Monthly Archives: October 2014

Suspiria (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ballet dancer battles witches.

Suzy (Jessica Harper) is an American from New York who aspires to be a ballet dancer and travels to Freiburg, Germany to enroll at the dancer academy there. When she arrives she confronts another young lady who shouts something about a ‘blue iris flower’ before running out into the stormy night and then later turning up murdered. As the days progress strange events begin to occur convincing Suzy that the dance school may really be a cover for a coven of witches.

I first saw this film back in the late 80’s and it left me cold, but after reading a few other movie blogs where the critics insisted this was ‘brilliant’ I decided to give it another chance and approached it with a completely open mind only to end up liking it even less. The majority of the problem is Dario Argento’s over-direction. The sets and color schemes are wildly over-the-top bordering on camp. Had he pulled back even a little it might have been visually impressive, but instead gets obnoxious. The atmosphere, like everything else, is overdone creating a dream-like fantasy feel that has no connection to reality and therefore not very compelling.

The music, which was done by a group called Goblin, is interesting to some extent. I like the effect that to me sounded like hissing demons, but the other parts of it too closely resembled the ‘Tubular Bells’ music that was used in The Exorcist. It also gets overplayed and is too loud coming off like a spoiled child demanding your attention, which creates less tension and more distraction instead.

The special effects don’t live up to billing. When a man gets attacked and then eaten by his own dog is the only good part simply because it’s unexpected. Otherwise the blood and gore is average and even lacking. The majority of it is at the beginning where we see a young, frightened woman squirmy around on the floor while she gets stabbed and to a degree looks like some interpretive dance routine. The shot of a body coming out of a ceiling and then hung from a rope doesn’t work because it is clearly a mannequin and if you look real closely her face already has a strangled expression on it before the head goes through the noose.


Harper is a good protagonist and its fun seeing classic film star Joan Bennett in her last film role. I also really liked Alida Valli as Miss Tanner the dance instructor. During the 40’s and 50’s she was a stunningly beautiful leading lady, but here looks very witchy with the way her hair is cropped up into a tight bun as well as with her eyes and voice. The rest of the supporting cast have their voices dubbed, something that Italian productions during this period were notorious for and gives the already wooden dialogue a cheesy, amateurish sounding banter.

Spoiler Alert!

The climactic finish is a big letdown. For such an extravagant, garish build-up I was expecting much more of a bloody, drawn-out battle. Instead Harper just picks up a sharp object and stabs the head witch, who looks dead already, and it immediately kills her along with the others, but to me this didn’t make sense. This is supposedly some otherworldly demon, so the same laws of physics wouldn’t necessarily apply to her like it does to humans and a simple stab wound wouldn’t have the same effect like it would to regular people.

End of Spoiler Alert!

I was glad to see that other viewers on IMDB particularly those on the message board felt the same way about this ‘classic’ as I did. In my opinion the only way to enjoy it is for its excessive camp value and nothing more.



My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 1, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes (Blue Underground 2-Disc Special Edition)

Rated R (Originally rated X)

Director: Dario Argento

Studio: International Classics (Dubbed Version)

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray

The Sentinel (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The Gateway to Hell.

Alison (Cristina Raines) is a fashion model looking for a place of her own. She is dating Michael (Chris Sarandon) and living with him, but has decided she is not ready for marriage and wants her own apartment. She finds an old, but stylish place in the Brooklyn Heights area of New York City that is already furnished and decides to move in, but then strange things begin to occur convincing her that the place may be haunted and when she starts to have physical maladies she is sure that something within the building is trying to possess her and the other residents she sees are really evil demons.

From the very first scene still film reeks of being just another, tired rip-off of The Exorcist. The first hour features no real scares and it is only during the second part that it becomes a full-fledged horror movie giving the film an overall disjointed feel. The much hyped final, which features severely deformed people who are not wearing make-up isn’t that impressive and unable to equal any of today’s horror movies. If anything I wished they had played this part up even more as it is the only time this otherwise generic thing gets even slightly diverting.

Rains, who by her own admission has never ever actually watched the movie, makes for a weak lead. Sure she is beautiful, but the character is dull and ordinary and she gets easily upstaged by co-star Sarandon who clearly shows how to carry a scene and deserves top billing over her for that reason alone. Her characters motivations didn’t make much sense either. Why would such a young woman want to move into a place filled with antique furniture and inhabited by senior citizens that she has nothing in common with? Also, when creepy things start to occur she doesn’t just move out right away like a normal person would, but instead goes back to the place several more times. There is also a moment when she hears strange noises from the upstairs apartment and then gets out of her bed and locks her front door, which seemed crazy because she is living in New York City and should be locking her doors ALL the time to begin with.

The only real interesting thing about this film for me was seeing older stars at the end of their careers in bit parts. Ava Gardner is fun as the leasing agent and Arthur Kennedy is solid as a mysterious priest as well as John Carradine as an older blind priest who lives upstairs and wearing creepy contacts. There is also Sylvia Miles who appears topless and camps it up as a lesbian neighbor with a Russian accent at least I think it was Russian. Christopher Walken can be seen briefly as a detective giving his gum a workout and Beverly D’Angelo plays a nubile lesbian who doesn’t say a single word, but more than makes up for it with her masturbation scene.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: January 7, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD

He Knows You’re Alone (1980)

he knows youre alone

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer goes after brides.

Amy (Catlin O’Heaney) is getting ready to get married, but finds herself stalked by a mysterious stranger (Tom Rolfing). She begins to worry that she may fall victim to a psycho that has been murdering women who have been engaged to marry. Detective Gamble (Lewis Arlt) whose own fiancé was murdered at the hands of this same maniac goes on a relentless quest to stop the attacker, but will it be too late?

The film starts out well and has early hints of Scream where we see an audience viewing a reenactment of an urban legend on a theater screen while one of the women in the audience gets killed by the psycho at the same time, which I found to be quite clever. Unfortunately it goes completely downhill afterwards and never recovers. Lots of slow scenes filled with extraneous dialogue and characters that add nothing to the suspense.  Most horror films quicken the pace as it gets nearer to the end, but this one doesn’t making the tension almost non-existent.

The identity of the killer is another issue. We are shown his face right up front, which hurts because usually with these things the killer’s true identity is kept a secret until the end, which adds to the entertainment. I also thought it was ridiculous to believe that a man murders one woman because she broke up with him and decided to marry someone else, but then robotically decides to murder every other bride he finds. I wanted more of a backstory to the character and felt one was sorely needed. It also seemed implausible that the police would be clueless as to who it is as when the first bride died they would most assuredly interview her ex-boyfriends, which is standard procedure and had this guy locked up or closely monitored long before things spiraled so out-of-control.

The special effects are minimal and in fact there is barely any blood at all as everything is implied. We see one severed head in a fish tank, but otherwise the camera cuts away before anyone is shown getting stabbed or killed.

O’Heaney is transparent in the lead and isn’t even all that cute. Arlt as the dogged detective isn’t much better. It’s fun seeing Tom Hanks, who appears at the 59-minute mark, in his film debut. James Rebhorn can also be seen here in an early film role with a full head of hair playing a college professor who cheats on his wife with one of his students. You can spot Paul Gleason in a bit part as one of the detectives as well as Robin Lamont during the opening sequence who is best remembered for her rendition of ‘Day by Day’ in both the stage and film version of Godspell.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: September 12, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Armand Mastroianni

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare (1987)

rock n roll nightmare 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rock band gets slaughtered.

In a remote Canadian farmhouse a family is killed by some evil spirits from hell. Now, years later a rock band called The Tritons uses the place as a recording studio, but soon both they and their girlfriends start getting killed off one-by-one by the same spirits. Eventually only lead singer John (Jon Mikl Thor) remains and with his big muscular physique and fashionably long hair decides to take them on singlehandedly.

This low budget cheapie was shot at an isolated farmhouse near Markham, Ontario in a mere seven days and suffers from an excessive amount of footage on stuff that doesn’t matter like spending the first five minutes watching the group’s van driving down the highway. The dialogue and characters are predictably cardboard and the special effects unimpressive except for the moment where a monster’s hand pops out of a guy’s stomach, which wasn’t bad.

The film, which ends up being nothing more than a vanity project of its star who also wrote and produced it, has a million and one holes. For one thing it is never explained why these spirits attack this farmhouse or why a big sound studio was built in a place that had a family slaughtered in it or even why the people that constructed the studio weren’t killed just like the family and band members were.

If you are going to watch it then do like I did with a few beers at hand and a group of people who make jokes at it much of which are  far more entertaining than anything on the screen.

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My Rating: 1 out of 10

Alternate Title: The Edge of Hell

Released: July, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Fasano

Studio: Shapiro Entertainment

Available: DVD

Killer Workout (1987)

killer workout 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Safety pins aren’t safe.

Years earlier a woman is badly burned during a tanning salon mishap. Now her sister Rhonda (Marcia Karr) is running a fitness center where the women are systematically being killed off. Could the two be in some way connected? Detective Morgan (David James Campbell) thinks so and will stop at nothing to get the truth out of his main suspect even if it means resorting to unethical methods.

This cliché ridden formulaic late 80’s slasher has achieved some cult status simply for its mind numbing stupidity. The film’s most ridiculous aspect is that the killer murders his victims with a SAFETY PIN! That’s right a safety pin that is a little bit larger than your typical one, but not by much. Some of the victims go down after being stabbed by it only a couple of times and in one instance it manages to somehow go through a man’s skull!

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You have to wonder why no one on the cast or crew alerted the director to how stupid this was, or who even came up with the insane idea, but it does to some degree ponder the imagination and the only thing one goes away thinking about afterwards.

There are a lot of shots of female derrieres in thong bikinis, which normally for most male viewers is a good thing and certainly something that the producers thought would be enough to hide its otherwise lame production values, but it isn’t. Only for those who get a kick out of cheesy 80’s fashions and attitudes of which there is plenty.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Alternate Title: Aerobicide

Released: April 16, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark A. Prior

Studio: Shapiro Entertainment

Available: VHS

Willard (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He likes his rats.

Willard Stiles (Bruce Davison) is a young man still living at home with his domineering mother (Elsa Lanchester) and dealing with a demanding boss (Ernest Borgnine) at work. To escape his loneliness and frustration he befriends some rats that he finds in his backyard and starts training them to do his bidding. Soon he is getting revenge on all those who have wronged him by having his rats attack them, but ultimately the rats have an agenda of their own.

The film starts out poorly and doesn’t improve as it goes along. The main character seems too old for this type of thing and would be better suited for a bullied teen looking for revenge instead of a 27-year-old that’s still strangely living at home even though he has a job and could be out on his own. The idea that he would become so obsessed with rats after seeing one in his backyard and then be able to somehow ‘communicate’ with them and train them is highly farfetched and happens much too quickly.

The rats themselves aren’t very scary and in fact—I can’t believe I’m saying this either—they really kind of seemed cute most of the time and when Willard initially tries drowning them in a pool I was starting to feel sorry for them as I did when the Borgnine character kills one in the office. When Willard has them invade a party with snooty guests I found it to be quite funny and not ‘horrifying’ at all. The only thing I didn’t like about them was their incessant high-pitched screeching, which eventually becomes irritating.

Daniel Mann’s sterile direction lacks atmosphere or style and the film has a very cheap and dated look even for 1971. Alex North’s musical score is much too soft, melodic and playful for a horror film and at times seemed better suited for a Disney movie.

Davison with his blonde, blue-eyed all-American looks doesn’t have the right menacing quality for the part and Crispin Glover who played the role in the 2003 remake is a much better choice. Lanchester is fun as the overbearing mother as is Jody Gilbert as a meddlesome aunt who looks much more frightening than any of the rats. Borgnine adds some spunk and I loved the way his eyes grow big and round when he sees the rats invading his office and the part where he gets attacked by them is the best moment in the film.

Why this movie became the big hit that it did is a mystery to me. Only at the very end when we see hundreds of rats running across the floor does it ever get even slightly creepy, but overall it is lame and boring and a good candidate for Bad Movie honors.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 18, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Daniel Mann

Studio: Cinema Releasing Corporation

Available: VHS

The Collector (1965)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Collecting women like butterflies.

Freddie (Terence Stamp) is a withdrawn loner who collects butterflies for a hobby. One day he manages to win a lot of money in a football pool and uses it buy an old, isolated house in the English countryside. The place has a very large cellar, which gives him the idea that it can be used as a prison. It is then that he decides to kidnap beautiful art student Miranda (Samantha Eggar). He keeps her in the cellar, but fixes it up making it seem almost like an apartment. He treats her with the upmost respect and even knocks before entering her room. He buys her art supplies so she can continue her work and makes an agreement with her that he will let her go after 4-weeks, but hopes in between then that she will fall in love with him.

