Tuesday, June 23, 2009

[Anatomy of a bad DVD] Virgin Terror

Poster Tag: Sweet sixteen ... they'll lose more than just their lives.

DVD Cover Blurb: Terror runs wild at the girls academy!

Theatrical/Video Run Time: U.S. 85 minutes; Italy 92 minutes

DVD Run Time: 81 minutes (movie)

Year: 1978

Country: Italy/ West Germany

Cast: Fabio Testi, Christine Kaufmann, Ivan Desny, Jack Taylor, Fausta Avelli, Bruno Alessandro, Caroline Ohrner, Silvia Aguilar, Taida Urruzola, Helga Liné, et al.

Director: Alberto Negrin.

AKA: Enigma Rosso/ Enigma Rojo/ Orgie des Todes/ Das Phantom im Mädchenpensionat/ Tráfico de menores/ Yön terrori/ Red Rings of Fear/ Rings of Fear/ Trauma/ Virgin Killer

With special thanks to everyone at the Latarnia Forums for their input.

Virgin Terror is a giallo, this being the name given to Italian pulp crime/mystery stories published between the 1930s and 1960s, but which has become a movie genre unto itself. Giallos are hard boiled crime movies that do not shy away from depictions of gratuitous sex or violence, all while throwing red herrings at the audience to keep them guessing. This genre is considered by some to be the apex of exploitation filmmaking with its voyeur raincoat wearing killers who stalk young women (often spying on them in the altogether) and bizarre plot twists that force the protagonists to think outside the box in their desperate efforts to solve surreal, often hideous, sex crimes perpetrated against nubile young women.

I was recently out looking for bargains, as you do, and having discovered that a Goodwill store stocks new items, including DVDs, I decided to stop by. Long story short they stock the type of DVDs that you find at flea markets; only they sell them cheaper. These are DVDs purchased in bulk wholesale lots so you never really know what you might find. It's like a treasure hunt. Usually I don't find anything so imagine my surprise when I found a DVD called "Virgin Terror" whose jacket blurb said.

"A detective investigating the murder of a teenage girl begins to focus his suspicions on the three girlfriends of the victim, who call themselves "The Inseperables""

Not very informative but it sounded interesting. I was reticent as I noticed this was a Passion Productions/Miracle Pictures (scan down) release but, it was Goodwill and only about 2 bucks, so I figured since it was for charity why not?


According to the IMDB this is an Italian/ West German co-production from 1978 originally titled Enigma rosso. The movie begins interestingly enough with the scene of a body being dumped into (what looked to me) like the sea, a body that's soon after discovered washed up on a river bank. Apparently this was the body of a 16 year old girl from an exclusive boarding school. Her young body had been mutilated and sexually violated. But who could have done such a thing and, more importantly, why?

Thus the stage is set for a good old fashioned murder mystery. From what I've watched the movie itself seems to be a fairly decent crime story. Sadly there's one problem. The video. It. .

Alexander the Great's Ghost the Video! It's Frigging Awful!

This has obviously been sourced from a dub of a dub that's been edited on consumer grade VHS decks. There's a bit of speckling (not quite snow), the kind you get when you are recording through cheap coax cables accompanied by intrusive blips that appear as white or black streaks in addition to random white specks. Overall a very poor quality video.

As if that's not bad enough the picture is too dark during the night/ indoor scenes, extremely washed out and hazy during the day scenes, and it's a hack job where even the best edits are readily apparent. .

And the worst edits are pulsating eyesores. .

The segment from which I excised the above, when viewed frame by frame, appears to have been a segment the video hacker was trying to edit out scenes of brutality/nudity while attempting to recycle footage to at least pad the segment out. Certain sections even have a moire pattern! All of which is proof positive this is the end product of a terrible hack job.

So what has been edited out? Having read reviews for the movie the edits cut out some very significant elements of the plot that appear in flashback as pertains to some sort of an orgy. What's left is not just a incoherent mess it's amateurish editing of the lowest caliber.

However it does appear the dub job might have been done using a signal booster as the picture is otherwise relatively stable. Not that it matters much as there's ample compression artifacting in evidence. For instance the video suffers from a double shot of blockiness. First, the block artifacting from being an analog tape source. Second, the block artifacting that's somewhat similar to what you get on a VCD. In other words this is a video that's made the rounds in it's journey to DVD.

