Monday, October 15, 2012

31 DAYS OF FRIGHT: An After-Dinner Trip to THE BASEMENT

Why does my real life keep intruding on my reel life?! I was all set to post Jonathan Plombon's review of THE BASEMENT: RETRO 80s HORROR COLLECTION – the first of this week's Anthology-Athon segments – earlier today. But laundry, the store, customers, e-mails, clients and the like kept pushing it back and pushing it back till "oh, shit!" I'm in the middle of eating Butternut Squash Lasagne with my 5-year-old when I realize I never got the review posted. Well, better late than never... so without further ado, I'll let Jonathan take you on an after-dinner trip to THE BASEMENT: RETRO 80s HORROR COLLECTION...

In 2011, seeing home-made horror like BLOOD CULT and THE RIPPER on DVD harkens back to the days of glaring up at big-box, top-row taboos at one of our area's first rental stores, Premiere Video.  As my wide eyes gazed upon the assortment of covers while holding my mother's hand as she picked up a copy of BEACHES, I would gravitate to the abnormally large cases so far above my small frame.  Why were they so different?  Why were they draped in blood?  Why were they depicting blurry images of half-naked women?

My mother never looked at those boxes. 

I'd see my father looking sometimes, though.

Along with my better-left-unsaid prepubescent awkwardness, Camp Motion Pictures has resurrected five films, THE BASEMENT, CAPTIVES, VIDEO VIOLENCE, VIDEO VIOLENCE 2, and CANNIBAL CAMPOUT on a three-DVD set.  And it's all for one great welfare price.  It's cheap, keeping with the spirit of these no-budget wonders and my favorite types of wine.

Disc one begins with THE BASEMENT, which, as is advertised on the DVD packaging, is an unreleased Super 8 feature film from director Tim (GHOUL SCHOOL) RAWE.  Most of this DVD's hoopla surrounds the accompanying VHS copy of the film, but no VHS ever made that trip to my mailbox.  Regardless, the set's actually worth the price even without a video tape.

THE BASEMENT is a TALES FROM THE CRYPT and CREEPSHOW anthology joint about a group of friends stumbling across some monster named The Sentinel who tells people about the horrific acts that they'll commit one day.  Some of the group are aghast at this idea and protest their future involvement in their sacrificing neighbors to human-munching pool monsters, but, The Sentinel reminds them, it's their destiny.

I really challenge this concept. I'm not saying suicide's the answer, but I think it would do a pretty bang-up job to preventing the "inevitable."

Nonetheless, the movie's pretty tubular. The first story, SWIMMING POOL, concerns a woman who feeds her husband and neighbors to a, surprise, pool creature. The second, TRICK OR TREAT, shows what would happen when an elderly panty-buncher disgraces the spirit of Halloween.  Even the last chapter, HOME SWEET HOME, is a fun tale of a haunted house's control over its tenants.

But the third chapter sparkles more than them all combined: J.R. Bookwalter, working on an absurdly awful horror film helmed by a soulless cocaine-sniffing director, earns the esteem of the undead by showing them a copy of THE ZOMBIES THAT ATE PITTSBURGH.

You have to respect that.  Even if you don't like that, and I don't even know if I do, you still have to respect it.

The movie's very dark.  Not in tone.  It's just fucking difficult to see anything.  According to the DVD commentary, the issue with the lighting was one of the reasons why the film was shelved.  This makes the restoration even more amazing since the once apparently can't-see-shit-scenes are now somewhat easy to make out.

And anyway, if you're looking for crystal-clear images, you're probably not incredibly driven to a DVD packaging reading "Lost Super 8 Feature Film" anyway.

By the way, in case Camp Motion Pictures wants to use a quote, I thought this one would look great on a Web site: This is one basement that I'd love to be chained up in by my stepfather.

If anything, Jon McBride's contribution to the set, CANNIBAL CAMPOUT, proves once and for all that if someone attacks you while you're on the way to your camp site then you probably shouldn't camp at that camp site.  Still, Jon (director Jon McBride, who has hair like Andy Travis from WKRP) presses forward and should really feel awful about being the reason why his friends end up being eaten by the country-fried dumb Gene (Gene  Robbins) and Rich (Richard Marcus, a Laurence Olivier type with the same subtle features and fetus-eating that made the Oscar winner immortal). 

Plus, there's a mentally challenged brother wearing a pilot's helmet.

There are no night scenes in CANNIBAL CAMPOUT, because, according to the commentary, there wasn't any lighting to light. During my first viewing of CANNIBAL CAMPOUT, I thought that the film was just supposed to take place over several really long hours.  It's kind of confusing but it also educates viewers on why night scenes are so important.  But you know what?  BRIDESMAIDS could be nothing but night scenes and I'd still rather watch CANNBIAL CAMPOUT.

Here's another potential quote for Camp Motion Pictures to use in DVD release of a movie that's already been released on DVD: This is one campout I wouldn't mind inviting my sister to!

Also included is CAPTIVES. This marks the first shot at DVD for CAPTIVES, Gary Cohen's follow up to the SOV classic, VIDEO VIOLENCE.  It's described as a crime-thriller, but it's a crime-thriller in the sense that THE LAST HOUSE ON DEAD-END STREET is a crime thriller.  A sadistic ex-wife and her brothers drop in on her former husband's new woman and their ideal life. There's an incest theme running throughout and a B story about the husband's infidelity and drug use that never reaches anything close to a conclusion.  Then there's the stuff that I didn't like.  Laugh.

And it's Cohen's VIDEO VIOLENCE that should be anyone's solid-lock pick.  Gary isn't one for subtlety, as CAPTIVES' whole incest angle evidenced, and VIDEO VIOLENCE continues the tradition with even more fascinatingly inane outrageousness.  Yokels in a backwoods town video tape their grisly murders and return them to a video store owned by a husband and wife. 
It's TWO-THOUSAND MANIACS for the once vibrant VCR age.  Nevertheless, for a film that's so obviously pandering to gore hounds, it sure has a strong anti-violence message.  Is it satire?  Is it horror?  It could be a donut for all I care.  It's tits.  Gooey and rubbery, VIDEO VIOLENCE doesn't jolt you out of your seat, but its charm splendidly carries it through. 

Its sequel, VIDEO VIOLENCE 2, finds a couple of stand-out yokels, Howard (Bart Sumner) and Eli (Uke), producing their own show based entirely around snuff films.  The comedy takes center stage here and the satirical element is even more evident (women make their own snuff film to counteract the misogyny found in other snuff films).  At one point a man gets all FACES OF DEATH and is electrocuted until his eyes pop out.  VIDEO VIOLENCE 2 is no VIDEO VIOLENCE, but it does make you wonder just how easy it must be to get a woman to take off her top in a movie.

I have a soft spot for these films.  Sure, the acting can be uncomfortable and sometimes crap just happens in them, but, damn it, you could relate to them.  It's like you knew that filmmaker. 
And that was because you did.  It was the guy working at your video store.

Anyway, bravo, Camp! – Jonathan Plombon

THE BASEMENT: RETRO 80s HORROR COLLECTION is available from Amazon.

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