Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

Sci-Fried Theater: Dead Mountaineer's Hotel (1979)

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Gore Galore: ADAM CHAPLIN (2010)

When it comes to shot-on-video movies, I can seem as grouchy as an old man who just ran out of Gold Bond and Tucks, but there are some that I don't need any Cialis to get all worked up about. No matter how wearisome the zombie genre has gotten these days (oh, it so definitely has), there's always room on my plate for Perecles Lewnes' genuinely hilarious and super-splattery REDNECK ZOMBIES (1988). Olaff Ittenbach's THE BURNING MOON (1992) has a special place in my spleen for raising the gore effects bar in a SOV movie to professional heights that few, if any, have been able to match. There are a couple of others, but it looks like there is a new one to add to this very short list.

Out of the wasteland in 2011, a low-budget Italian SOV flick called ADAM CHAPLIN hit festival circuits, but even though it garnered some praise, not much was made of it on-line or in print. Flash forward a couple of years and somehow the damn thing managed to sneak on to DVD and blu-ray in Europe with a forthcoming US DVD titled "ADAM CHAPLIN: VIOLENT AVENGER" (I can't help but wonder how long it took Autonomy Pictures to come up with that title). Now, suddenly, people are sitting up and taking notice.


Written, directed and starring Emanuele De Santi, ADAM CHAPLIN is set in the near future in which a disfigured, mask-wearing mad scientist, named Denny (Christian Riva), rules the underworld with a, not so much iron, but veiny, fleshy fist. When a young woman (Valeria Sannino) can't pay back the money she borrowed, the creep sets her on fire, burning her to a crisp. Despondent due to his loss, her lover Chaplin (Emanuele De Santi) sets out on a path of ultra-violent revenge with the help of a small demon that lives behind his shoulder in a festering wound in the shape of an upside-down crucifix (Giulio De Santi). While sorting through the scum of the earth, Chaplin's eyes roll back in his head and he becomes capable of throwing flurries of punches that tear through flesh and bone like wet toilet paper making for some extremely graphic confrontations that spray, splash and dump literally gallons of blood across the sets.

After setting out on his rampage the corrupt police decide to recruit a serial killer to take out Chaplin before he can get his revenge. Of course, this really doesn't go as well as the cops' had planned and everything boils down to a massive confrontation between the crooked cops, the criminal kingpin (who has his own chemically induced powers) and a seriously pissed off Adam Chaplin.

Combining what is essentially a live-action adaptation of FIST OF THE NORTH STAR with western-style dystopian future influences of "Judge Dredd" and BLADE RUNNER (1982), ADAM CHAPLIN should be good just with that: some extreme gore and cheap but effective CGI, but  it has much more to offer. It's not just gore that ADAM CHAPLIN uses prodigiously. CGI is used to blend miniatures, modern buildings and re-purposed technology into the futuristic landscape. Granted, it's not the CG that turned Johannesburg into MegaCity1 in DREDD (2012), but remember we are talking about an amateur movie that certainly must have cost a fraction of DREDD's craft services budget. Plus, almost all of the CGI is used in ways that are not only ingenious, but dare I say groundbreaking. There is a scene in which the killer hacks up a transient's face with a meat-cleaver and they use CGI to make the head's eye blink. Most of these little details happen so fast that it takes a second viewing to pick them out, but it is shockingly effective.

So yes, there is gore, sci-fi and special effects, but I think what really raises this head and shoulders above most of the SOV pack, if not the entire DTV pack, is that it's surprisingly well written. Sure, it's not Tom Stoppard, but the plot of CHAPLIN is not handed to the viewer on a plate. Like a high-brow mystery, it unfolds piece by piece making what is the most basic of revenge plots seem fascinatingly complex by effective use of non-linear storytelling. Add to that some extremely effective atmospheric moments, such as one using nothing but flickering lighting, latex and a brick wall, and you have a low-budget, first-time effort that will knock your socks into the next room. For example, when Chaplin assaults a petty criminal in the sewer (clearly nothing more than two walls and a fluorescent light), the criminal starts freaking out that there is a ghost behind Chaplin. This moment sets up a serious "WTF" factor that totally pays off when, in a later scene in a police station, the "ghost" reveals its head in the darkness. It is quite possibly the most creepy and effective set-up and pay-off I've seen in a SOV movie this side of an Ivan Zuccon production.


