Criminally Insane (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: She has to eat.

Ethel (Priscilla Alden) suffers from a eating disorder that has caused her to gain a massive amount of weight. After being sent to a mental hospital she is eventually released into the care of her grandmother (Jane Lambert) with strict orders to keep Ethel away from food. However, her grandmother’s attempts to lock-up the food only gets Ethel hungrier to the point that she goes on the attack and kills her grandma with a knife and then hides her body in an upstairs room. Rosalie (Lisa Farros), Ethel’s sister, shows up and brings along her boyfriend (Michael Flood), but they start to smell the body decay and threaten to investigate what is causing it, so Ethel continues her murder spree in order to hide her secret and have the ability to eat as much as she wants.

These days if even just one person gets offended by something that they see in a movie the filmmakers are obligated to go down on their knees and beg forgiveness while in the 70’s director’s were scurrying to find the next taboo that they could topple. Not only were they unconcerned if they offended anyone, but actually relished the prospect and this movie in many ways goes even further with the shocks than the others. The result, despite the vulgarities, is quite funny and I found myself laughing-out-loud at more than a few places.

The gore is effective too. This was filmed in the Spring of 1973 long before the slasher genre was a thing making this into what’s called a prototype slasher, but the results are the same. In fact I’d say this thing is even gorier than the horror films that play-it straight and I liked the special effects showing the bodies decaying. The second-half also gets rather disturbing including scenes of one victim with a crushed skull still alive enough to try and crawl away while Ethel stands over him and laughs. She even sleeps with her victims, eats in front of them and ultimately does even worse. If you watch this thing for the sick, twisted content you should not be disappointed.

The extremely low budget does create issues though including way too much choppy editing that mainly occurs at the beginning as well as moments where the actors voice is not in sync with their lips. However, Alden’s excellent performance helps and I liked how everything gets filmed in this snazzy house in a nice, sunny neighborhood of San Francisco showing how behind-closed-doors bad things can happen anywhere even in the nice neighborhoods.

In 1987 writer/director Nick Millard and star Alden reteamed for a sequel titled Criminally Insane 2, but this reused a great deal of footage from the first film and was universally panned. Then in 2013 a new director did a remake of this film, titled Crazy Fat Ethel, with a new actress playing the part of Ethel since Alden had already died by that time. That film got shelved for many years when the producer inexplicably died during the production, but eventually it got released in 2016 to genuinely favorable reviews.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 12, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 1 Minute

Rated R

Director: Nick Millard

Studio: I.R.M.I. Films

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Unhinged (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Girls trapped in mansion.

Terry, Nancy, and Gloria (Laurel Munson, Sara Ansley, Barbara Lusch) take a trip to rural Washington in order to attend a musical festival. Along the way they run into a freak rain storm, which causes their car to crash into a ravine. They are rescued by Norman (John Morrison) who works as a groundskeeper for the Penroses who live in an isolated mansion. He takes them to the mansion where the girls meet Marion (Janet Penner) who lives there with her elderly mother (Virginia Settle). However, the girls start to sense that there’s someone else on the grounds that also lives there that the daughter and mother aren’t telling them about. Terry hears the heavy-breathing of this person late at night and sees him going into a nearby shed. She tries to investigate only to unearth the family’s deep dark secret the puts all three girls in terrible danger.

The film’s main claim to fame, something it even advertises on its DVD cover, is that it was on one of the 72 films to appear on the U.K.’s video nasties list during the early 80’s. However, if you’ve watched some of the other movies that appeared on that list you’ll realize most are rather tame, especially by today’s standards, so getting put on that list isn’t as notorious as it used to be. The film is also known for having been filmed at the Pittock Mansion, an impressive 46-room estate that sits in Portland, Oregon.

