DirectorRoy Ward Baker/Paul Annett
Release Date(s)1972/1973/1974 (January 16, 2018)
Studio(s)Amicus Productions/Cinerama Releasing (Severin Films)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: See Below
- Extras Grade: A-
- Overall Grade: B+
Horror fans all of the world have long admired the films produced by Amicus Productions, particularly their portmanteaus Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, and Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors. However, many of their other titles have gone underappreciated for many years, such as The Skull, From Beyond the Grave, and Torture Garden. Severin Films have brought together three of these little seen entries into the horror genre and are debuting them on Blu-ray in the U.S. for the first time. They include Asylum, And Now the Screaming Starts, and The Beast Must Die!, all of them housed in a nice new boxed set entitled The Amicus Collection.
Asylum, directed by Roy Ward Baker (an Amicus regular), tells of a newly-arrived psychiatrist to a mental institution. He’s immediately informed that the head doctor there has gone insane, and in order to procure his position there at the hospital, he must go to each room and decide which of the patients is the real doctor. Thrills, chills, and spills await as four stories are told, all involving the talents of Patrick Magee, Peter Cushing, Charlotte Rampling, Britt Ekland, Herbert Lom, and Geoffrey Bayldon. By far the strongest film in this set, it’s also one of the finest anthology films that the company ever produced. Each of the tales are unique and the wrap-around story actually evolves into the fourth story, which is something quite uncommon for these types of films. Great performances and a creepy atmosphere make this one a must-see for horror fans.
In And Now the Screaming Starts (also directed by Baker), a young married couple arrive at the husband’s family estate, whereupon the bride (and mother to be) begins being terrorized by a haunted figure with a severed hand and empty, bloody eye sockets, as well as his creepy, crawling detached appendage. Learning the truth behind these strange occurrences means a ghostly death for whomever reveals it, leaving the bride helpless and nearly driven to madness. Much of the film is spent frightening this young woman, but the eventual curse-ridden reveal is one of bizarre specificity, neither fully addressing or satisfactorily explaining the previous events. Regardless, there’s plenty of ‘bump in the night’ to be had and the cinematography is quite lush, using the castle backdrop and surrounding green lands to great advantage.
Last but not least is The Beast Must Die! (directed by Paul Annett), perhaps the most interesting film in this set. A headstrong young man installs a number of microphones and cameras all across the acreage of his home in the hopes of tracking down a werewolf. Inviting a number of guests into his home, he tells them upon their arrival that he knows that one of them is a werewolf and declares to find out who and kill them, but not before the beast can attempt to off them all one by one. What’s fascinating about this film is that it has many elements at play, more so than its predecessors. While it’s a horror film of sorts, it’s also a play on Agatha Christie stories (specifically “And Then There Were None”), an action film, and a blaxploitation film – all rolled into one film that I didn’t find all that appealing initially. It also contains a “Werewolf Break”, which gives the audience the opportunity to decide who the werewolf is before the actual reveal. Unintentional humor can be derived from it, but its mix of different genres is far more interesting, making it a distinctively uncommon package, particularly for Amicus.
Severin Films presents each film separately on three discs, with a fourth disc devoted to additional extras. The transfers for both And Now the Screaming Starts and Asylum have been taken from new 4K scans of what I can only assume were interpositive elements. While they can tend to be slightly soft, grain levels are decent with surprisingly good detail in many scenes. Blacks are deep but slight crush is apparent from time to time, particularly with dark clothing. The color palette for both films is strong but not overly potent, with reds and greens standing out more than most. Brightness and contrast levels are satisfactory as well, and while no apparent digital enhancements were made, plenty of white speckling, scratches, and occasional frame damage has been leftover. However, both presentations are fairly stable.
The Beast Must Die!, on the other hand, comes from an older transfer and, according to a recent episode of the Shock Waves podcast in which David Gregory of Severin Films was interviewed, the elements for it are currently missing and this was the best transfer available to them. An obvious departure from the previous films, it lacks a great deal of grain and fine detail while being extremely soft. Colors are merely good, not great, while blacks are definitely crushed. Brightness and contrast are generally good, however. There’s also some noticeable wobble, which is more apparent during static shots, and the same leftover speckling, scratches, and frame damage like the other two transfers. Oddly, there’s also a set of digital static-like lines that appear on the left side of the frame all throughout the presentation, which on lighter backgrounds aren’t all that noticeable, but definitely stand out otherwise. I don’t think these were meant to be seen in the presentation’s final form and if we receive an update about this, we’ll address it.
The audio for each film is presented on two tracks: English 2.0 DTS-HD and Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital, all with optional subtitles in English SDH. There wasn’t any appreciable differences between the three as they exhibit many of the same qualities, which are good dialogue reproduction, decent heft when it comes to score and sound effects, and slight overall fidelity, meaning that even though they’re mono-sourced, they’re not exactly flat. Some slight crackle and occasional dropouts do pop up from time to time, but they’re quite enjoyable audio presentations.
ASYLUM (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B+/B/B
AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B/B/B
THE BEAST MUST DIE! (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C-/C/B
When it comes to the extras, you’ll find quite a variety of interesting and entertaining selections. First of all, this set carries over all of the previous extras from the Dark Sky Films DVD boxed set of the same name, but adds plenty of new ones for good measure. For Asylum, there’s a great audio commentary with director Roy Ward Baker, camera operator Neil Binney, and moderator Marcus Hearn, as well as Two’s a Company, a 1972 on-set report from the BBC featuring interviews with producer Milton Subotsky, director Roy Ward Baker, actors Charlotte Rampling, James Villiers, Megs Jenkins, art director Tony Curtis, and production manager Teresa Bolland, all of which cover the filming of the Lucy Comes to Stay segment, mainly focusing on Subotsky and the way Amicus Productions works (eagle-eyed viewers can spot a portion of a scene being filmed in which the dialogue was ultimately trimmed out in the final version). Also included here is David J. Schow on Robert Bloch, an excellent overview of Bloch’s career as well as Schow’s association with the author in his later years; Fiona Subotsky Remembers Milton Subotsky, featuring Milton’s former wife speaking about her husband’s work and private life; Inside the Fear Factory, a vintage featurette with directors Roy Ward Baker, Freddie Francis, and producer Max J. Rosenberg; a theatrical trailer in HD; and immediately following that trailer, there’s another in SD, which isn’t listed in the extras and is technically an Easter egg of sorts.
For And Now the Screaming Starts, there’s another good audio commentary with director Roy Ward Baker and actress Stephanie Beacham, also moderated by Marcus Hearn; an additional audio commentary with actor Ian Ogilvy, moderated by Darren Gross; the featurette The Haunting of Oakley Court with horror authors Allan Bryce and David Flint visiting the main location of the film and discussing the many other films and TV shows that have used it; an archival audio interview with Peter Cushing by horror journalist Denis Meikle, which is in rough shape but offers some keen insight into Cushing’s career; Denis Meikle Recalls And Now the Screaming Starts, a brief discussion of the film and Peter Cushing; the theatrical trailer, which is a reconstruction from both SD and HD sources; and a radio spot. For The Beast Must Die!, there’s an audio commentary with director Paul Annett, moderated by Jonathan Sothcott; And Then There Were Werewolves, an excellent audio essay by horror historian Troy Howarth which covers the film’s Agatha Christie beginnings as well as other werewolf-related films of the period; Directing the Beast, an interview with director Paul Annett; and the theatrical trailer in HD.
The final disc in this set, The Vault of Amicus, contains a wealth of extras. These include a selection of Amicus trailers in various qualities entitled Dr. Terror’s House of Trailers with optional audio commentary over all of them by horror authors David Flint and Kim Newman. They include Horror Hotel (AKA The City of the Dead – not technically a trailer, more of a scene from the film), Ring-a-Ding Rhythm! (AKA It’s Trad, Dad!), Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, Dr. Who and the Daleks, The Skull, Daleks Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D., The Psychopath, The Deadly Bees, Torture Garden, Danger Route, They Came from Beyond Space, The Terrornauts, The Birthday Party, Thank You All Very Much (AKA A Touch of Love), The Mind of Dr. Soames, The House That Dripped Blood, I, Monster, What Became of Jack and Jill?, Asylum, Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, And Now the Screaming Starts, From Beyond the Grave, Madhouse, The Beast Must Die!, The Land That Time Forgot, At the Earth’s Core, The People That Time Forgot, The Uncanny, and The Monster Club. Also featured are two audio interviews: one with Milton Subotsky conducted by Phil Nutman, which is a 3-hour edited interview session from 1985 that was to be the basis for a never-published book on Amicus, and the other with Max Rosenberg by Jonathan Sothcott, which is an edited 48-minute interview session. Also included is a set of Easter eggs that can be found by one of three ways. On the first page of the Trailer Selection menu, you can press up to highlight “Trailer Selection” and press enter; on the last page of the Trailer Selection menu, press up when “Back” is highlighted and press enter to select an unlisted option; and on the Special Features menu page, press up to highlight an unlisted option and press enter. What you’ll find in all three cases is a set of TV spots for The Creatures (AKA From Beyond the Grave), Torture Garden, The People That Time Forgot, The Vault of Horror, The Skull, Asylum, and Tales from the Crypt.
I count myself among the fans of Amicus films and (dare I say) I find them more entertaining than many of their Hammer Studios counterparts from the same era. Not to disparage them, mind you, but I find myself returning to their output more often. Severin Films has done a fine job of putting three great titles from their library into print and if you’re a horror fan at all, you should definitely pick up The Amicus Collection if you can still manage to snag a copy. Highly recommended!
- Tim Salmons