Dave Wain is one third of the creative team behind www.zombiehamster.com - an online feast of genre film analysis and leftfield retrospectives. Dave is also shortly heading to a bookstore near you as a contributor to the sequel to Empire of the B’s, the unrivalled tome which charts the career of B-movie mogul Charles Band. The second volume tracks Full Moon Pictures from its birth, right through to the present day, and along with his writing buddy Matty Budrewicz, Dave can quite comfortably profess to be the world’s foremost authority on the Evil Bong, Gingerdead Man and Killjoy franchises. His day job is the owner of the last movie rental store in North-West England, and he can be found on Twitter @thedavewain
The fact that Robert Forster is a legend is unassailable given the celluloid gold he’s starred in over the years, from Medium Cool to Alligator to Walking the Edge. Only once though has he positioned himself in the director’s chair, megaphone in hand, and that was for the little-seen Hollywood Harry. Scripted by Curt Allen, it plays out like a forties-style noir with a heavy dose of comedy as Forster, a private detective, is tasked with tracking down a missing heiress. Forster’s buddy, Joe Spinell, is awesome as a fellow P.I, while Frank Pesce pops up in a cameo and Forster’s daughter Kate features as his estranged niece who turns up wanting a place to stay. Distributed in the US by Cannon, it never made the leap across the Atlantic to UK video stores, nor has it graced DVD or Blu-ray yet. If you can find a copy, grab it, as it’s a rollicking humdinger that deserves a little love.
Originally conceived as an April Fools’ Day themed slasher by wild-eyed producer Dick Randall, Mark Ezra’s script eventually became Slaughter High, a pacey, clichéd, humdinger of a horror that will always carry an element of melancholy owning to the real-life suicide of the victim-turned-killer played by the late Simon Scuddamore. His geeky character Marty is bullied to point of no return, which despite culminating in an acid-fuelled demise, a girls’ washroom scene where he’s naked and held upside down for a swirlie is a pretty bleak scene to watch. Don’t let such a maudlin circumstances cloud the picture though, as Slaughter High is still an awesome Brit / American horror-hybrid, with dodgy accents aplenty and so many flaws that it would take you longer than the duration of the movie to pick them out. Zipping along at a fun pace with enough grue to please us horror hounds, its entertainment factor is sky high.
Albert Pyun’s films are hardly the poster child for mass distribution, but Vicious Lips entered a level of obscurity whereby even Dave Jay, author of the seminal Charles Band book Empire of the Bs, put out an IMDb appeal in the early noughties for a clue to the whereabouts of this Pyungasm of epic proportions. My own original VHS copy came from a dubious bootleg source that ripped it from the Australian release where it was called Lunar Madness. Admittedly this flat-looking second generation copy didn’t exactly serenade me with its brilliance, however, a few years later following its debut on the MGM HD channel, Vicious Lips became a whole new lip-smackingly lush entity. Opening with a vibrant neon credit sequence set to Sue Saad belting out Reach for Your Dreams, I make no apologies for Pyun’s big-haired, camp-tastic soundtrack being the core reason for me loving this so much. Filmed in seven days utilizing the leftover sets of Radioactive Dreams, the whole movie admittedly makes little sense. So just don your spandex pants and bouffant wig, and appreciate this insanity before it goes mainstream with an inevitable boutique Blu-ray release.
Sticking with Empire Pictures here, it’s fair to say I could have devoted the entirety of Underrated ’86 to this wonderful madcap studio by waxing lyrical about such unfairly maligned fare as Dreamaniac or Necropolis orBreeders (yes, even Breeders), but by limiting it to two Charlie Band productions, it would be sacrilege if I didn’t kneel before the altar of Eliminators. With the widest theatrical opening of Band’s career, just seven shy of a thousand cinemas, Peter Manoogian’s film didn’t exactly break box-office records with its four million dollar return. However, to dismiss any work of art based purely of its financial return would be to do so at your peril, as this slice of stylised B-movie comic-book craziness achieves the rare feat of matching the lurid artwork in its excessive insanity. Manoogian is possibly the most underrated director to have worked for Band, with the awesome Arena, Enemy Territory and Demonic Toys on his resume, while the scripting pair of Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo created such delights as Trancers, Zone Troopers and The Rocketeer. Add the on-screen brilliance of Andrew Prine, Denise Crosby, Patrick Reynolds and Roy Dotrice into the mix, and you have an hour and a half of eighties perfection. You can pick this up on a recently released Scream Factory Blu-ray double-bill with The Dungeonmaster, and I really do recommend doing that.
Namsploitation! Not exactly the most used of the ‘sploitation sub-genres, but these Filipino-shot pictures, that dovetail and occasionally overlap quite nicely with the macaroni combat movies of the same era seem to be an untapped bounty of cheesy goodness. While Junn P. Cabreira’s No Dead Heroes, Fabrizio De Angelis’ Cobra Mission or Bobby Suarez’s American Commandos all easily warrant a place here, Ferdinando Baldi’s Warbus just owns this niche group of DTV’ers for its sheer explosive-laden madness! In the film, a group missionaries and soldiers team up after becoming trapped in enemy territory, while a big ‘ol yellow school bus seems like their best way of escape. It’s pure unadulterated hedonistic action, with more bangs than a New Years’ Eve fireworks party. Confined to VHS for the last thirty years, any chance of seeing it in unadulterated 1080p seems fairly unlikely, but hey, stranger things have happened.
I sometimes survey all the discs I’ve picked up over the course of the last few years, and engage in some misty-eyed reminiscence over how I came to stumble across certain pick-ups. They all have a story with their own path of discovery, and there’s no denying that Brian’s site is responsible for its fair share, none more so than with Modern Girls, a film I only really discovered last fall with its Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber, yet its already firmly established itself as a picture I just couldn’t be without! It’s a simple tale of one evening spent around the mid-eighties LA club scene, but as Brian alluded to at the time, there’s something so addictive about this sub-genre of sharing a nocturnal experience with a group of people that you instantly connect with, who are just simply hanging out and learning a little bit about themselves. Along with Bryan Gordon’s Career Opportunities, Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan’s Can’t Hardly Wait, and Peter Sollet’s Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Modern Girls is ripe for losing yourself in amidst a gorgeous soundtrack and some finely written characters. Cynthia Gibb, Daphne Zuniga, Virginia Madsen and Clayton Rohner star, and you be hard-pressed to find a foursome more perfectly suited to this west-coast piece of perfection.