Category Archives: Horror

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

The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: One body two heads.

Roger Girard (Bruce Dern) is a crazed doctor who secretly experiments on planting two heads on animals and has a lab full of these creatures, which he keeps hidden from his beautiful wife Linda (Pat Priest). Only his faithful assistant Max (Berry Kroeger) knows about the research and he makes sure no one else finds out about it. One day Dr. Girard decides to test out the procedure on a human by planting the head of a homicidal maniac (Albert Cole) onto the body of a mentally challenged adult (John Bloom) whose super strength makes him hard to control and things quickly get out-of-hand when the patient escapes and goes on a murderous spree.

What inspired screenwriter James Gordon White to write this story is a mystery, but it’s rather idiotic with no specific reason why Dr. Girard feels planting another head on an animal, or human, is a good idea. The music by John Barber is the worst part as there’s too much of it and the tone changes drastically like fiddling through a radio dial with most of the melodies sounding better suited for cartoons.

The bright, sunny southern California scenery, which was shot in Santa Clarita, is nice, but I didn’t know why it was all done in the daytime. Most horror movies are shot at night in order to have the darkness elevate the fear. The nighttime scene here was clearly done in the daylight with a darkened lens put over the camera to make it appear darker than it really is. Most films do this when they have children in the cast since there are laws preventing minors from working in films past a certain time, but this had an all adult cast and therefore no reason for it not to have night scenes done when the sun has actually set.

Bruce Dern’s presence is a surprise since he was already an established actor by this time and didn’t have to accept offers to be in this dreck simply to make a living. He was apparently given a check for $1,700 as his compensation, but when he went to the bank to cash it, it bounced. Even more surprising is in a recent interview when was asked what movie he regretted doing the most he mentioned Won Ton Ton the Dog Who Saved Hollywood instead of this one.

Casey Kasem’s wild ‘70s outfits and hairstyle make his appearance almost worth it and Pat Priest, best known as the second Marilyn from ‘The Munsters’ is an attractive asset. Berry Kroeger with his goofy facial expressions makes things fun as Dern’s assistant.

The sight of the 2-headed creature is odd to say the least and there were certain shots where I wasn’t quite sure how they pulled it off, which I suppose allows for some minor intrigue. Their contrasting personalities tough should’ve been played up more and had a ‘battle’ over which side controlled the body. This element gets improved a year later when the same screenwriter came out with The Thing with Two Heads that had the head of a white racist is put onto a black man’s body. The review for that film will be posted in…TWO days.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 28, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Anthony M. Lanza

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Motel Hell (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Farmer Vincent’s tasty fritters.

Vincent (Rory Calhoun) and his sister Ida (Nancy Parsons) run a motel out in the sticks, but their main income comes from Vincent’s delicious meat fritters that he sells to the community. No one knows that the meat is made from humans who he gets by setting traps on a nearby road that sends the vehicles of unsuspecting motorists careening out of control. Once the cars have crashed Vincent removes their bodies from the wreckage and plants them in his hidden garden while also severing their vocal chords, so they cannot yell for help. Then once they are ‘ripe’ he slices up their bodies and uses them for his product.

This is yet another rendition of Ed Gein, the Plainfield Wisconsin farmer who dug up dead bodies from a nearby graveyard and used them for all sorts of sick purposes. While there have been many other films on the topic this one nicely steps back from the shock angle and instead injects dark humor that manages to make the story both funny and involving.

The original script, which was co-written by two brothers, was darker and intended for Tobe Hooper to direct, but when he pulled out of the project and Kevin Connor was hired he insisted that all of the ‘crudeness’ be excised. The result is an agreeably quirky take on the Gein legend that lacks scares, but makes up for with style and atmosphere. I particularly enjoyed the bird’s eye view of Vincent’s and Ida’s backyard lake as well as the surreal-like hum of the sunlamps that Vincent shines on his human victims at night.

Aging cowboy star Calhoun does quite well and out of all the actors who’ve attempted to play Gein it’s Calhoun that actually comes closest to the way he really looked and spoke. The only problem was that he was clearly much older than both Parsons and Paul Linke who play his siblings and no explanation for why the parents would have kids so far apart, or even if that would be possible as in reality Calhoun was 20 years older than Parsons and 26 years older than Linke.

The climatic chainsaw duel, which was thought up at the last minute and took 5 12-hour days to film, is fun. The kinky couple (Elaine Joyce, Dick Curtis) who visit the motel under the mistaken impression it’s a hotbed for swingers and allow themselves to get tied-up thinking it’s all a part of a sex game are funny too in a film that manages to be quirky without ever getting too campy.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 24, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Kevin Connor

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The Hand (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He loses his hand.

