Monthly Archives: October 2013

Dear Dead Delilah (1972)

dear dead delilah

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Greedy family gets hacked.

Delilah (Agnes Moorehead) is the matriarch of a large southern family who brings together the other members to tell them that her deceased husband’s gambling earnings of $600,000 is hidden somewhere on the premises. Desperate and greedy everyone goes on the hunt for it, but find they are being slaughtered one-by-one by an ax-wielding maniac.

As low budget horror movies go this one is about as poorly produced as you can get. This was John Farris’s first and so far last foray behind the camera. He is most famous for authoring ‘The Fury’, which was later made into a hit movie, but as a director he shows no visual ability. The scenes are poorly staged and the sets are illuminated by a bright unfiltered light that makes the center of every room in every scene look like it is under a spotlight. The scenes drone on with over-the-top characterizations of greedy family members and one-dimensional monotonous talk about money. The southern setting seems hooky almost like an amateurish attempt at Tennessee Williams. The scares and tension are non-existent and the film is an embarrassment to anyone having anything to do with it, which includes Bill Justis and his terrible music score.

It doesn’t help matters that the 1986 Embassy VHS issue of this film, which is as of this date the only source where this film can be seen, is terrible. The negative has a lot of scratches and the color is dark and faded making it look almost like someone’s forgotten home movie.

Moorehead, whose last film this was, is the one gem. She wears a brown wig and the only cast member who speaks in a Southern accent that sounds genuine. Her constant frowning facial expression is entertaining and helps enliven this otherwise poor excuse of a film with every scene that she is in.  She shares several scenes with Will Geer who plays her estate attorney. The two co-starred earlier that same year in an episode of ‘Bewitched’ where Geer played George Washington brought back to life by Esmerelda.

The film does boast some graphic murders that seem well ahead of its time in the grisly department. One of the best ones is when a female sitting in a wheelchair gets decapitated and the viewer sees her head lying on the ground next to her still quivering, blood spurting body. The opening sequence has a daughter speaking with her mother while the old lady has an ax sticking out of her head and her severed arm lying on the floor, which the daughter nonchalantly steps over like it is no big deal. The part near the end where a man gets shot through the back of his head and the bullet come out through his right eye socket is impressive as well.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 16, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Farris

Studio: Southern Star Entertainment

Available: VHS

My Bloody Valentine (1981)

my bloody valentine

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: A Killer with heart.

After 20 years a small Canadian mining town of Valentine Bluffs has decided to hold another Valentine’s Day Dance. The previous ones were canceled due to one ending in bloodshed by a psychotic mine worker named Harold Warden. Now he is locked away so they think it is safe except the killings start happening again and this time the killer tears the hearts out of the victims and delivers them in heart shaped boxes to their relatives.

This movie has a cool looking poster and a deliciously macabre concept and has also attained a strong cult following including Quinton Tarantino, but I unfortunately was not impressed with it. I found it to be excruciatingly boring and a major strain just to sit through. The direction and writing are uninspired creating predictable scenarios and delivering all the expected teen slasher movie clichés with a monotonous regularity.  Nothing is distinctive or scary and it fails to deliver any suspense or tension. It can’t even make effective use of its unique mine shaft setting. The final sequence takes place there, but it is nothing spectacular. The constant delivering of human hearts in candy style boxes soon loses its effect and eventually becomes stupid especially with the corny poems written on the attached note cards.

The young victims are dull and stereotypical. They look like caricatures from all the other slasher horror films except here they speak with thick Canadian accents. One of them looks like an overweight version of Meathead from ‘All in the Family’. There is also a ‘class clown’ type of character that resembles very closely the ‘class clown’ character from Friday the 13th . Here he does nothing but crack dumb jokes and watching him eventually get decapitated is the film’s single most gratifying moment.

The sheriff character is a real loser. He wears a big belt buckle and dopey haircut that makes him appear to be some middle-aged buffoon who has just stepped out of the 60’s. His logic is also flawed. He decides not to warn the town that a killer is on the loose even after he has killed a couple of people as he is afraid it will create too much of a panic, so instead he waits until seven more people die and the citizens all go into a panic anyways.

Usually in even the poorest of horror films the killings and gore can at least keep things entertaining on a tacky level and yet here they are as dull as everything else. Also, since when has going into a dark and dingy cave been considered a great place to have sex? To me it seems absurd and yet several of the teen couples go into the mine for distinctly that purpose.

Remade in 2009.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released:  February 11, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: George Mihalka

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

 

Mausoleum (1983)

mausoleum 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Beautiful lady is possessed.

