Oct 31, 2019

On Blu-ray--A Horror Trio: The Fearless Vampire Killers (1966), Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973), and From Beyond the Grave (1973)

I ended my October horror binge with a trio of unusual horror films recently released on Blu-ray from Warner Archive. Not a bad way to close out the month.

The Fearless Vampire Killers or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck (1966)

I’ve always had mixed feelings about this oddly-paced, eccentric horror comedy about a pair of vampire hunters. It's unique and funny in a low-key way, but for long stretches it bumbles along as if it has gotten lost. The fantastic cast helps, led by director Roman Polanski and Jack MacGowran (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and featuring Sharon Tate in an essentially thankless role which she elevates with her unique charisma (she was born for film) and glowing beauty. The frightened villagers are fascinating with their realistically wind burned faces, a dramatic contrast to the glamorous vampires living in the estate up the hill. The film is at its best when it plays with the conventions of vampires, introducing what has to be the first openly gay cinematic neck drainer and a Jewish vampire who gets a belly laugh out of a damsel wielding a cross which obviously has no effect on him. A spookily hip soundtrack by Chris Komeda suits the slightly scary, mostly goofy feel of the film.

Special features include a theatrical trailer and a very silly making-of featurette The Fearless Vampire Killers: Vampires 101.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)

In this television horror fantasy classic Kim Darby plays a lonely housewife who has just inherited her grandmother’s lavish, but run down mansion. Going against the advice of a handyman who has long worked on the estate (William Demarest in full Uncle Charlie mode), she opens up a bolted door on the side of a bricked up fireplace releasing a trio of pumpkin-headed goblins who constantly whisper her name and scatter in a symphony of screams whenever they are exposed to bright light. 

They want to drag her into the nether regions of the house as thanks for her releasing them, though it’s confusing because sometimes they also say they want to attack her. It’s an odd film; sometimes it’s laughably silly, but then suddenly you’re thrust into bone-rattling terror. 

I’m not fond of Darby. While I recognize her skill as an actress, something about her has always irritated me. As a result, my sympathy wasn’t with her as intended and I often found myself wishing the little guys would drag her away to put her out of her misery. Still, the slow-building tension is effective, and when you view it as an allegory reflecting the aimlessness imprisonment of life as a 1970s housewife, it becomes more poignant. 

It’s easy to see why this traumatized so many children who stayed up past their bedtimes decades ago. As with Warner Archive’s release of Bad Ronald, it’s also a rare delight to see an older television film with such a sharp clear image.

Special features on the disc include audio commentary by Steve “Uncle Creepy” Carton, Jeffrey Reddick and Sean Abley and another excellent new commentary by television film expert Amanda Reyes, who talks about a lot more than the film, placing it in context within the world of 1970s TV movies.

From Beyond the Grave (1973)

In this omnibus film from British studio Amicus Productions, Peter Cushing is quietly ghoulish as an antique shop proprietor who seems to have the supernatural ability to curse people who trick or steal from him. He works his dark magic on ill-gotten goods including a mirror, a military medal, a carved wooden door, and a snuff box. The fate of each of the dishonest people in possession of these items is revealed in separate episodes. A remarkable cast, including Margaret Leighton, Ian Bannen, and the wearily middle-aged, but still glamorous Diana Dors does much for this low budget horror flick. The best sequence features Donald Pleasance and his magnetically eerie daughter Angela Pleasance, playing a father and daughter in a cautionary tale with the otherworldly haze of a fairy tale.

The only special feature is a theatrical trailer.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing copies of the films for review. To order, visitThe Warner Archive Collection.

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