Looking like the chiseled bastard child of Weird Al Yankovich and Sean Penn, Emanuele De Santi does a fine job as a stoic loner with deadly power. The other actors vary in their effectiveness with Giulio De Santi, his pattern-shaved haircut and waxed eye-brows, badly standing out as one of the police detectives, who is for no perceivable reason, blind. Combining a gamut of other creative influences without actually plagiarizing them (in itself something to be applauded), Emanuele De Santi throws so much at the viewer that some stuff sticks and some goes a bit wide. While not every element works perfectly, ADAM CHAPLIN is definitely marks the arrival of an amazing new talent. It almost feels like the cinematic equivalent of Black Flag's "Damaged" LP. Even if there are wrong notes scattered throughout the work and Gregg Ginn completely butchers the very concept of a guitar solo, that's not just something you'll over look due to the general coolness of the work as a whole, but is actually an integral part of its charm. I have to say, I'm really looking forward to seeing what Emanuele De Santi's next project is, I can't imagine what this guy would do with a budget!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Adrenaline Shot: PRIVATE WARS (1993)

Believe it or not, Video Junkie actually existed in print form before this site and we managed to get two issues out to the public (very rare now; housed behind double-plated glass in the Library of Congress and protected by top men.  Top…men.).  Even crazier, we did a lot of work on the never-to-be-published issue three.  One of the things Tom had wildly convinced me to do was a history of the films of producers Richard Pepin and Joseph Merhi, founders of the video label PM Entertainment.  I started writing up note cards on their various films but somehow fate intervened.  Perhaps it was for the best as an article of that magnitude probably would have driven me insane as I tried to catalog their dozens upon dozens of productions in every genre from kids films to adventure movies to kickboxing flicks to even kickboxing kid adventure flicks (no, I’m not kidding). An endeavor like that would have resulted in me driving down the freeway and then launching my car 50 feet in the air out of a huge fireball.

At that time (circa 1995/96), Tom and I were totally suffering from PM-S (PM Entertainment Shellshock).  While cinemas were clogged with lukewarm sequels like DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE (1995) or UNDER SIEGE 2 (1995) and tired action hero stuff like TRUE LIES (1994) and ERASER (1996), we were digging the adrenaline-fueled antics of these low budget action flicks starring the likes of Gary Daniels, Jeff Fahey and C. Thomas Howell.  PM stood apart from most DTV fare by putting a heavy emphasis on their action scenes. Their brand of action was something wholly unique and a breath of fresh air.  Growing up on a steady diet of real stunt work, the Hollywood trend of using CGI enhanced feats of “danger” was giving us the green screen blues (who knew it would get so much worse?).  Thankfully, PM showed up to remind us that bigger is always better when it comes to explosions.  How was it that the makers of low budget, direct-to-video action vehicles were making better action films than most majors?  I’d like to think the production meetings went something like this.

Stunt coordinator: “So what do you want for this movie?”
Pepin: “Can you do big explosions?”
Merhi: “Can you do car flips?”
Pepin & Merhi together: “CAN YOU DO EXPLOSIONS WITH CAR FLIPS?”
Stunt coordinator: “Fuck yeah!”

We’ve only covered a few PM flicks on the blog (ALIEN INTRUDER, RAGE, T-FORCE), but don’t mistake that for lack of enthusiasm.  We love their stuff, but only have so much time, dammit!

PRIVATE WARS is one of the films that eluded me for a while. Fact is, I’m glad I waited to see it 20 years after its release as I’ve endured enough shaky-cam-is-great movies in the interim to make me feel like a static shot where I can tell what is going on is as cherished as Andy Sidaris is to 13-year-old boys with Skinemax in the early ‘90s.  The film opens with vice cop Jack Manning (Steve Railsback) doing a little off-the-clock investigative work.  He quickly finds out that his captain Carpenter (Michael Champion, looking oddly like Steve Martin) is on the take with crooked businessman Alexander Winters (Stuart Whitman) being the one lining his pockets.  The captain notices Manning and calls his underlings to arrest him. Of course, being a PM flick, this results in an insane car chase.  How insane?  Half the time Manning drives his van around with a uniformed officer dangling precariously from the windshield.  When he finally gets the stuck cop off, Manning proceeds to run straight into a police barricade and his van launches 50 plus feet in the air.  Seriously, look at the hang time on this thing:


Tom summed it up perfectly when he saw that in the trailer and said, “That van had to check in with the air traffic controller before it took off!”  Miraculously, Manning survives this.  Also miraculously surviving is a bag of cocaine that cops planted on him and he is arrested and sent up river.

Michael Champion as Steve Martin in 
ROXANNE II: THE NOSEJOB


The action picks up 8 years later as the Winters-owned neighborhood is in bad shape.  How bad? Paul Kersey would think twice before signing a lease here.  The scourge is the deadliest of all cinematic types – deadly whiteboys who know kung fu!  To showcase just how brutal these guys are, there is a montage that shows them kicking the postman in the face and ripping down Neighborhood Watch signs.  Obviously, the residents are fed up living in terror with corrupt police, but community activist Mo Williams (Dan Tullis, Jr.) has a plan – we’ll pool our money together and hire someone to beat the crap out of these dudes.  His first choice is his old buddy Jack Manning, who did his time as a framed “dirty” cop and now runs a one-man private eye firm.  That’s the good news.  The bad news? Manning is a total drunk.  We’re talking the kind of drinker that Oliver Reed sees and says, “Slow down there, mate.”  Jack, however, initially declines the offer.  After holding an open call for vigilantes (interviewees include – I’m not making this up – a midget and ninja), the residents are greeted with Jack outside their church, firing his pistol into the engine of his broken down car.  Yes, nothing says “I trust this guy to do the job” like a drunk blasting caps into a Chevy.  Naturally, Jack sobers up and starts teaching the locals to stand up for themselves.  This gig is doubly beneficial for him as he also gets to exact a little revenge on his old enemies Carpenter, who is now the police chief, and Winters.

Playing like a cross between DEATH WISH (1974) and FIGHTING BACK (1982), PRIVATE WARS is a film where you would fully expect Don “The Dragon” Wilson to be the lead. But he isn’t as the lead is Steve Railsback.  And this isn’t just Railsback dropping in front of the camera to just get a paycheck.  He actually gives a damn about the performance he is giving on screen. That, to me, is the sign of a true professional. Also of this group is Stuart Whitman. Yes, Stuart F’N Whitman was doing PM Entertainment flicks before it was cool (does Paul Smith stink-eye at William Shatner). Not only is he great as the villain, but he has the guts to strap a PM blood squib to his chest.  Now if you know anything about this company, you know their explosions are sometimes like Old Faithful.  Dude definitely earned his paycheck here. And the supporting cast isn't that bad either.

Railsback employs strict method acting:


You also have to admire the film’s sense of the absurd. Whether intentional or not (I assume it is), the screenplay by director John Weidner and Ken Lamplugh delves a bit into ridiculous.  For example, when the thugs steal a garbage truck, they strap the garbage man to the hood and drive around with him on it (allowing for another crazy stunt). Later, Winters isn’t pleased with Carpenter’s efforts in trying to get the residents out of the neighborhood so he says he decided to employ some professionals.  Enter two guys who proceed to whip out their weapons and do a martial arts display in the middle of his mansion while he cackles.  There is also the scene where Manning is sent to jail and kickboxes the hell out of two thugs (including fight coordinator John Salvitti) who are half his age.  Salvitti has gone on to do some incredible work, most notably in Donnie Yen’s recent films. The screenwriters take things just past reality, often coming off like a comic book.  I assume this was all intentional as you can’t write a line like the one James Lew says (“Fuck! Let’s kill everyone!”) and be 100% serious. That tongue-in-cheek style coupled with some crazy ass stunt work makes for one hell of an enjoyable b-movie.  

Rambo, Jr. had a long way to go to live up to his father:


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Aus Deutschland mit Scheisse: KARL THE BUTCHER VS. AXE: VIOLENT SHIT 4.0 (2010)

In the 1970s Hollywood studios realized there were a whole host of independent film production companies that were making huge profits from releasing movies that compensated for their low budgets by providing a popular theme or specific content that patrons wanted to see. It took them a few years of importing (and heavily editing) these "exploitation" films from other parts of the world, before they decided they could do that themselves! Thus the great indy studios were run out of business and almost driven to extinction.

In the 1980s censorship of mainstream exploitation cinema was so biased and heavy handed that genre films would frequently be completely bloodless affairs with jumpy edits and a loss of continuity where even the most mild of on-screen violence was removed. Just like any forbidden fruit, the more the public was denied, the more demand there was for the hard stuff. This caused a wide ripple of effects, one being the advent of the "unrated" video release, another being a booming grey market for bootlegs of foreign films (back in 1990 if you didn't have a crappy dupe of John Woo's THE KILLER, you were living under a rock). The most important effect came with the coincidental drop in price of the home video camera which allowed burgeoning "filmmakers" to be wild west outlaws and make incredibly gory movies that could not be censored due to the fact that, technically, censorship is unconstitutional under American law. If you didn't care whether your movie played theaters and you just wanted to release it directly to video, you could display any sort of gruesome mayhem that your twisted brain could think up, or your your refinanced mortgage could afford. Suddenly the floodgates opened and "gornography" was born. Movies like BLOOD CULT (1985), CANNIBAL CAMPOUT (1988), and 555 (1988) were making serious bucks in spite of having less talent and lower production values than a sixth-grade staging of "Saint George and the Dragon". Hell, 555 was so low-rent it didn't even have a distributor! It was marketed in the back pages of cult movie magazines luring in unsuspecting losers (like me) with its claims of "blood, gore, sex, nudity and other things we can't mention." After seeing it I realized that the things they couldn't mention were the complete lack of talent and production values.


In Germany where censorship was perfectly legal, they decided to take things, as the Germans would be inclined to do, to the extreme. The most infamous, most widely publicized and first movie of the German SOV gore movement would be Andreas Schnaas and Steve Aquilina's VIOLENT SHIT (1989). Surprisingly out-living Jorg Buttgereitt's much more technically competent and infinitely more disturbing NEKROMANTIK (1987), VIOLENT SHIT is little more than a few friends making the most laughably amateurish Jason Voorhees knock-off (named Karl Shitter) in the middle of the woods with about 1200 gal - sorry, litres of cherry Kool-Aid. It made its Stateside debut in 1990 at a Fangoria show in Los Angeles where it was screened for a room full of people who expressed their utter contempt for the movie and then promptly ran into the dealer room trying to find copies for sale. Quipped one viewer "well, at least it lives up to its title." Indeed. So successful was VIOLENT SHIT that it spawned a sequel in 1991 titled VIOLENT SHIT II: MOTHER HOLD MY HAND. Opinions vary on this entry, sure it's slightly technically more accomplished than the first, but instead of just a masked killer on a rampage, Schnaas throws in martial arts, ninjas, firearms and more comedy that is just as high-brow as you'd expect (that is to say, not at all). On the other hand the gore is even more extreme with scenes that were downright shocking and controversial among devout genre buffs, such as a scene where a girl has her jeans ripped off and her vagina stapled shut. If Freud were alive to speculate on the psychology behind that bit of sleaze, I'm sure his head would have exploded like a watermelon under Gallagher's hammer.

One of the more introspective
moments in the original VIOLENT SHIT
VIOLENT SHIT III: INFANTRY OF DOOM was released in 1999 after eight years of random press statements claiming it to be a work in progress that will take the series to an entirely new level, combining hard-core gore with hard-core porn. As it turned out VIOLENT SHIT III did little more than show that Schnaas and Aquilina were less interested in being hard-core and slightly more interested in developing one of those... what do you call it? Uhhh... plot! Yes, that's it, one of those "plot" things. An allegedly remote island compound is home to a cult of Karl worshipers who run into ninjas while hunting down a group of shipwrecked twenty-somethings. While the production values and effects had gone up considerably, this is still a SOV movie in which metal props are made by wrapping tin-foil around a cardboard cut-out. Oh and the promised "hard-core porn"? Not even close. That was a gauntlet that the prolific protege Andreas Bethmann decided to pick up, but that is another article entirely. VIOLENT SHIT III actually managed to get a rather wide Stateside release on video dubbed in English under the title ZOMBIE DOOM, proving that Schnaas and Aquilina were not only headed in the right direction financially, but bringing the amatuer German gore "film" to a whole new level.

