Category Archives: Black Comedy

Mortuary Academy (1988)

mortuary

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two brothers inherit mortuary.

Max (Christopher Atkins) and Sam (Perry Lang) are brothers who inherit a mortuary from their dead uncle. At first they’re not happy as neither one of them wanted to go into that business, but when they realize how much money they can make they change their minds, but there’s one small catch: they must pass the rigorous mortuary course. This won’t be easy as it’s taught by Mary (Mary Woronov) who’s the lover of Paul (Paul Bartel) who are both aware that they’ll lose the place should the brothers take over, so they try to make the course as hard as possible to ensure that they both fail. Meanwhile, Paul has other issues as he’s into necrophilia and wants to have sex with the latest dead body that has been sent in, Linda Hollyhead (Cheryl Starbuck), a teen who died while chocking on popcorn.

The film was clearly trying to capitalize on the earlier success of the cult hit Eating Raoulwhich also starred Bartel/Woronov and both were scripted by Bartel, but the edginess and satirical elements from that one are missing here. Probably the only surprising thing to take away from this is Atkins who proves he can actually act. He started out as a male model and then got into show business simply for his looks and starring in the hit film Blue Lagoon with Brooke Shields, but his effort to broaden his resume by appearing other movies like The Pirate Movie with Kristy McNichol proved downright embarrassing and like he was just another pretty boy face in-over-his-head, but here he’s his funny facial expressions and inability to kiss women got me chuckling. I came away feeling there was no need for two leads especially since the brothers agree on everything making them seem like one person and without Lang, who’s dull, Atkins would’ve had more of a chance to play-up his goofy nervous looks even more.

The supporting cast, with exception of elderly actress Nedra Volz who’s rants about having her last period 50 years ago are a riot, is what really destroys it. One reviewer on IMDb labeled this as a Police Academy- wanna-be and that’s exactly right. The other students aren’t like real people, but instead stereotyped, benign losers saying and doing dumb things simply for a cheap laugh. The biggest travesty is the appearance of Anthony James, who because of his hawk-like facial features gets once again stuck with a role of a would-be psycho-nut and it’s no surprise that he eventually got sick of the type-casting and left the business for good in order to focus his efforts on artistic paintings some of which were quite impressive.

Bartel and Woronov help a bit playing the exact opposite of the couple they did in Eating Raoul where they killed-off those that were into kink, but here they’re the kinky ones. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite work. Bartel’s attempts at sex with a dead body, particularly the scenes at a beach we he momentarily loses her via the incoming tide to a group of frat boys, are funny, but some of their other shenanigans fall flat. Woronov is amusing when she plays a nefarious person, but when she transitions to a good guy and becomes a part of the team, she gets boring.

The biggest issue is the humor, which isn’t dark enough and far too good-natured. The script is gag driven and the special effects poor and tacky. Some would say that because this was a comedy it shouldn’t be gory, but that’s the old-way of thinking as movies like Shaun of the Dead and Evil Dead have proven over-the-top effects actually make it funnier, which is what this film should’ve done. Instead it takes a middle-ground approach making its edgy premise lose all of its zing and only half as good as it could’ve been.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 20, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Schroeder

Studio: Taurus Entertainment Company

Available: DVD

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Subway passengers held hostage.

Four men wearing disguises and going by code names: Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw), Mr. Green (Martin Balsam), Mr. Grey (Hector Elizondo), and Mr. Brown (Earl Hindman) board the same subway car, this one being the Pelham 1-2-3, at different locations. Once all four are onboard they take out their guns and take over the subway car by holding both passengers and conductor hostage. For their release they demand $1 million in ransom to be paid in 1-hour and for every minute that it is late one passenger will be killed. They communicate these demands to Lt. Zack Garber (Walter Matthau) who is a part of the New York City Transit police. As Mr. Blue and Garber communicate with each other over the radio and the city races to meet the crooks demands Garber begins to try and surmise who these men are and how they’ll be able to get away with it since they’re trapped in an underground subway. Garber is convinced that it will not work and the men will eventually be caught unaware that Mr. Green, who used to work for the subway system until he was, in his mind, unfairly terminated, has come up with an ingenious contraption that can override the dead-man’s switch and allow the train to keep running even with no one at the controls.

The film is based on the best-selling novel of the same name by John Godey, who was a subway enthusiast and came-up with the plot after spending many years using the subway system. While the movie rights for the paperback were sold for $450,000, in anticipation that it’d make a great movie, the film almost didn’t get made due to the reluctance of the Metropolitan Transit Authority to allow the production to be filmed on-location.  Much of the reason stemmed from their fear that it might give ‘kooks’ the idea to pull-off a real-life heist, but eventually they caved once screenwriter Peter Stone added in the fictional contraption that could override the dead-man’s switch.

As a caper/action flick it is quite exciting from literally the first-frame to the last, but it’s some of the other added elements that make it a standout. I really enjoyed how the city of New York becomes like a third character and the unique, brash attitude of the people. Every character, no matter how small the part, has a distinct personality and memorable. My favorites were Mari Gorman as the feisty hooker, Michael Gorrin, as the elderly passenger convinced that the subway car must eventually come to a stop even as it careens out-of-control and everyone else panics. I also enjoyed Louie Larebee as an alcoholic woman, who is so drunk that she passes out when the crime begins and sleeps through the whole thing as well as Carolyn Nelson, the real-life wife of the film’s director Joseph Sargent, playing a college coed who believes she can stop the train through sheer mind control and meditation.

On the ground there’s some great character bits too including Tom Pedi as an aging, misogynist who doesn’t like the idea of having to work alongside women, nor that he should stop cursing because of it, who walks right into the line-of-fire when he stubbornly refuses to listen to the kidnappers warnings. Kenneth McMillan, is very funny as an exasperated street cop trying to direct traffic, and Dick O’Neill lends moments of drama as an outspoken transit employee who doesn’t like the idea of giving into the kidnappers demands and isn’t shy about voicing his disapproval, which leads to a tense confrontation with Matthau.

Matthau’s anti-hero take where he seems initially like nothing more than a aloof, laid-back guy, who doesn’t seem to have the cunning, or initiative to defeat the bad guys. At one point even openly insults a group of Japanese reporters who he thinks can’t speak English only to learn to his regret that they can, is excellent and in patented Matthau style seems to be able to do it without much visible effort.

Shaw is solid, but I felt there needed to be an explanation for how he got bought into the scheme, which never comes and ultimately is the film’s only real weak point. His personality is so different from the other men in the group that I couldn’t understand why he’d want to pull-off a robbery with them, nor why, being such a careful planner that his character is shown to be, he’d only realize as the crime is happening that the Mr. Gray was too much of a hot-head and not right for the job, as I’d think he would’ve observed this much earlier during the planning stage and had Gray removed before the actual crime had ever been carried out. Having scenes of the backstory spliced in would’ve helped made it more complete.

This was remade as a TV-movie in 1998 and then as another feature film in 2009 that starred Denzel Washington in the Matthau role and John Travolta playing Shaw’s part. I never saw the TV version and it’s been many years since I viewed the theatrical remake, but I remember finding it a letdown mainly because it centered too much around Travolta, who would go on long rants that bogged down both the pace and plot making it not nearly as exciting as this one.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 2, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Sargent

Studio: United Artists

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

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)

Bloodsucking Freaks (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Women forced into slavery.

Sardu (Seamus O’Brien) runs an underground theater in the SoHo District of New York where they put on live stage shows that feature naked women tortured and mutilated all to the delight of a paying audience. The members of the public who come to see it believe it’s all an act, but in reality the women are kidnapped and forced to do things against their will through hypnosis. When a theater critic named Creasy Silo (Alan Dellay) refuses to write a positive review about the place in his newspaper Sardu summons his dwarf assistant Ralphus (Luis De Jesus) to kidnap him where he is then chained in the basement of the theater and tortured like the others. Sardu also has famous ballet dance Natasha (Viju Krem) kidnapped where she eventually, through the power  of hypnosis, puts on a perverse dance, but Natasha’s boyfriend Tom (Niles McMaster) doesn’t believe she’s doing it willingly, so he calls on police detective John Tucci (Dan Fauci) to investigate. The problem is that Tucci is corrupt and secretly agrees to do nothing about Sardu’s crimes as long as he gets bribe money. 

Out of all of the exploitative films that came out during the 70’s this one still holds the top prize of being the most notorious and rightly so, as what it shows went far beyond many other provocative films of that decade that promised sensationalism, but delivered little. This one definitely delivers to the extent that writer/director Joel M. Reed professed to losing many of his longtime friends after they watched it. While intended as a dark comedy, a very dark one, how much one enjoys will be dependent on how twisted their sense of humor is with some finding it entertaining, even darkly inventive, while others will be downright shocked and appalled. 

