Psycho Circus (Brotherhood Of Satan / Torture Garden / The Creeping Flesh)
Psycho Circus (Brotherhood Of Satan / Torture Garden / The Creeping Flesh)
Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment
Released on: April 11th, 2017.
Director: Bernard McEveety/Freddie Francis
Cast: Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones, Jack Palance, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Maurice Denham, Beverly Adams, Barbara Ewing, Jenny Runacre
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Mill Creek Entertainment offers up a triple dose of vintage horror with their Psycho Circus triple feature containing Brotherhood Of Satan, Torture Garden and The Creeping Flesh.
The Brotherhood Of Satan:
Brotherhood Of Satan is 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.
The second film stars Burgess Meredith as Dr. Diablo, a carnival performer who finishes up his act for the night only to invite three lucky audience members backstage for a glimpse into their own future. Here they meet Atropos (Clytie Jessop), an eerie fortune teller – this serves as the theme that ties this horror anthology together, and from there we witness four separate stories play out.
The first story is Enoch. Here a man named Colin Williams (Michael Bryant) pays a visit to the home of is aging Uncle Roger (Maurice Denham). His motives are far from pure, however. Colin isn’t there just to check in on the old guy, here’s to get his hands on his gold. When Roger doesn’t give Colin what he’s looking for, the younger of the two men takes away the older man’s medication and before you know it, Roger dies. As Colin starts rummaging through the home looking for the gold, he comes into contact with a strange cat that is able to lead him to the fortune – but this help comes at a price and soon enough, Colin must do what the strange cat asks of him and commit the ultimate sin once more.
Trouble Over Hollywood stars Carla Hayes (Beverly Adams) as an actress whose career has seen better days. Through some rather shifty circumstances, she winds up meeting a producer named Eddie Storm (John Phillips) and a marquee idol named Bruce Benton (Robert Hutton). She’s curious as to how Benton has been able to remain so young and handsome looking despite the fact that he’s been working for years. When she finally figures out what it is, of course it can only mean trouble for Carla.
In Mr. Steinway, Dorothy Endicott (Barbara Ewing) plays a journalist out to interview a reclusive pianist named Leo (John Standing). The soon fall fast in love, much to the dismay of Leo’s manager, and start spending all their free time together. There’s only one problem with this blossoming new romance, however – Leo’s piano has a jealousy problem!
The fourth and final story, The Man Who Collected Poe, tells the tale of Ronald Wyatt (Jack Palance). As the title implies, he’s obsessed with the writings of Edgar Allan Poe. When he meets Lancelot Canning (Peter Cushing) at an exhibit, he learns that Canning is the one man who has a more impressive collection than he. When Canning invites Wyatt to visit his home, Wyatt can’t help but be envious of the other man’s collection. When Wyatt is plied with wine and taken down to Canning’s cellar, however, things start to get very strange indeed.
A decent anthology horror picture directed by Freddie Francis for Amicus based on some short stories by Robert Bloch, Torture Garden isn’t on par with the studio’s best work but it’s a fun watch. The highlight of the film, not surprisingly, is the Cushing/Palance collaboration – this one is genuinely great, working some interesting Poe-themed ideas into its story and letting the two actors do their thing together. The bookend segments with Meredith are also pretty entertaining. If the other three stories don’t hit the same high notes, they’re still worth a watch and Robert Hutton in particular is quite good in his role. The production values are solid here, the film is handsomely shot and makes great use of color. It also features a good score. Again, not the best Amicus anthology but certainly well worth a look for anyone with an interest in their work.
The Creeping Flesh:
The last film in the set is the best. Once again directed by Freddie Francis, The Creeping Flesh starts Peter Cushing as Emmanuel Hildern, a scientist who works in Victorian-era London. He’s recently returned home from a trip abroad with an amazing discovery – an intact skeleton of prehistoric origin! When he’s cleaning it in his lab, he notices that water causes ‘something’ to start growing out of one of the bony fingers.
No fool, Hildern takes a sample of the ooze to examine. He comes to the conclusion that it has beneficial properties and soon makes a serum from its extract that he hopes will cure those infected with evil. He tests this on his daughter, Penelope (Lorna Heilbron), knowing full well that her mother (Jenny Runacre), recently deceased, was quite mad. Hildern is concerned that Penelope may have inherited some of her mother’s tendencies and hopes by injecting her, they’ll be able to overcome this. Of course, it doesn’t go as planned. Things like this never do.
Meanwhile, James Hildern (Christopher Lee), Hildern’s half-brother and a man of science in his own right, runs the local lunatic asylum – the same asylum where Emmanuel’s wife died under James’ watch. When James learns of the serum, he decides to steal it – unaware that the skeleton from whence it came isn’t quite ‘dead’ the way that both men assume it to be.
Released by Tigon in 1973 from a script by Peter Spenceley and Jonathan Rumbold, The Creeping Flesh holds up really well. It’s an imaginative and creative horror picture with some pretty decent effects set pieces and a whole lot of strange atmosphere (the scenes where characters experience madness are quite visually arresting). The movie is very nicely shot thanks to the efforts of cinematographer Norman Warwick and Paul Ferris’ score holds up quite well too. If the story jumps around a little bit, we can let that slide thanks to some really polished production values and just a genuinely cool concept.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt things at all that Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing play the two leads. Both men do fine work here, that chemistry they shared in their best work together clearly at the forefront of the film. Francis was savvy enough behind the camera to ensure that we never go too long without encountering one or the other, and while Lorna Heilbron does do a great job as Penelope, it really is Lee and Cushing that steal the show.
Mill Creek presents all three features on a single 50GB Blu-ray disc (thankfully they opted not to cram them onto a 25GB disc), each in MPEG-2 encoded 1080p high definition. Brotherhood Of Satan was released on Blu-ray by Mill Creek a few years ago in an AVC encoded but there doesn’t seem to be much different in the image quality between this newer (?) transfer and the older one. Both share the same 2.40.1 widescreen aspect ratio and look quite good.
Torture Garden, which is framed at 1.78.1 and also presented in an MPEG-2 encode, looks less film like. It’s a little too smooth looking and for that reason detail is sometimes lacking. It’s not an unwatchable abomination by any stretch, but it does look like some digital filtering has been applied here, resulting in a noticeable lack of natural looking film grain. There’s also some obvious edge enhancement evident throughout playback. On the plus side, there’s very little in the way of print damage and color reproduction isn’t bad, but skin tones do look just a tiny bit too pink. This is better than DVD could provide by quite a good margin, but it stops short of perfect by a few steps.
The Creeping Flesh, another MPEG-2 encode, also framed at 1.78.1, looks quite a big better thankfully. There’s occasional telecine wobble and some mild print damage in spots but thankfully detail is pretty solid here and depth and texture are both alright. Any DNR applied here is minor, so maybe there’s a bit of smoothing but it doesn’t hurt detail and fine texture nearly as much as it does on the second feature. Skin looks better, more realistic, for that reason. Colors come through quite nicely and black levels are solid, but you might notice some minor crush in some of the darker scenes. Again, it’s not perfect, but it’s a decent middle of the road high definition transfer.
Al three films are presented in English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono tracks, there are no subtitles provided. All three tracks are clean and clear, there are no issues with hiss or distortion. Dialogue is always easy to understand, levels are properly balanced throughout both films and the scores for each movie also sound fine. Age related limitations are present, as they should be, so don’t expect loads and loads of depth, but there are no issues here. These older low budget pictures sound just fine on Blu-ray, even if they should have been presented with a superior lossless audio option instead of the outdated Dolby Digital treatment.
There are no extra features on this disc, just menus and chapter stops – though Mill Creek has provided reversible cover art allowing you to display the tacky newly created piece shown up top or a better option that makes use of some vintage poster art for the three films.
The Final Word:
The video quality here is imperfect, but we do get obvious video upgrades in quality over past DVD editions even if the audio is in lossy Dolby Digital format and the release is completely barebones. As to the films themselves, all three are well worth seeing and given how little it costs to purchase this release, this is the best way to do it.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!
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