November 7, 2022

Sometimes Blood Hunterfans of vintage shot-on-video horror can stumble across a feature shot on honest to God film that still retains that special awkward DIY magic, and you'll find it in spades in the Southern-fried 1996 16mm production, Blood Hunter. Starring and co-directed by Jack Shrum, the film begins with a lengthy text crawl Blood Hunterexplaining how a 400-year-old Russian vampire, Viktor, decided to lay low by relocated to the similar geographic terrain in Kentucky. There he learned how to move around in the shadows in daylight (which also saves on lighting equipment) and got to mingle with the locals near his cave habitat. He doesn't like to kill "unless you give me good reason to," even doing good Samaritan duties from time to time when he isn't attacking criminals and doling out lines like "This will cost you an arm and a leg, and I'm here to collect." There's local color galore here, twangy country music, awkward acting, inexplicable character motivation... in short, it's a total joyful blast if you're in the right frame of mind. The fact that it was obviously shot in available real locations like a hair salon, a convenience store, and the real sheriff's office add to the fun, too, giving it a kind of alternate universe Steel Magnolias vibe - but with a vampire. The video archaeologists at VHShitfest have brought this unlikely choice to Blu-ray in fine fashion, with an adorably scrappy video transfer and tons of extras including a great 50m24s making-of documentary, "From Russia with Blood," with Shrum (who's now an attorney), his dad and screenwriter Bill Shrum, his mom Linda Shrum, and actor Jeremy Whittington sharing tons of stories about the folks in the film that will make you want to watch it all over again. The cat vengeance story is worth the price of admission all by itself. Jack also provides a solo audio commentary track, which has some good info as well but is a lot spottier with long silent gaps. You also get a Q&A with Jack in 2019 at a screening in Ontario, Canada (7m4s), a 2m46s location comparison featurette, a staggering 133m14s reel of silent uncut 16mm raw footage, and a fun 2m42s local news piece on the making of the film. Buy here or here.

For more DIY madness Plaga Zombiebut on a much more ambitious scale, there's a lot of undeniable charm in the escalation of The Plaga Zombie Trilogy unleashed on a two-disc Blu-ray set from Intervision. As the packaging nicely sums it up, "In 1997, 17-year-old suburban Buenos Aires filmmakers Pablo Parés and Hernan Sáez pooled $450 to co-write/produce/direct and star in a shot-on-VHS zombie epic of such flesh-ripping, gore-spewing greatness that it instantly drew global cult acclaim and redefined the possibilities of extreme DIY horror." Basically if you're a fan of SOV zombie fare like Meat Market (but with a lot less sex), this will be right up your alley. The first film, simply titled Plaga Zombie, is a true homegrown effort clocking in just under 70 minutes and featuring a barrage of aggressive, sometimes insane camerawork obviously inspired by Sam Raimi and Dead Alive. Here a bunch of Plaga Zombieguys with very all-American names like "John West" (a wrestler), "Willie Boxer," and "Mike Taylor" contending with weirdness involving a recurring dream - or is it? - involving aliens doing bloody implant experiments. Soon things get gloppy as a zombie outbreak hits, with the splatter and comedy going hand in hand (including, yes, zombie wrestling). Running over half an hour longer and upping the ante considerably 2001's Plaga Zombie: Mutant Zone, which ended up getting snapped up by Fangoria International back in the day. Bigger, crazier, and definitely more accomplished, it features zombie killers John, Bill and Max getting dumped in the center of the zombie hot spot as they uncover more about the alien genesis of the plague and turn into urban exterminators. That idea is carried forward in what amounts to an even daffier redo with 2012's Plaga Zombie: Mutant Zone: Toxic Revolution, which sports a bigger cast, a shakier camera, weirder detours (including a goofy Stallone-inspired training montage), and a broader conspiracy theory involving world governments. Fortunately the homemade touch is still very much in evidence right down to the zombie pancake makeup, and the guys are still clearly having a ball. Extras here include trailers for all three films, a teaser for the second, and a sprawling making-of documentary covering the entire trilogy, A Million Zombies (77m27s), which is not only rollicking fun but also very candid and surprising at times including an in-depth account of the group therapy that tore open some wounds that haven't quite healed. Also included are a very, uh, modest animated web "minifearies" batch of episodes (13m52s), and eight of the gang's short films: New York Cop, La cama (The Bed), Banjo el Poder de la Garra Maldita (Under the Power of the Wicked Claw), El esqueleto y yo (The Skeleton and I), Tuuuuuuuuu..., Amigos del demonio (The Demon's Friends), Mar 6, and Cucaracha (Cockroach). Buy here or here.

Coming The Pactfairly late in the shot-on-video VHS horror wave, the The PactVirginia Beach-made feature The Pact was filmed in 1995 but not completed until 2013 by writer-director Brad Sykes (Plaguers, Camp Blood). Going straight to DVD from SRS Cinema, it's now been given a Blu-ray upgrade in all its fuzzy analog glory by Saturn's Core who will likely earn it a larger audience. The oceanside location goes a long way with a variety of found locations during a summer vacation using non-professional actors giving a strange vibe to the story of a young woman named Andrea (Dawn Soleri) who goes to check out the beach house she's inherited from her late grandmother, with her boyfriend in tow. Upon arrival she meets some odd locals and some even odder supernatural occurrences tied to a deadly pact in her family's past, including the manifestation of a ghostly girl named Delphine. Fairly quiet and moody for the majority of the running time, the film makes some concessions to the demands of SOV horror near the end when it unleashes a few bloody effects including a gory head meltdown. Mostly though it's clearly after the dreamy Euro vibe cited by Sykes in his new audio commentary here, with Daughters of Darkness and The Living Dead Girl cited as two particular influences. (You can feel a little Let's Scare Jessica to Death sprinkled in there as well.) The Blu-ray, which looks as good as the source material will allow, also features a 1997 Sykes short film, Tears (21m54s), with an optional commentary as well, separate galleries for the feature and short (5m43s and 3m14s), and bonus Saturn's Core trailers. Buy here or here.

Also made in 1995 Cyber Vengeancebut far more pulverizing to your senses is the maniacal Cyber Vengeance, an action-packed take Cyber Vengeanceon the virtual reality craze that everyone thought would be the next big thing for a while. Released the same year as his infamous role in Showgirls, Robert Davi is the ostensible star here as the head of a very dilapidated prison far off the future year of 2005, where inmates are kept in suspended animation. Of course, now there's a way to exploit the situation by allowing the very rich to hunt these prisoners in VR settings spanning various time periods and locales (including a funny cut-rate version of The Last of the Mohicans), which can cause death in real life. When goateed guard J. Gregory Smith finds out, he gets tossed into the games as well where martial arts and very tacky costumes reign supreme. Incredibly, Vinegar Syndrome has given this one a fresh 4K scan from the camera negative for its Blu-ray debut as part of the limited VSA line, and it looks and sounds ridiculously good. The Ultra Stereo mix is hit and miss, but it's a monster when it kicks in during the battle scenes with lots of fun directional effects. The sole extra is "Making Cyber Vengeance" (22m26s), a new making-of doc with director J. Christian Ingvordsen, "founder of CinemaSciences" and maker of Blue Vengeance, joined by director of photography Matthew Howe and actors John Weiner and Rick Washburn for a look at the arrival of the virtual reality craze, the lessons learned up to that point on other productions, and the guerrilla tactics they used on set. Buy here or here.

And movies don't Mutant Huntcome much more VSA-ish than Mutant Hunt, a very low budget 1987 sci-fi / action gumbo from Tim Kincaid, a.k.a. porn pioneer Joe Gage, who also blessed us with Bad Girls' Dormitory, Breeders, Mutant Huntand Robot Holocaust. Rick Gianasi, Sgt. Kabukiman himself, stars here and gets to extensively model his tighty whities as Ryker, a blade ru--- uh, mutant hunter who's recruited to clean house when a bunch of cyborgs get dosed up and go on a bloody killing spree. Cue lots of fights, shooting, neon, synth music, star filters, and rad '80s hairdos and clothes. The gloppy makeup effects here are a high point here including a memorable sequence with one badly damaged robot repairing itself in a bathroom, and it's all drenched in that hazy, colorful Kincaid sheen you either love or hate. Barely released by Empire Pictures, Mutant Hunt looks astonishing here with a 4K scan from its 35mm camera negative looking far better than anyone could have imagined (especially based on the fuzzy Wizard Video VHS edition). Film historian Elizabeth Purchell provides a new audio commentary contextualizing this film within the larger framework of Kincaid versus Gage films and makes a case for its merits as a goofy gem, with plenty of background about the director to let you parse out how this crazy experience came to be. In "Mutant Maker" (18m21s), veteran makeup artist Ed French explains how he came up with all the concoctions on this film (after working on Smithereens!), while actor Dr. J. Buzz Von Ornsteiner -- say that five times fast -- appears in "If You Want Me To Box with a Kangaroo..." (55m41s) for a lengthy and very thorough history of his career as a "motivated actor" including other Kincaid films and some of his colorful showbiz encounters. Finally in "Long Arm of the Hunt" (24m17s), actor Mark Legan covers the wild experience of getting started in '80s New York and getting a mind-boggling array of roles that sometimes required him to shave his head -- like this one. Buy here or here.

