Hellmaster - Hellmaster(Blu Ray/ DVD) [Vinegar Syndrome - 2019]
God damn-it Vinegar Syndrome have done yet it again- uncovered yet another great & distinctive horror obscurity from the past with the release of Hellmaster- a heady, at times gloriously confusion mixture of deranged Doctor horror, weird monster fed stalk 'n' slash action, with flits of action and subtle horror fed trippy-ness. Here we have a region free duel Blu Ray and DVD release of this 1990’s horror picture- featuring two different cuts of the film- both with directors commentary, the usual great VS print, and a neat bunch of other extras. Originally appearing in 1992 Hellmaster (aka Them, Soul Stealer, Carnage On Campus) was the directorial debut from director/ writer/producer Douglas Schulze- who seemingly disappeared after the release of this film resurfacing ten years late to direct a spate of low-budget horror fare taking in the likes of Dark Heaven, Dark Fields, Mimesis, and 2013 cage- fighting documentary The Dogs Fighter. It’s fair to say that with both versions of the film here- Them( the original cut of the film) and Hellmaster(the directors cut)- that the plotting/ flow of the picture is often highly puzzling and confusion, but that is part of the film's charm & attraction.
The film's plot focuses in on a small college campus- where some years before Professor Jones (John Saxon) was experimenting on the students, got struck off then disappeared. Flash forward to present day 1990’s and the professor has resurfaced at the campus, with a creepy bus full of quirky-to-unsettling zombie-like creatures. And what unfolds( in both version) is glorious cinematic car crash of dumb teens getting knocked-off, unsettling stalking monster- taking in: a mannish feet bandaged nun, a slashed face businessman, and a creepy old man faced child. With a great over the top and maniacal mad doctor, tubby good guy cross bow heroics, gore & gooey murders, and more than a good share of WTH moments. The film often darts back and forth between campy-silly horror, downright creepy unsettlement, and puzzling odd-ness- it really is one hell of a ride- that depending on one's preference/mood, will either suck you into its madness or frustrated/ annoy.
Saxon is great as the unhinge and over-the-top mad professor, and I’d say it’s some of the more wacky & weird acting I’ve ever seen from him- he also looks devilishly cool too in a black leather trench coat & gloves- either welding a three-pointed syringe gun or a old fashion pocket watch. David Emge-who will be known to many as the helicopter pilot in Dawn Of The Dead- plays the films hero, very much portraying a middle-age Reggie( Phantasm) type character, and camps things up wonderful with cheesy one-liners & his crossbow attacks.
Moving onto this new double Blu Ray/DVD set- and we get two prints of the film- first is the theatrical cut which appears under the name of Them- this version of the film features a very effective new 4K scan, and this really highlights the films great cinematographer, as well as enhancing the pictures color palette which features some great bold red like Argento lighting/coloring. The second print of the film is titled Hellmaster- and this looks like it’s an untampered print, but as 1990’s films go it doesn't look bad. Both cuts of the film feature commentary tracks- the Them print finds just Schulze on his own, while the Hellmaster print sees him joined by one of the film's producer- as you’d imagine there is some similar ground covered in both tracks, but each features interesting facts, observations, and plot explanations- we also get talk about the film's location, which was a then active mental hospital. As well as discussion about the cast, and apparently Saxon requested a case of whiskey in his dressing room.
Other extras take in a twenty-five on-camera interview with the film's cinematographer Michael Goi. There’s a conceptual artwork gallery that highlights the great character/ creature design that was there from the start. We get behind the scenes gallery, around four minutes of eerie black and white footage of the mental hospital location, and of course the normal VS reversible cover artwork- taking in newly designed artwork and original cover artwork.
If the idea of a blend of the second Phantasm film & mid-period Nightmare On Elm Street, with dashes of creepy like Messiah Of Evi vibes, and neat/ crazed killers ala Neon Manics sounds like your thing then I’m sure you’ll get a real kick out of Hellmaster. And once again hats off to VS for giving this horror oddity such as a deluxe edition.Roger Batty