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It Came from the Video Aisle! Inside Charles Band’s Full Moon Entertainment Studio (Book)

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It Came From the Video AisleWritten by Dave Jay, William S. Wilson, and Torsten Dewi


The story of Charles Band and his Full Moon Entertainment studio is a lot like “The Little Engine That Could”, assuming the engine frequently derailed and due to crippling budgetary restraints the train would sometimes be replaced with a pedal car.

Like Roger Corman with perhaps an even greater degree of hucksterism, Charles Band has kept going in the entertainment industry, onward and upwards, sideways and downward, for longer than most of us have been alive. Rebuilding, rebranding, reinventing himself — from the video store to the rental box to streaming on demand, Band has often been at the forefront of the ever evolving low budget film industry even when it was more out of necessity than visionary.

Band followed up the financial collapse of his theatrical production company Empire Pictures in 1988 by creating a two-word production company that has become synonymous with the golden age of the video rental store: Full Moon.

Anyone of age to remember these magical places called video stores no doubt recall the fantastical works of box art for Full Moon films sucking them in like moths to a flame to take a chance on horror/sci-fi/fantasy films with equally fantastical titles and premises. For better and worse, these cheaply made, hastily assembled, “Blockbuster Night” movies helped turn Full Moon into a brand name that stood out above and beyond the usual slop tossed into the video store hog farms for the masses to consume when they needed a break from the big budget Hollywood blockbusters.

Band’s innovative idea to include “Videozone” segments following Full Moon’s movies – a forerunner to the modern DVD extra – offered viewers a glimpse behind the curtain, a taste of things to come, and solidified Band’s brand as one of the most fan friendly out there. The go-for-broke mentality making b-movies with these premises both wacky, tacky, and even retro before retro was cool was his attempt to do for cinema what the likes of his idol Jack Kirby had done for comic books. Unfortunately, sometimes Band went broke (literally!) and a number of these b-movies were more fun in spirit than execution.

It Came from the Video Aisle! – Inside Charles Band’s Full Moon Entertainment Studio walks a fine line between being a historical document, a love letter to these films and the people making them, and an honest critique of the good, the bad, and the ugly of a little company that produced small films often about tiny terrors.

Co-written by Dave Jay, William S. Wilson, and Torsten Dewi; It Came from the Video Aisle! is a massive 480 page tome containing probably everything you ever wanted to know about the wild, rocky history of Full Moon. I took one look at the thickness of this book and wasn’t sure I ever wanted to know this much. While Band may be the king of the B’s and a proponent of the popular three B’s of b-cinema (blood, boobs, beast), I can best surmise this Full Moon field guide using three E’s: entertaining, extensive, and exhausting.

Why exhausting? Simply put, I found a good deal of what I read to be a tad depressing. A lot of the folks quoted clearly worked their asses off to try and make something they could be proud of when deep down even they clearly knew between the time, budgetary, and creative restraints their work was in the service of something with no chance in hell of being what they wanted it to be. If only we had the money… If only we had more time… If only we had more creative freedom. If only Charles Band didn’t keep butchering the scripts during production… If only: such a common theme it practically becomes as much a mantra as Band’s own overly ambitious “200 movies by the year 2000” plan.

Many a writer, director, special effects artist, cast, and crew member appeared to be more than well aware of the frequently compromised nature of their work; hence film credits littered with an endless array of pseudonyms by a slew of Band regulars. Scam artists and escaped convicts use fewer aliases than the people responsible for Full Moon’s output. “Benjamin Carr” still insisted that alias be used instead of their real name in a book celebrating his career.

It Came from the Video Aisle! is a hell ride through the constantly changing landscape of the low budget movie industry and how a one-man Band and his Full Moon brand continues to survive in it by hook or by crook. This is very much a Hollywood survival story, and not just Band’s.

What I read in many ways echoed my own sentiments regarding Full Moon. I have an unabashed love for many of these films, warts and all, and some I simply have a deep rooted nostalgia for because of the formative role they played in my movie-watching youth. When it comes to a good number of these films, the brutal honest truth is if they were books you could say they weren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

Following a foreword by Full Moon workhorse C. Courtney Joyner, whose name, alongside Benjamin Carr, are the only ones to appear almost as much as Band himself (except maybe David DeCoteau, who, strangely, declined to contribute in any way to the book), the text is divided into eight chapters presented is a somewhat muddled fashion. More on that momentarily.

