Maybe I was too hard on Guy Magar's Retribution when reviewing the Japanese VHS awhile ago. Watching it now in the background, the concept of a suicidal man's soul swapped with a stranger's spirit that's screaming for vengeance over his own brutal murder during a near death experience is certainly a novel idea. The gory murders perpetrated by the survivor and his quest to discover the truth behind his visions and possession could make for a compelling horror outing.
It's still weighed down by a miscast Dennis Lipscomb, unrealistic love interest, and lengthy duration. Not to mention the damn MPAA cuts to the splatter. Regardless, I snagged a tape this morning featuring a different cover than the usual Virgin Vision VHS. Both the cover and cassette give no indication of being a screener, promo, or otherwise special from the "regular" version. Anyone else own or ever see this cover?
Not to sound like I'm discrediting one's choice of worship, but religious videos of any denomination often don't date well with time. The best titles are lurid exposés that scorn once popular media like hair metal or '80s horror as a scourge upon youths with hindsight making the targets seem innocuous today. They're mostly produced regionally or by mail order and in very small numbers. So when you come across an interesting one, usually for the wrong reasons, it's always best to pick it up.
I found this one this morning, a video chronicling a Jewish Passover Seder, and I had to do a double take at the cover. The blood dripping down the title, the sacrificed lamb with its throat torn open, Jesus with the build of Van Damme slathering a door's edges with its blood, and a spooky green hand coming down from the skies. I had to stop and ponder "Is this a horror movie?!" upon first glance. The art looks more suited for a metal t-shirt!
Buyers of old home theater equipment have surely heard this line before, "I'm selling it for a friend who upgraded...". And anyone who bought whatever it was are probably aware of the inevitable outcome once plugged into an outlet. My guess is the seller can justify passing off a broken VCR, DVD player, or whatever by saying this line at the time of purchase. Thinking that the buyer might blame this phantom "friend" and not be able to come back to complain to him about his supposed friend's junk.
Whatever the case, I encountered this situation last Saturday. This Sony SLV-770HF VCR was sitting at a yard sale with a chunk of cardboard proclaiming "VHS $5.00". I immediately knew it was one of Sony's higher end models from the front panel's dropdown door and electroluminescent display. This deck also has a rewind mode dubbed "Hi-Speed Rewind" which like old VCRs places the tape back into the cassette for rewinding instead of running the tape against the drum and through the machine at lightening speed (less wear and tear).
In spite of hearing that infamous line, the unit looked too good cosmetically and the price was low enough to take the gamble. Sure enough, upon ejecting an old blank that was already inside, the eject mechanism labored and the tape barely popped out. Pulling the cassette out revealed ribbons of eaten tape unspooled inside the machine. Sometimes the VCR would make a few noises in protest and immediately spit the tape back out. This is why it's never a good idea to ever quickly pull a tape out of a VCR. Ya just never know...
Now what? It's a tape eater! The worst thing to an avid collector who wants to enjoy their collection through its original purpose. Popping the case off, I suspected a particular piece to be the culprit and was proven right. One of the guide pins, the metal posts that pull the tape from the cassette into the mechanism for playback, was extremely stiff when moved manually by hand.
Another blank tape sacrifice proved the half load (or return) arm (red arrow) functioned as intended at pulling the tape in, but when swinging back to eject, swung too slowly with the tape catching and wrenching out when the cassette lifted up and out. This resulted in troubled ejecting and "eaten" tapes.
Apparently this is a known issue with Sony models, but it can also apply to many other VCRs since the internal layout is standardized. The original factory grease thickens over time and clogs the arm's movement resulting in hungry VCR syndrome. The fix was simple enough. I marked the tiny hexnut that holds the arm down with a magic marker. Then I took a pair of needlenose pliers and slowly unscrewed the nut while counting the turns by the mark I made (mine was about nine turns).
Why count turns? The arm is supported by a fragile spring and counting the turns helps when re-fitting the arm back onto the post. The arm needs to be correctly aligned back or it will crimp the tape as it moves along the arm. Ever see a tape with a shredded edge that played like shit? Misalignment of this arm was the reason.
