Category Archives: Low Budget

Towing (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fighting a corrupt company.

Lynn (Sue Lyon) and Jean (Jennifer Ashley) are two friends who work at a bar and become increasingly aware of a corrupt towing company in town run by Butch (J.J. Johnston) that tows away cars for questionable reasons and then demands hefty fees for the owners to get them back. Many people in the city of Chicago have been affected and are considering starting-up protests, but when Jean gets fired from her job when a customer has his car towed that she parked is when things really get going. She then gets a job at a gas station across the street from where the towing company is located. She and Lynn as well as Lynn’s new lawyer boyfriend Chris (Joe Mantegna) trick Butch into towing away the Mayor’s daughter’s car, which soon gets him in on notice with the mayor himself.

Although she’s worked on several documentaries, for feature films this was a one-and-done project for writer/director Maura Smith as she hasn’t done another one since. The film looks cheap right from the start and initially I feared this was going to be rock-bottom fare, but it does improve enough to have a slight amiable quality. The story though is too threadbare to hold much interest and in attempt to ‘go for something deeper’ incorporates a side-story dealing with the challenges of being a single woman and going through a lot of empty, dead-end dates, but these segments don’t mesh with the frivolity and overall silliness of the rest and ultimately give the film an amateurish feel.

This obscurity’s biggest claim-to-fame is that it marks both the beginning and end of two careers. For Joe Mantegna this was his film debut and he does have one funny moment, probably the only funny moment of the whole film, where he tries to connect the chains of a tow truck to a car, but being a lawyer he doesn’t really know how to do it. For Sue Lyon this was her final starring role as her brief appearance in Alligatorwhich she did 2 years later was basically just a walk-on. This was also the final time she wore her patented long blonde hair as it was after this that she became a brunette and then ultimately raven-haired. For the most part she seems to be having fun while sporting an engaging smile and amused laugh throughout. She even at one point puts on a wig and pretends to be a hooker and in another part disguises her voice to sound like an old woman, but the production was about as low budget as you can get and I can see why she felt staying in the business wasn’t going to be worth it if this was all the better she was going to be offered.

Jennifer Ashley lends unique support as the flirtatious one who exudes a sensual energy and Johnston, who was at one time an amateur boxer who has written 4 books on the subject, is solid as the heavy and even, despite the script being written by a woman, allowed say to the C-word. My favorite though was Steven Kampmann, probably best known for playing Kirk Devane in the first two seasons of ‘Newhart’ before turning his energies full-time to screenwriting, who plays an angry citizen who helps the two women get back at the towing company though having him break-off to commit hi-jinks of his own along with his girlfriend (played by Audrie Neennan) takes away too much from the central lead characters and dilutes the plot.

The on-location shooting done in Chicago is nice especially with the way it focuses on the working class neighborhoods though I was surprised that even though it was filmed in October and November the scenery already looked quite cold and the actors appear to be shivering as they say their lines. The cool soundtrack has a funky beat and fun lyrics. Had the music been sold separately it would’ve attained a lot of fans and helps give the film some much needed personality and distinction that it otherwise lacks.

Alternate Title: Who Stole My Wheels?

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 5, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 16 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Maura Smith

Studio: United International

Available: Amazon Video

Ice House (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Transient wants girlfriend back.

Pake (Bo Brinkman) and Kay (Melissa Gilbert) grew up in a small town in Texas and were high school sweethearts. Despite having a good paying job in the Texas oil fields Pake longs to pursue his dream of making it in the music industry, so he and Kay head-off to Hollywood, but Pake finds it more challenging than he thought to break into the business and be discovered. He becomes homeless and eating out of trash cans. Kay turns to prostitution and eventually meets Vassil (Andreas Manolikakis). He is a Greek immigrant looking to marry her so he can become a permanent U.S. citizen while Kay likes the fact that his family has money and feels if she marries him she’ll have a more stable life than with Pake, but just one day before the wedding Pake arrives at Kay’s cramped apartment wanting to win her back.

This was the third film directed by Eagle Pennell who shot to fame with his break-out indie flick The Whole Shootin’ Matchthat won him a Hollywood contract, which didn’t pan out, but it did at least get him enough financing to make a couple of other movies, with this one being one of the few that he did in color. Yet, the production, like in his first film, is mired in the constraints of shooting on a threadbare budget including having the entire thing take place in one tiny apartment. Some films have shot things in one setting and gotten away with it, but this location lacks any visual flair and quickly becomes static. There’s a few cutaways to flashback scenes shot back in Texas, but they aren’t particularly interesting. The most frustrating aspect is having Pake describe a surreal dream he had, but instead of having it recreated onscreen like a smart movie should we just see his sweaty face talking about it, which diminishes its impact.

