Category Archives: Ghost Story

The Evil (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Victor Buono is evil.

While cleaning out an abandoned mansion that Dr. Arnold (Richard Crenna) hopes to convert into a drug rehab center he opens up a trap door, which inadvertently spews out evil spirits that locks both him and his wife (Joanna Pettet) inside the place as well as the four volunteers who had offered to help him. Now, all six must find a way out of the place while avoiding getting killed by the evil that lurks about.

The film was directed by Gus Trikonis who was at one time married to Goldie Hawn and spent a decade making humdrum low budget flicks that had tantalizing plots, but only so-so results. This one is no different from his others, which amounts to a flat telling of a very pedestrian ghost story. Although I did enjoy the on-location shooting done at an abandoned hotel that since 1982 has been the home to the United World College of the American West.

The cast of familiar B-actors may interest some although Crenna’s stiff and overly rehearsed delivery is for an acquired taste. The beautiful Pettet is better and since she’s the one who sees the spirits and reacts to them while Crenna simply walks around spewing out platitudes she should’ve been the sole star. The rest of the supporting players weren’t needed although Cassie Yates’ clear blue eyes are always a pleasure.

The special effects are virtually nonexistent and all that gets shown are shots of the characters being physically thrown around by some invisible force, which isn’t exciting or creative. The only times there is a diversion is at the end when Victor Buono appears as the devil incarnate. Some consider this sequence hokey, but whole thing is so sterile anyways that it really doesn’t hurt it. If you do end up watching it the only thing you’ll really have to fear is boredom.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 5, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Gus Trikonis

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD

Amityville 3-D (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Same house, new owner.

John Baxter (Tony Roberts) is a reporter for Reveal magazine that specializes in investigating paranormal activity. He takes on the challenge of moving into the infamous Long Island home to prove that it really isn’t haunted, but when he does strange things begin to occur. At first he ignores them convinced that there must be a ‘rational explanation’ instead, but as the frights intensify he becomes convinced otherwise.

I hate having to give every one of the horror movies that I’ve seen so far this month only 1 point as I would legitimately like getting scared a little, but it’s just not happening. I was hoping this one would be better as some reviewers implied that it was, but it’s just as bad as the other two and actually even worse. At least the first two had some overreacting that I found unintentionally funny, but this lacks even that.

I liked the concept of having a protagonist in a horror flick not behaving like a scared victim, but being more arrogant towards the superstitions. Yet this doesn’t get played up enough. The character’s egotistical side should’ve been stronger and thus making it fun watching the shit eventually get scared out of him.

Candy Clark’s character has the same issue. Initially she partners with Roberts as a fellow skeptic, but shifts into frightened mode too quickly. What should’ve helped differentiate the film from other horror movies by having characters not falling into the hapless victim trap  gets downplayed so badly that by the end it’s completely forgotten and they come off as cardboard caricatures.

There’s also no connection to the first two movies, which creates a lot of discrepancies. The famous red room in the basement, which had been such a big deal in the first installment, is none existent and instead the viewers get treated to some bottomless well from hell. The quarter shaped attic windows, which were the home’s signature trait, aren’t even present at least not from the side facing the road.

The special effects are tacky and the 3-D effects underused. I spent the majority of the time irritated at how slow it was. The buzzing insects are annoying and in the segment where one flies around in Candy Clark’s car you can clearly see that it is attached to a string.

The fact that this film received only a PG rating is a red flag as no self-respecting horror movie should ever accept anything less than an R-rating as it signifies that it hasn’t gone for the gusto, which this doesn’t. Seeing a young Meg Ryan in an early part may be worth it to some, but there’s nothing else to recommend.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: November 18, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Fleischer

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD

The Entity (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Invisible mass attacks mother.

Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey) is a single mother living with her three children who finds herself attacked one night in her home by an invisible being who proceeds to viciously rape her. When she tells this to her psychiatrist (Ron Silver) he initially doesn’t believe her, so she employs the help of two parapsychologists (Raymond Singer, Richard Brestoff) who come to her home and record the paranormal activity. With the help of Dr. Cooley (Jacqueline Brookes) who heads their department, they build a life-sized replica of Carla’s home in a gymnasium complete with liquid helium, which they hope to use on the mysterious entity in order to trap it.

The ghostly attacks aren’t impressive and consist mainly of seeing close-ups of Hershey’s face being rammed against the wall, or bedsheets, flying glass, shaking furniture and a musical sound effect reminiscent of a hammer rhythmically pounding against a sheet of metal. The attack scenes quickly become redundant and the ghostly presence is never seen, which eventually makes them yawn inducing whenever they occur. There are also many long dramatic interludes between the attempted scares that try to put a psychological spin on the proceedings, but come off more like pop psychology instead.

The whole thing is inspired by an actual incident which occurred on August 22, 1974, but incorrectly stated as happening in October, 1976 during the film’s denouncement. In the real-life case a woman by the name of Doris Bither (1942-1999) met two parapsychologists named Barry Taff and Kerry Gaynor while visiting a local library and told them of her repeated rapes inside her home by three ghosts who she considered to be of an Asian descent. She invited the men to her small Culver City, California home, which they found to be extremely cramped and dirty. During the event the men felt some unusual sensations and saw colorful orbs fly through the air, which was enough to inspire Frank De Felitta to write a novel about it, which later lead to this movie.

The film though would’ve worked better had the initial setting been Carla’s visit to her psychiatrist and then everything else played out in small segments as a flashback while she described her encounter. There was much speculation that these things were all just inside Bither’s head since she had suffered from substance abuse and a traumatic upbringing, but none of that gets touched upon in the movie. Instead we are left to believe that these strange occurrences are actually happening, but the film would’ve been more multi-dimensional had the viewer been allowed to question whether it was real, or simply an effect of mental illness.

Hershey gives a fine performance and shows what a great actress she is by playing a character that was completely opposite from the carefree/hippie-like ones that she played during her film appearances of the ‘70s. Silver though is annoying as the psychiatrist as his character unwisely gets too involved with his patient even though most other doctors in his position would be convinced that the woman was bat-shit crazy and keep themselves at an emotional distance from her. His attempts at trying to talk her out of going through with the experiment done at the gymnasium is irritating as it does nothing but hold up the story while failing to add an interesting dramatic tension.

The film’s freakiest aspect are the moments where Hershey’s bare breasts, in an attempt to show them being molested by the invisible hand of the ghost, start to ripple and show indentations seemingly on their own. How they were able to pull this off since this was well before visual computerized effects I’m not sure, but it is impressive and some may find it even strangely erotic.

On the whole though the film is frustrating as never explains why any of this occurs. The cause of the actual incident remains murky even though most would say that the woman was just looney, but since this film has already taken liberties with the real-life event why not at least throw in some sort of halfway plausible theory as nothing is worse than sitting through an overlong film that puts out many intriguing questions, but fails to supply them with any tangible answers.

(The Culver City, California home where the events that inspired this movie purportedly took place.)

(An actual photograph taken during the August 22, 1974 encounter.)

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 4, 1983

Runtime: 2Hours 5Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney J. Furie

Studio: American Cinema Productions

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Till Death (1978)

till-death-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: His dead wife returns.

Paul (Keith Atkinson) marries Anne (Belinda Balaski) only to have her perish on their wedding night. When he goes to visit her at her crypt he hears her wails and breaks into her coffin where he finds her to be alive. They spend the rest of the night talking until supernatural events begin to occur, which convinces Paul that things aren’t quite what they seem.

