Category Archives: Horror

Alligator (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Reptile in the sewer.

In 1968 a young girl (Leslie Brown) brings home a baby alligator, which she stores in her small aquarium, but her father decides to flush the thing down the toilet where in the sewer it feeds off the carcasses of dead animals which were given an experimental growth formula from a nearby clinic. 12 years later the alligator having ingested this formula for years has grown to massive lengths and escapes from the sewer where he now terrorizes the citizens of the city.

The screenplay was written by John Sayles and has a nice blend of comedy and scares. In most other horror films there are usually some long boring segments in between the shocks that get filled with awkward drama or banal dialogue, but here these same segments convey a playful sense of the absurd and are some of the best moments in the movie including showing all the street vendors who come out and try to cash in on the alligator scare by selling alligator related merchandise at the river where the police are searching for the beast. I also enjoyed the ad-libbed lines by the supporting characters mentioning Robert Forster’s receding hairline, which become the movie’s running joke.

The scares are still present and for the most part effective although the scenes inside the sewer work best. I liked the way the beams from the flashlights reflected off of the tunnel walls and created a surreal look as well as how quiet it would get when the police and S.W.A.T. went into the underground caverns, which helped accentuate the tension.

When the gator breaks out of the sewer is when the thing starts to go south especially when it attacks guests at a dinner party, which is too graphic and ghoulish and destroys the film’s otherwise playful tone. I also didn’t like when the alligator breaks through sidewalk having the camera shake, which is something directors would do in old movies to create an earthquake-like visual effect, but comes-off as quite tacky looking. Having the gator roam the city for as long as it does and not get caught seemed implausible as something that big would attract lots of attention no matter where it went and most likely would get cornered by the authorities a hell of a lot sooner than it does.

The film also suffers by not effectively conveying the size of the beast visually. We see a lot of quick shots involving its open mouth, but not much else. An animatronic one was built, but it malfunctioned and was little used and then later donated to the Florida Gators as their mascot. An actual gator got used in some shots, which they superimposed onto a miniature set to make it look bigger, but the final result of this looks awkward.

The truth is alligators are by nature very timid towards humans and will usually swim away if approached by one and only attack if they feel threatened. They prefer much smaller prey that they can eat with one gulp and thus avoid people altogether. It’s actually the crocodile that  is much more dangerous and in fact the saltwater and nile crocodile kills hundreds of people each year, which for the sake of accuracy should’ve been the species that got used.

I also thought it was a bit bizarre that someone could keep an alligator as a pet like the young girl does at the beginning. Now don’t get me wrong watching them flush the baby gator down a toilet is one of the best parts of the movie, but what would’ve happened had the gator been allowed to grow into an adult? How would they be able to house or control him, which only makes the father, who gets portrayed here as being obnoxious, look smart by getting rid of it when it was small and he still could.

The cast though still makes it worth watching. Forster is great in the lead as he plays against his stoic tough guy image by conveying vulnerabilities with his finest moment being the horrified expression on his face when his partner gets attacked and he’s unable to save him. I also liked Jack Carter as the corrupt Mayor and Dean Jagger, in his last film role, as the nefarious animal clinic owner. Angel Tompkins can be seen briefly as a news reporter as well as Sue Lyon in her last film appearance to date.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 14, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Lewis Teague

Studio: Group 1 International

Available: DVD

Razorback (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giant boar terrorizes outback.

Jake (Bill Kerr), who lives in the Australian outback, gets attacked one night by a giant razorback who takes off with his infant grandson. Jake is later accused as having made up the story as no one can believe that there could be a razorback of such mammoth proportions and yet Jake spends the rest of his life hunting after it and determined to get his revenge for what it did to his grandson. During his quest he meets up with Carl (Gregory Harrison) whose wife Beth (Judy Morris) was also killed by the same wild boar.

The film was directed by Russell Mulcahy, who rose to fame by directing many influential music videos and his unique visual style is what sets this film apart. The way he captures the vast, flat outback is stylish and the dream sequence out in the desert is both creepy and surreal. I also really enjoyed the part where the razorback tears apart a man’s house forcing him to helplessly watch as the part of the home with the TV, which he was watching, goes literally gliding away in front of him, which  may not be realistic, but a very funny image nonetheless.

