Wednesday, December 14, 2011

MST3k Volume XXII

DVD: Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXII

(Unrated; 1991-1996; 540 minutes; Shout! Factory; street date: December 6, 2011; SRP: $59.97)

Previously on Mystery Science Theater 3000, or at least the prior Shout! Factory-distributed DVD anthology, Joel Robinson and his bratty bots enjoyed a five-piece tastes-like-chicken dinner when Dr. Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) and TV’s Frank (Frank Conniff) subjected them to a quintet of Gamera vehicles. Their first fateful encounter with the fuel-injected tortoise introduced our heroes to a name they would never forget: Sandy Frank. Compounding the series’ innate child-friendly silliness with the addition of diabolically dumb dubbing, Frank had provided the perfect weapons of torture for demonstration on Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgson), Servo (Kevin Murphy) & Crow (Beaulieu). The brutal goofiness of these films took their toll in the theater. Arms were severed, children were sacrificed and morale seemed as low-cut as the shorts on the films’ underage lead characters. But the three of them riffed harder than the line-up at Ozzfest, leaving Forrester and Frank to push the button in shame five times more.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume’s just a show, you should really just relax! Today’s episode: “Monkey See, Monkey Die!”

The origin of the Time of the Apes starts with when Planet of the Apes first aired to a whopping 75% ratings figure on Japanese television. (Eiji) Tsuburaya Productions, the company responsible for the beloved Ultraman, developed their own made-for-TV cash-in with a 26-episode serial called Saru no Gundan (Army of the Apes) in 1974. In the place of Chuck Heston’s throat-shot astronaut are a pair of children, mischievous butterball Johnny and mannered sister Caroline. Johnny defies his mother by going to visit his uncle’s laboratory during earthquake season and ends up enrolling himself, Caroline and lab assistant Catherine as human specimens for a cryogenics experiment. Once they awaken, the trio find themselves in an alternate civilization of unfriendly homo simians, whom they continually manage to evade capture from with the help of militant human Godo, sympathetic ape child Pepe (whose furry face looks like it was scarred from getting hit by a cream pie) and a flying saucer. Immobile monkey masks, schizophrenic directorial and musical compositions, an incoherent patchwork narrative, and Sandy Frank's trademark tacky voiceovers will further have you trying to scrub your damn filthy paws clean of this de-evolved debacle.

Like most of Frank’s imports, Time of the Apes was previously lampooned when MST3k was still in its UHF-broadcasted infancy and made a return engagement for the third season on Comedy Central. This time around, the riffs are more wall-to-wall and incorporate not just the easy running jokes (Johnny’s “I don’t care” mantra, crap hands), but references to the McDLT, Doctor Who, Steven Seagal, Sheena Easton, Miles Davis, Nick Lowe, and a show-stopping take-off on "Stayin' Alive." Somehow they restrain themselves from a few jokes at the expense of lead villain Gebar, whose name is pronounced "gay bar" (the less said about his bordering-on-bestiality obsession with snuffing Godo, the better), but the result is a wild assortment of slam-dunk sight gags and interjections ("Don’t dub with your mouth full!"). Aside from the immortal "Sandy Frank Song," host segments for this episode peak with a mock-fashion report from Crow and a frighteningly educational expose on Johnny’s mad monkey imagination produced for Bell Labs. The extra features on the Time of the Apes disc are limited to August Ragone’s self-effacingly informative introduction and Mike Nelson’s vintage Jack Perkins impression for the MST Hour wraparound segments.

Ragone returns to talk about the next MST3k episode, Mighty Jack, another case of the Japanese co-opting Western entertainment trends (in this case, the spy movie as popularized by James Bond). There were, apparently, two one-off TV series devoted to a crack team of espionage agents who travel in a customized subma-copter and protect the world from the machinations of a shadow organization known as Q (and no, it does not involve 007’s boss). The first was the original 13 hour-long run that eventually took a hard left turn into Sandy Land, whilst the other was a more kid-compatible adventure saga that was curiously left alone. The result is a direct shift from the colorful, dopey sci-fi of Time of the Apes into a more dour, deceptive realm of drama. Tonal shifts are the least of this movie’s problems as the hacked-up final product of Frank’s labor is so painful, I’m surprised the Japanese haven’t retaliated by trying to make a 90-minute movie out of an entire season of Breaking Bad.

Moving effortlessly from the capture of a Japanese mole, Harold Hatari, in Paris to the discovery of a super-weapon involving hot ice, Mighty Jack feels simultaneously cramped and underdeveloped as a movie. The second half moves from one development to the next and introduces so many transparently duplicitous characters that you question the integrity of Mighty Jack’s organization more than you anticipate the next round of "Find the Traitor." Where's Gamera when you really need him?

Those who stick it out to the episode’s finale will once again be rewarded with a cathartic musical number a la "The Sandy Frank Song," in this case the mocking shanty "Slow the Plot Down." The host segments are uniformly funny seeing as how the Mighty Jack moniker easily lends itself to a name brand of dog food and both the blinding light torture chambers and underwater attacks of the film proper prompt some charming live action send-ups. Luckily, the spirited theater banter doesn’t disappoint either: "They're going to return that Japanese car to the wild!" Crow jests early on when Hatari's convertible is ensnared by a net and lifted 2000 feet above the ground. As per disc-specific extras, Ragone's introduction is joined by a making-of featurette on the DVD menus of the series, which shines a deserved spotlight on Dave Long’s unique computer animated mini-storylines and even reaches back to the work on the older Rhino Home Video volumes. In this case, I would've loved to have seen a highlight reel of riffs from the old KTMA-era presentation of Mighty Jack, which had plenty of fun with Hatari’s name resemblance to an certain video game console.

The Violent Years, the last of the famed Ed Wood-related episodes following the previously-released Bride of the Monster and The Sinister Urge, shifts the chronology from season three all the way to number six. Forrester and Frank now set their wicked, attention-starved sights on the torment of temp worker Mike Nelson, and he in turn joins Crow and Servo for the set’s most hilarious installment. The Mads attempt to break into the mainstream with a bubbly theme song, “Living in Deep 13” (“Looking for love, hoping for evil/Alls I got was chicken cordon bleu”) and their own country AND western radio station (“Turn your crank to Frank!”). The siren’s call of Garth, Reba and Wynonna proves easy to resist, leaving Mike and the bots to deal with the squishy, bacon-crazed heroine of the technocratic short film Young Man’s Fancy (produced by none other than the fine folks at Jam Handy) and the top-heavy juvenile delinquettes of the Ed Wood-scripted The Violent Years.

Handy’s appetizer centers around Judy, an overly perky teenage girl who may as well have grown up to become Mr. B Natural. Her brother Bob returns home with his supposedly woman-hating best friend Alexander Phipps, which makes the hormone-drunk Judy even more pugnacious. But a little DIY domesticity and a kitchen full of handy modern conveniences go a long way in warming Bob’s serious-minded heart. Should Judy ever tire of her electronic dress and the various other privileges afforded to her by the gods of marketing, watch out! She could end up following the same dark path of Paula Parkins (Jean Moorhead: The Amazing Colossal Man), the spoiled princess whose lack of nurture feeds her sociopathic nature in The Violent Years. With Paula as the leader of an all-girl gang of criminals, Wood portrays a wild life of right turns, gas station stick-ups (“Society owes me a Kit Kat bar!”), woman-on-man rape, unplanned pregnancy, and modest pajama parties that spirals into communist terrorism and classroom vandalism. And when the final globe has been tossed out the window and the blood of young women has stopped spilling, listen to the moralistic monologues of the judge (Isaac Stanford Jolley: The Rebel Set) and try not to scream, in self-righteous passion, “I accuse her parents!”

Affectionately known under the alternate title "Penthouse Forum: The Motion Picture" for one memorable scene ("Eleven dollars went a long way back then!"), The Violent Years is watermark of bipolar 1950s melodrama that brings out the best in the writing staff. The free association abandon of the Joel episodes gives way to a more precise but still eclectic array of references ("We like milk, and it shows") and one-liners ("Mother..." "Is space curved?"). The classroom destruction scene alone gets me doubling over time ("Look at 'em jump, just like rabbits!" "Rabbits with big guns…and good...aim!"). The resulting episode, give or take the less thematically united host segments (easy, out-of-nowhere digs at Barbra Streisand and Keanu Reeves), is one of the more serendipitously funny in the MST3k canon. Extras are naturally focused on the personal life of Ed Wood, as recounted via archival interviews with the currently deceased actress and one-time girlfriend Dolores Fuller and his wife Kathy Wood. The former discussion with the Glen or Glenda star provides the most human overview of not just Ed Wood, who “functioned as all man” despite the angora sweaters and missing undies, but also of Bela Lugosi, for whom she cooked Hungarian goulash. I’m rather surprised, though, that the theatrical trailer for The Violent Years is MIA.

The best DVD extra of this package instead chronicles disfigured horror icon Rondo Hatton, whose final performance in 1946’s The Brute Man is resurrected by the inclusion of the season seven MST3k episode spotlighting it. A newly-produced 30-minute documentary called Trail of the Creeper: Making The Brute Man follows Hatton’s path from sports enthusiast to unlikely and prolific Hollywood star due to a pituitary gland disorder known as acromegaly which distorted his face and hands. Archivist Bob Burns (who owns the Rick Baker-designed Rondo mask used in Disney’s The Rocketeer) and exploitation veterans Fred Olen Ray and C. Courtney Joyner among others provide the back story and context, leading all the way from his family profession in Tampa to his contract with Universal Pictures and the full development of his Creeper persona in the earlier film House of Horrors. What’s most intriguing about this feature are the biographical details which carried over into the script for The Brute Man, the fictional account of collegiate athlete Hal Moffat (played by Fred Coby from Jungle Goddess beforehand), who suffers a freak accident in a chemistry lab and wreaks back-breaking vengeance on the students who wronged him.

Elsewhere, MST3k writer/performer Mary Jo Pehl talks about the episode in particular and also shares her thoughts on Rondo’s legacy. Looking back on the dark, gruesome aspects of the film as well as the “Oedipal overtones” of Pearl Forrester’s attachment to her scheming son in the lime lab coat, Pehl is very straightforward about what hinders the episode in her opinion. The Brute Man is a bleak movie, with Rondo’s intimidating physicality and untrained acting prowess pushing the film into a very discomfiting realm, one hardly leavened by the inclusion of a blind lady pianist (Jane Adams, who played Vicki Vale in the 1949 Batman and Robin serials) who sympathizes with the fugitive Creeper until she ends up baited by the police. This false sense of security is heightened by the sudden murders of a delivery boy and a pawnbroker. Director Jean Yarbrough’s black-and-white cinematography is grimy and stylistic in the type of film noir aesthetic that came to become the post-WWII B-movie standard once horror fell out of fashion.

The jokes are light-hearted, occasionally surreal and often entertaining enough to compensate for these elements. Rondo’s real-life deformities are ribbed as the result of his character having gone "bobbing for anvils." When Crow notes that he looks like an “Easter Island statue,” it’s not delivered mean-spiritedly. There’s another peak joke involving Servo’s confusion over whether Moffat is supposed to be a creeper, a peeper, a stalker, a walker, or a back-breaker. And watch closely for when Mike Nelson breaks down when faced with the over-the-top surliness of a grocery store owner. The preceding educational short about free-range poultry breeding, The Chicken of Tomorrow, is unrelentingly amusing from conception to carving ("Their immediate destination after leaving the incubator..." "Broadway!").

The Brute Man disc rounds out with a 1997 Sci-Fi Channel promotional special called The Making of MST3k (at 23 minutes), which boils down the production elements such as writing and set design to a satisfying and entertaining degree. Once again, though, no trailer is included for The Brute Man. Steve Vance's typically splashy artwork for each episode and, of course, the animated DVD menus so such a nice job of incorporating Crow and Servo into the cinematic action that one can’t resist the thought of a full-length movie starring those two rascally robots. Let’s push the button on that invention.

Movie grade: 4/5.
Video grade: 3/5.
Audio grade: 3.5/5.
Extras grade: 4/5.
Final grade: 4/5.

Monday, December 12, 2011

MST3k Vs. Gamera (Volume XXI)


[Unrated; 1991; 540 minutes; Shout! Factory; street dates: August 2, 2011 (deluxe edition) and November 8, 2011 (standard edition); SRP: $59.97 (standard edition)] 

The evolution of Mystery Science Theater 3000 from a local phenomenon spawned by a Minneapolis-based prop comic to one of the definitive cult TV series of the 1990s is owed to large degree by the business practices of one Sandy Frank. The American distributor and producer of Name That Tune fame acquired the rights to the Gamera franchise for the home By 1991, after making the transition to cable TV, MST3k was hitting its earliest stride. The third season’s highlights included the late Juan Piquer Simon’s Pod People (an E.T. knock-off made on the heels of the Spaniard’s infamous chainsaw slasher movie Pieces), the first appearance of Tor Johnson in The Unearthly (“Time for go to bed!”), Mr. B Natural (“MOOOOOMMMM!!!”), and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, wherein lies the definitive tribute to the Patrick Swayze epic Road House in the form of an ultraviolent Christmas carol. Most significantly, Joel Hodgson (aka "Joel Robinson") and company found time to return to their roots by revisiting the Sandy Frank library with a vengeance.

God only knows if Shout! Factory ever gets the green light to release the likes of Fugitive Alien 1 & 2 (“He tried to kill me with a forklift! Ole!”) or Time of the Apes, the episode which featured the mercilessly melodic hatchet job known as “The Sandy Frank Song.” Luckily, their long-running string of Mystery Science Theater 3000 boxed sets as well as their recent DVD run of the complete Showa series of Gamera films have shared an intimate evening of sweet boot-knocking and spawned the 5-piece tastes-like-chicken dinner that is MST3k Vs. Gamera. You can break out the fine china bowls, because tonight, we finally dine on turtle soup.

Gamera was the fire-eating, jet-propelled tortoise born of atomic folly and the Daiei film company’s competitive need to rival the success of Godzilla, the daikaiju king owned by Toho, who were otherwise respectably known for producing the Kurosawa canon. In his 1965 screen debut, the crash landing of a Russian jet carrying atomic cargo over the Arctic Circle interrupts the prehistoric creature’s beauty sleep. Tired and hungry, Gamera demolishes power plants, lighthouses and a huge swath of metropolitan Tokyo as an international coalition of armed forces attempt to stop the infernal beast. Unlike Godzilla, Gamera has invaluable PR support in the form of Kenny, a boy who already cherishes his pet turtle Tibby above the whole of mankind and eventually develops a bond with the monster akin to a really disturbing case of Stockholm Syndrome.

Seriously, Patty Hearst has nothing on Kenny. Not only is the boy placed in mortal danger just to prove his undying loyalty to Gamera, but the authorities treat him with the same easy access afforded to top scientists and generals. And despite all the mayhem and damage the primordial Gamera wreaks upon an unsuspecting populace, Kenny truly believes that Gamera is unimpeachably innocent. The government therefore resorts to “Plan Z,” a non-violent method of disposal which involves trapping Gamera inside a rocket and blasting his child-loving ass off to Mars.

The first Gamera movie, aka Gamera: The Invincible or Gamera: The Giant Monster, was filmed in monochrome, which conceals the model designs and rubber suit seams more successfully than splashy color, as the later movies prove. Unfortunately, it’s also cluttered with really nutty characters, such as the Devil-fearing Eskimo played by Bokuzen Hidari (Yohei from Seven Samurai), Kenny or the persistent reporter Alex whose crush on the female lead is no less frightening than the attitude Kenny shows towards Gamera. They all get in the way of the meat-and-potatoes monster movie Gamera: The Giant Monster really should’ve been had it really wanted to deserve the same credit as the original Godzilla. The Sandy Frank version only makes it worse with typically awful dubbing that even makes the most dignified military official sound like Curly Joe DeRita.

"TV's Frank" Conniff provides an anecdote in the DVD extras telling that Joel found the volume of dark jokes aimed at Kenny’s subservience to Gamera too much and too harsh, but these are some of the highlights of Episode #302. Not only that, but his relationship with the bots is surprisingly antagonistic. Mr. Robinson gets carried away with an impression that grates on Servo and Crow’s nerves, prompting the latter to threaten “You can be replaced by Leno, you know?” When Crow makes twice the unfortunate mistake of tossing off some particularly cheap jabs, Joel retaliates by tearing his arm off and throwing it across the theater. The incident will reoccur in a couple other Gamera-related episodes, although by the time we reach Gamera Vs. Guiron, Joel only struggles briefly to disassemble that pesky limb.

In terms of riffage, the first installment in the Gamera “quintology” is as dutifully hilarious as one might expect given that the prior episode, devoted to the Miles O’Keefe gem Cave Dwellers, was itself a proverbial hoot. When they get in-character as Gamera and make ominous suggestions to Kenny, I laughed wildly (Crow: "Those kids at school -- they tease you, Kenny. Because they've never tasted hell. Today, we turn the tables!"). The opposite is also true, as Joel is particularly fond of giving Kenny an eerie presence akin to one of the children of the damned (“Gamera demands your death,” “Your passing will be painless, doctor”). The interstitials are even better thanks to Kevin Murphy’s work as Servo, whether singing the tender ballad “Tibby, Oh Tibby” (“He runs like the wind/A couple of inches/And then back again”) or paying tribute to Orson Welles’ philosophy of how a good cast deserves another mention.

The 1966 sequel Gamera Vs. Barugon easily fixes the pesky problem of stranding Gamera in space by having the Mars Rocket conveniently collide with a meteor. But what should’ve been a sign of hope in that the film is wholly devoid of scary kids obsessed with temperamental turtles turns out to be tedious enough in other ways. The main plot is another one of those Sierra Madre morality plays involving yet another indigenous island with another troubled foreign doctor with another foxy native as his associate and another sacred treasure that is really another monster egg which hatches and results in another spate of grief for the citizens of Japan. Gamera himself is given little room to maneuver through a highly melodramatic string of double-crosses and hokey attempts to take down Barugon, a humongous dog with a protruding tusk, a combination battering ram/fire extinguisher for a tongue and a scaly backside that can produce a destructive rainbow.

There are two instances where the film overcomes its lethargic pacing, distinct lack of monster wrestling and abundantly clichéd story to become something hilarious. At one point during the movie, someone will deliver the line “Barugon will be made to die by his own rainbow.” Later on, the exotic native associate will tend to her love interest’s wound, following a drawn-out brawl involving him and the greedy bastard who had left him for dead back in the cave, by sucking blood from it, like he just got bitten by a snake or as if her tongue excretes bactine instead of saliva (Crow: “Is her name Annie Septic?”). Cherish those moments as you find yourself, like Servo, wondering “Whatever happened to Gamera?”

By the way, we’re no longer watching Gamera in B&W, which disappoints Crow: “Funny, in color, I expected Gamera to be more of a strawberry blonde.” Tom Servo’s hearty huckster voice shines once again when he translates a mating dance (“How about dinner and a movie?” “Okay, but I’ve seen Mannequin already”), but he's at his side-splitting best during the first host segment, a fast-talking mock-commercial for a comprehensive 5000-piece action figure play set (“Flame on with Gamera! Torso not included”). Joel suggests that Gamera was responsible for directing this film himself considering how much time he’s kept off-camera. Bonus points for a couple of ace music-themed gags involving George Harrison (“My Sweet Warlord”) and Prefab Sprout (“Welcome to Ellis Island, your name is Bob Smith...I think I’ll name you Appetite”).

