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...:::DVD Review:::...

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (1982)

February 5th, 2016 · 3 Comments

All I wanted for Christmas this year was the DVD of BUTCHER, BAKER NIGHTMARE MAKER (1982) and I’m happy to report that tiny lil’ dream became a reality. Now that the pined for item is captured and shelved, one of the many nagging voices in my head can finally shut up. Once upon a time, wrongly thinking the flick’s DVD debut was imminent, I allowed my VHS tape (under the title NIGHT WARNING) to fall into the wrong hands and wouldn’t you know it, the cursed thing stood me up like a bucked-tooth prom date. Worse still, when it finally was released, the universe began a cruel campaign of placing obstacle after excruciating obstacle between me and my coveted prize! It’s over now. I shouldn’t salt the gaping wounds. I just mean to point out that there are movies you casually collect for a rainy day and there are those that feel like appendages that somebody ripped off your body that you have track down and sew back on or risk dying from infection.

I think the problem is that I remember my life through movies. I have no idea how I’d recall anything if movies didn’t exist because they provide pretty much the only structure in my foggy head. Things were easier when I worked in a video store and I could look on the wall and see by numbers on stickers on plastic boxes where I had been… now everything is all jumbled up and out of order.

For many reasons BUTCHER, BAKER towers as a monumental marker through the mist behind me. It casts a deeper shadow than most because it had such an impact on me during my teen years. I came across the movie tie-in paperback years before I would encounter the movie itself and its content provided me with one of my earliest encounters with the subject of homosexuality (at least within a story that I could relate to rather than a horrifying news item or a pitying sitcom platitude). Its significance was boosted further by the fact that the novel was confiscated from me in junior high as if it were some kind of illegal contraband and my fear of its verboten themes being discovered were great. See, things were very different for a gay teen in 1982 and in so many subtle stabbing ways that it’s impossible to fully convey. You know that part in INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS when the characters had to hide any and all emotions or traces of humanity to avoid being pounced upon by the screeching, pointing, empty hearted hive mob? I feel like that reflects my personal high school experience better than say, SIXTEEN CANDLES.

BUTCHER, BAKER doesn’t exactly present the idea of being gay in a Pollyanna positive light but therein held its particular power for me because its crassness allowed me to better digest it. At that point in my existence the idea of being validated or approved of wasn’t even on the table but the knowledge of not being alone in the universe left enough air out of my about-to-explode alienation balloon that it was the difference between life and death. There’s a shitload of acrimony offered many discriminated against groups in the world but I think LGBT teens take on a singular burden of having to face those thrown stones alone…at least for a while. Sorry, that’s kinda heavy but that’s how important seeing myself at least partially reflected was. And really, that’s how important movies and books are.

Anyway, BUTCHER stars JIMMY McNICHOL as Billy Lynch who is getting ready to go off to college and sparking abandonment drama from his twitchy guardian Aunt Cheryl (SUSAN TYRELL). Billy comes home from school one day to find his Aunt has killed a man (who she claims tried to rape her) but when the victim is discovered to be gay, a homophobic detective (BO SVENSON) becomes obsessed with pinning the murder on Billy. Now, a little while’s back I was gabbing it up about another fine flick that features TYRELL called ANGEL (1984). ANGEL presents two all accepting counter culture fantasy parents in the characters of Solly (TYRELL) and Mae (DICK SHAWN.) In contrast, BUTCHER, BAKER offers a dark flip side and features two soul dousing monster parent figures. First we have Aunt Cheryl who is a controlling, jealous, trapped in the past, sexually inappropriate loon and symbolically subbing for Billy’s dead father is SVENSON’ s Det. Carlson who is a berating browbeater who elbows out Billy’s one positive adult figure, his happens-to-be gay basketball coach Tom Landers (STEVE EASTIN who would fittingly go on to appear as a policeman in another gay-centric horror flick A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE).

