By Casey Campbell
Sometimes, judging a book by its cover can be warranted. Just look at this thing. It’s gorgeous.
Released by Connecticut based film preservation distributor Vinegar Syndrome, “Homegrown Horrors: Volume 1” is a collection of three extraordinarily low budget films from directors that no one has probably heard of. And that’s kind of the point. As film preservationists, Vinegar Syndrome set out to ensure that straight-to-VHS releases from the ’80s and ’90s won’t go the way of the dodo. It’s a similar sentiment to how a great swath of silent films from the early 1900s have been lost. All that film history—gone.
The films featured in this extremely well put together set run the gamut of endearing trash, bewilderingly fun, and, uh, strange. They are Fatal Exam, Beyond Dream’s Door, and Winterbeast. An extra cool inclusion to this curation is the way each film uses their location. They’re all very much from their respective areas; Missouri, Ohio, and Massachusetts respectively.
Described as a “truly local slice of ultra low budget supernatural-slasher,” Fatal Exam is the brainchild of Missouri native and writer/editor/director/producer (plus a whole slew of other credits) Jack Snyder. The story follows a group of college students sent out to a supposedly haunted house by their professor with the intent of studying the paranormal.
As a story, it’s not the most engaging, yet at the same time implores you to care based on how blatantly earnest every element of the production seemed to have been. They shot on 16mm and the restoration used the original negatives to scale the presentation to 2K, every bit of dialogue is rough and dubbed with the same accuracy as a Showa Era Godzilla movie, and the fleeting sequences of action are stiff as a board. It’s the culmination of a persons dream to make a movie where they seemingly did most of it themselves.
Possibly the biggest hindrance of the film is it’s unwieldy structure and length. In short, the editing barely skimmed the fat that should’ve been excised with a cleaver. I’m talking a 114 minute long feature that could’ve been trimmed to 80 minutes. The middle turn of the film, where it goes from paranormal horror to slasher, certainly helps on that final stretch but couldn’t save the unmitigated ambition on display.
As a product of it’s time and a relic for the twelve people out there that probably saw this in 1990 when it was released, Fatal Exam may be able to hold onto your attention for the runtime. Otherwise, I can’t say there’s too much to love about it. Other than the effort of course. That’s unmistakable.
The film is also available for free via Tubi.