Category Archives: 80’s Movies

Fandango (1985)

fandango

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The privileges of youth.

Gardner (Kevin Costner), Phil (Judd Nelson), Kenneth (Sam Robards), Dorman (Chuck Bush) and Lester (Brian Cesak) are five college friends from the University of Texas in 1971, who are getting ready to celebrate their impending graduations when Kenneth announces that he’s been drafted into the Vietnam War and Gardner has too. To help lighten the mood the boys decide to take an impulsive road trip where they travel to unique areas of Texas, including searching for buried treasure in the Rio Grande, sleeping under the stars at the old filming site of Giant, and even taking part in parachute jump near Pecos.

This film is based on a 24-minute film that Kevin Reynolds directed while attending the USC film school. In that movie the boys were all from Baylor University and traveled to Pecos, Texas in order to test the courage of their most frightened member and use the help of eccentric flight instructor Truman Sparks, played by Marvin J. McIntyre, who reprises his role in this one, to teach and train the young man on how to jump from a plane. The student film managed to catch the attention of Steven Spielberg, who was so impressed with it that he offered Reynolds the chance to turn it into a full-length movie. Unfortunately once it was completed Spielberg for whatever reason disliked it and had his name removed from the credits while also refusing to help distribute it forcing the film to suffer a limited engagement though in recent years its cultivated a cult following.

The movie does have many funny moments including the opening bit where Phil’s parents (Stanley Grover, Jane A. Johnston) visit his frat house during one of their raucous parties. The sky diving sequence, which gets copied shot-for-shot from the original is quite engaging as is their attempts to hook their disabled car up to a speeding train. Costner is also very amusing, he had actually auditioned for the student film, but lost out, but when he found out it was going to be remade into a feature film he re-auditioned. I’m so used to seeing him play serious roles that I didn’t realize he had such great comedic timing, but for the most part, he’s the life of the movie.

Where the film fails is that it’s too unfocused. The setting is supposedly 1971, but you’d hardly know it and very little effort is made to give it a feel of that era. Even the opening song sung by Elton John that gets played by over the credits was released 2 years after the events in the movie supposedly took place, so to keep it accurate with the time setting only songs that came out in 1971, or before should’ve been used.

The side-story involving Gardner having dated Kenneth’s fiancee, played by Suzy Amis, seems unneeded and really doesn’t go anywhere. Normally, in most real-life friendships, having a friend date and ultimately marry one’s former girlfriend could be a deal-breaker that would lead to a lot of jealousy and potential anger. I’m sure there’s a minority of friendships where the participants would be mature enough to overcome this issue, like here, though this isn’t interesting, so why bother introducing this wrinkle if its dramatic elements aren’t going to get explored?

The part where it really jumps-the-shark is during the planning of the wedding, which is too full of logic loopholes to be able to buy into even on a whimsical level. It features Gardner and Phil being able to pull off his massive wedding ceremony in the town’s square on very short notice by conning too old guys sitting on a nearby park bench into agreeing to help out, which leads to more people getting involved until the whole town, even the mayor, takes part in a wedding ceremony, and its preparation, of people they don’t even know. If anyone can show me an example in the whole history of the world of when this has ever happened in reality then I’ll take it back, but otherwise I found it ridiculous.

The ending is way too abrupt. The whole reason Phil agreed to go on the parachute jump was for Kenneth and Gardner to agree to not dodge the draft, but whether they withhold their end of the bargain is never shown. Everyone just basically wanders off like they have better things to do, which is how the viewer, despite some fun moments, ends up feeling about the movie, which would’ve had more impact had it chucked the whimsy and had a little more serious drama.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 25, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Kevin Reynolds

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Double Deal (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Double crossing each other.

