Monday, September 26, 2011

What's in the BIG BOX in THE BASEMENT?

THE BASEMENT - Retro -VHS collection

This overwhelming package of shot on video (except for THE BASEMENT which was shot on super 8!!!) horror and sleaze is a true horrific throw back to a simpler time when cult horror film was not such a pretentious enterprise. When people who picked up a video camera to make a horror film and released it to the market place really had their hearts in it. Not weened on their parents pocket books, film schools and You Tube to make them believe they are going to be the next big cult film sensation and have their cocks sucked by the mainstream. The films in this set are charming in their backyard exuberance and true love of the art-form itself.

The folks at CAMP MOTION PICTURES clearly remember the days of not only releasing this kind of product but watching it too, because why the hell else would you go to the trouble of releasing  a five film DVD package that is co-featured inside a big box VHS of the main feature film? This is a nostalgia release for those who grew up haunting the mom and pop video stores renting trash like this. Not LIKE this, but this ACTUAL trash. I remember looking at the actual big box releases of VIDEO VIOLENCE and CANNIBAL CAMP OUT at my local much loved Video store VIDEO CASTLE back in the day. So if for nothing else this release brings back fond memories.

The main film in this set is the super 8mm epic anthology THE BASEMENT, a film that was apparently never finished back in the 80's due to processing errors that only now, with technology catching up, have allowed the movie to be put out in a watchable form.  Directed by Timothy O'Rawe, the sick mind behind cult favorite GHOUL SCHOOL, this extremely low budget offering is like a group of friends sitting around a campfire spinning EC Comic style tales. None of them are terribly scary, but the sheer effort involved makes them all kinds of lovable anyway.

The stories are being told by a some creepy demon/death like figure in a basement to a group of friends as they leave a party. Apparently it is a foretelling them of their doom. The first story SWIMMING POOL is about a bitch middle age  woman who discovers her swimming pool has a monster in it and how she can manipulate folks over to it for her own gains. 

The next one is the closest to the classic EC style called TRICK OR TREAT about how Classic Monsters deal  some revenge on a dude who is not giving them the respect they deserve on Halloween night. ZOMBIE MOVIE deals with a low budget movie being shot and the asshole director who is not noticing that the zombies are a little too real for comfort. 

And finally the most invovled story in the movie and the one that apparently was the most damaged when shot. HOME SWEET HOME is about a guy who buys a house with haunted past and forgets to check into the murderous past involved. 

 For a super 8 film especially, the movie is all around pretty ambitious and each story gets progressively more involved and even more intense. The second story with the classic monsters is probably the most fun, but the last story is the most successful as for as being a true horror film goes. Over all it is pretty much right in line with the late 80's direct to tape horror boom and would have been right at home with that product had it made it out as intended the stores. Kudos to Baltimore film maker Chris LaMartina for his fine brand new score for the movie. A lot of time and effort, as well as money, has been spent putting THE BASEMENT back together and it shows. 

Next up is CAPTIVES the "lost" film for Gary P. Cohen the director of VIDEO VIOLENCE and his most serious picture. This never got a proper release because it was not really a horror film, and certainly not funny or a parody. Not polished enough to be considered a "real" film, but not scrappy enough to be campy. What you have a finely made, well mounted, underground film that takes itself very seriously. A tightly wound thriller, that is unfortunately shot on video and because of that destined to never be taken seriously in the climate at which it was made.

The film is basically DESPERATE HOURS meets THE CANDYSNATCHERS in whcih a trio of criminals descend on the house of the female of the groups former husband in an attempt to not only rob him, but get revenge on him and his new family. Seems he has started over since she has been in prison all these years. Turns out HE burned their house down killing their son, but SHE took the wrap for him for the years in the pen and now she is out and wants some answers and respect. So she is here with her new psychotic boyfriend and mentally handicapped brother to make it all come together.

Surprisingly violent, even more surprisingly well written, with some really good performances, CAPTIVES is a movie that would have been much better served if Cohen had been able to get more money together and actually shot it on film. Or even went another  route and made it as a stage play. As it stands the technical limitations hinder what is at its core a REALLY good movie.

Rounding out the package are the three Camp Motion Pictures that have been released on their own before VIDEO VIOLENCE 1 & 2 and CANNIBAL CAMPIOUT which I have reviewed previously when they were originally released. So here is the text of those previous reviews:

D. Jon McBride

This flagship release for the Camp Motion Pictures DVD label seeks to cash in on the nostalgia of the shot on video shoe-string backyard epics of the late 80’s…

(Sounds of crickets chirping as the readers look around in confusion and awe)

Yeah, it surprised me too.  But actually a few of those S.O. V. flicks aren’t half bad.  You could accuse them of not being half good as well, but what they lack in technical finesse they make up for in heart.  And CANNIBAL CAMPOUT is definitely on such movie.   Compared to other S.O.V. turds like HELLROLLER or EYEWITNESS MURDER, CANNIBAL CAMPOUT is a downright masterpiece!

CANNIBAL CAMPOUT tells the simple tale of a group of not terribly bright college friends who decide to go camping even though there are rumors of people disappearing in the woods.  Naturally they are besieged by a trio of ax wielding maniacs distinguished by one being a talkative sex fiend, one wears a flight mask and motorcycle helmet and is called a retard by his brothers, and the other one, apparently the leader, wears the bib overalls of the family.  Surprisingly the kids (led by director Mcbride) are not all that annoying, and badly delivered dialogue aside, are a likable enough bunch that you feel kinda bad when they get offed.

While the movie offers nothing new either in story or style, it does what it sets out to do with an earnest nature and plenty of the red stuff.  While the gore is not exactly Savini level, it is plentiful and pretty savage at times including one spot where it is downright offensive (A compliment if there ever was one for this type of film!)  The villains are a rough bunch with some vicious dialogue that I swear I’ve heard ripped off in some recent big budget movies including the line  “Shut up or I’ll staple yur titties to the roof of the car!”

For being shot with a consumer camcorder in 1988 the flick is surprisingly well shot, with nice coverage of scenes and really nice composition.  The editing is also really well done (remember this was before every kid had a computer with editing software).  Though the dialogue scenes could be tightened up a bit in places.

Overall, CANNIBAL CAMPOUT wins you over with its youthful charm and grossout factor.  The script is lacking, but everyone’s heart is clearly into what they are doing and that goes a really long way.  In fact it is refreshing to see a shot on video movie where everyone cared about it enough to spend a YEAR’S worth of weekends shooting it instead of the 48 hours most youthful “filmmakers” of today throw at their productions.

Not exactly groundbreaking but if it is a rainy Saturday afternoon and you need a cheesy gore fix, this should do the trick just fine. DVD includes deleted scenes (trims really) a 40 minute making of / where are they now style documentary, photos and trailers for upcoming CAMP releases including the much loved (by me anyway) VIDEO VIOLENCE series!

D.Gary P. Cohen

This duo of shot on video epics from the 80’s definitely stand well above the norm in their  field. In fact it is safe to say that the first one is a minor classic in the arena of S.O.V. productions. Savily written, well-directed and even decently acted, VIDEO VIOLENCE was truly a surprise when it was released.
I must be going soft in the head! This is a shot on video regional quickie that I found myself enjoying quit a lot.

The plot concerns a video store owner who gets dropped a snuff film instead of one of his rental tapes. As he investigates he finds a general reluctance from the town to help and people start dropping like flies, and always in front of a video camera. A definite conspiracy begins to unfold.

The real surprise here is that the twists don’t seem telegraphed, and the lead characters aren’t as stupid as the average horror flick. The snuff angle was very fresh at the time, with only Roberta Findley’s cheesy grindhouse epic SNUFF and Roger Watkins classic LAST HOUSE ON DEAD ST being the only other films to exploit that angle.

The whole production is reasonably well put together, with good editing and sound, which is always a problem with S.O.V. productions. The gore score is reasonably high too. The attack in the deli should delight gorehounds all over with the well-done splatter.

Part 2 is unfortunately a step down in quality in more ways than one. This time the movie centers on the villains from the first movie who now have their own Snuff oriented underground TV show. On the show they torture and kill women in various splatterful ways.  As unpleasant as that sounds, the movie plays out in a very tongue and cheek manner, much more so than the serious first movie. Very little here is taken seriously at all, which makes the almost misogynistic tone easier to take.

This episode was also shot on lower end S-VHS equipment so the picture and sound quality are a big step down as well, making this one less appealing to watch on that lever too (which makes it a perfect addition as an extra feature on this DVD!).

Overall this package of THE BASEMENT and the co-features is probably one of the best
bangs for your buck going right now. Five movies, all pretty good as long as you understand what you
are getting,and lets be real if you are buying this package you TOTALLY understand what you are getting. Plus that extra VHS collector's tape of THE BASEMENT and the beautiful big box packaging too. Plus there are a fistful of short films as extras on the first disc that are all really pretty good too including one called DON'T DO DRUGS that throws around the red stuff in a very liberal way. Your really can't go wrong. The whole thing is a VHS festishists wet dream come to life and a must have item for the nostaligic gorehound.

