MARCH 19, 2009

Though it bears a 1984 copyright mark, anyone could be easily forgiven for mistaking the couple-on-the-run saga Running Hot for a '70s drive-in movie. Drawing inspiration from the likes of Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, Macon County Line and Badlands, it features a young, pre-Mask Eric Stoltz as Danny, a teen falsely accused of murdering his father. Sentenced to death, he manages to escape from prison and goes on the lam with Charlene (Monica Carrico, a good actress who basically vanished), a hooker and exotic dancer whose clients enjoy scenarios like having sex in presidental face masks. Charlene's crush on Danny (including love letters to him in prison) motivate her to help him find the real killer, with a dogged and very brutal cop (Staurt Margolin) closing in fast behind them. Packed with guns, T&A, skinnydipping and a literally explosive, downbeat finale, Running Hot earned only a few appreciative followers during its sparse theatrical run and short liife on VHS, but it deserves a much wider following now that a watchable version has finally hit DVD. Surprisingly, this was the first feature by director Mark Griffiths, who went on to direct both of the Hardbodies films and a slew of made-for-TV features. The fact that he never got to dabble in territory like this again is a shame, but at least we have this one to enjoy. Griffiths appears all over the DVD, offering a video intro to the film, a lengthy on-camera interview in which he talks about his segue from writer to feature director mounting a low budget production with a mostly unknown cast, and most detailed of all, an audio commentary along with producer David Callaway and moderator Lee Christian. It's a very detailed, informative chat that covers the careers of most of the actors in detail along with the shooting locations and the logistic necessities of the sparse but effective action scenes. The transfer itself looks fine given source, if a tad on the soft side and slightly horizontally squeezed (which can be fixed on most players or TV sets). Other extras include a hefty still gallery (with lots of foreign lobby cards) and an alternate European title sequence.

If you prefer your '70s drive-in sexploitation with a heavy dose of polyester pants, shaggy hairdos, and S&M monkey suits, then feast your eyes of The Booby Hatch, a very silly 1976 nudie comedy written and co-directed by John Russo, the writer of the original Night of the Living Dead (with future Dawn of the Dead star David Emge popping up for another Romero connection). Kicking off with a sex toy commercial plugging the "XX20 Ultra Vibrator," the entire story revolves around the goofy antics at Joyful Novelties, a "pleasure" manufacturer, and two of its product testers, blonde nymphet Cherry Jakowski (Sharon Joy Miller) and schlubby Marcello (co-director Rudy Ricci). As the company tries out a string of its new products on an increasingly oddball set of characters, Cherry begins to wonder where she'll find true satisfaction (mainly since her boyfriend is secretly pining for a sex change) while Marcello becomes desperate at his ability to fly his flag on a regualr basis. Drawing inspiration from "dirty" mainstream skit comedies like <I>The Groove Tube,</I> the film barely holds together as a coherent narrative but works well enough as a string of "Laugh-In" style gags, laced with topless shots every few minutes to keep the audience happy. This long-lost piece of filmic history (previously available only in a dire VHS release from Super Video) comes to DVD for the first time in an exhaustive special edition from Synapse, who appropriately kicked off the cult movie restoration craze back in the laserdisc days with Night of the Living Dead. Here they present two cuts of the film, the original Booby Hatch (looking fine enough for a low budget, super-grainy '70s feature with an anamorphic 1.66:1 transfer) and an alternate cut (in much rougher shape) entiteld The Liberation of Cherry Jankowski, which shuffles several scenes in a different order and concludes with a more blatantly pro-terrorist finale. Extras include theatrical trailers for both versions, a new Emge interview called "A Flyboy in Earth Shoes" mainly focused on the actor's Pittsburgh-oriented acting career (and his odd turn here doing a Humphrey Bogart impression as Marcello's Italian cop brother), and an audio commentary with Russo, Ricci, and fellow Night alumnus Russell Streiner, who served as co-producer here. They cover a number of targets including building scouting, the sex revolution targets, and even a quick anecdote about porn actress Georgina Spelvin.

A peculiar cinematic strain only known to die-hard softcore devotees and collectors of arcane VHS releases, Brazil's "pornochanchada" films (often just called "chada" for short) flourished from the late '70s through the following decade. Unlike most simulated offerings around the world which had begun to just feel like hardcore with the worst shots taken out, these South American fusions of soap operatics and sweaty coupling feel like low budget Pedro Almodovar movies filtered through the mind of a depraved Cinemax programmer. Skilled actors and convoluted plotlines drive the sex scenes here, which are definitely integral to the film be it comedy, thriller or drama, and even some of the most renowned actors were willing to go much further in front of the camera than most audiences expected. 1984's The Chick's Ability (Volupia de Mulher) is a fairly serious entry but certainly doesn't skimp on the entertainment value, delivering the huge doses of flesh typical of the genre (which was even dabbling in brief unsimulated scenes at the time, but not in this case-- just barely). The first section of the film unfolds through flashbacks as pretty young Christina (Amazon Jail's Vanessa Alves) languishes in a hospital while flashbacks explain exactly how she wound up there, namely by losing her virginity to her first boyfriend at an idyllic waterfall only to be discovered by her disapproving parents, who order her to marry him or get out. Christina chooses the latter and, upon finding herself pregnant, shacks up with a shady string of characters including a hooker and even a sassy crossdresser who helps deliver her child. Unfortunately complications ensue which force the baby to stay under medical care, so her nurse, Laura (Helena Ramos from Coffin Joe's Hellish Flesh), arranges to hook her up as a nude model for her painter boyfriend, Marcos (André Loureiro), both of whom are sexually insatiable. Marcos is inspired by Christina (who moonlights out on the streets to boot) and quickly falls for her, leading to plenty of domestic jealousy. Featuring a tranny catfight, three(!) aquatic sex scenes, and a physically stunning cast who spend over half the screen time naked, The Chick's Ability is a wonderful exploitation discovery and offers a rare chance to watch one of these films in crisp quality with English subtitles, a relief for anyone who's sat through bleary '80s VHS dupes of any of these films. The only other remotely comparable titles on the U.S. market are Amazon Jail and Bare Behind Bars, though while this film is nearly as explicit, it's a much more overheated and stylized affair with both of the female leads steaming up the screen; if you were blown away by Something Weird's "Fuego," this one ramps it all up even further. Impulse's inaugural release in their "Classic Latin Erotica Collection" looks very nice, featuring a full frame transfer that doesn't appear to be missing anything on the sides. The print is in solid shape and is obviously a new transfer, with optional English subtitles for the mono Portuguese soundtrack. Here's hoping their second Latin release, Violence and Flesh (also with Ramos and featuring a really incredible cover), hits shelves ASAP.

More recent but just as unsettling is 2008's Suzie Heartless, a dialogue-free cinematic howl from Tony Marsiglia, who presumably alternates his directorial efforts between experimental art films and more accessible softcore horror fare like Lust for Dracula. This one's basically a kitchen sink look at the day-to-day existence of the title character, a teen prostitute with a traumatic past who reflects on the circumstances that brought her onto the streets while her life quickly goes swirling down the toilet with the help of a lot of really lowlife johns. Scuzzy in subject matter but surprisingly austere and artistic in execution, this isn't a pleasant watch by any means but it definitely does make for a gripping artistic statement. Newbie Wendy McColm is surprisingly affecting in the lead, using her often moist and damaged-looking eyes to convey what can't be said (obviously, since there isn't a single spoken line). Marsiglia contributes a commentary for the rather brief feature along with producer Donna Kane, which actually helps explain some of the underlying themes in the film along with the usual production trivia, as well as a good deleted scene. Surprisingly more enjoyable as far as viewing entertianment goes is the second bonus disc which contains Marsiglia's equally artsy, earlier 1995 effort, Phoenix (released on VHS as Ashes and Flames), which features some really ambitious and often striking monochromatic photography and a more lively, off-the-cuff editing style. It's sort of a grim character study about a women who winds up connecting with her dead sister's boyfriend (I think), whose own emotional and sexual stunting has caused him no small share of torment. That shred of a story isn't really the point here, though, as the film dollops on the atmosphere and eye-opening visuals in a steady, dreamlike stream that makes it difficult to tear away. In all honesty, newcomers might be better off starting with this disc and then progressing to the newer feature when they feel their constitution can take it. This one also contains a director commentary (way more candid, and you won't believe the hell he went through on this one), along with a making-of featurette and audition footage.

Imagine what might happen in someone decided to remake Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace for five dollars after hours in an abandoned New York theater with a cast of non-actors. Same mask, convuluted giallo plot, etc. And then they decided to inject it with graphic porn. Sound weird? You have no idea, and this thing really exists as 1974's Come Deadly, one-half of After Hours' tastefully-monikered Rapist Rampage Grindhouse Double Feature. The plot here follows some aspiring actors getting ready to put on a show -- in this case, Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew -- while a mad stranger rapist dressed almost exactly like Bava's killer haunts the rafters and attacks the actresses. When a really homely cop decides to go undercover as one of the actors, he seems to spend most of his investigative time banging his shapely co-stars before finally figuring out a way to smoke out the psychopath. The sex scenes are pretty drab and off-putting, but the oddness of the whole enterprise makes it worth a peek. Besides, as far as slasher/porn hybrids go, it's certainly more digestible than, say, Forced Entry. However, the same set's more famous co-feature, Wet Wilderness, doesn't play nearly so nice. This is one seriously foul little puppy, especially for 1975 as it wedges some really gory slasher murders (machete, axe, etc.) into a "violation in the woods" scenario straight out of Last House on the Left. Four shaggy-looking hippie leftovers are out camping in the woods and take time out to diddle each other, but a drawling loon wearing a yellow-and-black ski mask shows up in time to force two of the girls into some forced lesbianism before finishing one of them off. As the escapee tries to warn everyone in sight, the maniac tracks them all down and forces them into a series of increasingly degenerate compromising positions before the appropriately nasty finale. Lacking the outrageous chutzpah of truly out-there horror porns like Widow Blue, this one has little imagination and zerio creative merit but might merit a single look based on sheer geek factor alone. You have been warned. A note for die-hard collectors: Wet Wilderness was shown in theaters (and a briefly released VCA tape edition) with a soundtrack brazenly pilfered from studo films like Psycho and Jaws, a common practice at the time; to avoid getting their pants sued off in these clearance-happy times, the entire audio for the film had to be recreated, which also means new voice overdubs. There isn't much artistic violation going on here, but purists might want to know in advance. In any case, Come Deadly is certainly the film you'll feel far less guiltier for watching in the morning.

As everyone knows by now, After Hours Cinema has made something of a cottage industry out of making triple and quadruple features out of musty softcore smut movies lying around in dusty film cans from various basements and abandoned warehouses. That means you tend to get a mix of titles both familiar with lots of familiar faces doing the nasty along with utterly baffling curios filled with one-timers aiming for their shot at skinflick stardom. The latest entry in their Storefront Feature Series, Sleaze in the 70s, features four movies which all definitely fall into that latter category. All of the entries here are, at the very least, quite interesting and feature some wild tonal shifts far removed from the by-the-numbers cable stuff you see today; not surprisngly, a couple of them also try to push the envelope about as far as legally possible in the early '70s. First up is Splendor in the Sack, in which a really homely businessman comes home after spending his lunch hour with a call girl and finds his wife has been just as busy gettin' down with the housekeeper, so they immediately have a panty party on the couch where the women play dress up. Unfortunately the maid's got a little secret that causes the whole thing to end in tears. Next up is the arguable highlight, A Taste of Honey, a really wild one about two gangsters (an older pudgy guy named Ned and a young buck named Malcolm) who decide to relieve the stress of a day of kneecapping by sampling the delights at a brothel where they order the house's best virgin. Things take a nasteir turn when Ned's wicked side comes out, leading to a few kinky twists and turns. Weirdly mixing slapstick, surprisingly frisky coupling, and some weird detours into roughie territory, this is definitely a unique one and almost worth the pricetag alone. The second disc kicks off with Sweets for the Suite, a modest quickie set in a magazine office where an overly active receptionist gets fired for playing around on the job, with her boss then going through a succession of prospective replacements (including early porn staple Judy Angel of Mona fame). It's all amiable and disposable enough with lots of flesh on display as the camera frequently drifts into close ups that border on the medical. Finally you get the most classically constructed of the bunch, One Hundred Dollar Wife, a no-budget stab at screwball comedy in which two briefcase-carrying businessmen who take a weekend off for a "business trip" at a nearby hotel where they plan to phone in a couple of girls for some extramarital fun. Little do they know that their wives have something even filthier in mind that's going to wind them all in a big mixed-up pot o' trouble. All of the features are matted at 1.78:1 (per usual After Hours practice), with some of the scratchy but newly-transferred features looking better than others. This release also contains the newly-conceived "Grind-It!" feature, basically the same as the "Drive-In Experience" touted by other companies on past releases, with both features playing in succession along with the padding of additional trailers and promos before, between, and after. It also comes with the usual anonymous liner notes booklet that tries to unearth as much info as possible about these grimy but gripping little obscurities.

If you're familiar with the works of shoestring monster auteur Brett Piper, the title Drainiac should already give you a very good idea of what to expect -- namely an FX-heavy, gooey dive headfirst into B-movie creature feature territory. Easily the most confusing entry in Piper's filmography, the film first popped up on rental shelves back at the beginning of the '00s in an essentially unauthorized, unfinished state which left many customers utterly confused by what their DVD player was unleashing upon their fragile psyches. The eventual authorized special edition from Shock-o-Rama thus marks a worldwide debut of sorts, touting it as being "fx-enhanced" in a "never-before-seen cut." It will take a hardier soul than I to catalog all the differences, but the feature itself seems to boast much better color grading and slicker (and wetter) FX. As you can no doubt guess, the entire story revolves around the horrors unleashed when something liquid and very pissed-off terrorizes anyone who enters a decrepit old house, all via the plumbing. The sleeve describes it as a "water demon" though that's more specific than what the story itself implies, with a tentacled, shape-shifting villain shimmying up and down the sinks and toilets while taking more than a few cues from the '88 remake of The Blob. The victims include a couple of bums in the prologue and other peripheral characters, but most of the focus rests on the usual clutch of twentysomething dimbulbs led by a stable of TV and straight-to-video actors like Alexandra Boylan and Georgina Hatzis. (Who, you ask? Look 'em up on imdb and find out!) Piper even throws in a exorcist, err, aquacist for the splashy finale. The DVD sports a very nice transfer, which benefits from the fact that this was shot on film rather than video (Super 16mm, according to the extras) with a decent enough audio track, mostly featuring dead-center mono dialogue with some occasional channel separation in the music and gurgling sound effects. Piper contributes another breezy commentary track focusing on the production itself (its fate is covering in the liner notes), with Shock-o-Rama head Michael Raso essentially sitting in as moderator. Not a bad package at all if you're hungering for some pre-CGI monster mayhem that'll make you think twice before turning on the garbage disposal.

Speaking of brainless monster movies, the New Mexico-shot Necroville does the instant cult thing better than most (read: Troma) in what amounts to a DIY version of Clerks crossed with Buffy with the Vampire Slayer. In the titular town, supernatural beasties like zombies and vampires are running rampant; enter Zom-B-Gone, where two former video clerks, Jack (co-director Billy Garberina) and Alex (Adam Jarmon Brown from Creature from the Hillbilly Lagoon), find work dispatching these oversized pests. Meanwhile Jack's unbearable shrew of a girlfriend has them wondering whether she might be involved in these dark proceedings, especially when her sinister ex comes back to town carrying a grisly secret of his own. Definitely entertaining in an undemanding, beer-chugging sort of way, Necroville packs on the monster FX and goop-spewing highlights with utter glee, especially the finale which justifiably receives a mention of its own in the back synopsis. It's almost worth a rental just by itself. The two leads tend to mug it up, but considering they all brought this in for a reputed 10 grand, that's a minor complaint. Several of the one-liners are genuinely funny, and some of the set pieces (including one in a sorority house and an inspired bit involving a piano, whose genesis is even explained in the liner notes) are guaranteed to grab the attention of any horror fan. The Shock-o-Rama DVD comes packed as usual, this time with a commentary by co-director Richard Griffin (who helmed Splatter Disco the same year), a batch of bloopers and cut scenes, a goof-off reel with actor Mark Chavez, a featurette on the cheap but often impressive effects, two goofy short films from the same crew ("Legend of Aerreus Kane" and "Cum-uppance"), bonus horrror-related trailers (several from the same crew), and the aforementioned liner notes booklet, which is an amusing read unto itself.

After targeting such successful franchises as Lord of the Rings in their ongoing string of softcore spoofs, it was a given that the lesbo-loving folks at Seduction Cinema would eventually set their sights on Batman with Batbabe: The Dark Nightie. Of course, the savior of Gotham has certainly inspired sex parodies before, most notoriously with the cheapjack '70s porno oddity and current cult favorite Bat Pussy, next to which this 2009 offering looks like a mega-million production in comparison. Spewing out enough groan-worthy puns to put the '60s TV series to shame, this superhero smutfest features Seduction staple Darian Caine as wealthy strip club maven and performer Wendy Wane, who takes time out from loving the ladies to fight crime as Batbabe, a nocturnal avenger whose current foe is The Jerker (a scenery-swallowing Rob Mandara), the self-absuing psychopath who swipes the entire city's porn stash. Batbabe is enlisted by Commissioner Boredom to save Bacchum City to find the hideout of this loony, who also terrorizes the city in a helicopter shaped like a giant phallus. Really. As you can tell, this ain't exactly Mel Brooks humor here, but for dopey comedy with a huge helping of cable-friendly sex scenes, this one fits the bill just fine. Heck, even regular Seduction host 42nd Street Pete pops up as a henchman in an uncredited, semi-disguised bit part. A few scenes actually come off as rather energetic and clever, such as an early police interrogation-turned-sex scene loaded with a hilarious overdose of "hide the salami"-style metaphors. The DVD transfer looks okay given this was shot on video (it's presented at 1.78:1 and 16x9 enhanced, as usual for Seduction) and augmented with a few disposable deleted scenes, audio commentary with "producer and historian Ed Grant" (who essentially runs down the various inspirations for the film and what it took to get all the ladies in the right spirit of the project) modered by Michael Raso (see Drainiac above), and a batch of the company's other spoofs like Kinky Kong. (Some "erotic short films" are also promised on the sleeve but weren't included on the version sent for review.)

Believe it or not, the junior high jokes of Batbabe look like The Colbert Report compared to another goofball spoof, Isle of the Damned, a 2008 put-on disguising itself as a long-lost Italian cannibal gore film ("the 1980 cult classic!") that was "banned in 492 countries!" As you can probably guess, the main target here is Make Them Die Slowly, though an overall familiarity with the works of Deodato and Lenzi will certainly help. Taking a page from Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, the whole project sports fake Italian credits ("directed by Antonello Giallo"), though the mastermind was really a fellow named Mark Colegrove at Dire Films. The nominal hero here is Jack Steele, a degenerate detective hired by some rich fatcats to find the lost treasure of Marco Polo. He sets off for the expedition with his moronic and sexually-confused adopted son, Billy, who seems to get molested by every old guy he meets including his dad's new boss. While wandering around in the woods we meet a wide variety of colorful characters including a female explorer and the Yamma Yamma tribe, who make a habit of disembowelling and eating anyone who gets on their nerves. Loaded with gory entrail-pulling and groan-inducing jokes, Isle of the Damned is definitely unlike any other movie you've ever seen and often hits its mark, most notably with a deliberately ridiculous scene of cannibal-on-genital trauma, some great ribbing on the "who are the real savages?" gibberish from the Italian originals, and even one character modeled after Maurizio Merli (I think). The whole thing was obviously shot for very little cash but looks surprisingly decent considering it was probably shot in the woods behind someone's house, and somehow the fake wigs and costumes just add to the overall weirdness. The only major misstep is the fact that the whole thing is dubbed (by what sounds like the same two or three people), which would be fine except it has no relation at all to what anyone is saying. Anyone who's watched their fair share of Italian gutmunchers knows the real entertainment value is watching actors speak phoenetic English only to have it all dubbed afterwards and come out just slightly out of synch; here it's more like an AIP dub of a Japanese monster movie and just feels off. Don't let that put you off, though; it's a real kick for Euro horror fans. Dire Wit's DVD contains a number of extras, some genuine and other utterly ridiculous, including a DVD-Rom function to listen to the entire soundtrack as MP3s (including some clever nods to Fabio Frizzi), a gag commentary by "The Insultor" (the pseudonymous voice of Jack Steele), a really funny video interview with "family relation" Luigi Giallo (complete with a handsy, black-gloved translator and hilarious voiceover), a "Shameless Art of Self-Promotion" featurette (which looks like it was shot at the Chiller con in Jersey), a batch of trailers (two for this one as well as the "other" Giallo film, Pleasures of the Damned, and something called Post Modern), and an audio "Message from Prof. Livingstone." If you thought Cannibal Holocaust would've been much better with a gay panic joke every two minutes, this is just the movie for you.

Also comedic but perhaps even stranger is the 2005 Japanese pink film/romantic comedy Sex Machine, or as the full title apparently reads, The Strange Saga of Hiroshi the Freeloading Sex Machine. Featuring acrobatic sex scenes that look like they were designed by Jerry Lewis, it's the undeniably unique story of a single mom/postal worker (Rinako Hirasawa) who hooks up with Hiroshi (Mutsuo Yoshioka), the freeloading sex-robot of the title, who possesses as great a sex drive as she. Unfortunately he's also prone to infidelity and avoiding anything resembling real labor, so she also has to contend with the advances of one of the town's most influential men, who controls the local cricket racket. This isn't just British-style cricket, though; it's an amped-up version that has everyone in an uproar. At times playing like a pink film as envisioned by Stephen Chow (but on a very meager budget), this is peculiar viewing for sure and peppered with some hilariously nasty bodily function gags for good measure. Salvation's widescreen tranfer is pretty comparable with their other Japanese releases, meaning it's a bit soft-looking and non-anamorphic (no surprise since this was intended for the home video market). Audio is presented in Japanese mono with optional English subtitles. Apart from the usual company promos, the only notable extra here is a completely unrelated short film, "Blood," which features plenty of the title fluid spewing all over the place in what amounts to an experimental look at a woman trying to remember how she might have killed a visitor in her apartment. Well, it's different.

Drug-related horror movies tend to be really, really awful (read: Shrooms), but one happy exception is 2007's unsung Stash, probably the best title ever released by Bloody Earth Films. This southern-fried concoction takes place in a Kentucky hemp road hell where two backwoods potheads, Stan and CJ, decide to swipe the stash of Ol' Bud, a local pot dealer. Unfortunately Bud catches them in the act and blackmails them at gunpoint into procuring women he can keep, uh, stashed away in his basement. However, one of their victims of choice, Sarah, is quickly missed by her parents and the local authorities, triggering a race against time as she fends for her life at the hands of this moonshine swillin' psychopath. Taut, tense, and surprisingly atmospheric, Stash is thankfully more unpredictable than the "torture porn"-style packaging might indicate, with an interesting cast of characters and a refusal to fall back on either cheap drug humor or simple misogyny to keep its audience interested. Apart from a few dubious art direction choices (A big Confederate flag hanging on a wall? Really?), this is definitely better than you'd expect from a shot-on-video recent horror film. The non-anamorphic transfer looks okay (about as good as you'd expect for something lensed in DV), and extras include a director/producer commentary with Jacob Ennis and Billy and Denise Blackwell, a making-of featurette, a short blooper reel, a video interview with genre vet Debbie Rochon (who appears in a supporting bit as one of Bud's other victims), a music video for a song called "Still I Blleed," and the usual cross-promotional trailers for other Bloody Earth titles.

Still a hot ticket in cult circles mainly thanks to Thriller: A Cruel Picture, Swedish sex goddess Christina Lindberg has experienced a home video resurgence recently with many previously undiscovered gems coming to light. However, one of her more widely seen vehicles in theaters around the world took its sweet time to come to DVD, but the wait was worth it. Exposed, better known to grindhouse patrons as The Depraved, features La Lindberg as Lena, a sweet-looking nymphet who, this being Sweden in 1971, is willing to hop in the sack with anything in or out of pants. She ditches her hot-tempered boyfriend when he doesn't take kindly to her handing out favors to other men, and soon she's crossing the countyside swinging her hear out with her boyfriend and an older, blackmailing suitor hot on her heels. Dirty pictures, dirty deeds, and lots of turtleneck sweaters ensue. As usual Lindberg manages to elevate the material, another "bad girl in trouble" yarn given an extra boost by her wounded eyes and electric carnal presence -- so much so that none of the other cast members have a hope of making an impression. Her surprising third-act bondage scene is likely to win over a few fans, too. Shot with an artistic eye and gift for austere atmosphere by director Gustav Wiklund (who inexplicably did almost nothing afterwards), Exposed uses a fragmented structure that makes the tale seem a bit more convoluted and meaningful than it probably is, but the whole thing is still easy enough to follow and quite solid as a slice of vintage Eurosex. The original Swedish soundtrack is the sole option here with English subtitles on Synapse's DVD release (too bad the English dub couldn't be licesned just for posterity, but them's the breaks), and the anamorphic 1.66:1 transfer looks pretty good considering the film's rarity. Some print damage is evident from time to time and fleshtones tend to veer a bit on the brownish side (a characteristic common to Swedish titles issued by Impulse, which is also released through Synapse) but that's really the only drawback. The extras are more generous than usual for a title like this, including both the Swedish and American trailers (the latter of which appeared way back on the first 42nd Street Forever trailer compilation), two great rare vocal tracks recorded by Christina back in her heyday ("Allt Blir Tyst Igen" and "Min Enda Van"), a stills gallery, and definitely the best of all, a great featurette called "Over-Exposed" with Lindberg (who still seems fragile and quite pretty) and Wiklund discussing everything from the making of this film and its worldwide reception to other topics including Lindberg's early career.

A far more problematic Christina Lindberg release comes in the form of the bizarre "Lindberg vs. Gemser" sexbomb double feature from the Burbank Drive-In line which pairs up Secrets of Sweet Sixteen with Looking Good. The former is a typical Swedish sex comedy burdened with an agonizingly slow pace and barely enough wit or T&A to justify its existence; to make matters worse, the film kicks off with a disclaimer, "The following material given to us does not live up to our usual standards. We sincerely apologize." Yep, no kidding. As with Burbank's previous softcore transfers like Swinging Wives, this looks like a pre-cropped tape master further cropped on the top and bottom to make it fill a 16:9 TV frame, resulting in a claustophobic presentation with the actors' heads clipped off in many shots and awkward framing knocking every shot out of whack. The actual image quality isn't bad, surprisingly, if a bit soft. however, colors are stable and certainly better than the earlier DVD-R version available from Something Weird before they eventually cleaned house and dropped anything with "teen" in the title, regardless of the fact that everyone appears well over the age of 18. Still, you get to see Lindberg for a bit, and the Herb Alpert-style music score is really catchy. Now we get to the co-feature, which packs in a whole lot more kitsch value and pretty much justifies the entire set just for sheer weirdness alone. See, it's an exercise video. With Laura Gemser. Yes, that's right. Clad in an aerobics outfit, Laura leads a quartet of headband-wearing lovelies through a shot-on-video workout routine, narrating the whole thing accompanied by a head-splitting soundtrack of synthetic '80s Euro-pop. Throw this one on late at night after promising a Laura Gemser movie and watch the confusion mount by the second.

So back to the '70s again, you couldn't find something more firmly rooted in its decade than Derby, an Ohio-shot documentary made at the height of the gritty doc craze with films like Grey Gardens. That's pretty much the same approach here as we witness a truly surprising character study courtesy of Mike Snell, an aspiring derby contestant who works at a tire company when not at home with his wife and child. However, as the film intercuts with the local derby scene and follows Snell's trajectory under what he hopes will be the guidance of San Francisco Bay Bombers star Charley O'Connell, the layers of his personality are gradually revealed to expose a fascinating portrait of the often destructive means used to achieve personal happiness and the American dream. Shot long before celebrity culture really got a stranglehold on everyday life, Derby paints a vivid portrait of a craze that still lingers in many American cities but really hit its height during the '70s (epitomized by the immortal Raquel Welch film, Kansas City Bomber, which is actually not as good as this film). Director Robert Kaylor makes inventive use of mobile camerawork, even capturing some great tracking shots in front of the skaters; after this he went on to direct two fictional films, Carny (which is pretty good) and the now-forgotten Nobody's Perfect. Code Red's DVD, certainly one of the more unorthodox in their already diverse line of releases, presents the original R-rated director's cut of the film, which contains some salty language toned down for subsequent theatrical bookings with a PG rating. The full frame transfer replicates the correct presentation as this was originally shot in 16mm and blown up to 35 for big screen bookings, and not surprisingly it looks like an early '70s documentary -- grainy and often dark, but that's exactly how it was filmed. Kaylor is all over the special features here, contributing an audio commentary talking about the film's genesis as a straight-up look at roller derby, the interactions which led it to change focus along the way, and what happened to everyone after it was filmed. Producer William Richert (Winter Kills) also appears for a second chat track in which he talks more about the actual mounting of the production and the vagaries of working in the realm of low budget indies. Also included is Max Out, Kaylor's first film, a short(ish) look at life in the U.S. penal system as one convicted felon tries to get his life back together only to find the outside world even more imposing than existing behind bars. It's quite good and foreshadows much of the themes and character treatment in his first big feature, with Kaylor contributing another commentary track to this one as well.

In an interesting bid at capturing viewer interest in straight-to-video obscurities that might have little customer appeal on their own, Media Blasters has kicked off a series of "Rareflix" collections highlighting weird diversions unseen since the vintage VHS days, usually dating from the mid-'80s to '90s. The Rareflix Collection 1 packs together three very different films, all of which are definitely off the radar of all but the most thorough excavator of video store arcana. Posed for Murder is essentially an American slasher variation on movies like Murderock and Too Beautiful to Die courtesy of director Brian Thomas Jones, the guy behind The Rejuvenator. Buxom Playboy Playmate Charlotte Helmkamp stars as Laura, a pinup model (of course) who's branching out into scream queen roles. Her bodybuilder boyfriend Danny decides he doesn't want all the pervs out in the audience drooling over his girl, so he goes nuts and starts hacking and slashing his way through all the men in her life, perhaps working his way up to the hunk-lunk male copy (Sgt. Kabukiman's Rick Gianasi) working on the case. Utterly trashy and oh-so-very 1989 (with that great soft, dayglo veneer more commonly found in the Shapiro-Glickenhaus canon), this is delicious cinematic swill. Up next is Death Collector, an odder genre hybrid made one year earlier, in which the America of the future has morphed into some sort of rockabilly western no man's land, with a diabolical insurance company (not called AIG, alas) rules the town of Hartford City. After being set up for his brother's murder, Wade (Daniel Chapman) pops out of prison and, with the aid of two cohorts, embarks on a quest for justice -- future style! Dark, stylish and definitely weirder than its generic VHS cover would indicate, this is one odd , an find to be sure and features a few unexpected faces like female lead Ruth Collins (who appeared in plenty of films for everyone from Roberta Findlay to Joe D'Amato) and even the once-ubiquitous splatterpunk writers Skipp & Spector! Finally it's back to psycho territory again with 1990's The Disturbance, probably the most accessible film out of the bunch. Taking a page from the splatter classic Nightmare, it's the story of disturbed, frizzy-haired Clay (Timothy Greeson in his only film role), a schizophrenic dumped out of a mental hospital who tries making a go at getting a girlfriend but finding his perception of the world around him growing more terrifying by the day as he hallucinates demons in his TV, floating eyeballs in his bathtub, and even his mom coming on to him in the shower (probably the most startling scene in the movie), with disastrous results for the family cat. Meanwhile people are dying off in his vicinity, which isn't exactly an encouraging sign. Featuring showstopping horror and gore effects by Tom Savini protege Barry Anderson (Jeepers Creepers), this one (also apparently released as What's Wrong with the Neighbor's Son?) packs in the shocks and T&A aplenty and makes for a pretty solid portrayal of mental illness as well. All three titles are presented full frame and are most likely pulled from the original masters used for their VHS releases, though obviously the leaps made in video technology mean these are at least crisper and more stable-looking than their home video ancestors. You get a few trailers with each disc, but the coolest extra is an Easter Egg commentary for each one, accessible either by clicking on the "Rare" logo in the menu or just switching audio on the fly with your remote. At least two of them were recorded on the same night and feature some audible beer consumption, which is probably a good idea for viewers trying to tackle more than one in a day, too. The commentators here are Media Blasters personnel William Hellfire, Richard York and Dave Beinlich, who generally stick on-topic to the films at hand while rattling off frequently surprising credits for everyone involved. It's also hilarious, too, with perhaps the highlight being Helmkamp's assets described as "full and life-giving."

Finland isn't exactly known for its prolific horror output, but apparently a director named Sami Haavisto has been churning out some straight-to-video titles under the banner of Blood Ceremony, a label whose Succubus: The Demon marks their first international release. (Its actual onscreen title is simply Succubus, but presumably the subtitle was added in the U.S. to avoid confusion with the Jess Franco film.) The story's basically a thin framework to use as an artsy, psychological study of Henri (Markus Salo), a stringy-haired, middle-aged salesman thrown into a tailspin when his wife dies from causes her physicians can't pinpoint. Henri turns to a shrink and then to darker territory courtesy of an occultist who points him to some rituals to get in touch with her spirit. However, his dabbling in the dark arts results in allowing a demonic succubus into his life, resulting in bloody consequences for everyone around him. Alternating between chilly-looking apartment scenes and vivid, hallucinatory netherworld passages, Succubus does a decent job of ekeing an interesting visual style out of its low budget videography and packs in some intriguing satanic imagery, with the succubus herself making some brief but compelling appearances. Not a masterpiece by any means, it's still an interesting peek at homegrown horror from a country rarely known for blasting plasma all over the screen. Salvation's DVD features an anamorphic transfer that looks faithful to the original 2006 source material, while extras icnlude a "Diaries of a Man Man" featurette (which explains the no-profit, lobbyist-driven methods at Blood Ceremony), additional "Erotic Nightmares," "Making of Cine Photography" and "Making of Blood FX" featurettes, and a stills gallery and additional Salvation promos.

A minor but occasionally striking entry in the Spanish horror sweepstakes popularized by films like The Others, The Orphanage and The Devil's Backbone, Shiver bears a thematic kinship with those films' examinations of childhood's passage dramatized through the supernatural. In this case, teenager Santi is unable to bear exposure to sunlight, so his mom trots him off to a remote village in the hills where it's always overcast and shrouded in shadows. Soon both livestock and residents are getting their jugulars torn open by a fanged menace, which Santi believes is related to the mysterious girl who lived in his house before him. Believing she's now living out in the woods, he and some other neighborhood boys embark on a nocturnal trip into the woods they'll never forget. Director Isidoro Ortiz (who helmed the much nuttier Fausto 5.0) manages to wring some decent shocks from the material, even if it ultimately winds up hitting a wall in the last ten minutes, and the valley atmosphere is a nice change of pace which results in some arresting visuals. Dark Sky's disc contains an impressive anamorphic transfer of the film (which oftens uses a chalky, bleached-out color palette), the original Spanish track in Dolby 5.1 or stereo options (with English subtitles) or a much weaker English dub, and only the theatrical trailer as an extra.

