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, June 4, 2009

Operazione paura (1966)

...aka: Curse of the Dead
...aka: Curse of the Living Dead
...aka: Don't Walk in the Park
...aka: Kill, Baby... Kill!
...aka: Operation Fear

Directed by:
Mario Bava

Don't let the stupid American title (Kill, Baby... Kill!) or even the vague and somewhat misleading original release title (Operation Fear) keep you from enjoying this gem of Gothic horror. It's very easy to find on various bargain horror collections but you'll need to do your research if you want the full visual experience. The two best releases to date have come from Dark Sky (who strangely recalled the film soon after releasing it so now it's hard to find) and Anchor Bay (who offer it in their Mario Bava Collection, Volume 1 box set, which is still easy to find at an affordable price). There are few horror films I can think of off hand that can match this film's densely beautiful color cinematography, imaginative camerawork and atmospheric art direction. It's not only amazing to look at, but it's also competently plotted and has plenty of memorably eerie moments. Far from a masterwork when it comes to conventional storytelling, but it does know its strong points. I don't want to get too involved in the plot (it always takes a backseat to the visual aspects, anyway) other than to say this film involves a ghostly little blonde girl spreading fear (and death) around a small Transylvanian village.
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Giacomo Rossi-Stuart (a doctor called in to help) and Erika Blanc (a college educated woman who was born there but left as a child) investigate a string of strange deaths (which are presumed to be suicides) in the village, with autopsies revealing that the victims have gold coins embedded in their hearts. Fabienne Dali is an exotic-looking witch who uses some rather unorthodox techniques to shield characters from evil and Luciano Catenacci (also one of the producers) is a bald, sinister-looking burgomaster. Other characters include an inspector (Piero Lulli) and a wealthy baroness who's hiding an important secret ("Gianna Vivaldi"/Giovanna Galletti). Plotwise, the film meanders and drags at times and the dubbed dialogue (though reasonably well recorded compared to other Euro-horrors of the era) is utterly forgettable. But the film scores a bullseye at what its attempting to do and that's creating an ethereal, eerie supernatural mood.

The irony of having an angelic-looking blonde girl representing evil was later copied by Fellini for "Toby Dammit" (his segment from the anthology Spirits of the Dead) and Scorsese for The Last Temptation of Christ. My favorite bit of camera trickery was a repeated zoom lens shot going in and out and finally pulling back to show it's a little girl on a swing. The movie is full of clever touches just like that. It's also very foggy, boldly colorful, has a creepy score from Carlo Rustichelli and is much more technically imaginative than other films coming out in the 1960s. Definitely a must see for horror buffs as well as future filmmakers who want to learn how to take make much out of limited resources. The photography is credited to Antonio Rinaldi, though Bava certainly had his hand in there as well.

★★★1/2

Kwaidan (1964)

...aka: Ghost Stories
...aka: Hoichi the Earless
...aka: Kaidin
...aka: Weird Tales

Directed by:
Masaki Kobayashi

Four part Japanese horror/supernatural stories, each set during a different season. It's beautifully made, the storylines are styled as old fashioned morality tales and the art direction and cinematography are both astonishing. The 125 minute version released many places is missing the second tale. The full version (available from Criterion) runs 164 minutes. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes film festival and was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar; one of the only times a genre picture has received either honor.

★★★1/2

Onibaba (1964)

...aka: Demon, The
...aka: Devil Woman
...aka: Hole, The
...aka: Ogress, The
...aka: Witch, The

Directed by:
Kaneto Shindô

After a man is drafted in war-torn 14th century feudal Japan and sent off to fight, his impoverished and lonely mother (Nobuko Otawa) and wife (Jitsuko Yoshimura) remain in their swamp-land home. Food is scarce and every day is a struggle for survival, so the women are reduced to ambushing worn-out or injured warriors, killing them and selling their armor and other belongings to a greedy local merchant, before disposing of the corpses by throwing them down a large hole in the ground that's located near their home. The older woman comes to mistrust her daughter-in-law when she couples up with a deserter (Kei Sato), and begins to wear a demonic facial mask she has taken from a slain samurai to try to scare them away... only to eventually discover it won't come off! A rare film from this era that has the courage to be unrelentingly grim, this is one of the best horror films produced in Japan (or anywhere else for that matter) during the 60s. It's well acted (especially by Otawa), extremely bleak and even surprisingly sensual at times, with brilliant black-and-white cinematography, a breath-taking visual composition and potent nightmarish imagery. Though it predominately takes place out in the open air, the film is wonderfully eerie and claustrophobic thanks to the closed-in living quarters of the ladies, who are seemingly separated from the rest of the world by fields full of tall, wavering reeds.

