Category Archives: Horror

Blood and Lace (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trapped in an orphanage.

Ellie Masters (Melody Patterson) finds herself an orphan after her mother, who worked as a prostitute, is found in bed with a john both dead via bludgeoning by a hammer. Since she’s still a minor she’s required to move into an orphanage run by the corrupt Mrs. Deere (Gloria Grahame) who treats the children as slaves and when any one of them tries to escape they’re met with stern justice from resident handyman Kredge (Len Lesser) who’s in complete charge of all disciplinary functions.

The film was written by Gil Lansky who wrote some interesting cult film-like stuff in the early 70’s including The Night God Screamedwhich had some offbeat touches and worth checking out. This one too has potential, but unfortunately the production values are so bad it gets virtually ruins before it even has a chance. The chief complaint is the music. Since it was produced on a budge of only $200,000 the producers decided, in an effort to save money, that they’d use music from the free library and thus the soundtrack sounds more like something out of an old monster movie from the 40’s and ends up giving the whole thing a very tacky quality. It also gets overplayed making me genuinely consider watching it with the sound turned down especially during the chase or action sequences. Had I been in charge of production I would’ve gladly spent the money to hire a composer who could’ve given it a more appropriately modern sound, which was much needed, and would’ve felt that any money spent to get it would’ve been worth it.

The scenes in the orphanage don’t elicit much tension either and this is mainly because it looks like it would be very easy to escape from it and not as much of a prison-like atmosphere as you’d expect. The kids are able to walk freely about and not locked in their rooms or chained to their beds, which would’ve made more sense. Kredge looks too middle-aged, Lesser was 48 when it was filmed, and not necessarily in good enough shape to physically bully the kids the way he does. There needed to be more guards present who had guns and knives to keep the kids in line. Grahame also looks to thin and frail and I felt Melody, who appears much older than 18, could’ve easily overpowered her and was quite frankly frustrated that she didn’t. Her character is sassy and worldly-wise for the most part, but then also a bit too pathetically complaint to Grahame’s authority when she really didn’t have to be.

I did though like Patterson’s performance overall, she’s best known for playing Wrangler Jane in the 60’s TV-show ‘F-Troop’, but here shows an edgier side and coupled with her cute face could’ve gone on acting in many more movies, but instead after filming this she married actor James MacArthur and put her career on hold in order to move to Hawaii to be closer to him and this ultimately ended up being the last movie she did. I was also impressed with Lesser. It’s always interesting to see which actors remain professional and put in a strong acting effort even when the production is of a low grade level and in that regard he deserves accolades. I was not however as impressed with Grahame as she comes off a bit too one-note and the part would’ve been better served had it been played by a bigger bodied actress such as Shelley Winters, who would’ve been better able to convey a more imposing presence.

The film has become most famous for its opening bit, which shows a mystery assailant holding a hammer and killing their victim’s with it, but all done from his point-of-view similar to the opening bit from Halloweenwhich came out 7 years later. For the most part I liked how it gets done here, it’s the best part of the whole movie, and in some ways enjoyed this version better. My only caveat would be that I wished it hadn’t shown the hammer striking the victims as too much stop action camera work and fake blood gets used, which makes it look amateurish. The camera should’ve simply focused solely on the hammer going up-and-down and only cutting briefly to the blood-soaked victims for a brief shot after they had already been dead.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 17, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Philip S. Gilbert

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: Amazon Video

The Fifth Floor (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Institutionalized against her will.

Kelly (Dianne Hull) is a young adult just starting out by working at a local disco bar while trying to save up enough money to go to college. While at the disco she sips a drink that was meant for somebody else and in the process ends up going into seizures. After she gets rushed to the hospital it is found that the drink had been laced with strychnine, but the doctors feel she took the drink knowing it was poisoned in an attempt to kill herself, so she is directed to spend 72 hours at the hospital’s psyche ward, which is on the fifth floor. It is there that she can be monitored by the trained staff to make sure she will not try to kill herself again. Unfortunately one of the orderly’s who works there, Carl (Bo Hopkins), takes a sexual interest in Kelly and uses his authority to try and force her into compromising situations.

