Category Archives: Adolescence/High School

Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

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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)

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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)

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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

Slaughter High (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: High School reunion horror.

Marty (Simon Scuddamore) is a social outcast at his high school. On April Fools Day the other students decide to play a prank on him by inviting him into the girl’s shower were they mock his naked body. This gets the students into trouble with the coach (Marc Smith) so they decide to play another joke on him by adding a chemical to his science project that causes it to explode, which topples a bottle of nitric acid off the shelf and it splashes onto his face which disfigures him. 5 years later the students reconvene for a  reunion, but find the school has been closed and in disrepair yet they still go in and have a party anyways, but soon they begin getting killed off one-by-one in violent ways. Is Marty lurking in the shadows and doing it for revenge, or is it somebody else?

I enjoyed the way the film works against the formula by having a linear narrative where the horrible accident happens right away instead of using flashbacks, or having it discussed through dialogue like in other slashers. The killings are expertly handled including one where the victim has his intestines blow directly out of his stomach, which is graphic and caught me completely off guard. The tension is good too and had me riveted at the end as Caroline Munro gets chased around the darkened building almost endlessly, which was intentionally prolonged by the filmmakers to give it a longer runtime, but in the process helps make the scenario even scarier by making it seem like the victim is stuck in a nightmarish maze that she can’t get out of.

Some viewers had issues with the cast looking too old for high schoolers, which included star Munro who was already 35 at the time. However, what really impressed me was that it was filmed in England with a mostly British cast, except for Donna Yaeger who plays Stella and a couple of others, and yet all of them with the exception of Munro were able to successfully disguise their accents to make it sound like they were genuinely American.

My only two complaints were the music score, which sounded too playful like it was intended for a comedy instead of a horror and didn’t help add to the tension and in many ways worked against it. The scene were two of the characters (Donna Yeager, Billy Hartman) have sex is ridiculous as this occurs after they had just witnessed two graphic murders and the ongoing threat of a killer lurking about, so for most people sex would be the last thing on their minds nor would they be able to perform even if they tried due to the psychological stress, so having the guy become baffled when he can’t get an erection under those circumstances was laughable as I would’ve more surprised if he had.

The twist ending is cool and even if it had been a letdown I would’ve still given it 7 points as the rest of it is highly entertaining either way. The original working title was going to be April Fool’s Daybut this got changed when the filmmakers became aware that another movie with that same title was set to be released in the US, but this movie is far better than that one.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 14, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Directors: George Dugdale, Mark Ezra, Peter Mackenzie Litten

Studio: Vestron Pictures

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

A Hero Ain’t Nothing but a Sandwich (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Getting hooked on heroin.

Benjie (Larry B. Scott) is an African American teen living with his single mother (Cicely Tyson), her boyfriend Butler (Paul Winfield) and her mother (Helen Martin) in a rundown area of Los Angeles. Benjie harbors a low self-esteem at being abandoned by his biological father years earlier and has not adjusted to Butler acting as his surrogate father and the two have many fights. To deal with his alienation he gets into drugs after befriending a local dealer named Tiger (Kevin Hooks). At first he dabbles in marijuana and likes the high it gives him, so he tries heroin, which eventually gets him hooked and it starts a downward spiral. His family tries to help him as best they can, but when he gets suspended from school they feel they have no other choice but to send him to a drug rehabilitation hospital where they hope he’ll recover.

While there were some critics, as evidenced by the film poster above, that did like the film there were also others at the time that labeled it as ‘preachy’ and coming off more like an after school special than a movie. Despite being based on the novel of the same name, which had been highly praised, and with a screenplay written by Alice Childress, who had also been the author of the book, I still came into it a bit leery wondering if the negative reviews had merit and I’d be spending the 2-hours bored, but I came away impressed with how captivating and sincere it overall was.

A lot of the credit goes to Scott, who although was 15 when it was filmed, but effectively looks only 13 like his character, which makes the scenes where he shoots-up all the more shocking. Winfield is also excellent playing someone who’s bitter about life due to a failed music career and reluctant to take on a fatherly role particularly when the kid lashes out at him at seemingly every turn. Glynn Turman is solid too as Benjie’s African studies teacher as well as David Groh, better know as Joe in the TV-series ‘Rhoda’, playing the only white teacher in an all-black school who feels like an outsider himself. Helen Martin though steals it as the elderly grandmother who gets violently mugged by two kids on the street at the beginning and then later on does a provocative dance for the family in remembrance to her days as a young dance hall girl.

