JUNE 5, 2011

Sporting enough prosthetic phalluses to make Tinto Brass jealous, the fluid-soaked 2010 gore/comedy cult-item-in-the-making The Taint is a decidedly different spin on the "contaminated water supply makes everyone go nuts" scenario that's been around since the '70s. This time a "taint"ed well is turning most of the male population in a small town into crazed killers who run around in the woods killing off any women they encounter. They also, ahem, mark their territory in a way you've probably never seen in an American film before. One of the few males to escape the plague is Phil (director Drew Bolduc in a hilariously awful wig), who teams up with hardened man-killer Misandra (Colleen Walsh) who blasts and brains any affected men in her path. That's just the beginning though as the viewer has to contend with Phil's crazed and closeted phys ed teacher, a bunny vivisection cartoon, a depraved face-ripping flashback explaining how the whole thing started, a threatened gang rape, and a whacked-out psychedelic ending. The premise sounds like a slightly sicker than usual Troma film, but the execution here makes all the difference as surprisingly effective editing, shockingly accomplished splatter FX, and breakneck, often surprising story construction make this a wild ride enhanced with a terrific, John Carpenter-style electronic score. This overachieving indie makes the most of its tight 68-minute running time and is available directly from the official site. You can also get it on VHS(!) and an HD download for that extra kick of clarity. The DVD features an anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer that's about as vibrant as NTSC video could handle given the new wave-inspired color schemes, albeit limited by the inherent grubbiness of digital video lensing, and unbelievably, it includes optional English SDH subtitles, too. Extras include the trailer and teaser along with a scattered but amusing cast and crew commentary that pays unexpected but appropriate lip service to Hanzo the Razor. Make sure you wear a poncho to keep yourself dry, and enjoy.

Short films tend to lend themselves to more narrative experimentation than feature films given the amount of time and money involved, and one of the most unusual efforts you'll come across on that front is Beneath the Veneer of a Murder, an eight-minute combination of pseudo-snuff exploitation and heady radio play-style thriller from director Angel Connell, who's been doing shorts like "She's So Cold" and "Stocking Stuffers" for the past couple of decades. Only two people actually appear on camera, Eric Scheiner and Christy Scott Cashman, for the sole live action scene in which a woman is murdered in front of a television set. However, the rest of the film involves onscreen quotes and voiceover telephone convesations laying out the action before and after, involving a political bigwig and an odd marital scenario that twists around to something a little different than your average thrill murder. It's a pretty audacious structural decision that will probably alienate a lot of unprepared viewers, but if you go along with it, this is definitely not your average horror short. You have to focus -- a lot -- to get what's going on in the short running time, so make sure you're paying attention when the opening credits first appear.

More linear and certainly more visually lavish is another short film from 2010, Damn Your Eyes, which is being developed into a feature film. Produced for a paltry budget in the Northeast, it's an inventive macabre ode to spaghetti westerns with a grisly sting in its tail. (You can also watch it online, so check it out.) The story from filmmaker David Guglielmo follows the vengeance of a mysterious stranger named Sam who arrives in a western town, makes the acquaintance of a sad local prostitute, and has a habit of never lifting his hat up enough to fully expose his face. Clocking in at just under 20 minutes, this somber little gem uses a stock soundtrack of Ennio Morricone music and a spare, snowy setting to fine effect, especially for a student film. Hopefully it won't take too long for the full version to get rolling, as this could be a project to watch in the future.

Code Red's line of Exploitation Cinema double features (under the "Saturn Productions" banner) has resulted in several bizarre pairings (like, say, sticking Wacky Taxi with Superargo), so it shouldn't be much of a surprise that they've released the Rod Serling-narrated oddity Encounter with the Unknown from 1973 with the daffy Spanish pseudo-Jules Verne fantasy Where Time Began, previously released from Code Red as The Fabulous Journey to the Center of the Earth. The first film was a familiar VHS staple from the golden age of mom and pop stores, with Rod Serling's face prominently plastered on the cover to lure in viewers still pining for the bygone days of Night Gallery and The Twilight Zone. It's a very cheap but interesting bit of hokum that begins with a blatant rip-off of Tales from the Crypt as a prowling camera roves through a graveyard, followed by a very, very long chunk of narration about how people involved in the paranormal are all grouped together in the same cemeteries. All three stories here are purported to be true, which is about as likely here as other "in search of" '70s films. (In other words, not a lick.) Story one features a college student named Frank (Gary Brockette from Mark of the Witch) telling a priest (White Lightning's Robert Ginnaven) on a plane flight that he and two other guys played a prank that led to one of their classmates getting shot point blank in the stomach, and the dead kid's mother put a curse on all of them at the funeral saying they would die in increments of seven days. Sure enough, one of them bit it a week later by getting hit by a car, and now Frank thinks he might be next... In story two, a boy wanders off from his farm to go fishing and loses his dog, Lady, down a mysterious hole. The local population is intrigued by the "big hole in the ground," from which strange sounds are emanating, and the boy's father decides to take a look down there himself to see whether it's really "the work of the devil" as the townspeople claim. This seems to be the best-remembered episode of the film and it carries a certain creepy charm; interestingly, the '80s show Amazing Stories did another (and more clever) spin on the same idea in the episode "Thanksgiving." The third (and lamest) story is a rehashed "ghostly female hitchhiker" routine wtih lots of soft-focus romantic montages and very little reason to exist. The down-home Arkansas atmosphere is definitely an asset here, giving it an appealing Legend of Boggy Creek-style vibe that will please viewers attuned to that funky wavelength. The transfer is definitely a newer film transfer than the godawful old VHS version, though it still looks soft and damaged throughout; at least it's anamorphic and represents a mild step up for anyone pining to upgrade. The second film is the feature directorial debut for J.P. Simon, the notorious Spanish auteur who went on to trash film immortality with Pieces, Slugs, and Pod People. This one's slightly more respectable than those, a PG-rated adventure about four intrepid explorers who follow journals indicating that an Icelandic volcano leads down to the center of the world. As we all suspected, the layers within the earth are filled not with rock but with rampaging dinosaurs and a big monkey. Kenneth More (Dark of the Sun) was near the end of his career when he headlined this one, which is otherwise filled with Spanish actors dubbed in British accents (including Jess Franco regular Jack Taylor). The transfer for this one is identical to the earlier Code Red release and bears the same title card; it looks great for the most part and represents the longer, 90-minute European cut of the film. The Septic Cinema-branded menu (yes, there's that Porta-Potty design again) leads to bonus trailers like Wacky Taxi and Deliver Us from Evil.

Indie director Ron Atkins has never been one to go for subtlety in his ferocious shot-on-video cult items like Eat the Rich and Dark Night of the Soul, but in recent years he's started to embrace linear storytelling and more traditional horror tropes with his best-known film to date, Mutilation Mile. Sandwiched somewhere between that film and his more experimental, excessive period is his 2005 Las Vegas slashasthon, Eyes of the Chameleon. The title comes from an early bit of expository business in which we're told that the chameleon is actually a predator that changes its colors to stalk its prey, and while that might sound a lot like the obscure Daphne Zuniga VHS thriller Prey of the Chameleon, this is a different animal entirely. After a harrowing opening sequence in which a young boy is verbally abused and confined by his father (or so it would seem), the story proper revolves around a bartender named Sara (played by the film's writer, Ann Teal), who hooks up with some cultists and seems to be the epicenter of a string of brutal murders committed by some creepy guy (Lawrence Bucher) with a fondness for butcher knives. However, suspicion seems to point to Sara herself as a possible culprit, and the cops can't quite decide what's going on until the blood-spattered finale. Though the storyline is more linear than prior Atkins outings, the film is still drenched in wild candy colors, weird tangents, and wildly erratic performances; it definitely won't be to every taste, but if you want to see something bloody but a little different, this could be just the ticket. Atkins' Cut Throat Video released this one independently back in '05 in a non-anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer, and that's been carried over here for its more mainstream (relatively speaking) official DVD from Troma. The transfer's adequate but definitely not as crisp and detailed as it probably could be. Extras include a gallery, an interesting director's commentary (you won't believe how long it took to make this), and a new, extremely silly video intro with Lloyd Kaufman and Debbie Rochon that's actually sort of clever... in a really stupid way.

A hodgepodge of pretty much every horror-in-the-woods movie you can think of before 1982, Psycho Holocaust depicts the horror that befalls six young people who head out of town for a weekend of R&R only to be besieged by three psychos, one of them in a burlap hood. Yeah, this story's been done about eighty billion times before, but I guarantee you've never seen anything like the last 20 minutes of this film, a twisted and blood-sprayed extended set piece that begins with a dinner table, a prosthetic butt, and a saw, then just goes downhill from there. The military/survivalist bent of the villains gives the film a bit of a different spin, too, but the real attraction here is the gore, which gets sprayed on in gallons all over the cast. Surprisingly, the score is provided by retro-Italian homage group Giallos Flame, whose albums have been big on the horror con circuit for years. Director Krist Rufty provides a chipper and informative commentary track for Independent Entertainment's DVD, whose transfer does what it can with the very limited digital video material. (It doesn't look like the white balance was checked very accurately for most of the film, unfortuantely, or it's a seriously weird transfer.) You also get a 15-minute making-of featurette, a batch of cast and crew interviews oddly titled "Making Cheesy Movies in Wisconsin," a much looser and more rambling extra half hours of more interviews from the set, eight minutes of trimmed footage, and a pointless "At Home with Billy Garbernia" video piece with one of the lead actors spouting off for the camera.

Back in 2009, After Hours released a softcore pairing of Carter Stevens' Punk Rock and Pleasure Palace, the latter basically a cut-down version of the longer hardcore original version from '79. It took two years for the longer, more explicit cut to make its official debut, but here it is along with two other Stevens oddities for good measure. Even in XXX form it's one of Stevens' plottier films, much heavier on character development and story twists than the actual sex which only constitutes about 10% of the movie. Serena fans will have a field day here as the blonde vixen gets the more memorable scenes here, with Richard Bolla and Eric Edwards doing the heavier lifting acting-wise in the story of a couple of guys who tangle with the mob when they decide to open a brothel (with a real one standing in for the main set). The film actually works pretty well on its own as a narrative film, and interestingly, lots of opportunities for additional boinking scenes are passed over with several reliable performers only providing dramatic participation instead of carnal. Stevens' commentary and interview from the soft release are ported over here for the disc two, while on disc one you get two additional films new to the After Hours library. Double Your Pleasure (which features some library music that will sound very familiar to Henry Paris fans) is the second infamous pairing of Teenage Twins stars Brooke and Taylor Young, complete with a wicked punchline that outdoes their prior starring vehicle for Stevens. This one is more of an overt comedy and comes complete with lots of weird character turns, with the prolific Bobby Astyr getting the best bits as a mincing porno director. There's not much plot here (some nonsense about their uncle getting a private eye to follow them around) except as a basic engine to get the twins through several goofy situations in and out of the bedroom towards the aforementioned twist ending, which is probably the biggest eye-opener in the film. 1978's The Love Couch is basically yet another anthology film based around the idea of a piece of furniture linking together a bunch of sex scenes, an idea explored in everything from James Broughton's experimental nudie short "The Bed" from 1968 to a horror twist on the same idea, the notorious Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. The cast here isn't exactly the most attractive one Stevens ever assembled, but it's a relatively clever and amusing diversion with a few odd turns as it moves through characters ranging from horny hippies to innocent newlyweds, with a cast including Patty Boyd (Take Off), Debbie Revenge (Odyssey), and Leo Lovemore (Water Power). All titles are new film transfers presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen with the expected scuffs and scratches for full period flavor. The release also contains liner notes by John Nilsson packed with odd info, such as the fact that one of the Young twins had to bailed out of a jail in Florida to return to the big screen.

Some things go together perfectly like peanut butter and chocolate. Others, well, don't. For example, you don't usually see people trying to mix cartoons, fart jokes, and '70s smut loops together, but they still give it the old college try with Uncle Fart's '70s Sleazy Picture Show, a two-disc grab bag of random vintage quickies thrown together with the linking device of (barely) animated sequences in which the title character and his young male companion, Scooper, attend a local adult movie theater and annoy the other patrons. You get a couple of trailers thrown in, too, but mostly it's fare like "Long Arm of the Law" (an interracial cop fantasy), "The Intruder" (a home invasion roughie), and so on. For some reason Jamie Gillis seems to pop up in almost every other vignette, but you can also spy Vanessa Del Rio, Suzanne Fields, Keith Erickson, and (briefly) Marc Stevens in what appears to be an incomplete clip. Image quality is actually quite good on all of these, which are presented full frame as originally shot. If there were an award for the most lowbrow genre release of the year, this would be a hot contender.


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