Having Melissa Gilbert, better known as Laura Ingalls Wilder in ‘Little House on the Prairie’ helps a little though she’s a long way away from Walnut Grove including being dressed in a provocative 80’s style hooker outfit. I realize she wanted to prove herself as an actress by taking on more edgy fare in order to get away from her ‘goody-goody’ image and she certainly does that here where at one point she even described guys ‘cumming in her mouth’ and does a simulated sex scene with Vassil while Pake, tied-up, is forced to watch. Some may be impressed with her acting range, or shocked, but in either case, she’s effective.

Brinkman, who also wrote the script, which is based on his play ‘Ice House Heat Waves’ is excellent in his role as well, but the dialogue needed serious work. Too much of a colloquial sound including such overused phrases as ‘you can talk until you’re blue-in-the-face’ and ‘you don’t have a pot to piss in’, which gives the conversation a remedial quality and like it was thought up by a teenager. At one point the character even describes Hollywood as being ‘Hollyweird’ and he thinks he’s being clever in saying it even though that’s been a mocking phrase used by many to describe the California scene and shows how a script rewrite by a professional script doctor was needed.

Despite the flaws I still found on a modest scale for it to be strangely compelling. Maybe it’s Pennell’s way of capturing Texas showing a couple carrying on an elicit affair under the nigh sky alongside a dark oil rig that gives it a moody vibe that I liked. Pennell, who later became homeless himself, seems to understand the desperation of the characters, which helps give it some grounding and may make it worth it for viewers who are patient.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 16, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 21 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Eagle Pennell

Studio: Cactus Films

Available: None

The Whole Shootin’ Match (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to get rich.

Frank (Sonny Carl Davis) and Lloyd (Lou Perryman) are lifelong pals who’ve never been able to get over the financial hump. Both harbor starry-eyed ideas of getting rich, but Lloyd’s inventions never attract the interest of any investors. Then one day while driving his car through the local car wash Lloyd is inspired to create a type of mop that he coins the ‘Kitchen Wizard’. They’re able to sell the rights  and make a thousand dollars with the promise that more money will be on the way, but when the patent gets stolen by an unscrupulous company it sends the normally stoic Frank over-the-edge in which he begins to ponder suicide as the only answer to his despondency.

This film, produced on a minuscule budget where the cast and crew agreed to work for free, became the forerunner of the modern-day indie film movement that not only inspired cult director Richard Linklater to get into movie-making, but also gave Robert Redford the motivation to start-up the Sundance Film Festival. Director Eagle Pennell, who was born as Glenn Irwin Pinnell, even attracted the attention of Hollywood studios after the film’s release, which lead to him getting a development deal with Universal, but when this failed to get any of his movie ideas produced he came back to the Lone Star State feeling as disillusioned as the characters in this movie. Eventually it lead to alcoholism and homelessness where he ultimately died while living on the streets of Houston at the age of 49.

This movie works much like Jim Jarmusch’s 1984 indie hit Stranger Than Paradise, which was also filmed entirely in black-and-white and featured mainly static shots of people having extended conversations. While some of the scenes are funny there are also a few dramatic ones particularly Frank’s dealings with his wife Paulette, played by Doris Hargrave. There are also some moments that don’t work at all. The one featuring Frank and Lloyd conversing while supposedly riding inside a pick-up is particularly problematic as it’s quite clear to the viewer, despite Pinnell’s attempts to camouflage it by editing in shots of traffic, that the vehicle is stationary. The dream sequence where Frank has a nightmare about going back to the company that stole their mop idea is interesting, but then ultimately gets defeated by repeating it almost exactly in real-life, which gets redundant and the music becomes intrusive as we’re unable to hear what anyone is saying as they confront each other.

The characters are not appealing especially Frank who’s quite controlling and possessive towards his wife despite cheating on her. The two lead’s personalities flip-flop near the end where Lloyd, the perpetual optimist, suddenly turns dour while Frank manifests into Mr. positive, which to me didn’t seemed earned, or believable.

For patient viewers the third act is a payoff as it takes place in the Texas Hill Country where the foliage of the forests are quite different than those in the Midwest with trees unique only to central Texas and thus giving the sequence a surreal vibe like the two have traveled off to a strange and exotic place. I also liked the fact that the phony sound effects used in most other movies are non-existent here. This comes into play when a crotchety old man, played by James N. Harrell, shoots at the two from his porch with a rifle, but instead of a loud cannon sound like in most films, it’s more of a realistic fire cracker noise. The fight inside a bar works the same way as there’s not that annoying loud smacking sound when the punches hit their target making this tussle seem more organic.

