VHS Video Cover Art (2015)

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Film hounds in their 30’s on up fondly remember a time when we could casual walk the halls of various video stores and grab an armload of flicks to watch over a long weekend or a vacation. The basis for those grabs were often based on the absolutely lurid and fantastic cover art. The lower the budget the more extreme the cover in many cases. I believe this nostalgia is what has largely fueled the VHS collecting craze. Many of us want to own and see those flicks that we were never allowed to rent by our frowning parents or the films we always wanted to see but never got around to renting. Thomas “The Dude Designs” Hodge has given us wonderful posters and box art for recent films but creating lovingly like they used to be in the 80’s; painted  with lots of blood, badasses, and babes. He’s the go-to guy if you need a rad poster that will hook viewers. This guy knows his stuff and when he releases a book about box art, you have to check it out.

VHS Video Cover Art is a wonderful hard cover, full color book that reprints nearly 250 (!) covers from front side and back of his absolute favorite tapes. He combed through massive vhs collections in the UK to bring us the best, worst, and funkiest covers he could unearth. This is as close as we are ever going to get to walking through the vintage halls of an old mom & pop video store aside from buying the whole damn store itself. The book contains the artist if it’s known and that’s about it. There is no commentary or reviews or anything else to clutter it up. You just open it up and rub your eyeballs all over the funky covers and wonder if the movies deliver what the posters offer, just like in the good old days. Sure we grabbed bon-i-fide stinkers but there was gold sprinkled through those shelves too. Now you can have the fun of looking at the covers whenever you want without actually having to sit through the stinkers.

The pictures are high resolution, full color, and damn near actual size. There’s no weird “arty” filters put on them, no special lighting or text. You get pure raw vhs cover art the way it was intended to be seen. This could have been a wank fest of the curator putting his own stamp on every piece but instead he treats each cover like the piece of art that it is. Living in the states there are several covers that I’ve never seen before for films that I have actually checked out so that’s pretty neat too. There’s no way I would ever get to see these specific versions of the covers unless I hopped on a plane and broke into his house. It’s interesting to note that the highly regulated video laws (hello video nasties!) in the UK still allowed a load of nudity to be on normal covers. That would never fly in the free-est nation in the world. Nipples are a big no-no here. I would love to see future editions based on country of origin. U.S.A., Japan, and Italy would all be very awesome to own.

If you love VHS Cover Art, you’ll love this book. It’s a simple as that. It’s fun to look at and show your friends. It makes for a great coffee table book and conversation starter. Get your nostalgic fix and give the covers a re-appraisal. Some of them are actually very good. Others are truly terrible. You be the judge.

Video Spinegrinder (2015)

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I watch a lot of movies. On a year basis I watch over 500 films. By most people’s standards, that’s a lotta films. Honestly I’m often embarrassed when asked how many films I watch in a year. Sometimes it even depresses me a bit when i start to add up the hours and realize what other accomplishments I could have achieved using that time. By author Clive Davies standards, that’s pathetic.

Video Spinegrinder is a massive tome dedicated to all kinds of films. Think of it as a modern Psychotronic Video guide. This thing is so massive that it actually maxed out Headpress’ printing capabilities and about 800 reviews had to be excised due to that limitation. I’d say it looks like a phone book but it’s thicker than that. It’s over 1,000 pages and contains over 7,200 reviews. That is a staggering amount of reviews. To put it in context, it would take me close to 15 years to watch and review that many films. That is extreme dedication.

Davies, who hails from the U.K., moved to Japan in ’99 and began watching hordes of films, including super rare Japanese flicks which are sprinkled throughout the book. The book contains horror, sci-fi, action, and just about any other genre type flick you can think of. It spans all eras from silent right up to today. The reviews are arranged alphabetically which makes for some very odd reading. You’ll find a giallo on the same page as a kids film which is on the same page as a noir from the 40s for example. It truly gives equal footing to every film by ramming them all together. Each review contains the film’s name, date of release, other names for the film, who directed it , the country of origin, and other misc information. Each review is anywhere from one long sentence to several sentences but none are exhaustive. They couldn’t be. The book is already huge. The economy of words used do not hurt the reviews though. They are still clear if very concise. We know if he liked it or not and why. Just like a good exploitation film, the reviews are quick and dirty and never boring.

