Four years ago, smack dab in the middle of this critic's proposed career choice as a wannabe film writer extraordinaire, he had the (unfortunate) task of taking on Greg Lamberson's much ballyhooed blood feast Slime City. Paired with the appalling Naked Fear, this Troma-like take on gore, bile, and anything pustule and putrid made for a nice retro reminder of the glory days of a Saturday night sleepover with your bong-endowed buddies. As we stated back then, Slime stands as an F/X laden boil bursting with all manner of inner ickiness. It swims in glop and wades in gunk. The final fight scene between our heroine and the bad guy is a gut stabbing, snot spewing, head splitting and brain broaching near masterwork. It does single handedly save the film. But when paired with three other lamentable Lamberson efforts (including Fear) as part of the oddly named Slime City Grindhouse Collection, it's hard to find a reason to recommend the overall experience. One marginal movie does not a sound cinematic investment make.
Both Slime City and Naked Fear have been dealt with before. You can read the plot synopsis for each film here. As for the other two offerings on this DVD box set, here are the narratives explored:
Undying Love: Down and depressed, Scott tries to kill himself. Luckily, his longtime gal pal Leslie catches him in the act. Now he's the talk of his high school. At a party, he earns the attention of supposed supermodel Camilla. They soon begin a torrid affair, even if the fetching fashion plate is a little too hung up on death and dying. Turns out, she's a vampire, and makes Scott into a member of the undead as well. With a detective hot on his trail and a lead neckbiter who's angry over Camilla's actions, our hero must decide what to do - embrace his newfound need for blood, or simply give himself up.
Johnny Gruesome: Big man on small campus Johnny Grissom is a regular rock and roll GOD!. This means he gets murdered by a nameless coke head for no good reason. Vowing to and eventually coming back from the grave, he seeks vengeance on all who wronged him, from drug dealers to snow-snorting ex-girlfriends.
Since Slime City and Naked Fear were both reviewed previously, there is no need to go into details here. Just click the following link. and enjoy the rather "eloquent" musings on both films. With that out of the way, we can go on to concentrate on the last two components of the Lamberson oeuvre - Undying Love and Johnny Gruesome - and with regard to such critical consideration, the latter is dealt with quickly and cleanly. If you want a music video that combines elements of the MST3K classic Zombie Nightmare, tired teen angst, and some unexplained character motivation, check out the story of high school rocker Johnny Grissom. It breezes by as only a multimedia companion piece to a comic, novel, and CD can, offering limited returns on its revenge from the grave conceits. It's hard to address whether it's an effective short or not - especially since we don't get much of the background context the other elements provide. Still, as an idea, it's not horribly overdone, and does deliver on the promise of being a Goth groove rock out fear fest - or something like that. Besides, it's got Misty Mundae in it for all you lovers the wannabe exploitation queen.
As for Undying Love - that's another can of rotting Anne Rice worms. If Twilight is the ultimate fantasy for tween girls, high school fat chicks, and unloved spinsters, then this tale of vampire passion is the skuzzy guy geek response. In hapless hero Scott, Lamberson finds the perfect passive aggressive douche to go all neckbiter on, and when he finally does turn Nosferatu, it's genuinely laughable. While his turncoat temptress Camilla can't seem to maintain a straight face throughout her scenes, at least she's not as horribly hamfisted as the meat puppet playing undead leader Evan. Indeed, Julie Lynch is not bad to look at, even filtered through an unfashionable Jersey girl clothing conceit. As for the rest of the cast, Lamberson stays simple - or perhaps that should be simpleton. Everyone else responds to Scott's increasingly gloomy personality by using the old "attempted suicide" excuse (we indeed see our lead going a little straight edged surgery to his wrists early on). With its cheap look and even cheaper feel, Undying Love (also known as New York Vampire) can't help but appear worthless. At least it's better than the aforementioned Stephanie Meyer mess.
As box sets go, the Slime City Grindhouse Collection becomes a test of tolerances. Two of the three films featured are just horrible, lacking even the most basic entertainment value, and the main movie itself is an exercise in era-appropriate nostalgia. If you saw it in a lousy VHS version back when it first hit the Mom and Pop video store, you probably will get a kick out of revisiting it several years removed from the past. Without said wistful quality, however, the title can be a bit tedious. With Johnny Gruesome giving us the eight minutes only bum's rush, this looks like an attempt by an off brand distributor to bag some additional coin out of a seemingly unnecessary double dip. Lamberson certainly deserves some kind of recognition for doing what a lot of '80s auteurs did - that is, using the available technology and trade set-up to make their own damn movie. So what if Slime City is only serviceable, and Undying Love and Naked Fear are weird wastes of time. He's managed to do more than many members of the current messageboard nation, implied pundits who, like those who can't do, prefer to preach instead of produce.
Borrowing the beatdown given two of these titles before, the transfer here resembles a fairly pristine VHS transfer of a faded and grainy original. Only Naked Fear is found in a full screen, 1.33:1 treatment. As for the rest, we are treated to a 16x9 enhanced anamorphic widescreen image (mimicking a 1.78:1 aspect ratio), and a fairly clean set of prints, but Lamberson was obviously not privy to a lot of pricey production values, like lighting and clean lenses. The movies, for the most part, look perfectly presentable - in fact, they look a lot better than some of the recent pictures coming out of its fraternal twin Troma. But those expecting some manner of mind-warping remaster will be in for a surprise. While it looks all right, the Slime City Grindhouse Collection is no digital gem.
Suffering from amateurish recording and echoing elements, the aural aspect of the Slime City Grindhouse Collection are equally uninspired. Dialogue gets lost in dimensions of drop out, and foley can force itself up and over every other auditory aspect of the mix. This means footsteps sound like sonic booms while conversations are less than clear. The Dolby Digital Stereo also suffers from some noticeable hiss and a couple of garbled sequences. Still, for movies that are mostly visual, you aren't missing much with this sloppy sonic showcase.
Here's a quick list-like rundown:
Slime City - a commentary with Lamberson, Robert Sabin, and others, a Making-Of featurette (8 min), interviews with stars Sabin and Mary Huner (45 min), trailers.
Undying Love - a commentary with Lamberson, Tommy Sweeney, and others, a Making-Of featurette (9 min)
Naked Fear - a commentary with Lamberson, Sabin, Sweeney, and others.
Johnny Gruesome - a Making-Of featurette (7 min)
Indeed, everything that was available on the Slime City double feature has been ported over for this release. The added material - the "Slime Heads" Q&A with Sabin and Huner seems new - is just peachy. All alternate narrative tracks give good information and a self-effacing evaluation of each film. A mini poster and some liner notes round out the packaging.
The wrap up from before still applies as well: with gore having gone the way of the minstrel show and the TV variety hour as a means of popular entertainment, seeing something like Slime City is a great deal of culpable fun. It is not 100% enjoyable - indeed, the fraction may be a lot lower than one imagines. But to see people using blood and body parts, guts and grue to freak out the audience's fear factors is enough of a romp to require a recommendation. The terrific packaging from Shock-O-Rama also earns high marks, pushing us even closer to a greater level of approval. If you can manage the parts that simple flop around, waiting for the next killing, if you can tolerate the talky, trying attempt at suspense known as Naked Fear (what a title - there is neither of each offered in the film) or the genre joke Undying Love, this will be a Recommended romp. Sure, someone like Greg Lamberson is being celebrated for being memorable, not meaningful, but the four elements that make up the Slime City Grindhouse Collection aren't out to reinvent the fright film. Instead, they remind us of a time when artistry took a back seats to ability - or availability. Oddly enough, it seems to be the same some three decades later.
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