Tuesday, February 26

Wizard Video Big Box Re-issue Update: The First Video Review Appears...

Nick of Video Tape Terror just posted this review of Charles Band's new Oasis of the Zombies (1982) big box re-issue on Wizard Video. This confirms a few things I asserted in my prior bitchfest, like the only thing being vintage is the big box and the potential ease of swapping old tapes for new boxes, but I hold steadfast to my original opinion of these even after watching.

I don't see the appeal in these re-issues, especially at sixty dollars a pop, and still believe many of these titles just aren't going to move nearly enough to sell out. Yes, they're from the fabled Wizard Video, but this hunch could apply to Oasis. Two hundred copies at this price point is just too rich for a terrible flick that's an acquired taste at best. Time will tell on this and whether this glut of newbies will hurt the market of "all original" Wizards...

Monday, February 25

Some quick thoughts on Mangue Negro (Mud Zombies/Black Mangrove) (2008)

When a fellow villager is attacked by a rotting corpse while catching mud crabs in a vast, decaying mangrove jungle; a timid pauper must fight a legion of muddy undead to save himself and a local girl he's sweet on with the help of an old mystic and a local fisherman.

Rodrigo Aragão's Mangue Negro (Mud Zombies) is quite th--ahh shit, the damned DVD froze...again! More on this severe problem later, but getting back; Rodrigo Aragão's debut shot-on-video feature, Mangue Negro, is quite the entertaining zombie chunkblower hailing from the land of luscious ladies and the great horror pioneer Coffin Joe, Brazil. Taking clear queues from modern staples like Peter Jackson's Braindead (1992) and Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead (1981), Aragão crafts a dirt cheap picture amongst inhospitable terrain that's admittedly low on screen talent yet high on pure zeal, obviously fueled by a passion to match the unbridled creativity the filmmaker looks up to in the work that inspired him.

Once the shambling dead arise from the dense muck; piecemeal puppetering, stop-motion photography, wild Raimi-esqe "point-of-view" angles, and an abundance of turgid brown gore emit such an endearing quality that it's hard to criticize no matter how many times we've all seen this before. To mimic some of the night scenes, Aragão employs a digital desaturation of the picture with dim blue highlights, creating the atmosphere of a flesheating undead film that could have predated Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968). A very traditional score that almost sounds comprised of old library tracks only intensifies this sensation. That's not to say that this is a slight to that milestone film, but it's just a nifty, presumably unintentional vibe that fans that know their history will pick up on.

If there was a gripe, it's that Mangue Negro's simplicity both in premise and production strains to last its entire 105 minute runtime. It's difficult not to squirm as the scenes between the gut-encrusted mayhem drag forth. Yet that's not the worst issue. The two-disc Brazilian Fábulas Negras set (pictured) has to be one of the worst authored and replicated DVDs I've come across in some time. We're talking dollar store sweatshop level junk here.

I received the set factory sealed only to discover both discs very scratched and smudged. The discs also suffer from delamination, which basically means the layers of the disc are literally separating and will only continue to do with time until the disc is terminally corrupted. This made the movie disc lock up like crazy across several different DVD players and the supplemental disc simply refused to play at all. All this was so bad I had to rip the movie to an HDD in order to watch the last half hour. Given that both DVDs suffer from this serious problem, I'd wager many other copies do as well, so proceed with caution if you intend on buying this set.

When this disc played, the movie's compression is so bad that it often looks like a low resolution YouTube video. Not only that, the menus are nearly impossible to navigate and advertised Portuguese DTS 6.1 and Dolby 5.1 audio tracks are nowhere to be found. All three sound options are identical Dolby Stereo tracks (wtf?). On the bright side; this set is NTSC, region free, and features nicely legible English subtitles for the feature. Also a high quality slipcover (complete with DTS logo), insert, and eight postcards of promo and production stills are included. Hell, even the frosted white DVD case is quality, just a shame the discs are shit. Mangue Negro deserves better and while definitely recommended for both zombie fans and gorehounds, if I had to do it over I'd wait for another English-friendly disc to pop up...

Sunday, February 24

Too Goofy Not to Share: Bootleg(?) Rambo Kid's Bank

Picked up this completely unmarked plastic Rambo bank for a dollar earlier today. I can't find any information about it, but the paint job seemed shoddy to begin with and is beginning to crack. The bank stands about nine inches tall and is five and half inches in width at its base. The bottom white stopper says "Niagara Plastics, Erie, PA" and his machine gun's barrel is intact.  

"It's over Johnny!" 
"NOTHING IS OVER, because I have $8.75 in spare change!"

Wednesday, February 20

Intruder (処刑! 血のしたたり) (1989) - Empire Pictures/Victor/CIC Japan VHS

Since I just picked up a worn copy and was too much of a pussy to scan the factory mint copy I've had for months, here's a cover scan of this awesome Japanese VHS release of Scott Spiegel's Intruder (1989). 
Unlike Paramount's butchered R-rated VHS, this one is the fully uncut version.

Tuesday, February 19

Some quick thoughts on Zombie Death House (Death House) (1987)

A down-on-his-luck Vietnam veteran (Dennis Cole) working as a driver gets framed for murder by a mafia boss (Anthony Franciosa) for resisting to kill an innocent man. After a paid-off trial resulting in a sentence of death, the vet is sent to prison and begins to witness fellow inmates mysteriously becoming blindingly animalistic and gravely ill. It soon becomes apparent a government contractor (John Saxon) paid off a guard to secretly inject an experimental serum into prisoners to see if they could survive being turned into unthinking war machines of extreme strength. Eventually, everyone in the compound is accidently infected with a trace of the sickness and must fight for freedom and an antibody after the prison is placed under armed quarantine.

Ultimately, the identity crisis this quickie helmed by legendary character actor John Saxon suffers is more interesting than the resulting feature. True to their name; the film's distributor, Action International Pictures, was primarily known for their cheap action with a side order of tits n' ass output. So oddly, considering how robust the horror video market was, AIP decided to grace this action/horror mishmash with this totally generic VHS cover seen over at VHS-Ploitation. With such a bland cover, it's not hard to see how Death House became so obscure and why Retromedia decided to change both the cover and title for their DVD seen above.

This conflict runs deep into the film itself. Judging by this unconfirmed factoid on the IMDB, Saxon may have not originally intended to include much of any horror aspects into Death House but was forced to by producers. This would explain why the feature rests firmly as an action drama with just a few scenes of mild raging "zombie" prisoner carnage. The problem is, these fleeting tidbits are kinda cool and wake the film up temporarily, and you're compelled to keep sitting there just to see if the next zombo kill will be bloodier (prepare for disappointment).

The whole idea of crazed, rotting inmates vs. non-crazed mates vs. soldiers never comes near the greatness of the images that conjure in your head while watching, and as the last reel commences you've found its been a "watchable" waste of time and concept. Although Death House is quite fleet of foot and manages to cover its meager twists well while Saxon's direction doesn't particularly stand out from the army of other bargain video wonders from the era. Ehh, not worth going out of your way to see...

Monday, February 18

YouTube Video: Yesterday's Flea Market DVD Finds

Locally, it's been slim picking on the VHS front, but as usual cheap DVDs are always plentiful...

Sunday, February 17

The Devil's Rejects "Work-in-Progress" Shootout Scene

Here's that Devil's Rejects clip I referred to being on Saw's bonus disc in my DVD finds video below. It's the opening shootout abbreviated of several shots with not quite "finished" sound effects and score. With the sound not matching the full version, I'm assuming this sequence was provided while the editing was still being tweaked. The final version of the shootout has considerably better tension and pacing.

Saturday, February 16

Wednesday, February 13

Wizard Video Big Box Re-issue Update: Meir Zarchi "spits" on the idea...

As a follow-up to this news concerning Wizard Video's dubious rebirth, it appears the director of I Spit on Your Grave (1978) is none-too-pleased with Charles Band's plans of re-releasing his exploitation landmark on VHS in an e-mail response to Vagrancy Films...

Monday, February 11

Weird Bootleg Fetish: Chinese Hemdale/Image Terminator DVD

The barcode is different, wonder if any stores got fooled? 
If you've read this blog long enough, you may know of my infatuation with "quality" bootlegs both on tape and disc. It's just fascinating the length some bootleggers will go to either convince the naive or cover their ass. I don't necessarily support them, never buying directly from a bootlegger is a rule, but they're hard to resist if I run across one cheap at a yard sale or thrift store.

Such is the case with this nicely done boot of The Terminator (1984), which I picked up over the weekend at a local Goodwill. I immediately recognized the key art being from the old cardboard snapper Image Entertainment release ported from their LaserDisc at the dawn of DVD in 1997. Only this time the thief printed the layout onto a professional quality paper sleeve.

What also sets this forgery apart from the majority is the lack of stupid and/or mismatched logos. The credits and distributor logos remain intact instead of slapping on credits from a totally different film or making this disc look released from Paramount or Criterion. Bootleggers seem obsessed with touting "DVD-9" and "AC-3" on their covers and discs. Maybe because of that very reason, you very seldom ever see authorized DVDs use these terms with dual-layer discs and Dolby Digital. This fake Terminator can't help itself in this aspect and has a DTS logo even though there no such audio track included.

This is where things fall apart despite the disc itself being factory pressed, dual layered, and featuring screened art depicting the cover. Seen in the capture above, the presentation is very poorly ripped from MGM's SE from 2001. Unlike that decent release, the widescreen transfer is non-anamorphic and riddled with digital compression artifacts and line combing. Best to think of this level of picture quality as a torture test for your DVD player's processing capabilities. Great players can actually clean up most of these issues.

The only audio option is the now infamous Dolby 5.1 remix, that totally replaces nearly all of the original sound effects with new ones, but only in Stereo. To my knowledge, no official DVD has ever featured this crappy surround remix in stereo. So that's kinda cool; if you don't mind the ruination of one of the greatest examples of cinematic sci-fi from the '80s. And finally, as usual all the extra features are stripped from the disc. Ehh, still worth essentially lighting two bucks on fire to pick it up in my book!              

Saturday, February 9

Some quick thoughts on The Sky Has Fallen (2009)

From the back cover: Within a couple of hours, a new disease wipes out almost all of mankind. Trying to avoid infection, people flee to remote locations, but they start seeing mysterious black figures, carrying away the dead and experimenting on them. Now, Lance and Rachel, two survivors determined to fight back, must kill the leader of these creatures before the rest of humanity disappears.

Starting off with the good, Doug Roos' debut feature The Sky Has Fallen is an absolute marvel in the lowly realm of "buy a car or make a movie" filmmaking. Working as a one-man band in everything from director to writer to editor; Roos poses an impressive technical front with work that barely ever displays budgetary strain on-screen. The filmmaker's stylish cinematography and tight editing makes for a brisk pace despite taking place entirely in an aimless expansive of woodland. The orchestral score by James Sizemore also deserves high praise. Judging by his burgeoning sound career, the composer is going places and compliments Roos' confidence often sounding so good his work could have been lifted straight from a Hollywood production.

Similar in several ways, The Sky Has Fallen is obviously a bit like Versus (2001) and even has a share of ripped up, shambolic zombies. The black hooded, featureless figures that have heralded the end of mankind appear to mutilate the living into the walking dead. Brutally disfiguring the living corpse's hands into gory stumps with crude blades sunk deep in their flesh to act as weapons upon those that possess what they once had. Our two heroes samurai slice and guns akimbo their way through hordes; all the while battling the powerful mind control techniques of their black phantom overlords by night.

But, and it's a big but, amateur leads Carey MacLaren and Laurel Kemper deliver all their lines regardless of emotion in a very somber and monotone fashion. It's unclear whether Roos intended this, and it's understandable MacLaren's sword wielding loner with something to hide having this demeanor, but even the girl he begrudgingly protects speaks like the weight of the world is on every syllable. The two briefly meet a father with two young children and again, dialogue flatlines between everyone to the point I couldn't help but snicker a little.

This inability to emote soon makes longer stretches of exchanges between the two characters a chore and you begin to wonder just how alive the living are compared to the dead. Problem is that isn't a sly bit of intentional social commentary. Though I can't totally condemn this micro-budget wonder, there's definite promise in Roos that needs more chance to bloom. Plus he's a fellow blogger with some of the same obsessions, so it's hard to see this film not being a labor of love for all the right reasons...

Friday, February 8

White Zombie with Zé do Caixão (Coffin Joe)

"They splash around in a muddy hole, while everybody crying they got no soul..." 

Thursday, February 7

Charles Band single-handedly destroys the Wizard Video VHS catalog

UPDATE: Apparently there's been some question over the authenticity of these newly found "original" big boxes, eagle-eyed collectors have begun to notice logo and alignment discrepancies between the old boxes, we'll see... 

So Full Moon's Charles Band has found another cash generating scheme and unearthed a limited number of pristine, "lost" Wizard Video VHS big boxes stashed in some warehouse. Now they're slated for sale, at a ridiculous $50 a pop, for a timed release of over the next nine months at Wizard Video Collection.com with the first wave of four available for order right now.

The one caveat not made entirely clear from the website is the fact that the video cassettes and clamshell cases aren't original. Band only discovered original flattened boxes and adverts and then ran off reproduction tapes and clams for these releases. This only became clear when Band himself clarified this on Facebook's Horror VHS Collector's Unite group:

"Hi everyone – a little history: when we were planning to let people know about this discovery we weren’t really sure what to do with all these flattened original VHS boxes. No tapes/no clamshells. So we reached out to a few superfan collectors that I’ve met over the years and sent over several samples as a gift and to get their advice. They loved the boxes and sell sheets! And they recommended creating new VHS tapes and putting them inside clamshells and then into these original big boxes. FYI – Regarding printing - It was a real wild west back in the early 80’s - there were several print runs done in the states and even in Italy. We have no idea of knowing which print run(s) these boxes came from. But make no mistake… the VHS tapes and clamshells are new but the boxes are original. And we were also advised that $50 was a fair price for this little piece of home video history."

I can hear it now. Oh Jayson, you're just upset because you spent a lot for Wizard's big boxes on eBay! No, actually I bought most of the ones I've owned for nothing at flea markets. I don't purposefully collect Wizards because the majority of their big boxes really aren't that hard-to-find in the arena of VHS collecting. Sure, copies in stunning shape are scarce, but generally their BBs appear on eBay to only skyrocket to batshit crazy prices. Eventually, like a few days or weeks later, another copy in similar condition is listed and the cycle begins again. One of the priciest relatively common labels in all of VHS hoarding.

What I don't like is how this will ruin the collector's market of Wizard Video releases for quite sometime. These releases destroy the resell value and muddy the waters concerning the scarcity of near mint/mint "original" releases. Simply swap out one of these new boxes with an original tape from even a cut up Wizard big box and that's that. No thrill of the hunt, patience, or even aura of finding something that was once special. Hundreds of mint original big boxes yours with the click of a button. Essentially fifty dollar bootleg Wizards in original cardboard with certain films being released under questionable legality (Band still has the licenses for all these?). Bullshit. Yeah, and thanks for the shitty "Full Moon Grindhouse Collection" DVD series featuring horrendously encoded VHS rips...

Just another form of raping the memories of longtime collectors for profit much like all these new indie distributors riding the hipster trend of VHS collecting. Strike while the iron's hot I guess. Well, at least they'll probably a lot of people blowing their cash on this trash. Less competition for what's truly scarce. This is one reason why I've largely grown to hate VHS's recent revival in popularity and as for Wizard Video, R.I.P.

The teaser for what became Ryuhei Kitamura's Versus (2001)

Stumbled across this teaser for Down to Hell 2: The Return which I thought was rarer than it actually is. Turns out this is on a few DVD releases including Tokyo Shock's Ultimate Edition. Still interesting as Kitamura's Down to Hell (1997) is something of a prequel/test run for the film was the internet buzz of splatter freaks worldwide early last decade and put the filmmaker who killed Godzilla (for now) on the map.

I'm unsure what this teaser originally represented. Maybe to announce the intention of a sequel or something to entice potential investors. The cast presented held up, notice how most look either a little younger or pudgier, but Down to Hell producer Keishiro Shin ultimately had nothing to do with Versus.

Wednesday, February 6

Some quick thoughts on Jungle Heat (Last Breath) (1985)

Tokuma Video's Japanese VHS in stunning condition
A group of South Vietnamese trained by an American platoon led by Sam Jones of Flash Gordon (1980) fame are sent on what amounts to several suicide missions into the green inferno during the Vietnam War. In-between vicious encounters with Vietcong, the soldiers spend their nights at a seedy strip club until the brother of the bar girl is captured. She pleads with the troop's leader, who's sweet on her, to go on one final mission despite the official declaration of the war's end to save him.

If you watch enough of these really cheap Eastern exploiters (in this case Taiwanese), you begin to notice a trend I like to call "near-movie". A phenomena when you realize nearly every scene in a particular work merely seems like filler shot to desperately claw to the given feature-length standard of ninety minutes. And damn near all of Jobic Wong's wild Jungle Heat screams near-movie in a funny way in which each sequence seems disembodied from the surrounding material.

A prime example is when the troop is captured on their mission with one suffering horrific torture. His comrades are forced to watch as the poor guy is buried up to his neck, his scalp sliced deeply, and then some sadistic bastard pours acid into the open wound. Using totally inept logic, one can only assume the acid was forced down through his skin by gravity, and the sheer agony causes him to literally leap out his own bloody flesh husk and die screaming. That night, the men are tied up while their captors party. They manage to escape into the pitch blackness after their commander practically mutilates his own hands to break free of his barbed shackles. Despite the horrors endured, the very next scene depicts the soldiers drinking and laughing their cares away at the strip club with hardly a mention of what just occurred.

Of course, no one watches this mean-spirited junk for even the most basic of plot structure. You come for the crazy torture scene described above. Or the sadistic scene of a live rat set ablaze and let loose to catch fire to tied down prisoners in a betting game of who'll be first to be burned to death. Or the apparently "fun" pastime of dirtbikers racing across a deadly road trying to run under semis carrying logs without getting crushed. Or the bloody beatings, brutal kung-fu, a two-man saw being run across on a man's stomach, and explosives so powerful the camera shakes from the shockwave. When the print (frequently) explodes into massive tears and sudden, heavy tint shifts; one can't help but get that warm feeling of watching something that simply can't be duplicated nowadays. Tack on ripping off a pivotal twist in Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter and Jungle Heat is worth tracking down as its exploitive payload is delivered with gusto.

The Japanese VHS is the one to own as it's the only video release worldwide to present the uncut international version of the film, with several segments with Sam Jones inserted, in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. All other video releases, both tape and disc, are zoomed to full screen and/or edited. Wong's use of the panoramic frame isn't like that of Leone or Carpenter, but it's surprisingly employed and watching a cropped pan-and-scan presentation would be an eyesore in comparison. Jungle Heat also has the distinction of being a film with several unique versions "tailored" to the country it was released in. Jack J. over at the always informative En lejemorder ser tilbage is the one to go to for a detailed explanation of the various, possible four different cuts of the flick released worldwide.

Tuesday, February 5

Unpublished Loose Ends: Old, abandoned entries...

Here's a couple of random entries that I began but didn't finish from the Drafts folder. I didn't feel like deleting these forever so here they are for your enjoyment...maybe. 

Reevaluating Dead & Breakfast (2004)

As one who views horror films with a more critical eye than your weekend popcorn devouring ticket buyer, I've found a fairly solid truth between the two camps. When the casual moviegoer hears positive word of a particular movie that he end up hating; the broad blame is placed on the work itself. When someone like myself with debilitating OCD hears positive word of a film that he ends up hating; the blame is placed on those perpetuating such nonsense that made him interested in the first place.

I must confess to a weakness for being lured by pull quotes; you know, those cherry-picked sentences splashed on DVD covers meant to entice one into believing what they hold might lead to a conscious-altering experience. Naturally, this very rarely occurs and I'm left wondering just what the faces behind such words saw in the flick. Not to sound pompous, opinions are indeed like assholes, but I constantly find myself baffled and at odds over contradicting perspectives and perceptions. I like to believe fellow genre fans can decipher xeroxed cinema from something that exhibits acute tendrils of influence. Individualistic quality from schlock. Just cut the superlatives and inform on how a film generally snaps into the realm of horror cinema.

A value lesson can be gleaned from revisiting widely praised films that simply failed to personally click. This is where Matthew Leutwyler's Dead & Breakfast comes in. --This is where I stopped but in short I've grown to love this film despite initially disliking it thoroughly. Like other great horror comedies, it manages to be quite funny and quirky while firmly being a horror film without an atmosphere of mocking condescension. Highly recommended and I'm baffled as to why I disliked it so much at first.

Some quick thoughts on Devil Girl (2007)

From the IMDB as described by the writer and director: "Fay (Jessica Graham) is a small town girl on a cross country road trip, trying to escape her own reality after the death of her father. When her muscle car breaks down during a drag race she finds herself stranded along Route 66 in an isolated desert town. Short on cash, she makes a series of choices to make enough money to repair her car. After encountering a neurotic, drug abusing clown (Joe Wanjai Ross) she finds herself sliding down a dark spiral. Soon thereafter, her road trip starts to devolve into a living nightmare. Trapped and desperate, she fights to regain her identity while navigating through a host of locals; a creepy motel clerk, an overzealous preacher, and a sexy temptress with horns and a tail."

Pre-judging Howie Askin's Devil Girl, I figured this cult/horror road flick could possibly be one of several things. Perhaps an adaption of the famous R. Crumb "Devil Girl" character or a take on the kitsch that graces truck mudflaps and head-bobbles in Tiki Bars. Maybe a Rodriguez From Dusk to Dawn riff. Or, like the cover's pull quote alludes, something aping Rob Zombie's fast n' loose cinematic endeavors.

Ultimately, it's a bit of all those things wrapped up in a nifty little genre brew of an indie. Think something akin to White Zombie's La Sexoristo: Devil Music Vol. 1 with the feel and editing of the video segments seen in the PC version of Road Rash. Sorry if that's a bit of a muddy comparison, but I couldn't shake both while watching this flick spew its devil may care attitude in music video fashion.

Some quick thoughts on Distant Lights (1987)
Still mourning over the sudden loss of his wife, Bernardo (Tomas Milian) is shook again after his young son runs off one night. The boy is found unharmed in the ensuing search, but claims he visited his deceased mother and even has the necklace she was buried with. Determined to find an answer, authorities spurred on by the puzzled husband open her sealed coffin to reveal an empty crypt. Soon Bernardo begins seeing other recently passed or thought gravely ill yet suddenly healthy people living the lives they used to...

Aurelio Chiesa's Distant Lights is something an anomaly in late '80s Italian genre cinema. Instead of going an easier route of gory exploitation trending familiar waters; this film skews that entirely in favor of what's essentially a drama with sci-fi tendencies. Unfortunately, the wrapping of a cheap Italian production with overdubbed sound and ramshackle everything persists even with this orthodox approach. Chiesa commendably attempts for the viewer to "feel" through these issues; however, one can't help but always be aware of this film being shoddy instead of experiencing a natural absorption into its story.

Surprisingly Tomas Milian, best known to genreheads for his vibrant turns in spaghetti westerns and crime films, makes for a very boring lead here. Despite trying to emote with every line, a pudgy Milian comes off as simply tired like an Italian version of Hugo Stiglitz complete greasy beard and perpetually bad hair day. The impression one gets is that Bernardo is supposed to be an everyman, but we're not even informed at what he does for a living.

Some quick thoughts on The Dead Matter (2010)

As far as I can tell, a vampiric Andrew Divoff in an ill-fitting wig is after an ancient scarab necklace with the power to control the undead. To what end? I still have no clue. The only man capable of ending the quest for this unexplained undead dominion is a comic book version vampire hunter played by Jason Carter. The glowing scrab is lost during a pre-credits woodland battle and is eventually found by a group of friends during a séance to contact a dead relative. The sister of the deceased comes to realize the artifact's ethereal power with the vamp and his tracker both closing in. But is she willing to relinquish her only way of resurrecting her brother?

Last year, this independent feature from a first time writer/director Edward Douglas appeared at Hot Topic stores on DVD with its own little display (Fangoria article here). Before anyone looks at their screen funny, I only occasionally endure their shitty merchandise and smug staff in the hope of finding something horror-related, like NECA's action figures which they seemed to have stopped carrying for months now. Anyway, last time I stopped in the SE release was discounted to ten bucks and temptation got the best of me.

So how is The Dead Matter? In a word, dodgy. The kind of backwash eventually confined to the pages of a future horror movie guidebook with the starting line of "Confused, forgettable mess". --After realizing I'd probably get a migraine articulating in detail how much this ultimately sucked, this entry later merely became this short n' sweet ditty...  

Some Unsurprising Love for Dawn of the Dead (1978)

I've said it before and I'll say it again, it's especially hard to write about films that are so beloved both personally and nearly universally. It's like to trying to exactly express the details of true love or that certain something that makes a person special in your life. There's also a weird pressure to say something profound about the film because of, or in spite of, the seemingly endless stream of criticism and thought surrounding it already.

George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978) is unquestionably one of those films and needs no introduction. A horror film pièce de résistance that was initially well received but only found its immense status with the passage of time. This quasi-sequel to Night of the Living Dead is my favorite horror film of all time to such a degree that it sits apart and on a higher level than my other favorites. Being that my mind everything else swirls around its presence, Dawn is the greatest horror film ever made. Not one of the greatest, but the de facto standard by which all other genre pictures are to be judged. This isn't a slight against the countless others. I love horror, so there's numerous works and filmmakers I cherish, and wouldn't cast them off if they can't live up to this lofty standard.  

Horror fans, myself certainly included, love to corral genre examples with neat little labels. A perfectly understandable desire and the majority of horror films are lucky to just so one thing well that fans in turn can recognize them by. Dawn acts as both the best film involving the living dead thus far and the best horror film in spite of the living dead theme. The secret is the fact that it's not really about the dead at all.

Monday, February 4

These recent "Jess Franco Selection" titles from Japan have...interesting...covers

Looks like Erwin C. Dietrich's VIP line of Jess Franco sleaze has made it to Japan this past September and distributor Anec Ltd. has delivered some "appropriate" covers for the series. Each are labeled as uncensored with anamorphic transfers, English Mono, and oddly the listings on Amazon.jp denote "hair" in Google Translate.

I'm assuming here, but with the relaxation of the Nihon Ethics of Video Association's longstanding rule on optically fogging pubic hair in Japan's home video releases, "hair" probably means these are truly untouched releases. Also curious how Jack the Ripper (1976) is missing from this line-up while it's still the only VIP title to have been released in America through Image Entertainment some years ago.

Barbed Wire Dolls (1975) / Blue Rita (1977)
Women in Cellblock 9 (1977) / Doriana Grey (1976)
Ilsa, the Wicked Warden (1977) / Love Camp (1977)
Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1977) / Sexy Sisters (1977) / Voodoo Passion (1977)

Sunday, February 3

Some quick thoughts on American Ricksaw (American risciò) (1990)

Toshiba's Japanese VHS was the basis for this review
Popped in this Sergio Martino-directed action/fantasy/ricksaw/horror gumbo last night for the first time. After skimming through mostly scathing reviews, I was bracing for the worst, expecting a sad mishmash from a great genre director that's as utterly confusing as this theatrical trailer over on YouTube. Surprisingly, it's not quite like anything I was expecting.

The story concerns a young ricksaw driver in Miami, Scott (U.S. Olympic Gold medalist Mitch Gaylord), who finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy after catching someone taping a sexual encounter with a redhead he just met. The videotaping pervert ends up being the son of an immensely popular televangelist (Donald Pleasance) and the shit smashes the fan when the guy is murdered and Scott's falsely accused with both the feds and a thuggish hitman (Daniel Green) on his trail. That all sounds straight forward...until you throw in a mysterious "Chinese witch" in a skyscraper penthouse that seems to be protecting Scott and conjuring cobras, fire, melting keys, and a Siamese feline to help him out of sticky situations. And the televangelist might be a centuries old arch nemesis of the elderly woman possessing artifacts of extreme mystical power.

So yeah, this whole thing is...different. If you're used to the pitfalls of late Italian genre offerings, it's hard to condemn American Ricksaw as "bad" in a traditional sense. In these twilight years, as the country's filmmaking industry grew sadly stale, it literally began eating itself. Now bygone concepts that were already riffed from whatever made bank in Hollywood during Italy's cult prime were regurgitated, only even cheaper, and usually jammed together into a single film. The results tended to be goofy and a pale comparison of what once dependable filmmakers like Martino or Fulci were capable of just a few years prior.

So what makes American Ricksaw pull away? It's definitely the most potent example of this "throw everything at the wall and hopefully make money off the resulting movie" mentality I've encountered. So many zany aspects are thrown into the pot that you're glued to the set in bewilderment and intrigue over where it's all leading. Maybe that was the point...?

Regardless, everyone onscreen works their limited parts well. Gaylord's not totally incompetent and Green (Martino's '86 Hands of Steel) actually shows some growth as an actor. Or at least he doesn't seem to have just stumbled off a football field with two minutes to practice his lines. Pleasance's appearance is literally four tiny speaking scenes making it obvious he's only here to give the film some meager measure of star name power. Despite the budget, Martino stages some effective tension and action in the right places while the story barely hangs onto coherence. Check it out on a rainy day, just approach it with caution. Released in the states on VHS as American Tiger by Academy Entertainment.

Saturday, February 2

Finally snagged one of my most wanted tapes!

I've finally scored one of my most wanted VHS releases, Video City Productions' extremely hard-to-find clamshell of Paul Nashy's Inquisition (Inquisición) (1976) released in 1984! I've included Video City's Jungle Holocaust (1977) from 1985 in the picture merely because it's the only other clam from the distributor in my collection so far. Here's an entry from the past detailing VC's Devil (Xie mo) (1981) big box.

Some information on this particular copy of Inquisition from Bill Knight, proprietor of Midnight Legacy: "This piece is one of the first run tapes of the film. It has superior video quality to the later runs. The first run of tapes of this film from Video City do not have the super-imposed Video City logo over the title screen. The super-imposed logo they added for later runs degraded the video quality (the logo did indeed go away but the signal remained on throughout the film when it should have been turned off). The first run tapes are more complete than later runs - First run of tapes running time: 89 minutes 23 seconds, Later runs: 88 minutes 58 seconds."

...do you dare tread upon the staircase?

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