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Robert Voskanian The Child

Disc Reviews

American Horror Project Volume 2 | Blu-ray Review

American Horror Project Volume 2 | Blu-ray Review

In their continuing attempt to resurrect forgotten genre obscurities from the crumbling facades of horror’s heyday, Arrow Video took three years to curate the second volume of their American Horror Project, which began in 2016 with their first installment (including the titles Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood, The Witch Who Came from the Sea and The Premonition). If anything, this next edition is a marked improvement on the first offering, of which the crown jewel was an entertaining camp performance from Millie Perkins. In fact, Volume 2 features two Oscar winners and some exploitation cinema alums in three films which are informed by, in various precarious ways, childhood trauma. Although each belies a shoestring budget, to be sure, there exists a delightful, autumnal fecundity in these forgotten gems of indie horror offerings and revitalizes the expectation for Arrow’s future recuperations.

Dream No Evil (1970)

The oldest title of the trio is Dream No Evil, an indefatigably zany and certainly unpredictable feature which easily courts comparison to everything from Douglas Sirk to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Edmund O’Brien, who won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for The Barefoot Contessa (1954) stars in this weirdly progressive condemnation of revivalism, religion and foster care as a grizzled father figure reunited, quite inexplicably, with the beautiful daughter he mysteriously abandoned decades prior.

Directed by John Hayes, whose involvement with a young Rue McClanahan resulted in the actress’ first performances in the late 1960s (a RiffTrax version of their 1968 oddity Hollywood After Dark is certainly a lark, especially with the accompanying commentary track) and various genre jumping in the 1970s (from softcore to westerns) help with the unpredictable nature of Dream No Evil, an accidentally feminist-leaning interpretation of madness which features a final twist which would now be considered cliché. Nonetheless, there’s lot to offer here, beginning with the beautiful Brooke Mills (no relation to other famous Mills of the era, whose red-headed beauty sometimes conjures the essence of a Redgrave) as an unbalanced young woman desperate to reunite with her father (her zeal is never explained, leading to various psychoanalytic conjecture) and has incestuous relations with her two adopted brothers.

Medicine vs. religion and femininity vs. masculinity set up some juxtaposing dualities here which allows Dream No Evil to masquerade as something more intelligent than it really is. However, the tangled subplots are undoubtedly simple and yet somehow difficult to suss out, beginning with Grace’s confusing relationship with her fiancé Patrick (Paul Prokop), who abandoned his family’s pseudo religious snake pit of shysters to pursue medicine (and an obvious attraction to fellow student, Shirley, a young woman taking advantage of second-wave feminism by refusing to adhere to social norms regarding cleanliness or cooking as she pursues being a ‘lady’ doctor). Grace, instead, is involved as a ridiculous prop in her other brother’s exploits, which recalls the Dorothy Malone figure in Sirk’s The Tarnished Angels (1957). Michael Pataki (who appeared in other ventures from Hayes) is reminiscent of the gruff, alcoholic days of Richard Burton as a religious charlatan (his caravan has all kinds of laughable passages painted on it, including “God is alive, I talked to him today) with a subplot not unlike a variety of familiar characters in everything from Elmer Gantry to Leap of Faith. Marc Lawrence appears in a brief role as a pimp/undertaker.

But as the creaky narrative brazenly blasts into uncharted weirdness, which includes a nursing home/mortuary segment featuring cinema’s oldest and happiest prostitutes, the sky initially seems to be the limit. Of course, Dream No Evil eventually lands safely back on Earth thanks to its oddly interjecting narrator, on hand to smooth over obvious rough spots, and a detective who arrives at a crime scene to explain it all for us. Until then, it’s a fun re-discovery which barely manages to best Hayes’ sordid black and white melodramas.

Dark August (1976)

Director Martin Goldman’s most notable contribution is perhaps his entry in the first chapter of Fred Williamson’s Blaxploitation Charley saga (films which utilize a racial epithet negating their recuperation) but it’s this low-fi sophomore entry which showcased a creativity cut short by its lack of success. Co-written by headliner J.J. Barry (a comic supporting actor from classics like History of the World: Part I and This is Spinal Tap), a city slicker artist who mows down a young girl one day and finds himself cursed by her grandfather (William Robertson), an angry hillbilly who knows how to consort with demons.

The film opens with the old man’s incantations, which finds Barry’s jean-appareled Sal Devito experience a variety of strange occurrences, resulting in the film’s most chilling moments where he is accosted by a dark, shadowy figure. His worrisome wife (Carolyne Barry, his real-life wife and Star Trek alum who also co-wrote and eventually opened a notable acting school in Los Angeles) connects him with her psychic friend, who in turn recommends he meet with Adrianna (Oscar winner Kim Hunter), the local witch. Adrianna’s involvement has consequences, and the grandfather’s resourcefulness leads to more rudimentary methods in his dogged quest for vengeance.