In 2004, a day that will live in infamy, the highly political chairman of the MPAA, Jack Valenti, retired at the age of 82 years old. After decades of industry manipulation, favoritism and absurdly outdated views of controlling what the American people should have the right to see, genre movie fans found that change was in the wind. At first it seemed as if no-one really knew what to do or even if change had actually come. Then, in 2008, Stallone decided he would bring the most gore-soaked film to American screens that had ever been shown with an R-rating. RAMBO may not have been the theatrical blockbuster that the distributors were hoping for, but it was no less a milestone in American cinema and since then we have been able to witness on-screen carnage that would have been completely unthinkable previously. Even the British Board of Film Censors, who at one point were responsible for imprisoning videostore owners and film viewers for possessing a video box with the word "chainsaw" written on it, had taken a strong dose of reality and relaxed their psychotically stringent standards to allow classic films like THE BEYOND (1980) to be released in their uncut form.
After finding limited success with his attempts at making bigger movies that sacrificed crass for a modicum of class, Schnaas announced that he would retire from filmmaking. Apparently he was talked back into it by notorious SOV hack Timo Rose, whose imagination is only limited by his birth. For reasons unknown, Schnaas decided to split from long-time collaborateur (and wearer of very small shorts) Steve Aquilina, and teamed up with Rose for the virtually unwatchable UNRATED: THE MOVIE (2009).

So now that we have all of this artistic freedom to dismantle the human body in whatever demented way we see fit, what can Andreas Schnaas and Timo Rose offer us with the much delayed, highly-anticipated VIOLENT SHIT 4? Oh, where to start? VIOLENT SHIT III was a substantial step forward, resulting in world-wide distribution and a much broader fanbase. A year before its release, a teaser trailer hit the web offering a tantalizing taste of VIOLENT SHIT 4.0. Why "4.0"? Because it is set in the future! Decimals are the future. In the teaser we get what appears to be a worthy successor to part 3, it's fast-paced, exciting, gory, and... is that a tank? Holy shit, indeed! Sadly the movie itself doesn't even come close to fulfilling those expectations.

Inexplicably starting out with an attempt to spoof the opening credits of John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN (1978), we find Karl (Schnaas, again) in Hell, which is essentially a black void with superimposed fire. Satan, who has an affinity for black t-shirts, decides that Karl should be released from his ethereal prison and sent back to Earth in the year 2023 to kill another metal mask clad serial killer named Axe (Rose). Axe, so named because he carries a giant cartoon axe, has apparently pissed off Satan by, I guess, killing people in a German forest. Why this would upset Beelzebub and why, if he has the power to incarcerate him, the Lord of Darkness would want Karl to not run around killing people on Earth are questions that if you are asking means you need another beer. To show his heart is in the right place, Satan has a naked girl give Karl his mask back. In thanks for this noble gesture, Karl rips the girl's head off in what will quickly become the most tiresome gore-gag you will ever see.

Using a few badly photoshopped images to represent a post-holocaust Earth, Karl once again finds himself in a familiar stretch of woods which has been divided up into gangs. Each gang has a theme of course, and every single gang member is given a name via on-screen titles, even if that character's only part in the film is to show up and have his name displayed. The gangs all hang out in their respective headquarters which consist of a 10x10 room draped with vinyl banners with the gang name printed on it, or in the case of the Amazonian gang, bed sheets. Led by Queen Scara (aging porn/softcore vet Eileen Daly who really shouldn't be taking her clothes off anymore), there only seem to be three other members of her gang, one of which is promptly killed off while guarding a path, completely naked, by Karl when she won't let him walk past her. I was starting to think this was an homage to MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, but Monty Python's bit was much bloodier.

Queen Scara, who only speaks in long, drawn out hisses (sounding much like the old Adolphus from the 1988 ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN), is mainly obsessed with drinking male ejaculate ("only the female sperm is gooooood") obtained from rival gang members via a plastic "machine" that has "sperminator" scrawled on it in black sharpie. Assisting her in this is Mathra and Shema, played by Marysia Kay and Eleanor James, both ultra-low-rent trash regulars well known less for their acting skills and more for willing to work topless. Both of whom, incidentally, were in Ivan Zuccon's 2008 Lovecraft adaptation COLOUR FROM THE DARK, in which they (or at least Kay) provided substantially better performances.

That is one crazy gang alright.
After being introduced to all of the gangs (played mostly by small German bands) and Axe's sister, Vendetta (Timo's real-life girlfriend Magdalena Kalley), who is introduced with a flashy, whooshy freeze-frame title job, Axe and Vendetta kind of just hang out around the forest. Vendetta asks Axe about their parents, Axe says he doesn't know anything... Anyone still with me? C'mon, snap out of it. We're almost there. Eventually Karl and Axe meet in a woodland clearing and square off. So, now the scheisse is going to hit the l├╝fter, right? Hey, not so fast there buckaroo! Hold your horses, we still have more gang meetings to get through or this sucker isn't going to hit a feature-length running time! Occasionally we have a few gang members getting killed via impalement or yet another decapitation, but mostly, like you'd expect from a Timo Rose outing, it's just a lot of horrible performances from talking heads. Sure there are lots of attempts at humor (one gang member is called "Ninja Foo"), and there's a bit of unintentional humor such as when Karl's path is yet again obstructed:
Karl: "Go out of my way!"
Gang Member: "You're Karl the Butcher, right? I thought you were in Hell."
Wait. How does some random dude who hangs out in the post-apocalypse woodland area know who exactly is in hell?

Finally everything boils down to a donnybrook in a quarry lined with shipping containers and Karl taking a potion that causes him to look like he is in one of those inflatable sumo wrestler outfits. This is easily the best part of the movie, since it is Karl and Axe (who have teamed up after discovering they both have the same birthmarks) killing off all of the remaining gangs, except the chicks who have decided the best plan of action is to wait it out. Once again Timo Rose's complete and total lack of imagination is raised into sharp relief as the only way Karl and Axe can be bothered to kill anyone is with a slash, a stab or a decapitation. Matter of fact there are so many close-ups of decapitated stumps that the whole thing starts feeling like a bad GWAR video. Not to completely flog the point, but what is the reason you'd even be bothered to watch a VIOLENT SHIT movie in the first place? Yes, it's the whole smorgasbord of crazy gore effects. Part III actually offered up some surprisingly professional and creative demises, including smashed heads, ripped out spines, and disembowelments galore. It's like TITUS ANDRONICUS without all the deep thought. Instead we simply get a lot of very sloppy filmmaking, even by German SOV standards.


Scenes simply feel episodic and jumbled together, easily interchangable, as if they were shot over series of weekends without a script... actually, that's probably true, but some of it is so pointless that you can't help but wonder why even bother in the first place. For example, a character is introduced as "Sgt Riedel the Last German Soldier on Earth" early on in the movie. He has a few scenes where he's walking around spliced into the movie, but has nothing to do with anything! No interaction with other characters, just this dude, running across a field, or crossing a road. Right at the end, as sort of a non-sequitur epilogue, a badly CG'd stealth bomber flies low and the camera gets gobbed with a blob of CG blood (implying that the Sgt was hit by the plane). I can only think that this footage was shot, forgotten about, discovered and then thrown in simply as a way to pad out the running time. Essentially this is a 30 minute movie padded out to about 75 very long minutes.

