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BORIS KARLOFF COLLECTION (VCI)

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BORIS KARLOFF COLLECTION (VCI,2 discs, DVD) Released September 2018. Color.  $14.99

https://www.vcientertainment.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=1104

Many years ago, when the late great Boris Karloff passed away in February 2,1969, Jim Warren’s and Forrest J Ackerman’s FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND provided two fitting tributes.

One, was issue #56 of FMOF with a beautiful  Basil Gogos cover of Karloff as his most famous role.

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The other was a paperback by FJA called THE FRANKENSCIENCE MONSTER (Ace,1969, a cover not by Gogos but paperback cover artist Verne Tossey.). At the time,before the ability to google, this was the source for any monster news. Many of us though that Karloff’s final film was a classic of modern cinema, Peter Bogdanovich’s   TARGETS  (August 1968,Paramount).

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However, thanks to Uncle Forry , we found out that 80 plus year old Karloff had signed with producer Luis Enrique Vergara and Azteca Films of Mexico (who in turn had a distribution agreement with Columbia Pictures) for a four-picture deal at a salary of $400,000. The actor could have said no to the projects and easily retired, having a comfortable sum saved up over the years. No one could have blamed him, either, as his lungs were barely functional (due to years of smoking as well as damage from pneumonia he contracted in Italy filming BLACK SABBATH,1963,AIP , leaving him dependent on oxygen tanks to aid his breathing) as well as crippling arthritis that made walking difficult.

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Still, as he often said, he wanted to die with his boots on, doing the job he loved if audiences wanted to see him. An example was when he filmed an episode of THE RED SKELTON SHOW (“He Who Steals My Robot Steals Trash” aired September 24,1968, CBS), rather than do the show before the live audience in a wheel chair as rehearsed, he willed himself to walk with the aid of a cane rather than have the people see him so confined.

Thus, the quartet of Mexican horror films were jobs that he readily accepted, feeling fortunate that audiences still wished to see him.

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Difficulties for the productions arose when it was discovered that Karloff’s health would not permit him to film in Mexico, and his sequences were shot in a small studio in Santa Monica, California in April/May 1968, while the rest of the films were completed in Mexico, often with a double for the star.

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The four films were to be made over a 5-week period, so this extra expense of two crews, duplicating sets, and flying up some of the Mexican cast to work with Karloff must have frayed the already low budgets.  Juan Ibáñez directed the Mexican main unit, while cult director Jack Hill (SPIDER BABY,1967, American General) handled the American Karloff unit, as well as contributing to the screenplays.

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Hill it seems was hampered because the producer wanted to use an early form of video playback by tying a primitive video camera to the top of the 35mm Mitchells used to film the movie. Jerry Lewis had pioneered the idea and it is now the common practice, but Hill felt that it slowed down his process.

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With all these problems somehow the four films were filmed and completed. Karloff did not live to see the release of these films, which seemed to have been held back until 1971 for their limited distributions (Cannon also got around to distribute Karloff’s 1967 Spanish lensed CAULDRON OF BLOOD the same year, which got a wider release in the U.S. than the four Mexican thrillers).

 

Over the years, the films have been released on various video labels, including MPI and United American budget label, as well as several of the titles getting a DVD release by Fred Olen Ray’s Retromedia label.

 

VCI has now for the first time put all four films together in an affordable (less than the cost of some single DVD releases) two-disc collection.

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The four titles in the collection are

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(Disc One)

DANCE OF DEATH (aka HOUSE OF EVIL, SERENADA MACABRA)

TORTURE ZONE (edited version of FEAR CHAMBER)

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(Disc Two)

ALIEN TERROR (filmed as THE INCREDIBLE INVASION, Invasión siniestra)

CULT OF THE DEAD (edited version of ISLE OF THE SNAKE PEOPLE, La muerte vivente)

 

The discs seem to be sourced from the old MPI videos, with the same video generated titles (©1987 by the Parasol Group). The prints of the four movies are a bit dark and sometimes the color is a bit off.  The copy  of TORTURE ZONE seemed in the worst condition, with several visible splices.

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It is a shame that they did not seek out the Retromedia or Elite release of FEAR CHAMBER, as both of those are in the original aspect ratio with sharp picture and color quality, as well as extras such as an audio commentary by Jack Hill and a deleted scene.MPI’s TORTURE ZONE is an edited version of this film ,so all of the nudity Is eliminated .

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Only TORTURE ZONE was set in present day, with the rest set at around the turn of the 20th Century. ALIEN TERROR was supposedly the last one filmed, and the only one NOT starring Julissa, giving actress German actress Christa Linder a chance.

