Color, 1991, 90 mins. 42 secs.
Directed by Rolfe Kanefsky
Starring Craig Peck, Wendy Bednarz, Mark Collver, Bonnie Bowers, John Carhart III
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Troma, Image Entertainment (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
The early '90s isn't exactly regarded as horror's greatest heyday, but the post-slasher lull did produce some entertaining genre offerings for those willing to dig around a little bit with far too many worthy titles heading straight to video. Case in point: Theres's Nothing Out There, whose big hook in subsequent years is the fact that it's one of the earlier meta horror titles (which led the filmmakers to mention Scream a lot later on), though in this case it's based around monster movies rather than slashers. Basically it's one step beyond Waxwork, Evil Laugh and Night of the Creeps as this time one of the characters is an expert on horror movies and tries to warn everyone about staying alive out in the woods, but of course, no one listens.
As for the plot, there's all these college students, of course, and they're heading out to a house in the woods for the weekend, but there's a green, slimy alien presence on the loose (first seen attacking a girl in a video store crammed with horror VHS titles). Only obnoxious horror movie watcher Mike (Peck) knows what's really going on, but that doesn't help the various preppies, jocks, and horn dogs from falling prey to the tentacled menace, which can also possess its prey and shoot lasers from its eyes.
The fact that the film is aware of its cheapness and stupidity makes all the difference, of course, and director Rolfe Kanefsky (who went on to helm a slew of amusing alien-themed softcore films and the middling "8 Films to Die For" entry Nightmare Man)also packs in a surprising amount of skin exposure. The Super 16 photography does an admirable job of capturing that cheap early '80s feel, and overall, it's a feisty creature feature with a few unique angles of its own.
A tenth anniversary DVD came out from Image Entertainment back in 2002 and featured an audio commentary with Kanefsky, his dad/film producer Victor, and many of the cast and crew (including Peck). (In fact, yours truly had a hand in setting that one up way back when in the standard def glory days.) The disc also contained a slew of audition footage, cut scenes, and short films, and apart from a negligible Femme Fatale magazine feature on the film, all of the extras were carried over for Troma's absurdly packed double-disc 20th Anniversary edition from 2010. The original commentary is still amusing (especially the frequent piling on against absent female star Bonnie Bowers, a musician in her only feature role), and Kanefsky also contributes a new solo commentary track along with a new video intro. (Troma's Lloyd Kaufman contributes an intro, too, of course; you can probably imagine how that one plays before watching a second of it.) Disc two packs on the rest of the extras: a rough-looking music video (5m15s) cut together on two VCRs, Kanefsky's short films "Just Listen" (14m37s) (which is seen in the main feature playing on a video store TV) and "Mood Boobs" (19m37s) starring Tiffany Schepis (with a 16m8s making-of featurette and commentary tacked on for the latter), screen tests, pre-production footage and storyboards (7m11s), rehearsal footage and bloopers (10m38s), cast auditions (11m59s), animation test footage and deleted shots (3m26s), and a production still gallery (4m17s), all with optional commentary as well. The menu screens are incredibly hard to read, incidentally. The main feature appears to be the same anamorphic transfer, which looks fine.
It was a given that this one had to turn up on Blu-ray at some point, and sure enough Vinegar Syndrome stepped up to the plate in 2019 with a dual-format edition also containing a DVD. The transfer is cited as a new 2K scan from the 35mm interpositive, and as you'd expect it improves across the board with finer film grain, more detail, and stronger color rendition during the more saturated scenes. Much more image info is also visible, with the framing shifted down a bit in the process on some (but not all) scenes. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 stereo track sounds very lively with some exaggerated channel separation throughout, and optional English SDH subtitles are provided. Both of the previous commentaries are ported over here, and a new one is added with Kanefsky and filmmakers Joe Lynch and Jeff Reddick, analyzing the film from an even more distant perspective with a strong horror fandom perspective. A particularly interesting comes over halfway in when they mention the Steadicam work, which sports a connection to Street Trash. There's also an audio commentary with the gang at The Hysteria Continues, this time with Nathan essentially serving as ringleader as the funny foursome go into postmodern horror, the use of random punks in horror films, and the suggested pairing of this one with Uninvited, which coincidentally came out from Vinegar Syndrome at the exact same time.
On the video side you get most of the older extras here including the music video, trailer (with optional commentary), the "Just Listen" and "Big Boobs" shorts (with the latter's making of), rehearsal and pre-production footage, auditions, animation test footage and deleted shots, and production stills gallery, with the commentary options retained as well. The new "There's a Movie Out There" (52m27s) with both Kanefskys is a lengthy new conversation about Rolfe's entry into moviemaking as a kid, his work on Troma's War, and the path that led to the creation of this film after an early effort called Murder in Winter. Speaking of which, that film (done as his senior play project) is also included here (on the Blu-ray only) in all its fuzzy shot-on-VHS glory complete with a hilariously pilfered soundtrack. (Sleuth and The Thing fans should be especially amused.) At a whopping 110 mins. 30 secs. it's going to be of limited appeal to casual viewers but works as a cute little whodunit, with Peck turning up as the lead. Victor Kanefsky goes solo for another featurette, "40 Years of Cutting" (30m59s), in which he's interviewed by C. Courtney Joyner about this film and some of his other gigs like editing the immortal Bloodsucking Freaks. A new interview with Peck (18m24s) offers an overview of how his part came about in the script and how much he enjoyed the gig, which he got despite a terrible audition. An archival interview (well, more of a monologue) with Rolfe Kanefsky (35m56s) finds him showing off the last surviving creature from the film and chatting in his bedroom including his oft-stated thoughts about Scream, while both Kanefskys briefly introduce a short film called "Copycat' (10m30s) that popped up online as a tribute to this film by basically illustrating Kanefsky's narrative about the film with a barrage of presumably fair use film clips.
VINEGAR SYNDROME (Blu-ray)
IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT (DVD)
Updated review on January 24, 2019.