Category_Collecting, Category_Groovy Stuff, Category_Horror, Category_VHS, Category_Weirdness -

The Buried Treasures of Cinematic Obscurity: Can VHS Help Re-Animate the Rarest Flicks on the Planet? Man, you know it!

All us Videovores know that the almighty VHS tape gave life to an innumerable amount of flicks, and to this day keep their cinematic flame a’burning with the undeniable warmth of analog glory, saving them from the ill fate of complete obscurity. But there’s still a veritable cache of flicks out there that have never made it to any format whatsoever, majorly unseen and left to languish in the cracks of film oblivion. These films are tagged “lost”, and though it’s a reasonably accurate designation, the fact that there are extant prints of these unseen obscurities gives them that distinct spark of hope. This impromptu collection of flicks lie dormant, patiently waiting to be injected into some sort of format (VHS, please!) and re-animated for all to see. Read on, fellow Videovores, and SEE what you might be missing!

What unearthly force controlled the minds of the people that didn't put this on any kind of format!? That's what I wanna know!

NIGHT SLAVES (1970) - With the extensive number of films produced expressly for TV over the past 40+ years, you can imagine the bulk of genre flicks that will never make it out of their post-air oblivion. Night Slaves, however, is one made-for-TV flick that deserves to be dug up by the avid rare flick aficionado. Starring James Franciscus as a vacationing man recovering from a recent car accident with supporting roles from the lovely Lee Grant (his distant wife) and Leslie Neilsen (the lackadaisical sheriff), this off-beat, mystery/sci-fi hybrid pits the convalescent Franciscus against the people of a small town as they mysteriously and mindlessly gather every night and travel to an undisclosed place for a few hours, only to return with no memory of the excursion. The only person unaffected by this trance-like zombiefication, Franciscus befriends a strange girl (the charming Tisha Sterling) and battles to unravel the mystery. This obscure entry in the “mind zombie” sub-genre emits a genuinely creepy atmosphere, provides engaging mystery and Franciscus’ performance is just excellent. Never released on video and certainly no DVD in sight, the only way to get a glimpse of this genre rarity is a VHS rip from an ABC airing which is available on YouTube. And be sure to check out the entire channel, ‘cause there’s a TON of groovy ABC Movie of the Week obscurities bumpin’ around on there! There’s another VHS rip via YouTube on a channel called TVTERRORLAND, and though the quality’s not at as good, there’s a treasure trove of MFTV flicks that you’ll have a hard time finding anywhere else. I’d like to think out there somewhere, stowed in various sectors of basement storage, there’s a bunch of these VHS dubs from cable just waiting for a forever home. These forgotten and neglected dubs can surely contain some of the rarest cinematic escapes (un)known to man, so if you’re ever out on the hunt, don’t skip over the home dubs, man! If not for the film rarities they could contain, then pick ‘em up for the groovy commercials of yore!

"Yeah... that's what I said: A hand with HIS head and it's carrying a casket. No! Don't give the hand another hand... use the thumb or something!" This poster (and movie) just OWNS.

SHANKS (1974) - William Castle is revered by genre fans everywhere for wowing audiences with his zany and innovative gimmicks when showing his films in theaters, garnering the most success and notability with such films as 13 Ghosts, The Tingler and House on Haunted Hill. But the one Castle flick you’ve probably never heard of is his swansong, and is perhaps the most bizarre and enchantingly macabre film he ever created. Shanks is the tale of a mute puppeteer named Malcolm Shanks (renowned mime Marcel Marceau in a dual role) who is abused by what family he has, but finds reprieve when he gets a job assisting a doctor (also Marceau) while he practices re-animation on the dead with a contraption that works much like strings on a puppet, using electrodes to control muscle movements. After the doctor passes away, Malcolm uses his knowledge of the invention combined with his love and skill for puppetry to exact some revenge on his nasty family with the re-animated bodies. Absolutely weird and charming in a very grim fairy tale sort of fashion, Shanks is an utterly unique cinematic creation and just about as obscure as they come. And for a William Castle flick, it’s doubly insane that it’s not more widely known. This film ran theatrically, but fell into the deep dark thereafter. No video and no DVD has ever been released, but it does air once and again on select film channels, so get those VCRs (or DVR if that’ your bag) revved up and capture it if you can! You’ll be glad you did!

YES! Now we just need this flick to return to life in an orgy of cannibalism and VHS, right?! YOU'RE DAMN SKIPPY.

CORPSE EATERS (1974) – Without a doubt one of the rarest (if not the rarest) zombie films of all-time, Corpse Eaters was written and produced by ardent film fan and drive-in owner Lawrence Zazelenchuk not only to play at his spot, but also to scare the hair off of moviegoers everywhere. However, due to a bum deal on distribution, this film has been firmly interred in the cracks of B-Flick oblivion. Other than having the distinction of extreme rarity, Corpse Eaters is of tremendous historical note as it is recognized by many as Canada’s first-ever gore film. Fans of Bob Clark’s Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things are apt to enjoy this film immensely, as is anyone inclined to consume homegrown, made-for-the-love-of-it horror flicks. There are one or two “fan edition” DVDs available through independent online marketplaces, and you can view this film on YouTube, but the quality leaves much to be desired. If there’s any zombie flick out there that truly deserves to be re-animated, if only because of its historical value and genre influence, Corpse Eaters is at the top of the fetid heap. This is the kind of flick that belongs on the VHS format; and with the new wave of video releases that’s storming the masses, I wouldn’t be surprised if this one crawls out of the grave for the analog treatment before too long. Hell, it’s already been too long! I declare: VHS CAN SAVE THIS FLICK! Will it happen? Man, I sure hope so!

This is just a smattering of the “lost” genre flicks out there, Tapeheads. There’s an endless ocean of ultra-obscure flicks to explore, experience and enjoy; and now, with the VHS format back in action and being released by indie entrepreneurs the world over who are trying to revive some of the rarest stuff out there (and bring on new grooviness!), these mad obscure flicks have a real chance of being re-animated and presented to new generation of Videovores and cinephiles alike.

And that’s pretty groovy.

This piece was originally written for the official print re-launch of CINEFANTASTIQUE and it's 3D ZOMBIE issue (this version is slightly re-worked), but they decided to publish my article “10 VHS Tapes to Help You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse” instead! You can pick up a copy HERE! It’s got some bitchin’ 3D digs, dude!

Feed that VCR everyday, search out cinematic obscurities and Groove Always.

Josh Schafer

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