Midnight (1989)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Horror hostess is goofy.

Midnight (Lynn Redgrave) is a Goth dressing host of a late night TV-show where she rises from a coffin to help introduce a bad B-movie. She has managed to attain a strong cult following and Mr. B. (Tony Curtis) the head of the TV-station where she works wants her to sign over the syndication rights, but she continually refuses. She then meets Mickey (Steve Parrish) and the two get into a relationship, but when he proves to be unfaithful dead bodies begin turning up including that of Mr. B.’s. Is Midnight the killer, or is she being framed by someone else lurking in the shadows?

There are a few snappy lines here and there, but overall this thing is a complete bore and too poorly paced to be entertaining. The film shifts so clumsily between comedy, satire and horror that it becomes hard to figure what audience the filmmakers where intending to draw in.

Redgrave’s send-up of Elvira and Vampira misses the mark completely. The wacky outfits that she wears is indeed eye-catching, but the camp level gets played up too much and the fact that she continues to display the goofy persona that she has in front of the camera even at while at home gets way overdone and eventually quite annoying.

Curtis is far more entertaining and should’ve been giving a larger role. His hanging death in which he struggles in mid-air with a rope around his neck is actually impressive, but I did spend most of the film thinking about the white mop that was on top of his head and wondering if it was his real hair, or a wig. Parrish, as the young love interest, is thoroughly dull and drains what little energy this film has right out with his presence.

The strangulation death that occurs under water deserves some merit and I did enjoy the exteriors of Mr. B’s mansion as well as Midnight’s, but the attempts to satirize the behind-the-scenes wheeling’s-and-dealings of the entertainment world fall horribly flat and eventually becomes a joke onto itself.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: July 5, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated R

Director: Norman Thaddeus Vane

Studio: Kuys Entertainment Group

Available: VHS

Night School (1981)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: They lose their heads.

All across the city of Boston young women are being attacked by a leather clad helmet wearing motorcyclist who hacks off their heads and then discards them in provocative places. Lt. Judd Austin (Leonard Mann) is on the case, but is finding few clues. Since the majority of the victims are coeds attending a local college he decides to interview the anthropology professor (Drew Snyder) who has been known to have affairs with many of them, which places him high on the suspect list as well as the fact that his studies deal with ancient tribal rituals of decapitations.

This is more of a police drama than an actual horror film as a lot of time gets spent on Mann interviewing suspects and tackling potential leads. Unfortunately he’s no Columbo as his personality is quite bland and his investigating leads nowhere making the majority of the movie plodding and uneventful.

Rachel Ward, in her film debut, is the best thing about the movie and helps elevate it somewhat with her effective performance. Director Ken Hughes attempts to add some style to it with a more orchestral sounding score and a nice backdrop of Boston’s older neighborhoods, which is good, but the script lacks punch. The special effects are not realistic and cut away before much is seen. Certain scenes like when a woman gets attacked behind a closed door and the viewer is left to hear the strange noises that she makes comes off more as unintentionally funny than horrifying.

The ultimate identity of the killer is somewhat creative although with 20 minutes to go I had already figured it out. The twist that comes after it I had also caught on too, so there really aren’t many surprises here for the observant viewer in what is yet just another would-be ‘80s slasher wanna-be that adds little to the already overcrowded genre.


My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: September 11, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ken Hughes

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video

Till Death (1978)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: His dead wife returns.

Paul (Keith Atkinson) marries Anne (Belinda Balaski) only to have her perish on their wedding night. When he goes to visit her at her crypt he hears her wails and breaks into her coffin where he finds her to be alive. They spend the rest of the night talking until supernatural events begin to occur, which convinces Paul that things aren’t quite what they seem.

This very low budget film sat on the shelf for 6 years and it was for good reason. It is boring and uneventful and at times down right hokey. The sappy opening title tune is the most horrifying thing about this turkey and has no place in a horror film or any other movie for that matter. The car crash borders on being laughable. There is a shot of Balaski being quite literally swallowed out of the car with an over-the-top panicked expression while Atkinson, with an equally over-the-top panicked expression, tries to save her. The shot is quick and might have passed had it only been shown once, but the director keeps going back to it almost repeatedly until it becomes both corny and annoying.

The second half is about as static as you can get. Atkinson releases Balaski from her crypt and then the two have one long, sterile conversation that goes nowhere.  Since the woman was supposedly thrown from a car one would expect her to be a mangled up mess, but when the coffin gets opened there is not a scratch on her. The payoff for sitting through this thing is nothing as there is no interesting twist of any kind. It’s a dud from start to finish and filled with a lot of clichéd foggy atmosphere that’s supposed to be creepy, but wouldn’t scare a first-grader.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: February 4, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 20Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Walter Stocker

Studio: Cougar Films

Available: None at this time.

Bloody Birthday (1981)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sociopathic children become murderers.

Three children (Billy Jacoby, Elizabeth Hoy, Andrew Freeman) who were born during a solar eclipse become cold-blooded killers ten years later. The reason is because during their births the sun and moon blocked Saturn, which is the planet for emotions, so they’re devoid of any feelings and kill for the pure enjoyment of it and even proudly keep a scrapbook filled with newspaper articles of their dirty deeds. Because they’re just children nobody believes that they’re the actual culprits to the rash of murders that are happening. Only Timmy (K.C. Martel) and his older sister Joyce (Lori Lethin) are on to them, but can they get the rest of the town to believe them before it’s too late?

Minor, but still watchable horror outing requires the viewer to buy into the astrology nonsense in order to enjoy it, but manages to be paced well enough to remain mildly entertaining. The murders aren’t too gruesome and if it weren’t for an abundance of nudity, which includes actress Julie Brown fully in the buff, this could’ve been a TV-Movie where it might’ve fared better.

The kids are fun as the killers. Both Hoy and Jacoby have a good menacing quality to their facial expressions, which helps. Jacoby, who now goes by the last name of Jayne, has an older brother Scott who already played a similar psycho kid in Rivals.

The murders are okay, but cannot hold up to even minor scrutiny.  The kids kill the sheriff (Bert Kramer) by bashing him over the head with a baseball bat and then try to make it look like it was an accidental fall, which would’ve only caused one blow, but an autopsy would’ve confirmed several blows and the freak accident theory would’ve immediately crumbled. The idea that such a small girl would be able to effectively use a bow-and-arrow is not believable and the opening sequence features a young couple who decide to go into a hole in the ground to make-out, but how many real-life couples would consider jumping into a dirt hole to be sexy or romantic?

I found the Joyce character to be annoyingly goody-goody, but was still impressed with her resourcefulness. The entire scenario though goes on too long and becomes derivative with a twist ending that’s only marginally acceptable. The film also offers familiar faces in small, pointless bits including Jose Ferrer, Susan Strasberg, and Joe Penny.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 28, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 24Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ed Hunt

Studio: Judica Productions

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Don’t Go in the House (1980)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He burns his victims.

Donny (Dan Grimaldi) is a grown son living at home with his mother (Ruth Dardick) and suffering from the nightmares of his childhood where she would routinely burn his arms on an open flame every time he misbehaved. When she dies he decides to use his new found freedom to pick-up women at random, bring them back to his place and then burn them to death with his blow torch. Afterwards he dresses the corpses up, puts them into a bedroom where he routinely visits them and has ‘conversations’.

The film uses its low budget to great effect by becoming a grainy, starkly realized journey into a madman’s mind. The large, rundown 21-bedroom home that Donny lives in and has now become the Strauss Mansion Museum in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey offers a terrific backdrop. The decayed, rundown interior becomes a motif to Donny’s deteriorating mind. The faded color matches the grim subject matter and even the sound, which has a constant popping noise like it was taken from a corrupted tape, gives off an eerie feeling like listening to muffled dialogue from a secret, underground source. The cold, gray, wintery landscape adds even more to the bleak ambience.

Director Joseph Ellison seems intent on forcing the viewer to get inside the killer’s head and understanding things from his point-of-view. Instead of having a robotic, evil killing machine we get an overgrown man-child, so tormented from his upbringing that he is unable to know right-from-wrong and burns his victims under a misguided notion that it is somehow ‘cleansing’ them from their sins. The surreal dream done along a lonely beach in which Donny sees his victims come back to life and who drag him down a hole is well captured with just the right amount of atmosphere that easily makes it the best moment in the movie.

