Most of us long ago switched over to DVD… and then to Blu-ray..and now are slowly integrating online or VOD purchases into our normal routine. But many movies never made it passed their original VHS releases. For these movies, you either pray someone will eventually re-release it (thank Beelzebub for Scream Factory), pick up a bootleg copy at a con, or dust off the VHS player! Below are 5 movies that are only available on VHS.
TOWER OF SCREAMING VIRGINS (1968)
Plot: The Queen of France and her ladies-in-waiting have a tower where they host wild sex parties when the king is away. They lure in virgin men, and then have them all killed at dawn so that no one can speak about the debauchery from the night before.
TOWER OF SCREAMING VIRGINS is not only a legendarily hard-to-find horror film, but it is notorious for being one of the first international horror films released in the US to get an “R” rating. It was also one of the first color films to feature female nudity. TOWER is full of lurid sex parties, torture, blackmail, murder, fetishism, and endless other tabloid-ish activities. A remake of a remake, the story in TOWER is not a new one. It was the central plot of an 1832 French play by Alexandre Dumas and was then later made into a 1955 film. The story then got a nymphomanical reboot in 1968 with TOWER OF SCREAMING VIRGINS.
TOWER is part sexy drama/horror tale and part swashbuckler as the scenes change between sex-filled situations, murder and musketeer-style sword fights. Even on the ancient and dark VHS dub I watched, it was clear to see that some skill and a keen eye went into making this picture. Unfortunately, TOWER OF SCREAMING VIRGINS never received any type of sizeable release. The VHS copies that are floating around are the work of Video Dimension, a company that would take public domain films and release them (often in low quality). The print is dark and scratchy, and the audio has some notably tweeky moments. But even on this low quality transfer, TOWER OF SCREAMING VIRGINS is a treasure!
THE PLUMBER (1979)
Plot: Anthropologists Jill and Brian Cooper have just moved into a new apartment building. Max is a folk-singing plumber who no one called and who immediately goes to work on a plumbing problem that doesn’t even seem to exist. The work drags on for days as the bathroom gets more and more demolished. As time passes, Max becomes more psychotic, and Jill becomes convinced that Max may be more interested in mind games than the plumbing.
For the longest time, THE PLUMBER was only a trailer to me. It played before my VHS copy of THE CARS THAT ATE PARIS (also directed by Peter Weir) and piqued my curiosity every time. With very few VHS copies stateside and even fewer people willing to part with them, it would be a long time before I was able to see this film. About two years ago, I managed to find a copy online for a reasonable price. Although not quite the film I expected, it had such great tension combined with dark comedy that made it worth the hunt.
I will admit both Weir’s THE CARS THAT ATE PARIS and PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK fit better into the horror category than THE PLUMBER, this film being more of a Hitchcock-ish thriller. However, THE PLUMBER has such a great build of tension and suspense that it deserves genre recognition, especially since it’s one of Weir’s first films. There’s also a great play between the working class and the intellectual, and a constant exploration of the line between sane and crazy, so much so that in the end you won’t know who is messing with who.
Update- There is some hope! Criterion currently has THE PLUMBER streaming on their Hulu channel! Check it out here before it’s too late!
NECRONOMICON: BOOK OF THE DEAD (1993)
Plot: In 1932, H.P. Lovecraft visits a strange library run by monks. He is there to try to find the notorious “Necronomicon”, a book that contains stories that supposedly reveal the truth of life and the monsters around us. As Lovecraft reads, three stories (taken from Lovecraft’s own fictional works) are presented.
I included this on a list of Lesser Known Lovecraft Films I did just a few weeks ago on blumhouse.com.