At her mother’s gravesite a young Susan feels compelled to go inside a Mausoleum and there she comes into contact with evil spirits who possess her and allow her the ability to destroy those around her that she does not like. She becomes an adult and marries, but her husband Oliver (Marjoe Gortner) begins to suspect that something isn’t right with her and tells Simon her psychiatrist (Norman Burton) who reads up on a book of ancient rituals to rid her of the spirits before it is too late.

This film is a tired rip-off of not only The Exorcist, but all the rip-offs that came after it. The special effects are cheesy and the mechanical direction fails to add anything new to the genre. The brief bursts of horror are intercut with long, drawn out dramatic segments that go nowhere. The heavy-handed musical score is annoying and the budget is well on the cheap side. Susan’s transformations and murders quickly become mundane and redundant.

The acting is especially bad and in some ways the worst part about the movie. All the performers deliver their lines in a hollow sounding, robotic way. Gortner makes for a weak ‘good-guy’. I might be able to handle him as a psycho, but as a lead he is terrible. I was glad to see his character get killed and just wished it had been sooner. LaWanda Page best known as Aunt Esther from ‘Sanford and Son’ TV-Show adds some levity as the couple’s maid and even says a few very choice four-letter words.

This would be a good candidate for Mystery Science Theater 3000, but hard to take seriously on its own. Even lovers of tacky cinema will be challenged to get through it. This is the type of bad movie that gives other bad movies a bad name.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 3, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Dugan

Studio: MPM

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 1 & 2)

Chopping Mall (1986)

chopping mall

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer robots on prowl.

A new high-tech shopping mall installs robots as their night security team. They are programmed to apprehend and subdue any intruders, or anyone not showing them their security badge. A bunch of teenagers who work at the mall during the day decide to hang out and party there at night, but find that the robots have run amuck and are now trying to kill them. Locked into the place for the whole night the teens try fighting them off while desperately looking for a way out.

This was writer/director Jim Wynorski’s second feature and the beginning of an almost assembly line string of direct-to-video/B-movie features that of this writing now equals 94 and many of them done under a pseudonym. Wynorski shows some flair by injecting comedy into the proceedings including an engaging opening sequence done over the credits that includes a lot of sight gags and a good up-tempo synthesized score that fits the mood and action. There are also some fun cameos including Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov who appear at the beginning and recreate their roles from the hilarious cult hit Eating Raoul. You can also spot Mel Welles from Little Shop of Horrors fame as well as perennial B-movie favorites Dick Miller as a janitor and Gerrit Graham as a technician.

It was filmed at an actual mall in Sherman Oaks, California, which makes for an interesting backdrop and good authenticity. I also liked how the teens, both the men and women, are very resourceful and come up with different and elaborate ways to combat the robots. The female cast is attractive with a decent amount of nudity. The special effects aren’t bad either. I was impressed with the exploding head sequence as well as the burning body moment. My only quibble in this area is that they were able to break the glass of the storefront windows, which happens several times during the course of the film, much, much too easily.

The biggest problem with the film is that it just isn’t scary or suspenseful enough. The only time there was any real tension is towards the end when the Kelli Maroney character hides underneath some shelves at a pet store and is forced to keep quiet from the lurking robot while a  snake and spiders crawl all over her. Despite some interesting directorial touches it still comes off as mechanical and formulaic and even though the running time is short I still found myself getting quite bored with it. There is also never any explanation for why the robots go haywire, which I felt was a major oversight.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 21, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 17Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jim Wynorski

Studio: Concorde Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)

nightmare on elm street 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: More dreams more Freddy.

A new family has moved into the house on Elm Street where Nancy from the first film once lived and who is now locked away in a mental institution. The family’s son Jesse (Mark Patton) starts to have the same reoccurring nightmares dealing with child murderer Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), but this time Freddy wants to overtake Mark’s entire body and use it as a killing machine to the other youths in the area.

As sequels go this one is okay. I liked the idea that it is a continuation from the first one and not just a reworking of it. Trying to evolve the idea to the next level by having Krueger actually possessing the kid is interesting and the scene where Kruger’s head pushes out of Jesse’s stomach is good. However, it also gets away from the whole dream element that made the first one unique and turns the thing into just another slasher formula. Freddy only appears for 13 minutes during the 84 minute runtime, which isn’t enough as the pace and tension starts to ebb towards the middle. A little too much focus is put on Jesse and his emotional quandary at knowing what this evil spirit is trying to do, which turns it into more of a drama than a horror film. The climatic sequence that takes place in the boiler room where Freddy used to work when he was still alive becomes a bit too melodramatic and not that scary.

I would have liked some flashbacks showing what Freddy was like when he was alive and before he got burned and some history showing what might have lead him into becoming a child murderer in the first place. I also couldn’t help but wonder why Freddy only seems to torment the dreams of the teen characters. Why not Jesse’s parents as well? One could argue that as a child murderer Freddy was only interested in terrorizing young people, but then why not get into the dreams of Jesse’s younger sister Christie (Angela Walsh), which he never does.

Spoiler Alert!

This film also has one of the biggest plot holes I have ever seen and far more glaring than the ones you usually see in most other films of this genre. It all has to do with a party sequence in which Jesse turns into Freddy and starts killing off the other teen attendees. This was not dream, but reality, which was witnessed by many other people including Lisa’s parents. Yet at the end when Jesse somehow returns to ‘normal’ he boards the school bus where his friends make statements to the effect that he should just ‘forget about’ the party incident and everyone is ready to move on, but how does that happen? With the amount of carnage seen by the viewer the police and media would certainly have to investigate and the parents of the victims would want answers. Just ‘forgetting about’ something like that would not be a realistic option and the filmmakers attempts to gloss over what ends up being the movie’s biggest event is patently ridiculous.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Director Jack Sholder spends a lot of time focusing in on Krueger’s glove with its finger-like blades, but the more I saw them the less scary they became. The blades look awfully thin and flimsy and have no ridges or teeth on them. They look so dull that they would barely be able to cut through butter let alone human skin.

I did like that the lead victim was a male this time and it was nice seeing a teen character with sophisticated tastes as I spotted Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ novel laying on his bedside table. The scenes inside the high school and some of his conversations with his friends seemed less cardboard than usual. I also liked that Jesse manages to make friends with Grady (Robert Rusler) who initially comes-off as a stereotypical bully, but the scene where Grady speaks with his mouth full of food during a cafeteria sequence is a bit gross.

Jesse’s dealings with his harsh baseball coach (Marshall Bell) gets a bit over-the-top and forcing the boys to do pushups for hours underneath the hot sun would most likely get him fired especially these days. However, watching him get tied up and stripped naked and then whipped by towels in a sort of S & M death sequence is a highlight.

The story and special effects is still creative enough to raise this above the average 80’s slasher film although not all of them are effective. David Chaskin’s screenplay has some intriguing elements, but ends up biting-off-more-than-it-can-chew and creates too many loopholes to be satisfying.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 1, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 24Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jack Sholder

Studio: New Line Cinema

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Dead Ringer (1964)

dead ringer

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: She kills her twin.

Edith (Bette Davis) attends the funeral of her twin sister’s husband a man she secretly loved and who became very rich. Edith struggles as a bar owner and is jealous of her sister Margaret’s affluent lifestyle. When she finds out that Margaret tricked her way into marrying this man it sends Edith over-the-edge in rage. She kills Margaret and then assumes her identity only to come into some unexpected complications and realize things would have been better had she just remained herself.

Davis shines in the dual role. She had already played this type of role before in 1946 in A Stolen Life. I was surprised that although she was only 56 at the time this was filmed her face looked very old and haggard almost like she was 70. Watching her eyes get all wide and roll around every time she becomes suspicious or nervous is a treat in itself.

Paul Henreid an actor turned director who is probably best known for playing the role of Victor Laszlo in Casablanca doesn’t quite give the story the zing that it needs. He employs a lot of long takes especially during the first hour that slows things down too much and doesn’t build any tension. There is a lot of extended dialogue and scenes that could have been cut out completely that would have made the movie faster paced and more exciting.

The story itself has a few too many plot holes. One is the fact that Edith meets Margaret for the first time in several decades at the funeral and then suddenly the next day decides to kill her and assume her identity, which seemed too quick. I would have expected a lot more complications than there are and the fact that she can seem to remember all the servants’ names without a hitch didn’t quite jive. There is also a scene where the detective character played by Karl Malden enters someone’s apartment and riffles through his personal belongings without any type of search warrant or probable cause, which is not realistic. They do find some incriminating evidence, but I think it would have been thrown out based on that technicality, which in turn would have completely altered the film’s ending.

The supporting cast adds some spark. Malden is good as the dogged detective a type of part he refined even more in the 1970’s TV-series ‘The Streets of San Francisco’. Peter Lawford who is always terrific is fun as Margaret’s conniving lover Tony. You can also spot in bit parts the familiar faces of Jean Hagen, Henry Beckman, Bryan O’Byrne, Bert Remsen, and Estelle Winwood. Henreid even casts his own daughter Monika in the part of Margaret’s maid Janet.

There are some fun twists that come near the end, but it takes too long to get there. The film would have been more successful had it had a more compact running time and direction that was flashy and creative.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 19, 1964

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Paul Henreid

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Audrey Rose (1977)

audrey rose 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dead daughter gets reincarnated.

On October 3rd, 1965 at precisely 8:20AM a young Audrey Rose dies in a fiery car crash. At 8:22AM on that same day Ivy (Susan Swift) is born to Janice and Bill Templeton (Marsha Mason, John Beck). Several years later after talking to a couple of psychics Audrey’s father Elliot (Anthony Hopkins) becomes convinced that his dead daughter has been reincarnated in the body of Audrey. When he approaches Ivy’s parents about it they scoff and then when he tries to take her they have him arrested. He then goes on trial where he tries to get 12 jurors to believe that reincarnation is a reality.

Based on the Frank De Felitta novel, and who also wrote the screenplay, this odd hybrid of a horror film never really takes-off.  Director Robert Wise does a terrific job of capturing the Manhattan skyline and a late 70’s New York City ambience as well as the gorgeous classic paintings that line the ceiling of Janice’s and Bill’s apartment, but he has a story that is light on action. The restrained and genteel narrative creates a film that seems more like a conventional drama than a horror film despite a storyline that is brimming with supernatural elements.

Every effort is made to keep the proceedings as realistic as possible only to have the entire second hour delving into a court room drama with a defense strategy that is so outlandish it becomes almost ludicrous. Having Elliot become convinced of the reincarnation through talking to psychics is another weak point. The few so-called psychics that I have been to have proven to be inaccurate and unreliable and most people that I know have had the same experience. In the past few years several famous psychics have been outed in the media as being frauds and charlatans. Having the film treat these people like they are a reliable source puts the entire premise on poor footing from the very beginning.

Mason can play a distraught and beleaguered character about as well as anyone and her teary-eyed presence helps give the film a few extra points. Beck is also good as her husband and their contrasting personalities and approaches to the situation add an interesting subtext.

Not to necessarily sound cruel but Swift as the young girl has a big pair of buggy eyes that to me became more of a distraction as it went along. Also, with her long brown hair she starts to resemble the Linda Blair character from The Exorcist, which was a far more intense, scary, and exciting film than this one. The producers would have done well to have cast a blonde or redhead in the role simply to avoid the comparison.

The scares are almost non-existent and the only slightly spooky moment is the scene where Swift looks into a mirror and chants the Audrey Rose name repeatedly, which is the only time where her buggy eyes come into good use. The several scenes showing her running around the place and banging onto the widows while screaming become old pretty fast. The direction is slick and the production values good. It is compelling enough to be entertaining, but the ending is very unsatisfying and as a thriller it is transparent and unmemorable.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 6, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Wise

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Don’t Go in the Woods (1981)

don't go in the woods

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t watch this movie.

Excruciatingly bad on all levels this film could very well rank as the worst horror movie/slasher film of all time and given how many bad ones there are that is really saying something. The story, or what little there is of it, features four college-aged hikers, two men and two women, spending an idyllic weekend in the woods of a state park. Little do they know that a madman is on the loose and killing people at a frantic pace. When he catches up with them they run, scream, and then get sliced up.

The acting itself is the real horror. Usually even a real low budget film will at least have a few B-names in the cast whether they were famous at one time and now slumming, or an up-and-coming star, but this has neither. Most of the cast never appeared in another film and watching them perform here will tell you why. Of course having them straddled with stale, stilted dialogue that has no conversational quality doesn’t help and the proceedings would have been better off had director James Bryan allowed them to ad-lib.

The gory special effects are unimaginative and pathetic. It is edited in such a way that it is very hard to follow what exactly is happening to the victims and the majority of it basically entails gobs of red blood splattering everywhere and little else.

The killer is laughable and dressed in a Neanderthal getup that makes him look like a cross between a caveman and what a Minnesota Vikings fan wears to a football game. His cartoonish laugh is annoying and the isolated, decrepit cabin that he resides in seems too reminiscent to Jason’s hangout in Friday the 13th Part 2. There is also never any explanation, even at the very end, as to who the hell this guy is, how he got there, or where he is from.

This film also has one of the ugliest female casts of any horror film I have seen. Usually films of this genre cast a couple of Playboy Playmates or Penthouse Pets in the mix as eye candy to help liven things up during the slow parts, but this one instead has the two female leads with such short haircuts that they almost look like boys. There is also no nudity, which in this instance is probably a good thing.

Outside of a cheesy song played over the closing credits the film lacks any type of music score. In some ways like in I Spit on Your Grave this can help accentuate the cinema-vertite grittiness, but here it makes an already cheap production seem even cheaper. Some music could have helped cover-up the constant sound of birds cooing in the background, which eventually got annoying. The dialogue was also dubbed in during post production, which gives it even more of an amateurish quality.

