Color, 1984, 75 mins. 12 secs.
Directed by Rick Sloane
Starring Mary Woronov, Rob-Roy Fletcher, Jenny Cunningham, Jonathan Blakely, Andrew Cofrin, Joanna Foxx, Stephanie Dillard
Directed by Rick Sloane
Starring Marcus Vaughter, Jordana Capra, Joel Hile, Nicole Rio, William Thomas Dristas, Jeffrey Culver
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Video Kart (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)
Before he assaulted the world's cinematic sensibilities with Hobgoblins and gave cable viewers six Vice Academy movies, writer-director Rick Sloane cut his teeth with a pair of very cheap, nearly plotless Hollywood-shot oddities collected together for the first time in a dual-format Blu-ray and DVD set from Vinegar Syndrome. With Sloane performing multiple duties (also including cinematographer, producer and editor), they're certainly labors of love with a quirky personality that could really throw off unsuspecting viewers.
The headliner here is his debut feature, Blood Theatre, an ostensible horror film that's really more of a goofball riff on the genre complete with a rinky-dink synth score (highly reminiscent of The Slumber Party Massacre) and some of the cheapest signage you'll ever see outside of a little kid's Super 8 backyard project. The mayhem begins during the final night of a failing movie palace, which is barely selling any tickets and becomes the site of tragedy when a knife-wielding manager kills the ticket taker and sets off a fire that kills the audience members. Time passes (decades it seems, but the timeline's a bit weird), and eventually it's bought as the newest in the Spotlite Theater line specializing in titles like Clown Whores of Hollywood and Chainsaw Chicks. The arrogant new manager and unrepentant bootlegger Dean Murdock (Fletcher) doesn't seem too eager to reveal the theater's grisly history to his new employees apart from snide secretary Miss Blackwell (Woronov), and soon someone's offing them one by one as the big opening is underway.
A truly baffling experience, Blood Theatre is completely ineffective as a horror film (even the gore disappears almost entirely after the opener) and is approached as an impoverished spoof that appears to have been largely improvised during filming and even in the editing room. The exact nature of the threat is fuzzy to say the least, but there's a lot of amusement to be had in both the tacky nature of the, ahem, "production design" and the silly performances, with very dubbed one-shot actress Joanna Fox delivering a performance from another dimension altogether as bitchy exhibitionist Selena. Other arbitrary injections like cheerleader routines barely manage to pad this out to feature length, as well as constant announcements over a loudspeaker that play for no discernible reason. It's really something else.
Equally perplexing but slightly more focused is The Visitants, a lighthearted slice of silliness that opens with bickering aliens Exeter (Capra, as "Johanna Grika") and Lubbock (Surf Nazis Must Die's Hile) planning a stop at Earth. They end up in 1950s Los Angeles and start zapping some hapless teenagers with a ray gun and crash at one poor girl's house to receive invasion plans from their leader via a TV set. The big day is set for Halloween thirty years later(!), but their plans coming up on the big night in the '80s hit a speed bump in the form of Eric (Vaughter), who lives next door and ends up with their ray gun before the invasion can begin. Small-scale chaos ensues. Relatively speaking, this one's more technically polished and features better performances as well as a somewhat more linear storyline. As a ribbing of classic sci-fi films it more or less works, aiming for a kind of sub-Rocky Horror vibe (right down to Capra's Magenta-esque hairdo) and featuring references to classics like It Came from Outer Space.
The first DVD of Blood Theatre came from Retromedia in 2006, its first time on home video in years since its brief VHS appearance from Active. First a standalone, it was later packed into a four-film Super Chiller Blood-o-Rama (with Claw of Terror, Black Mamba, and Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism) under the title Movie House Massacre; that release has apparently dropped off the face of the planet. The Visitants has been out of commission since its marginal VHS release in the '80s. Both titles look shockingly good on the Vinegar Syndrome release, pulled from the original camera negatives and looking as fresh as the day they were shot. The DTS-HD MA English mono tracks are also in mint condition. Both films come with Sloane commentary tracks, and he's pretty candid about the limitations here with stories about making Blood Theatre as a 21-year-old college student, his disbelief at Woronov agreeing to work with him, the intended casting of Dick Miller, the mechanics of exploding light bulbs, and the actors who didn't finish their roles. It sounds like he also may have been watching an open matte version of The Visitants during his track since he points out gaffes like visible scripts lying around that aren't there now. Also included on Blood Theatre is a new audio commentary by the gang at The Hysteria Continues, who have varying degrees of excitement about the project but, as always, deliver plenty of entertainment with anecdotes involving Fox, first encounters with this film (one involving a gay porn shop in Manhattan), personal experiences working in movie theaters (including a hunchbacked usherette), and the charms of budget-impaired '80s horror. Ever easy to please, Nathan actually says he finds this film more entertaining than The Shining and ranks this as one of his favorite films of all time (though it's still presumably on a lower tier than Terror at Tenkiller). Video extras include a pair of panels from a New Beverly Cinema spotlight on Sloane screening both films, including an ensemble intro (8m55s) with Sloane, Woronov, Vaughter, and Capra, and a more in-depth Q&A between the films (14m5s) with Sloane and Woronov explaining oddities like Foxx's dubbing and those insane swooshing door sound effects.
Reviewed on July 2, 2018.