Chapter One: The Paramount Years – Can you call it a “chapter” if it runs approximately 109 pages? There are full-length books that aren’t even that long.

If you’re a fan of Full Moon today, it’s almost certainly because of the movies pumped out during the five-year run with Paramount. I would dare say this is the most cheerful chapter of the book, at least until you get to the aggravatingly vague portion when Paramount pulls the plug due to what can only politely described as questionable decision-making on Band’s part. Hard not to get the sense there might be more to the story that for whatever reason, probably legal, gets sugarcoated by the authors. For certain hard not to read this chapter and be left wondering what greater heights Full Moon might have reached had that deal not turned sour so quickly. If only…

One of the biggest surprises of this chapter is the near twenty pages devoted to Band’s kiddie movie off-shoot Moonbeam Entertainment. I had no idea that these family flicks that littered video store shelves during this time period had proven to be so lucrative they often outsold the actual Full Moon titles and frequently were given considerably larger budgets. Moonbeam was such a financial success that when the big Full Moon/Paramount divorce went down Paramount, shall we say, wanted custody of the children.

Chapter Two: The Kushner-Locke Era – When one door slams shut Charlie Band finds a way to stick his foot in another. The other would be the Kushner-Locke Company with whom Band partnered with beginning in 1995 and continued with until about the turn of the millennium when the company financially collapsed. The prevailing theme of this chapter is a determination to try and make even more movies of a wider variety with even less money, time, and creative freedom.

For every success during this period, like the wonderfully loopy Head of the Family, there was an awful lot of movies put out that were just that. The Killer Eye, anyone?

Part of the problem would be overexpansion. Specifically, the various sub-labels Full Moon created to cater to specific genre needs. Amazing Fantasy, Monster Island Entertainment, Action X-Treme, Shriekers, PulsePounders, and Filmmonsters, oh my! The greatest intriguing tale to come out of this failed experiment would be the Skinemax-quality softcore sexcapades of Torchlight Entertainment (later Surrender Cinema) that, surprisingly, even Band was so uncomfortable with he preferred to keep his name off of them as much as possible.

Chapter Three: The Tempe Era – This chapter was guest written by Nathan Shumate, presumably because these were such dark times for Full Moon (no longer even called Full Moon at this stage) that none of the main three authors wanted to revisit any of these film. I can personally testify to having only ever viewed two of the movies mentioned here: William Shatner’s disastrous Groom Lake and the monster movie Demonicus, which I know I saw but have zero recollection of. Nothing I read here did anything to make me want to go seek out any of these titles I overlooked back in the day.

That said, my own unfamiliarity/avoidance with this early 2000s era during which Band went the micro-budget route with distributors Tempe Entertainment, working with the likes of DIY filmmaking kingpins J.R. Bookwalter and David Sterling, made for an interesting read. Of particular interest, tales of the production fiasco that was William Shatner’s bungled directorial effort Groom Lake and how it led the iconic actor to become the host of Band’s short-lived series “Full Moon Fright Nights”.

Chapter Four: The Shadow/Full Moon Features Era – As I like to call this, my PTSD years. These were the movies that came along right as I was just beginning to write reviews online, many of which were scathing, many of which I had completely forgotten about until I re-read about them here and all the bad memories returned.

Oh, Decadent Evil 1 & 2, why – just why?

On the other hand, there’s The Gingerdead Man, a movie I wrote a rave review of that I still get grief for even to this day; as if a film about a killer cookie voiced by Gary Busey could ever be deserving of anything less than four stars.

This chapter begins in the mid-2000s with Band’s attempt to rebrand once more as Shadow Entertainment before fully relaunching Full Moon and striking a distribution deal with this company you may have heard of called Redbox.

Chapter Five: The Pick-Ups – Until l read this short chapter I didn’t even know Band had created yet another sub-label in 1999 called Edge Entertainment with the intent to distribute more respectable, predominantly non-genre films. Robert Altman’s Gun and Matthew Bright’s Freeway follow-up Confessions of a Trick Baby found their way onto store shelves via Edge. As did John Landis’ forgotten comedy Susan’s Plan; a fact that did not sit well with him. Charlie Band is a criminal! decried Landis. And that’s coming from a guy who actually had actors die on his film set.

Chapter Six: Full Moon Streaming – The shortest chapter (9 pages) discussing Band’s move to create his own online streaming service. Makes sense this would be the shortest as this is his most recent venture, the history of which is still being written.

Chapter Seven: The Vault – Another short chapter (10 pages) focusing mainly on late stop-motion master David Allen’s long-gestating passion project The Primevals. An epic fantasy adventure in the tradition of Ray Harryhausen; what would have been Allen’s magnum opus began life in 1968, experienced numerous starts and stops for decades, nearly got finished by Full Moon in 1994, and even to this day Band swears he’ll see it to fruition eventually. If only…

Chapter Eight: The Franchises – Pretty much everything you ever wanted to know about the history and making of what are considered the seminal Full Moon franchises: Puppetmaster, Trancers, Subspecies, The Gingerdead Man, Evil Bong, Killjoy, and the “Moonbeam” adventure series Josh Kirby.

If there’s one major complaint to be made towards the book, it would be the oft clunky nature of how all this information is laid out there. Putting “The Franchises” at the end seemed an odd choice since they could have easily started the book with a whole chapter on Puppetmaster alone seeing as how that film launched the company and the series is Full Moon’s most well-known property. The ginormous opening Paramount chapter could have easily been divided with mini-chapters devoted to Trancers and Subspecies, with others delved into greater detail where it fit.

The narrative flow of chapters periodically come to a screeching halt for lengthy interviews with the likes of poster artist Lee MacLeod, Fred Olen Ray, Benjamin Carr, Danny Draven, J.R. Bookwalter, writer Shane Bitterling, special effect mavens Mike Deak and Mark Rappaport, just to name a few. Sometimes they fit the story being told; other times it felt intrusive. There are already so many quotes and anecdotes I kind of wish many of the longer interviews had been held off for their own chapter towards the end instead.

The mere existence of “The Vault” chapter alone struck me as odd. An entire chapter devoted to unfinished films yet only really discusses two such films at length while the entire book is already loaded with little asides about unmade Full Moon productions?

For the record, based on what I read here about the unproduced Doctor Mordred 2, we should all be heartbroken that we lost out on what could very well have gone on to be regarded as one of the very best films Full Moon would ever produce.

Another layout quibble was how certain personalities got introduced in one chapter and then re-introduced again in a later chapter, sometimes with even more biographical info and how they fit into the Full Moon family the second time around. I swore Jacqueline Lovell got re-introduced two or three times while someone who was a staple of early Full Moon films like Megan Ward was almost completely glossed over.

You expect lots of images from a book like this. Oh, you’ll get plenty of production art and behind the scenes photos but not as much as you might have hoped for and you may have trouble fully appreciating the details given many are bordering on postage stamp size. Now that I think about it; a book about a movie company known for making movies about mini-monsters filled with tiny images actually sounds strangely appropriate.

All in all, if you’re a fan of Full Moon then this is a must-have book. If you’re just a fan of filmmaking and want an inside view of what it was like deep in the trenches of the direct-to-video market from 1990 to today then this is again a must-read.

One of Band’s cohorts tells him with his experience he could get a job as an executive at any studio in Hollywood. Band doesn’t want that. Band wants to be his own boss. If that means jeopardizing his deal with Redbox because they’ve made it abundantly clear that no matter how much he insists on making Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong they absolutely will not distribute such a movie in their machines, then so be it.

As John Carpenter is quoted in the book: “Only two things will still be around after the apocalypse: cockroaches and Charles Band.” He meant that as a compliment.

BUY IT NOW!

