Thursday, October 6

Phantasm Ravager Deleted Scenes(?) End Credits Rundown

Figured I'd go through and post descriptions of all the clips that play under the end credits that aren't in the final film. There's a surprising amount and I have no idea why all this was omitted. Possible deleted scenes on the Blu-ray/DVD? Possible signs of a re-edit midway through production? Maybe one day a fan edit could be created to slice out the "Reggie Dilemma" and un-bullshit the film's events with these scenes (if ever released as a Blu-ray extra or something, that is). I've tried to list them in keeping with the film's order, but a few scenes don't match at all.  
  • Opening Desert Road Scene: A shot of the Cuda thief yelling the "Get outta the road, asshole!" line out of the window.
  • Opening Desert Road Scene: The Cuda driving over and crushing a disabled sphere.
  • Dawn Death Scene: Reggie quickly grabbing a switchblade off a dresser and tensing up against a door after the sphere unlatches from her head.
  • Dawn Death Scene: Straight-on angle of Reggie crashing through a window while escaping (a side angle of this can be seen in the trailer).
  • Wooded Path Scene: Two spheres come up on both sides of Reggie's head and protrude their spikes, his eyes nervously dart between both.
  • Wooded Path Scene: Reggie being "beaten up" by spheres striking his chest, knee, and head. He drops his pistol in the process.
  • Wooded Path Scene(?): Reggie using his quad barrel to blast an approaching sphere.
  • Mausoleum Scene: The Lady in Lavender rising up after being shot by Reggie screaming as her eyes become demonic.
  • Mausoleum Scene: Shot of the Tall Man standing amongst the tombs (might be a composite made for the credits sequence).
  • "Cave" Scene: Reggie lying on the ground then suddenly slicing an attacking dwarves' chest open with his sword.
  • "Future" Hospital Scene(?): Three shots of Coscarelli and Hartman dressed as resistance fighters battling dwarves (also seen in the street scene in the film), an unknown man appears in one shot fighting along with them. Eventually the dwarves get the best of them.
  • Red Planet Scene(?): Reggie cowering trying to cover his face while a giant vortex swirls behind him.
  • Red Planet Scene(?): The Tall Man raising his arm to point and say something with the right half of his face ripped off.
  • Outside "Future" Hospital Scene(?): Quick shot of Mike firing his pistol directly at the camera.
  • Outside "Future" Hospital Scene: Two shots of the same scene where Mike and Reggie fire upon and slice up dwarves and gravers.
  • (Scene Unknown): Shot of a sphere blasting out through the face of an unknown man.
  • (Scene Unknown): Quick shot of Reggie firing his pistol.
  • *(Scene Unknown): Two unknown heavily dressed men in a snow-laden forest fire and strike a giant sphere in the sky with a rocket launcher.
  • *(Scene Unknown): Jet fighter "threading the needle" between two giant spheres just as they crash into each other.
  • *(Scene Unknown): Giant sphere crash landing and destroying a building as it rolls toward the camera.
  • *(Scene Unknown):Giant sphere blowing up a car with a laser, seen from the dash of the Cuda as it speeds toward the crash.
  • (Scene Unknown): Shot of the Cuda taking a turn on a road with a giant sphere hovering in the clouds (not the one seen at the end).
*Assuming the unused giant sphere stuff might be more flashbacks intended to show the Tall Man's takeover of mankind. 

Wednesday, October 5

Phantasm Ravager (2016), The Biggest "F*ck You" in Horror History?

*SPOILER WARNING, don't think I'll be able to talk about the film without spoiling key points, beware.

Flat out, the fifth and presumably final entry in Don Coscarelli's epic Phantasm series is an awful film and even worse sequel. The franchise has etched out its own special place and has maintained a dependable consistency over the decades. Incredible when considering the long waits between sequels filled with years of false starts and speculation. While other genre icons have branched into more mainstream crowds, even Ash, the apocalyptic yarn of Mike (A. Michael Baldwin), Reggie (Reggie Bannister), and Jody (Bill Thornbury) has always stuck to close to familiar waters of its extremely loyal fanbase forged from late night airings and rentals. This makes it especially hard to see what Coscarelli, and director/co-writer David Hartman, have decided to make of this last stand against the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm).

Getting the obvious out of the way, this is an extremely cheap production, shot here-and-there over several years, and shortcomings are constantly apparent. There's a heavy reliance on computer generated effects; everything from spheres taking flight, splattery gunshots, the creation of the (still) mysterious red planet, and even superimposing Scrimm's face on his Tall Man character at times. None of this is any real issue as it's been a minor miracle the series, with successively much lower budgets, has clawed to four sequels over three decades. Hell, the very existence of Phantasm II (1988) alone will forever defy all kinds of conventional film business logic. Although it probably would have been a good idea to launch a phantasmic crowdfunding effort a few years ago. I mean, if Tom Savini and Dario Argento can promise the world and not deliver a single frame, then why not?

"Fuck everything, man..."
What practically breaks this sequel's balls, and the entire series (if you let it), is how Coscarelli and Hartman allow an interesting concept to nullify everything that is Phantasm. It turns out, nearly forty years and five films can be chalked up to grand tall tales told to Mike by a now elderly Reggie in hospice suffering from dementia. That's right, all of the events in 1979 and eternal struggle since end up as bullshit since none of it ever happened. Thanks again phans for waiting all this time!

Watching in despair are Mike and Jody, who apparently still died in a car accident but appears alive in "reality" later on, powerless as their longtime friend mentally slips away. The various sequences of Reggie continuing the fight against the Tall Man are all just increasingly warped delusions colored by the worry of his circumstances. Early on Mike brings up the "possibility" of other planes of existence, but it's obvious that's not at play here. This might be the most insane case of sacrificing an entire premise for a silly concept film in all of genre history. Why?!?

Honestly, Ravager's wanton destruction of the series makes it tough to view anything in a positive light this time around. Suddenly learning the Phantasm universe was an excuse for a Lifetime Channel melodrama can do that. Still, if one completely disregards that aspect, the story tries to satisfy fans with an albeit rushed depiction of a world finally under the Tall Man's total dominion. Fun sequences for sure, but again, now rendered meaningless.

Everyone seems game here, especially Scrimm, who conveys more things of importance than the usual terse Tall Man one-liners. Series vet Christopher L. Stone's often lively score is excellent and helps hold together what usually feels like a patchwork of strung together scenes. Despite being hardly utilized, it's also nice to see Kathy Lester and Gloria Lynne Henry reprise roles. Curious also is what appears to be quite a few deleted scenes playing under the end credits. Many of which featuring special effects, even one that looks like the Tall Man with half his face ripped off. I can't help but wonder whether plans changed during this sequel's long production and the film took a detour into the heap before us today.

It's easy to imagine some longtime fans concocting half-assed explanations to make the "Reggie Dilemma" not totally negate the established mythos. However, it's impossible for me to get beyond everything literally being all for not. What's the point when three principal characters aren't who've they've always been across four previous films? They're suddenly just ordinary people whom we never actually knew. For all we know Reggie could have been a used car salesman, Mike a professor, and Jody a mechanic. So who cares what happens to them after it's revealed to be a grandiose lie. Ultimately, Phantasm Ravager just feels like some snide attempt by Coscarelli to take back his creation that's long rested under the care of a legion of fans. Something like "Oh, you think Phantasm has depth? Okay well suck on this twist." Not clever, nor interesting, just a tarnish on the silver sphere.

Tuesday, February 16

The Return of Japanese AV Distributor MAD VIDEO?

Details are sketchy, my Japanese is awful, but it appears the rebirth of one of the most notorious home video labels is imminent. During the late '80s to mid '90s, V&R Planning's Mad Video released a gamut of brutal shockumentaries mostly comprised of newsreel culled from Asia and South America. Their most proficient series, Death File, ran for fourteen volumes with a final omnibus completing the set. Mad also released several Faces of Death installments and the Guinea Pig compilation Slaughter Special in 1988. V&R became so involved in these shock films that studio founder Kaoru Adachi, who narrated the Death File series, acted as co-director and executive producer of Faces of Death 4 (1990). Even going as far as to travel to Brazil to capture footage firsthand.

Almost understandably, none of these have been officially made available on anything but their original VHS editions in Japan. Although now V&R is resurrecting Mad Video beginning in June. Adachi has been filming a new shot-on-video feature under the working title, よみがえり遊び ひとりかくれんぼ (roughly: Resurrected: Hide and Seek), for debut on the revamped label. It's unclear whether Mad is looking to re-release their prior catalog, but this blog entry seems to indicate they're waiting for a ban to be lifted later this year.

As to what this ban entails? I'm unsure since I always believed their brand of especially insane shockumentary was never formally "banned" even after the copycat crimes of Tsutomu Miyazaki and infamous Charlie Sheen/FBI incident cast shade upon the Guinea Pig series. Along with their blog above, Mad Video has been ramping up their social media presence on Twitter, interesting to note their header is from American Guinea Pig, and a new YouTube channel with a brief interview with Adachi. Japanese cult clothing outfit Terror Factory, that ship internationally, have also released a Mad Video logo t-shirt and hoodie. Guess it's fair warning to get those barf bags ready for summer...

(Kaoru Adachi on the set of よみがえり遊び ひとりかくれんぼ)

Friday, February 12

Some quick thoughts on Zombie Fight Club (屍城 / Dead City) (2014)

A sudden zombie outbreak occurs in an "anonymous" apartment building in Taipei driving residents, including a SWAT team on a corrupt mission caught in the wrong place, to fight or die. Eventually, "fight or die" becomes the mantra as humanity falls and the living are forced to battle the undead with their bare hands.

Nothing like truth in advertising...or not. Joe Chien's far too serious Zombie Fight Club is godawful, falling terribly short of the light and fun standards of other Eastern zombie outings like fellow Hong Kong production Bio-Zombie (1998), Thailand's SARS Wars (2004), or Japan's Junk (2000). Still being my very-forgiving-toward-zombiedom self, this hyperactive piece of crap obviously aimed at the hollow-headed teen demo has to fail on several fronts to entertain, or make much sense, to earn this much damnation.

