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The Bottom Shelf by Adam Jahnke

The Horror... The Horror...

Back to Part One

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

Anchor Bay Fright Pack: The Devil Made Me Do It
Anchor Bay Fright Pack: Campy Classics
1973-1988 (2005) - Anchor Bay Entertainment

Anchor Bay Fright Pack: The Devil Made Me Do ItAnchor Bay Fright Pack: Campy Classics

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Anchor Bay must really hate the guy who developed DVD packaging. Over the years, they've packaged their discs in everything from metal tins to wooden crates to the Necronomicon itself. Now, they're taking on the box set. Not content to release a set that sits vertically like all the other boxes, Anchor Bay has introduced the Fright Pack, six thematically-linked movies in a cleverly designed box that sits on its side and looks a six pack of beer complete with a little plastic handle on the top. Sure, one of the ends is wide open for all the discs to come tumbling out if you hold it wrong. And yeah, there's no way to display it on a shelf so you can see all six titles at once. But as a method of repackaging some older catalog titles and get folks excited about them, it's kind of cute. Hey, it worked on us. We're talking about 'em, ain't we?

As for what's inside each Fright Pack, these are the same discs the Bay has previously released over the years. So if you're a real horror fan, odds are pretty good you've probably already got one or two of these discs. But if you haven't and you think you might be interested in them, these are fine ways to pick up a bunch at once. The selection of films is pretty good, so if you know you like one of the movies in the box, you'll probably at least be somewhat interested in the rest. But in each case, there's one of these things that's not quite like the others. I know because I've been through each and every one. Armed with two Fright Packs and two actual six-packs, I embarked on a beer and blood-soaked marathon of "premium horror". I may never be the same again.

The AntichristFear No Evil

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The Antichrist

Film Rating: C
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/C+

Fear No Evil

Film Rating: B-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C/B/B+

The first pack I cracked open was The Devil Made Me Do It, six horror flicks revolving around the man downstairs, Satan himself. First into the player was The Antichrist, a 1974 Italian gorefest that Michael Weldon's indispensable Psychotronic Encyclopedia informs me was the first Exorcist rip-off produced, which is a claim to fame of sorts, I suppose. Carla Gravina is the possessed young woman here, wheelchair-bound after a car accident and willing to experiment with unorthodox cures including hypnosis. One session reveals that in a past life, she was a Satan-worshipper burned for heresy. With this secret unlocked, the gate is open for the devil to come roaring back into her life, complete with all the foul language and green vomit you've come to expect.

The Antichrist is a pretty dumb movie and the similarities to The Exorcist are painfully obvious. Still, like a lot of Italian 70's horrors, this has its charms, assuming you think a wild Satanic ritual/orgy involving a goat that looks like it was directed by Ken Russell is charming. The disc is pretty good, including a ten-minute featurette called Raising Hell that interviews director Alberto De Martino and composer Ennio Morricone, a TV spot for the original American release of the film under the title The Tempter, and a good-sized poster and still gallery.

Off to a somewhat promising start, I continued with Fear No Evil, a pretty good 1980 mix-up of the horror and high school genres. Stefan Arngrim stars as Andrew, a shy brainiac whose awkward adolescent phase is made worse by the fact that he's, you guessed it, the Antichrist. As Andrew comes into an awareness of his unholy powers, a trinity of archangels prepare to do battle with him one last time.

Directed by Frank LaLoggia, Fear No Evil is fairly original for this kind of fare, staging some good setpieces against unusual backdrops such as an annual Passion play. The movie is stylish and moody (I particularly liked the baptism scene) with a terrific soundtrack including bands like the Talking Heads and the Sex Pistols and a refreshing sense of humor. Anchor Bay's disc is loaded with good bonuses, including an audio commentary by LaLoggia and cinematographer Frederic Goodrich, twenty minutes of behind-the-scenes footage with commentary, the trailer and TV spots, another poster and still gallery, and the complete screenplay on DVD-ROM. Fear No Evil isn't the best horror movie you'll ever see (the Xanadu lightshow at the end dates it badly) but it's fun, fast-paced and worth checking out.

Hell NightThe Church

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Hell Night

Film Rating: F
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/C+/C

The Church

Film Rating: B-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C+/B/D

The same cannot be said for my next choice, the 1981 slasher fest Hell Night. This is the one that really doesn't belong here, having nothing whatsoever to do with Hell except for the title and my suspicion that this is the movie Satan forces you to watch for all eternity. Linda Blair stars as a sorority pledge forced to spend the night in a possibly haunted mansion along with another girl and two fraternity pledges. From the sounds of it, they're all pledging to the same co-ed house so I'm not sure how that works. Anyhoo, twelve years prior, the mansion was the scene of a grisly mass murder and it could be that the survivors of that slaughter are still in the house. Sure enough, soon the kids are turning up dead, one by one.