I should clarify that there’s nothing within the framework of BUTCHER to indicate that Billy is gay. Whether he is or he isn’t doesn’t change what he endures or how we understand him but I point it out because it deepens the detective’s level of… instead of “homophobia” let’s go with misguided witch burning hysteria and projected sexual insecurities. Like life though, BUTCHER is about much more than folks grappling with sexual orientation, it earns serious points from me for focusing on that critical moment that many of us must plow through when we shed the limiting, spirit-confining ideas we were raised with and begin to walk on shaky legs toward our own self-realization. Billy has to destroy his monstrous parental figures to move forward because they stand as the bars of his cage.

Due to its teen heroes (Billy’s loyal and bunny-nose cute girlfriend Julia is played by a young JULIA DUFFY) and the year of its release, BUTCHER is often lumped in with the slasher clique but it has more in common with psycho-biddy grande dame Guignol flicks like WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? than its more popular body count contemporaries. Tonally I think it pairs up swell with the following year’s excellent PSYCHO II or maybe even 1980’s underrated THE ATTIC. In fact, BUTCHER could have saved itself a bunch of heartache by calling itself simply THE CELLAR as some of its more important revelations are made in just that locale. In any case, the streamlined alternate title NIGHT WARNING is of no help at all.

We’re not offered any huge mystery to solve, the audience knows very well which chocolates in the box contain the nuts, the tension comes from wondering just how hard the shit is going to hit the fan and when. It’s too bad director WILLIAM ASHER did not continue down the horror/ thriller path because he definitely brings something cyclonic and sweeping to the film’s storm set climax. It’s impressively uncanny compared to the rest of the movie and I can’t help worrying that both Julia the character and JULIA the DUFFY are truly getting the tar beaten out of both of them right there on screen.

Let’s be realistic, this movie is OWNED by TYRELL and I only wish I could type OWNED in neon and make it flash forever and with an accompanying siren sound. It’s really one of the greatest performances in all of horror and frankly it’s a disgrace that it’s not more widely seen and appreciated. If NICHOLSON or WALKEN delivered this performance they’d be forever ducking from all the laurels chucked at them. From the DVD’s (much appreciated) extras it doesn’t appear TYRELL herself thought too much of the role but the truth is on the screen and, no matter how scampy she sometimes riffs it, there are clear-cut moments where she’s delicately skating on the sharp thin line of true madness and it’s a freaking glorious thing to behold.

In closing, this is a take it to the grave movie for me as you can probably tell. I’ll be watching it when my hair is gray and my eyes have been removed to make way for tiny TV sets. Revisiting it once again I’m glad that times have changed and at the same time I don’t know why they haven’t changed more or even why they were so screwy in the first place. I’ll never be grateful for the crap I personally had to endure but if it curbed me from becoming your standard douche-y bro dude it was very much worth it. Most of all it’s fun to revisit through cinema a time in my life when I related more to buoyant Billy than I did to shattered Aunt Cheryl because great googly moogly, lord knows that’s no longer the case. Ha ha. Just kidding (no, I’m not).

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Tags: Caution: I break for geniuses! · DVD Review · General Horror

DVD Review:: Water Monsters (Featuring She Creature!)

July 9th, 2015 · 8 Comments

Remember back in the good old days (three months ago) when I was all inordinately excited about a cheap-o DVD set that included the sadly underappreciated killer bat flick NIGHTWING? Those were good times. Who can blame me for trying to recapture that feeling of fleeting contentment by snagging yet another modestly priced four-movie collection from the fine folks at MILL CREEK entertainment called WATER MONSTERS!?

Yay WATER MONSTERS! It’s not news that I love monsters and don’t even get me started on water! I don’t mean to go overboard but I sometimes think I couldn’t live without that stuff! Let’s say we take a closer look at this gift from God that you can probably find at your local Best Buy or Target or K-Mart or what have you. Maybe even Caldor? Does Caldor still exist? Come to think of it, one of the reasons I like these sets is that they remind me of the bins of mass-produced VHS tapes that they used to have at the center city Woolworths here in Philly back in the early nineties. That probably shouldn’t be a fond memory on account of that is how I was exposed to the abominations NUKIE and BOOGEYMAN 2 but fond it is.

