Directed by: David L. Hewitt
Written by: David Prentiss & Gary R. Heacock
Starring: Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, Rochelle Hudson & Roger Gentry
Reviewed by: Brett H.
I love to watch the shit hit the cinematic fan; I love a good train wreck. While I’ve purposely sought out poor quality films hundreds of times, Gallery of Horrors marks my first excursion into the purchase of a knowingly terrible anthology. With a lousy 1.8/10 score on IMDB, I owe this buy to an old book on horror films I was told about by a colleague called Terror on Tape. Author James O’Neill gave it one star, but the movie had a zombie in it and when I was making my assault through every single living corpse flick I could find, it was all I needed to know. Image eventually released the z-grade title on DVD to little fanfare. To most, for very good reason, unless you’re especially apt to old AIP stock footage from Fall of the House of Usher and The Terror. Wait a minute, weren’t those shots from The Terror just taken from another AIP movie, Tales of Terror? I’m beginning to take a shine to this American General Pictures release already…
All the shorts are introduced by the late great John Carradine, who opens the show with The Witches Clock. A couple moves to Massachusetts and picks up an old castle for a song. While there, they discover the quaint town was the setting for many witch hunts and they also discover a nifty antique clock in the basement. Lo and behold, with the clock comes a deadly curse from the only real witch to ever live! The synopsis sounds every bit as cliché as the finished product turned out to be – but not in a good way. Erratic and predictable while still not making a lick of sense, you won’t guess how it abruptly ends, but you won’t care nor understand either way.
The next chapter, King Vampire, has to do with a brutal vampire stalking 1800s London. Scotland Yard has no clues and unruly mobsters on the streets are more likely to take justice into their own hands than offer up any leads that could put their lives in jeopardy. True to the sixties anthology format, there is a twist, but like the rest in Gallery of Horrors (save for one), it’s at the very least predictable a few moments before it happens and sort of just pops in out of nowhere. There is little coherency to these plots; they’re more like outlines that came to life by some inexperienced, low budget schlockmasters whose hearts probably were in the right place.
Monster Raid is probably the best and worst segment all at the same time, involving a doctor who was murdered by his wife and her lover, then helped back from beyond the grave in search of vengeance by his loyal assistant. The zombie makeup is brief and does not disappoint, but the story swings back and forth in a non-linear fashion that tells us the same story twice. First, from a foreboding narration from the corpse’s non-moving mouth on top of creepy stock footage, then acted out as a real movie. Is it horrible? Yes, but like every segment in the film, there’s at least a drive-in classic gothic quality that is undeniable despite all the wonderful ineptness and poor acting.
The Spark of Life is essentially a plagiaristic twist on the old Frankenstein story, with Lon Chaney Jr. as the lead. A pretty silly and mundane affair that would have been completely disastrous without Chaney’s admittedly withered presence, we’re treated to another twist that no one didn’t see coming. How couldn’t we see it coming when the dead serial killer suddenly put on a hundred pounds under the sheet on the gurney? Of all the entries, this one rivals King Vampire with being the least interesting, but fans of washed up genre actors will want to check out Chaney in one of his last roles.
Count Dracula is introduced by Carradine as featuring Alucard, but he’s nowhere to be found and is never referenced again. Similar to the previous short, this one spins off Bram Stoker’s tale but changes everything up enough to give you the film’s only true shocker. It’s inept in every which way, but the twist is plausible and you will never, ever see it coming. It’s so out of left field and (for some reason) so appropriately awesome in its randomness that you will forgive the movie for every shortcoming of the previous 80 minutes. Until this final twist, I couldn’t help but wonder why two vampire shorts were included in the same anthology – especially since the stories in this Gallery couldn’t have been all that hard to think up.
Image’s DVD is mediocre at best, but can one really say this movie deserves much better? The film is featured in 2.35:1 non-anamorphic widescreen with audible dialogue and has tons and tons of scratches, lines and blemishes, especially in the stock footage scenes. I don’t mind the crappy source, if anything it adds to the overall schlockiness of the package, but an anamorphic transfer should have been featured. Grading this film is certainly tricky. It’s poor, there’s no doubt about it, but there can’t be many people going into it expecting anything even reaching mediocre standards. The film offers some stereotypical, cheap gothic atmosphere for what it’s worth, and it’s always fun watching John Carradine’s introductions that prove to be more intriguing than the shorts themselves. Z-drive-in fans like myself will rejoice in the fact that this title even made it to DVD, everyone else will probably want to Trash it! But I’m keeping my copy.
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