Rewind This!

Directed by: Josh Johnson
Category: Documentary

As an avid VHS enthusiast/collector myself having gotten back into the game a few years ago, this, along with Adjust Your Tracking, have been 2 documentaries that I've been dying to see because they both deal with the recent VHS boom. I have yet to get a hold of Adjust Your Tracking, but happened on this on streaming on Hulu Plus.

I have to admit, this one did not have a great start. In fact, the first 5 minutes were so dull that before the opening credits started to roll, I actually started to wonder what I got myself into, or if I'd even be able to continue on. Basically it's a guy scouring a local flea market for some VHS tapes as he's talking to the camera about what he looks for and what he ends up finding almost every time. You kind of hope that this tedious and uninspired segment leads to him finding that rare "find" out in the wild. But that is not to be. Instead what this guy is doing is giving you an idea of how boring and uneventful VHS hunting can be because for every Deadly Prey or Black Devil Doll From Hell you "might" stumble upon at a garage sale, flea market or swap meet, you will always come across about a thousand Titanic or Jerry Maguire's. 

Thankfully, and rather impressively after a killer opening credits sequence, Rewind This! changes course 180 degrees and what we are treated to is 94 minutes of VHS love. Full of insightful information regarding the VHS boom of the 80's, even going into the machines that played them and their role in the VHS vs. Betamax war and even giving us the complete history of how home video even came to be and where it started, Rewind This! is a filmgeek's dream. Rarely does a documentary ever turn out this good, but this one does in spades. Oh, and what documentary about the home video revolution would be complete without delving into the start of the porn industry and their role in the format? Oh yea, they go there too.

As engrossing and entertaining as the entire thing is, there are a few notable standout interviews; chief among them, Frank Henenlotter (Brain Damage, Frankenhooker, Basket Case) and another guy named David Nelson, who calls himself The Rock and apparently has no idea of how to make a film, yet has miraculously made hundreds of them by splicing together scenes he films randomly until they make sense. And he sells them door to door. Henenlotter, on the other hand, seems like a really fun guy who just doesn't give a shit about what anybody thinks, but this guy The Rock seriously needs to consider doing motivational speaking because he was just great at it during this one moment when he's basically screaming at you to follow your dreams and not listen to what anyone else has to say about it. You want to do it? Then go out and fuckin' do it and stop crying about it!

Rewind This! has everything a video nerd and filmgeek could want. Remarkably engrossing from start to finish it will surely make you want to dig through your old box of VHS tapes you have stored away in the attic to see if you have any lost gems hidden in there. Director Josh Johnson has crafted a loving homage and nostalgic trip down memory lane for those of us old enough to have been alive and collecting during the height of it's success. Rewind This! acts as a quirky time capsule to a different time, and it's surprising and quickly expanding resurgence.


Here Comes the Devil

Directed by: Adrian Garcia Bogliano
Category: Horror

A few months ago I had heard about this film hitting the festival circuits. When the trailer finally hit, it literally gave me chills of excitement. It felt like an old school style horror film. A homage, if you will, to films like Rosemary's Baby, The Omen and The Changeling. Boy, that trailer got me really excited. Then literally just a few weeks after seeing this amazing trailer I came across a film on Netflix called Cold Sweat. It sounded intriguing, so we threw it on and boom! Directed by Adrian Garcia Bogliano, the same writer/director of Here Comes the Devil. Now I enjoyed Cold Sweat immensely, so my excitement over HCtD only intensified and when I realized it was available to rent just the other day, I jumped at the chance for some old school creepy horror.

Overall, I'd have to say that HCtD didn't fulfill my expectations as much as I'd hoped. At times it felt like a completely missed opportunity, and at others it felt semi-amateurish. Bogliano has a distinct way of directing, and while it worked well for Cold Sweat, it didn't seem to for HCtD. But the shocking thing is that if you've seen the trailer, it promises a distinct style and narrative based on the visual elements alone, yet ultimately does not deliver. While he does try, he can't seem to help but revert to his often playful kinetic camerawork, which is a shame really. HCtD had so much potential, yet fails to deliver on several levels.

