Review Date: January 26, 2010
Released by: Scorpion Releasing
Release date: 1/26/2010
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
We tend to classify films, especially in America, as either studio or independent. Like defining the eccentricities of world cinema into something as broad as the country itís made in, these classifications can certainly be limiting. And when it comes to American horror cinema in the seventies and eighties, you practically have to go by State to truly define the different textures of the movement. Whether itís the perversities found within realism in Texas, with films like The Town that Dreaded Sundown
, Psycho from Texas
or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
or the grime behind the American dream in New York films like Maniac
, The Burning
and The Last House on the Left
, each area of America seemed to be contributing its own unique brand of horror. In California, despite being the center of studio filmmaking, there too was a distinctive independent style that sought a new spiritual stance on life and death. Defined in the early seventies by films like Love Me Deadly
or Doctor Death
and even into the video era with Boardinghouse
, it was certainly a different breed than what was happening on the other side of the coast.
Preserving this low budget legacy of American film is Scorpion Releasing, putting out the little seen shocker, the aforementioned Doctor Death: Seeker of Souls
in a new, restored special edition. Itís been over 35 years since the bad doctor brought the beautiful back to life, but thankfully Scorpion has done some reviving of their own. In 2010, does this Cali chiller still have a pulse?
The film begins with Fred Saunders (Barry Coe, Jaws 2) called to his wifeís side as she dies in his arms in the hospital. The camera follows her spirit up to a cross and therefore heaven, but for Fred it canít be over. He loves her too much. While grieving, he seeks out a number of different personalities, from clairvoyants to preachers, but none prove able to bring his dearest back from the dead. Almost ready to give up the dream and bag his hot secretary, Fred is passed on (wrong words?) to a one ďDoctor DeathĒ (John Considine
, who by this point had already played in both The Outer Limits
and The Twilight Zone
). He can certainly talk the talk, decked out in colorful suits and filled with charisma, and when he revives a burn victim with a new soul in front of a volunteer from the audience (Moe
from The Three Stooges
, no less!) he proves he can walk it, too.
Fred immediately seeks the aid of the bad doctor, offering up twenty five grand to bring him back his Laura. The doctor has been doing this for years Ė he himself has been transposed from body to body over the last 1000 years, so whatís one more case? Laura proves more than challenging, though, as her body does not want to accept the soul the doctor presents before it. Maybe it was a bad seed? Dr. Death tries again with another sacrifice, but she too is rejected. Heís never failed, and he wonít fail again, even if that means killing every woman in California to fulfill his promise. When Fredís smitten secretary becomes the next target, he must make a choice between life and death and sometimes both together!
really is an excellent undiscovered gem of a movie. Itís one of those horror movies that treads so skillfully between camp and horror, always out to give the audience a good time. Some of the scenes, like the skeleton head reveal that kicks off the opening credits to the ominous soliloquy in closing, are brutally chilling, while others can be quite humorous. There are a few nice bits of reflexivity, with a woman watching an actress being stalked on television, only to find herself stalked at the same time. Another woman gets hers at a drive in theater, proving that director/producer Eddie Saeta was never afraid to send a few winks the audienceís way. Remember, this is 1973, the time when the genre was striving for utmost realism in between The Last House on the Left
and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
. Saeta keeps things playful, but he never takes jabs at the genre or the film.
In the hands of a lesser director, the doctorís failed attempts at finding a suitable soul donor could easily have been played for satiric laughs, but Saeta never pulls the rug from his actors, instead letting them lift the film with their dedicated performances. Considine is beyond charismatic as the titular terror, always determined but never desperate. Instead of being the joke of the situation when he canít find a soul, Considine actually makes his character a pretty frightful threat. Considine carries the film, but even small performances like that from Moe Howard as the stuttering, sympathetic audience member is well above par for the genre.