How far has it come? Well there's a company logo- "Lettuce Entertain You"- which I initially thought said Lettuce Entertainment, that's how bad the video is, which I have been informed was a Canadian outfit that put out ultra cheap VHS. We're talking video quality that's scraping the bottom of the barrel.

However I'd say this video started life as a recording off either foreign broadcast TV or cable, probably recordr speakers with this kind of shite product.

Also noticeable, as already mentioned, are the edits. I can not stress how badly they were done. The first occurs during the intro. It's hard to say for sure what's going on here but it seems like an attempt to either cut in a new title or cut out something. It's very easy to detect because it's 1) a jump cut, and; 2) the music abruptly changes. As the music is instrumental through out I am guessing whoever did the editing was either tone deaf or just didn't care. But between the visual and audio distortions that occur during edits this is an appalling mess.

Oh, and my favorite, according to VLC media player this DVD runs 2 hours 17 minutes and 6 seconds. How is that possible?

Well, as I said, this is a dub of a dub. The credits roll and fade to black at roughly the 1 hour 21 minute 10 second mark, making for a total actual run time of 81 minutes. And those missing minutes are not because this was sourced from a PAL conversion.

How do we know this? Aside from the numerous snips made here and there the most telling is when the girls at the elite girls boarding school are running into the showers. I am assuming you see them remove their clothes as I found **warning link may be NSFW** this review **warning link may be NSFW** with a screen cap of part of the missing scenery. Sadly the itchy finger of the demented editor leaves us with a series of jump cuts apparently designed to remove as much nudity as possible. Which is baffling because they couldn't get it all since one of the characters has to stumble over to another stall and there is flashes of nudity later in the movie, and really isn't nudity what make most gialli cult favorites?

The point being this is a very obvious and poorly done hack job. There's significant visual and audio distortion, the latter very noticable due to music suddenly skipping stanzas et al. This video is a terrible mangling of what makes a giallo, or any movie for that matter, worth watching as the edits utterly ruin the flow of the movie. Worse, the sound is so bad you can't really hear anything half the time. Thus I would not recommend this DVD to any save the curious. Consider yourself duely warned.

And what's on the rest of the DVD? Believe it or not GREEN SCREEN. Which lasts for a short bit then turns into a test pattern with a gray streak running through the middle of the screen, which goes on for several minutes before the screen goes black. In other words it looks like someone put a VHS tape in a player hooked up to a DVD recorder, hit play, started recording, then left. However the fact that whoever did the DVD authoring didn't even put any effort into editing the video, opting instead to just rip the DVDr and burn it as is, is mind-boggling. That anyone could release such shoddy product if un-effing believable, yet here it is!

Caveat emptor indeed.

# End of Line

Copyright © C. Demetrius Morgan

[The above was originally posted in April 2007 to the orignal Mise-en-scene Crypt blog.]

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Thing Below (2004)

Caveo is est valde nocens! The Thing Below is an pathetically cheap looking CGI tentacle monster-alien-mutant something or the other. .

Monster in a Canister!

That gets loose in a oil rig/secret military lab/corporate research facility. .

Oil Rig?

Kills a bunch of (stupid) people. .

Notice anything strange?

Forcing the military-government-corporate goons running the project-lab-insane asylum to send yet other people into the mutant-alien-crazed monster's lair. .

A 3 hour tour...

Which the hack filmmakers decide is excuse enough for a gratuitous stripper scene. .


Did I mention this scene stretches on for a while. .

Super Hot!

Before the monster starts killing yet more people. .


Sadly THE THING BELOW plays like an dreadful, ineffective, plodding, illogical, and utterly pointless knock-off of DEEP EVIL. .

Deja Vu!

This movie is the bastard child of inbred morons from the planet Ludicrous. It's bad enough the premise is weak and clichéd but the plot, such as it is, is ill defined and never clearly developed within the movie itself. Considering the endless reams of inane exposition the characters bring the movie to a screeching halt to recite the lack of proper coherent and lucid plot and character development is inexcusable. If bad movies were a medieval village THE THING BELOW would be a murdered leper buried in the village dung heap. Recommended only for those cynical few who never believe reviewers when we say a movie is utter gobshite.

