Category Archives: Movies with a Hospital setting

Evil Town (1987)

evil1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Old people kidnap travelers.

Chris and Julie (James Keach, Michele Marsh) along with another couple (Robert Walker Jr., Doria Cook-Nelson) are traveling through rural California from Los Angeles when they begin to have car trouble and stop-off at a rundown gas station in a small town. Earl (E.J. Andre), the old man who runs the station, inspects the vehicle and tells them it’s a water pump issue that will take at least a day to repair. Since it’s late at night he and his wife Mildred (Lurene Tuttle) offer them their spares room to sleep over in, but the couples decide they’d rather camp-out. However, they become harassed by unknown peepers, so when that car is found to have even more issues the next day and forced to spend yet another night there, they agree to stay at the elderly couple’s home. It is here that they get fed a poison that knocks them-out and they are then taken to a nearby hospital run by Dr. Schaeffer (Dean Jagger) who needs bodies of young people in order to conduct his experiments on the aging process.

This film is a great example of how funding is so crucial to a production and once it runs out there isn’t much else to do. Filming began under the working title ‘God Bless Grandma and Grandpa’ in the fall of 1973 in Mendocino, California and was directed by the talented Curtis Hanson, but money ran out before they could shoot the ending. In 1977 a different production company bought the unfinished footage and tried to market it as a movie under the title Dr. Shagetz, but with no real ending it failed to catch-on and the entire thing fell into obscurity. Then in 1984 another independent studio bought the lost footage and attempted to again redistribute it, but this time by adding in new footage, which they hoped to edit around the old footage in an effort to make it seem like a complete movie and then ultimately released to select theaters on June 2, 1987.

Unfortunately by the time they were ready to shoot the new stuff many of the elderly actors from the original were already dead, or to old at that point to perform. The four younger stars who made-up the two couples had no interest going back to finish shooting a movie the had long ago forgot about. This resulted in new actors getting hired to play both the roles of the protagonists and the bad-guys and while it’s edited in a way to make it seem like the new stars are interacting with the old ones from the lost footage it’s quite clear that they really aren’t and whole thing ultimately comes-off as two bad movies compressed into one really lousy one.

The story idea I liked and has definite similarities with Homebodies that also featured old people as the killers. There are a few good moments like having the actions scenes done in slow-motion and Keach forced to fight-off the old people who attack him by jumping on him one after the other. The scene where he gets surrounded by a group of chanting old folks while trapped in an old, nonoperational car isn’t bad either, but the pacing is slow and takes too long to get going.  The added footage is highly exploitative and basically consists of Playboy Playmate Lynda Wiesmeier running around topless in the night as she tries to avoid two killers.

Jagger, who was clearly at the tail-end of his long career, which at one point featured winning an Academy Award in 1949 for best supporting actor, gives an interesting performance. His shiny bald head along with the shaded glasses he wears gives him a creepy look and the odd speech pattern that he uses here make him seem genuinely menacing. Had the story stayed focused solely on him and had the original production been better funded and retained the first director this thing might’ve had a chance and even cult potential, but the way it is now it’s just a sad curio showing what might’ve been.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 2, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Director: Curtis Hanson (70’s footage), Mardi Rustam (80’s footage)

Rated R

Studio: Trans World Entertainment

Available: Blu-ray

Mirrors (1978)

mirrors

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Woman haunted by voodoo.

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

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

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

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

Spoiler Alert!

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

My Rating: 4 out of 10

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

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Noel Black

Studio: First American Films

Available: DVD-R (dvdlady.com)

Crossover (1980)

patman1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s slipping into insanity.

Mr. Patman (James Coburn) works as a nurse at a psychiatric ward in Canada. While he enjoys his work and the patients respond well to his methods he’s put-off by some of the other doctors and administrators who he feels don’t really care about the people they’re supposedly trying to help. He’s also carrying on an affair with two women. One is Nurse Peobody (Kate Nelligan) who works at the same hospital he does and the other is Abadaba (Fionnula Flanagan) the wife of his landlord. While trying to juggle these two women and dealing with the pressures of his job he begins seeing strange visions and fears the he may be losing his mind.

