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.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ugetsu monogatari (1953)

...aka: Tales of a Pale and Mysterious Moon After the Rain
...aka: Tales of Ugetsu
...aka: Ugetsu

Directed by:
Kenji Mizoguchi

Review coming soon.

★★★1/2

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Entity, The (1981)

Directed by:
Sidney J. Furie

Review coming soon.

★★

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Xie (1980)

...aka: Che
...aka: Evil
...aka: Hex

Directed by:
Chih-Hung Kuei

Chun Yu Yeung (Wang Jung aka Wong Yung) is a sadistic bastard. Bitter because he married into the wealthy Chan family during a period of financial decline, Chun Yu treats his poor wife, Madam Sau Ying (Tanny aka Tien Ni), like a dog. He beats her, berates her and spends all her family money on booze, gambling and prostitutes. He's also driven away all of the hired help by treating them badly, which especially sucks for Sau Ying because she's stricken down by a lung infection and could use the extra help. As she sinks into a depression, Sau Ying finds an unsuspecting ally in Yi Wah (Szu Chia Chen), a determined young woman whose mother was the Chan family maid years ago. Yi Wah, who initially stopped in just to visit, sees Sau Ying is desperate for help and decides to take on servant responsibilities. She's subjected to torment from her new master, but stands her ground and refuses to let him bully her.
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One stormy night, Chun Yu threatens to sell his wife's precious jade bracelet (a family heirloom) and at the end of the fight, the ladies end up drowing Chun Yu. They dump his body in a nearby lake and decide to go about their business. Sau Ying is tormented by nightmares about her dead husband returning to life. A foul smell leads the villagers to drain the lake, but Chun Yu's body is nowhere to be found. Any of this sound familiar? Yep, the entire first half of this film is basically an overwrought exact replica of the French suspense class LES DIABOLIQUES (1955). Once you realize that, it should come as no surprise to discover that Chun Yu and the new maid are actually conspiring to drive the wife mad to get their hands on her money. Their plan works, Sau Ying dies and then her murderers spend the second half being haunted by their victim.

Despite a rough start, things do get enjoyably strange and frenetic during the second half when Madam's vengeful ghost shows up. She scolds men trying to burn her furniture, kills a bird and shows up as a skull-faced apparition spewing blood. During the finale, a completely nude woman with super-long red fingernails does some crazy exorcism dance that goes on for longer than five minutes while some old female mystic beats her with a shoe and spits "black dog's blood" on her! There's also nude body painting, a decapitated talking head, a reanimated crawling hand, a real snake getting chopped up with a cleaver, a guy being beat to death with a stick and ears being ripped off. Toward the end, you might notice a few ideas were pinched from KWAIDAN (1964) and, while nothing great, this Shaw Brothers production is fairly entertaining, lively and colorful, and the whole thing looks pretty good.

The DVD is from Intercontinental Video. A pretty straight genre feature, it was followed by two unrelated comic horror sequels: HEX VS. WITCHCRAFT (1980) and HEX AFTER HEX (1982).
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★★1/2

Friday, March 19, 2010

House That Cried Murder, The (1973)

...aka: Bride, The
...aka: No Way Out
...aka: Scream

Directed by:
Jean-Marie Pélissié

Barbara (Robin Strasser) has been spoiled rotten by her rich Daddy (John Beal). He's even recently given her enough money to design and build her own shingle-covered, Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired dream home out in the country. Barbara's in love with handsome but arrogant David (Arthur Roberts) and even though David works for her father and does good work for her father's firm, Barb's pop doesn't approve of them being together. He seems to have his reasons, but finally caves in and lets his daughter marry him against his better judgment because what bratty Barbara wants bratty Barbara gets. Turns out, Daddy was right. Immediately after Barbara and David tie the knot, and I mean immediately after (during the wedding reception!), David sneaks upstairs to mess around with his former girlfriend Helen (Iva Jean Saraceni). Barbara walks in on them, freaks out, grabs a pair of scissors, stabs David in the arm, marches outside covered in blood, laughs insanely before her wedding guests and them drives off in her car.

Several weeks pass and Barbara is nowhere to be found. David is surprised that her father hasn't fired him yet and wants to meet him for a drink. There, his father-in-law alludes to the fact that he may have pissed off the wrong woman. Apparently, as a child Barbara used to lock herself in her bedroom for long periods of time, had a cruel streak and at one point slowly cut a chicken's head off! David returns home, where he's shacking up with his lover, and then strange things begin to happen, starting with bizarre phone calls from a woman claiming to be David's answering service. While David is at work one day, Helen is tormented by an unseen figure who leaves behind a chicken head on her pillow and frightens her with a skeleton dummy prop. She immediately packs her bags and takes off, leading David all alone to venture into the kooky house that Barbara built.

This one has slipped between the cracks over the years; undeservedly so for the most part. It's a pretty neat and mostly satisfying little thriller that benefits from decent performances, a spooky music score, a standout nightmare scene full of weird camera angles and distorted sounds, several well-directed horror sequences and a clever finale that's as hilarious as it is eerie. The major problem with this one is that the current available prints (both Brentwood's release THE BRIDE and the UK release NO WAY OUT) are in ghastly condition and cut by around 12 minutes. Still, even in butchered form, this is worth a look.

Producer and co-writer John Grissmer would go on to make SCALPEL (1976) and the slasher BLOOD RAGE (1982). Lead actress Strasser is a popular and well-known soap opera star, who has played Dorian Lord on One Life to Live ever since 1979. Beal (who passed away in 1997) had the lead role in 1957's THE VAMPIRE and also played a supporting role in AMITYVILLE 3 (1983). Roberts - making his film debut here - would go on to become a 'B'/exploitation film regular, beginning with his turn as the alien-vampire in Jim Wynorski's remake of NOT OF THIS EARTH (1988).

★★1/2

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Non aver paura della zia Marta (1988)

... aka: Broken Mirror, The
... aka: Don't Be Afraid of Aunt Martha
... aka: Murder Secret, The
... aka: Non aver paura della zia Marta - The Broken Mirror

Directed by:
Mario Bianchi

Lucio Fulci Presents yet another middling low-budget Italian horror-gore flick without much to recommend it. Little Richard Hamilton is traumatized when his mother (Anna Maria Placido) jumps to her death from a window immediately after visiting his deranged Aunt Martha (Sacha Darwin) in a nuthouse. Thirty years pass and adult Richard (Gabriele Tinti) receives an invitation from his estranged aunt, who has finally been released from the St. George Mental Health Clinic and would like for her nephew to visit. Richard packs up his stuff and decides to take his family; wife Nora (Adriana Russo), teenage daughter Georgia (Jessica Moore) and young prankster son Maurice, along. His older son Charles decides to meet them all there later. Once they arrive, Aunt Martha is nowhere to be found, but a suspiciously friendly "caretaker" named Thomas (Maurice Poli) lets them know she'll be along eventually. In the meantime, they're advised not to enter a certain room that Martha keeps locked.


By the next day, dear auntie still hasn't arrived. Instead, a gloved psycho pops in to say "Hey!" and starts hacking his or her way through the family. Mom goes into town to do some shopping and dad takes a walk, leaving Georgia all alone to face a bloody Psycho shower stabbing. Young Maurice gets decapitated with a chainsaw and, when mom finally returns, her head gets lopped off with one slam of a wooden trunk lid. Richard stumbles onto a secret cemetery with five tombstones already brandishing the names of his family members. When he returns home the shocking (not really) family secret to what's going on is finally revealed.

Though not incompetently made, this film suffers from three major problems. First, the dubbing and dialogue are both horrendous. That probably won't bother the Euro-horror target audience in the least, but I figured I'd point it out, anyway. Second, it takes forever to rev up. Almost an hour has passed before a drop of blood has been spilled and the film does little to keep our interest in the meantime. Finally, the whole shebang is too predictable. The mystery killer's identity couldn't be any more obvious and the motive is uninteresting. The film also tries to wedge in some supernatural ghost / haunting stuff at times but it doesn't work at all. On the plus side, the gory moments are alright. I liked seeing a little kid suddenly getting his head chainsawed off. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I'm a sick-o, but that mean-spirited stuff puts a smile on my face.


Lead actor Tinti was married to Emanuelle series star Laura Gemser and appeared in all manner of exploitation and horror films from the early 50s until his death in 1991. Some older viewers may remember those days in the 80s and early 90s when cable channels used to import much of their erotica from Europe. Two of the more popular titles during this time were Eleven Days, Eleven Nights (1986) and Top Model (1988), both of which starred the busty Moore (who sheds her clothes twice in this one). Poli and Darwin both put in appearances in Fulci's gory black comedy TOUCH OF DEATH in 1988. Speaking of Fulci, he was a producer and "supervised" this production. Director Bianchi, a prolific porno director, also made the very sleazy possession flick Satan's Baby Doll (1980).

As far as the Lucio Fulci Presents advertisement tag is concerned, I can't make heads or tails of these movies as a connected series. Some seem to be made for TV, some are theatrical releases (or were meant for theaters but never made it there). Fulci himself serves as director / writer on some of these, but not most. One site I went to claimed the titles in the series are Hell's Gate (1989), MASSACRE (1989), THE RED MONKS (1988) and this one. However, I read an interview where Fulci claimed the series also includes Bloody Psycho (1989) and Escape from Death (1989) as well as three films he himself directed. I'm just... confused. Clips from many of these movies (Murder Secret included) later showed up as filler in Fulci's NIGHTMARE CONCERT (1990).

★★

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Murderock - uccide a passo di danza (1984)

...aka: Danza mortal
...aka: Demon Is Loose, The
...aka: Giallo a disco...aka: Murderock
...aka: Murder Rock Dancing Death...aka: Murder-Rock: Dancing Death

Directed by:
Lucio Fulci

Who knew Fulci could be so glossy? Most of his films from the early 80s are pretty gritty. From his tropical living dead cash-in ZOMBI 2 (1979) to the misogynistic exploits of the THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982), it's all about primitive shock effects shot through a grainy eye. Not so much here. This one's sumptuous, soft-focus and much more polished. It's also quite restrained as far as blood-and-guts are concerned and is one of the director's least violent and least graphic films. Trading off over-the-top splatter for a more professional-looking effort is something that's probably not going to sit well with the majority of Mr. Fulci's fan base. After all, we're talking about a man whose claim to fame rests primarily on images of eyeballs being skewered by splintered wood, internal organs exiting bodies through mouths, razor blades slicing open nipples and ginger girls getting their heads blasted off with shotguns. Murderock is the other side of Fulci. It's him returning to the oft-neglected beginning of his career when he was making less-celebrated giallo thrillers such as A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971) and DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972). Is it as good as either of those? Nope, but it's a passable effort. Passable if you have a high tolerance for 80s tackiness, that is.

The words "cheesy" and "dated" often crop up during discussions of this film and both are apt descriptions of what you'll see here. Fulci claimed in interviews that both the musical numbers and Keith Emerson's cheesy pop/disco/synth music soundtrack were both forced upon him by the film's producer. This results in what is essentially a slasher remake of Flashdance. Sure it sounds God awful, and parts of it are indeed God awful, but it's usually in a good-dumb-fun kind of way. Much of the entertainment value rests in the hilarious choreographed dance routines where leotard-clad ladies get so worked up they're flinging sweat off by the time they're done. And then, of course, they die.

The very attractive Olga Karlatos (aka the gouged-out eyeball chica in Zombi 2) stars as Candice Norman, a troubled dance instructor whipping her young male and female dancers into shape at the Arts for Living Center in New York City. One of her female students decides to stay late and is attacked while taking a shower by a psycho who chloroforms her and then sticks a thin metal pin through her heart. Many more students will die in a similar fashion and everything seems to coincide with the arrival of some producers announcing they'll be accepting only a couple of the students from the school for an upcoming TV series. Is someone wanting to trim the competition to increase their own chances? Or is something else afoot?

You get your typical line-up of suspects. Naturally, any of the students would have reason to kill the others. The first victim's boyfriend, Willy (Christian Borromeo), seems to have a temper and a bad habit of being at the scene of several of the murders before they occurred. Then there's jealous choreographer Margie (Geretta Giancarlo), academy director Dick Gibson (Claudio Cassinelli), who either is sleeping with several of the students or wants to, and Candice herself, who has been plagued by strange nightmares of a man trying to kill her. Even stranger, the man she's been dreaming about turns out to be a real man named George Webb (Ray Lovelock), a hard-drinking, washed up former male model. Candice and George begin seeing one another, but George himself turns out to be connected to the dance academy. One of the chief dancers is his ex-girlfriend. Everything ends with a John Huston quote.

Nice-looking production with a typically convoluted plot and badly written dialogue, a pinch of T&A, a surprisingly low violence quotient and a fair mystery. Karlatos does a very good job with what's handed to her, though the rest of the cast doesn't make much of an impression. Cosimo Cinieri (from Fulci's Manhattan Baby) co-stars as a detective and small roles are played by Robert Gligorov (from Soavi's STAGE FRIGHT) and an uncredited Al Cliver. Fulci himself appears briefly as an agent.

★★

Scream Dream (1989)

Directed by:
Donald Farmer

Like most of Farmer's output, this is very cheap, very badly made, full of continuity errors, padded out with whatever will stretch the running time to about an hour and has terrible amateurish acting. However, it's slightly better than his two previous efforts (the seemingly-unfinished DEMON QUEEN and the enticingly-titled though nearly insufferable CANNIBAL HOOKERS) thanks primarily to second tier 'B' queen Melissa Moore, from Versailles, Kentucky. Though Moore (a blonde, six-foot-tall model) never quite reached the height of fame as some of her Scream Queen sisters, she was one of the most beautiful in her category, a decent actress and had a pretty good ten year run lasting from the late eighties until about the mid-90s, racking up credits in numerous low-budget horror films such as Jim Wynorski's Sorority House Massacre II and HARD TO DIE (both 1990), Vampire Cop (1990; Farmer again), the horror spoof REPOSSESSED (1990) and Mad at the Moon (1992; an arty horror western for director Martin Donovan), among others. Scream Dream is the actresses' first leading role, and all things considered, she acquits herself fairly well here... especially in comparison to the rest of the atrocious cast!


No lame jokes about how cut-throat the music business is, I promise!
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Things begin when a topless chick lying in bed gets chainsawed between her legs in a 'shocking' music video for bitchy heavy metal queen Michelle Shock (Carol Carr). Michelle is rumored to be a devil-worshipper and once word gets to the press that people have been mysteriously disappearing from her concerts and that her music contains subliminal Satanic messages, she's fired from her band. Michelle turns out to be a blood-drinking demoness who's been murdering her fans. In one scene, she goes down on a guy and bites off his dick. She also has some kind of rubbery little mutant hand puppet cat familiar that kills people. Derrick (Nikki Riggins), a bandmate and former lover of Michelle's (who's now dating a jealous girl named Linnea, played by Michelle Uber), stumbles upon her secret and ends up having to kill her with a medieval axe. Strangely, her dismembered hand takes on a life of its own and must also be stabbed. So band manager Lou (Gene Amonette) decides to replace Michelle with up-and-comer Jamie Summers (Moore). Jamie becomes possessed by the scorned Michelle and, in between overlong musical numbers, morphs into a murderous demon-creature with horns and claws.


The horror genre misses Melissa!

Definitely nothing to write home about. There's cheap gore, lots of charmingly dated hair metal from a group called Rikk-O-Shay, a couple of topless scenes and an unexciting, anti-climactic ending. Make-up artist Rick Gonzales (an assistant to Tom Savini on Day of the Dead) contributes a decent demon costume to the works for what it's worth. So what became of Melissa, you ask? She now trains American saddle-bred show horses, has 50 World Championships to her credit, is the owner and manager of Sunrise Stables and was a 2007 Wilhelmina 40+ Model Search finalist. I guess she's no longer acting, but she still looks great and I'd like to see her in film again.


Hide your junk, girlie men!
Tough-to-track down these days, Scream Dream was released to VHS on the American Video label and hasn't been picked up for distribution since. It's so rare that I can't even find a box scan anywhere online. Someone out there hook a brother up!

★1/2

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Descanse en piezas (1987)

...aka: Rest in Pieces

Directed by:
José Ramón Larraz

It doesn't happen too often when one gets both a genuine startle and an unintentional laugh right in the opening scene, but that's exactly what happens here when a corpse lying on a slab suddenly sits up. Yeah, I'll admit it. I jumped. They got me. The fact I hadn't really adjusted my volume beforehand probably didn't help matters, but it's an effective little jump scare. Unfortunately, immediately afterward I found myself laughing when a mortician steps in, dryly states "Chemical reflex... often happens" and then pushes the body back down, complete with a creaky, rusty-door-hinge sound effect. So is this supposed to be a comedy? I mean, the title sure makes it sound like a campy zombie comedy, doesn't it? As far as I could tell, no. There are a couple of black comic moments but for the most part this thing is meant to be taken seriously. And it doesn't work very well thanks to a muddled screenplay and an awful performance from the lead actress.

The corpse belongs to a woman named Catherine Boyle, who is played by screen vet Dorothy Malone. Best known for her Oscar-winning performance in Douglas Sirk's torrid melodrama WRITTEN ON THE WIND (1965) and recurring role on the TV series Peyton Place, Malone doesn't have much to do here. As the film opens she's already dead and about to be cremated. Niece Helen (Lorin Jean Vail) and Helen's tennis pro hubby Bob (Scott Thompson Baker) show up to accept their inheritance. Aunt Catherine videotaped her will (and strychnine-in-the-milk suicide) and leaves everything to Helen despite the fact that she hated her mother. The young couple then move to Catherine's estate "Eight Manors;" which consists of eight large homes, six of which are occupied by auntie's refined older friends. None of them pay any rent and all of them behave rather strangely.
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Soon after moving in, Helen realizes the home is haunted. Cars in the garage take on a life of their own, clothes in a closet move, lights flicker, a piano plays itself and she's tormented by visions of her laughing aunt. After getting some heavy breathing phone calls and almost being drowned in the bathtub by a reanimated shower curtain, Helen finally wants to leave but her husband insists they stay because there's a rumored eight million dollars in cash hidden somewhere on the grounds. The film then seems to completely drop the haunting aspect and focuses instead on the sinister neighbors, who are harboring a secret that involves mass suicide, a mental asylum and reincarnation. It's all confusing, half-assed and doesn't really make much sense. But hey, the bad guys and gals do get to sing "Glory, Glory Hallelujah" and slaughter a string quartet in slow motion, dismember their corpses and dispose of the parts in an oven.
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Leading lady Vail, a dark-eyebrowed blonde, has a very grating and whiny voice but goes topless on at least five different occasions. This movie certainly would have been a little better with a more capable actress playing the part. Otherwise the film is surprisingly well cast. The actors playing the neighbors are all quite good in their roles and the film is at its best when focusing on them. Amongst the actors are the prolific Jack Taylor (an American expatriate character actor who found success in Mexico and Spain) as a blind former musician who carries around a cane with a retractible blade, Jeffrey Segal as a doctor, Patty Shepard (another American who appeared in quite a few Spanish horror productions), Fernando Bilbao, Daniel Katz, Tony Isbert as a grumpy Nazi gardener and Carole James as slutty maid. Still, what in the hell are these people? Ghosts? Zombies? Reincarnated humans? Hell if I could figure it all out.

★1/2
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