Not until somewhat recently has this film began to get the recognition it deserves as a horror classic and that's thanks in part to the excellent 2004 DVD release from Criterion. The fact it was released in certain countries over the years with such generic and non-descript titles as THE DEMON, DEVIL WOMAN, THE HOLE, THE OGRESS and THE WITCH probably didn't help its reputation any back in the day, but apparently it made enough of an impression on William Friedkin that he patterned the flashes of the white demon faces in THE EXORCIST (1973) directly on the look of the mask in this film.

★★★1/2

Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, A (1987)

Directed by:
Chuck Russell

At the time of its release, this second sequel broke several box office records for independently-produced films, making a lot more money at the box office than the first two. Adding to the ever-changing mythology of our favorite pizza-faced night stalker, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) returns through a spiritual loophole because his body was not buried in consecrated ground. He's still invading the dreams of the Elm Street children (who are now all in a psychiatric hospital) and killing them off in macabre ways, passing the murders off as suicides. Heather Langenkamp, sole survivor from the first film, returns as Nancy, now working as a "dream therapist" and teaming up with a doctor (Craig Wasson) to help protect the potential victims and end Freddy's reign of terror once and for all. Also returning from the original is John Saxon as Nancy's (ex-)policeman father, who has turned to the bottle to cope with the events of the first film. And how about that big reveal that Freddy is not only a child predator and mass murder, but also "The bastard son of a thousand maniacs" (!?)
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Outstanding special effects, imaginative death scenes and the clever ways Freddy materializes on screen before each murder help to camouflage the fact that this is essentially a thinly-plotted, awkwardly-acted film with more accent placed on the technical skills of the fx department than on anything else. There's a Freddy puppet (brought to life through stop motion animation), a giant Freddy, a sexy nurse turning into Freddy and spitting out tongues, a Freddy snake, a Freddy television set, an animated Freddy skeleton and lots of other cool touches throughout. It took four people (including Wes Craven, Frank Darabont and the director) to come up with all this mumbo jumbo and Angelo Badalamenti (TWIN PEAKS) did the score.
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The cast includes Patricia Arquette (in her film debut) as Kristen, Rodney Eastman, Ken Sagoes and Brooke Bundy (all of whom would return for Part 4; while Arquette's part was recast with another actress), Laurence Fishburne as a hospital orderly, Priscilla Pointer as a doctor, Jennifer Rubin (who would appear in BAD DREAMS the following year) as a former drug addict and cameos by Dick Cavett and Zsa Zsa Gabor on a TV set. The soundtrack features the hit song "Dream Warriors" by metal group Dokken.

★★1/2

Faces of Death II (1981)

Directed by:
John Alan Schwartz

Dr. Francis B. Gross (Michael Carr) hosts yet another stomach churning collection of real-life death in this first sequel. Some say this entry has the most authentic death footage of the entire series (aside from a silly drugstore robbery segment), but it's still grainy and cheap looking, and senselessly slapped together with absolutely no insight into anything (though the narrator rambles on and on as if he's being profound), which makes it really hard to sit through for an hour and a half. There's a suicide, more animals dying (including dolphins getting slaughtered in Japan), bloated corpses, an infected snake bite, soliders developing leprosy after being exposed to radiation, a long sequence on boxer Johnny Owen's death, avalanche and fire victims, car and airplane crashes, public executions, etc. It's actually the least gory of the bunch (probably because it's full of older news footage) and was followed by FACES OF DEATH III in 1985.

Score: 1 out of 10

Faces of Death (1978)

...aka: Original Faces of Death, The

Directed by:
John Alan Schwartz

Many people know that this "mondo" movie became a huge hit on video, but I bet fewer people know that it was also a hit on the big screen and played in many theaters across the globe. By now, it's also pretty common knowledge that a lot of the supposedly "real" footage contained in this notorious shockumentary is actually fake. In fact, the Make-Up Effects Lab out of Hollywood even gets a special thanks in the end credits for creating some of the death/gore scenes! “Highlights” include an electrocution, a decapitation, a bear attack ("Don't get too close!"), animal being killed (a look inside a slaughterhouse, monkey brain eating, etc.), car wrecks, plane crashes, cannibalism and lots of autopsy footage. If you're game I guess you could have some gross-out fun trying to figure out what's real and what's not. Otherwise, this probably isn't worth watching unless you're a sick fuck who gets off on this kind of stuff. Director "Conan Le Cilaire" and writer "Alan Black" are aliases for John Allan Schwartz (primarily a TV writer) and host/narrator "Francis B. Gross" is really actor Michael Carr, who would go on to play same in some of the "sequels."