Unfortunately the majority of the movie gets plagued by a low budget/amateur feel and look. The scenes are transitioned by cutting to black and then staying that way for several seconds until you start to worry that picture has gone out, or you’ve gotten stuck with a bad DVD. The dialogue is also too descriptive, or as some critics would say too ‘on-the-nose’. The characters speak in long, full sentences when in reality people don’t talk that way. Instead of having a conversational quality it comes off more as explanatory and in many cases too much so. There also isn’t any need for five minutes of footage showing the girls car driving along a road for us to get the idea that they’re on a trip.

The logic is quite loopy. The girls wake-up to find themselves inside this big home, but are told there are no phones even though these people own this gigantic place that is filled with expensive wines and just about every other luxury. One of the girls is forced to hike through the forest to find help making it seem like this big, beautiful place is not connected to any type of road even though the most rural of homes will still have at the very least a dirt road that will lead to the residence and then be connected at some point to a main road.

I found it odd too that Terry goes to investigate the strange sounds that she is hearing in the attic, but does not bring anything with her for protection. Grabbing a small lamp, or some other heavy, sharp object that she could find, that she could whack over the head of someone should they jump out to attack her would seem to be a no-brainer for anyone else in a similar situation. Yet she chooses to walk into this dark, strange place and go snooping around virtually defenseless.

During the first 75 minutes there are only 2 killings and they’re spread way apart and in between you get stuck with a lot of stilted drama. The only other chills come from seeing a close-up of a guy’s eyeball as he observes the girl’s through a hole in the wall. There’s also a couple of moments where the old lady sits at the dinner table and looks at two glass cups in front of her in a sort-of spooky way that I guess is supposed to be scary, but I could never quite figure out why she was doing that, or what it was supposed to mean.

Fans of this film will tell you that the ending makes sitting through the rest of it worth it. The finale is quite grisly and violent and even has an unexpected surprise, so for some that may be enough. It does have a certain tinge to the more popular Sleepaway Camp even though this one came out a full year before that one.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 15, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 19 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Don Gronquist

Studio: Megastar Films

Available: DVD

Shanks (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mute manipulates dead bodies.

Malcolm Shanks (Marcel Marceau) is a deaf-mute who lives with his cruel sister (Tsilla Chelton) and her alcoholic husband (Phillipe Clay). Malcolm’s puppeteer skills attracts the attention of an aging, eccentric inventor named Mr. Walker (Marcel Marceau) who hires Malcolm to come work with him inside his gothic castle. It is there that he learns of Mr. Walker’s newest invention, which allows him to animate the dead bodies of animals through electronic shocks. Malcolm uses this new found knowledge to animate Mr. Walker himself after he dies and then his sister and her husband when they die by accident, but when a biker gang invades the castle Malcolm is afraid they’ll misuse the invention for bad purposes.

Usually I enjoy offbeat movies, but this film, which was the last one to be directed by William Castle, is never able to catch its stride. It becomes hard to tell whether to even categorize it as a horror movie at all, even though it does have some dark elements, but it’s not inventive enough cinematically to consider it an experimental film either.

Marceau’s presence doesn’t help things. His character never says anything, only when he’s playing the role of Mr. Walker, but even then it’s only a few words. His facial expressions are good, so you pretty much know what he’s thinking, but after awhile his quietness makes him too transparent and he’s just no longer interesting at all and overshadowed by his teen co-star Cindy Eilbacher who does virtually all the talking and could’ve easily been made the star especially since her acting is really good.

The plot is thin and an excessive amount of time gets spent with Malcolm having the dead bodies, which he controls via remote control, dance around and at one point even go shopping, but after awhile this gets one-dimensional and repetitive. Dead bodies can also decay and start to smell real bad, but this reality never gets touched on. I was also confused because Phillipe Clay’s character is killed when he gets attacked by a chicken who bites into his face and makes a bloody mess of it, but when he’s a dancing dead body that injury mysteriously disappears completely.