Video Spinegrinder belongs on your shelf right next to your Psychotronic Video Guide and your copy of Nightmare U.S.A. and World Gone Wild. That is, if you can find room for it.

Killer Cop (1975)

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Eurocrime films have been reviewed here but not en masse. It’s a genre that has yet to find it’s rabid cult fan base. The films were plentiful but their reach was shallow as American cinema continued to dominate box offices here in the states (and still do) and the genre was pretty much dead by the time the VHS boom hit in the 80’s. It’s a sad case where the genre was born too early and burned out too soon. Many of the heavyweight films were never even released here or were only released in rundown slapdash vhs dubs a decade after they were originally released. Rarovideo has been fighting the good fight to get some of the more obscure flicks out there. Killer Cop is one of them.

Killer Cop is about a terrorist bomb that goes off in the wrong place. What was meant to be a warning turned deadly when the bomb goes off in a crowded hotel lobby. Now the coppers are on the hunt for the gang that murdered the innocent.

Unlike most of the other eurocrime flicks I’ve watched this one features the terrorist angle which for me made the film feel more like a thriller than a gritty action flick. There are indeed some fun action sequences including the thunderous ending but the vibe of this one differs a bit. Sure it’s got a detective at the end of his rope getting his ass chewed by his superiors for sticking his nose in where it doesn’t belong but it lacks the tough bad guys to match. The terrorist group is sort of pathetic and not entirely menacing, especially the guy who actually dropped the bomb, the one they are searching for the hardest. This doesn’t mean the film is a failure though, it just oozes a different stink than the usual eurocrime setup.

The Blu-ray itself once again looks great. Raro have yet to let me down on any of the releases I’ve seen. The picture is crisp and I couldn’t stop marvelling at how great it looks at certain points. The Blu-ray also comes with an extensive booklet about the philosophy of the genre, and includes the English as well as Italian audio track.

Killer Cop would not be the first film to dive into eurocrime with. I’d recommend The Big Racket but if you’ve seen a chunk of them then this is a nice addition to the pile.

 

Vampyros Lesbos (1971)

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Jess Franco is a divisive director. Over several decades of film making he has cultivated an incredible cult following of die hard eurosleaze fans that voraciously collect everything he has done. This is no easy feat as he has 203 directing credits according to the IMDB. I am not a Franco fanatic. I’ve seen a handful of his films, some of them I have enjoyed while others I have not. For me he is a director that had a whole lot of misses and I’ve been hesitant to try to find his hits. Vampyros Lesbos is one of his most critically acclaimed films so I was very excited to get a copy of the Severin Blu-ray.

Vampyros Lesbos is about a female vampire that has inherited Dracula’s fortune. She hangs out, looks sexy (often naked), and drinks blood when she’s not performing a lesbian show at a nightclub. A woman in charge of helping the countess with her new estate watches her skin show and becomes obsessed with her.

Let me begin by saying that the blu-ray looks fantastic. Fans of the film rejoice, Severin has done a great job yet again of cleaning up a cult flick and making it look pretty again. The packaging is also stellar which sounds funny but hey, if it’s going to take up room on your shelf it might as well look good while it’s up there. The special features are also to notch with plenty to keep you informed. You get an interview with Jess Franco, an in depth analysis with renowned Franco-phile and all around cult cinema encyclopedia Stephen Thrower (hell he even wrote an encyclopedic book about American independent horror films called Nightmare U.S.A.), and more. You certainly get your money’s worth.

The film itself however didn’t work for me as much as say Countess Perverse. The film has that unique vibe that Euro horror has, especially of the sleazy variety, but as a whole it didn’t work for me. I know this is a huge cult favorite, so fans of the film know that the blu is really stellar. If you haven’t seen the film however, make sure you dig dreamy sleazy euro flicks before you pull the trigger. For me, the film’s dreamlike state was fine but the film didn’t really go anywhere fast. Sure there’s plenty of nudity on display (as always), and it has a big ending but there was also a lot of talking that didn’t really lead anywhere. I know for some it’s scandalous to knock the flick. Like I said: I’m not much of a Franco fan so it’s fairly obvious that this wouldn’t rock my world.  Maybe I’m getting old too, rampant nudity isn’t enough for me anymore.

I highly recommend this for fans of Franco and Eurosleaze as the presentation is fantastic, for the rest of you, this might not be the best introduction to Franco’s work.

Zombies: The Beginning (2007)

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I have a policy around these parts. I don’t like writing negative reviews. I don’t really see the point. I’d rather be a beacon of light shining on worthy books and films. I don’t want to be a prick who gets off trashing said movies and books that I don’t like. I don’t need to get my jollies that way. I watched Zombies: The Beginning several weeks ago. I didn’t like it at first but the more I think about it the more the movie has grown on me. I wasn’t going to review it. But here I am doing just that.

Zombies: The Beginning is ironically the last film ever directed by the late Bruno Mattei. If you’ve slummed it through the sewers of eurosleaze and cheese his name has come up even if you didn’t know it. He used several pseudonyms, the most common is Vincent Dawn. He directed the hilariously bad Rambo ripoff Strike Commando, Hell of the Living Dead, the surprisingly good Rats: the Night of Terror and about 50 other films during his career. It would be unfair to judge his last films on a scale that doesn’t fit the rest of his oeuvre. He made cheap exploitation flicks good and bad.

Zombies: The Beginning is about a woman who survives an zombie outbreak on a small island. The zombies were created in a lab and she is sent back to the island as an observer and as a walking bundle of information for the troops sent in to find out what happened. If this sorta sounds like Aliens you would be right. There is no denying that the film “borrows” the plot as well as memorable scenes and even the uber macho characters. The plot here is rather cliche and frankly there isn’t much to write about. A guy who made a career doing ripoffs and retreads can’t be expected to pull out a masterpiece in his last film, nor can I rightly complain about it. I knew what I was getting into. The movie is shot on video but isn’t as bad as you might expect. It’s still video though and pre-dslr/4k camera video still looks like video. It didn’t bother me. Again, I wouldn’t expect anything more (or less).

The film features a bevy of gore effects, in fact much of the running time of the movie is dedicated to fighting and dying with lots of big bloody squibs, exploding heads and all manner of nastiness. It being shot on video gives it an even sleazier feel. It felt like some disturbed kid directed this, and that kid should be on a watch list somewhere. The gore is certainly the centerpiece of the film because it sure as hell isn’t the acting or the script. The ending is super bonkers and goes off in a direction that is both disgusting and surprising. I won’t spoil it here but if you like the red stuff, you get plenty.

Zombies: The Beginning needs to be judged in context of the directors previous efforts. The efforts which for many cinema fans are guilty pleasures at best and laughably bad to downright unwatchable. Zombies: The Beginning fits right in and is certainly watchable especially if you’re a gore hound. If you like the director’s previous efforts, you’ll enjoy this one too though it’s certainly on the nastiest side of things he did during his career.

Theme ’70 (2015)

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The world of zines was one that passed me by I’m afraid. I grew up in a small town and I don’t remember ever seeing any funky cool zines at local shops. In fact, during the 90’s and 00’s there wasn’t the emphasis on local that there is now. It was all about big corporate stores and home grown zines had a hard time finding a place there. The closest thing i could find as a kid was Fangoria and that doesn’t count.

Theme ’70 was a British zine that appeared in the 90’s and focused on exploitation films of the 70’s. This was at a time when information on these films was scant and a person had to drive all over the place to get your hands on a vhs tape of the films, if you even knew they existed at all. Theme ’70 was a valuable resource for those who wanted to know about blaxsploitation, kung fu, and action films of the 70’s. The book reprints some of the pages from the original zine while also adding new ones to look at. The book isn’t really a reference guide though there is certainly some interesting information. It mostly serves as an art book with reprints of rare stills, posters, and lobby cards that the author has spent decades collecting. The book is printed in full color and it’s fantastic getting to see the posters reprinting in all their glory in full page lay outs. It’s the type of book that you can just sit and stare at cover to cover and soak in all the exploitation goodness (or badness depending on your viewpoint). The print quality is excellent and the layout is suitably funky and homegrown.