All of the films Fuck the Devilabove will seem like James Cameron productions once you lay eyes on the AGFA and Bleeding Skull Blu-ray release of Fuck the Devil and Fuck the Devil 2: The Return of the Fucker, a pair of staggering shot-on-VHS, 30-minute short films dreamed up in the early '90s with a title based on a rap song. There isn't Fuck the Devilmuch of a plot here -- instead it's about a grunting, growling guy in a rubber monster mask running around an apartment building and basements killing folks, including someone dressed up as Freddy Krueger. Along the way people watch various unlicensed horror movies (most blurred out for copyright reasons, but not entirely, with an emphasis on Evil Dead 2), and even when the killer gets his head lopped off, he still carries it around and tries to reattach it. Hands pop through abdomens, a baby gets filleted, a girl gets knifed in a bathtub, eyeballs get popped out, power tools get misappropriated, scalps get sliced off, and an amazing Casio music score plays on the soundtrack. It all has to do with a cursed videotape, which leads to a nutty climax in the second film involving a hatchet-wielding hausfrau. Director Michael Pollklesener and actor Kurt Dartsch appear for audio commentaries here, while Pollklesener also provides a video intro (56s). Also included are slightly longer, rougher cuts of the films as assembled in 1990 and 1991, outtake reels for both films with optional commentary, three Pellklesener short films (The Day of the Incredible Monster from the North Pole starring a bunch of Sesame Street puppets and a toy Godzilla, Werbung, and Beer Commercial), and a mind-pummeling 16-minute reel of Pollklesener trailers including a drunk Santa Claus movie, Frohes Fest, that should've been included in its entirety. Buy here or here.

If you're a horror fan, KFCsometimes the only thing that can really scratch that itch is an anthology to give KFCyou some bite-sized macabre morsels. For example, take 2017's KFC, which delivers a nonlinear intertwined batch of tales and actually lives up to its title by involving horrific shenanigans linked to a Kentucky Fried Chicken store. Young Vietnamese director Lê Bình Giang earned a little bit of notoriety when this one first hit the festivals, though as far as extreme horror goes (especially in the cannibalism sweepstakes) it's definitely nothing that will unseat The Untold Story. After a long opening crawl that goes out of its way to repeatedly hammer home that this is pure fiction, the film doesn't hold back on the grime as we're introduced to a very flabby, sweaty guy scarfing down some KFC before getting mowed down by a vehicle and having his bloody remains hacked to bits (off-screen). As it turns out, the local KFC is in the same neighborhood as a serial killer doctor whose perverse activities on the streets of Hanoi branch out to many of the locals, all while taking potshots at corporate aggression through everything from Pepsi to a Circle K. Exactly who all the characters are and how they fit together isn't given full clarity until the final stretch, but along the way you get a fair amount of gore and some icky necrophilia for good measure. The Blu-ray from Dekanalog looks as good as the frequently dark and grungy film will allow, with 5.1 and stereo Vietnamese audio options (with English subtitles). The U.S. and Vietnamese trailers are included along with "Mystery Meat" (10m36s), a revealing interview with Giang about his love of cinema, his initial writing of the script at an early age, and the hurdles he had to overcome to get it made with such strong narrative content. Buy here or here.

Back in the '90s it seemed Pandora's Mirrorlike every single adult VHS tape had a Pandora's Mirrortrailer for Pandora's Mirror, a glossy hardcore fantasy best remembered as "that movie where Veronica Hart gets possessed by a mirror and wants to bang her bodybuilder neighbors Jerry Butler and George Payne, with a lot of Pino Donaggio music from Carrie." Released near the end of the porno chic theatrical boom in 1981 by Caballero, this is arguably the most lavish film from veteran director and actor Shaun Costello with an all-star cast at his fingertips here. Hart plays the titular Veronica, who's out shopping when she comes across an intriguing mirror at an antique shop. After much persuasion, she lets the reluctant owner loan it to her for a while -- only to find out that looking into it alone plunges you into any number of carnal episodes from its past. Be it an orgy during the Revolutionary War, a tryst during the Depression, or a no-holds-barred rehearsal in a theater, the vignettes are loaded with familiar faces including Jamie Gillis, Kandi Barbour, Annie Sprinkle, Ron Hudd, and Marlene Willoughby. However, when Pandora gets the chance to fulfill her own desires involving nearby neighbors Jerry Butler and George Payne, things might be going too far. Atmospheric and very well shot, this looks terrific on Blu-ray from Peekarama with a pristine new 2K scan from the 35mm interpositive. In addition to that very familiar trailer you get two excellent new audio commentaries, the first with Costello chatting over the phone with Vinegar Syndrome's Joe Rubin and the second with Hart conversing with the always knowledgeable Casey Scott. The first track is much more oriented about the technical process of mounting the film, while the second is a friendly and free-flowing reminiscence about her career at the time, memories of the cast, and the industry and fashion as a whole around the turn of the '80s. Buy here.

