The Norman Warren Collection

Starring: Michael Gough, Barry Stokes, Judy Geeson and James Aubrey
Anchor Bay Entertainment UK
RRP: 29.99
Certificate: 18
Available 15 November 2004

Although Norman J Warren was involved in various aspects of other films, he directed nine full features between 1967 and 1986. Four of the most well known are collected together here, with a fifth disc containing additional material relating to them. Much of Warren's work was produced during the most prominent years of British independent film production, at one period even going head to head against the mighty Hammer House of Horror studios. However, whereas the Hammer films were in the main stylish and somewhat reassuringly cosy, Warren went out to shock with sex scenes, blood and violence; emulating the films which had impacted the market at that time with moderate success...

In Satan's Slave (1976), a young woman goes with her parents to visit an uncle she didn't know she had, but on the way the car crashes and when she gets out to go for help the car explodes. Stranded and isolated, she relies on the uncle and his strange son. However, she soon learns she is a virtual prisoner, and that on her birthday she will be used as a sacrifice to raise the uncle's long-dead wife in a coven's ritual of necromancy.

Michael Gough, veteran of many horror films in his day, stars in this one, with Michael Craze (perhaps best known as Ben in Doctor Who) playing the protagonist's boyfriend, attacked from afar by witchcraft. Although effective to a small extent at the opening scenes, the coven seems to come from nowhere and vanish for the majority of the movie, only to reappear as cowled figures at the end. They are superfluous aside from effect. This film attempts to harness the popularity of The Exorcist and The Omen without coming close.

In Prey (1977), two lesbian lovers are recluses in a large house and grounds. One night a bright light is seen through the window and the next day the women encounter an intruder in the grounds. The stranger appears to be dazed and confused about his identity and purpose, but announces himself as Anderson. They take him back to the house where he is fascinated by the caged parrot and reacts badly to tea and a vegetarian meal. In reality he is an alien hunter who has taken on the identity of a human. He is a scout on a mission to establish if humans will be easy prey for a raiding party. As a result Anderson gets caught up in the women's weird games. Josephine wants to keep Jessica for herself and will go to any lengths to keep interlopers away - with unforeseen and savage consequences.

The booklet that comes with this set describes the lesbian couple as swanning around the grounds alternately having sex and arguing. This pretty much sums up most of the film; there is a considerable amount of time-wasting which, along with the tiny cast, screams out 'low budget'. Prey does have its good moments: when Anderson slips into hunter mode the make-up effects for the eyes and teeth prove effective, but the inclusion of a lupine nose makes the whole look ridiculous (even the director says in a documentary it makes him look like a werewolf). There are also other quirky moments such as when Anderson is dressed-up like a woman for a birthday celebration. Apparently, Prey 2 was scripted and planned but never made, mainly due to disappointing distribution for this film. This film could have been so much better.

Terror (1978) has a witch hunted down and tied to a stake for burning when hellish intervention causes the pursuers to go up in flames themselves. The witch arrives at the house of her accuser and curses her family line before killing the woman. In more modern times a film producer ancestor owns the house. After ridiculing the curse, a friend demonstrates a fake hypnotism. The others at a party want him to prove it with somebody else, but the hypnotism appears to turn to possession and she tries to kill the producer with a ceremonial sword. When the subject of the hypnotism leaves the house, she is pursued and eventually killed by someone wielding a knife. The hunt is on for a killer and there are more victims to follow.

In the booklet Warren admits the threadbare plot exists merely to string-together the set-pieces, and that the film exists as a reaction to Dario Argento's Suspira, which made quite an impact upon its release. I don't think there's any need for Warren's doing-down of Terror, because this is easily the best of the four films on offer here. Much more happens and with more regularity, rather than watching an entire film for a shock ending. This did incredibly well for a self-financed flick which was edited in the man's own house, but it also suffered from bad timing with one of the biggest grossing independent films emerging the same year. Anyone remember a little thing called John Carpenter's Halloween? I keep mentioning that name lately, don't I? Anyway, watch out for the gorgeously common bad-actress character; she is so funny it's almost worth the price of the box just to witness her scenes. Filming the porn bath-scene is priceless. Michael Craze turns up again, and other names include Peter Mayhew and Glynis Barber in her first role.

Inseminoid (1980) has an Earth team of specialists surveying a planet and discovering evidence of an ancient civilisation. When one of their party comes into contact with some unidentified crystals, he develops a skin condition and becomes psychologically unbalanced, culminating in his own death. When a female team member comes into contact with the crystals her ordeal is exacerbated by the presence of a large alien which attacks, restrains and impregnates her. Now she is not only super-strong and psychotic, but pregnant. The violence starts here.

This film is infamous rather than famous. At different times this film has been marketed as a black comedy, sci-fi horror or sexploitation (the alien rape, and the fact that the alien itself looks somewhat like a penis - I really will have to see the doctor!). It really isn't all that horrific. The adult alien does nothing but impregnate the human woman and then mysteriously vanishes for the remainder of the movie. The birth itself is near the end, and these scenes offer both laughs and appreciation for the alien baby effects. At one stage another woman is left nurturing the babies in a blanket and when a character returns to the room it is to find them eating out the human woman's throat. By today's standards this won't shock, but it did get American Women's Groups picketing, and it does have a nostalgic value. Inseminoid emerged on the back of the spectacularly successful Alien, so Warren probably thought less was more at the time, when more action and less running around would have worked better.

Anchor Bay should be commended for their superb packaging for this set. It's evident that they really care about what they're producing, and want to make it as attractive to the marketplace a possible. This collection is packaged in a high-quality coffin-shaped box, the inside of which opens out concertina-style to present each of the discs. There is a colour booklet about the films and a glossy leaflet breaking down the extras of each disc (5.1/DTS, commentaries, trailers, featurettes, a short film Fragment, etc.).

Ty Power

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