For this exceedingly low-budget if ambitious splatterfest, director Pat Bishow’s main inspiration was to create something (quote) “different”, right down to the film’s, um, colourful title. For all its faults though, THE SOULTANGLER (1987) remains one of the more bewildering D.I.Y. (“do-it-yourself”) ’80s horror films, which was recently resurrected from the VHS graveyard courtesy of the American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) and Bleeding Skull Video.
Dr. Anton Lupseky (Pierre Deveaux) has developed a new drug called Anphorium, which somehow allows people to transfer their souls into (quote) “any human corpse, provided it has eyes”; since the eyes are the window to the soul, as it’s said, this kinda makes sense in a way. However, his drug also affects the person’s nerve centers, causing vivid and highly horrific hallucinations. Thus Dr. Lupesky, who is also referred to as (quote) “pure evil”, has his assistants Carl (Bob Cederberg) and Jessica (Louise Millman) abduct females (“Women are everywhere on the streets these days!”), so he can continue his unorthodox experiments down in the dingy, gore-strewn basement which doubles as his laboratory. Meanwhile, in hopes of uncovering the truth about her father’s death, a feisty, chain-smoking reporter named Kim (Jamie Kinser) begins looking into Kupesky’s work, and duly informs we the viewer directly (quote), “That’s when things really got crazy!”
Made by Bishow’s family and friends over a week-long period in Long Island, New York in 1985, THE SOULTANGLER is certainly one of the more offbeat – and at one point elusively hard-to-see – “homemade” movies to emerge out of the ’80s. However, for all its innate liveliness and grandiose ideas, much of the film is actually quite slow on the uptake. At the same time, however, like many of these homegrown horrors, the tedium achieves a rather strange, almost hypnotic quality in-between its horrific highlights. Padded with an inordinate amount of people walking and driving from one location to another (more on that later) or sitting in offices, these often useless scenes of repetitive action are mind-numbing. As with the Anphorium-driven characters in the film, it’s like some bizarre fever-dream, which either leaves you scratching your head or simply succumbing to the film’s idiosyncratic logic and pacing. Drawn-out and disorienting, the film’s primary intention still remains depicting gooey grue, and like Stuart Gordon’s RE-ANIMATOR (1985), the film it most closely resembles thematically speaking, much of it is reserved for the gore-soaked finale, which features plenty of enthusiastic – and effective – blood-spattering F/X work, including decapitations, resurrected zombies, pulsating headless brains (with their eyes still attached, no less!), and one poor schmoe getting strangulated by a zombie’s dangling intestines.
Shot in 16mm and then edited on video, AGFA’s fully-loaded DVD was transferred from the original 1-inch master tapes, and the results are about what you’d expect from such a hand-to-mouth endeavour. The film is also presented in its original 1.33:1 ratio, and while the picture quality is limited by its less-than-optimal source material, it all looks reasonably sharp, with relatively stable colours (which are especially evident during some of the more outlandishly-shot moments). The Dolby Digital audio is also free of both distortion or an overabundance of hiss, with HypnoLoveWheel (i.e., Jim Cook, Griffin Dickerman and Chris Xefos)’s decent electronic score sounding just fine. Unlike Mondo / AGFA’s earlier retro big-box VHS edition from 2014 or the once even-harder-to-find Canadian VHS from Astral Video, which housed the standard (89m42s) edition of the film, AGFA have this time round also included a (quote) “previously unseen 62-minute director’s cut”, which plays far more effectively. In director Pat Bishow’s feature-length audio commentary, he goes on to discuss how the distributor forced him to (quote) “pad it out to 90-minutes” because it was simply too short. So, much to his dismay, using previously discarded takes and extra footage, Bishow went on to (quote) “explain Anphorium” and also add all those unnecessary filler scenes of people walking and driving, which he equates to (quote) “torture”. He also goes on to talk about the trials of shooting a low-budget film such as this, as well as discussing many of the Long Island locations (including that filthy basement!); how much of it was (quote) “done on the fly”; plus he also mentions the uncooperative nature of Kinser, who (quote) “wasn’t very nice.” While Bishow begins his commentary by exclaiming “I can’t believe anybody is actually listening to this!” he goes on to fill the 90 minutes with ease. Other extras include The Making of The Soultangler (12m13s), with plentiful behind-the-scenes footage shot in May of 1985; the film’s original video trailer (“From every corner emerges total terror!”), still another video trailer from Bishow’s earlier film, THE DEAD OF NIGHT TOWN (1983); and also a music video shot by Bishow for HypnoLoveWheel’s “Wow!” In addition to including the film’s very rare Canadian VHS release, the disc also comes with reversible cover art featuring new – and wholly appropriate – art by Matt “Putrid” Carr.
On the whole, THE SOULTANGLER is, for reasons beyond the director’s control, a little slow to get going, but it still offers something different even outside of its spirited bursts of gory mayhem; and for that alone, it should be respected and appreciated. Order it from DiabolikDVD or Suspect Video.