A Bloody Good Time 02.06.14: The Best Of Vestron Pictures
Posted by Joseph Lee on 02.06.2014
One of the better horror companies of the 1980s.
Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)
Welcome to A Bloody Good Time.
This week I thought I'd talk about a company called Vestron Pictures, an off-shoot of Vestron Video. Both companies distributed a wide variety of movies, including 80s horror, but I'll be focusing on Vestron Pictures because the main label released everything from Cannon Films, to Empire (which later became Full Moon and handled distribution itself) to older horror films like Phantasm or The Amityville Horror.
If you grew up in the 1980s or at least in a video store with a wide selection of horror films, you likely saw this before the film began:
The company was founded in 1981 and ended ten years later, but in that time they distributed everything from Rodan to Red Heat to Dirty Dancing. That's why when I decided to list the top ten films of the company, I tried to go with, to the best of my knowledge, movies that were either produced by Vestron or later distributed by Vestron while not being owned by another major company.
For example, Universal owns the rights to An American Werewolf in London, but Vestron distributed it. Obviously Universal is a major film studio so it doesn't count. Something like Gothic, however, was produced by a company called Virgin Vision, which isn't nearly as well known. Before Image acquired the rights sometime later, Vestron released that mainly in 1987 for its home video debut. It's kind of complicated and tricky, but I managed to at least check on most films and pick out a list of the ten I've seen and enjoyed the most. You may disagree but at least I did my research and tried to narrow it down.
#10: Class of 1999 (1990)
One thing you may notice about this company is that they'll produce sequel to films that may not have otherwise had them. They're responsible for dreck like Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go to College and CHUD II: Bud the Chud. In the case of CHUD, a sequel would be welcome but not what they gave us. Anyway, this is more of an "in name only" sequel to the first film, Class of 1984.That film was a thriller about an inner city school in the grip of gang violence.
This film took the series in a science fiction twist, in which androids are created to deal with the violence. It's rare that a series takes an abrupt left turn but this did it. The androids are required to teach the rowdy students and have enough firepower to make sure no one rises up against them ever again. I have a soft spot for movies about robotics going crazy so when I saw this (as part of an eight film DVD set), I enjoyed myself. It's just a fun low budget sci-fi/action movie featuring a cast that includes Malcolm McDowell and Pam Grier.
#9: Parents (1989)
I'm not a huge fan of this movie, but 1980s movies are weird in that you can throw even a dumb one on and still find some enjoyment out of it. It's not nostalgia, because I was four when this came out. This is a movie about a kid who discovers his parents are cannibals. Since he's so young no one's going to believe him and if he gets somebody snooping, they'll become dinner. You also get the impression that sooner or later his own parents are going to end up eating him for dinner if he doesn't do something about it.
There are some problems with this movie. The main kid seems bored of the movie he's in and the tone is all over the place. But it's an interesting concept (one that could do with a remake, but at best would be an independent release that gets ignored) but the execution at times is sloppy. But I do like the suburbia satire and the way that Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt dive headfirst into their roles. Bob Balaban would find himself able to mix horror and comedy much better when he directed My Boyfriend's Back.
#8: Gothic (1986)
I haven't seen much of his work after the 1980s, but Ken Russell was a force to be reckoned with in that decade. Not only did he provide arguably his best film with Altered States, but he offered his own take on gothic (no pun intended) horror with Gothic and another film that will appear on this list a little later. In the case of this movie, it's a fictional version of how Mary Shelley came up with the idea of Frankenstein while visiting Lord Byron. John Polidori also comes up with the idea for The Vampyre, which was one of the originators of vampire fiction, if not the first.
The movie is really slow (something that can be said for many of Russell's films) but it's all about the tone, as everyone's in Byron's villa experiencing horrors of every sort that originate from their nightmares. This movie kind of tries to mess with your mind a bit, which is another theme in Russell's filmography. This one has been on FearNet a number of times and can also be seen on Amazon Instant Video, if you're in the mood for a slower-paced nightmare.
#7: The Unholy (1988)
This movie is a little weird. On one hand, it's moody, atmospheric and is more of a mind-screw than other movies of its kind. At the same time, it really does plod along between trippy sequences and gore effects. I think the slower pace is really the only downfall, as everything else is rather decent. The acting is good, the special effects are great and the mood works well. It just seems like it takes forever to get there at times. Maybe a rewatch is in order at a later time.
I will say that I liked it. It had enough good in it that I can overlook the bad. I will also say it featured the nastiest "torn out throat" effect I've ever seen in one of these movies. It looks like the man's throat exploded from the inside. Oh, and if you're into redheads, there's a hot one that is naked in nearly every moment she's on screen. So you know, there's that. This is on the same horror pack as Class of 1999.
#6: Curtains (1983)
I read that there were a lot of production problems on this movie and a large chunk of it was re-shot. The fact that Curtains turned out to be a solid ride in the face of that says a lot. The movie isn't really a straight-up slasher. There is a body-count, but there's very little blood and it plays more like Halloween than Friday the 13th. There were some extended stalk sequences that I enjoyed. Basically an effort was put into the movie even though it came out at a time where they could have just had a masked killer off a group of people in nasty ways and made a hit.
My problem with the movie is the script, particularly the ending. I like that we get a character that's an obvious red herring. What I don't like is the reveal that the most likable character is actually the killer. On top of that, how did she get a mask before she arrives at the secluded house, when it's established the director she's auditioning for is the owner of the mask? The movie also ends abruptly leaving me feel underwhelmed. But the killer's mask is creepy and there are some good kill sequences (you won't see Jason ice skating towards his victim) and that makes up for it.
#5: Slaughter High (1986)
This is the kind of slasher film that I expected with Curtains. It's at a high school and there's a slaughter. Oh boy is there a slaughter. There's lots of inventive crazy, gory kills, including an acid bath and a lawnmower to the chest. Fans of this kind of movie will like this one for that very reason. There's not much else I can say because I don't want to give away the best parts.
The story is typical for this era. A group of jerks pick on Marty but it goes to far and Marty is horribly disfigured. Years later, he lures them all back for a class reunion and begins killing them one by one. Like other slasher films, I don't really care about the victims because in this case, none of them are good people. The only real problem I had is the ending, which gets out there because they weren't sure how to end things.
#4: The Gate (1987)
I've talked about this one before. This is one of the trickier ones I was talking about. It was produced by four different companies that I've never heard of but distributed on video for the first time by Vestron. This is a film that is one part children's adventure movie and one part demonic forces invade Earth movie. This was in a time when kid's movies could have a more adult slant in terms of violence and horror without parent's groups losing their minds.
What would you do if you found a gate to Hell in your backyard? You know, besides never open it ever. This is a fun little PG-13 horror movie that includes some scary moments for the kids, but enough enjoyment for adults that it doesn't feel like it's pandering. Plus it has some great special effects, including stop-motion. I don't know who has the rights at the moment, but this is perfect for a company like Scream Factory to throw on blu-ray.
#3: The Lair of the White Worm (1988)
Based on the book by Bram Stoker (yeah, he actually wrote things other than Dracula), this is another bit of bizarre imagery from Ken Russell. If Gothic was more of an homage to Universal horror (in my opinion, anyway...I have no idea if that was the intent), then this is the film of Russell's that is most like Hammer horror. In particular, I get a real Quatermass vibe from this movie, although I'm sure I'm alone in that opinion.
Anyway, this one has a lot of bizarre visuals in it and Amanda Donohoe as the incredibly sexy snake woman villain who's pulling all the strings for her god, the titular white worm. This film stars Hugh Grant before he became famous as the guy in romantic comedies. Doctor Who fans will be pleased to see a young Peter Capaldi here, sporting a pair of circular glasses and head of large curly hair. I only recognized him after hearing his voice. He also gets a moment where he fights off one of the snake monsters by playing the bagpipes. This movie is awesome. If you're into something different that's not like your every day horror movie, you should definitely give this one a shot. Just don't take any drugs beforehand, as I imagine it's going to make your experience miserable.
#2: Little Monsters (1989)
This is an interesting case in which Vestron produced the film, but later distributed by United Artists and MGM when Vestron sold them the rights. For those who question this film's inclusion on a horror list, but any kid who grew up with this film will tell you that it's scary. Boy and Snik, the villains of the film, are quite frightening for children. I'm still not sure if Boy is scarier before or after his face is melted.
This is a movie I grew up with for years and loved, and probably helped usher me into my eventual love of the genre. Howie Mandel and Fred Savage work great together, the film is original and inventive. It also has a mean streak, which I enjoy in my kids films. Too many of them pander to the kids instead of treating them like they can handle a little bit more. Sure, Boy was creepy at that age, but that didn't stop me from wearing my VHS copy (that I taped from TV) out.
#1: Waxwork (1988)
Have to thank my regular reader AG Awesome for this one, as it was his pestering that eventually led to me watching it. Now I've grown to love it and I knew when I put together a list of my favorite films from Vestron it was going to land at the top. This movie is not only an homage to horror classics but it's really imaginative and its own right and features a unique story that hasn't been seen before or since.
This movie has a fun cast, tons and tons of gore, John Rhys-Davies as a werewolf and even an appearance from the Marquis de Sade. Between this and Gremlins, Zach Galligan has quite the eighties movie resume on it. This movie is just balls-to-the-wall insane and I mean that in the nicest way possible. I love Waxwork and demand that I eventually get a decent blu-ray copy of it for my collection.
That's it for me. Leave some comments here on or my Twitter. Next week we look at an older film company with Avco-Embassy.
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