In the end you have to wonder; is VIOLENT SHIT even relevant in today's marketplace? Could that be the problem here? If you can see highly skilled effects technicians doing all sorts of messy violence on screen in a TV show, why bother with sitting through horribly acted, back yard videos shot by a couple of Germans over a couple years worth of weekends? To be honest, I think there is still a market for it. Granted it's a smaller one. One that caters to those who retch at the thought of sparkly vampires and feel that Brad Pitt has no place in the land of the dead. There was something gleefully unpretentious about those movies and while I feel that the enthusiasm can be recaptured, the demand for bland makes it financially un-viable. That and the fact that Timo Rose takes the heart out of this half-hearted mess.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Strung Out on Slashers: BOARDINGHOUSE (1982)

They say you never forget your first love and I think the same thing can apply to your first shot-on-video horror film.  Much like your first love, it is a completely foreign experience that will most likely leave you a changed person after all is said and done.  I can remember the first shot-on-video film I saw like it was yesterday. And, as Rodney Dangerfield would say, you know what a lousy day yesterday was.  I lost my SOV virginity to CANNIBAL CAMPOUT (1988).  Having just gotten my drivers license, I was free to inspect video aisles on my own and found the cover with a guy chewing chunks of flesh from a girl’s throat staring at me.  Now this I gotta see, said my foolish brain.  I was never the same afterward.  And while this magnum non-opus may have been my earliest exposure, it wasn’t the first shot-on-video horror flick. That honor belongs to BOARDINGHOUSE (1982).

Renting horror flicks in the 1980s, you honestly couldn’t escape seeing a trailer for BOARDINGHOUSE on every horror title released by Paragon on VHS.  I’m pretty sure there is a small army of folks worldwide who (involuntarily) have the narration memorized and the “peeee-owwwwwwww” sound and psychedelic glove shot burned into their brains.  Prolific promotion aside, BOARDINGHOUSE deserves historical attention for being the first mainstream horror release to realize that video was the way of the future.  Not only that, but the producers even transferred a shot-on-Betacam movie to 35mm and got this bad boy in theaters.  Sure, it had been done before (like the 1976 Redd Foxx comedy NORMAN…IS THAT YOU?) but this was the first horror film to do so. The fact that it got into theaters and made money (Variety reported a haul of $390,000 in just two weeks!) is even more amazing (although the filmmakers say they never got a dime).  Variety also famously said of the film “tape-to-film horror pic hits a new low” but, like it or not, it still was groundbreaking.  It broke the barrier that led to a new era in exploitation filmmaker, for better or worse, and accurately predicted the current era of digital filmmaker.  Yes, Steven Soderbergh owes BOARDINGHOUSE some rent.

BOARDINGHOUSE advertised alongside a re-titled RITUALS 
(Farmington, New Mexico - October 1983)


The film revolves around, duh, a boardinghouse.  In 1972, Mr. and Mrs. Hoffman, two scientists experimenting with telekinesis and the occult, died horribly in the house and their child, the sole survivor, is sent to a mental institution.  Ten years later, Jim Royce (director John Wintergate under the pseudonym Hawk Adley [which is revealed on the commentary to be a mistake as it was supposed to read Hank Adley]) inherits the house and decides to turn it into a boardinghouse.  In a move that would make THREE’S COMPANY’s Jack Tripper proud, he decides to only rent to young women.  With a bevy of beauties moving in, it seems like pure early ‘80s heaven (or the set up for a porno).  Well, except for the weird gardener (also played by Wintergate) who is always creeping around.  Oh, and the bad news that the now-adult Hoffman child has escaped from the loony bin and this gives the psychic killer plenty of victims.  Jim, however, has a secret of his own as he too possesses telekinetic powers.  Jim starts to get close to all the girls, but mostly Victoria (Kalassu, Wintergate’s real life wife), who starts to take an interest in his Eastern philosophy-influenced lifestyle.  But he has to figure out if one of his boarders is a killer looking to pay the rent in blood money.

Now before you think I’m crazy (or crazier), let me say that I don’t consider BOARDINGHOUSE to be a horror classic.  However, there is something oddly alluring about the film for me.  It has a definitely WTF quality to it, no doubt. And while the filmmakers contend today that they were making a spoof of horror flicks, I’m not really buying that real estate.  It is cheap and cheesy, but I enjoy it.  Much like the adult films of the era, the video format provides a better tool in capturing the early ‘80s aesthetic.  Truth be told, BOARDINGHOUSE is like a time capsule that captures the early ‘80s in California better than anything I can think of.  You’ll marvel at the clothes, pools, and furniture.  And even little things like a blow dryer will get you feeling nostalgic.

