Ratings Key



★★★★
= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
★★★
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Cannibal Holocaust (1979)

Directed by:
Ruggero Deodato

As vile and disgusting as this film is at times, it is one that deserves at least some admiration, even from its detractors, because of its clever direction, the (then-)novel "found footage" story structure and the fact there's some sense and irony at work here, regardless of how obvious it all may be. The mood itself is also strangely intoxicating, with the gritty and palpable tropical locations all set to Riz Ortolani's beautiful and haunting music score. Naturally, most people probably tune in merely for the shock value (this film's reputation certainly preceeds it), and that's perfectly alright. The 'shock' pretty much remains undimished since it was released over 25 years later. Still it's refreshing to see a movie like this that's so well made that it can also stand on its feet in other important areas. It refuses to be shocking without at least attempting to provoke some thought in viewers while also being one of the ultimate litmus tests for even the most jaded of sick cinema freaks. It's also intelligent enough to know that it's about violence-as-pornography and not being sickening and exploitative just for sake of being sickening and exploitative.
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Professor Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman) travels to South America in an effort to locate four young documentary filmmakers (three men, one woman) who disappeared somewhere along the Amazonian river basin. What he finds instead are a stone-age tribe oddly apprehensive to white man and the skeletal remains of the crew, along with some film cannisters. He returns to the city and watches the horrific contents of the cans with some producers, who want to air the footage on TV... until they discover just how graphic and unsettling the footage actually is. Deodato spares the viewer very little and his roaming POV camerawork meticulously and lovingly captures graphic acts of dismemberment, disembowelment, cannibalism, castration, gang-rape, (un-faked) animal mutilation and many other hideous acts. I truly hate seeing 'mondo' death footage (newsreels of real people actually being shot in firing lines, etc.) and the animals being killed (there's an extremely hard-to-watch shot of a hissing muskrat being repeatedly stabbed in the throat as well as well as a turtle being decapitated and gutted), but they are the strongest of the key imagery at work in this film.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is its unflinchingly nihilistic worldview and its condescending and downbeat attitude toward 'civilized' man. The fact that the filmmakers incite the natives to begin with through violence, rape, humiliation and their own sanctimonious attitudes speaks volumes about where this film is headed content wise. Once I get enough reviews on here I plan on throwing on my Horror 100 list; the best of the best from 1950 - 1990. Expect this title to be on it.

★★★1/2

Blood and Lace (1971)

Directed by:
Philip Gilbert

If you enjoy seeing once respected actresses past their "prime" in sleazy starring roles, then seek out this sickie with the talented Gloria Grahame (co-star of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, and an Oscar winner for THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL and highly impressive in many terrific film noirs of the 1950s) as the abusive Mrs. Deere. To save money at the backwoods orphanage she runs, Gloria and the sadistic handyman (Len Lesser) kill their charges and store the bodies downstairs in a padlocked walk-in freezer. Melody Patterson (Ranger Jane from the "F-Troop" TV show) looks way too old for the role of 17-year-old Ellie Masters, who's sent there after her prostitute mother and one of her tricks are killed by being whacked upside the head a few times with a hammer. The masked, facially burned sick-o responsible for that crime (who actually bears a striking resemblance to Freddy Krueger right down to the striped sweater!) and a sleazy, sex-offender police detective (Vic Tayback, best know for playing diner owner Mel on the hit TV show "Alice") show up to complicate matters. Yeah, the plot is overloaded to the max with all kinds of sick stuff and this is strictly a gutter trash exploitation movie, but Grahame (an underrated character actress if there ever was one) does a very good job in her commanding/icy role, it's fairly colorful and well photographed and there are a few surprises to the story. Not as surprising though as how this movie, with lots of brutality directed toward children (one even has his hand chopped off with an axe!), el cheapo "red paint" blood gore effects, implied rape and incest and overall bad taste, earned a PG rating.

With Milton Selzer, a young Dennis Christopher and Louise Sherrill. The film was released to video by a small label called Cinefear (who also were the only ones to release the blaxploitation possession film ABBY), but it very hard to find these days. It's also never been out on DVD, though an excellent print of the film has pop up up occasionally on cable.

★★1/2

Come With Me, My Love (1976)

...aka: Come With Me, My Ghost
...aka: Haunted Pussy, The
...aka: Stay With Me, My Love

Directed by:
Doris Wishman

In Kenmare City circa 1925, Randolph (Jeffrey Hurst) catches his wife and his best friend in the act. After standing there watching them go at it until they finish, he shoots his friend dead. When his wife takes off her ring and throws it at him, he shoots her, too. Then he points the gun to his own head and pulls the trigger. After that black-and-white opening sequence the film jumps ahead to 1976 and it's now in color. A young woman named Abby (Ursula Austin) moves into the same apartment where the 50-year-old antique bed the couple was killed in during the first scene still sits. She meets her very, uh, friendly neighbor Tess Albertino (Annie Sprinkle) and then strange things begin happening. She hears heavy breathing, wind starts blowing her hair around, the lights go out, a bottle of sleeping pills appears out of nowhere (which she feels compelled to keep eating) and next think she knows she's being visited by the horny ghost of the scorned, love-hungry dead husband. He seems to want a mate to share eternity with in the afterlife and gets mighty jealous when he sees Abby fooling around with anyone else. Her first lover is electrocuted after a ghost hand pushes a radio into the bathtub. When Abby's date Bill (Ed Marshall) comes over to "comfort" her, he's pushed out the window. A ghost hand reaches out and stabs Abby's third (female) lover. A wedding band appears on Abby's finger and she can't get it off. Can the ghost persuade Abby to keep eating the pills until she passes on or will it continue killing everyone Abby screws (i.e. basically anyone who enters her apartment). On two different occasions, the film drifts away from the main storyline to show pouty-lipped Vanessa Del Rio, her blonde roommate (Nancy Dare) and several guys (including CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST star Robert Kerman) going at it.

Directed and produced by exploitation queen Doris Wishman under the alias "Luigi Manicottale," this is basically a typical 70s porn with some light horror content. Sadly, it is lacking Doris' gonzo camera-work where she pivots the camera around in weird directions and films potted plants and stuff. The only two touches really indicative of her usual style is a close-up of feet walking up stairs and someone walking around in a park. The ghost effect used is the negative image overlapping you often see in cheaper ghost movies from this time. As to be expected, the acting is dreadful and good for a laugh or two. So is some of the dialogue (including some silly voice-overs). Then again, it's just a porn so there's no need to be too critical. It's mainly about sex. There's plenty of that, but it's pretty standard/dull stuff and this is a forgettable effort from the popular cult director.

1/2

Class of Nuke 'em High (1986)

Directed by:
Richard W. Haines
Michael Herz
Lloyd Kaufman

Another loud, obnoxious, rude, crude, in-your-face horror-gore-comedy from Lloyd Kaufman and the other fine folks at Troma. Unlike their 1984 cult hit THE TOXIC AVENGER, much of the humor misses the mark and annoys more than it amuses. At Tromaville High, a New Jersey school built near a nuclear power plant, the entire student body start going through strange physical changes. No, I'm not talking about puberty, just your garden variety biochemical mutations thanks to a leak at the plant. Green gunk gets into the water supply and those whose ingest it turn into sadistic, vulgar and destructive "cretins" who adopt a punk aesthetic, dress in leather, ride through the hallways on their motorcycles, screech, scream, sing, talk back to their teachers and start destroying school property. Yep, they're all about anarchy and being anti-establishment, amongst other things. They also sexually assault, beat, maim and kill students and teachers without blinking an eye. Thrown into the mix are "good" All-American kids Chrissy (Janelle Brady) and Warren (Gilbert Brenton). After being coerced into toking on some toxic reefer at a party, virginal Chrissy becomes 9-months-pregnant virtually overnight with a mutant baby, while Warren starts blacking out, mutating and going around town killing criminals and bad guys. Eventually, Chrissy gives birth in the school's restroom by throwing up a tadpole that quickly transforms into a giant spiked lizard monster. Said monster hangs around in the basement in time for the big finale.

