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.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Hell Night (1981)

Directed by:
Tom De Simone

One of about a hundred standard teen slasher flicks to hit the market during the early 80s, this one's full of the usual clichés you expect with one of these films, but it's still watchable and fairly well made for the genre. Many years ago at a secluded estate called Garth Manor, a man and his wife had a succession of deformed/retarded children. One day the dad went crazy and butchered most of them, but rumors circulating around town say that not all of the family are dead and some of them still lurk the grounds. No one has even lived in the home for 12 years. During "Hell Week," fraternity/sorority hazing rituals state that any new inductees must spend six hours inside the mansion. After a costume party, four pledges are taken to Garth Manor, dropped off and a lock is placed on the very high iron gate (with razor sharp blades on the top) so no one can sneak off the property. In other words, once they're in for the night, they're in for the night. Scream Queen Linda Blair is Marti the cherubic, down-to-Earth chick who knows all about cars and how to flaunt her cleavage in a low-cut gown, Peter Barton (FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER) is Jeff the nice rich kid who doesn't like being labeled a snob just because his family has money, Vincent Van Patten (son of Dick) is Seth the not-so-bright surfer dude and Suki Goodwin is Denise the British party girl who seems like she's about ready to head off to rehab. Once inside the mansion, two of the guys pair up with two of the girls. Seth and Denise high tail it upstairs to one of the bedrooms while Marti and Jeff decide to get to know one another by the fire.

While they're getting settled in, the head of the frat (Kevin Brophy, who starred in the lame campus-set alien mummy movie TIME WALKER), the head of the sorority (Jenny Neumann, from the Aussie slasher flick STAGE FRIGHT/NIGHTMARES) and a nerdy electronics wiz (Jimmy Sturtevant) sneak onto the grounds and decide to scare the pledges. They've apparently already been there earlier that day and have wired the place up with all kinds of fright gags. Speakers scream, skeletons pop out of closets, doors lock by themselves and a ghost/zombie hologram appears. But these aren't the only scares these kids will have. The rumors about the surviving family member or members turns out to be true as a hulking, deformed retard or retards sneaks around through secret passageways and start killing them all off one by one in a variety of ways.

This movie has its good points and bad points. The accent is more on old fashioned scares and suspense than on gore and sex. The movie does not always pull off what it's attempting, but it gets credit for at least trying. There's very little blood and no nudity here so exploitation fans might zone out. When the pledges are dropped off, the frat king informs them that all the utilities have been shut off yet they somehow manage to wire all kinds of electronics in the home and at one point someone manages to get a toilet to flush. There's also a ridiculous scene at a police station where someone basically just walks into a room, grabs a rifle and ammo off the desk and jumps out a window without managing to be seen. The acting is acceptable and they try to make at least a couple of them likable. Since nearly the entire movie takes place at night, it's a pretty dark film and much of the time things are partially seen or difficult to see. Again, this works at times but other times is kind of frustrating. It was a good idea to keep the killer in semi-darkness most of the time, in my opinion.

One of the best things this movie has going for it are the sets. The mansion exteriors are creepy enough, the decor inside is appropriate (not sure where all those candles came from, though), there are some cool secret passageways and staircases and scenes take place outside by a greenhouse, by a pond, on the roof and in some very well-designed catacombs beneath the house where the killer hides out. The director also scores points for making good use of his locations. Regardless, I found myself kind of disinterested in the mid-section of the movie because it was all-too-familiar territory to me. It's not until most of the people are dead that the film really hit its stride and becomes more exciting, suspenseful and action-oriented. Slasher fans who don't live for blood, guts and breasts will probably enjoy this one.

★★

Hell High (1985)

...aka: Raging Fury

Directed by:
Douglas Grossman

A little blonde girl accidentally kills a couple on a motorcycle for breaking her doll. "18 years later" the same disturbed little girl is a reclusive, repressed high school biology teacher (Maureen Mooney) with a pack of obnoxious students who hate her. After she slaps a punk named Dickens (Christopher Stryker) in the face for tossing test papers on the ground, he informs his gang friends "I'm gonna stick it to that bitch!," so one day after a football game they show up at her secluded home wearing masks, watch her body double take a shower, throw swamp sludge on her and try to rape her. She snaps and tries to kill herself by jumping out of a window, then recuperates and gets revenge. Bloody and in her lingerie, she sticks a pencil in a guy's head, attacks with a butcher knife, plans to do a human dissection and beats a girl's face to a bloody mess with a rock. End of movie. This is sort-of like a teen version of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE - a boring, no-thrills revenge movie with some T&A, a little gore, annoying characters and a relentlessly boring opening hour where nothing much happens. Can't say I'd recommend it to many people.

Small roles are played by Daniel Beer (the main guy from "The Raft" segment of CREEPSHOW 2), second string Scream Queen Karen Russell (who appears in the opening scene and has a topless scene) and ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES director John DeBello as a copper. It was released in 1989.

1/2

Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1965)

...aka: Jesse James Meets Frankenstein

Directed by:
William Beaudine

Jesse James (John Lupton), his muscle-bound, twang-talkin’ sidekick Hank Tracy (Cal Bolder) and the remainder of The Wild Bunch plot a 100,000 dollar stagecoach heist, but it backfires when an informant tips off the authorities and they’re ambushed. Hank is shot, but he and Jesse escape and encounter a helpful, heavy-breathing senorita named Juanita (Estelita Rodriguez), who agrees to take them to the town doctor. Guess who the town doctor is? Why, it’s Maria Frankenstein (Narda Onyx), a lady doctor who, along with her more reluctant brother Rudolph (Steven Geray) has wiped out an entire Spanish village by doing botched (and bloodless) experiments. When Jesse shows up to the castle looking for help, Maria tries to seduce him away from Juanita, but her advances are rejected. For revenge, she decides to turn Hank into a hulking creature that she will later re-name Igor. The chintzy lab sequences consists of patients slapping on a red, yellow and green rainbow cap with blue tubes running out of it and then turning on the ‘pulsator’ which will ‘transmit living vibrations to the artificial brain.” Long shots of the castle are obvious paintings.

Beaudine also made BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA (1952) and the equally absurd and cheap BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA (which was shot back-to-back with this one and played on double-bills with it).

1/2

Jaws of Satan (1979)

...aka: King Cobra

Directed by:
Bob Claver

I'm a big fan of killer snake flicks, but this one didn't quite cut the mustard. Nonsense plot involves Satan himself materializing on Earth in the form of a giant, deadly, fast-moving KING COBRA (the original title of this film). Fritz Weaver is a determined priest out to stop it, John Korkes is a helpful herpetologist who blows the top of one’s head off with a rifle in a standout gore scene and Gretchen Corbett is a reporter who is attacked by a rattlesnake in her bedroom. There’s also a very young, but recognizable, Christina Applegate as the daughter of the mayor, who becomes a snake bite victim. The film comes complete with one of those irritating cover-up subplots by city officials who (yawn) don’t want to cause a panic and scare off tourists. Some of the attacks pack a punch if you’re scared of snakes, but you can still clearly make out a glass barrier between the victims and the snake in some of the shots. It wasn't released until 1981.

