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.

Monday, June 1, 2009

There's Nothing Out There (1990)

Directed by:
Rolfe Kanefsky

Forget that line of forced horror parodies from the early 80s (while you're at it, forget the horrid SCARY MOVIE franchise as well) and go straight for this very amusing riff on horror films and their endless cliches, which scores plenty of laughs for genre fans while also staying an entertaining monster movie. Horror film fanatic Mike (Craig Peck), who I am convinced was the prototype for Randy in SCREAM ("Name a horror movie, any horror movie..."), travels to a remote cabin with six of his oversexed and/or brainless friends (including Wendy Bednarz from VAMPIRES AND OTHER STEREOTYPES, Mark Collver from Pupi Avati's BIX and Bonnie Bowers, the bassist for the band Bhang). He continually warns them that something is wrong, but in typical horror movie tradition, no one believes him. Before long, a suitably cheesy looking green monster attacks. It possesses people by shooting lasers into their eyes and tries to mate with the women (cue crotch level POV camerawork). While low on budget, this is high on laughs, enthusiasm, imagination and good-natured ribbing. We get plenty of blood, gore and nudity, a car wreck, skinny dipping, some very cool opening credits, horror film references (the best being one to INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS), some great one liners ("Is someone paying you to stand by an open window?") and a hilarious ending.

It was a very promising debut for Kanefsky, who would go on the make the equally enjoyable horror-comedy THE HAZING (2004), as well as CORPSES (2004), NIGHTMARE MAN (2005) and others in the genre. Not released until 1992.

★★★

Torture Garden (1967)

Directed by:
Freddie Francis

Amicus' second of eight horror anthology features, following the box office success of DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965), is the weakest of the bunch. And that's rather unfortunate since this one boasts portmanteau specialist Freddie Francis at the helm, Robert (PSYCHO) Bloch in charge of adapting his own short stories and such big names as Burgess Meredith, Jack Palance and Peter Cushing rounding out the cast. At a carnival, feisty Dr. Diablo (Meredith) shows off his "Torture Garden" horror exhibit to paying customers and as a special treat allows five patrons to come into a back room to have their futures predicted by a statue of the goddess Atropos (Clytie Jessup - seemingly having a difficult time staying still!), who holds "the shears of fate." We then get four terror tales, two that are decent (though really nothing spectacular) and two that are rather weak.

In "Enoch," greedy Colin Williams (Michael Bryant) discovers he's the sole heir of his terminally ill Uncle Roger's (Maurice Denham) estate. Before Colin can discover where his estranged relative's never-ending surplus of gold coins is coming from, his uncle passes on. Colin then searches the mansion, finds a secret hatch under a bed leading to an underground crypt and digs up a coffin. Inside are a skeleton and still-living cat. The cat turns out to be an evil witch's familiar who can provide wealth in exchange for being fed human flesh! Next up in "Terror Over Hollywood," unscrupulous, fame-hungry starlet Carla Hayes (Beverly Adams) will do anything to make it in the movies. She ends up getting her big break (or so she thinks) after being cast in a lead role opposite timeless superstar Bruce Benton (Robert Hutton) but then discovers top Hollywood players are being replaced by synthetic doubles. I suppose that explains this segment's robotic acting. Tale #3 (the silliest of the bunch) is called "Mr. Steinway" and finds Dorothy Endicott (Barbara Ewing) falling in love with pianist Leo (John Standing), only to discover his prized piano is haunted by the spirit of his domineering late mother.

The final segment - "The Man Who Collected Poe" - will probably provide the most interest to horror fans. It stars Palance as abrasive and obsessive Edgar Allan Poe enthusiast Ronald Wyatt, who meets his match when he comes across wealthy Poe collector Lancelot Canning (Cushing). Canning reluctantly allows Wyatt to accompany him back to his home to show him part of his extensive collection of Poe memorabilia, including some unpublished manuscripts. Wyatt gets a little pushy and violent; eventually finding out that one particular piece of the collection sets it part from any other. This tale, along with the first one, make this uneven anthology worth a look. The wraparound segments (also featuring Michael Ripper as a customer who doesn't seem to want his future foretold) and production values are adequate.

★★

Tourist Trap (1979)

Directed by:
David Schmoeller

I'll start by saying that I really wanted to like this one more than I actually did; it's pretty offbeat and has developed a strong cult following over the years. Unfortunately, it's a mixed bag of horror scenes/ideas that grow tiresome and monotonous well before the end. Despite some clever ideas, effective production design, some creepy bits and a few striking set pieces, it's way too muddled, loud, hectic, mundane and uncertain of tone. On a sweltering summer day, five young vacationers have car problems and end up stranded somewhere off the beaten path. And what a strange place it turns out to be! Woody (Keith McDermott) hikes down to a gas station looking for help. When he enters the place, a door slams shut by itself and locks. Suddenly, laughing, distorted looking mannequins pop up all over the place and bottles, a knife and finally a steel pipe start flying from a cabinet all on their own. It's a great kick start to the movie, but unfortunately it's downhill from here as the other four travelers encounter a similar fate. Amongst them is Molly (Jocelyn Jones), a predictably pure survivor type who's tagging along with two couples and is conservatively dressed, uptight and way too apprehensive about just about everything from the start. The others have no character and might as well be carrying their death certificates in their back pocket.

As they wait for Woody, the girls decide to go swimming and encounter an older, friendly widower named Mr. Slausen (Chuck Connors). He invites the four back to his run-down tourist trap, "Slausen's Lost Oasis," which has taken a financial hit since a new highway was built to bypass the place. One part of the establishment is a museum full of mannequins with, a-hem, lifelike qualities. Another part is a house downhill that Slausen claims belongs to his crazy brother Davey. When he and Jerry (Jon Van Ness) go to fix the car, the three girls are warned to stay put. Naturally, one of the girls; Eileen (Robin Sherwood), goes snooping around and encounters Davey, who talks in a creepy monotone voice and wears an expressionless wax mask and wig that makes him look more more or less identical to Leatherface. Davey uses his telekinetic powers to make the mannequins come to life and strangles Eileen to death with her own scarf. Becky (Tanya Roberts, looking incredibly gorgeous here) also decides to take a look inside, is pummeled by mannequins and disappears. Slausen comes back without Jerry (who he's keeping chained up in the cellar, along with Becky and another girl who's apparently been tied up down there for quite some time), so just poor Molly is left to fend off the nut(s) all by herself.

There are four things about this movie, which was co-produced by Charles Band, worth commending. The first is Connor's performance. He's a bit over-the-top during the horror scenes, enjoyably so, but also has some nice subtle moments, such as a well played dramatic scene reminiscing about his late wife. A pretty good performance overall. Second is the production design by Robert A. Burns, who was one of the best in the business and could accomplish much atmosphere and mood working with very little money. Third are the mannequin effects, which are effective and eerie, thanks in part to unusual designs and eerie sound effects. And finally, the best thing of all is the wonderfully eerie music score by Pino Donaggio. If only the writing and direction were as strong, this might have been a classic. As is, it's a mildly disappointing score of...

★★

Through the Looking Glass (1976)

Directed by:
Jonas Middleton

Back in the early-mid '70s when legit X-rated movies first burst onto the scene in this country, there was a trend in film-going referred to as "porno chic." This was a time when adult films were show in respectable theaters, "normal" people actually showed up to watch them without shame and the films being produced were actually films; you know, with dialogue, plots, production values and performances. I know it's hard to imagine, especially nowadays with a return to "traditional values" and "morals," someone like your neighbor Lou coming up to you and telling you he and his wife just got back from an afternoon showing of DEEP THROAT, but people were actually going to see X flicks on a regular basis, were enjoying them and were recommending them to their friends. The downhill slide began sometime in the 1980s with VCR's and video cameras made affordable to any consumer with a thousand or so bucks to throw away. Movies which were shot on film stock a decade earlier started being shot with camcorders. Thousands of tapes flooded the market and an entire genre became a cheap and easy way to conduct business. What can you say, "Sex sells." Of course this took a little time and some quality films still emerged in this decade, but with the internet in the mid 90s things took an even cheaper and more anonymous turn. Tapes stopped selling, adult film "stars" started to grow increasingly less significant and anyone with a camera and a few adventurous friends could become a porn peddler or porn star. So now porn is porn. And porn as film is basically no more. While these older adult films certainly didn't shy away from showing graphic sex, they also didn't completely rely on it. That's precisely why many of these movies are still being sought out to this day and are starting to develop cult followings.