Jon Lansdale (Michael Caine) is a gifted comic book illustrator who loses his hand in a freak car accident. They are unable to locate the missing limb at the scene and therefore unable to reattach, so he’s fitted with a prosthetic one made of metal. In the meantime the severed one goes on a murderous rampage killing all those that Jon has a problem with.

The film, which is based on the novel ‘The Lizard’s Tail’ by Marc Brandell, can best be described as an experimental horror and to some degree is quite intriguing. I liked the psychological subtext showing the hand as being a symbol to Jon’s subconscious and acting out the anger that he felt from others, but ordinarily too reluctant to do anything about. The story conveys a very universal message that we are in many ways two people, the one we choose to display to the world and the other more politically incorrect one that we try to hide from it.

Had it remained more on a subtle, intellectual side it might’ve worked, but showing the severed hand as much as it does is its biggest downfall. The scenes showing the hand strangling people looks quite tacky as instead of seeming like the victim is trying to pull the hand off of their throat it looks more like they are trying to hold it in place so it doesn’t fall off. It also brings up all sorts of unanswered questions like how is the hand able to move around so quickly and sneak inside buildings and cars and where does it get the strength to strangle people, or jump up to their throats when all the muscles connected to it have been severed away.

It would’ve worked better had the hand not been shown at all and kept a mystery as to what was causing the murders and then only at the end expose the hand as being the culprit, which would’ve made Jon’s final confrontation with it much more startling and impactful. An even better idea would’ve been to have the metal hand act as the one that does the killing since this one resembled Freddy Kruegar’s and looked far creepier.

Oliver Stone’s direction is interesting especially his technique of going from color to black and white and then back again, but the story drags on longer than it should and seems to give too much away. The twist at the end is great because it’s actually a logical one that makes perfect sense, but then at the last second Stone sells-out by throwing in tacky ‘second twist’ that is nothing but a gimmick that makes the whole thing seem too commercial.

On the acting side Caine is adequate, but I found his wavy hair far more fascinating than the hand and I especially enjoyed seeing how progressively disheveled it gets the more insane that he becomes. Andrea Marcovicci is standout as his wife. Initially I thought she was too young to play his spouse as there was a 16 year difference between the two, but her very expressive face particularly her blue eyes and the way it conveys fear helps heighten the suspense.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 24, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Oliver Stone

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Grizzly (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Grizzly bear attacks campers.

Inspired by an encounter that the film’s screenwriter Harvey Flaxman had with a grizzly while on a family vacation, the story centers on park ranger Michael Kelly (Christopher George) and his attempts to kill a giant grizzly bear that is attacking campers at a National Park in Georgia. Unfortunately his efforts are thwarted by park supervisor Charlie Kitteridge (Joe Dorsey) who refuses to close the place due to fear of negative publicity and invites in amateur hunters to find the bear that does nothing but create more chaos.

This is a blatant Jaws rip-off and follows the theme of that story quite closely including having three men team up to go after the bear just like the three men who hunted the shark and the impediment of a local political figure, which was a mayor in the Spielberg film and park supervisor here, whose concerns for lost revenue overshadows the obvious dangers to the tourists. At least in Jaws the characters were multi-dimensional while here they’re cardboard and Kelly’s confrontations with his supervisor are strained to the extreme.

The worst part is the killings which are some of the cheesiest you’ll ever see. A bear will attack someone and then in the next shot you’ll see an arm or leg flying through the air, or in Richard Jaekel’s case the head of the horse that he was riding on and then in the next shot a red paint splattered mannequin with a missing plastic limb. The tacky gore sends the film spiraling to such an amateurish level that the filmmaker’s would’ve been wise to have skipped these scenes altogether and simply kept things from the park ranger’s perspective who comes upon the bodies long after they’ve been attacked.

The story has no beginning, middle or end, but instead is just one long mechanical bombardment of pathetic special effects looped around the exasperated expressions of park rangers in their pursuit of the bear. The film also fails to sufficiently explain why the bear was in the forest when supposedly all had been removed, why he was so much larger than a regular bear or why one from the supposedly Pleistocene era would appear in this day and age and why he was behaving so strangely.

The park scenery, which was filmed in the autumn of 1975 near Clayton, Georgia is picturesque and probably the only good thing about the movie. It’s also nice that they used a real bear although he is clearly not a part of the actual attacks and much smaller than 15 feet, which is how the characters in the movie describe him, or 18 feet as he’s described in the film’s publicity poster. None of this though makes up for the film’s many lame elements, which are so bad it should be considered an extreme embarrassment to all those who were involved in the project.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 21, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: William Girdler

Studio: Film Ventures International

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video, YouTube

Hide and Go Shriek (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer in a warehouse.

