When The Shit Hits The Fan


Before he was interviewing movie stars or producing podcasts, horror fandom stalwart Tom Elliot was sharing his thoughts on the genre with the GeekPlanetOnline community. From grim 1970s slashers to modern CGI murder, if you need the opinion of a gorehound then Tom is your man...


In last weeks column I talked about the struggle Clive Barker is facing getting his much meddled with film Nightbreed restored to its intended form; the studio that owns the footage, frustratingly unwilling to spend a cent on what they consider a worthless endeavour. It’s not the first time a horror release hasn’t gotten the respect it deserves. Look at Paramount serving up half hearted DVD releases of the Friday the 13th series, not once, but twice. Sure, they’re okay, but considering how iconic the series is, and how dear it is to so many horror fans hearts, they really should have been better.  

Of course, the bottom line is, these films probably aren’t seen as worth the time, effort and expense to really give them the releases they deserve. Fear not though, this column isn’t a rant about how poorly the horror genre is treated on DVD, because apart from the odd exception like those mentioned above, I truly believe that horror has been gifted with the finest DVD producers of any genre.  

We have Anchor Bay, straddling the mainstream and the underground with releases such as Halloween, Hellraiser and Maniac. Blue Underground treating us to obscure treasures and the best of the Italian horror boom with classics like Dario Argento’s The Bird With The Crystal Plumage. Then there’s Severin Films, restoring films so obscure even I haven’t heard of most of them. These are DVD producers that treat obscurities with a care and respect that goes beyond what even some mainstream movies get. 

Despite some stellar releases from all of these companies, my own company of choice is nowhere near as prolific. In fact only six of their releases actually grace my DVD shelf, but here lies part of their charm. Grindhouse Releasing is a cult film distribution company owned by actor/director Sage Stallone, and headed up by film editor Bob Murawski. Grindhouse specialise in the restoration of cult horror and exploitation films. The reason why they’re perhaps not as prolific as the previously mentioned companies is that for all involved, Grindhouse is their project between projects; the work they do between the work that really puts the food on the table. Bob Murawski’s day job alone gives him geek royalty status, having edited all of the Spider-Man films, Army of Darkness, and the excellent Drag Me To Hell, among other things.  

It’s this sporadic release schedule, and part time approach to Grindhouse that I think gives it such a distinctive personality. They come back to Grindhouse Releasing because they love this stuff, and they know people like me love this stuff. They don’t just churn them out; I look forward to each Grindhouse release like an event, one made all the richer for the waiting. And when they do arrive, they never disappoint. Each film is restored to an astonishing degree; there are mainstream releases that don’t look this good. Special features are probably hard to come by on material of this type, yet they manage to include as much as possible, including linear notes. Then to top it off, beautiful bold eye popping covers that scream quality, but uphold the grimy aesthetic of the grindhouse. 

I rarely buy blind these days, but Grindhouse Releasing is the kind of company where you can put yourselves in their hands, and let them guide you through the best of horror and exploitation. Admittedly, this is the more extreme end of the horror market, so it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you do want to explore your limits, Grindhouse Releasing is a good place to start. These are some of my favourites from Grindhouse: 

 

Pieces

I’d never heard of Pieces until I received an excited e mail from a friend. “Have you seen Pieces? I can’t believe what I just watched! You’ve got to see this!” Expecting some overlooked horror classic, I ordered the Grindhouse edition immediately, and it’s a classic alright……but not in the way I thought it’d be. 

Tell you what, to save me a lot of typing about exactly how Pieces is a classic, watch this clip:

Okay, see where I’m coming from now? Pieces is filled with fabulous moments like this; random occurrences, even more random acting choices and quite possibly the most hilarious serial killer origin in slasher history. The opening scene shows our ten year old serial killer to be, happily enjoying a jigsaw puzzle of a nude woman before his mother discovers him, and after a couple of well aimed slaps to the face starts rifling through his room looking for his porn stash. She gets an axe to the head for her troubles, and we get the first of many over the top and gory kills. I’m sure the intent was to convey that the boy had lived a life smothered by his puritanical mother and just snaps, but it doesn’t quite come across that way. It’s more like “mother discovers porn, boy kills her”. Well, if that’s how serial killers are made, I’m surprised 90% of the male population aren’t! 

Flash forward forty years, and masked killer is making a mess of co-eds on a college campus. Obviously he’s our ten year old murderer all grown up, but the film doesn’t let on which of the players he grew up into - here begins the mystery. 

Now I don’t know about you, but if I wanted to solve a case like this, I’d go to a beautiful blonde tennis champion who moonlights as an under cover cop, thankfully, the creators of Pieces agree with me.  

I don’t think I need to say much more on Pieces. Its random occurrences of brilliant stupidity are best discovered with a room full of friends and a drink in your hand. Yes, it’s a bad film, but gloriously so, and credit where credit’s due, it delivers the gore…..it really delivers the gore. Apparently, the gore affects were created using animal blood and guts from the local abattoir. No half measures here.  

Grindhouse Releasing gives what most would consider a B movie (if they’re feeling generous) the A movie treatment. Pieces gets a high definition anamorphic digital restoration, and a host of good extra’s. One of which, an interview with the director Juan Piquer Simon, strikes a particular chord with me. Here’s a man whose film has become a cult favourite, for at least some of the wrong reasons. Does he realise this? I’m not sure. He still maintains it’s an influential film whose influence goes on. Perhaps he’s a proud man who’d just prefer not to acknowledge Pieces’ status as a “good” bad movie. Either way, Grindhouse Releasing allows his pride to stay intact by not pushing the issue. Their interview is respectful yet thorough, and interesting to watch. 

 

Cat in the Brain

What a brilliant title. And yes the film does feature cats… and brains… and cats eating brains. But not only is it a literal interpretation of a particular scene, it’s a metaphor for the fractured psyche of Italian Director Lucio Fulci in this very personal film. 

Those not familiar with Fulci’s work as a whole, may be familiar with his classic Zombi 2, or Zombie Flesh Eaters as it’s known in the UK (discussed in That Horror Thing #1). There are other notable high points in his career, but by 1990, when Cat in the Brain was released, his best years as a director were behind him, and he only directed three films after it. As (almost) swansongs go though, this is a worthy and fitting way to go out.  

Cat in the Brain is Fulci doing New Nightmare (the self aware seventh Nightmare on Elm Street film) before Wes Craven did. Playing himself, Fulci visits a psychiatrist because he’s starting to become disturbed by the images he himself creates in his films. Unfortunately for Fulci, the psychiatrist is also a hypnotist, who has Fulci believing he may be responsible for a murder spree.  

Oh there’s a lot that could be criticised. Sub par acting, dodgy effects, pacing that sometimes brings you dangerously close to boredom; but these can be found in a lot of Fulci’s films, so perhaps in this most personal one of all, it’s fitting that they should be there. But like those previous films, this becomes more than the sum of it’s parts; that indefinable spark that elevates a lot of low budget horror, coupled with the glimpses Fulci is giving us into his own mind are what make this worth seeing. There are depths here that reward repeat viewings, especially if you’ve had a chance to catch up on Fulci’s back catalogue in the meantime.  

Yes, it’s probably best not to come to Cat in the Brain cold. Check out some of Fulci’s other films and get a sense of them beforehand, it’ll enrich the experience when you see the nods here and there. In next weeks column I’ll be discussing Fulci’s masterpiece, The Beyond, also a Grindhouse release, and as good a place to start as any.  

The linear notes on the Grindhouse release touch on the previous release of Cat in the Brain, apparently it was a rarity that used to fetch hugely inflated prices on ebay, thankfully this edition has ended that. Grindhouse again give this film royal treatment. This edition is completely uncensored, and is given a high definition anamorphic digital restoration. In depth interviews with Fulci are included, as is his appearance at the 1996 Fangoria convention, not long before his death. Perhaps one of my favourite things about this edition though is the striking cover by cover designer Tad Leger. It’s brilliantly bold, colourful and eye catching, a perfect compliment to a great release. 

Cat in the Brain isn’t Fulci’s best, but for anyone who enjoys his work, it’s essential.  

All Grindhouse releases are region 0, so no need to worry about if your DVD player can handle them. Some of Grindhouse Releasing’s catalogue have been available before on inferior releases from other DVD producers that can be picked up for cheaper than the Grindhouse editions – don’t be tempted, these are worth the extra money. 

 

Next week: The Beyond  


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