A huge money-maker, this helped establish Gorgon as one of the top horror labels of the VHS era and was followed by FACES OF DEATH 2-6 (1981-1996, with part 5 and 6 simply reusing footage from the other four), THE WORST OF FACES OF DEATH (1987; which is nothing more than recycled footage from the first three) and FACES OF DEATH: FACT OR FICTION? (1999), which contains even more recycled footage and feins being a revealing look at the series but instead comes off as a desperate attempt to squeeze more nickels and dimes out of an already-dead franchise. Speaking of which, a 2008 "Director's Cut" was issued by Gorgon complete with audio commentary from Schwartz. Does anyone actually care anymore?

Dozens of similar tapes were released during the 80s and early 90s in the wake of FOD's success (DEATH FACES, TRACES OF DEATH, etc., etc.). Many of them even copied the cover art (a skull) to cash in. I haven't seen a single one that I deem worth ones time, especially nowadays when some of the sickest shit imaginable is only a mouse click away.

Score: 2 out of 10

From Beyond (1986)

...aka: H.P. Lovecraft's From Beyond
...aka: Resonator

Directed by:
Stuart Gordon

While many claim this isn't quite up to the same team's more famous cult classic RE-ANIMATOR (1985), I think it's nearly as good. Again, it's very loosely based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft (a man who was certainly ahead of his time) and there's a solid scientific foundation laid out before the film ventures into more exploitative and unpredictable territory. At a secluded mansion, Dr. Edward Pretorious (Ted Sorel) and his assistant Crawford Tillinghast (Re-Animator star Jeffrey Combs, given a slightly more restrained role here... at least for awhile), have developed a "sonic resonator" to tap into another dimension. It works, unleashing a variety of ghoulish demons, one of which bites Pretorious' head off and transforms him into a nasty otherworldly mutant naked to the human eye and intent on finding "the ultimate pleasure." After Pretorious' dead body is discovered, Crawford is blamed for the murder and sent off to a mental asylum for awhile. Reserved doctor Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton, also from RE-ANIMATOR and given a more substantial part here) eventually shows up to try to help him prove his innocence. They, along with cop Buford "Bubba" Brownlee (Dawn of the Dead's Ken Foree) go to the mansion to recreate the experiment and then things take a turn for the even weirder. Combs develops a phallic, pineal "third eye" that pops out of his forehead and allows him to see into the alternate dimension and Crampton becomes a psychotic, sex-starved dominatrix. The director's wife, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, co-stars as a bitchy doctor.

Well acted by the leads, directed with flair and filled with interesting concepts and special effects, this was a victim of heavy censor cuts during its initial release but still remains a gruesome, humorous, inventive and outrageous 80s treat which should please the majority of horror fans. The very set-bound looking house where the majority of the film takes place and colorful lighting even give this a comic-book like feel at times. The executive producer was Charles Band and Richard Band provided the score. The 2007 MGM DVD release restored all the missing footage, including a grisly scene where Combs sucks brain out of the empty eye socket!

Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning (1985)

Directed by:
Danny Steinmann

Critics around the globe bitched and moaned because Part 4 ("The Final Chapter") didn't officially end this series. But who are they kidding? Watching one of these movies is basically akin to watching a live-action cartoon, with the added attraction of gore and sex. It's all completely harmless, completely brainless "fun" for fans of slasher junk. John Shepherd stars as the now-teenage Tommy Jarvis (taking over for the previous film's Corey Feldman - appearing in an opening scene cameo here), who's sent to live at a home for "emotionally troubled" teenagers headed over by compassionate blonde social worker Pam (Melanie Kinnaman) and a doctor (Richard Young). Tommy, quiet, withdrawn and haunted by images of Jason standing in a mirror and outside his window (in scenes obviously inspired by HALLOWEEN) is having a hard time adjusting to his new surroundings. Might be kind of difficult to pull yourself together when one of the first things you see is a housemate getting hauled off by the cops after chopping up the resident porker for offering him a candy bar. Immediately after that murder, many more follow, except they're committed by someone in a hockey mask... Has Jason returned from the dead... yet again? Or is someone else donning the mask and using the Jason persona to get revenge for something else? Hmmm...

Part 5 is stupid, irritating, obnoxious and probably the worst of the original eight sequels, but that doesn't mean it's entirely unwatchable. On the contrary, there are plenty of entertaining moments to be had here and the film itself is put together with at least a little skill, especially when directly compared to other slashers from this era. As is customary with this series, there's plenty of gore, though many of the scenes have obviously been victim to censor cuts and what is shown is of lower-quality to other series entries. Some of the better death scenes include a road flare shoved into a mouth, eyes gouged out with hedge clippers, a steel pole impalement and someone decapitated while riding a motorcycle. The film also provides plenty of T&A in the forms of large-breasted brunette Debisue Voorhees (as resident nuthouse nympho Tina), medium-chested blonde Rebecca Wood (as a coke-snorting diner waitress) and small-chested redhead Juliette Cummins (as another loony farm resident). Even lead Kinnaman gets in on the action by running around in a flimsy white top (oops, forgot to wear a bra) during the obligatory thunderstorm finale. Apparently Debisue's sex scene was so graphic it had to be almost completely removed so this could pass with an R-rating.

