MAY 11, 2016

Winners Tape AllFor some reason we haven't had a love letter mockumentary about the DIY era of VHS horror until now, but lo and behold, here's Winners Tape All: The Henderson Brothers Story. Set in Smithville, West Virginia, it's a pretty dead-on look at two stepbrothers who grew up on drive-in and TV horror movies, Richard (Faces of Schlock's Josh Lively) and Michael (Basic Slaughter's Zane Crosby), and, inspired by a film called I Piss on Your Guts, decided to make their own horror shorts including one with "too many Draculas." Finally they realize their dream with the feature-length VHS horror "classic" The Curse of Stabberman, only to send it all down the drain with their follow-up project, Cannibal Swim Club. Running a tight 67 minutes, this is ironically a regional straight-to-video horror project itself, which gives the whole thing an amusing reflexive quality as Chris LaMartina (The Call Girl of Cthulu) frames it all as a rabid West Virginia VHS horror collector and superfan behind the local label "Blood and Guts Video." The actual vintage film clips are nicely realized (these guys have definitely studied their Polonia Brothers) complete with tracking lines at the bottom of the screen, though the occasional digitally-induced film damage is an unnecessary affectation (as it almost always is). Most appreciated is the accurate sense of Southern humor here with slightly exaggerated accents and some nice touches like a Waffle House joke. The DVD, which can be purchased directly from Brainwrap Media or through IWC Films, looks great given the intentional variety of sources, and it also comes with a funny "Michael Henderson" in-character commentary with director Justin Channell (who worked on several WV projects with Lively and Crosby), a pair of "restoration demos" for the two Henderson features (which are really just the unedited film clips -- quite fun to see isolated on their own), 18 minutes of extra interview outtakes, and a trailer. Definitely snap this one up.

The HallowsPoised somewhere between Antichrist and The Witch, at least in terms of atmosphere, the UK-Irish production The Hallow definitely deserves points for a different take on the folklore horror tradition with its story of a married couple, Adam (Joseph Mawle) and Clare (Bojana Novakovic), taking their newborn baby from London to live in the boonies of Ireland. A tree doctor specializing in rare arboreal diseases, he's fascinating by strange spore samples he uncovers near a fresh deer corpse and ignores warnings that he should stay away from the woods. Soon it turns out that something ancient and deadly has been brought into the family unit, and it only gradually becomes clear who is in the most mortal danger from the mystical force. Some old school special effects (including some great creature designs in the final stretch) and a nice air of fairy tale menace manage to lift this one above the usual indie horror norm, with Mawle and Novakovic giving nuanced, interesting performances that give some emotional heft to the ending. It's a small and unassuming film to be sure but quite worthy of spending a quiet night with, preferably someplace with no city sounds around to distract you. The Scream Factory and IFC Midnight release on Blu-ray and DVD looks excellent, which isn't surprising for a 2015 feature, and the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is appropriately manipulative and creepy where it counts. The substantial extras include a commentary by director Corin Hardy, a 51-minute behind-the-scenes featurette called "Surviving the Fairytale," three very short (2-3 mins.) bonus making-of tidbits ("The Story," "Influence," "Practical F/X"), a trailer, and nifty galleries of storyboards, sketches, creature concepts, and storybook illustrations. Available from Diabolik, Amazon, or Scream Factory.

DementiaAnother Scream Factory/IFC Midnight venture is the moody thriller Dementia, a sort of Vietnam vet twist on Misery (or more pointedly, an extended version of the great "Nurse Will Make It Better" episode from the '70s series Thriller) about a shell-shocked man named George (The Sacrament's Gene Jones) diagnosed with the titular condition. He's soon put into the caretaking hands of Michelle (Kristina Klebe), at the urging of his estranged granddaughter and son (Hassie Harrison and Peter Cilella), only to find out that he's now at the mercy of someone with very substantial psychological issues. An interesting but flawed take on the ideas of elder abuse and psychological trauma, this debut feature from cinematographer Mike Testin telegraphs its twists early on but manages to skate by on the strength of its actors, with Jones carrying the heaviest weight with a character oscillating between pitiable confusion and scary mental instability. Elder abuse isn't a topic that's been tackled in too many thrillers, though the twists here muddy the waters a bit and probably won't make this a popular favorite at retirement homes any time soon. Again the quality is perfect since this is a recent film, though the very dark, moody lensing really only works with the Blu-ray option in this dual-format release. The very aggressive ambient soundtrack often overpowers the dialogue (especially near the end) in both the 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD MA mixes, so plan on flipping the English subtitles on from time to time. No extras, which is a shame as it would've been interesting to hear from the actors or crew about how this came together. Available from Amazon or Shout Factory.

The Super WeaponOne of the many, many martial arts documentaries churned out in the wake of the Bruce Lee craze, 1976's The Super Weapon is basically cinematic crack for anyone likes watching fighting style demonstrations. For 78 minutes you get a variety of showcases for jujitsu, kung fu, karate, and so on, with swords, Most of the faces won't be familiar, but you will see occasional drive-in staple Charles Bonet (Death Promise, Don't Go in the House), martial arts professor Frank DiFelice, and Ron "The Black Dragon" van Clief among the mayhem. It's all shot against stylized backgrounds (often black or a hypnotic shade of red) with a good look provided at some of the eye-popping body blows, making it good fun if you don't want to have to follow a plot. Weirdly, the co-director of this film (along with one-shot helmer Henry Scarpelli) was Jim Sotos, who also did Forced Entry (the R-rated one), Hot Moves, and Sweet Sixteen. This was one of the last theatrical releases for Howard Mahler Films, who handled Death Promise, Devil's Express, Velvet Smooth, and even Deep Red, but it's been maddeningly difficult to find apart from a really cruddy-looking VHS barely releasing by Sun Video Corporation around the same time as their early '80s tape of Last House on Dead End Street. Fortunately you can forget trying to scrounge up a gray market dupe thanks to the Code Red DVD, again sold from Diabolik or their store. The bare-bones disc looks quite good considering the variety of sources used here, with a lot of gritty 16mm footage, stock shots and theatrical trailers, and so on.

Mosquito-ManSort of a monster superhero movie with the heaviest digital color grading you've ever seen, 2013's Mosquito-Man kicks off with some faux Danny Elfman music and a Lloyd Kaufman cameo, which should give you some idea of what to expect. Former child actor Michael Manasseri (License to Drive, TV's Weird Science) takes the directing reins here and also stars as Jim Crawley, who tosses his wedding ring after finding out his wife's sleeping around. On top of that he loses his job and finds one misfortune piling on top of another until he ends up the test subject for a new experimental vaccine against a mosquito plague threatening America. As it turns out Jim's also been absorbing a ton of nuclear radiation, which combines with the vaccine to turn him into a creepy-faced mutation with the instincts of a mosquito and the heart of a superhero. It's definitely better crafted than it would have been in the hands of Troma, but this is still a very low budget, bumpy production at times. Fortunately it has a solid sense of humor about itself and has its heart in the right place. The Big Screen release looks okay considering the film is so dark and heavily filtered it threatens to turn into mud at several points, and the stereo audio does what it can with a pretty modest sound mix. Also included are trailers for this film and other Big Screen releases (You Can't Kill Stephen King, Singularity Principle, Babysitter Wanted) and a bonus disc featuring an 86-minute director's cut (compared to the 79-minute standard one, under the title A Mosquito Man -- though this was also shown as Sucker) and an 8-minute gallery of cast and crew photos. Available from Diabolik and Amazon.

Samurai Cop 2On a related note, you won't see a single natural color found in nature in Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance, a belated 2015 crowdfunded sequel to the notorious 1991 action film by Amir Shervan that went on to enjoy a minor cult reputation about on par with The Room and Dangerous Men. Rumors abounded that star Mathew Karedas had died or dropped off the face of the earth, but he managed to pop up to star once again as sword-swinging Joe Marshall, pulled back into the mix by his old partner Frank Washington (Mark Frazer) to deal with the evil Japanese gang Katana now making a comeback under the auspices of bad guy Linton (The Room's Tommy Wiseau). The fact that they take out Joe's girlfriend is a major factor in getting him in action, with a gang rival played by Z-level Hollywood club fixture Bai Ling offering another warning bell that this one's way too calculating in its attempts at cultdom. The first film's late director is replaced here by Gregory Hatanaka, director of the absolutely bizarre Hunter, with both films feeling more like a string of random handshake deals in L.A. bars than coherent cinematic visions. That also means there's a certain trainwreck fascination here when you get a bunch of people who really shouldn't be in the same room sharing the film's space, with Wiseau (somehow even worse and less intelligible here than in his famous own passion project) at the low end of the spectrum and Larry Cohen regular Laurene Landon doing her best as Frank's current partner despite being shot as unflatteringly as possible. Cinema Epoch's Blu-ray release of the film looks about as accurate as possible given the film's odd, highly digitally processed appearance, with the lossy Dolby Digital stereo audio at least capturing the weird mishmash of acting styles in all its bellowing glory. Extras on the dual format release (the DVD has a 5.1 mix, strangely enough) include a pair of audio commentaries moderated by Dave Robinson, one with Karedas and Frazer and the second with Hatanaka; both are actually thorough and informative with an inside look at how the film was financed and mounted so long after the original with a balance having to be found between winking at the first film's "so bad it's good" fans and staying true to its spirit. The disc has features the trailer, a short selection of behind-the-scenes footage, four deleted scenes, and a gallery of stills and promotional images. Available from Amazon.

Red Light in the White HouseDespite a promising start on the exploitation circuit with I Dismember Mama, the 3-D favorite Ape, and the great My Friends Need Killing, director Paul Leder is little known these days with with few of his 20-plus features in active circulation. That situation gets addressed with two titles courtesy of a Code Red DVD double feature, both making their North American debuts but taken from VHS sources (the only available source, apparently). I'm Going To Be FamousFirst up is Red Light in the White House, a 1977 obscurity released on VHS in Europe and virtually nowhere else in any format. Su Shan Andrews (Karin Mary Shea, aka Karin de la Penha), an independent political nominee, is the top choice among the nominees for California senator, which would make her both the first female and independent to win the office. The widow of a prominent politician, she's running on a platform of targeting political corruption, which has made her a high-profile target for her rivals. One of the scuzzballs tosses $50,000 to reporter David Sutton (Frank Whiteman) to get the dirt on her background before her marriage, when she was rumored to be one of the town's "highest-priced whores." What follows is a string of interviews that mostly lead to sex scenes (in a boxing ring, a Chinese garden, a swimming pool) with some accidental manslaughter, prostitution, and a Hollywood marriage of convenience thrown into the mix. Clearly meant to cash in on the still-lingering resentment over the Watergate scandal, this one plays like a Harold Robbins novel shot on an impoverished budget -- and that's not a bad thing. Shea manages to hold her own through the biopic structure, and unusually for the time, the nudity tends to be pretty equal opportunity with Shea's frequent exposure matched by her male co-stars. Next up is 1983's I'm Going To Be Famous, a look at the ins and outs of showbiz as a Broadway director (Bewitched's Dick Sargent, whose first line is "That bitch!") sets up a casting call that draws in a motley crew of candidates -- including a young female delinquent first seen charging down Hollywood Boulevard, an ambitious male swimsuit model, a sparkly singer with a penchant for booze and pills, and a young religious man grappling with suicidal impulses. Complete with a bouncy pop score and a disco-inspired theme song, this one's just as melodramatic and soapy, with a mass pandemonium finale probably inspired by Nashville (the basis for the gun toting seen on all of the promotional art) and a pretty jaded opinion of the cost of getting a big break. The film popped up once on American TV but never on video, though in the UK it was issued by Intervision. Both VHS-sourced titles look pretty rough with white speckles and some tape noise at the bottom of the screen in evidence, but given that there aren't any film elements available, this is about as good as we're going to get for the moment. Again this can be purchased from Diabolik or the label's store.

E.N.D.Remember that horror sort-of-anthology film The Signal about three stories revolving around an apocalyptic outbreak in Atlanta? Well, the 2015 film E.N.D. offers an Italian take on the same idea. A third of it consists of a 2013 short with the same title by Luca Alessandro, Allegra Bernardoni, and Federico Greco intended as a TV pilot about a funeral home where coke snorting triggers a zombie outbreak. From there we jump to two points in the future as the outbreak continues with an American soldier in Italy trying to help a woman deliver a baby under highly stressful circumstances and a divided city building up between the humans and the undead. Along the way you get some commentary on class divisions and some oddball humor, such as a character obsessed with being an illusionist after attending a David Copperfield show as a child. The division of stories and settings gives the film some unpredictability, with the grim second one set in the Italian countryside standing out by virtue of its lush, sunny setting. Extra points for taking some unexpected turns in the final story, which finds some novel (and oddly moving) wrinkles in zombie lore and ends on a really haunting note. Definitely imperfect and hampered by an obviously low budget in spots, it's still a solid entry in undead cinema and worth a look. The One 7 Movies DVD looks okay but features an awful lot of aliasing for a 2015 transfer, while extras include two trailers, a 4-minute interview with writer Antonio Tentori, and an 8-minute making-of EPK. Available from Amazon.

Trashy LadyIf you ever wanted to hear porn legend Harry Reems do a weird Humphrey Bogart meets James Cagney imitation, look no further than Trashy Lady, one of the glossier productions made in 1985 as 35mm features were losing their viability outside the home video market. Ginger Lynn, one of the decade's most popular stars, headlines here as Kitty, a naive, baby-voiced cigarette girl chosen as the new moll of high-rolling gangster Dutch (Reems). Trouble is she doesn't know much about sex, and Dutch likes his women... well, trashy. So Dutch recruits trampy veteran Rita (Amber Lynn) to coach the newbie via a threesome with Tom Byron (who looks really anachronistic here), but once the trashy switch has been flipped, is there a way to turn it back off? Ginger's quite hilarious here with a fun screwball performance, and the often profane dialogue is delivering by a game cast including familiar '80s faces like Bunny Bleu (who has one of the best scenes here), Steve Drake (who really looks like a '30s movie star here), Cheri Janvier, Marc Wallice, and Francois Papillon, with the always reliable Herschel Savage having particular fun as a rival gangster. This would be the last theatrical feature for director Steve Scott, who bounced back and forth between straight and gay adult films from the '70s onward; he actually shot this one back to back with another opulent Harry and Ginger vehicle with much of the same supporting cast, China and Silk, within the same year. He would pass away two years later. This title was fairly easy to locate in the '80s on VHS from Masterpiece, but it looked pretty dire with little indication of the style or attention to detail in the actual production; the same mediocre master would be recycled in 2005 as a DVD from TVX. Fortunately the 2016 dual-format Blu-ray and DVD release from Vinegar Syndrome brings the film back to its original, sparkling condition with a vibrant transfer that truly makes this feel like a whole different film. There isn't as much to work with when it comes to the DTS-HD MA mono audio given the extremely sparse nature of the original mix (which doesn't sound like it was given a final polished mix given the raw production sound and very faint background music in the sex scenes), but what's here is definitely true to the source. Extras include a spirited pair of commentaries, first with cinematographer Tom Howard (his first commentary ever) and David McCabe, then with Savage and Bill Margold (podcast buddies also heard on VS's Blue Ice release). You'll get a nice crash course in the state of adult filmmaking smack in the middle of the Reagan era, with plenty of stories about everyone on screen. Also included as a very welcome bonus is Scott's first feature, the 1971 western fantasy Coming West, which was made in 1971 and bounces back and forth between soft and hardcore. Maria Arnold stars here as a modern-day woman on a western road trip with gal pals Sandy Carey and Starlyn Simone, during which she dreams that they're a trio of hookers stranded in the middle of nowhere tangling with both cowboys and Indians in personal fashion. The atmosphere here is closer to a student art film than a traditional porn film, which wasn't such an unusual approach at the time; as far as smut westerns go (of which there were quite a few), this is definitely one of the more memorable ones. Available from Diabolik, Vinegar Syndrome, or Amazon.

UnveiledSpeaking of mid'80s adult film, 1986's Unveiled is one of the strongest and most visually stylish films by famed erotic photographer and director Suze Randall, who was mostly proficient in releasing video compilations of erotic short subjects. Drawing heavy inspiration from European art films and the gaudy music video aesthetic of the time, Randall's film brings together a solid cast including Krista Lane, Mike Horner, David Scott (credited as Jake Scott here), Erica Boyer, and Taija Rae. Though boasting more of a narrative than usual for Randall, it's still fairly episodic as we follow the sexual misadventures of married guys Bob (Horner) and Ted (Scott), who use a vacation together as an opportunity to try out each other's wives without them knowing. Both guys tend to cat around anyway, but when the wives (Lane and Boyer) find out, they decide to deliver some turnabout at a masked sex party. Though it doesn't break any new ground, this is still an amusing sex comedy with some nice visual flourishes and a typically strong performance by Horner, one of the most reliable and comically skilled stars of the era; it's no wonder he typically worked with the most beautiful actresses at the time, and that's the case here as well. Originally released on VHS by VCA, the film looks significantly better on DVD from Vinegar Syndrome courtesy of a fresh 2K scan that brings out the eye-popping colors in all their original intensity. It's a shame we don't have the option to watch it in HD (though should remedy that), but your TV will still look like it's sizzling when the costumes and masks come out. Extras include the theatrical trailer and a 14-minute interview with Horner, who mainly talks about working with Randall and the state of the business at the time including the rampant coke use (which he says was much more common behind the camera than in front of it). He still comes off like a charming guy, and though the sound on this is extremely hissy, any interview with him is a welcome bonus. Available from Diabolik, Vinegar Syndrome, or Amazon.


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