Vinegar Syndrome remains one of the great indie home video labels, and each month they bring forgotten genre gems and old favorites back to life on Blu-ray. Their releases for January 2021 include Cthulhu Mansion (1992), Dark Tower (1989), The House of Usher (1989), and Satan’s Blood (1978). Keep reading for our look at all four titles.
Satan’s Blood (1978)
Andres and Ana are a young couple hoping to take a break from the city who head out on a drive with no real destination in mind. They’re stopped by a couple in a passing car who claim to know them, and soon the foursome are heading to a remote estate in the country to reconnect. On the downside, Andres and Ana are fairly certain they’ve never met this couple before. But on the upside? All kinds of sexual antics and shenanigans!
Writer/director Carlos Puerto delivers an atmospheric tale of devil worship and infidelity, and while most of the film takes place at the estate it’s an attractively cinematic locale meaning it’s never visually dull. Of course, depending on your particular interests, the heavy dose of nudity and sex also keeps things engaging. The great Juan Piquer Simon (Pieces, 1982; Slugs, 1988) helped the production along and is at least partially responsible for some of its visuals. If there’s an issue with the film for genre fans it’s that a movie called Satan’s Blood is expected to feature more of both. There are some mildly gruesome beats in the film’s third act, but getting there is a slow burn series of sex scenes and fairly repetitive interactions — seriously, Andres and Ana “try” to leave the house multiple times only to find some inane reason to return. It all ends on an agreeably dark note and arguably its high point.
Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray is newly scanned and restored in 4K, and the lush colors of estate life come through well whether they be firelit skin or guts piled up in a freezer. The disc includes the following special features:
- Commentary with Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan
- Satan’s Blood: Recuerdos de Escalofrio [46:55] – This is a Spanish making-of documentary from 2016, and while it explores the usual topics on a film production the real highlight is Sandra Alberti sharing some very honest thoughts. She says she wouldn’t have signed on to the film if she knew its intended adult rating, mentions that burning a painting of Christ was a step too far for the filmmakers, and more. It’s interesting stuff.
Dark Tower (1989)
A luxury high-rise office building nears completion in Barcelona, but as investors and media celebrate the accomplishment the moment is ruined by tragedy. A window washer falls to the street below, crushing an executive, and soon more unexplained deaths follow. Could the architect’s dead husband have something to do with the supernatural hijinx? Good thing an ex-American cop is on the case.
Genre legend Freddie Francis directs — albeit under a pseudonym — but his final feature is every bit a mixed bag. It’s regrettably dull for stretches due in large part no doubt to its budget, as strange events and deaths are executed with minimal style or effects. A death in an elevator is revealed solely through a splash of blood, the falling window washer is a floppy dummy we don’t see land, and it’s only in the third act that a living corpse makes its appearance for both better and worse. Instead, the film’s worth comes in its Spanish locale and the presence of both Jenny Agutter and Michael Moriarty. The Law & Order vet is always a delight in genre fare as his delivery and performances are dry wonders, and while he’s not quite enough to save the movie he’s still an entertaining diversion with a character who’s part psychic, part dogged cop, and part indifferent to it all.
Vinegar Syndrome brings the film to Blu-ray for the first time newly scanned and restored in 2K, but its original grain is retained. The disc includes the following special features:
- Dark Inspirations [11:16] – Special effects artist Steve Neill recalls what got him into the effects business, his love of model rockets, and his work on Dark Tower‘s creepy corpse.
The House of Usher (1989)
A young couple visiting distant relatives in rural England find their plans waylaid by a car accident and disturbing truths. It seems his family, the Ushers, have a few loose bats in the belfry alongside vague illnesses, pervy sexual desires, and a pair of ghostly children. Molly is taken in by the family despite her fiance’s death, and she quickly realizes her future in-laws are absolutely fucking bonkers.
Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” is a short story that’s been stretched into multiple features, and this late 80s adaptation succeeds in filling in some of the gaps with weirdness. Some of the details from Poe’s tale remain, but the main narrative finds its own spin involving that dying bloodline, a young woman forced into a nasty relationship, and those pesky dead kids. It’s all well and fine, albeit a bit generic at first, but things pick up once Oliver Reed grabs a guy’s dick and feeds it to a hungry rat. That’s so Reed! And that’s also just one of his highlights here as his character goes from staid to maniacal with Reed ensuring that the shift comes complete with intensity, musky charisma, and a lot of energy. Add in a brief but memorable turn by Donald Pleasance — he does some violent things with the electric screwdriver attached to his hand (?) — and you have one of the more interesting adaptations of the classic tale. The gothic atmosphere comes through well in its production design too, and combined with these two British veterans the film feels like a bastard Hammer spin-off in the best possible way.
Vinegar Syndrome brings the film to Blu-ray for the first time and does so with a sharp 2K restoration capturing the house’s lush interior and the bright red blood that begins spurting in the third act. This is a VSA release — Vinegar Syndrome Archive — meaning it’s both limited in number and comes housed in a slick, bottom-loading hard sleeve. The disc includes a collection of stills, the film’s trailer, and the following special feature.
- Tell-Tale [11:14] – Director Alan Birkinshaw recalls the film’s production, his interests in horror, and the joy that was Oliver Reed. He also teaches viewers the term “corpsing” which refers to moments when actors burst into inexplicable laughter mid-dialogue and ruin the take.
Cthulhu Mansion (1992)
A motley crew of thugs and drug dealers screws up the one thing they’re supposedly good at and quickly moves to a shaggy plan B. They kidnap a magician and his daughter and make the pair bring them home to hide out for a bit, but for all the outside threats they’re worried about it’s what’s inside that poses the greatest danger.
Juan Piquer Simon is a big name in Spanish genre cinema — he’s the focus of a feature-length doc included on the disc that’s actually worth the price of admission here — but he’s no miracle worker. The intention here is clear, and while we’ve seen films with a similar setup involving crooks meeting up with evil it’s a premise with promise. Simon just isn’t able to do much with it, though, as budgetary limitations kneecap him at every turn. One sequence teases what could have been as a woman is pulled into a fridge by large, spindly, monster hands, but we never see anything else that imaginative. Still, there are some mildly entertaining practical effects as the gang is knocked off one by one, but it all pales beside the glorious carnage and creature work in Pieces and Slugs.
Vinegar Syndrome brings the film to disc for the first time, newly scanned and restored in 2K, and both the film’s atmospheric locale and occasional grue come to attractive life. The disc also includes the following special features
- The Simon’s Jigsaw: A Trip to the Universe of Juan Piquer Simon [1:41:20] – This feature-length doc from Spain delivers a detailed look into Simon’s life and filmography. The subtitles are poorly placed — they’re in the traditional spot but frequently land over text already identifying images and artwork on screen, but it’s filled with engaging information on the man’s life and work.
- The Special Effects Make-Up Magician [24:42] – Special effects artist Colin Arthur recalls the film’s production, the tight budgets that became the norm for Simon, and the joys of working with the director.