Color, 1985, 82 mins. 32 secs.
Directed by "Mardi Rustam, Larry Spiegel, Curtis Hanson, et al."
Starring James Keach, Michele Marsh, Robert Walker Jr., Doria Cook, Dean Jagger, Keith Hefner, E.J. Andre, Greg Finely, Dabbs Greer, Jillian Kessner, Regis Toomey
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Once in a while, a film comes along that not only seems to have been made on another planet but actually defies the laws of time and space. Among the behemoths in this arena like The Visitor, Dangerous Men, and Troll 2 are any number of other bizarre, brain-scorching gems, and Evil Town absolutely deserves to be included in their company. Begun in 1977, the first gestation of this film was evidently completed under the title God Bless Grandma and Grandpa but never received an official release; it was then reworked into something known as Dr. Shagetz, God Damn Dr. Shagetz, and/or God Bless Dr. Shagetz, which was then left on the cinematic scrap heap to rot away despite the involvement of directors like Curtis Hanson and producer Peter S. Traynor (Death Game). Never one to let a project run smoothly, producer Mardi Rustam, who had already fired Tobe Hooper (temporarily) from Eaten Alive and added his own scenes, had managed to somehow get a significant theatrical release for his bizarre sci-fi / slasher / sex hybrid, Evils of the Night, which he prepared in two distinctly different versions. Apparently he saw a similar opportunity with the remnants of Shagetz and, taking inspiration from several scenes in Evils, added enough new subplots and nudity to create a finished product in 1985. However, the public wasn't treated to the fruits of his labors until 1987 when Trans World issued it on VHS, complete with misleading packaging promoting it as a zombie film. The actual experience of watching is something much, much stranger than any synopsis could ever indicate.
In the town of, uh, Smalltown, population 666, something is most definitely amiss. A family of four traveling cross country from Boston ends up being knocked out and abducted by a pair of gas station attendants who turn them over to Dr. Schaeffer (Jagger), a kook who's using human guinea pigs for some kind of nefarious experiment involving a youth serum. The mayhem continues with multiple people passing, most notably when a camper containing Christopher (Keach), Mike (Walker), Linda (Cook), and Julie (Marsh) breaks down. They find aid from the kindly Lyle (Greer) who offers to repair it for them, but meanwhile the attendants have gotten the bright idea to start "having fun" with their female captives before handing them off. Then a guy with a mustache escapes from that same hospital and karate kicks his pursuers because the plot dictates it. "So what if I kill a few kids?" opines the doctor as the full extent of his evil plot involving sinister buttermilk donuts becomes apparent to the newcomers, who have to fight for their lives before they get turned into youth serum.
The Rustam influence is all over this thing right from the beginning with such dialogue as "I just have a feeling these trees are all watching us. Let's do it in the car." A narrative that seems like it should be straightforward instead turns into a crazy quilt of contrasting film stock and random actors, with Firecracker star Jillian Kessner inserted into random shots as Schaeffer's mostly inactive assistant and Playboy model Lynda Wiesmeier (Wheels of Fire) contributing one of the most awkwardly shot extended nude scenes you'll ever see. However, the most astounding there here is actually Jagger, delivering an overheated performance with some of the weirdest line deliveries you'll ever hear. His big monologue near the end about his master plan is a genuine out of body cinematic experience akin to nothing else ever put on film before or since; just trying springing this one on unsuspecting friends and watch the mayhem commence.
Out of circulation since the late '80s, Evil Town returns to home video with a vengeance as a 2019 Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome as one of the two inaugural entires in its Vinegar Syndrome Archive line, a 2,500-unit limited edition sold only through the company site and brick and mortar retailers. Instead of the usual slipcase packaging, this one comes in a harder, studier case with a top meant to mimic the feel of VHS packaging, each hand numbered and also featuring an insert poster in addition to the usual reversible cover art options. In keeping with VS tradition, the transfer here from the original 35mm camera negative is a massive improvement over the older master and looks like a million bucks, relatively speaking. There's really nothing to fault here at all on the a/v front, and as usual, English SDH subtitles are included for the English DTS-HD MA mono track. An audio interview with director Larry Spiegel (31m46s) via phone sheds a bit more light on his career in TV and film (including a lengthy bit about Remo Williams) and the path that led to him becoming one of the numerous helmers involved with this film, with the "T&A scenes" obviously having no connection to the original story. A "Compare and Contrast" (6m26s) reel points out some of the scenes in this film and Evils of the Night that seem to echo each other a little too closely to be coincidental, including a stupefying girl talk scene bound to bring on a case of deja vu.
Reviewed on May 24, 2019