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American Horror Project: Vol. 1 (TheaterByte Blu-ray Review)

american-horror-project-artworkAmerican Horror Project Vol. 1 is a new series from Arrow Video that seeks to introduce viewers to a host of long forgotten and obscure films in the horror genre. This first batch of films were released between 1973-1976.

Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is the story of The Norris family who set out to find work at a creepy carnival under the guise of them actually looking for their missing son who was last seen at the carnival. Once they get established at the locale – the daughter – Vena Norris (Janine Carazo) sets out to explore the carnival and the grounds. She comes across many weird and creepy people who work and tend to the show by day but buy night everyone is either a monster, killer, or just insane. They’re all led by Malatesta – and outside of the standard outline of searching for her brother and exploring in general – the story takes the backseat to the visuals.

The bulk of the film is just Vena avoiding cross-dressing psychics, dwarves, a vampire, an evil groundskeeper, etc. It gets grating really fast. I will say that the film is style over substance and Vena screaming and running around at night being followed around reminded me of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which would have hit theaters a year later. In any event — Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood gets the blood pumping for our next feature…

The Witch Who Came from the Sea tells the tale of Molly (Millie Perkins), a young woman who may seem like she is free-spirited in the ways of sex and love. Underneath the veil is that of a troubled and sexually abused young woman, who eventually goes on a murder spree due to the culmination of her issues. First off – the poster for this film would lead you to believe that it’s a full on horror film but it couldn’t be further from the truth. The Witch Who Came from the Sea is more of psychological thriller, with bits and pieces of surrealism and existentialism thrown into the mix.american-horror-story-glamour

When Molly goes on her sprees – she does so in a nonchalant matter — almost disarming the men she’s hurting due to her sexuality, charm, and non-threatening demeanor. I won’t ruin the reason she does what she does but it makes sense and the conclusion is quite startling. Like our last film, I was also unaware of Witch’s existence and was even more surprised to see that Dean Cundey (Halloween) served as cinematographer on the project. The film looks fabulous in 2.35:1 and makes the picture look that much more expensive. The Witch Who Came from the Sea is not your traditional horror film but is full of horror.

The Premonition is the story of 5-year old Janie (Danielle Brisebois), who is the object of some strange woman’s fixation. The woman in question claims to be Janie’s mother. Janie is in fact, adopted, and her adoptive mother has a premonition that a woman and a clown (Richard Lynch) are coming after her daughter. Janie’s mother, Sheri (Sharon Farrell), at first, is considered a tad on the loopy side for coming up with what amounts to fantastical tales of psychic abilities but as everything begins to take shape around her – the police and her husband start to actually believe her without saying they do, you know, because if you did so back in the 1970’s you’re off to the sanitarium, as well.

The Premonition is almost equal parts thriller, with a bit of psychological horror throw in. There are a few scenes where Sheri is going through what looks like psychosis and the way the scenes are framed — I started to get a Repulsion vibe but in full color as opposed to black and white. What really sealed the deal was the ending, because the way things were left – was not conventional, and I appreciated that. Richard Lynch playing the psychotic slow was also a nice touch and it’s great to see him playing a villain. Production values were also great and so were the performances.

The Video

Malatesta’s Carnival of Fear is presented in 1080p, 1.85:1. Being an early 1970’s film did it no favors but this newly restored 2K scan looks great. There was one instance of a “burnt” in green vertical line going through the print during the first part of the film when it’s still daylight. That is the only instance that was problematic. The rest of the film looked great. Film grain structure is intact, contrast is leveled, and sharpness levels are consistent. Color levels were bright and very 1970’s – and pixilation was nonexistent.

The Witch Who Came from the Sea is presented in 1080p, 2.35:1. A cool side note to the film – Dean Cundey was technically the unofficial cinematographer (he gets an “associate cinematographer” credit in the opening scenes), so we all know the film is going to look great – and it does. The film has a steady grainy structure, with only bits and hints of dirt and debris scattered about. The contrast is subdued and the sharpness levels stay nice and natural. The color palette does have any sort of banding or pixelation issues and has a relatively “cool” look throughout. The biggest culprit to the film’s transfer would have to be the dirt and debris. Other than that, the film looks fine.

The Premonition is presented in 1080p. 1.85:1. Contrast and sharpness levels are consistent throughout and I never did spot instances of blooming or boosting. The film grain structure was great and one can tell that the 2k remastering process was handled with care. The color palette has a rich vibrant look to it – yes, we’re still in the 1970’s, so that automatically gets ramped up. Dirt, debris, and artifacts were also kept in check, and black crush was also not an issue. It seems that just because these films contained within the set are not your average or traditional sub-genre flicks – Arrow is keeping the bar high up on these in terms of transfers.

The Audio

Malatesta’s Carnival of Fear is presented in 24-bit LPCM monaural and sounds quite lovely on Blu-ray. The synthesizer score is creepy and tends to drone about but it’s expected especially since it was the dawn of the analog synthesizer age. Dialogue, music, and effects share the crowed 1.0 soundscape and come through without sounding like a jumble mess. Vena’s screams of terror take front stage.

