OCTOBER 25, 2010
You know what's scary? Getting lost in the middle of nowhere. You know what's scarier than that? Being the target of a crazy serial killer. You know what's even scarier than that? Being attacked by a giant man-eating shark. What happens when you combine all three? Psycho Shark, a Japanese bait-and-switch offering (originally shown as Jaws in Japan!) in which we follow the mishaps of two dimwitted, bikini-clad girls, Mai and Miki (Nonami Takizawa and Airi Nakajima), when they hitch a ride on a pick-up truck to a tropical hotel where there reservations are nowhere to be found. Then a suspicious guy named Kenji picks them both up and escorts them to a remote area where... well, a lot of nothing happens, and then one of the girls is menaced by a briefly-seen shark fin, and then we find out the horrible truth that's already been glimpsed in a lot of meandering videotapes of the girls showing off their cleavage for the camera before suddenly turning into bloody messes on the beach. Even by Japanese straight-to-video standards this is ridiculous stuff, an excuse to ogle the two top-heavy actresses with a little bit of a thriller plot thrown in and some laughable CGI shark nonsense for the climax. None of it makes any sense, except maybe the filmmakers thought it would be great to remake Wolf Creek and toss a shark into the mix for no good reason. Cinema Epoch's anamorphic DVD looks fine considering this was shot on video and consists of long passages of "found" camcorder footage; the English subtitles do what they can with the ridiculous plot. Extras include a making-of featurette (which confirms that, indeed, this is primarily an excuse to show off the female leads' bodies) and a trailer.
People don't normally associate "art house" with women in prison films, but that's exactly the tactic taken with the unusual 2010 short film Condemned, a stylish and solid 14-minute mood piece shot on 16mm with a sharp eye for texture and detail. The premise is simple: in a 1950s prison, Female Convict #1031 (Margaret Anne Florence) is confined to a dark, lonely cell, spending her time with a dog eared copy of Return to Peyton Place. Then a new blonde inmate (Aprella) arrives who might define the course of her future. Sparse, retro, and haunting, the film is augmented with a striking Morricone-style score and a solid sense of mood; director Oren Shai (an NYU grad best known for the acclaimed short "Heavy Soul") is definitely one to watch and is working on his first feature, which should really be something else. Not everyone can pull off something that manages to simultaneously evoke Jack Hill, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Jess Franco, but somehow it all works. You can find out more about this short directly from the filmmaker through his website, which is worth a visit.
A little horror anthology that would make a fun DIY, Euro horror-influenced co-feature to Trick 'r' Treat is 2010's Tales of the Dead, in which a quintet of friends gets together for their ritual of telling spooky stories to each other-- while smoking a hookah. In classic Amicus style, we get to watch each one unfold in all its gory details: "Less Is More," in which a woman named May who's obsessed with becoming an amputee and finds an unusual doctor who might have a solution in mind; "Wolf Cry," about a young horror fan named Zack who finds his obsession with monsters severely affecting his everyday life; "Penance," a giallo-style thriller with a troubled cop roped into tangling with a serial killer for an evening of homicidal fun and games; and "Missing" has some kids investigating a supernatural curse in the city streets that's been claiming locals, all seen through the lens of their video camera. Finally the fifth story brings things full circle to the house in which the friends have gathered, leading to a creepy little payoff. A British homegrown feature shot in Northampton, this is basically four short films (complete with opening credits for each) strung together with a framing story, and as a calling card for director Kemal Yildirim as it shows promise and a real love for the horror genre. The second story is definitely the best of the bunch, a neat little monster tale that also stands just fine on its own. He shows a good feel for atmosphere, and despite the sometimes severe technical limitations of the lighting and sound recording equipment used, he manages to juggle the ambitious scope of the stories and multiple actors well. (Seriously, though, some of the dialogue here, especially in the framing story, is almost impossible to make out.) The DVD comes with a "Making of Penance" featurette and is anamorphically enhanced, though for some reason two of the three stories appear to be flat matted 1.85:1 videos squished down into some sort of faux scope appearance that doesn't really work. Luckily widescreen TVs have remotes handy so you can fix little snafus like this. Incidentally, the co-videographer for this one was Jason Impey, Yildirim's frequent collaborator who directed Tales of Terror and the infamous Sex Slave. The film is readily available on DVD, and you can find out about it and the director on his website.
