Sunday, June 30, 2019

Mountaintop Motel Massacre

(R, New World Pictures, 95 mins., theatrical release date: March 14, 1986)

In one of his earliest stand-up routines, Patton Oswalt revealed what he considers the greatest movie title ever: "Texas. Chainsaw. Massacre." The beauty of it, as opposed to the mealy-mouthed romantic comedies in the mainstream, was how you envisioned a free movie playing in your own head based on those three words. But the most substantial element for me is the word "massacre" alone, because it has been the perfect hook for B-movie entrepreneurs, especially thanks to Tobe Hooper's film: Massacre at Central High, Drive In Massacre, Mardi Gras Massacre, The Slumber Party Massacre, Microwave Massacre, Women's Prison Massacre, etc. etc. Just affixing "massacre" to any object or setting fires up the projector in the mind, which is great for the imagination but also troublesome knowing the concept has already been made tangible. This is where the burden of expectations comes in.

Hooper's film worked far beyond most people's mental image of a Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and a few of the mercenary examples listed above were pretty much as straightforward. Yet in the summer of 1986, the novelty of "[fill in the blank] Massacre" wore off thanks to Hooper's official sequel to his decade-old trendsetter. But there was another pretender from earlier that year thanks to New World Pictures, who picked up a regional horror film from Louisiana (premiere date: July 15, 1983), commissioned a new finale and shipped it out for wide release with "massacre" tacked onto its original title.

The result was MOUNTAINTOP MOTEL MASSACRE, and it's not just the title which tipped me off to the debt that all movies with "Massacre" at the end owe to Tobe Hooper. The film itself strikes me as the type of movie Hooper could've made near the mid-80s were he not spending Golan-Globus' money, with mundane characters in foreboding rural environs getting picked off by a deranged loner. His 1976 follow-up to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Eaten Alive, itself took place at a bayou lodge and featured a scythe as a notable murder weapon.

Jim McCullough Sr. was the director, instead, his second feature effort following Charge of the Model T's and once again working from a script by his boy Jim Jr. These were filmmakers more of the Charles B. Pierce mould, as Jim Sr. produced (and Jim Jr. wrote) the Boggy Creek-style Creature from the Black Lake around the time Hooper was making Eaten Alive. But compared to not only Pierce, who kept a more active resume and worked with recognizable actors (Ben Johnson, Michael Parks, Jessica Harper), but even Don (Nightbeast) Dohler, the McCulloughs never amassed much of a wide-reaching legacy, although Vinegar Syndrome are seeking to at least give Mountaintop Motel Massacre a new lease on life.

A lack of ambition is likely more of a nuisance than the slasher they have concocted for this particular massacre movie. She is Evelyn Chambers (Anna Chappell), a former inmate of the Arkansas State Mental Hospital from July 1978 to January 1981, and one who obviously didn't receive the best possible rehabilitation as Evelyn carves up both her daughter and a baby rabbit in a fit of madness. With her husband unexplainably dead and her daughter's murder (she was caught holding a séance to communicate with daddy) written off as a gardening accident, Evelyn tends desk at the Mountaintop Motel on a convenient dark, stormy night that brings in all manner of customers/victims.

Aside from the typical young couple looking for a honeymoon suite and the reliable preacher and carpenter types, one of the waylaid travelers is an advertising exec from Memphis named Al (Will Mitchell) who turns out to be the hero. But in the grand tradition of Tom Atkins, horny ole Al picks up two nubile coeds, cousins Tanya and Prissy (Virginia Loridans, Amy Hill), and deceives them into believing he's really the owner of Columbia Records. Tanya is more gullible than Prissy, natch, but they perform a meek rendition of Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through the Night" regardless until Prissy catches on for good and is hacked up in the bathroom by Evelyn.

This murder doesn't occur until nearly an hour into the film, as the McCulloughs do the slow burn shuffle by having Evelyn attempt to disorient her tenants with roaches, rats and even a rattler for the newlyweds. It's only after the occupants refuse to go back into the rain that the deranged Evelyn, who is scurrying about in the basement and popping up from beneath trap doors, starts screeching "Away, Satan!" and planting her scythe into the bodies of her guests.

When New World Pictures distributed Mountaintop Motel Massacre at the end of the slasher boom, they hedged their bets fabulously with the very one-sheet pictured atop this review. Dig that tagline, in particular. Sadly, the actual film is less the campy hoot the studio promises and more, all-too-fittingly, garden variety. Joseph Wilcots (Roots) provides slicker cinematography than one would expect from a film that cries out for a grungy treatment, but otherwise he's one of the few people in the crew who distinguishes himself in any regards. The atmosphere is willing, but the plot is weak even by the standards of the genre.

I wish I could give Evelyn the benefit of the doubt as a villain, and to credit Anna Chappell for a committed performance. Her only other film role, surprisingly, was in Robert Mulligan's The Man in the Moon (1991), famous for introducing a 14-year-old Reese Witherspoon. But there is nothing in the script to give Chappell any depth of character beyond the type of role already owned by Nancy Parsons. It's the usual trite motivations, from voices in the head to religious fanaticism, and they don't add up to a fearsome, let alone pitiable, personality. You never really worry for any of her victims, either, with the possible exception of the black carpenter, Crenshaw (Major Brock), and that's because his dialogue is ripe with jive, especially when he monologues his uneventful escape from the premises. This is the closest the McCulloughs come to humor.

At some point, you'd figure the characters would learn the value of safety in numbers, especially since their antagonist is hardly Pamela let alone Jason Voorhees. But they tend to split up and wander off half-cocked into Evelyn's lair all too predictably, and the reason for their isolation is nothing more than feeble. You also got to hand it to our nominal hero, Al: he's so lasciviously committed to duping the girls that he ignores the value of the working car phone in sending out for and responding to any help in dealing with the mentally ill mass murderer, the fallen tree blocking the road or the snake-bitten honeymooner.

Mountaintop Motel Massacre continues Vinegar Syndrome's tradition of reviving regional horror titles people would have otherwise missed, such as Disconnected or Horror House on Highway 5. I can't recommend it as much as I do either of those other, stranger obscurities, both of which have gone out-of-print following the same Halfway to Black Friday 2019 sale which offered Mountaintop Motel Massacre as an exclusive release. Without the creeping dread and sordid abandon of Tobe Hooper (or even the cornpone playfulness of Motel Hell), this family affair is just another dull saw sans teeth.

Mountaintop Motel Massacre isn't so much raw as it is perpetually dark, a point driven home by Vinegar Syndrome's spanking new 2k transfer from the original 35mm elements. The tacked-on ending sticks out even more after watching this top-notch visual presentation, which brings out the best in its source negative and presents consistent accuracy in terms of color saturation, facial/clothing details and those ever-important black levels. Looking back further in my evaluation, I do also have to credit Drew Edward Hunter's production design for the underground passageways of the motel; like the film, it's nothing original or particularly engaging, but it looks spooky enough to deserve a better film. Wish the DTS-HD MA 2.0 track made me feel more affection for Ron Di Iulio's score, but the best I can say is that the musical-box keyboard tones are as crystal as the dialogue.

Two still galleries, one devoted to behind-the-scenes photos and the other a short gathering of news articles (less extensive than Lust in the Dust, to be true), and the original theatrical trailer are included alongside the usual packaging perks (slipcover, reversible artwork). Other than that, extras are limited to two appealing interviews with Mr. Hunter and assistant cameraman David Akin. Hunter's recollections are carried over from the UK BD release by 88 Films, and it covers childhood influences, getting discovered at a haunted house exhibit, various props and drawings he fashioned from the script, and the eventual reshoot. Akin recalls being plucked from Texas video school by McCullough Sr. and discusses his working relationship with Joe Wilcots and is more candid about the distribution demands of New World. We still don't get to see the original cut of Mountaintop Motel which debuted that night in July 1983 in Opelousas and played the next year in Jackson, Mississippi, which would've certainly boosted my recommendation of this combo-pack release if not the film.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Lust in the Dust

(R, New World Pictures, 84 mins., theatrical release date: Mar. 1, 1985)

Long regarded as the Uncanny Valley of instacamp Western burlesques, Paul Bartel's LUST IN THE DUST finds the black comic master of Death Race 2000 and Eating Raoul wandering self-consciously into John Waters-burg. This was more of a passion project for wayward heartthrob Tab Hunter, who'd been wanting to produce his own offbeat spin on the desiccated genre for a while (the title comes from Joseph Cotton's nickname for the 1946 epic Duel in the Sun) and found himself energized by his experience on Waters' Polyester. The coupling of him with the heavyset transvestite Divine proved a match made in heaven (Criterion announced Polyester as a September 2019 release as I write this), and Hunter no doubt recognized the potential in placing Waters' MVP atop a burro and shipping him off as a dance hall diva. There was even a role for Edith Massey, another inextricable member of Dreamland, which was cut tragically short because of the Egg Lady's declining health.

Perhaps as much a hurdle as the Waters associations was how 1985, the year Bartel's movie went into wide release, was raring to be clogged with attempts to bring back the Western. If it wasn't Lawrence (Silverado) Kasdan or Clint (Pale Rider) Eastwood, it was Lust in the Dust's closest competition at the multiplex, the Tom Berenger vehicle Rustler's Rhapsody, another featherweight satire. And a year later, John Landis' Three Amigos! came along and was ultimately rewarded the hipster cult audience that came naturally to the unflappable if glib Landis. Basically, 1985 was the year of the cult movie, some more intensely marketed than others, but it felt like all under-performers of 1985 would go on to build their own rabidly defensive fanbase.

Lust in the Dust, however, seems to be one of the lesser cult movies of that crazy, crazy year. How could this be?! You had Divine and Tab Hunter reunited so shortly after the trash masterpiece that is Polyester. There were goofy supporting roles for Geoffrey Lewis, Courtney Gains, Henry Silva, and Cesar Romero. And then you had Lainie Kazan, so hilarious as the Jewish mother with eyes for Peter O'Toole in the magnificent My Favorite Year, in a corset trading mesquite-grilled barbs with Divine, who was finally being recognized outside of Waters' own Baltimore creative hub. And Paul Bartel was no novice, either, although he sadly didn't get as much respect as he deserved based on some disheartening evidence found in the bonus features of this Vinegar Syndrome release.

Bartel and co. labored so hard to put the vamp in "revamp," and yet Lust in the Dust has the reputation of a saddle sore to this very day. Why?

The fact that Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles, held up by a lot of cranks as the last bastion of political incorrectness translated to riotous comedy, continues to cast a shadow over every attempted Western comedy is inevitable. Neither Bartel nor scriptwriter Philip John Taylor (making his sole foray out of TV programming) were ever going to compete with Brooks or ZAZ on a joke density scale. Lust in the Dust presents Tab Hunter as a Man With No Name-style drifter only to christen him Abel Wood, which never rises above groan-worthy pun status despite the frothing horniness Lainie Kazan, going full Mae West, brings to the brassy saloon owner, Marguerita Ventura. Same goes for Courtney Gains, as...well, Red Dick!

None of these nudge-wink nicknames can compare to the sheer majesty of Divine's playacting. Rosie Velez would be a stock ingénue in a less ironic parts; Divine gooses the role with enough offhand humor and force of personality that his charisma remains consistent. "Always the little ones got something to prove," she deadpans, with true Lily Von Shtupp sarcasm, upon finding the dwarf sidekick to bandit Hard Case Williams (Geoffrey Lewis) between her legs in the middle of the night. When she interjects upon Kazan's musical number, "South of My Border," it is the perfect encapsulation of the playfully bitchy chemistry between them. Nothing stops Divine; even a line like "My ass is on its last legs!" solicits a guilty chuckle when he delivers it.

Rosie, of course, arrives in Chile Verde, New Mexico, the archetypal small town rumored to possess gold in their hills. There are a broken map and a limerick as clues, although the former's assembly will be become obvious once you immediately deduce the bawdiness inherent in the words "two butes." And it all ends with the characters on receiving ends of gun barrels, even Marguerita's most aged prostitute, Big Ed (Nedra Volz, in the role that Edie Massey read for). The plot is certainly as flimsy as the wardrobe on Gina Gallego as the least eccentric senorita of the saloon, Ninfa, and for as much energy as the cast brings, this plot doesn't bring Leone down a single peg. It's the Clue conundrum all over again: amped showmanship which doesn't make up for the lack of real ambition or the hoariness of most of the jokes.

Certain moments in Lust in the Dust do solidify the playfulness Bartel labors to bring to the movie. Henry Silva, in what has to be his funniest role since Alligator, is a hoot as the trigger-happy Bernardo, addressing the Chile Verde Rotary Club in his attempt to rouse a mob to silence the already stoic Abel. Kazan's big musical number is so outrageously horny, she grinds upon Henry Silva's inanimate body and manipulates him like a puppet, and it slays me every time. Divine belts out "These Lips Were Made for Kissin'" in all his hoarse but pitch-perfect glory, and there is a solid running joke about the way Rosie's loins tend to literally smother any prospective lovers. It pays off at the end, complete with a tasty "Come and get it!" in regards to the film's other primary focus of lust away from Tab Hunter. And Geoffrey Lewis as Hard Case Williams, the son of a Boston preacher ("may he rot in hellfire"), adds to his rogue's gallery something truly hilarious.

The comedy of Bartel's film is, like Eating Raoul, situated at the crossroads of straight and loony, which is high-risk, high-reward. Trouble is that Eating Raoul felt more novel and had more of an axe to grind at swingers and bondage cases, which gives it more of an edge compared to this softer R-rated romp. But that was Bartel's own unique sensibilities at work; Taylor, meanwhile, is merely transgressive for a television writer, and he doesn't measure up to what a Paul Bartel or a John Waters could do in peak mischief. I don't agree with Graeme Clark's assertion that Tab Hunter doesn't get one funny line, as there is a bone tossed in his confession scene with Cesar Romero's man of cloth about "lockjaw Indians." But he does have less personality than the Eastwood-style desperado he cosplays, and for all the eccentrics bouncing off him, Hunter feels less vital here than he did as Divine's hopeless infatuation from Polyester.

There is no doubt a small cult devoted to Lust in the Dust, as Lainie Kazan's own gay fans will attest to, and singling out Divine for a Worst Actress Razzie nomination is mean-spirited in a petty way, hardly worthy of Waters and Bartel at their most enjoyably catty. I'll take Lust in the Dust over a St. Elmo's Fire or a Teen Wolf in a heartbeat. But if one can be completely objective about such security blanket subversives as Clue or Better Off Dead or even The Goonies, and can put aside any further Mel Brooks or John Waters comparisons, Lust in the Dust looks weak in the presence of the more truly gonzo highlights of 1985, be they Re-Animator or Pee-Wee's Big Adventure or The Last Dragon. Those pure entertainments knew how to go over the top with the best of them; Lust in the Dust isn't so tarnished, but it wheezes by like a lonely tumbleweed.

Funny thing happened when Anchor Bay released this on DVD for the first time in 2001: though not shot in CinemaScope, their transfer reframed the film to a 2.35:1 aspect ratio to mimic the look of its inspiration. No information exists as to whether it was screened as such theatrically from its festival premiere in '84 to the wider release around the same time as The Sure Thing, and Bartel isn't here anymore to supervise or elaborate on if 2.35:1 was a conscious decision. The original aspect ratio appears to be 1.85:1 as befits a low-budget 35mm production. The Vinegar Syndrome "Halfway to Black Friday" exclusive release preserves them both, and they appear to possess the same overall picture quality.

