If you're a fan of old gothic-style horror and 3-D, it doesn't get much better than Kino Lorber's Blu-ray release of The Maze, which features a first-rate restoration by the talented team at 3-D Film Archive. Directed by William Cameron Menzies and starring genre stalwart Richard Carlson with Veronica Hurst, the film plays dark and mysterious using light and sound to creep you out while tickling the eye with some terrific 3-D visuals. 3-D Film Archive keeps raising the bar with their 3-D Blu-ray restorations and this transfer is no exception. The ominous and effective imagery is bolstered by a moody and effective three-channel stereophonic audio mix. If you love vintage 3-D titles, this is a Highly Recommended release.
"You shouldn't have come here."
Growing up with a stable diet of horror films, I've come to love the movie that knows how not to rush things too quickly. If timing is the essential element for comedy, anticipation is the benchmark for effective and chilling horror. You tease the audience, you give them a little hint of flavor - you don't give them the full desert before the main course. So when the big reveal is made, it hits them over the head. This is how William Cameron Menzies crafted a chilling and effective gothic horror yarn with The Maze. Taking the basic elements of a family curse, Menzies along with his stellar cast including genre regular Richard Carlson with Veronica Hurst and Katherine Emery settle into a suspenseful and effective horror picture. Some may find the resolution to the mystery a bit on the silly side, but fans of vintage horror should get a kick out of it just the same and appreciate the bone-chilling ride along the way.
The whole show starts with the death of a Scottish Baron under mysterious circumstances. His nephew Gerald MacTeam (Richard Carlson) learns he is his uncle's only heir and must take over his position as Baronet of Craven Castle. Intent on marrying his fiancé Kitty (Veronica Hurst), Gerald is convinced it will be a simple matter of tying up a few loose ends, signing a few documents, and he can return and marry his bride-to-be. But for poor Kitty, it isn't that simple. As the weeks pass by, Kitty and her aunt Edith (Katherine Emery) grow impatient and concerned for Gerald. When a letter from Gerald finally does arrive, he seeks to break his engagement with Kitty and warns her to keep away from Craven Castle. Disregarding the dire word from Gerald, Kitty and Aunt Edith trek to the dark and mysterious Scottish castle in the hopes of learning what terrible fate has befallen poor Gerald - no matter the cost.
If there is one thing The Maze does correctly is know how to pace itself. Each scene lasts only a few moments - just long enough to tease the audience a little bit, give them a tidbit of information before asking another little question that helps build the sense of dread. Throughout, one gets the ominous sense of foreboding. When Kitty and Edith arrive at the castle and see that the once young and virile Gerald has aged and grown notably weary, you want to know how and why. When Gerald insists his unwanted visitors stay in their locked rooms and not venture about the castle, you want to know what secret he's keeping. When Kitty is awakened in the night by the sound of shuffling and limping, she's terrified but must know what it is. It's something creepy. It's something mysterious. It makes you feel cold and frightened by the unknown. It's right out of The Hound of the Baskervilles or The Wolfman, a story that makes you fear the little nooks and crannies where light fails to shine.
Now, I don't aim to spoil anything - as the film's marketing asks one not divulge the shocking secret - I will say that some will find the resolution a bit… silly. One has to keep in mind the mindset of the era when this was made. Unfortunately for the conventions it plays around with, it's a pretty dated bit of schlock that may tip the movie over into completely ridiculous for some. However, if you're a fan of old-school horror and classic monster stories, you should at least appreciate what the film was going for. I'll admit to giggling a bit, my wife had a bit of a laugh, but we loved the flick for all of its mood and atmosphere and the arresting 3-D imagery up to that point.
While I'll go into specifics of the image quality in a bit, I felt it worthy to touch upon the effectiveness of the 3-D image per its impact on the film. I tried watching this film in 2-D, and in all honesty, it diminishes the value. This is a film that really makes full use of the 3-D effect with a brilliant staging of objects and characters so that there is always a sense of depth from near objects to far away vistas. The titular hedge maze not only gives you that sense of near and far, but the close walls on either side of the frame maintain a sense of claustrophobia and danger. It's a real kick and the film makes great use of the visuals. Menzies clearly knew how to stage a shot so all of the principal actors could be in frame while maintaining a distance that doesn't make the image feel flat or confined to a simple soundstage on a Hollywood lot. A scene where Kitty and Edith travel to the castle in a car is a terrific example of character staging.