Gamera Vs. Gaos came along in 1967 to restore order to the universe. This time, Gamera is ready to rumble and he finds another formidable challenger in a giant laser-vomiting bat. There’s also an heir apparent to the first film’s Kenny in tubby Eiichi (or “Itchy”), dopey Abbott and Costello surrogates and a wholly superfluous bit of drama involving farmers unwilling to sell their land when construction workers barge in to build an interstate. The plans to stall Gyaos are more elaborate than what was attempted on Gamera and Barugon, with one particularly bizarre miscalculation involving a fountain of blood on top of a Lazy Susan. The in-theater jests run the gamut once again of poking fun at the know-it-all tot given more privilege than he deserves (Joel: “Mom, if the U.N. calls, I’m playing with my slot cars”), the crazy schemes that fail spectacularly (Joel: “I know it’s a last resort, but send up the Peel & Eat Humans”) and the titular monster mashes (Servo: “Isn’t this how Escalus died? A pelican dropped a turtle on his head”). The host segments include ill-fated attempts at both simple cut-and-paste arts and crafts projects (the bots sabotage Joel’s guide to creating a homemade Gyaos head) and Kraut theatricality (the “Gameradammerung”), but Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank bag themselves a winner with the “Self-Image Printer” during the opening invention exchange.

The next installment, which is actually the fifth film in the continuity of the series (the SOL misses out on Gamera Vs. Viras), turns out to be the most beloved of the entire MST3k Vs. Gamera run, 1969’s Gamera Vs. Guiron. The opening credits, which had heretofore been projected over images of water, now resembles the still gallery chintziness of Time of the Apes, and the dubbing is even more unbelievable than it was in that movie. This feels more like a bright live-action cartoon, as two precocious boys of mixed race (one’s Japanese, the other’s German) hijack a spaceship bound to a mysterious planet (referred to ludicrously and often as a “star”) where a couple of alien women co-exist with a wide variety of rubber-suited specimens. These seemingly friendly beings turn out to be literal man-eaters, so Gamera is called upon to rescue them as well as defeat Guiron, whose knife-shaped head proves lethal early on when he slices and dices his way through Gyaos (his head also doubles as a handy shuriken storage shed.

Sandy Frank literally spared no expense on providing top quality English language dubs to his acquisitions, but this one is a particular standout. There is hardly any continuity between the translated words and the lip movements of the actors, so much so that lines are even added when people have their mouths shut. Not only that, the people he secured have clearly little experience in voice acting, with dialects peering through and most of the dialogue sounding particularly flat even when they’re not clipping the sentences to synch with the actors on-screen. The movie itself is unpretentiously goofy and more of an adventure yarn than the prior films, a nice enough change of pace especially for the young audiences the series is aimed at.

Gamera Vs. Guiron is also responsible for exposing MSTies to the classic Gamera theme song, where a choir of excitable children scream “Come on, monsters! Bring it on!” In proper MST3k fashion, the translation they come up with is entertainingly absurd: “Gamera is really neat! Gamera is full of meat! We’ve been eating Ga-me-ra!” Michael J. Nelson provides one of his best pre-host appearances on the show doing an impression of standards singer Michael Feinstein, breaking down the song’s delicate composition in between sharing anecdotes about Cole Porter and George Gershwin. The wraparounds also include a magic trick assisted by a Guiron-shaped handsaw, Racy Rorschach blots and a staged biography on Richard Burton, whose appearance is mirrored by one of the boys.

At one point, the German boy’s mother pledges to give her meddling son 30 spankings, and Servo jumps up with excitement: “I’m Tom, spank me!” The children are greeted within the spaceship, and Crow gets a chance to provide the alien dames’ introduction: “You’re in Vidal Sassoon London, and if you don’t look good, we…dress funny.” Joel sees massive smoke from the giant turtle’s shell as he burns rubber in the cosmos and dryly declares “Gamera’s gonna need an emissions test, pronto!” Donuts, gray water, traffic accidents, Yoko Ono, Eat My Dust, Pink Lady, prom dates, and more quick-witted associations await you, resulting in a fast-paced, confident and all-around essential early episode.

All good things move toward their end, and after yet another jump in the timeline (no Gamera Vs. Jiger), it’s time for Gamera Vs. Zigra, no doubt the final installment in the series at the time due to Daiei filing for bankruptcy when this film was released in 1971. The action takes place in an oriental version of Sea World where dolphins go hungry, fish are dying from pollution-centric paralysis and two more bratty tykes run afoul of a nefarious foreign menace only to rely on their shell-encased protector to rescue them. The threat is from planet Zigra, where a sentient spaceship with a delicious candy center seeks to create the mother of all earthquakes with the aid of a hypnotized female astronaut. When the children, Helen and Kenny (NOOOO!!!!), outsmart her and escape back to civilization, she chases after them whilst trying to blend in by stealing a bikini and a red miniskirt from random girls. In other words, this is a monster movie Benny (or Benihana) Hill would love.

Joel, Crow and Servo kick things off with a celebratory root beer kegger after someone (ahem, FRANK!) lets it slip that this is their last experiment involving Gamera. The result is less business as usual and more take no prisoners, as Joel provides grief counseling for his bots in the form of dioramas, the robots provide a tour inside the shell of Gamera (plenty of rec rooms and even Apartment 4B, where the lonely cat man lives) and the grown-up Kenny and Helen swing by Rocket #9. It all closes with stylistic variations on the Gamera theme, including a rapping Crow T. Robot and Servo doing an impressive take on 1970s-era Tom Waits.

When two of the early barbs reference Olympic controversies involving Ben Johnson and the “black power salute” from 1968, you know the staff hasn’t exhausted their faculties even after watching what amounts to the same movie four times before. Luckily, there are as many quirks here to latch onto as there were in the prior two flicks, from the female child’s continual squalling for Coke to the Zigra spaceship itself (“it looks like something a Shriner would wear if he was drunk,” Joel quips). Crow is giddily aroused by the Zigra slave girl’s wardrobe (“Sister, that dress is heading for trouble and it’s taking you with it!”). Throw in unexpected diversions involving a fish argument and Gamera showing off his vibraphone skills, and MST3k Vs. Gamera concludes on the jovial revelation that life, indeed, is a minogame, served a la flambé.


Fans can happily retire their circulated VHS copies of these five episodes, as Shout! Factory presents them in their original 1.33:1 broadcast aspect ratio and with dual-channel Dolby stereo mixes. A few minor tracking issues in the first Gamera episode’s host segments as well as a fleeting bit during the end of Gamera vs. Gaos aside, both the Satellite of Love and Deep 13 sets look as colorful and crisp as can be (the quality of the movies themselves look just as lackluster as they did in 1991). And the balance between the film audio and the commentary is handled with ease. Subtitles and closed caption options have been mournfully vanquished.

