Category Archives: Exploitation

Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: One-eyed mute’s revenge.

Frigga (Christine Lindberg) is a young woman in her early twenties still living at home with her father and unable to speak due to being raped by an old man at a young age, which has left her psychologically scarred. She attends therapy each week, but on one occasion she misses the bus and takes a ride from a stranger named Tony (Heinz Hopf). Tony takes her back to his place where he drugs her and then forces her to work for him as a prostitute. When she initially resists he gouges out one of her eyes with a knife. Feeling that she has no choice she eventually submits to his demands, but saves up the money she makes, so that one day she can escape from his clutches and use her funds to seek a very violent and ugly revenge on both him and all the others who were cruel to her.

In 1969 Borne Arne Vibenius, who had worked with Ingmar Bergman as an assistant director on Persona, tried his hand at directing his own film by doing the cute family comedy How Marie Hit Fredrik about a 10-year-old girl who runs away from home. The film unfortunately lost a lot of money and so Vibenius decided in an effort to recoup some of the lost funds that he would take the exact opposite route for his next project by going to the most exploitive extreme that he could, or in his words a ‘commercial-as-hell-crap-film’ which was the inspiration for this movie. However, for fear that it might ruin his reputation and stymie any future chances of making a more mainstream film he did it under a different name, Alex Fridolinski, and the actors had a clause in their contracts ensuring that they would never reveal who the real director was.

The film does successfully go to some of the most extremes imaginable which includes showing explicit hard core sex during the scenes where Frigga is shown getting it on with her customers. Apparently Vibenius used a married couple for this who went around Sweden doing live sex shows for money. Whether having the graphic sex was necessary is debatable, but it does, like with the turtle scene in Cannibal Holocaust gives the idea that there is ‘no limits’ here and if the director is willing to show this extreme what else might come next, which then gives the viewer an uneasy feeling, which I suppose if you’re doing a horror film that is the feeling to give out.

There is also a lot of extreme violence including a graphic, close-up shot of a knife cutting directly into a human eyeball, which was apparently done inside a hospital on a corpse of a teen girl who had committed suicide, which sounds ethically questionable. Yet it most assuredly will startle the viewer and some may vomit out their lunch as well.

On the cool side I loved seeing Frigga’s victims getting shot in slow-motion. Watching the blood smear all over their shirts and streams of the red stuff pouring out of their mouths has an almost poetic feel to it and clearly the film’s best moments.

There’s also a good gritty feel not usually seen in most other horror flicks. I liked the way Frigga is shown spending time learning how to shoot a gun, drive a car at high speeds and take self-defense training, so that she’ll be able to take on her enemies when the time comes instead of just showing her magically becoming this gun-toting, macho woman overnight.

The electronic music score is intense and the moody/atmospheric climactic showdown on a lonely road between Frigga and Tony is well crafted. Having Frigga not speak a single word actually gives her character a more entrenched image. Overall, the film is artsy and on the exploitative level it could be considered a trailblazer, but like its title states it’s a cruel picture that gets so excessive it leaves you cold and emotionally drained when it’s over.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 7, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes (Complete, uncut version)

Not Rated

Director: Bo Arne Vibenius

Studio: BAV Film

Available: DVD

Schoolgirls in Chains (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pretty teens held captive.

Frank and John (Gary Kent, John Parker) are two mentally-challenged brothers who’ve spent years being dominated by their aging mother (Great Gaylord) who will not let them date other women, or in any way play out their sexual feelings. If they do bring home a girlfriend their mother scares them away, so instead they kidnap women that they spot at random and then bring them home to their basement where they are forced to partake in all sorts of perverted ‘games’.

This is one of those movies where you know from the very first frame that it’s going to be bad and then it just proceeds to get even worse as it goes along. The production values are abhorrent and the music score is especially annoying. Instead of playing something that sounds creepy or heightens the tension they play and sing melodies from children’s songs like ‘Three Blind Mice’.

The acting is pathetic especially from the women who show no fight or struggle and simply lie there like dead fish and allow their male captors to do what they want with them, which creates no tension.  The men aren’t frightening at all and the John character runs around while waving his arms in the air making both him and the movie look quite campy and silly.

If you’re hoping for something seedy or tawdry you can forget it. The provocative title and film poster may give you that impression, but what you receive instead would barely get an R-rating today. There’s very little nudity or gore and the action, which isn’t much, is poorly staged. The story does have a lurid quality, but it’s nothing that you haven’t seen before and overall quite tame and predictable by today’s standards.

There are similarities to this film and Charles Kaufman’s cult classic Mother’s Day, which came out 7 years later and was much better. Psycho is what this movie most resembles and there is even a scene where one of the victims bursts into the mother’s room only to find her to be a rotting skeleton, but it amazed me to think that the filmmakers behind this waste of time believed this would top that classic. Why simply rehash what has already been done before and better? Why not take things in a more unpredictable area? Maybe the writer, director and producer weren’t creative enough to think up anything else, so this tired, formulaic thing is all that they could offer, but it’s an embarrassment to all involved and should be avoided.

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My Rating: 0 out of 10

Alternate Titles: Girls in Chains, Abducted

Released: February 7, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes

Rated R

Director: Don Jones

Studio: Mirror Releasing

Available: DVD

Wild Beasts (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Animals attack innocent people.

The water of a major metropolitan area becomes contaminated from all the garbage littered along the beaches. The animals of a local zoo drink it and soon go on a rampage. When the zoo’s security system fails the animals get out and start to attack the local citizens. Animal expert Laura Schwartz (Lorraine De Selle) and zookeeper Rupert (John Aldrich) work together to stop the carnage by tracking the animals down and corralling them back to safety.

The film was directed by Franco Prosperi who along with Gualtiero Jacopetti where noted for their quasi shockumentaries of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s that emphasized a lot of violence and nudity and this production works along the same vein. In fact it’s the graphic gore and a camera that lingers on the carnage that helps the film stand out from the rest of the tacky, low budget horror films from the ‘80’s. However, the film also shows a lot of animal cruelty including a mother tiger going into violent convulsions after being put to sleep and rats screaming in pain after being set on fire.

The attacks themselves become quite mechanical and monotonous. The main characters are wooden and seen only in brief intervals, so the viewer never becomes emotionally attached to anyone on screen, which seriously lowers the tension. The film actually only becomes interesting at the end when some children staying at a school drink the water and then become violent towards the adults, which has a nice creepy quality to it and the movie would’ve been better had it chosen this story thread over the other one.

The idea that showing all these discarded heroin needles along the beach and implying that this would be enough to contaminate the city’s water supply is lame and the film’s ‘important’ message about pollution is silly as well. There is also no explanation why none of the adults go crazy like the animals and some of the children do as they would presumably be drinking the same water. The opening sequence shows shots of Seattle where this story supposedly takes place, but the rest of the film was clearly shot in a European city. The production suffers from being convoluted and overblown and lacking any singular vision, which is due in large part to being financed by backers from several different countries.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 15, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Franco Prosperi

Studio: Shumba International Corporation

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 2)

The Holy Mountain (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: They search for immortality.

In what seems like a sort-of sequel to Jodorowsky’s cult hit El Topo this film deals with the same type of Christ-like figure and religious metaphor’s. The story centers on a man known as The Thief (Horacio Salinas) who meets up with an alchemist (Alexander Jodorowsky) who introduces him to seven people representing the planets of the solar system as well as the sins of greed, lust and power. The group is instructed to leave their worldly possessions behind as well as their individual identities so that they can become one while they trek up the treacherous terrain of the Holy Mountain where they hope to acquire immortality.

