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Horrible Horror, Part IV – Freaks and Shrieks

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It’s time once again for another dosage of “Horrible Horror”, the mostly marginal special feature of Catching Up at the Video Store that began with college-aged terrors and then moved onto the inimitable talents of neo-slasher flicks before being attacked by a brick wall constructed entirely of just plain weird shit. This time ‘round, we take a look at more “conventional” nightmare fuel: vampires, cannibals, weird half-people in wicker baskets, maniacal law enforcement officers, and Brazilians.

Enjoy!

· Basket Case (1982) (Image Entertainment / Something Weird Video)

The Short Version: “What’s in the basket?”

The Slightly-Elongated Version: Whether you love it or hate it, Basket Case is a movie that sticks with you for a long time. Personally, I love it, and classify this as one of my all-time favorite early ‘80s grindhouse shot-on-16mm messterpieces. Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck, the man with the best hair in show business) is a nice enough fellow (if a bit green), but his journey to New York City is not one of leisure: he’s here to murder the surgeons who removed his beloved, deformed Siamese twin brother, Belial (whom he keeps in a large wicker basket, which he carries everywhere), from his side. Together, they track down the butchers who they blame for destroying their “normal” existence. Frank Henenlotter’s sensational horror film receives a wonderful High-Definition upgrade from Image and Something Weird, which, even though all the bonus materials have been carted over from the 2001 Special Edition DVD (save for a new intro by that lovably crazy Henenlotter guy), is well worth the upgrade for the improved picture quality alone.

· Maniac Cop (1988) (Synapse Films)

The Short Version: It’s the Battle of the Network Chins as Bruce Campbell squares off against Robert Z’Dar!

The Slightly-Elongated Version: Having grown up renting one horror flick off of the video store shelves after another, I’m honestly surprised that I missed Maniac Cop the first time ‘round. Fortunately, thanks to Synapse Films, that inadvertent slip-up has been rectified — and presents this Larry Cohen/William Lustig classic in a glorious new High-Def transfer to boot. The story here has New York City plagued by a killer with a badge, causing one detective (Tom Atkins) to suspect the young officer (Bruce Campbell) whose wife was recently “dispatched” by the titular policeman. Richard (Shaft) Roundtree co-stars as one of the Maniac Cop’s targets, while the massively-jawed Robert Z’Dar portrays the famed villain himself — an antagonist who would return for two more movies. There’s even a cameo by Sam Raimi. Synapse’s Region Free Blu-ray includes new interviews with Z’Dar, Atkins and actor Danny Hicks, an art gallery, advertising spots, and some delightfully-unique scenes with Ken Lerner that were filmed exclusively for a Japanese TV release (and show just how magical the art of editing can be).

· Dead Cert (2010) (Shout! Factory)

The Short Version: Bloodthirsty Vampires + British Gangsters = Hip? I think you better go back and redo that equation.

The Slightly-Elongated Version: A couple of honest, hardworking mobsters in East End London bust their bollocks in order to open a new nightclub, only to discover that they have inadvertently constructed their new hot spot atop of sacred land — terrain that belongs to the leader of a group of Romanian vampires! Tsk, tsk. What’s the world coming to? Shout! Factory brings us this strange mixture of horror and action (think Robert Rodriguez by way of Guy Ritchie) with Craig Fairbass from The Bank Job leading the living against evil Billy Murray (no, not Bill Murray — though that would have been a lot more fun) and his hoard of undead. Hey, at least these bloodsuckers don’t sparkle in this, right? Special features include an audio commentary, making-of featurette, and theatrical trailer. Also available on Blu-ray.

· Subspecies: 20th Anniversary Edition (1991) (Full Moon Features)

The Short Version: Wait, what do you mean it’s been twenty years since this one came out?

The Slightly-Elongated Version: While Maniac Cop may have eluded me way back when, the Full Moon vampire film Subspecies did not. And though it’s hard for me to fathom two full decades have passed since this one was first released, it’s easy to see why I don’t remember much of it. Essentially, I saw Subspecies as just a cheapo fang flick shot in Romania (where all vampires come from, you know: see previous entry) that was made purely with the intent of making a few bucks on the video market. Looking at the feature again now — and comparing it to the more “popular” trendy vampire movies of today — Subspecies emerges as an enjoyable (if extremely cheesy) title with an overacting Anders Hove as the main post-mortem leech and Angus Scrimm in a supporting (if top-billed) role. Bonus materials include the original “Videozone” issue that accompanied the first VHS/LaserDisc release and a couple of trailers for other Full Moon features. Also available on Blu-ray.

· Embodiment of Evil (2008) (Synapse Films)

The Short Version: That crazy “Coffin Joe” is back — and just as nutty and sick as ever!

The Slightly-Elongated Version: In the ‘60s, Brazilian filmmaker José Mojica Marins introduced the world to “Coffin Joe” — a persona Marins himself brought to life onscreen in the gory horror gems At Midnight I‘ll Take Your Soul (1964) and This Night I‘ll Possess Your Corpse (1967). Both titles were made after Brazil had disbanded their national board of censors, which meant Marins could be as gruesome as he wanted to, and they were so shocking, they were never seen in the States until Something Weird Video released subtitled versions of ‘em in the early ‘90s. In 2008, Marins returned to make Embodiment of Evil, wherein Coffin Joe is released from an insane asylum after 40 years and promptly goes back to committing heinously bloody and gory crimes in the hopes he’ll find someone to mate with (dude, there are plenty of foster children out there!). Synapse Films brings us this thoroughly repugnant feature that is loaded with old school exploitation and modern gore (and there is a lot of the latter: several repulsed crewmembers almost walked off the set) in a wonderful Region Free Blu-ray + DVD Combo with a making-of featurette, Fantasia Film Festival premiere footage, and a trailer.

· The Real Cannibal Holocaust (1974) (One 7 Movies)

The Short Version: OK, so maybe it isn’t real. Nor is it a holocaust. It’s still fun, though!

The Slightly-Elongated Version: Originally released as Nuova Guinea, l’Isola dei Cannibali (roughly, New Guinea: Island of the Cannibals), this entry in the Italian mondo shockumentary genre was actually a joint effort on behalf of Italian and Japanese exploitation filmmakers. While it isn’t a follow-up to Ruggero Deodato’s unforgettable gut-muncher like One 7’s new, slightly deceptive English-language title implies (in fact, this “documentary” was made several years before Cannibal Holocaust), it does offer a number of memorable moments in mondo movie history as it depicts the many bizarre customs of New Guinea natives, including animal brutality, bodily mutilation, funky sex rites, and some good ol’ human barbequing. As is typical in Italian mondo flicks, most of these bona fide acts are played up for the sake of shock value. Nothing beats fictionalized authenticity, right, kids? Granted, The Real Cannibal Holocaust is probably more genuine than Reality TV. The feature is presented in a 1.33:1 ratio with Italian narration and optional English subtitles.

Happy viewing, kids.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.