Category Archives: Low Budget

The Thing with Two Heads (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Black man and bigot.

Dr. Maxwell Kirshner (Ray Milland) is a racist surgeon experimenting on transplanting the head of a dying animal onto one who is still living. The animal will then have two heads for a period of 35 days while the new one adapts to the body and eventually takes over at which time the original head is removed. The elderly Kirshner is suffering from a degenerative illness and needs his assistants to find someone willing to sacrifice their body, so that his head can be put on it. They eventually acquire the services of Jack Moss (Roosevelt Grier) a prisoner who was slated for the electric chair until he agrees to be part of the procedure, but when he awakens from the surgery to find the head of Kirshner next to his he escapes and goes on a desperate run to find some Dr. who will remove it from his body.

As tacky and ludicrous as the plot is it is actually an improvement from the first installment The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant as it at least defines the reason why the surgery is being done and creates some tension by having the one head grapple for control of the body from the other one. The film also has a nice pace and good tongue-in-cheek humor that is fully aware of its absurd storyline and in certain spots even plays-it-up. Unfortunately it gets too wacky for its own good, which culminates in a long drawn out car chase that would be far more appropriate for a yahoo action flick than a would-be horror film.

The performances of the two leads are the most interesting aspect. Former professional football player Grier is highly likable in the lead and seeing Milland, who won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1945, playing in something so preposterously beneath his acting level is engaging although I found his character annoying I was hoping he’d have some sort of arch, or a softer side to his personality exposed at some point instead of being a total one-dimensional prick all the way through like he is.

To me the only good part is when Grier escapes from the authorities and comes home to his wife (Chelsea Brown) who sees his two-headed condition for the first time and the humorous exchange that they have:

Wife: You get into more shit.

(She attempts to kiss him and then moves back)

Wife: I know you don’t like answering a lot of questions, but how did that happened?

Grier: I’ll answer that later.

(She then peers down towards his crotch.)

Wife: Did they give you two of anything else?

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 19, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lee Frost

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD

The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: One body two heads.

Roger Girard (Bruce Dern) is a crazed doctor who secretly experiments on planting two heads on animals and has a lab full of these creatures, which he keeps hidden from his beautiful wife Linda (Pat Priest). Only his faithful assistant Max (Berry Kroeger) knows about the research and he makes sure no one else finds out about it. One day Dr. Girard decides to test out the procedure on a human by planting the head of a homicidal maniac (Albert Cole) onto the body of a mentally challenged adult (John Bloom) whose super strength makes him hard to control and things quickly get out-of-hand when the patient escapes and goes on a murderous spree.

What inspired screenwriter James Gordon White to write this story is a mystery, but it’s rather idiotic with no specific reason why Dr. Girard feels planting another head on an animal, or human, is a good idea. The music by John Barber is the worst part as there’s too much of it and the tone changes drastically like fiddling through a radio dial with most of the melodies sounding better suited for cartoons.

The bright, sunny southern California scenery, which was shot in Santa Clarita, is nice, but I didn’t know why it was all done in the daytime. Most horror movies are shot at night in order to have the darkness elevate the fear. The nighttime scene here was clearly done in the daylight with a darkened lens put over the camera to make it appear darker than it really is. Most films do this when they have children in the cast since there are laws preventing minors from working in films past a certain time, but this had an all adult cast and therefore no reason for it not to have night scenes done when the sun has actually set.

Bruce Dern’s presence is a surprise since he was already an established actor by this time and didn’t have to accept offers to be in this dreck simply to make a living. He was apparently given a check for $1,700 as his compensation, but when he went to the bank to cash it, it bounced. Even more surprising is in a recent interview when was asked what movie he regretted doing the most he mentioned Won Ton Ton the Dog Who Saved Hollywood instead of this one.

Casey Kasem’s wild ‘70s outfits and hairstyle make his appearance almost worth it and Pat Priest, best known as the second Marilyn from ‘The Munsters’ is an attractive asset. Berry Kroeger with his goofy facial expressions makes things fun as Dern’s assistant.