It's basically just juvenile crap, but it's fast-moving and energetic juvenile crap that moves from one mean-spirited set-piece to another so fast you don't have much time to get bored. Horribly overacted by much of the cast, of course, but the special effects are pretty good and it doesn't skimp on gore. The best effect is a hand forced down someone's throat and the creature design on Chrissy's "baby" is well done. There's a great theme song, too, and The Smithereens even appear to play at an indoor beach party.

Also in the cast are Robert Prichard as the lead punk and Pat Ryan as the obese power plant president. Followed by a pair of substandard subhumanoid sequels; CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH 2: SUBHUMANOID MELTDOWN (1991) and CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH 3: THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE SUBHUMANOID (1992), which were filmed back-to-back.

★★

Circus of Horrors (1960)

...aka: Phantom of the Circus

Directed by:
Sidney Hayers

Anton Diffring was an incredible, underrated, one-of-a-kind, German-born character actor who specialized in villains and deserved more fame than what he received. He had both a great look and a great on-screen persona; with blonde hair and piercing, pale blue-gray eyes, a demeanor that was classy, intelligent and somewhat icy (but never wooden), and a very thick, cultured-sounding German accent that kept him typecast as Nazis during a portion of his career. On the eve of WWII, the actor (who studied in both his home country and in Milan, Italy) was sent to England by his parents (who strongly opposed Nazism; Diffring would ironically go on to play sadistic Nazi's on many occasions) and was interred as a potential spy by the British government and sent to Canada. When the multi-lingual actor was released, he would move on to New York City stage, screen and TV work before returning to Europe to appear in all manner of films. After appearing in an episode of the TV series Tales of Mystery (an adaptation of "The Man in Half Moon Street"), Hammer Studios took notice of his potential as a horror heavy and gave him the role of the mad Baron Frankenstein in a pilot for a proposed TV series to be called TALES OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958). It was never picked up, but Diffring's work was nonetheless impressive and Hammer gave him a second lead role in their 1959 shocker THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH. The film was an international hit and a year later Diffring received the lead in CIRCUS OF HORRORS, which was co-produced Anglo-Amalgamated in England and AIP in the US. It turned out to be an even bigger hit than Man and the best genre showcase Diffring ever had for his unique talents.

He’s Dr. Rossiter, an unorthodox plastic surgeon in England (circa 1947) whose latest experiment backfired in a major way, leading to hideous disfigurement and a slip into insanity for his subject Evelyn (Colette Wilde). When the authorities close in on him, Rossiter is involved in a fiery car crash and believed to be dead, but has actually fled the country with his two associates; his dedicated lover Angela (Jane Hylton) and weak-willed Martin (Kenneth Griffith), who had both assisted him in the failed surgery. "Somewhere in France," the trio encounter a little girl named Nicole, who has a bad facial scar caused by a bomb hitting her school during the war. Nicole's poor, sad, drunken father Vanet (Donald Pleasence with hair) owns the shell of a circus, but was abandoned by his friends and had to close the place down. Dr. Bernhard Schuler (the name Rossiter now uses after having his face changed after the auto accident) makes a deal with him to both restore Nicole's face and turn the circus back into a prosperous business. After being successful at the former, Vanet signs the entire circus over for loan reasons only (agreeing that he will still keep ownership), has too much to drink and stumbles into "Roscoe" the bear (a man in a silly suit). Dr. Schuler sits back and watches as he's mauled to death. Now he's in control.

Ten years later in Berlin, the once run-down circus is now a thriving business for Schuler, who is still assisted by the miserably faithful Angela (who has been pushed off to the back burner, but is still in love with him) and Martin (who ends up stuck doing all the dirty work). Now a beautiful, innocent teenager, Nicole (Yvonne Monlaur) has been adopted by "uncle" Bernhard after her father's death and is in the process of being primed for stardom in "the most exciting circus in the history of show business." The rest of the ladies are actually once-scarred thieves, murderesses and prostitutes (or in one case, all three!) made beautiful by Dr. Schuler's knife. Among those is busty blonde "Queen of the Equestrians" Magda (Vanda Hudson), who does a leap of death through a ring of knives and can jump rope on a moving horse, and vicious aerialist Elissa Caro (Erika Remberg), who is jealous of Magda's star billing, incorporates a hangman's noose in her act and uses sex and blackmail to get what she wants. Hey, just because you get a new lease on life through renewed beauty doesn't mean you've changed any on the inside! There's also Melina (Yvonne Romain), Magda's acid-scarred friend, who pops in about midway through to take on lion tamer duties and strike the fancy of Schuler in her incredible push-up bra. (By the way, this move has a lot of bra scenes).

When any of the performers threaten to leave or try to cross Dr. Schuler, he arranges fatal "accidents" to occur in front of the live audience. Madga, who plots to run off with her wealthy, monocle-wearing sugar daddy, gets a blade stuck in her neck during Chief Eagle Eye's knife-throwing act. The rest of the deaths are usually in accordance to what act the person happens to be performing and most are actually carried out by Martin. And wouldn't ya know it, these tragic deaths and the horrific reputation of "The Jinxed Circus" are really appeasing the thrill-seeking audiences and drawing even larger crowds than usual! Since twelve have died already, the police think it's a little fishy and send Scotland Yard's finest; Inspector Ames (Conrad Phillips), who is such a pro that he gets two sentences into an interrogation of Elissa before falling prey to her seductive charms. Using the name Arthur Desmond, he claims to be a freelance crime reporter (which gives him free reign to snoop around and ask questions) and romances the naive Nicole, who he pumps for important clues and falls in love with.

All the backstabbing, false identities, botched facial surgeries, bloody deaths, love, hate and assorted treachery would be plenty for one movie, but this gem really knocks it out of the park when it comes to overall entertainment value. The setting gives us lots of fun stuff and the funhouse spirit of the circus is beautifully, colorfully handled; there's some fire-eating, elephants, fireworks, gasping audience members, a hostile caged gorilla (who figures into the ending), some chimpanzees who perform a mini-aerial act and roll around on balls, shaky beauties who do still modeling of famous historic characters (such as Adam and Eve, Helen of Troy and, yes, even Sappho and her "handmaidens!") and much more. There are also many great, sarcastic one-liners and caustic exchanges (best when spoken by Diffring or Remberg), some clever humor (like a charity performance for "The Mental Health Foundation") and some effective irony (Schuler's demise right in front of the "Temple of Beauty" exhibit). Though ads promoted this as "The Exploitation Movie of the Year," at the core is a surprisingly progressive theme that attempts to explore sexual perversity; with the main villain lovingly fondling wounds and scars and being sexually turned on by female disfigurement. The supporting cast is very good (particularly Hylton; Pleasence looks even more deranged than the psycho surgeon in his brief cameo!), but this move is dominated by Diffring.

The DVD from Anchor Bay sadly does not include any interviews (the director and a good deal of the cast have passed on, anyway), but does an excellent job in other areas. First off, the print is in vivid, pristine shape and looks terrific. Secondly, there is an excellent, detailed biography of star Diffring. And finally, and best of all, is an incredible, rare collection of stills, lobby cards, posters and ad art that are of great historic value. Browsing through them is taking a trip back in time to a day when an enthusiastic ad campaign and showmanship heightened box-office receipts. There are many fun things to learn here, such as theater owners having the option of ordering "special circus accessories" to decorate their movie houses with. There were also CIRCUS OF HORRORS balloons, comics, newspaper color-in contests, masks and even a novelization by Tom Owen that was once released by Panther Books. The great theme song "Look For a Star" (sung by Garry Miles and composed by Mark Anthony - no, not that one, he can't be that old) was released as a 45. The DVD is in English and French language versions and also comes with the trailer and three black-and-white TV spots.

★★★1/2

Amityville 3 (1983)

...aka: Amityville 3-D
...aka: Amityville 3: The Demon

Directed by:
Richard Fleischer

Skeptical "Reveal Magazine" investigative journalist John Baxter (Tony Roberts) and his photographer assistant Melanie (Candy Clark) bust a bogus séance at the Amityville House. Soon after, the place is cleared out and John decides to buy it dirt cheap from Realtor Clifford Sanders (John Harkins), who seems more than happy to unload the place. Before John can even get the keys to the place, Sanders keels over from a stroke after a nasty encounter with a swarm of pesky flies. Thinking this is only mildly peculiar, John moves his stuff in and then the supernatural shit starts to hit the fan. Stuff starts moving around, there are plumbing problems, rooms close in, an endless hole in the basement seems to be a gateway to hell, spirits show up in Melanie's photographs and friends and family begin getting killed off in odd "accidents." There's a car crash, a drowning, a face fried by fire, some creatures and a pretty good nightmare sequence with a demon-corpse rises out of a water-filled hole in the basement. Eventually a team of paranormal experts (led by Robert Joy) are called in, but the house fights back and blows itself up, killing off most of the supporting cast. Tess Harper has the thankless role of John's ex-wife, who doesn't want her teen daughter (Lori Loughlin) to go over to dad's place. Meg Ryan has an early role as her horny blonde friend; who plays with a OUIJA board and says "Do you know you can have sex with a ghost?"

