Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut (2014)

Guest Review by Travis Indovina

I grew up with make believe. I can relate most of my earliest memories to comic books, movies, gateways to fantasy and imagination. My father, a Peter Pan at heart is responsible for this. His childish enthusiasm for the unreal formed and shaped my mental workspace and to some extent, my perception. As I got older, the more I delved into the fantastic the more I began to learn. This, I believe, has had a significant effect on my moral standing and personality traits. I have no doubt that my hopeless optimism comes from Superman's impenetrable (if not unrealistic) faith in human kind despite their inhumanity to themselves, my racial and feminist empathies can be put into perspective by the films of George Romero and James Cameron and perhaps, because of this, is why I've been so attracted to the horror genre.

A lot of horror films trivialize death into dark fantasies making spectacles of violence, while other horror films are the melding of otherworldly forces unknown to our understanding and how they can be just as dark as some fairy tales can be light. They can also be interpreted as morality tales, scaring its audience with the evils of the world, never glorifying but exploiting them as grim and truly immoral. Horror and escapism can be used as a tool in melding humanism and social awareness for entertainment. And I would eventually stumble upon a movie that I felt would meld all that I love about fairy tale fantasy and social morality. When I was 13, I found Nightbreed.

The movie, about an outsider who joins a club of outsiders (monsters) who are ostracized and oppressed by patriarchy combined the comic book sensibilities of something like the X-Men, full of subtexts that can be correlated to civil rights, sexual orientation and any other social discrimination, the heart of a story like Frankenstein, who wasn't born evil, but misunderstood, the visual
iconicism of a slasher movie, action, fantasy and even romance. I thought it was bad ass! I'd eventually read in horror movie publications such as Fangoria and Toxic that Nightbreed was meant to be a franchise, a series of films expanding the mythology of the characters and that the film itself was intended to be much different than what we actually received. The film's story was re-purposed by the distributor which conflicted with the filmmaker's vision. Though, I loved what already was, I was now influenced by the knowledge that there was more and I could realize that something was missing with each subsequent viewing.

So I read the original novel it was based upon, “Cabal” and any issues of the comic book I could find and always wondered and theorized what Nightbreed could've been. And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth. And for two and a half thousand years, the movie passed out of all knowledge... Well, no, but, some years went by and shortly after sharing the movie with my then girlfriend in 2008/2009 I had read online that a 160 minute workprint had been unearthed and was going to be screened at a horror con in Indianapolis. I had to go! I was waiting for this moment for 10 years! And we went!

Before the screening there was a Q&A with writer and director Clive Barker. He mentioned that all he needed to find was some reels of film and they could begin restoring it for a Director's Cut. Now, when I watched this version my viewing experience could have been enhanced by not only my excitement, but how I mentally pieced the film together due to its technical imperfections. The quality of the Workprint was not only in rough shape, but the score, visual/optical and sound effects as well as audio mixing and re-shoots were all absent! So my pleasure could stem from my fan bias as well as how actively engaged I was at trying to make sense of it all based on my general understanding of how a movie is made. Which only, in my mind, made it a better film because not only could I reflect and see what the finished project was meant to be, but all of the holes that were apparent in the theatrical version were finally fulfilled painting a much more refined picture. The characters felt like they had more purpose and given much more weight in the film and some of the lack of re-shoots aloud the narrative to breath.

For plenty of viewers it was an eye sore because I don't think people realized how formative a stage a workprint is for a film, but I left the screening elated.

Now, when I heard that the CABAL CUT was underway it was like a dream come true. Finally someone would take both versions to make a cohesive and coherent edition of Nightbreed as it was intended. Restructuring the film in the best way possible. And when I finally saw the "Cabal Cut" either my expectations were too high, or I relied too heavily on the version I had made in my head but it was still a work in progress, and I expected it to be closer to a finished product.

