Category Archives: Adolescence/High School

Old Enough (1984)

old4

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Friendship over the summer.

Lonnie (Sarah Boyd) is a pre-teen living in an upscale neighborhood of New York while 14-year-old Karen (Rainbow Harvest) resides in a working class area. The two have many differences including Karen being Catholic while Lonnie is secular. Despite their contrasts they forge a tenuous friendship where Karen gets Lonnie to do a lot of things she wouldn’t do normally. Lonnie though enjoys the change of pace and getting away from having to go to summer camp everyday. However, when a sexually promiscuous woman named Carla (Roxanne Hart) moves into an apartment next to Karen’s she worries that her father (Danny Aiello) is having an affair with her. Lonnie knows it’s really Karen’s brother Johnny (Neill Barry) that’s been sleeping with her, but when she tries to tell Karen Johnny threatens Lonnie with violence.

The 80’s was known for its abundance of teen oriented flicks and with the exception of the John Hughes movies many of them were low grade. It seemed like it was impossible to make a movie about adolescents that didn’t require wild parties, abortions, crude language, and sexually provocative themes and yet this one manages to avoid all of that and is way better for it. It’s not like they’re squeaky clean either as they do at one point engage in shop lifting, but it’s all on a smaller scale focusing more on the little coming-of-age moments that happens to all of us when growing up without the over-the-top nonsense.

The acting by the two leads is perfect though Leonard Maltin in his review, or whoever wrote it for him, complained that Rainbow Harvest didn’t have much of a ‘screen presence’ though I felt she did just fine. One thing is clear is she definitely had hippie parents as that’s her given name and not a stage one. What I got a kick out of most about her character is that she’s streetwise in certain areas, but glaringly unsophisticated in others much like a teen at that age would be. Her indoctrination into Catholicism I found the most intriguing as she’s required to attend Catholic school and go through all the necessary rituals when she does something bad like reciting a specific prayer out loud and going to confession, which she does yet she continues to be susceptible to temptation including stealing money from a sleeping lady at one point. This made me wonder if having kids go to a religious school versus a public one really builds the ‘moral character’ that it’s intended, or they just end up doing what they want anyways and getting into just as much mischief as a regular kid who was not raised with any religion.

Boyd is excellent though she looks a bit too young. She states in the movie that she’s 11 and a half (IMDb incorrectly says her character is 12), but she looks more like she’s only 8 or 9. It was possible the intention was to make her younger than Karen in order to convey that she was more sheltered, but I think this could’ve been done with the girls being the same age. Again, I enjoyed Boyd’s performance, but her tiny frame made me nervous that she wouldn’t be able to defend herself and there are a few moments with guys where it comes close. Fortunately the movie never takes these moments too far, but it still ends up coming off like she’s a child more than someone ready to enter adolescence though the  shocked looks on her face, which happens frequently, are the film’s highlight.

Alyssa Milano is great too in her film debut playing Lonnie’s kid sister. She’s better known for her work in her other 80’s movie appearance Commandobut her acting here is better and while she’s not in it a lot she does manage to steal the scenes that she has.

Maltin complained the film was ‘too mild’, but for me that’s the selling point. Keeping it on a microcosmic level made it more relevant and reminded me of my own experiences growing up in the 80’s. In fact I’d rate this as being one of the better teen films from the decade and it’s no surprise it ended up winning first prize at the 1984 Sundance Film Festival.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 24, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Marisa Silver

Studio: Orion Classics

Available: DVD, Tubi, Amazon Video

Class of 1984 (1982)

class3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teacher battles teen gang.

Andrew Norris (Perry King) is the new teacher at Lincoln High, which is an inner-city school prone to a lot of violence and drugs. He’s been hired to teach a music class while replacing another teacher who left suddenly. Almost immediately he’s at odds with Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) the leader of a school gang that constantly disrupts his class. He eventually is able to kick him out, but Peter continues to harass Norris in the off-hours where they vandalize his car and attack his wife (Merrie Lynn Ross). Norris eventually decides he’s had enough especially after the principal (David Gardner) and even the police detective (Al Waxman) show him little support, so he takes matter into his own hands by violently confronting Peter and refusing to back down.

The film, which was directed by Mark L. Lester, who as a B-movie director has done some compact, quality stuff, has definite shades to Teacherswhich came out 2 years later, but with the same type of theme. This one though is harder edged, which makes it a bit better though it’s still weaker than Unman, Wittering, and Zigowhich it also has some similarities to, but without the intriguing mystery element. Lester has stated that he wanted to make an updated version of Blackboard Jungle, but with a grittier feel and while it may have succeeded in that respect it still comes-off as needing an updating. The school gangs dress in an over-the-top way and at times it’s hard to tell whether this wants to be taken seriously, or intended as camp. As violent as it sometimes gets it still doesn’t touch on school shootings, which was unheard of at the time, but would make a modern day high school movie that would deal with that subject more violent and scarier and making this stuff, as edgy as it tries to be, seem tame by comparison.

The ratio of black and white students doesn’t mesh. This was supposed to be an inner city school, so you’d think there would be more students of color than white, but instead it’s 98% white with only 1 or 2 black kids per class.  Norris’ roomy home in the plush suburbs seemed too nice for someone working off of a teacher’s salary, so unless his wife had a high income job, which is never confirmed, then the home he lives in wouldn’t be realistic. The reason for Stegman becoming a gang leader doesn’t make sense either. Normally kids get involved in gangs due to being stuck in poverty, but Stegman lives in the suburbs where gang life is quite rare. If he was from an abusive family then it might justify, but his mother (Linda Sorensen) takes his side on everything, so again his motivation for joining a gang isn’t believable and in a lot of ways quite absurd.

I did enjoy King n the lead. He’s played some creepy parts quite effectively in the past, so I wasn’t sure if he could pull-off a good-guy role, but he does it quite admirably. Roddy McDowall is great too in the last film he appeared in with brown hair as after this he began sporting an all gray look. The scene where he teaches a class while holding all the students at gunpoint is by far the best moment. It’s fun too seeing Michael J. Fox (billed without the ‘J’) as a high school student even though he was already 21 at the time of filming. He looks more pudgy and has a bowl haircut though ultimately other than getting stabbed doesn’t have much to do. The weakest link is Van Patten who’s not scuzzy enough to give the role the nastiness that it needed.

The table saw death deserves kudos and the gas fire one isn’t bad either. Having he teachers turn-the-tables on the students and violently fight back gives the movie a novel edge though I wished that King and McDowall had teamed-up together to take on the kids instead of doing it individually. The story though doesn’t get interesting until the violent third act. The theme has also been tackled many times before and this one doesn’t add anything unique to the mix and for the most part is painfully predictable.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 20, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark L. Lester

Studio: United Film Distribution Company

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Pluto, Tubi, Freevee, Amazon Video

Secret Admirer (1985)

secret1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Anonymous letter creates confusion.

Michael (C. Thomas Howell) is a teen secretly infatuated with Deborah (Kelly Preston), who’s considered the hottest babe in school. He wants to date her, but is too shy to approach her. He then receives an unsigned letter in his locker from someone stating that they’re in-love with him. Michael is convinced that it’s from Deborah. His friend Toni (Lori Laughlin) convinces him to write a letter to her, but his attempts to write something romantic prove futile, so Toni decides to do it for him, but still make it seem like it came from him. Once Deborah reads the letter she falls instantly in-love and the two go out on a date, but meanwhile Michael’s mother Connie (Dee Wallace) reads the letter and thinks it’s been written to her husband George (Cliff De Young) and that he’s been fooling around behind-her-back. George also reads the letter, but thinks it’s from Elizabeth (Leigh Taylor-Young) who’s teaching a evening class that George is taking and is also Deborah’s mother. George uses the opportunity to make a pass at her and the two agree to go out on a date while Connie gets with Lou (Fred Ward), Elizabeth’s husband and Deborah’s father, in an attempt to stop it, but find that they too have more in common than they thought and begin to contemplate an affair of their own.