And that brings us to this 1976 effort, which is one of the most respected of all the adult films made in the 70s. It's basically a dark, depressing horror tale with disturbing, unerotic hardcore sex scenes. I've seen far better Gothic ghost/demon/possession movies, but I've certainly seen worse, and that's when you don't even factor the sex into the equation. Former Vogue model Catharine Burgess stars as Catherine, a wealthy, attractive socialite suffering from childhood trauma and failing to connect with anyone around her. She lives in a large, gloomy mansion (where she grew up) with her successful contractor husband Richard (Douglas Wood), teen daughter Jennifer (Laura Nicholson), maid Lisa (Terri Hall) and chauffeur Abel ("Michael Jefferson"/Roger Caine). Instead of spending time trying to connect with any of them, she spends her nights up in the attic gazing into a large antique mirror. Yep, Catherine's a little detached from reality. She starts becoming a little obsessive about stripping off her clothes, admiring her body and pleasuring herself before the mirror, and before long she's able to actually enter inside the mirror to view the sexual encounters of others... or have them herself.

Catherine's late father (Jamie Gillis), whose dignified pictures adorn the mansion walls, seems to be a spirit occupying the mirror... and he's not ready to give up on his precious daughter quite yet. You see, the two of them shared a special "bond" back in the day and have a much "closer" relationship than most father-daughter's do. Is dear old dead dad coming back to warn her or is his materialization in the mirror actually a demon in disguise trying to tempt Catherine over to the dark side? The horror aspects of the films, from the ghost encounters to a red light shining from the attic window a la AMITYVILLE HORROR to a hot, sandy vision of hell, are done fairly well. As far as the sex scenes go, you get a little variety, I guess - some solo stuff, some group stuff, some water stuff, some lesbian stuff, some more fetish-y stuff. In my opinion, little of it is really gold by conventional standards of erotica/porn. It also focuses on the darker aspects of sex, such as incest and rape. The camera shots/lighting aren't always flattering either. One of the most startling shots in this movie is a camera closing in on Catherine's vagina as some green hands zero in on it. Not only do we get a nice gynecological close-up, but the camera literally plunges inside and travels through it in a well lit shot. Have no idea how they pulled it off, but it's one of the most memorable (and least erotic) shots I've seen in a porn.

As far as the acting goes, it's a mixed bag. The leading lady's one-note performance is something of a debit. She's definitely a looker and no worse than usual for adult films, but she acts far too regal, breathless and poised throughout and one wonders what some of the more talented adult actresses, such as Georgina Spelvin (DEVIL IN MISS JONES) or Veronica Hart, could have done with this role. Gillis, however, is very effective in his role and gives a standout performance. Future director Joel Bender (THE RETURNING, THE IMMORTALIZER) was the assistant to the producer and some of the music was obviously done by Harry (FRIDAY THE 13TH) Manfredini because it sounds just like all of his other scores (not bad here, though).

★★1/2

Wicker Man, The (1973)

...aka: Anthony Shaffer's The Wicker Man

Directed by:
Robin Hardy

Edward Woodward (later to star in The Equalizer TV series) is a devoutly religious police inspector who travels to the small island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. There's a cover up to the girls whereabouts by the entire community and he finds himself equally appalled by their free-living lifestyle; simple pleasures which include drinkin', singin', swingin' sex... and pagan human sacrifice. The title refers to a giant wooden idol necessary for climactic May Day ceremony. THE WICKER MAN opens fairly slowly (and some complain it has too many musical numbers), but after the first pub scene it becomes suspenseful, creepy (without a stitch of violence) and brilliantly atmospheric, creating a seemingly authentic and unusual society not dependent on standard moral or religious codes. It's safe to say that the strong and unflinching religious subject matter in Anthony Shaffer's script carries with it the potential to infuriate some viewers. It's also extremely ironic that this same close-minded worldview is perfectly reflected in the bullheaded lead character, and also helps to seal his fate. Not that the pagans in this film aren't equally unwavering in their beliefs, but the "power of in numbers" philosophy rings true here just as it does in contemporary society. Imagine a small place in this world not adversely affected by standard organized religion and you get the gist of Summerisle.

If you want gore, you won't find any here. If you can't go into this film with an open mind, you might not appreciate what it has to offer. And if you are looking for a standard horror film you may be disappointed (or you may be like me and be pleasantly surprised). The ending is simultaneously chilling and oddly amusing. Paul Giovanni provides a memorable soundtrack, with "Gently Johnny" and "Maypole" standouts. Both Woodward and Christopher Lee (who rightfully considers this one of his finest films) as Lord Summerisle are excellent in their roles. The cast also includes Britt Ekland as the seductive Willow (her voice was dubbed and she was body doubled during her memorable erotic nude dance sequence), Diane Clineto as a schoolteacher, Ingrid Pitt as a librarian, Lindsay Kemp as the pub owner/innkeeper and Aubrey Morris as a gravedigger. Much censored over the years, the most common version (the one released in America) runs 88 minutes, and the director's cut (released in 2001) runs 100.

★★★1/2

White Buffalo, The (1977)

...aka: Hunt to Kill

Directed by:
J. Lee Thompson

Unique, semi-surrealistic, allegorical horror-western (a box-office flop when released to theaters) about aged, weary outlaw Wild Bill Hickok (Charles Bronson, a little less wooden than usual here) and his obsession with the legendary, mythical White Buffalo; a giant, snorting monster that's been haunting both his nightmares and the Black Hills region during the height of the Gold Rush. The buffalo itself represents the fear of mortality within the main character, or as Wild Bill says "If I don't kill the buff, the dream will kill me." After a train ride, a stagecoach ride, a bar brawl, a hoe-down, various shoot outs and Indian encounters, Hickok (who uses the alias James Otis and often wears dark glasses to conceal his identity) teams up with fellow wild west legends Charlie Zane i.e. General Custer (Jack Warden, with white hair, beard and a glass eye) and Indian brave Crazy Horse (Will Sampson), who has been downgraded to "Worm" when he cries over his dead baby, to hunt the elusive creature down. The buffalo causes avalanches, gores people with his horns and destroys an entire Indian village. The whole package doesn't really work and there's a lot of campfire talk about war, the white man, being universal brothers, "the great spirit," etc, but it's strange and amusingly pretentious enough to keep your attention and partially transcends the normal 'monster movie' nonsense. The production values, costumes, sets, location work and period design are all very good. The (mechanical) buffalo design and action scenes are also surprisingly effective, even though you can sometimes see the support apparatus operating the monster.

There's also an impressive line-up of guest stars, including John Carradine as Amos Briggs, a foul-mouthed, heavy-drinking grave digger in a top hat, who makes a comment about wanting to keep the bodies fresh before he exits his one scene. Also here are Kim Novak as Wild Bill's former gal Poker Kate, Clint Walker as Whistling Jack, Slim Pickens as a stagecoach driver, Stuart Whitman and many others (including several notable western stars). For a PG movie, there's quite a bit of violence and cursing ("You silly peckerwood!"). Presenter Dino De Laurentiis had just given us another giant monster movie; 1976's remake of KING KONG. Richard Sale adapted his own novel and John Barry did the score.