Kim Hunter, who populated a variety of genre items, including her 1943 debut The Seventh Victim and composer William Fischer (whose first composition credit was Ivan Passer’s 1971 title Born to Win) are stand-out elements in this slow-burn genre piece which is a lot more effective than it seems (and is the best title in this collection).

The Child (1977)

A babysitter arriving in a secluded area to care for a new post is the thrust of the first and only title from Robert Voskanian, The Child, which utilizes a variety of familiar traits. Sinister wards and unassuming babysitters make for complimentary bedfellows (riffed on quite memorably with Ti West’s The House of the Devil, 2009), although this is the least remarkable of the three titles presented here, if mostly for some wooden acting from lead Laurel Barnett as the awkwardly anointed Alicianne Del Mar.

After the death of her mother, little Rosalie Norden (Rosalie Cole) has been having some difficulty adjusting. When Alicianne (Laurel Barnett) arrives to work as a babysitter for the young child, she finds herself returning to the backwoods in which she was raised. The child’s father (Frank Janson) seems a bit sinister while Rosalie’s older brother (Richard Hanners) appears to be quite affable. But Alicianne soon finds a connection between strange night-time happenings in the woods and Rosalie’s disappearance into the nearby cemetery at night, where she goes to meet her “friends.’

Similar in ambience to something like the Henry James classic The Turn of the Screw, Alicianne is basically a governess who quickly finds something isn’t right in the Appalachian backwoods. It appears the kindly neighbor lady (Ruth Ballan) is the victim of an overly elaborate gaslighting scheme orchestrated for convoluted reasons by young Rosalie, angered by the death of her mother and somehow able to command the dead to rise and wreak havoc. Alicianne initially seems to assuage the young girl’s torment which might be negated by the babysitter’s potential attraction to the older, surprisingly well-balanced older brother. But these are all presumptions in a film which seems defiantly against explaining its plot developments.

The early set-up is eerie enough, with chatter about mysterious ‘animals’ no one sees corresponding in the woods at night. Young Rosalie is cut from the cloth of Patty McCormack’s The Bad Seed (1956), but her malevolence is never justifiably outlined other than presumed supernatural powers. By the time The Child gets around to its tired third act zombie showdown, narrative and characterization sink into inevitable motions.

Disc Review(s):

All three titles are presented in high-definition new 2K restoration with original uncompressed PCM Mono audio. Dream No Evil and Dark August were restored from the original camera negative in 1.85:1 while The Child transfer was culled from original film elements, presented in 1.33:1 (which also includes a 1.78:1 presentation). Picture and sound quality are well-attenuated on each disc, especially Dream No Evil and Dark August. An insert essay booklet features three written pieces on each title (which posits Dark August as an obscure slice of Vermont folk horror) and all three discs feature a variety of extra features. On Dream No Evil, an audio commentary track with Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan is included; director Martin Goldman supplies an audio commentary track on Dark August; and director Robert Voskanian and producer Robert Dadashian are on an audio commentary track for The Child.

Melancholy Dreamer:
American Horror Project co-curator Stephen Thrower made this nine-minute video appreciation of Dream No Evil.

Hollywood After Dark – The Early Films of John Hayes:
Stephen Thrower also made this thirty-four-minute video essay on the filmography of John Hayes from 1959-1971.

Edmond O’Brien – An Actor for All Seasons:
Writer Chris Poggiali is on hand for this twenty-two-minute segment on the career of character actor Edmond O’Brien.

Audio Interview with Rue McClanahan:
Actress Rue McClanahan, who dated director John Hayes and appeared in his earlier features, is included in this twenty-nine-minute archival audio interview conducted by Stephen Thrower in 2005 discussing her collaborations with the director.

Revisiting Dark August:
Stephen Thrower created this ten-minute video appreciation on Dark August.

Mad Ave to Mad Dogs:
Director Martin Goldman is on hand for this fifteen-minute interview, discussing his transition from commercials to feature filmmaking.

Don’t Mess with the Psychic:
Marianne Kanter, producer of Dark August, is featured in this nine-minute interview.

The Hills Are Alive – Dark August and Vermont Folk Horror:
Author and artist Stephen R. Bissette discusses Dark August in the context of Vermont genre filmmaking in this thirty-four-minute feature.

The Zombie Child:
Stephen Thrower provides a thirteen-minute video appreciation of The Child.

Fathers of The Child:
This twelve-minute featurette on the making of The Child includes interviews with director Robert Voskanian and producer Robert Dadashian.

Dream No Evil (1970)
Film Review: ★★½/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Dark August (1976)
Film Review: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

The Child (1977)
Film Review: ★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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