The thing is that this could have been a creepy as hell and deeply unsettling film, yet only seems to slightly scratch the surface on that concept. If you've seen the trailer, you know the story. Two kids go playing around on a mountain, go over the hill and disappear, only to reemerge later and acting strangly. Oh man, there are so many things you can do with that concept alone and hell, the damn title pretty much fills everything else in. But as much as I hate to say it, HCtD doesn't always deliver the goods. There's a lot to like about it if you give it a chance; some really inspired sequences and a cool "WTF?!" revenge moment, but there's also a lot of things that just don't work and some ideas that drag out way too long and take you out of the experience. I think one of it's biggest weaknesses is that it runs along at a snails pace. While that's nothing new for a film like this, there are times where it's just too much, especially when writer/director Adrian Garcia Bogliano spends a little too much time trying to establish the strained relationship between the mother and father of the now creepy-ass kids. But then something unsettling and disturbing happens and you remember, again, that you are in fact watching something pretty cool.

As things progress, it takes a number of predictable turns, but most of all takes more unpredictable ones. Annoyingly though, with some of these creep-out rad scenes that are thrown in randomly from to time, a good chunk of them are never explained so you don't really understand what they mean or what significance they have in relation to the creepy kids. Are they doing these things? Or are they just a pawn? It can get a little frustrating from time to time not knowing, but the constant sense of overall dread hovering over everything in this film kind of helps you forget, because it's rare that a film like this ever comes around so for the most part, you can forgive it's flaws. I'm sure it sounds like I'm bitching about the whole thing but in all honesty, I really enjoyed it. It just feels like it could have been better or that they didn't fully realize it's potential, and as an avid filmgeek, you obviously start thinking of all the ways it should have gone but didn't. Regardless of my personal feelings about it's shortcomings, Adrian Garcia Bogliano's HCtD is still a knockout of a haunting creepy-kids thriller.


Quick Shot: Mud

Written/Directed by: Jeff Nichols
Category: Drama

I caught this last night and wanted to wait a bit before I threw some comments down on this one. So here are some quick thoughts now that I've had time to process it in no intelligent order and quite random.

I didn't know what to expect from this since all I kept hearing was how incredible this film was, and not really anything about what it was about. But it surely did not disappoint. Again, McConaughey knocks this one out of the park and the guy just can't be stopped. He's on a bigger career high than he was when he began his career. Since 2011, he has been killing it! 

At it's heart, Mud (named after McConaughey's character) is a drama with some slight elements of suspense. But it's the way writer/director Jeff Nichols puts it all together and structures it that while technically a drama, it's thoroughly engrossing from start to finish with Nichols even playing with the thriller genre a bit in here. Every performance is top notch in this, but it's 14 year old Tye Sheridan who steals the show. This kid is good. I look forward to seeing him in the Nicolas Cage drama "Joe" that I keep hearing will knock our socks off. 

And last but not least, Jeff Nichols lush visual eye candy is something to be admired. Rarely does a filmmaker, let alone one who's only had 2 other films under his belt, 
take the time to give each and every single frame such loving attention to old fashioned filmmaking, yet Nichols takes immense control over every single frame of film that even though it's rural Arkansas, he makes it look stunningly gorgeous. 

Currently streaming on Netflix.


Chopping Mall AKA Killbots Japan VHS

Snagged this awesome bit of Japanese VHS goodness recently. 
A lot smaller than most of the other Japanese VHS I currently own with a slightly faded spine, 
but that is one helluva badass cover. 

