Catching Up With: Kino Lorber

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2017-10-05 02:01

After decades upon decades of various mergers, MGM’s library of titles is so vast that it’s found itself scattered just about everywhere: while the studio entered a deal with 20th Century Fox to distribute its titles on home video, you’ve no doubt noticed that their titles tend to pop up on other labels, particularly their cult offerings. Where many of their more high-profile titles have found a home at Scream Factory, some less heralded ones have landed nicely under the Kino-Lorber banner. Like their Scream Factory brethren, these titles are eclectic as hell, ranging from 50s monster movies to obscure 90s junk. Here's a look at five choice cuts from a label that's emerged as yet another staple of any cult collector's shelf in recent years.

Curse of the Faceless Man (1958)

One of the last gasp efforts for this sort of matinee monster movie, Curse of the Faceless Man likely felt pretty stale and crusty even when it was released. The umpteenth riff on a story that sees an ancient man dug up in modern day only to impossibly rise from the dead, it hits all of the obligatory mummy shit, right down to the titular faceless man thinking he’s found the resurrected form of his long-lost love. If a mummy movie doesn’t climax with a centuries-old undead dude carrying a girl off towards the climax, does it even exist?

While hewing to the general broad strokes of this genre, Curse of the Faceless Man does diverge in its details: rather than excavate the same tired Egyptian mythology, it looks north towards Rome, specifically Pompeii to reveal the tragic story of Quintilis, a gladiator who lost his life when Vesuvius erupted. It’s a different flavor for this sort of movie and it’s just enough to distinguish it from other mummy movies. But just barely, though: unique mythology aside, this breezy B-movie is about as anonymous and plain as its title suggests.

Savage Weekend (1979)

While Savage Weekend was released in that purgatorial period between Halloween and Friday the 13th, it’s actually something of a proto-slasher since it was actually produced a few years earlier, around 1976. It perhaps offers a glimpse of what the slasher boom may have looked like if it occurred right in the thick of the 70s: instead of watching a bunch of Me Generation teens die horribly while partaking in sex and drugs, we’re subjected to a bunch of grown-ass adults doing pretty much the same thing at a weekend retreat. As a result, Savage Weekend feels like a borderline softcore movie that just happens to bump into some grisly sequences every now and then. Watching it is almost like reading a rough draft of a favorite book: you certainly recognize the beats and patterns, but they feel so unrefined.

But perhaps because of that, it feels wonderfully greasy and coarse in that very specifically 70s manner. Everything about it is rough around the edges, especially the languid script, which gathers the group together under the pretense of meeting up with a couple of hicks that are restoring a boat for them. Clumsy attempts at any sort of subplots only result in telegraphing the killer; otherwise, Savage Weekend is a loosely connected series of Weird Shit, such as a scene where one couple milks sensually milks a cow together. By constantly trading in complete, abject nonsense, Savage Weekend anticipates the eventual strain of 80s slashers that would thrive on just being fucking strange. Indeed, while the slashing here is merely adequate enough (there’s no signature kill, nor is the killer’s look all that distinctive), the film is nonetheless memorable for a multitude of other reasons. Never dismiss a film that climaxes with two dudes throwing down with machetes and chainsaws is what I’m saying.

House of the Long Shadows (1983)

Pete Walker directs a veritable horror all-star team featuring John Carradine, Peter Cushing, Sheila Keith, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price in what amounts to one of the most impressive grouping of talents ever witnessed in the genre. Gathered under the old dark house banner, this quintet of luminaries play various members or associates of the Grisbane family, a disgraced clan that scattered about the country after a hush-hush scandal thirty years earlier. Now, their family reunion intersects with horror novelist Kenneth Magee’s (Desi Arnaz, Jr.) attempt to shack up in their old, creaky mansion and churn out a book within 24-hours at the behest of his publisher’s dare.

It’s easy to see the appeal here, and it follows that House of the Long Shadows is a film that’s impossible not to appreciate on some level. While it’s perhaps less lurid than most of Walker’s 70s offerings, that feels apt since it looks to recapture the vintage thrills of the 60s. Most importantly, it retains the playfulness of the Old Dark House genre, which often found humor in repressed family trauma. Here, Walker’s incredible cast proves to be sneaky and evasive in their dealings with Magee, and their caginess becomes all the more menacing as their buried secrets begin to spill forth in grisly fashion. Only the pronounced splatter effects mark this as an obviously 80s effort: otherwise, it’s a fun little goof that knows exactly what its audience wants. Look no further than each icon’s dramatic entrance for evidence of its crowd-pleasing sensibilities.

The First Power (1990)

Yet another movie from this era preoccupied with executed convicts returning from the grave, The First Power adds two distinctive ingredients to the mix: Satan and Lou Diamond Phillips. The latter is Russell Logan, an LA cop with a nose for identifying and taking down serial killers; the former—who you may also know as The Dark Lord or Lucifer—grants recently dispatched psycho Patrick Channing (Jeff Kober) new life through the dark arts. Only Logan and his newfound psychic friend (Tracy Griffith) are privy to this and (understandably) have trouble convincing the rest of the police force.

Less a straight-up horror movie and more an overblown, action-oriented police procedural, The First Power nevertheless delivers a fair amount of unseemliness. Between its gore and its incestual innuendo, it feels appropriately grimy, not to mention sweaty and high-strung. Obligatory foot and car chases—and perhaps not so obligatory conversations with a nun who’s in on Channing’s secret—keep the film simmering until it boils over with a silly climax. Along the way, The First Power also features one of the most goddamn ridiculous car stunts you’ll ever see, which is exactly what you want from a movie where Lou Diamond Phillips (who rules, as always) battles a Satanic serial killer. The release date might say 1990, but these are 80s leftovers reheated well enough to be edible.

Highway to Hell (1991)

Speaking of 80s leftovers, just look at this shit. I mean, holy shit, take a gander at this complete nonsense. A total goof of a movie, Highway to Hell stars Chad Lowe and Kristy Swanson as Charley and Rachel, a couple of young lovers looking to elope, only to literally veer right off into the underworld when the unimaginatively named Hell Cop (CJ Graham!) abducts Rachel. What follows is an assortment of hijinks in Hell (which looks suspiciously like Phoenix), wherein Charley confronts its various strange denizens, including a helpful mechanic, a small child, Hitler, and, eventually, Lucifer himself.

Highway to Hell is completely inane, at times so much so that it becomes infectious. No Hell-inspired pun is left unturned, with many serving as the basis for dumb gags, such as a bit where a horde of newly-arrived hell dwellers make excuses with their good intentions before being ground up into pavement. If that sounds lovably stupid (as hell), just know that the rest of the film is similarly inspires a combination of chuckles and eye-rolls. When you’re not amused by the oddly eclectic cast (Amy, Ben, and Jerry Stiller! Lita Ford! Gilbert Gottfried!), you’re left to soak in sheer stupidity. Let’s just put it this way: Satan puts on a friendly façade but still calls himself “Beezle”—and nobody picks up on it.

But what else do you expect from a movie that operates on the same logic as a teen comedy? In that tradition, everyone’s fate comes down to a drag race with the devil, who doesn’t exactly play fair. And thank goodness for that—otherwise, I might not have learned that Kristy Swanson blowing away demons with a 12-gauge is most certainly my preferred aesthetic.
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