You said this was a real movie!

Caveat Emptor THE THING BELOW is available on: DVD


Click for Score Card info.

# End of Line

Copyright © C. Demetrius Morgan

Monday, June 15, 2009

The MPAA - Part of the Problem?

If you were born any time before the 1980s you've probably noticed that contemporary movies have lost something. Call it heart, soul, or just plain competence in filmmaking in general but I, for one, don't think the blame is all on the shoulders of directors or even the studio executives who, let's be honest, are just looking to make a quick buck. Part of the blame has to be laid squarely at the feet of those who claim to be the threshold guardians watching out for us, or rather our children. I, of course, am referring to the MPAA.

Ratings on movies are something we all take for granted. In the United States movie ratings are applied by the mysterious organization known as the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) cum MPA (Motion Picture Association). Very little is known about this organization. They are shrouded in mystery. Ask the average person what the MPAA is and what it does they will instantly offer a vague answer about ratings, an answer that may assume quite a lot, yet virtually nothing is known of who does what or how; much less what guiding standards are employed.

If you go to the MPAA website you will find the following: "The movie ratings system is a voluntary system operated by the MPAA and the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO). The ratings are given by a board of parents who comprise the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA). CARA?s Board members view each film and, after a group discussion, vote on its rating. The ratings are intended to provide parents with advance information so they can decide for themselves which films are appropriate for viewing by their own children. The Board uses the same criteria as any parent making a judgment ? theme, language, violence, nudity, sex and drug use are among content areas considered in the decision-making process."

CARA? NATO? Voluntary?

The ratings are hardly voluntary. We all know that. It's one of those "facts" we've picked up in life. If ever you doubt the validity of the above statement ask yourself when (if ever) was the last time you saw a movie, in a movie theater, that didn't have a rating. There's also something foul about claiming the ratings system exists as an aide for parents. That's just nonsense. People have brains. Can they not judge for themselves what is suitable for their own offspring? Has our society become so infantile that we need to be coddled?

More to the point if the purpose of the MPAA rating system really was to signify what is "appropriate for viewing by their [parents] own children" then why is the rating system not limited to a single certificate, perhaps something like CS (Child Safe)? The statement makes no sense, and with good reason, the ratings are not about child safety. The MPAA and it's ratings are about content control. The ratings are broken down into categories that correlate to the major market demographics. In a word the MPAA ratings are about money, in two words they're about making money. Or, to phrase a sentence: The MPAA ratings system is about aiding studios in better marketing movies to target demographics.

The MPAA, according to information on their site, claims: "A motion picture is evaluated in its entirety. The raters who view the entire completed motion picture will determine the most important factors that parents consider when deciding whether to allow their children to view that motion picture"

Again with the children. Have you ever noticed that when politicians or corporations want people to accept something that would otherwise stir heated debate and controversy they fall back to the bulwark of "but it's for the children". But is it really?


If ever you doubt this simply ask yourself when the last time you heard about the MPAA refusing a movie certification was. Certainly we can all agree that torture porn movies like HOSTEL or SAW are most certainly not acceptable viewing for children of any age. Yet such movies not only received a certificate, thus stamping them with the approval of the MPAA as movies okay to watch, but they received an R-rating. R ratings do not exclude all those not yet of age, this means the MPAA says these movies are okay for older teens. Really? Some would argue that violence begets violence. Over the years politicians and certain activist groups have been quick to blame violence in movies and video games for an increase in real world violence. All this while expressions of love and sexuality, that singular sacrament of transcendent human expression performed in praise and exultation of life, are deemed offensive. So how strange it is to find that an group claiming to be the self-anointed guardians of. .

Actually just what is the MPAA really about? They claim that their "raters attempt, as much as possible, to mirror the views of a contemporary cross-section of parents in the country," but many critics of the organization find this hard to believe. A quick read through the information on the MPAA site reveals they have carefully avoided using words like "morals" or "ethics" when discussing what they do. It's always some vague neutral wording like "views" or "factors" never a discussion or mention of specific ideology.

Worse, the MPAA doesn't even have any set content standards. They claim: "Thus, you may notice, for example, that as the concerns of parents about teen drug use or sexual activity increase, motion pictures which contain elements of illicit drug abuse or strong sexual content will be assigned a higher rating, reflecting the views of American parents." This is, one assumes, supposed to make the system more flexible and thus more easy to adapt to the times and shifting mores. Yet the mores of whom? Christians? Muslims? Mormons? Atheists? Wiccans? Aliens from Zeta Riticuli? Trolls? Elves?

Such statements proliferate on the MPAA web site and they are very disingenuous. Worse the ratings themselves, despite the long winded synopsis you will find on the MPAA site, are vague and nebulous to the point of meaninglessness.

If what is "R" today would have been "PG" ten or twenty years ago then the rating system is not just flawed it's meaningless. Every community has its own standards. If the MPAA doesn't have the backbone to put a codified set of standards into use then how can any parent truly use these amorphous and ever changing ratings as a guide? If what was "PG" ten years ago would be branded "R" today because the MPAA suddenly decided actors smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol or wearing skirts that are too short are not acceptable then they have failed epically.

What, then, is the MPAA's true agenda?

While the MPAA's true agenda may not be as blatant as the message of an self-hating moron holding up a neon colored sign proclaiming "Save the Planet, Kill Yourself" their continued rubber stamping of movies filled with a panorama of amoral violence in which humanity is debased, murder is carried out with wonton glee, morals are shat upon, and audiences get to see blood spatter across the screen as naïve innocents are tortured and their flesh eviscerated in grotesqueries of carnival sideshow malice speak volumes of the MPAA's true character; or lack thereof. So long as the MPAA refuses to set standards they are, at best, corporate shills. At worst they're feeding the cycle of anti-humanism and anti-intellectualism in their push to turn audiences into obedient consumers of mediocrity.

Of course I could be totally wrong. Then again if we can't call out and blame the self-anointed guardians of what is supposed to be acceptable in movies for their downward spiral then who should be blamed? The President? Little Green Men from Mars? Hugh Hefner?

#End of Line

Copyright © C. Demetrius Morgan

Friday, June 12, 2009

Eye of the Beholder

Today I would like to offer something of a follow up to Wednesday's article questioning the differences between erotica and porn. As I mentioned in that article erotica is all about establishing a sense of the mise-en-scene yet so, too, is what is considered to be erotic highly subjective. To illustrate this point I would like to direct you to the recently posted review from the site 366 Weird Movie Reviews for Lair of the White Worm.

I've always considered this one of those "guilty pleasure" movies, yet never really thought of it explicitly as a work of erotica. Yet it has a very strong sense of the mise-en-scene. And, as the reviewer states: "Amanda Donohoe is the engine that keeps the flick rolling along its kinky, demented path. She’s sexy, slinky, witty and hammy, in equal parts. <...> she vamps her way across the screen with an obvious delight in her power to tempt men into perdition."

I have to admit the author of this review has given the movie a lot more thought than I ever did. I enjoy it purely on a "turn your brain off and have fun" level. Yet the reviewer makes an interesting observation: "The film is about sex, and fear of sex. Even the title suggests Freudian implications: both the “worm” and its “lair” (a hole on a hillside) suggest genitalia."

Like someone famous once said, Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. After all the worm comes OUT of the hill it does not ENTER it, per se. Yet, even now, as you read these words, your mind is pondering the implications. It could just be that I saw this movie at too young an age, which I did, as a rental at a friends house with his parents, and don't see in it what others perceive because such ideas were not part of my mental fabric back then. Too, since that first viewing, I've caught this on broadcast television (in only slightly blurred form) and numerous times on satellite cable/TV. Another cliché worth mentioning is the fact that familiarity breeds contempt, or perhaps in this case, it dulls the lobe of the brain responsible for objective critical observation. For the reviewer from 366 Weird Movie Reviews also goes on to state:

"Although the imagery occasionally veers towards outright pornography, when it does so Russell keeps it so brief that it’s almost subliminal. The scenes he lingers over are those that are merely titillating."

Pornography? In LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM!?

This is where the reviewer's opinion and my own diverge. If anything I feel that Mr. Russell was too reserved and inhibited. The actress whom Ms. Donahoe's character is supposed to be seducing and sacrificing to the great wurm never gets her kit off. Never! It's only down to bra and undies. That's always bothered me about the movie. It's a thematic disconnect from all that's going on that pokes at the audiences ability to fully suspend their disbelief. The movie is campy, crazed, hallucinatory, and ludicrous at times but never, NEVER, does it approach what I'd remotely call pornographic.

In closing I'd like to reiterate the comment I left about the review on the site: Good review. Though, I have to say, perhaps slightly over thought. It may be the movie has suggestive "Freudian implications" but I somehow don’t think they were consciously put into the movie. This is pure head cheeze. Ultra camp. So bad-awesome I'd score it 5 Sarah Palins.

# End of Line

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Erotica vs. Porn

Erotica. Porn. What's the difference? Is there a difference?

Erotica are works of art- be they literary or visual (sculpture, photography, et al)- that are designed to stimulate and arouse the senses. Some erotica is presented as social commentary; some erotica is presented merely for the aesthetic value, yet all erotica is an expression of a time and place. The erotic is expressive of cultural mores, thus erotica is often best understood when viewed from the basis of its originating cultural context.

Yet the erotic crosses all genres and is one of the few art forms that truly transcend cultural boundaries. It is sensual and provocative, vibrant and visceral, a feast for the eyes that stirs the passions and ignites irascible debate. Alas the typical dictionary definition of erotica is terse and uninformative for that which arouses sexual desire is as diverse as are the likes and dislikes of individual moviegoers. Differences made even more distinct when viewed from the POV of gender.

In the minds of some there is perceived to exist a thin to non-existent line between erotica and pornography. This is an erroneous misconception. There are very clear boundaries it's just that where those boundaries may be drawn depends largely on cultural context. Every society has mandated mores, including taboos related to sex and sexuality. Alas the result is that, while the line between erotica and pornography clearly does exist, it's a vague mist shrouded boundary whose borders shift and change with the eye of the beholder.

Over time social standards shift. Thus the taboos of one generation may no longer apply to the next. A prime example being that modern women wear pants. This is not out of the ordinary. Yet, barely a century ago, this would not have been considered acceptable attire for a "proper" lady. Too, proper beach attire for men and women a century ago was quite altogether different than what is permissible today just as discussion of such a topic as erotica might have considered improper for "polite" society.

At it's most simplistic erotica pushes against the boundaries of cultural mores. It walks the fine line between taboos, while taking care not to trample over them. Which is not to say it treats the subject matter with kid gloves, far from it. Indeed erotica often contains a veil of social commentary.

Then there is pornography. Pornography is, or has become, nothing more than a checklist of graphic sex acts. Sex acts that often trample over mores and taboos. There is, too often, very little art or artistry to porno movies. In fact most "porn" barely qualifies as cinema, much less erotica. Yet we all know, instinctively, the difference between the two; right?

Consider this pic, recently posted in a thread about "Hot Babes" at the Latarnia forums:

There is something about that image. It has a subtle subtext that is at once tantalizing yet disturbing. The image is charged with moody eroticism that's hauntingly mesmerizing. In some ways it reminds me of the Kekko Kamen movies, if they weren't done with tongue planted so firmly in cheek. But is it porn or erotica?

Here is another pic from the same thread:

The above screen cap is said to be from the remake of the movie Flower and Snake. I have not seen the movie. According to wikipedia the original movie was "a Japanese soft-core S/M film" and one of the comments at IMDB calls it the "greatest film ever made featuring extreme bondage and ballroom dancing". It should also be noted that "crucified women" is also an niche fetish, a very niche fetish, one I first became aware of back when Xena: Warrior Princess was still on the air. Google the term. You may be as surprised and shocked as I was.

However everything and anything can be turned into a fetish. There exist sites dedicated to scenes of actresses being carried, actresses smoking, actresses bare feet, actresses appearing in a scene with only one shoe on &tc. The list goes on and on. In this instance the nature of erotica is highly subjective.

