American Horror Project Vol. 2 – Blu-Ray Review

Obviously the follow-up to Vol. 1 of the American Horror Project, which was very well-regarded by genre fans when it arrived three years ago, this is a box set of three different little-known American horror films of the 1970s. There were massive requests for a Vol. 2, and it was a long time coming. Both sets feature mostly regional horror films, which usually means they were independent films made outside Hollywood or New York, on very small budgets. Two very famous examples of this type of filmmaking would be Night of the Living Dead and the work of Herschell Gordon Lewis. At times these kinds of movies even feature a fading movie star, or start the career of a future one. In this set, you’ll see Edmund O’Brien and Kim Hunter.

The films in Vol. 2 are very mixed bag, and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend any of them. They each have occasional post-hippie psychedelic touches, especially Dream No Evil. With very little money, they tried to be creative with they had rather than making a deliberate aesthetic choice.

Dream No Evil sounds the best on paper. Directed by John Hayes and starring an unrecognisable O’Brien in one of his last film roles, it’s about a young girl who is trying to reunite with her long-lost father (O’Brien). She soon falls into a murderous fantasy-land in her mind. It has a very weird narration that tells you what is real and what is not every five minutes. Due to the nature of the story, it’s rather trippy, with a carnival aspect to it and some proto-slasher elements. The film doesn’t really work, but that is something it has in common with the other two, which both also have a structure that’s all over the place. It also comes off as a bit dull—which may be why it disappeared.

Dark August is by far the best film in the set, although that’s not saying much. It’s also the most conventional of the three. It was directed by Martin G. Goldman, who is best known for directing early blaxploitation western The Legend of Nigger Charlie. Goldman is still working, but the gaps between his films have been Terrence Malick-esque since these two. It was shot in Vermont, a location not much used for films, but never released there. A New York artist who has moved to Vermont accidentally kills the granddaughter of an old man, and ends up being cursed. Kim Hunter plays a psychic medium in a story with folk-horror elements. The artist starts seeing a hooded figure, there are witches and ghosts, and the action takes place against an unusual proggy score. It’s odd enough to be the most enjoyable of the trio, with a fair bit of atmosphere and some good photography. When Arrow releases these separately, which they eventually will, it’s the one to pick up if you don’t feel the urge to grab the box set.

The Child is a schizophrenic mix of The Omen and Night of the Living Dead: a demonic child wants revenge on all the people who she thinks are responsible for her mother’s death. And she can summon up zombies. The zombie-maker did a pretty good job at least. The pace and tone are off, the filmmaking is inept, and it’s more of a mood piece than a zombie movie, with a bad, major time shift. It does have a great tag line, however: “Let’s play hide and go kill…” Which is probably better than the movie.

The set has been curated by critic Stephen Thrower, and all of the films have an appreciation by Thrower. For The Child, he also moderates the commentary. There are other commentaries by critics, writers and directors; interviews with the filmmakers where possible; a video essay on John Hayes, a featurette on genre filmmaking and more.

Ian Schultz

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