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 8, 2008

Phantom of the Opera, The (1962)

Directed by:
Terence Fisher

Review coming soon.

★★★

Peeping Tom (1960)

...aka: Face of Fear
...aka: Photographer of Panic, The

Directed by:
Michael Powell

Review coming soon.

★★★★

Parasite (1981)

Directed by:
Charles Band

Review coming soon.

Score: 3 out of 10

Paranoiac (1963)

Directed by:
Freddie Francis

Review coming soon.

Score: 6.5 out of 10

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1974)

Directed by:
Peter Weir

Haunting, extremely atmospheric (also slow, even maddeningly ambiguous) tale of a teacher and three students who disappear one fine sunny day never to be found again. In 1998, Weir re-edited this film, trimming off about 7 minutes of the running time. Based on the novel of the same name by Joan Lindsay. A full review coming soon.

Score: 8 out of 10

Piranha (1978)

Directed by:
Joe Dante

Review coming soon.

Score: 8 out of 10

Poltergeist (1982)

Directed by:
Tobe Hooper

Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams are a happily married couple who move into a seemingly harmless new suburban house with their three kids. Since the house was built on top of a cursed Indian graveyard, all kinds of strange and horrifying things begin to happen. When the furniture starts to move, a possessed tree and clown doll attack, corpses turn up in the swimming pool and cherubic young daughter Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) starts hearing voices coming from the television set before disappearing inside the television set, it's time to call in the professionals; a bunch of eccentric psychics (including the "endearingly" annoying Zelda Rubinstein) to save the day. Equipped with an enjoyably old-fashioned plot, good special effects and acting and a screenplay that doesn't miss the chance to throw in the occasional bit of comic relief, POLTERGEIST is one of the better haunted house movies from the post-AMITYVILLE HORROR resurgence of such films. Fairly violent at times (we get to see someone claw their apart for the family friendly PG rating!), it's also one that helped lead to the development of the PG-13 rating.

Producer and co-writer Steven Spielberg was rumored to have directed some of the scenes, which was one factor that helped to cripple credited director Tobe Hooper's reputation. It's hard to tell if that's true or not, but this movie is certainly very "Spielbergian" in tone and style. What really ended up crippling his reputation more than anything though were his other big-budget studio films, such as the strange and unsuccessful 'nude alien vampiress' science fiction flick LIFEFORCE (1985) and the badly conceived and delivered remake of INVADERS FROM MARS (1986). In fact, Hooper would never see a box-office success even remotely close to this one ever again. It was followed by two sequels (1986's POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE and 1988's POLTERGEIST III) and an unrelated cable TV movie leading up to a syndicated series called Poltergeist: The Legacy. Apparently a remake -ugh- is currently in the works as well. The Jerry Goldsmith score was nominated for an Oscar, as were the visual effects.
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Also with Beatrice Straight as a doctor, the late Dominique Dunne as the teen daughter, James Karen as a real estate agent, Virginia Kiser, Martin Casella, Richard Lawson and porn star Sonny Landham, who's seen cleaning a pool. William Vail (from Hooper's original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE) and Lou Perry (TCM2) also have small roles.

Score: 8 out of 10

Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986)

Directed by:
Brian Gibson

Julian Beck, in a wonderfully creepy performance as a ghostly, sickly-looking preacher named Kane, highlights this otherwise standard sequel. Sure it's a big comedown from the original, but it's still passable, especially sizing it up against the next installment. The same family (dad Craig T. Nelson, mom JoBeth Williams and kids, minus teen daughter Dominique Dunne because she was murdered in 1982) and the same psychic lady (Zelda Rubinstein) are back, as some nasty ghouls show up wanting to take cherubic Carol Ann (Heather O'Rourke) to "the other side." Steve Johnson FX scenes include a "vomit creature", when dad drinks a bottle of possessed hooch and throws up a tequila worm monster (?!) and killer dental braces (oh yeah, that earns another "?!" don't it?). There's a flashback showing cult followers being sealed up in a cave. Beck and Will Sampson (the latter as a friendly Indian who tries to help the Freeling family and naturally knows all about magic and evil spirits because Indians always know all about that kind of stuff) were both dead before # 3 came out. Jerry Goldsmith did the music again, and Geraldine Fitzgerald has a supporting role as the grandma.

Score: 5 out of 10

Poltergeist III (1988)

...aka Poltergeist III: The Final Chapter

Directed by:
Gary Sherman

Poor lil Carol Ann (Heather O'Rourke) is still being pursued by other-worldly beings! Worse yet, she's forced to star in a sub-standard, unnecessary sequel! Trying to escape her past life of being every other malicious spirit's little bitch, our spritely supernatural phenomenom magnet has moved to a Chicago high-rise apartment building to live with her bickering uncle (Tom Skerritt) and aunt (Nancy Allen). Well, guess who shows up out of nowhere to make her life even more miserable? Why Kane the creepy preacher (Nathan Davis, taking over for the late Julian Beck) and a host of spirits out to possess and kill, of course! Well, possess and kill about as much as the PG-13 rating will allow. Oh yeah, and Zelda Rubinstein is back too as whiny psychic Tangina, probably because she's impossible to cast in anything else. Teen daughter Lara Flynn Boyle (in her film debut) is the victim of possession and tricks her boyfriend into an empty elevator shaft during one of the more enlightening moments.

That the characters are mostly unlikable, there's almost no humor and nothing remotely resembling originality occurs at any time, are just three of the factors that kill this entry dead. It failed at the box office and the series wouldn't rear its ugly head again until about ten years later, if you want to count the completely unrelated series Poltergeist: The Legacy, which just deals with hauntings in general. Dick Smith's FX work is passable, as is the score from Joe Renzetti (who took over for Jerry Goldsmith). O'Rourke died four months before this film was released. Expect a remake eventually.

Score: 2.5 out of 10

Point of Terror (1971)

Directed by:
Alex Nicol

Opening on a high note with a Tom Jones clone in a red fringe top and skin-tight matching slacks showing off his groovy dance moves while belting out the tune “This Is Me,” this obscure little exploitation effort from the makers of BLOOD MANIA is worth tracking down for fans of silly cinema. Tony Trelos (Peter Carpenter), serial womanizer and singer at “The Lobster House” (!) meets buxom blonde Andrea (ILSA series star Dyanne Thorne) on the beach. Andrea shows up at his club to watch him shake his hips and sing something about “If things turn out right, I’ll be on top,” then goes home with him and informs him that her bitter, invalid husband Martin (Joel Marston) is the owner of National Records. Meaning, if he plays his cards right he could get a lucrative contract. Tony’s sweet girlfriend Sally (Paula Mitchell) warns him not to get involved because Andrea has a reputation of “collecting men,” but the two begin using each other, anyway; he for a record deal and she for the sex. The husband catches on and during a fight with his wife ends up drowning in the pool. Tony sees everything and tries to blackmail her. A flashback reveals that Andrea also knifed her husband’s former wife to death because she wouldn’t give him a divorce! Blonde stepdaughter Helayne (Lory Hansen) shows up to lay claim on her inheritance, Tony falls in love with her, the two run off to Tijuana to get married about a week after they meet and Andrea gets really pissed and ends up in a crotch-kicking, leg-biting scuffle on the front yard. Meanwhile, Sally finds out she’s carrying Tony’s child and her compassionate lover responds by telling her, “It’s legal now, just tell them you were raped.”

