Posts Tagged ‘scorpion releasing’

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Once in awhile, a film comes along that completely confounds whatever expectations you had of it going in — and once in awhile you have to go pretty far afield to find said film. Both things are undoubtedly true of writer/director Ann Turner’s 1989 effort Celia, a genuinely surrealistic depiction of a young girl’s struggle to come to grips with the world as it really is (or really was, at any rate, this story taking place in 1950s  Australia)  by superimposing her vivid, often inexplicable interior mental landscape upon it.

Turner’s flick unfolds at a languid,dreamlike pace, and is often thoroughly confusing in terms of its use of symbolism — but then, why wouldn’t it be? The way nine-year-old kids interpret events around them, and their refusal or inability to clearly demarcate the “real” from the “unreal,” is a state of mind us reality-burdened adults should probably be envious of rather than perplexed by, given that those things which make life — whether real or imagined — interesting often don’t make a tremendous amount of “sense,” anyway.

The point here being that even though a lot of things in this movie don’t “work” in the traditional sense, it definitely feels right, on the whole,  at the very least, and that’s a pretty remarkable accomplishment in and of itself when presenting material this challenging and unorthodox.

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Still, if you’re one of those people that absolutely must have some sort of plot recap in order to judge whether or not you want to even watch, let alone purchase, a movie, here are the particulars : Nine-year-old (as, I believe, we already mentioned) Celia Carmichael (Rebecca Smart, in a terrific performance) lives with her dad, Ray (Nicholas Eadie) and “mum,” as they say Down Under, Pat (Mary-Anne Fahey) in a typically conservative and uptight semi-rural Victoria community that she definitely feels stifled by even if she can’t quite express why or how yet at her tender age. She has a habit of conflating her waking world with her dream world (an often nightmarish one at that , peppered with Goblin-esque creatures, creeping, skeletal hands, and masked children) in order to compensate for the lack of stimulation her environs provide on their own, but hey — there’s hope. Some interesting new neighbors, the Tanner family, have moved in next door. Mr. Tanner works alongside Celia’s old man as an electrical engineer for the government, and the three Tanner kids are fun playmates for our impetuous young heroine, but wouldn’t ya know it? Problems soon arise.

The Tanners, you see, are communists, and to complicate matters even further, Celia’s dear old dad has the hots for Mrs. Tanner (Victoria Longley) and isn’t averse to trying to blackmail her into accepting his “affections” by threatening to expose her and her husband’s political leaning to their government employers. Mrs. Tanner (her name’s Alice, by the way) refuses to play along, woman of principal that she is, and even goes so far as to drop less-than-subtle hints to Mrs. Carmichael in regards to her husband’s proclivities (not that she’s an idiot by any means herself, but she generally follows the old “see no evil, hear no evil” axiom until a situation becomes so obvious that she absolutely can’t ignore it — hence, suffering in silence is pretty much her fallback position in life), but by then it’s too late — Mr. Tanner’s out of a job and Celia’s only “real” friends in the world are forced to move out of town.

Oh, and in the midst of all this psychodrama, one of Australia’s infamous rabbit plagues is decimating the countryside. People are killing off the pesky little thumpers in droves, but Celia loves rabbits, and even keeps one as a pet.

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If all of this sounds like it really shouldn’t mesh together terribly well — especially when you throw in all the vivid and hallucinatory dream sequences — rest assured, it doesn’t. But then, our youthful perceptions of the world itself don’t always “mesh together” very well, do they? And that’s where the quiet genius of Turner’s sensitive script and capable, sympathetic direction lies — she weaves a thoroughly inexplicable web and leaves you, as a viewer, feeling glad that it doesn’t make sense and somewhat saddened at those moments when it does. She captures the inherent scariness and confusion of childhood, but never lets us forget that the banality of the adult world is where the real, often quiet, terror lies.

