Blu-Ray Review: Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (1988)

Fred Olen Ray’s cult classic gets a near definitive version from 88 Films.

One of the all-time great B flicks (number four according to men’s mag Maxim), a worthy U.K. release of Fred Olen Ray’s seminal HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS (1988) has been a long time coming. VHS distributor Colourbox’s original tape was shorn of over a minute of its comedic chainsaw carnage and, weirdly, forbidden from having the C word present in the film’s title, power tools being something of a sore point with Blighty’s censors post the Video Recordings Act. Though uncut for Midnight Movies’ 2000 DVD re-release, Ray’s stupendous programmer was presented in a fudged matted transfer; a non-anamorphic headache which clumsily slapped black widescreen bars over a cropped 4:3 image. Praise the Gods, then, for 88 Films. Their British port of Ray’s own Retromedia Blu-ray is nothing short of monumental.

Exquisitely mastered in 2K from the film’s negative (well, except for a scratchy first seven minutes which, as Ray explains in his insightful commentary, has been extensively restored from a 35mm answer print) Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers is visually sensational. Gorgeously colourful and packed with detail, at the risk of dusting off an old cliche, this made-in-five-days quickie, shot with re-cans and short ends, cannot and will not look – or sound – any better.

An irresistible mix of Noir pastiche, T&A, and cheap-o, trashy horror, Ray mainstay Jay Richardson (Haunting Fear (1990), Caged Fear (1996) and a boatload more) stars as Jack Chandler: a slightly sleazy gumshoe on the hunt for a missing teen runaway (a wonderfully dippy turn by Linnea Quigley). With Richardson relishing the wicked, spoof-y patter of Ray and T.L. Lankford’s gleefully absurd script, his Chandler is soon at the mercy of a deranged cabal of homicidal prostitutes who, naturally, worship an ancient Egyptian chainsaw Deity.

Made within the same five year stretch that would see a truly on-form Ray belt out such giddy gems as Star Slammer (1986), Armed Response (1986), Cyclone (1987), Alienator (1990), and the above noted Haunting Fear, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers is the director’s enduring masterpiece; a sharply assembled comedy bolstered by fine support from the beautiful, scene-stealing Michelle Bauer (credited here as Michelle McLellan); Haunted Garage’s mugging vocalist Dukey Flyswatter; and Leatherface himself, Gunnar Hansen, as the cult’s fabulously droll leader.

Featuring some exceptionally funny background sight gags, and bursts of jaw-droppingly surreal schlock spectacle – of which Quigley’s ritualistic Virgin Dance of the Double Chainsaws, and resulting, saw-wielding battle with Bauer is the undisputed highlight – Ray’s lip-smacker is packed with more invention than most films twice its seventy-four minute length. Simply, it’s a berserk blast of demented genius.

Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (1988) 1

With Ray one of the best talkers in the biz, his aforementioned yack track is the crown jewel of 88’s lavish set. Expertly moderated by fellow B movie maven – and learned Hookers devotee – David DeCoteau, it’s an anecdotal and technical delight, the two trading production nuggets (the film’s Egyptian temple finale, for instance, was cobbled together from left overs from the Grace Jones dud Vamp (1986), and horrendous sequel House II: The Second Story (1987)), and pondering the film’s place within the decade’s burgeoning Scream Queen phenomena.

Similar contextual overlap comes with 88’s bonus narration, this time supplied by critic and filmmaker Calum Waddell and Teenage Wasteland author J.A. Kerswell. An incisive and appreciative natter, Waddell and Kerswell examine Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers‘ slasher credentials (it is, after all, part of 88’s slasher line whether this writer agrees with said inclusion or not) and exhaustively map out why it’s taken so long for Scream Queendom to resonate with British fans. It’s fascinating stuff, for sure, and completely exclusive to 88’s package. They may, sadly, have missed out on including Retromedia’s alternate presentation of the film (a 1.66:1 HD version of it featured on Ray’s Blu, along with the 1.78:1 used here), but the company have completely trounced it with their bountiful spread of additional content.

88 have also gifted us with Quigley’s iconic 1990 Horror Workout; a move surely the boutique label coup of the year. The first time it’s been available at all on these shores, this American VHS staple is a playful, kitschy, hour-long mish-mash of aerobics, clips (from the likes of Nightmare Sisters (1988) and Creepozoids (1986) et al), zombies and – best of all – a Ronald Reagan-masked psycho killer; an uproariously goofball time capsule supported by a brilliant commentary of its own from Quigley and its director, Kenneth J. Hall.  

Ray, Richardson, Bauer and DeCoteau all pop up in ’27 Years Later’: a cracking, brand new, interview-led Making-Of culled from Retromedia. Two of their archival supplements, dating from their 2001 Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers Nite Owl DVD, round out the rest of 88’s mighty collection; the first being another, twenty-odd minute assembly of talking heads (with Quigley among them), and then a fantastically cheesy introduction from Ray himself.  

Damn near perfect, make no bones about it: 88 Films’ disc is near enough Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers‘ definitive version. Buy it, borrow it or steal it – but completists take note: it is, though, missing the old Ray and Lankford audio chinwag from Retromedia’s twentieth anniversary edition DVD.

Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers Blu-ray

HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS is out now via 88 Films

Follow Matty on Twitter @mattybudrewicz

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