Video Nasties: Draconian Days aka Video Nasties The Definitive Guide: Part 2 (2014)

Film: I wonder if Jake West realised that his first documentary about banned films, called Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Video Tape, was going to be such an amazing piece of work. I have to say that there is probably only two documentary films series that I really could watch as much as I watch regular cinema, they are these two films, and a Gary Hustwit series of three films called Helvetica, Objectified and Urbanised (a loose series starting with regular things we see every day, but looked at from a design point of view (if you haven’t seen them, give them a watch!))

The first film in this series, reviewed elsewhere on this very site, dealt with the banned films of the so-called ‘video nasty’ era in the UK, whereas this film deals with the fallout; the censorship and movie classification under the direction of the Secretary of the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), James Ferman.

It’s an interesting look at the pointlessness of having both censorship and classification, as they don’t work together: why have an age related classification of (18) if you are then going to cut it?

It makes no sense.

The reasoning behind it damaging people psychologically wasn’t proven then, and nor is it proven now… and if these films are so bad, why do the censors get to watch them? What makes THEM above us… and why is age a level for censorship? I know immature 50 year olds (I am one) and I’ve observed 20 years old far more mature than me… and hang on, what is maturity anyways?

It also steeps into the specifics of ridiculousness of some decisions. For example, nunchucks and ninja stars were seen as problematic weapons for films, so those films were rejected or edited. This led to cuts made to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze.

Yep.

It would seem that Ferman’s rule seemed to become an excuse for him to exert his lost career as a director and re-cut others films. One of his criticisms claims he made ‘censorship by stealth’.

This film features interviews with everyone involved, from ex-BBFC employees, government officials, film-makers, film journalists and so many others that it presents a quite an even discussion about censorship, especially considering some of the interviewees have such varied opinions about what is ‘good’ censorship, and when does it become borderline fascism? There is also a lot of supplementary material from the time that shows how moral panic can lead to dangerous societal results.

This documentary seems to be far more relevant now with the rise of the so-called ‘cancel culture’. Is it right to delete art because it doesn’t stand up to current standards? If we delete prejudice and violence will it change our state of thought or are those things printed on some of our DNA strands?

I’m just a guy who likes movies so don’t look at me for the answers!

All in all it’s a fascinating look at archaic laws, how some politicians who believe themselves to be better educated than you DECIDE what is good for you, and just how quickly power can corrupt anyone.

The image and sound on this disc aren’t great, but it’s just talking heads so the need for hi-def, 1080hp with super duper surround sound probably isn’t needed.

Score: ****

Video: **

Audio: **

Extras: Oh did you want extras? Well, buckle up, sunshine!

Disc 1 has a series of slideshows: the first is a selection of fanzines who traded in illegal video tapes, then we have DPP72 and DPP82 which show the covers of films banned/ almost banned.

This disc also has trailers for The Playgirls and the Vampire, Grindhouse Trailer Classics 2, Night of the Bloody Apes, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, Dead of Night, Cannibal Girls, Teaserama, Varitease, Ghost Story, Bloodbath at the House of Death, Fausto 5.0, Gwendoline, Between Your Legs, Cruel Passion, Escort Girls, Some Like It Sexy, Fantasm, Fantasm Comes Again, The Good Little Girls, Justine’s Hit Nights, Scandalous Photos, Dressage and Education Anglaise. (Though both Fantasm and Fantasm Comes Again attach to the same trailer, which is a bummer)

There is also a couple of Easter eggs that feature images of programs and passes from various film festivals, and a short film “It’s Just A Movie’.

Disc 2 and 3 have, in total, about 10 hours of trailers (which for length-of-review reasons I won’t list them all) of the Section 3 video nasties, with introductions.

Score: *****

WISIA: It’s fascinating and a great supplement to the first documentary, but meanders a little. That hasn’t stopped me from giving it several watches.

Hellraiser (1987)

Hellraiser (1987)

Film: I may be a little old and set in my ways, but I am willing to listen to alternate opinions and think about stuff that I may not agree with, and can sometimes even be swayed. There is a caveat though: one thing I have to assure you about is I will never EVER be convinced that the 80s WASN’T The best time for horror!

Because it was.

100%.

Truly the 80s were one of the generations of horror when legends were built, not just in film, but also in literature. Clive Barker is certainly one of those legends. Not just with his selection of six volumes of horror short stories The Books of Blood, but also with his debut directorial effort (also based on his novella The Hellbound Heart, first published in volume 3 of the Dark Visions anthology series of books) Hellraiser, described by the reviewer for Melody Maker magazine as the greatest British horror film ever made.

Hellraiser tells of Larry (Andrew Robinson) and his wife Julia (Clare Higgins) who are moving into his abandoned parents house after his mother’s passing. They find that his brother Frank (Sean Chapman) a ne’er-do-well who is also Julia’s adulterous partner, unbeknownst to Larry, has been staying there but now appears to be missing… and seemingly in a hurry…

What they don’t realise is that Frank was the recipient of a mystical puzzle box called The Lament Configuration, which opens a door to Hell and drags you in. When Larry cuts his hand whilst moving in, his blood dripping onto the floor allows Frank (now a skinless monster, played by Oliver Smith) a door to escape from Hell, but he requires more blood to regain his full human appearance, and Clare is more than happy to spend her days luring men back to the house for him to consume from his hideout in the house’s attic.

He does eventually reveal himself to Larry’s daughter, Kirsty (Ashley Lawrence) who escapes his clutches and steals the puzzle box, accidentally activating it and releasing Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and fellow Cenobites, creatures who collect the souls of people, offering them an opportunity to feel the ultimate ecstasy. Instead of taking her though, Kirsty offers them Frank, whom they don’t believe managed to escape Hell… so it’s up to Kirsty to prove to them who he is.

I still remember seeing the trailer for this at a Village cinema in Sydney, and even that creeping me out, so when it finally arrived I couldn’t wait to see it, and I was thrilled by what I saw. For me, horror before this has been either monsters or slashers, and this film certainly opened my eyes to a different form of horror, and how in the right hands, a low-budget film could be just as, if not more thrilling than the biggest of blockbusters.

This film has quality thrills, great acting and a solid storyline that’s like nothing you’ve ever seen. Of all the big guns of 80s horror, Hellraiser is certainly one of the biggest, and shouldn’t be missed. The sequels, of course, get lesser as they go on and honestly, if you must watch any of the 9-odd films, you should watch the first three, and then stop.

Score: *****

Format: The quality of the feature seems to be only slightly above that of a DVD release, but it’s 1.77:1 image and Dolby HD-DTS Master Audio 5.1 sound do the job.

Score: ***1/2

Extras: Whilst Umbrella used to be the legends of extras, they seem to care less about it now.

Score: 0

WISIA: It’s a classic and deserves to be rewatched regularly. Mind you it also deserves a more complete package of extras so THIS release might not be the one to get!

The Lost Empire (1984)

One from the rewatch pile…

The Lost Empire (1984)

Film: As a teen, I was constantly borrowing the B movies from my local video shop, and of those movies, I had a special place in my heart for Chopping Mall, and because of that, I saw the name Jim Wynorski  as a sign of ‘quality’, and still today, if I see his name pop up I am willing to cast my eyes over whatever the product is.

Sometimes, I am rewarded with B movie goodness, and sometimes, my brain is poisoned, but nostalgia is a cruel mistress and I am willing to forgive this man whenever the film is less than good.

This film, The Lost Empire, is the first film that Wynorski wrote and directed, and co-produced with Russ Meyer girl Raven De La Croix, and is truly a film firmly dropped in the eighties. The fashions, the special effects, the acting and the sets are perfect examples of that.

Our movie starts with evil, shuriken-yoyo wielding ninjas attempting to steal a mystical ruby eye from a pig idol, that is on display in a jewellers. Several police arrive and foil the robbery, but not without there being several injuries and a few fatalities.

We are told in a text scrawl that this jewel is one of the two Eyes of Avatar and have the super science from the ancient Lemurians secreted inside them. They were separated many years ago and if the two eyes are ever brought together the weirder will gain the power of superior ancient science.

Next we are introduced to busty, big-haired, gun-happy sexpot police officer Angela Wolfe (Melanie Vincz), imagine Dirty Harry with a squarer jaw and bigger tits and her FBI boyfriend Rick (Paul Coufos) who are told, after a post hostage bust sex-session, that her brother Rob (Bill Thornbury)was shot in the jeweller robbery but survived and so she visits him in the hospital. Through his delusion bought on by pain, he hands her one of the shuriken from the robbery.

Rick sees the shuriken and tells Wolfe that it belongs to Lee Chuck, a man who sold his soul to the devil and needs to send him a soul a day to live forever. They investigate the robbery and the Eye of Avatar finds its way into Wolfe’s purse, unbeknownst to her.

Rick and Wolfe meet with Inspector Charles Chan, yep… Charlie Chan… who tells them that a religious nut named Dr Sin Do (Angus Scrimm) is linked to Lee Chuck and has an island, Golgatha, where he can practise his religion in peace.

Wolfe’s brother goes to the big precinct in the sky, and very soon, Wolfe wants revenge so she presses Rick for more information. He tells her that Sin Do has competitions where women fight for his entertainment. Soon she finds herself teamed up with Native American White Star (Raven De La Croix) who spouts generic Indian-isms (Kemo Sabe is slung around like pies at a footy game) and ex-con Heather McClure (Angela Aames) and the three enter the Sin Do tournament to find out what’s going on. Rick accidentally ends up with Wolfe’s handbag and realises that he has the Eye of Avatar and makes his way to the island as well…

Is Golgatha just a religious retreat, or a hideout for gang of terrorists run by a man who has lived for two hundred years after a promise to Satan himself…

Well, what do you think?

This film is most definitely a template for future Wynorski films, and honestly, for the market, there is nothing wrong with that. Essentially most if his films are adult male fantasy cartoons made real, with beautiful big-boobed babes, and testosterone fuelled dunderheads fighting against whatever evil may have reared its ugly head, with a peppering of toplessness, violence and terrible, almost Dad, jokes. It’s what B cinema is all about, and I’d watch one of these over a big cinema release any day!

This film also has a cameo by The Thing from Another World’s Kenneth Tobey.

I grew up loving Jim Wynorski films like Chopping Mall and it sure is nice to see his first attempt at ‘big’ budget filmmaking. I had a lot of nostalgic fun watching this film, and it has reinvigorated my love for Wynorski. I must track more of his films down. If you like the Corman films of the 80s, you’ll get a kick out if this too. Shame on my copy, the two interesting extras didn’t work.

Score: ****

Format: Immediately I have to criticise the the actual physical DVD itself. The cover is a horribly painted pic that disrespects the female leads of the film as it is horribly distorted and really, not very good. The menus of the disc itself needs also to received some criticism as it is difficult ascertain when a menu item is selected.

The disc image is presented in, quite an odd aspect ratio, of about 2.20:1 and the image is ok, but does have several scratches and other artefacts on it. The soundtrack in presented in stereo and is satisfactory, well until Raven De La Croix throws one of her terrible jokes out.

Score: *

Extras: There are three extras on this disc:

Director’s Commentary by Jim Wynorski… Well that’s what the menu option said, but what I received was… Nothing! I tried selecting it several times and not once did I receive the commentary. Disappointed.

The Stills gallery, which I shall point out is an extra on any disc I hate, is a 90 second slide show of stills from the film. Not behind the scenes photos or different shots, it is just freeze frames from the film. If I want to look a static images, I’ll read a comic, not put on a DVD.

The last extra is the Soundtrack which I was pretty excited for as I like the 80s synth track… Except of the ten tracks available to listen, it repeated 30 seconds of the first track over and over. Maybe I just received a faulty disc, but definitely not happy.

Score: *

WISIA: It’s an irresistible, quaint throwback, so I’ll definitely watch it again.

Humongous (1982)

One from the rewatch pile…

Humongous (1982)

Film: Everyone, even non-horror fans, remembers the ‘superstars’ of 80s horror. The Jasons, the Freddys, the Michaels but not often does someone pay any creed to the ‘second stringers’, the ‘reserve grade’, the ‘wannabees’, the ‘try hards’: the ‘almost rans’ whose films didn’t become franchises, and in actual fact at times were lucky to get release at all!! They were like the guys and girls in high school who wanted to be cool, but their Best and Less leather jacket wasn’t anywhere near as cool, or bona fide, as the one you got from the Salvos that had a spew stain on it and stunk of ganja, and like those people, the B-list of horror drift into the backs of people minds, except for the occasional exception, like The Burning, but that is just because it is shit-hot.

This film was one of those that didn’t quite make it, even though it played the formula as close to the rulebook as it could. As a matter of fact, Humongous steals quite liberally from Anthropophagus The Grim Reaper as the core idea of the film is almost exact, and not so liberally from the Friday series, with the malformed son and occasionally a scene feels like it was lifted from one of the Friday films, but I guess if you wish to steal from other films, they are a good place to start!!

This release of Humongous is under the sub-title of Katarina’s Nightmare Theatre. The Katarina in question is Katarina Leigh Waters, a multi-franchise wrestler, including the WWE, who has in her sights, aspirations to be a second rate Elvira, which in turn makes her a third rate Vampira. The slick for this DVD claims to be ‘uncut’ and I have no reason to discount this claim.

Now I apologise for the way this reads, but the film IS as generic as what this sounds. Five teens, the jock, the nerdy little sister, the dickhead, the slut and the girl who obviously survives and an older man, the guys who ‘warns them of what may happen’ take refuge on a mysterious island when their boat is run into rocks and sinks. The island used to house a strange old lady who didn’t associate with the local community and kept wholly to herself. Why did she do this? Well in the 1940s, she was raped at a party and the rapist killed by her beloved dogs, but his seed laid purchase and she gave birth to a deformed freak, who, when she died, became like a giant, wild cannibal roaming the island looking for his next meal, and tasty teens sound delicious…

Ever since I got my first DVD player in 1998, I have longed for this film, and this may be my biggest problem with it. I had such high expectations as when I saw it originally on VHS in the 80s I was somewhat of a horror neophyte, and wasn’t even of AWARE of half of the stuff I have seen since, so my teen brain kept telling my adult brain how good it is.

It isn’t.

It is competent and well filmed, but hardly gory and unfortunately the script feels like someone sat down and created a ‘franchise’ rather than a complete film. It really does feel like a ‘best of’ of other horror films of the time. Thankfully one thing this release of the film offers is the rarely seen in America, extended rape sequence, which is shot from the woman’s perspective, which makes it quite harrowing.

Basically, 80s horror fans have a ‘must have’ for their collection, but only for completion purposes, other horror fans may look upon it as an OK distraction offering NOTHING new to the table.

It tries to be good, but it just doesn’t try hard enough. Why watch something TRYING to be Anthropophagus or Friday the 13th when you could actually watch them instead. If you really feel the need to watch a second string 80s horror film, watch The Burning instead… or Madman… or anything. Joy Boushel has nice knockers though, so an extra point for that.

Score: **

Format: This film is presented in 16×9 anamorphic widescreen and is a slightly below average image due to it pixelating quite frequently and the abundance of artefacts. That’s not to say it isn’t watchable, but it could be better. The soundtrack is in mono and it is what you’d imagine it would be.

Score: **

Extras: The film can be watched in two different ways. One is just with the film just directly starting and the other is with an introduction by wrestler Katarina Leigh Waters, who is provided with a pun filled script that is about as funny as constipation. Even Elvira would have rolled her eyes at some of these apparent jokes. I am not sure what wrestling has to do with horror films, but she delivers her lines with a professionalism that would make Triple H proud.

The extras on this disc are not too bad.

Audio Commentary with director Paul Lynch, Writer William Gray and Horror Historian Nathanial Thompson – moderated by Katarina Leigh Waters is a decent look at the making of the film and the Canadian ‘horror industry’ in general.

R-rated beginning scene is the ‘nice’ version of the rape scene, which contains no thrusting of the rapist, just violence and an implied rape. The quality is really quite bad though, very foggy.

Original Trailer is obviously the original trailer for Humungous. It’s a speccy, artefacty affair, but a nice inclusion.

Katarina’s Trailers are a series of random trailers though I am not sure if they are future releases on her ‘label’. They include Final Exam, Nothing but the Night, The Devil Within Her, The House on Sorority Row, The Incubus and The Pyx.

Score: ****

WISIA: I have to admit that even though I’m not the biggest fan of this flick, I do find myself rewatching regularly. I think just because it’s an easy watch.

Book Review: RESURRECTION DREAMS by RICHARD LAYMON

RESURRECTION DREAMS by RICHARD LAYMON

As a teen in the eighties, just like now, I was always more of a comic and magazine reader than a book reader. Sure as a younger kid I had read adventure stuff like Doctor Who, the Famous Five and Secret Seven, and of course movie novelizations like Raiders of the Lost Ark or Star Wars, but I was always more interested in the monthly tales of Daredevil and the Fantastic Four, or being totally engrossed in the latest Famous Monsters of Filmland, or if I was lucky, the gory pics in a new mag known as Fangoria…

… until I discovered a gentleman by the name of Richard Laymon. In my teens, in addition to being a rabid comic reader, I was also a fanatical video hirer… so much so that my local video shop ended up HIRING me!! The movies that I loved the most were the slasher films, and whilst discussing this with a man at a local second hand book shop, he told me if I liked ‘those’ sorts of films, I’d love the books of Richard Laymon, and he sold me a $1.50 of a book called ‘Beware!!’ and I was immediately hooked.

This single book turned into a love of lurid, gore soaked tales, and so Laymon, along with Shaun Hutson, Guy N. Smith and James Herbert became high on my reading list, though Laymon was always the best.

None of his books, though, ever surpassed the absolute joy I experienced in reading this book, Resurrection Dreams, and it remains, to this day my second favourite books ever (out of interest, the first is The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks: if you haven’t read that you are missing out on an AMAZING book about one of the best literary psychotics ever).

Resurrections Dreams starts with a bang! A car accident leaves the head cheerleader and her boyfriend as corpses, hers being headless and the school’s biggest nerd, and bullying victim, Melvin decides that for his science fair project, he’s going to dig her up and attempt to resuscitate her by hooking her up to a car battery… which of course fails miserably and he finds himself thrown into a facility for those whose judgement may lean towards a more nutso end of the scale.

Several years later, our heroine, Vicki, who was the only girl particularly nice to Melvin, returns to the town after graduating university to take a job at the local Doctor’s office with the man who encouraged her to become a medic.

Upon returning to town, she stops at the local petrol station to fill her car and meets the newly released from the asylum Melvin, who is over excited to see her again. They talk about old times, and feeling uncomfortable, she finds an excuse to take her leave.

Melvin’s obsession with her returns in full swing and decides that he needs to win her over, and after trying some normal, yet over-the-top means, like giving her a car, which she summarily rejects, he tries other methods.

See Melvin wasn’t completely idle in the hospital, and his research into the reanimation of the dead has become an actuality. His first successful attempt, a nurse named Patricia, is completely in his thrall and will do ANYTHING he says, including kill for him, which he uses as a tool to execute those who have crossed Vicky, or look like they could assist her by being out of the way.

The problem with the dead he reanimates is that they are completely and absolutely dedicated to their master and get insanely jealous very easily and are extraordinarily hard to dispose of, which may spell disaster for Melvin’s ultimate plan for completely possessing Vicki.

