Halloween is here, which brings the annual onslaught of film fans making their own "31 Days of Halloween". Each year, the level of enthusiasm across the board is so admirable, yet it feels like the same damn films are talked about time and again (though, I too, am guilty as charged in this case, Your Honor). Old favorites are great, but spicing up the tried and true rotation with really weird, radical shit you've never seen before is vastly more exciting.
Thank goodness for the folks at Vinegar Syndrome, who've unleashed a truly outlandish line-up into 2018's pumpkin patch. Inside these stacked, re-mastered clear coffins, you'll find a singing (and possibly murderous) sad clown, a beautiful black succubus, John Cassavetes battling a ghost rapist, and John Savage terrorizing nearly every woman who comes across his path with lightning bolts of repressed fury. The cult genre label has outdone themselves again, as these are true deep cuts for the die-hards...
Blood Harvest  (d. Bill Rebane, w. Ben Benson & Leszek Burzynski)
Latvian-born, Wisconsin-based horror filmmaker Bill Rebane (The Giant Spider Invasion) was trying to fill slots for a music festival he was organizing on his Lincoln County Shooting Ranch when a promoter suggested "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" troubadour Tiny Tim, whose services the booker acquired for only $1,000 and the promise of a screen test while the performer was staying in the Midwest. Rebane reluctantly agreed, only to fall in love with Tiny Tim, who was in turn looking to become something of a Lon Chaney-esque horror icon, begging his manager to get him auditions for anything that might resemble "freak types", "cripples" or "the Hunchback of Notre Dame".
Well, Blood Harvest's "Marvelous" Mervo may not be any of the above, but the literal sad clown spends most of the run-time of Rebane's rural slasher crying in church, over Bibles, or while looking at pictures of his deceased parents. Simultaneously, his seemingly normal brother Gary (Dean West) is the true creep in this sideshow, pining over returned beauty Jill (Itonia Salchek), whose father's bank has been foreclosing on all the failing farms in her hometown. Unfortunately for Jill, Gary isn't the only threat to her safety, as a killer is kidnapping her neighbors and slitting their throats like slaughtered cattle (and quite possibly drugging and fondling the girl in the middle of the night). It's pretty apparent where this is all going from the first time we lay eyes on the generic, pantyhose-donning killer (thus rendering the murder set pieces somewhat dull), but Blood Harvest is totally worth a watch due to Tiny Tim's bizarre, warbling performance, attempting to make his dream come true, even if he was about as far from Hollywood as one could get.
Def By Temptation  (d. & w. James Bond III)
Former child actor James Bond III's Def By Temptation is an early hip hop riff on '70s Blaxploitation horror; namely lo-fi touchstones such as Blacula or Blackenstein. Like those movies, it utilizes a genre construct to smuggle in truly personal themes regarding race and sexuality, as it paints a portrait of black men who are deathly afraid of loving one another, but will try and fuck every woman in sight. After a preacher's son (Bond) returns to NYC (on the eve of graduating from his evangelical studies), he tempts himself with the "sins of the flesh" while also harboring a hell of a lot of homoerotic tension with his best friend-turned-movie star (Kadeem Hardison). Prowling the city is a beautiful succubus (Cynthia Bond), picking up stray dogs in bars and sucking them dry.
Bond had worked with Spike Lee on School Daze, which helps explain how many familiar faces from the Brooklyn auteur's iconic resume (including Samuel L. Jackson and "Radio" Raheem himself, Bill Nunn) as well as Lee's regular cinematographer (Ernest Dickerson) ended up bringing Def By Temptation to life. There's a genuine empathy and exploration of confused sexuality on display, as this possible Man of God must discover if the holy path is truly the right path for him. Thankfully, Bond also leans into the more splattery, ridiculous aspects of old school Blaxplo mayhem, as his picture nearly ascends to the dazzlingly absurd heights of notorious black exorcism classic Abby by the end. All told, Def By Temptation is a truly thoughtful, idiosyncratic piece of work, and it's a shame Bond never directed another movie in his life.
Incubus  (d. John Hough, w. George Franklin)
John Cassavetes universally hated the genre films he'd often star in, viewing them as little more than paying gigs acting as financial sinew for the legendary body of work he was crafting with the help of his partner and muse, Gena Rowlands, as well as a family of incredible performers. It didn't matter if the movies were directed by Giuliano Montaldo (Machine Gun McCain) or Brian De Palma (The Fury); he despised them all equally as inferior projects beneath his wealth of talents. The same goes for John Hough's Incubus: a decidedly nasty little supernatural shocker that involves a ghost rapist running through the women who inhabit the small town of Galen.
However, no amount of indifference kept Cassavetes from being a constant professional, and in Incubus, the actor looks downright sickly, obviously fighting his way through alcoholism and a failing liver. Cassavetes had less than a decade to live (and only six more movies in front of the camera), yet that doesn't stop him from fully committing to his role as municipal Medical Examiner Sam Cordell - the Chief Brody of this gross spiritual tale - desperately trying to keep his teenage daughter (Erin Noble) safe from harm while running around hollering about ghost jizz as if he believed in Hough's vision with all his heart. In turn, the former Hammer Films helmer progresses the almost impossibly cruel proceedings via a series of surprisingly competent, gnarly set pieces. Make no mistake, Incubus is one hell of a thrilling little curio, should you have the stomach for it, elevated by a harried turn from a guy who thought less of everyone involved, but still acted his ass off each day he was on set.
The Killing Kind  (d. Curtis Harrington, w. Tony Crechales & George Edwards)
Curtis Harrington (Night Tide, Queen of Blood) was the king of sexual repression, and this hothouse domestic drama about recently released young rapist, Terry (The Deer Hunter's John Savage), contains almost all of the director's perverse kinks and formal fascinations. Beautifully shot by future Carrie cinematographer Mario Tosi, Harrington exploits his sunlit California locales to create a disarming sense of normalcy, as Terry almost exclusively lurks among the women of his neighborhood, and haunts the aspiring model (Cindy Williams) who's rented the spare room in the shadowy suburban home his doting, enabling mother (Ann Sothern) keeps with her numerous cats.
The Killing Kind is Harrington at his most unpleasant, as there's a near suffocating stench of rotten carnality that seeps into the corners of each fantastically captured frame. Every performance is dialed into the same offbeat vibe, as Savage's depraved intensity is only heightened by Sothern's cheaply perfumed melancholy. As Terry sips chocolate milk at the breakfast table, the woman who cares for him pries into where he was last night, knowing (and somewhat condoning) his revenge against those "responsible" for his incarceration two years ago. But Harrington wisely lets us see the stunning levels of cruelty Terry inflicts upon everyone around him (a scene involving a rat is downright revolting), his crimes escalating thanks to his momma's shelter. By the time she's helping her littler serial violator stash bodies following his graduation to full-blown murder, it's clear she might have to put this handsome animal down. The Killing Kind is a superb character study, fitting snugly into a Filmography that remains underseen even among the most devoted cinephiles.
Blood Harvest, Def By Temptation, The Incubus, and The Killing Kind are all available now on Blu-ray/DVD combos, courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome.