Category Archives: Movies with a rural setting

Tourist Trap (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mannequins come to life.

A group of college kids go driving through the countryside in two separate vehicles. When one of the vehicles breaks down, Woody (Keith McDermott), the driver, decides to go off looking for a replacement to his flat tire. He finds an abandoned gas station and when he enters the backroom gets attacked by mannequins and flying objects. Later the young adults in the other car also have their vehicle break down near an old museum that features wax dummies and an eccentric owner named Mr. Slausen (Chuck Connors). Soon the same fate that befell Woody starts to occur to them one-by-one.

With the critical success of director David Schmoeller’s first film, the movie short The Spider will Kill You, which will be reviewed tomorrow, he managed to find enough funding to expand the idea into a feature film. The film though did not do well when first released and sat in virtual obscurity until Stephen King lauded it in his book ‘Danse Macabre’, which brought new attention to it and eventually garnered it a strong cult following. Now, I know everyone has their own unique ideas of what’s scary, but honestly I can’t see what King found about this that was so great.

To me it comes off as just another cheesy low budget slasher flick with very little that is original or interesting. Having the bad guy able to use telekinetic powers I thought was dumb. Why would this backwoods hillbilly be able to harness special powers that 99.9% of the rest of the world’s population doesn’t have? The original version of the script did not have the telekinetic powers present, but the filmmakers were forced to incorporate it at the behest of producer Charles Band, who refused to give the money for the project unless they did.

Chuck Connors, best known for his starring role in the TV-show ‘The Rifleman’, is a bit annoying and was the third choice for the role as the part had been offered to Jack Palance and then Gig Young first, both of whom would’ve been much better, but they turned it down. It’s not like Connors is necessarily bad, but he’s too campy and comes-off like just another tired rehashing of Ed Gein. The ultimate reveal of who the masked killer is offers no surprise at all and most if not all viewers will easily predict who it is long before you finally find out.

The cast of victims are boring too and I didn’t like the sexist undertones where the women, with the exception of the very end, never really fight back at all and almost seem to surrender to their fate and it’s only the men who show any gumption to escape and be aggressive. It would’ve been nice too had their been some nudity, as the females, particularly Tanya Roberts sporting a brunette hairstyle instead of her usual blonde one, look great. Most of these types of films would usually show some skin to help keep things interesting during the slow parts and when they all decided to go skinny dipping I was fully expecting this to happen, but instead you get nothing. Apparently Schmoeller, being a first time director, was too shy to ask them to remove their clothes, but it would’ve helped the film get the coveted R-rating as Schmoeller felt the PG-rating is what ultimately hurt it at the box office.

The only time things gets even slightly creepy is when the mannequins come to life, but that doesn’t happen enough. In retrospect the Mr. Slausen character should’ve been scrapped completely and instead featured a surreal storyline where the college kids find themselves trapped inside a warehouse filled with animated mannequins and forced to single-handedly battle them one-by-one in order to escape.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: March 16, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: David Schmoeller

Studio: Compass International Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Eaten Alive (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Feeding a hungry crocodile.

Loosely based on the exploits of serial killer Joe Ball, who owned a bar in the 1930’s in Texas that had a alligator sideshow connected to it and it was rumored that he fed some of his victims to the beast though it was never proven.  The story here centers around Judd (Neville Brand) a backwoods redneck who owns a rundown hotel in the swamp lands where he brings in unsuspecting guests that he feeds to his Nile Crocodile that he has swimming in a pond behind the building.

This film was director Tobe Hooper’s third full-length feature and the first to be financially backed by a studio after the success of The Texas Chain saw Massacre although the bigger budget doesn’t help. I didn’t like that everything gets filmed inside an indoor studio, in this case The Raleigh Studios in Los Angeles as the outdoor scenes look artificial, and the strong red glow, which I couldn’t figure out if it was supposed to be from the sun or a neon sign, gives it too much of a surreal look. Hooper stated that this is the effect he wanted, but it causes the viewer to feel that this is something that is happening in some other planet and for something to be scary one should feel that what there seeing could happen here and to them instead of in a bizarre world far removed from this one.

