Tuesday, December 28, 2010

There's Nothing Out There... No really...

D. Rolfe Kanefsky
16mm Full Frame

I first encountered this over the top home spun horror comedy many years ago when it played the Drexel 24 hour horror movie marathon in Columbus Ohio in I believe 1992 or 1993. I absolutely HATED it. The audience there LOVED it. It went over like gangbusters, but I thought it was juvenile and forced and wanted nothing to do with it or the goofy humor it contained.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that my reaction said more about me than the film I had just seen. In the following years the horror genre would change drastically for the worse, with tons of lame self referential comedies becoming the norm in the wake of Wes Craven’s and Kevin Williamson’s SCREAM movies. The actual “horror” of the movies consistently taking a back seat to jokes and refernces about how the films intrude on real life and vise versa. A wink and a nod hipster look at the genre and why it is not really scary to begin with.

I on the other hand was a hard core horror movie buff who like it straight up and ice cold. Movies like that in those days pissed me off (though SCREAM got a slight pass with me until it spawned all the imitators and sequels.) I didn’t like horror comedies because I could see the writing on the wall and it didn’t look good. That horror was quickly becoming another dirty word and as long as there were laughs it was all okay.

But what I missed was that THERE’S SOMETHING OUT THERE was a relatively clever and quick witted little monster mash that more than lives up to its sleazy little promise. First time director Rolfe Kanefsky obviously loves the genre as much as I do because he packs in so much detail in the movie that it feels like it may have been his last project ever. It actually wasn’t as he went on to direct plenty of sleazy little movies from there on out. But it is his first movie that shows he had his heart in the right place. 

Recently re-released from TROMA in a mega two disc package this movie may finally find the audience that has never quite copped to it until now. Cause this little flick has it all. A little green alien that shoots lasers out of its eyes, lots of slime, tons of naked girls and at least one really nasty decapitation that should go down into the books. Then there is the jokes, fast furious and actually pretty funny, this is one of those rare horror comedies that actually is smart enough to look at itself and the genre as a whole and know what is actually funny. But is never mean or spiteful enough to insult the audience.

The plot details a group of semi obnoxious teens who head out into the woods to one of their parent’s cottages for some sprint time rest and relaxation. Naturally the one single guy turns out the be the group horror fanatic and continues to tell them consistently that they are all doomed from the start because the whole situation reeks of a bad horror film. But he is right because earlier a meteor had fallen setting loose a little green alien that looks a lot like if Belial from BASKET CASE was from outer space. This little space turd begins bumping off the fellas and they soon figure out wants to mate with the ladies (including our leading lady who looks rather foxy in her stars and stripes bikini she sports for most of the running time).

That is pretty much it. Cat and mouse, lots of goofing around with a monster (that they figure out hates shaving cream in the mouth) and tons of girls taking off their clothes. Punctuated by tons of fun dialogue and a fashion sense that hadn’t yet let go of the 80’s.

I was obviously just a very angry young man when I first saw it because it is a very charming piece of work that has only gotten better with age.

The TROMA special edition includes several commentaries with the director, one older one from a few years back and a newer one specially recorded for this disc. It also has tons of audition footage, rehearsals, outtakes and other stuff where you get to see the cast and crew cutting up.  Most fun is the director’s couple of short films including a cute little (not) fetish film called MOOD BOOBS about a gal who accidentally wishes her breasts could change sizes at will. So they end up inflating and deflating when she gets angry, excited or moody. It is clearly a little fetish piece for those who have the breast inflation Jones. But it is also a cute and funny little short comedy.  There is a full disclosure behind the scenes peek at the making of this one as well.

Unfortunately this has the typical TROMA intro by Lloyd Kaffman that can be skipped over. It also has the typical TROMA crappy DVD authoring, where on the second disc you  can’t navigate backwards through the extras. Once you click past them, you have to follow the entire sequence to come around full circle to get to it again. Lame.

Still there is a lot of material packed on for such a small movie that most have never heard of. So for the few fans this movie has this is a great release, and should get some new fans going as well.

Review © Andy Copp

"One Lust Feeds The Other" Vampire Circus on Blu Ray! Finally!

D. Robert Young
Hammer Studios
Blu Ray/ DVD Combo Pack
1:66  1080p

This Hammer production was one of the most sought after titles on DVD for many years. With fans making due with imported versions that looked okay, or bootlegs that were soft, or sometimes were missing footage. Many of us have memories of catching this one on the late late show on TV or the butchered American release print that removed literally all of the sexual content and a good bit of the blood-shed as well. Leaving behind a frustrating movie that felt as empty of the townsfolk these vampires continued to leave behind.

