Posts Tagged ‘slasher video’

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You have to hand it to Nick Millard : long after the point where you or I would have retired our Sony Betacams and looked for work selling power tools, cleaning offices overnight, or digging ditches, he kept on making direct-to-video horror flicks. Heck, I’m friends with him on facebook and I can tell you for a fact that he’s still at it to this day. Whether or not the projects he’s currently working on will ever see the light of day only time, I suppose, will tell, but I’ll say this much — I’d never bet against Nick. Sheer determination has kept him in the game this long, and will probably keep him in it for some time to come, provided his health co-operates (which thankfully, so far, seems to be the case).

So yeah — Nick’s not done making movies (at least in his mind and/or on paper), but his 1980s straight-to-video (and shot on video) numbers will probably always be what he’s best remembered for, and it pleases me no end to see something of a small-scale revival going on in terms of fan interest in those flicks. Jesus Teran over at Slasher Video has enjoyed some modest success and garnered rave critical reviews for his DVD releases of Millard’s Death Nurse films, and with 2013 marking the 25th anniversary of  yet another production shot for the most part in Nick’s former Pacifica, California condo, namely 1987’s Cemetery Sisters, giving that film the full Slasher treatment in celebration of its silver jubilee seemed a no-brainer.

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I guess there’s not much point in deluding ourselves — “no-brainer” is a fairly apt description of the film itself, as well, but as with all Millard projects, it’s brainlessness pursued with a kind of earnest integrity and heart that sets Cemetery Sisters apart from much of the ’80s SOV pack. Sure, the primary goal here seems to be filling up 60 minutes of videotape at minimal (if any) cost, but if Nick’s gonna kill an hour of our lives so he can make his mortgage for the next couple of months, at least he’s gonna do it his way.

Our story here revolves around two sisters, Joan and Leslie (played by real-life sisters — wait for it — Joan and Leslie Simon), who grew up in a family-owned mortuary and now, as adults,  long to open a funeral parlor of their own. And what the hell — they’ve already got their first set of customers lined up because the two have been serially marrying lonely middle-aged guys, convincing them to take out hefty insurance policies, and then bumping them off for their cash (bilking the system by means of murder also being the central plot conceit employed in the Death Nurse series). It takes real dedication to resort to killing in order to start up a business working with the deceased, it seems to me, so give our two deadly dames credit for getting some practice in ahead of time prior to their hoped-for grand opening.

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Apart from the Simon siblings, the cast here is primarily composed of Millard (unpaid, I’m guessing) mainstays like Albert Eskinazi, Nick’s wife Irmi, and yes, the writer/director himself even makes an appearance, so we’re in pretty familiar territory all the way around here — in fact, be on the lookout for the same rehashed clips from Criminally Insane that were used to pad out  the runtime in both Death Nurse  movies being employed for the same ends here (although they’re presented as dreams rather than flashbacks, thus ensuring that their inclusion makes even less actual sense here). Yup, folks , we’ve seen this all before — and I do mean that literally.

Still, there’s no denying that Cemetery Sisters entertains even as it kills more brain cells than a fifth of cheap bourbon downed in a single sitting, and Jesus has, as we’ve come to expect, pulled out all the stops as far as assembling a genuinely comprehensive package goes — the full-frame picture and mono sound are both culled from Millard’s personal master videotape copy, and while it all looks and sounds as crummy as it deserves to, it’s not gonna get any better than this, so sit back and enjoy. On the extras front, we’ve got a full-length commentary with Nick and Irmi moderated by Teran, a short video production from the mind of Millard called Death Sisters that treads more or less the exact same ground as the feature itself, an on-camera interview with the Millards, a gallery of production stills, the original trailer (as well as trailers for a handful of other Slasher titles), a couple  of nifty little hidden “easter eggs” that are worth searching out, and a slide-show-style gallery featuring the art of up-and-coming horror illustrator Jazmin Martinez, who also provides the all-new cover artwork for this release.

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You definitely get the abiding sense that Nick Millard knows he wasn’t making Citizen Kane with this or any of his productions, but he still takes a certain amount of professional pride in knowing that he did the best he could with what he had. And why not? It beats punching a time clock and people are still paying good money to add his films to their DVD shelves, so the man has plenty to be proud of. His cinematic legacy may not be one of enduring quality,  and to those not “on the same page” with what he’s tried to do it may not even be a particularly interesting one, but shit — it is a legacy (of something, at any rate), and that right there is a lot more than many of us will ever leave behind.

Here’s to hoping that he’s very far from finished.

In a very real sense, if you’ve seen Mick Millard’s other SOV/DTV offering from 1987, Criminally Insane 2 a.k.a. Crazy Fat Ethel 2, then you’ve seen Death Nurse. Only you haven’t. Confused yet? Read on, all will made clear — sort of.

At its core, Death Nurse more or less amounts to Criminally Insane 2 in unconvincing hospital costumes (okay, in fairness the nurse’s getup worn by star Priscilla Alden and the lab coat worn by her pseudo-doctor brother, played by fellow Millard regular Albert Eskinazi,  are perfectly fine, but look for the little touches, like a dish rag attached with rubber bands standing in for a surgical mask, to show just how little money our guy Nick spent on this movie) — after all, it’s shot in Millard’s Pacifica, California condo, it stars Alden, Eskinazi, Millard’s mom, and his stepfather, and it’s about a homicidal fat lady, all of which should sound pretty familiar if you’ve seen CI2/CFE2. In addition, Death Nurse also runs just under 60 minutes in length and looks to have been shot on a consumer-grade VHS camcorder and then haphazardly edited with a basic two-VCRs-hooked-up-at-home set-up.

And yet — it’s the subtle differences here that show Millard’s creativity in the face of no resources whatsoever. His spread is now a clinic (that takes care of everything from open heart surgery to TB treatment to Betty Ford-style alcohol rehab) rather than a halfway house, his mom plays a social worker who takes care of indigent medical patients rather than a social worker who takes care of newly-released indigent mental hospital patients,  and the larger-than-life Ms. Alden plays Edith Mortley, psycho RN, rather than Ethel Janowski, psycho food lover.

So yes — even though both flicks are hopelessly padded to fill out their meager runtimes with “flashback” footage from the first Criminally Insane film (which in this context makes absolutely no sense being that Alden is supposedly playing an “entirely different” character here — oh, and the opening credits are borrowed from CI again this time as well, right down to the “directed by Nick Philips”), and even though they both linger on certain scenes waaaaaayyyy too long (check out how much time Millard spends showing us Eskinazi’s Gordon Mortley character digging a “grave,” for instance, or eating ice cream just a few minutes later), there are some key differences. And it’s one of those key differences that, in my mind, makes Death Nurse the superior “feature” (to the extent that either of them can be said to have any redeeming qualities whatsoever) of the two  — and it’s not the dish rag “surgical masks,” awesome as they  are.No, friends, what sets Death Nurse apart from its contemporary entry into the Millard canon is its (entirely unintentional, I’m sure, which makes it all the better in my book) full-throttle, no-holds-barred, do-not-pass-go-do-not-collect-$200 leap into the realm of pure, unadulterated absurdity in pursuit of its less-than-lofty mission to simply kill 60 minutes’ worth of videotape.  While Criminally Insane 2  still tepidly clings to the notion of making some kind of rational sense, rest assured that Death Nurse has no such hang-ups.

Consider — the “plot” here revolves around a nurse and doctor (who according to Millard are apparently phonies with no medical training, although the “screenplay,” ad-libbed for the most part as it is, makes no explicit mention of this fact) who take in broke patients and then kill them and keep collecting money from Medicare/Medicaid for their “treatment.” Even though county social workers still have to come by and check on these people. In addition, they don’t even put up the pretense of having real surgical equipment about, resorting instead to using hacksaws and steak knives on their (fully conscious, I shit you not!) patients.  Ethel — I mean, Edith — then feeds the dead remains of their charges to her pet rats in the garage (cue stock footage from Willard) before feeding the rats to others in her care (such is the delicate cycle of nature, I guess). Then a cop (Millard’s step dad) comes along and busts up their little racket and our quaint homemade “epic” is over.

If any of that makes a lick of sense to you, then congratulations on possessing enough suspension of disbelief to almost take Death Nurse seriously. But fear not — Millard’s heavy-handed attempts at “black comedy” still ensure that you won’t (or can’t). Consider : a dead TB sufferer (played by Millard himself with his face covered by a handkerchief at all times) is dug out from his shallow grave and hosed off to “prove” to the pesky lady from county social services that he’s still alive (wouldn’t she notice the smell?). Gordon attempts a heart transplant by inserting the ticker of his dead dog into a human patient — and their cat (who wanders about the clinic freely, apparently) makes off with it. And ol’ Gordo is trading sex for booze with his alcoholic patient (played by Millard’s wife, who also evidently “produced” this movie, whatever that even means).

So yeah, I think it’s fair to say that Death Nurse is more than willing to loose itself from the moorings of reality. But you still can’t really escape the sense that more or less nothing is happening in this movie because, well — it’s not. It just sounds like it is. Watch it and you’ll see what I mean — Millard possesses the unique ability to make even the truly absurd seem hopelessly mundane and to almost hermetically cleanse any scene of all dramatic tension. He could make a real-live snuff film and I swear to God the thing would seem tedious and drawn out. And while some readers out there may find that to be rather insulting to good Nicholas, I genuinely mean it as praise, because it’s a feat I’ve never seen any other director duplicate with the kind of consistently vigorous non-vigor (hell, anti-vigor) that he does. One thing that’s definitely worthy of admiration, though, regardless of how you feel about Death Nurse itself, is the quality of Slasher Video’s new 25th Anniversary DVD release of the movie. Both picture and sound have been remastered to the point of being genuinely passable (no small feat there I would imagine), and it’s loaded with terrific extras including an on-camera interview with Millard (who’s definitely an amiable guy and pretty darn honest about the “quality” of his product), a terrific feature-length commentary with Millard and his wife, Irmi, that’s engaging throughout, a Priscilla Alden tribute featurette showcasing scenes she’s  in from numerous Millard productions, a short-but-sweet still photo gallery, and a YouTube-style “review video” from the head honcho of VHSCollector.com. All in all, it’s a more comprehensive package than any right-thinking person would ever have dreamed a flick like this would receive. Kudos all around.

At the end of the day, it’s pointless to compare Death Nurse to anything other than Millard’s other late-80s SOV productions, not so much because it doesn’t play by the same rules as “normal” cinema, but because it doesn’t even seem to know what those rules are. Although in many ways it’s hopelessly redundant when viewed alongside Criminally Insane 2 (which is already hopelessly redundant in and of itself if you’ve seen the first Criminally Insane), it’s the sheer temerity of Millard thinking he could basically do the same flick again (I picture in my mind him yelling “Cut! — And print!” when he wrapped up CI2 and then saying “Now let’s shoot it again quick in the hospital costumes!,” but I guess they were made a good six or so months apart, which for some strange reason I actually find kind of disappointing), coupled with his absolute unconcern with, if not outright disdain for, trying to be in any way “believable,” that elevates — or knocks down, depending on how you look at things — Death Nurse to its own plateau. This is a work of art — and I don’t use that term lightly, off-handedly, or in any way condescendingly — that manages to be both a complete rip-off and yet defy comparison at the same time. In its steadfast inability to be anything other than what it is, even if “what it is” amounts to being a total rehash of an earlier rehash, it stands alone as perhaps the most jaw-droppingly, amazingly, near-hypnotically pointless movie ever made — until, of course, Death Nurse 2 came along the very next year. Let’s hope Slasher Video sees fit to give it similar treatment in the not-too-distant future.