I thought the introduction of the biker gang, who enter into the story way too late after the film also already become seriously boring, would enliven things, but it really doesn’t. I also didn’t like the visual approach, which is all mixed-up. During some scenes it looks to have been shot in the modern day suburbs and then at other points, especially when inside Mr. Walker’s castle, more of a medieval/gothic look. The inside of Malcolm’s sister’s place is all off too looking like the interior of a home during the 1930’s versus the 1970’s. The title cards that get thrown in at various intervals to help narrate what is going on, much like what you’d see in a silent movie, was not necessary.

I wished I could’ve liked this more, the idea certainly has potential, but there needed to be an added subtext. It’s just too simple and straightforward the way it is and unclear what audience the producers were aiming for.  Children may enjoy parts of it, but will become frightened at other points while adults will find some of it to be clever, but become impatient with the slow pace.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 9, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: William Castle

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Mountaintop Motel Massacre (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Crazy lady kills guests.

Evelyn (Anna Chappell) has just been released from a mental institution and gone back to running a rural motel. One day she finds her daughter Lori (Jill King) practicing witchcraft in their basement. Evelyn becomes so enraged by this that she ends up killing her daughter with a garden sickle. The police believe her story that it was simply an accident that happened outside in their garden and do not arrest her, but the voices inside Evelyn’s head convince her that everyone else is out to get her. This madness sends her on a killing spree at her hotel in which she is able to enter each person’s room through a trap door in their bathrooms that is connected to an underground tunnel.

The film did only moderately well when it was released to regional theaters and then ultimately nationally in 1986 and a lot of the problem could reside around its promotional poster seen above, which seems to imply that this is a campy horror comedy, which it is not. It also features a completely different woman posing as Evelyn that is not the same one who plays her in the film.

As for the film itself it starts out okay. I liked how it comes up with this very offbeat premise about an old lady killer, but then approaches in a realistic way. Nothing gets jazzed-up for the sake of horror and everything gets handled with a slow deliberate pace including a drawn out scene showing an ambulance crew trying to resuscitate her daughter. The on-location shooting, which was filmed in an around Oil City, Louisiana in March of 1983 gives the viewer an authentic view of the winter landscape in the south and the hotel itself, which was shot at an abandoned fishing camp that sat on Cross Lake in Shreveport, helps add a rustic flair.

The cast of victims are much more diverse than in most slasher movies and fortunately doesn’t just feature teenagers or college kids. I was especially impressed with Major Brock, who plays Crenshaw, who had worked for 31 years as a baggage handler at Delta Airlines, but was convinced by the film’s director to take on the role despite having no acting experience, but he does really well, he even sleeps convincingly, and I enjoyed the character’s no-nonsense attitude and wished he had remained in it the whole way.  I was actually disappointed to see any of them die and instead wanted to see how they could get past their contrasting personalities to work as a team to overcome the crazy lady, but that doesn’t happen.

The killings though are quite boring and the idea that a sickle would be able to kill people so easily with just one swipe after spending most likely years being used in the garden, which would’ve dulled its blade, is just not believable. The victims are also too passive and just stand there when the lady attacks them instead of fighting back. The killer is after all an elderly woman, so you’d think these younger people could’ve overpowered her by even just kicking at her, which would’ve slowed her advance.

The climactic battle inside the underground tunnel offers some tension, but it seemed weird that when the people would open up the trap door that lead to the tunnel there would be this bright ray of light that would spew out making it seem like the tunnel was well lit, but then when they’d get down there the only source of light would be their lanterns, so if that’s the case were was the initial ray of light coming from?

The film would’ve worked better had it not given it all away right at the start. The identity of the killer should’ve been kept a secret until the very end and Evelyn should’ve initially been portrayed as this sweet old lady who you’d never suspect. The tunnel should not have been made known until later either and thus made it more intriguing for the viewer in trying to figure out how the dead bodies of the victims were disappearing out of their rooms.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 15, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jim McCullough Sr.

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Stepford Wives (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Suburban wives become robots.