Straight away from the synopsis you can see that Laymon has taken the all of the traditional, both cinematic and actual ‘Voodoo’, zombies and turned the idea on its head. These zombies are able to function more or less in a normal society even though they suffer of an obsession with their masters and the unreasonable character flaw of biting during sex… but Hell, who doesn’t!! This is the real strength of the book. A lot of the characters, especially Melvin, are B grade horror stereotypes, but having the zombies as functional beings rather than tools of the apocalypse makes it far more interesting that most of the walking dead stuff you may be exposed to in the current glut of zombie overexposure. He uses his skill as a writer on several occasions to surprise… well, it’s not always immediately apparent… the reader as to WHO has already been turned!

Laymon’s writing style is a pleasure to read. The words flow off the page at a great rate, and he was well aware that most interested in the subject that he writes about would not be too interested in deep subtle underlying meanings or a more flowery writing style. This is lurid pulp horror and he relishes in it!! Little goes into the descriptions of surroundings or landscape, but when it comes to gore or sex, every severed tendon and turgid member is explicitly detailed, and this is what B Grade horror film fans want from a novel, don’t they? I know THIS B grade horror fan does!

The real crime is that Laymon’s novels seem to get ignored when movie types look for projects, and Resurrection Dreams, in a world where HBO and other TV networks can show sex and horror on TV would make for an amazing series if it were given half a chance!

Overall, like I said previously, this is one of my favourite novels of all time and its ability to take the whole zombie sub-genre of horror and make it his own provide a great read for those daring enough to dig up a copy.

Score: *****

BOOK REVIEW: THE ART OF THE NASTY

The Art of the Nasty by Nigel Wingrove and Marc Morris

My horror addiction doesn’t just stop at DVDs and Blurays (and a very small quantity of laserdisc and VHS), I also have a far-too-large collection of horror related toys, novels, board games, video games and comics, but my favourite non-plastic disc collectables are my books ABOUT horror films especially of they take a specific aspect of horror cinema and completely dissect it. At the top of those books that sit amongst my favourites is the wonderful second edition of Nigel Wingrove and Marc Morris’s The Art of the Nasty.

The book looks at the ‘Video Nasty’ part of England’s VHS and cinema history. Honestly if you are a horror fan and don’t know about this or at the very least haven’t seen the documentary Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide perhaps you should go outside and shake yourself, and then look it up before reading any further, but here’s a quick recap anyway: in the late 70s/ early 80s in the UK, during the rise of VHS, the politicians and media got stuck into home cinema because of the sex and violence contained within, and this may have been due to the way they were advertised and their lurid, and occasionally misleading covers which singled them out and basically lead to massive cuts as the British Board of Film Censorship (known as the BBFC, and the latter letter eventually changed to mean Classification) flexed its muscles and went on a cut-fest.

That’s basically what happened but obviously there is a HELL of a lot more to it. The effects are felt still today, as some films that have been released in other parts of the world uncut are still edited in the UK; Shameless’s The New York Ripper being a standout.

Anyway, this book is a celebration of the VHS covers of the time and just how the sex and violence of the contents were used to sell the film, seeing as how the covers were the ONLY selling point back in the non-internet days. Wingrove speaks from a firsthand experience in a lot of this, seeing as how he founded Redemption Films and Salvation Group and created the online experience Satanic Sluts. He also had his film, Visions of Ecstasy, refused distribution on the grounds of blasphemy!! His co-author, Marc Morris is a historian and broadcaster who mainly writes books about the middle ages, but also assisted Francis Brewster and Harvey Fenton with the book ‘Shock! Horror!’ another book about the art of the Nasty VHS.

The books opens with 2 forwards, titled The Nasties: A Personal View by Wingrove, one from the original edition from 1998 and the other more recently in 2009. The two forewards are definitely necessary as post-millennium so many previously banned films have been released, mostly completely uncut, and Wingrove discusses the change opinions in the new one.

The book then breaks down into chapter relating to different aspects of the Nasties. The Official Nasties, which covers the 39 films deemed obscene by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Nasties On Parole, which are the ones the DPP couldn’t get a conviction, Nasties – The Ones That Got Away, which are ones that completely avoided the DPP’s eye, Nice and Sleazy Does It, which looks at covers from the pre-certification era of VHS and finally The Good, The Bad and the Vomit-Inducing which is described as the best of the rest, still sleazy, but not to the extent of some of the others. The book concludes with a Video Company Listing which lists VHS companies and the films they released: essential reading for UK VHS collectors.

The book is, as you would expect, lavishly illustrated with some of the most striking images of VHS releases of the time and really, even as a devout horror collector, I am surprised by some of the images on these VHS covers (I don’t object to them, I just am surprised that middle class shop owners of the less-permissive early 80s would have allowed these images on shelves in their shops!!). All the images have a small blurb which tells the Original Title of the film, its country of origin, the director, the year and time and the video label that released that particular version. There is also a supportive paragraph which describes what the film was about and any interesting situations in which the film may have been involved. If I am to pass any criticism of this book, it is in these paragraphs as mostly I wanted more… but then again, the book is about the images, and essentially I can research any film on which I wish to gain more knowledge.

