Sunday, June 29, 2014

Salute Your Shorts: Lights Out (2013)


Just before turning in for the night, a woman (Lotta Losten ) becomes immensely frightened by what is hidden within the darkness of her own home.

Written and directed by Swedish filmmaker David F. Sandberg, Lights Outs is an ideal example of effective horror through simplicity. With a runtime of only 3 minutes, Sandberg uses light and darkness to build tension and create genuine scares. The solitary nature of the short encapsulates a feeling of unease similar to that creepy, paranoid feeling one can get from being alone in an empty house, where the only sense of safety comes from hiding beneath the covers.

Check out the short for yourself below. Just make sure you do so with the lights on!

Salute Your Shorts 4.5

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

‘Invasion of the Scream Queens’ (1992) Occupies With Minimal Impact

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Coming in right at the height of the scream queen craze, Invasion of the Scream Queens is a documentary built upon numerous interviews with what feels like a myriad of horror actresses. Directed by cult schlockmeister Donald Farmer, the documentary has no real narrative to it and seems to be more of a long-winded ABOUT ME rather than an actual documentary focused on the scream queen era. Regardless, throughout the numerous interviews, there are certainly a few worthy gems as well as some valuable insight into the genre at the time, and all from the perspective of the women who were boobs-deep in it.

Of the many interviews, the viewer is privy to some very well-known actresses as well as a few that you might not have heard of. Some notable interviews come from mainstays Brink Stevens and Michelle Bauer. Coincidentally, I had recently re-watched Screaming In High Heels, so it was interesting to see both actresses just as they are at the height of their career in Invasion of the Scream Queens, whereas in Screaming In High Heels, both Bauer and Stevens are simply reflecting on the past with mixed results. It's a fascinating contrast.  

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Other interviews of note come from Janus Blythe, who tells some intriguing stories about meeting a future boyfriend in Jonathan Demme as well as working as a personal assistant to director Tom Holland on Fright Night. Elizabeth Kaitan, who is quite charming and just as sweet, is given an opportunity to unleash her love of film by discussing her adoration for Bonnie and Clyde as well as Martin Scorsese movies such as Taxi Driver, After Hours and Goodfellas, which she frustratingly exclaims "Should have won the Oscar!"

A shockingly youthful looking David DeCoteau turns up as the only male interviewee. While DeCoteau gives some valuable insight, his biggest contribution comes from comments he makes in reference to Linnea Quigley and how they no longer work together for various reasons. DeCoteau goes on to mention something about how they're both "upgrading their career," something of which really piqued my curiosity, especially considering that, outside of a few film clips, Quigley is entirely absent from the documentary.  

Invasion of the scream queens documentary Mary Woronov

One of my favorite interviews from Invasion of the Scream Queens comes from the great Mary Woronov, who gives an entertainingly strange and animated interview. Woronov spends some time discussing working with both Andy Warhol and Paul Bartel as well as her own work as an artist. Throughout her interview, the audience is given the opportunity to actually see some of her fairly impressive artwork, as Woronov both candidly and uncomfortably discusses what each piece means to her. It's really nice to see this aspect of Mary Woronov, and in my opinion, her interview is of great value to the documentary and cult film fans alike.

There are plenty more fascinating interview subjects, though there are also a few that can be a little dry at times, something of which results in sporadic moments of boredom. On the other hand, there are times when the whole affair starts to get a little depressing, which is a result of hearing so many of these actresses talk about how they're looking forward to doing bigger and better things – like getting into mainstream Hollywood pictures –  which is clearly something that would not come to fruition for the majority of them. They all have stars burning bright in their eyes, but it's all just waiting to fade away.

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The DVD video quality of the 20th Anniversary Edition of Invasion of the Scream Queens is fairly low, which is clearly due to the fact that it‘s a VHS rip of the original 1992 Mondo Video release, complete with tracking issues and all. Overall, I don't consider this much of a problem, as I assume a VHS release was the only source available. Furthermore, it fits with the era on an aesthetic level. With that being said, however, there are moments where the quality does become a little distracting, specifically when the screen sporadically goes black for a few seconds here and there early in the film.

While I may have my qualms, It's nice to have something like Invasion of the Scream Queens see a DVD release. These interviews are a part of cult cinema history and should be archived as such, and I believe the project as a whole, in all of its imperfections, is worth the time of any horror and cult cinema aficionado.

Invasion of the Scream Queens 20th Anniversary Special Edition is now available for purchase on Amazon.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Nostalgia Swells with 'Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector' (2013)

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Growing up, I was lucky enough to have parents who were not only able to afford a VCR, but enjoyed renting movies as well. With great clarity, I recall the first few times that we, as a family, went to one of the many local video stores, and just how excited I was at the thought of being able to watch any movie whenever I wanted to. It was a revolution that even I, as a young child, could completely comprehend. The fact that I no longer had to wait for Star Wars to be shown on TV to actually watch it was all I needed to know that this was something very special. But that was only the tip of the iceberg...

Being incredibly formative in my development as a movie fan, specifically a genre film fan, the video store (along with the local comic book shop) would come to be my sanctuary. I would spend countless hours staring at each and every film – mostly in the horror section – with complete and utter adoration. Each film had a specific cover, and each cover told a different story, and I could not get enough. This love and devotion to video stores and the genre cinema contained within would last all the way up until, well, now. But while VHS may have been long laid to rest by the average consumer, there are those of us who still find ourselves drawn to the format for our own various reasons. This fondness, obsessive as it can sometimes be, is the springboard for Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector.  


Directed by Dan Kinem and Levi Peretic, Adjust Your Tracking is a Kickstarter funded documentary that shines the spotlight on collectors who refuse to believe that VHS is, or ever was, dead. Throughout the documentary, the various interviewees are given an opportunity to state their case as to why they collect a format that most would smirkingly scoff at, and quite often their arguments are driven by a tangible passion that is both charming and honest. Some of these collectors are driven by nostalgia (even if some of them are far removed from the era), others simply love the aesthetic, and some are well aware that VHS is the only format in which they will be able to see so many of the films that were never given a DVD release.

The documentary has a visually pleasing VHS style aesthetic to it, utilizing the imperfections associated with the format – such as tracking issues, video quality and color problems – as a form of presentation. The documentary even goes as far as to supply each of the interviewees their own handwritten VHS label to indicate who they are and what they do. Something I always enjoy about watching a documentary along the lines of Adjust Your Tracking are the various clips. Throughout the film, the viewer is showered with a plethora of wonderful retro footage, such as television advertisements for VCRs and VHS as well as a slew of great horror and cult movie clips that are sure to bring a smile to many a genre film fan's face.

Tales from the Quadead Zone VHSThe history of VHS is quickly glossed over with little depth, but as the subtitle ‘The Untold Story of the VHS Collector’ indicates, Adjust Your Tracking focuses on those who have come to find solace in collecting video tapes. The numerous subjects discuss everything from their humble beginnings as a collector to the judgment they sometimes receive from people who simply do not understand their passion. There are plenty of humorous anecdotes about the creepy and often filthy places in which the subjects have searched for tapes as well as discussions about how VHS cover art was often far better than the actual films themselves.

The various interviewees also discuss the limits they have set for how much they will spend on a tape, which leads to one of the most entertaining segments in the documentary, the eBay sale of the hysterically inept Tales from the Quadead Zone. Considered by many collectors to be the holy grail of VHS tapes, Tales from the Quadead Zone is famous, and slightly infamous, for not only being quite rare, but for garnering $660 on an eBay auction in 2011. This sale went on to have a huge impact in the world of VHS collecting. So huge in fact, that the sale, and VHS collecting in general, would come to receive a fair amount of mainstream news coverage. On an interesting side note, an unofficial release of Tales from the Quadead Zone more recently took in over $1,000 on eBay, causing a whole new stir of its own (Click here to read more). 

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One of the highlights of Adjust Your Tracking comes from the Collector Spotlight segments. This is where the viewer is privy to the impressive collections of Joe Clark and Bradley Creanzo. Both collections will surely cause a tingle of excitement in the viewer’s lower region, especially Creanzo’s, who has gone as far as to completely convert his basement into a fully-stocked video store, complete with all the genres anyone could ask for. It’s truly a thing of beauty for anyone who has any sort of love for VHS.