1/2

Jack the Ripper (1976)

...aka: Dirnenmorder von London, Der
...aka: Erotico profundo

Directed by:
Jesus Franco

Klaus Kinski (in his umpteenth Franco film appearance) is a quiet, reclusive doctor dressed in a top hat, black trench coat and cane, living in a boarding house in turn-of-the-century London. His landlady (Olga Gebhard) thinks his midnight excursions out are of the charitable nature, but in fact he’s actually out late at night dismembering hookers because they remind him of his “whore” of a mother. The usually nude women are sliced up in various ways, the bodies are given to a deranged woman who think they are broken dolls and sinks them in the river and chief inspector Anthony Selby (Andreas Mannkopff) of Scotland Yard is on the case. Franco saved the most disgusting stuff for his wife, Lina Romay (who plays a singer and burlesque performer). She’s stripped naked, stabbed, raped with a razor and then has her breast, arms, etc. removed in loving detail. The blood looks like red paint. Josephine Chaplin (Charlie’s daughter) has nothing to do but appear topless as a ballerina. Herbert Fux is a fisherman who pulls a hand out of the Thames River (the subject of several later groan-inducing jokes). The anti-climactic ending is pretty awful; when Jack is finally confronted by the police, he basically just gives himself up and that's that.
.
The heavily cut American version of this Swiss/West German film is missing around ten minutes, which have been restored for the DVD release. It's one of fifteen films Franco made for producer Erwin C. Dietrich and was the highest grossing of them all.

★★

Jack's Back (1987)

...aka: Red Rain

Directed by:
Rowdy Herrington

Review coming soon.

Score: 5 out of 10

Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

...aka: Jaws 4
...aka: Jaws the Return

Directed by:
Joseph Sargent

Review coming soon.

Score: 1 out of 10

Jaws 3 (1983)

...aka: Jaws III
...aka: Jaws 3-D
...aka: Jaws 3 People 0

Directed by:
John Alves

Review coming soon.

★★

Jaws 2 (1978)

Directed by:
Jeannot Szwarc

Review coming soon.

★★1/2

Jaws (1975)

Directed by:
Steven Spielberg

Review coming soon.

★★★1/2

Vase de noces (1974)

...aka: One Man and His Pig
...aka: Pig Fucking Movie, The
...aka: Wedding Trough

Directed by:
Thierry Zéno

Sometimes found on the must-see lists of shock cinema buffs, this grainy, obscure, black-and-white Belgian "art" flick isn't likely to find its way into the VCR or DVD player of many. It has never been officially released in the United States, or most other countries for that matter. And even if it had been, I doubt it would have ever lined the shelves of your local Blockbuster. Well, granted Blockbuster still stocked movies made before 2000. It is an extremely slow-moving and offbeat story of love shared between a disturbed young farmer and his prized pet piggy; a "love" that's a little unrequited for the porcine member of the couple, obviously. Though audacious in premise, it's rather monotonous in execution and suffers from padding and overlong "arty" scenes of the lone character (played by Dominique Garny, who also wrote it) doing silly and/or disturbing things around the farm. He rolls around a metal tube and wooden tub for minutes at a time. He wallows in manure for minutes at a time. He stuffs mason jars full of flowers, feathers and, uh, other stuff, for minutes at a time. He runs around in a field flying a kite for minutes at a time. One thing this movie does manage to nail is the overall feeling of alienation, isolation and loneliness. It feels even more oppressive and removed from conventional society (almost post apocalyptic) in the fact there's no dialogue. The only interactions in the film are between man and beast. Though he desperately tries, the farmer (who is first seen trying to put a baby doll head over the head of a bird) never manages to really connect or find kinship with any of the beasts he's surrounded by. In place of written word we get amplified moaning, all manner of animal sounds and a soundtrack featuring weird electronic bleeps mixed with disquieting noises found in nature.

As far as disturbing content and grim imagery goes, this does have a few scenes that will probably raise eyebrows. Naturally, the plot itself and bestiality content are going to disturb many right out of the gate. There are long takes of the farmer lovingly stroking the pig, lots of intimate close-ups of various pig body parts and even a (thankfully) soft-core man-pig sex scene. Said sex scene eventually results in the pig becoming pregnant and giving birth to three piglets. We get to see a close shot of an actual pig birth. There are also a couple of amusing scenes of the man trying to make his piglet offspring more civilized. He tries to make them wear clothes and even tries to teach them table manners, but to no avail. All this results in pigs being killed. The actual pigs are killed off-screen, but seeing cute little dead piglets hanging from nooses isn't going to sit well with some people. And then there's the consuming of certain things best left unsaid by me. And a bit of puking. The shocks may even be a little mild to the jaded sick movie freaks in the audience who are probably the only ones out there who are going to seek out this particular film.

The films also has this strange fascination with birds. The farm is crawling with chickens and ducks and geese and other birds. I'm sure this is supposed to represent this, and this is supposed to represent that, etc., but it's one of those movies where metaphor is frequently overshadowed by monotony. They certainly found a great crumbling farm (reflection of the diseased mind) to set all the action in, though. All in all, it's probably worth a look for fans of bizarre fringe cinema.

★★

Incredible Shrinking Man, The (1957)

Directed by:
Jack Arnold

Review coming soon.

★★★1/2

Kiss of the Vampire, The (1962)

...aka: Kiss of Evil

Directed by:
Don Sharp

KISS OF THE VAMPIRE (also shown in an extended TV version called KISS OF EVIL, with newly added scenes) has one of the greatest opening sequences of any Hammer film. At a solemn funeral, a casket is slowly lowered into the ground, the priest says a few words and elderly women shed a few quiet tears. At this point a stern-looking man in a top hat, presumably the father of the victim, slowly approaches the coffin. He sprinkles a little holy water over the grave and is handed a shovel. Instead of filling it in with dirt as expected, he suddenly heaves the shovel right into the casket! There's a scream, blood gushes out and then we get a brief peak of what's inside the casket... a lady vampire, of course!

So you have a pretty good idea what kind of problems newlywed couple Gerald (Edward De Souza) and Marianne Harcourt (Jennifer Daniel) are going to face when they run out of petrol and become stranded in the same small European village. While they wait a fuel delivery, they rent a room in a nearly-abandoned inn run by a friendly old chap named Bruno (Peter Madden) and his miserable looking wife Anna (Vera Cook), and then decide to take up an invitation for dinner and drink at the castle home of the worldly, wealthy Dr. Ravna (Noel Willman).

It comes as no surprise that the sophisticated doctor and his two good-looking, seductive grown kids Sabena (Jacquie Wallis) and Carl (Barry Warren) are actually vampires looking for new victims/recruits. The interesting aspect here is that there's a whole cult of bloodsuckers who eventually gather at the castle for a masked costume ball that leads to an initiation ceremony where everyone wears white robes. When Marianne turns up missing at the party, Gerald is thrown out of the castle and finds everyone in the village is either too scared or too far in denial, to be of any help. That is, everyone except for the scruffy, heavy-drinking Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans), who has a bone or two to pick with the family of bloodsuckers. Can Marianne be saved? And what part do vampire bats play in all this?

