31 October 2012

The Burning

It's always been my policy to avoid posting horror movies during October since everyone else already has that genre pretty well beaten to death. But since I had to do this one more or less on assignment, I'll throw it out there, on Halloween day no less, just to contradict myself.

United States - 1981
Director - Tony Maylam

Mostly forgotten until it’s re-release on DVD in 2007, The Burning has earned a minor reputation among horror enthusiasts. It is true that the slasher genre, begun definitively with 1978’s Halloween but presaged in the stalker thriller movies of the foregoing decade, has a limited appeal. But after thirty years and numerous remakes, it’s much easier to look at the originals as ‘classics.’

So why is it that despite being one of the earliest entries in the genre, The Burning was until recently a relic? Despite a relatively large budget, it suffered from the typical maladies; bad acting and a predictable story. In fact, The Burning is a near copy of its predecessor, 1980’s Friday the 13th. Instead of being murdered by a protective mother, this passel of summer campers are killed by a vengeful groundskeeper hideously burned in a pre-credit prank. 1981 was probably too early for there to be a slasher formula per se, but not for lack of The Burning trying.

That’s what is appealing about this film however. It doesn’t try to out-think itself, it puts on no pretensions or fancy twists to keep things surprising because there was not yet a need to do so. It’s important to remember that just a week before this film, Friday the 13th Part 2 was released followed by Holloween 2 in October of that year. By the end of the decade the three major slasher franchises would have spawned a total of fifteen sequels and countless knockoffs. In retrospect I see The Burning as one of the most honest of its cohort for it has nothing to hide and goes straight for the guts.

This rad poster comes from Phantom City Creative

24 October 2012

Rage of Honor

Rage of Honor
United States - 1987
Director - Gordon Hessler
Media Home Entertainment, 1987, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 32 minutes

22 October 2012

Rage and Honor

United States - 1992
Director - Terence H. Winkless
Columbia Tristar Home Video, 1992, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 33 minutes

19 October 2012

Rental Store - Video Update, Texas

I found this Video Update label on my copy of the vintage indie flick The Alien Factor, but something wasn't clicking. Hadn't I seen a Video Update label on another tape, and hadn't I posted it? Yes I had, HERE. That label was on a copy of Miami Horror from a Mukilteo, Washington store.

As it turns out, Video Update was one of the many franchise chains acquired in the 90's and early 00's by the Movie Gallery corporation which also purchased the late Hollywood Video name and the Movie Scene name. Movie Gallery went out of business as a brick and mortar in 2010 but continues to operate as an entertainment news aggregate site.


Director – Clint Eastwood

Starring Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman, Unforgiven is possibly the ideal candidate for a retrospective because the film itself is a re-assessment of western mythology and something of a protest against its contemporaries.

Mainstream film of the 1990’s saw the ascendance of two extremes; graphic violence and political correctness. The first, often in the service of realism, combined with the latter to produce moralistic and easily digested stories which looked “real” and tugged at the heartstrings, but avoided the complexities of history and culture. The western genre in particularly has long had a penchant for historical romanticism in the service of moral simplicity, but Unforgiven intentionally muddies those waters. Despite ample opportunity it avoids extreme violence, but more importantly, virtually all of its characters are morally ambiguous.

The film pits Will (Eastwood) a reformed gunfighter now sober and raising pigs, against Little Bill (Hackman) another retired gunslinger turned small town Sherriff. Neither of them is entirely comfortable in their newfound roles and the film explores the complex mix of guilt and pride that leads each man to act in completely different ways. In generic terms, it is still very much a man-movie (the female characters lack depth), but the stakes are significantly less concrete than usual.

There is much symbolism in the film, from Wills’ pigs’ “fever,” to Little Bills’ leaky hand-built house, all of which push back against any simple reading of Unforgiven. Even the title begs the question, “whom,” for contrary to what other Oscar winning films of that decade may have implied, there are no easy answers.

(This review was used as a pitch to a local newspaper for a film review column concerned with independent movie houses and theaters like The Grand Illusion Cinema and Northwest Film Forum)

15 October 2012

Silent Night, Deadly Night 3

United States - 1988
Director - Monte Hellman
International Video Entertainment, 1988, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 28 minutes

The third installment in this infamous franchise picks up sortof where the second film left off. Ricky, the younger brother of the original killer having eyebrowed his way to vengeance in the last film is now (played by a new actor, Bill Mosely) recovering from traumatic and near fatal cranio-cerebral obliteration at the hands of the police. His doctor, a highly unorthodox man, has installed a plastic dome on Rickys’ head in order that we might be grossed out by the sight of sloshing fluid.

Alas, said fluid is the only opportunity for merriment in this otherwise trying film. Acclaimed director Monte Hellman, the Corman-school auteur behind such great existential films as Two Lane Blacktop and The Cockfighter directed this puzzling digression into banality. I really want to blame somebody else for this film, but Hellman was at least partly responsible for writing the script, and has asserted that while not his best movie, this is his best work.

To be honest I suppose Silent Night, Deadly Night III does bear some measure of its director’s mark, but Hellman appears reluctant to make a horror movie. And who can blame him. He’s being asked to pick up the pieces of a terrible sequel and somehow renew a squandered franchise. Many of the elements of his own road-movie narratives are here, but they’re hampered by horror standards Hellman seems forced to include. Nor are the horror standards; Final Girl, psychic connection with killer, mad doctor, gritty practical cop; ever given much room to really breathe. I’m not exactly a cheerleader for formula, but I can appreciate it when an exploitation film, like home cooking, gives you the predictable comfort you crave.

That seems to me to be exactly the opposite of Hellman’s proclivity for traveling and searching films which leave questions unanswered and often unasked. Silent Night, Deadly Night III is caught between this hodgepodge of incomplete ideas, both counterintuitive and predictable yet fully neither. I’m not going to defend the ramparts of genre exclusivity and argue that the two should remain separate. That the film is coherent is remarkable, but a success it isn’t.

12 October 2012

Sisters of Death

United States - 1977
Director - Gustaf Unger & Gary Messenger (IMDB credits Joseph Mazzuca)
Interglobal Home Video, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 27 minutes

I recall being sorely disappointed with this film, and not just because of the shitty print on this Interglobal tape. I say this about too many of the old boxes I post here, but I should probably watch this one again. That said, I probably never will.
What I do find really cool about this box is the bad art. I swear I've seen that exact style of art somewhere on another box but I can't place it.

08 October 2012

05 October 2012

The Crawlers

A.K.A. The Creepers
United States - 1992
Director - Martin Newlin (Joe D'Amato)
Columbia Tristar Home Video, 1993, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 34 minutes

Nice airbrushed cover guys. The Crawlers is ostensibly a "sequel" or spiritual continuation of the Troll II ethos, but it's missing something. The supernatural lunacy that it's predecessor possessed is gone, and in it's place a tale of toxic waste. No matter how topical you get, there is no substitute for sheer nonsense.

01 October 2012


United States – 1984
Director – Richard Tuggle

Following a decade of race-riots, hippies and touchy-feely progressive politics, 1971's Dirty Harry, was the reactionary tale of a white cop incensed at a justice system that cared more for so called “rights” and “due process” than it did for the “law.” The film was a huge hit spawning several sequels and its own genre of reactionary angry-white-male films. (Reasserting masculinity after the ‘emasculating’ loss in Vietnam.) Poor guys.

At the same time the Feminist movement and yes, rape revenge films are forcing the previously taboo subject of sexual violence into the public discourse in low-budget films like Ms. 45 and I Spit on Your Grave. In 1983 just a few years after I Spit on Your Grave, the fourth installment of Dirty Harry, Sudden Impact is released. The main character is also named Jennifer and also a rape victim out for revenge. But instead of encouraging us to sympathize with her, this Jennifer is painted as a criminal for operating outside the confines of legality. She is after all a she and thus not allowed to engage in the same extralegal punitive justice as our hero Harry.

Thus, facing criticism for yet another reactionary plot in which a rugged man of action saves everyone else in the service of the status quo, Eastwood decides to get behind a clone script engineered to explicitly address the issue of his stone-age out-of-touchness.

Enter 1984’s Tightrope in which Eastwood plays (Dirty Harry playing) Wes Block, a callous and sarcastic New Orleans cop on the case of a serial rapist/murderer. Great and crude effort is made to give Harry, err…Wes, a veneer of empathy. A single father of two young daughters (one Eastwood’s own,) Wes also becomes romantically involved with Beryl (Genevieve Bujold), a womens’ self-defense teacher and rape-counselor who doesn’t wear a bra. Although he never acts it, the mere proximity of females (something Harry generally lacked) is meant to give Wes a mild guilt-by-association "sensitivity."

But Tightrope's message is more than simple retrenchment, it is an attempt to work out the dimensions of the "New Man" predicated by feminism's demands and successes. The film intentionally draws a parallel between Wes and the killer by confusing their psychology, by making them sides of the same coin.

The clearest indicator to my mind is the use of handcuffs as a motif of power and submission. Used for domination in both sex games and the law, their repeated appearance in the film (and promotional materials) highlights the way that public and private power are often intertwined and mutually justifying. Struggling with these conflicting notions of morality, Wes suffers from nightmares in which he is the killer misogynist strangling the "liberated" Beryl. “I’m gonna get you motherfucker!” Wes yells after the killer violates his home. Sure, he’s yelling at the absent killer (an ex-cop no less), but Wes is looking at himself in the mirror, implying that his hypothetical good side is determined to catch and contain his bad side.

Although it makes a strong case for the possibility of shared power, that is, over none-but-ones-self, Tightrope is bound by the conventions of genre and its star's image. The struggle is a private one, and on the surface Wes must play the same old Harry. When he visits Beryl's self-defense class and she knees a practice dummy in the balls, it mechanically groans and sticks its tongue out while Wes grins bemusedly. And as if to demonstrate the one-sidedness of this whole paradigm shift,  Beryl is attacked but fails to employ any of her own training, instead feebly stabbing the killer with a pair of sewing scissors before Wes comes to her aid. Woman it would seem, is still bound by the traditional rules of conduct even if man isn't.

LVA Status Update

For anyone keeping track it may have become obvious that Lost Video Archive has lately not been updated as regularly and routinely as in the past.

For that I am sorry, but I have good reason.

Over the last six months I've begun the process of applying to various graduate schools. It's a long and harrowing process that involves taking tests, writing convincingly about what you want to study for the next six years, and reading a lot. A lot.

And I've been hanging art shows which takes more time than I would like even though I enjoy painting and drawing as much as I enjoy watching/writing about odd films.

As a result, you may see entries that do not follow our usual format of obscure and/or VHS only. Sometimes I am inspired to write about other things, and sometimes I write for other publications (ghasp!)

So, while things are crazy here at HQ, Lost Video Archive may be a little sporadic, but I love doing this, so I will always be here. Stick around, it will always be interesting. And if you want to see the reading list (there's some good shit,) just let me know.