It was about time we did a Zombie Club at my house (Jim - hello again) so when the opportunity came up we jumped at it, knowing full well that if we didn't pace ourselves the whole evening would go a bit pear-shaped, like last time. Yes, that night was the infamous Spider Night, when we pulled in a record five - count 'em five - movies, although you can't really count the last one as nobody could remember a thing about it.
Anyway, coming up for a theme for tonight was pretty easy. I'm the only one with an NTSC video player and I had a few movies on NTSC VHS tapes that were pretty hard to get hold of, so NTSC Night was born. Admittedly it's not much of a theme, not having any interconnecting threads as such, but it was the only way we were ever going to get to roll out the famous lost classic Let's Scare Jessica To Death in the same evening as the equally famous Blood Diner, although Blood Diner is famous for entirely different reasons.
Squeezing Mindwarp into the middle was simply a Brucie bonus...
Tonight's selection is brought to you by Jim in partnership with the Bruce Campbell for President collective.
Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971)
Plot Something is after Jessica. Something very cold, very wet... and very dead.
Zomblee Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew about Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. I don’t remember reading about it, but the title of the film rang that little 'this is a film you have to see' alarm in my head. Upon arriving at Jim’s house where I saw the video box cover on the floor I had an even stronger feeling about it, not least down to my noticing that it was made in 1971. Tasty.
Jessica, her husband (Duncan) and his mate Woody move to a spooky, isolated yet nice house in the countryside following Jessica’s release from a psychiatric hospital. There they find a young woman called Emily who has been living in the abandoned house. She seems nice, Woody takes a shine to her so they decide to let her stay. When Jessica starts hearing voices (“Jessica why have you come here?”) and the local townsfolk start acting very strangely towards them, we are taken into a world of ghosts, a drowning girl called Abigail, vampires, stories of past house tragedies and Woody’s strange obsession with tractors.
Zohra Lampert who plays Jessica gives a finely tuned performance and we really feel for her (even Rawshark pointed out that “she really wants to get better”) but the problem is the house will not let her and before very long we suspect that there is more to Emily than initially meets the eye. However, the house and Emily are not their only concern and as we begin to learn more about the house and who is who exactly, the whole affair gets pretty unsettling and before you know it they’re all scaring Jessica to death.
This is no low budget horror movie. Rather, it’s a well written, competently directed, well acted and tastefully scored 1970’s Paramount vampire conspiracy movie which works on many levels. If you get a chance to see Let’s Scare Jessica to Death and the ghostly atmosphere proves to be not to your liking, then you may want to mockingly observe Woody and his unwholesomely intense love of the tractor – he’ll die before he gets off it. No, really!
This movie is rated PG-13 but don’t let that put you off - under different conditions (i.e. NOT Zombie Club) it would probably scare the shit out of me.
“I won’t go away, Jessica. I’m in your blood.”
Jim Yeah, the tractor, I'll come back to that.
Let's Scare Jessica to Death was a film I read about, bought off e-bay in an intense bidding war, received through the post, and then consequently popped it on the shelf to watch when I was in the right frame of mind. I knew it would be a) a bit slow, b) a bit spooky and c) not very gory. I also thought that, watching it on my own, I'd probably get a bit bored.
So, bringing this baby out at Zombie Club was a great idea and, funnily enough, I enjoyed this flick a lot more than I thought I would. All that stuff that Zomblee said about it being well written, well acted, etc, etc, is very true, and it also has that 70s daytime TV feel to it, which I kind of like. I guess that'd make it a 70s daytime TV horror, which doesn't make sense actually. Ah, what do I know?
I do know this - if I was taking my ex-mental patient wife on holiday (to a creepy house in the middle of nowhere, big spender), I wouldn't bring my tractor-obsessed mate with me. What was he thinking? He fails to get the sugar from Emily, then spends the rest of the movie either getting on, or getting off that fucking tractor. It's shocking - about two-thirds of the way through, after some heavy plot stuff where Woody is suspiciously absent, the guy wanders in to the scene, rubbing tractor oil off his hands going, "Hello? Where is everyone? What's going on guys?"