The Cabal Cut jarringly cut from DVD footage to the cruddy off color muted video quality of the workprint, using some scenes that flowed and some cuts that didn't. I assumed that the footage had been found and that it would be more complete and not look so much like a glorified fan-edit, but I was wrong... Russell Cherrington, the “expert” responsible for this cut had stated before the screening that if anyone wanted to discuss the film or had any suggestions about it could talk with him afterwards. I approached him after the screening and I asked how they intended to release the film, would it include both versions, would it have deleted scenes and such and he didn't seem all that interested but he was nice enough to patronize me. He said yes to it all and I asked him about one scene that I didn't think fit and he agreed but he said he liked it anyway... I thanked him for his time and I was disappointed.

Afterwards I kept asking myself, where is Clive Barker and where's his involvement in this version? Is he supervising this cut and does he have a say? Or has he kind of removed himself from the material and faithfully relies on the hands of others? I just decided not to get my hopes up too much. Not long after that was it revealed that home video distributor Shout Factory was working on releasing an official Director's Cut.

The ultimate limited edition set was very expensive for one movie but I caved and ordered it. A few weeks before it would find its way into my eagerly waiting hands, reviews began to surface and some fans, as well as some of my friends were unimpressed with the new edit. This put a slight damper on my heart, I say slight because while I may not entirely enjoy the context of this new official reconstruction of the movie, I still have the version I've loved all these years, and I'll have a ton of special features to compliment it, so, good or bad, to experience Nightbreed yet again for the first time in a different way is enough for me.

I watched all of the features first, and I was a bit confused as to why the man responsible for this ambitious epic of blood and magic wasn't present in the main retrospective making of documentary. Also, in this feature there was footage of scenes that were not present in the deleted scenes (and neither in the Director's Cut, but more on that in a moment). I can't say I'm entirely underwhelmed, but I'm curious to know what shorthanded these features. And then, I took a deep breath to finally embark on the Director's Cut.

I started this new cut and I couldn't calm myself. I kept comparing it to what I had seen before instead of just taking it in. My mind was racing and I began deconstructing it immediately, repeating the criticisms of my colleagues. After about 30 minutes in, I stopped it and took a break. Found a distraction (the guitar) and eased my mind for a bit. Then, I started it over.

I don't think the Director's Cut is perfect, but that doesn't mean I think it's bad by any means! In this new version, I found the first act to be a bit uneven for Clive is trying to bring in more character development in an already quickly moving story, interspersing scenes of character relationship excised from the theatrical version between scenes of exposition. There's a musical number where the male lead visits his significant other performing on stage during a concert and while this scene is cool to see, I found it unnecessary for I feel their relationship is given enough development throughout the course of the story. The use of alternate takes heightening the performances I thought brought a solid emotional context to the film that wasn't as blatant in the theatrical release. Also, the movie tends to ponder during the second act, spending a lot of time on the antagonists, while I can see this being a problem for most viewers, I felt it made the climax all the more satisfying with the inclusion of some more action. Because of the heart that this new version tries to
define made the new ending work beautifully. This version is also more faithful to the novel and brings a lot more clarity to some of the ideas that originally felt rushed. I've waited forever for a Director's Cut and honestly, I am pleased. I respect Mr. Barker's intended vision of his film even though I don't find it better than the theatrical version nor do I think it is a completely different movie as it is being advertised by its developers. I like them both for different reasons; if I want a dark romantic fantasy, I have the Director's Cut, if I want an action film, I have the theatrical cut.

I can totally understand why viewers would be underwhelmed with this new version. The new footage was spoken of in legendary proportions which only lead the fans to enthusiastically speculate that this film would be nothing less than a life changing experience. After 25 years of waiting to see what could have been, we simply get a monster movie rich in myth given a bit more heart.

So now, a journey of mine has come to a close. I've devoted so much of my life to loving and studying this movie and all of my wonders and questions have finally been answered. I shall always hold this movie in my heart and in my mind as well as on my shelf.

