• Hemisphere Box Of Horrors (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: April 9th, 2019.
    Director: Geraldo De Leon/Al Adamson/Harold Hoffman/Manfred R. Kohler
    Cast: Ronald Remy, Amalia Fuentes, Eddie Fernandez, Ben Feleo, Pierre L. Salas, Kent Taylor, Angelo Rossitto, Reed Hadley, Robert Frost, Robyn Baker, Christopher Lee, Lex Barker, Karin Dor
    Year: 1964/1966/1971/1966/1967
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    Hemisphere Box Of Horrors – Movie Review:

    Although Hemisphere Pictures will always be best known for the notorious Blood Island films, there’s more to their catalogue than just those four films. Severin Films dips back into the Hemisphere well with this second collection, compiling three of the studio’s better-known efforts – The Blood Drinkers, Curse Of The Vampires and Brain Of Blood - and an exclusive bonus disc containing two more of their efforts, The Black Cat and The Torture Chamber Of Dr. Sadism!

    The Blood Drinkers:

    Up first, the story of one Dr. Marco (Ronald Remy), a Dracula-esque figure who runs about his Filipino homeland decked out in a long black cape and sporting a freshly shaved head (and occasionally some bad ass sunglasses)! He’s accompanied by a hunchback with bad hair and horrible teeth, a sadistic dwarf and a foxy lady friend named Tania (Eva Montes).

    Marco has a problem – his beautiful bride, Katrina (Amalia Fuentes), is dying. Understandably, this upsets him but he has a plan, and that’s to steal away her twin sister Charito (Fuentes again), who has been raised far away from her Katrina by her aunt and uncle, and use her body parts to basically save his bride. While all of this is going on, the twins’ mother, Dona Marisa, complicates things with her very presence as she rides about in her fancy horse-drawn carriage. While Marco and his fiendish followers roam the area and drain the blood of their victims, the local priest and a few of Charito’s friends led by the heroic Victor (Eddie Fernandez) become rightly concerned by all of this.

    The Blood Drinkers, also known as The Vampire People, is pretty wonky, both tonally and visually, but it’s an interesting film. Given the cost of color film stock, Gerardo DeLeon and the producers opted to shoot large stretches of the picture – basically all of the night time shots - in black and white. This results in a lot of visual contrast, with some scenes being in full color and others presented in a monochromatic format. Those monochrome scenes, however, have been tinted different colors – red being the predominant one, used when characters are in trouble and a blueish/purple used for the more relaxed scenes. The film also pays homage to Hammer and Universal classics by utilizing some interesting gothic style sets, the best example being a scene where the vampires are outside an old church, fog rolling in from the sides and giving the whole thing a very ‘classic horror’ look. All of this is set to a fantastic Theremin-heavy soundtrack that makes the whole thing feel like it’s from some sort of alien world.

    The movie is also ripe with Roman Catholic iconography, giving the movie a uniquely Filipino slant in that regard. Not only is there a heroic priest at the center of a lot of this but there’s actually a scene where good quite literally wins over evil, albeit not in the way it would happen in a western film. The plot might be a bit messy and some of the dubbing on this English language version is less than perfect, but on a visual and atmospheric level alone, The Blood Drinkers is pretty solid stuff.

    Note that the print used for this release uses the “Kulay dugo ang gabi” Tagalog title for the film (the rest of the films in the set have English title cards).

    Curse Of The Vampires:

    The second film follows brother and sister duo Eduardo (Eddie Garcia) and Lenore Escudero (Amalia Fuentes). When we meet up with them, they’re heading home to the small Filipino town where their father (Johnny Monteiro) lives. When they arrive at his mansion, they find him emotionally and physically sick. What is of such concern to the old man? It turns out that their mother (Mary Walter), who they’ve long believed to be dead is actually being held captive in the basement of the home! Why? Because she’s a vampire!

    As luck would have it, there seems to be, as the title implies, a curse on the Escudero clan, but this doesn’t stop Eduardo from paying his mother a visit in the basement late one night. He learns the hard way that his father was telling the truth when she attacks him, her bite converting him to one of the undead as well. Eduardo takes to this whole vampirism thing like a fish to water and before you know it, he’s feasting on the supple necks of village maidens and, after his father stakes his mother, he even goes so far as to commit patricide! When his sister’s husband, Daniel (Romeo Vasquez), gets involved, Eduardo schemes to take him out of the picture as well, but when Eduardo starts moving towards turning Lenore into a vampire too, supernatural forces shape up and make things more difficult than he ever expected.

    Once again directed by Gerardo de Leon, this 1966 production, like its predecessor, relies heavily on atmosphere and odd Catholic iconography more than it does on performances. The story is less convoluted this time around, it’s a bit more coherent, while the visuals, still impressive as they may be, aren’t quite as over the top. Still, it’s good stuff. The storyline does a good job of playing up the family dynamic and exploiting the conflict that arises between siblings in the later half of the film, and there’s a bit more punch to this than you might expect there to be.

    It’s nice to see the lovely Ms. Fuentes in the female lead, she has good chemistry with her male co-stars and looks great here. Eddie Garcia, a mainstay of Filipino horror pictures of the era (having appeared in Beast Of Blood and The Beast Of Yellow Night to name only two), is also quite good here.

    Some nice gothic atmosphere combined with the interesting cultural quirks give this one a lot of entertainment value.

    Brain Of Blood:

    When the Blood Island films struck box office gold and the Filipino filmmakers behind them were off working on other projects, Al Adamson was brought in to make a film in the same vein. The results? 1971’s Brain Of Blood!

    Shot entirely on location in the United States but meant to look somewhat exotic, the story begins when Amir (Reed Hadley, somehow), the ruler of the kingdom of Kalid, has his two assistants, Dr. Robert Nigserian (Grant Williams) and Mohammed (Zandor Vorkov), take him see an American scientist named Dr. Lloyd Trenton (Kent Taylor). Why? Because Amir has cancer and is dying, this won’t be good for the people of Kalid. They need Trenton to perform a brain transplant on him – which puzzlingly involves being wrapped in tinfoil - and put his sharp mind into a healthy new body!

    Trenton and his dwarf assistant Dorro (Angelo Rossitto) agree but when they have trouble finding the proper body, they resort to using the one belonging to a massive, lumbering idiot named Gor (John Bloom)! To make matters worse, when Gor was a child he had car battery acid dumped on him by two thugs, so he’s horribly scarred. After the transplant is complete and things go predictably wrong, Trenton has to grab his laser gun, hunt down Gor/Amir and try to set things right. Meanwhile, Dorro tortures the women shackled up in the basement (one of whom is Vicki Volante) while buxom blonde Tracy (played Adamson’s wife Regina Carrol) runs around getting into trouble.

    Bad brain surgery, a few great dummy deaths, horrible makeup and seriously questionable makeup decisions make this one that Adamson devotees will gobble right up, particularly as its cast with quite a few faces that will no doubt look familiar to those who have followed his work. Yeah, it’s all cheap as cheap can be and it doesn’t always make much sense, but if you’ve got a soft spot for Z-grade schlock, this is bound to float your boat. The aforementioned brain surgery goes on too long, but Adamson and Sherman probably wanted to get their money’s worth out of that calf brain they bought and those dime store laboratory props, so you’ll take what they give you and you’ll like it.

    Diminutive Rossitto, who played Angeleno in Todd Browning’s classic Freaks, steals every scene that he’s in. running around in a floppy golfer’s cap causing trouble, he’s an entertaining little dude with a lot of manic energy. Seeing Reed Hadley cast as a Middle Eastern statesman is amusing as well, while Kent Taylor does a fine job as the fairly insane doctor… you know the kind, his methods are effective but his moral code is suspect. Maybe not the best film in the set, but definitely an entertaining one.

    The Black Cat:

    The first of the two films on the bonus disc (which is exclusive to this boxed set) is The Black Cat, director Harold Hoffman’s 1966 adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s famous story. Set in what was, when it was made at least, the modern day, the film takes us to the suburbs of a Texas City where we meet an eccentric alcoholic named Lou (Robert Frost) and his lovely young wife Diana (Robyn Baker). When their first anniversary comes around, Diana gifts her husband with a handsome black cat.

    Predictably, this does not go well. Lou imbibes and, in a bit of a stupor, freaks out on his well-intentioned bride, ranting and raving, convinced that the cat is the reincarnation of the dead father he was glad to see go to the grave. Enraged, Lou gouges out the poor cat’s eye, hangs it, and then electrocutes it! You’d think that would be the end of the poor kitty, but no. The next day, the couple’s home has been burnt to the ground – playing around with electricity can be dangerous! Making matters worse, Lou finds out that his father never insured the place, so they’re essentially homeless. When Lou learns of this, he attacks the man who tells him, which results in his arrest and subsequent trip to a sanitarium. Once released, Lou goes back to Diana, who is kind enough to take him in. From there, he meets a cat with a wounded eye, and things go south from there pretty fast. After getting wasted at a go-go bar and watching a rad band, he heads home, tries to kill the cat and, well, we won’t spoil it for the few out there who don’t know how this story ends.

    A considerably more accurate take on Poe’s source than most cinematic adaptations of the storyline, Hoffman’s film may be ripe with wonky mid-sixties style but it works surprisingly well. It’s a gritty, gory take on the source anchored by some top notch acting by one and done thespian Frost. It’s a shame he didn’t do more film work, he’s very intense here and really good in the role. He plays a psychopath really well, contrasting in interesting ways with Robyn Baker, whose character is completely sympathetic from the start.

    While the time and setting of the story might upset Poe purists, the film is quick in its pacing and features just the right mix of thrills, chills and… genuine weirdness. The black and white cinematography from Walter Schenk, who also shot Faster, Pussycat…. Kill! Kill! And Mudhoney for the late, great Russ Meyer, is top notch. It’s moody and atmospheric and it makes use of some great compositions. All on all, this is a really solid picture, one well worth seeing (so long as you’re not overly sensitive to bad things happening to black cats).

    The Torture Chamber Of Dr. Sadism:

    The last film in this set (and the second one on the bonus disc) is a period picture that follows a man named Roger (played by Lex Barker) who is on a quest to uncover the mystery of his ancestral origins. As he travels through the area, he meets up with a priest named Father Fabien (Vladimir Medar) and wins the affections of a beautiful young woman named Lilian (Karin Dor). What Roger doesn't realize is that three decades before his arrival, a cruel nobleman named Count Regula (Christopher Lee) was put to death for his horrible crimes against the local population of busty young female virgins!

    As Roger and his pals travel through the woods, things start to take a rather macabre turn - mysterious horseman pester them and corpses hang from tree limbs. Once they finally make it to the castle, however, things get even stranger. Roger soon learns of his relation to Regula, who has risen from the grave to exact his vengeance on whoever he can get his hands on.... mainly a fresh batch of virgins he intends to murder in order to complete his horrible plan to gain eternal life.

    Very loosely adapted from Edgar Allan Poe's The Pit And The Pendulum by Manfred R. Kohler, The Torture Chamber Of Dr. Sadism (also known as Castle Of The Walking Dead as well as about a dozen other alternate titles) is a fun gothic chiller with some gorgeous sets and impressive cinematography. It's also a very strange film with a few odd plot points that distance the film from Poe's source material by quite a large margin. That said, despite a few pacing issues here and there (the ending comes up very quickly!), the film is generally a very successful piece of gothic filmmaking thanks to the gorgeous atmosphere that the film contains. Performances from Barker and Lee stand out, with Barker playing the noble hero quite well and Lee doing a fine job as the macabre-faced villain (even if he's a little typecast here).

    The influence of Mario Bava is pretty obvious from start to finish and at times the film borrows from Black Sunday a little too much for its own good even if it never reaches that film's level of success. Regardless, director Harald Reinl certainly gets enough right here that the movie stands on its own as a completely enjoyable and thoroughly entertaining horror film.

    Hemisphere Box Of Horrors – Blu-ray Review:

    The Blood Drinkers: The first film is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.78.1 widescreen “now scanned from the only complete 35mm print known to exist” (according to the packaging). Mild print damage shows up here and there, nothing too distracting but you’ll notice specks now and then as well as some small scratches in a few scenes. The image looks fairly soft, detail isn’t great here, but color reproduction is pretty strong in the lighter scenes, but uneven. It’s odd though, because some scenes actually show pretty solid detail, where others are, as stated, really soft. There’s a lot of funky color filtering going on throughout this movie, so keep your expectations in check.

    Curse Of The Vampires: The second film is also presented in AVC encoded 1080p in a 1.33.1 fullframe presentation “now scanned in 2k from the only surviving film elements” as per the box copy. This one fares better than The Blood Drinkers but still suffers from some softness. Overall the image is fairly clean, not spotless but decent, and color reproduction looks fine, black levels too.

    Brain Of Blood: This third films is presented in AVC encoded 1080p, 1.33.1 fullframe, “now featuring a new 2k CRI scan” (again, according to the packaging). This is clean, colorful and quite nice looking, a nice upgrade over the old DVD release. Detail is pretty solid, even if it is still soft in spots, and colors reproduced very nicely, bringing all of those garish hues to life. There are no noticeable compression issues here and the picture is free of noise reduction or edge enhancement issues. This is definitely the best of the transfers in the set and the 1.33.1 framing looks good.

    The Black Cat: This film which shares a disc with The Torture Chamber Of Dr. Sadism, is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.77.1 widescreen taken from a 4k scan of a 35mm print. There are, however, bits that were missing from the print that was used and for these sections they’ve spliced in the missing footage from a source with a Something Weird Video watermark on it. The jump in quality is noticeable but better to have a complete version of the film here than not. Otherwise, this transfer is quite strong, print damage aside. Detail is nice and while there is some minor print damage and small scratches noticeable throughout, the good absolutely outweighs the bad.

    The Torture Chamber Of Dr. Sadism: Severin has had to use two separate 16mm prints to create a composite for the 2k scan that this one received. The AVC encoded 1080p high definition image is presented in its proper 1.66.1 widescreen aspect ratio with its American title card. There’s a pinkish hue noticeable here and some noticeable, sometimes fairly severe, color fading evident throughout. Detail isn’t bad if you can look past the color issue, but it is far from great. While some print damage is obvious throughout, it’s never particularly distracting. At least the results are film-like even if more color correction would have been welcome here.

    The English language DTS-HD Mono tracks provided for each film are decent enough. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. Audio quality here is fine, not amazing, but fine. Clearly there are limitations with the sources used for a few of the transfers here but by and large the dialogue stays clean, clear and properly balanced and the tracks are free of any serious hiss or distortion.

    Special features are spread across the four discs in the set as follows:

    The Blood Drinkers opens up with a new audio commentary with film historians Nathaniel Thompson and Howard S. Berger. They have a good time with this one, noting the gothic influences that are apparent throughout the film but also making some interesting comparison to the work of Coffin Joe. They note some of the religious symbolism, spend a good bit of time talking up Ronald Remy and his performance in the film as well as his appeal, discuss Fuentes’ work in the picture and also note that the only reason we still have some of these films in the first place is because they were made with the export market in mind – meaning that a lot of the original elements have basically disintegrated like so many other Filipino films, with sometimes only Americanized prints left in existence (which would seem to be the case with this one).

    Carried over from the older DVD release is the partial audio commentary Samuel M. Sherman which, like all of Sherman’s commentaries, proves to be pretty interesting. Here, in just under sixty-minutes, Sherman talks about what works in the film and makes it unique, how Hemisphere Pictures came to be and his personal involvement in the company, and quite a bit more.

    The Blood Drinks is also the recipient of Manong Of The Philippines, an interview with script supervisor and Gerry De Leon’s assistant director, Dik Trofeo. This piece runs twelve-minutes and here we learn how Trofeo got his start working with De Leon, what De Leon was like to collaborate with, Eddie Romero’s importance in the Filipino movie industry of the era and some of the efforts that went into creating the striking visuals on display in The Blood Drinkers. The disc also includes a Hemisphere Appreciation by filmmaker David Decoteau that clocks in at just under four-minutes. Here Decoteau how he was influenced by some of these Filipino imports when he first saw them while working in a theater and how they had an impact on his own work.

    Also on hand are twenty-seven-minutes’ worth of deleted scenes that is presented fullframe with no sound (no audio exists for the material). Most of this material is just scene extensions and the like, there’s nothing super revelatory here, but it’s interesting to see it regardless. Finishing off the first disc’s extra features is a Blood Drinkers trailer, a Vampire People trailer, a single radio spot, menus and chapter selection.

    Curse Of The Vampires starts off with a great commentary from “Philippine Genre Documentarian Andrew Leavold,” a.k.a. “The Man Who Made The Search For Weng Weng.” It’s a detailed and interesting track that finds him pointing out the social significance of certain scenes and various allegories that western viewers might not pick up on. He also does a bit of a deep dive into De Leon’s career, offering up quite a bit of useful information about his work. He covers most of the cast members as well, talks about how and why this movie is as similar to The Blood Drinkers as it is, and covers other assorted details as well. It’s as well-paced and interesting track.

    Again, the disc also carries over the partial commentary with Sam Sherman, though this one sees him speaking for almost the entire movie. He covers the marketing behind the film, his involvement with Hemisphere, the work that he did on the actual story for the production, thoughts on the cast and crew and quite a bit more. All of the archival Sherman commentaries in this set are worth listening to if you haven’t heard them before, this one is no exception.

    As far as the featurettes go, we start this disc off with Cursed Vampire, an interview with actor Eddie Garcia that runs five-minutes. Here he speaks about how he wound up acting in the film, what De Leon was like to work with as a director and how the movie was a hit in his homeland. The Market Of Hemisphere is an interview with Sherman that clocks in at eighteen-minutes. Here the company’s marketing consultant discusses how he came to get to know Kane W. Lynn and Irwin Pizor and then eventually get into business with them. He talks about the success that they had with the different Filipino films they worked on, working with some of the actors that appeared in the pictures, which films he enjoyed more and how and why the company eventually closed its doors. Very interesting stuff. Sherman is a great storyteller.

    Severin has also provided nine-minutes of deleted scenes that are, again, presented without sound likely because none exists for this material. It’s mostly extensions again but still interesting to see. Finishing off the extras on this disc are two trailers for the feature, a Beast Of Blood / Curse Of The Vampires double feature radio spot, menus and chapter selection.

    The main special feature for Brain Of Blood is a partial audio commentary with producer/co-writer Samuel M. Sherman, which is quite good if you haven’t heard it (it’s been ported over from the old Image Entertainment DVD release). He speaks here about not just producing the film but coming up with the story and assisting in writing the picture as well. He tells lots of stories about being involved with the cast and crew, talks up Adamson’s direction quite a bit, shares some info on the locations and more. It’s interesting stuff.

    Also worth checking out is Memories Of Blood, a featurette made up of interviews with director Al Adamson, producer Samuel M. Sherman, associate producer J. P. Spohn, actors Zandor Vorkov and Sean Graver and filmmaker Fred Olen Ray. Made up of selections from a longer documentary yet to be released, this is quite interesting. Sherman and Spohn talk about needing to follow up the Blood Island films and doing it in the United States, the influence of H.G. Lewis and more. Adamson, appearing in archival footage obviously, shares some fun stories about the shoot and seems amused by all of this while Graver notes what it was like working on the film as a kid. Zandor talks about his character and the gore effects while Ray offers his insight into the entertainment value that the film provides.

    Rounding out the extras on this disc is a radio spot, a remarkably garish trailer, menus and chapter selection.

    Extras on the The Black Cat/The Torture Chamber Of Dr. Sadism disc include trailers for Blood Demon and The Black Cat as well as menus and chapter selection.

    Hemisphere Box Of Horrors – The Final Word:

    Severin Films’ Blu-ray release of the Hemisphere Box Of Horrors is a good one. While some of the elements used for the transfers were clearly in less than perfect shape, some more so than others as the screen caps clearly demonstrate, the films themselves are all very worthwhile endeavors, particularly if you have a soft spot for Filipino horror pictures or gothic horror (with Brain Of Blood standing out as its own strange beast). The set is loaded with extras and there’s a whole lot of entertainment value to be had here. Recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Hemisphere Box Of Horrors screen caps!

    Comments 8 Comments
    1. chriszilla's Avatar
      chriszilla -
      It's slightly disappointing that this release isn't up to the (mostly) high standards of the BLOOD ISLAND set, with the apparent exception of BRAIN OF BLOOD (a film with way less replay value than the others here - to me, at least), but I'll be picking it up nonetheless. THE BLOOD DRINKERS is an overlooked gem in vintage vampire cinema, and I wish this had been the definitive presentation. Compared to the old Image DVD, it looks better in some regards, but worse in others.

      As always, thanks for the write-up, Ian!
    1. Gary Banks's Avatar
      Gary Banks -
      Damn. I've always wanted to see THE BLACK CAT. BLOOD DRINKERS is a great film, but the presentation doesn't grab me. BRAIN is stupid fun and from the caps may be a step up from the dvd. CURSE I just can't warm up to and Dr Sadism looks like shit. Thankfully I have the German dvd. This looks like a pass for me.
    1. latheofheaven's Avatar
      latheofheaven -
      Quote Originally Posted by Gary Banks View Post
      Damn. I've always wanted to see THE BLACK CAT. BLOOD DRINKERS is a great film, but the presentation doesn't grab me. BRAIN is stupid fun and from the caps may be a step up from the dvd. CURSE I just can't warm up to and Dr Sadism looks like shit. Thankfully I have the German dvd. This looks like a pass for me.

      I also have the German DVD (From Nat actually) but it's in storage and I haven't seen it for a while. Would you say that the DVD looks better and that I shouldn't bother with this 'new & improved' Blu-ray?

      If you or someone else who has or who has seen the German DVD and could kindly leave a comment as to what you think about the comparison of the picture quality of both, I would really appreciate that, thanks!
    1. George Barry's Avatar
      George Barry -
      I watched the German DVD years ago, but I remember it being better than the screen caps above.
    1. John Bernhard's Avatar
      John Bernhard -
      The German DVD is beautiful, the Blu looks like used toilet paper.

    1. latheofheaven's Avatar
      latheofheaven -
      Quote Originally Posted by George Barry View Post
      I watched the German DVD years ago, but I remember it being better than the screen caps above.
      Thank you!
    1. latheofheaven's Avatar
      latheofheaven -
      Quote Originally Posted by John Bernhard View Post
      The German DVD is beautiful, the Blu looks like used toilet paper.

      Well then... Hmmm... That is such a subtle difference that I am really going to hafta give this some thought...

      Seriously though, I really appreciate both the reply and the excellent screenshots, thank you!
    1. Gary Banks's Avatar
      Gary Banks -
      I wound up buying this....and trading all of the blus save for the Black Cat/Dr Sadism one, only because no online trading posts would take it.