• Drive-In Collection: Dungeon Of Harrow/Death By Invitation



    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: May 7, 2013.
    Director: Pat Boyette/Ken Friedman
    Cast: Russ Harvey, Lee Morgan, William McNulty/Shelby Leverington, Denver John Collins
    Year: 1962/1971
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    The Movies:

    Vinegar Syndrome previously released Death By Invitation paired with Savage Water but that disc wound up being pulled before it went to market. That odd little horror movie from Ken Friedman lives again, however, re-released with Pat Boyette’s amazingly bad but simultaneously wonderful Dungeon Of Harrow.

    Dungeon Of Harrow:

    When renaissance man Pat Boyette wasn’t drawing comic books for Charlton or producing puppet shows he was busy with some other creative outlet and in 1962 that outlet happened to be feature filmmaking. A bit of a one man wrecking crew, Boyette directed, wrote, edited and scored a low budget gothic horror film entitled Dungeon Of Harrow.

    When the movie begins, a model boat is washed up against what looks like a big black sponge inside somebodies tub, soapy water washing around it in some sort of attempt to make it look like frothy waves. It doesn’t work. Escaping from this shipwreck is the owner of the vessel, Count Aaron Fallon (Russ Harvey), and the ship’s captain (Lee Morgan). They’ve been lucky enough to come ashore on an island that at first seems barren but soon reveals a moldy old castle in the distance, a castle owned by one Count Lorente de Sade (William McNulty). The count lives in the castle with his assistant, Mantis (Maurice Harris), a tall black guy with silver hair who looks an awful lot like Dennis Rodman sporting Shaq’s leftover wardrobe from Kazaam. De Sade also gets a visit from a ghost who may or may not be the devil himself, who puzzlingly makes a rubber snake appear, and then a rubber bat, and then a HUGE rubber spider all while cackling maniacally as de Sade cowers in fear. Obviously evil is afoot.

    As luck would have it, de Sade hates pirates. Given that Fallon and his captain pal washed ashore from a shipwreck, it stands to reason that he would think that pirates are what these intruders are, even if they’re not. Eventually Fallon wanders over to the castle and meets a lady named Cassandra (Helen Hogan) who is also hanging around and possibly sick. De Sade manages to trap Fallon’s captain and torture him in his dungeon, a dungeon full of harrow. Fallon winds up being held prisoner, hits it off with Cassandra, and then has to deal with the various bizarre inhabitants of the castle before trying to make his escape – and then he must contend with de Sade’s wife!

    Ending with a surprisingly effective scene that takes place in the dungeon and which features an eerie diseased woman bathed in sickly colored lighting, Dungeon Of Harrow is a mess. With that said, however, there are some completely awesome moments here. The finale is great, the scene in which de Sade gets tormented by the ghost devil guy and his rubber creatures is hysterical and anytime Mantis pops up on screen, the movie is fascinatingly weird. Sadly, this makes up about twenty to thirty minutes of the movie, and the stretches in between these and other admittedly very cool sequences are loooong and slow. The narration adds some unintentionally funny melodrama to the proceedings but at the end of the day this one suffers from perpetual budgetary problems and a story that doesn’t always make a whole lot of sense. This one was obviously intended to play out like one of Roger Corman’s Poe films or maybe like a Bava gothic but instead it has all the charm of an Andy Milligan cheapie, from the cheap sets to the bad acting and everything in between. It’s a fun watch if you’re in the right mood for it.

    Death By Invitation:

    The second feature on the disc comes courtesy of Ken Friedman. The film starts off with a bizarre scene set three hundred years ago in Holland with a group of people in heavy facial makeup and learn about a witch who was found guilty of cavorting with the devil or some such nonsense. In turn, she was in turn burned at the stake at the hands of the Vroot family. Cut to the present day of 1971 where we meet a pretty young woman named Lise (Shelby Leverington). She’s hot but also kind of weird – and she just might be the descendent of the witch put to death in the beginning of the movie. Wouldn’t you know it, Lise soon makes her way into the inner circle of the modern day Vroot family. After dinner one night, she and youngest son Roger Vroot (Denver John Collins) head back to her place where she murders him after reciting a pretty awesome rant about female warrior cannibals.

