In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Originally posted on Cinema76.
This past Saturday, Exhumed Films presented the “Class of 1988” marathon, in which five titles from the second half of horror’s big decade were exhibited in full 16-35mm glory! Oftentimes we think of the early 80s as the repository for the genre’s biggest crowd pleasers (even if just a niche crowd), when in reality, the entire decade has endless treats to offer. During the 1980s the dawn of VHS brought cinematic entertainment into the homes of regular Americans, and as a result, a huge market for genre film was created. Cinephiles my age remember a time when they could peruse the aisles of their local Mom and Pop video store (shout out to B&C Video, RIP), judge potential titles on box art alone (Ghoulies, anyone?) and then bring them home to view while their parents were in bed. The genre films of the 80s were an outlet for an audience looking to safely misbehave; to consume over the top sex and violence as a means of catharsis; all the while showcasing filmmakers who rely on innovation to exceed their limitations. The films presented at The Class of 1988 all fit the bill, making for one of the most successful Exhumed lineups yet!
The Blob (dir. Chuck Russell)
The Thing and The Fly are perhaps the two most lauded 1980s updates of 1950s monster flicks, while The Blob is often relegated to a footnote. Short of local appreciation (the original film features an iconic scene at the Colonial Theater in Phoenixville), the bulk of the film’s fandom consists of folks who either caught it on TV or rented the tape as a youth. As such, it’s often dismissed as cheesy fun, when in reality it’s an exceptionally scary flick. Yes, watching Kevin Dillon play a tough guy in his twenties is a goofy pleasure to say the least, but it’s all in perfect conjunction with the film’s cruel funhouse tone. Our proposed hero is digested by the titular beast before the twenty minute mark, followed by a string of gruesome casualties involving characters who, when not penned by Frank Darabont, typically survive such a story. Even a kid is melted in front of his friends. The dog lives, though. That’s nice.
Night of the Demons (dir. Kevin Tenney)
If ever there were an iconic VHS sleeve, it’s this one. For decades, the demon in the tiara has been seared into the folds of my brain, but it wasn’t until this latest Exhumed event that the image was given any context. It did not disappoint! When a group of Maniac Mansion-looking 1980s teenage stereotypes decide to party in an abandoned old house – and then hold a seance in said house – shit naturally goes down. Colorful, gruesome, and overflowing with a wealth of detailed effects makeup, Night of the Demons is a beers-and-blunts pleaser of the highest order. Add to that the comical mean streak shared by all of the characters and you get a movie which, even in the scant moments when it’s not spraying blood on the walls, never stops being entertaining. Also, Dana Ashbrook.
Film presented with a Q&A from writer/producer Joe Augustyn who even having “just woken up” was happy to talk about the entirety of production, from inception to completion, giving an insider’s view into the VHS boom of the 1980s.
Slime City (dir. Greg Lamberson)
Odd that watching reel after reel of exploding torsos, dismembered limbs, and horrifying sex crimes never makes my tumbly grumble, but just a little bit of slime turns it like an overloaded washing machine. And Slime City has more than a little bit of slime.
Created simultaneously with Jim Munro’s Street Trash, Slime City fell victim to a variety of misfortunes which prevented it from reaching the former’s cult status. According to the writer/director, his film’s delayed release earned it the misnomer of being a copycat of both Street Trash and The Stuff, films which also feature a gruesome beverage that results in a slimy fate for the consumer. He happily admits to ripping off Rosemary’s Babyand a litany of other films, but emphasizes that similarities to Street Trash and The Stuffare just a case of parallel development.
Personally, I think it’s an unfair comparison anyway. Despite being about slime, goop, mung, schmutz, and other mid-viscosity liquids, each film is going for something quite different.
Film presented with a Q&A from writer/director Greg Lamberson, in which he confirmed that while intended as a full-on horror movie, the team behind Slime City is happy to embrace the fact that crowds see it as a comedy.
Maniac Cop (dir. William Lustig)
I think Maniac Cop must hold the record for the amount of times the title is said out loud within the movie. “We got some kind of maniac cop on our hands!” It’s incredible. What makes the movie so special is its constant shifting of exactly what type of movie it is. At first it’s a slasher, then it becomes a mystery, then it throws away the mystery to become a sort of social thriller about justice in a post-Dirty Harry world, before finally landing on being a basic monster survival flick, in which the monster is a cop (who is also a maniac). Bruce Campbell is specifically not hamming it up (amazing), while Tom Atkins continues to chew scenery, smoke cigarettes, and, at least in my head canon, take out single mothers for dinner and treating them right.
Presented with a Q&A from director William Lustig who gleefully recounted any story he could think of from his considerable body of work, including the following factoids:
– Joe Spinell is unstoppable with women, all of whom are charmed by his “gift for gab.” In fact, his taste for the ladies was matched only by his ability to consume cocaine.
– Cops love Maniac Cop.
– The original prints of his similarly titled Maniac have been found, transferred, and will be released this fall, complete with behind the scenes footage of Joe Spinell wandering the streets at night being weird for fun (and to kill his massive cocaine high).
– Serial killers today are boring. The 1970s were the heyday of serial killers. It doesn’t get better than a birthday clown who bury boys under his house. Yes, he said this.
– He has left creative tasks on the pending Maniac Cop remake up to the new filmmakers. He’s happy to be a part of it otherwise, it’s just that he sees the franchise as a comical, absurd blast, and the update promises to be darker.
Waxwork (dir. Anthony Hickox)
A demon baby is blown away with a shotgun. A bat is shot in the head execution style. No fewer than 4 stunt performers are fully engulfed in flames (which is true for almost every movie on this list). Zach Galligan smokes cigarettes, even though it’s clear he doesn’t know how. The list of pleasures goes on and on, and despite starting with what looks to be a sneaky anthology format, Waxwork soon becomes an boundary-less mashup of, well, everything. Admittedly, by the time Waxwork was hitting the home stretch, my marathon legs were starting to give way, and my ability to truly engage the material was hampered. With that said, it was the PERFECT mindset through which to view this bonkers crowd-pleaser. Yeah, I was tired, but Waxwork’s manic structure and aggressive plot-release formula kept my red, watery eyes glued to the screen. Very few movies grant me the ability to hold my pee, especially after consuming beer, but Waxwork is one of them!
Also featured were the following trailers, all from 1988:
- Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
- Hellbound: Hellraiser II
- The Nest
- Monkey Shines
- The Lair of the White Worm
- The Serpent and the Rainbow
- The Kiss
- Elvira: Mistress of the Dark
- Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood
- Welcome to Snack Canyon
- Phantasm II
- Poltergeist III
- The Unholy
- A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
- The Blob
- Bad Dreams