Color, 1989, 92 mins. 34 secs.
Directed by Daniel M. Peterson
Starring Liane Curtis, Dana Ashbrook, Lezlie Deane James Daughton, Anthony Barrile, Sarah Kaite Coughlan, James Karen
Culture Shock Releasing (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Already known to '80s and '90s VHS junkies as the excavators of several direct-to-video oddities, Culture Shock Releasing ups the ante with its most high-profile title to date and a familiar one to fans of long-ago Comedy Central airings as well: Girlfriend from Hell, a title whose striking Avid cover art seemed to adorn every chain store and mom-and-pop shop for years. Though the film weirdly didn't try to capitalize much on its biggest name (Dana Ashbrook, at the time starring on Twin Peaks as Bobby Briggs), Girlfriend from Hell built up a small but affection cult following with its good-natured fusion of comedy, fantasy, and monster movie tropes, something that really seemed to be in the air at the time with other films like Earth Girls Are Easy and Teen Witch. This one's cheaper and even more random than either of those, but it does have its charms including its one secret weapon: a committed and frequently hilarious performance from lead Liane Curtis who should've had more shots than this after supporting bits in films like Critters 2: The Main Course and The Brother from Another Planet.
An employee of God with a checkered past of his own, Chaser (Ashbrook) uses the middle of a desert as home base for his ongoing hunt after Satan. A female in this version, Satan's flight to freedom ends up at a high school party where wallflower Maggie (Curtis) has been set up on a disastrous blind date with Carl (Barrile). However, after awkwardly stepping away from the shindig to get some private time, she's possessed by the red-glowing princess of darkness and becomes a take-no-prisoners, havoc-causing terror with a fantastic '80s hairdo. Now with a hearty appetite for both booze and human souls, she's out on the town with that supernatural bounty hunter from her past in hot pursuit.
Mostly a breezy comedy that keeps its Satanic shenanigans very much in check, Girlfriend from Hell feels designed to be a party movie kids would discover on cable TV. It's just dirty enough to get an R-rating (including a lengthy breast-grabbing gag you'd never see today), and occasionally it fires out a random gag like some shotgun and bazooka-toting nuns who feel like they wandered in from a Troma film. Throw in a very catchy theme song, some fun one-liners, and a game cast including smaller roles for James Daughton (National Lampoon's Animal House, The Beach Girls) and James Karen (Return of the Living Dead), and you've got a fun little slice of silliness that can really win you over if you're in the right mood.
For its first release on physical media in decades, Girlfriend from Hell has gotten the full-on special edition Blu-ray treatment here from Culture Shock (also out directly from the label in a 50-unit "Bundle from Hell") including a very nice HD presentation that will come as something of a shock to anyone whose eyes are accustomed to those old TV airings or the VHS and laserdisc releases. It looks great here with those awesome vibrant '80s color choices really grabbing you here right out of the gate, and the surprisingly strong and immersive Ultra-Stereo mix is nicely replicated here with a robust DTS-HD MA English 2.0 track (with optional English SDH subtitles). Director Daniel Peterson contributes a new audio commentary track mixing production stories with his frequently off-the-cuff reactions to watching the film, including his appreciation for seeing it in its intended aspect ratio versus the boxy 1.33:1 presentation we've had for so long. On the video side things kick off with a short interview with producer Alberto Lensi (5m31s) about his choice to embark on this film and his work with Peterson. That's followed by a trio of much more in-depth interviews (over Zoom by the looks of it) conducted by Vinegar Syndrome's Brad Henderson. First up is Curtis (40m53s) talking about her attraction to the character of the "insane" Maggie and the overall project (including an earlier concept, Babysitter from Hell); she's very lively and tons to fun to watch her with a lot of love for the film all these years later. Then Sarah Kaite Coughlan (33m27s) chats about getting cast after a role for Robert Townsend and finding the right demeanor for her character, Freda, Maggie's most self-assured pal. Finally Girlfriend From Hell: The Musical creator Sean Matthew Whiteford (39m45s) goes into the process of discovering this film as a child on Comedy Central and turning the cult classic into a ten-year dream to bring it to the stage in upstate New York including concert versions. Also included are a gallery of production photo highlights (3m54s) set to the theme song and a much more extensive complete gallery of set photos (30m51s), a cute batch of cast audition footage taken from the original VHS tape (16m49s), a remastered trailer, and bonus Culture Shock Releasing trailers including Cannibal Hookers, Death Collector, CreepTales, Goodnight God Bless, and Zipperface.
Reviewed on February 16, 2022