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 13, 2008

Duel (1971)

Directed by:
Steven Spielberg

Review coming soon.

Score: 8 out of 10

Drifter, The (1988)

Directed by:
Larry Brand

A female fashion designer (lovely Kim Delaney) has a one night stand with a long-haired hitchhiker (Miles O'Keeffe) who turns out to be something of a psycho. Brand also scripted and plays the cop on the case. Above average of its type. I'll write a more in-depth review eventually.

Score: 6 out of 10

Don't Open the Door! (1974)

...aka: Don't Hang Up

Directed by:
S.F. Brownrigg

Amanda Post (Susan Bracken), a defensive young blonde, moves into the same roomy mansion where she witnessed her mother's brutal murder 13 years earlier to help care for her dying grandmother (Rhea MacAdams). Claude (Larry O'Dwyer), a weirdo who delights in nasty phone calls, voyeurism and mannequin play time, torments her, hides out in the house and kills a guy while dressed in full drag. Other greedy characters are involved in the murder-for-the-inheritance plot. Sounds like this couldn't miss, right? Texas-based filmmaker S.F. Brownrigg (best known for DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT) again manages to get strong performances from his mostly unknown cast (including supporting bits for Basement stars Gene Ross and Annabelle Weenick) and throws in some decent camerawork here and there, but the budget is low, the film is dark, dreary and oppressive without really being scary or building any suspense and his own uninvolving, talky script never elevates this over the ordinary.

★★

Non si sevizia un paperino (1972)

... aka: Don't Torture a Duckling
... aka: Don't Torture Donald Duck
... aka: Fanatismo
... aka: Long Night of Exorcism, The

Directed by:
Lucio Fulci

In a small, picturesque Sicilian village, someone is brutally killing young, sexually curious boys. The local police force keep busy trying to track the killer and whittle the list down to five or so main suspects, including voyeuristic village retard Giuseppe (Vito Passeri) and an elusive, grungy, voodoo doll-poking backwoods "witch" named Maciara (Florinda Bolkan). There’s also Don Alberto (Marc Popel), a handsome young priest who runs the local boy’s school, Andrea (Tomas Milian), a journalist helping to aid the police, and Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet), a gorgeous, but seriously screwed-up drug addict who seems to have a thing for very (and I mean, very) young boys. As typical with the giallo subgenre, the killer's identity won’t be fully revealed until the last few frames. However, unlike the majority of other gialli, this film has a stronger screenplay than usual and doesn't even fully rely on stylish set-pieces, nudity or violence to be a success. The script (which was written by Fulci, Gianfranco Clerici and Roberto Gianviti) keeps red herrings to a minimum and works dually as a statement on Catholic/ religious hypocrisy, pack mentality and the group hysteria it can cause (keep in mind Bouchet's character, as well as the fate of Maciara and why it occurs). The story is ably supported by excellent location work, cinematography (by Sergio D’Offizi) and musical score (by Riz Ortolani). The performances, particularly Bolkan, are also very good. All in all, it's one of the very best of this style of film.

Fulci fans who were weaned on his 80s grotesqueries like Zombi 2 and The New York Ripper will find more artistry and less gore / exploitation on display here than they might anticipate, but they’ll still enjoy a particularly nasty chain whipping scene and a long tumble down a rocky embankment. Scenes of the children being killed is mainly kept off screen (except for a brief strangulation), but the camera doesn’t hesitate to linger on their corpses. Because of the controversial storyline (and no doubt, the religious criticism), the Catholic Church blacklisted the movie back its day and it received only a very limited theatrical release in Europe. It also never reached American theaters and wouldn't even receive a home video release here until twenty-five years after it was made.