In a lot of ways this film is superior to El Topo simply because it has a bigger budget and more slickly handled. The background sets are dazzling and at some points even amazing. On a purely visual level this film borders on being brilliant and could be enjoyed simply on that note alone. I also really enjoyed the humor and satire. The war manufacturer that makes psychedelic ammunitions to appease the younger generation is great as is the naked woman implanting a giant phallic object into a robotic machine in order to allow it to obtain an orgasm and given birth to a baby robot.

Jodorowsky’s excessive use of shock elements is here as well and for some it becomes the main point of watching it. Within the first 30 minutes alone you’ll see two beautiful women being stripped naked and having their heads shaved. An old man taking his glass eye out and placing it in the hands of a young girl and a young boy being castrated and then putting his testicles into a glass jar, which he places on a shelf lined with other glass jars filled with other testicles. Later on there’s even a scene showing a cow mating with another and a shot of a naked elderly man breast feeding another man. By the end it all starts to get rather mind numbing, but on a purely exploitative level it’s kind of fun because it’s something that most likely could never be filmed today and thus cementing why 70’s cinema is so special and in many ways much more interesting and outrageous than the stuff coming out today.

In the end though it comes off like overkill with a message that gets lost amidst all of the shock elements. It also seems quite contradictory as supposedly this is a spiritual film, but with so much sex and gore it becomes more like a pornographic one and for the most part that’s what many viewers will take from it, which ultimately makes this heavy-handed, experimental production a failed effort.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 29, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky

Studio: ABKCO

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Sweet Movie (1974)

sweet movie

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Every fetish is shown

Unfairly labeled as excessive and perverse, this film is really a fascinating and intricate study into the recesses of the sexual mind. It looks at sex in all its complexities and exposes it as a very primal need with a personality of its own.

The film starts off with an amusing satire on the media and how they have commercialized sex. It involves a game show were a rich millionaire must choose which female virgin he would like for a wife and even has a doctor on hand to examine them and make sure each one is genuine.

This becomes the ongoing theme, which is how society loves to ‘package’ sex and yet really can’t. Director Dusan Makavejev feels that the sexual instinct is too deep to be able to channel completely. The rest of the film goes off on wild tangents that may not make sense to some, but the intent is not to tap into the logical mind, but instead the sexual senses. In the process it tries to bring out the sexual side of the viewer by digging deeply into their own subconscious mind.

The final result is an almost non-stop barrage of unique, lasting visuals. Some are funny, stimulating and at times even grotesque. Yet sex has all these qualities so any movie realistically dealing with it should have it as well. Overall despite the controversial approach it becomes lyrical, compelling, and quite well-shot.

By not boxing sex into any type of ‘standard’ is what makes this different from just about any other erotic film out there. Most directors seem to feel that two sweating bodies between satin sheets are all you need to make a film ‘sexy’. Here you get something much more daring and expansive by showing sex in both its beauty and ugliness. Outside of bestiality and necrophilia just about every other fetish gets examined including interracial sex, sex with minors (never shown, but strongly implied), food sex, vomiting, scatology, water sports, and even violent sex. Sometimes it gets vulgar yet still remains provocative and fascinating to the more open-minded.

Star Carole Laure is incredibly beautiful and submits herself to her demanding role with a reckless abandon that is refreshing if not unprecedented and helps make the film impactful.

There’s some really amazing sequences including having Laure carted around in a suitcase with only her head sticking out. This is also one those rare films outside of Paul Morrissey’s Trash that features more shots of the male genitals than the females.

Obviously there will be those that will find the whole thing disgusting and offensive as it is very explicit even by today’s standards. This film could very well go beyond most people’s ‘comfort zones’ so I don’t want to suggest it to anyone unless they are fully prepared for what they are about to see, but for those who are game it could come off as a unique one-of-a-kind experience.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: June 12, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 38Mintues

Rated NC-17

Director: Dusan Makavejev

Studio: Maran Film

Available: DVD (The Criterion Collection)

Nightmare (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: This one gets grisly.