This also marked only the second movie to be filmed in Austin, Texas with the first one being Outlaw Blueswhich was released 2 years earlier. If you’re an Austinite, such as myself, living in the city now you’ll not recognize the old Austin that gets shown here. No tall buildings, or cosmopolitan look. In fact after watching it you’d be convinced Austin was just a back woods cow town without even a hint of the bustling metropolis that its become.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 19, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Eagle Pennell

Available: DVD, Fandor

The Chair (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The prison is haunted.

Dr. Langer (James Coco) is a psychiatrist who decides to reopen an abandoned prison with the help of his assistant, the beautiful young Lisa (Trini Alvarado). The problem is that the warden, Ed (Paul Benedict) is plagued by nightmares of a prisoner uprising that he had to deal with many years earlier, that cost the life of his friend Joe who he abandoned when he tried to go for help. While he lay hidden Joe was dragged by the prisoners to an electric chair and killed. Now, years later, the prison has become haunted by Joe’s spirit, but Dr. Langer refuses to believe this until he comes face-to-face with the ghostly presence forcing him to apologize to the prisoners who he had initially disbelieved, but the prisoners are seething from a lack of a working fan, caused by the ghost, and the heat in their cells has become stifling and motivates them to take out their frustrations on the defenseless Langer.

This film, which was directed by a man better known for his work in industrial films, is an odd mix of quirky comedy and surreal horror. The first act works as a soft satire to the new wave of ‘I’m okay, you’re okay’ psychiatry that has its share of mildly amusing moments. James Coco is perfect as a Dr. who seems confident and in-control to his prisoners, but deeply out-of-control when dealing with his personal life. Had the movie centered solely on Coco, a highly talented character actor whose obesity was the only thing that held him back from receiving better roles, it might’ve worked.This though will be turn-off to the regular horror fan who will likely find the broadly comical overtones as the beginning off-putting and even confusing as at times, at least initially, it doesn’t seem like a horror flick at all.

The second-half gets darker and even features a few deaths though it cuts away too quickly, particularly with the scene featuring the guard named Wilson (Mike Starr) who gets electrocuted in gruesome fashion, but no follow-up scenes showing how they removed his mutilated body, or who discovered him. The flashbacks dealing with the uprising don’t happen until 55-minutes in, which is too long of a wait to be introducing something that’s an integral element to the plot. There’s also numerous shots of an image of an eyeball appearing inside a light bulb, which becomes redundant and isn’t scary.

The man who gets electrocuted on the chair, and whose name doesn’t appear in the credits, is seen too little and needed to have a bigger part onscreen. The shift in tone from playful camp to gory effects is jarring and makes the whole thing seem like it was done by amateurs who had no idea what they were doing. It also features a completely impotent ‘hero’, played by Gary McCleery, who gets for some reason trapped in his cell when everyone else is able to escape and thus cannot not stop, or prevent any of the violence that happens, which makes him a completely useless character that had no need being in the story at all. If anything Coco, who’s fun despite the anemic material, should’ve been the protagonist and having him disappear before it’s over was a mistake.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending features Lisa marrying Rick, but this gets explained through a newspaper headline even though movies are a visual medium and thus should’ve been shown. The twist of some real estate developers deciding to turn the place into a senior citizen center, is novel, but having this occur at the beginning would’ve been better, as watching a bunch of old-timers fighting off the ghosts would’ve been far more entertaining than anything else that goes on.

Alternate Title: Hot Seat

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 13, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Waldemar Korzeniowsky

Studio: Angelika Films

Available: VHS, DVD (Import Reg. 0)

Bloodsucking Freaks (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Women forced into slavery.

Sardu (Seamus O’Brien) runs an underground theater in the SoHo District of New York where they put on live stage shows that feature naked women tortured and mutilated all to the delight of a paying audience. The members of the public who come to see it believe it’s all an act, but in reality the women are kidnapped and forced to do things against their will through hypnosis. When a theater critic named Creasy Silo (Alan Dellay) refuses to write a positive review about the place in his newspaper Sardu summons his dwarf assistant Ralphus (Luis De Jesus) to kidnap him where he is then chained in the basement of the theater and tortured like the others. Sardu also has famous ballet dance Natasha (Viju Krem) kidnapped where she eventually, through the power  of hypnosis, puts on a perverse dance, but Natasha’s boyfriend Tom (Niles McMaster) doesn’t believe she’s doing it willingly, so he calls on police detective John Tucci (Dan Fauci) to investigate. The problem is that Tucci is corrupt and secretly agrees to do nothing about Sardu’s crimes as long as he gets bribe money. 

