As the first title on my list says, here we go again. I’m very proud that Rupert asked me back again to do some more listing fun, and this time it’s a subject near and dear to my heart. When I was a kid, the magic of movies on VHS seemed endless, and being from the first generation of kids who got to take movies home and watch them at my leisure, I think has a lot to do with why I started my website and the passions I have in my life. Where I used to dig around in rental shops for movies I haven’t seen, now that quest entails thrift shops, swap meets, and garage sales. I can smell a stack of tapes at a hundred yards, and the scent of whatever VHS the pile could contain is intoxicating like few things are. It’s my pleasure to share with you a few of my favorites (in no particular order) most of which (but sadly, not all) I’ve managed to mine up in my own quest for VHS gems.
10. Here We Go Again (1942) This is one for all the Fibber McGee and Molly fans out there. I’m the last one? Fair enough, well some people are bound to remember Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen, and this film finds the radio ventriloquist (and boy, he shoulda have stayed on the radio as it is much easier to not move your lips when no one can see them) and his pals/ props Charlie and Mortimer Snerd as they have a chance encounter with the McGees, also big time radio stars, at a mountain resort. It’s got slapstick, rapid fire bickering, and even a dwarf dressed up like a ventriloquist’s dummy chopping wood. Yeah, creepy. Even creepier, McCarthy and Snerd have their own IMDB entries. Now how does that work?
9. The Final Sanction (1990) Mining the same ground as Robot Jox, released the same year, The Final Sanction boils down the cold war to head to head battle, and what heads they are. Instead of fighting an all out war, Russia and the United States each decide to pick a champion for a fight to the death to decide the fate of the world. You know, because that’s the kind of thing you do. Repping for America is the one and only Ted Prior and for the Ruskies, the only chin that can make Bruce Campbell tremble in fear, Robert “Maniac Cop” Z’Dar. I really don’t feel like I need to say another word about this movie because if the premise and cast don’t convince you, well, you’re probably dead inside. Just sayin’.
8. The Plumber (1979) Ever have someone working in your house that you’re just sure probably had sex with his dead mother before he started work today? Well, then this is the movie for you… or not depending on how you look at it. Peter Weir, oh he of Witness and Dead Poet’s Society fame, wrote and directed this tense little thriller about a creepy plumber who just can’t seem to get his work done. The question becomes, is he hanging around because he’s not a very good plumber or does he have something more sinister in mind for the resident? Weir made a couple freaky little Australian films before coming over and getting classy in The States, notably this and The Cars that Ate Paris, and it’s a shame that The Plumber has never gotten a DVD release. The way it plays with the slasher formula and expectations has yet to be recreated in any other film, and it both pokes fun at the genre as well as makes for an excellent tribute.
7. Robbers of the Sacred Mountain (1982) Starring Simon MacCorkindale a.k.a Manimal, who looked uncannily like Aaron Eckhart at the time, stars in this cut rate Raiders of the Lost Arc rip-off also known as Falcon’s Gold. This is despite the fact that there is no gold in the film as I recall. It concerns an archeologist heading into the jungle in search of strange and powerful stones from space which can be used to make an incredibly strong laser. This is because lasers are cool. MacCorkindale stars as a journalist who tags along for the story but ends up more deeply involved. Ten times better than Crystal Skull with 100% less fridge nuking, Robbers of the Sacred Mountain is a fun little adventure romp that hangs its hat on just enough action and adventure to warrant a DVD release.
6. Disturbed (1990) When I took my VHS copy of Disturbed to Horror Hound Weekend for Malcolm McDowell to sign it, I had no expectations at all. So imagine my surprise when Mr. McDowell saw the name across the top of the tape, and, more animatedly than he had been seconds before signing yet another Clockwork Orange poster, looked up, pointed right at me, and said, “Disturbed! You must be one sick mother.” This is a moment I will cherish all my life and his quotation I would like emblazoned on my tombstone. It doesn’t get better than Alex calling you a “sick mother”, but I digress. McDowell stars here as the head of an insane asylum, but while treating his newest patient, it starts to become unclear if she’s the crazy one or if the doctor is slipping into insanity. There’s also the chance that he’s always been nuts. Either way, it’s McDowell, so it’s easy to believe and he is in surprisingly good form. Full of twists and turns, the flick keeps the viewer guessing as few films do. So if liking Disturbed makes me a “sick mother” then so be it.
5. Son of Dracula (1974) Ringo Starr of the Beatles plays Merlin the Magician. Do I really need to say more? Alright, singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson plays the title role (Well, technically his name is Count Downe), and he sings a few tunes about it as well notably his tune “Daybreak” and his big hit “Without You“. Filmed by trash auteur Freddie Francis, Son of Dracula makes almost no sense, but honestly, it doesn’t have to. There’s something about the Count trying to cure his vampirism, and Dr. Frankenstein is going to help him with the process though secretly he is in cahoots with Val Helsing to destroy the vampire. Made in what must have been a haze of marijuana smoke and cocaine dust, the cohesiveness of the plot is not as wonderful as the hammy, crazy performances by the rockers. Keith Moon, Peter Frampton, and John Bonham all appear along the way in cameo roles, but the film belongs to Nilsson. I just can’t live if livin’ is without this flick getting a proper DVD release.
4. Remote Control (1988) There’s nothing better than a VHS where VHS are the scourge of the world, and no where was this done better than in Remote Control. While sadly it isn’t a documentary about the MTV game show, it does star Kevin Dillon as a video store clerk who uncovers an alien plot to control the world via Video Home System Tapes. Not any tape, of course, but specifically a tape of a 50s era cheesy sci-fi flick, exactly the sort of thing I would have wanted to take home from the rental place in 1988. What I didn’t ever take home was Remote Control, but after I saw it a few years ago, this cheese-fest became an instant classic. Remote Control could have won a place on the “Bad Movies I Love” list, but I’m glad that I left this VHS-centric choice for this list of movies I wish were on DVD.
3. Fair Game (1986) The Most Dangerous Game is a classic story, and it is one which has been retold time after time in the movies. While Hard Target and Surviving the Game tie as my favorites, Fair Game definitely comes in a close second. The Australian production stars Cassandra Delaney as Jessica, the owner and operator of a kangaroo sanctuary. When she catches three poachers on her land, they decide hunting ‘roos won’t be as much fun as hunting Jessica. What they don’t count for is how much ass she’s going to kick. Fair Game plays around with the gal on the run premise for a minute, but the real fun comes when Jessica strikes back taking the fight right to the hunters. More often than not Australian movies are fun, and this is among the most fun there are.
2. Hands of Steel (1986) As fans of the GGTMC know, Sergio Martino’s futuristic action film involving an arm wrestling cyborg and John Saxon wielding a shoulder mounted laser is a certifiable classic. Starring Daniel Green, who played Elvira’s beau in Mistress of the Dark, as Paco Quarac, Hands of Steel is nutty, silly, and crazy, crazy watchable. I defy you to find a fan of trashy, cult fare who won’t love this, but if you find one, be suspicious, probably a double agent of some sort. Anyhow, what else can I say? How about some arm wrestling over snakes? What about George Eastman covered in flop sweat in a dirty tank top? What about putting this on DVD folks? Please?
1. The Girl Hunters (1963) There have been many men who have played Mike Hammer, Stacey Keach, Darrin McGavin, and Ralph Meeker just to name a few. However close these gentlemen got, they never really hit the exact mark of who Mickey Spillaine’s Mike Hammer was. For that you needed one man, the only man who really knew, you needed Mickey Spillaine as Mike Hammer. I’ve tried to come up with other occasions where a novelist eventually played his own character, but you don’t see a lot of book authors who make the leap to the screen. The only question of Spillaine’s acting is “how did they not make a dozen of these films.” The hard nosed writer perfectly fills the shoes of his hard boiled detective, and director Roy Rowland, who also helmed the cult weirdness The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, fills the film with great action balanced with heavy late-Noir. More than a curiosity, The Girl Hunters is an excellent example of a film that bridges the gap between the Noir crime thrillers and the stylish capers of the 60s. Not only was The Girl Hunters not on DVD it was barely on VHS with only one hard to find issuing available.
Ocean Drive Weekend (1986) It was on my “Bad Movies I Love” list so I left it off, but this film on DVD is my holy grail.
Banzai Runner (1987) Dean Stockwell gets his Fast and the Furious on, but sadly, it has been issued on a long out of print DVD.
Fade To Black (1980) Again, released on DVD, but OOP.
Hearts of Fire (1987) Again on my “Bad Movies” list, but Dylan, Rupert Everett, a fist fight, classic I tell you, classic.
Cocksucker Blues (1972) This Rolling Stones documentary has never been officially released as far as I know (snippits can be seen in the documentary Stones in Exile released alongside a remaster of Exile on Main Street), but I wish it would come to light in any form. Featuring everyone from Dick Cavett and Truman Capote to Andy Warhol and Stevie Wonder alongside Mick, Keith, and the boys, C.S. Blues not only shows a slice of a band out of control, but also an era. C.S. Blues and Dylan’s Renaldo and Clara both deserve the DVD treatment as slices of musical film history.
Sons of Steel (1989) This Aussie picture was never even released on VHS in the US which is really too bad. A post-apocalyptic, hard rock musical starring Black Alice as Black Alice the pro-peace agitator who time travels to the future to check out the post-post-apocalyptic world and sing some more songs.
Thanks again to Rupert for having me in today to talk tapes with you folks. Calling this segment VHS gems seems completely appropriate to me. Just like panning for a hint of sparkle amongst the grist, those of us who live to uncover movies and to hunt VHS are always looking for that sparkle. For dozens of unheard of titles found, only a few of them will have the quality, the shine, and the brilliance of a real VHS gem.