Score: 5 out of 10

What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969)

Directed by:
Bernard Girard (uncredited)
Lee H. Katzin

While it's not quite as good as WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (or WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN?, for that matter), this psycho-thriller (with black comic overtones) is still very much worth a look, thanks primarily to an outstanding lead performance from Geraldine Page. Page paints a deliciously evil portrait of a condescending, clever, hateful, spoiled and elitist murderess who was left with nothing after her husband's passing and now murders her elderly housekeepers for their savings; burying their bodies under the prized pine trees that adorn the front yard of her secluded, desert-set home. There's also a very spirited supporting performance from Ruth Gordon as Page's spunky new housekeeper Alice, who has ulterior motives for taking the position (she knew the last victim and wants to find out what happened to her). Many of the supporting actors and actresses are a bit bland, and the plot really isn't anything new, but that really doesn't do the film much harm since the majority of the time is spent on brilliantly played (and often brilliantly written) interactions between the two main veteran character actresses, who make this a joy to watch. There are also several unpredictable twists to Theodore Apstein's screenplay; which was based on Ursula Curtiss' novel "The Forbidden Garden." Director Lee H. Katzin took over for Bernard Girard after four weeks of filming.

The cast includes Rosemary Forsyth as the single young mother who moves in next door to Page, Robert Fuller as the guy who falls for her (and is somehow connected to Gordon's character), Joan Huntington as Page's snobby daughter, Peter Brandon as her husband and Mildred Dunnock as the housekeeper Gordon replaces. Produced by Robert Aldrich, who had previously directed two quintessential pictures in the 'geriatric psycho bitch' subgenre - the aforementioned Baby Jane ('62) and HUSH... HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE (1964); both of which starred Bette Davis.

★★★

Warlock (1989)

...aka: Magic Wizard, The

Directed by:
Steve Miner

Review coming soon.

★★1/2

Waxwork (1988)

Directed by:
Anthony Hickox

Review coming soon.

★★

Gatto dagli occhi di giada, Il (1977)

...aka: Cat's Victims, The
...aka: Cat with the Jade Eyes
...aka: Watch Me When I Kill

Directed by:
Antonio Bido

Most fans of 1970s Euro horror know just what a giallo is; a horrific murder mystery usually from Europe (specifically Italy, but not always) involving screwy plot mechanics, colorful - gory death scenes, enough red herrings for a large dinner party and a gloved killer whose identity basically comes out of nowhere at the end. Antonio Bido borrows heavily from giallo masters Mario Bava and Dario Argento (there's even a copy Goblin score), but completely lacks the imagination and directorial flair that really gives this form of filmmaking its juice. The plot involves a Nazi death camp survivor in Rome who starts killing people somehow involved with the deaths of his family. Mara ("Sylvia Kramer" aka Paola Tedesco) is a lovely singer/actress/innocent bystander who gets caught in the middle after witnessing one of the murders. She teams up with her detective boyfriend Lucas Karman ("Richard Stewart" aka Corrado Pani) to solve the mystery. Note (this is referring to the original VHS version I saw and not the DVD that was released recently): There's no nudity, very little violence (other than a slashed neck and a face boiled in a pot of stew) and not enough clues to give any viewer a fighting chance at solving the crimes before our heroes do. The American release (from Herman Cohen in 1981) has no credits for writer, producer or supporting cast. With Paolo Malco.

★★

Watchers II (1990)

Directed by:
Thierry Notz

In a virtual remake of the first film (minus the kid character, a good idea), a Marine (Marc Singer) teams up with an "animal psychologist" (Tracy Scoggins) and a super-intelligent golden retriever (played by "Dakai") to stop a giant, mutant lizard monster. It's about on par with the first film; standard issue horror-action with the best scenes belonging to the canine star. Roger Corman also produced of this one. Director Notz had previously made the similarly themed monster movie THE TERROR WITHIN (1988). With Jonathan Farwell, Irene Miracle, John Lafayette, Tommy Hinkley, porn actress Raquel Rios (aka Keisha) and Mary Woronov as a doctor.

★★

Watchers (1988)

Directed by:
Jon Hess

The same night his girlfriend is attacked by a hairy monster, a troubled kid (Corey Haim) finds a golden retriever has stowed away in the back of his truck. That mutt turns out to be an escapee from a top-secret government lab that blew up (part of the “St. Francis Project”) and is intelligent enough to know who Abraham Lincoln is, retrieve its own hot dogs from a refrigerator and help the kid out with his homework. Haim’s divorced single mom (Barbara Williams) doesn’t really want “Fur Face” around (at least, at first), but a slew of obligatory bad guys (led by the always reliable Michael Ironside, in a surprise role) do. Turns out the monster from the beginning (which is big, orange and likes to suck on human eyeballs) is a genetic twin to the loveable dirty doggie. The story (based on the popular novel by Dean R. Koontz) is pretty routine, but he pooch is fun to watch and this did well enough in theaters and on video to spawn three sequels; WATCHERS II (1990), WATCHERS III (1994) and WATCHERS REBORN (1998). The Artisan/Live DVD release contains the first two films. Look for a young Jason Priestley (a couple of years before Beverly Hills 90210 made him a star) as a kid on a bike.

★★

War Game, The (1965)

Directed by:
Peter Watkins

A pseudo-documentary chronicling the horrific effects of a nuclear attack, this mixes fictional scenes with actors with factual information about the devastating effects war could have on the UK. The film also weaves in candid street interviews with citizens who seem in the dark about the possible consequences of nuclear war. Originally a co-production between the BBC and British Film Institute, this was deemed too disturbing to be broadcast and played theatrically instead. It ended up winning an Oscar for Best Documentary, which forced the Academy Awards into rewriting their eligibility rules for documentary titles. Though still effective (and the mockumentary approach highly clever during its day), the film would later be eclipsed by such nuclear terror films as THE DAY AFTER (1983), TESTAMENT (1983) and THREADS (1984), all of which upped the unrelenting grimness. Keep your eyes peeled for Brian Cox in an early role.

★★★

Without Warning (1980)

...aka: Alien Encounters
...aka: Alien Shock
...aka: Alien Warning
...aka: It Came Without Warning
...aka: Warning, The

Directed by:
Greydon Clark

An alien has landed on Earth and it’s killing innocent humans. Why, you ask? If you’re looking for a feasible explanation like harvesting humans for food or cleaning off this planet for future alien use, then forget it. Here the big bad bald guy is just looking for a fun time hunting humans to add to his burgeoning trophy collection. Aiding in his sport are hairy, fanged, blood-sucking little parasitic suction-cup Frisbees he flings at victims. I've seen them aptly describe elsewhere as resembling "hairy pizzas." If the plot isn’t enough to get you tuned in, keep in mind it co-stars Jack Palance as a grizzled gas station owner, Cameron Mitchell as a sadistic hunter (in the opening scene) and an out-of-control Martin Landau as a ranting, raving, insane Vietnam vet. David Caruso even pops up in an early role as one of four teenagers being stalked by the alien. It all equals campy, silly fun with fun Greg Cannom make-up FX.
.
Tarah Nutter and Christopher S. Nelson star, with Neville Brand, Ralph Meeker, Sue Ann Langdon and Lynn Theel. 7'2" Kevin Peter Hall (who also played the monsters in PREDATOR and its sequel, HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS, MONSTER IN THE CLOSET and others) is the alien.
.
Director Clark also made the supernatural drive-in flick SATAN'S CHEERLEADERS (1977), the horror parody WACKO (1983), the atomic killer cat movie UNINVITED (1987) and others.
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Score: 6 out of 10

Chi l'ha vista morire? (1972)

...aka: Child, The
...aka: Who Saw Her Die?

Directed by:
Aldo Lado

Venice is a gorgeous city full of canals, garish colors and stunning architecture. Setting a film in this city is always a plus because you are guaranteed an interesting backdrop. Unfortunately, when the city itself turns out to be the best part of the entire movie, you know you are in trouble. Even more disheartening, CHI L'HA VISTA MORIRE (known to English-speaking audiences as either THE CHILD or WHO SAW HER DIE?) is cynical enough to use Venice as nothing more than a distraction technique to keep people from realizing that this is simply just another tepid, poorly paced, clichéd-to-the-max murder mystery we've seen dozens of times before. Only slow. Very, very slow. I'm talking moving at the speed of a tortoise with three broken legs slow. I guess it takes a special kind of director to make a film about a serial killer of children this devoid of emotion, this bland and this uninvolving. Aldo Lado is not helped any by a cast of non-actors who sleepwalk through their respective parts, but he is especially not helped at all by his own uninspired direction.

One of the key shots in the film is a killer's POV shot. At first, the shot is effective at building up the creepy, off-screen menace getting ready to strike out. The shot looks through a thin black veil (presumably that of an old woman), watching victims as the Ennio Morricone music (an increasingly annoying children's choir) slowly starts to creep in. But then this same exact shot with the same exact music keeps being repeated over and over and over again for almost all of the horror related scenes. To make matters worse, the shot is used pointlessly on multiple occasions where nothing even happens. A common technique used in horror films is the "cheap scare." You know, like a cat jumping out of a closet to startle a character, and the viewer. In this film, the veil scenes are simply "cheap suspense" because the script fails to create any honest suspenseful/horrific scenarios based on the storyline, plot, characters or dialogue.

Another major problem are the characters. They are poorly developed, shallow and completely unsympathetic, and the actors portraying them seem disinterested in the material. You could care less about them or what happens to them. George Lazenby never once comes off as as impassioned or driven, which is important to the believability of his vengeance-seeking father character and Anita Strindberg also gives a one-note performance as a "grieving" mother who seems to be around solely to get topless. Just like them, this film is clinical, by the numbers; basically just going through the motions in a completely lifeless manner. And what a loss; this film could have been cold in a disturbing kind of way, but it's actually just cold in a blasé kind of way. And the ending reeks of desperate, lazy film-making and writing. The identity of the killer is supposed to be a surprise, but it's not a surprise in context of the script, it's a supposed surprise based on an occupation; a costume. It may not have helped matters that I watched this right after three other gialli that boast the same exact "surprise" ending. The cast includes Adolfo Celi, Dominique Boschero, Jose Quaglio, Rosemarie Lindt for more topless scenes and young Nicoletta Elmi as the murdered daughter.

1/2

Witches, The (1989)

Directed by:
Nicolas Roeg

Too bad all kids movies aren't like this! Angelica Huston, who actually won Best Actress awards from the Boston Society of Film Critics, Los Angeles Film Critics and National Society of Film Critics for her performance in this (and her impressive work in THE GRIFTERS), stars as Eva Ernst, the Grand High Witch. She plots to turn helpless children into mice using contaminated chocolate and heads over a whole coven of witches at a beautiful seaside hotel, where a convention of witches is taking place. Young Luke (Jasen Fisher) discovers what they're up to, and is promptly turned into a rodent (along with another chubby kid)... Can he still stop them? Mai Zetterling is a real treat as the wise, cigar chomping grandmother (who's also an expert on witches) and Huston is delightfully wicked (and cruel!) in her role. Jim Henson's Creature Shop provided the special effects. Some parents objected to certain story points here (and in the Roald Dahl book this was based on), but they're morons. What better way to teach kids to not to take candy from strangers than to make that chocolate contaminated? What better way to teach them not to talk to strangers than by making the strangers ugly, child-hating monsters with purple glowing eyes? The ending of the book was a bit more grim and has been changed for the movie version, but I doubt many people will mind. It was Henson's last film project. He also served as the executive producer. Lovely photography and picturesque location work in Norway.

Score: 8.5 out of 10

Monte de las brujas, El (1972)

...aka: Witches Mountain, The

Directed by:
Raúl Artigot

Saying this movie is extremely hard to follow and just as frustrating to sit through is putting it very mildly. Also saying that the current available print is dark, dreary, scratchy, abysmally edited, painfully dubbed, seemingly censored and in almost unwatchable shape is also correct. This film is in dire need of a good re-mastering from the full, uncut, original negative and seeing how it's reasonably atmospheric (and won the director an award at the Catalonia Film Festival), it might actually be worth the trouble. Then again, maybe not... It's just impossible to tell in its current condition what kind of movie it actually is. It starts fairly interesting, if you can discount the completely senseless pre-credits opening sequence, which involves a deranged cat-killing, snake-loving little girl named Gerda. The girls mom, Carla (Mónica Randall, who should have laid off the eyeliner a little bit), splashes some gasoline around in the garage and torches the brat. Seemingly about as crazy as young Gerda, she goes to visit her estranged photographer (ex?) boyfriend Mario ("John"/Cihangir Gaffari). He's on vacation from work, but so desperate to get away from Carla that he begs his employers to set him up on an assignment... any assignment. She scowls "You'll be sorry!" as he heads out the door. Well, Mario is assigned to photograph "Witches Mountain" (somewhere in the Pyrenees, I believe). Before he gets to his destination, he gets sight of a hottie on the beach named Delia (Patty Shepard) and snaps a few pictures of her taking off her bikini top. Only slightly peeved, she claims to be a single writer, the two flirt and then decide it would be a swell idea if they went on the trip up the mountain together. When they stop by her place so she can pack her bags, Mario suddenly hears loud, sinister music. Delia claims he's just hearing things.

So the two begin their trip up the mountain, taking a stop at a local inn to spend the night. There they encounter a weird, partially-deaf, crazy-eyed innkeeper (Victor Israel) and Delia claims someone was spying on here through her window. The next day, under some trance, she wanders off up the mountain and is eventually located by Mario, who hops out of his jeep and runs after her. While he's finding out what's up, someone steals their wheels and they're forced to walk a piece, eventually finding the jeep undamaged at the foot of a small, ancient, seeming abandoned village... almost like someone was trying to intentionally lure them there. Well as we will see, that's exactly what has happened. In the village they encounter a friendly old woman named Zanta (Ana Farra) who claims she's the only person still living there and lets them stay in her home. Mario takes some pictures of the "abandoned" city and when he develops them they are eerily full of people. Slightly creeped out, he and Delia begin to leave and get stuck in "treacherous" fog and have to pull over and camp out for the night. The rest of the movie has to do with voodoo dolls, black cats transforming into sexy women, Satanic rituals performed by ladies in their bras and a deadly fall off a cliff. And yeah, coincidentally Carla the estranged wife turns out to be one of the witches, too. It all takes place in semi-darkness and to be quite honest, I didn't know what the hell was going on most of the time. The inconclusive "open" ending is just an additional slap in the face to anyone having to suffer through the rest of this senseless mess.

Honestly, there are just a couple of things that stand out as being good. The first is actress Shepard, who has that great Barbara Steele kind of dark, mysterious beauty that makes her presence perfect for films like this. The lead actor isn't too bad either and Israel and Farra contribute good character bits. There's also an excellent music score (credited to Fernando García Morcillo) and chanting songs, which aided immensely in making this film as atmospheric as it is. The location work is also fairly decent, but as I said, the print is ugly as can be and it doesn't make a lick of sense, so proceed with caution on this one.
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Originally released on video in the U.S. by Unicorn, this has since fallen into public domain territory so it's easy to find on DVD now and is often found in those bargain multi-packs.

Score: 3 out of 10

Witches of Eastwick, The (1987)

Directed by:
George Miller

Review coming soon.

Score: 6 out of 10

Wolfman (1979)

Directed by:
Worth Keeter

A British heir (southern drive-in auteur Earl Owensby, who doesn't even attempt an accent and also produced) is actually a werewolf. This low-budgeter was filmed in North Carolina but is set in Georgia. More review coming soon.

