All posts by Mike Vaughn

BLU-RAY REVIEW: Brain Damage (1988) from Arrow

Brain Damage

Arrow Limited Edition Blu Review


Frank Henenlotter's LSD-laced mind muncher Brain Damage (1988) savagely lampoons Nancy Reagan's "Just say No" while also belonging to that rare category of seriously weird horror films from the late 80s to early 90s. They were high energy, candy colored, whacky, splattery, nudity-filled romps with pretty damn good screenplays tying the madness all together. And unlike horror movies of today it's not depressing. What makes movies like Street Trash, Body Melt, and Peter Jackson's Bad Taste gems of the genre is that they are over the top and go for the gross out but still retain light entertainment status without getting too dark and bleak. Brian (Rick Hearst) finds a mysterious creature named Elmer (voiced by the late, great Zacherle) who gives him the ultimate high. The only catch is the little parasite feeds on brains and demands his new host provide them for him...or else.
  • Picture/Sound: The picture is presented in a 1:85:1 aspect ratio and restored from a master, meaning the print is crisp and clear and even slightly better than the previous release. Like always Arrow provides a Mono track along with a new 5.1 soundtrack. And like the picture it to is a improvement over Synpases DVD release.
  • Package: Unlike Donnie Darko and the House: Two Stories, Brain Damage has a simple slipcover, but it still looks great sporting brand new artwork (and of course reversible cover featuring original artwork for those purists among you) and a booklet. Simple and effective wins the day here.
  • Special Features: The real gem of this set is the almost hour long documentary titled Listen to the Light: The Making of Brain Damage. The interviews are solid and entertaining. It's odd that Frank himself isn't interviewed for it, but it's still worth checking out. The other highlight is the feature The Effects of Brain Damage, an in-depth chat with effects genius Gabe Bartalos on making the creature Elmer. If that weren't enough, you also have a featurette Animating Elmer, Karen Ogle: A Look Back, and Elmer's Turf which documents the shooting locations. But wait, I'm not finished. Tasty Memories: A Brain Damage Obsession is a fun mini doc about super fan Adam Skinner as well a director Q&A, trailers, and, for you Zacharely fans, a short film (and final onscreen credit) entitled Bygone Behemoth. Sadly Arrow was unable to bring over Synapses' commentary with Frank and writer/legend Bob Martin. I can't fault Arrow for this, however, as I'm sure it was a rights issue. But, fear not, because a brand new commentary by Frank was recorded just for the release.
  • Overall: I was excited to hear that Arrow was tagged to re-release the film because they always take great pains to bring fans a product that is really worth their hard earned cash. Not only is the package well done with some great new art work, but there's also a wealth of new features. And, of course, you get the film itself looking better than it ever has. This makes my short list of best release of 2017 (so far). Just Say Yes to this Blu!

EDITORIAL: 6 Horror Movies That The New MST3K Crew Needs to Tackle

MST3K-Share-Image
Fans of bad cinema can rejoice because the new season of MST3K is upon us. Here is my list of movies Jonah and the bots can rip a new one. Also don’t take offense if we mention a movie you like; it’s all in good fun. In fact, a lot of these are favorites of mine (minus The Outing), and, as the theme song goes, “it’s just a show you should really just relax”.
We’ve got movie sign!

6. Blood Rage (1987)

06_MST3K_Blood Rage (1987) / Fair use doctrine.True, MST3K never really tackled the slasher genre in the past but couldn’t you picture the incredibly campy, sleazy and fun of late 80s Blood Rage as an episode? I mean actress Louise Lasser boozing it up, not to mention the scene in which she sits spread eagle by the fridge, binge eating would have the guys rolling! Drive-In Massacre is another film that would easily bridge the slasher-MST3K divide.

5. The Prey (1984)

05_MST3K_The Prey (1984) / Fair use doctrine.An older, low budget, slice and dice movie about six wide eyed campers getting picked off by a mysterious killer. Bad acting, bad production values, and a so-so story would equal MST3K gold.

4. Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare (1987)

04_MST3K_Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare (1987) / Fair use doctrine.Seeing how the original crew did Jon Mikl Thor’s Zombie Nightmare it only seems fitting that the new guys tackle Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare a wonderfully bad film that is enjoyable in its own right. Of course, the infamous shower scene will have to get axed, but it would be worth it to see how the guys react to Thor’s spiked underwear and glam rock makeup as well as a whole host of laughable monsters. Truly a classic episode in the making. Seeing how Thor himself is a fan of the show, a cameo might even be possible.

3. Creep (1995)

03_MST3K_Creep (1995) / Fair use doctrine.This shot on video “epic” by director Tim Ritter has all the elements for a great episode. Its amazingly awful in all departments yet it still retains enough “so bad its great” charm that would make this perfect for the riffed treatment. I could also see Ritter’s Killing Spree riffed, but, honestly, Creep just has something extra special. Maybe it’s the hacked together plot, the cringe worthy acting or random things like a close up of a fly…Whatever it is I`d love to see it featured.

2. The Outing aka The Lamp (1987)

]02_MST3K_The Outing (1987) / Fair use doctrine.I reviewed this PAINFULLY bad late 80s horror film for my upcoming film guide, and I couldn’t help but wish I had Mike or Joel or now Jonah and the bots could have helped me through the trauma. The Outing is a lame duck mishmash of horror and drama that fails on every level. Never heard of it? Well, neither had I until Scream Factory (Shout Factory) released it on DVD and later Blu.

1. Troll 2 (1990)

01_MST3K_Troll 2 / Fair use doctrine.The one, the only, the infamously bad Troll 2 should be, NO, needs to be featured on an episode. Sure we got a Rifftrax from Mike, Kevin, and Bill to slake our thirst, but truly this is a job for the good folks at the SOL. In fact, I think that with the right jokes, this could easily be the new crew’s Manos (Joel era) or Werewolf (Mike era). I can just imagine the epic skits that could go with it.
Honorable Mentions: The Giant Claw, Black Roses, Scalps, Troll, Ghostkeeper, and Robo Vampire (yes, that movie really exists).

BLU-RAY REVIEW: House: Two Stories from Arrow

House: Two Stories
Limited Edition Arrow Blu Review

House (1985)

House / Fair use doctrine.
Remember when horror films were fun and not bleak and gloomy and made you wanna slit your wrists? Oh the 80s… House and its sequel, House II: The Second Story, are prime examples of blending horror with screwball comedy and somehow making it actually work. What makes House brilliant is not only can it seamlessly blend the two genres (which is incredibly difficult) but it also shows the horrors of war and PTSD (a term not yet coined at the time) in a clever and harrowing way-yet still retains its goofy fun. Not an easy thing to balance but somehow it does. The film isn’t perfect with some writing that could have used more polish but, all things considered, it’s a highly creative wild horror ride from the decade that gave us a lot of scary and just plain fun outings. Holy rotten corpse, Arrow has really rolled out the blood red carpet for the first two films, and the end result is pretty amazing!

House II: The Second Story (1987)

House II / Fair use doctrine.
Wisely the filmmakers choose to not simply remake the first but go in a totally different direction, this time a western action adventure…and somehow it actually works. And like the previous outing it not only retains its goofy/cartoon charms but ups the stakes tenfold. Honestly, as much as I enjoyed House with its over the top gags a la Evil Dead 2 and social satire, I prefer the sequel. Sure, it’s flawed with needless subplots that drag the film down; it’s still a fun adventure horror film that makes a great starter for any budding horror fan. And really how can you not love the dog creature?

House / House II

  • Picture: According to the insert both this and House II are presented in an exclusive 2k scan just for this release using original 35mm material. The picture is crisp and clean with very little noise distortion and thankfully is not blown out color wise.
  • Sound: Both films feature an original uncompressed mono 2.0 and a new 5.1 track and they never sounded better. House 1 really benefits with Harry Manfredini wonderfully done score.
  • Extras: The real highlight are the feature length documentaries Ding Dong You’re Dead and It's Getting Weirder produced by Red Shirt Pictures. Both come in at over an hour long and cover every aspect of the production. Thankfully, it features the main players not only in the cast but the crew as well, and the interviews are lively and entertaining. Each film also has feature length commentaries and rounding out the extras are vintage making of’s still galleries and of course trailers.
  • Package: House and House II are housed in a great box featuring outstanding new artwork done by Justin Osbourn. Both individual films also feature new art by Osbourn and for purist out there you can reverse the cover with the original poster art. The House Companion a booklet written by Simon Barber (the cover also featuring new art) is well written, packed with trivia and a great addition to this set.
  • Overall: Yeah it’s still early in the year but I feel perfectly OK with putting this on my short list for best release of 2017. Both films have never looked/sounded better but of course Arrow goes the extra mile for fans giving a wealth of new features with some vintage ones. The new documentaries alone are worth the price not to mention everything else. So time travel to a less depressing time in horror, when filmmakers actually had a bit of fun with its carnage! Worth your money!

FILMS IN THE ATTIC: The Sinful Dwarf (1973)

Films in the Attic

Films in the Attic showcases strange and little talked about cinema gems from around the globe. So sit back, relax, and allow me to dust off some nearly forgotten relics — the good, the bad, and the downright unwatchable. Either way you`ll be entertained.

The Sinful Dwarf (1973)

My fellow horror hounds, have you ever watched a movie so sleazy, so filthy you actually felt like you wanted a shower afterwards? Well that’s just what you might want to do after filling your glazzies with this strange Grindhouse from the 70s. The nutty Lila Lash (Clara Keller) and her pint-sized psycho son Olaf (Torben Bille) run a boarding house. But they don’t just earn their living renting out rooms. Their side hustle is simple: They kidnap young girls, get them hooked on heroin, and pimp them out to sleazy johns in a secret room. Oh, and they are in the drug trade just because, why not? A young writer and his wife are desperate to find an affordable place to live. They have the misfortune coming along Lila’s place and, as you might have guessed, she and Olaf have their eyes on the young Mary. For those seeking truly strange 70s cinema, consider The Sinful Dwarf required viewing. The film opens with a girl (dressed young but clearly in her early twenties) playing a child’s game and being savagely attacked and abducted by Olaf. It perfectly sets the stage for a brain melting and at times unsettling mini-sized masterpiece.
As with the subject of my previous review, The Pit, it’s a flick I enjoy a great deal but it’s not without its issues. It’s paper thin plot isn’t exactly groundbreaking with an ending which could have used an overhaul. Also, the acting is pretty much what you’d expect for this kind of outing. However, what it lacks in those departments, it more than makes up for in sheer WTF moments and unrelenting filth that coats every frame of celluloid. The film thankfully never takes itself too serious and it doesn’t just cross the line of good taste, it gleefully dances over. My favorite moment has to be a bizarre vaudeville-like musical number performed perfectly over the top by Clara Keller. Also, how can you not love the drug kingpin kick named Santa Claus? He smuggles the drugs in children’s toys, keeping with the theme set up in the opening scene. What also keeps the film interesting is the production design which does a great job at maintaining an icky feeling. For example, the inside of the boarding house is so grimy looking you might fear you will catch something just gazing at it. They also add nice little subtle touches. For example, old posters for Lila Lashes’ shows can be seen hanging up on the decaying walls. I have to take a moment and mention the incredible performance by actor Torben Bille who is extremely skin crawling as Olaf. His on-screen presence really gives me the creeps, and I don’t say that lightly. Honestly, he is a big reason why this film works so well. Fans of ultra sleaze will find this endlessly watchable with very few dull moments. The Sinful Dwarf may not have the greatest plot and the ending is a bit limp, but going into this you shouldn’t expect high art .You might be wondering where you can find this wonderful “little” gem? Well, you are in luck because Severin Films has released a great looking Blu-ray loaded with new features. I highly recommended it.

MOVIE REVIEW: Get Out (2017)

Squirming in My Seat

Most of you, no doubt, have heard the buzz around the recently released film Get Out and wondered if it lives up to the hype. Well I’m here to say it does and then some. Going into this I went totally fresh not seeing a single trailer or review. As I planted my butt into my seat, theater packed with people I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) are getting pretty serious. They decide it’s time for Chris to meet Rose’s upper class white family. Chris however is concerned that Rose never disclosed the fact that she is dating an African American. She assures him that it’s not even an issue worth mentioning and they pack for a care free weekend at their picture perfect home. However, as you might have guessed, something strange is going on and soon Chris must fight to survive.
I might sound like I’m over selling here but Get Out is without a doubt the most powerful and creepy horror film I have seen in a long time. Casual horror films use to teen slice and dices will probably not like this film. But for those of you who enjoy more elevated and cerebral fare from the genre, this is the movie for you. Peele takes the high road and pens an incredibly clever screenplay packed with tension filled horror and best of all thought provoking satire. Since it was a Jordan Peele project, I thought it might get a bit silly, but (thankfully) he reins in the jokes and uses the comedy sparingly to help balance out the heavy subject matter. And it does get heavy. In this packed viewing, I admit that I squirmed in my seat as a white guy because the film pulls zero punches in exploring racial tensions in America. I also have to admit that I didn’t like that at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it should make me uncomfortable because that’s the whole point. Much like The Stepford Wives shone a spotlight on male chauvinism in the 70s, Get Out places race relations front and center in 2017.
But what saves this film from simply stoking racial flames is its excellent writing, directing, acting, and not to mention its message - brilliantly wrapped in the guise of a horror outing. When I walked out of the viewing, I felt totally wrecked from the film’s blunt and brutal nature. Yet I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days afterwards. And that, my horror fiends, is the mark of a great horror film…It’s not about the bloodshed and the jump scares but about the psychological horror that creeps into your head and stays for awhile. It currently holds an impressive 99% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and I will say up front that Get Out will divide some fans, but this film has future classic written all over it. I applaud the folks at Blumhouse for taking the risk and giving us a ballsy and unflinching horror that really affected me.

COMING SOON (BLU-RAY): Drive-In Massacre

Drive-In Massacre (1977)
Coming to Blu-Ray

Heads Will Roll

Distributor: Severin
Release Date: 3/14/2017

About the Film:

I have to admit I feel extremely lucky that I have an actual fully functional drive-in that I can go to in the summer time. But I’m sure it couldn’t compare to the wild and seamy drive-ins of yesteryear. So those looking for a slice of nostalgia and gore filled romp should defiantly seek out Drive-In Massacre. The plot is pretty straightforward: A savage killer armed with a sword is slicing and dicing his way through a rural California drive-in. Now it’s up to two bumbling cops to solve the crime before more bodies pile up. The film suffers from horrible over padding and a tepid plot, but fans of Grindhouse sleaze, lots of ultra carnage, and some unintentional hilarity will be able to look past its flaws and enjoy it for its other merits. What saves this for me is it wears its heart on its bloody sleeve, and it doesn’t try to be something more than a fun, by the numbers slasher with some nice quirky moments thrown in for good measure. For example, the one gentleman cop going in undercover drag (and not passable) is an unexpected treat for the audience and something that makes it stick out. Again, it’s not brilliant, but it’s a perfectly serviceable nasty little gem to crawl out of the 70s. One can even forgive the obvious and sadly outdated marketing gimmick.

Picture/Sound:

Fans are treated to a brand new transfer using a recently discovered original 35mm print. The end result is a near flawless looking picture which is a huge improvement to previous releases. Colors are balanced nicely and skin tones look natural. Thankfully it doesn’t suffer from being washed out. Night scenes are practically good looking. Sound fares pretty Well with a nice 2.0 audio track. Sounds are crisp with little noise distortion — again a much needed improvement from previous editions.

Extras:

Severin has proved they can hang with the big boys of cult/horror blu ray releases and they are kicking off 2017 with some stellar releases. Drive in Massacre features brand new interviews with co-writer/actor John F.Goff, Norm Sheridan and director Stu Segall. The interviews are both fun and informative and are a must for fans of this sleazy 70’s slice’em up. Perhaps my favorite new feature is the feature length commentary with Stu Segall. And rounding out the extras is the infamous trailer with the misspelled title. Put it all together it’s a great collection of new features giving it a complete picture of this sorely over looked, entertaining Grindhouse classic. Also look for a hidden Easter egg on the main menu.

Overall:

While not one of the best slashers of the decade it is a lot of fun and those looking to add this to your slice and dice collection will not feel cheated. Not only is the sound/picture great but a lot of love was put into the brand new extras making this a must own blu release. For a limited time anyone who buys off their site will receive an autographed copy at no extra cost.

MOVIE REVIEW (RETRO): The Pit (1981)

Please allow me the new guy at Tortured Souls to get a bit misty eyed about a film that is near and dear to my black heart. Back before everything under the sun got the star treatment on Blu only a handful of companies truly were catering to the rabid cinemaphile. One such company believe it or not was MGM who released scores of great films under their label MGM Midnight Movies. Like Anchor Bay the label introduced me to many movies that would go on to be lifelong favorites. But the one I’m going to talk about is a grimy little gem called The Pit, a movie I adore so much I included it in my upcoming film guide.
The Pit follows the story of a disturbed boy named Jamie (Sam Snyder) who ranges from innocent weirdo to sadist sociopath and worse. His bizarre behavior is all guided by his teddy bear aptly named Teddy (voiced by Snyder) who, of course, only Jamie can hear. His parents have to take a business trip and they hire a college student named Sandy (Jeannie Elias) who works with troubled youths. Jamie happens to take an intense liking to her. But things go from weird to downright nutso when he discovers a pit full of hairy creatures. Everyone in the town that’s been mean to him will soon pay.
You will most likely rub your eyes in disbelief after witnessing this out of its mind shocker from the early 80s. Even though I like this film a great deal it does have its share of problems. The Pit suffers from a wildly uneven story which feels like a strange mixture of creature feature, childhood revenge fantasy, and sleazy exploitation. At times it feels like a haphazardly put together jigsaw puzzle. It is also is all over the place tone wise, swaying from dark to playfully comedic. For example a scene depicting Jamie shoving an crusty old bitty into the pit is obviously played for laughs. Even with its technical flaws the film still manages to pull it all together and remain incredibly watchable. Wisely director Lew Lehman balances the dark subject matter (and it does get dark, even strongly hinting at an incestuous relationship between Jamie and his mother yikes!). As I said it does make for wonky tones but it also serves the film by helping to keep things light and even invites us the audience to have a laugh at itself.
The other element that helps hold this manic production together is its top notch cast. Considering this movie largely centers on Jamie, it’s important to get just the right person. Luckily they did just that. Child actor Sam Snyder really nails the role and brings a level of maturity that is rare in performers his age. He ranges from sweet but strange to downright skin crawling, all without going ultra hammy. The lovely Jeannie Elias is also great and the two actors play off each other brilliantly. The Pitvisn’t big bold and splashy like some films of the decade but when everyone was cashing in on the slasher craze it dared to be different for better or worse. It currently holds a respectable 6.0 rating on IMDb. Being a fan you could only imagine how excited I was when the label Kino put out a wonderful blu, featuring a brand new transfer and extras. Anyone looking for truly off beat 80s horror should consider this a must see.
Gorehound Mike signing off.