Joanne and Walter (Katharine Ross, Peter Masterson) decide to move with their two children (Mary Stuart Masterson, Ronny Sullivan) from the big city to the quiet suburb of Stepford, Connecticut. While Walter immediately starts to fit-in with the exclusive men’s club that they have there Joanne feels unable to connect with the other wives who all behave in a robotic fashion and more concerned with keeping their husbands happy and cleaning their homes than anything else. She manages to find one other woman named Bobbie (Paula Prentiss) who like her find the women’s behavior in the town to be a bit odd and they team up to investigate what the cause of it may be.

When this film was first released it was met with controversy particularly by feminists who felt the storyline was misogynistic and one protester even went as far as attacking director Bryan Forbes with her umbrella. When the movie was screened to a group of feminists they all hissed and groaned at it during the viewing while some other women, like screenwriter Eleanor Perry, came to the film’s defense calling it more of a sharp satire on men and their superficial views on women than on the women themselves.

I saw it more as a trenchant take on the suburbs, which can initially seem like a quiet, safe refuge, but ultimately can become a trap with a lot of hidden strings that you don’t initially see. While the Stepford wives do behave as overly conforming to domestic roles it’s really not all that much different than what you’d find in reality making you wonder if the rest of us suburbanites all slowly getting sucked into the Stepford trap too and just don’t realize it.

While the ill-advised 2004 remake tried to turn the concept into a comedic tale the story really works best as a horror film, which is what the 1972 Ira Levin novel, of which the film was based, intended and there are some good creepy moments. I particularly liked the moment when Joanne is talking to her therapist, played by Carol Eve Rossen, about how she feels the men in town are turning the women into robots and she fears she will be next. Her therapist advises her to grab her kids and leave town, but Joanne admits her other family members are dead and she has nowhere to go, which brought out what the truly frightening aspect of this story truly is, which is that women back then were completely dependent on their husbands for everything. Many of them weren’t in the job force and simply living off of their husband’s income. If the marriage went bad they were pretty much trapped in it, so even if a woman wasn’t getting turned into a robot like these women were they still weren’t really free either.

I also enjoyed the moment when Katharine Ross stabs Paula Prentiss, Ross had grown to like Prentiss so much during the production that she was nervous about doing this so director Forbes shaved the back of his hand and used it in place of Ross’ when the scene was shot. You may have seen many stabbing scenes in your film watching lifetime, but the one here is truly unique and quite memorable and voted as one of the 100 Scariest Film Moments by the Bravo Film Institute.

The film though still does have its share of faults. I liked how the viewer initially doesn’t know anything more than the main characters about what is going on, but ultimately the viewer starts to catch onto things more quickly than the protagonist, which proves frustrating. Joanne comes upon the creepy house where the exclusive men’s club meet, filmed at the historical Lockwood-Matthews Mansion in Norwalk, Connecticut, which looks quite ominous at night, at the film’s 60 minute mark, but then doesn’t go back to it until 50 minutes later. The viewer has already connected-the-dots that the bad things are happening inside that place, but instead of Joanne investigating the place more she goes on a wild-goose-chase with Bobbie about researching that town’s water supply, thinking that may have a chemical in it that is brainwashing the other women, which is clearly just a waste of time.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s ending has a several issues as well. In the novel Joanne gets chased down by the town’s men, which should’ve been in the film as it would’ve allowed for some much needed action, but wasn’t. William Goldman’s script had originally called for Joanne to fight violently for her life when she gets attacked by her prototype robot, but Forbes decided to simply fade to black and not show the struggle, which makes it look like Joanne allowed herself to go down too easily.

When Joanne confronts the sinister Diz, played by Patrick O’Neal, he alludes to the idea that she wasn’t necessarily going to die, but would simply be ‘moving onto another phase’. He then describes to her about how nice it would be for a woman to be married to a husband who would adore her even when she grew ‘old and flabby’ making me think that Joanne was simply going to be taken away to another suburb somewhere else where the husbands would be the robots that the women controlled while the men remained in Stepford enjoying the wife robots. Seeing this scenario would’ve been a more interesting and unexpected twist and ultimately was later done in the 1986 TV-Movie The Stepford Husbands. 