    Roger’s death does not go unnoticed but for reasons never really explained the cops figure he’s off doing drugs and not actually dead. Lise, however, is working her way through the Vroot clan pretty quickly, taking out two of Roger’s sisters in a great scene in which she chops off one’s head and terrorizes the other with it. There’s a third Vroot sister, however, and she’s romantically involved with a tough guy named Jake (Norman Paige) who is very nonplussed by this recent spate of nastiness. He’s also seriously turned on by Lise and when he meets her he can’t help but hit on her. When he shows up at her pad, she starts ranting about crazy stuff again and he soon realizes exactly what it is that she’s been up to.

    Executive produced by Leonard Kirtman, the same name who gave us the cool Coney Island based horror filmCarnival Of Blood, The Curse Of The Headless Horseman and loads of porn and directed by Ken Friedman, who would later write Johnny Handsome and Cadillac Man, this one is pretty great. It’s not original in the least and it rehashes a whole lot of other (and some may say better) horror movies made before and after but it’s not without a considerable amount of bizarre low rent charm. Front and center in all of this is Shelby Leverington, the same actress who would go on to considerable success in television with recurring roles in Highway To Heaven and cameos all over the damn place. Here she’s a bit of a hottie, she’s got an aura of weirdness about her that really goes a long way towards making this cheap oddball of a film completely watchable. The fact that it was all filmed in some sort of drug induced haze doesn’t hurt things, as the movie winds up with some interesting hallucinatory touches throughout, but for the most part Leverington plays her role well.

    The complete lack of interest on the part of the police is odd, they simply don't seem to care and instead insist that missing Roger is off pushing dope. In another unusually prolonged scene, Jake goes to visit elder Vroot patron Peter at his real estate office. The two sit down and have a completely bizarre conversation in which they seem to be shouting over the music playing unusually loudly behind them. It adds nothing to the film, and at the same time, it says everything about it. This is a film where logic doesn't not apply.

    The movie shows its budgetary limitations throughout – there is a rather obvious lack of effects work during the murder set pieces, for example, and what effects that we do see are pretty hokey – but helps to compensate for this with a remarkably bizarre score and a serious aura of weirdness that just permeates the whole damn thing. Fans of obscure seventies oddities, this one is for you.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Dungeon Of Harrow has never looked good on DVD but it looks better on this new disc than it has in the past. The biggest difference you’ll notice in the 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (aside from the framing – previous DVDs have been fullframe) is in the color reproduction where things are much improved. This time around we can actually appreciate the lighting and atmosphere that the movie occasionally conjures up. The movie still looks gritty and grainy and occasionally murky but hey, you can actually see what’s going on now. Invitation To Death looks better, showing a broader spectrum of color throughout and showing considerably better clarity and depth. For the low budget obscurities that these movies are, they really don’t look bad on DVD at all.

    Both films get Dolby Digital Mono soundtracks, in English and without any optional language options or subtitles provided. Much of the audio for Dungeon Of Harrow sounds muffled – not to the point where you can’t hear what’s going on, but noticeable enough to mention. There are some scenes that sound a bit flat but that’s obviously to do with the original recording. The scores sound good here for both movies and the levels are properly balanced. Any hiss or distortion that does creep into the mixes is minor and not particularly distracting. Keep your expectations in check and you should be alright here.

    There are no extras for the first feature but for the second feature we get a commentary from the guys who do the podcasting duties over at The Hysteria Continues. Here they seem rather fascinated by the horrible job that the cops do in the movie but also manage to discuss Friedman’s odd stints into directing and ramble off some other tidbits of trivia and minutia, the kind of stuff that cult movie fans enjoy learning about. Outside of that we get some static menus and chapter stops for each movie.

    The Final Word:

    Vinegar Syndrome breathes new life into the raggedy corpses of two low budget horror films with this double feature. The presentation is rough around the edges on Dungeon Of Harrow, but still a noticeable improvement over previous releases, while Death By Invitation looks fairly good. No extras outside of the commentary, but these are fun, quirky movies that fans of low budget drive-in fare should enjoy.