Since it is the first shot-on-video horror film, BOARDINGHOUSE has been afforded a certain status in horror film history. Believe it or not, it has been the recipient of two special edition DVD releases in the last five years.  Yes, BOARDINGHOUSE gets two special editions before STAR WARS fans get releases of the unaltered trilogy on Blu-ray. There is something so wrong, yet so right about that.  The first release was in 2008 from Code Red.  Five years later, the new upstart Slasher // Video has given the film a loving special edition in their 30th Anniversary release.

Two of BOARDINGHOUSE's gruesome bits:













The biggest attraction here is a never-before-seen director’s cut of the film. Released theatrically and on video via Paragon with a running time of 1 hour and 38 minutes, this extended version runs 2 hours and 37 minutes.  Let me repeat that – 2 HOURS AND 37 MINUTES! Yes, nearly a full extra hour of BOARDINGHOUSE.  Now, if you had told me that this film would have seen two special edition releases in 5 years, I would have called you crazy.  If you told me that there was a director’s cut with nearly an hour of extra footage, I would have driven you to the asylum myself.  Now if you had told me this extra footage not only makes the movie more cohesive and expands up the personal philosophies of the Wintergates, I would have gladly joined you in that padded cell. Yet, here it is, a longer version of BOARDINGHOUSE for the entire world to see.  It is pretty obvious the distributor wanted to get straight to the horror, cutting out anything they deemed superfluous to the spurting blood and T&A.  For example, the infamous ice pick scene occurs around the 21 minute mark in the earlier version, but takes place at the 50 minute mark in the director’s cut.  Believe it or not, there is tons of extra footage explaining the personal dynamics a lot better.  And you even get the original, extended ending that explains who bought the house and teases a follow up (the Wintergates say they already have the script for a sequel BOARDINGHOUSE 2: ILLUMINATI VORTEX [wha!?!] done).  On the downside, we get lots more of Wintergate in his briefs.


To make it up to you for that last framegrab, I offer you this:


As with the Code Red release, John and Kalassu provide an audio commentary for the film, but this time they are talking over the longer version.  Of all the extras on the disc, this is perhaps the most frustrating.  Disc producer Jesus Teran joins as a moderator and, unfortunately, seems to get very little out of them.  Many times they are completely silent, watching the action unfold on screen.  Teran brings up their musical careers quite a bit, but fails to give the listener a clear timeline of their history as musicians.  Same goes for the film itself.  At one point Wintergate mentions it cost $35,000 to blow up the film to 35mm for theatrical screenings and says, “That cost more than the movie.”  Rather than ask how much the movie cost to make (a detail still left unknown despite a nearly 3 hours commentary and 30 minutes of interviews in the extras), he just lets the comment escape. And it isn’t until 90 minutes in that we find out this director’s cut (which features some crazy video wipes/editing) was something Wintergate created in 1999.  I’ll let it slide this time as he is relatively new to the DVD game, but I can’t think of what a shame it was to learn so little about the film on the audio commentary.  Yes, I’m the weirdo who wants to know every little detail about the making of BOARDINGHOUSE.

Please don’t think that I dislike this special edition though. That is only a minor quibble on what is truly a labor of love from this new cult label.  The special features are filled with probably more BOARDINGHOUSE minutia than any fan could ever want.  In addition to the two separate Q&A sessions (one recent and one from 2008), the disc offers 24 minutes of BOARDINGHOUSE trailers and audio (including the original narration recording sessions) and an extensive video sleeve library.  A healthy section is also devoted to the musical careers of Wintergate and Kalassu in the bands Lightstorm, 33 1/3, and Teeth.  You get three music videos, several songs and even some footage of them performing live in Europe.  A hidden Easter egg on the disc also has Jesus recording them as they react to footage of themselves in the earlier TERROR ON TOUR (1980).  All in all, this is a great special edition that I’d highly recommend for horror trash lovers.  It's not for everyone, but those who dig this kind of stuff will definitely enjoy spending a night in the BOARDINGHOUSE.