• Return Of The Vampire, The/Revenge Of Frankenstein, The/Mr. Sardonicus/Brotherhood Of Satan, The



    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment
    Released on: May 14, 2013.
    Director: Lew Landers/Terence Fisher/William Castle/Bernard McEveety
    Cast: Ronald Lewis, Audrey Dalton, Guy Rolfe, Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones
    Year: 1943/19581961/1971
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movies:

    Mill Creek offers up four horror movies from the Sony/Columbia back catalogue on DVD, bundled together at a pretty killer price point. Here’s a look…

    Return Of The Vampire:

    Bela Lugosi stars in this picture directed in 1944 for Columbia Pictures by Lew Landers, the same man who directed Lugosi in The Raven way back in 1935. When the movie begins, we’re taken back to 1918 where an English family are forced to deal with a vampire (Lugosi) running around World War One era London causing problems. Professor Saunders (Gilbert Emery) and his pal Jane Ainsley (Frieda Inescort) are on the case and are able to save Saunders’ niece, Nicki, after she’s attacked and some good detective work unveils the fact that the vampire is actually a man named Armand Tesla, though dead since the 1700’s but now back and assisted by a werewolf man servant named Andreas (Matt Willis).

    They take him out but then two decades later some German bombs hit the cemetery where Tesla was buried decades back. Some gravediggers show up and see him as an easy target, removing the stake that sent him to what Saunders hoped was eternal rest. Tesla comes back from the dead and once again enslaves Andreas, who helps him take on the new identity of Doctor Otto Bruckner, a man who has recently left Germany to avoid the rise of the Nazi party. What no one realizes, however, is that Tesla-now-Bruckner, hopes to take revenge on Jane and finally claim Nicki (now an adult played by Nina Foch) as his own.

    This is good stuff, a fast paced monster romp in the classic sense of the world. Obviously inspired by the success of Universal’s horror pictures, Columbia’s take under Landers’ guidance moves at a great speed and wastes no time getting into the thick of it. Lugosi is in fine form here, strutting about as ominously as he’s able and providing that bizarre sense of menace that only he could bring to the silver screen with a legitimate enthusiasm that was sometimes lacking in his later works. The rest of the cast follow suit, with Nina Fochs offering up some seriously appealing vampish good looks and Matt Willis doing a fine job as the werewolf, a creature who in many ways winds up with more screen time here than our headlining vampire (who is basically Dracula, let’s face it – though he’s never referred to as such for obvious reasons, though he’s more or less wearing the same outfit!).

    Lady Jane Ainsley is an atypically strong female character for horror movies of the time, which makes this more interesting than it might be otherwise, and Inescort does a fine job with the role, offering it both strength and charisma. She’s basically the lead protagonist in the picture and is given a much bigger role than Emery as Saunders. The movie was made with enough money that the production team was able to ensure that it looks good throughout – foggy gothic set pieces help to set the mood while the score and the cinematography help to build atmosphere the way you’d want in an older horror picture.

    Revenge Of Frankenstein:

    In this second chapter in the Hammer Films Frankenstein series directed by Terrance Fisher, we find Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) at the guillotine about to be executed for his crimes committed in the first film, ‘he Curse of Frankenstein. His devoted assistant, Fritz (Oscar Quitak), a cripple, rescues the Baron from death and together they flee to Carlsbruck, where he sets up a new medical practice as Dr. Stein. He quickly becomes the most popular doctor in the town, both because of his skills as a physician and because of his charity work at the poor hospital.

    What the townspeople don’t know, however, is that he’s using his work at the hospital to gather new body parts so that he can continue his grisly experiments in re-animation, as he plans to transplant Fritz’s brain into a healthier body (Michael Gwynn) and take him on tour as a successful medical experiment. But things don’t go exactly as planned. Although the experiment with Fritz’s brain transplant goes better than could ever be expected, Fritz, now in his new and improved body, learns of the Doctor’s plans to show him off, and seeing as he’s been stared at all his life, he’s none too happy about this.

    When he flees the secret room that Frankenstein and his protégé, Dr. Kleve (Francis Matthews), have set up to help him heal in private, he runs off and hides in a barn, while the two doctors search for him, hoping to find him and get him under control before they’re found out by the medical council.

    Cushing delivers another solid performance as the most famous doctor in horror movie history, and the supporting cast is great in their respective roles. As he did in the first picture, Cushing brings a sense of inner conflict to the character – we know what he’s up to is wrong, but we can’t help but like him, even if we probably shouldn’t. Fisher’s direction is spot on and the film is full of gothic atmosphere, crazed laboratory equipment, tombstones, and creepy graveyards.

    Although the movie is well over 45 years old, it still holds the viewers attention and stands as a testament to both Fisher and Cushing’s respective careers. This is vintage Hammer, the kind that made the studio’s output as beloved as it is amongst horror fans, a great sense of dread but not without a sense of odd humor and an eye for style. There’s obvious dedication, creativity and purpose on display here, more so than some of the studio’s latter output, not just in front of the camera but behind it as well. It holds up as well as the first in the series from Hammer, and it’s a movie well worth revisiting or discovering for the first time.

    Mr. Sardonicus:

    The first film was directed by William Castle and stands as a pretty decent slice of gothic horror, done in Castle’s inimitable style. The story follows Baron Sardonicus (Guy Rolfe), a bit of a bastard who blackmails another man into handing over his hot, Maude (Audrey Dalton), so that he can have her hand in marriage. She’s not particularly stoked by this idea and the fact that Sardonicus wears a strange mask doesn’t help matters much, but soon she realizes she doesn’t have much of a choice and she agrees to the marriage to help her dad out.

    In reality, however, Maude is in love with a London doctor named Sir Robert Cargrave (Ronald Lewis). In fact, she speaks so highly of him that Sardonicus soon coerces his new bride into coaxing her flame into visiting. Why? Because underneath Sardonicus’ mask lies a visage so terrifying that not even an evil man such as he can be comfortable with it. You see, when he was younger he found out that his departed father had been buried with winning lottery ticket stashed inside the pocket of his burial clothes. Having a need for the cash, Sardonicus dug up dear old dad’s corpse and, after seeing his decomposed rotting body, was given such a fright that he was marked by the terror he witnessed! Though his man servant, Krull (Oskar Homolka) does all that his master asks of him, Sardonicus knows that he needs the aid of a master surgeon such as Cargrave if he ever wants to live a normal life. Cargrave, however, is far slyer than Sardonicus realizes…

    Tightly paced from the get go and loaded with sinister atmosphere and impressive, shadowy cinematography, Mr. Sardonicus is a surprisingly effective film. While the masked Sardonicus looks eerie and ominous, mysterious even, once that mask comes off the makeup job, which paralyzes his face in a mixture of terror and insane glee, makes him an even weirder looking antagonist. The battle of wits that ensues between he and Cargrave makes for an interesting conflict and subplots involving Krull and a female frequently ‘treated’ with leeches adds further bizarre depth to the story.

    Performances are excellent across the board. Lewis is a fine, dashing hero and he gives his lead role enough charisma to work in the part. Dalton is beautiful and a fine leading lady, though her character doesn’t have quite as much to do as some of the others. Rolfe is in fine form here, obviously throwing a lot of himself into the role and having a good time playing the villain, while Homolka, made up with a bum eye and looking all the weirder for it, steals every scene that he’s in. The movie is good enough that it doesn’t need the patented ‘William Castle gimmick’ but of course, it gets one anyway. We won’t spoil it here for those who haven’t seen the movie, however.

    Brotherhood Of Satan:

    Up next is Brotherhood Of Satan, a 1971 picture produced by L.Q. Jones and Alvy Moore as a follow up to 1969’s The Witchmaker and a bit of a cash in on the success of Polanski’s adaptation of Rosemary’s Baby.

    The movie begins by introducing us to a man named Ben Holden (Charles Bateman), his daughter K.T. (Geri Reischl) and his foxy blonde girlfriend Nicky (Ahna Capri). They’re on a little vacation, driving through the middle of nowhere to get to Ben’s parents’ place for K.T.’s birthday but they’re not above stopping on the way to hang out alongside a scenic river. It rains and they get back into the car and as they travel down the empty highway they pass the scene of a nasty accident. Figuring they should let the local authorities now, they stop in the next town where their arrival sends local residents into a complete panic! They flee, but to avoid hitting a girl in the middle of the road, Ben then drives is car off the road.

    With no other choice, Ben and company head back into town where they soon realize something very strange is going on. The town’s sheriff (L.Q. Jones) and his deputy (Alvy Moore) initially peg them as suspects but it soon becomes obvious after a bunch of adults are brutally slaughtered that something far more sinister and supernatural is afoot than just the presence of some outsiders. The local priest (Charles Robinson) researches some Satanic rites while enjoying a cold Coors beer and when K.T. and all of the town’s children go missing, well, it starts to look like devil worshippers, led by Doc Duncan (Strother Martin) are wreaking havoc in small town America!

    As colorful as it is creepy, Brotherhood Of Satan is… great! Old people running around praising the Lord Of Darkness in garish robes, killer kids’ toys, dismembered body parts aplenty and a really impressive atmosphere of impending doom, this is pretty strong stuff for a PG rated picture. Martin is awesome as the cult leader, hamming it up just enough to make an impression without going too overboard, and Ahna Capri appears in a bikini! Bateman plays everything completely straight, he’s the stereotypical alpha male out to protect the women folk and he’s fine in the role, while Jones and Moore seem to be having a good time playing the law.

    Director Bernard McEveety keeps the pace quick and tense, and the use of color, particularly in the last half hour or so, is excellent. Plenty of sinister reds and bright greens and blues give things a very strange feel while the smoke, fog, cobwebs and weird stagey sets sort of seal the deal. This one is just really well done, a great piece of seventies occult inspired cinema made with a keen eye for compositions, a really enjoyable cast and featuring some genuinely surprising set pieces.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Ok…aspect ratios. Return Of The Vampire is presented in 1.33.1 black and white fullframe, The Revenge Frankenstein in color 1.66.1 anamorphic widescreen, Mr. Sardonicus in black and white 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen and The Brotherhood Of Satan in 2.35.1 color anamorphic widescreen. Obviously the image quality on Sardonicus and Brotherhood isn’t as nice as it is on the Blu-ray release, but it’s still fine. The other two movies? They appear to be the same transfers as those seen on the individual DVD releases that came out a few years back. Minor print damage is apparent, but it’s minor. Contrast looks good, detail too. There are some slight compression artifacts here and there but if you’re not looking for them you’re not likely to notice them.

    Each film is presented in English language Dolby Digital Mono. Clarity is generally fine here, with Return sounding a little more stagey and flat than the other movies but only because it’s quite a bit older. Dialogue is clean and clear and easy to follow and when hiss or distortion pops up, it’s never a serious problem and not particularly distracting.

    Outside of a simple menu offering movie selection, there are no extras on this disc. When the Return Of The Vampire first came out, it had some trailers for unrelated movies. Revenge Of Frankenstein, when originally released on its own, had a trailer for the feature and a few other movies as well as a still gallery. The previous DVD release of Brotherhood Of Satan included only trailers for unrelated movies, but the DVD release of Mr. Sardonicus included a nifty featurette on the ‘mercy poll’ gimmick, a trailer for the feature and trailers for a couple of other Castle films. None of that material is carried over to this release, so completists might want to hold onto that disc.

    The Final Word:

    Well, given that Mill Creek have also put out Mr. Sardonicus and The Brotherhood Of Satan on Blu-ray, it’s hard to wholeheartedly recommend this set in hopes that Lugosi and Cushing will soon follow and receive a high definition double feature release. If that doesn’t happen, or you haven’t made the HD jump yet, this two-disc set is a good one. Each of the four movies is worth seeing and while the presentation is barebones, it looks and sounds good. The movies themselves are classics, each one worth checking out, especially at the price point at which this quadruple feature is being offered!