So for the dudes at Synapse to finally put out a serious version of the movie is fantastic news for all Hammer horror fans. For it to be Synapse flagship Blu Ray title is even better news. Everyone can rest assured on both counts, the movie has NEVER looked better and this blu is an outstanding ship to be sailed into those waters for a company that many of us love dearly and want to see succeed.

The movie opens with a rather bold and intense sequence (cut to shit in the American release prints) of a very young girl, maybe ten or eleven, being led into one of those beautiful gothic castles so famous in these movies. Inside she meets Count Mitterhaus a rather fey looking but deeply seductive and vicious vampire in the traditional Hammer style. Non-traditionally he seduces and kills the little girl while one of his female minions watches and clearly becomes turned on by the act. Then they strip down and get to getting busy while the townsfolk outside gather to burn him out.  A huge bloodbath ensues, especially nasty and violent for a Hammer movie and Mitterhaus is dispatched but not before he swears a blood oath on the heads of all the men of the village that he will see all their children suffer.

Flash forward fifteen years and those men are now paranoid. There seems to be an outbreak of some unnamed disease in the surrounding towns and they are having to take extreme measures to protect themselves. They fear this could be the curse coming home to roost. But that night the circus arrives in down. A fascinating, sensual and downright weird gypsy circus with exotic animals and interpretive dance. The town flocks to see them, but when the town’s Burgermeister is led into the fun house and doesn’t make it out alive it is clear they are there for revenge.

From here it is pretty classic horror potboiler stuff, but with a nasty edge as the movie has no qualms about killing off kids, old people animals you name it. Seems to me that at this point Hammer was having to compete with movies like NIGHT OF THE LIVNG DEAD or other gore movies in the market place so they were upping the ante and had no compunctions about mixing their older more staid feel with the balls out new horror of the time. Unfortunately you occasionally get a touch of that era psychedelia and London Mod feel getting tossed about too (mostly Mitterhaus and his whole look and style) so with that the movie at times feels a little off kilter and out of touch with the story it is telling. But more often than not it is solid and mean, delivering the chills it promises.

Synapse has taken some heat in collectors circles for releasing a combo pack but business wise it makes the most sense. For only a few dollars more the person buying the disc gets a copy on the other format. The complaints are all over the place but at the end of the day really all the matters is the movie is out on bother formats in an affordable way. And boy does it look fantastic.

Don May Jr. at Synapse has been at the forefront of remastering cult movies for the home video market since the laserdisc days and his expertise has really shined since the Blu Ray explosion. Though Synapse didn’t realize it, one of the best looking BR discs on the market is one he worked on extensively THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. That disc is simply breathtaking. While VAMPIRE CIRCUS may not be the show piece that CHAINSAW is, it is without a doubt a huge crown jewel in the hat of Synapse Ent. Colors are crisp, clean and vibrant, with accurate flesh-tones and blood that pops off the screen. Blacks have true depth with no signs of artifacting or milkiness that older prints of this movie has had. I only noticed a slight moment of print damage right when the famous “animal dance” scene is about to start. But it is so slight you’d have to be looking for it. Just a few light scratches. Otherwise it is beautiful.

Included in the extras are a fantastic featurette called BLOODIEST SHOW ON EARTH: The Making of VAMPIRE CIRCUS – which goes into detail not only on th emaking of the film but on a lot of Hammer studios histoy. Especialy things like their censorhip battles at the time (of which VAMPIRE CIRCUS had its share).   GALLERY OF GROTESQUERIES: A Brief History of Circus Horrors – which is a fun and informative look at hos the Circus and Carnivals have been used in horror films over the years leading up to VAMPIRE CIRCUS. VISITING THE HOUSE OF HAMMER: Britain's Legendary Horror Magazine – which is exactly what it says it is and also very informative, plus VAMPIRE CIRCUS: Interactive Comic Book- Featuring artwork by Brian Bolland. POSTER AND STILLS GALLERY ORIGINAL THEATRICAL TRAILER.

The DVD and Blu Ray have the same features and extras, so no matter which you are buying the package for you are getting the same materials. Just the Blu is going to be that much more of a boost in quality.

If you are a Hammer horror fan, Vampire fan or just like to support our important indie companies this is a no brainer release. Grab it now!

Review © Andy Copp

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ripping and tearing, blood and boobs and franchise, oh my!

D. Jimmy O
All Episodes Shot and presented in Hi- Def

The Burril Family have been trying to launch the Chainsaw Sally character into becoming a horror icon for the better part of ten years now. I remember seeing them at Cinema Wasteland as far back as 2001 selling T-Shirts when there was no movie yet, just the rather striking image of April Monique Burril as the title Character being all they were banking on. The whole shabang being to push a franchisable horror character, with or without major material, didn’t seem to be the point. The point was that she was sexy, fierce, and all the things that adolescent male horror fans should want in their stew.

The movie finally came out in 2005 on DVD and didn’t make too big a splash but did alright as far as these direct to DVD things go. As far as I can tell the character of Chainsaw Sally herself has a huge fanbase online with her various facebook pages overflowing with thousands of fans. But something tells me that most of them never picked up the dvd. Once again the key here is the image of Chainsaw Sally herself, something carefully sculpted by the husband and wife team and sold incredibly well through Jimmy O’s amazing photography and art design. The couple’s online presentations, the artwork, photography, painitings etc. are second to none.

So all of that sets the bar incredibly high for the actual CHAINSAW SALLY SHOW which is hitting DVD from Troma home video. An impossibly high bar to achieve unfortunately which may leave a lot of fans of the online stuff feeling like they are not getting quite the ride they felt they would. By y no means is bad, the show is swiftly directed and shot, the editing crisp, clean and always reminding you it could really play on say MTV without a problem. The biggest issue is that the material is stretched out to be a TV (or was it a web series I am not sure) when it could have easily just served as one longer movie. Repetition becomes the order of the day, with some meandering plot threads and conversations that don’t really receal much at all.

But the positives, the show always looks good, and April Monique Burril always has a handle on the character of Chansaw Sally. After ten years it is clear she has no problem slipping right in and playing her up. On this disc is ten episodes and on longer not quite a movie. While I wouldn’t call it character growth, you can at least see a consistency of the character throughout it all. She toys with the audience and her victims all at once, obviously relishing the chance to be on screen. Which is something else to be said for the whole project. Her director and husband Jimmy O Burril uses his camera to fetishize his wife in almost every single scene she is in. While some viewers might find that annoying, I find it refreshing in this day and age. They remind me of another cult film couple I adore, Jess Franco and Lina Romay. To mine eyes I can’t help but to wonder if in making this series and putting April front and center in such a clearly sexually idolized way isn’t playing out some personal fantasies for them. For that I so go for it.

The story of the show never really progresses as much though. Sally is hiding in a small town with her grown up but sexually deviant brother Ruby . By day she is the shy Librarian but at night she goes around killing the people in town she feels are not nice folks. People who do things like fuck sheep, or are mean to her best friend, a teenage girl who works with her. Hot on Sally’s tail is a Cowboy (Bill Price clearly based on Dennis Hopper from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2) and a busty/gorgeous cosmetic sales person (Jordan Wyandt) who talks a lot and never does much of anything. 

But Sally and her Brother also take several people prisoner for personal sexual toys, eat several people, and torture a couple of teenage girls to death in highly sexualized ways. So her “code of ethics” is highly debatable at best. When she is admonishing a redneck for raping a sheep before killing him it is hard to feel she means it when she has a teenage girl scout in a dog cage at her house with an electro shock collar on that she uses for various sexual escapades (off screen of course). There is a lot of talk about her morality, but then the show dips into highly questionable stuff often clearly to give the “goods” to the audience. So it is odd bed fellows at best. Her code is never as successful as that other TV serial killer DEXTER who seems to be learning as he goes and adapting.

Maybe that is the problem here. There is not enough attention being paid to the characters and character development and way too much attention being paid to what the fans are expecting and wanting for this to work as a TV show. TV hinges on things developing as the episodes move along. Here each episodes strives to give you more kills, a little more skin (around episode 7 or 8 Sally finally does a breif nude scene) and sicker situations. But not enough meat on the bones of the story. What does develop is a really weird sense of bizare sexuality as the characters do more weirdo stuff to people. From torturing a teen girl by forcing her to pee in a bottle and when it fills the weight triggers a blade to cut off her head, to another teen girl who gets her “tittie caught in a bear trap” and that girl scout I mentioned earlier. What makes all of it so weird is all the victims are supposed to be around 15/16 years old and playing out these clearly fetishised BDSM/ stalk and slash scenerios. Is it intentional to make the audience squirm? To make the villians look that much more evil? Or was it not noticed by the filmmakers in an attempt to get to the next set piece? Something more intentional? Who knows.

So overall if you are a fan of low budget franchise driven horror/slasher stuff, you may like this. It delivers the blood and guts for sure. The lead character is solid and certainly is exactly who they set out to create. I just wish there was more going on in the script department to make it feel like there was more weight to it. After watching the whole thing in one long marathon it strikes me the Chainsaw Sally character would be more at home in a Horror host situation. Maybe a Max Headroom for the horror set. A Chainsaw Sally Talk show where she ends up having to kill the guests. That could be very interesting.

So check it out. If you Dare.

Review © Andy Copp