VHS Trash Fest Edinbrugh Review – Day 2 Nightbreed & The Burning!

VHS Trash Fest Review – Day 2

On day 2 of VHS Trash Fest, much like Day 1, before the movies there was a stall set up with a variety of VHS tapes to buy or trade as well as a range of cult movie posters. Also like before there was some entertaining introductions to the movies and there was also a number of representatives from a VHS enthusiast group called the Video Club (https://www.facebook.com/groups/videoclubuk/) a couple of whom talked a bit about where they are based, how often they meet up and what they do which was interesting.

Also like last time there was a selection of trailers before the first movie. Oddly unlike Society where the trailers generally matched up with the feature presentation the trailers before Nightbreed did not really as they were mostly for action/crime films such as Wesley Snipes classic “New Jack City” and Christopher Walken’s cult actioner “Mcbain”. Anyway obviously after that we dived into the first movie.

Nightbreed (1990)

Director: Clive Barker

Cast: Craig Sheffer, David Cronenberg, Anne Bobby

Running Time: 102mins

Nightbreed is a film with a very interesting production history and a very interesting afterlife. Clearly Clive Barker, who wrote and directed the film and also wrote the novel it is based on, had a lot of difficulty trying to get his vision up on the big screen. The original cut of the movie ended up being sliced and diced by the studio and the film flopped upon release.

Since there has been a director’s cut released, coming in at 120 minutes, and the much talked about “Cabal” cut, that was reconstructed by fans of the film, which comes in at a substantial 145 minutes. However as we were watching this from the VHS we had to settle for the original theatrical cut. Which despite its flaws remains a, mostly, decent film as even in this truncated form Barker’s imagination manages to shine through.

The film also shares some DNA with the film from Day 1 too as again we have a central character, Boone (Craig Sheffer), who is been convinced by other that he is mad. In this case it is because he has visions of a place called Midian which exists under a cemetery and is a refuge for various mutants and monsters. His psychiatrist Dr Philip K. Decker (David Cronenberg) convinces him this is all in his head. At the same time there is a serial killer on the loose and Dr Decker seems convinced that Boone is the culprit and tries to convince him of as much asking Boone to hand himself into the police. Why Dr Decker is so convinced of this is initially unclear but soon becomes apparent enough. That said in other respect’s Dr Deckers motivations do seem pretty muddy.

This also seems to be a running theme in the movie as there is many moments where character’s motivations seem frustratingly ambiguous. While other characters whose importance is hinted at are only thinly drawn such as a priest character who turns up late in the day and whom it initially appears will be a significant figure in the third act but whose presence is mostly inconsequential in the end. There is also the feeling that is several movies in one with plot developments coming out of nowhere. For example the redneck assault on Midian in the finale comes from almost nothing and

seems shipped in from another movie. Granted all these things may be more fully explored and explained in the other cuts but it easy to see why audiences may have been frustrated with this particular version.

As mentioned earlier though this is a spectacularly imaginative film though and as an exercise in world building the film really excels. Despite the occasional leaps in logic the world of Midian is really well drawn. Even though it is an entirely fantastical creation the movie gives the place a sense of identity and history which makes it entirely easy to believe in within the films own universe. Also a lot of credit must go to the various special makeup effect artists and creature effects artists as the creature design is excellent and even 27 years after it first hit cinema screens still stands up in many ways.

It is not just the creatures that are impressive as across the board the acting is generally good too. Possibly most impressive is the performance of noted film director David Cronenberg who, aside from a handful of uncredited cameos in his own movies, had not really acted before this but carries off the role of Dr Decker with aplomb. Granted given the nature of many of his own movies and his known interest in psychoanalysis the role of creepy psychologist may not have been too much of a stretch but still it is a good performance.

Verdict: On one hand, plot and character wise, the film can often seem a bit confused and muddled which can be frustrating. On the other this is, at times, a brilliantly inventive film with a great visual design and it’s not hard to see why it became a cult classic even in this truncated form.

After a short break and short intro we moved onto the second film The Burning which as it was off a very old original run VHS, which had the uncut version, it had no trailers.

The Burning (1981) (Video Nasty Review Part 6)

Director: Tony Maylam

Cast: Brian Matthews, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Jason Alexander, Carrick Glen, Fisher Stevens, Carolyn Houlihan, Lou David, Holly Hunter

Running Time: 91mins

The Burning is generally known for two things. First that it was on the infamous “Video Nasty” list and second that it is a Friday the 13th ripoff. The second “fact” is actually a little unfair and seems to have stuck because a) Friday the 13th came out the year before and b) Friday the 13th became a franchise juggernaut so most people know it first and when they get round to seeing this they will assume it is a rip-off. Turns out that is not actually the case as The Burning, despite coming out after, went into production first and it appears both were developed completely separately without the

knowledge of the other. The probable truth is both teams were probably trying to cash-in on the success of Halloween and independently decided to make the setting a summer camp, such is life.

Apart from these two pieces of notoriety The Burning is also a great trivia quiz answer. As it was the first movie to be produced by Harvey Weinstein (who also is credited as one of the people who came up with the original story). Bob Weinstein also co-scripted the screenplay, his first and one of only two screenplays he ever wrote. It also features the big screen debuts of Jason Alexander, Holly Hunter and Fisher Stevens.

The question we are left with then is other than the trivia and the notoriety is it actually worth watching? To which the answer is yes. It is not a brilliant horror movie by any stretch but it is an above average slasher that still feels like its own movie unlike a lot of slashers that came out later on in the decade that felt like they were slavishly following the slasher genre playbook.

Also so while never reaching the iconic levels of Michael Myers, Jason or Freddie Krueger, The Burning’s own villain Cropsy is both well drawn and convincingly nasty. The campfire mythology created for him is also well done and makes him seem like more of a supernatural force than a mere mortal.

In truth it is hard to see this type of horror movie being made now. Not because of the “nastiness”, it is positively tame by today’s standards, but because of the slow build. There actually quite long periods between kills and a lot of fake-outs. Which could be annoying but are actually pretty well executed. The most memorable kill in the movie is the infamous “raft massacre”, which played a large part in it getting on to the Video Nasty list, again it likely to leave modern horror fans unfazed in terms of gore but it still stand up as an effective scene of horror.

Not everything is so effective though. In fact some things are bizarre or comically inept. Probably the most bizarre thing is the age of the cast. It is hard to tell who is a counsellor who is a “teen” being supervised as the cast all look about the same age and in fact pretty much are with most of the “kids” being in there 20’s. The most hilarious example of this is the bully Glazer as the actor who played him Larry Joshua was 28 at the time of filming and in fact a year older than the actor who played the lead counsellor Todd (Brian Matthews). Other than that the acting is, as with a lot of slashers, pretty variable and the dialogue, again like of lot of slashers, often clunks.

Verdict: Not the greatest example of the slasher but far, far away from being the worst. It may look pretty dated now but its slow build creates a good creepy atmosphere, the villain is compelling and it has some decent kills. All in all a solid example of the sub-genre.