Hiya folks! This week is going to be a little different. Most of you who regularly read this column will know what a big fan I am of weird and obscure sci-fi, horror, and action movies. Obviously; that’s the whole point of this. But I’m guessing a lot of you have the same proclivities, so I wanted to share a thing that I’ve had the pleasure of being involved in over on Legendary Digital Networks’ subscription video-on-demand service, Project Alpha. We did a series of watch-along commentaries called Streaming VHS, in which we showcased eight forgotten genre classics from the VHS era.
For each of these pieces of cinematic gold, some lovers of crazy cinema sat down and commented on the movie in real time; you know, how an audio commentary works. These commentaries are available to stream on Alpha right now, as are the movies on their own, without us yammering. They were a lot of fun, and I wanted to give y’all a rundown of what we did and who talked about them so you can join in the fun!
First up is a little movie from 1989 called Arena in which a cook aboard a huge space station gets turned into a fighter in the galaxy’s most popular sport: punching. Produced by the low-budget maestro Charles Band, the movie actually has some impressive production value and make-up and creature effects, even though it’s very clear the crowd watching the matches is mostly made up of cardboard cut-outs. It also featured performances by soon-to-be sci-fi TV staples Claudia Christian from Babylon 5, and Marc Alaimo and Armin Shimerman from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
The commentary for this one was done by myself and writer, film critic, and podcaster extraordinaire Drew McWeeny, and it was a damn fine conversation about ’80s sci-fi and video stores in general.
Legitimately one of the cheesiest and hokiest movies you’re likely to watch, the supremely dirt-cheap R.O.T.O.R. was attempting to mix The Terminator with RoboCop in an exciting way, but ended up mostly just being confusing.
I would definitely recommend you watch this one with the commentary. Dan Casey and ETC’s Ricky Hayberg joined me, and together we marveled at the baffling filmmaking choices and cheer at the cinematic character of the millennium, Shoeboogie, who was played by an actor not even IMDb can identify.
The Video Dead (1987)
Easily the best direct-to-video horror movie made in the ’80s, Video Dead is about a mysterious old TV is delivered to various people and when they watch it, the only station that can be tuned in is playing a weird old zombie movie. Except, the zombies climb out of the TV and begin feasting on locals. It’s up to a doofus brother and his way-smarter sister, as well as a few other people, to put an end to the gory dilemma.
For this commentary, I was joined by filmmaker, Bizarre States co-host, and Onyx the Fortuitous himself, Andrew Bowser. We talked at length about the merits of cheap horror movies, share stories of making our own low-budget zombie films in college, and ultimately rate The Video Dead‘s infamous chainsaw effects.
The Dungeonmaster (1984)
Another production by the inimitable Charles Band, The Dungeonmaster is sort of an anthology movie following one character on one quest. A mix of everything from Mad Max to sword and sandal epics to zombie movies, the movie follows a warrior sent on various tasks by the evil Dungeonmaster (Night Court‘s Richard Moll), and each of those tasks is written and directed by a different low-budget schlockmaestro. It also came under a lot of fire at the time because of its ties to Dungeons & Dragons, which tons of people thought was going to spread paganism and devil worship. Dummos. Anyway. It’s quite the film.
As expected with such a movie, there are ups and downs in the vignettes, and this was discussed fully in the commentary by Dan Casey and Andrew Bowser. Make-up effects, stop-motion gorgons, cars driving in the desert; this movie had everything. They also marveled at the seemingly unnecessary scene of nudity that feels like it was in a different movie. So there’s that, should you so desire.
A film from the veritable B-movie juggernaut that is Fred Olen Ray, Alienator featured a prisoner from outer space who lands, wounded, in a forest on planet Earth and it falls to a group of cool teens in an RV, a forest ranger (played by the awesome John Phillip Law), and a grizzled old army colonel to protect him from a female cyborg with a penchant for blowing people up. A framing story was added about the prison warden and featured performances by Jan Michael Vincent and P.J. Soles.
For this commentary, Dan and I were delighted to be joined by director-producer Fred Olen Ray himself, a man who has made well over 200 films. Though Mr. Ray hadn’t seen the movie in a very long time, he regaled us with all kinds of stories from the production, notes about the cast members, and great stuff about making low-budget movie in the ’80s and ’90s.
Robot Holocaust (1986)
You know it’s a winner when the movie was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. This film features an unlikely band of heroes in a post-apocalyptic wasteland who have to rescue a scientist from the clutches of a tyrannical dictator called the Dark One and his army of robots.
For this commentary, critic Drew McWeeny and Talks Machina producer Eddie Doty–old friends from back in the day–reminisced about video store finds and loving any and all weird movie they could find.
Alien Predators (1985)
This title is a bit of a misnomer; the original title is The Falling and is much more indicative of the kind of movie you’re about to watch. It follows a trio of young folks (Dennis Christopher, Martin Hewitt, and Lynn-Holly Johnson) as they go on a RV holiday through Spain, only to find that the little town they come to is the center of a terrifying alien outbreak, which causes humans to become mindless, murderous zombie things.
This commentary was my personal favorite. I was joined by film critic and co-host of the Battleship Pretension podcast, Tyler Smith, and by the film’s director and co-writer, Deran Sarafian. Mr. Sarafian is now a major television director, having done 48 episodes of House, M.D. among other shows and he sort of half-cringed his way through his first film, which he hadn’t seen in a very long time. Truly a delightful discussion, and not without a fair amount of jokes made at his own inexperience while Tyler and I try to convince him the movie’s good.
Land of Doom (1986)
And finally we had 1986’s Land of Doom, a rarity in the Mad Max ripoffs of the era in that it was made by Americans and not Italians. It was shot in Turkey, though, which adds some interesting set pieces. A woman walks around the apocalyptic wasteland attempting to avoid the roving marauders and cannibals. Eventually, she finds a wounded man and the two form a tenuous friendship, which is put to the test by the constant pursuit of the leather-strap-clad bad guys.
For the final commentary, I was joined by FX Movie Download host Sasha Perl-Raver, and to add a fun wrinkle, none of us had ever seen the movie before. We play the game of trying to figure out what’s going on, counting the actors we’d cast in other things, and listing the parts of the movie that are great. (Spoiler: a guy with a puppy, a bicycle, and a guitar tops the list.)
So head to Project Alpha to get a 30-day free trial and check out some of all of the commentaries we did. And let us know how you enjoyed them in the comments below or on Twitter!
Image: Manson International