Color, 1993, 68 mins. 52 secs.
Directed by Charles Pinon
Starring Annabelle Davies, Holly Adams, Rick Hall, Richard Kern, J├╝rgen Straub, Mark Adomaitis, Charles Pinon

Color, 1996, 53 mins. 38 secs.
Directed by Charles Pinon
Starring David Aaron Clark, Connell Little, Charles Pinion, Annabelle Davies, Alyssa Taylor Wendt
Saturn's Core Audio & Video (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD)

A name very much unlike his fellow Red Spirit Lakeshot-on-video horror practitioners from the Red Spirit Lake1990s, Charles Pinion attempted to inject his homegrown shockers with attitudes culled from rubbing shoulders with Cinema of Transgression underground filmmakers and his own tenure working for Al Goldstein at Screw magazine. Though far from the most prolific of his peers, he managed to turn a few heads with his DIY debut film Twisted Issues in 1988 and his two films from the 1990s, both now compiled on a stacked Blu-ray from the brave folks at Saturn's Core Audio & Video. The world may still not be ready.

In the undeniably attention-getting opener of 1993's Red Spirit Lake, a woman is sadistically interrogated by a debauched millionaire and TV personality named Diego Sardonia (Straub) and his cohorts including none other than Cinema of Transgression pioneer Richard Kern and bald creep Wesley (Hall). They're dead set on getting her to sell her property, Red Spirit Lake, a powerful site for witches. When an attempted spell casting results in murder, Diego's crew set their sights on the dead witch's niece, violinist Marilyn (Davies), who heads to the snow-covered property right after the funeral. Nearby the caretakers are an odd pair, consisting of Thomas (Adomaitis), who has an "X" branded on his forehead and got seriously scrambled after a Satanic ritual, and chatty Mathias (Pinion himself) who knows a Red Spirit Lakelot Red Spirit Lakeabout the spooky goings-on nearby. As it turns out, Marilyn is the latest in a long line of witches, and when some of her college student friends show up to enjoy the weekend as Diego and his minions close in, all hell breaks loose.

Loaded with nudity, insanity, and deliberate provocations (including a truly unforgettable, Caligula-inspired exit for Kern), Red Spirit Lake is also quite well made for a video-shot project of the era with lots of ambitious choices throughout. It's filled with arty touches mingling with outright sleaze, complete with half-naked undead witches prancing in the snow (take that, Rob Zombie), voyeuristic aerobics, a truly unique exhibitionist New Age death in a sauna, and a wild avant-garde soundtrack to boot. Not to be outdone, Pinion went even further out there with the borderline plotless We Await in 1996, an indescribable fever dream that starts off with a montage of televangelist footage watched by Pinion as part Red Spirit Lakeof a family of cannibals. Nearby a stalled car lands RK, a guy in the middle of nowhere, looking for help late at night while a sub guy gets his nether regions stretched and tortured with a blowtorch. Using a mystical stone, Pinion attacks the interlopers and sets Red Spirit Lakeoff a psychedelic nightmare involving the force feeding of "Uncle Jack's Nectar," a gloppy green concoction made from a hellish fungus. Also there's a guy who thinks he's a dog and crawls around on all fours, and it climaxes in a jaw-dropping sequence involving late porn impresario David Aaron Clark doing the craziest kaiju parody ever conceived. (Yes, even more than Jackass Forever.)

As with its release of Shatter Dead, the Saturn's Core Blu-ray features a rebuild of both features from the original first-generation camera tapes instead of using the dupier existing masters. In this case that's a major blessing as the quality is a massive leap up from the much dupier earlier version which were several generations further down. The presentation of Red Spirit Lake is also fully uncensored versus the earlier VHS from Something Weird under Frank Henenlotter's banner, which omitted two explicit shots of Pinion masturbating to completion during the aerobics scene. Obviously the DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono tracks are what they are based on the source, but they're good under the circumstances. Red Spirit LakeOptional English SDH subtitles are also provided, which can come in handy during some of the more mumbled lines of dialogue. The disc is advertised as featuring two new commentaries by Pinion with Mike Hunchback, though the disc sent for review Red Spirit Lakeduplicated the Red Spirit Lake one on We Await so that obviously can't be evaluated here! In any case, the one for Red Spirit Lake is very good as they go through the casting process, the whereabouts (or complete lack of knowledge thereof) regarding the actors, his unfamiliarity with video-shot features at the time, the rationale for deciding how graphic to go, the freezing shooting locations in upstate New York, and the process of restoring the film back to the quality he saw in the camera.

On the video side, Pinion contributes new video interviews: "Red Reason to Live” (15m10s) for Red Spirit Lake about his day job at the time, his self-described status as an "inchoate," his musical intersections with folks like Nick Zedd, and the reason he ended up shooting on video despite having grandiose ideas of working on 35mm; and "Psychic Powerful" (15m36s) for We Await covering the inspiration to shoot once he went to San Francisco, the origins as a much earlier script called Killbillies, the story behind assembling the soundtrack, and the impact of Clark's death (as well as his rather unorthodox stage work and taste in girlfriends). You also get short "Dissection of a Shot" (3m30s) and "Disembowelment of a Shot" Red Spirit Lake(4m54s) samples of raw footage from a scene in each film, a "Spirit Drive" (4m46s) short film version of the crazed finale from We Await, and a "Sprit Drive Document" (30m43s) making-of about said sequence. A 1988 Pinion 16mm plotless B&W monster short called "Madball" is a goofy little treat, followed by a much more recent (and far gorier) 2015 short called "Try Again" about repeated suicide attempts resulting in a big epiphany. Not for the faint of heart is a batch of We Await deleted scenes (18m39s) including a lot more genital abuse,and in what might be the coolest thing on the disc, you also get an "Ultra Rare Footage" section featuring some raw 16mm shots of 1988 42nd Street (46s), coverage of the Screw office bathroom (1m18s) that puts any other company's to shame, a "Mechanical Sterility" music video by Body of Christ (2m24s), and an entire live performance set by COTA (48m33s) that features the busiest dry ice machine you've ever seen. Finally the disc features trailers for both films and a bonus one for Twisted Issues, plus bonus trailers for Mail Order Murder: The Story of W.A.V.E. Productions, Duck! The Carbine High Massacre, Psycho Sisters, Sinistre, and Shatter Dead. The packaging also features an insert with a 28-page interview with Pinion by Hunchback touching on even more of his colorful life and career including his experiences in adult filmmaking and plenty more stories from the indie trenches.

Reviewed on March 6, 2022