© Review Andrew Copp

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Clear the sewers RATLINE is here

RATLINE (2011)
D. Eric Stanze

Underground Auteur Eric Stanze and the Wicked Pixel crew are back after the success of their last film, the very spooky and ambitious DEADWOOD PARK. This time Stanze is back into the grittier blood soaked territory a lot of his fans may feel he is comfortable in. But don't let appearances fool you, RATLINE is in a lot of ways his slickest, and most challenging work. Stanze is still bending genre conventions at will, here he does it in a roller-coaster fashion, never letting the audience get a good foothold long enough to know what hit them. There is enough story, gore and character in RATLINE for several movies and Stanze keeps all the balls in the air surprisingly well. 

The film begins with two sisters played by Wicked Pixel regular Emily Haack and Alex Del Monacco in a jam. They are ripping off some thug at a car repair garage for a large sum of money and have killed him. After cleaning up they are on the run. They head to a small town in Illinois to hide out where an innocent young woman named Penny Webb (Sarah Swafford) has offered them a boarding room. She is working for her Grandfather in the city offices helping him relocate the city graveyard since urban sprawl is setting in and many of the ancient graves belong to be people long since moved away.

Elsewhere in the city there are what appears to be a series of occult oriented crimes being committed, people turning up missing, pets disappearing, and sexual assaults all related to what appears to be Satanism. We find this out from a series of newspaper clipping on the walls of the Self styled satanists themselves, a rag tag group of teenagers including another Wicked Pixel Regular performer Jessie Seitz as the girl who video tapes their crimes.

***do not read the next two paragraphs if you do not want spoilers to the plot of RATLINE***

The Satanists are killing neighborhood dogs and bathing in the blood in moonlight sex rituals to try to bring about their lord and master, but the action is just not good enough. So they set a plan in motion to grab a person for slaughter. They set a trap to grab a passing motorist and almost get the two sisters from the beginning but their streets smarts prevent it. They do however convince a good Samaritan played by Wicked Pixel regular and producer Jason Christ to stop and help. They quickly kidnap him and take him to an abandoned warehouse for slaughter. But things don't go as planned. When he in fact VICIOUSLY turns the tables and kills every single last one of them in a stand out scene that will have gorehounds on their feet.

Seems that the Satanists were just a plot red herring, and that Jason Christ as Frank Logan is the real villain of the film. As the plot unfolds we discover he is in fact a supernatural killing machine from World War 2, created from Nazi Occult experiments, and he has returned to find the other scientists involved. Seems they have the ritualistic Nazi "Blood Flag" used to create him and with it he can secure his continuing immortality. Penny's Grandfather was involved in those experiments and has the flag. So Frank will stop at nothing to get it. But there may be other connections to the sisters as well.

What Eric Stanze has done with RATLINE is take a complex story and weld it to a Saturday afternoon exploitation style framwork and make both styles work with ease. The film spends the first third being basically a grindhouse horror movie filled with splatter and naked people, basically speaking loud and proud to the horror kids making sure they get their fix. Then the REAL villain of the piece arrives and knocks everyone's dick in the dirt. That's when the plot is allowed to get moving and to everyone's credit the movie does not slow down, it only get's more interesting thanks to a dynamic story and good acting all around.

Stanze's films always have a lot of complexity to them, and he usually delivers a lot of information in one fell swoop. Case in point how ICE FROM THE SUN stops for the main character to hear all about how the rules of the game to work, or the lengthy flash back in DEADWOOD PARK (that is a incredible and dynamic sequence). In RATLINE he finds an almost brilliant way to get a lot of information into the open in one fell swoop by having a character watch a declassified government film on the Nazi Experiments. The film is one the filmmakers obviously produced themselves but the replication of the era is astonishing and it is a fascinating artifact. Once that scene is over we know exactly what is transpiring.

Though RATLINE is not all blood and fire. One of the best elements of the movie is that there is a lot about relationships. There is an eroding relationship between the sisters because of the crime they have committed. Emily Haack's character has an emotional issue's dealing with her estranged Father. Penny has a nice relationship with her protective but conservative Grandfather and best of all there is a rather touching and very well handled love story that develops between Emily Haack's character and Sarah Swafford's. Seems that Swafford's Penny is a Lesbian but hiding because of the conservative community she lives in and Haack is a bit older and been through a lot more hard times and they fall for each other. In the middle of this rough and tumble horror film there is this amazingly toughing, very soft-hearted love story subplot that really works. So much that I kind of wish it had gotten more screen time as both actresses are really good together.