This is quite similar to Beyond Reasonwhich starred Telly Savalas. This one though fared a bit better at least for the first 20 minutes. I liked the way the hospital and the patients are portrayed where their impulsive and unpredictable behavior gives it a certain creepy vibe and the staff needs to be high alert at all times, or face the consequences, which for me brought out the realistic stresses of doing a job like that. The bleak, gray, and rainy setting of Vancouver, shot there to take advantage of the Canadian tax concessions that were given to film production companies at the time, helps accentuate the grim elements.

The film though fails to take advantage of what could’ve been an intriguing plot. Not enough weird visions are seen and the few that are, are underwhelming. It should’ve been approached as a thriller and filled with all sorts of nightmarish and surreal imagery that could’ve helped build the tension, but instead it gets treated as a drama with long talky segments between Coburn and his two girlfriends that bogs the whole thing down until you don’t care what happens. John Guillermin, the director, had helmed many successful features before this one including: King Kong, Death on the Nile, and The Towering Inferno, but shows no panache here and seems to be giving the material only a half-hearted effort. It might’ve done better had John Huston, who was the original choice to direct, had been hired instead.

Coburn, who stated that he did the movie due to an interest in the character who decides he finds the crazy world inside the hospital more comforting than the outside one, but later admitted that had he read the script after its numerous rewrites instead of accepting the offer upfront, he most likely would’ve rejected it, is excellent and the only good thing about the movie. Nelligan, who described the film as being a ‘nightmare’ while working on it as well as calling it an embarrassment, is not as interesting and the entire supporting cast is blah though the young woman patient named Miss Montgomery, played by Tabitha Harrington, who enjoys walking around nude at least offers some diversion.

The script was written by Thomas Headly Jr. in 1971 who later went on to write Flashdancewhich storywise is quite different from this. There’s also a twist ending, though I figured it out long before it gets there and others most likely will too. I feel this was the type of concept where it started with the ending and then gotten written from there, but more side elements were needed instead of just relying on the twist to make it interesting, which for a 30-minute episode of ‘Twilight Zone’ might’ve worked, but as a feature film it gets stretched too thin.

Alternate Title: Mr. Patman

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 5, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Guillermin

Studio: Film Consortium of Canada

Available: DVD-R (j4hi.com)

Don’t Cry, It’s Only Thunder (1982)

dont

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Medic helps out orphanage.

Brian (Dennis Christopher) is an army medic during the Vietnam War who’s stationed at a hospital in Saigon. Young and idealistic he initially cannot handle the death and carnage that he comes into at the clinic and feels he’s not making much of a difference especially as he sees the severely injured soldiers come-in and die with very little that they can do. He then makes a promise to one of them to look in on an orphanage and try to find a safe new location for the children and two nuns who look after them. At first Brian is not into the kids, but eventually he bonds with them especially Anh (Mai Thi Lien) a 12-year-old girl who cannot speak and who he wishes to adopt despite all the red tape that he must go through.

The film is loosely based on the actual experiences of Paul G. Hensler, who first wrote it into a novel before being commissioned to turn it into a screenplay. His motive was to show more of the humanitarian side to the war versus the battle scenes that made up so much of the other films that dealt with the Vietnam conflict. In a lot of ways it’s a refreshing change of pace and unlike with M*A*S*H, that focused on medics during the Korean War, there’s no humor, or pranks, but instead solely focuses on the serious side of taking care of the wounded and how emotionally exhausting it can become. There’s a few moments where a passing character will make a joke, I suppose as an ode to M*A*S*H, but instead of laughs from the others it’s met with eye rolls, which is how it should be as there’s certain situations where humor just isn’t going to help things and in some ways such as here just plain out-of-place.

Christopher, who’d been acting in films since he was 15, but rose to critical acclaim in Breaking Away only to make a bad career turn by starring-in the offbeat dud Fade to Blackredeems himself with his performance here. He does though look incredibly young almost like he’s only 14, but his youthful appearance helps explain his character’s sometimes naive nature and tendency to be overly idealistic and thus makes some of the things that he does, which an older more seasoned person might refrain from, more understandable.

I wasn’t as keen with Susan Saint James. She was 10 years older than Dennis, but looked more like it could’ve been 20 and thus making the eventual love scene between them come-off as forced and mechanical. I’ll give her credit she does have an effective emotional moment, but her character is too Jekyll and Hyde-like as she initially is really into helping the orphanage and even gets Brian more into it and then suddenly like a light switch doesn’t want to have anything to do with it, only to eventually to go back, kind of, to helping the kids out, which is like watching someone with a ping pong personality. If anything I really enjoyed the two Vietnamese nuns (Lisa Lu, Shere Thu Thuy) and the way they would sometimes compromise their moral beliefs for the sake of the kids.