Now I've seen countless slasher movies and usually they've got just two things going for them: blood and boobs. Hell Night has neither. This has got to be one of the tamest slasher movies I've ever sat through. Obviously there's no suspense or genuine terror. But there's also no creative deaths, no gratuitous nudity, nothing except for bad surfer boy jokes courtesy of Vincent Van Patten and the dramatic stylings of Ms. Blair. I don't know who the producers thought were going to go see this movie but they obviously didn't have their brows low enough for me. The disc includes an audio commentary by Blair, director Tom DeSimone and producers Irwin Yablans and Bruce Cohn Curtis that honestly, I didn't listen to. I didn't have enough beer to sit through Hell Night more than once and I think I can pretty well figure out how the movie was made, thanks. But if you're a big Hell Night aficionado, it's there for your enjoyment. There's also some bios, trailers and TV spots to make your Hell Night complete.

Needing a quick fix to get things back on track, I put in Michele Soavi's The Church, a 1988 movie co-written and co-produced by Dario Argento. Back during the Crusades, an entire village of devil-worshippers was slaughtered by knights who then built a huge gothic church atop the burial pit. Cut to the present day where a new librarian begins to dig into the church's secret past. He unleashes the forces of evil and he, the priests, and a large group of tourists become locked inside the building to become possessed by demons.

Originally conceived as Demons 3, the project was rethought as a stand-alone film once Soavi (who later directed the brilliant Dellamorte Dellamore or Cemetery Man) came on board. Unfortunately, it probably shouldn't have been. I'm a fan of the first two Demons movies. They're goofy and over-the-top and lots of fun, following the same basic premise of people locked in a building (a movie theatre in the first one, an apartment building in the second) and turning into demons. Eventually, The Church falls into that same pattern and once it does, it's kind of nifty. But if that's all that was going to happen anyway, all that set-up is pretty pointless. Even so, The Church has a lot going for it, including a good score by Goblin and Keith Emerson and a very young Asia Argento as a rebellious teenager. Extras are limited to a trailer and a bio for Soavi.

To the Devil... a DaughterCurse of the Devil

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To the Devil... a Daughter

Film Rating: C+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/B-

Curse of the Devil

Film Rating: C+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C/C/C+

Next up was the swan song of Hammer Films, the 1976 To the Devil... a Daughter. Christopher Lee is a disgraced priest with a plan to offer a teenage girl (Nastassja Kinski) as a sacrifice to the Devil. But the girl's father (Denholm Elliott) has misgivings and calls upon an occult writer (Richard Widmark) to protect his daughter.

For a long time, my only memory of this movie was of the old video box that features Kinski in a red negligee that was literally painted on (the image is from her nude scene in the movie). Now that I've finally seen it, I'm of two minds. I like the premise of the film and the performances by Lee, Kinski and especially Elliott are all top-notch. But some elements, including a ridiculous monster puppet that gropes Kinski, are laughably bad. While I'm not usually in favor of remakes, I actually wouldn't mind seeing a new version of this movie. It has a lot going for it but as it stands can't really be considered very good. Anchor Bay's DVD can, however. It has a very good making-of called To the Devil... a Daughter of Hammer with Lee, director Peter Sykes, and many others giving candid recollections of the film and their opinions of it. The disc also has a trailer, a poster and still gallery (including that video box that made such an impression on me), bios for Christopher Lee and Richard Widmark, and a nice Easter egg interview of stuntman Eddie Powell.

The last nail in this Fright Pack's coffin is Curse of the Devil, a 1973 Spanish horror starring that country's leading horror star Paul Naschy. This is the seventh film in which Naschy stars as Waldemar Daninsky, cursed in film after film with the mark of the werewolf. Here he turns into El Hombre Lobo because of a century-old curse upon his family after an ancestor destroyed a satanic coven.

However, anybody expecting a cool Werewolves Vs. Satanists showdown will have to keep looking. After the Satanic set-up, Curse of the Devil is more werewolf movie than occult thriller. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Naschy's Waldemar Daninsky occupies a unique place in horror history, mixing a fairly traditional Lon Chaney-style monster with 70s gore and sex. It's an enduring character and all horror fans should probably check out at least one of Naschy's movies. Curse of the Devil is a good a place to start as any. The DVD includes a trailer, a 15-minute interview with Naschy, and a lengthy bio and poster gallery, both of which give some much-needed context to the history of the character.

Elvira, Mistress of the DarkReturn of the Killer Tomatoes

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Elvira, Mistress of the Dark

Film Rating: D+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/D

Return of the Killer Tomatoes

Film Rating: C+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/D-

Having survived my first Fright Pack relatively unscathed, I moved on to the second set, Campy Classics. The box might just as well be called New World Pictures Presents, as all but one of the discs in this set hail from the late, not-too lamented studio that was big in the 80s. If you're familiar with New World, you can perhaps understand why I approached this set without much enthusiasm. The studio's globe logo at the beginning of a movie was hardly a harbinger of quality and the movies in this set can attest to New World's legacy of crap.

First on deck was 1987's Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, the big-screen debut for the irritating TV horror hostess and beer shill played by Cassandra Peterson. Elvira inherits a spooky house in the small conservative town of Falwell. She plans on renovating the house, selling it and using the money to fund her big Vegas show. But her plans are complicated when she learns her true origins, that she's the descendant of a powerful witch and there are people in town that want her power.

I went into Elvira without much hope, just a slight glow in the back of my mind that it might be kind of funny in a dopey way. After all, co-writer John Paragon did good work on Pee-wee's Playhouse. I certainly didn't think this would be another Pee-wee's Big Adventure but I half hoped it might be as good as "Weird Al" Yankovic's UHF. It's not. Approximately 60% of the jokes here are centered firmly on Elvira's chest. Even if you laugh at the first one (and I didn't), I'd be shocked if you're still laughing at the fiftieth. Most of the movie isn't even memorably bad, except for the final scene when Elvira finally gets to do her act in Vegas. This deserves a special place in the roster of terrible musical numbers. Apparently nobody else thought too much of this movie, as the only extras Anchor Bay could muster are a couple trailers and a bio for Cassandra Peterson which is much more interesting than the movie itself.

Moving on, we have one of the most unnecessary and undesired sequels ever made, John DeBello's 1988 Return of the Killer Tomatoes! The country is now tomato-free. Wilbur (our hero from the original Attack, still played by Steve "Rock" Peace) now runs a pizza place specializing in sauces like peanut butter and chocolate syrup with his nephew Chad (Anthony Starke) and Chad's buddy Matt (George Clooney). But the tomato menace is looming as the evil Professor Gangreen (John Astin) is busy creating an army of tomato-people that will take over the world!

Nobody could be more surprised than me that Return of the Killer Tomatoes is actually genuinely funny from time to time. It's hit-or-miss ratio is no higher or lower than that of the original movie. If anything, the humor is even more anarchic this time around. The movie is framed as the feature presentation on a local TV station's afternoon movie. At one point, filming stops completely when the production runs out of money. And while there's no 80s synth-pop remix of "Puberty Love", there are still some pretty funny songs. My favorite was the theme to the film within the film, "Big-Breasted Girls Go To The Beach And Take Their Tops Off". Like the first movie, Return is hurt by the fact that it's simply too long and too repetitive. Anchor Bay's DVD pulls out all the stops for the extras, including a full-length commentary/film analysis by George Clooney and his current producing partner Steven Soderbergh. OK, so that's not true (although I bet they'd do it if they were asked). All that's really on here is the trailer, so you'll have to keep waiting for the Deluxe Edition of Return of the Killer Tomatoes. I wouldn't hold my breath, though.

Transylvania 6-5000Return to Horror High

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Transylvania 6-5000

Film Rating: D
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/B-

Return to Horror High

Film Rating: F
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/C+/D-

I really, really didn't want to watch the next disc, Rudy DeLuca's Transylvania 6-5000. I actually sat through this turkey in a theatre back in 1985. I hated it then and I hate it still. Jeff Goldblum and Ed Begley, Jr. star as a couple of bumbling reporters sent by their editor (a "special appearance" by Norman Fell) to Transylvania to investigate the return of Frankenstein. They're soon encountering all sorts of weirdos, including the mayor of Transylvania (Jeffrey Jones), a sex-crazed vampire (Geena Davis), a practical-joke-loving butler (a pre-Seinfeld Michael Richards), and a squabbling married couple of hunchbacked servants (John Byner and Carol Kane).

Back in '85, I just thought this was a bad movie. Now it's a mystifying one. How anybody could make such a tediously unfunny movie with this cast is beyond me. But somehow they managed it. Most of the cast just looks vaguely embarrassed, as if they just want the whole thing over with as quickly as possible. Richards comes off the best, apparently just making up his entire character as he goes along, and Geena Davis looks hot in her skimpy Vampirella outfit but even these elements aren't enough to save this. Surprisingly, the commentary by DeLuca and visual consultant Steve Haberman is pretty interesting. DeLuca's first choice for the leads were bosom buddies Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari. They were vetoed when New World execs complained they didn't know who Tom Hanks was. Anchor Bay also includes some trailers and TV spots, a still gallery, and some storyboard art by Haberman that hints at a more sophisticated visual style than what they were ultimately able to afford.

Having made it through Transylvania 6-5000, I assumed the worst was behind me. But nothing could have prepared me for the mind-melting awfulness of Return to Horror High. Crippen High School was once the stalking ground of a deranged serial killer. Years later, a film crew has descended upon Crippen to make a movie based on the story. To the surprise of only the most dim-witted, somebody soon starts to ice the cast and crew of the movie. Within half an hour of this laborious exercise, I realized I was going to need a lot more beer.

The back cover of Return to Horror High compares the movie to Scary Movie and Scream (although the plot is more Scream 2 or Scream 3). And there's part of your problem. Scream and Scary Movie are two wildly different kinds of movies and Return to Horror High can't make up its mind which one it wants to be. There are some moments of broad comedy and the casting of Maureen McCormick from The Brady Bunch as a cop certainly suggests the out-and-out parody route. But then there's scenes where they seem to be taking it seriously. Plus, the way the film is structured, with flashbacks and re-creations and dream sequences all running up against each other, makes the movie way more confusing than a horror movie like this has any right to be. George Clooney makes his second appearance in this set as the leading man who quits the movie to go do a TV pilot but he's killed off early on, which suggests that the makers of Return of the Killer Tomatoes were much, much smarter than the folks behind this movie. The only extra on the disc is a trailer and for that we can all be grateful.

Sleepaway CampVamp

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Sleepaway Camp

Film Rating: C+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/C/C


Film Rating: C
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B/B+

The only non-New World movie in the set, and the one that doesn't quite fit the theme, is Sleepaway Camp. The only thing it has in common with the rest of these movies is that it has the word "camp" in the title. Otherwise, this is a fairly straightforward Friday the 13th clone with no parody or comedic elements. The story should be familiar to anybody whether or not you've seen a slasher movie before. The setting is Camp Arawak. A bunch of teens show up for the summer and start to die.

Sleepaway Camp has a lot of fans, many of which claim it's the best slasher movie of the 80s. Personally, I think it's a bit overrated. This is a pretty routine movie with a couple creative and unusual deaths. What saves it is the climax, which is as memorable in its way as the misshapen Jason rising up out of the lake in the original Friday the 13th. The last scene and specifically the last shot are so good that you tend to forget and forgive the eighty minutes that preceded it. Extras on this disc include the trailer and a commentary by director Robert Hiltzik, star Felissa Rose and "moderator"/uberfan Jeff Hayes. Hayes doesn't do much moderating here and the one or two questions he asks go unanswered, while Hiltzik and Rose are both maddeningly, unnecessarily coy about details surrounding the ending. Note to all DVD audio commentators past, present and especially future: if we are listening to you at all, we have already watched the damn movie! We know what's gonna happen, so feel free to spoil it all you want! Just had to get that off my chest.

My last stop on the Fright Pack express (and just in the nick of time... one more set and I'd have had to join Alcoholics Anonymous) was the very 80's vampire flick Vamp. A trio of college students (Chris Makepeace, Robert Rusler, and the Donger himself, Gedde Watanabe) head to The City in search of a stripper for a frat party. They find one at the After Dark Club, a body-painted, red-wigged wildcat named Katrina (Grace Jones) who truly puts the exotic in exotic dance. The trouble is that Katrina and everybody else in the club is a vampire. After this discovery, all the guys want to do is go home.

Vamp is heavily influenced by Martin Scorsese's After Hours and it's certainly nowhere near that league. But taken on its own terms, it's a decent little movie, though your opinion will depend greatly on your tolerance for all things 80s. The movie has a cool Miami Vice look, drenched in vibrant neon greens and magentas, if you think that look is cool. If you don't, you're really gonna get sick of it. Certainly the most memorable thing about Vamp is the bizarre striptease performed by Grace Jones on a set designed by the late artist Keith Haring. Narratively, it makes absolutely no sense that three college dudes would think this bizarre performance artist is the stripper to bring back to the guys, but as a setpiece in the movie, it's unforgettable. Anchor Bay's disc for Vamp really is loaded, with an affectionate and interesting commentary by director Richard Wenk and his stars, Chris Makepeace, Gedde Watanabe and Dedee Pfeiffer. There's also some wild rehearsal footage with Grace Jones, a blooper reel, Wenk's memorable short film Dracula Bites the Big Apple, and the Bay's usual clutch of trailers, TV spots, posters and stills.

Three days, twelve movies and fifteen beers later, I emerge on the other side of Anchor Bay's Fright Packs relatively unscathed. And the verdict? These two assortments are basically well-chosen with The Devil Made Me Do It having a clear edge in the quality department. These are fun, economical ways to pick up a half-dozen movies that, if you like one or two, you will probably at least have some interest in the others. Campy Classics is harder to recommend, simply because the best movie in the batch, Sleepaway Camp, is already available in the swell Sleepaway Camp Survival Kit. If you're a fan, you've probably already got that and don't really care about Elvira or the killer tomatoes. On the other hand, if you're a big Transylvania 6-5000 fan, you'll probably get a kick out of some of these other flicks.

On to Part Three

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