Chopping Mall AKA Killbots Japan VHS Cover


Enemies Closer

Directed by: Peter Hyams
Category: Action

As a huge fan of director Peter Hyams, you can say I was a little more than excited to hear he was returning to the action genre with a Van Damme film. Don't forget, he directed Van Damme in two of his best films to date, Sudden Death and Timecop, both back in the 90's when both were at the top of their game. As Van Damme seems to be experiencing a surge in popularity again, in no small part due to that amazing commercial where he does the now famous split between two moving trailers, I was or "am" hopeful that Hyams will be doing the same. Allow me to refresh your memory if you're having a hard time remembering what Peter Hyams has done. In essence, he's a rather gifted filmmaker who can work in almost any genre and is almost always his own Director of Photography, an extremely rare thing in filmmaking these days. In the science fiction genre, he's helmed the severely underrated and awesome Outland, as well the sequel to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey with 2010. He knocked the action/comedy genre out of the park with the cop/buddy movie Running Scared and gave us two of Van Damme's best with the Die Hard themed Sudden Death and the sci-fi/action film Timecop. Thriller's seem to be a favorite of his as in his long career, he seems to keep going back to that genre. Of these, a few personal favorites of mine would have to be The Presidio, The Star Chamber and Narrow Margin. After a few flops in the late 90's, most notably with Arnold Schwarzenegger's End of Days, he couldn't seem to get back in the groove, especially after the disastrous 2005 effort A Sound of Thunder. So I hope you can understand my excitement in hearing he would be once again re-teaming with his old friend Van Damme.

So was Enemies Closer any good? Right off the bat I have to admit that while it didn't necessarily knock my socks off like I hoped it would, it's not a total loss either - and by no means a bad film at all. It's just very straight-forward and uninspired. Gone are the visual flourishes that gave Peter Hyams films his signature look and feel. And missing is any kind of real genuine creativity or any real substance that would make this film standout from the many DTV flicks pouring out every week. If you're looking for something in the vein of some of Van Damme's better efforts from the Golden Age of his career, you ain't gonna find it here. But! What Enemies Closer (strange title) does offer is an almost nostalgic take on a tired genre and uninspired material. How so? Well, while Hyams doesn't wow me with the visual eye candy that always seemed to impress me with his earlier films, or rather his best known films, he can still film a movie a helluva lot better and more proficiently than most of the talentless or commercial/video generation of filmmakers flooding the market with lame action films that leave no lasting impression. The look of the film is clean and steady and most importantly, the fight scenes - of which there are many - are coherent. Hallelujah! Yes ladies and gentlemen, no quick-edit shaky-cam crap here. There are a ton of fights, some short and some long, and each one is executed with great precision in it's choreography and in how it was captured on film. Good job fellas.

Usually playing the role of hero, this time around Van Damme plays the villain, which he showed he's more than capable of in Expendables 2. Only this time he decided to go all out and though he's looking a little more tired these days, he is clearly having a blast in the role as a vegan bad guy with a crazy ass haircut. And I have to admit, as much as I love me some good ol' Van Damme playing the hero, it's just as much fun seeing him ham it up as the villain from time to time. But I think it's the rest of the cast that I had a problem with. Let's start with the other two leads, Orlando Jones and Tom Everett Scott. Scott, who you may remember from An American Werewolf in Paris, just looks so out of place in here. As you watch it you can't help but feel that there should have been a tougher looking guy in the role. Sure, Scott is not a small guy or anything, he's actually rather large, but he just looks like he's in the wrong type of film, like the comical side kick in a romantic comedy or something; not the lead in an action film. Shit, I think even someone like Sean William Scott would have even worked, but not this guy. And then there's Orlando Jones, who, surprisingly enough, also serves as producer on this film, himself also turns up as a villain here. Weird. Though he does turn out a little more believable in the role than Scott.

