Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Dungeon Of Harrow / Death By Invitation (DVD Review) - Vinegar Syndrome

USA/1962, 1971
Directed By: Pat Boyette / Ken Friedman
Written By: Pat Boyette, Henry Garcia / Ken Friedman
Starring: Russ Harvey, Helen Hogan / Shelby Leverington, Arron Phillips
Color/168 Minutes/Not Rated 

THE DUNGEON OF HARROW is the story of a pair of men who shipwreck on an island during a storm. After hearing the howls of wild dogs and the screams of a woman they trek further into the island territory when they are encountered by a large man and assaulted. They are brought to the castle of the island in varying condition, the captain exceptionally banged up. Soon they meet the Count of the castle who is quickly losing himself to delusions of an even madder version of himself who is able to summon creatures including giant spiders. While his captain is left laying in bed to rest, Fallon, the owner of the boat, is the guest of the house and quickly becomes exposed to the horrors within.

It doesn't take long to see how much this film resembles the gothic horror films from Roger Corman that are simply much better. This is a basement priced production and would be the 3rd feature on a drive-in bill that would feature The Pit And The Pendulum as the star attraction. While THE DUNGEON OF HARROW isn't a technically successful movie it is an ambitious one with set pieces within the castle looking better than they should. There is no star power here, or anything resembling a great horror film, there is even a rather stupid twist reveal toward the end but I can't help but admire the spirit behind this film that does manage a surprise or two during its duration.

In DEATH BY INVITATION Lise is a woman who has befriended the conservative Vroot family with the intentions of avenging her ancestor (who bears a striking resemblance to Lise) who was executed for being a witch by the Vroot family's ancestors. Lise is much more a free spirit and has little trouble luring the Vroot children of varying ages to spend time with her when she is able to enact her revenge. She tells a story of a an old tribe of women that end up eating the men after their attempted uprising and lets the blood spill. As the family mourns Lise gets in closer, providing her support for the grieving family until the father's suspicions come true.

Originally titled The Witch Story, DEATH BY INVITATION flashes images of the witch hunt throughout the film to remind us of Lise's intentions and furthering the madness on screen. Lise drives the film's sexuality without there being much skin shown at all, Shelby Leverington thrives in the role. While on the slow side the film has a bit of comic relief from a detective who thinks one of the kids of the family who went missing will simply turn up as a dope fiend in the city. There are some attempts at bringing a psychedelic vibe to the film at times but it never comes across. The film is nothing special but isn't a bad viewing experience.

Dungeon Of Harrow is presented in an anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio and looks like it comes from a source that has aged quite a bit. The image is soft with washed out colors and has some scratches, dirt and debris along with some natural grain. While not a particularly striking transfer it is certainly watchable.

INVITATION's transfer is rather clean, only marred by a light speckling of marks and black lines that don't distract. There are a few flashes of white marks in the upper corners at times but again those aren't distracting. The 16:9 anamorphic print is probably the best this film has looked since it was originally shot. 

The audio track on HARROW is another passable job but just barely, most likely due to the original nature of the recording. The track is free of any cracking, hissing or pops but the dialogue is very muddy and buried beneath the soundtrack. Luckily once you've boosted the volume loud enough to understand the dialogue you can leave the remote alone as there are no major unnecessary spikes in volume.

DEATH BY INVITATION has a much better 2.0 Dolby Digital mix. Dialogue is always clear despite some minor background hiss and crackling. The soundtrack is a bit on the flat side but it sounds like it is true to the original mix. 

There is a commentary track for DEATH BY INVITATION from the podcast group The Hysteria Continues where they discuss the sparse background information on the movie and some of the cast and crew's history. It isn't super informative but it is a lively enough track to warrant a listen and is a nice addition. 

The Bottom Line
 While I wouldn't call either of these movies winners on their own, they somehow work as a double feature and would work even better in the middle of a horror marathon. These are two flicks from the drive-in era that have had shoddy lives on public domain discs and it is nice that they get a decent representation here from Vinegar Syndrome at a price any collector will love.

THE DUNGEON OF HARROW / DEATH BY INVITATION Drive-In Collection Double Feature is available HERE

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