The effects are done from a campy perspective and have not aged well though still potent. The two that took me aback a bit was when a young woman, played by Illa Howe, gets put on a guillotine and has her head chopped-off. The severed head then is taken out of the basket it was dropped in and it really does resemble her face and not that of a mannequin’s like you’d expect. The infamous brain sucking scene, which became the inspiration for the film’s title, where a sadistic Dr., played by soap star Ernie Pysher, drills a hole into a women’s head, played by Lynette Sheldon, who has since gone on to become a well renown acting teacher, and then sucks her brains out through a straw is pretty grisly too.

The film was picketed by women’s groups, including women against pornography, outside of theaters that showed it. Many labeled it misogynistic and I’d have to agree as all the women characters have no discernible personality other than jut running around naked while allowing themselves to be tortured, beaten and even mutilated as passive victims with no resistance. The premise explains this is because of ‘hypnosis’, but that pushes that concept far beyond believability making it more like a twisted male fantasy than a movie.

The film has also gained notoriety for the violent deaths of its two stars with O’Brien becoming a homicide victim of a home invasion less than a year after its released while six years later Krem perished from an accidental shooting while on a hunting trip. Personally I found Fauci, who is the founder of The Actor’s Institute and has been the acting coach of such notables as Fisher Stevens and Marisa Tomei, to be the funniest. He plays the caricature of a corrupt cop, but does it in such an amusing way that every time he utters a line it’s highly entertaining.

Special mention must also go to dwarf actor De Jesus, who came to fame 5 years earlier in the porn flick The Anal Dwarf, where he attempted to have sex with a regular sized woman as apparently not every part of his body was small. Here, I found his facial expressions and overall energy to be engaging and had he and Fauci been the stars, playing adversaries, the film would’ve been funnier.

On the technical end the remastered blu-ray has a faded color and a spotty sound, making it look like it was captured on cheap, vastly inferior equipment from the get-go. Of course for those that came to see the explicit sadomasochism these other issues won’t matter.

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Alternate Title: The Incredible Torture Show

Released: November 3, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joel M. Reed

Studio: American Film Distributing Corporation

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

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

Pandemonium (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who killed the cheerleaders?

In 1963 the town of It Had To Be, Indiana wins the state football championship, but then after the game the cheerleaders turn up dead having been killed by a javelin that manages to slice through all five of them at the same time. This causes the summer cheerleading camp to be closed down, but then 19 years later, it gets reopened. The camp is run by Bambi (Candice Azzara) who had been the only cheerleader not killed during the infamous incident. Now everyone is telling her not to reopen insisting that the place is cursed, but she does so anyway and then the killings start back-up.

This was yet another attempt at parody of the modern-day horror/slasher film, but done in the style of Airplane, which has a gag occurring almost every second. I’m not opposed to horror comedies, and even hardcore horror fans can sometimes enjoy them, as long as they’re structured inside a conventional horror plot like with Scream that mixed the laughs with genuine scares. This film though hired Richard Whitley, who appears briefly along with co-writer Jaime Barton Klein as customers during a restaurant scene, who is best known for penning Rock ‘N’ Roll High School and he approaches the material the same way as that one by throwing in any lame bit of humor that he can whether it works with the story, or connects with a horror element, or not, The result is hit-or-miss with the majority of it being quite stupid and only a few of the jokes managing to land.

The funniest bits are the deaths themselves. The 5 cheerleaders that get turned into a massive shesh-ka-bob and having to be carted away together on this long stretcher is actually kind of cool. The drowning of one victim in a bathtub filled with milk and cookies as well as the killing of another who was obsessed with brushing her teeth, so when the killer stabs her instead of blood coming out it’s toothpaste are good too. Judge Reinhold, who sports a blonde wig here, has an amusing death where a bomb explodes causing him to fly so high into the air that he manages to bump into a Japanese jet and then begs through the airplane window to be let in. The only problem is that due to the high altitude the temperatures would’ve been freezing and therefore Reinhold’s face should’ve been covered with frost.

There are a high number of familiar faces in small roles, so there’s some enjoyment in that especially since the actors give good performances despite the subpar material. The casting of the teenagers though is problematic in that the actors who played them were well past adolescence. This includes Candice Azzara, who has a funny bit where she makes fun of her Brooklyn accent, who was already 37 at the time and Tab Hunter playing the hunky star quarterback even though he was literally 50 though to his credit he still looked young enough to almost pull it off.

Though not listed as the star Carol Kane pretty much becomes the main character having just gotten done starring in a legitimate horror film, When a Stranger Calls, two years before. I found her character’s ability to attain psychic powers after she starts taking birth control pills to be amusing though she does speak with a weird accent here. Tom Smothers is the one who gets top billing despite being the most boring person in it. Having him dressed as a Canadian Mountie is over-the-top and reminiscent of the cartoon character Dudly-Do-Right. He fails to have anything funny to say or do and gets routinely upstaged by side-kick Paul Reubens, who was pre-Pee-Wee Herman at this time, but still quite amusing.

The title of the film was initially going to be ‘Thursday the 12th’, but when production wrapped it was found that another horror parody was being made called Saturday the 14th, so the title was changed to this one, though I would’ve stuck with the original as this movie, as lame as it is, is still to superior to the other one, which was rock bottom. 6 years later another movie from Australia came out called Pandemonium that was a fantasy/horror and received pretty much the same type of negative reviews as this one.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 2, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 17 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Alfred Sole

Studio: United Artists

Available: Blu-ray

Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Family plays weird games.

Sonny (Howard Trevor) and Girly (Vanessa Howard) are brother and sister who live with their mother (Ursala Howells) and nanny (Pat Heywood) in a large stately mansion in rural England. Despite both being adolescents they still sleep in cribs and behave as if they’re only 5. They enjoy playing what they call ‘The Game’, which is bringing home strangers, usually homeless men that they’ve met at a park, and forcing them to dress in a schoolboy’s outfit and compelled to behave like a child. If they refuse they are then ‘sent to the angels’.

The film was a product of famed British cinematographer Freddie Francis who wanted to make a movie inside the Oakley Court, which is a castle built in 1859 that overlooks the River Thames. He commissioned his friend Brian Comport to write the screenplay with the only condition being that the action had to take place on the Oakley Court property. Comport decided to revolve the plot around a play called ‘Happy Family’ written by Maisie Mosco, which dealt with a family that got involved with role playing games. Both Francis and Comport disliked the play, but were intrigued with the concept and decided to turn it into the genesis for a horror movie.

The film can best be described as experimental and has an intriguing quality to it, which holds your interest for the first 30-minutes, or so. One of the best elements is the alluring performance of Vanessa Howard, who’s able to mix her beauty with that of an evil mischievous nature. In fact the entire cast does an exceptionally fine job despite the material not offering much in the way of characterizations. The cast gives off an energetic zeal that keeps you compelled even as very little else happens. I kept thinking how sad it was that these actors put so much effort into a movie that fell into obscurity almost right away and this it turns out was the very reason why Howard left the profession just a few years later.

Outside of the acting there’s little else to recommend as the flimsy plot gets stretched far more than it should. There’s also no normal character that the viewer can relate to. Initially I thought it would be Michael Bryant, who plays a middle-aged male prostitute that they bring back to their place as one of their ‘new friends’, but he ends up behaving almost as weirdly as the rest. There should’ve been some outside force that intervened like a police inspector that would come to the castle to investigate the disappearance of one of the prostitute’s female clients, played by Imogen Hassall, that he and the two teens kill when they push her off a slide, which could’ve added tension and nuance that is otherwise lacking.

The film is also too skittish with the shocks. It’s supposed to be a horror movie, but there’s barely anything in it that’s all that disturbing. Sure, it does imply some dark things, but it doesn’t show any of it. The victims die too easily to the point that the death scenes aren’t any fun to watch. The part where a woman falls from a children’s slide at a playground and dies instantly is ridiculous as it wasn’t a high enough for the fall to have been fatal.  Another scene is the discovery of a severed head inside a boiling pot of water, but it never  gets shown, which comes-off as a total cop-out. I realize this was made in the 60’s in England where the culture was quite prudish to gore and violence, hence the creation of the infamous ‘video nasties’, which was a list of banned horror movies that came out about a decade later, but if you’re going to create a story that is dark and edgy, such as this one, then you should have the balls to push-the-envelope in order to give it a payoff, which this thing is ultimately devoid of.

Alternate Title: Girly

Released: February 12, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Freddie Francis

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporations

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Blue Monkey (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giant insect invades hospital.

