Sunday, April 4, 2010

Hidden Horrors: Company Spotlight on Blue Underground

by Brian M. Sammons

Hello everyone. This time around I thought I’d highlight an amazing DVD and Blu-ray company that all genre fans should love. It should hopefully already be known to you, but in talking with horrorheads from all over the world I know this is sadly not the case. I am often amazed at how hard it is for fright fans to find the rare, cult, or off the wall flicks that hold a special place in their hearts. So in an attempt to alleviate some of that frustration I thought I’d scream from the rooftop the wonder that is BLUE UNDERGROUND.

From the heart of Hollywood comes these cinephiles that love horror, exploitation, sci-fi, and just plain weird movies every bit as much as we do. So they have built a business all about releasing the hidden gems other DVD companies would have overlooked. They make it their mission to cover as many varied flavors of horror as possible and putting out the incredibly obscure is just par for the course for these guys. Now their overflowing catalog of titles lists hundreds of delightful DVDs and Blu-rays to choose from, but writing about all of them would take forever so I’m going to spotlight some of my favorites. Hopefully, they’re some of your favorites too and if they’re not, well then they should be.

Let’s start with zombies. I love zombie flicks and BLUE UNDERGROUND offers some of the best, and surprisingly little known, cavorting cadaver films ever made. THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE is a classic of the zombie genre. Also knows as LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE, and DON'T OPEN THE WINDOW, this movie was made in 1974, years before DAWN OF THE DEAD and the legions of zombie movies that film would usher in. It was filmed in England with an international European crew headed up by Spanish director Jorge Grau. What makes this movie so exceptional is it’s unique story and many firsts it introduced to flesh eating films. First the dead start to pop up due to “ultrasonic radiation” the British agricultural department is testing out to kill bugs and pests in crops. This movie is also one of the first zombie movies filmed in color and that makes a big difference once the red stuff starts to flow, and speaking of that, this movie was also one of the first to have truly gory gut munching. Sure NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD had some, but there’s no comparing the graphic effects of MANCHESTER to NotLD. Lastly this film isn’t the traditional zombie apocalypse, it’s more of a mystery with select corpses getting up to no good. This movie is the very definition of a forgotten classic as many zombie fans today simply have never heard of it. Well consider yourself educated and thanks to BLUE UNDERGOUND you can now get this film as a two disc special edition DVD or on Blu-ray, both packed with extras.

DEAD & BURIED is not your typical zombie flick, that is it’s a more traditional tale of the undead. No brain eating or bullets in the head in this film but it still has plenty of shocks and gruesome bits. Co-written by Dan O’Bannon, who wrote ALIEN and would later go on to direct the amazing RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, this movie revolves around a small town where visitors are brutally murdered, only to be seen days later alive, well, and happy. The zombies here are of the classical variety, if you don’t know what that means then I won’t ruin the surprise for you. As a bonus for horror fans keep an eye out for Robert “Freddy Kruger” Englund to pop up in this flick. Speaking of bonuses, the DVD has three separate commentary tracks so give it up to BLUE UNDERGROUND for once more going beyond the call of duty for this disc.

The last living dead film I’ll mention, because BU has tons of them and I want to move onto other things, is Lucio Fulci’s classic (yes I know I’ve used that word a lot but there’s no better way to describe these films) CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, also knows as THE GATES OF HELL. This gorgeously gruesome flick about priests committing suicide, girls vomiting up their intestines, brain squishing, head drilling, and zombies, zombies, zombies is a must have for zombiephiles and gorehounds. Now BLUE UNDERGROUND already has a DVD available but not content with that one, they’re re-releasing it for DVD and Blu-ray in May and both versions look to be packed with extras. Expect to see more on this title from me once it comes back out.

Ok from zombies to another horror staple; slashers, let’s start things off with a bang with the controversial MANIAC staring the delightfully creepy Joe Spinell. This 1980 splatterfest, with makeup effects and an awesome cameo by Tom Savini, is set in New York and is about a sicko with mommy issues slicing up women. Yeah, it’s a bit repulsive but it’s also one of the classics of the slasher genre for good reason, it’s got a ton of great, splattery kills and really, that’s more than half the fun when watching one of these films. The DVD comes with a audio commentary with the director, William Lustig, the always entertaining Tom Savini, and others. There’s also a documentary about Joe Spinell, trailers, TV & radio spots, and other thing that I thought was really funny, excerpts from the many critical reviews that hated this film. If you’ve never seen MANIAC, and you’ve got a strong stomach, then do yourself a favor and pick up this ghastly gem today.

Another of my favorite slashers is the Italian gaillo slasher mash up STAGEFRIGHT. In it a crazy actor puts on a giant owl’s head mask (no, really) and starts slicing up a troupe of actors putting on a stage play about the very same killer’s previous murder rampage. Yeah it’s a bit silly, but it’s also pure 80s cheesetastic slasher fun. And really, name another movie that has a killer running in an owl mask? That alone is worth the price of admission. There are only a few special features on the DVD, but just the fact that you can easily get this movie on disc is enough of a reason to jump for joy.

Lastly another great 80s slasher flick is THE PROWLER, directed by Joseph Zito, the man that would later go on to direct my favorite FRIDAY THE 13TH movie, PART 4: THE FINAL (ha ha ha, right) CHAPTER. And just like that flick, and the aforementioned MANIAC, the gore is done right by the master of splatter, Tom Savini. Groovy gore aside, the story is pretty good, involving jilted, psychotic World War Two vet with a fondness for pitchforks, bayonets, and a mean-on for school dances. BLUE UNDERGROUND has a DVD version of this movie available now but a little birdie told me that BU intends on re-releasing THE PROWLER on Blu-ray and a deluxe DVD edition soon. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the little birdie was chirping the truth.

Ok, enough with the zombies and slashers, but this article is already running long and I’ve barely scratched the surface of what BLUE UNDERGROUND has to offer, so let’s rip through some other titles lightening fast. Are you a fan of 60s & 70s sexploitation and just plain weird movies? Then you must be a fan of Spanish director Jess Franco. Well BLUE UNDERGROUND loves him too as they’ve got seventeen of his weirdest and wildest flicks to chose from. From his banned-in-so-many-countries-it’s-not-funny 99 WOMEN (one of the first, best, and sleaziest women behind bars films) in both unrated and X rated versions, to the sexy, satanic SUCCUBUS, to the psychedelic female PI buddy double feature TWO UNDERCOVER ANGELS and KISS ME MONSTER, to a series of Fu Manchu films starring Christopher Lee, to the extremely grisly horror film CANNIBALS, Jess Franco did it all and BU does their best to cover it all with the best digital transfers around and as many extras packed onto the discs as possible.

Not a Francophile (ha, get it) but still into the weird? Well then how about some Larry Cohen directed goodies like the flying monster movie Q – THE WINGED SERPENT and the very underrated GOD TOLD ME TO. Are you into sexy vampires? Then forget crap like TWILIGHT and get DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, the very naughty movie about the original alleged vampires; Countess Elizabeth Bathory. Ever hear of the movie MONDO CANE? Well you should have, it’s the original shockumentary that was filmed all over the globe and showed the real world taboos of sex and death. Think of it as a slightly lighter version of FACES OF DEATH, only without the fake stuff and with more nudity. Well BLUE UNDERGROUND has both the original and the sequel as well all of the shocking films directed by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi. How about SNUFF, the movie everyone thought was a real snuff film when it came out? Yep, BLUE UNDERGROUND has got that one too.

All of these movies that I’ve discussed are just the tip of the Titanic sinker. BLUE UNDERGROUND literally has hundreds, perhaps thousands of titles to chose from. And if the horrific and freaky really isn’t your thing…then why are you here? Uhm, I mean, not to worry, BU has many “normal” DVDs to choose from as well. In fact, do yourself a favor check out their website. Not only do they have extensive lists of flicks, but each comes with a full movie trailer attached. You can spend hours just browsing through their gigantic catalog, watching trailers for some of the weirdest movies ever made. It’s a great way to kill time at the boring office. Not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything. So to get your groovy movie fix or to find that long lost gem you’ve always wanted but didn’t know where to look, go to BLUE UNDERGROUND. I guarantee they have something for you whatever your taste is.

You can find BLUE UNDERGROUND here:

--Brian M. Sammons