Though not as easy to see, two of Yildirim's other films are also out there and, though not horror, display an ambitious and distinctive, creative point of view. Filmed hot on the heels of Tales of the Dead but in 35mm, the improvised, "realist" character study of Secrets takes its cues from the likes of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh (with a dash of Altman) and even screened at Cannes; there isn't really much a plot in the traditional sense as it follows six close friends who get together for a couple of days and gradually peel off the layers of emotional hangups and deception they've been hanging onto, sometimes for years. Yildirim also appears in the film as a woman-crazy guy whose attentions tend to inflict some wounds, but the real star here is Jack Marsden, a colorful actor (and Loach vet) with a string of British TV and film credits. Here he plays Lane, a successful businessman whose fixation on party girl Vania (newbie Helen Clifford), Tamer's best friend, is taking over his life. The acting isn't always completely smooth given the workshop-style nature of the project, but it's fun watching everyone walk this tightrope without a cinematic net. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer of the screener under review (a rough cut, but it seemed to flow well enough) is definitely a technical step up and should make a fine commercial release once it's done the festival rounds. As if he weren't prolific enough already for one year, there's also a crime saga making the rounds called Shades of a Killer(which even has its own Facebook page). Staged like a comic book with little scene transitions and occasional graphic interstitials, the action takes place among a covert assassination organization called the Whiteflower where Jaan, one of its operatives, is experiencing a crisis of conscience. The son of a hitman who died violently, he and his wife both want to start a fresh life, and when he isn't honing his skills with intense martial arts training, he's trying to navigate the increasingly dangerous shark-filled waters around him. Of course, this is also the framework for a string of blood action sequences, including a brisk nightclub shootout that forms the film's stylistic highlight. You've probably encountered most of these story elements before, but it moves along well and uses its British aspects to create a somewhat different, more ambiguous ambience than usual. Bonus points for Jimmy Cheng's imposing performance, which could have stepped out of Ninja Assassin.
On the short film front, one particular interesting new one is Ronny Carlson's Récompence, a black and white, dialogue-free freak out from Film Bizarro that kicks off with a bloodied, tattered young woman dragging herself out of the ground in the woods. She stumbles to a nearby cabin where a creepy white-shrouded figure in a kabuki mask sits playing with its entrails. She strips naked and starts to smear herself with blood... and the cycle starts again, as she climbs out and finds a mysterious crumpled photo on the ground. She meets the figure again in a field, and... well, it wouldn't be fair to give away more than that, but this is a stylish, creepy half hour mood piece mixing bleached-out photography, nudity, blood, and melancholy. If you like Jean Rollin and similar art house experiments in the delicately grotesque, this is definitely worth a look. Presented in anamorphic widescreen with no extras.
Another singular new indie director out there hitting the festivals is Kristian Day, an Illinois-born filmmaker/composer whose short films can't help but grab your attention. Some are completely non-narrative, Stan Brakhage-style montages like "Drawings by Billy and His Friends" (a wild, hand drawn piece that looks like a sixth grader's notebook run through a Nine Inch Nails video), the creepy "Bird Seed" (a beautiful young woman in a park has her idyll repeatedly interrupted by visions of being tortured by her doppelganger), "A Woman Who Writes" (which selectively blurs portions of the screen over images of a keyboard, rotting fruit, and a human either resting or decomposing in a bathtub), and "Cactua" (a manic bald guy in mascara with a bird on his head basically loses his mind for three minutes). You can find out more about his films and music/audio work at his official site.
Day and some of his colleagues also got together for a feature film, Fell, directed by Marcus Koch (the FX guy on Ghost Lake and Brain Robbers from Outer Space, definitely moving up here) with Day co-starring as a helpful buddy who gets to shave the head of our lead character, Bill (Home Sick's Jeff Dylan Graham), a guy who's taking his recent split with his girlfriend really, really hard. In fact, the film opens with him coming to after a prescription drug bender with a dead body in his bathtub. As he slides into insanity and his friend tries to coax him into getting rid of the corpse, he realizes he'll also have to deal with his ex (played by co-writer Katie Walters) in a very unpredictable way. More of a harrowing character study than a straight-up thriller or horror film, this film blends avant garde techniques, mundane apartment settings, and splashes of creative storytelling into an unpredictable brew that's never quite clear where it's going but worth the trip all the same. Graham really has to carry the film here and goes through hell and back (not to mention a string of increasingly bizarre, botched haircuts), and this is definitely one he should be proud of.
A title that had some members of GLAAD spitting blood the moment it was announced, Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives delivers exactly what you'd expect: lots of cross dressers, and lots of knives. Director Israel Luna is mainly known among the TLA crowd for little indies like R U Invited?, and this is his first leap into full-on camp territory with a definite John Waters-inspired sensibility. The story follows a group of flashy drag queens of wildly divergent body types (Bubbles, Pinky, Tipper, Rachel, and Emma) who work at a nightclub. One night they're all jumped by a bunch of backwoods jackasses (one of whom had raped Bubbles) and severely beaten with a body count of two, but rather than taking it lying down, they take a tip from Pam Grier movies and decide to fight back with everything they've got. In this case, that means blades ranging from a butterfly knife to a badass, two-foot warrior blade. It's hard to imagine how anyone could really be offended by this, though people who have mixed feelings about the sight of blood spattering on breasts will get really confused when it happens to a bunch of chesty she-males. The HD video feature looks plenty colorful and vivid on the screener provided, though it didn't contain any of the special features slated for the official release (bloopers, a cut scene, a commentary, and two featurettes). Keep an eye out if you want to see a wild, old school rape/revenge movie with a very different twist.
On paper, 1980's Sweet William sounds like a "randy lad" British sex comedy, but in execution it turns out to be something else entirely. Ann (An American Werewolf in London's Jenny Agutter) doesn't see much in her romantic future after her boyfriend takes off for the States, but at a school recital, she strikes up a conversation with William (Sam Waterston), a Scottish(?!) playwright who promptly gets her into bed, knocks her up, and doesn't seem too concerned about living up to his responsibilities. Even worse, he's been married twice -- and is still having marital relations with his current wife (Frenzy's Anna Massey). Oh, and by all indications he's a complete slut who has sex with anything that moves, including Ann's cousin and her neighbor. The packaging pegs this as a "romantic comedy," which is a bit considering it's more of a bittersweet, realistic drama, sort of a more female-oriented version of earlier British slice-of-life films from Lindsay Anderson and Karel Reisz. As always, Agutter's as cute as a box of kittens and easily carries the film; Waterston barely tries to muster up a Scottish accent but does well enough with his character, though it's strange seeing the Law & Order vet playing such a cad. This film didn't arouse much attention from critics and audiences in the early '80s (and Bill Forsyth pretty much beat it at its own game a couple of years later), but the VHS of it from Prism became a mainstay for years anyway. Seen now, it's actually unsettling how William doesn't seem all that bad compared to the degrading holocausts at the center of relationship porn shows like The Bachelor; at least he can string two coherent sentences together and pay attention to a person for more than five minutes. Scorpion's DVD isn't one of their more attractive transfers; this appears to be taken from a somewhat worn, drab-looking print lying around in the Cinerama vaults, but it's still a few notches above the VHS in quality and is presented in anamorphic widescreen. The only extra is the theatrical trailer.
Another equally unclassifiable Scorpion release, Fools, came out exactly one decade earlier and never even earned a VHS release at all. If anything, it's remembered today mainly for its far more noteworthy vinyl soundtrack, which features some enjoyable light pop including a theme song by Kenny Rogers and the Fifth Edition before he went on to country music and really strange plastic surgery. It also inspired one of Roger Ebert's funniest negative reviews, which is worth reading in its entirety. As with most obscure counterculture romances, this film has gotten a lot more interesting with age even if it's still a complete mess with a peculiar mean streak. Sort of like a really self-indulgent student film that happened to rope in two Hollywood actors, it takes place in San Francisco (of course) where young Anais (a pre-Stepford Wives Katharine Ross) is trying to wriggle out of an uncomfortable marriage to her unstable lawyer husband, who also happens to be a hateful closet case (years before that became a regular political trend). In the park she falls in love with much older, idealistic horror actor Matthew (Jason Robards, pre-Oscar and lots of great movies), with whom she indulges in endless romantic montages. Since their love is naturally too good for this world, they're subjected to lots of abuse from a society where Charles Manson has apparently broken the spell of the peace movement. Weird, tacky, preachy, and misguided, this quickly killed off the theatrical directing career of Tom Gries (100 Rifles, Will Penny), who immediately retreated to TV with the more memorable Earth II and Helter Skelter. Plus the violent, nihilistic ending has to be seen to be believed. For its first release on any home video format, the DVD does a surprisingly good job with a fresh HD transfer; apart from some fleeting minor damage in a few spots, it looks impressive with excellent color and detail and is presented in anamorphic widescreen at 1.78:1. Again, no extras apart from the really soppy original trailer which looks an awful lot like a '70s shampoo commercial.
