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Vinegar Syndrome Double Feature

Raw Force


When the Burbank Kung Fu Club travels to a mysterious island, they quickly find themselves facing the bloodthirsty vengeance of flesh ripping, kung fu fighting zombies, gun-toting white slave traders and a band of strange monks, who may be the only key to explaining the madness. (From Vinegar Syndrome’s official synopsis)

Writer/director Edward D. Murphy’s Raw Force (1982), also known as Kung Fu Cannibals, but not to be confused with the alternate title for Tsui Hark’s We Are Going to Eat You (1980), is a distinctly Americanized version of the ‘classic’ Filipino exploitation model. Murphy also wrote and directed Heated Vengeance (1985), but is better known as a bit part actor with credits like ‘Security Guard’ and ‘Liquor Cop #1’ (he has 13 Law & Order credits – all for different characters). But his very first IMDB.com credit is as ‘Captain’ on Eddie Romero’s genre-defining Filipino horror flick, The Mad Doctor of Blood Island (1968). The Philippines were a key base of operations for trashy B-productions throughout the ‘60s, ‘70s, and early ‘80s thanks to its exotic locations and bargain tax/rental rates. Romero was a key component in the stew as the man that established the DIY look of Filipino horror, as was Jack Hill, who, while working under Roger Corman’s production, more or less invented the Women in Prison (WIP) subgenre that thrived in the area. Raw Force was made during a period when American studios were losing interest in the area and native Filipinos were making their own weird and wacky product to sell to a hungry, worldwide VHS market. Many of these were uniquely offbeat action films, most memorably Eddie Nicart Bond parody For Y'ur Height Only (1981) and The Impossible Kid of Kung Fu (1982), both of which starred 2’ 9” superstar Weng Weng.

The best Filipino-sploitation is usually entertaining due to culture shock and earnest attempts at giving both a Western and local audience what the filmmakers think they want. Murphy approaches his movie with faux sophistication and an excess of deliberate camp. The fun factor is often deadened by the cheekiness as the director and his cast laugh along with the audience while piling on the shenanigans – white slavery, weird religious cults, a villain that looks and talks like Hitler, constant excuses for nudity, casual misogyny, samurai zombies, and so on. The first half (plus) of Raw Force ends up having more in common with ‘80s sex comedies and Airplane!-style spoof movies than Cleopatra Wong or The Beast of Yellow Night. In the tradition of those movies, Murphy throws so many gags at the wall that a number of them are inevitably funny (there’s an especially funny bit where a guy realizes his random sexual hook-up is a wanted murderer). Though limited by the sheer amount of screentime the ‘funny’ scenes take up, the more ‘honest’ horror elements, including the supernatural-tinged final act (completely with slightly gory cannibal scenes) and a couple of slasher-inspired death scenes. A number of elongated fist-fights effectively fulfill the proper exploitation expectations. Like its Filipino/American co-production contemporaries, Raw Force isn’t nearly as slick as its Hong Kong and Japanese counterparts from the same era, but its rough, violent action is still plenty appealing.

One last fun cast note: Cameron Mitchell and Hope Holiday, who act as the older couple that run the cruise ship service that kicks off the plot, appeared in five movies and one television show together between 1980 and ’86 – the last six credits on Holiday’s imdb.com page. Apparently, they were a couple, despite Holiday being married to Frank Marth from ’67 to his death this year.

Raw Force is old ‘n crusty, but it was shot on 35mm and the fine folks at Vinegar Syndrome have done a nice job with a surprisingly sharp print. The new 2K scan is presented in 1080p, 1.85:1 HD and is easily the best the film has looked since its first run in theaters. Some scenes feature more print damage than others and grain levels are pretty thick throughout the film, but the overall effect is as clean and colourful as A-level releases from the same era. Murphy and cinematographer/producer Frank E. Johnson did an admirable job capturing the lush, humid, sticky grandeur of the seaside forests of the region. The vivid greens and blues are nicely contrasted against natural skin tones, gaudy ‘80s costumes, and ultra-bright blood effects. Sometimes, the clarity is a detriment to the less-than-admirable special effects, like occasional process shots and make-up effects, and the difference between footage types is sometimes astronomical (i.e. proper 35mm film vs. possibly 16mm stock footage and second unit shots of the surrounding area), but these inconsistencies are inherent in the material and, frankly, part of the charm.

The original mono soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. There is quite a bit of hiss and crackle teeming beneath the surface, but you really have to be actively listening for distortion to let it ruin the experience. The single channel mix makes for some thin soundscapes, of course, and the otherwise clear dialogue can be muffled by louder sound effects, especially during a scene where the heroes escape from a flaming, sinking cruise ship. The score, supplied by one Walter Murphy (possibly a brother?), is often lost in period pop/disco music, but adds quite a bit of class to the overall tone.

Extras include:
  • Destination: Warriors Island (14:30, HD) – Retrospective interviews with Murphy (who worked on the film for-hire – it wasn’t exactly a dream project) and producer/cinematographer Frank Johnson.
  • Audio interview with Jim Mynorski, who acted was an uncredited editor on the film (5:00, HD)
  • Theatrical trailer


 Vinegar Syndrome Double Feature

 Vinegar Syndrome Double Feature

 Vinegar Syndrome Double Feature

 Vinegar Syndrome Double Feature

 Vinegar Syndrome Double Feature


Vinegar Syndrome Double Feature

Christmas Evil


When he was a boy, Harry (Brandon Maggart) idolized Santa Claus, but one Christmas Eve, he witnessed something horrifying that forever shattered his innocent understanding of Santa. Now an adult, Harry wants to embody the pure Santa Claus he grew up loving. He works at a toy factory and keeps records of who’s been naughty and nice, but the spirit of Christmas isn’t what it used to be and he can’t take it. So, garbed in his red suit, Harry decides that the only thing he can do is to become Santa himself and make all of the naughty townspeople pay…in blood! (From Vinegar Syndrome’s official synopsis)

Lewis Jackson’s Christmas Evil (original title: You Better Watch Out, which is what appears during the opening credits on this Blu-ray) isn’t as notorious or controversial as Charles Sellier’s Silent Night, Deadly Night, but it does predate it by about four years and is the first feature-length killer Santa Claus movie (following a short episode from Freddie Francis’ Tales From the Crypt anthology in 1972). Horror connoisseurs also know that Christmas Evil is the superior Santa Slasher. It’s not necessarily a great slasher – the bodycount is low, the startle scares are tepid, and there’s minimal bloodshed (though it should be noted that the bloody sequences have real impact, especially an early eye-gouging sequence) – but Jackson (who also wrote the screenplay) certainly has more fun with the concepts than most filmmakers of his era. Few holiday horror tales manage to balance the disparate tones of sickly joy with the disturbing imagery and sinister underpinnings of the season’s mythology. Unlike Sellier’s more purely exploitative film, Jackson appears to have an opinion on the hypocritical nature of the holiday as he gleefully piles misery upon his well-meaning, but ultimately murderous protagonist.

Jackson’s career as a director was extremely short-lived. Before Christmas Evil, he made a softcore porn called The Deviates (1970) and a homemade horror spoof called The Transformation: A Sandwich of Nightmares (1974) – neither of which are available on any home video format. Following Christmas Evil, he disappeared. He wasn’t outrageously talented, but got a lot of mileage out of very simple compositions (the climax plays out as an effective homage to Fritz Lang’s M) and good performances out of his cast (including early appearances from Jeffrey DeMunn, Mark Margolis, and Home Improvement’s Patricia Richardson). It’s particularly interesting to watch the director embracing and rejecting the expectations of a post- Halloween/pre- Friday the 13th slasher. He carefully recreates the classic rituals, including a tragic, pre-credit flashback that sets up his killer’s motivation and a number of fetishistic shots of weapons, but also eschews the whodunit stuff that often coincides with the genre and actively avoids painting Harry as a villain. Unlike the anti-heroes/anti-villains of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver or Bill Lustig’s Maniac, Jackson’s main character really does have good intentions, despite his obvious mental deficiencies. Harry isn’t really setting out to murder people; rather. the cynical, sarcastic people that confront him bring out some pretty powerful rage. Some of his murders appear almost accidental. Moreover, the scenes where he interacts with amicable adults and children are genuinely sweet. It’s a pretty sophisticated stew of emotions for a largely forgotten, low-budget indie horror flick.

Christmas Evil has appeared on DVD twice – once as a non-anamorphic 1.33:1 disc from Troma and again as a special edition anamorphic 1.85:1 disc from Synapse Films. The Synapse version was, obviously, the preferred release and Vinegar Syndrome’s new Blu-ray is a substantial upgrade over even that. This 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer was restored from 4K scan of original 35mm archive elements. Despite a fair amount of grain (some of which discolours establishing shots) and a number of minor scuffs and scratches, this is a huge upgrade in overall detail and clarity. Many of the transfer’s problems aren’t the effect of age or maltreatment, but the fact that Jackson and cinematographer Ricardo Aronovich (who cut his teeth working for Louis Malle!) opt to recreate the soft-focused/diffused light look of other ‘80s slashers (specifically the Canadian ones, for some reason). The blooming lights, especially white ones, flare up and overwhelm the frame on a number of occasions. Vinegar Syndrome may have accelerated the issue with over-cranked contrast, which crushes the shadows in some shots. I can’t speak for Jackson and Aronovich’s intent, but do notice that this Blu-ray appears starker than the previous DVDs. Still, the sharpness doesn’t lead to any notable compression artefacts, like edge haloes. The colour palette isn’t particularly eclectic, but there are some vivid orange and blue key-lights used during the darker sequences and the seasonal-appropriate reds are searing. The graininess and heavy contrast of some scenes creates some problems with the gradations; though, again, this may have been part of the original design.

The original mono soundtrack is preserved and presented in 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. The entire track is a bit muffled and as thin as expected based on the material, but is plenty clean (no major pops or hisses) and clear enough to understand the vital dialogue. Sound effects design is predictably underwhelming. The music is credited to Joel Harris, Julia Heyward, and Don Christensen. I have no idea who did what, but there is relative continuity between scenes. The synth-driven scare cues are effectively shrill and obnoxious, the more melodic piano motifs have plenty of depth, and the jazz drum-infused climax is relatively punchy. Jackson also makes great use of holiday standards throughout the film.

The extras, all of which first appeared on Synapse’s release (except where noted), include:
  • Commentary with director Lewis Jackson
  • Commentary with Jackson and actor Brandon Maggart (from Troma’s release)
  • Commentary with Jackson and filmmaking legend/[I]Christmas Evil[I] fan John Waters
  • Archival video interviews with Jackson & Brandon Maggart (from Troma’s release, 6:50, 6:40, on the included DVD only)
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Deleted scenes (6:30, on the included DVD only)
  • Screen tests (25:50, on the included DVD only)
  • Storyboards & comment cards gallery


 Vinegar Syndrome Double Feature

 Vinegar Syndrome Double Feature

 Vinegar Syndrome Double Feature

 Vinegar Syndrome Double Feature

 Vinegar Syndrome Double Feature

Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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