Unmissable Movies on VHS (1990)


This annotated list was solicited by the Australian magazine Fatal Visions (1988-1998, now collected in two book volumes, The Wonder Years 1988-1989 and The Golden Age 1990-1998).

When Nature Calls (aka The Outdoorsters, Charles Kaufman, USA, 1985)

VHS label: Video Classics

The first stupid comedy on my list – stupid comedy being among the least culturally redeemable, least honoured genres … which is criminal, when you consider how much genuine cinematic invention goes on there. Alongside That Man from Rio (Philippe de Broca, 1964) and Starting Over (Alan J. Pakula, 1979), it rates as one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen. And the faux trailers that kick it off are really something special. From the director of Mother’s Day (1980).

Awesome Lotus (David O’Malley, USA, 1983)

VHS label: Palace

Stupid Comedy no. 2: a feminist, martial arts parody with split screens and flat songs. A seemingly unknown gem.

Streetwalkin’ (Joan Freeman, USA, 1985)

VHS label: Vestron

Tough, hard driven, narratively tunnel-visioned film. Isn’t it time for the definitive, eye-opening essay on women directors in exploitation cinema?

Reborn (Renacer, Bigas Luna, Spain, 1981)

VHS label: Palace

An art film that broke away from the fold. Intense, hyper-styled, excessive … and absolutely religious in intent (check the final dedication to God). Stars both Dennis Hopper and Michael Moriarty. And the spookiest sex scene ever. Bigas Luna: Case for Further Investigation, for sure. [See Jamón Jamón (1992), Sound of the Sea (2001).]

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (Bruce Pittman, Canada, 1987)

VHS label: Roadshow

Call me old-fashioned, but I do like my horror movies to land just this side of incoherence: throwing out a hundred different possible readings that come to little, whipping up a De Palmaesque cinematic flair. This Canadian wonder amply fills my bill.

Positive I.D. (Andy Anderson, USA, 1987)

VHS label: CIC/Taft

An unreconstructed modernist such as myself has been bound to love, all through the 1980s, the very low-budget, sometimes slightly uncertain moves into feature fiction by the hip No Wave New York generation that included Bette Gordon (Variety, 1983), Beth B (Salvation!, 1987) and Wayne Wang (Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart, 1985). I’m particularly fond of the strangely flat, more seemingly naturalistic films focused on the palpitations of everyday life (eg., Lizzie Borden’s Working Girls, 1986) – more Akerman than Fassbinder in orientation. Positive I.D., deep from the heart of Texas, is exactly in this vein but even flatter, with a slower burn, and an extraordinary ending.

Dr Jekyll and His Women – see The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (Walerian Borowczyk, France/West Germany, 1981) & the essay Alas, Poor Boro, I Knew Him Well …

VHS label: Video Classics

The Wraith (Mike Marvin, USA, 1986)

VHS label: Palace

I love this film (endlessly circulated in VHS discount bins) because it is among those in which every wildly improbable event makes perfect, mundane sense to the on-screen characters – every death, resurrection, ghostly apparition, twisted relationship, whatever. If they can take this pure fiction so well, why shouldn’t we, too? The Wraith is my definition of exploitation cinema: full of meaningless/spectacular speed thrills, bums atop roller skates, rock songs (what a list!), bits of cultural philosophy (River’s Edge [1986] compacted into one nonchalant sentence: “Nobody seems to care … But I guess that’s how it is today”), actors half-in and half-out of role. And what actors! Sherilyn Fenn, Nick Cassavetes, Randy Quaid, Charlie Sheen … Director Mike Marvin is a shadowy auteur who also signed the priceless Hamburger: The Motion Picture in the same Holy Year of 1986.

Sixpack Annie (Fred G. Thorne aka Graydon F. David, USA, 1975)

VHS label: Roadshow

This appears on a well-known (to connoisseurs) double-pack video alongside Vernon Zimmerman’s great The Unholy Rollers (aka Unholy Rollers, USA, 1972 – Martin Scorsese did some editing on that). Sixpack Annie is the ultimate country’n’western, laidback, amblin’ entertainment, ridin’-drinkin’-fartin’ movie – with a brand of Southern feminism that’s very hard to beat.

Evil Dead II (Sam Raimi, USA, 1987)

VHS label: Filmpac

Although grateful to have seen this, initially, on a very big, very loud Hoyts [= major Australian exhibition chain] screen, this is for me among the most wondrous, most intricate film-texts of the 20th century. Its sublime destiny is to now to be played backwards and forwards, slow and fast, over and over, on a VCR machine. Supreme cinematic invention!

Also recommended:

Future Cop (aka Trancers, Charles Band, USA, 1984)

Rock’n’Roll High School (Allan Arkush & Joe Dante, USA, 1979)

976-EVIL (Robert Englund, USA, 1988)

Street Trash (J. Michael Muro, USA, 1987)

Suburbia (Penelope Spheeris, USA, 1983)

Chopping Mall (Jim Wynorski, USA, 1986)

The Hidden (Jack Sholder, USA, 1987)

Murder Rock (aka Murder-Rock: Dancing Death, Lucio Fulci, Italy, 1984)

VHS Auteur Supreme:

Larry Cohen – especially Blind Alley (aka Perfect Strangers, 1984) & Q – The Winged Serpent (1982)


© Adrian Martin January 1990

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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