We haven't had a heavy metal horror movie in a very, very long time, but leave it to Troma to belatedly toss their hat in that ring. The result, 2009's Heavy Mental. Like its predecessors, this is mainly a revenge story, but unlike them, it features a crazy guy running around with a chicken head. The story follows the strange journey of Ace Spades (Josh Hooper), a young rocker in a Detroit garage band who gets his mitts on a guitar that belonged to legendary hair metal rocker Eddie Lee Stryker, whose spirit still possesses the mighty instrument. As it turns out, Eddie was murdered by a crime syndicate headed by Ms. Delicious (Brenna Roth), and now his spirit inside the guitar wants revenge... which can only be accomplished by possessing Ace and turning him into a metal-encrusted, big-haired metal demon of vengeance. At least half the film is nonsensical filler with lots of grotesqueries and gore (not to mention the obligatory Lloyd Kaufman appearance which might have been shoehorned in later since they only acquired this movie after the fact), but hey, it's a Troma movie. This one's made even more cheaply than usual (if that were even possible); the full frame photography appears to be completely handheld and never finds anything resembling an actual visual composition. However, the DVD's clear enough to make everything out, be it two women joined at the skull being violent separated or the grisly fate of a hot dog-eating contest winner. Extras include a commentary with director Mark C. Hartman, a making-of featurette, and a trailer. Definitely good, head-banging fun if the whole off-the-cuff Troma approach is up your alley.
Already beloved for their venerable 42nd Street Forever series of party trailer collections, Synapse turns its attentions far eastward with their dizzying 90-minute ode to all things perverse in the 25-title Nikkatsu Roman Porno Trailer Collection. No, as most of you know, these aren't really porno in the traditional sense; back in the early '70s, Japanese studio Nikkatsu began making a killing with adult-oriented films depicting wild, extreme situations that would have gone over huge in American drive-ins if anyone had been willing to put up with subtitles. Depraved nurses, coeds, housewives, prison inmates, a fat bulldog with a flashlight on its head, and even gymnastics teachers are the stars here, and while censorship guidelines meant that no pubic hair could be shown (not to mention graphic sex), the directors got around that through the most ridiculous means possible by escalating the surrealism and enthusiasm of the actors. This disc basically serves as a primer for the company's upcoming line of titles (Female Teacher: Dirty Afternoon and Debauchery are the first on the slate), but this collection will make you want 'em all at once. Jasper Sharp also contributes liner notes explaining the whole "roman porno" cycle from start to finish with all its peculiarities, and as a bonus you get a half-hour short, "Ryoko's Lesbian Flight" (which is... well, exactly what you think it is). Here are a few sample titles to get you in the mood: Painfull Bliss! Surprise Twist, Sex Fiend, She Cat, The Lovers Are Wet, Zoom Up: Beaver Book Girl, Coed Report: Yoko's White Breasts, Nymph Diver; G-String Festival, Pearl Divers: Tight Shellfish, and best of all, Nurses' Dormitory: Assy Fingers. I would actually pay $100 just to see that last one on the shelves at Wal-Mart.
"Who will log on, and what will be left of them?" could be the tagline for Death Tube, a 2010 horror outing that basically smushes together Japan's now familiar use of technology as a tool for chaotic menace and the gorier "trap 'em and kill 'em" tactics found in Saw. The film opens with a young bespectacled man watching a YouTube-style website at home in which a complete stranger is murdered in a stark, windowless room, only to find himself trapped in the same location soon after -- while broadcast to some fellow viewers, all on webcams in similar rooms. There's a cryptic Rubik's Cube sitting on a desk that he must solve, and when his fellow prisoners don't meet the challenges of an unseen assailant, a sinister teddy bear image appears onscreen followed something nasty, like a big power drill to the cranium. Soon each prop becomes a tool for the survivors to piece together the diabolical puzzle, but not all of them will see it through to the end. Cinematographer-turned-director Yôhei Fukuda keeps the screen busy with lots of buzzing activity (including the Death Tube videos themselves, which are staggered with lots of busy rolling, ad-style text), and while the premise isn't a whole lot more advanced than the "Sick Room" story from Cradle of Fear many years ago, the distinctive cultural touches here make it worth a look: the sinister "cute" animated teddy bear with a little French mustache (whose real-life counterparts are just as deranged), one unlucky participant whipping on a rising sun headband while preparing for battle, and hilariously sick death scenes like a big wrecking ball that swoops out of nowhere onto one poor sap's noggin. On the downside, it's way, way too long at 117 minutes; about half an hour of narrative pruning would have really helped. Shot on video, Death Tube looks quite decent on Cinema Epoch's DVD given that it was all shot in one drably-lit location and probably cost about ten bucks to film. The optional yellow English subtitles are easy to read and grammatically correct, albeit sometimes strangely worded ("Conversely, if you lose, you must die!"). Extras include trailers for this film and additional Japanese horror titles (Demeking, Slaughter Island, Killer Car, The Roommate, Scream Girls) and a still gallery.
