House of Mortal Sin (1975)

81JLqbwEguL._SL1500_

I’ve been a fan of British director Pete Walker for several years now. He made a series of horror flicks in the 70′s (and one in the 80′s)  that were well written, tightly plotted, and very well acted. His films aren’t known for being graphic gorefests because the censors at the time wouldn’t allow it but that didn’t stop distributors from selling his films like they were Italian gut munchers. This has led to many a fright fan being let down by the film but if you know going in you’re not going to get anything particularly graphic then they truly are a great run of films. House of Mortal Sin is one such film.

House of Mortal Sin is about a young girl who is very confused. She has an asshole boyfriend and decides to go to church to see if an old friend of hers is there and eventually goes into confession. There she meets the villain of the story a pushy old priest who becomes obsessed with her and with killing everyone around her that is leading her astray!

I loved this flick! The priest is so damn wicked and the actor chews the scenery beautifully. His assistant is played by Pete Walker regular Sheila Keith and she is also superb in her role as a wicked woman with a blacked out eyeglasses lens. Together they’re great to watch as each actor tries to outdo each other in their malice-dripping performances. We actually do get a bit grue in this one too which was a surprise. We get some rather nasty murders but the real star of the show is the great performances. The film is well paced and written and like so many other Walker films, a real joy to watch. His films are actors films, giving them plenty of room to shine and they certainly do here.

The Blu-ray print looks GREAT. I can’t believe how clean and clear the print is. There are times when the film looks like it was made just yesterday with it’s crisp picture and clear color palette. Though the costumes are a dead give away, this is a 70′s flick all the way.

If you are a fan of Pete Walker this is an easy pick up. It’s a great film and it’s been lovingly restored and released.

Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector (2013)

adjust your tracking

I grew up in the 90′s, the peak of the video boom, right before the massive fall of the video store and vhs as the king of the formats. I had a local mom & pop shop (movies to go) in my little town and eventually we got a Blockbuster, a Hollywood Video, and a few other video stores that popped up and came tumbling down just as quickly. I have nostalgia for that time in my life. I used to rent old movies, 6 for $6 and my summers were filled with roundhouse kicks and monsters. Of course I can’t deny how much I have loved using Netflix either. I was an early adopter of Netflix after having rented everything of interest from my local stores. I wish for a world where both can co-exist but as of right now we know that isn’t happening. I also love finding funky VHS tapes at thrift stores and cruise my local spots regularly hoping to find some grimy gold. Adjust Your Tracking is a documentary about doing just that, digging deep and trying to find forgotten films and preserve them for future enjoyment. It is also about the love of video stores and the love of our cinematic childhoods.

You may be thinking, wait, wasn’t there another VHS documentary? Yes, there was. Filmed at the same time by separate filmmakers, Rewind This was also about the love VHS but focused more on it’s impact on filmmakers and took a much more historical look at the format. Adjust Your Tracking interviews some of the same folks that were featured in Rewind This but has a different focus. The focus here is really on the culture of collecting and why people love filling up their homes with plastic magnetic jewels. This film interviews some of the heavy hitters of the collecting world as well as VHS banner wavers like the guys behind Massacre Video and Lunchmeat magazine (whom I write for and highly recommend!). It’s a fun doc that’s well paced and informative without ever being dull. Running at a lean 80 minutes it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome and kept me engaged throughout. I love the subject and I love documentaries and this one is a sure fire winner. I really liked Rewind This but I felt it was lacking VHS’ current history and culture and Adjust Your Tracking fills that void very nicely. This is the debut film from the director and if this is where he is starting, I can’t wait to see where he goes next. It seems easy to go out and a shoot a doc but trust me, it isn’t. I know he drove across the entire U.S. doing tons of interviews, probably shooting hundreds of hours of interviews to cut that down into an 80 minute feature that has an organic and seemingly effortless flow is one tough feat, especially when you’re working on a small budget, and with little experience. Adjust Your Tracking isn’t good for a first feature, it’s just plain good. I really enjoyed watching it and I’m really glad I did.