The world Devil Riderdoesn't really have enough western slashers, but thankfully there are a few genre-splicing oddities Devil Rideraround like 1989's Devil Rider. Dumped straight to VHS back in the day but now all polished up and looking great on Blu-ray from Culture Shock, it kicks off with a prologue showing the origins of the nameless title character (played by the memorably named Tag Groat)-- a grinning serial killer in the Old West who claims he can't be killed even after being hanged. Sure enough, anyone unlucky enough to wander in the area intending to disturb the natural order of things ends up on the wrong end of his supernatural pistol, which carries into the present day when some yuppies decide to start a land development. Some quirky dialogue and a really fun sting in the tale at the end make this one worth a look as long as you keep your expectations in check, especially when it comes to the fairly low level of gore and Doris Wishman-worthy ADR audio. Also included on the Blu-ray are a pretty raw 75m14s collection of behind-the-scenes footage, the 84m12s alternate home video cut presented open matte (and running a few seconds shorter), a 1m57s intro by Bud Fleischer Jr. (son of the co-writer who went on to do a Christan radio program), a "California Death Trip" interview with actor Rick Groat (36m21s), a "Playing the Devil" interview with Tag Groat (17m22s), and trailers for this film and bonus Culture Shock titles. Buy here or here.

Slightly more robust Summer of Bloodthan western slashers is the subgenre of the indie vampire comedy, with Vampire's Kiss still the all-time champ. Best known for his quirky comedies like Applesauce and Catfight, Summer of BloodOnur Tukel handles directing, writing, and starring duties in 2014's Summer of Blood as Erik Sparrow, a self-absorbed and clueless schlub who comes across a bleeding vampire victim one night on the street after a particularly bad date. In fact, his whole online dating experiences with a site called Cupid's Bow fare badly, but all that changes when he ends up being bitten by the neighborhood bloodsucker and suddenly becomes irresistible to the opposite sex. As the "S.O.B." acronym on the poster clearly indicates, Erik is supposed to be a very unsympathetic character with whom you'd hate to get stuck in an elevator; that means your response to this film will likely depend on how much you can laugh at his character before it spins into some weirdly heady philosophical territory. Initially picked up by MPI, the film looks excellent on the Blu-ray release from Factory 25 which ports over the original 2014 audio commentary by Tukel while adding a new one looking back at the actors, locations, and its connections to his numerous films since then. Other extras include the trailer, a 6m7s batch of deleted scenes, a 4m40s behind the scenes featurette, a trailer for Tukel's earlier Troma film Drawing Blood, and "vampire interviews" with Larry Fessenden (28m20s) and Lloyd Kaufman (24m44s) with Tukel in character as his undead persona. A booklet with essays by Tukel and Simon Bacon is also included. Buy here or here.

Back to keeping expectations in check, Blood, Guts & Sunshinedefinitely calibrate them before jumping into Blood, Guts & Sunshine: The History of Horror Made in Florida, a Blood, Guts & Sunshinecrowdfunded 2022 documentary about exploitation shot south of Georgia. Anyone familiar with labels like Something Weird has already brushed shoulders with the insane, vibrant drive-in staples from Florida thanks to filmmakers like H.G. Lewis, David F. Friedman, Doris Wishman, Bob Clark, and William Grefé, along with crazy one-offs like Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things. However, Sean Donohue's film (which runs a whopping 126 minutes!) is mostly an infomercial for current Tampa-based SOV outfit The Sleaze Box, plus tangents devoted to the mighty Tim Ritter and Grindhouse Video. Some of the stories from the more recent production can get pretty wild (especially an ad lib by actor Bob Glazier that will have you doubting your sanity). The film itself looks as slick as expected for a recent digital production, while extras include the trailer, the panel for Satan's Children seen on AGFA's Blu-ray release, a 9m54s spotlight on Grindhouse Video (which has since relocated to Tennessee), "Scott Tepperman's Video Store Tour" (10m6s), and a 13-minute trailer reel for various Sleaze Box and Gatorblade titles. Buy here or here.