The film manages to be gritty most of the way and despite being filmed in the Philippines still gives one an adequate feeling of the civilian experience in Vietnam during that time. However, the segment where a song gets played that was supposedly sung by the kids while we view a montage of them playing is over-the-top sentimental and even jarring as we were used to the background noise of battle and thus comes-off as sappy and out-of-place. Watching the kids having a bit of fun is fine, but we didn’t need the added music.

Brian’s insistence and almost obsession at adopting a preteen girl will be considered cringey by today’s standards. The film makes clear that his intentions are pure, I suppose this is why there was the sex scene thrown between he and Susan to alleviate any viewer concern that he wasn’t a red-blooded All-American guy who was into chicks his own age, but it still looks even in the most charitable way as kind of questionable especially since he can’t even have any conversations with her since she doesn’t speak. He contends that he’s the one guy who can help her, but how since he has shown no background in dealing with those with speech issues? The book cover of which the film is based has a picture of the real Hensler, of which Brian is supposed to represent, holding an infant girl, which I presume is who he wanted to adopt. Having the girl character being a baby like in the book instead of 12 going on 13 would’ve worked better, or having him try to adopt a group of kids to bring home with him, like 3 or 4 that was an even mix of boys and girls, but to have him get overly infatuated with just one makes it unintentionally seem likes his grooming her to being a Lolita in the making. A bratty child (Truong Minh Hai) even alludes to this at one point, which makes you wonder; did he know something the rest of us didn’t?

Spoiler Alert!

Overall, despite tanking at the box office, it’s an decent drama though its never been released on DVD and trying to find a print of it is difficult.  It also goes on about 15-minutes too long and loses some of its potency by the end. A perfect example of this is when the orphanage gets unexpectedly bombed without warning, which is genuinely horrific, but when another unexpected bomb goes off later the shock effect is no longer there and thus they should’ve kept it down to just one.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 3, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Werner

Studio: Sanrio Communications

Available: VHS

Beyond Reason (1985)

beyond

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s losing his sanity.

Filmed in 1977, but never released to the theaters and only eventually finding its way to VHS 8 years later. Written and directed by Telly Savalas the story centers on Dr. Nicholas Mati (Savalas) who works at a mental hospital and has an unorthodox way of treating his patients, which does not go over well with the young, blonde Dr. named Leslie Valentine (Laura Johnson) who feels his methods go too far. Suddenly after witnessing the suicide of one of his patients Mati begins having weird hallucinations. Those around him fear he may be losing his grip on reality, but Mati thinks Leslie may have something to do with it by attempting to drive him crazy she can have him fired from his job, so Mati sets out to expose her scheme.

While the concept is an interesting one the execution is not. I did feel the scenes done inside the hospital had a gritty touch, so it gets a few points there, but the story takes too long to get going. The scenes meander, too much extraneous dialogue, and not enough dramatic moments to keep it compelling, or even mildly engaging. It’s also unclear what genre to fit this into, or the target audience, which makes it easy to see why the studio refused to release it as it clearly was going to clunk at the box office and most critics who reviewed it would’ve gotten as bored as I did watching it.

I do like Savalas and usually enjoy his presence especially when he plays bad guys. While he can also play good guys well it’s never in the same dynamic type of way. His character here is limp and poorly defined. Since he starts out behaving a bit goofy right from the beginning his transition to loonyville isn’t much of a contrast, or shock. He also acts borderline creepy and at one point in a pre-Me Too moment even pinches one of his nurse colleagues in the ass. In any event you really don’t care if he goes mad or not and his journey, or why it’s occurring, won’t hold most viewers interest.

The most disappointing thing is that Priscilla Barnes, best known for playing Teri on ‘Three’s a Company’, was originally cast to play the part of Dr. Valentine and is even seen in a scene where a group of doctors tour the facility, but then got fired midway through the production and replaced by Johnson. Johnson, who looks quite similar to Barnes, is just not as good of an actress. Her confrontations with Savalas offers no spark, or fire. I honestly believe Barnes would’ve done better and while I’m not sure what the reason was for her being let go it’s a shame it occurred as it’s the one thing that might’ve helped made the movie better.

