Category Archives: 70’s Movies

Horror High (1973)

horror1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bullied teen gets revenge.

Vernon Potts (Pat Cardi) is a geeky teen tormented by the jocks and teachers and who’s only solace is his pet guinea pig that he keeps in a cage at his school’s science lab. However, the cat owned by the school’s janitor Mr. Griggs (Jeff Alexander) keeps trying to get its paws on the rodent and Vernon is forced to constantly have to scare it away, which annoys Griggs as he sees this as harassing his pet. One night Vernon comes to the lab to find that the cat has gotten into the cage and injured the guinea pig while also toppling over a bottle of lab formula. While Vernon is removing the cat Griggs enters and attacks Vernon for what he thinks was intentionally injuring his pet. He also forces Vernon to ingest the spilled liquid, which turns him into a homicidal monster where he then proceeds to kill all those that have wronged him.

Up front this should’ve been a movie that got a bad rating. The film stock, even after blu-ray restoration, is quite grainy and faded with the technical aspects being not much better than a home movie. The script by J.D. Fiegelson, whose best known work is the creepy TV-movie ‘Dark Night of the Scarecrow’, is awkward mix of Willard and ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ that has all the predictable cliches and adds nothing new to the mix. However, I still found myself strangely captivated and never bored even during the slow spots.

Part of why it works is that it’s reenactment of student life is quite accurate. Many movies have attempted to show the high school experience, but many either underplay, or overplay it and rarely get it just right, but this is one hits-the-bullseye. Virtually the entire thing gets filmed inside the school with only a few short scenes done outside of it. Normally I’d consider this problematic as it makes the characters one-dimensional since we only see them in one type of setting, but here it clicks. I’m not sure if the lack of variety for the settings was intentional, or because of economic restraints as this was clearly done on a shoestring, but like with Heathers, it symbolizes how with teens the high school is their entire world and what happens outside of is ignored and not considered important.

The special effects are surprisingly gory and this film initially suffered an X-rating because of it. While there are a few jump cuts particularly with Vernon’s attack on Griggs, the killings look overall realistic and quite bloody though it seemed strange to have classes continue with students attending them like everything is normal even as the murders of the faculty mount and become more grizzly. Today classes would be halted, grief counselors sent in, as students immediately removed by their panicked parents. The only thing on the effects end that isn’t impressive is when Vernon turns into the monster where we never see his face, which remains shadowy and may seem like a cop-out to some, but in some way makes it scarier because the viewer is required to use their imagination to fill-in how he may look when in the monster form.

The type of victims are unique too as it isn’t just spoiled, good-looking teens that get offed like in so many other slashers. Here, it’s older teachers as in the case of Mrs. Grindstaff, which is played by Joye Hash, who was apparently only in her early 40’s at the time, but looks much more like she was in her 60’s and even pushing 70. Muscular Dallas Cowboys great John Niland, who plays the gym coach and also another of the victims, also goes against type, as very rarely are big, tough guys a part of the body count and he gets just as frightened and just as severely hacked-up, as if he were a blonde, bikini-clad young women.

Pat Cardi, who was a famous child actor on TV-shows during the 60’s including in the classic episode of The Fugitive’ series entitled ‘In a Plain Brown Wrapper’ which was one of the first shows ever in TV history to advocate for gun safety, is excellent and looking effectively scrawny. This marked his very last acting performance to date as he left the business and went on to create MovieFone an app that lists movie information and showtimes. Austin Stoker also gives an energetic performance as the police investigator and it’s great seeing an African American playing a prominent role in what was otherwise an all white cast. The men who made-up his police staff were players from the Dallas Cowboys squad including future hall of famer Craig Morton.

While the film doesn’t offer anything new it does successfully deliver-the-goods on a horror level, which will most likely be enjoyed by gorehounds into B-slashers.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 20, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Larry N. Stouffer

Studio: Crown International Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Grapes of Death (1978)

grapes

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Zombies created by pesticide.