This 70s relic has enough manipulation, blackmail, greed, double-crosses and infidelities to fuel a soap opera for about a year or so, plus there’s a good bit of sex and nudity, hilariously dated fashions and some clever dialogue that’s at times funny, saucy, sarcastic and chock full of double-entendres. Not really good in a traditional sense, but pretty entertaining all the same (until the shitty it-was-all-a-nightmare ending). Based on an original story co-written by star and co-producer Carpenter. The print I saw (it was released theatrically was is colorful and in very good shape. Originally released by Crown International. The director also made (and co-starred in) the above average cheapie THE SCREAMING SKULL (1958) and acted in the schlocky A*P*E (1976).

★★

Pit, The (1981)

...aka: Teddy
...aka: Teddy, la mort en peluche

Directed by:
Lew Lehman

Jamie (Sammy Snyders) is an impossible-to-understand, obnoxious 12 year old sociopath (and pervert!) who has no friends except for his possessed stuffed animal "Teddy," who talks to him. When his parents leave him alone with live-in babysitter Sandy (Jeannie Elias), he discovers a deep hole in the woods full of hairy, yellow-eyed "trogs" whom he starts feeding chocolate bars and raw meat to. About an hour into the film, Jamie finally takes Teddy's advice, and starts luring all his enemies into the hole while goofy music plays. The victims are a bratty little girl, an old blind woman in a wheelchair, a guy who likes the babysitter and a bully who punched him in the face. In one scene Jamie uses a bogus kidnapping scheme to get a librarian to take off her top so he can take pictures and bring them home to Teddy ("I'm gonna look at these a lot!"). Young Snyders actually does a fairly good job in the main role, but there's no gore until the end (and it isn't much), the shaggy monster costumes are pretty bad and, as you can tell, the plot is stupid and childish. It's from Canada and co-stars Sonja Smits (VIDEODROME).

Score: 3 out of 10

Phantom Brother (1988)

Directed by:
William Szarka

Two annoying long-haired teens who look like they belong on-stage with Warrant, and their two big-haired girlfriends (sporting stone washed jeans, no less!) are attacked when they travel to a "secluded" house out in the sticks. The place is home to a deranged, ghostly family (masked brother, giggling pale-faced Girl Scout sister and fat, twitching mother) that were killed in a car crash. A surviving human brother tends to the house, cleans up the bodies and blood and has an overacting, beer-guzzling, white trash adoptive family that want his inheritance to contend with. A movie crew shooting "Vampires on Valium on Valentine's Day" also become victims. There's some gore (electric saw, butcher knife...), a topless scene, lots of juvenile humor and voice-over narration in this silly, very dumb shot-on-video Betacam effort with slightly better lighting, music and sound than most similar efforts. It's a very rare tape and only worth searching for if you're an 80s horror completist. Someone who worked on the film claims the original script was basically scrapped and they just made everything up as they went along. I believe it.

Score: 2.5 out of 10

Phantasm II (1988)

...aka: Never Dead, Part Two, The

Directed by:
Don Coscarelli

Well-budgeted, slicker and more professionally put together "sequel" to director Coscarelli's 1979 original doesn't really add anything new to the storyline, nor does it try to clarify the original's muddy plot points, but it's also not a bad way to spend an hour and a half of your time. The major problem is that it lacks the quirky originality of the first, but it delivers in some other areas the original didn't. A pair of teen psychics (James Le Gros, a much more charismatic replacement for the original's Michael Baldwin, and Paula Irvine), as well as Mike's uncle Reggie (Reggie Bannister) and a mysterious hitchhiker (Samantha Phillips) team up to thwart the plans of the sinister Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), who's up to his old tricks again. The brain-drilling, blood-slinging flying spheres and killer mutant cannibal gnomes return and various other bad guy morticians and hearse drivers are also around to try their hand at dispatching our heroes. The who and why are still extremely vague in terms of who these people are what they plan to accomplish. We do get a clue during a scene that looks inside some kind of alternate universe, which is in located between a pair of humming, electromagnetic steel beams where the mutant midgets are born and bred to crawl out into our world to... Ahhhh, whatever. Forgettaboutit!

Like I said before, it's all smoothly slapped together for what it is and if you can get past the vagueness of character motivations and accept all the bad guys as simply collective evil, the excellent (and plentiful) gore FX by Mark Shostrom (EVIL DEAD 2), creative directorial touches and action scenes will deliver the goods. Robert Kurtzman, Gregory Nicotero and Everett Burrell (who later former the impressive KNB Group) also worked on the make-up. The cinematography is very good, most of the acting is acceptable and there are some great locations used, including a large mortuary. The cast includes Kenneth Tigar, Stacey Travis (HARDWARE), Phil Fondacaro and Ed Gale.

Score: 6 out of 10

Phantasm (1979)

...aka: Never Dead, The

Directed by:
Don Coscarelli

When I watch a movie like this, I dread doing a review for it. Some of you will love it. Some of you will hate it. I loved parts of it, hated parts of it. Overall, it's basically just a barrage of horrific images and concepts, much of it creative and inventive, some of it not so much. One thing's for certain, director/writer/producer/ cinematographer/ editor Don Coscarelli dances to the beat of his own drummer and that's usually something to celebrate. Two brothers (Bill Thornbury and A. Michael Baldwin) and their bald uncle Reggie (Reggie Bannister) take on sinister graveyard dweller The Tall Man (played by the big, wonderfully menacing Angus Scrimm), killer mutant midgets and deadly flying silver spheres. It's all set around a graveyard and mortuary, where Scrimm for some reason is bringing the dead back to life and seems intent on causing as much trouble for the small town as humanly possible. Maybe I like to have character motivations hammered into my thick skull. Maybe I like to know what the bad guys plan to accomplish by slaughtering people. Maybe I'd like to know more about the past of the Tall Man. Maybe I'd like to know more about the parallel universe. None of these things are followed through with in a traditional sense (and the acting from most of the cast is pretty rough), but for the hallucinatory imagery, some well placed jolts and plenty of genuine surprises, this gets a mild recommendation despite the flaws. Just don't expect anything to make sense and be prepared to draw your own conclusions. A graveyard sex scene and some gore had to be cut for an R rating, but has since been restored for the DVD.

There are three sequels thus far, all starring Bannister and from Coscarelli; the slickly produced and bigger budgeted PHANTASM II (1988), which played theatrically, and the direct-to-video PHANTASM III: LORD OF THE DEAD (1994) and PHANTASM IV: OBLIVION (1998). None of those really did much explaining either. A fifth film has been in the works as far back as 2002, but nothing's in production as of this writing.

★★1/2

Pet Sematary (1989)

...aka: Stephen King's Pet Sematary

Directed by:
Mary Lambert

Rural Maine is the setting for this ultra-grim Stephen King adaptation, which he himself scripted. The results are a mixed bag of the potent and the preposterous. Young couple; doctor Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) and his troubled wife Rachel (Denise Crosby), as well as their two young kids, move into a new country home whose front yard extends about ten feet before a busy highway with Mac trucks barreling through every two minutes or so takes over. Good call! To no one's surprise but their own, they turn their back on cute little three-year-old Gage (Miko Hughes) for a couple of seconds, he wanders out into the road chasing a kite and is mowed over. Dear depressed dad decides to take advantage of the neighborhood's cursed Indian burial ground to bring his dead baby back to life. Hey, it worked for pet kitty turned road kill Church, so why not a person? Well, for starters Church came back as a vicious, evil little shit with demonic, glowing eyes. Count that as a warning. Not direct enough for ya? How about friendly ole wise owl neighbor across the street, Judd Crandall (Fred "Herman Munster" Gwynne), informing you the ground is tainted and relating a flashback to how, as a child, he witnessed first-hand what happens when you put a person in there... and it's not pretty. Guess it doesn't matter to Louis. Grief stricken to the point of delirium (there's no other way to explain his senseless behavior), Louis decides to raid Gage's grave and relocate him to the cursed site, resulting in a pale zombie kid who kills everyone off with a scalpel. Is this a comment on how a family can be torn apart by the loss of a child? Literally.