This very low budget film sat on the shelf for 6 years and it was for good reason. It is boring and uneventful and at times down right hokey. The sappy opening title tune is the most horrifying thing about this turkey and has no place in a horror film or any other movie for that matter. The car crash borders on being laughable. There is a shot of Balaski being quite literally swallowed out of the car with an over-the-top panicked expression while Atkinson, with an equally over-the-top panicked expression, tries to save her. The shot is quick and might have passed had it only been shown once, but the director keeps going back to it almost repeatedly until it becomes both corny and annoying.

The second half is about as static as you can get. Atkinson releases Balaski from her crypt and then the two have one long, sterile conversation that goes nowhere.  Since the woman was supposedly thrown from a car one would expect her to be a mangled up mess, but when the coffin gets opened there is not a scratch on her. The payoff for sitting through this thing is nothing as there is no interesting twist of any kind. It’s a dud from start to finish and filled with a lot of clichéd foggy atmosphere that’s supposed to be creepy, but wouldn’t scare a first-grader.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: February 4, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 20Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Walter Stocker

Studio: Cougar Films

Available: None at this time.

Ghostbusters II (1989)

ghostbusters 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Called back into action.

It’s been 5 years since our team of Ghostbusters (Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd) saved New York City from impending ghostly doom only to be thanked by getting sued for all the damage they created in the process, which promptly sent them out of business. Now though there are signs of an even worse attack from the supernatural in the form of an ectoplasmic river underneath New York, which is being strengthened by all of the negative energy from the citizens that live there. Can our team of heroes put on their uniforms once more and save the city from yet another ghostly attack while also coming to the aid of Dana (Sigourney Weaver) who finds that an ancient sorcerer (Wilhelm Von Homburg) is trying to possess her newborn child?

The premise pretty much starts the film out on bad footing and it’s never able to recover. The idea that they’d be driven out of business by a barrage of lawsuits didn’t make much sense to me. The ghosts that were terrorizing Dana’s apartment building in the first film were witnessed by thousands of spectators as they stood outside on the ground and watched the three men drive them away, so they should’ve been viewed as heroes and those that tried to sue them would’ve been vilified. Besides it was the mayor (David Margulies) who gave them the permission to do whatever they needed to do to take the ghosts out, so if anyone was to be a target for the lawsuits it would’ve been his office and the city. What is even worse is that after the first 40 minutes the story eventually goes back to the original premise where the team becomes popular again and their services are in-demand, so why couldn’t the film simply started from that point as it makes the entire first act come off like a complete waste of time otherwise.

Although it’s great to see Janet Margolin, who plays a prosecuting attorney, in her last film appearance, the court room scenes are static and not right for this type of genre. The ghosts are not scary or frightening like they were in the first one either and instead come off as cartoonish and boring.

Murray gets pigeonholed in a dull routine where he spends most of the time trying to desperately rekindle his romance with Dana, which isn’t interesting. Ramis and Aykroyd seemed more intent on stealing back some of Murray’s thunder by not having him come along on a few of their missions including a long segment where they discover the evil river underneath the city, which is just not as funny without Murray there.

Weaver pretty much just goes through the motions in a part that really does not allow her much to do. I was also confused as to why she had been a musician in the first film, but in this one she had strangely crossed over into being a painter. Rick Moranis and Annie Potts are equally wasted and forced into a makeshift romance simply because the writers didn’t know what else to do with them.

William Atherton, who was so good at playing the prissy, arrogant heavy in the first film, gets sorely missed. Kurt Fuller tries to take up his slack, but he is not as effective. Former wrestler von Homburg plays the evil sorcerer, but his voice ended up being dubbed by Max von Sydow, which made me wonder why they didn’t just cast him in the villainess role to begin with since he was the far better actor.

Just about all the jokes fall flat and the climactic finish which features an animated Statue of Liberty is really lame. The story is never able to gain any traction or momentum, doesn’t add any new or interesting angle to the theme and should’ve been trashed before it was even made.

My Rating: June 16, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ivan Reitman

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD, Amazon Instant Video

Ghostbusters (1984)

ghostbusters 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who ya gonna call?

