Film Review (Home Video): The American Horror Project: Volume 1

Those purveyors of fine re-releases of yesterday’s forgotten classics – Arrow Films, have outdone themselves again with this new collection: The American Horror Project Vol 1.  The goal behind the release of this dual format  Blu-ray + DVD set  is to tell the story of the unsung heroes of American terror, with Arrow looking to champion genre films that lost their spot in the limelight at the time they were made due to cultural resistance or poor distribution and marketing, and which missed out on being re-released in the home video era due to a lack of source materials. Films like Night of the Living Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and A Nightmare on Elm Street have had their glory on home video and through endless re-releases; so now is the time for the underdogs to shine. And shine they do, given the quality of the restoration work and extra features on display here in this three-film collection.

What is particularly great about the three films presented here – all low-budget borderline exploitation fare from the 1970s – is that they all contrast interestingly with each other, and each has at least one particularly interesting aspect worth learning about in terms of aesthetic, casting and production history. The first film in terms of production date, and frankly the cheapest-looking of the three – Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (Christopher Speeth, 1973) – still benefits from the use of a real-life creepy-looking fairground for its setting. Here the demented story of a coven of  cannibalistic ghouls led by the darkly powerful Malatesta, who have been hiding out under the fairground and seemingly feeding their gods with the blood of ticket payers, plays out. The acting and special effects are shaky as hell, but you can’t help but admire the loopy, jerry-rigged sets that make up the cannibal’s secret lairs, made on a shoestring budget with an approach that suggested the filmmakers had no hesitation in raiding the nearest skips. Expect plenty of tin foil and red industrial insulation. Interestingly, the warped sound effects came about due to the director knowing a sound technician who had worked with the US Navy on detection methods. In terms of casting; Jerome Dempsey is an eerie, campy treat as the Carnival’s chief showman, aptly named “Mr Blood.”

Probably the strongest of the three films: The Witch Who Came from the Sea (Matt Cimber, 1976), is actually more a psychological  thriller than a horror film with a plot built on some very dark subject matter, and has the advantage of a real talent heading up the cast in the form of actress Mollie Perkins (The Diary of Anne Frank). She plays a young barmaid and aunt to two children called Molly, whose bizarre and violent fantasies start to bleed into reality, until it starts to dawn on us- and her- that she might be the murderer that the news channels keep declaring has claimed countless victims. Both the script and Perkins’s unhinged, intense, but somehow always sympathetic turn in the role, ensure Molly remains an intriguing and not easily definable lead character. The DP for this film was none other than Dean Cundy, one of the most acclaimed cameramen in the business (Halloween, Back to the Future and Jurassic Park, amongst dozens of others).

Lastly, The Premonition (Robert Allen Schnitzer, 1976), makes a tale of psychic terror a kind of allegory for the fear of losing your child and husband. A young girl –Janie – is terrified that her insane and locked-away mother will take her away from her beloved foster parents. Then, the nightmare comes true as her mother Andrea and her partner, the pierrot clown actor Jude, snatch her one evening. But they hadn’t counted on foster mother Sheri’s strange, growing power of premonition and the assistance of a parapsychologist, which allows them to pursue.  The film falls in between two stools a little; being neither pulpy enough to enjoy in the same way as Malatesta or as well-acted and moving as Witch, but there is still plenty to enjoy in The Premonition, including some neat visualisations of Sheri’s powers and a teeth-jangling soundtrack that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Nine Inch Nails album.

All the films are newly remastered from the best surviving elements (though purists will appreciate the fact that the grain and distortions from the master remain) and backed with the same level of new supplementary material that is expected from Arrow. Each of these discs comes with enough contextual extras (including a concise introduction to each film from expert Stephen Thrower) to make it feel that you have gone to horror school. See details below for a full breakdown:

Limited Edition Contents:

  • Brand new 2K restorations of the three features
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard DVD presentations
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Reversible sleeves for each film featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil
  • American Horror Project Journal Volume I – Limited Edition 60-page booklet featuring new articles on the films from Kim Newman (Nightmare Movies), Kier-La Janisse (House of Psychotic Women) and Brian Albright (Regional Horror Films, 1958-1990)


Film: ★★★☆☆

Disc and extras: ★★★★☆

  • Brand new interview with director Christopher Speeth
  • Brand new interview with writer Werner Liepolt
  • Draft Script (BD/DVD-ROM content)
  • Production stills gallery


Film: ★★★★☆

Disc and extras: ★★★★☆

  • Audio commentary with director Matt Cimber, actress Millie Perkins and director of photography Dean Cundey
  • Brand new interview with director Matt Cimber
  • Brand new interview with Dean Cundey
  • Brand new interview with actor John Goff


Film: ★★★☆☆

Disc and extras: ★★★★☆

  • Audio commentary with director-producer Robert Allen Schnitzer
  • Brand new interview with composer Henry Mollicone
  • Interview with actor Richard Lynch
  • Three Robert Allen Schnitzer short films: ‘Vernal Equinox’, ‘Terminal Point’ and ‘A Rumbling in the Land’
  • 4 “Peace Spots”
  • Trailers and TV Spots

Region: Free
Rating: 18
Cat No: FCD1207
Duration: 251 mins
Language: English
Subtitles: English SDH
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1/2.35:1
Audio: Mono
Discs: 6

Film Review (Home Video): The American Horror Project: Volume 1
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