★★★

El caníbal (1980)

... aka: Chasseur de l'enfer
... aka: Devil Hunter
... aka: Mandingo Manhunter
... aka: Manhunter
... aka: Man Hunter, The
... aka: Sexo caníbal

Directed by:
Jesus Franco

Blonde Ursula Buchfellner (a German-born 1979 Playboy Playmate) is Laura Crawford, a saucy actress/model who is location scouting somewhere in South America. After meeting with the press and a photo op on the beach, she is kidnapped (right in the middle of a bubble bath) by a bunch of sadistic thugs (Antonio de Cabo, Werner Pochath, Gisela Hahn, etc.) and brought to an island. While she's being held for 6 million dollars in ransom money, she's raped, beaten up and even has her nipple sliced with a machete to show they mean business. Meanwhile, mustachioed Vietnam vet Peter Weston (Al Cliver) is hired by the girl's agent to find her. He and his group fly a helicopter to the island and agree to trade off the girl for the loot. The switch however is botched, gunfire is exchanged and the kidnappers yank Laura back through the jungle, where they're picked off one by one and she's abducted by the local cannibal tribe. The natives eat human hearts and place an especially high value on light skinned sacrifices, so Laura fits the bill nicely. They strip her naked, bathe her in a stream and rub flowers over her nude body to get her ready to meet their ancient cannibal God. The God (usually shown through a hazy POV shot) is a tall, naked cannibal/zombie-type guy with bloodshot ping pong ball eyes. His interests include ripping off human heads, beating in faces with rocks and eating female genitalia. And yes ladies, he's single!

Despite all the rampant nudity and some cheap looking gore, this is tamer and much less disturbing than most of the major Italian cannibal titles because it's technically inept, slow and never seems to be taking place in reality. First off, the "jungle" doesn't look a thing like a tropical South American jungle. In fact this one was filmed near the coastline in both Spain and Portugal. Secondly, the cannibal tribe consists not only of a bunch of black men and women, but also a slew of white guys, some not even sufficiently tan to pass themselves off as natives. The acting's bad, the direction's bad, it's padded out and the dialogue and dubbing are pretty horrendous ("This wild vegetation gives me the creeps!" hisses one of the kidnappers at one point). Perhaps the worst part is the editing. It's one of the worst hack-jobs I've seen. Hard to tell whether that's just how the movie has always been or if it's been re-cut over the years by different distributors. In any case, it's badly done all the way around.

The DVD version from Videoasia seems to be a Japanese print of the film. While there is a sufficient amount of T&A, the hoo-hoos (and briefly, a hee-hee) have been digitally scrambled. Not that it really matters, this thing wouldn't suck any less with the nude scenes intact. Also the DVD has some of the strangest letterboxing known to man, with about 80 percent of the black strip on to bottom of the screen. I'm not going to deduct any points for the bad print. If I did, it would get a "NO STARS!" rating instead. Franco regulars Antonio Mayans and "Victoria Adams" (Muriel Montosse) are also in it.

Dead Girls (1989)

Directed by:
Dennis Devine

A late entry in its genre, but (surprise!)... this film is a blast! DEAD GIRLS falls into the now-defunct category of "heavy metal horror," a small subgenre that mixed 80s rock mentality with either a slasher or Satanism horror plot. Other films in this field include ROCKTOBER BLOOD (1984), TRICK OR TREAT (1986), SLAUGHTERHOUSE ROCK (1987) and SHOCK 'EM DEAD (1990), but DEAD GIRLS has most of its competition beat. Despite a loopy plot and your usual low-budget limitations, director Dennis Devine pulls out the stops to make sure this is a highly entertaining film. The Plot: Gina (Diana Karanikas), lead singer of the all-female-except-for-a-male-drummer rock band called The Dead Girls, has ESP abilities and foresees the future. In the opening dream, Gina's sister Brooke ("Life's a dog! A total bummer!") and her friends committ group suicide, slashing their wrists with razors. Brooke (Ilene B. Singer) ends up surviving, prompting Gina and the band take a vacation so Brooke can recuperate and they can avoid bad publicity, so off they go (with tour manger Jeff and a nurse) to a secluded lakeside cabin. A black-gloved psycho in a trench coat and skull-face mask shows up and starts to kill everyone off one by one. The murderer kills according to the band lyrics, leaving behind such titles as "Nail Gun Murders" and "Drown Your Sorrows" at the scene of each murder. Since the locals in the small town blame the band's morbid lyrics for the suicide deaths, the list of suspects is basically endless.

