Paul is a longtime friend of Rupert Pupkin Speaks and has contributed many lists over the years and you should read them all:
A largely unseen documentary on LA hip hop at the dawn of the 1980s never proved as popular as most other hip hop docs, possibly because it was a made-for-TV production that never had proper video distribution. Director/producer Topper Carew, who also made D.C. Cab that same year, offers up a kind of a west coast companion to Style Wars (1983), where the focus is breakdancing rather than graffiti. In some ways it's fairly typical—interviews with breakdancers intersperse with extended performance sequences over tracks by Ice-T and Egyptian Lover. Scene regulars Boogaloo Shrimp and Shabba Doo are front and centre, which helps indicate how much this is a clear precursor to the following year’s breakdance classic Breakin’ (1984)—this earlier effort features many of the same songs, faces and locations that show up in Cannon’s cash-in; it’s almost Breakin’ without the clumsy plot. Plus you can watch Ice-T try to break, and that’s reason enough to watch.
I can’t believe I missed the rediscovery of this lost bit of Ed Wood arcana in 2012, especially since it’s a stunner for fans like myself who had given up hope that any further work would surface that’s as purely strange as his 1950s masterpieces. A 30-minute TV pilot intended to launch an anthology series called Portraits of Terror, it’s breathtakingly otherworldly and sparse, perhaps closest to his once-unreleased stunner Night of the Ghouls (1958). Wood regular Duke Moore stumbles around an empty theatre, clumsily pantomiming along to narrator Dudley Manlove’s breathlessly told Woodian tale (“her hand moves… beckoning me to return… return! Return… to what?!”). Wood, for his part, seems more interested in Doris Wishman-like cutatways to random theatrical equipment. The story, such as it is, has an aged actor hanging around a theatre after hours in order to locate some unknown object he feels drawn to. It’s always impressive how Wood concocts something out of almost literally nothing, resulting in a weirdly intense mood piece that feels closer in spirit to the SOV horror boom than anything else in Wood’s esteemed catalogue. I’ve watched it several times already this year and will return to it regularly.
Director Barbara Loden stars in her only film, an almost lost cinema verite thriller about a housewife who abandons her former family and meets Mr. Dennis, a small-time criminal who is robbing a bar. This striking and cynical tale focuses on Wanda and Mr. Dennis’ disaffected relationship as they partner up and drift through a rural Pennsylvania dotted with gloomy Woolworths, shabby motels and dingy taverns, shambling towards a planned bank heist she has agreed to help with. Would it be crazy of me to compare this Frederick R. Friedel’s Date with a Kidnapper (1976)? Probably, but I’m going to do it anyways—despite less reliance on exploitation tropes, Wanda takes on the same kind of crime narrative, only from a staunchly feminist perspective. And there’s a similar distinctive downbeat regional flair that cements the film as a fascinating artifact, as Loden painfully uncovers a slice of ramshackle sleaziness at the heart of the American experience. Loden was married to Hollywood legend Elia Kazan, who reportedly helped with scripting, but this is purely her perspective here, her sole cinematic statement before she passed away in 1980, and it’s not like much else released at the time.
The world premiere of James Bryan’s “lost “1990s SOV horror film Jungle Trap at this year’s Fantastic Fest was a happy surprise in many ways. First there was the realization that people were watching a James Bryan flick in a theatre setting, a treatment rarely afforded to the director’s other films. In addition, Bleeding Skull Video’s reconstruction and restoration of the raw footage—which had gathered dust in Bryan’s garage for more than a decade—turned out to be almost indistinguishable from the Real McCoy, from the editing to the era-appropriate synth score. But the best part was that the film itself ends up being one of the director’s better works, more along the lines of Don't Go in the Woods (1981) and Lady Streetfighter (1981) than Run Coyote Run (1988). Few SOV horror filmmakers were as ambitious as to try and set a film in an abandon, haunted hotel in the South American jungle, but this one pulls it off (well, mostly), in a strange tale of lost compacts, decapitations, and (of course) Renee Harmon.
A Thief in the Night II: A Distant Thunder (1978)
Finally you too can have all the fun of sitting in a pew in an itchy suit while relaxing in front of your home entertainment setup! Before the Left Behind series made a minor splash in church basements across the heartlands, Donald W. Thompson’s low-budget A Thief in the Night quadrology told the sad saga of post-Rapture America where the virtuous have ascended to Heaven and the remaining suckers have to find some way to get by while the world descended into amoral destruction under the anti-Christ. While the first film in the series was more of a hyper-earnest Sunday School class, the second film hits the paranoid sweetspot as lead character Patty, sorta-born again after the more righteous members of her family ascended to be with God in the first film (but still, like totally pissed at the Lord about it), contends with government squads branding believers with the mark of the beast (resisters are guillotined!). But she’s confused when she has a premonition that her friends, part of a rebel group that smuggles her food, push her off a hydroelectric dam. Who can she trust? Certainly not her former pastor (also "left behind"), who explains that it's Patti’s own fault she’s stuck on earth because she didn’t seek out a church that was better than his! Aimed at Christians who are hesitating to fully commit themselves, it’s a fire and brimstone-filled epic that tries to remind everyone that God—in this case, anyways—is not love.