If you love exploitation and love the images from said flicks, you’re gonna dig Theme ’70. Headpress once again proves to be an excellent publisher of cult film books! The author Mark Banville, is working on another book right now, this time dedicated to the Giallo genre called Giallo ’70! I’ll be first in line for that bad boy.

Society (1989)

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I first saw society 10+ years ago when it debuted on dvd via Anchor Bay. It was a double feature dvd with Spontaneous Combustion I believe and it was super cheap at a little shop in Davis, CA. I scooped it up and gave it a look and liked it but didn’t love it. I was expecting a gore fest since it was directed by Brian Yunza, of Bride of Re-Animator fame. It isn’t. But this time around I appreciated it for what it is, a very unique horror film.

Society is about a young man on the cusp of adult hood. His family starts acting weird as do some other members of their social circle and he begins to suspect that all is not what it seems in Beverly Hills. If you haven’t seen the film, I don’t want to give it all away but rest assured it goes above and beyond your normal horror tropes and into a very funky vision that only a guy like Yuzna could provide.

My main beef with the film on my initial viewing was that it wasn’t gory. At the time I had been tracking down every nasty piece of horror I could get my hands on. I wanted the most extreme stuff I could find, so I was a little let down. In the intervening years I’ve broaden my viewing habits and usually shy away from horror that is super extreme for the sake of being super extreme. I guess I’m getting older. This time around I knew it wasn’t going to be filled with arterial sprays and severed limbs. The film exists to show of it’s insane last 30 minutes or so, a portion of film filled with gooey, slimy nastiness mixed with strange sexual energy and imagery which was much more potent this time around for me. In a work: yuck. The acting is fair and the direction is solid. The whole film hinges on whether you dig the centerpiece or not and this time around, I did enjoy it.

This is the first time that the film has been released on Blu and looks good. The colors are vibrant, one scene where two characters wear  blue jackets come to mind, and the image is sharp. There is digital noise which often occurs with older films being placed on blu but it didn’t bother me. I know that true blu buffs hate to see that stuff smudged out so for those of you who want it, it’s there. For those of you that don’t like it, it’s not distracting. The Blu also features a bevy of new special features including nice interviews with the actors of the film, Brian Yuzna himself, and special effects artist Screaming Mad George (who is Japanese, I had no idea!). I always pictured him as being a middle aged balding dude with thick arms and a goatee.

If you’re a fan of the film, this is a worthwhile upgrade and if you haven’t seen it before, here’s your chance to see one of the funkiest movies of the 80’s in glorious high definition. Arrow again brings the thunder with this release.

So Bad, So Good 2: Electric Bookaloo (2015)

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A few weeks ago I got my hands on So Bad, So Good, a book covering over 50 films perfect for a bad movie night with friends. I love that kind of stuff and regularly watch cheesy flicks. In fact, I’m an aficionado of the stuff. I really enjoyed that book (I read it in a weekend) and so I really wanted to read the sequel. Is it as good as the first?

This edition of So Bad, So Good is much better in the editing department. There are far fewer grammatical errors and the cover art is much more pleasing to the eye. The overall structure of the book makes more sense and there’s uniformity in each review. This book does not feature as many reviews as the last but each film is discussed at a greater length. The movies covered in this book are largely newer films, whereas the first volume focused on older films from the 80’s and 90’s. As far as I’m concerned bad movies have to age like a stinky cheese. There’s a point, usually at least 15 years, when they reach their max potency. The clothes, music, and slang are all hopelessly dated and add to the unique bouquet of awfulness. Newer films that stink, just stink. It’s much harder to find a fun bad movie that was made less than 10 years prior to viewing. Now I haven’t seen any of the newer films mentioned in this book but the author has an excellent track record of finding the best of the worst so I might just have to give them a spin. Not every film covered here is new however. There are some great recommendations from the early 90’s that I will have to check out.