Points are deducted for its fully cliched set-up and, like I said, it's a late bloomer in both the slasher and heavy metal subgenres, but that doesn't mean this is all bad. In fact, it's surprisingly quite fun and a highly entertaining little movie. While the cast isn't perfect, many of the actors are likable, appealing and seem well-suited for their roles. The film doesn't concentrate heavily on gore, but what is shown is done well. Best of all is a well-written script which contains several interesting plot twists. Some may think the ending goes a tad bit overboard, but it's still nicely unpredictable. And despite what some other reviews have stated, this was not shot on video. I believe it was shot on 16mm and looks fine.
.
The cast includes Angela Eads, Kay Schaber, Jeff Herbick and Brian Burr Chin (all of whom appeared in director Devine's previous film FATAL IMAGES), as well as Deirdre West (from VENUS FLY TRAP and the Devine-scripted HELL SPA).

★★1/2

Il mondo dell'orrore di Dario Argento (1985)

...aka: Dario Argento's World of Horror
...aka: World of Horror, The

Directed by:
Michele Soavi

The fascinating films of Italian horror stylist Dario Argento are covered in this excellent documentary constructed by director Michele Soavi, a man pretty familiar with the subject matter since he served as Argento's assistant on several of his films. It covers every Argento film from his 1969 debut (THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE) to 1984 (Phenomena aka Creepers), plus some films he helped produce and/or write (DAWN OF THE DEAD, Demons). Footage shows how the amazing luma crane shot was achieved in Tenebre (or as the subs call it: "Shadow"), how insect effects and make-up were created for Creepers (not to mention a scene where Jennifer levitates off the floor that's not even in the uncut version of the film) and how they did some of the animatronics and effects for Demons. When this documentary was first released it was a must, since it featured many astonishing and usually gory sequences that were cut from the hacked up American release versions, which were all that was available at the time. Since most of the films have been restored to their original length on DVD since, this documentary may have lost some of its original appeal, though it's still well worth watching for fans.

Argento worries a lot about his abilities as a filmmaker, makes sensible comparisons between sex and violence, attends an Emerson, Lake and Palmer concert and talks about his inspirations. The Vidmark VHS release has English language narration, but subtitled interviews and is a must see for any fan of the director. Video Search of Miami went on to release Dario Argento: Master of Horror (1991), a documentary by Luigi Cozzi, featuring more interviews and behind the scenes footage (from Terror at the Opera, Two Evil Eyes and others). There was a third Italian documentary in this series covering 1991-1997, as well as Leon Ferguson's 2001 documentary Dario Argento: An Eye for Horror (2001).

★★★

Dance of the Damned (1989)

Directed by:
Katt Shea

While not for all tastes, I found this offbeat and serious-minded low-budget Roger Corman production to be a breath of fresh air in the overcrowded vampire genre. And all it really is is a night long conversation between a self-destructive, suicidal stripper and a brooding, world weary vampire. Go figure. In the wee hours of the night, a nameless vampire (Cyril O'Reilly) approaches dancer Jodi (Starr Andreeff) while she's locking up after a long night at work. He offers her a thousand dollars to accompany him home; no strings and no sex attached. He says he needs a friend, and thinks she needs one, too. All he wants to do is talk. Reluctantly Jodi agrees, goes home with him and quickly learns her new friend is actually a vampire. Correctly sensing Jodi had given up and will probably take her own life eventually anyway, the vampire demands she explain to him what the sunlight feels like and at 6am, he'll take her pain. It certainly doesn't sound too exciting, and it probably won't be to some people, but I found it fascinating and very well done. If you're looking for gore, action and special effects, you'll find very little of that here. Instead, you get a low-key, existential character study almost similar to a stage play. In other words, there are few location changes but lots of dialogue exchanges. It's a good example of a film that doesn't need to be a slave to FX work to be successful. There can be so much more to the genre than just cheap shocks and blood spurting when a common horror theme is put into the hands of someone with talent and imagination. It's also an excellent late night movie; watch it when it's quiet, it's dark and you're alone and in a reflective mood.

The script by Katt Shea and Andy Ruben (who were married at the time this was made) not only has some great insight into the outcast condition and very good character development but also some wonderfully poetic passages. One highlight is a beautifully written scene on a beach where the leading lady has to explain to the Vampire what sunlight feels like. It's in her description of this simple feeling that gives her back her will to live. In scenes where the two characters describe their troubled pasts, the monologues are so well written and detailed you can visualize them without having to actually see them on screen. Clever parallels are drawn between two different lost souls (not to mention two different species); one of whom is forced to live in the night and the other so wounded she's compelled to. Both leads turn in good performances and do their roles justice, and this film manages to be thought-provoking, sometimes very funny and sometimes very moving. While a million blockbuster type movies involving vampires come and go and entertain while they're around, this one has actually resonates with me more over time. It's a shame not many people know anything about it.