The story though, which is based on the novel by Peter Brennan, is too indicative of other better known movies. It starts out with Jake going to trial over the death of his grandson and no one believing his account, which is loosely based on the Azaria Chamberlin incident who was an infant that got taken away by a dingo in 1980, but the public didn’t believe the story and accused the parents of killing the child instead. However, in this instance the razorback creates a giant hole in Jake’s house, which should be enough for most people to think that there might be something to what Jake was saying and makes the opening court room bit seem both protracted and unnecessary especially since he quickly gets acquitted anyways.

The second act resembles the film Wake in Fright as Carl and two other men go on a nighttime kangaroo hunt. It also examines the poor way Carl adapts to the rough nature of the outback men, which again seems too similar to the plot of the other film and really wasn’t needed since it slows up the pace, which needed more scares and appearances of the giant razorback that are completely missing during the middle part.

The third act comes off too much like Jaws, with Jake channeling Quint, which might’ve been alright as I found Jake’s rugged individualistic ways to be both endearing and amusing to the point that he could’ve been made the main character. However, is untimely demise is both graphic and cruel and gives the film an unnecessarily mean tone.

Having Carl single-handidly take on the razorback at the end while inside an abandoned warehouse is boring as it rehashes the man vs beast theme that’s been done many times before. I was actually more interested in seeing the townspeople work together to hunt down the boar, which is an idea that the film teases, but then ultimately sells-out on.

My biggest grievance though is the way the beast gets photographed. Supposedly a  giant animatronic model of the razorback was built at a cost of $250,000, but you never really see it. Shots of the beast are edited so quickly that you only get brief glimpses of the animal and never its whole body and no true idea of how big it really is. There’s also no explanation offered for  how it grew so big.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 19, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Russell Mulcahy

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Blu-ray (Region B/2, A/1), Amazon Video, YouTube

Massacre at Central High (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Destroy the social hierarchy.

David (Derrel Maury) is the new kid in school whose only friend is Mark (Andrew Stevens) because years earlier David helped protect Mark from a group of bullies. Now Mark has befriended a group of elitist friends who pick on the other students at the school and instructs David that he better do the same, but David resists, so the clique turns on him. This causes David to kill  the members of the clique off one-by-one in creative ways, but finds that the students who were once the meek victims of these bullies now become the new ones.

This film is a definite step above the usual horror flick and has managed to create, despite it’s limited availability, a strong cult following. Yet with that said it does have some major drawbacks. One is cinematic quality, which is quite grainy, faded, and dated with every shot reeking of a mid-70’s look. The music score is horrendous especially the opening song sung by Tommy Leonitti. In fact it’s so bad that director Rene Daalder, who had written a different score that better fit the mood of the film, but was rejected by the producer, refused to watch this movie for several decades because of it.

There’s also the issue, like in so many of these high school flicks, were the students look older than they should and in fact all of them were already in their early 20’s when this was filmed. Fortunately the setting was the senior high level, so the more mature body types aren’t quite as glaring as it could’ve been.

I felt though that despite being a bit too old for his part this was Andrew Stevens best performance to date. His career and the quality of the projects he’s been in have been quite erratic, but here he fits the role quite well and I enjoyed seeing his character’s arch go from passive middle-man to a reluctant hero although the scene where he confronts David begging him not to kill him even though David had no weapons at the time, was physically smaller and crippled by a bum leg, seemed a bit too wimpy. Stevens could’ve and should’ve beat up David at that point, or threatened to unless there was some reason why he never wanted to fight, which is never made clear.

I did like the killings particularly the hang glider death, which has a point-of-view shot where the viewer feels like they’re riding on the gliders alongside the characters. The transformation of the students from wimps to oppressors is what I enjoyed the most as it exposes the thin line between good guy and bad and how the circumstances of the situation dictate how people respond to either. It also reveals how behavior is greatly affected by one’s immediate environment and if that environment were to suddenly change different aspects of a person’s personality that have long been dormant, or repressed could suddenly come to the forefront. The fact that no adults are ever seen, at least not until the very end, was a cool touch too as it accentuates how in the adolescent world the adults are completely meaningless and it’s their peer group that’s the only thing that’s important, which makes this quite similar to Heathers of which this is considered a close cousin and even an inspiration to.

