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, July 9, 2011

Fatal Pulse (1987)

... aka: Killer's Run

Directed by:
Anthony J. Christopher


Here's a sleazy lil' slasher for ya. Just how sleazy is it? It's so sleazy that if the all-female victims don't happen to be showering or changing clothing seconds before being murdered, the killer does us a favor by ripping off, or simply lifting up, their tops for us. Thanks pal! And it happens no less than six times here so it almost becomes a running joke after awhile. The entire film runs on what some refer to as 'slasher logic.' In other words, if people behave in a preposterous, nonsensical way, then we the viewer are supposed to overlook that. You know, because slasher movies (like their forefather, the Italian giallo) aren't about sense and logic; they're about creative bloodshed, trash, flash, style, body count and/or absurd, out-of-left-field twist revelations about the killer. And while FATAL PULSE does actually deliver on some of the above (primarily the 'trash' aspect), it's still not any good.

Immediately after getting into a fight with her amazingly monotone boyfriend Jeff (Ken Roberts) cause he won't put out, buxom Stephanie (played by Kitty... just Kitty) is strangled to death with her silk stockings by a black-gloved psycho. Jeff becomes prime suspect in this murder, and in the string of murders that will follow. Thankfully, Jeff's ex-girlfriend Lisa (the gorgeous Michelle McCormick), who also happens to live in the same sorority house where Stephanie bit it, is up to the task of helping him prove his innocence and eventually attempts to trap the killer. While those two try to find out what's going on, more women are killed in a rapid succession. Strangely, the murders aren't enough to actually drive a single one of the ladies out of the home. And neither does voyeuristic 'Nam vet Ernie, who spends his time twitching, crying, hiding in the shadows and peeping in windows. How many sorority houses do you know of where the creepy male owner actually lives in the home with the girls? As a side note, Ernie is played by "Joe Phelan," who eventually stopped caring about soiling the family name and began using his birth name Joe Estevez for future cheap-o horror flicks.

Ernie and Jeff aren't the only suspects. There's also the strange-acting, deep-voiced Professor Caldwell (Alex Courtney), who mostly just plays chess, as well as mullet-head Brad (Steven Henry), who becomes insanely jealous when Jeff starts rekindling things with Lisa. Of yeah, and Mark (Blair Karsch), a stoner freak whose alternate persona "Captain Marvelous" (?!) is accompanied with a "Boin-n-g!!!" sound effect. I kid you not. As far as the females go, they're all blonde and there's only a slight attempt to characterize them, so I had to pay special attention to provide you the following useless information. Cassie (Cindra Hodgdon) is a sweet, shy girl who doesn't understand why anyone would want to kill Stephanie and vents her anguish through a hilarious Flashdance-inspired interpretative dance sequence. Carol (Skylar Nicholas) wants a music career, Karen (Christie Mucciante) is a rich bitch, Sheila (Maureen O'Hanlon) is the compassionate one and Ann (Roxanne Kernohan), uh, likes to jog. Every single one of them is topless during her death scene aside from the one who has her throat cut with a record album. However, the actress had already gone topless earlier in the movie, so I guess one can't really consider that a wasted opportunity.

There's also death by drowning in a bathtub and being flung out the attic window, as well as two prolonged death scenes that are more misogynistic. One features the victim being tied up, having her top removed and then being electrocuted to death. The second involves the victim being tied down, having her top removed and getting wet cement rubbed all over her body before she gets her face covered with it. Police detectives (led by pudgy porn actor Herschel Savage as "Harvey Cowen") show up two different times, but refuse to do anything helpful in apprehending the killer. You know, such as posting a patrol car outside, or having a few officers set up shop in the home, or have a policewoman go undercover as a sorority girl, etc. etc. They simply pop in, say a few lines and then leave, simply allowing the murders continue.