Well, he'd know what was going on if he wasn't so busy pissing about on that tractor.
Oh, and here's another thing not to do if your Missus is a bit bonkers - don't leave a huge big massive double bass case in the hallway, thus setting up the great big double bass double bluff...
"I really did see something..."
Rawshark Oh yeah – the double bass case! It’s huge. It’s like there’s enough room to fit a dead body in there or something…
It’s quite amazing that this film is only available on US VHS, as Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is an extremely well-crafted chiller, and while it doesn’t resort to resplendent gore, it certainly contains enough unease and spooky occurrences to send a shit load of shivers up your spine. Zohra Lampert is great as Jessica who has just been released from a psychiatric hospital (I love those 'are they or aren’t they crazy' concepts) and is spending some relaxing time in the country with her husband Duncan and his friend Woody.
Of course, it’s never that straightforward, especially after the portents in the opening few minutes (we’re introduced to Jessica grave-rubbing in a cemetery, they drive a hearse to the house etc). After meeting the quite peculiar Emily (a fantastically eerie performance by Mariclare Costello) things soon begin to get strange, with creepy villagers, white-dress-wearing girls in the woods, dead bodies that disappear, and lots of fish-eye perspective - fish-eye means crazy, you know.
Is it a ghost story? Or a vampire story? Is it a film about going crazy, or is it a documentary about tractor driving? Seemingly, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is all of these and more. This 1971 PG-13 has much more bite than it initially promises, and by the time we reach the quite stunning (and ambiguous) lake-bound ending, we’re almost as scared as the first time we saw The Exorcist. As Zomblee says, “PG my arse!”
"We must have scared you as much as you scared us!"
Warning - this clip contains spoilers.
Director John D. Hancock
Cast Zohra Lampert
Runtime 89 mins
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Plot In the future, life will be a dream. And reality a nightmare. Or something.
Rawshark How could you not be excited by the prospect of Mindwarp? Starring Bruce Campbell, Angus Scrimm (Phantasm), and featuring a plot that deals with a post-apocalyptic world and Virtual Reality, Mindwarp seemed to be a ready-made Zombie Club classic, and indeed the opening first 20 minutes is quite impressive stuff, as we’re introduced to a future that features the dream-making company Infinisynth (“Relax.. Imagine.. Enjoy.. Hook-in!”)
Judy (Marta Alicia) however, is not happy, and believes there’s more to life than lying on a bed with a cable in your neck imagining you’re an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh (or anything else you care to choose - Jim happily claimed "I'd be Magnum P.I!"). Deciding to go and search for her missing father, Judy soon finds herself in the ‘world of the users’ speaking to a Systems Operator (a man with a light bulb helmet) in a darkened room. She asks to be taken ‘offline’ and wakes in a post-apocalyptic setting surrounded by corpses on crosses, and watched by a man wrapped in furs (Zomblee – “That’s got to be Bruce Campbell – look at that rugged swagger!”).
So far so good, but then unfortunately Mindwarp soon begins to disappear up it’s own asshole. Judy and BC hook up (obviously) after he saves her from some mutants, and set out to find her father underground, meeting Claude (“Claude! Claude!”) mutant babies, parasites and an oversized Soda Stream with settings for blood along the way. Judy finally meets her father, who is by now understandably insane, and things progress towards the over-cliched ‘it was all a dream – or was it?’ muddled ending that explains nothing. A stupendous opening that just ends stupidly. My advice - watch the first 25 minutes, then switch off and let your mind warp to imagine the rest, because it is bound to be better than anything the filmmakers could dream up.
"I explored other planets, I tried making a planet. I rode on dinosaurs, and I ate at nice restaurants."
Zomblee What’s wrong with eating at nice restaurants anyway? They need to get the energy for all that planet building from somewhere you know. For inhabitants in the world of Infinisynth though, there appears to be no limit to the scope of your “online” experience, unless of course it exceeds the budget of this low-grade sci-fi hokum.
