In uncertain times it’s always good to have something reliable to offer comfort, and for many of us that means movies. Sure, new releases are mostly on pause for the foreseeable future, but if there’s one thing the fine folks at Vinegar Syndrome (and other specialty home video labels) have taught us it’s that you can always look to the past for cinematic surprises. Their four latest releases are an obscure quartet, all new to me, and offer an at times thrilling, engaging, and weird glimpse into genre cinema.
Olivia (Suzanna Love) has hard a hard life since seeing her mother murdered by an American seaman, and growing up to marry an abusive man hasn’t helped. Of course, visitations from her dead mom are probably the bigger concern as they encourage her towards violent acts. Mike (Robert Walker Jr.) is visiting London from the U.S. and takes a liking to Olivia, but it’s only years later, back in America, that he sees her again. She’s no longer British, her name and appearance are different, and she’s followed the London Bridge from the UK to Arizona.
Until now I thought the only genre film touching on the move of the iconic British bridge to Arizona was 1985’s TV movie Terror at London Bridge in which David Hasselhoff fights the spirit of Jack the Ripper. That’s a real movie by the way. Ulli Lommel’s (The Boogey Man, 1980) Olivia lacks that succinct, high concept setup, but the reward is far greater for fans of oddly atmospheric tales that layer emotional resonance in with the weirdness.
Love sits at the heart of the film despite taking an apparent backseat in the back half, and it’s her performance that raises the genre shenanigans — ghostly appearances, violent kills, the fear women feel in the presence of men — towards dramatic… stakes isn’t quite the right word as the film’s slightly off-kilter nature removes a fear of character consequences. A dramatic feel remains, though, as Olivia represents the “ideal woman” only as long as she stays in her lane. Lommel takes frequent advantage of Love’s natural charms, but even nude she’s never quite ready to accept some man calling the shots for long. It’s an intriguing film.
The release features a new 4K restoration, a trailer, a reversible cover, a sleeve with additional artwork (limited only), and the following extras:
- Becoming Olivia: An Interview with Actress Suzanna Love [15:07] – Love talks about drinking vodka to prepare for nude scenes, getting away with drunk driving thanks to a recent hate crime murder, being happily married to Lommel until she discovered he was unfaithful, and more.
- Taking on Many Roles: An Interview with Writer/Assistant Director John P. Marsh [17:10]
- A Chance Meeting: An Interview with Cinematographer Jon Kranhouse [18:01]
- Learning from Ulli: An Interview with Editor Terrell Tanner [19:28]
- Super-8MM Behind the Scenes Footage [19:55]
Writing horror books and movies can mess with your mind almost as much as watching them, apparently, and writer Steven Lessey knows all about it. Stressed by his latest deadline — one that eludes him as he tries to shift away from genre efforts — he begins hallucinating until the line between what’s real and what’s not blurs past the point of no return.
Deadline is another great find for Vinegar Syndrome who’ve grown into a reliable home for 70s/80s Canadian oddities like Sudden Fury (1974) and Incubus (1982), and while it’s a small film there are charms here for fans of the good stuff. The main story follows a descent towards madness, and it’s paired with a shifting commentary on the moral responsibility of the arts. There aren’t answers here, necessarily, but it allows for some interesting ideas.
The kills that populate the film seem jarring at first as most feature wholly unrelated characters — they’re scenes from his books and movies that pop up throughout — but they soon become one with the tone as viewers find themselves shocked or numbed. Some are gory, others are disturbing, and they all work towards disorienting viewers alongside the protagonist. It’s an entertaining and interesting watch.
The release includes a new 2K restoration, a reversible cover, a sleeve with additional artwork (limited only), and the following extras:
- Producing Something Horrific: An Interview with Producer Henry Less [12:43]
- Embracing the Horror: An Interview with Cinematographer Manfred Guthe [14:11]
Poor Bimba. Her mother has recently passed, and worse, her father thinks it’s a good idea to hold a seance in an attempt to speak with the deceased. Mom fails to RSVP, but a horny demon accepts the invite instead and soon finds a home in the young woman. The castle quickly becomes a hotbed of hot beds as Bimba becomes a very bad girl indeed, and her only hope might be a reluctantly saucy nun.
This hard to find shocker from Italy has been a hard one to find for various reasons, but one of the factors keeping it away from prying eyes has been the inclusion of hardcore sex scenes. They were clearly added after the fact — the porn performers aren’t even trying to match the actors in looks, movements, etc — and they ultimately become a distraction. The film itself is already a steady menu of softcore shenanigans as Bimba masturbates with a Teddy Bear, fists a nun, sucks a relative to death, fondles her dad’s crotch, and interrupts a party in her birthday suit. She’s naughty, but to be fair, the devil did make her do it.
To that end, there are some horror threads here too, but it’s clear they’re playing second fiddle to the sex. It’s an odd choice, albeit one that probably garnered the film more press, but those horror beats are only brought into play briefly early on and then once more for the big The Exorcist-inspired ending. An even smaller effort is made towards humanizing the characters here with Sister Sofia coming closest and therefore earning the film’s only real empathy. Worth a watch, but I’d recommend you do so with the blinds and curtains closed.
This release includes a new 2K restoration, a reversible cover, a trailer, a sleeve with additional artwork (limited only), and the following extras:
- Commentary with film historians Samm Deighan, Heather Drain, and Kat Ellinger
- Malabimba Uncovered: Featurette with Actress Mariagela Giordano and Cinematographer Franco Villa [16:55]
Hell Riders (1984)
It takes a bit of work to get kicked out of a biker gang for being too nasty, but the Hell Riders have managed it anyway. They’re cruel bastards and bitches, and after harassing a woman (Tina Louise) recently rescued from a desert island, they follow her into a small town and unleash hell. Unfortunately for them, though, the local doctor (Adam West) is also a secret ass-kicker.
Look, incompetent movies can still be fun sometimes, but this mid 80s biker flick struggles to manage entertainment. The action is piss poor, the violence is unappealing, the actors really shouldn’t be called that, and the dialogue and direction are lazy. There are some weird choices too that are unintentionally welcome including a surprising lack of nudity outside the fully naked biker pet. Bikers grab numerous women for salacious assaults, but the women remain covered — that’s not a bad thing and instead makes this into a more playful slice of exploitation.
That said? It’s the kind of bad that offers fun when paired with alcohol, so that’s something. Both Louise and West were either only around for a day or two or they were allowed to pick and choose which scenes they actually wanted to be in — both have some pretty laughable instances of stand-ins handling their scenes — and aren’t quite as invested as they might otherwise be. It makes for some double takes that when combined with a steady supply of liqueur and beer might make it worth while.
The labels’s fifth entry in their VSA line includes a new 2K restoration, a reversible cover, a storyboard gallery, a very slick hardcase sleeve (seriously, these VHS-inspired cases are fantastic), and the following extra:
- Straight to Hell: An Interview with Co-Writer/Director James Bryan [15:16]