George Tatum (Baird Stafford) is a middle-aged man tormented by strange nightmares where he sees himself as a young child decapitating with an ax an older man and his female lover. The dreams have had such an adverse effect on him that it has sent him to the mental hospital, but now the doctors consider him cured and send him back out into the real world, but the dreams continue pushing him into a psychotic state where he murders a woman that he meets and then eventually starts menacing a family.

This film while not being a particularly good movie and still straddled with a lot of the expected low budget limitations has managed to achieve a strong cult following as well as a limited Blue Underground 30th Anniversary release due mainly to its explicit violence. While the body count isn’t high the gore is nasty and effective. One scene involves George knifing a woman and the camera cutting in real close to her slashed neck and we hear her literally gurgling on her own blood and then watch as he licks her blood off his hands in an aroused manner. The scene where the boy cuts the head off another woman is also well handled despite the fact that it looks too much like an empty mannequin’s head. Writer/director Romano Scavolini approaches it with an artistic flair and it works. Watching the boy, who couldn’t be much older than 10, drenched in blood and looking menacingly into a mirror is the film’s creepiest moment.

The wide array of locales also helps and takes this a step above most other films of this genre and time period. Scenes are shot on-location all the way from New York to South Carolina, Georgia, and even Florida where there is a nifty segment inside an abandoned house. I found George’s trip to an old-fashioned New York adult theater to be the most captivating. I liked the part where the male customers put a quarter in a slot, which raised a small yellow door that allowed the men to peer through a window at a stripper dancing, but instead of seeing it from the male point-of-view we see it from the stripper’s. I got a kick out of seeing several of these guys looking all wide-eyed at this naked woman through their little windows and as their time ran out and the little yellow door began to slide down over their peep holes they would strained their necks as far as they could through with what little opening was left to continue to gaze at her as long as possible.

The dialogue and characterizations were less cardboard than the usual slasher film. However, outside of the gore it is not very suspenseful. The scares are derivative and too much time is spent on the bratty C.J. trying to spook his babysitter and mother.

Although the film keeps things plausible for the most part I was a bit confused why the doctors at the hospital didn’t know about George’s violent past or why he was menacing the certain family that he was. They were able to track down his whereabouts and car, so why were they not able to do the same with his criminal and family background? Having this loophole hurts the film as it ends up seeming poorly thought out.

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My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 23, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Romano Scavolini

Studio: 21st Century Film Corporation

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Wake in Fright (1971)

wake in fright 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: The middle of nowhere.

To an extent this is a one of kind film that is handled in such a raw and unpretentious way that it is like no other film you have ever seen before. The opening shot alone is amazing. You see a birdseye view of an isolated schoolhouse in the outback where our main character teaches. The camera then turns at a full circle and you see that there is absolutely nothing for miles in any direction. The desolation is mind boggling and it’s isolation at its purest.

Not only does this very inspired shot get its point across, but it also becomes the essence of what the film is about by trying to get you to understand the ruggedness of its characters by immersing you into their environment. It’s an uncompromising film full of startling images.

The story deals with a British schoolteacher John Grant (Gary Bond) who, through a loss in gambling, becomes trapped in the isolated outback town of Bundanyabba. He is cultured and educated and his sensibilities can’t mesh with the raw simplistic elements of the people in it.

It’s a highly intriguing viewpoint that not only captures man’s ever daunting task at dealing with nature, but also the overall reality of his existence and even himself. It makes you feel you are right there experiencing the same onslaught with him. There are also some interesting low key scenes proving that one of the biggest hurdles one must fight when in these places is actually just the boredom.

I do have to warn readers that the film has a very prolonged brutally explicit kangaroo hunting scene that features the actual killing of the animals. It even shows the men physically beating up on some wounded kangaroo’s and then viciously slashing their throats in a mocking fashion. Although I do feel that these scenes leave the viewer with the intended strong, raw impact and I like the lighting during the nighttime hunt that allows for a surreal element I still admit this may be a very difficult watch for some and may turn them off from viewing the film altogether. Apparently there were quite a few people that walked out of the film during this scene when it was shown at the Cannes, so be prepared.

Star Bond is excellent. You can relate to his anger and defiance at being somewhere he doesn’t want to be as well as feeling his desperation, exhaustion, and eventual surrender.

For many years this film sat in almost virtual obscurity, but after an exhaustive worldwide search a print of the film was finally found in the back of a Pittsburgh warehouse in a canister with a ‘to be destroyed’ label on it. Fortunately the print was saved and the restoration process is fantastic with colors that are bright and vivid. Director Ted Kotcheff captures the region in all of its rustic, desolate glory including the incredible crystal blue sky.

Reportedly many Aussies dislike the film as they feel it creates a negative stereotype. However, I don’t see it that way. I love the county and people and consider this more of a portrait of what happens when people are stuck in an isolated environment, which technically could be anywhere.

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My Rating: 8 out of 10

Alternate Title: Outback

Released: October 13, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD (Region 1 & 2) Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: They were really hungry.

A group of people go into the deep dark jungles of the Amazon looking for a missing film crew. They never find the crew, but they do find some lost film footage of theirs. They bring it back home and play it and what they see is so gruesome that it startles the imagination.

This is truly a gross-out classic. If you have ever watched a horror movie purporting to have gruesome special effects and then walked away disappointed then this one will make up for the rest and everything else in between. No cutaways here and certainly no restraint for good taste. The effects look real and, at times, almost too real. Best of all is the fact that the story is handled in a realistic fashion giving the effects even more credibility. For instance the cutting off of one of the characters legs after he is bitten by a snake looks completely authentic. There is also a castration scene that has to be one of the most vivid ones ever filmed. There is also the cutting up of man’s body into little pieces and some really graphic rape scenes.

The film also doesn’t have that cheap look like with most horror films and it gets you immersed in the jungle atmosphere. It is well paced and builds up some really good tension. The editing is seamless without any of those annoying jump cuts. The music score is melodic, but distinct and effective making it one of the best scores ever made for a horror film. The eventual showing of the lost crew’s footage packs a wallop.

Former adult film star Richard Bolla plays the professor and the leader of the search party. He is credited as the star of the film yet his character is bland and forgettable. His only memorable moment comes when he jumps naked into a river and allows the adolescent girls from a nearby tribe to grope him, which has got to be a cinematic first. My favorite character was Chaco (Salvatore Basile). He is gruff and rough and absolutely nothing seems to faze him. He is so hardened by it all that it actually becomes amusing and I wished he would have stayed on for the duration.

The actual lost film crew is a vile bunch giving the film its main message of just who is ‘civilized’ and who is the savage. Their behavior is so disgusting that most viewers will actually look forward to their eventual gruesome demise.

The same cannot be said for the animals. There are graphic, ugly scenes involving the torture and mutilation of animals and it is not pretty. The animals flail their arms and legs and scream in very real pain and fright. It’s all handled in a distasteful and mocking way with the dissection of a sea turtle making even this jaded viewer feel nauseous. This will certainly be unsettling for animal lovers, but fortunately for those people the DVD release has a version that will cut out these segments while still allowing the viewer to enjoy the rest of the movie.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 7, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated: NC-17

Director: Ruggero Deadato

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: They want sex slaves.

During the end of WW II in a northern city of occupied Italy a group of bourgeoisie men and women round up a group of teenage boys and girls and take them to an isolated mansion where they are forced to become sex slaves. They are also inflicted with cruel tortures in this story based on the writings of Marquis De Sade.

The film is interesting, but only up to a point. Director Pasolini’s natural lighting fetish really works here and he makes it into an art form. His ability to find the perfect moment in the day to shoot the scene and be able to frame the action within the shadows is amazing and along with the color schemes gives it a very distinctive look and an unusual atmosphere.

