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Boutique Label Horror/Thriller Trilogy

Der Todesking

(1989, from Cult Epics)
Following the almost instantaneous cult stardom afforded to him by his ode to the ‘loving dead,’ Nekromantik (1987), Jörg Buttgereit made a more ambitious and more abstract, zero budget exploration of human mortality called Der Todesking The Death King. This second feature did away with even the minimal narrative structure of Nekromantik and, instead, focused on an anthology structure that divided the already brief 76-minute film into seven parts. Each part is named for a different day of the week, is framed by images of a gradually rotting corpse or a little girl drawing her rendition of ‘The Death King,’ and is devoted to a different perverted and abhorrent aspect of death.

  • Monday – Things begin with the brutally sobering suicide of a lonely office worker. We aren’t given much information about who this guy is, but his actions – quitting his job, writing suicide notes (?), cleaning his apartment, shaving, and eating canned sardines – are enough to humanize him and the simultaneous death of his goldfish as he expires in the bathtub is an oddly poignant image.
  • Tuesday – The most heavy-handed short of the bunch (which is really saying something) sees Buttgereit sarcastically addressing his critics (as well as the critics of his contemporaries and inspirations). A young man enters a video store (one that just so happens to be adorned with Nekromantik posters) and rents a particularly nasty (and fictional) Nazisploitation movie labeled Vera: Todesengel der Gestapo (the cover art utilizes the Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS poster and the opening narration is from the English dub of Love Camp 7). He almost rents My Dinner with Andre, but has second thoughts. His girlfriend arrives home to see him watching extreme and homoerotic slaughter (a man, played by Buttgereit himself, has his penis sliced off with garden sheers). She scolds him, he whips out a gun, and shoots her in the head, then he hangs a frame over her bloody brain-matter. One last twist – the whole thing turns out to be a movie within a movie.
  • Wednesday – The third part feels like the most logical extension of the Nekromantik series in its sense of melodramatic tragedy and obvious irony (though Buttgereit admits that he ‘stole’ the basic concept from Ms. 45). It’s a rainy day and a woman meets a distraught man sitting on a park bench. He explains that he has emotional issues and tells a long story about his abusive relationship with his wife. His anger is so great that it damages the film itself – the frames skip and the soundtrack is stretched. Without speaking a word, she listens until he confesses to his wife’s murder, then produces a gun from her purse. He grabs it from her and shoots himself.
  • Thursday – This section pauses the fictional horror for a moment of reflection on the more personal cost of real-life death. Buttgereit superimposes the names, ages, and occupations of suicide victims over footage of the bridge they jumped from when they died (though the film never implicitly says that they killed themselves). It sounds like an awkward and maybe even offensive inclusion considering the exploitative style employed duringn the rest of the film, but the bridge is shot almost exclusively from beneath, in an artistically intriguing matter. The distant, rhythmic clatter of the cars driving overhead is mesmerizing.
  • Friday – Another particularly Nekromantik-esque entry follows another lonely individual; this time a woman who spies through her window on the happy couple next door. She finds a chain letter (remember those?), urging her to kill herself. She ignores it and wallows in her loneliness with a box of chocolates, before falling asleep and dreaming about the time she was a littler girl and walked in on her parents having noisy sex. Perhaps Buttgereit is showing us a psychological reason for her voyeurism. Maybe she’s not as lonely as we assume. It doesn’t really matter, though, because, when she wakes up, the young couple is dead, apparently taking the advice from the chain letter they also received.
  • Saturday – The most well-known of the Der Todesking shorts does not play very well in the current social climate. In it, Buttgereit spools mysterious film onto a reel. On the film, we see a young woman reading from some kind of manifesto, attaching a makeshift steady-cam rig to her body, arming herself with a handgun, and recording herself murdering the audience of a rock concert. The murders are accompanied only by the sound of the projection reels turning. It seems that Buttgereit was ahead of his time with not only the found-footage element, but the sad fact that spree killings are part of our daily life (not to mention the recent recorded murder of Alison Parker and Adam Ward). However, I do assume he was influenced by Cannibal Holocaust and Peeping Tom.
  • Sunday – The film ends with the most to-the-point episode. A distraught man cries in anguish and slams his head against the wall beside his bed until he dies.