The worst sin Chien commits, that's actually quite reminiscent of Uwe Boll, is the flaky structure of even the most basic storytelling. Starting thirty minutes before the chaos, we're introduced to the principals, which only amount to three characters despite throwing in a slew that ultimately only appear important. Model Jessica C. is Jenny, a damsel in distress whose only job is to be attractive at the hip of our hero, the only moral police officer Andy (Andy On, True Legend). Jack Kao (Shinjuku Incident) appears as a father who turns to ruthless means to protect his infected daughter and Michael Wong (Beast Cops) is mostly wasted as the bastard captain of the SWAT team. Everyone else acts as nameless zombie chow in the same few apartments and hallways over-and-over to pad the ninety minutes.

Then suddenly, literally a few seconds into the exact one hour mark, Zombie Fight Club finally becomes a fight club with zombies (original!). On-screen text introduces us to the same world one year later. Kao's crazed father character has gone full Night of the Living Dead Harry refusing to admit the zombified state of his daughter while lording over living vs. dead brawls. Ridiculous, right? A tonal shift so striking it's tough to mentally wrap one's head around. Seemingly as of Chien purposely edited one hour of a film entitled "Emergency! Taipei Apartment Zombies!" to smashcut together with what originally was Zombie Fight Club. The last half-hour picks up after the redundancy of the first sixty minutes with a couple scraps of flashy fisticuffs. However, events play out as expected if you've ever seen Romero's 1968 classic as Jessica and Andy struggle to remain unbitten.

Major plot grumbles aside, Apartment Complex Fight of the Dead does something that will piss most aficionados off even more. Every splatterly squib, blown-off head, or ripped limb is completely CG. That shitty fast n' cheeseball CG too and not the more skillful touch often seen in The Walking Dead. There's a few great zombie make-up jobs, but the computer-assisted onslaught proves impossible to ignore. Nothing involving the red stuff remains untouched. This even extends into gunfire and explosions, so the visceral impact of both the horror and action simply isn't there. Of course, if you can get beyond this, you might be able to find enjoyment while also ignoring the structural frustrations.

Being too hard on what's knowingly popcorn junk? Nah, problem is there's plenty of other zombie flicks that also don't reinvent the wheel but are actually very entertaining. Zombie Fight Club is a mess that constantly prohibits your brain from shutting off. It's bad when the most interesting aspect is the odd choice of having ample English peppered randomly amongst the Mandarin. Sometimes even characters that at first speak Mandarin switch to English, that's not dubbed in, for no reason. For the curious, wait to pick it up used from all those Walmart impulse purchases and don't be fooled by the title, cover, or Scream Factory's straw grabbin' synopsis on the back cover.

Sunday, August 24

Hiatus Explanation, Not Dead and Will Be Back...

Just 'cuz I watched this classic last night
Hi guys, just a quick update on the status of Basement of Ghoulish Decadence and its author. Well, first off I'm sorry posts were spotty and then this little blog suddenly flat-lined. Back in March, the day after my Raiders of the Doomed Kingdom write-up, I had the damn luck of having a house fire due to a still unexplained wiring fault. Thankfully, no one was injured, but my dogs and cats sadly perished. Despite the fire being confined, soot damage was tremendous especially downstairs. Literally it was as if flat-black spray paint was layered from floor to ceiling. TVs melted off their wallmounts, windows shattered, and canned foods exploded across the house from the ignition point. Although ash got into virtually everything to some extent. My collection suffered a bit and it took an incredible amount of meticulous cleaning, that's still ongoing, to get things both big and small to approach normalcy again.

The worst aspect, outside of the loss of my pets, was the fire destroying the main junction box. The process of restoring the house's electrical wiring is another ongoing and rather frustrating element. This is where BoGD's hiatus comes in, having none and now minimal electricity has hampered daily life, and I've been mostly limited to mobile Internet access. Hence my continued activity over on Facebook and Twitter. If you want to friend or follow me, please feel free, it's like this blog in microcosm. I'm still watching, collecting, and trying to get to flea markets when I can.

Also, my father suddenly passed away peacefully in his sleep several weeks ago. Of course, I love and miss him dearly, but more immediately he was an immeasurable help in the post-fire repair. So it's been harder since and I've been trying to be proactive both for my own and my mother's sanity. Now, I'm not posting any of this for sympathy. I just felt the need to update those, if anyone is, still stopping in periodically. I haven't abandoned this blog and won't, but inevitably life encroaches on the fun and dampens it for awhile. This time life struck big time.

I hope to be back sometime in the coming weeks because I truly miss babbling here and delivering my half-assed insight about whatever. Before all this, I also just began writing for HorrorTalk, and being great guys (and gals) they've been nothing but understanding and I'll be firing back up there as well. So thanks to everyone for the kind condolences and those who've inquired about the long absence. I'll be back and hope to begin sharing brighter days with all of you again.  

Saturday, May 10

Argento's OPERA (1987) debuts on Blu-ray in Japan...

Kadokawa/Eclipse is set to release Dario Argento's Opera (Terror at the Opera) (1987) on Blu-ray in Japan on July 25th. Unfortunately, details on supplements either haven't been announced yet or perhaps this edition, along with a new DVD, might be barebones. However; this both marks the film's debut on Blu-ray anywhere and the first time a release has been seen on DVD or BD in Japan.