It was pretty clear at the halfway mark that this wasn't going to be the slam bang picture I was hoping for. Once you realize this isn't a new piece of Badass Cinema, then you'll probably enjoy it a lot more. It's a good action film, no doubt about it, unfortunately it's just not going to blow kick your ass. Hyams still demonstrates a knack for putting a film together, albeit not up to par with most of his previous stuff. Whereas previously he had a talent for keeping the camera still with some nice cinematography, here he implores a lot more steadicam work than we're used to from him. Maybe there was a tight schedule, or the fact that it was a night shoot most of the time? If anything, I'm hoping it's just a simple case of being a little rusty and learning to get back in the groove of things. But it's a good film and more importantly, it's a fun one. In the violence department, despite a lack of hard action sequences, there are a ton of fist fights to keep you satisfied, all nicely choreographed with some bone-crunching sound effects to boot.

Interestingly enough, despite it's dramatically short running time of 1 hour and 20 mintues, there seems to be two different stories going on; one of Van Damme's character trying to acquire a shipment of heroin from the bottom of a lake and another of Orlando's character seeking revenge on Scott's character, who's a forest ranger overseeing the lake. Inevitably they get mixed up in Van Damme's mess and must learn to work together to survive, despite hating each other and one of them wanting the other dead. It just seems like they could have chosen either of these stories and make an entire film out of them rather than going back and forth between these two in the same film. It never gets complicated or anything though, so maybe I'm just bitching for nothing.

Certainly neither of Van Damme or director Peter Hyams best work, it's not a bad film in the least and in a market full of duds, you certainly could certainly do worse than Enemies Closer. It's short, too the point with plenty of fight scenes and an over the top Van Damme. In some weird way, it was a slight breath of fresh air.


Quick Shot: America Mary

Written & Directed by: The Soska Sisters
Category: Horror

I was a little hesitant about this one. I'd seen it at my one and only local video store and for some reason, this cover always made it look like some kind of documentary to me. And the title, while misleading when put into the context of the film, didn't grab me. Yea the cover is a picture of a hot chick wearing an apron holding a hacksaw, but there was something too artsy fartsy about it all. At least some international posters were more gruesome. This had also been in my Netflix queue for months before we finally decided to sit down and watch it the other day when we couldn't find anything else to watch.

Right off the bat, I'll tell you American Mary has both good and bad points. On the plus side it's a well made film; nice camerawork with a sleek visual style. Not sure if it would be categorized as a horror film though or just a thriller because while I guess technically they were going for the horror genre, there's nothing really scary about it and even when you take into account what the subject matter is, the graphic violence (of which you'd expect there to be a plethora of), is pretty minimal. But the film is stylish and looks good. So it'll always have that going for it. On the flipside though, while the film as a whole looks good, it's seriously lacking in a lot of areas. For example, it's rather slow. And while a big part of the film is the subject of body modification, they never really explore it to the level that they should. You just feel that they could have gone so much further with that idea. There's a sequence in particular that comes to mind. I'm sure had they put a little more thought into it, they could have put together a montage of real body modification enthusiasts in some way. It's a rather large and dedicated community. I'm positive any one of them would have been happy to contribute some screen time for that. But alas, that was not to be. And I'm still not sure what the title "American" Mary means. Maybe it's not meant to mean anything.

Another positive attribute to this experience is the cast. Katherine Isabelle, who stars as the titular Mary, is sexy as hell, constantly teasing us with some "almost" nudity, but never actually going there. Bummer. Apparently, she's Ginger from the Ginger Snaps films, which I have never actually seen. So she's kind of already well known in the horror community, as are the films twin sister writer/directors, the Soska Twins, who also make an appearance in the film, as....you guessed it.....twin sisters looking for some body modification. It looks like this is their biggest film to date, having previously worked on a low-budget film called Dead Hooker in a Trunk and a bunch of shorts. But if they put as much care and technical detail in their future projects as they did with this one, then I'm looking forward to what they have to offer us.

