Movies Till Dawn: Horror Business (Neon Demons)

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker” (1983, Code Red) Life for adopted teen Jimmy McNichol gets weird in a hurry after he’s offered a college basketball scholarship: the attentions of his aunt (the late, great Susan Tyrell) turn from overprotective to unsettlingly intimate, while hyper-aggressive cop Bo Svenson (“Kill Bill”) has him pinned as the guilty party in a gay love triangle that resulted in the murder of his coach’s boyfriend (Caskey Swaim). Complicated and disturbing Gothic shocker tricked out in sleazoid clothing from veteran TV director William Asher (“Bewitched”) has been long been cited as an unsung ’80s horror title, delivering both ghastly murders and miles of deviant psychology as well as pointed subtextual commentary on the ugliness of the adult world. The latter, which includes Oedipal mania and gay panic run amuck, undoubtedly threw off the grindhouse faithful during its release, but in recent years, “Butcher” has won over more discerning or adventurous horror fans (note Marc Edward Heuck’s smart and passionate tribute at the New Beverly Cinema site here). Code Red’s excellent Special Edition Blu-ray offer a 2K restoration and numerous extras, including commentary tracks featuring McNichol, producer/writer Steven Breimer and co-writer Alan Jay Glueckman; interviews with McNichol, Tyrell, Breimer, and makeup artist Allan A. Apone (“Faces of Death,” the MCU) round out the set.

Dead and Buried” (1981, Blue Underground) Brutal murders in a small town appear to involve multiple people, some taking pictures or films of the crime; more disturbingly, it also appears that some of the participants may be dead. Exceptionally creepy sleeper from director Gary Sherman of “Death Line” and “Vice Squad” fame benefits from its unsettling murder set pieces, orchestrated with grisly special effects by Stan Winston, and a solid cast led by James Farentino as the local law and Jack Albertson as a natty town mortician with artistic ambitions (Robert Englund, Melody Anderson, and Lisa Blount are also present). The script, by “Alien” writers Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon (“Return of the Living Dead“), is unfocused and overcomplicated at times, but provides crisp dialogue for Albertson and a swift jab at the viewing appetites of jaded ’80s audiences. Blue Underground’s 4K Blu-ray upgrade ports over three commentary tracks – one with Sherman and BU co-founder David Gregory, one with Shusett and spouse Linda Turley, and one with DP Steve Poster – and adds a new fourth track by Nathaniel Thompson and Troy Howarth, all of which provide a wealth of production info. Other new extras include a look at the Mendocino locations and making-of footage with commentary by Sherman and interviews with composer Joe Renzetti and horror author Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, who penned the tie-in novel. Vintage extras include interviews with Englund, the late Winston and O’Bannon; a CD of Renzetti’s eerie score and liner notes by Michael Gingold round out the excellent set.

Santa Sangre” (1989, Severin Films) Go here to read own Elise’s fine job of summarizing Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s category-defying “Santa Sangre,” a mystical/psychedelic coming-of-age-story by way of giallo-style horror and eye-popping spectacle/traumatizing visuals. I certainly wouldn’t have attempted to do so, but then again, Elise is fearless. I will instead let you know about Severin’s staggering four-disc, limited Deluxe Edition of “Santa Sangre,” which presents the film on both Blu-ray and UHD. In addition to a 4K restoration, the set features commentary by and interviews with Jodorowsky himself, whose pronouncements can be as mind-expanding (or baffling) as his films. A feature-length making-of documentary,deleted scenes with Jodorowsky’s commentary, and interviews with the primary crew – producer Claudio (brother of Dario) Argento, writer Roberto Leoni, and others, footage from a 30th anniversary screening of Severin’s 4K restoration in Mexico, a short film by Jodorowsky’s son Adan (who plays the youthful version of the film’s deeply conflicted protagonist, Fenix), are also included, along with a full CD of the film’s hallucinatory score by Simon Boswell (whose interview with Jodorowsky is also included in the set). If you need transportation to a different world than ours right now – one that may not be better, but more vivid – your ticket is waiting here.

The Cellar” (1988, Vinegar Syndrome) Marrieds Patrick Kilpatrick – one of the many candidates on the current ballot to replace Gavin Newsom as governor of CA – and Suzanne Savoy discover that their newly purchased home already has an occupant – a slimy creature from Native American folklore with a history of dispatching white trespassers from tribal lands. Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray bundles two versions of “The Cellar”: the producer’s cut (taken from a 2K negative scan), which is a standard-issue ’80s creature feature with an emphasis on toothless jump scares; and an alternate cut by director Kevin S. Tenney of “Night of the Demons” and “Witchboard” fame which, while no unsung classic, places more emphasis on character, story, and atmosphere, and makes good use of the Texas and Arizona locations). Tenney, Kilpatrick, and Savoy are featured on commentary tracks for both films, and detail the film’s complicated production and release; they and other participants are also included on a making-of featurette which doubles down on the behind-the-scenes disaster stories.

“The Demons of Ludlow” (1983, Arrow Video) More microbudgeted mayhem from Wisconsin filmmaker Bill Rebane (“Monster A-Go-Go“); here, he tackles supernatural horror with a story about an piano, gifted to a small town by the descendants of its founder, who departed the area centuries before under less than favorable circumstances. The story is a standard issue revenge-from-beyond-the-grave story, made somewhat less cohesive by the financial restrictions inherent to regional moviemaking. But Rebane does manage to conjure up a modest degree of atmosphere, thanks to his state’s naturally foreboding wintertime environment, and a few of the scare setpieces involving the town locals and the spirits that inhabit the piano stand out by virtue of sheer weirdness (floating disembodied hands and the like). Certainly on par with any other ’80s-era indie horror effort; Arrow’s Blu-ray, which is part of the “Weird Wisconsin” set, includes an interview with Rebane holding forth on the film’s production and its connection to Uli Lommel’s similar “Devonsville Terror,” with which it shared locations and crew.

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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