It happens so infrequently that, when it does, it needs to be celebrated. It must be sung from the highest mountain and voiced from the deepest valley. It requires its presence be proudly proclaimed over land, sea and/or air. It demands respect and recognition, and displays a self-satisfied grin when individuals bow down to its uniqueness. Fans wait for it like an announcement from one of their geek Gods, while the innocent bystander who happens to stumble across it cries in relief: the torture that they expected will, instead, be a light, refreshing breeze. So what is this event, this entity that desires its day in the congratulatory sun so it can get nice and tanned? By what name, or nomenclature, is this elusive ideal known? What does it look like? What does it wear? Hell, enough with the flowery language, just what the snot is it?
Why, it's the homemade camcorder horror movie that doesn't suck monkey nuts, that's what it is.
Indeed, like a blast of air freshener after a particularly potent baloney fart, or a tasty after dinner mint applied to a bad case of Roquefort-accented breath, the decent made for VHS terror tale is so uplifting and invigorating that it should, perhaps, be made illegal. You see, fans of the fright flick have all been conned at one time or another. They have wandered into a video store, picked out a potentially scary title and taken it home in glorious goose bump anticipation. However, once the cassette hit the deck, and the tape started to turn, the terrible truth was discovered. The box art lied. The case and the copy have made a fool of you. This is not an exercise in dread. This is a test of patience.
That's right the tantalizing title tricked you. The promised auteur turned out to be a pimply punk who hasn't had an original idea since Sam Raimi stopped making Evil Dead films. The direction blows. The acting is atrocious and the script seems mailed in from some typewriter-bound invertebrates. You feel like such a tool, and you should. The siren song of the macabre is so strong, the pull so personal that you set yourself up for such a mighty creature feature fall each and every time you let your jaded guard down. Well, have faith oh frequently burned fright fan. Your prayers have been answered. Just in time to save the direct to DVD dimensions of horror comes the Warren F. Disbrow Double Feature. Offering individuals a chance to savor the cinema savvy that is Flesh Eaters from Outer Space and it's sequel, Invasion for Flesh and Blood, this is one of the best bad movie collections to come out in years.
Sometimes, when genius arrives at your doorstep stunted or not it has to be acknowledged. And when it comes to cinematic smarts, Warren F. Disbrow is the savant of the shitty film. With an oeuvre that is so miniscule that it barely renders a blip on the World Wide Web (he was responsible for something called Kiss of Medusa in 1982), his amazing pair of movies, Flesh Eaters from Outer Space (which may actually have been originally called Invasion for Flesh and Blood or A Taste for Flesh and Blood) and it's equally amazing sequel, Invasion for Flesh and Blood (that was actually entitled A Taste for Flesh and Blood 2: Raising Hell) mark what has to be the pinnacle of piss poor home movie perfection. This Super VHS visionary created this pair of videotape treasures as his one and only "experiment" with a medium outside of film, and the results are so jaw-dropping in their delights and dementia that it is near impossible to encapsulate their grandeur in a mere couple thousand words.
Like a lonely high school kid's private ideas of what an alien invasion movie might look like - butt ass naked girls, over the top gore effects and all these mind-numbing narratives fulfill the promise of every basement bound filmmaker who figured he too could craft a believable epic out of cardboard, tinfoil and a plastic monster mask. Broader in scope than most modern science fiction, Disbrow doesn't shy away from taking us into outer space, the bottom of the ocean, the inside of a top secret government lab, or an alien egg chamber, all on a budget of about $10.50. Applying every trick in the cinematic book, from matt shots to frantic physical effects, this mastermind of the monster movie gives us infinite imagery on a dime store expense account. Perhaps his most mesmerizing invention is SID, a seven-foot tall alien creature that looks like a combination of that Black Lagoon bad guy, the sodium sensitive beastie from The Horror of Party Beach, and one of Larry Buchanan's the the Eye Creatures, this extraterrestrial menace has more personality and punch than a plethora of his made for the mainstream Hollywood kinfolk. As zipper backed beasts go, this being is boss.
SID's first starring role is in the titled by Troma Flesh Eaters from Outer Space. The set up for this frantic feature is fairly straightforward. Buffed up astronaut David Riggs is sent up in the space shuttle to explore a seemingly abandoned interstellar spacecraft that is hovering above the Earth (or a cardboard facsimile thereof). When he enters the ship, SAMSO (NASA's secretive little brother, the name standing for Space and Missile Systems Organization) loses contact with him. Before you know it, he is back home and being placed in a brain memory retrieval device. Turns out Riggs brought back a bloodthirsty alien with him, who needs the vein juice of humans to continue his species. Under the omnipresent guidance of SAMSO guru Professor Herz, and with the help of a rather porcine psychic named Sandra Lynn, Riggs must find the fiend before it has a chance to lay its eggs and overtake the world.