When the film was first released it got very little attention and was in and out of the theaters quite quickly and I believe a part of the reason for this is its title, which coneys too much of a mindless teen exploitation flick tone, which this really isn’t. While the film was being shot in went under the working title of ‘Incident at Foxdale High’, which to me was more subtle and intriguing. Whether this is also the reason why it has yet to get a well-deserved DVD/Blu-ray release I don’t know, but at some point one should be coming.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 10, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Rene Daalder

Studio: Brian Distributing

Available: VHS

When a Stranger Calls (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Babysitter receives harassing calls.

Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) gets asked by the Mandrakis (Rutayna Alda, Carmen Argenziano) to babysit their two children, who are already asleep, while they go out for the evening. While Jill is there she starts receiving harassing calls from an anonymous man asking about the children. Jill eventually calls the police who find out that the call is coming from inside the house, but fortunately the police arrive in time before the killer (Tony Beckley) can get to her. She recovers from the incident and moves on with her life by getting married and having two kids of her own only to find that the man has escaped from the mental hospital and coming after her again.

This is an extension to director Fred Walton’s 1977 short film The Sitter with the first 22-minutes almost the same as that one, but not quite. The opening bit is much better handled here with close-ups of a pendulum on a clock swinging back and forth and Jill hearing noises in the house only to find that it’s the ice dispenser in the refrigerator, which are all the scenes that were not in the first film. Kane is also a better actress and her ability to convey fear elicits more tension from the viewer, but I still found it annoying that she reiterates the same line that the babysitter in the first film did where she states to the police that she’s ‘all alone in the house’ when technically there’s supposedly two sleeping kids upstairs.

The second act is where this thing goes off on a wild tangent by focusing almost exclusively on the killer, whose name is Curt Duncan, as he attempts to survive on the streets in the most seedy part of the city while a police investigator named John Clifford (Charles Durning), who worked on the earlier case and is now a private investigator, is determined to kill Duncan for what he did to the two children. To some degree this is a refreshing change of pace as most horror films like to demonize the killer making him seem like a soulless monster who kills people robotically while here the psychopath is portrayed as a vulnerable and confused human tormented by inner demons that he cannot control.

Watching him try to form a bond with a woman (Colleen Dewhurst) that he meets at a bar simply for human contact is interesting because most psychos don’t just murder everyone they meet even though in a conventional horror flicks you’d get the impression that they do. In reality many of them can be married, hold down regular jobs and have what appears to be a normal life only to do their killings on the side and the film scores definite points by examining this aspect that we’re not used to seeing, but it also makes him less scary, which ultimately hurts the tension.

The biggest problem is that Jill the main character completely disappears for a whole hour only to reappear again at the very end, which is too long. If this is a person that the viewer is supposed to care about then she needs to be in the film a lot more possibly cutting back and forth between her recovering from the incident and meeting someone that she will marry while also going back to Duncan and what he’s doing instead of just exclusively concentrating on Duncan as it does.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending in which Duncan tracks Jill down and tries to kill her makes no sense at all. How did the killer, who has no money and is basically homeless, find out where she lived? She has gotten married and most likely a new last name, so just saying he found her address listed in a phone book doesn’t work. How did he know the phone number to the place where she was attending a dinner party and for that matter how was he able to break into her house undetected while squad cars were patrolling it? Better yet how was Charles Durning, who ends up shooting the guy, able to get into the house as just a few minutes earlier he was shown inside a hotel room? Why was the killer so obsessed with tormenting Jill anyways, which are all good questions that never get answered and leaves open too many plot holes to be fully effective.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 26, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Fred Walton

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Mother’s Day (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rednecks murder for mama.

Trina (Tiana Pierce), Abbey (Nancy Hendrickson), and Jackie (Deborah Luce) are three friends from college, who are now in the adult world but still enjoy getting together one weekend of the year for a ‘mystery trip’ where they go to some place they’ve never been before. This year they decide to take a camping trip into the dense woods of New Jersey. It is there that they come into contact with a redneck family consisting of two grown sons: Ike (Frederick Coffin, but billed as Holden McGuire) and Addley (Michael McCleery, but billed as Billy Ray McQuade) who kidnap the girls and bring them back to their secluded home where they torture and rape them all for the amusement of their twisted mother (Beatrice Pons, but billed as Rose Ross in order to avoid losing her actor’s union membership for starring in a non-union film.)

