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!

The House That Jack Built (2018)

One from the to watch pile…

The House That Jack Built (2018)

Film: It is a strange thing that sometimes, the viewing of a film makes you realise that you haven’t experienced a particular director’s work at all. Before starting the review on this film, The House That Jack Built, written and directed by Lars Von Trier, I looked at the directors filmography and discovered that even though I have both volumes of Nymphomaniac and Antichrist, I don’t remember actually watching them.

This is why this is called the To Watch Pile: too many movies, too little time.

Von Trier originally perceived this film as a television series, which it would have possibly suited considering it is played out episodic in a series of 5 ‘Incidents’ that take place over a 12 year period from the 70s to the 80s.

The House That Jack Built tells the story of architect, engineer and serial killer, Jack (Matt Dillon), and a discussion he is having with Verge (Bruno Ganz), a disembodied voice whose identity we eventually discover, but to share here would be to spoil the ending.

The two are looking over a series of incidents, in reality murders, that Jack has committed on various victims (played by Uma Thurman, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Sophie Gråbøl, Riley Keough and others) that Jack attempts to justify as psychological soothing acts which result in art. Jack and Verge explore Jack’s origins as well as his state of mind during the acts, and the highs and lows of the act of murder itself.

This is a quite fascinating look at the functions of a serial killers mind, and Von Trier has done his research. Von Trier doesn’t just reference psychology though, as Jack finds justifications for his ‘art’ everywhere, and his fractured thought process is shown through archival footage from hunts, World War 2 newsreels, cartoons… everywhere really, and it represents the state of mind perfectly.

One thing I can say is that even though its a discussion on serial killers, their acts and their origins, it certainly doesn’t mind showing you the acts of violence and the ensuing gore or the results of the violence, and even though it appears to be practical special effects, some of them aren’t necessarily great… but that also might be the point: it’s hard to tell whether Von Trier’s restrictions are deliberate, or an accident of budget or lighting. There is also a little bit of animal violence, both in the afore mentioned archival footage of hunting and special effects, so if that’s something that completely and utterly repulses you, this film definitely isn’t for you.

Von Trier’s camera style is unusual too. The whole film is told in this almost voyeuristic news camera-styled look that perpetually moves and keeps every scene, no matter how static, interesting.

The casting is fantastic too. It’s easy to forget just how good an actor Dillon is, and he both recounts his tale to Verge, and acts like a psychopath with such a lack of enthusiasm that is comes across as very real. The other cast are fantastic in their roles too, a highlight being Thurman playing quite possibly one of the most horrible human beings ever put to film, which in a movie about a serial killer is saying something, and is an interesting juxtaposition on character.

It’s a long film, but there is always something happening, and it is constantly saying something about the psychology of killers, and also how societal norms have changed the regular human being into a lamb, and there are very few tigers.

Score: ****

Format: This film was reviewed with the Australian Umbrella Entertainment release, which is apparently the complete and uncut version, which runs at about 2 hours and 32 minutes and is presented in a fines 2.35:1 image with a deep Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track.

Score: ****

Extras: Nothing.

Score: 0

WISIA: Whilst this film is both interesting and provocative, I am not sure if it does hold itself up to repeat watches.

Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape (2010)

One from the re-watch pile…

Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape (2010)

Film: As I sit here at the To Watch Pile Mansion, in my movie room, I look around and enjoy the fact that one wall is covered in blurays and DVDs, another has my vinyl soundtrack collection, the third is my TV screen and finally a big pile of books all about film, more specifically, horror, cult and sci-fi films. To say that I am a movie fan is a slight understatement: I simply LOVE cinema!

One thing that has always fascinated me was the Video Nasty scare in the UK. I first heard the term ‘video nasty’ as a kid when it was mentioned on an episode of The Young Ones, a hilarious 80s UK comedy series starring Ade Edmondson, Rick Mayall and Nigel Planer.

