... in which 88 Films celebrate the legacies of three of the most renowned scream queens of the 1980s: Linnea Quigley, Michelle Bauer and Brinke Stevens.
Over the course of two blu-ray discs, we're treated to three films from the back-end of that decade, all of which are directed by David DeCoteau. The first, housed on disc one, is 1988's NIGHTMARE SISTERS. It stars all three of these lovely ladies.
Although when the film begins they're portrayed as college nerds who can't get dates. Melody (Quigley) is a goofy would-be pianist with straw-like hair. Mickey (Bauer) is known for her "thunder thighs" and likes nothing better than binge-eating. Marci (Stevens) is a bespectacled bookworm with a penchant for filling their sorority house with crap from the local flea-market.
Marci's latest acquisitions include a crystal ball. We've already seen in a pre-credits prologue that the crystal ball acts as a portal for a demon that uses female subjects to wreak havoc on this plateau.
Oblivious to evil that's just entered their home, the girls busy themselves moaning about being dateless. But Melody has a plan - there's a trio of nerds in a similar situation, in a frat house not too far away, and she has a potential date arranged with one of them, Kevin (Richard Gabai). So, the girls ring the boys and invite them over for an evening of fun. Did I say fun? This involves Marci showing stills from her family photo album, Mickey eating profusely and Melody shattering the air with her graceless singing.
The mood changes when Marci suggests they all retire to the kitchen and use her new crystal ball to host a seance. Inevitably this culminates in lots of smoke and occultish shenanigans, ultimately transforming our three heroines into sexy temptresses. They strip down to their undies and treat the bewildered boys to a bit of sexy cake-eating play. Then it's time to get cleaned up: the girls share a bath together while Kevin and his pals ponder over whether their hostesses have been possessed by demons - and determine that they should perhaps spy on them while they lather each other in soap. You know, just to make sure they're okay.
The frolics continue, until the party is infiltrated by three jock bullies from Kevin's frat house - the sneering Phil (Timothy Kauffman) and his two homophobic buddies. This is the point where the demon possessing the girls reveals its true nature, and things turn nasty ...
This low-budget slice of madness is the handiwork of Roger Corman alumni DeCoteau, who according to IMDb has 145 directorial credits to his name (including SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-O-RAMA, PUPPET MASTER 3: TOULON'S REVENGE and SWAMP FREAK).
It's a veritable fest of endearingly camp performances, risible dialogue - really terrible puns and innuendos throughout - and excuses for our leading ladies to cavort naked. All of which is good fun if you're a forgiving kind of viewer (fortunately I am).
It's a little slow in pacing, given that the first 40 minutes of this 82-minute prospect are devoted to setting the scene. But once the seance takes place, things escalate dramatically and DeCoteau throws the exploitation ingredients at the screen with wild abandon: tits, cheap make-up FX, lousy punk rock ("Yumpin' yimminy, suck on my chimney") and an energy level so high that only the most heartless of viewers could be turned off.
The film benefits from a remarkably clean print for this new HD transfer, presenting the uncut film as an MPEG4-AVC file in 1080p HD. The original 1.85:1 ratio is given the 16x9 treatment and looks very healthy indeed, boasting natural grain, authentic colours, vivid detail and deep blacks.
The 2.0 English audio is clean and clear, albeit a little fluctuating (due to how it was recorded, I'd wager). Still, it's perfectly audible. Optional English subtitles are on hand for the hard-of-hearing.
Over on disc two, the fun begins with 1989's MURDER WEAPON, which DeCoteau lensed under the pseudonym Ellen Cabot.
This one has an even cheaper look to it, akin to a TV movie of the era (it was shot on 16mm then blown up to 35mm).
It opens with a bout of lovemaking between Amy (Karen Russell) and her rather smug-looking boyfriend. Amy's housemate Dawn (Quigley) witnesses their fuck-fest through the bedroom window and decides to accost the boyfriend moments later in the shower. He's happy to indulge her naked advances, and a session of heavy petting ensues. But Dawn has a blade concealed behind her back, and it's soon put to bloody use.
The next time we catch up with Dawn, she's housed in an asylum and undertaking a psychiatric appraisal with a doctor. From this session, we learn that Dawn's dad was a mobster and he died in a house fire which she may or may not have been responsible for - and the guilt still haunts her, despite their uncomfortable relationship. Apparently Amy is also incarcerated, and she gets interviewed by another doctor (Lyle Waggoner) - we learn that she's had a similar upbringing. The two girls have a bet on who will get released first.
It turns out that they get released simultaneously. Suddenly they're back in their plush abode, relaxing beside the swimming pool in their grandiose back garden. Their conversation soon turns to men, and they hatch a plan to invite their ex-boyfriends to a slumber party as a form of celebration. That's when the masked killer appears ...
Basically another excuse for lots of skin and bloody splashes here and there, MURDER WEAPON nevertheless impresses with a carefully measured pace and some unexpectedly astute dialogue when it comes to tackling psychological issues such as influence, nurturing and motivation.
But before we get carried away and hail MURDER WEAPON as a classic of feminist psychological analysis, it pays to say this is an exploitation flick through and through. As mentioned above, the boobs and blood are prevalent throughout. It's all very cheaply presented - even the funky score emulates Golden Era porn, which this often has a vibe of - and once the boyfriends are invited over, we're clearly in schlock territory.
Interestingly though, despite moments of humour, this is a lot more serious in tone than NIGHTMARE SISTERS. DeCoteau appears to have a statement to make, regardless of the fact that he undermines it royally by resorting to so many tropes in the last hour.
Quigley is very good in this though, she nails a character more complex than those she's best known for.
The film is presented uncut in anamorphic 1.78:1 and looks good for its lineage. Colours, blacks and texture are all spot on, despite an inherent softness. Likewise, the English mono track is a decent proposition. Again, optional English subtitles are well-written and easy to read at all times.
DEADLY EMBRACE, also from 1989, stars Jan-Michael Vincent. If you have an absurd fascination with car-crash cinema, like me, you know you have to see this.
This tells the tale of wealthy businessman Stewart (Vincent), who hires handyman Chris (Ken Abraham) to help around his home while he's not around. Alas, Stewart's wife Charlotte (Mindi Miller) is feeling neglected and swiftly turns her attentions on to the muscular Chris. Stewart's busy cheating with a blonde secretary from the office, and Chris's girlfriend Michelle (Quigley again) is a little too dumb to realise what's going on, but once they all come together for a weekend at Stewart's luxury home the scene is set for murder and intrigue.
This definitely plays like a TV movie, albeit an agreeably trashy one. There's less bloodletting but still a healthy dose of flesh on display (including a cameo appearance from Bauer during an admittedly stylish fantasy sequence).
Directed in a pedestrian style for the most part, this does however hold the attention over the course of 84 minutes. Again, it's more serious in tone than NIGHTMARE SISTERS, but still achieves moments of low-key humour and weird erotica. It's the lesser film of the three, but I enjoyed it in a throwaway fashion.
Again, it's presented as an anamorphic 1.78.1 transfer in full 1080p HD and looks sharper than WEAPON. The English 2.0 audio is clearer too, but we also have the benefit of those clear and well-written optional subtitles to guide us through.
As with disc one, there are no scene selection menus or extras on disc two.
There are no scene selection menus or extras, although we do get a rather delicious slipcase proffering lovely artwork from Graham Humphreys.
Trashy fun from beginning to end, the films on offer here are arguably terrible. But also arguably terribly enjoyable, as a relic of their era and as a testament to the undeniable charming star power of their leading ladies. The transfers are nice, and to have them collated into one nicely priced package is superb.
You want boobs and cheap humour? You want Linnea Quigley getting naked (you know you do)? It's all here.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by 88 Films|