Sunday, May 2, 2021

SPOOKIES (1986) (101 Films Blu-ray Review)

Limited edition Blu-ray

Label: 101 Films Black Label
Region Code: B
Rating: Certificate: 15
Duration: 85 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: English 2.0 Dual-Mono PCM with Optional English Subtitles
Director: Thomas Doran, Brendan Faulkner, Eugenie Joseph
Cast: Peter Dain, Nick Gionta, Joan Ellen Delaney, Peter Iasillo, Charlotte Alexandra, Anthony Valbiro, Kim Merrill, Lisa Friede, Soo Paek, Maria Pechukas, Felix Ward

Spookies (1986) is a brain-melting shit-show of a horror flick, co-written and directed by Brendan Faulkner (Killer Dead) and Thomas Doran along with co-writer/producer
Frank M. Farel, and executive produced by Michael Lee of the notorious UK video distributor VIPCO. If you have ever watched this movie you know it's a bit of everything-and-the-kitchen sink production that has no less than three disparate plot lines that never really seem to converge.

It all starts off with a young boy named Billy (Alec Nemser) who has run away from home after his family forgets his thirteenth birthday. He finds himself deep in the woods where he comes upon a mansion. Strangely, inside he finds a birthday cake and presents with his name on them, but when he opens one of the gifts he finds a living decapitated head inside. Spooked he runs back into the woods where he is chased by a werecat (Dan Scott), who also happens to have hook-hand, who mauls the kid to death before burying him in an open grave that just happens to be nearby.

Then we begin to follow nine people travelling in two cars through the backroads, hopelessly lost on their way to a party. We have Lewis (Al Magliochetti), Carol (Lisa Friede, Dangerous Love), Duke (Nick Gionta, Street Trash), Linda (Joan Ellen Delaney, Igor and the Lunatics), Peter (Peter Dain, Igor and the Lunatics), Meegan (Kim Merrill), Rich (Peter Iasillo, Jr., Skinned Deep), Dave (Anthony Valbiro) and Adrienne (Charlotte Alexandra, Immoral Tales). They're a strange grouping of friends for sure, ranging from a leather-clad punk rocker, a goofy dude with a puppet, and a middle-aged man and his wife, both of whom are clearly out of place. Watching it you have to wonder how did these nine mismatched people ever become friends? Anyway, when a tree blocks the road the group hood it on foot through he woods, also coming upon the same mansion the kid found earlier and decide it would be a great place to party. Exploring the mansion they find a Ouija board and decide that would be a good way to pass the time, that is until Carol becomes possessed, turns into a white-eyed demon, and then summons a handful of creatures who stalk and dispatch the party-goers.

Add to all this an old necromancer named Kreon (Felix Ward) who we discover lives in the mansion, but is never seen with any of the nine party goers. He is seemingly
attempting to re-animate his dead wife Isabelle (Maria Pechukas, Carmilla) whose casket he sits next to, mourning her and spouting off overly-dramatic soliloquies. Apparently the werecat is associated with Kreon, and each person he kills, or whomever is killed in the house by the assortment of monsters, brings him closer to reanimating his long dead wife.

This weirdo spook fest has a Scooby Doo Where Are You? by way of Night of the Demons vibe with the atmosphere of something like Night Train To Terror. It's clunky but still atmospheric and the parade of strange monsters that pop-up in just eighty-five minutes keeps it from ever being boring. The monsters we get include farty muck-men (apparently the fart sounds were the suggestion of Michael Lee), a rape-y Fiji-mermaid looking thing, an creepy spider-woman, a Cthulhu octopus whatchamacallit with electric tentacles, a skeletal hag witch, a glowing red-eyed Grim Reaper statue come to life, and an Eddie Munster looking vampire kid, plus a horde of zombies, because why not? We also get some fun practical gore-gags including a dude whose face implodes after being sucked dry by the spider-woman. These prosthetic and make-up effects were created on the cheap by a talented group of guys including John Dods (Deadly Spawn), Gabe Bartalos (Dolls) and Vincent Guastini (Doom Asylum) and look great.

