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Murders In The Rue Morgue/ The Dunwich Horror

    Ian Jane

  • Murders In The Rue Morgue/ The Dunwich Horror

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: March 29th, 2016.
    Director: Gordon Hessler/ Daniel Haller
    Cast: Jason Robards, Dean Stockwell, Sandra Dee
    Year: 1971/1970
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    The Movies:

    Shout! Factory's Scream Factory division pairs up to MGM horror titles from the vaults on Blu-ray for the first time!

    Murders In The Rue Morgue (1971):

    The last of AIP's Poe films was this 1971 film directed by Gordon Hessler. The story begins in Paris where a theater group performs a live version of the titular Poe tale in a theater owned by a man named Cesar Charron (Jason Robards). He just so happens to be married to Madeleine (Christine Kaufmann), not so coincidently cast as the female lead in the play.

    Shortly after Madeleine begins to have recurring nightmares about a masked murdered running amuck, members of the production start to turn up dead at the hands of Rene Marot (Herbert Lom), Cesar's former partner long believed dead, the result of a murder/suicide in which he murdered Madeleine's mother with whom he was in love. Given that Madeleine bears a strong resemblance to her dearly departed mother, it isn't long before the insane Marot is trying to convince her to meet him in an aging house on the outskirts of town - the same place where he killed her mother oh so many years ago! Cesar is onto his old business partner, however, and sets into motion a plan of his own - but will it be enough?

    Based around the Poe story rather than on the Poe story, Hessler's film is actually pretty underrated when it comes to the AIP/Poe canon. The script does an interesting job of toying with a lot of the ideas that occur in Poe's story and giving them a different context. It works, and in doing so, manages to create something rather unique and original. The movie is also very nicely shot, particularly when it comes to showing off Madeleine's intense and bizarre nightmare sequences, making great use of some strange color schemes and showing off some nice locations and costume work.

    As to the cast, Christine Kaufmann is a little wooden in spots but does a decent enough job as the female lead. Robards has more to work with than she does and he comes out of this one looking quite good, giving Cesar plenty of character quirks and using his somewhat bombastic screen presence effectively enough. Herbert Lom steals a few scenes from him, however, and he really seems into his part, playing it with a lot of enthusiasm. It's worth noting that the version of the movie on this Blu-ray is the longer, full strength version that was included on MGM's past DVD release, not the trimmed version that made it out on VHS years back.

    The Dunwich Horror (1970):

    Up next, director Daniel Haller (who previously made Die Monster Die for AIP, taking on Lovecraft's The Color Out Of Space) returns Lovecraftian lore with 1970's atmospheric and creepy feature, The Dunwich Horror, again for AIP.

    Wilbur Whateley (Dean Stockwell) is, in the eyes of the population of the titular town he calls home, from bad stock. His mother, Lavinia (Joanna Moore Jordan), was tossed into a mental hospital after he was born and his family has a strange relationship with the town's past, especially his weird grandfather (Sam Jaffe). When Wilbur arrives at Miskatonic University in search of The Necronomicon, Dr. Henry Armitage (Ed Begley) - who is aware of the Whateley family's past - makes it clear in no uncertain terms that the book cannot leave the campus library.

    As Wilbur goes about his business, he meets a pretty student named Nancy (Sandra Dee). She clearly falls for him, and fast, offering him a lift back into town once they're down on the campus. Bad move, Nancy - before you know it he's drugged her and intending to use her in an ancient ritual, the kind that the townsfolk only whisper about but that his descendants are all too familiar with!

    From the weird animated opening titles through to the film's almost surreal conclusion, The Dunwich Horror may be very obviously a product of the early seventies but for a movie made on a modest budget fast and cheap, it does a pretty respectful job of capturing the Lovecraft vibe. It might not play everything exactly by the book but it's well paced and incredibly atmospheric, making great use of the main mansion location and turning the creepy old house into a kaleidoscope of insanity by the time it's all over and done with.

    Stockwell makes for a mighty fine lead here, creeping out in a pretty big way in some of the scenes he shares with captive Sandra Dee. As to Ms. Dee, she's the living, breathing embodiment of innocence here, making what Stockwell's character puts her through all the more distressing. Sam Jaffe is a blast to watch as the grandfather and Joanna Moore Jorden good in her small part as the equally insane mother, while Ed Begley (in his final role) is fun to see in his cameo as the professor.

    This one is weird, and maybe a little ahead of its time in that it pre-dates what director's like Stuart Gordon would go on do to with in the world of H.P. Lovecraft by a good number of years, but it works really well. Add to that one of Les Baxter's coolest scores, some wild effects work and some bonus nudity and this one comes up a winner!


    Both films hit Blu-ray from Shout! Factory framed at 1.78.1 in AVC encoded 1080p high definition showing considerable improvement over their previous DVD releases. Murders In The Rue Morgue boasts really impressive color reproduction, strong detail throughout and very little print damage. The Dunwich Horror shares those same qualities though the movie isn't quite as colorful as the first feature. Again, however, colors come through nicely, black levels are solid and detail and texture strong throughout. Neither transfer shows any problems with any heavy noise reduction or edge enhancement and the disc is free of any compression artifacts.

    The DTS-HD Mono tracks given both features also sound quite good. Dialogue is always easy to follow and understand, both tracks are free of any hiss or distortion and the scores, particularly in The Dunwich Horror, have pretty solid range and depth. These aren't fancy tracks by any stretch but they're true to source and they sound just fine. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.

    The extras for both films start off with an audio commentary with author and film historian Steve Haberman, both of which are quite well informed and engaging. The track for Murders In The Rue Morgue is quite enthusiastic as to the merits of Hessler's directorial output and he makes a point of discussing what works about this film rather than focusing on some of its weaknesses (though to be fair he covers those too). Here he gives us a good bit of background information on how and why Hessler wound up behind the camera, the casting decisions that were made, AIP's opinion on what the director turned into them and more. The commentary for The Dunwich Horror is also strong, noting some differences between the film and the Lovecraft tale on which it was based, discussing the locations and the casting, the tone of the film and a good deal more. These are definitely worth listening to as they do a very fine job of documenting the history of each production in a manner that is both fair to the film's and the filmmakers while also genuinely interesting to listen to.

    The first feature also gets a featurette called Stage Tricks & Screen Frights. This twelve minute piece first appeared on the MGM DVD release and here we see Hessler himself show up to discuss Price's absence, some thoughts on Robards' work in the film and his experiences working with AIP on the production. Theatrical trailers are also included for each movie along with static menus and chapter selection.

    The Final Word:

    Shout! Factory's Blu-ray roll out for Murders In The Rue Morgue and The Dunwich Horror is a good one, presenting both movies uncut and in very fine form. The transfers are strong, the audio problem free and the extras highlighted by a pair of interesting audio commentary tracks. This one is easy to recommend to horror fans - great stuff.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

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