Category Archives: Horror

The Mutilator (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father harbors a vendetta.

As a child Ed (Trace Cooper) accidentally kills his mother (Pamela Weddle Cooper) while cleaning his dad’s rifle. His father (Jack Chatham) becomes distraught at seeing his wife killed and his relationship with his son is irrevocably destroyed. When Ed (Matt Mittler) grows up to go to college his father asks him to help close up the family’s summer home in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. Having nothing better to do, and on fall break, he and his college clique decide to head over to the place where they hope to use it to hang-out and party. Unbeknownst to them is that the father is hiding on the premises planning to kill Ed once he gets there, but his friends get in the way, so he starts killing them off as well one-by-one.

Even for a low budget 80’s slasher this is shockingly cardboard with the only thing going for being the special effects, at least I presume that’s why it’s gotten a cult following as I cannot figure out any other reason. While some of the effects are quite graphic others fall flat. The scene where the father fantasizes about slashing his young son’s throat gets botched because you can clearly see that there’s a blood pack patched onto the child’s neck and underneath some clay-like skin. The drowning of one victim, played by Frances Rains, doesn’t work either. The original idea was to have her killed by a spear gun underwater, which would’ve been better, but they couldn’t get the effect to work, so they simply had the killer swim underwater and reach up with his hands and force her under, but I found it hard to believe that this couple being all alone in this otherwise empty room, and the only two people in a clear water pool wouldn’t be able to detect someone else getting in. The scene would’ve been improved had the viewer seen things from the victim’s boyfriend’s point-of-view, where he thinks she’s still alive and gotten out of the pool on her own while leaving a trail of clothes leading to a vacant shack where he presume she’s awaiting to have a sexual tryst only for the guy to get a shock of his life when he opens up the door of the shack and sees the killer, which would’ve also been a jolt to the audience had the director not already made us aware of what was coming.

The opening flashback scene is gets messed-up too. It’s intended to show the kid accidentally killing the mom and the father getting angry when he come home and sees it, but personally I saw it differently. To me it seemed like the kid intentionally wanted her dead as he looks out the door to make sure she’s standing by the counter in the kitchen and then quietly closes it to clean the gun, which he perfectly aims at the door. When the mom falls to the ground he doesn’t cry or shed a tear and when the father arrives he pours himself a drink almost like he’s relieved that she’s gone. I thought the two had some sort of sick pact that the kid would kill the mom for the father as his birthday present, but stage it to look like an accident. Then years later the twist would be that the kid now grown up would intentionally bring his friends to the beachfront for his father to kill, as the two shared a weird blood lust and enjoyed seeing each other slaughter people, which would’ve been a lot more of interesting twist than what we do get, which is nothing at all.

Like with most of slasher films it starts with a lot talky scenes, but unlike those others, the tension doesn’t grow once the killings start. Instead we only get an intermittent few minutes of killings here-and-there and then it goes back to drawn-out talky moments with no attempt to quicken the pace and thus there’s no tension at all and since we already know who the killer is and what motivates him there’s no mystery or intrigue either. It all adds up to a dud of a movie though those that are simply into gory effects may still like it, but even in that category I’ve seen better.

Alternate Title: Fall Break

Released: October 5, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Buddy Cooper

Studio: Ocean King Releasing

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, Tubi, AMC+

The Chair (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The prison is haunted.

Dr. Langer (James Coco) is a psychiatrist who decides to reopen an abandoned prison with the help of his assistant, the beautiful young Lisa (Trini Alvarado). The problem is that the warden, Ed (Paul Benedict) is plagued by nightmares of a prisoner uprising that he had to deal with many years earlier, that cost the life of his friend Joe who he abandoned when he tried to go for help. While he lay hidden Joe was dragged by the prisoners to an electric chair and killed. Now, years later, the prison has become haunted by Joe’s spirit, but Dr. Langer refuses to believe this until he comes face-to-face with the ghostly presence forcing him to apologize to the prisoners who he had initially disbelieved, but the prisoners are seething from a lack of a working fan, caused by the ghost, and the heat in their cells has become stifling and motivates them to take out their frustrations on the defenseless Langer.

This film, which was directed by a man better known for his work in industrial films, is an odd mix of quirky comedy and surreal horror. The first act works as a soft satire to the new wave of ‘I’m okay, you’re okay’ psychiatry that has its share of mildly amusing moments. James Coco is perfect as a Dr. who seems confident and in-control to his prisoners, but deeply out-of-control when dealing with his personal life. Had the movie centered solely on Coco, a highly talented character actor whose obesity was the only thing that held him back from receiving better roles, it might’ve worked.This though will be turn-off to the regular horror fan who will likely find the broadly comical overtones as the beginning off-putting and even confusing as at times, at least initially, it doesn’t seem like a horror flick at all.

The second-half gets darker and even features a few deaths though it cuts away too quickly, particularly with the scene featuring the guard named Wilson (Mike Starr) who gets electrocuted in gruesome fashion, but no follow-up scenes showing how they removed his mutilated body, or who discovered him. The flashbacks dealing with the uprising don’t happen until 55-minutes in, which is too long of a wait to be introducing something that’s an integral element to the plot. There’s also numerous shots of an image of an eyeball appearing inside a light bulb, which becomes redundant and isn’t scary.

The man who gets electrocuted on the chair, and whose name doesn’t appear in the credits, is seen too little and needed to have a bigger part onscreen. The shift in tone from playful camp to gory effects is jarring and makes the whole thing seem like it was done by amateurs who had no idea what they were doing. It also features a completely impotent ‘hero’, played by Gary McCleery, who gets for some reason trapped in his cell when everyone else is able to escape and thus cannot not stop, or prevent any of the violence that happens, which makes him a completely useless character that had no need being in the story at all. If anything Coco, who’s fun despite the anemic material, should’ve been the protagonist and having him disappear before it’s over was a mistake.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending features Lisa marrying Rick, but this gets explained through a newspaper headline even though movies are a visual medium and thus should’ve been shown. The twist of some real estate developers deciding to turn the place into a senior citizen center, is novel, but having this occur at the beginning would’ve been better, as watching a bunch of old-timers fighting off the ghosts would’ve been far more entertaining than anything else that goes on.

Alternate Title: Hot Seat

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 13, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Waldemar Korzeniowsky

Studio: Angelika Films

Available: VHS, DVD (Import Reg. 0)

Bloodsucking Freaks (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Women forced into slavery.

Sardu (Seamus O’Brien) runs an underground theater in the SoHo District of New York where they put on live stage shows that feature naked women tortured and mutilated all to the delight of a paying audience. The members of the public who come to see it believe it’s all an act, but in reality the women are kidnapped and forced to do things against their will through hypnosis. When a theater critic named Creasy Silo (Alan Dellay) refuses to write a positive review about the place in his newspaper Sardu summons his dwarf assistant Ralphus (Luis De Jesus) to kidnap him where he is then chained in the basement of the theater and tortured like the others. Sardu also has famous ballet dance Natasha (Viju Krem) kidnapped where she eventually, through the power  of hypnosis, puts on a perverse dance, but Natasha’s boyfriend Tom (Niles McMaster) doesn’t believe she’s doing it willingly, so he calls on police detective John Tucci (Dan Fauci) to investigate. The problem is that Tucci is corrupt and secretly agrees to do nothing about Sardu’s crimes as long as he gets bribe money. 

Out of all of the exploitative films that came out during the 70’s this one still holds the top prize of being the most notorious and rightly so, as what it shows went far beyond many other provocative films of that decade that promised sensationalism, but delivered little. This one definitely delivers to the extent that writer/director Joel M. Reed professed to losing many of his longtime friends after they watched it. While intended as a dark comedy, a very dark one, how much one enjoys will be dependent on how twisted their sense of humor is with some finding it entertaining, even darkly inventive, while others will be downright shocked and appalled. 

The effects are done from a campy perspective and have not aged well though still potent. The two that took me aback a bit was when a young woman, played by Illa Howe, gets put on a guillotine and has her head chopped-off. The severed head then is taken out of the basket it was dropped in and it really does resemble her face and not that of a mannequin’s like you’d expect. The infamous brain sucking scene, which became the inspiration for the film’s title, where a sadistic Dr., played by soap star Ernie Pysher, drills a hole into a women’s head, played by Lynette Sheldon, who has since gone on to become a well renown acting teacher, and then sucks her brains out through a straw is pretty grisly too.

The film was picketed by women’s groups, including women against pornography, outside of theaters that showed it. Many labeled it misogynistic and I’d have to agree as all the women characters have no discernible personality other than jut running around naked while allowing themselves to be tortured, beaten and even mutilated as passive victims with no resistance. The premise explains this is because of ‘hypnosis’, but that pushes that concept far beyond believability making it more like a twisted male fantasy than a movie.

The film has also gained notoriety for the violent deaths of its two stars with O’Brien becoming a homicide victim of a home invasion less than a year after its released while six years later Krem perished from an accidental shooting while on a hunting trip. Personally I found Fauci, who is the founder of The Actor’s Institute and has been the acting coach of such notables as Fisher Stevens and Marisa Tomei, to be the funniest. He plays the caricature of a corrupt cop, but does it in such an amusing way that every time he utters a line it’s highly entertaining.

Special mention must also go to dwarf actor De Jesus, who came to fame 5 years earlier in the porn flick The Anal Dwarf, where he attempted to have sex with a regular sized woman as apparently not every part of his body was small. Here, I found his facial expressions and overall energy to be engaging and had he and Fauci been the stars, playing adversaries, the film would’ve been funnier.

On the technical end the remastered blu-ray has a faded color and a spotty sound, making it look like it was captured on cheap, vastly inferior equipment from the get-go. Of course for those that came to see the explicit sadomasochism these other issues won’t matter.

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Alternate Title: The Incredible Torture Show

Released: November 3, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joel M. Reed

Studio: American Film Distributing Corporation

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

Spasms (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giant snake uses telepathy.

Years earlier millionaire philanthropist Jason Kincaid (Oliver Reed) got attacked by a giant serpent snake while on a trip in Micronesia. His brother, who went with him, died from the attack, but Jason survived and in the process began acquiring a telepathic connection to the snake. He pays some poachers to capture it and have it brought to his mansion. He also tries to use the services of Dr. Brasilian (Peter Fonda) who specializes in ESP research to help end the ongoing communication that the snake has with him.While Kincaid’s private lab is being constructed the snake is kept at the university lab run by Brasilian, but the reptile escapes and begins killing anyone it sees.

The film is based on the novel ‘Death Bite’ by Michael Marky and Brent Monahan, who wrote it in hopes of cashing in on the Jaws craze and having it made into a movie. The two were excited when a Canadian production company decided to produce it, but quickly became disillusioned with all the production delays and rewrites. When the original studio went bankrupt and the new one insisted on adding in a supernatural element the two writers to walk-off the set and disown the project.

Despite the film’s checkered history I found the production values to be quite impressive especially for a horror movie. The on-location shooting is varied and authentic, particularly the island setting and the main character played by Reed is less cardboard than in most other scary movies. Unfortunately the pacing is slow and not enough happens. I was expecting more scares and blood, but there really isn’t much of it.

The film’s biggest downfall is that you never get to see the snake. Initially during the attacks everything gets shown from the snake’s point-of-view by having a blue filter put over the camera lens, which doesn’t work because it’s done via a tracking shot making it look like the snake glides through the air instead of slithering like a real one would. Outside of a few seconds of seeing its head pop-up, which looks like a hand puppet, we’re never shown the beast in its entirety. Originally the idea was to use live snakes, which would’ve been great, and a 14-foot Indian Python was brought in, but this was found to be too costly and time-consuming, so it got scrapped. They then tried to use animatronics, but director William Fruet didn’t like the way it looked onscreen, so this was shelved too essentially making this a snake movie, but without any snake.

Despite being reportedly drunk most of the time during the production Reed adds a nice intensity though it made no sense at the end when he begins walking around without a cane even though he had being using one the whole time earlier. The special effects showing the victim’s arms and faces ballooning out after they’re bitten is pretty cool, but the ending is a letdown. It was supposed to feature a violent showdown between Reed and the snake, including having his arm swallowed by the beast, but director Fruet didn’t like the look of the special effects, so these scenes were cut and flashbacks showing things that had happened earlier got thrown-in simply to pad the runtime.

The big lesson here is that if you’re going to make a movie about a giant, monstrous snake then you need to at some point show it. Even if it means spending big on computer effects, or bringing in a real one, the effort has to be made. Trying to do one without actually showing the snake, as the snake here is probably seen a combined 10 seconds and never its full body, and expecting the audience to still go home satisfied afterwards is pretty absurd.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 28, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Fruet

Studio: Pan-Canadian Film Distributors

Available: VHS

Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Singer haunts teen survivor.

Courtney (Crystal Bernard), who along with her older sister Valerie (Cindy Eilbacher) survived the slumber party attack from 5 years earlier, is now a senior in high school, while Valerie, unable to deal with the trauma that she went through, is locked away in a asylum. Courtney tries to convince her mother (Jennifer Rhodes) to let her go to a slumber party at her friend’s place that is part of some new condominiums that have just been built and after some reluctance her mother agrees, but once there Courtney begins seeing strange visions of a rock star (Atanas Ilitch) with a drill on the end of his guitar that he threatens her with. Initially her other friends don’t see him, but eventually he comes to life and begins killing them off one-by-one.

This is an in-name only sequel that barely has any connection to the first installment other than the Courtney and Valerie characters, but even this is botched because the parts are played by different actors, which wouldn’t have been as much of a problem except Crystal speaks with a southern accent. Many viewers will recognize her from the 90’s TV-series ‘Wings’, but I remember her better as a contestant on the 80’s game show ‘$25,000 Pyramid’ where she was supposed to give clues to her partner in order to have them guess what the secret word was, but she was unable to do this because she didn’t know what the word, which was ‘buoy’, meant. In either case the Courtney character from the first film never had a southern accent, so why then would she have one now?

The rest of the cast is okay and looks more age appropriate than in the first film though the nudity is much less. The humor though is missing, which is a big problem. The script tries to make up for it by giving the characters names that are connected to people from other horror films, but this ends up being too obvious and not as cute and inspired as the filmmakers clearly thought it was. The only amusing bit is Sally, played by Heidi Kozak, who obsesses over pimples on her face even when none are visible and yet still puts on acne treatment, but the real kicker is when Courtney, having one of her weird visions, visualizes Sally’s entire face turning into a giant zit and then having it pop out a long stream of puss, which is genuinely funny.

The rest of it though doesn’t click mainly because there’s no clear understanding for why any of this is happening. Who the hell is this Elvis-like rock star and why is he haunting Courtney and her sister? Some people have said this was the killer from the original film, but why then does he get reincarnated as a singer? Unlike Nightmare on Elm Streetwhich this is clearly trying to emulate, there’s no blueprint to the rules. In the Freddy movies he could only terrorize his victims in their sleep, but here the killer jumps out of the dreams and becomes real, but how? Having a killer, whose tacky get-up makes him resemble Vinny Barberino from ‘Welcome Back Kotter’ or the 50’s revival group Sha Na-Na, able to virtually do anything isn’t interesting. There needed to be some limitations and rules, but the film fails to supply any and seems content to just make things up as it goes, ultimately causing the whole thing to be quite inane and pointless.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: October 16, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 17 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Deborah Navarra-Brock

Studio: Concorde Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, PlutoTV, Tubi, Amazon Video

The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Escaped killer crashes sleepover.

Trish (Michelle Michaels) is a high school senior who decides to hold a slumber party at her place while her parents are away. She invites Kim (Debra Deliso), Jackie (Andree Honore), and Diane (Gina Mari). She tries to invite Valerie (Robin Stille), who lives right next door to her, but she declines after overhearing the other girls talk about her in a catty way while in the locker room. As the girls prepare for the party they get harassed by Neil (Joseph Alan Johnson) and Jeff (David Millbern) who try to scare them by fiddling with the fuse box and turning the power in the home off, but none of them are aware that a real killer named Russ Thorn (Michael Villella), who has escaped from prison, and his quietly stalking them while using an electrical drill as his weapon.

The script was written by feminist writer Rita Mae Brown, who intended for it to be a parody, but when producer Roger Corman read it he saw as a conventional slasher and hired Amy Holden Jones, who had worked for his company for many years as a film editor, to direct it. While some will complain that the parody concept should’ve been left in I actually think it works better and in some ways is even funnier to have genuine scares and gore mixed in with the laughs. Too many other horror comedies try too hard to be funny, like with Pandemonium, where so much effort gets put into the humor that there’s no scares to be had, which will alienate a true horror fan, but here audiences who like a little of both should enjoy it.

I’ll admit that the movie does start out rocky. While I liked the organ soundtrack everything else comes-off as painfully amateurish.  Having one of the students, played by Brinke Stevens, run back into the school that is closing to retrieve a book from her locker is dumb. For one thing the building was completely locked up, so how did the killer get inside? Chaining the doors shut from the inside such as here isn’t done and illegal as it’s considered fire hazard. The victim is also too passive as the killer drills a small hole through the door of the room that she’s hiding in, but he’d have to drill many, many more holes for him to break down the door, which should’ve given her, albeit injured, but still mobile, plenty of time to figure another way out like crashing through a window, but instead she screams and essentially gives up.

Some critics complained about the gratuitous nudity especially for a film directed by a woman though it does try to equalize this by also showing the naked backside of a man while two of the girls, Valerie and her kid sister Courtney, page through an old issue of Playgirl, which I found amusing. What bugged me though was that the women looked too old to be playing high school students and appear to be far like 25, or even older. They also have terrific figures, like models in a soft core porn flick, and for the sake of balance there should’ve been at least one that was heavy-set, perhaps Valerie, and this could’ve explained why she was rejected and not invited to the party because she wasn’t ‘pretty enough’ to be in their clique.

The second and third act I found, much to my surprise, to be highly entertaining and even clever particularly the scene where Valerie watches a scary movie on TV even as a real horror, unbeknownst to her, is occurring just outside her door. There’s also some really funny lines that were clearly leftover from Brown’s original script and completely hits the target. It also features a nifty emasculation moment, which has all helped to give this a huge and well-deserved cult following. Followed 5 years later by a sequel, which we’ll review tomorrow.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 12, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 17 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Amy Holden Jones

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Plex, PlutoTV, Tubi, Shout Factory TV, Amazon Video

The Corruption of Chris Miller (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Is he the killer?

Ruth (Jean Seberg) has been abandoned by her husband leaving her alone in his large isolated estate with only his daughter Chris (Marisol) to keep her company. Chris has issues of her own as she was raped years earlier as a teen while in the girl’s shower at her school by a weightlifter and whenever it rains the sound of  falling water brings back the horrible memories, which cause her to lash out with a sharp object, as if defending herself, to anyone who comes near. Ruth has learned how to talk her down from these episodes, but she’s getting tired of dealing with it as well as the hateful comments that Chris gives her as she blames Ruth for her father leaving them. Barney (Barry Stokes) is the drifter who comes into their lives. Initially it was just for the night, but as he gets to know the two and their inner-dynamics he becomes intrigued as well as sexually attracted to Chris. He and Chris begin a romance, much to the displeasure of Ruth, who wants Barney to herself. Meanwhile there’s a rash of killings that are going-on in the nearby town and Ruth and Chris begin to believe that Barney may be the culprit. 

The film was helmed by renown Spanish director Juan Antonio Bardem and while differing some from the giallos released in Italy this is still considered in high regard by fans of the genre. Bardem’s use of mood and atmosphere are the main selling points. The house, both the one that Ruth and Chris reside in as well as the stately country manor that gets featured during the opening murder, are given strong foreboding presences and the non-stop pounding rain adds an eerie element. 

The gore isn’t quite up to the level of Italian horrors. There’s lots of blood, but the onscreen violence is minimal. There’s also a lot of soft-focused shots of horses galloping and of the beautiful Marisol riding on one until it almost seems like a non-horror film, but there’s enough underlying intrigue to keep it interesting through the slow spots. The climactic stabbing more than makes up for it as it features shots of the blade going directly into the naked flesh of the victim versus done over clothing where the prop knife can more easily be concealed. It also gets done in slow-motion, which makes it look even more horrifying, but in a visually striking sort of way. 

The acting is excellent and includes Seeberg, who was once the darling of the French New Wave during the early 60’s, but by this time had gracefully grown into middle-aged roles, of which she does well though her facial expressions are a bit overdone. Marisol, whose career began as a child singer, is terrific too and in some ways she upstages her co-star with her distinct eyes, which have an hypnotic effect that focuses your attention on her in every scene that she’s in.

Spoiler Alert! 

The twist ending is original though questionable. The reveal of the killer, played by Rudy Gaebel, is a bit mechanical as no explanation is given for what lead police to him, we just see him carted away in hand-cuffs, where having a smoking-gun reason that the viewer could understand would’ve been more satisfying. Having the townspeople celebrate his arrest seemed a bit precipitous as sometimes murderers can still have mistrials, or be deemed not guilty by a jury, so just having some guy nabbed by the authorities doesn’t end things it’s just the beginning especially since police can be known to sometimes arrest the wrong person.

Having pea sprouts grow through the cracks in the tar of the roadway, which causes the road crew to dig up that portion of the highway where they then discover the dead body of Barney, which Ruth and Chris buried there, is a problematic too. First I’m not sure pea sprouts would be a strong enough plant to create such cracks and it would take many years for that to happen. The police wouldn’t necessarily know who buried him as Chris was only seen in public with Barney once by a family that eventually got murdered, so there’s otherwise no direct link between him and the women. Therefore the discovery of  the corpse would not immediately lead to the women’s arrest, as the movie seems to want to imply, if ever. 

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 17, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Juan Antonio Bardem

Studio: Ibercine S.A.

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Tubi 

The Manitou (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Tumor on her neck.

Karen (Susan Strasberg) is a middle-aged woman living in San Francisco who begins noticing a lump on the back of her neck that grows at an accelerated rate. She goes to the hospital to have it checked and the doctors there, after analyzing the X-rays, believe it to be a fetus growing within the tumor. Karen’s boyfriend Harry (Tony Curtis) does some research and discovers that the growth is an Indian shaman reincarnated from a past life who’s brought back to take revenge on the white man for driving his people off of their land. When the surgery to remove the tumor goes wrong, Harry summons the help of a modern-day shaman, John Singing Rock (Michael Ansara) to help him get the fetus removed. While John has a strong connection to the spirit world he realizes that the ones he can summon are weak compared to what the spirit who inhabits the growth on Karen’s neck can bring to life.

I’ll give writer-director William Girdler credit, during his brief life and career he directed a lot of movies, 9 of them while still in his 20’s, but the quality of the output was minimal. He did achieve a few cult hits like Sheba, Baby and Abby as well as a couple that did well at the box office, Grizzlybut this one, which came in with a high budget, could be considered his worst. The cast is interesting, though they’re well past their prime, but the plot, which is based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Graham Masterton, is too silly to be taken seriously.

Girdler shows more interest in capturing the San Francisco skyline, of which he does well, and some of the city’s more exotic locales, then spotting continuity errors. One of the most glaring ones is when the surgeon, played by Jon Cedar, who co-wrote the script, severely cuts his hand during the surgery, but then later he’s in a scene where his hands look fine and there’s no bandages on them. There’s also several moments where I was literally laughing-out-loud, like when an old lady, played by Lurene Tuttle, becomes possessed by the Indian spirit and begins dancing around the room and speaking in a deep voice, which looks as silly as it sounds. The seance is laughable too and since these have been parodied so much it’s best not even putting them into any horror movie that hopes to take itself seriously as it’ll just have the viewers-rolling-their eyes from the very beginning.

The main characters are a mess mainly because they don’t have much to do. Curtis plays this phony psychic who does nothing but stand around and watch Ansara do all the work to the extent that Ansara should’ve been the star and Curtis, who’s looking haggard and washed-up here, could’ve been cut-out completely and not missed. Strasberg is boring as the victim. She has this giant growth on her neck that’s expanding rapidly and yet she takes it in a ho-hum, laid-back fashion when anyone else would be stressing-out and going crazy with anxiety. There also should’ve been a specific reason why she got targeted with the tumor instead of just writing it off as a ‘random occurrence’.

The third act picks-up slightly and the birth of the Indian spirit where you see him claw his way out of the womb while still on Strasberg’s neck, is visually impressive from a special effects perspective, but once outside he looks too much like a dwarf in an Indian get-up. Having the entire floor of the hospital turn into a frozen polar zone is cool until you start looking at the ice blocks too closely and realize they’re just styrofoam. The climactic sequence in which a now topless Strasberg battles the Indian spirit using telekinetic powers while seemingly floating in outer space is too stupid for words and cements this as a complete embarrassment for all those involved.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: April 28, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: William Girdler

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

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

What Became of Jack and Jill? (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Greedy couple learns lesson.

Johnnie (Paul Nicholas) lives with his elderly grandmother Alice (Mona Washbourne). He has no motivation to get a job and hopes that by staying in her good graces he can inherit her small fortune and house when she passes away. Johnnie’s girlfriend Jill (Vanessa Howard) becomes impatient waiting for the old lady to die and hopes to hasten it by hatching a plan with Johnnie where Alice will think that a youth movement has occurred where those under 30 rebel against the older generation, particularly those over 75, by taking them away to prison camps, or killing them outright. Johnnie manipulates Alice into believing that this movement has pegged her as their next victim and even stages a protest outside her home to convince her that they’re coming for her. Succumbed with fear Alice drops over with a heart attack, and the couple believe they now can get their hands on her money, but at the reading of her will they find that Alice has placed a stipulation that they weren’t expecting.

The filmed was produced by Amicus Productions, which was a British film studio that specialized in horror movies, mainly those of the Gothic variety. To keep up with changing tastes they decided to dabble in the grindhouse genre and picked this story, which was based on a novel called ‘The Ruthless Ones’ by Laurence Moody, as their first venture. They were so impressed with Vanessa Howard’s creepy performance in Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly that they signed her on as the star hoping to make her their next ‘scream queen’. Howard, who was upset at how the previous film she was in fell into obscurity, that she was happy to take on a new project that would be financed by a well know studio, which she felt would guarantee that the picture would receive strong box office appeal. Unfortunately, once the project was finished Amicus studio heads were aghast at the dark subject matter and decided not to release it causing this movie to become as obscure as Howard’s other one, which in-turn disillusioned her wit the business and causing her to retire.

The story does have its share of faults. There’s no explanation for what happened to Johnnie’s parents, or what their take is on his living situation. His ability to fool the grandmother into believing such an outrageous conspiracy theory happens too easily and is hard to believe, but the dark story elements, despite the slow pace, still holds adequate intrigue. A lot of credit goes to the performances. Howard is quite nasty, but in a different way than she was in her other movie where she behaved like she was in a trance, but here is knowingly devious while also shockingly callous. Washbourne is also terrific causing you to gain sympathy for her character and what she goes through.

The twist is good, but not a complete surprise and it takes too long to get there. My biggest gripe is that once the story shifts it doesn’t explore enough of the wrinkles that it creates. There’s a whole array of different plot threads it could’ve taken, but instead settles for the most obvious one culminating in a climax that peters itself out instead of inviting in even more twists and characters to it.

Spoiler Alert!

The stabbing scene is problematic in that the victim clothes get stained with blood, but there’s no rip in the clothing to represent where the knife was able to get through. A person can’t bleed unless a sharp object touches their skin and for that to happen it needs to be able to cut through the fabric on top of it, so to have a shot where the victim is ‘bleeding’ into their clothing, but clothing itself  isn’t ripped is illogical. Also, having the police continue to stand outside the home and politely knock on the door to be let in, after they become aware of what Johnnie has done, while he remains inside refusing to open it, got overdone. At some point the police are going to have to break down the door if the suspect refuses to come out and this should’ve been shown.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall I still enjoyed it especially the music played over the opening and closing credits and during the club scenes. I don’t know what the name of the band was, but it has a great punk band-like sound that’s distinct and hard edged. If the movie itself won’t get the proper Blu-ray release that it deserves then the soundtrack at least should.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 16, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bill Bain

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: None

Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly (1970)

girly1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Family plays weird games.

Sonny (Howard Trevor) and Girly (Vanessa Howard) are brother and sister who live with their mother (Ursala Howells) and nanny (Pat Heywood) in a large stately mansion in rural England. Despite both being adolescents they still sleep in cribs and behave as if they’re only 5. They enjoy playing what they call ‘The Game’, which is bringing home strangers, usually homeless men that they’ve met at a park, and forcing them to dress in a schoolboy’s outfit and compelled to behave like a child. If they refuse they are then ‘sent to the angels’.

The film was a product of famed British cinematographer Freddie Francis who wanted to make a movie inside the Oakley Court, which is a castle built in 1859 that overlooks the River Thames. He commissioned his friend Brian Comport to write the screenplay with the only condition being that the action had to take place on the Oakley Court property. Comport decided to revolve the plot around a play called ‘Happy Family’ written by Maisie Mosco, which dealt with a family that got involved with role playing games. Both Francis and Comport disliked the play, but were intrigued with the concept and decided to turn it into the genesis for a horror movie.

The film can best be described as experimental and has an intriguing quality to it, which holds your interest for the first 30-minutes, or so. One of the best elements is the alluring performance of Vanessa Howard, who’s able to mix her beauty with that of an evil mischievous nature. In fact the entire cast does an exceptionally fine job despite the material not offering much in the way of characterizations. The cast gives off an energetic zeal that keeps you compelled even as very little else happens. I kept thinking how sad it was that these actors put so much effort into a movie that fell into obscurity almost right away and this it turns out was the very reason why Howard left the profession just a few years later.

Outside of the acting there’s little else to recommend as the flimsy plot gets stretched far more than it should. There’s also no normal character that the viewer can relate to. Initially I thought it would be Michael Bryant, who plays a middle-aged male prostitute that they bring back to their place as one of their ‘new friends’, but he ends up behaving almost as weirdly as the rest. There should’ve been some outside force that intervened like a police inspector that would come to the castle to investigate the disappearance of one of the prostitute’s female clients, played by Imogen Hassall, that he and the two teens kill when they push her off a slide, which could’ve added tension and nuance that is otherwise lacking.

The film is also too skittish with the shocks. It’s supposed to be a horror movie, but there’s barely anything in it that’s all that disturbing. Sure, it does imply some dark things, but it doesn’t show any of it. The victims die too easily to the point that the death scenes aren’t any fun to watch. The part where a woman falls from a children’s slide at a playground and dies instantly is ridiculous as it wasn’t a high enough for the fall to have been fatal.  Another scene is the discovery of a severed head inside a boiling pot of water, but it never  gets shown, which comes-off as a total cop-out. I realize this was made in the 60’s in England where the culture was quite prudish to gore and violence, hence the creation of the infamous ‘video nasties’, which was a list of banned horror movies that came out about a decade later, but if you’re going to create a story that is dark and edgy, such as this one, then you should have the balls to push-the-envelope in order to give it a payoff, which this thing is ultimately devoid of.

Alternate Title: Girly

Released: February 12, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Freddie Francis

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporations

Available: DVD, Amazon Video