These editions are also being heavily touted as the 107 minute uncut version, as the Japanese theatrical release was cut by some twelve minutes. The Blu-ray is advertised as featuring English audio, but only in standard Dolby Digital Mono. Both editions have Italian as their main tracks, with the BD in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, but only with Japanese subtitles.

Here's the listing for the Blu-ray with a pre-order price of about $37 USD. The picture format on the listing incorrectly states 1.78:1, which I'm assuming is a mistake like many new Amazon listings tend to be. Eclipse's BD/DVD trailer is seen below (in the film's correct aspect ratio).

Friday, March 21

Some quick thoughts on Raiders of the Doomed Kingdom (1985)

A band of Thai mercenaries embark on one last mission to save a general after the Fall of Saigon. Posing as Chinese Red Guard, they infiltrate a compound and regain the general only to be given chase. Racing to the shore, while picking up several female soldiers, they escape on a fishing boat with their pursuers in toe. The jungle island both parties reach happens to be a leper colony, and while the horribly disfigured inhabitants are friendly, they become pawns in the ensuing battle. Now the mercs must dig in for their lives against a Red Guard commander who just doesn't relent.

Joseph Lai's International Finance Development Films & Arts is a Hong Kong production company known among trash aficionados for their streak of '80s kung fu, ninja, and action flicks. The studio's output was so cheaply made that scenes were often liberally "borrowed" between several films. To stretch their dollar, minimal new footage was then shot and built around this pre-existing material. Although sometimes different territories saw different versions of the same film tailored to their region. The studio likely assumed their generic pap screened in dime theaters all ran together. Who's going to notice that same throwing star fight repeated across three flicks anyway?    

Raiders of the Doomed Kingdom is one of their action productions which are always delightfully nonsensical and extra exploitative. Just to get this out of the way, the already shaky story falls apart after they reach the island and the characters essentially fall into either good or bad guys. Our lead, Sergeant Cobra (Sorapong Chatree), is only that due to being more well kept than the other good guys. Everyone being terribly dubbed also doesn't help performances.

The production feels larger in scope than other IFD flicks, with several impressive sequences, including protesters storming the U.S. Embassy in Saigon and hundreds of defectors trying to leave. To this end, writer Godfrey Ho tries to use what at least sounds factual to the period in history. Ho also infuses some political sentiment with a sour depiction of the nationalities involved, including Americans, except for the Thai mercs. In a surprising showing of gender equality, a pair of women soldiers are given the final showdown with the Red Guard commander instead our male hero. Cobra instead fights a trader within his troop, but I'm still unsure at which point the guy turned bad among the incoherence of the final reel.

Of course, most aren't going to give a shit about these aspects, and instead focus on how brutal Raiders frequently is. We get disturbing newsreel of Vietnam atrocities, bodies mowed down, jungle traps, decapitations, knife fights, and even an overlong and rather graphic scene of cunnilingus. Raw mayhem substituting for plot is something IFD specialized in. Almost as if the studio was trying to make up to viewers who tried to apply logic. Finally, as a callback to IFD's cost-cutting, when the droning score quiets, pieces stolen from First Blood (1982), Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), and Tenebre (1982) are heard.

There's only a few VHS releases of the movie worldwide. Amazingly a U.S. VHS release is floating around, from "Atlantic Film & Video", but it's very scarce. The Danish, Finnish, Greek, and Japanese also saw English-language tapes, but the Finnish is severely edited. Both the Greek and Japanese releases are also in 1.85:1 widescreen. I have the North American and Greek (pictured below), both appear uncut, with the Japanese arriving shortly. I'll post my findings/impressions upon receiving it.

Monday, March 3

Some quick thoughts on Adam Chaplin (2011)

After the horrific immolation of his wife at the hands of disfigured mob boss Denny (Chiara Marfella), Adam Chaplin (Emanuele De Santi) calls upon the dark to assist in his quest for vengeance. With the aid of a demonic cherub that spawns from his back, and the superhuman strength it grants, nothing will stand in the way of his revenge.

Originally, I was going to talk about the state of slow decline and then immediate death of Italian horror cinema over the past thirty years. Yet with Adam Chaplin all that bittersweet history doesn't really matter because despite being of Italian origin, it bears little resemblance to the country's previous horror output. It's something more akin to the hyper-gory anime Fist of the North Star occurring in the world of Hobo with a Shotgun in Italian language.

Aside from fountains of grue, Chaplin's most impressive aspect is how director De Santi, who filled most of the production's roles, conceals the budget with technology unavailable at this level of filmmaking a relatively short time ago. Much digital image manipulation was employed to hide the smallness of sets while minimal CG acts as enhancement to the practical effects without replacing the abundance of gore. In contrast, fellow Italian Massimiliano Cerchi relied so much on terrible graphics with his Flight to Hell (2003) that it might be the worst horror film to ever come from the country.

The screenplay, also by De Santi, wisely chooses to give background to the characters of Adam and Denny. This adds weight to their feud; however, there's still many questions, like Denny's own dark pact, and the film's post-apocalyptic world remaining unexplored. Adam's demonic companion, an imp insidiously driving his bloodlust, is a great touch that's again short on any answers. Though this lack of explanation isn't crippling since everything plays like the pages of a pissed off indie comic book.

The gore effects are the biggest attraction as Adam's flesh-shredding strength leaves faces brutally dismantled and limbs ripped asunder. An apparently new blood polymer was created for the film with much more "sling" on impact, so splat blooms look less watery while never approaching reality. If you're a gorehound, you'll love this mayhem, but the parallels to the gory battles in Fist of North Star border on theft. Many of the action shots are lifted wholesale from the anime series. This wasn't by chance as short clips from the anime are seen in the DVD's supplements.

So Adam Chaplin isn't some grand return of Italian horror. It's just a lot of fun that's more interested in the ride than specifics. The self-billing as "goriest movie ever" is debatable though. I'd still consider Peter Jackson's Braindead (Dead Alive) (1992) as the pinnacle of gory wizardry. The attention to character development pushes this one among the best splatter flicks I've seen along with The Story of Ricky (1991) and Plaga Zombie: Mutant Zone (2001). The clearly passionate De Santi might impress further with a more ample budget and it'll be interesting to see if he works with production company Necrostorm again.

Wednesday, February 26

The Lost Boys (1987) - 1987 Warner Home Video Japan VHS

Joel Schumacher's The Lost Boys wasn't a film I immediately warmed to. I didn't see it until Warner released their first DVD edition in 1998 being a Christmas present that same year. At the time, I was still fairly new to the horror genre and voraciously renting classics I had read about in Michael Weldon's must-own Psychotronic Video Guide To Film. It was also then that I was discovering Christopher Lee's iconic turns as Dracula. So this contemporary '80s take on vampire lore was a victim of timing. The fifteen-year-old me couldn't see reasoning behind the praise while lost in the gothic majesty of Hammer productions.

Eventually Lost Boys proved itself a classic in subsequent viewings as an evolutionary step in horror comedies. Enduring qualities of the vamp subgenre are respected and balanced with slick levity and teenage awareness absent in prior major studio meldings like The Goonies (1985). The young cast does an excellent job, and what seemed the norm for its decade, the screenplay crafts characters that feel realistic regardless of their ages. A shame Schumacher didn't return to horror until 2009's Blood Creek (thoughts here).

This Warner VHS from Japan is fairly common, just like their US tape, but I figured I'd share. The seller claimed it was dubbed in Japanese, but probably only watched the couple Japanese previews in the beginning. The cropped full screen feature is in English with small Japanese subtitles. At least on VHS/Beta, I don't believe Warner released this dubbed. This copy has no fading to its sleeve, making it a decent find, since blues and reds bleached out quickly once these old rental editions found swap meet sunshine.

Thursday, February 20

Some quick thoughts on Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987)

Andy Sidaris spent nearly an entire career trying to crack the Enigma Code of '80s action cinema. By distilling bankable elements of the genre, like big bosoms with big guns and buff brodudes with even bigger guns, he cranked out a succession of steamy actioners custom built for heavy weekend rentals. The filmmaker also did something a bit differently with casting, much to the chagrin of feminists, the women weren't just sexbombs but fiercely independent leads to the men orbiting around them. Though this may have hurt profitability since the lack of any male marquee names to plaster on covers might have led renters to thumb past for the latest Stallone or Van Damme effort.

Hard Ticket to Hawaii could be called the third film in the Sidarius saga proper, after Seven (1985) and Malibu Express (1986), that saw the director active nearly every year until his last film in 1998. While transporting an incredibly deadly python by plane, two stunning DEA agents in Hawaii, Sidaris regulars Dona Speir and Hope Marie Carlton, run afoul of diamonds destined for a local coke lord. After the kingpin discovers the missing cargo, the pair get pressed hard but manage to escape and team up with two male agents to raid the entire operation...and take down that pissed biological weapon of a snake.

It has all the director's staples; babes, boobs, muscly dudes, guns, bigger guns, explosions, and picturesque locales. Do these aspects automatically make a good action film? Not quite, Hard Ticket is still fairly crappy, getting too bogged in the mechanics of its simple story. Although it's pleasingly self-aware, never taking anything seriously, and therein lies the vibe that make Sidaris' films so likable. They know their purpose in the action lexicon and only aim to mindlessly entertain.

The breezy, carefree atmosphere and beauty everywhere smooth the uneven pace until the action picks up. Funny one-liners and goofball detours, like a razor-rimmed frisbee and bazooka meeting a blow-up doll, really make Hard Ticket worth seeing. Sidaris even cameos as a scuzzy TV producer that's immediately accused of nearly raping one of the busty female characters before becoming preoccupied with a waitress's breasts. All in stupid fun.  

The VHS pictured, originally straight from Sidaris' own Malibu Bay Films, is quite interesting. Most promotional screeners were sent out to video stores in an attempt to sell copies for rental. Meaning distribution deals were already struck and it was only a matter of moving home video product. This unique screener is pre-distribution of any kind and was sent out in the hopes of gaining theatrical exhibition. The back description makes the VHS out to be only three-minutes long, but the theatrical trailer, several teasers (dated 3/2/87), and complete film with timecode is included. The video quality is quite dark, however; this might have been done on purpose just in case copies leaked. The tape's video signal totally drops in between the trailer and teasers. Another dropout occurs exactly one hour into the feature with the video popping in again immediately for the last half hour. The film appears to the same "official" ninety-six minute version seen on retail VHS and DVD.

Saturday, February 15

Some quick thoughts on Rewind This! (2013)

From the back: "In the 1980s, videotape changed the world and laid the foundation for modern media culture. Rewind This! traces the rise and fall of VHS from its heyday as the mainstream home video format to its current status as a nostalgic relic and prize to collectors who still cherish it. Featuring interviews with both filmmakers and enthusiasts from the VHS era, including Troma legend Lloyd Kaufman, indie auteur Atom Egoyan, and Hobo with a Shotgun filmmaker Jason Eisener, Rewind This! is the definitive story of the format that came to be synonymous with the home video revolution. So gather up your friends and start the pizza party - just make sure to have your tapes back on time."

I've been quite conflicted over this review. Being passionate about VHS has me wanting to find some profound criticism over a documentary covering a wide variety of aspects of the format's history and current subculture. However; Josh Johnson's scattershot Rewind This! is sadly a letdown. None of the topics are explored to any in-depth extent, lending to a presentation that seems targeted to those who're just amazed there's any interest in the video relic today.

Being comprised solely of interviews, one gets the impression it was a struggle to snitch responses together as they often don't quite follow the topic at hand. At one turn, we're hearing ninja flicks on Hong Kong tapes from Japanese producer Yoshinori Chiba and then director Frank Henenlotter bitching about aspect ratios in a loose portion about distributor oddities during the video boom. While never uninteresting, this approach makes everything seem unfocused with information that could help round out each portion never presented. A host might have smoothed this persistent issue, maybe something in a cheap shot-on-video vein like Cameron Mitchell's goofy appearance in Terror on Tape (1983).

Hardly any time is devoted to the VHS vs. Betamax war and it's boiled down to recording time. While that was a factor, the time it's given in Rewind This! makes one believe the battle was over in literally no time. In the grand scheme, it was, but for a defeated format Beta garnered an enormous catalog of titles and players compared to the modern day failure of Toshiba's HD DVD. Such contrast could have helped a layman place the great format war of the '80s into better perspective. Afterward, Frank Henelotter talks about Andre Blay's Magnetic Video Corporation, a first distributor to convince major studios to licence their films for home video. Why delve into Magnetic after discussing the format war when MVC arguably marked the very first rumblings of content on home video?

Roy Frumkes, director of Street Trash (1987), comments throughout with a disdain for VHS being a LaserDisc aficionado. The LD format isn't explored which leaves his attitude unexplained to the uninitiated. There's a five minute segment devoted to the format in the deleted material on the DVD, but annoyingly a collector makes the ridiculous claim that the format is "very flawed" due to laser rot. While this is an issue, just like tape mold or DVD delamination, mention of this issue has no purpose in a small clip about a format that could support an entire documentary unto itself.

Several Japanese interviewees appear, like Toei producer Kazuo Kato and actress Shoko Nakahara, but there's no context as to why they're more important to include than say, an Australian or German perspective. This could have helped just by pointing out how video crazy the country got, with a dizzying amount of world cinema released onto VHS that easily rivaled the output of North America. Of course, being a Japanese tape collector I found their inclusion valuable despite their insights being interchangeable with anyone else. Several porn directors are also interviewed without any mention of the long-standing Nihon Ethics Video Association censorship board and how that shaped the video landscape in Japan. Very disappointing when even obvious region questions aren't asked. And on the censorship note, the only mention of the British Video Recordings Act of 1984 is a segment in the deleted material, why didn't such a influential event in home video make the cut?

That's continually the deal with Rewind This!, a sloppy documentary that provides a long line of questions that usually aren't answered, especially if you've already an enthusiast. The majority of information and insight is easily available elsewhere and I don't find myself wanting to see this again. If you're unfamiliar with the recent nostalgic spike of interest in VHS, Rewind This! may be worth seeing, although active collectors may not pull much from the experience.

Tuesday, February 4

Just a few hours left to buy an original graveyard cross from Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE (1979)

A supposedly original three-foot tall cross from the graveyard scene in Lucio Fulci's Zombie (Zombi 2) (1979) is ending in about fifteen hours over on Yahoo! Auctions Japan (auction link here). The translation is rough, but it states the cross was one of four obtained from the film's prop master, who also worked on The Gates of Hell (Paura nella città dei morti viventi) (1980), during production on location in the Dominican Republic. Three rusted nails, a signed Certificate of Authenticity, and typed history of ownership is included.

The provided details of its history are sketchy. The cross was apparently owned by "Adam Park", a "famous UK horror collector" and writer for a "famous European horror magazine", who received it along with the other crosses/nails from "Robert Kirsch" (or Karsh?). Kirsch, hired by producers Ugo Tucci and Fabrizio de Angelis, was the prop maker who fashioned the crosses for the sequence. The seller also claims to have another cross that was damaged, but the one in this auction is in perfection condition.

Of course, with a non-returnable "Buy It Now" price of about $670US (¥68,000), you'd have to have balls of steel to take such a chance on two bits of wood tacked together. That's probably why it still hasn't sold, even after being re-listed several times over the past few weeks. If definitively proven original, it's certainly something special, despite not appearing exactly screen used. Using Yahoo! Auctions outside of Japan is impossible without a forwarding service like Jauce or Rinkya. Even then, there's a learning curve and all sales are final, even if the item arrives destroyed. So this dubiously "one of a kind" piece will probably remain in Japan for now.

Monday, February 3

Some quick thoughts on Don Dohler's Galaxy Invader (1985)

One of the late Don Dohler's passions was making, by most measures, bad movies. Searching around for opinion makes this clear as there's no shortage of those that love to dump on his filmography. Yet there's something transcendent about his brand of schlock differentiating itself from the usual trashy late night pizza 'n beer offerings.

Dohler's work has an extremely likable, earnest quality tending to be absent on this tier of filmmaking. Acting as editor for all but one of his films, he had keen ability in cutting even mundane scenes to avoid the usual drag that can accompany cheap productions while also invoking tension and dread when necessary. While always short of resources, real care was placed into every project and loyal regulars like Anne Frith and George Stover aided in his vision of a more innocent time of genre cinema. John Paul Kinhart's excellent 2007 documentary, Blood, Boobs & Beast, does a fantastic job of articulating this for the uninitiated, but they're aspects naturally felt throughout his work.

Similar to his previous Nightbeast (1982), Galaxy Invader details a scaly mossy-green alien crashing into backwoods and having to deal with yokels wanting to capture the invader with hopes of dollar signs. Unlike the raging extraterrestrial beast of the '82 feature, this creature is passive, almost reducing the sci-fi angle to a moot point. The narrative actually revolves more around a violent lush, played by another regular Richard Ruxton, spearheading the backward hunt. Every booze-fueled decision eventually drives him to be at deadly odds with his own family. Unlike Dohler's other straight foward potboilers, Galaxy Invader offers a morality play over the destructive nature of alcoholism with a side of ugly alien, cheesy optical laser effects, and flashpot explosions. Though it's doubtful the director ever wanted viewers to dissect his work to such a degree.

Sadly, Galaxy Invader seems to have gone public domain in the last decade with a myriad of cheapo DVD sets. Back in the VHS era; consistent editions from the likes of VCI Entertainment and United Home Video kept the movie in-print for years. Japan only saw one VHS release with totally cracked artwork from CLS Video's Clarion sublabel. This edition is actually taken straight from United's U.S. tape, right down to the opening copyright notice and United logo. Clarion releases are generally rare, this one exceptionally so, as I've only ever seen this single copy.

Thursday, January 30

Some quick thoughts on Roger Watkins' Shadows on the Mind (1980)

Years after being traumatized witnessing the drownings of her father and stepmother as a teen, a wealthy young woman, Elise (Marion Joyce), is released from a sanitarium and returns to the remote country estate where she grew up. Shortly afterwards, her estranged stepbrother, psychiatrist, and his fiance converge on the estate and a series of grisly murders begins.

Roger Watkins' Shadows of the Mind is really only worth a look if you're a devotee of the director's prior The Last House on Dead End Street (1977). Much like that infamous effort, Watkins apparently had a terrible experience with Shadows, disowning it and having his name taken off the film's credits prior to release. Watkins only finally revealed in 2005 that he had worked on the film under the name "Bernard Travis". Ryan C. over at Trash Film Guru has has more about the man, who effectively destroyed Watkins' mainstream hopes, behind that pseudonym in his recent entry covering the film. Disenchanted, Watkins' helmed several adult features before surfacing again after the new millennia upon rekindled interest surrounding Last House. Ultimately, Watkins never attempted to reclaim copyright over this meek slasher before his passing in 2007, a strong indication of his feelings toward it.

Shadows simply doesn't possess the constant manic rawness of his chipped 1977 masterpiece. It's about forty tedious minutes of watching a disturbed woman listen to inner voices followed by Watkins' rough-hewn style finally flourishing in several murders. Even then; an overbearing, hackneyed score blaring over the killings undermines their shock value. By the last twenty minutes, you might feel a little of what the director felt after wasting so much unappreciated time on someone else's project.

Co-writer and lead Marion Joyce's Elise is just another boring psychotic stereotype. We never feel anything for her character, making the inevitable killing spree all the more unsurprising. A better, or at least more game, actress might have tried valiantly to breathe life the role, making the experience more bearable, like the unhinged Sallee Young in Demented (1980). The few other cast members add nothing than a body count and their connections to Elise are barely sketched out.

A great example of this Shadows' terrible pacing is when Elise's stepbrother, who wants her out of the picture to inherit the estate, makes it known to the caretaker that his sister probably doesn't want to live there and he might lose his gig. His immediate response in the very next scene is to try and strangle her while screaming, "I need to talk to you!" and "Listen to me!" while her stepbrother pleasingly looks on in the distance. Then right afterward the caretaker is mysteriously killed (seen above). This entire sequence literally makes no sense because the caretaker is hardly given any screen time prior, much less his motives established. Was he always intending to kill her, easily swayed, or mentally handicapped? Or did Elise's stepbrother somehow magically know telling the caretaker that would lead to an altercation that would then drive her to kill the caretaker so he's not a nuance?! My damn head hurts.