If you haven’t heard of this show, for me and my friends in high school, it was our Simpsons: funny and infinitely quotable. I don’t necessarily suggest everyone needs to see it as I’m not sure if a new, younger audience would appreciate it.

Anyway, this term fascinated me and I had read about it in everything from magazines like Fangoria, Samhain and Deep Red, but it didn’t seem to be something we experienced here in Australia as I worked in a video shop when I was about 15, and things like Evil Dead, and Lucio Fulci films were readily available to watch, perhaps cut in various ways, but still there to hire.

Anyway, to get the full deal on what the Video Nasty was about, I had to glean information from various sources, but now, this wonderful documentary exists, directed by Jake West, whose name you might know from films such as Doghouse and Evil Aliens.

West has managed to get so many interviews with both sides of the argument that you really get a complete picture of what was going on both socially and politically in the UK at the time, and whilst it does come from a director of horror’s hands, it’s surprisingly balanced, but even the least politically-motivated viewer will see that the hands of oppressive moral majority were heavy and unreasonable, bordering on WW2 book-burning and Frederick Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent’s almost destruction of the comics industry in the US.

In addition to the incredibly informative amount of experts giving their opinions and recounting their tales, we also have a bucketload of bloody clips taken from the films in question.

I can’t express how enjoyable and informative this documentary is. It completely recounts the whole period, and even has a sequel: Video Nasties: Draconian Days which looks inside the censorship board in the UK. Both are must-sees for horror movie fans.

Score: ****1/2

Format: This film was reviewed on the UK DVD, which runs for 72 minutes approximately. It is presented in a 1.78:1 image of varying degrees of quality (to express points the director has deliberately degraded the film at times to visually explain how repeatedly copies VHS eventually looked) and the sound is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, with similar eff ts performed on it to audibly explain VHS sound. It doesn’t, however, ever become unwatchable or inaudible.

Score: ****1/2

Extras: Extras… EXTRAS? How about two full discs of extras?!?

Disc 1: Video Ident-a-Thon is a selection of the video distribution companies of the time idents played at the beginning of every tape… and there is almost a FULL HOUR of them!

Bonus Gallery has a selection of VHS covers played as a slide show with a soundtrack.

Also available has trailers for other DVDs available from Nucleus films, including The Playgirls and the Vampire, Night of the Bloody Apes, Cannibal Girls, Teaserama, Varietease, Ghost Story, Grindhouse Trailer Classics 2, Bloodbath at the House of Death, Grindhouse Trailer Classics 1, Death Ship, Fausto 5.0, Gwendoline, The Ugliest Woman in the World, and Between Your Legs. That’s not to mention trailers for titles from Naughty Films such as Fantasm, Fantasm Comes Again, The Good Little Girls, Justine’s Hot Nights, Scandalous Photos, Dressage and Education Anglaise.

Disc 2: This disc has the trailers for 39 videos which became the actual Video Nasties. These trailers can be watched either with or without title cards, showing the release dates and other information, followed by introductions from Emily Booth, Kim Newman, Alan Jones (the UK one, not ‘ours’)and Stephen Thrower, all who were featured in the main documentary.

This disc also has another brief slideshow of the VHS covers of the 39 banned films, again with a score played over the top.

Disc 3: This disc is similar content to disc 2, but instead this has the 33 films that didn’t permanently achieve the Video Nasty status, or as they are called here ‘The Dropped 33’. This again has introductions from subjects from the documentary like Emily Booth, Dr. Patricia MacCormack, Alan Jones, Marc Morris, Allan Bryce, Xavier Mendik, Brad Stevens, Kim Newman and Stephen Thrower.

This disc also has a slideshow similar to disc 2,but of the Dropped 33.

Score: *****

WISIA: I’ve already watched it a 100 times and I’ll probably watch it a 100 more.

Reform School Girls (1986)

One from the re-watch pile…

Reform School Girls (1986)

Film: The Women In Prison (WIP) subgenre of exploitation films has been around for a long time, the first really of note being 1933’s Ladies They Talk About which starred Barbara Stanwick and Lillian Roth. The genre continued not just in films but also in the men’s pulp magazine like Argosy and even still continues to this day with stuff like 2009’s Sugar Boxx, though the post 60s films were slightly saucier than the ones previous to that decade.

Reform School Girls was a 1980s entry in the subgenre, written by Jack Cummins (co-writer of another WIP film The Concrete Jungle) and directed by Tom DiSimone who also directed The Concrete Jungle as well as other exploitation classics like Savage Streets and Hell Night.

Reform School Girls tells of the ‘fresh meat’ being delivered to a girl’s reform school for rehabilitation. Jenny (Linda Carol) decides to be a ‘protector’ of sorts to psychologically damaged Lisa (Sherri Stoner) and it’s something she desperately needs in this particular reform school as it’s run by the vicious warden Sutter (Sybil Danning), her fearful second-in-command Edna (Pat Ast) and a group of lecherous cruel guards.

Problem is though, the guards aren’t the only ingredients in this prison that are potentially deadly. The dorm bully is Charlie (Wendy O. Williams) who is constantly causing trouble for our heroes. Thankfully, there is relief in the form of the school psychologist Dr Norton (Charlotte McGinnis) but that doesn’t matter to Jenny, because she is slowly formulating a plan to escape…

From an exploitation point of view, this film has some epic exploitation pedigree, from the director’s previous output, the appearances from the They’re Playing With Fire and The Howling 2’s Sybil Danning, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning’s Tiffany Helm, Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Loves Darcy DeMoss, Heat’s Pat Ast and most importantly, The Plasmatic’s singer Wendy O. Williams.

Does that make it a good example of the genre though?

Well, no.

At it’s best, Reform School Girls is a parody of WIP films, and really doesn’t stretch itself beyond the generic tropes it’s type: naked shower scenes, delousing, food hall fights, initiations, fire hose torture etc, and it does all seem to be done quite tongue in cheek… especially when you consider the uniforms for Pridemore doesn’t include pants, and the bed clothing consists of everything from g-strings and bras, to aerobic fitness tights rejected from the Olivia Newton-John ‘Physical’ filmclip.

Unfortunately for the film, it’s so badly acted that it fails to execute the timing of any comedy it attempts, and any times it attempts to take itself seriously, it fails miserably. Also, for a ‘reform school’, there isn’t an inmate less than 25 years old!

When this came out, I am sure for a young man that the amount of female nudity would have been a great reason to watch it, but with the level of nudity available on the internet I’m sure it’s not so appealing now. It does, however, have an amazing soundtrack… mainly featuring Wendy O. Williams… which kicks arse.

Score: **

Format: This movie was reviewed on the Umbrella Entertainment DVD release, presented in a decent 1.77:1 image with a 2.0 Mono soundtrack that does the job well enough.

Score: ***

Extras: Not a sausage. Not even a disc menu.

Score: 0

WISIA: I saw thins when it was first released on VHS back in the 80s and this is the first time I’ve watched it since. The next time I watch it will probably be in two new formats time, for whatever the future of the internet looks like, but not before that.

Ratman (1988)

Ratman (1988)

Film: Sometimes, being a B movie fan is like trying to find your wife’s wedding ring after she dropped it in a septic tank: you must wade through a lot of shit to find a gem. Discovering that gem is a treat, but generally you’ll find yourself with a large handful of excrement. Unfortunately, Ratman is not a gem, but instead one of those piles of shit one more than often finds, and not just any piece of excrement either. No, Ratman is a steaming fresh pile of peanut-encrusted beer bog.

Spoiler alert: it’s that bad.

Ratman, also known in Italian as Quella Villa in Fondo al Parco (The Village by the Park? Something like that) was directed by Giuliano Carnimeo, who also directed The Case of the Bloody Iris, and is written by Dardarno Sacchetti who gave us Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond, City of the Living Dead and House by the Cemetery, along with many other classics of Italian horror. Honestly, I don’t know what either of them was thinking when they made this – and that goes for star David Warbeck as well. Surely times never got that lean!!

Set on a small island, Ratman starts with a professor proudly proclaiming that he should win the Nobel Prize for science after he creates a monster he calls ‘Mousey’ (played by tiny actor Nelson De La Rosa. Seriously, this guy is so small even Verne Troyer could pick on him), a rat/monkey hybrid. The problem with Mousey is that he has also developed poisonous teeth and claws, which will kill a man in no time at all.

Of course, Mousey escapes and starts a half pint reign of terror!

Mousey starts by killing a model, and her sister is called to the island to identify the body. Upon arrival she meets an author, and they soon become chums and visit the morgue together only to find the girl is not her sister, and that her sister has made a trip into the forest on another photo shoot, and the two choose to investigate… but what they find is a trail of death!!!!!

I really can’t stress enough what a piece of crap this film is, and its directorial and writing genealogy, with Sacchetti and Warbeck’s involvement specifically, makes it even more disappointing.

I know that as a B movie fan this is one of those ‘gems’ I am supposed to like, but I just found it to be crap, and barely watchable. Of what I have seen from Shameless so far, I have enjoyed this the least. Only purchase this if you really want a full set of Shameless’s collection. I will say though, that this film has the best tagline ever: “He’s the critter from the shitter”. Pure comedy.

Score: *

Format: In a decent act for such a film, Shameless have presented this in 16×9 anamorphic widescreen, but the image is terrible. Unfortunately, it is foggy and laden with film artefacts, but I guess that heightens the sleaziness of the proceedings, so perhaps that adds atmosphere? I didn’t feel that at all though. The audio is presented in English mono and the best I can say about it is that you can hear what people are saying. It performs the function that is required of it. To give Shameless credit though, they do apologise for the poor audio on David Warbeck’s character at times due to multiple audio sources.

Score: **

Extras: Nothing but trailer for Ratman and other Shameless titles here: The Frightened Woman, My Dear Killer, Baba Yaga, The Black Cat, The New York Ripper and Manhattan Baby. Shameless do offer multiple covers on this disc, which is something I always find to be quite cool, one of which is a funny but poorly executed Jaws piss-take. The other looks to be original video art, which is nice, but not at all relevant. then again, what video art ever was?

Score: **

WISIA: No. just no.

Return of the Living Dead (1985)

One from the re-watch pile…

Return of the Living Dead (1985)

Film: I have a very personal relationship with this film, The Return of the Living Dead, more so than with any other film: As a young teen, it was the first film I ever took a girl to… and that girl never spoke to me again, such is its power, and the course of young love.

The Return of the Living Dead was written and directed by Dan O’Bannon, the writer of Alien, based on a novel and story idea by John Russo with some amazing production design by the outstanding artist William Stout. Producer Tom Fox originally purchased the rights to Russo’s story, and when O’Bannon was hired to direct, he also decided to rewrite it less serious and a bit more fun, so as not to receive too much comparison to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, and the result is this spectacular film in the zombie genre. And let me tell you, there were running zombies well before 28 Days Later or Dawn of the Dead (03), and this film has them…in spades!!

The Return of the Living Dead tells of new worker at the U-Need-a Medical Supply Company, Freddy (Thom Mathews) who is learning his new job from superior Frank (James Karen). The big boss, Bert (Clu Gulager) leaves early for a long weekend, allowing Frank to run through a few final things with Freddy, but Frank reveals to Freddy the horrible secret kept in the basement: corpses, now in barrels, that had once been resurrected by a chemical spill, the same corpses that the film The Night of the Living Dead was based on!! Going downstairs to investigate, Freddy and Frank accidentally expose themselves to the toxic chemicals, and the chemical re-animates many of the dead things the company sell, including a corpse kept in a ‘cool room’.

