As Scream Factory continues to diversify their slate of releases — most recently striking a licensing deal with Warner Bros. at long last, resulting in more John Carpenter titles joining the lineup — one of the exciting parts of the company continues to be their commitment to giving smaller, lesser-known catalogue titles the HD treatment. They’re not always great, but they’re always worth checking out.
First up is Nightmare at Noon (aka Death Street USA, a fun address to visit but I wouldn’t wanna live there) from Greek madman Nico Mastorakis, the director responsible for Island of Death, The Zero Boys, and Hired to Kill. Part crazy action movie, part zombie outbreak movie, Nightmare at Noon finds a small town’s water supply being tainted by a mad scientist, which turns all those who drink it into crazed, mutated monsters. If that premise doesn’t grab you — and as a genre fan, it probably should — the cast is pure B-movie heaven: Wings Hauser, Bo Hopkins, George Kennedy, and Kimberly Beck (of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter fame). It’s a bunch of actors we horror fans like, acting out a scenario we’ve seen dozens of times, directed with maximum insanity by a director who knows his way around crazy. What’s not to like?
This isn’t to say that Nightmare at Noon is an objectively “good” movie, but it certainly is a hell of a lot of fun. As a director, Mastorakis seems interested only in reducing genre to its basest elements, meaning he reduces the action film to a bunch of anonymous bad guys being shot and a bunch of stuff blowing up, as well as reducing the horror genre to a few jump scares and some splatter. Nightmare at Noon is the marriage of both, meaning it delivers the goods as a zombie infection movie but is, at its core, a wild action film that’s almost gleeful in its destruction and wanton disregard for human life. While I might have liked the movie even better with Wings Hauser playing the Bo Hopkins role, it’s still pretty hard to argue with the amount of enjoyment to be had with the movie that we got. It’s the exact type of forgotten film I love to see rescued by companies like Scream Factory.
Scream Factory has created a new HD master for their release of Nightmare at Noon, which is probably the selling point of the disc (besides the film itself). Past that, all you’ll find included is a still gallery, trailer, and a reasonably entertaining “making of” featurette shot on location that pays particular attention to Mastorakis’ career.
Nightmare at Noon Movie Score: 3.5/5, Disc Score: 3/5
Also getting the Blu-ray treatment from Scream Factory is 1981’s Full Moon High, part of the long list of horror-themed comedies released in the ‘80s (a list that includes Transylvania 6-5000, Saturday the 14th, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark and Teen Wolf) and the only outright comedy ever written and directed by the great Larry Cohen. Adam Arkin plays a teenager who travels with his father (Ed McMahon) to Transylvania, where he is bitten by werewolf. Back home, he attempts a normal life by playing on his high school football team and dating a girl (Joanne Nail), but life as a teenage werewolf is anything but normal.
I love Larry Cohen. He’s one of the smartest, most subversive, most original voices in horror in the last 50 years. It pains me to say, then, that I’m not sure Larry Cohen is very funny. Actually, scratch that; he’s very funny, but in a sly, satirical way. When it comes to writing jokes, Cohen has a very corny, borscht belt style of humor that is not without its charms, provided you don’t mind a lot of eye rolling in your comedies. The cast is game and Arkin certainly tries his best, but only Joanne Nail (whose only other major credit is Jack Hill’s masterpiece Switchblade Sisters) finds the spark of madness in her performance to really sell the material. There’s a charm to watching Cohen mine werewolf iconography for laughs, particularly during the same year that saw the release of both The Howling and An American Werewolf in London (it’s safe to say this was the best year for movie werewolves ever), but even with a high gag ratio, Full Moon High has a hard time sustaining itself for the entirety of its running time. It’s best enjoyed as a curiosity in Cohen’s filmography: he’s a director who clearly has a fantastic sense of humor, but only ever made this one comedy. I like his horror movies better.
In addition to the theatrical trailer, Scream Factory’s disc of Full Moon High comes with a commentary track from Cohen and Steve Mitchell, director of the wonderful documentary King Cohen. To be honest, I may have enjoyed this track as much as I enjoyed the movie, as I find Larry Cohen to be endlessly charming, interesting, knowledgeable and insightful. This is a case where I might rather hear Cohen talk about the film than I would hear the film itself.
Full Moon High Movie Score: 2.5/5, Disc Score: 3.5/5
Finally there’s Daughters of Satan, a 1972 film starring a young Tom Selleck as a man who buys a painting of a witch being burned at the stake (it really pulls the room together) who, he discovers, looks a great deal like his wife (Barra Grant). Before you can say “possessed by a painting,” she starts to become possessed by the witch in the painting and uniting with a few other recently reincarnated witches to plot the murder of her husband, whom she believes to be the reincarnation of the man who burned her all those years ago.
With the exception of a few moments of nudity, Daughters of Satan resembles a made-for-TV movie in pretty much every way. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as it was helmed by the excellently-named Hollingsworth Morse, who had a prolific career directing almost exclusively television from the early 1950s all the way into the ‘80s. This and a 1972 Disney family film called Justin Morgan Had a Horse represent his only two theatrical features, and his television sensibilities are all over Daughters of Satan. It’s totally watchable but ultimately generic and flat, with nothing to say about witchcraft that hasn’t been said before (it’s a metaphor for domesticity, see?) by directors who found better ways to say it.
Daughters of Satan Movie Score: 2/5, Disc Score: 3/5