What we basically get here are poorly-conceived central characters doing ignorant things from scene to scene, and it's hard to feel sympathy for people this dense. The book had a better grasp on Louis' descent into madness and the supernatural pull of the graveyard, which is lost in this film version. Being familiar with the book, however, is part of the battle and helps to fill in all of the gaps. There are also several half-assed subplots that needlessly overcrowd the film. One involves the whiny (ugh) young daughter's ESP abilities. Second, Rachel's childhood flashbacks to her deformed sister Zelda writhing in bed in agony as she succumbs to some terrible disease. Pointless? Yeah, pretty much, especially in context to the film and trying to give sad sack secondary character Rachel some kind of human side. But hell if these scenes aren't creepy and priceless, anyway. I still remember as a little kid watching this at the drive-in and hiding my eyes any time Zelda came on screen. Finally, the worst of all the little side steps is Louis being haunted by a level-headed, Jiminy Cricket-style zombie (Brad Greenquist) who pops up trying and failing to hammer some sense into him. What the fuck? Sure, it's probably just a figment of a deteriorating mind, but it's pretty much just an irritating break from the action.

On the plus side, some scenes genuinely do evoke pure horror. The tone and feel of the entire production is extremely dark and nihilistic. Production values (from the make-up FX to the cinematography to the score to the graveyard set) are all excellent. Performances are somewhat less successful, but it's hard to blame the actors when they aren't given a solid footing in the script. Gwynne is pretty good, though, and little Miko Hughes is terrific as the zombie baby. Director Mary Lambert (best known for her music videos at the time) shows some genuine promise when it comes to creating an atmosphere of dread and being able maintain it; promise we'd later see squandered not only by the dreadful 1992 sequel but also her other later ventures into the genre (Urban Legends: Bloody Mary, anyone?) The title track by The Ramones ("I Don't Wanna Be Buried (In a Pet Sematary") won a Razzie award. I'm sure they took that as a compliment.

★★1/2

Pandemonium (1982)

...aka: Thursday the 12th

Directed by:
Alfred Sole

I'm not a fan of these forced type of parodies at all, but this one's slightly better than most of the others made around the same time (Saturday the 14th, The Creature Wasn't Nice, etc.) as it was made by the oddball director of the moody murder-mystery / proto-slasher ALICE, SWEET ALICE (1976) and the tropical simian romance Tanya's Island (1980). Wide-eyed Candy (a very delightful Carol Kane) is among those at "Bambi's Cheerleading School," supposedly the last safe haven for rah rah gals and guys after a worldwide epidemic of cheerleader murders. That is until a gloved (a pair of fingerless motorcycle gloves are used!) psycho starts sticking their pom-poms down their throats and such. Yeah, this thing is full of sub-Airplane / Naked Gun gags, very few of which are funny, but you should be giggling through the finale as Kane runs around in her PJs discovering dead bodies and zapping things with red energy beams coming out of her eyes. The biggest hindrance is a PG-rating; which keeps this from covering all the bases established by the modern exploitative slasher film.

Tom Smothers has a fun supporting role as a Canadian Mountie (with Paul "Pee Wee Herman" Reubens as his assistant!) and Eve Arden (in her last role) and Eileen Brennan both have funny cameos. And check out the rest of the stellar comic cast - Debralee Scott and Candy Azzara as the other main cheerleaders, Judge Reinhold (a year before Fast Times at Ridgemont High), Miles Chapin (The Funhouse) and Marc McClure as the male cheerleaders, Tab Hunter as a football player, David L. Lander, Richard Romanus, Victoria Carroll, Jim McKrell, Donald O'Connor, Kaye Ballard, Edie McClurg, Alix Elias, Phil Hartman as a reporter, Pat Ast, John Paragon and Sydney Lassick.

★★

Horror at 37,000 Feet, The (1973)

Directed by:
David Lowell Rich

One of the fun parts of covering horror movies of the 1970s is the generous amount of made-for-TV movies I get to view. Many of these, such as The Night Stalker films and Salem's Lot are good enough to rival theatrical releases being put out by the major studios at the time. On the flip side, others are so hopelessly dated, tacky and silly they now stand as great guilty pleasures. When you factor in the meager production values, the obviously rushed production schedules (many of the major networks put out at least one movie a week), the campy name value casts, the hideous fashions and the disaster movie-inspired plot lines, you're usually in for a pretty good time overall. This one seems to have been made in response to the mega-popular action-drama Airport (1970) and starts with a good solid 30 minutes of hilariously cliched "character development" before the horror elements even take flight. Strangely, I enjoyed the scenes of the cast just sitting around bitching, boozing, flirting, smoking ciggies (for some reason I love seeing people smoking on airplanes and in hospitals in these older movies) and talking about how miserable their lives are much more than I did viewing the wimpy horror scenes. It gets a little bland toward the midway point, but hell, who doesn't want to see Captain Kirk, Jed Clampett and The Professor from "Gilligan's Island" battling ancient evil forces on a cheap looking airplane set? I know I sure can't pass stuff like this up.

On a three floor cargo plane making a Trans-Atlantic night flight from Italy to the U.S., strange things are afoot. Bickering, wealthy couple Alan (Roy Thinnes) and Sheila (Jane Merrow) O'Neill decide to rent out the whole loading compartment to transport a huge church abbey back to the U.S. to decorate their home with. Unfortunately the church abbey is a cursed relic since it was removed from an ancient druid burial ground. There's talk about spirits communicating via Latin and reciting Black Mass and how the summer solstice has something to do with it and nonsense like that, but it basically boils down to the spirits being restless because they need a human sacrifice. More specifically, they need Sheila to sacrifice herself because she's a druid descendant. One strange ability of the druid spirits is that they can cause death by freezer burn if you get too close to them. Sadly, we only get to see a dog(sicile) and the flight engineer getting the ice death treatment. Oh yeah, and the plane becomes stuck in zero gravity; the engines are going but the plane isn't really moving forward once it reaches 37,000 feet. In other words, someone needs to come up with a solution and come up with it fast before they run out of fuel.

Unlike most other airplane movies there's only about 15 people on board, and that's including the five-person staff; pilot Chuck Connors, the co-pilot, the flight engineer and two stewardesses dressed in mini-skirts and go-go boots. There's also a shrewd Texas tycoon (Buddy Ebsen), an Asian fashion model (France Nuyen), a doctor (Paul Winfield), a little blonde girl, a female musician (Lynn Loring) and a ridiculous redneck western movie star (Will Hutchins). And who could forget William Shatner as the heavy-drinking cranky ex-priest who makes passes at the ladies, drinks from a flask, does his usual frequent pause dialogue delivery and must rediscover his faith to become the surprise hero. However, the cast standout is husky voiced Tammy Grimes as Mrs. Pinder, a woman stalking the O'Neill couple for removing the abbey because they desecrated a historic landmark. She unsuccessfully sued them in Italy so now she's being a total bitch by following them to America to sue them a second time... Unfortunately her plans are derailed once she becomes possessed by a druid spirit. I actually didn't even know she was possessed until the very end of the movie and thought she was just flat out crazy, but she's great and her facial expressions and dialogue delivery are priceless. Also with Russell Johnson and Darlene Carr.

★★

Honeymoon Killers, The (1969)

...aka: Dear Martha
...aka: Lonely Hearts Killers, The

Directed by:
Leonard Kastle

Overweight nurse Martha Beck (Shirley Stoler, in what may or may not actually be her film debut depending on whether or not you believe she's the "Shirley Fitzpatrick" who played the title character in 1959's camp-fest The Astounding She Monster) and her handsome immigrant gigolo/bum lover Raymond Fernandez (Tony Lo Bianco), the "Lonely Hearts Killers" as they'd later become called by the press, met through a singles-ad newspaper correspondence in the 1940s and went on to murder several desperate old battle axes for their money. There was a huge media frenzy during their day as the duo were captured, convicted and finally executed in 1951. Director / screenwriter Leonard Kastle (a replacement for original director Martin Scorsese) uses a completely original approach as far as "true crime" stories go, which will delight certain types of audiences but may leave the purists cold. If you want to see the same exact story told in a more straight-forward, easily accessible manner head straight for Spanish director Arturo Ripstein's wonderful 1996 sleeper Profundo carmesi (Deep Crimson), which takes a different approach to the material but is nearly as good as this one. Regardless, the dialogue in The Honeymoon Killers is often priceless, the stark b/w photography and documentary style approach to the camerawork is a plus and if you're a fan of truly tasteless humor and people plunging into the lowest depths of human behavior, you'll find yourself wondering why you're laughing so much watching these horrible events unfold. Well, you'll be simultaneously laughing and wincing, and maybe even shedding a tear or two for humanity in general. It's an interesting experience to put it mildly.

I know almost nothing about the real "Lonely Hearts Killers," but the deadly duo played so brilliantly by Stoler and Lo Bianco strike up just the right chord with audiences; they anger you, they repulse you and they fascinate you in about equal measure. I thought Martha seemed incredibly desperate and crippled by low self esteem. Apparently the real Martha had been sexually molested, raped and mistreated throughout her youth. The movie doesn't explicitly go there or give specific details about her childhood, but to be as intensely bitter and caustic as the character is in this film, we know she has had a very rough life. I thought they did an adequate enough job hinting at this at the beginning, from her short-tempered interactions with the hospital staff to showing a family dynamic that appears unnurturing and basically alien to her. People don't become that estranged/resentful without good reason, right? The film also does a good job illustrating her intense love for Ray (trying to drown herself when she catches him with another woman, ultimately deciding to spend the rest of her life in jail than allow him to be with other women, etc.), which makes her later descent into savagery seem plausible. Ray was a little more enigmatic, but apparently so was the real Ray. I really didn't pick up on him being someone psychotic (as he may have easily been in real life) but more like a suave sociopathic/remorseless type who will basically do whatever he wants without thinking twice about it (infidelity, theft, murder... whatever!)

I think the filmmakers basically took the skeleton of the true case and then turned it into an original, sick humored comedy about human desperation. I loved how the victims were portrayed and how each were given these eccentric and amusing quirks. I found it to be clever. Sure, it's borderline tasteless (almost slanderous if you want to get technical) to take tragic real-life murder victims (or just use their names) and turn them into oft-irritating weirdos and shrews. However, I liked this as a change of pace to how saintly murder victims are usually portrayed in these types of films. They might as well slap angel wings and a halo on them most the time. There's really no documentation about how these women behaved in real life and we can very easily approach this as a complete work of fiction anyway, so why not? I especially loved the penny-pinching, neurotic Christian lady played so very well by unknown Mary Jane Higby (a former regular "CBS Radio Mystery Theater" actress/writer in her only known film role). She was hilariously grating, yet when she's desperately pleading for her life you can only feel terrible for the poor woman. Loved that performance, plus the leads and the other women who played the victims, especially that oversexed Southern belle who Martha refers to as "the hottest bitch I ever met!"

Like I said, it helps that I am completely in the dark about the Beck / Hernandez case, so I can enjoy this on its own terms instead of having expectations about accuracy. If I actually knew more about this story I might not have the same exact reaction. Definitely a case of ignorance is bliss on my part, I know.

★★★★

Hardware (1990)

...aka: Genetic Warrior
...aka: M.A.R.K. 13

Directed by:
Richard Stanley

Post-nuke Earth is a sandy, endlessly hot, orange-tinted wasteland overcome by pollution and radiation. A desert scavenger finds parts of a "M.A.R.K. 13" android partially buried in the sand, sells them to nomad Mo (Dylan McDermott), who in turn gives them to his red-headed artist girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis). The robot regenerates itself into a heat sensing, merciless killing machine equipped with a buzz saw, drill, claws and machine gun that help it live by its motto, "No flesh shall be spared." Sci-fi/horror thriller is thinly-plotted, unpleasant and grim, but is professionally put together, well acted and slick, with one of Simon Boswell's best scores, and brilliantly bleak photography by Steve Chivers. Excellent make-up and robotics from Image Animation, as well. The film received a lot of publicity when it was released when it was threatened with an X rating. Some of the violence had to be cut for theatrical showings, but have been restored on video (which honestly never seems any worse than an R). It was based on the comic book "SHOK!" by Steve McManus and Kevin O'Neill, who apparently had to sue to get credit, and was filmed on location in London and Morocco. Iggy Pop and Motorhead's Lemmy, who both contributed to the soundtrack, have cameos.

Judging by this and Stanley's follow-up feature Dust Devil (1992), which involved a supernatural / demonic drifter lurking through a similar desert landscape, he has an excellent eye for detail and composition and excels at creating a bleak, desolate atmosphere and mood. However, both films are hampered by uneven, confusing and often muddled writing. Still, his films have that kind of visual style to command attention, so I'd recommend checking out at least one of these.

★★1/2

Indecent Desires (1968)

... aka: Indecent Desire

Directed by:
Doris Wishman

Indecent is right! I figured that only a man could concoct this perverse fantasy, but I figured wrong! Doris Wishman, a woman who made dozens of adults-only cult classics (including the genre pictures THE AMAZING TRANSPLANT, The Immoral Three and the fascinatingly awful A NIGHT TO DISMEMBER) is responsible. This one may be the hardest to categorize of all her work. It's definitely a nudie movie, but has supernatural aspects to the story and an ending that would be more at home in a horror flick so it's earned itself a spot on this blog. A man in wire-rimmed glasses finds a doll in a Times Square trash can that has a strange connection to an attractive blonde named Ann (Sharon Kent). Whenever the sick-o feels the doll up or removes its clothes, the same happens to our poor confused heroine. She's so confused that at one point that she tries to unsuccessfully end it all by jumping off a bridge. At the end he rips the dolls head off! There's plenty of nudity, skimpy outfits and a few fairly tame soft core sex scenes, but this is too claustrophobic, weird and creepy to be very sexy, which is precisely why it's far more interesting than the majority of skin flicks from its era. Doris (who uses the aliases "Louis Silverman" and "Dawn Whitman" here) does treat us to some of her great bizarre-o camerawork, though.

