Sunday, May 05, 2013

Drive-In Collection: Dungeon of Harrow/Death By Invitation

Dungeon of Harrow

Director: Pat Boyette
Writer: Pat Boyette, Henry Garcia
Stars: Russ Harvey, Helen Hogan, William McNulty
Runtime: 87 Minutes
AR: 1.85:1

When his father's boat crashes during a storm, Aaron Fallon (Russ Harvey) and the ship's captain (Lee Morgan) find themselves the only survivors washed ashore on an unknown island. While seeking help on the island the men are accosted by a tribal looking dude called Mantis (Maurice Harris) who beats them pretty severely and takes them to the castle of drunken lunatic Count Lorente de Sade (William McNulty). The Count is the type of drunk who gets so hammered he starts to hallucinate apparitions who look like a faggy magicians that frighten him with various rubber creatures; a cobra, a massive bat and the worst giant spider I've seen since the last time I watched Nude for Satan

After an awkward dinner that almost ends with a fist fight with the Count, Aaron heads back to his room to find the captain missing with a pool of blood on the bed where he had previously laid. He questions Cassandra, a strange woman who also lives at the castle, but she's one of those spooky movie chicks who only answer questions with vagueness, so no luck there. So he does what any concerned friend would do, he decides to just go to sleep.

He's awaken in the middle of the night by the sound of screaming and he discovers a hidden dungeon where Mantis is torturing an amply cleavaged young woman. After saving the woman from her impending tenderization he becomes pretty convinced the Count is behind the captain's disappearance, and he will stop at nothing to find his friend and get the hell off of this weird ass island.

Dungeon of Harrow is sort of a lower rent attempt at AIP Corman, minus the talent in front of or behind the camera. While there are some interesting ideas at work here, Dungeon can be a bit of a chore to get through. Agonizingly slow at times, the acting is poor at best and the pacing is kind of a nightmare.

That said the film isn't without merit. I really enjoyed the look of the bargain-basement castle sets, I thought they looked really great actually, though the castle could probably have used a bit of cleaning. The Count is a cheap dude apparently, I guess just because you're a count doesn't mean you need to show off by spending a lot of money hiring a maid to dust the decades worth of cobwebs blanketing the walls or wash the blood off of the torture devices. Kidding aside, it's a pretty well shot film, with some striking Gothic imagery throughout. Boyette was a pretty well known comic artist who did a lot of work on several Charlton horror comics like Ghost Manor, Ghostly Haunts, and Ghostly Tales among others, so he was able to utilize his knowledge of composition pretty well to at least make a visually interesting film. I also thought the narration (provided by Boyette, also a former broadcaster) was well done, as were the few makeup effects provided by writer/effects artist Henry Garcia.

Things to watch for:
When using a toy boat as a stand in for a real boat, don't linger on it.
Swiss Cheese Window Panes
Count J. Peterman

Scanned in 2K the 1:85.1 transfer looks rather good. Sure there are some scratches on the print and some of the dark scenes don't fare too well, but this transfer is a stunning improvement over what has been available before. Here's a quick comparison, VS on top, and one of the many public domain DVD releases on the bottom:

Overall I can't quite recommend Dungeon of Harrow as essential viewing, this is the type of movie you might put on when you've got the flu and just want something to watch as you wait for the Nyquil to kick in. Though people who are already fans of the film should be pretty blown away by how good it looks on this DVD.

I reviewed Death By Invitation before, it was on the first Drive-In Collection disc paired up with Savage Water. But, as most of you know that disc was recalled due to some confusion regarding the rights to Savage Water. So I've just copied my Death By Invitation review and pasted it below. Just ignore the couple of times I mention Savage Water in the review. Enjoy, again:

Death by Invitation

Director: Ken Friedman
Writer: Ken Friedman
Stars: Shelby Leverington, Aaron Phillips, Norman Paige
Runtime: 81 Minutes
AR: 1.85:1

In a prologue that takes place in Holland in the 1650's a young woman is accused of witchcraft. She is sentenced to death by the Vroot family. 300 years later, yet somehow in the 1970s, Lise, a descendant of the murdered woman seeks revenge on the Vroot family. She befriends the mother of the family and uses her friendship to get close to the family so that she can attempt to kill them off, one by one.

This was the acting debut of Shelby Leverington who plays Lise. Even though this was her first movie, she brings a quiet intensity to her role and she really carries the movie. When she wasn't onscreen my attention started to wander a bit. Or in the case of the brutally long scene in Vroot's office, my attention wandered a lot. However, any scene with Lise, I was glued to the screen. It feels weird to compliment acting in a movie like this, but I was pretty impressed with her. Leverington appears to have done mostly TV bit parts after this, it's a shame she didn't do more leading parts.

Produced by Leonard Kirtman (Carnival of Blood, Curse of the Headless Horseman), while feeling a lot like Carnival and Curse, it also reminds me of the Harry Novak horror stuff Something Weird put out like The Child. The whole time I kept thinking "man, this really seems like something that Something Weird would've released." And sure enough, they did.

Like Savage Water, this is a pretty slow moving movie. However, there are a couple of rather effective scenes, like a haunting monologue by Lise about a tribe of female cannibals, and a very well done double daughter death scene. Death By Invitation has more scratches and print damage than Savage Water, but does seem to have an overall better image quality. Like Savage Water, this one also features a Hysteria Continues commentary track.

Things to watch for:
Dutch Goths of the 1600's
Dutch Black Guys of the 1600's
Human Meat Sack
The death scene of the two daughters (not trying to be funny here, this was a very effective scene)

Random thing I noticed, but couldn't find a place to fit into the review: The image of Shelby on the DVD menu makes her look pretty Buscemian, but they must've been using a really fucked camera during that scene because she's actually perfectly attractive most of the time. See screenshot above.

Street Date is Tuesday, May 7th. Order directly from Vinegar Syndrome. Or Amazon, I've heard they're good as well.

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