It's 1996. A UFO hurtles through space towards the Earth. As it lands near a farm in Memphis, we witness it morph into a Chevy and hit the open road running. Behind the wheel is Blackie (Jack Oblivian), a 50s-style greaser in red leather jacket, slicked-back hair and tight black jeans.
A narrator (Tim Keane) explains to us that "Blackie is an immortal from the Killers' Frequency. He was allowed to terrorise the South in 1954 to test his skills as a disciplined killer. Blackie was to take twelve random lives, but he'd only killed nine when his allotted time on Earth ran out. Blackie returned to the Invisible Wavelength a "loser", a shame that he's lived with for over 42 years ... until now. Escaping from the chains of the Invisible Wavelength, Blackie has been given one more chance - return to Earth, kill three victims and only three, then return to the Frequency and face the hero's death".
The first thing Blackie does upon his return to this planet is visit the makeshift graves of those he slaughtered four decades earlier. Then, without further ado, he's off to a convenience store to buy a copy of his favourite comic "Weird Science". Things turn ugly when the teller has to inform him that it no longer exists, but he does have a limited selection of "alternative" comics on offer. Blackie's unimpressed with how the world has changed since his last visitation, and an altercation ends in cold-blooded murder.
There's another grave to dig.
Next, Blackie is off to pay a visit to his old buddy Mike (Mike Maker), someone so close to him back in the day that he imbued upon him the power of eternal youth. However, Blackie is taken aback when Mike's nurse from way back, McComb (Lydia Martini), also hasn't aged. She's clearly not happy with Blackie's return and another fight ensues.
It turns out that Mike was a fellow comic collector in the 50s and so he and Blackie had bonded (their friendship may also have something to do with the fact they met in an asylum where Mike arrived needing a blood transfusion - and Blackie was the only suitable donor [hence Mike's youthful preservation]). So, yeah, when Mike arrives on the scene, he sides with old pal Blackie and dispenses of McComb ... by nailing a copy of the "Twisted Tales" comic to her face.
Blackie classes this as murder number eleven and says they must bury her corpse in the "chosen spot".
Job done, and then it's time for Blackie and Mike to hit the road in search of that final victim. Out of the blue, they bump into crimson-haired fugitive Kerine (Kerine Elkins). She confesses to having killed a hippy earlier that day - a flashback shows us how outlandishly this was achieved. Yep, Blackie's smitten with her. I mean, he doesn't know what a hippy is to begin with, but Kerine offers an impeccable description: "imagine someone who doesn't believe in war, or the death penalty, or taking a bath". Of course, they wind up shagging. And so, she is now also bonded to Blackie by blood.
Come the evening, Blackie, Mike and Kerine rest round a campfire while Blackie tells Kerine of his mission. She vows to complete said assignment for him by killing his final victim. However, in the meantime, the FBI has become aware of Blackie's landing on Earth. They're tempted to call in the services of the mysterious "men in black" (cult band Guitar Wolf) to help eradicate this problem ...
Alas, a trip to Kerine's parents' home in the sticks results in her slaying them both. That's thirteen murders - one too many! So, Blackie is sent temporarily back to his own world and strung up by The Elder (late, legendary film producer David F Friedman) who informs him he's exceeded his kill count ... and his victims were too old anyway. But he has one last hope of redemption, he's told: if he kills a younger victim of The Elder's choosing, Blackie just may escape a destiny of eternal damnation.
And so, their road trip continues, complete with Kerine's dead mother in the back passenger seat of the Chevy (she's not allowed to be buried in the chosen spot). Kerine and Mike are under explicit instructions not to kill anyone on Blackie's behalf. Blackie just has to wait for notification of who he's required to murder ...
We're 30 minutes into this crazy film at this point of my precis. You're still to meet Triumph-riding "strongest woman in the world" Goliatha, known by day as D'Lana (D'Lana Tunnell) - who Mike met in the "nuthouse". Our psychotic trio meet up with her at a carnival where her shtick is lifting her bike above her head. Is she number fourteen, Kerine wonders? Not according to Blackie. At Mike's insistence, D'Lana is now also along for the ride.
The search for the right victim continues, while the manhunt for Blackie and his cohorts increases momentum. And then, Blackie receives an unexpected message from The Elder through his car's radio ... he now knows who he has to kill ...
I'm not going to go any further into synopsising THE SORE LOSERS. Suffice it to say, it's a wild film. It's fast-moving and absolutely mental at every turn. It's also virtually impossible to cover everything that occurs without spoiling the fun for the uninitiated.
And that's what this film is: fun. Every scene is injected with an energy that can't help but rub off on whoever's lucky enough to be viewing it.
From the crazy psychedelic colour schemes, to the endless references to retro culture (classic comics, x-ray glasses, garage rock music, women straight out of a Russ Meyer films etc), through to the eternally quotable dialogue, marvellously cheap FX and crazy hyper performances of all concerned: THE SORE LOSERS entertains without effort.
The largely non-professional cast (mainly made up of musicians from the 90s garage rock scene) attack their respective roles with incredible gusto, lending this low budget flick the edge an early John Waters aesthetic.
Throw in cheap gore, appropriately naff digital effects, zombies, a whole lot of bare boobs, and a naked blonde angel with wings (Mary Wills) ... gosh, this really is a trip! There are even allusions to certain characters being God and Satan later in the action (no spoilers), forays into soft-core lesbian interplay and even social commentary on the censorship of art - this film covers a lot of ground while never missing a beat in terms of pace. Oh, and the Dead Kennedys reference wasn't lost on me either - "they're coming for your uncool niece"!
I almost didn't mention the bare-chested catfight which takes place between two buxom actresses on an electric chair. That's how crazy this film is, that a scene so singular could almost be overlooked ... it's a lo-fi masterpiece of mayhem.
Written, produced and directed by the immensely talented J Michael McCarthy, THE SORE LOSERS is really well shot, edited and written too. Which is perhaps lost in some reviews, such is the tendency to relay how out-there its content is. THE SORE LOSERS is a strange, bombastic and wildly creative film for certain ... but make no mistake, it's also very well-made. And the retro soundtrack (The Oblivians, The Makers etc) is also magnificent.
THE SORE LOSERS has been independently released by Guerrilla Monster Films as a stunning 3-disc, multi-format proposition. We were sent a copy for review purposes.
The first disc is a region-free blu-ray. This houses the main feature in an unexpectedly pristine and pleasing 1080p HD presentation, encoded here as an MPEG2-AVC file.
Touted as being a new "2K scan with frame by frame restoration from the 16mm negative", the results really do speak for themselves. Right from the off, the colours pop off the screen in stunningly vivid fashion. Images are sharp, detail is fine, depth and texture are accurate; this is a superlative presentation for a 16mm feature. There are no specks or damage on the print; the restoration performed here is a clear labour of love - and it pays off. The film is present uncut (88 minutes and 15 seconds) and in its original 4:3, 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
I'm not familiar with the original version of this film but it's worth noting, if you're a long-term fan, that some scenes have apparently been altered in a minor way with enhanced effects.
English audio is provided in 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround options. Both offer superb playback: loud, even and clean throughout. Optional subtitles are proffered in English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese and Spanish. The disc opens to a colourful static main menu page. There is no scene-selection present but the film is divided - and therefore navigational - by way of 19 chapters.
There's only one bonus feature on the blu-ray disc: an audio commentary track from the friendly, erudite McCarthy. He has a voice that's easy to listen to, never dull, and is blessed with an insanely good memory when it comes to the finer details of this film's production, distribution and legacy. Originally intended as a "youth rebellion" film a la the teen flicks of the 60s, he realised he had the opportunity to make the ultimate "garage rock" movie when casting began. From his obvious love of horror comics to the strange screenings of the film in pubs, McCarthy fills the running time with priceless information - he literally doesn't stop offering titbits of trivia until the very last second of the closing titles coming to an end. If you're a fan, this really is essential listening.
Disc two is a region-free DVD. This is home to the bulk of this excellent set's extras.
A static menu page opens the disc, inviting us to peruse two different avenues of bonus feature: 'photo' and 'video'.
Choosing 'photo' allows access to no fewer than ten different photo galleries offering stills covering all aspects of production and promotion of the film, from McCarthy own personal snapshots of the movie's screening at the Chicago Underground Film Festival, to promo shots of several of the film's comely lovelies in various states of undress, and loads more. There is an abundance of images to occupy you here.
Now, onto 'video' ...
We start with an original 2-minute trailer for the film. This is VHS quality and is timecoded to boot. The fuzzy picture makes the film look a lot cheaper, as does the wobbly audio. If anything, it helps reinforce just how amazing the HD upgrade really is.
Next up is virtually the same trailer again (complete with timecode), in slightly better nick and benefitting from added narration from Paul Woodard.
A 4-minute "demo reel" seems to be rough footage culled from Guitar Wolf's "Invasion Ace" and "All Through the Night Butobase" music videos, SUPERSTARLET A.D. and a couple more music videos. All of which is presented in rough 1.33:1.
There's also a deleted scene on offer here, under the description "Three Nurses Lost". Introductory text from McCarthy explains how the scene was started but, due to running out of time at the Cedar Hill shoot, never completed. It's presented here with "rough sound". It's only 44 seconds long but it's a nice addition to the disc regardless (and, bonus, throws in another pair of tits).
Next, we get five short films directed by Emmy Collins, each of which comes with text introductions from McCarthy. McCarthy played a significant role to varying degrees in each of these endeavours, ranging from assistant-directing and co-producing, to editing, casting or acting as cameraman. The first is the 7-minute JACK THE DIPPER in which the titular character (played by Collins) is berated by the foreman of the construction site he's working on, who tells him he's fucking their project up. Jack retorts, saying he can fuck anything - and proceeds to pull his pants down, fucking a forklift truck. From there, this only gets odder. The second short, also 7 minutes in length, is even odder: an array of disparate characters and scenarios - one involves a woman sat on the toilet taking a shit while eating her dinner from a plate as a man (Collins) stands watching her, busting for a piss. This incorporates footage from JACK THE DIPPER for no discernible reason. Then there's a 1-minute clip entitled PUNK VS HIPPIE in which a scene from THE SORE LOSERS is played out in English and then in Spanish. Next is THE EGOIST, a 2-minute "kitchen scene" from a reportedly problematic 22-minute short film (also called THE EGOIST). This segment was directed by McCarthy and has a clearer narrative than what's preceded it. And tits. There's a definite vibe of early John Waters to this one. Finally, we get TV HUMPERS - which McCarthy commissioned Collins with filming to grace the DVD of the former's BROAD DAYLIGHT feature. At 2 minutes in length, it feels more like a music promo video (the music is by The Limes).
I had a good time with these Super-8 endeavours, each of which is presented in their original 1.33:1 ratio and with clean mono audio. These are largely non-linear, extremely lo-fi affairs - think Richard Kern or Nick Zedd but without the hardcore sex and violence.
A plethora of music videos follow, all of which include some involvement from McCarthy (directing, editing, whatever). These are all cheap but stylish and incredibly inventive, and the music is all good, largely in a garage rock style. Featured artists include Guitar Wolf, The Oblivians, The Makers, The Clears, Real Losers, 200 Sachen, Poli Sci Clone, River City Tanlines, The Cute Lepers, The Flakes and The True Lovers. Again, most of these come with McCarthy's informative and contextual text introductions. These are presented in varying ratios and quality (the audio is great on all of them, and the visuals are fine - there are no transfer flaws, just various filming methods employed).
Wait. There's more?! Oh, yes!
THE BLUE SOLDIER is a 10-minute excerpt of a live performance by Kerine Elkins. She warbles through "You Do Something to Me" while wearing what looks like the most lethal bra in history (imagine Madonna's breast cones of the 80s magnified by 100), and then returns to the stage adorned in a tutu, ski mask and little else to enact a bizarre dance with two pipes hanging from her breasts. It's bizarre, to say the least. But, oddly, I enjoyed it. The music sounds a little like it could furnish a Jorg Buttgereit film. I'm not sure why she was destroying CDs with an axe towards the end ... it's all interpretive, innit?
"San Fran Super 8" is just that: 3 minutes of Super 8 footage serving as a video diary of when several of the team took the film on a screening tour, calling in on San Francisco along the way. Filmed, in black and white, in the June of 1997.
Finally, on the DVD, we have individual insights into four of the people responsible for the visual effects in THE SORE LOSERS. The first is Wheat Buckley, via a VHS recording he made at the time of production and sent through the post to McCarthy, in which he details his plans for the film's opening UFO effect. At 2 minutes in length, we don't get to see Wheat on screen: he's narrating over images he's filming on his archaic computer screen. He perhaps should've turned his TV off in the background, though! Next is "pop-occultist and FX whiz" Kevin Webster (no relation to his "Coronation Street" namesake), whose contribution is 45 seconds of VHS, er, effects test footage ... I guess? A "making of the motorcycle shoot" follows, shot by Kim Walker. This was filmed at Dragonwyck Studios in Memphis and is a great first-hand 4-minute account of the preparation and thought that went into this sequence. Last but not least, we get a fascinating 6-minute example of how McCarthy would converse with FX artist Joe Riley via VHS tapes sent to each other through the post - video conversations in play many moons before Facetime became a thing (albeit you probably had to wait a week until your reply arrived in the mail!).
We also get the film's original soundtrack on CD! Thirty tracks in total, and not a single one is over 3 minutes in length. Nice. You can't go far wrong with garage-style rock 'n' roll so picking out highlights is tough ... I will give special mentions to "(I'm a) Sore Loser" by The Royal Pendletons, the heavier "African Cowboy" by Gasoline (which has an infuriatingly familiar riff that I just can't place!), the MC5-tastic "Invader Ace" by Guitar Wolf, and "Shovel Fight" by The Drags.
Each of the three discs is graced with enjoyably colourful illustrations from McCarthy depicting scenes from his film, as is the reverse of the cover sleeve (in fact, I'd have preferred the reverse artwork over the cover used, but - hey ho!).
In short, this is a phenomenal release of an unsung gem of 90s exploitation cinema, and one of the most perfectly pitched odes to genre movies - and comics - of old that you'll find. It's great fun, endlessly entertaining and holds up extremely well.
Recommended at a very high level.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Guerrilla Monster Films|