While nothing special, it was the only film in the series to be rated PG and is no worse than the two films preceding it (slightly better in many areas actually). Though they are lost on the video, there were some supposedly great 3-D fx in the theatrical release, including the opening titles, flies, steam, a Frisbee, breaking glass, a zombie, flying furniture and even a swordfish.

★★

Amazing Transplant, The (1970)

...aka: Transplant, The

Directed by:
Doris Wishman

No, Percy (1971) wasn't the first penis transplant movie. The always-ahead-of-her-time sultana of sleaze Doris Wishman (one of the only women directing exploitation movies at the time), directed and wrote this oddball soft-core horror drama. Arthur Barlen ("Juan" / João Fernandez) can't get it up, so he seeks the aid of a doctor who transplants his recently deceased friend Felix's member onto him. Soon the operation goes sour and he finds himself in hiding after he kills his girlfriend. For some reason gold earrings set him off! In flashbacks, he seduces, rapes and / or murders other women. One is played by porn star Kim Pope. Another is a fat lesbian, and she gets sick after they do it and hovers over the toilet as Wishman's never-stable camera tilts down for a nice shot of the ladies zitty rear-end! Yikes! There's plenty here to entertain cult movie and Wishman fans (including lots of her trademark bizarre camera placements and tracking shots) and at times hints of (gasp!) substance rear their ugly head before being immediately trampled over by the next ridiculous or implausible plot move, terrible performance or laughable line of dialogue. Fascinatingly horrible stuff.

The version I saw (the original video release from American Video) was unrated, but could get an X rating for all of the soft-core sex scenes and nudity. The new Image / Something Weird DVD includes loads of special features; including trailers for other Wishman films and several short features.

★★

Enigma rosso (1977)

...aka: Nemesis
...aka: Orgie des Todes
...aka: Phantom im Mädchenpensionat
...aka: Red Rings of Fear
...aka: Rings of Fear
...aka: Trauma
...aka: Virgin Killer
...aka: Virgin Terror

Directed by:
Alberto Negrin

Watchable giallo (which I saw under the title TRAUMA, even though it was also released under several different titles), starring Fabio Testi as a police inspector who must investigate the murder of a sixteen year old girl whose nude body has been dumped in a river. And she's been "chewed up inside" by a killer with a "really developed sense of perversion." Clues lead to an elite, all-female Catholic school as Testi discovers that four of the students were involved in an underground sex orgy with rich, older men. Then the mystery killer, obviously someone going to extremes in an effort to cover his/her tracks, starts bumping off everyone who was involved. The most shocking scene features a girl having an illegal abortion inter-cut with flashbacks to the first victim being raped to death with a king-size black dildo! Yow. There's gratuitous female nudity (which some may feel discomforting because the actresses playing young schoolgirls certainly look the part), death by curling iron, some footage inside a slaughterhouse (hey, why not?), a roller coaster ride, a guy jumping off a bridge, a dead dog, a kleptomaniac girlfriend (Christine Kaufmann) and other things throw in to help hold your interest. The surprise ending doesn't really work, but you'll never see it coming. The supporting cast includes Tony Isbert as Testi's partner, Ivan Desny as a police chief, Jack Taylor as a pervert who runs a women's clothing boutique, Helga Liné as a mother of a missing girl and Silvia Aguilar as one of the schoolgirls.

The film was pretty difficult to find for quite some time until it became public domain and became a staple of all those cheap DVD packs distributed by companies such as Brentwood and Mill Creek. The print quality on those is pretty lousy.

★★1/2

La vendetta di Lady Morgan (1965)

... aka: Folterhaus Der Lady Morgan
... aka: Vendetta of Lady Morgan, The

Directed by:
Massimo Pupillo

As a fan of Gothic Euro horrors from the 60s and as a fan of several people in the cast, I really wanted to check out this extremely hard to find film, which for a long time was presumed to be lost. Unfortunately I had to settle for watching a washed-out looking, green-tinted, too-dark TV dupe from many years ago. I'm not sure if this has been released in other countries, but there's no R1 DVD, nor was it ever officially released to video. The print I saw was also only in Italian with no subs, and since I don't speak Italian, I had to try to make sense out of the plot the best I could. Thankfully, it's not too hard to follow along since this uses a similar old-dark-house horror template that was popular during this time. It's full of the expected lecherous, immortal men and women who populate Gothic horror of the time. It also has all of the plot and visual elements one may expect - backstabbing, adultery, false allegiances, creaking doors, fog, long dark hallways, thunderstorms and ultimately, revenge enacted on those who certainly have it coming. VENDETTA was one of three such horror-thrillers directed by Massimo Pupillo (under the name "Max Hunter") that same year. The other two were the exploitation favorite THE BLOODY PIT OF HORROR and 5 TOMBE PER UN MEDIUM (released as TERROR-CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE here in the U.S.) This one isn't the best of its type, but it's certainly not the worst I've seen either.

Susan Elaine Blackhouse (Barbara Nelli) and her lover Pierre Brissac (Michel Forain) plan to be married but a shadowy figure in a cape knocks out Pierre and pushes his unconscious body off the side of a boat, where it's presumed he drowned. Heartbroken, Susan reluctantly agrees to an arranged marriage to Sir Harold Morgan (Paul Muller) and goes to live in his mansion home with him and several servants. She goes away with her father on a trip and when she returns she discovers her favorite servant Josef is missing but in his place is a mysterious and sinister new housekeeper named Lilian (Erika Blanc). Also staying in the home are Roger (top-billed Gordon Mitchell), a butler and Harold's right-hand-man, and Terry (Edith MacGoven), an obedient maid. Strange things begin happening soon after Susan arrives. She starts hearing Lilian's voice calling to her at night. She's awoken from her sleep and when she tries to leave her room discovers the door is locked and she can't get out. Freshly poured wine disappears from a glass. A snake appears in her bed. She hears a man's screams in the night. She also walks down to the cellar and thinks she sees Roger whipping the chained up missing servant Josef. Is Susan cracking up or are some of the characters conspiring against her?

As is customary with this type of film, it turns out to be the latter. Harold and Lilian are actually lovers and are plotting to do away with young, innocent Susan. Since I couldn't make out the dialogue I have to assume it was for money since that's usually the case. Anyway, the voices Susan hears are indeed coming from Lilian, who uses a hidden intercom device to send her sinister voice into Susan's bedroom to manipulate her actions and thoughts. Lilian is also adept at hypnosis and manages to get a sleepwalking Susan to follow her through a stairwell up to the rooftop, where she plunges to her death. All the while, Susan's former lover Pierre turns out to be alive in a hospital suffering from amnesia. The minute Susan hits the ground he snaps out of his condition and starts remembering his former life and former love. He goes to the home to try to locate Susan and comes into contact with her ghost. Then comes the revenge portion...

Back at the Morgan Manor, Harold, Lilian, Roger and Terry start getting the ghost haunting treatment as candles blow out or light themselves, doors creak open and shut, wine turns to water, water turns to blood, furniture tips over, the urn holding Susan's ashes smolders and explodes and clouds of smoke puff out of the floorboards. The four evil-doers then start panicking and turn on each other. When Roger thinks he's stabbing a ghost behind a curtain, he's actually stabbing and killing Terry. Susan's ghost leaves a pair of Roger's shoes by Lilian's bedside to let Harold in on the fact Lilian and Roger are secretly lovers. Angered, Harold snaps and strangles Lilian to death. Harold and Roger then promptly get into a fight that leads up to the roof, where Harold falls to his death. When Roger goes to leave he's trampled to death by a white horse controlled by Susan that kicks his face until it's a bloody mess. And then things get even stranger as the ghosts of all four evildoers appear as blood-sucking phantoms, who at one point start lapping blood up off the floor. Can Pierre manage to get out of this sticky situation?