I not only recommend this, but also the director's excellent 1990 drama-thriller STREETS (starring a young Christina Applegate), and even her more exploitative serial-killer-in-a-strip-club flick STRIPPED TO KILL. They're all well above average for the genre, humorous at times, well written and with a heavy concentration on character. Shea shows the same kind of early talent as the best directors to come from Roger Corman U... including Coppola and Demme. In fact, I'd probably place her near the top of a list of the countless director's Corman has supported over the years. And she's certainly one of the most promising female director's I've ever come across.

Amazingly, Dance - the little known sleeper it is - was actually remade in 1993 as TO SLEEP WITH A VAMPIRE. That version, which was also produced by Corman and reused much of the same storyline and dialogue, does not come close to this version. Guess which one has been released on DVD? I wish I could say it was this one, but unfortunately some boneheads decided to release the remake instead while this worthy film languishes in VHS obscurity. Hopefully someone, some day will get this out to the masses so it can find an audience.

Future B-movie queen Maria Ford has a small role as a stripper.

★★★1/2

Damien: Omen II (1978)

...aka: Omen II

Directed by:
Don Taylor

Follow-up to the hugely successful 1976 film, set seven years after, finds twelve year old Damien Thorn (Jonathan Scott-Taylor) now living with his aunt (Lee Grant) and uncle (William Holden), progressing at an elite military academy and learning to cope with the fact that he's the anti-Christ (Or as he eventually shrieks... "Why me?!"). As in the original, anyone who threatens Damien's eventual reign must pay in gruesome ways like getting their eyes pecked out by a crow, smashed by a semi, trapped under a frozen lake or cut in half with an elevator cable. There's a higher body count this time around and arguably more colorful death scenes, but it isn't nearly as scary, provocative, well-paced, well-written or entertaining, and it wastes Oscar-winners Holden and Grant, who have very little to do as Damien's new guardians. Still watchable, though.
.
Jerry Goldsmith's commanding score is a plus. The top notch supporting cast is another and includes Robert Foxworth, Nicholas Pryor as a museum curator, Lew Ayres, Sylvia Sidney as Damien's suspicious great aunt, Lance Henriksen as a military sergeant (and Damien's protector), Elizabeth Shepherd (from TOMB OF LIGEIA) as a reporter, Allan Arbus, Meshach Taylor as a doctor and, in uncredited parts, Leo McKern (reprising his role from the first movie) as Bugenhagen and Ian Hendry as an archeologist. Scriptwriter Mike Hodges (THE TERMINAL MAN) was also slated to direct this, but was replaced by the guy who had just made a PLANET OF THE APES sequel. THE FINAL TERROR brought the series to a limp conclusion in 1981, and there was also the cable TV movie OMEN IV: THE AWAKENING (1991), which featured a demonic little girl, as well as that terrible 2006 remake.

Score: 5 out of 10

Dementia 13 (1963)

...aka: Haunted and the Hunted, The

Directed by:
Francis Ford Coppola

Francis Ford Coppola's "legit" debut (after the nudie movies TONITE FOR SURE and THE BELLBOY AND THE PLAYGIRLS) was this good, atmospheric low-budget shocker filmed on location in Ireland for producer Roger Corman. Coppola was given a modest budget of just 30,000 dollars and access to the same sets and some of the same cast and crew from Corman's production THE YOUNG RACERS, which was filmed in Ireland at the same exact time. Thanks to several cleverly placed jolts and an imaginative handling of a stale 'old dark house'/'murder-for-the-inheritance' idea, it is one of the better non-Poe AIP productions from the period. Sexy, nasty blonde Louise (Luana Anders, in one of her best roles) is a recent widow who covers up the death of her wealthy husband, who informs her “If I die, there’s nothing in it for you!” right before keeling over with a heart attack. She sinks the body, forges a letter, pretends nothing happened, packs her suitcases and goes to visit the Haloran family estate. Frequent voice-overs (“I can get rid of her…one way or another”) reveal Louise’s true intentions for the visit, as she plots to drive her already batty mother-in-law (Ethne Dunn) even crazier by playing up on the old lady’s infatuation with her long-dead young daughter Kathleen. Before she’s too far along in her plan, she’s brutally dispatched with an axe after stripping down to her underwear and discovering a creepy shrine dedicated to Kathleen at the bottom of the same pond where she drowned.

