DEATH BY LOVE
Color, 1991, 85m.
Starring Valerie Williams, Mark Dias, Pam Hong, John Tyler, Jan Stearman, Keith Lack
Color, 1990, 85m.
Directed by Alan Grant
Starring Alan Grant, Yvonne Aric, Erika Mills, Peggilee Wupperman, Tamara Betz, Brad Bishop, Donald Hendrix, Frank McGill
Intervision (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
DEATH BY LOVE
The ongoing archaeology of shot-on-video horror films that started in the 1980s has produced some really astonishing revivals in recent years, and Intervision comes along to smack you over the head with a real monster of a double feature that should make any SOV horror buff very, very happy indeed.
First up is Dream Stalker, in which we get to thrill to the opening motocross skills of Ricky Fries (Dias) before he takes his model girlfriend, Brittney (Williams, aka Diane Cardea), for a picnic and a bottle of wine out in the hills. Their idyllic romance continues with a candlelight dinner where he gives her a special present, a creepy silver harlequin doll in a music box ("a symbol of our love"), and blesses her with some hot jacuzzi lovin' before she jets off from San Francisco to New York with her mom. "Promise me we'll be together no matter what," he forces her to agree just before the trip, which you just know is going to bite her in the butt when she starts having nightmares about Ricky trying to mow her down with his dirt bike -- and in fact, Ricky dies in a terrible accident in real life. However, Brittney's nightmare is just beginning as Ricky, who apparently had quite the violent streak, keeps terrorizing her in her dreams, either pulling her into the earth or driving straight at her in a graveyard. Brittney decides to follow her mom's advice and see a doctor at a sleep clinic, but even that doesn't help when she's even traumatized by the sound of a leaf blower and sees Ricky speeding up and down the street. Before you know it that harlequin's shooting out electricity, Brittney's clomping around in big white fuzzy slippers, an undead skull-faced Ricky is having unsafe sex in her dreams, and he seems to want to kill her best friend, Sherrie (Hong), and new boyfriend Greg (Tyler). What's a poor model to do?
Though it falls just outside the range of the golden era of shot-on-video '80s horror, Dream Stalker still fits the aesthetic perfectly with muddy dialogue, arbitrary plotting, and baffling tangents like a kid's costume party, a computer whiz getting strung up by his tie, an outdoor "urban" dance routine and switchblade gang fight with juvenile delinquents, and enough dream fake-outs to make you completely lose track of what's real and what's imaginary by the time the opening credits start rolling at the 10-minute mark. It's also tons of fun with lots of gooey monster effects, a bloody machete murder, and plenty of colorful lighting and dry ice to solidify that DIY genre atmosphere. Besides, how can you resist any movie with an avenging zombie in a shiny motocross outfit?
Never released before on DVD, Death Stalker comes to digital in fine form from Intervision with all of its aesthetic goofiness intact. Flesh tones change from normal to green depending on the shot, the sound's a completely muffled mess with ambient noise usually smothering it on the soundtrack (you'll never be so glad for optional English subtitles), and the original low-rent look is presented about as vividly as possible.
Sharing space on the same disc is another '90s SOV wonder, Death by Love, lensed in Hurst, Texas and guaranteed to demolish a few dozen brain cells. While out jogging one morning, famous local sculptor Joel Falk (director Grant) hits it off with another fitness nut, Amy Sullivan (Aric), a reporter who did a story on him for her local news show. Cue the obligatory love montage of feeding ducks and playing miniature golf, and a surprisingly graphic love scene that would've landed this on cable if, you know, anyone ever had a chance to see it. Unfortunately Amy soon turns up dead with her throat cut, which might be tied to the creepy guy who's been driving around stalking the happy couple. Eleanor (Betz), Joel's business manager, provides his alibi and arranges for Joe to go out of town for an artists' retreat in the woods. However, a couple of comical cops (Bishop and Hendrix) also arrive to stake out Joel's activities, which might be tied to a serial killer, Edgar Peterson (McGill), who's been following Joel's whereabouts for the last five years. As it turns out, Edgar was a childhood acquaintance of Joel's who was "into some occult stuff, devil worship or something," who apparently now thinks Joel is the devil himself. Can Joel find a new girlfriend without putting her on the chopping block?
As much a softcore sex outing as a horror film, Death by Love is filled with sexy sculpting, sexy massaging, and sexy fireplace chatting, with Grant and all of his leading ladies showing no problems with doffing their clothes every few minutes. Fortunately it also has a few surprises up its sleeve including a pretty good twist about the murders before the halfway mark and a feisty climax that goes in a few directions you might not expect. Extra points for the cool closing credits sequence, which not only extends the story but features a special thanks to The Flame Steakhouse in Euless, Texas, not something you see every day.
If that doesn't sound like enough bang for your buck, how about some extras? In "Remembering Ricky" (21 mins.), Dias (who's aged unbelievably well) recalls making his debut in Night Force opposite Linda Blair, doing the horror movie Learning Curve, missing the original title of Dream Stalker (which was Kinetic Nightmare, in case you were wondering), loving his makeup zombie look, expressing discomfort with the "softcore porn" of the hot tub scene, and fondness for the project which he interprets in a couple of different ways. (For some reason the director's name keeps getting bleeped out, which is really curious.) In "Dirtbike Dreams" (11 mins.), Dream Stalker executive producer Tom Naygrow also covers Learning Curve and his segue into this film, which he mainly liked for the supernatural harlequin and thought would be a sure-fire success. He also mentions his cameo, one of the funniest (and bloodiest) moments in the film, and the big stunt snafu that happened right when a local news crew was covering the shoot. Death by Love is represented with a couple of featurettes conducted over Skype, the first a 9-minute interview with Grant about his arts background, the creation of the film's makeup effects, and his love of painting and sculpture that fueled the script. He also shares the story behind the film's score composed by "Elfheim," a kind of droning new age accompaniment that adds to the film's strangeness. Then Skype chats with Aric and Bishop are teamed up for a 10-minute reminiscence including everything from softball injuries to the role played by Aric's cat Dante for what sounds like an enjoyable small project for everyone involved.