Saturday, August 25, 2012


I actually wrote a blurb about this a few months back after acquiring the  Video Treasures edition of this tape. I had gone out of my way to find a copy, as it had been tirelessly recommended to me by people who swore that it was a great movie. There is no shortage of glowing reviews online which praised the film as being innovative for its period, and while some of the violence is absurd for the time, this movie is otherwise a total piece of shit that probably largely enjoys popularity on an ironic level due to Leif Garrett’s participation. I guess that gives it a booster of kitsch, but as a piece of horror cinema this is an otherwise forgettable outing that had been done before even at that point.

The whole mess begins when a bus accidentally rolls down a hillside and unleashes a pack of mentally ill pre-teen passengers, who then make the trek to a snowy cabin in the woods, where they eventually start to terrorize a group of unlikable protagonists. What’s funny is, I can give you the film’s plot in one sentence, and yet it somehow drags on mercilessly before it actually gets to the meaty core. There are a few quirky sequences during the first half of the film that tease your interest, such as a cat fight with some slivers of nudity, but it's mostly dry and plodding after that. Leif Garrett actually turns in a decent performance as one of the deranged kids under delusions of a Fauntleroy-styled Hollywood stardom, so he does bring legitimate worth to the production. Still, this thing is splitting at the seams with horrible creative decisions, production mismanagement, and shockingly bad editing. In particular, the first on screen death, which is stretched out via slow motion and drably colored, is a harbinger of terribleness to come, and is quite possibly one of the worst things I’ve ever seen committed to celluloid.

If this film is innovative in any sense, it’s probably in that it is one of the first slasher-style films to feature protagonists you don’t like. And it’s not that they’re despicable either and you want to see them die. They’re just a bunch of alcoholic, middle-aged leather bags that are almost on the brink of throwing a key party. They’re just very mild and dull. Meanwhile, the kids are only slightly more interesting but difficult to really appreciate because they seem like a bunch of pretentious theater fags.  Eventually, the death count just sort of erupts and they bump all the characters off in rapid succession, so even if you could manage to give a shit about either batch of characters, there’s no room to build suspense.

The film does have one gold deposit, though, and it comes in the shape of albino actress Gail Smale, who plays the homicidal habit wearing nun child. She is conceptually and visually compelling, but it is Smale who really makes the character remarkable. She is not just good by comparison to the other crap she’s book ended by, but rather she is just legitimately good here. The character could have probably carried a feature of her own.

The stories surrounding the production are undoubtedly more interesting that the film itself, but also explain why it was such a mess. Director Sean MacGregor was ousted from his seat due to incompetence and replaced by venerable producer David Sheldon. Most of the film had to be scrapped, but when they did go back to film they were forced to use an entirely different location. Ironically, MacGregor did some time in a mental health facility following his experience on set. There were also some creepy rumors that MacGregor was sleeping with the underage Smale at the time.

I haven't found a copy of the Media Home Entertainment release, but I was surprised by the quality of the Video Treasures release. It's not great, but not as bad as some of their other releases. Still, this is a disappointing mess that makes something like "The Children" seem coherent and very credible by comparison.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


The women-in-prison genre is an interesting phenomenon in that it created a surprising number of distinctive and original stories while operating within a very narrow set of parameters. Look no further than this entry which was conceived and co-written by stuntman Emil Farkas. It spins the familiar concept of the avenging enforcer who gets locked up in the big house to get revenge, but it veers in some interesting directions. 

For starters, our protagonist is a Hollywood stuntperson. Laurie Collins (Karen Chase) is working on the set of a feature film when her younger sister is murdered in prison where she is being held after murdering her own rapist. The nature of how these early stunt scenes are presented shows an authenticity that clearly comes from the filmmakers being experienced within that particular world. You see a similar level of accuracy in many biker films of the same period, most of which were being helmed by or at least crewed by stuntpeople. The real advantage to this set-up is that once Laurie lands herself  behind bars you can easily believe that she is physically and mentally capable of the badassery she unleashes. You've already seen evidence of her skills. 

Laurie's chief rival in the big house is the swine-like Kay Butler (Sandy Martin), a perpetually sweaty sociopath with an appetite for chaos. In one of the films more questionable sections, Kay arranges offsite conjugal visits for herself to be ravaged by a man to alleviate the stress of being the queen of the cell block. Kay is responsible for the death of Laurie's sister, which should be enough to get the audience against her. Thankfully, the film never misses an opportunity to have her do something despicable or gross, making the blood-soaked resolution to the revenge plot that much more satisfying. 

Another interesting aspect of VENDETTA is its willingness to slip away on bizarre tangents. One of the highlights involves a talent show performance in the prison mess hall in which a female Prince impersonator executes a full musical number/striptease that is both arousing and sort of hilarious. There is a level of commitment to her performance coupled with the total leftfield nature of the sequence itself that makes your brain contort into brand new and pleasurable shapes. There is ambition here but it never undermines the commercial need to deliver salacious content every 10 min or so. Like the best of the WIP movies, it sneaks clever moments into the proceedings while keeping its brow uncompromisingly low.

Friday, August 3, 2012

SOV Music Video

The shot-on-video horror movies of the 80's and early 90's have seen a resurgence in popularity recently, partly due to films like SLEDGEHAMMER, 555, and THE BURNING MOON getting new reissues. The video aesthetic has been mined for a variety of uses in advertising and marketing of late but for those of us in the SOV cult there has been a question regarding all new attempts to recreate the style: Why doesn't this feel authentic? Most recent attempts to capture the period are using modern equipment and applying filters in post-production to achieve a "video look". Wouldn't it be easier to use a camcorder? I worked with my partners on the upcoming documentary REWIND THIS! to create a short film/music video using equipment and techniques of the time. The video is for Beaujolais, the musical alter-ego of Bleeding Skull creator Joseph A. Ziemba. Take a look at a slasher movie that never existed.