JANUARY 9, 2016

This Is a HijackFor obvious reasons there weren't too many indie cash-ins on the disaster movie craze that swept movie theaters throughout the '70s starting with 1970's Airport, but there were a few people crazy enough to try. Roger Corman gave it his best shot with Avalanche, but on the weirder end of the scale we have This Is a Hijack, a semi-comical story of aviation thrills from 1973. A strange cast of character actors including biker movie vet Adam Roarke, Dub Taylor, Neville Brand, Jay "Dr. Shrinker" Robinson, Duncan McLeod (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls' Porter Hall) and Lynn Borden populates this wacko tale of a gambler who gets in way, way over his head and recruits a gang of non-law-abiding citizens to help him hijack a millionaire's plane flight. As you'd expect, things don't even go remotely as planned, with lots of unexpected touches of surreal comedy thrown in to spoof a subgenre that hadn't even hit its stride yet. Tons o' fun, this one has been inexplicably MIA on video for long stretches of time; fortunately it's best served by the current Code Red DVD, which features a crystal clear new widescreen transfer that easily blows away the old Monterey VHS edition back in the '80s. Extras include the theatrical trailer and bonus ones for Wheels of Fire, Equalizer 2000, Zebra Force, Top of the Heap,

Science CrazedEmbarking on a laudable crusade to dig into the darker corners of Canadian exploitation is the label Videonomicon, who salvaged the bizarre Ryan's Babe from oblivion. Slightly more familiar to the general public but no less surreal is the 1991 oddity Science Crazed, a stew of recycled footage, bloody monster antics, unexpected moments of fetishism, looped dialogue, and unintentional(?) comedy. The very slender thread of a story involves a woman with aqua fingernails being forcibly impregnated by a scientist, and soon after she swells up and dies while gives heaving birth to a full-grown guy with bloody gauze on his face. Random shots of horror reference books and posters are intercut as the newborn beast gets loose in an apartment building where women work out and do aerobics in endless detail, offering plenty of options for a potential massacre. Also noteworthy: a catering credit at the end to "Pizza Pizza Domino's" and the unfulfilled promise, "Coming Soon: Revenge of the 'Fiend'." In short, it's a brain-melting experience not for the faint of a heart but a great one to throw on late at night when your capacity for rational thought is at its weakest. Since the original 16mm elements have apparently vanished into the mists of time, the DVD has been culled from two VHS copies combined to remove any dropouts or other signs of wear and tear; the results are about what you'd expect, the equivalent to popping something into the old VCR deck back in 1989. Limited to 1000 units, the disc also includes a fun and often perplexed audio commentary with Rewind This! filmmaker Josh Johnson and Canuxploitation.com's Paul Corupe, who do their best to figure out where this puppy stands in the bizarre history of Canadian horror films. On the video side, additional extras include "I Survived Science Crazed" (a bemused 12-minute interview with star Cameron Kelin who reveals the script was nearly nonexistent), "Cameron's Grim Stitch Factory" (3 minutes with makeup artist Cameron Scholes), "Science Crazed Changes Everything" (a 6-minute appraisal with Pontypool writer Tony Burgess), an additional half-hour Q&A with Klein at an Ontario screening over a still gallery, a home video trailer, a bonus Ryan's Babe trailer, and a folder of DVD-Rom content including an mp3 of the main theme, sell sheets, and promo stills. Grab this one while you can!

Secrets of a PsychopathThough he's best known as the man behind giant rampaging menaces in everything from The Amazing Colossal Man to Food of the Gods, director Bert I. "BIG" Gordon also enjoyed dabbling in oddball thrillers like Picture Mommy Dead, Necromancy, and The Coming. That's the mode you'll find him in with Secrets of a Psychopath, a 2015 psycho thriller that marks his first time behind a camera since 1989's Satan's Princess. The generic title stinks, but the actual film is a peculiar, unpredictable, and sometimes striking blend of psychological shocker and slasher film with a pair of solid central performances at its center courtesy of Kari Wuhrer and Mark Famiglietti as Catherine and Henry, a pair of semi-incestuous siblings. Henry's determined to piece together the trauma causing his sexual dysfunction, which can apparently be accomplished only by picking up women online, marrying them, and then smothering them in Saran Wrap while he and Catherine dance around singing nursery rhymes in children's clothing. (If this sounds a bit like Hatchet for the Honeymoon, you're not far off.) Henry also keeps a scrapbook of his past conquests (and no one seems to notice his fiancees and wives keep disappearing), but the psycho pair may have met their match in Georgette (Mia Serafino), who picks him up at a movie theater while he's imagining himself in a racing car film (the film's strangest scene, and that's saying something). Hand puppets, a dark secret involving a kiddie pool, and a big butcher knife all figure in the ensuing mayhem. A fairly effective music score (doing its best to emulate Christopher Young and Richard Band) and some atmospheric, warm digital lensing make this an interesting addition to the direct-to-video horror roster, and Cinema Epoch's DVD looks as good as you'd expect for a film this recent, with the trailer and a still gallery tossed in as well. However, that's almost overshadowed by the biggest extra, a 53-minute interview with Gordon (looking and sounding great) about his early career, most of his major titles, some financial cons he suffered along the way, and his return to filmmaking.

Halloween HellAnother horror director making a comeback of sorts is Ed Hunt, helmer of the cult favorite Bloody Birthday, who hasn't been seen on screens since 1988's The Brain. Now he's back with Halloween Hell, which earns points right off the bat for the prominent credit, "with Eric Roberts as Dracula." Yep, the Oscar nominee and talking cat voice headlines as a sinister, hammy reality show host (Dracula, natch) who offers a nice chunk of change to six people if they spend the night locked up with a notorious lava-carved devil doll responsible for a slew of horrible deaths -- all of which take place when a full moon falls on Halloween. Since the timing's right, it's only a matter of time before demonic forces are cut loose and the poor, greedy saps start getting offed, all for a pay-per-view audience. (Why anyone would pay to watch a reality show is anyone's guess.) Very gory at times, this one doesn't take itself too seriously and never tries to rise above its status as utter cinematic junk food; if Ray Dennis Steckler were still alive, he'd probably be turning out something like this. It's cheap, it's stupid, and it's bloody, which should be enough to earn a reasonable following. The Cinema Epoch DVD looks nice given the modest nature of the film, and the one extra is the original trailer.

Rock 'n' Roll FrankensteinOpening with what may be the most extended, profane dialogue exchange about asses in exploitation history, Rock 'n' Roll Frankenstein is a showbiz parable of a very different kind as we follow the title character, a patchwork of dead rock stars created by a foul-mouthed agent named Bernie and his two cohorts, his young basement scientist nephew Frankie and a body-snatching roadie named Iggy. Frankie's warnings about the perils of cobbling together fall on deaf ears between the temptations of fast money and plentiful cocaine, and sure enough, the plans to augment the rock monster with Jim Morrison's genitalia goes awry when it winds up with Liberace's instead. Cue the desperate gay panic jokes (which would've been barely understandable in the era of Andrew Dice Clay but seem positively prehistoric in this 1999 film, complete with lame gerbil gags), but if you're willing to overlook that inexplicable plot turn, there's some minor fun to be had with a quasi-Elvis soundtrack (guess which rock god the monster resembles most closely) and a couple of stylish touches given the very low budget. The film was first issued on DVD back in 2009 from Brain Damage via Ventura, complete with some enjoyable extras carried over to the superior 2015 DVD reissue from Camp Motion Pictures with a fresh 1.78:1 transfer that easily outclasses the full frame version on the first disc. If you're a fan of the film, it's a pretty major upgrade. Arguably more fun than the movie itself is the audio commentary with writer/director Brian O'Hara, director of photography Jay Hillman, and actors Graig Guggenheim and Hiram Jacob Segarra, and associate producer Steve McLaughlin, all of whom combine to create a perfect storm of Jersey accents unlike anything you've ever heard before. Also included are a 22-minute making-of featurette, a music video, a trailer, and a ton of bonus Camp trailers for titles like Babysitter Massacre, Murderdrome, and Scarewaves.

In the Hell of DixieYou definitely have to give points for chutzpah to In the Hell of Dixie, a hicksploitation horror film that clocks in at a whopping 127 minutes and comes complete with a punk rock soundtrack. The first hour essentially soaks in the southern atmosphere as we get to know the denizens of a small town where two story threads coincide. First a group of hunting buddies are planning a weekend out in the woods firing away at wild game, but soon a psychopath turns up to pick them off one by one. Meanwhile local deputy Ned (played by director Eric F. Adams) gets passed over for a promotion, and the crime spree (which is tied to a particularly nasty dark secret in the town's past) brings him out to the boonies for a final reckoning. Complete with heaps of gender confusion, sweaty atmosphere, and several intense nocturnal kill scenes, this one has some technical rough edges (some iffy sound mixing and a really flubbed death gag at the end) but really benefits from that greatest of rarities, authentic southern accents. You actually believe these people live in the town and know each other, which gives the proceedings a grounded feeling more closely akin to '70s horror films than many of the throwback efforts in recent years. No classic to be sure, but it's an oddly likable shaggy dog of a slasher film with a distinct personality of its own. The Independent Entertainment DVD features a solid widescreen transfer (the film was wisely shot in 16mm instead of digital) and zero extras apart from a batch of bonus trailers.

The Bone GardenOne of the several crowd-funded genre films in recent years is the Indiegogo-financed The Bone Garden, which brings some alumni from the Friday the 13th series into a Hitchcockian tale of murder and deception in a small town. Tracie Savage (who played the hammock-loving Debbie in F13 Part 3) headlines the cast as Alice, who seems to have a happy life tending to her garden and spending time with her professor husband (Paul Kratka, the memorable eyeball popper in the same F13 film). Her suspicions that her spouse might be straying are soon overshadowed when some new neighbors move in next door, and the police start coming around asking about a string of disappearances and some possible domestic violence with the new arrivals. Skipping the fine line between domestic thriller and horror film, this one takes its time focusing on performances and plot twists for the most part with a few jolting surprises tossed in at effective intervals. It's a fun seeing a couple of familiar '80s horror faces back together again, and on top of that you get Ron Millkie (the cop from the first F13 film) and a handful of Camp Blood in-jokes to keep fans on their toes. A macabre streak of dark humor and some effective sound design (love the buzzing nature sounds) give it some added texture, resulting in a fun little sleeper worth checking out on a dark, quiet evening. The Camp Motion Pictures DVD looks great, not surprisingly, with the crisp digital lensing as vivid as you'd expect. The main extra is an audio commentary with writer/director Mike Gutridge, who chats about his friendships with many of the cast and crew and offers some funny tidbits about a few of the supporting cast members ("We asked John Waters to be in the film and he said no, so we got his assistant!"). Also included are the trailer and 10 minutes of footage from the film's premiere.

Pro-Wreslers vs ZombiesThere's absolutely no way you won't expect what you get from Pro-Wrestlers vs. Zombies, a 2014 production starring the late Roddy "Rowdy" Piper and a batch of other wrestlers including "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan, "The Franchise" Shane Douglas, Matt Hardy, and Kurt Angle. More macho than Zombies vs. Strippers and probably more ridiculous as well, it almost feels like a tribute at times to classic Mexican wrestling monster movies as our guys are booked for a private one-night event at a former prison where, you guessed it, a zombie outbreak hits just as everyone's locked in. As it turns out, the undead assault is part of a revenge plot against Douglas by the brother of someone he accidentally killed in the ring, with a demonic pact h (involving the very, very gory sacrifice of a young nurse) intended to turn the night into a bloodbath. As a horror movie it's more bloody (and chase-y) than scary, but if you want to see some familiar wrestler strut their stuff and face off against a bunch of shambling corpses with a very loud hard rock soundtrack, you've come to the right place. Director Cody Knotts contributes an audio commentary to the Troma release (in separate Blu-ray and DVD editions) in which he explains how he rounded up the cast, why so much of it was looped in post-production (including one weird Irish brogue), and how he wound up playing one role on screen. The transfer is fine considering 80% of the film takes place in almost total darkness, while the Dolby Digital audio on either version is, as mentioned before, really, really loud. Other extras include a video intro with some wrestling babes, the trailer, and unrelated Troma ephemera including a 40th anniversary reel, the Radiation March, and Lloyd Kaufman's odd take on the "It Gets Better" trend.

