Category Archives: Horror

Jennifer (1978)

jennifer

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: She can control snakes.

Jennifer (Lisa Pelikan) is a shy student from West Virginia attending to a preppy boarding school in California. She lives with her father (Jeff Corey) who suffers from mental issues and is a religious zealot. She cares for him while also helping him run their pet store. At school Jennifer gets on the bad side of Sandy (Amy Johnston) the spoiled daughter of a rich senator (John Gavin). Sandy and her snotty clique of friends try to make life miserable for her, but Jennifer knows something that they don’t. She has a special ability, since childhood, to communicate and control snakes and when the harassment gets to be too much she unleashes the snakes onto her enemies.

While Hollywood is well known for ripping-off hit movies, in this case Carriethis one is quite possibly the most shameless and brazen as very little effort is made to differentiate it from the original and it seems almost intent to copy it in every possible way. Star Pelikan looks and speak almost identically to Sissy Spacek from the original, even has the same clear blue eyes and Amy Johnston is virtually the spitting image to Nancy Allen who was the mean girl from that one. Director Brice Mack even replicates Brian DePalma’s soft focus camera lens and lighting schemes though I will give this one some props for mentioning John Travolta.

Jennifer’s powers gets awkwardly handled too as it’s over a half-hour in before they even get mentioned and we as viewers should’ve gotten foreshadowing about them a lot earlier. The preacher’s kid getting killed by one of Jennifer’s snakes when she was 7, which is what forced them to leave the small town, should’ve been played-out and not just discussed and the flashback scene of her as a child getting in front of a group of churchgoers at a religious revival in order to demonstrate her powers over snakes should’ve been shown right at the beginning instead of 35-minutes in.

I did though appreciate that Jennifer isn’t quite as pathetic as her Carrie counterpart and is able to hold her own in social situations instead of pathetically slinking away. The fact that she does have a few friends and people sticking-up for her is nice too as watching all the kids, like in Carriebeing cruel to another for the simple sake of meanness can get a little hard to take. The writing team of Steve Krantz and Kay Cousins Johnson also do a good job of creating a likable main character and a really nasty villainous making you fully hate her and looking forward to the climatic showdown. It’s just unfortunate that Amy Johnston was a weak actress and unable to make her character, as spoiled and nefarious as she is, more interesting.

Pelikan on the other-hand is excellent and I found it ironic that she was, in real-life, married to Bruce Davison, who starred in a famous horror movie of his own, Willard, about a young man that could control and communicate with rats. Nina Foch is great as the corrupt school administrator and I really dug her big glasses. John Gavin is fun too in his last movie role before he left show business to get into politics and looking like he hadn’t aged a day since the 50’s when he was, at that time, considered an up-and-coming star. Bert Convy though, while a great game show host, proves to be yet again weak as an actor. He’s so bad that even the scene where he tells-off Foch, which should’ve been rousing, becomes boring and I was hoping that at some point his character, which was a bit too good-to-be-true, would’ve made a provocative pass to Jennifer when they were alone together simply to give the story a little bit of a darker subtext.

Spoiler Alert!

Caveats and all I found the ending to be super cool and I really wished it would’ve gone on longer. Real snakes were used and the shots of them growing to giant size is genuinely creepy and makes sitting through the rest well worth it. The only quibble is that it’s never explained how Jennifer is able to make snakes appear out of nowhere. I was okay with the concept that she had an ability to make them do as she wanted and attack those that she didn’t like, but getting them to pop-in was a bit much. To have helped avoid this issue the final sequence should’ve been done at the her pet store, where the snakes could’ve come out of their glass cages to defend her, instead of in a parking garage where there were no snakes until she somehow ‘zapped’ them in.

I was also surprised, just as a side note, with the level of nudity that you see in what is otherwise a PG-rated movie. Not that I’m complaining, and I realize 70’s standards in the rating system are different than today’s, but still it ends up being more than you might think.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 31, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Brice Mack

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Ghosts That Still Walk (1977)

ghosts

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen possessed by ghost.

Mark (Matthew Boston) is the 15-year-old son of Ruth (Caroline Howe) who is a researcher that specializes in astral projection. She goes out one day to an abandoned cave and brings home the decayed corpse of an ancient Indian Medicine Man and attempts to speak to the ghostly spirit that she feels is still inside it. Mark catches her talking to it when he comes home early from school and this sight spooks him enough that he runs away. When he eventually does return he begins to behave erratically and his concerned grandmother (Ann Nelson) sends him to a psychiatrist (Rita Crafts) who tries to get to the bottom of the matter.

This film, while not very good, is unique in several ways in that it’s one of the few horror movies that could be watched by the entire family. The mild frights are in the supernatural vein that may spook a child, who I believe was the intended audience, slightly, but won’t traumatize. This is also a rare horror film that features no blood, no gore, no nudity or swearing, and no psychos, or monsters. It also has virtually all of the scenes taking place outside in the bright sunlight versus doing them in the dark of night like with most scary movies. This marks as well the film debut of Ann Nelson, an elderly actress who went on to play a lot of old lady roles in TV-shows and movies during the 80’s and here as a hyper-anxious, deeply religious grandma is entertaining and helps give the film a few more points.

Reviewers on IMDb all seem to remember one specific scene that stands-out that stood out to them, which is the moment where boulders roll across the flat desert terrain by a invisible force, which is indeed a cool visual. However, I didn’t like the way they would conveniently bounce-up and avoid the camper that the old couple are driving in versus having one of the boulders come directly towards the camera and crash into the windshield, which would’ve been effectively dramatic.

Other scare segments don’t work as well. The scene where the camper begins driving itself goes on too long and isn’t as intense as it could’ve been as it’s done on a deserted highway and would’ve been more exciting had we seen the vehicle going into oncoming traffic. Cutting back-and-forth to the grandma getting bounced around on the interior walls as it drives crazily elicits unintended laughs instead of tension.

It’s also confusing as to who the main character is supposed to be. It starts out with the kid, who’s likable enough, but then he goes away for a long period and we get stuck exclusively with the elderly couple in a flashback bit and then it segues to the mother and in-between there’s extended scenes, with voice-over, of the psychiatrist as she researches the case. The kid, who I liked best, finally comes back near the end, but it’s not enough to save it and the way it gets structured here makes it seem like 4 different stories that get awkwardly merged instead of having one protagonist throughout.

The ending peters-out with a fizzle giving the viewer no climactic pay-off at all. The title is also goofy as I didn’t think ghosts walked, but instead floated.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: James T. Flocker

Studio: James Flocker Enterprises

Available: VHS, DVD-R (dvdlady.com)

Grotesque (1988)

grotesque

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Punks versus deformed boy.

Lisa (Linda Blair) invites her friend Kathy (Donna Wilkes) over to her remote parent’s cabin for the weekend to help her get over a recent painful break-up. Lisa’s father Orville (Guy Stockwell) is a famous special effects artist for horror movies and the home is filled with all sorts of spooky masks and props. Unfortunately a gang of punks lead by Scratch (Brad Wilson) invade the home looking for money. Lisa’s parents are brutally murdered as well as Kathy. Lisa manages to get away, but eventually chased down outside in the snow. Yet the punks do not realize that another person is in the home, Patrick (Robert Apisa), who resides in a hidden room. He’s a boy with massive facial deformities that the parents kept in a secret room, but who is able to escape after the massacre. He then chases the punks down and begins offing them one-by-one while the police and Orville’s brother Rod (Tab Hunter) also go after the punks.

Filmed on-location in Big Bear Lake the film has a similar storyline to the Canadian cult classic Death Weekend and while that one had its share of faults it’s still far better than this, which has so many issues it’s had to know where to begin. The overly exaggerated performances of the punks, particularly by their leader who acts like he’s consumed way too much caffeine, is one of the bigger problems. There’s also no explanation for how they manage to find Orville’s very remote house especially since their van breaks down on the way. They try to ask Lisa for help, but she drives on, so who eventually came to their rescue to get them back on the road, or did they walk there and if so that should’ve been shown. It’s also irritating how they’re shown outside the home one second and then magically inside the place the next, but with no explanation for how they get in.

Linda Blair is certainly a fine actress, but she gets partially to blame for this monstrosity since she also co-produced. Donna Wilkes is quite appealing as usual and had she stayed in it the whole way and became the heroine I would’ve given it more points, but once she goes down it really gets bad. I felt the idea of having her sleep in the same bed with Lisa in Lisa’s bedroom looked a bit odd. If they were 8-year-olds on a sleepover that might be fine, but adult women, who were not in an intimate relationship, would most likely want more privacy and the home from the outside looked to have three stories, so you’d think there would be an extra spare bedroom, or two.

I didn’t like the addition of the Patrick character at all. Patrick gets mentioned briefly by Lisa and her mother, but I felt the viewer needed to be more fully aware that there was a secret room and someone in it long before the punks arrive. I didn’t understand why this deformed individual had such amazing strength either. If he had been cooped-up in a tiny room his whole life then I’d think the reverse would be true. His muscles would atrophy due to under use and he’d be weaker than normal instead of stronger.

Spoiler Alert!

The addition of the Tab Hunter character I actually liked. He plays a rugged, macho guy who tries to single-handily hunt down the punks and plays it with a fun style. I could’ve even tolerated the one twist ending that revealed Patrick to be his son and that Hunter himself was deformed and only able to hide it by wearing a plastic, form-fitting mask created by his brother. What I couldn’t stand was the double-twist, which has the whole thing being a movie created by Orville and as everyone is sitting in the theater watching it the film reel inside the projection booth gets messed with by a wolf man and Frankenstein, who then proceed to scare everyone out of the cinema when they walk in.

There’s no way anyone would get scared by two idiots that look to be wearing a tacky Halloween get-up and to give the whole thing a comical ending when the rest of it had been played-up as being serious is quite jarring. Normally after watching a bad movie and I feel disappointed, but in his case I was angry. It’s a genuine insult to have to sit through this and I honestly felt the writer-director should’ve been punished for having the audacity to make it and think anyone would be stupid enough to enjoy it.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: September 9, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joe Tornatore

Studio: Empire Pictures

Available: DVD, Fandor, Plex, Tubi, Amazon Video

The Meateater (1979)

meateater1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: A haunted movie theater.

Mitford (Peter Spitzer) is a middle-aged father of two who decides he’s had enough of being a shoe salesman. Much to the reluctance of his wife Jan (Dianne Davis) he buys an old movie theater and decides to reopen it. The theater had remained closed since the previous owner showed the movie Carnal Knowledge, which was considered too racy for the conservative citizens of the town, but Mitford promises to schedule only G-rated fare. While opening night is a sell-out it proves fatal when the projectionist (Richard Nathan) gets electrocuted and dies. Then from behind the screen it’s revealed that someone from years ago had hanged himself. No one knows for sure who it is, particularly the vulgar police detective (Joe Marmo), but the new owners begin to suspect that the weird, stuttering man (Arch Joboulian) who lives nearby and always appears in the theater at odd times may know more about what’s going on than he’s letting-on.

Regional filmmaker David Burton Morris, who has shot the majority of his films in the Twin Cities area where he’s from, has had some acclaim with his dramas, but his foray into horror is a disaster. The only redeeming quality are the quirky characters. Raymond, as a hyper nervous, geeky projectionist is funny and I hated seeing him go. The crass investigator is good for a few chuckles too and in some ways probably not all that different from a gruff policemen of that era.

The film’s downfall is the fact that there aren’t any scares. It starts out creepy enough, but that vibe soon gets lost and the soundtrack plays like something better suited for a comedy. The extraneous conversations really bog it down. Discussions about Jimmy Dean sausages and having the family singing the Oscar Meyer wiener song as they drive home has no place in this story, or any other for that matter. It also suffers from poor framing where the husband and wife are sitting on a porch to one side and the detective on the opposite end, but despite all three being involved in a conversation only the couple are seen while all we see from the detective are his legs.

Spoiler Alert!

The third act is where it really goes south as the brother of the crazy stuttering man (both played by Joboulian) kidnaps the couple’s teen daughter (Emily Spindler) because she reminds him of Jean Harlow his favorite movie star. However, the teen girl wasn’t in much of the movie up until then, so the viewer has no emotional connection with her and therefore no care whether she gets away, or not. Since the mother had taken up most of the screentime it really should’ve been her as the kidnap victim. Either way it’s not very tense and Jobulian, who comes-off as a cross between Angus Scrimm in Phantasm and Richard O’Brien from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, is not a good enough actor to make the villain role even remotely interesting. The attempt to borrow from the ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’ theme where this deformed being falls for a young beauty is both stale and contrived.

The story also has no connection with the title. We do see a man biting down on a rat at the beginning and the theater does show some documentaries of animals attacking other animals, of which we see a few snippets of, but the title leads one to believe this will be about cannibalism and there’s none. The film’s promotional poster seen above is misleading as well and far scarier than anything you’ll witness in the movie.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: November 16, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: David Burton Morris

Studio: Hollyco

Available: DVD-R (dvdlady.com)

Messiah of Evil (1973)

messiah1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Town of dead people.

Arletty (Marianna Hill) travels to the seaside town of Point Dume, California to visit her father (Royal Dano) who is a popular artist there. When she arrives she finds his home abandoned and reads over his journals that he left in which he describes frightening things that have occurred to him in the days leading up. She then meets Thom (Michael Greer) and his two lady lovers, Toni (Joy Bang) and Laura (Anitra Ford). He too is searching for her father while also interviewing residents of the town about the strange events that have been happening and documenting them on tape. The four begin having weird encounters themselves as at night the residents of the town take-on a zombie-like existence where they stare at the moon and show an unusual craving for blood and meat.

The film was shot in 1971 under the title of ‘The Second Coming’, but the investors pulled their money out of the project and it was never completed. In 1973 another producer bought the footage and edited it before releasing it to theaters under its current title. It was not an instant success and fell into obscurity until another distributor bought the print 5 years later and decided to re-release it under the title of ‘Return of the Living Dead’ in order to capitalize off of the George Romero franchise, which quickly got it sued.

Today the film has gained a strong legion of fans and seen as being a unique and moody masterpiece and while it does fall short on the story end more than makes up for it with its atmosphere. It was written and directed on a shoestring by the writing and directing team of Willard Huyck and his wife Gloria Katz. Their names are most connected with the notorious bomb Howard the Duck, and while their careers were certainly stigmatized because of that, which some feel was unfair, they’re now considered neglected talents after many of those same critics saw this one.

The film certainly has some very cool and memorable moments with the best one being Anitra Ford’s trip to Ralph’s supermarket, shot on-location, and her confrontation with the zombies and subsequent chase through the store. Another great moment is when Joy Bang goes to a movie theater, where co-director Gloria Katz has a cameo as the lady in the ticket window, and while the theater is near empty when she arrives it slowly fills-up with the zombies as she’s watching the movie.

The two female leads are terrific and help give the film a personality with each scene that they’re in. Ford is better known for being a longtime show model on ‘Price is Right’  while Bang had some brief, but memorable moments in a few other films during the early 70’s before retiring from show business in order to move to Minnesota to become a nurse.

Hill though isn’t as good. She also starred in Schizoid, which was reviewed here a few days ago and like in that movie she gets upstaged by her co-stars. I did find it interesting though that in one scene here she kills someone with a scissors since that was the major weapon of choice in the other movie. I did find it odd that in the credits here her first name is listed with only one ‘n’ while in the other movie it was listed with two, so I guess, since that movie was shot 9 years after this one, that as she aged she must of grown another ‘n’.

The veteran cast of male actors are excellent too. The aging Elisha Cook Jr. has an entertaining bit as a wide-eyed homeless man telling crazy stories. Charles Dierkop is fun as a terrorized gas station attendant and Royal Dano is diverting as the father who smears his face with blue paint. The only male actor that isn’t effective is Michael Greer, who was quite flashy when playing flaming gay characters like in The Gay Deceivers and Fortune and Men’s Eyesbut when he’s stuck doing a straight guy he’s deadly dull.

Unlike the rest of the movie the ending isn’t as effective and I didn’t think the sudden voice-over narration was necessary. We had gone the whole way without it, so entering it in at the last minute becomes jarring and disconcerting. There’s also no interesting final twist and the zombie theme is too similar to the George Romero films, ultimately making this one, despite the eerie touches, seem like a poor cousin to those.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 22, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz

Studio: International Cine Film Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Mirrors (1978)

mirrors

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Woman haunted by voodoo.

Marianne (Kitty Winn) and Gary ( William Paul Burns) are a newlywed couple who travel to the French Quarter of New Orleans for their honeymoon. Little do they know that a secret group of people, including the owner of the hotel that they’re staying at, have decided to possess Marianne with the spirit of a dead black woman. Soon after arriving Marianne begins having frightening dreams and the reflections of someone else when she looks in the mirror. Strange occurrences happen around her including the deaths of dogs and even her husband. Eventually she gets taken to a psychiatric hospital where Dr. Godard (Peter Donat) listens to her case and agrees to try and help her.

This was the third feature film of director Noel Black. He attained the attention of film critics with his 1965 movie short Skaterdaterwhich lead to funding for his second project Pretty Poison, which starred Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld and garnered a cult following. Soon after he became highly in-demand, but he made the mistake of deciding it was more important to stay busy in the business than holding out for a good script. He took on directing the notorious Cover Me Babewhich features what may be the most unlikable protagonist in film history, and a movie Black later admitted “should never have been made”. He followed this up with Jennifer on My Mindwhich met with equal disdain by both the critics and at the box office. By 1974, when this film was shot, Black was just trying to remain relevant as the studios that initially adored him were now no longer calling. This film was meant to showcase his visual talent, but he and the producers could never get on the same page as to what direction to take the story culminating in a muddled script that goes nowhere.

That’s not to say there aren’t things about this movie that I liked. The music score by Stephen Lawrence is haunting and the on-location shooting of the French Quarter offers a nice ambiance. I liked the point-of-view shots done when Marianne first gets wheeled into the hospital and the scenes inside an abandoned train station are spooky.

The story though lacks focus. The film opens right away with us seeing the notorious voodoo group in action, but it would’ve been more interesting had we not been given this information right away and instead made it more of a mystery for the viewer as to whether she was going insane, like the other characters in the movie think she is, or not. Winn’s performance is good. She’s better known for her part in a much more famous horror movie The Exorcist, where she appeared more youthful while here her hair is cut short and with make-up given a middle-aged demeanor. Her character though is poorly fleshed-out and shows no unique qualities and in that respect she’s quite boring, but as she becomes repeatedly terrorized by the group the viewer softens to her, mostly due to her good acting, and ultimately cares about her fate.

Spoiler Alert!

The story has similar themes with the cult hit Let’s Scare Jessica to Death and had it been better realized could’ve been a minor success, but the ending is too ambiguous. Winn turns to the camera in the final shot and shows a weird expression making us believe, I guess, that she’s been possessed by a spirit, but why was she chosen? There’s many people that come to New Orleans, so why does this group pick her to go through all this and not someone else? What’s the purpose, or end game of the group and what do they hope to achieve? None of this gets answered making the viewer feel afterwards that it was a big pointless waste of time. Black admitted that it didn’t work out right, but blames the fact that it was taken out of his hands and revised in a way that he didn’t approve of. All of this may be true, but in either case it’s best not to come into it with high expectations as you’ll leave gravely disappointed afterwards.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 8, 1978 (Filmed in May of 1974)

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Noel Black

Studio: First American Films

Available: DVD-R (dvdlady.com)

Blood Song (1982)

blood1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Psychic connection with psycho.

Filmed entirely on-location in Coos Bay, Oregon with a script written by Frank Avainca, a former rock singer, and Lenny Montana, a former wrestler. The story centers on Marion (Donna Wilkes) a teenager whose leg got injured years before when her father (Richard Jaeckel) accidentally ran over it while intoxicated, which forces her to wear a brace. It was during surgery while trying to repair it that doctors gave her a transfusion from a very rare blood type. The only one that had this same type was Paul (Frankie Avalon) who had been institutionalized since he was a child after witnessing his father murder his mother and her lover after the father caught them in bed together before then seeing the father kill himself. Paul manages to escape from the institution and while Marion goes on living her life she begins seeing visions of Paul murdering other people. Nobody believes her when she tells them about it. One day she goes walking in the woods and comes face-to-face with Paul as she witnesses him burying one of his latest victims. She is able to run from him at that point, but begins living in terror that he’s now stalking her, which he is.

