Features and Columns · Movies

Vinegar Syndrome’s Archive Line Brings Forgotten Fun Back Into the Light

You’ve never seen ‘Savage Harbor’ or ‘Evil Town’ but some of you probably should.
Savage Harbor
By  · Published on June 14th, 2019

Vinegar Syndrome‘s entire existence is based on finding older genre films that, for the most part, time has forgotten, and then restoring and releasing them back into the world complete with new extras. They’ve brought more than a few fan favorites back to life, but their specialty rests in turning the previously unknown into new favorites. Each month sees the label release beautiful Blu-ray editions true classics (The Telephone Book, 1971), indie gems (There’s Nothing Out There, 1991), and bat-shit crazy brilliance (Demon Wind, 1990). That will continue (hopefully forever), but this month saw them start a new line of releases as well.

The Vinegar Syndrome Archive collection will focus on “forgotten cinematic oddities from the video store era” so expect all manner of genre fun from the 70s, 80s, and presumably into the 90s. The titles will be lower priced than the label’s usual fare, but that doesn’t mean they’re short-changing the films or the extras — the movies are still being scanned and restored in 2K from the best available sources, and new extra features are included. The releases are limited to a tight 2500 units (each individually numbered) available only at Vinegar Syndrome’s official site and honest to goodness brick ‘n’ mortar video stores, and they include a double-sided poster too. Even better, the films come in gorgeous, bottom-loading hard cases featuring alternating original artwork on both sides. They’re beautiful, slick, and awesome to the touch. Hell, they even smell great.

The first two releases are available now — Savage Harbor (1987) is a wonderfully bonkers action flick, and Evil Town (1977) is a mash-up of horror, sci-fi, and utter ridiculousness — and we’re taking a closer look at both below.

Red Dots

Savage Harbor (1987)

“Do you like avocados?” It’s an innocent enough question, but for Joe (Frank Stallone) it’s just the beginning of a courtship that includes dry-humping in the park as foreplay and gunplay as, well, gunplay. He spends half of the year at sea bathed in the company of seamen like his good friend Bill (Christopher Mitchum), but he starts to doubt the sailor lifestyle after saving Anne (Karen Mayo-Chandler) from a handsy good Samaritan while on shore leave. She has a past involving drugs and prostitution, but Joe only cares about their future together. They share some blissful days and nights rubbing up against each other, but when Joe heads back out to sea for a few months things get ugly for Anne back on land. He returns to discover she’s missing, but he’ll leave no stone unturned or punk un-punched in his search for the woman he probably loves.

Savage Harbor aka Death Feud aka Slammers is an old-school action picture on a budget, but just because the filmmakers couldn’t afford big-name talent, a second draft of their script, or epic action doesn’t mean it’s not an entertaining experience. To the contrary, the film is good fun despite its obvious and evident limitations. Writer/director Carl Monson takes a basic setup, massages it in all the right places, and then sprinkles it liberally with dialogue like this — “You’ve got a big yen, and I’m not talking about Chinese money.” It’s all played deadly serious which adds to its charm, and while you won’t believe any of the relationships unfolding on the screen you’ll absolutely believe that Stallone, Mitchum, and company believe it. Gun fights involve plenty of bloody squibs, dramatic reactions, and bodies falling to the ground, and we also get some fist fights and an explosion or two.

As straightforward as the plot seems, the film gives time over to some unexpected subplots including Bill’s own search for love (or something like it) and Anne’s messed up life. She’s abducted and re-addicted to that asshole monkey called heroin which leads to flashbacks (dreams?) of her standing in front of a mirror, outdoors, and taking off her top. Her tranquil self-reflection is interrupted by her own screams when when she realizes her dad is watching with a stern look on his face. Don’t judge the man too harshly, though, as Joe’s visit to him later while searching for Anne leads the old guy to acknowledge that “It was hard for me to raise a girl child.” See? We all have our struggles.

Savage Harbor is a fun watch for folks who don’t need perfection or anything even remotely resembling it, and fans of late night 80s action will have a great time with it. Vinegar Syndrome’s new Blu-ray, on the other hand, is their usual slice of presentation perfection. From the aforementioned and very cool exterior case to the reversible sleeve art and included poster, to the clean restoration from the original 35mm negative, this is the best way you can hope to watch the film (outside of traveling back in time and finding one of the handful of theaters that probably screened it). The disc also includes two new special features.

Savage Harbor is available directly from Vinegar Syndrome.

Red Dots

Evil Town (1985-ish)

Four friends arrive in a small town on the back of their broken-down van, but there are worse places to spend a few nights than a Mendocino, CA-like community. Well, in theory anyway, as the friends soon discover that the locals are to some shenanigans involving the abduction and death of young folks passing through. A brilliant but clearly insane doctor is foregoing his oath to do no harm in favor of experimenting on unwilling victims in order to achieve a medically sound resistance to old age.

Few films have the troubled and cluttered history of Evil Town aka God Damn Dr. Shagetz aka God Bless Grandma and Grandpa, but depending on your point of view the film’s crazy history might just add to the joy that is the final product. What started in the 70s — under Curtis Hanson’s direction! — morphed over the years to include more cooks in the kitchen (Larry Spiegel, Peter S. Traynor, Mohammad Rustam) and new footage making for a different experience depending on when you happened to catch its release. The current version is a fun, low budget genre romp that feels almost like a re-imagining of the brilliant Dead & Buried (1981) by someone who’d never actually seen it. That’s both a knock and a reason to watch, and that goes doubly for fans of weird tales about why we should all fear small towns.

The recognizable faces here vary depending on your age, but for most it’s James Keach who will probably stand out the most as one of the young’uns trapped in this hellish Mayberry. He’s joined by Robert Walker Jr. — the name won’t ring a bell, but you’ve seen him in your favorite television shows from the 60s through the 80s — and the evil doctor is played by Dean Jagger. They all do capable work here (although Jagger’s health is clearly affecting his performance), and the thrills are a playful blend of foot chases, needle pokes, and off-screen diddling. It’s goofy fun.

Fans of Vinegar Syndrome’s release of the even nuttier Evils of the Night (1985) will recognize some very evident similarities in the story, and they’re all attributable to Rustam. He co-wrote and directed that later film, and he clearly had no issue spreading plot points between the productions. The footage he added to Evil Town follows similar beats, but rather than work against it the additions add a surreal quality to a film that now consists of footage shot over nearly a decade and then mashed together into one ridiculous tale. The result is an occasionally shoddy but never less than entertaining experience for viewers fond of mad scientists, perverted lackeys, topless women, and buttermilk.

The new release includes a reversible sleeve, a poster, the awesome hard case, and a new restoration that does the best possible work for the film’s picture. Jumps between decades in which it was filmed are noticeable, but it adds to the film’s weird charm. We also get a couple of new special features.

Evil Town is available directly from Vinegar Syndrome.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.