Small video labels lack the reach and recognition of the much bigger studios, but they have advantages when it comes to the content. Chief among them is that instead of simply pushing a new product line they’re able to hand-pick titles for release ‐ new, old, cult classics or forgotten gems. They’re curating an affection for movies, and two of the best from across the pond are Arrow Video and Eureka! Entertainment. Neither label is a stranger to genre films, and this month sees them each bringing some ‘70s-style horror into the world of high definition with new Blu-ray releases.
Arrow is giving the HD treatment to David Cronenberg’s first feature film, Shivers (aka They Came From Within) while Eureka! is putting out a double feature of Blacula and Scream Blacula Scream.
Starliner Island is a full-service community intentionally removed from the hustle and bustle of a busy world, and the residents wouldn’t have it any other way. Their deluxe condo tower features all manner of amenity, but none of them bring as much joy as the slug-like parasite that invades the building. The creature enters the host via whatever path is most convenient ‐ yeah, let that sink in ‐ and then turns their sex drive up to eleven. So far so good, but their new found desire for sex comes with a propensity for intense violence. Worse, it’s spreading.
This will surprise no one, but Cronenberg’s debut is a cold slow-burn with a progressing weirdness and a darkly subversive sense of humor. It’s also supremely creepy. Once infected the person’s sexual appetite becomes all-consuming and knows no boundary of age, race, sex or consent. Opposite sex, same sex ‐ they just want a warm body to copulate with, and that leads to inferred vileness and glimpses of real horror. There’s a scene involving a mother and daughter in an elevator that shows almost nothing but remains as unnerving as anything you’ve seen.
Like many of the director’s films the performances and look have a sterile quality to them, but as with Dead Ringers, Crash and a few others that feeling fits the story perfectly. The condominium is seen as a utopia of sorts ‐ a cleaner, more effective way of living ‐ and when those antiseptic walls break the deviants within come out to play. The clinical atmosphere risks growing old, but the film’s brisk 88 minute run-time prevents that from happening.
Shivers, made at the height of Canada’s famed bra shortage (judging by its female cast members), is a fantastically strong first feature, and it’s littered with elements that would become Cronenberg hallmarks. Whether you haven’t seen it yet or you’re already a fan Arrow’s new Blu-ray is a must own.
Arrow’s Blu-ray features a new HD transfer supervised by Cronenberg, a reversible sleeve featuring original poster art and a newly created cover illustration, and essay by Paul Corupe and a handful of special features.
- Parasite Memories: The Making of Shivers [42:52] ‐ Barbara Steele and others share anecdotes including how Cronenberg slapped an actress (at her own request) to help her cry, how makeup artist Joe Blasco invented the bladder effect and what Steele’s singular regret is about her kissing scene with another actress. This is an enjoyable look back at the making of a messed up movie. Ivan Reitman makes an appearance too discussing his role as producer on the film.
- On Screen! [47:37] ‐ This is an episode of a Canadian TV show that aired at the time of the film’s release and features interviews with many of the film’s cast and crew.
- From Stereo to Video [26:21] ‐ This video essay features voice-over by Caelum Vatnsdal and photos documenting Cronenberg’s early career. Vatnsdal is a knowledgeable and entertaining writer making this a fun watch and listen.
Blacula: The Complete Collection (1972–1973)
An African prince (William Marshall) and his wife visit Transylvania hoping to open international trade with a certain Count Dracula, but the legendary count has other plans. He incarcerates the two in his basement after taking a bite out of the prince and cursing him with his own name. Well, good old Dracula gives it a quick, on-the-fly modification and dubs him “Blacula.” (Kudos to him for doing so without a wink at the camera.) Blacula awakes centuries later in modern day Los Angeles and sets about sinking his teeth into those around him including a young woman who appears to be a reincarnation of his long-deceased wife.
The film ends with a fairly certain fate for its titular bloodsucker, but its popularity guaranteed a sequel which came a year later in Scream Blacula Scream. The elegant vampire is restored to life through the power of voodoo, and as the bodies pile up and the police move in the only thing that may be able to stop is more of the same. That and Pam Grier anyway.
Both films share a slight blaxploitation feel to them although neither one really pushes the genre all that hard. They follow a similar path with Blacula’s arrival on the scene, a series of murders and the beginning of a small army of vampires ‐ humorously, no one seems to suspect the newcomer in the cape who only hangs out at night as a possible suspect behind the blood-drained bodies ‐ and the action is accompanied by a funky jazz score. Less humorous, both films give mild lip service to race equality while casually dropping derogatory “faggot” bombs. Ah, the ‘70s.
While the concept is one that seems to guarantee comedy to some degree only the first film has anything resembling a sense of humor. Well, unless you count the crazy facial hair that appears when folks are vampirically aroused. It’s a shame as Grier’s involvement in the sequel is appealing, but the film’s ultimate lack of personality and charm almost negates her presence. Both movies are still enjoyable watches though as they play with the familiar vampire tropes in a very specific time and place.
Eureka!’s Blu-ray features a new HD presentation of both films on one disc, reversible cover art, a booklet with an essay by Josiah Howard and a single special featurette.
- Kim Newman on Blacula [24:19] ‐ Newman offers a brief intro to the origin of blaxploitation cinema (the success of 1970’s Cotton Comes to Harlem) and its evolution towards horror.
Shivers is now available from AmazonUK, and The Complete Blacula will be released on October 27th.