• Spookies (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: November 29th, 2019.
    Director: Thomas Doran, Brendan Faulkner and Eugenie Joseph
    Cast: Peter Dain, Nick Gionta, Joan Ellen Delaney, Peter Iasillo, Charlotte Alexandra, Anthony Valbiro, Kim Merrill, Lisa Friede, Soo Paek, Maria Pechukas, Felix Ward
    Year: 1985
    Purchase From Vinegar Syndrome

    Spookies – Movie Review:

    Produced by the same Michael Lee who founded infamous UK video label VIPCO, 1985’s Spookies, is a bit of a mess. It’s a beautiful mess in many ways, but a mess nevertheless and that’s likely due to the fact that it began life as a movie called Twisted Souls. Eventually, however, co-writers/directors Brendan Faulkner and Thomas Doran, along with co-writer/producer Frank M. Farel, were given the boot and the film was re-titled Spookies. Eugenie Joseph was brought in to replace them and was responsible for not only shooting and adding new material but for re-editing what her predecessors had created for the project. Too many cooks in the kitchen, to be sure, but the end result – as brain frying as it is – is definitely not without its own screwball charm.

    As to what this is all about? Let’s give it a shot… Billy (Alec Nemser) is a weird kid who decides to run away from home on his birthday. Where does he go? Where any weird kid would go when running away on his birthday – a massive old mansion well past its prime surrounded by a huge cemetery. What could go wrong? Well, lots, actually. Billy sees a man in the woods and gives him a lighter. Then after exploring the mansion for a bit and finding some birthday schwag laid out just for him, Billy gets killed by a weird looking creature.

    Soon enough, we learn why Billy was killed. See, a crazy old man named Kreon (Felix Ward) lives in the house and he really wants to bring back his dead wife, Isabelle (Maria Pechukas). Kreon wails a lot about how he’s a slave to Isabelle’s beauty or some such nonsense. Anyway, to bring her back he he has to have his strange manimal-type servant (Dan Scott) kill people. Each kill committed brings Isabelle just that one step closer to re-animation.

    Kreon, however, is in luck when a bunch of nine random characters - Lewis (Al Magliochetti), Carol (Lisa Friede), Duke (Nick Gionta), Linda (Joan Ellen Delaney), Peter (Peter Dain), Meegan (Kim Merrill), Rich (Peter Iasillo, Jr.), Dave (Anthony Valbiro) and Adrienne (Charlotte Alexandra) - all drive up to the house and start poking around. Duke is a jerk and Rich has brought along a puppet. They find a Ouija Board – which is never a good sign – and foolishly decide to play around with it. Kreon, aware of their presence, casts some spells and conjures up a bunch of wild looking creatures to go and kill off the rest of the characters. Eventually some zombies show up and, well, there’s a twist at the end (sort of) that we won’t spoil for those who haven’t seen it, but at one point some monsters fart and the grim reaper explodes.

    As to the cast? Charlotte Alexandra (credited as Charlotte Seeley), who Euro-sleaze fans will recognize from Immoral Tales and Emmanuelle 3 shows up in this one – she smokes a lot of cigarettes and looks hot. The rest of the cast aren’t as recognizable, but quite a few of them appeared in Street Trash and Igor And The Lunatics. Pretty much all of the performers are entertaining in their roles. Felix Ward, the guy who plays Kreon, does a great job of overdoing it and Alec Nemser is wonderfully annoying as Billy. Those two stand out.

    The movie is a mess in terms of its plotting and the story is all over the place but you’ve got to give the various directors credit (well, mostly the original directors) for creating some interesting atmosphere. The old house is a good setting for a horror movie and some of the creature effects are kind of great. The effects team is made up of Gabe Bartolos (who has worked on all sorts of great stuff like From Beyond and a few Frank Henenlotter movies), Arnold Gargiulo (who worked on Deadly Spawn and the greatest movie ever made… Rock ‘N’ Roll Nightmare!) and Vincent J. Guastini (who went on to more mainstream projects like Super Mario Brothers and Requiem For A Dream but who also did the Danzig movie Verotika) and they do a really solid job here considering that this was made on a pretty modest budget. Al Magliochetti,
    who would go on to work on some big Hollywood titles like Waterworld and The Addams Family as well as the type of genre fare we love like Jason Goes To Hell and a host of Full Moon titles, also did much of the practical effects work on the picture.

    Spookies – Blu-ray Review:

    Vinegar Syndrome brings Spookies to Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen on a 50GB disc ‘newly restored and scanned in 4k from its original 35mm negative.’ Given the fact that Spookies has always looked like crap on home video, you might be wondering how this restoration has turned out, but the screen caps below don’t like – Vinegar Syndrome has once again worked their filthy magic on a cinematic oddity, polishing this one up nicely and really making it shine. The feature takes up 26GBs of space and it looks excellent. Some of the shots use a lot of heavy fog but the encoding never breaks down and the image is free of any noticeable compression artifacts. Edge enhancement is never a problem, and there’s virtually no print damage here at all, the picture is shockingly clean. Detail and depth are vastly improved over past editions, you can make out a lot more of the backgrounds and get a better appreciation of the work that went into the effects on the picture.

    The English language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 track sounds nice and clean. The track is a bit flat in a few spots, stemming back to the original recording probably, but there are no problems. Balance is good, dialogue stays clear and what wacky synth score sounds great. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. An alternate English language Dolby Digital 2.0 track is also included.

    Extras on disc one include two 2015 Alamo Drafthouse screening introductions. The first is with Spookies director Thomas Doran which runs just over one-minute and allows Doran to give a brief history of what happened to the film. The second is with co-writer/producer Frank M. Farel and it runs four-minutes. He gives a quick overview of who did what and a rundown of the film’s bizarre history. Doran’s piece is audio only so it plays over some stills while Farel’s was done on video.