Final notes:

Considering the materials that were given, I love the clarity in picture this Blu-Ray has to offer. But there's still plenty of footage that was featured in the workprint that is not present in this set, some of which I'd like to see again: In the workprint (as well in the novel) the mask in Decker's mind would talk to him, beckoning him to come out. Interesting to note that the workprint originally opened with the scene where Lori visits Boone at his job in the car garage (another scene I found to be unnecessary in the DC). The family Decker murders was not present nor were the two characters of the chubby guy with the tentacles that come out of his stomach and his black bull looking friend. Also, Hugh Quarshie survives and aids the Nightbreed in escaping.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Charter Entertainment

Why does one decide to collect something? What is it about one particular brand or look that draws us to act like Ash Ketchum with a duffel bag full of Pokeballs? I'm sure there's some asinine psychiatrist opinion about how we were raised, but I honestly think who gives a shit. Some like baseball cards, some comics. Some records and others with embossed presidential faces on a doily. Regardless this is a post about my journey to collect all the releases from Charter Entertainment.

Charter was a subsidiary of Nelson Entertainment, who was later purchased by New Line Cinema.... Who was later purc
hased by Warner Brothers. My first experience with Charter was Brian Trenchard-Smith's The Quest. My father had seen the movie one random day on TV, and had found a copy for me to see when I was about 8. At the time my VHS collecting consisted primarily of Godzilla, Universal Monsters and big bug movies from the '50s, but this Australian set film captured my imagination.

It wasn't until 2008 when I then saw my next Charter which would be the Larry Cohen oddball God Told Me To. Then I came across the John Stamos/Gene Simmons tour de force Never Too Young to Die, and my love of this company grew. After I started coming across different titles while hunting in the wild, I decided to "Get the whole set".

I had no clue how many titles Charter released. Through websites like VHSplatter, Critic Online and VHS Collector I was able to amass a large amount of the product IDs and titles. However, these sites still don't list every title. I have found a few that these sites don't list, and that has begun my quest collect, watch and review every Charter film. I don't know for sure how many titles that is, but as of now I've counted upwards 117 titles. The IDs I've collected so far go up to "90237, which is the Harvey Keitel thriller Blindside.

Below is the catalog I've setup so far. If you have a Charter that you're looking to pass off please let me know!

Catalog Number
Kiss of the Spider Woman
Rabbit Test
Star Crash
Time Walker
The Plague Dogs
The Baltimore Bullet
Ten Little Indians
Sidewinder 1
The Mack
Came a Hot Friday
A Man, a Woman and a Bank
Black Oak Conspiracy
Nashville Girl
Night Flight From Moscow
Journey Through Rosebud
TNT Jackson
The Final Comedown
Hog Wild
City on Fire
Follow That Car
The Young Nurses
This Time I'll Make You Rich
The Steagle
Smoke Bites the Dust
Lucky Luciano
Call Him Mr. Shatter
Jock' Petersen
Summer School Teachers
The Student Nurses
Road to Salina
God Told Me To
Outside Chance
Never Too Young to Die
Blonde in Black Leather
Street Girls
The Tigress
Woman Hunt
Women in Cages
The Manitou
Picture Mommy Dead
Murder Mansion
Scream of the Demon Lover
The Ski Bum
The End of August
Love By Appointment
The Nightcomers
Macho Callahan
A Man Called Adam
Thumb Tripping
The 2nd Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World
Horror Rises from the Tomb
Baby Love
Fury of the Wolfman
The Quest
The Comeback Kid
The Jericho Mile
She's in the Army Now
Make Me An Offer
Pray TV
Hot Rod
Bombs Away!
The Dirt Bike Kid
Trouble in Mind
A Nice Girl Like Me
Walk into Hell
Catch as Catch Can
The Passionate Thief
Shoot Loud, Louder… I Don't Understand
Caper of the Golden Bulls
Seaside Swingers
The Spy With the Cold Nose
Three Bullets for a Long Gun
The Sporting Club
Mother & Daughter: The Loving War
Wonders of Aladdin
Darktown Strutters
Road Games
Cross Country
Fair Game
Private Duty Nurses
The Cat
A Bullet for the General
The Terrornauts
Red Headed Stranger
The Swimming Pool
Hatchet for a Honeymoon
A Time for Miracles
What Comes Around
To Love Again
Jane Austen in Manhattan
A Dream of Passion
The Salamander
Bridge to Nowhere
Keeping Track
Rolling Vengeance
Working Girls
Messaline vs the Son of Hercules
The Danger Zone
Impure Thoughts
Strangers in the City
Ghost Fever
Toby McTeague
The Terror of Rome Against the Son of Hercules
Burke & Wills
I Was a Tennage Zombie
Dark Age
Living on Tokyo Time
Around the World in 80 Ways
I Have Heard the Mermaids Singing
Scenes from the Goldmine
Playing Away

