To instantly decry these films as exploitative trash is to miss the point, though it is not an unjustified criticism – if you’re interested in a grotesque menagerie of terrible acting, bargain basement creature features and Killer Tomatoes, Slugs, Crocodiles and other mutated monsters then this is for you.
This DVD boxset is a treat, and when I opened the boxset I greeted some of the DVDs as old friends from a time when I would plunder the local video shop with my friends to seek out the bizarre and the ridiculous, and there will be B-Movie aficionados who will have seen every Slug induced death or enjoyed ex-wrestler ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper’s surreal post-apocalyptic travels to Frogtown, but there were some films I’d never seen and these provided the most fun.
I was given the chance to sample the delights of this boxset and chose the anti-consumerist craziness of The Stuff, George Clooney’s early work in Return to Horror High and the Amphibian Awfulness of Hell Comes to Frogtown. If there’s one thing which unites the majority of these films it is the almost total lack of pretension; these movies were satisfied with their B status and in an age when a lot of films look to subvert, or even ridicule, the genre they work from and while these films are all great fun to watch they never poke fun at their audience.
The Stuff is a nicely bizarre tale of a yoghurty substance discovered spewing from the ground which is incredibly addictive and tasty, so when a corporation gets involved and starts selling it as food two private investigators are hired by a leading ice-cream company (seriously) to get the formula. When they discover what happens to people when they eat too much Stuff there’s a whole different battle to be fought. I had such fun with this one, and each terrible line of dialogue only added to the experience. And there’s a great example of where these films succeed, with the sub plot involving a family whose young child is the only one to suspect the true nature of the titular Stuff, and the sense of fear instills in him when the rest of the family is taken over and turn on this boy is a great invocation of a true childhood fear.
Hell Comes to Frogtown is a post apocalyptic journey in which Roddy Piper’s fecund hero is tasked with impregnating the few fertile woman left in the world. The only problem is that the majority are held kidnapped in Frogtown, where the mutated amphibians have taken over parts of the barren wilderness. Cue badly handled gender politics, an exploding chastity belt and some truly terrible one liners, yes – this is Mad Max with frogs. When I tweeted I was reviewing this film for the boxset I was answered with a number of people hailing this as a classic and there’s something of the truth in that statement. I preferred Roddy Piper in They Live, another B-Movie classic, but this is all kinds of crazy, in a good way.
Finally Return to Horror High, and this is where a nudging post modernism comes into play, albeit with a far less genre-twisting remit of the Scream movies, with a movie crew returning to the scene of a grisly serial killing in a high school to make a film about the murders – and you can guess the rest of the film from here. This about all is stupid murders and awkward acting, but there’s something charming about it, though you need to be firmly in the mood to get through this one.
I have fond memories of some of the other films on offer here, notably another Clooney-fest with Return of the Killer Tomatoes, and I’m sure Elvira will be known to many of you, and while I can’t get behind the colourised Night of the Living Dead, there’s a veritable feast of the surreal and outlandish in each film.
While I first came to love this genre as a kid, drawn to the novelty and poor taste on show, I can now enjoy them with a sense of the tangible love of the genre from the filmmakers and the endearing silliness of it all.
Whirring chainsaws, needless nudity, off-screen apocalypses, mutated creature death, social commentary and quotable lines straight from the cheese factory abound in these films, and if you’re at all interested in the bastard children of the horror genre then you’ll be in for an absolute treat. Independent DVD distributor Boulevard are releasing each of these titles separately but there’s a highly recommended boxset which will provide hours of kitsch insanity.
The DVDs are released today and here’s a gallery of the titles on offer, and there are a few excellent trailers below to get you in the mood.
Here’s George Clooney taking on the Killer Tomatoes.
And here’s a look at Elvira,
Finally here’s the graveyard scene from Night of the Living Dead,