's Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972) is a forerunner of sorts to Bob Clark's Black Christmas (1974) which inspired John Carpenter's original Halloween (1978) and was influenced by Romero's original Night of The Living Dead (1968, all three films reviewed on Blu-ray at least once elsewhere on this site) showing along with Clark's Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things (also 1972, reviewed elsewhere on this site) the freedom Romero's film (as well a Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (1968, now on Blu-ray from Criterion) a new freedom in the horror genre that quickly followed Hitchcock (especially Psycho (1960) and Clouzot's Diabolique (1955, reviewed on Criterion Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) making the DVD release of this under-seen curio a very good thing.

Originally titled Night Of The Dark Full Moon, we begin with Mary Woronov as Diane, reflecting on the loss of a place that once was with a story behind it. Since the 1980s, this has usually been a juvenile flashback device to soften and make safe anything that follows, but in a better film like this, it actually works to a good extent (though this might have been a better film without it) as the suspense the film achieves is here and we get some interesting, creepy and disturbing moments in part from the great cast, from a decent script and just the project's ambitions.

The people running the town want to get rid of a certain old house now that it is up for sale, but the owner (James Patterson) wants more money than they want to buy it for, as explained to them by his lawyer (Patrick O'Neal) who is staying in town with a lady friend until all is settled, but nothing peaceful follows as the story becomes more effectively twisted.

Not every moment works and some things have dated better than others, but I remember the film and am happy to see it in a better widescreen print at 81 minutes (versus some DVDs at 64), this may still be short of the reported 88 minutes the film might have been, but that is unconfirmed and with a solid supporting cast that includes John Carradine and adds appearances by Warhol alumni Candy Darling and Ondine, it is a curio more than worth your time.

There are sadly no extras.

By the time Dario Argento's Tenebrae (1982) hit theaters, Italian Gothic and Giallo films were at an end and the likes of Nightmare City influenced by non-Italian Horror films were succeeding them. This film can be very much seen as the end of the Giallo Cycle including its deconstructive approach with Anthony Franciosa as a writer of murder thrillers arriving in Italy only to discover that someone is committing a series of murders based on his works. Things get worse and worse, forcing him to do something about it.

Accompanied by his literary agent (John Saxon), he expects to position and sell his new suspense novel (it shares its title with the title of the film) to big profits and that will sell his older catalog of hits, but the killings start brutal and become worse and worse. The film also had a solid Italian cast, is gutsy in its brutality, but has to be for the story to work. Franciosa reminds us once again how effective he could be in carrying the lead in a feature length film and is Argento's last major work where he seems to be in total control.

This new Arrow UK Region B Import Blu-ray is not only loaded with extras, but is one of the only Blu-rays issued of the film (outside of German and french versions) issued so far, which means no U.S. version yet. Arrow has once again gone all out to make sure their copy is as strong as possible. Fans will be pleased.

Extras in the steelbook packaging with a DVD version added, a collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by Alan Jones, author of Profondo Argento, an interview with cinematographer Luciano Tovoli and an appreciation of the film by director Peter Strickland, illustrated with original posters & lobby cards, while the Blu-ray adds Feature Length Audio Commentary with authors and critics Kim Newman and Alan Jones, a second Feature Length Audio Commentary with Argento expert Thomas Rostock, Introduction by star Daria Nicolodi, The Unsane World of Tenebrae: An interview with director Dario Argento, the Original Theatrical Trailer, Screaming Queen!;Daria Nicolodi remembers Tenebrae, A Composition for Carnage; Composer Claudio Simonetti on Tenebrae, the band Goblin: ‘Tenebrae’ and ‘Phenomena’ Live from the Glasgow Arches and a brand new interview with Maitland McDonagh, author of the book Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams Of Dario Argento.

Mario Bava's The Whip & The Body (1963) is a visually compelling early horror success for the filmmaker who had already made films here and there, but was now starting to form a look, feel and style in the genre that made himself (and eventually Dario Argento) the premiere Italian directors thereof. The script may have some logic issues, but the daring tale of a woman (Daliah Lavi) haunted by the abusive relationship she had with a newly dead man (Christopher Lee, whose voice is not used on either the Italian or English soundtracks!) which literally included beatings with a whip, taking place in the later 19th Century countryside and at a dark castle. She starts seeing him alive again after his death, but is he back, is she imagining him or is it something else?