My favorite characters were resident Goth chick Violet (Tiffany Helm), because of the robot dance she does before getting killed (see below), and the foul-mouthed white trash bitch Ethel (amusingly played by Carol Locatell). Mark Venturini and Miguel A. Nunez, Jr. (both from THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) also have small roles. The cast also includes Marco St. John, Dominick Brascia (who directed the slasher EVIL LAUGH the following year) and Corey Parker. The ending is awful.



★★

Patrick vive ancora (1980)

...aka: Patrick 2
...aka: Patrick Is Still Alive
...aka: Patrick Still Lives

Directed by:
Mario Landi

Review coming soon.

Score: 4 out of 10

Patrick (1978)

Directed by:
Richard Franklin

I know some people, people whose horror film taste I'm usually in tune with, that consider this an underrated, unjustly neglected gem. Sorry to say, I just don't see it with this one. After electrocuting his mother and her lover, young Patrick (Robert Thompson) becomes, "170 pounds of limp meat hanging from a comatose brain." Well, at least that's how the video box colorfully describes it, anyway. Four years later, still seemingly docile and deep in a coma, Patrick appears to be using telekinetic powers to wreak havoc on the staff of an isolated hospital. Susan Penhaligon (THE CONFESSIONAL) stars as Kathy, the newly divorced nurse who strikes Patrick's fancy. Intriguing premise, but this Aussie "thriller" is in serious need of some grit, some shocks, some scares, some bite... something of interest. But the fact it has a PG-rating and is burdened with an extremely dull, eventless script (written by Everett De Roche) means it really goes nowhere and takes its sweet time getting there. Some rather flimsy characterizations don't help matters much either. Director Franklin (a devotee of Hitchcock) thankfully got better and followed this up with ROAD GAMES (1981) and the surprisingly good PSYCHO II (1983). The cast includes Robert Helpmann as Kathy's boss, Rod Mullinar as the ex-husband, Julia Blake as the head matron and Bruce Barry as a neurosurgeon.

Two years later, a basically unrelated Italian "sequel" PATRICK VIVE ANCORA (aka PATRICK STILL LIVES) was made using the same basic coma-patient-uses-psychic-powers-to-kill plotline. That film (stupid as it is) turned up the notch when it comes to gore, sex, sleaze and overall exploitation and is nowhere near as boring as this one.

Score: 3.5 out of 10

One Million Years B.C. (1965)

Directed by:
Don Chaffey

Hammer Film Productions were probably shocked when this remake of the popular 1940 Hal Roach film ONE MILLION B.C. quickly became their all-time highest grossing film. In retrospect, it's not really difficult to see why, with the voluptuous beauty Raquel Welch (in one of her first major roles) as a cave woman (of the Shell People tribe) clad in skimpy animal skin get-up. Simply put, this film made it acceptable for both men and women to watch bountiful barely-covered male and female flesh on display under the guise of archeological study. High concept cinema, eh? The plot (Raquel falling in love with a guy from the opposing Rock People Tribe, played by the also easy-on-the-eyes John Richardson) is slim, silly but engaging enough to be acceptable time-killer in between showcasing the real star of this film; the stop-motion special effects genius of Ray Harryhausen. The dinosaur creations crafted by the pioneering FX artist are among his best work.

Producer/scripter Michael Carreras liked second female lead Martine Beswick (who plays cave girl Nupondi) so much that he gave her her own starring vehicle in the similar PREHISTORIC WOMEN (1967), which he also directed. Also in the cast are Percy Herbert, Robert Brown and Lisa Thomas. The film was the 100th from Hammer, who still had many more to come.

★★1/2

Oh Sensibility (1970)

Directed by:
Kurt Kren
Otto Mühl

I have no problem with avant-garde or underground film. However there is a difference between innovative cinema and senseless, stupid garbage. If you'd like to know more about this particular group of filmmakers and what they wanted to accomplish during the 1960s and early 70s, go ahead and do a web search of either Otto Mühl or "Vienna Aktionists." I can't personally figure it all out, but I'm sure it all made sense to them. Perhaps drugs helped. Here you get a few minutes of their usual; people who don't like wearing clothes behaving strangely and doing "shocking" things. Actually this one doesn't even contain their usual material, which are things most of us reserve for the bathroom. Instead the filmmakers decide to drag a defenseless animal into the proceedings. And just like the chicken co-stars of the same group's MANOPSYCHOTISCHES BALLET (1970), this bird doesn't survive to see another day after they're done with it. Still, even if it had, I doubt it would have ever be the same again after having its head stuck inside mouths and, uh, other dark places I cannot mention in this review. After a few brief shots of naked people dancing around and rolling on top of each other (set to annoying tinny music), this cuts to a bed where a man and a woman play around with the bird in a rather unwholesome way. They grab it by the neck, roll around with it, lick it and smash it between their legs. The guy smacks the girl with a belt a few times. The end. It's all a deep and stunning metaphor for... Well, probably nothing. Or something only they know or care about. It didn't interest me in the least.

