Lionsgate's Essential(ish) 8-Pack

When these first came out, they set internet forums on fire. This is one of a series of Horror Collection DVD sets from Lionsgate, which were essentially cheapie budget DVD packs available exclusively at Walmart. But, Lionsgate being Lionsgate, they wound up including a few movies that they'd never released on DVD before, or with superior transfers - and for only $5 - so collectors around the world went digging in those awful Walmart bins in search of a copy and reporting to each on all the major DVD forums. Fortunately, Lionsgate caught on to the demand for these babies and gave them a broader distribution, and now they're pretty easy to find online at all major DVD shops and even Lionsgate's own website.

This set is absolutely a mixed bag, and certainly not a five-star, top of the line release. For one thing, they're eight movies on only two, single-sided discs (at least they're dual layer!), so compression isn't fantastic. Also, the quality is all over the shop and presumably assembled at random by Lionsgate employees without a clue. DVDs that were already released with nice, restored transfers here have cruddy VHS-level presentations. But, as I said, it also has some good, exclusive material that makes it worthwhile, if not essential, for some fans. So let's get our hands dirty and look at this film by film, starting with disc 1.
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There's your menu. No options, no special features, all bare-bones, just "PLAY" for each film. Also notice that they use the Region 2 DVD cover for CHUD 2.
976-EVIL 2) A pretty inferior sequel to a movie that wasn't very good to begin with, 976-EVIL 2 is basically one really fun, memorable scene with a mediocre movie around it to house it. EVIL 2 is basically a direct sequel, but without the star, Stephen Geoffreys and the rest of the cast and crew MIA. Only Patrick O'Bryan returns to be followed by the curse of the first film, with Jim Wynorski replacing Robert Englund in the director's chair. René Assa is the new villain, a school principal who calls the 976 number to get evil supernatural powers and go on a killing spree; and of course no one believes O'Bryan who knows what's going on by virtue of having survived the first film. It primarily comes up short to the first one in the story department... Geoffreys was a relatable killer, who was picked on and had a miserable life before coming under an evil influence that gave him too much power. Assa's character just seems to be a killer because he's a huge asshole. All in all, it's dopey, but energetic enough to make for an enjoyable casual viewing so long as you're not expecting high art.
It's not a very pretty transfer. It's grubby, which could be partially blamed on the compression, but probably mostly just because it's from a tape. It's also full-screen, though looking at the head room, it at least it appears to be open-matte. This film was surely made with home video (back when TVs were all 4:3, of course) in mind from the start. An HD widescreen restoration would obviously be preferable, but it's only ever been released as a non-anamorphic 4:3 transfer, so, you know... low expectations met, I guess.
Ghoulies 3: Ghoulies Go To College) Even the original Ghoulies was a pretty weak film, but by part 3 the series was really crap. But hey, it's making its DVD debut, at least here in the US (there is a UK DVD). The subtitle explains the movie pretty well, but if you'd seen the first two movies, you'd still be surprised how much further they'd veered from horror to comedy this time around, with the ghoulies now being talking, wise-cracking hand puppets who commit more pranks than grisly murders. This movie is incredibly juvenile, even compared to what you'd expect from a movie called Ghoulies Go To College, and I'd say Kevin McCarthy is only reason to sit through this at all.
Ghoulies 3 was shot on film, so it could look pretty good, but this is just a crappy video transfer.  Full screen and low quality; even Ghoulies 3 fans will be disappointed, as it won't even be a real upgrade from their old VHS tapes ...or Region 2 DVDs, which looked the same.
CHUD 2) This film really has nothing to do with the surprisingly smart little horror flick CHUD, except that they call their zombies "chuds" in this movie. The creatures in CHUD looked and behaved nothing like the zombies here, to the point where it feels more like this film started out as a script with no connection to CHUD at all. It also has a completely different tone, set of characters, locale and story; and consequently, it alienated fans... sorta like Halloween 3. And while I don't think this film is as underrated as that one, I do think that, if you can let go of any expectations of quality or sincerity from the first film, CHUD 2 can be a fun, little watch.