Out of all of the exploitative films that came out during the 70’s this one still holds the top prize of being the most notorious and rightly so, as what it shows went far beyond many other provocative films of that decade that promised sensationalism, but delivered little. This one definitely delivers to the extent that writer/director Joel M. Reed professed to losing many of his longtime friends after they watched it. While intended as a dark comedy, a very dark one, how much one enjoys will be dependent on how twisted their sense of humor is with some finding it entertaining, even darkly inventive, while others will be downright shocked and appalled. 

The effects are done from a campy perspective and have not aged well though still potent. The two that took me aback a bit was when a young woman, played by Illa Howe, gets put on a guillotine and has her head chopped-off. The severed head then is taken out of the basket it was dropped in and it really does resemble her face and not that of a mannequin’s like you’d expect. The infamous brain sucking scene, which became the inspiration for the film’s title, where a sadistic Dr., played by soap star Ernie Pysher, drills a hole into a women’s head, played by Lynette Sheldon, who has since gone on to become a well renown acting teacher, and then sucks her brains out through a straw is pretty grisly too.

The film was picketed by women’s groups, including women against pornography, outside of theaters that showed it. Many labeled it misogynistic and I’d have to agree as all the women characters have no discernible personality other than jut running around naked while allowing themselves to be tortured, beaten and even mutilated as passive victims with no resistance. The premise explains this is because of ‘hypnosis’, but that pushes that concept far beyond believability making it more like a twisted male fantasy than a movie.

The film has also gained notoriety for the violent deaths of its two stars with O’Brien becoming a homicide victim of a home invasion less than a year after its released while six years later Krem perished from an accidental shooting while on a hunting trip. Personally I found Fauci, who is the founder of The Actor’s Institute and has been the acting coach of such notables as Fisher Stevens and Marisa Tomei, to be the funniest. He plays the caricature of a corrupt cop, but does it in such an amusing way that every time he utters a line it’s highly entertaining.

Special mention must also go to dwarf actor De Jesus, who came to fame 5 years earlier in the porn flick The Anal Dwarf, where he attempted to have sex with a regular sized woman as apparently not every part of his body was small. Here, I found his facial expressions and overall energy to be engaging and had he and Fauci been the stars, playing adversaries, the film would’ve been funnier.

On the technical end the remastered blu-ray has a faded color and a spotty sound, making it look like it was captured on cheap, vastly inferior equipment from the get-go. Of course for those that came to see the explicit sadomasochism these other issues won’t matter.

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Alternate Title: The Incredible Torture Show

Released: November 3, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joel M. Reed

Studio: American Film Distributing Corporation

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

The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Escaped killer crashes sleepover.

Trish (Michelle Michaels) is a high school senior who decides to hold a slumber party at her place while her parents are away. She invites Kim (Debra Deliso), Jackie (Andree Honore), and Diane (Gina Mari). She tries to invite Valerie (Robin Stille), who lives right next door to her, but she declines after overhearing the other girls talk about her in a catty way while in the locker room. As the girls prepare for the party they get harassed by Neil (Joseph Alan Johnson) and Jeff (David Millbern) who try to scare them by fiddling with the fuse box and turning the power in the home off, but none of them are aware that a real killer named Russ Thorn (Michael Villella), who has escaped from prison, and his quietly stalking them while using an electrical drill as his weapon.

The script was written by feminist writer Rita Mae Brown, who intended for it to be a parody, but when producer Roger Corman read it he saw as a conventional slasher and hired Amy Holden Jones, who had worked for his company for many years as a film editor, to direct it. While some will complain that the parody concept should’ve been left in I actually think it works better and in some ways is even funnier to have genuine scares and gore mixed in with the laughs. Too many other horror comedies try too hard to be funny, like with Pandemonium, where so much effort gets put into the humor that there’s no scares to be had, which will alienate a true horror fan, but here audiences who like a little of both should enjoy it.

I’ll admit that the movie does start out rocky. While I liked the organ soundtrack everything else comes-off as painfully amateurish.  Having one of the students, played by Brinke Stevens, run back into the school that is closing to retrieve a book from her locker is dumb. For one thing the building was completely locked up, so how did the killer get inside? Chaining the doors shut from the inside such as here isn’t done and illegal as it’s considered fire hazard. The victim is also too passive as the killer drills a small hole through the door of the room that she’s hiding in, but he’d have to drill many, many more holes for him to break down the door, which should’ve given her, albeit injured, but still mobile, plenty of time to figure another way out like crashing through a window, but instead she screams and essentially gives up.