An unusual and offbeat 80’s teen sex comedy that fares a bit better than most of the others. The dialogues between the teens seems more realistic and they aren’t extremes caricatures like what you usually get in this tired genre. I was even surprised that they at one point have a discussion of the film Doctor Zhivago and even know the actor’s names who are in it even though it was an old film even back then. There’s a segment where Michael and Deborah attempt to have sex and it turns into a painful and awkward experience for both, which I liked, because too many times these types of movies would portray sex, even if it was the first time for both partners, as being an exhilarating, fun time, which it isn’t always. The parents aren’t portrayed as being ‘out-of-it’ or overly authoritarian like in other teen comedies and cutting back-and-forth between the adult escapades and the teens is at least initially a refreshingly original concept.

The performances are engaging even Howell does well here particularly at the end when he tries frantically to chase down Toni. The adults though are a bit more engaging despite De Young looking too boyish to be playing the part of a father of a 17-year-old. Wallace and Ward are the scene-stealers especially Dee and the way she breaks-out crying when she gets really upset and Ward’s overly-protective father persona is funny too and the film should’ve just been centered around them.

Spoiler Alert!

The jumping back and forth though between the adults and the teens starts to seem like two different movies with the parent’s storyline being the better one. I didn’t like the way it got wrapped-up with the couples going back to their former spouses like everything was back to normal even though there seemed to be clear issues in both marriages for them to so easily consider affairs when they thought there was a chance. It would’ve worked better and even been more believable had it ended the other way where the couples swapped partners and thus became more compatible.

I didn’t understand why Michael saw Toni only as a friend, even tough she was clearly into him. I considered Toni to being better looking than Deborah, or at least certainly in the same league, so unless Michael had a fetish for blondes over brunettes it didn’t makes much sense why he’s so tirelessly chase after Deborah when he already had a good thing with Toni. For it to believable Toni needed to be less beautiful, even plain looking, then it would be understandable why Michael would overlook her, but eventually see her in a romantic way once he realized all the nice things she did for him. It would’ve also have sent a good message that a female didn’t have to be cover girl quality, which both Laughlin and Preston were, and could still be able to find love.

End of Spoiler Alert!

While this film sat for several decades in virtual obscurity it finally came to prominence in 2016 when it was part of a controversy dealing with the Puerto Rico movie Vasos De Paper, which was written and directed by Eduardo Ortiz. That film was a virtual scene-for-scene remake of this one despite the director insisting that it wasn’t. When the evidence became too much Ortiz finally broke down during a radio interview and admitted that he had ‘done a very bad thing’ and stole the idea without giving proper credit to the original writer and director. The cast of that film were unaware of this one and had no idea they were taking part in a plagiarized script. Once they did they apologized for their involvement and the movie was pulled from the theaters.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 14, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Greenwalt

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Heavenly Kid (1985)

heavenly3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Angel helps out geek.

During the early 60’s Bobby (Lewis Smith) dies in a fiery car crash after the vehicle he was driving goes over a cliff during a game of chicken that he was playing with Joe (Mark Metcalf). His spirit gets sent to purgatory otherwise known as ‘Mid-town’ where he meets Rafferty (Richard Mulligan) who tells him that to get to ‘Uptown’ (Heaven) he’d have to go back down to earth in angel form to help out a human in need. He gets assigned to Lenny (Jason Gedrick) a geeky teen who’s trying in vain to hit on high school hottie Sharon (Anne Sawyer), but to no avail. Bobby is put in charge to teach Lenny how to be ‘cool’ and be able to pick-up chicks, but in the process he learns that Lenny’s dad is Joe, the guy who he raced against before he died, and Lenny’s mother is Emily (Jane Kaczmarek), Bobby’s former girlfriend who he still has strong feelings for.

The movie starts-off with an ill-advised car race that looks like it was ripped straight-out of Rebel Without a Cause. What’s worse is they tack-on this blaring song by Joe Fiore ‘Over the Edge’ that gets played during the crash, which takes away from the drama of the imagery instead of enhancing it. Bobby’s trip to the heavenly way station, which he does via a subway, has comic potential and Richard Mulligan is certainly quite funny, but I didn’t get why there would be a cafeteria, or why they’d eat food. Again, even if they appear in human form they’re still technically spirits as their human body remains on earth after death and decomposes, so why would spirits need to eat and does this mean they’d still have the same digestive system where they poop out what was eaten?