Spoiler Alert!

There is a diverting moment near the end where we see a fast-cutting mosaic of the weird visions going on inside Mati’s head, but this stuff needed to be trickled all the way through to help give the film more of a visual dynamic. As for the resolution I couldn’t make much sense of it though by that time I was just glad it was over and really didn’t care. There are though fans of the film who will insist it’s a ‘brilliant ending’ as Mati was apparently intentionally making himself go mad, as they explain it, to help him understand what his patients must go through, which is all a part of his ‘love centered therapy’. However, it’s not done in a way that makes it clear to most viewers and many will leave feeling confused and that it was a big waste of time.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: September 26, 1985 (CBS Television Network Broadcast)

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Telly Savalas

Studio: Arthur Sarkissian Productions

Available: VHS

All That Jazz (1979)

all that1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Overworked choreographer battles exhaustion.

Joe (Roy Scheider) is a dance choreographer who’s busy staging his next play while also editing a film he has directed, which the Hollywood studio is demanding get completed. These pressures cause him to take his anger out on his dancers as well as his ex-wife (Leland Palmer), who’s helping to finance the play, as well as his live-in girlfriend Katie (Ann Reinking). As the deadline for both approaches he begins seeing visions of the angel of death (Jessica Lange) whom he has a running conversation with. Eventually he starts to have chest pains, which cause him to be sent to the hospital even as he continues to drink and smoke over his Dr.’s objections. When he finally does have a heart attack he’s whisked into surgery where he directs extravagant musical numbers inside his head while the producers of the play hope for his demise as their insurance proceeds will not only help them avoid a financial loss, but even make a net profit.

The film is based in large part on writer/director Bob Fosse’s own experiences. He started out as a dancer who eventually became a choreographer who shot to fame in the 50’s with such musicals as The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees. By the 70’s he had become an award winning film director and it was while he was staging the Broadway musical Chicago in 1975 and also completing the editing for the film Lenny that much of what happened here got played-out. The biggest irony though is that Cliff Gorman, who starred onstage as the comedian Lenny Bruce of which the film and play Lenny is based, plays the star of the fictional film that Joe is editing even though in real-life Gorman lost out on the starring film role to Dustin Hoffman simply because Hoffman had a more bankable name, which is a shame because from the clips seen here you can easily tell that Gorman was an edgier Lenny that would’ve made that movie stronger.

As for this movie it’s directed in similar style as Frederico Fellini’s 8 1/2. The art direction and editing, which both won an Oscar, come fast and furiously as it constantly jumps back-and-forth from reality to dream-like sequences. While this type of non-linear narration could prove distracting and confusing in most other films here it actually helps. The script does a good job of revealing the stressful and competitive nature of the dance business, but it doesn’t show us anything that couldn’t have been presumed already making these scenes less impactful and the dance numbers, some of which are provocative, more entertaining.

Some complained that Scheider, who by this time was better known as an action star, was miscast, though I came away impressed even with his pale complexion and thin frame (he lost weight to help replicate a sickly/exhausted appearance) that became a bit difficult to watch. It’s the character that he plays that I found to be the biggest issue as the guy is a complete jerk sans the few scenes that he has with his daughter, played by Erzsebet Foldi, who is the one person he treats nicely and I wanted to see more moments between them. The dance number that she and his girlfriend put on for him inside his apartment is the film’s brightest moment while the reoccurring segue of Joe getting up each morning and putting visine into his blood shot eyes before looking into a mirror and saying “It’s showtime, folks!” become redundant and annoying.

On the technical end it’s near brilliant, but as an emotionally impactful character study it’s a total flop. The protagonist is too selfish for anyone to care about and shows too little redeeming qualities, nor much of an arc, to make it worthwhile. Ultimately it’s an exercise in extreme self-loathing that will leave the viewer as detached from the proceedings as the characters who are in it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1979

Runtime: 2 Hours 3 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bob Fosse

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection)

The Killer Elite (1975)

killer1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Betrayed by a friend.

Mike Locken (James Caan) and George Hansen (Robert Duvall) are two longtime friends and hit men working for a private agency affiliated with the CIA to carry-out covert missions. During their latest assignment Mike is shocked to see George turn on him by shooting him in the knee and elbow. While Mike is able to survive the incident he is forced to go through a long and painful rehabilitation and due to the injuries is no longer considered employable as a hit man. Mike though refuses to concede and goes through martial arts training were he learns to use a cane both for protection and offensive action. He assembles his old team while vowing to get revenge on George, but fails to realize that there’s someone else behind the scenes who’s pulling-the-strings and far more dangerous.

By the mid-70’s director Sam Peckinpah had achieved a strong following of admirers with his ground breaking action films that took violence and the way it was portrayed in films to a whole new level. While he had his share of critics his movies did well at the box office, which should’ve been enough to get him any assignment he wanted, but his notoriously cantankerous behavior on the set and alcoholism made him virtually unemployable. Mike Medavoy, the head of United Artists, decided to give him a reprieve by hiring him on to direct his next project, but it was under strict conditions that allowed the studio to have final say over all aspects, which in turn made Peckinpah’s presence virtually null and void. The film lacks the edginess of his other more well known pictures. The action really never gets going and much of it was intentionally toned down in order to get a PG-rating. The tension is also lacking and great majority of it is quite boring. There’s even brief moments of humor, which only undermines the story and makes it even more of a misfire.

I liked the casting of Caan, who has disowned the film, which he gives a 0 out of 10, and Duvall, this marked their 5th film together, but the script doesn’t play-up their relationship enough. I was hoping for more of a psychological angle like why would a loyal friend suddenly turn on his partner, which doesn’t really get examined. Duvall has much less screen time and there’s no ultimate confrontation between the two, which with a story like this should’ve been a must. The drama also shifts in the third act to Caan taking on Arthur Hill, who plays a undercover double-agent, which isn’t as interesting or impactful.

Caan’s shooting gets badly botched. I will give Peckinpah credit as the surgery scenes including the removal of the bullet is quite graphic, but how Caan is able to find help after he is shot is never shown. The assault occurs in a remote location, so technically he could’ve died without anyone knowing, so how he was able to find his way out and get the attention of a medical staff needed to be played-out and not just glossed-over like it is.

The introduction of Ninja warriors was another mistake. This was courtesy of Stirling Silliphant who had been hired to rewrite the script and wanted this element put-in since he and his girlfriend Tiana Alexander had studied martial arts under Bruce Lee and felt this would offer some excitement. The result is campy though a one critic, Pauline Kael, like it as she considered it a ‘self-aware satire’ though I was groaning more than laughing.

Some felt that Peckinpah had sold-out and this movie really made it seem like he had. Nothing gels or is inspired though I will at least credit him with the building explosion at the beginning, which was an actual implosion of an old fire house that he became aware was going to happen and quickly revised the shooting schedule, so he’d be able to capture it from across the street and then use it in the film, which does help though everything after it falls flat.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 17, 1975

Runtime: 2 Hours 3 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Tubi, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Manitou (1978)

manitou

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Tumor on her neck.

Karen (Susan Strasberg) is a middle-aged woman living in San Francisco who begins noticing a lump on the back of her neck that grows at an accelerated rate. She goes to the hospital to have it checked and the doctors there, after analyzing the X-rays, believe it to be a fetus growing within the tumor. Karen’s boyfriend Harry (Tony Curtis) does some research and discovers that the growth is an Indian shaman reincarnated from a past life who’s brought back to take revenge on the white man for driving his people off of their land. When the surgery to remove the tumor goes wrong, Harry summons the help of a modern-day shaman, John Singing Rock (Michael Ansara) to help him get the fetus removed. While John has a strong connection to the spirit world he realizes that the ones he can summon are weak compared to what the spirit who inhabits the growth on Karen’s neck can bring to life.

I’ll give writer-director William Girdler credit, during his brief life and career he directed a lot of movies, 9 of them while still in his 20’s, but the quality of the output was minimal. He did achieve a few cult hits like Sheba, Baby and Abby as well as a couple that did well at the box office, Grizzlybut this one, which came in with a high budget, could be considered his worst. The cast is interesting, though they’re well past their prime, but the plot, which is based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Graham Masterton, is too silly to be taken seriously.

