VHSaturday: Scream For Help (1984)

Sometimes you worship a VHS tape simply because you have no other options and SCREAM FOR HELP (1984) is just such a tape. Due to the death of righteousness caused by the extinction of unicorns (or more likely, music rights issues) this difficult to categorize teen thriller has yet to find its way to DVD let alone Blu-ray. In other words, if you ever come across a VHS tape of SCREAM FOR HELP and a brick of 14k gold hanging off a cliff and you can only save one- choose the tape! Trust me, there is NOTHING in the world like this movie. It’s completely in a lunatic class all by itself to the point that it basically exists in its own dimension. There is life before you see it and there is life after you see it and watching it is an experience you’ll treasure forever. It’s gloriously its own thing and surges with a blatant disregard to subtly, good taste or anything resembling mundane sanity. My advice: If you meet anyone who doesn’t like this movie run as fast as you can away from them unless that person is TOM HOLLAND. It is said screenwriter HOLLAND (of brilliant PSYCHO II fame) was anything but pleased with how director MICHAEL WINNER (of kooky THE SENTINEL fame) handled his screenplay and who can blame him? It’s clear from the opening scene that something is seriously (and sometimes hilariously) amiss. But I thank heaven above for everything that screeches, clanks and rattles in this indescribable misfire. Sorry, I much prefer a highly original failure to a soggy routine success. This movie simply rules.

Let’s look at the tape! Geez, with all of poor SCREAM FOR HELP’s erratic identity issues (Thriller? Horror? Soapy Drama? Afterschool Special From Hell?), it sure could have used an ad campaign that didn’t suck Nilla Wafers. Its title is certainly no prize in the memorability department, so the least they could do is grant it some eye-catching imagery. I don’t know if I mentioned it before but I furiously despise white box art. Seriously, it looks like it’s just begging to fade to gray or turn yellow and as an oldster horror collector, my peepers are permanently magnetized to black and red (is it psychotic that I still remember how the boxes for DEAN KOONTZ’s WHISPERS (1990) and RELATIVE EVIL (1994) would wreck the uniformity of my video store’s horror section? The only white box I ever forgave was THE WEEKEND IT LIVES (1992)). And the sappy cursive handwriting doesn’t help either. It looks like somebody was jotting down a grocery list while the tape just happened to be by the phone. Sadly I also have the SCREAM FOR HELP soundtrack album and its alternate artwork isn’t any improvement. But hey, this means we can learn a lesson today! The cover art doesn’t matter! Bad art doesn’t mean a bad movie- or even a good one in this case. Bad art doesn’t mean anything. Some magical movies defy description, illustration or even explanation. They have to be seen to be believed (or not believed as is the case here). In closing, if you have to kill someone to see SCREAM FOR HELP– you should totally consider it (or you can rent it for three bucks HERE). One things for sure, you can’t borrow my tape.

VHSaturday:: Bad Ronald and The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane.

Somebody needs to make gold Popsicle stick thrones for these two VHS tapes to sit on. Did I mention they are married and should never be separated? Both THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE and BAD RONALD had an immeasurable impact on my youth. Although I’m sure I was born attracted to horror, I can’t say that I became a true horror freak until I caught HALLOWEEN as a teen and therefore my love of both of these gems can be said to predate my more ravenous fandom. Why does that matter? It doesn’t. It just blows my mind that I’ve known Rynn and Ronald longer than I’ve known Laurie Strode. It seems impossible.