Invasion for Flesh and Blood picks up where Flesh Eaters leaves off. After a military option has failed to stop the beast, Sandra is transformed into a mechanical superhero named The Golden Slayer (yes, you read that right) and she/it hooks up with a stoner stooge to try and take down the ever increasing population of aliens. Professor Herz is back again, and this time, he is helped by Dr. Chekov, an expert in human/cyborg transformations. Finally meeting up with the bilious, blob-like "brain" of the invaders, Sandra/Slayer and her hapless helper hero learn the truth about the aliens' objective. But with time running out and the E.T.s running amok, nuclear weapons may be the only way to stop the slaughter.
Pumping each of the premises so full of plot that they almost burst like a well satiated tic on the back of your entertainment neck, the films that make up Disbrow's Flesh and Blood dyad are simply stunning to behold. Here is a director who just will not allow production or financial limitations to restrict his storyline ideas. If a mind melding device is needed or a pocket tracker is preferred, he will make sure one is present in the film, even if it looks like a Cross pen with fairy lights hot glued onto it. An alien autopsy will have the requisite "goo" factor, even if the extraterrestrial fluids look like cinnamon roll icing. Robots will "almost" resemble their mechanical counterparts and stock footage will be found to suggest police and fire responses. Disbrow is just so amazingly inventive with how he finds ways to realize his spectacular cinematic goals that you never once doubt he will pull it off, even as the paper cut out of the space shuttle "flies" toward the doctored up X-wing fighter plane model. Using a semi-professional cast, including his own father (who is hysterically serious as Professor Herz) and as many New Jersey locations as possible (including the Apple Deli, where they sell the tempting "Homemade Onion" for only 95 cents!) Disbrow tries to match local color with Tinsel Town histrionics to create a kind of authentic out of this world spectacle. He succeeds in magnificent fashion.
There are a lot of borrowed ideas here, mind you, but when he cribs, Disbrow steals from the best. He gladly mines such sci-fi classics as The Incredible Melting Man, Alien, Aliens and The Terminator, as well as adding in some references to Mexican wrestling films (The Golden Slayer looks like Liberace's interpretation of El Santo) and your typical horny teen slasher film (the only difference being that in Disbrow's world, when you DON'T get any, and call your date a "bitch", the monster is usually around to rip off your wiener). Indeed, so many of the aspects of the Flesh and Blood films feel rented that you often forget how original such a potent patchwork really can be. And in reality, since the first film was made a full six years before Roland Emmerich let elephantine spaceships invade the Earth, it could be argued that the Will Smith starring vehicle Independence Day was actually a rip off of Flesh Eaters from Outer Space (while there is none of the skin eating, other attributes of the films are frighteningly familiar). Such free association homages do wonders for a homemade horror film, giving it an anchor in legitimacy that helps it over the tricky bits.
However, Flesh Eaters from Outer Space and Invasion for Flesh and Blood really don't need a lucid leg up. They are perfectly faultless without a tether to reality. Indeed, they work best when they get lost in a surreal space all their own. Disbrow dips into every aspect of the straight to video stratum, relishing in absolutely ridiculous gore and physical effects. Heads don't just roll, they lop off in fleshy lumps, plopping to the ground in clots of gelatinous goodness. Blood sprays in panoramic pools, layering everything it touches in a thick film of foulness. As his ambitions grow, so do Disbrow's visuals. There is an incredible scene in Invasion where Professor Herz tries to examine a baby alien that is just so marvelous, so 'out there' in its offering that it practically makes both movies by itself. Another classic scene involves a couple of stoners, a video camera, and a ladder (part of a make your own porn plan) that ends up in even more bloody brilliance. With each film contributing its own strange human psychotic to increase the already ample body count (some weirdo named Savino Fink in the first film, a rapist/murderer in the second), and a volume of vivisection that only Herschell Gordon Lewis could appreciate, the Flesh and Blood canon become instant classics, the kind of thrill killing spree that splatter fans have long been praying for.
But in many ways, these films are more than just blood feasts. The Flesh and Blood movies are a reminder that when a true aficionado has true talent and true friends (or family) to help them realize their vision, the results can be stunning. Everything that people can complain about as amateurish or awkward the acting, the narrative flow, the kitchen sink desire to toss in every sci-fi and horror clich้ from the classic canon are not liability for Disbrow. As a matter of fact, he appreciates them, understanding their inherent ability to impact an audience. Indeed, what most homemade horror films lack is a sense of excitement and enjoyment. So many faux filmmakers believe that they have to browbeat the bullspit out of the fan base, making their spook show point oppressively and often. Even when they lack the ability to achieve mood, or wouldn't understand mise-en-scene from mise-en-place, these mixed-up moviemakers just keep cramming on the creepy, hoping it eventually overwhelms the viewer. Disbrow is different. He submerses himself in the wounded waters of wasted opportunities, and turns these pitfalls into passionate potent potables. Flesh Eaters from Outer Space and Invasion for Flesh and Blood are a couple of misguided masterpieces. They are not to be missed.
Though Disbrow laments the lack of ambience in the video image (he takes every opportunity in the extras to argue for the superiority of film), the 1.33:1 Super VHS transfers here are excellent. Certainly, there are elements of the primitive technology that undermine his professionalism. During Flesh Eaters, we get badly bleeding reds, as shirts and signs appear to radiate over and around other items. Also, the lack of adequate lighting can render some of the night sees far too dark. But the overall look is superb, with great clarity, little grain and some wonderfully evocative moments. Perhaps the greatest praise for this picture is that it manages to hide the amateurish sets and props very well, ratcheting up the realism of the films.
Unlike many camcorder extravaganzas, the sound recording on the Flesh and Blood films is just fine. The Dolby Digital Stereo is clean and crisp. The music is free of distortion or other defects and the voices are understandable and professionally modulated. About the only awkward element are the sound effects that can occasionally get lost in the mix. Otherwise, these films sound as good as they look, and that's saying a great deal in the realm of homemade horror.
Troma treats the viewer of these very special films to a nice collection of extras. We get a Behind the Scenes featurette for Invasion, as well as the original trailer (which uses the previous title, A Taste for Flesh and Blood 2: Raising Hell). Disbrow narrates the making of, giving us details and hints at how he managed to get his grand vision on screen. It is here where we learn of the director's involvement in other films (something called The Bloody Dead, as well as the aforementioned Kiss of Medusa) and his disdain for video. He also comments on why his father was cast as Professor Herz (he had the time to put into the role that other "actors" couldn't come up with) and seems quite proud of how he managed to pull off the production.
But the better look into the making of these movies comes from the full-length audio commentaries. The discussion on Flesh Eaters features director Disbrow, his father Warren Disbrow Sr. and actor Ruben Santiago. The conversation on Invasion features both Disbrows and Santiago again, as well as special effects whiz James Cirronella. Each offering is incredibly in-depth, with Disbrow and Cirronella walking us through the various facets of making low budget features. They discuss how to "scam" locations, how to get local law enforcement on your side, what to do if your lead actress gets sick (answer: turn her into a cyborg) and the benefits of schmoozing old retired Hollywood makeup men. Cirronella goes into a great deal of intricacy in how he made "improvements" to SID, and everyone praises the cast for giving it their all, even when conditions both physical and fiscal threatened to derail the production. Comprehensive and very fun, both commentaries make it clear how Disbrow managed to attain even his most extreme visions. The truth is, he never thought he couldn't realize his haughty ambitions. Along with the usual Troma merchandising treats, this is a contextually sound DVD presentation.
See what happens when expectations, no matter how low or languid, are met and then exceeded by an independent, low budget creature feature. Instead of the usual ennui and lack of interest that most of these mangled motion pictures create, the sensation from something that thoroughly entertains is as intoxicating as the most magical elixir. In the long, hard history of the homemade horror movie, no one has done it quite like Warren F. Disbrow. He has never met an idea he could not make a reality onscreen in some semi-salient manner. He taps into the wellspring of benevolence generated by decades of cinematic schlock and drive-in delirium, cementing his vision in a combination of old and new school concepts. He pours on the gore and then shouts, "MORE, PLEASE!" And he knows that just a little nekkidness goes a heck of a long way.
Flesh Eaters from Outer Space and Invasion for Flesh and Blood are a Godsend, highly recommended to anyone looking for cinema that doesn't cater to the normal or the nuanced. Disbrow's broad, sweeping, erratic epics are just the tonic for a recreational existence lived in direct to video Hell. Today, officially, a new name has been added to the pantheon of amazing amateur auteurs. Warren F. Disbrow, we salute you, and your amazing movies. Long may the taste for Flesh and Blood reign.
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