In honor of Scarecrow Video's annual Psychotronic Challenge, which happens every October, we're choosing unstreamable films that check off boxes on the challenge's watch list this month. Here's that watch list.
Alsoooo, this week's column is extra special because tomorrow is Video Store Day. Let's get to it!
United States, 1974, 86 min, Dir. James H. Kay
Tomorrow, October 16, is Video Store Day, and Scarecrow Video will celebrate from 12 to 6 PM with online and in-store deals, including 50% off all used items in-store. There's also a day-long live stream on Scarecrow's YouTube, featuring short films, a video collage from Collide-O-Scope, a discussion of horror movies with Ken Jennings, and a pop-up visit from us at Unstreamable.
As for Scarecrow's monthlong Psychotronic Challenge, which we overviewed in our last column, this Saturday's challenge is "Video Store Day: Watch something physically rented or bought from an actual video store." This one's easy for people with access to Scarecrow; for the challenge, I tried to pick something with a physical case that stood out. So: The Gardener, which, look at that case! So shiny! I crossed my fingers that the film's aesthetic would match the case's, and I'm happy to say it's appropriately groovy.
The Gardener, also known as Garden of Death and Seeds of Evil, features Andy Warhol's favorite hunk Joe Dallesandro as a Satanic gardener who lures lily-white housewives with his own massive lilies. His gardening is vivid and otherworldly, even though the filmmaking is stiff, but the costumes are top-tier vintage. Overall, it's the sort of trashy, ridiculous crap you can only find at a video store. CHASE BURNS
United States, 1980, 92 min, Dir. Jeffrey Bloom
Blood Beach dares to ask the question: What if the sea—with its strong tides and violent creatures—wasn't the scariest part of the beach? What if the sand posed the most danger to all the young hotties on the shore?
This twisted Jaws rip-off knows it's a twisted Jaws rip-off. It's even apparent from the tagline, which obliquely references the iconic killer shark movie. Created five years after Jaws came out, the premise feeds off the fear stoked by the blockbuster. Loosely, beachgoers in Santa Monica keep getting gobbled up by the sand. Not in a terrific, visually punchy way, but rather in a slow, quicksand-like fashion with a belching sinkhole. This is all a major headache for two detectives (one of whom is played by Burt Young), who have to simultaneously juggle the bad publicity with finding the missing people.
Blood Beach is an absurd summer horror film, which you can also use to check "Video Store Day: Watch something physically rented or bought from an actual video store" off your psychotronic list. Get out there and support your local video store! JAS KEIMIG
United States, 1987, 90 min, Dir. Roberta Findlay
Director Roberta Findlay created a solid roster of exploitation films between the 1960s and 1980s, generating original fodder for America's grindhouses of the era. Unfortunately, she stopped making films by the '90s (and seems to avoid her fans). One of her final movies is the freaky Lurkers, which follows a woman who's been haunted by ghost-like "lurkers" ever since she was a little girl. She's been able to mostly ignore these lurkers as an adult, but everything gets discombobulated when she ends up back at her childhood apartment for a party. (This movie works for the Psychotronic Challenge's "Martini Shot: Blow off some steam with a hardy party scene" challenge.)
Notably, synthesizer pioneer Walter Sear has a significant relationship with the film, working as its producer, editor, production manager, and, most importantly, composer. Sear built one of the earliest Moog synthesizers with Robert Moog, which devotees will immediately recognize for its beastly and robotic sounds. (For a fun initiation to the instrument, watch Leonard Bernstein introduce it in this Young People's Concert episode from 1969.) Sear's score for Lurkers is spooky and spectral, something tinny and mad to throw on at a weird party. CHASE BURNS
Canada, 1986, 96 min, Dir. William Fruet
Be forewarned: there is no blue monkey in Blue Monkey, a Canuxploitation movie that gets off to the races from the moment you press "play." An old handyman somehow injures his finger on a rare Micronesian plant, causing him almost immediately to collapse and get sick. Once he gets to the hospital he coughs up an insect larva that puzzles doctors, who worry his disease might spread to the other patients. One thing leads to another—nurses get distracted by sex, children sprinkle growth hormone on the larva, chests explode, soldiers force the hospital into quarantine—and before we know it, a giant murderous insect sets up shop beneath the building to lay its eggs and cause havoc.
It's a delicious and goopy horror movie not for the entomophobic, with a monster reveal that was somewhat hard to see on VHS tape. But who cares, I almost let out a "yeeeeehawww" when the giant creature ripped off a poor patient's head in the movie's final act. Fire up your VCR, pop this bad boy in, and remove "Heads Off at the Pass: Something with a decapitation in it" from your psychotronic list. JAS KEIMIG
*Unstreamable means we couldn't find it on Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, or any of the other 300+ streaming services available in the United States. We also couldn't find it available for rent or purchase through platforms like Prime Video or iTunes. Yes, we know you can find many things online illegally, but we don't consider user-generated videos, like unauthorized YouTube uploads, to be streamable.