When an elderly man (Sandy Webster) gets his finger pricked by a foreign plant he’s immediately rushed to the hospital after he goes into shock. At the hospital he regurgitates an insect pupa, which is taken to the lab for observation. It is there that it gets fed a growth hormone by a group of children causing it to escape and take-over the hospital. Jim (Steve Railsback) is a police detective who was already in the hospital overseeing his partner who had gotten shot while on duty. Together with Rachel (Gwynyth Walsh), an on-call emergency room doctor, and Elliot (Don Lake), a entomologist, they go on the offence to trap the giant bug and kill it before it can reproduce.

I was initially not excited about watching this as it’s admittedly a rip-off of Alien and has many of the same shocks while being directed by Canadian horror maestro William Fruet whose other output I’ve found to be only so-so, but this one is surprisingly compelling. It also has some cool effects including seeing the characters running down a darkened hallway that’s lighted from one end with a bluish hue that gives it a surreal vibe. The shocks aren’t plentiful, but the few that they do have work.

This is also one movie where Railsback, who’s excellent playing psychos like Charles Manson and Ed Gein, is effective as a good guy. In other films where he was a protagonist like in Lifeforce he came-off as unintentionally creepy and it hurt his ability to get starring roles, but here his kindly interactions with a group of sickly children help subside that. I also enjoyed Susan Anspach, looking almost unrecognizable in her black-rimmed glasses, as one of the Dr.’s who takes matters into her own-hands without waiting for a male Dr. to tell her what to do. In fact there really aren’t too many men in white coats at the facility that seemed mainly run by females, which I found interesting.

What I didn’t like were the supporting comical characters. Helen Hughes and Joy Coghill as two drunken old ladies was not needed nor was SCTV alums Joe Flaherty and Robin Duke as a goofy couple having a baby. Sometimes in horror movies that are super intense a brief moment of levity is okay, but this movie wasn’t frightening enough for that and if anything needed to play-up the scares more instead of throwing in goofy scenes that makes it seem too much like a jokey-script instead of a scary one.

The actual bug, when seen in its giant proportion, isn’t the chilling sight you’d expect mainly because its made to look like a regular bug, but just bigger, which isn’t imaginative and more reminiscent of the tacky sci-fi ‘creature-features’ of the 50’s where insects suddenly become bigger and most people today find laughable. It also would’ve been nice during the lab scenes for the camera to have focused on the pupa under the glass instead of the scared faces of the people looking at it. We don’t need to see facial expressions to know if something is scary we just need to be shown the scary thing directly and when we don’t see it, it makes the film look cheap like it didn’t have enough money to create an elaborate effect, so it copped-out by doing it this way.

Even with some of these issues it’s still an entertaining ride. It won’t be for everyone’s tastes and it certainly isn’t going to win any awards nor was it intended to, but if you like giant bug movies this one should satisfy your appetite.  It was also filmed entirely in Canada though the setting is supposed to be the US.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Release: September 25, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Fruet

Studio: International Spectrafilm

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Disconnected (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Receiving harassing phone calls.

Alicia (Frances Rains) is a young adult woman who brings an elderly man (William A. Roberts) up to her apartment one day so that he can use her phone to make a call. However, once he leaves she begins receiving odd calls at all times of the day and night where loud unexplained sounds emit from the receiver. She also gets a call where she overhears a conversation between her boyfriend Mike (Carl Koch) and twin sister Barbara-Ann, who are apparently are seeing each other behind-her-back. She then breaks up with Mike and begins dating Franklin (Mark Walker) whom she met while working at a video store. Franklin seems nice at first, but she’s unaware that he’s also the notorious serial killer who has been murdering young women in her area.

This horror oddity is the product of Gorman Bechard, who while still a film student decided to make a movie on his own with the low, low budget of only $40,000 and filming it almost entirely inside his tiny one-bedroom apartment. While it’s not a complete success it’s offbeat enough to hold your attention and guaranteed to keep you guessing to the very end.

The scenes inside the video store I enjoyed the most particularly Franklin’s complaints at how it didn’t have enough foreign films, or older movies, which was always the criticism I had of my local video stores too. The dark humor of Franklin hanging a crucifix over his bed where he commits the murders and the little prayer he does before he offs his victims I found amusing. Bechard’s odd camera shots including one segment done with black-and-white, freeze-frames is another asset that keeps it inventive.

The performance by Raines, who is beautiful, is excellent and I felt she would’ve had a long career ahead of her had she not giving up acting in order to raise a family. I was not as enamored though with the two guys playing the cops who lend a cartoonish flair that was not needed. I didn’t like too that one of them gets interviewed by someone sitting behind a camera that we don’t see and asking a bunch of questions almost like it’s a documentary, which begs the question as to who this person was and why does he just interview the cops, but no one else?

