DVD Review: Seizure

STUDIO: Scorpion/Kino Lorber | DIRECTOR: Oliver Stone | STARS: Jonathan Frid, Martine Beswick, Joseph Sirola, Herve Villechaize, Troy Donahue, Mary Woronov
RELEASE DATE: 9/9/14 | PRICE: DVD $19.95, Blu-ray $29.95
BONUSES: interviews with Mary Woronov and Richard Cox
SPECS: NR | 91 min. | Horror | 1:78 widescreen | mono

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

 

Oliver Stone (Savages, Platoon) has never been a particularly subtle filmmaker. Incredibly talented, yes, but subtle — not on your life. For those who think that his later experiments in gonzo style (Natural Born Killers, U Turn) were overwrought, let us suggest Seizure, Stone’s 1973 debut as a writer-director, is so overwrought that it qualifies as a bona fide camp masterwork (unintentional camp, that is).

The film (making its U.S. DVD and Blu-ray debut here) has all the right elements for a cult classic: a cast of genre movie (and TV) icons; a far-fetched storyline; flashes of sex and violence; and the aforementioned, utterly sincere filmmaker who infuses serious messages onto his out-there screenplay.

Stone was clearly a Twilight Zone fan, as Seizure is a Serling/Matheson-esque scenario about a horror writer (Jonathan Frid) whose sketches of villainous figures come to life to terrorize and kill him, his family and their weekend guests. The trio of killers is just a tad unusual: a giant African-American who is facially disfigured (Henry Judd Baker), a very sexy “Queen of Evil” (Martine Beswick) and a medieval dwarf (Herve Villechaize).

Seizure movie scene

Herve Villechaize goes murderously medieval in Seizure.

Since that kind of insanity wouldn’t suffice, Stone took care to include the requisite “expert explains the irrational phenomenon” scene (the expert in this case being one of the author’s weekend guests) and not one but two “shock” endings.

As Barnabas Collins on Dark Shadows, Frid was unquestionably one of TV’s most memorable vampires. He was also something of a ham, though, and Stone’s sledgehammer direction bought out that aspect in full form — he spends a good deal of Seizure being confused and agonized by the odd situation confronting his guests.

The cult-figure ante is upped considerably by the presence not one but two genre-movie queens, Mary Woronov and Martin Beswick. Woronov plays one of the party guests and spends a good deal of the film wearing very little. Although she is playing a victim rather than the “dominant woman” type of character she is known for, she lends sex appeal to one of the film’s odder moments, a knife fight she is forced to have with Frid.

Beswick’s anonymous but alluring Queen of Evil character seems to have wandered in from some other, more coherent horror flick. Stone uses her as a kinky archetype — the crafty murderess who seduces men to their doom.

Ensuring that Seizure fully qualifies as a jaw-dropping excursion into camp is the mighty little man of Fantasy Island, Herve Villechaize. Herve clearly practiced and refined his English between this film and his stint on that equally over-the-top series. Here his thick French accent renders him nearly incomprehensible. This is made worse by the fact that Stone gave him some howlers to declaim. To wit: “I am old and I am ugly, but remember my race was born inside your belly!”

As for Oliver l’artiste, he hauls out all of the horror genre’s hoariest visual clichés: use of the wide angle lens to give a “creepy” look to the proceedings, flash cuts and disorienting zooms. The musical soundtrack also includes many kettledrum interludes to signal “terror!” Whether or not he intended it, this stands as the only time an Oscar-winning director echoed the no-budget, anything-goes Herschell Gordon Lewis gore classic Blood Feast (1963).

Seizure makes very good Halloween “video night” viewing all on its own, but this release also includes two new cast-member interviews. Mary Woronov’s chat is a hoot, as she dismisses Stone as a “rich kid from upper Manhattan,” informs us that Troy Donahue offered to be her stunt double in a bikini swimming scene in freezing water (he got hypothermia and had to be brought to a hospital), and that Herve refused to wear his costume at first because he said his “package” was too big for the form-fitting medieval outfit.

Woronov also offers up opinions on a few of her other cult movies (Night of the Comet, Terrorvision, Silent Night Bloody Night). Her costar Richard Cox does the same in his interview. Cox had a fun experience making Seizure as a young actor — except for the instance where he nearly had his head blown off by a prop gun.

Cox offers comments on his other genre pics, including The Vindicator, Hellhole, King of the Mountain, and a major-studio film that was as sleazy as any exploitation film, William Friedkin’s Cruising. He offers his opinion of the last-mentioned, saying it made a statement about truth and its relationship to everyday life.

He does boggle the imagination when, in all seriousness, he refers to Cruising as “an epistemological adventure,” but somehow that seems very much in keeping with the mind-bending nature of this release.

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About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”