Chilling Classics Cthursday: CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1973)

Not too long ago, I found myself digging around some nooks and crannies (hot, but not a euphemism) and unearthed myself a treasure from the naughty aughties: my Chilling Classics 50-movie pack, straight from theee esteemèd Mill Creek Entertainment.

Is she not a thing of beauty? She sure is. So many movies! So many fonts! 

So many Ls in the typo on the DVD sleeves!

Then again, is it a typo? Was it intentional? Does the extra L mean it's extra chilling? I guess we'll find out.

Actually, I've already found out what the extra L means, as I've seen many, many of these movies since the day this multi-pack descended from the heavens and landed in my lap. It stands for LOUSY QUALITY. Mind you, I'm not talking about the films themselves, necessarily. Some of my very favorite horror movies are in this 50-pack, and this 50-pack was the way I was introduced to them. I'm referring to the prints within this cardboard vault because boy, they are indeed lousy. It's shocking, I know. The idea of 50 movies plopped onto a mere 12 discs screams high-quality! But no. Mill Creek is the self-proclaimed "leader in value entertainment," making no claim to providing anything beyond dogshit transfers and the worst edits of films in existence. Ya pays yuh money, ya takes yuh chances. That's how we did it in the multi-pack days, kids. We were reckless. Some might say foolish. Mill creek would call us RECKLLLESS and FOOLLLISH. I don't know where I'm going with this.

Anyway. Finding this box o' gems (I use that term loosely, mostly) was a rather fortuitous event with which to kick off another new year. Having recently finished re-reading Into the Wild, I'd been thinking to myself "Hmm, mayhaps I should strive to undergo more adventures in 2024." Not long after that thought, I saw the "50" on the cover it triggered a memory wherein I remembered that there are roughly 50 weeks in a year. You see where I'm going with this? That's right. I gave it away in the post title: Chilling Classics Cthursdays. 

Every week throughout the year I'll tackle another of these movies as ordained by RNGesus. That is to say, I've numbered each of them and a random number generator will choose the fare each week. Kicking it off is a little something I'd never seen before, Hannah, Queen of Vampires...but as, again, Mill Creek only provides the finest cuts of film with the best, most original titles, herein it's called Crypt of the Living Dead. It's from 1973! It's got Andrew Prine! Not a bad way to kick off Chilling Classics Cthursdays if you ask me, and by reading this you kind of did.

Let me just say right up front that while that poster is cool, it's pretty misleading. Anyone looking for a scantily-clad babe caught right in the middle of some kind of Animorph situation is going to be disappointed. 

Also let me say right up front that this print is pure Mill Creek FOOLLLERY. The picture quality is atrocious, the audio is so bad and garbled that most scenes sound like two Charlie Brown teachers conversing with each other, and there's what seems to be a wayward pube trapped in the corner of the frame for longer than I personally feel comfortable with. But hey: Ya pays yuh money, ya takes yuh chances!

Lady, that pube is making fools of us both

Crypt of the Living Dead starts out with some Black Sunday vibes as a fellow walks through a crypt on a dark and stormy night--there are slow pans over a cobweb-covered cover a sarcophagus and everything. There's some type of be-robed, Satanic-esque priest lurking about, as well as a scruffy-looking weirdo, and before you know it, the fellow is strangled and then smushed under the sarcophagus.

Enter one Andrew Prine, majestically, in a suit and on a boat, to retrieve and bury the body of his father.

Yes, his father was the smushed fellow in the crypt. He was an archaeologist studying...stuff...on the island, which is home to a bunch of legends and superstitious folk. It seems that the sarcophagus contains the body of a woman purported to be a vampire queen, sealed away 700 years ago. Her name was (is?) Hannah, which...doesn't strike me as a particularly intimidating vampire name. This is not a slight on any Hannahs who may be reading this! It's just...I don't know. "Ahh! It's the Vampire Queen Hannah!" doesn't really work for me, that's all. Again, no offense; "Ahh! It's the Vampire Queen Stacie!" would be even worse. You can't just have Vampire Queen Regular Name, you know? You need a Carmilla. Or a Bludmilla. Maybe a Lady Mortadella. Hmm, maybe the -lla is the key to it sounding cool? ("Don't you mean the -llla?" -- Mill Creek) Vampire queen Hannalla--now see, that would work.

At any rate, in order to get to his father's smushed body, Andrew Prine needs to move the sarcophagus. To move the sarcophagus, the lid needs to come off. The hardy, seafaring locals that give me Dagon vibes warn against this, as it will release (sigh) Hannah. Andrew Prine, a Scully on an island full of Mulders, goes ahead with the plan anyway, telling them all that there will be naught in that stony tomb but a pile of bones and dust. It's been 700 years, after all. But guess what, fools! Hannah is intact and hot, looking like she just settled down for a nap minutes ago.