I read a 2002 interview with director Mühl where he claimed to do films like this to "provoke moralists" and said the bird was going to be killed anyway, so he "made love" to it first. In the same interview he claimed he entranced the bird with "dance-like movements" before they filmed, and that the bird returned the favor by also putting him in a trance and then "went about" with him willingly. However, what any sane person actually sees is an understandably terrified animal trying its best to get the hell away from both Mühl and the female performer the entire time. Obviously we're not dealing with someone quite right in the head here.
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Most of the shorts from the same "filmmakers" are now available on a two-disc compilation set through a company called Subterranean Cinema.

NO STARS!

Manopsychotisches Ballet (1970)

Directed by:
Otto Mühl

During a discussion on Dusan Makavejev's SWEET MOVIE (1974), the name Otto Mühl (or Muehl) came up, so I decided to look up some information on this guy. Apparently Mühl (who played one of those crazy "therapy commune" nuts in Makavejev's film) was an Austrian artist who started as a painter, but then started destroying object-based art because he thought it was pointless. From then on out he concentrated on "action art" (performance art) because he became more interested in the "transition from art to life" (whatever that means) and was also one of the key figures in a very brief art movement known as Vienna Actionism that lasted from about 1960 to 1970 and in reality probably didn't make as much as a ripple on the art scene. Mühl also started his own group living/art communes over the years, was arrested for a variety of different things (including - but not limited to - having sex with minors) and has had some of his work shown at various art museum retrospectives, including the Louvre, over the years. MANOPSYCHOTISCHES BALLOT (1970) is one of many of Mühl and company's performance art sessions captured on film.

I can't say I really get some of these art people. I mean, who really can? I guess the founders and members thought they were involved in something profound at the time by rolling around in their own feces, and maybe this anti-visual art stance combined with the sexually deviant "free love" hippie commune garbage intrigued some people back in the day. I sure can't think of many filmmakers doing this kind of "extreme" stuff back in the late 60s. Still, at the end of the day, this seems less like art and more like a bunch of free-loving freaks getting together to do nasty things to one another. It may technically be a film in an avant-garde sense; sort of like Warhol's experimental stuff, but really what it is is a home movie. Call it "art" if you want but I'll call it "perverts doing their thang with no production values and no payoff."

So what does it involve? It's basically half an hour of two men (dressed in lingerie) and two women (dressed in nothing) doing all manner of repulsive things on a large sheet of plastic. There's use of some kind of pump, feminine hygiene products and other stuff thrown in that doesn't save it from being completely boring. No bodily function is left unturned, either and before it's over the participants are proudly showing off their filthy bodies. Hey Divine, you got some competition here. Toward the end, the "actors" drag out some chickens and kill them, rubbing the blood on themselves and eating one of them raw. It all wraps up with a charming shot of a guy doing a #2 on a title card reading "The End." Distorted screams are heard throughout and in the background clothed people are watching, taking pictures and talking. Not sure if these other people are commune members, journalists of a combination of the two. You can hear snippets of a song playing every once in awhile. The camera-work is basically awful, with wobbly shots that are out of focus mixed with shots you wished were out of focus. I also really don't understand the point of an art movement that supposedly goes against the medium of visual art (paintings, sculptures, etc.) yet allows itself to still be captured using another form of visual art (film). I tell ya, some of these art people are too much...

NO STARS!

Mask of Murder (1985)

...aka: Investigator, The

Directed by:
Arne Mattsson

In Nelson, a small, wintery Canadian town, masked maniac Johannes Krantz (Frank Brennan) is going around slashing women's throats with a straight razor, but the police have finally caught up to him. During a badly organized raid on his hideout, Krantz manages to shoot police chief Jonathan Rich (Christopher Lee) twice in the stomach before lead detective Bob McClain (Rod Taylor) gets fed up and unloads a machine gun close range into Johannes chest, killing him. Jonathan manages to survive his injuries though, and is rushed off to the hospital to recover. Soon after, a copycat killer (wearing the same exact white mask and using the same exact murder weapon) picks up right where Johannes left off. Is it Johannes back from the dead, or has someone involved in the initial investigation lost their mind? All the while, Bob's wife Maria (Valerie Perrine) - who is supposed to be having a holiday in Bermuda with her girlfriend but is actually still in town and hiding at a friend's apartment - is carrying on an affair with Bob's partner Ray Cooper (Sam Cook).