I’ll tell you what makes absolutely no sense, though — the way this film was marketed to foreign (in this case “foreign” meaning non-Australian) territories : it was affixed with the subtitle Child Of Terror and pawned off on unsuspecting audiences as either a horror movie or, at  the very least, an “Oz-ploitation” picture. Quite clearly it’s neither, and by 1989 there was at least something of a market for independent international cinema, but for whatever reason this movie’s distributors declined to go down that route and instead what few people did manage to see this (mostly on home video) outside its native country were no doubt thoroughly perplexed when they didn’t end up getting the standard “evil kid” flick they were expecting. Don;t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against “evil kid” flicks personally (no shock there, I’m sure),  but a psychologically and thematically complex work such as this deserved a more honest, and frankly respectful,  international ad campaign.

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As a result of this self-inflicted confusion, Celia is a film that’s had a tough time finding much of an audience over the years, even though by all rights it should have “cult favorite” written all over it (yeah, the “cult” would be a small one, but whatever). Fortunately, Scorpion Releasing has recently seen fit to try to rectify that situation a bit by finally giving it a proper Region 1 DVD release — even if their decision to retain the Child Of Terror tag-line, and include it as part of their “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” series, hosted by former WWE “diva” (and, if I’m not mistaken, Aussie herself) Katarina Leigh Watters, largely ensures that, once again, it’s mainly horror and exploitation fans (you know, like you and me) who are going to end up giving this frankly un-classifiable little gem a look. I choose to look at the bright side, though — some sort of a larger audience for a work this singular and interesting is better than none at all, and most of the people I know who are fans of genre, obscure, and “cult” cinema are bright folks who will be pleasantly surprised by what they find here — even if it’s nothing like what they were expecting. And hey — at least Scorpion’s done a pretty decent job on the technical front : the widescreen transfer looks sensational, the two-channel mono sound does the job just fine, and as far as extras go, apart from the usual trailers for other titles in the same line and Watters’ semi-informative (but also, let’s be honest, semi-annoying) intro and outro bits, there’s a vintage “making of” featurette and an audio-only interview with Turner that’s quite a compelling little listen.

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All that being said, it’s still an open question as to how many readers of this blog are going to be as intrigued and captivated by Celia as I was, given that you really do have to be on, as they say, a ” certain wavelength” to really dig it, but I think most of you good people would do well to give it a gamble,  provided the brief summation I’ve scribbled (okay, typed) out makes it sound like the kind of thing that would be up your alley. It’s quite unlike anything else currently occupying space on your DVD shelf, that’s a guarantee,  and while it may be one of those films that’s easier to appreciate than it actually is to like, there’s  a pretty fair chance you’ll end up doing both.

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For a relatively standard revenge-flick-with-a-karate-twist, the shot-in-1982, released-in-1984 Alley Cat sure had to go through a lot of twists and turns before finally (and, it must be said, briefly) making it to the big screen. Originally a Filipino project shot in Los Angeles, the production ran out of money a couple of times — and went through a couple of directors (Edward Victor, operating under the pseudonym of “Ed Palmos,” and Victor M. Ordonez) — before being guided through to completion under the auspices of the soon-to-fold Film Ventures International, who brought in Al Valletta to finish things up behind the camera.

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So, yeah — it’s fair to say this was a pretty troubled production, although you’d never guess it by watching it since it’s about as straightforward a story as you can imagine, even in a genre not exactly noted for its originality. To wit : beautiful and buxom young Billie (Karin Mani) lives with her kindly grandparents in Los Angeles, where their neighborhood is routinely terrorized by a gang of street toughs led by one Scarface (Michael Wayne). One night, a couple of punks in his employ try to steal the tires from Billie’s car, and her and Gramps fend them off with her karate skills and his revolver. This, of course, marks them for death in the gang’s eyes and the next day they set upon Grandpa and Grandma and leave her dead, him grieving, and Billie, naturally, out for vengeance. The cops, by and large, are no help, except for a young rookie officer named Johnny (Robert Torti) that Billie is banging, and together the two of them set out to take down the Scarface’s entire half-assed enterprise utilizing her black belt and his — uhhhmmm — beginner’s belt (what are those things, white?). Plenty of by-and-large-competently-staged martial arts fights, interspersed with enough nudity to keep you interested, ensue, and Billie gets her wish and takes down all the hoods by the time the end credits roll.

