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.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Terror Eyes (1989)

Directed by:
Eric Parkinson
Michael Rissi
Steve Sommers

Due to a writer's strike in Hollywood, advertising executive Eva Adams (co-writer and co-producer Vivian Schilling) has been given the task of writing her first horror screenplay. Her ideas - and the nightmares caused by her ideas - are then visualized for us. The first is "Book of Life," which centers around unhappily married couple Troy Floyd (Lance August) and his frustrated wife Starla (Schilling). He's so lazy he refuses to shower so they can go out for dinner and would rather sit at home watching demolition derbies on TV and playing poker with a stuffed animal (?!) She whines, nags and treats him like a child. Mysterious Clark Rogers (Daniel Roebuck) shows up at their door, announces he's from the Book of Life Club and then hands them a monogrammed book before disappearing. Starla begins reading and is shocked to discover it's filled with personal details about their entire life, including private bits about their wedding and revelations about his infidelities. Even more surprisingly, the book also details what's going on today... like right now... and even predicts he'll die by his own hand. The book proves to be indestructible: pages cannot be ripped out, it won't burn and it even survives an acid bath. When they attempt to throw it in the dumpster it miraculously appears on their coffee table again and eventually their home fills with smoke, red and blue lights flash and Troy starts melting down.

Eva awakens from her dream, goes back to sleep and then has another nightmare about someone chasing her through corridors. She and her hubby Richard (Roebuck again) then round up two other couples; Mannie (Dan Bell) and April (Becky McGovern) and Scott (August again) and Julie (Gina Hightower) and everyone heads out to the woods for a weekend camping trip. There, we get more smoke machine, more red and blue lights, more POV camera-work and eventually some rubber ghoul smoking a cigarette. Richard begins behaving strangely and obnoxiously and then Mannie decides to tell a horror story drawing from his own life that he thinks may give Eva inspiration for her script.

A long time ago, Mannie had a gambling problem and owed thug Mike (Christopher Roland) 800 bucks (that's it?!). To relieve the debt, he agrees to rob Mike's estranged wife's (Elinor Baggett) safe. He sets himself up an alibi by going to a theater showing "Once a Loser" and then sneaks out to perform the robbery but when he arrives he finds the wife already dead. Somehow, he's then able to relive the same day over and over again (like in Groundhog Day) and eventually goes to the apartment a little early to find out what really happened to the wife. Fox Harris (from Repo Man and numerous Fred Olen Ray movies) has a small role here as a ticket taker.

Julie sets up our third story about her sister Alex (Diana James), "the first female champion chess player." After winning her title, Alex decides to use her celebrity to boycott a company making violent and misogynistic video games like "Wife Beater," "Dumb Blonde" and "Slasher," where you get points for the amount of murders and rapes you commit. She's kidnapped and taken off to a mansion owned by Martin Rubinstein (Phil Lowey), the creator of the games. There, she's forced to play "The Snake Eyes Game" and hop from room to room surviving various death traps along the way centered around such things as poison gas, a rabid dog and the floor dropping out from under her. Things eventually settle into a Most Dangerous Game-style situation where Martin attempts to hunt her down in an abandoned Old West desert town. This is the best idea for all the segments, and perhaps overall the best of the bunch, but they don't quite take it far enough and this may have worked better as a feature and not a short. It is however somewhat prophetic in its criticism of violent video games marketed toward children, which would become a hot news topic years later.

Daniel Roebuck interview in Psychotronic #27 (scan credit: happyotter666)

All three of the stories were made by USC students and, while none are great, all three are at least show some imagination at work. As is customary for such a low budget outing, the editing, sound recording, photography (parts were shot on film and video) and acting all have their bumps along the way. "Book of Life" and the wraparound were done by Eric Parkinson. Story #2 ("Perfect Alibi") was made by Steve Sommers, who doesn't appear to have made anything else. Our concluding tale "Snake Eyes" was made by Michael Rissi, who'd team up with Parkinson and Schilling again for Soultaker (1990), which ended up getting (somewhat unfairly) mocked on "Mystery Science Theater 3000." Both were released on VHS by AIP.

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