Based Butchersout of the U.K., the indie label Terracotta Distribution has been delivering a Butchersslew of offbeat genre films on DVD that might have otherwise been deprived of a physical media release. Following here is a rundown of some key titles starting with the 2020 Canadian horror film Butchers, a wintry survival saga that feels very much like a throwback to the gritty, sun-drenched exploitation films of the 1970s. Here we have your familiar scenario about a quartet of young friends driving through a backwoods who break down near the ramshackle residence of Owen (Simon Phillips) and Oswald (Michael Swatton) Watson, who prey during the winter season on anyone passing through. Along with their lesser seen third brother, they proceed to abduct and terrorize the interlopers with all the screaming and mayhem that entails. A few eccentric touches (like using Shakespeare to educate one of the siblings) manage to set this one apart a bit from the usual formula, and it's fairly well shot with strong rural Gothic atmosphere thanks to the austere Ottawa setting (trying to pass for the American Midwest, apparently). The DVD presentation from the label's Sharp Teeth imprint looks solid as you'd expect for a recent digital production, with spacious 5.1 and 2.0 English options. Extras include an audio commentary by director Adrian Langley (who also provides a quick 20s video intro), alternate openings and endings (4m49s), a tongue-in-cheek "Tea with the Watsons" featurette (16m35s), an "Oswald's Polaroid Collection" gallery (2m32s), and a trailer. Buy here.

For a different Butchersangle on cannibal survivalism, next we hop over to Finland for Butchers2012's Shopping Tour, a found footage chronicle of a busload of Russian tourists hitting some of the country's mega retail stores (which is a thing, apparently). A young teenaged boy captures the whole experience on his phone, bantering with his mother on the trip and generally staying distracted as they bounce along from one stop to the next. Unfortunately the main attraction, a virtually duty free store only open once a year, turns out to be something a lot more sinister than it appears as the populace use it to... well, you can figure it out. The Russian production was obviously shot for pocket change but actually manages to deliver a few chuckles and some eye-catching, in-camera gore effects including an amusing little sting at the end (pretty much spoiled on the promotional and menu art, alas). The DVD looks fine given the intentional lo-fi nature of the production, though for some reason the subtitles are burned on instead of optional. Extras include the making-of featurette "You Can't Whittle a Hedgehog: The Making of Shopping Tour" (30m9s) showing the Russian crew at work and a 1m50s production gallery. Buy here.

A more supernatural Demonthreat awaits in Poland with Demon, a 2015 slice of Jewish-themed Demonhorror that got a warm reception at Fantastic Fest back in the day. Sort of a more subdued ghostly version of [REC] 3, it marked a rare detour into horror for director Marcin Wrona who tragically committed suicide after the film's completion at the age of 42. Extremely well made and featuring some compelling historical subtext to boot, the film follows the ill-fated wedding of foreigner Peter (Israeli actor Itay Tiran) to Polish-speaking Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska), whose upper class family is helping to throw a relatively lavish ceremony on their family premises despite the fact that the couple had mainly only known each other online. After Peter discovers skeletal remains on the grounds, he starts to behave very strangely and sees visions of a woman in a wedding dress -- a harbinger of the disaster that's about to befall him. Using the sins of the country's past from World War II as the narrative backdrop, the film is nicely acted and inventive with its combination of possession and ghost elements making for an effective little chiller. Again you get 5.1 and 2.0 options here for the original Polish audio (which has some fun directional effects), this time with optional English subtitles. The sole extra is a 3m30s photo gallery, but a more fleshed-out special edition of this one would be nice to have someday. Buy here.

Now lurking under the The Monster Chronicles; Tiktikgeneric title The Monster Chronicles: Tiktik, this 2012 Filipino The Monster Chronicles; Tiktikproduction is easier to appreciate under its original name, Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles, a nod to its use of familiar local horror lore immortalized earlier in the 1994 film Aswang. (And yes, there was a sequel.) Shot in front of a green screen with an array of digital effects and amusingly artificial sets, it's a very fast-paced, occasionally video game-influenced assault about the pandemonium when self-absorbed Makoy (the amazingly named Dingdong Dantes) travels to a rural community in a dogged attempt to win back his pregnant girlfriend. There he and the locals end up tangling with aswangs, shape-shifting beasts who feed on unborn children, which starts off with a grotesque incident involving a farm animal before turning into a nocturnal melee featuring multiple creatures of darkness. How much you get out of this will depend on your tolerance for iffy CGI, but the energy level is high and the rampant monster attacks are enough to keep you engaged all the way through. Plus there's something to be said about the spectacle of Dantes in a tank top chasing aswangs around a farm with a gigantic whip. Considering how aggressive the color grading is here, the film still looks fine here and features optional English subtitles for the aggressive 5.1 track, plus a 1m50s gallery. Buy here.


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