Movies Till Dawn: A Salvo of Saturday Morning Strange

Schlock” (1973, Turbine Media Group) A murder spree in a Southern California suburb is revealed to be the work of the Schlockthropus, a mostly befuddled ape man whose unrequited affection for blind Eliza Garrett/Roberts – she thinks he’s a dog – drives him to run amuck. The film debut of John Landis (“Animal House”), who also provided most of the $60,000 budget and donned the (excellent) ape suit built by a pre-fame Rick Baker, “Schlock” plays like a dress rehearsal for Landis’ “Kentucky Fried Movie,” with wall-to-wall gags and non-sequiturs crammed into its monster-on-the loose framework. The humor is lowbrow and occasionally crude, but it’s never mean-spirited; Landis is clearly delighted at making his own backyard creature feature, and even dots the supporting cast with cult favorites like “Famous Monsters'” Forrest J. Ackerman, makeup artist John Chambers (“Planet of the Apes” and Donald F. Glut. That obvious affection, however daffy in its delivery, makes “Schlock” a worthwhile view for fans of its creators and vintage monster movies; the limited-run, all-region-free mediabook from Germany’s Turbine Media features a restored Blu-ray presentation and a full-frame DVD version, as well as commentary by Landis and Baker and numerous trailers, including Landis lampooning his own effort on a Trailers from Hell clip.

The Gruesome Twosome” (1965, Arrow Video) Goony gorefest from Herschell Gordon Lewis, who asks you to believe that a dotty old lady acquires the hair for her wig business from local co-eds scalped by her demented son. Though there’s plenty of Lewis’s signature gloppy splatter on display, “Gruesome Twosome” is clearly intended – and works – as a bilious comedy, as evidenced by the wigmaker’s running conversation with her (stuffed) pet ocelot or the opening sequence, intended to fill out the running time, in which two wig blocks with construction paper faces blather at length. Arrow’s Blu-ray pairs “Gruesome Twosome” with Lewis’s “A Taste of Blood” (1967), a contemporary vampire tale that, while far too long at two hours, has enough production polish to suggest that the director might’ve transitioned into mainstream fare, given the chance and budget. Commentary tracks with Lewis and Something Weird Video’s Mike Vraney (both sadly gone) are included for both films, along with trailers and radio spots; drag performer/filmmaker Peaches Christ also weighs in on the Lewis aesthetic in an amusing interview.

The Soultangler” (1987, AGFA/Bleeding Skull/MVD) Greasy-haired mad scientist Dr. Lupesky (Pierre Deveaux) creates a serum that allows the soul of the user to exit the body and take control of any corpse (provided it has eyes), though its side effects – uncontrollable, violent hallucinations – does prove to be a downside. Shot on 16mm (and edited on video) in Long Island, New York, Pat Bishow’s “Soultangler” was among the many horror titles released direct to home video in the 1980s, and like the majority of those efforts, it suffers from the usual microbudget issues (amateurish acting, incoherent plot), but what distinguishes it from the VHS pack is a torrent of inventive and disgusting special effects courtesy of George Higman – the goggle-eyed, radio-controlled skull with exposed brain is particularly impressive – and some full-tilt freakout sequences that inch the film closer to George Kuchar or Nick Zedd‘s transgressive/underground aesthetic. The DVD from the American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) and the no-budget archaeologists at Bleeding Skull offers both the original 66-minute and expanded 90-minute versions of “Soultangler,” as well as self-effacing commentary by Bishow, the original trailer and his music video for “Wow” by Hypnolovewheel, who contributed to the score for “Soultangler” with Chris Xefos (King Missile).

Aftermath” (1982, VCI Entertainment/MVD) Astronaut Newman (played by writer/director/producer Steve Barkett, a dead ringer for UCB’s Matt Walsh) crash-lands in post-apocalypse Los Angeles, where he fights gang leader Sid Haig to protect a handful of survivors, including Lynne Marguiles (“My Breakfast with Blassie”). Indie science fiction thriller is perhaps best known for its impressive special effects team, which includes Oscar nominee Jim Danforth (who also appears briefly as a doomed astronaut), Oscar winners Robert and Dennis Skotak (“The Abyss”), John Wash (“Star Wars”) and Susan Turner (“The Thing”); their efforts lend considerable production value to what is essentially a homegrown effort, and make palatable its more uneven aspects (a long, long visit to a museum with Forrest J. Ackerman, the purple-pulpy narration). VCI’s DVD/Blu-ray set includes commentary by Barkett and his son Christopher, who plays a young survivor, as well as Barkett’s impressive “Night Caller,” a 1973 college-made short based on a Ray Bradbury story, and a wealth of shot-on-video extras, including interviews and production stills, ported over from the laserdisc release.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, and George Newall, who created both "Schoolhouse Rock" and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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