While we lie in wait of the latest instalment of their excellent GRINDHOUSE TRAILER CLASSICS series, Nucleus Films offer up this double-bill serving of second-tier 70s horror films as a timely reminder of their existence.
Pairing these two movies together seems quite natural (David Gregory’s old UK label Exploited did the same on VHS many moons ago): both are low budget zombie flicks from the early 1970s. What’s more, both were directed by Bob Clark and written by Alan Ormsby (CHILDREN also earning its director a co-writing credit).
1973’s CHILDREN comes first, having clearly been influenced by George A Romero’s landmark NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. It was even cheekily retitled as REVENGE OF THE LIVING DEAD for one of its US theatrical runs.
In it, a group of budding actors sail with their megalomaniacal director Alan (Ormsby) to a spooky island’s graveyard. He’s looking for the right atmosphere to shoot a horror film of his own. But he also has other plans, hoping to indulge his occult fascinations …
Despite Alan encouraging the cast to dig up the corpse of an elderly local – Orville (Seth Sklarey) – and use it as part of a Druid ritual designed to summon the dead back to life, all that actually happens for some time is partying. This, at least, gives us ample opportunity to realise how sadistic and tasteless Alan’s sense of humour can be.
If we’re in any doubt as to how much of a snivelling piece of shit he truly is, Alan gets even nastier when his attempts at necromancy appear to have failed – and we even get some implied necrophilia as he retires to his chalet bed with Orville …
So it’s all the more sweet then when the dead finally do rise from their graves, and Alan’s wishes become the stuff of nightmares.
CHILDREN takes a long time to get going. When it does pick up, it’s already midway through and the climax unfortunately doesn’t quite live up to the extended build-up. Having said that, there’s a lot to enjoy here: grossly animated performances (including a stoned Jeff Gillen and an unbelievably sweaty Ormsby); beautiful gothic atmospherics; keen cemetery visuals, and some nicely primitive FX work on the zombies themselves.
It’s all extremely low budget (reportedly $70,000.00) and there are factors that suffer as a result. Performances are uneven, as is the pace, and some of the photography is simply too dark. The black comedy works in stops and starts. The film is also surprisingly tame in terms of gore, or at least it is when measured against other living dead films of its era.
DEAD OF NIGHT (a.k.a. DEATHDREAM; THE NIGHT ANDY CAME HOME, 1974) is a more assured, consistent achievement.
It details the return home of Andy (Richard Backus), a US soldier supposedly killed in action during the Vietnam war.
Upon learning of his death, parents Charles (John Marley) and Christine (Lynn Carlin) are understandably distraught. In particular, Christine spends the whole night praying for a reversal of events that will bring her son safely home to her.
Sure enough, Andy turns up unexpectedly within hours. Although perturbed by this twist, Christine and Charles welcome their son back into the family fold. Only their dog seems to be wary of him.
Andy, meanwhile, spends most of his time up in his bedroom, refusing to mix with his family.
But, where is he sneaking off to on a night? And, why does his condition appear to be deteriorating so?
A clear influence on more recent fare such as Fred Vogel’s SELLA TURCICA, DEAD OF NIGHT is a slow-burning but thought-provoking and original take, both on the classic "Monkey’s Paw" yarn and the zombie genre in general.
It deserves plaudits for its deftly handled sombre tone and controlled performances throughout. Ultimately though, the workmanlike direction lends it the look and feel of a TV film for the most part. The end result is a sufficiently good tale with occasional ambience which nevertheless can’t shake off the feeling of being a short film stretched out to feature length.
Both films look good on Nucleus’ dual-layered DVD. Neither has ever looked fantastic on domestic release and that trend is hardly bucked here, but nor is either transfer disappointing. CHILDREN is, as mentioned above, too dark on occasion. Colour schemes range from being strong to flat too. But that’s how the film has always looked – more to do, I suspect, with the low budget filming techniques (shot for peanuts on 16mm) and limited transfer resources available.
NIGHT comes across as clearer, a little brighter and definitely blessed with more detail. But there’s still a flatness to it, again no doubt inherent of the materials used to shoot and light the film. Although it boasts a superior transfer, NIGHT has a matter-of-fact look to much of it that is never going to stun viewers.
The films are presented uncut in 16x9 enhanced transfers of their original 1.85:1 aspect ratios.
English mono audio is efficient across the board. Both films come with optional English subtitles.
A static main menu page gives way to separate static main menus pages for each film. From there, individual animated scene-selection menus allow access to each film via 12 chapters.
Extras for CHILDREN begin with a highly engaging, fluid commentary track from Alan Ormsby and co-star Jane Daly, moderated by David Gregory. Filled with laughter, insightful titbits and truly nostalgic stories, it’s a really fun listen from 2007.
We also get the film’s original theatrical trailer, in good shape, and a stills gallery.
DEAD OF NIGHT is graced with a trailer and gallery.
The disc is defaulted to open with an elongated trailer for the brilliant VIDEO NASTIES ULTIMATE GUIDE.
Nucleus Films’ DVD is a good, affordable way of owning these two curiosity pieces from Clark and Ormsby. Both men went on to make better horror films (directing BLACK CHRISTMAS and DERANGED respectively, both in 1974). But these early works deserve to be explored more. In the case of DEAD OF NIGHT, we even get the added interest factor of it boasting a supporting turn from Marley (the bloke who wakes up beside a horse’s head in THE GODFATHER) and some very early FX work from a certain Tom Savini.
Nice work, Nucleus.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Nucleus|
|Region 2 PAL|
|see main review|