As far as I know, the only official DVD release of Der Todesking came from J & B (no relation to the liquor company) in Germany. This Cult Epics Blu-ray and its DVD counterpart (which I should have reviewed a month ago, I apologize) marks the film’s North American digital debut. Cult Epics had more to work with this time than they did with the 8mm Nekromantik footage, because Der Todesking was shot on a more HD friendly 16mm. The 1080p, 1.33:1 image – scanned from the negative and approved by the director, according to the box – looks exactly as we’d expect from the material and from Buttgereit as a filmmaker. The footage is purposefully dingy (though much more colourful than VHS versions) with the white levels blown out and the focus more standardized to be fixed in the middle ground. These ‘problems’ are all part of the director’s grotesque style, not digital artefacts. The consistent grain appears similar to other 16mm releases, though there is a fuzzy quality that may be a sign of damage to the material or attempts at digitally ‘correcting’ other issues (note that I’ve never seen a Cult Epics release that was particularly digitally cleansed). Print damage is prevalent, but rarely distracting.

While the video quality is as top notch as we can expect from the material, I’m a little disappointed with the audio. Der Todesking’s original mono has been replaced by 2.0 stereo & 5.1 remixes and all audio options (including the stereo English dub) are presented in compressed Dolby Digital sound. Considering that a lot of the film was shot without sound and that the obvious ADR and sound effects editing is part of the strange milieu that is a Jorg Buttgereit movie, the added oddity of an immersive and incredibly digital sounding track actually fits. There are few differences between the 2.0 and 5.1 mixes, aside from a bit more spread and LFE enhancement with the extra channels, so I suppose I’d recommend the 5.1 version on that fact alone. The mostly electronically produced, but quite sophisticated musical score – from Hermann Kopp, Daktari Lorenz, John Boy Walton, and The Angelus – benefits the most from a redub.

The extensive extras include:
  • New introduction by Jorg Buttgereit that was recorded in 2015 (1:10, HD)
  • Commentary by Buttgereit and co-writer Franz Rodenkirchen – This English language commentary originally appeared on the German special edition DVD. It is quite informative and valuable, considering that almost all of the other supplements here were made almost 30 years ago.
  • The Making of Der Todesking (15:40, SD) – A rough, homemade, retrospective look at the production. It’s basically silent footage (from behind-the-scenes and the finished film) set to an interview with Buttgereit.
  • Corpse Fucking Art (58:10, HD) – A new HD version of the director’s documentary about the making of Nekromantik, Der Todesking, and Nekromantik 2. It’s a bit bizarre for a filmmaker to make his own career retrospective before his second two movies were even released – complete with a British narrator who discusses the ‘correct’ critical reading of each movie – but there’s also a lot of valuable information here. Most of the behind-the-scenes footage can be seen on the making-of featurettes included with the DVD and Blu-ray releases of each respective film.
  • Still photo gallery
  • Jorg Buttgereit trailer reel
  • Original motion picture soundtrack (28:30, audio only) – Unfortunately, the incredible musical score is only available for listening with the Blu-ray in the player. A CD or digital download code would be preferable in the future.


 Boutique Label Horror/Thriller Trilogy

 Boutique Label Horror/Thriller Trilogy

 Boutique Label Horror/Thriller Trilogy

 Boutique Label Horror/Thriller Trilogy

 Boutique Label Horror/Thriller Trilogy



Boutique Label Horror/Thriller Trilogy

Play Motel

(1979, from Raro Video USA)
At the garish Play Motel, wayward women are secretly photographed while having kinky sex. But what begins as a sexy romp soon turns into a murder mystery as the guests are stabbed to death by a black -clad assassin. (From Raro’s official synopsis)

Mario Gariazzo’s Play Motel was made in response to the popular giallo thrillers that the Italian film industry pumped out throughout the 1970s. It arrived towards the end of the cycle, when intricate (sometimes absurd) plotting and flashy film techniques were increasingly replaced by graphic violence and lurid sex. Gariazzo’s takes the latter development to its extreme here and loses most of the genre’s more enduring tropes in favour of more nudity and gyrating, sub-hardcore intercourse. So, while technically an entry in the giallo canon, Play Motel plays more like a sexploitation spoof of the conventions – albeit one that is too wrapped up in awkward, patently un-sexy sex scenes to be funny. Gariazzo’s compositions are stiff and his pacing is glacial, but his swinging porno-chic motifs (including a probably inaccurate behind-the-scenes look at how they made those Italian pornographic photo comics) are certainly entertaining in parts and he pulls off at least one frightening, black-gloved murder. The script, also by Gariazzo (he both wrote and directed the movie under the pseudonym Roy Garrett), fits the mould with its ridiculous convolutions and nonsense climax, though he doesn’t do his established cast (including previously good actors like Ray Lovelock and Mario Cutini) with painfully expositional dialogue.

Good or bad, Gariazzo is in his element here. His career as a director (and often a writer) began with spaghetti westerns, like Acquasanta Joe (1971), but quickly changed gears into sexual-charged subject matter, including erotic horror ( The Sexorcist, aka: Enter the Devil, The Eerie Midnight Horror Show, and L'ossessa, 1974)), Porky’s-inspired raunchy comedies ( Very Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind, 1978), and even a boob-filled cannibal cash-in called White Slave (aka: Amazonia: The Catherine Miles Story, 1985). Not surprisingly, it was produced by Armando Novelli, the man behind a number of Fernando Di Leo’s similar trash classics, including Caliber 9 (1972), The Italian Connection (1972), and, most pertinent here, Slaughter Hotel (1971), which achieved similar levels of sexual sleaze in the less permissive earlier parts of the 1970s.

There was, apparently, a DVD release of Play Motel in Italy and possibly Norway, but, by most accounts, those were VHS quality at best. Raro lists this US digital/worldwide Blu-ray debut as being transferred from the original 35mm negative and, despite some very obvious quality issues, I believe them. Without verification, I assume that Raro gets their scans directly from Italy, like Blue Underground, Scream Factory, and other boutique exploitation labels. These scans are often plagued by telecine/digital noise and weak details, which each label either ignores, or attempts to ‘fix’ the problem by using the digital tools at their disposal. In the case of this 1.67:1, 1080p transfer, it appears that Raro is employing DNR enhancements to clear up the noise, yet it creates a different set of issues, like waxy details and a general lack of texture. Raro treats most of their prestigious titles beautifully, but tends to DNR-up many of their ‘cult’ or ‘trash’ releases. As in just about every case, the upgrade over (horribly fuzzy) DVD is still substantial, but the overall result is disappointing. In addition to the DNR, edges show signs of compression and the footage itself has issues with pulsing (probably unavoidable outside of a complete rescan). The good news is that the contrast levels and colour qualities are quite dynamic. Black levels are deep without completely absorbing the smaller details and element separation is plenty tight, despite the lack of finer texture.

Both the original mono Italian and English dubs are presented here in uncompressed LPCM 2.0 sound. The audio quality is completely different between the two tracks, despite the sound effects, the pop music title theme (it plays over almost every sex/strip scene), and Ubaldo Continiello’s score (which consists of maybe two motifs) matching between them. In most cases, the English dub comes out on top, because it more tightly separates the various elements, allowing music and effects to be relatively loud without overwhelming the dialogue. The Italian dub is mashed up and flattened, which is especially problematic for the music. The English version also has an advantage in terms of performance, in that the English-speaking actors are outrageously miscast, heavily accented (mostly New Yawk or cock-a-ney English), and generally indifferent in terms of performance. It adds an extra level of unintentional comedy to the experience. A few scenes were not dubbed into English and remain Italian on both tracks.

Extras include:
  • The Midas Touch (18:40, SD) –  An interview with producer Armando Novelli and actors Franco Garofalo, Monika Zanchi, and Ray Lovelock. It includes stills from Gariazzo’s other movies and is hosted by Nocurno Video’s Davide Pulici for release with Raro’s original Italian disc.
  • Deleted scenes (7:10, SD) – Party Motel was released in both a standard version and a harder porn version for foreign market releases. Here are all of those X-rated scenes in VHS quality.


 Boutique Label Horror/Thriller Trilogy

 Boutique Label Horror/Thriller Trilogy

 Boutique Label Horror/Thriller Trilogy

 Boutique Label Horror/Thriller Trilogy

 Boutique Label Horror/Thriller Trilogy



Boutique Label Horror/Thriller Trilogy

House of the Long Shadows

(1983, from Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
When a young novelist, Kenneth Magee (Desi Arnaz, Jr.) spends a night at Baldpate Manor to win a bet that he can turn a best-selling novel in 24 hours, he gets more than he bargained for. The grizzly Grisbane clan arrives to celebrate the 40th anniversary of a ghoulish family secret. And their dinner party has murder on the menu. (From Kino’s official synopsis)

Pete Walker was a unique talent in British exploitation and horror. He began pushing boundaries early as a director-for-hire on a popular sex comedy titled School for Sex (1969) and made a name for himself with enjoyable B-grade, thrillers, including the UK’s answer to Italy’s burgeoning giallo cycle, Die Screaming, Marianne (1971), and proto-slashers, like Schizo (1977) and The Comeback (1978). He was largely dismissed as a schlock-meister in his day, but his best films – House of Whipcord (1974), Fightmare (1974), and House of Mortal Sin (1976), for example – were pulpy, yet potent satirical indictments of upright British culture and religious fervor. His final film was House of Long Shadows, a send-up of Old Dark House and gothic melodrama clichés.