The film puts an interesting spin on the old ‘psycho kidnapping a beautiful woman’ theme and for the most part succeeds. The viewer ends up feeling almost as sorry for Freddie as they do his victim as it becomes clear that through his social awkwardness he is in even more of a prison than she. The way the two try to communicate and connect, which only ends up driving the them further apart is fascinating and their contrasting views about the book ‘Catcher in the Rye’ as well as the paintings of Picasso are equally revealing.

Stamp gives one of his greatest performances in his already illustrious career playing a character who weaves from being menacing to vulnerable and childlike. Eggar makes for an appealing victim and apparently turned Stamp down years earlier when he had asked for her date while the two were students in acting school.

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William Wyler’s direction is perfect as he wisely decides to pull back without adding any unnecessary Hitchcock touches and thus allowing the interactions between the two characters to propel the film. His superimposed, colorful shots of butterflies seen over the closing credits are a nice added touch. My only minor grievance is the Maurice Jarre score, which seemed too melodic without enough of the dark foreboding undertones that music for a thriller should have.

If you’re looking for the conventional thriller you may be disappointed as the emphasis is more on the psychological than the suspenseful. There are a few good tense moments including Miranda’s final attempt to escape during a nighttime rain storm, but for the most part the compelling element comes from the way these two multi-layered people deal with each other and ultimately reveal things about themselves that they didn’t know existed. The story also makes an excellent point of how everyone to a certain degree is trapped in a prison and the challenging if not impossible effort it can sometimes be to bond with others especially when reaching across different social-economic lines. The only thing that does get ruined is the ending, which no longer has the novelty or shock value that it once did.

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My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: June 17, 1965

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes

Not Rated

Director: William Wyler

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

Wolfen (1981)

wolfen 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Wolves on the attack.

Dewey Wilson (Albert Finney) is assigned to investigate a particularly savage attack that occurred in Battery Park in New York City where a real estate magnate and his wife and bodyguard where gruesomely killed by some mysterious being that the police initially peg as a terrorist act. As Wilson investigates further and in talking with some experts he comes to the opinion that it may be wolves that killed them, but not the everyday wolf instead they are ghostly spirits intent on protecting their sacred ground. As the body count continues Wilson tries unorthodox methods to understand and stop these strange animals that remain invisible and elusive to the human eye.

For a horror film, which is based on the novel by Whitley Streiber, it has a refreshingly different approach to the material making it seem more like a modern-day drama and character study. Director Michael Wadleigh nicely captures the ambience and attitude of the city. The authentic feel and multi-dimensional lead character helps make the story more compelling. The use of showing things from the wolves’ point-of-view that gets captured through a unique colored lens is initially captivating and creepy.

Unfortunately the film does the P.O.V. thing too often, which eventually becomes redundant and boring. The genteel tone does not create enough tension and the film is barely ever suspenseful. There is one good decapitation scene, but otherwise the gore and special effects are minimal. The runtime is too long and the pacing could have been better. A good horror film or even a thriller needs a good scary image of the threat at hand to hold onto and create the fear for the viewer, but we are never shown the wolves at all until the very end. I did like the one part where the Diane Venora character goes roaming around an abandoned church and almost gets attacked by one of the wolves whose red eyes we see, but I wanted to see more of this since it was the only time I got even slightly frightened.

Finney is an odd choice for the lead. Simply because he has a reputation as being a great actor does not mean he is perfect for every role and having a grizzled New York cop speak with a British accent is off-putting. He is also too old and his relationship with a female cop that is clearly 20 years younger looks weird. I did like Edward James Olmos who takes off his clothes at one point and effectively acts like a real wolf and the scene where he has a menacing conversation with Finney while high on top of a bridge is memorable.

Spoiler Alert!!

My biggest beef comes with the ending in which Finney finds himself surrounded by the wolves and in an attempt to appease them smashes the model of the construction site that was going to be built on their sacred ground, which satisfies them enough to leave him alone and go away, but it came off as corny, farfetched and anti-climactic to me. It also makes the wolves who the viewer has feared throughout the film suddenly look like the ‘good guy’  and thus stripping all the ‘horror’ from this supposed thriller and makes sitting through it a pointless waste of time.

End of Spoiler Alert!!

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 24, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Wadleigh

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Night God Screamed (1971)

the night God screamed 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nailed to the cross.

Willis and Fanny Pierce (Alex Nicol, Jeanne Crain) are an older, spiritual couple who drive along the national highways with a giant cross stuck to the top of their car. They come to a small town where Willis decides to start up a church. Unfortunately they get the unwanted attention of Billy Joe (Michael Sugich) who runs a Manson-like religious cult filled with drugged-out hippies. He feels Willis is potential competition, so late one night he and his cohorts sneak into the church and nail Willis to the cross all to the horror of Fanny who is so frightened she doesn’t do anything and instead hides in a closet. Billy Joe is later convicted of the crime and sent to prison, but his followers are not happy and seek revenge. When Fanny is hired to ‘babysit’ a group of older teens they go on the attack creating one long night of terror for Fanny and the teens.

Clearly this is a rip-off of the Charles Manson crimes, but for all of the films from that period that tried to capitalize on the fear that those crimes brought this has to be one of the better ones. The electronic music score, camera angles and shadowy lighting create an effective eerie feeling. The movie moves at a decent pace and the shot of Willis crucified to the cross is shocking and edgier than most other films from that period. The second half, which features Crain and the teens trapped in a house with the hooligans harassing them from outside manages to build up some decent tension.

Crain looks and behaves as if she were snatched directly out of the 1940’s and seems completely out-of-place with the period or other characters and yet the extreme contrast actually makes it more interesting. Sugich is great as the cult leader and it’s unfortunate he wasn’t on for the entire duration. I did think it was unrealistic though that he is seen at his trial without handcuffs, or a prison suit or even having his hair cut, which in reality I think would have happened and probably made him look even creepier.

Although the film is low budget and terribly dated I did think is was entertaining enough to be passable especially for fans of 70’s schlock. My biggest complaint comes with the twist ending, which although surprising isn’t completely plausible and leaves open too many loose ends. It reminded me too much of those ghost stories kids like to tell around a campfire that would always hinge on some unexpected ending and made this entire production seem more like a cutesy concept than an actual story.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 4, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Lee Madden

Studio: Cinemation Industries

Available: VHS, YouTube

Terror Train (1980)

terror train 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer wears different disguises.

Some frat boys decide to play a nasty prank on a vulnerable student named Kenny Hampson (Derek McKinnon) which causes him to have a mental breakdown and be sent away. Now, three years later the same group of college kids gets together on a train for a raucous New Year’s Eve costume party. The problem is so does a mysterious killer who after killing each of his victims puts on the disguise that they were wearing making it impossible to track him.

Supposedly the idea for the film is the brainstorm of executive producer Daniel Grodnik who after seeing both Halloween and Silver Streak woke up one night with the inspiration of combining the two films and making a slasher movie aboard a train.  I admit when I first saw this film many years ago I thought it was pretty cool, but now upon second viewing it seems formulaic and predictable. It takes too long to get going with the first hour spent focusing on the doings of stereotypically jaded college kids who aren’t very appealing. The scares are few with the only real intense part coming at the end when the Jaimie Lee Curtis character locks herself in a cage and the killer tries desperately to get into it. The gore is also sparse and not impressive including a decapitated head that doesn’t look anything like the victim’s.

There is also a lot of glaring loopholes including having the killer murder someone inside one of the train’s cramped bathrooms and then managing to clean up all the blood, which would have taken a lot of time seeing how much there was of it, and then carting off the dead body without anyone noticing. During the climactic sequence Curtis’s character stabs the psycho in his eye, but later when the killer gets unmasked his eye and face look fine without any indication of scratches or cuts.

Curtis is a fine actress, but her presence did nothing but remind me of Halloween and they would have been better off casting someone else. Ben Johnson, who is technically listed as the star, adds some much needed stature and it is nice having a middle-aged character not portrayed as a clueless out-of-touch drip like they usually are in these types of films. Hart Bochner looks and acts like the perfect caricature of a smart-ass frat boy and its fun seeing him turn from cocky and arrogant at the beginning to desperate and frightened at the end. Magician David Copperfield is on hand essentially playing himself and some of his magic tricks are the most interesting part of the movie.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Roger Spottiswoode

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray