Screams From The Vaults
As the well known adage goes, you don’t know what you missed until it’s been released on blu-ray via the Lionsgate’s Vestron Collectors Series. While various streaming services are inventing and contorting into new filmic yoga moves to get brand new ‘original’ material out with varying successes, maybe we shouldn’t all be so blinded by the rush of the gorging new and sometimes it’s wholly satisfying to sit down and devour an old school treat, Tayto sandwich anyone?
There was many a weekend in my teen years that me and my friends would cycle over to the various local video libraries (between us we were members of all of them in our town), where we would scour the rickety shelves of battered cardboard sleeves or cracked, chipped plastic shell cases of pretty bad garish design. These boxes may have been physically empty, but they were effectively passes or gateways to whole other VHS worlds of adventure, laughs and horror beyond the edges of our town, and dimensions.
Like the apprentice tribal hunters we were, one of the tracks or signs that we would hunt for was the Vestron Video logo that from experience had constantly returned very rich and satisfying pickings. Thankfully for the salvation of mankind, the great folk of Lionsgate Home Entertainment resurrected the Vestron Video library in 2016 with the aim of releasing these buried jewels restored and remastered on blu-ray, with a go large helping of extra special features across the board, and we have three such gems being released this week.
Besides the obvious fact that they were originally Vestron or Lionsgate releases, one of the overall unifying elements (besides them being excellent fun) of this batch is the use of practical effects throughout, that far from adding an element of pitiful nostalgia, add a beautiful physical and tangible depth to proceedings. It also in a gleeful A-Team way adds a seemingly lost DIY can do aesthetic that just can’t be achieved through crates of sports drinks, a mouse and twitching eyes as a CGI ‘artist’ tries to hit a deadline.
For no reason than the order I watched them in, first up we have the really splendid and creatively inspiring ‘Wishmaster’ (1997) directed by Robert Kurtzman. And to immediately contradict myself, this does contain some beautifully dated CGI, but also a tsunami of incredible practical effects which is no surprise as Kurtzman’s background and subsequent career is overwhelmingly based in makeup and special effects departments of a great deal of movies.
The story is a beautifully simple flip on the wish granting genie tale, where this being a horror movie the auld trapped entity isn’t so nice and you won’t be adding them on any social media any time soon. This genie is a bit of a naughty wee Djinn, somewhat supernaturally evil and as the strap line for the movie goes ‘Be careful what you wish for’, any and all seemingly innocent wishes are instantly turned into absolute bloody entrailed carnage, and it’s fantastic!
Opening with a sequence that would be the climax of most movies, it is a visual and horrific giddy joy throughout as a seemingly endless amount of phenomenally creative ways to dispatch idiotic humans are rolled by on a visual conveyor belt of death, it’s like the Ford factory run by Freddie Krugar, which is quite apt as none other than Robert Englund briefly pops up sans Swiss Army Hands.
It was made in ‘97, but it truly and wonderfully feels like an 80s classic in tone and presentation as the excellent Andrew Divoff runs innards amuck as he uses his evil Djinn/ Nathaniel Demerest powers to try and permanently unleash darkness upon the world. He clearly wasn’t hugged enough as a young demon.
As mentioned, it’s all brilliant and wonderfully realised carnage in the most creative ways possible.
Next up is the also excellently creative practical effects of ‘The Gate’ (1987) directed by Tibor Takács. With the very admiral remit of making a proper horror movie for kids, and staring a very young Stephen Dorff, this is like an insane blend of The Goonies, Home Alone and A Nightmare on Elm Street, and as mentioned aimed at kids, but a treat for all concerned.
On a normal day most kids just want a trampoline in their back gardens, so it’s a bit of a street cred bonus if you end up getting a gateway to hell, and so begins this adventure.
As no luck at all would have it, best buddies Glen (Dorff) and metal head Terry (Louis Tripp) discover a geode (egg shaped hollow rock) in Glen’s back garden after a freak lightning event. Clearly they have not watched enough horror movies in their tender years and investigate more. Of course this is timed with the parents heading away for the weekend and the responsibility of the world not being succumbed by evil lays at the house sitting abilities of Glen, his older sister Alexandra (Christa Denton) and of course heavy rock fan Terry (who sports wonderfully iconic rock merch).
Again the amount of creativity that has gone into the making of this movie is incredible. There are moments of true genius on show throughout the film, with many moments of peril, jump scares and creepy from hell stuff that would not be out of place in far more intense adult dramas, but because of the way it is handled, it really is suitable for younger minds to enjoy.
There’s also the fact that I was convinced that when the brilliant diminutive demons, Minions (one of my all time fav monsters/demons), rock up, I was convinced it was a beautiful homage to Ray Harryhausen movies, how wonderfully wrong I was, it is incredible what the creative team behind this movie has achieved, and thankfully there are a raft of wonderful interviews and additional materials to show how this excellent story was created, it truly deserves it’s cult following. It also has one of the best posters ever too.
Last but by no means least we finish off with the genuine climax and horror money shot that is ‘The Lair of the White Worm’ (1988) directed by the visionary Ken Russell.
In a wonderfully eccentric and quintessentially English way this could be treated like a rather tongue is cheek, innuendo laden fetishistic episode of Doctor Who as it stars a very young Peter Capaldi as Angus Flint, an archeologist who uncovers signs of something potentially monstrous in a local dig that is mentioned and celebrated in local folklore.
It also stars the incredibly beautiful and deadly seductive Lady Sylvia March (Amanda Donohoe) who may know a thing or two about the discovery, if anyone actually lives long enough to find out what those secrets are. Thankfully we also have the somewhat comedic hero Lord James D’Ampton (Hugh Grant – below with Peter Capaldi) prancing and posing about the manor to hopefully bring a stiff upper lip solution to the recent infestation of well folk dying.
The story is loosely based on a story by Bram Stoker (Dracula) and given the truly beautiful and insane visual madness that prevails on screen, that has to be VERY loosely indeed. But it is also a phenomenal movie in so many brilliant ways. This is what happens when a true cinematic auteur just throws caution (and reason) to the wind, and humanity wins accordingly.
With a gleeful snake tongue in cheek approach where effectively every single word, poise and movement in the film is an innuendo for something lascivious, it’s part Carry On and part ritual sacrifice meets Downton Abbey, and a HUGE amount of camp horror fun. To be honest it’s worth it for the magnificently nuts dream/vision sequences alone, which have slightly milder hints of the found video footage on Event Horizon.
All the titles come with a vast amount of extras including director, creative commentaries, multiple interviews, making off and basically tons of in-depth stuff that really enhance already hugely enjoyable films. Of course I’d recommend watching the extras after the films, and not to look behind the curtain too quickly, as you never know what you might find.
‘Wishmaster’, ‘The Gate’ and ‘The Lair of the White Worm’ are out now on Blu-Ray from @lionsgateUK