Catching Up With: Massacre Video

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2016-10-26 19:11
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In a cult home video landscape that has left few stones unturned for the past 15+ years, it’s not surprising to see labels take to a certain niche. For every Scream Factory—which specializes in relatively mainstream, major studio fare—there’s a Code Red or Scorpion, which plunges the depths for the truly obscure, weird stuff. And then there’s Massacre Video, a label that scrapes the very bottom of the barrel. I say that not in an accusatory tone but rather in the most loving way possible: just about every title they dig up probably should not exist, much less receive a decent DVD treatment. Specifically dedicated to the shot-on-video scene, Massacre’s offerings typically involve home-made, amateur productions whose entire budget wouldn’t amount to a fraction of a catering bill for most Hollywood movies.

Those familiar with the scene will immediately recognize the quarter-inch tape aesthetic: faded, warbling photography, unconvincing acting, and a score that sounds like someone tossed a Casio into a washing machine. To say it’s an acquired taste is an understatement—it’s more like trying to eat something, swishing it around in your mouth, and forcing yourself to swallow it before convincing yourself that it’s worth it. Again, I say this in the most loving way possible: if every movie is indeed somebody’s favorite movie, then Massacre Video is doing the lord’s work for what I assume is a small crowd.






Escape from the Insane Asylum (1986)

A recurring theme with this particular collection of SOV madness is ineptitude punctuated by the occasional burst on deranged inspiration. Escape from the Insane Asylum is no exception, even if it does clock in at an interminable 105 minutes (gratuitously padded by haphazardly inserted shots from Frozen Scream). That’s a long time to spend with an insufferable group of characters, be it a group of crooked doctors looking to gaslight patients to secure funding or a bunch of clueless teens hanging around because fuck you, this is an 80s pseudo-slasher, so we need at least one scene where a bunch of dopes investigate a spooky house. An indecipherable plot centered around escaped mental patients and the spirit of a dead woman, it’s filtered through a fine example of “bless your heart” filmmaking.

Director Felix Girard clearly has very little at his disposal (including talent, but that’s okay), yet that doesn’t stop him from attempting to shoot the hell out of this thing, often despite the fact that it’s hard to tell just what he’s shooting. Hallucinations, digressions, local dive bar rock concerts, and, yes, the gaslighting eventually collide for the sort of madness that can only climax with a disembodied head spitting lases from its eyes. If that sounds unbelievable, let me assure you that I’ve seen the movie and I’m not quite sure it makes much sense.






Spine (1986)

Perhaps the ultimate example of VHS box art that can’t possibly live up to the actual movie, Spine promises a rash of gruesome murders where the victims’ backbones have been removed and delivers…uh, well, it mostly delivers a group of cops insisting that this is happening. Sure, audiences witness some stalking scenes with some slightly grisly payoffs, but it’s not nearly as cool as the premise promises. In lieu of gnarly spine-ripping, the audience sits through an incompetent procedural, one where the clueless cops just wait around for something to happen; in the meantime, they’re much too reliant on the station’s bitching supercomputer.

One of those 80s productions that assumes computers are omniscient beings capable of doing fucking anything (ironic considering director Justin Simmonds shot it at the computer office he was working at), Spine hinges on a ludicrous turn of events involving data entry and, I shit you not, human precognition. What Spine lacks in severed vertebrae, it makes up for with an egregious (put adorably inept) dream sequence to pad the running time to something approaching feature length. If nothing else, Simmonds is sincere in his attempt to prove that just about anybody can make a slasher movie if they put their minds to it. You might have to refer to a hilarious end title card to wrap just about everything up, but it’s the thought that counts.





Tales From the Quadead Zone (1987)

Whatever criticisms I might gently (and, again, lovingly) lob in Massacre Video’s direction, just know that the company has atoned for any and all of them by uncovering the works of Chester Turner, especially this completely precious anthology. Both a true oddity and a real deal homemade production, Tales from the Quadead Zone has an almost legendary production story, one that saw Turner essentially shoot a homemade movie before distributing it around Chicago. As such, the film’s cult status is a word-of-mouth miracle that allowed it to endure despite only a hundred copies being circulated. Without its almost mythic status, it’s very likely that Tales from the Quadead Zone would only exist as a whisper lost to time and history; instead, we have it perfectly preserved on DVD. What a world.

Of course, that perfect preservation entails a warts-and-all sensibility since Tales from the Quadead Zone is a remarkably low budget affair. The usual SOV affectations reflect as much, but perhaps more damning is the fact that it’s a 62-minute anthology boasting all of two segments, plus a wraparound. Thankfully, said wraparound is one of the best anthology frames imaginable: in it, a mother (Shirley L. Jones) converses with the spirit of a dead son who implores her to read from a book that materializes out of thin air. Reading from the titular Tales from the Quadead Zone, the mother relays a couple of silly but gruesome scenes of familial discord.

“Food For” involves a family so poor that it each of its members has to fight at the dinner table. Those unable to scratch and claw for food go hungry, a system that pushes one of the clan to a breaking point that sees him bringing a shotgun to the dinner table. It’s a logical train of thought: with fewer mouths to feed, he has a better chance of eating, so he summarily blows away his own siblings (or cousins or whatever—as you might imagine, Tales from the Quadead Zone is not exactly bothered with details). And, uh, that’s pretty much it for this rather threadbare segment, save for a hysterical title cards that reveal the fates of the characters who are spared the carnage, including those who are living—and I quote—“high on the hog in witness protection.” None of this makes a lick of sense, though I suppose that’s sort of a trend with these sorts of movies.

“The Brothers” makes the tiniest bit more sense, at least in terms of (relative) coherence. I mean, I’m not sure how much I buy the story, but, then again, I am also not a man who has been so scorned by his brother that I would feel compelled to steal his dead body on the morgue as revenge. But that’s exactly what’s going on here: Ted Johnson (Keefe L. Turner) has long lived in brother Fred’s shadow and blames him for his own inability to win his father’s approval. So when Fred kicks the bucket, it’s only natural that Ted swipes his body from the morgue and plans to dress it up as a clown. For good measure, he will then bury the body in his basement. It turns out that old “best laid plans of mice and men” chestnut applies even in this case, as stuff soon goes hilariously awry.

Clearly the stronger of the two segments, “The Brothers” is impossibly entertaining thanks to an assortment of embellishments (just check out the mug from which Ted sips at various points) and Turner’s commitment to realizing a vision on the tiniest of budgets. So what if he has to resort to chintzy video effects and Casio-level sound effects to give the impression of a ghost? It’s completely forgivable given how weirdly adorable the attempt is: sometimes, the “homemade” label gets thrown around a bit loosely, but in this case, it applies completely.

Tales from the Quadead Zone is the type of fuzzy, VHS-era dispatch that could only arrive from a lunatic operating without any safety net: this is the pure, unfiltered work of Chester Turner, a director working with absolute conviction even if it’s not exactly warranted. Hayseed filmmaking rarely feels so authentic and raw as it does here, and its infectious enthusiasm is felt in all 62 minutes, from its irritatingly catchy opening theme to the end credits’ promise that Tales from the Quadead Zone will return. May we all live our lives with that kind of confidence.






Savage Vengeance (1993)

Speaking of movies that shouldn’t exist, that is literally and (almost) legally true of Savage Weekend, an “unofficial sequel” to Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave. Apparently, SOV auteur Donald Farmer assumed it would be okay to grab a video camera, convince Camille Keaton to stand in front of it, and produce a completely unwarranted follow-up to one of the most notorious films of all time—all without consulting anyone else involved with the original. Well, as the awkward attempt to overdub Jennifer’s (Keaton) surname here indicates, it did not escape the eyes of legal eagles who stepped in and forced Farmer to remove any obvious references to the original, leaving a final product that totally isn’t a sequel after all (wink wink, nudge nudge).