The sight of the 2-headed creature is odd to say the least and there were certain shots where I wasn’t quite sure how they pulled it off, which I suppose allows for some minor intrigue. Their contrasting personalities tough should’ve been played up more and had a ‘battle’ over which side controlled the body. This element gets improved a year later when the same screenwriter came out with The Thing with Two Heads that had the head of a white racist is put onto a black man’s body. The review for that film will be posted in…TWO days.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 28, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Anthony M. Lanza

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Hide and Go Shriek (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer in a warehouse.

Despite the film’s corny title this has rated well with users on IMDB, so I approached it with interest, but whatever it was that they were getting out of it I didn’t. The very basic premise deals with a group of teens who spend the night in a furniture warehouse to party. They play a game of hide-and-seek and soon one-by-one start disappearing only to later turn up dead. The elusive killer puts on the clothing of the last person that he’s killed and some start to believe that he may be Fred (Jeff Levine) the new security guard who is also an ex-con.

The approach is derivative and stays locked in the basic slasher film construct even though by the late ‘80s that formula was wearing thin and getting tweaked heavily by most other horror films that were being released at the same time making this one seem laughable contrived right from the get-go. The characters also reek of excessive ‘80’s fashions while having personalities that lack any distinction.

It was shot in an abandoned L.A. warehouse, but the filmmakers don’t take enough advantage of their setting and seem to only film things occurring in small areas of the place instead of trying to capture the entire inside of the building with long shots and bird’s eye views. The interiors are also quite shadowy and sometimes not easy to completely follow the action. One character, in an effort to look ‘cool’, wears dark glasses almost the whole time even though it takes place at night in an already darkened place making him seem crazier than the psycho killer.

The film has some unintentionally funny moments particularly the overreacting of the teens when they find their dead friend’s bodies especially their revulsion when one young woman (Annette Sinclair), who was tied up on top of a loft elevator, gets decapitated when the elevator goes up and her severed head comes crashing to the floor. I also got a kick at how they rip off the arms and legs from the mannequins to use as weapons, which seems absurd as they are made of plastic, don’t weigh much and would be very ineffective in any type of ‘battle’. I also liked the part where the teens, now locked inside the warehouse, madly pound on a storefront window to get someone’s attention, while a homeless guy, played by the film’s screenwriter Michael Elliot, merely waves back at them.

The ultimate identity of the killer is somewhat creative and actually even plausible, but his ability to wear the clothes of each of his victims makes no sense since all the teens have different body types so most of the outfits would not have fit. The film needed a killer with a distinct appearance and not just some shadowy figure lurking in the background like here, which is neither scary nor interesting.

If you enjoy original, quality cinema then this film is not for you. However, if you like cheesy, cardboard schlock with all sorts of clichés thrown in then this will be a perfect night of entertainment.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 1, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Skip Schoolnik

Studio: New Star Entertainment

Available: DVD (B/2), Blu-ray

The Killing Kind (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Always a good boy.

Terry (John Savage) is an angry man suffering from the inner torment of being sent to prison for a gang rape he was forced to participate in. Once he gets out he moves back in with his oppressive mother (Ann Sothern) who dotes over him and ignores all the troubling signs that he clearly displays. Instead of getting a job he spends his time exacting revenge on those who wronged him and then sets his sights on an attractive young lady (Cindy Williams) who has rented a room in his mother’s house. When Terry ends up murdering her his mother decides to help him cover it up because in her mind he will always be a ‘good boy’ no matter what he does.

The film is cheaply made with faded color, grainy film stock and an annoying humming sound that is apparent throughout, but Curtis Harrington’s direction gives it life and keeps you intrigued with its offbeat approach. It reminded me a lot of Paul Bartel’s Private Parts particularly with its emphasis on voyeurism especially how Terry secretly watches their tenant while the neighbor lady (Luana Anders) does the same to Terry.

Unfortunately there’s not enough of a payoff. The action is spotty and the gore is kept at a minimum. It starts right away with the gang rape, but then steps back with the shocks and pretty much implies all the other dark aspects of the story without showing it. The characters are molded into caricatures and more subtlety could’ve been used as to their intentions particularly the repressed neighbor lady blurting out her inner desires and thoughts to Terry without ever having spoken to him before.