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Like I said, fairly standard stuff, any way you slice it. Which isn’t to say that Alley Cat isn’t a reasonably enjoyable tough-but-sexy-chick-taking-on-the-mean-streets-of-LA-flick, a la Angel and its like, because it is. Mani is likable and even marginally believable in the title role, and the film is uniformly well-paced and competently shot no matter who happened to be in the director’s chair for any particular scene. The net effect is hardly the most memorable action-adventure yarn, but certainly not a waste of time by any means. The average fan of ’80s revenge flicks will definitely find enough to like here to pop this thing in for an occasional repeat viewing, and that’s a decent enough accomplishment to satisfy this armchair critic, at least when I’m feeling generous.

Unfortunately, the film never got much by way of a proper DVD release for whatever reason —Madacy, a truly sorry outfit that no one misses, pumped out a bare-bones quickie version some years back that looked to be ripped straight from the Vestron VHS — but happily Scorpion Releasing has rectified that situation by putting this out last week as part of their “Katarina’s Kat Skratch Cinema” line, a new-ish occasional action series hosted by former WWE “diva” Katarina Leigh Watters, who also presents their well-established “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” releases. The widescreen transfer is struck from an HD master and generally looks pretty good apart from some occasional, and quite forgivable, graininess, the mono soundtrack is just fine, and extras include the theatrical trailer, a small sampling of trailers for other Scorpion titles, Watters’ generally-lame-but-reasonably-informative intro and outro bits, and a lengthy on-screen interview with Film Ventures’ Igo Kantor, who is credited with being a “music supervisor” on this film but also worked as a composer, production manager, editor, and even producer on a number of other exploitation titles. It’s a fun and interesting little addition to the disc and rounds out a perfectly adequate, if admittedly unspectacular, package.

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Which is, I suppose, a rather succinct description of Alley Cat itself — it’s there to do a job and does it just fine, and avoids the trap of too many chefs spoiling the broth that it could easily have fallen into. It doesn’t stand out from the crowd in any particular way for any particular reason, but we all enjoy watching a good looking young lady who’s been pushed too far kick a little ass and take a few names once in awhile, don’t we? Especially when there’s no worn-painfully-thin-by-this-point “female empowerment” subtext either woven into or uncomfortably forced upon the proceedings. Billie’s too busy evening up the score to worry about being a female role model in an admittedly (and obviously) male-dominated industry, and the film’s utter lack of pretense is kinda refreshing, especially in this day and age, where some larger socio-political purpose would undoubtedly be foisted upon any script such as this in order to — shit, I dunno — provide greater “relevance” to a movie that’s largely just gonna be watched by people out for a brainless, good time.

If you’re as sick to death of heroines who feel the “need” (dumped on  them by Hollywood execs) to carry the weight of the long centuries’ worth of oppression directed against their entire gender on their shoulders as I am,  you’re in luck —Alley Cat will be right up your (insert well-deserved groan here) alley.

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By my reckoning, it’s been at least a month since we set our sights north of the border around these parts, so you know what that means — time to look at another ’80s Canadian slasher flick lest we don’t make our entirely unofficial quota.  And one that I’ve definitely been remiss in not covering previously is director Paul (Prom Night) Lynch’s reasonably-regarded 1982 effort Humongous, a film that certainly isn’t hailed as a classic by any means, but definitely has its partisans out there and seems to have generated a bit more buzz around it within the last year or so given its first official — and uncut — DVD release from Scorpion at part of their “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” series. But more on that in a minute, let’s have a gander at the movie itself first —

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So, the story goes — and we’ve got the opening flashback scene to “prove” it! — that back in the late 1940s, a wealthy young socialite-in-training was savagely raped outside a party her family was throwing on their private island. Eventually one of the family’s rabid-looking dogs shooed her attacker off, but by then it was far too late to save our damsel’s virtue — but not too late for the island to get itself a new name out of the deal, and it’s been referred to as “Dog Island” ever since. Fast-forward to the then-present day and five completely obnoxious asshole rich kids, who are staying on another island nearby, are out getting wasted on one of their daddy’s boats when said boat runs aground on the other island where the (surprisingly quite long and brutal) earlier sexual assault took place. What’s it called again? Oh yeah, Dog Island!  Needless to say, the scions of privilege soon begin disappearing one by one under mysterious circumstances even though the mansion and all other grounds as far as the eye can see look to be, for all intents and purposes,  completely abandoned. They sure do hear a hell of a lot of barking and wailing though —

Okay, if all of this sounds more than a touch derivative, I guess it is, but Humongous definitely has more in common, both thematically and stylistically, with exploitation fare from its own country — Rituals in particular — than it does with, say, Halloween  or Friday The 13th, and it’s not afraid to bend — or even break! — some of the standard slasher tropes, such as with its decision to portray all of its principal characters, even “final girl” Sandy Ralston (Janet Julian, who turns in a far more credible acting performance than her peers, who struggle mightily in the credibility department almost from start to finish) as completely unlikable, unsympathetic, spoiled-beyond-belief brats, and Lynch makes a curious about-face maneuver when, after a pretty harrowing opening sequence, he opts to go the essentially bloodless route when the story shifts to the here and now ( again,circa 1982, mind you).

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As you can not-so-plainly see from the image above, though, one of the aspects of this flick that actually isn’t all that interesting — in fact, it gets pretty old pretty fast — is how goddamn dark everything is. It’s almost as if the lighting was handled by a crew of hopeless amateurs (which, for all I know, maybe it was). It works out okay at first in terms of establishing a foreboding atmosphere and all, but when it comes time for heads to roll and limbs to break, it would be nice to at least partially be able to see what the hell is going on, and this aggravation is compounded by the fact that when we can tell what’s happening, cinematographer Brian R.R. (no, that’s not a typo) Hebb’s camerawork is actually quite moody and effective. Who knows what cool stuff we’re missing out on?

Needless to say, it turns out that it’s not wild dogs doing in the rich little shits, but something far worse — what that “something” is I won’t spell out too explicitly in case any of you haven’t seen this thing, but again, once the killer is (semi)-revealed, it really is a shame we can’t see more of it/him, because it/him seems to be pretty decently realized, especially for a two-million-Canadian-dollars feature.

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Still, as far as gripes go, that’s about it — on the whole Humongous is surprisingly entertaining slasher fare that manages to stick to the rules closely enough to be credible, while breaking them with enough frequency to genuinely keep you guessing. I’m not planning a trip to rural Ontario anytime soon, but if I were this film packs just enough of a punch that I might think twice about it. No mean feat for a story marred by some pretty lame performances and that’s so dimly lit  you can barely  make out what’s going on half the time.

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Now, about that Scorpion Releasing DVD hosted by Katarina Leigh Watters I mentioned at the outset. It’s pretty damn good. The widescreen transfer seems fairly solid given the, shall we say, challenging source material, the mono sound does the job just fine, a rather worse-for-wear original theatrical trailer is included, we’re graced with Watters’ standard intro/outro bits, and the former WWE “diva” hosts a very lively and entertaining full-length commentary track with Lynch, screenwriter William Gray, and DVD Delirium author (and Mondo Digital webmaster) Nathaniel Thompson. A brief alternate version of the pre-title sequence rounds out a fairly comprehensive little package.

I certainly wasn’t blown away by Humongous or taken aback by its unexpected awesomeness or anything of the sort, but I did find myself silently nodding my head in appreciation on several occasions and certainly never got bored even if the pacing is a bit on the deliberate side. It’s definitely one I can see myself popping in the player every once in awhile when the right mood strikes me, and that’s a solid — if modest —accomplishment in and of itself, so there ya go.

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When it comes to the twisted and complex family tree grown out of Wes Craven’s classic A Nightmare On Elm Street, it’s a safe bet to say that most here  are no doubt well familiar with its branches — there’s the progenitor of the clan itself, dating back to 1985, followed by five direct descendants  (those being the “official” sequels), two let’s- call -them -cousins ( in the form of the meta-fictional Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and the franchise mash-up/cash-in Freddy Vs. Jason), and a bastard offspring no one likes to talk much about  (the 2010 Michael Bay-air-quote-produced remake). But what about its roots?

To explore those, my friend, we have to go back to medieval folklore, specifically the legends surrounding a creature known as an incubus. Evidently, this homicidally-inclined, violently horny form of demon would first appear in some unlucky pubescent male’s head in the form of a recurring dream, then somehow find its way out into the real world and wreak a fairly astronomical amount of havoc, raping any and every human female it could gets its hairy, scaly hands on (and presumably equally scaly-and-hairy schlong into) in a desperate desire to procreate like crazy in the short time it was able to take physical form before the virile lad from whose nightmares it escaped woke up again. There was just one flaw in the logic of yer average incubus, though — since it invariably went on to kill whoever it forced itself upon, those offspring it was after would never come to be, and alas, the sound of tiny hoof-steps was  never to be heard in any family home.

Alternately, though, if you don’t feel like rifling through a bunch of dusty old tomes in the cavernous sub-basement of some European castle-converted-into-a-library to learn about these things, you can just watch  the decidedly gothically-tinged 1982 Canadian tax shelter production The Incubus and be done with it.

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Starring the obviously-awesome John Cassavetes — who you most likely know as an actor thanks to Rosemary’s Baby or The Dirty Dozen,  or as a director thanks to his groundbreaking, highly personal films like FacesHusbandsThe Killing Of A Chinese Bookie and A Woman Under The Influence — and directed by the less-obvious-but-no-less-awesome John Hough, a household name only in the abodes of the most seasoned exploitation fans despite a stellar track record that includes Dirty Mary Crazy LarryThe Legend Of Hell House, and such fondly-remembered Disney fare as The Watcher In The WoodsEscape To Witch Mountain and Return From Witch Mountain, our story here centers around the supposed New England (even though it was filmed in and around the Toronto area and the license plates on the cars read, for some reason,  Wisconsin) town of Galen, where local pathologist/medical examiner Dr. Sam Cordell (Cassavetes) and police chief  Hank Walden (the always-great John Ireland) are investigating a non-stop series of brutal rapes/murders that leave many of the victims so pumped full o’ spunk that the initial investigative hunch both men play is that there absolutely must be more than one perpetrator — in fact, they feel it’s quite likely that a whole gang of wild n’ reckless youths are behind this sordid spree.

There’s just one wrinkle — all the semen still scurrying about in the dead victims matches, and it’s all red. Complicating matters even further is the fact the a local newspaper reporter named Laura Kincaid (Kerrie Keane) who’s covering the developing story just so happens to be a dead ringer for Cordell’s deceased wife, and that his ethereally-beautiful teenage daughter, Jenny (Erin Noble, billed here as Erin Flannery) is dating a kid named Tim (Duncan McIntosh) who the good doctor is, shall we say, decidedly less than impressed with. Tim’s got a less obvious problem than his choosing to get overly-familiar with sam’s precious little angel, though —  he’s been plagued with horrible, vivid nightmares lately :  nightmares invariably revolving around the brutal, ritualistic rape and murder of young women. Oh, and our young would-be-Romeo’s last name? It’s Galen.

Somehow, of course, it’s all connected — the dreams, the rapes/murders, the intrepid doppleganger lady reporter, even the secret lineage of the family the town is named after — but how?

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Don’t let the admittedly salacious nature of the plot fool you, though — for flick that drops the word “sperm” more often than your average gang-bang porn loop and revolves around an unending string of what are, we’re told, the most violent killings the cops have ever seen, almost all the truly horrific stuff happens off-screen. A supernatural  I Spit On Your Grave  this ain’t. Hough instead relies on a constant, oppressive atmosphere of gothic foreboding — for a Canadian movie purportedly playing out in New England it sure does feel like we’re moving between one ancient,  dank, stone hall of records here and another — and serious-minded, thoroughly professional performances from his uniformly fine actors to bring the horror home in this one. The script has some serious flaws and gaping holes, but Hough knows that flawed source material will, when left in good hands, be elevated to a level it may not, technically speaking, even deserve. Just because it doesn’t read terribly well on paper or make a tremendous amount of sense in retrospect doesn’t mean that John Fucking Cassavetes can’t do something good with it, after all.

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I guess if I were more inclined to brevity — I’m trying! — I’d sum this one up by saying “don’t expect a horror classic here, but something of a largely-forgotten, hidden gem —albeit one of more ornamental than actual value.” Sound about right?

Fortunately, the “largely forgotten” part of the previous verbal equation is no longer necessarily the case, as Scorpion Releasing has recently seen fit to offer up The Incubus as part of its “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater”  DVD series hosted by former/supposed WWE “diva” Katarina Leigh Watters (apparently when you’re a female ex-pro wrestler your two career options are either to start dating George Clooney or become a horror movie presenter). The film is presented in a good-looking, remastered 1.85:1 widescreen transfer with pretty decent, also-remastered mono sound. “Extras,” such as they are, consist of Watters’ semi-informative intro and outro bits, the original theatrical trailer, and a smattering of trailers for other Scorpion titles of semi-recent vintage.

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At the end of the day, I have to believe  there’s just no way Wes Craven didn’t see this movie, unless he took up the study of medieval folklore as a hobby there for awhile, because three short years after this was releases he latched onto the core concept of the incubus demon, took its thinly-disguised allegory for the onslaught of male puberty in general down a pedophilic road (oh yeah! remember when Freddy was a child molester who didn’t snap off clever one-liners and was actually kinda scary?) and gave it metal claws a la the just-getting-popular-at-the-time X-Men character Wolverine. The rest, as they say, is history.

I see you there, scratching your head. “American Nightmare?,” you’re thinking, “but I thought these ‘International Weirdness’ posts of yours were about — ya know — international flicks? Hence the title and all that?”

I understand your confusion, my friends, I really do, but rest assured — the 1983 release American Nightmare (it was filmed in ’81 but languished around for a good long while before finding a distribution deal) is, in fact, a Canadian film, shot on the dirty streets (well, as close as you’re going to find to dirty streets) of Toronto, and the film’s decidedly non-American origins are readily apparent the moment most of the actors go abewt the business of delivering their lines. As a matter of fact, some genre fans have even gone so far as to proclaim this movie to be the nearest thing to a Canadian giallo.

It sort of makes sense, really — the plot is definitely reminiscent of some of the great Italian exploitation efforts, centering as it does around a bitter heir to the throne of a media empire (Lawrence Day), whose relationship with his father is — uhhmmmm — distant, at best, as he searches for his estranged sister, who has gone missing in the drugs-and-prostitution underworld of whatever major American city this is supposed to take place in. Our erstwhile amateur sleuth is joined in his investigative efforts by his sister’s one-time roommate (Lora Staley), who also plies her trade by night at a strip club and later at night at — well, wherever her “clients” take her. There’s just one other wrinkle to add to the proceedings — there just so happens to be a knife-wielding killer on the loose hacking and stabbing his way through the city’s practitioners of the world’s oldest profession (the film even opens with a classic giallo-style hooker murder, with the unfortunate victim in question being portrayed by future Baywatch beauty Alexandra Paul). Needless to say, there’s more going on with these grisly murders than meets the eye, and the entirely unofficial investigations of our intrepid duo, as well as the official police investigations led by a young, and already awesome, Michael Ironside, lead into some very uncomfortable, and very powerful, territory.

Really, though, it’s the style and tone of this gritty — and often quite brutally nasty — little piece of business that make the giallo comparisons apt : the killings themselves don’t shy away from the blood (or misogyny); veteran Canadian composer Paul Zaza’s score is icy, clinical, and entirely memorable; director Don McBrearty gives the proceedings a very sleazy “street-level” feel while also having an artist’s eye for the grislier aspects of his script; and the heady mix of sex and violence that forms the beating heart of the whole affair is played up for all its worth and then some. Throw in a terrific cameo appearance by exploitation favorite Lenore Zann as a hooker/stripper trying to “go straight” and a hilariously, and stereotypically, pathetic cross-dresser neighbor and what’s not to love here?

This largely unknown Canuxploitation tax-shelter rarity, produced by veteran hand Paul Lynch, has recently seen the light of day on DVD under the auspices of Scorpion Releasing’s “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” line hosted by former WWE “diva” (whatever that means, but she does a decent enough job as presenter of these flicks) Katarina Leigh Watters. Full-frame picture and mono sound are both far less than perfect but entirely passable (although you’ve gotta crank the volume way up), and extras include an interview with Lynch about his entire career as a whole and a full-length audio commentary with him and Watters that is, thankfully, a bit more specific to this film itself. A nice little package that will hardly knock your socks off but is probably more than fans of this movie ever had any realistic cause to hope for.

Definitely a product of its time, and with groaningly lame dialogue in parts, American Nightmare is nevertheless a pretty powerful, and surprisingly well-done, slice of cinematic nastiness that lingers in the memory fairly strongly after viewing. Treading the line between exploitation nastiness and “quality” arthouse-style filmmaking, it mostly manages to blend the best of both worlds together fairly successfully without giving into the excesses of either. One of the more pleasant —even if the film itself is pretty damn unpleasant — surprises I’ve popped into the DVD player in quite some time.

Once in awhile, your friendly neighborhood Trash Film Guru is exposed to a film for the first time that reminds me of exactly why it is that I love these largely-forgotten B-level (at best) cheapies ohhhh so much, and  director David Wellington’s 1988 canuxsploitation mini-masterpiece The Carpenter is the most recent example of exactly what I’m talking about here.

You probably know how it goes — we’ll sift through dozens, if not hundreds, of less-than-memorable examples of cinematic flotsam and jetsam in order to find that one diamond in the rough, and friends have I ever found one here. Although I freely admit that many loyal readers of this blog (come on! There surely must be some!) won’t share my enthusiasm for this extremely quirky straight-to-video ghost (I think — more on that later) story from north of the border, those of you who do get into the mellow, dreamlike vibe this flick exudes from the outset are going to be on a Carpenter high every bit as all-consuming as the one I’ve been on since first seeing a couple of weeks ago.

What’s so special about it, you may ask? First off, we’ve got Wings Hauser — or, as well affectionately refer to him around these parts, Wings Fucking Hauser, because he’s such a bad-ass — in his best role since Vice Squad. Next up we’ve got the surreal, like-it-or-lump-it nature of the production itself, as briefly alluded to at the outset. Sure, Wellington and company throw a lot of shit at the wall in an effort to see what sticks here — part comedy, part Lynchian absurdist nightmare, part gorefest, part low-grade soap opera, The Carpenter confidently, and nearly seamlessly, blends genres left and right in an effort that some may call haphazard, but others will appreciate for its sheer bravado and for the consistently ethereal tone it maintains throughout these numerous changes.