These two crazy kids helped me to forge my identity and their example always made me feel less alone. I know I’ll never be as cool as TLGWLDTL’s Rynn (JODIE FOSTER) but I understood at an early age her desire to live by her own rules, in her own house, separate from the toxic notions and shallow values of the outside world. I understood instinctively her attraction to animals, books and the ownership of her own free time and I easily recognized the enemies who wanted to control her (Mrs. Hallet!) or exploit her for sport (her entitled son Frank). And oh how I related to Mario (SCOTT JACOBY) who admired Wren the same way that I did and leaned on illusion to escape the body that so betrayed him. JACOBY of course, also stars in BAD RONALD and although Ronald certainly has his creepy side I can’t help but respect his boundless and self-reliant creativity. Furthermore, I can’t say I ever blamed him for losing his temper when he was pushed too far (and yes I know I’m starting to sound like an impressionable lunatic gushing over a J. D. SALINGER book).

But wait! This is a post about the VHS tapes and not the movies themselves! I will save that worship for another day! Naturally, I’ve got the DVD upgrades for both of these (BAD RONALD even sports a quote from yours truly on the back!) but I shall never discard these tapes that have meant so much to me (and are kind enough to rewind themselves when done). Truth is, both of these VHS covers are sort of oatmeal bland and borderline frumpy. TLGWLDTL’s illustration is basically from Mars and poor BAD RONALD’s sun damage renders its very title nearly invisible. Luckily they both are adorned with quirky stickers that answer questions that nobody asked like the vaguely judgmental “previously viewed” on TLGWLDTL and the equal parts cajoling and insufficient “horror” and “mystery” badges on BAD RONALD.

In both cases there are no images from the actual movies to be found on the back of the box and in both cases, it’s a missed opportunity. Let’s check out the inside tape of BAD RONALD! Oh, look it’s got a shiny silver U.S.A. HOME VIDEO label! Plus a security sticker claiming it belongs to VIDEO WORLD in North Carolina? Wrong! It belongs to me! TLGWLDTL’s inside looks like a bomb went off in there. I’d like to think I was the type to reattach a label with some thinly and evenly spread glue but apparently at one point in my life I though clear plastic tape would suffice?!! Huh, well, at least that dispels the myth that I haven’t grown over the years. Ok, back up on the high shelf with you two tapes! Settle down and curb the killing! Don’t make me separate you!

VHSaturday:: Writer/Director Chris Moore on Prom Night (1980)

UNK SEZ: Hey! We have a special guest today! It’s CHRIS MOORE the writer and director of the super creepy BLESSED ARE THE CHILDREN! Check out this trailer and then read Chris’s ode to the VHS tape of PROM NIGHT below!

Picture it! (Sicily. Just kidding.) A young fella of about 7 sneaks out of his bed at 2 a.m. on a school night to watch a “naughty” movie on FOX called Prom Night. I’d already seen the first two Halloween movies (on USA Network, so they were edited for content) and loved Jamie Lee Curtis, so it made sense that, when I saw this listed in Sunday’s TV Guide, I’d have to find some way to watch it. I tiptoed into my Dad’s office where the tiny TV was and turned it on, making sure the volume was barely above a whisper, so as to not wake anyone up. There I stayed for the next 2 hours, transfixed by this lurid story of family secrets, murder, and disco.

Sure, I was super tired the next day at school, but it didn’t matter. I’d had a rite of passage. I’d disobeyed my parents and been rewarded for it by seeing a super cool movie. It was only natural that I’d want to relive this experience over and over again, so I set out that Friday to find Prom Night on VHS. Blockbuster didn’t even have it. In fact, I believe they only had Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II. To this day, I’ll never understand why one would have to go from video store to video store just to see all the installments of a franchise. You’d think they’d all want to carry all the installments. Don’t even get me started on how impossible it was to find a copy of Friday the 13th Part 2 a couple of years later.

I checked our local mom & pop store, Video Library (which I still consider to be more important to my film education than film school) and SCORE – they had one. There it was – cut into a small white clamshell was Jamie Lee Curtis staring at us from the school hallway with a bloody axe tucked into her prom bouquet. It was quite an image, but having seen the film, I was a bit taken aback. After all, Jamie Lee’s character isn’t the killer and she’s not even really the lead. It was probably my first taste of how film companies can mislead audiences through weird marketing gimmicks. Still, it was freakin’ Prom Night and I couldn’t wait to watch it again. I was allowed to rent it on one stipulation – my Mom and Dad would have to watch it with me and, if there was anything objectionable, they’d turn it off. I was fine with that.

I got home and put it in and noticed how terrible the picture was. I mean, this movie was DARK. It looked like it was shot with a flashlight and that’s it. My parents seemed both amused and sort of bored by the film, but I was still eating it up. I don’t even remember my Mom staying for the whole thing, but I know my Dad did, because he was surprised by the killer reveal at the end.

It was a year or so later that my Mom and I were at a different video store called Home Video. It was located a little bit past where my Grammie lived and it was more of a schlep than Blockbuster or Video Library (which were, at most, 2 or 3 miles from home), but this was a new experience and a special treat for going to flag football practice at the YMCA (yes, I had to basically be bribed to go). As a growing film fan, I was excited to check out all the local video stores in the hopes that they’d have something the others didn’t.

Turns out, they did. They also had a copy of Prom Night (not to mention ALL of the sequels. Way to go, Home Video!), but this one was completely different. It was older, more beaten up, and bleached from years of sun tanning next to the large windows in the store. This version had two spooky eyes surrounded by darkness and a gloved hand gripping a large shard of glass with a screaming woman hanging upside down in its reflection. It was even more eye catching than the version Video Library had. This was from MCA Videocasette, Inc. and the Video Library version had been released by New Line Home Video. At that age, I marveled how one film could be released by so many companies (I clearly didn’t understand what licensing meant or know about the OTHER versions released by both Virgin Vision, Starkmaker, and Anchor Bay).

I proudly grabbed this box from the shelf along with copies of Friday the 13th Part 7: The New Blood and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge and took them to the front desk where the employee had to go to a back room and find the brown clamshell cases with the responding videos. It was certainly more complicated than either Blockbuster or Video Library, but I knew it would be worth it. After all, this release of Prom Night might be one with better picture, where you can see what’s going on during the last act of the film.

Imagine my disappointment when the employee came back and said that he couldn’t locate the tape for Prom Night. I was crushed, but was reassured that maybe they’d find it soon and to check back again. I did check back. A few times. They never found it, but I was desperate to. I went to a few other video stores and they didn’t even have the film at all (but, yes, most of them had ALL the sequels).

It wasn’t until I discovered the magic of eBay around ’02 or ’03 that I was able to locate a copy of this mysterious tape and give it a spin. Turns out, the picture was only barely better than the New Line and TV versions I’d seen. It would take Anchor Bay releasing a widescreen DVD (sourced from an Elite laserdisc) a few years later to finally get to see most of what was going on and it would take the geniuses at Synapse a few years ago to give us the definitive version of the film on Blu-Ray – colorful, as sharp as a film with much soft focus photography can get, and well-lit during the darker scenes. Turns out, there was actual thought put into the cinematography of this film. Who knew?

If I’m being honest, I’ve never understood why Prom Night has such a hold on me. The pacing is iffy, it’s never truly scary, the death scenes are nothing to write home about, and the entire film has a sort of run of the mill TV movie feel to it, but god damnit, I adore it. I think it’s just so darn cozy and the ending is unlike just about any other slasher movie I’ve seen. It packs an emotional punch and I love that. I’ve gotten to see it on the big screen in 35mm (with the original Avco Embassy logo, which has never been attached to any home video release) and I damn near sobbed. I have issues.

VHSaturday: Grotesque (1988)

GROTESQUE (1988) is a hilariously weird (and possibly terrible) movie that you should watch immediately because it stars four of the greatest people who ever lived: LINDA BLAIR, DONNA WILKES, TAB HUNTER and the late, great ROBERT Z’DAR. If you dig gawky, inexplicable exploitation, it’s a bountiful bargain because you get a gory monster movie and a dippy punk rock home invasion thriller at the same time. If you’re interested in eighties-era make up effects it’s a treasure trove and if you pay close attention, you may even catch a glimpse of your favorite HALLOWEEN 3 mask! But who cares about the movie? It’s VHSaturday and I’m here to sing the praises of the incredibly unique (and possibly terrible) cover art!

