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Release Date: January 30th, 2024 Movie Release Year: 1997

Vile 21

Overview -

Vile 21 is an obscure mid-90s SOV creature feature from special effects master Mike Strain Jr. The film follows a scientist who creates a monster after combining his secret serum with the DNA of a mysterious meteor. Drawing inspiration from campy sci-fi flicks of the 50s, the film gained a following due to its practical effects and audacious story. Resurrected from VHS purgatory by VHShitfest and OCN Distribution, the Blu-ray presents the film with a solid A/V package and a wealth of bonus features for fans of Strain’s stop-motion monster flick. For Fans Only

When Dr. Walter Hall creates a drug that turns men into unstoppable beasts the government will stop at nothing to get it. Forced by the pressure of authority, Dr. Hall injects Jon, an unsuspecting bum, and unleashes a terror on the community. Five days in one man’s life gives him an eternity in hell when he reopened an old experiment, when he reopens… Vile 21! Made in the mid-90s by special effects veteran Mike Strain Jr., Vile 21 is an SFX tour de force of creatures, gore, stop motion, and rubber masks. VHSHITFEST is beyond excited to bring this regional obscurity to disc for the first time with a new edit transferred from the original master!

directed by: Mike Strain Jr. 
starring: Daniel Skinner, Brian Southwick, Ronnie Sorter
1997 / 76 min / 1.33:1 / English DTS-HD MA 2.0

Additional info:

  • Region Free Blu-ray
  • Brand new special edition cut transferred from the original master
  • Original VHS cut
  • Audio commentary by Mike Strain Jr.
  • Audio commentary by Ronnie Sorter, “The Genetic Monster: The Making of Vile 21”
  • Behind the scenes
  • Bonus film: “Hotel of Terror”
  • Deleted scenes
  • English SDH subtitles

For Fans Only
Rating Breakdown
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Brand new special edition cut transferred from the original master
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p/AVC MPEG-4
Aspect Ratio(s):
Audio Formats:
English DTS-HD MA 2.0
English SDH
Special Features:
Oaktree Studios Trailers (4mins), Oaktree Studios Merchandise Ad (0:30sec), Short Film: Bits-n-Pieces (31mins), Behind the Scenes of Bits-n-Pieces (40mins), Short Film: Hotel of Terror (32mins), Behind the scenes of Hotel of Terror (30mins)
Release Date:
January 30th, 2024

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take


“It’s like there’s a living organism within the meteor.”

On the surface, Vile 21 is a standard creature feature, but it's so much more than that. The 1998 debut feature from special effects artist Mike Strain Jr.(You’re Next) not only plays out as a practical effects sizzle reel but, more importantly, examines the dangers of scientific hubris and the implications of genetic manipulation. Though horrors abound and plenty of gross effects occupy the runtime, the mix of ethical implications and authoritative overreach elevates the film above petty schlock. 

The film opens in the year 2020 (Gasp!), where a hideous monster is trapped in a cave after terrorizing local kids. Genetic scientist Walter Hall (Daniel Skinner, PMS Cop) gets a call from shady government agent Patruski (Ronnie Sortor, Sinistre) asking for help. Walter admits to working on a serum to destroy the monster, a monster he created years ago. We cut to an archeological dig back in ‘95, unearthing a mysterious meteorite. Soon, Walter’s team is studying the discovery under the arm of Patruski’s secretive government agency. The stoic agent pushes for animal and human trials, or else he’ll pull the funding for Walter’s lab. Feeling the pressure of losing his life’s work, Walter injects vagrant Jon (Steve Kelley, Ravage) with the meteor’s organic material and a vile of his own serum. 

Playing like an X-Files episode through the lens of Larry Cohen, Vile 21 showcases confident practical effects work highlighted by a supernatural element under the watch of a government agency. Strain focuses on character-building and establishing conflict while building tension for the monster’s release. He knows the building blocks of a good creature feature and how to keep viewers engaged. As a first-time filmmaker, he takes big risks, including a car stunt sequence that pays off handsomely. The sets are spartan but dressed quite well, considering the production. Walter’s lab is filled with various pieces of equipment that appear suited for the scenes, while Jack’s ominous office space speaks volumes about his character. There is confidence in shot composition and editing leaps and bounds above most schlocky SOV fare.  

An effects artist by trade, Strain revels in the monster work. The strongest moments occur after Walter succumbs to the pressure and finds a donor for the vile. As the homeless vagrant begins to transform, we’re given some of the best practical effects I’ve seen in an SOV feature. Shots of tearing fabric reveal intricate makeup appliances throbbing and pulsating. Horns pierce through a shirt. Shoes burst, revealing massive red hooves growing inside. It's all very impressive work that culminates in revealing the monster headpiece resembling a demonic pig.  

Performances throughout the feature are fairly wooden, like the dialogue, but the cast gives it their all. Ronnie Sortor’s intimidating Putarski is committed and brimming with intensity. Daniel Skinner brings Walter a sense of vulnerability and humanity even as the intensity grows to catch the hideous monster. The supporting cast is having a bit of fun even when asked to spew lines of scientific jargon. VIP for Vile 21 goes to Steve Kelley as “Jon the Bum” for his performance during the transformation scenes and for giving the monster a sense of humanity that could’ve been lost in lesser hands. 

Living in obscurity for most of its life, Vile 21 was rejected by well-known cult VHS labels before finding a home with Brimstone Productions. Only a few thousand tapes were sold until it fell into oblivion. Mike Strain Jr.’s ode to horror sci-fi flicks of the Corman era feels at home in the pre-digital era of monster movies. The commitment to imbuing the story with ethical quandaries and Harryhausen-inspired stop-motion makes for a unique creature feature that VHS hounds should seek out.   