Christine (Angela Punch McGregor) is a young model married to Peter (Louis Jourdan) a much older man. While Peter is rich and they live in a big house their marriage lacks passion and Christine becomes bored with her existence while Peter continues to have a long-running affair with his secretary Miss Stevens (Diane Craig). One day while out shopping Christine meets a handsome young man (Warwick Comber) on a motorbike. Even though she doesn’t know his name she becomes entranced with his good looks and carefree demeanor. He’s the exact opposite of the stuffy and exacting Peter, so she decides to run-off with him. The two go on many quirky adventures including robbing a grocery store while in clown make-up not so much because they need the money, but just for the thrill of it. They then plot a scheme where the man will pretend to have kidnapped Christine and insist that Peter relinquish his prized opal gemstone in order to get her back. Peter complies, but in the process sets off an array of unexpected twists where nothing is as it seems.

Normally I like films with an offbeat slant and this one certainly has its moments, but the characters aren’t well fleshed-out, which makes for a placid experience. A good case-in-point is the way Christine comes upon the young man, which is while she’s in a shopping center parking lot. Having found that someone has double parked their car behind hers she patiently waits for the owner of the vehicle to come out and move it, but in the process the young man comes along, and noticing that the keys of the car are still in the ignition, jumps into the car and drives away with it while also following Christine home. Once there the two proceed to tear up the place before she packs her bags and runs off with him onto the open road without ever even learning what his first name is.

While as an actress McGregor is quite competent she doesn’t have the looks of a fashion model, which she herself admitted to, and her role and that of the secretary should’ve been reversed with Diane Craig looking far more the model type especially with her piercing blue eyes. Comber is a bit off as the handsome stranger as well. He certainly has a hunky build and chiseled face, but his droopy eyelids give him a odd, sad eye appearance. I also got tired of seeing him constantly wearing a silver bike riding suit that seemed to resembled more of an outfit worn by someone on a spaceship.

Jourdan’s presence helps a lot. This was at the twilight of his career where he was no longer getting leading man roles in his home country of France and therefore open to accepting offers abroad, which is what lead to him traveling to Australia to do this. The filmmakers wanted a big name star to help give the production stature and the movie definitely works better with him in it though the scene where he and McGregor are in bed together was reportedly quite awkward for the two stars given their wide age difference of almost 33 years and took many takes to film.

There are a few memorable moments with my favorite being the grocery store robbery, which occurs in a small outback town, where Christine accidentally releases the money they have just stolen into the air as she gets into the getaway car causing the store owners, who had just been robbed, to run out and busily try to recollect the money blowing in the wind. However, the story lacks soul. The twists get thrown in for the sake of being offbeat, but the characters never grow, or resemble real people in any way. The winding plot ultimately burns out and ends with a fizzle.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 15, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Brian Kavanagh

Studio: Roadshow Films

Available: dvdlady.com

Fraternity Vacation (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Guys hit on babe.

A late season blizzard hits central Iowa just as Easter arrives causing two college chums, Larry (Tim Robbins) and Joe (Cameron Dye), to decide they need to get away to a warmer climate. Their socially inept friend Wendell (Stephen Geoffreys) has a cousin with a fully furnished apartment in Palm Springs that is open for them to go to. Wendell’s parents (Max Wright, Julie Payne) even agree to pay for their plane tickets, but there’s one catch: the boys must bring Wendell along and help him get over his awkwardness, so he can finally meet some girls and get laid. Joe and Larry reluctantly agree, but when they get there they find Wendell to be an almost hopeless case while also bumping into two guys: Chas (Leigh McCloskey) and J.C. (Matt McCoy) from a rival fraternity.  Chas is particularly arrogant and bets the two that he can manage to have sex with a hot babe named Ashley (Sheree J. Wilson) before they can, which causes the boys to go on a slew of wild antics to get Ashley’s attention, and hopefully heart, so she’ll agree to go out on a date with Joe and then hopefully afterwards back to her bedroom.

I know I’ve been told by readers of this blog that I’m a ‘tough critic’ and rate these films ‘too harshly’, but the truth is going-in I want to like these movies because who wants to waste 90-minutes of their time watching a dud, but I do have one main rule. If the movie causes me to openly groan, or rub my forehead, which is something I do when I get annoyed, then it’s going to get a low rating and this one had me doing that several times.

