Digi-Schlock: THE EVIL/TWICE DEAD (Shout! Factory DVD)

The two-fer discs in Shout! Factory’s line of “Roger Corman Cult Classics” releases have mostly fallen into a comfortable pattern of linking two of the lesser-known titles in Corman archive together via similar elements.  Their pairing of The Evil and Twice Dead maintains this trend.  It brings together two haunted house films from two different eras of Corman’s career, with The Evil representing the New World Pictures glory days of the 1970’s and Twice Dead representing the more home video-oriented 1980’s output of Concorde Pictures.  Between the two, one gets a nice glimpse into how the same subject matter was given different approaches in different decades.

Both films have been given new anamorphic transfers, which is a first for both titles.  There’s a bit of speckling/scratching at the very beginning of each and sometimes around reel changes but both look impressive overall, offering a quantum leap in color and detail over the old, fuzzy VHS versions most fans are accustomed to.  The sonic portion of these transfers sticks to the original theatrical mixes and each sounds fine.

Care is also taken with the presentation of the films on the discs.  Producer Cliff MacMillan plays up the inherent double-feature feel of pairing these films together by providing animated menus that replicate the look of an old-fashioned movie theater (a technique he devised when producing double-feature discs for BCI).  Better yet, the viewer is given the option of watching the films separately or as “The Roger Corman Experience,” which provides two period-specific bonus trailers to precede each film as well as vintage “previews” and ” feature presentation” cards with the Keith Mansfield-derived music that every exploitation fan knows by heart.  Fittingly, all the bonus trailers represent other Shout! Factory titles (said trailers can also be viewed separately).

If that’s not enough, there are plenty of additional extras.  Each film features a commentary track moderated by Code Red Films honcho Walter Olsen: director Gus Trikonis, cinematographer Mario DiLeo and writer Donald G. Thompson are the participants on The Evil‘s track while Twice Dead‘s track features director/co-writer Bert Dragin and star Tom Breznahan.

The Evil commentary track is a solid one, with each of the collaborators offering decent insights into their particular line of work on the film.  Surprisingly, DiLeo has the most interesting material: he reveals how the film’s visual effects were mostly pulled off via practical, in-camera means and reveals how he accomplished some tricky moving shots without the benefit of a Steadicam.  Olson peppers the track with periodic questions, which unfortunately sometimes distract the other participants while they are in the middle of a thought (he also pokes fun at/criticizes a few parts of the film in a rather un-moderator-like way).  That said, the trio of filmmakers’ comments are enough to hold the listener’s interest.

Unfortunately, the Twice Dead commentary track doesn’t fare as well.  Breznahan and Dragin are willing participants but neither has strong enough memories to fill the entire track.  Also, Dragin seems to not understand that most people who listen to a commentary track on a DVD have already watched the film so he keeps refusing to talk about effects or plot twists until they appear on screen.  Olsen tries to prop the track up with plenty of questions but they stick at a fanboy-ish level of trivia that don’t really open the film for discussion in an interesting or ambitious way.  The end result feels like a missed opportunity.

There is also a featurette for Twice Dead, an interview with Jill Whitlow that was produced by Michael Felsher.  It’s a short but sweet piece that has Whitlow discussing her career, her memories of Twice Dead and the reasons she left the film business.  She’s got a charming personality and tells her tales well so the piece is easy to enjoy.  Elsewhere, the package is rounded out with theatrical and t.v. trailers for The Evil.

In short, Shout! Factory and producer MacMillan have gone beyond the call of duty to beef up this double feature with plenty of extras and a savvy presentation.  Your Humble Reviewer appreciates the level of work put into what could have been a simple two-movies-on-one-disc release.

The Evil / Twice Dead [Double Feature]

The Evil / Twice Dead [Double Feature]

First time on DVD for both titles! Two chilling tales of suspense and survival in haunted houses!

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