Extreme JukeboxA much odder Troma entry getting the Blu-ray and DVD treatment is an Italian import called Extreme Jukebox, a 2013 wannabe cult film from Alberto Bogo and Andrea Lionetti. Sort of an attempt to do a modern rock horror midnight movie, the story takes place in a music-crazed town called Nova Springs where a missing '80s pop legend named David Crystal holds sway over our hero, singer Jessie Cake. Accompanied by his girlfriend, Jessie tracks down the singer's final whereabouts and uncovers his last recording, a supernatural spell that unleashes a demonic, murderous version of Crystal to wipe out the local populace. That's mainly an excuse for the film to veer back and forth between strange comedy scenes, random horror homages, and colorful rock numbers, which means you're best off watching this with friends and not giving it your full attention. The vibrant color schemes look great on the Blu-ray edition, though the use of burned-in English subtitles for the Italian dialogue (Dolby Digital stereo as usual) is a bit of a bummer. Extras include the usual Lloyd Kaufman intro (calling this the most outrageous Italian film since Profondo Rosso, which is highly debatable), an "Inside Extreme Jukebox" featurette with the very enthusiastic directors taking a 53-minute tour through the making of the film, a photo gallery, the trailer, and a Rainbow Projects charity promo.

In the Hell of DixieA very blatant attempt to cash in on the success of the award-winning 2008 g film Gomorroah is the much cheaper, much trashier 2012 spoof Sodoma: The Dark Side of Gomorrah, a look at what happens when Naples is infested with young, incredibly stupid criminals. Times are tough and jobs are scarce, and even the local video vendor is throwing in the towel. Three Scarface-loving buddies named Ettore, Ciro and Marco who decide to take care of their employment woes by entering the world of crime, which puts them in the sights of the local kingpin and his cohorts. If you've seen a few Italian comedies you should have in idea of what to expect here, namely a lot of broad humor and loud music (including, yes, a musical number at the end) with most of the more violent content downplayed. The DVD from One7 Movies features a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer featuring the original Italian-language stereo track with optional English subtitles, all nicely done. Extras include a pair of trailers and a photo gallery.

The Bone GardenOne of the weirder films in recent memory, Hunter operates as a genre-hopping vehicle of sorts for former child actor Ron Becks, also seen in Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance. That film's director, Gregory Hatanaka, also helmed this one about a no-nonsense Los Angeles cop described on the packaging as both "Mystical Cop. Deadly Force. Champion of People" and "A cop, a saint, a vigilante, a spirit." That should give you an idea that this isn't the most lucid film on the planet, but it somehow involves a nefarious general (played by one-shot 007 George Lazenby), his evil major sidekick (Maniac Cop's Laurene Landon), a women's counselor lawyer played by cult staple Kristine DeBell (named Allison Goodwill, if you can believe it), and a runaway and accused prostitute named Kelly (Magda Marcella) suffering from traumatic flashbacks who's intimately connected to a string of killings. Sometimes wearing anaglyph 3-D glasses, Hunter drifts through all of these characters and story threads in between random fantasy sequences, with incredibly odd green screen work turning up every few scenes with amusing regularity. It's a shame this one never got four walled into a significant number of theaters, since the sheer insanity might have made it a successor of sorts to The Room thanks to its cracked vanity project attitude and earnest attempts at mystical philosophy (especially the "transcendent" ending, which has to be seen to be believed). Becks even contributes to the soundtrack - because why not? - and you get an avalanche of onscreen text trying to explain the whole thing, with varying degrees of success. The Cinema Epoch DVD looks pristine, of course, with 5.1 and 2.0 audio options, the trailer, and a 7-minute interview with producer Salih Mayi about his career and the inception of the project. Enter at your own risk!

She's 19 and ReadySwinging Ski GirlsIf you want to see a bunch of young actors in an out of their clothes in the snow, you'll definitely get more than your fill with a '70s double bill sold directly from Code Red. First up is 1974's Swinging Ski Girls, a borderline plotless look at what happens when some fun-loving kids hit the slops but end up spending more time getting out of their gear in tents, cars, and anywhere else besides a bed. Nominally the story is about a local lodge owner who rents out spaces where guys can peep in on the female snow bunnies undressing, but that mostly gets forgotten by the halfway point. About as explicit as you can get without veering into hardcore, this features familiar adult film vet Rick Cassidy and a lot of other folks who only appeared in one other film by director Don Trendall, Swinging Sorority. Bonus points for the show-stopping final scene in which one of the ski girls demonstrates a unique way of grabbing dollar bills off a guy's face. Next up is one of the more memorable German T&A offerings that played on Cinemax's Friday After Dark back in the '80s, 1979's She's 19 and Ready. A soundtrack crammed with catchy faux-ABBA music is one of the highlights here as we follow the badly-dubbed mishaps of two guys, Claus and i, who have the hots for nubile, young Eva. The object of their affection is ready to start exploring sex, but after a potential threesome turns into a fit of the giggles, the trio embark on a comedic trek when she decides to go visit her sexed-up sister, Britta. Lots of bare breasts, skiing, sightseeing, and comic confusion ensue, but all that pales in comparison to the incredible discotheque scene halfway through in which real-life disco group Dschinghis Khan performs their self-titled hit song in a fashion even crazier than their rendition of it on Eurovision the same year. Director Franz Josef Gottlieb had gotten his start doing Edgar Wallace krimis and Karl May westerns, but by this point he had the German sex comedy routine down pat and delivered a fast-paced, amusing little slice of stupidity guaranteed to induce nostalgic flashbacks in male viewers of a certain age. It's great to have this one finally on DVD in English, and the full frame transfer looks okay with pretty vibrant colors. Swinging Ski Girls looks a bit rougher around the edges but at least it's anamorphic widescreen, looking a generation or two better than the old VCX tape. The incongruous bonus trailers include Mardi Gras Massacre, The Police Connection, Malibu High, and Can I Do It Till I Need Glasses?

The Sensually Liberated FemaleHe and SheLong before he turned out such fascinating drive-in oddities as The Witch Who Came from the Sea and Butterfly, director Matt Cimber got his start directing "white coater" films at the dawn of the adult film wave in the '70s. At the time, explicit sex was only allowed in some states when it was presented in an educational or medical context, so we ended up with films like He and She and The Sensually Liberated Female. Both run just over an hour and mainly function as entertaining time capsules with narration (provided by a balding guy with glasses at a desk and the far more entertaining, pool-playing sexpot "Lindis Guinness") covering everything from sexual development during adolescence to gender roles to sex toy usage and cleaning. Should a woman take sensual advantage of a radish when she's in the kitchen? Is belly dancing a good way to turn on a man? Is the relationship between a man and woman tied to the nature of the greater universe as we know it? (Spoiler alert: Yes to all of the above.) The first film is essentially a marriage manual spice up with some mod editing touches, swanky lounge music, and some cool footage of Hollywood Blvd. and the Pacific Coast Highway circa 1970 (with the abstract sex scenes only barely verging into hardcore), while the latter, much cheekier film focuses exclusively on the terrain of female pleasure and dives headfirst into unsimulated territory for a few minutes in the final third. Both films look great in new transfers courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome, and the sole extra is the 12-minute "Five Questions for Matt Cimber," in which the director chats about getting his start in films after a Broadway gig with Jayne Mansfield and his tenure in early adult films, which he definitely didn't take very seriously.



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