The first time I bumped into this off-putting illustration was when it appeared as a full-page ad on the back of (I believe) GORE ZONE magazine. I was taken aback by its heavy-handed high school stoner surrealism and its plucky reliance on a puke green background. I didn’t actually like it at the time but it successfully relayed in me a feeling of out of bounds, unsafe territory. At about the same time, I had a similar reaction to the cover of the VHS of 555 (1988). Both boxes actually fit rather well with the GORE ZONE esthetic, which often paired earthy, harsh horror elements with contrasting bright fluorescent fonts and borders. I love that! The end result is garish and even ugly but I think it works in instilling borderline nauseous dread. I didn’t want to see this movie and then of course, I simply had to. Where did I finally find this thing? It doesn’t look like a tired rental. The tape inside is pristine!

Plus, it’s from good ol’ MEDIA HOME ENTERTAINMENT and it must be pretty close to the end of their fine run (they were kaput by ‘93). I can’t tell you how much seeing the MEDIA logo informed my rental choices in the early days of home video. I mean HALLOWEEN, HELL NIGHT, BLOOD BEACH and TOURIST TRAP…so many! They had all the good stuff! I can’t say whether my brain consciously recognized it at the time but I do know that the silver MEDIA logo still lights a little fire of anticipation in my heart. And how about that tagline? You can’t beat “There is a fate worse than death…” for stoking apprehension. Later in life I would learn to be weary of VHS boxes with few actual images from the movie to share. I would eventually come to expect there was something to hide but in this case keeping the mystery alive really worked- at least it did for me. I know, it looks tacky, I know it looks cheap and I know it looks GROTESQUE! That, as it turned out, was just what I was looking for.

VHSaturday:: Cousin Wil on Hard To Die (1990)

: Hey, look! Our old pal Cousin Wil sent in a love letter to his HARD TO DIE tape! If you have a favorite VHS tape you’d like to write about feel free to do the same and we’ll feature you in a future installment of VHSaturday! Here’s Cousin Wil…

During the blogging boom of 2006 an alleged clip from an unreleased sequel to Sorority House Massacre hit the internet. I owned a major horror website at the time and decided to investigate the clip which led me to an email conversation with Jim Wynorski. I had planned to write an article about Wynorski’s career, and not knowing what I was doing I decided I needed to do a full interview with the director. Since I had already planned the article I actually didn’t have any questions for Wynorski except about the clip. So I emailed him a bunch of silly questions just to say I had interviewed him.

Around the same time my roommate produced a VHS copy of the film Hard to Die, which is kind of a spiritual successor to Sorority House Massacre II. This was before VHS had been totally replaced by DVD, and while the movie wasn’t readily available I wouldn’t really call it rare. While I was watching Hard to Die for the first time Wynorski had actually responded to my email, and he wasn’t pleased with my simple questions. Wynorski graciously completed the interview because he said he knew I was a fan of his films, but he only gave one-word answers. I eventually scrapped my planned article and I never got to the bottom of the alleged clip. Today I still have no idea if there is an unfinished sequel to Sorority House Massacre floating around, but I did come away as a fan of Hard to Die.

Fast forward ten years later and distributors like Scream Factory and the internet have all but killed the collectible movie market. Most hard to find out of print titles have now found new life as expensive collectible Blu-rays. Movies like Slumber Party Massacre II and The Video Dead are now only a few clicks on a computer away for anyone to purchase, and the fun of hunting for rare VHS titles at video stores is all but a distant memory. However, this doesn’t mean collecting physical media is a totally dead art. A few nostalgic hunters such as myself still enjoy digging through old dusty thrift stores for rare DVDs and VHS.

In Philadelphia we have a local shop called Thrift for AIDs. It is a thrift store that sells donated items to help fund AIDs research. Outside the shop everyday there are several green totes full of free items the shop can’t sell. One day while walking by I decided to quickly check out the free items and to my surprise there was a VHS copy of Hard to Die at the bottom of one of the bins. Most of you reading this probably understand why this was a big score. To my knowledge Hard to Die has never even made the transition from VHS to DVD. There may be some kind of bootleg version floating around, but I’m pretty sure there has never been any official release. Hard to Die has also escaped the likes of Scream Factory, Synapse and all the other distributors currently releasing old cult films to Blu-ray. Hard to Die can occasionally be found on Amazon and eBay listed at insane prices, making it one of the rarer VHS tapes floating around.

My copy of Hard to Die on VHS is very special to me. Not only does it remind me of my ill fated Wynorski interview, but I rescued it from the trash. The tape is in good condition for being a dumpster baby, and it even has a “remember to rewind” Blockbuster sticker on its side. This allows me to know where it originated from and it gives my copy some backstory. Hard to Die is a great VHS classic and a must see for all Wynorski fans. It stars most of the same actresses from Sorority House Massacre II, and Peter Spellos reprises his role as Orville Ketchum. It has been called both a sequel and a remake, and it has a strange history surrounded by many rumors. I encourage all Wynorski fans who have never heard about it to do a little googling to learn more about this mostly forgotten film.

VHSaturday :: Screams of a Winter Night (1979)

This may just be my number one most prized VHS possession! This tape may even be worth a pretty penny. Sure, it probably wouldn’t fetch enough cash to pay for a single cable bill but it’s worth something just the same! Seeing SCREAMS OF A WINTER NIGHT on the big screen was a monumental moment in my horror education and you can read all about that business HERE but for today, let’s gawk at the VHS tape itself and all of its humble beauty…

I’ll never forget finding this puppy in a video store that was closing in the late eighties. The big deal was that this was before the Internet and so basically you either stumbled across a tape or you didn’t. If your video store didn’t happen to order a tape of a movie you wanted to see, you might not know if it was even released. I remember searching for 1981’s THE BOOGENS for years until it was mercifully distributed in the nineties. I had a similar experience with SCREAMS. I saw it in the theater and then it seemed to fall off the face of the Earth without much evidence (besides possibly a clipped newspaper ad) that I didn’t dream it. Back then you could ask around about a title and folks would just shake their heads and scowl at you as if you were begging for change. It sounds sad, I know, but there was also something poetic about allowing fate to decide which movies entered your life. You kids don’t know how easy you have it with your low hanging Google fruit (shakes cane, dentures fall out).

Back to the tape! It’s a clamshell! Oh boy, these were a bitch to shelve! It’s hard to believe that for a while, big-boxed VHS tapes fell strongly out of favor (except in the adult room) because now they are hip as hell (which reminds me, I saw a dude wearing a fanny pack the other day). Geez, they’re really courting with a Christmas card look here with the dark green background and red lettering complete with snow garnish, aren’t they? Even though there’s no snow in the movie, I do enjoy that snow font because it reminds me of a friendly motel ice machine. The central image is straight from the movie poster and I’ve always loved its swampy Golem vagueness. And I dig all of the tagline wording too because it so swiftly relays that this flick is all about the ancient art of telling ghost stories. Oh and it’s VCI Home Video! Those guys sure put out some great titles back in the early days (CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS, HORROR HOSPITAL, TOWER OF EVIL) and I guess they saved a lot on ink with their penchant for using a limited color palette!