Even with the knowledge that it is supposed to be a sequel results in an odd film, one that sees Farmer “recapping” the events of the original with newly shot footage (the rednecks from the original are now Eurotrash sleazebags for whatever reason) before directing Keaton into another encounter with backwoods hicks that will torment her (and a friend this time). Savage Vengeance literally proceeds from the tagline for I Spit on Your Grave: it turns out that a jury acquitted Jennifer of all charges, which prompted her interest in legal proceedings, leading her to enroll in college. When her completely oblivious class discusses her case, she’s understandably triggered and wants to get away from it all. She cannot, so she’s forced to break out the shotguns and chainsaws to exact vengeance on a couple of yokels in a crude, low-rent recreation of an already scuzzy film.

Having never been the biggest fan of I Spit on Your Grave, I at least have a newfound appreciation for it thanks to Savage Vengeance, a shoddy goof that makes it look like Psycho by comparison. While the original itself is rather over-the-top, it at least feigns some interest in making the viewer legitimately uncomfortable; meanwhile, Savage Vengeance looks to pummel the audience into submission with grating characters, awful production values, and a general disinterest in delivering anything interesting. Even Jennifer’s rampage of revenge is a shade of what Zarchi unleashed, meaning it doesn’t even deliver the gory comeuppance required of a film loosely associated with ISOYG.

A glimpse of necrophilia provides the only hint that Farmer had any intent to diverge from half-heartedly redoing ISOYG, and, now that I see that sentence written out, I realize just how awful Savage Vengeance must sound. If you don’t believe me, take it from Keaton herself, who bailed in the middle of production, forcing Farmer to settle on a truncated version that wouldn’t see release for five years. We should all be grateful to Keaton for sparing us from having to sit through even one more minute of this one.





Anthropophagus 2000 (1999)

Unlike Savage Vengeance, Andre Schnaas’s remake of Joe D’Amato’s infamous gut-muncher didn’t meet with any legal resistance, though I’m still not sure that’s a ringing endorsement. Personally, the original Anthropophagus is another one that’s never done much for me: outside of its gnarly gore (especially, you know, that one scene), it’s a bit of a snooze that wastes a killer story and an awesome locale. Remaking it isn’t the worst idea, even if said idea entails shooting it on tape with an even lower budget than the original. Less forgivable, however, is not really attempting to improve on the original in any meaningful way. In fact, you can more or less lob the same criticisms at this one as you can the original: whenever gore is involved, it is completely, utterly watchable, perhaps even luridly entertaining.

But whenever gore isn’t involved, it’s kind of a drag. Despite hacking off fifteen minutes from the runtime, Anthropophagus 2000 lumbers along, often stumbling over poor subtitles and amateurish performances. To Schnaas’s credit, however, he does exhibit glimpses that explain how he became one of the more notable SOV filmmakers. Compared to many films of this ilk (especially those in this particular article), Anthropophagus 2000 almost looks downright competent. If nothing else, it reflects an improvement in video aesthetics: sometimes, you can squint and it looks like something approaching a competent movie, complete with skillful lighting and decent compositions.

Of course, for every one of those moments, there’s a couple that jerk you back to the cold reality that, yeah, you’re watching a worse version of an already iffy movie. While the gore often is excellent, one has to acknowledge that even it is sometimes a bit of a joke, as Schnaas’s reliance on obvious dummies and other low-rent effects is distracting. Plus, the déjà vu here inherently lessens the impact: when you’re remaking a film that’s built on shocking, outrageous gore, any attempt to recapture that awe is bound to fall a little flat. Sorry, but when you’ve one dude eat a fetus, you’ve seen ‘em all, and it doesn’t help that Schnaas’s turn as said fetus-eater isn’t nearly as memorable as George Eastman’s.
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