Blu-ray Reviews: Vinegar Syndrome’s Berserker, Pledge Night, Unmasked Part 25 & Beyond the Door III

Vinegar Syndrome has done an amazing deep dive into horror that hasn’t been experienced since Blockbuster ran your favorite mom and pop videostore out of business. They dug out four titles that lurked deep in the horror section of the VHS collection. These were the ones that were grab bag specials since odds were high that you didn’t have a clue about the plots outside the description on the back of the tape boxes. You might have heard about the titles from a photocopied fanzine that had been mailed to you via the postal system. But you weren’t going to hear about these titles in your hometown newspaper or see them reviewed on Siskel & Ebert. You definitely didn’t miss the films at your “family safe” corporate cinema complex. Did your local Carmike give you Berserker, Pledge Night, Unmasked Part 25 or Beyond the Door III on the big screen? But there’s a chance that your local version of Videorama or Dave’s Videodrome picked them up when they came out on VHS. These are the kind of films that vanished when “wholesome” Blockbuster arrived and destroyed all the fun. But thankfully the kind folks have Vinegar Syndrome have not only re-released them on Blu-ray (and a bonus DVD), but have upgraded the transfers so they look better than what you might have rented back in 1989.

Berserker (1987) immediately had me humming the “Beserker” song from Clerks. But this movie came out before Clerks so don’t worry about any Kevin Smith influences on the screen. This is an old fashioned worst camping trip ever film. A group of six teens arrive for a camping vacation in Rainbow Valley. It’s a nice looking place that was originally settled by folks arriving from Norway. What could go wrong there? Turns out six years ago, a girl was devastated by what was believed to be a bear attack. However some in the Nordic community fear it was The Berserker. What is a Berserker? This was an out of control warrior who indulged in cannibalism. They were damned to never go to afterworld with the other good warriors. They would be stuck on Earth and reincarnated for their savage ways. Of course everyone laughs that rumor off and just sticks to killer bear fears. But then the camping trip goes grizzly and there’s a feeling that someone might have a little Berserker inside them. The film looks great since it was shot in the wilds of Utah. Director of Photography Henning Schellerup had already made his mark with Silent Night Deadly Night. The editing was sliced up by Marcus Manton who’d give us the masterpiece Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. The attacks are good and chaotic like you’d expect either a bear or cannibal Viking could deliver. Director Jefferson Richard would have a bigger career in filmmaking as a producer and worked on 3000 Miles to Graceland and the Stallone remake of Get Carter. If you learn one thing from Berserker, it’s to never go on a camping trip until you get the complete ancestry charts from everyone on the trail.

Pledge Night (1988) should be seen as a PSA about the dangers of joining a fraternity at college. While frats sold themselves as a place to go to become a leader and make brotherhood bonds, we knew that it was just a place to get drunk, get you bottom spanked and hope one of your frat bros hires you to work at their father’s company. Pledge Night digs deep into what goes on when six pledges go through “Hell Week” in order to fully join the frat and be part of the brothers. What they learn quickly is that the Phi Epsilon Nu has a history of hazing that has led to a few fatalities. One of the most famous was when Sid (Anthrax’s Joey Belladonna) was killed in a bathtub that was filled with acid – the kind that burns your skin off and not the drug that makes you think your skin is peeling off. The pledges are given a shock when they think on of the frat brothers has been cut up and rushed to the hospital. But they’re warned to never call the cops no matter what. So as the hazing gets worse and worse, none of them want to back down because they want to join so badly. They’re willing to have their asses branded. In the midst of the hazing, Sid returns to claim revenge. Because the line between reality and scare stunts have been blurred, no one is sure what to do. This is film is so easy to embrace since the horrific action captures my own beliefs about Greek life on a college campus. Pledge Night has me asking for another.

