Twisted Illusions: Ultimate Edition (2013)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2013-01-31 21:04

Written by: Tim Ritter and Joel Wynkoop
Directed by: Tim Ritter, Joel Wynkoop, and John Bowker
Starring: Larry Joe Treadway, Joel Wynkoop, and Jasi Cotton Lanier

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

“Lousy videotapes?!"

I would assume that most directors would prefer to shy away from the homemade movies in their youth, but that’s not Tim Ritter or Joel Wynkoop’s style. See, not only did they once direct a shot-on-video anthology called Twisted Illusions back in 1985, but the duo also returned to the idea two decades later with a sequel. However, instead of just letting the second pass stand as a do-over by their older, more seasoned selves, they refused to pull a George Lucas and forget the first one ever existed. Instead, for this new Ultimate Edition, Ritter and Wynkoop have essentially taken both and tossed them into a blender to create a big, messy mash-up. As is the case with most anthologies, the result is uneven, but the overall effect is a sloppier, shaggier Grindhouse-style effort that works better as a bizarre experiment than it does a proper movie.

Anthologies are always a mess to review, particularly when they’re composed of so much flotsam like Twisted Illusions; not only are most of the original segments included here, but also the three from the sequel (where Ritter and Wynkoop got a hand from John Bowker). Interspersed are various interludes, such as a drive-in intermission commercial, and the experience is about as cock-eyed and bizarre as you can imagine since you have segments from 1985 bumping up against stuff from 2004; obviously, the latter fare better than the former, but there are some great ideas buried at the center at just about every one of these things. Ritter and company might not have the means to craft the most polished of final products, but they have a real feel for the anthology format, and many of the segments have a real mean-spirited, sardonic Amicus quality in their twists.

This is also the rare anthology that ends on its best note with Ritter’s “Dexter Deadbeat” from Twisted Illusions 2. What begins as seemingly a simple home invasion story sprawls into a darkly comical ordeal involving a madman in search of his tapes. After breaking into a house and terrorizing a poor, bewildered girl, he soon realizes he may have the wrong person; undeterred, he channels his inner Terminator and makes his way through the phone book. Eventually, we discover that his target is a lady with a whole heap of issues; upon being stalked by this guy, she reels off a laundry lists of possible suspects: her ex-husband, her boss’s wife, a disgruntled co-worker—you name it, this gal’s pissed them off. The eventual reveal is a doozy, and it’s almost like a love letter to VHS culture (which was waning in 2004, so imagine how it plays now that it’s been fetishized as nostalgia). Larry Joe Treadway is “The Stalker,” and he crafts a pretty memorable—if not indomitable—performance as a guy obsessed with tracking down these mysterious tapes whose contents serve as a perfect punchline to the whole Twisted Illusions experience.

Getting there involves navigating some peaks and valleys, though. The other two segments from Twisted Illusions 2 are probably the best of the rest, with Bowker’s “Betrayal” being especially noteworthy. This one centers on a girl who expects to be sitting out a Halloween party with her boyfriend, as the two have instead chosen to spend a quiet night at home. The only problem is that he didn’t get the memo and decided to attend the party with another woman. Let’s just say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned—especially when that woman can literally raise hell. While obviously a bit demented, “Betrayal” is one of the more fun episodes here, mostly because it’s well-dressed in a Halloween vibe and has a zombie roaming around at one point. Plus, it ends with a morbid double twist that’s right out of the Amicus tradition.

Wynkoop’s “The Part” rounds out the offerings from the sequel, and it’s the most unremarkable of that particular bunch. When a convicted psychopath is inexplicably freed from care, he decides to take up his other obsession: acting. It turns out that he’s a pretty good candidate for a serial killer in a local production (go figure!), and he has a little bit too much fun getting into character when he starts to terrify those around him. That’s pretty much it—“The Part” is a silly, one-note romp that ends predictably enough. It doesn’t aspire to do a whole lot, but it succeeds moderately well since the whole segment is littered with a lot of horror touchstones, so its heart is in the right place (like so many of these homespun horrors are).

That’s how you have to approach the rest of Twisted Illusions. If the three segments of the sequel are unpolished, then the stuff made back in ’85 is practically roughshod by comparison. As was the case in Day of the Reaper, Ritter and Wynkoop were still in high school at the time, so these segments look every bit the part of a glorified AV club production. Most of them feel more like half-formed ideas than anything (for example, one interlude simply has a guy fall down a set of stairs, which results in a gruesome bodily contortion). Some are a bit more inspired and fleshed out (but just barely): “The Capricorn Network” involves an ill-fated attempt at pirating a cable station and plays out like a low-rent Videodrome riff, while “The Clean-Up Job” finds a frustrated housewife pushed to her breaking point (at which point she gives what is implied to be the suckiest blowjob imaginable). Most intriguing here is “Truth or Dare,” which was eventually stretched into a proper feature film by Ritter (the film spawned three sequels to boot, the most recent of which was released late last year). Anyway, it all started when Ritter imagined a guy who finds himself on the receiving end of an impending divorce; despondent, he hooks up with a younger girl, and the two have a picnic that culminates with a whole bunch of self-mutilation when a game of Truth or Dare gets out of control.

From that alone, you can probably gather where Ritter and Wynkoop’s heads were at back in 1985, and, as this Ultimate Edition proves, they were pretty much in the same place 20 years later. These were two guys who were destined to wallow in the grungy, low-budget horror scene; even when their resources were substantially improved, it’s hard to say that the actual films themselves were a whole lot better. The acting talent and production values are practically non-existent across the board, but there’s no lack of spirit to be found in this omnibus, and it’s actually kind of cool that it doesn’t lean to heavily on gore. This is pretty old school stuff, and it’s less a proper anthology and more of a cinematic scrapbook, since the various segments are pasted together with little regard for flow or theme; there’s no framing device or any sort of throughline, so you’re left to wander around in this hazy indie-horror funhouse. One minute, you’re in a black and white 1985 segment before being thrust into an episode shot 20 years later. It’s fun, but it really has to be your speed.

Sub Rosa Studios obviously realizes that only a handful of people could claim such a thing, so they’ve immortalized Twisted Illusions with a limited edition release; not only does their big box package feature the Ultimate Edition on DVD, but there’s a VHS version as well. The quality is an appropriate mish-mash, as it varies from segment to segment; some are more watchable than others, but the stuff from Twisted Illusions 2 fares the best (though I found some aspect ratio issues at times too). A blast from the past also accompanies the package in the form of the old box art for each film (the VHS cover for the original will especially take you back to the days of hastily thrown together regional releases). Since the release was only limited to fifty copies, it’s already sold out, which renders any sort of recommendation a bit moot; still, VHS and indie horror enthusiasts should keep their eye on this line. Something tells me there’s a whole mess of stuff just waiting to be dug up. I suppose purists might be a bit dismayed at this slightly truncated version of the Twisted Illusions saga, but you get the gist of it (which might be preferable, really). Rent it!

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