Category Archives: 80’s Movies

Out of the Dark (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stalking phone sex operators.

Women working at a phone sex hotline known as Sweet Nothings suddenly find themselves menaced by a strange killer wearing a clown mask. One-by-one they start turning up dead and suspicions fall on a regular caller named Bobo, but the police have a hard time tracking him down, so the remaining women take matters into their own hands.

The film starts out with potential particularly the recreation of the call center that was completely on-target and had the film remained exclusively in this setting it could’ve been engaging. I wished though that the operators hadn’t all been single as it would’ve been interesting seeing a married woman working there and how her husband adjusted to it. I also wanted to see some character arcs especially from Camille (Star Andreef) who plays a ‘newbie’ starting out in the business. It would’ve been fun having her reserved and shy at the start and then eventually gotten into it after a few days as opposed to her diving into the unique job demands without hesitation right from the start.

Karen Black as the manager of the place is good and I liked how the film analyzes her different life roles from being a single parent raising a daughter to an amusing moment where she jumps on the phone to help out another operator by playing the part of a ‘three-way’ during a sexual fantasy. Unfortunately her presence is sporadic and the film fails to have any consistent protagonist only to eventually settle on two who are so incredibly dull and generic that is just makes things worse.

Tracy Walters is boring as the detective in a tired caricature of a gruff/crude policeman that doesn’t work at all. Divine plays his male rival, but is only seen briefly during the film’s final 30 minutes when he should’ve been given the lead and if he had the movie might’ve been an interesting curio worth catching, which at this point it’s not.

The killer like everyone else in this failed experiment of a movie has no pizazz despite his creepy mask and the comical comments that he makes after he kills each of his victims are annoying. I realize a lot of slasher flicks were having their killers do this at the time, which was all the more reason why this film should’ve avoided it. Finding out his true identity is a big letdown too and there’s never any explanation as to how he’s able to be at two different places at once particularly during the scene where he is shown talking on a pay phone to one of the sex operators and then almost simultaneously appears at her home where he then strangles are.

Initially it seemed, especially with its eclectic cast, that this was going to be a horror parody and that’s how it starts out, but after the first 10 minutes it careens downhill and never recovers. Instead of being a step above the usual horror flick it actually ends up being even worse and don’t let the cast of cult stars fool you either as this is not worth catching for any reason.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 5, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Schroeder

Studio: Cinetel Films

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video, YouTube

Clownhouse (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Clowns terrorize three kids.

Three brothers (Nathan Forrest Winters, Brian McHugh, Sam Rockwell) find themselves alone late one night in their big house when their parents are away on business. They try to scare each other by telling spooky stories involving clowns, but little do they know that three mental patients (Michael Jerome West, Byron Weible, David C. Reinecker) have escaped from a nearby insane asylum. They kill some men working as clowns at a local circus and then disguised as clowns themselves sneak inside the home where the boys reside and try to kill them.

This film has become better known for what went on behind-the-scenes as writer/director Victor Salva was convicted of having sex with the 12-year-old star Winters (no relation) during the production and ended up serving 15 months of his 3-year prison sentence at which point he was then released and has since gone back to filmmaking. To some extent even without having known this one could almost suspect that idea because, like in the movie Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom where the director featured a lot of underage nudity only to later be convicted of a similar charge, this filmmaker does the same thing by opening the movie with the boys walking around in their underwear and at one brief point capturing the young star’s naked behind, which was not needed and comes off as intentional voyeurism.

If you can get beyond the production’s notorious backstory then as a horror movie it’s not too bad as Salva shows a good ability at building a creepy, surreal-like atmosphere particularly the scenes done at the circus and then later at the large, ominous house. The only problem is that the setting is supposed to be a couple of weeks before Halloween even though all the leaves on the trees are green, which doesn’t exactly resemble fall.

The plot though is weak and it would’ve worked better had it not given away who these men in the clown costumes were until the very end, or maybe not at all. Having lunatic characters escape from a mental hospital is generic and it would’ve been more intriguing had the viewer suspected these clown as being a part of the child’s imagination instead.

Despite the short runtime the pace still bogs down with a premise that builds too slowly and drags out the suspense longer than need be. The mental patients behave more like professional clown performers and never even say anything once their make-up is applied, which is not believable and all the more reason for the film to have taken a surreal turn by portraying the clowns as figments of the boy’s imagination who have inexplicably come to life.

