It’s a good time to be a VHS collector…
There’s a love affair happening with the format and collectors, like myself, are treated to something that hasn’t happened in quite a few years. We’re seeing NEW releases on VHS. Whether it’s brand spanking new movies like Ti West’s HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (on VHS/DVD combo) or older rediscovered classics like Intervision’s release of THINGS. Camp took it one step further though and gave you a box set of retro 80’s horror films (5 films on DVD and an additional copy of THE BASEMENT on VHS) and put them in what the VHS community would call a BIG BOX.
What you get in the box are 5 feature length, ultra low budget, shot on super 8 or video horror films made between 1987 – 1989. Actually this isnt entirely true, one of the films is really more of a psychological thriller/crime drama. You get; CAPTIVES, VIDEO VIOLENCE 1 & 2, CANNIBAL CAMPOUT, and the headlining act and reason this box set even exists: THE BASEMENT.
Captives was the only film on this set that I had never heard of. I was a little surprised when I did a little research and learned that it had a little notoriety under its belt. The film follows the story of a woman, her baby and her mother in-law trapped in her home by three deranged criminals. We learn that the criminals are all former family members of the woman’s husband. It seems back in the early 70’s our good man had himself a lovely little hippy family. Married and in love and on all sorts of drugs he accidentally sets his house on fire, killing their baby. The blame gets pinned on the wife who is declared insane, yet for some reason still sent to prison for 12 years (there are no mentions of any kind of institutions). Her brother is a psychopath who has incestuous feelings towards his sister and the other brother is a highly functional mentally challenged person.
As the story unwinds we learn things about the husband and the mother in-law. Mommy covered up her son’s involvement with the death of their child and pulled some strings so he was never charged. Things start to spiral out of control when a babysitter shows up, freaks out at the dead dog in the fish tank and goes ahead and gets herself stabbed by the psycho. The rest of the films plays out in a slow burn thriller style and keeps you wondering, who’s gonna get killed next and by whom?! Not a horror film in any sense of the word, this is a low budget crime drama/psychological thriller done right, if you can get past the incredibly slow start. Once the film picks up and takes off it’s a joy to watch. The actors chew the scenery and play their roles perfectly. The filmmaker (Gary Cohen, VIDEO VIOLENCE 1&2) still manages to keep it interesting despite the fact that once the film gets going it’s basically shot in 2 rooms.
A surprisingly serious film from a man known for horror-comedy, but well worth the watch. It’s entirely understandable why it made the cut for this box set. Keep an eye out for the very clever, but subtle VIDEO VIOLENCE reference in the form of the babysitter’s shirt.
4 Drowned Dogs out of 5
CANNIBAL CAMPOUT is the only Jon McBribe film I’ve seen. WOODCHIPPER MASSACRE has been on my list for a while, but I’m trying to find it on VHS. McBribe’s film fits perfectly into this box set. It combines comedy and horror on a near perfect level. The gore is bloody and the violence is over the top and ridiculous. The ending, which I won’t give away, is such a great twist that it more than makes up for the film’s many dragging bits.
The story is kept nice and simple. Two couples go camping and are hunted and murdered by a family of cannibalistic mountain folk. The head of the group is a rugged looking chap with gigantic eyebrows and knack for the one liner. He has two brothers; one is mentally challanged and wears a pilot helmet the entire film (except for one pretty great reveal) and the other is a smartass pop culture referencing snake. It’s never really explained where this man, who lives in the woods and hunts human for food would have seen MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, but he references it nonetheless. He also tosses out the single best threat in the entire film: “HOW’D YOU LIKE ME TO STAPLE YOUR TITS TO THE ROOF!” One thing I do find most baffling about these killers is that they somehow manage to stay clean the entire film. They get splattered with blood and gore on every kill, but the next time you see them they’re clean. This is most noticeable in the leader who’s wearing WHITE painter’s overalls.
The story may be paper thin, but the kills make up for it. As is typical with this style of film, if you can make it past the incredibly slow start the film picks up soon enough and makes up for it.
3 PILOT HELMETED MUTANTS out of 5
Disc 3 has on it VIDEO VIOLENCE 1&2 and a few more frills than Disc 2. It has the films and the commentary, but also an interview with Gary Cohen about the making of these films (and CAPTIVES) as well as trailers for CANNIBAL CAMPOUT, WOODCHIPPER MASSACRE, GHOUL SCHOOL, and VIDEO VIOLENCE 1&2. As an added little bonus, they tacked on before the menu screen even pops up this video declaring “THE AWESOME 80’S ARE BACK!” with a short snippit of films soon to be available from CAMP. I’ll likely pick up GHOUL SCHOOL because you really can’t say no to that film!
Finally to the meat and potatoes of this box set. I’m not gonna say a negative word about any of the other films, because they were all great in their way, but I think the biggest draw for this box set is to have a copy of VIDEO VIOLENCE. Also the only film in the collection I own in it’s very own Big Box, a crowning jewel in my VHS collection. It also happens to be an incredibly great film.
The story follows video store owners played by Cohen regulars Art and Jackie Neill (VIDEO VILENCE 2, CAPTIVES); regulars in the sense he made three films and they were in all three. They start discovering snuff films returned into their drop box and when they start investigating they delve into a world of underground homemade gore films, except the FX look extra special because they’re REAL!
VIDEO VIOLENCE is one of those movies I always have a hard time watching, every VCR in the film is a top loader and I get distracted looking at them, forgetting an actual film is happening! Soon it’s discovered that a pair of sleazy home video buffs named Howard and Eli are behind the tapes, but the conspiracy could very well run MUCH DEEPER. If you’ve never seen VIDEO VIOLENCE you’re missing out on a great fucking time with some seriously twisted townsfolk!