As she's not fully awake yet, she only has the power to transform into a fart cloud and a wolf. When she's a wolf, she can only attack other animals. Which she does! The blood helps her wake. It's pretty bog standard stuff, really.

Besides Andrew Prine, there are two other foreign interlopers here on what the locals call Vampire Island. (No, they're not a particularly creative bunch.) There's Peter, who is writing an historical fiction novel and, in what is not at all a twist because we saw his face as plain as day at the start of the movie, is the priest/monk dude who was there when the smush-ening happened. And there's Peter's sister Mary, who is the island's teacher because she feels like it. No, Peter and Mary do not have a brother Paul, so don't get excited, hippies!

Peter, No Paul, and Mary

The scruffy weirdo, who was responsible for the smush-ening, is a bit like Hannah's Renfield, I suppose. It's not really explained. But he absconds with Mary one night for some reason, but he's thwarted by Andrew Prine, who pulls off a scarf that was covering half of scruffy weirdo's face. Mary goes "Eww," and the scruffy weirdo screams and runs away, his feelings presumably hurt real bad. After this, Mary and Andrew Prine fall in love.

Crypt of the Living Dead runs into a bit of a pacing problem as Hannah's tomb is opened early on and then she just sort of lies there for a long time as Andrew Prine tells everyone they're wrong about the vampires and an old blind man, the island's Crazy Ralph, plays his accordion and foists garlic on people.

Once Hannah is finally up and about, she wreaks mild, slow-motion havoc. She walks around slowly (the girl could really learn a thing or two from Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees about walking with purpose) and stares at people.

Sometimes she cross-fades into a wolf. Other times, when cornered by townsfolk, she just

It's hard to see her as a real threat or a real...well, anything really, because she never speaks a word. Not a word! I don't need a whole blah blah villain monologue or anything, but this 700-year old, freshly-reanimated vampire queen is just sort of there, and that just sort of stinks.

There is one shot that would probably be cool if I could actually see it, which is Hannah walking down a hallway in her vampire gown. I'm a sucker for a long shot of diaphanous gown or, in a pinch, a robe down a hallway! Messiah of EvilDominiqueOne Dark Night...I don't care what movie it's in, it's one of my favorite gothic-ish stock horror movie  set-ups.

If you squint really hard, you can almost see what I'm talking about

Okay yes, at the eleventh hour she does finally show off her fangs when she bites Peter, who is into it because he wants to be immortal and serve her. I get it!

Eventually Andrew Prine and Hannah face off in the cemetery in the pre-dawn hours and boy oh boy, it's majestic! I assume, because you can't see shit!

Again, squint and maybe you'll see something

Hannah catches on fire, goes over a cliff, and...well, let's just say that that whole five minutes was the best part of the movie. I legitimately loved it, it was wild! Even the rest of Crypt of the Living Dead: this is not a beloved film or a hidden gem, I don't think, but despite my tone in this post I enjoyed this. It's super formulaic and often glacially slow. I'd say the characters were paper-thin, but I'm not entirely sure they even count as characters, exactly. The whole "old-ass evil lady returns to life" has been done to much better effect elsewhere plenty of times over.

But I'll watch any Andrew Prine movie any time. A cobweb-covered sarcophagus you say? Sign me up. Seaside horror? Yes please. That Hannah-on-fire climax? Fuck yeah! Count me in, Crypt of the Living Dead.

Still, the film leaves one with many unanswered questions. As Andrew Prine and Mary leave Vampire Island, who will teach the children? To that end, what the fuck is the deal with Vampire Island? Before Hannah was awakened, Mary was literally the only woman there. Given these "one woman and a shit ton of men" demographics, perhaps Vampire Island should be renamed Smurf Island?

The biggest question I had, however, was why the cardboard sleeve for this said that Crypt of the Living Dead was in color. When the film began, I wondered if my eyesight was failing, or if Mill Creek lied. After all, the cardboard sleeve also said that Peter and Andrew Prine were vying for Mary's affection, which is not true. Well! When the movie was over, I did some computer hacking and found out that what the fuck YES, this movie is supposed to be in color! Imagine, if you will, when I saw the screencaps from the recent Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray release. Yes, imagine my face, as I will imagine your face when you see the screencaps now!

Can you believe it? Look at this shit side by side!

Sakes alive. Lush colors! The correct aspect ratio! Edges! Contrast! Nary a wayward pube in sight!

Oh well. That's Mill Creek, baby! Ya pays yuh money, ya takes yuh chances.

While I was jacked into the system, I also discovered that there isn't much info about this movie out there, not even on that Vinegar Syndrome release, probably because no one cares. It was a joint American-Spanish production, filmed on a Turkish island--beyond the cast and crew lists, that's all we've got. Do I care enough to watch it again, all cleaned up and in color, as it was meant to be seen? Probably not. But was my time with it the perfect way to kick off Chilling Classics Cthursday? Probably yes!