Dominion (1992)

Dominion (1992) VHS

director Todd Sheets
viewed: 03/02/2018

“You used to be so cool, mom. You were the flower child from the sixties who got stoned all the time. All I want to do Is go to a concert. Not to get so wasted I don’t know who or how many times I got poked.”

Dominion is a mind melter. A trip to an alternate reality. If you like ‘em bad, you’ll love this stuff.

“We got a call from a lady that was real upset. Evidently her daughter went to participate in a satanic ritual.”

Alien Beasts (1991)

Alien Beasts (1991) VHS cover

director Carl J. Sukenick
viewed: 02/18/2018

Okay, so this is Carl J. Sukenick.

Alien Beasts is possibly the most inept film I’ve ever seen. I don’t know what else to say that hasn’t been said by others. Nonsensical sequences narrated over, juxtaposed almost at random, long shots of bad fight sequences and a jabbering Sukenick fill most of the 70 or so minutes. And then suddenly it bursts into an engaging amateur animation sequence that is hundreds of times more interesting and vivid.

Sukenick himself is more interesting than the film. Obscure and legendary both at once, an outsider artist supreme, maybe mentally ill, still ranting a raving, cobbling things together, reshuffling footage and apparently very weird. Here, he seems young and at least enjoying himself, directing the film even when on camera himself.

It may be that one Sukenick is enough for me.


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.