Category Archives: Low Budget

Meteor (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Save earth from rock.

Inspired by the ‘Project Icarus’ report done by MIT students during the spring of 1967 the film surmises what would happen and what defenses might be used should a gigantic asteroid come barreling towards earth. Here the meteor is described as being 5-miles wide with an impact that could prove catastrophic and turn the earth’s climate back into the next ice age. Dr. Paul Bradly (Sean Connery) is brought in to advise since he is the one that created an orbiting nuclear missile space station specifically for this reason, but its firepower will not be enough and they must rely on the help from their Russian counterparts, who have a similar missile station in space, in order to get the job done.

The story and characters are quite bland with little to no effort made to enrich the drama with any side-stories or issues. The viewer is teased with a potential romance between Paul and Russian interpreter Tatiana (Natalie Wood), but it goes nowhere. The constant cutaways showing the meteor zooming through space actually lessens the tension because as it gets dwarfed amongst the immensity of the universe, which makes the rock look rather small and therefore it doesn’t seem all that impressive.

The special effects are tacky although the scene where a smaller asteroid fragment hits New York City has a shot of the World Trade Center collapsing in much the same way that it did on 9-11, which is eerily prophetic. The mud slide in the subway tunnel does have merit and the actors do at times seems genuinely overcome by it, but everything else borders on being unintentionally funny. The only thing that really impressed me was the amount of extras they were able to attain including participants in a ski race that seemed to border on the tens of thousands.

The cast is made up of old Hollywood has-beens who careers peaked long ago and all seemed better suited for a guest shot on ‘The Love Boat’. None of them were under 40 and therefore younger filmgoers of the day where disconnected from it although Brian Keith is a scene stealer as the Russian scientist and speaks fluent Russian rather amazingly given the fact that he did not know the language and was only doing it phonetically. I also got a kick out of Martin Landau as a hot-headed general who has the perfect eyes for a glazed over expression of a dead man, which the viewer gets treated to briefly.

Several special effects teams were reportedly fired during the course of production simply because they could not provide adequate enough effects on the limited budget, but it seems dumb to produce a film that hinges on spectacular effects if that is something that can’t be provided, which ultimately is why this did so poorly at the box office.

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My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 19, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ronald Neame

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Executive Action (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who really killed JFK?

A group of former intelligence officials along with right-wing corporate capitalists conspire to assassinate President John F. Kennedy whose agenda they feel has gone too far to the left. Two teams of assassins are hired and they work in the desert to hone their shooting skills so as to be able to hit a moving target at 15 mph. Once this is accomplished they set-up a fall guy by the name of Lee Harvey Oswald to take the wrap while hiring another man, Jack Ruby, to kill him outright should he begin to squeal.

It may be a shock to some that in this age where conspiracy theories of the JFK assassination have now almost become the norm the cultural climate at the time of this film’s release was not for it. All the major Hollywood studios declined to offer financing and it was up to the film’s star Burt Lancaster and his good friend Kirk Douglas to put up the necessary funds just to get it made. Many television stations refused to run ads for it and due to the negative press it was pulled from theaters after only two weeks and resided in virtual obscurity before finally getting released onto VHS in the early ‘90s.

While I commend their attempt at getting the conversation going the results are less than compelling and the film fails to be riveting at any level. The reasons for planning the assassination are too broad and the characters are all uniformly colorless. The shooters themselves have no stake in the ultimate agenda other than they were paid to do it and in real-life there would’ve been a high chance that one of them would crack at some point or get nervous and make a mistake. The money that they were paid to do the job was not as much as you might think making me believe that once they ran out of it at least one of them would’ve gone to the press or authorities and divulged what really happened. The Jack Ruby link is weak. It is inferred that he does get hired to kill Oswald, but it never explains how they were ever able to get him to agree to do something that would most assuredly have him sitting in jail for the rest of his life.

There is also too much stock footage of actual news events of Kennedy and even Martin Luther King Jr. that gets shown. It doesn’t help propel the plot in any way and almost seems like it was put in simply to pad the running time. The recreation of the Dallas parade and Kennedy’s limo ride down the streets of the city is badly botched. While it’s nice that they filmed it on the actual site where it occurred it becomes painfully clear that there is no parade or crowds there. Instead they splice in old news reel footage of the actual parade, which they intercut with scenes of the actors playing the shooters, which they hoped would give the viewer the impression that they were all in tandem, but it doesn’t.

It was fun seeing veteran Hollywood stars playing bad guys for a change particularly Lancaster although he comes off as comatose and his hair looks disheveled in every shot. The film though doesn’t succeed at putting to rest anything. The plot is not believable and does nothing but create more questions than answers.

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My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 7, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG

Director: David Miller

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Please Don’t Eat My Mother! (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: His flower eats people.

Henry Fudd (Buck Kartalian) is a man in his 40’s whose still living at home with his mother (Lynn Lundgren) and very down on life. One day while walking down the sidewalk he passes by an outdoor florist shop and becomes intrigued by a small plant that he is convinced spoke to him. He buys it and brings it home. As the weeks go on he realizes that the plant really can talk, but it also has an insatiable appetite and forces Henry to feed it. First it begins with insects, then dogs and then finally…people.

This is a low budget remake of Little Shop of Horrors, but it fails to have the same sense of fun and imagination. The biggest problem here is the plant itself. In the first film is was created in a way that made it seem kind of real, but here it looks quite tacky. The flower’s lips do not match the way it speaks making it look like very bad puppetry. Supposedly it can also see and hear, but nowhere on the thing are eyes and ears present. It grows to gargantuan heights and when it does so does the pot that it sits in, but how does that happen? Some may argue that Henry replants the flower into bigger pots as it grows, but this should’ve been either shown or inferred and it isn’t. The plant’s voice has a banal speaking quality like that of an airline stewardess with no interesting inflection. The way it eats people is equally boring. You never actually see it happen as the camera conveniently cuts away as the person moves in closer to it and then later cuts back with the plant burping and having acid indigestion.

The plot is threadbare and the majority of time has nothing to do with the central story. Instead the viewer gets treated to long, drawn out segments of couples making out in a car while our protagonist and a few other peeping toms look on. The sex by today’s standards is quite sterile and the innuendos that get bounced about wouldn’t elicit a chuckle from even a 7th grader.

The only thing that saves it to a degree is the performances by its cast. Kartalian, who at one time was a professional wrestler, is surprisingly engaging and I found his skipping down the city’s sidewalk after he buys the plant to be quite amusing. Lundgren as his meddling and snoopy mother is also funny even though she doesn’t look much older than him and in some ways could easily have been his same age. The film’s director Carl Monson is fun as well as he appears in a hammy bit as a police detective.

Unfortunately despite the noble efforts by its cast this thing is a cheesy mess and in no way worth seeking out while also being a complete embarrassment to all those involved.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: March 3, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Carl Monson

Studio: Box Office International Pictures

Available: DVD (Something Weird Video)

Linda Lovelace for President (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Vote for porn star.

The election is only a few months away and there are still no candidates running for President. Then someone suggests adult film star Linda Lovelace famous for her starring role in the porn classic Deep Throat. At first she is reluctant, but then after having a conversation with what she thinks is God she agrees, which then leads to many ‘zany’ and ‘comical’ adventures.

I don’t know where to even begin with this one except to say that it’s crap, pure and unadulterated crap that on any level isn’t worth anyone’s time. The gags are incredibly lame and there’s no real plot to speak. It’s also not very sexy, so if you’re considering checking it out just for that reason you might as well pass.

Lovelace isn’t all that attractive and certainly cannot compare to today’s porn stars. Maybe that sounds cruel and shallow to some, but let’s face it the selling point for this thing isn’t her acting talent. I think my biggest annoyance with her is her blank smile and stare and the way she delivers her lines almost like she is in some sort of hypnotic trance.

Had the film tried to keep things on a more real level and gone through some of the things a person who actually tried to run for President would go through than it might’ve had a chance and maybe even been really funny. Unfortunately we see none of that and there isn’t even any opposing Nixon-like candidate going against her. Instead it’s just a barrage of lame gags one after that other that wouldn’t amuse even a 4-year-old.

Chuck McCann has a few light-hearted moments as a racist senator near the beginning and later as an inept assassin, but otherwise there are no laughs to be had. It’s rare that I would ever suggest a porn flick over a feature film, but in this case I would. It’s been years since I’ve seen it, but Deep Throat even if you take out the sex scenes it’s still far better directed and more creative than this turkey, so if on a slow evening and you’re really desperate I’d pop that one in instead of this thing. In fact I’d rather watch an 8-hour video showing grass growing than this and believe me it would be far more interesting.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: April 1, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Claudio Guzman

Studio: General Film Corporation

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Arousers (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10       

4-Word Review: He suffers from impotence.

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

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

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

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

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

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Alternate Title: Sweet Kill

Released: May 15, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Rated R

Director: Curtis Hanson

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD

Trick or Treats (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid terrorizes his babysitter.

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

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

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

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

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: October 29, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Gary Graver

Studio: Lone Star Pictures International

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Midnight (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Horror hostess is goofy.

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: July 5, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated R

Director: Norman Thaddeus Vane

Studio: Kuys Entertainment Group

Available: VHS

Till Death (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: His dead wife returns.

Paul (Keith Atkinson) marries Anne (Belinda Balaski) only to have her perish on their wedding night. When he goes to visit her at her crypt he hears her wails and breaks into her coffin where he finds her to be alive. They spend the rest of the night talking until supernatural events begin to occur, which convinces Paul that things aren’t quite what they seem.

This very low budget film sat on the shelf for 6 years and it was for good reason. It is boring and uneventful and at times down right hokey. The sappy opening title tune is the most horrifying thing about this turkey and has no place in a horror film or any other movie for that matter. The car crash borders on being laughable. There is a shot of Balaski being quite literally swallowed out of the car with an over-the-top panicked expression while Atkinson, with an equally over-the-top panicked expression, tries to save her. The shot is quick and might have passed had it only been shown once, but the director keeps going back to it almost repeatedly until it becomes both corny and annoying.

The second half is about as static as you can get. Atkinson releases Balaski from her crypt and then the two have one long, sterile conversation that goes nowhere.  Since the woman was supposedly thrown from a car one would expect her to be a mangled up mess, but when the coffin gets opened there is not a scratch on her. The payoff for sitting through this thing is nothing as there is no interesting twist of any kind. It’s a dud from start to finish and filled with a lot of clichéd foggy atmosphere that’s supposed to be creepy, but wouldn’t scare a first-grader.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: February 4, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 20Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Walter Stocker

Studio: Cougar Films

Available: None at this time.

Don’t Go in the House (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He burns his victims.

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 28, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Ellison

Studio: Film Ventures International

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The House on Sorority Row (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: House mother harbors secret.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spoiler Alert!

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

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 21, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark Rosman

Studio: Film Ventures International

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube