Movies Till Dawn: Sleigh Bells Ring for the Saturday Morning Strange

“The Lake Michigan Monster” (2018, Arrow Films) A hapless sea captain (Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, who also wrote and directed the film) and his equally inept crew take to the waters of Lake Michigan to destroy the creature that killed his father. Their disastrous efforts frequently slip the bonds of (very funny) slapstick to achieve a sort of low-fi surrealism, enhanced greatly by the 16mm black-and-white photography, offbeat animation, and boundless energy in both performance and pace, all of which evokes a dizzying mix of silent and experimental film. Arrow’s Blu-ray offers two commentaries by the cast – one a “sober” recording and the other an aptly named and thoroughly “drunk” track – and a third by critics Alexander Heller-Nicholas and Emma Westwood, as well as multiple interviews with the cast and crew and the first season of “L.I.P.S.” an unhinged animated-live action series by Tews and producer Mike Cheslik.

The 300 Year Weekend” (1971, Kino Lorber) An experimental 24-hour therapy session pushes its participants, as well as the presiding doctor (Michael Tolan), to reveal their innermost secrets. Long-lost curiosity produced by ABC Television’s film production wing is steeped in the theatrical soul-bearing that was common to period depictions of psychotherapy; the cast – an eclectic crew that includes William Devane (who’s also credited as co-writer), soap vet Dorothy Lyman, and Carole Demas, co-host of the beloved ’70s East Coast children’s series “The Magic Garden” – shoulders the heavy-grade emotional purging with impressive durability. Director Victor Stoloff – a prolific documentarian – later directed the similar “Why?” with Tim Buckley and O.J. Simpson, of all people. Kino Lorber’s DVD includes commentary by filmmaker Daniel Kremer and director/critic Scout Tafoya.

Sting of Death” (1966, Arrow Video) Who – or what – is stalking college students on the sun-dappled Florida coast? If you guessed that a half-man, half-jellyfish is the culprit in “Sting of Death,” I would be surprised, but you would also be correct in regard to this regional sci-fi thriller from Sunshine State director William Grefe. A loose collection of stalk-and-creep scenes, pool party sequences (during which Neil Sedaka is heard warbling “Do the Jellyfish“), and scientific/environmental jibber-jabber, “Sting” is distinguished by its monster, an utterly out-to-lunch idea made even more bizarre by its ramshackle construction. A choice cut for fans of oddball and homemade genre efforts; Arrow’s Blu-ray bundles “Sting” with another (more effective) Grefe Florida freakout, “Death Curse of Tartu,” about a zombie medicine man stalking researchers in the swamp, and commentary by Grefe and “Basket Case” director Frank Henenlotter. It’s all part of “He Came from the Swamp,” a sprawling box set retrospective on Grefe’s eclectic film career.

Life is a Long Quiet River” (1988, Arrow Academy) Two French families – one well-to-do and well-heeled, the other impoverished and only loosely acquainted with social niceties – are unhappily united when they discover that two of their children were swapped at birth by a vengeful nurse. Boorishness as a issue of nurture, not nature, seems to be the focus of this French culture clash comedy, which aims for the cutting satire of Bunuel but hews closer to something like the broad and boisterous US/UK comedy “Shameless”; the broad portrayals are still delivered with gusto by the amusing cast. Arrow Academy’s subtitled Blu-ray includes interviews with writer-director Etienne Chatiliez and members of his cast and crew.

The Untold Story” (1993, Unearthed Classics) Notorious Hong Kong shocker, based on a real and ghastly series of crimes in 1978, with Anthony Wong (“Hard Boiled”) going for broke as a deranged chef who takes the Sweeney Todd approach to uncooperative bosses, co-workers, their families, and anyone else who irks him. Director Herman Yau spares no quarter in depicting the most hideous elements of Wong’s crimes as well as the brutal measures employed by police inspector Danny Lee (“The Killer”) to extract a confession from Wong. Not for the easily offended, by any means; Unearthed Classics’ Blu-ray includes three commentaries (Wong, Yau, and a very informative and enthusiastic track by exploitation historians Art Ettinger and Bruce Holecheck), as well as interviews, trailers and a featurette on the Category III rating, reserved for Hong Kong’s most outrageous genre efforts.

“Cemetery of Terror” (1985, Vinegar Syndrome) For reasons known only to themselves, a trio of medical students and their dates decide to bring a dead body back to life as part of their weekend partying; though already a bad plan, their decision becomes exponentially worse when the resuscitated corpse in question is a serial killer whose own supernatural powers cause the dead to rise from their graves. Briskly paced horror film from Mexico is blithely unconcerned with its similarities to American product (“Halloween,” natch) of the period, which, along with its abundant splatter and goofy dialogue, only adds to its appeal as an authentic, ’80s-vintage creepshow. Vinegar Syndrome’s newly scanned, restored, and subtitled Blu-ray offers two commentaries – one by director Ruben Galindo, Jr., and the other by the Hysteria Continues podcast crew – as well as anecdote-filled interviews with Galindo and star Rene Cardona III, whose father and grandfather were major figures in Mexican genre films.

The Other Side of Madness” (1971, The Film Detective) Low-budget recreation of the Manson murders, lensed before the verdict was handed down, which would suggest cheapjack exploitation, had producer Wade Williams (now a distributor of classic sci-fi and horror) and director Frank Howard focused solely on the grisly and prurient sides of the case. To their credit, the approach is a sort of verite/documentary-style recreation of the events leading up and after the Tate-LaBianca murder, with little editorializing on the counterculture (though a depiction of Manson’s race war fantasies certainly leans in that direction) and effective use of stark black-and-white photography and restrained performances (with almost no dialogue), which lend both nightmare and newsreel tones to the on-screen action. Film Detective’s Limited Edition 50th anniversary Blu-ray includes interviews with Williams, who discusses shooting the film in his hometown of Kansas City (his parents’ house stands in for 10050 Cielo Drive) and (briefly) at Spahn Ranch, as well as his interaction with Manson himself to secure the use of two songs (“Mechanical Man” and “Garbage Dump”) for use in the film; both tracks are included on a CD packaged a reproduction of the Auric Ltd 45’s sleeve

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.
This entry was posted in Movies, Music and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Movies Till Dawn: Sleigh Bells Ring for the Saturday Morning Strange

  1. Pingback: Movies Till Dawn: Bless the Beavers and the Children | The LA Beat

Leave a Reply