The film starts out okay, which is mainly due to Hull’s performance, who is able to create enough of a three-dimensional character that you see her as a real person and care about her fate. Although she has not been in anything since 1991 and has since then spent her time working as an acting coach, she did do a lot of good performances in other films during the 70’s including her work in Aloha Bobby and Roseso it’s no surprise that her presence here would help lift up the material. I was particularly impressed with the seizures she goes through on the disco floor, which looked quite genuine, and the way she allowed herself to be put in some very vulnerable scenes that would be hard for other performers to do including where she is naked while her captor isn’t and who then proceeds to carry her around.

Unfortunately once things pivot over to the psych ward it goes downhill completely. Instead of raising the tensions it just gets boring. Sharon Farrell gives a strong performance as one of the other patients, in fact it is her image on the film’s promotional poster seen above and not Hull’s even though Hull was technically the star, but the rest of the people stuck there seem too normal and too nice. It becomes almost like Hull finding a new clique of friends. She actually comes off more frazzled when she’s on the outside then when she’s actually at the hospital where for the most part she bonds well with the other patients. I also thought it was ridiculous that these patients were allowed to go to a zoo and able to mingle with the public with only light supervision. If these people are deemed so ‘dangerous’ that they must be institutionalized then I would think they shouldn’t be allowed out into the public at all.

The film’s biggest failing though is that it acts like what we see here is provocative and shocking when it really isn’t. Too many other films have been done involving the same dark side of insane asylums that what happens here adds nothing new to the discussion. In fact it ends being quite predictable and cliched instead.

The only redeeming aspect is Hopkins who is quite effective. Every time you seem him you cringe, but not so much because he overplays it, but instead by doing the exact opposite. He’s more just your rural hayseed looking too take advantage of the situation to satisfy his basic carnal instincts behaving more like a typical thug you could bump into anywhere than an over-the-top psycho, which is why it works. You feel like there’s probably a lot more just like him out there, some even working in ‘respectable’ positions, who are just waiting to exploit the situation the minute nobody is looking, which in the end is the one true horror you get from the film that actually succeeds.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 15, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Howard Avedis

Studio: Film Ventures International

Available: YouTube

I Dismember Mama (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: He only likes virgins.

Albert (Zooey Hall) hates his rich mother (Joanne Moore Jordan) and at one point attempted to kill her, which got him institutionalized, but he manages to escape and is now back on the streets attempting to kill her once again. When he arrives at his old residence he meets Alice (Marlene Tracy) who’s now working as his mother’s maid. He promptly kills her, but then Alice’s 11-year-old daughter Annie (Geri Reischl) arrives asking for her. Albert is immediately taken in with the child’s innocence and purity and becomes determined to ‘save her’ from the jaded world around them. He concocts a story that her mother suddenly got sick and had to go to the hospital, so the two spend the day frolicking around at a park and later take part in a mock wedding, but by nightfall Albert’s dark urges return and this time his target is Annie.

This is yet another example of an underground 70’s exploitation flick that promises to deliver shocks via its provocative storyline, but ultimately has hardly any. The pacing is poor and filled with talky scenes that get extended far longer than they should. The dialogue lacks bite and there needed to be more action. For instance Albert’s attacking his mother should’ve been shown possibly as a flashback and not just talked about in passing. Albert’s overpowering of a hospital attendant (James Tartan) in order to escape from the institution doesn’t get shown either we just see the guard’s dead body after the carnage is over while in-between we get treated to a long extended conversation between Albert’s mother and his psychiatrist (Frank Whiteman), which is both boring and pointless.

Hall is poor in the lead and unable to convey more than one facial expression or voice tone. I didn’t like the way Reischl’s character gets written either as she’s portrayed as being too innocent and naïve. Sure kids will be more sheltered to real-world horrors than adults, but they’re not stupid and have a fear instinct like anyone else. When a creepy guy unexpectedly answers the door the warning flags would be going off for any typical 11-year-old, which was the age she was when this was filmed, and her character should’ve, and most likely would’ve been in reality, far more defensive and cautious.

I was also confused why Reischl, who is better known as being the ‘fake Jan’ who replaced Eve Plumb in the short-lived ‘The Brady Bunch Variety Hour’, got listed in the credits under the title of being ‘introduced’ like she was brand new to the film scene when she really wasn’t as she had already appeared in another horror flick The Brotherhood of Satan, which had been filmed in 1969 and released to theaters a full year before this one.

When I first watched this movie back in the summer of 1987 it had what I considered at the time one of the dumbest segments I had ever seen. It features Albert walking into a pool hall eyeing an attractive woman (Rosella Olsen) and telling her how rich he is, which is enough to get her to dump the boyfriend (Robert Christopher) she is out on a date with and immediately jump into Albert’s arms, which to me was just to heavy-handed to believe. (If picking up women could only be this easy.)However, after seeing it a second time I now consider this as attempted satire, but the segment should’ve had  a better payoff. Instead of the jilted boyfriend later crying over her dead body, after Albert had killed her, he should’ve laughed and considered it ‘sweet revenge’ for her having publicly dumped him in humiliating fashion earlier.

The film has come under attack by some for its perceived pedophilia storyline. Critic John Kenneth Muir in his review stated that watching it made him ‘feel dirty’ and the pedophilia theme ‘went too far’ for a film that had ‘no aspirations to be anything but entertainment’. Personally I found this take to be virtue signaling and disagree with it on several points.

First I don’t think this was ever meant to be ‘entertainment’. Instead it was intended like a lot of other underground flicks at that time to shock and appall and then bank on the morbid curiosity of people to fill the theater seats simply to see ‘what all the fuss is about’.

Most importantly I don’t think Albert initially saw Alice as a sexual conquest, but more as someone he wanted to protect from the awful world around them. He wanted to save her innocence instead of taking it away. Yes, it’s true there is a scene when she is sleeping in a hotel room and he starts to have impulses to deflower her, but he fights them off and then goes out to a bar where he attacks another woman who is well over 18. The perceived pedophilia theme lasts for only a couple of minutes and really doesn’t take up the bulk of the runtime like some critics seem to think it does, or want you to believe.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Alternate Title: Poor Albert & Little Annie

Released: April 1, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Leder

Studio: Valiant International Pictures

Available: DVD

Island of Death (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Couple on killing spree.

Christopher and Celia (Robert Behling, Jane Lyle) seem like a nice young couple just looking  for a little vacation as they travel to a Greek island. Yet once there they begin killing anyone who they deem ‘perverted’. First it’s a man who makes a pass a Celia, then it’s a gay couple, and a bartender who’s outed as a lesbian. Not only do Christopher and Celia kill their victims with glee, but they also enjoy taking pictures of the carnage, so that Christopher can use them for sexual arousal later.

In 1974 Nico Mastorakis, who at that time was working as an investigative journalist and before that was a popular radio DJ, became impressed with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the amount of money it brought in. He was convinced that making exploitation flicks was a profitable venture and proceeded to create a film that would be as shocking as possible simply for the money benefits it would bring in. The film has certainly achieved a strong cult status and has been one of the most widely banned films in the world.

While its reputation is quite notorious I actually found the violence to be nothing special. There’s one segment where a man gets his hands nailed to a cement ground, which is pretty nasty and the killing of a baby goat, which Christopher then proceeds to have sex with is quite disturbing too, but everything else, at least gore-wise, is run-of-the-mill. The one segment that did get a bit difficult to watch simply because it gets more prolonged than the other killings and therefore makes it seem more real was when Christopher tries to force the lesbian bartender (Janncie McConnell) to swallow a bottle of hard liquor, which she repeatedly chokes on.

On the perversity level the film still scores strongly even after all these years. One of it’s more outlandish moments is when Christopher gives an unexpected golden shower to a 60-year-old woman (Jessica Dublin) who at first reacts in disgust, but then eventually gets into it. The real shocker though for me was the final twist, which I hadn’t seen coming and as jaded as I’ve become with years of watching these underground 70’s flicks, had my mouth agape.

Mastorakis shows good command with solid pacing and a script that continuously reveals many sick twists as it goes. The slow start works in its favor as it creates a romantic feel, especially with its sweet sounding score and picturesque backdrop of Mykonos, which allows for the viewer to let down their guard and then when the shocks gets going it makes it even more emotionally horrific. I also enjoyed Mastorakis use of the hand-held camera and wide angle lens something that only came into vogue many decades later.

Overall I commend the production for going all in. Too many other horror flicks, especially from the 70’s, promised exploitation, but ultimately  delivered little. It seemed like despite their provocative storylines they would end up chickening-out, so it’s nice to see one hyper-focused to truly push the envelope. Obviously this won’t be everyone’s cup-of- tea many, but if you’re compelled to make a truly underground feature then alienating some viewers is a prerequisite.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 13, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Nico Mastorakis

Studio: Omega Pictures

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

Island of Blood (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer stalks film crew.

The cast for an upcoming horror film travel to an island where the film is to be made. Since the film’s producer and director won’t arrive until the next day they get ready for their parts, but find that each of them is getting offed one-by-one by a mysterious killer that they cannot see, but who leaves a portable tape player hanging near the body of his latest victim that plays a rock song with violent lyrics.

This low budget attempt had potential, but goes about it in all of the wrong ways. One of the things that really stood out to me since I’ve worked as a crew member on several low budget films myself is that the characters here act in a completely opposite way from how a cast and crew would normally behave on a real set. I have found most people when thrown together onto a crew of people that they do not know would make attempts to form friendships and potential contacts with their fellow crew/cast members. Here though the cast members, who are made up of young adults, act like they’re still in high school and more concerned with putting up pretentious facades to prove how ‘cool’ they are while putting down everyone else around them.

I also couldn’t believe the amount of open apathy these same characters show the screenwriter when he hands out the script and describes to them what the plot is about. Someone should’ve advised these ‘up-and-coming’ young starlets that when you’re starting out in the business it might be a good idea to at least fake enthusiasm for what you’re going to be working in, or it just might be the last film you’ll ever be asked to be in. Word-of-mouth travels fast in this business and if you get a reputation of being someone who really doesn’t care to be there then you’ll never get hired again as there’s plenty of other people out there willing to take your place.

As for the killings they’re not very impressive although the shot of a dead woman with nails going through her forehead, via a nail gun, would’ve been creepier had her eyes remained open instead of closed. The fact that we never see the killer does actually make it a little bit scarier simply because it’s completely left up to the viewer’s imaginations about who this person is. The chase sequences though don’t work as they all take place in these darkened buildings, the result of a power outage, so you really can’t see exactly what’s going on. I also thought that having the arriving producer die by having his boat explode, which was apparently caused by the killer, was a bit ridiculous because how could the killer go from being on an island one minute to on a boat at sea the next in order to plant the bomb?

The film does have a twist ending, which reviewers over at IMDb seemed to like and while it is a surprise to some extent it really doesn’t completely work. Way too many unanswered questions and loopholes get thrown in that never get explained.

The concept would’ve worked better, and been ahead-of-its-time, had it taken the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT  approach where a centralized cast member would film the behind-the-scenes action of this upcoming production and interview the other cast members as they got ready for it. She could then use her camera later on to do detective work to try and catch the killer.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 9, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: William T. Naud

Studio: Action International Pictures

Available: Amazon Video

Long Weekend (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review:  A couple battles nature.

Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets) are a young couple who are constantly at odds with each other. To help smooth things over they decide to take a trip into the wilderness and enjoy the beauty of the outdoors. Along the way they accidently hit and kill a kangaroo with their vehicle. This sets off a chain-of-events that puts them under the increasing attack of various animals. First Peter must fight off an angry eagle who swoops down at him without warning. Then a possum and even a sea cow who stalks Peter while he is swimming. The two decide they must leave the area in order to save their lives, but everywhere they turn there’s another animal waiting for them.

The story idea is certainly an interesting one, but the concept is too wide-open. Scriptwriter Everett De Roche stated that the premise was all about how Mother Earth had her own auto- immune system and when humans started acting like cancer cells she’d attack, which is great, but why just this couple? There are millions of people who behave just like them, so why don’t they end up getting the same treatment?

The plot needed an extra spin to hold it all together, but it never comes. Having this small remote place hold a mystical power that allowed animals to behave differently than they would normally do elsewhere would’ve at least given it some needed focus. Perhaps a backstory too where other people would’ve gone to this same locale and complained about being attacked. Any extra plotline would’ve helped because the idea that these animals would just randomly attack a generic couple in some isolated moment in time that they never did before or after just doesn’t cut-it.

I didn’t like either that the couple bicker right away, but then later on become lovey-dovey only to proceed back to bickering, which is too bipolar. A better approach would’ve had them getting along at the start and then with the stress of the animal attacks tear their relationship apart, which would’ve created a more interesting character arc, which otherwise is non-existent.

I would’ve preferred that the lead characters been played by macho men who arrogantly tear up the wilderness with their SUV’s and kill the animals for shameless sport. Watching these ‘tough guys’ then unravel once the animals went on the offense turning them into sniveling, frightened cowards would’ve been far more of an entertaining payoff while hitting-home the importance to respect nature  in a more stark way.

The animal attacks aren’t all that riveting and take up very little of the runtime, but the creepy atmosphere is amazing. Filmed on the island of Tasmania I enjoyed the point-of-view shots of the SUV driving through the long, tangled unique looking trees that grow down there where when captured at night and through the beams of the vehicle’s headlights come off looking like gnarled fingers protruding from the ground. The intense music and haunting call of the sea cow are also quite unsettling and get even more so as the couple continues to hear it, which helps to make this a memorable horror flick despite the few drawbacks and a great example at how strong directing can help overcome a flat script. Remade in 2008.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 2, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Colin Eggleston

Studio: Hoyts Distribution

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Spanish), Amazon Video, YouTube

Psychic Killer (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killing through astral projection.

Arnold (Jim Hutton) finds himself behind-bars for a murder he did not commit. He conveys his dilemma to fellow inmate Emilio (Stack Pierce) who informs Arnold that he has special powers that can help Arnold get out of his predicament and once Emilio dies he promises to transfer those powers to him. Then 2 days later Emilio jumps to his death and later Arnold receives a small box that has an amulet inside of it. Arnold puts the amulet necklace on and discovers that he now can kill his enemies through astral projection without him having to be present when it occurs. Police Lt. Jeff Morgan (Paul Burke) suspects what Arnold is doing, but can’t seem to prove it.

The script, which was written by Greydon Clark, who went on to write scripts for many other interesting low budget films, has definite potential and I liked the idea, but the concept isn’t thought through well enough and ends up leaving many more questions than answers. For instance how is Arnold able to know where his victims are when he tries to kill them? All of the killings take place with Arnold sitting in the comfort of his own bedroom in a comatose state, but if that’s the case then what signals him to make the automobile one of his victim’s is driving in go haywire, so that it crashes? How would he know that the victim was for sure driving in it when he mentally causes the car to go bonkers?

How was Arnold able to learn the art of astral projection so quickly? This seems like something a person would have to hone their skills a bit to completely master and yet Arnold acts like a pro at it instantaneously. Also, if Emilio initially had the amulet with all these massive powers then why didn’t he use it to get himself out of jail instead of wasting away in a cell when he really didn’t have to?

With the exception of a death that occurs inside a butcher shop the rest of the killings aren’t all that impressive or gory and in many ways cheesy stuff better suited for a TV-Movie. This could be better categorized as a tacky sci-fi flick than a horror one anyways especially when one the deaths, where a man gets crushed by a giant cement block, gets played-up more in the comical vein.

Ray Danton, a former actor turned director, manages to keep it somewhat lively by introducing a variety of different settings, which is good. However, the outdoor shots get compromised by looking like they were filmed in some studio backlot, which includes a scene where a rich elderly man (Whit Bissell) takes a young chick (Judith Brown) to his isolated cabin hideaway, but cabin’s front yard looks like a giant gravel pit that nobody would either build or buy a place with that type of outdoor eyesore.

While I enjoyed Della Reese and the verbal sparring that she has with Neville Brand inside a butcher shop, the rest of the acting, which gets made up entirely of B-actors on the decline of their careers, isn’t too interesting. Hutton’s presence though is an exception. He had been a rising star in the 60’s doing light comedies, but here he takes a stab at something much darker and he delivers. I thought this would’ve helped him get more movie offers, but instead he got relegated to TV assignments afterwards before eventually dying just 5 years later from cancer at the age of only 45.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ray Danton

Studio: Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Silent Scream (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Family’s dark secret exposed.

Scotty (Rebecca Balding) is a student away at college who finds nearby housing at a large stately mansion owned by Mrs. Engels (Yvonne De Carlo) and her son Mason (Brad Reardon). When Scotty moves in she meets three other college students (Steve Doubet, Juli Andelman, John Widelock) who are also living there, but during the next couple of day those other students start turning up dead. Scotty fears she may be the next victim and suspects the killings may have something to do with the mysterious person that’s hiding in the attic.

In the summer of 1977 Denny Harris, who was at that time a successful commercial director who owned his own studio, decided to take a try at directing a horror movie and he put down $450,000 of his own money to do it. Unfortunately when production wrapped the footage shot was deemed unreleasable, so Jim and Ken Wheat, two brothers, were brought in to try and salvage it, but instead decided to completely rewrite the script and reshoot almost the entire film leaving only 12 minutes of the original footage in the final cut. This includes a scene where the Mason character watches what looks to be a soft core porn flick on his TV in his bedroom, but was actually a scene from the original version with Susan Backlinie, the lady who got attacked by the shark in the opening bit of Jawsplaying one of the characters.

It would be interesting if a Blu-ray could be issued that would show the version that Harris shot alongside the Wheat brother’s one because I suspect it might not have been any worse than what we end up getting here. For one thing the plot is too skimpy and the pacing slow. Too much extraneous footage of Scotty looking for an apartment and conversations she has at a bar with friends, and even her making love with Jack that doesn’t help build the tension at all and should’ve been cut out.

When the ‘scares’ do come they’re not all that great. The stabbing sequences are particularly annoying because the same Bernard Herrmann-like score that was used in Psycho gets played here making it all seem quite cliched. The blood is another issue as it conveniently collects on a hanging white sheet as the victim gets pummeled with a knife as well as a pool of it on the floor, which our protagonist somehow misses seeing when she goes to investigate. Yet I’ve watched enough true-life crime shows to know that blood splatter doesn’t work that way, but instead sprays out all over with droplets of it splattering on the walls, ceiling, and other appliances until it would be quite obvious to anyone entering a room that a murder had occurred there and unlike what happens here.

Spoiler Alert!

The flimsy plot gets played-out too quickly. In a matter of just two days of staying there the dark family secret and all the ugliness behind it gets completely revealed, which makes for an anti-climactic feeling when it’s over. The protagonists seem to be nothing more than dressing with have very little to do as they ultimately stand helplessly on the sidelines while the bad guys kill-off each other, which isn’t very gripping.

A better idea would’ve been to have the villainous family, which are far more interesting and better acted than any of the college kids, be the stars of the film. Then having the film show how they bring in tenants through the years to help defrays costs, but reluctantly forced to kill them when they get too noisy, only to ultimately meet their match with one of them similar to how What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? was structured.

The only riveting moment in the movie comes when a young woman, played by Tina Tyler, tries to hang herself via a noose hung from a light fixture in her bedroom. Most of the time hangings in films are either shown from the waist up or down, but here we get a bird’s eye shot where her feet clearly leave the floor with the rope around her neck and nothing else to support her making it seem like she really is hanging herself especially as her body begins to struggle, which is impressively graphic.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 16, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Denny Harris

Studio: American Cinema Releasing

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Alligator (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Reptile in the sewer.

In 1968 a young girl (Leslie Brown) brings home a baby alligator, which she stores in her small aquarium, but her father decides to flush the thing down the toilet where in the sewer it feeds off the carcasses of dead animals which were given an experimental growth formula from a nearby clinic. 12 years later the alligator having ingested this formula for years has grown to massive lengths and escapes from the sewer where he now terrorizes the citizens of the city.

The screenplay was written by John Sayles and has a nice blend of comedy and scares. In most other horror films there are usually some long boring segments in between the shocks that get filled with awkward drama or banal dialogue, but here these same segments convey a playful sense of the absurd and are some of the best moments in the movie including showing all the street vendors who come out and try to cash in on the alligator scare by selling alligator related merchandise at the river where the police are searching for the beast. I also enjoyed the ad-libbed lines by the supporting characters mentioning Robert Forster’s receding hairline, which become the movie’s running joke.

The scares are still present and for the most part effective although the scenes inside the sewer work best. I liked the way the beams from the flashlights reflected off of the tunnel walls and created a surreal look as well as how quiet it would get when the police and S.W.A.T. went into the underground caverns, which helped accentuate the tension.

When the gator breaks out of the sewer is when the thing starts to go south especially when it attacks guests at a dinner party, which is too graphic and ghoulish and destroys the film’s otherwise playful tone. I also didn’t like when the alligator breaks through sidewalk having the camera shake, which is something directors would do in old movies to create an earthquake-like visual effect, but comes-off as quite tacky looking. Having the gator roam the city for as long as it does and not get caught seemed implausible as something that big would attract lots of attention no matter where it went and most likely would get cornered by the authorities a hell of a lot sooner than it does.

The film also suffers by not effectively conveying the size of the beast visually. We see a lot of quick shots involving its open mouth, but not much else. An animatronic one was built, but it malfunctioned and was little used and then later donated to the Florida Gators as their mascot. An actual gator got used in some shots, which they superimposed onto a miniature set to make it look bigger, but the final result of this looks awkward.

The truth is alligators are by nature very timid towards humans and will usually swim away if approached by one and only attack if they feel threatened. They prefer much smaller prey that they can eat with one gulp and thus avoid people altogether. It’s actually the crocodile that  is much more dangerous and in fact the saltwater and nile crocodile kills hundreds of people each year, which for the sake of accuracy should’ve been the species that got used.

I also thought it was a bit bizarre that someone could keep an alligator as a pet like the young girl does at the beginning. Now don’t get me wrong watching them flush the baby gator down a toilet is one of the best parts of the movie, but what would’ve happened had the gator been allowed to grow into an adult? How would they be able to house or control him, which only makes the father, who gets portrayed here as being obnoxious, look smart by getting rid of it when it was small and he still could.

The cast though still makes it worth watching. Forster is great in the lead as he plays against his stoic tough guy image by conveying vulnerabilities with his finest moment being the horrified expression on his face when his partner gets attacked and he’s unable to save him. I also liked Jack Carter as the corrupt Mayor and Dean Jagger, in his last film role, as the nefarious animal clinic owner. Angel Tompkins can be seen briefly as a news reporter as well as Sue Lyon in her last film appearance to date.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 14, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Lewis Teague

Studio: Group 1 International

Available: DVD

Razorback (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giant boar terrorizes outback.

Jake (Bill Kerr), who lives in the Australian outback, gets attacked one night by a giant razorback who takes off with his infant grandson. Jake is later accused as having made up the story as no one can believe that there could be a razorback of such mammoth proportions and yet Jake spends the rest of his life hunting after it and determined to get his revenge for what it did to his grandson. During his quest he meets up with Carl (Gregory Harrison) whose wife Beth (Judy Morris) was also killed by the same wild boar.

The film was directed by Russell Mulcahy, who rose to fame by directing many influential music videos and his unique visual style is what sets this film apart. The way he captures the vast, flat outback is stylish and the dream sequence out in the desert is both creepy and surreal. I also really enjoyed the part where the razorback tears apart a man’s house forcing him to helplessly watch as the part of the home with the TV, which he was watching, goes literally gliding away in front of him, which  may not be realistic, but a very funny image nonetheless.

The story though, which is based on the novel by Peter Brennan, is too indicative of other better known movies. It starts out with Jake going to trial over the death of his grandson and no one believing his account, which is loosely based on the Azaria Chamberlin incident who was an infant that got taken away by a dingo in 1980, but the public didn’t believe the story and accused the parents of killing the child instead. However, in this instance the razorback creates a giant hole in Jake’s house, which should be enough for most people to think that there might be something to what Jake was saying and makes the opening court room bit seem both protracted and unnecessary especially since he quickly gets acquitted anyways.

The second act resembles the film Wake in Fright as Carl and two other men go on a nighttime kangaroo hunt. It also examines the poor way Carl adapts to the rough nature of the outback men, which again seems too similar to the plot of the other film and really wasn’t needed since it slows up the pace, which needed more scares and appearances of the giant razorback that are completely missing during the middle part.

The third act comes off too much like Jaws, with Jake channeling Quint, which might’ve been alright as I found Jake’s rugged individualistic ways to be both endearing and amusing to the point that he could’ve been made the main character. However, is untimely demise is both graphic and cruel and gives the film an unnecessarily mean tone.

Having Carl single-handidly take on the razorback at the end while inside an abandoned warehouse is boring as it rehashes the man vs beast theme that’s been done many times before. I was actually more interested in seeing the townspeople work together to hunt down the boar, which is an idea that the film teases, but then ultimately sells-out on.

My biggest grievance though is the way the beast gets photographed. Supposedly a  giant animatronic model of the razorback was built at a cost of $250,000, but you never really see it. Shots of the beast are edited so quickly that you only get brief glimpses of the animal and never its whole body and no true idea of how big it really is. There’s also no explanation offered for  how it grew so big.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 19, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Russell Mulcahy

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Blu-ray (Region B/2, A/1), Amazon Video, YouTube