Porn is blatant. It's in your face. It leaves very little to the imagination. In most mainstream movies the erotic is a very delicate balance of mood and setting, even the lighting and camera angle will be considered long and hard prior to ever shooting a single frame, to say nothing of the story. Conversely the only experience the pornographer needs in today's world is, all too sadly, knowing how to turn on a camcorder. The result being sex divorced of sense or sensuality. It is a clinical approach to sexuality that is, in a word, boring.

Erotica stimulates the imagination of the audience. It takes the viewer to the threshold of that which is taboo, yet never quite crosses over.

A cap from Emmanuelle.

Erotica is about subtlety and subtext. However movies are meant to entertain, be they erotic or pornographic, and if they do not entertain the audience then they are wastes of celluloid and/or video tape. Some critics bash movies just for the fun of it while others languish over every word trying to honestly appraise a movie. But the bottom line is a movie is supposed to entertain. Considering how prolific the porn industry is one has to assume they are keeping their target audience well entertained. But is that enough?

Erotica is good clean fun!

No other aspect of filmmaking relies so heavily on a proper balance of mise-en-scene than establishing the proper atmosphere for the erotic. For instance a photo of a nude woman is not in and of itself erotic. Much depends on how the woman is posed, what the background is, and whether or not she is totally nude or partially clad, to say nothing of what it is she is wearing. In short nudity is not synonymous with titillation.

Alas that is a fact that many low budget directors either do not understand, never learned in film school, or fail to grasp. Then so, too, have many self-anointed guardians of "moral values" over the years. A fine example of this can be found in Not Another Teen Movie, where the foreign exchange student character appears nude. While this is a good jibe at the perceived differences between American and European sensibilities regarding nudity there is nothing erotic about her scenes. The actress is merely nude.

The mise-en-scene is that sense of atmosphere that makes movies memorable. Erotica is all about the mise-en-scene, or rather it's about achieving a sensual mood within the scene. You can see effective scene composition that establishes an atmosphere of sensuality in movies such as Dracula, Sirens, Lolita, throughout the entirety of Pleasantville and even in television series like Xena: Warrior Princess and BURN NOTICE. Of course there is that fine line between erotic and salacious which makes movies like Emmanuelle, The Perils of Gwendoline, and The Story of O memorable as much for their atmosphere as the controversy surrounding them.

Then there is the knee-jerk over reactions of the self-annointed "moral majority" like those who run the MPAA who, in their zeal to squash all sensuality and representations of sexuality in films, have become a rubber stamp for amoral violence. .

But that's a discussion for another day.

# End of Line

Copyright © C. Demetrius Morgan

Monday, June 8, 2009

Deep Evil (2004)

Deus misereatur this is a clichéd alien-mutant-monster in a lab movie! For those who don't know the drill amoral yet stupid-evil scientists in an uber secret lab. .

The lab.

Working with exotic-alien-mutant DNA accidentally on purpose create a monster-hybrid-alien. .

The Experiment.

Which, d'oh, gets out of control and kills and/or infests the stupid-evil scientists with its parasitical offspring. .

Drowning in chocolate milk?

Forcing the military-government-corporate goons running the project-lab-insane asylum to send yet other people into the mutant-alien-crazed monster's lair. .


But not before our lovable hack filmmakers find an excuse for a gratuitous nude scene. .


Which, sadly, is all too brief and not very well lit. .

Yeah baby, yeah!

Then it's back to boring the audience to death with predictable low budget wannabe ALIEN banality that's mostly a knock-off of THE THING starring the cousin of THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. .

Swamp Thing?

On the bright side if you can put your brain in neutral and not ask probing questions about what the heck is going on or why nothing makes sense you may be able to enjoy watching this for the vacuous silly piece of z-grade nonsense it is. (Or at least have fun tormenting your friends with it MST3K style.) If not steer clear and rent something intelligent, like a Paris Hilton movie.

Caveat Emptor DEEP EVIL is available on: DVD


Click for Score Card info.

# End of Line

Copyright © C. Demetrius Morgan

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay (1971)

Click to Buy!

How does one describe Girl Slaves of Morgana le Fay. It's. . . Well, it's, that is to say. This movie is rather strange...


Very strange...


We're talking bugfuck bizarre...


This movie is utterly surreal...


Has dancing girls...


Contains Sapphism...


And LOTS of it...

Got Milf?

Did I mention lesbianism figures prominently in this feature...


There is also some light bondage...


Girl Slaves is classic 70s Euro Erotic Horror. Trying to described this movie is like trying to explain the color blue to a blind person or the taste of chocolate to someone without taste buds, you just can't do it. They really don't make them like this anymore.

I give this 4 and a half out of 5 Sarah Palin's.

Click for Rating System Info.

# End of Line

Copyright © Demetrius Morgan

Friday, June 5, 2009

Anatomy of a Bad Dub

This article, while originally posted several years ago, is (sadly) still very relevant today. For when you have searched high and low for that hard to find movie there may be no recourse but to turn to "collector's video", especially if you want to see that movie again before you die. If you don't know what "collector's video" is it's that gray market DVDr product. There used to be a clear cut line between legit DVD releases, meaning the factory produced silver backed DVDs, and homemade product burned onto recordable media. Sadly, since this article was originally published, that line has blurred to insiginifigance as certain studios have opened their own "stores" to sell DVDRs.


The sad truth is studios will often "sit on product", meaning they squirrel movies away in their vaults waiting for their set licensing fees to be met by third party DVD labels. Alas the studios, and rights holders, often demand such ridiculously high fees for their film's use and video rights that, hard as it is to believe, there's never more than a fraction of the total number of movies ever made in "official" video releases.

Worse, many of these forgotten films suffer from the ravages of time due to the very type of film stock used. Movies have even been lost due to neglect while left sitting on a shelf. Some forever because they were never released to video in any form. But this no longer need be the case.

Back in the Jurassic era, when behemoth monsters known as laserdiscs still wandered the Earth, there was really only one feasible option for cult movie aficionados to acquire rare and hard to find movies. Collector's tapes. If ever there was a Golden Age of gray market video future historians will likely agree it would begin with the mass production of the VCR. It is, after all, what made "collector's video" accessible to a wider audience.

Of course there was a thriving home video market prior to VHS. Alas we take it for granted that VHS was the first entertainment system for home movies. And, no, I am not talking about Betamax. For years before video equipment became accessible to the general public there were other, often very expensive, video formats. But before even that, in the distant Precambrian era, there was 8mm and 16mm film.

In this day and age of instant gratification where pictures can be downloaded from a camera and printed on demand we take it for granted that film, once upon a time, actually meant film; as in celluloid. We forget that because we live in a time where digital cameras are ubiquitous, movies are 90% CGI SFX, and most movies come into our homes thanks to a satellite dish. We forget that, once upon a time not that long ago, things were very different. We have forgotten there ever was a time that cell-phones and videogames didn't exist! Try to imagine that. It's very difficult, isn't it?

Worse, we've forgotten that home video was once seen not only as threat to films but was reviled by the film industry. Bored conspiracy theorists of the future will undoubtedly claim this is why so many early’ve forgotten. .


We take it for granted that video should be crisp, clear, and vibrant. Not only was this not always the case but, once upon a time, video collector's were willing to put up with a lot worse.

The above is a still from a factory prerecord, recorded in SP mode, of Mines of Kilimanjaro. This is one of the older VHS tapes in my collection. Notice how fuzzy and full of grain the picture is, how it lacks definition, and now compare it to a screen cap from one of the last movies I ever purchased on VHS:

That is a scene from early in the movie Masque of the Red Death. By DVD standards that picture seems a bit fuzzy. However that tape, which proclaimed on the cover that it was 'digitally remastered', was actually a marked improvement over the video quality on older tapes like the one mentioned above.

Now you have a general idea of the range of quality that existed on VHS prerecords. Many, if not all, of the so-called "collectors" DVDRs are likely taken from similar tape sources. Some vendors will try to give grades of quality from "A" to "D" alas they are mostly in this for the money, meaning there is no real way to tell what the picture quality is until you sit down to watch a "collectors video" and by then it may be too late.

Behold Exhibit-A :

1. Poorly done, and very fake, Letterbox effect. Probably done to cover up dub bar streaks.

2. What appears as extreme blurry grain on VHS becomes pronounced interlacing artifacting on the screencap. (From DVD-R.)

