Vinegar Syndrome isn’t the only kickass boutique label out there, but it’s very clearly one of the most eclectic and determined when it comes to preserving and restoring films. Their latest batch of releases include Five Women for the Killer (1974), Curse of the Blue Lights (1988), and a double feature of Vacations of Terror I & II (1988-1990). The April 2023 titles drop at the end of the month, but keep reading for a look at all three.
Curse of the Blue Lights (1988)
The small town of Dudley, Colorado doesn’t have much going on, but at least it has a cool makeout spot called Blue Lights. Cool because of the necking, but mostly because of the strange blue lights that are rumored to be caused by aliens, devils, or top secret military projects. A group of “teens” out canoodling find the answer when a trio of ghouls turn their night into a nightmare. Can they stop the monsters before the beasts bring about the resurrection of an even deadlier threat?
Regional horror films — ones fully produced outside of Hollywood and California — typically skate by on charm on ingenuity alone. John Henry Johnson’s late 80 horror debut does just that while also adding a heavy dose of ambition into the mix. The film was shot in Pueblo, CO, and after cutting his teeth on some historical dramas based on local personalities, Johnson kept his narrative feature plugged into local legends like Pueblo’s blue lights. It adds some fun elements to the tale of good versus evil.
More fun, though, comes from the monsters themselves. They’re on screen quite a bit and even talk — sometimes mumbling through false fangs — in more than the usual monstrous grunts. They’re interesting makeup creations, especially for an ultra low budget production, and it makes for an entertaining enough creature feature. The action soon moves to include a larger beast and a horde of zombies charging out of a local cemetery. It has its dryness and silliness, and it probably can’t quite maintain its running time, but that ambition and charm build a real appeal for genre fans.
Curse of the Blue Lights comes to Blu-ray with a new 2K restoration from John Johnson’s personal 16mm answer print in his intended 1:85.1 aspect ratio. The picture is clearer and cleaner than past releases, but its heavy grain remains expectedly omnipresent. The disc includes a mix of new and old special features.
- *NEW* Commentary with director/co-writer John Johnson
- Commentary with John Johnson and actor Brent Ritter
- *NEW* Demons Down in Pueblo: Remembering Curse of the Blue Lights [1:37:13] – An in-depth documentary exploring John Johnson’s road to horror with input from cast and crew on the blue lights of Pueblo and the film’s production.
- Scenes from alternate version of Curse of the Blue Lights, sourced from VHS [3:52]
- Behind-the-scenes still gallery
Vacations of Terror I & II (1988-1990)
When a family inherits an old summer home from an unknown relative, it seems at first like the answer to their vacation dreams. Unfortunately for them, the property is home to a doll possessed by the spirit of a witch killed by villagers a century prior. Soon the doll is creating all manner of supernatural carnage leaving the family in a fight for their lives. The doll returns a couple years later and makes its presence known once again, but this time it has more tricks in store for its victims.
There are two ways to approach this pair of Mexican chillers. As straightforward horror movies, both show off an appreciation for American fare like Poltergeist (1982) and Spookies (1986). Neither is as good or entertaining as those two examples, but both have charm and ambition. The first is motivated mostly by the doll whose eyes flit back and forth before each — and I do mean each — act of supernatural terrorism. It’s all fairly lightweight with bleeding walls and moving objects, but the family in peril angle is handled well. The second film brings back the doll and Julio (Pedro Fernandez), the daughter’s boyfriend from the first, but it shifts from invisible threats to more tangible ones as the witchy demon literally crawls out of the doll’s body. The result is a slightly wilder, more entertaining entry as pumpkins say boo, rooms spin, and more.
Historically speaking, though, the films are actually more interesting as part of Mexican filmmaking history. The first comes from René Cardona III, the second from Pedro Galindo III, and both are third generation filmmakers with genre love running through through bloodline. Their combined filmographies include the likes of Santa Claus (1959), Night of the Bloody Apes (1969), Blood Feast (1972), Cyclone (1978), Cemetery of Terror (1985), and more. They’re lesser-known dynasties here in the U.S., and credit is due to Vinegar Syndrome for restoring and celebrating their work alongside genre movies from other Mexican filmmakers.
