Color, 2020, 96 mins. 54 secs.
Directed by Ross Snyder and William Hellfire Saturn's Core Audio & Video (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD)
/ WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
As much as the decades-long format known as shot-on-video (or SOV) horror has been embraced in recent years, there are still fringe areas of it that haven't earned a degree of awareness or recognition afforded to, say, '80s and '90s regional slasher films like Blood Lake, Video Violence, 555, or Sledgehammer. About as below the radar as you can get, New Jersey-based W.A.V.E. Productions started life in 1987 as a mail order outfit created by horror fan Gary Whitson to make micro-budget camcorder-shot productions catering to customers' individual tastes. Now with over 400 films under its belt like Dead North, The Mummy's Dungeon, and the multiple Psycho Charlie films, the company has managed to keep chugging by appealing to a very specific clientele: viewers willing to fund a z-budget film specifically tailored to the ideas they submit, usually involving a fixation or fetish that the actors jump into with gusto ranging from flailing in quicksand to getting shrunk down to microscopic size. Of course that also includes the really dark stuff like bondage and strangulation, though it stays within the confines of (very) softcore kink. The W.A.V.E. story has never really been chronicled before until the 2020 documentary Mail Order Murder: The Story of W.A.V.E. Productions, which started off as a book idea but morphed into a feature from directors Ross Snyder (who is probably the world's foremost W.A.V.E. scholar) and William Hellfire, the latter no stranger to this territory with his own SOV projects via Factory 2000.
Loaded with insane clips and a slew of interviews, the doc hits the ground running with a look behind the scenes of the making of one of the newer W.A.V.E. productions and an introduction to our participants, with Whitson himself speaking at length about how it all started. The many women who became fan favorites over the years get plenty to say here including the first of them all, Clancy McCauley, the only W.A.V.E. star to drop out of the business entirely. Her stories are really wonderful here and set the stage for the actresses who came next including Debbie D. (whose infectious pop song "I Want You in My Life" gets some fun play here), Laura Giglio, Deanna Demko, Pamela Sutch, and the prolific Tina Krause, who starred in the only previous W.A.V.E. film to appear for general retail consumption, "Eaten Alive! A Tasteful Revenge," an extra on the Blu-ray of Limbo. It's especially interesting to hear the women's different takes on their experiences including a bemused attitude to indulging some of the more out-there goofy requests (clothed mermaids!), the frequent need to improv, their feelings on seeing their earliest work, the comic skills some of them honed along the way, and much more. Also present are W.A.V.E. actor Dave Castiglione and makeup artist Aven Warren, plus other SOV-connected names like SRS Cinema's Ron Bonk and Alternative Cinema's Michael Raso, Ultraviolent's Art Ettinger, Fangoria's Michael Gingold, Gorgasm director and Draculina founder Hugh Gallagher, The Dead Next Door director J.R. Bookwalter, Bleeding Skull's Joseph A. Ziemba and Zack Carlson, Lunchmeat Magazine's Josh Schafer, and Hellfire himself. There's also some great coverage of W.A.V.E. at the legendary Chiller Theatre Expo, the stomping grounds where many new customers were no doubt created. What emerges is a thorough and fascinating portrait of a very outsider outfit that has its questionable elements to be sure (especially when it comes to actor safety, apparently!) but also makes for one hell of a fascinating story.
New Jersey-based company Saturn's Core Audio & Video comes out of the gate strong with this inaugural Blu-ray release, with the film finally coming to fruition over a reported five-year period. As you'd expect, the film itself depends on the quality of the source material with the new interviews looking nice and crisp while the archival material ranges from okay VHS quality to dupey TV clips. The LPCM 2.0 English stereo audio sounds fine throughout and comes with optional English SDH subtitles. Snyder and Hellfire also provide a packed audio commentary about the process of putting this all together including the wrangling of the interview subjects (a feat by itself considering how much they've scattered since filming), their own experiences with W.A.V.E. including their admiration for the scrappy nature of the production design, a lot of extra background details you won't get from the film itself, Hellfire's own production experiences with "trooper" Krause, the process of pulling clips from the hundreds of productions at their disposal, and tons more. Also included are a batch of extra interview snippets (15m37s) including an extra Chiller story from Whitson and Sutch's own foray into production, a trailer, a Debbie D. music video, and an appearance by Whitson and Warren on the public access show The Video Makers (10m47s) chatting about mummies, vampires, and zombies. Of course this wouldn't be complete without some original W.A.V.E. content, and that's what you get with 1988's Wave of Terror (49m15s), a fusion of two short productions starring McCauley, Road Kill (an E.C. Comics-style undead revenge yarn) and Hadley's Hellhole!, with a reporter and an archaeologist sent out on an assignment to cover an old mine with a horrific history that's about to be wiped out by a new freeway -- with the expected macabre consequences. Both of these are straight-up horror stories from the company's very early days, augmented here with some newer stock music and reportedly more polished editing than what was seen back in the late '80s. If you want to get bitten by the W.A.V.E. bug, it's as good a place to start as any!