Friday, July 15, 2016

VHS Summer Week #3

John Wintergate

Things (1989) may have solidified my interest in shot-on-video movies, but Boardinghouse is where it all began for me. It is by turns, comedic, gory, exploitative, and self-aggrandizing. It never descends into a fury of chaos like Things, which means the story is mostly coherent (this may be a plus of a minus, depending on the viewer.) This was the first SOV horror film and the first to receive a theatrical release. I can only imagine what anyone walking in and expecting a traditional horror movie might have thought about it.

Following some nearly unreadable computer text we are introduced to the boardinghouse, a site of grisly murders in the past. Now the place is being reopened, and the new owner, Jim (John Wintergate) decides he’s going to fill the place with beautiful women as tenants (I should also mention he is a practicing psychic.) Soon enough, strange deaths start happening to the residents of the boardinghouse, culminating in a house party/rock concert/psychic demon battle. 
During Boardinghouse...
Boardinghouse opens with a message that any scenes of upcoming horror will be proceeded with an image of a scary leather gloved hand in front of a bunch of video swirls, this is Horror-Vision and it should be the first indication that the viewer is in for something very odd. From this point on, the story is a thinly veiled excuse for director and star, John Wintergate to sport some upsettingly tiny underwear and hang around with women in lingerie. Boardinghouse was shot on Betacam equipment and it looks appropriately cheap.

There are endless scenes of talking, making food, and hot tubbing, which are occasionally interrupted by a murder. The gore is crude, but it is enthusiastic: eyes squish out of heads, a monster puppet attacks, and there's even some mouse barfing. Disappointingly, there are not quite enough of these moments, as they definitely liven up a very chatty movie.

Where the movie really shines (or drives views away) is in its quirks. What’s the best way to demonstrate psychic powers? If you if said, make soap spin around in the bathtub, then you must be John Wintergate, because no reasonable person would come up with that idea.  Jim seems very casual about having psychic powers too, and no one really seems that amazed by it. It is little moments like these that cast Boardinghouse into some kind of weird nonsense universe where it stays for the duration of its run.

...after Boardinghouse.
The secret MVP of the film is a strong synth score. It has a grit and menace to it that evokes some of the best of John Carpenter’s work. It greatly enhances everything on the screen and goes a long way to pushing Boardinghouse past being just a glorified home movie.

I love film that reaches for great heights and fall astoundingly short. I’m not sure Boardinghouse had aspirations beyond boobs and blood, but it fails even at that by being buried in the strange personality and fixations of its director and star. A fascinating  chunk of weirdness from the dawn of SOV horror.

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