Ratings Key



★★★★
= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
★★★
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

King Kong (1976)

...aka: King Kong: The Legend Reborn

Directed by:
John Guillermin

Sometimes bigger isn't better. The 1933 original (which I'd give a perfect 10 to if I rated it here) remains one of the greatest fantasy/horror/action films of all time. This campy "remake" from producer Dino De Laurentiis cost "25 million" dollars (23 million over the budget of the first one) and is inferior in every possible way. It's basically the same old Beauty and the Beast style story all over again, except with dialogue and characters written to please 70s audiences (but now seems hopelessly tacky and dated), the World Trade Center subbing for the Empire State Building and Willis O'Brien's charming stop-motion effects work replaced by a much-touted giant 40-foot-tall mechanical ape designed by Carlo Rambaldi that cost nearly 2 million dollars to construct and 20 people to operate and yet is barely even used in the film. The giant ape is actually mostly played by Rick Baker in a monkey suit frolicking amongst miniatures! Jessica Lange, a former model making her film debut here (she got the part after both Barbra Streisand and Bo Derek passed on it), plays the damsel in distress (an actress) who is saddled with such groan-worthy lines as "Put me you down you male chauvenist ape!" She (shipwrecked) is picked up by a boat and, along with pseudo-hippie counterculture scientist/idealist Jeff Bridges (her other love interest), smug oil company president Charles Grodin and crew, discover the giant monkey on uncharted Skull Island, somewhere off the coast of Indonesia. The same things basically happen as they did in the original, with Kong eventually being brought to New York City to be exploited, escaping, facing off with the army and reaching out his 1,650-pound, crane-operated mechanical arms toward his lady love for the tear-jerking conclusion.
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Thanks to a huge advertising campaign, promotional tie-ins and Kong-related mechandise (lunch boxes, posters, cards, etc.) sales, Kong became a big "event movie" before they were all that common (it would be another year before STAR WARS was even released) and was a huge box office hit, raking in over 80 million dollars worldwide during its initial theatrical run. It was also nominated for three Academy Awards (for sound and cinematography) and ended up winning one for "special achievement" for the special effects, which caused a lot of controversy at the time and even prompted several academy members to actually quit in disgust.
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It was scripted by Lorenzo Semple, Jr., whose work in lower-key, lower-budgeted fair - such as the black comic gem PRETTY POISON (1968), which has rightfully become a cult favorite over the years, and the great but seldom seen psycho-thriller DADDY'S GONE A HUNTING (1969) - is far superior to his writing here. The cast includes Rene Auberjonois as Grodin's assistant, John Randolph as a captain, Julius Harris, Jack O'Halloran, Dennis Fimple, Ed Lauter and the return 50s monster movie star John Agar as a city official. Turning up in uncredited bit roles are Forrest J. Ackerman (who can be seen fleeing Kong) and Corbin Bernsen as a reporter. Future porn actress Kelly Nichols was Lange's stunt double.
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De Laurentiis also produced the awful follow-up KING KONG RETURNS in 1986, and Peter Jackson did his own Kong remake in 2005.

★★

L'assassino è costretto ad uccidere ancora (1975)

... aka: Dark is Death's Friend, The
... aka: Il ragno
... aka: Killer Must Kill Again, The
... aka: Killer Must Strike Again, The

Directed by:
Luigi Cozzi

Faithless slimeball Giorgio Mainardi (George Hilton) catches a ruthless serial killer (“Michel Antoine” / Antoine Saint-John) in the act of disposing of a corpse of someone he's just killed and blackmails him to kill his wealthy wife Norma (Teresa Velázquez). The murder is committed and then things spiral completely out of control after a key piece of incriminating evidence (the body!) disappears. Turns out the corpse was in the truck of a getaway car, and said car has just been stolen by a punk named Luca (Alessio Orano) and his naive virginal girlfriend Laura (Cristina Galbó). The couple drive a way to a crumbling old house by the ocean, the psycho trails them there and then decides to have a little fun before killing them. Laura is raped, a blonde airhead (Femi Benussi) ends up at the house after her car breaks down and people start dying. Not a bad little brutal crime thriller with some decent suspense, a little blood, some nudity, a couple of nasty attack scenes and an effective performance from Saint-John (who played the artist who gets crucified and dissolved by acid in the opening scene in The Beyond) as the psycho. On the down side, the dialogue (as per the subtitles) isn't the best, some attempts at being stylish are silly (i.e. the tollbooth scene) and most of the female characters are needlessly irritating and whiny. There's a decent twist at the end. Umberto Lenzi was one of the producers and Edjuardo Fajardo co-stars as the inspector on the case.

This is normally labeled a giallo. I've even labeled it a giallo in my keyword search. However, going by the standard definition I always see (which states that a "literary whodunit element" - like in the yellow-covered paperback novels this film sub-genre is derived from - must be retained) this hardly qualifies as such. There is no mysterious black-gloved killer running around, there are no red herrings or suspects and, most importantly, there isn't even a mystery to solve here. We know what's going on, why it's happening and who's doing it all right from the beginning. Instead, this is more in tune with dozens of other Euro horrors inspired by Craven's Last House on the Left. These films feature a psycho or group of psychos / criminals holding people hostage, where the victims are humiliated, usually raped and threatened with violence and death, which is exactly what the bulk of this film is comprised of. Someone really needs to come up with a term for those.

And I don't even know about giallo as a subgenre. Since half of the films carrying the label don't even fit the definition it seems the term is around simply because it's easier to say and sounds cooler than "Italian horror."

★★

Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1987)

Directed by:
Stephen Chiodo

A twist on the alien-invasion theme and a knowing throwback to 50s sci-fi/horror flicks, this features blood-drinking alien clowns, of varying size and design, who land their circus tent spaceship in the woods near a small town. Victims are shot at with popcorn ray guns and are captured in balloons before being wrapped in cotton candy cocoons, where they're poked with a plastic straw and have all their blood sucked out! Yes, it's every bit as silly as it sounds but this actually works thanks to fun special effects, excellent designs on the alien clowns, colorful production design and many unexpected and clever surprises, many of which amusingly play up on the clown or circus theme. The Dickies provide a great and catchy title theme song. Grant Cramer (NEW YEAR'S EVIL) and Suzanne Snyder (RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD II) star as the young couple who have a hard time convincing the local authorities about what's going on. Also with John Allen Nelson as a young deputy, John Vernon (playing one of his patented humorless bad guys roles as a sheriff who gets used as a human puppet), Royal Dano as an early victim and stand-up comedian Christopher Titus (remember his TV show?). This was a family project and labor of love for the Chiodo brothers (Charles, Edward and Stephen), who between them wrote, directed, produced and worked on the production design and special effects.

★★★

Spirits (1990)

Directed by:
Fred Olen Ray

Call it LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, Fred Olen Ray style. Or basically just call it out for being crap; a cut-rate, boring haunted house programmer with nothing to really recommend. Four researchers (parapsychologist Robert Quarry, controversial psychic Brinke Stevens, skeptical journalist Kathrin Lautner and male chauvinist pig Oliver Darrow) decide to investigate a supposedly haunted mansion with a history of murders that may have been committed by former rapist and mass murderer Andre Picard. Children's voices are heard, stuff starts flying around and an evil spirit eventually possesses them one by one, leading to such things as Brinke hammering a nail through her own hand and Darrow having a sex dream with a redheaded succubus (played by Kaitlin Hopkins, the daughter of Shirley Knight). Carol Lynley is completely wasted as a compassionate nun in two brief scenes and Erik Estrada is downright awful as a priest struggling with his faith who must eventually come to the rescue a la THE EXORCIST. It's very badly written (by Ray and the suspiciously named "R.U. King") and the contrived plot is made damn near unbearable by the lack of on-screen gore, interesting characters, credible dialogue or anything else to make it worth watching.
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The demon/possession make-up is very minor, but there's a pretty good John Vulich/Everett Burrell-designed skeleton-demon creature at the very end. The only other good part is Michelle Bauer, who shows up in a cameo as a demoness, strips out of her nun costume and tries to seduce Estrada by reminding him, "You knew your way around a pussy pretty good for a priest!" As a matter of fact, though the majority of the actors don't really embarrass themselves here, Bauer and Quarry (best known for playing COUNT YORGA in two popular early 70s drive-in vampire films) are the only two to bring any kind of personality to the film and also the only two who don't seem to be sleepwalking through their respective roles in a complete daze.

Look for a very obvious boom shadow on Brinke's face during the kitchen scene. Fred's son Christopher Ray (now a director) plays a dead kid, special effects man Earl Ellis plays a demon and former G.L.O.W. ("Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling") star and adult film actress Sandra Margot aka Tiffany Mellon aka Tyffany Million (who's now married, has two kids and works as a private eye in Los Angeles) is also here covered in demon make-up so you can't even tell it's her.

1/2

Scalps (1981)

Directed by:
Fred Olen Ray

Six college archeology students decide to get a head start on their professor and (ignoring warnings from a local Indian) head up into the mountains to dig up some Indian remains. There, they accidentally unleash an evil Indian spirit. One of the male students (Richard Alan Hench) becomes possessed by the spirit of "Black Claw" and starts to kill everyone off. There's plenty of so-so, though sometimes effectively gruesome, gore effects (axe, arrow to the eye, decapitations) and a pretty tasteless bit concerning a poor girl who is raped and beaten up, has her neck slashed (with blood pouring out all over the place) and is then scalped. It's a pretty crude, grainy, badly acted and badly lit film, with highly variable and sometimes downright awful cinematography, though the rocky, desolate desert locations help to create a decent HILLS HAVE EYES style atmosphere. There are three guest stars; Kirk Alyn (TV's original Superman) as the teacher, Carroll (MARK OF THE VAMPIRE) Borland as the head of the college science department and "Famous Monsters of Filmland" magazine editor Forrest J. Ackerman as a science professor. Ray had made THE BRAIN LEECHES (1977) and THE ALIEN DEAD (1979; aka IT FELL FROM THE SKY) while still in Florida, and SCALPS (which was shot on 16mm and said to be virtually almost a remake of 1966's DEATH CURSE OF TARTU) shortly after relocating to California.
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It was originally picked up for distribution by Continental, who released in 1983 on a double tape with THE SLAYER (1982). Apparently they also reedited it against the director's wishes, including putting in test footage that wasn't even supposed to be in the film! Retromedia (Ray's company) put out a DVD a few years back and claim it's the full uncut version. I'll try to watch it when I get the chance.

1/2

Scanners (1980)

...aka: Telekinesis
...aka: Telepathy 2000

Directed by:
David Cronenberg

Cronenberg welcomed the 80s with his most polished and approachable film yet. Filmed primarily in the winter of 1979, this film was the director's largest budgeted movie up until that time and also made more at the box office than any of his previous films (it made more than quadrupel its budget in the U.S. alone). It's an intricate, interesting and entertaining movie (with some uneven passages here and there) involving a group of powerful telepaths (scanners) who have the ability to read minds and, when times call for it, make veins swell and heads explode. Vagrant scanner Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) is kidnapped, then employed by Consec, a government organization who have developed a drug to control telepathic tendencies, to take out power-hungry scanner renegade Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), who in turn is in the middle of a bloody war with a more peaceful commune of telepaths, led by Kim Obrist (Jennifer O’Neill). Dick Smith’s super-bloody special effects (limited to one exploding head, some bulging veins and a gory finale) gave this film a reputation as a gorefest, but there’s much more on Cronenberg’s mind that shock tactics; the misuse of power and the indirect (and often incidental) linking between big business, the state, science and terrorist activity are at the forefront of this film. Lack's weak and very bland performance hurts the film somewhat, and O'Neill's character seems underdeveloped, but there's nice work from the always-great Ironside (appropriately over-the-top here), as well as Patrick McGoohan as a kind scientist who takes Cameron under his wing. There's also a typically frantic cameo for Cronenberg regular Robert A. Silverman. Lawrence Dane (RITUALS) and Lee Broker (THE PYX) co-star.
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Supposedly inspired by a chapter in William S. Burroughs' 1959 novel Naked Lunch dealing with an underground organization of powerful telepaths called "Senders." Cronenberg would go on to adapt Burroughs' book himself in 1991. Followed by (so far) four sequels, made for the direct-to-video market; SCANNERS II: THE NEW ORDER (1991), SCANNERS III: THE TAKEOVER (1992), SCANNER COP (1993) and SCANNERS: THE SHOWDOWN (1994).

★★★

O Escorpião Escarlate (1990)

... aka: Scarlet Scorpion, The

Directed by:
Ivan Cardoso

I went into this one expecting a horror-comedy (judging by the director's track record and the poster art proclaiming him a "master of terror"), but instead got a delightful, highly-stylized, sometimes hilarious and always affectionate comedy about the importance of radio programming in Brazil back in the day. There's the occasional nod to vintage horror and sci-fi films in here, enough for it to earn a place on this blog, but don't expect anything terrifying here. It cleverly opens with black-and-white newsreel footage (very similar to the way Heavenly Creatures began) that covers everything from race car driving to "grass weed" (marijuana) trafficking to cable cars to celebrities such as Kim Novak, Janet Leigh, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Linda Darnell arriving in Copacabana. Movie going was more popular than ever in Brazil in the 1950s (the setting for this film), but what has really won the hearts of the country is the popular cliffhanger radio serial "The Adventure of The Angel," which features iconic crime-fighter "O Anjo" (The Angel). The show's writer and creator, Álvaro Aguiar (Herson Capri), has just signed a million dollar contract to continue his series and possibly bring the character to the big screen. Meanwhile, fans of the show, including fashion designer Gloria Campos (Andréa Beltrão), are gathering around their radios to hear the latest adventures of The Angel and envisioning the events in their minds, which are then shown to us as well-filmed and knowing recreations of vintage serials. The film jumps back and forth from the real world (shot in color) to the fictional world of "The Angel" (in black-and-white), with the two sometimes overlapping.

How fiction carries over into the real world here is that a serial killer is dressing up as the radio program's villain, "The Scarlet Scorpion," and going around killing people in the same ways depicted in the radio program. Gloria links the string of recent murders to the program and when her accusations blow up in the press, she's canned from her job. Thankfully, she quickly finds another at Radio Nacional hosting "The Angel Club;" a fan talk program where she answers letters and gives away gifts ("It's what American's call marketing!"). There she meets Álvaro and the two immediately fall in love. There are many other characters in this film, as well. Untalented voice actress Rita Mara (Susana Matos) is sleeping with the overweight station director Alfredo Maximo to try to get a larger role in the program. Guido Falcone (Nuno Leal Maia), an Italian opera singer with a white streak in his hair, is pissed because he's just been canned to make room for more Angel programming. Gloria's co-worker Paula (Isadora Ribeiro) is sleeping with a taken man (Mário Gomes) who she met while modeling wedding gowns to his future wife!

In the visualized program, The Angel is portrayed by the same actor playing the writer, while Doris the female reporter is at first played by actress doing the actual voice overs for the show, but then by the actress playing Gloria. It may sound confusing, but it's really not when you watch it. Other characters on the show include Angel's sidekick Jarbas (Leo Jaime), sadistic, exotic villainess named Madame Ming (Monique Evans, who was apparently a top Brazilian model) and Ming's bald, facially scarred, crippled henchman Limping Frog (!?) In one scene, the reporter is tied down to a table topless with a huge buzz saw aimed between her legs and threatening to saw her in two! Eventually she's taken to "The Palace of Torture" where she's put in some contraption that will impale her with spikes. Saw has nothing on this bad boy.

Did I mention that Angel has his very own completely awesome 50s-style theme song played four different times in the film (including over the opening and closing credits)?

There's also a great scene at a club called Night & Day where jazz singer Ivon Cury performs a Sinatra-like song and then Brigitte, a French entertainer, starts doing a harmless "Diamonds Are a Girls Best Friend"-style routine that quickly turns into a sexy strip show. What makes this interesting is that Brigitte is played by an actress named Roberta Close who before this film was better known as Luíz Roberto Gambine Moreira. Yes, the gorgeous stripper we all just saw was actually a pre-op transsexual. I'll admit it. I had no clue. I was just like "Wow, she's hot." Looking up more info online, I discovered Roberta was the first pre-op to pose for Brazilian Playboy, had a full sex reassignment surgery in 1989, did a layout for a men's magazine called "Sexy" and was eventually named the "Most Beautiful Woman in Brazil" in a reader's poll. After that she relocated to Europe, married a Swiss businessman and became a staple in European tabloids. And this woman isn't even known here in America.

From a production standpoint, this is very well done, with charismatic actors, a fun and always engaging story line, good music, some laughs, plenty of action and skin and excellent cinematography, art direction and editing. It should be better known than what it is. Something Weird Video used to distribute it (and still might) and there is a nice-quality subtitled print floating around out of there if you look for it.

★★★1/2

Memorial Valley Massacre (1988)

...aka: Memorial Day
...aka: Valley of Death

Directed by:
Robert C. Hughes

Here’s a spirited little low-budget movie from the late 80s, coming from complete video obscurity to wide release on many horror DVD multi packs. It's far from sheer slasher perfection and is pretty forgettable overall, but it's entertaining while it lasts, there's plenty of energy and an adequate massacre. A parade of cars, trucks, RVs and campers signal the opening of the new Memorial Valley Campground and Wilderness Area, cut deep the California wilderness and spearheaded by ruthless developer Allen Sangster (Cameron Mitchell, in a cameo), who has sunk a huge chuck of change into transforming the once tranquil area into a place of big business, with a shopping center, ski lodge, condos, etc. The construction crew decides to bail when a crewman mysteriously dies and a dead dog turns up in a well, but they open the place up to the public anyway, with no running water or restroom facilities. Allen's college-age son David (Mark Mears) shows up out of the blue for a summer job and gets on the bad side of harried head ranger George (John Kerry, no not that one), who's already stressed out enough as it is. So anyway, a variety of different people roll in... and start dying one by one. The murderer responsible turns out to be a filthy, long-haired, spear-chucking primitive cast-off dressed in animal furs who's been surviving out in the woods all by himself ever since he was a child.

It's pretty obvious the makers of this movie were very pro-environmental conservation and in a strange way the cave-dwelling killer is the walking, grunting personification of mother nature fighting back. One of the first victims is an obnoxious, obese kid who refuses to abide by the "no motorcycles or ATVs allowed in the park" rule and takes his four-wheeler out for a pollution-spilling spin. He's clothes-lined off his bike with a vine and has his neck snapped. Hope you enjoyed it because it's the only on-screen death for about the first hour. But there's a wide variety of other characters waiting around who are ripe for the picking off; the tacky suburbanite parents of the slain kid, three loud death-metal listening horny teens, six bikers (refreshingly two are black, three are women and most of them are pretty cool), a pretty female college student (Lesa Lee) who gets hooked up with David and many others. William Smith has a funny role as grizzled, booze-swilling ex war vet General Mintz, who's blown up inside his camper with his bubbly wife Pepper (Linda Honeyman).

Some victims are killed with various booby-traps, like a pit of spears a guy gets impaled on. There's an axing, some stabbings, a torching, three people crushed when a bulldozer pushes a truck down a hill on top of them and more. It's not all that gory per se, but the body count is high enough. I don't see anybody in this cast going on to win an Oscar anytime soon, but I still liked most of the amateurs they used. Especially good are Mears, who is genuinely talented and appealing in the lead (can't understand why he didn't do anymore film work after this) and Jimmy Justice, who's pretty charming as the camp caretaker. It was also a nice surprise to see 80s-90s cheese movie vixen Karen Russell (from MURDER WEAPON, TENEMENT and many others), using the alias "Dusty Rose," as a biker chick. Like I said, it's silly, flawed and far from a genre classic, but I still liked it.

★★

Midnight Offerings (1981) (TV)

Directed by:
Rod Holcomb

Actress Melissa Sue Anderson (TV's "Little House on the Prairie") was so desperate to change her squeaky clean image that she played a psycho killer in the gory slasher flick HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981) and then played a Satanic super bitch in this made-for-TV movie. At Ocean High School in California, Vivian Sotherland (Anderson) seems to always get her way. She's always on the honor roll. She's the captain of the cheerleading squad. She's Homecoming Queen. And until he let her down after a alcohol-related run-in with the law, she was dating David Sterling (Patrick Cassidy), the handsome and popular captain of the football team. The kicker is that Vivian is using witchcraft to get everything she wants out of life, and if a few people have to get hurt or die along the way, then so be it. Immediately after a biology teacher dies in a mysterious fiery car crash, a new girl - the sweet but inquisitive Robin Prentiss (Mary Beth McDonough, from "The Waltons") - shows up. She's an outsider, but immediately hits it off with Patrick. Even though they'd sort-of split up, Vivian isn't ready to let go, gets jealous and decides to keep her friends close but her enemies closer by causing an accident to get Robin onto her cheerleading squad. She also makes Robin's father (Peter MacLean) get ill and causes other problems for her. What Vivian didn't count on was a little competition - Robin is also a witch who has been trying to keep her powers dormant and live as normal a life as possible.

Vivian's not only doing things to boost her own academic career and popularity, but she's also doing things to help her parents (which in turn will naturally help her). Her mother Diane (Cathryn Damon) knows exactly what she's up to and even has powers of her own, but they're weak compared to her daughters because she never uses them. Father Sherm (Gordon Jump) is oblivious to it all, thinks that the Satanic chanting he hears from outside his daughter's door is her doing chemistry homework (!) and thinks the mother is jealous any time she voices any concern. Dad is also about to capitalize on an advancement at work after a colleague also in line for the position mysteriously (a-hem) keeled over from a heart attack. Vivian's suburban bedroom is hilariously decked out in burning candles, skulls and goats head pentagrams. She also has a black (cat) familiar she sends out to try to kill Robin by causing a fire, crows she sends to try to cause a car accident and a pet goat she talks her cheerleading squad into adopting as a mascot.

Patrick gets advice from paranormal expert Emily Moore (Marion Ross - "Happy Days"), who suggests Robin learn to use her powers before it's too late. And that's just what she does when Vivian becomes nastier by threatening to kill her if she doesn't leave her school and transfer to another.

A silly, yet highly entertaining, tele-movie, MIDNIGHT OFFERINGS offers up some amusing then-trendy teen lingo, a dash of cheesy romance and sanitized supernatural horror aplenty. The acting is decent enough, especially by Anderson, who has fun with her high school bitch queen role. The best scene is a psychic battle in the school's wood shop utilizing lumber, a nail gun, spray paint, various tools and even an electric table saw, and the high school setting and angst-ridden teen-witch dueling instantly brings to mind THE CRAFT (1996). In fact, the similarities don't really end there. There's even a forest montage where the good witch learns how to master her abilities! Keep your eyes peeled for very brief appearances from Dana Kimmell (the heroine from FRIDAY THE 13TH, PART III) and future game show hostess Vanna White (who also appeared in the slasher GRADUATION DAY that same year) as cheerleaders.

