Monthly Archives: October 2016

976-Evil (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nerd becomes demon possessed.

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

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

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

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

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

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 24, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Englund

Studio: New Line Cinema

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Pin (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He befriends a dummy.

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

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

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

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

Spoiler Alert!

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

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

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

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 25, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sandor Stern

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD

Schoolgirls in Chains (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pretty teens held captive.

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

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

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

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

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

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My Rating: 0 out of 10

Alternate Titles: Girls in Chains, Abducted

Released: February 7, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes

Rated R

Director: Don Jones

Studio: Mirror Releasing

Available: DVD

Beyond the Door (1974)

beyond-the-door

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Carrying the devil’s child.

Jessica (Juliet Mills) is already the mother of two children and now finds out that she’s carrying a third. This one though seems different. He’s growing at a faster rate and she suffers from ‘spells’ where she blacks-out, levitates and speaks in different voices that are not her own. Is she possessed? Her husband (Gabriele Lavia) and Dr. (Nino Segurini) begin to believe that she is.

Obviously this is a rip-off of The Exorcist to the point that Warner Brothers took legal action to try to block its release. To some extent I could care less what it rips-off as long as it somehow improves on the original or at least gives us the same type of scares, but this thing fails on all levels. Instead of playing up the special effects it gives us a mechanical replay of the ones we already saw in William Friedkin’s masterpiece, but at a cheaper and cheesier level.

The dumb story doesn’t make sense. The grainy, faded film stock looks like it was shot on a threadbare budget and the voices of the actors were dubbed in during post-production, which gives it an amateurish quality. There are also too many shots showing the characters walking down the streets of San Francisco.  This was mainly due to the fact that the indoor scenes where shot in Rome while the outdoors ones were captured in Frisco, so the producers wanted to get the most ‘bang-for-their-buck’ by implementing as much as they could to their time in The City by the Bay, but it’s not visually interesting.

The music is over-the-top and having Lucifer speak directly to the audience as he does at the beginning borders on high camp. The only reason to catch this is to see Juliet Mills playing against type. She is best known for starring in the ‘70s TV-series ‘Nanny and the Professor’ and has always had a clean-cut image, so seeing here spit out pea soup, use vulgarities and wear make-up that makes her look increasingly more monstrous is fun. She plays the part surprisingly well and gives it her all, which is far more than this cheap production deserved.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 21, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Studio: Film Ventures International

Director: Ovidio G. Assonitis

Available: DVD

Blood Beach (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Beachgoers get sucked away.

Something is lurking beneath a Southern California beach and it’s not human. People and even animals are being sucked underneath the sand and disappearing, never to be found again. Lifeguard Harry (David Huffman) tries to do some investigating while starting up a relationship with the daughter (Marianna Hill) of one of the victims, but his efforts prove futile, so the police are called in, but do no better.

One of the nice things about this movie is that unlike most other horror films from that era it actually has a pretty decent budget and distinctive music score. The beach location, which was filmed at Santa Monica, makes for a pleasant diversion from the usual horror settings and the one thing I came away liking most about the movie.

Huffman, who ended up becoming a homicide victim himself in real-life only a few years after this was filmed, is bland to the point of being completely forgettable. However, the much more talented supporting cast gives the film some life. John Saxon is great as a brash and gruff police captain. Burt Young and Otis Young are amusing as police detectives with completely contrasting styles with Otis playing an amusing extension to the character that he did in The Last Detail where he tries earnestly to reel in his more undisciplined partner.

The film’s weak point is the second act that stalls without enough new twists being brought in. Seeing people constantly being swallowed up by the sand becomes monotonous and it takes way too long before we finally get an understanding to what is causing it. The film also has some quick cutaways showing what happens to the people once they are underneath the sand, which looks like it was spliced in from a cheaper film stock with tacky special effects that may simply be a product of the ‘Complete and Uncut’ version that I saw, but should’ve been avoided.

The attempt at doing a Jaws formula storyline on land instead of the water doesn’t work and only helps make the original seem all that much better. Had this been done as a parody might’ve helped it.

Spoiler Alert!

The biggest letdown is the ending that never fully explains what this creature is and only gives the viewer a brief glimpse of it during the film’s last few minutes, which is disappointing. The story then goes full circle by showing the sand ready to swallow up more unsuspecting beachgoers while making the viewer feel like they’ve wasted 90 minutes of their time watching a film that doesn’t progress anywhere.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: January 28, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes (‘Complete’ cut)

Rated R

Director: Jeffrey Bloom

Studio: Compass International Pictures

Available: DVD

Offerings (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mute killer sends gifts.

As a child John Radley (Richard A. Busewell), who is mute, gets bullied by the neighborhood kids and the only one that befriends him is Gretchen (Loretta Leigh Bowman). Years later after he escapes from the mental institution, where he resides for killing his emotionally abusive mother (Rayette Potts), he returns to the same town while taking revenge on those kids who are now teens by hacking up their bodies and then packaging their body parts into little ‘gifts’ that he sends to Gretchen as a token of the ‘love’ that he feels for her.

Making a successful low budget horror movie requires one to pretty much follow the same formula as Sam Raimi did with The Evil Dead, which is to emphasize the gore, special effects and atmosphere while keeping the pace fast and cerebral. This movie unfortunately proceeds in the exact opposite direction with scenes that go on too long and dialogue that is extraneous. If you cut out all the needless footage and just kept the moments that actually helped propel the story you’d be left with literally only 8 minutes of its otherwise 94 minute runtime.

The murders are few and far between and its cheesy soundtrack is a complete rip-off of Halloween’s. Watching a guy getting his head squeezed inside a vice is the only killing worth catching and even this one isn’t all that great and as it’s seen via a shadow on the wall with apparently a watermelon used in place of an actual head. The film’s humor is equally sporadic and not enough to save what comes off as just another mechanical slasher retread.

There are problems with the killer a well as he’s barely seen and never says anything, which ultimately makes him quite transparent. How he is able to climb an electric fence without being electrocuted or get shot at and still keep walking is never explained. The fact that he has a severely deformed face and moves like a zombie would easily attract other people’s attention and they would report his whereabouts to the police who most likely would have the guy apprehended before he was even a few minutes outside of the mental hospital’s grounds.

There is also a scene where Gretchen and her friend Kacy (Elizabeth Greene) watch a horror movie on TV and they make fun of how ‘dumb’ the victims are in their attempts to escape from their killer even though these women end up doing many of the same stupid things. If you’re going to mock other movies then you better make sure your film is an improvement, which this isn’t.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 12, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Christopher Reynolds

Studio: Arista Films

Available: DVD

The Beast Within (1982)

beast-within

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen turns into monster.

On the night of their honeymoon Eli and Caroline (Ronny Cox, Bibi Besch) become stranded on the side of a road. Eli goes for help while Caroline remains in the car only to end up getting raped by a mysterious beast that escapes from a nearby farmhouse. 17 years later Michael (Paul Clemens), who became the product of that ugly incident, begins to show signs of erratic behavior that doctors are unable to find the cause to. Eli and Caroline decide to go back to Nioba, Mississippi where the assault took place in order to find out who it was that raped her and see if he or his family may have any genetic abnormalities that Michael may have inherited. However, before they can do anything Michael’s condition worsens and he changes into a monstrous, homicidal maniac that resembles the spirit of an abused child that had long ago been buried away by the townspeople.

One of the pluses to this film is its supporting cast that is filled with B-movie regulars who do their best to liven up the proceedings with their eccentric characterizations. Logan Ramsey is a lot fun as the town’s newspaper editor and in some ways proves even more entertaining as a corpse. R.G. Armstrong is good as the town’s physician and I especially liked his squeeze toy. Luke Askew has a few choice moments as an embalmer and Don Gordon, who wears a wig, has a solid bit near the end as a corrupt judge.  John Dennis Johnston as an overprotective father and L.Q. Jones as the sheriff help round it out.

Unfortunately the three leads are boring although I was amused at how much Besch resembles actress Eleanor Parker who was star Clemen’s mother in real-life. Clemens though as an actor is weak and looks too creepy from the beginning especially his eyes which make his transformation into a monster less dramatic and would’ve worked better had he had more of a clean-cut blonde, blue-eyed look.

Tom Holland’s script tries to cover every type of horror niche by treating the viewer to elements of southern gothic, ghost stories, possession, monsters, slashers and gore, which may sound interesting, but eventually becomes overplayed. There are also some loopholes to it that doesn’t quite make sense and the rape segment shouldn’t have been shown right away, but instead used as a flashback later on. Also, Michael is described by his father as being ‘normal kid’ who never showed any signs of odd behavior, but it would’ve been more vivid had we seen him as a regular teen instead of it starting out with him already acting strangely.

The transformation scene in which Michael turns into a grotesque looking creature might actually make you sick to your stomach, but it’s impressive. This was the first film to use air bladders, which were made up of condoms that were connected to air hoses that were put underneath the actor’s face casting and then inflated to give the appearance of the skin ‘bubbling’, which is pretty cool and worth checking out for this scene alone, which is by far the best moment in the movie.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 12, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Phillippe Mora

Studio: United Artists

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

Open House (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Selling homes is murder.

Real Estate agents throughout southern California are turning up dead and no one has a clue as to who’s doing it. Then late night radio talk show host Dr. David Kelley (Joseph Bottoms) starts getting calls from a man who identifies himself as being the killer. David and the police try to track the man’s calls before David’s girlfriend Lisa (Adrienne Barbeau), who just so happens to be a real estate agent herself, becomes the killer’s next victim.

By the late ‘80s slasher films were starting to become more like dark comedies with some of them even being outright parodies, which is what I initially thought this one was going to be. There are some comical touches at the beginning before it completely devolves into the tired old slasher film cliché. No scares or tension and a storyline that plods along at a snail’s pace. The identity of the killer and his backstory is lame and the film’s generic synthesized sounding music score is not a good fit for a horror movie.

Barbeau, who is the former wife of horror director John Carpenter and has done alright starring in films from this genre before, gets stuck with some really bland material here and has little to work with. Apparently she only took the part to help pay for her son’s tuition. Bottoms, whose career never blossomed like his older brother’s, was clearly on the down slide when he took this one and his presence adds nothing.

There’s one good murder involving the killer hacking off the fingers of one of his victim’s with a shot showing the fingers wiggling on the floor before the killer, for whatever reason, puts them into his pocket. The camera also stays locked on the victim’s dead bodies longer than what is usual including having it focus on a dead woman’s corpse hanging by its neck from a rope for what seems like several minutes. I might even give it a point for being the first horror film that has a killer who wears dentures and at one point he even takes them out, but overall this thing lacks imagination or inspiration. It was directed by Jag Mundhra who went on to do a lot of Bollywood films and I don’t think he had a true passion or interest in horror movies as his direction is quite mechanical and the overall production falls agonizingly flat.

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My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: October 1, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 35Mintues

Rated R

Director: Jag Mundhra

Studio: Intercontinental Releasing Corporation

Available: VHS

Final Exam (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer stalks college campus.

A killer (Timothy L. Raynor) is on the loose and stalking a North Carolina college campus. No one knows why he is doing it or who he is, but the body count keeps rising. It’s up to Courtney (Cecile Bagdadi) and her friend Radish (Joel S. Rice) to try and stop him before it’s too late.

I’ll start off with a few of the things that I liked about the movie, which helped set it apart from other slasher films and if it weren’t for the stupid ending I would’ve given it more points. The fact that it takes place on an actual college campus and we are able to see all aspects of it including the dorms, the classrooms and even its cafeteria is a big plus. Too many slasher films have a supposed campus setting, but it never looks like one while this film managed to give me a nostalgic feeling about my own college days and the cast are at the right age group to play the students.

The dialogue between the characters is more amped up here than in the usual ‘80s horror film. This was intentional as writer/director Jimmy Huston wanted more emphasis placed on the characterizations than the gore. Although much of what is conversed about is extraneous and does not help progress the plot it still made the characters seem more human and less like a cardboard caricature.

I was also surprised with a scene involving a group of students pretending to be masked gunmen carrying out a mass shooting on the campus. It later turns out to be a fraternity stunt, but it made the film seem ahead-of-its-time and even prophetic especially with the way the Radish character talks about Charles Whitman and others like him who indiscriminately kills large groups of people for no reason. It was also interesting to see how the characters responded once they found out it was only a joke. Many of the students laugh it off while these days most would be traumatized and when the police respond to the call of a shooting only one officer arrives while today it would’ve been an entire SWAT team.

Spoiler Warning!

The scenes involving the killer are where the film falls apart. For one thing he seems to have superhuman strength even though he doesn’t look to have gargantuan sized muscles. The opening segment has him standing on a car hood as the vehicle is moving and somehow lifting another male body out of the driver’s seat and through the roof with only one hand, which I don’t think would be possible. Also, when he lifts the driver out of the car it stops, which should’ve been enough for the killer, who is still standing on the car hood, to lose his balance and fall down, but he doesn’t.

My biggest gripe though is that we are never given any explanation for why he kills or even any clue to his identity, which makes sitting through this generic thing seem all the more pointless. Granted sometimes the backstories to the killer’s motives can be hooky and fans of this film consider it ‘refreshing’ that this one didn’t have one, but in reality everyone that lives on this planet has a backstory and the characters in movies are supposed to represent real people, so an explanation of some kind is still necessary. If it was just a random killing by a stranger with no connection to the school at the very least give the killer a name, which could’ve been done by the police in the denouncement when they came to survey the crime scene.

It’s quite possible that the filmmakers intended this to be a random killing spree due to the earlier scenes involving the fake mass shootings, which could be considered foreshadowing and Radish’s continual conversations involving the topic of shooters killing people for no reason, which is fine. However, this idea doesn’t completely hold up because there is a segment where Radish finds some dead bodies in a locker room and then runs back to his friend Courtney’s dorm room for help, but the killer is already there waiting for him, which means he would’ve had to have known that these two were friends and which specific dorm room Radish would go back to and thus negating the idea that the killer was just a random stranger.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: June 5, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jimmy Huston

Studio: Motion Picture Marketing

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Hobgoblins (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Avoid the furry creatures.

Kevin (Tom Bartlett) gets a job as a night security guard at a local factory. During his training he is told by his supervisor McCreedy (Jeffrey Culver) not to unlock the vault, but he does so anyways, which releases all these small furry creatures that apparently landed on earth 30 years ago. These aliens, which are called hobgolbins, are a nefarious bunch as they are able to delve into the thoughts and fantasies of the people around them. When a person starts thinking about their secret fantasy they are actually being controlled by the aliens, which will lead them to an ultimate death. It is now up to Kevin to try and stop these creatures before they attack his friends.

This film has attained a notorious reputation of being one of the worst ones ever made and its director Rick Sloane has become this generation’s Ed Wood. With all this considered I was actually surprised that it wasn’t quite as bad as I was expecting. In fact there have been films that I’ve seen which have been worse, which isn’t to say that it’s a good one either. The movie does take some stabs at humor and while most of it is lame the segment regarding the bouncing van, which is supposed to simulate the lovemaking actions of the couple inside, is mildly amusing.

The film’s biggest fault is its limited locations. The factory setting isn’t visually interesting and the fact that Sloane constantly goes back to shooting scenes in the same drab hallway of the place doesn’t help. The bar known as Club Scum, which is the setting for the second half of the story, has an equally bland interior. There is also the issue of the factory owner’s office being quite obviously the exact same room that is later used in another scene by a 1-900 sex operator (Tamara Clatterbuck).

The cast is made up of Rick Sloane regulars who’ve appeared in his other productions and pretty much nowhere else. Bartlett is quite weak in the lead and Culver’s old man routine especially having to watch his pathetic attempts at running are annoying and the shots showing Bartlett and Culver running in tandem side-by-side make no sense as Bartlett is much younger and could easily out run the old timer as could just about anybody else.

The plot is full of holes and the fantasies that the characters go through are generic to the extreme. The scenes inside the bar become overly extended and bog the already slow pace down until it comes to a complete standstill. The creatures are clearly just stuffed animals whose facial expressions never change and the attempts to make them look like they can move their bodies are pathetic.

The humor shifts from double-entendres to silly stuff aimed at the kids making me wonder what the intended audience was, or if they had even thought of that. About the only thing that it does accomplish is making me want to watch Gremlins again, which this tries to rip-off, since it is far better.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: July 14, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Rick Sloane

Studio: American Cinema Marketing

Available: DVD (MST 3000 Vol. 8), Amazon Instant Video