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 12, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bryan Forbes

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Ruby (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: A haunted drive-in.

In 1935, Ruby (Piper Laurie) goes out on a date with her mobster boyfriend Nicky (Sal Vecchio). While they take a walk around a swamp they are ambushed by other mobsters who shoot Rocky dead. 16 years later Ruby is living with her mute daughter Leslie (Janit Baldwin),who was born on the night of the shooting, as well as her lover Vince (Stuart Whitman) and a blind, wheelchair bound ex-mobster Jake (Fred Kohler Jr.). She makes money running a local drive-in theater where strange deaths begin to occur convincing her that Nicky’s spirit has come back from the dead and is now out to destroy her.

The film, which was directed by Curtis Harrington, starts out rocky. The period atmosphere doesn’t seem completely authentic and the editing is choppy. I also didn’t like that everything takes place at night. I wanted more of a visual layout of the drive-in, maybe even a bird’s-eye view and some idea of the town that they lived in, which you never see. The scenes of the swamp don’t look genuine either and like it was all done on an inside soundstage.

Initially I found the ghost effects to be cheesy especially when the projectionist (Eddy Donno) starts seeing things moving around on their own, which came off as too tacky. The film would’ve been better had it not giving it all away right up front that there was a ghostly presence and it instead made it more like a mystery. However, once it started to catch its stride, which happens around the second act, it gets better. I felt the atmosphere was creepy and I enjoyed the spooky visions that Ruby sees of Nicky. Some of the possession scenes that occurs with her daughter Leslie, which comes off like an The Exorcist rip-off, but I’m not going to quibble, are cool too.

The best moment though is when one of the victims, played by Jack Perkins, gets impaled by a metal pole and then hung from the pole onto the outdoor movie screen. It’s cool too the way the camera captures his dead hanging body close-up and then far away where he looks like nothing more than a small fly on a white board. However, with that said there should’ve been some scene showing how they removed the body from the screen as the movie makes it seem like they just left it there, which wouldn’t have gone over well for the paying patrons to have to gaze at a dead body while their movie is playing.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending has a bit of a controversial history. Originally director Harrington wanted to have Ruby and Nicky go off to the swamp hand-in-hand like they had rekindled their romance, but writer/producer Steve Krantz wanted a darker twist, so he hired Stephanie Rothman to film an extended sequence where Ruby gets attacked by Nicky underwater. None of the actors were supportive of this new scene being added on, so they refused to come back for a reshoot forcing the production crew to use a stand-in to replace Piper and a skeleton in the place of Nicky. The scene is short enough that it works and personally I liked that it got added in as ending it on a romantic note seemed too hooky especially for a horror movie.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 23, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Curtis Harrington

Studio: Dimension Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The Gore Gore Girls (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Somebody’s killing the strippers.

Private investigator Abraham Gentry (Frank Kress) gets hired by Nancy (Amy Farrell), a reporter for The Globe newspaper, to investigate the murder of a stripper named Suzy Cream Puff (Jackie Kroeger). Abraham will get $25,000 to investigate the case and another $25,000 to solve it as long as he gives The Globe the exclusive story. Soon more strippers turn up dead and Abraham starts to have a long list of suspects including Grout (Ray Sager) a Vietnam veteran who enjoys smashing melons with faces drawn on them, similar to how the strippers got their heads smashed, in order to relieve his post traumatic stress disorder.

This was schlockmeister Herschell Gordon Lewis’ final film until 2002 and was meant to be a combination between the lighthearted nudies that he made in the early 60’s and the more graphic gore films that he did in the later part of the decade. The result though is a misguided mess where it seems more like a gag reel with tacky gore thrown in at certain intervals than a horror film.

