Tuesday 11 December 2018

The Best of 80s Scream Queens (David DeCoteau, 1987-1989) Blu-Ray Review

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“Hell Just Got a Lot Hotter!” Three low budget genre movies on two discs: Nightmare Sisters, Murder Weapon, and Deadly Embrace; with three legendary scream queens popping up (and popping out) across them all: Brinke Stevens, Linnea Quigley, and Michelle Bauer. Fans of 1980s VHS flicks, roll on up for 247 minutes worth of low budget run-and-gun exploitation as sorority nerds are possessed by a succubus, two psychotic mob daughters throw a house party, and a desperate housewife entertains the pool boy...

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“You mean I'm holding a dead Medium's ball?!” Super nerds Melody (Linnea Quigley, Return of the Living Dead), Marci (Brinke Stevens, Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity), and Mickey (Michelle Bauer, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers) are all alone for the weekend as their cooler 'Tri-Eeta-Pi' sorority sisters are off partying it up off-campus in 1987's Nightmare Sisters. Far be it from these goofy nerd gals to spend their weekend moping around, though, so they invite three equally nerdy frat guys over for a fun time. However, when dull conversation and an awkward round of Twister prove a damp squib, mousy antiques aficionado Marci suggests they put her new crystal ball to good use – by holding a séance. What could possibly go wrong?

“How do you know you can trust him? Who'd ever believe a talking head?” Accidentally opening the gates to another dimension – and greeted by the decapitated head of mystic Omar (Dukey Flyswatter, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-rama) – the girls are possessed by an evil spirit which transforms them into sex-crazed babes with a penchant for putting their razor-teeth to squeamish use. Will their goggle-eyed frat guy pals be able to resist their devilish charms?

“What are their names?” / “Who cares? They're guys!” Goofy from the get-go, Nightmare Sisters affords its three leading ladies endless opportunities to have an awful lot of fun. Linnea Quigley's Melody goes from a buck-toothed, tone-deaf dope to a rock 'n' rolling vixen (dig that 'Santa Monica Blvd. Boy' performance) while Michelle Bauer's Mickey transforms from hopeless chocoholic to a revved-up, raunchy hellion. Brinke Stevens, though, steals the show as she tears through the movie: from an awkward, loveless nerd to a possessed seductress with multiple personalities (the 'innocent girl' shtick gives way to a whip-cracking dominatrix). Indeed, despite the film's slow start (39 minutes pass before the crystal ball mishap), it's just a joy to watch Quigley, Bauer, and Stevens have an absolute ball as they're tasked with commanding the screen for several long, dialogue-filled single takes early on – and they nail it every time.

“Have you done any acting before? Because I wanna give you a bit part.” From the first seconds of the movie – 'David DeCoteau presents a David DeCoteau Production of a David DeCoteau Film' – the tone is firmly established, while the easily offended need-not-apply (see Omar's OTT accent). As soon as we are taken away from the three ladies to be introduced to Kevin, Freddy, and Duane, there's the continual sound of one character's snoring throughout the scene – never mind them, the film seems to be acknowledging, let's get back to the female inversion of Revenge of the Nerds!

“Come on, we can do it in the backyard.” Written in seven days (by Kenneth J. Hall, Dr.Alien) and shot in four days on a budget of $40,000, Nightmare Sisters is gleefully silly romp and a prime example of efficient low budget filmmaking. Utilising just one or two locations and minimal set-ups (the first 8 minutes of the movie is comprised of only three different shots), David DeCoteau (Creepozoids) injects some nice visual flourishes despite the rushed production; even the goofy effects are deployed with a smile.

“You Tarzan, me Jane. Let's get primitive!” Naturally, there's much bared-flesh committed to the screen, but the film has fun with its sexual politics. While there is an exceedingly long three-way bubble bath scene for everyone to enjoy, the trio of broseph frat boys all get scuppered by their bullying attitudes and unchecked libidos. The nerdy boys, meanwhile, understand the situation at hand and use a combination of brains and self-control (and an exorcist) to rescue the gals from the clutches of a succubus spirit. DeCoteau & Co aren't making high art here – we know it, they know it – this is all about uninhibited fun, a joyfully zany way to spend 82 minutes.

“I never gave it much thought. People die every day. I'm a realist.” After the low budget fun and silliness of Nightmare Sisters, 1989's Murder Weapon – directed by 'Ellen Cabot' (a pseudonym for David DeCoteau) – is disappointing fare. The write-up on the back of the box tries to pimp it something fierce, curiously name-dropping Wes Craven's Scream for some tortured sense of thematic association (not even Sisyphus pushed this hard!), but quite truthfully this one's a bit of a slog.

“I dig danger!” Dawn (Linnea Quigley) and Amy (Karen Russell) are two 'mafia princesses', daughters of infamous hit men, who – once you unscramble the opaque storytelling – are celebrating their release from a mental asylum by holding a house party. They invite a series of guys (many of them ex-boyfriends) to join the 'fun' and gradually pork 'n' slay their way through 'em … or do they? Or just the one of them? Who can really tell? If you want Quigley and Russell in bikinis, you've certainly come to the right place, but beyond some T&A and a few juicy (and brief) moments of 1980s gore effects (e.g. the awesome sledgehammer-meets-head moment) there's little to really chew on.

“Who writes this junk?” Despite that self-aware line there's little excuse for this movie to be this dull and plodding – especially after Nightmare Sisters was so much damn fun! One dearly hopes Murder Weapon was badly written on purpose, because anyone getting paid to write like this accidentally would be too galling! The baffling structure of the script, where scenes of exposition are depicted in the narcoleptic character's frequent dream sequences, leaves the viewer unsure as to what the hell is happening half the time – let alone why it's happening. Indeed, good luck discerning possibly pertinent plot points from much of the dialogue, which is frequently drowned out by the music track or – in scenes located beside the pool – what sounds like an angry white water river running roughshod through the production.

“That's the equaliser – sex!” All-in-all that sounds pretty damning, and it's true that this flick is only recommended for hardened viewers of so-called 'trash' movies, but genre fiends can find a few crumbs of enjoyment scattered throughout. Damon Charles of the infamous Silent Night Deadly Night 2 (yes, Mister “Garbage Day!” himself) plays Jeff, while one of the many F/X artists who worked on the movie was none other than Dead Next Door's J.R. Bookwalter. Finally, if you search hard enough, there is some 'so bad it's good' enjoyment to be found – such as Kevin and Jeff's plan of presumptive action. They, much like the audience, have no idea what's going on and act accordingly with a succession of near-hysterical, paranoid decisions during the movie's final gasps.

“When adultery turns to obsession, the climax may be murder.” If Murder Weapon was a bit of a narrative mess, Deadly Embrace (also 1989, also directed by David DeCoteau under the 'Ellen Cabot' pseudonym) dispenses with any snifter of propulsion to drive its story, a narrative which is thinner than rice paper. College kid Chris (Ken Abraham, Creepozoids) gets a job as a 'house man' for Stewart Moreland (Jan Michael Vincent, Airwolf) – a sleazy property developer who's shtupping his secretary – and ends up being seduced by Moreland's lonely wife Charlotte (Mindi Miller). Stewart wants a divorce but doesn't want to hand over half of his assets, so he hatches an idea to catch his wife cheating … you'd think that might turn into a plot line, but it literally goes nowhere.

“Bad? I got two corpses stretched out in the morgue!” Indeed, the majority of the running time is dedicated to numerous redundant scenes. From the endless series of phone calls and answer machine messages (ah, movies before cell phones!) to stylishly shot but almost pointless scenes of the hands (but not the faces) of 'Chris' and some random detective as they pick over the events that have landed the college kid in trouble with the law (even the climactic twist is played out on nothing more than hands miming over a desk and cigarette smoke!)

“I'm all talk, darling.” Shot in five days (with Jan Michael Vincent only there for two), the limitations of the script and the production schedule are branded all over the movie. There's a distinct lack of chemistry between much of the cast – Stewart's first meeting with his lawyer was clearly shot with both sides of the conversation recorded independently of one another, while supposed sweethearts Chris and Michelle (Linnea Quigley) aren't seen on-screen together until the 50 minute mark. Jan Michael Vincent, cast the day before shooting began, in-turns looks confused and embarrassed by his appearance in the movie, while quite conversely Mindi Miller is totally game as the desperate housewife but is let down (as is everyone else in the cast) by the bizarre lack of any real storytelling.

“Judging from the expression on your face you found quite a masseur.” Then, once you're 68 minutes deep into an 84 minute movie and wondering 'Where on earth is the 'deadly' part promised by the movie title?', a rushed and sloppy escalation tumbles onto the screen. So, the 'deadly' part is pretty darn minimal, but the 'embrace' part is trotted out at regular intervals with Charlotte, Chris, and Michelle copping off with each other like Viagra-fuelled rabbits (Michelle Bauer even features in a cameo role as 'The Female Spirit of Sex', a barometer for Charlotte's burgeoning desires). In a way Deadly Embrace is a little piece of history, because in the days before the World Wide Web these are the desperate lengths many people used to go to in order to rub one out. Practically directionless, this bargain bin erotic thriller suffers from taking itself far too seriously while offering bugger all thrills, but at least there's plenty of skin slung about the place.

“I don't want to explain it, I just want to enjoy it.” So, in essence, The Best of 80s Scream Queens box set is a case of one hit and two misses. It's a shame, too, that 88 Films haven't supplied any special features on this two-disc release – nothing, zip, nada – but, if you can track it down, the documentary Screaming In High Heels: The Rise & Fall of the Scream Queen Era is well worth checking out as an accompanying feature. Linnea Quigley, Michelle Bauer, and Brinke Stevens – along with various other heroes of the VHS heyday such as Fred Olen Ray and David DeCoteau – all appear to shed some light on the heady days of the 1980s 'movies for the VHS market' scene. Despite the conspicuous lack of extras, this two-disc three-movie set at least features solid 2K restorations from the original widescreen 35mm/16mm negatives.

N.B. Screenshots are taken from a trailer for the box set as I do not have a BD-ROM drive from which to capture images directly.

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