Due to this film’s recent reboot set for official release tomorrow I thought it would be great to look back at the one that started it all. I haven’t seen the remake and have no plans to, so this review will concentrate solely on the original. However, if you have seen both feel free to leave a comment comparing the two and telling us which one you liked better.

The story here centers on Peter (Bill Murray), Ray (Dan Aykroyd) and Egon (Harold Ramis) who are three parapsychologists who lose their jobs at Columbia University and decide to open up their own paranormal extermination service out of an old, abandoned firehouse. At first business is slow, but it quickly picks up once they capture a particularly pesky ghost known as slimmer from a ritzy Manhattan hotel. Soon they find themselves the center of demand and media attention. Dana (Sigourney Weaver) is a cellist who finds her apartment to be haunted and the womanizing Peter becomes smitten with her and is quick to come to her aid only for her to end up becoming possessed by the demon. The three then must use all of their abilities and weapons to try and stop it as well as the plethora of other ghouls who were mistakenly released into New York’s atmosphere when an aggressive EPA agent (William Atherton) forced them to shut down their ghost containment system.

I saw this film when it was first released and found it to be hilarious, but was worried that after all these years it might not come off as well, but to my surprise it hasn’t aged at all and is still quite fresh and inventive. Usually even in the best of comedies there will be jokes that fall flat, but here every one of them hits-the-bullseye and I enjoyed how the creative script see-saws the humor from the subtle to the over-the-top. The plot is imaginative, but manages to create and stick to its own logic that is consistently clever and amusing, but never silly.

The special effects are also impressive. Usually in comical films the ghosts or monsters are made to be benign and goofy, but here they are frightening, which again helps keep the story from ever getting one-dimensional.

Murray’s glib and detached persona is at a peak level and his throwaway lines, which were almost all improvised, are gems. Aykroyd and Ramis, who wrote the script, wisely step back and give Murray full control to steal the spotlight, which he does effortlessly.

The supporting cast is equally great. I never considered Weaver particularly suited for a role as a love interest, but her sharp, caustic manner works as a nice contrast to Murray’s smart-ass presence. She also becomes quite sexy during the scenes when she turns into a demon. Rick Moranis as her nerdy neighbor is hilarious and has some of the funniest moments in the film particularly the scene he has at a party he throws in his apartment and the way he introduces each guest as they arrive.

Ray Parker Jr.’s theme song is the icing-on-the-cake in a film where amazingly everything clicks perfectly. Why the studio heads felt there was a need to revamp this franchise is a mystery. I realize they are running out of ideas and feel the urge to retool what has been successfully done before in order to appeal to the ‘new generation’ of filmgoers, but this is one classic that should’ve been left alone.

ghostbusters 1

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: June 8, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ivan Reitman

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Death Ship (1980)

death ship 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ghost ship haunts ocean.

Members of a luxury ocean liner collide with a mysterious ship that comes out of nowhere. The liner sinks, but a few of the passengers manage to survive by boarding on a raft and going out to sea. After a few days of being afloat in the watery abyss they come into contact with the ship that they collided with. Having no other options they board the vessel only to find that no one else is on it. At first they are relived, but then creepy things begin to occur making them feel that it may be haunted. When the ship begins killing off members of the group one-by-one the remaining people look for a way off, but find nothing available.

The film starts out okay with a likable enough cast filled with veteran B-actors. The collision and subsequent sinking of the luxury liner as some definite tinges of The Poseidon Adventure to it and I’ll give props to the shot showing a grand piano crashing several stories down as well as the way the engine room quickly and realistically fills up with water. The ghost ship has a nice threatening quality and is shot in a way that gives it effective creepiness and makes it like a third character.