Though this film seems to want to function as a mystery (with plenty of horror-slasher scenes), it does a poor job of fleshing out the supporting characters or adding any kind of plot complication that will throw viewers off. Instead we're given some rather clumsy, obvious clues about who the new psycho is, and since just one person seems to really have a motive, don't be surprised if your initial hunch is the correct one. There's one occasion where Taylor's character catches some previously-unseen guy slashing up a barber with a razor, but people aren't stupid enough to fall for such an obvious red herring injected into the film about mid-way through. Some of the dialogue and performances are also painfully bad. This Canadian/Swedish co-production is cast with American, British, Swedish and French-Canadian actors. Perrine and Cook give awful performances, and most of the smaller roles are either badly acted or badly dubbed. Not surprisingly, the two who manage to rise above the material (despite being given some terrible dialogue) are Taylor and Lee; the former doing well carrying the film and the latter spending most of his screen time in a hospital bed, but still contributing a good supporting bit. The only other cast member of interest is Heinz Hopf (from THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE), who is good in his one brief scene.

Yet despite all these problems (or partially because of them), I have to admit that I was still mostly entertained by what I saw here. It moves along at a fairly brisk pace, there are plenty of murder scenes and nudity (male and female) and some surprisingly stylish moments. Even some of the badly delivered lines and stiff acting added to the entertainment value. There's also a hilarious scene at a disco club complete with some guy wearing a Michael Jackson Thriller jacket and a chick glaring at the camera as they dance around to some awful song called "Juicy Lucy." Cinematography is fairly good (even colorful at times), the score isn't bad and there are some slick edits and scene transitions.

★★

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

Directed by:
Terence Fisher

Doctor Carl Victor aka Baron Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) is right where he should be - a psycho ward - only he's running it! Upon the arrival of a crazed young doctor (Shane Briant) who was busted purchasing corpses and will become his assistant, Victor is back in the lab experimenting with body parts to create a hairy, hulking flesh-munching ghoul (David Prowse, just a couple of year before playing Darth Vader in STAR WARS). Fisher's attention to atmosphere and Cushing's patented mad doctor (in a silly wig the actor thought made him look like Helen Hayes!) lay down a solid foundation, but Anthony Hinds’ stilted script (that he wrote under the alias “John Elder”), cheapo production values (nice miniatures!) and poor make-up FX (the monster looks like a combination of Big Foot and Cornelius from PLANET OF THE APES) pretty much kill its serious intentions. The storyline also really adds nothing of interest to the franchise. Still, this is an easy enough watch for British horror completists, as even a lesser Hammer production still has its moments.
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Despite being unexceptional as a whole, the film is notable for a handful of different reasons. It was the last hurrah for both the Hammer Frankenstein series and prolific director Fisher (who passed away in 1980). It was also Cushing's last performance as the mad doctor. Finally, it was one of the most gruesome films ever put out by the studio. In fact, the film was initially released to American theaters (on a double billed with CAPTAIN KRONOS - VAMPIRE HUNTER) with six minutes removed. Unfortunately, the Paramount DVD release retains some of the these cuts, including a scene of a head being sawed open and the climactic sequence of the creature being torn to pieces by the inmates, as well as other minor snips.
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The cast includes Madeline Smith as a sweet mute who also assists the doctor, former Dr. Who star Patrick Troughton (who also had a memorable appearance in THE OMEN), Bernard Lee (best known for playing M in the first eleven James Bond films) and Sydney Bromley.
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★★

La dama rossa uccide sette volte (1972)

...aka: Blood Feast
...aka: Corpse Which Didn't Want to Die, The
...aka: Feast of Flesh
...aka: Horror House
...aka: Lady in Red Kills Seven Times, The
...aka: Red Queen Kills 7 Times

Directed by:
Emilio P. Miraglia

Review coming soon.