The film opens with a shot of immigrants spraying grapes with a pesticide in a vineyard owned and run by Michel (Michel Herval). One of the men (Francois Pasal) complains of a pain on the side of his neck, but Michel insists he keep working and quit complaining. The film then cuts to two women riding inside a train car, one of them is Elisabeth (Marie-Georges Pascal) who’s the fiancee to Michel and coming to visit him. Once the train stops the man from the vineyards complaining of the pain walks onboard and proceeds to kill Brigitte (Evelyne Thomas) who was inside the train bathroom. He then takes a seat in the train car that Elisabeth is in, but once she notices the growing tumor on the side of his neck and then the dead body of her friend she runs screaming off the train. She then finds herself all alone in deserted town where everyone has the same type of tumors growing on their faces and all seem intent on trying to kill her.

This was the first mainstream horror film directed by Jean Rollin and credited as being the first gore film ever to be made in France. Rollin had made several experimental vampire flicks in the early part of the decade, but they had failed to catch-on and lost him a lot of money, which forced him into directing porn movies under the pseudonym of Michel Gentil. By the late 70’s he had made enough money with those that he was ready to jump back into doing another feature film, which for a zombie story is unique as the zombie’s here are fully conscious and well aware of what’s happening to them and kill out of a sense of rage. The film is also, for a horror movie, very quiet lacking the traditional pounding music score and instead has extended moments of near silence especially during the town scenes, which helps accentuate the creepiness.

Rollin hired an Italian production company to do the special effects, which are quite impressive. Normally I’m on here complaining how fake the effects look in most other low budget horrors, but here I was amazed with how realistic they were. The scene where a woman gets stabbed with a pitchfork while lying on a table and then continues to breath with it still in her really looks like the blades went right through her body. Another scene dealing with the decapitation of a nude woman (Mirella Rancelot) and then having one of the zombies carry the head around is one of the most graphic of its type. I did have some issues with the tumor make-up. On the train car where Elisabeth watches it grow on the side of the man’s head was cool, but on the people in the town it starts to look like smeared pizza and I wanted to see a shot of someone that had it all over their face instead just on a little part of it.

While Rollin stated that he admired the acting of his leading lady I felt she was the weakest link. Her fearful expressions and screams are great, but her performance otherwise is one-note. Part of what made Night of the Living Dead so great was the contrasting personalities of the main characters and I felt there needed to be that here. Having the two men (Felix Marten, Serge Marquand) enter near the end of the second act to help Elisabeth fight of the zombies is a great addition, but I had wished they came in sooner. I also didn’t like the way Elisabeth conveniently finds a gun inside the car she has just stolen, which she is able to use in the nick-of-time to shoot the zombies, but what are the odds? The gun should’ve been introduced earlier, perhaps as something she brought along with her at the beginning for her trip, and not just thrown-in haphazardly.

The twist at the end is not satisfying leaving the viewer feeling down and depressed when it’s over when a robust showdown was needed. I felt too that the reason for why the people were turning into zombies, which was the pesticide, should’ve been kept a mystery until the very end. Instead of opening it with the men spraying we should’ve seen the townsfolk going about their day in a normal fashion, which would’ve made a striking contrast to when Elisabeth gets there and they’re all crazy. Maybe a shot of a man spraying in the background behind the people talking could’ve been done as a little hint, or clue, but as it gets done here it’s too obvious when a subtle approach was needed.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 5, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jean Rollin

Studio: Rush Productions

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Evil Town (1987)

evil1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Old people kidnap travelers.

Chris and Julie (James Keach, Michele Marsh) along with another couple (Robert Walker Jr., Doria Cook-Nelson) are traveling through rural California from Los Angeles when they begin to have car trouble and stop-off at a rundown gas station in a small town. Earl (E.J. Andre), the old man who runs the station, inspects the vehicle and tells them it’s a water pump issue that will take at least a day to repair. Since it’s late at night he and his wife Mildred (Lurene Tuttle) offer them their spares room to sleep over in, but the couples decide they’d rather camp-out. However, they become harassed by unknown peepers, so when that car is found to have even more issues the next day and forced to spend yet another night there, they agree to stay at the elderly couple’s home. It is here that they get fed a poison that knocks them-out and they are then taken to a nearby hospital run by Dr. Schaeffer (Dean Jagger) who needs bodies of young people in order to conduct his experiments on the aging process.

This film is a great example of how funding is so crucial to a production and once it runs out there isn’t much else to do. Filming began under the working title ‘God Bless Grandma and Grandpa’ in the fall of 1973 in Mendocino, California and was directed by the talented Curtis Hanson, but money ran out before they could shoot the ending. In 1977 a different production company bought the unfinished footage and tried to market it as a movie under the title Dr. Shagetz, but with no real ending it failed to catch-on and the entire thing fell into obscurity. Then in 1984 another independent studio bought the lost footage and attempted to again redistribute it, but this time by adding in new footage, which they hoped to edit around the old footage in an effort to make it seem like a complete movie and then ultimately released to select theaters on June 2, 1987.

Unfortunately by the time they were ready to shoot the new stuff many of the elderly actors from the original were already dead, or to old at that point to perform. The four younger stars who made-up the two couples had no interest going back to finish shooting a movie the had long ago forgot about. This resulted in new actors getting hired to play both the roles of the protagonists and the bad-guys and while it’s edited in a way to make it seem like the new stars are interacting with the old ones from the lost footage it’s quite clear that they really aren’t and whole thing ultimately comes-off as two bad movies compressed into one really lousy one.

The story idea I liked and has definite similarities with Homebodies that also featured old people as the killers. There are a few good moments like having the actions scenes done in slow-motion and Keach forced to fight-off the old people who attack him by jumping on him one after the other. The scene where he gets surrounded by a group of chanting old folks while trapped in an old, nonoperational car isn’t bad either, but the pacing is slow and takes too long to get going.  The added footage is highly exploitative and basically consists of Playboy Playmate Lynda Wiesmeier running around topless in the night as she tries to avoid two killers.

Jagger, who was clearly at the tail-end of his long career, which at one point featured winning an Academy Award in 1949 for best supporting actor, gives an interesting performance. His shiny bald head along with the shaded glasses he wears gives him a creepy look and the odd speech pattern that he uses here make him seem genuinely menacing. Had the story stayed focused solely on him and had the original production been better funded and retained the first director this thing might’ve had a chance and even cult potential, but the way it is now it’s just a sad curio showing what might’ve been.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 2, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Director: Curtis Hanson (70’s footage), Mardi Rustam (80’s footage)

Rated R

Studio: Trans World Entertainment

Available: Blu-ray

Bloodlust (1976)

bloodlust1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Deaf mute craves blood.

A deaf mute, who goes by the nickname Mosquito, (Werner Pochath) works as an accountant during the day, but at night he goes back to his lonely apartment, which is painted all black, and plays with his collection of dolls. He secretly longs for an attractive neighbor girl (Birgit Zamulo), but due to his physical limitations is unable to have a relationship with her. Living with these frustrations as well as the traumatic memories of his father beating him, which directly lead to his loss of hearing and speech, compels him to break into mortuaries at night and drink the blood from the corpses in their coffins. This creates a panic around town about a so-called vampire on-the-loose. When the neighbor girls ends up dying in a tragic accident it drives Mosquito to even darker depths as he then begins killing people and sucking their blood.

While this film has gained a small cult following it really doesn’t seem like all that much to get excited about. It was written and directed by Marijan Vajda, who’s better known as a documentary filmmaker, which is exactly what this comes-off like as the story flounders and the camera more interested in following Mosquito around and seeing what he’ll do versus propelling the plot. The characters are cardboard caricatures with Mosquito’s office co-workers behaving more like cruel adolescents and the neighbor girl seeming like she’s 4 instead of 19. Her accident, where she slips off a roof of a building, should’ve only caused an injury, since it was only 2-stories up instead of an instant death. A far better demise, which would’ve fit-in with its blood theme, would’ve had her perish in a car accident and Mosquito come to seemingly save her, but then when he arrives he instead sucks at the blood from her injuries.

The inside of Mosquito’s apartment doesn’t have enough dolls in it and to make it creepier the room should’ve been lined with shelves of dolls stretching from the ceiling to the floor. The abuse sequence gets equally underplayed as the actor playing the father is clearly softening his kicks at the victim and if anything looks like two guys playfully roughhousing. When Mosquito stabs one of the corpses in the mortuary the body deflates like a tire being slashed and not that a body made of bones. Sucking blood from dead bodies is suspect as well because if they’re put inside a coffin that usually means they’ve been embalmed and the blood drained-out.

Spoiler Alert!

I kept expecting some sort of shocking, horrifying climax to make sitting through the rest of it worth it, but nothing much happens. He does kill two people, a couple sitting in their car making-out, but they die too quickly and not enough blood to look realistic. He also retrieves the dead body of the neighbor girl out of her grave, but then proceeds to basically just kiss and fondle her a bit and that’s it. Even the arrest scene isn’t interesting as the police merely walk-in into Mosquito’s office and put the hand-cuffs on him while he sits at his desk instead of having a big, long chase that could’ve at least given it some excitement.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 5, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Marijan Vajda

Studio: Monarex

Available: DVD (Region 2), Amazon Video 

Torso (1973)

torso2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Strangler stalks college students.

Jane (Suzy Kendall) is a British student attending college in Italy where a rash of grisly murders amongst the female coeds is keeping everybody on edge. The killer’s modus operandi is a red and black scarf that he uses to strangle his victims. Jane’s friend Dani (Tina Aumont) fears that the maniac may be Stefano (Roberto Bisacco) a young man who’s been harassing her for a date and won’t seem to take ‘no’ for an answer. To get away from the terror Jane and her girlfriends decide to go to a villa in the countryside, but find that the killer strikes again, in their home, and with Jane hobbled with a sprained ankle, she’s unable to get away and must use her creative wits to escape.

Horror director Eli Roth has hailed this as being his favorite giallo and a major influence to his Hostel movies, but in retrospect it doesn’t have all that much to distinguish it. Despite its lurid title the emphasis is more on the mystery featuring a cast of lonely men who seem to lack quality social skills to go out with women and instead long for them from afar while also harboring dark violent sexual fantasies of what they’d like to do to them if they could, making this more than anything a forerunner to what’s become known as incels (involuntary celibate) today.

Director Sergio Martino captures Perugia, Italy and its many old and scary looking buildings nicely. The build-up to the murders where the victims find themselves alone in a dark,desolate area of the city, or in one instance an isolated forest, are some of the film’s best moments and could’ve been played-up more.

The deaths themselves though are uninteresting. The average time for a person to die from strangulation is 3 minutes and up to 7 to 14 seconds before they’ll pass-out, but the victim here falls over dead after the flimsy scarf is put around her neck for only 3-seconds, which all looks quite fake. The female victims never, ever fight back and just stand, or lie still and scream loudly, but do nothing else. Police will usually look for scratches on suspects as a sign that the victim fought for their life and there will be defensive wounds on the victim’s arms and hands too, so for the victims here not to attempt any physical defense looks rather pathetic. Some may say that back in this era it was considered more ‘tasteful’ to have the killing get over with quickly and watching someone try to fight-off the attacker would be prolonging it too much, but I wondered if this was also an attempt to feed-in to the male fantasy where once a man decides to make his move the females are virtually ‘helpless’ and must just passively accept their fate.

The special effects are threadbare as well. The close-ups of the knife cutting into the victim’s body has a lighter tone of skin color than the full-shots of the victim making it quite obvious that the close-ups are that of a mannequin. The scene where a car’s bumper crushes a man’s skull against a wall looks realistic enough, but then a few seconds later it cuts back to a shot of the victim and his skull is perfectly intact with only some blood running out of his nose even though the previous shot made it look like his head had been busted in half.

Spoiler Alert!

The third act in which Suzy Kendall sleeps through the murders of her friends downstairs and then awakens to find herself alone in the house with the killer still present is the only time it actually gets intense. Having her quietly observe him cutting-up her friend’s limbs is genuinely horrifying and watching her try to come-up with creative ways to escape is intriguing, but then having a male doctor swoop-in and fight-off the killer for her was disappointing as this was her story and she needed to be the one to find a way to take down the killer herself.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 4, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sergio Martino

Studio: Interfilm

Available: DVD, Fandor, Tubi

The Orphan (1979)

orphan

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Oppressive aunt dominates kid.

David (Dan Owens) is a child of around 10 growing-up in the 1920’s who witnesses his mother (Joanna Miles) die a violent death and then later has to deal with his father’s untimely death as well.  His Aunt Martha (Peggy Fleury), who was the sister of David’s mother and who also had a secret affair with his father (Donn Whyte) years before, moves into the home and takes over as his adoptive parent. Since she had no children of her own she doesn’t know how to communicate with kids and instead lays down a lot of rules that David doesn’t like and pushes him into a make-believe world. He spends most of his time in an old backyard chicken coop where he talks to a stuffed monkey that he believes holds power and can make changes in his life for the better particularly when it comes to his aunt.

This film’s biggest claim-to-fame was its original title which was Friday the 13th: The Orphan and the producers of the Friday the 13th movie, which was filming around the same time that this one was released, feared it would get confused with theirs and thus went into negotiations to get the title changed. It was anticipated at that time that this one would do better as it took more of an old-fashioned approach to horror by working-off of atmosphere, imagery, and mood while the other one was an all-out slasher, which was still considered to be a fringe genre that would only attract small, select audience. Instead that one became a huge hit while this one fell into virtual obscurity.

For the most part I though it was an interesting and while not completely successful does have its moments. The pacing is indeed off especially during the first act where nothing much happens and there’s few if any frights, which made me start to wonder if it was even a horror movie at all, but it gets handled well on the technical end and I remained intrigued enough to keep watching. Things did improve by the second act and there’s a few creepy nightmare segments including David’s vision, captured with a fish-eye camera lens, of entering an orphanage, which is visually unnerving and I wondered if possibly writer/director John Ballard was going back to his own childhood experiences and the dark memories that he harbored as these scenes start to seem quite personal.

The acting by the kid is phenomenal. Usually child actors, even if they’re good, aren’t quite up to carrying a movie, but Owens does and I was surprised to find that he’s never appeared in any others as I felt he was talented enough to have a memorable career. He has, with his overbite, a creepy look about him and very much resembles, Ike Eisenmann, another famous child actor from the 70’s. However, I wasn’t sure if finding a kid that gave-off a scary vibe right away was necessarily the right move as the horror might’ve been more effective had he seemed cute and precocious initially, and someone the viewer could like, only to have, as a surprise twist, the dark elements come out later versus telegraphing it from the beginning.

Spoiler Alert!

There are a couple of good murders, but you’re going to have to wait until literally almost the very end to see them. The plot is also heavy-handed as it’s obvious that there’s going to be an ultimate clash between the kid and the aunt and endlessly dragging-it-out to where the viewer knows  where it’s headed, but takes its sweet time to get there, gets a bit frustrating. I also didn’t understand why the story had to take place in the 1920’s as I didn’t think it added anything and could’ve easily been set in the modern day and the attempts to make it seem like a period piece, especially on a low budget, doesn’t completely work.

Also, the plot synopsis in IMDb for this movie is inaccurate. It describes the kid as having ‘horrific headaches’, which he believes ‘make him commit murders’, but in the print I saw, which as supposedly the uncut, extended version there was no talk about headaches, or even observing him having one.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 10, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes (Extended Cut)

Rated R

Director: John Ballard

Studio: Cinema Investments Company

Available: DVD-R (j4hi.com, dvdlady.com)

Scalpel (1977)

scalpel1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Surgeon alters patient’s face.

Dr. Phillip Reynolds (Robert Lansing) is an esteemed plastic surgeon who secretly harbors a dark side. When he sees his daughter Heather (Judith Chapman) making-love to her boyfriend he flies into a rage and kills the boy and then stages it to look like an accident. Heather runs away in terror and is not heard of for quite awhile. In the meantime Phillip’s father-in-law dies and bequeaths his entire fortune of $5 million to Heather, but since she’s nowhere to be found the money remains in escrow until she can come forward to claim it. Later, as Phillip is driving along a city street with his brother-in-law (Arlen Dean Snyder), they come upon a nightclub stripper (also played by Chapman) who has had her face crushed when a bouncer rammed it into a brick wall. Phillip decides to reconstruct the woman’s face to resemble his daughter’s, so she can claim the fortune and the two can split it. Things work smoothly as Philip trains her on all of her daughter’s traits and able to identify member’s of the extended family. Everyone comes to believe she’s the real daughter and the two are able to get their hands on the money only to have the real Heather suddenly reappear.

This movie, amongst IMDb reviewers, gets high marks with most rating it between 7 to even a 10 out of 10. I rate it lower, which I’ll go into, but they’re are things about that I did like. The performance by Lansing is excellent and perfectly conveys a character that seems nice and respectable on the outside, but could turn sinister, sometimes in unexpected ways, all of a sudden. The surgery scenes are realistic and even a bit graphic and the film has a few slick touches including the cinematography by Edward Lachman that nicely captures Georgia’s topography.

The plot has an intriguing premise and there’s no shortage of twists, but the way the stripper character gets handled I had a big problem with. There’s absolutely no backstory as to who this woman is, or why she got into the situation that she did. It doesn’t even seem like a real person, but a transparent entity that conveniently pops-in out-of-nowhere with essentially no past to her. I think the filmmakers were working-off of an old-fashioned belief that a sex workers had ‘no life’ and therefore would be more than happy to walk away from their former existence and take-on a new one without any regret, but this just isn’t true. Sex workers have friends and family and a past just like anyone else and wouldn’t necessarily want to just completely turn their backs on their old connections. The script also doesn’t bother to explain why a bouncer would shove a women’s face into a brick wall as he throws her out of the bar, or what might’ve happened to lead up to that, which to me was a plot hole.

Some may argue that maybe she lost her memory when her head hit the wall. Even if this was possibly the case (it never gets confirmed and in one instance Heather asks the woman about her past and she looks down like she does recall it, but is ashamed of it) it would most likely be temporary amnesia which can happen at times during a traumatic event or accident, but the old memories will usually come trickling back eventually. Either way it would’ve added an intriguing wrinkle to the story, if someone from her past tracked her down and became a part of the plot.

In addition I didn’t feel that Chapman’s acting was so great as she seems to be playing the same person instead of two different individuals. More contrasts needed to be made into the dual character’s personalities other than one can play the piano while the other couldn’t. I didn’t like that both spoke in an extremely distinctive twangy southern accent either. The impostor could’ve put on the affected accent when needed, but in private should’ve spoken in a way that was much different.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending in which the fake Heather takes the inheritance money after signing-off on it and then flying away on a private jet, is a letdown. Her signature would be different than the real Heather’s and during her ‘training’ on how to be like Heather that would’ve most likely been a point they’d overlook. A really cool twist would’ve had her thinking she had gotten away with it only for the jet to land and the police waiting for her as they recognized that the signatures didn’t match, or in her haste she had forgotten and wrote in her real name instead.

There’s another segment, just before the ending, where a hitman, disguised as a policeman, chases the fake Heather through a forest in an attempt to kill her, and he manages to catch-up with her and points a gun in her face, but then the film cuts away. The fake Heather then reappears in the mansion wearing the hitman’s police uniform, but no explanation for how she got away, which should’ve been played-out.

Alternate Title: False Face

Released: January 15, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R (Reissued as PG with erotic nude scenes removed).

Director: John Grissmer

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: Blu-ray, Fandor, Tubi

Jennifer (1978)

jennifer

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: She can control snakes.

Jennifer (Lisa Pelikan) is a shy student from West Virginia attending to a preppy boarding school in California. She lives with her father (Jeff Corey) who suffers from mental issues and is a religious zealot. She cares for him while also helping him run their pet store. At school Jennifer gets on the bad side of Sandy (Amy Johnston) the spoiled daughter of a rich senator (John Gavin). Sandy and her snotty clique of friends try to make life miserable for her, but Jennifer knows something that they don’t. She has a special ability, since childhood, to communicate and control snakes and when the harassment gets to be too much she unleashes the snakes onto her enemies.

While Hollywood is well known for ripping-off hit movies, in this case Carriethis one is quite possibly the most shameless and brazen as very little effort is made to differentiate it from the original and it seems almost intent to copy it in every possible way. Star Pelikan looks and speak almost identically to Sissy Spacek from the original, even has the same clear blue eyes and Amy Johnston is virtually the spitting image to Nancy Allen who was the mean girl from that one. Director Brice Mack even replicates Brian DePalma’s soft focus camera lens and lighting schemes though I will give this one some props for mentioning John Travolta.

Jennifer’s powers gets awkwardly handled too as it’s over a half-hour in before they even get mentioned and we as viewers should’ve gotten foreshadowing about them a lot earlier. The preacher’s kid getting killed by one of Jennifer’s snakes when she was 7, which is what forced them to leave the small town, should’ve been played-out and not just discussed and the flashback scene of her as a child getting in front of a group of churchgoers at a religious revival in order to demonstrate her powers over snakes should’ve been shown right at the beginning instead of 35-minutes in.

I did though appreciate that Jennifer isn’t quite as pathetic as her Carrie counterpart and is able to hold her own in social situations instead of pathetically slinking away. The fact that she does have a few friends and people sticking-up for her is nice too as watching all the kids, like in Carriebeing cruel to another for the simple sake of meanness can get a little hard to take. The writing team of Steve Krantz and Kay Cousins Johnson also do a good job of creating a likable main character and a really nasty villainous making you fully hate her and looking forward to the climatic showdown. It’s just unfortunate that Amy Johnston was a weak actress and unable to make her character, as spoiled and nefarious as she is, more interesting.

Pelikan on the other-hand is excellent and I found it ironic that she was, in real-life, married to Bruce Davison, who starred in a famous horror movie of his own, Willard, about a young man that could control and communicate with rats. Nina Foch is great as the corrupt school administrator and I really dug her big glasses. John Gavin is fun too in his last movie role before he left show business to get into politics and looking like he hadn’t aged a day since the 50’s when he was, at that time, considered an up-and-coming star. Bert Convy though, while a great game show host, proves to be yet again weak as an actor. He’s so bad that even the scene where he tells-off Foch, which should’ve been rousing, becomes boring and I was hoping that at some point his character, which was a bit too good-to-be-true, would’ve made a provocative pass to Jennifer when they were alone together simply to give the story a little bit of a darker subtext.

Spoiler Alert!

Caveats and all I found the ending to be super cool and I really wished it would’ve gone on longer. Real snakes were used and the shots of them growing to giant size is genuinely creepy and makes sitting through the rest well worth it. The only quibble is that it’s never explained how Jennifer is able to make snakes appear out of nowhere. I was okay with the concept that she had an ability to make them do as she wanted and attack those that she didn’t like, but getting them to pop-in was a bit much. To have helped avoid this issue the final sequence should’ve been done at the her pet store, where the snakes could’ve come out of their glass cages to defend her, instead of in a parking garage where there were no snakes until she somehow ‘zapped’ them in.

I was also surprised, just as a side note, with the level of nudity that you see in what is otherwise a PG-rated movie. Not that I’m complaining, and I realize 70’s standards in the rating system are different than today’s, but still it ends up being more than you might think.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 31, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Brice Mack

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Ghosts That Still Walk (1977)

ghosts

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen possessed by ghost.

Mark (Matthew Boston) is the 15-year-old son of Ruth (Caroline Howe) who is a researcher that specializes in astral projection. She goes out one day to an abandoned cave and brings home the decayed corpse of an ancient Indian Medicine Man and attempts to speak to the ghostly spirit that she feels is still inside it. Mark catches her talking to it when he comes home early from school and this sight spooks him enough that he runs away. When he eventually does return he begins to behave erratically and his concerned grandmother (Ann Nelson) sends him to a psychiatrist (Rita Crafts) who tries to get to the bottom of the matter.

This film, while not very good, is unique in several ways in that it’s one of the few horror movies that could be watched by the entire family. The mild frights are in the supernatural vein that may spook a child, who I believe was the intended audience, slightly, but won’t traumatize. This is also a rare horror film that features no blood, no gore, no nudity or swearing, and no psychos, or monsters. It also has virtually all of the scenes taking place outside in the bright sunlight versus doing them in the dark of night like with most scary movies. This marks as well the film debut of Ann Nelson, an elderly actress who went on to play a lot of old lady roles in TV-shows and movies during the 80’s and here as a hyper-anxious, deeply religious grandma is entertaining and helps give the film a few more points.

Reviewers on IMDb all seem to remember one specific scene that stands-out that stood out to them, which is the moment where boulders roll across the flat desert terrain by a invisible force, which is indeed a cool visual. However, I didn’t like the way they would conveniently bounce-up and avoid the camper that the old couple are driving in versus having one of the boulders come directly towards the camera and crash into the windshield, which would’ve been effectively dramatic.

Other scare segments don’t work as well. The scene where the camper begins driving itself goes on too long and isn’t as intense as it could’ve been as it’s done on a deserted highway and would’ve been more exciting had we seen the vehicle going into oncoming traffic. Cutting back-and-forth to the grandma getting bounced around on the interior walls as it drives crazily elicits unintended laughs instead of tension.

It’s also confusing as to who the main character is supposed to be. It starts out with the kid, who’s likable enough, but then he goes away for a long period and we get stuck exclusively with the elderly couple in a flashback bit and then it segues to the mother and in-between there’s extended scenes, with voice-over, of the psychiatrist as she researches the case. The kid, who I liked best, finally comes back near the end, but it’s not enough to save it and the way it gets structured here makes it seem like 4 different stories that get awkwardly merged instead of having one protagonist throughout.

The ending peters-out with a fizzle giving the viewer no climactic pay-off at all. The title is also goofy as I didn’t think ghosts walked, but instead floated.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: James T. Flocker

Studio: James Flocker Enterprises

Available: VHS, DVD-R (dvdlady.com)

The Meateater (1979)

meateater1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: A haunted movie theater.

Mitford (Peter Spitzer) is a middle-aged father of two who decides he’s had enough of being a shoe salesman. Much to the reluctance of his wife Jan (Dianne Davis) he buys an old movie theater and decides to reopen it. The theater had remained closed since the previous owner showed the movie Carnal Knowledge, which was considered too racy for the conservative citizens of the town, but Mitford promises to schedule only G-rated fare. While opening night is a sell-out it proves fatal when the projectionist (Richard Nathan) gets electrocuted and dies. Then from behind the screen it’s revealed that someone from years ago had hanged himself. No one knows for sure who it is, particularly the vulgar police detective (Joe Marmo), but the new owners begin to suspect that the weird, stuttering man (Arch Joboulian) who lives nearby and always appears in the theater at odd times may know more about what’s going on than he’s letting-on.

Regional filmmaker David Burton Morris, who has shot the majority of his films in the Twin Cities area where he’s from, has had some acclaim with his dramas, but his foray into horror is a disaster. The only redeeming quality are the quirky characters. Raymond, as a hyper nervous, geeky projectionist is funny and I hated seeing him go. The crass investigator is good for a few chuckles too and in some ways probably not all that different from a gruff policemen of that era.

The film’s downfall is the fact that there aren’t any scares. It starts out creepy enough, but that vibe soon gets lost and the soundtrack plays like something better suited for a comedy. The extraneous conversations really bog it down. Discussions about Jimmy Dean sausages and having the family singing the Oscar Meyer wiener song as they drive home has no place in this story, or any other for that matter. It also suffers from poor framing where the husband and wife are sitting on a porch to one side and the detective on the opposite end, but despite all three being involved in a conversation only the couple are seen while all we see from the detective are his legs.

Spoiler Alert!

The third act is where it really goes south as the brother of the crazy stuttering man (both played by Joboulian) kidnaps the couple’s teen daughter (Emily Spindler) because she reminds him of Jean Harlow his favorite movie star. However, the teen girl wasn’t in much of the movie up until then, so the viewer has no emotional connection with her and therefore no care whether she gets away, or not. Since the mother had taken up most of the screentime it really should’ve been her as the kidnap victim. Either way it’s not very tense and Jobulian, who comes-off as a cross between Angus Scrimm in Phantasm and Richard O’Brien from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, is not a good enough actor to make the villain role even remotely interesting. The attempt to borrow from the ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’ theme where this deformed being falls for a young beauty is both stale and contrived.

The story also has no connection with the title. We do see a man biting down on a rat at the beginning and the theater does show some documentaries of animals attacking other animals, of which we see a few snippets of, but the title leads one to believe this will be about cannibalism and there’s none. The film’s promotional poster seen above is misleading as well and far scarier than anything you’ll witness in the movie.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: November 16, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: David Burton Morris

Studio: Hollyco

Available: DVD-R (dvdlady.com)