Hammer made many vampire movies from the late 1950s to the mid 1970s, but to their credit they always had the sense to add new twists to the formula. This one does just that, yet retains all the expected quality elements (effective period atmosphere, excellent photography, lavish costumes and sets, etc.) that made the studio famous. This is one of the lesser discussed of their vampire movies, probably because two well-known genre actors (guess who?) are nowhere to be found. And as much as I like seeing those two fine actors, I think Willman and Evans do just fine filling in for them. The younger cast members are all appealing and attractive. For my money, Edward de Souza was one of the best of Hammer's younger leading actors. Too bad he only did two films for them (this one and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA). Isobel Black (TWINS OF EVIL) has a small, but nice, role in the film as well.

★★1/2

Whistle and I'll Come to You (1968)

...aka: Omnibus: Whistle and I'll Come to You

Directed by:
Jonathan Miller

I couldn't approach this with quite the level of enthusiasm as some of the others here after just one watch. I decided to watch it a second time and then I began to pick up on more, and thus began to appreciate it more. It may be too slowly paced and subtle for some tastes, but I think the majority of horror fans will find it a rewarding 42-minute view, if only for three very creepy sequences, the desolate locations and Dick Bush's gorgeous, haunting black-and-white photography. It opens with brief voice over narration that gives us a little history on source author James as well as an overview of his story, which is said to have been written as a warning about the dangers of "intellectual pride." Professor Parkins (Michael Hordern) is looking for some peace and solitude, so he goes to stay a spell at a quaint little hotel that's close to the ocean. During a trip to the beach he wanders into a small ancient graveyard, finds an old whistle and brings it back to his room. He cleans it and notices an inscription that promises that whoever blows it will be paid a visit... by someone. Being an academic and realist, and thus a supernatural skeptic, Parkins decides to blow the horn despite the warning and ends up getting more than he bargained for.

The first 15 or so minutes are spent with Hordern wandering around the hotel and incoherently mumbling, babbling and groaning to both himself and the staff. On my first watch I found this incredibly irritating and had no clue what the point of it was. Now I realize it was to illustrate his inability to relate to or socialize with "normal" everyday people. To become immersed in academia and intellectual pursuits is often to alienate yourself from the rest of society. After awhile you just can't relate and simple things like basic interaction or making simple casual conversation during a small dinner become awkward and difficult. Though these scenes do have some purpose, I have to admit I felt they were a bit overlong to the point of trying one's patience at times.

However, when it comes to striking and chilling imagery, this one hits a home run on many occasions, which is impressive for a film with such a short run time. As the professor starts to leave the beach after obtaining the whistle, a silhouetted figure stands solemnly behind him as the sun is setting and the waves are crashing. The lack of a music score or a reactionary sound cue makes it even more chilling. There's also a brilliantly set-up nightmare sequence which make excellent use of clipped dialogue and manages to make a piece of cloth horrifying. And then there's the finale, which I won't go into, but it's also pretty darn creepy. The beach locations are excellent, partially because they're not cluttered. Aside from a few poles in the sand and some tall wavering grass blowing in the wind, it's a beautiful yet blank pallet that makes certain images (the mysterious figure, a tombstone) stand out in a striking and ominous way.

Fans of such films as THE INNOCENTS (1961) and A WARNING TO THE CURIOUS (1972) should enjoy what this brings to the table.

★★★

Fright (1971)

...aka: I'm Alone and I'm Scared
...aka: Night Legs

Directed by:
Peter Collinson

FRIGHT starts out on the right note, with an attractive blonde college student named Amanda (Susan George) heading through the dark woods toward a large, remote country home, all set to an eerie ballad called "Ladybird." When she arrives she meets Jim (George Cole) and Helen (Honor Blackman), a presumably married couple who live there with their 3-year-old child Tara (Tara Collinson). The parents show Amanda around, introduce her to their child (who's already tucked in bed and about ready to go to sleep), show her how to work the TV (where she'll later watch THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES), give her their contact information and head out for the night. The mother also acts strangely apprehensive about leaving Amanda there alone, but Jim convinces her everything will be OK. It's a fair enough introductory 20-minute sequence that has echoes of such films as BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974), HALLOWEEN (1978), WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979) and several other films, except this was actually made first. So you have to give credit where credit is due, even though one might not be too thrilled with the eventual outcome.

Unfortunately after the solid set-up with the babysitter-left-alone-in-a-big-old-creepy-house, the film basically falls apart and becomes overwrought and shrill. Someone seems to be creeping around outside the estate, peeping in the windows and such. It turns out to be a maniac who has recently escaped from an insane asylum and is somehow linked to the mother and child. Instead of eliciting chills, the killer character (as played by Ian Bannen) comes off ludicrously. His nonstop, incomprehensible babbling and wide-eyed stares are unintentionally hilarious, not at all creepy. And what was up with Susan George's character? She seems every bit as unstable as the killer; freaking out, screaming and crying over the most insignificant things imaginable early on. Many movies like this try to hint that the lead female is a virgin; I guess to make her seem more vulnerable. This one has to beat you over the head with the fact by throwing in an equally annoying pushy suitor (Dennis Waterman) who basically shows up to try to date rape her and then die. Then they predictably give the killer his own would-be rape scene which tries to fuel the silly surprise 'revenge' ending. Unfortunately, George's character is so grating throughout you can't sympathize much with her. You basically just want someone to stuff a sock in her mouth and do whatever they want with her. No one in this film is even remotely likable and you could basically care less what happen to any of them. For a slasher style film like this, you really need a decent central character to revolve all the horror scenes around or else many people will find it hard to get involved. I feel this film lacks that.

And I don't blame actress Susan George for this. She did a decent job in her role. She's appealing, looks good and her crying and screaming and emoting were all pretty convincing. It's the horrible screenplay, character arcs and dialogue that make this a chore to sit through. The terror isn't gradually built. There's a hysterical tone to the entire film that shows up early on and never goes away, making the whole experience pretty monotonous. Scenes at the house are cut between scenes of Blackman and Cole's night out on the town, which reveal very little aside for a predictable twist that's already telegraphed early on. Things wrap up with a police stand-off at the home, which has some nasty scenes of the killer threatening to slit George and the child's throats with a shard of glass. This sequence is fairly solid for the most part, except it's ultimately ruined by the inclusion of an unnecessary and lame shock twist, which left a bad taste in my mouth.

★★

Nesting, The (1981)

...aka: Mansion, The
...aka: Massacre Mansion
...aka: Phobia

Directed by:
Armand Weston

As far as early '80s haunted house movies go (there were quite a few, most likely thanks to the box office success of 1979's THE AMITYVILLE HORROR), you could do worse. Neurotic mystery novelist Lauren Cochran (Robin Groves) is suffering from the anxiety disorder agoraphobia; meaning she has panic attacks when put in a crowded or unfamiliar environment. Barely able to leave her New York City apartment, she and her doctor decide the best thing for her mental state is a little peace and quiet in a tranquil setting. Lauren, accompanied by her boyfriend Mark (Christopher Loomis), decides to rent a large house out in the country so she can recover from her condition and begin work on her next novel. Strangely, the large, lakeside home she is compelled to rent looks almost identical to the one pictured on the cover of her last novel "The Nesting;" which was illustrated from her own description. Soon after moving in (Mark has to return to NYC, leaving her all alone), she starts suffering from nightmares and starts seeing ghosts lurking around. What's Lauren's connection to the house and why are the murderous spirits that occupy the place only killing select victims?