Each page also has a contextual historical snippet to show what was happening in the world at the time, which whilst not entirely necessary, is an interesting idea as it shows, now and again, what was happening in politics and other areas of pop culture at the time. It is a nice garnish to the feast that is the images and their accompanying text.

On the whole, this book is a horror gem, as inadvertently becomes a GREAT support to the aforementioned Video Nasties doco. It is well written and the bold images are an absolute treat!

Rating: *****

April Fool’s Day (1986)

One from the re watch pile…

April Fool’s Day (1986)

Film: The Eighties, some say, was horror’s heyday! The popular psychopaths had their violent ways with hundreds of horny, drunken teens, aliens attacked, the dead had their day and the coenobites walked the earth. Occasionally, though, there were hiccups that penetrated the serenity, flies in the gory soup, and this is where we find April Fool’s Day!

April Fool’s Day starts with the usual college student stereotypes (played by Ken Olandt, Amy Steel, Jay Baker, Deborah Goodrich, Griffin O’neal, Thomas F. Wilson (yep, THE Biff Tannen), Leah Pinsent and Clayton Rodney), full of tomfoolery and April Fool’s Day hoaxes, waiting patiently to catch the ferry to the secluded island retreat owned by their friend, Muffy St. John’s family.

Muffy (Deborah Foreman), the gorgeous heiress who invited them all is excited to see her friends come to her family’s home, but as the weekend goes on, her attitude, and her appearance, starts to change. Some of the friends start to disappear, and those who remain start an investigation that sees that St. John has a horrible family secret… and upon arriving on the island, the secret could result in a murderous rampage that may leave them all dead?

Written by Danilo Bach (Beverly Hills Cop) and directed by Fred Walton (When a Stranger Calls, which he also co-wrote), April Fool’s Day is the little film that could, but didn’t. It tries too hard to stand out in a crowd of slashers and sequels by trying to be cleverer than what it is, mixing too much comedy with not enough tension and ultimately becoming an experiment that failed.

I have to admit to also getting a cheap thrill in seeing Amy Steel in this film as well! Steel had been in Friday the 13th Part 2 (and 3… kind of) and the Friday films were and are favourites of mine and she was a pretty resourceful final girl in that film, so I looked forward to seeing more of her. I have to say though, I looked at her filmography and even though I had seen some of the other things she had been in, I didn’t realise and these are the only two appearances that really stand out!

Containing no gore, no tension and even more tragically, no nudity, this film has far too much levity for it ever to be taken seriously or to enter the annals of exciting and legendary 80s slashers. The cast is full of annoying characters though Wilson is one who almost raises a smile with his hi-jinks and pranks, but the biggest April Fool’s prank of them all is the one played on the viewer, for wasting 85 minutes of their valuable time.

Score: *

Format: Cinema Cult and their inconsistent grey covers have really not done anything to help this release of this film. Straight up it has NO chapter list and the menu is just the Shock! emblem with a ‘play’ button, and you can only even find that menu screen if you fast forward to the end, which is easily done as there is only 1 chapter on this disc: the whole film.

This disc is presented in a shoddy 1.78:1 image with an ok 2.0 audio track. The whole film looks like is is nothing but a port of a 15 year old DVD release which was probably just a port of the VHS release because no one could be bothered to waste their time on this film.

Score: **

Extras: None.

Score: 0

WISIA: Please, PLEASE, I implore you to not give any of you precious attention to this film.

Stephen King’s Children of the Corn (1984)

One from the re-watch pile…

Stephen King’s Children of the Corn (1984)

Film: If you’ve been reading this blog for the last few years, or read my reviews over the past 10 years, or even listened to my podcast, you may notice two things that I say over and over again.

1. My favourite movies mostly come from the 1980s

2. I am not a fan of Steven King’s writing.

The weird thing about these to things is that they do intersect: I really like all of the Stephen King novel based movies. It’s true. I’m a fan of the man’s ideas, but not of his execution. Do I feel bad about it? No. Would I watch any film based on a Stephen King novel at any time of the night or day? Yes.

I know that this wasn’t the first King translation I ever saw because I KNOW that I was taken to the cinemas to see The Shining by my parents at the ripe old age of 10 which launched both my fear of fathers and my love of breasts. This film, 1984’s Stephen King’s Children of the Corn (yes, that’s the official title) must have been very close to being the next one. I was watching a lot of horror in the early eighties so realistically it could have been this, or Cujo, or Carrie, but I can’t be sure.

What I can be sure of was that I definitely saw it when it first came out on VHS in Australia, and it probably made me a fan of the ‘abandoned town’ as a setting for horror films!

