Monday, April 8

Some quick thoughts on H.P. Lovecraft's The Evil Clergyman (1987/2012)

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Barbara Crampton stars as mournful woman whose secret lover, a priest (Jeffrey Combs), reappears one night after presumed dead. After making sweet monkey love in the bedroom of a gothic castle, the spectre of another priest (David Warner) and a giant human-faced rat (David Gale), awaken the woman to warn her that he's no longer who she thinks he is...

This half hour long short was originally part of a famously lost 1988 anthology film, Pulse Pounders, from Charles Band's then crumbling Empire Pictures. The other two segments of the film were a Trancers and Dungeonmaster sequel. To hear Band tell it, the original negative was lost at the film lab while being processed, but there's a lingering vibe that perhaps legal wranglings could have instead been the cause of its sudden disappearance (the back cover vaguely puts it as "circumstances"). That is until recently when a workprint was discovered on VHS and Band and a team of "digital experts" went to restoring it for a year prior to its debut to the world.

Well, it's damn short, I'll tell you that! That's about the only thing I can say about The Evil Clergyman. It's nice to see Crampton carry this segment with Combs and Warner essentially acting as wallpaper while Gale needlessly appears in a handful of shots in heavy make-up hurling a few expletives. At give-or-take twenty-six minutes, it's a little hard to gauge since this was always meant to be "bite-sized" and feels like your usual, unexceptionally solid Band production of the period. Richard Band's newly-recorded score might be the most impressive aspect, again sounding atypical of the composer's work for his brother. Not bad, not great, good...too damn short.

And that's my biggest gripe about this release. Why didn't Band get the restoration of the whole seventy-eight minute film completed and then debut an extensive Pulse Pounders special edition on DVD? I've had issues with Charles Band's business practices, but here's great example of a cash grab of fans of the cast and those aware of the lore surrounding this long lost film. This disc even makes sure you're aware that the Trancers sequel segment, dubbed "Trancers 1.5", will have its sound/score completed and arrive on its very own DVD come October 2013.

Aside from that, I was ready to tear into the restoration work before seeing it. Remastering from a VHS is very dicey and sometimes the temptation for overzealous digital manipulation is too great. Yet Band should be commended, it looks quite good. Usually the picture quality resembles what a good LaserDisc looks like when fed through a better-than-average LaserDisc player.

There's some odd instances of pieces of the image "shifting", almost like the clean-up software was at times lagging as it actively tried to improve portions of the picture while in-motion. Also some black lines and flecks appear consistent with a workprint and sometimes the clean sounding score obscures the lo-fi dialogue. The back states the widescreen transfer is anamorphic; however, it's not and if it was the quality would drop further (16x9 just makes poor material worse off). The six minute featurette is a wash with Combs, Crampton, and Band not providing much of anything interesting about the production.
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2 comments:

Chuck Linington said...

I got to meet Jeffrey Combs at a con about three weeks before this was released. I asked him what was up with this DVD. He told be that he can not use the pulse ponders name because the original investors own the name. If he released a DVD under that name he would then have to pay royalties etc. He found bus work prints of the three segments that Band had thought lost. Comb's told me that band owed the film developer Italy a significant amount of money. So the developer will not return the original film and is holding on to it. Hence the old bus quality of the DVD. I hope this might clear things up a bit.

Jayson K said...

Thanks Chuck for the info, very interesting! I wonder if Band could have, or eventually, still release the entire movie in this subpar quality under a new title to avoid the investors (again).

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