The main thing that irritated me was the piss-poor characterizations, which are cliched to the max. The most annoying one is Wendell, played by Geoffreys, who started his acting career doing mainstream films only to by the 90’s devolve into starring-in gay porn flicks under the name of Sam Ritter and then returning to doing mainstream movies by the 2010’s. I felt his nerd vibe was over-the-top. Being geeky and slightly out-of-it is one thing, but this young man is completely oblivious to obvious social cues that anyone with even a minor intelligence would pick-up on making him seem like he must be mentally-ill to be that extremely out-of-touch.

The Ashley character is poorly defined as well. Why is such an incredibly hot woman single, and if so why aren’t a lot of guys hitting on her instead of just these two? Why would an attractive woman undress (performed by body double Roberta Whitewood) by an open window at a busy apartment complex and not fear that it may attract peepers? If she’s an exhibitionist that’s one thing, but the movie plays it like she isn’t, so how could she be so clueless? She also stupidly falls into the boy’s pathetic scheme too easily. I was hoping she’d secretly be clever enough to see through their shenanigans and set them up into a trap of her own, but that doesn’t happen, which is another thing that I hated is that the film lacks any surprises.

Some may like it just to see Robbins in an early role in a film I’m sure he’d like to live down. It’s also fun seeing Amanda Bearse, who’s better known for her later work in the TV-series ‘Married with Children’, and veteran character actor John Vernon as an obnoxious police chief. There’s a few other familiar faces that pop-up here-and-there, but I was shocked at the cameo role Britt Ekland is given where she’s on screen for just a minute playing a waitress at a bar. Usually when famous people are given brief walk-ons they’re at least able to say something clever or funny, but here she just asks the guys for their ID’s and then leaves. It’s a thankless part and I can only presume she must’ve been really desperate for the work to take it.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: April 12, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: James Frawley

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Iceman (1984)

iceman

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Brought back to life.

Stanley (Timothy Hutton) is an anthropologist working in the arctic where his team of explorers discover a neanderthal man (John Lone) frozen in the ice from 40,000 yeas ago. The man is taken inside a block of ice to the base where he gets thawed out and resuscitated and then placed inside a simulated environment where he can be studied, but Stanley insists on treating him like a human versus a specimen. He initiates an encounter, which leads to a bonding and Stanley gives him the name of Charlie. Despite the inability to speak the same language, but through the use of a linguistics specialist who is brought in, he begins to learn more about Charlie and how he was on a lonely walk where he was trying to sacrifice himself to the gods in order to save his tribe. When Charlie sees a helicopter flying overhead he races towards it in the belief that it was the mythical god he was looking for called ‘Beedha’ and this motivates him to escape from the lab sending everyone else into a panic in an effort to find him.

Initially, the story does have a ‘roll-your-eyes’ effect with the way Charlie gets revived, which seems too effortless and causes no side effects as he becomes as ‘good-as-new’ even 40,000 years later. Outside of his face he has no body hair, in fact his skin appears baby smooth, even though the presumption would-be that men would’ve had more hair on them than they do now.

Fortunately director Fred Schepisi keeps the proceedings as authentic looking as possible, which helps overlook the story’s implausible leanings. I thought the close-ups the of the red laser cutting through the ice sheet was pretty cool (no pun intended). Filming it on-location in Churchill, Manitoba reflects the arctic climate and far better than having it done on a sound stage. Even the way their personal living quarters where furnished had a nice homey feel though I was confused why there would be a TV present in Lindsay Crouse’s room as I don’t think there’d be any TV station signals in the arctic and thus nothing to watch. (No video stores, satellite dishes, especially in the mid-80’s, or cable either.)

