Video Vault brings you short features on the movies that used to line the shelves of your local video store. Some of these gems never made it from VHS to DVD or digital, while others are available to stream now.
VIDEO VAULT – VHS/DVD AVAILABLE
CUTTING CLASS (1989)
Who remembers Brad Pitt’s first lead role in a feature film? By the late 80s, Pitt had been seen in a swathe of minor and uncredited roles, from a blink, and you will miss it fight scene in Less than Zero to a partygoer in No Way Out. In addition, he had made a name for himself in TV shows like Dallas and 21 Jump Street, but his movie career began with The Dark Side of the Sun in 1988, a film about a teen with a rare skin condition called Xeroderma Pigmentosum. No one remembers Dark Side of the Sun today, but they do remember Pitt’s next movie, which aimed to challenge and change the teenage slasher format. That film was the 1989 low-budget comedy-horror Cutting Class, directed by Rospo Pallenberg and starring Donovan Leitch, Jill Schoelen, Brenda Lynn Klemme, and the legendary Roddy McDowell.
Steve Slavkin’s screenplay would mesh the 80’s slasher with the classic whodunit and, in turn, help to give birth to a new style of teen horror as the 80s came to a close. However, Cutting Class is rarely discussed or mentioned as an innovative forerunner of 90s horrors such as Scream. This is partially due to Pallenburg mixing moments of whodunnit brilliance, from red herrings to Pitt and Schoelen’s chemistry and a stoned and creepy caretaker, Robert Glaudini, with a range of tiresome and lazy gags and cliches.
But while Cutting Class may not always work, when it does, it sizzles. Now best known for introducing a VHS-obsessed generation to a young Brad Pitt, Cutting Class has more to offer than just mere eye candy. But whether it is enough to fork out the money to buy this rare horror-comedy classic is ultimately up to you. Either way Cutting Class deserves a reappraisal of its place in teen horror history.
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS (1987)
Hands up if A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors was one of your first VHS rental horrors. If your hand is up, you are not alone, and I am willing to bet that Freddy’s third outing left a scar, whether from the devilish death by TV or the vein-shredding puppet act. Directed by Chuck Russell, Dream Warriors would attempt to reverse much of the criticism levelled at Freddy’s Revenge by handing the story-writing duties back to Wes Craven for what was initially planned to be the final outing for Krugar. Craven and his fellow writer Bruce Wagner would jettison the single heroine or hero and introduce a group of sleep-deprived fighters as co-leads in the battle against Krugar. But they would equally re-introduce a series of familiar faces from the first outing to ensure continuity while allowing cameos from Zsa Zsa Gabor and Dick Cavett to help up the humour. Equally, Dream Warriors would play with the popularity of the roleplaying game in teen culture, creating a fantasy-laced horror that firmly placed Freddy at the forefront of a changing technological era in filmmaking. The result is a movie that laces sharp humour with teenage fantasy and unforgettable gore.
NOW AND THEN (1995)
On the release of Now and Then in 1995, comparisons were bound to be drawn between Stand By Me and Lesli Linka Glatter’s coming-of-age tale starring Demi Moore, Melanie Griffith, Rosie O’Donnell, Rita Wilson, Devon Sawa, Christina Ricci, Thora Birch, Gaby Hoffmann and Ashleigh Aston Moore. These comparisons would see many critics of the day compare, contrast and ultimately criticise Glatter’s film. Yet, despite a lacklustre box office haul, Now and Then would find success on VHS, DVD and TV as a must-see sleep-over movie for a whole generation. From a critical standpoint, it is true that Now and Then is a mixed bag and never quite finds its voice, especially in dovetailing the now with the then. But it’s also true that it suffered a lot of unfair criticism in 1995. You may therefore find yourself asking why Now and Then has all but vanished in the United Kingdom and is near impossible to find despite its stellar cast and a screenwriter who would go on to create Pretty Little Liars. The answer remains clouded in mystery, but what’s clear is that Now and Then is well worth a reappraisal and a long-overdue digital release.
VIDEO VAULT – USED DVDS/VHS AVAILABLE
WHITE SQUALL (1996)
Some films vanish without a trace for no real reason, and White Squall is one of those movies. Directed by Ridley Scott with an all-star cast of up-and-coming actors, including Scott Wolf, Ryan Phillippe, Balthazar Getty, Jeremy Sisto and Ethan Embry, White Squall should have knocked the ball out of the park on its theatrical release. However, despite being led by Jeff Bridges, Caroline Goodall and John Savage, with a Hollywood Studios (Disney) distribution, White Squall was to earn a mere $10,292,300 worldwide against a budget of around $38,000,000. As a result, it would become the second Ridley Scott movie to flop in a row following 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992) (a film that has also vanished into the mists of time).
In 1961, thirteen teenage boys set off for a year in the Caribbean on the Ocean Academy’s, Albatross schooner. Under the steer of their Captain, Christopher Sheldon (Bridges), the boys would learn teamwork, mathematics, seamanship and more as they worked together across the Ocean. However, in 1961 the Albatross was hit by a reported White Squall, and the boy’s journey and education ended in tragedy. Scott’s fictionalised account of the journey plays fast and loose with the facts but is elevated by the outstanding performances of its young cast. White Squall is, in essence, a coming-of-age movie about the bonds of brotherhood, masculinity and escape. At times, Scott veers too far into sentimentality as he attempts to deliver Dead Poets Society at sea. But despite this weakness, White Squall is a visually stunning and impactful journey that deserves reappraisal and re-release.
FAST GETAWAY (1991)
Born in Toronto, Ontario, in 1971, Corey Haim earned widespread acclaim for his early acting roles in Firstborn, A Time to Live, Silver Bullet and Lucas before becoming a teen idol following The Lost Boys. But by the early 90s, Haim struggled to find roles that allowed his talent to shine while addiction issues haunted his private life, and Hollywood turned its back. Released on video in 1991, Fast Getaway was just one of many low-budget flicks that played on Haim’s boyish good looks and charm to find an audience. On paper, Fast Getaway aims to offer us a classic father/son road movie with a comedic crime caper twist, but in reality, it quickly turns into a somewhat confused straight-to-VHS mess. However, while it doesn’t achieve its goals, Fast Getaway is also great fun and a reminder of those straight-to-VHS films that lined the shelves at your local Blockbuster, waiting for the weekend teen rental audience. Is it Haim at his best? No, but is it light-hearted VHS fun? Undoubtedly.
RICHIE RICH (1994)
By 1994, Macaulay Culkin had cemented his position as the modern era’s most successful child star. His journey from 1990s Home Alone included eight motion pictures in just four years, a tiring, all-consuming feat for even the most well-established adult stars. But, for a 13-year-old boy whose life was directed by an overbearing father, this persistent on-screen presence was taking its toll. Richie has everything a boy could ever desire but lacks the most important thing money can’t buy, friends. In reality, Culkin’s life was in a similar position; his Hollywood dream warped into a nightmare of social isolation and pressure. Here Culkin’s longing for escape is visible in every scene as he attempts to turn on the charm. Richie Rich is an unplanned portrait of a child star trying to keep up a pretence of enjoyment. The resulting picture is a strange mix of fantasy and reality, with both Richie and Culkin searching for meaning in an ocean of loneliness and uncertainty.
With the social fears of Nuclear War still alive with tension, John Badham’s 80’s teen thriller would combine those fears of conflict with an early exploration of artificial intelligence. The result was a thriller that has remarkably stood the test of time. WarGames arrived in cinema screens the same year as Apple launched the Lisa computer and Microsoft launched its first Word software. Meanwhile, Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan became the first movie to use computer effects with Lucasfilm’s DEC VAX. But WarGames release was also surrounded by the first computer-to-computer communication as ARPANET was born (the precursor of what we now call the internet). WarGames not only reflected the march of tech in our analogue world but asked one pertinent question: What happens when A. I. takes control and learns the rules of the game from flawed humans?
HORROR HOSPITAL (1973)
The 1970s may have offered us some of the best horrors ever made, from The Omen to Alien, but Horror Hospital isn’t one of them! In fact, it’s far from it, but it is a delicious slice of low-budget British horror that is so bad it’s brilliant. Anthony Balch’s gloriously camp creation offers us Nazi-inspired doctors, leather-clad bikers and gallons of tomato sauce in a film that never takes itself seriously. Horror Hospital is quintessentially British as it bathes its audience in sex, gore and screams while poking fun at the might of the Hammer House of Horror. While many may now find the 70s dialogue dated and, at times, overtly sexist and homophobic by today’s standards, Horror Hospital is a wonderfully camp gem of 70s moviemaking that can’t help but put a smile on anyone’s face.
MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND (1996)
Following the model established in The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Brian Henson’s second feature would move from Dickens to Robert Louis Stevenson for inspiration. However, unlike The Christmas Carol, Treasure Island would steer in a more comedic direction. The result was a wild Muppet adventure, where Tim Curry stole the show as Long John Silver alongside a young Kevin Bishop as Jim Hawkins. However, the fact that Muppet Treasure Island is remembered more for Curry than Kermit would lead to criticism. But that aside, Muppet Treasure Island is a beautifully made picture that continues to build on the emerging confidence of Brian Henson while returning to a Muppet Show inspired style of comedy.