• Hollywood Horror House (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    Hollywood Horror House (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review
    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: February 4th, 2020.
    Director: Donald Wolfe
    Cast: Miriam Hopkins, David Garfield, Gale Sondergaard, Virginia Wing, Florence Lake, Lester Matthews
    Year: 1970
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    Hollywood Horror House – Movie Review:

    Also known as Savage Intruder, Donald Wolfe’s 1970 film Hollywood Horror House opens with some great shots of the iconic ‘HOLLYWOOD’ sign, showcasing how run down it is, a landmark desperately in need of repair. It’s a not so subtle but genuinely effective way to open the picture. From there, we see the victims of a killer, and then catch up with a woman bound to be the latest to die as she splits from a dive bar only to return home unaware that she’s been followed. The killer knocks her down and saws off her hand, a clever to the head delivering the finishing blow.

    From here, we cut to a tour bus offering ‘Movieland Tours.’ They stop in front of the home of one Katharine Packard (Miriam Hopkins), a one-time A-lister whose star has faded over the years. The tour guide tells his group that she spends most of her time doing charity work these days. Behind closed doors, however, Katharine is living in a constant state of inebriation, imagining that she is still very much the toast of the Hollywood elite. When she gets wasted and breaks her foot after a fall, she becomes dependent on Ira Jaffee (Lester Matthews), one of her only friends. Also hanging around are her maid Mildred (Florence Lake), her cook Greta (Virginia Wing) and her secretary Leslie (Gale Sondergaard). The cast of characters is rounded out when a hippie named Vic Vallance (John David Garfield) shows up, hoping to score a job helping the wheelchair-bound matron of the house around and much to Mildred’s dismay, he gets it.

    It isn’t long before Katharine and Vic have developed an affinity for one another. They talk a lot and he has a tendency to impersonate classic Hollywood characters rather poorly. She still wants to be wasted all the time, and he’s got a drug problem… and possibly a murder problem as well! On top of that, he’s prone to taking hallucinogenic drugs and taking weird trips into his subconsciousness where we see him come face to face with childhood trauma, courtesy of his aged, hard drinking mom. If that weren’t complicated enough, a love triangle of sorts ensues when it turns out Vic is slipping it not only to Katherine, but to Greta as well, and it turns out Greta is pregnant with his child! This won’t end well for anyone, not even the weird mannequins that start showing up. Oh, and there’s a coke dealing little person in here too.

    The film that would prove to be Miriam Hopkins’ swansong is an odd one, part low-rent slasher picture and part character study. Clearly inspired by the likes of Sunset Boulevard and Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, it’s a bit of a genre mashup and a pretty damned entertaining one at that. The psychedelic interludes that Vic’s childhood flashbacks provide are nothing short of awesome, portraying him as a child running around inside a multi-colored, checkered dreamscape, the visuals are quite strong here overall. Yeah, fine, the gore effects are no better than a high school drama department can do, they look very much like splattered red paint, but there’s some appreciably quirky filmmaking going on here and it’s a kick to watch.

    The acting is also pretty solid here. John David Garfield plays a drug addled lunatic rather well, particularly in the latter half of the picture where he gets to chew a bit of scenery. Supporting work from Lester Matthews, the lovely Virginia Wing and particularly Gale Sondergaard is appreciated, and Florence Lake is pretty fun to watch here too. It is, however, the lead work from Miriam Hopkins that really impresses here. She doesn’t just chew the scenery, she obliterates it, giving legends like Joan Crawford and Bette Davis a serious run for their money – running about acting sloshed out of her mind, screaming, freaking out, wailing like a lunatic and even getting the twins out for a breath of fresh air! Seeing her play ‘the queen of the Christmas parade’ is worth the price of admission alone, and she and Garfield share a weirdly effective chemistry here.

    Hollywood Horror House – Blu-ray Review:

    Hollywood Horror House arrives on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen, newly restored from a 4k scan of the original 35mm negative. Picture quality is, in a word, excellent. The opening credits look a bit grainy, but they would appear to use stock footage. The footage shot specifically for the movie looks pretty much perfect – nice and clean, but still naturally grainy the way that it should be. Colors look spot on, nice and natural and never oversaturated or faded. Black levels are nice and deep and skin tones look great. There’s a lot of depth and texture to the picture throughout and thankfully the image is free of any noticeable noise reduction or edge enhancement.

    Audio is handled by an English language DTS-HD 1.0 Mono track. The audio is clean and nicely balanced, no problems to note here. The dialogue stays easy to follow throughout the duration on the picture and the score sounds quite nice. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. No problems to note.

    The main extra on the disc is an audio commentary track with David Decoteau and David Del Valle that opens by talking about how hard this film has been to find up until this actual physical release from Vinegar Syndrome. They note that the film is an ‘off shoot’ of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane and Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte – hagsploitation pictures – and how the Hollywood sign featured prominently in the opening really was in the state of disrepair as shown in the footage in this picture (and how that is a great metaphor for the story we’re about to see). They dish some dirt on Miriam Hopkins star power and career (she gets covered in quite a bit of detail), the Sunset Boulevard locations used early in the picture (with the Cinerama Dome in the back), the different openings for various cuts of the film, how the opening film feels similar not only to Peter Carpenter’s films but also The Toolbox Murders, Gale Sondergaard’s background and filmography and how she and her husband were blacklisted as communists in the McCarthy era, the hallucinatory quality of certain sequences featured in the picture, references to other ‘psycho bitty’ movies, the quirky set dressing featured in a few scenes and lots more. Del Valle, at one point, tells an interesting story about throwing a party for Sondergaard later in her career and inviting one of her bitter enemies, Gloria Stewart, without realizing it! They also talk about how Hopkins really does deserve a better legacy than she has, her knack for going over the top, how she almost played Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind and other fun bits and bobs about the history of the film, Del Valle’s relationship with Hopkins, their thoughts on the film and the different characters that populate and more.

    Aside from that, we get a promotional image gallery, menus and chapter selection. As this is a combo pack release, we also get a DVD version of the movie. Some nice reversible cover sleeve art is also included and if you purchase this release direct from Vinegar Syndrome, the first 2,000 copies come with al limited-edition slipcover featuring artwork designed by Earl Kessler Jr.

    Hollywood Horror House – The Final Word:

    Hollywood Horror House is a blast – a legitimate camp classic just being to be rediscovered! Hopkins steals every scene that she’s in but the rest of the cast hold their own. The weird doses of psychedelia are awesome additions to an already bizarre picture, and the picture just oozes style. The story itself is a bit of a mess, sure, but the good definitely outweighs the bad and those with an appreciation for ‘grand dame guignol’ should get a serious kick out of this one. Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray release looks gorgeous and the commentary is a lot of fun. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Hollywood Horror House Blu-ray screen caps!