More mainstream fans tend to know House of the Long Shadows as the one and only collaboration between genre superstars Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and David Carradine – though the four men had worked together before in different combinations throughout their long careers (Cushing and Lee appeared in 24 films together and this was their last). The very idea of seeing these four sharing screen time is enough to justify the film’s existence, as does the thought of them interacting with then-modern, now foreign conventions of the mid-‘80s. A cultural satire of the money-obsessed era and its stalk & slash movie tropes would be right up Walker’s alley. Mark of the Devil writer/director Michael Armstrong’s script (based on the oft-adapted novel, Seven Keys to Baldpate by Earl Derr Biggers) occasionally plays with horror traditions from a yuppie point-of-view – a yuppie horror writer who is aware of the narrative traditions he is battling (when warned that Baldpate Manor is ‘cursed’ he sarcastically replies ‘I know, I’ve seen the movie.’) – but the film doesn’t really commit to the idea. Instead, we get a smidgen of post-modern shtick mixed with woefully conventional horror/thriller tropes. It’s sort of like an episode of Scooby Doo, if you squint and use your imagination.

Had House of the Long Shadows seen horror’s old guard battling the newer slasher movie motifs/tropes, it might have been great. Barring that, I also suspect that it would’ve been a near classic if it had been mad a decade earlier, when Walker was at the height of his strange brand of filmmaking and the four horror titans were still producing relevant work. In the end, it’s a sluggish and only occasionally charming (Desi Arnaz, Jr. deserves a lot of credit for his turn as straight man) gimmick movie. Still, those four guys working together – with Walker regular Sheila Keith to boot – is pretty exciting. I mean, where else are you going to see Christopher Lee kill Vincent Price with an axe?

House of the Long Shadows was released throughout Europe on anamorphic DVD and Koch Media in Germany even made a barebones Blu-ray, but stateside fans only had a limited edition (I believe it was an Amazon exclusive?), full-frame DVD from MGM. This 1.85:1, 1080p transfer likely comes straight from the MGM vault and benefits from only minor disc compression. The image isn’t spectacular, but I get the feeling that Walker and cinematographer Norman G. Langley weren’t really aiming for ‘spectacular.’ Truthfully, I’ve never seen an attractive Pete Walker movie. The transfer suffers from some noise reduction that flattens out the film grain and causes some posterization artefacts. Overall detail is sharp, though limited by the darkness of some shots, which I believe is unavoidable. Black levels occasionally fluctuate and appear gray or blue, while the limited colour quality – specifically flesh tones and the burgundy/browns of the manor – remains relatively consistent.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack gets the job done. The mix is pretty minimal, including a lot of obviously ‘canned’ sound effects taken from a generic spooky sounds generator (for example, you’ve heard this exact thunder crack at least 400 other times) and an underused musical score from award-winning composer Richard Harvey. The music gets the best of the track and features considerable dynamic depth, despite the single channel sound design. Vocals are sometimes muffled, specifically when characters speak over each other in group shots.

The extras include:
  • Commentary with director Pete Walker and filmmaker Derek Pykett – This commentary is recycled from UK company Final Cut Entertainment’s DVD release. The director discusses the film while interviewed/moderated by the writer/director of the 2012 retrospective documentary, House of the Long Shadows... Revisited, which is, unfortunately, not included here. A very worthwhile and packed track.
  • Commentary with Vincent Price historian David Del Valle and actor David Frankham -– This second commentary is a new run, recorded exclusively for this Blu-ray. It’s a bit overly embellished (Del Valle continues his habit of obnoxious name-dropping from the duo’s track for Kino’s Tales of Terror release) and under-critical, but has surprisingly little overlap with the previous track.
  • Interview with Pete Walker (14:50, HD) – A very pleasant discussion with the director, who recalls coming out of early retirement to make one last horror movie. Lots of overlap with the director’s commentary.
  • Trailer and trailers for Madhouse and The Oblong Box


 Boutique Label Horror/Thriller Trilogy

 Boutique Label Horror/Thriller Trilogy

 Boutique Label Horror/Thriller Trilogy

 Boutique Label Horror/Thriller Trilogy

 Boutique Label Horror/Thriller Trilogy

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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