Monday, September 1, 2014

Popcorn (1991)

Long gone are the days of the gimmick film where seats buzzed, and when ghosts and monsters roamed the aisles. The amazing William Castle, who entertained audiences with such greats as House on Haunted Hill and 13 Ghosts, believed he could provide thrills outside of the silver screen. Rigging the theater with all sorts of proprietary gags made Castle a name to be recognized. With almost every other week a 3D film being released into theaters nowadays it's a little hard to think that a film in 3D was a rare treat.

Perhaps it was the changing tastes of the movie-going public that brought the end to theater gimmicks, but there are two great examples of tribute to the lost art form. The first being Joe Dante's overlooked period piece Matinee, with an outstanding performance by John Goodman in tribute to the late Castle. The other film that tips its hat to Mr. Castle is the offbeat slasher film, Popcorn.

Popcorn revolves around Maggie, an aspiring screenwriter attending UC Berkley, who keeps having vivid nightmares which she fuels to write her script. While attending class, Maggie's film teacher Mr. Davis tells them they need to get some funds for their department, or risk being shut down. So Mr. Davis enlists the help Dr. Mnesyne, who is a film historian, to re-create the lost art of the gimmick with such thrills as 3D, Shock-O-Scope and Odorama. The goal is to have an all-night horrorthon to raise money for their program.  As the event starts, Maggie starts to learn that her nightmares are repressed memories from her childhood, and it appears that her past has a deadly way of catching up with her.

As a fan of both 80's slashers and 50's Science Fiction, Popcorn is, well... a real treat as a genre fan. It's hard to look at the film as one cohesive story as there are two films going on here, both of which highly entertaining. The kills are all different and rather inventive, and while some of the actors may not be what you'd consider "A-List" (with the exception of the ever lovely Dee Wallace) they suite the film just fine. My favorite moments are the films within the film, serving as the go-between to the slasher stuff. This is just personal preference as the slasher story is handled really well for a film of this type.

Popcorn is a film that pays homage to the long gone B-Movies of the 50's and 60's while keeping modern day audiences appeased with a by-the-numbers slasher sub-plot. Popcorn isn't a film that will be known for re-inventing the genre, but it's a fun look at a bygone era of film making. With a well crafted sub-plot and an energetic script, Popcorn is a film that will entertain those looking for laughs as well as violence.

Popcorn is out of print on DVD, but available from Elite Entertainment. Synapse is supposed to release a special edition Blu-Ray this October, but I haven't heard any updates as of yet.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Trash Bags

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Trash Pack: Contest 08/06/14 to 09/26/14

\I've been spotty with keeping reviews and the podcast up to date, but I do appreciate anyone who has taken the time to listen to an episode, read a review or even share my work with someone else. That's why I'd like to show some appreciation to one lucky reader. I've been teasing the thought of a contest on our Facebook page for sometime now, and here's the deal:

In order to win over 30 DVDs, 30 VHS, a few action figures, comics and more you'll have to comment below with the name of your favorite video store, existing or not. The only other rule is you have to like our Facebook page. It's that simple! This contest will run until Friday, September 26th. I'll then collect all entries, and figure out a winner at random!

Now, these are all the DVDs that will be included, but more VHS will be added once I find some stuff I highly enjoyed, or a couple of more obscurer titles. Right now there's a stack of Punisher mags I have included, but I'll be putting some more horror comics in.

Make sure to like our Facebook page to stay up-to-date on any additions to the Trash Pack contest!
Thanks for reading!