Which is good, because they've located the original 35mm negative and made it sing for this 4k scan. This is the real Divine Madness the way our lady Glenn appears, and everyone and everything on show looks astoundingly crisp. Floral print dresses, bloomers and corsets are as robust as the sweat, mascara and lipstick on the performers. Black/blue levels in nighttime sequences never smear, and there is a light, natural grain to an otherwise error-proof transfer. The 1.0 DTS HD-MA mix is exquisite, with clean dialogue throughout and dynamic musical cues, especially the opening ballad. Though the track is monaural, there is atmosphere to the sound effects, and the optional English SDH subtitles are more accurate than most VS transcripts.

The 15-minute "More Lust, Less Dust" featurette produced for the Anchor Bay disc by David Gregory  is carried over, which is generous with on-set footage and even includes the audition tape of Edith Massey reading the part of Big Ed. Producers Tab Hunter and Allan Glaser are on hand, as are actors Lainie Kazan and Gina Gallego (sadly, no Courtney Gains), and there are enough production details to satisfy, as well as some choice audio clips of Divine and Paul Bartel. Real life couple Hunter and Glaser return, a decade and a half later and before Hunter's death in 2018, for the 20-minute "Return to Chili Verde," produced by Automat Pictures (I Am Divine), which elaborates further on the pre-production process (Shirley MacLaine as well as Chita Rivera were initial choices as Marguerita) as well as Divine's involvement ("Mr. Producer" was his pet name for Glaser), with a third Hunter/Divine vehicle that, tragically, never came to be. Both do a great job conveying the rugged nature of setting and outfits.

"The Importance of Being Paul" is Gregory's 16-minute overview of Bartel's career, featuring input from Roger Corman, Mary Woronov, Bruce Wagner, and John Landis among others. Since Lust in the Dust was elaborated upon further in Gregory's other featurette, much of the doc focuses on Eating Raoul, which Bartel made on no budget and through personal favors (Landis would order extra film for his own concurrent studio pic and donate to Bartel). There are minor discussions of Death Race 2000, Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills and Bartel's extensive resume as actor, but it's his late career downfall that hits the hardest. His last feature film from 1993, Shelf Life, was unable to find major distribution in the wake of studio switch-ups, where executors could care less about Death Race 2000 or Eating Raoul. Bartel was unable to get his sequel to Eating Raoul, "Bland Ambition," which had a completed script as early as 1986, into production before his death in 2000, with financing secured the day prior.

Topping things off are a newspaper archive gallery set to the tune of "Tumbling Tumbleweed" and a TV spot for the movie. You can still secure a limited edition copy at Vinegar Syndrome, complete with slipcover. Here's the proper theatrical trailer, though, which isn't included on that release which I just reviewed:

Sunday, June 16, 2019


(NR, Amazing Film Productions, 81 mins., release date: November 1982)

Don Dohler reluctantly if energetically recreates his decade-old The Alien Factor for the early 1980s exploitation scene with NIGHTBEAST, the most notorious of Vinegar Syndrome's 2019 Halfway to Black Friday home video releases. Distributed through VIPCO in the UK, the cassette release was classified a "Section 3" Video Nasty, which meant that, though not prosecuted on obscenity charges, VHS merchants were bound by law to turn over their copies for immediate expulsion/destruction. Nightbeast enjoyed a smoother reputation in America; after a spell on the Las Vegas-based Paragon Video, it was snatched up by Troma in the early 1990s and became ubiquitous enough to merit an appearance in Panos Cosmatos' Mandy. And a 15-year-old composer named Jeffrey Abrams, who was a disciple of Dohler's from the days of his self-published Cinemagic magazine, made good in his thirties by creating the likes of Alias and Lost for ABC under the name J.J.

At this point in time, close to 1978 (the year when The Alien Factor was distributed through Cinemagic six years after completion), Dohler was still reticent about filmmaking, having agreed to turn over directorial reins for Nightbeast to Alien Factor star Dave Geatty, who found himself in over his head. Geatty's inability to function on a micro-budget left him behind schedule and over budget (he spent a day trying to perfect a single tracking shot and with nothing to show), and at least 15 people on the cast & crew turned up at Dohler's doorstep issuing a joint ultimatum. The project fizzled enough so that Dohler could scale back and direct his sophomore effort, 1980's Fiend, in comparable peace. But the siren's call of Nightbeast proved irresistible, and new director Dohler started it back up shortly after the release of Fiend.

The year now being 1982, Don Dohler could no longer attract attention just by blundering his way through an old-fashioned monster mash, as the post-slasher vogue for instant sensationalism was in full swing. Splatter and sex were in, handmade yet hokey visual effects were not. This tendency towards luridness is on full display through Nightbeast. Not only is the gore quota high enough that it would have undoubtedly warranted an X rating, but there are also two instances of violence towards women which would've sent Siskel & Ebert leaping off the balcony. And they involve the two "actresses" who were successfully coaxed into providing top-to-bottom nudity. There is also a more liberal use of profanity compared to The Alien Factor.

It's not even the sordid accoutrements of the modern horror trend that shows up Dohler's need to adapt. The titular space invader no sooner claims his first few victims than he is engaged in back-to-back shootouts with the Perry Hall PD, firing his trusty laser disintegration pistol at the hapless expendables doing no damage with shotguns and six-shooters. Though one elderly marksman pries the advanced weapon from the alien's grip, it comes at the expense of his son's life, leaving Sheriff Jack Cinder (Tom Griffith) to butt heads with Mayor Bert Wicker (Richard Dyszel) over evacuation protocol and the very real need for outside help. That election-minded Wicker blows off the warnings to carry on a pool party meant to schmooze up to Governor Embry (Richard Ruxton) is typical; when townie Jamie Lambert (Jamie Zemarel) embarrasses him by dispersing the party with warnings of a "poison gas leak," it reduces the Mayor and his ditzy secretary Mary Jane Carter (Eleanor Herman) to alcoholic wrecks awaiting their most gruesome comeuppance.

Not that Sheriff Cinder and his aides aren't oblivious to the danger from within. Blindsided by the arrival of an intergalactic mutilator, they fail to properly deal with psychotic biker Drago (Don Leifert), who is shaping up for notoriety as the Perry Hall Strangler. First, Drago murders his girlfriend Suzie (Monica Neff) in a jealous rage, and after getting beaten by the avenging Jamie in a fistfight, he takes out his aggression on Deputy Lisa Kent (Karin Kardian) until Jamie finally finishes him off by blasting a hole through Drago's chest. All the while, the three law enforcers and their scientific allies (George Stover and Anne Frith as Steven Price and Ruth Sherman, respectively) scramble for a solution to besting the indestructible alien.

Give Don Dohler this much credit: the nastier elements of Nightbeast impose a slickness which provides more novelty than the aimlessness of The Alien Factor. And want as I am to turn the other way at the predominantly cheesy acting talents on display, quite a few in the cast display greater gusto just as well. Although Dyszel and Herman are all too believably insufferable in their comic banter ("Stop calling me Bertie!"), Jamie Zemarel makes a strapping second banana and his longtime friend Don Leifert, doing a 180 from the mild-mannered astronomer who saved the day thrice in the last half of The Alien Factor, is gleefully demented as the brutish Drago. And George Stover, whose propensity for camp was nurtured as much by John Waters as by Dohler, blends in just fine as the concerned doctor. Equally reliable is the input of creature effects artist John (The Deadly Spawn) Dods, who understands that while sympathetic aliens are defined by their eyes, the least friendly of them squeak by on their instruments of chomp.

Nightbeast is a tighter, more efficient, certainly more outrageous retread of The Alien Factor by any metric, but one can still sense Dohler bucking under the strain of newfound expectations. The love scene between Sheriff Cinder, all gray perm and handlebar mustache, and his blonde deputy comes right out of nowhere and is inconsequential to a fault. A gut-ripping attack sequence early in the film is edited like the Tasmanian Devil yet still ridiculous protracted. The film ticks off nearly all the same boxes as The Alien Factor, and is shameless enough to refer to characters by the exact same names as in Dohler's earlier effort, which hinders the amount of genuine surprises to the more sordid supplements. And the limited resources may be admirable when it comes to optical effects and cinematography, but they're taxing for some of the performers; Karin Kardian was the hairdresser to Dohler's aunt, and you can tell by the thinness of her role and the abilities she brings to it.

But damned if Dohler's scrappiness doesn't have its charms, and being issued on Blu-Ray by Vinegar Syndrome does wonders for the first few minutes alone. The Nightbeast's entrance makes it clear that there is nowhere to go but down, thus ensuring the R-rated material its own undemanding appeal. And if, say, the creature from It Came Without Warning tended to be less hands-on in his approach to murder, preferring to launch bloodsucking Frisbees at his quarry, then the Nightbeast's grisly rampage is chock full of claw-sullying horror. I can see why this would appeal to a Stephen Thrower (the Nightmare USA author who extolled the movie's virtues on the second Video Nasties trailer compilation) or a Mike Vanderbilt (the Daily Grindhouse drifter who spilled ink on this back in 2015 for the AV Club). It was made for a Troma or a Vinegar Syndrome to revive, and may well live up to its reputation as Don Dohler's most accessible film, make of that what you will.

What's indisputable is the uptake in video quality, with Nightbeast presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio in a 2k scan from the 16mm negative. No hi-def presentation will ever relieve Nightbeast of its gaudy, grainy source flaws, but it sure looks well-calibrated in all of its colors, although reds and blacks tend to fare best. Nighttime sequences will no longer strain anybody's eyes, although the detail of the lasers burn straight into your retinas. Flesh tones are believably natural and the monster mask holds up well under closer, clearer inspection. Nothing distracting in the way of compression artifacts or haloing, and print damage is minimal. The monaural DTS-HD track brings out J.J. Abrams' keyboard/piano score nicely; his contributions were mostly chase sequences as well as the requisite tender love theme. Rob Walsh's compositions as well as library music gets an equal boost in clarity, and dialogue remains understandable despite the mix's limitations. The sound effects may lack directionality, but retain their punch.

Extras start with the theatrical trailer ("This is the story of how the little people answer the big questions!") and a four-minute visual FX gallery, plus the same outtake reel which appeared on the Troma DVD release. Also recycled is the feature commentary track with Don Dohler and George Stover, which the latter dominates with his recollections of special effects challenges and friends/family in walk-on roles. They touch on some various homages (including Vincent Price and The Thing from Another World) and provide ample detail about locations, which isn't surprising given Dohler himself remained in Perry Hall until his passing at age 60 on Dec. 2, 2006.

Dohler documentarian John Kinhart locked down interviews with Dohler and the also-departed Don Leifert, as well as comments from Stover, Greg & Kim Dohler and J.J. Abrams, himself, all of whom are heard on the 25-minute "Nightbeast Returns." There's more detail on the project's doomed genesis as well as an anecdote about how Abrams, at 16, enlisted his grandfather to drive him to a video story so he could buy a VHS copy of Nightbeast for posterity. Three fresh interviews shot specifically for the VinSyn edition include actor Jamie Zemarel, cinematographer/actor Richard Geiwitz (who also shared associate producer credit with Stover and Tom Griffith) and visual FX artist John Ellis (no relation to Alien Factor alumni Dave Ellis), each lasting 15-19 minutes. Zemarel, who won a contest to be an extra in the blockbuster Grease, didn't realize how big his role in Nightbeast was until he was handed the script and is refreshingly self-critical. Geiwitz does a nice job breaking down his own beginnings and visual quirks, while Ellis is upfront about his working relationship with Dohler and the literal pennies used in presenting a cinematic version of outer space.