The production values are really cheap even for a low budget production and contains basically just a few settings. One features the cramped living room of Abraham’s house that looks to be nothing more than a one bedroom apartment, which doesn’t quite make sense since the guy is a world famous detective you’d think he be living in a plush place especially with his elitist attitude. The other setting, which takes up the majority of the story, is the strip club that looks like it was filmed in the corner of somebody’s dingy basement.

The gory murders aren’t much fun and would be considered quite sick if they weren’t so tacky and fake. The jump cuts are the biggest problem as the bad guy kills the stripper one second and then in the next frame has seemingly been able to skin their heads completely and crushed their skulls, which is too quick. The ping pong ball sized eyeballs that the killer gouges from their heads are ridiculous looking too as eyes are actually oval shaped and not round as presented here.

The stripping routines take up too much of the runtime and seem put in simply to pad the anemic plotline. I’m not going to complain about watching beautiful women taking off their clothes, although to be honest the women here aren’t so hot, but I got real tired of hearing the same music played over and over again during each different set. Aren’t strippers allowed to come up with their own music and dance routines, or is that a new phenomenon that wasn’t a thing back in the 70’s?

I hate to psycho-analyze a film director and have never done it before, but the misogyny here is rampant. If there had been one strong, smart woman character present then it would’ve have been a issue, but instead females get portrayed here as being incredibly dumb and easily manipulated. The Nancy character is shown to be unable to take care of herself and needs a man present to look out for her particularly when she passes out on a city sidewalk after having only a couple of drinks. She faints and screams at the sight of a dead body too while the man remains stoic and shows no emotional reaction at all. Maybe this was supposed to be a part of the ‘comedy’, but it comes off as severely dated and out-of-touch with the times.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: September 22, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 21 Minutes

Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis

Rated X

Studio: Lewis Motion Picture Enterprises

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Last House on the Beach (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Robbers hold nun hostage.

Aldo (Ray Lovelock) leads a gang of three robbers who stage a bank robbery in broad daylight, but things go wrong and lives get lost. During the getaway their car breaks down and they’re forced to hideout in a nearby home that sits next to a beach. Inside the home is Sister Christina (Florinda Bolkan) a nun who takes in wayward teen girls and helps them find their way. She was in the middle of rehearsing a play with them when the men break-in. The thugs soon takeover, raping two of them while terrorizing the rest. At first the women are compliant, feeling they have no other choice, but eventually they decide they’ve had enough and turn-the-tables on their captors.

While this film will initially come-off as just another Last House on the Left rip-off the production values are much better than most American low budget cheapies and the location quite scenic. The place didn’t look like any type of religious school to me and more like an ocean front pad for a rich person, it was more than likely the home of one of the film’s producers who decided to use it in place of a real school to save money, but the setting ultimately still works. Too many other horror movies feel the need to go for the cliché, like having things take place at night in some abandoned building, or rundown home, so having it work against this is a refreshing change. In some ways it makes it even scarier because it shows that bad things can happen even in the affluent suburbs and that nobody is truly immune from crime and violence.

I liked the way the bad guys were all good-looking too especially Aldo whose face could be on the cover of  teen heartthrob magazine. Again, other horror films feel the need to make the killer look menacing, disfigured, or creepy in some way, but working against this stereotype makes it more unsettling by showing that anyone can harbor evil. The women are all good-looking too with great figures, but in this regard it doesn’t work as it didn’t seem realistic that only women who looked like models would join this school and there needed to be at least one plain-looking, overweight one to give it balance.

The set-up happens a bit too quickly. It would’ve been more frightening if things had been shown at the start from the women’s perspective, rehearsing for the play, and then having these robbers burst in unannounced versus showing the robbery, which ends up getting reshown through flashback later on anyways, and everything from the men’s perspective. Horror works when there’s a surprise and in that regard this film misses a prime opportunity early on.

However, once it kicks in I was surprised how compelling it was. There isn’t a lot of violence, but when there is it’s bloody and pretty graphic, even the injury that one of them receives (Stefano Cedrati) looks quite realistic, and shown close-up, and I liked how this becomes and on-going part of the plot and doesn’t just magically heal and get forgotten.

