2007 is shaping up to be the year of Spanish Horror for DVD collectors with several Paul Naschy titles already released in impressive DVD Special Editions (VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES; THE NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF) and more on the way from BCI ECLIPSE. Now it's the turn of Amando de Ossorio, the creator of the Blind Dead series, starting with 1972's TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD, which have established him as the Spanish George Romero to collectors of vintage European horror. These are essentially zombie films featuring the murderous Knight Templars and are famous for their graphic gore and their distinctive skeleton-like title creatures. BLUE UNDERGROUND released a boxset containing the series in 2005. Now two less well known of the director's films are available on DVD.
One of the numerous mid 1970's exploitations of William Friedkin's legendary THE EXORCIST (1973), LA ENDEMONIADA (1974) was released within a week of Juan Bosch's Paul Naschy vehicle EXORCISMO, presumably flooding the Spanish market at the time with images of spinning heads, desecrated churches and a climactic exorcism ritual performed by a heroic Catholic priest, Julian Mateos in this case. Produced by Richard Films it is known as DEMON WITCH CHILD in its English language incarnation and appeared on US video in the late 1980s.
A bizarre political element was added by having the possessed girl cursed by a hideous hag (Tota Alba) after the girl's father (Angel Del Pozo), a local police commissioner with political ambitions, orders the old gypsy woman taken in for questioning after a church is found trashed. The official brags that he has cleared the town of vagrants and his next priority is getting rid of the witches. Under questioning by a tough detective (Fernando Sancho, who is better known for his many appearances as Spaghetti Western bandits during the 1960s) the witch jumps to her death. Another gypsy woman (Kali Hansa), the second in command of the witch's cult, plants a demonic icon in the victim's teddy bear after which all hell... well, you know the rest. Given the impressive special effects make-up on display in the director's Blind Dead titles the perfunctory effects here look cheap at best. The victim becomes an ugly, balding, emaciated miniature of the dead witch who spews obscenities at authorities in a hoarse voice. Levitation, head spinning, mutilation are all on display here and mainly provoke laughter due to the extremely inept execution. Absurd humor is added by the sight of hefty Fernando Sancho driving around in a shiny black Cadillac, complete with fins, as he conducts his investigation. This tasteless, depressingly tacky affair is finally put out of its misery after hitting all the expected marks established by its famous template. Jess Franco starlet Kali Hansa (THE PERVERSE COUNTESS) adds some much needed spice with her shoulder baring blouse, but that's about it in the positives department.
DEMON WITCH CHILD gets a dubious US DVD presentation as part of a 20 Feature Film Collection entitled GRINDHOUSE EXPERIENCE, from FORTUNE 5 DVD ["With selections from Quentin Tarantino Presents The Los Angeles Grindhouse Festival 2007."] The fact that Tarantino's name is misspelled on the front of the box doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the product. Taken from what looks like the old fullscreen, unstable, very worn, fuzzy looking and sounding VHS (it looks like the source tape was playing in the EP mode) it looks as bad as the rest of the films in this package, which are mostly 1970s exploitation/genre material from around the world, including Nazi sexploitation (Bruno Mattei's WOMEN'S CAMP 119); cannibal horror (RAW FORCE); Eurocrime (CONFESSIONS OF A POLICE CAPTAIN); marital arts (KUNG FU PUNCH OF DEATH; and blaxploitation (MANDINGA, which was originally slated to be directed by Jess Franco), among others. The price is low, but you get what you pay for.
A vampire woman models a stylish leopard skin bikini in Amando de Ossorio's THE NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS...
The other Amando de Ossorio horror film which is getting its debut on R1 DVD is THE NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS (LA NOCHE DE LOS BRUJOS), also originally released in 1974 with some of the same cast members. This is the right way to do a DVD presentation and this BCI ECLIPSE Special Edition has mastered the film in High Definition from the original Spanish negative and garnished it with a very nice array of special features.
An outrageous precredit sequence set in 1910 depicts the torture, rape and brutal blood sacrifice of a white missionary woman by a native voodoo cult in the ficitonal African country, Bumbasa. Colonial soldiers show up and massacre the tribe but the severed head of the victim suddenly comes to life, jumps up on the altar and snarls in closeup, baring her vampire fangs.
This pretty much sets the tone for this wonderfully outre blend of jungle adventure, zombie mayhem, female vampire antics, bloody/sexy voodoo rites and generally politically incorrect entertainment. The balance of the film is set in modern day Bumbasa as an expedition led by a big game hunter (Simon Andreu) is attacked by the bloodsucking zombies who revive every night. This film is just FUN, but the writer director does have some pointed barbs to make concerning the feminist movement of that time as well as some amusing observations of his macho males, sub Hemingway types who can track the leopards but can't keep their women satisfied. The Cuban actress Kali Hansa once again makes an impression as a hot blooded Latina who is ready to snuff any woman who goes after her Man. And it's always good to see Jack Taylor, another Jess Franco veteran (FEMALE VAMPIRE), in the cast of a Spanish horror film of that era. The very odd, energetic and eclectic musical score by sometime Jess Franco collaborator Fernando Garcia Morcillo (DR. ORLOFF'S MONSTER) is one the most effective elements here and boosts the material into the realm of a live action comic book or an updated equivalent of vintage Hollywood jungle serials.
The fullframe transfer is quite luminous, with rich colors and crystal clear definition. Special features include the theatrical trailer, alternate "covered" and other footage, a still gallery, the Spanish opening and closing titles, and two audio tracks: in Castilian with very readable and literate English subtitles and the English dub track. Mirek Lipinski provides very helpful and well researched liner notes which give an overview of the career of Amando de Ossorio and detail the history of the numerous versions of this film.
Two notable concerns are the sometimes out of synch English language track (I would recommend watching it with the Spanish track) and the fact that some extreme footage, a few solarized shots and a few lines of dialogue included in other versions, are not included in the feature assembly. The sound issue and nature of this version are explained in the booklet. I had been used to seeing a certain version, slightly longer and containing a bit more violence and nudity via the Japanese video which has been long available from gray market dealers. Most of these elements are included in the alternate footage sections. I would recommend this DVD for the picture quality alone and people who have never seen the film in any version before will have no problems at all with it.
Along with THE NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS, BCI also will be releasing a DVD of the aforementioned Paul Naschy title EXORCISMO. They also plan a future SE of Amando de Ossorio's Wagnerian horror fantasy LA GARRAS DE LORELEI (1973).
Thanks to Eric Cotenas for the screenshot from the BCI ECLIPSE DVD of THE NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS.
(C) Robert Monell, 2007