Head of the Class's Brain Robbins (this was actually released while the show was still running) and his buddy steal a corpse from a military installation. Just like Night Of the Creeps, basically. And of course that corpse is really a "chud" (read: zombie) who comes back to life and starts a zombie plague in their small suburban town. Robbins and his buddy try to keep everything under wraps as they try to recover Bud, which is made a little easier by the fact that its fallen in love with their girlfriend Katie. Everything gets sillier and sillier as more broadly comic characters are introduced, and as derivative as this flick is, a lot more zombie comedies/ parodies seemed to follow in this flick's footsteps.  There's enough recognizable character actors and amusing gags to make this film worthwhile so long as you know what you're in for and don't mind everything being a goof.
Well, the menu showed us the UK DVD cover, but thankfully this disc doesn't use that disc's VHS-ripped transfer. This is actually a pretty nice looking print in its original widescreen AR. The compression doesn't help, and it's a bit fuzzy at times; but it's a very pleasant surprise. It helps that the film had yet to be released in the USA at all before this; but even for the region free this is a nice upgrade. It's the best edition available anywhere, by far; and one of the reasons this set was so sought after.
Waxwork) I really enjoy Waxwork, as well as its sequel. Anthony Hickox was really in his element with these films. They're not quite horror comedies, but they're pure fun. Gremlins star Zach Galligan and a bunch of his buddies break into a wax museum run by one of Hollywood's best bad guys David Warner. The museum is themed after great horror stories, but what the kids soon discover is that when they step across the velvet ropes, the each display turns into a real world. So, step into the mummy's tomb exhibit and whoops, you're really trapped underneath a pyramid with a killer mummy. As you can imagine, this is the perfect set up for all kinds of styles. The movie is constantly shifting between being a sexy vampire story or a throwback zombie movie, but unlike an anthology, remains cohesive with a single, narrative thrust. A great cast, lots of cool effects... a real winner.
Unfortunately, the transfer isn't such a winner. It's a fullscreen transfer of a widescreen film. Then again, this film has yet to be released in its OAR anywhere in the world. So at least it isn't any worse than other discs in that regard (Scream Factory or somebody really needs to get on the Waxwork films!). But to make matters even worse, Lions Gate's disc is cut. Yeah, remember back in the days when horror films used to come out on two VHS tapes, the R-rated and unrated versions? And nobody wanted the R-rated versions, because why would you? Well, the R-rated version is what's on this set. And while it doesn't add up to a lot of screen time, the extra footage really makes a difference in the pay-off of the vampire segment.