On the surface, things seem simple enough — Alice Jarrett (Lynne Adams) is released from a psychiatric hospital following (apparently yet another) nervous breakdown to find her college professor husband has purchased a large fixer-upper out in the country and is employing a stereotypically lazy union crew to remodel this new money pit. The strange thing is, even though the uniformly mulletted  (oh, wait — I think they call it “hockey hair” in Canada) construction brigade isn’t getting much done during the day, at night Alice starts hearing the whirring of buzzsaws and the pounding of hammers and downstairs and finds a solitary carpenter (Hauser) working away to his heart’s content. Alice quickly beings anticipating these nocturnal visits and , in between watching our guy Wings work away in a state of self-induced blue-collar tranquility and listening to his pithy lectures on the value of an honest day’s labor, finds herself falling in love with her mysterious midnight laborer.

She slowly builds up more and more self-confidence, taking a job at a local paint store and tackling many of the household fix-up projects herself, eve as she becomes aware that her husband is carrying on an affair with one of his students. All in all, personal drama (that she’s beyond even really caring about) aside, things are looking up for our heroine. Her rather over-pprotective beau even has a habit of sawing off the arms, or otherwise “dealing with,” those who would cause her harm, such as horny off-duty workers from Carpenters and Remodelers Local 1182.

And yet — is anything here exactly what it seems? Alice’s mental state is far from sound, and she’s recently taken to cutting up and dumping the anti=psychotic meds she’s been prescribed. Her sister, while admittedly overbearing, is genuinely becoming more and more concerned with her fragile mental and emotional state. Her husband’s mistress is pregnant. And just when the questions seem more plentiful than any answers that might or night not be forthcoming,  cheeseball local sheriff J. J. Johnston (and you just learned everything you need to know about him right there) shows up at the door and tells Alice a little story about the guy who used to own her house — a carpenter who was sent to the electric chair (the only non-Canadian wrinkle in a story that’s Canuck though-and-through otherwise) after he killed some repo agents who showed up to take possession of the place when he wasn’t keeping up with his payments since he was too busy working on it rather than going out and finding paying jobs.

So do we have a ghost story on our hands here? It would seem so, but when the shit hits the fan in the film’s final act, it’s clear that others also see Alice’s capenter friend, and the physical damage he ultimately causes to the house is very real. So if it’s a concrete, cut-and-dried explanation of exactly what’s going on here that you’re after, you’re bound to be sorely disappointed. That being said, if, as mentioned earlier, you’re already going with this film’s singular-yet-scattershot flow (a contradiction, I know) you’ll be more than willing, by that point, to just accept the fact that easy answers aren’t on the menu here, as long as the whole thing just sort of feels right and/or consistent in its admitted inconsistency (yup, contradiction rears its head again).

And finally, of course, we’ve got Wings Hauser (again — but you knew there’d be more to say about him, didn’t you). His screen time is limited, but his coolly psychotic menace, hiding beneath a veneer of everyman working-class charm, is the glue that really holds everything together here. It’s another singular performance in a career that’s too often mocked for his numerous less-than-stellar, self-parodying choices vis- a- vis some of the roles he took on. Seriously, though, when this guy was on — as he absolutely was here — nobody could touch him. Wings Fucking Hauser indeed. This guy will show up with roses at your door and try to rape you with a broomhandle  five minutes later.

A couple months back, the fine folks at Scorpion releasing finally put this forgotten gem out on DVD as part of their “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” line, hosted by former WWE “diva” (whatever that term even means anymore) Katarina Leigh Waters. Extras are, sadly,  non-existent apart from the intro and exit segments from the hostess, but the widescreen transfer looks pretty solid and the stereo sound mix is more than serviceable.

So do yourself a favor — give The Carpenter a go. You may not find it to your liking — although I’m sincerely hoping you do — but there’s no denying that this flick has a tempo and flavor all its own, and if you find yourself drawn onto its admittedly quirky wavelength, I think you’ll be stopping back here to thank me.