It's a decent film of its genre, even though it's slow moving and gets rather ridiculous and overblown at the end. Primarily set-bound, there are a few decent atmospheric shots of horses galloping through fog, close-ups of glistening water, Blanc holding a candle and leading Nelli up a long staircase and some other touches Gothic horror lovers will appreciate, though they'd no doubt look much better on a restored print (if we ever get one). There's a romantic, if sometimes overbearing, music score provided by Peter O'Milian (if that's not an alias). The major plus here it he casting. Nelli is fairly good (and lovely) as the lady-in-peril, Muller (playing a role somewhat similar to his part in NIGHTMARE CASTLE) does his sleazy character justice as he always does and Mitchell is also good, if a little over-the-top. The standout here though it really Blanc, who's perfect as the nasty seductress Lilian. She frequently gets to chastises the staff ("Stupida!"... "Idiota!") and gives off some wonderfully sinister facial expressions throughout.

★★1/2

Weirdo, The (1989)

...aka Weirdo: The Beginning

Directed by:
Andy Milligan

Writer/Director/Editor/Cinematographer Andy Milligan has the right intentions... just like Ed Wood did with Glen or Glenda?! I didn't think THE RATS ARE COMING! THE WEREWOLVES ARE HERE! (1972) was that incompetent, but this, my second Milligan movie was, um, ridiculous to put it mildly. A shy, awkward young boy named Donnie (Steve Burlington) is the town outcast. A group of local thugs (one appropriately wearing a confederate jacket) beat him, humiliate him and walk him around like a dog, using his belt as a leash. Donnie lives in a shack, collects junk and works as an errand boy for Miss Martins (Naomi Sherwood). One day he meets Jenny (Jessica Straus), a friendly young girl in a leg brace. They eat danishes, go to a yard sale and pretend that water is fresh-squeezed orange juice (!) The two fall in love, but when Donnie is forced to go see his alcoholic mother (Lynne Caryl), she informs him that he is the bi-product of an incestuous relationship she had with her own brother! She then calls up a guy and tries to sell him to a slave ring in Mississippi! Donnie snaps, decapitates her and puts her severed head in a trash bag. When the slave owner shows up he sticks a pitchfork in his neck. He goes to a church, impales a woman with a cross and wraps Christmas lights around the reverend's neck and electrocutes him by sticking his head under a running faucet. He's finally beaten up by angry mob of townspeople armed with tree branches, but his body is missing at the end.

The dialogue is absolutely unbelievable (though amusing at times), the effects and editing are both horribly done and the acting is pretty awful, but I now see why Milligan movies have cult followings. Despite the sheer ineptness of this entire production, it's too filled with bitterness and pain not to come of as at least a little personal and sincere. Weirdo: The Beginning is the full onscreen title, so I'm guessing this was going to be a whole series of films (?) The movie was not released to video until 1989 and Milligan passed away in 1991, so that never got to happen. Too bad. FX wizard Rodd Matsui provided the prosthetics for the film.

SBIG

Zombie Death House (1988)

...aka: Death House

Directed by:
John Saxon

Here's another prison/electric chair horror movie to join the ranks of dozen or so other (mostly awful) titles produced from 1986-1989. Though one of the more difficult to find until the recent DVD reissue, this one is thankfully not all that bad and it's also notable as the directorial debut of John Saxon. It begins as a near-incomprehensible crime saga with Anthony Franciosa as ruthless, cigar-smoking, drug-pushing gangster Vic Moretti. His sexy, much younger, blonde actress girlfriend Genelle (Dana Lis Mason) begins an affair with their new chauffeur Derek (Dennis Cole); a tan, shaggy-headed Vietnam vet and ex-con who is trying to go straight. After Derek spoils a drug deal (and breaks someone's neck with his bare hands), Vic finds out about the affair, drowns Genelle in the bathtub, plants her body in Derek's hotel room and has the cops arrest him. Vic buys the judge off, so Derek is convicted of murder, given the death penalty and is then sent off to prison to be locked away in solitary confinement on death row.

Upon entering the prison, Derek is greeted by an a-hole warden (Alex Courtney), a head guard (Howard George) who hits him with a club, friendly prisoners who inform him "You'll look real cute when you bend over!" and "I'm going to get your candy ass!" and a cockroach that crawls on his eye when he tries to sleep. Also there is Vic's gay brother Franco (Michael Pataki), who pretty much runs the prison and conducts criminal activity from the inside and has a blonde "Pretty Boy" lover living in his lavish cell, and Dr. Chaney, who begrudgingly administers a "behavior modification experiment;" injections of yellow fluid that are supposed to decrease violent tendencies. In any case, the serum infects whoever has ingested it with a flesh-eating virus that starts with a nosebleed, leads to panic and paranoia and eventually turns the victim into a flesh-eating zombie with inhuman strength.

But Chaney's not to blame when the experiment backfires; he's just following orders. It's actually the brainchild of corrupt CIA agent Col. Gordon Burgess (John Saxon), who has decided to carry on with the project after it was initially abandoned by scientist Tanya Kerrington (Tane McClure). Tanya has since given up medicine for a career as a successful newscaster, but she's called back to the scene by Burgess and must concoct an antidote when things get out of hand. All the prisoners, staff, Tanya, her cameraman Jake (Dennis Mooney), the warden's wife Mary (June Chandler), their two young kids, and some others (including Vic, who is tricked into going inside) are all trapped inside when Saxon (who *yawn* wants to create a zombie army) decides to call in some troops and lock the place down to quarantine those inside. In time, the prison is overrun with infected, zombie-like prisoners, people fight for survival and only four of them end up making it through a secret passageway that leads outside the prison to... Bronson Canyon, of course!

The plot is a bit overly complicated, there are too many characters to keep track of and some badly misplaced comedy (like a fat zombie cook screaming "Don't touch my twinkies!" and attacking with a butcher knife). Some of the editing and scene transitions are rough, too, but it looks pretty good (Gary Graver was one of three cinematographers who worked on it) and, all in all, it's an OK time waster. Gore scenes include a blood-gushing head, an arm ripped off, a pick-axe through the chest, a head rammed through prison bars, a slashed throat and a head ripped off by a rabid Jamaican zombie, plus there's a topless dream sequence (starring McClure), a police chase, some explosions, an electric chair scene and (hands down, my favorite part) a Christmas dinner where prisoners dine to the NOT OF THIS EARTH theme song played on an organ! The cast also includes Salvator Richichi, Frank Sarcinello, Jr. (both of whom were in the shot-on-video prison horror film DEATH ROW DINER, along with Dennis Mooney and Dana Mason), veteran schlock actor Joel van Ornsteiner and Ron O'Neal (SUPERFLY), who appears briefly at the beginning as Derek's army buddy.

Trivia Note: Future BOYZ N THE HOOD star Morris Chestnut plays one of the prisoners. The VHS title (released by Action International) is DEATH HOUSE; the DVD title (released by Retromedia) is ZOMBIE DEATH HOUSE. Guarantee they'll sell many more copies under the second title!

★★

Horror Show, The (1989)

...aka: Horror House
...aka: House III: The Horror Show

Directed by:
James Isaacs

Sadistic mass murderer Max Jenke (Brion James) decides to get even with Detective Lucas McCarthy (Lance Henriksen); the guy responsible for putting him away. The only catch is that Jenke is already dead, having somehow bypassed death row in an incredibly (and unrealistically) short amount of time and ushered straight on to the electric chair. Turns out that being dead can't even stop old Max as he lashes out at Lucas and his family from beyond the grave. James can be very good with the right material, such as his fun comic turn in the decent horror-comedy MOM (1990), but you won't believe his scenery-chewing overacting in this film. I don't really hold it against him since he's saddled with such pathetic "comic" one-liners. He's matched by awkward, uneven performances from most of the supporting cast, who are basically filling roles of very unpleasant and/or annoying stereotypes. Henriksen is the only person to really come out of this muck with dignity intact, somehow managing to make a strong impression as the haunted cop hero. That's really a testament to his talents as an actor, because you should hear the lines he's given and see the ridiculous situations he's put in to see what I'm talking about. And he does it all in such a professional, straight-faced manner that you've gotta admire the guy, even when he's appearing in junk like this.

Rita Taggart, Dedee Pfeiffer (Michelle's sister, who has a nude shower scene) and Aron Eisenberg (a strange-looking adult who usually played 11/12 year old boys and was also in AMITYVILLE 4 and PUPPET MASTER III) comprise the family. Also with Thom Bray as Henriksen's partner, Matt Clark as a doctor, Lewis Arquette (father of Patricia, David, etc.) as a police lieutenant and Terry Alexander (from DAY OF THE DEAD). Brief cameos by Lawrence Tierney as a prison warden and Alvy Moore as a chili salesman. In Europe, this was released as HOUSE III, although it has nothing to do with the other films in that series.

Haunted: The Ferryman (1974) (TV)

Directed by:
John Irvin

Very minor 50-minute British made-for-TV supernatural tale; adapted by Julian Bond from a story by Kingsley Amis and part of the short-lived series "Haunted." Though it does begin well and provides a somewhat intriguing premise, it's completely lacking in scares, chills and we're stuck with an annoying lead character throughout. Jeremy Brett stars as an extremely arrogant and unlikable advertising-executive-turned-writer named Sheridan Owen. Though his first few books came and went without much fanfare, Sheridan's latest novel "The Ferryman" is looking like a different story altogether. The book, about a serial killer who rapes and murders young ladies at an inn called The Ferryman and then sinks their bodies into a nearby lake before mysteriously turning up dead in the lake himself, is catching the attention of critics, publishers and audiences alike. A TV interviewer mistakes the tale for a true story (or does she?), an old lady at a book signing asks a strange question and, basically annoyed with all the attention his latest work is garnering him, Sheridan runs out on his own party. He and his wife Alex (Natasha Parry) then decide to take a little road trip. They get lost on some country back roads and when a really bad rain storm begins, the duo decide to take shelter immediately.

They end up at a remote inn sharing the same name as Sheridan's novel. And that's not the only instance of life imitating art, or vice versa. The porter, the bartender, the owner of the establishment (Geoffrey Chater) and his daughter (Lesley Dunlop) all share the same names as characters from the book. Alex thinks it might just be an odd coincidence or that her husband may have been to the same place before but forgotten (which would have subconsciously influenced what he'd written), but Sheridan begins to think something strange and/or other-worldly is up. Now he's left wondering if the killer ghost from his novel will materialize as well...

Not a bad story line for a TV production running less than an hour, but this one doesn't really do much with it. Very talky film, somewhat bland and not particularly scary or eerie; the intriguing aspects of the plot are never lifted out of the murky ambiguity and the movie isn't involving enough to get one to care either way. The twist at the end doesn't work well either.

★★

Horror Hospital (1973)

...aka: Computer Killers
...aka: Doctor Bloodbath

Directed by:
Anthony Balch

We're off to a good start here with the great tag line... "The operation is a success... when the patient dies!" And in my opinion any movie with a sneering, gloriously overacting Michael Gough is automatically worth checking out. You know he'll own it. Obnoxious, smug and irritating Mick Jagger wannabe Jason Jones (Robin Askwith, from all those awful "Confessions" British sex comedies) decides to get away from the pressures of the music biz at "Hairy Holidays," a country health spa for the under 30s. On the train ride over he hooks up with bright (not in the cerebral sense) young thing Judy (Vanessa Shaw) and the two venture on to their destination only to discover it's actually an unorthodox mental hospital where the evil Dr. Christian Storm (played by Mr. Gough, of course) gleefully experiments with lobotomies, zombification and decapitations of unwilling patients. This house of horrors comes complete with helmeted guards on motorcycles, blue-faced zombies, blood-gushing faucets, a slow-witted dwarf (Skip Martin), a head-chopping automobile and a mutant monster. It's a gory, trashy, unapologetic sleaze romp cluttered with assorted nonsense, but colorful presentation and appropriate straight-faced camp acting from the trio of baddies (Martin, nurse Ellen Pollock and especially, Gough) give it a lift. Dennis Price also appears in a small role as a flamboyant travel agent. Bringing the film down somewhat are the young leads, who are terrible and seriously grate on the nerves after awhile.

Though this movie can be hard to track down these days, it's been shown on cable TV here in the States, re-mastered and letterboxed.

★★

Halloween (1978)

Directed by:
John Carpenter

What's actually left to be said about what is undoubtedly the most popular horror film of them all? Actually, not a whole lot, but since we've just passed by yet another All Hallow's Eve, many of us no doubt humming along to John Carpenter's now-classic score at some point, I felt compelled to do at least a brief write-up on this timeless film. And if I don't watch it I could easily find myself writing page after page going into extensive detail about the ingenious use of shot framing, the great gliding steadicam shots and the emphasis on suspense over grue, but I'm sure it's already been said before and you've already read it before. An absolute staple of the fall season; HALLOWEEN is very much deserving of its place as an iconic phenomenon, as well as its place in history as one of the great classic horror movies. It's that rare, modestly-budgeted film that gets to share a table with the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974); films that are so well-crafted and creepy, and proved to be so influential over the years, that they managed to reshape and redefine the entire genre for years to come. In fact, we're still suffering from cheapjack imitations to this day, none of which are quite able to recapture the deceptively simple magic found here. I think that part of what makes it withstand the weathering of time is that it's a downright perfect evocation of the Autumn/Halloween season. Despite being a scary film, there's still such a pleasing, nostalgic feel to the whole thing; cold wind blowing the leaves down vacant suburban streets, trick-or-treaters shuffling from door to door, Jack-O'Lanterns lining porches... It not only brings to mind everything that's great about this time or year, but also everything that's great about horror films when they're done right.
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As nearly everyone knows by now since the story has ingrained itself in American pop culture, the story involves madman Michael Myers, who murdered his teenage sister when he was a wee lad and now, as an adult, has just escaped from a mental institution. He heads back to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois to stalk and then systematically murder a group of teenage girls on Halloween night. Top-billed Donald Pleasence stars as psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis, who's hot on Michael's trail and adequately sums up his former patient by stating, "I spent eight years trying to reach him and another seven years trying to keep him locked up." Jamie Lee Curtis solidified her scream queen status by following her appealing heroine turn here with an appearance in the sequel and starring roles in THE FOG (also by Carpenter), PROM NIGHT, TERROR TRAIN and ROAD GAMES in the early 80s. Nancy Loomis, P.J. Soles, Kyle Richards, Charles Cyphers (as the sheriff), Nancy Stephens and Nick Castle round out the cast.
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Carpenter, who says he had no idea what a hit this was until he received a check for a million dollars in the mail, also wrote, co-produced (with Debra Hill) and composed the score. Tommy Lee Wallace (who directed the unrelated third installment) edited the film. To date, it has spawned seven sequels; HALLOWEEN II (1981), HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982), HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (1988), HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1989), HALLOWEEN 6: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1995), HALLOWEEN H20: 20 YEARS LATER (1998) and HALLOWEEN; RESURRECTION (2002), as well as a remake - Rob Zombie's HALLOWEEN (2007).

★★★★

Halloween II (1981)

Directed by:
Rick Rosenthal

Quite a step down from the classic original (no big shocker there), this first sequel seems more in tune with any of the mean-spirited, nasty, gory slasher offspring that the original spawned than it does with the haunting, subtle and almost elegant first film. While the original concentrated more on building suspense via methodical stalking sequences and a completely ambiguous killer, who could be either a straight-up madman or the essence of pure evil on two legs, this one seems more interested in upping the body count than anything else. It also makes the crucial mistake of trying to explain the "evil" behind Myers by linking him to the lead heroine. Suddenly, now Michael and Laurie are siblings and he wants to "complete" his original crime since it was cut short after he took six bullets and did a swan dive off a second-floor balcony in Part 1. Regardless, H2 is still somewhat better than most other slashers from its era, thanks to solid performances, a few decent jump scares and some creative murder scenes.