    Moving right along, we get a Q&A from a Hudson Horror Show screening that took place at the Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers on September 16th, 2015 with actor Peter Iasillo, actor Anthony Valbiro and production assistant Tom Sciacca that clocks in at just over twenty-minutes. They talk about the characters that they played in the film and some of the quirks that those characters entail, what the original ending for the film was supposed to be, how the mansion they shot at did seem to be actually haunted, what some of the other cast and crew members have gone on to do since the movie wrapped, why there are fart sounds in the movie and who was responsible for that, strange things that happened on set, how they appreciate the cult that has developed over the film, Michael Lee’s involvement in the production and quite a bit more.

    The Archival Locations Featurette with actor Peter Iasillo is a six-minute piece done for an Alamo Drafthouse screening where Iasillo hams it up in front of The John Jay Estate in Rye, New York which was the primary location used for the film. He gives us a good look at the exterior of the main house as well as the outlying buildings and explains what scenes take advantage of those specific locales.

    The Pinreel outtakes and bloopers segment is twelve-minutes of footage showing the cast goofing off with clothespins in their hair, making faces at the camera and generally just horsing around. This material is great, however, as it gives us a look at what it was like on set and really gives us a feel for how things went down behind the scenes. We also get to see some specific scenes being worked on and we get to see some of the crew doing their thing here as well.

    Finishing up the extras on the first disc is an extensive behind the scenes still gallery that plays out as a fifteen-minute-long slideshow, a theatrical trailer for the film, menus and chapter selection.

    One disc two, we get Twisted Tale - The Unmaking Of Spookies, a feature-length making-of documentary that runs an hour-and-forty-one-minutes. Directed by Michael Gingold and Glen Baisley, this is an insanely in-depth look at how the movie came to be what it is. We cover how Doran, Faulkner and Farel all got to know one another, their connections to movies like Dawn Of The Dead and Igor And The Lunatics, how they got involved with VIPOC’s Michael Lee, other projects that they were involved with (like a short called The Anger – some clips included here make it look pretty great!), how they location was secured and more. We get interviews here with Faulkner and Farel, cinematographer Ken Kelsch, actors Nick Gionta, Anthony Valbiro, FX artists Vincent Guastini, John Dods and Gabe Bartalos, art director Cecilia Doran, original editor John Donaldson and more and we’re treated to a load of great archival stills and behind the scenes photographs. As the documentary plays out we learn what happened to the film, how Lee brought on Eugenie Joseph into the mix and what she did to the film (the documentarians behind this project tried to get her involved but had no luck), how the film was received, how they feel about it after all these years and lots, lots more.

    Twisted Tale - The Unmaking Of Spookies also includes an optional commentary track with documentary co-directors Michael Gingold and Glen Baisley where they speak about the introductory scene shot in Video Visions in Chatham, New York (and how it was close to train tracks, which led to a problem), other projects that some of these guys were involved with that weren’t covered in the documentary (like a title called Bloody Pulp), how Gingold got to know some of these guys over the years, what it was like tracking these guys down and getting them to tell the story behind Spookies, how Baisley’s friendship with Thomas Doran helped get this moving (he sadly passed away before this was made), and how genuinely upset some of these guys are over what was done to their work all these many years later, Doran in particular. If that weren’t enough for you, there’s also an additional thirteen-minutes’ worth of deleted scenes from the documentary included here.

    Also included on disc two is VIPCO - The Untold Story, a feature-length documentary directed by Jason Impey and released in 2018 that covers the rise and fall of the UK’s most infamous home video label. This starts out with Impey talking about how he got to know label founder Michael Lee while trying to get VIPCO to release a horror film he’d made and then leads into a lengthy discussion about the history of the label, its importance in the Video Nasties craze that swept the UK during the advent of the home video boom, how certain key titles like Shogun Assassin and Zombie Flesh Eaters really helped put them on the map and more. As the documentary plays out, we learn how Lee got his start in the home video business selling pirated films on VHS to wealthy Nigerians, how he got busted and went legit, how he wound up getting distribution and how his first shot at it was with a video on badminton, how he very quickly made millions in the business and how he tried to treat his employees well by doing things for them like buying them cars. We also learn how, when DVD replaced VHS, Lee didn’t quite get it, refusing to do extras or properly remaster films, which led to the label earning a reputation, quite rightfully, of putting out crappy products. Regardless, the label remains an important part of the UK’s video history and this documentary does a very thorough job of exploring its history and importance by interviewing university lecturers like Johnny Walker, Neil Jackson, Mark McKenna and Kate Egan, filmmaker and VIPCO fan Bazz Hancher, author James Simpson (who wrote the VIPCO book 'Video Nasty Mayhem'), novelist and critic Kim Newman (who deserves a spot in every documentary about British genre films), writers Jay Slater and Kevin Gates, illustrator and designer Graham Humphreys (who did most of the layout work for VIPCO), Lee's distributor Barrie Gold, Salvation Films' Nigel Wingrove and film licensor Martin Myers of Miracle Communications (who tells a gtreat story about his father, Michael, and John Carpenter).

    There are some extras included for this documentary as well, including extended twenty-six-minutews of extended interview footage with Lee and a trailer.

    This release also comes packaged with some great reversible cover sleeve art and a collectible slipcover.

    Spookies – The Final Word:

    Spookies is a mess, but it’s a fun mess with some great atmosphere, memorable characters and genuinely impressive effects work. Vinegar Syndrome has done an amazing job bringing this one back and giving the film its high definition debut. The presentation is miles above anything we’ve seen before and the extras are as plentiful as they are interesting. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Spookies Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. moviegeek86's Avatar
      moviegeek86 -
      Great review.