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.

Friday, June 5, 2009

TerrorVision (1986)

Directed by:
Ted Nicolaou

A hideous, toothy, blubbery, hungry space alien from the planet Pluton (excellently designed by John Carl Buechler) is transported into the home of oddball couple Stanley (Gerrit Graham) and Raquel Putterman (Mary Woronov) via a huge satellite dish. It quickly proceeds to attack and kill off the TV-addicted family and their guests one by one. This wanna-be cult film from Empire Pictures is an attempt at combining campy humor, 80s excess and sci-fi/horror, which does somewhat effectively play on the expectations of the sitcom-style Putterman household by turning mom and dad into swingers who enjoy inviting other couples back to their home for hot tub trysts, a grandfather (Bert Remsen) who's a motley survivalist and a young, precocious son (Chad Allen) who no one pays any attention to until it's too late. It's fairly well photographed, extremely colorful/gaudy and amusingly energetic at times, but more often than not it's loud, grating, stupid and irritating. It's the exact type of spastic, hyperactive, in-your-face intentional camp that gives yours truly a migraine.
Diane Franklin plays the flighty, rainbow-haired "punk" teenage daughter well enough (she also had an obnoxious family to deal with in AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION), Jennifer Richards has fun as a vulgar Elvira-like TV horror movie hostess named Medusa and Jon Gries energetically fills the role of OD, the daughter's brain-damaged, heavy metal loving boyfriend. The cast also includes Alejandro Rey, Randi Brooks, Sonny Carl Davis and Empire Pictures regular Ian Patrick Williams (RE-ANIMATOR, DOLLS). The title theme is by The Fibonaccis. Supposedly based on an old Outer Limits episode.


Terror Storm (1978)

...aka: Ciclón
...aka: Cyclone
...aka: Tornado

Directed by:
René Cardona Jr.

As of this writing, this is only my third venture into the world of René Cardona, Jr. The first was the abominable killer bird flick BEAKS: THE MOVIE (1987) and the second was the equally awful softcore shark epic TINTORERA (1977), but thankfully this one's a hell of a lot better. It's kind of like one of those unintentionally campy Irwin Allen disaster movies, but with cannibalism, gore, shocks, B-grade horror/exploitation regulars and some fun JAWS-inspired shark attack scenes thrown in. At a tropical resort town in Mexico something's brewing in the skies. The birds are freaking out. People are quickly trying to bring in their boats and seek shelter. Yep, a surprise "cyclone" (hurricane) of epic proportions is coming their way! Unfortunately, not everyone has enough time to duck for cover or come inland. Strong winds force an airplane to crash right into the middle of the ocean. Those not killed in the impact have to grab the nearest life vest and immediately exit the plane before it sinks. A commercial fishing boat is also sunk, and those on board have to board a tiny life boat. And there's a somewhat larger glass bottom boat with about a dozen tourists on board also stuck out in that mess. The wind and rain insures everyone's swept further and further out to sea by the current, but somehow the three groups of people manage to find each other. Those on the life boat rescue the plane crash survivors and everyone ends up cramped aboard the glass bottom boat. The problem is that they're almost out of fresh water, out of food and there's no gas left, so everyone must play the waiting game. And the waiting game ends up being longer than anyone expected.

After much time passes and several failed attempts at fishing, the weak start dying off from previous injury, dehydration and/or starvation. The survivors are faced with a crucial choice... Perish or survive by consuming the flesh of the dead. Before long, chunks of people flesh are being dried out on top of the boat for sustenance. Scenes of the sweaty, sun burnt, miserable, bickering principals looking disgusted chewing on human jerky while children cry and the boat bobs up and down in the water might make one a little queasy. It also won't be everyone's idea of a good time, but for what it is, it's fairly well done. And I didn't even mention the killer sharks. They get a taste for human blood at the beginning when they pick off people exiting the downed airplane. Now they're circling the boat waiting for anyone to take a dip in the water.