Also included on the dvd are 3 short films which I also really enjoyed. One is about a video store trying to hang on, another is about Chester Turner the man behind the cult phenomenon Tales of the Quadead Zone, and another is about a huge video store in Staten Island that has to close. They all add to the overall flavor of the culture of VHS and the one about the small video store hanging on has inspired me to go to my own “local” video store (it’s 30 min away) and rent a few things with my kids. There are in total 7+ hours of bonus features for us to dig into and that my friends is value for money indeed!

It’s clear that Adjust Your Tracking is a labor of love. The film needed to be made and was executed by the right team at the right time. They’ve produced an important documentary well worth the sticker price for any body who used to roam around a video store looking for gold and anyone who continues to hunt for hidden cult treasure. Recommended!

World Gone Wild (2014)

world gone wild

My earliest action movie memory is of The Road Warrior. Every time the film played on T.V., I would watch it. Max was just such a cool character. He drove what is arguably the coolest vehicle in all of film history, sported a sweet sawed off shotgun that has the same amount of stopping power as a rocket launcher, and he hardly said anything. It also had awesome bad guys driving awesome-er cars. The film is such a unique and strong vision of a future turned to shit that it’s burned into my brain permanently. It was one of the first VHS tapes I ever bought. I still own it today. It spawned countless rip-offs and knock offs and influenced several big budget Hollywood films. The 80′s were a ripe time for post apocalyptic films with the ever looming chance of a nuclear war. Since then, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic films have been gaining ground again as small indie flicks (every zombie movie made in the last 15 years) and big budget spectacles (Pacific Rim, Godzilla, countless Tom Cruise movies). One man was brave enough, or crazy enough, to dig in and watch them. ALL of them.

World Gone Wild is a film book that covers every single apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic film ever made. Seriously. The book is filled with 800+ reviews, the writing of which took the author 8 years to complete. Imagine that. Nearly a decade of watching, researching, and tracking down every single film in the apocalyptic canon. It’s a dizzying feat, one that I can’t imagine embarking on. Thankfully, I don’t have to. With the accurate, concise, and fun reviews packed in this bundle, I can avoid the many many stinkers and hone in on the solid ones. And, knowing me, I’ll circle back and try to find the worst of the worst in the book. The book comes in a beautiful hardcover edition, thick with high quality glossy FULL COLOR pages. This thing is stunning. The book is FILLED with full color posters and lobby cards. Every single page has at least one color photo on it. Honestly I can’t believe how good the quality some of the images are. I mean, a solid chunk of the book reviews are for films that aren’t on dvd. VHS only or sometimes not even that. Films lost floating in the ether of the internet, but David somehow grabbed them, pulled them in, reviewed em, and then found awesome images for them. Incredible. Damn near every other page also contains an interview with an actor, director, crew member, writer, you get the picture. I would have been very happy with a book that simply reviewed a ton of apocalyptic films. The author goes above and beyond here with the wonderful interviews and at the back of the book are several great lists. Everybody LOVES lists, and I’m a sucker for em too. You may be saying, Lord, I don’t need another film guide. Let me tell you something buddy, you do.

World Gone Wild is a perfect book about it’s subject matter. It’s thorough, high-quality, well conceived and executed, and above all fun and informative. If you have even just a passing interest in the genre, you’ll love the book. For aficionados, there’s plenty to dig into as well. My guess is there is no one on the planet that has watched more of these films than David J. Moore, and he decided to give us the best gift he could. An awesome book pointing us in the right direction in our pursuit of a truly wild staple of exploitation cinema. Do yourself a favor and pick up the book. Who knows, the survival techniques displayed in the kaleidoscopic variety of films might just save your life should the apocalypse arrive sooner than expected.

Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide (2014)

video-nasties-dvd

About 10 years ago I discovered the video nasty phenomenon. Here in the states we can usually release whatever the hell we want but the blokes out in the U.K. have not had it so good. In the early 80′s as VCRs became available, distributors started pumping out all sorts of lurid covers from graphic (and some not graphic at all) horror movies. This caught the attention of the powers that be and soon a firestorm of controversy was started. Learning this I found a list of the original 72 films that were either banned outright or cut for release in the U.K. I was interested in just how extreme some of them might be so I tracked down as many as I could (50+) at the time and went through the list alphabetically. Some were righteously labeled as nasty and some were just lumped in because of the title or because of the artwork associated with the film. A fair amount of them are pretty poorly made flicks.

Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide, is indeed very thorough. It’s a 3 dvd set that includes a full documentary directed by gore master Jake West ( Evil Aliens, Doghouse, ABC’s of Death) that features new interviews and information that wasn’t included on the Video Nasty documentary on the House on Straw Hill Blu, also released by Severin, and to be honest it’s presented in a much more fun and less dry style. It includes interviews with Neil Marshall (Doomsday, Centurion, The Descent), Christopher Smith (Triangle, Creep, Severance, Black Death), several critics, and some folks that were there, fighting the good fight at the time. Certainly it doesn’t dig as deep as the aforementioned documentary on the House on Straw Hill Blu, but it’s still very informative. If you are as into the subject matter as I am, why not pick up both from Severin? I’m sure they’ll be very happy you did!

The other discs include trailers for EVERY SINGLE video nasty. In total there’s nearly 14 hours of content spread across the 3 discs! Whoa. That’s alotta video nasty. For trailer lovers this is a great set as it is complete. Perfect for parties or dates with very adventurous partners.

Back in Crime (2011)

1203

Time travel is one of my favorite tropes in science fiction cinema. It’s an easy way to get a high concept idea made into a film with a limited budget. Or a fantastic way to blow a huge wad of cash on fancy special effects. Back in Crime is more interested in subtlety than flash and puts an interesting spin on the tried and true plot device.

Newly released in the states, this French film is about an older police detective. He’s worn and tired. He spends his free time alone and mulls over a series of killings that happened more than 20 years previously where the killer was never caught. Another body shows up matching the M.O. from the old slayings and he meets a woman who discovered the body. He starts to fall for her just as he’s transported into the past by some unseen force. He’s sent back just a few days before the murders begin and so he sets out to stop the killer this time around. Things, however get complicated when he’s implicated in the murders!

Back in Crime is a simple, subtle film. It never jumps the shark and doesn’t blow it in the end. Often times films of this nature fall apart in the third act (see nearly every thriller from the early to mid 90′s). The characters are engaging and very human. It being French the film focuses more on the characters than it does the action and I’m totally fine with that. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, nor did it blow my mind. It is totally rock solid however. As the film proceeds it looks less likely the criminal will be stopped and more likely our hero will be caught in connection with the murders. In this way the film becomes very Hitchcockian and I had fun with it. If you like films based on time travel, serial killer procedurals, or subtle French thrillers, give Back in Crime a shot.

Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction (2014)

partly fiction

Harry Dean Stanton is a character actor. You’ve seen him countless times over the last several decades playing a variety of supporting roles and many iconic films. The man has over 250 acting credits and to fans of the funky and cult is always a welcome addition to any cast. Partly Fiction is a documentary about the man, who as it turns out is complex and nebulous, giving little but sparking thought and debate.

Partly Fiction uses interviews with HDS as well as some of the other actors and directors he’s worked with over the years. The film is filled with clips from his films and also features some great vintage photographs of the man. Filmed in color and in black and white, the documentary follows him around and he is a man that doesn’t like to be followed. He gives little throughout the film, just glimpses of his life, experiences, and family. He’s never married and has no children. He’s a loner and as such he spends his time in his own mind, thinking, philosophizing, and generally being the most interesting guy in the room that many people don’t notice. As a young man he presents himself as a womanizer and a hell raiser but his reserved and quiet demeanor say he’s either grown a lot or maybe his past wasn’t as wild as he’d like us to think. The interviews with him are like catching smoke, just when you think you’re finally got a handle on him and he’s about to spill his guts, he vanishes.