Some critics complained about the gratuitous nudity especially for a film directed by a woman though it does try to equalize this by also showing the naked backside of a man while two of the girls, Valerie and her kid sister Courtney, page through an old issue of Playgirl, which I found amusing. What bugged me though was that the women looked too old to be playing high school students and appear to be far like 25, or even older. They also have terrific figures, like models in a soft core porn flick, and for the sake of balance there should’ve been at least one that was heavy-set, perhaps Valerie, and this could’ve explained why she was rejected and not invited to the party because she wasn’t ‘pretty enough’ to be in their clique.

The second and third act I found, much to my surprise, to be highly entertaining and even clever particularly the scene where Valerie watches a scary movie on TV even as a real horror, unbeknownst to her, is occurring just outside her door. There’s also some really funny lines that were clearly leftover from Brown’s original script and completely hits the target. It also features a nifty emasculation moment, which has all helped to give this a huge and well-deserved cult following. Followed 5 years later by a sequel, which we’ll review tomorrow.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 12, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 17 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Amy Holden Jones

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Plex, PlutoTV, Tubi, Shout Factory TV, Amazon Video

Victims (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Reviews: Haunted by childhood memories.

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July, 1982 (Video Release Only)

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Tony Vorno

Studio: Paulie Productions

Available: None

The Redeemer (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Murdered for their sins.

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

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

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

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

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

Spoiler Alert!

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

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

Released: October 25, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Constantine S. Gochis

Studio: Dimension Pictures

Available: Blu-ray, Tubi, Amazon Video

Disconnected (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Receiving harassing phone calls.

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

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

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

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

Spoiler Alert!

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

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

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

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 17, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Gorman Bechard

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

Last Resort (1986)

lastresort1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Family takes nightmarish vacation.

George (Charles Grodin) is a Chicago salesmen who loses a major client when he calls him fat, which in-turn costs him his job. Feeling the need to get away from the cold Chicago winter and reassess things he decides to take his family to a tropical island for some much needed r-and-r, but finds the place run by crazy people who house everybody in tiny little cabins. The island is also surrounded by a barbed wire fence due to a civil war going on, which soon has George stuck in the middle of it.

This film was directed by Zane Buzby, who appears here as a abusive summer camp counselor and who has since left the directing profession and devoted her life to brining aid to last surviving members of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, which is a far better way to spend her time than making films like these, which isn’t funny and lacks any type of visual style. Much of the blame for this is the low budget, which makes the movie look cheap right from the start with its stock footage of a Chicago blizzard, the generic music score, and every indoor shot looking quite shadowy as if they weren’t able to afford enough spotlights to give it the properly lighted look. The island setting is bad too looking nothing like an actual island, but instead the brown, sun scorched landscape of a studio backlot.

The story is built around a lot of gags the majority of which aren’t funny, or even slightly original. The concept is the reverse of a National Lampoon’s Family Vacation where Chevy Chase plays the inept father who bungles everything while everyone else around him is normal. Here the father is the normal one and all the other people are nuts, but this doesn’t work as well as the folks behave in such an extremely absurd and obnoxious way that they have no bearing at all to real people and for satire to work it still needs to have some semblance to reality and this thing has none. It’s just insanity for the sake of goofiness with no point to it, which gets old fast.

I’m a big fan of Grodin, but his dry humored, deadpan observations are not put to good use and he ends up getting drowned out by all of the foolishness. I did though at least start to understand why Howard Stern always would accuse him of wearing a wig. To me I never thought he did wear one and Grodin, who disliked Stern immensely as he felt the shock-jock’s humor was too vulgar, would hotly dispute these accusations and even had one segment on his own short-lived talk show during the late 90’s where guests were allowed to tug on his hair just to prove it was natural and wouldn’t come off. However, here for whatever reason it really does appear like some rug plopped onto his skull that doesn’t even fit the dimensions of his head right.

Some of the supporting cast, which consists mainly of yet-to-be-famous, up-and-coming-stars does help a bit. This though does not include Megan Mullally, who plays Grodin’s daughter Jessica, who puts-on a high pitched, squeaky voice that I found really irritating. I did though find Jon Lovitz somewhat amusing as a bartender that can supposedly speak English, but can’t understand anything that Grodin says. Phil Hartman, wearing a blond wig, is a riot as a French gay guy named Jean-Michel who comes-onto Grodin, but my favorite was Mario Van Peebles as a flaming gay man who’s also one the tour guides. Some viewers may complain that his portrayal is too over-the-top and stereotypical, but it’s still campy fun especially at the end when he rips off his wig and suddenly turns into a macho guerrilla soldier freedom fighter.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 9, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Zane Buzby

Studio: Concorde Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Shout Factory TV, Pluto TV, Tubi