Despite the film’s corny title this has rated well with users on IMDB, so I approached it with interest, but whatever it was that they were getting out of it I didn’t. The very basic premise deals with a group of teens who spend the night in a furniture warehouse to party. They play a game of hide-and-seek and soon one-by-one start disappearing only to later turn up dead. The elusive killer puts on the clothing of the last person that he’s killed and some start to believe that he may be Fred (Jeff Levine) the new security guard who is also an ex-con.

The approach is derivative and stays locked in the basic slasher film construct even though by the late ‘80s that formula was wearing thin and getting tweaked heavily by most other horror films that were being released at the same time making this one seem laughable contrived right from the get-go. The characters also reek of excessive ‘80’s fashions while having personalities that lack any distinction.

It was shot in an abandoned L.A. warehouse, but the filmmakers don’t take enough advantage of their setting and seem to only film things occurring in small areas of the place instead of trying to capture the entire inside of the building with long shots and bird’s eye views. The interiors are also quite shadowy and sometimes not easy to completely follow the action. One character, in an effort to look ‘cool’, wears dark glasses almost the whole time even though it takes place at night in an already darkened place making him seem crazier than the psycho killer.

The film has some unintentionally funny moments particularly the overreacting of the teens when they find their dead friend’s bodies especially their revulsion when one young woman (Annette Sinclair), who was tied up on top of a loft elevator, gets decapitated when the elevator goes up and her severed head comes crashing to the floor. I also got a kick at how they rip off the arms and legs from the mannequins to use as weapons, which seems absurd as they are made of plastic, don’t weigh much and would be very ineffective in any type of ‘battle’. I also liked the part where the teens, now locked inside the warehouse, madly pound on a storefront window to get someone’s attention, while a homeless guy, played by the film’s screenwriter Michael Elliot, merely waves back at them.

The ultimate identity of the killer is somewhat creative and actually even plausible, but his ability to wear the clothes of each of his victims makes no sense since all the teens have different body types so most of the outfits would not have fit. The film needed a killer with a distinct appearance and not just some shadowy figure lurking in the background like here, which is neither scary nor interesting.

If you enjoy original, quality cinema then this film is not for you. However, if you like cheesy, cardboard schlock with all sorts of clichés thrown in then this will be a perfect night of entertainment.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 1, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Skip Schoolnik

Studio: New Star Entertainment

Available: DVD (B/2), Blu-ray

The Killing Kind (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Always a good boy.

Terry (John Savage) is an angry man suffering from the inner torment of being sent to prison for a gang rape he was forced to participate in. Once he gets out he moves back in with his oppressive mother (Ann Sothern) who dotes over him and ignores all the troubling signs that he clearly displays. Instead of getting a job he spends his time exacting revenge on those who wronged him and then sets his sights on an attractive young lady (Cindy Williams) who has rented a room in his mother’s house. When Terry ends up murdering her his mother decides to help him cover it up because in her mind he will always be a ‘good boy’ no matter what he does.

The film is cheaply made with faded color, grainy film stock and an annoying humming sound that is apparent throughout, but Curtis Harrington’s direction gives it life and keeps you intrigued with its offbeat approach. It reminded me a lot of Paul Bartel’s Private Parts particularly with its emphasis on voyeurism especially how Terry secretly watches their tenant while the neighbor lady (Luana Anders) does the same to Terry.

Unfortunately there’s not enough of a payoff. The action is spotty and the gore is kept at a minimum. It starts right away with the gang rape, but then steps back with the shocks and pretty much implies all the other dark aspects of the story without showing it. The characters are molded into caricatures and more subtlety could’ve been used as to their intentions particularly the repressed neighbor lady blurting out her inner desires and thoughts to Terry without ever having spoken to him before.

Sothern is impressive especially since she was from Hollywood’s Golden Age and spent years working with sanitized scripts, so seeing her jump into such tawdry material with seemingly no hesitation is interesting. Savage’s performance I found to be frustrating as he seems to play the role like someone we should sympathize with, which is hard to do when he kills so many people.

Williams is the standout. Her murder scene is memorable as she struggles quite a bit and then forced to stay still in stagnant water with the same facial expression for several minutes. Later she’s shown lying in a junkyard as rats crawl over her, which proves she’s a dedicated to her craft to allow herself to go through that.