The acting is all-around terrific. Hutton manages to finally lose his boyish appeal that post Ordinary People he had trouble shaking. I liked the curly hair and the grungy post-graduate persona and I enjoyed the short-hair of Lindsay Crouse whose presence does not precipitate a romance, or sexual interest between the two leads. The film intimates that it’s because the Crouse character is supposedly gay, which I didn’t think was needed as it’s quite possible someone could be straight, but still not magically ‘fall-in-love’ with members of the opposite sex even if working closely with them over an extended period of time. The best performance though is that of Lone, who’s Asian, but you’d never have known it and his ability to recreate a troglodyte behavior in a way that seems quite organic is excellent.

The ending created some behind-the-scenes controversy as Schepisi agreed to film the original concept as intended, but then pulled-back on that promise and went ahead and did a different one without informing the studio, which got him canned. I’m not sure what the original ending was like, but the one that gets shown here is perfect as it keeps all the action in the arctic since moving the story off to a different location, or trying to continue the drama of having Charlie enter into modern civilization would’ve been a whole other movie into itself and made the script overly cluttered. Whether the viewer considers Charlie’s ultimate fate to be a happy or sad is up to personal perspective, but for me I found it satisfying.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 13, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 minutes

Rated PG

Director: Fred Schepisi

Studio: Universal

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

Insignificance (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Celebrities in a room.

Inside a New York hotel room is a professor (Michael Emil) working on some calculations until he gets interrupted by The Senator (Tony Curtis) who tries to get him to appear before the committee trying to expose communists inside the U.S., which will be held the next day. The professor refuses and sends the Senator away, though the Senator says he’ll be back. Outside the hotel is a film shoot where the Actress (Theresa Russell) is performing a scene where a gush of wind blows up the white blouse she is wearing while standing over a street grate. After the shoot she has her chauffeur (Patrick Kilpatrick) take her to a toy store where she picks up some gadgets, which she takes to the hotel room for a visit she has with the professor where they discuss the theory of relativity. Later her husband the baseball player (Gary Busey) shows up and the two argue while the professor leaves. The next morning the senator returns to find the actress alone in bed, who he mistakenly thinks is a prostitute made-up to resemble Marilyn Monroe. When he threatens to seize the professor’s papers she agrees to have sex with him as a bribe, but the senator has a violent outburst just as the professor and the baseball player return to the room.

The film is based on the stageplay of the same name written by Terry Johnson that was performed onstage at the Royal Court Theater in London in 1982. The inspiration for the play came when Johnson found out that amongst Marilyn Monroe’s belongings that were retrieved after her death was a signed autograph picture of Albert Einstein and the idea of what the meeting between these two would’ve been like intrigued him enough to write a whole play around it. Director Nicholas Roeg saw the play and thought it would make for a great movie, but he wanted to expand it by entering in the character of Joe DiMaggio, who was Monroe’s husband at the time as well the senator, which represented Joe McCarthy.

Roeg’s superior use of visuals and non-linear, dream-like narrative is what keeps it interesting. I also liked the way Roeg had flashback scenes, which were not a part of the play, but added into the screenplay at Roeg’s request, showing traumatic moments in each character’s childhood that had an emotional impact on them and ended up defining who they ultimately became. These moments, as brief as they are, end up leaving the most lasting impression.

The acting is quite good particularly from Curtis whose career had waned considerably by this point, but his perpetual nervousness and the sweat that glistens off of his face is memorable. Busey is solid as a man who initially comes-off as a bully, but ultimately reveals a tender side. The lesser known Emil, who is the older brother of director Henry Jaglom and mostly only appeared in movies that were directed by him, completely disappears in his part until you can only see the Albert Einstein characterization and not the acting.

The only performance I had a problem with was Russell’s who goes way over-the-top with her put-upon impression of Monroe and comes-off like a campy caricature. Her breathless delivery sounds like she’s trying to hold in her breathe as she speaks and is quite annoying. Johnson had wanted Judy Davis, who had played the role in the stage version, to reprise the part for the movie, but Roeg, who was married to Russell at the time, insisted she be cast despite the fact that Russell really didn’t want to do it. While I never saw the stage play and have no idea if Davis would’ve been good I still feel anyone could’ve been better, or for that matter couldn’t have been any worse.

