DAY 12 — CAMPFIRES & FLASHLIGHTS: One where a character tells a scary story and then . . . flashback.
As part of our annual “Slasher Month” last October, we reviewed Snuff Kill (1997), the third film — and best known and distributed film — from homegrown Baltimore SOV filmmakers Doug Ulrich and Al Darago (Ulrich also came to work with our SOV forefather-hero, Don Dohler, on 2001’s The Alien Factor 2). Now it’s time to take a look at their debut film, the anthology Scary Tales that, while released in 1993, had a long-in-development on-off shooting schedule that began in the mid-’80s. As with Snuff Kill — in which Al Darago portrayed the rocker-slasher Ralis — he and Doug Ulrich provide the film’s original tunes (“Destined to Love,” “She’s a Good Time,” “Let It Go,” and “I’m in Love”) as well as take care of all of the other film disciplines.
As the film opens, we meet a hooded, faceless storyteller with glowing eyes who weaves three tales from an ancient text to a group of ghostly, silhouetted children: “Satan’s Necklace” concerns an evil piece of jewelry that possesses its owner’s soul. In “Sliced in Cold Blood” a man loses his sanity upon discovering his wife’s infidelity. Then things come very close to our current techno-reality in “Level 21,” as a man loses his soul — literally — to a PC-based video game.
Amid the expected muddy-to-distorted audio, Spirit Halloween-effects, and accepted non-thespin’, we get an inventive against-the-budget human-transformation-to-vicious, man-eating demon, lots of heads split-open or decap, a knife out through the mouth, demons breath fire flumes, and in the final Tron-inspired tale (but closer to the lower-budget “The Bishop of Battle” segment starring Emilio Estevez in the 1983 Universal-produced omnibus, Nightmares; even more so to Charles Band’s 1984 tech-manteau The Dungeonmaster with Jeffrey Bryon sucked into a netherworld overlorded by Richard Moll), we get a gaggle of netherworld dwarfs and ninjas in an ambitious against-the-budget Dungeons & Dragons playing field. Remember the computer non-effects in Jerry Sangiuliano’s tech-slasher Brain Twisters? Well, it’s like that, and not the least bit “Tron.” But that’s okay because this movie splatters to the side of bountiful, which is why we rented home video SOVs in the first place.
Look, if you’re expecting a celluloid-perfect homage to the ’70s Amicus anthologies that inspired Ulrich and Darago’s debut film, then just keep on walkin’ past the crypt and go watch George Romero’s Creepshow. In the end, this is The Night of the Living Dead-era fun, as we’re living vicariously through Doug Ulrich and Al Darago, two guys just like us, who, instead of watching, reading and writing about films, they went out and made them. (And watch Scary Tales instead of the yawn-inducing Creepshow 2. Yes, I am saying team Ulrich-Darago’s film is more entertaining than a George Romero comic-book based sequel.)
You have to give team Ulrich-Darago their props as — unlike most SOV auteurs, who only managed one film — our SOV duo from Baltimore made four, including Darkest Soul, the aforementioned Snuff Kill, and 7 Sins of the Vampire, in quick, back-to-back succession. The only other SOV’ers to pull off multiple films as quickly was Christopher Lewis with Blood Cult, The Ripper, and Revenge . . . well, because of Blood Cult’s rep as the first mail-order SOV, Lewis is the best known. But there’s the crowned king that is Dennis Devine of Fatal Images and Dead Girls fame that’s still making them, albeit digitally these days (his latest is 2020’s Camp Blood 8). And porn-funded British SOV purveyor Cliff Twemlow (with his directing-partner, David Kent-Watson) knocked out six film in quick succession in the wake of his SOV pinnacle, GBH. Jeff Hathcock made his debut with Victims! in 1985 and during the next seven years pumped out three more: Night Ripper!, Streets of Death, and Fertilize the Blaspheming Bombsell. Yeah, you’ll SOV-drop fellow Baltimorite Don Dohler with his ’80s shoestring trio of The Alien Factor, Fiend, and Nightbeast released between 1978 to 1982 — but while they have that SOV-couch change stank on ’em, those were shot on film.
In the lesser-accomplished SOV canons are Leland Thomas of Bits and Pieces, John Henry Johnson of Curse of the Blue Lights, Georgia’s William J. Oates of Evil in the Woods, Alaska’s Blair Murphy of Jugular Wine, the SOV-tag team of Bill Leslie and Terry Lofton of Nail Gun Massacre, sci-fi space-jockey William J. Murray of Primal Scream, porn purveyor Justin Simmonds of Spine, Brixton Academy owner Alan Briggs of Suffer, Little Children, Brian Evans of Tainted , and Canuxploitationer Andrew Jordan of Things fame — each who pulled off one film. Nick Kimaz of the ambitiously-failed Space Chase managed two (1988’s Rage of Vengeance), while the equally ambitious-better Philip J. Cook of Beyond the Rising Moon pulled off three (Invader and Despiser in quick succession), while SOV apoc’er Armand Garzarian did two with Games of Survival and Prison Planet, and then made three more, and still sits behind the lens for other filmmakers.
However, of all of those films and their makers, we’ll always pencil-in Doug Ulrich and Al Darago on the top of our SOV lists courtesy of their Wiseauian heart and tenacity to release their quartet of films in quick succession — while showing improvements in their storytelling and effects skills along the way. Sure Tim Ritter of the SOV classics Truth or Dare and Killing Spree and Donald Farmer of Demon Queen and Scream Dream are still makin’ movies into 2021 and should be at the top of the list for their still growing, extensive resumes . . . well, I don’t know . . . I just dig what Doug and Al loaded into the SOV canons. I like ’em, so sue me . . . plus: we haven’t gotten around to reviewing Ritter or Farmer flicks on the site — at least not yet. Too many films, so little time. And as we ramble n’ praddle our SOV love, there’s a caveat: Not all were shot-on-video. Some of these VHS oddities (such as Truth or Dare) critically lumped in the SOV category were shot on 16 mm and released on video — and if it’s released in a direct-to-video format for exclusive, off-the-beaten Blockbuster Video path distribution at mom ‘n pop video stores, then it’s an SOV. Got it?
You can learn about the new Blu-Ray release of Scary Tales at Vinegar Syndrome. But we found a VHS rip on the very cool You Tube home to all things SOV, with the fine folks at Letterboxd Funtime. Oh, our review of 7 Sins of the Vampire is on the way, as part of our October 2021 “Slasher Month,” so search for it in the coming days . . . whoop, there it is!