In honor of this most romantic holiday, I proudly present what many would consider the first true Bigwig Film. Shot in the great year 1999, Riverhaus Ransom has been a VHS-only exploit… until now! I risked prosecution by making and uploading this bootleg cam rip of the flick, deciding to leave all of its imperfections intact*.
*Please note, this does not include the stoner murder or controversial credits sequence, the latter of which is discussed in an excerpt from the Bigwig History Book below the videos.
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Comes at Hefty Price
It is impossible to overstate what an important film Joseph Luster and Justin Elin’s RiverHaus Ransom is. Ransom was the first attempt to pull Bigwig away from the short film gutter, and because of this it has the longest running time of any of the studio’s productions to date. Justin Elin’s first work with the film house summoned the first Bigwig horror flick, as well as the first of many ‘Wig films to be shot on VHS.
The movie follows a long line of McAle family members, from a grandfather in russia down to his great-grandson. The grandson in question, played by Justin Elin, is moving out of the country with his father John, an optimistic go-getter (Luster) looking to start a new life in Russia taking care of his mother (Luster) in her dying days. Unbeknownst to them, however, are the strange demonic spirits at work devouring their family tree and consuming their souls one by one.
It all began when Grandfather McAle (Luster), a pathetic drunk, was offered a bottle of vodka during a desperate and lonely time in his life. This swig of vodka would be his last though, as the man offering it (Elin) consumed his soul with fury in return; certainly a “hefty price” to pay. Flying down the line of descendants, the man-turned-beast takes over the body of John’s father, and ultimately slays his mother as well. Now John and his son are trapped in a Russian death house; a hell-pit full of traps and tricks meant to hold them there while the demon stalks his way through body after body, leading up to the ultimate showdown between fathers.
Riverhaus Ransom was literally in trouble from the moment its credits were shot. While the opening of the movie, shot at friend Bryan Maynard’s family’s river house without permission, was tame enough, it was the return to shoot the credits that set off the scandal of Riverhaus Ransom. Luster and Elin came back in the wee hours one night, when they knew no one would be at the river house. They proceeded to write their credits on paper and tape them up against adjacent walls, and then splattered them in ketchup and salsa to simulate blood. While Luster filmed this atrocity, Elin hammered away ferociously on his keyboard (the same keyboard that would record Ducketts Murda Records first hit song “Playa What” in the following year). Before leaving, the two directors thankfully remembered to snatch the papers with their names all over them and dump them in the river.
Needless to say, Maynard was not quite as happy with these events as Luster and Elin. Though their actions were feverishly denied, eventually the footage would surface, receiving grimaces and laughs depending on who was watching. To this day there is no fully edited version of Riverhaus Ransom that contains the bloody wall sequence as it is intended. The footage does remain intact, though.
After these bumps were cleared, production continued at a steady pace. Other locations included the inside of the dry cleaners that Luster worked at at the time (it posed as the travel agency that the McAles were using to get to Russia; Elin plays the female receptionist), Elin’s west side apartment building, and a dumpster alley beside a veterinarian office, which was used as a car mechanic’s workshop. Riverhaus Ransom is important not only for its ambition, but for the liberal use of blood and gore throughout. The studio was certainly a stranger to makeup and gore FX at the time, but Elin and Luster made due in the cheapest of fashions, somehow making the longest of the production house’s films one of the cheapest.
The full shoot spans two VHS tapes and has since been edited (from VCR to VCR) into a concise 31-minute film. The movie ends abruptly, however, and would have likely gone on to exceed the one hour mark. Though it sounds strange, many believe that Riverhaus Ransom was entirely a victim of technology. There were attempted shoots once the jump was made from VHS recording to Digital-8, but the spark and the energy seemed to have dissipated. The last news of the Ransom series was that, if anything, a remake is more likely than a continuation. I think directors/actors Luster and Elin would very much like that.