Even by Japan's standards, Minoru Kawasaki has already proven himself as one of the wildest directors around. No, not in a Miike-esque excessive way, but in a sort of whimsy shot with adrenaline fashion that makes his freaky creature-filled tales unlike anything else around. They don't always work necessarily, but the results are worth checking out if you want to see something really, realy different. His Calamari Wrestler has been out for some time, but Synapse has definitely given him a bigger push with no less than three titles at once in their Kawasaki collection. First up is The Rug Cop, a self-proclaimed spoof of Japanese cop shows, which comes off like it's aspiring to The Naked Gun without all the pop culture references. (Or maybe Hot Fuzz without the blood.) Our hero, Inspector Genda (Fuyuki Moto), is able to take out criminals with his powerful toupee, which has the Oddjob-like skill of flying through the air inflicting serious bodily harm. Assigned to a new precinct, he finds his skills put to the test when terrorists make off with enough nuclear material to take out the nation's capital. And that's pretty much it. The disc includes three making-of featurettes (behind the scenes, cast and crew interviews, and a press conference), plus the trailer. Hey, at least it's a lot better than that terrible "Hell Toupee" episode from Amazing Stories. Even more inexplicable and goofy is the premise of Executive Koala, a riveting study of modern psychological disassociation and corporate chicanery. Oh, and the lead is a human-sized koala. With a rabbit for a boss. No other explanation provided. Turns out our koala hero, Tamura, is in hot water when his girlfriend is slain and the cops finger him as the primary suspect, which also causes trouble for his job at the pickle company. Is he responsible on some subconscious level? Why is there a musical number? And then there's the big martial arts finale which finds him swinging away at a kung fu vixen. At times this almost feels like a Brad Anderson film (especially The Machinist) even with the oversized animal heads, and the occasional bursts of bloodshed push it into horror territory from time to time; however, the sheer peculiarity of the treatment coudl only have come from one director. The more linear and interesting storyline pushes this a notch above Rug Cop, and if you're looking for a place to start, this could do the trick. Extras include the trailer and a making-of covering the film's very quick (one week!) shoot. Finally we get to perhaps Kawasaki's most well-known title, The World Sinks Except Japan, whose title immediately gives away that this is a disaster movie spoof riffing on films like The Submersion of Japan, known to U.S. audiences as Tidal Wave. Surprisingly ambitious and subversive, the film charts the aftermath which ensues when tectonic shifts result in one continent after another dropping into the ocean, with survivors flooding into the still-standing Japan. Not surprisingly, the culture clash which ensues provides a lot of sharp-toothed humor, with Americans getting the lion's share of the ribbing (which is appropriate given how much filmmakers like Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich seem to think the U.S. is the only capable nation on the planet). The effects themselves are fine but certainly not up to the levels of a big-budget CGI fest, but that's hardly the issue considering the film's bigger satiric targets. Certainly not for all tastes, it's engaging and thought-provoking in the right frame of mind and worth a peek. This time the extras are a Kawasaki commentary with actor Takenori Murano, a 40-minute making-of featurette, a cast and crew intro, and a trailer and TV spot, obviously making this the most heavily-loaded special edition of the trio. All three films feature anamorphic 1.85:1 transfers (with optional English subtitles for the Japanese dialogue) which live up to Synapse's usual exacting standards.

Of course, outrageous Japanese movies can come in many other stripes, and you don't need to look any further for proof than Mondo Macabro's delicious line of '70s Nikkatsu films. Best known as Japan's oldest studio and the originators of the roman porno genre, Nikkatsu churned out numerous erotic, shocking films which skipped from one genre to the next. For example, take The Sins of Sister Lucia, a solid companion piece to the delirious anti-nun epic, School of the Holy Beast. Using a similar set up, this outing charts the misadventures of Lucia (Yuki Nohira), a name christened to her upon arriving at a convent after her bigwig dad sends her away when she starts raiding his bribe money and banging her teacher. Behind convent walls she finds out the nuns are all really a bunch of suppressed pervents whose claims of virtue. Numerous perverse set pieces ensue (including a great "spiderweb" sewing scene), and when Lucia sneaks a couple of criminals onto the premises, things quickly escalate out of control with one sister trussed up onto a cross while topless for the big finale. Crazy stuff, to say the least!

Finally we reach the other Mondo Macabro Nikkatsu release at hand here, Female Prisoner: Caged! And guess what? It's a women in prison movie! Complete with water sports, kinky wardens, bondage, lesbianism, and one scene of boffing so virgorous and graphic it had to be optically censored on the original prints (including this one), this slammer saga is a short and rich feast of drive-in trash, scuzzy and sweaty and completely devoid of social significance. The nominal story, which might as well star Linda Blair, finds troublesome inmate Masayo (Dolls of the Shogun's Harem's Mina Asami) hauled back to jail after a botched escape attempt, with the warden decided to not just punish her but make her a case study in how far a prisoner can be degraded. Catfighting in the jail yard, kinky fetishist male visitors (including some wince-inducing foot worship), and the usual bursts of violence keep things interesting for the quick running time, with our heroine subjected to pretty much every bodily emission imaginable and pretty much every inmate participating at some point in this hell behind bars. Both of Mondo Macabro's discs feature the "Erotic Empire" roman porno special prepared for their self-titled TV show, which commentators ranging from the studio's directors to Western fans like critic Jasper Sharp (who also provides a separate video featurette himself devoted exclusively to the two films). You also get the usual superlative essays from Pete Tombs and a huge chunk of Nikkatsu trailers which will all hopefully be coming from MM in the months to come.

October 27, 2008
August 7, 2008
July 25, 2008
May 31, 2008 (Aussie Special)
February 19, 2008
January 8, 2008
October 23, 2007
October 8, 2007
September 29, 2007

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