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Unearthing “Master of Horror” With David Gregory of Severin Films

Tuesday, January 19, 2021 | South of Heaven


One of Severin Films’ big Black Friday releases was the documentary TALES OF THE UNCANNY, which features two very special extra discs for fans of anthology horror. Disc one contains Eerie Tales (1919) and Unusual Tales (1949), two underseen anthology horror flicks. But disc number two, surprisingly, features a 2K remaster of anthology opus MASTER OF HORROR (1965), a classic among Argentinian horror fans! Originally titled OBRAS MAESTRAS DEL TERROR (the actual translation would be “Masterpieces of Terror”) and directed by Argentinian maestro Enrique Carreras, this is a Poe inspired anthology film written by Narciso Ibañez Serrador (Who Can Kill a Child?) and starring his father, Narciso Ibañez Menta, a cult figure in Argentina and Spain. Having MASTER OF HORROR released on Blu-ray in a 2K remaster from the dupe negative is more than a dream come true for Argentinian horror fans. We reached out to Severin’s capo David Gregory to ask him about this release and the story behind it, which led to an interesting conversation not only about the movie, itself but also about cult film preservation and restoration in general.

How did you first find out about MASTER OF HORROR and what made you decide to release it?

It was one of the interviewees for Tales of the Uncanny, Adrian Garcia Bogliano [director of Rooms for Tourists and Late Phases] who mentioned MASTER’S “The Tell-Tale Heart” as one of his favourite episodes. That’s what put it on my radar.

So I came across MASTER OF HORROR and I knew I could get the Jack Harris [producer of 1958’s The Blob] version of it because I had dealt with the Jack Harris estate before. Harris had been the one who originally distributed it in the US. But the problem was that all of the original film elements were at the Academy, in Hollywood. They have a big archive over there, and they have all the elements, but they had been closed all year so I didn’t think I would be able to get all the actual physical elements in order to license the movie. However, the guy I usually deal with there, a week before we were finishing the Tales of the Uncanny Blu-ray, told me “I have to go in tomorrow to get some other elements. If you could swing by at this time I could get you the dupe negative of MASTER OF HORROR.” So I asked the Jack Harris people [if they had] the full version because the short version must have been made from a longer version originally. But they had no idea what I was talking about. So at that point, what I decided to do was to put out MASTER OF HORROR as a bonus disc just for the Black Friday sale and not in the wide release version, and hopefully get the longer version at a later point so I can actually put it out properly.

Well, it’s amazing news to have it on Blu-ray because it has not been released on HD anywhere as far as I know. What’s surprising about MASTER OF HORROR is that it was directed by Enrique Carreras, a director lots of film critics consider to be a hack, but it’s actually a really good film, by far his best, probably because of the involvement of Narciso Ibañez Serrador as a writer and his father, Narciso Ibañez Menta, as an actor.

Definitely. I interviewed Ibañez Serrador for Who Can Kill a Child? years ago and I was unaware that this film even existed. Even the American version has never been out on video or anything like that. It’s a real obscurity for us! So it was really bad news to find out that actually the best episode, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” is not in it. I now want to find, restore and release the full version, if possible.

The one thing about it is that the local, longer version is only available in Spanish, while the shorter U.S. cut is dubbed in English.

Yeah, but that’s okay. I would actually prefer that. We don’t mean to do a new dubbing, we’ll just put subtitles, you know? Latin American horror is an area that I have a bit of a blind spot on. For example, somebody from Brazil contacted me years ago about some women in prison movies and I was thrilled: “Yeah, it sounds great!” I said. But then, I never heard anything from them again. For MASTER OF HORROR, we’d need two things – the rights to the film and film elements. We can do the rest. Do you know Kier-La Janisse? She’s doing this folk horror documentary and I asked her [if we could]  get folk horror films from around the world and package them in a box along with the documentary when it’s done. There’s a couple of Latin American ones I’m interested in because folk horror is so specific to territories and regions [based] on their local legends, that I really want it to be international and not only British and American.

You can find a lot of stuff. There’s much more to Brazillian horror than just Coffin Joe. Mexico too!

Yeah, but mostly Brazil. Mexico is not that easy. I have a couple of friends in Mexico that I asked to find stuff for me, and nobody knows who has the rights to these films. The other thing is that a lot of the film elements are just gone. There are even 35mm prints that are just not there. I found the same in Hong Kong, because I’m doing a documentary on fake Bruce Lee movies, the ones that came out after Bruce died, and it turns out none of those films – negatives, prints, nothing – exist in Hong Kong. They apparently threw them in the river!

You mean the “Bruce Le” films, The Clones of Bruce Lee (1980) and all of that stuff?

Yeah. Clones of Bruce Lee is an example. I got a German print of it that is shit, but it’s all there is. I scanned that print and we restored it up to an extent, but it’s so scratched and faded like a lot of these films. They just played them and played them and played them until they fell apart. So there’s very little left, and it’s a shame.

Here in Argentina, lots of films, some of them small classics, got lost and disappeared completely because the original film elements are nowhere to be found.

You have to keep the best original elements in order to preserve a film. At least the original 35mm print. And I run into that a lot. For example, people in the ’70s thought that when they transferred the original 35 or 16mm print to a broadcast master, that would be good enough to keep it preserved. They thought they could just throw away these big cans of 35 mm reels away. Big mistake! For instance, there’s a film called Unhinged (1982), a big video nasty in England for which there are no film elements in the world. There’s basically a one-inch master in London and it’s not even as good as a DVD!

MASTER OF HORROR (a.k.a. OBRAS MAESTRAS DEL TERROR) is available now as part of Severin’s Tales of the Uncanny 2-Disc Limited Edition Blu-Ray.

Nic Loreti