What I did have a problem with were the scenes inside the drug rehabilitation clinic that get shown through a series of black-and-white photographs. I don’t mind directors throwing in artistic elements into the narrative, but when the film had been working as a straight forward drama for the entire first hour then it kind of needs to stay that way and suddenly changing the approach becomes distracting. I’m not sure why these hospital scenes get glossed over the way they do, but it makes the viewer feel more distant from the character and what he’s going through.

Winfield’s bonding with the kid ends-up being problematic as well. I didn’t have an issue with it at the start as I kind of liked seeing this guy, who clearly had no blueprint on parenting, being forced into a situation that he really didn’t ask for, or know how to navigate. However, he becomes a little too emotionally bonded with Benjie by the end that just didn’t seem genuine. After all this really wasn’t his biological child and he hadn’t even married the mother, so to take on all of this extra responsibility, that should’ve been the mother’s, didn’t seen realistic. Tyson needed to play a stronger role here having her stand side-by-side with Winfield as they help her son through the withdrawal process. Having her instead getting written-off as this kook who’s into voodoo and at one point strips her teenage son naked and throws him into a bathtub filled with potions that she feels will ‘cure’ him and eventually jumps into the tub with him is a definite cringe moment, particularly by today’s standards, and a low point in a movie that otherwise is adequately done most of the way.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 3, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ralph Nelson

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Tubi, Plex

Der Fan (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rock idol infatuates teen.

Simone (Desiree Nosbusch) is a beautiful teen who harbors an unhealthy infatuation for a rock singer known only as ‘R’ (Bodo Steiger). Even though the two have never met Simone is convinced that they share a deep bond and she writes him fan letters all the time, but never receives a response. She travels to a TV-station where he’s expected to film a music video in hopes of meeting him and starting a romance. During an autograph session R spots Simone and immediately becomes riveted to her beauty and later takes her to an excluded country home, so that he can make love to her. Once the sex is over he proceeds to leave to visit with other friends, which enrages Simone and leads to a psychotic outburst.

The film, to a certain extent, is a refreshing change-of-pace to the usual stalker formula in that the beautiful woman is not the victim here, but instead the perpetrator. The part gets wonderfully portrayed by Nosbusch whose icy cold gaze, which she exudes the whole time, burns right through the screen making her creepy from start to finish. While it’s nice not having her fit into the mold of someone who is fat, lonely, and homely like the Kathy Bates’ character in Misery statistics have shown female stalkers of celebrities predominantly reflect the characteristics Bates has more than Simone’s, which is why they’re having romantic delusions over celebrities to begin with because they’re unable to attain these types of relationships in real-life.

This then brings out the film’s fatal flaw, which is that there’s no explanation for why Simone is this way. If she had an abusive home-life you could reason she turned to a fantasy world in order to cope with her harsh surroundings, but there’s no sign that this was the case. It’s not like she can’t find any boyfriends either as there are people around her who make attempts to be friendly, but she coldly rebuffs them. So, why is she so crazy? What is there about this particular rock singer that gets her so infatuated with him and what is missing in her life that she flies so far off the deep-end? None of these questions get answered. It’s almost like writer/director Eckhart Schmidt didn’t bother to think any of this through, or even care to. He simply came up with a bland prototype of a teen psycho to help propel the plot along without ever bothering to fill-in any of the necessary details.

Spoiler Alert!

While the film is quite weak in that area, saved only by Nosbusch’s excellent performance, it does make-up for it with its incredible, over-the-top ending, which had even me, a seasoned cinephile who’s essentially seen it all by now, in shock. It’s not that it’s particularly gory, even as she cuts the guy up into pieces and then proceeds to eat him limb for limb before grinding up his bones, but more for its sheer audaciousness. If anything the gore could actually have been played-up more as the blood is lacking, you only see a couple streaks of it on the floor while it should’ve been sprayed all over the place. Seeing the room drenched in it would’ve made the horror all the more shocking though her licking the bloody blade does lend a twisted erotic touch.

What I admired though was how it clearly wasn’t concerned if it achieved mainstream acceptance, or not. There is simply no way a film like this could’ve been made in Hollywood whether it was 1982 or today, as the studios wouldn’t touch it. Too many producers would fear potential backlash, which in turn would hurt profits, but for me this is what true movie making should be all about. Challenging mainstream viewers out of their comfort zone and taking them to a place they thought they’d never go and doing it in such a fluid way that they don’t know what’s coming until it’s too late, which is what really makes this one memorable.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: June 4, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Eckhart Schmidt

Studio: Scotia International

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Starstruck (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teens dream of stardom.

Jackie (Joey Kennedy) is a teen working as a waitress at her mother’s pub, but dreams of becoming a famous singer. Her 14-year-old cousin Angus (Ross O’ Donovan) acts as her manager trying to get her a spot on the local talent TV-show called ‘The Wow! Show’, but Terry (John O’May) the program’s host, refuses to see her, so they decide to have her perform a publicity stunt by walking across two high rise buildings in downtown Sydney on a tightrope while nude. This gets so much news coverage that Terry can’t help but bring her on his show, which initially proves to be a great success until Jackie becomes pressured to cut her backing band and tone down her quirky style. After alienating all of her friends she then tries to win them back by plotting to crash a New Year’s Eve talent contest at the Sydney Opera House where they hope to win the $25,000 cash prize in order to save their now dying pub.

After the success of My Brilliant Career director Gillian Armstrong set out to make a movie that was completely different in style from that one and eventually came up with the idea of doing a musical parody and on that level it works. The musical numbers are not only quite funny, especially the one done inside the pub where all the customers and staff join together to create one long line dance, but impressively staged too. I was literally blown away with the segment done inside Terry’s penthouse pool that was meant to be a take-off on the old Busby Berkley numbers from the 40’s, but in many ways just as good if not better.

The film also gets filled with a lot of humorous moments, most of which, like Angus’ elaborate attempts to try and make contact with Terry and even ditching school to do so, are quite funny. The segment dealing with Jackie’s high wire act I found initially preposterous. How exactly where they able to connect the tightrope between the two buildings, which would’ve been a massive feat in itself and never shown, but the outcome, as silly as it is, still had me chuckling.

The film has a terrific supporting cast especially Pat Evison as the elderly and overweight Nana, who shows exuberant support for Jackie’s ambitions even when the other adults don’t. O’Donovan and his constant scheming is also engaging, but I found Kennedy’s performance in the all important lead role to be flat. Singing-wise she is quite good, which is the whole reason she got the part, but her acting doesn’t have the same energy. Her character really isn’t very funny either and it’s Angus doing all the hard work to get her noticed and she never seems to appreciative it making the viewer not as emotionally invested at seeing her succeed as they should’ve been.

The film gets a bit too quirky for its own good too. It’s got a lot of visual pizazz, but no substance whatsoever and it would’ve been nice had there been some grittiness tied in. Everything happens too easily making it seem like a fairy tale and convincing me that the most suitable ending would’ve had Jackie waking up and realizing it had all been a dream because that’s exactly what it comes-off like.

On a side note I was surprised how much the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which was completed in 1932 and stands as the world’s tallest, gets shown. Not only is it featured in every skyline shot of the city, but there’s also a mural of it on the wall of the pub, a toy model of it on top of the pub’s TV, and even a replica of it put on stage during the film’s climactic dance number. I’m not sure what the exact shot count number is that features it in one form or another, but if you take a shot of whiskey every time you see it you’ll be drunk and passed out on the floor by the time it’s over.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 8, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes (Australian Version) 1 Hour 35 Minutes (US Release)

Rated PG

Director: Gillian Armstrong

Studio: Cinecom International Films

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Pluto TV, Tubi

Playing for Keeps (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teens refurbish rundown hotel.

Danny (Daniel Jordano) has just recently graduated from high school and has big entrepreneurial dreams.  He becomes aware that his family has inherited a place called Hotel Majestic in Bethany, Pennsylvania and decides he wants to turn it into a nightclub for teens, but first he must first pay off the $8,000 due in back taxes. Together with his two friends: Spike (Mathew Penn) and Silk (Leon W. Grant) they devise a way to earn the money by pretending to be Boy Scouts and selling cookies to office workers. When they finally payoff the debt they find an even bigger challenge, which is fixing up the decrepit place while also fighting off a man named Harry Cromwell (Robert Milli) who runs a Chemical Company and wants to turn the hotel property into a waste dump.

This was Harvey Weinstein’s first directorial effort, which he did alongside his brother Bob and released under the then new Miramax studio, which was named after their parents Miriam and Max. This also marks Harvey’s first known case of sexual harassment when he invited an attractive 20-year-old waitress named Tomi-Ann Roberts, who was waiting tables in the town where they were shooting in, up to his hotel room to audition for a role he felt she’d be ‘perfect’ for and when she arrived she found him naked in a tub and requesting that she should disrobe as well to make sure she’d be ‘right for the part’ even though there’s no nudity in the movie.

