Couch Trip

Lucker: The Necrophagous
Synapse Films

Who remembers the VHS heyday? That time between the late '80s and early '90s when a mom-and-pop video store sat on nearly every corner? They held unseen treasures unlike contemporary showroom-perfect video stores that carry only surplus qualities of mass-appeal flicks. Back in the day, a horror-movie fanatic could easily rent an obscure title thanks to any of the dozens of fly-by-night video distributors. The tape quality was sometimes questionable, but now-defunct distributors like Vestron, Embassy and Paragon are the reason some cult flicks found audiences. And now, thanks to the rise of DVD and such, there are a growing number of people feverish for titles they remember seeing on VHS but are impossible to find. Lucker: The Necrophagous is one. It seemed to vanish, but not from the minds of those who saw it.

Danish director Johan Vandewoestijne made Lucker as sort of "fuck you" to the Flemish Film Commission, which never acknowledged any of his submitted screenplays. So, for 28 days back in 1985 — and with a paltry budget of $30,000 — he made Lucker. And the plot is basic Slasher 101.

John Lucker's a serial killer who escapes while being transferred from a mental institution. He resumes his killing spree fueled by fantasies for the victim that got away three years earlier. Oh, he also has a nasty habit of raping his corpses long after they've passed their freshness date.

OK, so this flick's not known for originality or depth; rather, its notoriety rises from an extremely graphic scene of Lucker stripping down and screwing a four-week-old corpse. It's filthy stuff that's liable to turn even the most hardened stomachs. It also has some of the most excruciatingly long torture sequences with victims screaming, begging and pleading for their lives.

It's not for everyone but those who have kept their Dutch subtitled version under lock and key can breathe a sigh of relief. This flick's DVD debut signals more lost treasures on the horizon. Maybe. —Paul Knoll

Andre Techine Collection

Lionsgate's Andre Techine Collection is exactly the kind of box set we need more of: ones that gives underrated directors their due respect. Techine churns out one emotionally rich and thematically devastating film after another, but he's never been a household name like his French New Wave forefathers (like them, Techine started his career as a critic for Cahiers du Cinema). Before this set, most of his films were sprinkled down from the DVD gods in no-frills single discs from a variety of distributors, many of dubious repute and with some releases out of circulation, making the possibility of a Techine home film festival a daunting prospect. This collection gives longtime devotees and newcomers alike the opportunity to view his work as a proper oeuvre and to latch onto the recurring motifs that cement his reputation as an auteur.

For one, each of the four titles here — Hotel America, I Don't Kiss, My Favorite Season and Wild Reeds — features gay characters, from Chiarro Mastroianni's closeted lesbian in My Favorite Season to Phillipe Noiret's hardened prostitute in I Don't Kiss. Wild Reeds is one of the great gay coming-of-age movies, centering on a circle of sexually confused classmates at a boarding school in southwest France in 1962. Unlike Gus Van Sant or Gregg Araki, Techine has never been pigeonholed as a gay filmmaker, probably because the gays in his movies aren't employed for a larger meditation on modern homosexuality or a defiantly graphic detour into queer-cinema provocation: Like the straight characters they share the screen with, they're people struggling through the entanglements and frustrations of life, and they just happen to be gay.

Techine also knows how to end a movie better than just about anyone. Where lesser directors would force an audience-pleasing coda or a histrionic catharsis into the final reel, Techine's films end on poignant contemplations, unanswered questions and stalled climaxes — better representing the messy complexities of reality. It's no surprise My Favorite Season, possibly Techine's masterpiece, has garnered comparisons to filmmakers as disparate as Ingmar Bergman and John Cassavetes. Beating The Savages to the punch by 14 years, this story of a dysfunctional brother and sister whose increasingly sick mother puts a further strain on their relationship borrows the suffocating lyricism of Bergman and the seemingly unscripted verisimilitude of Cassavetes for a film of both formal beauty and verité directness.

Hotel America may be the only misstep here. It's the shortest film in the collection, but it moves the slowest, and its inciting incident — Catherine Deneuve's mysterious anesthesiologist nearly runs over Patrick Dewaere's hotel clerk with her car — is the kind of serendipitous conceit that only occurs in European movies. It has the intentions of a psychological thriller but fails to generate much interest in its icy characters' on-again, off-again romantic foibles.

I Don't Kiss, which chronicles a meek actor's (Manuel Blanc) maturation into a gay street hustler, signals a clearer shift toward the tragic slices of life that would come to define Techine's style.

All four transfers meet Lionsgate's standard of quality, and the set is an exemplary grab bag of titles from a French director that more filmgoers should know about. When similar boxes laud the work of fellow undervalued contemporaries like Olivier Assayas, Arnaud Desplechin and Benoit Jacquot, then we'll really be on to something.
—John Thomason

Summer of the Massacre
Brain Damage Films

We've all been suckered in by one of those "Based on true events" prologues that open myriad horror films. Summer of the Massacre does one better. This flick claims to feature actual photo footage from the crime that allegedly happened in the UK, complete with a police file number. Is it a real case number? Was there an actual massacre? Who knows? About three minutes in you won't care because all director Bryn Hammond did was grab a camcorder and make a slasher.

Your grandpa's old Super 8 home movies might sport better production values, sound quality, acting and dialogue. It's no crime for amateur filmmakers to pursue their dream while hanging in their parent's basement with pals and after many beers and decide, "Hey, let's make a movie."

It's a whole other thing to take your sad-sack homage to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and make innocent people who're not your friends or relatives watch it. How this flick has come to see light of day, not once, but twice is incomprehensible. Adding insult to injury is the promise of a sequel at film's end. If ever there was a sign of apocalypse then that might be it. Confess your sins now, kiddies, the end is near. —Paul Knoll

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