Score: 3 out of 10

Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

Directed by:
Roger Corman

A bit slow going at times, but classy and entertaining Poe adaptation (scripted by Richard Matheson) features Vincent Price as Nicholas Medina, a 16th Century nobleman suffering in his seaside castle after the death of his beloved wife Elizabeth (Barbara Steele), believing she had been buried alive. Guests, including a doctor friend (Anthony Carbone), his sister Catherine (Luana Anders) and Elizabeth's brother Francis (John Kerr) show up looking for answers... but some of them are up to more devious things, like trying to drive poor Nicholas insane. An elaborate downstairs torture chamber with a rack, an iron maiden and (of course) a pit and a pendulum add up to a lively finale when Nicholas finally snaps and believes he's his own father... a notoriously sadistic Spanish inquisitor!
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Corman knows how to stretch a limited budget with some stylish flashback sequences, a professional cast, good Les Baxter score and effective period sets and costumes as good as anything else you'd see at the time. In fact, reading the AIP pressbook for the film reveals that 12,000 pounds of plaster, 2,000 red candles, 85 torches and 20 gallons of cobwebbing were used during the production! A 40x80-foot mural was also constructed in the pendulum room and the pendulum itself measured 18 feet in length and was mechanically operated. And all that for just 200 thousand dollars (the film went on to gross more than 2 million during its theatrical run). It was the second entry in the Corman Poe series. He did eight of them, seven starred Price, five were written by Matheson, and one - 1963's THE HAUNTED PALACE - is actually an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft, but is still considered part of this same series). All eight are good; some are even excellent.
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MGM's Midnite Movies DVD release pairs this one up with Corman's HOUSE OF USHER (1960).

★★★

Masque of the Red Death, The (1964)

Directed by:
Roger Corman

Saying this is the best of Roger Corman's eight Poe adaptations is high praise indeed, since many of the others in the series (HOUSE OF USHER, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM...) are also widely-regarded as classics of the genre. MASQUE was filmed on a low-budget on location in England on a five-week schedule and reaches incredible heights of atmosphere (and overall ambition) for such an inexpensive production. It truly is timeless and comparisons to Bergman (whom Corman names as an influence, along with Hitchcock) are not even out of the question. Vincent Price is his usual impressively evil self as the cruel (to put it mildly!) Prince Prospero, a Satan-worshipping sadist who seals himself inside a large castle with other wealthy noblemen and women while a red death plague ravages the less fortunate workers outside. Prospero truly is one of Price's most reprehensible characters... and in a career like his, that's saying a lot! First seen as his chariots nearly mow over an infant, the prince will go on to humiliate and terrorize every single person in this film. No one is spared his wraith; everyone exists just to be toyed with, degraded, corrupted, judged (his persuasive philosophies of evil are quite intriguing indeed!) and even killed. But there's also retribution lurking outside the castle walls in the form of a red-robed, tarot-card dealing phantom figure…

The supporting cast could not be better... Jane Asher is excellent as Francesca, an innocent, God-fearing peasant girl who Prospero holds hostage in the castle and tries to corrupt, partially by making her chose the fates of her father (Nigel Green) and her lover (David Weston). Asher is never a mannequin in her scenes and seems authentic in her wide-eyed wonder and horrified astonishment. Hazel Court is outstanding as Juliana, a noblewoman in league with the devil. Featured in two of the film's most memorable segments (a branding sequence and an incredibly stylish nightmare sequence where she is murdered over and over again), Court made one of the strongest impressions to me; she's calculating and evil, for sure, but also possesses a streak a airiness. Besides, any actress with the nerve to pledge her eternal love to Satan in a film made in the 1960s, has to be well worth admiring. Excellent British character actor Patrick Magee also has a memorable supporting role as Alfredo, Prospero's pompous and arrogant right-hand man, who gets what he has coming to him after assaulting the wife of a dwarf performer (Skip Martin).

Excellent period atmosphere (it's set in 12th Century Italy), Daniel Haller's elaborate production design, Robert Jones exquisite art direction, Charles Beaumont and R. Wright Campbell's well-turned script (which also wonderfully adds a non-intrusive Hop Toad subplot) and the top-notch performances give this the winning edge over every other Poe adaptation ever attempted. Nicolas Roeg's breathtaking and haunting color cinematography is another asset, best illustrated during several impressive sequences roving through large rooms, each lit with a different color. Good score by David Lee. The MGM release pairs this with THE PREMATURE BURIAL (1962) and each film has been wonderfully re-mastered and features the trailer, plus very informative and detailed interviews with Corman about the productions.

★★★★

Actor Profile: Vincent Price

VINCENT PRICE (1913-1993)
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An always entertaining actor, adept at either playing it straight or playing it ultra-campy for laughs, Vincent Price (born May 25nd, 1911 in St. Louis, Missouri) subsequently went on to star in around 50 horror films, usually playing the hissable heavy. His distinctive low-pitched voice alone (as was the case with Lugosi and Karloff) has even become synonymous with the horror genre over the years. Price appeared in several horror films during his first fifteen years as a "mainstream" supporting player, including playing the ill-fated Duke of Clarence in TOWER OF LONDON (1939; where he is drowned in a vat of wine Boris Karloff's club-footed chief torturer), the Invisible Man in THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (1940) and also contributing a voice bit to ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948; again as The Invisible Man), but playing a vengeance-minded sculptor in the 3-D hit HOUSE OF WAX (1953), as well as playing the title role in 1954's THE MAD MAGICIAN, made him an instant horror star. He had a lead role in the James Clavell-scripted/Kurt Neumann-directed hit THE FLY (1958), where he confronts a son whose genetic make-up has been switched with that of a housefly, with monstrous results. Vinnie also reprised his role in the immediate sequel, RETURN OF THE FLY in 1959, which went on to prove the old adage "Like father, like son." Interestingly, the same format was utilized when the 1986 David Cronenberg remake and its 1989 sequel (directed by Oscar-winning make-up man Chris Walas) were made. Price continued his winning streak with two campy William Castle hits which are possibly better remembered for their theatrical showmanship than for Price's performances. 1958's HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (Price played a millionaire Frederick Loren who offered monetary compension to those able to survive the night in a haunted house) was released with "Emergo" (in which a plastic skeleton on wires flew into the audience) and 1959's THE TINGLER (Price played a coroner) was released with "Percepto" (in which theater seats were wired to give audience members mild electric shocks).

With Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe adaptation HOUSE OF USHER (1960), Price was really given the chance to combine his flair for drama with his flair for the horrific, playing the tortured and incestuously-inclined Roderick Usher, who tries to set a roadblock in the way of his sister Madeline's (Myrna Fahey) relationship with strapping young Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon). This was the first of seven consequent teamings of Corman and Price and remain highlights of both of their careers. Price went on to star (and give top-notch performances) in other Poe adaptations such as THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961; as an evil Spanish Inquisitor who gets even with philandering wife Barbara Steele) and THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964; as evil prince Prospero who holes himself up inside his castle to protect himself from the plague). In THE HAUNTED PALACE (which was actually based on a H.P. Lovecraft story), Price confronted more personal demons upon arriving in a small New England town and facing mutants and a family curse. Lon Chaney, Jr. and Elisha Cook, Jr. (who was also in Haunted Hill) co-starred. In 1963's horror satire THE RAVEN, Price got to share company with other genre scene-stealers Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone (both also in 1962's TALES OF TERROR from the series), Hazel Court (also paired with Price in Masque) and a young Jack Nicholson. The series ended on a high note with the beautifully-done, well-staged TOMB OF LIGEIA, which finally brought the Poe cycle outside the dank castle walls.

Right after the Poe series concluded, Price appeared in the uneven, but interesting Italian/US co-production THE LAST MAN ONE EARTH (1964) as one of the last surviving humans on this planet who is free to roam around during the day, but must retreat to his boarded-up home when faced with zombie-like blood-drinkers at night. The film was based on Richard Matheson's I Am Legend and is seen as a precursor to both Night of the Living Dead (1968; which is not directly based on Matheson's novel) and The Omega Man (1971; which is). He also narrated the English-language version of the excellent French/Italian horror anthology SPIRITS OF THE DEAD (1968) and gave what many believe to be his finest performance that very same year as hypocritical, self-serving "witch hunter" Matthew Hopkins in Michael Reeves' classic WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968; US = THE CONQUEROR WORM). He virtually reprised that role in the 1970 film CRY OF THE BANSHEE, where he was in good form again ("H is for Heretic!") but was let down somewhat by an uneven script.