Anyway, the story of Stephen King’s Children of the Corn (SKCotC) begins with a mass murder in a small diner of all of the adults by the children of the town. One boy witnesses it and chooses to make an attempt to escape the town which is now being controlled by teenage religious zealots, led by Issac (John Franklin) and his thuggish sidekick Malachai (Courtney Gains).

Tragically he doesn’t escape, but he does make it to a highway where young lovers, Burt (Peter Horton) and Vicky (Linda Hamilton) come across his body, and this leads them to the town where they are terrorised by the children, and threatened to be sacrificed to something called ‘He Who Walks Behind The Rows’.

Will Burt and Vicky escape, or will they be sacrificed to… well, whatever ‘IT’ is…

This is as eighties as a film can get, but it has some amazing ideas and some truly threatening scenes. I remember when I first saw it I was reminded on the classic Star Trek series episode ‘Miri’ but that was probably just a teenage me associated two cool things together.

King’s story here was adapted by George Goldsmith (Blue Monkey) and its a solid thriller made real by the direction from Fritz Kiersch which visually tells of the desolation of remoteness of farmland and their communities, and just how easily one could drop off the map if not tended to appropriately. It’s also a fascinating look at the manipulation of religion by its leaders.

Score: ***1/2

Format: This film was reviewed with the 88 Films Slasher Collection Bluray, which was presented in 1.78:1 and with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio track, both of which were surprisingly good considering the age of the film.

Score: ****

Extras: There’s a couple of extras on this disc:

The original trailer for the title film, plus trailers for Don’t Go In The Woods, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Live Like A Cop Die Like A Man, Mother’s Day, Slaughterhouse, Trancers and Splatter University.

The Life, Legacy and Legend of Donald P. Borchers is a fairly thorough, 90-odd minute documentary about the movie producer, Donald P. Borchers, who produced this film as well as Vamp, Tuff Turf and Angel. It’s really an interesting insight into the Hollywood machine as well as Borcher’s actual career.

Score: ***

WISIA: Its a Stephen King classic and demands to be watched more than once.

Re-animator (1986)

One from the regularly re-watched pile…

Re-animator (1986)

Film: It’s the best horror film ever made. Review finished.

Oh, you want more… sigh, ok then.

I first saw this film when it came out on VHS in Australia and was immediately and utterly taken by it. It didn’t just excite my brain cells, I found almost a soul mate within the confines of the little plastic video case. I liked horror before I saw this film, but afterward, I loved it.

I didn’t just love THIS film though, it turned me on to the writings of H. P. Lovecraft and more horror writers, both modern and old. It turned me from being a horror casual to a horror obsessive.

This film was directed by Stuart Gordon, who wrote the screenplay with Dennis Paolo (From Beyond, Dagon) and William Norris (mostly known as being an actor). The story was based on Lovecraft’s stories from the 1920s, but modernised and made into a gory, gooey horror movie with a wry sense of dark humour.

Re-animator tells of a medical student named Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) who has moved to Miskatonic University to learn more, and further his research after the death of his mentor Dr Gruber. At Miskatonic, he moves in with student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) to whom West eventually reveals he has developed a reagent that’s can reanimate dead tissue, and bring the deceased back to life, though the life is a monstrous, violent, animalistic one,

Their experiments put them at odds with the Dean of the school, Dean Halsey (Robert Sampson), and his daughter Megan (Barbara Crampton), who also happens to be Cain’s girlfriend, and the object of obsession of Dr Carl Hill (David Gale), who also is the subject of West’s ridicule due to his ideas about human brain death.

Very quickly, the body count rises, and the lives of all concerned begin to fall horribly apart…

There is so much that is perfect about this film. Gordon’s direction of the script is perfect, and every performance is nailed and every scene is exciting and moves the story along at quite a fast rate.

The cast is excellent. Combs’ West is the maddest of mad doctors, Abbott is the most flaccid of accomplices, Crampton is the most loveliest of female lead (and I must admit to having a massive crush in her even all these years later) and David Gale… well, David Gale is the best Vincent Price like villain that was ever not played by Vincent Price.

This edition reviewed is the Umbrella Entertainment version, under their ‘Beyond Genres’ label, which contains two version of the film on it. The first disc has the original 86 minute ‘uncut’ version, chock full of chunky violence and blood and gore. The other disc contains what is called the ‘Integral’ cut, which has all the gore, but also some extended scenes from various cuts of the film that exist, which adds almost 20 minutes to the films length: not all of which is necessary, but most of which creates more layers to the film, especially the ‘anti-love’ triangle that develops between the three main leads… it’s not a triangle, but instead one of obsession and ownership.

Umbrella’s edition of this film also has an epic Simon Sherry cover that looks incredible too, and even better as the animated menus on disc 2!

Like I said, this is my favourite horror film of all time, and whenever anyone asks me what horror film is my favourite, without fail I say this one, as I believe it’s a must watch.

Score: ****** (yep, six stars: not an error)

Format: Reanimator was reviewed on the region B Bluray from Umbrella Entertainment, and it’s is easily the best this film has ever looked. It is presented in a 1.77 image, with a 5.1 audio.