3. Evidence of dub stretch marks that the poorly executed Letterbox effect failed to cover up.

That, friends, is F- quality video. Of course it wasn't listed as such. This is the sort of garbage opportunistic gray market vendors looking to make a quick buck heartily fob off on us unsuspecting consumers. If you're lucky you might even get a cheap case with a color label produced on a laser printer. Alas you'll rarely be that lucky.

Another factor to consider is price. Most of the gray market vendors are selling their wares for premium DVD prices. That's just ludicrous. The studios are doing the same but, and you have to consider this, the studios are far more likely to stand behind their product than some anonymous basement dwelling re-burner. The studio product is also likely to be of better quality and come with a case and artwork. In the current economic times these are all matters for consideration before placing an order. Be sure you know what you're getting and that you're dealing with a reputable vendor.

Caveat Emptor.

Copyright © C. Demetrius Morgan

Thursday, June 4, 2009


In memoriam to David Carradine Mise-en-scene Crypt reposts a classic review of a movie produced at a time when rental stores were still looking to fill their shelves with anything they could get their hands on. Warlords is a campy post-apocalyptic farce that casts David Carradine as a knock-off Rogue Trooper character wandering a Mad Max landscape populated by gas mask wearing mutants. This post-apocalypse parable comes complete with a spunky foul mouthed side-kick who thinks she's the lead of the piece played by Dawn Wildsmith, a mad as an hatter who's lost his bag of marbles Sid Haig in the role of Warlord, scream queen Michelle Bauer as the damsel in distress, and a bevy of scantily clad harem girls thrown in for good measure (and the audiences pleasure).

The plot of this shot in a desert back lot with minimal props and a handful of actors post-apocalypse sojourn is threadbare, confused, and barely there.

Carradine is Dow, a clone of a war hero sent into the desert by "the government" to retrieve a scientist. But wait there's a twist, it seems he's really looking for his wife, which makes absolutely no sense since he's supposed to be a clone of a dead guy, so that would mean he's really looking for his original's wife. But why would a clone care? Couldn't he just clone himself a new wife?

While we're asking dumb questions; what government sent him and why are there combat helicopters on the cover of the VHS? There's nary a helicopter in the entirety of this flick!

Speaking of mind-boggling lunacy what in the name of all that's holy is the deal with Wildsmith's character? It's obvious her role is patterned after the "tough girl waif" from movies such as Cherry 2000 (1987) and Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983) but it seems like they shot this one so quick that she didn't have time to breathe and figure out who her character was. At least Melanie Griffith and Molly Ringwald managed to bring more to the clichéd role of annoying brat than radioactive bad attitude, but damn if she doesn't do the 'strutting annoying brat with delusions of grandeur' well!

Alas a danse macabre led by a band of rabid pixies would be easier to follow than Warlords contrived plot. Then again one does not watch post-apocalyptic movies because they're looking for scathing social commentary or intense drama, rather it's because the movies are ridiculous and good for a laugh and the better than average chance to see some naked flesh amidst mindless movie mayhem. This is the sort of video camp you will either enjoy for the piece of trash it is or loathe with a burning hatred approaching the scalding vengeance of a thousand exploding suns. It's just that sort of B-movie.

Is Warlords the worst low budget post-apocalyptic movie ever made? No, but then again this sub-genre isn't exactly known for great cinema. Director Fred Olen Ray has managed to tap into the DTV market with a wide array of action oriented ultra low budget genre fare running the gamut from vampire flicks (Beverly Hills Vamp), science fiction (Starslammer), and bizarre horror comedies (Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers) filled with plenty of gratuitous explosions and other assorted eye candy. Warlords is no exception, though it's sadly a bit light on the sort of delicious eye candy on display in the screen caps above.

Image Entertainment released this on Laserdisc circa 1989 and apparently has recently released a DVD of Warlords (click to view the Amazon page) but the one review on Amazon indicates the release is sub-par. If true that's a real travesty as this is a groovy bit of 80s era post-apocalypse action adventure low budget amusement. Caveat Emptor.

Click for Ratings info.

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Copyright © C. Demetrius Morgan