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The 2.0 Dolby Digital sound for the films is clear with no noticeable loss in quality of dialogue or the sound effects.

There are no extras to the discs, but again, to get these four films together at such a low price, one should not expect any special edition treatment.

While we would all like to get the best possible and most complete versions, certain films have limited audiences and the profitability is to say the least, narrow.

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One wonders, for example, if VCI had gone out of their way to get new prints, cleaned up and loaded with extras, would fans shell out $29.95 for each of these films?

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DANCE OF DEATH -this film is perhaps the most traditional horror film, with obvious influences of the Roger Corman Poe films. The film even claims to be based upon a Poe story, though none that I am familiar with.hoise of evil                                                  original Spanish language credit

 

Wealthy toymaker Matthais Morteval (Karloff) summons his family to his mansion to discuss how his estate will be divided. Recent murders in the nearby hills has a macabre touch, wherein the victims have had their eyes removed makes Matthais suspect that a member of his family is the killer.

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Karloff has an ancestral portrait that looks exactly like him (these old families have strong genes), and Karloff gets to play huge pipe organ. Matthais supposedly suffers a fatal heart attack half way into the film, and shortly thereafter, one by one his greedy relations die. Keeping with the Corman Poe- like feel, the film ends with a huge fire, as Matthais, obviously not dead, plays his final concerto as the walls burn around him. It is quite amazing that the octogenarian actor is working so close to such huge plumes of flames, controlled or not  .

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Karloff perhaps passed away before being able to loop dialogue, or the final lines were an afterthought , but they are not his voice.

People who dismiss the Karloff Mexican quartet of films have obviously not seen them, as DANCE OF DEATH was quite entertaining.

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TORTURE ZONE – (which in the original titles also claimed to be Poe inspired, though I would say more Lovecraft, like Karloff’s own DIE, MONSTER DIE! 1965 ,A.I.P. ). This one is a bit of a mess, no two ways about it. Psychedelic zooms & colors, and jump cut edits do not make this film any more interesting, and indeed, show how little sense the plot has.  A living rock is discovered within the depths of the earth. Scientist Karl Mantell (Karloff), who spends much of this film either sitting behind his office desk or behind a lab computer table, discovers that the creature feeds on the blood of young women, particularly those who are frightened. Naturally, our loveable scientist and his staff create a fear chamber to terrorize young women who come seeking employment. The rock (no, no that one) starts to grow tentacles, and only then does Mantell seek to stop it.

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Mantell is supposed to be a kindly scientist, but his actions here are in opposition to that appearance. Still, at least, Karloff gets to survive to the end credits. The topless scenes that are edited out of this print were probably shot later, added to try and keep audience attention. Probably one of Karloff’s worst movies, though, as always, he is worth watching.                                                                              .firrreee

Karloff tries to blow up all prints of FEAR CHAMBER .

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ALIEN TERROR– Another period piece, this one is another science fiction/horror hybrid. In an 1890s European country, Professor John Mayer (Karloff) is working on a new power source, when a lab accident sends a pulse off into space, attracting the attention of an alien spaceship passing by. The alien comes across a Jack the Ripper style killer and takes over his body. More killings continue as the alien tries to get to the professor’s invention and destroy it. Mayer uses his invention to defeat the killer, and later, when the alien hops into his niece, he uses the machine again to drive it from her. Mayer lets the machine destroy itself and, in the process, burns down his home.c3f80e4ebb33139abba0d67198ef960c

 

The final shot of the surviving cast members watching the house burn has an obvious Karloff stand in facing away from the camera with hair that looks like it was streaked with shoe polish.

A confusing picture, as if two different scripts were dropped into a blender, yet it held one’s interest and it tried to be original. As mentioned, this was Karloff’s last work in a motion picture.karloff_at_03_dvd

An alien Spaceship, lit and designed to look like a Dario Argento sequence !

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CULT OF THE DEAD – On the island of Korbai, Carl Van Molder (Karloff) is a major plantation owner. A police captain comes to Korbai to try and bring order when it is discovered that voodoo is rampant. This is a much more entertaining film than Karloff’s earlier film VOODOO ISLAND (1957, U.A.), which was one of the only roles I felt the great actor seemed to walk through.

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In this film, Karloff seems fully invested in the part and brings his great screen presence to each scene.  The voodoo scenes are well staged, though once again at the end of the film, a voice not Karloff’s is used for the line: “I’m dying! “followed by some sputtering coughs. The picture ends with a big explosion as the hero and heroine escape with their lives. This too was an entertaining piece of cinema fluff and does not deserve all the scorn heaped upon it.

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To sum up, two of the films (DANCE OF DEATH and CULT OF THE DEAD) I would say are quite entertaining, a third (ALIEN TERROR) is just odd enough to hold your interest with a feeling of “WTF?” throughout and only one (TORTURE ZONE) is close to a complete disaster. Karloff is always giving his all in each work, and for that alone these are well worth seeing.

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Are the prints the best? No.  However, unless some deep pocket cinema collector seeks out original negatives, gives them a 2 K scan and restores them, and licenses the Elite and Retromedia commentaries, this VCI set will be the best way of getting affordable copies of these final films by the Master of Horror, Boris Karloff.

 

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Recommended for – Karloff completists. Fans of Mexican Horror. Cult films lovers.

 

-Kevin G Shinnick

 

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PATIENT ZERO (2018)

PATIENT ZERO (Vertical Entertainment) R -now playing limited theatrical and available as V.O.D. 87 Min. Rated R. horror/science fiction.
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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mn-wBZwQdRA

Imagine if you will Bub from Romero’s DAY OF THE DEAD (1985, U.F.D.) were fully cognizant of his situation, and able to have a full conversation about it (MY DINNER WITH BUB? ). Throw in a bit of 21 DAYS LATER (2002, Fox) and you have a pretty good idea of what to expect from PATIENT ZERO.

Filmed in 2015 by Screen Gems, it sadly sat on a shelf until now. Why? Screen Gems opened the abysmal ULTRAVIOLET (2006) wide, and that was nowhere near as good as PATIENT ZERO.

In 2013, Mike Le’s script for PATIENT ZERO was called “the Most Liked “unmade script of the year in the annual Black List poll. A bidding war between several studios took place, with Screen Gems winning the rights to make a feature of the script. Matt Le had prior only worked on a few reality shows and later some forgotten thrillers like AMNESIAC (2014, XLrator) (get it? forgotten? Amnesiac?) and DARK SUMMER (2015, IFC). The frenzy was no doubt due to Paramount’s mega zombie blockbuster WORLD WAR Z that came out that year.
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Director Stefan Ruzowitzky had directed the German horror thriller AUTOPSY (Sony,2000) and won the 2007 foreign language Oscar for his film THE COUNTERFEITERS (released in the US by Sony)and so there a bit of buzz around his second English language film (his first ,ALL THE QUEENS’S MEN ,2001,Sony,starred Matt LeBlanc & Eddie Izzard ,was a fun little film that came & went).

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Adding to the buzz was the casting of Matt Smith (popular from DOCTOR WHO, portraying the character from 2010-13, with a guest appearance in 2014, BBC) and Natalie Dormer (GAME OF THRONES, appearing from 2012 to 2016 in the HBO series) and Stanley Tucci (Oscar nominated for THE LOVELY BONES ,2009, Dreamworks).

The majority of the film was shot in a massive set at Shepperton Studios that was built to resemble an underground military missle silo built into caverns.

In the near future, a new pandemic has broken out, driving people into a bloodthirsty rage. The world is so caught off guard by how quickly this spreads that a large group of survivors, men, women and children, take refuge in said underground military bunkers. There, they work frantically to try and seek some sort of cure, and if they can, discover Patient Zero, the first of the infected (Odd Doctor Who trivia (Matt Smith’s first full episode as the Doctor, “The Eleventh Hour”, he spent a good bit of time looking for PRISONER zero. Back to the review.).

Morgan (Matt Smith, sporting a Midwestern accent) has been bitten but unlike many, has not turned into one of the rampaging creatures (referred to as “the infected”). Instead, he can communicate with the transformed in their own language (that this is never explored in more detail made me wonder if the film had been drastically cut down) as well as using music to set off the murderous victims of the plague.

153694078162355269 Then one day, they bring in The Professor (Stanley Tucci), who not only is unaffected by the music, but also speaks in a calm clear manner. However, we also feel that underneath his demeanor is this seething rage, waiting to get out, and tear out the throats of all around.

The scenes between Smith and Tucci work wonderfully well, as if in a zombie film version of the Clarice /Hannibal Lector scenes from SILENCE OF THE LAMB (1991, Orion).

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Scientist Dr Rose (Natalie Dormer) is trying to get Morgan to hurry up while trying to placate Col. Knox (Clive Standen, star of the recent NBC Universal series TAKEN (2017-18) based upon Luc Bresson’s films) whose attitude is shoot them all let god sort it out.