I noticed skimming through other reviews that some viewers think the first half was stronger than the second. I actually feel the opposite. The first 45 minutes or so were a little shaky and confusing, but I felt the film actually improved and became more interesting during the second and third acts. Thankfully the major plot points are adequately explained with some decent flashbacks. The leading lady is a pretty good actress, but not quite the sympathetic heroine you'd expect to find in a film like this. The architecture on the house itself is very striking and it makes for a terrific, atmospheric country setting. The horror scenes are adequate, yet not very bloody, and there's some brief nudity and sex also. On the down side, some of the dialogue is awful (especially the supposedly witty lines given to the Mark character at the beginning), the film looks pretty dark, dreary and murky (many scenes are set inside barely lit interiors), there's a visible boom mike and some of the supporting performances are rough.

One of the major drawing cards (at least to me) were appearances from prolific character actor/horror cameo king John Carradine and talented and underrated film noir goddess Gloria Grahame, both in small but important co-starring roles. Carradine plays Colonel LeBrun, the wheelchair-bound, sickly owner of the haunted home, while Grahame (who looks astonishingly good for her age and astonishingly good considering she died soon after appearing in this) plays Florinda Costello, the ghostly former brothel madam. Neither has a whole lot of screen time, but do well with what they're given to work with. Fans of either should enjoy their work here. I'd never heard of director Armand Weston before, but it seems like he worked exclusively on X-rated films. He did a fairly good job on this, his only "mainstream" effort.

★★1/2

Juego del adulterio, El (1973)

...aka: Deadly Triangle, The
...aka: Game of Adultery, The

Directed by:
Joaquín Luis Romero Marchent

Judging by the fact this movie doesn't even have five votes on IMDb yet, I assume not many people have actually seen it, and that's too bad. It's actually a pretty serviceable and well-made suspense thriller in the vein of the 1955 French classic LES DIABOLIQUES. While usually considered a giallo, this lacks the bold color, the elaborate murder/gore scenes and some of the more fluid camera-work usually associated with the better entries in that subgenre. However, the majority of gialli I've seen, regardless of how stylish some of the set-pieces may be, are poorly written, move at a snail's pace and are bogged down by showing every single little humdrum detail of detective/police procedural. This one doesn't even bother with the cops, sticks primarily to just four key characters and zips right along from one scene to the next. So despite the fact it's possibly lacking in style as well as gore/violence, it makes up for that by not plodding along like many of the other flicks it's commonly categorized with, as well as having a busy and incident-packed storyline that maintains interest from beginning to end. I also felt that the script and the lead performances in this were much stronger than usual. Like any good film in this genre, the storyline is full of well-played twists that kept you guessing from one scene to the next what's really going on.

The film revolves around an extremely unhappy and bitter couple; John (Vicente Parra - CANNIBAL MAN) and Alice (Erika Blanc - THE DEVIL'S NIGHTMARE) Harris. Alice inherited a great deal of money as well as a lucrative company when her father passed away. After marrying, her new husband John took the reigns. She thinks he married her for her money. He thinks she married him to run her company. At the beginning, viewers immediately side with John. After all, Alice is carrying on an affair with John's handsome co-worker, Andre Larson (Juan Luis Galiardo). When John walks in on them (brandishing a gun, no less!) he nearly keels over with a heart attack spotting the two of them in bed together. John promptly fires Andre. Alice promptly demands a divorce. Before you have a chance to start feeling too sorry for John, we get a peak at what he does in his spare time. That includes making frequent visits to a "floating social club" on a barge that's home to teenage prostitutes, drugs, all manner of sexual perversion and a crime ring! Pretty soon, there's an attempted murder that doesn't quite go off as planned. That leads to one of the principal characters dying, which leads to even more complications. Also somehow involved in all of this is Margot (Ágata Lys), a blonde fashion model who seems to be tailing Alice everywhere she goes.

I don't want to reveal any of the twists that follow because that would be spoiling part of the fun, but let's just say that the film is chock full of deception, false alliances, backstabbing, paranoia, stalking, spousal abuse, adultery, murder, death threats, insanity, blackmail, entrapment, revenge, childhood sexual abuse, creepy anonymous phone calls... You name a plot device and it's probably here. How all of this is finally resolved and the innocent party or parties vindicate(s) his or her or themselves is fairly clever as well, though a bit far-fetched. Some of the surprises along the way involve everything from a cellar full of flesh-hungry rats to a ghoulish/bloody mask to a scenic drive through a field full of land mines! Erika Blanc was the name that drew me in. I'm a big fan of hers, but unfortunately most of her movies are impossible to find here in America. If you also like Ms. Blanc, then this film is well worth tracking down. She not only looks gorgeous, but is in almost every scene and gives a great performance. It was also nice to see Parra in another film since I really liked him in CANNIBAL MAN. Galindo, Lys and the rest of the cast all performed well, too.

I'm pretty sure that this movie was never released in the States on either VHS or DVD, which means you really have to do some searching to find a copy. The print I watched, which actually wasn't in too bad of shape considering it was VHS, came from Greece, but was dubbed into English. I'm not sure if a better one exists out there or not. Somehow I doubt it.

★★1/2

New York Centerfold Massacre, The (1985)

Directed by:
Louis Ferriol

Ahhhh, the '80s. Ronald Reagan, Atari, big hair, spandex, the Commodore 64, mom-and-pop video shops and, naturally, the slasher movie. There was Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers, but who cares about those losers? What about Alma Vinelli? On the outside, a devoutly-religion old crone who likes to sit around all day reading bible passages, singing "Yes, Jesus loves me. The bible tells me so" over and over again and watching Kenneth Copeland's televangelist show on TV, Alma (Jane De Leeuw) proves herself a formidable opponent to her more-famous brothers-in-crime in this camcorder-shot public access video from hell. Alma's frizzy-headed 20-year-old niece Carla (Paula Weckesser) likes to wear (gasp!) short-shorts out in public. If that isn't bad enough, she's hanging out with a girl who makes her money posing in lingerie for a Soho photographer, with only a surgical scar keeping her from showing her full glory. Regardless, the friend suggests to Carla that she go to the same photographer and become a nude centerfold model so she can afford her own place and get away from her religious nutso aunt. Alma knows her niece is being led astray, but what's a 70-year-old God-fearin' Christian woman to do? Well if you're Alma, you put on your finest Christmas sweater, a pillow case over your head and start hacking up nude models. Hey, it might discourage your loved ones from flashing their goods for quick cash if other models who do the same get chopped to pieces, right? I mean, if both the photographer you were going to model for and all his models died before you even got there, you might not even show up, right? Well, if you're Carla you won't let the death of the person who died before you even had a chance to set up an appointment with them keep you from showing up anyway, ready to drop your drawers.

Det. Lawrence Sorenson (Lawrence Lubiner) and his Geri-curl sporting sidekick Williams (Jamel Elam) are on the case. At first they think the killer might be mafioso Tony Martino (Dick Biel - SPLATTER UNIVERSITY), since he previously was involved in child porn and likes to stage bogus auditions so he can drug and rape the starlets who show up. But nah, he's nothing more than your garden variety serial rapist and pedophile, not the actual killer. Try again. Some woman named Marnie (Norma Sparno), who I think is related to one of the victims or is someone's roommate or something, gets fed up waiting for the police to apprehend the killer, so she decides to hire a psychic named Flavian to help her.

Meanwhile... Cassie (Francine Robin Cuff), who suggests her friend wear clean panties to their centerfold audition, and Darlene (Elizabeth Gardner), show up to the (already-dead) photographer's loft studio for an "interview." Cassie can't find a bathroom, so she decides to look for a dark corner where she can relieve herself. While her friend is off urinating on the floor somewhere, Darlene ends up encountering the psycho, who promptly clubs her over the head with a tripod and then sticks a hair dryer in her mouth. I'm not sure what happened to Cassie. She kind of just doesn't come back. During a collage of clips featuring Tammy Faye Bakker (ack!) singing, another model (Leslie Duncan) laying around in her panties is attacked. The killer grabs a bottle with a plain white label with the word "acid" written on it with a ballpoint pen and pours it down her throat.

Lordy... I don't even know where to begin with this one. For starters, it's probably the absolute worst slasher movie I've seen, but since it's about as obscure as they come you won't be likely to stumble across this one unless you're actively looking for it. To be fair, what I saw was a 39-minute composite of re-edited surviving footage made from ancient video sources. Apparently the warehouse the original print was stored in burnt to the ground and destroyed the first generation copy. Regardless, what's left is woefully bad on every conceivable level. I know that the people who reassembled what is being presented here as a film didn't have much to work with, but this was incredibly hard to follow. The editing is the worst I've ever encountered. Often they'd show a brief flash of something that has absolutely nothing to do with what's going on, leaving you sitting there scratching your head saying "WTF was that?" To make matters worse, there are about a half dozen actresses in this with the same bad 80s hairstyle and same exact hair color and I had a hard time telling them all apart. The opening credits boast about "special guest stars" Cheryl Lee and Kandi Barbour. I had to look them up on IMDb, but one played "Leggy Blonde" in just one other movie (granted it's even the same person) and the other was a porno star.

NO STARS!

Horror of Dracula (1958)

...aka: Dracula
...aka: Dracula 1958

Directed by:
Terence Fisher

Certainly one of the best versions of Bram Stoker's novel, this adheres more closely to the book than most, if not all, of the other versions. It was also one of the first color versions of the tale and, along with Hammer's 1957 effort THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), marked a welcome return to serious Gothic horror films at a time when big bugs, vicious space aliens and atomic blasts were kings at the box office. Both CURSE and HORROR were made on tight budgets, but were so good and so well made (not to mention, willing to introduce some blood and sexuality to the works), that they quickly became deserved box-office hits. The then-fledgling Hammer Studios would continue on with a long series of horror efforts (including sequels to both films) for nearly twenty more years after this one, and stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee would continue giving genre films a boost years after the doors at Hammer closed.

Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) shows up Count Dracula's (Christopher Lee) castle posing as a librarian. His elusive host leaves a note for him, but eventually makes a wonderful shadowy nighttime entrance atop a staircase in between two large pillars. Instead of organizing the books, Jonathan ends up distracted not only by his eerie host, but also a distressed young woman (Valerie Gaunt) who claims she's being held prisoner in the castle. Before his stay is over, he's vampirized by the distraught lady, stakes her and himself ends up meeting a gruesome demise when family friend Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) shows up in town. Van Helsing gets little help from frightened townspeople at a local tavern, but a barmaid slips him Harker's diary and he goes to Dracula's castle to investigate, only to find the Count gone and a broken picture frame with a missing photo of Jonathan's fiancée Lucy (Carol Marsh). Rightfully fearing Lucy is in danger, he heads back to London to warn her and her family.

After arriving in London, Van Helsing is met with opposition from Lucy's skeptical older brother Arthur Holmwood (Michael Gough), but gives the family a set of rules for her protection (crosses and garlic) when she starts falling ill and feeling anemic. A maid removes them, Dracula strikes (she makes it a bit easy for the seductive bloodsucker by opening her door, removing her cross and lying back in bed with eager anticipation) and Lucy herself is transformed into a creature of the night. The two return to Transylvania, Van Helsing returns to stake Lucy and then Dracula seeks revenge by returning to London and setting his vampiric designs on Arthur's wife Mina (Melissa Stribling).

Cushing is exceptional as the tireless vampire hunter, a slick mix of brains, courage and cool. Lee is given very little dialogue as the red-eyed count, but is incredibly magnetic and has such a powerful presence that he doesn't need it. The entire supporting cast is top-notch. The sets, costumes, script (by Jimmy Sangster), score (by James Bernard) and cinematography (by Jack Asher) are all uniformly excellent in this; an absolute must-see.

★★★

Body Double (1984)

Directed by:
Brian De Palma

De Palma just about hit the mark with DRESSED TO KILL (1980), his contemporary take on PSYCHO, but is less successful with this Hitchcock copy that borrows wholesale from both REAR WINDOW and VERTIGO. Craig Wasson (from GHOST STORY and ELM STREET 3) stars as claustrophobic struggling actor Jake Scully, who's fired from a vampire film, catches his wife (Barbara Crampton, making her horror film debut) cheating on him and ends up house-sitting for a suspiciously "friendly" guy he barely even knows (played by Gregg Henry). While there, he uses a telescope to spy on his beautiful dark-haired/blue-eyed neighbor (lovely former Miss Universe Deborah Shelton), who performs nightly erotic dances in front of her window. She ends up getting power-drilled by a creepy Indian handyman, and Jake ends up in the middle of a complex murder plot... which also gets him involved in the adult film underworld! The plotting stretches credibility to the limit, Wasson's idiotic, gullible character elicits little sympathy (though the actor himself is likable and sincere enough in the role) and the ending is terrible, but some of the porn scenes are well done (and funny!) and Melanie Griffith (who I normally can't stand) is great as Holly Body, a porn actress unknowingly tied in to the murder. Definitely a relic of the 1980s, this has an enjoyably dated New Wave aesthetic at times, is lushly photographed and has a great Pino Donaggio score. One whole scene is a music video for "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. So regardless of the plotting issues here and a few missteps, I still found this one pretty entertaining and fun to watch.

Dennis Franz has a fun supporting role as a pushy horror film director, Scream Queen Brinke Stevens can be spotted briefly in both clips from "Holly Does Hollywood" and during the music video segment and real-life porn stars Annette Haven, Linda Shaw and the late Susanna Britton (as Barbara Peckinpaugh) are supposed to be in here, too. Also in the cast are Guy Boyd, David Haskell, Ty Randolph (as "Mindi Miller") and Alexandra Day (from the hilariously awful BOARDING HOUSE).

★★1/2

Die Säge des Todes (1981)

... aka: Bloody Moon
... aka: Bloody Moon Murders, The
... aka: Bloody Moon - Säge des Todes
... aka: Profonde tenebre

Directed by:
Jesus Franco

As many horror fans already know, slasher movies were big business in the late 70s and early 80s thanks to the box office success of such films as HALLOWEEN (1978) and FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). Dozens upon dozens of films were cheaply produced in the United States, Canada and various other countries to cash in on the craze. Some were good, some were awful, but most were just average and nothing to get worked up over. This one unfortunately falls into the latter category. While not completely terrible, it's still a mixed bag. Bloody Moon was filmed in Spain around some nice-looking coastal locations by prolific (to put it mildly) Spanish director Jesus Franco, who also appears in a one-scene cameo as a doctor. The backers were West German and a cast of mostly unknown actors and actresses were drafted from Spain, Germany and Austria to fill the roles. There's enough gore and T&A to please fans of the genre, but typically poor English-language dubbing makes much of it is pretty laughable.

Thing begin at a party during the Spanish Festival of the Moon, where a facially-scarred, voyeuristic madman named Miguel (Alexander Waechter) dons a Mickey Mouse mask (!?) to lure a girl into bed and then proceeds to stab her death with a pair of scissors. Just five years later, Miguel is released from an asylum and goes to live with his wealthy, wheelchair-bound aunt Maria (María Rubio) and his loving sister Manuela (Nadja Gerganoff). And when I say "loving sister" I mean loving sister. The two apparently were incestuously hot and heavy before Miguel was committed, but Manuela is no longer interested. Conveniently, the aunt (who for some reason prefers her nephew to her niece) happens to own an exclusive all-girls school catering to giggly, slutty, full-bodied tootsies who seem more interested in disco dancing and trying to screw campus hunk/tennis instructor/gardener Antonio (Peter Exacoustos) than they are on their studies.

Typical slasher movie stupidity soon sets in when a student named Angela (Olivia Pascal) witnesses one of the murders. Naturally, no one believes her and everyone gives her the "you're tired" or "it was all a bad dream" routine. Meanwhile, more girls disappear. Not only do the girls disappear, but so do their bodies. Miguel lurks around in the bushes and peeks in windows. You know the routine. You've seen this all before. In addition to being a slasher flick, the movie also tries to function as a murder-mystery, so don't expect the obvious resolution. What the movie really delivers is a gory murder followed by twenty minutes of tedium followed by another gory murder followed by twenty more minutes of tedium, repeated for about an hour and a half. The murder scenes are adequate. One girl is stabbed through the back, with the blade popping out of her nipple. The best bit involves a girl getting decapitated by a huge saw blade. It's actually a very good effect and well done. The rest of the movie is so-so. Worth checking out if you're a slasher fan and non-fans may get a few laughs out of it, especially the disco scenes.

In many ways, it's an atypical project for the director. The film follows a standard, by-the-numbers storyline instead of a dreamier, abstract narrative. There's little in the way of visual style and few creative liberties taken here. Though there is some nudity, there's no actual sex and the nudity is relegated mainly to brief T&A shots or see-through clothing. One thing remains constant; Franco gives the zoom lens a workout. It zips up to a moon... and zips up to a mouth as it drools blood... and keeps zipping along as it usually does in a Franco picture. Score and cinematography are both decent enough.

★★

Blood Screams (1986)

...aka: Bloody Monks, The
...aka: Maldición del monasterio, La
...aka: Monjes sangrientos, Los
...aka: Monks of Blood

Directed by:
Glenn Gebhard

16th century Mexican monks are tossed to their death from a bell tower by Cordova, a guy who thinks they stole his gold. When police seize the monastery, Cordova slits his own throat and is sealed up in a secret room. Years later, an aimless (and brainless) redheaded American girl (Stacey Shaffer) follows a complete stranger named Hymie (Ralph Navarro aka Rafael Sánchez Navarro) into the same small town where locals prohibit anyone from going into the cursed monastery. A mysterious, unnamed witch (Isela Vega, who is not credited in the version I saw unless she's using an alias) makes the girl have weird, colorful, Argento-like nightmares featuring lots of fog and fire, zombie monks, shadowed figures, burning candles, red and blue lighting and feathers falling from the sky. There's some talk about a hidden treasure, but this (which at least takes place in an authentic, great-looking old Mexican town) doesn't make a lick of sense. Former star Russ Tamblyn has a co-starring bit as a comic magician in a multicolored leisure suit who gets to do what look like some pretty dangerous stunts on a train. Released in 1988. The director also edited, wrote and co-produced.

1/2

Blood Rage (1982)

...aka: Nightmare at Shadow Woods

Directed by:
John Grissmer

Make-up expert Ed French is the only crew member to exhibit any talent in this exercise in stupidity, and his bloody make-up FX are the only reason to watch it. A 10 year old psychopath axes a guy at a drive-in theater (conveniently playing THE HOUSE THAT CRIED MURDER, which was written and produced by the same director) and escapes punishment by blaming his innocent twin brother. Years later, the innocent twin escapes from an institution and the bad twin starts killing everyone in sight to frame his brother (again) and conceal his earlier crime. Mark Soper is terrible in the dual role as the good/bad twins (for some reason he'd somehow manage to land another lead role in 1989's UNDERSTUDY: GRAVEYARD SHIFT II) and Louise Lasser, trying to imitate her hysterical/hyperventilating Mary Hartman character as the mom, overacts something terrible and is a constant source of (unintended?) laughs. Ted Raimi shows up briefly selling condoms in a drive-in bathroom, producer Marianne Kanter gives herself a sizable role as a psychiatrist and French also has a cameo.

So other than the gore (body split in half, cut off hand, etc.) and some brief nude scenes (including sex on a diving board), this doesn't have much to offer. The horrible script (with many lines of choice bad dialogue and one of the most idiotic twist endings I've seen) was written by Bruce Joel Rubin (billed as "Richard Lamden"); the same guy who received an Oscar for penning the top-grossing film of 1990, GHOST! A cut version missing some gore was released to both theaters and video under the title NIGHTMARE AT SHADOW WOODS. It wasn't released until 1987.

1/2

Blacula (1971)

Directed by:
William Crain

African prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) is bitten by racist Count Dracula (Charles Macaulay), who also kills his wife Luva (Vonetta McGee), imprisons him in a casket and seals him up in a tomb. Two-hundred years later, some gay antique dealers transport the coffin to L.A., open it up and unleash Blacula, in a black suit and cape. They bite it (typical first victims), then he goes after the beautiful Tina (also played by McGee), who resembles his lost love, while killing off anyone else he can get his hands on. Tina's sister Michelle (Denise Nicholas, doing a nice job in her film debut), her boyfriend Dr. Gordon Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala, doing a sturdy job in what is essentially the Van Helsing role), police lieutenant Jack Peters (played by prolific Canadian character actor Gordon Pinsent) and others end up getting involved. Blacula appears normal most of the time, but when he attacks, his face turns hairy and green. Generally considered the best blaxploitation horror from this era (a stance I'm not going to argue), this has some amusing animated opening sequence, some laughs, some blood, some great music (particularly "There He Is Again" performed by The Hues Corporation, who would have a hit record years later with "Rock the Boat"), a few genuinely creepy scares and afros, bell bottoms and other hilarious fashions of the day.

Most of the cast is solid if not infectiously enthusiastic (particularly Ji-Tu Cumbuka as the animated club fly Skillet and Ketty Lester as a frantic female cabbie) and Mr. Marshall (a trained Shakespearian actor) is exceptional, regal and very dignified in the lead role. Elisha Cook, Jr. also has a small role as a coroner. Samuel Z. Arkoff was the executive producer of this surprise box office hit, which was followed by the immediate sequel SCREAM, BLACULA, SCREAM (1972), also starring Marshall.

★★1/2

I tre volti della paura (1963)

... aka: Black Sabbath
... aka: Les trois visages de la peur
... aka: Three Faces of Fear, The
... aka: Three Faces of Terror, The

Directed by:
Mario Bava

Originally titled I tre volti della paura ("The Three Faces of Fear"), this three-part horror anthology first made it to the U.S. under the new title of Black Sabbath to remind viewers of how good director Bava's BLACK SUNDAY (1960) was. There were numerous other changes made in the English-language version prepped by distributors A.I.P., as well. It gained an excellent Les Baxter soundtrack (replacing the one done by Roberto Nicolosi for the Italian release), some of the hosting segments featuring star Boris Karloff were removed, the tales were reversed in order and some implied lesbianism and violence were omitted, but that's good ole' American censorship for you (both have since been restored for the Anchor Bay and Image DVD releases, anyway). In any case, this anthology is a minor classic of its kind and is a must see for anyone interested in the development of Italian horror. I'm listing the stories in the order they appear in the original version of the film instead of the way they first showed up in America.

The first tale, based on the F.G. Snyder story "The Telephone," involves a beautiful young woman named Rosy (sexy Michèle Mercier) who is stalked inside her apartment - starting with unsettling telephone calls - by a madman who may have just escaped from a mental institution. The least interesting of the segments, both visually and thematically, this is still sometimes admired for being an early example of the giallo (it was released about seven months before Bava's establishing giallo Blood and Black Lace and is also considered the first Italian thriller to be shot in color). However, the conventional plotting and predictability of it all bogs this short down a little bit. With Lidia Alfonsi (involved in the thinly-veiled lesbian subtext removed from original U.S. prints) and Milo Quesada.

The middle segment, "The Wurulak" (based on the Aleksei Tolstoy novelette "Sem'ya vurdalaka") is an incredibly atmospheric tale with outstanding art direction, photography, lighting and costumes that flavorfully brings us into an eerie Gothic period setting and stars an intense Karloff as Gorca, patriarch of a large family who is turned into a vampire by the curse of the Wurdulak. He returns to his home and proceeds to turn each member of his family, one by one, into the walking dead. Mark Damon (previously seen in Corman's The House of Usher) plays the handsome hero, who falls in love with the lovely daughter Sdenka (Susy Anderson) and tires to save her. All around, beautifully done. Also with Massimo Righi.

The final segment, "A Drop of Water," is based on a story by Ivan Checkov and is generally regarded as the scariest of all the stories. It certainly has the creepiest central image of any of them - an outstandingly hideous and truly freaky-looking corpse! Jacqueline Pierreux stars as Helen, a n unethical nurse who gets her just desserts after stealing the ring right of the finger of a deceased, wealthy old lady. To Helen's unexpected horror, the ghostly stiff comes back looking for revenge. Again, the extremely vivid use of color here is pretty stunning, and a particularly novel use of sound is made in this segment, as well. Also with Gustavo De Nardo as a police inspector and Harriet Medin as a neighbor.

So despite the slight misstep at the very beginning, the two later tales are colorfully, creatively done and drenched in Bava's trademark rich style. It was released on laserdisc (by Image) as a dual feature along with Bava's Black Sunday, which seems to be high on the list of must haves for Bava collectors. Supposedly, in 1968, a struggling heavy metal group called Earth decided to change their name to Black Sabbath when they noticed there were more people in line to see this movie than were attending one of their concerts!

★★★

Bad Taste (1987)

...aka: Roast of the Dead

Directed by:
Peter Jackson

The do-it-all-yourself 16mm sci-fi/horror cult hit that put Peter Jackson on the map is basically a super-low-budget outing designed to showcase some incredibly disgusting special effects (we see brains oozing out of a blown-apart head during the opening sequence). There's definitely some ingenuity at work here and it's an imaginative, spirited first feature for Jackson, warts and all. Filmed on weekends over a four-year period of time and personally financed by Jackson himself, BAD TASTE started life as a 10-minute short called ROAST OF THE DEAD, which was later expanded into a feature with some help from the New Zealand Film Commission. Dimwitted members of The Astro Investigation Defense Service are busy at work counteracting an extraterrestrial takeover in a small coastal New Zealand town, laying waste to dozens of human-looking cannibalistic space invaders in just about every gruesome way imaginable. The aliens themselves, who pass around a bowl of vomit to feast on during a meeting, are on Earth solely to stock up on human flesh for the intergalactic fast food franchise "Crumb's Country Delights," run by master alien Lord Crumb (Doug Wren).

Even though the highly irritating "characters" detract somewhat from the overall effect and the dialogue scenes (which supposedly had to be recorded a second time when the original sound tapes disappeared) can be somewhat grueling at times, they're basically around to link up one gory set piece to another. And gore this movie delivers on in a big way. Moving along at a fairly brisk pace, Jackson serves up about a thousand individual bullet hits, slashed throats, impalements, chainsaw-chewings, brain-matter, intestines, decapitations, severed limbs, bodies ripped into two, blood-squirting heads and much more. The special effects are pretty great, and right when the overkill starts to become extremely monotonous, the film redeems itself yet again when the aliens lose their human disguises, the defense squad get their hands on a rocket launcher and a chainsaw and the house the alien's have been hiding out in turns out to be giant spaceship. Jackson himself has a dual role; as squad member Derek, who stumbles around the majority of the movie with his brains plopping out of the back of his head, and as Robert, an alien butcher.

The Anchor Bay DVD is a huge step in ensuring the cult following of the film makes it through several more generations of horror fans. They've made 16mm look and sound about as good as it conceivably can. Released in two version; the first has a trailer and a Jackson bio and a Special Edition version contains a second disc with a 25 minute documentary on the production.

★★1/2

Bloody Birthday (1980)

...aka: Creepers
...aka: Creeps

Directed by:
Ed Hunt

What a fun 80s horror! In Meadowvale, California three babies are born simultaneously during a solar eclipse. Years later, the kids (Billy Jacoby, Elizabeth Hoy and Andy Freeman) turn ten and go on a violent killing spree, offing horny teens, schoolteachers, cops and others. It's a pretty sick/tasteless combo of THE BAD SEED, VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED and FRIDAY THE 13TH, and kind of jarring to see these calculating kiddies shooting, stabbing and strangling their victims (making some look like accidents), stalking people with guns, spying on people having sex, pretending to put poison in birthday cake, keeping a scrapbook with obituary clippings and doing all kinds of other horrible things! Name-value stars Susan Strasberg as a stern teacher and Jose Ferrer as a doctor get top billing for bit roles; the real star is Lori Lethin (also in THE PREY and RETURN TO HORROR HIGH) as the astrology obsessed teen who catches on. I don't know where they found the kid actors at, but they're all good. You may also want to catch this for comedienne Julie Brown's topless dance scene. According to some reference books it wasn't released until 1986, but that's wrong. It was filmed in 1980 and released the following year.

★★1/2

Toxic Zombies (1980)

...aka: Blood Butchers
...aka: Bloodeaters

Directed by:
Charles McCrann

A flatly photographed living dead cheapie made in rural Pennsylvania with minimal skill and talent. Forget Romero, this thing doesn't even manage to muster up half the entertainment value of Bill Hinzman's laughable (though oddly enjoyable) 1988 rip-off REVENGE OF THE LIVING ZOMBIES (aka FLESH EATER). About a half dozen marijuana harvesting yahoos camping out in the woods are sprayed with a toxic chemical called "Dromax" by a passing helicopter (sent out by some corrupt federal agents well aware of what they're doing). Most of the pot growers start getting sick by the next day, cough up blood and then become raving lunatics who kill random people for their blood. A man (played by Charles Austin McCrann; the director, writer, producer and editor of TOXIC ZOMBIES) going on his annual fishing trip with his very whiny and irritating wife (Beverly Shapiro) and his brother (Phillip Garfinkel) end up getting caught in the middle. There's also a family of four (husband, wife, teen daughter and retarded teen son) on a camping trip that get attacked, as well as a hermit, a trucker, the copter pilot, his wife and a couple of others. The drug enforcement agents (including John Amplas, star of Romero's MARTIN) show up at the very end to complicate matters.

For starters, the enticing re-release moniker TOXIC ZOMBIES is a bit misleading. This was originally filmed under the much more accurate title BLOOD EATERS. In other words, if you like your zombies to actually look like zombies; you known with rotting flesh make-up applications or even a coating of blue or gray or white or green paint to give them an undead appearance, you're sure to be disappointed by the minimal look of the ghouls here. They basically just look like dirty people. Dirty unshaven hippies with a few boils on their faces, to be exact. They grunt, use weapons (basically a machete in one scene and a rock in another) and even burn down a shack with torches at one point. The fact there are only a few of these blood-hungry maniacs lurking about at any given time doesn't really help the fear factor any. None pose much of a threat and are easily disposed of when the time comes. As far as gore is concerned, there are a couple of cheap effects, such as a hand being cut off, a head shot and an eyeball stabbing, but the gore quotient is almost as minimal as the "blood eaters" makeup.

So sadly, fellow zombie fans, all we're really left with here is an inept film that not only looks ugly from an aesthetic standpoint but is also dull from an action/guilty pleasure stance. The first five minutes, which should be attempting to capture our attention, consist of two camera changes of a car driving down a dirt road, followed by two guys walking in the woods carrying rifles. The acting is terrible, there's an irritating, generic and repetitive piano score, silly dialogue not worth listening to, one out-of-nowhere topless shot of a woman sitting by a bucket of water scrubbing her breasts and lots of scenes of people running through the woods... and out of the woods onto the road... and then back into the woods again... It's probably worth a single watch for cheap movie lovers and zombie film completists (some parts aren't too bad and others are amusing in a bad movie kind of way), but most will want to rightfully steer clear.

The writer/director/producer/editor/star was an ivy league graduate (Princeton; Yale Law) employed at Marsh & McLennan Company in the World Trade Center and, sadly, was killed during the September 11th terrorist attacks. R.I.P. to him.

1/2

Baby, The (1972)

Directed by:
Ted Post

There were many 1970s horror films that gleefully deconstructed the family unit (IT'S ALIVE, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, THE HILLS HAVE EYES and many others), but nothing quite like this! Compassionate social worker Ann Gentry (Anjanette Comer) is assigned the case of her career; paying frequent visits to "Baby" Wadsworth (David "Manzy"/ Mooney), a mentally regressed fully grown adult male who wears diapers, crawls around on the ground, cries in an infant voice, sleeps in a crib and sucks on baby bottles (and *cough* other things when he can get his hands on them). Baby lives at home with his domineering, husky-voiced, ball-busting, man-hating mother (Ruth Roman), whose idea of child discipline incorporates an electric cattle prod, and two pretty, but equally strange, grown sisters; Germaine (Marianna Hill) and Alba (Suzanne Zenor). All the kids have different fathers but none of the fathers are anywhere to be found. Neither is Ann's husband; by all indications she lives the life of a widow at the mansion home of her her wealthy mother-in-law Judith (Beatrice Manley Blau, who was the co-founded of the Actor's Workshop in San Francisco). The whole family claim Baby is simply retarded and incapable of improving, but Ann thinks otherwise and the case becomes a personal crusade for her. After frequent visits to the home, she becomes convinced that Baby is actually be a fully functioning adult who has been kept in mentally adolescent state by three women who have some serious mental problems of their own.

Beginning as a strange, engrossing, well-made melodrama of one woman's consuming infatuation with her charge and getting through to the family, it turns into a full blown horror movie by the end with multiple kidnappings, bloody knife and hatchet murders and a character being buried alive. Sure it sometimes feels like a mixed bag of silly, tasteless, campy and downright sick ideas, but the performances are good enough to bail it out when it needs it and compensate for the shortcomings. Ruth Roman is especially terrific here. She possesses the same exact effortless campy qualities that made Bette Davis and Joan Crawford seem so at home in the horror genre during their twilight years. There's a memorable scene when she stumbles into the room to see the teen babysitter, uh, doing something she shouldn't be doing with "baby," and she proceeds to beat the living shit out of her while screeching "You lying bitch!" in her great deep voice. I'm used to seeing Marianna Hill as the lady-in-distress in such films as MESSIAH OF EVIL and BLOOD BEACH, but she's way better here playing it all wide-eyed, aloof and unhinged. Comer does well as the offbeat heroine and David Mooney is excellent in a role that could have come off as a complete joke in someone else's hands. Michael Pataki shows up briefly as Dennis, "one of" Alba's boyfriends during an amusingly gaudily-colored birthday party scene, and Virginia Vincent (the mom from The Hills Have Eyes) is in the movie somewhere. I kept my eyes peeled for her, so she was either cut out completely or was simply an extra during the party scene.

Even though it's well worth checking out, it does go way overboard during the hard-to-swallow finale and note to future filmmakers - Do not put a platinum blonde wig on the stunt double of a redhead. There are no special features on the Geneon DVD I rented, not even scene selection. When you pop it in, it plays. Simple as that. But the quality of the print is excellent.

★★★

Them! (1954)

Directed by:
Gorgon Douglas

Review coming soon.

★★★1/2
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