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. you dare tread upon the staircase?

Basement of Ghoulish Decadence, Basement of Ghoulish Archive, and all original material Copyright © 2009-present by Jayson Kennedy. All rights reserved.