Crazy Forgotten 80s Halloween Horrors: Vinegar Syndrome's Latest Trip To Mexico!

It's Halloween, kiddies, and what better day to discover some really out there, overlooked 80s horror flicks?  Especially Halloween-themed ones?  Well, I've got two for you today, plus five more related films to boot, thanks to this unusual DVD set called Crypt of Terror: Horror From South Of the Border Vol. 1, a 2007 release from BCI.  It's the kind of DVD set that has "3 DISC SET - 6 FILMS!" in huge letters emblazoned on the back of the case, and then when you open it up, you find four discs with seven films inside.  Yeah, this is a weird, gonzo little package, but it's pretty terrific; and just right for the holiday.

Update 10/31/17 - 2/14/21: Wow!  I can't say I ever anticipated top notch HD restorations of any of these movies, but thanks to Vinegar Syndrome, we've got three of them, all by director Rubén Galindo Jr.  That does mean there's still one more left on the table.  But, uh, maybe that's just as well.

Update 6/23/23: Vinegar Syndrome does it again - Vacation of Terror 1 & 2 have been beautifully restored in 4k for a double bill blu-ray.
So yes, like the title and cartoonish sombrero on the skeleton monster suggest, these are Mexican horror films.  Movies from Mexico tended to get little to no exposure in English speaking markets, so most horror fans have probably never heard of any of these.  But don't let that put you off.  Because if you dig classic 80s atmosphere with big hair, cheesy soundtracks, blood and a variety of masked killers and monsters, this set's got the goods.  Sure, it's a knock-off bonanza, with rip-offs of everything from Nightmare On Elm Street to Poltergeist, but this isn't like ridiculous, Indian SpiderMan-level filmmaking.  These shot-on-film movies (mostly) display genuine, ambitious filmmaking with serious effort to create stylish, professional cinema that could compete the kind of horror favorites we were getting in our own Blockbuster Videos.
First up, starting from Side A of disc 1 to side B of disc 4, because yes these are flipper discs, is Vacation of Terror.  Some of these movies are darker and more serious, but the first couple are a bit lighter in tone.  Not horror comedy or anything too jokey, but more inviting you to enjoy a fun spooky ride rather than trying to scare or menace you.  Here, we have a pretty traditional haunted house flick.  In fact, it's biggest fault might just be that it's a little too by-the-numbers predictable, with a lot of gags we've seen before in other films.  Basically, a family inherits a house that they intend to use as a summer home, and whoops, they awaken the spirit of an old witch who was buried there many years ago.
It has a cool black & sepia prologue, a la The Beyond, and then the happy family move in and start to notice things are a little supernatural.  This isn't one of those super slow burns where you're an hour in and so far you've only seen a window close by itself.  There's a natural progression, but it isn't long before mysterious sounds and creeping mists lead way to direct attempts on the characters' lives.  The little girl gets possessed via her doll, and we start to get some serious Cathy's Curse vibes.  It's not totally over the top, but it doesn't waste our time trying to be overly subtle either.  We've got magical glowing medallions, people floating around in the air and driverless cars trying to run people down.  One of the leads, the older sister's boyfriend who comes to stay with the family, is Pedro Fernádez, a big pop and television star in his home country, who's definitely going for the teen idol vibe in these films.
I say "these films" because he's back in the next movie, Vacation of Terror 2.  For the first half of this one, I have to say I was enjoying it even more than Part 1.  Pedro is back but the original family is gone (I guess he ditched his girlfriend between films).  This time he falls for a cute young pop-star who happens to walk into his little shop.  He goes to see her perform her new single at a Halloween/ birthday party being held in a movie studio, when somehow another witch's ghost gets awakened.  This one really doesn't waste time getting into the action, there's a higher body-count, more creative special effects, people running around with guns, a catchy musical number (although the lyrics are either mistranslated or it's a very strange song), and this time the witch spends most of the film in physical form as a funky, hooded lizard monster.  Plus, this one's Halloween-themed with colorful decorations to throw you into the spirit of things.
By the second half, though, it started to get a little repetitive (monster attacks, heroes escape, monster attacks again, heroes escape again), and it started to run low on steam.  Overall, the original film probably wins out by virtue of being more grounded in a better story.  Plus, it's a little disappointing that no one goes on vacation during this entire movie.  haha  But there's definitely a good time to be had with this sequel.  The effects aren't exactly cutting edge in these films, but they're not no frills papier-mâché either.  These movies had real special effects teams that were clearly trying to compete with American films, and no, they didn't match the Hollywood greats, but they're as effective and entertaining as flicks like Demon Wind or Spookies.
1) 2007 BCI DVD; 2) 2023 VS BD.
Okay, the first two pairs of shots are from Vacation of Terror 1, and the the second two are from Part 2.  Both have been restored in 4k, but Terror 1 is taken from the original camera negative, and the sequel is from an archival positive.  You can certainly see the difference, the original is more impressively beautiful; Part 2 loses a little detail in the shadows.  But both are vast improvements.  The aspect ratio has been fixed from 1.28:1 and 1.31:1, respectively, to a perfect 1.85:1.  The full frame transfers did reveal a lot of vertical information, but they'd cut a good chunk off the sides, too; and VS repairs the damage.  Speaking of repairing damage, the DVDs are interlaced, every three frames on followed by the next three off.  VS corrects that, too.  And, I mean, just look at those shots; they finally look like professionally shot movies.  Detail is drastically more distinct and photo realistic, with overcast hues cleared up and accurate film grain.  Little moments of film damage mostly persist, suggesting the DVDs were actually mastered from the same sources, but you'd never guess it based on how they've transformed.

One thing the DVDs had going for them were the original mono audio tracks with optional English subtitles.  VS maintains that presentation, but the audio is stronger, and now in lossless DTS-HD for both films.
Something else I never thought I'd see are proper special features for these films.  Vinegar Syndrome have created a collection of on-camera interviews, adding up to roughly an hour of extras.  Interestingly, all of the extras pertain to the original and not Part 2.  We get interviews with the actors who played all three kids and the niece, plus the composer and special effects artist.  And it's so great to get light-hearted, personal insight into films that until now would've always been curious little mysteries to viewers who would've stumbled onto them.  This release includes reversible artwork (one side for Part 1, one for Part 2), and the first run comes in a limited edition slipcover.
And we get Pedro back one more time for the next film, Hell's Trap.  This is the weakest of the three films, objectively speaking; but I could also see it being many peoples' favorite of the Fernández trilogy, or even the whole set.  This one's more of a slasher as opposed to a supernatural affair, and yes, the killer's got a cool mask.  He's also got a crazy Freddy-like glove he breaks out for a couple kills.  But this isn't your typical teens unaware that they're getting picked off one by one scenario.  Here we've got two groups of teens who initially think they're hunting a bear before finding out there's a legendary madman stalking the woods.  But they figure it out fast, arm up and fight back.  Closer to The Final Terror than Friday the 13th, becoming even more of an action movie in the final act.
But just as an overall film, it is the weakest.  There's a really heavy-handed comic relief character, and all of the dialogue and plotting is kinda lame.  The other films were hokey at points, but work as your typical, catch it on cable TV horror flick.  For Hell's Trap, you're going to have a blast if you're the target audience looking for throwback slasher films, prepared not to overlook some flaws but embrace all the 80s slasher trappings.  Mainstream audiences will be turned off, although it moves at a good pace and the final act draws you in.  But overall, this is much more Code Red than Scream Factory, if you know what I mean.
But just as you start to feel like you've got a firm grasp on what the films in this set are like, everything changes.  Say goodbye to teen idol Pedro and welcome to the oeuvre of Rubén Galindo Jr.  He's written and directed all the rest of the films in this set, and he has decidedly different sensibilities.  Those first three films had kind of an upbeat, "horror films are meant to be fun" kind of energy.  Even Hell's Trap, which got a little nihilistic if you really stopped to think about it, still never took itself super seriously.  Galindo's films do.  He wants to scare you and impress you with his talents at the same time.  Cemetery of Terror is the first film you'll actually find yourself thinking, "oh, that's a good shot."  And they've brought in Hugo Stiglitz (Nightmare City, Night of 1,000 Cats) to play the lead!
This is our Halloween rip-off.  It's our second film set on Halloween night, with a group of teens and a younger group of trick or treating kids being menaced by a slightly supernatural masked killer.  The teens have stolen a body from the morgue and resurrected it as part of a Halloween gag (just go with it), but of course they unwittingly picked the most evil, unstoppable corpse possible.  And Stiglitz is unquestionably our Dr. Loomis: a slightly manic doctor who knows what's up and has come to town to try wake the local sheriff up and finally stop the monster.  We get some nice kills, creeping around a cemetery and an old boarded up house at night, and even a magical book of the dead.  It's cooler than a lot of our native Halloween knock-offs, that's for sure.
1) 2007 BCI DVD; 2) 2020 VS BD.
This was the first of Vinegar Syndrome's special editions.  Newly scanned in 4k from "35mm negative elements," this new blu widens the image a bit, but mostly adds mattes to turn BCI's 1.33:1 to 1.85:1.  We're not restoring a whole massive heap of detail, but that's only because these were surprisingly decent transfers for such an oddball DVD pack.  VS's 4k scan does turn what was smeary into actual, proper grain, giving the movie a decidedly more authentic, filmic look; and seeing it in the correct AR makes the compositions look even more professional (an advantage Galindo's films already had over the other movies in this set).  Actually, the biggest advantage is that it fixes the unfortunate interlacing problem that haunts absolutely everything in the BCI set.  And while both discs offer the original Spanish mono with optional English subtitles, VS naturally includes a lossless DTS-HD version... and also a lossy one as well, for some reason.
Cemetery is the most packed of all these VS releases.  It has two audio commentaries: one by Galindo and one by The Hysteria Continues podcast gang.  Each have their pros and cons.  Galindo is the most informative and is clearly the man we most want to hear from.  But he's rather slow, given to silent pauses or just describing the action on screen.  The podcast guys are lively with never a dull moment, but veer off topic, get into self indulgent tangents, and spend a lot of time guessing at info (like who the actors on screen are) that Galindo was able to tell us flat-out, and with more detail.  Actually, far better than either commentary are the on-camera interviews: one with Galindo, who repeats almost everything from his commentary but far more succinctly, and one with co-star Rene Cardona III.  There are a few exclusive details to Galindo's commentaries to reward those dedicated enough to plow through everything, but for the most part the interviews tell the whole story much better.

