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All The Haunts Be Ours: A Compendium Of Folk Horror (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review - Part Four

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    Ian Jane
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  • All The Haunts Be Ours: A Compendium Of Folk Horror (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review - Part Four



    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: December 7th, 2021.
    Director: Ann Turner, Ian Coughlan, Marek Piestrak, Janusz Majewski
    Cast: Rebecca Smart, Nicholas Eadie, Victoria Longley, Joanne Samuel, Bunney Brooke, Lou Brown, Krzysztof Jasinski, Iwona Bielska, Jerzy Prazmowski, Edward Fetting, Zofia Mrozowska, Jí³zef Duriasz
    Year: 1989, 1981, 1983, 1970
    Purchase From Amazon

    All The Haunts Be Ours: A Compendium Of Folk Horror - Movie Review:

    With what may very well be their most ambitious boxed set release yet, Severin Films compiles a wealth of folk horror productions and loads of accompanying bonus features to put this most unique of horror subgenres into ever important context.

    Here's a look at discs seven and eight from this twelve disc set.

    Disc 7: CELIA/ALISON'S BIRTHDAY

    Written and directed by Ann Turner in 1989, Celia tells the story of a girl of the same name, Celia Carmichael (Rebecca Smart), who, when the film begins, finds her beloved grandmother dead in the back bedroom of the family home. She was clearly very close with the older woman, and even after her funeral sees her at the quarry where she plays and even outside her window at night. Celia is also clearly frightened of the Hobyahs, monsters that she's read about in a book at school and that have clearly captured her overactive imagination.

    When a new family, the Tanners, moves in next door, Alice quickly befriends the three kids and also becomes close to the mother, Alice (Victoria Longley). Celia's father, Ray (Nicholas Eadie), also seems to notice Alice but as the kids grow closer and play together on a regular basis, Ray learns that Alice and her husband Steve (Alexander Hutchinson) have communist leanings.

    All Celia wants for her birthday is a rabbit and Ray buys her one but only on the condition that she stops playing with the Tanner kids. Celia doesn't agree but accepts the rabbit anyway, naming it Murgatroyd. When the government decides to round up all pet rabbits in the area due to the problems that they're causing the local farmers, Celia becomes very upset, particularly when the local constable, her uncle John Burke (William Zappa), insists on confiscating the poor creature. Celia, however, isn't going to just hang out and let the cops take her rabbit. She and the Tanner kids start practicing strange rituals and ceremonies in the quarry to try and swing things to their liking…

    If Celia isn't a particularly scary movie it is a well-made and compelling film. For a movie where a lot of kids do most of the heavy lifting, it's surprisingly strong in the acting department with Rebecca Smart in particular doing an excellent job in the lead. We feel for this kid, we understand her frustrations with her father, with her teachers and even with her elected officials and her performance is pretty believable from start to finish. The rest of the cast do fine work here as well, with Victoria Longley really standing out as the frustrated parent who just wants her kids to be able to be kids and to hopefully make a better world for them and for others. It's hard not to sympathize with her, she's very good here.

    The few times where the movie does delve into more traditional horror territory it's also effective. Scenes from Celia's imagination where the Hobyahs appear are, if not scream-inducing, at least wonderfully eerie and neat to see. There aren't a lot of makeup or special effects sequences on display here, the movie doesn't need it, but when the story does call for it these moments are rendered well. Production values are strong and the movie is paced well, never feeling dull or boring. All in all, this is more of a dark fantasy film than a horror picture but it's very well-made and definitely worth watching.

    The second feature on disc seven is also from Australia. Directed by Ian Coughlan and released in 1981, Alison's Birthday opens with a girl named Alison Findlay (Joanne Samuel) and two friends toying around in the living room with a spirit board. It doesn't go well and soon enough, one of her friends has been possessed by the spirit of Alison's deceased father who warns her not to go home for her birthday. Before we can get much more info, a bookcase falls on the possessed kid and that puts an end to that.

    A few years later, eighteen year old Alison is now a young woman and she and her boyfriend, Peter (Lou Brown), decide to head back to her family's home to hang out with Aunt Jen (Bunney Brooke) and Uncle Dean (John Bluthal) for her upcoming birthday. When they arrive, her conservative family doesn't want the two young lovebirds spending too much time together and they're placed in separate bedrooms. Alison starts having horrible nightmares that night. What neither of them realize is that they're unknowingly being drugged and psychologically messed with, so that a demon named Mirna can transport itself from Alison's grandmother into Alison herself.