The acting by the adults is amazing as they project evilness without flaw. The perverted stories they tell in some ways is more shocking than the actual scenes and the casual way they go about their sick behavior achieves an unprecedented level.

The story itself has some good insights. It shows the veneer of civilized behavior and how the passive nature of the victims and society as a whole only helps to allow evil to flourish. There’s also the main point which is that evil is truly a part of the human make-up and hides itself in everybody and can come out if provoked including the victims themselves.

Yet the film makes its point and then hammers it home without pause. The non-stop perversity becomes excessive and the redundancy eventually makes the shock value and message meaningless. Showing the background of these captors might have helped given it more of a balance.

I have nothing against those who wish to ‘push the envelope’ and there is nothing that says movies need to be tasteful, or even entertaining, but I couldn’t help but wonder if Pasolini simply used the material as an excuse to explore his own dark fantasies. Of course DeSade’s actual writings were far more twisted and unsettling then anything you see here and the film is a significantly toned down version.

Actual teenagers were used and there is an abundance of nudity and perversity. Something like this could never have been made here in the states and exactly how it ever got made is more interesting than the film itself. If there was ever a movie begging for a “Making of…” documentary it’s this one. It is also interesting to note that Pasolini was mysteriously killed by a hit-and-run driver just a few days before the film’s official release.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 22, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated NC-17

Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini

Studio: United Artists

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

Maniac (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He wants their hair.

A loner (Joe Spinell) terrorizes New York City by killing young women and scalping them. He then takes their hair, brings it home, and places it (actually he nails it) onto the heads of some mannequins that he has.

In a lot of ways this is the same old mechanical slasher flick as it has all the predictable characteristics of the others that dominated the early 80’s. The story is simple and strung along by long, drawn-out murder sequences. There is some suspense, but it is minimal since we know exactly what is going to happen. The victims are young, good looking women, who are clueless to the dangers that are lurking until it is too late. One segment in particular features a nurse getting off of work late at night, who mentions her fear of the killer and yet for some reason she still foolishly refuses a ride home from her friend and instead walks down a dark, lonely street and into, of course, eventual carnage.

There are also some rather glaring technical errors. One features a woman (the same one who refused a ride) running from the killer by going into an empty subway. Although isolation is the whole factor here there is one shot, taken from inside a departing subway car that clearly shows a whole bunch of people standing just across from her on the other side of the tracks. There is also a segment where Spinell takes his girlfriend to his mother’s grave. When the car pulls up to the cemetery it is a nice, bright afternoon, but when they reach the actual grave it has become pitch black with a strange unexplained fog that has rolled in. Lastly there is the ending. This is a man that has terrorized a whole city and yet only two policemen in an unmarked squad car come to his residence and when they do they don’t even bother to secure the site.

Despite the low-budget problems there are a few things that raise this slightly above the rest. One is the fact that it actually manages to get inside the killer’s head. You hear the inner conversations between his ‘good’ side and his ‘bad’ side. Of course this only touches the surface of a true schizoid personality, but it does offer a little more depth than most. It also helps create a good portrait of a tormented soul and you end up feeling more sadness than fear for the man. The film also consistently has a dark, grainy look, which helps accentuate the ugly theme. Having it take place in New York City gives it a little more distinction and atmosphere.

The special effects are good. The part where he blows a man’s head off, through a car windshield, looks very realistic and has become the film’s most famous scene. The surreal ending, where the mannequins all come to life and exact a sort of revenge, is also well-handled and imaginative. Makeup artist Tom Savini, who also appears as the character of ‘Disco Boy’, has had a lot of success, but the stuff here may be his best.

Director William Lustig shows some panache and Spinell, who also co-wrote the screenplay, gives a surprisingly strong performance, but their attempts at creating a better understanding of a crazed killer prove placid and simply done for shock value.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 26, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Not Rated (Graphic Violence, Brief Nudity, Language, Adult Theme)

Director: William Lustig

Studio: Magnum Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (30th Anniversary Edition)