I had issues with the rundown Starlight Hotel too. It certainly looks spooky, but in a cliched way and that’s the problem. Nobody in their right mind would ever stay overnight there. It looks like a place that might not even have indoor plumbing or electricity. This coupled with Judd the owner, who looks creepy and acts weird, would immediately scare anyone away and the fact that the characters here aren’t bothered by any of this makes them seem too stupid to be believed.

The acting helps especially Brand. He burst onto the film scene in 1949 with many good performances including an acclaimed one in the landmark drama Riot in Cellblock 11, but his rugged appearance made it hard for him to find leading man roles relegating him to supporting parts. By the mid-70’s he admitted in interviews that  he had spent most of the money he had made and was suffering from alcoholism, which forced him to take any role that was offered including some really bad ones. This film though was an exception and a good example of how to make a killer more interesting by not having him behave in a one-dimensional threatening way, but instead show at various times some unexpected traits like fear, confusion, and even sadness.

The supporting cast is great too especially Carolyn Jones as a brothel owner. She looks light years removed from her most famous role as Morticia in ‘The Addams Family’ TV-Show as she walks around with a noticeable hunch and has make-up on her face, which gives her a very wrinkled appearance. William Finley and Marilyn Burns, who famously starred in Hooper’s earlier hit film, are intriguing too as this freaky couple who check into the place, but it’s never sufficiently explained why her character is initially seen wearing a wig, or why Finley talks about losing one of his eyeballs when he clearly hasn’t.

My favorite part though was that of Kyle Richards who plays this 6-year-old girl who manages to escape from the killer and hide underneath the property in a crawlspace. Watching her being chased through the crawlspace by Judd is intense and if the film had focused solely on her it could’ve been a winner.

Unfortunately the other characters aren’t likable and elicit no emotion from the viewer. The plot is thin and offers no unexpected twists or surprises. Hooper seems to be going too much to the same well as his chain saw flick including a foot chase sequence that gets choregraphed in the exact same way as the one between Leatherface and Marilyn Burns. Too much emphasis on atmosphere and grisly violence while an interesting plot-driven story gets forgotten, which is the reason why this production only halfway succeeds.

Alternate Titles: Death Trap, Starlight Slaughter, Legend of the Bayou, Horror Hotel

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 26, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Tobe Hooper

Studio: Virgo International Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Unhinged (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Girls trapped in mansion.

Terry, Nancy, and Gloria (Laurel Munson, Sara Ansley, Barbara Lusch) take a trip to rural Washington in order to attend a musical festival. Along the way they run into a freak rain storm, which causes their car to crash into a ravine. They are rescued by Norman (John Morrison) who works as a groundskeeper for the Penroses who live in an isolated mansion. He takes them to the mansion where the girls meet Marion (Janet Penner) who lives there with her elderly mother (Virginia Settle). However, the girls start to sense that there’s someone else on the grounds that also lives there that the daughter and mother aren’t telling them about. Terry hears the heavy-breathing of this person late at night and sees him going into a nearby shed. She tries to investigate only to unearth the family’s deep dark secret the puts all three girls in terrible danger.

The film’s main claim to fame, something it even advertises on its DVD cover, is that it was on one of the 72 films to appear on the U.K.’s video nasties list during the early 80’s. However, if you’ve watched some of the other movies that appeared on that list you’ll realize most are rather tame, especially by today’s standards, so getting put on that list isn’t as notorious as it used to be. The film is also known for having been filmed at the Pittock Mansion, an impressive 46-room estate that sits in Portland, Oregon.

