'American Horror Project: Vol. 1 (6-Disc Edition)'
(Mollie Perkins, Sharon Farrell, Danielle Brisebois, Jerome Dempsey, Daniel Dietrich, Janine Carazo, et al / Blu ray+DVD / R / 2016 / Arrow Films UK)
Overview: Everyone knows the classic American horror titles: Night of the Living Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and A Nightmare on Elm Street, to name but a few. But we want to tell you a different story - a story of the unsung heroes of American terror... Whether it's a film that has languished in obscurity, or a movie that's at risk of being lost due to lack of source materials, American Horror Project is here to ensure that these unique slices of the American Nightmare are brought back into the public consciousness and preserved for all to enjoy.
Blu ray Verdict: Volume I of this 'American Horror Project' series presents three tales of violence and madness from the 1970s. 'Malatesta's Carnival of Blood' (Christopher Speeth, 1973) sees a family arrive at a creepy, dilapidated fairground in search of their missing daughter, only to find themselves at the mercy of cannibalistic ghouls lurking beneath the park. A man named Mr. Blood (who looks like Frasier, if he dressed up like Dracula) seems to be the front man. After settling in, the more carnival workers they meet, the sooner they realize the place isn't right. The movie seems to be fairly cut, there are a lot of inconsistencies in the plot. For instance, there seems to be a revenge type back story with the man of the family by the way he talks in some scenes, but there's never any concrete evidence to prove this theory.
Anyhow, when it goes dark, a whole heap of cannibals who used to be workers inhabit the carnival, and eat the flesh of people who visit. The explanation is that they eat human flesh because they were never told it was wrong, lol! Same cannibals also have great tastes in classic horror. Several scenes in a small theater show the flesh hungry crowd watching Cabinet of Dr Caligari and other films from yesteryear. There's also ghouls, a cultist/wizard named Malatesta and Hervé Villechaize from Fantasy Island. Wacky bunch of freaks, I tell ya!
Most of the gut munching scenes were cut out, but you can view them in the outtakes section of the DVD. It's a shame they weren't added back in, but apparently American Zoetrope had a problem with the MPAA while remastering this lost film for Blu-ray. A few scenes are still lost, for the time being, I believe. Either way, the cut scenes are worth watching, because it is pretty damn nasty in a few scenes. Another worthy mention of gore is a guy who smokes a joint getting beheaded while on a roller coaster. Lots of fun there, and a good creepy atmosphere.
Surprisingly no nudity. Surprising because the female lead runs around for half of the movie in her nightgown, pursued by ghouls and Malatesta. Great little trippy nighttime chase scene with her through the entire carnival, where death and carnage is discovered in all corners. It has a great little bizarre ending too. Lots of fun to be witnessed in this incoherent, mindless Drive-In slice of cheese. Recommended for fans of 'I Drink Your Blood' and 'Carnival of Souls'.
Meanwhile, 'The Witch Who Came from the Sea' (Matt Cimber, 1976), stars Mollie Perkins (The Diary of Anne Frank) as a young woman whose bizarre and violent fantasies start to bleed into reality - literally. In a film that originally received an X rating from the MPAA, and where many cuts had to be made in order to secure an R rating, Cimber's film is focused on what is presumably Millie's downward spiral of mental collapse; and this is its biggest weakness. Haunted by a series of painful flashbacks (in which it becomes more and more clear exactly what was the nature of her traumatic childhood experience), Millie's inner torment is otherwise rarely articulated to the audience, although Perkins does her best to project some sympathy into the character.
These days the two castration scenes, fake blood, cutaways (no pun intended) and all, are far less provoking to an audience than those of child abuse. In a modern production, typically issues would be 'dealt with' from a psychological standpoint. She remains curiously mute however, and we miss the catharsis. "Millie's the captain of her own ship," says Long John, who recognizes this distant quality of his employee/lover - one who, even in bed with him, cannot confide her sexual history. But while keeping her own confidence may suggest inner strength, this woman who 'looks liberated' is ultimately as much a mystery as when we first see her.
Without any internal keys to Millie's psychology, apart from her murderous compulsions, the audience is forced to look for answers elsewhere. Fortunately the film is full of enough symbolism, Freudian and otherwise to give ample hints, considerably enriching the narrative and providing its principal interest. 'The witch' in question does not refer to supposed supernatural skills of the heroine. Millie is human and emotionally damaged. Much is suggested when she admires a reproduction hanging on the wall of a lecherous male admirer.
Botticelli's well-known Birth of Venus features a female figure standing on a shell, incidentally reminiscent of the mermaid tattooed on her father's chest. (Millie shortly thereafter has a copy done on her belly.) Venus' "father was a god" we learn, and "they cut off his balls, the sea got knocked up, and Venus was the kid." The Botticelli neatly encapsulates the themes of consummation and emasculation running through the film. It's the tension between the two that ultimately wrecks Millie, ruinously torn between admiration of her father and knowledge of what men can do.
Lastly, every parent's worst nightmare comes true in 'The Premonition' (Robert Allen Schnitzer, 1976), a tale of psychic terror in which five-year-old Janie is snatched away by a strange woman claiming to be her long-lost mother. Indeed, and interestingly enough, according to the director, Schnitzer, the working title for this film was actually always 'Turtle Heaven'! Anyway, moving on and five-year-old Janie Bennett (Golden Globe nominee Danielle Brisebois) happily lives with her foster parents Miles and Sheri Bennett (Sharon Farrell), oblivious to the fact that her insane birth mother is attempting to kidnap her. When the birth mother, Andrea Fletcher, and her boyfriend Jude (Richard Lynch), a carny, do attempt to kidnap the girl, Andrea cannot go through with it.
Aforementioned writer-director Robert Schnitzer was influenced by the European directors of the 1930s and 40s, as many American directors of the 1970s were. This influence is evident, and definitely has an Italian sensibility about it. And to keep costs low, the state of Mississippi provided cop cars, the fire department created "rain" with their hoses and a real carnival that happened to be in town was used as Jude's work environment. This makes the film look bigger than it was.
The casting of Richard Lynch was a great decision, catching him before he got any bigger. Lynch was hired, according to Schnitzer, for his "widely divergent moods" and for just being "unique". Lynch, in turn, claimed to be influenced by "Rififi" and "Psycho" in his acting. And to some degree the legendary mime Marcel Marceau, which is evident.
Baseball fans will notice a cameo from Roy White, the multi-World Series winning New York Yankee (and coach). This is especially amusing considering Schnitzer had no knowledge whatsoever of sports and did not even know who White was when he appeared in the film. (He was an active player during shooting.)
What I personally love about this film is the unusual score from opera composer Henry Mollicone, especially in the second half. Although the movie has plenty going for it as a slow-burning horror story with carnival overtones, the music really makes it stand out.
All beautifully remastered from the best surviving elements and contextualized with brand new supplementary material, with 'American Horror Project' we can now all re-evaluate an alternative history of American horror and film heritage. Limited to just 300 copies, this is a High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation enhanced for 16x9 TVs and come with the Special Features of:
Brand new 2K restorations of the three features
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard DVD presentations
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Reversible sleeves for each film featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil
American Horror Project Journal Volume I - Limited Edition 60-page booklet featuring new articles on the films from Kim Newman (Nightmare Movies), Kier-La Janisse (House of Psychotic Women) and Brian Albright (Regional Horror Films, 1958-1990)
Brand new interview with director Christopher Speeth
Brand new interview with writer Werner Liepolt
Draft Script (BD/DVD-ROM content)
Production stills gallery
Audio commentary with director Matt Cimber, actress Millie Perkins and director of photography Dean Cundey
Brand new interview with director Matt Cimber
Brand new interview with Dean Cundey
Brand new interview with actor John Goff
Audio commentary with director-producer Robert Allen Schnitzer
Brand new interview with composer Henry Mollicone
Interview with actor Richard Lynch
Three Robert Allen Schnitzer short films: 'Vernal Equinox', 'Terminal Point' and 'A Rumbling in the Land'
4 'Peace Spots'
Trailers and TV Spots