Some viewers have found the scene where Donny burns a woman alive inside a metal room while she dangles from a rope to be ‘repugnant’ and ‘going too far’ and has helped the movie achieve a notorious reputation. The scene though is really not all that graphic. We never see the victim actually burned just the lighted blow torch coming towards the screen and then it cuts away. The masks worn by the burn victims isn’t any different from those worn by dead decomposed bodies in other films, so it’s really more what’s implied that upsets some people than what is actually shown.

The film’s only real drawback is that it is much too similar to William Lustig’s Maniac that starred Joe Spinell and came out at around the same time. Both film’s deal with killer’s that have a severe mother complex, hear voices inside their heads, dress the bodies of their victims up, store them in their homes, have ‘conversations’ with them and even harbors visions of them coming back to life to seek revenge. The similarities between the two movies are so striking that they come off like a carbon copy to the other, which seriously hurts the tension because you feel like you’ve seen it all before.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 28, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Ellison

Studio: Film Ventures International

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The House on Sorority Row (1983)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: House mother harbors secret.

Mrs. Slater (Lois Kelso Hunt) is a crabby house mother of a college sorority who tends to be quite terse and controlling to the girls that she oversees. When she catches Vicki (Eileen Davidson) having sex with her boyfriend she punctures the water bed that they are on, which causes Vicki to seek an elaborate revenge in the form of a practical joke. The joke though goes awry leading to the accidental death of Mrs. Slater. The sorority members hide her body, but then it disappears while the girls start to get picked-off one-by-one by a mysterious assailant.

This is far more stylishly directed than the usual horror film and this becomes quite apparent right from the start. I loved the opening flashback sequence, which is tinted in blue-and-white and a crane shot done over the opening credits. There is also a tracking shot that goes down the hallway of the sorority house that nicely captures the energy and ambience of the first day of moving in. The soundtrack, which uses the music of the London Symphony Orchestra, is another plus.

The acting is better than in most low budget horror films. Some will point to the line delivered by actress Jodi Draigie “How do we know she is alive” as being the single worst line reading in the history of cinema, which it could be, but overall the performances are decent particularly by Davidson. The only exception is Hunt as the house mother. She certainly has the face of a crabby old lady, but her delivery is very monotone and comes off like it was dubbed. Later I read in an interview with director Mark Rosman where this was indeed the case as they felt her actual voice was too high pitched, but why replace it with one that is even worse.

The use of Mrs. Slater’s walking cane as a murder weapon seemed ridiculous. The idea that this thing could be so sharp that it could cut through walls and people’s skulls with one swing made it seem more like an ax. The pressure of it continually cutting through hard surfaces, and then subsequently being removed so it could be used again, would most likely have broken the thing in half. The fact that she had used it for many years would’ve worn it down to more of a dull and smooth surface and not that of a steely, razor sharpness. There is also a scene where the cane is taken away from Mrs. Slater and she is able to walk briskly and without any noticeable limp, which means she didn’t even need it in the first place.

The killings aren’t scary, jolting or imaginative and seemed almost like they were an afterthought. Many times if you blink you’ll miss when they happen. The first killing where Mrs. Slater’s cane goes through a man’s skull looks glaringly amateurish as it is quite obvious that the victim is a mannequin.

I did like the shot of a victim’s head in a toilet, but even this has issues because we don’t know what happened to the rest of her body. If the killer is walking around with a bloody headless corpse that would cause a lot of attention and the dripping blood would create a trail that would lead right to him.


Spoiler Alert!

This film has managed to garner a strong cult following, but I’m really not sure why. The more it went on the more bored I became with it. I was also irritated with the ending as we are never shown the identity of the killer. It is strongly implied who it is, but we never see his face unmasked. The original ending had police removing dead bodies from a pool and when they overturn the one wearing a clown suit it is revealed to be Katherine, the killer’s final victim, but this was rejected as being too downbeat even though I would’ve liked it better.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 21, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark Rosman

Studio: Film Ventures International

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Alone in the Dark (1982)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Psychopaths escape from hospital.

Dan Potter (Dwight Schulz) is a new doctor hired at a local mental hospital to oversee some of their more violent psychopaths. Unfortunately before he has any time to implement his new therapy techniques there is power failure, which allows three of the most dangerous ones (Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Erland van Lidth) to escape. They immediately track down the doctor at his residence and lurk outside while the frightened family stays trapped in their home and forced to somehow fight them off.

The story is dull and has a plot where you know exactly where it’s going right from the start. There are no unexpected twists and the gore is almost non-existent. The scares are sparse and not effective with several scenes that come off as unintentionally funny.

There is also never any explanation to what causes the power failure and the idea that it would last for two consecutive nights without some sort of major weather event being the factor is highly unlikely. The fact that the patients are housed inside an institution with electrical monitors and the people who ran the place had no backup plan implemented or considered if the power would ever go out is dumb and most likely an emergency generator would’ve been installed years earlier for just such a scenario, which would then make this whole stupid plot nonexistent from the get-go.

Landau gives a good performance, which makes this dumb thing slightly worth catching although overall the psycho characters are too cardboard and generic to be frightening. Hiring B-actors on the downside of their careers and who were most likely willing to accept any mindless dreck that was handed to them simply so they could keep the cash flowing in, was not a good idea as they approach the material in too much of a hammy way.

I actually came away liking Schulz’s performance best and was impressed how his character here was so much different from his most famous one in ‘The A-Team’ TV-show. It was also fun seeing Van Lidth, who is best remembered as Grossberger from Stir Crazy, with a full head of hair.

The film has only two scenes that are worth catching and even then it really isn’t much. However, I did like the part where the three crazies enter a sporting goods store during the blackout that is being raided by all the ‘sane’ people who act way more fringe than the actual lunatics. The scene where Palance attends a punk rock concert where the band The Sick Fucks is playing is pretty good too even though the atmosphere inside doesn’t effectively reflect a real mosh pit scene.

The overall scenario though dealing with these very clichéd psyhcos ominously lurking outside a home occupied by an equally clichéd All-American family that respond to everything with perpetual looks of fear is not interesting or intense. It also comes off as being too stagey and theatrical and might’ve worked better had it taken more of a modern day hand-held camera/ cinema vertite approach.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 12, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jack Sholder

Studio: New Line Cinema

Available: DVD

976-Evil (1989)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nerd becomes demon possessed.

Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys) is a socially challenged high school loser living at home with his religious fanatic mother (Sandy Dennis) and longing to one day become as cool as his neighbor Spike (Patrick O’Bryan) who gets all the hot chicks. Then one day Hoax calls a phone number that promises to supply him with his daily horoscope but instead gives him demonic powers that allow him to get revenge on all of his bullies.

This is the first of only two theatrical features that actor Robert Englund has directed and the visual results are impressive. I enjoyed the set pieces that have a garish over-the-top quality to them and helps give the film a comic book-like look. Although the gore is limited I did find some of the other special effects to be cool including the final sequence where Hoax’s home turns into the gateway to hell.

The script has a lot of in-jokes, which keeps the proceedings on an amusing level, but it takes too long for the actual plot to get going.  The nerd-on-revenge theme has been done a million times before and ultimately makes this film come off as clichéd and derivative.

Having Hoax’s looks change into resembling a demon backfires as it reminded me too much of the Freddy Kreuger character particularly with the long fingernails on one of his hands and his deep voice, which even  starts to crack  Freddy-like one-liners. Whether this was intentional is open to debate, but it does drive home how uninspired this film ends up despite an opening that showed promise.

The best thing it is the presence of Dennis who plays an extension of the wacky, eccentric character that she did in a classic episode of the 80’s version of ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’. The only difference is that there her character owned even more cats and spoke in a more bizarre way, but the variety of wigs that she wears here makes up for it. Also what happens to her corpse after she is killed is the film’s most shocking moment.


My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 24, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Englund

Studio: New Line Cinema

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Pin (1988)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He befriends a dummy.

Leon (David Hewlett) and Ursula (Cynthia Preston) are brother and sister growing up in a large home run by their stern father (Terry O’ Quinn) who works as a doctor and has an anatomically correct dummy named Pin in his office. Sometimes to entertain the children he gets the dummy to talk, by throwing his voice to make it seem like it’s the dummies. As the children get older Leon remains convinced that the dummy can speak and begins to have an unhealthy fixation with him that concerns his sister. When the parents end up dying in a tragic car accident the sister and brother get the house all to themselves and Leon becomes even more possessive about Pin and anyone who dares make fun of him or Pin pays the ultimate price.

This intriguing film manages to be captivating throughout thanks mainly to an intelligent script and some excellent performances by its two leads. The casting is top-notch including the fact that the different actors who represent Leon and Ursula as they grow from children to young adults look very similar, which is a major achievement since many other movies aren’t as adept with this and cast child performers that do not effectively resemble their adult counterparts.

It’s also refreshing that Leon’s character is not a complete derelict, but instead quite cultured and educated, which makes his weird child-like fixation with the dummy all the more creepy. I also enjoyed O’Quinn as the father and the scene where he performs an abortion on his own daughter and tries to force his son to watch it is really twisted.

The scares though are lacking and there are only a couple of murders, which aren’t all that dramatic or impressive. Pin is also not frightening to look at and in fact becomes downright boring. Most horror films would’ve exaggerated some characteristic of the dummy to give him more of a creepy effect, which is what this one should’ve done. It also would’ve helped had there been a surreal moment where we saw things from Leon’s point-of-view and witnessed the doll actually speaking or even just moving.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s ending though is the script’s weakest point. It involves Ursula attacking Leon with an ax after she realizes that he has just killed her boyfriend (John Pyper-Ferguson), but then the film cuts away making it confusing as to what happens. It then cuts to show Leon sitting in a wheelchair and having taken on the personality of Pin as apparently that’s who she cut up, but the film would’ve been more interesting had it shown the doll getting destroyed and even doing some of it in slow-motion especially since its devoid of much action otherwise.

The idea of a person taking the personality of an inanimate object that they earlier thought was real is nothing new. The same fate occurred to the Anthony Hopkins’ character in Magic where he played a ventriloquist who thought his dummy could talk as well as to another ventriloquist character in a classic episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’, which makes the twist here less interesting and almost predictable. A more surprising element would’ve been to have the dummy suddenly come to life when Ursula attacks it and then killing her.

It also seemed ridiculous that Leon would remain living in his large, stately home in a sort of vegetative state after being caught attempting to murder the boyfriend while apparently being cared for by a round-the-clock nurse is not believable as the cost of his medical care would dry up any funds that he had in his inheritance and making his continued stay at the home completely impractical. In reality the court appointed doctors would’ve deemed him mentally ill and a menace to society while also advising that he be sent away to a secure and monitored mental facility.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 25, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sandor Stern

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD

Schoolgirls in Chains (1973)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pretty teens held captive.

Frank and John (Gary Kent, John Parker) are two mentally-challenged brothers who’ve spent years being dominated by their aging mother (Great Gaylord) who will not let them date other women, or in any way play out their sexual feelings. If they do bring home a girlfriend their mother scares them away, so instead they kidnap women that they spot at random and then bring them home to their basement where they are forced to partake in all sorts of perverted ‘games’.

This is one of those movies where you know from the very first frame that it’s going to be bad and then it just proceeds to get even worse as it goes along. The production values are abhorrent and the music score is especially annoying. Instead of playing something that sounds creepy or heightens the tension they play and sing melodies from children’s songs like ‘Three Blind Mice’.

The acting is pathetic especially from the women who show no fight or struggle and simply lie there like dead fish and allow their male captors to do what they want with them, which creates no tension.  The men aren’t frightening at all and the John character runs around while waving his arms in the air making both him and the movie look quite campy and silly.

If you’re hoping for something seedy or tawdry you can forget it. The provocative title and film poster may give you that impression, but what you receive instead would barely get an R-rating today. There’s very little nudity or gore and the action, which isn’t much, is poorly staged. The story does have a lurid quality, but it’s nothing that you haven’t seen before and overall quite tame and predictable by today’s standards.

There are similarities to this film and Charles Kaufman’s cult classic Mother’s Day, which came out 7 years later and was much better. Psycho is what this movie most resembles and there is even a scene where one of the victims bursts into the mother’s room only to find her to be a rotting skeleton, but it amazed me to think that the filmmakers behind this waste of time believed this would top that classic. Why simply rehash what has already been done before and better? Why not take things in a more unpredictable area? Maybe the writer, director and producer weren’t creative enough to think up anything else, so this tired, formulaic thing is all that they could offer, but it’s an embarrassment to all involved and should be avoided.


My Rating: 0 out of 10

Alternate Titles: Girls in Chains, Abducted

Released: February 7, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes

Rated R

Director: Don Jones

Studio: Mirror Releasing

Available: DVD