Category Archives: Horror

The Toolbox Murders (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Handyman targets female tenants.

A man, haunted by memories of the death of his young daughter in a car accident years earlier, begins systematically killing-off women residing in an apartment complex who he believes are living sinful lifestyles. Laurie (Pamelyn Ferdin) is a teen who lives in the same complex just a few doors down from where the murders occurred. One evening while alone the killer sneaks into her place and kidnaps her. Since she resembles his deceased daughter he does not kill her, but instead ties her up to a bed where he talks to her as if she’s his daughter come back to life. As she remains imprisoned her brother Joey (Nicolas Beauvy), unhappy with the sloppy job done by the police, decides to do the investigating of his own with the help of Kent (Wesley Eure) who’s he nephew of Vance (Cameron Mitchell) who owns the building where the murders have been happening. Joey unearths clues, which leads him to believe he knows who’s responsible, but finds opposition in Kent, who wants to block him from finding out who the culprit is.

This film was just about the final word in graphic exploitation fare that permeated the era where every horror film competes to see how they could be gorier and more explicit than the others. This one is unusual in that it starts out right away with the killings, but then during the second and third act it slows way down and becomes a talk-feast with very little gore at all. I did though find it interesting where instead of intense, creepy music that usually gets played when a killer stalks his victim we instead hear laid-back country songs, which would’ve been even more inspired had they not all been by the same artist.

The identity of the killer is given away early, which is also different from other slashers that try to keep it a secret until the end. In a lot ways this makes it less intriguing though Mitchell’s performance still keeps it interesting. What I didn’t like was the stupid police inspector, which is poorly played by Tim Donnelly who was the brother of the film’s director, and his inept ability to figure out who the killer might be even though the viewer and other characters catch-on very quickly. I know some policemen aren’t always the smartest, but even the dumbest would’ve been able to pick up on the obvious clues that this one unbelievably overlooks.

The fact that none of the women scream, at least not during the first act, was rather bizarre especially when one of them (Evelyn Guerrero) walks into the crime scene sees her friend (Marciee Drake) lies in a bloody mess, but she doesn’t respond in a shocked way and just stares as if gazing at a picture on the wall. Having the police interview the neighbors directly over the nude, dead bodies of the victims, was a bit ridiculous too as the victims in most any other crime scene would’ve been covered in a blanket and taken away to a coroner and the scene secured before anyone else could be let in that could potentially tamper with the evidence.

The biggest thing that bugged me was that it’s never shown how the killer is able to so easily get into the apartments. I realize it’s because he has a master key, but that actually needs to be shown with a shot of a key going into the lock. The film though never does this, so instead we just see the door knob turning like these people have been dumb enough to leave their doors unlocked even as a killer lurks about.

The performances are the one thing that holds it together. I especially liked Ferdin and the genuine look of fright in her eyes and tears rolling down her face as she’s been held hostage. Her sincere expression of terror connects with the viewer and makes them even more concerned for her welfare. I’m also friends with her on Facebook and she’s posted about the final scene where she’s wandering around a parking lot barefoot and in her nighty, which was apparently shot in cold temperatures, so having her dressed like that in such freezing conditions and remain professional is commendable too. It’s also entertaining seeing Wesley Eure, best known for his work in the TV-show ‘Land of the Lost’, playing a psycho, of which he’s surprisingly effective.

While the denouncement states that this was based on actual events it really wasn’t. It was loosely inspired by some cases of serial killers using tools to kill their victims, but the characters and overall scenario was largely made-up. The story was remade in 2004, but much of the violence and explicitness of this one was taken-out and toned down while also making major changes to the plot.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 3, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Dennis Donnelly

Studio: Cal-Am Productions

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

Victims (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Reviews: Haunted by childhood memories.

Paul (Tony Vorno) is plagued by inner-demons including voices and repressed childhood memories that cause him to go through life having violent outbursts, which he mainly takes out on various women both prostitutes and those he meets at random. He goes to Dr. Russo (Jerome Guardino) who specializes in hyno therapy in hopes that if put under hypnosis his rages can be controlled. As the Dr. analyzes Paul’s case, both he and his assistant Marian (Lenore Stevens), find that Paul’s difficult childhood where he was raised by a prostitute mother (Lois Adams) and witnessed the abuse she took from her violent pimp may be what’s causing Paul’s psychological torment now.

