The Norman J. Warren Collection Review
If you had said, twenty five years ago, that Norman J. Warren would one day be receiving the fulsome tribute of a lavish boxset of his films, the gales of laughter would have been enough to carry you off to Oz along with Dorothy and Toto. Indeed, part of the attraction of Warren's filmmaking has always been his refreshing lack of sophistication or even a semblance of respectability. But as it happens, in 2004, Anchor Bay has produced a lovely set of his four best known horror films - although 'best known' is perhaps a misnomer. This, ladies and gentlemen, is sleaze, the kind of unpleasant, taste-free cinema which immediately divides the audience. If you want happy endings, lavish settings and elegant performances then you might want to look elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you like movies which feature frequent zooms into lacerated throats, bug-eyed monster rape, Satanic ravishment filmed "on location in Surrey" and lesbians being eaten by badly made-up aliens, then step right up. Warren really is, along with Lord Pete of Walker, one of the kings of Great British sleaze. God bless him.
First things first. Those of you who remember the disaster of Anchor Bay's 'coffin' for the Amicus Collection will be dismayed to see that this new box is a similar coffin design. Luckily, the spindles are a little sturdier so the chances of in-transit slippage and scratching are rather lower. The design itself is gorgeous but I'm not entirely convinced about its practicality. The discs are lodged quite tightly on the spindles and some people have complained about the disc centres cracking when they are trying to dislodge them. I didn't have this particular problem. Anchor Bay must surely be feeling now that their consumers are never happy - either the discs are too loose or too tight. The box is strikingly coloured and comes with a brief but capably written booklet about Warren's work. The back is somewhat elliptical about the films themselves, sadly, which makes the chance of an uninformed purchase considerably less likely.
There are five discs in the set. Four of them contain the films, reviewed in the links below, and the fifth is a compendium of various featurettes and Warren's little-seen debut film Fragment. This latter item is a real oddity. Since Warren couldn't afford to record a soundtrack, it's a ten minute long film in black and white backed only by an energetic jazz score by John Scott and various sound effects. It's hard to know how to describe it so I will leave the curious to discover it for themselves. It features Michael Craze who was later to appear in two of Warren's full length movies.
The featurettes were all put together by Norman himself and they are uniformally excellent. The first is "A Sort of Autobiography" which runs about 28 minutes. Beginning with a nostalgic look back at his formative years and first films - the sexploitation flicks Her Private Hell and Loving Feeling - he explains how he got into filmmaking and brings the story up to date with his activities since Inseminoid. The other four featurettes are detailed, compelling accounts of the making of each film with a combined running time of well over two hours. There's everything you could possibly want to know about the films here and a lot of succulent gossip. Plenty of interviews throughout - Stephanie Beacham and Sally Faulkner come across particularly well and have a great sense of humour about their exploitation movie past.
We get extensive, well planned photo galleries for each film and the bonus disc is rounded off with nine biographies of Warren and various luminaries from the films
Reviews of the individual films are linked to below:
Overall, this collection is a delight. Although the quality of the films and the transfers is variable, the package as a whole is quite an achievement, not to mention excellent value for money, and I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone with a taste for the scuzzier end of the horror genre.
The ratings reflect my overall marks for the whole collection.