HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS (1988) Amazon.com Blu-ray exclusive
Director: Fred Olen Ray
Retromedia Entertainment

The HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS "charge an arm and a leg" Fred Olen Ray's iconic 1980s cult classic, on limited edition Blu-ray from Retromedia.

On the hunt for runaway Oxnard teenager Samantha (Linnea Quigley, CREEPOZOIDS), Los Angeles private detective Jack Chandler (Jay Richardson, TEENAGE EXORCIST) stumbles across an LAPD investigation into a series of chainsaw serial killings when thinks homicide detective Harrison's (Dennis T. Mooney, DEATH HOUSE) "Cuisinart Queen" suspect (Dawn Wildsmith, EVILS OF THE NIGHT) – caught "making Chicken McNuggets with a chainsaw" – might be the missing girl. Noting the girl's reaction to the photograph of Samantha, Jack starts to wonder if the missing girl has become mixed up in these chainsaw killings. Swiping a matchbook for the West Side Bar from the girl's personal effects (among them a pair of severed fingers) from the police lab, Jack discovers missing teen stripping on the stage but is slipped a mickey by hooker Mercedes (Michelle Bauer, HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS). Waking up tied to a bed, he learns from the mysterious Stranger (Gunnar Hansen, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE) that the chainsaw killings are the work of his cult of Horus-worshipping "slice-happy sluts." Unless he can work his sleazy charms on would-be initiate Samantha, Jack may end up being the next human sacrifice when she performs the ritual "Virgin Dance of the Double Chainsaws."

Although Fred Olen Ray had already directed a handful of features – including SCALPS and THE TOMB – and about a hundred since, the five-day wonder HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS may be his most iconic work then and now (it got a premiere at the Egyptian Theater with media coverage and is still the film he hears most about from fans according to the commentary and behind the scenes featurettes). Although it has its share of tits and blood, it is not a slasher bloodbath but a spoof of film noir carried almost entirely by Richardson's performance, Quigley's amiability, and the underrated comic timing of Bauer (who dons a shower cap and covers her Elvis poster with a plastic tarp before chainsawing a victim in a shower of blood and toy store body parts). Hansen, whether intentionally or not, conveys the right amount of gravitas and levity; although he was better known by name than face or voice for most horror fans. Los Angeles punk band Haunted Garage's Dukey Flyswatter is on hand as the West End Bar's bartender (and the clientele are made up of the film's entire crew, including ten year old Christopher Ray), and THE REPO MAN's Fox Harris is on hand as one of the quirkier victims.

Although given a scant theatrical and then VHS release by producers Camp Video, Ray maintained ownership of the film and released it on DVD in 2001 in a letterboxed transfer and then in 2008 with an anamorphic transfer and commentary by Ray and co-writer T.L. Lankford (SCALPS). Scanned in 2K from most of the original negative, the MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen transfer looks mostly good given the budgetary restrictions and some sharpening (although not as extreme as on some of their DVD film transfers); however, the first reel of the negative went missing after HBO borrowed it to strike their television master so that footage had to be patched in from the film's original 35mm answer print. For the first seven minutes, the image is a little contrasty with harsher colors but it looks better than most of us are probably expecting a film of this budget to ever look; and yet, once we get to the negative source, clarity and crispness make a nice leap and it almost looks like a million dollar film (rather than a five-hundred thousand dollar one). The original mono track is dropped in favor of a Dolby Digital 5.1 upmix. It's not a stunning surround experience given the many buzzing chainsaws on the track, but it is not distracting either.

The Blu-ray drops the Ray/Lankford commentary in favor of a lively new track with Ray and moderated by David DeCoteau (CREEPOZOIDS), appropriately so since DeCoteau would hire a number of crew members for SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-O-RAMA (also featuring Bauer, Quigley, and Flyswatter as the voice of the imp) on the basis of their work here. There is plenty of namedropping between the two of them, but it is always quite welcome as one marvels over the many low budget luminaries and later mainstream successes they crossed paths with. Ray worked out of the front room of the office of producer George Edwards (QUEEN OF BLOOD) and the film was shot in the small studio of Lucky Brown Ewing (THE ASTOUNDING SHE MONSTER) and Ray's producer was Nancy Paloian (who would go on to produce ANTWONE FISHER and DUDE, WHERE'S MY CAR? among others). The sets consisted of one room constantly repainted and redressed in between shots in the temple (which made use of Aztec flats from HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY and Grace Jones' sarcophagus from VAMP), the bar, and Ray's own home (annoying his then-neighbors Jeffrey Combs and Edie McClurg). Ray was able to get Hansen – who was living in Maine and had published a book of poems – through his friendship with Don Jackson (THE DEMON LOVER). Ray discusses how the actresses had to wield the chainsaws with real blades for some shots and with a felt liner in others, and that Quigley nearly passed out from standing in the closed sarcophagus with the revved chainsaws giving off fumes. Of the new transfer, they note being able to see the edge of the slates pulling out of frame because of the use of short-ends and hearing camera noise in some shots, but also surprise at how good the film looks (and has ever looked since many times during this period they went with one light telecines because of the lab fees).

The retrospective featurette (23:14) from the DVD editions is carried over here where Ray reveals that the film was one of two ideas he pitched to porn label L.A. Video who wanted to go mainstream with the Camp Video sub-label. Ray had been brought in to rewrite the murder scenes for Trans World Entertainment's MOON IN SCORPIO directed by Gary Graver (who would shoot HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS' second unit). Since Graver was doing an Orson Welles film festival in Europe, Ray directed the scenes with DP Scott Ressler (who had worked as assistant camera on THE TOMB and EVIL SPAWN) with the agreement with TWE that he could use the camera equipment on the weekends. He and Bauer separately recall the photo shoot he commissioned (and we see some alternate images) while Quigley recalls working with the chainsaws and calling in her husband/effects artist Steve Johnson (HOWING IV: THE ORIGINAL NIGHTMARE) to help Wildsmith paint her wardrobe for the climactic scene (and how clips of her in it played on network TV because the programmers did not realize she was nude with body paint). Ray closes with a remark that he expended more effort producing this featurette than shooting the original film; and, surprisingly, Ray has produced a new retrospective featurette for the Blu-ray with "Remembering Chainsaw Hookers 27 Years Later" (21:32) featuring Ray, Bauer, and Richardson. Ray and Bauer reiterate some of the same information and anecdotes while Richardson recalls how the film was his first chance to get back into acting and chuckles at his "one take performance" and how it led to years of additional collaborations.

An amusing extra is the vintage "Movie Time Hollywood Premiere" (3:53) in which later Oscar-nominated actor Greg Kinnear pays his dues condescendingly covering the film's premiere interviewing Quigley, Wildsmith, Camp Video's Jim Goff, Sybil Danning (who is "always interested in a seeing a good documentary"), and cabaret act "Les Stevens and the Lovely Carol". In both of the featurettes, Ray notes that he was not interviewed nor mentioned by the Camp Video representatives during the premiere. Also carried over from the DVD is the "Nite Owl Theater Intro" which Ray recorded with wife/current producer Miss Kim (BIKINI AIRWAYS) for the Retromedia labels first releases. The intro does not give any specificities about the film as Ray strolls through his "estate" and is tended to by topless housekeeping, but the outro gag does feature a chainsaw. The film's spoiler-some but amusing theatrical trailer (2:31) rounds out the package. (Eric Cotenas)