Film Review: DIRECT TO VIDEO: STRAIGHT TO VIDEO HORROR OF THE 90’S (2019)

DIRECT TO VIDEO: STRAIGHT TO VIDEO HORROR OF THE 90’S **** USA 2019 Dir: Dustin Ferguson. 106 mins

A pounding synth theme tune by Oscar Fogelstrom – and some personal nostalgia from a Vestron Video acolyte – provides a perfect introduction to Dustin Ferguson’s affectionate look back at the final hurrah of the VHS horror boom. Writer / Full Moon FX artist Kenneth J Hall leads an opening insight into Charles Band’s deal with Paramount while an exploration of the long-running PUPPET MASTER series includes 90’s horror veteran Jeff Burr recalling his dual duty on parts 4 and 5 (“two movies for the price of one”). As energetic as ever, lifelong horror fan Tiffany Shepis remembers her entry in the business via TROMEO AND JULIET, though Lloyd Kaufman appears mostly just to offer his over-familiar diatribe against Blockbuster Video. Scream queens including a nostalgic Brinke Stevens, CHOPPING MALL’s Kelli Maroney and a cosmetically “enhanced” Deborah Dutch offer musings from a female acting perspective, including director Jim Wynorski advising “Let me know when you want to pop your top”. Fred Olen Ray relishes the total freedom that came from using his own money and friends like Dick Miller and David Carradine for popular cheapies like EVIL TOONS and Wynorski goes some way to explaining why GHOULIES IV is so odd while enjoying the chance to reflect on film shoots surrounded by hordes of hot chicks with machine guns (and the mighty Orville Ketchum).

The documentary is full of engaging anecdotes about well-liked horror tapes: Bobby Ray Shafer talks of Adam Rifkin recruiting street people and drunks for the Rodney King-style beating in PSYCHO COP RETURNS, Kenneth Hall amusingly notes how TV listing guides constantly mixed up JACK FROST with the Michael Keaton family film of the same name, and FX man Joe Castro enthuses about doubling for a girl’s arse in AMITYVILLE DOLLHOUSE. The various commentators bring honesty, humour and affection for this period in their careers, and Ferguson has made an appealing document of how inter-connected and enterprising the genre was at a time when big studios were staying away from horror unless it involved an established brand or could be marketed as a “thriller”. Clint Howard is especially fun as he offers a $50 bounty for anyone who can prove they watched ICE CREAM MAN all the way through and celebrates the success of Warwick Davis despite not remembering making LEPRECHAUN 2. In a surprisingly poignant end note, Shepis reminds us that the gradual decline of DVD essentially confirms the death knell for the kind of horror that made stars of her and Howard, that special place in time in which we would actively search for movies starring our favourite genre character actors and scream queens, scanning the video shelves for something featuring the double threat of a slimy muppety creature and Michelle Bauer in an outrageously tight top.

Review by Steven West

 

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