After a re-cap of the finale of the first film and some groovy opening credits, injured Laurie (a catatonic Jamie Lee Curtis) is rushed off to the hospital while psychiatrist Donald Pleasence and local sheriff Charles Cyphers continue their frantic search for the missing Myers. Of course, Michael (Dick Warlock) eventually manages to track Curtis down and quickly kills off the entire hospital night staff on his way to finishing his earlier crime. A guard gets a hammer to the head, IV tubes are used to drain a nurse’s blood, needles are stuck in eyeballs and skin is melted off a nurse's face with scalding water. The lamest "death" (which wasn't intended to be a death but comes across that way in the original theatrical cut) occurs when an orderly (Lance Guest) slips in blood and conks his head on the floor. Even though Michael is stabbed, has both of his eyes shot out with a pistol and is blown up, he managed to regenerate and return in Parts 4-8. Pleasence is blown up, too, and is back in parts 4-6. I guess you just can't keep a good money-making franchise down.
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The cast includes Pamela Susan Shoop (doing a popular topless scene) as nurse Karen, Nancy Stephens (returning from the first film), Jeffrey Kramer, Leo Rossi and Cliff Emmich. Nancy Loomis has a quick cameo as a dead body and look fast for a pre-Saturday Night Live Dana Carvey as a coroner's assistant. John Carpenter wrote the screenplay (with Debra Hill), co-produced (again with Hill) and did the music again.

★★1/2

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Directed by:
Tommy Lee Wallace

Part 3 seems like it has no business being in the HALLOWEEN series at all (there is no Michael Myers to be found anywhere in the film), but it's good, dumb fun anyway. The original intention of this entry was to prompt more unrelated sequels carrying a seasonal theme and the HALLOWEEN brand name, but thanks to terrible critical reviews and disappointing box office receipts, that concept both began and ended right here. After a mysterious murder at a hospital (a guy has his nose popped right out of socket!), Tom Atkins (a doctor doing some freelance detective work) and Stacy Nelkin (a young woman whose father was murdered and is now looking for answers) go to a small California town to investigate "Silver Shamrock," a company mass-producing popular Halloween masks designed like skulls, witches and goblins. Cheerful company owner Conal Cochran (played with big kid charm and gusto by Dan O'Herlihy) is actually using the masks in a ridiculous plot to kill millions of children on Halloween night. In one scene, a kid wearing a mask watches a hypnotic and catchy commercial ("Two more days to Halloween, Halloween, Halloween. Two more days to Halloween, Silver Shamrock!"), his head melts and hundreds of beetles, cockroaches and snakes come crawling out. Robotic guards are around too, to do things like drill a hole in a woman's face and rip a bum's head off. Eventually, a news program tells us that a piece of Stonehenge is missing (!?!) and our heroes find it in the factory with robo lab technicians chipping away pieces of it to put inside the masks. See there's this special microchip thingy located at the base of the mask that's set off by flashes of colored light, shoots out a laser beam and somehow manages to simultaneously melt your head and turn it into a breeding ground for all kinds of nasty creepy crawlers. Wonder if he got a patent for it?



Despite being utterly stupid, mean-spirited and confusing (not to mention having some muddled reasoning behind why Cochran even wants to do all this in the first place), this crazy thing moves along nicely thanks to lots of gross out Tom Burman FX, good cinephotography by Dean Cundey (later a trusted cinematographed used by Spielberg, Zemeckis and Ron Howard) and an excellent synthesizer score from Alan Howarth and John Carpenter (he also produced with Debra Hill for a third time). Originally writer Nigel Kneale demanded his name be removed from the finished product. The cast includes Nancy Loomis (in a different role here than what she played in the original), Dick Warlock and a voice cameo from Jamie Lee Curtis. The Michael Myers character would return in the rest of the sequels, starting with HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS in 1988.

★★1/2

Inferno (1980)

Directed by:
Dario Argento

Even though the mythology is a little spotty at best, "The Three Mothers" are basically a trio of witches (also sisters) whose rein of terror leaves behind a string of bizarre, grisly murders stretching from Germany to Italy to America. A young woman named Rose (Irene Miracle) is renting out a room in a multiple-story, multi-colored gothic mansion in New York City (also head quarters to the witches), becomes obsessed with a book on the sisters and ends up meeting a gruesome demise for her meddling. To be specific, she gets her head whacked off by a pane of glass. Her brother Mark (Leigh McCloskey, for my money the worst lead actor in any Argento film) receives a distressed-sounding letter and returns from "musicology" studies in Rome to investigate. Well, not before a female friend of his (Eleonora Giorgi) is also viciously murdered. Coincidence? Upon arriving, Mark quickly notices that many people living in or living near the building are dying in grisly fashion and will eventually come ace to face with the spirit of death itself! I think. The ending's a little, um, out-there.
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Argento's follow-up to SUSPIRIA (1977) treads on similar territory, and although confusing in spots with its unconventional, non-linear storytelling, is an ultimately fascinating and eye-popping visual extravaganza. Surreal, beautifully atmospheric, gorgeously photographed and strikingly colorful as it is, it's also muddled, dramatically uneven, badly acted by the two younger leads and certainly not for all tastes. Keith Emerson's thundering keyboard score is a plus. The cast includes Argento movie regulars Daria Nicolodi, Alida Valli and Gabriele Lavia, as well as Sacha Pitoëff as a creepy bookstore owner who likes to drown bags full of cats, Veronica Lazar, Feodor Chaliapin, Jr. and Ania Pieroni (TENEBRE).

When originally released in the U.S. on video (by Key/20th Century-Fox) it was a cut version missing some of the grislier scenes. Later issues of the film on DVD have restored this footage. Lamberto Bava was the assistant director. His father, Italian horror maestro Mario Bava and working on his last film (he died in 1980), gets credit for both shooting it and for some of the visual effects. Next up for Argento (who co-scripted with Claudio) was TENEBRE (1982; first released in the US, also heavily cut, under the title UNSANE). The "Three Mothers" trilogy of films was finally completed in 2007 with the release of MOTHER OF TEARS: THE THIRD MOTHER, which starred daughter Asia and actually wasn't bad at all considering Argento's disappointing streak of films during the new millennium.

★★1/2

El buque maldito (1974)

... aka: Blind Dead 3
... aka: Ghost Galleon, The
... aka: Ghost Ships of the Blind Dead
... aka: Horror of the Zombies
... aka: Ship of Zombies
... aka: Zombie Flesh Eater
... aka: Zzzzzzombies on a Ship (OK, I made this one up)

Directed by:
Amando de Ossorio

El buque maldito (best known here in America as either The Ghost Galleon or Horror of the Zombies), third entry in de Ossorio's Spanish Blind Dead series, following up TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (1972) and RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD (1973) and followed by NIGHT OF THE SEAGULLS (1975), features the novelty of the skeletal Knights Templar at sea. It's an interesting concept, but sadly this film fails to make much of it. As part of a publicity stunt, a modeling agency puts bikini-clad models Kathy (Blanca Estrada) and Lorena (Margarita Moreno) in a boat way out at sea hoping they'll be rescued by a passing ship and make front page news. Unfortunately, both girls become lost in a thick blanket of fog, run across a large ghost ship and disappear immediately after boarding; first getting word out (via radio) what's going on.

Fearing the bad press headed their way if they don't locate the girls and bring them back safely, photographer Lillian Perry (Maria Perschy), agency head honcho Howard Tucker (Jack Taylor) and his sadistic assistant Sergio (Manuel de Blas), who all spearheaded this odd campaign, decide to take Howard's yacht out on the sea to find them. Also going along are Professor Gruber (Carlos Lemos), who is schooled on the Phantom Ship legend and wants to see if there's any truth to it, and blonde Noemi (Barbara Rey), who lets everyone know there will be hell to pay if her roommate and best friend (Kathy) isn't found. At nightfall, the five enter into the mist (which is actually another dimension altogether and is invisible to radar), run into the galleon, board the boat and begin looking around. Their boat disappears and instead of finding Kathy and Lorena, they find a bunch of large chests, which are the coffin-like resting places of the hooded, skeleton-faced Knights Templar zombies. They rise from their slumber every once in awhile to spill some blood for Satan and are scared of fire and crucifixes. We also discover there's a hidden treasure on board the boat, but this revelation almost seems like an afterthought thrown in at the end to ensure the death of one of the characters.

