Last week, I wrote about a cool little short film that featured maniacal VHS tapes come to life. Which, quite frankly, was timely. I’ve recently studied up on horror flicks that never made the jump from analog to digital in anticipation for a screening series I’m putting together featuring, well, horror movies that never made the jump from analog to digital. I’ve been knee-deep in obscure horror flicks, cult classics, and amazing cover art. While they say VHS is making a comeback, I would never turn my back on my trusty Blu-ray player. There’s simply no comparison when it comes to “clearly seeing the poor attempts at day-for-night” on the Blu for To All A Goodnight against the “so dark and muddy, I wasn’t sure what was going on” cassette. Analog will always leave us feeling nostalgic and hopped up on member-berries. That said, I have a legit reason to still be in possession of a VCR!
There exists a vast array of flicks unavailable to stream directly from Netflix or Amazon or to be snapped up on Blu-ray. They’re the “VHS Undead!” The likes of Scream Factory, Arrow, and Synapse just can’t obtain the rights to every horror title ever made. For some, who knows who owns the rights? For others, it’s a matter of lost materials or absurd licensing fees ensuring a profit could never be turned by a modern release. Of course, some of these flicks eventually get their day. Just look at The Kindred, a film that seemed destined for an eternity of hiding within dusty cardboard boxes. Synapse is working on a nice new Blu, and I couldn’t be more excited. But what of those less fortunate titles, the ones who’ve yet to be rescued by their own knight in shining restoration?
Blue Monkey (1987)
William Fruet is a Canadian Master of Horror who gets nowhere near the amount of love I’d say he deserves. From his gonzo Animal House by way of Hell Night with an Evil Dead cherry on top slasher flick, Killer Party, to this overly gooey, 50’s style big bug movie, Blue Monkey, Fruet has a wild and varied filmography worth diving into. Blue Monkey is a fast-paced camp-fest that finds Steve Railsback in a rare good guy role, trapped in a hospital and fighting against a quickly growing insectoid. The monster is just as deadly for the tropical disease it carries as for the physical threat it imposes. Its design is fun and simply filthy with KY jelly. Ultimately, Blue Monkey takes as much inspiration from Aliens as it does a film like Them.
Seriously, this movie is whacked out of its little mind. The story behind the production of Spookies is just as fascinating as the final product. The story (as it is) is broken into three fairly distinct parts. We start with a wandering kid who stumbles upon a creepy old mansion and is attacked by an ungodly array of evil manifestations. This is followed by a group of wild and crazy kids (40-year-olds) who stumble upon said creepy old mansion and are attacked by an ungodly array of evil manifestations. And finally, in a loosely connected third subplot, we find the mansion is watched over by a decrepit evil warlock who keeps his young bride forever his prisoner. There are all types of insane monsters randomly tossed at you during the movie’s duration. Come for the farting “muck-men” and stay for the spider woman and last-minute zombie horde! It’s a disjointed disasterpiece, which is no surprise considering the original directors’ work was hacked, slashed, reshot, and redited. When the producer wasn’t happy with the original cut, he just went out and shot entirely new plot lines and Frankensteined the wonderful obscurity that we have today. If ever a film cried out for a two-hour making-of and a fresh new release, Spookies is it.
The Brain (1988)
Part intentional satirical humor and part “so bad it’s good” rubber monster absurdity, The Brain is exactly what you think it is, Pieces style. Another sliver of Canuxploitation that exists for no other reason than those magical 80’s tax credits, the story revolves around a slimy self-help guru who uses his popular television show and a giant killer alien that looks just like a giant killer brain to control the minds of his audience. The “mind control” angle does actually lend itself to some fun Nightmare on Elm Street style imagery. But, let’s face it, if you’re watching The Brain, it’s in hopes of seeing a big rubber slime-ball do some serious damage to unsuspecting meat puppets. If that’s the case, you’re in luck. The Brain pays off in spades.
Murder by Phone (1982)
While The Brain might have a silly premise, it presents itself with its tongue lightly planted in cheek. This VHS oddity, is SO not in on the joke. Murder by Phone (AKA Bells) takes itself terribly serious. There is a killer on the loose who can, yes, kill someone just by having them answer the telephone. It’s a rather dry affair, playing out mostly as a procedural with sporadic exploding head action (always a plus). Surprisingly, however, there are moments of genuine suspense provided how easy it would be to avoid harm in this particular scenario. You know, just don’t answer the damn phone. Nonetheless, Murder by Phone stands alongside The Brain and Blue Monkey as yet another example of what filmmakers could get away with under the Canadian tax shelters of the 80’s.
Next of Kin (1982)
Okay, this one isn’t Canadian. It’s Australian! Unlike the other flicks on the list, Next of Kin is far from a cheese-filled joyride through the junkyard cinema of the 80s. Director Tony Williams crafts a stylish, slow-burn with touches of Hitchcockian suspense and short bursts of bone-chilling imagery. In the film, a young girl moves into a sprawling manor inherited from her late mother. The only problem, the house is currently home to a bunch of crusty old folk. All is not as it appears to be within the quaint confines of this retirement home. A new string of potential murders starts to bring to light a twenty-year-old mystery, and a young John Jarrett (the baddy from the Wolf Creek series) shows up as the heroic male lead. For those seeking a “classy” palate cleanser after the above marathon of quality scum, Next of Kin makes for a perfect relation.
Alrighty, gang, these are just a handful of the VHS Undead! These titles are out there for your discovery, whether they be on Amazon, Ebay, or the Tube of You. What’s your favorite horror relic lost to the land before Prime?