★★

Return to Horror High (1987)

Directed by:
Bill Froelich

Despite the title, this has nothing to do with HORROR HIGH (1974; aka TWISTED BRAIN) and isn't a sequel to anything. A horror film crew travels to the now-closed Crippen High school five years after a series of brutal murders were committed. They start their low-budget production and a white-masked killer (who seems to have supernatural powers) prowls around and kills them all off one by one. It's supposedly a horror parody, but it's not funny and it's not scary, there's little gore and the ending is absolutely terrible. The cast however is surprisingly good for this type of thing. There's Alex Rocco as a sleazebag producer, Vince Edwards as a biology professor (who has the best death scene), Maureen "Marsha Brady" McCormick (who actually mentions this film in her autobiography) as a policewoman who smears blood on her chest (?) and George Clooney, before he became a star, as one of the first to go. Clooney also acted in GRIZZLY II (which has not been released to video) and RETURN OF THE KILLER TOMATOES during this period. Regardless of the presence of the above listed actors, this is a complete misfire and it's almost painful to watch. Lori Lethin (BLOODY BIRTHDAY) and Brendan Hughes (TO DIE FOR) are the young stars, and also in the cast are Philip McKeon (Nancy's brother), Scott Jacoby, Darcy DeMoss (who shows up long enough to appear topless), Kristi Somers, Pepper Martin and Al Fann.

Score: 2 out of 10

Reptile, The (1966)

Directed by:
John Gilling

Review coming soon.

★★1/2

Repulsion (1965)

Directed by:
Roman Polanski

Review coming soon.

Score: 10 out of 10

Arachnophobia (1990)

Directed by:
Frank Marshall

Review coming soon.

★★1/2

Children of the Corn (1984)

...aka: Stephen King's Children of the Corn

Directed by:
Fritz Kiersch

Based on the Stephen King short story "Disciples of the Crow," this was called "An adult nightmare" in the ads, but the Jonathan Elias score and the video box are the only scary things about it. Still, it managed to strike a chord with a lot of people and became a big hit. I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that this movie scared the shit out of me when I was a little kid. Unfortunately, a revisit to the cornfields for this viewer proved to be an eye-opening experience. Oh, those nostalgic feelings... Those nostalgic, misleading feelings that fade into oblivion once one reaches adulthood... In the opening sequence (where this film obviously hits its peaks), a diner full of people are stabbed, poisoned and have their throats slashed by a mob of children and teenagers. One guy even gets his hand rammed through a meat grinder. Three years later, a young and somewhat stupid married couple (Linda Hamilton, right before hitting it big with THE TERMINATOR, and Peter Horton) are traveling through the southwest and end up stranded in the same, now deserted town of Gatlin, Nebraska after they run over a kid (who was already dead). A group of Satanist children (with biblical names) soon come strolling out from beneath the corn stalks and attempt to sacrifice them to "He Who Walks Behind The Rows," a demon who lives under the ground.
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The premise is, for lack of a better word, corny, the lead characters behave like morons and the dialogue is frequently laughable, although some younger children might still find it scary enough (hey, I did!) and John Franklin (as Isaac) and Courtney Gains (as Malachi) are fairly effective in their roles. Also in the cast are R.G. Armstrong in a small supporting role, John Philbin and an uncredited Eric Freeman, who'd go on to bad movie infamany playing the Santa Claus killer's brother in SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, PART 2.
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The same King story had previously been filmed by director John Woodward as DISCIPLES OF THE CROW (1983), which had a more compact run-time of 30 minutes and was once availble on the compilation video STEPHEN KING'S NIGHT SHIFT COLLECTION. Eight years later, Dimension purchased the rights to the story and yacked up the gory belated sequel CHILDREN OF THE CORN II: THE FINAL SACRIFICE (1992), which turned out to be anything but "final" since five additional direct-to-video sequels were within the next ten years. CHILDREN OF THE CORN III: URBAN HARVEST (1994) relocated the action to Chicago, CHILDREN OF THE CORN IV: THE GATHERING (1996) was a surprisingly decent rural revenge story (the best of the series if you ask me) and CHILDREN OF THE CORN V: FIELDS OF TERROR (1998) was a moronic teen slasher film. There was also CHILDREN OF THE CORN 666: ISAAC'S RETURN (1999), which has Franklin reprising his role, and CHILDREN OF THE CORN VII: REVELATION (2007), neither of which I've seen. If that isn't enough, a made-for-TV remake is in the works and slated for a 2009 release. Will it ever end?

1/2

Il gatto a nove code (1971)

... aka: Cat O' Nine Tails, The
... aka: Die Neunschwänzige Katze
... aka: Le chat á neuf queues

Directed by:
Dario Argento

While not one of Argento’s best - the director himself has even gone on record saying it's his least favorite of all the films he's made (though he's done way worse if you ask me) - this is still a watchable thriller with the enjoyable duo of reporter Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus) and blind crossword puzzle specialist Franco Arno (Karl Malden), a former journalist himself, teaming up to stop a psycho with a chromosome imbalance who is targeting workers at the Terzi Institute, a Rome research hospital run by Professor Fulvio Terzi (Tino Carraro). The plot and characterizations hold together fairly well, there’s a bravura train murder sequence, an Ennio Morricone score and an above average cast (Malden is especially good here and has some charming scenes with the young actress playing his niece). On the downside, the camerawork isn't nearly as elaborate as Dario's other films, the violence is lighter, it's far less stylish, it tends to drag, there are far too suspects and red herrings to try to keep track of and it seems to suffer somewhat from an identity crisis, blending elements of horror, mystery, comedy, action and even romance (enter Dr. Terzi's sulty daughter Anna, played by Catherine Spaak) together, and not always well.