The film is loosely inspired by the true story of Gertrude Baniszewski, a single woman with 7 children living in Indianapolis in 1965 who got her kids to torture and murder a 14-year-old girl who was boarding at their home while her parents went off to work in a carnival. This same story was done in two other films: An American Crime starring Ellen Page, and The Girl Next Door with Blanche Baker. While both of those movies took a more serious approach this film tries to spin in goofy satire which kind of works and kind of doesn’t.

I enjoyed the graffiti sprayed painted on the walls inside the mother’s home and the silly TV references as well as the two sons arguing over the merits of  whether ‘Punk sucks’ or ‘disco’s stupid’, but the opening bit where the mother attends a weekend encounter group, which was a parody of The Erhard Seminars Training, which was popular during the 70’s, should’ve been cut. For one thing there’s no logical reason why this reclusive old woman would be motivated to attend this group. It also telegraphs too much of the plot by having her car break down and her two sons then jump out of the forest to kill two of the people that she had met at the seminar. Not having the mother and her boys introduced right away but waited until after the girls were kidnapped would’ve created more tension and mystery.

Spoiler Alert! 

The women characters are better fleshed-out than in most other slasher films and a great deal of time is spent showing their backstories. They’re also not made to seem like bimbo party girls, but portrayed more like everyday women who are smart and more average looking, which was a refreshing change of pace.

However, the ending, which consists of them turning-the-tables on their captors and savagely killing them doesn’t work. Had they still been held hostage and forced to kill in order to escape then it might’ve been more believable, but instead they successfully escape and then decide to come back and murder the family for ‘street justice’  after one of them dies. This though was too wide of arch as nothing is shown before hinting at this violent streak that harbors within them. Screenwriter Warren Leight tries to justify it by having the redneck mother remind Abbey of her obnoxious mother back home and thus letting out all of her pent-up frustrations that she with her own mother onto the old woman, but it’s all still too extreme and heavy-handed.

End of Spoiler

Despite all of these issues I still felt this was a step above most other slasher flicks. There’s enough interesting elements to it that I was convinced that director Charles Kaufman, who is the brother of Troma President Lloyd Kaufman and not to be confused with the famous screenwriter with the same name, had the potential of being a good cult film director, but since 1988 he is no longer in the filmmaking business and instead runs the successful bakery Bread & Cie in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 19, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Charles Kaufman

Studio: United Film Distribution Company

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

 

Creepshow (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Five stories of horror.

This film was the collaboration of Stephen King, making his screenwriting debut, and George Romero, who filmed the entire thing in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with many of the scenes done in an abandoned boy’s school. The production was a homage to the horror comics like ‘Tales of the Crypt’ and ‘The Vault of Horror’, which were published between 1950 and 1955 before being shutdown because they were considered ‘dangerous’ to the well being of children and contributing to juvenile delinquency.

The script consists of five stories with the emphasis more on camp than terror and outside of the cool comic book effects fall pretty much flat.  The first story entitled ‘Father’s Day’  comes off more like a one-joke skit and deals with an adult daughter (Viveca Lindfors) who kills her obnoxious father (Jon Lormer) on his birthday with an ashtray and then years later visits him at his grave site where his corpse comes back to life.

The second story entitled ‘The Lonesome Death of Jody Verrill’ should’ve been extended out more as it has some intriguing possibilities to it. It consists of a redneck (played with campy glee by Stephen King) who finds a meteor that’s landed in his backyard, but realizes to his horror that everything it touches grows a greenish foliage including on himself.

‘Something to Tide You Over’ is the third entry and it’s about a man (Ted Danson) being buried alive in the sand and then drowning as the tide rolls in. It’s shot in a way where the viewer sees the water rushing in from the victim’s point of view, which gives it a frightening quality, but suffers from having the victim  too easily lead into the trap and a twist ending that involves a metaphysical phenomenon, but with no suitable explanation for how it could’ve occurred.

