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Ghost Canyon

'American Horror Project: Volume 2' [BR]
(Edmund O'Brien, Michael Pataki, Kim Hunter, J.J. Barry, Laurel Barnett, et al / 3-Disc Blu-ray / NR / 2019 / Arrow Films UK)

Overview: Continuing its mission to unearth the very best in weird and wonderful horror obscura from the golden age of US independent genre moviemaking, Arrow Video now presents the long-awaited second volume in its 'American Horror Project' series co-curated by author Stephen Thrower (Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents).

Blu-ray Verdict: Starting off with a little-seen 1970 offering from underrated cult auteur John Hayes (Grave of the Vampire, Garden of the Dead), 'Dream No Evil' is a haunting, moving tale of a young woman’s desperate quest to be reunited with her long-lost father – only to find herself drawn into a fantasyland of homicidal madness.

Troubled young Grace MacDonald (well played by ravishing redhead Brooke Mills) works as an assistant for itinerant carnie faith healer preacher Reverend Jesse Bundy (essayed with tremendous rip-snorting gusto by Michael Pataki) and can't get over her obsession with finding her long lost father.

Grace eventually runs across her pop Timothy MacDonald (a fine, robust performance by Edmond O'Brien), but he turns out to be crazy, overprotective and dangerous. Or is Grace just imagining that her dad is still alive?

Writer/director John Hayes relates the compellingly quirky story at a leisurely pace and does an expert job of creating and maintaining a creepy, surreal, dreamlike atmosphere.

Paul Hipp's bright, lush cinematography and Jaime Mendoza-Nava's spooky, melancholy score further enhance the pervasive mood of abstract eeriness. Moreover, there's nice supporting performances by Paul Prokop as Grace's kindly, concerned fiancé Dr. Patrick Bundy, Marc Lawrence as a sinister undertaker who works as a pimp on the side, and Arthur Franz as a helpful psychiatrist.

Despite a heavy languid air and the often murky plot (a grimly sober narrator occasionally chimes in to give the oblique story some much-needed coherence), this intriguingly ambiguous picture somehow manages to cast a strangely hypnotic spell on the viewer. An interesting oddity, for sure, but one to be enjoyed late at night with friends (and beer!).

Meanwhile, 1976’s 'Dark August' stars Academy Award-winner Kim Hunter (A Streetcar Named Desire) in a story of a man pursued by a terrifying and deadly curse in the wake of a hit-and-run accident.

In this wonderfully obscure horror flick about a Mikhail Saakashvili lookalike stalked by the grandfather of girl whom he accidentally killed, one has to say from the off that there's certainly nothing significant about 'Dark August' save for the fact that it can most definitely be interpreted as a quirky '70s time capsule of a flick!

Having a discerning similarity to Robert Altman's movies - especially in one scene which has two groups of people simultaneously carrying on conversations - 'Dark Harvest's locations are beautiful and the music is perfect and delightfully moody too.

Some of the actors are okay but the script or lack of storytelling abilities from the writer and the director obscure all intentions of the production, in my humble opinion.

Lastly, 1977’s Harry Novak-produced 'The Child' is a gloriously delirious slice of horror mayhem in which a young girl raises an army of the dead against the people she holds responsible for her mother’s death.

This is one of those '70s independent horror films like 'Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things' and 'Let's Scare Jessica To Death' that are odd, crude, dated, but interesting in their dreamlike approach to the genre.

OK, sure, admittedly it's not as good as the aforementioned, but it sure has its good points.

A very beautiful young woman shows up to be nanny for a bratty young girl living in an isolated farmhouse with her crusty old father and hunky grownup brother.

We figure out pretty soon that the brat is a malevolent force around here, though just how she manages to (apparently) raise the dead in order to off anyone who ticks her off is one of many logical details you're better off not pondering. (The movie doesn't bother explaining, anyway!).

The plot is very thin, yet the film feels atmospheric and eventful enough. It's not good by any standards, but it has personality and its own oddball sense of conviction.

The most laughable and incongruous element is a musical score overwhelmed by florid piano arpeggios (I'm not the first person who thought of Liberace, surely!), though after a while you can somewhat tune it out.

To my mind, if the movie had a more effectively disturbing score ala 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' it might now be considered a minor classic - which would be overrating it, but it's certainly no piece of camp trash either (which is not to say I don't enjoy camp trash at times either!).

Most of the participants seem to have never made another movie and 'The Child' has that compelling curiosity of a one-shot genre movie made by people whose arty inclinations probably doomed their futures in commercial cinema; but which also make this sole effort more interesting than most of what it would have shared drive-in and grindhouse screens with in the mid/late '70s.

With all three films having been newly remastered from the best surviving film elements and appearing here for the first time ever on Blu-ray, alongside a wealth of supplementary material, 'American Horror Project: Volume Two' offers up yet another fascinating and blood-chilling foray into the deepest, darkest corners of stars-and-stripes terror. These are all Full Screen Presentations enhanced for 16x9 TVs and come with the Special Features of:

Brand new 2K restorations from original film elements
High Definition Blu-ray presentation
Original uncompressed PCM mono audio
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 Vol. II – limited edition 60-page booklet featuring new writing on the films by Stephen R. Bissette, Travis Crawford and Amanda Reyes

'Dream No Evil'
Filmed appreciation by Stephen Thrower
Brand new audio commentary with Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan
Hollywood After Dark: The Early Films of John Hayes, 1959-1971 – brand new video essay by Stephen Thrower looking at Hayes' filmography leading up to Dream No Evil
Writer Chris Poggiali on the prodigious career of celebrated character actor Edmond O'Brien
Excerpts from an audio interview with actress Rue McClanahan (The Golden Girls) discussing her many cinematic collaborations with director John Hayes

'Dark August'
Filmed appreciation by Stephen Thrower
Brand new audio commentary with writer-director Martin Goldman
Brand new on-camera interview with Martin Goldman
Brand new on-camera interview with producer Marianne Kanter
The Hills Are Alive: Dark August and Vermont Folk Horror – author and artist Stephen R. Bissette on Dark August and its context within the wider realm of genre filmmaking out of Vermont
Original Press Book

'The Child'
1.37:1 and 1.85:1 presentations of the feature
Filmed appreciation by Stephen Thrower
Brand new audio commentary with director Robert Voskanian and producer Robert Dadashian, moderated by Stephen Thrower
Brand new on-camera interviews with Robert Voskanian and Robert Dadashian
Original Theatrical Trailer
Original Press Book