The cast is decent enough. Everyone's favorite unibrow-sporting piece of Spanish man-meat, Andrés Garcia is on hand as the buff captain of a glass bottom boat. Hugo Stiglitz (who starred with Garcia in TINTORERA, from the same director) plays an airplane pilot. Adding to the camp appeal is an amusingly annoying Carroll Baker as a pampered middle-aged blonde who thinks her pet terrier "Christmas" deserves equal treatment. Lionel Stander is a husky-voiced, pipe-smoking businessman scouting the local lobster market. Arthur Kennedy is a priest opposed to eating people. Two of the females from Fulci's ZOMBIE are in the cast; Olga Karlatos as a very pregnant woman who ends up giving birth on the boat and Stefania D'Amario as a compassionate stewardess. Mexi horror star Carlos East also has a small role as the father of a missing girl (the film does unfortunately return to mainland from time to time). Also with Mário Almada, Miguel Burceaga (who'd later be billed as Mike Moroff for roles in such films as RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD III and FROM DUSK TILL DAWN), Erika Carlsson, Gerardo Zepeda and no less than three generations of the Cardona clan: the director, his father (filmmaker René Cardona) and his son (René Cardona III) as young Thomas.

The tropical storm scenes at the beginning are surprisingly well done and convincing for a medium budget film like this. Models for the storm-hit town, boats and the airplane are all convincing.


Tenebre (1982)

...aka: Shadow
...aka: Sotto gli occhi dell'assassino
...aka: Tenebrae
...aka: Under the Eyes of the Assassin
...aka: Unsane

Directed by:
Dario Argento

Review coming soon.


Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo (1977) (TV)

Directed by:
Stuart Hagmann

A cargo plane carrying coffee beans, coming in from Ecuador and headed toward San Francisco, crashes in a small California town and unleashes a horde of everyone's favorite hairy spider unto the population. The spiders quickly scatter about after the crash and bite and kill a couple of people, so it's up to the town's fire chief (Claude Akins) and some others to come up with a solution to the problem that won't endanger either the citizens or the town's orange crop (which it financially depends on). And in this case, the solution involves stunning the tarantulas with amplified wasp sounds (!?) Charles Frank and Deborah Winters (BLUE SUNSHINE) star, along with Bert Remsen as the mayor, Howard Hesseman and Tom Atkins (NIGHT OF THE CREEPS) as the coffee importers who cause the problem and Pat Hingle as a doctor. Not a bad cast for a "movie of the week." It was nominated for two Daytime Emmy Awards (for sound editing and sound mixing) and was released the very same year as the much, much better KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS. Unlike Kingdom, Tarantulas is unexciting, too talky, completely unimaginative and almost entirely lacking in action. Even the scenes involving the spiders are weak. A theatrical release in Europe.


Targets (1968)

...aka: Before I Die

Directed by:
Peter Bogdanovich

Review coming soon.


To All a Good Night (1980)

Directed by:
David Hess

Krug from THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (David Hess) made this obscure slasher movie with a script from the star of THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN (Alex Rebar). The night scenes are so darkly photographed that you can't tell what the hell is going on half the time, which could cause some alarm if the daylight scenes were any good, but since everything is equally stupid, blame whoever, in front of or behind the camera, you want. Jennifer Runyon is a sweet, milk-drinking, baby-voiced blonde virgin named Nancy, who is stuck at a boarding school with her obnoxious and lascivious female friends. When their boyfriends fly in for a sex-filled Holiday weekend, a nut dressed like Santa Claus prowls around and kills most of them off. It might have something to do with an incident that occurred years earlier (cue flashback) when a sorority girl died after taking a tumble off a balcony. Victims are killed with arrow, knife, axe, rock, airplane propeller and various other sharp things, most of the women (except the leading lady) get naked and a decapitated head hangs in the shower. One girl does a cop who comes over to help them. The cop is played by Hess (who appears uncredited). This film wraps with a twist ending that's as funny as it is pathetic and desperate.

Forgettable as it all is, TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT is noteworthy as one of three killer Santa Claus movies to predate SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT (1984). The other two (much better) films are TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972; the segment "And All Through the House") and CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980; aka YOU BETTER WATCH OUT).

Transmutations (1985)

...aka: Angel of Death
...aka: Tunnel of Terror, The
...aka: Underworld

Directed by:
George Pavlou

One of the first Clive Barker adaptations to hit the big screen (based on one of his short stories). Barker himself co-wrote the screenplay with James Caplin but hated the end result so much that he disowned the entire project. However, Denholm Elliott does a typically fine job as Dr. Savary, a 'mad' scientist who creates a highly addictive new hallucinogenic street drug that results in hideous facial mutation. The deformed and hopelessly-addicted victims (lured under fall pretenses into trying the drug to begin with) end up taking residence in an elaborate tunnel system located underneath London. A beautiful prostitute (Nicola Cowper) who is immune to the bad side-effects is kidnapped by the mutants, a man (Larry Lamb) is hired to locate her and some violent gangsters (led by Steven Berkoff as Motherskill) show up to cause even more complications, but despite the efforts of the writers to create an eccentric bunch of characters and the director to make it all look stylish, this is still dreary, often painfully slow-going, overly complicated and downright boring much of the time (it took me a couple of tries to even make it to the end). Supporting roles are played by Miranda Richardson (who would soon be doing more prestigious films) and Ingrid Pitt (as a whorehouse madam).

Pavlou also made the less-polished, but much more entertaining, Barker adaptation RAWHEAD REX the following year, which Barker also hated. A year later, Barker was able to adapt one of this own books for the screen and the result was HELLRAISER (1987).


Shining, The (1980)

...aka: Stanley Kubrick's 'The Shining'

Directed by:
Stanley Kubrick

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is a struggling writer who takes a job as caretaker at the massive Overlook Hotel, and temporarily moves his well-meaning but annoying wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and troubled young son Danny (Danny Lloyd) there for the winter closing season. It doesn't take long for Jack to go over the edge; his already unstable mental make-up mixing with the cold, isolation and overall bad aura of the hotel's sordid past, eventually drive him to head after his loved ones with an axe. The title refers to the son's psychic abilities, and Kubrick's creepy, surrealist touches of the boy's disturbing visions (blood gushing from the elevators, those creepy twin sisters...) are unsettling highlights of the film. The camerawork and photography are both exceptional, including some memorably eerie aerial photography (though you can see the shadow of a helicopter several times), and the hotel interiors (actually all sets) and an intricate hedge maze outside are both pretty amazing.
Still, I don't think this movie is quite the masterpiece some others do. Diehard fans have fun analyzing every last detail of it, trying to find patterns in numbers and matching them to the film's run-time, working out all the enigmatic imagery in their heads, trying to decide just why Jack's image can be seen in a photograph dated 1921 at the film's end, etc. I've seen people claim the film is about Satan or selling one's soul to the devil. I've read it's about the apocalypse. I've read it's about an evil place exerting control over the weak and emotionally frail. I've read it's about ghosts, possession and/or just plaing old going bonkers. But you'll have that kind of treatment awarded a director as acclaimed as Kubrick. Some people may want to see more than what is actually there, or more than what was intended. Taking this film at face value is another story altogether. Kubrick doesn't manage to sustain the eerie atmospherics for the entire length of the film, which goes on for a grueling 2 1/2 hours, and it gets rather repetitive at times. The end is basically a mess. And most distressingly, he seems out of touch with his actors. Duvall's Wendy ("Hi hun!") is so weak, irritating and stupid you pray she gets an axe planted in her skull. Of course this could be intentional (though behind-the-scenes footage seems to tell a different tale), but I'd be lying if I didn't say that she still got on my last damn nerve. Nicholson's Jack, at first, is brilliantly malicious with his creepy facial expressions, but then goes way over the top and delivers a sorely inappropriate camp performance in service of a character we don't get to know very well, anyway.
Toward the end, there are moments that will leave most viewers scratching their heads. Jack eventually comes into contact with ghosts in the hotel's ballroom. Or does he? Both Jack and Danny come into contact with a ghostly woman in one of the rooms, who transforms from a beautiful young woman to an old withered hag. OK, so one is crazy and the other is psychic, so I guess that could happen... But then at the end, Wendy even starts seeing things that shouldn't be there, such as a guy in a animal costume (?) "servicing" another guy. Since she's neither bonkers or gifted with ESP, I guess that means the hotel is haunted, right? And so then Jack is possessed? Or maybe Wendy's temporary hysteria over her husband trying to kill her is making her envision all this, too? Hell if I know. In film, there is reasonable ambiguity that invites us to use our imaginations, and then there's being weird and random for the sake of being weird and random. I'm not sure what this qualifies as.
Based on the best-seller by Stephen King. Many things have been changed from the book and King himself didn't like the finished product. The supporting cast includes Scatman Crothers (as a man who works at the hotel and shares Danny's gift), Barry Nelson, Philip Stone, Joe Turkel, Anne Nelson and Tony Burton. It was remade for TV in 1997.

Schalcken the Painter (1979) (TV)

...aka: Sheridan Le Fanu's 'Schalcken the Painter'

Directed by:
Leslie Megahey

Godfried Schalcken was a 17th Century Dutch painter who studied under Gerard (Gerrit) Dou, himself a former student of Rembrandt. Schalcken, like Dou, specialized in both portraits and dark, atmospheric visions lit solely by candlelight; many of which take on an eerie or sinister quality. Inspired by the work of Schalcken, Sheridan Le Fanu wrote a Gothic horror story entitled "Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter" in 1839, which was in turn made into a British TV movie that debuted on BBC around Christmastime in 1979 and has since fallen into obscurity. And that's really too bad, because this is a very good film that actually succeeds at being three separate things at once. For starters, it's a respectable, eerie and fairly faithful adaptation of Le Fanu's story. Secondly, it manages to accurately capture the flavor of the era in which it takes place. Finally, and most impressively, it manages to capture the dark beauty of Schalcken's artwork. Nearly every frame of this film seems to be a painting in and of itself, and done in reverence to the shadowy world Schalcken created in his paintings. Most of the shots are very carefully set and lit, with soft candlelight illuminating the action in the middle of the screen yet leaving the edges of the frame shrouded in shadow.

The story begins with Schalcken's (Jeremy Clyde) arrival at Dou's (Maurice Denham) Leiden studio as an impoverished young artist just as he's making the transition from sketches to oil paintings. Schalcken falls in love with Dou's niece Rose (Cheryl Kennedy), but Dou has already promised her hand in marriage to the wealthy, mysterious corpse-like Vanderhausen (John Justin) in exchange for some gold. Schalcken promises the terrified Rose that he'll one day become successful enough to buy her back, but has to let her go for the time being. He then becomes so immersed in his work and visits a local brothel, that by the time he does actually have fame and money, he finds he may be too late to save his former love from her ghastly suitor. The film doesn't even bother to define the Vanderhausen character in clichéd horror terms. You're never quite sure what he is (a vampire... a demon lover... a sadistic old man...?) or what he's done to Rose. That is up to us to decide, and the film is all the better for allowing us to use our imaginations to fill in the blanks.

I'm sure that many of today's film-goers will find this too slow-moving or "boring" for their tastes since there's no graphic violence and it relies on mood, lighting, ambiguity and art direction to create an uneasy and creepy atmosphere. However, fans of atmospheric, deliberately-paced ghost tales, as well as art connoisseurs, will find a lot to like here. Charles Gray narrates as "The Voice of Lefanu."


Silent Madness (1983)

...aka: Beautiful Screamers
...aka: Nightkillers, The
...aka: Omega Factor, The

Directed by:
Simon Nuchtern

If you watch enough horror films (particularly slasher films), you know that sometimes things can get pretty ridiculous just so the story can advance from Point A to Point B. This has several of those idiotic moments and some truly brain-dead character actions. A few morons working in a mental hospital debate whether to let obviously still-psychotic former killer Howard Johns (played by Solly Marx) loose because of "overcrowding." Female doctor Joan Gilmore (Belinda J. Montgomery) stops them, but alas he's accidentally set free anyway after his name gets mixed up with someone elses! So off he goes to a college campus, where he immediately starts slaughtering as many screaming sorority girls as he can get his hands on. Meanwhile, Joan sets out to stop the carnage (going undercover as a middle-aged sorority girl!), but find she has even more problems on her hands than she originally thought. See, the corrupt hospital staff has also sent out two sleazy orderlies (who also lobotomize patients in the hospital basement!) to kill her to conceal their previous error.

If you think the plotting is ludicrous, just wait till you see the ending. Yikes. Top-billed character actors Sydney Lassick (as the sheriff) and Viveca Lindfors (sorority mother) are wasted, as is future 80s B movie starlet/Scream Queen Elizabeth Kaitan, who shows up just long enough to get her head squashed in a vice grip. Katherine Kamhi and Paul De Angelo (both of whom played counselors in SLEEPAWAY CAMP) are also in the cast. Pretty bad; the only thing notable is it originally played theaters in 3-D.

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