Roger Corman's Horror Classics Vol. 1 DVD Review
Written by Michel Sabourin
DVD released by Film Chest
A Bucket of Blood
Directed by Roger Corman
Written by Charles B. Griffith
1959, 65 minutes, Not Rated
Dick Miller as Walter Paisley
Barboura Morris as Carla
Antony Carbone as Leonard de Santis
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Written by Francis Ford Coppola and Jack Hill
1963, 75 minutes, Not Rated
William Campbell as Richard Haloran
Luana Anders as Luise Haloran
Bart Patton as Billy Halloran
Directed by Roger Corman
Written by Leo Gordon and Jack Hill
1963, 79 minutes, Not Rated
Boris Karloff as Baron Victor Frederick Von Leppe
Jack Nicholson as Lt. Andre Duvalier
Sandra Knight as Helene
Dick Miller as Stefan
DVD released on October 29th, 2013
Three classic tales of horror captured together in one collection, digitally restored and presented in a widescreen format. What's not to love? All of these movies have been collected previously (sometimes even together) on DVD, but those were usually rehashed TV pan and scan transfers in poor quality. The films presented here look almost new in their presentation. The only knock I would give the collection as a whole is that it is presented as a Roger Corman collection, but Dementia 13 is not directed by Corman. True, Francis Ford Coppola isn't a downgrade, but I'm sure there were other Corman directed films that could have been substituted. Say Little Shop of Horrors, House of Usher, Not of This Earth, or any of a dozen others. Yes, Corman is more widely revered for his mentorship of a number of outstanding directors than his own brand of low budget filmmaking, but it's not as though he only ever did the two presented here. Rant over, let's talk about these movies.
A Bucket of Blood is both loving homage and victim to its time. Here, a very young Dick Miller plays the slightly off waiter in a beatnik café who dreams of being in with the art crowd gathered there. When he tries to create art, however, he fails. Upon accidentally killing his neighbor's cat, he uses modeling clay to cover up his crime, and an artist is born. From there, he is forced into more atrocities to keep him in the adoration of the art crowd.
I love when a cheesy, low budget throwaway movie has nuanced performances belonging to its artsier progenitors. Miller gives an outstanding performance as the off kilter killer and avoids making it a farce. Although this is considered a horror comedy, it's more of a comedy of horrors, and it plays it note perfect. There's also a nice performance by Bert Convy, who would become better known as a game show host later in life. Yes, most of the characters are more caricature than earnest portrayal, but it's in the spirit intended, and doesn't feel out of place. It's a tight 65 minutes that, if lightly trimmed, could easily be an Alfred Hitchcock Presents or The Twilight Zone title.
Dementia 13, however, is a much darker and more serious take on horror themes. But, much like the TheTwilight Zone and Tales from the Darkside stories of its time, it revolves around the idea of getting what you deserve. This Corman produced feature has more of its director's stamp on it than anything else, and when that stamp reads Coppola, that means good things (Godfather 3 notwithstanding). The major downfall here, as with many films of its time) is the inability to literally translate violence on screen. There is a scene with a woman being repeatedly hit with an axe in the water. We see and hear the axe fall, we see blood on the axe, but nary a cut or wound upon the lady herself to render realism to the violence befallen her. It's sometimes confusing to know if the blows are intended to be hitting or missing when this happens. Context is everything. Overall, a fine story with a neat twist.
Lastly, we get The Terror. This early Jack Nicholson performance is full of the bravado and intensity we come to know him for later in his career. Twists and turns abound in this ghostly story of love and loss and secrets kept. Another great turn for Dick Miller and a wonderful Boris Karloff near the end of his career. Karloff's presence and gravelly voice are maybe underserved, but he still has a lot to give to the role of a haunted man still pining for the wife he lost.
Unique among Corman's work, this was filmed immediately after The Raven using the same sets and stars for principal photography. It is largely improvised, and took a who's who of second unit directors over nine months to finish, including Francis Ford Coppola, Monte Hellman (The Shooting), Jack Nicholson, and Jack Hill (Foxy Brown). For what was supposed to be a quick movie, it turned out to be Corman's longest production to date.
Video and Audio:
Presented in 16:9, the transfers here far exceed the previous versions I've seen. These are re-mastered from the original 35mm prints for a digital display and look beautiful and crisp. The Terror in particular has suffered in the past from garbled pan & scan transfers with poor video and audio quality which greatly devalues its worth. Here it is restored as it should look.
The offered 5.1 Surround Sound highlights the beatnik era jazz and score of A Bucket of Blood really stand out. There are no pops and clicks often found in these sorts of collections. It's clear and crisp and sounds lovely. The audio on Dementia 13 sounds a little tinny, but still better than in previous iterations I've seen.
A Bucket of Blood - Trailer
Dementia 13 - Restoration Demo, Trailer, Dolby Digital 5.1/2.0 Spanish Subtitles
The Terror - Restoration Demo, Trailer, Dolby Digital 5.1/2.0 Spanish Subtitles
There are really no special features worth talking about. The approximately two minute long examples of the restoration are neat to see the differences, but add no real value. It would have been nice to have some sort of commentary track or inside making of featurettes, but beyond offering Spanish subtitles, nothing much is added here.
Movie - A Bucket of Blood: