Back from the Dead – Blu-ray Review

4 Stars Eerie supernatural chiller debuts on home video
Back from the Dead Review

Today, Back from the Dead. Best known today for creating the TV series Rawhide and helping to turn the radio series Gunsmoke into a long running and successful TV series, Charles Marquis Warren first started off work in Hollywood as a script boy in the 1930’s before going to New York City to work as a pulp magazine writer; after serving in the United States Navy during WWII – discharged after being wounded by a grenade (he also earned a Purple Heart) – he returned to Hollywood and established himself as a screenwriter before ascending to the director’s chair in the 1950’s. After leaving Gunsmoke following the second season, Warren returned to directing movies, of which Back from the Dead was among his first efforts following his first sojourn into television. Originally released by 20th Century Fox, Kino has licensed the movie from Paramount – the current rights holder – for its home video debut.

Back from the Dead (1957)
Released: 12 Aug 1957
Rated: Approved
Runtime: 79 min
Director: Charles Marquis Warren
Genre: Horror
Cast: Peggie Castle, Arthur Franz, Marsha Hunt
Writer(s): Catherine Turney
Plot: A newly married young woman is possessed by the evil spirt of her husband's deceased first wife. The possession turns her into a scheming killer who will stop at nothing to get what she wants.
IMDB rating: 5.2
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Fox
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 19 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Blue keep case with slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 05/21/2024
MSRP: $24.99

The Production: 3/5

“There are secret ways of causing pain, pain that ends in death.” – Mrs. Ada Bradley (Helen Wallace)

Along the jagged coastline of California, what starts out as a pleasant vacation for Mandy Hazelton Anthony (Peggie Castle) is soon turned into a living nightmare for her sister Kate (Marsha Hunt) and husband Dick (Arthur Franz). After a seizure causes her to miscarry, Mandy starts referring to herself as Felicia, who happened to be Dick’s first wife; this proves to be very distressing for both Dick and Kate, both of whom start to learn things about the past that Dick certainly hoped he would leave behind following Felicia’s death. But it goes from bad to worse when Kate discovers that a devil worshipping cult led by Maître Victor Renault (Otto Reichow) plans to sacrifice one of Dick’s friends in order to fully bring Felicia back into Mandy’s body for good, setting up a final confrontation in which Mandy’s fate hangs in the balance.

Back from the Dead is an eerie little chiller that’s long on atmosphere although a bit jumbled in its execution. Under the direction of Charles Marquis Warren, this cinematic adaptation of Catherine Turney’s novel The Other One – adapted for the screen by Turney – does move along at a decent pace and evokes memories of past ghostly chillers like The Uninvited (1944) and Rebecca (1940). One of the film’s major assets here is the cinematography of Ernest Haller, who makes the Laguna Beach locales – filling in for the Monterey County coastline (specifically Point Lobos near Carmel) mentioned in the novel – both luminous yet bristling with an undercurrent of supernatural intrigue amidst the sunbaked scenery. However, the film’s major flaw here is that the film’s script is short on logic – likely due to the fact that certain scenes from the book were omitted in the adaptation – giving the movie a sense of an “anything goes” mentality rather than a straightforward escalation of tension in key scenes; the film’s cast certainly does their best with what they have to work with here. So, despite a somewhat muddled execution, Back from the Dead is still a moody and eerie little film that has a great sense of spooky atmosphere.

A staple of B-movies during the 1950’s – often playing the “other woman” – Peggie Castle has likely her best film performance (or performances, in this case) here as Mandy and Felicia; shortly after this movie, Castle moved into television – most notably Lawman from 1959 to 1962 – before alcoholism took its toll on her health and eventually caused her death in 1973 at the age of 45. Better known as the titular character in Edward Dmytryk’s The Sniper (1952) and as Lt. H. Paynter Jr. in The Caine Mutiny (1954), Arthur Franz casts a rather dour impression as Dick Anthony; a year after this movie, he would return to the horror genre for Jack Arnold’s sci-fi chiller Monster on the Campus (1958). Marsha Hunt – in a rare film appearance during the decade, which was spent mostly on TV due to being blacklisted by the major film studios – has one of her better film appearances here as Kate, determined to stop Felicia’s spirit from taking over her sister’s body; although she would announce her retirement from films in 1960, she would continue to make occasional appearances while also devoting her time to humanitarian work. Rounding out the cast here are Don Haggerty as architect – and Dick’s close friend – John Mitchell, Marianne Stewart as cult member Nancy, Otto Reichow as the devil cult’s leader, Helen Wallace and James Bell as the Bradleys (Felicia’s parents), Evelyn Scott as Molly Prentiss (though the subtitles on this release identify her as “Molly Prentice”), Jeanne Bates as the Bradley housekeeper Agnes, Ned Glass as the doctor and Jeane Wood as the nurse.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film is presented in its original Regalscope aspect ratio of 2:35:1, taken from a brand new HD master created from a 4K scan of the film elements by Paramount Pictures. Film grain, gray scale and fine details are all presented faithfully with only minor cases of scratches, tears and dirt present on the transfer. This release looks great for a film that hasn’t seen the light of day on home video until now and is likely the best the movie will ever look on home video.

Audio: 5/5

The film’s original mono soundtrack is presented on a DTS-HD Master Audio track for this release. Dialogue, sound mix and Raoul Kraushaar’s eerie music score are all presented faithfully with minimal cases of distortion like crackling, popping and hissing present on the track. Again, this release is likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video.

Special Features: 3/5

Commentary by film historians Tom Weaver, Gary Don Rhodes and Larry Blamire – Recorded for this release, Weaver goes over the details of the film’s production, Blamire points out some similarities between this film and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo in some scenes and Rhodes speaks about Raoul Kraushaar’s music for the movie; the track also features an archival audio interview with actress Marsha Hunt.

Commentary by film historians David Del Valle and Dana M. Reemes – Also recorded for this release, Del Valle and Reemes share their appreciation for the movie and why they consider it to be underrated in terms of 1950’s chillers; some of their information shared here overlaps with Weaver’s commentary track.

Bonus KLSC Trailers – It! The Terror from Beyond SpaceThe Colossus of New York 99 River Street

Overall: 4/5

Garnering mixed reviews from critics and audiences, Back from the Dead is a fair though not completely successful little chiller that does boast an eerie atmosphere and two solid performances from Peggie Castle and Marsha Hunt. Kino has done a good job in rescuing the movie from obscurity on home video, with a solid HD transfer and two informative and engaging audio commentaries as special features. Highly recommended.

Mychal has been on the Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2018, with reviews numbering close to 300. During this time, he has also been working as an assistant manager at The Cotton Patch – his family’s fabric and quilting supplies business in Keizer, Oregon. When not working at reviewing movies or working at the family business, he enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast, playing video games and watching baseball in addition to his expansive collection of movies on DVD, Blu-ray and UHD, totalling over 3,000 movies.

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Flashgear

Senior HTF Member
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Nov 23, 2007
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Randall
Thank you Mychal for another fine and thorough review! It's been many years since I've seen Back from the Dead. I'm delighted and excited by your praise of it's cinematography and location filming. Great that they included two new commentaries and a vintage audio interview clip with Marsha Hunt.

KL continues to delight us in bringing us rarities and much desired films in HD.

I'm also a big fan of Charles Marquis Warren, his theatrical films and television work (especially his Westerns). I find familiar and reliable faces like Arthur Franz, lovelies Peggy Castle, Marsha Hunt et al, to be marvelously nostalgic for me.

Looking forward also to KL's imminent two disc Blu set of Sci-Fi Chillers, with three films, The Unknown Terror/Colossus of New York/Destination Inner Space...when I get that, I can stage the original Charles Marquis Warren 1957 theatrical double-feature of Back from the Dead and The Unknown Terror!

Kudos also to Paramount for enabling Kino-Lorber's great work with more newly remastered HD transfers!
 
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Camps

Screenwriter
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Jul 17, 2010
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Tom
Randall, you took the words right out of my mouth!

A highlight of this disc is the Tom Weaver (and friends) commentary; insightful and entertaining as always.

Mega-Kudos to Kino for unearthing these rarities.
 

Dick

Senior HTF Member
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Rick
Mychal, you certainly make this sound more interesting than the BOMB rating in Maltin's guide suggests. Between you, the Regalscope B&W presentation, and the two commentaries, I am inclined to at least rent this. Thanks for your review!
 

Dr. Lejos

Agent
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Jul 14, 2023
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Rick
In a way, Maltin does the film a service by not elevating our expectations in any way, which is probably the best way approach this film … which I would categorize as one for completists rather than those searching for buried treasure. Finally seeing it as it was meant to be seen (the b&w/scope format is really ideal for vintage horror subjects, giving our eyes a wide perimeter for shadowy images and occurrences) and a decidedly sophisticated, if admittedly muddled, approach to its occult subject matter, certainly qualify it for fans of the genre and 50s trends in general … with the option to double-bill it thanks to Kino’s companion release as noted above.

It’s blu-ray releases like this which make me so grateful to distributors like Kino, who take the plunge for cinema archeologists among us.
 
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