The cult reputation of this series, as far as I can tell, seems to rest mainly on the fact they have cool-looking zombies. They're definitely the highlight of this movie; creepy and menacing looking as they rise up from their tombs, slowly shuffle toward their victims and reach out their bony hands at them. Raúl Artigot's cinematography and Antón García Abril's score are also worth praising and help to make it all fairly atmospheric. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is pretty much a boring mess. My biggest problem with Ghost Galleon is that is lurches along with the same exact momentum as the featured shambling undead. The pace is deadening slow throughout... The annoying, thoroughly unlikable characters bitch, walk, stand around with their mouths gaped open for minutes at a time anytime anything weird happens and sleep (you might feel tempted to do the same). And when the ghouls corner a victim, if you're expecting a nice bloody killing to commence, then you're just shit out of luck with this one. Almost all of the mayhem takes place off-screen, aside from one dismemberment murder which we only see about three quick flashes of (and this scene itself has been cut out of some of the video prints). I still have no idea why it's rated R. The dubbing and dialogue are both bad bad bad, not that I expected otherwise.

The Blue Underground DVD comes with a few extras (namely a poster and still gallery, a couple of trailers, a TV spot and radio spots). They also released a box set with all four Blind Dead titles.

1/2

Quatermass and the Pit (1967)

...aka: Five Million Years to Earth
...aka: Mind Benders, The

Directed by:
Roy Ward Baker

Workers at the Hobb's End Underground Transport unearth skeletal remains that seem to date back five-million years. They also hit a strange non-metallic plate that ends up being part of an alien spacecraft. Perplexed by the substance, which is harder than diamond and resistant to the 3000 degree flames from a blow-torch, some conflicting experts are called in to investigate. Derelict apartments across the street from the excavation site have strange claw marks on the walls. A hidden compartment on the ship also houses some dead, medium-sized, horned, green, insect-like creatures. But it's really the ship itself that poses the strongest threat. And what is lying dormant in all of our minds. The military, of course, continually butt heads with the scientists and call the whole discovery a hoax (a "German propaganda item" from World War II). But Professor Bernard Quatermass (Andrew Keir) thinks otherwise and proposes a theory that offends just about everyone involved; managing to question both creationism and evolution. Quatermass comes to the conclusion that millions of years ago, aliens landed on Earth, removed primitive apes and took them back to their home planet (which may have been Mars) for experimentation. They continued to do so, each time making them more intelligent until man was eventually born… He could be right, but not necessarily. The government definitely is on the wrong track and open up the site to the general public. The dormant evil is unleashed and those exposed to it become mindless and violent. Buildings collapse, fires start, citizens go on a rampage and London will eventually be completely leveled if Quatermass and chief archaeologist Dr. Roney (James Donald) can't stop it. Barbara Shelley co-stars as Barbara Judd, an assistant who has visions of an alien colony and becomes possessed, eventually getting socked in the face by Quatermass himself! Julian Glover is the close-minded militarist who's fried into a crispy critter.

All four of the principal actors are excellent in this intelligent, thoughtful and multi-layered science-fiction film, which raises an impressive number of interesting questions. And it's not without a sense of humor. The "Hammer Collection" DVD has both the UK and US trailers ("It could happen in your lifetime!"), plus the science fiction episode of the ho-hum 1990 WORLD OF HAMMER TV documentary series (narrated by Oliver Reed), which covers the titles DICK BARTON STRIKES BACK, THE DAMNED (aka THESE ARE THE DAMNED), FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN, QUATERMASS 2, QATP, QUATERMASS XPERIMENT, SPACEWAYS, X THE UNKNOWN and a few others.

★★★1/2

Latidos de pánico (1983)

...aka: Cries of Terror
...aka: Frantic Heartbeat
...aka: Panic Beats

Directed by:
Paul Naschy

This isn't all rotten if you hang in there. It's like a trashy Gothic soap opera running at half-speed with pretty decent acting, mild sex scenes, plenty of female nudity and a hilariously mean-spirited and lecherous roster of characters who use, deceive, manipulate, seduce and kill other people without thinking twice about it. It opens with a foggy, great-looking, atmospheric scene of infamous sadist Alaric de Marnac (laid over from Naschy's fun 1972 film HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB) tracking down a (nude) victim on horseback before mauling her to death. In modern times, Alaric's look-a-like descendant Paul (Paul Naschy/Jacinto Molina) decides to take his terminally ill, wealthy wife Genevieve (Julia Saly) out to his secluded childhood home for a much needed break from the stress of big city life (and possibly buy her some more time). Waiting for them at the home are elderly maid Mabile (Lola Gaos), who's been around since Paul was a young child and used to spook him with stories about the family lineage, and her sexy niece Julie (Paquita Ondiviela), who had a rough childhood and claims she is looking to make something of her life. A month after arriving in the home, Genevieve has gotten close to both Mabile and Julie and her health is improving, but the peace doesn't last long as she's haunted by mysterious visions of Alaric back from the dead. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the forces conspiring against her are actually in human - not spirit - form, and said forces want her dead to get her money, but the less I reveal about this one the more you will probably enjoy it. It does sound like your standard issue psycho thriller, and in most ways it is a bit on the ordinary side, but the story does hold a few surprises that I won't spoil.

One of the things that this movie has going for it is that none of the characters are portrayed as saints and there's a certain duality to everyone, making the interplay between them a bit more interesting and unpredictable than what you normally see. The cinematography is competent; very stylish and colorful any time some-thing "supernatural" is going on. The four leads are all good. Plus there's one moment of over-the-top gore that will definitely catch you by surprise. It's worth a look. Also in the cast are Silvia Miró as Naschy's mistress, Manuel Zarzo and José Vivó as doctors and Salvador Sáinz as a priest.

Go straight for the Mondo Macabro DVD (an excellent print with a load of interesting special features); quality for the Spanish language VHS version and the subtitled VSOM video don't do the film justice.

★★

Ozone Attack of the Redneck Mutants (1986)

Directed by:
Matt Devlen

A farmer comes down with a nasty cough, starts puking up thick yellow and green gunk and then becomes a pink mutant monster. Could it have something to do with a chemical spill at the friendly neighborhood nuclear power plant? Or maybe it has something to do with the depletion of the ozone layer? Hey, it's been really hot this particular year. Or maybe it's a combination of the two? Regardless, something's been creeping into the water supply and crops and managing to transform the populace of a small farming community into hideous, murderous, mutant creatures. Writer and college environmental science major Arlene Wells (Blue Thompson) has just arrived in the small town of Poolside to investigate the chemical spill and do some environmental research. Tagging along is the extremely annoying and whiny Kevin (Scott Davis), who managed to stow away in the trunk of Arlene's car. His wealthy father works for an oil company and may have something to do with the mutant outbreak. After doing an analysis of a local pond, Arlene is so disturbed by what she discovers, she tries to make an emergency call to the EPA but is interrupted by a mutant attack. Meanwhile, obnoxious redneck Wade McCoy (Brad McCormick), who spends his days trying to get into his girlfriend Sally Mae's (Rhonda Rooney) pants and shooting watermelons and pumpkins with a rifle, answers their CB call and comes to the rescue. They all end up back at his elderly ma's (Janice Williams) house just in time for a picnic. Eventually one of them is turned into a mutant, kills another and then chases the two survivors to a General Store talent contest, where more people are butchered.

During one scene, a farmer strangles his wife, slashes her up with his claws, pulls out her eyeball and eats her face, as hilariously exaggerated amounts of blood fling all over the kitchen. Another women is scalped after a terrible rendition of "16 Tons." There are two mutant attacks on cars, a silly mutated fox attack, a head blown off with a shotgun, a tongue eaten out, a gutting and other bloody gore scenes. The mutant make-up isn't bad and there's the occasional very funny bit, but this movie suffers a lot from post production dubbing and time padding. I'm pretty positive that the dialogue was all dubbed in later. Most of the supporting cast are given comically annoying country fried accents (only some of which are funny) and the Kevin character is given one of the most irritating voice-overs (and dialogue) in memory. Ditto with the Wade character.

This ultra low budget Super 8 production runs an hour and a half, but if you cut out all the boring scenes of people cleaning kitchens, driving, walking around in fields, ironing clothes, cutting up vegetables, getting dressed/putting on make-up, the run time would probably be only half that. Still, it's got that cheap Troma-like vibe going on that's going to appeal to some people out there and some parts (particularly the ones with the farm couple and the old lady) are amusing. A hard movie to track down these days.