Ultimately it plays itself out too soon and lacks any type of final twist. Winters appears to be the same age as McHugh who was playing his older brother and at age 12 behaved more like a 6-year-old making me feel the the part should’ve been given to a younger performer. It is however fun seeing Sam Rockwell in his film debut and still looking very much like an adolescent.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 28, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 21Minutes

Rated R

Director: Victor Salva

Studio: Zoetrope Studios

Available: DVD

Silent Madness (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mental patient stalks sorority.

Due to the similarities in their names a mute mental patient named Howard Johns (Solly Marx) gets accidently released from a psychiatric hospital and returns to the scene of his crime, a college sorority, whose members he slaughtered years before. Dr. Joan Gillmore (Belinda Montgomery) tries to track him down, but finds no help from the staff at the hospital who are more concerned in covering up the error to the extent that they secretly send out two thugs (Dennis Helfend, Philip Levy) to kill Joan so she won’t be able to tell anyone else about it.

It’s hard to tell if this movie wants to be a conventional slasher flick or a parody and the cartoon like opening theme music makes it sound like it’s going for the latter. Either way it’s a one-dimensional, low grade, monotonous excuse of a film that essentially has nothing going for it even when compared to other entries from the genre. Supposedly it was made to cash in on the 3-D craze, but there’s not enough action to justify it. There’s a killing at the start, but the middle drags on with Joan’s plodding investigation as to the whereabouts of the killer that the viewer already knows the answer to and watching these cardboard characters spend 80 minutes coming to the same conclusion that we know from the start is extremely boring to say the least.

This is the type of cheap crap that needs to be approached with tongue firmly in cheek, but Montgomery plays it too earnestly acting like she’s in a serious drama, which just helps to make it more intolerable. The killer is equally dull and for that matter really isn’t scary. I felt that the only reason the character was made to be a mute was because the actor who played him was a stunt coordinator with limited acting experience and therefore the less he had to say the better.

The only bright spot is the presence of Viveca Lindfors a talented and aging star whose career peak was in the 40’s, but who still manages to give this second-rate material here an admirable effort. Unfortunately she appears for only about 5 minutes as the sorority house mother, but then later becomes an integral part to the film’s twist ending, which was enough to earn this thing a measly point.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: October 26, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated R

Director: Simon Nuchtern

Studio: Almi Pictures

Available: DVD

Hell High (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teens regret pranking teacher.

When she is 6 years old little Brooke (Amy Beth Erenrich) accidently kills a couple by causing the motorbike they’re riding on to spin out-of-control. Now, 18 years later Brooke (Maureen Mooney) teaches at a high school where she has a confrontation with one of the students named Dickens (Christopher Stryker). Dickens decides to get his revenge by having him and three of his friends (Christopher Cousins, Millie Prezioso, Jason Brill) terrorize her by going out to her home wearing masks. Things though unravel when the demons of Brooke’s past come back to haunt her, which turns her into a psychotic killing machine right before their eyes.

To a certain degree this film is slightly above the usual cheesy horror flick level. Although the dress that the child wears during the flashback segment looks ridiculously campy I still felt this scene was the best moment in the film particularly the shot of the couple impaled by the fence. The on-location shooting is decent too as I visually got an authentic high school feel both on the campus and during the football game. The kids look like genuine teenagers too and they even manage to have distinct personalities. The spacious, remote home that Brooke lives in helps exude a Straw Dogs tone, but it was weird that she resided in the same place that she grew up in and I presume the only good reason for this was budgetary. The approach is offbeat and initially intriguing even though the tension gets destroyed by going off on a long tangent involving a high school football game that was not needed.

The biggest problem though comes when it tries to connect Brooke’s traumatic childhood experience with what she’s going through now, which is just too much of a stretch. If she is as mentally fragile as the film insists then her inevitable meltdown would’ve occurred far sooner like when she was 8 or 10 instead of having her supposedly lead a normal life and then flip-out like a light switch without warning. It’s also confusing why she doesn’t just call the police right away when the kids first started to scare her.

Once the killings happen it gets boring and mechanical and the plot would’ve worked better had it not been known until the end who the killer actually was. The animosity between Brooke and Dickens, which is well-played by Stryker who unfortunately died before the film was released, needed a better final confrontation that was more drawn-out as Brooke overpowers him too quickly making his transition from bully to scared victim not as ironic as it could’ve been.

For me though the scariest part in the film had nothing to do with the intended ‘horror’, but more with the incredibly disrespectful way Brooke gets treated by her students when she tries conducting her biology class. Teachers don’t get paid enough to be expected to tolerate the snide behavior that she does nor should teens think that is acceptable while in the classroom, which is sad and even a bit disturbing.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 12, 1989 (Filmed in 1985)

Runtime: 1Hour 24Minutes

Rated R

Director: Douglas Grossman

Studio: JGM Enterprises

Available: DVD

Deadline (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Screenwriter alienates his family.

Steven (Stephen Young) is a successful screenwriter of horror movies who’s becoming tired of churning out the same old formulaic schlock. He wants his next screenplay to transcend the genre by delving more deeply into the psychological realm, or as he puts it ‘the ultimate horror’, but his producer Burt (Marvin Goldhar) is more interested in what sells and doesn’t want Steven to deviate from what has already proven to be popular. Steven then takes his frustrations out on his family by ignoring their needs and becoming more indulgent to his own, which eventually leads to tragedy.

I applaud any movie that wants to tweak the horror formula and on that level this movie succeeds and is genuinely fascinating. Too many horror films act like there has to be a madman with an ax, or some ghost or vampire to make it frightening when really some of the darker aspects of life run far deeper and although this one isn’t a complete success it still ends up making a few keen observations along the way.

What I didn’t like is the way it overstates the importance of a screenwriter, which just doesn’t ring completely true. I admit a good script is always a vital element, but the movie world is still a director’s/producer’s medium and if the scriptwriter gets a smug attitude like he does here then he’d be quickly dropped as there are no shortage of other writers around. With the exception of Charlie Kaufman most films do not hinge on the marketability of the screenwriter’s name to sell it, a big name director or star sure, but never the writer, so the fact that the movie here plays like the main character’s presence is instrumental to getting the movie made seemed to me quite dubious and only when it’s examining Steven’s frustrations with the business and his feelings that his talents are being stifled does it then become on-target.

However, the more it goes on the less like a horror film it seems. One could almost categorize this as simply being a drama looking at the personal pressures of the movie world, the challenges of being a working screenwriter and trying to attain the work/life balance, which in that area it’s insightful.  The theme though is too existential and ultimately plays like an experimental film that lacks any scares.

Spoiler Alert!

That’s not to say there aren’t some good moments that the average horror fan could still enjoy. The scene where a woman drowns inside a tub of blood is good as is the twisted sequence where a grandmother gets set on fire by her own grandkids. The segment dealing with a group of old nuns who tie a man up, cut out his heart and then pass it around while taking turns biting into it is memorable too, but the climactic finish where all the writer’s dark creations come to life to attack him gets disappointingly  underplayed, which ultimately hurts the film.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 12, 1984 (Filmed in 1979)

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mario Azzopardi

Studio: Pan-Canadian Film Distributors

Available: VHS

Prom Night (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Accidental death spawns revenge.

In 1974 five children go playing inside an abandoned building, but when one of them falls tragically to her death the other kids agree not to tell in order to avoid getting into trouble. Six years later these same four children are now teenagers and ready to attend the prom, but become terrified by strange phone calls from someone insisting he saw what happened and threatening to kill them to avenge the accidental death of the other one.

As modern day horror movies go this one starts out well especially the abandoned building footage with the rundown interiors helping to give the film a creepy look. The lighting and camerawork are more polished than the typical slasher production and it doesn’t reek of low budget, amateurish values that pervaded just about every other horror flick from that era.

Unfortunately after a decent beginning the pacing then slows to a crawl and except for a few creepy phone calls hardly anything goes on for the whole first hour. At one point it becomes like a sequel to Saturday Night Fever with a prolonged dance segment between Jamie Lee Curtis and her partner that does not propel either the plot or tension and was out-of-place.

