Sean Weathers and Aswad Issa are the guys behind a small independent filmmaking exercise that goes by the name of Full Circle Filmworks. MVD Visual have been kind enough to showcase some of their efforts in this unusual compendium, which promises to offer "4 nihilistic tales of dread and horror"...

Things begin with Weathers´┐Ż MANIAC TOO!

The exclamation mark and the potential play on words (a substitute for "TWO"?) may hint at this being a comedy. But, no. It isn't.

Rather, it's a surprisingly solemn slice of modern horror in which a black man, dressed entirely in black, traverses the unfeasibly quiet backstreets of New York by night raping lone women. Eventually he retires to his home - even there, he has a naked woman bound, gagged and waiting for him.

That's it. There's no back-story to the rapist character (or any of his victims), no trajectory, no heroine. There's scarcely any dialogue, and definitely no plot.

What's the point to it then? You may well ask. It's nicely lit and decently shot by director Sean Weathers, but other than that the main draw for some is sure to be the fact that this offers full-frontal female nudity (all of the victims bar one are white and have shaven havens - what are the odds?) and decidedly uncomfortable, non-erotic faux rape scenes.

I didn't really get it, but I sat through the 41 minute running time without qualm regardless.

Next up is Abel Ferrara's THE DRILLER KILLER (directed under the pseudonym Jimmy Laine). One of the original, most iconic titles on the UK video nasty list during the 1980s (primarily due to Vipco's eye-grabbing cover artwork), it's a lo-fi slice of late-70s sleaze that stars Ferrara himself as struggling New York artist Reno.

Kept from getting any sleep in his shithole apartment by the punk band who rehearse on the next floor, Reno is driven to further distraction by his failure to produce a painting capable of satisfying his agent. Struggling to make ends meet while the bills keep coming in and growing increasingly distracted by the transients he witnesses slumming it outside his abode, the last thing Reno needs is woman trouble to compound his situation.

But that's precisely what happens and, before too long, Reno has taken to venting his frustrations out on the hobos outside with his trusty electric drill.

Despite its occasional use of atmospheric electronic music and the odd moment of gore (though the film is nowhere near as its title or press photos ever suggested), THE DRILLER KILLER is never really a horror film. Rather, it's part character study, and part snapshot of New York's underbelly in the late 1970s.

As a character piece, Reno is a convincingly angry young man with hang-ups that range from Catholic guilt to not wanting to end up homeless like his father did. Though his reactions to his environment are not always credible, Ferrara's performance does at least invite us to get beneath the skin of this troubled character and feel some sympathy for him even as he's going off the rails.

As a snapshot, it's an authentically grimy 'street level' film which rivals BASKET CASE and MANIAC in its casual depiction of the Big Apple at its ugliest.

Watching it now, THE DRILLER KILLER owes more to Paul Morrissey's films such as BAD and TRASH, than the gore extravaganzas its most commonly associated with. It's actually a well-made, no-budget film that benefits from a host of quirky characters and genuinely scuzzy ambience. It's commentary on urban alienation, desensitization to everyday violence and modern society's uncaring nature is perhaps a little broad at times, but keeps the film more interesting nevertheless.

It's intriguing to measure THE DRILLER KILLER against later Ferrara efforts such as BAD LIEUTENANT and MS 45: the director never really wandered far from the anti-style he patented here.

Our third film is George A Romero's seminal 1968 zombie epic, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

A remote farmhouse becomes a tomb in which a group of bewildered survivors are trapped in overnight when the recently deceased suddenly, and inexplicably, start attacking the living.

John Russo's screenplay pilfers from THE LAST MAN ON EARTH but also establishes what would go on to become undead motifs: you must destroy the brain to stop a zombie; the living dead are driven by the hunger to feed upon the flesh of the living, etc. But it's the young Romero's assured, flab-free direction that elevates this one into something truly special.

The performances and script may feel a tad like an amateur production of a "Twilight Zone" episode at times", but the horror set-pieces are filmed with such gusto and unprecedented detail that they still pack a hefty punch to this day.

And the downbeat ending is great, not just because it offers an early commentary on America's shameful involvement in the Vietnam conflict, but also because there is a ballsy unspoken racial connotation connected to the final moments which were way ahead of its time.

Finally we get Aswad Issa's short film A GOOD SAMARITAN IN NEW YORK.

This 4-minute offering is shot in black-and-white and employs an oval framing device to imply we are the passive spectator as an impartial passenger (Weathers) on a train attempts to reason with a mugger bothering someone else, with dire consequences. Brisk and to-the-point, this purports to be based on a true incident (I don't doubt that) and is sufficiently shocking, albeit in a rather crudely executed manner.

Each film is treated to a 16x9 presentation.

MANIAC looks okay but has some unwelcome video noise in its darker scenes. The colours aren't too strong on this one either. There's an overall 'good VHS' quality to it. If that sounds horrendous, it does at least suit the rather squalid nature of its content.

THE DRILLER KILLER appears to be correctly framed, and looks quite clean for the most part. Unfortunately the picture is soft, and very blocky in darker scenes. The noise really is distracting. The film is also a couple of minutes shy of its full running time: all the gore appears to be intact, so I can only assume this print is lacking some dialogue (I've seen the film several times over the decades, but still couldn't tell you what's missing - apart from the final moments of the film!!! Where have THEY gone?!).

NIGHT looks like it's been stretched a little, which isn't surprising seeing as though the film was shot in 1.33:1 and the opening titles sequence here doesn't show obvious signs of cropping.

The picture quality on this one is soft and wavy, with occasional print damage. It's not unwatchable - blacks and contrast are unexpectedly solid - but blocking does once again occur on occasion. If you own even one other version of this film then I'm betting that, whichever it is, you'll refer to that before you go hunting this disc down whenever you want to revisit NIGHT. Still, the film is at least uncut.

SAMARITAN is also in monochrome and looks decent if not as sharp as you'd expect from such a recent production. Still, its presentation is clean enough and detail is improved here.

All films benefit from credible, clear 2.0 English audio playback.

The disc opens to an animated main menu page which allows you access to each of the four films. There are no scene-selection options.

If you want extras, they come in the form of commentary-style intros/outros to THE DRILLER KILLER and NIGHT. These were recorded by Weathers and, speaking from the other end of a telephone line, Issa. They speak for a couple of minutes before each film, and then over the closing titles. In honesty, what's offered here is more opinion than trivia: you won't be learning anything new about either film by listening to these tracks...

VAULT OF TERROR is a bizarre proposition indeed. You get two short films from a pair of aspiring filmmakers, both of whom show promise, and two old public domain titles which have been carted out in this instance with pretty shoddy presentations.

An odd disc, then, from MVD. It's region-free, if that helps.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Full Circle Filmworks
Region all
Not Rated
Extras : see main review