Controversial Blus: The House That Vanished

All thanks again are due to reader Simon for a second round of controversial blu-ray coverage!  This time we've got Dark Force Entertainment's top selling, and most frequently stepped on title, The House That Vanished.  Why is the owner of the label posting Facebook photos of himself crushing copies of this disc?  Well, that's going to take a little unpacking... and even then I can't say I fully understand it.  In fact, it can even be a little confusing just who Dark Force Entertainment is, so let's briefly start there.  DFE is owned and operated by David DeFalco, writer and director of the unofficial Last House On the Left remake Chaos in the early 2000s, and he's working with Code Red, although they're distinctly different labels.  And so far, they've had the most success with their series of "Retro Drive-In Double Features," of which this is the 3rd.
The House That Vanished is a bit of a shameless retitling of 1973's Scream... and Die! to tie it in with The Last House On the Left and its ilk.  But it's actually a better and more fitting title once you've seen the movie.  It's a Spanish/ English co-production that's not quite as sleazy and exploitative as other notorious House films like House On the Edge Of the Park (also included in the Retro Drive-In series).  Though it is a little trashy, certainly (more on that later).  But it's more of a suspenseful mystery with a few eccentricities to keep it fresh.  The story follows a young fashion model named Valerie who lets her criminal boyfriend take her on a little burglary job.  But as they're snooping around, the home owner returns unexpectedly with a prostitute, who they witness get murdered.  Valerie is pursued by the killer but escapes, leaving her boyfriend behind, and now she seems to have a cloaked, black gloved stalker following her around.  But she can't go to the cops because she was involved in a crime, so she must solve the mystery on her own, before she becomes the next victim.
House isn't a bad little flick.  It's more of a thriller than an actual horror film, I suppose, with a lot of colorful red herring characters that will genuinely have you guessing as to the true killer's identity.  It's respectably acted and cooks up some nice atmosphere despite having almost no soundtrack.  There are technically a few, probably library-sourced, notes a few of the most electric scenes, but what you'll really take away from this movie is the sound of our heroine's high-heeled boots clomping around on wooden floors.  Ninety percent of this movie's audio is, "clunk, clunk, clunk!"  You'll still be hearing it in your dreams months later.

Anyway, House earns its R rating more from sex scenes than gore, but even that's almost restrained enough for mainstream audiences.  It's too British to go full trash, and the filmmakers were clearly interested in constructing an effective suspense film more than just throwing cheap thrills at you.  Although there's incest, rape, murder jump scares by pigeons and naked scenes with monkeys on hand, too.  And, of course, how sleazy the film is depends on just how uncut the version you're watching is.  And that's really the big issue surrounding Dark Force's release - it's heavily cut.
Dark Force posted an... interesting statement when fans starting reporting that this edition was missing a lot of footage: "This is the us theatrical r-rated version that played the drive-ins. It is not the British version which is about 9 minutes longer containing a strangulation scene and love making scene that was cut from the us version-this version does contain nudity, violence and gore. It is more accurate for the retro drive-in series due to it actually being the version that played along side last house on the left and don't look in the basement."  And I've seen a lot of back and forth on forums and Facebook as to whether this shorter cut actually did play in some drive-in or not, which I'm not going to get into, because it seems like a pretty arbitrary distinction.  This film is missing some key scenes.  Yes, whole scenes, not just trimming a few bloody frames.
Surely, this shot wasn't removed because censors found it too shocking...
Even if you've never seen the film before, you'll notice at least one funky edit.  Like the incest sex scene.  That goes on a bit longer and gets a bit more graphic in previous versions of this film.  You could see why someone would cut that down.  But then, later on, one of the biggest most important murder scenes is cut.  And it's a long scene, probably the most graphic one in the film (well, when it is in the film).  That's really neutering the film.  And okay, so these cuts make sense, you might think.  They're just making a softer edit for wider audiences.  But then they also cut the following scene with the neighbor and the one after that, where Valerie walks around her apartment and ultimately stumbles upon the body.  The only reason to cut that would be for time, because she's not walking around in her underwear or anything.  Or maybe the print was so damaged, they just lost a solid chunk?  That's certainly possible, since there are a few other moments where brief lines of dialogue and transition are dropped.  And since they cut both the centerpiece murder scene and the follow-up where the body is discovered, it makes the plot downright confusing, because the audience literally doesn't know what happened to who and what everybody's suddenly worked up about.
The Eerie Midnight Horror Show
The House That Vanished has never really had a proper release up 'till now.  There've been grey-market DVDs from Jef Films and Desert Island Films, which are apparently just VHS rips (though uncut), and there's an Italian DVD, but it only has dubbed Italian audio.  So this is the first official release of the film, and it's great to at least finally see the film in widescreen and all.  And I do also have to mention the second feature.  This is a Double Feature, after all.  The second film is fun, Italian sexorcism flick, The Eerie Midnight Horror Show.  That's a fresh screenshot above, but I've gone ahead and updated the page I already made for that film (that will go live the same minute this post goes up, so if you're reading this...), so go there for a full-on proper comparison against the previous Code Red blu and even a Mill Creek DVD.  The short version, though, is that it's a different encode, but using exactly the same master, and they look virtually the same.  But how does House look here?
2018 Dark Force Entertainment blu-ray.
Well, if you're used to Code Red's "grindhouse" blus, you know what to expect.  Nice, 1.78:1 HD scans of a very beat up print.  Lots of green lines, chemical burns, fading and discoloration.  But compared to dark, murky video transfers before it, I can't say it's not a vast improvement.  And while calling this cut version "more accurate" is a big stretch, I will concede that the condition of the print does at least fall in line with Dark Force's Drive-In aesthetic.  You really feel like you're watching old film; just like going to an Exhumed Films screening.  It's taken from a print, not an OCN, so it's contrasty, a little soft and detail isn't as fine as it could be, but it's still a strong HD image of the film that's far preferable to anything we've had before.

And the audio's also what you'd expect: mono lifted right from the print, with hiss and pops to match the visual damage.  But it doesn't have any serious issues like Trapped.  And the "clunk, clunk!" foley makes me question how great the sound mix ever was for this movie.  Just look at those screenshots, and what you imagine in your head should be about what this disc sounds like.
For extras, we don't get anything pertaining to the films themselves (a rule for all these Drive-In Double Features going forward, apparently), but we're given the option to watch both films in "Drive-In Mode."  What this does is play both films, with about 15 minutes of stuff in between.  It's mostly a 10 minute reel of classic drive-in intermission commercials and animations, shown full-screen and sourced from old video tape.  It's fun, and they also throw in a few pertinent trailers.  They're no substitute for "real" extras, but they're amusing and better than nothing.  They get you into the spirit of things if you have the patience to watch both films in a row.
So, what's the story with this disc?  Well, after all the complaints about it being cut, Dark Force officially "discontinued" the title.  That's in heavy quotes, because they continued to sell it for a limited time (like a last chance to get a rare collector's item kind of pitch), then sold it as part of a "Jose Larraz Tribute Package," where they bundled it up with the Code Red blu of Black Candles.  And they're still selling it through Screen Archives.  So, considering it was already their top selling title, I imagine they plan to clear out all 1000 copies.  I mean, it doesn't look like he's stepping on those copies in the photos hard enough to do any damage.  In other words, it's discontinued, but as easy to get as ever.
But is it worth getting?  Well, it's heavily cut and that's a serious disappointment no matter how you spin it.  On the other hand, this is by far the best the film has ever looked.  I guess you'll have to decide for yourself, would you rather watch an ugly VHS-sourced, but uncut DVD, or an HD blu-ray of a beat up and cut up old print?  Both glasses are half empty.  Also, there's the question of whether this film's even worth it.  Like I said, it's an affable little mystery with some dashes of exploitation to it, but it's not exactly a horror masterpiece.  Instead of choosing between heavy compromises, it's probably better to just focus on other titles for now.  The hope is that another release will follow, whether Dark Force takes another stab at it, or another label gets a hold of it.  Promising rumors are circulating, but who knows?  Maybe just preorder the next couple Vestron titles and see what the situation is with this film in a couple years.

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