Itís tough enough finding a horror film that can scare the shit out of you, but finding one that can make you both laugh and jump, like the greats like Halloween
and The Evil Dead
are an even rarer breed, and Doctor Death
is nearly worthy of such company. Itís got a script that can find both the serious and the silly truths of reincarnation (a man early on says he only wishes he could be reincarnated into the body of the hot women host), performances that can chew the scenery or scare the audience, and a wild visual style that at time borders on experimental. In addition to some stylish Bava-esque lighting and a myriad of optical effects, there are even some painterly evocations of the avant garde, like when the swing of Doctor Death
ís axe erupts into a splattering of strokes of blood right onto the camera lens itself. So whether itís literally drenching the viewer with blood via the visuals, or involving their ďwhat ifĒ questions via the script, Doctor Death
is one of those gems thatís always engaging its audience. Whether youíre a member of the peanut gallery or a doctor of cinema yourself, thereís plenty to enjoy in Doctor Death
Scorpion delivers an impressive 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer flagged for progressive scan. While initially the image has a considerable coat of grain even past the opening optical credits, after the first reel the image really clears up and stays that way for the rest of the film. The resulting image is impeccably sharp Ė you really see a lot of detail with edges clearly defined and flattering to the eye. The burnt head prop they use a few times is characteristic of this, each and every scar clearly and sharply visible. Itís a colorful film, too, and Scorpion has delivered a fittingly saturated transfer that really gives vivacity to all those red lights that seem to highlight the doctor. Other than the initial grain, the only other knock I have on the transfer is that it has light specking and dust present throughout, although itís not overly distracting. Still, this is a wonderful restoration of a film that didnít even have much of a theatrical run to begin with.
After their 5.1 foray with Silent Scream
, Scorpion is back to mono and the resulting track sounds just fine. There is a light and consistent hiss throughout, but there is still a fair depth to the dialogue. Effects and music stingers only rarely come through as shrill. There are a few really effective uses of the score for scares, and they thankfully come through nicely on this modest little mix.
The soul of Code Red has again been reincarnated in the extras here from Scorpion Releasing. Doctor Death
comes with a pair of interviews, a commentary and a few other tidings. The commentary is with the doctor himself, John Considine, joined with Scott Spiegel and Scorpion head Walter Olsen. Itís a real infectious track, with Spiegel and Olsen understandably smitten with the film, laughing at every instance and constantly picking Considineís brain about production. Considine remembers a decent amount and seems a little flattered with the fandom after a seasoned career as an unrecognizable character actor. Considine also gets a 10-minute video interview all his own, and although he does cover some of the same territory in the commentary, his anecdotes probably translate better on the screen anyway. He talks about the film and then about some highlights from his career (dubbing his tenure on the oft-delayed The Greatest Story Ever Told
as ďThe Longest Story Never ToldĒ) and even an appearance he made as Doctor Death.
The other interview also runs 10-minutes and features Eddie Saetaís son, Steve Saeta, in a tender tribute to the late director. Saeta talks about how Moe Howard was cast and defends his performance and his dadís hard work on the film. He then goes on to describe his fatherís other contributions to the industry as an assistant director, and itís quite the interesting track. You wonít find any of this on the IMDb, and Saetaís added love for his father makes this little piece a cut above the usual interview.
The disc is rounded off with a fun, dated TV spot (ďThese women have just seen their doctorÖĒ) and a funny introduction where Considine revives Spiegel in character before the film starts. There are also a number of other Cinerama trailers, including The Last Grenade
which sadly takes on another connotation in this Jersey Shore
age, Goodbye Gemini
, Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly
, Follow Me
(and awesome 50ís era fun in the sun type trailer), and Say Hello to Yesterday
, a May-December drama starring the recently deceased Jean Simmons. Overall a fine assortment of interesting and eclectic material from the tipped tail.
United States health care needs more doctors like Doctor Death
. The wait time is small at only 90-minutes, and he knows how to diagnose both scares and laughs, offering up some witty insight in between. This doctor also has no problem in dealing with gore, which is impressive for a guy born in 1973. First impressions arenít the best with a little grain to start, but otherwise heís very handsome considering his age. He may only speak in monotone, but heís always easy to understand. Doctor Death
also puts in the extra effort, offering insightful commentary and apt for interview along with his colleagues. Thereís no question about itÖI prescribe this to any horror patient looking for a little fun off the beaten path.
Movie - A-
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B-
Supplements - A-
- Running time - 1 hour 30 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- Video introduction
- Commentary with John Considine and moderators Scott Spiegel and Walter Olsen
- On-camera interview with John Considine
- On-camera interview with the director's son, Steve Saeta
- TV spot
- Cinerama trailers