Posts Tagged ‘camp motion pictures’

What the hell? While we’re on the subject of Z-grade 1980s shot-on-video horror movies (and this one’s also part of the “Retro 80s Horror Collection” from Camp Motion pictures, in case you hadn’t already noticed — nice full-frame picture, good quality remastered stereo sound, extras include two commentaries, one from the director, another from three of the “stars,” a making-of documentary, video test shoots, and an investor’s (good luck with that) promo reel — and it’s shot on 16mm, not on video, but I didn’t want to ruin my intro segue), let’s take a quick look at one more, shall we? the “one more” in this case being writer-director Tim Ritter’s 1987 offering Killing Spree.

Shot in sunny Jupiter, Florida for the princely sum of $75,000, this one’s an absolute blast from start to (almost — more on that shortly) finish. With tongue planted so firmly in cheeks it’s just gotta hurt, Ritter tells us the simple tale of one Tom Russo (played up — rather than just played — to the hilt by Asbestos Felt — and yes, like you, I’m assuming — hell, desperately hoping — that’s not his real name), a guy who’s so convinced that his wife Leeza is cheating on him when he’s at work, out running errands, basically doing anything other than sitting at home and watching her like a hawk, that he figures his best course of action is just to start killing any guy who happens to be anywhere near his house at any time just in case he might be sleeping with her. And Tom not only has a grand old time dispatching them (watch for screwdrivers to the head, dismemberment (followed by an accidental death when he lobs said dismembered head off the balcony and right onto the noggin of an unfortunate passerby), all that good stuff), he figures spending too much time burying these folks is just time that could be better spent killing even more guys his old lady might be getting it on with, so he just buries most of them out in the back yard.

And that’s when things get a little bit hairy towards the end (I told you we’d be getting back to it sooner rather than later) — for reasons not entirely explained (well, okay, not explained at all, truth be told), Tom’s victims all rise from the grave and kill him at least as spectacularly as he did them. So yeah, things do go off the rails there a bit at the conclusion, but you know what? It’s all good, because this is one sadistic, malicious, tasteless, downright nasty little piece of businees, and it does it all with a wink and a nod.

First off, the effects are straight-up impressive. I mean, you’d think Ritter was spending some actual money  on this shit. Yeah, he’s hemmed in by his obvious limitations, of course, but that’s not about to stop him from making you go “eeeeeeeewwwwwwww!!!!!!!!!!!!!” as loudly, and as frequently, as possible. Huge props for that.

Secondly, everyone from felt on down through the cast is hamming it up in the best possible way, yet they all uniformly give the impression that they actually want you to think they might be playing this straight even though you’d have to be literally, clinically insane to think they were. Given that this type of overall uniformity in tone (admittedly bizarre as it is) absolutely can’t be chalked up to each and every individual in front of the camera on a movie this far below the “B” level being, you know, talented, credit has to be given to the director for clearly communicating, and then not stopping until he damn well gets, exactly what he wants from everyone involved.

Finally, a lot of the trappings inherent in the homemade horror genre (think long, slow pans of the scenery for no reason, lots of dead space with nothing going on — everything that goes with a medium where editing is such a pain in the ass when we’re comparing this to many of its contemporaries, which were SOV affairs) are noticeably, and thankfully, absent here. In short, Ritter doesn’t demand that you make allowances for his paltry budget — he just delivers the best-quality product that he possibly can given what he’s got to work with.

I don’t know why Tim Ritter never went on to have much more of a career. He certainly deserved bigger and better things slaving away on a bunch of direct-to-VHS-and-DVD “erotic thrillers,” by-the-numbers slashers, sci-fi cheapies, and crooked-cop crime “dramas.” But hey, give him credit — he’s carved out a living at it and is still going strong today. It certainly beats factory work, at any rate.

But based on the strength of Killing Spree alone, it’s this reviewer’s considered opinion that he probably deserved a shot at the big time. Or  at least bigger than he ever ended up getting.

As anyone who’s followed these Halloween horror roundups over the last couple of years on this blog (assuming, of course, that anyone has) knows, I love me some homemade 80s shot-on-video gore flicks. Sure, the acting’s usually either unintentionally camp or downright lifeless, the effects are fifth-rate, the stories are insipid, and the directors/DOPs (assuming they weren’t one and the same person, which they often were) had a tendency to linger on shots where pretty much nothing was happening for waaaaaayyyy too long simply because videotape was a bitch to edit. But hey, it’s all about heart, right?

Case in point — director Jon McBride’s (okay, I should stop right there for a second right there and point out that one Tom Fisher is also credited as a co-director here, but all indications are that this was McBride’s show pretty much from start to finish) 1988 zero-budget opus Cannibal Campout. In essence, this is a lot like the dreadful flick Chain Letter that we reviewed a few days back — it exists pretty much solely to drench the audience in blood n’ guts. But whereas Chain Letter had some money behind it but no heart, McBride’s movie has plenty of heart but no money. I don’t know about you, but I know which I’ll go with anytime (not to mention that this movie’s a whole lot less mean-spirited and cynical, but that’s a side issue).

As set-ups go, they don’t come much simpler than this — a mixed group of four friends heads out to the New Jersey woods (yes, they have trees there) for a weekend of camping and find themselves set upon one-by-one by a crazed trio of probably inbred mountain men who have been murdering and then devouring any poor souls unlucky enough to stumble across their path because — get his — they promised their momma on her deathbed that they wouldn’t eat any junk food!

And honestly that’s all you need to know because everybody’s in this thing for one reason and one reason alone — to get killed. Slowly, painfully, brutally, graphically, creatively — hell, damn near lovingly — killed.

I can’t say for certain, but I’m thinking that McBride’s biggest motivation in putting this thing out there — keep in mind most of these backyard SOV horror flicks were released on VHS by unscrupulous, fly-by-night distribution operations that basically all offered the same deal, namely we’ll release your film and keep pretty much all the money and you’ll have the chance to get your name out there and more or less nothing else — was to show off his chops as a Tom Savini wanna-be and maybe land some work on the makeup and effects crew of a picture with an actual (hell, any) budget.

He certainly wasn’t trying to impress anyone as the next great screenwriter or director, that’s for certain — this flick crawls along at a snail’s pace even when the killing starts and there are interminable lengths of absolutely nothing go on that you have to wade through in order to get to the good (relatively speaking, of course) stuff. But hey — it’s pretty obvious everybody’s having a good time regardless of whether or not they actually know what they’re doing and yeah, once the blood starts flowing and the entrails come spilling out and the faces get gnawed on and the organs get ripped loose it is impressive enough in a dime-store kind of way. Sure, you might be able to do just as well with all of it yourself if you had the time, inclination, smarts, and most of all the single-minded determination to do so, but you didn’t and Jon McBride did. Regardless of how amateurish most of what’s on display here is, you gotta give the guy credit for that.

Cannibal Campout is available on DVD from Camp Motion Pictures as part of its “Retro 80s Horror collection” series, and features a nicely done full-frame (of course) transfer of the film (whoops, better just call it a movie — it was shot on videotape, after all), pretty decent remastered stereo sound, a veritable feast (get it? cannibal flick? feast?) of extra including a feature-length commentary track with McBride, interviews with many of the cast and crew, a lengthy selection of deleted scenes and still photos, a bunch of trailers for other Camp titles. In short, it’s stuffed to the guts (get it again?) with goodies.

I won’t kid you — Cannibal Campout is so far removed from a masterpiece that the two words don’t even belong in the same neighborhood as each other, much less in the same sentence. But if you’re in the mood (and I freely admit that it’s entirely possible that your humble reviewer is one of the only people who actually gets in this mood) for a warts-and-all labor of love that seeks nothing more than to do as well as it can in the gruesomeness department and doesn’t even really care, much less try, when it comes to anything else, then hey — you could certainly do a whole lot worse.

Cover Art for the "Video Violence" DVD Release from Camp Motion Pictures

And so we come to the end of our “2010 Halloween 12-Pack” series of reviews and we’ve saved one of the best for last. 1987’s shot-on-video cheapie classic Video Violence is actually one I’ve been meaning to write about for some time, and seeing as how this gives me a great excuse to do, let’s dive right in, shall we?

First off, understand that this movie looks every bit the zero-budgeter that it is. Shot by director Gary Cohen (who co-wrote the script along with Paul Kaye) in Bayonne, New Jersey, and edited over an twelve-hour period at the local cable-access TV studio (the manager of the station screwed him over a bit when he learned what the subject matter of the movie was about, but rather than renege on his agreement with Cohen altogether he just gave him access to the studio’s editing equipment from midnight to 6:00 a.m. on a couple of evenings), it literally doesn’t have the ability to rise above its roots.

But that’s the thing — it doesn’t need to. The rank amateurishness of the acting, the low-grade feel of the home-camcorder VHS footage itself, the authentic “filming” locations and the unpretentious nature of the script all combine to give Video Violence the number one thing we value here at TFG, namely a sense of absolute authenticity, a word that regular readers of this blog (assuming that such a creature has ever been proven to exist in the wild) know we save for only the finest examples of cinematic honesty, true labors of love.

The story’s effectively simple, and equal parts creepy and funny — married couple Rick Carlson (Kevin Haver) and Rachel Emroy (Jackie Neill) move from the big city to a sleepy South Jersey town to purchase a video rental shop. The place has been operating for a few years under its previous owners. so their “rental club” (God, what a quaint term) already has quite a few members. There’s something strange about these movie-lovin’ townsfolk, though — all they seem to rent are bloody slasher flicks and the occasional triple-Xer. When a customer accidentally drops off a tape from his home collection, and Rick pops it into the store’s machine to discover a “snuff”-style movie of somebody being tortured by sadistic country bumpkins Howard (Bart Sumner) and Eli (the actor playing this part is simply credited as “Uke”), he starts to piece together that something is very wrong with their new neighbors. Plus there’s the fact that the mailman has gone missing —

In truth, this is just a (very early) video-age take on the classic “revenge-of-the-rural-folks-on-the-city-slickers” storyline, but damn, is it effective. Equal parts chilling (again, aided and abetted by its ultra-cheap production values, rather than coming across in spite of them), and downright hysterical  (Howard and Eli, bless ’em, are truly entertaining psychopaths), with some effective low-grade gore and a pleasing DIY-vibe throughout, this is the kind of movie that all backyard filmmakers wish they could make, but few actually possess the skill to.

Video Violence is available, along with its more comedy-heavy (and slightly less satisfying) sequel, Video Violence II, on DVD from Camp Motion Pictures as part of their Retro ’80s Horror Collection. It’s absolutely loaded with extras, including full-length commentary tracks from Cohen andseveral of the actors on both films, a great “making-og” documentary, trailers for all the other Retro ’80s horror titles, and lots of other goodies. The image is full-frame, as you’d of course expect, and the sound is basic, but entirely servieable, mono. Well worth a purchase, or at the very least a rental (how fitting would that be?), this is definitely one that fans of ultra-low (as in no) budget gore horror flicks don’t want to miss. The (admittedly tiny) SOV craze produced a few intriguing labors of love, but only one genuine classic — Video Violence is it.

"Splatter Farm" DVD from Camp Motion Pictures

In 1987, rural Pennsylvania twin brothers John and Mark Polonia probably had no business trying to make a horror movie. But they did it anyway. Armed with nothing but their dad’s piece of shit old-school VHS camcorder, no money, a found location, some primitive ideas for how to stage  gore scenes that they’d learned “on the job” since they were single-digits in age and first began playing with their family’s old Super-8 movie camera, and a half-assed “script,” they set out, with friend and his grandmother in tow, to become moviemakers.

The fact that we’re still talking about the results of their handiwork today, a when almost every other similar home-made horror flick never got seen by anybody beyond the people who made it and maybe a few of their friends, is testament to the fact that the shot-on-video monster they gave birth to, the aptly-titled Splatter Farm, certainly has something going for it — but what, exactly?

It’s certainly not the acting. The Polonia brothers themselves portray the film’s two leads, a couple of super- thick-rimmed-glasses-wearing late-teens  total horror geek losers named Joseph and Alan. The only other characters in the film are portrayed by their friend/co-writer/co-director Todd Smith, who tackles the role of Jeremy, a demented farm hand with plenty of secrets , some of which he doesn’t even know about, and Smith’s real-life grandmother,  Marion Costly, who plays the twin boys’ lonely and batshit crazy old aunt Lacey.

Smith, to his credit, does a pretty convincing job as Jeremy and is feaky-looking and -acting enough to creep out the average viewer. Costly, on the other hand, is simply abominable — you can’t even call what she does “acting,” it’s more like just reciting lines. You’ve literally never seen a performance this bad in your life. I halfway wonder if she didn’t have the lines scribbled down on her hands, Sarah Palin-style.

So, no, it’s not the acting that has made Splatter Farm the ultra-small-cult “classic” it is today.

And it’s not the directing, that’s for sure. This flick is credited to three directors, as alluded to before, and it looks every bit as made-up-as-it-went along as it surely was. Sure, the two brothers and their pal try to get a bit creative here and there with some different perspectives, slow-mo, and other rudimentary tricks, but none of it really works and everything they attempt to achieve stylistically comes up well short of the mark.

So it’s not the acting, and it’s not the directing. What then? The story, maybe?

Buzz! Sorry, wrong answer! The story is as stupidly simple as anything else about this fil — err, movie. It’s not a “film,” per se, so I won’t call it that. Basically all that happens is that two twin brothers get sent to live with their aunt they haven’t seen in years over the summer at her country home, where the phones don’t seem to work, the randy old aunt takes a liking to twin brother Alan (to the point where she ends up drugging him and, presumably, having her way with him), and a handyman who works around the farm likes to do shit like cut himself and lick up his own blood. Oh, and kill anyone else he can. Which isn’t really too many people when you consider there’s only one on-screen murder before the brothers themselves are in danger.

It’s not like they slowly find this out over time, either. It’s pretty obvious that something is wrong with Jeremy right off the bat and it takes all of about five minutes to figure out that something ain’t right with Aunt Lacey, either. The bothers are left without a car about 20 minutes into the proceedings, and even though they wander around aimlessly quite a bit during the first third of the film, and as I mentioned the phones don’t work, the idea of just getting the fuck out of there on foot never occurs to them.

Then again, we’re not exactly talking about two charming geniuses here, as an early dinner scene proves. After eating a splendid supper of baked beans,  Joseph delivers one of the accidentally great lines in movie history, “sorry to ruin everyone’s dinner, but I gotta go take a shit,” after which Alan, almost flirtatiously, tells Aunt Lacey “that was a fine meal,” while the old bat caresses his leg under the table.

Say it with me, people — ewwwwwwww.

Pretty shortly after that, the fun and games begin as Jeremy decides to kill these interlopers.

So let’s see, where does that leave us? The story sucks, the direction sucks, and the acting sucks. Well, then, what about the gore?

It’s certainly plentiful, and it’s certainly sickening, and it’s certainly ambitious, but like everything else here, it’s pretty ineptly staged. The blood — and there really is a lot of it — is thin and runny and not too terribly red, the viscera and entrails are school-stage-play “quality,” and the rotted corpses that we get are pretty much obvious papier-mache or Plaster of Paris or some shit, although the real bugs crawling around the eyesockets are a nice touch.

So the gore is lame, the story is lame, the direction is lame, and the acting is lame. By all accounts, then, this thing never should have made it further than the VCR in mom and dad Polonia’s living room. And yet here we are, 23 years later, and as I said ,we’re still taking about this thing. What the hell for ?

Todd Smith as country bumpkin psycho Jeremy

I think the reason why can be boiled down to one word : earnestness. The Polonia boys and their pal wanted to make a horror movie so goddamn badly that they just went out and did it.  Not only that, they wanted to make a memorable horror movie — and Splatter Farm certainly is memorable.

Oh, sure, it’s memorable for all the wrong reasons, as I just detailed, but it’s memorable too for watching three young moviemakers try their damndest even though their reach so far exceeds their grasp you spend nearly every moment of the flick wondering why they didn’t just say “fuck it” and give up. I would have. You would have. But they didn’t. And goddamn it, you gotta respect that.

Splatter Farm wants to be the bloodiest, sickest, most nauseating mess you’ve ever seen. It wants to push every single button it can on the old tastelessness machine. It wants to make you sick. And in the hands of a Lucio Fulci or somebody like that, it probably would. In the hands of the Polonias and Smith, however, it ends up occupying a weird middle ground that you almost don’t know what to make of as a viewer.

On the one hand, you want to laugh your ass off at the Z-grade amateurism of the whole thing. And let’s be perfectly frank, there are plenty of occasions where Splatter Farm is, indeed, laughably incompetent. Too many occasions to even count, much less list, in fact.

On the other hand, the subject matter they’re covering here is so puke-inducing — necrophilia (Jeremy shoves his dick in a decapitated head’s mouth and fucks it until he climaxes), incest, cannibalism, and anal fisting (Jeremy shoves his hand up one of the brother’s asses while he’s killing him and smears the phony diarrhea-ish substance all over the hapless lad’s face), to name just a quick handful of depravities, that you really can’t bring yourself to laugh even when the production “values” demand nothing less. And the SOV camerawork gives it all a kind of cheap-documentary immediacy that a production with any sort of budget whatsoever probably just couldn’t match, which is effectively accentuated by the dilapidated farmhouse locations that seem so believably real because — well, hell, they are.

So the brothers Polonia and their pal Mr. Smith definitely want to give you a serious case of the willies — and being a waaaaaayyyy independent production they can get away with stuff that even the most amoral exploitation producers wouldn’t touch with a 50-foot pole. But their lack of technical expertise — hell, their lack of even basic competence — well, to be honest, while it makes them look inept, it conversely makes them seem like even sicker fucks then they’d come off as being if they were helming anything like a real production here. I say that because there’s no wiggle room for them here. A jive Hollywood asshole who’s gone too far can always fall back on “well, I didn’t really want to do that, but the producer (or the studio, or the ever-nebulous “audience”) really wanted us to pull out all the stops on this one.” The creative “minds” behind Splatter Farm can’t do that — they came up with this twisted shit, and even though it was obvious they couldn’t pull just about any of it off, they went ahead and gave it a go anyway. That doesn’t take much in the brains department, I guess, but it definitely takes balls.

The Polonia boys shopped this thing around to various cheap-ass video distributors for over a year and got no takers. They gave up and moved on to another project which I guess must have been slightly better, because one of those cheap-ass video distributors said they’d like to release not only that later effort, but Splatter Farm, as well. For whatever reason, the second project, the one they wanted more, never did see the light of day, but Splatter Farm did. And the rest, as they say, is history.

And now, dear friends, you can experience this SOV opus for yourself, should you so choose, thanks to the good folks at Camp Motion Pictures, who have released Splatter Farm as part of their Retro 80s Horror Collection line, which includes titles like Cannibal Campout, Ghoul School, Killing Spree, Video Violence, and other mainstays of the backyard-produced horror subgenre that kinda flourished there for a minute during the largely unfortunate Reagan years. It’s billed here as the “cult classic special edition,” and apparently the brothers Polonia have tweaked it a bit, remastering the picture as best as possible, editing out a bit of superfluous crap from another backyard production altogether that they threw in to pad the running time (yes, folks, this “special edition” is actually a little bit shorter than the previous VHS release — it clocks in at just under 70 minutes), and tinkering with the sound to fix up some “drops” and incidental noises that were present the first time around.

As for the extras, like all the Retro 80s stuff Camp has put out, it’s pretty well loaded — there’s a commentary from the Polonias, a huge selection of their earlier shot-on-Super-8 work ( these were  no-sound recordings, but they do provide commentary for all of them), and there’s a great documentary about the production of the movie that includes a visit back to the farm locations used for the shoot (the house has been remodeled, sadly). All in all, the Polonia come across as surprisingly well-adjusted, decent family guys who aren’t exactly proud of the movie they made back in their late teens, but then aren’t ashamed of it, either. They gave it a shot, it is what it is, and they’ve moved on since then. And while they lead relatively normal lives (apparently) now, they do still get the urge to get out a video camera and make a cheesy horror flick, like Splatter Beach a few years back.

All in all, the highest compliment you can pay to Splatter Farm is to acknowledge that it even exists. By all rights it probably shouldn’t, and the fact that it does says something — and even if that “something” is just that two twin brothers with very little talent but a lot of gumption got together with a buddy of theirs and tried to make a seriously fucking twisted horror flick despite the fact that they really didn’t know what the hell they were doing, that’s nothing for these guys to hang their heads about. Splatter Farm is what is is because it has no other choice but to be — well, exactly what it is., and while that’s not a lot to put on your tombstone when it’s all said and done, I suppose,  it’s a greater legacy than most people will ever leave behind.

Thoughts like that keep me warm at night.