More VHS-inspired movies for the retro crowd
Following on from my inaugural Thematic Rewind I decided to do a further feature on VHS Inspired movies, listing a further 5 of my favourites from the post video era. Whilst these movies may not have been released during the 80’s and 90’s, they were certainly influenced in some way by that period, and feature as a reminder that though the top loader has been consigned to the dustbin of history, the movies played on them continue to resonate.
Dir: Olivia Wilde
Olivia Wilde’s debut feature is an inspired, hilarious coming-of-age yarn that chronicles a night in the life of two nerdy girlfriends at the end of high school who take their last chance to have fun before venturing off to higher education. Whilst maybe not the most original premise in film history, the story truly comes into its own by flipping the gender coin on hormonally challenged male archetypes and focusing on the adventures of two very geeky girls as they circumnavigate the perils and pitfalls inherent in a night on the tiles.
Functioning as a feminist interpretation of this much-loved genre, the film calls to mind Dazed and Confused, Richard Linklater’s seminal 1993 coming-of-age yarn set in the 70s, along with any number of male-orientated teen comedies including American Pie and Animal House. Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High also springs to mind along with cruder fare such as Bob Clark’s Porky’s and its increasingly lewd sequels.
The two leads, Kaitlyn Dever as geek-girl Amy and Beanie Feldstein (Jonah Hill of Superbad fame’s younger sister!) as uptight brainiac Molly, are hilarious throughout and are ably supported by a game cast of absurdly pitched adults including Lisa Kudrow and Jason Sudeikis.
Standout scenes include the loudspeaker function on a porn video the girls are watching being triggered whilst they’re taxied around their hometown late at night by their teacher, who is moonlighting as a cabbie. A drug-addled stop-motion scene that pitches the girls as Barbie dolls trapped in a parallel Claymation dimension is also a hoot.
The Guest: (2014)
Dir: Adam Wingard
Adam Wingard’s woefully underappreciated and overlooked 80s synth-horror throwback, is a knowingly constructed thriller right out of the John Carpenter playbook. The film cannily casts one-time Downton Abbey toff Dan Stevens as Afghanistan veteran David, who, returned from the war, decides to engage in a visit to the family of his dead comrade Caleb, to pay his last respects.
On the surface David is a charming and helpful kind of fella: good looking, old fashioned, with a flawless accent, smile and haircut. However, as you’d expect from a film of this calibre, David has an ulterior motive for insinuating his way into the domesticity of the Peterson family and it doesn’t take long for his shadow-face to reveal itself.
The Guest is a smart, snappy and incredibly knowing genre blender. The film mixes equal parts comedy, horror and thriller effortlessly, tossing in a retro electronic score via composer Steve Moore that roots the film firmly in the 1980s.
The barroom dust-up between David and a bunch of smug juveniles is a highlight of the film, as is the campily orchestrated and bloody mayhem of David’s eventual unravelling as the film nears its conclusion. Fans of exploitative, well-articulated horror fare with period-specific flavouring will lap it up, though the film has plenty to offer casual viewers who enjoy the occasional foray into darker cinematic territory.
Super 8: (2011)
Dir: JJ Abrams
A gang of American kids filming a zombie movie on an 8mm camera in late-70s suburbia witness a devastating train wreck whilst socialising at a train station. A military cover up ensues. Deputy Sheriff Jack Lang (Kyle Chandler) investigates. A terrifying secret is uncovered that involves UFOs, extraterrestrials and some mild-to-moderate horror and peril. Fun-time adventure exploits abound as a group of archetypal Amblin clones seek to resolve the crisis and learn a little bit about love, life and loss along the way.
JJ Abrams’ science fiction ode to the Spielbergian films of the late seventies and early eighties is a slickly constructed and respectful escapade that pays unashamed homage to the era of the family movie and geek culture without resorting to pastiche or sycophancy. Taking ET’s central conceit and colouring it a shade darker, Abrams, also on writing duties in this instance, crafts a relentlessly enjoyable and mildly horrific film with a big heart and plenty of childhood adventure thrills to recommend it.
The youth casting is impeccable with both Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney note-perfect throughout. The supporting cast are also excellent with finely tuned performances from the likes of Kyle Chandler helping to steer the ship to its compassionate and wondrous conclusion.
Dir: James Gunn
Slither, from 2006, is a body-horror/zombie-comedy heavy on carnage and B movie exploitation. The set-up places the film squarely in Cold War, red scare territory, as an alien parasite with bad intentions crashes into South Carolina housed in a meteorite. As its patient zero, the parasite chooses local moneybags Grant Grant, played with typically off-the-wall intensity by Michael Rooker, as its host. Grant is subsequently turned into a tentacled abomination intent on world domination and occasional gory perversion.
Grant promptly sets about the task of kidnapping local girl Brenda to use as an incubator for his alien offspring. When Brenda gives birth, in a truly explosive scene that calls to mind the blood and rubber terrors of any number of 80s cult horrors (Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond and Brian Yuzna’s Society immediately leap to mind!), the parasite’s larvae set about the task of inhabiting the bodies of the town’s unwitting denizens, who fall under Grant’s control, switching from gentle rural stereotypes to infected zombie nasties in record time.
Nathan Fillion of Firefly fame fronts a quality cast, in a movie that knowingly wears it 50s horror badges on its lapel whilst simultaneously making callbacks to 80s cult staples such as Night of The Creeps via the inclusion of slimy slug-like creatures and amusingly rendered body-horror grotesquery.
Guardians of the Galaxy helmer James Gunn elaborates his Troma origins to full effect in a film that plays like a checklist of the deranged and disgusting. As well as the exploding Brenda scene, standout sections include Nathan Fillion’s warmly-rendered Officer Bill Pardy engaged in mortal combat with a zombie deer and an uncomfortable bathtub scene involving alien slug creatures and an unwitting teen bather who is orally assaulted by a parasite before managing to neutralise it via the creative implementation of a red-hot hair-curling tong.
Dir: Lowell Dean
Lowell Dean’s trashy Canadian genre blitz is a horror-comedy cop-movie hybrid that is utterly unhinged and hilariously messy. The film’s plot revolves around a drunken policeman, played by Leo Fafard, who is cursed as a werewolf, but who maintains consciousness even when there’s a full moon, allowing him to continue to function in a law enforcement capacity.
WolfCop defies its bargain basement origins to emerge as a genuine offbeat gem. It may not have troubled theatres on its release and has all the production values of a 1980s, straight-to-video rental blip that nobody but the most hardened VHS nerds could champion. Still, any film featuring an alcoholic lycanthropic cop named Lou Garou, prone to blackouts who, amongst other things, takes on armed robbers wearing pig masks holding up a combined liquor and doughnut store, in fully realised werewolf prosthetics no less, has to be worthy of praise.
Taking its seat on the sub-sub-genre bench alongside other notable Canadian Werewolf flicks such as the superior Ginger Snaps, Eric Red’s Bad Moon and Skinwalkers, WolfCop is a charmingly assembled horror comedy that is knowingly cult and reassuringly DIY. Since its release in 2014, the film has already managed to spawn two sequels and has developed the sort of devoted following similar movies take decades to cultivate.