The Bottom Shelf: Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Blood And Black Lace and Evil Aliens

It's a bumper special this month, featuring evil children, cursed museum exhibits and, well, hookers with chainsaws...

With election fever having clogged the country’s airwaves, everywhere you looked there are high-vis tabard imposters gurning at cameras, jolly racists on political-themed pub crawls and good-natured buffoons struggling to eat in a visually appealing manner. You’d think, then, that this would be enough grotesquery for now. Of course, you’d be wrong, as we’re about to find out.

Surely everyone’s first choice for a parliamentary candidate if he were eligible and willing, Gunnar Hansen (AKA Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw films) this month combines forces with various topless models and a tongue-in-cheek bargain-basement Bogart in the subtly-titled epic we all know and love, 1988’s Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, on Bluray and DVD.

Fred Olen Ray, the acclaimed director of Supershark, Bikini Time Machine and Voodoo Dollz (note the all-important ‘z’) has cobbled together something that should have been unendurably bad but in fact turns out to be somehow almost wonderful. And obviously terrible, too, in case that needed pointing out.

The plot revolves around a chainsaw worshipping cult (not another one) that is gradually bumping punters off willy-nilly (excuse the pun), whilst our hero, private dick (sorry) Jack Chandler (Jay Richardson), investigates/ogles many a bare breast and produces endless laugh-out-loud overly literal one-liners. Case in point: “I’d stumbled into the middle of an evil, insidious cult of chainsaw-worshiping maniacs. I had to wonder if we’d let our religious freedom go too far in this country.” The brilliantly bizarre addition of Return of the Living Dead star Linnea Quigley’s workout video as an added extra simply completes 88 Films’ impressive package (chortle).

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If we were doing bad film Top Trumps (quick! someone get on Kickstarter!), Polish writer-director Ulli Lommel would sadly lose this round in terms of his 1980 slasher The Boogeyman‘s relatively low boob quotient, though the bodycount factor would hopefully claw a few points back, thankfully. Not to be confused with the Lucy Lawless surprise noughties hit Boogeyman (which we really mustn’t talk about), this Halloweeny curiosity sadly also fails in that it is actually pretty good.

With the splendidly silly premise (an evil mirror causing problems for a small town) presented in a gloriously straight-faced way, we get the John Carpenterisms of cool synth music, Steadicam and childhood sexuality all thrown into the mix alongside fascinating Freudian subtext about trauma and recovery. Oh, and a neat line in someone doing that shiny thing with a bit of mirror because it’s, well, quite a cheap effect, we can only assume. Hilariously overblown climax aside, this Bluray eighties video nasty (thought it’s not really that ‘nasty’) tiptoes dangerously close to being genuinely great.

Sticking with supernatural silliness pulled off with surprising aplomb, Juno Mak’s chop-sockey-zombie-romp Rigor Mortis slow-mo kicks its way onto DVD this month. Essentially a darker homage to East Asian comedy-horrors of the eighties and in particular the hit Mr Vampire franchise, Mak’s glossy production features a number of original cast members of that very movie reuniting for the tale of a suicidal faded film star (Mr Vampire star Chin Siu-ho playing himself) battling his own and a whole host of new demons.

Overflowing with Matrix-style action sequences, gory violence and genuinely creepy ghostly encounters, this postmodern combination of martial arts, slick special effects and effortlessly cool direction from Revenge: A Love Story director Mak provides all the requisite thrills you’d expect.

More low key but just as stylish, Yasuharu Hasebe’s influential sixties Yakuza epic, Massacre Gun, which gets a full limited edition Arrow makeover on DVD and Bluray, offers a welcome classy breather between the endless clumsy gore (don’t worry, it’s still violent, ok?) we’re more accustomed to and an existential mob classic to boot.

Set to an evocative Naozumi Yamamato smoky jazz score and with a painfully glum performance from Branded To Kill’s Jo Shishido, this brutal tale of divided loyalties pretty much set the template for a whole genre of crime thriller, with striking set pieces still capable of catching the imagination.

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A different type of gunplay comes up in Tonino Valerii’s spaghetti western, Day of Anger, up next, which also gets a special edition release on DVD and Bluray this month from Arrow. Starring the great Lee Van Cleef on top squinty-eyed-poor-mannered form following the Sergio Leone Dollars movies, and reuniting him with Leone’s former assistant Valerii, this lush restoration sees our gunman hero teach a small town street cleaner (Guiliano Gemma) the ways of the west as they face off against his enemies.

With some beautiful landscapes, bluntly effective direction from Valerii and Riz Ortolani’s rock-influenced score evoking the very best of sixties soundtracks, this intelligent western frankly doesn’t deserve to be reviewed alongside the likes of Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (no offence, hooker enthusiasts).

The third of Arrow’s special edition releases this month sees Valerii’s countryman, the iconic Mario Bava, make a welcome return to this blog with his 1964 classic Blood and Black Lace on Bluray. The sort of film you can imagine being pored over in film school, this theatrically colourful early giallo movie sees a fashion house plagued by a series of increasingly vicious murders and a mysterious, Rorschach-esque unidentified villain.

There is a telling moment early on in Bava’s film when a character mentions he is not a “sex-crazed maniac”; of course, sex is in fact everywhere in this movie, from the age-old sex and death double act horrors are so reliable in perpetuating, through to subtle and unsubtle phallic imagery (fountains, anyone?) found throughout.

Bava’s silky smooth camerawork works brilliantly alongside Ubaldo Terzano’s striking cinematography for a dazzling journey into the subconscious and a gloriously multi-layered tits ’n’ gore-fest that, as with Massacre Gun earlier, inspired a whole genre of cult cinema.

Now for something that has likely inspired nothing other than the mildest interest: the lumbering nineties relic, erm, The Relic, which receives a generally uncalled for re-release on DVD. The perennial VHS seen in many a supermarket charity cage/market stall/skip, this version is crisply restored, genre legend Stan Winston’s effects looking more dribbly/ Alien-esque than ever.

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Initially a Gale Ann Hurd backed medium-budget Hollywood blockbuster that bombed at the box office, it’s easy to see why. With a plot and script more suited to cheapo b-movie territory (South American museum piece brings with it something sinister to big city USA), at times, The Relic is just plain weird.Bizarrely over-horrible supporting characters abound, from the gruff coroner who deals with a decapitation by quipping “Don’t you just hate it when they’ll only ever take head and not give it?” to scientist Penelope Ann Miller’s unnecessarily sleazy colleague just begging to get got.

But that’s not to say the headliners are any better – Miller somehow manages to make screaming in terror seem really, really difficult whilst the bland Tom Sizemore (for this writer at least) induces a yearning for his brilliant creepy trucker role in sitcom It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia instead of this stale stoicism. Entertaining sewer massacre/disaster movie crossover aside (yeah, you read that right), sadly, The Relic never quite lives up to its ridiculous B-movie promise.

A much more satisfying subterranean, er, stumble, comes this month in the form of the miners-trapped underground chiller Beneath, from Ben Ketai, the director of various 30 Days Of Night spin-offs, and starring The Lawnmower Man’s Jeff Fahey.

You know the drill (warning: more puns to follow). The minute the claustrophobia of being stuck in a confined space kicks in, everyone goes bloody mental and dodgy stuff starts to happen (you’ve been to a Harvester on a Saturday afternoon, I’m sure). Well, the same happens here, alright?

With stock characters the likes of which Michael Bay would be proud of (was anybody else totally certain that Jeff Fahey was in Armaggedon, by the way? He’s not, for anyone asking), this doesn’t really matter when the creepy direction and naturally scary setting forge together this well.

It seems that not a month goes by without yet another John Carpenter re-release. Sometimes, we get the glorious (They Live, on shelves in March) and at other times, we get this – Village Of The Damned on DVD, or to give it it’s correct title, John Carpenter’s Village Of The Damned. Note the name of the director used to sell an otherwise forgettable product and you catch my drift.

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By no means a really bad film (that honour goes to John Carpenter’s Vampires, again with his moniker splashed around like a Starbucks logo), the much-loved filmmaker’s take on The Midwich Cuckoos isn’t a particularly enjoyable one either.

An entirely weird cast including Kirstie Alley as a government scientist, Mark Hamill as a preacher and Crocodile Dundee’s girlfriend (I forget her name) does its best not to ruin John Wyndham’s classic tale, but, a few cool death scenes aside, the whole thing just stinks of late-period Carpenter decay.

Somehow, then, we finish on a high, with the unlikely contender of British film-maker Jake West’s (Razorblade Smile) 2005 comedy horror Evil Aliens, getting a ten year anniversary DVD re-release. Starring everyone’s favourite cult TV presenter-turned minor film star Emily Booth stretching herself, playing a cult TV presenter in search of aliens in the Welsh countryside, this fast-paced, wonderfully self-aware film is, surprisingly, a blast throughout.

Packed with Spaced-style references (and Spaced-style snappy direction from West) to the likes of Bad Taste, Day of the Dead and even Klingon fighting techniques from TV’s Star Trek, we’re also treated to quintessentially British moments, from Red Dwarf’s Norman Lovett in a great cameo, through to obligatory sheep-shagging jokes and even, madly, The Wurzels.

With scattergun comedy more scattered than the remains of a combine harvester attack, this is an often hit and miss affair, though you can’t go far wrong with lines like “You and your alien mates are fucked”, surely.

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