Blu-ray Reviews: Grave Robbers, Blood Theatre & House of the Dead

Vinegar Syndrome has a knack at finding films that were trapped deep in the video rental shelves of the ’80s. This was a time when mom and pop shops were eager to stock up the shelves and if they could get a title for less than what the major studios wanted, they were game especially if the straight to video flick was in the horror genre. Most kids were willing to rent anything with a scary title and gruesome cover art on the box. When Blockbuster took power, these films were no longer that welcomed on the shelves. They wanted the big Hollywood productions. The mom and pop shops went under and these strange VHS tapes vanished into Goodwill stores. But they weren’t completely forgotten and now the trio of Grave Robbers, The House of the Dead and Blood Theatre aren’t merely being brought back, but upgraded to Blu-ray by Vinegar Syndrome.

Grave Robbers (1988 – 93 minutes) starts off as an inspirational tale. Nora Mae Edwards (Elizabeth Mannino) has given up the life of prostitution to work the night shift at a diner. She does her best to stay straight and meets the man of her dream. She agrees to marry regular customer John Henry Cox (David Gregory) without knowing too much about the guy except he’s nice and drives a rather nice car. She learns quickly that Cox is wealthy since he’s an undertaker with a very popular funeral home. She can handle that. But quickly she discovers that her new home of Newbury isn’t as sweet as it appears and her husband might be part of something rather nasty. Her first tip that something is wrong happens in the bedroom when her husband doesn’t appreciate her being too active during lovemaking. Later Nora sees a car wreck involving a popular cheerleader. The EMTs don’t have much to do to revive the dead girl as they load her inside the ambulance. Out of Nora’s view, the EMTs decide to have one last hook up with the cheerleader. Later when the girl is delivered to the funeral home, Nora thinks she spies her husband and pals going beyond embalming the deceased. But is it just a nightmare? Nora can’t just shake it off.

There’s a reason the movie was originally released on VHS with the title Dead Mate on the box. The movie was made by the same company that produced the recently reviewed Doom Asylum. But doesn’t quite have the star power of a future Sex and the City star. Sadly it appears Elizabeth Mannino didn’t make any other feature films. She has a great ’80s look on the screen as she tries to figure out if her husband is humping his clients. Director Straw Weisman did a lot of producing and screenwriting after Grave Robbers A major feather in his cult cap was his work on the English dub script for Godzilla 1985.

The House of the Dead is an horror anthology film like Amicus had been producing in the ’70s although the star names aren’t quite as impressive. Talmudge (Bedknobs and Broomsticks‘ John Ericson) gets let off on the wrong street by his taxi after a traveling salesman hook up. In the midst of a sudden storm, he’s welcomed inside a building by a mortician (Quincy, M.E.‘s Ivor Francis). While the rain comes down, the mortician tells the story of his clients in the coffins. The first is a teacher (You Light Up My Life‘s Judith Novgrod) has unexpected pests in her house. A video taping enthusiast (A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child‘s Burr DeBenning) sets up his camera to record his dates. An American Detective (The Wild Wild West‘s Charles Aidman) attempts to solve a mystery with a British sleuth (Bewitched‘s Bernard Fox). A worker (Kentucky Fried Movie‘s Richard Gates) finds himself trapped in an office that seems out to kill him. And like most Amicus film, the fifth coffin is part of the framing story. Of all the stories, the dueling sleuths is the best mainly because of the interplay between Fox and Aidman. These two should have been given their own mystery show after their performances.

Blood Theater (1984 – 75 minutes) is about what happens when you re-open a cursed property. In this case a movie theater was shutdown after an usher went nuts and killed the ticket taker, the audience and all those involved in shooting of a film in the space. Decades later the city offers money to anyone who will dare to reopen the theater. A theater chain takes up the offer and transfers employees to the less than desirable space. No one seems too happy including the company secretary (Death Race 2000‘s Mary Waronov). The ghost of the killer usher returns to shutdown opening night and kill more employees. Can he ever be stopped. The movie isn’t close to great in as a homicidal thriller. But the views of the now destroyed Beverly Warner Theater keeps a cinema fanatic happy. Waronov also elevates the moments when she’s on the screen. This was Rick Sloane’s first feature film as a director and it’s kinda clunky in the pacing and editing. There’s no way he can create tension with his soundtrack that sounds like it was lifted off an Atari videogame. Of course he’d go on to make Hobgoblins and the Vice Squad series where these normally bad things helped him achieve a level of culthood. Theatre of Blood is a bit of fun mess that plays best from the haunted balcony.

The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic for all three films. The transfers look great. This is probably the best they’ve all looked especially if you’ve only experienced them on VHS. The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono for all films. The levels are fine so you won’t have to crank up the speakers. The movies are subtitled.

DVDs are provided for each movie and contain all the bonus features at a lower resolution.

Movie Introduction (0:26) has director Straw Weisman give a short set up to the film.

Audio Commentary allows Wesiman to discuss how he got involved in the world of low budget theatrical films after a career in advertising. He points out that the film was supposed to be black comedy about people trying to find ways to avoid catching AIDS.

Digging Up the Past (18:50) sits down with Weisman. He digs up how he originally worked with the producers in creating hardcore moments for other films. Turns out during his career in advertising, he got to shape the campaign for The Empire Strikes Back.

Trailer (3:30) appears to be the version of the film used to get money since it’s pretty spoiler heavy. Don’t watch this before the actual film.

Vinegar Syndrome presents Grave Robbers. Directed by Straw Weisman. Screenplay by: Straw Weisman. Starring: Elizabeth Mannino, David Gregory, Larry Bockius and Judith Mayes. Rated: R. Running Time: 93 minutes. Released: June 26, 2018.

Audio Interview with director Sharron Miller (22:13) that this movie evolved when another project fell apart. She was working on The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams and wanted to get a feature film under her bet. Even though the film wasn’t a success, Miller kept directing in TV and won an Emmy for her work on an After School Special.

Audio Interview with David O’Malley (25:54) talks about his work with Rod Serling and how this script was his attempt to make his own version of The Twilight Zone. He brings up how the distributor recut the film and messed with a few of the anthology stores.

Production Still Gallery (1:31) are photos taken on location.

Vinegar Syndrome presents The House of the Dead. Directed by Sharron Miller. Screenplay by: David O’Malley. Starring: John Ericson, Ivor Francis, Judith Novgrod and Bernard Fox. Rated: PG-13. Running Time: 80 minutes. Released: July 31, 2018.

Bonus feature film: THE VISITANTS (1987 – 92 minutes) is Rick Sloane’s second feature film. It’s about aliens in Los Angeles that can’t stop watching satellite TV.

Commentary Tracks with Rick Sloane are on both Blood Theatre and The Visitants. He knows these films aren’t masterpieces, but is proud that he was able to make them for probably less than a new car at the time. There’s also a commentary track on Blood Theatre with the Hysteria Continues breaking down the action.

Ensemble Introduction (8:55) from a screening at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles when both films were run in 35mm at the theater. Rick Sloane, Mary Woronov, Marcus Vaughter, Jordana Capra get talked up by Julia Marchese, the director of the fine Out of Print.

Post film Q&A with Rick Sloane and Mary Woronow (14:05) at the New Beverly Cinema. He explains he had to loop an actress’ voice because it was so annoying in post-production.

Vinegar Syndrome presents Blood Theatre. Directed by Rick Sloane. Screenplay by: Rick Sloane. Starring: Mary Woronov, Jenny Cunningham, Marcus Vaughter, Jordana Capra and Jeffrey Culver. Rated: Not Rated. Running Time: 75 minutes. Released: June 26, 2018.

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