In some ways this is one of Eric Stanze's best films. It is lean, and free of fat. While I love all of his work, a lot of horror fans have trouble connecting to his more esoteric work. This one is much more trimmed down, and accessible to mainstream fans. While still keeping the things that make his work great. There are no compromises here, but the story telling is great, the film-making technique is top of the line and the actors are all on board.

RATLINE is available on as a streaming or direct download rental or purchase and as a DVD  directly from Wicked Pixel themselves. The newly released DVD has two commentary tracks one with just Eric Stanze, the other with the lead actors and Eric, an hour long behind the scenes documentary and of course the WPC trailer reel. So if you are a fan of Eric Stanze's other work or just really solid Indie horror films, you should do yourself a favor and just check this out. It is yet another winner from the WPC cannon.

Review © Andrew Copp

Ratline - Trailer by dreadcentral

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The streets get cleaned up in HD. THE EXTERMINATOR hits BLU-RAY...

D. James Glickenhaus
1.78 Anamorphic Widescreen
Blu Ray /DVD Combo Pack
Synapse Films

This seminal exploitation action classic is finally available again on the digital format after being out of print for a number of years. It was available in the very early days of the DVD format in an acceptable but not particularly impressive ltbx dvd release that was in turn just a port over of the Anchor Bay Ltbx VHS release from the late 90's. This new release see's the film for the first time totally remastered in full HD and totally uncut for the first time ever with some scant extended violence. No full scenes mind you, but when you see that fist infamous decapitation you will totally notice how it is much more juicy and unpleasant that you have ever seen it before.

For the uninitiated THE EXTERMINATOR is another in the very popular late 70's canon of revenge fantasies featuring the everyman who is pushed to the limit by some ferocious street crime and sets out to clean it up on his own. Here a lot of the structure is handled differently making the film interesting. Robert Ginty plays Vietnam Vet John Eastland whose best friend (played by B-Movie Kung fu actor Steve James) is beaten and mugged by low level street thugs. This vicious beating lands the poor guy in the hospital paralyzed. So John sets out on the streets to find the thugs to do them in. But even after quickly finding them he realizes this is not quite enough. Mounting hospital bills and just a general feeling of drowning in the filth of the street sends him on a mission to continue to take out the trash. Working his way through the various scum and street life of New York.

Many things set THE EXTERMINATOR apart from other grindhouse examples of the genre right from the get go; namely solid performances from Robert Ginty and Steve James (who is unfortunately not on screen very much). James is set up early in the film to be the actual hero of the piece as he saves his best friend not once, but twice. Once in the incredible, violent and harrowing Vietnam opening sequence, then later in the scene that introduces the thugs that will do him in. The film pulls a fast one by having him crippled and Ginty become the the avenging spirit of the film. It is a smart bit of scriptwriting to play it out this way and both actors do a good job of creating a real sense of believability in their friendship. Early on when Ginty finds a pair of thugs responsible for his friend's condition one of the thugs tries to reason out his behavior by claiming "it doesn't matter, he was only a nigger!" sending Ginty in a searing rage. He exclaims back to the thug "That...Nigger is my best friend you motherfucker". But he doesn't yell the line. He delivers it in a deliberate clinched teeth bit of rage that is entirely 100% believable. A moment of devastating emotion that grounds everything he does for the rest of the film.

What people remember THE EXTERMINATOR for is the outrageous violence and bone crunch stunts. For a low budget movie this was pretty over the top stuff that pushed a lot of limits. From the opening scene in Vietnam the included possible the most realistic decapitation ever put on film as well as the most insane helicopter stunts performed INCLUDING those in such films as APOCALYPSE NOW. Turns out the stunt drivers responsible are the same guys who did the helicopter stunts on TWILIGHT ZONE THE MOVIE. Another moment everyone remembers is the infamous meat-grinder death or the torture with soldering iron. All of which are here in full blown remastered delight. But one thing I always found unique about the movie is how there is a moment about half way through where the movie stops and we get to watch as the main character creates specialized poison bullets using mercury. The scene serves no other purpose except as a "how to" on exactly how such a thing can be done!

I'm also a big fan of the music in the film, especially the final song in the film by Chip Taylor called Theme for an American Hero. A song that captures the perfect loneliness of the main character and of a generation of broken men coming home from the Vietnam war.