This film, which was written and directed by the lead actor who made a career of either directing, producing, or acting in exploitative films all through the 60’s and 70’s, was made in 1976, but languished in obscurity for years only to finally be given a video release 6 years later. Recently the film has acquired a cult following mainly because of the similarities with that of Maniacwhich starred Joe Spinell. That movie was structured as a conventional slasher/horror while this one is more of a drama where the rapist is portrayed as someone to sympathize with due his psychological scars that he can’t seem to overcome.

The movie though lacks the violence and gore one has come to expect with these types of films. The sexual assaults happen too quickly, many times last only a few seconds, or sometimes are created to be false flags that done’t lead anywhere including the time Paul stalks a young child, which you think is because he wants to attack her, but instead it’s to save her from a speeding car. While the film turns out to be much less exploitative then it originally sounds, it’s also frustrating as very little happens and the set-ups don’t manifest into any type of shocks, or scares. You start to wonder if there is going to be any pay-off to it especially with the grainy looking production that is quite cheap and amateurish otherwise.

The scenes dealing with Paul’s childhood memories don’t work because we never see the child, only his point-of-view, and includes Vorno speaking in a child’s voice off-camera, which isn’t convincing and kind of pathetic. To get the full intended impact  a child’s innocent face gazing at the horrors around him needed to be seen. Even if it meant splicing in shots of  a child’s face later, so the young performer wouldn’t have to have been on the set to witness the adult dialogue and action, would’ve worked, but either way the visual is the thing that propels movies and needs to be implemented and not compromised as much as possible.

The film’s final few minutes are disturbing and almost makes sitting through the rest of it worth it, but this could still be tough going for viewers expecting a conventional horror flick, which this isn’t. The flashbacks seen at the beginning, which gives away what happens at the end, weren’t needed and hurts the climactic effect though it still remains a dark and ugly journey nonetheless.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July, 1982 (Video Release Only)

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Tony Vorno

Studio: Paulie Productions

Available: None

Deadly Games (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who killed her sister?

Clarissa (Jo Ann Harris) travels to where her younger sister Linda (Alexandra Lawrence) lived before she was inexplicably murdered inside her home by a masked intruder. Clarissa hopes to help with the investigation, but finds herself initially at odds with the lead investigator Roger (Sam Groom) though the two eventually become romantic partners. Clarissa begins to suspect that Billy (Steve Railsback), an eccentric loner who manages the nearby theater, may be the culprit. Billy and Roger are longtime friends from their Vietnam days and regularly hang-out in the basement of the theater to play a board game. Clarissa tries to devise a way find out if Billy really is the killer, or if it might actually be Roger.

The most shocking thing about this would-be slasher obscurity is just how lame and uneventful it really is. The film starts out right away with a killing, which is poorly lit and the viewer can’t really see what’s going-on, and then proceeds for the next hour and a half to have a bunch of lightly dramatic moments that aren’t scary, or intense at all. Clarissa seems to be not upset about her sister’s passing and spends most of the time worrying more about getting together with old friends, or her dating life. She lives in her sister’s old house while openly stating that she’s not afraid to be there, which lessens the tension. If the protagonist has no concerns about if there’s a bad guy lurking about then why should the viewer?

There’s way too many scenes, like watching the group of friends take part in a backyard football game, or having Clarissa, Roger, and Billy watching an old movie together, that doesn’t propel the plot along in any way nor have much to do with the main story. There’s even a sappy song that gets played during the middle part that has absolutely no place in a horror movie, or any other film for that matter.

I also didn’t get where all of the ‘in-jokes’ were, which Leonard Maltin states in his review comes at you ‘fast and furious’. I came away feeling that this was yet another example where he, or whoever wrote the review for him, was seeing a completely different film altogether. In fact the only thing that is truly deadly here isn’t the ‘games’, but just the movie itself.

Spoiler Alert!

The twist ending is a big letdown as the killer turns out to be Roger, but since he acts so strangely all the way through even entering young women’s apartments and homes unannounced that makes him seem like a genuine creeper, this revelation comes as no ultimate surprise.

Maltin states that the final plot explanation is ‘really stupid’ and reviewers at IMDb say essentially the same thing. It ends with Clarissa killing Roger, who she thinks is Billy until she takes the mask off of him. She then goes back into the theater where Billy shouts our from somewhere that Roger was his best friend and he was now going to avenge his death. He then seems to fly out of nowhere towards Clarissa. I took it that he was hanging onto some sort of prop rope, which they do have in theaters, but it also looked like he was intended to be some sort of ghost that was literally floating towards her and this is what viewers felt was stupid. I don’t know as it’s not clear either way. What I did find frustrating is that the film freezes with Billy coming towards Clarissa and then cuts to the credits, so we never see what happens. Did he kill Clarissa, or did she fight him off? Either way this is the type of thing that needs to be shown, so for it to cut away when it finally gets exciting is ridiculous and if this is what they meant as being ‘stupid’ then I wholeheartedly agree.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The movie really deserves 0 points, but the one thing I did like was the music score. So many other slasher films from that era tried to replicate the score in Halloweenor Friday the 13thbut this one doesn’t sound like either of those. It’s has an acoustic quality that is quiet and subtle yet still effectively creepy. It’s the coolest thing about the movie especially as it gets played over the closing credits, but this production is otherwise so inept that you justifiably might not make it that far.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: March 5, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Scott Mansfield

Studio: Great Plains Films

Available: VHS

Incubus (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Demon being rapes women.

In a small Wisconsin town known as Galen the women are being sexually assaulted by a mysterious being with super human strength. When the victims are taken to the hospital they are seen by Dr. Sam Cordell (John Cassavetes) who notices an extraordinary amount of semen deposited that is reddish in color and doesn’t seem left by a human. Sam argues with the local sheriff Hank (John Ireland) about whether it’s a gang of men doing these crimes, or just one person. The two team-up with Laura (Kerrie Keane), a local reporter who has just moved into town and shares a striking resemblance to Sam’s former girlfriend who’s now deceased, to find the culprit. They begin to think it may be Tim (Duncan McIntosh) a young man who’s still living with his adopted mother (Helen Hughes) and has been dating Sam’s daughter Jenny (Erin Noble). Tim complains about having weird, vivid dreams and every time he wakes up a new crime has been reported, which makes Sam fear that Jenny may be the next victim.

This film approaches things differently from the conventional horror, especially those done in the 70’s, where there’s no character build-up and just jumps right into the attacks, but this doesn’t work because we have no idea who these people are nor care what happens to them making the viewer sit through the whole first half in a rather apathetic manner to what’s going on. The film also makes the mistake of not showing, with the exception of a brief second where we do see the creature’s hairy arm, of who this entity is until the very end though it should’ve been done sooner. Having some mystery is good, but a film has to keep upping the ante otherwise it will get tedious and seeing the attacks get done over and over in virtually the same manner without any new information or twists added soon becomes quite boring.

Listening to Sam and Hank perpetually argue who the culprit is for almost the entire film without much  clues being added in becomes tiresome too. The film though is helped immensely by John Hough’s direction who adds a lot of visual style including a cool tracking shot done from underneath a wheelchair.

I was unhappy though that it wasn’t actually filmed in Wisconsin, but instead Guelph, Ontario, which has homes and buildings that resemble more of a colonial style that you would find in the northeast versus the Midwest. Having movies filmed on-location that’s specific to the story can help give it an added ambiance and sometimes even work as a third character, but since this movie cheats on this we don’t get that here.

Casting Cassavetes, who is better known for directing groundbreaking, independent movies, in the lead was a novel move. His hawk-like facial features I always felt would’ve made him a good bad guy, but his unique acting approach does at least keep his scenes interesting though his relationship with his daughter does border on cringey. One shot has him viewing his naked daughter, who is 17, through a  mirror as she gets out of the shower, which seems to imply, though it never gets played-out, that he may have a perverse sexual interest in her. There’s another scene where he introduces her to Laura as simply being ‘a woman I live with’, which is a very weird way for a father to describe a daughter.

The supporting characters aren’t captivating at all. Laura, who’s supposed to be an aggressive journalist type, breaks down too easily after receiving minor blow back from the sheriff over her reporting, which made her seem too sensitive. If she’s truly the ‘fearless reporter’ as portrayed then she’d have to have a thicker skin and even expect some criticism when it comes. The Tim character is also a bore as we see him in only one emotional state, perplexed and confused, which makes him too one-dimensional.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is where things get messed-up. For one thing it tries to squeeze an elaborate explanation for what’s going-on into the final three minutes, which is too short of a time period for the viewer to digest it all, or have it make sense. What really got me though is that we find out that the incubus was actually Laura, and the film ends with Sam seeing her kill his daughter, but we never see how Sam responds, or if he’s able to defeat her, which is frustrating. So much time gets spent on the boring investigation only to then abruptly end once we finally get a pay-off.

By having Laura be the ultimate villain also goes against the film’s title. According to mythology an incubus is a male demon that tries to have sex with a female human, but a succubus is a female demon, so hence the title of the movie, the way I see it, should’ve been, when given the way it turns out, Succubus.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 27, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Hough

Studio: Kings Road Entertainment

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Pluto TV, Plex, Tubi, YouTube

The Redeemer (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Murdered for their sins.

Six people, who attended the same high school and graduated from the class of 1967, get invited to a reunion. When they arrive they find that the school has been shut down and the building abandoned, but are let in by a kindly janitor. Inside is a room set-up for a party including an array of delicious food and drinks. They partake in the meal, but still wonder why they were the only ones from the class that got invited. They then begin getting killed-off in violent ways and when the remaining survivors try to leave they realize they’ve been trapped inside, but none of them knows who’s committing the killings, or why?

This yet another proto-slasher made long before the release of Halloweenwhich has become the standard. Like with Savage Weekendwhich was reviewed here last October, this movie goes on its own tangents, unlike 80’s slashers, with deviations that make for a fun watch and are filled with a lot of weird twists and imagery.

The entire production was filmed on-location in the town of Staunton, Virginia in the summer of 1976. The Staunton Military Academy was the building used for the setting of the abandoned school. It was loaned out to the producers for one month by Layne Loeffler, who appears briefly near the beginning. He was hoping that by allowing the movie to film there that it would generate enough interest to allow the academy  to open back-up, but the movie didn’t gain as much attention as they thought causing it to eventually be torn down just a few years later.

As with most low budget films it has the expected trappings of an independent feature produced and directed by a bunch of first-timers including a grainy film stock, which detractors of the film used as an excuse to hate it. I felt though that the faded look worked in its favor as it made it seem more like viewing lost footage dug up from years in storage and thus witnessing carnage captured by a hidden camera.

Despite the majority of the cast never doing another movie after this one, which includes both the director and writer, I came away more impressed than disappointed. There are indeed some genuinely scary moments and the killings are surprisingly vivid. In fact they look more realistic than many of the ones done in bigger budgeted movies that came-out later. The pacing is handled much better too and doesn’t have the slow, awkward drama segments like in other horrors. Even the characterizations showing people’s need to impress others while simultaneously putting up facades to hide what they feel others will judge them harshly on, a common occurrence in most high school reunions, is well brought out.

Spoiler Alert!

Many only complaint is the ending that doesn’t offer any final twist. I was fully expecting that the character of the Redeemer, played by T.G. Finkbinder, would ultimately be exposed as a fraud since he did the killings over what he felt were various perceived sins committed by the others and yet the film acts like these brutal murders were somehow justified and the victims ‘deserved’ what they got, which is pretty warped. However, outside of its weird messaging, it’s still an interesting obscurity particularly for slasher film collectors.

Alternate Titles: The Redeemer…Son of Satan!, Class Reunion Massacre

Released: October 25, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Constantine S. Gochis

Studio: Dimension Pictures

Available: Blu-ray, Tubi, Amazon Video

Slaughter High (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: High School reunion horror.

Marty (Simon Scuddamore) is a social outcast at his high school. On April Fools Day the other students decide to play a prank on him by inviting him into the girl’s shower were they mock his naked body. This gets the students into trouble with the coach (Marc Smith) so they decide to play another joke on him by adding a chemical to his science project that causes it to explode, which topples a bottle of nitric acid off the shelf and it splashes onto his face which disfigures him. 5 years later the students reconvene for a  reunion, but find the school has been closed and in disrepair yet they still go in and have a party anyways, but soon they begin getting killed off one-by-one in violent ways. Is Marty lurking in the shadows and doing it for revenge, or is it somebody else?

I enjoyed the way the film works against the formula by having a linear narrative where the horrible accident happens right away instead of using flashbacks, or having it discussed through dialogue like in other slashers. The killings are expertly handled including one where the victim has his intestines blow directly out of his stomach, which is graphic and caught me completely off guard. The tension is good too and had me riveted at the end as Caroline Munro gets chased around the darkened building almost endlessly, which was intentionally prolonged by the filmmakers to give it a longer runtime, but in the process helps make the scenario even scarier by making it seem like the victim is stuck in a nightmarish maze that she can’t get out of.

Some viewers had issues with the cast looking too old for high schoolers, which included star Munro who was already 35 at the time. However, what really impressed me was that it was filmed in England with a mostly British cast, except for Donna Yaeger who plays Stella and a couple of others, and yet all of them with the exception of Munro were able to successfully disguise their accents to make it sound like they were genuinely American.

My only two complaints were the music score, which sounded too playful like it was intended for a comedy instead of a horror and didn’t help add to the tension and in many ways worked against it. The scene were two of the characters (Donna Yeager, Billy Hartman) have sex is ridiculous as this occurs after they had just witnessed two graphic murders and the ongoing threat of a killer lurking about, so for most people sex would be the last thing on their minds nor would they be able to perform even if they tried due to the psychological stress, so having the guy become baffled when he can’t get an erection under those circumstances was laughable as I would’ve more surprised if he had.

The twist ending is cool and even if it had been a letdown I would’ve still given it 7 points as the rest of it is highly entertaining either way. The original working title was going to be April Fool’s Daybut this got changed when the filmmakers became aware that another movie with that same title was set to be released in the US, but this movie is far better than that one.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 14, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Directors: George Dugdale, Mark Ezra, Peter Mackenzie Litten

Studio: Vestron Pictures

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

Blue Monkey (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giant insect invades hospital.

When an elderly man (Sandy Webster) gets his finger pricked by a foreign plant he’s immediately rushed to the hospital after he goes into shock. At the hospital he regurgitates an insect pupa, which is taken to the lab for observation. It is there that it gets fed a growth hormone by a group of children causing it to escape and take-over the hospital. Jim (Steve Railsback) is a police detective who was already in the hospital overseeing his partner who had gotten shot while on duty. Together with Rachel (Gwynyth Walsh), an on-call emergency room doctor, and Elliot (Don Lake), a entomologist, they go on the offence to trap the giant bug and kill it before it can reproduce.

I was initially not excited about watching this as it’s admittedly a rip-off of Alien and has many of the same shocks while being directed by Canadian horror maestro William Fruet whose other output I’ve found to be only so-so, but this one is surprisingly compelling. It also has some cool effects including seeing the characters running down a darkened hallway that’s lighted from one end with a bluish hue that gives it a surreal vibe. The shocks aren’t plentiful, but the few that they do have work.

This is also one movie where Railsback, who’s excellent playing psychos like Charles Manson and Ed Gein, is effective as a good guy. In other films where he was a protagonist like in Lifeforce he came-off as unintentionally creepy and it hurt his ability to get starring roles, but here his kindly interactions with a group of sickly children help subside that. I also enjoyed Susan Anspach, looking almost unrecognizable in her black-rimmed glasses, as one of the Dr.’s who takes matters into her own-hands without waiting for a male Dr. to tell her what to do. In fact there really aren’t too many men in white coats at the facility that seemed mainly run by females, which I found interesting.

What I didn’t like were the supporting comical characters. Helen Hughes and Joy Coghill as two drunken old ladies was not needed nor was SCTV alums Joe Flaherty and Robin Duke as a goofy couple having a baby. Sometimes in horror movies that are super intense a brief moment of levity is okay, but this movie wasn’t frightening enough for that and if anything needed to play-up the scares more instead of throwing in goofy scenes that makes it seem too much like a jokey-script instead of a scary one.

The actual bug, when seen in its giant proportion, isn’t the chilling sight you’d expect mainly because its made to look like a regular bug, but just bigger, which isn’t imaginative and more reminiscent of the tacky sci-fi ‘creature-features’ of the 50’s where insects suddenly become bigger and most people today find laughable. It also would’ve been nice during the lab scenes for the camera to have focused on the pupa under the glass instead of the scared faces of the people looking at it. We don’t need to see facial expressions to know if something is scary we just need to be shown the scary thing directly and when we don’t see it, it makes the film look cheap like it didn’t have enough money to create an elaborate effect, so it copped-out by doing it this way.

Even with some of these issues it’s still an entertaining ride. It won’t be for everyone’s tastes and it certainly isn’t going to win any awards nor was it intended to, but if you like giant bug movies this one should satisfy your appetite.  It was also filmed entirely in Canada though the setting is supposed to be the US.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Release: September 25, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Fruet

Studio: International Spectrafilm

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Girls Nite Out (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Scavenger hunt turns deadly.

After the DeWitt university basketball team wins the championship the female students go on an all-night scavenger hunt using clues given to them at regular intervals by the DJ at the college radio station, who they listen to via portable radios. During the event many of the participants turn-up dead having been murdered by a killer dressed in a bear costume. No one knows who it is, but many suspect it might have something to do with Dickie Cavanuagh who murdered his girlfriend Patty, the daughter of the school’s security guard Jim (Hal Holbrook), in a jealous rage years earlier and has ever since been locked away in a mental hospital.

The plot is similar to Midnight Madnessbut the scavenger hunt in that one was done in a much more vivid way and a had a wider variety of locales while this one occurs in a limited setting making it visually quite boring. Much of the reason for this was because Upsala College gave the producers only one weekend to film forcing them to cram the entire shoot into a 3-day period and causing much of the cast to work 24-hour shifts in order to get it done while Hal Holbrook did his part separately and only interacts with the cast once in a scene where he has a brief exchange with his real-life son David Holbrook, who plays one of the suspects.

Given that it’s actually quite impressive how good the performances are, but everything else, including the poor pacing, is rock bottom. Way too much time gets spent on the set-up including boring scenes at a campus party that aren’t engaging. The actual hunt doesn’t get going until almost 40-minutes in even though it should’ve begun with the hunt right away while nixing the early conversations and characters that add little to the suspense.

The film also suffers from a musical soundtrack made up entirely of bubblegum bands from the 60’s like The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Ohio Express, and 1910 Fruitgum Co., which all had a sound that was by the early 80’s completely out-of-touch and something no self-respecting college kid would be caught listening to. Especially at a college party where the idea is to play recent hits that are trending and not dancing to songs that sound like jingles from a commercial. Personally I like The Lovin’ Spoonful, but their style was dated by that time, so it seemed weird that was the only band that the college radio station ever played, which would’ve had none of the students listening to them if that was all they were going to hear.

Things do pick-up once the murders get going. Some critics complained that the killings are unimaginative and are handled in a routine way, which they are, but I did like the killer’s weapon that’s fashioned to look like a bear claw using knives in place of the paws and similar to what Freddy Krueger later used in Nightmare on Elm Street. The identity of the killer is also a surprise, so it scores a few points there, but overall it’s still no better than the hundreds of other slashers that were released around the same time.

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Alternate Title: The Scaremaker

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 3, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Deubel

Studio: Independent-International Pictures

Available: DVD

Disconnected (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Receiving harassing phone calls.

Alicia (Frances Rains) is a young adult woman who brings an elderly man (William A. Roberts) up to her apartment one day so that he can use her phone to make a call. However, once he leaves she begins receiving odd calls at all times of the day and night where loud unexplained sounds emit from the receiver. She also gets a call where she overhears a conversation between her boyfriend Mike (Carl Koch) and twin sister Barbara-Ann, who are apparently are seeing each other behind-her-back. She then breaks up with Mike and begins dating Franklin (Mark Walker) whom she met while working at a video store. Franklin seems nice at first, but she’s unaware that he’s also the notorious serial killer who has been murdering young women in her area.

This horror oddity is the product of Gorman Bechard, who while still a film student decided to make a movie on his own with the low, low budget of only $40,000 and filming it almost entirely inside his tiny one-bedroom apartment. While it’s not a complete success it’s offbeat enough to hold your attention and guaranteed to keep you guessing to the very end.

The scenes inside the video store I enjoyed the most particularly Franklin’s complaints at how it didn’t have enough foreign films, or older movies, which was always the criticism I had of my local video stores too. The dark humor of Franklin hanging a crucifix over his bed where he commits the murders and the little prayer he does before he offs his victims I found amusing. Bechard’s odd camera shots including one segment done with black-and-white, freeze-frames is another asset that keeps it inventive.

The performance by Raines, who is beautiful, is excellent and I felt she would’ve had a long career ahead of her had she not giving up acting in order to raise a family. I was not as enamored though with the two guys playing the cops who lend a cartoonish flair that was not needed. I didn’t like too that one of them gets interviewed by someone sitting behind a camera that we don’t see and asking a bunch of questions almost like it’s a documentary, which begs the question as to who this person was and why does he just interview the cops, but no one else?

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s biggest problem though is that it gets rid of the Franklin too quickly without playing up that scenario as much as it could’ve. It also cuts away without ever showing how the cops are able to subdue him, or how Alicia is able to get away, which seems like a standard scene that a horror movie fan would want to see and not just have discussed later.

The weird calls ultimately become boring. It also takes Alicia too long to figure out that maybe a good way to stop them would be to unplug the phone from the wall, which she finally does at the very end, but most other people would’ve done it a hell of a lot sooner.

The twist ending where the old man that was seen at the start, but then disappears only to return and be shown walking out of her apartment makes no sense. Some viewers have speculated that maybe he was a ghost of some kind, but that’s not made clear. My personal feeling is that there was no meaning to it and it’s intentionally left vague, so the individual viewers can read into it whatever they want, but it’s not a satisfying way to end almost 90-minutes of viewing and in many ways, despite the interesting bits, makes it quite annoying. A better, more focused conclusion would’ve certainly helped.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 17, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Gorman Bechard

Available: VHS, Tubi, Blu-ray (Limited Edition only 2,000 copies printed) 

Lady, Stay Dead (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Handyman obsesses over singer.

Gordon (Chard Hayward) works as a handyman and is treated poorly by his boss Marie (Deborah Coulls), a famous singer/actress, who routinely berates him as if he were a second-class citizen. Secretly Gordon fantasizes about having sex with her and one day breaks into her home and rapes her. Afterwards he drowns her by shoving her head into a fish tank. When her elderly neighbor Bill (Les Foxcroft) spots Gordon trying to discard her body he then kills him too and his dog, but Gordon fails to realize that Jenny (Louise Howitt), who is Marie’s older sister, is coming for a visit. When she arrives she quickly catches-on to what’s happening and proves to be a formidable challenge to Gordon, who wants to do to her exactly what he did to her sister.

The film was written and directed by Terry Bourke, who was credited with doing the very first horror movie in Australia, Night of Fear, which many consider a precursor to The Texas Chain Saw Massacreand this made him a horror guru in the Down Under and eventually lead to him making this one. This movie is unique in that it’s the first slasher film released in Australia and received okay reviews simply for its production values, which was a step above most other slasher pics.

Initially I was intrigued with the concept as it captures Gordon’s point-of-view and even sympathizes with him over his mistreatment by the callous Marie. It almost seemed to be playing-off the same idea of another Australian cult-hit The Plumberwhere a working-class male takes his animosity out on a female who he believes looks down on him. Had the movie stuck with this idea it could’ve been interesting and I was fascinated to see how both character’s behaviors and insights into each other would evolve as the scenario progressed, but this gets ruined by having Marie killed-off too soon.

Having her sister Jenny, who in no way looks anything like Marie even though they’re supposed to be related, become the main victim is not compelling and the story devolves from being a potentially compelling psychological flick into that of your standard cardboard thriller. Had Jenny, not knowing that Gordon was her sister’s killer initially, fallen in-love with him, could’ve lent a unique twist and might’ve saved it, but it doesn’t go in this direction either. Ultimately I was unsure why the opening bit involving Marie was even needed as it could’ve just started with Jenny as the target of the obsessed handyman and gotten played-out in exactly the same way.

The script also suffers from plot-points being too loosely connected. There’s no cyclical structure like with most stories where what see in the first act connects with what happens later. Instead characters and events get thrown in haphazardly with only the loosest of threads holding it together. The random policemen, played by Roger Ward, jumping in and becoming a major part of the action in the third-act, is a good example of this. Why not have this part played by Billy, the helpful elderly neighbor, who like with Marie gets offed too soon until you wonder why he and Marie were even in it at all.

Spoiler Alert!

The double-ending where you think the policeman has killed Gordon, but really hasn’t was no surprise at all. It’s also impossible to believe that Gordon would’ve been able to drive a squad car around while hunched beneath the dashboard and unable to look a window to see where he was going. Also, the title itself makes no sense as Marie never comes-back to life, so what the meaning of ‘stay dead’ is I don’t know.

Overall the script is too unfocused making what starts out original end-up being quite formulaic and forgettable although the segment where Gordon uses a chainsaw to cut a hole in the front door is genuinely creepy particularly the sound it makes as he does it, which is the only scary moment.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 10, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Director: Terry Bourke

Studio: Ryntare Productions

Available: DVD