Like a lot of folks, my movie watching is heading more towards a digital future rather than a physical one – and that’s despite my love of Blu-ray and all the cult movies the format has brought us thanks to the likes of Olive Films, Kino Lorber/Scorpion Releasing, Scream Factory, Vinegar Syndrome et al.
Whilst many will decry abandoning discs for digital files there are some bonuses, especially for genre fans here in the UK. The advent of iTunes has brought with it, in a lot of cases, a dropping of the borders. Movies are hitting Apple’s stores that haven’t seen the light of day since the VHS era – there’s even some films available digitally that have never previously been made available to rent or buy on these shores. Ever.
With that in mind, I’ve been trawling iTunes to find some hidden gems, the real standout films – be they old or new – that can be bought or rented on the service. First up are a set of films that haven’t seen official releases in the UK since the era of the video store…
Director Larry Cohen is probably best know to genre fans for the likes of Q The Winged Serpent, It’s Alive (and its two sequels) and The Stuff. However one of Cohen’s more obscure films is Wicked Stepmother, filmed in 1989, which marks acting royalty Bette Davis’ final film role.
Not an entirely successful film – even director Larry Cohen wil atest to that I’m sure – Wicked Stepmother is part horror, part spoof and sees an evil witch and her with daughter, who share a body may I add (when one’s not in control of the body they have to “live” in the body their familiar, a cat) descend on a yuppie family’s home and cause havoc. It’s up to the family’s mother, a private detective and a suspended police officer to try and stop the witches. Starring alongside Davis are 80s comedy stalwarts David Rasche (Sledgehammer) and Colleen Camp (Police Academy 2).
Wicked Stepmother is available to rent or buy for £5.99 / £2.49 respectively.
Tobe Hooper hasn’t had the best of luck – historically – when it comes to his films being released in the UK. He’s had three films banned for many years, only finally seeing the light of day with the advent of a change of leadership at the BBFC. However it’s not only censorship which has hindered his films in this country. There are a number of his movies that only ever got a spotty VHS release before disappearing from the shelves when that format died a death. Night Terrors is one such film.
Originally released by Cannon as a direct to VHS title in the early 90s, Night Terrors has since almost disappeared into obscurity – save only for a few European DVD releases (the French love this film apparently) and a more recent special edition Blu-ray. However the film lives on on iTunes, having been released on the service in 2014 by Warner Bros. For those that haven’t seen the film, it sees a young girl travel to Cairo to visit her father, and becomes unwillingly involved with a bizarre sadomasochistic cult led by the charismatic Paul Chevalier (played by horror icon Robert Englund), who is a descendant of the Marquis de Sade…
Night Terrors is available to buy now for £9.99
A mainstay of my own video store days, The Rescue is a teen action movie in the same vain as Toy Soldiers and Red Dawn, starring Marc Price (Trick or Treat) and Kevin Dillon (The Blob). The film sees a team of Navy S.E.A.L.s sent on a missions to destroy a disabled submarine so it will not fall into the wrong hands. However the S.E.A.L. team is captured before they can return to their base. The U.S. government will not mount a rescue mission to free the soldiers, so their adolescent children take over, stealing the governments rescue plan to save their family themselves!
I can’t remember how many times I rented The Rescue from my local video shop – way too many times to count. However, like many a 90s-era VHS, the film did not see the light of day on DVD apart from a few obscure European releases in places like Germany and Poland. Thankfully the film is now available on iTunes in both SD and HD versions (you can’t say that about some of the other films listed here) and for those that haven’t seen it, The Rescue is worth a rental at least.
The Rescue is available to rent or buy in HD for £8.99 / £3.49 respectively; or in SD for £7.99 / £2.49.
Another film that never made the transition to disc format (at least in the UK) from the VHS era, Night School is probably better known in the UK as Terror Eyes, one of the many films caught up in the notorious DPP’s video nasties lists. Surprisingly, Night School was directed by Ken Hughes, whose resume includes films such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Casino Royale – not your typical exploitation movie director that’s for sure!
The film stars a pre-fame Rachel Ward as the female live-in assistant of a well known anthropology professor who is the main suspect in a series of gruesome decapitations of various college coeds committed by a helmeted, black-leather clad serial killer. Night School did get a US DVD release via the Warner Archives program, however those titles aren’t shipped outside the US (unless you can find a US reseller), so iTunes is – for the moment – the only way to see the film if you don’t have access to the original pre-cert VHS tape!
Night School is available to rent or buy for £9.99 / £2.49 respectively.
Hopefully this first edition of iTunes Hidden Gems has exposed you to some titles you didn’t know were available – look out for more very soon!