Sothern is impressive especially since she was from Hollywood’s Golden Age and spent years working with sanitized scripts, so seeing her jump into such tawdry material with seemingly no hesitation is interesting. Savage’s performance I found to be frustrating as he seems to play the role like someone we should sympathize with, which is hard to do when he kills so many people.

Williams is the standout. Her murder scene is memorable as she struggles quite a bit and then forced to stay still in stagnant water with the same facial expression for several minutes. Later she’s shown lying in a junkyard as rats crawl over her, which proves she’s a dedicated to her craft to allow herself to go through that.

The ending fizzles and seems almost like a cop-out while not taking enough advantage of the other offbeat scenarios that it introduces. Had I directed it I would’ve done it differently. In my version the nosy neighbor lady, would threaten to go to the police about the crime, which she sees, but says she won’t if Terry, who had rejected her advances earlier, agrees to have sex with her. She then forces both his mother and her wheelchair bound elderly father (Peter Brocco) to watch, which would’ve given this potential cult classic the extra oomph to the dark side that it needed instead of coming tantalizingly close, but never truly delivering.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 23, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Curtis Harrington

Studio: Media Cinema Group

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Fatal Games (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Javelins can be deadly.

Student athletes with promising futures are suddenly turning up dead at the hands of a mysterious killer who pierces their bodies with a javelin that he is able to expertly throw from a far distance. Authorities fear that time is running out as more of them are killed and no witnesses or clues to identify the culprit.

Many consider this to be a rip-off of Graduation Day and while both films aren’t very good this one at least starts out better. I enjoyed the lighthearted comedy used at the beginning and how a formal dinner meeting turns into a big food fight and then a group tug-of-war. The film also keeps it realistic by showing the athletes actually training and conditioning.

In fact it really doesn’t start to go downhill until it reverts into a horror movie mode and dwells almost religiously in all the formulaic clichés seen in every other ‘80s slasher flick. The killings aren’t as novel as they sound and eventually become quite redundant. They are also lightly sprinkled in-between long, drawn out dramatic segments dealing with the characters relationship struggles and pressures to perform until you almost forget that this is supposed to be a slasher film at all. Most ‘80’s horror movies will have boring extraneous dialogue at the start to help create ‘character development’, but once the killings get going they will usually drop the other stuff and stick just to the scares while also picking up the pace, but this one just keeps the stale drama going, which along with its synthesized music score gives it a very amateurish quality.

The acting by the young cast isn’t as bad as the adult actors who speak like people under a trance. The film’s director Michael Elliot who plays a doctor who secretly gives them team members some ‘retardation shots’ (no joke that’s what they call it) and the movie’s screenwriter Christopher Mankiewicz who plays the coach give the two worst performances in the movie. Even Sally Kirkland, who plays the team trainer is bad and seems to be playing down to the level of the material.

The female cast is attractive and there is an abundance of nudity including one segment where the killer chases a fully nude Angela Bennett down the darkened hallways of the school. However, the film’s cute and perky star, Lynn Banashek, was too shy to take off her clothes and so in the scene where she gets a rub down by Kirkland scream queen Linnea Quigley was used as her body double.

The identity of the killer was a bit of a surprise and something I hadn’t expected and I’m pretty good about guessing these things, so in that regard it’s kind of original, but it’s still not worth sitting through as everything else is by-the-numbers.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: March 13, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Elliot

Studio: Impact Films

Available: VHS

Devil Times Five (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Children terrorize the adults.

Two couples (Sorrell Booke, Shelley Morrison, Taylor Lacher, Joan McCall) visit the winter retreat ranch run by rich businessman Papa Doc (Gene Evans). They are expecting a pleasant wintry getaway, but instead find terror when a group of five children arrive (Leif Garrett, Gail Smale, Dawn Lyn, Tierre Turner, Tia Thompson). The children state that they were lost in the cold wilderness and simply there to seek refuge, but in reality they are psychotic and have escaped from a nearby asylum after the van they were riding in overturned on the icy roads. Now the adults find themselves getting mysteriously bumped off one-by-one. At first they think it’s only an accident and then realize it’s by some ‘unforeseen predator’, but fail to realize it’s actually the ‘innocent-looking-kids’ until it’s too late.

