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EXQUISITES 2020: Films of the Year

Clearly 2020 will be a year we remember and one we rather forget. We hope from the bottom of our black little hearts that you remained healthy and sane (but not too sane). For us here at Bleeding Skull!, 2020 was a time to hunker down and unearth no-budget, backyard epics that remind us that the world can still be a place of discovery, even from the confines of our overstuffed couches. We met bodybuilders in haunted houses, stop-motion beasties, a dog that wears sunglasses indoors, and a blood-hungry psychopath named The Chooper. We also spent time with the Manson family, played a game of musical “chair,” and fled from a very angry, very demonic baby in the jungle. We found ambitious and inspiring films made by kids who aren’t even old enough to drive and got our heads torn off by some genuinely incredible shorts. We sought out and listened to Black voices in DIY genre filmmaking, from 1939’s Midnight Shadow to 2004’s Street Tales of Terror. And we also watched a touching, heart-warming film called Fuck the Devil 2: Return of the Fucker

We stayed busy in 2020, releasing the gritty, supernatural hellscape that is Limbo, directed by W.A.V.E veteran and all-around badass Tina Krause. We also unleashed the cocaine-scented SOV horror anthology Scary Tales and The McPherson Tape, which shows the world what happens when aliens crash a birthday party.

We’ve selected ten of our favorite films that were new to the site in 2020. We can’t think of a better way to quarantine than watching these stories unfold. No matter what happens in 2021, we know there will always be something new to discover: another deadly possession, another haunted house, another slaying by a werewolf in a mask from Party City. We look forward to next year, when Bleeding Skull! A 1990s Trash-Horror Odyssey gets unleashed by Fantagraphics! It’s a long time coming but we think it’s well worth the wait. 

We thank you for your continued support and appreciate every single last one of you twisted fiends.

Bloody Muscle Body Builder in Hell (Shinichi Fukazawa, 2012)
DVD / Full Review
This is a movie that took a few pages from the Sam Raimi playbook; in fact, it’s billed as the Japanese Evil Dead. It’s a fitting description but that’s not to say that Bloody Muscle Body Builder in Hell is completely derivative; it’s not. It’s fun, goofy, and goopy, and there are references to the classic Sam Raimi production as well as twists. Bloody Muscle Body Builder in Hell is stuffed with ambition, joy, and formidable biceps that should be named Thunder and Lightning, or, I suppose, Kaminari and Inazuma.

Fuck the Devil (Michael Pollklesener, 1990)
DVD-R / Full Review
Fuck the Devil is the cinematic equivalent of a homemade comic book that was made by an adolescent goon while experimenting with bootleg acid. Pollklesener used whatever was at his disposal—a camcorder, Casio sampling keyboard, red food coloring, two friends, random slow motion, his parents, and audio dropouts—to create an encapsulation of everything that’s special about a movie with a title like Fuck the Devil. This subversive bedroom sludge exists because of an unconditional love for horror movies, and a desire to emulate that love. The fact that it doubles as a fascinating museum piece, much like Sledgehammer, is a tiny miracle unto itself. This movie has no subtitles, but I didn’t need them to understand the significance of watching someone step on a baby’s corpse.

Halloween Party (Dave Skowronski, 1989)
Streaming / Full Review
Halloween Party is a minimalist slasher that features stolen music from Halloween, 8-bit text crawls, and a cast of real-life teenagers who talk very fast. While it follows the basic template of other shot-on-video hangout slashers like Blood Lake, Halloween Party is less of a “real movie” and more of a “home movie.” That’s what makes it cross the threshold from a charming curiosity to a time-warp treasure chest that overflows with Halloween mood. Like Girls at the Carnival and Metalhead Teens in a Record Store, Halloween Party is a document of teens hanging out and being themselves during a time that will never exist again. The only difference is that this snapshot takes the form of a narrative horror movie.

Pathogen (Emily Hagins, 2006)
DVD / Full Review
I moved to Austin eight years ago. After growing up in Chicago and spending a few years in Los Angeles, I wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming sense of kindness that permeates this city. So it makes sense that a teenager was able to find the support she needed in Austin to make a movie that complements scenes of zombies barfing up green slime with themes of empathy and friendship. With a plot that’s just as plausible as the one in Terminator 2 and an impressive devotion to editing and storytelling, Pathogen is miles above what we expect from a shot-on-video horror movie in the 2000s — let alone one that was made by a kid.

Retribution (Guy Magar, 1987)
DVD / Full Review
Retribution is a solid hit from start to finish. It’s like a jukebox with only your favorite songs. In the age of streaming, it’s easy to forget that there was a time when a machine could be loaded with 45s with only good shit that you’d never skip. Retribution reminds us that a movie really can have it all: gore, death, sides of raw meat, Day-Glo paintings, spandex miniskirts, melodramatic love stories, and a guy with a Julius Caesar haircut. It’s a popcorn classic. And while some parts of the film don’t age so well—namely the Voodoo exorcism—we can still appreciate the film for its contributions.

The Screaming (Jeff Leroy, 2000)
DVD / Full Review
Scientology is an easy target for derision, and The Screaming doesn’t pull its punches. Writer/director Jeff Leroy gleefully makes fun of Scientology’s core tenants, as well as its commercials. But the film is also ambitious, stuffed with the best effects $50 can buy, including stop-motion claymation, ghoulish face paint, and a noose made out of entrails. While it does lag at times—we never need to watch anyone do reverse sit-ups—the film gloriously careens in the final fifteen minutes. The Screaming almost makes you want to read L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics just to see how much of this bat-shit insanity is actually based in truth. But in this case, the movie is probably better than the book.

Temptation of the Demon Woman (Ackyl Anwari, 1978)
VHS / Full Review
Once again, Indonesia delivers a dessert that fills our twisted little bellies with joy. Films like Mystics in Bali, Lady Terminator, Special Silencers, Srigala (aka the Indonesian rip-off of Friday the 13th), and Satan’s Bed (aka the Indonesian rip-off of A Nightmare on Elm Street) have introduced us to an endlessly fulfilling world of DIY effects, nonstop action, and people vomiting. Now we can add Temptation of the Demon Woman onto the table to feed our souls.

Thundercrack! (Curt McDowell, 1975)
Blu-ray / Full Review
Directed by underground icon Curt McDowell and written by the immortal George Kuchar, this is the only 160-minute, XXX-rated, DIY horror soap opera that you’ll ever need to see. Thundercrack! uses the template of James Whale’s The Old Dark House as a jumping off point for the erosion of good taste, mental health, and sexual barriers. The movie is smothered in frequently hilarious dialogue (“What have you got against beatniks?”; “For one thing, their bongo drums!”), hardcore scenes that go on longer than anything in Ed Wood’s Necromania, and unexpected asides featuring machete attacks and blowjobs in the middle of important conversations. But no matter how far we step into the outer limits, McDowell keeps us grounded with a dedication to silent film era effects (those miniatures!) and gorgeously crude 16mm photography.

Treasure of the Ninja (William Lee, 1987)
VHS / Full Review
There are many things to love about Treasure of the Ninja—the spinning kicks, the reverb-soaked wahhhhs, and the insane and ever-changing plot where characters enter and die in a moment’s notice. The characters have a plan and then get distracted by another villain and must hatch a plan to vanquish that villain but before they do that they need to hatch a different plan to vanquish a different villain. It’s like Homer’s The Odyssey, only with ninjas and a treasure worth $15 million. But what I love most about Treasure of the Ninja is the diversity of the cast. Also, in a landmark twist not typically seen in 80s DIY cinema, the women characters are strong. Ladies spray bullets at ninjas, rescue Faze from sticky situations, lead government ops and archaeology departments, and dispense romance advice. Treasure of the Ninja has to be one of the most inclusive no-budget films to come out of the 80s, and William Lee is among the woefully small handful of Black filmmakers to come out of this golden DIY era of filmmaking.

Viola Vs. the Vampire King (Kevin Fermini, 2017)
Streaming / Full Review
Shot on Super 8 as a student project by Kevin Fermini, Viola Vs. the Vampire King feels like what would happen if Evil Dead, Mario Bava’s lighting rig, a NES cartridge of Super Mario Brothers, and some paint-by-numbers thrift store paintings were placed in a blender and liquified. The title explains the plot, so we’re free to luxuriate in the meticulous attention to details: impressionistic colors, stop motion gore, animated overlays, creative compositions, and ENERGY! The aesthetic is both nostalgic and forward-thinking — this looks like it could have been shot in 1979 or 2078. Every choice builds towards the whole and Fermini and pals never blow it. Truly otherworldly and filled with joy, Viola is easily one of the most accomplished Super 8 shorts that I’ve ever seen.

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