DVD Review: Scream Theater 12 Cheap Chills
Released By: VCI Entertainment
Release Date: February 1, 2011
Number of Discs: 4
Approximate Running Time: 1080 Minutes
Special Features: None
Suggested Price: $14.99
The Source: The good folks at VCI Entertainment have packaged twelve pseudo-public domain films into what they have termed a “horror marathon” and released the four DVD set at a price that amounts to a $1.25 per film.
The Fanboy Factor: There are a whole slew of horror themed combo packs available on the DVD market and many of the ones featuring older titles tend to reuse the same supposedly public domain titles over and over again. With companies offering collections of twenty-five, fifty, and even one hundred films in a single boxed set for pennies a film, it’s hard not to run into a lot of overlap and duplication. VCI’s Scream Theater offers nothing new or especially rare in the way of titles but the transfers are nice on the whole and films all share the common thread of having been released in the 1970’s at a time when they could have all played together at the drive-in. On the down side, with only twelve titles on this set you would think it would be no problem to find true horror films to fill the discs but arguments can be made for at least half of the selections here not being strictly horror in nature. The break down of films on the Scream Theater set are as follows:
ALICE SWEET ALICE (1977) – A very young Brooke Shields makes her big screen debut in the first ten minutes of this violent murder mystery that was re-released several times to cash in on her success. Not really a horror movie but more of an anti-Catholic statement with a few grisly deaths thrown in to keep the audience awake.
BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT (1971) – The first of three Eddie Romero/John Ashley Filipino horror films represented in this set is a tale of a devil worshiper who transforms into a cheesy looking monster to kill people. Not that any of the many films this duo would produce were winners but this was one of the worst.
BEYOND ATLANTIS (1973) – This adventure film is another Filipino product starring John Ashley in a plot about looting the lost civilization of Atlantis. This time out we get a better than average cast including Sid Haig and Patrick Wayne but the final product is still below average.
DEATH GAME (1976) – This isn’t a horror film either but rather a drawn out psycho-drama of a man being tormented by two female hitchhikers he picks up one weekend when his wife is away. The game does eventually lead to death but it takes the majority of the film to get there and ends in a cheap tacked on payoff. This one is saved by very good over the top performances by Sandra Locke and Colleen Camp in early roles as the sexy psychos.
DON’T OPEN THE DOOR (1975) – S. F. Brownrigg was the king of the Don’t movies and knew how to deliver sweaty claustrophobic thrillers on a tight budget (he was a student of the Larry Buchanan school of filmmaking). Sadly this film can’t hold a candle to his earlier Don’t Look in the Basement. Rather than give us a similar gonzo body count movie, he turns in a boring thriller of a young woman returning to a small southern town where just about everyone in the limited cast is out to get her.
HOUSE OF THE LIVING DEAD (1976) – OK, with a title like that we have every right to expect some cool mid-70’s zombies right? Well good luck! What this film actually delivers is a period piece on turn of the century science reanimating the dead but it starts out slow and winds down from there. The film spends the first part of its running time creating an interesting atmosphere but then fails to deliver in the second half.
NIGHT CREATURE (1978) – Donald Pleasence was a great actor but he seemed to be willing to do just about anything for a paycheck. In this adventure film, he is miscast as a big game hunter obsessed with a black panther. As the panther starts knocking off the cast, Pleasence becomes increasingly more determined to kill the beast but it doesn’t translate into anything exciting on screen.
SCREAM BLOODY MURDER (1973) – Ah, now here’s a good old fashioned psycho on the loose film to liven things up. A young boy kills his father with a tractor and loses his hand in the process. Years later he is released from the nut house and the now hook handed hot head fails miserably at reintegrating himself into society. This one has a fair amount of murders, hallucinations, and even Angus Scrimm pre-Phantasm in a cameo as a doctor who makes his last house call.
SISTERS OF DEATH (1978) – This enjoyable little mystery film has plenty of elements that could have made it a horror movie – a sorority initiation gone wrong, people trapped in a house with a killer, etc. Unfortunately the mystery is revealed a little too early and the film never manages to build the level of suspense it could have so it steers clear of horror territory.
TWILIGHT PEOPLE (1972) – The final Romero/Ashley film on this collection is also the best. Director Eddie Romero had attempted his own Filipino version of The Island of Doctor Moreau over a decade earlier in 1959 with Terror is a Man and the lackluster Hollywood version was still five years away when he decided to take another stab at the material. Sticking a little closer to the original story this time and adding in some ideas from The Most Dangerous Game, we get a mad scientist hunting a group of his animal/human hybrid creations who have been helped to escape by his daughter and John Ashley. The makeup isn’t great and there are some unintentional laughs but we also get sultry Pam Grier as the panther woman so need I say more?
THE VAMPIRE HAPPENING (1971) – This is a fairly forgettable film that tries to be a humorous vampire movie in the vein (get it, vein?) of The Fearless Vampire Killers. They even go so far as to hire that film’s star, Ferdy Mayne, to play the head vampire in this one even though his part is just an extended cameo. Mild violence and copious nudity are used as an attempted replacement for plot and production values but ultimately fail.
YOUNG HANNAH: QUEEN OF THE VAMPIRES (1972) – Probably better known by its alternate title and the one it played on television under, Crypt of the Living Dead, this is a slow moving tale of a beautiful female vampire who is revived when an archeologist uncovers her tomb on a remote island. Andrew Prine, who was an exploitation staple in the 70’s, stars as the archeologist who eventually dispatches the vampire by the unique method of fire.
The Product: VCI seems to have done some digging to locate better than average prints of these films but the pluses for this collection pretty much end there. The packaging is uninspired, the film selection is mediocre, and there isn’t a single bonus feature to be had unless you count the small photos of the posters for these films on the back of the case. The theatrical trailers or some commentaries by film geeks would have been welcome additions but all we get are a bare bones collection of the twelve movies.
The Bottom Line: If you haven’t already delved into the world of discount DVDs and purchased some of the many horror mega-packs on the market, this one would make an excellent start and the price is certainly right. If you already have all or most of these titles, this collection offers some appreciable upgrades to the film transfers but it is ultimately up to the individual consumer to decide if the movies warrant improvement.