Overall, not a bad effort. It's visually a nice looking film and when it eventually does offer a few small doses of violence, they're nicely done. It just seems that it never quite reaches the level it could with the subject matter. Sparsely violent or even shocking combined with it's slow pace and sometimes confusing editing choices hinder it's ability to leave a lasting impression.


Hands of Steel AKA Destroyer Spanish Reversible VHS Cover

On a fluke, I messaged a fellow Facebook collector in one of the VHS groups about having any Spanish tapes of certain titles I've been looking for and lo and behold, the guy hooked me up with this amazing double-sided Spanish VHS as well as the Raiders of Atlantis Spanish BETA I posted recently. Score!

Hands of Steel AKA Destroyer Spanish VHS Cover A


Quick Shot: Wishmaster

Directed by: Robert Kurtzman
Category: Horror

Surely by now, you've heard of the Wishmaster series. I do, but only had a vague recollection of it. Mainly I remember Wes Craven being a producer on it or something with the first one so he had his name all over it to push it into the mainstream a lot easier in hopes to reach a wider audience. I remember catching it once when it first hit theaters, but for some reason I don't remember if I liked it or not. Of course, when I really stop and think about it I suppose the fact that it didn't leave an impression on me should say something, right?

Well, my fears were unfounded because having sat down recently to revisit this one, I had a blast. Unknown to me, this film has a tremendous amount of talent behind the camera. I mean, it's insane. The one and only Wes Craven is a producer, but it's also written by Peter Atkins, who wrote the best Hellraiser to date with Hellbound: Hellraiser 2, you know, the one with all the best lines of dialogue and the most quotable? Then you've got KNB Effects Group guru Robert Kurtzman on directing duties, and doing a mighty fine job I may add, and Greg Nicotero pulling double duty as second unit director as well as makeup effects. But then you have Harry  Manfredini who's done most of the Friday the 13th scores as well as coming up with the theme song does the score here, and that's not even the eclectic cast with the likes of Kane Hodder, Angus Scrimm, Ted Raimi, Tony Todd, Robert England and of course, the one and only Andrew Divoff as the Wishmaster himself--who just seems to be having a blast with this role.

For me personally, it just seemed like all the right ingredients were here for this one. As a horror film, it's not really scary--what horror films are these days--but it's a helluva lot of fun, and that's always #1 in my book. It's also made considerably well, considering Kurtzman as a director had only made one other film before this with 1995's The Demolitionist. It's even more surprising, or sad I should say, to learn that he hadn't really done much as a director since this one, with only 3 other films (all low-budget) since this film in 1997. It's really a shame. I haven't seen any other film he's ever directed other than this, but basing my judgement solely on this one effort here, I'd say he's definitely got some talent behind the camera. Either he has no desire to work as a director or he hasn't been given the opportunity to continue to hone his craft; I'll never know. One thing I do know though; he knocked this one out of the park. I have the same feelings for Clive Barker. The dude's only ever directed 3 films in his entire career, and each one has left a long-lasting impression on me. And it seemed that he only got better with each film, yet since 1995 he hasn't directed anything, not even as a director-for-hire, which seems so odd to me. How can someone with so much talent make 3 amazing films in a row and then nothing for 20 years?

But anyway, I'm getting off track here. For fans of old school make-up horror, this one is about as good as can get. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about it's many sequels, but you'll definitely have a good time with this one. Yea, there's some pretty infant looking CGI, but it's also got a ton of practical effects work, and that's where this film really shines. Yeesss, some of it is really cheesy, but that doesn't mean it's any less fun or entertaining, right? And guess what? It gets even better. This, along with all of it's sequels, are currently streaming on Netflix right now.


The Punisher Turkish Large Clamshell VHS

The newest addition to my seemingly never-ending Punisher (1989) VHS collection. 
A special thank you to Jason Arnopp for hooking me up with this beauty. This makes 10 so far in my quest to collect as many different versions from all over the world. I will be posting a picture of the entire collection as of now soon.

The Punisher Turkish VHS Cover