The film has a sub plot featuring Christopher George as a cop who is on the trail of The Exterminator and while his performance is good and he fills it with quirks, I have always found this part of the film to be dead weight. Granted this is where we get a lot of the major Vietnam subtext as he discusses it with his bubbleheaded girlfriend played by Samantha Egger. But for me the main film is with Ginty and his revenge. When the film drifts from him I find myself drifting too.

Dictatorially it is a strange movie too. Glickenhaus makes some really odd choices that can either be really disconcerting or considered brave depending on how you want to look at them. He cuts a lot of what other director's would feel is necessary. Things basic screenwriting would dictate important like finding, stalking and catching the bad guys. Early on in the film Ginty catches the first of the thugs. Only we NEVER see any of that. The film fades out and fades back and he has the guy tied up and he is now questioning him with a flamethrower. We never see how he found the guy, caught the guy or even how he got the flamethrower. He tells the guy "if you're lying I'll be back" a line that even becomes the tag line of the trailers. Yet he never comes back to finish the guy off and ends up finding the gut much later in the movie when he is robbing an old lady. Once again no explanation of how the guy got loose or why he never went back for him. Some of that is simply lazy screenwriting , but some of it is clearly Glickenhaus dispensing with "fat" and cutting to the chase.

At the end of the day people remember the movie because it is a successful exercise in cinematic brutality and revenge wish fulfillment. Lots of us wish we could be THE EXTERMINATOR. Director Glickenhaus understood that, and was smart enough to craft real characters and put good actors in there to play them. That is the reason the movie has stood the test of time. This new DVD/Blu Ray combo delivers it the respect it deserves. A pristine presentation, a fantastic commentary (with fun nuggets like the explosion in the film was the biggest ever shot in New York) the first time ever on home video the Dolby Stereo tracks are available, and of course the trailers and TV spots.Synapse Films should be commended for going the extra mile (like the ALWAYS do) for making sure this was done right. Jump on this set if you are any kind of self respecting exploitation film fan.

Review © Andrew Copp
2 DVD set

This two disc set from Troma continues in the series of "instructional" dvd's from founder Lloyd Kauffman intended to help young young filmmakers find their way in the  movie business. Intended to work with his book MAKE YORU OWN DAMN MOVIE and the DVD set of the same name and the soon to be released SELL YOUR OWN DAMN MOVIE (which is the one I personally am looking the most forward too). Kauffman calls on his many years of film distribution experience and contacts to put together a fairly entertaining concoction of advice that is surprisingly useful.

The first disc is basically a throwaway and only of much use to fans of TROMA and Kauffman as it is basically Lloyd on several sets where he was doing comeo's. The footage is interesting, as we get a look at behind the scenes on films like the remake of MOTHER'S DAY, the new film MOMA'S BOYS or my own current favorite film of 2011 James Gunn's SUPER. The footage is fun, and a good time to see the bigger productions interact with with Kauffman, who basically seems clueless most of the time with how such machines actually work.

If the release was only this it would be nothing more than the kind of thing that would be you tube material but thankfully it is not. The second disc is a wealth of interviews conducted by Kauffman with a host of industry insiders on the topic of funding and producing movies in the film climate today. Ranging from bum rushing David Cronenberg at a convention to getting big time producer Avi Lerner to actually sit down at his office for a rather in depth discussion. Monte Hellman makes a HUGE major course breakfast while discussing his entire career. Roger Corman talks about the differences of making the very low budget Sci-Fi channel style films he makes now vs the old school classic he used to make. Newcomers The Duplass Brothers discuss their process of deconstruction and getting their ultra low budget films into Sundance. Ernest Dickerson goes into a surprising amount of depth about getting funds together and working within the mainstream. Uber producer Steven Paul talks about finding funding as does Caroline Baron. I skipped listening to Mick Garris.

The topic everyone discusses at length is how in the old days you could raise financing her in the USA with a good idea, or using things like Tax shelter, or penny stocks. Now you HAVE to have a star, or something ready to pre-sell the whole package and go to foreign sales markets. It seems ALL projects from a small indie drama to the biggest projects like RAMBO are funded the exact same way now through presales on the foreign market or through places like the American Film Market with things like big stars of marketable talent behind the camera as collateral. This is why remakes and sequels are such bankable ways to go, because it is a gaurentee on inestiment.

The second disc on the set is actually a very helpful, very interesting big of movie making insider information. Maybe not revelatory information, but certainty useful to those looking to break in and make films in the this climate. Disc one is just of use to TROMA fans who like to watch Lloyd Kauffman clown around.

Review ©Andrew Copp