The film also features two prolonged rape segments with the first one done in slow motion. Some may say this is exploiting the situation, but ultimately it ends up making it even more unsettling. The second rape  is equally disturbing as it features a woman (Sherry Buchanan) being violated by a wooden cane and done from her point-of-view.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending for me was the best part. Rape and revenge flicks have been done a lot and there’s also been films like Straw Dogs where a wimpy guy ultimately turns violent through necessity, but this film does it better than those. Seeing the angry looks on the once tranquil women’s faces as they take turns beating the man to death was actually pretty shocking as you’re not quite expecting it. It successfully hits-home the fact that anyone can be provoked into violence even those that deny they have that ability and gets the viewer to realize they harbor that tendency too since these guys were so vile you actually end-up enjoying seeing their comeuppance.

Alternate Title: La Settima Donna

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 20, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Francesco Prosperi

Studio: Magirus Film

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The Brotherhood of Satan (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Devil worshippers kidnap children.

Ben (Charles Bateman) and his girlfriend Nicky (Ahna Capri) along with Nicky’s 9-year-old daughter K.T. (Geri Reischl) are driving through the New Mexico desert when they come upon a gruesome car accident where the vehicle and people inside it were crushed by some unknown force. When they go into the nearby town to report it they find the people there to be acting strangely and showing an unhealthy liking to their daughter. This causes them to get back into their car and drive away, but a blow-out tire forces them to return and face head-on a secret group of Satanists lead by Duncan (Strother Martin) the town’s doctor.

This movie, with a script written by Sean MacGregor who would later go on to direct another horror movie dealing with children called Devil Times Fiveis interesting in that it gives very little away. The viewer is as confused as the lost family about what is going on, which makes for a refreshing change-of-pace from the conventional horror, which always seems to feel the need to spell everything out instead of forcing the viewer to try and piece things together on their own. It also makes one feel like they’re in the same shoes as the family and more sympathetic to their quandary since you’re essentially going through the same confused state as they are.

Director Bernard McEveety allows the creepiness to take precedent over the plot. I loved the way it takes full advantage of the isolation of the town, filmed on-location in Hillsboro, New Mexico, which sits in the southwest portion of the state. I’ve driven through New Mexico several times and have always found the desert landscape there to be boring, but McEveety puts this to good use especially when the daughter goes missing and the camera does a full 180 degree turn showing how vastly desolate the region is and making the parent’s desperate search even more frantic.

The plot’s drawbacks centers around the unlimited cosmic power that these devil worshippers seem to have where they’re able to kill people through children’s toys without the culprits themselves being physically present. They’re also able to trap people in the town, and not allow any outsiders in, in ways that is never made completely clear. Having limits to the powers and showing how the group is able to implement them would’ve helped fill-in-the-blanks that is otherwise missing. To a great extent I felt it would’ve worked better had there been no magical powers at all and members of the group, the majority of them being elderly, would’ve had to do the evil deeds themselves. Watching otherwise harmless looking old people kill the various parents of the children they kidnap would’ve been far more startling to see then just having people fall over dead after looking at a child’s toy.

The idea that the sheriff and the deputy (L.Q. Jones, Alvy Moore) would be completely in the dark and not know about a satanic group secretly meeting in the town they lived in didn’t seem believable. I was born and raised in a small town, that was slightly more populated than the one portrayed here, and believe me word travels fast in those locations. Rumors and gossip are the way of life. It’s simply impossible to keep any type of secret, especially one as massive as this. The fact that the sheriff and deputy could live there and mingle with everyone and not get some inkling of suspicion is just too hard to believe. Since the group had all these massive magical powers anyways that they used to kill everyone else why didn’t they also then use it on the sheriff to get rid of him and then their problems would’ve been over, but they don’t, which creates a major plot hole.