Thankfully there are unrated versions available. So for more on Waxwork and its multiple releases, check out its new page here. I've given the film its own separate section, to keep this one from getting bloated. I also delve into Waxwork 2: Lost In Time, which I recommend just as strongly as the original.
Slaughter High) Disc 2 takes us to a pretty traditional 80s slasher, Slaughter High. A bunch of kids picked on a nerd, and accidentally disfigured him in a prank (whoops!). In a plot very reminiscent of Class Reunion Massacre, the caretaker lets them inside for a reunion in their now abandoned school. And instead of understanding that hey, mistakes happen, the nerd is back and secretly killing them off one by one. It's a totally predictable, blasé slasher on the one hand; but it's got a bunch of fun, creative kills and is generally just paced and produced well enough to be a pretty entertaining time. It's got a healthy following, as anyone predisposed to 80s slashers will eat this one right up.
Sure, this scene's supposed to be dark, but come on!
Unfortunately, it's another video-sourced fullscreen transfer. Watchable, but pretty junky, really. At least it looks open matte; but Arrow released a special edition in the UK which blows this one to pieces (and it has reversible artwork, which is why my scan has the alternate, foreign title Jolly Killer). There's a really interesting "everything you wanted to know" audio commentary by the director, as well as less compelling one with Caroline Munro - not her fault, the stupid moderators quickly forget about the film on screen and just gab amongst themselves. There's also a couple interviews and an amusing easter egg, and most importantly, we get a quality, anamorphic widescreen presentation of the film.
Here's how it looks on Arrow's DVD.
So yeah, we lose all the extra headroom; but Arrow's 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen is the far superior composition. And that's not to mention the loads of compelling extras, including two audio commentaries and a bunch of interviews. It's very disappointing how this film was handled by Lions Gate, and fans of Slaughter High who get this set will still need to pick up the Arrow disc to enjoy the film properly.
Class of 1999) Not really a sequel to Class of 1984, but it's definitely some sort of follow-up. Writer/ producer/ director Mark L Lester returns with a similar premise, punk kids running wild. But this time it's set in a dystopian future, and they're pitted against robot teachers created by the military to deal with the worst of the behaved teens. But unfortunately there was a glitch and they revert to their earlier, combat programming and go on a unstoppable killing spree. And only the most misunderstood, biker kid with a heart of gold can stop them. Obviously, this ain't Shakespeare, but the production values are high and some of the performances (mostly by the killer robots) are quite memorable and fun. If you want to see punks riding around a high school in the middle of the night on motorcycles, getting chased by robot adults shooting missiles at them, this is the movie for you.
At least Lionsgate's solo release of Slaughter High looks just as crappy as the one in this set. Arrow restored the film for their special edition, but Lionsgate just released the crap that they had. Here, Class of 1999 again looks like a cheap-o fullscreen flop; but this set comes well after Lionsgate had already issued Class on a nice, anamorphic widescreen disc - why would they go backwards here? I know, I know... Because nobody at Lionsgate realizes or cares... sigh
Look at their name-tags. "Bland." They absolutely are reprising their characters from Eating Raoul.
Chopping Mall) This one's a real crowd pleaser. We're back with Jim Wynorski, this time telling the tale of a group of teenagers who stay overnight inside a shopping mall. Unfortunately, they chose the night the mall just installed their new collection of robot security guards. When lightning strikes the building, the robots turn into berserk killing machines, and it becomes a small war. Cameos by Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Angus Scrimm, and especially Dick Miller add a lot of flavor to the proceedings, but this film is enough of a blast on its own.
Another full screen transfer, again looking open matte. It's essentially the same transfer as the special edition they'd previously released, but of course lacking all of its awesome extras. Those included an entertaining commentary, a really neat featurette on the killbots and of course the trailer. Wynorski attempted to release a nice blu-ray edition not too long ago, but Lionsgate being Lionsgate, they quashed that while opting to not do anything with it themselves. Well, hallelujah!  It seems they've seen the light, and finally released this on blu-ray with a fresh 4k scan and a ton of extras!  Full comparison between this, the DVD special edition and the new blu has been carried over to its own page, here.
The Unholy) Our final film, again making its US debut, although it has been released overseas. The Unholy is more of a serious film, starring Ben Cross as a priest who begins to unravel a mystery involving the death of a priest who'd been in the same church before him. Things get dark and supernatural and lead up to a wild conclusion. It can be a bit slow moving along the way, but it's all pretty well done and the ending will make you glad you stuck it through.
Thankfully, like its overseas counterpart. this film is presented in its original, widescreen aspect ratio. It looks pretty great, in fact the best of all of them, and is another strong reason to pick up this set. Not a great film, but a good one, and looking good, which I'm sure adds to this one feeling like a higher quality production.

I guess this set is really only "essential" for it's exclusive, proper presentation of CHUD 2. But it also saves you the cost of picking up a couple foreign imports (Unholy, Ghoulies 3), and gives you a bunch of bonus fullscreen flicks to boot. All for $5-$8 is a pretty great deal. Some more widescreen prints and an uncut Waxwork would have made this a really sweet set; but it's still got some goodies you can't get anywhere else. So I'm spreading the word.

2 comments:

  1. I have an old Artisan double-bill of WAXWORK and WAXWORK II: LOST IN TIME that I *think* is the Unrated version, even though the cover marks it as "R" -- it's currently buried away, but I'll have to see if I can dig it out (or dig up an online review verifying my memory)...

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    1. Yeah, I remember following that release when it was coming out, hoping it was going to be an awesome special edition. And then being disappointed It wasn't even widescreen. I think you're right, though, about it being uncut. And it's not a bad deal packaged with the sequel. But I had to go with the Dragon disc since it's got the extras.

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