A trio of featurettes are spread out across the first three discs. The Gamera disc includes a new 23-minute retrospective, “So Happy Together,” with comments by series personnel Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, J. Elvis Weinstein (who helped riff the Gamera movies during the show’s embryonic years at KTMA), and producer Jim Mallon (missed inexplicably are Rifftrax compatriots Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy). Each of the participants provide humorous yet endearing comments on how Gamera made it to KTMA originally, the decision to refine those early episodes after a few years (born out of nostalgia and efficiency) and what amused them in particular in regards to the goofiness of the films. They break down the appeal of these films in tandem with how it represented the show and admit to being a little too harsh on Sandy Frank after enduring all of his syndicated delights.

On Gamera Vs. Barugon, the 24-minute “Gamera Vs. The Mighty Chiodo Brothers” focuses more on the influence the rubber suit shenanigans of Godzilla and his ilk had over the career of Ed, Stephen and Charles Chiodo, the makers of Killer Klowns from Outer Space. The resulting discussion between the brothers jumps topics frequently but the unflappable trio giddily recall the nostalgic high of movies like Unknown Island, Creature from the Black Lagoon and the British daikaiju variant Gorgo (which was later featured on MST3k in a very limited broadcast). They reveal work-related parallels to Japanese schlock via war stories from some of their other projects, including Critters and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie. The discussion is also presented in a mockumentary style replete with a Japanese crew and ominous tremors (to quote Crow as Swamp Thing: “Do not bring your evil here“).

August Ragone, author of the definitive biography on Toho Studios’ visual FX master Eiji Tsuburaya, provides a 30-minute interview for “Gamera Obscura” on the Gamera Vs. Gaos disc. Ragone covers basically everything you need to know about the mythological underpinnings of Gamera, the various releases both native and overseas and even his successfully edgier revival in the 1990s. Rathbone debunks the rumor involving a serendipitous airplane trip creating the origins of Godzilla by reminding us that Daiei distributed Hitchcock’s The Birds in Japan and that the studio considered a giant killer rat premise that attracted negative attention from the health department.

The MST hour wraps with Mike Nelson as Jack Perkins are included for both the original Gamera and Gamera Vs. Guiron, and the original Japanese theatrical trailers for the five Gamera films (all wonderfully odd and preserved in their original widescreen aspect ratio) can be found on their respective discs. Steve Vance’s vividly kitschy original artwork incorporating Crow and Servo into the fire-spewing festivities (they even take a ride on Gamera’s mighty shell on the Gamera Vs. Gaos cover) is always welcome, as is Shout Factory’s menu design, which features Gamera stalking through the numbered doorway which normally leads to and from the feature presentation.

Movie grade: 4.5/5.
Video grade: 3/5.
Audio grade: 3.5/5.
Extras grade: 3.5/5.
Final grade: 4.5/5.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sledgehammer (1983)

DVD: Sledgehammer

(Unrated; 1983; 85 minutes; Intervision Picture Corp.; street date: May 10, 2011; SRP: $19.95)

Why me? Why DVD? But foremost of all, why SOV?

The flourishing home video market of the early 1980s saw more than a fair share of exploitation and cheapo horror pics making immortal conversions from 35mm to VHS through distributors like Vestron Video, Continental Video and, holding the most court in my nostalgia-addled mind, Media Home Entertainment. Amongst such drive-in gems as Demonoid, Hell Night, The Centerfold Girls, and Maniac, Media had Night of the Living Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Basket Case, which was my adolescent idea of the holy triumvirate. Even the legendary Twentieth Century Fox had gotten their hands on some of the titles in Avco Embassy’s library in those days, meaning you’d see their prestigious logo preceding such titles as Phantasm, Scanners and The Howling (if only they had the tenacity to release them to cinemas in the first place). Although nothing takes the place of a timely theatrical screening of these titles, at least you had 24/7 access to them by miracle of the videocassette. That comes in handy especially after you’ve drunk your weight in Surge.

But what was truly astounding about the VHS era was how it opened the floodgates for a whole new era of DIY filmmaking. That is where David A. Prior’s mad-slasher-on-camcorder opus Sledgehammer comes in, the second American film to be shot on video after Johnn Wintergate’s infamous demonic possession crap-sterpiece Boardinghouse from 1982, which could feasibly be re-titled and re-released now as Beyond the Room.

Boardinghouse, though, did not go directly to video, instead getting blown up to 35mm for a very limited theatrical release (the Alamo Drafthouse currently has one of the Boardinghouse cans in their possession). Taken as some form of disqualification, this means that Sledgehammer was the first SOV film to go DTV, before Christopher Lewis (Blood Cult, The Ripper, Revenge) or Gary P. Cohen (Video Violence 1 & 2) or Jon McBride (Woodchipper Massacre, Cannibal Campout) made their respective bloody splashes. And unlike Wintergate, Lewis, Cohen or McBride, Prior somehow went on to make cheesy movies using actual film stock (search Killzone and Deadly Prey on YouTube).

An unsung relic from the 1980s slasher cycle, mostly because it was distributed by a small label and never lucked out on a Video Treasures reissue in its wake, Sledgehammer begins with a flashback sequence that incorporates two of the film’s major crutches: interminably extended takes and even more grueling slow-motion abuse. A 20 second shot outside a farmhouse attempts to lull you into a sense of security before the camera zooms in and the soundtrack swells with heated screaming. I guess the investors got a good look at the finished product and Prior simply recorded their reactions so that the audio could be placed over the scene.

Inside the farmhouse, a harpy in a nightgown coerces her eight-year-old son to spend the night inside a closet so she can engage in some adulterous sex with a married man miles away from any suspicion. The simple act of bolting the door is stretched out via slo-mo for dramatic effect but is so ridiculously long that this sets off one of the great running jokes one can latch onto in the hopes of starting an “everybody wins” drinking game. Their little clandestine rendezvous doesn’t exactly end well, as a psycho with a sledgehammer bashes in the man’s head (the film’s earliest and juiciest kill) before bludgeoning the pleading woman off-screen (“Please, Hammer, don‘t hurt me”).

A decade later, seven terminal preppies are dropped off at the murder scene for a Budweiser-fueled getaway. Six of them seem to be paired off into couples, but much of their romantic dialogue consists of tedious anti-commitment discussions that had me nervously anticipating a roller rink organ would punctuate the ending of each exchange. The lead characters, beefy blonde Chuck (Ted Prior) and his subservient paramour Joni (Linda McGill), struggle with the notion of marriage betwixt long walks in the fields and impromptu food fights. As wiser men once said, only love pads the film, especially the former traipsing sequence, which is a speechless single-take clip whose only musical backing seems more suited to advertising slides on a theater screen. You’d likely sneak in a nap due to the fact that it goes on for infinity, but then you would miss the kicker: Chuck tries to balance a beer can on his supposed fiancée’s noggin. Why didn’t Ted Prior become the Ross Hagen of his generation, again?