The flick certainly has atmosphere and is well-shot by cinematographer Ken Kelsch (Driller Killer), if a bit over-lit in the night scenes. The mansion location, wooded area and set design is well-done also, but the film is just a stitched together Frankenstein's monster of a flick which makes it hard to follow, there's no cohesion to the various threads. The reason for that is that co-writers/directors Brendan Faulkner and Thomas Doran, along with co-writer/producer Frank M. Farel, were making a film originally titles Twisted Souls, and they were given kicked-off the project during post production by the financier who brought in Eugenie Joseph (Mind Benders) who shot completely new footage of Kreon and the birthday boy and the werecat, excised over forty minutes of original footage, re-edited it, and retitled it Spookies as we now know it. Knowing all that it is no surprise that the movie is such a disjointed mess, but that is it still a fascinating watch with atmosphere and cool creatures, but as far as storytelling and plot it's a haystack of WTF-ery.

Audio/Video: Spookies (1986) arrives on 2-disc Region-B locked Blu-ray from the 101 Films specialty Black Label imprint, presented in 1080p HD and framed in 1.85:1 widescreen. This looks to be the same 4K restoration from of the 35mm negative used by Vinegar Syndrome for their region-free 2019 release, with VS logo appearing at the tail end of the film. That's great news, because this is a wonderfully organic looking image and it's in pristine shape, with well-managed grain, deep blacks, natural looking colors and skin tones throughout. Comparing the 101 Films to the VinSyn release the framing looks identical but the 101 films edition is marginally brighter by comparison, but the difference is negligible, check out the comparison below. Also be sure to check out more screenshots from the Blu-ray at the very bottom of the review.

Screenshot Comparison
Top: Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray  (2019) Region-Free
Bottom: 101 Films Blu-ray (2021) Region B

Audio on the disc comes by way of English PCM 2.0 dual-mono with optional English subtitles. It's unremarkable but clean and mostly free of hiss and distortion. The dialogue is never hard to discern and the 80's cheese from the James Calabrese and Kenneth Higgins (The Beer Drinker's Guide to Fitness and Filmmaking) synth-score sounds awesome.

Extras on disc one includes a brand-new audio commentary with FrightFest’s Paul McEvoy and filmmaker Sean Hogan, which I have not got a chance to give a listen to yet, I am saving it for my next viewing. We also get a 5-minutes of 2015 Alamo Drafthouse Screening Introductions with Spookies director Thomas Doran and co-writer/producer Frank M. Farel. The Doran intro is audio only over images while Farel gives a video intro, both talk about the troubled history of the film and the cult following it's developed. We also fun 6-minute Archival Locations Featurette with the now late actor Peter Iasillo that looks like it was made as an intro or extras for the Alamo Drafthouse screening of the movie. Extras on the first disc are buttoned-up with 12-minutes of silent Outtakes and Bloopers, and extensive 15-minute Behind the Scenes Still Gallery, and a 2-minute Theatrical Trailer.

Onto disc two we get a pair of feature-length docs, first up is Twisted Tale - The Unmaking of Spookies, a fantastic 101-minute feature-length making-of documentary by co-directors Michael Gingold & Glen Baisley. This in-depth doc digs into the sordid and convoluted history of this bizarre film and how it ended up the way it did. It features
interviews with co-directors Faulkner and Farel, special FX artists John Dods, Gabe Bartalos and Vincent Guastini,
cinematographer Ken Kelsch, actors Nick Gionta, Anthony Valbiro, art director Cecilia Doran and others, including Debbie Rochon who talks about making a film with the late Maria Pechukas, along with revealing some troubling details about her life and Pechukas' thoughts on the film. It's a truly fascinating look at the making of the film and the behind-the-scenes circumstances that lead to this mish-mash of a film. This also includes an audio commentary track with documentary co-directors Michael Gingold & Glen Baisley, plus we get 13-minutes of deleted scenes.

That's not all, we also get the 139-minute VIPCO: The Untold Story, directed by Jason Impey. This doc was also featured on the Vinegar Syndrome disc but this is a brand new, extended version of the feature length documentary that runs about 7-minutes longer than the version on the Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray. The doc starts off with an introduction by Impey who gets into how he met VIPCO's Michael Lee while trying to get him to distribute is micro-budget horror film, then it gets into the origin of the label by founder Lee who started off bootlegging movies by copying 16mm rental flicks onto 1" tape before getting prosecuted for it and then turning legit. The talking heads tell the story of how the Video Nasty era and how VIPCO played into that, as well as identifying what made VIPCO so popular and notorious in it's heyday, as well as how the label started to wane as Lee experienced a tragic personal loss, and how he was not interested in creating extras and restoring films, which lead to labels like Arrow and 88 Films attracting the hardcore fans with their lavish editions and presentation. The doc features a bevy of University type lecturers, extensive Mike Lee himself, as well as VIPCO copy-writers Jay Slater and Kevin Gates, artist Graham Humphreys, Lee's distributor Barrie Gold, Salvation Films' Nigel Wingrove and Kim Newman. Coming from the U.S. I knew of UK distributor VIPCO, and how collectible and pricey their tapes/DVD are these days, but this dock really gave me a new appreciation for the defunct label and how influential it was.

The only extras not ported over from the Vinegar Syndrome release is the 20-minute Q&A from a Hudson Horror Show screening that took place at the Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers on September 16th, 2015, but we do get an exclusive audio commentary, a fantastic booklet and the longer extended cut of the Vipco doc, which makes this a very desirable release.

The 2-disc release arrives in a oversized, clear Scanavo keepcase with a one-sided sleeve of artwork featuring the original Earl Kessler movie poster design. This being a Black Label release we also get a limited edition slipcase with an illustration by Gary Pullin artwork that I believe was originally commissioned for the 2019 Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome. Inside the discs feature the Pullin artwork on one disc and the original Earl Kessler movie poster artwork on the other. It's a well put together and handsome package that has some great shelf appeal. The only downside is the unsightly BBFC ratings logo on the front wrap of the keepcase artwork. We also get limited edition 16-page booklet with thick cardstock pages. Inside we get a pair of essays, A Twisted History: Vipco, VHS and Spookies by Scott Harrison, and Your Future Belongs to Us: Reaganite Terrors in Spookies by Liam Hathaway, both dig deep into the history of Vipco and the film itself.

Special Features:
Disc One:
- Audio commentary with FrightFest’s Paul McEvoy and filmmaker Sean Hogan
- 2015 Alamo Drafthouse screening introductions with Spookies director Thomas Doran and co-writer/producer Frank M. Farel (5 min)
-Archival locations featurette with actor Peter Iasillo (6 min)
- Outtakes and Bloopers (12 min)
- Behind the Scenes Still Gallery (15 min)
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min)

Disc Two:
-Twisted Tale - The Unmaking of Spookies - a feature-length making-of documentary, including a commentary track with documentary co-directors Michael Gingold & Glen Baisley and extensive deleted scenes
- Twisted Tale - The Unmaking of Spookies Audio Commentary track with documentary co-directors Michael Gingold & Glen Baisley
- Twisted Tale - The Unmaking of Spookies Deleted Scenes (13 min)
- VIPCO: The Untold Story, a brand new, extended version of the feature length documentary on much-loved UK film distributor VIPCO (139 min)
- Limited edition booklet: Includes A Twisted History: Vipco, VHS and Spookies by Scott Harrison and Your Future Belongs to Us: Reaganite Terrors in Spookies by Liam Hathaway

Spookies (1986) is a hot-mess, but what a weird and wonderful mess it is. 101 Films limited edition Black Label Blu-ray edition looks and sounds fantastic, plus it's all wrapped-up in an attractive package, that should please fans of the clunky cult-classic.

Screenshots from the 101 Films Blu-ray: 


Twisted Tale - The Unmaking of Spookies 

VIPCO: The Untold Story