The side-story dealing with the police searching for an escaped killer who they mistakenly believe killed the child is pointless and apparently added in at the last minute. I would think a coroner’s autopsy would’ve shown that the child died from the trauma of the fall and not by someone’s knife, which makes the crazy-killer-on-the-loose angle ridiculous and an obvious red-herring put in to ‘fool’ the viewer, which most seasoned horror movie fans would never be dumb enough to fall for anyways, so why insult their intelligence by even trying?

The actual killings don’t get going until 1Hour and 2Minutes in and by then it’s almost too late. The killer also conveys seemingly boundless energy as he busily wrestles a driver for control of a van, which he eventually forces off a cliff while miraculously jumping out of it just before it goes over and then manages just a short time later to chase another victim all around the school where no matter which hallway the young lady chooses to run down the killer always magically is at the end of it ready to jump out at her. The decapitation scene depicting a victim’s head rolling down the stage runway at the high school prom has to be one of the unintentionally funniest moments put on film and had me laughing uproariously.

PROM NIGHT, David Mucci, 1980, (c)AVCO Embassy Pictures

Spoiler Alert!

Normally guessing the killer’s identity is the one fun thing to do while watching these types of flicks, but here that gets ruined by implementing a character at the scene, which was Alex (Michael Tough) the younger brother of the victim who died, even though the viewer didn’t even know he was present when it happened. It’s also hard to believe that any young child could keep a secret for that long as most can’t. I understand why the other 4 kids didn’t tell, but why the younger brother who had nothing to do with the accident and only witnessed what happened? Why would he not immediately run back home to his parents, as most would and tell them about it so they could call the police?

In retrospect having the flashback at the beginning was a mistake as there would’ve been more intrigue had we not known why these four were being targeted. Only revealing the flashback at the very end would’ve then heightened the mystery, which is pretty flimsy otherwise.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 18, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Lynch

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Dead & Buried (1981)

 

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dead people terrorize town.

Dan (James Farentino) is the sheriff of a sleepy New England town called Potter’s Bluff. Normally his days are routine but suddenly he finds himself investigating a bizarre case where a group of people murder a visiting photographer by burning him at a stake for no apparent reason. Soon other strange murders begin occurring and his peaceful little town as well as his own life gets turned upside down as neither he nor the town’s coroner (Jack Albertson) can come up with any answers especially as the dead victims start to come back to life.

The film, which was directed by Gary Sherman, starts off well as the big band era music and picturesque small town scenery makes it seem like something straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Sherman went to great lengths to keep every scene consistent with a gray color tone including having a giant flag hung over a cliff in order to block out the sunlight during outdoor scenes and keeping everything looking like it was under a continual foggy haze.

The story though can’t match the atmosphere and the interest level wanes pretty quickly. The dead coming back to life angle has been used too often and is no longer novel to the point that it’s now almost boring. There’s no consistent protagonist either. The sheriff eventually becomes one, but there are long breaks where the film follows other characters including a young family, who come into contact with the killers, but they’re not that interesting and it becomes difficult for the viewer to connect emotionally with anyone on the screen.

For years Dan O’Bannon was credited with creating the story and many movie posters advertised this due to his success with Alien, but O’Bannon later stated in a 1983 interview that he actually had nothing to do with the script and disown the film. Ronald Shusett apparently wrote the entire thing, but in order to get it sold he felt a big name writer needed to be attached to it, so he promised O’Bannon that they would implement some of the ideas that he had into the final revision in order to allow them to use his name on the credits, but when the film eventually came out none of O’Bannon’s suggestions had been used.

The film’s tone is yet another issue. Sherman had wanted to approach it as a dark comedy, but one of the film’s investors PSO International pushed for the gore to be emphasized more. The result is jarring as half the time it’s this quant atmospheric chiller while at other points it becomes without warning graphically gory.

Farentino is good, but Melody Patterson, who was 17 years younger than him in real-life, is miscast as his wife. Jack Albertson is the best thing in the movie. Initially I feared that his part was too small, but he comes on strong at the end, which is great and I was also happy to read that despite the fact that he was dying of cancer while the movie was being made he still remained alive long enough to attend its premiere although he had to do it while being in a wheelchair and connected to an oxygen tank.

If you’re looking for a horror movie that emphasizes atmosphere and an offbeat touch then this may hit-the-spot, but the plot needed to encompass a broader time frame as it didn’t seem believable that so much of the town’s people could be in on this secret without the sheriff becoming suspicion of things much sooner than he does. The twist ending is weak too as it’s full of loopholes and creates way more questions than it answers.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 29, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Gary Sherman

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video, YouTube

Blood Rage (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Homicidal twin frames brother.

In the summer of 1974 while his mother (Louise Lasser) watches a movie with her new date at a drive-in 10-year-old Terry (Mark Soper) kills a young couple with a hatchet and then pins the murders on his brother Todd. Todd is sent away to an asylum while Terry goes on living with his mother. 10 years later Todd escapes from the mental hospital and Terry uses this as an excuse to murder people at the apartment complex that he and his mother live at while again trying to make it look as though Todd is the culprit.

The film was directed by John Grissmer who in the early 70’s produced The House that Cried Murder an interesting horror flick and a clip from that one gets shown here. He also later directed Scalpel and although that was not perfect it’s still better than this, which outside of some very gory special effects is about as routine and boring as a slasher film can get.

The identical twin/murder storyline, which has been done many times before, is a the biggest problem because even in the most extreme cases you can usually tell one twin from the other and therefore having a plot where people can easily mix the two up is just not realistic. What makes things worse is that one of the twins has curly hair while the other one’s hair is straight and combed back, so the fact that people can still somehow get the two confused is ridiculous.

The film also has too many unexplained plot holes like why is Terry so homicidal in the first place? Does mental illness run in his family, or is there something else that triggers it? And why does Todd so passively allow himself to put into an institution without protest and only after 10 years does he finally begin to profess his innocence?

The film was shot in Jacksonville, Florida, but the places used for the setting are deadly dull visually especially what was then known as the La Miranda apartment complex. This might’ve been done for budgetary reasons, but apartments are cramped places with unimaginative architecture so filming the majority of a movie inside one gives the film a flat, one-dimensional look and the exteriors, which were shot at the University of Northern Florida, were too limited and the action goes back several times to the same spots already used before like a nature bridge, which gives the film a redundant feel.

The acting is poor with the worst coming from Julie Gordon who plays Karen. I’ll admit the dialogue that she is given is pretty stupid anyways, but still watching her pathetic attempts at running or even screaming is so bad that you just wish the bad guy would kill her to put us the viewer out of our misery of having to watch her and the more she stays on the more unbearable the film gets.

The film’s only saving grace is Louise Lasser who helps bring some quirky depth into it. She’s unquestionably a unique talent that can sometimes give a brilliant performance if given the right material. Her neurotic persona and ad-libs add a terrific edge and just seeing her reactions is more fascinating than anything else in the movie. The film might’ve had a chance had she been in every scene and the stupid teen cast scrapped, but unfortunately she appears only sporadically, which just isn’t enough to mask the otherwise threadbare material.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Alternate Title: Nightmare at Shadow Woods

Released: March 29, 1987 (Filmed in 1983)

Runtime: 1Hour 22Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Grissmer

Studio: Film Limited Partnership

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

Night Warning (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: His aunt is crazy.

Billy (Jimmy McNichol) has been orphaned since age 3 ever since his parents died in a tragic car accident. For the past 14 years he’s been living with his neurotic aunt Cheryl (Susan Tyrrell), but now that he’s turning 17 he’s ready to move-out. Cheryl though doesn’t want Billy to leave her as she harbors dark incestuous feelings for him and will do anything, even kill in order to keep him with her.

The film was directed by William Asher, who mainly worked on family oriented material like the TV-show ‘Bewitched’ and the beach party movies from the 60’s, so doing this was a stretch for him, but results aren’t bad. Although there’s little gore the well-shot opening sequence in which the father gets decapitated by driving into a truck hauling wooden logs is impressive and more than makes up for it and it even gets shown twice.

The big payoff though is Susan Tyrrell’s performance, which gets completely off-the-charts. She had a love-hate relationship with her real-life mother and the two spent many years not talking to each other and I think this as well as some of the treatment that she received in Hollywood particularly with her working relationship with director John Huston while doing Fat City she used to channel the anger and rejection of her character and it really works. Watching her become more and more unhinged as the film progresses and her increasingly odd facial expressions and voice tones is a treat onto itself and makes catching this otherwise hard-to-find flick worth it.

McNichol’s acting unfortunately cannot match hers and I was shocked to see that he got top billing over her as his talent level, pedigree isn’t even close. His character though is even more annoying as I found it hard to believe that he wouldn’t have seen red flags to his aunt’s mental illness far sooner. The film makes it seem that he had no concerns about his aunt until he turned 17, but I would think living with her for 14 years there would be signs of it earlier. It’s also hard to feel for someone who is so painfully naïve and walks into his aunt’s devious traps when anyone else would’ve know better. It’s dubious too that the aunt would wait until the kid was 17 before making sexual overtures, but I suppose that’s a whole other issue.

Bo Svenson’s as a brash, unethical cop who is profoundly racist and homophobic becomes a strain too. I’m sure at the time this was considered simply ‘soft satire’ that lightly pokes fun at the bad cop stigma, but now it comes off as dated and unpleasant and probably the whole reason why the film hasn’t received a DVD/Blu-ray release.

Julia Duffy, best known for playing Stephanie on the TV-show ‘Newhart’ is on hand in support and although she was already 30 at the time plays Billy’s teen girlfriend and even appears topless, which may interest the voyeurs. However, any story that hinges on one of the characters being put on trial and then found not guilty by a jury due to temporary insanity I just can’t buy into and I don’t think has ever happened at least not in this country. There’s also too much ‘scary music’ that gets played particularly during scenes inside the house that just isn’t needed and almost becomes a distraction and I wish directors and producers would realize that the quiet/natural ambience can be far creepier than any soundtrack.

 

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Alternate Title: Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker

Released: January 1, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Asher

Studio: Royal American Pictures

Available: VHS

The Fog (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ghostly fog haunts town.

As the town of Antonio Bay gets ready to celebrate its 100th year of existence a mysterious fog creeps into the area at midnight and then strange unexplained events begin to occur. The town’s priest Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) finds a secret diary detailing how 6 of the town’s founders intentionally sank a ship 100 years earlier. Now the ship’s ghostly victims have returned seeking revenge by insisting that 6 people from the community must die in order to make-up for the 6 that originally killed them.

John Carpenter’s follow-up to his highly successful Halloween has gained a fervent following, but in the end it really doesn’t amount to much. Maybe my expectations were too high as I had a friend who talked this up as being great, but the scares are lacking despite a good first act that nicely builds the atmosphere and has some effective visuals particularly the shots of the fog rolling in.

The interesting premise though gets ruined by having things explained too quickly. Sometimes a little mystery can go a long way and not knowing what’s causing the strange occurrences and only having it answered at the very end, or possibly not at all, would’ve made it scarier and more intriguing. The backstory makes the ghosts come off like sympathetic victims looking for justice and therefore less threatening. Instead of being this entity with no known boundaries they become logical, emotional beings that makes the scenario too contained and civilized and less intense than it could’ve been.

You wait for things to finally gel, but it never really does. The victims get attacked in a matter of seconds and the camera then quickly cuts away before any blood or violence is shown. The ghosts aren’t seen much either and amount to shadowy figures from a distance when they are with occasional glowing red eyes, but otherwise they lack visual flair.

Having three heroines was a mistake especially since Jamie Lee Curtis seems bored in her role and almost like she didn’t even want to be there. Her real-life mother Janet Leigh conveys far more energy and she could’ve easily been the star with Curtis cut out completely. The two do share a few scenes together, but frustratingly never any lines of dialogue.

Adrienne Barbeau, who at the time was Carpenter’s wife, is okay as a late night DJ working out of a lighthouse, but her over-the-air pleas to her young son Andy (Ty Mitchell) to get out of his house to escape from the ghosts came off as unintentionally funny. The simultaneous climaxes that occur at two different locations with some cast members fighting off the ghosts inside a church while Barbeau does the same inside the lighthouse doesn’t work and if anything the finale should’ve happened completely inside the lighthouse since that was a more unique setting.

The direction is competent and it’s not like this film, which was remade in 2005, is a bad one it’s just not particularly exciting or interesting. The horror needed to be amped up and the pacing quicker particularly as it got into the second act. The only moment in the film that impressed me had nothing to do with the horror, but instead was the shot showing Barbeau walking down a long, winding outside stairwell to get to the lighthouse, which was filmed on-location at the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse in Marin County, California.

 

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 8, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Carpenter

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

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