The Undead (1957)

I had long wanted to purchase the Region 2 DVD (it’s still M.I.A. in the U.S.) of this one, but somehow I kept postponing it – I remember there was some discussion whether the Fullscreen presentation here was the correct Aspect Ratio – and it eventually went out-of-print. Luckily, I stumbled upon a single copy at the Oxford Street branch of Virgin Megastores while in London last month and quickly lapped it up. Distressingly, as has been happening with some of the stuff I brought over from the U.K., the picture froze as soon as the film started on my Pioneer model – so I switched it onto the cheaper DivX player I acquired some months back and it proceeded to play all the way through without a glitch!

Anyway, to get back to the film: I have to admit that I was somewhat underwhelmed by it on this initial viewing – even if I readily concede that it’s one of Corman’s most ambitious and interesting efforts from this era (with a plot clearly inspired by the true case history dealt with in THE SEARCH FOR BRIDEY MURPHY [1956]); the only other three of Corman’s early horror titles that I’ve watched are A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959), THE WASP WOMAN (1959) and THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960). I know that, with the budgets usually allowed Corman at this time, not much could be expected with respect to the film’s look – but its partial period setting, perhaps, hampers it more than most; in later years, the black-and-white TOWER OF London (1962) suffers a comparable fate vis-à-vis the more visually lavish Poe adaptations.

The inadequate leads notwithstanding, the cast responds enthusiastically to the inherent campiness of the piece with Allison Hayes (as a wicked yet voluptuous sorceress), Mel Welles (as a Shakespearean gravedigger) and Richard Devon (as an equally theatrical Satan) coming off best – though the usually reliable Billy Barty makes for a rather obnoxious imp. Still, while the climactic Witches’ Sabbath (with its clever twist ending and a brief appearance by the ubiquitous Dick Miller) is an undeniable highlight, the blank verse and ‘Olde English’ pronunciation utilized throughout the re-enactment of the heroine’s past life gets tiresome pretty quickly; that said, this ill-advised attempt at respectability (the barren sets and general lack of period sense would have fooled no one even back then!) – for the record, the film suffered the ignominy of being spoofed on “Mystery Science Theater 3000” – does look forward to the somewhat similar yet rather more successful INCUBUS (1965) which was filmed, for no discernible reason, in Esperanto!

Among the DVD supplements are 9 theatrical trailers of titles in the “Arkoff Film Library” – though, curiously, not one for THE UNDEAD itself: I’d be interested to watch DAY THE WORLD ENDED (1955), THE SHE-CREATURE (1956), BLOOD OF Dracula (1957), EARTH VS. THE SPIDER (1958; promoted here under its original title of THE SPIDER), HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER (1958) and WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST (1958) – all of which promise to be cheesy fun…not that I’d rush out and go purchase them or anything at this stage, mind you! With a backlog of some 600 legitimate DVDs and almost as many recorded VHS titles, God knows I have enough stuff to tide me over for a long time to come; however, one film I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on is Corman’s influential sci-fi classic NOT OF THIS EARTH (1957) – itself remade no less than three times! – but which has, mysteriously, never been available on home video.

A 50-minute audio interview (recorded at London’s National Film Theatre) with legendary AIP honcho Samuel Z. Arkoff is also featured on the disc: it’s an interesting piece – especially when discussing his early years in the business, the advent of Roger Corman himself and the company’s tenure in England; less enthusing, however, are his decidedly feeble comments about the huge dividends made by low-budget productions today (in the face of so many costly box-office failures) – but where their ultimate quality, entertainment value and longevity could hardly be compared to the good old days.