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s biggest problem though is that it gets rid of the Franklin too quickly without playing up that scenario as much as it could’ve. It also cuts away without ever showing how the cops are able to subdue him, or how Alicia is able to get away, which seems like a standard scene that a horror movie fan would want to see and not just have discussed later.

The weird calls ultimately become boring. It also takes Alicia too long to figure out that maybe a good way to stop them would be to unplug the phone from the wall, which she finally does at the very end, but most other people would’ve done it a hell of a lot sooner.

The twist ending where the old man that was seen at the start, but then disappears only to return and be shown walking out of her apartment makes no sense. Some viewers have speculated that maybe he was a ghost of some kind, but that’s not made clear. My personal feeling is that there was no meaning to it and it’s intentionally left vague, so the individual viewers can read into it whatever they want, but it’s not a satisfying way to end almost 90-minutes of viewing and in many ways, despite the interesting bits, makes it quite annoying. A better, more focused conclusion would’ve certainly helped.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 17, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Gorman Bechard

Available: VHS, Tubi, Blu-ray (Limited Edition only 2,000 copies printed) 

Emoh Ruo (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: New house falls apart.

Terri (Joy Smithers) is tired of living in a trailer and begs her husband Des (Martin Sacks) to finally buy a house, so they can live in the burbs and be a part of the middle-class dream. After saving up enough money they put a down payment on a brand new home, but the home begins to have a lot of problems. Both Terri and Des are forced to work longer hours at their jobs in order to keep up with the bills. What seemed like a dream at first soon turns into a nightmare making living in a trailer, which they initially hated, now seem like a good idea.

This film has a lot of similarities to Steven Spielberg’s The Money Pit, which came out a year later, but this one is more amusing, at least at the beginning. Spielberg’s film, which was directed by Richard Benjamin, was too cartoonish and silly and failed to make any broader statement other than wild comical antics. This one takes more of a satirical approach and shows how suburban life may not be as great as advertised and in some ways just plain not worth it. One of the funnier moments is when Terri gets home from her overnight job and the second she walks through the door immediately falls to the floor in exhaustion while her tired husband, who’s getting ready to go to his second job, steps over her while going out the door without so much as giving her a greeting.

I did like too that this movie doesn’t immediately go over-the-top with the problems of the home repairs. The Money Pit, in my opinion, ruined things by having everything go wonky right from the start, which didn’t allow for any buildup while this one keeps the tension by showing things not working as they should and making you interested in seeing if it’s going to get worse. The nightmarish elements aren’t just isolated to the home either as their son Jack (Jack Ellis) must put up with bullies at his new school and the couple also deals with nosy, meddling neighbors.

I was surprised by the abundance of nudity, at least during the first act, which is something you’d never see in a Hollywood movie, where nudity is usually only shown in film’s aimed at adults, or with adult themes, instead of a movie like this that would otherwise be perfect for the general public. I’m not sure exactly why director Denny Lawrence decided to put it in as it doesn’t have anything to do with the plot and could’ve easily been left out, but I can only presume that because Australia is a more secular country they’re less uptight about showing skin and therefore don’t worry, or fear, that putting it into a movie, even one as otherwise innocuous as this, will be a problem, or get backlash.

What I didn’t like though was Joy Smithers as the mother. While she certainly looks beautiful, both with her clothes on and off, she was, at age 22, too young to be portraying a suburban mother of a 10-year-old child. Her acting was problematic too especially her scenes where she’s supposed to be upset that doesn’t convey the subtle comic element that a better actress could’ve brought out.

Spoiler Alert!

The third act, outside of seeing an outrageous looking BBQ pit built by the husband, fails to have much of a payoff. Many of the problems with the house never get properly addressed. For instance the shower knobs blow off the wall and spew streams of water everywhere, but the film cuts away without showing how they managed to get it under control. Having the entire house ultimately collapse isn’t impressive either as it looks too much like a prop house made of cardboard instead of brick and mortar.

I was disappointed too that the dark comical edge gets lost with a sitcom-styled wrap-up that seemed to lose complete sight of the main point, which ultimately makes the film as a whole quite transparent and forgettable.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 12, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Denny Lawrence

Studio: Palm Beach Pictures

Available: DVD (Region 4 Import)