*New Additions 08/26/2014*

We're a month away from the contest ending, so I've added some more stuff to the pack. Here are detailed images of all that is included!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Death Nurse (1987)

I've seen and reviewed my share of ridiculous films throughout my time on this earth, but I find that when watching a film shot-on-video (SOV) I tend to be more relaxed with my feelings. While I will always say The Abomination is a wretched film, there is a lot of entertainment to be had with the right inebriation. There's a certain chunk of salt one has to swallow to enjoy these films, and more often than not they're poorly made and convoluted.

At the Shady Palms nursing home, Nurse Edith and her brother Doctor Gordon take care of their patients. They give them beds, offer food, and unnecessary surgery and murder. While more patients are brought in for their "exquisite" care, Edith and Gordon take turns either performing surgery or suffocating, stabbing. Soon though they find themselves with more corpses than they can handle. What are a murderous brother and sister to do?

Death Nurse is a pretty baffling movie. At the staggering 57 minute run time you are thrown into one of the most weirdly edited, shot and acted films ever. Again, that's not saying it's bad, but, well... It's bad. In an enjoyable way, but you're scratching your head as to why most of these decisions were made. Long shots of actors doing nothing. Dream sequences that are never explained, also these sequences were taken from the film Criminally Insane, so they obviously needed the padding.

The acting from Priscilla Alden is spot-on with its awfulness. It's wooden and no awards will be given for her performance, but it's endearing. The "production value" of the film was that of probably one weekend, the director's family/friends, 5 VHS tapes, a Panasonic camcorder and two VCRs for editing. It's cheap and it shows, but it's never serious and allows for organic laughs with the dark humor while everything else in the movie provides the unintentional chuckles.

Death Nurse isn't going to win any awards, but it's a movie to throw on with a group of friends. It's under an hour of your life, and most of us paid to sit through Avatar. That shit was like 3 hours. You could watch Death Nurse, Death Nurse 2 and two episodes of the Simpsons in that time frame and be more entertained that tree sex bullshit.

Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 Trash Bags

Death Nurse is available from Slasher // Video, but it is limited to 1,000 units.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Trash Pile Picking Tips

I started collecting VHS when I was 6 years old, and while the collecting market booms on internet forums and eBay, I still get a few questions from collectors new to the field. While most pickers may not share their tips, I feel the more the merrier. It increases exposure of the medium, and keeps the format alive. Over the few years that I've been hunting throughout New England I've found a few couple tips that I've wanted to pass on to new collectors, and maybe some tips for those who have been hunting for awhile!

1. General politeness can lead to a better haul:

It seems like a 'duh' thing, but saying things like "please" and "thank you" shows a considerable amount of character, especially with older vendors. Manners show a level of respect that can break down most walls of communication (i.e. negotiating), and can sometimes bring about our next tip.

2. Always ask if they have more, know other collectors or other stores around:

There's been many times I've found a thrift store or Craigslist posting that was a bit of a drive away, and returned empty handed. To try and get the best out of your hunt that day strike up a conversation with the vendor, person, whomever and start asking questions about the area, or maybe how long they've had the tapes. From there they may know more stores, or other collectors who may know and so on.

3. Research:

Going back 20 years ago there was a Mom & Pop video store in every town, sometimes two. Now you'd be hard pressed to find an open one, let alone one that still rents VHS. I've found the best area to start your hunt is around vacation destinations, for instance: In New Hampshire I hunt around ski resorts and the Winnipesaukee region. While you may only find one or two active VHS rental facilities, most stores have sold their stock off to the public.

From there, most VHS will end up at your local Savers, Goodwill or Thrift Store. Then it's off to find nearby flea markets and yard sales. You won't strike gold every time, but this will lead in a good direction.

4. Always be prepared:

While you may never know how many items you could be going home with, it's best to prepare appropriately. Always carry extra tote bags in your car. Whether it's a cheap tote from your local grocer, or one of these Tom Bihn bags like I keep in my car. You never know if a vendor will be out of bags, so it's good to keep extras around.

