One of gimmick director William Castle's best films, in part because there's such a lovable balance of goofiness and genuinely effective sequences that deliberately recall the old Universal shockers from the thirties and forties. For this outing, Castle introduces the film, and interrupts the conclusion to take a thumbs up or thumbs down vote for the movie's mercy/no mercy finale (and it's a great finale). Castle was a Grade A ham all the way, but his amusing ploys were done with obvious affection for the audience. (You just wish, though, that the DVD had come with a reproduction of the original neon cards, so viewers at home could join in the fun.)
Columbia's source print varies in quality, with some shots suffering from visible grain, but the black and grey levels are well-balanced, making Castle's surprises pretty punchy. The best moments use classic high-contrast lighting, often hiding Baron Sardonicus' face until a bright in-your-face shock-cut; on the big screen, the film's middle and final sections must have scared plenty of kids.
The mono soundtrack is surprisingly clean, and Von Dexter's orchestral score is nicely mixed the film's classic sound effects, with several of them leaping in volume to punctuate some classic ghoulish imagery.
Bonuses include a trailer for the feature, plus 2 other Columbia Castle releases: a nice black & white/colour trailer for "13 Ghosts," and a short teaser for "Strait-Jacket," narrated by Joan Crawford. Of the 3, only "Strait-Jacket" is non-anamorphic and full-frame.
The included featurette is a warm tribute to Castle's movie, highlighting the basic production, examining the main cast members (particularly the immensely delightful Oscar Homolka), and there's comments from a handful of historians (David Del Valle, Don Glut and Michael Schlesinger, from Columbia Pictures Repertory), fan Don Glut, and a few words from veteran exploitation filmmaker Fred Olen Ray.
A great disc for William Castle fans.
Other entries in Columbia Tri-Star's William Castle series also inclide "Homicidal," "13 Ghosts ," and "Strait-Jacket."
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan
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