This film has yet to see the light of day on either video or DVD in America (at least officially), so you're most likely to run across it either online or on late night TV. Several bootleg sites offer it on DVD-R and it was released on VHS in the UK.

★★1/2

Massacro (1989)

...aka: Massacre

Directed by:
Andrea Bianchi

There are at least a hundred movies featuring a psycho killer invading a horror movie set and you can't really blame filmmakers for using this overworked plot line. It promises a fitting backdrop for a horror film, plus usually gives the killer props to use, and places to hide the bodies, and naturally all of the expected 'false scares' to fill time between the gore scenes. What's always struck me as odd is how instead of showing a horror movie set as a positive place where people are having fun, most filmmakers opt to show it in a negative light and fill their films full of characters who are nasty, bitchy, egotistical, backstabbing, oversexed jerks and Primadonnas. This one's no exception to that rule, though it does try to add some additional twists to the formula, ridiculous as they may be.
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MASSACRE (which is "presented by" Lucio Fulci) opens with a guy in sunglasses attacking a prostitute with a hatchet and chopping off her hand before decapitating her (the goriest scene in the entire film), then immediately cuts to another woman waking up in a graveyard and stumbling into the middle of some black mass ceremony being conducted by hooded ghouls. The first murder turns out to be "real," while the second one turns out to be a scene in a movie being shot. That film's director, Frank (Maurice Poli), is fed up because he wants more realism and less fantasy, so he decides to rework the script and bring in professional psychic Irene Ullich (Anna Maria Placido) as an adviser. During a séance, Irene accidentally calls forth the ghost of a man named Jack, who she claims is a dangerous spirit that likes to cut people to pieces. Thinking nothing of it, the cast and crew go back to making the film and one by one begin getting killed off in bloody ways. Leading lady Jennifer (Patrizia Falcone) conveniently happens to be dating Walter (Gino Concari) the lead detective investigating the murders

There's a rumor on set that Jennifer is a lesbian because she's friends with the lesbian assistant director Mira (Lubka Lenzi). Sleazy producer Robert Arnold (Pier Maria Cecchini) tries to capitalize on this by threatening his heavy-drinking, unfaithful wife Liza (Silvia Conti), "You have 24 hours to get that lesbian in bed with us. Otherwise pack your bags and go to the $h1+house gutter." Also along for the fun are Gordon the scriptwriter, a couple of random hookers and makeup artist Jean (Robert Egon), who is also Liza's secret lover. Veteran horror star Paul Muller has nothing to really do as an obnoxious police commissioner in three brief scenes. The best character is Adrian (wish I knew the actor so I could give him his props), a flamboyant actor and female impersonator who treats us (in full costume) to some quick impersonations of Marilyn Monroe, Liza Minnelli and Marlene Dietrich. Don't know what that has to do with the rest of this film, but hey, I'll take what I can get.

Unfortunately, the murder scenes are mostly uninspired (the same weapon is used the majority of the time) or take place completely off-screen, though there's a decent enough body count and sufficient amounts of blood and T&A for one of these things. Some pacing problems here, too, as the majority of the cast gets killed off after the one hour mark in very rushed scenes. There's also unneeded plot complication as a second killer (who is completely unrelated to what's going on on the movie set) turns up to try to throw police off. And I think they wanted the revelation of the main killer to be a surprise, but it's pretty obviously telegraphed ahead of time during the séance scene.

★★

Majorettes, The (1987)

...aka: American Killer
...aka: One by One

Directed by:
S. William Hinzman

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD alumni made this one. Director/editor S. William Hinzman had played the original graveyard zombie that attacks Barbra and Johnny in NIGHT. Producer/co-star John A. Russo acted in and co-wrote the NOTLD script. Russell Streiner, who played Johnny in NOTLD, has a small role as a Baptist preacher. These three combine forces for a low-budget slasher flick that starts out horribly but "improves" a bit as it goes along. The plot about a hooded killer in camouflage stalking and killing high school majorettes is coupled with amusing supporting characters such as a greedy German live-in nurse, her voyeur janitor son, a cult of Satanist leather-clad bikers, a corrupt cop, a knocked-up teenage jezebel and more. The plot twists become more ridiculous (and entertaining) as it goes along, so on those terms it's worth a look. The acting and seemingly chopped out gore effects however leave a lot to be desired. Based on Russo's novel of the same name. Kevin Kindlin (REVENGE OF THE LIVING ZOMBIES) and Terrie Godfrey star.

★★

Madhouse (1980)

...aka: And When She Was Bad
...aka: Flesh and the Beast
...aka: Scared to Death
...aka: There Was a Little Girl

Directed by:
Ovidio G. Assonitis

Pretty blonde schoolteacher Julia Sullivan (Trish Everly) specializes in helping deaf children but is plagued by childhood flashbacks of the torment she suffered from her insane twin sister. The sister, who suffers from a rare disease that disfigures her face, escapes from an asylum and kills people to prepare for the climactic warped birthday party. Things start off pretty well, with a disturbing opening sequence, decent performances from a mostly unknown cast, a few scares and some suspenseful murder sequences, but the ending is a major letdown and, annoyingly, no one seems to really care or notice that the sister is on the loose and that people are being murdered. Nonetheless, it's attractively photographed and is a major improvement over director Assonitis' two previous horror films: the moronic EXORCIST rip-off BEYOND THE DOOR (1974) and the JAWS wanna-be TENTACLES (1977), which at least featured a giant octopus instead of a shark. He used the alias "Oliver Hellman" for the film and also co-wrote and co-produced. The music is by Riz Ortolani and the cast includes Michael MacRae, Dennis Robertson, Morgan Hart and Edith Ivey. Originally titled THERE WAS A LITTLE GIRL. The US video release didn't come until 1987.

★★

Madhouse (1974)

...aka: Deathday
...aka: Madhouse of Dr. Fear, The
...aka: Revenge of Dr. Death, The

Directed by:
Jim Clark

Veteran horror star Paul Toombes (Vincent Price) thinks his career is going to be revived when he's asked to reprise his "Dr. Death" character for an upcoming British television production. A jealous, skull-masked killer thinks otherwise and sets out to frame him for a series of nasty murders. Not-bad British horror has some effective scenes, some imaginative murder scenes and a very knowing, self-referential performance by Price, but goes uncomfortably over-the-top toward the end. Clips from many earlier Price films, such as PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961), TALES OF TERROR (1962) and THE RAVEN (1963), are used and Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone and others can be seen in that footage. Excellent supporting cast - Peter Cushing as a screenwriter, Adrienne Corri as a former actress disfigured in a fire, Robert Quarry as a sleazy movie producer, Linda Hayden as an early victim - helps. Adapted from Angus Hall's novel "Devilday."

★★1/2

Mansion of the Doomed (1976)

...aka: Eyes of Dr. Chaney, The
...aka: Eyes of the Living Dead
...aka: House of Blood
...aka: Massacre Mansion
...aka: Terror of Dr. Chaney, The

Directed by:
Michael Pataki

Busy character actor Michael Pataki took a break from appearing in films like GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE and THE BAT PEOPLE to step behind the camera and direct this fairly well made, yet forgettable, PG-rated Charles Band production. Richard Basehart is ranting, deranged surgeon Dr. Leonard Chaney who feels responsible for the car accident that blinded his pretty daughter Nancy (Trish Stewart). With the help of his faithful assistant Katherine (former film noir regular and Oscar winner Gloria Grahame), he drugs people, takes them to a secret operating room (located inside his own home!), removes their eyes, transplants them onto his daughter and locks the victims in a cage in his cellar. After many unsuccessful attempts to restore his daughter's sight, a ready-made mob of miserable, eyeless people wait to get their revenge. There are some effective and grisly make-up effects by "Stanley" Winston and pretty good performances from Basehart, Grahame and Lance Henriksen (in an early role playing Stewart's doctor love interest who becomes the first victim) to keep this watchable, but the dark photography (by Andrew Davis, who went on to direct THE FUGITIVE), ludicrous plotting and a dead serious approach make for a pretty depressing and unenjoyable viewing experience.
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Albert Band (Charles' father) gets a credit for "executive supervision." With Vic Tayback (Mel the diner owner from TV's "Alice") as a detective, Donna Anderson, Marilyn Joi and Arthur Space as a wino. Many of the cast members appeared in DRACULA'S DOG (1978; aka ZOLTAN: HOUND OF DRACULA), also from the Band father-and-son filmmaking team.

★★

Marat/Sade (1967)

...aka: Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum at Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, The

Directed by:
Peter Brook

Review coming soon.

★★★1/2

Mark of Cain (1984)

...aka: Identity Crisis

Directed by:
Bruce Pittman

Review coming soon.

★★1/2

Nudo e selvaggio (1985)

...aka: Amazonas
...aka: Baixada dos Dinosauros, A
...aka: Cannibal Ferox 2
...aka: Massacre in Dinosaur Valley
...aka: Stranded in Dinosaur Valley

Directed by:
Michele Massimo Tarantini

Review coming soon.

★★1/2

Maximum Overdrive (1985)

Directed by:
Stephen King

Review coming soon.

Meridian (1990)

...aka: Kiss of the Beast
...aka: Phantoms

Directed by:
Charles Band

Review coming soon.

★★

Meet the Feebles (1989)

...aka: Feebles, The
...aka: Frogs of War
...aka: Just the Feebles

Directed by:
Peter Jackson

Review coming soon.

★★★

Midnight (1981)

...aka: Backwoods Massacre

Directed by:
John A. Russo

Review coming soon.

★★

Monkey Shines (1988)

...aka: Ella
...aka: Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear

Directed by:
George A. Romero

Review coming soon.

★★

Monster Club, The (1980)

Directed by:
Roy Ward Baker

Review coming soon.

★★1/2

Magia nuda (1975)

...aka: Mondo magic
...aka: Naked Magic
...aka: Shocking Cannibals

Directed by:
Alfredo Castiglioni
Angelo Castiglioni
Guido Guerrasio

Review coming soon.

★★1/2

Monster Squad, The (1987)

Directed by:
Fred Dekker

Review coming soon.

★★1/2

Moon in Scorpio (1986)

Directed by:
Gary Graver

Review coming soon.

Score: 2 out of 10

Moon Trap (1989)

...aka: Moontrap

Directed by:
Robert Dyke

Review coming soon.

1/2

Motel Hell (1980)

Directed by:
Kevin Connor

Review coming soon.

★★1/2

Mother's Day (1980)

Directed by:
Charles Kaufman

Three former college roommates (Nancy Hendrickson, Tiana Pierce and Deborah Luce) reunite for an annual camping trip out in the sticks and reminisce about their long-gone college days, which are shown in comic flashbacks. Then, two mother-obsessed, deranged brothers; Ike ("Holden McGuire"/ Frederick Coffin) and Addley ("Billy Ray McQuade"/ Michael McCleery) attack them, drag them back to their isolated house in their sleeping bags, beat them and tie them up. One of the girls is taken outside, dressed like Shirley Temple, raped and beaten unconscious while the other brother takes pictures and the equally disturbed mother ("Rose Ross"/ Beatrice Pons) encourages them and laughs with glee. The next day, the three girls manage to escape into the woods, but the injured one dies and the two survivors vow to get revenge on their attackers and head back to the house for a blood-soaked finale. The colorful, over-the-top and somewhat inventive gore effects include a hammer to the crotch, a decapitation (complete with a blood squirting torso), a TV-to-the-head electrocution, electric carving knife attack and Drano poured down the throat.
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Just like the majority of Troma's output, it's pretty tasteless (which can certainly be a plus depending on the viewer) and often annoying, but entertaining and creative enough to merit a view, with some successful attempts at satire and jabs at our commercialized world that, naturally, most well-touted critics seemed to overlook in their scathing reviews. The female leads are also a bit more fleshed out than usual for this type of film. The director is the brother of Troma head honcho Lloyd Kaufman, who was the associate producer of the film. Their sister Susan was the production designer and their father Stanley even gets in on the action, appearing in a small role during a pool party scene. Some of the locations were the same ones used in the original FRIDAY THE 13TH. In fact, the films were being made at the exact same time, just on opposite ends of the New Jersey lake.
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Darren Lynn Bousman (the guy behind the SAW sequels and REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA - which I hated, by the way) is working on a remake as we speak.

★★1/2

Munchies (1987)

Directed by:
Bettina Hirsch

Review coming soon.

1/2

Mio caro assassino (1971)

...aka: My Dear Killer

Directed by:
Tonino Valerii

Good Spanish/Italian supporting cast is the highlight of this tolerable, but thoroughly unexceptional giallo. Opening with a true showstopper as an insurance investigator is decapitated with a piece of heavy machinery, this details an investigation into the death of a young girl. The killer keeps on killin' to conceal the crime. George Hilton coasts through his role as the head detective with a bare minimum of interest. Patty Shepard shows up briefly as a schoolteacher, and is given the bloodiest death scene. A bit on the tedious side and slips into the routine much of the time.

★★

Ms. 45 (1981)

...aka: Angel of Vengeance

Directed by:
Abel Ferrara

Review coming soon.

★★★1/2

Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, A (1989)

Directed by:
Stephen Hopkins

The Freddy saga was seriously starting to show his age by this point as the series took a shift in a decidedly bad direction. Part 5 is more gimmicky, more self conscious and more dependent on special effects than any previous entry. It's also drearier and more tiresome than the other four films. Lisa Wilcox reprises her role as Alice from Part 4. She's now pregnant (her boyfriend from the pervious film biting the dust early on here) and more people begin to die when Freddy (Robert Englund) starts using the dreams of her unborn child to kill off her friends. I don't know if this was intentional on the part of script writer Leslie Bohem or not, but the movie has a definite Pro Life stance; Alice learns fairly early on what Krueger is doing but decides to keep her unborn child anyway and her circle of friends end up dying because of it; getting picked off in various ghastly ways that include being turned into a motorcycle, getting force-fed to death and even getting slashed to ribbons after being sucked into a comic book world to do battle with Freddy. So basically many innocent people die because Alice is insistent on not aborting the one baby, which is a questionable story point not very well thought out by the writer of this film.

However, the special effects and production design are both very good, even though the body count is surprisingly low and one of the better dream sequences is an almost direct copy of the M.C. Escher sequence in the first HELLRAISER sequel. The story itself plays out like a lame after school special and fails to draw you in or make you care about what happens between the fx scenes. More Freddy mythology about his ghostly nun mother and his conception are added to needlessly complicate things and there's a highly annoying open ending that sets up the next sequel; FREDDY'S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE (1991), which turned out to be even worse than this one. Sad to say The Dream Child is only worth the effort if you are a die hard fan of the series. Otherwise, you might be best off to make a trilogy out of the original, Part 3 and the clever, underrated NEW NIGHTMARE (1994), which are easily the three superior Elm Street films, and call it a night.
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Danny Hassel (Alice's boyfriend) and Nicholas Mele (Alice's dad) return from Part 4 and the cast also includes Kelly Jo Minter, Erika Anderson, Whitby Hertford as the dream child, Beatrice Boepple as Freddy's mom, Burr DeBenning, Clarence Felder, Matt Borlenghi, Ted Nugent, Michael Bailey Smith (from the HILLS HAVE EYES remake) and Wally George as himself.

1/2

La settima donna (1978)

... aka: Last House at the Beach, The
... aka: Seventh Woman, The
... aka: Terror

Directed by:
Franco Prosperi

The 1972 shocker The Last House on the Left (itself "inspired" by Bergman's 1960 Best Foreign Film Oscar-winner The Virgin Spring) was such a popular and notorious film during its day that it spawned a whole slew of wannabes, impostors and imitators, particularly in Europe. Some of these movies were actually rip-offs, while others merely tried to cash in on the familiar title but actually had little else in common with Craven's film. At one point, distributors even tried to pass off Bava's Reazione a catena (aka Bay of Blood), filmed a year before Craven's film, as a sequel! There was also the psycho road thriller "Hitch Hike: Last House on the Left" (better known as simply HITCH HIKE), "The New House on the Left" (aka Night Train Murders), House on the Edge of the Park (1980), LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET (1977), TERROR EXPRESS (1979) and many others. The formula was pretty simple - have a group of criminals / thugs / killers / psychos take a random group of people (normally women) hostage and proceed to humiliate, abuse, terrorize, rape and / or kill some of them off before allowing the survivors to turn the tables on their attackers and get revenge... or let someone else do it for them. And that brings us to director Franco Prosperi's 1978 cash-in Last House on the Beach, which was originally filmed as La settima donna ("The Seventh Woman") and was also released under the more generic title Terror. It follows the above formula pace-for-pace, plot-point-for-plot-point and though it's watchable for the most part, it brings absolutely nothing new or all that interesting to this subgenre.

Florinda Bolkan (who is too talented to be appearing in rip-offs such as this one) stars as Cristina, a teacher and sister-of-the-cloth who is spending an extended weekend at a remote beach house preparing for a Shakespeare performance with five female students. Elsewhere, three thugs; Aldo (Ray Lovelock), Walter (Flavio Andreini) and Nino (Stefano Cedrati), have just robbed a bank and left several dead bodies in their wake. They end up needing a place to hide out for a few days and stumble upon the beach house, where they quickly murder the maid (with an iron to the head) and take Cristina and her nubile students hostage. From then on out, the films plays out basically as a series of sexual humiliations, gropings, beatings, attempted rapes and actual rapes. The captors do such nice things as making Cristina strip and change into her nun's habit in front of her students, sticking their hands down the girls panties to see if they're still virgins and forcing Cristina to watch one of her students get bent over and raped (in slow motion, no less). The guys finally send Cristina over the edge when they rape one of the more "troublesome" - though still virginal - girls, Eliza (Sherry Buchanan), to death with a cane. The final revenge exacted by the surviving women is almost as bland as it is predictable.

Though numerous scenarios play out in an unpleasant way, the film isn't nearly as harrowing or impactful as it should have been. One reason is the stereotypical obnoxious portrayal of the three bad guys, which is so frequently over-the-top and one-dimensionally sleazy that it detracts from the overall realism of the film. Another is the portrayal of the anonymous wide-eyed schoolgirls, who aren't allowed even a glimpse of individual personality. These are simply evil oversexed bad guys versus virginal cowering good girls of the cardboard cut-out variety that don't make one care much either way about what's going on to whom at any given time. Bolkan helps out the best she can. She's the type of actress who is able to convey a lot in a subtle, quiet way - minus the hysterics - and she did a fair job contrasting the obnoxious male attackers.

So while this film is basically a lesser copy of something better (and even sits in the shadow of some of the other lesser imitations), it's still fairly well-scored and photographed for what it is. The beach house itself is a pretty good setting, and there's enough nudity, sleaze and sexual violence directed toward underage-looking teenage girls for those wanting to see that. Personally though, I can't say that I was all that impressed. There aren't very many suspenseful or thrilling moments, just lots of tedious attacks scenes leading to a predictable and ho-hum finale.

Laura Trotter (Nightmare City), "Annaluisa Pesce" / Luisa Maneri (Body Count) and Isabel Pisano (Trauma) co-star. Lovelock also contributed a song to the soundtrack.

★★

Terror, The (1963)

...aka: Castle of Terror, The
...aka: Haunting, The
...aka: Lady of the Shadows

Directed by:
Roger Corman
Francis Ford Coppola (uncredited)
Monte Hellman (uncredited)
Jack Hill (uncredited)
Dennis Jakob (uncredited)
Jack Nicholson (uncredited)

Yes, it's the legendary film shot in just a couple of days (either 2 1/2 to 4 depending on your source) on leftover sets from THE RAVEN and THE HAUNTED PALACE and with Boris Karloff still under contract for two days work for director/producer Roger Corman. The so-called "plot" (devised by writers Jack Hill and Leo Gordon, which I strongly suspect was made up as they went along) involve one of Napoleon's lost soldiers, Lt. Andre Duvalier (a badly miscast Jack Nicholson, giving a performance nothing short of terrible) chasing down a beautiful, ghostly woman he sees on a beach (played by Jack's then-pregnant former wife Sandra Knight) to the castle home an insane Baron von Leppe (Karloff); the mysterious woman's supposed husband. Corman regulars Dick Miller (as Leppe's manservant Stephan) and Jonathan Haze (as Gustan the hermit) show up to contribute to the confusion. Legend has it that up to five other directors (Francis Ford Coppola, Monte Hellman, Hill, Dennis Jacob and even Nicholson himself) worked uncredited and shot separate scenes for this extremely disjointed but somewhat interesting little film. That it is able to muster up some genuine atmosphere (especially scenes shot along the California coastline) is a testament to the Corman stable’s underrated talent, though the film is mostly enjoyed now as a curio item for film buffs.

That same year, Corman employed Coppola to write and direct a PSYCHO derivation in Ireland (DEMENTIA 13), which became a cult item itself. Scenes (and outtakes) from THE TERROR have been reused many times in other Corman productions, most notably as the film screened at the drive-in in Peter Bogdanovich’s debut feature TARGETS (1968), also with Boris in a starring role. Director Jim Wynorski also cleverly inserted a scene of Karloff into his amusing 1989 horror spoof TRANSYLVANIA TWIST.

★★

10 to Midnight (1983)

...aka: Ten to Midnight

Directed by:
J. Lee Thompson

We’ve all seen numerous 80s teen sex comedies featuring streaking. Here’s an 80s psycho-horror-thriller about streaking sex killer. He (Gene Davis) is stalking, raping and murdering young ladies on a California college campus. The culprit is evident to L.A. cops, but the psycho is intelligent enough to avoid leaving behind any evidence, so tough police lieutenant Leo Kessler (Charles Bronson) helps in planting evidence so he’ll be arrested. At trial, the case is thrown out, the nut is set free and Bronson is kicked off the force. But when his coed daughter (Lisa Eilbacher) becomes a target, Bronson must step back into action, go the DEATH WISH route and track down and eliminate the killer on his own. Despite the content (which was influenced by both American serial killer Richard Speck and the Thames River Killer investigation in the UK), it’s only a very slight deviation from the norm for the star (by genre, not character). Livened up a tad by a pretty good cast and a larger-than-usual amount of nudity (both male and female).

With Andrew Stevens (a long-time exploitation actor who went on to a successful career as a producer) as the daughter's boyfriend, Geoffrey Lewis, Wilford Brimley as a police captain, Robert F. Lyons (who played a psycho in 1971's THE TODD KILLINGS) , Ola Ray (a former Playboy Playmate who is best known as the girl in Michael Jackson's Thriller video), Kelly Preston (aka Mrs. John Travolta), Jeana Tomasina (another Playboy model who'd later show up with a few extra pounds on the reality show The Real Housewives of Orange County), Jeane Manson (the third featured Playmate who went on to a huge singing career, selling over 20 million albums worldwide), future director Deran Sarafian (ALIEN PREDATORS, TO DIE FOR), Anne Lockhart (daughter of June) as a victim and some other familiar faces.

★★
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