Thankfully the same country remains committed to its cinematic traditions, e.g., big monsters blowing up cities, and one of the most hilarious, cut rate examples of this can be found in 2009's Demeking the Sea Monster. The basic premise is actually promising: a businessman (Takashi Nadagi) is offered a high-powered job but turns it down so he can sweep up at a park because, back in 1970, he found a message in a bottle foretelling the destruction of the world by an interstellar beast known as Demeking. Armed with the name of the kid who can stop this menace, he scopes the park and winds up making contact with the youth, who has domestic issues of his own. Unfortunately this is all executed in the flattest, most tedious manner possible... until the one-hour mark, when you get to see a giant cosmic snail attack Tokyo Bay and blow planes out of the sky with its radioactive breath. This insane piece of business is pretty much worth a Netflix rental alone, but alas, it all turns out to be a premonition, and the rest of the movie limps along to a vaguely spacey finale. Still, one eye-grabbing scene is more than most movies can boast. Cinema Epoch's artwork is very coy about the nature of the beast inside, but its anamorphic transfer looks just fine with optional English subtitles and minimal extras (some trailers and a gallery). Keep some salt handy.
While Japan has been one of the biggest trash movie players in the world for over a decade now, one country giving it a strong run for its money the past few years has been Thailand. For example, Meat Grinder is a very bloody 2009 offering from Tiwa Moeithaisong, who also brought you The Sisters and Ghost Delivery. Buss, the owner of a dumpling and noodle shop trying to make ends meet, decides to make the most of a dead cadaver she finds after a violent riot and discovers it's a pretty cheap, handy way to keep business going. Already psychologically unhinged due to relentless abuse from her mother as a child, she finds her grip on reality slipping as young people who discover her secret wind up on the wrong end of knives, nails, and meat tenderizers. Surprisingly, the film manages to maintain sympathy for all of its characters, and while the basic setup might remind some of the much more famous Dumplings, this is really a different animal with a few different tricks up its sleeve. The last half hour is a real gorehounds delight, ramping up the carnage on a scale to rival Wrong Turn 2 (which, if you've seen it, is really saying something). Mai Charoenpura carries most of the film in the lead role, but even the child actors do well (a Thai specialty, apparently) and the effects are never less than convincing. 4Digital's UK disc contains an anamorphic transfer that does the best it can with a very dark, moody-looking film, with English subtitles and the original Thai trailer.
For an amusing and sometimes wildly entertaining four-film collection, look no further than Secret Key's Scrambled Sex: Erotic Cinema of Early '80s Cable. The term "Skinemax" has been with us ever since the early Reagan years for a good reason; while most channels like HBO were trying to go as mainstream as possible, Max offered its viewers a steady late night diet of oddball sexy fare from around the globe, particularly as part of its beloved "Friday After Dark" lineup. Here you could sample such now-forgotten treasures as Island of 1000 Delights, Black Venus, Perfect Timing, Getting It On... well, you get the idea. This particular two-disc set kicks off with one of the most enduring and popular titles from this cycle, Honey, a nifty little 1981 Italian sex fantasy best remembered for a sequence in which heroine Clio Goldsmith gets bathed and pampered by her busty landlady (played by Hanna D.'s Donatella Damiani). The whole film is framed by a device in which a pretty author (The Cat o' Nine Tails' Catherine Spaak) forces a publisher (Bunuel regular Fernando Rey) to read her newest manuscript -- at gunpoint. The bulk of the film is the book, of course, which follows the picaresque adventures of Anny (Goldsmith) at an unusual pensione where the clientele indulge in peculiar, sexy activities without actually seeming to do the deed itself. For example, there's an oily guy in a diaper (a sinewy Luc Merenda) who spends all his time stretching and meditating in his room, not to mention the harsh dominatrix (Susan Scott) with a schoolteacher obsession. Of course, the whole things to a sweet little twist ending that sends the viewer off on a high note. Director Gianfranco Angelucci isn't anything special in the style department, but he'd obviously been studying his Tinto Brass and Luis Bunuel enough to invest the film with plenty of nice little surrealistic flourishes and a fascinating Eurocult cast. Plus, you've got an infectious score by Riz Ortolani to keep things percolating along with plenty of flesh on display. A letterboxed (1.85:1) but very blurry VHS tape of this came out in the UK in the '80s, but most viewers only caught this on cable or Vestron's really awful tape edition. The English language DVD is presented full frame (except for letterboxed opening and closing credits) and betrays its tape origins with some noise at the very bottom of the frame; still, it's a fun movie under any circumstances and a remastered upgrade down the road would be very welcome. Its co-feature on the first disc is the far less familiar Loves of Lady Chatterley, an Italian softcore film of very vague origins indeed. Its IMDB listing is completely erroneous in its cast and character names apart from the lead actress, and the listed year of 1989 is questionable as well. (Either way, it stretches the DVD's definition of "early '80s" pretty far.) Busty but not very talented brunette softcore starlet Malù stars in this very, very loose adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence classic, here relocated to provincial Italy during some undefined time period. Here she's Joelle, the glamorous wife of a businessman (Antony Seffen) who walks around with a cane. She's thrown for a loop when he hires a new groundsman, Charles (Beyond the Darkness' Kieran Canter, credited here as "Mack Kiran" around the same time he was doing porn with Cicciolina), who happens to be her ex-lover. "The idea of seeing you again is... like... heaven," she whispers to herself waiting for his return, and at first she spurns his advances. Charles releases his tensions on the nearby maid (whom he dresses up in his mistress' nightgown), but soon they're up to their usual shenanigans including a strange scene where they lick and rub against each other against opposite sides of a glass door. How long can they keep it up before hubby finds out, and what will happen when a couple of local yokels try to attack Joelle in the middle of the road? Typical cable fare, this film is basically an excuse to parade its lead actress around topless as much as possible with a few nods to Lawrence along the way, and not surprisingly, the ending is more downbeat than expected with a hefty dose of Catholic guilt thrown in for good measure. The full frame master here looks fine, and the ridiculously Americanized dubbing seems to suit the trashy Muzak score just fine. Disc two begins with an '80s-era master of the dull German T&A comedy Sorry Wrong Bedroom, already available from BCI as a double feature with Lonely Wives (covered here). Skip that one and head straight for film number four, Moonlighting Mistress, a 1970 curio previously available from Something Weird. Imagine a Bavarian sex comedy in which someone swapped out the script for a nasty noir thriller, and that might give you some idea of how this one plays out. The narrative is your basic chestnut about scheming husband Jan (Harald Leipnitz) plotting with his mistress (Veronique Vendell) to bump off his wealthy and buxom wife Angela (Ruth-Maria Kubitschek), but all is not as it seems -- by a long shot. This movie is completely nuts, lodged somewhere between an Edgar Wallace movie, a Mario Bava thriller, and Swinging Barmaids. The last ten minutes are especially depraved, with a succession of kinky twists that could've easily inspired Pedro Almodovar's Matador. This is the only letterboxed (1.85:1) title out of the batch, though not anamorphic widescreen; it still looks okay though zoomed in on an HD set, and the vintage English dubbing is loads of fun. Don't miss. The set comes packaged with liner notes by Media Funhouse's Ed Grant, who goes into detail about the lengths underage boys would go to in order to spy some bare boobies through scrambled cable signals.
By now it's a given that almost every no-budget science fiction/horror hybrid is going to be heavily indebted to Alien, but 2010's Aussie outing The Dark Lurking (lurking what, exactly?) takes things to a whole new level by swiping elements from virtually every notable Alien descendant. Resident Evil, Event Horizon, Doom, Pitch Black... yep, they're all here, even the earlier ones like Galaxy of Terror and Forbidden World. The action takes place at a subterranean research facility where all hell breaks loose when one of their experiments causes all contact with the outside world to shut down, and rampaging, gooey, humanoid monsters are on the loose. Even worse, the evil has infiltrated one of the survivors, triggering lots of paranoia, gunfire, and gallons of spraying blood. Turns out it all ties in with an insidious Nazi plot to... well, you'll just have to watch and find out, but it's not a huge shocker. Most of Ridley Scott's early visual tics are duplicated here (smoke, flashing lights, arty corridors, sweaty close ups, etc.), but the fact that the film was apparently shot on HD video and then matted for a fake scope appearance makes it more claustrophobic than it should be. That said, the action sequences are pulled off with plenty of panache, and the avalanche of gore and monster FX makes it a solid diversion if you don't think about the fact that you've seen it all before. Extras include the trailer, director Gregory Connors' award-winning "Netherworld" short from 2005, a behind the scenes featurette, and a still gallery. Worth a rental on a slow evening if you want a monster/sci-fi fix.
The tender story of a boy reconnecting with his long-lost pet Collie, Diary of a Sex Offender is... no, wait, that's not what it's about at all. Peter Grosue stars as Michael, a bearded loser with a self-invented religious complex trying to exorcise his demons through oil painting and keeping a journal obsessed with numeric coding. However, he spends most of his time abducting and tormenting naked young women, starting with a pigtailed girl whom he ties to a bed and smacks on the butt with an artist's palette. He also has hallucinatory visions and forces women to perform strange solo acts with sex toys, not to mention the occasional (offscreen) knife murder. He also keeps seeing a mysterious figure in a black hood watching him which will figure heavily in his ultimate fate. Cheap and slimy, this 2010 sickie from 42nd Street Media is basically a DIY-era version of Don't Go in the House with a few film school gimmicks tossed in to confuse the censors; even so, if someone ever tried to release this puppy in the UK, it would probably end up being ten minutes long by the time it reached the public (given that the whole feature's only 67 minutes long). The anamorphic (1.78:1) transfer here looks fine given the threadbare nature of the production, with a serviceable stereo track. The only extra is trailers for the label's other titles like Blood & Sex Nightmare, ROT: Reunion of Terror, Shock Festival, Stash, and Women's Prison Massacre.
A film that makes beloved Super 8 horror king Nathan Schiff look like Stanley Kubrick, Dead Eyes Open belongs to the long-running history of backyard German gore films from the likes of Jörg Buttgereit and Olaf Ittenbach. Unfortunately this Super 8 offering from 2009 isn't fit to lick the shoes of those directors, much less the zombie classics it emulates. Seriously, most '60s home movies are far better shot than this, and even in German with subtitles, the acting is migraine-inducing. At least it's short. The "story" is your typical nonsense about some young dolts who go out in the countryside, only to encounter a zombie uprising that puts them in the middle of a war between the (very tiny) armies of the undead and the violent local yokels who tend to kill anything on sight. That's about it, really, and while you do get some plentiful gore (including a splattery finale with a severed head drenching the camera in Kool-Aid) and a throwaway cameo by George Romero obviously grabbed on the sly, the entertainment value here isn't enough to justify the visual torture of trying to wade through it. Troma's put out some pretty fun films over the past year (see Heavy Mental above, for example), but this ain't one of 'em. Extras include a making-of, the trailer, a slideshow, and the usual barrage of "Tromatic" extras. Transfer quality is about what you'd expect given that the film looks like it's being projected on a strip of toilet paper.
Previously available under its original title in Pendulum's patience-testing Tomb of Terrors 50-film budget set, Lesbian Vampires is a Chemical Burn DVD retitling of 2003's Barely Legal Lesbian Vampires: The Curse of Ed Wood! The packaging offers a more coherent plot synopsis than what's found in the film, but for the record, it's apparently about sapphic vampire queen Carmilla, who lures an innocent girl named Lilith into her coven of the girl-on-girl undead. What that really means is you get a string of softcore scenes of goth chicks (all of whom passed "legal" several years ago) with fake fangs taking off their clothes, showering together, and occasionally getting splashed with stage blood. For some reason when it all seems to be winding down, you also get a guy named Mr. Creepo stumbling around in a graveyard trying to summon the spirit of filmmaker Ed Wood. It's pure garbage, yes, but if you want to see a bunch of goofy club kids taking off their clothes for a glorified home movie, this might pass the time. For some reason the DVD is presented with the original full frame camcorder stretched out to 16x9 widescreen, which has the unfortunate effect of making even the skinniest girls suddenly look like Kathy Najimy. Bonus selling point: featuring "rock and goth music by Shove It and the Serpentines."
Remember the stories about how H.G. Lewis and Doris Wishman got their start doing vapid nudie cuties like Boin-n-n-g! in which bumbling morons try to get a peek at naked girls by doing their own skin flicks? Well, that spirit revives again with Secret Key's B&W goofball opus, Two Big Boobs, presented under the banner of Camp Motion Pictures. The two boobs with big mustaches here are played by "John Mandara" and "Milon Castle" (though one of 'em looks suspiciously like porn actor Tommy Pistol of Re-Penetrator fame), spend an hour shooting topless women and getting into very cost-conscious mishaps. It's padded out with huge, huge swathes of clips from '50s loops, so much so that you might just want to skip right to the bonus features section where you can see all 15 loops in their entirety. Titles include "Costume Party," "Adelle," "African Frenzy," and the infamous "Apple Knockers and Coke," which was passed off for years as a Marilyn Monroe stag film even though it really isn't.
It seems like every other title in After Hours' catalog by this point is a collection of loops or stag films, and now you can add another one to the pile with Sleazy 70s Stags: 8mm Loop Collection, a three-hour collection of busty solo loops highlighted by an appearance from one of the era's queen bees, Uschi Digard. Each loop is identified only by the star's first name ("Jaki," "Margrit," "Edna," etc.) and basically consists of lots of wiggling, jiggling, and gyrating. It's pretty much impossible to evaluate it past that point except to say it has 21 shorts, also features pretty tame appearances from Rene Bond and Candy Samples, and, as you'd expect for ancient 8mm material, tends to look pretty faded and rough. The dual-layered disc comes with no liner notes or supplements apart from an additional batch of sexploitation trailers from the company's back catalog.
On the other hand, After Hours' usual host, 42nd Street Pete, does make an appearance ringleading their three-hour Busty Bombshells of the Atomic Age disc, presented under the Secret Key label. Considerably more chaste than the '70s set above, this one's a bevy of black and white beauties bearing their bodies in a blitzkrieg of bountiful bazongas. (How's that for alliteration?) You get 50 shorts here, along with a booklet containing notes about the more identifiable women: Virginia Bell, Elaine Jones, Lindy Randolf, Bunni Bacon, Karen Klaus, Lynn Carter, Toni Lee, Joan Brakeman, Gina Graham, Glenda Graham... and on and on, plus a plug for Pete's two "Grindhouse Girls" he met at the Summer of Sleaze. Titles include such winners as "Naughty Nancy," "Canyon Capers," "Safari Jane," "Bumpy Baby," "Too Hot to Handle," and "Hosing Around." As expected, these 8mm rarities haven't weathered the years all that well so quality is generally pretty rough, but it's a fine historical document all the same.
Back in August Sick Picks covered the first After Hours double-disc set devoted to accomplished adult director Carter Stevens, and not surprisingly, their second installment is just as elaborate. Their Carter Stevens Teenage Twins Collection derives its name from the first feature, 1976's Teenage Twins, which made a minor fortune thanks to the gimmick of featuring two pretty twins (credited here as Brooke and Taylor Young) making it with other people and each other. That's pretty much the plot, actually, with Levi Richards as one of the clean-cut guy looped into playing the siblings' naughty games spurred on by the influence of their occult-studying professor stepfather (Eric Edwards). Apparently the girls can sense each other's carnal pleasure no matter where they are, and of course this mystical link can only be fully explored with the entire cast having an orgy together. The Young sisters only stuck around in the industry for another year or so (during which they made films like Sweet Cakes, Cherry Hustlers, and Double Your Pleasure), but this remains their best-remembered appearance for good reason. On the technical and creative front this one isn't really Stevens' finest hour; it's shot with about as much finesse as a Three's Company episode, and apart from some unexpected H.P. Lovecraft influences, the story's pretty basic. The same certainly can't be said for the film's companion feature on disc one, Rollerbabies, one of the earliest and funniest of the '70s sci-fi porn spoofs (followed by Ultra Flesh, Sex Wars, etc.). Despite the title and the fact that it takes place in the future, this doesn't have much to do with Rollerball (though the poster did its best to mimic the same font type). Here we have the story of Sherman Frobish ('70s porn vet Alan Marlow, who appeared in almost every Henry Paris film), a resourceful TV exec trying to serve a population under strict control to not have sex unless the government approves it. Much like Cafe Flesh, public spectacles are mounted to keep people happy, and Sherman comes up with a doozy: have a bunch of people doing the nasty on a roller rink. The unforgettable climax does indeed feature lots of naked roller skaters in a variety of surprising positions, most of which are more suspenseful than erotic. The rest of the cast is packed with interesting actors from the period including the always busy and athletic Terri Hall, newcomer Suzanne McBain's first role (which Stevens claims she was really, really into),charming goofball Mary Stuart, semi-crossover actor Roger Caine, and striking bald amazonian Yolanda Savalas (also a legit fashion model, according to the director, who went on to another, lesser smutty sci-fi, Invasion of the Love Drones). It's all good fun, and the cheap but creatively handled sets give the whole thing a lot more class and imagination than your average New York quickie. Rounding out the set on disc two is 1977's Punk Rock in its original hardcore version; the very different, alternate R-rated cut was previously covered in Sick Picks 11 last year on a double bill with the soft edition of Pleasure Palace. The basic story's the same with gumshoe Wade Nichols drawn into the punk club scene of New York, where everyone has a secret and just wants to get laid. Each film is presented in fresh(ish) new anamorphic transfers from what are claimed to be the only existing film elements; all of them are pretty scuffed but watchable, and certainly better than the cruddy one-inch masters used for previous versions. The only real problem here is Rollerbabies, which has the most damage and, more distractingly, has the audio several frames out of synch, a big flaw considering how much dialogue is in the film. If you can ignore that, though, this is still the best presentation it's ever had. Once again Stevens contributes plenty of candid extras here, including a Rollerbabies commentary track and video interviews in which he talks about the genesis for each project, the rushed production schedules, the crazy financing, and of course, exactly how he roped those twins into doing a film together. He also laments that the severe demands of Marlow's lead role in Rollerbabies probably contributed to the actor's breakdown soon after. Again the set comes with liner notes by Michael Bowen, who really did his file research here and pegs down the exact dates and releases for each film along with lots of other fun trivia.
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