The film also features several songs sung by HDS and he professes his love for music and laments his lack of musical accomplishments in his life. His songs, coupled with his reclusive nature and the films’ short running time (77 mins) will either frustrate the viewer or leave the viewer wanting more. I was in the latter category. I’m really glad someone decided to try to make a film about him and I only wish he would have allowed the documentarians to dig a little deeper but as I said he’s an enigmatic man that doesn’t want the whole world to know his deep dark secrets. That in itself is a breath of fresh air in a world where every celebrity’s personal opinions and life stories are a matter of public record, each clambering on top of another fighting for maximum media exposure with the loudest voice in the room. And then there’s Harry Dean Stanton. Sitting in the corner, smoking and drinking, waiting for his set call, pondering the ins and outs of life. It’s a unique vision, a personality type that isn’t heralded today and I’m glad to have witnessed it.

 

Killing American Style (1990)

killing american style

In recent years there has been growing momentum for cult action flicks from the 80′s that are so awful it’s unbelievable. Deadly Prey, Miami Connection, and Samurai Cop are some of the genre favs right now and I can honestly say I love all three. They make great party movies to sit around and laugh at. They are highly violent with lots of stunts, shooting, and general mayhem. They also feature highly quotable dialogue that gets better every time you see it. The director of Samurai Cop, Amir Shervan directed 5 films in the late 80′s/early 90′s and never lived to see the revival of Samurai Cop as a new favorite for the MST3k crowd. When I found out another one of his films had been unearthed I knew I had to check it out immediately and thanks to the folks at Cinema Epoch we can all now enjoy another Shervan classic, Killing American Style.

Fans of Samurai Cop will notice a few familiar faces in Killing American Style, most notably the face of Robert Z’dar (Maniac Cop, Tango and Cash). The film is about a group of crooks lead by Z’dar that knock over an ice cream truck depot and go out on the lam. They get caught by the cops but break free, seeking refuge in a remote house owned by John Morgan (long haired ass kicker by trade). They take the family hostage while they wait for Z’dar’s mom to bring them the loot they have hidden. It’s up to Morgan to come up with a plan to kill these thugs, American style!

Let me begin by saying that Killing American Style isn’t the howlingly bad film I was hoping for. It does have some great bad dialogue but the film is much more adept at being a real film. It’s got action, tension, scenery chewing bad guys, more action, and then after that more action. Samurai Cop his hilarious but it’s also badly paced and stalls out towards the end. KAS does not. It’s thoroughly fun for the entire run time and honestly kept me engaged. It’s a fun action flick and it was meant to be. Samurai Cop tires to be serious while also being silly ala Lethal Weapon and fails at both. KAS is more like other direct to video actioners from the time and is for the most part pretty competent. Don’t let the dissuade you though. It really is a big bucket of fun. Jim Brown plays the lead detective hunting down the thugs and though he arguably has the most experience acting in films he’s probably the worst player here. He’s stiff, awkward, and has the charisma of a wooden board. Which is pretty damn funny. Z’dar hams it up plenty, laying down his requisite 110% effort which is much appreciated as well. I really wish he could have been bigger. I love watching him play bad guys. He’s got that great whispery voice and those intense eyes. He’s just so much fun to watch. We also get to see him in a sex scene which is pretty…awkward. It’s clear that the main players try really hard here to make the best film they could with what they had, well except the check cashing Jim Brown that is.

Killing American Style is a fun, action packed, direct to video cheapie that delivers the goods. No it isn’t as iconic and hilarious as Samurai Cop but it doesn’t suffer from the dead spots Samurai Cop has either. Everyone is bringing their best to the film and I really enjoyed watching it. Films like KAS often fall into the inept and boring category but that is not the case here. It’s silly, fun, and has a handful of awful lines to satisfy Samurai Cop fans. The dvd features an interview with a smaller character in the film but it was great to get some insight on how the film was made and what Z’dar and Shervan were like at the time. The picture quality is great too. It’s clear Cinema Epoch put great care in putting this out and is no way a cheap cash grab. Cinema Epoch also released Samurai Cop on dvd so here’s hoping they put out Hollywood Cop, Gypsy and Young Rebels too!

 

Tin Can Man (2007)

TinCanMan_Poster_Final

Any casual reader of this site knows of our affinity for low budget/no budget flicks. There’s something special that happens when a filmmaker has big ideas an no money. Necessity being the mother of invention, low budget flicks utilize some interesting tricks to get the job done. Tin Can Man is one such micro budget flick, but does it wear it’s budget on it’s sleeve, or cleverly conceal it?

Tin Can Man, recently released for the first time on dvd by Brinkvision, is about a mild mannered man whose life is falling to pieces. His ass is on the line at work, his boss doesn’t like him, and the girl he loves would rather be with another man because he knows how to lay the pipe right. After a dreary day he comes home and hears a knock on his door. One of his neighbors is on the other side and needs a hand. Only, the man isn’t his neighbor and his motives for getting into the flat are less than noble. He’s a psychopath and so begins a night from hell for our hero.

Filmed in black and white using honest to goodness film, Tin Can Man is a nasty film. Shrouded in inky blackness and using extreme close ups most of the film, it’s an uncomfortable watch to say the least. Our wimpy main character gets pushed around and controlled by our villain and it never really gets any lighter from there. Going from one shameful act to another, each scene oozing with menace and dread, Tin Can Man is a tough watch. It does exactly what it sets out to do however. Unnerve the audience. It feels like watching domestic abuse and being able to do nothing about it.

It’s a sickening film that is overwhelmingly nasty without being graphic. The vibe is created by the menacing performance of the villain and the oppressively dark sets. I didn’t take much away from the film. I’m honestly not into movies that are this bleak but that isn’t the films fault. The director didn’t fail in what he was trying to achieve. In fact, he did an excellent job of making me feel uncomfortable, grossed out, and depressed. Yay? If that’s your bag then jump on Tin Can Man now.

The Lost Empire (1985)

PMG1002

Any cult fan worth their salt has seen at least one film by director Jim Wynorski. Chopping Mall, The Return of Swamp Thing, Munchie, Dinosaur Island, Ghoulies IV, Deathstalker II, the list goes on and on and on. The Guy has 96 directing credits in total, and The Lost Empire is his first.

A kick ass attractive blonde super cop’s schlubby partner is murdered by some hypnotist/ninja guys via spinning ninja stars. They belong to a secretive sect that lives on an island. The only way for her to investigate the murder is to answer an ad in the paper put up by the sect. They’re looking for kick ass attractive women to join up. Our hero is a shoe in but there’s one catch. Entries have to come in three, so she has to find two partners to infiltrate the island, kick some ass and save the day. She gets a Native American and a convict to fill out the trifecta and along with her mustacheoed FBI agent boyfriend (also an ass kicker), they get on the island and give ‘em hell.

Funded by a guy looking for a tax loss (it wasn’t), this is the first time a young Jim showed the world what he had to offer. Part fantasy, part Enter the Dragon knock off, part buddy cop flick, and part T & A schlock fest, The Lost Empire gave me everything I was looking for. Ridiculous fight scenes, awful one liners, boobs, blood, broad racial stereotypes, a lazer that looks like a cock n balls, a John Carpenter-esque soundtrack, and a heaping helping of cheese. Angus Scrimm of Phantasm fame plays a small but fun role that gave him the opportunity to deliver some grade B lines and chew the scenery like he was starving. Robert Tessier of Hard Times and Starcrash also gets to deliver some quote worthy lines. It’s always nice to see his bald head pop up in flicks since his time on earth was so short. At 83 minutes the film moves at lightning speed from setup to setup rarely pausing for air. The film is about as deep as a puddle and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I had so much fun watching this that I’m sure it will be shown at my house for friends many many times.