Suspicion for that crime, and the ones that will follow, falls not only on the Lady of the estate, but also her eldest artist son Richard (William Campbell), his pretty fiancee (Mary Mitchel), middle son Billy (Bart Patton) and family doctor Justin Caleb (the always great Patrick Magee). Though the score is overbearing and the photography often overly bright, the screwy plot has its fair share of twists, the large castle set, complete with underground catacombs, is used to maximum effect and the bloody murder scenes (including a hand hacked off) still pack a punch after forty plus years of duplication. Jack Hill gets a credit for "second unit writer."

Score: 6 out of 10

Scream Bloody Murder (1973) [filmed in 1971]

...aka: Captive Female, The
...aka: Claw of Terror
...aka: Matthew

Directed by:
Marc B. Ray

Deranged, delusional, voyeuristic little weirdo Matthew decides, what the hell, I'll kill my dad by running over him with a tractor today. After doing so, he carelessly leaps off and accidentally runs over his own hand. His mommy then sends him away to live with the nuns for awhile. When he turns 18, Matthew (Fred Holbert) returns home with a new hook in place of his hand, and is not too happy to discover his mother has remarried. The nuns apparently didn't do a very good job with him because it isn't long before the Freudian jealousy takes over, Matthew starts hearing voices and resumes his murderous ways. When he catches his folks messing around in the woods, he chops up his new step dad (Robert Knox) up with an axe and then turns on his momma and during a struggle, accidentally knocks her head off a jagged rock, killing her too. He then decides to split town, hitches a ride with a pair of honeymooners (Suzette Hamilton and Willey Reynolds), flips out yet again, kills them and steals their car.

So off to a quaint little seaside village he goes. The first friend he makes while in town is a friendly redhead named Vera (Leigh Mitchell) who likes to paint and makes money on the side as a hooker. He insists on calling her Daisy (his momma's name) and she agrees. Matthew tries to impress her by claiming he has rich parents and, when she's skeptical, he invades a neighborhood mansion, kills the maid with a meat cleaver and then goes after the bitchy, elderly matron of the house Miss Anatole (Florence Lea). Even though she puts up an incredible fight with her canes, he's able to overpower her and smother her with a pillow. After getting rid of the dog too, he's now ready to invite his new pal Vera, uh, "Daisy," over. When Daisy / Vera shows up at the mansion, Matthew tries to force her to stay, but she informs him that she may work as a cheap whore, but she still can't be bought! The two get in a struggle and she takes a nasty plunge down a flight of stairs, knocking her out cold.

Then the movie comes to sudden halt and goes the Collector route as Matthew holds Vera prisoner in the house. He ties her to an upstairs bed, gags her, walks her around like a dog on a leash and informs her "I get groceries and clothes and art stuff and kill people. And do you appreciate it? No. N-O!" During a romantic steak dinner (which Matthew shoplifted), he holds a knife to her throat and says "Eat or I'll cut your tongue out!" The worst torture of all (for both Vera and the viewer) is having to sit and listen to Matthew whine, cry and complain over and over and over again... But who's that at the door? Why it's Angus (Phantasm) Scrimm as Dr. Epstein! He shows up to give Miss Anatole her arthritis shot, barges into the house because he suspects something fishy is up and is beat over the head with a statue. After several failed escape attempts, Vera discovers Matthew's real weakness is actually sex and the naked female body and she's able to turn the tables against her attacker, bolts for the front door and... Well we'll just say there's an unexpected ending in a church and leave it at that.

Scream Bloody Murder is a very cheap production with a couple of pluses, namely a lot of Z movie charm and sincere, though unprofessional, acting from the two leads. Both are pretty good for a no budget film like this and Leigh Mitchell (who also had a small role in The Incredible Melting Man) gets to play both Vera and Matthew's mom in an interesting bit of casting. The killings are bloody enough and there are also stylishly shot scenes of Matthew being haunted by visions of his ghostly former victims that use bizarre, distorted camera-work and are pretty cool. The killer being completely disinterested in sex also makes this somewhat unique for the time period.

★★
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