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Image Entertainment presents
"Earth to bury us, wind to scourge us, water to drown us, fire to burn us."
DVD ReviewIt's always a bad sign when a movie starts off with a major gaffe (if not an outright misrepresentation). That's the case with this 1976 thriller from prolific Spanish director Jess Franco, which states that it's adapted from Edgar Allan Poe's The Cat and the Canary. Of course, Poe had nothing to do with that old-dark-house creaker about trying to drive a young heiress mad, which was a successful stage play and a legendary silent film. And frankly, this picture has little to do with the purported source material other than the elements connected to a disputed will.
When Lord Archibald Marion is murdered shortly after those opening credits, buried alive by a skull-masked maniac, the heirs are gathered for a will reading. These include the widow, Cecilia Marion (Maribel Hidalgo), the illegitimate mulatto daughter Rita (Lina Romay), cousin Simon Tobias (William Berger) and his wife Marta (Evelyn Scott), and servant Rufus (Luis Barboo) and his wife Deborah Potts (Yelena Samarina). But the killer doesn't stop with Lord Marion, and as Inpector Bore (Vicente Roca) tries to get to the bottom of the crimes, not only do the bodies pile up, but so do different versions of the will and additional heirs, including an illegitimate son. Scotland Yard inspector Oliver Brooks (Alberto Dalbes) also seems to have some secrets of his own, since he delights in peeping at the suspects unawares.
Never released theatrically in the US, nor on American video, this is certainly a different entry in the Franco canon, especially during a time when he was mired in women-in-prison sagas and hardcore pornography. Other than some glaring holes in the story, there's none of Franco's trademark dreaminess, and although there's some violence (but almost zero gore), there's little of his obsessively sadistic character as well. The main exception is a brutal beating of Rita by a drunken Lady Cecilia that is pretty hard to take. The photography is fairly restrained too, though a couple of shots seem oddly out of focus. The mystery is fairly predictable, so most of the interest is in seeing who will be knocked off next and in what offbeat way. One limitation to this enjoyment is that the central verse that provides the map for the killings only sets out four methods; a longer poem with more murders would have helped this factor immeasurably.
Dalbes is pretty enjoyable as the weirdo detective, and Franco himself has a small but entertaining role as his creepy sidekick, "Eddy Pimperton." Yelena Samarina has a wicked and sneeringly sardonic streak to her that really livens up her character. The rest of the cast is fairly workmanlike, other than frequent leading lady (and later Mrs. Franco) Lina Romay, who is not terribly credible. There seems to have been a reason that in many of her seminal roles, such as Female Vampire, she isn't given much to say. Her delivery here is pretty wooden, though she does manage to take her clothes off briefly for her usual bit of sexiness.
Franco films almost always exist in a multiplicity of cuts, and this one is no exception. Reference works indicate that the longest version is 87 minutes, an additional five minutes that might fill in some of the holes (such as how the identity of a character named Jennings is deduced by the police, since it's never indicated here). Since this is the Spanish version, it's always possible that the Italian version might have more nudity; and the German version reportedly runs even shorter than this one. It's certainly nice to have another one of Franco's rarely seen films available for study. Some references also describe this as being filmed in 1973, though the keepcase claims 1976. The earlier date might explain Romay's lower comfort level before the camera, since she does get much better later in her career. Image Entertainment uses a suitably lurid title that has never before appeared attached to the film, and equally lurid artwork to make it seem like a horror film; that's a bit off target, but one can hardly blame them for trying.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: This is another of the handful of scope films Franco shot in the 1970s, and it's presented in its full 2.35:1 glory, from a practically flawless source print. Except for the out-of-focus sequences, there's quite a lot of detail and texture. The color palette is a bit subdued, though that may be from design; skin tones are generally acceptable though they do on occasion drift into the slightly greenish. But it's quite a nice source print on the whole, and it's good to see Franco's work in widescreen instead of in the cropped versions that his other pictures tend to be found in.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono Spanish soundtrack sounds acceptable, with nominal hiss and noise. It's fairly clean, but tends to be a bit bright and shrill. Carlo Savina's score is lacking in deep bass, and the trumpets have a rather unpleasant edge to them.
Audio Transfer Grade: C+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 9 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Extras Review: Other than the obligatory removable English subtitles, there are no extras, not even a chapter listing (though there are nine chapter stops).
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsA competent but not very mysterious thriller from Jess Franco, interesting mainly to his fans who have never had a chance to see this picture. The transfer is surprisingly good.
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