Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Bleeding Skull Video - CARDS OF DEATH on VHS ""

Friday, June 13, 2014

Bleeding Skull Video - CARDS OF DEATH on VHS

CARDS OF DEATH was absolutely unknown to me until Zack Carlson was kind enough to shed a light on it in his latest film discoveries lists he's been kind enough to bestow upon me (for my long running blog series):
Zack Carlson , who is of course the author of the amazing book DESTROY ALL MOVIES  teamed up with Joseph Ziemba of Bleeding Skull (who authored a damned good movie book himself) to create their own boutique video label in Bleeding Skull! Video. CARDS OF DEATH is their premiere release and it's a beauty. A great deal of care has been taken in packaging and presentation and it bodes well for future releases. CARDS OF DEATH comes in an old-school style oversized VHS box that looks like something that was pulled off the shelf of a mom & pop video store in the late 1980s. Those of us that remember those video store shelves also recall the wonderful physicality of an old VHS box. The weight and heft made it feel like a movie could actually be contained on there. And the longer the movie, the heavier it was. It all made sense. I used to collect VHS with a burning passion, but in all honesty, my interest has waned in bit in recent years. More and more of the movies I've been searching for are finally arriving on DVD (albeit burn-on-demand disc in most cases) so my VHS collection has been thinned significantly. I realize that there are so many titles that are only on VHS, and there are many if them that I need in my collection. So many, I don't know where to begin. Then along comes a new boutique line like this and I can instantly see myself getting back into VHS collecting again. The care taken in the film selection and packaging are just too much for me to resist.
CARDS OF DEATH is one is those memorable and unique shot-on-video movies from a period when they were being cranked out with great frequency. It's something of a twisted serial killer/police procedural, but to describe it as such to anyone is to not do the experience of watching it any justice at all. I an't even really begin to explain the card games that are at the center of the movie as well. Suffice it to say that these games are played by dudes in rubber masks and they end in violence. Also memorable are the low-budget(yet effective) gore effects and the unsettling, atonal electronic synth score. 
There's just something about shot-on-video horror movies and their tendency to veer quickly off the road into WTF territory - never to return. Perhaps the budgets being as low as they must have been really allowed for filmmakers to go into experimental territory that celluloid movies might never touch on. Or perhaps the cheapness allowed for many many inexperienced filmmakers to attempt to make a coherent narrative and fail in a big way. The results though are almost always consistently entertaining though. And there's this very special alchemy of elements that come together in a production like this (acting, music, off-the-wall plot etc) that make this kind of movie hard to imitate nowadays. I'm sure the original directors of these movies would have a hard time re-creating what they did themselves back then even if given all the same tools and actors. As much as these movies are certainly not for everyone, I would be remiss if I didn't express some bit of regret that we no longer seem to live in a time when movies don't have to make sense. Sure, there will always be experimental narratives and art films, but I'm talking about really out-there and odd genre fare. I really do believe that the VHS boom allowed for so many oddball genre movies to be made, especially in the shot-on-video arena. Take another movie along the lines of CARDS OF DEATH like say SLEDGEHAMMER (which is even trip pier than C.O.D.). I've really seen very few films I can compare to that one. CARDS OF DEATH is a very singular experience in the same way. In fact, having been in a mode of watching fairly. "Normal" movies recently, my brain was really not prepared for this one. I had to watch it twice in my best attempts to take it all in. It may be obvious, but the visual texture of a shot-on-video movie, especially in the horror/gore genre is something that affects the brain in this different way. When we see gore in this movie (and SOV horror in general) the video images gives it this extra layer of immediacy. It can often show some flaws in effects shots to shoot this way, but sometimes it creates a visceral sensation unlike anything in a much more polished film. There is of course a parallel that can be drawn between this kind of thing and gonzo pornography in that both were often shot on video because of its cost effective nature. That parallel gives a certain edge to the voyerism in this movie (which also has its share of voyeristic sexual stuff too). All in all, CARDS OF DESTH is a fascinating dark universe to step into, but one that I can confidently say will be one of the more memorable viewing experiences a certain kind of movie-watcher will have this year.
To order CARDS OF DEATH - check out Mondo's site on June 24th!

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