Morgan also wants to find a cure, not only for himself but also his wife Janet (model /actress Agyness Deyn). Can they before the bunker is overrun by the ever increasing infected? Plus, watch out for those damn raging rats!!!

I don’t understand the general dismissal of this film. The cast is good, and the production values are decent.

The accent that Matt Smith uses is a bit jarring, and since most of the cast is British, why didn’t they just set the story in the U.K.?

Also, as I mentioned, there are a lot of very interesting ideas brought up but then never fully developed in the finish film, making me feel that there was some drastic editing to the movie.

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However, once Stanley Tucci shows up, PATIENT ZERO hums along quite nicely, with the exchanges between Morgan and The Professor holding our attention. The idea that the disease is merely releasing the rage contained in all of us is a good one and adds a bit of brains to the usual zombie fare.

I don’t think you will be disappointed if you watch this film without comparing it to films like DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978, UFD). It is a nice variation to the apocalyptic zombie film, with some novel additions.

I do hope that a Blu Ray with commentary track is in its future, as I would love to hear about the behind the scenes of PATIENT ZERO.

Currently, director Ruzowitzky is working on The Last Voyage of the Demeter, which is based on Bram Stoker‘s Dracula . I look forward to his new additions to genre films.

Check out PATIENT ZERO.
Kevin G Shinnick

ZOMBIES
Apocalypse
Matt Smith
Natalie Dormer
Stanley Tucci

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DOWN FROM THE ATTIC (book review)

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Down from the Attic: Rare Thrillers of the Silent Era through the 1950s
By John T. Soister and Henry Nicolella -(McFarland; June ,2016 )248 pages $39.95

 http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/book-2.php?id=978-0-7864-9831-4

This wonderful follow up to UP FROM THE VAULT: RARE THRILLERS FROM THE 1920S AND 1930S (McFarland ,2010) has author John T Soister joined by Henry Nicolella to track down and view where possible twenty-four films that are ignored and unknown by the majority of genre fans.

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Some are at present lost (i.e. deteriorated nitrate negatives and thus no longer in existence) and others available in truncated forms. Yet that we have still so many of these films for viewing is in itself miraculous, as according to Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation claims that “half of all American films made before 1950 and over 90% of films made before 1929 are lost forever.”

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Beginning with the silent era and going up to 1951, the pair of author sleuths tracked down films and prints from around the world, viewing whatever prints are still extant, and delving deeply into research about productions and reviews buried long ago in musty volumes and microfilm. Their summaries and plot synopses of the films covered makes one seek to look for many of these films, and some make you wonder why a few of them are not better known. Hopefully, their research may bring a few of these films to being found and perhaps preserved.6676769_1

What also makes this book invaluable is their willingness to seek out films that were made outside of the United States. Movies from The U.K. Germany, the Czech Republic, and South America are also explored, many perhaps for the first time in such detail outside of their borders.

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Plus, they cover the odd career of filmmaker Bud Pollard, responsible for the elusive and obscure THE HORROR (Bud Pollard Productions ,1932) as well as the first sound version of ALICE IN WONDERLAND https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6O8kbTi4WNo .

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Soister and Nicolella have done a wonderful job of finding these films and bringing them to the attention of genre fans. As they point out, not all of the films can be considered classics, but their importance cannot be denied.

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HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

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-Kevin G Shinnick

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COUNT YORGA , VAMPIRE -Twilight Time Blu Ray Limited edition (3,000)

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COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE -Twilight Time (limited run 3,000 copies) 1970 – 93 mins- original rating GP (now PG-13) BLU RAY $29.95     http://www.twilighttimemovies.com/count-yorga-vampire-blu-ray/

On June 10, 1970, A.I.P. released a low budget pick up vampire film. The movie had cost about $64,000 (costs vary) and had begun life as a soft core porn film. The lead actor agreed to play the role on his time away from a big budget film (WUSA) which meant weekends and weekday evenings.  The actor, who thought it was a nice way to make a few extra bucks (only $1,249 for starring, plus a $350 bonus), felt it would come and go while the big budget film would help his career.

A.I.P. submitted the film several times to the ratings board, until they got the GP rating they so desperately wanted, excising a few minutes of gore (most infamously, the suggested killing of a kitten).

No one expected the film to do the box office that it did, but, in the year that LOVE STORY ruled the roost, a small indie film that began life as “The Loves of Count Iorga” earned about $8 million.