The director of this one has absolutely no talent or ability. Your average fifth-grader could pump out something better than this.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: September 1, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 22Minutes

Rated R

Director: James Bryan

Studio: Seymour Borde and Associates

Available: DVD, YouTube

Funny Games (1997)

funny games 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killers like playing games.

A family is tormented by two young men (Arno Frisch, Frank Geiring) who break into their home and proceed to play ‘funny games’ on them. These games are cruel and humiliating in nature. They are ‘played’ simply to prove that they can. As the film progresses and reveals some very unusual narrative devices it becomes obvious that the real ‘funny games’ are those played on the viewer by writer/director Michael Haneke.

Clearly this is long overdue as it is a revisionist look at the very violent psycho/thriller genre. Last House on the Left and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer have both handled the violence and dehumanization theme quite well before, which thus minimizes some of this film’s shock value. Yet Haneke shows an astute awareness of his craft and its manipulative nature. He cuts into all the accepted formalities and conventions of the genre and film making in general that you have to give it high marks. There is one scene, where the camera literally stays locked on the carnage for several minutes that the repugnance of violence really does hit home as intended.

funny games 2

The whole thing is supposed to shake the viewer into reevaluating their own viewpoints. It’s an almost ongoing assault questioning their views on justice, tolerance to violence, prayer and other cosmic forces and even their own fragility. It also tries to force them to analyze why they view these types of films and find them entertaining.

Like the heavy metal music played over the opening credits this thing is raw, abrasive and filled with anger and rebellion. Haneke is clearly upset. Upset at irresponsible directors who make violent films and an overly tolerant public that watches them.

This is an ugly film with an unrelenting nature and flashes of contempt. The average movie goer will probably not like it. However, it you are a connoisseur of cutting edge cinema then you may find the whole thing refreshingly provocative.

funny games 1

Frisch and Geiring as the two killers look and act so much against type that they become two of the most chilling and memorable villains in screen history. Also, Susanne Lothar and Ulrich Muhe who play the husband and wife victims are actually married in real life.

An American version, which was directed by Haneke as well and stars the beautiful Naomi Watts and follows this one almost scene-for-scene was released in 2007.

funny games 4

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 14, 1997

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Michael Haneke

Studio: Attitude Films

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Squirm (1976)

squirm

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review:  Worms invade a town.

A thunderstorm knocks down some power lines, which creates a surge amongst the worms in the earth and prompts them to come out of the dirt and go on the attack. Thousands upon thousands of them descend onto a small southern town filling up stores and homes and viciously biting those that get in their way.

A bizarre but interesting idea for a horror movie that manages to succeed mainly because it keeps it relatively believable. The worms stay regular size and the rationale behind it has some logical backing. It does take a while to get going and the real scares don’t occur until the very end. The subplot involving the tracking down of some skeletal remains doesn’t add anything, but the film is well crafted enough to build a weird atmosphere. The climax which features a home filled from floor to ceiling with millions of squirming worms is a unique sight.

R. A. Dow, who plays Roger the bad guy, is equally memorable. He looks menacing to begin with, but when he falls into a pile of the worms and gets all sorts of them eating into his face and he starts to look genuinely frightening. He then goes through the rest of the picture as this creepy worm-like man that is enhanced by the excellent make-up effects by the renowned Rick Baker.

Don Scardino makes for an interesting good guy/lead. He is not brawny, good looking, or even cool, but instead brainy and at certain points quite timid. At times he gets a bit too wussy, but he is at least a refreshing change to the blow-dried stud muffin. He resembles the film’s writer/director Jeff Lieberman and may have been cast simply for that reason.

Patricia Pearcy is capable as the love interest. She is a bit too country and certainly no beauty, but manages to be distinctive nonetheless. Fran Higgins as her younger sister Alma possesses one of the homelier looking faces you will ever see. Having her paint her nails and wear high heels so she can look ‘sexy’ seems almost cruelly comical.

The opening storm segment is weak with the falling power lines looking too much like they are miniature replicas. Lieberman’s recreation of the small town southern people is clichéd and stilted. The music is effective except for a part where a child sings a creepy little tune that doesn’t quite work or fit.

The close-ups of the worms are awesome, but I didn’t care for the sound effects used that sounds like squealing pigs. The noise effects created to resemble their squirming comes-off too much like sloshing water.

Overall the film manages to be effective. It’s certainly no classic, but successfully original.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 30, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jeff Lieberman

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD