Category Archives: Horror

Gremlins (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t get them wet.

During his travels through China gadget salesmen Randall (Hoyt Axton) spots a furry little creature called a mogwai at a Chinese antique shop run by Mr. Wing (Keye Luke) and decides to purchase it as a Christmas present for his teenage son Billy (Zach Galligan). The mogwai, which they name Gizmo, comes with three simple rules that must never be broken. The first is that the creature must never be exposed to sunlight or bright lights of any kind, he must never get wet or be given water and most importantly he should never be fed after midnight. Unfortunately all three of these rules end up getting broken and the result is the creation of ugly little monsters called gremlins that create havoc and destruction on a peaceful town during Christmas Eve.

The concept is great with a nice mix of horror and dark comedy and I loved the idea of having this Norman Rockwell small town besieged with an ugly underbelly. The creatures look amazingly real and Gizmo is especially cute with special effects that are both creative and effective.

However, in the filmmaker’s effort to be humorous and ‘clever’ the film goes off-the-beam a bit by adding in stuff that isn’t logical and hurts the plot’s overall integrity. I didn’t get where these monstrous gremlins were finding all these hats and clothes that they are seen wearing nor how they were able to read signs, or know how to drive vehicles. Their tiny arms would be too small to be able to hold a chainsaw let alone run it and if you look closely during the bar scene you can see that the beer mugs that they are holding have been miniaturized in order to conform to the dimensions of the puppet. Also, the part where Gizmo gets into a remote controlled toy car and ‘drives’ it makes no sense since they are solely powered by a remote run by someone else that is not present.

Since water is the basic fluid for the survival of most living organisms it was peculiar that this one couldn’t be given any. What liquid was he supposed to drink instead? If he can’t eat after midnight then when exactly can he eat  since theoretically any time is after midnight whether its 3 AM or 3 PM. To me though the dumbest part is when Gizmo’s original owner Mr. Wing reappears at Billy’s and Randall’s home looking to take the creature back, but how would he know where to locate Randall as he left him no address and the film makes it seem that somehow he walked all the way from orient to get there, which is really dumb.

The film was also in its day considered quite controversial since it features a scene where Billy’s mother (Frances Lee McCain) traps one of the gremlins in a microwave and then heats it up until it explodes, which many people considered ‘too violent’ for a PG film and it helped to usher in the PG-13 rating. To me I felt this scene was actually the best moment in the movie as it’s the one part where it actually becomes like a horror film and has some genuine tension.

Dick Miller is fun as a maintenance man who despises foreign made products and Polly Holliday is equally amusing as a scrooge-like landlord whose over-the-top death is a highlight. I also liked Hoyt Axton as the father, but the running joke dealing with all of his inventions and gadgets that constantly breakdown gets old real fast and I was confused how he was able to afford such a nice big house when he made such a menial living trying to sell things that nobody wanted and didn’t work.

This also marks the last acting appearance of two great character actors, which include Scott Brady who is amusing as the alcoholic sheriff who refuses to believe that a bunch of gremlins are on the loose until it’s too late. Many consider this to be Edward Andrews, whose role here as the bank manager was greatly reduced when the runtime was trimmed by over 50 minutes for the final cut, last onscreen appearance as well even though Sixteen Candles, where he had a much more prominent role, was filmed later, but released to theaters earlier.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 8, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joe Dante

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

The Arousers (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10       

4-Word Review: He suffers from impotence.

Eddie (Tab Hunter) is a good-looking high school athletic coach who is a magnet to the young southern California women that inhabit the area. Unfortunately Eddie cannot perform in bed and the stress and shame that he feels because of this causes him to murder the women that he attracts.

The original title for this film was Sweet Kill, which I liked better, but because it did not make any money at the box office it got reissued as The Arousers, with nude scenes of voluptuous women added in, which doesn’t really improve it. The film is indeed pretty slow, but I still found it strangely captivating. The story has a real-time approach with more emphasis on seeing the characters as real people than on the chills or shocks. Charles Bernstein’s acoustic musical score is excellent and helps build the tension by being soft at the beginning to the point of barely being detected and then becoming increasingly more present as the film progresses.

Hunter’s excellent performance is not only the best of his career, but one of the better psycho’s in horror film history. The way his eyes glare with evil is impressive and the film makes attempts to show the character’s frustration at suffering from inner shame and not just a one-dimensional killer.

It’s great that the film brings out an important social issue, which at the time was still quite taboo and not at all talked about. Unfortunately the story makes no attempt to explain the cause. Impotence can be caused by many different factors, so the character didn’t necessarily need to be pinpointed with one, but more of a background would’ve helped the viewer understand his inner demons better.

The killings themselves aren’t interesting and the story is too one-sided as we see everything from the killer’s perspective where the tension would’ve been heightened had there been a side-story dealing with a police investigator on his trail. The ending offers no payoff outside of seeing Hunter give off a menacing scowl that rivals Jack Nicholson’s from The Shining. The movie also offers a glimpse of Angus Scrimm, who later became famous for playing The Tall Man in Phantasm, in his film debut.

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Alternate Title: Sweet Kill

Released: May 15, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Rated R

Director: Curtis Hanson

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD

Trick or Treats (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid terrorizes his babysitter.

Linda (Jacqueline Giroux) gets a job as a babysitter to a bratty kid named Christopher (Chris Graver) who spends the entire night scaring her out of her wits with a relentless barrage of practical jokes. Unfortunately there is an even more sinister threat out there in the form of Chris’s long lost father Malcolm (Peter Jason) who has escaped from a nearby mental institution, where he was wrongly committed by Chris’s evil mother Joan (Carrie Snodgress) so she could be with her new boyfriend Richard (David Carradine). Malcolm has spent 15 years with a pent up rage and plans on taking it out on anyone that he finds inside the home.

First we’ll get to the two parts about this mess of a film that I liked. The scene where Malcolm gets accosted by two men from the mental hospital isn’t bad. The idea that two muscle bound hunks would drive over from the nearby sanitarium and strap on a strait-jacket with no questions asked to someone that the wife conveniently wants to get out of her life is ridiculous of course, but I liked the way the Malcolm character fights back and puts up quite a feisty effort to escape from them, which is interesting because so many horror movies never show the victim putting up much of a struggle. I also enjoyed the brief bits with Steve Railsback as an insecure actor getting ready to play Othello. Railsback hasn’t been known for his comic skills, but he proves quite amusing here.

The rest of the movie is as bad as any movie ever made and easily ranks in the top three of worst moves I have had the displeasure of seeing in my lifetime. Not only is there no horror, but the attempts at employing some misguided humor is even worse. The scenes inside the mental hospital are particularly lame and the kid, who was the son of the director, gets really annoying. The babysitter proves to be no better as she stupidly falls for his dumb practical jokes too many times until you start rooting for the killer to off her along with the stupid kid.

The film was written and directed by Gary Graver who had worked closely with Orson Welles as his cameraman during many of his later projects. Here though he proves to have no talent at all and this would be considered a complete embarrassment to even a novice filmmaker, which is probably why he ended up directing only porno movies after this. The most horrifying thing about it is having to sit through it and it in no way deserves the Blu-ray release that it got especially when there is so many better movies out there that have yet to get one.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: October 29, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Gary Graver

Studio: Lone Star Pictures International

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Final Terror (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer in the woods.

A group of young forest rangers go camping out in the woods only to find themselves quietly stalked by a menacing presence. When some of them go missing and then turn up dead they become convinced that it was caused by Eggar (Joe Pantoliano) a member of the group who was kicked-out for his anti-social behavior, but the killer may actually be more evasive than they thought and somehow able to track them down no matter where they try to go.

The film takes a different approach to most other ‘80s horror flicks in that it emphasizes the tension instead of the shocks or gore, which might’ve worked had the story been better plotted and the characters more rounded. As it is though it comes off like a weak rip-off to Deliverance and nothing more.

The characters are less cardboard here, but the viewer is still forced to slog through a lot of formulaic stuff that seems to have to appear any scary movie dealing with campers including the tacky ghost story told around a campfire, which in this case is even cornier than usual. The opening sequence, which was filmed later after the rest of the movie had already been shot and done by a different director, is completely pointless and should’ve been discarded.

The biggest issue I had though with the movie is that you barely ever see the killer. In fact out of its entire runtime you probably only see the killer’s figure for less than a minute. When you do spot him he comes off looking like a giant human-sized fur ball made by Stan and Marty Kroft for one of their Kroft Superstars show.

The acting is okay and much of the cast went on to have distinguished careers including Daryl Hannah and Rachel Ward who both look beautiful and should’ve been given more to do. Since this was filmed in 1981 it is technically Adrian Zmed’s film debut who manages to do a pretty good howl.

The music, which was inspired by Billy Idol’s ‘White Wedding’ has a good funky beat and the killer’s ultimate demise is well shot, but overall it’s rather lame with not enough to distinguish it from slew of other slasher films already out there. I also thought the title was stupid. Just exactly what is so final about this terror? It never gets explained or addressed and was apparently just tacked on once they found a distributor 2 years after it was already shot. The original working title was ‘Bump in the Night’, which would’ve been better.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 1, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Rated R

Director: Andrew Davis

Studio: Aquarius Releasing

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video 

Midnight (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Horror hostess is goofy.

Midnight (Lynn Redgrave) is a Goth dressing host of a late night TV-show where she rises from a coffin to help introduce a bad B-movies. She has managed to attain a strong cult following and Mr. B. (Tony Curtis) the head of the TV-station where she works wants her to sign over the syndication rights, but she continually refuses. She then meets Mickey (Steve Parrish) and the two get into a relationship, but when he proves to be unfaithful dead bodies begin turning up including that of Mr. B.’s. Is Midnight the killer, or is she being framed by someone else lurking in the shadows?

There are a few snappy lines here and there, but overall this thing is a complete bore and too poorly paced to be entertaining. The film shifts so clumsily between comedy, satire and horror that it becomes hard to figure what audience the filmmakers where attempting to draw-in.

Redgrave’s send-up of Elvira and Vampira misses the mark completely. The wacky outfits that she wears is indeed eye-catching, but the camp level gets played up too much and the fact that she continues to display the same goofy persona that she has in front of the camera even while at home gets overdone and eventually quite annoying.

Curtis is far more entertaining and should’ve been giving a larger role. His hanging death in which he struggles in mid-air with a rope around his neck is actually impressive, but I did spend most of the film thinking about the white mop that was on top of his head and wondering if it was his real hair, or a wig. Parrish, as the young love interest, is thoroughly dull and drains what little energy this film has right out with his presence.

The strangulation death that occurs under water deserves some merit and I did enjoy the exteriors of Mr. B’s mansion as well as Midnight’s, but the attempts to satirize the behind-the-scenes wheeling’s-and-dealings of the entertainment world fall horribly flat and eventually becomes a joke onto itself.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: July 5, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated R

Director: Norman Thaddeus Vane

Studio: Kuys Entertainment Group

Available: VHS

Night School (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: They lose their heads.

All across the city of Boston young women are being attacked by a leather clad helmet wearing motorcyclist who hacks off their heads and then discards them in provocative places. Lt. Judd Austin (Leonard Mann) is on the case, but is finding few clues. Since the majority of the victims are coeds attending a local college he decides to interview the anthropology professor (Drew Snyder) who has been known to have affairs with many of them, which places him high on the suspect list as well as the fact that his studies deal with ancient tribal rituals of decapitations.

This is more of a police drama than an actual horror film as a lot of time gets spent on Mann interviewing suspects and tackling potential leads. Unfortunately he’s no Columbo as his personality is quite bland and his investigating leads nowhere making the majority of the movie plodding and uneventful.

Rachel Ward, in her film debut, is the best thing about the movie and helps elevate it somewhat with her effective performance. Director Ken Hughes attempts to add some style to it with a more orchestral sounding score and a nice backdrop of Boston’s older neighborhoods, which is good, but the script lacks punch. The special effects are not realistic and cut away before much is seen. Certain scenes like when a woman gets attacked behind a closed door and the viewer is left to hear the strange noises that she makes comes off more as unintentionally funny than horrifying.

The ultimate identity of the killer is somewhat creative although with 20 minutes to go I had already figured it out. The twist that comes after it I had also caught on too, so there really aren’t many surprises here for the observant viewer in what is yet just another would-be ‘80s slasher wanna-be that adds little to the already overcrowded genre.

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My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: September 11, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ken Hughes

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video

Bloody Birthday (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sociopathic children become murderers.

Three children (Billy Jacoby, Elizabeth Hoy, Andrew Freeman) who were born during a solar eclipse become cold-blooded killers ten years later. The reason is because during their births the sun and moon blocked Saturn, which is the planet for emotions, so they’re devoid of any feelings and kill for the pure enjoyment of it and even proudly keep a scrapbook filled with newspaper articles of their dirty deeds. Because they’re just children nobody believes that they’re the actual culprits to the rash of murders that are happening. Only Timmy (K.C. Martel) and his older sister Joyce (Lori Lethin) are on to them, but can they get the rest of the town to believe them before it’s too late?

Minor, but still watchable horror outing requires the viewer to buy into the astrology nonsense in order to enjoy it, but manages to be paced well enough to remain mildly entertaining. The murders aren’t too gruesome and if it weren’t for an abundance of nudity, which includes actress Julie Brown fully in the buff, this could’ve been a TV-Movie where it might’ve fared better.

The kids are fun as the killers. Both Hoy and Jacoby have a good menacing quality to their facial expressions, which helps. Jacoby, who now goes by the last name of Jayne, has an older brother Scott who already played a similar psycho kid in Rivals.

The murders are okay, but cannot hold up to even minor scrutiny.  The kids kill the sheriff (Bert Kramer) by bashing him over the head with a baseball bat and then try to make it look like it was an accidental fall, which would’ve only caused one blow, but an autopsy would’ve confirmed several blows and the freak accident theory would’ve immediately crumbled. The idea that such a small girl would be able to effectively use a bow-and-arrow is not believable and the opening sequence features a young couple who decide to go into a hole in the ground to make-out, but how many real-life couples would consider jumping into a dirt hole to be sexy or romantic?

I found the Joyce character to be annoyingly goody-goody, but was still impressed with her resourcefulness. The entire scenario though goes on too long and becomes derivative with a twist ending that’s only marginally acceptable. The film also offers familiar faces in small, pointless bits including Jose Ferrer, Susan Strasberg, and Joe Penny.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 28, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 24Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ed Hunt

Studio: Judica Productions

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Don’t Go in the House (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He burns his victims.

Donny (Dan Grimaldi) is a grown son living at home with his mother (Ruth Dardick) and suffering from the nightmares of his childhood where she would routinely burn his arms on an open flame every time he misbehaved. When she dies he decides to use his new found freedom to pick-up women at random, bring them back to his place and then burn them to death with his blow torch. Afterwards he dresses the corpses up, puts them into a bedroom where he routinely visits them and has ‘conversations’.

The film uses its low budget to great effect by becoming a grainy, starkly realized journey into a madman’s mind. The large, rundown 21-bedroom home that Donny lives in and has now become the Strauss Mansion Museum in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey offers a terrific backdrop. The decayed, rundown interior becomes a motif to Donny’s deteriorating mind. The faded color matches the grim subject matter and even the sound, which has a constant popping noise like it was taken from a corrupted tape, gives off an eerie feeling like listening to muffled dialogue from a secret, underground source. The cold, gray, wintery landscape adds even more to the bleak ambience.

Director Joseph Ellison seems intent on forcing the viewer to get inside the killer’s head and understanding things from his point-of-view. Instead of having a robotic, evil killing machine we get an overgrown man-child, so tormented from his upbringing that he is unable to know right-from-wrong and burns his victims under a misguided notion that it is somehow ‘cleansing’ them from their sins. The surreal dream done along a lonely beach in which Donny sees his victims come back to life and who drag him down a hole is well captured with just the right amount of atmosphere that easily makes it the best moment in the movie.

Some viewers have found the scene where Donny burns a woman alive inside a metal room while she dangles from a rope to be ‘repugnant’ and ‘going too far’ and has helped the movie achieve a notorious reputation. The scene though is really not all that graphic. We never see the victim actually burned just the lighted blow torch coming towards the screen and then it cuts away. The masks worn by the burn victims isn’t any different from those worn by dead decomposed bodies in other films, so it’s really more what’s implied that upsets some people than what is actually shown.

The film’s only real drawback is that it is much too similar to William Lustig’s Maniac that starred Joe Spinell and came out at around the same time. Both film’s deal with killer’s that have a severe mother complex, hear voices inside their heads, dress the bodies of their victims up, store them in their homes, have ‘conversations’ with them and even harbors visions of them coming back to life to seek revenge. The similarities between the two movies are so striking that they come off like a carbon copy to the other, which seriously hurts the tension because you feel like you’ve seen it all before.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 28, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Ellison

Studio: Film Ventures International

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The House on Sorority Row (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: House mother harbors secret.

Mrs. Slater (Lois Kelso Hunt) is a crabby house mother of a college sorority who tends to be quite terse and controlling to the girls that she oversees. When she catches Vicki (Eileen Davidson) having sex with her boyfriend she punctures the water bed that they are on, which causes Vicki to seek an elaborate revenge in the form of a practical joke. The joke though goes awry leading to the accidental death of Mrs. Slater. The sorority members hide her body, but then it disappears while the girls start to get picked-off one-by-one by a mysterious assailant.

This is far more stylishly directed than the usual horror film and this becomes quite apparent right from the start. I loved the opening flashback sequence, which is tinted in blue-and-white and a crane shot done over the opening credits. There is also a tracking shot that goes down the hallway of the sorority house that nicely captures the energy and ambience of the first day of moving in. The soundtrack, which uses the music of the London Symphony Orchestra, is another plus.

The acting is better than in most low budget horror films. Some will point to the line delivered by actress Jodi Draigie “How do we know she is alive” as being the single worst line reading in the history of cinema, which it could be, but overall the performances are decent particularly by Davidson. The only exception is Hunt as the house mother. She certainly has the face of a crabby old lady, but her delivery is very monotone and comes off like it was dubbed. Later I read in an interview with director Mark Rosman where this was indeed the case as they felt her actual voice was too high pitched, but why replace it with one that is even worse.

The use of Mrs. Slater’s walking cane as a murder weapon seemed ridiculous. The idea that this thing could be so sharp that it could cut through walls and people’s skulls with one swing made it seem more like an ax. The pressure of it continually cutting through hard surfaces, and then subsequently being removed so it could be used again, would most likely have broken the thing in half. The fact that she had used it for many years would’ve worn it down to more of a dull and smooth surface and not that of a steely, razor sharpness. There is also a scene where the cane is taken away from Mrs. Slater and she is able to walk briskly and without any noticeable limp, which means she didn’t even need it in the first place.

The killings aren’t scary, jolting or imaginative and seemed almost like they were an afterthought. Many times if you blink you’ll miss when they happen. The first killing where Mrs. Slater’s cane goes through a man’s skull looks glaringly amateurish as it is quite obvious that the victim is a mannequin.

I did like the shot of a victim’s head in a toilet, but even this has issues because we don’t know what happened to the rest of her body. If the killer is walking around with a bloody headless corpse that would cause a lot of attention and the dripping blood would create a trail that would lead right to him.

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Spoiler Alert!

This film has managed to garner a strong cult following, but I’m really not sure why. The more it went on the more bored I became with it. I was also irritated with the ending as we are never shown the identity of the killer. It is strongly implied who it is, but we never see his face unmasked. The original ending had police removing dead bodies from a pool and when they overturn the one wearing a clown suit it is revealed to be Katherine, the killer’s final victim, but this was rejected as being too downbeat even though I would’ve liked it better.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 21, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark Rosman

Studio: Film Ventures International

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

976-Evil (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nerd becomes demon possessed.

Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys) is a socially challenged high school loser living at home with his religious fanatic mother (Sandy Dennis) and longing to one day become as cool as his neighbor Spike (Patrick O’Bryan) who gets all the hot chicks. Then one day Hoax calls a phone number that promises to supply him with his daily horoscope but instead gives him demonic powers that allow him to get revenge on all of his bullies.

This is the first of only two theatrical features that actor Robert Englund has directed and the visual results are impressive. I enjoyed the set pieces that have a garish over-the-top quality to them and helps give the film a comic book-like look. Although the gore is limited I did find some of the other special effects to be cool including the final sequence where Hoax’s home turns into the gateway to hell.

The script has a lot of in-jokes, which keeps the proceedings on an amusing level, but it takes too long for the actual plot to get going.  The nerd-on-revenge theme has been done a million times before and ultimately makes this film come off as clichéd and derivative.

Having Hoax’s looks change into resembling a demon backfires as it reminded me too much of the Freddy Kreuger character particularly with the long fingernails on one of his hands and his deep voice, which even  starts to crack  Freddy-like one-liners. Whether this was intentional is open to debate, but it does drive home how uninspired this film ends up despite an opening that showed promise.

The best thing it is the presence of Dennis who plays an extension of the wacky, eccentric character that she did in a classic episode of the 80’s version of ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’. The only difference is that there her character owned even more cats and spoke in a more bizarre way, but the variety of wigs that she wears here makes up for it. Also what happens to her corpse after she is killed is the film’s most shocking moment.

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 24, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Englund

Studio: New Line Cinema

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video