Surprisingly, some of the cast members did actually go on to other things. Estevez went on to become one of the most prolific genre actors on the 90s and 2000s. Lead actor Roberts, despite showing the animation of a piece of charcoal here, would go on to appear regularly on TV and in film. Courtney appeared in the same director's not-released-in-the-US crime/thriller THE PLATINUM TRIANGLE (1989; which also stars Estevez) and ZOMBIE DEATH HOUSE (1987), amongst other things. Nicholas was also in the dreadful CANNIBAL HOOKERS (1987) and some soft-core erotica and Kernohan would have a memorable role in CRITTERS 2 (1988) and appeared as herself in the very fun B-movie valentine SCREAM QUEEN HOT TUB PARTY (1991) before passing away in a 1993 auto accident at the age of just 32. Surprisingly McCormick, the best-looking and most talented of the ladies seen here, only did three other movies.

To my knowledge, FATAL PULSE has never been released on DVD. The VHS release was handled through Celebrity Home Video.

★1/2

Fatal Games (1984)

... aka: Killing Touch, The
... aka: Olympic Nightmare

Directed by:
Michael Elliot

At the Falcon Academy for Athletics, seven student athletes excelling at swimming, track and field or gymnastics seem to be off to promising careers and possible Olympic dreams. That is, until someone starts spearing them with a javelin. As the madman or madwoman or mad-a-little-bit-of-both stalks the darkened hallways of the school, the surviving students try to stay alive, while surveying the possible suspects. For starters, there's Dr. Jardine (played by the director), who's been shooting up his star athletes with a special "medicine" (*cough* steroids *cough*) that may have worse side effects than just stomach cramps. Then there's compassionate nurse Diane Paine (Sally Kirkland), who seems to get a little too touchy-feely giving therapeutic massages to the females. And Coach Jack Webber (Christopher Mankiewicz, also the co-writer and producer), who's a little crazy and overdemanding. And let us not forget Coach Drew (Marcelyn Ann Williams, or as she is more commonly known, Spice Williams). The blurb on the back of VHS box claims she's a suspect but doesn't elaborate why beyond telling us she's a lesbian. You know, cause being a lesbian in an 80's slasher automatically lands you on a list of serial murderer suspects.

To supplement the repetitive and tame killings, the director decides to take this down an After School Special route about midway through, so there are scenes asking us to care about the relationship between our bland female gymnast heroine Annie (Lynn Banashek) and her equally dull track star boyfriend Phil (Sean Masterson). The acting is pretty abysmal, even by slasher movie standards. One gets the feeling most were cast for their physical prowess than for their thespian skills. In fact, several of the ones playing gymnasts, are clearly trained in the area, as we get to see them demonstrating their skills a time or two. Others on the roster of potential victims include future soap opera star Michael O'Leary, Teal Roberts (from the popular 80's teen sex comedy Hardbodies), Angela Bennett (a black actress who is seen running through the hallways buck naked trying to avoid the killer) and Nicholas Love (co-star of The Boogeyman, brother of Suzanna Love and former brother-in-law of Ulli Lommel) as a hot-headed javelin thrower. The best of the lot is probably Melissa Prophet, who'd later nab roles in Scorsese's Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995), but she's the very first one killed off.

None of this is to shame top-billed Kirkland though. She's an excellent actress when given good material. This just isn't good material. A few years after this was made, she'd receive a well-deserved Oscar nomination for playing a former Czech movie star struggling to find work in New York City in Anna (1987). Two other familiar actresses are also to be found in tiny roles. Linnea Quigley (who'd appeared in a more substantial role in the similar 1981 slasher Graduation Day) was the body double for Banashek during her massage scene, though she's billed as an "athlete" in the end credits. By sheer coincidence, Kirkland and Quigley were guests on the same episode of Chuck Woolery's short-lived talk show in 1991 and briefly discussed this film. Brinke Stevens - who isn't billed at all - can be seen in the background several times taking a shower.

So in short, another dud from the slasher era. OK-ish production values, plentiful nudity, next to no blood, zero suspense, terrible acting, choppy editing and continuity, a lame killer reveal (we really know nothing about the person until a newspaper clipping supposedly sheds light on it) and a terrible script. The former was co-written by Rafael Buñuel... the son of Luis Buñuel! Oh yeah, and there's an amusingly cheesy theme song called "Take It All the Way" performed by Shuki Levy and former Miss USA Deborah Shelton that we get to hear several times along the way.

★1/2
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