After removing the arm and being careful not to even touch the spring, I soaked the piece in some isopropyl alcohol and then scraped the dried ear wax-like "grease" out of the post hole. I dug in the garage for some Silicone Spray lubricant (easy to find) and thoroughly sprayed the hole and broke California State law by spraying my fingers directly to lub up the post in the VCR. I'd avoid spraying anything inside the VCR.
Placing the arm back in its original position (the spring's end sits under a little holding tab), nine turns of the hexnut later and another blank cassette saw that the tape was aligned properly while playing on the first try. Eject worked smoothly and the arm swung freely by hand and with the VCR's normal functions. Keep the case's screws out and tape them on the side for top in a baggie just in case you ever need to open the VCR again. Fixed, cool VCR for five bucks!
Pissed off robotic Pam Grier in the year 1999 approves of her playback device!
Spanish horror filmmakerJaume Balagueró's debut, Los sin nombre (The Nameless), acts as both his best and most irritating horror feature. Starting off extremely atmospheric, the chilling possibilities revolving around a mother's quest to find the whereabouts of her missing young daughter seem endless. A new wrinkle in what was a cold case brings her in contact with a grizzled detective and the pair set off to discover a revelation that goes far beyond the bounds of the dreaded expected.
Like Balagueró's Darkness and Fragile: A Ghost Story, the mournful psychological side of The Nameless is exceedingly well done. It's just that the "other" side is purely contrived horror movie cliché that depressingly reveals itself as the film precedes. The twists become groan-inducing and the immense, building tension deflates at the cornball climax. This shouldn't stop anyone from seeing The Nameless, just temper that initial feeling of promise. As always, it's more tragic to settle for good within spitting distance of great than to merely flatline at mediocre. Fortunately, REC and its sequel(s) see Balagueró finding his footing at pure horror/action with only dollops of what make his three prior films ultimately frustrating.
As for Echo Bridge's new Miramax re-release; it's the usual no-supplement, stereo audio (English dub-only), and overall rushed cheapie we're coming to expect. The anamorphic transfer is interlaced and zoomed in (to the left), but the interesting aspect is how different the color is compared to the Filmax. The palette is vastly more natural and the image lacks the heavy noise reduction and aliasing that plagues the Spanish disc. The EB disc also boasts the film's Catalan title, Els sense nom, in the opening credits.
Although since the Filmax is the DVD of The Nameless's country of origin and Balagueró is all over the two disc's worth of supplements; it's a safe bet the very bleached and very crushed blacks of the Spanish Collector's Edition presentation is accurate to the director's intentions. A shame about the DNR, but the Filmax is the way to go for the original subtitled language, anamorphic transfer, and DTS 5.1 audio (DVDCompare's listing is incorrect).
This might be the most prized tape in my collection. Not only is this a fantastic film (where's the DVD?), but this particular video release is extremely rare and one of the first I picked up years ago long before the hoarding started. This is also one the "I've been doing this for twenty-five years..." titles a certain video dealer swore didn't exist. Don't ask me why James Whitmore is doubled on the back!?
I've been looking for a small cathode ray tube dinosaur for some time now. Part of the reasoning is the whole retro video thing that I'm obviously into if this blog is any indication. While it's certainly nice that HDTVs currently support composite video for formats like VHS and LD, watching old horror flicks on these archaic sets are what I remember from growing up. Plus dead formats, even DVD to a certain extent, were originally designed to look best on CRT sets. So it just made sense to be on the outlook for a set in good cosmetic and working order. Especially since practically no one else cares anymore.
Several weeks ago, I was at a thrift shop and came across a 13" Sony Trinitron KV-1379R from the mid '80s for twenty-five bucks. I was instantly fond of the "cute" styling of the ancient television. Upon closer inspection, someone had broken off the set's rabbit ears and the top's plastic wood grain finish looked hit with an electric sander. So that was no deal and the last time I saw the poor thing it was relocated in a corner with a bad crack across its curved screen.
This past weekend at the first swap meet I stopped off at, down the very first aisle, sat another 13" Sony that looked virtually identical--a KV1370R. After looking through the entire place, I trekked back and there it still sat, lonely and trembling over its fate. Pretty good shape, missing the wireless remote, but I couldn't get the best look with the sellers hovering over like vultures for some reason.
