Wednesday, February 18, 2009

RAIDERS OF THE LIVING DEAD (1986)

In the late 1960s, Independent-International Pictures head honcho Samuel M. Sherman bought a 15-minute black-and-white documentary about Lithuanian milkmaids, had Al Adamson shoot wraparound scenes with Scott Brady as a cop tracking down a nut who calls himself The Bulimic Strangler, and released it as GURGLE-A-GO-GO. Eight years later, Sherman tinted the whole movie purple, turned it upside down, had a film student from Long Island shoot new footage of an ophthalmologist from Yonkers playing the Wolf Man, added a subplot about bikers and the baaaaad black cop trying to catch them, and re-released it as GHASTLY SCREAMS OF THE BLOODY SADISTS. But wait! Five years after that, Adamson was brought back in to shoot new footage of Regina Carrol as a medium named Inga who contacts the spirit of the Wolf Man (who is called “Frankenstein” in this version), all the footage with the ophthalmologist in fur and fangs was passed off as a flashback, the stuff about the milkmaids became a flashback WITHIN the flashback, John Carradine was rented for one afternoon to do a prologue in which he explains (in a broad Irish brogue) that the purple tinting is actually a revolutionary new film process called HALLUCINOGENIC HORSESHIT-O-VISION, the title was changed to BLOODY SMILES OF THE SEXY STEWARDESSES, and Commander USA showed it three times during the summer of 1986 before Super Video released it priced for rental at $59.98 as I AM SUCKER (PURPLE).

OK, I could’ve gotten a few of the facts wrong -- like maybe it was the summer of 1987, not ’86, and now that I think about it, Lawrence Tierney played the cop, not Scott Brady -- but anyway, you get the picture. Don't you?

One of those rare cases in which a DVD as a whole actually exceeds the sum of its parts, Image Entertainment’s 2-disc set of RAIDERS OF THE LIVING DEAD could very well be Sam Sherman’s greatest accomplishment since Zandor Vorkov, and I’m not joking this time. I own 17 of the DVDs featuring Sherman’s audio commentaries, and I paid for all but 2 of ‘em, so I think I know what I’m talking about. To fully appreciate the RAIDERS OF THE LIVING DEAD experience, avoid everything that’s been written or said about the movie until you’ve watched all 3 versions of the film included in this package. For maximum enjoyment, put on Disc 1 first and begin with DYING DAY, Brett Piper’s $17,000 wonder, shot on 16mm in 1983. After 5 minutes, you’ll want to tear it out of your player and set it on fire, but DON’T! Stick with it, because it gets much better.

Finished? OK, now hit the bathroom, get a drink of water (or if you’re old enough, the first beer in that 12-pack that's chillin’ in the fridge), toss a bag of popcorn into the microwave… Good. Now you’re ready for Disc 2. DARK NIGHT is what you want to explore next. Sit back. Enjoy. See you in about 80 minutes.

All done? Great! Remove Disc 2 from your player and replace Disc 1. Now, the big decision: Do you watch RAIDERS OF THE LIVING DEAD with the Sherman audio commentary first, so you can find out what the heck is going on, or do you just take the plunge and figure it out on your own? I’ll leave the order up to you, but you have to watch this version of the movie twice -- once with the audio commentary on, once with it off. See you in about 3 hours.

Knock-knock, I’m back. Hey, you’re smiling! That was a lot of fun, wasn’t it? What was your favorite part? I liked it when Bob Allen, who was the villain in DARK NIGHT, turned up as a nice guy in RAIDERS OF THE LIVING DEAD. As usual, the audio commentary by Sherman was packed with lots of interesting bits of information. People have criticized some of his previous commentaries for not being scene specific, or for only covering half or a third of a feature film, but I’m not one of those people. I think we’re all very fortunate to have him recording these commentaries for us.

OK, back to the DVD. It’s time to read the wonderful liner notes by John Charles, associate editor of Video Watchdog magazine and author of The Hong Kong Filmography, 1977-1997. For those who own the other Image/Sherman releases, the trailers for BRIDES OF BLOOD, MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND, BEAST OF BLOOD, BRAIN OF BLOOD, BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRES, HORROR OF THE BLOOD MONSTERS, and THE BLOOD DRINKERS have been thrown into the mix one more time, and the “House of Terror” live horror show promo is here again as well.

Forget about sound and picture quality. DYING DAY and DARK NIGHT are work prints, so this is the best we’re going to get. I’ve never seen RAIDERS OF THE LIVING DEAD in any other form -- it premiered on the old USA Up All Night program in 1989 and was then released to video for a while -- but I can’t believe it ever looked better than the version presented here.

Bottom line: If you’re a Sam Sherman/Independent-International fan like myself, you own this disc already -- but if you have any interest in low-budget filmmaking, or you fancy yourself a schlock movie historian, you really owe it to yourself to pick up this fascinating and surprisingly fun DVD as soon as possible.






2 comments:

The Igloo Keeper... said...

Zita Johan's a ledge.

The Holding Coat said...

That's an amazingly kind review of DYING/DAR/RAIDERS, and you are absolutely right: Sam Sherman's audio commentary has more entertainment value than all 3 versions of the film. (For the record, I played Morgan Randall in all 3 versions.)
-- Bob Deveau