Tuesday, April 21, 2015

SPINE - DVD REVIEW


One of the many, regionally-produced SOV (shot-on-video) efforts from the heyday of the home video boom in the ’80s, this once-forgotten ‘film’ began to garner some notoriety among VHS collectors when said tape – housed in one those big oversized boxes with typically garish cover art – started commanding exorbitant prices online.  Well, thanks to Massacre Video, anyone who wishes to revisit this film can now do so without breaking the bank.

Like most of these SOV efforts, the plot is rudimentary, which this time revolves around Lawrence Ashton (R. Eric Huxley), a sadistic killer in mirrored sunglasses who has been cutting up nurses in the L.A. area, removing their spines, and sometimes leaving the name Linda written in blood, hence the film’s original vidbox tagline, “He’s looking for Linda…and that could be anybody!”  Obviously, this leaves the police baffled, and during a debriefing between the detectives (including lead detective Leo Meadows [Antoine Herzog], whose baseball cap continually changes from scene to scene, in some sort of obvious in-joke) and their police captain, all they can deduce is that “he’s obviously pissed off at someone named Linda!”  Lawrence continues his murder spree – sometimes right under the noses of our “shrewd” lawmen – and then enters the home of two nurses, Carrie (Janus Blythe) and Leah (Lise Romanoff), and holds them captive for the remainder of the film, where, to our benefit, he explains everything.

Contrary to the rather lurid subject matter, SPINE is actually devoid of any nudity (save for some partial, fleeting breasts) and decides to play it relatively “safe”.  As revealed in an interview (contained as an extra on this disc) with co-director Justin Simonds, he and his co-director John Howard were persuaded by the cast to refrain from nudity, which, in hindsight, he actually regrets.  Just the same, an aura of sleaziness still permeates the entire film, which is most likely mainly attributable to the look of the shoddy lo-res ¾-inch videotape on which it was shot; and, to a larger degree, the numerous scenes of bondage (always involving knots and ropes), which the killer subjects his victims to before “removing their spine”.  In an interesting side-note, Simonds also reveals that before embarking on this project, he and Howard were shooting “specialty” videos with the thinnest of plots, whose main impetus usually revolved around “women being tied-up”, and like those earlier projects, SPINE simply expands on those with a ‘fleshed-out’ plot.  The film’s modus operandi is still the same (both Blythe and Romanoff spend a good portion of the film tied-up), but this time, lots of stage blood is splashed around as the killer does away with his victims.  Although, similarities to the real life Richard Speck murders - on July 13th, 1966, Speck held a number of nurses captive at their dormitory and methodically raped and killed them - are uncanny, co-director Simonds swears he and Howard were never influenced by this heinous event, but Howard was inspired, to a degree, by Brian De Palma’s DRESSED TO KILL (1980).   

Lawrence Ashton (R. Eric Huxley) removin' a spine.

Much of the narrative is also devoted to scenes of police procedurals (“17 stab wounds in the chest…27 in the back”) with the lead detectives, who can’t ever “get a handle on this thing”.  But, in a hilariously naïve moment, detective Meadows uses a “state of the art” computer system that can “correlate different factors” like “nurse”, “strangle”, “knife”, and “Linda” to help find anyone associated with these murders; but it isn’t until he types “spine” into this ‘super-computer’, that our murderer is revealed (“Alright!  We’ve got ’em now!”).  Why he never did this in the first place is anyone’s guess, but hey, this is a silly movie, after all.

The biggest surprise of this film is the presence of actress Janus Blythe, who, before this film, appeared in a number of horror and exploitation films, including Stu Segall’s C.B. HUSTLERS (1976) and DRIVE-IN MASSACRE (1977), Tobe Hooper’s EATEN ALIVE (1977), William Sach’s The INCREDIBLE METLING MAN (1977), and, most famously, in Wes Craven’s The HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) and its sequel The HILL HAVE EYES PART 2 (1984).  Aside from the other two leads (Huxley and Romanoff), Janus Blythe is the only one who displays any modicum of acting talent, while the rest of the cast is only amateurish at best; the scenes with the cops are especially awful!

Certainly not for all tastes, the fine folks at Massacre Video have nonetheless rolled out the red-carpet treatment for yet another forgotten SOV production.  Originally released by 4-Play Video, a company that also apparently distributed porn films, even back when it was first released, copies of SPINE were difficult to locate, so it’s nice to finally have this obscurity readily available once again.  Like most of these “spur-of-the-moment” productions, the backstory is always much more interesting than the actual productions themselves, and Massacre Video managed to locate both co-director Justin Simonds and actor R. Eric Huxley, who are rather perplexed that fans of the film actually exist.  In a pair of on-screen interviews as well as an audio commentary, they are amiable about SPINE just the same, and provide plenty of info about its genesis and the pitfalls of low-budget filmmaking.  A stills gallery and a couple of trailers for other Massacre Video titles round out the extras, and as per their usual high standards, they have also provided reversible cover-art, which replicates the original – and unique – big box cover art.  Order SPINE here. 

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