When Brian Yuzna decided to helm NECRONOMICON: BOOK OF THE DEAD in 1993, he had already produced a number of Lovecraft-based films with director Stuart Gordon, including such esteemed Lovecraft film staples like FROM BEYOND and RE-ANIMATOR. He had also directed the Lovecraftian film BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR in 1989. NECRONOMICON: BOOK OF THE DEAD is a bit different from all of these prior works in the fact that it is an anthology film presenting three separate Lovecraft stories. In addition, Yuzna may have helmed the project, but several segments are directed by other directors including Christophe Gans and Shusuke Kaneko. The wrap-around story (directed by Yuzna) stars the RE-ANIMATOR himself, Jeffery Combs, who sizzles on screen as Lovecraft just as much as he does playing Lovecraft’s mad scientist, Herbert West.
The stories that make-up NECRONOMICON fall short of some of the full-length films Yunza and Gordon have created, but this film is still a must for any Lovecraft fan. Plus, the gore effects are over-the-top and incredibly well-executed. This film has enough face melting, eyeball leaking, corpse rotting, and bone marrow sucking to keep any horror enthusiast memorized.
NECRONOMICON: BOOK OF THE DEAD struggled with distribution from the start. Producer Samuel Hadida tried for three years to secure a US theatrical distribution for the title before settling on a very quiet direct to video release from New Line Cinema. NECRONOMICON: BOOK OF THE DEAD never had a DVD release in the USA and is still lurking about on VHS. Though several websites advertise DVD copies, these are reportedly bootlegs with dark transfers of poor quality. The flick did do some DVD releasing in other countries, so non-USA region versions are available on DVD.
BLOOD BEACH (1981)
Plot: People are going missing on Venice Beach, but it’s not the water that’s doing them in. Something beneath the sand has begun to stir, and it’s pulling people down below. Now the police are on the hunt for this unknown beast.
The fear that JAWS instilled in me was extraordinary. For an entire summer, I wouldn’t go in any river, lake, or pool. I was even a little hesitant about taking a bath. Films of similar ilk tried to capitalize on this fear with little success, ALLIGATOR and the original PIRHANA being notable exceptions. Water seemed to be the key. Where else were we so defenseless? BLOOD BEACH tried to ape on this beach fear, but unlike JAWS, I did not find myself quite so afraid of sand. But what had a lasting effect for BLOOD BEACH was an equally powerful tool- the marketing campaign imagery.
The BLOOD BEACH poster and box cover are what made this film so legendary, and why an entire generation still knows the iconic graphic well. It was put on video rental shelves by Media Home Entertainment. Founded by Full Moon’s Charles Band, Media Home Ent was notorious for creating eye-catching covers resulting in successful rental stats. For BLOOD BEACH, it was the bikini-clad girl being pulled feet first down into the sand in a manner similar to the opening scene of JAWS (substitute sand for water).
But what I always loved about BLOOD BEACH isn’t so much its monster movie roots, but rather the characters. Who wouldn’t love Burt Young’s cantankerous performance as an old school Chicago cop, announcing every few minutes that he’s from Chicago. I also love the stereotypical interplay between police captain and lieutenant, making BLOOD BEACH just as much an 80s cop flick as it is a monster movie.
BLOOD BEACH never made it past VHS, a shame considering it is one of the few JAWS inspired creature films to actually show some signs of originality. Without a doubt, BLOOD BEACH is a B-Movie that, though a little dry and not nearly as effective as its source material, just wants to be loved.
Plot: Kristen finds herself at the center of a Nazi plot to create a race of half-elf, half-humans in order to create a master race. Now it’s up to Mike McGavin, a chain smoking ex-cop turned Mall Santa, to save her from becoming some strange breeding ritual.
ELVES is a hot mess of filmmaking with a plot so strange and convoluted it would only make sense under the influence of a gallon of well-spiked eggnog. Dan Haggerty, made famous as the mountain man Grizzly Adams, sucks down a constant stream of unfiltered Camels (enough to give the viewer cancer). The elves are constructed from the stiffest rubber imaginable, giving them a permanent blowup sex doll facial expression. Now, toss in some Nazi scientist and a Joan Crawford-y mother, and you’ve got yourself a shit stew that somehow you can’t stop eating. ELVES was a staple on video rental shelves, but never advanced into the DVD market. Pull out your old VHS player and throw this one on at your next holiday party!