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Vile 21 arrives on Blu-ray thanks to VHShitfest and OCN Distribution. The disc is housed in a transparent keep case with reversible artwork. Loading the disc presents the VHShitfest logo before landing on the Main Menu screen with typical navigation options adjacent to scenes from the film playing on a loop. 

Video Review


A disclaimer informs us that this version of Vile 21 was re-edited by Ronnie Sortor in 2023 and approved by the director. This version uses the original SVHS-C master tapes that are transferred at the highest quality. Elements from the original VHS edit replaced any missing shots from these master tapes. 

The monster is contained within an AVC-encoded 1080p HD image in the film’s original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Even with the new edits and a new HD transfer, Vile 21 retains its SOV aesthetic with some caveats. New digital insert shots seem out of place and don’t offer a seamless addition to the film. Noise permeates the image, with nighttime scenes getting the worst of it. Analog fuzz is prevalent, adding heaps of nostalgia to the proceedings. Minimal detail, though some peek through in close-up shots. Skin tones are relatively even. Primaries are discernible, with reds and greens popping nicely, and blues are strong in costuming. 

Audio Review


Vile 21 breaks through with a solid DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix that gets the job done. This 2023 re-edit features a new score from Todd Reynolds. The original music tracks were mostly metal bands from Strain’s hometown, which offered a different tone to the film sorely missed here. Check out the original VHS cut in the Special Features menu to get a taste of what you’re missing.  

Reynold’s synth scoring is tense and atmospheric, providing a sense of doom and foreboding terror. Dialogue exchanges are clearly recorded, though volume issues persist.  Minimal hiss is perceived during scenes without scoring or dialogue. I recommended switching on the subtitles if you get a bit lost. It is a solid audio mix that confidently handles the monstrous proceedings. 

Special Features


VHShitfest and OCN Distribution load this disc with features for fans of this obscure creature feature. Start with The Genetic Monster featurette before moving through the other options. I highly recommend checking out the Original VHS Cut, as it retains more desirable SOV horror elements.  

  • Audio Commentary by Director Mike Strain Jr. Full of stories and production woes, this commentary track dives deep into the film’s creation, inspiration, and challenging moments. Strain gets into the nitty gritty of the effects work, which will delight fans for sure. 
  • Audio Commentary by Editor Ronnie Sortor This commentary track focuses primarily on Sorter’s editing of the feature while dropping in anecdotes about the production. 
  • Original VHS Cut from 1998 (SD 82:00) Of the two cuts on this disc, I prefer this original VHS cut over the new 2023 re-edit. The new elements in the 2023 cut seem woefully out of place when you see this one Chances are, if you’re into obscure VHS horror, it won’t be difficult to convince you to start here rather than the new edit. The image quality is as expected for a VHS rip, and the audio is tinny. Local metal bands in Missouri supplied music tracks. 
  • The Genetic Monster (HD 29:41) A new making-of featurette produced by VHShitfest featuring archival footage and an interview with Mike Strain Jr. Sitting in his home theater covered in horror posters, Mike details his career within filmmaking and makeup effects. Across the room, editor Ronnie Sotor offers his perspective on the production, including borrowing resources from his film Sinistre
  • Archival Making-of Featurette (HD 39:53) This behind-the-scenes featurette sees the production in action during January 1995. Footage shows the daily grind of the crew as they craft effects shots, dress the sets, and deal with the challenges of bringing a monster movie to fruition. 
  • Footage and FX Restoration (HD 3:26) Editor Ronnie Sortor provides a running commentary as various shots are discussed as he works through their restoration. 
  • Deleted Scenes (HD 7:26) Eight scenes of unused footage are featured. 
  • Stop Motion Monster Footage (HD 1:05) Raw stop motion material shot for the film. No audio is supplied. 
  • Photo Gallery (HD 5:15) Eerie synth tunes accompany production still photographs and art that cycle automatically. 
  • Original Trailer (HD 0:57) 
  • Oaktree Studios Trailers (HD 3:42) Trailers for Mystery Monsters & Magic and Until Sunrise are featured. 
  • Oaktree Studios Merchandise Ad (HD 0:38) A brief ad outlining the various goods you can buy from Oaktree Studios website. 
  • Short Film: Bits-n-Pieces (HD 31:25) A 2015 creature feature directed by Madison Strain about a cardboard monster going on a killing spree. Mike Strain Jr. is credited with the effects work, and even Ronnie Sortor shows up in a bit role. Entertaining, to say the least!  
  • Behind the Scenes of Bits-n-Pieces (HD 40:25) Cast interviews, bloopers, outtakes, deleted scenes, a still gallery, and two trailers comprise this featurette. Fans will love diving into the production of this tense short film. 
  • Trailer: Bits-n-Pieces (HD 0:58) This trailer appears within the behind-the-scenes featurette. 
  • Short Film: Hotel of Terror (HD 32:29) This SOV haunted house thriller from 2003 is directed by Mike Strain Jr. It’s a slow-burner that meanders quite a bit but ultimately becomes a satisfying watch by the end. Editor Ronnie Sortor shows up as a crazy serial killer!  
  • Behind the Scenes of Hotel Terror (HD 30:35) This archival featurette is ported over from an Oaktree Studios VHS film release. Cast and crew are interviewed, production photos, and on-set raw footage are presented.  

Final Thoughts

Vile 21 is an entertaining creature feature leveraging itself on an impressive display of practical effects work. Inspired by Corman drive-in classics, this 90’s SOV thriller combines the ethical quandaries of genetic mutation with supernatural schlock. Languishing in VHS purgatory for decades, this ambitious horror thriller is finally unleashed on Blu-ray! The disc from VHShitfest and OCN Distribution provides a solid A/V presentation and loads of special features. For Fans Only

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