Color, 1988, 93m.
Directed by Roberta Findlay
Starring Christine Moore, Gary Warner, Marina Taylor, Roy MacArthur
DIE SISTER, DIE!
Color, 1972, 84m.
Starring Jack Ging, Edith Atwater, Antoinette Bower, Kent Smith
Scorpion (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
A filmmaker unlike any other in the heyday of New York exploitation filmmaking, Roberta Findlay managed to work in various capacities both in front of and behind the camera as she hopped genres from roughies to '70s porno chic to gory horror. By the second half of the 1980s, she'd settled into a comfortable niche turning out dark (both literally and figuratively) studies in low budget Big Apple horror like The Oracle, Blood Sisters, and Prime Evil, with Lurkers stuck right in the middle.
Sort of a cheaper, more restrained take on The Sentinel, it's the spooky saga of Cathy (Moore), a classical musician still traumatized by a childhood involving a killer jump rope, her abusive mother's murder, and an apartment building filled with spectral inhabitants who converged around her bed at night. (The lurkers of the title, obviously.) Now an adult, she's involved with a guy named Bob (Warner), a fashion photographer whose models like to pop their tops at random. However, things start to unwind when Bob's business partner, Monica (Taylor), throws a swanky party at the same building where Cathy grew up and the same lethal combo of murder, spirits, and psychotic behavior rears its head again.
If you've seen any of Findlay's '80s horror films, the tone of this one shouldn't be much of a surprise. Veering between grungy street scenes to surprisingly surreal moments of nightmarish imagery and unexpected kink (especially in the last 20 minutes), it's a film that runs far more on style than any sort of traditional narrative. That said, it does all hold together if you go with the flow and don't get distracted by the uneven acting, a lot of which feels like it was quickly grabbed on the first take. It's not a "good" movie in the traditional sense by a long shot, but there's a compelling strangeness and commitment to the whole thing that helps in linger in the memory for quite a while after it's over.
Surprisingly, Lurkers has had a healthier home video life than virtually any other Findlay title following its nominal theatrical release from Crown International. Media issued it first on VHS where it haunted video stories for many years, and since it's popped up in various iterations including a standalone DVD from Rhino and inclusion in such box sets as Horrible Horrors Vol. 1, a BCI/Eclipse double bill with a heavily cut print of Horror High, and the 12-movie Cult Terror Collection, 32-movie(!) Drive-In Cult Classics, and 200(!!)-movie set of the same name from Mill Creek. However, the one thing all of these have in common is the fact that the transfers stunk. The Rhino versions were taken from the same master as the VHS release and looked the worst, while the rest still suffered from an impenetrably dark appearance and smudgy detail that rendered most of the final act completely incoherent.
The 2013 edition from Scorpion finally presents a version that's actually respectable (and intelligible), looking several generations better with much more detail and richer colors throughout. The upgrade makes the film far more enjoyable to sit through, particularly during some stylish flourishes that show Findlay experimenting with wild colorful lighting and more ambitious, in-depth compositions than usual.
Sharing space on the same disc is... well, you'd expect it to be Prime Evil, but nope, it's Die Sister, Die!, a cheapo thriller trotted around on the drive-in circuit way, way after its completion in 1972. Gorgon Video issued it with the fantastic poster art on VHS in one of their beloved big box editions, though the terror fest promised by the artwork confused horror fans who found themselves watching a suspense film with a slightly more macabre sensibility than usual. The sister of the title is Amanda (Atwater), a deeply disturbed middle-aged woman who's lately taken to suicide attempts for reasons only explained much, much later. Her brother Edward (Ging) brings in a new nurse fresh out of the slammer (Bower) to take care of her, but of course, it's all part of a plot to help sis succeed where her prior attempts failed. However, the plan is bound to take an unforeseen twist or two.
This one isn't a masterpiece either, but it is drenched in a strange atmosphere aided by some Corman-style nightmare sequences (lots of wacky lenses, severed limbs, and a runaway pet bird) and some fun Italian-style colorful lighting during moments of high tension. Perhaps the most surprising thing here is the presence of Val Lewton star Kent Smith (Cat People) as Amanda's doc; he was appearing in a slew of made-for-TV horror movies around that time, but it's still peculiar seeing him pop up at random for what amounts to a role stuck in solely to provide exposition. Speaking of the small screen, rumor has it this was originally supposed to be a made-for-TV project (which seems believable given the limited track record of director Randall Hood), but apparently the (still mild) violent content pushed it over to the big screen instead. Not a bad time killer if you keep your expectations in check and have plenty of popcorn handy.
Both films comes with isolated music tracks (which should be handy if you want to drive any family members insane), their original trailers, and bonus previews for is also included along with more arbitrary bonus previews than usual for Sorceress, Dogs, and Saint Jack. Furthermore, label hostess Katarina Leigh Waters pops up for wraparounds for Lurkers, first as her insane French twin sister Antoinette (in a genie outfit) and then back to her old self again to run through various trivia points about the feature itself.
Reviewed on November 27, 2013.