The Stuff (1985)

I don’t quite remember the first time I watched the stuff. It may have been on a grotty vhs tape back in the early 2000’s when all the big chains were liquidating their vhs stock or it could have been on dvd. Usually I have a good memory of when and where I watched a movie, especially if it’s one as unique and iconic as The Stuff. What I do know is that I have always liked The Stuff, at least after it became part of my cinematic consciousness. Writer/Producer/Director Larry Cohen may not be the most consistent director of independent cinema but when his movies hit, they’re tough to beat.

The Stuff is a satire aimed squarely at the mindless consumerism our country had been guilty of long before the film was made and is still sadly guilty of today. The film begins with a simple setup: some average joe’s working at a refinery discover amidst a fresh layer of snow a white substance bubbling up through the earth. One of them decides to taste it and discovers that it’s quite delectable. Suddenly the new food craze has been launched and it’s called the stuff: a marshmallow fluff-like substance that everyone loves. Their slogan is “enough is never enough of The Stuff.” The ice cream corporations hate it and want to find out just what it is. Protected under the FDA rule of secret formulas, they’re desperate to know what their competition is using to make The Stuff. They hire Moe, a lovable rogue who earns his keep as a professional blackmailer and industrial espionage agent. Soon he discovers that The Stuff is much worse than anyone thought: it’s alive and if enough is consumed the stuff takes over the host. Now it’s up to Moe, the woman who created the ad campaign, Chocolate Chip Charlie (an obvious riff on Famous Amos), and a little boy to figure how to to destroy the stuff before it takes over the world!

The Stuff is  a lot of fun. Cohen manages to blend comedy, mystery, horror, satire, and action together in a wonderful mix that is never dull and always a blast. The horror elements are wonderfully gross and silly without becoming parody or overly graphic, the comedy comes straight from the wit of the characters and not from the situations themselves. The characters are memorable, the direction lean but still showy enough for the film to have some memorable visuals as well. The plot is equally lean with no time wasted on trivial melodrama or needless side plots. The Stuff is as close to perfect scriptwise as I’ve ever seen. The special effects run the gamut from realistic to blatantly fake and utilize prosthetics, stop motion, forced perspective, blue screen, to models. If you’re a fan of 80’s cinema, this one will scratch nearly every itch you might have when it comes to special effects that were used during the decade.

In my opinion, The Stuff is not only the best Larry Cohen movie, but one of the best from the 80’s. It’s a great film to throw in and watch with friends and have a good time. The film has a message but it’s so irrepressibly enjoyable that it never feels preachy.

The Arrow blu of course looks great as their releases always do. This is a significant upgrade from the dvd and well worth the purchase. The movie also comes with a nearly hour long making-of feature with interviews from all the major players.

The Stuff is a must-own release from Arrow Video for fans of 80’s horror, Larry Cohen, or just plain smart indie flicks.

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Street Mobster (1972)

Any regular reader of this website knows that I’m a fan of 70’s yakuza flicks. So when Arrow Video came out with Street Mobster, directed by none other than Kinji Fukasaku, whose films have appeared here in the past, I knew I had to check it out. I’m a sucker for raw yakuza films and Fukasaku was a master of them.

Street Mobster stars frequent Fukasaku collaborator Bunta Sugawa as Okita. He’s a tough hood who hates arrogance. He gets put into prison for 15 years after raping a girl and putting her into prostitution. He’s released to find a very different and much softer Japan. You see, he was a young nogoodnick just after WWII and that was a tough time for everyone. He’s hard as a diamond and finds the gangsters that have taken over to be soft. He takes no lip and is quick with a punch and quickly gains a gang of followers who help him mete out punishment. He catches the eye of a big time yakuza and he puts Okita to work as his muscle, starting fights and scaring off competitors. That is until a bigger fish tries to muscle in. Okita’s methods are too violent for his new boss and he wants him to lay off this new interloper. Nothing doing. Soon Okita finds himself an enemy of not only the new bigger fish but also his boss as he royally fouls things up for this bossman. There’s a subplot involving the woman Okita raped who hates him but loves him at the same time which adds an extra layer of abrasiveness and grim fatalism to a film already steeped in it.

Street Mobster delivers the goods. We are treated by multiple scenes of Okita punching the hell out of someone, filmed on Fukasaku’s documentary style that lends a unique feeling of energy and discomfort to the violence. There is nothing pretty about Street Mobster. Everyone is a bad guy, it’s just a matter of how bad. Our “hero” is morally reprehensible and irredeemable. If you’re looking for realistic and chaotic fights mixed with lots of running, shouting and a score with jazz flute, Street Mobster is your movie. It’s far lesser known film in Fukasaku’s filmography and I appreciate that Arrow has brought it to us.

The film is presented from a pristine print and looks fantastic. I could be wrong but I highly doubt this movie was ever released here in the states so it’s an especially nice treat to finally have it. The special features are a bit bare for Arrow but just the fact that the film was even released should be enough for yakuza fans.

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Molly (2018)

It’s been a while since I’ve sat down and watched a movie released by Artsploitation. They’ve recently delivered chunk of extreme horror which may very well be quite good for that genre but for me these days a movie has to offer more than just being “extreme.” Molly is the first release from them in a while that had me intrigued. The cover art alone caught my eye and when I found out it was a sci-fi flick that promised more than “grindhouse thrills,” I felt I should check it out.

Hailing from the Netherlands, Molly is set in a post apocalyptic future. The world has gone to hell and only scattered survives remain to scratch out a living, subsisting largely on canned food from before the fall of civilization. Our titular hero is a loner save her loyal falcon. She bravely scours the wasteland looking for items for survival and trade. She also has a secret: she’s the hero foretold in prophecy who will right the wrongs of the waste and bring back civilization. She has telekinetic powers and uses them sparingly because she’s not big on the whole prophecy thing. Stories of her unique abilities filter down to a scumbag crime lord that hosts death match fights between mutant humans for the pleasure of onlookers who gamble what little they have. He sends minions to retrieve her so that he can make a bundle off of her fights but he’s in for more than he bargained for.

Molly was filmed in a limited budget, most of which went into building sets for the film it seems. There’s certainly a bit of a hipster vibe in the way the characters dress but the tone of the film is deadly serious and not at all ironic. The film is brisk, short, and to the point with plenty of action throughout to keep things interesting. The fights themselves are sometimes sloppy from a film making standpoint and sometimes remarkable such as a fight scene in a river that I loved. It’s clear this is a debut feature for the directors of the film as there were elements that didn’t quite gel or action sequences that didn’t work. But there is a ton of enthusiasm on display and the film gets bonus points for that. I liked the film though I didn’t love it. I would however look forward to seeing what the directing duo do next if either the budget was increased or the vision was better suited to the budget. It’s hard to make a post apocalyptic movie on a shoestring and have it work convincingly, just ask Cirio Santiago.

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Prehysteria! (1993)

Back in the vhs days my folks used to take me to the local mom & pop store to rent movies by the arm load. One movie that I always wanted to rent was Prehysteria!. I used to ask for it and whomever was taking me would say, gee that looks terrible. I don’t want to waste my money on that. Finally, I had a counter to that logic: I’m the one watching it, not anyone else in the house. I rented the movie and vaguely remember enjoying it. Fast forward many years and I had my own kids. Diving through vhs detritus at thrift stores, I found a battered copy of the movie along with it’s sequel. Since then my kids have enjoyed popping it in every now and then. I was excited about this new blu release because let’s be fair: the vhs copies weren’t duplicated for quality. This is Full Moon/Moonbeam we’re talking about here. I was curious if the transfer would look good or if it would be another slap dash effort from the company.

For those unaware, Prehysteria is a direct to video release from 1993 about a sleazy Indiana Jones who steals ancient eggs from a sacred shrine, protected by a small tribe in the Amazon. Upon entering the states his cooler with the eggs gets confused with another cooler, that owned by an amateur archeologist/farmer and his Elvis-loving son. The eggs get taken to the farm instead of to the sleazy Indiana Jones’ auction and they hatch. What comes out are pint sized dinos the size of toys but they’re the genuine article, just shrunk. Our sleazy villain is hell bent on finding the eggs and spends most of the run time badgering everyone he can think of who might have taken it. Finally he figures out who really has the eggs and tries to get them back at any cost, even if it means hiring brain dead goons (which it does).

Directed by Charles Band’s dad Albert, it was cranked out in record time in order to satisfy the anticipated dino craze that was likely to be kicked off by Jurassic Park (this same reasoning gave us the Carnosaur movies). It certainly worked on me when I was a youngster. The movie itself is to be frank a little bland. It does have some neat dinos, created through puppetry, stop motion, and animatronics, which is plenty fun but the plot lacks oomf. The movie feels like it’s slowly walking towards the final confrontation between the family and the sleazy bad guy instead of propulsively moving the story forward. We do get some fabulously bad 90’s clothing, some cringe worthy pop culture references, and cartoonish bafoonery, all of which I would expect from both Moonbeam and the 90’s. It’s a fun movie if a bit sluggish.

The film itself looks fantastic with a great transfer with colors that pop and a crystal clear picture. You can see the zits on the dad and the sweat on a villain. It’s a great visual upgrade light years beyond my worn out vhs tape. It features the original Moonbeam Videozone segment that would have been on the VHS. Also included is an audio commentary. This would have been a great opportunity to put all three Prehysteria movies on one release and I’m not sure why they released the movie solo unless the sequels are planned for future release in order to milk the franchise.

If you’re a fan of the film, this is a great upgrade and well worth the money. If you’ve never seen the series but love 90’s kid flicks and dinos, this would also be a good flick to pick up.

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Children of the Corn (1984)

Back when I was a kid, I was fascinated with the horror section at the video store. Given the focus of this site, that should come as no surprise. The trouble was, I wasn’t allowed to rent very many of the titles. The Children of the Corn series was one of the greenlighted horror movie franchises I was allowed to watch though and so I watched all of them. At the time they had only made up to number 4 so it wasn’t a huge franchise to dig into. Since then there have been a plethora of sequels and reboots made making it one of the most filmed franchises in horror history, if not the most watched. The Corn movies don’t have a very good rep within the horror community and for good reason: many of them stink. I remember especially disliking the first film in the series back in the vhs days due to the muddy transfer and overall brown look of the film. I hadn’t seen the first film in the series in decades so I decided to give it a rewatch to see how I felt about it now.

Children of the Corn, for those living under a rock, is about a small town in rural America that has been overtaken by religiously fanatic children. They have killed all of the adults in town and when they turn 19 they have to be sacrificed to their god, He Who Walks Beneath the Rows. The titular “rows” are the rows of corn naturally. One little boy decides he’s had enough of the no fun zone of drudgery and work and runs away but not before he’s spotted by one of the older zealots. The little boy has his throat cut and bleeding, wanders out into the road where he’s hit by a car driven by two outsiders (one played by Linda Hamilton). Crestfallen, the couple put the boy in their trunk and try to find the nearest town to report the accident. All roads however lead to the creepy town run by creepier kids and so they try their luck there. Of course they’re met with hostility and are hunted by the children so they can sacrifice the couple to their god. Now they have to find a way out of town that doesn’t involve being crucified and killed by precocious pre-teens.

One thing I will say about this release is that it looks absolutely fantastic. Arrow did a wonderful job breathing life into this movie by restoring the original color palette which, to my surprise wasn’t nearly as “brown” as  I remembered. Children of the Corn was a movie that never looked good on VHS but looks great on Blu. The colors pop and the cinematography shines. While I still won’t say it’s my favorite horror movie, it’s much better than I remembered. I have children of my own so creepy kids honestly do not scare me but the film was much more entertaining than I expected. True, I wish there was more monster action from He Who Walks Beneath the Rows but I’m a monster fanatic and most films can use more creatures in my opinion.

If you’re a fan of the series, you need to pick up this release. It’s chock full of great special features including the retrospective that was included on the anchor bay dvd release. However this release looks far better than that release and is a major upgrade not only in the special features department but most importantly in the visual and auditory departments. Children of the Corn has never looked better than it does here.

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Doom Asylum (1987)

During the 80’s there was an explosion in cheap gory horror movies, much to the joy of the fans of the genre. There were so many movies pumped out into video stores that many got lost in the shuffle. Doom Asylum is one such movie that has often been overlooked by genre fans. I first saw Doom Asylum a few years ago on dvd and wondered why I had never seen it before, let alone read about it. Now, years later Arrow Video has given their excellent treatment to this unsung genre film for all of us to enjoy.

Doom Asylum has a pretty simple setup. We’ve got an abandoned medical facility that is the home of a man turned failed science experiment after he was spirited away from a nearly fatal car accident. He has been left hideously deformed and with a craving for killing. Next we have an experimental pop group that has decided to make their next album at the facility, illegally of course. Finally we have a group of fun loving youngsters that have also decided to use the facility for some partying. The pop group hates the youngsters and the youngsters aren’t crazy about the band but both can agree on one thing: being murdered is no fun. Victims drop off one by one, falling prey to the mentally deranged man and it’s up to the survivors to…well, survive.

Doom Asylum is a bit of an odd duck of a movie. It’s one part stereotypical slasher, one part parody. The film never plays it completely straight but it also never plays it completely silly either. Tonally this makes for a mishmash of a film that in my opinion makes it a unique and interesting watch. The film has hammy acting, good gore, and a smidge of nudity thrown in for good measure. Two of the characters wear bikinis throughout the whole film as well which i can’t help but think was a big joke, lampooning slasher flicks. Doom Asylum has it’s own unique voice and sense of humor which is a breath of fresh air considering the copy/paste nature of many lesser known slasher films. While I wouldn’t say it was a hidden gem on the level of Blood Rage but it is goofy gory fun.

The Blu as always looks fantastic. The colors are rich and deep and the sound is perfect. It includes both the 4×3 version of the film and the 16×9 version as well as interviews with the cast/crew and a plethora of other special features.

If you’re looking for an 80’s slasher that you haven’t seen that deserves rediscovery, check out Doom Asylum. If you’re already a fan of the film, what are you waiting for? It will never look better than it does on this release.

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Vamp (1986)

Growing up going to my local video stores, I don’t remember ever seeing Vamp. The VHS box art was pretty provocative and I feel like if I had seen it,  I probably would have rented it. I wish I had because Vamp is one of the unsung minor horror movies that deserves more attention. I say this without the rose tinted view someone who had seen it as a kid might have. Watching the movie on glorious Blu was the second time I had seen it and I’m glad I gave it a rewatch. I feel like it’s a movie that grows on you.

Vamp begins with a couple of pledges trying out at a Frat in college. The ritual gets messed up and the pledges (our heroes of the film) tell the Frat that they can do anything to get in. The Frat accepts the challenge and tells the pair they must go get a stripper for their enjoyment. The college is in Kansas and is 200 miles from any big cities. They have no car so they agree to befriend the college’s rich kid who happens to have a cherry red Cadillac they can use as long as they agree to take him along on their stripper adventure. Upon reaching the city they get spun around (literally) and find themselves in a seedy part of town just as the sun is going down. There they run afoul of a gang of albinos led by Billy Drago and they also find a strip joint. This strip club however is run by vampires, led by Grace Jones and when one of our heroic duo goes missing it’s up to the other hero to find his buddy and get out of there! Things however aren’t that easy and he has to face many obstacles in order to get out with his life intact. He also meets a cute girl who works at the strip joint that isn’t a vampire and the pair face off against the bloodsuckers together.

The plot of the film doesn’t really begin until at least a half an hour into the film, after we’ve had a couple of false starts. The vibe of the film however is cheerfully plucky in a way that only films from the 80’s can manage. The acting is exuberant with no duds in the cast. Again the pace of the film is oddly slow but the cast of characters and weirdos in the film help make the circuitous ride a lot of fun. The film has some fantastic monochromatic lighting of pinks, purples, and greens which provides some appreciated style to the proceedings. Grace Jones has no lines but acts creepy in her small role in the film. Given that the film takes place largely in a strip joint joint the movie is surprisingly chaste and innocent. The vamps themselves sport some pretty solid make-up with big fangs, and latex molded face prosthetics. Upon this second watch I appreciated the movie more. I knew what I was getting into and enjoyed the ride much more this time.

The Blu once again looks fantastic with a wonderful restoration. The colors pop nicely as they were always meant to. The special features are plentiful, including a 45 minute making-of documentary with interviews with all of the main cast and the writer/director.

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Soft Matter (2018)

At this point in my life I’ve seen several thousand films. Nearly every night I watch a movie and no genre has me coming back to the well as often as horror. Because of this my mental horror encyclopedia is rich and I’m rarely surprised by what the genre delivers. Still, I find my desire to watch monsters on the loose has never lessened despite what at times becomes an exercise in repetition. I am always on the look out for new monster movies that actually deliver the goods and it is with this desire that I sought out Soft Matter. I didn’t know much going in, other than it had a great monster on the cover and that it was likely very low budget. I was prepared for a modest time killer but what I got was something totally unexpected: an original voice in horror cinema.

Soft Matter has a very simple setup. The film begins with a pair of scientists clandestinely performing experiments on humans in search for a serum that will grant everlasting life. The human subjects were left behind at a hospice facility that recently closed. The pair moved in and began experimenting on them which in turn created living human/monster hybrids of a wide variety. Nearby a local graffiti artist named Haircut expresses to his friend how he’d love to have an art show to make his mother proud. The friend knows some prominent art critics and suggests they use the rundown hospice center as a location for a spontaneous art show. Haircut hesitantly agrees and the pair enter the hospice center only to find it inhabited by monsters, including a god from the sea that has come to stop the scientists from their pursuit for immortality.

I had a blast with this film. It feels unique and fresh as well as playful and engaging. The character interactions were unique with funny dialogue without the film turning into a comedy. It’s the same type of dry humor found in Carpenter’s films that make them so endearing. The banter is smart, quick and well performed breathing life into the characters. The monsters were all done with practical effects and convincingly so. The film also isn’t so focused on getting to the finish line and jetting through the plot points. Instead there are moments of oddity that help to give the film personality and life. For instance there’s a man made of goo that likes to sneak out of his room and dance to synthwave. It may go on a little long but it’s so unexpected and silly that I found myself grinning from ear to ear. The film also employs a variety of lo-fi special effects that also help to separate it from the pack of films focused on realism. The film is gleefully odd so of course it extends to the effects as well. It feels natural and not forced, the culmination of a creative vision from a writer/director uninterested in making mainstream films but would rather make films with personality. That personality may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I loved it. I will hungrily await the next film from writer director Jim Hickcox. The dvd features a short film from Hickox and it’s equally strange, wonderful, and fun.

I wholeheartedly recommend Soft Matter to film fans who enjoy films with monsters and low budget charm. Soft Matter has an energy, personality, and true sense of fun that I rarely see in cinema. It’s a gem if there ever was one.

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What Have You Done To Your Daughters? (1974)

There are certain genres of film that I really enjoy and yet these days rarely indulge in. I don’t know what it is but for some reason I just rarely watch certain types of cult cinema and in an effort to remedy that pattern I decided to check out Arrow’s blu-ray release of the giallo/Italian crime film What Have You Done to Your Daughters? from 1974. Admittedly I’m not much of a fan of director Massimo Dallamano’s giallo classic What Have You Done to Solange? and since the title of this film is so similar I had my reservations about how much I may or may not enjoy it. But being the adventurous viewer I am, I gave it a shot and I’m glad I did.

The film begins with the discovery of a nude teenage girl that has hanged herself in an attic apartment. The police initially believe it’s a simple suicide until the evidence points towards violent murder. Inspector Silvestri (Claudio Cassinelli) is on the case and discovers a link between her murder and an apartment paid for monthly by a dead man. Inside the apartment a grisley murder scene is found but no body, just blood. Lots of blood. Now he’s got two victims and no suspect so Silvestri must dig deeper. His search leads him into the path of a dangerous killer armed with a giant meat cleaver!

What Have You Done to Your Daughters? Is often billed as a straight giallo but I would argue that although it does adhere to many of the tropes found in a giallo (masked and gloved killer, graphic violence, and a killer soundtrack by Stelvio Cipriani) it also feels much like an Italian crime film because of the focus on the investigation as well as some sweet motorcycle stunts at the back end. The film had my attention throughout it’s run time and there was just enough style to keep it visually interesting. As I said the soundtrack is great and the plot is satisfyingly twisty. I for one, think that this is a much better film than What Have You Done to Solange? and should be Dallamano’s most well regarded film. It’s tight, well acted and directed, lurid, and just extreme enough to still be shocking but still watchable. Of course the main thrust of the film involves underage girls and sexual abuse which is tough to stomach which keeps the film from being easy to recommend to viewers. It’s grim material but it’s handled masterfully and more tastefully than a film like Werewolf Woman. Then again I suppose that isn’t saying much.

The film looks great as well. Arrow once again knocks it out of the park with a beautiful transfer and the supplementals are as always robust.

For giallo fans this one is a recommended purchase.

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Lunchmeat Magazine #9

As any longtime reader of this here lil website can tell you: I love cult films, especially the hard to find and under the radar type. Several years ago (probably almost 10!) I read an article about Lunchmeat Magazine. It was a new neat thing dedicated solely to VHS and VHS collecting. The zine was soaked in nostalgia for a time that I myself cherished. I picked up a copy and really enjoyed it. I reached out to the publisher Josh Schafer and offered to give him some reviews because I also collected VHS. The trick was the only movies reviewed in the zine had to be VHS only, no dvd releases. Challenged accepted and I had reviews in about 3 or 4 issues of the zine. Since I didn’t make it into issue #9 I wanted to review it here because my love for this zine has not diminished in the intervening years.

First off this could be the biggest issue ever at a whopping 52 pages of pure content. Lunchmeat does not sell ad space so the issue is 100% content and no pesky ads for crap you don’t want. It features several lengthy reviews of VHS-only movies, complete with scans of their front and back covers. It also features interviews with direct-to-video action star David Heavener, Philip Anselmo (!), Pleasant Gehman, Canon alum and Nu Image head Boaz Davidson, director Robert McGinley, and director Kevin J. Lindenmuth, as well as photos of odd vhs related collectibles, and promotional items sent to video stores. There’s also a comic and some vhs-related art. Like i said, this issue is absolutely stacked. There are very few zines out there that can boast such a long run and what Lunchmeat lacks in volume it makes up for in passion and longevity.

I’m so glad Lunchmeat is still around. Every issue is chock full of fun stuff and the level of quality found in each issue keeps increasing. VHS is still alive and well and the love of the format isn’t going anywhere. So long as there are still movies lost on VHS, Lunchmeat will be there to review them for our pleasure. Hopefully I’ll find my way into issue #10 and if not, I’ll bring you a review of it here!

You can pick up a copy at:

http://lunchmeatvhs.storenvy.com/

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