A bag may not be the only thing you'll need. I keep a notebook in my car to jot down any notes about a particular trip, or if I need to pass my number out for future picks. Having a couple pens and a notebook handy can avoid headaches down the road.

As always be loaded up on:
  1. Water
  2. Protein snack (jerky, nuts, bar, etc.)
  3. CA$H (Plenty of ones, but don't skimp on $5, $10 bills and quarters too)
  4. Change of clothes (You may not need it, but not every picking location is Howard Hughes clean.)
5. Clean up after yourself:

Lastly, the most important tip I can give is to clean up after yourself. By that, I mean if you walk into a shop/flea/etc., don't leave the section worse than when you started. Not only does this create more work for the employees, it's also a headache for any other pickers that may happen through your stop.

There has been many trips that have been cut short due to other pickers leaving a mess of the store.

We're not all out there trying to find the rarest of the rare, but when going hunting remember that there are other collectors like you. There's no reason to complicate it for others, so be respectful of not only fellow pickers but the shop owners as well.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Boys Behind Bars (2013)

It's been awhile since I've posted, and to be honest, it's something that has been on my mind. Whether I find a film good or not is irrelevant at the end of the day. As a reviewer I share my biased opinion, and you as the reader choose to accept or deny my statements. Perhaps you've read other reviews of mine, and enjoyed what I've had to say. If so, I thank you. I also appreciate when independent artists submit their material for me to watch.

As is the case with Boys Behind Bars, a shoe-budget pseudo-exploitation film from the U.K. I have a good amount of respect for anyone who can successfully complete, edit and distribute their film. I tried the "complete the film" part and that failed miserably, so to see anyone that has made it through the process impresses me. Now if I enjoy the film is another story.

Boys Behind Bars takes place in the cell of inmate Darrell in an undisclosed jail. We're introduced to Darrell as he's taking a shit into a plastic container, from which he claims a condom containing cocaine. As the scumbag is emptied an alarm sounds in which Darrell finds himself tucking his shit box under his cot. Another inmate by the name of Seth is thrown into Darrell's cell as apparently a riot, or something, has happened on a higher floor. The two come from completely different backgrounds, as Seth yearns to run out his jail time and Darrell has become accustomed to prison life. As the unseen riot progresses on the floors above, another inmate, Lanks, is thrown into the mix. As the three young men converse amongst themselves the alarm sounds a third time, and the fresh fish Nico is thrown into the cell as well. From there tensions and egos come to a head.

I said pseudo-exploitation earlier, and I mean that. That's not a shot on what director Jason Impey has done with Boys Behind Bars, but the movie is far more a character study than a real exploitation film. While the concept of taking the "Women in Prison" plot and changing gender is a very welcome, but I feel that confining the film to one location hindered the strength the story could of had. While the riot may not have been anything more than the catalyst to bring these four characters together, a little more impending doom would have highlighted the tension.

The characters are the same incantations we've seen before in your classic "Women in Prison" films like Vendetta or Red Heat. There is the a-typical leader of the group, the muscle, the person biding their time and the fresh fish. I wasn't expecting anything different, but my issue with the film comes in only the actor of Gavin Jackson, who played Lanks. Not until the near end of the film I didn't really buy any of his performance, and wasn't until he became violent that the role lifted. Again, not bad by any means, but it seems that the actor really didn't come into his own until later in the process.

Speaking of process, it seems that Boys Behind Bars was filmed within a 6-hour period, so most of my criticism has to be taken in stride. Given the limited time frame what was accomplished, Boys Behind Bars is rather strong, but it feels as if more time should have been spent with the actors to solidify their characters. Wade Radford (who also came up with the idea behind the film) really felt like he knew how to portray Darrel, and as the focal point of the film it helped that Wade's performance was as strong as it was.

Boys Behind Bars may not be something to radically change any genres, but even a few days after watching it the film has stayed with me. What director Jason Impey finished in 6-hours, with the help of a limited cast and crew, shows that anyone can make a movie, even with limited resources.

Boys Behind Bars is on DVD via Amazon

Rating: 3 out of 5 Trash Bags