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 13, 2009

Fade to Black (1980)

Directed by:
Vernon Zimmerman

Closed-off, movie-obsessed geek Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher), who does errand work at a film studio, is frequently ridiculed by his co-workers (including Mickey Rourke in an early role) and lives with his cruel, wheelchair-bound, domineering aunt (Eve Brent), goes off the deep end and starts murdering people. The novelty here is that he dresses up as his favorite screen villains (movie monsters, gangsters, etc.) and adapts their personalities to do the dirty work. The premise itself is great, but the film is half-baked and badly scripted, with the combination of horror, classic film references and bizarre humor not exactly a seamless one. The film also completely lacks suspense and tension. Some of the murder scenes are unnecessarily intercut with footage from the films (which include NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and HORROR OF DRACULA) our killer is imitating and the homages themselves (THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, PSYCHO, etc.) are normally too obvious to spark much interest. Christopher (who had just appeared in the hit BREAKING AWAY) is unfortunately rather whiny and annoying (not to mention unsympathetic) in the lead, but some of the supporting players are fine, particularly Linda Kerridge, whose bright presence as a Marilyn Monroe-esque aspiring model nearly lifts this out of the muck. But not quite.
.
Also with Tim Thomerson as a criminal psychologist, Gwynne Gilford as his partner, James Luisi as a cop, Norman Burton, Morgan Paull, Peter Horton and John Steadman (THE HILLS HAVE EYES).

★★

Flavia, la monaca musulmana (1974)

...aka: Flavia: Heretic Priestess
...aka: Flavia, Priestess of Violence
...aka: Flavia the Heretic
...aka: Flavia the Rebel Nun
...aka: Muslim Nun, The
...aka: Rebel Nun, The

Directed by:
Gianfranco Mingozzi

Review coming soon.

★★

First Power, The (1990)

...aka: Pentagram
...aka: Possessed
...aka: Possessed by Evil
...aka: Transit

Directed by:
Robert Resnikoff

Review coming soon.

★★

Firestarter (1984)

Directed by:
Mark L. Lester

Review coming soon.

★★

Final Exam (1981)

Directed by:
Jimmy Huston

Is this an exposé on how juvenile mentality, hazing insensitivity and substance abuse plague college campuses around the country? Actually, no it’s not. It’s just a terrible slasher film about bunch of worthless, blabbermouth college kids sitting around and behaving brain dead for about an hour before the director shows us some mercy by throwing a psychotic killer into the mix. Only the most dedicated of slasher fans will have the patience to endure this notoriously boring exercise in repeat false alarms, college hijinks, endless talk that amounts to nothing and dull, gore-free murders from a motiveless and identity-free killer.

Score: 2 out of 10

Flowers in the Attic (1986)

Directed by:
Jeffrey Bloom

Review coming soon.

1/2

Fly II, The (1989)

Directed by:
Chris Walas

Review coming soon.

1/2

Fog, The (1980)

...aka: John Carpenter's The Fog

Directed by:
John Carpenter

Review coming soon.

★★

Giomata nera per l'ariete (1971)

...aka: Evil Fingers
...aka: Fifth Cord, The

Directed by:
Luigi Bazzoni

All in all, this is a well-done and very visually engaging mystery, putting Franco Nero (playing a lady-friendly, hard-drinking newspaper reporter) center stage for a string of brutal murders. For starters, I'll come right out of the gate and say this has some of the best camerawork (by Vittorio Storaro) I've seen in this particular genre. It might actually be the best from a non-Bava or Argento film; quirky, distinctive, highly stylized and sometimes downright exhilarating. There are a lot of tracking shots used, the night scenes are handsomely shot and there are some really well done killer POV shots that look similar to the ones used in BLACK CHRISTMAS, which possess a kind of almost floating feel. The use of color might be bolder elsewhere and though it's more discreetly used here, it's still used well. In addition, it's sharply edited (smoother and not nearly as jagged as many of the other Italian horrors I've seen from this era), there's a great Ennio Morricone score and good use is made of sound/music cues. I also liked the cast more than usual. Nero might not be the most likeable or sympathetic lead for one of these films, but he's much more interesting to watch than the flagrantly bland George Hilton. Many of the ladies (especially Agostina Belli and Silvia Monti) are gorgeous and they even throw in a few good looking guys for more universal sex appeal. You also get roles played by German krimni star Wolfgang Preiss, Edmund (PIECES) Purdom, Rossella (SLEEPLESS) Falk, giallo regular Renato Romano, Ira von Fürstenberg (from Bava's FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON) and many other familiar Euro-horror faces.
.
Now the film does lack blood. There's a bit, but not much on the whole. However, most of the murder scenes are well staged and brutal enough that they don't actually need it. Said red stuff usually looks like bright red paint anyway, so I personally didn't even miss seeing it here. The storyline is basically what's to be expected with the genre, with the usual twists, turns, red herrings, secretly linked characters, etc. Regardless, it's well paced and certainly no worse than other films it's frequently categorized with. The film also manages to come to a sensible conclusion instead of completely pulling the rug out from under our feet in a way that insults our intelligence.

I've never even heard of director Bazzoni before viewing this, but his direction suggests that he probably should have had a more substantial career than what he did. A look at his filmography reveals just a handful of credits despite winning an award at Cannes for his film debut in the early 60s. However, he did do what some call a "proto giallo" called LA DONNA DEL LAGO (1965 aka THE POSSESSED aka THE LADY OF THE LAKE) that I have seen praised by many who have seen it. One even said it has a VAMPYR-like atmosphere. He also made something called FOOTPRINTS (aka PRIMAL IMPULSE) that sounds really interesting. I'll definitely try to track these two down and look forward to them based on what I've seen here.

★★★

Fiend (1980)

...aka: Deadly Neighbor

Directed by:
Don Dohler

Review coming soon.

★★

Fatal Attraction (1987)

...aka: Affairs of the Heart
...aka: Diversion
...aka: Lethal Attraction

Directed by:
Adrian Lyne

Michael Douglas stars as a happily (?) married businessman with a young daughter, who has a weekend fling with mysterious blonde Alex (Glenn Close). They have sex in her apartment and in an elevator, then when he tries to call things off he realizes she's a little needier than he'd first anticipated. Well actually, she's batshit crazy, won't take no for an answer and begins to terrorize both him and his family. She breaks into their house, boils the pet rabbit (which led to the frequently used "bunny boiler" phrase to describe an obsessive woman), makes him a really nasty tape, pretends like she's pregnant and abducts the daughter and takes her to an amusement park to scare her. It's well-acted (especially by Close) and, along with BASIC INSTINCT (1992), the most likely inspiration for a slew of erotic thrillers that started coming out like mad in the early 90s.
.
The original, subtler ending (which featured Close's character killing herself and then trying to frame Douglas for the "murder") was hated by preview audiences, so a much more violent conclusion was filmed for theaters. That helped turn the film into a huge hit. In fact, it was the second highest grossing film of its year. If you're interested in seeing the original ending, it's an extra feature on the Director's Cut release, which includes both endings as well an interview with the director and cast screen tests. Close joins a very small group of women nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for being in a horror movie. Anne Archer was also Oscar-nominated for her performance as the wife, as was the film, director Lyne and screen-writer James Dearden (who based this on a short he'd already filmed in 1980 called DIVERSION). Douglas more of less reprised his role here (a man tormented by a sexy younger woman) in BASIC INSTINCT, DISCLOSURE and several other films. Stuart Pankin, Fred Gwynne and Lois Smith co-star.

★★1/2

Friday the 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)

Directed by:
Rob Hedden

Even though I personally consider this one of the better entries in the series, I completely understand why it rubs many FRIDAY fans the wrong way. In some regards, it's a break from formula, which I view as being a break in familiarity - to me, a good thing. Sure at its core it's the same old same old, but this entry moves the menace from the woodsy Crystal Lake area to new locations for the very first time, includes more comedy than usual and actually has less on-screen blood than what fans have been accustomed to. So why did I like it? In part because of the location change, but mostly because it's technically superior to any of the seven earlier films, with direction that's much smoother and more imaginative than what we've seen previously. Not content with the simple point-and-shoot camerawork of the other films, director Hedden, his editor and his cinematographer set up some very nice shots and scene transitions here, which is evident right from the opening credits. After a collage of NYC street life, the camera bobs up and down in New York Harbor, getting a glimpse of the Statue or Liberty, before being completely submerged in the water. When it surfaces again, the location has changed to Camp Crystal Lake, where two teens are about to meet Mr. Voorhees for the very first time. This sequence, as well as many other instances in this film (a POV from a blood-stained window, a victim's scream echoing up through a pipe, etc.) show a bit more flair than usual.

Another aspect that gets frequently criticized is Jason's ability to "teleport" from location to location. Personally, this didn't bother me in the least. After all, we're talking about some undead killer here who has already been axed to the head, hung, brained by a machete, drowned, blown up, struck by lightning and sliced, diced and chopped seven ways to Sunday, so is it really that hard to swallow him as being some kind of supernatural or ghost-like being who can basically do whatever the hell he wants? I can't imagine being too caught up on the details of a franchise that requires so much suspension of disbelief in the first place. In other words, why is a zombie-like killer any easier to swallow than a ghost-like killer? In my estimation, it's not, but again I can see why series fans disliked this change.

With all that said, it's basically business as usual, as Jason (Kane Hodder again) stows away on a cruise ship taking graduating high school students to New York City for their senior trip. The luxury ship, complete with a sauna, a dance floor, a below-deck power room, etc., provides Jason with a good enough arsenal of weapons. A girl gets smacked upside the head with a guitar, a guy gets a sauna rock thrust into his chest, the resident bitch queen gets stabbed with a shard of glass after a shower and others are impaled, strangled, stabbed, you name it. This goes on for about an hour, until just about everyone is dead and the ship starts to sink. Five people (including our heroine, who is haunted by a childhood Jason encounter) manage to survive, board an emergency boat and row to New York City. Guess who shows up? The Manhattan scenes are actually really fun and amusing; though the misleading advertising and the title would lead you to think more of the movie had taken place there.

So far four more Friday films have been made - JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY (1993) would add needless complication to a series that really needs none, JASON X (2001) featured a cryogenically frozen Jason thawing out for a slaughter in space, FREDDY VS. JASON (2003) found Jason and Freddy teaming up (at least for a short time), and the 2009 "reboot" would pinch ideas from the first four films in the franchise, yet came across as yet another sequel. In fact, I preferred all eight of the original films to the latest installment.
.
Jensen Daggett stars as troubled heroine Rennie, along with soap star Scott Reeves, Barbara Bingham as a compassionate teacher, Peter Mark Richman as the asshole high school principal (and Rennie's stepdad), Martin Cummins (TV's Poltergeist: The Legacy), Sharlene Martin, Kelly Hu, V.C. Dupree as a boxer, Gordon Currie (who'd later star in the underrated vampire film BLOOD & DONUTS), Alex Diakun and Warren Munson. Ken Kirzinger, who'd nab the Jason role from Hodder in 2003, makes an uncredited appearance as a diner cook who gets thrown into a mirror.

★★1/2

Fall X701, Der (1964)

...aka: Frozen Alive
...aka: Human Factor

Directed by:
Bernard Knowles

A man in suspended animation is blamed when a madman offs his wife and then seeks out new victims. There’s very little horror content here, despite the title and advertising campaign, and it’s talky, talky, talky… But surprisingly enough, the story keeps you fairly interested and the acting is good.

★★

Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood (1988)

Directed by:
John Carl Buechler

The popular, money-making slasher series continues with Lar Park Lincoln (possibly the best leading actress in all these films) as Tina Shepard, a troubled blonde with telekinetic abilities (she can move things with her mind a la CARRIE), who is trying to come to grips with her powers with help from her mother Amanda (Susan Blu) and psychiatrist Dr. Crews (Terry Kiser). As a young girl, Tina caused the death of her abusive father, so her shrink has suggested she come back to Crystal Lake in hopes that forcing her face her past will help her overcome the trauma. At least that what he claims. Instead, Tina accidentally uses her powers to release Jason (Kane Hodder) from his underwater grave. Thankfully Mr. Voorhees finds plenty to do as a large group of young people have just rented a nearby cabin to host a birthday party. Included in that group are hunky nice guy Nick (Kevin Blair), mega-bitch Melissa (Susan Jennifer Sullivan), nerdy Sci-fi writer David (Jon Renfield), sexy Robin (Elizabeth Kaitan) and her frumpy best friend Maddy (Diana Barrows) - who are both vying for the attention of annoying stoner Eddie (Jeff Bennett), snobby yuppie couple Sandra and Russell (Heidi Kozak and Larry Cox) and bickering black couple Kate and Ben (Diane Almeida and Craig Thomas).
.
So then, you want the scoop on the gore scenes? We have a decapitation, a hand thrust through a chest, a party horn stuck in an eyeball, an axe to the face (twice), a drowning, a body thrown out a window, a head crushed, a chest sawed open and, the best murder, well I won't ruin it by saying it involves a sleeping bag and a tree, but it's a hoot. The Jason design itself is excellent (this is probably the best that Jason has ever looked) and the gore FX are also very good, but unfortunately the majority of them ended up on the cutting room floor as the censors came down particularly hard on this entry. You can get a good idea of the exact damage done by checking out the extras portion on the DVD release, which shows that nearly every murder scene has been trimmed. In fact, Scream Queen Kaitan's entire murder scene had to be changed to reduce the carnage. Chances are, if these gore scenes had been passed as filmed, this entry would have a better reputation than it does. The show-down between Tina and Jason at the end is well done, though how she ultimately puts Jason down is pretty pathetic.

Aside from the telekinetic angle, this is still business as usual, though it does boast a decent and nice-looking cast. This was Hodder's first of four appearances as Jason and he would go on to become the only actor who played Jason to receive a little fame for this thankless role. Part 7 was also the number one box office draw at movie theaters the week it debuted. Director Buechler is best known as a special effects artist. Future writer and director William Butler has a small role as the unlucky birthday boy and Walter Gorney (Crazy Ralph from the first two in the series) narrates the opening recap.

Score: 4.5 out of 10
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...