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The People Who Own The Dark     1976     Code Red Blu ray

                                                There’s no better way to totally ruin a de Sadian sex party than with a well-timed atomic war. A group of elite

                                      debutantes and professionals gather at a Spanish villa for a weekend of uninhibited debauchery, only to be interrupted by an

                                      (off screen) explosion as festivities begin. They emerge from their basement playground to find the house servants blinded

                                      from the explosion. One of the revelers, Professor Fulton (Alberto de Mendoza, “Father Pujardov” from Horror Express, 1972),

                                      knows what’s happened. As a high-ranking government official he received a warning about potential nuclear conflict in the

                                      opening moments of the film.

          The cast dispassionately accepts the end-of-the-world scenario and sets about stockpiling food and water. Despite the threat of radiation they venture into the nearby village for supplies. Everyone there is also blind from the explosion and have all gathered in the local monastery. Unable to do anything to aid the sightless villagers--and given the attitudes and personalities we’ve been introduced to we’re pretty sure they wouldn’t do anything even if they could--the men return to the house with their provisions. Two other partygoers drive into the village for help and are promptly set upon and killed by the locals. Later, as the guests try to make us feel something for their characters, the night is shattered by more violence.

          In an obvious commentary on the ills of a class-based system, the blind villagers storm the villa, chucking rocks through windows (they’re remarkably accurate shots, these unseeing commoners) and laying siege to the ruling elite within. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before the blind break in and a game of cat-and-mouse ensues. The villagers are not dissimilar to the eyeless Templar zombies of Amando de Ossorio’s Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971), locating their prey by sound. The partygoers dodge, weave, and hide from the grasping hands and searching canes on their way to the cellar. However, once confined below the paper-thin relationships between the elites disintegrate in a fury of bullets and fire as they squabble over a way to escape. Eventually, two survivors get away and make it to the main highway. They’re picked up by hazmat-suited men in a motor coach and delivered to their final destination.

          The People Who Own the Dark owes a great deal to John Wyndham’s 1951 novel The Day of the Triffids and its subsequent film (society blinded by unusual explosions). Influences are also drawn from the Ubaldo Ragona/Sidney Salkow apocalyptiflix The Last Man on Earth (1964; hordes of transformed humans outside the house, burial pits), as well as Night of the Living Dead (1968; survivors trapped in a barricaded building, the cellar as the safest and last location).

          The blinded villagers begin as shocked and scattered victims (the scene in the monastery shows them stumbling and colliding with one another like ants in a stirred up hill), but as the film progresses they become a more cohesive and dangerous unit. By the end they easily bring to mind the abused blind men from “Blind Alleys,” the final segment of Amicus’ 1972 anthology Tales From the Crypt.

          The People Who Own the Dark serves up a recognizable Euro-horror cast. Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy is on hand as Borne, a hard drinking, gun happy partier who isn’t given much to do in the plot—although his mere presence is enough to keep the viewer alert to any and all possibilities whenever he enters the scene. This was one of several films that Naschy made with director León Klimovsky, including La Noche de la Walpurgis (US: The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman, 1971) and Orgía Nocturna de los Vampiros (US: The Vampires’ Night Orgy, 1973).

          Also on hand is Sophia Loren-lookalike Nadiuska (who would go on to play young Conan’s mother in 1982’s Conan the Barbarian) as leading lady Clara. Emiliano Redondo is Dr. Messier, whose depth of medical knowledge and skill amounts to listening to see if a body has a heartbeat. Teresa Gimpera (The Spirit of the Beehive, 1973) is on hand as Berta. And Maria Perschy (el Buque maldito, 1974 [US: Horror of the Zombies]; Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, 1974) is Lily, the hostess and lady of the manor. Ricardo Palacios (the sheriff in Claudio Fragasso’s 1984 Monster Dog) is Dr. Robertson, who gets to play at being a dog, reverting to animalistic behavior and crawling around naked on all fours.

          Despite the talent and experience available, performances fail to register much energy or enthusiasm. Even Naschy, who never minded a good bit of scenery chewing, is restrained throughout. The onset of nuclear war comes across as a “Ho-hum, how’s-this-going-to-ruin-our-plans?” annoyance. The script never bothers to make anything useful out of the end of the world, which serves as a flimsy excuse to blind everyone. (Fernando Meirelles’s 2008 film Blindness accomplished the same thing without the need for nuclear annihilation).

          Code Red’s 2012 DVD release was pulled from a ratty 35mm print as well as a 1” VHS tape. The print was the better looking of the two but it suffered from a lot of damage, including some missing scenes. The tape version was more complete in terms of full scenes. So enthusiasts were left with a mixed bag: the missing scenes were restored (via the tape) but the damaged materials compromised the overall image. The Blu-ray upgrade has been taken from a new print that remains a mixed bag. While the print is complete and is brighter in places (revealing more detail in the shadows and occasionally more accurate flesh tones), most of the original damage remains. Red and yellow scratches, speckles, and cigarette burns at reel changes consistently plague the image. Colors run the gamut from acceptable (given the quality and age of what Code Red had to work with) to grindhouse washout. Unless a pristine negative miraculously shows up, however, this is probably as good as TPWOTD is likely to look. The sound is likewise acceptable with only the occasional dubbed word spliced into oblivion at reel changes, or the hiss and pop of the fatigued source material.

          The only extra is a discolored theatrical trailer also sourced from the original VHS release.

Prey     1977     Vinegar Syndrome Blu ray

                                               Jessica (Glory Annen in her first starring role fresh out of Canadian drama school; Supergirl, 1984) and Josephine (Sally                                        Faulkner; Vampyres, 1974) are reclusive lovers living on a British country estate. They spend their days in leisure, neither

                                     apparently having or needing a job (since we’re led to believe that Jessica inherited the estate from her parents).  In an opening                                      hijacked from William Cameron Menzies’ Invaders From Mars (1953), Jessica is awakened one night by a bright light in the                                            sky. The following day the two women discover Anderson (Barry Stokes; Enemy Mine, 1985) in the caretaker’s cottage.

                                     Josephine attempts to run him off but Jessica is thrilled about the idea of having company--especially since their mutual

                                     friend, Simon, mysteriously vanished on his last visit with them. 

          Anderson returns to the house with them. Jessica pumps him for information but Anderson is elusive, responding to her questions with the answers she provides (“Are you from London?” “Yes…London.”) The man-hating Josephine goads him with insults but Anderson is nonplussed, more fixated on Wally the parrot than Josephine’s barbs. Anderson’s presence naturally drives a wedge between the two women, revealing that their idyllic isolated relationship isn’t as picturesque as either pretends it to be. Jessica, the younger of the pair, is naïve and tenderhearted; she wants to go out and see the world. Josephine is demanding and manipulative, determined to keep Jessica all to herself.

          Upon discovering their chickens have been torn to pieces, the women attempt to kill the fox they believe responsible. When the crafty critter escapes they return to the house, angry and dejected. Anderson briefly disappears, only to return with the dead fox, which he gives to Josephine as a gift. Jessica wants to celebrate and Josephine insists on getting Anderson ready--which she does by dolling him up in a dress and makeup. But once again the blatant humiliation seems lost on Anderson. They drink champagne, dance and play hide-and-seek until Josephine and Jessica’s spat puts an end to the festivities.

          The film careens toward its climax when Jessica finds her parrot half-eaten in its cage. She blames Josephine and their ensuing argument escalates into a wicked catfight. Jessica seeks solace from Anderson and seduces him. The primal urges he’s been keeping in check overwhelm him: he rapes, kills and devours Jessica. He sets off in pursuit of Josephine, whose own murderous impulses have led her to dig a grave for Anderson (just as she once did for Simon). However, the alien predator has his own idea about who will occupy the grave. The film ends with a shot of the caretaker’s cottage as we hear Anderson reporting to his superiors that the invasion of Earth can begin. “The humans,” he says, “are high in protein and make for easy prey.”

            Filmed in an astonishing 10 days (while the script was still being written), director Norman J. Warren (Terror, 1978; Inseminoid, 1981; author of Bloody New Year, 1986) makes good use of the Shepperton Studios back lot and the gorgeous early summer days. Warren credits the excellent crew he had and offers pleasant memories of the production in the accompanying audio commentary and 22m interview.

            The minimalistic alien makeup by Harry Frampton (The Shuttered Room, 1967; The House That Dripped Blood, 1971; Raw Meat, 1972) consists of red cat’s-eye contact lenses, a set of needle-sharp teeth, and a large nose prosthetic that looks as if it were left over from Rino Di Silvestro’s Werewolf Woman (1976). Despite the simplicity of the makeup it still has an unsettling effect because Warren doesn’t let it linger onscreen.

            The Redemption video label released Prey (also known as Alien Prey) on DVD in 2004, and again in 2009 (with the same image quality but new extras). Vinegar Syndrome has thoroughly improved the entire viewing experience with this Blu ray boost, brightening some of the more muted colors and bringing every prop and setting into focus. They’ve also supplied a fresh set of extras.

            Redemption’s reissue DVD included an audio commentary with Warren, Faulkner and editor Alan Jones, moderated by Rebecca Johnson. This time around the commentary includes only Warren and Faulkner—and the loss of a moderator is a painful oversight. While Warren does his best to carry the commentary, Faulkner’s input is minimal and she often falls back on repeating “Yeah yeah yeah yeah” in response to Warren’s reflections or the onscreen action. There are also frustrating gaps of silence as both participants merely watch the film unfold.

            Also new to this upgrade is “Directing the Prey,” a 22m interview with Warren; “Becoming the Prey, a 14m interview with Faulkner; and “Producing the Prey,” a 7m interview with producer Terry Marcel.  All three are of interest although Warren’s material is repeated in the commentary. A theatrical trailer is also included.

            Made with a nearly invisible budget, Warren utilizes every resource within reach (even the nasty brackish stream on the back lot which features in an agonizingly protracted slow motion sequence). The top-notch crew was fresh from Blake Edwards’ The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), and the art director had free run of Shepperton’s massive prop department. Prey is a pleasing, self-contained alien reconnaissance story that relies on solid directing, acting and growing tension to make up for its budgetary shortcomings. In his interview, producer Terry Marcel alludes to a proposed sequel (an outline of which he says is probably somewhere in his files) that would’ve seen Earth invaded by the whole race of feline-faced carnivores hunting us down for food. One wonders what Prey 2 could’ve been like with more funding and time?