As someone who grew up with the VHS boom and having it be such a huge part of influencing my love of horror and, eventually, film in general as well as still being a collector of VHS (though, not nearly to the extent of those featured in the film), Adjust Your Tracking is perfectly tailor-made for someone such as myself. However, even if you are not interested in VHS collecting, there is still much to be taken from the documentary. For anyone who is a true movie buff – especially one who loves horror and cult cinema – Adjust Your Tracking is a fascinating and genuine look at a part of movie history that lives on in the hearts of those who've allowed a seemingly dead format to envelop their lives and give them a veritable sense of happiness.

Set for a June 17th release, the Two-Disc Special Edition of Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story Of The VHS Collector is available for preorder on Amazon.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Last Buck Hunt (2014): Bucking Expectations

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Led by an incompetent celebrity hunter, the crew of an outdoors television show goes deep into the woods in search of a legendary killer buck. What their search leads them to, however, may be more than any one of them had ever bargained for.

You couldn’t throw a rock without hitting an outdoors television show. Whether it be fishing, buck hunting or some form of survival, cable television is filled to the brim with shows dedicated to the outdoors. Heck, there are even a few television networks that are solely dedicated to such programing, and I am confident that they pull in a pretty strong viewership, too. Where we have seen a number of films dedicated to spoofing reality TV, mostly in the form of game/survival shows, The Last Buck Hunt has the distinct pleasure of being the only (that I am aware of) film that parodies a hunting show.

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The television program in question, "Who gives a Buck?", is an extremely popular deer hunting show hosted by the great Kenny Wayne (Zach Gold). Because you can’t always believe what you see on TV, Kenny’s reputation as a great outdoorsman is not nearly what it appears to be on television. In fact, Kenny is unfathomably inept and constantly has to rely on his father – who is a legitimate, award-winning and well-respected outdoorsman – to bail him out of embarrassing situations. Worse yet, Kenny’s lack of ability as a hunter is overshadowed by his incredible arrogance, which likely stems from his deep down knowledge that he is completely useless.

Kenny is followed by a small television crew deep into the woods, where they are shooting a special episode focused on Kenny searching for, and hopefully killing, a dangerous mythological buck. The crew consists of a cameraman named Steve (Cathan Bordyn), a sound girl named Alex (Briana Chicha) and a tracking expert named Remmy (Scott C. Brown), which is, of course, short for Remington. Both Steve and Alex are well aware of what a maladroit Kenny is, but the gig pays well enough to deal with his inability to function as a competent human being. However, when their outdoor adventure takes a deadly turn, the crew must decide what is most important to them: their well-being or cementing their fame by capturing the infamous buck.

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Directed by Becky and Nicholas Sayers, The Last Buck Hunt is a follow up to their 2010 micro-budget horror film, Break, which I enjoyed back when I reviewed it. In comparison to Break, what’s immediately notable about The Last Buck Hunt is simply how much Becky and Nick Sayers have grown as filmmakers after only one film. I would attribute a larger budget to having a slight impact on this improvement, but the real growth clearly comes from the filmmakers themselves. Everything from the cinematography, editing, sound, script, and dialogue is impressive, and undoubtedly light years away from what was done only three or four years ago with Break.

Driven by solid performances from the small but talented cast, The Last Buck Hunt is best described as a horror-comedy, but it’s the humor that best defines the film, and undeniably the biggest reason why it works so well. The jokes are funny, there are some good sight gags strewn throughout and the script, which was penned by Becky Sayers, is quite witty. Rarely, if ever, does a joke fall flat, which is more than can be said about 90% of theatrically released comedies.


As far as the horror elements go, you won't find much in terms of “terror” in The Last Buck Hunt until the final act. Even then, however, it's the humor and complete insanity of the situation that drives the finale, not horror, and that is certainly not a mark against the film in any way whatsoever. The Sayers stick with a fairly consistent tone from the film’s start and right up until its final moments, and consistency is the name of the game with The Last Buck Hunt, as from top to bottom it’s a thoroughly entertaining and well-crafted film. 

There is no release date set as of this writing, so in the meantime, you can keep tabs on The Last Buck Hunt by heading over to the website at: The Last Buck Hunt

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