Cheers to Kino Lorber and 3-D Film Archive for not letting The Maze fall by the wayside. It's a creepy good time to watch on a cold dark night when you need something to keep you entertained while you huddle under the blankets. Fans of classic horror will absolutely want to give this one a go around. Newcomers and those who love the moldy oldies should have a great time with it just the same. I had a blast with this one so I got a hunch others will too.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Maze arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber. Pressed onto a Region A BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a standard sturdy Blu-ray case with reversible artwork options. The disc loads to a static-image main menu with traditional navigation options. If you're 3-D ready, the disc defaults to the 3-D menu so if you're keen on watching the film in 2-D you have to switch it back in the disc options.
The Maze makes its Blu-ray debut with a stellar 1.37:1 1080p transfer minted from a new restoration by 3-D Film Archive and funded by The Film Foundation. I'll just put my feelings about this restoration in simple terms: "wow!" Between It Came From Outer Space, GOG, The Mask, A*P*E, The Stewardesses, Cease Fire - it's getting really hard to determine which one is their best restoration effort to date and The Maze just makes that even more difficult. Aside from a couple moments of speckling the image hardly looks to have aged at all in the last 65 years. The strengths of this film's 3-D presentation are largely due to the framing of objects and people within any given shot. By keeping the camera relatively static, the audience gets to enjoy the framing and the sense of object depth along the z-axis. Even in the most confined rooms and spaces, there is a fantastic sense of depth.
The image retains a fine amount of film grain ensuring that details are spot on. Facial features, costuming, the film's ominous production design are all on display. Black levels, contrast, are spot on giving the image some deep inky black levels with a strong grayscale. There is a slight bit of speckling here and there in the image, but nothing too distracting or serious enough to negatively affect the 3-D experience. All around this is a great viewing experience that should excite fans still holding onto their 3-D gear and refuse to let the format die.
Keeping pace with the great 3-D visuals, The Maze comes packed with a solid English DTS-HD MA 3.0 stereophonic audio mix. Dialogue is crystal clear throughout. Sound effects are dynamic with a strong presence and help give the image a sense of dimension and spatial awareness. This is really effective during the quiet creepy moments when there are that distinct shuffle and limp sounds from behind the locked doors of the castle. When Kitty and Edith enter the maze and lose track of one another their attempts to find each other creates a nice dimensional effect with footsteps and whispers moving around the mix. Scoring by Marlin Skiles is moody enough to keep the tension up without overpowering the mix. Free of any hiss, pops, or any kind of age-related issue, this track is in exceptional shape. All around this is pretty great stuff that suits the mood and style of the film perfectly.
The Maze comes packed with a strong little package of bonus features. There may not be a whole lot of material here, but it is robust and informative. The Audio Commentary is a fountain of information about the film as well as the effort that went into the restoration of the elements to produce this Blu-ray. It's a must listen track.
Audio Commentary featuring film historian Tom Weaver, Bob Furmanek, Dr. Robert J. Kiss, and David Schecter. Between all of the players, there is a lot of ground to cover here. This is a very in-depth commentary track that coves a ton of ground in quick order without any gaps.
Veronica Hurst Interview (HD 6:08) While this is an unfortunately short interview, she goes into a bit about how she was cast as Kitty and what it was like making a 3-D film and her career.
Original 3-D Trailer (HD 2:14)
The Maze is a trip through classic gothic-horror where the setting and sound are just as horrifying as what you see. The film wisely knows how to hold back on big reveals, teasing the audience along the way until it reaches its big conclusion. How well that finale will play out depends entirely on your own sensibilities. I had a blast watching this film, letting its eery story unfolds with some strikingly effective 3-D visuals and I can't wait to give it another spin. It's another great addition in a growing collection of vintage 3-D films. Kino Lorber brings The Maze to Blu-ray in terrific form featuring another grand restoration effort from the great folks at the 3-D Film Archive. With a beautiful 3-D transfer, an impressive audio mix and a great little bunch of bonus features. The Maze is an easy Blu-ray to call Highly Recommended.