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COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE was not the first vampire to be set in contemporary times (the original DRACULA (1931) seems to be set in then present day )but after all the Gothic horrors that Hammer had popularized , YORGA was seen as innovative.    Most compelling was the performance by  then 45 year old actor Robert Quarry . With his strong good looks and mesmerizing voice, his vampire could be either charming or deadly in a moment .

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When I myself played Dracula, I asked the star how does one play a vampire ,and he gave me a superlative bit of advice.  “ You’ve lived a long time, so you have picked up a lot of knowledge .You are charming ,witty, and have only one bad habit.  Also , move slowly unless you are attacking. Let others come to you-a spider in the web.”

When you watch his performance, you know that he consciously made such choices in playing Yorga. In the film he appears mysteriously without explanation where he came from. Instead what we presume to be his coffin is brought from the docks to a California mansion. We then jump to a party wherein a Donna (Donna Anders) is holding a séance, presided over by the mysterious Count Yorga. When things get a bit out of hand, Yorga hypnotizes Donna to calm her.  Later, Erica (played by Judy Lang) and her boyfriend Paul (Michael Murphy) drive Yorga to his home. The couple decide to make love within their van but are soon attacked by a now ferocious Yorga .Paul was knocked out but did not see his attacker and Erica recalls nothing of the attack the next day.

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Erica begins to act differently, listless and odd, and finally found drinking the blood from her dead kitten (a scene cut to near a near subliminal shot in its original release). Friend Dr. Hayes (Roger Perry) performs an emergency blood transfusion in hope of helping Erica.Vlcsnap-00283

Yorga meantime amuses himself in his mansion, watching his undead “brides” engage in sex for his amusement (a quick cut away to Quarry watching but the implication is there. In the original softcore version I am sure it was far more explicit). One of the brides, implied to be Donna’s mother whom she was trying to contact via the séance, is played by Marsha Jordan, a soft core star of the 1960s.marsha jordan

Dr. Hayes, Paul, and Michael michael maccready(Michael Macready, also the film’s producer .He is the son of George MacReady ,  Prof. Ernst from MONSTER & THE APE (Columbia,1945 ).George provides his beautiful voice as the film’s opening and closing narrator . ) begin to believe Erica’s behavior is caused by a vampire and suspect that Yorga is the leader.  Erica is drained of blood by Yorga, brought to his home as his new “bride’. Paul goes there and is quickly killed by Yorga and his servant Brudah (Edward Walsh).

Near the finale, Dr. Hayes is confronting Yorga. The Doctor repeatedly calls out for help from Michael. Yorga, in a magnificent display of power, mockingly echoing his cries of “Michael!”and laughing more and more maniacally. This scene is Quarry at his villainous best.Vlcsnap-00330MICHAEL

The film ends with a downbeat fashion, in that although Yorga is slain, evil apparently wins.

The Blu Ray release from TWILIGHT TIME is, in a word, amazing.  The image quality has been cleaned up and sharpened so much that film looks and sounds clearer than it did in its original theatrical release. The original Thorn EMI VHS release was very muddy and dark (by that time AIP had folded shop and Orion had obtained the AIP library). MGM later acquired the library, and cleaned up the prints quite a bit.  When they released the two films as a Midnight Movie co-bill DVD, the bloody kitten scene had been restored and the sharpness of the picture was much cleaner.  The new Blu Ray makes that previous copy look obsolete.countYorgaVampire_It4F_cr_2_3914

For that alone I would recommend people pick up the BLU RAY. However, they go the extra mile with extras. For visual comparison on what the film used to look like, go to the original trailer included here.  The film can be watched with just an isolated score track. Also, most fun and informative is listening to film historian David Del Valle and filmmaker Tim Sullivan’s informative commentary track .Also included is a still gallery both from MGM and Tim Sullivan’s private collection , several of the stills are private moments with an older Bob goofing about with Tim, as well as rare production stills ,including a few which show several of the sex scenes that were shot but abandoned 3gl7fu3mmn2kf733.Also a recreation by Del Valle  & Sullivan recreating a lost audio interview between Quarry & Sullivan. Finally, a radio interview with the horror actor and Sullivan is included.  The cover art is the same artwork from the MGM DVD release. Inside is a small booklet with a beautiful Yorga illustration that contains a  story summary by Julie Kirgo CountYorgaVampire_BookletCover_HighRes__62888.1442176321.290.400 Only 3000 copies of this BLU RAY are being made, so don’t miss out on getting this definitive version of the vampire classic.

HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION!!! –  GET IT. -KEVIN G SHINNICK

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