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Hell Night Blu-ray Review – Mischief & Mayhem At Mongoloid Manor

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Starring Linda Blair, Peter Barton, Suki Goodwin, Vincent Van Patten

Directed by Tom DeSimone

Distributed by Scream Factory


1981. Prime time for the slasher film, when studios were more than content to pump out one after another since production cost was often so low. The downside, though, was that many wound up being formulaic and, eventually, forgotten. Time has allowed the cream to rise to the top of that crop and while Hell Night (1981) isn’t among the best it does stand out due to some novel choices made by director Tom DeSimone and executive producer Chuck Russell, the man responsible for some of the most consistently entertaining horror films of the ‘80s. A dilapidated mansion, oozing with gothic atmosphere, stands in place of a college campus or generic forest setting. Characters are dressed in formal costume; a stark departure from typical ‘80s teen garb. The film is half haunted house, half crazed killer and there is a not-entirely-unexpected-but-definitely-welcome twist at the end providing a solid jolt to a beleaguered climax. Fans are rightly excited to see Hell Night makes its debut in HD, though the final product is still compromised despite Scream Factory’s best efforts.

It’s Hell Night, every fraternity brother’s favorite evening; when new recruits are tormented in hazing rituals from, well, Hell. Peter (Kevin Brophy), president of the vaunted Alpha Sigma Rho house, comes up with the brilliant idea to have four pledges – Marti (Linda Blair), Jeff (Peter Barton), Denise (Suki Goodwin), and Seth (Vincent Van Patten) – spend the night in a decaying mansion. But this isn’t just any old house, as Peter regales a rapt audience – this is where former owner Raymond Garth killed his wife and three malformed children before hanging himself, sparing only the life of his son, Andrew, who was rumored to reside within the place after the murders. The pledges enter Garth Manor and quickly pair off, with Marti and Jeff getting intellectual while Denise and Seth take a more physical path.

A few hours pass and Peter returns with some of his bros, planning to initiate a few good scare pranks they set up earlier that week. The chuckles don’t last long, though, because Jeff and Seth quickly find the shoddy wiring and poorly placed speakers rigged upstairs. What they don’t know is that there is an actual killer on the loose, and he just decapitated one of the girls. Leaving the labyrinthine home proves difficult, with Marti & Jeff getting lost within the catacombs beneath the estate, evading their mongoloid menace however possible. Seth, meanwhile, has to scale a massive spiked fence if they hope to get any help way out here. Wait, didn’t Peter mention something about Andrew having a sibling?

The production team on this picture was a beast, and I’m convinced that’s the chief reason why it came out any good at all; specifically, the involvement of Chuck Russell and Irwin Yablans. I give a bit less credit to director Tom DeSimone, who up to that point (and after it) filled his filmography with lots and lots of gay porn; storyline and direction are usually secondary in that market. Hell, they even had Frank Darabont running around set as a P.A. which is just a cool fact because nobody listens to P.A.s on a film set. Music is just as important, too, and composer Dan Wyman is a synth master who worked with John Carpenter on his early films. His score here is reminiscent of those lo-fi masterpieces.

Solid atmosphere and rounded characters make all the difference. Instead of a roster of stereotypical sophomoric faces the bulk of the film focuses on four individuals with personality and a bit of depth. Blair makes a good turn as the bookish good girl type, while Barton is a charming match for her mentally, showing interest in more than just a drunken hookup. Denise and Seth are both superficial, and their interactions inject the most humor into the film. Denise continually calling Seth “Wes” is one example. A good horror film gets the audience invested in who lives and dies, and while I won’t go so far as to say these are exemplary characters the script does make them three-dimensional and not so paper thin.

The 1.85:1 1080p image is sourced from a 4K restoration of an archival 35mm print with standard definition inserts. This is a step up from Anchor Bay’s old DVD but not by leaps and bounds. Colors attain greater saturation and definition is tightened but the picture looks awfully soft too often and the jump between HD and SD footage is plain as day. The print displays vertical scratches and white flecks. Black levels are decent but there is clear room for improvement across the board. To their credit this is the best image Scream Factory was able to produce but fans should temper expectations going in because this is not a pristine picture by any means.

There is nothing wrong to be found with the English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track, which does a fine job of carrying the dialogue alongside Dan Wyman’s sinister synth soundtrack. Direction is limited and the presentation is routine, but no problems were detected and the track capably supports the feature. Subtitles are available in English.

Here is where Scream Factory does their best to make up for the shortcomings of the a/v presentation: a ton of extra features.

An audio commentary track features actress Linda Blair, director Tom DeSimone, and producers Irwin Yablans & Bruce Cohn Curtis.

“Linda Blair: The Beauty of Horror” – This is a recent discussion with the actress, who covers her run in the genre in addition to diving deep into this film’s difficult production.

