If you’re anything like me, besides having my sympathies, you’ve probably sat through a countless number of movies in your life and thought to yourself “I could make something better than that.” And it’s true, even with no particular background in filmmaking or any sort of technical knowledge required to do the job, you, dear reader, could probably come up with something better than, say, current box office champion The Vow. Not that I’ve seen it, but that’s beside the point. And before I lose said point here entirely…
A native Chicagoland area resident named Wally Koz had that same thought back in the 1980s (you know, before the sprawling exurban soul-dead wasteland outside of Chicago forced the nauseating term “Chicagoland” into existence in the first place — apologies to any and all residents of places like Schaumburg who might be reading this) but, unlike armchair critics like you and me, he fucking did something about it. Wally was (the past tense being appropriate here, unfortunately, as he passed away a few years ago now) a guy who besides having one of the most instantly-ready-for-cult-status names in the history of the world (“Dude, you’re a Wally Koz fan? Me too!”) also had a few thousand bucks in the bank and some friends and family members (counting the number of people with the surname “Koz” listed in the credits would make for a pretty good drinking game — the most notable being his brother Roy, who wrote the script and also “acts” in the movie) who were game to play along with his mad scheme. The end result? 1988?s shot-on-video, direct-to-VHS horror mini-epic 555.
Like many of us, our guy Wally spent a lot of time and money in the 80s watching SOV/DTV horror movies like BLOOD CULT, CANNIBAL CAMPOUT, and VIDEO VIOLENCE, and was dismayed at how infrequently most of these backyard numbers truly delivered the goods (well, okay, VIDEO VIOLENCE is an exception to that and probably doesn’t belong on the list — maybe we should substitute REVENGE or something instead), especially in relation to their always-lurid box cover art. Figuring (correctly) that most of the folks behind these homemade flicks had no more aptitude for the job than he did, he thought he’d just go ahead and make the kind of SOV horror that he wanted to see, since nobody else was making them. It would be violent, gory, tasteless, and in fairness, for many long stretches dull to the extreme. But hey, he shot this thing on 1? videotape and from my understanding that stuff was a real bitch to edit, so looooooong, lingering takes without much necessarily, you know, actually going on are to be expected, as seasoned viewers of 1980s SOV are well aware. But apart from that one minor quibble more forced on 555 by dint of necessity than any sort of intentionally bad creative decision-making, by and large I think we can congratulate Mr. Koz on a job at least reasonably well-done here.
The plot revolves around a killer dressed as a hippie who has this habit of killing couples mid-coitus, hacking them up in whatever gruesome fashion strikes his fancy, and then getting a little post mortem lovin’ from the ladies. Rather than shying away from the nastier elements of this set-up (well, okay, all the elements in this set-up are inherently nasty), Koz positively revels in this shit. You want to see corpse-fucking? You got it. Decapitation? It’s in there. Red -Karo- syrup-blood flowing like a river? Got that too. In short, nothing’s left to the imagination, and while many of the plastic-torso-and-dime-store-fake-innards effects are, admittedly, seriously lacking, some are actually pulled off pretty damn admirably (the lopped-off head on the VHS, and now DVD, cover pictured at the outset here being a notable example).
Massacre Video have recently seen fit to finally release this admittedly small-cult obscurity on DVD, complete with a faithfully reproduced version of the nauseating pink-and-yellow-dominated cover that stared out at us from the racks of horror sections at so many video rental shops back in the day. Extras are minimal, consisting of some professionally-enough-done interviews with some surviving cast and crew members and a selection of trailers for some forthcoming rather, uhhhhhhm, interesting-looking Massacre titles, but the full frame picture has been re-mastered pretty nicely and looks about as well as this thing probably ever could, and the sound quality (by the way, be on the lookout for the same canned scream being used in every single one of the murders of members of the fairer sex) is likewise about as good as we’re gonna get given the technical unevenness of the source material. They also have a deluxe version that includes a full-sized poster (put that up on your wall and have guests over immediately) and there was a very limited edition VHS reissue of 50 copies(!) that sold out more or less immediately.
No one involved with 555, either in front of or behind the camera, ever worked on anything else again. This is their one credit, across the board, without exception. But Wally Koz, with a little help from his friends and family, saw this thing through to completion, got a video distribution deal, and apparently at the end of the day he even came out ahead on the whole thing by a few bucks. That’s worth no small amount of respect right there, as is the obvious gusto with which he went about regaling home viewing audiences with some of the most grotesque and tasteless bloodbath scenes ever committed to videotape. All in all, that’s proven to be more than enough to ensure that we’re (well, some of us, at any rate) still talking about this thing nearly a quarter-century later. It’s not the most auspicious legacy any moviemaker has ever left behind, fair enough, but it’s a damn sight more than most of us will ever achieve.
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