As with the first volume, the reviews themselves are fun to read though I prefer the shorter format of the first book to the longer reviews here. We also get some selections by actor Greg Sestero (The Room), and some background information on how Alien Opponent got made. I hope that in volume 3 we get more fun submissions like these alongside more reviews. If you haven’t bought either book yet, I’d say snag the first one first, then dive into this one.

I’m always on the lookout for new recommendations for good bad movies. It’s a rare film that is terrible and fun and not terrible and boring. I don’t think there are any other books out there that focus exclusively on this subject so these books are a real treasure for trash hounds!

Web Junkie (2014)

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Web Junkies is a documentary about a Chinese internet addiction rehabilitation camp in Beijing. According to the documentary the Chinese government has determined that internet addiction is a mental disorder (the first nation to come to that conclusion) and have built over 400 rehabilitation centers for teenagers suffering said addiction. We’ve all read the news stories of people dying at internet cafes there because they’ve been playing video games around the clock with out food, drink, or sleep. For the Chinese this is a serious problem.

The documentary is filmed primarily inside the rehabilitation camp and interviews several teenagers sent there by their parents, many of which were tricked or drugged into doing so. Once there they live in bunks, wear camouflage clothes and are treated like soldiers. They face intensive family therapy with their parents as well. The kids featured in the doc have given up on living normal lives. They have dropped out of school and sneak away to play video games non-stop. Think your average American gaming enthusiast turned up to 11. In a society that places value on supporting the whole, and denouncing the individual, this is wholly alien. Surprisingly the teens aren’t subjected to beatings, starvation, mental torture or any other thing you might imagine would go on at a military run Chinese rehab facility. The care takers seem to be very patient and understanding with the kids.

Internet addiction is a serious problem around the world but especially in China where a growing number of families have money for the first time ever but also fall prey to modern problems facing teens everywhere. The documentary isn’t very in depth, it’s more of a day in the life of these kids. We never find out what happened to them after the filming though many seem to be truly changed by their time in the camp with a renewed vigor for life. Forcing the teens to live together and deal with each other in reality may be just what the doctored ordered.

Day of Anger (1967)

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For a while now Arrow Video has dominated dvd/blu ray releases in the U.K. Savvy film buffs have been importing them to the U.S. and playing them on region free players but now Arrow Films has decided to break into the U.S. market and one of their very first releases is the spaghetti western, Day of Anger.

Day of Anger, starring Lee Van Cleef, is about a young man in a small town who is at the bottom of the social ladder. He was a bastard born from the local brothel and doesn’t even have a last name. In a shit smeared jacket he cleans the out houses and sweeps floors and is a stable hand for chump change. Everyone in town treats him like dirt despite is kind disposition. Then a rich stranger comes to town and takes a liking to the boy. As it turns out this stranger is one tough hombre and he takes the boy under his wing as he tries to take over the town.

Day of Anger is an exciting western and not your standard fare. We get plenty of scenery chewing from Van Cleef and plenty of action but it’s plot is a twisty one. The story is more of a tale involving the coming of age and the growth of a boy into a man. He struggles to decide what type of man he is to become, ruthless like Van Cleef, or kind and strong like his mentor the stable owner. I have to admit, the spaghetti western is a bit of a blind spot for me. Sure I’ve seen a handful but honestly they haven’t held my interest much but after watching Day of Anger, I want to dive in head first into the genre. Despite being nearly 2 hours long, the film grabbed my attention and didn’t let it go. Every time Le Van Cleef was on screen, he owned the film and no one could possibly touch him. He oozes menace and power in the film. I believed he wasn’t a man to be messed with.

The presentation is fantastic and for my first taste of Arrow, it was a delicious bite. The film has been completely restored from top to bottom. I now understand why Arrow is such a revered name among Dvd labels. I can’t wait to dig into more of their releases as they come out here. Keep your eyes peeled on this site for future reviews of their releases.