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VHS? Hell Yes! #1

As I promised before, I plan to post, at least semi-regularly, recommendations for movies that are only available on VHS and, at least at the time of posting, are not on any upcoming DVD release schedule. I will try to cover a broad spectrum of movies, because Scarecrow does not discriminate in what it carries, and the studios certainly don't discriminate in what they release to DVD (please note that there are numerous editions of Saw and Saw II available for purchase on DVD but no Witchfinder General, at least in America. We managed to get Sam Fuller's The Big Red One, but where's The Steel Helmet or Park Row?) The range of VHS-only titles goes from the lowbrow such as maddeningly inane, shot-on-tape Housegeist (aka Boardinghouse hown on a rare 35mm print to a bewildered audience in Olympia at 'All Freakin' Night') up through the avant-garde such as Harry Smith's experimental animation Heaven and Earth Magic. As Brian pointed out, neither of Fred Dekker's 80s Horror-comedy masterpieces, Monster Squad or Night of the Creeps (the inspiration for Slither and also shown at 'All Freakin' Night) have made the digital leap yet. Of course some of these movies will eventually be released to DVD, but many others will not. Here are two I recommend:
Tarnished Angels (1957) directed by Douglas Sirk This beautifully sad melodrama (as one would expect from Sirk) centers around a washed-up stunt-pilot/racer Roger Shumann (Robert Stack), his family and racing team, and a reporter Burke Devlin (Rock Hudson) who has chosen to write a feature on the pilot. Much of the drama comes from the inherit danger in Schumann's profession and the increasingly troubling relationship between Shumann and his wife (Dorothy Malone) and son. The airplane racing scenes are quite intense and suspenseful, and the performances, particularly Stack as the tragic pilot, are great all around. Sirk sets a haunting tone for the whole film by using footage of masked Mardi Gras revelers as segues, and by constantly reinforcing the metaphorical relationship between Shumann's flights and his dwindling grasp on his own life. As with all good melodrama, the artifice of such contrived scenarios and relationships is somehow overcome by the truth found in the tragic nature of the characters and the raw human sentiments that fuel their actions.
Watch that one by yourself. Watch this one with friends:
Deadly Prey (1988) directed by David A. Prior The mid-to-late 80s saw a deluge of low-budget First Blood knock-offs. There's really too many to count, and someday I hope to write a definitive guide to this sub-genre, but for now, here's one I highly recommend. This one is something special because in addition to the 'lone guy running around in the woods being hunted by lots of guys with guns' motif that is pretty characteristic of most Rambo rip-offs, they take the next logical step and throw in an equal measure of The Most Deadly Game. You see, Mike Danton (Ted Prior, brother of the director) didn't shoot any police or piss off any hillbillies to end up in his situation. In fact, he's a married-man just trying to chill with his wife in their nice suburban home. One day while taking out the trash (and wearing nothing but a frighteningly short pair of cut-off jean-shorts) a group of men abduct Mike and throw him into the woods with nothing but his instincts to protect him. You see, it turns out that just outside of town some secret mercenaries have set up a training camp, and part of their curriculum includes kidnapping and hunting random people from the surrounding towns. So the mercenaries-in-training set off into the woods to hunt poor Mike, but unbeknownst to them, Mike is no ordinary guy: he's a well-trained killing machine versed in the methods of survival. This includes his ability to hide underneath a bunch of leaves and pop up in time to kill his unsuspecting prey, and also he can drop out of trees on top of people. Keep in mind, all of this time he's still wearing nothing but the cut-off shorts. Deadly Prey is so much fun. Unfortunately, a lot of that stems from unintentional humor (for instance, Ted Prior's delivery of his tough guy dialogue is about as convincing as it would be to hear a young Macaulay Culkin reading for the part of Dirty Harry). But stuff blows up good, and I haven't even divulged the big twist that is central to understanding the silliness of this movie. Keep an eye out for the ubiquitous Cameron Mitchell in a completely superfluous role. I doubt this will ever be on DVD.
*while fact-checking before I posted this I looked up both of these movies on IMDB, only to find that they share an actor! Troy Donahue plays Frank Burnham in Tarnished Angels & Don Michaelson in Deadly Prey! I wrote both of these reviews from memory (it's been months since I watched either one), so I can't remember the roles, but who would have thought that anyone could have been in both of those movies!

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