For a period that ran roughly from the early 1980s through to the mid-1990s, there were a couple of strands of zero-budget film genres that were taking advantage of (relatively) cheap home video equipment and the alternative, pre-internet distribution network offered by the underground horror and cult movie press. On the one hand, there were the low-budget gore movies that arguably began with the likes of Donald Farmer’s Cannibal Hookers and would include variable efforts like Snuff All Bitches, 555, Truth Or Dare and more, while on the other hand, we had the rather more interesting films that spawned from the Cinema of Transgression of Nick Zedd, Richard Kern and their ilk.
Emerging in 1988, Charles Pinion’s debut movie Twisted Issues sits on the fence between both genres, leaning more to the latter in terms of style and attitude, but appropriating the splatter movie ethos of the former. At the time of release, Pinion’s savvy and streetwise promotion ensured that the film received extensive coverage in the horror fanzines and underground press – more so than any other SOV film of the time would get. Now, the film is out on DVD as an ‘official bootleg’, and I’m glad to say stands up very well – rather better, in fact, than many mainstream movies of the period.
The film is a series of loosely connected incidents taking place in the Gainesville, Florida skate punk scene, held together by the story of a skater who is run over then brought back to life by a mad scientist to take revenge on his killers. In between that, we have a series of oddball, humorous, surreal incidents, including Pinion himself as half of a self-destructive but seemingly immortal couple, pill-pushing demons and lots of band performances. The horror elements are suitably gory and Pinion ensures that there is always something visually arresting around the corner, making this a wonderfully entertaining, self-consciously trashy affair. But the passage has time has made the film something else too – a rare record of a local music scene, untainted by Hollywood commercial requirements. As such, it’s pretty essential, even if the bands themselves – Doldrums, Mutley Chix, Officer Friendly, Hellwitch and more – might not exactly be household names.
Seen now, it’s interesting how the film holds up, and why. While at the time it was a widely derided format, seen now, the analogue, pre HD, pre-digital and probably pre Hi-8 video format actually works well for this sort of film. Today, with HD cameras, Final Cut and assorted filters, even the cheapest film can take on a fairly professional sheen (which ironically often exposes other weaknesses) but this grungy, slightly blurry, roughly edited movie has an authenticity to it that you won’t see any more – like watching old super 8 film, it feels like a period piece even without the haircuts, the fashions and the music.
And while the film suffers from iffy sound, variable performances and dodgy effects, none of this takes away from the visual imagination, Pinion’s sure-handed direction and the weird, oddball atmosphere that often makes the film seem like a down ‘n’ dirty cousin of Repo Man. With innovative use of TV cut-up footage – the false reality of television playing a major role in this story – and the relentless and uniformly good soundtrack, Twisted Issues is a rare example of a film that is very much of its time, and yet just as effective now. If you have the VHS, this is a worthy upgrade; if not, now’s the chance to find out what all the fuss was about.