While Gedrick gives a much better performance than his co-star I still felt he was too good looking for the role. A true geek should be scrawny, or overweight, and have bad acne. If he had suffered from those things than his attempted transformation to a ‘cool’ dude would’ve been funnier.

I also thought it was ridiculous that he already had this beautiful woman named Melissa (Nancy Valen) who was really into him, and I think most guys would actually agree better looking than the plastic barbie that he was after. If this doofus is too dumb to realize on his own the good thing that he already has and instead callously takes her for granted simply because he feels the other one is better looking, after all the only reason he’s ‘in-love’ with Sharon is because she’s ‘hot’ then he shouldn’t get ‘help’ from an angel and justifiably deserves to be a lonely loser. I also felt that Melissa should’ve been more geeky since she was into another geek and having her be so pretty didn’t make much sense as other guys would be hitting-on her and since Lenny was not picking-up on her clear signals she would easily move on with somebody else and not hold-out so long, or feel the need to, for Lenny to finally see-the-light.

Spoiler Alert!

The rehabbed car in which Bobby takes what is literally an a rusty, empty shell of an old vehicle and through his heavenly magic turns it into a retro sports car I had problems with. For one thing since it was built on Bobby’s magical powers I would think Bobby would need to be present for it to run instead of Lenny being able to drive it by himself. Also, where did this key come from that Lenny uses to put in the ignition to start the car? This was literally just an old car frame when it was spotted and it’d be doubtful there would be any key in it and if there was it’d be as rusted as the rest of it. If you want to argue that this key was also a part of Bobby’s divine magic then there needs to be a scene with him creating it using his powers and then handing it to Lenny because it comes-off as big logic loophole otherwise.

The shot where Joe wakes-up to see Emily floating up the stairs by herself doesn’t work either. The idea is that human’s can’t see Bobby, who’s the one carrying Emily up the stairs, because he’s an angel, but if a person is being carried their ascension would have more of a jostled appearance instead of looking like they’re riding up an escalator like it does here.

The big reveal, in which it’s found that Lenny is actually Bobby’s son, is problematic since Bobby’s car crash occurs during the early 60’s (1960-63) and the present day for the story is October, 1984, which is when it was filmed. A senior in high school would’ve been born in 1967, or at the very earliest late 1966, so unless Emily was carrying Lenny around in her womb for 3 full years before he finally came out this whole concept just doesn’t work.

The thing that I really couldn’t stand was Bobby who’s a walking-talking cliche. Smith plays the part in a one-dimensional way and he looked too old for a teenager and was in fact 28 when it was shot. His generic advice on how to pick-up women is simplistic to say the least and if he really believes just feeding a woman lines about ‘how nice her hair looks’ is enough to get her to go out with him, or any other guy, then maybe he’s the one that needs the teaching and wisdom instead of dispensing it.

I also couldn’t understand why Lenny’s situation was so ‘dire’ that he needed heavenly intervention. There’s lots of kids who get bullied in school and can’t get a date that don’t have guardian angels come down to help them out, so what makes Lenny so special? Even if you factor in that Bobby is Lenny’s dead father it still doesn’t work because there’s lots of kids out there whose parents die when they’re young who don’t come back to help them as angels, so the questions still remains; what makes Lenny so special and is he deserving of this ‘help’? There’s millions of people out there who are homeless and victims of horrible crimes and abuse, which is who Bobby should’ve been assigned to, not a dopey kid who’s living a comfortable suburban existence and whose only ‘pressing issue’ is that he can’t make it with a stuck-up superficial babe who’s way out of league anyways.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: July 26, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Cary Medoway

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)

prime1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teacher influences her students.

Jean Brodie (Maggie Smith) is a teacher at an all-girls school in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1932.  She routinely strays from the core curriculum and instead instills her own quirky value system, like her admiration for fascist dictators, onto her students. She views them as empty vessels there to be programmed to her liking as she routinely will say: “give me a girl at an impressionable age and she’s mine for life”. The school’s Headmistress, Miss Mackay (Celia Johnson) is aware of Brodie’s unorthodox teaching methods, but unable to do much about it, despite the repeated warnings that she gives to her, due to the fact that Brodie has tenure and been at the school longer than she. Sandy (Pamela Franklin) is one of Brodie’s students, who used to admire her teacher, but now has turned on her and comes up with a way to have her fired, which leads to a dramatic confrontation between the two.

One of the first things that struck me about the story, which is based on the play of the same name by Jay Presson Allen that was based on the novel by Muriel Spark that some feel was inspired by a teacher named Christina Kay who taught at James Gillispies School that Muriel went to as a child, is that it works against the grain of most films. In our individualistic culture the modern day movie centers around the rebel, or those that choose to work outside the system of an autocratic institution and the people that uphold those rules and enforce them are usually the villains. Here though it’s the stuffy authoritarians that ultimately become the makeshift heroes while the non-conformist gets exposed as a ‘loon’ that got too far off-base and needed a serious reeling-in.

It’s also the perfect study of someone who seeks control over others and cannot function in relationships were both sides are on equal footing. We see this not only with the way Jean openly humiliates her students by ridiculing them for even minor infractions like having their shirt sleeves rolled-up, but also in her maladjusted love life. Since she cannot have a healthy relationship with them as that would require selfless behavior from her, which she can’t give, so instead she emotionally manipulates two men (Robert Stephens, Gordon Jackson). She enjoys the attention they give her and gives them just enough incentive to keep on doing it, but never more than that. When the Jacskon character finally does get married to someone else, her sad expression isn’t about losing a person she loved, but more upset that she could no longer have this simp at her convenient disposal.

The recreation of the 1930’s girl school atmosphere was impeccable. Too many times I feel movies dealing with a bygone era don’t recreate it in an accurate way, or it gets viewed through a warped modern lens, but here I came away convinced it was accurate and this in large part could be credited to director Ronald Neame, who was alive when the story took place and therefore better able to feed-off his memory and experience. The scene where the girls all get up out of their seats and stand at attention the second the headmistress walks into the room is one of my favorite moments. To some degree it would be nice if kids today could show that kind of respect to an adult figure, but on the other hand it also reveals the dark side to extreme obedience to authority, which creates an atmosphere that allows someone like Jean to incorporate her will and beliefs onto the students without them ever questioning it.

In the end this is a terrific portrait of how teacher’s where viewed back in the day and the tremendous amount of influence they could hold over their pupils. There were no teen idols, singers, celebrities, or social media influencers back then, so the teacher was the center of most children’s lives sometimes even more so than their parents. While some things have changed the debate about what a teacher chooses to convey in the classroom and how far they should be allowed to stray from the core curriculum rages on today. No matter what side of that issue you may stand it just proves that this story is even more relevant now as it was back then.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: February 24, 1969

Runtime: 1 Hour 56 Minutes

Rated M

Director: Ronald Neame

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD/Blu-ray

Homework (1982)

homework

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mother seduces daughter’s friend.

Tommy (Michael Morgan) is a blonde haired teen who hasn’t yet had sex and feels embarrassed about it. To make-up for it he decides to start-up a rock band with his friend Ralph (Lanny Horn). He wants the lead singer to be Sheila (Erin Donovan), but Sheila is too busy working-out in the pool, so she can be a part of the swim team, so he gets Lisa (Shell Kepler). Lisa though is not as talented and seems more interested in getting the attention of rock singer Reddog (Wings Hauser) who would prefer bedding her instead of hearing her sing. Sheila’s mother Diane (Joan Collins) has issues of her own as she’s stuck in a dead-end marriage and feels like the best sex she had was during her younger years. Then Tommy agrees to help her hang a picture in her living room and his youthful body reminds her of the boys she had sex with during her adolescence and she makes a move on Tommy who’s all too happy to oblige.

The most interesting aspect about this production is what occurred off-screen as Collins and her co-stars Lee Purcell and Carrie Snodgrass, as well as Betty Thomas, who has a brief part as Reddog’s secretary, all sued to have their names removed from the credits as they felt the story had been doctored during post production changing the theme in an attempt to become more like Private Lessons and My Tutorwhich had been hits around the same time and both had plots dealing with older women and adolescent boys. Collins though was most upset about the fact that a body double, played by Joy Michael, was brought in to do nude scenes.

For the most part Collins doesn’t really have much to offer except talk to what’s supposedly her husband, who’s never seen and only briefly heard. At one point she calls him George and then later-on she refers to him as Warren. These segments gets mixed-in with scenes of her when she was younger, again played by Joy Michael, and her getting-it-on with guys in the backseat of cars, but despite the nudity these moments are rather boring and don’t add much other than showing how sexually repressed she is now.

Snodgrass barely has any screen-time playing Tommy’s school counselor, which to me seemed a little weird as I would think most guys wouldn’t feel comfortable, nor would women for that matter, talking about their sexual hang-ups with a member of the opposite sex and therefore the part should’ve been played by a man. Purcell is funny as a nervous French teacher, but having her invite male students to her home for after-hours tutoring was ridiculous. The film plays it like she has only innocent intentions, but what kind of sensible grown woman would invite 16 and 17-year-old guys with notoriously raging hormones into her place and not be concerned that they might get the wrong idea, or take advantage of the situation make a move on her, since she lives alone.

The film’s weakest link though is Morgan, who’s too good-looking. This role should’ve been played by a scrawny geek, or a chubby one, with bad acne and thus making his inability to approach women make more sense. Instead with the male model features of Morgan most of the girls would be approaching him and not ignoring him like they do here. His character’s naivety is played-up too much like when he states that by the time kids reach the age of 12 most of them are sexually active, or his belief that his friend Ralph became sexually active at age 7, which is just too dumb to believe anyone would actually think that.

There are a few funny lines, but the story is unfocused and the plot poorly paced. Even with the brief runtime and sexually charged fantasy segments the film still gets quite draggy. The teens are the biggest issue as they’re broad composites rather than three-dimensional people. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in high school, but I don’t remember the kids of the day being quite this wide-eyed. Instead of going-off of their middle-aged presumptions of adolescence the filmmaker’s should’ve interviewed actual high school kids and got their input, which might’ve helped avoid the flat and unconvincing characters that we end-up getting.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 27, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: James Beshears

Studio: Jensen Farley Productions

Available: VHS

Deadly Weapon (1989)

deadly weapon1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Geek acquires lethal laser.

Zeke (Rodney Eastman) is a high school student frequently picked-on by his jock classmates as well as an abusive alcoholic father. As a refuge he imagines that he’s secretly an alien from another planet and writes stories about it. One day he comes upon a military weapon in a river bed near his home that landed there when the train it was being carried on crashed. He takes it home and begins using it to scare away all of those who harassed him and this catches the attention of Traci (Kim Walker) who used to date the jocks, but now finds Zeke and his newfound laser gun far more interesting. However, Lieutenant Dalton (Gary Frank) is the military official assign to retrieve the weapon and he’ll stoop to any low ball tactic to get it back.

This was another Charles Band production who was notorious for making a lot of low budget sci-fi/action flicks during the 80’s/90’s that were of a dubious quality. This was originally intended to be a sequel to Laserblast, a much maligned bottom-of-the-barrel stinker from the 70’s, but budgetary reasons caused them to pull back on that idea and turn it into a separate story. For what it’s worth this is far better than that one and surprisingly has enough of a budget to mask its shortcomings and even comes-off like it could’ve been Hollywood studio produced. There are though some over-the-top moments like a one-eyed vice principal who beats Zeke with a paddle inside his office and a cliched drunken father who acts like a stereotypical hayseed straight out of the local trailer park that made it seem like it either wanted to be a campy comedy, or unintentionally funny, but it’s hard to tell which one.

The script isn’t realistic as the kid is able to open up the crate that houses the gun with his bare hands without having to use a crowbar even though you’d think such a dangerous weapon like this would be packaged more securely and not so easily accessible to just anyone. Zeke is also able to figure out how to operate it much too quickly. Again, such a dangerous weapon should have a safety feature to make it difficult for unauthorized personal to use, such as having to put in a secret code before it’s operational.

The segment where Zeke and Tracy force four men into the trunk of their car and drive around with them as hostages is kind of funny, but the two able to open the trunk door from the outside too easily. If the men are truly locked into the trunk then a key must be placed into the keyhole to open it, but instead they’re able to raise the door open with their hands and not having to bother to unlock it, which means the men inside should then be able to easily kick the door open and escape.

The film is mostly known for the two stars who are more famous for their appearances in two other cult hits. For Eastman his best remembered for playing Joey in the Nightmare on Elm Street series while Walker’s signature role is that of the snotty Heather Chandler in HeathersWalker is the more interesting of the two as she performs her role in a duplicitous fashion where you’re not sure if she’s a genuinely nice person trying to help Zeke, or just a narcissistic brat looking for attention and escape. Her character though is poorly fleshed-out as she sees Zeke blow-up a building with his gun, which scares off the other jocks, one of whom she is dating, but she then invites Zeke into her car, but how would know she could trust him and he wouldn’t use the gun on her? Why too would this beautiful teen be into a geek like Zeke anyways? To have it make more sense she should’ve been a nerd, who had been bullied by the cool kids and now connected with Zeke’s need to ‘get back’ at them.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s best moment is the ending, which has a surprisingly surreal vibe as Zeke sees the lights of the military vehicles and thinks it’s from the mother ship of some outer space aliens and goes towards it like they’re going to ‘take him home’ and away from earth where he doesn’t feel he belongs. While this intriguing theme has strong similarities to Liquid Sky and Shirley Thompson versus the Aliens it doesn’t fully gel. Had it been approached with a better realized manner of what genre it wanted to be (satire/sci-fi/action/dark comedy) then it might’ve succeeded, but trying to juggle all four genres together gives it a convoluted feel that’s not quite able to cross the finish line and be fully satisfying.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 15, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Michael Miner

Studio: Empire Pictures

Available: dvdlady

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

The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

slumber2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Escaped killer crashes sleepover.

Trish (Michelle Michaels) is a high school senior who decides to hold a slumber party at her place while her parents are away. She invites Kim (Debra Deliso), Jackie (Andree Honore), and Diane (Gina Mari). She tries to invite Valerie (Robin Stille), who lives right next door to her, but she declines after overhearing the other girls talk about her in a catty way while in the locker room. As the girls prepare for the party they get harassed by Neil (Joseph Alan Johnson) and Jeff (David Millbern) who try to scare them by fiddling with the fuse box and turning the power in the home off, but none of them are aware that a real killer named Russ Thorn (Michael Villella), who has escaped from prison, and his quietly stalking them while using an electrical drill as his weapon.

The script was written by feminist writer Rita Mae Brown, who intended for it to be a parody, but when producer Roger Corman read it he saw as a conventional slasher and hired Amy Holden Jones, who had worked for his company for many years as a film editor, to direct it. While some will complain that the parody concept should’ve been left in I actually think it works better and in some ways is even funnier to have genuine scares and gore mixed in with the laughs. Too many other horror comedies try too hard to be funny, like with Pandemonium, where so much effort gets put into the humor that there’s no scares to be had, which will alienate a true horror fan, but here audiences who like a little of both should enjoy it.

I’ll admit that the movie does start out rocky. While I liked the organ soundtrack everything else comes-off as painfully amateurish.  Having one of the students, played by Brinke Stevens, run back into the school that is closing to retrieve a book from her locker is dumb. For one thing the building was completely locked up, so how did the killer get inside? Chaining the doors shut from the inside such as here isn’t done and illegal as it’s considered fire hazard. The victim is also too passive as the killer drills a small hole through the door of the room that she’s hiding in, but he’d have to drill many, many more holes for him to break down the door, which should’ve given her, albeit injured, but still mobile, plenty of time to figure another way out like crashing through a window, but instead she screams and essentially gives up.

Some critics complained about the gratuitous nudity especially for a film directed by a woman though it does try to equalize this by also showing the naked backside of a man while two of the girls, Valerie and her kid sister Courtney, page through an old issue of Playgirl, which I found amusing. What bugged me though was that the women looked too old to be playing high school students and appear to be far like 25, or even older. They also have terrific figures, like models in a soft core porn flick, and for the sake of balance there should’ve been at least one that was heavy-set, perhaps Valerie, and this could’ve explained why she was rejected and not invited to the party because she wasn’t ‘pretty enough’ to be in their clique.

The second and third act I found, much to my surprise, to be highly entertaining and even clever particularly the scene where Valerie watches a scary movie on TV even as a real horror, unbeknownst to her, is occurring just outside her door. There’s also some really funny lines that were clearly leftover from Brown’s original script and completely hits the target. It also features a nifty emasculation moment, which has all helped to give this a huge and well-deserved cult following. Followed 5 years later by a sequel, which we’ll review tomorrow.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 12, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 17 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Amy Holden Jones

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Plex, PlutoTV, Tubi, Shout Factory TV, Amazon Video

Assault (1971)

assault1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Schoolgirls attacked by rapist.

One day after school Tessa (Lesley Ann-Down), a teen who attends a local British high school in rural England, decides to cut through the nearby woods as a shortcut on her way home. As she treks through the forest an unseen assailant attacks her, which leaves her in a catatonic state. A few days later, despite the warnings, another female student goes into the woods and is later found murdered. The police inspectors (Frank Finley, James Cosmo) have idea who it could be and are unable to come-up with any leads, which frustrates the local teacher Julie West (Suzy Kendall). She decides it’s up to her to nab the culprit, so she uses herself and some of her students as bait to lure the killer out. She drives into the woods in a station wagon, but then the car gets stuck. While she tries to back it out she gets a glimpse of the perpetrator’s face as he deposits another of his victims, but when she describes to everybody what he looks like, saying he has the face of the devil, everyone thinks she’s gone mad.

This is another one of those British thrillers where in an attempt to gain more interest in the film the studio would release it under different titles. In the US the film was known as ‘In the Devil’s Garden’ to take advantage of the possession craze that was occurring after the release of The Exorcist and then a few years later it got re-released under the title ‘Satan’s Playthings’ and billed as a provocative story with erotic overtones. In either case the plot, which is based on the novel ‘The Ravine’ by Kendal Young, comes-off more like a cop drama/mystery than a horror flick.

That’s not to say it’s bad as director Sidney Hayers throws in some good touches. The attack on the girl is well handled using a hand-held camera that makes it seem unrehearsed and sudden. For a British thriller it’s even kind of racy. Normally films from England are quite timid about showing nudity, blood, or violence, but this thing does push-the-envelope a bit, far more than I was expecting, while still remaining ‘tasteful’ enough not to come under the ire of the British censors. The pounding music score helps create an urgent mood and grabs your attention at the start though it gets overplayed by the end and resembles a score heard on a cop TV-show.

The acting is good, but seeing Down looking so young and appearing much different from what we’re used to seeing her now kinda threw me off as you’d almost think she’s a completely different person. Kendall, who became a British scream queen for all the horror movies and thrillers that she was in, is quite appealing and I loved seeing her in glasses, which gives her a certain sexy look. The male actors are okay, but there’s more of them than are necessary and I think this was only done to create more suspects to choose from though their 70’s haircuts complete with long sideburns gives the film a very dated quality.

I was able to guess who the culprit was with about 20-minutes to go. It’s not that hard to figure out and the film gives-off a few too many clues to the point that it would be hard for someone not to know who it is. The story itself is standard. Not much thrills or chills though the electrocution via a cable that the victim touches while climbing up an electrical tower is admirably realistic and probably the most impressive part of the movie.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 11, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney Hayers

Studio: J. Arthur Rank Film Distributors

Available: DVD, Blu-ray