Score: ****

Extras: Heaps of extras on this 2 disc extravaganza!

Disc 1

There are two audio commentaries, one by director Stuart Gordon, and the other by producer Brian Yuzna, and stars Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Bruce Abbott and Robert Sampson. Both commentaries are interesting and engaging.

Re-animator Resurrectus is a retrospective documentary about the film, and is a pretty complete investigation of the film.

There is also a series of extended scenes, which are unnecessary but still work when put back into the ‘Integral” cut of the film, and a deleted scene, which I am not quite where it would have fit in the film, but was an interesting watch anyway.

Disc 2

On this disc there us a series if interviews with Gordon, Yuzna, Paoli, Music composer Richard Band and Fangoria editor Tony Timpone. These are interesting, but the stories start to repeat themselves over the course of the extras.

This disc also has a bunch of trailers and TV spots.

Score: *****

WISIA: Simply, I think it’s the best horror film ever made and I watch it regularly. Honestly I could probably perform the whole movie as a one man show.

Mystics in Bali (1981)

One from the rewatch pile…

Mystics in Bali (1981)

Film: When it comes to cinema, gems are hard to find, but now and again you’ll find yourself sitting in front of a film thinking to yourself ” why the Hell have I never seen this?”

Honestly, I had never even heard of this film, but one of the many movie magazines I buy did a blurb on it a few years ago, and I thought I should hunt it out, but other, seemingly more important releases always overshadowed it. This was a mistake, as I can’t even remember what some of those other films may have been. I should have immediately grabbed Mystics in Bali the very second I heard of it!

Mystics in Bali tells of curious tourist Cathy Kean (played by German tourist Ilona Agathe Bastian, who had no acting experience but did the film so she could stay in Bali longer) who wishes to learn the magical ways of the Leyak, an Indonesian black art. Her friend, and potential lover Mahendra (Yos Santo) takes her deep into the jungle to meet a cackling old Leyak witch (Sophia WD) who takes Cathy under her wing as an apprentice. She starts by learning a few spells but soon discovers that once you are under the thrall of a Leyak, it is difficult to get out. Maybe even impossible, even with the assistance of local shamen and mystics!

Mystics in Bali is one of those ‘kitchen sink’ films: you know, as in it has everything but! Witches (well, Leyaks), metamorphosis, floppy titted pig women, ancient mystical masters, flying vampire heads, people vomiting live mice, awkward romance and most incredulous of them all, a baby eaten right out of a pregnant woman’s… um… punani.

Now don’t tell me you didn’t want all that in one film.

The film does suffer from some poor dubbing, but considering the female lead was a German tourist and the rest of the cast are Indonesian, I guess one can overlook that.

The special effects aren’t so special, but are a treat to watch as there are some spectacularly bad animation effects, lightning from fingers and such, that look like hand drawn animation on the original film cels. The metamorphosis scenes do their very best to be American Werewolf in London, and fail, but are actually still quite off putting.

It is without a doubt one of the nuttiest and most entertaining films I have ever seen! If I am to recall how I felt after watching this, I would compare it to how I felt after watching Evil Dead for the first time, though this isn’t at all scary like Evil Dead was the first time I watched it. Although, I was about 13 then, so give me a break.

If you don’t have Mystics in Bali in your collection, it is an error you must immediately fix.

Score: ****1/2

Format: Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, Mystics in Bali has a clarity that is surprising for a film of this age and region. There are occasional film artefacts, and admittedly at some of the more ‘special’ effects heavy sequences it does go slightly foggy, but I don’t think that is a problem with the transfer, but instead the original source. Presented in stereo only, but it is crisp and clear, considering it is an English overdub recorded in a studio somewhere.

Score: ***

Extras: We start with a fairly poor quality trailer and then get some extras that would have been great… if they weren’t text and had instead been actual documentaries. They are Mystics in Bali and the Indonesian Exploitation Movie, which talks about Indonesian cinema, H. Tjut Djalil – Director Filmography, which is just that and How to Become a Leak (sic) which I am sure should have been spelt ‘Leyak’, which contains the rites to becoming a Leyak. Don’t try this at home.

Finally we have a trailer park for Mondo Macabro, which features Snake Sisters, The Blood Rose, The Bollywood Horror Collection, Snake Dancer, The Devil’s Sword, Lifespan, Don’t Deliver Us From Evil, Satan’s Blood, Virgins From Hell, For Your Height Only, French Sex Murders, The Deathless Devil, Living Doll, Satanico Pandemonim, Panic Beats, Clonus, The Killer Must Kill Again, The Mansion of Madness, Alucarda, The Diabolical Dr. Z, Aswang, The Living Corpse, Blood of the Virgins, Seven Women for Satan, Lady Terminator, Crazy Love, Mill of the Stone Women, Dangerous Seductress and Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay. Honestly the disappointing text extras are saved by these awesome trailers!

Score: ***

WISIA: Hell yeah! This film is a hoot and a holler!