How much? A measly three dollars. It was just up to me whether I wanted to carry it back. Needless to say there I am, pushing through gawking crowds cradling a television most would throw in a dumpster. For the price, I figured that's where I could chuck it if the thing ended up being a paperweight. It's amazing how much awkward attention arises when showing interest in dead technology. It was like I was carrying a wounded child or something by the looks.
Getting home, I took the time to look over and clean the set. Turned out to be in surprisingly great condition for supposedly pulling kitchen duty for years. Hardly any marks on the plastic wood grain shell and zero scratches on its screen. Just the usual hardened finger sludge on the buttons and a broken plastic latch on the front picture control door. After some wiping and some scrambling for an open outlet, the big test arrived. Hitting the power button, I was greeted with a satisfying "click", some crackling, and after a few seconds the screen glowed a bright white with the word "VIDEO" in the upper right hand corner.
Like many vintage NES consoles, the set still works and it's awesome. Perfect for its new purpose of emitting horror and exploitation images of all sorts. There's knob controls for Hue, Color, Brightness, Picture (old term for Contrast), Cable On/Off, and buttons for adding and erasing channels. An illustrious mono speaker is at the top of the cabinet and actually doesn't sound bad despite its weird placement. On the back; a cable jack, composite video jack, and a single audio jack. A headphone jack is located on the front panel along with power, volume, channel, and TV/Cable buttons.
I wanted to hook it up the my RCA VDT-600 VCR (see my video here), but that deck is substantially larger and heavier than this TV. I'd have to have a dining room size table to sit them both together. So my DVD/VCR combo is playing the part. I might eventually haul out my CED and back-up LaserDisc players to let them join in on the fun. What's old is new again indeed. Gaze upon the retro radiation!
Sometimes you encounter slasher girl fodder that is more disarmingly beautiful than usual. Tanya Roberts in David Schmoeller's Tourist Trap starring a gone batshit doll-making Chuck Conners in need of a paycheck is a definite example. In a glorious case of female objectification; on the grounds of "teh hawtness", Ms. Roberts ranks along side Marianne Walter in The Toolbox Murders (1978) starring a gone batshit flesh-craftsmen Cameron Mitchell in need of alcohol money.
But Schmoeller's paranormal slash creeper has more class, directed with confidence and anchored by the great Pino Donaggio turning in another fantastic, atmospheric score. Often forgotten in conversation even to many horror fans, amazingly Hollywood's "re-imagining" brigades haven't yet come to cannibalize. Also considering its age and Full Moon's usual wishy-washy quality, their DVD looks surprisingly strong barring consistent film damage. Getting back to Tanya, no wonder she went on to become the Beastmaster's main squeeze and a (not as attractiveas here) Bond girl...
The rare NTSC-compatible variant of Italian distributor DomoVideo's Murder Rock. Lucio Fulci's often derided giallo/slasher answer to the Flashdance craze. This tape does indeed playback normally on my North American VCR, but presumably to cater to Italian speaking communities abroad, the language is Italian with no subtitles. Based on the memory of seeing Shriek Show's DVD years back, the presentation appears uncut, and interestingly the (roughly) 1.66:1 widescreen framing shifts from shot-to-shot.
Here's an incredibly scarce tape that ended on eBay last week while creating a stir in collector circles. Chester N. Turner is primarily "known" to a small niche of obsessive trash aficionados for 1984's Black Devil Doll from Hell. Several years later, Turner unleashed his anthology, Tales from the Quadead Zone, in '87 onto an unsuspecting world and then simply vanished from the illustrious landscape of bargain basement genre filmmaking.
Both of his shot-on-video features are tremendously awful spectacles, but they're also strangely ahead of their time. As self-produced examples of African American Horror, Turner crafted both in a decade in which "black horror" was basically non-existent since blaxploitation's heyday and its belated resurrection with the excellent Tales from the Hood in 1995.
That doesn't save Turner's productions from unintentional, almost otherworldly hilarity. The real story here is how rare the tapes of these two are. Black Devil Doll... is quite rare, but Quadead Zone's tape is like finding an albino hermaphrodite quad-amputee who runs marathons on pirate peg legs.
Both were produced in small quantities by Turner and presumably distributed around rental joints in the filmmaker's area (like Tim Ritter's early projects), making them even harder-to-find. The price this go-around for what might be the rarest North American VHS after 36 bids? $660. The Thrifty Peanut and their $1.99 sticker never even knew what hit them...
Since the premature death of Toshiba's format, there's been several Blu-ray releases of Kurt Wimmer's Carpenter-esqe dystopian gun-fetish action extravaganza. However, this HD DVD remains one of the best options. The Canadian and British BDs are improperly framed at 1.85:1 while the new Echo Bridge BD is 1.78:1 (along with only stereo audio!?). There's also a Dutch BD in the correct aspect ratio with lossless DTS audio that lacks any extras.
This Japanese Toshiba HD DVD and Sony's subsequent Blu-ray are in the original 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Both retain the supplements of Buena Vista's DVD along with several Japanese trailers for the film. The Blu-ray has the advantages of lossless Dolby TrueHD and a higher bitrate, but both are from the same master with very little visible difference.
Like Shochiku's Fragile: A Ghost Story HD DVD (see here), this disc is encoded in MPEG-4 AVC at 1080i with Dolby Plus 5.1. I still have no idea why so many Japanese HD DVDs were handicapped this way despite the format's full 1080p/lossless audio capability. Yet another reason to clutch onto my HD DVD players...
This was this weekend's best find. It's always funny when you dig up a rare one where the stack of tapes is the cheapest thing at the table. This was bought for the king's ransom of one quarter piece while mere feet away sat dusty Universal Monsters dolls with $25 tags. Unfortunately the cassette has some mold growth, so currently it's unplayable in my primary VCR. It will play in this condition but cross-contamination can occur with unaffected tapes played afterward. Have to settle for this great review over at Bleeding Skull and the entire film being available on MegaUpload...
Sorry for another entry detailing my ongoing obsession with this unscrupulous distributor and their recent onslaught of cash-in horror re-releases. Although I've discovered good news on two fronts. First, upon checking out their Blu-ray of From Dusk Till Dawn last night, I can safely say that none of the image quality problems plaguing their DVD release are present here.
In fact, the 1080p AVC-encoded transfer frequently looks tremendous with any flaws seeming inherent to the original photography. Close-ups yield excellent texture, grain is a welcome constant, and the rich color palette is vastly superior to even the previous Canadian Alliance Blu-ray (which I also own). There's no compression issues, even in the CG-heavy bat swarms, and if it really matters the bitrate constantly dodges around to met the demands of the video on-screen. Surprisingly, there's virtually no nicks, flecks, or lines throughout the entire feature. Not just great quality for a budget BD; great quality for the format regardless of price bracket. If only they cared as much in their other releases so far...
Let me put it this way, "as is" this transfer would garner much greater praise if this controversy surrounding Echo Bridge's uncaring attitude wasn't happening. The audio, unlike H20, is full DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. No complaints and it sounds just as strong as the same spec'ed Alliance BD. And as with H20, all of the "little particulars" outlined in that entry are shared here. Same "old" case, fifteen chapters, simple menu, and cheap cover. Still zero supplements. Both Blu-rays fired up quick and without issue on my "fat" PS3.
Moving on to more good news regarding a new EB DVD release, Jim Gillespie's underrated bayou slasher programmer, Venom, has again seen the light of day. This is a re-release I personally welcome because Dimension's DVD has always been mysteriously expensive (still $16.98 on Amazon). After years of waiting to get it cheap, I finally found a used copy for a couple bucks awhile back. This new disc is only $5.00 at Kmart.
Yet there's danger here. The film was shot in Super35 and framed at 2:35:1. EB has already zoomed in The Yards, Equilibrium, and "opened" Halloween: H20 to 1.78:1. I feared another aspect ratio hackjob. Amazingly, EB let the film be, preserving the wide scope ratio. The transfer is unfortunately interlaced despite appearing to be a new scan and not just a straight port of the old disc. The picture is a little brighter, more solid, and the runtime has four more unexplained seconds over the Dimension. Like nearly every EBer, again the few prior bonuses aren't on this new release and the audio is Dolby stereo. Wait for the inevitable Blu-ray, I'll certainly be picking it up if the framing is maintained...
2006 Dimension DVD TOP / 2011 Echo Bridge DVD BOTTOM
After hearing two friends over on the Facebook running across Lionsgate's out-of-print Silent Night, Deadly Night Parts 3-5 triple feature at Best Buy, I surprisingly found three copies at my local store for $14.99. This set isn't too pricey online, but you know how prices suddenly climb for discontinued horror, so here's your second chance. It's (bloody) Christmas in May!
Oddly, all three copies I spotted had battered slipcovers with fingernail impressions and tearing along the back UPC square cut-out. Like they were in the back and then placed out again recently for sale. As you're probably aware of, Best Buy doesn't seem to keep a catalog of horror titles anymore making this reappearance especially strange. The downside is that the transfers for these three are sourced from old video masters. The upside is that I finally have all five on disc...
Well, temptation got the best of me, but first let me fill in the unaware about Echo Bridge's whoring of their fresh Miramax licenses. My first encounter was with their From Dusk Till Dawn and Hellraiser double feature DVDs (see here). Little did I know EB was rolling out a cavalcade of other cheap double features, triple features, and even quad-feature configurations. That sounds great until you realize, like the double features detailed in that link, the cheapie distributor is packing everything onto one disc.
Although they're also releasing individual discs of individual films. For example, you can buy each of the three From Dusks, the first film paired with Full Tilt, a double feature of the two sequels, or all three with Full Tilt. My advice is to steer clear of the multi-packs, cramming feature-length films together in such ways can only lead to ugly quality. I'd also be weary of the distracting jerky motion I spotted on the From Dusk double feature on four different players appearing on others. It remains to be seen whether the individual title discs have encodes that take advantage of the added disc space or all editions feature the same bitrate-starved presentations.
So how's one of their first Blu-ray releases? Unsurprisingly mediocre. I found Halloween: H20 cheap from a third party seller and I figured I'd take the bullet. As noted here, the film is presented on this BD incorrectly framed at 1.78:1 originally from 2.35:1 widescreen. Being shot Super35, the picture isn't necessarily cropped, but EB felt the need to remove the matte bars to the "no black bar" ratio. Regardless of this asinine move, the 1080p picture quality is pretty bland. The good news is that there's no real evidence of noise reduction, motion issues, or edge enhancement. Color is also noticeably more natural looking (yet who knows if the DVD's "tan" color was what's intended). The bad news is that definition is aggressively soft. Finer textures like skin and clothing simply don't have the increased clarity we're used to seeing on Blu-ray. Although the original photography has always had a gloomy overcast. Instances of film damage are identical to the DVD.
The sole sound option is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.1. That is lossless, sounding okay for stereo, but there's no excuse for EB to not provide 5.1 like every previous DVD of this sequel. They obviously had access to the material. Pathetic considering even micro studios releasing junk HD aquarium and wildlife screensaver Blu-rays mustering lossless surround.
As for little particulars, the case is the old-style Amaray Elite with the "embossed" BD logo and locking spine tab that Blu-rays came in when the format debuted. At least it's not one of those fucking Eco-boxes. There's zero supplemental material unless you count the fifteen chapters and the useless pop-up menu. The cover's quality is also cheap, lacking the glossy finish of most DVD and Blu-ray releases. The ink would run all over and ruin the paper if it got wet. While it's nice to finally have H20 in anamorphic widescreen, the many problems are crushing. Miramax basically shit all over many of their titles by letting Echo Bridge at them...
Despite Mondo's proclamation that "Mondo Video Is Here! VHS Lives!" on their blog, it certainly doesn't feel that way in the wake of the lightening quick sell out of their inaugural VHS release of Ted Prior's SOV mammoth Sledgehammer earlier this morning. Despite staying up after midnight, then losing sleep, then checking every subsequent hour starting at 4 a.m. EST...the VHS had sold out by the time I spotted it (finally) for sale. It didn't help matters that the limited-to-one-hundred copies VHS was being sold last night at an Alamo Drafthouse screening with the remaining intended for online retail. Fair indeed.
Sour grapes much? Well, yes, it would have obviously been great to score a copy, but I'm upset for other dyed-in-the-wool video enthusiasts that now find themselves in the same boat. Many of us celebrated VHS when VHS wasn't cool. Toiling away the hours digging through mountains of dingy plastic and carefully measuring our online hunts like master chess players. We embrace the nostalgic reemergence of the format(s) as sought-after collector's items and I've yet to meet a fellow collector that wasn't willing to always lend helpful advice. This blog and others like it like hail dead technology most people balk at the very mention of. It would be nice to get thrown a bone every now-and-again for our shared efforts (thanks again to Dark Sky Films and MPI for unleashing House of the Devil on easily obtainable VHS).
