Period piece films are always tough to create on a shoestring budget. Historical accuracy sticklers will go nuts if a door knob is from the wrong decade. Sets and locations can’t be expansive since that means expensive. Wardrobe is a pain since it should resemble the bygone era a little bit better than a theme restaurant. That doesn’t mean a low budget indie filmmaker shouldn’t attempt such a feat. But they need to be extremely creative since they can’t compete with Stanley Kubrick. Drive-In Collection: The Dungeon of Harrow & Death By Invitation have two directors that at least had a clue how to give a taste of the old without spending all future earnings.
The Dungeon of Harrow (1962 – 87 minutes) is Pat Boyette’s attempt to cash in on Roger Corman’s Edgar Allen Poe series. The Texan filmmaker might not have access to Vincent Price, but could land Lee Morgan of Rio Grande fame. Aaron Fallon (Russ Harvey also the producer) is the rich son of a shipping magnet. His dad’s ship gets caught in a storm that leads to an unscheduled and sudden stop. The shipwreck is a model boat hitting a rock in a great low budget shot. The good news is there is a castle on the island. The bad news is the place is owned by Count Lorente de Sade (William McNulty) and he’s going nuts. He’s seeing an evil spirit. He’s not eager to let his new visitors go home. He’d rather have them in his dungeon. The most captivating character is Mantis (Maurice Harris). He’s an assistant to the Count who resembles Sisqó (“The Thong Song”). The film does it’s best to look like a period piece by having really cramped sets. The boat set is smaller than a dingy. Boyette does a lot in his film even though he doesn’t quite capture Corman’s Poe titles.
Death By Invitation (1971 – 81 minutes) is a witchcraft revenge thriller that starts off centuries earlier. Colonial citizens parade through the town before executing a witch. The story flash forwards to Staten Island in the early ’70s. This helps save the budget by quickly dumping the costumes and props. Turns it was the Vroot family that put the witch to death. In a case of slow brewing revenge, Lise (Shelby Leverington) has befriended the Vroot family. She kills the son Roger after giving a strange speech about cannibal women. She moves on to destroying the daughter and her fiance. Can she successful drain the Vroot’s of their bloodline one throat at a time? Is Lise a descendant wanting justice or is she the original witch? There’s odd humor in the horror film. Best is when the fiance visits his future father-in-law’s office. The Muzak is so loud that they have to shout to have a conversation. The movie was shot around Staten Island long before it became the turf of the Wu Tang Clan.
Drive-In Collection: The Dungeon of Harrow & Death By Invitation is a fine double feature. Even though they are made a decade apart, they both share a creative way of delving into bygone days. Death By Invitation is the stronger half with a cast that works best together. Although it’s hard to take your eyes of the early version of Sisqó in The Dungeon of Harrow.
The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic for both movies. Once more Vinegar Syndrome has done a fine job fixing up these two films. They’ve been released as really poor transfers in the past. While the prints are rather beat up, they colors are more vibrant. The audio is mono for both. These are low budget films so the sound isn’t going to test your 5.1 speaker system. They’re rough in patch, but never too nasty.
Audio Commentary is provided by The Hysteria Continues. The three guys talking about the film give out the sparse information about the production.
Drive-In Collection: The Dungeon of Harrow & Death By Invitation gives us two films with that peek into the past. That turn the grindhouse into a time machine.
Vinegar Syndrome presents Drive-In Collection: The Dungeon of Harrow & Death By Invitation. Directed by: Pat Boyette and Ken Friedman. Starring: Russ Harvey, Lee Morgan and Shelby Leverington. Boxset contents: 2 Films on 1 DVD. Released: May 7, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.