Dave Wain is one third of the creative team behind www.zombiehamster.com - an online feast of genre film analysis and leftfield retrospectives. His latest work can be found in the new 88 Films Blu-ray of Ghost Town, where he and his scribing life-partner Matty Budrewicz managed to track down the film’s elusive director and former pseudonym, Richard McCarthy, for an exclusive written account of the fabled production. 2017 meanwhile will see the publication of a new book on Charles Band’s Full Moon Pictures, to which he and his writing buddy have contributed a handful of chapters. His day job is the owner of the last movie rental store in North-West England, and he can be found on Twitter @thedavewain.
KISS AND BE KILLED (1991; Tom Milo)
Most of my year has been spent working on a new project titled Schlock & Awe: The Forgotten Genre Films of the Nineties Rental Realm, which looks at those hundreds of movies left abandoned on VHS during this prolific decade for home video, so I apologise in advance to Brian for this being so nineties-centric, but I’ve really encountered some fascinating movies of which Kiss and Be Killed is the trippy, yet decidedly convoluted highlight! So, let me keep this as brief as possible: Andrew hands a strippers’ boyfriend his ass on a plate, who then gets his revenge by killing him while on his honeymoon and leaving his new wife Cynthia for dead. In the midst of her bereavement, Cynthia can’t accept Andrew’s death, and finds herself stealing a mannequin from a nearby store and living out the fantasy of him still being alive. In the meantime, the evil gang who plotted their retribution realise that they didn’t kill Cynthia after all, and look to finish the job off. It’s ninety minutes of jaw-on-the-floor W.T.F madness, but it’s addictively moreish, and if you can find it I’m sure you’ll be in agreement.
DEAD COLD (1995; Kurt Anderson)
One person whose work I’ve really enjoyed visiting this year is Richard Brandes. Though he’s turned his hand to directing in more recent times with films like Out for Blood (2004) and Penny Dreadful (2006), his screenwriting escapades during the nineties are the height of consistency. Beginning the decade with the Cynthia Rothrock starring twosome of Martial Law (1990) and Martial Law II (1991), he delivered his masterpiece in 1995 with the finely-crafted twisting drama Dead Cold. “I’m glad you liked it” Brandes told me this year, “It’s one of my favourites too, and the same goes for Pierre David who produced it”. This taught three-hander, shot in the wilds of the San Bernardino National Forest is spectacularly tense and impeccably paced. A word of warning though; the less you know about its narrative the better, and I’d avoid its spoiler-laden IMDb page until after you’ve seen it!
MIDNIGHT BLUE (1997; Skott Snider)
While the VHS cover for Midnight Blue, resplendent in the silhouette of a naked woman, presents itself as some kind of late arrival to the softcore explosion that ran through the early-to-mid nineties, if you scratch beneath the surface you’ll discover a tight little neo-noir. Featuring former Bugle Boy Jeans girl, Annabel Schofield, in the dual role of scheming twins who con a flaky executive (Damian Chapa) into facilitating a $5 million fraud, it’s the presence of acting legends Dean Stockwell and Harry Dean Stanton that take this cool little feature to the next level. “It was an honour to work with Harry” Schofield beamed when I interviewed her this year. “He’s a true character, and working with him is one of my happiest memories from my career as an actress”.
DOUBLE TAKE (1998; Mark L. Lester)
In the nineties, film for film, Mark L. Lester hit a ten year streak that is overwhelming in its B-movie brilliance. Indeed, Albert Pyun aside, it’s hard to think of a helmer whose celluloid output was of such a consistently remarkable standard. I’d happily wax lyrical about The Ex or Misbegotten over the next three hundred words, but as this is Film Discoveries, I’m restricted to offering a glowing account of just how cool it was to see Double Take for the first time this year. Craig Sheffer (complete with truly fascinating hairstyle) stars as a writer who gets caught up in a crime scene, and subsequently has doubts over whether he identified the perpetrator correctly. Skipping leisurely from playful thriller to courtroom drama to sultry softcore to blackmail-led intrigue, while all the while having an Argentina-centric political undertone, it blends its idiosyncrasies with finesse and dexterity, resulting in a feature with an irrepressible b-movie zeal.
DISTANT COUSINS (1993; Andrew Lane)
If there’s one thing that’s prevalent about films languishing in VHS purgatory, it’s undoubtedly the pedigree of them, and Distant Cousins is no exception. From the producer of Videodrome, the screenwriter of From a Whisper to a Scream, and featuring the star of House, Andrew Lane’s film sits quietly among the thousands of TV movies that never find a life beyond the small screen. Richard Sullivan (William Katt) is an advertising executive who welcomes his long lost cousin Harry (David Keith) and fiancée Marcie (Mary Crosby) into his home for a temporary stay. The longer he offers him his hospitality though, the more Richard suspects he may not be who he says he is. “I like the movie! I really think it holds up well”, the films writer C. Courtney Joyner mused via Skype earlier this year, “It was just so great to be working in that era” – which begs the question if the early nineties may one day be regarded as the halcyon days for non-theatrical releases.
SPECIAL EFFECTS (1984; Larry Cohen)
The UK has been devoid of a purchasable copy of Special Effects since its original VHS release (ditto Perfect Strangers), so as a confirmed Cohenista, the announcement of an Olive Films Blu-ray was both a thrill and a further justification of the need for most cinephiles to invest in a muti-region player. The film itself is criminally underrated, although I must admit the one thing that was more thrilling than catching this slice of LC awesomeness for the first time was the prospect of a newly recorded commentary. While a John Carpenter / Kurt Russell yack-track may get the populist nod for entertainment value, I defy anyone not to consider Larry Cohen as the thinking man’s raconteur for all things low budget. Now seventy-five, he’s one of the last great independent filmmakers, so to hear this ninety minute conversation on technique, style, challenges and solutions was one of the highlights of my film watching year.
SOLE SURVIVOR (1970; Paul Stanley)
Not the Dean R. Koontz / Billy Zane mini-series, this is instead a lost classic from the golden era of TV’s movie of the week. Coming across as an overlooked orphan from the Rod Serling school of storytelling, we find Major Devlin (Vince Edwards) and Colonel Gronke (William Shatner) accompanying the only survivor, General Hamner (Richard Basehart), to the wreckage of the B-24 Liberator bomber, Lady Be Good, which crash landed in the vast Libyan desert and is overlooked by the ghosts of the crew that didn’t survive. With its only appearance on disc being a dual format UK release from Mediumrare, this is a real treat for those of you who like your drama oozing with mystery and subtlety, albeit a frustrating reminder that there’s so much more of its ilk gathering dust in studios vaults. For further reading I heartily recommend Michael Karol’s book, The ABC Movie of the Week Companion.
THE ALIEN FACTOR (1978; Don Dohler)
Don Dohler’s movies belong in the same artistic circle as the early work of Charles Band, David DeCoteau, Jim Wynorski and Fred Olen Ray. The antithesis of hipster fare, they’re a masonic handshake of a mutual understanding between you and your peers; a sign of appreciating the maligned underdog as opposed to overhyped tedium. It seems fitting then that the late Dohler’s debut feature makes its HD debut through a limited release on Olen Ray’s Retromedia label. I’d describe myself as a keen Dohler fan, having repetitively watched worn-out tapes of both Fiend (1980) and Nightbeast (1982), before picking up the Troma release of the latter and falling in love with John Paul Kinhart’s absorbing documentary Blood, Boobs & Beast (2007). The Alien Factor tops the lot though for its adorable naivety and stoic determination and epitomises Dohler’s ability to craft a sci-fi movie from nothing but beans and a geeky urge to make stuff!