Let’s talk picture quality. All four movies in this set are on one disc. They all look fine for casual viewing. If you pause them you’ll notice some sketchiness but it’s not all that bad. I’ll be honest with you; I’m not the biggest stickler about such things. In fact, I ended up not being very interested in Blu-rays at all. I figure as long as I have visual masterpieces like BLADE RUNNER, ALIEN, THE THING and maybe THE FUNHOUSE on Blu that’s enough. In all other cases, my Playstation 3 upconverts garden variety DVDs just fine for me. Also, and I may be insane here, but HD has a glassy, synthetic quality to it that reads a bit sickly to me whereas your standard DVD is all warm and toasty and snuggly like a carpeted den. I don’t know, maybe I’m bonkers. In any case, I’m more about filling the holes in my DVD collection than needlessly upgrading that which I already own. I guess I’ve got agreeable peepers is all (I also ate a filet-o-fish sandwich today so maybe I’m just hopelessly lowbrow). Moving on…

ANACONDA (1997)

Aw, look the first movie is ANACONDA! Cool! You know, some people like to dismiss this flick because it’s called ANACAONDA and it concerns at least one ANACONDA but I’ve always enjoyed it and back in 1997, it was a wonderful B-movie throwback when there weren’t that many to be found. It really owes a lot to those beloved seventies-era disaster flicks with its extensive multigenerational cast and deliberate build-up. It’s got an agreeable epic journey vibe and I have to say the jungle location is actually convincingly oppressive. Yeah, yeah the CGI is dated but they don’t really take on anything too complicated and there’s a fair share of practical effects too. It’s simply a fun movie and JON VOIGHT’s off-the-rails performance alone makes it worthwhile. The weird thing is how likable and down to Earth JENNIFER LOPEZ is. This movie is so old it’s from before she became a phony-baloney media gadfly.

BLACK WATER (2007)

I just realized I’m senile and the undeniable proof is that this movie that came out eight years ago, is in my mind, a recent release. Oh well, I certainly don’t mind having a hard copy of this effective Australian killer croc picture one bit. I’m not quite in the mood for a re-watch just yet, but the urge is bound to strike me one day in my limited future. Check me out unabashedly batting my eyelashes at this unassuming gem in a full review way back HERE.

RED WATER (2003)

This, I’d say is the lone dud of the pack. There isn’t a whole lot to differentiate it from any other made for TV shark movie you might bump into. On the plus side, LOU DIAMOND PHILIPS and KRISTY SWANSON are present, so that might be fun if you don’t get depressed thinking about how likely they’re wishing they were anywhere else. I guess this one is good for people who don’t get the SyFy channel and want to pretend they do for an hour and a half.

SHE CREATURE (2001)

This is the one that sealed the deal for me. SHE CREATURE (listed on IMDb as MERMAID CHRONICLES PART 1: SHE CREATURE) was the first (and as I recall, the best and possibly the only worthwhile installment) of a CINEMAX series known as CREATURE FEATURES which consisted of original films inspired by preexisting AIP (American International Pictures) movie titles. It stars RUFUS SEWELL and CARLA “The lone member of TROOP BEVERLY HILLS who starred in a #1 movie the summer of 2015” GUGINO as an easy to look at carnie couple who kidnap and plan to exploit a mermaid who is far more formidable (and sympathetic) than she originally appears.

The late great STAN WINSTON supplies the flick’s super slick monster effects and the whole deal seeps with a dank, waterlogged atmosphere. In fact, in my mind this is a suitable companion piece to the brilliantly briny DAGON of the same year. Everything about it is enjoyably old school right down to a Matte painting establishing shot of a seaside mansion (that I’m guessing was lifted from a classic AIP flick. Does anybody recognize it above?). Did I mention it takes place for the most part on a boat? Who in the world can resist boat horror? Oh, and the multitalented COLLEEN CAMP is a producer! I have to give COLLEEN a high five…

So there you have it. What a deal! This cornucopia of slippery sharp-toothed water mongrels can be yours for cheaper than a bottle of Perrier. Moreover, and I swear I do not work for MILL CREEK, I just found out they have a new batch of affordable sets including a HAMMER FILMS COLLECTION featuring the used to be impossible to score SCREAM OF FEAR (!!!) and a WILLIAM CASTLE COLLECTION with HOMICIDAL, and even the elusive THE OLD DARK HOUSE remake among other classics! That’s some slobber worthy cinema that won’t leave your poor wallet feeling defiled!