Ted Prior is truly a renaissance man. In his brother’s debut film, he not only helped out with the gory FX sequences (credited using the Troma-style goof name of “Blood & Guts”), but he also created the opening title sequence (a bloodletting clay mold of the film’s title suddenly decimated by a trusty sledge) and designed the cover art, too. Also, we are treated to random shots of Prior doing a catastrophic Carl Spackler imitation, lazing shirtlessly around the front porch strumming his acoustic guitar (longtime Playgirl readers rejoice!) and, in the action-packed finale, dishing out a Swayze-approved beatdown on the film’s lurching killer as his brother Ted steals the iconic behind-the-mask POV shot from Halloween. Although all of the performances are as unpolished and inconsistent as you’re likely to encounter in anything shot on VHS, Ted at least goes the extra yard to give this one some camp value.

Sledgehammer eventually picks up once Prior Chuck unleashes the Furey (as in John Furey, for all the truly hip genre geeks out there) and decides to conduct a séance to communicate with the ghosts of the murdered philanderers. Although he and prankster bachelor Joey (Steve Wright) stage this mainly to freak out boorish ginger John (John Eastman), the unexpected result is that a phantom killer (Doug Matley) is awakened, decked out in a plaid checkered shirt, covering his face with a transparent half-mask that has plastic teeth above his upper lip, and, of course, dragging along his ungodly hammer. After dispatching Joey with a knife through the neck (huh?), he turns his attention to the most disposable of the couples, Jimmy (Tim Aguilar) and Carol (Sandy Brooke), who consummate their reluctant physical attraction with hot, barenaked, strategically placed comforter-assisted sex.

Had this been a video review, I’d not only point out that the surprisingly timid Jimmy looks astoundingly like John Oates, but I’d also sneak in a video clip from Patton Oswalt’s 2004 Comedy Central special No Reason to Complain. At one point, Oswalt lambastes reality shows and, in particular, one spotlighting those with such low self-opinions that they crave looking like celebrities over developing a genuine personality: "If that show had existed in the 1980s, there’d be guys walking around looking like Hall & Oates right now going ‘Yeah, I look like John Oates from Hall & Oates, I know...Life’s alright. I’m on a pussy train and it’s never derailing..." (Dig that photo to the left...he's modeling Southern Comfort shampoo well before Ke$ha ever thought of brushing her teeth with J.D.)

It’s only fitting I invoke the notion that maybe that show DID exist in the Me Decade by some miraculous satellite-induced time vortex, because Sledgehammer proceeds to make incrementally less sense as it goes along. I’ve watched this movie six times since I first bought it (don’t try this at home), and damned if I know exactly who committed the opening murders, especially considering the fact that a sledgehammer would be rather cumbersome for a eight-year-old to carry. The killer, who is as much of an apparition as his titular weapon, stalks the victims as both his younger self and his 10-years-older incarnation, which hardly looks like a young man in his late teens (ditto the main cast, some of which may be parents of the Evil Dead victims). The movie tosses in a skeleton in the closet and a blood-marked pentagram on the wall at one key sequence, which doesn’t provide any rationale to the proceedings. And what about the inconsistencies regarding the killer’s vulnerability to pain, whether he is stabbed, crippled or electrocuted? Even Jason Voorhees carried over his battle scars throughout the course of the early F-13 films.

With a script that could’ve been written on gum wrapper and obnoxious characters whom you root against, Prior relies on the tools of video filmmaking and editing, from chroma key filters, dissolves, freeze frames, and, of course, snail-speed playback, to give this movie a certain style. When the jersey-jockeying John, who asserts his alpha male status via vag grabs, swish cowboy impressions and triple-decker sandwich crams, ventures off in search of the killer, the result is unexpectedly nightmarish in tone and the flagrant illogic, including a surprise bit of teleportation as well as the aforementioned nods to skeletons and Satanism, creates some tension. More often than not, though, these choices only serve to stretch out a film that by all rights should’ve been 15 minutes (or maybe even an hour) shorter. By beating you over the head with these tricks (forgive the blatant analogy), the moments in which they work for the film are superceded by overkill. The opening flashback scene is even recycled mid-film with the exact same use of slow-motion in regards to a character bolting a fucking door!

I try not to read reviews of a movie I willfully searched out with intent to review beforehand, but Sledgehammer carries such a legacy amongst tape-collecting gorehounds that even I, an avid VHS junkie of the early 1990s, couldn’t resist. I found a lot of defense for this film’s surreal narrative disconnect and even invocations of eventual midnite movie sensations such as Troll 2 and The Room. Contrary to Theater Thoughts' John Carpenter’s blurb regarding Sledgehammer, the slasher movie equivalent of Troll 2 existed before this, and it’s called Pieces (although, if Sledgehammer had somebody randomly pissing during the food fight, I’d reconsider). David A. Prior admits throughout the DVD extras that he just wanted to make a movie, no film school training or apprenticeship required. After watching this enough times to reach a final conclusion, allow me to say that Sledgehammer may as well be the Manos: The Hands of Fate of the slasher renaissance.

The first thing you see after the DVD loads is the classic “flashing red FBI” warning screen typical of an FHE/IVE presentation from an 1980s videocassette. Mute the audio and you could’ve temporarily fooled me into thinking somebody sent me a VHS-to-DVD transfer of my lost Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 tape. The Intervision logo then appears in all its lo-fi glory, and in case you didn’t know, Intervision is now a subsidiary of Birdemic distributors Severin Films, having acquired the company after the passing of founder Larry Gold Sr. Their DVD library of traditional cult films is rock solid (Bloody Moon, Bloody Birthday, Santa Sangre, Hardware, Inglorious Bastards), but now they have a niche label for SOV titles. The previews featured as bonus features include a gory Maple Leaf of an oddity called Things, The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer and A Night to Dismember, which was previously released by Elite Entertainment and is directed by Doris Wishman, the Bad Girls Go to Hell/Let Me Die a Woman auteur herself.

Speaking of tape-to-disc conversion, I didn’t expect pristine definition from a movie whose master copy could have existed in a box labeled Fuji. The full-screen presentation is dutifully blessed with overscan lines at the bottom of the frame, and though the image fluctuates in regards to detail and saturation (the whites are unusually blinding at times), we’re talking a generally soft level of contrast and colors. I’ve seen worse quality on other digitally-preserved SOV titles, though, and Sledgehammer looks like it was sourced from a standard-play recording. The equally-handicapped Dolby 2.0 soundtrack could have passed as an audible mono mix, but Intervision cues you into raising the volume and bass frequencies into the red so that the myriad one-note synthesizer cues become even more discordant.

Sledgehammer “superfan” Clint Kelley moderates a commentary track with David A. Prior, whose basic, rather reluctant recollections of making his first film (or genuine lack thereof) offers more of a platform for Kelley to wax ecstatic about its perceived brilliance. There’s something about Kelley’s mad gushing over the film’s (im)perfections (the “clever” fake names, the “unique” deployment of slow motion, the “great character development,” Ted Prior’s “horror host impression” during the séance) and the Alabama-accented Prior’s frank responses to his gauntlet of questions/observations that makes this one of the more entertaining geek-oriented commentaries I’ve ever heard. One of the track’s highlights finds Kelley theorizing about who the opening murderer is and how the imprisoned boy became one himself, after which an amused Prior confesses that he didn’t have a back story and just wrote what was to be filmed. It’s at this point that Prior himself transmogrifies from an H.P. Warren to a P.T. Barnum.

Because one fanboy commentary is never enough, there is a second yakker that simply lets SOV enthusiasts Joseph A. Ziemba and Dan Budnik at Bleeding Skull cut loose with a bottle of brandy and no pretense to providing movie-specific trivia. The duo takes Sledgehammer less seriously than Kelley but still are aware of its charms, thus allowing for some humorous familial connections to the characters and plenty of context for the film in regards to both gonzo cinema (a reference to H.G. Lewis’ Jimmy, the Boy Wonder) and their real-life experiences. Budnik has a more animated personality and a quick wit, as well as great stories of staking out video stores in his native Rochester. However, Ziembra gets all the best anecdotes, especially in regards to cultivating his VHS collection whilst touring with his band and usually at the expense of providing for himself and his former wife. They also give you a handy idea of just how rare this film’s initial video release was by remembering where they were when they first saw it, which was something Kelley overlooked.

Better still, Alamo Drafthouse programmer and Destroy All Movies! author Zack Carlson provides a reverent video interview in front of his own exhaustive, alphabetically-arranged VHS collection. Why, there’s that copy of 555 mentioned by the Bleeding Skull dudes! Give it back, Zack! The film’s premiere theatrical screening courtesy of Cinefamily’s Hadrian Belove and Tom Fitzgerald is remembered by the two in green screen-assisted interview segment which places them in Prior’s apartment/rooms of doom. Despite a month-long build-up, the event took place the day after Halloween in 2008, “a pre-hungover screening” at which about only 12 people showed up, all pretty much spent from the night before. Carlson and the Cinefamily tag team each proffer their perspective on what they enjoyed about Sledgehammer, with Carlson’s defense seeming the most definitive of all the participants, even David A. Prior, who gets the last on-screen interview featurette all to himself and once again seems to discuss the film against his will, sharing the same stories and production details mentioned in the commentary.

Bottom line: Sledgehammer blows, but that doesn’t mean it won’t blow you away. Significant for being the first SOV horror film made exclusively for the home entertainment market, it embodies all of the tedious flaws and occasionally some of the strange magic that came with the movement. The over-congratulatory if highly enjoyable DVD features butter up this movie more than one would a muffin, and David A. Prior seems cagey in the wake of all these testimonies. Almost an entire hour of the film made me glad that despite DVD technology having made tracking problems a thing of the past, they mercifully kept the fast-forward button. But by the time John Oates’ doppelganger takes a fatal hit to the chest post-coitus, Sledgehammer proceeds to smash you up into something that could be poured into a container and labeled “from concentrate.” It doesn’t so much deserve a recommendation as much as it commands a dare.

Movie grade: 1.5/5.
Video grade: 2/5.
Audio grade: 2.5/5.
Extras grade: 3.5/5.
Final grade: 2/5.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Carpenter


(Unrated; 87 minutes; 1988; Scorpion Releasing; street date: November 8, 2011; SRP: $19.95)

Wings Hauser made a welcome return to the cult cinema circuit in 2011 with Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber, confined to a wheelchair as a telekinetic tire went on a rolling rampage. Having toiled along as an El Lay musician and soap opera actor for the better part of the decade, Wings seized immortality with a swaggering, sleazy breakout role in Gary Sherman’s Vice Squad (1982) as Ramrod, the cowpoke pimp daddy who alternately referred to himself as “God almighty” and the “the Devil” before threatening hookers and bag ladies alike with uterus-slashing wire hangers and torch lighters. He also channeled an insane Edwin Starr impression as the voice behind that movie’s equally hyper-gritty theme song, "Neon Slime," as in "Bang bang, shoot ‘em up/Feeling just fine/Been baptized in the river/Of the neon slime!"

Equally wild-eyed yet cringingly charismatic performances would follow in such films as Mutant, Hostage (as Sam Striker), Nico Mastorakis' The Wind, and Brian Trenchard-Smith's The Siege of Firebase Gloria, but Hauser’s cruelly undervalued resume is cluttered with titles that made their only splash on VHS. 1988’s Canadian effort The Carpenter is one of them, the dubious reunion of Zombie Nightmare screenwriter David Wellington, here making his directorial debut, and producer Jack Bravman, who also brought you Night of the Dribbler and Snuff. The image on the U.S. video releases duly shows Hauser channeling his inner Gary Busey with a power drill shaped like a fucking machine gun! You start to imagine this might be a campy variant on the killer-in-the-house movie or maybe a slasher movie that simply lets mad dog Hauser loose a la what Maniac did for Joe Spinell. With a pedigree like this, is it too much to expect an insane flight on the Wings of madness from the team who brought you Jon Mikl Thor swinging homicidal home runs in the name of violent voodoo vengeance?

Let’s get real with this estate.

The Carpenter begins with lonely housewife Alice Jarett (Lynne Adams: Requiem for Murder, Johnny Mnemonic) experiencing a nervous breakdown that compels her to scissor up one of her husband’s business suits into makeshift handkerchiefs. Before you can sneeze, she's carted off to the cuckoo’s nest for a spell, where her roommate sings "Knock on Wood" in the monotone sing-speak style of Cristina Monet and her primary doctor is envisioned as a chainsaw-wielding loon. Her spouse Martin (Pierre Lenoir: An American Affair, The Day After Tomorrow) moves the two of them into a country house still in need of renovation, so he hires a union team of hockey-haired hosers to work cheap on putting the finishing touches on the place. Alice continues to waste away the days in isolation, with Martin going off to his day job professing folklore at college and the occasional late-blooming "faculty meeting," which of course translates to trysting with blonde student Laura Bell (Louise-Marie Mennier).

Then at 4 a.m. one fateful evening, Alice overhears one of the supposedly lazy laborers continuing to work down in the basement. She goes to investigate only to find a nameless Carpenter, played by the almighty Devil himself, clad in plaid and clearly a little mad. Maybe it’s his stoic devotion to the work ("Just gettin’ the job done, ma'am"), or perhaps it’s his propensity for sniping rats with his nail gun, but Alice sees something noble in this stranger’s bizarre commitment to odd-hour craftsmanship. We question whether or not The Carpenter is a phantasm until Alice is nearly raped by one of the boorish off-duty hosers, at which point Wings Carpenter fires up the circular saw and teaches that sorry Canuck to keep his hands to himself.

Newly empowered by this homicidal guardian angel, Alice lands an easy job at a paint store and takes it upon herself to help touch up her humble abode after a couple more mother-puckers screw with both the house and Hauser. The local sheriff even stops by for tea and donuts one morning, the better for him to deliver a mouthful of exposition regarding the previous owner, a fella named Ed who took out several unpaid loans in the process of single-handedly restoring the house and killed whatever repo men who got in his way. Since this is clearly a Canadian production, one can savor the irony in learning that Ed was fried in the chair as much as Sheriff Sweaty Backstory delights in those mini-donuts ("I love the sugar ones").

A similar delight can be felt in the moment Martin introduces his class to the legend of Paul Bunyan, whose mythical traits of masculinity parallels those of Wings Houser [sic]. It’s at this point The Carpenter suddenly becomes a potential precursor to Candyman. Wings’s enigmatic character believes in the homilies of hard work and honest, seemingly antiquated notions of hand-crafted perfection. This proves alluring to the unstable Alice, who comes to anticipate her encounters with the Carpenter with a kindred spirit’s sense of romanticism. She doesn’t even balk at the brutal actions of her possible paramour, who punctuates most of his killings by proclaiming his devotion to the artisan ideals ("Nowadays...people are lazy, people are soft, people are scared of work," he confides before demonstrating the softness by boring holes into a corpse). The dance between the two is manifested in a sublime moment where the Carpenter, dressed in formal whites, has a private ballroom session with Alice, although it ends with a subverted sick joke brought on by a sneaky, tranquilizer-induced nightmare. In a perfect world based on the lessons of exploitation filmmaking, this movie could be re-distributed as "Handyman."

The script is by Doug Taylor, who wouldn’t get another green-lit screenplay until Uwe Boll's In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale but who also recently penned Vincenzo Natali’s ambitious Splice. The Carpenter comes off like the middle ground between these two projects, marked by a certain incompetence in regards to craft, primarily due to the awkward editing and episodic transitions that suggest a made-for-cable effort, but with great potential as a batty genre effort that suggests Alice could possibly find true love with a maniacal phantom who represents fabled manhood in all its messy glory. But neither Taylor nor David Wellington (who proved himself a more assured director much later via TV projects such as Queer as Folk and Rookie Blue) come close to Bernard Rose’s seductive insanity, leaving The Carpenter to shamble along with left-field character introductions too quirky for their own good (Ron Lea as the aforementioned sheriff is a clumsy amalgam of Buford T. Justice and Brad Dourif) and plot points (Laura’s impromptu pregnancy) that drive the movie with little consequence.

B-movie aficionados might be chomping at the bit to ask me "But what about Wings Hauser?" My nostalgia for the scene-stealing supporting star of A Soldier’s Story and Tales from the Hood is immense, but his maniacal front sleeve pose sets up typically high standards that should not be believed. A few notably hammy moments aside, primarily a murder sequence involving a vice grip, the astoundingly handsome Hauser plays the role with a gentlemanly demeanor throughout, going for nuance even when firing off a one-liner or black comic screed. It’s a unique style of underacting that makes the Carpenter all the more unpredictable. Not easily forgotten is the moment when, after sawing off the arms of that blue-collar rapist, he holds the body away so as not to obstruct Alice’s path up the stairs and into her bedroom. Lynne Adams is equally dry and quirky as the heroine, who, despite her ratty hair and hallucinatory mental state, knows much better than to be is she who is MAD!

It’s a shame, then, that this silly low-budget effort wasn’t given a much stronger foundation. Taylor’s patchy screenplay presents too many one-shot caricature supporting players and forgets to put anything remotely saucy in their mouths. Put simply, you know you’re in trouble when My Bloody Valentine (one of my all-time favorite Canadian horror films to boot) presents a more effectively fictional working class environment on film. The editing is laughably tacky at times, which also has the poor effect of showing how poorly staged some sequences, even those involving dialogue, are. And the conclusion wherein Alice gets the upper hand over the Carpenter, although not before she learns how to fire a nail gun at pesky husband-screwing trollops, comes off as overly contrived and unsatisfying.

For a movie whose homely psychotic apparition extols the virtues of craftsmanship, The Carpenter is less bricks and mortar than Popsicle sticks and airplane glue.

Scorpion Releasing have acquired The Carpenter for their line of Katarina's Nightmare Theater DVD releases. In one of my first posted reviews on this site, I chose to jointly tackle one title apiece from the Elvira's Movie Macabre, Katarina's Nightmare Theater and Maria's B-Movie Mayhem catalogues. The Katarina of the title is Katarina Leigh Waters, a former WWE Diva and current TNA Knockout who wrestles under the name Winter. Please read that post if you wish to find out who won that particular triple threat match. Anyway, you can opt to watch the movie with or without Miss Waters, whose German/British accent is as pleasant as her body (evidenced in the introduction where she plays a handywoman in cut-off denim and white tank top). Her self-written input is more straightforwardly informative and critical rather than denigrating. In short, since this is the only real extra on this set (no interviews with any of the cast or crew, which is disappointing since Scorpion’s Zombie Nightmare disc was a special edition), there’s no reason not to ignore it.

Aside from the reversible DVD artwork that loses the KNT banner, there is a trailer reel on the disc for other titles in the series, including additional Canuxploitation efforts such as Humongous, The Pyx and The Incubus.

The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks sourced from a decent enough print, which is a treat since the film was released straight to video in America through Republic Pictures Home Video. Plenty of dirt and damage remain, with reel changes and several of the more clumsy edits demonstrating significant visual hiccups. The “uncut” label on the film integrates gorier unrated footage from a noticeably different source, perhaps a video master, and the a/v quality follows suit, with the some of more graphic scenes looking rather murky and the Dolby 2.0 monaural audio dropping out in fidelity. For the most part, though, The Carpenter looks well-preserved for its vintage, with muted if serviceable color saturation, natural grain and plenty of fine detail in skin tones and costumes. The English mono soundtrack handles the dialogue, sound effects and the thin synthesizer score well.

Movie grade: 2.5/5.
Video grade: 3/5.
Audio grade: 3.5/5.
Extras grade: 2/5.
Final grade: 2.5/5.