top of page
  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

The Abomination (1986) Blu-ray Review


Visual Vengeance

Blu-ray Release: September 26, 2022

Video: 1.33:1/1080p (SD master)/Color

Audio: English LPCM 2.0 stereo

Subtitles: English SDH

Run Time: 90:15

Directors: Bret McCormick


Deep in the heart of rural Texas, a TV evangelist exorcizes a tumor from the body of a loyal worshiper, who soon coughs up the growth. Unknownst to her, the cancer is actually a carnivorous life form that slithers its way into her son Cody (Scott Davis) while he sleeps, growing inside him until he is completely under its control. Now, Cody must feed the beast fresh victims to keep them both alive, as the monster grows out larger and larger, threatening to feast on everyone in its path. (From Visual Vengeance’s official synopsis)



Nostalgia for the VHS rental era is like any other form of entertainment nostalgia in that it is less about the media itself and more about the feelings surrounding said media. For a lot of Gen X and Millenial horror fans, our nostalgia is tied to the ritual of rental. One underrated part of that ritual was the way that some mom & pop stores use to decorate – stuff like little haunted house sets for their horror collections or beaded curtains roping off their adult sections from prying underaged eyeballs. There was one Phoenix area store (Video Paradise in Chandler) that had particularly well-stocked horror and foreign movie shelves. One day, I noticed that the adult section had two partitions and behind the first one was a collection of horror and mondo movies that the staff didn’t want children to find, like Faces of Death and its imitators, Italian cannibal chillers, German underground attrocities, and Alejandro Jodorowsky movies (for some reason). Among these forbidden treasures and dregs was a mysterious, grotty-looking tape entitled The Abomination.


The feature debut from Texas-based filmmaker Bret McCormick (technically his second attempt at filmmaking, following a basically unseen anthology called Tabloid, The Abomination (1986) was one of two homemade horror films that McCormick made with his friend Matt Devlen, the other being Ozone: Attack of the Redneck Mutants (1986, written and directed by Devlen, not to be confused with Pericles Lewnes’ Redneck Zombies [1987]). It perfectly encapsulates that strange era during the 1980s and early ‘90s, when zero-budget, DIY movies were shot using consumer-grade equipment – in this case 8mm, but just as often often VHS and Beta video – received unprecedented, nationwide distribution via video rental stores, where it potentially sat on the shelf beside Hollywood classics, major blockbusters, and arthouse darlings.



The Abomination is essentially a Polonia Brothers meet Herschell Gordon Lewis take on Little Shop of Horrors (1960), relocated to rural Texas and topped off with a little body-horror. Roger Corman’s lighthearted laughs and camp appeal is replaced by over-the-top violence and bitter satire of televangelism, which was a hot topic concept in the mid ‘80s. That satire (highlighted by poop jokes) sets it apart from most homespun SOV/SO8mm horrors, but the scale of its ambition is what puts it on par with other enduring Super 8 favorites, namely J.R. Bookwalter’s The Dead Next Door (1989) and Leif Jonker’s Darkness (1993). Those films had modest special effects crews at their disposal that The Abomination didn’t, so it is through sheer force of will that McCormick & Co. still managed to fill the frame with nearly as many gory delights, many of them better executed than 35mm theatrical releases from 1986. In this regard, another good point of comparison might be Douglas McKeown’s 16mm creature-fest, The Deadly Spawn (1983), which features a similarly toothsome, though more mechanically complicated titular creature. Again, despite their independent nature, all of these films had more time, manpower, and money at their disposal than The Abomination. They also have an overall sense of plot and narrative logic that sort of disguises them as ‘real’ movies. You won’t find a lot of that here, aside from those very basic connections to Little Shop of Horrors and a very strange framing device where the protagonist/killer is narrating the events of the film to the family doctor (or I guess a police detective?), seemingly born out of the lack of on-set audio recording and need to completely ADR the original footage. Like so many cottage industry horror movies that escaped into the wild, The Abomination runs on the insane vibes of youthful energy and creativity. And, of course, literal bucketfuls of body parts, intestines, and other various viscera. My only real criticism is that McCormick fills time by opening the film with a gore reel that threatens to ruin an otherwise effective escalation of mayhem, but this isn’t a big enough problem to hinder the overall brain-melting experience that is The Abomination.


Bibliography

Bleeding Skull!: A 1980s Trash-Horror Odyssey by Joseph A. Ziemba & Dan Budnik (Headpress, 2013)



Video

The Abomination wasn’t a widely available tape, but if you know where to look (sometimes behind a partition), you could find the Donna Michelle Productions VHS. Digital versions were another story. The only official discs (as far as I can tell) were two R2, PAL locked discs, one from Crocofilms in France (a double-feature with Ozone) and one from Shock in Holland, and a very limited edition DVDR Abomination and Ozone collection from Muther Video, reportedly mastered using the filmmakers’ own original ¾-inch tape. This Visual Vengeance/Wild Eye Releasing Blu-ray is also sourced from a ¾-inch tape and mastered in standard definition by the producer (I assume Matt Devlen).


This is a slight disappointment since The Abomination was, indeed, shot on film and J.R. Bookwalter proved that you can juice a decent transfer from Super 8 when he self-published the Dead Next Door Blu-ray in 2015. Even if they didn’t have the funds to do a 2K restoration, it would’ve been fun to experience the movie as it was originally filmed. Still, those film elements might be long gone (though I doubt it, given the okay condition of 8mm outtakes on this BD) and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that McCormick and Rebecca Lowden edited the footage on tape, anyway. This (technically) 1080p, 1.33:1 transfer has all the hallmarks of a SD video-based transfer – blown-out whites, edge haloes, fuzzy details, chroma noise, gibb effects, and some of those pesky tracking lines. You can get an idea as to what a 8mm-based transfer might have looked like, as there are also plenty of film-based artifacts buzzing behind the analogue issues. It is what it is and Visual Vengeance have done what they could with what they had, for what it’s worth.



Audio

The Abomination is presented in its original stereo sound and uncompressed LPCM 2.0. As I mentioned in the review, most of the movie was shot without sound or with unusable sound, so a lot of the audio is either ADR, post-dub effects, or music. The original mix isn’t bad, honestly, aside from the issue inherent with ADR on a budget, such as inconsistent volume levels between performers and sequences. Actual damage, buzz, and hiss is minimal. The music is credited to Kim Davis, Richard Davis, and John Hudek. Kim Davis was also an associate producer and continues working as a Hollywood location manager and, I suspect that this is an IMDb.com error, but, apparently, Richard Davis is the famed jazz and symphonic bassist who just passed away a few weeks ago. Again, it seems incredibly unlikely that it’s the same guy, but that would be an amazing connection. Some of the cues are cheapo synth numbers, perfectly emblematic of DIY horror, while others seem ‘borrowed’ from other movies.



Extras

  • Commentary with Bret McCormick, Rob Hauschild, and Matt Desiderio – The director is joined by modern day schlock-meister Hauschild and Visual Vengeance’s Desiderio, who acts as moderator. The energy level is kind of low and the recording quality is a little rough, but Desiderio asks some good questions to keep the discussion moving and McCormick comes pretty well prepared, offering up amusing stories about the making of and sale/distribution of The Abomination, as well as personal anecdotes about the friends and family that helped him make the movie. Hauschild is oddly confrontational throughout, but also adds useful information about the DIY film industry.

  • Commentary with Tony Strauss – The Weng’s Chop magazine writer/editor’s track is a full-bore Bret McCormick biography, delving deeper into the director’s life, career, co-conspirators, and the movies and other fiction that inspired The Abomination. There is some overlap between the commentaries, obviously, but the tones are so different that including both is entirely justified.

  • Monster Kid Movie Maverick (63:17, HD) – An extensive interview with McCormick (aka: Max Raven) covering his childhood love of monster movies, learning the mechanics of of filmmaking from his uncle, his tween and teenhood home movies (including clips/stills), schooling, his first real movie job as assistant camera on William R. Stromberg’s Crater Lake Monster (1977), moving to Dallas, his struggles financing and distributing his first film, Tabloid, developing Abomination and Ozone in back-to-back, finding greater success with semi-mainstream pictures like Highway to Hell (1990), relationships with Fred Olen Ray and AIP, for which he made movies on the cheap out in Dallas, and the making of all of his post Abomination work.

  • Abomination Chow (6:30, HD) – Actress and McCormick’s ex-wife Blue Thompson briefly recalls some fond and not-so-fond memories from behind-the-scenes of Abomination and Ozone.

  • Interview with Victoria Chaney (5:11, HD) – Chaney, who plays the televangelist' secretary, quickly chats about her and most of her family appearing in Abomination, in this tongue-in-cheek interview.

  • Interview with Michael Jack Shoel (14:47, HD) – Shoel was in charge of the film’s original VHS distributor, Donna Michelle Productions, and talks about designing poster and VHS art, the film’s cult audience, and other Donna Michelle releases.

  • Poolville, Texas: The Other Hollywood (13:10, HD) – A location tour hosted by McCormick.

  • Super 8 outtakes and raw footage: reel 1 (28:34, HD)

  • Super 8 outtakes and raw footage: reel 2 (17:47, HD)

  • Behind the Scenes: The Stairway (1:21, HD)

  • Behind The Scenes: Tumor Test (1:37, HD)

  • Image gallery

  • Interview with The Abomination (text-based)

  • Bret McCormick’s early Super 8 movies (5:55, HD)

  • Visual Vengeance trailer archive – Vampires And Other Stereotypes (1994), Splatter Farm (1987), and Violent New Breed (1997).

  • Bret McCormick trailer archive – Ozone: Attack of the Redneck Mutants, Repligator (1998), Highway to Hell, Re-Animator Academy (1992; I guess Judith Priest is one of his aliases), Children of Dracula (1994), Bio-Tech Warrior (1996), and Time Tracers (1997)




The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.


0 comments

Comments


bottom of page