Michael Monterastelli is a writer for CHUD.com, where he reviews films and contributes a weekly column called Collecting VHS that features rare exploitation movies currently not available on DVD. You can also ‘like’ his Collecting VHS Facebook page and follow him on Twitter at @VHSnerd.
THE DEVILS (1971)
Directed by Ken Russell
This is director Ken Russell’s most powerful and resonating film. It takes place in 17th century France and tells the lurid tale of Father Urban Grandier (masterfully played by the always-intense Oliver Reed) who is trying to protect his city from a coup by a corrupt Cardinal. But when a sexually repressed, hunchbacked nun (Vanessa Redgrave killing it), who’s secretly in love with the handsome priest, accuses him of being a warlock who has possessed her, Father Grandier must defend himself on trial against a devil-obsessed jury spearheaded by his main opponent. This film goes into some very dark places and the ending is possibly one of the most soul-shattering examples of pure, vicious cruelty I’ve ever seen displayed on screen before. I can only imagine that the reason this film has not been given the Criterion treatment it deserves is because of its deeply controversial depictions of early Catholicism, however it’s an unquestionable masterpiece that’ll hit you square in your moneymaker.
CAST A DEADLY SPELL (1991)
Directed by Martin Campbell
A perfectly written, directed and acted film about a fantastical alternate 1948 Los Angeles where everyone uses magic. Well, almost everyone. The incredible Fred Ward plays Harry Phillip Lovecraft, a private eye with a very personal reason for abstaining from usage of the occult. He’s hired to recover a stolen book called the Necronomicon that can be used to control the world through supernatural means, as well as releasing the “Old Ones” upon our realm. This movie is a tremendous amount of fun. Think WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, but in a Lovecraftian universe. It also features a very young and sultry Julianne Moore in one of her first lead roles. The movie was produced by Gale Anne Hurd during the height of her powers and was one of Martin Campbell’s first features. Why it’s never been released on DVD is a mystery to me.
THE PEANUT BUTTER SOLUTION (1985)
Directed by Michael Rubbo
This bizarre children’s film from Canada MUST be released on DVD as soon as possible just so it can provide some closure to the generation of young adults it fucked up, whom all recall watching it as kids like they’re reliving a UFO abduction. The movie concerns an eleven-year-old boy named Michael who’s frightened by two old hobo ghosts in a haunted house. The next morning he wakes up to discover that all his hair has inexplicably fallen out of his head. The ghosts provide him with ingredients to a concoction that will make his hair grow back, but he must be careful not to use too much peanut butter or it will never stop growing. Of course, he uses way more than he should and his hair grows back so fast, it becomes life endangering. But before you can say, “What the FUCK?!” Michael is abducted by an evil ex-art teacher named The Signor along with most of the other children in town. They are forced to work as slave labor in a factory making magic paintbrushes out of Michael’s hair so The Signor can sell the paintings he creates with them to an unscrupulous art dealer. This is like what would happen if David Lynch directed a kid’s movie. Most of the people who saw this film when they were very young have claimed to suffer from nightmares for many years after and some believed that they fabricated its memory in a dream, because it’s never been released beyond the VHS that their parents once rented for them.
EXTERMINATOR 2 (1984)
Directed by Mark Buntzman
One of a few choice Cannon Group releases that have not yet been released on DVD, this is possibly (next to NINJA III: THE DOMINATION) one of the most desired simply for its pure gonzo lunacy. Robert Ginty returns as John Eastland, the flamethrower-wielding vigilante who’s declared war on the drug-dealing scum of New York. He burns one punk to a crisp after another, getting closer and closer to the sadistic gang leader X (Mario Van Peebles). This sequel to James Glickenhaus’ nihilistic revenge epic THE EXTERMINATOR is far less realistic and gritty than the original, however unlike its predecessor, this movie really delivers on the flamethrower carnage the first film only teased at. Ginty disposes of every bad guy in the movie by barbequing them alive and the only thing missing is a shot of him roasting marshmallows over the burning corpses.
KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK (1978)
Directed by Gordon Hessler
The TV movie that was made by the rock group KISS has never been officially released on DVD… and I’ll bet it never will if Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss have anything to do with it. The band stars as themselves in a ridiculous plot that concerns a mad scientist who has figured out a way to turn humans into robots in his laboratory within an amusement park. He decides to use the big KISS concert to unleash his devious plan upon the world, so it’s up to the band to use their superpowers to defeat the diabolical genius. Apparently, the guys were fed their lines while waiting for action, because they were all too spaced out on drugs to memorize anything. They didn’t even know how the film was supposed to end. At one point it’s rumored that Ace Frehley walked off the set in disgust and was replaced by an African-American set assistant who was thrown into the space man’s costume and makeup. The acting is so bad many of their lines are dubbed over. Still, this campy rock ‘n’ roll tragedy has cemented itself (for me) a permanent place in Kisstory.