If Weinstein’s name wasn’t so famous and you didn’t know who the director was you’d be convinced it was done by some talentless hack whose first and last film venture this was. While it does remain at least lively everything else about it is stupid including the corny, cliché-ridden comedy that permeates every scene. I found the three leads, who seem to be cast to meet some sort-of politically correct quota as they’re different races, to be quite bland particularly lead star Jordano who shows no varied emotions or facial expressions other than the same glossy smile all the way through no matter what other emotional situation he may be in.

The townspeople are boring caricatures too with their café jukebox having no other selections of music to play than Kate Smith, and the people behaving like they’d never heard of Billy Idol or Michael Jackson, which is ridiculous as I grew up in a small Midwestern town during the 80’s and our radio stations and juke boxes had a wide selection of the latest hits just like the big city. Having the only other open-minded person in the town being the farmer’s super hot daughter (Mary B. Ward) who magically falls for Danny was just a little too convenient.

The process of renovating the place, which takes up almost the entire runtime, gets so drawn-out that it becomes boring. I also couldn’t believe that all of Danny’s high school friends, which he recruits as ‘stockholders’, would be willing to stick through the arduous challenge of the fixing up the hotel like they do and most would’ve walked away pretty quickly. When they are finally able to complete the project the place gets filled with such tacky 80’s deco art that I found it better looking when it was rundown.

Marisa Tomei, who makes her film debut here, is quite engaging and I enjoyed her better in this role than her more famous Academy Award winning one from My Cousin VinnyI also liked Kim Hauser, who plays Danny’s kid sister, and has an appealing Karen Black-like cross-eyed look. Had these two been made the stars instead of the three transparent guys it would’ve been better.

It seems like, based off of the imdb reviews that I read, that the only reason people like this movie is because of its 80’s cheesiness and if that’s what you’re into you’ll be more than satisfied as this thing sure has a hell of a lot of it. Others though will find it shallow and mindless.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Directors: Bob and Harvey Weinstein

Studio: Miramax

Available: DVD

Drive-In (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mayhem at the movies.

It’s just another evening at the drive-in movies in a small Texas town except this time there’s more action in the theater than in the movie being shown. As the people watch the latest action flick known as ‘Disaster ’76’ on the big-screen there’s all sorts of commotion going on around them. Gifford (Trey Wilson) and Will (Gordon Hurst) are two bumbling amateur crooks who plan on robbing the concession stand during the show. Glowie (Lisa Lemole) is the fed-up girlfriend of Enoch (Billy Milliken), who leads the local teen gang, and who desires a more clean-cut guy like Orville (Glenn Morshower), but Enoch and his obedient thugs try to prevent this potential union from happening. There’s also the paranoid African American Dr. Demars  (Bill McGhee) who frets about having to live in the middle of ‘Klan Country’, but still manages to take his wife (Gloria Shaw) to the show, but also ends up in the process having several inadvertent encounters with the volatile Enoch.

Rod Amateau’s name may not be as well known as other notoriously bad filmmaker’s like Ed Wood Jr. or Tommy Wiseau who helmed the infamously awful The Room, but he probably should be. Not only did Amateau create ‘My Mother the Car’, but he also did ‘Supertrain’, which are considered two of the worst TV-shows ever produced. He also wrote and directed The Garbage Pail Kids, which usually lands high on everyone’s terrible movie list. However, his directorial effort here isn’t bad and for awhile even engaging. My favorite part is a scene done inside a roller skating rink where we see real teenagers, that are age appropriate and with varying body-types, behaving very much like small town teens of that era would. It’s like a taking a time machine back to the simpler times and seeing how things really were, but without the pretension.

The performances are if anything quite lively including Morshower, best known as Aaron Pierce from the series ’24’, in his film debut and sporting a full, bushy head of red hair. It’s also great seeing Lisa Lemole in a prominent role as she later left acting in 1985 when she married Mehmet Oz better known as Dr. Oz. This also marks the acting debut of Trey Wilson, who went on to play many colorful supporting characters before having his career cut short by an unexpected death at the young age of only 40. Gary Lee Cavagnaro, who’s more famous for playing Engelbert in The Bad News Bears, is amusing too as Morshower’s younger brother.

Unfortunately despite a promising start the film ultimately flounders especially during the second act as too much cartoonish silliness gets in the way of any subtle realism. At the end the cars of the customers slowly file out of the drive-in like what had occurred was no big deal and the viewer is left feeling the same way. The stakes needed to be higher and the event needed more of a long-lasting consequence. A funny idea would’ve had the mayhem cause actual destruction to the drive-in while the disaster flick played perhaps even having it burn down to a cinder. Since the theater in real-life got demolished just a few years after this was shot it might’ve been possible and thus allowed the film to leave more of lasting visual impression than it does.

