24th Mar2017

From VHS to VOD #2

by Phil Wheat


I don’t know if you’re anything like me, but I can often spend hours upon hours trawling through iTunes looking for new movies to buy… Usually I’ll randomly come across a title I haven’t seen in years and use the “Cast & Crew” links to make my way down the rabbit hole to the more obscure side of Apple’s digital movie service.

Now whilst many will decry that iTunes is a terrible VOD service due to Apple’s desire to lock its audience to their platforms, if you have an Apple TV or iPad be aware – there are some truly obscure films hidden away in the depths of the vast collection of movies. Some of which have been made available in the UK for the first time since VHS and a LOT that have been added to the service in their original uncut form!

So, with that said here’s highlight some of the best (well, I say best but as always taste is subjective!) obscure and/or uncut films that have made the jump from VHS to VOD here in the UK – complete with links to download and watch.

Wicked Stepmother

Director: Larry Cohen | Stars: Bette Davis, Barbara Carrera, Colleen Camp, Lionel Sanders, David Rasche, Shawn Donahue, Tom Bosley, Richard Moll

With the trailer dropping this week for the Larry Cohen documentary King Cohen, what better time to revisit the auteur’s back catalogue. After all, no matter the subject, no matter the budget, there’s ALWAYS something interesting about a Larry Cohen movie.

Debuting on video here in the UK in 1990, Wicked Stepmother has become more well known for being the final film of acting royalty Bette Davis. The film has never made the leap to another physical format since the VHS era, only being available on DVD in the US.

Not an entirely successful film – even director Larry Cohen wil atest to that I’m sure – the film is part horror, part spoof and sees an evil witch and her 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 now on iTunes and Amazon.

Night Terrors

Directed by Tobe Hooper | Stars: Robert Englund, Zoe Trilling, Alona Kimhi, Juliano Mer-Khamis, Chandra West, William Finley

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 on iTunes and Amazon.

The Legend of Billie Jean

Directed by Matthew Robbins | Stars: Helen Slater, Keith Gordon, Christian Slater, Peter Coyote, Martha Gehman, Dean Stockwell, Yeardley Smith

One of my favourite films of the 80s, and a movie that has gone unappreciated here in the UK, The Legend of Billie Jean has not been released on any home format since the original big-box rental tape in 1986. Whilst the US got a Blu-ray of the film a few years ago, here in Blighty we have to make do with the film being available on digital formats only :(

Notable for featuring both Helen Slater (Supergirl) and Christian (no relation) Slater in a very early screen role – as well as Lisa Simpson herself, aka actresss Yeardley Smith in a supporting role; The Legend of Billie Jean tells the story of the titular Texas teen who is caught up in an odd fight for justice. She is usually followed and harrased around by local boys, who, one day, decide to trash her brother’s scooter for fun. The boys’ father refuses to pay them back the price of the scooter. The fight for “fair is fair” takes the teens around the state and produces an unlikely hero in Billie Jean…

Director Matthew Robbins would go on to direct *batteries not included in 1987 and pen the screenplay for the likes of Mimic, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and Crimson Peak, all for director Guillermo del Toro. Sidenote: The Legend of Billie Jean has one of the best soundtracks of any 80s movie, featuring Pat Benatar’s classic song Invincible.

The Legend of Billie Jean is available to rent or buy now on iTunes.

Fast Forward

Directed by Sidney Poitier | Stars: John Scott Clough, Don Franklin, Tamara Mark, Tracy Silver, Cindy McGee, Gretchen Palmer, Monique Cintron, Debra Varnado

Ahhh, the 80s. A decade that saw films such as Fame explode in cinemas and TV, and musicals proliferating cinema in the likes of Flashdance, Breakin’ and Footloose (and to a MUCH lesser extent The Apple). But one film from that era doesn’t go mentioned as much, if at all, amongst the annals of great 80s musicals… Sidney Poitier’s Fast Forward, suprisingly another film that – like the Helen Slater movie above – was last released on home fomats in 1986 (what’s with films from that year not making the transition to DVD and/or Blu-ray?)

Fast Forward sees eight young people from Ohio who are dancers, come to New York, to compete in a major talent competition. But when they get there, they learn that they have to wait some time before they take part in it. So they try to do their best to survive in the Big Apple before competition, and get some lessons about the real world…

Packed with some tremendous choreography and a very 80s soundtrack Fast Forward is one of those films that you really CAN call underrated, with only those that have seen the film ever fully appreciating just how good an example of the genre this film truly is. Film Fact: Fast Forward was the penultimate film for Sidney Poitier as director, the only film he would helm after this was the much-maligned Bill Cosby comedy Ghost Dad.

Fast Forward is available now on iTunes.


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