Color, 1989, 85 mins. 13 secs.
Directed by Kendal Flanagan & Ollie Martin
Starring Alan Dale, Christine Jeston, Craig Alexander, Des McKenna, Gavin Wood, Louise Siversen, Zlatko Kasumovic
Umbrella Entertainment (Blu-ray) (US, Australia R0 HD)

No other shot-on-video Houseboat HorrorAustralian slasher musical from 1989 can compare to Houseboat Horror, a ridiculous and Houseboat Horrortechnically inept late entry in the stalk-and-slash cycle that earned something of a cult reputation despite only going straight to VHS in its native country. Essentially the Down Under answer to films like Nail Gun Massacre and Boardinghouse, this is the kind of idiosyncratic goofiness that will have viewers either savoring every ridiculous second or fighting the urge to hurl their popcorn at the screen. The brainchild of '80s TV reporter Ollie Martin, the film also earned some notoriety thanks to the musical presence of singer Brian Mannix (head of '80s band Uncanny X-Men) and an unlikely role for Alan Dale, at the time popular for his leading role on the popular TV series. Neighbours. Frequently bootlegged over the years, the film was eventually given the closest thing possible to a restoration and released to U.S. and Australian Blu-ray by Umbrella Entertainment, ready to astonish a new generation.

While hitchhiking her way to meet her boyfriend at a campsite in the woods, a young woman catches a ride with a film crew heading out to the remote Lake Infinity for a music video shoot. After parting way, the hitchhiker ends up finding her boyfriend mutilated and near death, then gets chased through the woods by a blade-wielding maniac. Meanwhile at Lake Infinity, the crew and rock band join up for a raucous weekend of Houseboat Horrorpartying and music on the two houseboats they've chartered for both shooting and boarding. One Houseboat Horrorby one (or sometimes by twos) they're picked off by the ruthless killer known as Acid Head (Kasumovic), who seems to be connected to a strange woman (Siversen) prone to issuing odd warnings about the area.

Despite some generous dollops of stage blood, Houseboat Horror will confound anyone looking for a traditional horror film of any kind as it spends most of its time collecting an eccentric batch of performances that range from the hammy to the hypnotized. The plot itself is as cookie cutter as you can get, but the execution is definitely not as the film never really seems to settle on a protagonist or a coherent sequence of events that might build up any suspense. The '80s kitsch level is through the roof here with those ridiculous song performances and very late '80s fashions and hairstyles, while the SOV aesthetic has given it a bit of nostalgic charm that would pair it well with something like Blood Lake (which makes this look like a Michael Bay movie by comparison).

The Blu-ray edition of Houseboat Horror is a heavily loaded offering that puts most major studio releases to shame, which just goes to show how adorably insane the physical media landscape can be. The film opens with a note: "Previously thought to be lost, a master of Houseboat Horror was discovered in the personal archives of producer Ollie Martin in 2022, in the form of a Type C 1-inch videotape. Transferred from the tape source to digital, retimed from 25fps to 24fps, upscaled from 720x576 to 1920x1080 and finally Houseboat Horrorprocessed to create a high definition master with increased image detail, clarity and colour. All work Houseboat Horrorwas carried out by ROAR Digital in Melbourne, Australia." This still looks very much like a 1989 shot-on-video production with all the limitations that entails, but quality-wise it's definitely in the upper end of VHS-era horror indies upgraded to Blu. There's a bit of vertical squishing to the image that appears to be baked into the source, as there's a variety of different cameras and lenses at play here depending on the scene. What's really surprising is the DTS-HD MA English 2.0 stereo track, which features a very active and spacious sound mix with the music in particular sounding great. The optional English subtitles are very welcome given how much dialogue is either mumbled or drowned out by background noise, so prepare to switch it on at regular intervals. (For some reason the captioner keeps spelling the main location as "Lake Inifiniti!") A new audio commentary by comedian Tony Martin and film historian Jarret Gahan is also a lot better than you'd expect; in the past, seeing the word "comedian" on a commentary was a huge red flag, but in this case they both know their stuff very well and have tons of info to offer about the film's production, some other horror films developed in tandem that fell by the wayside, and trivia about all the cast and crew members.

A 30th Anniversary Monster Fest Q&A (34m13s) from 2019 features editor Clayton Jacobson, Mannix, actors Don Bridges, Stephen Whittaker, Craig Alexander, and Christopher Young, production member Warren Master, and Boyd Martin. The audio is tinny throughout, but they're in great spirits and fun to watch as they swap stories from the shoot. "You’ll Bar Up" (13m41s) is an interview with scene-stealing actor Gavin Wood about his entertainment career starting in local radio in 1973 and how he got involved in the arts scene that was connected to this film. "A Hell of a Lot of Grunting" (15m42s) features actor Zlatko Kasumovic about playing the Houseboat Horrorhomicidal Acid Head, going to film school in the '80s, having a shaved head that made him a distinctive choice, and working with Ollie Martin first on 1986's Killer Zombies. In "You Houseboat HorrorShould Be Getting Some of This on Film" (15m55s), actor Craig Alexander about doing this film early in his career and his less than enthused reaction to seeing the first cut, as well as his relief at thinking it never got released until he got a surprise during his divorce proceedings. "The First Girl" (8m57s) features actress Alisa Meadow chatting about her roles before this in films and TV commercials and shows, her small but memorable role as the ill-fated hitchhiker at the beginning, and the way her path crossed with Martin to make this film. Next is actor Don Bridges in "They Were Film People" (7m30s), here covering his days in Melbourne theater, his start in a children's TV show, and other gigs including a memorable one in Romper Stomper. In "You Don’t Have To Hate the Film People Forever" (8m13s), actress Louise Siversen recalls her eccentric role as Zelia, getting cast at the last second when Deborah-Lee Furness dropped out, and feeling odd playing a character far older than she actually was complete with ridiculous eyebrows. In "52 Pick Up" (10m42s), editor/second unit director Clayton Jacobson looks back at Martin's "American" style of pitching, their work together in horror, some projects that never quite made it in front of the camera, and the TV background that led to this film being shot mostly in wide shots that he insisted on breaking up later with pick-up close ups. In "A Fatal Vision" (8m30s), film critic and journalist Michael Helms looks at the very dire state of horror distribution in Australia at the time, with this one going forward around the same time as Mark Savage's Marauders and benefiting from Martin's showboat personality as well as the presence of Dale. The aforementioned Killer Zombies (20m3s) directed by Kasumovic stars Martin in a comedy horror bit of goofiness that starts off with a Socrates quote and charts the mayhem unleashed in Melbourne via ten errant cases of contaminated Russian chocolate. Finally the feature-length Jacko Presents The Mad Daredevils Downunder (86m6s) directed by Martin features our very enthusiastic host at an amusement park hobnobbing with Martin and going through a number of random physical feats around Australia, including a bit about Houseboat Horror. Also included are a brief presentation of the film as an "Undiscovered Masterpieces of the Cinema" segment (4m24s) with Martin from The Late Show, a remastering comparison, and a trailer, plus an insert booklet with an essay by Dan Budnik analyzing this film's peculiar place in the history of Aussie horror films.

Reviewed on May 19, 2024