Vacations of Terror I & II are new to Blu-ray with 4K restorations and a handful of new interviews connected to the first film.
- *NEW* Interview with actors Gianella Hassel and Gabriella Hassel [11:36] – The sisters recall the film’s original title (The Doll from Hell), exploring the film studio’s sets, pretending not to be afraid of snakes, and more.
- *NEW* Interview with composer Eugenio Castillo [9:49] – The composer talks about landing the gig, crafting his score with very little time to spare, his lack of exposure to horror films, and more.
- *NEW* Backlot Rats with actors Carlos East Jr. and Ernesto East [18:55] – The brothers remember dressing like Rambo to explore the studio, finding props from American films, being taught by their father (an actor who appears in the opening scene) to respect every single person on a film set, and more.
- *NEW* Interview with special effects artist Jorge Farfan [12:56] – The f/x artist discusses the film’s origin, the multi-generational filmmaking families, how they achieved various effects, and more.
Five Women for the Killer (1974)
Giorgio (Francis Matthews) is a journalist returning from an overseas trip to horrendous news — his wife has died while giving birth to their son. Upside? The child survived! Second downside? A mad killer is stalking pregnant women, most of whom have some connection to the grieving reporter. A dogged detective works the case, but his suspicion that Giorgio may have snapped soon has competition as new suspects rear their bloody heads.
Stelvio Massi’s filmography runs over thirty films, and while the bulk lean closer to the classic “poliziotteschi” genre (Emergency Squad, 1974; Highway Racer, 1977), he dipped his toe into slasher-adjacent fare a couple times. 1989’s Arabella: Black Angel is the best known of the two, but 1974’s Five Women for the Killer sees his first foray embracing the giallo’s elements well enough. A mysterious killer, naked women who wind up dead, and a reporter hot on the trail — the pieces are here even if Massi’s execution, due mostly to a script from four writers, fumbles some things along the way.
The mystery aspect is fairly slight as most viewers will zero in on the killer pretty quickly, and the kills themselves are equally unmemorable. (Additional gore scenes shot/added after the fact are included as an extra feature here.) Massi draws out the stalkings, but he seems more interested in highlighting female flesh — both living and dead — in fairly explicit fashion. The script seems to forget about its supposed protagonist, sometimes losing him for long stretches at a time, and it results in a fractured momentum. Still, the film takes a mean-spirited approach which fits its themes well bringing real ugliness to a traditionally stylish genre.
The most striking thing about Five Women for the Killer is probably the conspicuousness of its solo release. The film seems exactly the right fit for Vinegar Syndrome’s Forgotten Gialli box-set series (currently five volumes deep) as a lesser-known giallo of mid quality. Hopefully this doesn’t mean that series is over, but only time will tell.
Five Women for the Killer makes its Blu-ray debut with a new 4K restoration of the theatrical cut — which has never been on home video before — from rare archival elements. Minor damage is visible at times, but it’s otherwise a fine picture.
- *NEW* Commentary with film historians Eugenio Ercolani and Troy Howarth
- *NEW* My Name is Howard [20:11] – Actor Renato Rossini, who plays the film’s determined detective, talks about his blue collar father, working with the legendary Mario Bava, his vast and varied filmography, and working on this film.
- *NEW* The Massi Touch [24:57] – Filmmaker Danilo Massi, son and frequent collaborator of director Stelvio Massi, recalls being “weaned on milk and film,” visiting film sets with his father, and takes a real dig at Renato Rossini’s acting chops.
- *NEW* Working with Stelvio [13:24] – Actor Luc Merenda remembers hearing good things about Stelvio Massi before ever meeting the man, how he loves films but hates hearing people gossip behind the scenes, working with Massi on multiple films, and more.
- *NEW* Five Women for a Giallo [21:42] – Film historian Luigi Cozzi talks about Dario Argento kicking off the giallo craze and the onslaught of copycats, both great and terrible, that followed, and proceeds to spill the tea on numerous films and professional relationships.
- *NEW* Cinematographers in Arms [13:29] – Cinematographer Roberto Girometti discusses his career, his friendship with Stelvio Massi, and more.
- Gore inserts [1:12]
All titles are available from Vinegar Syndrome!
Related Topics: Home Video