★★1/2

I Eat Your Skin (1970) [filmed in 1961]

...aka: Voodoo Blood Bath
...aka: Zombie Blood Bath
...aka: Zombies

Directed by:
Del Tenney

Mad doctor on a Caribbean island (really Key Biscayne, Florida) is busy at work attempting to concoct a cure for cancer but instead creates (uh-oh!) black, cannibalistic zombies who look like dirt-faced Dennis Rodman's with ping-pong ball eyes. They terrorize the natives, a newly arrived novelist and his bubbly girlfriend. Jerry Gross saved this incredibly boring and nearly unwatchable black and white cheapie, which was originally called Zombies and filmed in 1961, from eternal dust collecting in 1970 when he re-titled it and then teamed it with I Drink Your Blood for a memorable drive-in double bill. I need to do a more detailed review sometime, but I just can't muster up the desire to sit through this one a second time right this minute. The director is best known for THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH (1964), which is also horrid, but in a very good way, unlike this one.

Vela para el diablo, Una (1973)

...aka: Candle For the Devil, A
...aka: It Happened at Nightmare Inn
...aka: Nightmare Hotel
...aka: Nightmare Inn

Directed by:
Eugenio Martín

British photographer Laura Barkley (Judy Geeson) arrives in a small Spanish village for a museum assignment and plans to meet her sister May (Loreta Tovar) at a small local inn. However, her sister is nowhere to be found and the stuffy, religious, outwardly virtuous siblings who run the establishment, Marta (Aurora Bautista) and Veronica (Esperanza Roy), claim she has already left. Skeptical of their story, Laura stays in town to investigate and discovers that the hoteliers are actually psychopathic killers who are disgusted by the lack of morals in today’s youth... particularly the scantily-clad females. Their targets include a sexpot who wears daisy dukes and micro-minis and a young mother who they think conceived her child out of wedlock. The dismembered bodies of victims are kept in a wine vat in the cellar.

This slightly above-average psycho-thriller looks pretty good, has an interesting storyline (with sociopolitical elements) and enough effective grisly moments to make it worth checking out. Director / writer Eugenio Martín (who is best known for the great Horror Express) and co-writer Antonio Fos should also be given some credit for their mature characterizations. Most interestingly, of course, are the psycho-sisters; passive and repressed Veronica dominated by the stern, humorless, hypocritical and occasionally frenzied Marta. Roy and (especially) Bautista make the best of their wicked women. However, the film comes to an irritating, crashing halt with an anti-climactic non-ending. The cast includes such familiar Spanish genre actors as "Vic Winner" (Victor Alcázar), Lone Felming, Blanca Estrada, "Julia Montserrat" (Montserrat Julió), Fernando Hilbeck and Charlie Pineiro.

The version I saw (released from Brentwood) is probably the version that played on TV since the opening murder scene, an entire subplot, some of the violence and all of the nudity have been removed. Apparently as much as 25 minutes (!!!) are missing from this 67-minute cut. Despite that (and the poor quality of the disc), this one somehow remains enjoyable. I'd certainly love to see someone put out an uncut, remastered version one day. The original title translates to A Candle for the Devil (also the British VHS release under the Midnight Video label that is said to be uncut) and it’s also on tape as Nightmare Hotel.

Amazingly, this not-so-well-known film was remade nearly scene-for-scene in Turkey as the hilariously bad BRUTAL STORM (1985).

★★1/2

Ta paidia tou Diavolou (1976)

... aka: Craving For Lust, A
... aka: Cruel Destination
... aka: Devils in Mykonos
... aka: Devil's Island
... aka: Island of Death
... aka: Island of Perversion
... aka: Psychic Killer 2

Directed by:
Nico Mastorakis

I don't care how many countries they claim it was banned in, this Greek "shocker" (a video nasty in the UK) didn't really blow me away. It's an entirely pointless exercise in being disgusting, sleazy and tasteless, which gives it some exploitation cred off the bat, but those looking to be seriously grossed out or shocked might be surprised at how blasé this whole affair is. To me, it was silly, repetitive and overblown; occasionally amusing, occasionally a little gross or offensive, but in the long run not really worthy of its cult reputation. Yet some genre critics apparently find reason to sing its praises by claiming it's some brilliant "morality play." And that's simply because the sick, sadistic lead characters finally get what they have coming at the very end. Using their own criteria, you could apparently show the same group of people a film that featured nothing but extended rape scenes for 99% of the running time and end it by castrating the killer and they'd have their next "deep" classic. Even the director / producer / writer himself cynically admits that it was made with no purpose or deeper meaning in mind, other than making money. Seeing how there's not even the slightest hint of substance in the entire film, I'm apt to believe him and furthermore apt to think writers for some of the more popular genre publications are just grasping at straws to turn something minor into something substantial. They should have just admitted "Hey, I'm the type of person who loves seeing nudity, sex, gore, bad taste and goat-fucking!" Hell, I'll admit. I don't mind seeing any of those things either, but what I do mind is seeing a film that doesn't live up to its own hype.

Island of Death centers around a good-looking, sexually-active young couple (Robert Behling and Jane Ryall) who also happen to be brother and sister and get their kicks torturing, degrading and killing “sinners” on a picturesque Greek island. Victims are crucified, gays are killed for, well, being gay and the sister welcomes getting raped by some dirty hippies. When she's too tired to put out for her brother later on, he simply wanders out into the courtyard, fucks a goat and kills it. Jessica Dublin (Toxie’s mom in the Toxic Avenger sequels) plays a wealthy old bat who likes being pissed on during sex and is decapitated by a bulldozer. There's an attempt at an ironic ending when the duo run into a perverted shepherd, but by then it's a little too late to strive for any kind of honest subtext. The acting and dialogue are both terrible, but the scenery and cinematography are both surprisingly good, making this OK as a Greek travelogue. In spite of all the incest, bestiality, nudity, kinky sex and super-sick content, it actually attempts to come off as quirky, light and breezy; an attempt partially ruined by the dull performances. Personally, I thought the upbeat tone was almost a mild plus and gave the movie a slightly campy feel, even though it takes the edge away from some of the more shocking stuff.

This film never made the home viewing format in America until Image released the uncut DVD in 2003 but it *may* have played in some theaters in a cut version called either A Craving for Lust or The Devils in Mykonos, released with the great tagline "The lucky ones got their brains blown out!" Many of the foreign video prints (including the UK release entitled Psychic Killer 2) are heavily cut. Other alternate titles include Cruel Destination, Island of Perversion and Killing Daylight. Director Mastorakis pretty much shrugs off the film during an interview on the DVD (which also includes three songs from the film). Right after this, all three stars - Behling, Ryall and Dublin - appeared in LAND OF THE MINOTAUR (1976 aka The Devil's Men), which was also filmed on location in Greece at around the same time.

★★

Game, The (1984) [filmed in 1982]

...aka: Cold, The

Directed by:
Bill Rebane

Three elderly millionaires host a "game" where participants are promised one million dollars if they can survive on an island of horrors. Like most of the director's other work, it was filmed in Wisconsin. Sorta fun in a cheap movie kind of way. I'll write a more in-depth review when I get the chance.

★★

Za ginipiggu 4: Manhoru no naka no ningyo (1988)

...aka: Guinea Pig: Mermaid in a Manhole

Directed by:
Hideshi Hino

Entry #4 in the notoriously gory Japanese series (my favorite of the four I've watched thus far) centers around a lonely, reclusive painter and art teacher named Mr. Haydashi (Shigeru Saiki), who has just recently lost his wife. His "special place" is down in the sewer. It used to be the site of a river before the area became developed, and now it's just a dark, quiet place where the artist can find inspiration for his paintings, as well as reflect on his own childhood. On one such trip down below he discovers a beautiful mermaid (Mari Somei), who he once saw there as a child. She became stranded once the river dried up and is now weak and injured. He brings her back to his home where she insists it's his mission to paint her. She also has severe abdominal pains and develops some kind of growth around her stomach, which seems to be quickly spreading across her body and occasionally starts spurting out massive amounts of blood. Medicine doesn't seem to help, and neither do generous portions of raw fish. Before long, the mermaid's entire torso is covered in tumor-like growths. She instructs the painter pop them with a razor blade, and different color liquids (orange, purple, blue...) ooze from each one, which he uses to paint with. Nothing seems to help ease the suffering and before long the mermaid degenerates into a boil-covered mess, with soars constantly oozing blood and worms as she thrashes around in a blood-filled bathtub. Meanwhile, a nosy downstairs female neighbor starts snooping through the artist's trash...

Unlike the other GUINEA PIG flicks I've seen, this one seems more like an actual movie than just an excuse to disgust the audience, though it also does that quite well. There's an actual plot-line this time with some depth to the story and characters. The cinematography and shot compositions are far more sophisticated, colorful and artistic than anything seen in previous entries; including nice-looking shots of the manhole cover being removed flooding the darkness with bright blue light, the artist covered with red blood holding a razor in front of him reflecting green light, etc. It also has a pretty good final twist to the story that I didn't see coming at all. The story and artistry both combine to give this film some genuine mood. There's something oddly captivating about the mermaid despite her repulsive continual decomposition and it all takes on the feel of a tragic, doomed romance. While the first two films used paper thin plots to center the gore scenes around, and the third didn't take itself seriously at all, this one shows some genuine effort to cut it as an actual movie. And for the most part, it succeeds.

As far as gore goes, series fans will not be disappointed. There are plenty of repellent scenes as the mermaid starts to literally fall apart and the special effects are excellent. There are even some scenes that combine the dramatic with the grotesque, such as when as the artist rubs the back of the mermaid while she starts barfing up bloody globs of worms onto the floor. The two lead performances aren't bad at all, and this is far more entertaining and intriguing a film than the sequel title may suggest.

★★★

Girls Nite Out (1982)

...aka: Girls Night Out
...aka: Scaremaker, The

Directed by:
Robert Deubel

A killer, dressed as a basketball team's mascot (a bear) prowls around campus killing sorority girls on a scavenger hunt. I did see this one about five years ago and remember almost nothing about it aside from the ludicrous identity of the "mystery" killer, so I guess that speaks volumes right there. I'll lay off of a rating until I watch it again some day. It was filmed on location on the Ohio State U. campus in Columbus, Ohio.

Score: n/a

Grotesque (1987)

Directed by:
Joe Tornatore

Some claim this is a PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE-like so-bad-its-good classic. It's bad all right, but I can't say I really laughed much. My jaw did hit the floor a few times in sheer disbelief that a film can be *this* ill-conceived. You won't believe the overacting either, and it even has the nerve to contain a sequence that mocks other cheap, bad horror movies. Lisa (played by Linda Blair, also a co-producer on this project) and her friend Kathy (Donna Wilkes) travel to a secluded mountain cabin to visit Linda's parents. Her father Orville (Guy Stockwell) is a make-up artist for horror films, so we get some film-within-a-film moments and some additional false alarms before the "real" action starts. A group of obnoxious 80s punkers with names like "Scratch" and "Ear Box" (?) invade the home. They have no idea that Linda's disfigured brother, who is kept hidden in a secret room in the home, has just escaped and is lurking around. The punks torture and kill everyone there except Linda, who manages to escape, so the killers go looking for Linda while the mutant brother goes looking for them. Eventually Blair is beaten unconscious and the two surviving punks convince the cops that the brother is responsible. He's promptly shot dead, Blair dies in the hospital and her plastic surgeon uncle (Tab Hunter) makes an eleventh-hour appearance looking for revenge. He kidnaps the two punks, disfigures their faces and keeps them locked in the secret room while goofy music plays. And no, I didn't even reveal the big twist that comes after that. You simply will not believe it. It's one of the worst ever, but I doubt you will see it coming.

So to make a long story short, GROTESQUE is basically terrible, pitiful, awful, bottom-of-the-barrel 1980s trash. However, it's not just bad... It's "uniquely bad," which means it has potential to develop into an off-the-wall cult flick one day. Since it has what camp fanatics look for in their bad movies, you never know. Also in the cast are Brad Wilson, Sharon Hughes, Robert Z'Dar, Billy Frank, Nels Van Patten, Mikel Angel (who also scripted), Charles Dierkop (the rapist-killer Santa in the original SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT), John F. Goff, Mike Lane and Luana Patten. For more delirious nonsense, make sure you check out Tornatore's DEMON KEEPER (1993), which is more formulaic that this one but has more (unintentional) laughs.

Score: 1.5 out of 10

San daikaijû: Chikyû saidai no kessen (1964)

...aka: Biggest Fight on Earth, The
...aka: Earth's Greatest Battle
...aka: Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster
...aka: Godzilla vs. Ghidorah
...aka: Greatest Battle on Earth, The
...aka: Greatest Fight on Earth, The
...aka: Monster of Monsters: Ghidorah
...aka: Three Giant Monsters

Directed by:
Ishirô Honda

The Toho series continues with this follow-up to GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (made the same year), which also turns out to be one of the best out of the 20+ Godzilla movies made during the 50s, 60s and 70s. It's also a first for Godzilla, who's now a good guy that must defend Earth from the lightning-spewing advances of Ghidrah, the triple-headed dragon, who arrives in a meteor and goes on a rampage. Godzilla ends up getting help from unlikely sources as former enemies Rodan the nuclear pterodactyl and Mothra (giant moth), each take on a head. This has everything Japanese monster buffs want in a movie and the Ghidhra design is pretty cool. Ghidrah returned in MONSTER ZERO (to fight Godzilla and Rodan) and GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (to fight Godzilla and Angillus), and never won a single fight.

Ghidrah: always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

★★1/2

Ghoulies II (1987)

Directed by:
Albert Band

Veteran character actor Royal Dano ("Go back to the hell that spawned you!") is Uncle Ned, a sweaty old drunk who operates a spook house called "Satan's Den" at a traveling carnival with his teen grandson Larry (Damon Martin) and dwarf Sir Nigel (Phil Fondacaro). When an asshole businessman (J. Downing) takes over and threatens to close them down, Ned uses a satanic book of magic to call up five little mutant monsters (gator, cat, rat, fish, bat) to help with business. They do, but naturally being the mischievous little demons they are, can't help themselves in the killing department as characters bite it with a pendulum, switchblade, carnival ride, electric wires, bumper cars and other toned-down PG-13 silliness. A larger monster that looks like a rejected extra from HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP shows up at the end to burp and explode. Dennis Poali's script attempts to create sympathetic characters and it’s a slight improvement over the first film, but there's too much juvenile humor and other than some brief stop-motion, the creature FX are cheap rubbery puppets. Also in the cast are Kerry Remsen, Dale Wyatt, Sasha Jenson, Starr Andreeff and William Butler. And if you recognize names like Mickey Knox, Romano Puppo and Anthony Dawson, it's because this was, surprisingly enough, filmed in Rome.

★★

Gore Gore Girls, The (1971)

...aka: Blood Orgy

Directed by:
Herschell Gordon Lewis

One of his best, this side-splitting trash fest has everything a fan of H.G. Lewis could possible want; amateurish porn quality acting, extremely corny wise-ass dialogue, unfathomable one-liners, more than a few moments of technical ineptitude, cops portrayed as complete dim bulbs, rhythm-deficient topless or scantily clad women cutting it down on the dance floor to a generic canned music score, comedy that is both intentional and unintentional and some hideously bloody, monumentally tasteless gore murders... and all with a lighthearted tone. Overall, it's an extremely entertaining mixture and in fact, was one of the first movies to get an X rating for graphic violence (if that's not a recommendation for you...). After an "exotic striptease artist" named Suzie Creampuff has her face mangled on a broken mirror, loopy tabloid magazine writer Nancy Weston (Amy Farrell) decides to offer famous, arrogant, wisecracking detective Abraham Gentry (Frank Kress) 25,000 dollars to find the killer. The two begin frequently visiting the Marz Heaven Striperama to check things out and trade hokey come-on lines. In the meantime, more strippers are biting it in very nasty ways. One dancer named Candy Kane is merrily blowing bubbles and fondling her breasts in a mirror when stopped dead in her tracks when her throat is slashed, her tongue is cut out and her head is hacked to a billion bloody mushy pieces with a meat cleaver. When a stripper named Lola's advances are rebuked by Abraham, she reaches in the refrigerator for the next best thing (a cucumber) before having her throat cut and her ass pulverized by a meat tenderized (the killer sprinkles salt and pepper on it). There's plenty more gore as more throats are slashed, eyeballs are popped out and squashed, skin is melted off in a boiling pot of French fries, a face is fried with a hot iron and, most memorably, nipples are cut off with scissors, spewing out milk (...regular and chocolate?!) The dialogue, especially comments from brain dead cop on the case Lt. Anderson (Russ Badger) and the long dialogue scenes of Nancy and Abraham and their "cute" little come-ons can be painful, but it's all good dumb fun. When it comes to female nudity, the quotient of tits and bare asses is up to par for an early 70s exploitation movie. Though many of the ladies cover their nipples, there's a great black dancer with a huge afro and headband who strips out of her paisley dress to a sheer bra, pasties and g-string.

Some of the supporting characters include a crazy Nam vet named "Grout" (Alex Petrovic) who draws faces on pieces of fruit and smashes them with his fist, a hateful drink girl named Marlene (Hedda Lubin), whose wigs and outfits (including a shirt with painted on nipples) change from shot to shot and fast-talking nudie club magnate Marsdone Mobley (played by famous comedian Henny Youngman!), who wants "Money, money, money!" and arranges to put on the "greatest striptease show of the century" with amateurs to help boost profits (and yeah, because his regular dancers either quit or are dead). Youngman, who would later deny that he was even in this movie, doesn't have much to do here, but does get a brief comic monologue on stage where he cracks a few jokes (including one about Tom Jones). There's also a feminist group led by a fascist ball-buster named Mary who carry signs that read things like "Lewd is crude!" and "Quit with tit!" and threatens "We'll rip her hair out from both ends!"

There are lots of questions to ponder while watching this masterpiece... Who exactly is dismembering the strippers? Will you lose your lunch at a chocolate milk spewing titty? Will combining hot vegetable oil and afro sheen cause a kitchen grease fire? Will Grout finally run out of fruit? Will Mary tell "these strip tease bitches" just what she thinks? Will Abe run out of 10 dollar bills to pay people off with? And better yet, will he finally put down his damn walking stick, stop acting so shy and warm up to his lusty lady friend? Will Nancy stay sober long enough to help uncover the killer and defeat the likes of Ruby Diamond and Ramona Moana in the amateur strip competition? And most importantly, will you, the viewer, be relieved when you see the end credits disclosure "We announce with pride: This movie is over!"

H.G. Lewis (who also produced, scored and did special effects for this, his last directorial effort until 2000's BLOOD FEAST 2: ALL U CAN EAT) was ably assisted by the usual suspects on this epic; Allison Louise Downe (who was assistant director and did some of the fx) and Ray Sager/Szegho (who plays Barney the bartender and was second unit director). Writer Alan J. Dachman, the son of the backer, also has a cameo as a stoned-out street corner informant. The budget was 63,500 dollars (not bad for this type of film) and the Something Weird special edition DVD comes with a great commentary track from Lewis (who says the title had to be changed to BLOOD ORGY for some markets because they didn't "get" the title) and some gallery art.

★★★

Toolbox Murders, The (1978)

Directed by:
Dennis Donnelly

One of writer Stephen King's favorite horror films, this was initially cooked up by producers in response to a lucrative theatrical re-release of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. It was controversial when released for the violence, rampant misogyny and mixture of sex-and-violence, but can now be viewed as genuinely entertaining trash, with the expected gore and naked ladies, plus some unexpected bad taste ideas, rape, lollipops and implied incest... Cameron Mitchell gives what could be his finest horror movie showing as Vance Kingsley, full-time owner of a Hollywood apartment complex and part-time sick-o ski mask-wearin' slasher killer who carries around a toolbox, breaks into young ladies apartments (who half the time are in some stage of undress) and then murders them in a variety of ways. And that's not even half the story. Despite the title, there are only four 'toolbox murders' and they all happen during the first twenty minutes of the movie...

An older woman is punched in the face and is drilled in the back (and back of her head). A young blonde woman (who is kind enough to appear topless first) gets her head bashed in with a hammer. When her (presumed lesbian lover) arrives home, she gets stabbed in the stomach with a screwdriver. Then it's the longest and most-drawn out scene featuring Marianne Walter (then working as a nude model and body double), who would go on to become early 80s porno actress Kelly Nichols. She dances in front of her window in a bra and panties and then sneaks off to her bathroom for a long bubble-bath and masturbation session. Mitchell sneaks in and watches from the door before whipping out a nail gun and firing away. After running around her apartment in the nude falling down and flinging vases at her attacker, she finally gets 'nailed' in the stomach and through the head. (*This sequence would later give some ammo to morality groups protesting the 'dangers' of horror films that mixed nudity and violence; it also ended up popping up on many TV talk shows!)

After throwing a few detectives off course with a convincing show of sympathy, Vance then breaks into the apartment of 15- year-old Laurie (Pamelyn Ferdin), whose mother (Aneta Corsaut) keeps late nights working as a barmaid. Vance kidnaps the girl, takes her to his home, ties her to the bed, gags her, makes her peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, sucks on lollipops and sings several songs to her, including "Motherless Child" (!!) He has basically abducted her to take the place of his dead daughter Cathy, who was killed in a car crash years earlier. Laurie's older teen brother Joey (Nicholas Beauvy) meets up with Vance's nephew Kent (Wesley Eure), and the two start their own investigation when they're hired to clean the blood up from the newly vacant apartments. This leads to a few revelations that may surprise you. When Mitchell gets in a fight with one of them, he chases him out of the room while screeching "You damn fornicator!" After this long middle section of mostly talk (though not uninteresting or non-entertaining talk), the film picks up for a suitably gory-trashy finale. I liked this one a lot better than Mitchell's other famous genre effort, NIGHTMARE IN WAX (1966). The premise offers little new, but the acting, all-around, is surprisingly not bad at all (despite what you might read elsewhere), it's well photographed by Gary Graver, some of the dialogue scenes are reasonably well thought out, there are several pretty-good plot twists and a few bloody and creative-for-the-time kills for gore hounds. It made a lot of money on this drive-in circuit on a meager 200K budget, but was a video nasty in England and unseen there for years.

Also in the cast are Tim Donnelly (the director's father) as the main detective, Marciee Drake and Evelyn Guerrero (from several Cheech and Chong flicks) as victims and Alisa Powell (one of SATAN'S CHEERLEADERS) as someone's girlfriend. The screenplay was written by Robert Easter, Ann Kindberg (who would go on to a successful TV producer career) and Neva Friedenn (who would also go on to produce some films, including Milligan's ghastly WEIRDO). The Blue Underground DVD release looks great and sounds great and has many extras, including trailers, radio spots and an entertaining commentary track with Ferdin, Graver and producer Tony DiDio. It also has an 8-minute interview with Marianne Walter/Kelly Nichols called I GOT NAILED IN THE TOOLBOX MURDERS, where she reminisces about her experiences on this film; including ending up on the poster. Supposedly based on a true story!

★★1/2

Terror in the Wax Museum (1973)

Directed by:
Georg Fenady

John Carradine doesn't last long as Claude Dupree, owner of "Dupree's Wax Museum" in turn-of-the century London, who wears coke-bottle glasses and coaches deformed hunchback half-wit Karkov in the art of wax dummy production. Carradine plots to sell his business to Amos Burns (Broderick Crawford), dreams his creations come to life and kill him, wakes up (love that cap!) and one dressed like Jack the Ripper stabs him. His niece Meg (Nicole Shelby) and her uptight/bitchy guardian Julia (Elsa Lanchester) show up to reopen the business and everyone fights about who actually owns the place. After a few more murders, police think the killer is angry museum curator Harry Flexner (Ray Milland), but there are many others after the inheritance who qualify as possible suspects. This Bing Crosby production has poor period detail, is cheap and very restrained (no gore, nudity, bad language), plus there are several unsuccessful attempts to copy Corman-esque nightmare sequences, but the lovable cast of veteran horror stars (also including Maurice Evans from ROSEMARY'S BABY and Patric Knowles from THE WOLF MAN) helps out a little bit. My favorite moment is when Carradine snarls, "You know I always insist on perfection!" Like in several other wax museum-set horror flicks, if you pay attention you can see the "dummies" move. Many of the cast members here (including Lanchester, Knowles and Shani Wallis) also appeared in director Fenady's horror-comedy ARNOLD from the same year.

★★

Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990)

Directed by:
John Harrison

The popular Tales From the Darkside TV series was produced from 1984 to 1988 but lasted for awhile in syndication and is still being shown on late-night cable to this day. I remember as a kid being scared each and every week by that awesomely creepy opening credit sequence, which has unfortunately been dropped here. This feature film spin-off has no actual connection to the series since the show consisted of 22-minute shorts that didn't relate to one another from episode to episode, anyway. Here, the production values are much, much higher and the tales themselves are much more polished. Looking back at episodes of the TV series it's a bit startling how cheap it all looked back then. Director John Harrison had worked on the series and on some Romero movies. "Lot 249," the first tale, features Christian Slater and two future stars (Julianne Moore as a bitch and Steve Buscemi as a geek) being menaced by a reanimated mummy. It's pretty standard fare with some OK gore effects (including brains being yanked out of nostrils) and was based on a short story by Arthur Conan Doyle (adapted by Michael McDowell). "Cat From Hell," which features a family cursed by a killer cat is loosely based on a Stephen King short story (adapted by George A. Romero). David Johansen (aka Buster Poindexter) and William Hickey star, there are flashbacks, some gory scenes and a few genuine surprises.

"Lover's Vow" has been written off as a rip-off of one of the stories in KWAIDAN, but it's fairly well done, anyway. James Remar is good as a struggling NYC artist who acquires good fortune after a gargoyle spares his life, in exchange for a promise. Rae Dawn Chong is the mysterious woman who enters his life and who he falls in love with. The acting is very good and there's outstanding make-up and FX work here. McDowell scripted again, based on his own original (?) short story. Linking threads involve a whiny little boy (Matthew Lawrence) who tells a cheerful suburban cannibal housewife (Deborah Harry) the above mentioned tales in an effort to avoid being her dinner.

★★1/2

Warning Sign (1985)

...aka: Biohazard

Directed by:
Hal Barwood

Learn how agricultural research can result in a zombie plague! Oh wait, this is just another one of those experiment-gore-awry horror flicks. Believe it or not, it actually copies both The China Syndrome and that worthless Italian Dawn of the Dead rip-off Hell of the Living Dead (aka Night of the Zombies)! The action takes place at a Midwest research facility doubling as a secret government lab where germ warfare chemicals turn lab technicians into crazed living-dead lunatics (in slight and minimal make-up) who attack the others. A red alert seals the sane workers, including Kathleen Quinlan, inside with the killers. Government agents led by Yaphet Kotto, try to cover everything up, while Quinlan's cop husband (Sam Waterson) teams up with a bitter, retired scientist (Jeffrey DeMunn) to break in and save the day. Directorial debut of screenwriter Hal Barwood (who wrote the early Spielberg movie The Sugarland Express) has good performances from a surprisingly upscale cast and high production values, but unfortunately, after a decent build-up has next to nothing to offer in terms of excitement or suspense. It's worth a look, just don't expect too much. The cast includes Richard A. Dysart (The Thing), G.W. Bailey, Rick Rossovich, Scott Paulin and Tom McFadden.

Witchboard (1986)

Directed by:
Kevin S. Tenney

An above average offering about the dangers of innocently playing with OUIJA boards. Gorgeous redhead Tawny Kitaen (around her Whitesnake music video days i.e. before she became weird and annoying on reality TV) stars as Linda, who is fascinated with the board after a friend brings one to aparty. She contacts the ghost of a helpful little boy who helps her find her missing ring in a sink drain, but the spirit of former mass murderer Malfeitor (imposing J.P. Leubsen) isn't about to pass up the chance to return to life, and takes over. When Linda's defenses break down, Malfeitor uses her to strike at her friends (key well placed OMEN-style death sequences here) and eventually plans to possess her; mind body and soul. Todd Allen stars as her smart ass boyfriend, who needs to grow up himself in order to save her. The death scenes involve a stack of falling sheet rock, falling out of a second story window onto a sundial and a hatchet to the head. Well, a hatchet is stuck in the top of someone's head, but when the dead body is found, the bloody gash is on the wrong side... and on his cheek. Oops.

Although too routine in spots, a little too elementary when it comes to character arcs and with semi-annoying lead characters, this benefits from a likable supporting cast (particularly future soap star Stephen Nichols as Linda's wealthy former boyfriend and Kathleen Wilhoite as an eccentric clairvoyant who believes in "psychic humor"), a well-developed plotline and several good jolts. It's much better than most other occult/supernatural movies from the 80s. Two official sequels followed (one in 1992 and one in 1995); both of which were also directed by Tenney and above average. His next were the great NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (1987) and the awful (but hilarious) occult-themed WITCHTRAP. Dennis Michael Tenney (brother of the director) did the excellent music score. The cast includes Burke Byrnes as a magician detective, James W. Quinn as Allen's co-worker, Rose Marie as a neighbor and Judy Tatum as a doctor.

Score: 6.5 out of 10
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