    A deliberately paced film that borrows more than a little from Rosemary's Baby, Alison's Birthday is a satisfying watch with a few nice twists thrown into the last half hour of its running time, some more predictable than others. While the film never feels stronger than a PG rating, it doesn't need much in the way of sex or gore to succeed, as it's got some really nice atmosphere, a decent story and some likeable cast members. This lets us look past the fact that it was, at times quite clearly, made for a pretty modest sum and that it is more a fairly derivative picture.

    Joanna Samuel is a fine choice for the lead. We like her and for that reason we like Alison. She seems like a nice enough gal, she isn't out to hurt anyone and just wants to hang out with her family and her boyfriend and enjoy life. As such, once we realize that there are otherworldly forces out to make her life difficult, we're on her side pretty much right away. Supporting work from Lou Brown, Bunney Brooke and John Bluthal is strong and Vincent Ball as a weird local doctor named Jeremy Lyall, who is of course not who he first appears to be, is also quite good.

    If you don't mind the fact that, despite a pretty tense opening, Alison's Birthday is a bit on the slow side and can get lost in the likeable characters and their various predicaments of varying degrees of importance this turns out to be a pretty enjoyable Satanic panic picture.

    Disc 8: WILCZYCA/LOKIS: A MANUSCRIPT OF PROFESSOR WITTEMBACH

    Marek Piestrak directed Wilczyca (or, The Wolf, in English) in 1983. The period film, set in the nineteenth century, tells the story of a man named Kacper Wosinski (Krzysztof Jasinski). When he returns to his home after doing time in the military, he learns that his wife Maryna (Iwona Bielska) passed away while trying to abort a baby that he didn't put inside of her. If this wasn't enough to set him off, Kacper also learns thaat while he was away Maryna started practicing witchcraft.

    Before Maryna shuffles off this mortal coil, she curses her husband, which is never a good sign. Kacper's brother, Mateusz (Jerzy Prazmowski), tries to convince him that she might be able to come back from the dead and make his life even worse, so they take precautions as best they can to ensure that doesn't happen. With his wife now six feet under, Kacper heads off to spend some time with his friend, Count Ludwik (Stanislaw Brejdygant), where he meets for the first time the mysterious Countess Julia (Iwona Bielska), who looks more than a little familiar to him.

    Wilczyca features some great production values and a really interesting idea at its core but does move a bit slower than most will probably want it to. Still, there's a lot to like here and the consistently excellent visuals do a nice job of keeping our attention as the film plays out, even if it could have been about twenty minutes shorter and proved a more rewarding watch for it. It clearly pulls deep from the folk lore of its country (the interview in the extras confirms this) and toys around with some pretty interesting ideas in this regard - is this a ghost story? A werewolf story? Something else entirely? Viewers can make up their own minds on that, but the movie benefits from some really nice atmosphere and impressive period detail made all the better by the different locations that were secured for the shoot.

    As to the acting, it's quite solid. The fact that Kacper isn't the most likeable of heroes can be a problem at times but that isn't the fault of Krzysztof Jasinski, who is very good in the role of the surly, frustrated former military man. He plays his part well. Iwona Bielska, however, steals the show in her dual role. Her sharp features and stern demeanor work quite nicely in the context of the story that Piestrak and company are telling here and while the movie is worth seeing for many reasons, her acting is probably the best of the bunch.

    Janusz Majewski's 1970 film, Lokis. Rekopis profesora Wittembacha (Lokis: A Manuscript Of Professor Wittembach), a film that follows a German minister named Wittembach (Edward Fetting) who travels by train to Estonia where he intends to study the local folk stories. On the train, he meets an intriguing, aged Countess (Zofia Mrozowska), a strange woman to be sure. They hit it off and she invites him to her massive old castle where he meets her son, Szemiot (Jí³zef Duriasz), a man who is rather odd in appearance by quite friendly to Wittembach and the other guests that have arrived. Szemiot, however, also has the rather strange habit of capturing and caging as many small mammals as he can, for reasons that aren't quite clear.

    Inside the massive old castle, Wittembach also meets Doctor Froeber (Gustaw Lutkiewicz), the Countess's personal physician. They get to talking and Froeber lets it slip that the locals believe the Countess was, in her younger days, raped by a bear and that said bear is actually Szemiot's father. Wittembach soon realizes that he doesn't really want anything to do with the Countess or her family, but since the castle contains a fairly massive trove of old books that should prove valuable to his research, he stays longer than he'd like to. The longer he stays there, the more he realizes that something is very off with not only the Countess and her son, but with Froeber as well.

    Don't go into this one expecting a straight horror film as Lokis: A Manuscript Of Professor Wittembach (which we're simply going to refer to as Lokis for the duration of this segment) isn't that at all. There are definitely horror movie elements here to be sure, it isn't that the film is undeserving of a place in a folk horror set, but more than the movie plays like a twisted psychological thriller with strange, supernatural elements mixed into the narrative to help it stand out. The period setting is reproduced beautifully here, some excellent location choices help in this department, and the costumes, some of which hare quite ornate, are also very well done. The score is solid and the cinematography pretty much damn near perfect. The movie's pacing isn't quick, it's very deliberate and at times it does border on the slow but stick with this as it builds to a very satisfying conclusion in some unexpected but wholly appropriate ways.

    The acting is strong from pretty much every performer who appears on the screen. There are no weak links here, and Majewski's is rock solid. You might not find yourself on the edge of your seat as you watch this, but more importantly than that, Lokis has staying power and it's a film that you'll find yourself thinking about a lot once it is over.

    All The Haunts Be Ours: A Compendium Of Folk Horror - Blu-ray Review:

    Celia arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and restored in 2k from the original 35mm negative taking up 22GBS of space on the 50GB disc it shares with Alison's Birthday. Overall, this transfer is really strong. There's a tiny bit of crush in a few spots, you'll notice that the policeman's black uniform shows this here and there, but otherwise it's hard to find anything to complain about here. There's a lot of strong detail, depth and texture on display and colors look fantastic. There are no noticeable issues with compression or noise reduction and overall, Celia looks excellent on Blu-ray.

    Alison's Birthday is also presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.85.1 widescreen, though it is restored in 2k from a 16mm CRI. This transfer takes up 21GBs of space on the disc. Detail isn't quite as strong here as it is on the first feature and there's a bit more print damage noticeable throughout but this is still quite a solid transfer. There aren't any noticeable compression issues and both colors and skin tones look nice, though there are a few spots where things do lean a little blueish. The image is appropriately film-like throughout, no real problems to note here.

    Wilczyca's AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer is framed at 1.33.1 and the film is presented "restored in HD from original negative by WFDIF in Warsaw." The feature takes up 23.6GBS of space on the 50GB disc that is shares with Lokis. This transfer is a nice one, you'll be hard pressed to find even a speck of print damage here and the colors look excellent. There might be some very light DNR here but it isn't really that noticeable, things just look a tad smoother than you might expect. Skin tones look just fine and there's nice detail, depth and texture throughout.

    Lokis: A Manuscript Of Professor Wittembach is also presented in AVC encoded 1080p but framed at 1.66.1 widescreen. Also "restored in HD from original negative by WFDIF in Warsaw," this transfer uses up 22.7GBS of space on the disc. The picture quality here is very similar to the picture quality on Wilczyca, it looks very good, just a tad smoother than maybe it should. Otherwise, however, again we get nice detail and texture and great color reproduction. Compression is fine, there aren't any issues with any edge enhancement and all in all, it looks quite good.

    Celia gets an English language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track with optional English subtitles. This track sounds great, no problems to report. There isn't any hiss, distortion or sibilance to note and both the score and the sound effects come through quite nicely. Dialogue is always clean and clear and properly balanced.

    Alison's Birthday also gets an English language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track with optional English subtitles. This one doesn't sound quite as crisp as Celia does, it's a bit flat in spots, but again, overall it sounds fine. Again we get clean, clear dialogue and proper balance.

    Wilczyca gets a 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track in Polish with optional subtitles provided in English only. It sounds very good - it's clean, clear and nicely balanced without any hiss or distortion to note. The score and effects sound good and the film's strong sound design definitely benefits from the lossless treatment that this disc gives it.

    Lokis: A Manuscript Of Professor Wittembach also gets a 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track in Polish, again with optional subtitles provided in English only. Like the first feature on the disc, it sounds very good. We get clear, concise dialogue and good depth when the score is used. No problems with any audible defects, it all sounds quite nice.

    Disc 7: CELIA/ALISON'S BIRTHDAY

    Celia And Me is a new forty minute interview with director Ann Turner that goes over where she came up for the idea of Celia with back in the early eighties after reading about the efforts of the Australian government to deal with the rabbit population in the fifties and also learning about a friend who had left Victoria during the communist witch hunts that took place in the same decade. She then talks about going to film school, trying to get the period detail right in the film, where she injected some autobiographical details, the feminist leanings in part of the film, casting the film and working closely with Rebecca Smart, dealing with a large amount of child actors on the film and the pros and cons of doing that, some of the themes that the picture deals with and how the movie was received when it was released.

    From Crawfords To Celia is a seventeen minute interview with editor Ken Sallows that goes into some detail on his training and background and how he got into film in the first place, a few early projects that he was involved with, working on features like Long Weekend and The Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith, how he landed the job working on Celia, how he got along with Ann Turner and his appreciation for the strangeness of the film, why Heather is his favorite character in the film, his thoughts on Rebecca Smart's work, changes that have taken place in the editing world since digital replaced analogue techniques, the film's production and post-production schedule and his thoughts on the movie overall.

    Last up for the first feature is the twenty-four minute The Rabbit In Australia, which is the entire short documentary produced by Australia's national science agency CSIRO in 1979 that explores how the European rabbit was introduced into the Australian wildlife population and the problems that arose when this happened. It also goes over how the Australian government tried to deal with these problems, including by 'culling' the continent's rabbit population in the 1950's, which obviously ties into Celia's narrative in a very important way.

    Extras for Alison's Birthday include a selection of extended interviews from Not Quite Hollywood with producer David Hannay and cast members Joanne Samuel and Belinda Giblin. There's twelve minutes of material here and it goes over the script, doing commercial work, putting together the crew for the movie, how the cast got along and what it was like working together on the shoot, thoughts on whether or not the movie was scary enough, creating a fake Stonehenge out of polystyrene and how they feel about the movie in hindsight.

    Also included here is The Devil Down Under — Satanic Panic In Australia From Rosaleen Norton To Alison's Birthday which is a new video essay narrated by film scholar Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and based on a chapter of the same name from the book “Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s.” This piece does a pretty deep dive into where Australian culture was at the time the movie was made, how the media jumped all over the ideas of Satanism after a TV special hit the air waves (clearly influenced by Geraldo Rivera's similar, earlier effort), how this all tied into Australia's cultural history, key figures that were dragged into these scandals (painter Rosaleen Norton being key here), sensational studies and reports that were released that fed into all of this, how the international success of films like The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby and The Omen kick-started interest in the occult, Australian films that cashed in on this like Night Of Fear and Australia After Dark, and, of course, Alison's Birthday. This is really interesting stuff!

    Disc 8: WILCZYCA/LOKIS: A MANUSCRIPT OF PROFESSOR WITTEMBACH

    The only extra for Wilczyca is Unleashing The She-Wolf — An Interview With Director Marek Piestrak. Here, over just under eleven minutes, Piestrak discusses his early work in the Polish cinema scene, how he came to direct Wilczyca, what changed over various drafts of the script, his own thoughts on the story, wanting to set a horror film in a historical setting, pulling from ideas he felt where buried in the European consciousness, not being allowed to use Russian uniforms when making the movie, historical events that influenced the movie, casting the film, getting the period detail right with the costumes and the set, issues that arose on set during the shoot and quite a bit more.

    Likewise, Lokis: A Manuscript Of Professor Wittembach gets only one extra in the form of Wild Country Of The Were-Bear — An Interview With Director Janusz Majewski, which runs for fourteen minutes. He talks about how his love of old furniture inspired this picture, some of the themes that the movie explores, the mood he was trying to create with the film, getting the cinematography right for the film, his background and education, casting the film and working with the actors and actresses, some of the locations that were used and why they were chosen, the 'primitive' effects that were used in the movie, how the film was reviewed when released and how the critics didn't quite get it, how the film was embraced by horror fans and how all art takes spirit and craft.

    All The Haunts Be Ours: A Compendium Of Folk Horror - The Final Word:

    Discs seven and eight of All The Haunts Be Ours offer up two worthwhile Australian features and two equally worthwhile Polish films that offer very different, culturally unique takes on the folk horror ethos each of which is quite interesting. The presentation quality is very strong here and, again, we get a nice selection of extra features that help put all of this into context. Great stuff.

    Click on the images below for full sized The All The Haunts Be Ours: A Compendium Of Folk Horror Blu-ray screen caps!



















































































































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