The B-Movie Isle: Vinegar Syndrome Edition (02/13/17)
The B-Movie Isle a small written (sometimes) weekly companion piece to the B-Movie Podcast.
Every B-Movie is an Isle onto itself. The B-Movie Isle recommends a few films either being released or already released in theaters, VOD, streaming or on Blu-Ray/DVD. These are not going to be blockbusters but those movies you’ll probably find in the door buster clearance bin. Films that people told you weren’t worth your time or you may have not heard about. You and I know they’re just un-enlightened to the beauty of a killer B-Movie!!!
Featured Boutique Label: Vinegar Syndrome
From time to time we spotlight a boutique label and a few of their most recent releases. This week we’re looking at Vinegar Syndrome and the amazing work that they’re doing with some of the more cultish, deep dive, late night cable TV, well spring of awesomeness they’re curating. Vinegar Syndrome doesn’t just put a shiny new top coat on these releases, they do a full-on restoration that even some of the major boutique labels with their bigger titles can’t touch.
With that lets look at some great recent releases…
The Film: I will give Vinegar Syndrome this… they find some hidden gems as much as they release trash albeit good trash. Don’t Answer the Phone is somewhere in-between and it’s fascinating to watch unfold. The film is part slasher, part police procedural, part low-rent Maniac rip off and all kinds of cheese grater awesome sauce. The film though sold and even the title suggests some sort of Black Christmas or When a Stranger Calls style film, this is definitely not that. It titled this way because the killer calls into a radio talk show. Director Mark Hammer has a film that is sleazy as it is magnetically watchable, all because of one performer;
Worth playing the serial killer, Kurt Smith, as he’s in a film written by Paul Schrader and directed by Martin Scorsese. The actor’s work is legitimately scary and engrossing. There is a line that a lot of actors will not cross. They don’t want to be unlikable. They do not want to be marginalized by a performance. Worth appears to have none of these concerns as he’s almost fearless in how unsavory he makes Kurt Smith as a character. Worth goes fully in the way the Joe Spinell did in Maniac.
The rest of the film is pedestrian, paint by the numbers, which it could have been more. As it stands now, the film is well worth a look for Nicholas Worth’s truly impressive performance and the great synth score by Byron Allred. Allred’s work actually gives Worth’s performance even more gravitas. Both make this a film worthy to an 80’s slasher geek.
The Transfer: Vinegar Syndrome’s transfers are always marvelous and beautiful. Don’t Answer the Phone is no different. Vinegar Syndrome has gone out of their way to restore this film to a look and feel of a truly well preserved film. Any fan of this film will be shocked at how amazing this film looks. Vinegar Syndrome continues to do amazing careful restoration of these forgotten films. Don’t Answer the Phone is a high water mark for them. It’s just impressive… even more so when you look at previous transfers.
The Extras: Extras include; Commentary with the director, an interview with Nicholas Worth, A visual essay about the career of Worth, an isolated score track, Theatrical Trailers, TV Spots. The best feature is the isolated score track as Allred’s score is pure 80’s synth bliss. The visual essay about Worth’s career is highly fascinating as I had only remembered him from Darkman not the countless other films he had been in that I had forgotten. Only a sampling of the commentary finds the director in a reasonable honest mood and discussing his challenges during the production. Worth is a bit more honest (brutal one would say) on his long form interview. Also not listed but is still considered an extra… the film is presented in its UNRATED DIRECTOR’S CUT.
The Bottom Shelf: Though so-so as a slasher film, the VS special features, new transfer and the amazing performance by Nicholas Worth and the score
The Film: Deathrow Gameshow is as stupid as it is clever. I know this is an oxymoronic statement, a contradiction in terms but Deathrow Game Show is just that.
The film attempts to go with a sort of wacky tone that for the most part lands consistently. We are introduced into an alternate reality (they never really explain) where Deathrow inmates are brought onto said game show to either be executed or reprieved (for at least a time). This is The Running Man with no Arnold (something funny about that later). Deathrow Gameshow works without any sort of moral compass which is fascinating in the way that Tom and Jerry cartoons are fascinating.
The film is ultimately this deranged Romantic Comedy about a Chuck Barris type game show host that executes Deathrow inmates on TV and how he’s ‘changed’ by a Gloria Steinem type activist. The film is so “on the nose” that it names it’s “heroes” Chuck (John McCafferty) and Gloria (Robyn Blythe). There is a sort of gonzo charm to the entire proceedings that’s as hilarious to watch as it is baffling. The film is littered with random non-sequesters. Writer director Mark Pirro may have created the first him that could calm “From the Mind of Hunter S. Thompson a new Romantic Comedy” and I would seriously believe it. Pirro is able to keep everything moving at a brisk pace.
Deathrow Gameshow is goofy, strange, random and all together cultish “rom com” for those that love something in the middle ground of John Waters and Tommy Wiseau.
The Transfer: Another home run for Vinegar Syndrome. The transfer is on par with an archival 35mm print. I’m sure that the film never looked this good, even in its initial theatrical run.
The Extras: Vinegar Syndrome continues their release of true Cult films filled to the brim with special features. The disc includes; a Commentary by director and stars, Making-Of Documentary, Interviews with Cast and crew, a “new” 2015 director’s cut of the film, trailers and deleted scenes. The best feature is by far the Making-Of Documentary, clocking in at a breezy 32 minutes. Anyone that loved the move or even had an interest is going to find the doc a great time. I love the inclusion of the Director’s Cut that Pirro did in 2015 but be warned, it looks to be sources directly from an the Editing System output (e.g. it looks really raw and pixelated). Commentary only sampled goes over much of the same information the Making-Of does but only expounded on. All together a great set of extras.
The Bottom Shelf: Deathrow Gameshow is for that Troma Geek in all of us. I still have a hard time realizing that this piece of “film” actually exists but as it does… it’s pretty gloriously unremittingly 80’s in its style and execution. Bravo to Vinegar Syndrome for releasing this one as it’s a pretty hilarious find.
The Film: When I was sent this disc I thought I had never seen the film. Midway through the film I realized I had seen Evils of the Night. It was the ample amount of nudity that gave it away. I had seen it on Cinemax (aka Skin-a-Max) late night. A staple of that channel’s late night programming along with movies about Candy Stripe Nurses, Cheerleaders, Female Biker Gangs or any other sub-genre loved by director Jack Hill. Where things like Switchblade Sisters or Caged Heat had the likes of Hill and Jonathan Demme… this has Mardi Rustam.
The film is a mashup of Alien Invasion and bawdy Teenage Camping Romp with the sort of cheese that you expect from an entry from the mid 80’s. That isn’t a criticism only a mere observation. The film itself is campy fun. Rustam must have placed the dictum in the story, whenever the story is boring; insert nudity here. The film begins with your average college kids at a lake (which appears to be the same lake they used in Creepshow 2). Sex and “hi-jinx” are aplenty as they begin to disappear. The film gets muddled at this point with the story of an Alien race taking very specifically younger humans “from the age of 16 to 25” for what amounts to a blood transfusion.
There is no sense of irony in this film which makes the film a pure exercise in cultish wonky storytelling. Rustam, cast and crew mean everything they do in this film. The one exception seems to be John Carradine who genuinely seems lost as one of the head Aliens. Fairing much better is Julie Newmar as his right hand woman. Newmar knows when and how to vamp. She’s the MVP of the film, playing her role with the sort of skill that makes it both a full performance and a sly nod to Russ Meyer’s films of the 70’s. In fact the entire film feels like a lower rent version of a Meyer’s film which is actually quite fun. If you’re entranced by the awesomeness that is 80’s Skin-a-Max films (which is a whole subset we will eventually have to get into because they’re hilariously great) this should be right up your alley.
The Transfer: This film may have the best transfer of the three films we’re reviewing here. The film looks perfectly representative of the film. It’s actually beautifully rendered with some great grain structure. I feel honestly like I’m a broken record here when it comes to Vinegar Syndrome but, they really do take true love and care of their films they take on. A huge bravo is in order even if you don’t love these films no once can deny the work is staggering.
The Extras: The Extras include: In interview with the director, an alternate TV Edit, Isolated score, over 25 minutes of Outtakes, TV Spots and what they call “Work-in-Progress” Trailer. The best extra is the Interview with Rustam, which is more of a verbal account of the making of the film. The isolated score is ripe for anyone that loves late 80’s synth scores along with 80’s not-ready-for-radio “pop” songs.
The Bottom Shelf: If you’re a kid of the 80’s that had access to Skin-a-max (aka Late Night Cinemax) you’ll be happy to have this one as it was a staple of that Cable stations after midnight programming with good reason. Its doofy goofy plenty-o-nudity cultish fun and bonus points for having Julie Newmar (aka Catwoman)!!!