I grew up in the era of VHS and of independent video stores (Upfront Video was especially important as a kid, I went there a lot and discovered a lot of movies through their shelves. They also used to give away all their promo posters. I wish I still had those.)
I haven't an instinctive nostalgia for VHS (I'll take the jump in quality and diminished perishability of disc based media over any rose tinted memories of the 90s), but I do still have about 400 tapes and a couple of VCRs because it's an easy and cheap way to check out movies I might not otherwise want to blind buy and because there are still tapes in my collection that aren't available on DVD or Blu Ray.
This was they key reason that, on Saturday night, I - along with my friend and podcast co-host Mike - went to my favourite cinema, the Prince Charles Cinema in London for an all night screening of six VHS exclusive films, all shown from the original tapes. Three of the films were chosen by Viva VHS, a collector I've known for a while on Twitter, the other three by The Good Bad Movie Club, which holds monthly screenings at the Prince Charles.
We trooped through the rain to the Prince Charles only to find a massive queue (which turned out to be for the other allnighter, a Studio Ghibli marathon), and tweeted Dale (VivaVHS) to let him know we were hanging around and would like to say hello before the screening started. We had a good chat with Dale and his wife about the movies that were showing that night, exploitation films and video tapes, before heading in to take our seats.
NOTE: Film titles in Bold are clickable for a trailer.
First up was Enemy Territory, which, like most of the other films on the programme, I'd never heard of, let alone seen. It turned out to be a 1987 actioner which drew on John Carpenter (Assault on Precinct 13 came to mind) and anticipated the likes of Die Hard and The Raid, while, to be fair, not being as good as any of those films.
Enemy Territory made a great start for the night. The setup is simple: a white insurance agent is sent into a dangerous building in the ghetto and has to escape when the gang that controls it decides to kill him for a minor insult. Gary Frank makes for a pathetically weedy lead, but Ray Paker Jr (yes, the Ghostbusters guy) is fun and much more proactive as the phone company worker and (of course) 'Nam vet who tries to help him escape. In supporting parts we also see a very young Stacey Dash, eight years pre-Clueless and the ever charismatic Tony Todd, menacing as the leader of ridiculous gang The Vampires.
The action is solid, the tension consistent, and everything is drawn together by a fantastic synth laden score that Carpenter himself would be proud of. It was a great lead off for the night, and a film I'd love to see polished up for DVD or Blu Ray.
Next up was The Taking of Beverly Hills. I know this is something of a personal favourite of Dale's, and he promised we were going to really enjoy it. I wish I could have agreed with him. This action movie has a nice central idea (ex-cops fake a disaster as a cover for a massive heist) but bemulleted lead Ken Wahl simply doesn't have the presence or the appeal of, say, The Rock and the fact that the grating Matt Frewer is second lead really didn't help.
The action is competent, but never really stands out, especially given that this film post dates (and nods to) Die Hard. Overall I found it very middling and not even particularly interesting as a cheesefest.
After two action films, Dale's final choice was quite a change of pace. The film was Naked Vengeance, screened from an American tape because the BBFC approved 18 rated cut was 'trimmed' by a mere 24 minutes.
Naked Vengeance is essentially a digest of scenes ripped off from other rape/revenge films (and a few other things for good measure). The most notable influence (I say notable influence, I mean blatant beat by beat rip off target) is I Spit On Your Grave. In this film a housewife (Dallas cast member Denorah Tranelli, who in all fairness isn't bad here) goes to stay in her parents house for the first time in years, in an attempt to get away from the fact that her husband has been murdered and the Police can't catch the criminal because witnesses are unwilling to testify. When she gets back home almost every man in the town responds to her like a rabid, leg humping dog. Begin rape/revenge movie.
The degree to which I Spit On Your Gave is ripped off is staggering. An early gas station scene may just be a rewrite of the original, and a later scene in a lake manages to rip off the lake scene, bathroom scene and boat scene from I Spit in barely 3 minutes, admittedly, this is almost impressive.
Naked Vengeance is unpleasant; the massive gang rape scene (which basically combines elements of Straw Dogs with the I Spit homage) is long and brutal, but the idea that 24 minutes had to be cut is ludicrous. What did the BBFC cut consist of, a badly acted film about a woman who goes on holiday?
As a fan of exploitation films, and as someone who thinks the rape/revenge genre is extremely interesting, Naked Vengeance is both good and bad. As a film, it's bad, really quite bad. The script is ludicrous, with every man in it a slavering dog who immediately sexually harasses Tranelli (and this is a whole town, not the four people we see in I Spit), and the acting (Tranelli, who does what she can, aside) is pretty awful all round. On the other hand if you know your exploitation and don't treat it seriously then it's pretty good fun playing rip off bingo (Taxi Driver... BINGO!). I enjoyed it in that respect, but wouldn't recommend it outside that context.
By this time it was about 3am, and I confess I nodded off for much of the running time of The Good Bad Movie Club's first choice, Cellar Dweller. This is a terrible shame because the premise of a comic book artist drawing a monster that comes to life was extremely cool, as were the bookending scenes that I did see. I suspect this might have been my favourite film of the night, and I will be finding and watching it ASAP.
Refreshed (somewhat) by a snooze and doses of sugar and caffeine, I stayed awake for the next film, Double Trouble, and was very pleased I did.
Double Trouble is the flat out stupidest film I've seen in ages. It stars bodybuilding twins David and Peter Paul, one's a cop, the other's a criminal and they have to work together to bring down the criminal's boss. It's incredibly formulaic, mind-alteringly idiotic, and incredibly entertaining. The Pauls, better known as the Barbarian Brothers, can not act. At all. The ineptitude, the lack of connection to human emotion or the way people talk, is so profound that it almost seems like a studied technique. The line readings are so terrible, the comic timing so inept and so consistently a beat (or three) off that they enter into a sort of parallel universe of sublime badness, becoming hilarious once again.
The chief problem/asset of the film is the Barbarian Brothers, who are both ludicrously unbelieveable in their roles. From the moment that one of them (I forget which plays which part, but it really doesn't matter much) appears in a tight, cropped, Raiders T-Shirt with an extravagant mullet and announces that he's a cop it's clear this film doesn't exist in the real world. The other ridiculously bulky bodybuilder plays a cat burglar, which is perhaps even less credible, given that the chance of him sneaking anywhere is the single funniest joke in the film. However, this frees you to see Double Trouble as an alternate world filled with hilariously overblown villains, and forget any notion of sense.
A stupid, stupid movie, Double Trouble was perfect for a night of VHS exclusive cheese, and if you're a connoisseur of crap you must seek it out.
The last film of the 'night' (it was 6:30 am by now) was He's My Girl. A lighthearted ending to the marathon seemed like a good idea, but this choice - a 1987 farce in which a young musician wins a trip to California from an MTV style TV show, but can only take a girl with him so, 'hilariously', his manager drags up to go with him - really didn't work for me.
The drag comedy was a tired and laboured genre long before this but, despite an energetic turn from T. K. Carter, He's My Girl brings nothing new to the table. The jokes are older than time, and not executed especially well, and the music plot is both obvious and terrible, thanks to the combination of a wet performance from David Hallyday and the (flaccid) cock rock they have his character play. The closing number is called Rock Revival, it made me want to bury the entire genre in a very deep hole, rather than risk its revival (click above to hear for yourselves).
The only really interesting part of He's My Girl was seeing a young Jennifer Tilly, who plays Hallyday's love interest and whose voice is so high here the film makes a joke about it in the end credits. Overall, even for what it is, He's My Girl was pretty bloody awful.
One extremely crappy movie aside, the night was great fun. I found a new cheesy favourite, an underrated actioner I'll be sure to show people, and a cool looking horror movie I need to track down. I also noted some titles from the various trailer reels that I need to see (Wild Thing is top of the list). It was great to meet and chat with Mr and Mrs Viva VHS (who sat with us for the screenings). I really hope that, despite the relatively sparse attendance Dale, The Good Bad Movie Club and The Prince Charles will do this again some time soon.