The Lost Empire has charm and cheese buy the bucketful. I’m very glad this is finally available on dvd after being stuck in rights-holder hell for many years. It’s presented in widescreen and isn’t a vhs rip though the overall picture quality isn’t stellar but you can bet it hasn’t looked this good since 1985. It’s a high recommend for 80′s adventure fans and anyone who enjoys great B-movies. Did I mention it’s cheesy? Cuz it’s cheesy. Nacho convention level cheese. Joe Bob Briggs would tell you to check it out.

Death Occurred Last Night (1970)

fin350LastNight_BR_oringNEWWhen it comes to classic Italian cinema, I only have a cursory knowledge. I’ve seen all the Argentos and Fulcis, a handful of the Martinos and Lenzis, a smattering of Bava (father & son), and bits and pieces of other film makers canons. I enjoy Italian horror, giallos, and crime films but honestly they are usually hard to get. More often than not if they were available on dvd they are long out of print on defunct labels. I do my best to dig in when I can but there’s only so much time you know? This is why I’m so glad RaroVideo exists. A company based in Italy, they cherry pick rare and underseen titles for the American market and release them in beautiful editions. No expense is spared as these films are lovingly restored and presented to us, the fans. Death Occured Last Night is one such title and it’s a solid piece of crime cinema.

A father goes to the police begging for help. His daughter is missing. She’s 25 but has the mental state of a 3 year old. Also she loves having sex with men and will do anything they ask. This is a major problem for the father. She’s gone, kidnapped and likely being abused. A captain and his underling are on the case. They infiltrate local brothels looking for the girl, hoping to find her before she goes too far underground in the sex trade.

Sound familiar? It should. Hardcore, a film by Paul Schrader and starring George C. Scott has a similar plot, as does the Nicolas Cage film 8mm.  But this film predates both of them. The film begins right after the girl goes missing and doesn’t waste time getting into the plot. I’ve read that Death Occured Last Night is a hybrid film, mixing Giallo and Poliziotteschi, but for my money it’s more of an undercover police thriller. It’s a film that is miles ahead of it’s time, a full decade before similar films became popular in the 80s. The film kept my attention throughout and I really felt for the father. There’s some joking around between the captain and his underling which for me underminded the serious nature of the film, but not enough to ruin the overall vibe of the film. The music is great if a bit misguided. Organ and rock guitar play together with a generous horn section. It lacks the moody nature I would expect from such a serious film but overall I really enjoyed it. Memorable and honestly pretty badass it’s a soundtrack I was thinking would be great to have on Spotify. The acting is top notch and the direction is very fluid and immediate.

I would have expected the film to have a high degree of sleaze given the subject matter but beyond some topless scenes the film is actually pretty tame until the violent conclusion. This isn’t a happy film despite the anachronistic music. It’s a sober, heavy flick, about a scenario I hope to never experience. It doesn’t revel in it’s subject matter nor glorify the sex trade. It’s a dark film, but one that isn’t particularly graphic. I’m ok with that because it’s a very solid flick.

The presentation is great. The film almost looks brand new. The print is clean and clear. RaroVideo did a fantastic job restoring the film and it truly was a pleasure to watch. There’s a great introduction by Chris Alexander the editor of Fangoria, and he also wrote an informative booklet that goes with the film. Those touches really make me happy as a film fan. I really like it when dvd labels go the extra mile and try to educate the consumer about the product so that we can have a better frame of reference when viewing the film. Good job guys. It’s really appreciated. Death Occured Last Night was also never officially released in the U.S. which is a shame. I’m sure by now it would have garnered a solid cult following so now it’s got a lot of ground to make up. Thanks to a truly superior release by RaroVideo it has the best chance it could as for to reach a bigger audience.