Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Fright Show (1985) - Pure VHS Ecstasy

This is a very special review.  This is a review at least 20 years in the making.  This is Fright Show aka Cinemagic.  The short anthology film that forever ignited my lust for VHS horror.  I'm getting all warm and tingly just thinking about the film.  Are you ready for a turbo-shot of awesome to the brain?  Strap in, kiddies!

As I've mentioned NUMEROUS times before, there was a small Mom & Pop video store my hometown (Fitchburg, MA....if anyone cares) called Video Paradise.  It was on a small strip of stores on Main St, directly across from the train station.  Other businesses came and went.....convenience stores, a small puppet theater and even a small adult theater!  Adult as in, not a puppet theater.  It wasn't a porno theater or anything like that.  That would have been weird....yet   really friggin' cool all at the same time!  Anyway....businesses came and went but Video Paradise was always right there....all the way up through my part time job there.  The Blockbuster came to town and ruined our business.  Now that strip doesn't even exist anymore.  It's been completely removed and turned into a little grassy patch.  It really sucks ass.

When I used to roam the aisles of Video Paradise as a kid, I would always make to take a stroll through the horror section.  I never got tired of looking at all the lurid artwork and just trying to imagine what the movies were actually like.  I would gaze at the cover of David Cronenberg's remake of The Fly and stand there, absolutely horrified at the human hand and fly leg emerging from the telepod.  Holy hell!  I had seen The Fly with Vincent Price and it didn't look anything like this!  This was NUTS!  I wanted desperately to know what the rest of the human/insect hybrid looked like.  It would be quite a few years before I finally was able to find out.....and it was just as horrifying as I had imagined!

Now, among the assorted video boxes was a small blue and black slipcase cover with bright red lettering.   FRIGHT SHOW!   A journey into the bizarre world of Horror and Science Fiction lunacy!   There were four pictures on the cover as well, each one representing each of the four short films that made up the movie.  There was a Starlog Logo up top.....I had no idea what Starlog was at first.....only later after discovering Fangoria and Cinemagic magazines did I make the connections.  Cinemagic, by the way, is the alternate title of this movie.

When I was somewhere around 11 or 12 (so somewhere between '90-'91) I managed to strike a deal with my parents that I could watch horror movies (even the R rated ones) provided that they were so rated for gore and language and not due to nudity.  I felt like I had just committed the crime of the century and gotten away with it!  Full license to go nuts and watch whatever horror movies I wanted!  At the time, I thought my mother was incredibly naive.  I knew that blood and boobs went hand in hand, but did my mother?  Sometimes I still wonder if she knew what she had done at the time.  Back in the 80's they didn't list every single reason for a rating right on the box.  It simply stated.....Rated R.  It wasn't until later that you started to get the full rundown of a films content.

Anyway, with this new deal struck I was able to start renting all the horror movies that I had so lustfully leered at for much of my childhood.  Every Saturday was now an adventure into the realms of terror.  Okay....well, actually sometimes it was an adventure into terror....other times it was a lesson in the art of making 80's VHS box art that was way better than the movie itself.  I'm not going to lie and say that Fright Show was the FIRST horror movie I rented....that was actually The Fly (Oh......the anticipation of popping that bad monkey into the VCR.....that is a story for another time!).   Fright Show was among the first however.

I remember that I actually rented it on a weeknight.  During summer vacation, sometimes Mom would take us down to Video Paradise and let us each rent a movie.  I have no idea why, but I'm just about certain it was a Tuesday night.  When we got home, my sister popped in something like but not necessarily Pretty Woman in the VCR in the family room.  I headed straight to my bedroom to watch Fright Show!  Yep.  I had a VCR in my bedroom.  Had a Nintendo in there too. You know you're jealous.

Well, about 20 years later and I've finally managed to get my very own copy on VHS!  YES!  So without further adieu.....

Over 800 words in and finally getting to the review.....but you know what?  I think the preamble was worth it and if you're still with me.....well, then you rock!   HERE WE GO!

I thought long and hard about whether or not to include video clips of the films themselves.  Ultimately I decided not to.  When dealing with a movie this mythic....this legendary.....this rare.....just showing a little video clip is a great injustice to the film itself.  I have, however come to a compromise.  I have taken screenshots of each of the films.....and I will run the Host Segments that run before/between each film.  That way you get a taste for what it's like without ruining the experience!  I know....I'm a pretty rad guy.

This little ditty is a mindfuck and a half!  A young girl named Jenny visits the museum on a school trip and is terrified by the museums taxidermist, Dr. Dobermind.  To be honest, if I was in a dark room with this dude, I'd be pretty wigged out too.  He's a freak and a half.  Well, after the trip Jenny starts to see Dr. Dobermind EVERYWHERE!  Walking down the street, in cars and even working at the local ice cream shop ("We have Vanilla......")  When she gets home, things get even weirder when she starts to hallucinate that there is a severed hand in her drawer (which is lined with old Hulk comics....BLASPHEMY!) see Dobermind's severed head in her closet and then has a total freak out while looking in the mirror and seeing her face decay and rip off to a rotting skull!  The ending to the film is pretty classic and creepy and it allows you to draw your own conclusions, which I like.  I always imagine the worst.  It's a hobby.

HOLY HELL!  It's Dr. Dobermind!  Creepy bastard.....

I looked exactly like this when I first saw Dr. D!

"We have only Vanilla....."

Ack!  Get that blood off of the vintage Hulk comics!

You are definitely gonna need some ProActive for that!

This is the perfect segment to start of this anthology.  It's simple, yet it really gets in your head and you find yourself thinking about it at random points in your day.  It has a certain charm to it as well.  It kinda feels like an 80's episode of The Twilight Zone....or maybe even Night Gallery.  Either way it does a great job of setting the mood for the duration of the running time (which by the way is a scant 59 minutes!)

This short is pure parody of the Ridley Scott classic Alien (in case you couldn't work that out for yourself!).  A crew of 7 is aboard a ship called the NOSEstromo with a cargo of 800,000 pounds of cocaine bound for San Francisco.  PARTAAAY SHIP!  They waste absolutely NO time letting you know exactly how tongue in cheek this is going to be.  The front of the ship is a GIANT NOSE!  Yep.  It's THAT kinda movie.  Once inside the ship, we see the crew waking up from cryostasis....which means that they are literally crawling out of refrigerators packed with ice and frozen foods.  Once our intrepid crew members are awake and sprinkling cocaine on their oatmeal they receive a distress signal from a planet.  The computer (called MOM)  advises to investigate.  Que shuttle in the shape of a spoon coming out of the ship's nostril.

Bwaa-haaa!  The NOSEstromo!  Get it....NOSE.....

Holy Hell!  

Heh heh heh......Stoufers in Spaaaace

The short follows the original film as far as hitting the major plot points, but using insanely silly gags the whole way through, such as the (obviously robotic) Hash, who wears a half mask and googily eye glassses to fool the crew into thinking he's human.  When the chest burst scene comes up, instead of a xenomorph, a little plastic clown pops out of the dude's chest.  By the dude, I mean the astronaut that got a pie to the face from a cardboard egg.....not The Dude.  The Big Lebowski has nothing to do with this film.....though I'm sure The Dude would probably enjoy this flick after a white russian or two.  Little clown pops out of chest and then immediately morphs into a fucked up low rent 80's version of Captain Spaulding!  HOLY SHIT!

Wait....what?  He's a ROBOT????

So this little clown jack-in-the-box thingie turns into.....

Oh SHIT!  It's Captain Spaulding's homeless cousin!

Despite the blatant goofiness of the whole thing, Illegal Alien actually has some moments of extreme creepiness that left me a bit unnerved.  There's a great scene where the clown/alien/Captian Spaulding is camouflaging himself in with some pipes with a weird arm prop that has a creepy head on the end of it with glowing eyes.   That had me hit the rewind button more than once.  Another scene has the clown/alien/Captain Spaulding disguising himself as a lamp.  Funny yet wicked fucking creepy.  As a matter of fact, I will go on record as saying that Illegal Alien is second only to Killer Klowns From Outer Space when it comes to creepy space clowns.

This one was cool....but as in all anthologies, there are some segments that you like and some that are just.....okay.  This is the one that is just "okay" to me.  The story involves a young boy who's part of a horror club (which menas that a bunch of kids sit up in a tree house and tell scary stories).  Well, wouldn't ya know it, Jr. gets called home and ruins the fun for everyone.  The kid is also terrified of monsters and these stories.  I could draw some parallels between this segment and The Monster Squad.  I mean we've got The Horror Club vs The Monster Club (changed mid-film to Monster Squad).  We've got a kid who is afraid of monsters (the protagonist in this film and Eugene in MS).  It might be stretching a bit, but it's just something that I noticed.

I wish the movie in the movie was a real movie.....just sayin'

Can't'll eat me......

The Monster Squa-  er....Horror Club!

Well, once bedtime rolls around, Jr. (his name isn't Jr.....I just can't remember for the life of me what his name is and to be honest I'm too lazy to look it up!) anyway....Jr's lying in bed and every little sound creeps him out.  Well, naturally he discovers that there is indeed a monster in his room. He tries to tell his Dad, but he gets scolded and told that he's not allowed to go to his horror club anymore.  So, Jr goes and gets his bigger bro Barry, who arms himself with a slingshot and some marbles and investigates.  I don't mind spoiling the fact that Barry gets eaten.  You knew he was gonna get it.  He's the smart ass big brother.

"Mom!  Dad!  The Monster ate Barry!"

The Monster!

The body count rises as Jr. looks on in horror.  The end is a bit contrived and predictable, but it's still a decent flick.  The last last shot is a nice touch as well.  If you liked movies like Darkness Falls and The Boogeyman, then you'll dig this mid-80's version of that type of story.

This is my absolute favorite segment and worth the price of the tape all together.  I absolutely love everything about this one.  The cornball and downright cheesy dialog, the cheap but creative special effects....they all come together to create something incredibly special.  It has a certain feel.....a certain charm.....a ne sais qoi.

It's dusk at 10:18pm on Sept 26?  This IS Sci-fi!

Our lovable beer swilling heros

This segment starts with some friends sitting around, playing poker and arguing.  A meteor crashes through the house and lands in the basement, unleashing an alien into their home.  Now this isn't some lower alien life form.  This isn't just some wild alien animal that is killing just because it doesn't know what else to do (or because we're tasty).  This is a tall green bald dude, with a fucked up face and a kickin' 80's-tastic space suit (that leaves his nipples exposed....I dunno why that cracked me up so much....but it did!).

I'm no expert, but that looks like a meteor!

"Take me to your lea-  OW You stabbed me!"

The four lads try to figure out what to do with the invader and two of them decide that the best way to deal with this is violently.  This is also where one of my favorite lines comes in.  When two of the guys want to call the National Guard, the other want to respond with homegrown violence.  The argument goes something like this:

Guy 1:  What if it's dangerious?
Guy 2:  That's what I've got THIS for (Holds up a puny looking knife)
Guy 1:  What are you going to do?  Stab a meteor?
Guy 2:  (Looking Guy 1 up and down and then looking at his knife)  BUTT OUT!

BWAAA-HUAAAAAA-HAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!   Oh man.....that never gets old!   It may not sound very funny in print, but trust me, it's friggin HILARIOUS!

Anywhoo.....the try to use violence to take care of their space invader problem....which does not turn out well for Mr. I've-Got-THIS!  He throws the knife and stabs the alien in the chest.  The alien returns fire with an energy plasma ball thing that it shoots out of it's hand.  Sweet!

Awww yeah!  Plasma death rays for everyone!

 Who keeps a tommygun on their wall?  Loaded at that!

What follows is a battle royal between these incompetent beer chuggers and the intruder from beyond the stars.  I just can't tell you enough how much I love this segment.  I love every little thing from the wood paneling on the walls to the fact that this guy keeps a friggin TOMMY GUN on his wall.....LOADED!  Seriously?  Who does that?  THIS GUY DOES!  The Thing in the Basement is the epitome of 80's sci-fi cheese and I am making it required viewing for anyone who wishes to consider themselves a true Midnight Cinephile!

Alright boys.....take us home!