Vinegar Syndrome's releases also include reversible artwork and slipcovers for the first 5,000 copies sold.
Then Grave Robbers is pretty similar to Galindo's Cemetery.  Like Vacation of Terror, it starts with a cool backstory prologue, this time with a mad monk who's caught performing a Satanic sacrifice and buried alive.  Then some teens who like to rob graves for a living fall into his tomb and pull out the magical axe that was keeping him dead.  So you've got another evil, undead madman hulking around a cemetery offing everybody who crosses his path, and the local police, priest and teens need to work together to stop him before he manages to wipe out the whole town.  I think they're even using the same magical book of the dead prop from the last movie.
Our evil monk zombie guy wears a hood and lurks in the shadows with a big axe, executing some pretty nasty kills.  And there are a few supernatural twists added to the mix to keep things spicy.  Really, if you don't like this one, I think you just don't appreciate 80s horror flicks.  The special effects are cool, the killer is bad-ass, gore is flying, the score's effective and the pacing is pretty tight.  Okay, there's no great story at the heart of this thing; but it's one sweet set piece after another.  Trust me, dudes, this movie's awesome, and the best of the seven in this set.
1) 2007 BCI DVD; 2) 2020 VS BD.
It's pretty much the same story here as with Cemetery: another new 4k scan, this one actually from "its 35mm original negative," widening BCI's 1.32 to 1.85:1.  Though this time, while the DVD is still open matte, VS unveils considerably more along the sides.  You can also see they've done more work correcting the colors, which had gone a bit pink on the DVD.  Grain disappears a bit at times - this would probably look amazeballs on UHD - but this is an overall greater improvement just in general.  Plus, again the interlacing is a major fix, and the upgrade to DTS-HD is quite welcome.  Again, both discs also include lossy mixes and optional English subtitles.

VS's extras here are the lightest.  There's just the one audio commentary, by The Hysteria Lives.  And again, the important part is the Galindo interview.  But this time, those are the only extras, apart from the delightfully misleading reversible artwork and limited slipcover.
Now Demon Rat, unfortunately, is the one film that doesn't fit in.  It's from the 90s, and more importantly, isn't any good.  I understand why it's here - it's another Rubén Galindo Jr film.  But where his other endeavors seemed to take their influence from the nightmarish works of Carpenter and Fulci, this time it's like he's aping a late 90's era Roger Corman production.  It's just a bad idea followed upon with bad execution that shows none of the artistry his previous two films did.  Yes, there is a demon rat in this film, but we only see it for about twenty seconds and it looks ridiculous.  It doesn't even really factor into the plot, which is actually about a couple of goofily dressed clods standing around in a boxy apartment arguing about corporate ethics and the environment.  Oh, and it's set in the future, but looks like it was filmed in the past.  I mean the past even for 1992.
We find a beautiful young teacher living in a post ecological disaster, where everybody has to wear gas masks whenever they're outside.  Every single scene in this film begins and ends with the characters checking a little pollution detector taped over their doors that let's them know when it's safe to take the masks off inside.  They get so much screen-time; it's crazy!  Anyway, meanwhile, her ex husband has taken over her father's corporation, which he makes secretly dump toxic waste in the local park.  It turns the local animals into oversized mutants, but the only one we encounter is the titular demon rat who takes up residence in the teacher's apartment and kills the exterminator.  But forget about that, because instead the story follows her new boyfriend who discovers what the company's up to, and the rest of the film is her boyfriend and ex-husband chasing each other around with handguns.  The plot is mind-numbingly dull, all anyone talks about is the pollution and the corporation, the cinematography is completely flat and uninspired, and the acting sucks.  Even Mystery Science Theater would have a hard time making fun out of this one, because so little ever happens on screen.
1) 2007 BCI DVD.

It's also a much worse looking transfer than the other BCI discs, which at least respect their filmic roots.  This one looks like it could be sourced from a video tape master.  But then, the director also seems to have added varying levels of a filter to every shot to make it look like there's "pollution" coursing through the scene, so it's hard to tell exactly what flaw is to blame for what symptom.  It doesn't have all the boxy headroom of the other BCI transfers, suggesting this one might've been composed for fullscreen home video.  But I can't say the compositions ever hold a candle to Galindo's previous efforts here.  And of course, it's interlaced as ever.  Bottom line: it looks as awful as the rest o the movie feels.
Thankfully, things get right back on track for the final film.  Don't Panic is Rubén's Nightmare On Elm St. clone.  And if you're wondering how four flipper discs work out to seven films, it's because Crypt of Terror gives us two versions of Don't Panic, the English dub and original language version.  One runs about four minutes longer than the other, but I watched both all the way through, and the only reason one is longer is that one plays a tiny bit faster, like a PAL/ NTSC thing.  Content-wise, they're identical films.