This cheaply made production has problems right away starting with the van accident. To a degree I thought it was cool seeing it overturn several times in slow-motion after it slides off the road, but I found it preposterous that none of the kids were injured and escape from the wreckage without a single scratch despite the adult driver getting badly banged up. In retrospect it would’ve worked better had this scene not been shown at all and left the viewer in the dark about what the true intentions of these kids were only to slowly unfold the truth to the audience just like it does to the adult characters.

The killings are pretty tacky as well. The scene where one of the victims gets set on fire is disturbing, but the rest doesn’t add up including when one child manages to somehow hold their adult victim underwater by using only one hand. There are also several instances where the victim dies right away when in reality they would’ve most likely only been injured including a fall through a window and another one dealing with a stabbing by a small ax. In both cases I think the person could’ve survived the initial blow and simply be writhing in extreme pain, but I presume the filmmakers felt that watching someone squirming around on the ground screaming in endless agony would be considered ‘too horrifying’ for most audiences so they went with the ‘clean-kill’ option, but unfortunately the one-blow-and-then-they’re- immediately-dead concept looks fake.

The pacing is also poor and the tension badly botched. One bit has the kids killing a man in slow motion and done through a black-and-white filter, which despite going on a bit too long is effective. Yet whatever tension gets achieved by watching that is immediately sapped when the next scene shows a drawn out session of one of the adult couples making love, which looks better suited for soft corn porn flick. The music is equally screwed-up as it sometimes sounds creepy while at other points like something heard in an elevator.

I found it interesting that it was directed by Sean MacGregor, or at least for the first three weeks of production before he got fired, as he had previously written the screenplay for Brotherhood of Satan, which had the same ‘creepy kids’-like theme. There’s also the novelty of seeing Dawn Lyn, who was 10-years-old at the time, taking part in her own mother’s murder, who plays one of the adults. Although overall it’s pretty spotty with majority of it being rather flat and forgettable.

Spoiler Alert!

I was also confused at how during the final credits it says ‘The Beginning’ instead of the usual ‘The End’. I presume this was the filmmakers attempt at being ‘clever’ by intimating that these young kids would now go on to murder many more people throughout the countryside, but since they had already killed quite a few it would’ve been more apt to say ‘The Middle’.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Alternate Titles: Peopletoys, The Horrible House on the Hill

Released: May 31, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sean MacGregor, David Sheldon (Uncredited)

Studio: Cinemation Industries

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video

Impulse (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: William Shatner kills people.

As a boy Matt Stone (William Shatner) witnesses a man trying to rape his mother (Vivian Lester) and that sight scars him psychologically. As an adult, when ‘triggered’, he goes into murderous rages. Young Tina (Kim Nicholas) watches him off a business associate of his named Karate Pete (Harold Sakata) and tries to warn her mother (Jennifer Bishop) about his dark tendencies, but she refuses to listen and begins forming a relationship with Matt. When Matt realizes that Tina is on to him he tries to kill her before she can tell anyone else.

Although this film has a reputation of dealing with child molestation, and had an original title of Want a Ride Little Girl?, there is no evidence of it. Matt only kills women who are above the age-of-consent and his dealings with Tina have no sexual overtures. The script is actually quite pedestrian and loaded with nothing but cardboard characters and contrived situations that fail to be either distinctive or memorable.

William Shatner’s acting is the only horrifying thing about it. His facial expressions are better suited for cheap camp and his loud, plaid leisure suits are enough to hurt your eyes along with a wig made for a storefront mannequin. You can also spot his real-life wife at the time, Marcy Lafferty, playing a hotel desk clerk.

Sakata’s appearance is another detriment. I could see why he wasn’t given any speaking lines in Goldfinger because every time he does open up his mouth he comes off like someone who has no business being in front of the camera. Ruth Roman, who was a star during the ‘40s, but took on token supporting roles during the ‘70s gives the middling material some effort, but only if you can get past her raspy, smoker’s voice.

The only good thing is Kim Nicholas, a young blonde child performer who acted in only 5 movies, but who outperforms her adult counterparts by a mile. She conveys her lines with solid conviction and has just the right facial reactions. You could almost say that she carries the movie, but there is one scene where she stands in the middle of the road so she can force any car that comes by to stop and then uses this chance to bum a ride of off them, but no child or adult in their right mind would do something so dangerous, which only proves how stupid and poorly conceived this pathetic thing is.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Alternate Title: Want a Ride Little Girl?

Released: January 31, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: William Grefe

Studio: Camelot Films

Available: DVD

Hands of Steel (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s made of steel.

Paco (Daniel Greene) is a man who gets injured in an accident and then rebuilt as a cyborg in an operation financed by evil industrialist Francis Turner (John Saxon). Paco is then programmed to assassinate the head of a competing faction, but at the last second he is unable to do it, due to still harboring a conscience from his human side. He then hides out at a desolate Arizona hotel/bar run by the attractive Linda (Janet Agren) who he soon forms a bond with, but Turner and his men track Paco down and are determined to enact revenge for his disobedience.

The storyline could best be described as a variation to the Six Million Dollar Man. In that one a man was rebuilt to help the secret service on missions for ‘good’ while here the protagonist is programmed to carry out evil tasks, but refuses. It all might’ve been more interesting had it not been produced by an Italian film company where all the speaking voices are dubbed, which gives it an amateurish quality.

The isolated desert location only helps to make an already visually boring film even more so and the place certainly gets a lot of customers for being stuck literally in the middle-of-nowhere. The action is passable, but relies heavily on arm wrestling matches (yes you read that right) that are not exciting at all.

The plot features many logical loopholes that make little sense if you start thinking about it. For instance the cyborg gets shot at in close range, but he does not get injured or killed, but you would think the metal, circuitry or the skin surrounding it would still be affected or damaged. Later on when the bad guys are chasing him down in the desert by shooting at him from a helicopter the cyborg ducks out of the way from the bullets as if he fears getting hit by them, but why since we’ve seen earlier that they have no effect?

Greene’s performance is incredibly one-note and one of the main reasons the film is so boring. John Saxon is the only recognizable face in the cast although there is also George Eastman who played one of the killers in Mario Bava’s Rabid Dogs and appears as a similar type of baddie here. However, that film was way better than this one and more worth your time to watch.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 29, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sergio Martino

Studio: Almi Pictures

Available: VHS

Mind Trap (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Avenging her father’s murder.

Shana (Martha Kincare) is an actress who stars in low budget action flicks. Her father works at a secret lab where they do experiments in areas of holograms and mind control, which elicits the attention of dangerous foreign agents who want to use these experiments for their own nefarious gain. They end up killing not only Shana’s father, but her sister and mother too and forcing Shana to pledge a vendetta on all those who murdered them while using what she has learned from being in action films to take them down.

Even though this is nothing more than a mindless actioner it does manage to have a few unique scenes, which is the film’s only saving grace. The opening one features a woman getting attacked while inside a trailer home that is set onto a moving truck. The bit featuring a room equipped with the old clapper light switch in which simply clapping one’s hands will force the lights to turn on or off and then having a ‘battle’ where one person claps for them to go on and another immediately claps to have them shut off, which continues on for a couple of minutes, is amusing.

Another segment has a woman (Jacquie Banan) getting gang raped by the bad guy, but then Shana mocks the man’s ability to ‘get-it-up’ and makes him so self-conscious that he is unable to achieve an erection and thus unable to complete the intended assault.

Overall though the film is flat and forgettable and the star Martha Kincare, who depending on the camera angle resembles a young Justine Bateman, is not believable at all. Just because one may perform in action movies does not mean that person knows the first thing about handling a real gun or taking on real-life secret agents, which makes the already flimsy plot completely absurd.

Dan Haggerty and Lyle Waggoner are given top billing, but seen only briefly while playing characters that have little to do with the main story. Maureen LaVette, who portrays the Russian agent, but was born in Iowa puts on such an over-the-top Russian accent that it becomes annoying and enough to force some viewers to watch the film with the sound turned down, which really wouldn’t be a problem since the banal dialogue sucks anyways.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Eames Demetrious

Studio: AMI Video

Available: VHS

Meteor (1979)

meteor

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.

meteor-2

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