Helping to further cement his status as a horror king was playing Dr. Anton Phibes in THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971) and its immediate sequel DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972) as a vocally-impaired doctor/burn victim trying to avenge himself on the surgical team (including Joseph Cotten) who failed to save his wife (Caroline Munro). After the seriousness of most of his 60s work, this returned Price to the more spoofy/campy horror film for which he is best associated. He had yet another choice role as jilted (and psychotic) Shakespearian actor Edward Lionheart in Douglas Hickox's clever and amusing THEATER OF BLOOD (1973). This time he and his faithful daughter (Diana Rigg) don various disguises while methodically killing off theatrical critics who have continually stiffed him. Ironically, this film is incredibly rife with unexpected context now. I'm convinced this must have been an intentionally cynical statement from Price against his critics! He also gets to kill his real-life wife (actress Coral Browne) while under the guise of a flamboyantly effeminate hairdresser. Price also found himself in a true-to-life role as a veteran horror star whose comeback is being sabotaged by a series of murders in 1974's MADHOUSE, which also featured Peter Cushing and Robert Quarry.

During the 1980s, Price teamed up for the first time ever with three of the genres top superstars (John Carradine, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee) in Pete Walker's very disappointing HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS (1982), the sixth screen adaptation of George M. Cohan's Seven Keys to Baldpate. The film suffers from a weak script, the annoyingly miscast Desi Arnaz, Jr. in a lead role and unimaginative direction; shamelessly wasting every single one of the invaluable horror legends in the cast. Why directors continually miss the chance at greatness with an unbeatable cast like this, I don't know, but it could be seen as the 80s answer to The Black Sleep (1956) or The Crimson Cult (1968). However, not even this poor production could diminish the appeal of the four stars and they are all a joy to watch, even in something lesser like this.

In 1983, he did the nifty little rap sequence in Michael Jackson's landmark video for "Thriller." Also during this period he lent his wonderfully sinister voice to many cartoon features, including Professor Ratigan's in Disney's THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE. Jeff Burr's horror anthology THE OFFSPRING (1986) was respected by fans, but Price himself (who played a historian in linking segments) hated the finished product. In 1991, he received a "Horror Hall of Fame" award (this presentation was even seen by television viewers). Tim Burton's terrific horror comedy EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (1990) was a very nice bow out of the genre for Price; playing the inventor of (and father figure to) Edward (Johnny Depp) in flashbacks. Try to watch this and not get misty eyed, horror fans. In 1991 he received a life achievement award from the prestigious Los Angeles Film Critics Association. If that wasn't enough, Price was also a gourmet chef, author of several cookbooks, an art connosieur (and founder of the Vincent Price Gallery in L.A.), a television and radio host, a graduate of Yale, a writer, husband, father and much more. He passed away in 1993, but remains one of the most beloved actors whose name even became synonymous with the genre.
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Horrorography:
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Horror Hall of Fame II, The (1991) (TV)
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Horror Hall of Fame, The (1990) (TV)
Don't Scream It's Only a Movie (1989) (TV)
Dead Heat (1988)
Creepy Classics (1987)
Vincent Price: The Sinister Image (1987)
Escapes (1986)
Offspring, The (1986)
Dracula: The Great Undead (1985) (host)
Bloodbath at the House of Death (1983)
Thriller (1983) (music video)
House of the Long Shadows (1982)
Vincent (1982) (short)
Monster Club, The (1980)
Alice Cooper: The Nightmare (1975) (TV)
Madhouse (1974)
Theater of Blood (1973)
Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)
Evening of Edgar Allan Poe, An (1972)
Abominable Dr. Phibes, The (1971)
Cry of the Banshee (1970)
Oblong Box, The (1969)
Scream and Scream Again (1969)
Spirits of the Dead (1968) (narrator: U.S. version)
Witchfinder General (1968)
House of 1000 Dolls (1967)
Comedy of Terrors, The (1964)
Last Man on Earth, The (1964)
Masque of the Red Death, The (1964)
Tomb of Ligeia (1964)
Diary of a Madman (1963)
Haunted Palace, The (1963)
Raven, The (1963)
Taboos of the World (1963) (narrator)
Twice-Told Tales (1963)
Tales of Terror (1962)
Tower of London (1962)
Naked Terror (1961) (narrator)
Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
House of Usher (1960)
Bat, The (1959)
House on Haunted Hill (1959)
Return of the Fly (1959)
Tingler, The (1959)
Fly, The (1958)
Mad Magician, The (1954)
House of Wax (1953)
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) (voice)
Dragonwyck (1946)
Shock (1946)
House of the Seven Gables, The (1940)
Invisible Man Returns, The (1940)
Tower of London (1939)

Vincent Price: The Sinister Image (1987)

Directed by:
Stanley Sheff

Vincent Price sits down with journalist and film historian David Del Valle for an hour-long discussion on his life, career, co-stars, employers and "sinister image" as a star of fantasy, sci-fi and horror flicks. Don't expect to see any flashy editing tricks incorporating a bunch of pictures, movie trailers or film clips. This is simply two men sitting down on a simple stage set discussing the actor's long and distinguished stage and screen career. Thankfully, Price had such an interesting career, worked with so many of Hollywood's top talents and possessed such a great sense of humor (as well as a vivid memory), that it's a delight to simply sit back and listen to reminisce for 60-minutes. For fans of the actor, this is a must see. General film buffs will also find this pretty fascinating, as it has lots of behind-the-scenes anecdotes, trivia and memories about a whole range of directors, actors and other famous people who worked in and out of Hollywood. Beginning with a brief discussion about Price's latest role in the drama THE WHALES OF AUGUST (1987), where he was cast against type as a gentle Russian aristocrat, it doesn't take long to delve into the horror films that he's best known for. Price says he was offered the role of The King in TOWER OF LONDO N (1939), but passed for the smaller part of the Duke of Clarence because of his desire to play character parts. He also discusses his co-stars in that film - Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone. THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (1940; directed by German Joe May, who didn't know English!), THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES (1940), LAURA (1944), DRAGONWYCK (1946; one of his first bad guy roles) and GREEN HELL (1940; which he calls one of the 10 worst movies ever made!) are briefly discussed.

During the 1950s, the 3-D hit HOUSE OF WAX (1953) kick-started Price's role in the horror genre, led to a similar lead in THE MAD MAGICIAN (1954; where has was badly injured when an actor mistook a real table for a prop table and bashed it over his head!) which then led to more of the same - THE FLY (1958), its sequel, THE BAT (1959; which Price seemed disappointed with) and an association with William Castle (HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, THE TINGLER), who Price complements on his showmanship.

Moving on to the 1960s, Price talks in detail about how Roger Corman surrounded himself with only the best technical people despite being saddled with low budgets and claims his personal favorite of the Poe pictures is THE TOMB OF LIEGIA (1964). He also worked with Jacques Tourneur, who he claims was a marvelous director, but WAR-GODS OF THE DEEP (1965) was "a disaster" and talks about how he, Karloff and Peter Lorre charmed the pants off a journalist who initially came to the set of THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1964) to write a condescending piece on them but changed his tune. Others discussed are WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968; Price loved the film but has mixed feeling on its director), THE OBLONG BOX (1969), SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (1969; said to be one of Fritz Lang's favorite movies!), the DR. PHIBES films (1971-72), THEATRE OF BLOOD (1973; which Price considers his "best" horror film and where he met future wife Coral Browne) and others, including some then recent projects such as a cameo in DEAD HEAT (1988) and some work on the PBS series Mystery and for Disney. Price also appeared in many stage productions, sang on Broadway, did commercial voice-over work, was a big art connoisseur/supporter, appeared in thousands of radio plays and hundreds of television shows, wrote cookbooks and, in the twilight of his career, says it's important to give back and do helpful things for children. What a great guy. They don't make them like this anymore, do they?

It's probably best not to reveal too much of the trivia and behind-the-scenes memories of Price in this review and let you discover them for yourself, but I have to say that I learned a lot of new things about a large amount of films, filmmakers and various actors by watching this, and of course, learned a lot about Price, too.

★★★

Night Caller from Outer Space, The (1965)

... aka: Blood Beast from Outer Space
... aka: Bloodbeast from Outer Space
... aka: Night Caller, The

Directed by:
John Gilling

Made at Shepperton Studios in England, this very talky black-and-white sci-fi horror effort (originally released to U.S. theaters as Blood Beast from Outer Space) seems at times like two different films combined together, but is a passable time killer nonetheless. The agreeable trio of good-looking, middle-aged scientist Jack Costain (John Saxon), be-speckled, head-scratching vet Dr. Morley (Maurice Denham) and analysis expert Ann Barlow (Patricia Haines) pick up something big and weird and "invisible to the naked eye" on the radar... and it's heading straight for greater London! Initially assuming "it" is a twenty-foot meteor, they (and the military) track it down to a rural area and discover only a small white sphere where they expected to find a giant crater. Research into the mysterious ball discovers it is made from an undetermined silicone material, has a temperature of 25 degrees below zero and it didn't actually fall to Earth, but was somehow guided there.

Spending a late night at the lab alone doing a report, Ann suddenly comes down with a headache, blurred vision and profuse sweating, hears heavy breathing coming from the room containing the (now-glowing) sphere and barely escapes with her life when a scaly, rubbery-looking monster claw reaches out and grabs her. She makes it to the alarm, but the military men who come to her air find nothing. The army major (John Carson) naturally scoffs at Ann's claim (saying it is a practical joke), but Jack discovers mud in the lab and a monstrous footprint outside that backs up her claim. So Morley decides to go into the sphere alone; hooked up to a microphone to call in his co-workers to help in case things get out of hand. He suffers the same physical pains Ann did the night before and encounters the same creature (which is blurred out), but he ends up dying of fright (or, keeling over with a heart attack; it's kind of hard to tell). The sphere (which is actually a portal for matter to be transferred from place to place) disappears into thin air and the evil alien then escapes, steals a car and escapes the military base, running over and killing the major in the process.

Three weeks later, over twenty young women have mysteriously disappeared and Scotland Yard (led by Alfred Burke as Det. Hartley) is investigating. It turns out that the alien, named Medra (Robert Crewdson) has set up a bogus modeling agency called Orion Enterprises and is luring ladies there with an ad placed in 'Bikini Girl' magazine. Medra, who now has something of a personality, is tall (6'5"), speaks with a cultured-sounding British voice, disguises himself with a black mask with the eyes cut out and leather gloves and is usually seen only in shadow. The women he calls in to his office are hypnotized with a light and sent back through the portal to his home planet Ganymede (the third moon of Jupiter), where they are used to help repopulate and phase out the aliens' more inhuman aesthetic qualities! Haines and Saxon also return to aid the police; she in an ill-fated attempt to go undercover to catch the creature and he to listen to the alien's snooty final commentary ("We from Ganymede knew that we were superior beings and had nothing to learn from you!") before it blazes back to his home planet.

Aubrey Morris (The Wicker Man) livens things up briefly as a creepy, grinning, effete bookstore owner where the alien retrieves his mail. He makes some hilarious facial expressions while eyeing Hartley, says "I like men with nice eyes, don't you?," and blows him a kiss as he exits the store! There are some minor attempts at comedy, involving a pair of goofy soldiers and Marianne Stone and Warren Mitchell as the bickering parents of a missing girl. Also in the cast is 'guest star' Jack Watson as Sergeant Hawkes.

When compared to some of the more visionary, intelligent and thought-provoking science fiction films and TV shows coming out of England at the time (Quatermass, Doctor Who, etc.), this seems pretty minor and forgettable, not to mention talky and slow-moving. However, it is still an entertaining film, with some care and imagination put into the story line, plausible dialog (Jim O'Connolly scripted from the novel by Frank Crisp), OK special effects and good acting. The appearance of the alien, when finally fully revealed at the very end, is something of a surprise; a good or bad one, depending on the viewer.

The version I saw opens with a copy of the British Board of Censors certificate ('This is to certify that 'The Night Caller' has been passed for exhibition when no child under 16 is present") giving it an "X" rating. And don't forget the theme song performed by some unknown chap named Mark Richardson, which is a laugh riot. It (sung with hilarious deep, dramatic vocals) goes "The Night Caller has a hypnotizing spell... Those who fight it never live to tell..." The Image DVD is a pristine, very good-looking print, but the only extras on the disc are scene selection and filmographies for Gilling and Saxon.

1/2

Repossessed (1990)

Directed by:
Bob Logan

Mediocre AIRPLANE-style spoof of THE EXORCIST stars Linda Blair as Nancy Aglet, a cheerful, happily married housewife who becomes possessed (for a second time) by Satan after his spirit flies out of her TV set and enters her body. She does the usual things, like spitting up split pea soup (literally this time) and doing head spins. Leslie Nielsen is Father Mayii, a goofy clergyman who tries to save her (with help from Anthony Starke as the novice Father Brophy) and Ned Beatty shows up as a phony Jim Bakker-type televangelist complete with a Tammy Faye lookalike wife (Lana Schwab) and a pink poodle named Foo Foo. There are twice as many bad gags as good ones, but good-natured, enthusiastic performing by Blair, Nielsen and Beatty keep it mildly enjoyable throughout. It was the director/scripters third Blair project, following the underrated drama/comedy UP YOUR ALLEY (1988) and the speciality tape HOW TO GET REVENGE (1989). Supposedly, many of the direct EXORCIST references had to be removed because teenagers didn’t understand them! Instead, other targets, everything from workout facilities to PMS to music videos (Nielsen has a funny musical number immitating Michael Jackson, Elton John and Robert Palmer) to then-current pop culture topics (the Oliver North scandal, Pee Wee Herman's theater incident, Rob Lowe's sex tape, Sean Penn's temperament) are lampooned, though this works better when it's at sticking to parodying organized religion. The Pope even shows (in his "Pope-Mobile") up at one point!

Father Brophy
"Did you know that the Christian religion has over a billion followers?"
Satan
"Big deal, so does the Wheel of Fortune!"

There are lots of cameo appearances in this one; bodybuilder Jake Steinfeld, critic Army Archerd, fitness guru Jack LaLanne, wrestler Jesse "The Body" Ventura, wrestling MC "Mean" Gene Okerlund and conservative radio/TV commentator Wally George all appear as themselves. Scream Queen Melissa Moore (SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE 2) has a funny topless scene and this also marked the film debut of exploitation queen Julie Strain.

★★

Revenge of the Teenage Vixens from Outer Space, The (1985)

Directed by:
Jeff A. Ferrell

Here’s a good example of a cult attempt actually living up to the fun alluded to in the title! It's a zero budget wonder that somehow manages to muster up more actual entertainment value than most movies with fifty times the money, acting talent and special effects. It was filmed at the Lakeside Upper School, a small private high school in Northern Seattle whose alumni includes Paul Allen and Bill Gates (!), and is more fun to watch than, say, INDEPENDENCE DAY or ALIEN RESURRECTION. The plot concerns four horny, scantily-clad alien babes with feathered hairstyles who come to Earth in search of willing young earth men. They enlist the aid of a skeptical young girl named Karla (Lisa Schwedop) to help coach them in the ways of femme seduction and enroll in the local high school, but find the local male population (including their new teachers) are about as easy to get in the sack as Ron Jeremy. When the guys fail to live up to their high expectations, and the local girls become jealous of their feminine wiles, the spurned extraterrestrials get revenge by using their laser guns to turn their victims into... giant vegetables (which is what they mate with on their home planet!!). VIXENS is so much fun for Z-movie fans (with spirited acting from a cast of unknowns, funny/stilted dialogue and terrible special effects) that it's easy to overlook the fact that it's highly derivative of the 1970s drive-in staple INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS (1973).

This used to be on regular rotation on USA Up All Night (don't ya miss that show?) but the VHS release through Continental went out of circulation quickly. Apparently, the owners never sold the international rights to the film, but it was released all over the globe (including England, Japan and Spain) anyway. In 2007, a company called Sovereign released it on DVD, complete with a full commentary track by the director and co-writer/producer Michelle Lichter, a partial commentary track with one of the vixens and some bios. Apparently a lot of the actors (who obviously used fake names) want to forget it even exists. Oh well, I enjoyed it.

Score: 6 out of 10

Rattlers (1976)

Directed by:
John McCauley

I loved watching this on TV as a kid, but a recent viewing was, how do I put this... Yeah, really boring. Lethal rattlesnakes are killing the citizens of a small desert town, so a college professor specializing in herpetology (Sam Chew, Jr.) and a photographer/reporter (Elizabeth Chauvet) investigate. They discover that an Army chemical experiment is responsible and there's a typically dumb cover-up subplot. Some of the snake attack scenes are pretty good if you're scared of snakes (particularly one where the snakes climb through pipes into a woman's bathtub), but too many dull talky scenes and not enough action sinks this one. The worst part (other than all the sexist vs. feminist banter between the leads) is a love montage in Las Vegas complete with a cheesy soft rock ballad. A staple of late night cable viewing from 70s exploitation giant Box Office International.

Score: 3 out of 10

Yûreiyashiki no kyôfu: Chi o suu ningyô (1970)

...aka: Bloodsucking Doll
...aka: Chi o suu ningyô
...aka: Fear of the Ghost House
...aka: Ghost Mansion's Horror, The
...aka: Night of the Vampire, The
...aka: Vampire Doll, The

Directed by:
Michio Yamamoto

Kazuhiko Sagawa (Atsuo Nakamura) met and fell in love with Yuko (Yukiko Kobayashi) while in Tokyo, but had to go abroad for six months on business. When he returns, he decides to go to Yuko's secluded country home in a small village called Tadeshina to pay her a visit. Almost immediately upon arriving, strange things begin to happen. The creepy, near-deaf servant Genzo (Kaku Takashina) attacks him right after he enters the door, but is called off by Yuko's mother, Mrs. Nonomura (Yôko Minakaze), who promptly informs him that just two weeks earlier Yuko was tragically killed when her car got caught in a landslide. She still offers up her home for him to stay in and he agrees. That night, Kazuhiko hears something coming from Yuko's room, goes to investigate and finds Yuko standing in the closet. He's knocked out by someone, and the next day the mother claims he must had fainted and dreamt it all. The following evening Kazuhiko looks out his window and sees Yuko. He follows her into the woods and to the family graveyard. When he catches sight of her, she's ghostly white and ice cold, and pleads "Please kill me..." Instead, he's the one to end up dying when she reveals a set of green cat eyes and then sinks a knife into his back.

A week later, Kazuhiko's sister Keiko (gorgeous Kayo Matsuo) becomes worried because she hasn't heard from her brother. She and her friend Hiroshi (Akira Nakao) decide to take a trip to Yuko's former residence to look for him, and that's when they discover the home's sordid history, a tragic attack that soiled the family name and of a possible curse. During a visit to the town doctor (Jun Usami), they learn that twenty-years earlier a killer broke into the home and murdered nearly everyone there except for Mrs. Nonomura, who was raped and ended up conceiving a child. That child was Yuko. They were then shunned by the locals and became reclusive. After the car accident, the grief-stricken mother couldn't part with her daughter, and through another means found a way to ensure she could keep Yuko around.

The film is technically well-made, with good cinematography, nicely composed shots, classy art direction inside the Nonomura home and fine performances from the entire cast. Unfortunately, it's also saddled with a confused, needlessly cluttered and muddled screenplay. Yuko seems to be either a vengeance-seeking ghost or a blood-thirsty vampire, but may not be either. So how is she able to return from the grave? There's talk of the mother making a pact with the devil to keep her alive... and then there's talk about the use of hypnosis to keep her in a parallel world between life and death. And she might not even actually be dead; when her grave is excavated, all that's there is a mannequin. The movie waits until the last 20-minutes to start flinging around various ideas about who or what Yuko is, and why she's back from the dead killing people, before finally deciding to settle back into the vengeful ghost mold.

So while it's a pretty good effort overall, it's not quite as good, nor as satisfying, as it could have been, despite fine production values and eerie visions of the pale-faced, green-eyed Yuko popping up from time to time. I saw the 71-minute widescreen cut of the film, which was released as VAMPIRE DOLL. The film was also released in the UK under the misleading title LEGACY OF DRACULA: THE BLOODTHIRSTY DOLL. It was the first film is a three-part series from director Michio Yamamoto (called the "Bloodthirsty Trilogy" by some) and was followed by LAKE OF DRACULA (1971) and EVIL OF DRACULA (1974).

Score: 6 out of 10

Vacanze per un massacro (1980)

...aka: Holiday Massacre
...aka: Madness
...aka: Vacation for a Massacre

Directed by:
Fernando Di Leo

Director Fernando Di Leo is best known to us horror nuts for SLAUGHTER HOTEL (1971), a sleazy "giallo" that forgets to be thrilling or horrific and instead concentrates mainly on getting its female cast members naked during gratuitous lesbian and solo sex scenes. This one (which I saw under the title HOLIDAY MASSACRE) is his third foray into the horror/thriller genre and basically follows the same exact formula, cramming as much nudity in as possible but seemingly forgetting about everything else. Ostensibly a thriller taking it's cue from Wes Craven's THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (which influenced many concurrent Italian/Euro exploitation films), all this really is is an excuse to have lead actress Lorraine De Selle (from the somewhat similar HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK) parade around nude for about 85 minutes. Naturally, if you're a Lorraine fan you'll probably enjoy this for what it is, but if you're going in expecting an actual thriller or horror film you will likely walk away pretty disappointed.

Convicted thief and murderer Joe Brezzi (Joe Dallesandro) escapes from prison, murders a man with a pitchfork, steals his car and then heads off to find 300 million lira he'd stolen and hid in a secluded vacation home right before he was arrested. Before he can get inside and get the loot (which is hidden underneath the fireplace), married couple Sergio (Gianni Macchia) and Liliana (Patrizia Behn) show up looking for a little weekend R&R. Also tagging along is Liliana's self-absorbed and bitchy younger sister Paola (De Selle), who is secretly having an affair with Sergio. That evening there's a lengthy sex scene for the couple (and a solo effort from Ms. De Selle on the couch), as Joe patiently waits outside. The next day, Sergio goes hunting, Liliana goes into town get some groceries and Paola decides to stay behind to sunbathe (topless, of course). Joe strikes when the getting's good, knocks out Paola and starts chipping away at the fireplace with a pick axe. When Paola comes to, she's "raped" (well, it starts as a rape...) and then her sister and brother-in-law show up for more of the same.

A pretty low-budget affair, with minimal location change, minimal action and a very small cast, this one lacks suspense and tension and isn't nearly nasty or violent enough to be worth recommending. Dallesandro is the only one who manages to keep his clothes on the entire time (even during the rape scene) and basically coasts through this entire film with an annoying "angered" looking facial expression. Another constant annoyance is a huge poster of John Travolta's grinning mug hanging on a wall in the room where most of the film takes place. And despite the title there really is no "massacre" aside from a little rifle shooting at the very end.

★★
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