Rawshark sums the plot up well: Judy is sick of Infinisyth existence, yearns for something real, kills her mum accidentally, goes into real world, meets Bruce Campbell in fur, goes to a strange underground colony where she discovers her father who appears to be leader of a bunch of 'crawlers' who look a bit like the ridiculous heavy metal experiment, Gwar.
It’s a strange little film which I thought smelled a bit off from the outset, despite some pretty astute concepts, but Rawshark was grinning like a mud-happy crawler and on the edge of his seat with excitement during the first 25 minutes, after which it unfortunately goes underground. And you know what that means, don’t you? If you’ve ever seen A Boy and His Dog, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Basically, it gets really quite shit and the only way to get yourself through it in one piece is to hurl abuse at the screen or just laugh at the characters. We had to create our own little game to spot how often the character Claude was referred to as, well, 'Claude'. Why did they call a girl Claude anyway?
It’s always a pleasure to see our Deadite-fighting hero Bruce Campbell make an appearance, even if it is in bargain bucket claptrap like Mindwarp. It seems to be a lot easier to digest when he’s around, like a trusty guide dog leading our blind asses through precarious b-movie terrain, hoping he’s not going to let us fall into the 'Oh, it was all a dream!' cliché quicksand. Hmmm.
This is underground gibberish that should’ve stayed underground. And you know what? Even Bruce Campbell can’t make shit smell nice. Next please.
Jim What? You guys didn’t like Mindwarp? What’s not to like?
You’ve got that cool intro with all the Infinisynth mumbo-jumbo, as all the in-worlders spend their days playing in their own private universe. Don’t worry about the 9-pin adapter sockets in the back of their necks looking like Atari joystick ports, that’s just a coincidence. Then you’ve got Bruce Campbell in furs with a cross bow, who fights crawlers with that brutish, clumsy Ash style of fighting. And you also get Angus Scrimm milking a big claw hand, talking stupid underworlders into sacrificing one of their kind on a regular basis to the Infinisynth God, which involved Angus pulling an eye out then dropping them down a conveyor belt to a big old human sausage making machine. What’s rubbish about that?
Are you guys forgetting the quality of Bruce’s fur costume? I told the boys a story I read in Campbell’s autobiography, If Chins Could Kill. It told of how Bruce met his second (and current) wife on the set of Mindwarp, where she was the wardrobe girl. Bruce apparently got in there by asking her to teach him to sew, since his character, as a survivor in the wilderness, would have to learn to repair his own clothes and such like. (“You reckon that’s why he’s got such a great costume?” - Zomblee). Could be - lo and behold, there is a great scene in the middle with Bruce telling his life story while he uses a needle and thread to do a repair job on a shirt or something. (“I also like the way he’s fur-lined his crossbow” – Zomblee), proving he’s nothing if not thorough.
And when the crawlers attack the cabin (from underground – wasn’t expecting that), I think the movie gets better. Campbell ends up digging up 80s junk in a mine while Judy gets washed by Claude and the irritating Cornelia (“She gets washed a lot in this movie...”), and we all play the Claude game. Then that mutant gets his hand cut off and Cornelia slaps his bloody stump (which we wind back a couple of times.) Then Campbell escapes using the blade from a Robo-Chef and uses the classic dressing-up-as-the-bad-guys ploy to listen to Angus Scrimm’s mad rantings, before saving the day (in a full-on Technicolor gorefest) and then turning out to be just as mad as Scrimm was in the first place (look out for the mad-eye Campbell, “Judy… I love you!!??”)
It’s great stuff – I don’t know what all your slagging off is all about. A pumped-up, post-Evil Dead II Bruce on fine form is always a winner, but I suppose you’re right about the ending. Rawshark suitably summed it up as, “‘Oh - it was all a dream’ and ‘oh - it was all a dream’ again…”. Well, nobody’s perfect…
“If you don’t cover up you’ll die.”
Director Steve Barnett
Cast Bruce Campbell
Runtime 91 mins
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Blood Diner (1987)
Plot Two cannibals / health food diner owners are on a wacky quest to restore life to the five million year old goddess Shitaar.
Jim “Can you imagine fish-eye lens and steady-cam together?” said Rawshark. That would mean ‘pretty crazy’ indeed, wouldn't it? And so the third instalment of NTSC Night rolls into focus.
Blood Diner started with Raw’s fish-eye observation, and, of course, a flashback. Yes, it is twenty years ago, and Uncle Anwar (as we learn to call him later on) is on the run from the cops, “with a meat cleaver in one hand, and his genitals in the other”, according to the radio. (“You have to write that shit down, somebody, PLEASE!” – Zomblee.) Stopping off at his nephews Michael and George, he gives them both amulets of Shitaar, and tells them about raising Shitaar from the dead using the ancient ‘blood buffet’ technique before the cops gun him down.
Twenty years later, the two nephews are grown up and now grave rubbing… sorry – grave robbing Uncle Anwar’s place of rest, and consequently removing his brain and eyes, bunging them in a jar, and taking the jar back to their health food eatery. Yeah, they run a health food eatery, which is apparently top draw, although we all know it’s because of a secret ingredient… Human Flesh!
Anyway, thus starts the chronicles of the Tutman brothers (Namtut backwards – get it?) and their quest to find various female body parts to build a vessel for Shitaar to be reincarnated into, while at the same time preparing the magical ‘blood buffet’ feast. The more they kill, the more they attract the attention of the cops - namely cheesy Det. Mark Shepherd (“Will you look at his trouser!” – Zomblee) and his sidekick Sheba Jackson, until the final scene, which involves a blood buffet as promised, a band dressed as Hitler’s, and some of the worse 80s fashion mistakes the world has ever seen. As Rawshark summed up quite cleanly, “The more you watch it, the Shitaar it gets.”
Now, there’s much to rave about and rip apart in Blood Diner, but I’ll leave my zombie colleagues to go through that with you (don’t forget the topless aerobics massacre guys!) I want to tell you about the guy who runs the diner across the road – yes, the one with the full size ventriloquist dummy at the bar. When the cops start interviewing the guy – who’s bitter about the Tutman brothers’ success – the dummy keeps butting in. Our cops, without batting an eyelid, start chatting to the dummy. No really! Nobody onscreen acknowledges that it’s a ventriloquists dummy, and the scene is bizarre, as the dummy answers back, the cops threaten him and the bar owner starts shouting at both the dummy and the cops. Eventually, the cops storm off, and the bar owner and dummy carry on slagging each other off. All the while, Rawshark is giving me that look, while Zomblee, not taking his eyes of the screen, just shouts “Jim!” a lot at me, like I’ve done something wrong. Me, I knew the scene was coming, had gone through several margaritas and a couple of bottles of wine, so just comfortably cracked-up in the corner…
“That’s the best frigging veggie burger I’ve had in a son-of-a-bitch long time!”
Rawshark Yup, sure was a very bizarre scene that ventriloquism bit, especially after a bottle of wine and a couple of margaritas. Originality was the last thing I was expecting from this ‘blood’n’boobies’ bargain basement ‘b’ movie, so when a dummy started talking in a café with no one batting an eyelid at the strangeness of it all, I really thought I had begun hallucinating. In fact, that scene alone has raised my rating of this movie from 1.5 all the way up to 2 stars!
The rest of the film is not much to write home about. Sure, there’s lots of gratuitous gore and nudity (the massacre of the topless aerobics dancers by men in ‘Presidents’ masks is like a porno version of Point Break) and attempts at humour, but a lot of it falls flat, and some of the scenes push the barriers of bad taste a little too far. There’s one scene where two heavies try to get into a nightclub and promptly throw the club’s bouncer under the path of a ‘bouncing-suspension’ car. The bouncer’s head then gets squashed in a fairly gruesome gore scene, yet instead of the expected shock, everyone in the nightclub queue starts laughing at the ‘humour’ of the situation. It’s that kind of film.
If that’s your thing, then Blood Diner is an OK-ish bad taste comedy I suppose. Uncle Anwar is amusing as a brain in a jar (“Brains in jars are always good!” – Jim), there’s a naked kung-fu girl who gets killed by stalactite (we had to rewind that bit three times!), the requisite angry cop who punches people in the stomach, and a hilarious death involving a naked female, a deep fat fryer and a big head-sized ball of batter. There’s also a way over-the-top end sequence involving pantomime horses, exploding heads, dancing Hitler’s and vaginal stomachs, but I must admit, I had stopped caring a long time before that.
"When you've been around as long as I have, you develop a sixth sense for the diabolical."
Zomblee Should I hate this movie or love it? I'm going to stick to the former in this case, as even though it was a Zombie Club screening (enabling us to tolerate very bad movies with greater ease), it was still one hell of a, what I like to call, ‘headscratcher’. Just what the fuck’s going on with this movie? Well, you've got Uncle 'genitals' Anwar, who is basically a brain in a jar (complete with eyes and mouth) who comes out with a few admittedly funny lines, and his nephews (that’s why he’s called Uncle Anwar, see), who are on a mission to butcher loose women for an Egyptian banquet. On paper, that might sound good but trust me, there's only so long you can tolerate something as tiresome as this without fighting a strong urge to sabotage the remote control. In fact, this is one of those movies which demands that there should be a special button on the remote that simply says 'enough already'. Or perhaps 'What are you doing with your life?'
Blood Diner has its fair amount of gore, which no doubt explains its popularity. In fact one could probably argue that it makes the whole thing bearable. It looks like a spoof homage to Herschell Gordon Lewis' Blood Feast, as the basic plot is very similar: the gathering body parts to prepare a feast for an ancient Egyptian Goddess. While Lewis' film features massive ladies’ underpantage, Blood Diner has more than it's fair share of truly diabolical 1980s fashions. Some of it is just plain ridiculous and it’s hard to believe that people actually looked like this in the 1980s, but we know they did. Jim took particular exception to the hair styling - "That hairdo is just so fucking stupid!" and "Rewind that hair!" That could be what makes this such a horrible movie at times; the strangely unfunny 'humour' is 100% intentional 'humour' while there’s nothing intentionally funny about the clothes on show here. They just didn’t know any better in 1986.
It’s a B-movie that seems to love being a B-movie and has no aspirations above itself. This movie isn't scary though. The scariest thing about Blood Diner is that I’d quite like to see it again. Perhaps following Mindwarp, it was just too difficult to digest this Egyptian feast properly, and that on some other occasion I might just be able to give it another go.
Apparently, Blood Diner is meant to be quite akin to Motel Hell, which Jim has recently purchased online. God help us all.
The naked cheerleader scene was pretty cool though.
"Prepare the banquet. We need as many participants as possible. Now brew the sacred brew."
Director Jackie Kong
Cast Rick Burks
LaNette La France
Runtime 90 mins
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Yeah, good old Amazon marketplace and Caiman Usa are to thank for Motel Hell - cost less than a fiver. Err, I hadn't read that it was another Blood Diner in the making though, hmmm...
Apart from that, NTSC Night proved to be another winning Zombie Club. Perhaps it's a shame we started with Let's Get Woody Off That Tractor, as that one seemed to be the most well received, but not to worry. I was also stunned that the boys didn't like How To Survive The Bomb - The Bruce Campbell Way, as I really love that movie, but it came as no surprise that Shitaar and Shitaar was slagged off. I mean, with hairdos on show like the one I made Zomblee wind the tape back to check I wasn't seeing things, what did you expect?
It's also a crying shame we couldn't have got on to our potential fourth film, The Video Dead, but I guess we were all the worse for wear by then. Still, there's always another Zombie Club for that one...