Girdler shows more interest in capturing the San Francisco skyline, of which he does well, and some of the city’s more exotic locales, then spotting continuity errors. One of the most glaring ones is when the surgeon, played by Jon Cedar, who co-wrote the script, severely cuts his hand during the surgery, but then later he’s in a scene where his hands look fine and there’s no bandages on them. There’s also several moments where I was literally laughing-out-loud, like when an old lady, played by Lurene Tuttle, becomes possessed by the Indian spirit and begins dancing around the room and speaking in a deep voice, which looks as silly as it sounds. The seance is laughable too and since these have been parodied so much it’s best not even putting them into any horror movie that hopes to take itself seriously as it’ll just have the viewers-rolling-their eyes from the very beginning.

The main characters are a mess mainly because they don’t have much to do. Curtis plays this phony psychic who does nothing but stand around and watch Ansara do all the work to the extent that Ansara should’ve been the star and Curtis, who’s looking haggard and washed-up here, could’ve been cut-out completely and not missed. Strasberg is boring as the victim. She has this giant growth on her neck that’s expanding rapidly and yet she takes it in a ho-hum, laid-back fashion when anyone else would be stressing-out and going crazy with anxiety. There also should’ve been a specific reason why she got targeted with the tumor instead of just writing it off as a ‘random occurrence’.

The third act picks-up slightly and the birth of the Indian spirit where you see him claw his way out of the womb while still on Strasberg’s neck, is visually impressive from a special effects perspective, but once outside he looks too much like a dwarf in an Indian get-up. Having the entire floor of the hospital turn into a frozen polar zone is cool until you start looking at the ice blocks too closely and realize they’re just styrofoam. The climactic sequence in which a now topless Strasberg battles the Indian spirit using telekinetic powers while seemingly floating in outer space is too stupid for words and cements this as a complete embarrassment for all those involved.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: April 28, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: William Girdler

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

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

Crash! (1976)

crash

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Wife has occult powers.

Kim (Sue Lyon) and Marc (Jose Ferrer) are a married couple with a 30-year age difference between them. Initially they were a happy twosome, but then Marc got into a car accident that left him bound to a wheelchair and the passion between them lessened. Now Marc resents the fact that Kim no longer seems to love him and worries that his attractive and much younger wife will go off and find another suitor. He plots to have her killed by having his trained doberman jump into her car as she’s driving and attack her. While the dog does injure her it’s not enough to kill her. As she lies in her hospital bed Marc sneaks in and disconnects her from her intravenous tube, which he hopes will be enough to end her life, but he fails to notice that she’s clutching in her hand an artifact that she had bought earlier at a flea market, which gives her special psychic abilities. These powers allow her to terrorize Marc even when she’s not there by making inanimate objects, including both her car and his wheelchair, come to life and begin attacking him. 

This was the first feature length film directed by Charles Band, who has gone on to have a long career both producing and directing B-horror films some of which have been successful. This one reveals his producer mentality by keeping the flimsy plot moving by adding in a lot of action, in this case tons of car stunt footage, to the mask the fact that the story itself doesn’t have much going for it. To a degree the car crashes are well choreographed, but there’s too many shots of police cars getting destroyed, which is reminiscent of the car chase action comedies making this seem more like a silly comedy than a would-be horror film.

The most impressive thing is the driver-less car. This is similar to the concept used in cult flick The Car, but that automobile had a roof over it and darkened windows, so you presumed that a stunt driver was inside controlling it, but here this vehicle is a convertible and there’s no one sitting in it even as it careens down the road. How they were able to pull this off I don’t know, but this fact alone makes it far more interesting to see than the other one even though that one, for whatever reason, received more attention and fanfare despite both coming-out at around the same time.

I was willing to give this 6-points, but then Band makes the misguided mistake of repeating near the end the car crash explosions we’ve seen before making it seem like a ‘highlight reel’. I’m not sure for the reason other than alluding to the mysterious occult power communicating to  Kim about what has gone on while she was in the hospital bed, but it was unnecessary and comes-off like amateurish film-making to the extreme.

The eclectic cast of familiar faces who were once A-list stars, but now forced to accept B-grade material in order to stay busy, is interesting and helps save it a little. I was particularly impressed with Ferrer who gives a convincing performance and doesn’t just ‘phone-it-in’ despite the otherwise subpar quality of the script.