“Hell Nights with Tom DeSimone” – Shot on location at the Garth Manor (actually Kimberly Crest Estate in Redlands, CA), DeSimone reflects back on shooting the film there over 35 years ago.

“Peter Barton: Facing Fear” – The actor offers up expected discussion, covering his career in horror and navigating the Hollywood scene.

“Producing Hell with Bruce Cohn Curtis” – This covers more of the behind-the-scenes work that went into making the movie.

“Writing Hell” – Screenwriter Randy Feldman offers up some insight into his process for creating the story and writing the script.

“Vincent Van Patten & Suki Goodwin in Conversation” – The two actors, who have not seen each other in quite some time, sit down together for a back-and-forth discussion.

“Kevin Brophy & Jenny Neumann in Conversation” – This is another chat conducted the same way as Van Patten & Goodwin.

“Gothic Design in Hell Night” – Art director Steven Legler talks about his process for turning Garth Manor into how it is seen on film; evoking the right chilling atmosphere.

“Anatomy of the Death Scenes” – Pam Peitzman, make-up artist, and John Eggett, special effects, scrutinize each of the film’s kill scenes and discuss what went into achieving them.

“On Location at Kimberly Crest” – DeSimone guides viewers on a tour of the “Garth Manor” as it can be seen today.

A theatrical trailer, two TV spots, a radio spot, and a photo gallery are the remaining features.

Special Features:

  • NEW 4K Scan of the film taken from the best surviving archival print
  • NEW interviews with actors Linda Blair, Peter Barton, Vincent Van Patten, Suki Goodwin, Kevin Brophy and Jenny Neumann
  • Audio Commentary with Linda Blair, Tom DeSimone, Irwin Yablans and Bruce Cohn Curtis
  • Original Theatrical Trailer & TV spots
  • Blu-ray Disc Exclusives:
    • NEW interview with Director Tom DeSimone
    • NEW interview with Producer Bruce Cohn Curtis
    • NEW interview with Writer Randolph Feldman
    • NEW – Anatomy of the Death Scenes with Tom DeSimone, Randolph Feldman, Make-up artist Pam Peitzman, Art Director Steven G. Legler and Special Effects artist John Eggett
    • NEW – On Location at the Kimberly Crest House with Tom DeSimone
    • NEW – Gothic Design in Hell Night with Steven G. Legler
    • Original Radio spot
    • Photo Gallery featuring rare, never-before-seen stills
  • Hell Night
  • Special Features
4.0

Summary

“Hell Night” overcomes being lumped in with standard slasher fare thanks to dripping atmosphere, unique production design, and characters that elicit some empathy. The a/v presentation leaves much to be desired but a plethora of bonus features softens that blow.

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The Open House Review – Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here

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Starring Dylan Minnette, Piercey Dalton, Patricia Bethune, Sharif Atkins

Written by Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote

Directed by Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote


Mere weeks, even days, after effusively beating Netflix’s original horror content drum (The Babysitter, Before I Wake, Creep 2), I’m here to confirm that The Open House is emptier than an vacant bomb shelter. Cold, unappealing and thoughtlessly plotted to the point where “generic” would have been an improvement. From the moment we’re welcomed into Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote’s scripted imprisonment, it’s nothing but loose floorboards and busted plumbing. The home invasion genre has rarely been navigated with such little attention to detail, asking for our suspension of coherent storytelling early, often, and without earning the right to be deemed mindless genre fun. Not even Ty Pennington could save this extreme renovation disaster.

Dylan Minnette plays Logan Wallace, a track star and student who must find closure after watching his father fall victim to a fatal car accident. It is his mother Naomi’s (Piercey Dalton) idea to spend a little time away from their suburban home – escape those painful memories – so they retreat to her sister’s luxurious mountain getaway. The catch? It’s in the process of being sold and open houses are on the regular, so Naomi and Logan must vacate their temporary premises on certain days. It’s after one of these very showings that Logan begins to notice slight changes around the house, and he fears that an unwanted visitor may be in their midst. Guess what? He’s right.

