ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Bloody Terror: The Shocking Cinema of Norman J Warren, 1976-1987 Blu Ray (Indicator)
This collection brings together five horror films helmed by the cult British director Norman J. Warren.
Satan’s Slave (1976)
A young woman named Catherine Yorke (Candace Glendenning) travels with her parents Malcolm (James Bree) and Elizabeth (Celia Hewitt) to meet her mysterious uncle Alexander (Michael Gough) - a doctor who lives in a country mansion with his handsome but psychopathic son Stephen (Martin Potter) and secretary Frances (Barbara Kellerman).
Just as they arrive, they become involved in a car accident, leaving both of Catherine’s parents injured. When she leaves the car to get help, it suddenly bursts into flames, seemingly taking their lives in the inferno. The understandably distraught young woman runs to the house and is given a pill to calm her down. As she recovers from the ordeal, she acquainted with the building’s three inhabitants and begins to get a sense to the place’s sinister history.
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Satan’s Slave was the first of Norman J. Warren’s horror efforts. It’s a film that, while not exactly great, at least manages to be entertaining and competently made (particularly considering its reported budget of just £35,000 - a paltry sum even back in 1976).
It feels very much like a precursor to Italian director Lucio Fulci’s 1979-1982 run of horror films, especially the legendary “Gates of Hell Trilogy”. As with those later efforts, it’s a curious mixture of unashamedly lurid exploitation and more subtle gothic/supernatural horror chills. On one hand, we get much in the way of female nudity and gruesome mutilation, all shot in loving close-up. A notable scene predating Fulci is a graphic shot of an eye being punctured - a grisly effect the latter would riff on in Zombie Flesh Eaters, The Beyond and The New York Ripper. On the other hand, there is plenty of atmospheric lighting and a good deal of attractive languishing on the environs of Alexander’s opulent home (a real-life mansion house in Pirbright, Surrey) and its leafy grounds.
Unfortunately, it also shares many of the same shortcomings as Fulci’s films. David McGillivray’s script is bafflingly constructed and lacking in plausibility. For example, it features a bunch of gruesome murders but no sign of the police popping up at any stage to investigate the fact that these people have suddenly disappeared off the face of the earth. The fact that we clearly see Stephen murder a young woman during the opening section also robs the ensuing goings-on of any ambiguity or surprise. While a plot detail establishes that the character of Catherine has the power of premonition, this only proves to be of significance during one specific scene (moreover, one where she sees into the past rather than the future) before being forgotten about entirely. While the actors are generally reasonable, a lot of the dialogue they have to spout sounds mechanical and stilted. The only performer who really rises above it is Michael Gough, a veteran actor who could read the telephone directory out loud and still sound richly sinister.
Nonetheless, Satan’s Slave at least delivers the basic low-budget horror goods and makes for an ideal evening’s viewing with some friends and a beer or two (or three). Just don’t be surprised if you have a few giggles ripping holes in its storyline.
Runtime: 90 mins
Dir: Norman J. Warren
Script: David McGillivray
Starring: Michael Gough, Martin Potter, Candace Glendenning, Barbara Kellerman, Michael Craze, James Bree, Celia Hewitt
This sci-fi chiller begins as a spaceship lands in rural England - its flashing lights noticed by a young woman named Jessica (Glory Annen), who lives in a country house with her lesbian lover Josephine (Sally Faulkner). The ship’s alien pilot emerges and immediately sets upon a young couple whom it interrupts making out in the car. It then assumes the human form of the young male, Anderson (Barry Stokes).
The following day, Jessica and Josephine go out for a walk in the woods. When they return, they find the alien (in the form of Anderson) wandering around their home. While the furious Josephine orders him to leave, Jessica notices him limping and decides to invite him in. Things then take various twists and turns as the trio become embroiled in a complex relationship.
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Even more so than usual for Norman J. Warren’s films, Prey is a blatantly cheap effort. The opening spaceship effects are limited to flashing disco lights. Aside from one genuinely shocking moment near the end, the makeup effects are about as bargain basement as it’s possible to get. The entirety of the film has obviously been shot in one country house and the surrounding woods. The cast consists of just eight people, with only three of them taking major roles.
That said, it does get the closest that Warren has ever come to making a legitimately great film, largely by virtue of its intelligent script written by Max Cuff and Quinn Donoghue. The three main characters and their shifting relationships are surprisingly complex for what is inherently an exploitation effort. The leads all turn in decent performances, especially Sally Faulkner as the bossier of the two lesbians who, herself, seems to have a skeleton or two in her closet. Most of the interest here comes from watching their evolving three-way relationship, turning this more into a fascinating chamber piece than a simple genre movie. While there’s plenty of tension here (most of it between the two women), the commentary on the fluid state of gender and orientation is surprisingly progressive for the time.
As with Satan’s Slave, Warren makes a good deal of atmospheric capital out of the exuberant country house setting. Otherwise, his direction is pretty perfunctory. There’s also an incredibly overdone slow-motion drowning scene which seems to go on forever. Still, whatever its rough edges, Prey is an unexpected minor gem.
Runtime: 85 mins
Dir: Norman J. Warren
Script: Max Cuff, Quinn Donoghue
Starring: Barry Stokes, Sally Faulkner, Glory Annen
John Nolan and Carolyn Courage play James and Ann Garrick, a film director and actress respectively. They the last in line of a wealthy lord and lady who, as legend has it, were killed by a vengeful witch who invoked the devil after they attempted to burn her at the stake. James decides to return to their old manor, with Ann and his crew in tow, in order to make a horror movie chronicling the legend.
When filming wraps and they celebrate with a party in the same house, weird and terrifying events begin to occur - not least the fact that a number of people connected with them are killed off in a variety of bizarre and gruesome ways.
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Terror was Norman J. Warren’s answer to Dario Argento’s Suspiria. For sure, there are a lot of aspects here which were clearly inspired by it: women being stalked through rain-drenched woods at night, eerie coloured lighting schemes, spectacular supernatural setpieces, red herring shocks suddenly followed up by ultra-gruesome murders and so on. The difference is that he doesn’t deploy these tricks with anywhere near the same level of cinematic mastery.
However, while the acting is average at best and the storyline mainly a thin excuse to bring all of the grisly mayhem together (something that Warren himself has freely admitted), it’s still a reasonably entertaining watch. Gore fans won’t be disappointed here; one man gets bloodily garrotted then pushed onto spiked fence posts and then, finally, his corpse is shredded to bits inside the ravenous maw of a bin lorry. There’s also a scene which may have, in turn, inspired the “throat cut by falling glass shard” death in Argento’s Suspiria sequel, Inferno (1980).
In between, it rattles along at a decent pace and even manages a few humorous interludes such as those involving the making of a soft-core porno film called “Bath time with Brenda”. It’s not a great movie by any means but it makes the most of its limited qualities, especially considering that, once again, the budget was incredibly minuscule (around £50,000).
Runtime: 84 mins
Dir: Norman J. Warren
Script: David McGillivray, Les Young, Moira Young
Starring: John Nolan, Carolyn Courage, James Aubrey, Sarah Keller, Tricia Walsh, Glynis Barber, Michael Craze
This sci-fi action-horror is set on an alien planet where a team of scientists investigate a maze of underground ruins. Their troubles start when one of their number, Dean (played by Dominic Jephcott), is injured in a mysterious explosion while out collecting some unidentified crystals. These crystals infect both himself and another member of the team named Ricky (David Baxt). The latter then runs on a rampage, causing the death of one of their number before being shot dead himself.
Seemingly undeterred by these nerve-wracking events, two other scientists named Sandy (Judy Geeson) and Mitch (Trevor Thomas) venture out and are attacked by an alien monster. While Mitch is killed by decapitation, Sandy is incapacitated and has a dream whereby the creature impregnates her via a transparent tube. It soon turns out that she’s pregnant for real. Moreover, her expected offspring is driving her into a murderous rage against her colleagues.
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Inseminoid is quite obviously modelled on Ridley Scott’s classic Alien, albeit with the difference that the impregnated human is the main threat rather than a fully-grown extraterrestrial creature. Although Warren had access to a comparatively large budget of £1 million for this one (partially stumped up by the legendary Hong Kong producer Sir Run Run Shaw), it still manages to be a distinctively cheap-looking affair in terms of effects, sets and costumes. In fact, it resembles more an episode of the British TV show Blake’s 7 than it does a major sci-fi motion picture release. While Warren attempted to disguise this all under lots of fancy lighting and coloured filters, he was clearly fighting a losing battle.
Even disregarding the tacky visuals, there are a number of other shortcomings here. The script lacks coherence, throwing in numerous elements such as the crystals which drive two crew members mad and the large alien that attacks another two, only to completely forget about them further down the line. The acting is a distinctively mixed bag; there is a blend of British and American actors here and some of the former (such as Trevor Thomas, who fared considerably better in the earlier Black Joy) put on truly awful American accents for some reason, even though others don’t bother.
Nonetheless, the film takes a lively approach to its horrific goings-on and just about pays off in its own cheesy way. Alien was something of a slow-burner which took great pains to establish its setting, scenario and characters in immaculate, believable detail. This one, on the other hand, more or less hurls itself straight into the thick of it and just piles on the action, blood and sadism like there’s no tomorrow. The camerawork is energetic and Judy Geeson turns in a suitably committed performance as the afflicted main antagonist.
Runtime: 92 mins
Dir: Norman J. Warren
Script: Nick Maley, Gloria Maley
Starring: Robin Clarke, Judy Geeson, Jennifer Ashley, Stephanie Beacham, Steven Grives, Barrie Houghton, Rosalind Lloyd, Victoria Tennant, Trevor Thomas, Heather Wright, David Baxt, Dominic Jephcott
Bloody New Year (1987)
This supernatural horror starts begins at a Christmas party taking place at in island hotel in 1959. When the merriment ends, one of the party guests ends up being sucked into mirror by a spectral force. Flash forward to the 1980s and a group of six young adults venture out to the same island hotel to spend their summer holidays.
When they arrive, they are surprised to find that the interior bedecked in Christmas decorations and the reception desk unmanned. They decide to split up and explore further, whereupon they witness a series of bizarre and inexplicable occurrences. Soon, these become increasingly dangerous.
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The best scenes in Bloody New Year come towards the beginning and end. The 1959 prologue has an air of nostalgic charm about out, as does the first 1980s sequence involving a confrontation with some local bullies at a fairground. The finale is similarly lively, featuring a possessed snooker table (really) and a great deal of Suspiria-style coloured lighting. The core idea even had some potential: the central hotel became caught in some sort of time paradox that resulted from a scientific experiment going awry.
Unfortunately, almost everything else here is simply awful. It’s basically an illogical and nonsensical collection of scenes vaguely inspired by far (far, far) superior films such as The Evil Dead and The Shining. The acting is mediocre at best. The characters are the kind of dumb idiots who are perpetually about 20 steps behind the audience (you’ll be amazed how long it takes before they actually come to the conclusion that there’s something paranormal going on… duh!). For the most part, the effects are obvious bargain-basement stuff (editing tricks, reversed film, actors covered in blankets pretending to be spectral apparitions and suchlike). John Shann’s cinematography is flat and largely fails to generate any atmosphere.
Alas, this is Norman J. Warren’s final film and, frankly, not much of a note to go out on. It’s the real bum note of this set.
Runtime: 95 mins
Dir: Norman J. Warren
Script: Frazer Pearce, Hayden Pearce, Norman J. Warren
Starring: Suzy Aitchison, Nikki Brooks, Daniel James, Mark Powley, Catherine Roman, Julian Ronnie
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
Most of these discs are up to Indicator’s usual high standards in terms of quality. However, Satan’s Slave looks somewhat grainy and faded at times, while Blood New Year has a lot of noticeable blemish and decay marks. In the latter case, this was unavoidable because (as we are told on a title card before the film runs) the original 35 mm master print was accidentally destroyed and the remastering was done from a copy. Nonetheless, while the latter film is admittedly a bit on the naff side regardless of visual quality, it’s nice to have it as an inclusion here, especially since it wasn’t available on the previous Norman J. Warren compilation released on UK DVD by Anchor Bay in 2004.
There’s a veritable treasure trove of extras here with each film.
Satan’s Slave is presented in two versions: a Director’s Cut and a so-called “Export Version”. Interestingly, the former version has been shorn of an early scene depicting a sexual assault with scissors that Warren himself disliked but was included in releases aimed at some foreign markets. The latter version is fully uncut. There are two commentary tracks: one featuring Warren and screenwriter David McGillivray, and the other featuring Warren and composer John Scott. The featurette Before the Blood contains an interview with Warren who talks about his early days in the film industry. All You Need Is Blood is a vintage Making-Of documentary. Creating Satan is an archival documentary featuring interviews with Warren, McGillivray, actor Martin Potter and others involved in the film. Devilish Music is another archival interview, this time with composer John Scott. Censoring ‘Satan’s Slave’ takes a look at the cuts which the BBFC imposed to the original UK release. There are also outtakes, two deleted scenes, theatrical trailers and an image gallery.
Prey features an audio commentary with Warren and film historian Jonathan Rigby. The other extra on this disc include the first part of an archival British Entertainment History Project interview with Warren in conversation with Mark Sheffield, a 2004 documentary entitled Keep on Running featuring interviews with Warren, actor Sally Faulkner, producer Terry Marcel and others and some on-set footage. There are also various strange odd-and-ends here including some footage from a couple of uncompleted early Warren projects (The Bridge and Carol), a silent 1963 comedy short entitled Drinkin Time, a 1977 toy advertisement entitled Whipper Snappers, a trailer and an image gallery.
Terror has an audio commentary with Warren and screenwriter David McGillivray. In the featurette The Early Years, the director takes a look back at his first films. Bloody Good Fun is a 41-minute archival making-of documentary featuring interviews with Warren, McGillivray, actors Carolyn Courage, Mary Maude, James Aubrey, Elaine Ives-Cameron and others. Actor John Nolan takes a look back at the film’s production in Tales of Terror. Norman J Warren: A Sort of Autobiography is an archival interview with the director. There’s a trailer for a lost film entitled Daddy Cross, featuring a voiceover by the director. The other features include some extended scenes, trailers, TV and radio spots and an image gallery. Last, but not least, there’s a short horror anthology included here entitled Norman J Warren Presents Horrorshow (2008). It features our host Warren sitting in a cinema seat and bringing us five different shorts by various unknown directors. Unfortunately, with the possible exception of the final one (The Incursion), they are the sort of awful, amateurish, misogynistic, gratuitously gory, shot-on-video rubbish which gave late-2000s low-budget horror a bad name.
Inseminoid comes with an audio commentary with Warren and assistant director Gary White. The other extras include the second part of the BEHP interview with Warren and Martin Sheffield, an archival video recording of Norman J Warren at the Manchester Festival of Fantastic Films, an archival making-of documentary entitled Subterranean Universe, an interview with actor Trevor Thomas, an archival interview with composer John Scott, some trailers and an image gallery.
Bloody New Year has an audio commentary with Warren and film historian Jo Botting. The other extras on this disc include Norman’s Wisdom where Warren discusses his work in television and documentaries, plus interviews with actress Catherine Roman, screenwriter and set dresser Frazer Pearce and stuntman Steve Emerson. The featurette Working with Warren interviews with filmmaker and Warren collaborator Yixi Sun. Turn Off Your Bloody Phone: Norman J Warren and the Ghost (2013) is a 1-minute short which was made especially for Frightfest, starring Warren, Sun, and David McGillivray. There is also a trailer and image gallery.
Norman J. Warren is no master filmmaker but his works still have a cheap horrific charm of their own. Well, apart from Bloody New Year which is just cheap rubbish. However, it’s the amazing array of extras that really elevates this package to “must buy” status.
Bloody New Year