This was very racy for its time, so sad and ugly that the film was either cut down or outright banned upon first release and was simply entitled What in its odd U.S. release. 50 years later, the film is still daring and intelligent, a mature work, with a fine supporting cast and fine look despite what was (and still would be) a very low budget. Seeing it on Blu-ray uncut allows us to experience the film the way intended after so many secondary versions from bad and shortened transfers, but it makes more of a difference than you might expect. Some viewers should just expect some still-heady territory.

Extras include Original theatrical Trailers for this and other Bava films, plus a terrific feature length audio commentary by film scholar and Bava scholar Tim Lucas that is a must-hear after seeing the film. For more Bava, try our coverage of Blood & Black Lace (1963) at this link for the most recent 2-DVD edition with link to earlier version with different cover:


...plus Danger: Diabolik (1967) in its restored DVD release:


The three Blu-rays here are all of older films, but they look pretty impressive for the most part despite the 1080p digital High Definition image transfers sometimes showing the age of the materials used, they all also do not look tampered with or changed in a way to make them look fake or counter to their original 35mm releases. Whip has a 1.78 X 1 HD presentation and is the uncut version of the film, which was originally issued in dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor prints. There are a few minor flaws that hold I back, but I would prefer it that way versus poor corrections.

It ranks second place behind the 2.35 X 1 HD transfer (shot in Techniscope) on City and the 1.85 X 1 image on Tenebrae (lensed by Argento's Suspiria (reviewed on Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) Director of Photography Luciano Tovoli) tie for first place for best playback on the list. Both Italian productions, by this time, the stocks were getting faster, but definition could be weak more often than you might like and the color not as rich as earlier Italian films in the genre. Still, there are more than a few shots from each that look as good as they ever could have in 35mm and that is a big plus. It should be added that Tenebrae was shot to be a bit lighter (costumes and production design included) so we will give it a bit of leeway in its flaws and soft look.

As for the DVDs, the anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image on Berberian (combining Super 16mm film and HD shooting) and the anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image on Demon Seed (shot in real 35mm anamorphic Panavision by Bill Butler (Jaws, Grease, Damien: Omen II, Capricorn One)) tie for the best DVD presentations and third place on the list. Berberian does its best to recreate the look of 1970s film when it needs to, but also seems like a product of now, which does not hurt it. Demon Seed is just a consistently underrated scope film visually that was issued in MetroColor and has a good print here. Wow, I wish this were a Blu-ray!

That leave the disappointments in the anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image on Silent Night that claims to come from the original camera materials, but that print (or prints) could use some work, plus the anamorphically enhanced 2.0 X 1 image on Sanitarium which has been stylized down and darkened too much for its own good. Nothing can be done about that.

As for sound, though Tenebrae only offers PCM 2.0 English and Italian Mono (versus the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 upgrade the Umbrella Suspiria Blu-ray had), it is the best sound on the list by default (favoring the Italian by a sliver if that), which happens to be the soundtrack type and split on the other two Blu-rays for Whip (both have issues and show their age) and City (the Italian has some more audio detail), but City ranks third place overall and Whip is very average joining most of the DVD releases on this list.

Berberian offers a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that is the second-place sonic winner on this list for its advanced use of sound throughout, which means a lossless version could have been the champ had we heard the Blu-ray edition. The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix on Sanitarium should have been as wide-ranging, but it is too much in the center channel and the mix is on the compressed side throughout. That leaves the lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on Silent Night sounding as worn as it looks, but it was also low budget, yet some cleaning up would have helped, while the same mix on Demon Seed should have ben decent, but has its own compression issues and with the CD soundtrack sounding so exceptionally good, a Stereo or 5.1 upgrade is a must for any Blu-ray HD upgrade.

As noted above, you can order the Tenebrae import Blu-ray from Arrow UK at this link:


...and to order Demon Seed DVD from the Warner Archive, go to this link for it and many more great web-exclusive releases at:


- Nicholas Sheffo


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