To understand how little The Open House cares about conscious blueprinting, just read the poster’s tagline. “You can’t lock out what’s already inside” – right, but you could have prevented them from coming in, or checked the house to make sure they weren’t squatting, or explored numerous other possibilities to avoid this scenario. The mansion’s realtor allows prospective buyers to come and go but it’s not her job to make sure no one’s hiding in the basement? Naomi can’t even keep track of the *single* visitor she lets look around the house? It’s infuriating to see so many people neglect safety out of forced coincidence because the script couldn’t rationalize the killer’s entry any other way – a confounding strike one.

This is also a film that admits no reasoning for why its own murderer has targeted the Wallaces, or why he stokes a violent fetish when it comes to open houses. We never actually see his face, just his imposing handyman-looking attire, nor do we savor any kind of tangible backstory (his family died during their own open house and he suffered a psychotic breakdown – just give me *something*). His undefined form never demands curiosity like John Carpenter’s “The Shape” once did, because scripting is nothing more than bullet notes for basic horror movie necessities. Here he is, your bad guy – too bad he’s introduced without fear, handled without originality and unable to characterize beyond torturous kidnapper dotted lines. He’s just, you know, a guy who sneaks into open houses and kills – COMPLETE WITH A FINAL PAN-IN ON AN OPEN HOUSE SIGN WHEN HE MOVES TO HIS NEXT TARGET [eye roll into infinity].

Every scene in The Open House feels like an afterthought. “Ah, we need a way to build tension – how about a senile local woman who lives down the street and wanders aimlessly into frame?” Overplayed and in no way suitable to most her inclusions, but sure. “Oh, and we need inner conflict – what about if the breaker-iner steals Logan’s phone and frames him for later acts?” I mean, didn’t Logan canonically lose his phone even before Naomi’s mid-shower water heater issues – but sure, instant fake tension. “How are people going to believe the killer is always around and never blows his cover – think they’ll just buy it?” No, we don’t. Worse off, his cat-and-mouse game is dully repetitive until a finale that skyrockets intensity with jarring tonal imbalance. This closing, dreadful end without any sort of redemptive quality. More abusive than it is fulfilling.

If there’s anything positive worth conveying, it’s that Minnette does a fine job shuffling around as a character with severe sight impairment. The killer makes a point to remove his contacts as a final “FUCK YOU,” just to toy around a bit more, and Minnette frantically slips or stumbles with nothing more than foggy vision. Otherwise, dialogue finds itself ripped form a billion other straight-to-TV Logo dramas about broken families, no moment ever utilizing horror past a few shadowy forms standing in doorways after oblivious characters turn away. You can’t just take an overused subgenre and sleepwalk through homogenized beats…case and god-forsaken point.

Even as a streamable Netflix watch, The Open House is irredeemable beyond fault. The walls are caving in on this dilapidated excuse for home invasion horror, benefiting not from the star power of a temperamental Dylan Minnette. I have seen most involved players here in far better projects (Minnette’s stock has rightfully been skyrocketing, Matt Angel in The Funhouse Massacre, etc), but this is bargain bin theatrics without a fully formed idea. A nameless villain, doomed nice guy (Sharif Atkins), woefully unaware plot advancement – all the worst cliches found in one rage-quit worthy effort. Anyone who makes it through deserves an award…or a dunce cap.

  • The Open House
1.0

Summary

Unless you’re irrationally afraid of cold showers, The Open House fails to deliver on a premise that can be summed up by no more than two lines of text.

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Ruby Blu-ray Review – ’70s Drive-In Psychic Shocker From VCI

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Starrign Piper Laurie, Janit Baldwin, Stuart Whitman, Roger Davis

Written by George Edwards and Barry Schneider

Directed by Curtis Harrington

Distributed by VCI Entertainment


Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and director Curtis Harrington’s Ruby (1977) is paying it to a few of the ‘70s most notable horror films. Cribbing liberally from such better pictures as The Exorcist (1973) and Carrie (1976), this is a picture that could have worked well despite being a pastiche because it begins with a decent setup and the elements for something interesting are present. Unfortunately, nothing ever gels like it has to and Ruby loses focus early on, dashing from one death scene to the next and allowing for little salient connective tissue to tie it all together. The big mystery presented early on should be easy enough for horror fans to deduce, and the film never brings the scare factor. A few of the deaths are novel in their inventiveness, especially the use of the drive-in theater surroundings, but a couple kills do not a movie make and Ruby spends too much time middling and being weird to be of any note.

Florida, 1935. Low level mobster Nicky Rocco (Sal Vacchio) is gunned down by a lake as his pregnant girlfriend Ruby watches on in horror. Just before dying, Nicky swears vengeance on whoever did this to him. Cut to sixteen years later and Ruby (Piper Laurie) runs a drive-in movie theater and lives in a home nearby with her daughter, Leslie (Janit Baldwin). Ruby is a tough broad, quick-witted and foul-mouthed; able to hold her own with the guys. But those guys are beginning to vanish one by one as the bodies start piling up at the theater. Ruby suspects there’s something off with Leslie, so she brings in her own psychic doctor, Dr. Paul Keller (Roger Davis), to examine her daughter. Leslie, as it turns out, is acting as a conduit for the wayward soul of Nicky, who blames Ruby for his ultimate demise. Possessed and programmed for vengeance, Leslie and Ruby have an all-out battle in a search for the truth.

The second half of this film is where things go right off the rails, with scenes aping The Exorcist so much it feels like a knock-off. This isn’t always such a bad thing because knock-offs of better films can always turn out great (see: most of the post-Gremlins little creature features), but Ruby never makes a clear case for introducing these fantastical elements in the third act. This is a story that could have worked better by exercising restraint, playing closer to something like J.D.’s Revenge (1976), a similar gangster-soul-out-for-justice film, than a wild, possessed ride.

What does work, for me, are the drive-in theater setting (I’m a sucker for movies that also involve the craft of film in some way) and the kills, a few of which make great use of the theatrical setting to deliver fitting fatalities. One employee winds up stuffed into a soda machine, with his blood getting pumped into a dark, syrupy drink and served up to guests. Another meets his end on the screen, impaled by the pole on which car speakers are kept. Harrington does inject this picture with a strong sense of atmosphere, too. The locale is woodsy and feels remote; the countryside is dark and foggy, the perfect setting for something grim to occur. None of these elements are enough to fully save the feature, though they do bring enough production value to ease to burden of a poor script.

Personally, I’m a sucker for almost any horror from bygone eras – especially the ‘70s and ‘80s – so, deficiencies aside, Ruby is still worth a spin if you enjoy reveling in this particular era. This is far from an unheralded gem or little-seen treasure, but it does, at the least, rip-off good pictures in spectacularly bad fashion.

This is a rough film and every bit of work done for the 2K restoration still can’t do much to polish it up any better. First, a note: there is a video drop-out for approximately ten seconds around the 21-minute mark. VCI is offering replacement discs via their Facebook page, so check there for further details. Future copies will be corrected, and those should already be on “shelves” now, so consider this an FYI. The 1.85:1 1080p image is frequently soft and murky, darkly shot and poorly lit. Shadow detail is virtually non-existent. The color temperature looks a bit on the warm side. Film grain is noisy and occasionally problematic.

An English LPCM 2.0 track carries a clean & balanced audio experience. Voices sound a touch muffled at times, though nothing too severe. The murders scenes are accompanied by creepy ambient sounds, adding a slight chill. The film’s closing theme song is awesome cheese that must be heard. Subtitles are available in English SDH.

There are two audio commentary tracks; the first, with David Del Valle and Nathaniel Bell; the second, with Curtis Harrington and Piper Laurie.

The film’s original trailer is included in HD.

Also included are a few interviews with Harrington, conducted by David Del Valle, including “2001 David Del Valle Interview with Curtis Harrington”, and “Sinister Image Episode Vol. 1 & Vol. 2: David Del Valle Archival Interview with Curtis Harrington”.

Special Features:

  • NEW 2K RESTORATION from the original camera negative
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Audio Commentary with Director Curtis Harrington & Actress Piper Laurie
  • New Audio Commentary with David Del Valle and Curtis Harrington historian Nate Bell
  • Two Interviews with Curtis Harrington by Film Critic David Del Valle
  • Photo Gallery
  • Optional English SDH subtitles
  • Ruby
  • Special Features
2.3

Summary

A simple plot becomes wildly unfocused but Ruby does have intermittent camp value fans of ’70s horror cinema should dig. VCI’s Blu-ray is no beauty by any means, though it’s likely to be the best this poorly-shot feature will get.

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