Thursday, January 25, 2018

SHADOW STALKERS - 10 Terrifying Features (DVD Review)


SHADOW STALKERS
10 Terrifying Features (3-Disc Set)

Label: Mill Creek Entertainment
Region Code: 1 NTSC
Duration: 934 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital 
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen, Fullscreen 
Directors: Michael Schroeder, J.Lee Thompson, Irvin Kirshner, Robert Hammer, Bud Townsend, Massimo Pupillo, Stu Segall, Edmund Purdon, William Fruett, Theodore Gershuny  
Cast: Glenn Ford, Karen Black, Faye Dunaway, Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Dourif, Cameron Mitchell, Tracey Walters, Caroline Munroe, Geoffrey Lewis 

Mill Creek Entertainment are back with another budget sampler of slasher goodies that can be had on the cheap on DVD, this one cramming ten movies onto a three disc set containing several of the public domain and Crown International libraries that have been on numerous versions of their budget collections, plus we get two Columbia Pictures licensed slashers, and one late 80's slasher licensed from CineTelFfilms that to my knowledge has only been available from Sony as part of the Sony Screen Classics by Request MOD service, so glad to see it get a semi-proper pressed release. as part of this set.   


OUT OF THE DARK(1988)
Rating: R
Duration: 98 Minutes
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 
Director:  Michael Schroeder
Cast: Karen Black, Bud Cort, Geoffrey Lewis, Tracey Walters

Late 80's slasher Out of the Dark (1988) is pretty cheesy, coming across as a semi-erotic Red Shoe Diaries version of an 80s  slasher with a story that revolves around a group of girls who work as phone-sex operators, the all work together in an office, and soon they start dying off one by one, victims of a deranged clown-masked culprit who likes to hit girls over the head with a bat when he's not strangling them top death. The phone sex company is operated by Karen Black (Burnt Offerings) who is certainly slumming it in the late-period cameo. The movie's soft-core bent come mainly from the inclusion of a photographer named Kevin Silvers (Cameron Dye, The Last Starfighter) who is dating one of the girls. Sexy models throw themselves at the guy, a late sex scene goes on forever, looking like a late-night Skinemax softcore flick. 

The cops suspect Kevin as the killer but the movie is not shy about throwing multiple red-herrings at us, including a creepy office guy named Doug (Bud Cort, Invaders from Mars) with an S/M fetish and an angry rival photographer played by Geoffrey Lewis (Salem's Lot). Even the cops are creepy in this one, the main detective played by Tracey Walters (Repo Man) and another played by Divine (Pink Flamingos) with some crazy eyebrows. 

As an 80's slasher this is near the bottom third of the barrel, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it for the trashy slice of flesh-baring slasher-ness that it is, perfectly watchable, totally cheesy. To my knowledge this has only been available on DVD as an MOD disc from Sony Pictures, so it's nice to see it a pressed disc release, even if it is crammed onto a DVD with three other films. 

HAPPY BITHDAY TO ME(1981)
Rating: R
Duration: 111 Minutes 
Audio: Dolby Digital 
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Cast: Melissa Sue Anderson, Glenn Ford, Lawrence Dane, Sharon Acker, Frances Hyland, Lenore Zann, Lisa Langlois, Michel Rene Labelle, Lesleh Donaldson


In this early 80's slasher directed by J. Lee Thompson (Cape Fear) we have a setting a the elite Crawford Academy's high school, a group of popular teens form a click known asd the Top Ten, but someone is killing them off in fun and ingenious ways. This is one I caught on TV back in the 80's and it stuck with me, unavailable on digital home video fro far too long, and even then it was initially released with the wrong score, which has subsequently been fixed on the releases that followed. 

Our focus here is top ten member Virginia (Melissa Sue Anderson, Little House on the Prairie) who had some weird experimental brain surgery some years back, which figures into the story.  The kills are very elaborate, despite having been trimmed heavily by the MPAA, the identity of the killer is kept in the dark, it has a giallo flavor to the kill set pieces which I think is awesome. Director J.Lee Thompson was a great director, he would later go onto be saddled by Canon Films and relegated to some rote action-adventure film (Death Wish 4, King Solomon's Mines) but here he shows some great direction and the movie is lensed quite nicely. The kills are fantastic, featuring teens killed by a running rear tire of a motorbike, skewered by a shishkabob, and having a weight dropped on his balls while lifting weights! It's all great stuff, the bloody payoff has been heavily edited but the climax of this movie is so deliciously overwrought and WTF! The kalways of the culprit's identity always leaves me reeling, and while I do think the movie is a bit too convoluted I always count this is one of my favorite slashers, it's just a fun time all around.

The movie is also available from Mill Creek on Blu-ray as a double-feature with  When a Stranger Calls, and there's a region-free version available from UK distributor Indicator that has some extras, including an audio commentary from the crew at The Hysteria Lives! podcast. 

EYE OF LAURA MARS (1978)
Rating: R
Duration: 104 Minutes 
Audio: Dolby Digital
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Irvin Kershner
Cast: Faye Dunaway, Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Dourif, René Auberjonois, Raúl Juliá

Directed by Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back) from an scripted by John Carpenter (Halloween), the disco-era American giallo Eyes Of Laura Mars (1978) is a psychic-thriller whodunit set in the high-fashion mecca of New York City, we have titular fashion photographer Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway, Bonnie and Clyde) has been experiencing visions of real-life murder through the eyes of a killer, the horrifying voyeuristic visions literally bleed through into her photographic work, a mix of sexed-up violence, nude women and blood. The graphic images cause quite a controversy, the press often implying that the images are detrimental to society and demeaning to women.


Eyes of Laura Mars is a movie I first sought out because of the contribution of John Carpenter who wrote the initial script, but it went through many changes before making it's way to the big screen, including the love angle and making it a more of a whodunit than a psychic-slasher. I think it's a hot mess of a movie but it is star-studded and strangely weird in a way that makes it interesting. Adding to the fun is an overwrought performance from Dunaway (just a few years before Mommie Dearest), and an over-the-top turn from Raul Julia as her ex husband, plus a suitably creepy role from a very shaggy (and young) Brad Dourif (The Exorcist III). Tommy Lee Jones seems pretty aloof and subdued for most of the film, but his weirdness does come through at the end and the aforementioned scene at the park with Dunaway. 

The original Columbia Pictures DVD release of this one has long been out-of-print in the US, but there is a great region-free Blu-ray from UK distributor Indicator, here in the US this budget set is you're best bet on home video.  



DON'T ANSWER THE PHONE (1980)
Rated R
Duration: 95 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital
Video: Fullscreen (1.33:1)
Director: Robert Hammer
Cast: James Westmoreland, Nicholas Worth, Ben Frank, Flo Gerrish, Denise Galik, Stan Haze

A deeply disturbed photographer and 'Nam vet named Kirk Smith terrorizes Los Angeles by going around strangling lingerie-clad young women in their homes while taunting Lindsay Gale, a young psychologist, by calling her on a radio call-in show to describe his sexual hang-ups and misogynistic ways, while a local police detective, Lt. McCable, is always two steps behind in trying to catch the psycho. Now here's an exploitation gem. Don't Answer the Phone stars Nicholas Worth as Kirk, our deranged serial killer and boy is he ever a character, totally unpredictable, he's making some oddball acting choices here and I love it! My second favorite character is the film is a wisecracking coroner who always says the most inappropriate things, good stuff. This one received a great looking special edition Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome in 2017 and is also available in widescreen DVD from Scorpion Releasing.

NIGHTMARE IN WAX (1696)
Rating: R 
Duration: 94 Minutes
Audio:
English Dolby Digital
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 
Director: Bud Townsend
Cast: Cameron Mitchell, Anne Helm, Scott Brady


Fallen Hollywood star Cameron Mitchel (Blood and Black Lace) stars in this schlocky House of Wax knock-off as the demented proprietor of a wax museum named Vince Renaud, a former movie studio make-up man horribly scarred in an accident. Now running the wax museum he has his revenge on his enemies by dipping them in wax for fun, and that's about the gist of the story, not a whole lot to it. Mitchell is super cheesy in the role, the man is dripping more camp than wax in this one, lovers of bad z-grade cinema should relish this one. 
BLOODY PIT OF HORROR
(1965)
Rating: R
Duration: 73 Minutes 
Audio: English Dolby Digital 
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen
Director: Massimo Pupillo
Cast: Mickey Hargitay, Walter Brandi, Ralph Zucker

A photographer and his sexy models go to an old, Gothic castle to shoot some sexy covers for horror novels. Unbeknownst to them, the castle is inhabited by a demented actor/lunatic who believes himself to be the reincarnated spirit of a 17th-century executioner. He calls himself the Crimson Executioner. It's not an original idea my any stretch of the imagination, but it'll do in a pinch when you're craving some 60's Italian exploitation. This film is a bit odd but a lot of fun with some great torture scenes with lots of gimmicks and gorgeous ladies in minimal clothing, what's not to love?.



SILENT NIGHT. BLOODY NIGHT
(197)
Rated R
Duration: 82 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital
Video: Fullscreen (1.33:1)
Director: Theodore Gershuny
Cast: Patrick O’Neal, John Carradine, Walter Abel

When a man inherits a country mansion that was the former site of an asylum the bodies start piling up, it stars Mary Woronov (House of the Devil) and the print is just awful, which makes it difficult to enjoy what's happening onscreen, certainly this is a case of if we had a decent transfer it would be so much more enjoyable but as it stands if you have the patience to sit through it there's a really decent slasher at the asylum story here with some decent atmosphere and gory kills, it's a bit of a slow-burn but the creepy tension and decent payoff kept me hanging in there.

FUNERAL HOME
(1980)
Rating: R
Duration: 92 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital
Video: Fullscreen (1.33:1)
Director: William Fruett
Cast: Kay Hawtrey, Lesleh Donaldson, Barry Morse

From the director of Killer Party (1986) comes the lesser Funeral Home (1980), wherein  young woman named Heather (Lesleh Donaldson, Happy Birthday to Me) arrives at her grandmother’s (Kay Hawtry) place to help convert it over to a bed and breakfast inn, it was formerly a funeral home which was operated by her recently departed grandfather. After completing the change and guests begin to arrive, the granddaughter hears strange noises from the basement and finds some of the guests have disappeared. Getting nowhere with the police, the granddaughter decides to get to the bottom of the mystery by going down to the locked cellar to see what’s inside.


This one is a semi-campy but entertaining ax-murder slasher film, the setting at the former mortuary has loads of atmosphere and the Psycho-esque echoes of the story are fun, but it fails to stick the landing at the end, but still very entertaining, would love to see this get the Blu-ray treatment from Vinegar Syndrome or Scorpion Releasing at some point. 

DON'T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS (1984)
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 86 Minutes
Video: Fullscreen (1.33:1)

Audio: English Dolby Digital
Director: Edmund Purdom
Cast: Edmund Purdon, Alan Lake, Belinda Mayne, Gerry Sundquist, Kelly Baker, Caroline Munro

Don't Open Till Christmas (1984) is a sleazy Santa-slasher with just enough of a threadbare plot to string along a series of grisly murders and nude scenes, and that's just fine by me honestly. This London-set slasher features a masked killer on a spree slashing anyone dressed-up as Santa leading to a fun array of deaths as various St. Nick are pistol-shot in the mouth, burned, razor-slashed, eye-traumatized, wiener-mutilated, speared through the skull, strangulated and machete whacked to death - the kills are pretty fantastic and varied with some fun set pieces including a sleazy strip joint, the London Dungeon, a carnival and even the infamous urinal slashing, and a strange musical cameo from scream queen Caroline Munro (Slaughter High).

While the deaths are gruesome fun what constitutes the story line is pretty silly even for an 80's slasher. Scotland Yard, Chief Inspector Ian Harris (Edmund Purdom, Pieces) and Detective Sergeant Powell (Mark Jones) are called in to sleuth the gristly murder spree. They interview the daughter of the victim speared through the head at a holiday party, Kate (Belinda Mayne, Alien 2 on Earth) and her jerky boyfriend Cliff (Gerry Sundquist) who were present during the crime. Cliff is an insensitive type and when he's present at the murder of yet another victim (a porn model) he's the prime suspect but let me just say you will never have any doubt who the culprit is, the red-herrings here are a complete failure. It's a nice conceit, instead of a Santa-suited slasher on a murder spree we have a grinning masked killer murdering Santas, it's a nice twist on the surface, but the script just doesn't go anywhere with it.

On the plus-side you can just shut off your brain on this one and enjoy it for the scuzzy Santa-slasher that it is, which is plenty
entertaining even if not a very good movie, in fact it's pretty terrible! As awful as it might be this is mandatory viewing at my house during the Christmas season right after Black Christmas (1974) and Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984).


The presentation here looks like a murky VHS rip, fullscreen and dark as sin, if you dig this sort of psycho-santa sleaze I strongly encourage you to seek out the widescreen DVD from distributor Mondo Macabro. 
DRIVE-IN MASSACRE (1976) 

Rating: R
Duration: 74 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital
Video: Fullscreen (1.33:1) 
Director: Stu Segall
Cast: John F. Goff, Steve Vincent, Douglas Gudbye 

Love this drive-in cheapie but sweet Lord is it an awful film, a sword-wielding psychopath is terrorizing the drive and two inept detectives are on the case, they even go undercover with one of 'em dressed in drag which smacks of The Town That Dreaded Sundown but is nowhere near as good. Points for the drive-in gimmick which ties into the finale but it's a dud, though I have yet to seek out the deluxe special edition Blu-ray from Severin Films, who went all out to restore this public domain cheapie. 

Audio/Video: The Shadow Stalkers 10-movie set comes spread out over three discs, so there's plenty of compression issues to be had. Aside from Out of the Dark (1988), Happy Birthday To Me (1981) and Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) these are the same public domain VHS-rip looking transfers we've seen from Mill Creek before. All of them full frame with the exception of The Bloody Pit of Horror (1965) and Nightmare In Wax (1969), Happy Birthday To Me (1981), Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) and Out of the Dark (1988), and the latter three look the best, having been licensed from Columbia Pictures and CineTelFilms, all of which are featured on disc one, and it makes for a fun triple-feature! Of note the package and third disc erroneously list the last feature as Abel Ferara's Driller Killer (1979), but that is not the case - it is actually the drive-in slasher Drive-In Massacre that is included.  

While most of these are available on previous sets from Mill Creek this one has some appeal by way of including the previously out-of-print Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) and including Out of the Dark (1988), a slasher I've been waiting years to checkout, glad to see it get a pressed disc release - even if it is a bit of a stinker.  

I do love to watch special restored Blu-ray version of b-movie schlock and cult-cinema, I have to give it up to companies like Vinegar Syndrome, Code Red, Scorpion Releasing and Severin Films who have been doing a great work for years breathing new life into some dusty old drive-in flicks from the AIP and Crown International Pictures library, but long before I started collecting movies from those very fine distributors I was snatching up budget collections from Mill Creek Entertainment. It was these cheap-o collections that fueled my fire and love for 60's and 70's b-movie cheese, and I hope that there's still young cult-cinema fans snatching these up for the same reason. If I had my druthers I would have hoped for a stand alone Blu-ray release of Out of the Dark (1988), I think that would have had a broader slasher-fan appeal for collector's, and while I'm getting my druthers on might I suggest that Mill Creek go through their archives looking for some decent theatrical widescreen prints or original film elements for their AIP and Crown International titles and do a new scan and slap them on Blu-ray as part of new series of HD budget collections - they've got some good stuff, some of it of the so bad it's good variety, in their library in dire need of HD upgrades and I would be very happy to slap down a few bucks for an upgrade. 

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