Freddy and Frank panic and get Ernie to return to the warehouse to figure out to do with the screaming, hungry corpse in the cool room. They release it, and cut it into smaller pieces, so they can transport it across the street to a mortuary, run by Bert’s friend, Ernie (get it? Bert…and Ernie?), where they hope to cremate the dismembered corpse. They convince Ernie to do so, but what they don’t realise is, is that the smoke from the burning reanimated corpse seeds the clouds, and contaminated rain falls into the graveyard surrounding the mortuary.

Meantime, Freddy’s girlfriend Tina (Beverly Randolph) convinces his punk friends (including Jewel Shepard, Brian Peck, John Phillbin, Miguel Nunez Jr, Mark Venturini and Linnea Quigley) to go and pick Freddy up from work, and when the realize they are far too early to get Freddy, they decide to find somewhere to hang out, and the graveyard across the street seems to be the perfect place. Perfect, until the rain starts to fall….

This is one of those films where almost every set-piece strikes a memorable chord: Trash’s (Linnea Quigley’s) naked dance, the Tar Man (Allan Trautman), the naked, screaming yellow corpse getting its head sawn off…. Director Dan O’Bannon just provides hit after hit of stunning scenes. The entire production is run with a wry sense of humour, with even some obscure background elements joining in (there is a Coke machine in the background of the warehouse that has a sign on it that exclaims ‘Caution: Caustic Soda). The entire cast plays the story completely straight, which seems to make the movie even more bizarre and the comedy completely black. Now I am no real fan of the ‘horror comedy’ but The Return of the Living Dead is so subtle and clever in its presentation that it all plays perfectly. Heaps of gory, bloody fun!

Score: ****1/2

Format: This film was reviewed with the UK release bluray which is presented in an almost perfect 1.85:1 image and a great Dolby DTS 5.1 audio, with also the option for the original PCM Dual Mono 2.0, which also sounds fine.

Score: ****

Extras: There’s an EPIC bunch of extras on this disc.

More Brains! is an almost exhaustive documentary about the making of the film, told as a timeline of the creation, and with interviews with many members of the surviving cast and crew, and they don’t just find the main actors for these interviews! There are producers, casting directors, special effects people… its just a thorough look at the making of the film.

Then there is a bunch of extras from More Brains, including:

The Last Interview with Dan O’Bannon is just that, and he talks about his career, his work ethic and the making of the film.

They Won’t Stay Dead: A Look at Return Of The Living Dead Part 2 which is more interviews from the More Brains doco, but about the second film in the series.

Love Beyond the Grave: A Look at Return of the Living Dead Part III is again, more footage from the More Brains doco, but with a few extra interviews here and there.

These two extras above aren’t just fluff pieces either, Part 2’s goes for about 30 minutes and Part 3’s goes for about 20 minutes.

Stacy Q Live! ‘Tonight’ music video is exactly what the title suggests it is. Pop star Stacy Q, of Two of Hearts fame, sings her song from the movie.

There’s a bunch of deleted scenes that obviously didn’t need to be in the film but have some funny stories regardless.

Return of the Living Dead in 3 minutes has the cast do the whole film with snippets of dialogue from the cast from when the doco was filmed.

Resurrected Setting: The Filming Locations Today sees Beverly Randolph and Brian Peck have a look at the locations from the film, and what they look like today. This is pretty funny and has some amusing references to other horror films.

The Origins of Return of the Living Dead looks at the ideas behind the story of the film with an extensive interview with John Russo.

The FX of the Living Dead looks at the production design and special effects of the film.

Party Time: 45 Grave and the Sounds of Return of the Living Dead peeks at the music used in the film, focusing on the song ‘Partytime’ by 45 Grave.

There’s also a couple of trailers for the film.

Also, in this edition of the film, is a booklet about the film with words and pictures by Christian Sellars and Gary Smart, who wrote the book The Complete History of Return of the Living Dead.                                                                          

Score: *****

WISIA: How could one not rewatch such a great example of horror comedy, and a fine zombie film to boot.

Mausoleum (1982)

One from the to watch pile…

Mausoleum (1982)

Film: Everyone has a couple of ‘Holy Grail’ films in their ‘not seen and unsourced’ To Watch Pile and for me, this film, Mausoleum, has been in my top ten for many years.

In the 80s, I was an avid reader of the horror magazines: Fangoria, Slaughter House, Horrorfan, Famous Monsters, Fear… the list could go on, and to this day, still have most, if not every issue I ever bought of them. All of them, of course, reported on the making of this film but there was one particular article, and I am going to single out Slaughter House in this case (I think), that had this striking image of the film’s star Bobbie Bresee, an extraordinarily stunning blonde, who was in her mid to late thirties… much older than the majority of Hollywood starlets in other horror films! Something not seen very often in cinema!

Anyway this film sat on my list of must-sees but for some reason I never had a opportunity to actually see it, until last year, the wonderful people at Vinegar Syndrome brought it out on bluray, and now I sit, with a packet of Tim Tams and a can of Coke, finally able to see it. There was a DVD release previously, but for some reason, that never made it into my collection.

The film was made by a bunch of people who didn’t seem to work much in Hollywood after the film… or before it either, which I think is a shame as this film has some definite amazing moments, mixed with a dash of sleaze, but not enough to make it a sleaze-fest.

After her mother’s funeral, Susan Farrell (played as a youngster by Julie Christy Murray, and an adult by Bresee) runs away and finds herself at her family’s vault, where ‘something’ possesses her.

Many years later, Susan is happily married to the successful Oliver Farrell (Marjoe Gortner), living the life, and having fun, even though she has regular visits with her psychiatrist, Dr. Andrews (Norman Burton).

The thing is though, Susan doesn’t have psychological issues haunting her, she is possessed by a demon which due to a curse, takes control of the first-born daughter of every generation of the Nomed family… and yes, that is ‘demon’ backwards’.

Andrews enlists the help of a colleague, Dr. Logan (Sheri Mann) and between them they work out how to break the curse, but will the demon inside Susan allow them…

Basically, what we have here is a very standard possession film, with a sexy lead, some chunky gore, a touch of nudity, some terrible acting… yep: the very essential ingredients for an 80s horror film!

The special effects are done by John Carl Buechler, who weirdly isn’t listed as doing so an IMDB under the film as doing so, and are clearly his. There is an aesthetic to the design of the demon that is very reminiscent of Ghoulies, Cellar Dweller and other stuff he worked on. Actually, the little demon faces on the big demons boobs are certainly something to see!

A special shoutout must go to television veteran actor LaWanda Page. In this film she plays Else, the maid, and I can’t figure out if she is the comedy relief, if her performance is a throwback to her playing Aunt Esther in Sanford and Son or if it is totally deliberate, but every word out of her mouth drips with sarcasm or blaxploitation-styled dialogue. Whatever way, she’s a hoot!

So, was this film worth the wait? As an 80s horror kid I have shout a resounding ‘HELL YEAH’. This is one of those occasions where a everything about a film, including its faults, are the reason why I totally dig it.

 

Score: *****

Format: The reviewed copy of this disc was the Vinegar Syndrome multi-region Bluray, which was a new 4k restoration of the original 35mm negative. The image, presented in 1.85:1, is amazing, and the audio, even though its in mono, does the job just fine.

Score: ****

Extras: There’s a couple of extras on this disc, but the highlight is certainly Making Monsters: An Interview with John Carl Buechler, which unfortunately only lasts for under 10 minutes, and for a guy who had such a huge impact on SPFX in the 80s, it’s a shame this couldn’t have been longer.

There is a theatrical trailer and some TV spots.

There is also a promotional stills gallery which features a bunch of posters and lobby cards for the film.

This release also comes with a DVD version of the film.

Score: ***1/2

WISIA: It’s ridiculous, but I LOVE IT!!! I might watch it again right now!!!