So yes, this film is definitely ripping off Nightmare On Elm St., right down to minor details, like the lead character's alcoholic mom who has a bottle in every scene, the father who won't believe, and the scene where they take our hero to a dream specialist and hook him up to a machine.  The only thing they leave out?  Oh, just the Freddy Krueger character.  Yeah, there's no crazed killer who can get you in your dreams.  But apart from that - exactly like Nightmare On Elm St.!  Well, there is a killer.  But the twist is, instead of him killing kids in their sleep, he kills them in the waking world, and our hero just happens to see through his eyes when he dreams.  That's a little Eyes of Laura Mars, I guess.  But he still has weird dreams right out of Nightmare, like the killer's face pushing out of the staticy television set or through a wall.  In fact, he enlisted Screaming Mad George himself for some of the effects.  But while this film is another Galindo production, tonally, it feels much more like the lighter Pedro Fernádez entries, with this grown, curly blonde hair man running through the streets in his adorable dinosaur pajamas.  It's just some good, dumb fun.
1) 2007 BCI DVD (dubbed); 2) 2007 BCI DVD (subbed); 3) 2020 VS BD.
You've surely noticed that the two versions of Don't Panic have distinctly different looking transfers.  The English dub is darker, while the original language version is much brighter with heavily saturated colors.  In 2017, I wrote, "[h]onestly, the ideal transfer would probably meet somewhere in the middle.  The one is too dark, but the colors are blown out in the other."  And that's just what VS has given us.  And you can see there new 4k scan, again from the original 35mm negative, reveals a whole ton more on the sides, while shifting vertically, but showing about the same amount.  And look how much clearer the fine detail, like the writing on that hospital equipment is.   Of course, the interlacing's fixed, too.  This might be the biggest improvement yet.  Though audio-wise, maybe not so much.  First of all, yes, VS gives us both the English and Spanish audio option, with optional English subtitles like the DVD.  But only the English track is in DTS-HD; the Spanish track is lossy.  And the English audio on both discs are some scratchy sibilance issues, so you're going to want to opt for the Spanish, which isn't perfect, but definitely clearer.  So deduct a point for that.

Extras-wise, we're back to two commentaries, though this is Galindo's dullest, slowest effort yet.  Fortunately, we still get his on-camera interview, which is as great and illuminating as ever.  And again, Don't Panic comes in reversible artwork and a limited slipcover.  ...One drawback across these discs is that some things, like Galindo's origins as a filmmaker, do get re-told multiple times, which can get a little wearisome.  The Hysteria guys even make drinking games out of how much they repeat certain phrases and details, which kind of rubs it in more than it alleviates.  But overall, the interviews are real treasures, and while the commentaries feel more like time wasters than anything, there are little gems to be mined by devotees.  For instance, only in one of these commentaries do we learn of a shocking fatal accident on set.  So, while I wouldn't recommend most fans slogging through them, I am glad that VS went to the trouble to add a little more historical value to their releases.
BCI released a couple of these titles in double-packs as well as this set.  There's a Crypt of Terror 2 with Cemetery of Terror and Grave Robbers, and a Crypt of Terror 5 with Don't Panic and Demon Rat.  They also threw Don't Panic (the dubbed version) into at least one of their budget 10 movie packs called Blood Chills.  If you're wondering, since those are 2 and 5, what are the other Crypt of Terror DVD releases?  Just some other random horror flicks they had the rights to, like Lord Shango and Land Of the Minotaur.  There was also a Crypt of Terror: Horror from South of the Border - Vol. 2 in 2008, but they only included generic dubbed versions of more common, public domain Mexican exploitation films from the 50s and 60s like The Wrestling Women Vs. The Aztec Mummy and Night Of the Bloody Apes, with sources that look more like the typical video transfers.
But Vol. 1 is still a treat.  It features all these films, two of which still aren't available anywhere else, all seemingly uncut, and almost all highly entertaining.  Vinegar Syndrome has of course rendered five of the DVD editions obsolete; and fullscreen, interlaced standard definition transfers with zero extras can be hard to get excited for.  Honestly, I never believed any of these films would see proper releases, so maybe now it's worth waiting to see if VS has plans for the final holdouts.  Or at least Hell's Trap; Demon Rat is an easy skip.  When it was new, this set was a budget release - the kind of thing you could score for just a couple of bucks.  Unfortunately, now it's long out of print and has to be found used for serious collector's prices.  But, still, if you come across this set for a reasonable price, you may seriously regret passing it up.


  1. I've had Crypt vol 2 for a long time and think both movies on there are brilliant fun. Trouble is, you've piqued my interest in the others in this set so I've just tracked down a copy online. I bloody hate buying DVDs these days (Blu being my format of preference) but as you hint, I can't see these being upgraded any time soon. Anyway, kinda thanks (!) and looking forward to my copy hopefully winging its way from the States any week soon.

  2. What is it they say? Speak of the devil and the devil is at your door? I guess you noticed that Vinegar Syndrome just announced the fancy Blu-ray debut of THE DEMON RAT. Be careful what you wish for....