Posts Tagged ‘christopher lewis’

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When director Christopher Lewis ventured behind the camera again in 1985 to make his second feature,  hot on the heels of the previous year’s Blood Cult, he had a pretty tough act to follow. After all, “sophomore slumps” are a notoriously common fact of life in fields of human endeavor, and —

Oh, wait a minute. What the hell am I talking about here? Blood Cult sucked. And I say that as a guy who really does appreciate its place in history, given that it was the first-ever shot-on-video, direct- to-VHS horror movie ever made, and I generally love ’80s SOV/DTV  stuff — still, much as I really am thankful that Blood Cult opened the floodgates for what was, by and large, a fairly fun sub-genre, the fact is that it’s an almost preposterously lousy flick in and of itself.

But hey, it did turn a tidy profit for Lewis and his business partners, so less 12 months later, they did exactly what (probably) you and (certainly) I would have done in their situation — hustled up 75 grand and gave the whole thing another go . And this time, they even had a bankable horror icon on board with them.

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Notice I said “icon” there, not “star,” because, let’s face it, much as I absolutely love Tom Savini, it’s always gonna be his work behind the camera that he’s most renowned for, rather than his work in front  of it. Which isn’t to say that he’s a “bad” actor by any stretch of the imagination, just that he’s — how can I put this kindly? — rather limited. Still, in 1985 he was getting restless in his role as top horror special effects guy in the world, wanted to give the thespian life a go, and Lewis, canny businessman that he was (and probably still is), figured that just even having the Savini name attached to his project would guarantee, at the very least, a modest return on his (admittedly minimal) investment.

I guess it all worked out as far as that goes, since the finished result of their collaboration, The Ripper, did indeed turn a tidy little profit. So that’s at least one thing they can hang their hats on, at any rate. Beyond that, though, well —

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Our “story” here, such as it is, revolves around one rather asshole-ish college professor, played by Tom Schreier, who happens upon an ancient ring that was apparently once worn by Jack The Ripper himself. Whenever he puts it on, he turns into Tom Savini and kills somebody — usually a young woman, and usually via throat-slitting. Then when he takes the ring off, he can’t remember what the hell happened, and reads about his crimes in the paper the next morning. Now, you or I, we might simply stop wearing the ring,  just to be on the safe side and all — but he keeps putting the damn thing for reasons that, I guess, are known only to him. Maybe blacking out and reading about grisly crimes on the front pages the following morning is just his idea of a good time, or maybe he really is just too damn thick to put two and two together — I dunno. What I do know is, that’s about all the “plot” recap that’s necessary to sufficiently clue you in as to what’s going on here.

Incidentally, if all of this sounds somewhat similar to Rowdy (Road House) Herrington’s 1988 film Jack’s Back, starring James Spader, maybe it is a little bit, albeit with a couple of key differences : if I remember correctly (and it’s been awhile, so I can’t rightfully claim that I do) in Jack’s Back, Spader’s character was a  then-modern-day serial killer inspired by Jolly Jack’s crimes, rather than his outright reincarnation ; and, more importantly, Jack’s Back was actually a halfway decent little movie, while The Ripper frankly, is anything but.

Shit — who are we kidding? I’m being too generous. Fact of the matter is, The Ripper is downright painful to watch. The acting is uniformly deplorable, the soundtrack “music” is among the most grating in cinematic (or videomatic, or whatever) history, the production values are shit (in particular the laughable “flashback” sequences where Lewis and Co. try, without success, to recreate Victorian London on the streets on Tulsa, Oklahoma), and, perhaps most surprisingly, the makeup effects are beyond lousy. Seriously — I know Savini was otherwise occupied on this production, but you’d think that when he saw what the crew were trying to pass off as blood and gore here, he’d have at least stepped in and offered a few pointers. Apparently — and obviously — he didn’t.

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Anyway, all these years later, The Ripper is, if you absolutely must ignore me, available on DVD from VCI, the company Lewis founded with the cash he netted from even-less-than-half-assed “efforts” such as this. It’s presented full frame with mono sound, neither of which is anything to write home about, and includes both a dry “making-of” featurette on the flick’s production and an even drier feature-length commentary where Lewis drones on at length about how much “work” went into this production. I can’t imagine much of it being of any interest to anyone other than die-hard Ripper fans — assuming such an animal even exists in the wild — but I did get a kick out of checking out this movie’s comments section on the IMDB where the author of its screenplay, one Bill Groves, states that, if Lewis loved the script even half as much as he claims he did on the commentary, “then how come he treated it like one of The Ripper’s victims?” Ouch. Gotta love that.

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But wait, there’s more! If you’re in the mood for even more self-abuse (and not the fun kind) than watching this provides on its own, VCI has also released it as part of something called “The Ripper Blood Pack,” a three-DVD set that features not only The Ripper, but Blood Cult and its if -anything-even-worse sequel, Revenge, as well. If you’re tired of pushing saltwater-soaked safety pins through your nipples, attaching untreated heated copper wire to your scrotum or labia, stapling your eyelids open for days on end, or clamping your toes between shards of steaming dry ice, then might I humbly suggest trying to watch all three of these movies, consecutively, in one sitting — that, my friends, is some real pain.

I’m not sure how many films titled Revenge have been made over the years. I looked it up on IMDB and stopped counting at 24. It looked like I  was about halfway through the list. It’s also been the title of a few different TV series, one of which is apparently in its second season on the ABC network as we speak (I’m reliably informed, no surprise, that it completely sucks). So I guess we’d better be specific about exactly which Revenge it is we’re talking about here : this is the 1986 straight-to-video release Revenge, also known as Revenge : Blood Cult 2, a sequel to the very first shot-on-video horror film ever made (one we reviewed here on this very blog earlier this year), writer-director Christopher Lewis’  Tulsa, Oklahoma-lensed Blood Cult.

Now, if you’ve ever seen Blood Cult, you’ll know that it’s certainly not one of the better SOV horror efforts ever made, to put it kindly, but it’s at least worth seeing for its historic significane, especially if you’re a fan of these type of bargain-basement efforts. It certainly can’t be recommended for anything much beyond that, though (and this is coming from somebody who loves ’80s SOV horror). Still, even damned with that faint level of praise, it has to be said that Blood Cult has more going for it than Lewis’ tepid-to-put-it-kindly sequel, ‘cuz Revenge just plain sucks any way you slice it.

Lewis has swapped out his Sony Betacam for a real 16mm film camera here, and even hired a couple of “name” Hollywood actors, but all that does is diminish whatever lukewarm level of “charm” the first flick had going for it. The story treads pretty familiar territory — Patrick “nepotism in action” Wayne plays the brother of one of the murder victims from the first flick who’s come back to the small unnamed college town where the original murder spree took place, and together with a simple country bumpkin played by Bennie Lee McGowan he’s determined to prove that an ancient satanic cult is behind all the grisly goings-on in the area.  Little does he suspect, at first, how difficult the task will be, though, given that the town doctor, the dean of the college, and even a US Senator (played by John Carradine, who’s firmly in the “anything for a buck” phase of his career at this point) are all involved —

If any or all of that sounds interesting to you, then by all means have at it, but I’m telling ya, friends, this flick is a solid bore for start to finish. Not even Wayne’s deplorably wooden acting provides enough entertainment value to save this snooze-fest, given that he’s more just straight-up bad than he is “so-bad-he’s good.” Really, I’m trying to think of any reason at all for you, dear reader, to see this thing, and I’m drawing blanks (which at least is better than shooting them). The “mystery” powers behind the cult are obvious from the get-go, the murders are monotonously standard fare, the dialogue is wretched, the acting is deplorable — in short, it’s the kind of movie I should absolutely love, but I just plain don’t. It’s clearly the product of people doing nothing but going through the motions, and even calling it a half-assed affair is being too damn generous.

If you’re absolutely bound and determined to ignore my warnings, though, Revenge is available on DVD from VCI Home Entertainment. Extras include the trailer for the film itself as well as for some other VCI titles, a “making-of” featurette that’s not much more involving than its subject, and a full-length commentary from Lewis that’s at least somewhat interesting. Watch it if you must.

But really, you mustn’t. So I wouldn’t.

Here’s the thing — I want to like director Christopher Lewis’ 1985 shot-on-video slasher Blood Cult so much more than I actually do. That’s largely due to its place in movie — or, more specifically, home video — history. Ya see, Blood Cult is the first ever SOV direct-to-home-video flick, and anyone who’s followed this blog for any any period of time knows that my love for this genre knows no bounds. For reasons either too complex, or entirely too simple, to figure out, dime-store backyard horrors have always resonated with this armchair critic and always will, and this is where it all began.

Perhaps a bit of history is in order here — with the major Hollywood studios figuring out in the mid-80s that releasing their own back catalogues on VHS was going to be both cheaper and more profitable than licensing them out to the numerous video labels that were popping up all over the place, outfits like Tulsa, Oklahoma-based United Home Video suddenly realized they had to either adapt or die. Most of their contemporaries did, indeed, peter out in relatively short order, but United survived (and carries on to this day under the VCI Entertainment label) by hitting on the rather ingenious idea of just making their own fucking movies. Simple, right? And they also figured (wisely, as it turns out) that by slapping some fancily lurid cover art on their straight-to-VHS wares, that they could hoodwink potential renters out there into thinking they were taking home the next great slasher flick (note the “In the tradition of Halloween” tag-line on the box art courtesy of the fine folks at VHSCollector.com) instead of some essentially homemade quickie.

In theory that all sounds good, and frankly in practice a lot of these subsequent efforts (think Video Violence and its sequel, Video Violence 2, Woodchipper Massacre, Captives, Killing Spree (okay, that was shot on film, but it’s still roughly of a piece with the other flicks we’re talking about here) and The Basement (alright, that was film, too — sue me), to name just a small handful) proved to be good, solid, admittedly cheesy fun. But the first steps out of the gate for the SOV-DTV genre were pretty tepid indeed.

That’s because Blood Cult, sadly, is pretty much nothing more than a crushing bore. I’m more or less genetically hardwired to love any shot-on-a-camcorder slasher made in and around Tulsa for $27,000 featuring less-than-basement-level production values, but damn if I didn’t find this flick to be one tough slog. I’m sorry, but the story of grizzled police detective (or maybe he’s a sheriff, it’s never all that clear) Ron Wilbois (Charles Ellis) attempting to solve a string of bloody sorority-house murders on a local college campus with the help of his intrepid librarian daughter, Tina (Juli Andelman) just isn’t nearly as intriguing as its admittedly by-the-numbers-but-that’s kinda-why-we-love-these-things premise would indicate.

The only clue left at the murder scenes is a medallion emblazoned with a dog’s head, and it’s Tina’s five-minute-long occult research that clues her old man into the fact that this is the symbol of an ancient satanic cult that’s into collecting body parts for (obviously) nefarious purposes. Throw in the requisite half-assed “acting,” poor gore effects, minimal editing resulting is some painfully lengthy takes, etc. that would all become de riguer in the SOV world and we would definitely seem to have a winner on our hands here. Yet as I’ve mentioned more than once already, Blood Cult never really manages to find its groove, frankly because it doesn’t even seem to be trying to. It’s almost as if Lewis and company were more concerned with just getting the damn thing made and out there than actually producing something remotely worth watching. Once they had your three or four dollar rental fee in their pockets, you were on your own, sucker — their job was done.

If you must, Blood Cult is available on DVD from VCI (naturally) — the full-frame picture has been remastered and looks reasonably good, the sound is mono but decent enough, and as you might guess being that they own the damn thing extras are plentiful, including cast and crew interviews, a trailer, a promo reel-even-though-it’s-not-on-a-reel-per-se, and a reasonably interesting feature-length director’s commentary. All in all a more than adequate package for a less than adequate movie.

United would go on to crank out a few more of these, most notably The Ripper and the  direct Blood Cult sequel Revenge, neither of which are exactly classics in the SOV world themselves, but they did get a little better, or at least more interested in what they were doing, as they went along. Unfortunately their first (hell, anyone’s first) foray into the field is too lackluster to be interesting without being actively bad enough to be fascinating. It just sort of happens.

If you’re wise, you’ll ignore its place in both horror and home video history and let it happen to someone else.