However, if you approach the film for its creepy atmosphere alone then it’s still a winner. I liked too that very little music gets used and when it does it’s very subtle. Too many other horror films feel the need for a loud, booming score that usually gets in the way. If the atmosphere is done right there should be no need for excessive music in fact one of the creepiest moments in the movie for me is watching a brainwashed young child, played by the director’s young son, walk out of his own home and into the dark stillness of the night, with only the sound of the night breeze being heard.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 6, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bernard McEveety

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Savage Weekend (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The first slasher movie.

Maria (Marilyn Hamlin), who has a very contentious relationship with her ex-husband Greg (Jeff Pomerantz), but who is now in a relationship with Robert (Jim Doerr) a successful businessman, decides to take a weekend trip with some friends to upstate New York. Robert is having a large boat built there and wants to see its progress. The quiet country atmosphere seems like the perfect spot to getaway until a masked killer shows up killing each of them one-by-one.

While Halloween typically gets credited as being the forerunner to the modern day slasher film it’s actually this one that was the first and don’t let the release date fool you. This was filmed in the summer of 1976, a full two years before Halloween came out, but was shelved by its distributors as they thought the concept of a mysterious masked killer was ‘too weird’ and wouldn’t catch on only to eventually release it to theaters once they saw the success of Halloween.

The concept for this came about completely by accident. Writer/director David Paulson was originally hired to write a screenplay for a completely different type of movie, but the investor then retracted the majority of the money he promised leaving Paulson with a mere $20,000 to work with. He decided with such little funds he’d be forced create a story that required a single setting and then came up a scenario that would make the characters stay there and thus the killer-on-the-loose idea was born.

The critics were originally not kind: TV Guide subscribed this as a ‘reprehensible exploitation film’ and ‘the gore effects are extremely gruesome’, which just isn’t true. At best the blood is quite minimal especially when compared to today’s slashers. In fact you’ll find more explicit gore in modern dark comedy films like Shaun of the Dead than you will here.

Critic Joe Baltake criticized the Nicky (Christopher Allport) the gay character stating that he ‘set gay rights activism back several decades’, which I totally disagree with. I actually liked Nicky and was impressed at the way he walked into a backwoods bar and when the rednecks tried to hassle him he single-handedly kicked their asses, which to me worked completely against the gay stereotype.

Through the years critics have become much kinder to this film and its attained a strong cult following and deservedly so. Despite being made 4 decades ago it actually comes off as fresh and inventive because it’s not stifled by the conventional ‘rules’ of the formula, which we’ve become so accustomed to now. I liked how the film opens with a point-of-view shots of our heroine running madly through the forest making the viewer feel they’re the ones being chased.

The fact that the majority of it takes place during the daytime actually makes it scarier especially with it’s weird yellowish tint that permeates every shot. I’m not sure if this was intentional or just a poor film transfer, but it helps to create a surreal look. I also really loved seeing the skeleton of the large boat that was being built inside an abandoned shed. I presume with the low budget this was not made for the story and instead simply worked into the script when the producers came upon it while scouting for locations, but the effect is cool especially when the cast walks around inside it.

The soundtrack is way different from the conventional horror film as well with a country tinged sound and at one point even a classical dance piece, but after watching soooo many scary movies with the same old Friday the 13th-like sound I was more than happy to hear something different. The characters are also multi-dimensional with distinctive personalities. Usually I more than happy to see a cardboard slasher film cast get hacked-up, but here I kind of wanted them to stay around as they were interesting. The murders also don’t work in a mechanical way, but instead start occurring suddenly to the shock of everyone else, which gives it more of a real-time feel.

The only real negative is that despite having a strong beginning and ending the middle part is slow. There’s still enough interactions between the characters to hold mild interest, but there’s no running tension. A good horror movie should be creepy to some degree from beginning to end, but the second act veers off too much making it at times seem more like a soft core porn flick, but overall for the horror connoisseur I’d still recommend this.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 14, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Paulsen

Studio: Cannon Group

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region 1), Amazon Video