The Films (Demonoid 4/5, Frightmare 3/5)
Vinegar Syndrome it must be said is one of the most interesting labels going today. While primarily known for erotic films they frequently find themselves dipping into exploitation and horrors more obscure side. They don't release too many horror films, but when they do they certainly make them count, and within their October 2015 release schedule were 2 releases that I was absolutely unfamiliar with, but like their prior excursions into the genre I ended up having a lot of fun with.
The 2 films don't really connect with one another, but begin chronologically with the 1981 Mexico/USA co-producton Demonoid: Messenger of Death. The film begins with Mark (Roy Jensen) trying to re-open a silver mine he just purchased with the help of his wife Jennifer (Samantha Eggar). They discover that the workers they hired will not enter the mine believing that the mine is a place of evil. In order to prove the workers wrong Mark and Jennifer enter the mine and explore to the bottom floor where they discover the site of a former Satanic Temple. The temple features mummified corpses all missing the victims left hands. They also find a silver coffin featuring a mummified left hand. They are convinced by removing the coffin and the hand that all evil is removed from the mine, the workers, however, are unconvinced and leave.
Jennifer and Mark take the hand back to their hotel where it promptly possesses Mark. He leaves the hotel and in his possessed state blows up the mine, leaves Mexico and runs for Las Vegas. Jennifer pursues her husband, but along the way the hand begins attempting to possess everyone it comes across, first though their hand has to be dismembered and the "Devil's Hand" must attach itself to the person it’s occupying (this is a very weird film). Eventually Jennifer turns to a priest Father Cunningham to hopefully stop the Devil's Hand from it's reign of terror.
The film opens with a sacrifice scene with a pair of hooded cultist that wouldn't look out of place at a KKK rally sacrificing a topless women. This has nothing to do with the rest of the film, but helps set up the anything goes tone of the piece. From there on out the film continues on with Mexico, Las Vegas and Southwest Locales. The film doesn't feel like anything more than bizarre schlock cinema, nor does it ever aspire too. Even the performances are tepid at best, but the film is such fun to watch that it's very easy to just disregard its various shortcomings.
The second film is one of the Troma titles Vinegar Syndrome have secured for release a 1983 slasher film called Frightmare (aka The Horror Star). The film stars Ferdy Mayne as Conrad Radzoff a horror film legend in the mold of a Christopher Lee or Vincent Price whose filmography is vast, but whose last decade of work has left working in less than stellar roles. However, because of his fame he has quite a rampant ego. When he finally dies an elaborate crypt is assembled for him with multiple video installations.
His death is a devastating occurrence to the members of "The Horror Society" a group of local horror fans, who decide while drunk to raid his crypt and steal his corpse. Radzoff's wife and a local medium upon discovering the theft decide to bring Radzoff back from the dead and use him to seek revenge on the corpse-nappers. Radzoff's back from the dead self then begins to stalk the members of the Horror Society through the mansion he was taken to for a party and kills them off one by one
The general consensus for many years is that Troma pick-ups are lacking, while the Kaufman/Herz films (mainly the Post-Toxic Avenger films) are the ones worth watching. I have found recently that as far my own taste are concerned the reverse is accurate, and I have found myself enjoying the Kaufman/Herz films much less, and films like Frightmare and (an earlier VS pickup from Troma) Lust for Freedom much more. One thing I will say right off the bat, is that no one will mistake Frightmare for anything than a copy-cat slasher. That being said it uses it's premise well. The fact that the film is built around the death of a classic horror icon, and a club that idolizes him means the film gets to pay homage to classic horror while working in a slasher template, and that alone gives the piece a certain charm that sets it apart from some of it’s contemporaries.
The film while not exactly scary is certainly fun when it gets going. The cast across the board is pretty good with Ferdy Mayne doing quite good as the titular horror star, and a solid early turn from future Herbert West Jeffrey Combs. The film has some really nice set-pieces that really set it apart from other films of it’s ilk (especially the crypt). There are some nice suspenseful moments that while not quite scary do add a bit of tension to the proceedings..
Audio/Video (4/5, 4/5)
Both films are presented in a 1:78:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer preserving both films OAR. Both films look fantastic, and that can be easily expected coming from Vinegar Syndrome. Demonoid has a nice natural look to it, nice colors (especially the neon lights in the Vegas sequences), details and textures, and a solid grain structure. There is some softness present, but that is probably from the production itself.
The audio for Demonoid is a DTS-HD MA 1.0 track in English with optional subtitles (YAY!). Dialogue comes through strong as does the films score, and I did not detect any issues with the track.
Frightmare has strong colors and detail, everything looks quite natural and has a nice grain organic grain structure. There is some damage present, but it's minor and rarely a distraction.
The audio is presented in a DTS-HD MA 1.0 track in English also subs included. The dialogue is audible throughout as are background FX and score. I did not detect instances of pops, cracks, or hissing on the track.
Extras (3.5/5, 4/5)
Vinegar Syndrome have put together solid extras package for both Demonoid and Frightmare. Demonoid comes with an alternate cut of the movie Macabra, and an interview with the director. It also comes with an art gallery, trailers, and TV spots. Frightmare comes with 3 Commentary tracks one with the Hysteria Continues which is a comedy track, one that constitute an archival audio interview with director Norman Thaddeus Vine, and the first which a nice brisk informative piece between David Del Valle and David DeCouteau. We also get an interview with cinematographer Joel King, an art gallery, and a trailer for the film.
Vinegar Syndrome have put together 2 excellent Blu-ray's for 2 fun and obscure horror oddities. Both Demonoid and Frightmare belong in any open-minded horror fans collection. The A/V restorations look gorgeous and sound great, but with VS at the helm that is to be expected, and come with excellent extra features. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.