About 20 years ago, you could walk into a Mom and Pop video store and marvel in the oddball selection of videos they had accumulated. VHS was a launching ground for independent distributors and, sadly, most of these distributors died out long before VHS ever did.
A Media Home Entertainment release always stood out on those dusty video shelves. The logo seemed like something out of a science-fiction company, and you always suspected that the logo was more expensive to produce then what was on the tape.
Also, shortly after the logo, there was no way to know just how shocking or entertaining the film would be. It was a scary feeling to not know what on earth you may be watching next, and that made renting the video almost as fun as riding a roller coaster.
This top 10 list ranges from the outrageous to the stupendous, and is a true representation of that long lost video company we all miss.
1- “Flesh Gordon” (1974) may be the only porno movie that can claim Rick Baker, (“An American Werewolf in London”, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video) did the special effects. This is an adults-only spoof of the “Flash Gordon” serials, and is surprisingly funny. Flesh Gordon and his sidekicks must stop an evil sex-ray from taking over the world. The movie is filled with bizarre moments that are sure to delight midnight-movie fans.
An amazing looking creature, voiced by a then unknown Craig T. Nelson, steals the show and reminds you that some porno films tried to be creative in the ’70s.
This is available on DVD from Hen’s Tooth.
2- “Streamers” (1983) is a startling picture from acclaimed director Robert Altman (“Short Cuts”). It takes place in a barrack as we watch three soldiers await their orders for Vietnam. The three main characters are meant to represent, white, black and gay. The audience is allowed to slowly watch these men go from semi-friends to complete enemies for various reasons.
Initially based on a stage play of the same name, Altman manages to allow the picture to be guided solely by the strong dialog and crackling performances. Don’t allow the picture’s one setting to make you think that it’s boring, because within 10 minutes you will be drawn into the story.
A young Matthew Modine (“Birdy”) is fantastic in the lead, but the real surprise is the dramatic turn for comedian David Alan Grier (“In Living Color”). Very interesting to see Grier give a dramatic performance in a film like this – perhaps we can see more of that in the future.
This movie is still not available on DVD, but shows up occasionally on IFC.
3- “Alice in Wonderland” (1976) is an X-rated retelling of the childhood classic. The beautiful Kristine DeBell (“Meatballs”) plays a prudish Alice, who learns much more then she ever could have imagined about sex in Wonderland.
It has a wonderful sense of humor that will leave you in stitches once you learn about poor Humpty Dumpty’s erectile dysfunction, which only Alice can cure.
This is available on DVD from Subversive, which recently went under itself.
4- “Sleepaway Camp” (1984) is one of the most underrated slashers, and that is due to the realistic depiction of gore throughout. Its low budget and realistic effects provide the illusion that you are watching the real thing.
When people mess with young Angela they turn up dead, and as the body count rises so do the suspects. Is it Angela, her cousin Ricky, the creepy elderly man that runs the place, or the pedophile cook?
You’ll have fun figuring it out, unless you already caught the episode of “Robot Chicken” that gave away the twist (and twisted) ending.
This is available from Anchor Bay in a box set, along with the sequels.
5- “Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors” (1987) is the best of the series because of the way it attempted to develop the main characters. It takes place in a hospital for suicidal teenagers. Each teenager holds superhero-type traits in their dreams that allow them to stand up to Freddy. Each teenager turns in well-layered performances that enhance the experience.
The only flaw is that it needed more scenes with “The Wizard Master,” who is the ultimate “Dungeon and Dragons” geek turned superhero.
The screenplay was written by Wes Craven and future “The Green Mile” director Frank Darabont. You can catch it on New Line Cinema’s DVD version.
6- “Johnny Got His Gun” (1971) stars Timothy Bottoms, (“The Last Picture Show”) as a soldier that lost everything in World War I, and by everything that includes his, arms, legs, face, ears, etc. He is left in a hospital bed with only the thoughts in his mind.
The film was amateurishly shot by screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (“Roman Holiday”), but the film has a valid and strong argument to make that deserves your attention.
A strong supporting cast of Donald Sutherland (“MASH”) as Jesus Christ and Jason Robards (“A Boy and His Dog”) as the boy’s father guides us through the young boy’s thoughts and memories.
This was recently released on DVD by Shout Factory.
7- “Surf Nazis Must Die” (1987) is another Troma masterpiece about a post-apocalyptic beach overruled by Surf Nazis. When an innocent young man named Leroy is ruthlessly murdered by them, Leroy’s mom starts to hunt Nazis. Unintentionally hilarious movie, which is made clear by the title.
This is available on Troma Team Video and DVD.
8- “Can I do It ‘Till I Need Glasses?” (1977) is the inevitable sequel to, “If You Don’t Stop Soon You’ll Go Blind”. This is a collection of sketches that performs every dirty joke you ever heard growing up. Even though you already know the punchlines, it still manages to put a smile on your face.
The Media Home Video release had to cut several sketches that included Robin Williams, filmed prior to his “Mork and Mindy” success but restored after they used his name to sell tickets. Williams had successfully sued the company by the time the video was released, and his scenes (but not his name) were removed.
Luckily, last year Code Red released the uncut version of the film.
9- “1990: The Bronx Warriors” is set in the distant future of 1990, with equal parts of “Mad Max” and “The Warriors” – a really corny and trashy fun post-apocalyptic hodgepodge.
Vic Morrow (“Blackboard Jungle”) turns in an awesome performance as The Hammer, a one-man killing machine. He displays no fear as he tries to wipe out the outlining gangs. This film was his last before his death during the filming of “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” and is a testament to just how cool he really was.
Fred Williamson (“Black Caesar”) comes along for the ride as one of the leaders of the gangs. Williamson mostly shows us every once in a while to kick some butt, and that’s all cult-film fans ask for.
This is available with some nice extras from Media Blasters.
10- “Basket Case” (1982) is the story of a young boy that arrives at the old 42nd Street in New York. He carries with him a basket that contains his mutated brother (which was apparently common on 42nd Street back then).
This is a graphic horror movie that maintains a sharp sense of humor. Of course, only a select few will laugh after being grossed out.
“Basket Case” is currently available from Something Weird.
When all of these movies were released on VHS, they carried a sticker price of $59.95 or more. Now you can own most of them for a lot less on eBay or Amazon with much better transfers.
But still…there’s something to be said for those old grainy VHS copies.