November is a busy month for movie lovers as studios unleash their classiest films and family fare to theaters (remember theaters?) and home video labels deliver must-haves destined to opened Christmas morning. Vinegar Syndrome is no different, and their November releases are often among their most memorable.
This year’s offerings continue that trend with four VS titles and a new entry in their slickly-slipcased VSA (VS Archive) series. The label also assisted in distributing two new releases from partner labels. So join me as I turn off the lights, close the curtains — an important step when viewing VS titles — and dig into most of these new releases.
Game Over (1989)
Thomas enjoys playing around with his loyal pup, his doddering grandfather, and his very active imagination both in and out of his mansion of a home, and when his busy mother heads to work on Christmas Eve it’s playtime on his mind. He’s also thinking about Santa Claus, and because of a mix up in communication, a deranged and recently unemployed department store Santa is also thinking about him. When the man comes calling with ill intentions, it’s up to young Thomas to defend his home with everything and anything at his disposal.
This late 80s movie technically predates the far more popular Home Alone (1990), but it never really saw release in the United States until 2018 when it premiered at Austin’s Fantastic Fest. Known alternately as Deadly Games, Game Over, and 36-15 Code Pere Noel, the film is the brainchild of writer/director Rene Manzor who cast his own son as Thomas. Picture Macauley Culkin with an epic mullet as he faces off against a murderous madman, and you’ll understand what it’s all about. There’s darkness here in the madman’s actions and real threat, but there’s an undeniable sweetness to it all as well. Add in some oddball humor, some creative set design, and a pint-sized hero, and you have a fun slice of Christmas terror to add into your holiday rotation.
Vinegar Syndrome brings the film to the US on both Blu-ray and 4K UltraHD, and it looks fantastic on both discs. The film retains its original softness and grain, but finds a new brightness and depth. This new disc ports over all of the extras from Germany’s Camera Obscura release of the film from a couple years ago, and a more in depth look at the movie and those supplements can be found in my review of that release. Here are the extras on this new release which also includes trailers, teasers, model shots, storyboard to scene comparisons, and a still gallery.
- Forbidden Toys: An Interview with Director Rene Manzor [1:28:46]
- To Become a Man: An Interview with Actor Alain Musy [40:50]
- Simon Says Roll Sound [8:47]
- “Synapses” [5:20] – A short film by Rene Manzor
- “Merry Christmas” [2:54] – Bonnie Tyler’s music video for her song heard in the film.
Cemetery of Terror (1985)
A fun night out with friends is the plan, but when the girls realize their boyfriends have brought them to an abandoned house lit by candlelight they’re understandably perturbed. Realizing they’ve spoiled the mood, the boys decide to turn their ladies on by… stealing a corpse, taking it to a cemetery, and trying to resurrect it? Surprise number one is that their plan works and the ladies find their horny, but surprise number two? They’ve resurrected a demonic serial killer.
Writer/director Ruben Galindo Jr.’s debut horror film (which comes after VS’s release of his Grave Robbers (1989) and before their release of his Don’t Panic (1988) is a fun mix of gory slaughter and playful antics, but it takes a while getting there. The first forty minutes are spent mostly with the three couples only to see them wiped out in the next ten. Instead, it’s a group of kids with terrible peripheral vision who come face to face with the undead killer and a graveyard full of hungry corpses in the film’s third act. It’s far, far less gory than the demises that preceded it, but it’s lively and energetic fun as the kids dodge zombies left and right while Hugo Stiglitz spends hours driving around town looking for trouble. If that first half is a drag, the back half is something of a genre delight.
Cemetery of Terror comes to Blu-ray with a new 4K restoration of 35mm negative elements, and it looks quite good for a mid 80s Mexican feature that really didn’t get much play north of the border. The disc also includes the following special features.
- Commentary with Director Rubén Galindo Jr.
- Commentary with The Hysteria Continues
- Digging Your Own Grave: An Interview with Director Rubén Galindo Jr. [34:38] – “The most difficult obstacle that I had to face was working for my dad who was a very experienced director and wanted me to be on time and on budget.”
- South of the Border Horror: A Video Conference with René Cardona III [36:10] – “Puta madre.”
Island of Blood (1982)
A group of hungry actors head to a remote island location to make a movie that promises to be something special. The filmmakers are oddballs and the actors don’t quite mesh, but real trouble arrives in the form of a dead body when one of them dies in an “accident.” Soon more of them are dying at the hands of a madman with horrible taste in music, and it’s unclear if anyone will live to hear the end of the killer’s favorite song.
Island of Blood, aka Whodunit?, is a silly slasher riff on the And Then There Were None formula, and it enjoys dispatching its various characters in some pretty unspectacular ways. From boiling water to acidic water, the kills leave bodies disfigured if not all that bloody. The bigger offense, though, is the repetitive song the killer plays on his (or her!) endless supply of Sony Walkmans. The story, while simple enough in its setup, grows a bit convoluted by the time the credits roll. Still, you can never have enough Agatha Christie knockoffs.
Whodunit? aka Island of Blood makes its Blu-ray debut here — it never even reached DVD — with a new 4K restoration from its 35mm camera negative. The disc includes the trailer and the following special features.
- Commentary with The Hysteria Continues
- Blood & Sweaters: An Interview with Actor Terence Goodman [14:29] – “As you watch it, there’s lighting and music behind it, I mean, it’s a real film.”
- Dying for the Opportunity: An Interview with Actor Jim Piper [13:12] – “I haven’t seen Island of Blood for thirty years, and to be honest, it was better than I remember it being.”
- Containing the Excitement: A Video Conference with Actor Marie-Alise Recasner [35:26] – “I was too young to know what to expect.”
- Cutting a Long Story Short: A Video Conference with Editor Hari Ryatt [37:50] – “I know Kevin Costner does it at his house whenever he’s directed films.”
Rest in Pieces (1987)
Bob and Helen are happy and broke, but two pieces of news are about to change both. They get word that Helen’s aunt has died and left her a mansion and a fortune, and soon they’ve moved into the large house and begun meeting the people in her dead aunt’s life. They’re a bunch of weirdos who devour hired help rather than pay them, and they’re not too keen on the new homeowners either.
Jose Ramon Larraz’s late 80s horror film is a strange one that sets up a familiar premise but layers in some interesting turns along the way. It stumbles some in the execution, though, as the cult of psychos are never even remotely frightening and instead feel like characters you could knock out with a stiff breeze. They’re too proper and silly to be threatening. Still, while the eventual explanation adds to the silliness rather than cultivate the thrills or mystery, it’s a harmless romp.
Vinegar Syndrome brings Rest in Pieces to Blu-ray with a 4K restoration of a 35mm camera negative, and it looks bright and sharp throughout. The disc is light on extras but does include the following.
- Commentary with Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger
- Piece By Piece: An Interview with Actor Scott Thompson Baker [17:22] – “I really had no desire to see it.”
Necromancer (VSA, 1988)
When a young woman is assaulted by three men she knows, she’s not sure how to handle the trauma. A friend brings her to a psychic who promises relief of some kind, but Julie is surprised to see it arrives in the form of a supernatural swath of vengeance. Soon the men who attacked her are dealt violent demises, and anyone else who crosses her path is next on the list.
This supernatural rape/revenge tale was written by the director of Island of Blood above, but directing duties here were handed over to Dusty Nelson who’d previously helmed the underseen Effects (1979). It’s pretty tame, all things considered, with its most aggressive beat being the (thankfully brief) assault. The kills are fairly lightweight and more suggestive than graphic, and the demonic necromancer looks like she’s wearing messy dishwashing gloves — so yeah, underwhelming. Elizabeth Kaitan is lovely.
Necromancer comes to Blu-ray with a 4K restoration from an original 35mm camera negative, and as usual, this VSA release comes in a slick hardcover slipcase. It includes three new interviews as extras.
- Taking the Reins: A Video Conference with Director Dusty Nelson [55:51] – “You’re paid to edit, and that’s your salary. Just because we call you the director doesn’t mean we’re going to pay you any more money.”
- A Despicable Job: An interview with Actor Lee Cole aka Stan Hurwitz [15:16] – “I gave her something to be afraid of, I think.”
- Conjuring the Past: An Interview with Waide Riddle [12:04] – “I moved to Hollywood. Big mistake.”
Related Topics: Home Video