‘The Crate’ involves an arctic monster being found inside a crate that was underneath a college stairwell. One of the professors (Hal Holbrook) uses this monster as a way to kill his obnoxious wife (Adrienne Barbeau), but the logic on this one is loopy. First how was the monster able to survive four decades inside a box without any food or water? Having him encased in a block of ice and then unfrozen would’ve been a little more plausible, but the story is further hampered by the casting of Barbeau, who’s too young for the part, which would’ve been better suited for a fat old bitty that was more Holbrook’s age. The biggest question though is why would Holbrook bank on the idea that the monster would kill his wife and not attack him first and why would the wife, or anyone with half a brain, be dumb enough to get tricked into driving all the over to the college campus and then crawling under the stairwell to begin with as the reason he gives her to do it is pretty dumb.

‘They’re Creeping Up on You’ has the most potential and a fun performance by Marshall, but ultimately gets botched. It’s about a rich Howard Hughes-like billionaire (E.G.Marshall) who lives alone in this fancy, hermetically sealed penthouse that gets overrun with cockroaches. Watching the roaches crawl around is creepy and apparently over 20,000 of them were used. Yet having them pile onto each other until they create a roach-like mountain loses the effect, many of them weren’t even roaches by this point but instead nuts and raisins. This segment would’ve been better had it been a fancy penthouse with all the elaborate furniture trappings as King intended instead of a white room with barely nothing in it. This story also features a dead body, which clearly looks like a wax dummy that ultimately ruins the intended effect.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 12, 1982

Runtime: 2 Hours

Rated R

Director: George A. Romero

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

The Final Conflict (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Monks battle the Antichrist.

Damien (Sam Neill) is now appointed the US ambassador to England the position his adoptive father once held before he died. He uses this position as well as being the CEO of Thorn Industries to try to halt the Second Coming of Christ, which happens on March 24, 1981 during the alignment of stars known as the Cassiopeia Constellation, but problems occur when they don’t know which child it is. This causes him to order his assistant Harry Dean (Don Gordon) to kill each child born in England between midnight and 6 AM of that day unaware that Dean’s own child was also delivered between those hours and this secret he tries to keeps from Damien until it is too late.

This third entry is an improvement over the second film as it pushes the plot progression forward and enters in all sorts of interesting new wrinkles. The budget is high and allows for different setting locals including a genuine fox hunt, which I found entertaining. Neill plays the part pretty well and unlike in the first two is sinister throughout with his best part coming when he gives a prayer to the devil in a secret room next to a giant crucifix. The film also has a scene that reveals a secret underground movement of devil worshipers, which is made up of hundreds of ordinary, everyday people who get together at a secret, hidden location and take orders directly from Damien. This helps to explain where these people came from who help Damien in his cause, which is  something that was never shown in the second installment, but should’ve.

It also continues the trend of having novel deaths occur including a graphically brutal one that happens inside a TV studio that apparently due to its complexity took two weeks to film. However, the intended shock effect from these, that was so strong in the first film, gets lost here. Instead of being horrifying they become almost laughable especially since they mainly occur to the monks who are each given one of the seven daggers to kill Damien with, but they are so incompetent  that it becomes more like comic relief.

The killing of the infants, which Damien’s followers carry out, are equally goofy and include a segment where a baby carriage with the baby inside rolls down a hill, which will do nothing but remind cinephiles of the famous scene in the classic Russian film Battleship Potemkin. I was also confused during the baptism scene where the Priest supposedly kills the child while baptizing it with water, but it’s not clear what he does as we only see the shocked expression of the mother when he hands the baby back to her, which only creates more questions than answers. Like wouldn’t the priest get arrested for killing the child since he did it in front of so many witnesses and if so wouldn’t he unravel during the subsequent police interrogation and reveal Damien’s plot to them?

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s biggest letdown though comes with its ending. Initially it seemed that Harry and his wife would be forced to go on the run to hide their infant from Damien, which could’ve involved a very exciting cross-country chase, but the film ruins this potentially interesting idea by having the mother get brainwashed by the devil dog to kill the baby herself.  It then ends instead where Damien travels to some church ruins where the Christ child is being hidden, but we never see the baby and no explanation for how it was able to avoid being killed by Damien’s followers. The novel version explains that it was born to a family of gypsies and therefore no record of its birth was made to the authorities, but this is something that should’ve been stated in the movie.

Having his girlfriend Katherine (Lisa Harrow) stab Damien in the back with one of the daggers comes off as being too easy and ultimately makes the climax seem anti-climactic especially after such a big buildup. It also gives off too much of a happy ending feel. This is after all still a horror movie and therefore the viewer should be left it with a certain unsettling feeling when it’s over, which this film doesn’t do.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 20, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Graham Baker

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Damien: Omen II (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Damien learns his destiny.

After the death of his adoptive parents, Damien (Jonathan Scott-Taylor) moves in with his Uncle Richard Thorn (William Holden) and his wife Ann (Lee Grant) in Chicago. Thorn is a rich industrialist and Damien lives a privileged life in the suburbs of Chicago alongside his cousin Mark (Lucas Donat), who is set to be heir to his father’s company, but first the two boys are sent off to the military academy. It is there that Damien learns that he is the Antichrist and puts a plan in place where he can kill off Mark and his parents so that he can take over Thorn industries and use it for his nefarious purposes.

It’s unfortunate that David Seltzer, who wrote the script to the original Omen film, choose not to pen this one and instead Harvey Bernhard the film’s producer outlined the story and then hired Stanley Mann to write the script, but the plot is basically a retread of what occurred in the first one with the father this time played by Holden, going through the same realizations that Gregory Peck did in the original, while offering no surprises or interesting twists. Had Seltzer written it he would’ve had it begin where the first one ended with Damien inside the White House having been adopted by the President and his wife, which would’ve offered far more intriguing scenarios than anything that gets played-out here.

The film also suffers from having Damien, much like in the first one, not being all that scary or mean at least not at the beginning. For the most part he behaves like a nice kid. The scene where he takes revenge on a bully at the academy actually had me on his side as well as when he shows-up a teacher in front of the class by knowing all the answers. Having an aunt character, played by Sylvia Sidney, despise him and consider him a ‘bad influence’ doesn’t help things as this is something that the viewer needs to see for themselves and not just have described by another character.

The characters played by Robert Foxworth and Lance Henriksen, who know about Damien’s secret and essentially ‘groom him’, is confusing because it’s never explained how these men would know this, or what their backgrounds are. If there’s a group of devil worshipers out there, or demons sent directly from hell in human form to help Damien in his evil quest than this needs to be elaborated instead of just having them appear knowing things that no else does, but without any explanation.

Like in the first one it’s the death scenes that make it worth watching and there are a few good ones including one that occurs under the ice of a lake and another very gory one that happens inside an elevator, but there’s also some where the victim just falls over dead due to Damien’s powers, which is a letdown. If the film is going to market itself on the death scenes then ALL of them need to be creative and memorable and not just a cherry-picked few.

The pristine, white wintry landscape is nice, although not exactly suitable for a horror film, and I did enjoy Lee Grant who plays the wife role in a far more multi-dimensional way than her counterpart Lee Remick did in the first one, she even gives the film its one unexpected wrinkle, which occurs at the end, but otherwise there’s nothing much else to get excited about here. In between the death there are a lot of boring segments with no tension at all. The movie, which is a bit overlong, does not have the terror increase as it progresses, but instead just gets more drawn-out.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 5, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Don Taylor

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The Omen (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s the devil’s child.

Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) is an American ambassador living in London who learns that his wife Katherine (Lee Remick) has given birth to a stillborn child. One of the priests at the hospital suggest that he take a newborn whose mother has just died during childbirth and treat it like it were his own, which he does, but without telling Katherine. When they take the child home things start out fine, but eventually a series of strange deaths begin to occur to the people around them convincing the couple that their child may possess some sort of dark power as unbeknownst to them he is the son of the devil.

Considered at the time to be a rip-off of The Exorcist, whose success many other studios were hoping to replicate, this film has managed to rise above the rest of the tacky satanic themed films of that decade and in the process has created a franchise of its own that at this point has spawned 3 sequels, 1 remake, 5 novels, and even a TV-series. While the story does border on being unintentionally campy at many points it still succeeds due to the death scenes that many consider the best moments of the film, but for me the creepiest part is when they go into the small, dingy room of the priest who has every inch of the walls covered with pages of the bible.

The film’s weakest link is the child who’s given only a few words of dialogue making his presence transparent and not frightening at all. If this kid is from hell then he should behave like it by doing mean things that the Patty McCormack character did in The Bad Seed, but he doesn’t and with a few exceptions he behaves pretty much like a normal kid, which ultimately makes him uninteresting.

Spoiler Alert!

While Peck is solid I felt his character arch was too wide as he starts out as a non-believer, or at least we can assume this since he doesn’t take his kid to church until he is already 5, who goes from  being skeptic to paranoid believer too quickly. Having him start out as devoutly religious would’ve made his transition less extreme and might not have required the David Warner character, who ends up ‘educating’ Peck about Damian, being needed at all.

Remick, whose only facial expression is that of panic,  is equally one-dimensional and genuinely wasted. I also felt the scene where she gets knocked off the chair that she is standing and then literally leap frogged over the railing was too exaggerated as she most likely would’ve just fallen onto the upstairs floor instead. Seeing the later shot of her crashing through the roof of an ambulance gets too underplayed by showing only a small trickle of blood coming from her mouth when in reality her entire face would’ve been mangled, but isn’t

Billie Whitelaw as the sinister nanny Mrs. Baylock is terrific and helps add underlying tension, but I felt she should’ve come better prepared to protect the child. Granted she had a guard dog, but there needed to be another weapon at her disposal like a rifle that she could’ve used against Peck when he tried to take the child instead of just throwing herself at him physically in a desperate attempt to stop him, which nonetheless is still a great moment as it’s so rare to see a woman and a man going at it in a physical altercation while on equal footing, which should’ve been enough reason to have this scene extended out even more.

Ultimately though it’s Richard Donner’s outstanding direction and the way he implements interesting touches that keeps this thing engaging throughout instead of being laughable, which it could’ve easily have become otherwise. While it’s been many years since I saw the 2006 remake, and I can’t remember it in much detail, I did come away feeling this one was the better version and infinitely superior to its two sequels, which will be reviewed later today.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 25, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 51 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Donner

Studio: 20th Century Fox

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

Savage Intruder (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Aging actress employs psycho.

Katharine Packard (Miriam Hopkins) was once a famous actress, but is now largely forgotten and lives like a recluse in her decaying Hollywood mansion. One day while drunk she falls down the stairs and breaks her hip. Vic (David Garfield) a unemployed vagabond who enjoys cutting off women’s hands after witnessing his mother (Sybelle Guardino) having sex with 5 different men at the same time when he was a child, gets hired as a nurse to help her get around while her hip recovers. Katharine enjoys having a young man around while Vic uses her lust for attention to manipulate her out of her money and live a more privilege lifestyle than he would otherwise. However, Leslie (Gale Sondergaard), who works as Katharine’s personal secretary, is onto what Vic is doing and becomes determined to put a stop to it.

This obscurity does at least offer the chance to see Hopkins, a one time big star of the 30’s and 40’s and at one point a rival to Bette Davies, in her last screen appearance and despite the tawdry material she really puts a lot of energy into it and her presence makes it more fun than it should. Sondergaard, who came out of a 20 year film hiatus to star in this, is quite good too and looks almost like a much scarier version of Morticia from ‘The Addams Family’, especially with her hair down.

David Garfield, who was the son of legendary actor John Garfield, is the only casting choice that doesn’t work. He lacks the same acting skill of his father and comes off like he was stoned and barely into his part at all. His one-dimensional character is dull and why anyone would hire him to take care of an old lady when there’s so many red flags about him right from the start makes the script seem very poorly thought out.

Donald Wolfe, who’s best known for writing a biography of Marilyn Monroe as well as an in depth look at the Black Dahlia murder, lends some interesting touches in his one and only directorial feature. His best bit comes right at the start where the camera captures the Hollywood sign real close-up, focusing on how rusted and tattered it was with no music and only a howling wind blowing while the opening credits appear onscreen.

The violence is more graphic and bloody than you’d expect for a film from that time period, so gorehounds may rejoice, but it also becomes quite redundant as the only thing you ever see are women’s hands getting caught off again and again. The story also lacks any interesting twists and plays itself out in a painfully predictable way with characters that are too dense to figure out what’s going on even after the viewer has already caught on to things way earlier. Shooting it on-location at the sprawling estate of former silent film actress Norman Talmadge is not effective as it doesn’t take full advantage of the large, majestic home by only managing to capture a few of the rooms and doing it with dark, dingy lighting, which despite a few flashes of flair here and there help to ultimately make this a very boring and thankless viewing experience.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 4, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Donald Wolfe

Studio: JBA

Available: None at this time.