The Witch Who Came from the Sea is presented in 24-bit LPCM monaural and sounds great considering the source. Everything is condensed and put into the center channel and sounds awesome. Dialogue, music, and effects share the space without jumping over each other. I did not detect any instances of hiss or distortion, with the exception of a few pops here and there toward the latter part of the picture.  I’ve noticed that most of the Arrow Video releases of late have great audio quality – and The Witch Who Came from the Sea is no exception.

The Premonition is presented in 24-bit LPCM monaural and continues the reign of top-notch quality for this set. Dialogue is crystal clear – I only detected a hum or hiss in a few scenes but nothing problematic or intrusive. The effects and overall sound design was kept at a nice balance and the highlight being the lovely music score was bright and warm as opposed to cold and shrill. Yes, this is a 1.0 channel mix and it is a high quality one, too. What a great way to wrap up this 3-picture set with a high quality sound mix.

The Supplements

American Horror Project Vol. 1 is a fully loaded set with just about every conceivable extra thrown into the mix minus the kitchen sink. The films are housed in 3 individual Blu-ray discs along with 3 separate DVDs (for those that have not upgraded yet) and even the box and booklet are all of high quality. For the price they better be. Please read below and see what this massive set has within:

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

  • Brand new 2K restorations of the three features
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard DVD presentations
  • Original Mono 1.0 audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-rays)
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Reversible sleeves for each film featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil
  • American Horror Project Journal Volume I – Limited edition 60-page booklet featuring new articles on the films from writers Stephen Thrower (Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents), Kim Newman (Nightmare Movies), Kier-La Janisse (House of Psychotic Women) and Brian Albright (Regional Horror Films, 1958-1990: A State-by-State Guide with Interviews)

MALATESTA’S CARNIVAL OF BLOOD

  • Introduction to the film by Stephen Thrower
  • Audio Commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith
  • The Secrets of Malatesta – an interview with director Christopher Speeth
  • Crimson Speak – an interview with writer Werner Liepolt
  • Malatesta’s Underground – art directors Richard Stange and Alan Johnson discuss the weird, mysterious world of Malatesta’s underground
  • Outtakes
  • Draft script (BD/DVD-ROM content)
  • Stills gallery

THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA

  • Introduction to the film by Stephen Thrower
  • Audio commentary with director-producer Matt Cimber, actress Millie Perkins and director of photography Dean Cundey
  • Tides and Nightmares – brand new making-of documentary featuring interviews with Cimber, Perkins, Cundey and actor John Goff
  • A Maiden’s Voyage – archive featurette comprising interviews with Cimber, Perkins and Cundey
  • Lost at Sea – director Cimber reflects on his notorious cult classic

THE PREMONITION

  • Introduction to the film by Stephen Thrower
  • Isolated score
  • Audio commentary with director-producer Robert Allen Schnitzer
  • Pictures from a Premonition – brand new making-of documentary featuring interviews with Schnitzer, composer Henry Mollicone and cinematographer Victor Milt
  • Archive interviews with Robert Allen Schnitzer and star Richard Lynch
  • Three Robert Allen Schnitzer short films: ‘Vernal Equinox’, ‘Terminal Point’ and ‘A Rumbling in the Land’
  • 4 Peace Spots
  • Trailers and TV Spots

The Final Assessment

American Horror Project Vol. 1 was a whirlwind affair and a rather unique one. No one will ever say that these three films come close to being classics, but they are important relics in the horror sub-genre. I would say that the first film presented, Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood, is the most abstract piece while The Witch Who Came From the Sea and The Premonition share more similar themes and are the more accessible films in the set even though they are not “traditional” horror films per se. The Arrow Video packaged release of this set is incredible — the sound and audio are outstanding and the supplemental materials will satisfy most who are into collector sets. It’s certainly not for everybody but if you’re at all curious about early 1970’s obscure horror then American Horror Project Vol. 1 is a great stepping stone to the genre.

American Horror Project: Vol. 1 (TheaterByte Blu-ray Review)
3.6 / 5 TheaterByte Rating
{{ reviewsOverall }} / 5 User Rating (0 votes)
UnratedRating Certificate
Arrow VideoStudios & Distributors
Christopher Speeth, Matt Cimber, Robert Allen SchnitzerDirector
Werner Liepolt, Robert Thom, Robert Allen SchnitzerWriter
251 Mins.Run Time
$99.95MSRP
23 Feb. 2016Release Date
1.85:1 | 2.35:1Aspect Ratio
AVC 1080pVideo
English LPCM 1.0 (24-bit/48kHz)Audio
The Creative Content
The Video
The Audio
The Supplements
Summary
While the films presented in this first of several planned releases are not top-shelf - the fact that they exist within a sub-genre of traditional horror films is an important one. They are rather crude but the spirit of independent film is present in all three features. The American Horror Project Vol. 1 is loaded up with hours of supplemental materials that will appeal to the most critical of horror film fans out there. On that alone it gets a mild recommendation.
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