Death Metal Zombies (1995)

Death Metal Zombies (1995)

director Todd Jason Cook
viewed: 12/01/2017

How apropos that a movie titled Death Metal Zombies would feature a plot point of playing a song backwards to reverse the possession apocalypse.

“What? Do you think I’ve got some kind of machine that will play a tape backwards?”
“Don’t you?”
“No such thing.”

It’s the kind of concept a high schooler might have dreamed up: Houston-based metal fan wins a tape of his favorite metal band’s newest album, but when he plays it the band appears at turns him and all his friends into zombies. It’s not exactly what you call tightly scripted.

This shot-on-video affair will take you right back to 1995. Throw in a whole slew of Relapse Records death metal bands (writer/director/actor Todd Jason Cook’s coup), lots of regular folks roped into acting, occasionally getting nekkid, and some entertainingly gory effects, and you’ve got yourself some wonderfully fun amateur video.

If you’re into this kind of thing.



America’s Deadliest Home Video (1993)

America's Deadliest Home Video (1993) movie poster

director Jack Perez
viewed: 10/04/2017

When I decided to watch America’s Deadliest Home Video starring Danny Bonaduce, I was thinking I was in for some serious 1990’s schlock. Interestingly, though it’s no masterwork, it’s a pretty earnest thriller.

Shot on video, it’s also essentially a “faux found footage” flick. Bonaduce is a guy who is addicted to shooting everything with his camera and gets abducted by a small gang of thrill criminals on a spree.

The acting is a mixed bag of low budget talent under a fledgling director, but it somehow winds up coming together by the end. Maybe only to moderate levels of decency, but more impactful than I was anticipating.

It was also kind of a surprise to see that director Jack Perez would go on to success with titles like Wild Things 2 (2004) and Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, the phenomenon of 2009. Actress Melora Walters would go on to a significant career in mainstream Hollywood.

Phobe: The Xenophobic Experiments (1995)

Phobe: The Xenophobic Experiments (1995) DVD cover

director Erica Benedikty
viewed: 07/22/2017

O, Canada! Your Shot-on-video sci-fi is a wonder!

Erica Benedikty’s DIY Phobe: The Xenophobic Experiments is quite remarkable. I truly love that more and more of this no-budget regional homemade cinema is surfacing for our viewing pleasures.

Phobe is certainly derivative of both Predator (1987) and The Terminator (1984), with a little Star Wars thrown in. Its gloriously schlubby cast, clad in sweats and mullets, are such ultimate Canadians (am I stereotyping here?).

Really, Benedikty shows some chops and skills here, having utilized film equipment from the local television station that she worked at. But it’s really the less polished things in the film that make it so much fun, such as the cast, the performances, and the monster design. The only thing I really didn’t care for were the cheap CGI, though apparently Benedikty didn’t want to limit her vision if she didn’t have to, cheap or not.


Black Devil Doll From Hell (1984)

Black Devil Doll From Hell (1984)

director Chester Novell Turner
viewed: 06/27/2017

I’m glad to live in a world where such a film as Black Devil Doll from Hell exists. Really, the odds against such a thing are so incalculable. That could well be said about any shot-on-video horror films from the 1980’s, DIY projects with limited access to quality tools, techniques, talent, audience, and distribution, labors of love. Even more so, outside of even the realm of white America.

Black Devil Doll from Hell is unique, and yet like other bizarre samples of outsider art, feels like a missive from the collective unconscious of American culture.

Many critiques I read of the film fault its weaknesses in production, its unimaginative camera-work, its slowness. But I have to say, it’s such a fascinating artifact, that if anything I was drawn to its qualities, not its shortcomings, of its production. Consider a totally unschooled amateur artist working just simply from the bare tools available (not top of the line camcorder of the day) and zero training save Chester Novell Turner’s own experience of cinema.

The picture is psychologically dark. It’s the story of an abusive relationship, a young, inexperienced woman discovering her sexuality with a controlling and violent, foul-mouthed boyfriend. Only in this case, the boyfriend is a ventriloquist dummy with braided hair a-la of the day Rick James. As much as it fits in that strange subcategory of horror around living dolls and dummies, the story is as real a tale of abuse as any.

I’ve wanted to see this ever since I first heard of it. I don’t know how to classify it with a star rating, but it in no way disappointed in its glorious weirdness.

Woodchipper Massacre (1988)

Woodchipper Massacre (1988) screen capture

director Jon McBride
viewed: 11/01/2016

I’m kind of new to the whole uptick in shot-on-video horror flicks, even though I have the street cred to say that I appeared (albeit extremely briefly in one – Twisted Issues (1988)).  But like others I’m finding the DIY oddities that arose in the 1980’s (and have arguably been carrying on until video quality eventually evened the playing field) are as interesting for their oddities, amateurity, obscurity, and also at times pure crapness.

Case in point of crapness: Jon McBride’s Woodchipper Massacre, which sounds like it’s going to be a lot more bloody than it even comes close to being.  Really, it might be best described as the John Hughes of shot-on-video horror because it’s much less horror and a lot more amateur comedy hour.

Unlike a lot of others, I thought that Denice Edeal and Tom Casiello as the younger sister and brother had some authentic charm in their unfailing geekiness.  McBride stars as the eldest of three kids who wind up killing their aunt and cousin and eventually woodchipping their bodies, before scurrying Risky Business (1983) or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) style to finish cleaning up the yard before their father gets home.

This was neither McBride’s first shot-on-video horror rodeo nor his last.  I don’t know what else to say about that.

Sledgehammer (1983)

Sledgehammer (1983) DVD cover

director David A. Prior
viewed: 10/18/2016

It’s kind of amazing that a movie like Sledgehammer ever got made in the first place.  What’s maybe even more amazing is that it wasn’t a one-off independent little horror film, but the launching pad of a long thriving film career for director David A. Prior.

Shot-on-video, cheap in its day, heralded for fringe fun now, Sledgehammer is a slasher film featuring a cast of schlubs and schmoes whose lack of professional acting skill doesn’t belie a thing.  These are totally 80’s bros and the girls that endure them.  I suppose with the exception of the director’s brother Ted, who also continued a career in cinema as well as landing on the pages of Playgirl.  Overall they are the folks you’d imagine running into at a dreary 1983 keg party.

All that said, such an unlikely cast find imaginative deaths throughout.

God bless the amateurs.


Dumpster Baby (2000)

Dumpster Baby (2000) video cover

directors James Bickert, Randy Hill
viewed: 03/23/2016

James Bickert and Randy Hill’s Dumpster Baby is an out-and-out oddity.  Shot on video and distributed by Troma, it’s a dark and somewhat uncategorizable picaresque story of an abandoned baby left in a dumpster and then trading off from person to person along the backside of American culture.

It starts at a sleazy enough place, a crack-den, where an overweight woman gives birth to a baby she didn’t know she was carrying.  Her fellow crackhead dumps the baby, who moves from the dumpster to the hands of prostitutes, cheating husbands, an opportunistic young woman, a mentally challenged loner, greedy thugs, child molesters, vigilantes, to a small group of stoners, and eventually to a young girl suffering from depression.

Dark as it is, it’s more a social commentary, the way in which each person or group reacts and what they do when an abandoned baby winds up in their possession, none of whom take it to the police or a hospital and for the most part use or further abandon it on its route through the city’s backside.

Low-budget as hell, the film varies in its technical quality a lot, from decent to terrible.  It’s not just technically-challenged but also fluctuates in its aesthetics and ambitions.  That said, it’s clear that the filmmakers have aspirations beyond the limitations of the production.  And for my money, it is certainly more interesting and effective than I initially assumed it would be.

Things (1989)

Things (1989) DVD coverdirector Andrew Jordan


Things (1989) started percolating on my horizons in a number of different contexts. Independently produced horror has a wonderful tradition, and Things pays tribute to films such as George A. Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead (1981), other almost DIY productions that became cinema legends. Released as part of the great “direct to video” deluge of the late 1980’s-early 1990’s, made obscure by its independent nature, I’d not heard of it until seeing it culled in lists on the subject. But also, it finds its way to me via another list that has tantalized and entertained, Wikipedia’s List of “Films considered the worst”.

It’s obscurity and unavailability was suddenly evaporated by Fandor, who just added it to their wonderful cult film section along with a couple other formerly “video only” flicks. Hooray and kudos to Fandor, you made my day!

Nothing could really prepare one for Things. It transcends the “so bad it’s good” level of badness and moves into a realm of outsider art and surrealism in its mixture of naivité and outre weirdness. It’s so far out that it’s utterly and completely brilliant.

It’s not unlike watching a film by Mark Borchardt and Mike Schank, the subjects of Chris Smith’s hilarious documentary of would-be filmmakers, American Movie (1999). Only this is a decade earlier and in this case: Canadian (not that Wisconsin is all that far away in both physical space and cultural mores.)

Frankly, I don’t feel that I could take this all in in a single viewing. It’s so amazing and “out there”. I have a hard time assigning a “star ranking” to the film because it’s either 1 star or maybe it’s 5 stars. Maybe it’s both. I need to watch this again.

Twisted Issues (1988)

Twisted Issues (1988) video cover

director Charles Pinion
viewed: 11/05/2014

Charles Pinion’s 1988 “psycho-punk splatter comedy” Twisted Issues is unique in my personal history of film-watching.  It’s the only movie that I’m “in,” appearing for about a second and a half in a party scene, watching local band, Mutley Chix perform.  It’s also easily the only film I’ve come to write about where I know the film-maker, have known him for nigh 30 years, more or less.  It’s also the only film in which I know virtually every person, every location, and from the music to the artwork to even the film’s own lines and shots, something with which I am utterly familiar.

Pinion shot Twisted Issues in Gainesville, FL in 1987/88, and though I am only in one shot, I was probably at a couple of the shoots of local bands playing, saw the film getting made, and talked with Mr. Pinion during the process of the film’s production.  And of course I was at its premiere at the on-campus Orange and Brew pub when it was first shown.

So for me, I’ve always felt too much of a relationship with the film, the subjects, the stars, the now time capsule world in 1980’s Gainesville, FL to really be anywhere objective on the movie itself.  It’s just a wholly different thing to me.

I recall, in 1991, when first living in San Francisco, I met some non-Gainesville people who had seen the movie and liked it.  And at the time, I had a hard time fathoming that.  And I guess, that is the lack of objectivity of which I’m thinking.  Not necessarily the generous feelings one has towards the work of a friend but maybe the reverse, the lack of appreciation that I think is really quite common in local arts and music scenes, taking for granted something from proximity.  A true lack of clarity.

I always had affection for it but it was too hard to have perspective.

Interestingly, on my current 2014 rampage of film-viewing, a multitude of tropes of films from the 1960’s-1980’s has been broadening my perspective quite a bit.  In particular, movies such as Night of the Creeps (1986), I Was a Teenage Zombie (1987), The Dead Next Door (1989), or other movies shot on 16mm, 8mm, or even like Twisted Issues on video long before video was very good.  It’s low budget horror bootstrapping it, DIY’ing it against all odds.  And some other movies that I’ve still yet to see like Chester Novell Turner’s Black Devil Doll from Hell (1984) or Tales from the Quadead Zone (1987), which have come to my attention through the VHS collector fanaticism and love of the low-fi and obscure as featured in Rewind This! (2013) or Adjust Your Tracking (2013).  This developing groundswell of appreciation for the extremely odd and unintentionally avant-garde.

Frankly, re-watching the film for the first time in a long while (I’ve watched parts and pieces over the years), I believe I managed to see it with the freshest eyes I’ve ever had for the film itself.  I have an personal aesthetic issue with video, something I’m coming to terms with, believe me, so I won’t belabor that issue, which I think has been another sticking point over the years for me appreciating this film properly.

Mr. Pinion shot the film with himself, his girlfriend, the co-writers, and numerous characters, personalities, and scenesters of Gainesville’s late 1980’s slow boom.  Nobody was a professional anything.  The music is entirely made up of local bands of the time, some terrific, some good, some odd and unusual.  I guess the acting is something that I’ve turned around entirely on.  For a bunch of post-college kids who’d never done this sort of thing (and many who never did this sort of thing again), Pinion actually gets very good performances from the game team players.

It’s the story of a skate-punk kid (Paul Soto) who gets run down by some mean older punks, only to get revived by a mad scientist to go on a murder spree against each and all.  The red-tinted Karo syrup flows freely.  Charles plays one side of a strange duality of tuned-in head-trippers who end up fighting it out in a comic bloody finale.

It’s not so much a fever dream, but a multiple source of intoxicant-induced dream.  The whole thing could be read much as the world through the eyes of the chemically deranged.  Filled, as well, with MTV-esque snippets from television of the day, images of politicians, wars, religious leaders, diatribes, and clips from movies are interspersed with other late-night fantasy snippets of Pinion’s own devising: local characters adding to the broad-based surrealism of Gainesville life circa 1987/88.  Television, drugs, and rock’n’roll.

It’s funny, inventive, cleverly shot and edited.  It’s truly a film much primed for getting its due.

Pinion went on to New York City, mingling with some bigger names in underground film-making, producing a couple more features early on.  He currently has a new film ready for promotion, playing festivals and getting ready for broader release and consumption.  And I am personally very excited to catch up with his other films, which oddly enough, I have not ever seen.

Whether it originates in the realms of the hardcore video collectors or new waves of people keened in on appreciating the most obscure of horror films, independent film-making, or even the maximum unusual quality of a “shot on video” feature film, the time may well be utterly ripe for a rediscovery of Pinion’s first feature.

I will always have my unique relationship with Twisted Issues.  But I have more appreciation for it than ever before.  I don’t think I’m alone in that latter perspective.

Reflections of Evil (2002)


Reflections of Evil (2002) still

director Damon Packard
viewed: 09/28/2014

What a strange, amazing head-trip this is.

Damon Packard’s passion project that became Reflections of Evil is so hard to describe in terms of other films.  Shot on video, and cobbled together with found footage from television and all kinds of other sources, the movie is a screed or a rage on a diversity of things: Hollywood, Steven Spielberg (in particular), post-9/11 paranoia, obsession, outsiderhood, childhood, America.  It’s loose, hardly straightforward, jerky, funny, perverse and demented.

Packard stars in the film as a varyingly obese street guy, selling watches, having breaks of sanity in a Los Angeles populated by people in perpetual arguments and fights with one another.  At the heart, there is a search for a lost sister, or something lost in childhood, something teasing at the brain yet never vividly clear.  It’s a madhouse both inside and outside.

It was only a week or two ago that I was complaining about the aesthetics of video in Tokyo Gore Police (2008), but here is a crazy, radically different instance where shooting on video makes the aesthetic totally function.  I did wonder if I would have thought the film better on film, but I was forced to confront my prejudice about the medium.  Packard’s film is something so different, it avoids any neat categorizations, both from genre and visual or technical aesthetics.

The sound editing draws a lot of attention to itself, in overdubbing first Tony Curtis in very obvious and humorous ways, but the sound dubbing occurs throughout the film in shots of people probably just caught on tape, overdubbed with strange voices saying things, like voices in one’s head.

Packard shot in Universal Studios in parts and maybe some other amusement parks.  It immediately brought to mind the far inferior Escape from Tomorrow (2013) that had gotten such press for being shot on the sly at Disneyland, also a sort of psychological horror show upending the icons of American popular culture.  Packard’s film is full, utterly replete with paranoia and an almost schizophrenic universe.  It’s mind-boggling. Brilliant.  Bizarre.

I stumbled on this title in my search of strange films.  I hadn’t known anything about Packard or the direction/aesthetics, intent of this movie beforehand.  And now I wonder why more people don’t know about this amazing, weird, disturbing movie.