And don't get me wrong, I'm not aiming my gripes at collectors that managed to beat the fray and purchase a copy from Mondo. That's great and I only wish I could join in on the excitement. The thing is you just know a portion were purchased as nothing more than eBay fodder given the rabid tape market. In fact, copies are already appearing on the auction giant. All I can say is that I hope you choke on that big fat celebratory steak from your winnings. May you never know the passion and award of analog.
At the end of the day, such is life and such is the nature of the beast concerning ultra-limited anything. I'll just kick back with my genuine World Video Pictures Betamax and approach future Mondo Video releases with vastly less anticipation and enthusiasm. I'm not wasting another day worrying about whenever Mondo gets around to putting another up for sale. After all, what's the fun in "artificial" video elusivity?
Long day at work, so here's a scan I've been meaning to...errr...scan of Embassy's R-rated tape of James Glickenhaus's gleefully exploitative urban actioner, The Exterminator, with the über-badass trifecta of Ginty, George, and James. Synapse's in-the-wings remastered DVD/Blu-ray release can't come soon enough considering how weak Anchor Bay's ancient disc is.
Don May Jr. said this back in November regarding their eventual edition: "We are searching for the best film material to present the uncut version and scan it in 2K HD. We know where all the material is stored, and it's going to be an interesting hunt to go through the vault and see what's there." I'm also fairly certain May is still trying to track down the stereo mix for the uncut version.
As previously reported here, via Intervision Picture Corp.:"The rumor is true! Mondo, the collectible art boutique arm of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, TX, officially announced today their partnership with Intervision to reissue Sledgehammer on VHS — the inaugural release in their all-new VHS-only label “Mondo Video.” Limited to 100 copies, the collectible tape features the original 1983 box art and copy packaged in a white clamshell case. The VHS will be available to coincide with the film’s May 10th DVD release and “Terror Tuesday” screening at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz and on sale exclusively at MondoTees.com, retailing for $20, on Wednesday, May 11.
Mondo creative director Justin Ishmael says, “I am downright crazy about VHS, so it gives me great pride that we get to make Sledgehammer the first release on our new Mondo Video label. There has been a major resurgence in VHS collecting the last few years after it was announced that the tapes would stop being made, so being fans ourselves, we jumped at the opportunity to actually resurrect the format and release some of our favorite movies on VHS. People thought they killed the video tape back in 2008, but like a phoenix, it is rising from the ashes! Never Forget!"
Has anyone else ever experienced the widespread perception of Betamax firsthand? The Thorn EMI Beta of The Dark Crystal (1982) below was found at a church this past Saturday. When I picked it up and asked how much the lady paused for a moment as if stunned anyone would care and simply said, "Uhhh, it's free, you can take it." Of course, the term "Betamax" has become synonymous with dead, unwanted technology. It's just strange to witness just how unwanted anything actually Beta is.
At that same church sale, a few rows down, a guy had a beat-all-to-hell CED player and about forty equally gnarled discs tied together with shoestring. Even after kindly asking, he simply refused to let me pick through and buy individual discs. The ass then got testy and seemed to not believe me when I revealed that I owned the same player (theRCA SFT100in much better condition). Oh well, his loss. He probably threw all that dead weight back in his van later finding I was the only one who showed more than just a passing interest.
It's funny how many times I see this. Betamax is lucky to not immediately get hauled to the dumpster; while other dead formats are stupidly coveted in unbreakable bundles for sale. Even though one could argue formats like CED and LaserDisc were even worse in North American marketability than the scapegoated Betamax. Another example was awhile ago when I found a couple Betas amongst piles of VHS and the seller exclaimed "Wow, I thought I threw all these away yesterday!" Or the times I've bought both formats at the same time and the Betas go for a fraction of the VHS price.
I guess it's both a blessing and curse. The Betas that survive seem so lowly in resale value that one can snag them for a song. Yet there's tons crushed with diapers and banana peels in landfills. This makes the hunt both more thrilling, that is if you're a dork like myself, and a race aganist time...