The only redeeming thing in this cardboard horror is the performance by Wilkes with this being the second of the three horror films that she did during the 80’s. While she was already 22 at the time it was filmed, which was in October of 1980, she still comes across very much like an actual adolescent. She also gives a likable performance making you care about her character and thus more wrapped-up in the story than you might otherwise. I did though take issue with the crippled leg. If you have a person with a noticeable handicap than that needs to come into play. Here though it really doesn’t. She does run with a bit of limp, but still able to get way. If she has a bum leg then running should’ve been completely impossible otherwise what’s the point of introducing the bad leg in the first place? She then would’ve been forced to find another way to get away from him, which in-turn could’ve made the story more creative and the victim’s quandary more unique.

Avalon was a famous teen singer during the late 50’s and early 60’s before graduating to movies, particularly the Beach Party ones. Then in the late 70’s he had a career resurgence with his appearance in the hit film Grease, but by the 80’s he was back to irrelevance, so I have no idea why they thought this former teen heartthrob would make for a good psycho other than the producer apparently seeing him guest star on an episode of ‘Fantasy Island’ and from that gave him the role. His performance though is one-note and having the killer revert to a child-like voice and mannerisms at times, in an effort I guess to show that he has a ‘split personality’, is corny and cliched.

The dream sequences, in which Wilkes supposedly sees things from Avalon’s perspective, isn’t believable because if that were the case then she wouldn’t see the killer’s face, unless of course he were looking in a mirror, which he never does. It would’ve been far more intriguing if the killer’s identity hadn’t been known until the end and thus heightening the tension because everyone she would meet could be the culprit and she and the viewer wouldn’t know. The explanation for the psychic connection with him (the blood transfusion) should’ve been kept a secret until the end as well and thus adding another layer of mystery instead of spelling it all out right away and then plodding to a predictable finish.

Spoiler Alert!

The climactic chase, which takes place inside a saw mill, offers some diversion, but not enough. Having her sent to a mental hospital after she is found by the police, is stupid. Apparently this was because when they searched the lake where Avalon fell into they didn’t find his body, only the body of another one of his victims, the saw mill nightwatchmen, and thus causing them to believe that Wilkes was the killer, but why didn’t they consider the possibility that the real killer might’ve just swam away? Taking a murder suspect to jail first is realistic and then once they’ve been examined by a court appointed psychiatrist would they possibly be turned over to mental facility versus having them immediately taken there like it gets done here.

The final twist, where Avalon dresses up as a Dr. at the mental hospital in order to get into Wilkes’ room, I figured out the moment they showed someone wearing a white Dr’s jacket, but not revealing his face, making the ‘big surprise ending’ no surprise at all. It’s also a cop-out because we never find out if he killer gets caught. They should’ve just continued the chase inside the hospital and culminating in a final climactic showdown between the killer and victim instead of ending it with all sorts of loose ends.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 1, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alan J. Levi

Studio: Summa Vista Pictures

Available: DVD

Schizoid (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killing group therapy members.

Julie (Marinna Hill) is an advice columnist who after going through a recent divorce begins attending group therapy sessions run by Dr. Pieter Fales inside his home. The Dr. soon falls for Julie and the two form a romantic relationship much to the dismay of both Alison (Donna Wilkes), the Dr.’s teenage daughter whom he live with, and Julie’s volatile ex-husband Doug (Craig Wasson). It’s also around this time that Julie begins receiving anonymous letters threatening to kill her. When she goes to the police they dismiss it as harmless, but then members of her therapy group begin turning-up dead.

This was yet another product of the notorious Cannon Group studio whose output was highly variable. This production proved to be on the low-end where writer/director David Paulsen was assigned to write a script in 1-month that had to be a horror story, which needed come in under $1 million budget and had to have Klaus Kinski in the cast as he was currently under contract. Paulsen is better known for having done Savage Weekendwhich is considered the first slasher movie. While that movie was intended to be a murder mystery, but ended up by accident giving birth to a whole new genre this one worked in reverse as the intent was to make a horror film, but the result is a bland murder mystery.

A lot of the problem stems from the murder scenes, which are too brief and too spread out and no imagination given to how they’re pulled-off. Just one stab with the scissors and the victim goes down, which gets old fast. The killer is never seen. Having a mystery as to his identity is fine, but he still needs to be wearing some sort of mask, or frightening get-up that allows him to be memorable. Having him just be a shadowy figure that’s seen in only brief snippets does not build tension. The group therapy scenes get botched too. The topics discussed could easily be done in polite company over dinner and nothing close to any actual psychological issues making these moments as boring as the killings.

Klaus Kinski is one of the few things that keep it diverting. While he alienated many a director he worked with and wasn’t exactly loved by even his own family members he’s still with his unique facial features a fascinating actor to watch. Having him play a psychiatrist when he was known in real-life to be rather crazy and erratic is inspired casting and he manages to pull-off the good guy role in successful fashion though his presence didn’t come without controversy. Flo Lawrence, who gets billed as Flo Gerish, stated that during a scene where he makes-out with her he touched her in private areas that was not called for in the script and her look of shock and discomfort in the moment is genuine.

Wilkes is equally magnetic and you get to see her fully nude near the beginning and she looks great. She easily steals every scene that she’s in and should’ve been made the star while the cardboard Hill, who gives a flatlined performance, dumped. I was impressed too with the way she was able to hold her own in the scenes that she did with Klauski as he was known to be notoriously difficult with his co-stars. In his autobiography ‘Kinski Uncut’ he alleges that the two had an affair though Wilkes has never confirmed this and while she has a fan page on Facebook this is one movie that she rarely ever mentions.

Spoiler Alert!

While the film remains moderately watchable the end reveal of the killer, which turns out to be Wasson, was a big disappointment. Normally I can start to figure out who the killer is near the end and in some rare cases I can be completely surprised, but I knew the second Wasson’s character gets introduced that he was clearly the bad guy. There is a point in the film where a detective, who’s speaking with Hill, picks up some scissors that she has on a book shelf in her office, making me believe that she might actually be the culprit. Had that been the case this might’ve gotten a few more props it also would’ve helped explain the film’s title as she’d be exposed as having a dual personality, but as it is the title really doesn’t have anything to do with the story.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 15, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Paulsen

Studio: The Cannon Group

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Mansion of the Doomed (1976)

mansion

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gouging eyes for daughter.

Dr. Leonard Chaney (Richard Basehart) is a man tormented with guilt. He was the one driving the car the day he got into an accident that caused his daughter Nancy (Trish Stewart), who was a passenger in the vehicle, to lose her sight. Since he already had a background in eye research he begins working on finding ways to restore her vision. He finally comes upon the idea of transferring the eyes from a person with sight to hers. He chooses her boyfriend Dan (Lance Henrikson), who is also a doctor, as his guinea pig. At first the surgery is a success, but then later Nancy again goes blind. Chaney becomes even more determined to find a cure and begins kidnapping more people for his eye harvesting. Once the victims have their eyes removed he does not kill them, but instead keeps them prisoner in a cage in the basement of his mansion where his nurse and cohort, Katherine (Gloria Grahame), feeds them while also sending them electrical shocks through the metal bars of the cage just in case they try to get out-of-line.

The was the first feature length film to be produced by Charles Band, who has become known has a B-horror movie maestro. He had just gotten done producing the short Last Foxtrot in Burbank, which was virtually a shot-for-shot spoof of the Last Tango in Pariswhich won him enough attention and accolades that it allowed him to get funding for this project. The star of that film Michael Pataki was commissioned to direct this one and Frank Ray Perilli, another B-actor who helped write the script for the first one, was assigned writing the screenplay here. Although the story is quite ghoulish the special effects are decent and the microscopic close-ups of eyes being poked at while in surgery will effectively make many quite squeamish.

Unlike other low budgets horrors the acting is excellent. Basehart, who was a one time considered an up-and-coming leading man but was clearly in a career decline by this point is still able to drive the story. I liked the way his character is conflicted and feels through his guilt that he’s doing the ‘right thing’ even when he isn’t, which made him a far more interesting villain than just the one-dimensional evil one. Gloria Grahame, another actor who had success, and even an Academy Award, decades earlier before plummeting into B-movie hell, isn’t as strong and her paralyzed upper lip, the unfortunate effect of too much cosmetic surgery, I found a bit annoying when she spoke, but fortunately she isn’t seen doing that too often. Henriksen is great as a caged prisoner who refuses to go down without a fight, but Vic Tayback, who had appeared with Grahame just a few years earlier in another horror flick, Blood and Lacegets stuck with an extremely small role, as a police sergeant, which has very little screen time.

The script is a bit one-note and the second act has a redundant quality as we see one eye surgery after another. The victims become a bit too easy to subdue as well. One scene has two angry men, played by JoJo D’Amore and Al Ferrara, who chase Chaney into his home after he crashes into their car. All the Dr. does to ‘make it right’ is hand them a check for $1,000, but the men accept this offer too quickly. How would they know the check wouldn’t bounce, or that Chaney would stop payment on it before they tried to cash it? Other segments have him kidnapping a hitchhiker (Katherine Stewart) and a real-estate agent (Donna Andressen), but it’s never shown how exactly he’s able to overpower them. This was a short guy who was aging (already in his 60’s) and not too big, so he wouldn’t have necessarily had the upper-hand on these other women who were much younger and more agile, so playing-out the struggles he has with them should’ve been shown.

The blinded victims locked in a dungeon is what helps this film stand apart. Granted there are logistical issues that never get explained like how do all these people crammed into a small space pee and poop? Do they just all do it in the small cage and if so how and who scoops it out? Other than that though the make-up effects where their faces are shown with empty eye sockets is genuinely horrifying and realistic. Their efforts at trying to escape are both gripping and exciting.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 1, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Pataki

Studio: Charles Band Productions

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

One Dark Night (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Overnight in a mausoleum.

Julie (Meg Tilly) is a high school student hoping to join a snotty clique called The Sisters, which is lead by Carol (Robin Evans). Carol is unhappy that Julie is dating her former boyfriend Steve (David Mason Daniels), so she decides to make things tough for her by insisting that to become a member of the clique she must spend the night in a mausoleum. Julie is hesitant at first, but eventually agrees. Carol and another member of The Sisters, Kitty (Leslie Speights), return late at night after dropping Julie off at the mausoleum entrance. The two hope to scare Julie and make her think that the place is haunted, but little do they know that the body of renowned occultist Karl Raymar is buried there and his psychic powers bring the dead bodies back to life that terrorize all three.

It’s always tough to start-out the annual Horrorween festival by watching a stinker, but unfortunately this thing really clunks, which a shame as it begins decently. I like how the paramedics come into the room to haul away the dead bodies and see all sorts of bizarre things in the room like silverware smashed into the walls, which is creepy. The tracking shot done inside the mausoleum, the interiors were done at The Abby of the Psalm Mausoleum and the exteriors shot at The Hollywood Cathedral Mausoleum, are cool and help give off an eclectic energy. Unfortunately everything inside the mausoleum is painted white, which makes the place, despite the coffins, too bright and inviting. It doesn’t help either that the only part of the place we see is the main corridor, which visually becomes boring.

Tilly, who retired from acting in 1995 to raise her kids and write novels and who now runs a YouTube channel called Meg’s Tea Time, is a wonderful actress whose performance in Agnes of God I’ll never forget and she’s quite likable here too. The problem is that the story doesn’t focus on her enough. She’s the only cast member with actual appeal and we need to see her battling the evil powers not the two snotty sorority sisters whose acting abilities are not up to Meg’s. I didn’t like how the character of Olivia (Melissa Newman), the daughter of the occultist Raymar, comes-in at the end either. Meg is the only one that we care for and therefore it should’ve been her sole responsibility to fight Raymar’s powers and no one else’s.

Spoiler Alert!

The thing that really bugged me though is that there just aren’t enough scares. It goes almost an hour in with virtually no frights to the point I almost started to wonder if there would even be any. Once the special effects do kick-in it’s nothing special. The corpses look like melted wax dummies connected to a track that wheels them forward. The lightning bolts coming-out of the eye sockets of the occultist are cheesy. The ending offers no interesting twist and fizzles out without any proverbial bang.

Director Tom McLoughlin and writer Michael Hawes insist that the problem was that the film was taken out of their hands and they had no control over the final cut. The original ending had Carol and Kitty getting permanently entombed in the crypt while still alive, which could’ve been cool and there was a scene where Tilly’s eyes would cast an eerie glow as she looked back at the camera in order to represent that Raymar’s spirit had been transferred to her body, but for whatever reason this got cut out and what’s left isn’t impressive.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 9, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Tom McLoughlin

Studio: Liberty International Entertainment

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Freevee, Pluto TV, Tubi, Amazon Video