Color, 1990, 71 mins. 41 secs.
Directed by James Bryan
Starring Renee Harmon, Frank Neuhaus, Heidi Ahn, Tim de Haas, Valerie Smith, Rhonda Collier, Linda DiNardo
RUN COYOTE RUN
Color, 1987, 71 mins. 59 secs.
Directed by James Bryan
AGFA / Bleeding Skull (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Bleeding Skull (DVD-R) (US R0 NTSC)
HIGH SCHOOL FANTASIES
1973, 70 mins. 21 secs.
Directed by James Bryan
Starring Rene Bond, Ric Lutze, Maggie Best, Larry Barnhouse, Tony Mazziotti, Cindy Taylor
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Best known today for his insane backwoods slasher film Don't Go in the Woods, director James Bryan has quietly built a wild filmography since the early 1970s ranging from action films to adult fare with a lot of odd tangents in between. Starting out with extremely off-the-wall exploitation titles like The Dirtiest Game in the World, he dabbled in hardcore on occasion (under the name "Morris Deal") while astounding VHS addicts with titles like Lady Street Fighter, Boogievision, and Hell Riders.
Adding to the Bryan legend is a 2021 Blu-ray release from the always reliable team of AGFA and Bleeding Skull that marks the first general retail release of two films salvaged from obscurity a few years earlier on DVD and VHS via direct order. The headliner here is Jungle Trap, which was shot in 1990 but left uncompleted until 2016 when it was finally edited and given a fresh electronic score that sounds exactly like something you'd hear in a shot-on-video release from the era. This was one of the final efforts from the partnership of Bryan and the amazing German actress-producer Renee Harmon, who worked together in various capacities on films like The Executioner, Part II, Hell Riders, and Lady Street Fighter. Determined to lead a new expedition into a dangerous area of the Amazon, journalist Chris (Harmon) is overruled by anthropologist and college instructor Josh (Neuhaus), who also happens to be Chris' ex-husband, and museum director Bena (DiNardo) on how to investigate a tribe of "chop, boil, shrink" headhunters, the Malis, guarding a precious idol. Wary of the nasty fate that befell one member during a previous expedition, the museum ends up sending along more assistants including Josh's current flame, Betsy (Ahn), a drunk bush pilot, and a short-lived guide for a journey that will take them through the ruins of the Palace Hotel and into the heart of VHS-lensed darkness, where they discover some supernatural surprises as members of their group start to get picked off in violent fashion.
Obviously this isn't a title that will appeal to the general public with its stilted acting, camcorder aesthetic, and bizarre plotting, but of course that's all part of the charm for the rest of us. Random stock footage just adds to the fun here as Harmon and Ahn in particular really give it their all with loud, combative performances that never fail to entertain, and the strange mash-up of genres means you're never entirely sure where this thing's heading all the way to the dime store ooga-booga finale.
The packaging for this Blu-ray asks for understanding when it comes to the source material here, which is obviously limited by the video source (a 3/4" master tape) but looks about as good as it could here. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 stereo track is actually pretty good with the score coming across effectively throughout, and optional English subtitle are provided (which is very handy during some mumbled line deliveries). An audio commentary with Bryan, Ahn, and Bleeding Skull's Zack Carlson, Annie Choi and Joe Ziemba (the latter two of whom also created the new score) charting the entire history of this film from its inception with Harmon through the ins and outs of film and video production at the time. A more condensed video version of the film's history can be found in "It Wasn't My Fault: The Making of Jungle Trap" (11m39s), with Bryan showing off some of his memorabilia and explaining where this film falls in his filmography after cutting his teeth at UCLA before some additional video appearances by Neuhaus and Ahn. Also included is a reel of outtake scenes (4m14s), some of them pretty amusing, and Horror Con (27m46s), the surviving silent remnants of Bryan's incomplete 1989 slasher film. Obviously it's tough to really evaluate what's left here, but it does have some hilariously weird convention antics on display and explains that "Horror Con" sign featured prominently in Jungle Trap. Tucked away in the bonus features is an entire second feature, 1987's Bryan/Harmon head scratcher Run Coyote Run, which also did the Bleeding Skull direct order thing a few years ago. Featuring a soundtrack of tracks recycled from Bill Rebane's Invasion from Inner Earth, it's the extremely fragmented story of Anne (Harmon), who's first seen in a shrink's office having a traumatic vision under hypnosis of an undercover police officer named Linda getting fatally ambushed in a Spanish mission. Her sort-of investigation is basically a framework for what amounts to some kind of psychotic riff/sequel/reboot/vandalizing of Lady Street Fighter, which also had its own separate official sequel to make things even more confusing. Shots from other Bryan and Harmon movies get blended in as well for something that involves a search for an audio tape, but good luck piecing it all together in your head when it's all done. Obviously this is essential viewing for out-there SOV junkies, and like the main feature, it never wears out its welcome by just barely crossing the 70-minute finish line. Again this one is pulled from the best existing SD video source, and we wouldn't have it any other way.
Jumping back to the early days of Bryan's career we get to High School Fantasies, his first foray into hardcore cinema (something he'd return to on and off over the years with rapidly diminishing results). One of the first porn films to cash in on the '50s nostalgia wave kicked into a frenzy with American Graffiti earlier that year, this was initially planned and partially shot as a softcore production based on real high school stories swapped by the likes of Bryan and the story's brainchild, producer Damon Christian. As pornography it's fairly primitive, skating by mainly on the goodwill of smut's first power couple, Rene Bond and Ric Lutze (the latter standing in for the other male cast for the majority of the explicit footage); however, the participation of Bryan and the attempt to capture '50s teen culture (including a charming retro soundtrack) make it far more noteworthy today and worth a look at the state of sexploitation just after the breakthrough of Deep Throat.
At an All-American high school in the '50s, shy Freddie (Barnhouse) has a lot more trouble scoring than best pals Moose (Mazziotti, Bond's real-life husband at the time) and the obnoxious Buddy (Lutze), who even manage to score a threesome with their female teacher after one class prank goes awry. Among the high school girls, Freddie is fixated on pretty Mary-Lou (Bond), who's hardly chaste herself and even likes talking dirty on the phone when she isn't having casual sex with Buddy. A plan to help Freddie along by selling him a Spanish Fly sex potion (augmented with a laxative) doesn't quite go as planned, paving the way for his initiation into manhood.
Circulated fairly widely on VHS (the source for a gray market version in one of Alpha Blue Archives' Rene Bond sets), High School Fantasies has been given a nice makeover on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome (including the usual limited slipcover) with a fresh, very colorful 2K scan from the 35mm original negative. One big plus is those outdoor nighttime scenes are finally legible (including a fun drive-in scene with a B&W monster movie spoof), though on the other hand, those highly unflattering insert sex shots are even more obvious than before. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track is also in mint condition, all the better to enjoy the ridiculous sorta-kinda cover versions peppering the soundtrack. In "Bathroom Graffiti" (23m55s), Bryan recalls how the film got off the ground with Christian and shares some very colorful stories about the cast including Bond's refusal to go hardcore and some really nutty facts about Barnhouse including his date with Lana Turner thanks to his side job as a male escort, not to mention bizarre tangents involving the Armenian mob and a pulled pistol in the sound mixing room. Then in "Where Were You in '62?" (23m34s), Christian appears (in a very windy yard) explaining how his life went from being homeless in Vegas to bluffing his way into nudie cutie film production before heading into harder projects while involved FBI raids, shipping prints smuggled in airline luggage, Mazzioitti's extreme unpleasantness, and getting bootlegged by supposed friends. The just-barely-softcore trailer is also included.
Reviewed on May 16, 2021