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Tags: DVD Review · General Horror

DVD Review:: Animal Apocalypse (Featuring Nightwing!)

April 7th, 2015 · 3 Comments

My dreaded birthday rolled around again a little while back and all I could think to want was some Amazon flavored credit to put to use filling the unsightly holes in my DVD collection. Imagine if you dare, an adult human in this day and age living without a physical copy of the 1992 LAMBERTA BAVA-directed JOANA PACULA thriller BODY PUZZLE; it’s enough to make your heart sob. OK, maybe that one is more gravy than essential but really all I’m asking for is a functioning video store within arms reach at all times- is that so wrong? Regardless, I am happy to say I was able to spackle a crack that has been bugging me for years with the acquisition of a 4-movie set aptly titled ANIMAL APOCALPYSE! It’s one of those modestly priced MILL CREEK numbers with zero frills, no bell in sight, an absence of whistles and an instantly dated cover but guess what? It’s secretly hiding a snappy and highly coveted by me, widescreen version of ARTHUR (LOVE STORY) HILLER’s 1979 killer bat opus NIGHTWING!!

Yay, I soooo need that! First of all, in my head, it’s the unofficial companion piece to my beloved PROPHECY and secondly I cherish and value it as an important stepping stone in my love of the genre- no matter how hard folks try to convince me it stinks (see also THE HEARSE). I wrote a review for it way back HERE and by reading it, you can see that I’m totally aware that NIGHTWING can be truly long winded and boring at times but is beautifully photographed, has an awesome score, features the irresistible duo of KATHRYN (THE SENDER) HARROLD and NICK (DEATH SHIP) MANCUSO and boasts at least one super exciting scene in which a man cowardly drives over his wife’s head in an effort to save himself. Plus it just takes me back; NIGHTWING will always be bigger in my head than it actually is in the real world and that’s fine by me because I live in my head and not the real world anyway.

Truth told, NIGHTWING has been available on Amazon as one of those made on demand DVD-R doohickeys but I gotta say I’m intuitively suspicious of those things. To be recordable, aren’t they missing some layer that makes them more permanent? I have no idea what I’m talking about and here I am spreading rumors. Oh well, suffice to say the DVD-R version is more expensive and has less content. ANIMAL APOCALPYSE comes with three other free movies and free is a good price for them because they’re not so hot. There’s BATS: HUMAN HARVEST the sequel nobody wanted to 1999’s BATS, FATAL CONTACT: BIRD FLU IN AMERICA an ABC TV movie that’s mostly just depressing and finally SyFy Channel’s KAW (2007). Hey, I actually kinda liked KAW, it has a decent cast with SEAN PATRICK FLANERY, STEPHEN McHATTIE and recently deceased, legendary THE BIRDS star ROD TAYLOR and I thought the effects were pretty cool.

I admit I’ve got a soft spot for cheap-o compilation sets in general but really this bundle is all about NIGHTWING. If you’re a fan too, this is an affordable and decent enough looking option. It’s not anywhere near the HD realm but it’s certainly way beyond crusty old VHS. Why, just check out these picture post card screen shots:

NOTE: And please remember that NIGHTWING, like all killer bat movies, is a goof. In real life bats are super nice and helpful and adorable. They do a zillion times infinity less damage to the world than humans do and are basically flying kittens. There’s a big stupid speech in NIGHTWING that tries to persuade you to think that bats are evil or something so don’t listen to it. Bats are the best and I’ll have you know that in any scenario that concerns bats vs. humans, I’ll be on team bat.

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Tags: DVD Review · General Horror · I Have No Idea What This Is