1/2

Omen, The (1976)

Directed by:
Richard Donner

Politician Robert Thorn (the always solid Gregory Peck) and his wife Katherine (Lee Remick) are in Rome when she goes into labor. The baby dies, so Robert decides to adopt a newly orphaned baby (without telling his wife of the substitution) and then the two move to England when he lands a job as American ambassador. When their child, Damien (Harvey Stephens), turns five, all kinds of horrible things begin happening and people start dropping like flies in gruesome "accidental" ways, leading Robert to believe he's inadvertently taken the antichrist into his home. He's right, of course, and goes back to Italy to discover the truth, taking along a photographer whose life is also in danger (David Warner), while leaving Damien in the care of the strange new governess (Billie Whitelaw), who turns out to be, quite literally, the nanny from hell. The lead actors (particularly Whitelaw) are all excellent, as is Gilbert Taylor's soft focus photography and Jerry Goldsmith's now-classic Oscar-winning score. Director Donner and scripter David Seltzer put the emphasis on suspense, pacing and character, and wisely keep gore to a minimum to increase the impact of the death scenes when they do arrive in this intelligent and scary horror classic. Also with Patrick Troughton (very good as a guilt-stricken priest who tries to warn Robert about what's going on before it's too late), Leo McKern (uncredited) and Nicholas Campbell.

Followed by DAMIEN: OMEN II (1978; featuring a teenage Damien learning to come to terms with his destiny while in boarding school), THE FINAL CONFLICT (1981; featuring an adult Damien's rise in the political world) and OMEN IV: THE AWAKENING (1991; a made-for-cable flick dealing with Damien's evil little daughter Delia). There was also an atrocious, horribly cast and mostly ineffectual 2006 remake.

★★★1/2

Midnight (1989)

Directed by:
Norman Thaddeus Vane

Lynn Redgrave hits a career low as a thoroughly unlikable actress who works part-time as a horror movie hostess called Midnight (rising from a coffin and screeching like The Crypt Keeper) and full time at being a stupid and obnoxious bitch named Vera. Even more shocking than her tacky get-up (ghost-face, outrageous eyeliner, black crimped wig and spandex jumpsuits) is how she manages to keep a job with her third-rate act and flagrantly irritating demeanor; degrading her fans on a regular basis, telling a female reporter “How would you like it if I sat on your face?” and getting mouthy with the producer of her show. One day, Midnight notices that dim, motorcycle-riding, “hunk” and aspiring actor Mickey (Steve Parrish) is following her around (“I’m your biggest fan!”), so she reacts to this stalker by screwing him and letting him move into her large L.A. mansion the same day. Tony Curtis (who has also seen better days) is Mr. B, a slimy TV mogul usually surrounded by bikini-clad starlets. He currently has an “oral” (har har) contract with a hot blonde named Missy Angel (Karen Witter). After Midnight threatens him (“I’ll give you herpes on your pecker!”) and refuses to sign over the copyright of her name and image, he cancels her show and soon after a series of murders begins. Missy and Mickey also start an affair and get the lead roles in one of Mr. B’s productions. Midnight, Mickey, Mr. B and Missy are all pissy for various reasons, so when people start disappearing you’ve got your line-up of obvious suspects right there, so I guess I won’t give anything away by saying that Midnight’s at-home staff includes a faithful, near-mute and extremely bizarre chauffeur named Ziggy (Gustav Vintas).

There’s a drowning, a hanging, a nightmare sequence, a scene of Midnight fake poisoning herself on her TV show and plenty of terrible dialogue and one-liners. Stunning former Playboy model Witter (a 1982 Playmate) is the only thing worth watching in this offensively awful wanna-be cult film (and failed Hollywood satire). Also in the cast are Wolfman Jack, Rita Gam, Frank Gorshin, Kathleen Kinmont, Robert Miano and Tiny Lister.

La mansión de los muertos vivientes (1985)

...aka: Mansion of the Living Dead

Directed by:
Jesus Franco

Jess claims this one’s an attack on the Catholic Church. If you’re anything like me, all you’ll probably see is a tropical titty flick; simple Euro sexploitation in its purest (and silliest) form. I had no expectations at all going into this one (still basically cutting my teeth on the director's work), but I really can’t recall spotting much in the way of satire, commentary or anti-religious sentiment, as its only goal seemed to be to get the female cast members as naked as possible and getting them to participate in graphic lesbian scenes. Did I misunderstand it? Who the hell knows. The appeal of most of the Franco films I've seen has been completely lost on me. MANSION is goofy, lame, laughable, padded out, exploitative, badly paced, horribly scripted, amateurishly acted and, worst of all, exceedingly boring. To make things seem even more desperate, those expecting a zombie horror flick like the title (and ad art on the Severin DVD) implies will find the terror scenes are not only very skimpy in content, but also so few and far between that this barely merits being called a horror film. And what is the deal with the title? I don’t recall there being a mansion; just a large hotel and a monastery. Furthermore I’ve seen this listed as a spin-off on Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead series, which it’s most certainly not. Oh well. As one wise bloke once quipped “There’s no truth in advertising.”
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As the film opens, we’re introduced to four giddy, giggly, barely-clad, fun-loving women and as much as I hate to dwell on the physical attributes/appearances of the actresses, since this movie is mostly about nudity and sex, it seems appropriate. Easily the best-looking of the bunch is Caty (“Jasmina Bell” / Elisa Vela), who is very attractive, looks like she’s in her early 20s and is of Asian origin. Lia (“Mamie Kaplan” / Mari Carmen Nieto) looks about 15-years older, has a pretty awful haircut and looks like one of those over tanned barflies who still has it going on the body department. Having the exact opposite problem is Lina Romay, playing “Candy” using the name “Candy Coster.” I’ll cut her some slack because she still has a lovely enough face, but she’s pretty damn chubby here. Seeing her square ass spilling out her of her daisy dukes and her stomach rolls during the “love” scenes may be distracting to more modern audiences weaned on Skinemax soft-core. Rounding out the quartet is Mabel, played by Mabel Escaño, amusingly the only one brave enough to use her real name. She looks about 50 years old, is short, over tanned, even more “pleasantly plump” than Romay, wears way too much eye make-up and sports some ugly, fried orange hair. So there you have it; a virtual smorgasbord of flesh spanning about three decades. And all four spend the majority of their screen time completely naked. Knock yourself out.

So the girls show up at an oceanfront hotel in their skimpy tops and short shorts. It’s a huge place, but no one else is there and the bizarre-acting owner (played by Franco regular “Robert Foster”/Antonio Mayans) is obviously up to something. The girls pair off into two groups, go to their rooms and then reveal they’re kind-of, sort-of in secret lesbian relationships with one another but actually are hoping for some dick while on their vacation. Almost immediately, clothes are stripped off and the girls get down to business. There are two fairly graphic girl-girl scenes, both featuring Romay with each of the two younger women and both of which fall somewhere between late-night cable and hardcore porn. The girls talk some (the dialogue translations are monumentally stupid), walk around a lot and encounter some old pervert on the beach while sunbathing topless. One of the ladies goes for a walk and disappears. Then another.

Right down the road is an old monastery, which also happens to be home to an evil cult of undead hooded monks, some of whom get to wear skeleton masks while others have some terribly cheap make-up application that looks like globs of Vaseline on their faces. The leader of the cult has long dialogue scenes in close-up, says to a victim “Obey slut!” and explains that the curse of the zombie monks can only be broken when he falls in love. In the meantime, the monks gang rape women and then vag-stab them, and one of the girls is eventually possessed. There’s also a strange subplot involving the hotel owner and his “wife” Olivia (Eva León), a naked blonde kept chained up on bed, who is tortured, raped, threatened with poisoning and half starved to death. The scenes between these two are actually more interesting to watch than the main storyline.

It’s all pretty much a mess. Sometimes an amusing mess, but a mess nonetheless, and a slow-moving one at that. There are a few nicely composed/lit scenes here and there (especially ones taking place in the hotel hallway), too many sloppy zooms, zero gore and tons of full female nudity. Franco also wrote (apparently based on his own novel!!), edited, shot and scored this using various aliases.

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