• House Of The Dead (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: July 31st, 2018.
    Director: Sharron Miller
    Cast: John Ericson, Ivor Francis, Judith Novgrod, Burr DeBenning, Charles Aidman, Bernard Fox, Richard Gates
    Year: 1978
    Purchase From Amazon

    House Of The Dead – Movie Review:

    The feature length directorial debut of prolific TV director Sharron Miller, 1978’s House Of The Dead (also released as… Alien Zone) may not reach the heights of classic horror anthologies like those that Amicus was cranking out in the decade before it was made, but it is a whole lot of low budget B-movie fun.

    The movie begins when a man named Talmudge (John Ericson), reportedly out of town for a plumber’s convention, finishes up a little lovemaking with his mistress. He needs to get back to his hotel to call his wife, we’re told, and so he heads out into the rainy night and hops in a cab hoping that it will take him to the Ambassador Hotel. The cabbie, who says not a word to his passenger, drops him off in the middle of a street, empty save for an eerie looking newspaper vendor. Talmudge tries to get into a bar, but the door is locked shut and so he takes shelter under the awning of an old building. Here an older man (Ivor Francis) invites him inside to get out of the rain. He makes Tamludge coffee and they get to talking, at which point it comes out that the older man is a mortician. Clearly uncomfortable, Talmudge insists he has to leave but before he’ll allow that, the mortician brings him into a funeral parlor of sorts where we learn the backstory of the corpses contained therein.

    First up, a bitchy school teacher named Mrs. Sibiler (Judith Novgrod), who can’t stand kids, heads home from a long day at work. She unwinds with a warm shower and sees someone move through the house through her semi-transparent shower curtain. She gets dressed and grabs a knife, only to learn the truth about who or what is in her house. From there, a man obsessed with cameras named Growski (Burr DeBenning) lures young women into his apartment for dire reasons, his victims unaware that his film camera is running. In the third story, an American sleuth named Detective Malcolm Toliver (Charles Aidman) goes head to head with his British counterpart Inspector McDowal (Bernard Fox) when he receives a note alerting him that someone he knows will be murdered in three days if he can’t crack the case. Last but not least, a cranky businessman named Cantwell (Richard Gates) not only dismisses co-worker Stan’s invite to check out a new lunch spot (they offer twenty-three different kinds of hamburgers, we’re told!) but he’s also mean to a homeless guy – this comes back to bite him when he gets trapped in an unusually empty store.

    And then of course, before it’s all over, we head back to the mortuary to find out how the story of Talmudge and the mortician is resolved…

    Clearly made on a modest budget, House Of The Dead is nevertheless pretty entertaining even when it doesn’t always work so well. The first story has a neat twist to it at the end, you might see it coming but it’s still well done, while the second story isn’t much of a story at all, rather just a couple of similar set pieces strong together. The tale of the dueling detective is well-done and the best acted of the bunch, but it’s also the longest – still, it’s amusing enough and has a nice ending. The fourth story isn’t great, but it isn’t awful either. Bonus points for wrapping things up with the mortician and Talmudge in a way that, well it’s kind of predictable but it’s still fun and kind of neat the way it’s handled.

    Despite the low budget, the cinematography from Ken Gibb, who handled his fair share of exploitation and adult films starting in the seventies and going right up into the late-nineties before he passed away. There’s some great camerawork on display here, it makes the Oklahoma locations used in the bookend segments look especially eerie. The movie also features a remarkably unusual theme song entitled ‘The Sound Of Goodbye’ performed by Steve March (a.k.a. Steve March-Tormé who just so happens to be Mel Tormé’s son!). The song really doesn’t seem to have much to do, thematically or aurally, with the movie itself but it is kind of catchy in a ‘seventies crooner music’ sort of way – the guy’s got a great voice.

    House Of The Dead – Blu-ray Review:

    Vinegar Syndrome brings this one to Blu-ray framed at 1.85.1 widescreen in a sparkling new transfer taken from a new 2k scan of the film’s original 35mm negative and it looks excellent. There are some small white specks here and there and some of the darker scenes aren’t quite perfectly lit but for the most part this is very nicely detailed and boasts great color reproduction (the scene where the mortician ushers Talmudge into the building is a great example, the reds look fantastic here). Black levels are strong and skin tones look nice and natural. The film is grainy but not distractingly so, it just looks like film. There are no problems with any compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction to complain about here – just a very solid looking picture overall.

    The English language LPCM Mono track is fine, for the most part. There are few lines of dialogue that sound a little muffled likely due to the original recording but these are few and far between. For the most part the performers are always easy to understand and the levels properly balanced. There are no problems with any serious hiss or distortion and that theme song, as goofy as it is, sounds great when it plays over the end credits (like it or not, it’s bound to get stuck in your head!). Optional subtitles are provided in English only.

    Vinegar Syndrome’s Joe Rubin conducts two audio interviews that are included on the disc, the first of which is with director Sharron Miller that runs just over twenty-one-minutes. Here Miller talks about how she knew she wanted to be a filmmaker at a young age and how she got her start in the industry. She then talks about some of her early projects, shooting House Of The Dead, and some of the TV work that she wound up doing like In Search Of, Cagney And Lacey and even After School Special! The second interview gets writer David O’Malley talking for twenty-six minutes about writing the script, his thoughts on each one of the stories contained in the anthology, the film’s original working title and his thoughts on the finished product as a whole. Outside of that, the disc also includes a still gallery, menus and chapter selection.

    As this is a combo pack release we also get a DVD version of the movie and hey, Vinegar Syndrome also packages this with a nice reversible cover sleeve featuring the House Of The Dead artwork on one side and the Alien Zone artwork on the reverse – a nice touch.

    House Of The Dead - The Final Word:

    House Of The Dead isn’t always super effective but it is pretty entertaining even in its lesser chapters. The film makes good use of an amusing cast and its mix of Twilight Zone-esque stories an Amicus inspired horror tropes make for an interesting, if not always entirely successful, way to entertain yourself for eighty-minutes. The Blu-ray debut from Vinegar Syndrome contains a few nice extras and offers up the film in an impressive transfer.

    Click on the images below for full sized House Of The Dead Blu-ray screen caps!