Film Reviews

The Monster / The Dark Eyes of London – Blu-ray Review

With the spookiest month upon us, UK media label Network is releasing two British horror oddities sure to keep you up at night. No one makes horror like the British do!

The Monster

The release of The Exorcist in 1973 sent a shockwave through cinema, and one of the byproducts of that was a procession of possession exploitation flicks, including 1975’s The Monster aka I Don’t Want To Be Born. Joan Collins is Lucy, a stripper who is sexually assaulted by a dwarf who works at the club, who tells her she will give birth to a monster.

Nine months later, she gives birth to Nicky, a whopper of a baby that seems to be capable of shocking violence, slapping people around and giving them huge bloody scratches. Doctors can find nothing wrong with him, but after the nanny ends up dying, Lucy jumps to the one conclusion we all knew was coming: Nicky has been possessed by the devil.

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The Monster is, quite frankly, insane. The cast alone is amazing; along with Collins you have Ralph Bates doing a terrible Italian accent, Eileen Atkins as his nun sister, exploitation fave Caroline Munro, Hilary Mason (one of the psychics in Don’t Look Now), and Donald Pleasance as the family doctor, not to mention a Floella Benjamin cameo. While not being a Hammer film it has several connections to the studio, not least the director Peter Sasdy, who helmed Taste the Blood of Dracula (1969) and Hands of the Ripper (1971) and who initially took the film to Hammer, with it eventually ending up in the hands of The Rank Organisation.

It’s kind of hard to even talk about the craziness of The Monster; the scenes of Nicky attacking are surreal as anything, with quick camera pans followed by the attacked character covered in blood, and there are some elaborate death scenes that leave you wondering how exactly they happened due to their sheer audaciousness, such as a character being hung in the garden and then being shoved down a manhole. And then there’s the incessantly funky score by Ron Grainer – who wrote music for Doctor Who and The Prisoner – which spends the entire running time riding the line of inappropriateness.

The Monster is presented in a new transfer in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio and it looks really good, showcasing the excellent photography by Kenneth Talbot, who worked with Sasdy on some of his Hammer films. The sound is presented in mono and is wonderfully vivid, with the strange voices and noises coming through clear, along with Grainer’s dominant music. Whatever you think of the final film, Network has done a good job on the audiovisual side of things.

The extra features are also plentiful, with newly-filmed interviews with director Sasdy, editor Keith Palmer continuity supervisor Renée Glynne and wardrobe supervisor Brenda Dabbs, an audio commentary by Dr Laura Mayne and Dr Adrian Smith of the Second Features podcast, a trailer, and the title sequence for the “I Don’t Want To Be Born” alternate name of the film. There’s also a booklet with an essay by Smith, but this was not made available for review. The interviews are a tad dry, but the audio commentary is excellent, entertaining and informative, and helping make The Monster a package to be recommended – the film has to be seen to be believed!

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The Dark Eyes of London

The great Bela Lugosi stars in this British horror flick from 1939 based on the Edgar Wallace novel of the same name. Dr Orloff (Lugosi), who runs a life insurance company while sponsoring a home for blind vagrants, is approached by Scotland Yard after several bodies are found floating in the Thames, bodies belonging to people who Orloff insured. Of course, it’s all a scam, with Orloff murdering the people he sells policies to and the money going to the home, but DI Holt (Hugh Williams) and Chicago cop O’Reilly (Edmon Ryan) are on the case, along with Diana (Greta Gynt), the daughter of one of the victims.

The Dark Eyes of London is a wonderfully atmospheric piece that fully takes advantage of Bela Lugosi’s neverending charisma to create an entertaining mystery with a dose of tragedy. It’s less gothic horror as you might expect from Lugosi and more police procedural, with Holt and O’Reilly feeling more like they’re in a buddy cop flick as the latter is exposed to the culture shock of the Yard where they “catch crooks with kindness”. Williams and Ryan have great chemistry and are both fantastic, but of course, Lugosi commands the screen whenever he appears, which in this film is a double role with his alter-ego wearing a white wig and dark glasses.

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There is horror in the film, notably Orloff’s assistant Jake, a huge lumbering Lurch type who does the great doctor’s dirty work wearing a quite horrifying makeup that makes him look like he has acromegaly, a great feat when you see the actual face of the actor, Wilfred Walter. Of course, with many of these films, the monster has a tragic element, and The Dark Eyes of London is no different. Nope, the real monster here is insurance fraud.

The Dark Eyes of London looks fantastic in this high-definition transfer from the original negative at its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1, with Bryan Langley’s moody cinematography looking wonderfully deep. The mono soundtrack is wonderfully clear and crisp, with Lugosi’s iconic voice booming loud and clear. But the real treasure here is the extras that feature film experts Kim Newman and Stephen Jones.

First up is a typically fantastic audio commentary with the pair, with the usual mix of acerbic wit and nuggets of information that anyone who has heard commentaries from the pair will expect and enjoy. They discuss the critical treatment of the film and the way it was adapted from the original book, and how it shouldn’t be lumped in with Lugosi’s Universal pictures. What’s also great is that their respect for the film shines through, and it’s just lovely to hear.

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After this is a wonderful video piece featuring Newman and Jones sitting in The Edgar Wallace pub in London discussing Lugosi’s roles in British cinema. This is just fantastic, with the pair just chatting it up, and it feels like you’re just across the table sitting with them – Newman even brings along an original edition of Wallace’s novel. A brilliant feature as part of a really great disc that hopefully should give the film a new lease of life.

The Dark Eyes of London and The Monster are out now on Blu-ray from Network Distributing.

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