Lyon’s appearance here is intriguing as well as she shot to fame back in 1964 as the beautiful teen Lolita in the Stanley Kubrick film of the same name and was considered one of the most stunning stars of the decade, but here she plays a part that ends-up making her look quite ugly. Not only is her face bandaged up through most of it, but when they do finally come-off she is shown to be full of garish scars. There’s also scenes where her eyes are blazing red and resembling that of a demon. I’m not sure if she took this role to play against her beauty stereotype, which she reportedly was not a fan of anyways, or she just accepted the offer because she needed the work, but the things she does here is about as far removed from Lolita as one could possibly get, so watching this simply for that reason may make it worth it to some.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 24, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Charles Band

Studio: Group 1 International Distribution

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

Incubus (1982)

incubus1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Demon being rapes women.

In a small Wisconsin town known as Galen the women are being sexually assaulted by a mysterious being with super human strength. When the victims are taken to the hospital they are seen by Dr. Sam Cordell (John Cassavetes) who notices an extraordinary amount of semen deposited that is reddish in color and doesn’t seem left by a human. Sam argues with the local sheriff Hank (John Ireland) about whether it’s a gang of men doing these crimes, or just one person. The two team-up with Laura (Kerrie Keane), a local reporter who has just moved into town and shares a striking resemblance to Sam’s former girlfriend who’s now deceased, to find the culprit. They begin to think it may be Tim (Duncan McIntosh) a young man who’s still living with his adopted mother (Helen Hughes) and has been dating Sam’s daughter Jenny (Erin Noble). Tim complains about having weird, vivid dreams and every time he wakes up a new crime has been reported, which makes Sam fear that Jenny may be the next victim.

This film approaches things differently from the conventional horror, especially those done in the 70’s, where there’s no character build-up and just jumps right into the attacks, but this doesn’t work because we have no idea who these people are nor care what happens to them making the viewer sit through the whole first half in a rather apathetic manner to what’s going on. The film also makes the mistake of not showing, with the exception of a brief second where we do see the creature’s hairy arm, of who this entity is until the very end though it should’ve been done sooner. Having some mystery is good, but a film has to keep upping the ante otherwise it will get tedious and seeing the attacks get done over and over in virtually the same manner without any new information or twists added soon becomes quite boring.

Listening to Sam and Hank perpetually argue who the culprit is for almost the entire film without much  clues being added in becomes tiresome too. The film though is helped immensely by John Hough’s direction who adds a lot of visual style including a cool tracking shot done from underneath a wheelchair.

I was unhappy though that it wasn’t actually filmed in Wisconsin, but instead Guelph, Ontario, which has homes and buildings that resemble more of a colonial style that you would find in the northeast versus the Midwest. Having movies filmed on-location that’s specific to the story can help give it an added ambiance and sometimes even work as a third character, but since this movie cheats on this we don’t get that here.

Casting Cassavetes, who is better known for directing groundbreaking, independent movies, in the lead was a novel move. His hawk-like facial features I always felt would’ve made him a good bad guy, but his unique acting approach does at least keep his scenes interesting though his relationship with his daughter does border on cringey. One shot has him viewing his naked daughter, who is 17, through a  mirror as she gets out of the shower, which seems to imply, though it never gets played-out, that he may have a perverse sexual interest in her. There’s another scene where he introduces her to Laura as simply being ‘a woman I live with’, which is a very weird way for a father to describe a daughter.

The supporting characters aren’t captivating at all. Laura, who’s supposed to be an aggressive journalist type, breaks down too easily after receiving minor blow back from the sheriff over her reporting, which made her seem too sensitive. If she’s truly the ‘fearless reporter’ as portrayed then she’d have to have a thicker skin and even expect some criticism when it comes. The Tim character is also a bore as we see him in only one emotional state, perplexed and confused, which makes him too one-dimensional.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is where things get messed-up. For one thing it tries to squeeze an elaborate explanation for what’s going-on into the final three minutes, which is too short of a time period for the viewer to digest it all, or have it make sense. What really got me though is that we find out that the incubus was actually Laura, and the film ends with Sam seeing her kill his daughter, but we never see how Sam responds, or if he’s able to defeat her, which is frustrating. So much time gets spent on the boring investigation only to then abruptly end once we finally get a pay-off.

By having Laura be the ultimate villain also goes against the film’s title. According to mythology an incubus is a male demon that tries to have sex with a female human, but a succubus is a female demon, so hence the title of the movie, the way I see it, should’ve been, when given the way it turns out, Succubus.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 27, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Hough

Studio: Kings Road Entertainment

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Pluto TV, Plex, Tubi, YouTube