As much as I love this old tape, this is one movie that I cannot wait to upgrade on either Blu ray or DVD. Having only seen this flick in the grittiest of fashions, I’m planning on a staggering experience. What’s even better is that word on the street is that the fine folks at CODE RED are reinstalling for the first time ever, a previously excised segment of this awesome anthology! I know I can be kinda annoying with the exclamation points but:!!!!! That’s some horror Holy Grail stuff right there (at least for me)! Still, I’ll be holding on to this cherished tape. There ain’t no law saying I can’t have this longtime favorite in multiple formats.

VHSaturday:: The Incubus (1982)

Hey, let’s start a new feature around these parts! I get super lazy without structure! Without structure there’s absolutely nothing to stop me from sleeping. Do you think death will be like sleeping forever? I sure hope so. Anyway, VHSaturday will be all about me sharing my love of VHS tapes! I even wrote a theme song for this super new feature that should be sung to the tune of Tracey’s Ullman’s “They Don’t Know”.

“And I don’t listen to their Blu-ray lies, if I adjust your tracking, I can see you fine.‘Cause they don’t know about VH-us and they never heard of love.”

I’m working on it. It’s a process. Anyway, today I want to talk about my lovely VHS tape of 1982’s THE INCUBUS. I doubt it’s worth very much in the world of collectors but since I’m never in a million years going to sell it, that doesn’t matter a lick. You can read a review for this wonderful movie that has altered the course of my life in a multitude of ways HERE, presently I just want to appreciate the tape itself as a one of a kind objet d’art!

Is there anything more adorable in the world than this “Horror” sticker? Why is it pink instead of the usual green and why are there two stickers? Was the sticker below the top sticker not doing its job properly? What weirdo decided to place the sticker over the cast credits when there is so much empty space that can easily be utilized? Did they have some deep seeded subconscious disdain for John Cassavetes?

Let’s face it, this box is beautifully, perfectly weathered. It has just the right amount of natural well-earned wear and tear. Don’t you hate it when folks try to do fake erosion in photoshop and they go overboard and it ends up looking like a remnant of the Johnstown flood? I keep this particular tape in a clear plastic squeezable container so that its aging process is thwarted as much as possible. I only have about a dozen of said protective containers so if you are a VHS tape in my house, it is a coveted and illustrious fate as to be shielded in one.

Look at this VESTRON label! So simple, so pure! Such a relaxing muted taupe-grey! Do we really believe that THE INCUBUS (Simply INCUBUS in the opening credits) is a precise 90 minutes long? That seems a bit convenient if you ask me (IMDb says 93). The tape itself is tightly wound and mostly uniform with little to no sign of warping or (God forbid) mold. They really knew how to make sturdy tapes back then. This baby is built like a tank! We can conclude from the genre-identity label on the front that this is a formal rental but notice there are no paranoid security labels and no bossy threat stickers. I like that! I’m going to assume that this tape enjoyed life in a very trusting and casual video store environment. It had to be a mom and pop shop. Do I even remember where I got this tape? No, I don’t. It’s always been with me.

Let’s check out the back and admire how VESTRON keeps it classy yet again. They throw the official tagline up top in bold in case that’s all you have time for and below there is a more detailed description that respects the director’s previous work and avoids making outlandish promises the film itself may not be able to keep. Sure, maybe the ending won’t actually have viewers “sitting on the edge of their seats” but it could! Ya never know! I can see it happening. Kudos on the lone image that gives nothing away and for the mentioning of Paul Mazursky‘s THE TEMPEST, I love that movie!

Finally, let’s close out with some general appreciation of the art transferred from the movie poster/ ad campaign. That font really captures THE INCUBUS’ personality as an against the grain gothic shocker at the height of the slasher boom. I’m again going to award high marks to the folks at VESTRON for keeping it simple and not crowding the cover with desperate bids for attention. This almost looks like an ancient tome of some sort, which fits the movie to a T. There, that’s the end! I love you, INCUBUS VHS tape! You know I do (kisses it)! Will I return next week for another addition of VHSaturday? It’s all up to the chemicals in my head! We’ll have to wait and see.