Though the film's choppy nature echoes the fate of Last House, which was massively truncated to under eighty minutes from an over three-hour version essentially stolen away from Watkins (sadly still the only version known to exist today). Who knows how much Shadows was tampered with, but likely Watkins didn't have any say in the editing process and it's curious to note the basic credit sequences also resemble those of Last House. Shadows of the Mind is only for those that either love stuffy slasher also-rans, I know you're out there, or wish to see a director's last embittered shot at legitimacy in the face of those that couldn't have given a damn about him as a filmmaker.

However; copies of Shadows of the Mind are pretty damn scarce. The film only received VHS releases in Australia, Netherlands, Venezuela, and Japan. There hasn't been an authorized DVD released anywhere yet. So needless to say this Japanese tape screened for this review, from obscure distributor TSI Group, is extremely rare with just a couple copies ever surfacing. The full frame presentation is in English language with small Japanese subtitles. The Japanese title, 血に飢えた少女, translates to "Bloodthirsty Girl".

Thursday, January 16

So I finally found out there's the potential of an EVIL CULT (2003) prequel!

This sounds dumb, but Rob and Neil Taylor's no budget horror comedy Evil Cult has heart. Rob Taylor stars as Neil Stryker, a man of mysterious origin given a ride by the head of a seemingly peaceful communion. The curious Stryker soon discovers their dirty secrets, including mangling and imprisoning unwillingly participants, with his only option total annihilation after the dangerous cult attempts to melt his brain. Heaps of dismembered bodies, an ultimate showdown with the cult's powerful leader, and a time-jumping surprise from the past ensue.

What separates Evil Cult from the homebrew shot-on-video masses is its sheer creative spirit. Taylor plays quirky badass Stryker with an infectious confidence that, paired with surprisingly balanced comedy, drives straight through the film's rough patches. Tongue-in-cheek nods to Evil Dead kick into overdrive as the character sets upon a path of destruction and it's exactly the kind of goofy movie a middle schooler who's just discovered Raimi's classic would dream up. That's not a slight, a sense of fun sure-footedness conquers Evil's Cult's extremely modest resources and its been an SOV favorite of mine for years.

Still, I never figured there'd be a follow-up. Before stumbling upon "The Mad Scientist" few days ago, I had no clue that the Taylor brothers and friend Nic Costa, who also appeared in the first film, have been chipping away at a prequel since 2005. They even staged a successful Kickstarter campaign a few years back, still up here, to help complete the project and judging by the film's group on Facebook progress is still being made. Rob Taylor also has a YouTube channel with the complete Evil Cult, trailers, and pitch videos. It already looks like a hoot and I'm excited to see what these guys have in store. Here's to hoping this obvious labor of love sees a release this year.

Sunday, January 12

Some thoughts and images from The Making of Sweet Home (1989)

Toho Video's Sweet Home VHS 
Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Sweet Home might be a criterion of sorts, a pioneering example of a video game and film developed in conjunction and released on the same day. However, the certainty of their partnered development is shaky, as the parallels are so strong that it seems hard to believe an entire game was built off of a finished film in such a short span. Despite the film's Wikipedia entry citing an interview with game director Tokuro Fujiwara speaking to a collaborative effort, I'd lean toward the role-playing Famicom game by Capcom coming first with the film adapting from its groundwork.

Either way, this haunted house picture enlivened by inventive effects work is great fun, and seemingly more known to retro game enthusiasts than most horror fans. Toho mounted an impressive marketing blitz upon Sweet Home's "dual" release with one of the fruits being this ninety-minute documentary covering the film's special effects. A wide range of methods were employed, everything from simple lighting tricks to large animatronics, all explored in great detail. Make-up effects legend Dick Smith was tapped to do on-location aging make-up and there's glimpses of him at his craft.

Naturally the entire feature is narrated in Japanese without subtitles, but if you're interested in the film or practical effects it's well worth the time and so comprehensive any language barrier is easy to forgive. There are two small snippets of English of Smith stating it's an honor to work on the film and an American member of the animatronics team describing the difference between what Japanese and American audiences demand from visual effects (Japan has a much higher suspension of disbelief).

According to Tom Mes in his review at Midnight Eye, Kurosawa effectively disowned the film over producer Juzo Itami, who also had a prominent role on-screen, looming large over production. This documentary goes a long way to reinforcing this, as Itami is often seen storyboarding and coordinating sequences with Kurosawa mostly in the background (the second shot below is the only "hands-on" footage of the director included). Itami even makes the VHS's cover front and center posing with one of the SFX props. Pardon the lack of a picture of said cover, I was very graciously sent a DVD-R copy by Yui (@LucioFulci74) of the Splatter, Slasher, Thriller Club (thanks again!). I've collected some stills from this making-of and uploaded the film's theatrical trailer over on BoGD's meager YouTube channel. Hopefully, Sweet Home makes it to DVD/BD eventually, it's still only on VHS and LaserDisc in Japan, and if it ever does this excellent companion piece must accompany it. you dare tread upon the staircase?

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