The Drive-in theater in Terrell, Texas as it looked in 1975 when the film was shot.

The same location as it looks now.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 26, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Rod Amateau

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R (Sony Choice Collection)

Fortress (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Australian schoolchildren get kidnapped.

Sally (Rachel Ward) is a school teacher working in rural Australia where she teaches in an old-fashioned one-room school house. The ten students are made up of different ages and an even mix of boys and girls. One morning while class is beginning a group of four masked men invade the building and take the children hostage. They throw them into an underground cave and then put a large boulder over the cave opening to lock them in. Sally and the students go searching through the underground caverns and manage to find another way out, but every time they think they’ve reached freedom the kidnappers always seem to be one-step ahead of them.

The film’s main selling point are the children, which at first I didn’t think would be a good idea. It can be hard to get kids, for many of them this was their first movie project, to show the necessary emotions in an effective way and while they don’t always respond to things quite the way I think a real kid would I still found their resiliency to be uplifting. I also enjoyed seeing how the older boys grew into men during the experience and watching Sally precariously balance her obligation of the being the mature, brave one while still hiding her inner emotions of fear and panic.

The location shooting takes advantage of many different Australian locales including the Buchan Caves where the action in the first act takes place. Later on we’re given exciting view of a them running through the forest late at night in an attempted escape as well as them returning to yet another cave for the climactic finish. The story manages to be reasonably tense throughout though the killers always managing to catch-up with their victims no matter where or how far they go does ultimately test the plausibility. The film’s tone is a bit off-kilter as well. Most of the time it seems to want to be a story of victim empowerment and resourcefulness, but then intermittently throws in some jarring violence, which wasn’t necessary.

Spoiler Alert!

While it’s great seeing these kids remain stoic it also seems hard to believe. After being put in the cave they find a way out where they then spot a farmhouse, which was several miles away only to ultimately realize that the kidnappers have been there waiting for them. They then great treated to a man getting gunned down before their very eyes, but manage to escape from their to yet another cave that is many miles away and again the kidnappers find them and continue their assault of terror. Normally after all this most people, especially young children, would feel overwhelmed and defeated and eventually fall into a traumatized state instead of the warrior mentality that they do. While the good guy fighting back approach may be more of an audience pleaser I wasn’t sure if this was a realistic response when given the daunting circumstances. Also, why would the bad guys not invade the cave the kids are in right away instead of staying back and giving the group ample time to create the makeshift weapons’, stuff that would take hours if not days to make,  in order to be ultimately used against the kidnappers like they are?

The Lord of the Flies – themed twist ending comes out of nowhere and seems too forced to be effective. Watching the group surround the last of the bad guys and viscously stabbing him with their weapons’ in slow motion made enough of a statement and that’s where it should’ve ended. Adding in the denouncement where the kids are back in school and have the heart of the killer placed inside a glass jar in the middle of the room was just too heavy-handed. With what they’ve been through most kids would never want to step foot in that school again and where are the parents during all of this as they’re never shown?  Having a human heart in a jar is pretty nasty and you’d think  one of the kids would’ve talked about it to others and word would ultimately get around.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The plot is loosely based on an actual event that occurred in the small town of  Faraday, Australia on October 6, 1972 when Edwin Eastwood and Robert Boland kidnapped a young teacher and her students from a remote one-room school house similar to the one depicted in the movie. However, there are many differences between the real event and what happens in the film. For one there were only 6 students and all of them were girls. They were never taken to a cave either, but instead held in the back of a van. When the kidnappers left the next morning to retrieve the ransom money the teacher, whose name was Mary Gibbs, managed to kick out the back door panel with her leather boots and escape with the children and eventually the two men were later caught.

The irony though is that’s not where the story ends as Eastwood was able to escape from jail in 1977 where he then kidnapped another group of children and their teacher, but was again caught. He then served a 16 year sentence, but was eventually paroled in 1993 and has been a free man working as a truck driver since.

Teacher Mary Gibbs and the six students who were kidnapped during the real-life incident.

The van in which Gibbs and the students were held captive.

The school house in which Mary Gibbs and her six students were taken hostage on October 6, 1972.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 24, 1985 (HBO Broadcast)

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated: TV-MA

Director: Arch Nicholson

Studio: HBO Premiere Films

Available: DVD