A few years back, those freaky fiends at Arrow Video released a collection of three lesser-seen fringe fright flicks under the name American Horror Project: Volume 1. As you can tell by the title of this review, they have gone done and released a new collection of weird ass shit, and it’s up to your’s cruelly to take the ol’ deep dive and see what these putrid pictures are all about!
First up we get:
Dream No Evil (1970): An orphan girl spends her days keepin’ the faith that her daddy dearest will re-appear and sweep her away. Well that shit doesn’t come to pass; but she does get adopted and joins a revivalist Preacher in his carny existence. A few doomed romances later, and our heroine finds her daddy all right…laid right out on the mortician’s (who is also a pimp…because…well…) slab. Anyway, her grief resurrects him and he goes on a murder spree as one does.
On the plus side; Dream No Evil has at it’s heart the rather touching story of a woman’s undying love for her father, and all of the wacky dysfunction that lil’ chestnut brings into her life. Also effective is the scenes blending of reality with the dream world that exists in our heroine’s head…well; the visuals are effective anyway, but the film’s biggest flaw brings it all crashing down.
Any sense of mystery or losing one’s self in the fever dream narrative is completely spoiled by a constant narrator who spells out in no uncertain terms exactly what is real and what isn’t. This absolutely ruins the film’s ambiance and gets slapped with the ol’ “What the Fuck Were They Thinking” award…a prize no one wants to receive from your’s cruelly.
All is not lost however, as this Blu features some decent bonus material including: an appreciation of the film by author Stephen Thrower as well as a video essay detailing the early work of the film’s director John Hayes, a look at the career of actor Edmond O’ Brien, an archival interview with Golden Girl Rue McClanahan who starred in some of Hayes’ flicks, and best of all an ultra-informative and highly listenable audio commentary courtesy of Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan of Diabolique Magazine that will make you appreciate the film regardless of it’s flaws.
Next up comes:
Dark August (1976): A young country girl is flattened to the pavement thanks to the wheels of Barry, a careless city slicker tear-assing ’round town. Naturally her grandfather makes with the arcane bag and calls up ye olde death curse on that deadly driver. Desperate to not die in a horrible occult-style nightmare, our “hero” goes to a psychic medium for a helping hand…what could go wrong?
That shit up yonder sounds awesome as balls doesn’t it? Well, believe me the execution is anything but. This film features incessant amounts of chit-chat, dull scenes a-plenty, not a lot of the ol’ Devil’s business (a shock given that sinister synopsis, right?), and some acting that would make a plank of wood seem like an Academy Award winner by comparison.
On the plus side, Kim Hunter from The Planet of the Apes has a role, so that’s something at least…
Faring better are the special features included which feature: an appreciation of the film by Thrower, interviews with the film’s director Martin Goodman (he provides an interesting audio commentary as well) and producer Marianne Kanter, and best of all a great piece on how the film fits into Vermont genre-filmmaking courtesy of legendary Swamp Thing artist Steven Bissette.
Lastly we get:
The Child (1977): Alicianne (Laurel Barnett) takes a job as a live-in caretaker for Rosalie Nordon (Rosalie Cole), whose mother has recently croaked in her family’s abode located in the deep woods.
Apparently the Nordon’s live in the same neighborhood as Donkey Kong, as a barrel zings across the road from nowhere and forces our heroine’s car straight into a ditch. This is fortuitous because it gives her a chance to run into the exposition grand champion, Mrs. Whitfield (Ruth Ballan), who warns Alicianne about the fucked up reputation the Nordon clan.
Soon Alicianne can’t help but notice that when Rosalie gets pissed, things seem to move and take on a life of their own right quick. This is due to her secret telekinetic powers which she naturally uses to re-animate corpses from the nearby graveyard… and the ghoulish girl intends on using those sinister stiffs to cross all of the names off from her “I Think You Helped Kill My Mom” shit list!
While definitely a bit of a slow burn, The Child nevertheless satisfies! It has horrendous dubbing (you’d think that’s a negative, but the entertainment value it adds is priceless), solid (and delightfully strange) zombie designs, fever-dream logic, an evil kid, elements of a Gothic thriller, an off-kilter score (hey Liberace, could ya tickle the ivories a tad less enthusiastically?) some effective gore…hell even a dancing scarecrow makes the scene! It’s everything you could want in a drive-in fright flick, and honestly deserves much more recognition than it’s gotten (which is basically none…but this release should change that).
As with the other films in this collection, we get plenty of special features here too. First up we get another film appreciation courtesy of Thrower, followed by interviews with director Robert Voskanian and producer Robert Dadashian, and the film’s theatrical trailer. Also included is an audio commentary featuring Voskanian and Dadashian (moderated by Thrower). This is a fantastic, charming…and honest conversation, and details just what it took to bring this insane-o epic the the sinful silver screen!
To sum it up; while the films featured in this collection are uneven at best (with The Child being the only one that fires on all cylinders for lovers of outre cinema), the extras are worth the price of admission, and go a long way in helping the viewer appreciate the flicks at hand!