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September 27, 2011

Movie Review:The Basement: Retro 80s Horror Collection

I try pretty hard to not throw the "nostalgia" word around too much, occasionally though there is a special title that comes through our grubby hands here at the Cinema Head Cheese offices that warrants it. Alternative Cinema has put together a box set that has unleashed a nostalgic joy rarely experienced with their recent release of The Basement: Retro 80s Horror Collection. This mammoth box of schlock consists of five movies: Cannibal Campout, Video Violence I and II and the unreleased features Captives and of course the film that the set is titled after, Tim O' Rawe's 8mm horror anthology, The Basement.

Buy The Basement: Retro 80s Horror Collection on DVD

The set has all five movies spread out over three DVDs as well as a groovy little VHS of The Basement for us old timers who lived are more formative years through that era. The packaging is some of the best I've seen for a DVD release, but I'll get to that later. Here's the low-down on The Basement as a feature - Tim O' Rawe and director of photography Mike Raso made this 8mm feature back in 1989. It sat on the shelf for twenty years until Mike Raso - with the help of some better equipment to do a restoration - decided it might perfect in a package with other fun no-budget gore flicks from the 80's. Does it work? Yes, it does! The Basement is essentially Creepshow shot by amateurs but it's really great fun from beginning to end. There is actually some skill here in the FX, camera work and even the narrative that manages to eek its way through into the final product.

The four short storys on The Basement all seem to have some charm as well as some cringe-inducing moments that you can expect on such low-budget productions. Trick or Treat and Home Sweet Home were the two most enjoyable. Home Sweet Home has its rough edges its incredibly dark (it's pointed out plenty on the excellent commentary) but it does have some nice haunted house-type atmosphere – and not to mention a few surprising gross-out deaths. The Swimming Pool and Zombie Movie are the two other shorts. I liked the humor in the Swimming Pool as it's actually quite ridiculous. The dubbing is hysterical.  Aside from the commentary, deleted scenes, some Tim O'Rawe shorts are also included. Ok, that's just the first disc...

Disc two kicks off with Jon McBride's Cannibal Campout and Gary Cohen's Captives. Captives may just be one of the only sore spots in this collection. Captives is take on the "home invasion" set-up but in the end it manages to be painfully boring. I love both of Cohen's Video Violence films so it's kind of a downer but what it does have (and folks please don't look past this!) is the best audio commentary/supplementary feature on the whole set. Alternative Cinema producer Mike Raso and director Cohen get into a very spirited and highly informative conversation about the rise of the VHS, the various gadgetry, bike rides with Golden Age porn goddess Terri Hall and even Cohen’s theater experiences. Captives is rarely discussed here. Both gentlemen seem to know a lot about the era and it came as a very welcome unexpected surprise.

Gary Cohen's Video Violence garnered some solid fanfare back in 1987-1988, so much so that they followed up with a sequel, Video Violence II. After getting picked up by Camp Video on the west-coast, reality set in that this little movie shot on VHS could do something unique for the blossoming VHS craze. Video Violence takes place in a video store (naturally) where some of the customers are a little nastier than neglecting to rewind the movies, they do something far worse by making their own snuff films. The FX on these "snuff videos" are pretty crude but still manage to come off quite mean. One lady that's being tortured by the two degenerates producing these videos gets her breasts cut and stabbed repeatedly. Crude or not, its not an easy scene to watch.

As horrific and gory as the content in Video Violence I and II sounds, it still leans towards the ridiculous and is more funny than disturbing. Cohen goes a slightly different route by making our maniacs from the original the stars of their own show. The Howard and Eli Show consist of sexy woman being woman butchered in front of a camera, much like the original. This is as goofy and gory as the first. Apparently, Cohen didn't have much time behind the camera as he did on the first - especially since the investors took control of the production. All in all it's a vile 80 minutes. After watching, be sure to also check out Gary Cohen's interview that's also on the disc in addition to the two commentaries that that have been carried over from the previous double-bill DVD release.

The creators of Wrong Turn really need to send Jon McBride a check for inspiring their film. You know they watched this as kids, as the plot is nearly identical... err sort of. Cannibal Campout is a hoot and may be slightly more engrossing than Captives, but it does dip into tedious mode occasionally when the campers aren't being slashed and gutted. The gore is quite ample here, we even get a cannibal abortion. McBride mentions on the commentary (moderated by Mark Polonia, Splatter Farm) that he would have liked to have had a larger fetus to display on screen. Now that's the spirit!

I mentioned briefly about the packaging earlier being pretty damn exquisite - and it's likely a common opinion if you're a genre nerd that grew up these films, like I did. The box itself has the look of one of those giant Continental box covers from the mid-80's. Here's a photo below:

Once I got through the five features, five commentaries and numerous extras I've come down to the conclusion that Alternative Cinema truly has a winner in this release. Don't be surprised to see The Basement: Retro 80s Horror Collection in our "Best of the year" list. Highly Recommended!

(Photos courtesy of Rock!Shock!Pop!)

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