The ending fizzles and seems almost like a cop-out while not taking enough advantage of the other offbeat scenarios that it introduces. Had I directed it I would’ve done it differently. In my version the nosy neighbor lady, would threaten to go to the police about the crime, which she sees, but says she won’t if Terry, who had rejected her advances earlier, agrees to have sex with her. She then forces both his mother and her wheelchair bound elderly father (Peter Brocco) to watch, which would’ve given this potential cult classic the extra oomph to the dark side that it needed instead of coming tantalizingly close, but never truly delivering.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 23, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Curtis Harrington

Studio: Media Cinema Group

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Fatal Games (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Javelins can be deadly.

Student athletes with promising futures are suddenly turning up dead at the hands of a mysterious killer who pierces their bodies with a javelin that he is able to expertly throw from a far distance. Authorities fear that time is running out as more of them are killed and no witnesses or clues to identify the culprit.

Many consider this to be a rip-off of Graduation Day and while both films aren’t very good this one at least starts out better. I enjoyed the lighthearted comedy used at the beginning and how a formal dinner meeting turns into a big food fight and then a group tug-of-war. The film also keeps it realistic by showing the athletes actually training and conditioning.

In fact it really doesn’t start to go downhill until it reverts into a horror movie mode and dwells almost religiously in all the formulaic clichés seen in every other ‘80s slasher flick. The killings aren’t as novel as they sound and eventually become quite redundant. They are also lightly sprinkled in-between long, drawn out dramatic segments dealing with the characters relationship struggles and pressures to perform until you almost forget that this is supposed to be a slasher film at all. Most ‘80’s horror movies will have boring extraneous dialogue at the start to help create ‘character development’, but once the killings get going they will usually drop the other stuff and stick just to the scares while also picking up the pace, but this one just keeps the stale drama going, which along with its synthesized music score gives it a very amateurish quality.

The acting by the young cast isn’t as bad as the adult actors who speak like people under a trance. The film’s director Michael Elliot who plays a doctor who secretly gives them team members some ‘retardation shots’ (no joke that’s what they call it) and the movie’s screenwriter Christopher Mankiewicz who plays the coach give the two worst performances in the movie. Even Sally Kirkland, who plays the team trainer is bad and seems to be playing down to the level of the material.

The female cast is attractive and there is an abundance of nudity including one segment where the killer chases a fully nude Angela Bennett down the darkened hallways of the school. However, the film’s cute and perky star, Lynn Banashek, was too shy to take off her clothes and so in the scene where she gets a rub down by Kirkland scream queen Linnea Quigley was used as her body double.

The identity of the killer was a bit of a surprise and something I hadn’t expected and I’m pretty good about guessing these things, so in that regard it’s kind of original, but it’s still not worth sitting through as everything else is by-the-numbers.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: March 13, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Elliot

Studio: Impact Films

Available: VHS

Death Valley (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid tangles with psycho.

Before Peter Billingsley played Ralphie Parker he was Billy Stanton a 10 year-old-kid who gets shipped off to Death Valley with his mother (Catherine Hicks) and her new boyfriend (Paul LeMat) for a vacation. Once there he spots a sinister man (Stephan McHattie) driving around in a creepy old car. The man has just committed double homicide and fears Billy may have been a witness. Now he proceeds to silence the kid who proves to be surprisingly ingenious.

The screenplay was written by Richard Rothstein who later went on to write the script for Universal Soldier as well as producing the HBO anthology series The Hitchhiker. Apparently he came up with the concept for this story after vacationing in Death Valley and seeing a mysterious old car, the first car they had seen in miles, driven by an odd looking man. The story though is quite one-dimensional and offers little intrigue. It might’ve worked better had the killer’s identity and motivations been kept a mystery, or the viewer made to question whether Billy was just making the whole thing up.

Everything seems strangely sanitized particularly the killings which amounts to nothing more than a quick slash to the victim’s throats and it’s over. It was almost like they were trying to make a horror movie that was ‘kid-friendly’ or something that the ‘whole family could watch together’, which was a mistake. Having the protagonist as a kid instead of an adult doesn’t add any interesting perspective and the twist that comes at the end is not clever and something that I had actually predicted.

Hicks, in her film debut, is wasted and LeMat has about as much screen presence as your local garbage collector. Billingsley is cute, but he’s always put into a situation that he can figure his way out making the tension quite minimal.

The film was shot in Death Valley National Park, which allows for a stark ambience that doesn’t get taken advantage of enough. Director Dick Richards who burst onto the movie scene in the ‘70s with The Culpepper Cattle Company seems to have lost his way here. It could’ve been that after the financial failure of March or Die, which lost over 5 million at the box office, he was happy to get any film opportunity at all, but his heart was clearly not into this one and the result is a flatly told Hitchcock-like misfire .

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: January 22, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Dick Richards

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

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