Seemingly inspired by TWO THOUSAND MANIACS, Cohen tells in the interview that he never saw a H.G. Lewis film until after VIDEO VIOLENCE had already been out. It seems kind of hard to believe considering the similarities, but I’m not going to second guess the man. The gore is great, the story is fun, the murders are brutal and they toss in a tit every now and again.
5 HOWARD AND ELI BASEMENT TAPES out of 5
VIDEO VIOLENCE 2: THE EXPLOITATION!
Part 2 takes up sort of where the first left off and Howard and Eli have now hijacked a cable network and are broadcasting their show through a pirate station. There’s a huge departure between parts 1 and 2, the most notable is the majority of VV2 is shot on video, where VV1 was on film. Also notable is VV2 has become an over the top comedy in the ilk of KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE, just with a lot of gore. This was my first time seeing VV2 and I have to say it was a huge let down. Gary Cohen said in his interview that he feels the reason they ramped up the comedy on VV2 was due to the overall seriousness of CAPTIVES. The comedy doesn’t kill the movie (no pun intended) but it would have been better if they had went a tad more horror and maybe waylaid the comedy a little. There are definitely some out there that would disagree with me.
There really isn’t much of a story in VV2, it’s just an excuse to play skits involving people getting killed. The whole idea of the Howard and Eli show was just a skeleton to move things along. The flick isn’t bad, just gets on your nerves at times and admittedly I probably would have enjoyed it more had I not just watched every other film in this set back to back. I could see having a lot of fun watching VIDEO VIOLENCE 2 with some friends and some brews and poking fun at it as I’m sure that’s the way Cohen intended it to be viewed.
3 MURDERED PIZZAMEN out of 5
Disc 1 is reserved for THE BASEMENT and a host of special feature that are BASEMENT related as well as commentary by a few of the gents who worked on the film, but unfortunately not Tim O’Rawe. It features a local news story done on the production of the film, which sadly states “look for this film in your local video store this winter” and that never happened. There are also outtakes and bloopers which run from the silly to the stupid. Speaking of silly and stupid there’s a couple episodes of the public access TV show (Meadowlands Showcase) that Tim O’Rawe and crew worked on that got them a lot of attention, it’s funny at times and mind numbingly dull at others. So in other words: standard public access. Lastly it features two short films by Tim O’Rawe (SAY NO TO DRUGS and VENGEANCE) that aren’t bad, they give a good insight into where he was going with his eye for film.
But as they say in the movies “Ladies and Gentlemen, our feature presentation….”
Long thought forgotten or unusable, THE BASEMENT sat in storage for two decades before the conditions were right to let it have the release it deserved. A horror anthology, THE BASEMENT tells the story of four people summoned to a, uh, well…basement to confess to sins they have yet to commit, but will! It’s a story told in four parts, the first is called “Swimming Pool” though I would have called it “DEATH POOL: THE POOL THAT KILLS!” It tells the story of an unfaithful woman who uses an evil water spirit to do away with her husband and anyone else that gets in her way. It’s probably the shortest of the vignettes, but made me laugh the most. The twist end gave me a good chuckle too.
The second part is called “Trick or Treat” though I would have called it “A HALLOWEEN CAROLE” because that’s what it is. It’s an Ebenezer Scrooge story told during Halloween. Three classic monsters come to visit a teacher who hates kids and force him to change his ways. Part 3 is likely my favorite of the 4, though part four has the most interesting story. Part 3 is called “Zombie Movie”, which I would have named “COCAINE’S A HELL OF A DRUG!”, tells the story of a zombie movie shoot where the director has the zombies dressed in leather and smoking and isn’t giving zombies their due respect, the real zombies take it personal and exact their revenge. Extra special is a cameo by J.R. Bookwalter; one of my favorite ultra low budget filmmakers. Bookwalter made the highest budget shot on 8mm film, THE DEAD NEXT DOOR. It’s worth watching if you haven’t seen it.
The last story is called Home Sweet Home and I didn’t come up with a clever renaming for it. An obnoxious rich kid decides to buy a house after many warnings from the Realtor that the house was haunted and that the last guy who lived there killed MANY people and himself. The kid even refuses to back down when the Realtor tells him it’ll take a couple days to get the electricity on. The dumb shit moves in that night and by moving in I mean he brings a bed, a battery operated TV, some candles, and a shotgun. Pretty soon he’s hearing weird noises and finding dead bodies in his house. Once he starts to unravel the mystery the story is turned on it’s ear and this stupid fucking kid is forced to make some hard choices!
Aside from being a little dark the film looks great. I’m incredibly happy they were able to find this and fix it up. I’m especially happy with the respect that Camp showed it and the wonderful release they gave this anthology. I’ve read about THE BASEMENT as one of the “lost forever” type movies and was ecstatic when I heard it was found and being released as a box set on VHS. I do sometimes wonder, given VIDEO VIOLENCE’s fame, if this had been released back when it was supposed to be if it would have given CREEPSHOW or TALES FROM THE CRYPT a run for their money.
THE BASEMENT is an incredibly well made film that is genuinely good, not “so bad it’s good” like so much other crap I watch. I would thoroughly recommend this box set to anyone and everyone who enjoys horror and ESPECIALLY those who love these ultra-low budget horror films. The FX may be on the cheap side, but the storytelling is solid. Sadly Tim O’Rawe only directed one more film, the amazing GHOUL SCHOOL. Thankfully that is also available from Camp so buy THE BASEMENT and GHOUL SCHOOL and complete your Tim O’Rawe collection today!
5 BASEMENT DWELLERS out of 5
Average score for the box set: 4 out of 5!
Verdict: Pick this up!
Drink up! I’ve got box sets to watch…
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