Unmasked Part 25 (1988) has the ability to be both a low budget slasher flick and a parody of a slasher flick at the same time. Jackson (Gregory Cox) is a mass murderer in a hockey goalie mask roaming around London claiming victims. But he’s also looking for answers which happens when he finally locates his father. He learns that his mother had run off with him shortly after birth and moved to the camp in America where he drowned and was disfigured in the process. Are you getting an idea that this is Jason from the Friday 13th movies. Well Jackson is a parody of the boy that rose up from Camp Crystal Lake. But unlike the soulless killing machine, Jackson has a touch of humanity as he claims victims among the trendy, new wave-ish and arty kids on London. And then love comes to him in the form of a blind woman who hasn’t a clue about his past or messed up face. She wants him to live a normal life. But can he put down his weapons and just enjoy life? Unmasked Part 25 does have quite a few amazing kill scenes so that fans of the body count genre can get their fill of disgusting kills without feeling that he movie is mocking their taste in cinema. Which is what makes the film entertaining without it feeling extra preachy. Sure it’s fun to imagine what if Jason questioned his career goals, but it’s more fun if he hasn’t completely sold out his character. It’s like a thinking viewer’s slasher film that doesn’t completely overtax the brain. The ending has a solid twist reveal involving Jackson and his fate.

Beyond the Door III (1989) is a movie that doesn’t need to be watched after seeing the previous Beyond the Door movies. This was purely a case of the movie’s distributor doing the best to cash in on the video success of Beyond the Door and retitling Lamberto Bava’s Shock as Beyond the Door II. What videostore would dare not order Beyond the Door III, the alleged final chapter in the non-existent Beyond the Door trilogy? So don’t worry about the other two. This is a whole new movie. A group of students from California are excited about being invited to Yugoslavia for a cultural exchange although turns out the fine folks of Yugoslavia want to exchange more than culture. They’re supposed to see a version of the Passion Play that is older than Christianity so the kids are excited. Before going, one of the kids, Beverly (Mary Kohnert) is told that this is where her father came from. So she’s getting to see the Homeland. But something is wrong since her mom dies in a very wooden highway accident. This is just a hint of the supernatural horrors that await at the end of their very long airplane flight. You can tell this isn’t a goofy tourist film when they kids are met by Bo Svenson (Kill Bill) as their tour guide. Things go really bad very fast in the small Yugoslavian village. The kids do their best to escape, but can they really get free from a classmate’s destiny? This is just messed up from the first edit and a fabulous trainwreck of a film features a trainwreck during the student escape. Beyond the Door II is so bizarre, it deserves to have two prequels.

One of the cool things about a mom and pop shop is they’d always have odd deals to get you to rent a bunch of their older titles. I can just imagine a kid in 1989 taking advantage of a 4 for $4 for 4 Days with Berserker, Pledge Night, Unmasked Part 25 and Beyond the Door III clutched in their arms. Even though the movies are sold individually, they’d make a great long night marathon into VHS weirdness.

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. You’ll see all the nightmares in the woods before the campers. The audio is DTS-HD MA Mono. The levels get you the broken branch fears. The movie is subtitled.

Director’s Intro (0:18) is a short tease and thanks for watching Berserker.

A Family Affair (25:46) sits down with writer/director Jefferson Richard. He talks of growing up in Norwood, Massachusetts and watching five films for a quarter. He was acting in movies and saw himself on the screen in Norwood. He recalls how he finally got into the director’s chair.

Valley Girl (10:46) gets Shannon Engemann to remember the fun even though it was cold at night when they shot in the wilderness. She can’t remember if there was a premiere.

Beware of Bears (16:20) gets the lowdown from actor Joseph Alan Johnson. He was working for the producers before they started the film. He speaks of being sprayed down even when it was cold outside. He ended up acting in Lucio Fulci’s Ghosts of Sodom.

Audio Interview with Actor Mike Riley (9:56) has him explain how he landed the role of the Berserker. He also mentions the moment when he told the director that he wasn’t going to do a dangerous scene.

Historical Commentary Track with Justin Kerswell & Joseph Henson are half the guys from the Hysteria Continues. They go into how they found out about the film. They swear it had a theatrical release, but they couldn’t locate any box office numbers. Joseph remembers he rented it when the videostore had the five for $5 rental deal on older titles.

Still Gallery (1:38) has a lot of actors in the woods shots.

Vinegar Syndrome presents Berserker. Directed by: Jefferson Richard. Screenplay by: Jefferson Richard, Joseph Kaufman, Henning Schellerup. Starring: Joseph Alan Johnson, Greg Dawson, Valerie Sheldon, Shannon Engemann, Beth Toussaint. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 85 minutes. Released: October 29, 2019.

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. You’ll see all the frat pranks quite clearly. The audio is DTS-HD MA Mono. It’s pretty good sound levels for a rather low budget production. The movie is subtitled.

Hell Weeks (15:21) interview Paul Ziller talks about shooting Pledge Week for two weeks at a real frat house at Rutgers. He talks about how he learned to shoot and edit when he was a teenager and had an 8mm camera. He still has his 8mm editing device. He ended up at NYU during the time Spike Lee, Jim Jaramusch and Ang Lee were classmates. He’s had a long career since making Pledge Night. Ziller also worked at Troma films as an editor.

Graduating to Horror (10:44) chats with writer/producer Joyce Snyder. She had won several AVNs before deciding to working on Pledge Night.

The Bad Man (27:06) catches up with actor Arthur Lundquist. The film was called “A Hazing In Hell when he made the film. He talks about his early acting career that included a feature film that ran out of money so they never processed the film.

Hazing From Hell (12:22) gets Robert Lentini to talk how he went from being a farm boy in New Jersey to getting robbed in Manhattan that led to his first acting on camera.

Locations Featurette (2:59) we get to see the frats at Rutgers that were used in the film. We also get to hear the scandal. One of the houses was burned to the ground.

Theatrical Trailer (0:57) promises the ugliness of pledging to a frat will be revealed.

Vinegar Syndrome presents Pledge Night. Directed by: Paul Ziller. Screenplay by: Joyce Snyder. Starring: Todd Eastland, Dennis Sullivan, Craig Derrick, David Neal Evans, Robert Lentini. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 86 minutes. Released: September 24, 2019.

The video is 1.66:1 anamorphic. The resolution brings the violence scenes up front as the blood floors. The audio is DTS-HD MA Mono. The chopping mixes well with the New Wave songs. The movie is subtitled.

Audio Commentaries include one with director Anders Palm and a second with writer and producer Mark Cutforth.

Original Trailer (3:24) has Jackson trying to get out of character after making 24 films.

Still Gallery (2:44) has behind the scenes pics to show how it was a pretty fine size low budget production. They had trucks.

Vinegar Syndrome presents Unmasked Part 25. Directed by: Anders Palm. Screenplay by: Mark Cutforth. Starring: Gregory Cox, Fiona Evans, Edward Brayshaw, Debbie Lee London, Kim Fenton. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 88 minutes. Released: October 29, 2019.

The video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The train in the water effect looks good with the resolution bump. The audio is DTS-HD MA Mono. There’s a bit of cast dubbing. The movie is subtitled.

Running Amok (39:48) interviews director Jeff Kwitny about the film that was supposed to be called Amok Train. He was working for Roger Corman in various ways when he met Italian producer Ovidio G. Assonitis (Beyond the Door. He ended up writing various script for the producer while getting to work in Rome. He pitched the story for Amok Train. This is how a guy from Los Angeles, ended up in Serbia making an Italian film.

A Long Walk to Yugoslavia (22:13) lets Bo Svenson (Walking Tall Part II and Inglourious Basterds) try out his accents. He talks about how his agent in Rome set him up on the film with the promise that he’d get to work in Belgrade with Ovidio again. Bo was smart enough to work as soon as he was paid.

Interview with Cinematographer Adolfo Bartoli (6:43) talks about working with Mr. Assonitis.

Vinegar Syndrome presents Beyond the Door III. Directed by: Jeff Kwitny. Screenplay by: Sheila Goldberg. Starring: Mary Kohnert, Bo Svenson, Victoria Zinny, Savina Gersak, Sarah Conway Ciminera. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 94 minutes. Released: October 29, 2019.

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