The performers do their best and giver earnest performances although it’s hard to believe that any of them could possibly have taken the material seriously and could only have been doing this for the money. I did not like the way George Kennedy’s character goes from being this surly prick of a sea captain to a man possessed by the evil spirits of the ship as I liked the way his character’s disagreeable personality meshed with the others and made the group dynamics a little more interesting.

The ultimate problem with the film though is the fact that there is no second or third act and the whole concept would’ve worked much better as a thirty minute episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’ instead of trying to stretch it out to feature film length. There are just so many creepy shots of the ship, foreboding music and scared reactions of the cast one can take before it all becomes quite old and redundant.  

The ending is unsatisfying and doesn’t explain anything. Yes, we understand this is a ship once used by the Nazi’s to torture victims, but why is it haunting these waters and why did it decide to collide with the ocean liner and if it has collided with other ships then why hasn’t it been detected by world governments and possibly gone under attack by armies in an attempt to subdue it? Again, as a creepy short story or an episode of an anthology series it might’ve worked, but as a film it is boring, one-dimensional and lacking any type of unique spin.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: March 7, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alvin Rakoff

Studio: Astral Films

Available: DVD

The Changeling (1980)

the changeling

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dead child haunts house.

Still grieving from the sudden loss of his family in a freak accident composer John Russell (George C. Scott) decides to move to the Pacific Northwest where he finds a large stately mansion to move into. He feels it would be the perfect place to reflect and continue with his work, but instead realizes that it is haunted by a child who was murdered there years earlier. With the help of Claire (Trish Van Devere) who had procured the property for him they investigate its history and find that there is a connection between the killing and an influential senator (Melvyn Douglas).

One of the aspects about this film that I did like was that it was given a big budget and the on-location shooting that was done from New York, Seattle and even Toronto gives it a strong visual backdrop and makes it light years ahead of the average horror film that is usually crippled from the start by its meager funding. The mansion is impressive at least the outside of it, which was actually only a façade that was constructed when they couldn’t find a real one to fit their needs. However, the idea that a single man would move into such a large place seems ridiculous and there’s nothing that says ghosts can’t haunt small homes that would be more practical place for one person to live in.

Scott gives an unusual performance in that he shows little of a frightened reaction when the scares occur. To some extent I liked this as the screams and shocked expressions in most horror movies become overdone, but when a vision of a ghostly boy appears in a bathtub and all Scott does is calmly back away it seems to be underplaying it a bit too much.

I also felt that Van Devere’s character was unnecessary and was put in only because she was Scott’s real-life wife at the time, but it seemed unrealistic that a real estate agent who was merely an acquaintance to John would get so wrapped up in his quandary or even believe him to begin with. No relationship is ever implied, but it would have made more sense had the character been written in as a girlfriend.

I realize there are those that consider this to be a ‘really scary’ movie, but I found it to be pretty flat. The ‘scares’ as it where consist of nothing more than a child’s ball rolling down a staircase twice, whispery voices, a runaway wheelchair and a few doors slamming. There is also a fiery finale that borders on the hooky and a tacky séance and if that is enough to keep you up all night then have at it.

Spoiler Alert!

The idea that this child, who was sickly and if he died before his 21st birthday the family fortune would go to charity, so the father kills him and has him replaced with another child who later grows into being this powerful aging senator, didn’t make sense in that I didn’t see where the ‘justice’ was in getting back at the senator who had nothing to do with the killing or even knew about it. He was simply an innocent child taken from an orphanage and the product of a nefarious scheme by the father, so why not go after the dead soul of the murdering father and leave the senator alone? The senator dies from a heart attack that we are lead to believe was caused by the ghostly presence of the angry child, which to some extent makes the protagonists look like the bad guys since they were the ones that precipitated the meeting that lead to the death and instead should’ve tried to prevent it.

I was also confused by the whole backstory about John’s family being killed in a roadside accident that begins the movie since it really didn’t have much to do with the main plot and could’ve easily been left out completely.

End of Spoiler Alert!