While the film does have its share of captivating elements it does fail to make the characters three-dimensional as they play too much into the personas that we already have of them while virtually revealing no surprises. It’s also a shame that the four are never in the room at the same time. There is one moment where the senator, the baseball player, and the professor meet in the front of the room, while the actress remains in the back behind the closed sliding glass doors, but this doesn’t count because she never interacts with the others during this segment, which is something that I had wanted to see. Overall though as an experimental, visual time capsule, it still works and the unexpected, provocative montage that occurs at the end makes it worthwhile.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 11, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Nicholas Roeg

Studio: Island Alive

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (The Criterion Collection)

Black Moon Rising (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stolen disk in car.

Earl Windom (Richard Jaeckel) has created an experimental automobile that can go up to 325 mph while running on nothing but tap water. He’s testing out the vehicle in the remote desert when he comes into contact with Quint (Tommy Lee Jones) a thief working for the F.B.I. who’s stolen a disk with incriminating evidence. To avoid others who are chasing after him he hides the disk inside the car’s back bumper. When Earl and his team drive away with the prototype vehicle on a truck bed Quint follows them to L.A. in order to retrieve the disk, but gets thwarted when the group stops off at a posh restaurant where the car is stolen by professional car thieves led by Nina (Linda Hamilton). Nina takes the car to a high-rise building owned by Ed (Robert Vaughan) where it’s stored in an underground parking garage that’s inaccessible to the public at large. Quint then teams up with Earl and eventually Nina to find a way to get to the car and ultimately the disk despite Ed using every maneuver he can to stop them.

The film was produced by New World Pictures, which delivered some good movies, but also some low budget ones that were devoid of anything original and completely dependent on mindless action to make it work. This one starts out like it’s part of the latter ones by appearing to have been filmed on video and then transferred to film, but the script, written by John Carpenter, is well paced and has enough twists to keep it engaging. Director Harley Cokeliss captures the wintertime desert landscape of eastern California well and the film does feature an interesting climax where Sam and Nina are unable to drive the car out of the building, which culminates with them being forced to drive it at high speeds inside a limited space, which is something you don’t see too often.

The supporting cast helps, which includes former punk rocker Lee Ving as a bad guy and retired football player Bubba Smith as a federal agent who shares a love-hate partnership with Quint. It’s also fun to see William Sanderson, best known for playing Larry, the talking-half of the Darryl brothers in the ‘Newhart’ TV-show, playing a deaf mute though he exits too early and his death scene, where he gets hit by a car which causes his body to spring up high in the air, looked cartoonish. It was also disappointing seeing talented character actor Keenan Wynn, in his final film appearance, strapped to a hospital bed with nothing much to say or do.

As for the leading actors I really liked Linda Hamilton, in some ways better than in Terminator, though the black wig that she wears at the beginning, which she thankfully gets rid of, was close to unbearable. Jones on the other-hand is an acquired taste. Some people love him though to me he seems too detached and not emotionally into his part enough to make it entertaining, or for the viewer to particularly care what happens to him.

Many fans of this film will list the car chase that occurs in downtown L.A. at night as their favorite scene, but I felt this was a letdown as the prototype vehicle, driven by Hamilton, is able to drive through the busy streets at high speeds, but manages somehow not to hit anyone. Someone not used to driving a car at such speeds would most likely lose control of it, or been hit by another car when it continuously goes through one red light after another.

The finale is contrived as Jones and Hamilton are seen care-freely walking away from the damage and chaos that they caused without having to answer to the police even though I’d think they’d have a lot of explaining to do before they’d be allowed to leave the scene. The film though as a whole is well done for what it’s worth. It’s nothing profound, or intellectual, but as a basic action flick it adequately delivers.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 10, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Harley Cokeliss

Studio: New World Pictures

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

The Mutilator (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father harbors a vendetta.

As a child Ed (Trace Cooper) accidentally kills his mother (Pamela Weddle Cooper) while cleaning his dad’s rifle. His father (Jack Chatham) becomes distraught at seeing his wife killed and his relationship with his son is irrevocably destroyed. When Ed (Matt Mittler) grows up to go to college his father asks him to help close up the family’s summer home in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. Having nothing better to do, and on fall break, he and his college clique decide to head over to the place where they hope to use it to hang-out and party. Unbeknownst to them is that the father is hiding on the premises planning to kill Ed once he gets there, but his friends get in the way, so he starts killing them off as well one-by-one.

Even for a low budget 80’s slasher this is shockingly cardboard with the only thing going for being the special effects, at least I presume that’s why it’s gotten a cult following as I cannot figure out any other reason. While some of the effects are quite graphic others fall flat. The scene where the father fantasizes about slashing his young son’s throat gets botched because you can clearly see that there’s a blood pack patched onto the child’s neck and underneath some clay-like skin. The drowning of one victim, played by Frances Rains, doesn’t work either. The original idea was to have her killed by a spear gun underwater, which would’ve been better, but they couldn’t get the effect to work, so they simply had the killer swim underwater and reach up with his hands and force her under, but I found it hard to believe that this couple being all alone in this otherwise empty room, and the only two people in a clear water pool wouldn’t be able to detect someone else getting in. The scene would’ve been improved had the viewer seen things from the victim’s boyfriend’s point-of-view, where he thinks she’s still alive and gotten out of the pool on her own while leaving a trail of clothes leading to a vacant shack where he presume she’s awaiting to have a sexual tryst only for the guy to get a shock of his life when he opens up the door of the shack and sees the killer, which would’ve also been a jolt to the audience had the director not already made us aware of what was coming.

The opening flashback scene is gets messed-up too. It’s intended to show the kid accidentally killing the mom and the father getting angry when he come home and sees it, but personally I saw it differently. To me it seemed like the kid intentionally wanted her dead as he looks out the door to make sure she’s standing by the counter in the kitchen and then quietly closes it to clean the gun, which he perfectly aims at the door. When the mom falls to the ground he doesn’t cry or shed a tear and when the father arrives he pours himself a drink almost like he’s relieved that she’s gone. I thought the two had some sort of sick pact that the kid would kill the mom for the father as his birthday present, but stage it to look like an accident. Then years later the twist would be that the kid now grown up would intentionally bring his friends to the beachfront for his father to kill, as the two shared a weird blood lust and enjoyed seeing each other slaughter people, which would’ve been a lot more of interesting twist than what we do get, which is nothing at all.

Like with most of slasher films it starts with a lot talky scenes, but unlike those others, the tension doesn’t grow once the killings start. Instead we only get an intermittent few minutes of killings here-and-there and then it goes back to drawn-out talky moments with no attempt to quicken the pace and thus there’s no tension at all and since we already know who the killer is and what motivates him there’s no mystery or intrigue either. It all adds up to a dud of a movie though those that are simply into gory effects may still like it, but even in that category I’ve seen better.

Alternate Title: Fall Break

Released: October 5, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Buddy Cooper

Studio: Ocean King Releasing

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, Tubi, AMC+

The Chair (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The prison is haunted.

Dr. Langer (James Coco) is a psychiatrist who decides to reopen an abandoned prison with the help of his assistant, the beautiful young Lisa (Trini Alvarado). The problem is that the warden, Ed (Paul Benedict) is plagued by nightmares of a prisoner uprising that he had to deal with many years earlier, that cost the life of his friend Joe who he abandoned when he tried to go for help. While he lay hidden Joe was dragged by the prisoners to an electric chair and killed. Now, years later, the prison has become haunted by Joe’s spirit, but Dr. Langer refuses to believe this until he comes face-to-face with the ghostly presence forcing him to apologize to the prisoners who he had initially disbelieved, but the prisoners are seething from a lack of a working fan, caused by the ghost, and the heat in their cells has become stifling and motivates them to take out their frustrations on the defenseless Langer.

This film, which was directed by a man better known for his work in industrial films, is an odd mix of quirky comedy and surreal horror. The first act works as a soft satire to the new wave of ‘I’m okay, you’re okay’ psychiatry that has its share of mildly amusing moments. James Coco is perfect as a Dr. who seems confident and in-control to his prisoners, but deeply out-of-control when dealing with his personal life. Had the movie centered solely on Coco, a highly talented character actor whose obesity was the only thing that held him back from receiving better roles, it might’ve worked.This though will be turn-off to the regular horror fan who will likely find the broadly comical overtones as the beginning off-putting and even confusing as at times, at least initially, it doesn’t seem like a horror flick at all.

The second-half gets darker and even features a few deaths though it cuts away too quickly, particularly with the scene featuring the guard named Wilson (Mike Starr) who gets electrocuted in gruesome fashion, but no follow-up scenes showing how they removed his mutilated body, or who discovered him. The flashbacks dealing with the uprising don’t happen until 55-minutes in, which is too long of a wait to be introducing something that’s an integral element to the plot. There’s also numerous shots of an image of an eyeball appearing inside a light bulb, which becomes redundant and isn’t scary.

The man who gets electrocuted on the chair, and whose name doesn’t appear in the credits, is seen too little and needed to have a bigger part onscreen. The shift in tone from playful camp to gory effects is jarring and makes the whole thing seem like it was done by amateurs who had no idea what they were doing. It also features a completely impotent ‘hero’, played by Gary McCleery, who gets for some reason trapped in his cell when everyone else is able to escape and thus cannot not stop, or prevent any of the violence that happens, which makes him a completely useless character that had no need being in the story at all. If anything Coco, who’s fun despite the anemic material, should’ve been the protagonist and having him disappear before it’s over was a mistake.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending features Lisa marrying Rick, but this gets explained through a newspaper headline even though movies are a visual medium and thus should’ve been shown. The twist of some real estate developers deciding to turn the place into a senior citizen center, is novel, but having this occur at the beginning would’ve been better, as watching a bunch of old-timers fighting off the ghosts would’ve been far more entertaining than anything else that goes on.

Alternate Title: Hot Seat

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 13, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Waldemar Korzeniowsky

Studio: Angelika Films

Available: VHS, DVD (Import Reg. 0)

Spasms (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giant snake uses telepathy.

Years earlier millionaire philanthropist Jason Kincaid (Oliver Reed) got attacked by a giant serpent snake while on a trip in Micronesia. His brother, who went with him, died from the attack, but Jason survived and in the process began acquiring a telepathic connection to the snake. He pays some poachers to capture it and have it brought to his mansion. He also tries to use the services of Dr. Brasilian (Peter Fonda) who specializes in ESP research to help end the ongoing communication that the snake has with him.While Kincaid’s private lab is being constructed the snake is kept at the university lab run by Brasilian, but the reptile escapes and begins killing anyone it sees.

The film is based on the novel ‘Death Bite’ by Michael Marky and Brent Monahan, who wrote it in hopes of cashing in on the Jaws craze and having it made into a movie. The two were excited when a Canadian production company decided to produce it, but quickly became disillusioned with all the production delays and rewrites. When the original studio went bankrupt and the new one insisted on adding in a supernatural element the two writers to walk-off the set and disown the project.

Despite the film’s checkered history I found the production values to be quite impressive especially for a horror movie. The on-location shooting is varied and authentic, particularly the island setting and the main character played by Reed is less cardboard than in most other scary movies. Unfortunately the pacing is slow and not enough happens. I was expecting more scares and blood, but there really isn’t much of it.

The film’s biggest downfall is that you never get to see the snake. Initially during the attacks everything gets shown from the snake’s point-of-view by having a blue filter put over the camera lens, which doesn’t work because it’s done via a tracking shot making it look like the snake glides through the air instead of slithering like a real one would. Outside of a few seconds of seeing its head pop-up, which looks like a hand puppet, we’re never shown the beast in its entirety. Originally the idea was to use live snakes, which would’ve been great, and a 14-foot Indian Python was brought in, but this was found to be too costly and time-consuming, so it got scrapped. They then tried to use animatronics, but director William Fruet didn’t like the way it looked onscreen, so this was shelved too essentially making this a snake movie, but without any snake.

Despite being reportedly drunk most of the time during the production Reed adds a nice intensity though it made no sense at the end when he begins walking around without a cane even though he had being using one the whole time earlier. The special effects showing the victim’s arms and faces ballooning out after they’re bitten is pretty cool, but the ending is a letdown. It was supposed to feature a violent showdown between Reed and the snake, including having his arm swallowed by the beast, but director Fruet didn’t like the look of the special effects, so these scenes were cut and flashbacks showing things that had happened earlier got thrown-in simply to pad the runtime.

The big lesson here is that if you’re going to make a movie about a giant, monstrous snake then you need to at some point show it. Even if it means spending big on computer effects, or bringing in a real one, the effort has to be made. Trying to do one without actually showing the snake, as the snake here is probably seen a combined 10 seconds and never its full body, and expecting the audience to still go home satisfied afterwards is pretty absurd.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 28, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Fruet

Studio: Pan-Canadian Film Distributors

Available: VHS

Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

slumberII

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Singer haunts teen survivor.

Courtney (Crystal Bernard), who along with her older sister Valerie (Cindy Eilbacher) survived the slumber party attack from 5 years earlier, is now a senior in high school, while Valerie, unable to deal with the trauma that she went through, is locked away in a asylum. Courtney tries to convince her mother (Jennifer Rhodes) to let her go to a slumber party at her friend’s place that is part of some new condominiums that have just been built and after some reluctance her mother agrees, but once there Courtney begins seeing strange visions of a rock star (Atanas Ilitch) with a drill on the end of his guitar that he threatens her with. Initially her other friends don’t see him, but eventually he comes to life and begins killing them off one-by-one.

This is an in-name only sequel that barely has any connection to the first installment other than the Courtney and Valerie characters, but even this is botched because the parts are played by different actors, which wouldn’t have been as much of a problem except Crystal speaks with a southern accent. Many viewers will recognize her from the 90’s TV-series ‘Wings’, but I remember her better as a contestant on the 80’s game show ‘$25,000 Pyramid’ where she was supposed to give clues to her partner in order to have them guess what the secret word was, but she was unable to do this because she didn’t know what the word, which was ‘buoy’, meant. In either case the Courtney character from the first film never had a southern accent, so why then would she have one now?

The rest of the cast is okay and looks more age appropriate than in the first film though the nudity is much less. The humor though is missing, which is a big problem. The script tries to make up for it by giving the characters names that are connected to people from other horror films, but this ends up being too obvious and not as cute and inspired as the filmmakers clearly thought it was. The only amusing bit is Sally, played by Heidi Kozak, who obsesses over pimples on her face even when none are visible and yet still puts on acne treatment, but the real kicker is when Courtney, having one of her weird visions, visualizes Sally’s entire face turning into a giant zit and then having it pop out a long stream of puss, which is genuinely funny.

The rest of it though doesn’t click mainly because there’s no clear understanding for why any of this is happening. Who the hell is this Elvis-like rock star and why is he haunting Courtney and her sister? Some people have said this was the killer from the original film, but why then does he get reincarnated as a singer? Unlike Nightmare on Elm Streetwhich this is clearly trying to emulate, there’s no blueprint to the rules. In the Freddy movies he could only terrorize his victims in their sleep, but here the killer jumps out of the dreams and becomes real, but how? Having a killer, whose tacky get-up makes him resemble Vinny Barberino from ‘Welcome Back Kotter’ or the 50’s revival group Sha Na-Na, able to virtually do anything isn’t interesting. There needed to be some limitations and rules, but the film fails to supply any and seems content to just make things up as it goes, ultimately causing the whole thing to be quite inane and pointless.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: October 16, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 17 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Deborah Navarra-Brock

Studio: Concorde Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, PlutoTV, Tubi, Amazon Video