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Horror High / Stanley (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

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    Ian Jane
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  • Horror High / Stanley (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: May 27th, 2022.
    Director: Larry N. Stouffer/ William Grefé
    Cast: Pat Cardi, Austin Stoker, Rosie Holotik, Chris Robinson, Alex Rocco, Steve Alaimo, Susan Carroll
    Year: 1973/1972
    Purchase From Amazon

    Horror High / Stanley – Movie Review:

    Vinegar Syndrome’s Drive-In Collection makes a long overdue return with this special edition double feature Blu-ray release of Crown International regional horror oddities from the early seventies.

    Horror High:

    A 1974 Texas oddity originally distributed by drive-in moguls Crown International, directed by Larry N. Stouffer and written by Jake Fowler, Horror High previously appeared on DVD a few years back from Rhino in a fullframe and edited presentation that left a lot to be desired. While the film may never be considered high art or classic cinema by mainstream standards, it has understandably found an appreciative audience with its mix of Jekyll & Hyde plot points, quirky performances, and squishy gore effects. That Rhino release has been out of print for some time when Code Red gave the movie the kind of treatment that its fan base will applaud and now, in 2022, Vinegar Syndrome gives the movie a welcome high definition facelift in its uncut and uncensored form with a good amount of missing carnage reinstated into the movie.

    The film revolves around a high school science nerd named Vernon Potts (Pat Cardi) who would rather play with test tubes than footballs and is picked on by the local jocks for that very reason. Meek and geeky, Vernon's father isn't around much and his mother has long since passed away - as such, he's a bit of a loner. The only one who pays him any attention at all is a cute redhead named Robin (Rosie Holotik), much to the chagrin of her lunkhead football player boyfriend, Roger (Mike McHenry). Even the teachers pick on poor Vernon, from the bitchy Miss Grindstaff (Joy Hash), who might just be the crankiest English teacher ever, to the physical education instructor, Coach McCall (John Niland). Vernon just can't get a break - until one day he decides to experiment with a formula that transforms his guinea pig, Mr. Mumps, into a killing machine. Unfortunately for Vernon, Mr. Mumps killed the cat belonging to Mr. Miggs (Jeff Alexander), the crazy janitor, and he gets revenge by pouring the experimental liquid down Vernon's throat.

    Now able to morph into a hulking monstrosity of a man, Vernon is able to get revenge on those who he'd never stand a chance against before. As the body count begins to mount, a curious cop named Lieutenant Bozeman (Austin Stoker) and his men (one of whom is 'Mean' Joe Greene) decide to investigate.

    Not too be taken all too seriously, Horror High (also released under the alternate title Twisted Brain) may not be the most original film ever made but it sure is a lot of good, gory fun, particularly in this incarnation which presents all manner of mayhem and dismemberment, from some acid attacks to fingers being sliced off in a paper cutter to a torso pounding foot kicking session that'll permanently etch itself into your brain, twisted or otherwise. The gore effects are sometimes a little shadowy and we never really get a good look at the fully transformed monster version of Vernon, but there's enough carnage in plain view to appease gorehounds and genre buffs alike.

    While the camerawork is nothing to write home about and is primarily made up of simple, though fairly effective, standard static shots, the acid tinged guitar score suits the film really well and adds an otherworldly tone to many of the murder set pieces. Some strange lighting effects also help things out in terms of atmospherics and tension - if the movie isn't likely to actually scare you, it will at least keep your interest and hold your attention. The picture moves at a good pace, establishing Vernon as the sympathetic lead from the opening scene onwards and allowing us to like him just enough while still realizing why his antisocial quirks would make him an easy target for meathead jocks and insensitive, jaded educators.

    If not a lost masterpiece, Horror High delivers enough sleaze, violence and sensitive science geek meanderings to make for an enjoyable watch. It probably helps if you're predisposed to like low budget seventies cheapies, but even looking at it objectively with that factor removed from the equation, it's hard to imagine anyone not at least appreciating the entertainment factor this quirky dime store production provides in spades.

    That additional gore footage is noticeable during the death by cleat scene and the finger cutting scene, both of which are noticeably gorier than they’ve been in past editions.

    Stanley:

    Directed by none other than William Grefé, 1972’s Stanley can easily be described as ‘Willard with snakes.’ The story introduces us to Tim Ochopee (Chris Robinson), a Native American who has recently returned to his home in the Florida Everglades after doing a tour of duty in Vietnam. Here he makes a living for himself catching venomous snakes and selling them to a hospital where their venom is used to make anti-venom, taking solace in the fact that he knows the snakes aren’t harmed in the process.

    Soon after, Tim is approached by Crail Denning (Steve Alaimo) and his boss, Richard Thomkins (Alex Rocco) who hope to hire him to catch snakes that they can use to make belts and boots for Thomkins’ fashion business. Tim is horrified by this idea and tosses the cash they hand him into the swamp. From here, as Tim goes about his business with his best friend, a snake named Stanley, typically hanging around his neck, he starts to notice Crail and his pal Bob Wilson (Mark Harris) skulking about his turf catching and killing snakes for Thomkins, who we learn is not only a womanizer but creepy enough to make an incestuous move on his foxy daughter, Susia (Susan Carroll). Around the same time, a stripper named Marcia Knight (Glorica Calvin, credited as Marcia Knight) that Tim had been supplying snakes to, again knowing that they wouldn’t be hurt, decides to spice up her act by biting the heads off of them during her show!

    As the bad guys close in on Tim and he starts to realize that more and more people are harming the snakes he takes pride in trying to protect, he decides, with some help from Stanley, to go out and get revenge against those he feels have wronged him.

    Written by Gary Crutcher over three days while on an amphetamine binge, Stanley is a pretty entertaining work of fairly derivative filmmaking. The Willard influence is obvious from the start and it’s hard to imagine Stanley connecting with Tim the way that Ben seems to with Willard, but if you want to see Alex Rocco run around pretending to shadow box before then experiencing one of the funniest death scenes ever then this movie will scratch that very specific itch. The movie features some intentionally and unintentionally humorous moments, some of the bits surrounding the strip club obviously being played for laughs on purpose, and it features some notably bad folk music scattered throughout, doing it no favors.

    Still, Stanley has that certain something that makes a gun drive-in movie a fun drive-in movie. It’s fairly well-paced and populated with goofy, interesting characters. Most of the snakes appear to be very real indeed (even the ones that get shot and smashed later in the movie – those sensitive to real life animal violence may want to take note) and while most of the time you get the impression their victims could pretty easily just run away, there’s definitely entertainment value in seeing Tim’s enemies get their comeuppance. The movie throws in a completely unbelievable romantic angle into the film in its final reel that is absolutely preposterous, yet somehow entirely necessary for the film to evolve the way it does. This is, shockingly, not especially well-written but Robinson makes for a likeably weird lead, Rocco steals every scene that he’s in and is a kick to watch, and this one winds up as a pretty entertaining piece of seventies schlock.

    Horror High / Stanley – Blu-ray Review:

    Horror High and Stanley and Stanley both arrive on separate 50GB Blu-ray discs from Vinegar Syndrome in AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfers. Horror High is taken from a 2k scan of the only known uncut 16mm lab print and is framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. It’s still a very grainy beast of a movie, but that’s how it should look. Detail is vastly improved in this edition compared to watch came before and aside from some small white specks here and there, the image is pretty clean. Colors also look quite good. Stanley is scanned in 2k from its original 35mm negative and also framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. Detail is solid here and both colors and black levels look good, as do skin tones. The image is close to pristine, there isn’t much noticeable damage here at all. Neither transfers shows any issues with noise reduction or edge enhancement and each disc offers up its feature attraction with a nice, high bit rate, avoiding compression artifacts and always looking like proper, film-like presentations.

    Both films get 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono options in English with optional subtitles provided in English only. These sound like the lower budgeted seventies films that they are, and that’s okay. Range is, understandably, a bit limited but overall both films are clean, clear and properly balanced.

    Extras for Horror High start off with a commentary track from lead actor Pat Cardi that covers how he came to be involved with the production and what it was like working on set, but he’s quiet through long stretches of the track and probably should have had a moderator with him to keep him engaged and talking. Cheerleaders On Tap is an interview with Cardi that runs nineteen minutes and is much more concise and interesting as he goes over how he got into acting, thoughts on the movie and working with the cast and crew and quite a bit more. Looking Back is an archival interview with Cardi from 2017 that runs for fourteen minutes and offers more recollections of his experiences making the film. Not shockingly, sometimes these pieces all cover some of the same ground, which is quite understandable. Cheerleaders On Tap is the best of the three Cardi based extra features.

    Still Amazed is an interview with screenwriter J.D. Feigelson that runs for a quick seven minutes and sees him speaking about what inspired him to write the movie, some of the influences that worked their way into the storyline and how he feels about the film’s enduring cult popularity. A featurette called Gossip interviews actress Michelle Farmer for eight minutes about how she got her start in the acting business, landing the part on Horror High without reading the script, her unique look in the film and more. I Would Do It Again gets actor John Niland in front of the camera for ten minutes to review his thoughts on the movie's appeal, how he got his part in the picture and what it was like on location.

    Rounding out the extras on the Horror High disc are a few TV spots for the movie, the film’s original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection options.

    Extras for Stanley start off with a commentary track from screenwriter Gary Crutcher where he talks about writing the film under a very high pressure deadline, the rushed production schedule that everyone on the shoot endured, how he wound up playing a small part in the film, working with Grefé, what it was like on set and how he feels about the movie overall.

    Dark Side Of Eden is a making-of documentary that runs for forty-four minutes and is made up of different cast and crew interview that go over the making of the film, what it was like on set, working with snakes, the different locations that were used, the different cast members that appeared in the film, shooting the quicksand scene and lots more. Stanley Goes Hollywood is a Q&A recorded at a screening that the film received at The New Beverly Theater in Los Angeles that runs for twenty-four minutes and sees the cast and crew fielding questions from attendees of the screening. Stanley Revisited is a location featurette hosted by William Grefé that runs a quick three minutes and shows us recent footage documenting the studio and swamps that were used for the bulk of the movie.

    It’s also worth noting that this release comes packaged with some nice reversible cover sleeve art and an embossed, limited edition slipcover when purchased directly from Vinegar Syndrome’s website.

    Horror High / Stanley – The Final Word:

    Vinegar Syndrome’s double feature release of Horror High and Stanley is a good one, giving these two films their best presentations on home video to date and finally releasing Horror High in what would appear to be its intended, uncut version. Recommended for fans of seventies drive-in horror!

    Click on the images below, or right click and open in a new window, for full sized Horror High/Stanley Blu-ray screen caps!

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