The international cast of this French / Italian / West German production includes Pier Paolo Capponi as the superintendent, Rada Rassimov (the sister of actor Ivan, who also appeared in Bava'a Baron Blood) as a victim, Horst Frank, Carlo Alighiero and Tom Felleghy as doctors, Jacques Stany as a professor, Werner Pochath (later to star in the very good Bloodlust) and Umberto Raho as gay secondary characters and Cinzia de Carolis. Argento's script was based on a story he wrote with two others (including the prolific Dardano Sacchetti) and British mystery writer Bryan Edgar Wallace was also somehow involved, though I'm no entirely sure in what capacity.

An uncut version of this film initially played in American theaters (where it passed with a GP rating), but as much as 22 missing were shaved off for some TV showings. Not sure if any of those hacked prints ever made their way to video or not, but the full run time of the uncut version is said to be 112 minutes. Anchor Bay's DVD release is about as good as you're going to get here in the States, though lesser quality prints are sold through several budget labels.

★★1/2

Cujo (1983)

Directed by:
Lewis Teague

The ever-reliable Dee Wallace stars in this well-made, though highly unpleasant, adaptation of Stephen King's best-seller. On a sweltering summer day, young mother Donna and her little boy (Danny Pintauro) become trapped inside their broken-down car at a remote location while a large, rabid Saint Bernard dog prowls around outside. The dog is crazed thanks to a rabies infested bat bite, picks off anyone who happens to wander by and seems pretty damn smart, too (it hardly ever even turns its back on the car). After several days, and as heat exhaustion and death loom, Donna must find a way to get herself and her weakened son to safety before it's too late. Even though this sets itself up like a heavy-handed morality tale, with much of the first half spent establishing that Wallace's character is a married woman involved in an affair, this does a good job building suspense and terror in its concluding scenes. A high level of tension is reached by exploiting the claustrophobic confines of the car, the crying kid, the heat, the increasingly dirtier, bloodier dog and several botched escape attempts gone horribly wrong. A few of the attack scenes are brutal and there are at least two great jump-out-of-your seat moments. It's not exactly a "fun" film to watch (Roger Ebert slapped his lowest possible rating on it), but it's well done for what it is.
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The dog effects are a seemless blend of real and mechanical dogs and are believable throughout. Jan de Bont's cinematography, including an inspired 360 degree spin inside the car, and Neil Travis' editing are both top notch. The cast includes Daniel Hugh-Kelly as the husband, Christopher Stone (the future Mr. Dee Wallace) as the "other man," Ed Lauter, Billy Jacoby and Robert Behling (from the extremely trashy Greek shocker ISLAND OF DEATH).

★★1/2

Channeler, The (1990)

Directed by:
Grant Austin Waldman

After a promising opening, this doesn't take long to become a waste of time. A teacher (Jay Richardson), his girlfriend (Robin Sims) and a pack of male and female college students camp out near an abandoned mine they plan on cleaning up. A supernatural force ("channeled" through one of the others) creates murderous ghouls who attack and kill them all off. The creatures ("Darklings") are terrible, floppy-handed creations and the movie gets ultra sloppy at around the midway point as it heads toward an utterly senseless conclusion. One gets the impression the filmmakers ran out of time and/or money. There's a shower scene (doubled by adult film actress Sherri Graham) and not really enough gore for this type of film. Richardson, who is usually stuck playing either sleazebags or comic relief in seedier fair, has a rare (for him) role as a normal Joe. Dan Haggery and Richard Harrison are the big "names" in a cast that also includes Charles Solomon (from the WITCHCRAFT sequels), Oliver Darrow, David Homb, Brenda "Klemme"/James (who recently had a memorable role in SLITHER) and SURF NAZIS MUSST DIE star Tom Shell. The director also scripted and produced for this Magnum straight-to-video release. Fred Olen Ray gets a credit for "executive consultant."

Score: 3 out of 10

Changeling, The (1980)

...aka: Enfant du diable, L'

Directed by:
Peter Medak

George C. Scott is a composer traumatized by the death of his wife and daughter after a tragic auto accident. He moves into a large, rented home to get some peace and quiet and finds out the place is haunted. It's a stylish, subtle and well-plotted ghost story... and I still need to write a decent review for it! The Changeling 2 is a re-titled Lamberto Bava movie originally called Fino alle morte ("Until Death").

★★★1/2
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