I first saw this film over 20 years ago and wasn’t all that impressed with it then and I’m still not. I realize it has its legion of fans, but to me it’s just an average ghost story and far from being a classic.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 28, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Medak

Studio: Associated Film Distribution (AFD)

Available: VHS, DVD

Raw Force (1982)

raw force 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ghosts of martial artists.

A group of martial arts students board a boat owned by Hazel (Hope Holiday) and piloted by Harry (Cameron Mitchell). During their ride the boat catches fire and they are forced to abandon it and get into a raft. After several days at sea they come upon an island that is the home to some ghosts of famous martial artists as well as a female slavery ring run by a group of monks. When the three groups meet it becomes a wild ride of sex and violence.

The film, which was shot entirely on-location in the Philippines, is clearly an exploitation cheapie and on the sex side it does pretty well as there is an abundance of nudity particularly during the first 45 minute or so that should satisfy any voyeur since the models for the most part are pretty good looking. However, the script is corny and dumb. Way too much time is spent on the set-up featuring a lot of stale conversations between wooden characters and comic sidelights that are silly and uninspired. The action itself is poorly captured and not very exciting while lacking in blood or realistic looking special effects.

Veteran character actress Holiday is actually the best thing playing a ditzy middle-aged woman sharing a love/hate relationship with Mitchell. Carl Anthony who plays Lloyd a man who considers himself much more of chick magnet than he really is amusing and Camille Keaton best known for her role as Jennifer Hills in the original I Spit on Your Grave and slated to star in its recently announced sequel has a bit part as a ‘girl in toilet’.

This film may be good for a few laughs on a bad 80’s movie night with friends, but the limited budget doesn’t allow it to distinguish itself from the myriad of other B-grade features that came out at the same time. The film’s one and only good moment comes during a scene at a bar where a fight breaks out and the naked lady stripper continues to dance on the bar top while remaining completely oblivious to the action around her.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Alternate Title: Kung Fu Cannibals

Released: July 9, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 26Minutes

Rated R

Director: Edward D. Murphy

Studio: American Panorama

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Hearse (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Haunted by a hearse.

Jane (Trish Van Devere) is recuperating from a nervous breakdown and decides to move away from the bustle of big city life into a home left to her from her recently deceased aunt, which is situated in a small town. Unfortunately things do not go smoothly. The townspeople are reticent to Jane’s presence and weird things begin to occur including a mysterious big, black hearse that appears late at night and seemingly intent on running Jane over.

I remember I first heard of this film when it was shown on Showtime during the early 80’s as part of their ‘After Hours’ films, which typically amounted to soft core sex flicks and gory horror. However, this film was only rate PG, which always made me wonder how ‘adult’ or scary could it really be.

To some degree this fares slightly better than the usual low budget horror flick at least at the beginning. There are some nice on-location shots of the San Francisco bay area and the main character is likable enough. The production values are decent and the story, as thin as it is, has a certain intriguing quality to it.

Van Devere makes for a strong female protagonist as she is quite practical and doesn’t allow herself to scare easily and seeing a female character that is confident and poised and not used simply as a sex object especially in these types of films is a refreshing change. After a while though I started to think that the character became a little too stubborn as there were so many bad things that started to occur that I think I would have left and not come back and the fact that she stays past when most other people wouldn’t makes her seem a bit irrational.

The atmosphere is minimal and the scares are almost non-existent and depend almost completely on a few doors slamming and windows bursting open for no reason. Moments of intruders breaking into the home and shots of their feet silently creeping up the stairs starts to become redundant and dull. A dream-like funeral sequence can’t save what is otherwise a slow moving plot. The ‘secret’ behind the hearse’s presence isn’t very imaginative and the film borrows too many elements from other cheesy haunted house films without adding anything unique or distinctive in the process.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 5, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated PG

Director: George Bowers

Studio: Crown International Pictures

Available: DVD (Drive-In Cult Classics Vol. 2)