Movies Till Dawn: The Saturday Morning Strange Goes Straight to Hell

Surf Nazis Must Die” (1987, Troma Films) A future California falls into lawlessness following a cataclysmic earthquake, and from the rubble rises a new Nazi regime (which includes LA Beat alumnus Michael Sonye) which aims to rule the beaches (and specifically Redondo, Seal, and Long Beaches). However, their plans for beach domination are upended by the gun-toting, cigar-smoking mother (Gail Neely) of one of their murder victims. “Surf Nazis” is, like most of Troma’s films, an intentional goof that revels in its technical non-profiencies and gleefully toes the line between offensive and look-at-my-chewed-up-food silliness. “Surf Nazis” either amuses or annoys, though the company attempts to court favor in the former direction with their hi-def Blu-ray: included are interviews with and commentary by director Peter George (from the Projection Booth podcast) and deleted footage, as well as various gags, short films, and grotty PSAs from Troma chief Lloyd Kaufman (including a plug for his 1998 autobiography), who also lambastes mainstream companies and media platforms for their high-handed treatment of Troma.

Ghostriders” (1987, MVD Visual) The ghosts of outlaws executed in the 19th century return to the present day to plague the grandson of the hardshell preacher (stuntman Bill Shaw) who sent them to their graves. Returns are limited in this independent regional horror-Western lensed in Texas: bullets can take down the undead outlaws, which turns “Ghostriders” into a series of repetitive shoot-outs and sieges. However, Cori Powell is a resourceful female hero, and the extras on MVD’s Blu-ray – commentary with the cinematographer/producer and writer/producer and two making-of docs (new and vintage) – offer a more compelling story about the daily uphill battles faced by low-budget/indie filmmakers. Various promotional items – trailers, behind-the-scenes photos – round out the disc.

“The Unhealer” (2021, Scream Factory) School bullies who target teenager Elijah Nelson for various shortcomings – not the least of which is the eating disorder pica, which makes him compulsively eat non-food items like plastic and paper – come to regret their choice when a faith healer (Lance Henriksen) inadvertently gives him the supernatural ability to make his abusers feel the same pain they inflict on him. Supernatural revenge thriller travels along very familiar territory – its borrowed beats, from “Carrie” to “Stranger Things” and “Brightburn,” are fairly telegraphed throughout – though the pica angle is certainly unique, and the source of Nelson’s powers – stolen Native American artifacts- expands the film’s horizons beyond its predominately Anglo cast and setting and gives solid Native players like Adam Beach and Branscombe Richard some screen time. Available on Blu-ray and various digital and cable platforms.

The Mafu Cage” (Scorpion Releasing, 1978) Portrait of a mutually destructive relationship, with monkeys: a at happiness for repressed Lee Grant with fellow Griffith Observatory employee James Olson doesn’t stand a chance in the face of her sister, Cissy (Carol Kane), a mental and emotional wreck whose obsession with African culture, apes (which she calls “mafus,” and obtains from Will Geer at Tippi Hedren’s Shambala Preserve in Acton), and Grant collide in gruesome ways. Actress Karen Arthur’s alarming feature baffled a lot of audiences during its brief theatrical release; the confusion may have been over the film’s mood swings, which veer from intimate drama to screaming horror with little warning (animal lovers should note that Kane’s apes do not fare well here). However, the leads carry the heavy weight, with Kane showing heroic commitment to her bizarre character, and the conclusion pays off all the stabs at dark and gloomy material. Scorpion’s Special Edition Blu-ray is, from a visual standpoint, a vast improvement over countless crappy VHS and bootleg editions; it also offers two commentaries – one with Arthur and one with editor Carol Littleton and DP John Bailey – both of which offers a wealth of production anecdotes. Arthur, along with Grant and Kane, are also featured in separate interviews, and the disc is rounded out by production stills and a gallery of alternate titles, which from non-descript (“The Cage”) to borderline perverse (“Deviation”).

Deadly Games” (1982, Arrow Video)  Journalist Jo Ann Harris (now a prolific voice-over artist) returns to her hometown to root out the identity of the masked lunatic that murdered her sister and now works his (or her) way through her former school friends. Little-seen slasher film from writer-director Scott Mansfield refuses to abide by the subgenre’s rules and instead dovetails into various plot tangents – including frequent stops to watch local weirdo Steve Railsback and cop Sam Groom play a horror-themed board game – before delivering not one but two twist endings, one of which plays fast and loose with viewers’ grasp on reality. “Deadly Games” is doggedly offbeat but never dull, and boasts an equally eclectic cast that includes Colleen Camp, June Lockhart (as Harris’s mom), and Dick Butkus, of all people. Arrow’s Blu-ray bundles a new 2K restoration, interviews with co-star Jere Rae-Mansfield and stunt coordinator John Eggett, a wealth of promo material, and even the original script (titled “Who Fell Asleep”).


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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