Unfortunately the majority of the movie gets plagued by a low budget/amateur feel and look. The scenes are transitioned by cutting to black and then staying that way for several seconds until you start to worry that picture has gone out, or you’ve gotten stuck with a bad DVD. The dialogue is also too descriptive, or as some critics would say too ‘on-the-nose’. The characters speak in long, full sentences when in reality people don’t talk that way. Instead of having a conversational quality it comes off more as explanatory and in many cases too much so. There also isn’t any need for five minutes of footage showing the girls car driving along a road for us to get the idea that they’re on a trip.

The logic is quite loopy. The girls wake-up to find themselves inside this big home, but are told there are no phones even though these people own this gigantic place that is filled with expensive wines and just about every other luxury. One of the girls is forced to hike through the forest to find help making it seem like this big, beautiful place is not connected to any type of road even though the most rural of homes will still have at the very least a dirt road that will lead to the residence and then be connected at some point to a main road.

I found it odd too that Terry goes to investigate the strange sounds that she is hearing in the attic, but does not bring anything with her for protection. Grabbing a small lamp, or some other heavy, sharp object that she could find, that she could whack over the head of someone should they jump out to attack her would seem to be a no-brainer for anyone else in a similar situation. Yet she chooses to walk into this dark, strange place and go snooping around virtually defenseless.

During the first 75 minutes there are only 2 killings and they’re spread way apart and in between you get stuck with a lot of stilted drama. The only other chills come from seeing a close-up of a guy’s eyeball as he observes the girl’s through a hole in the wall. There’s also a couple of moments where the old lady sits at the dinner table and looks at two glass cups in front of her in a sort-of spooky way that I guess is supposed to be scary, but I could never quite figure out why she was doing that, or what it was supposed to mean.

Fans of this film will tell you that the ending makes sitting through the rest of it worth it. The finale is quite grisly and violent and even has an unexpected surprise, so for some that may be enough. It does have a certain tinge to the more popular Sleepaway Camp even though this one came out a full year before that one.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 15, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 19 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Don Gronquist

Studio: Megastar Films

Available: DVD

Mountaintop Motel Massacre (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Crazy lady kills guests.

Evelyn (Anna Chappell) has just been released from a mental institution and gone back to running a rural motel. One day she finds her daughter Lori (Jill King) practicing witchcraft in their basement. Evelyn becomes so enraged by this that she ends up killing her daughter with a garden sickle. The police believe her story that it was simply an accident that happened outside in their garden and do not arrest her, but the voices inside Evelyn’s head convince her that everyone else is out to get her. This madness sends her on a killing spree at her hotel in which she is able to enter each person’s room through a trap door in their bathrooms that is connected to an underground tunnel.

The film did only moderately well when it was released to regional theaters and then ultimately nationally in 1986 and a lot of the problem could reside around its promotional poster seen above, which seems to imply that this is a campy horror comedy, which it is not. It also features a completely different woman posing as Evelyn that is not the same one who plays her in the film.

As for the film itself it starts out okay. I liked how it comes up with this very offbeat premise about an old lady killer, but then approaches in a realistic way. Nothing gets jazzed-up for the sake of horror and everything gets handled with a slow deliberate pace including a drawn out scene showing an ambulance crew trying to resuscitate her daughter. The on-location shooting, which was filmed in an around Oil City, Louisiana in March of 1983 gives the viewer an authentic view of the winter landscape in the south and the hotel itself, which was shot at an abandoned fishing camp that sat on Cross Lake in Shreveport, helps add a rustic flair.

The cast of victims are much more diverse than in most slasher movies and fortunately doesn’t just feature teenagers or college kids. I was especially impressed with Major Brock, who plays Crenshaw, who had worked for 31 years as a baggage handler at Delta Airlines, but was convinced by the film’s director to take on the role despite having no acting experience, but he does really well, he even sleeps convincingly, and I enjoyed the character’s no-nonsense attitude and wished he had remained in it the whole way.  I was actually disappointed to see any of them die and instead wanted to see how they could get past their contrasting personalities to work as a team to overcome the crazy lady, but that doesn’t happen.

The killings though are quite boring and the idea that a sickle would be able to kill people so easily with just one swipe after spending most likely years being used in the garden, which would’ve dulled its blade, is just not believable. The victims are also too passive and just stand there when the lady attacks them instead of fighting back. The killer is after all an elderly woman, so you’d think these younger people could’ve overpowered her by even just kicking at her, which would’ve slowed her advance.

The climactic battle inside the underground tunnel offers some tension, but it seemed weird that when the people would open up the trap door that lead to the tunnel there would be this bright ray of light that would spew out making it seem like the tunnel was well lit, but then when they’d get down there the only source of light would be their lanterns, so if that’s the case were was the initial ray of light coming from?

The film would’ve worked better had it not given it all away right at the start. The identity of the killer should’ve been kept a secret until the very end and Evelyn should’ve initially been portrayed as this sweet old lady who you’d never suspect. The tunnel should not have been made known until later either and thus made it more intriguing for the viewer in trying to figure out how the dead bodies of the victims were disappearing out of their rooms.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 15, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jim McCullough Sr.

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Last House on the Beach (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Robbers hold nun hostage.

Aldo (Ray Lovelock) leads a gang of three robbers who stage a bank robbery in broad daylight, but things go wrong and lives get lost. During the getaway their car breaks down and they’re forced to hideout in a nearby home that sits next to a beach. Inside the home is Sister Christina (Florinda Bolkan) a nun who takes in wayward teen girls and helps them find their way. She was in the middle of rehearsing a play with them when the men break-in. The thugs soon takeover, raping two of them while terrorizing the rest. At first the women are compliant, feeling they have no other choice, but eventually they decide they’ve had enough and turn-the-tables on their captors.

While this film will initially come-off as just another Last House on the Left rip-off the production values are much better than most American low budget cheapies and the location quite scenic. The place didn’t look like any type of religious school to me and more like an ocean front pad for a rich person, it was more than likely the home of one of the film’s producers who decided to use it in place of a real school to save money, but the setting ultimately still works. Too many other horror movies feel the need to go for the cliché, like having things take place at night in some abandoned building, or rundown home, so having it work against this is a refreshing change. In some ways it makes it even scarier because it shows that bad things can happen even in the affluent suburbs and that nobody is truly immune from crime and violence.

I liked the way the bad guys were all good-looking too especially Aldo whose face could be on the cover of  teen heartthrob magazine. Again, other horror films feel the need to make the killer look menacing, disfigured, or creepy in some way, but working against this stereotype makes it more unsettling by showing that anyone can harbor evil. The women are all good-looking too with great figures, but in this regard it doesn’t work as it didn’t seem realistic that only women who looked like models would join this school and there needed to be at least one plain-looking, overweight one to give it balance.

The set-up happens a bit too quickly. It would’ve been more frightening if things had been shown at the start from the women’s perspective, rehearsing for the play, and then having these robbers burst in unannounced versus showing the robbery, which ends up getting reshown through flashback later on anyways, and everything from the men’s perspective. Horror works when there’s a surprise and in that regard this film misses a prime opportunity early on.

However, once it kicks in I was surprised how compelling it was. There isn’t a lot of violence, but when there is it’s bloody and pretty graphic, even the injury that one of them receives (Stefano Cedrati) looks quite realistic, and shown close-up, and I liked how this becomes and on-going part of the plot and doesn’t just magically heal and get forgotten.

The film also features two prolonged rape segments with the first one done in slow motion. Some may say this is exploiting the situation, but ultimately it ends up making it even more unsettling. The second rape  is equally disturbing as it features a woman (Sherry Buchanan) being violated by a wooden cane and done from her point-of-view.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending for me was the best part. Rape and revenge flicks have been done a lot and there’s also been films like Straw Dogs where a wimpy guy ultimately turns violent through necessity, but this film does it better than those. Seeing the angry looks on the once tranquil women’s faces as they take turns beating the man to death was actually pretty shocking as you’re not quite expecting it. It successfully hits-home the fact that anyone can be provoked into violence even those that deny they have that ability and gets the viewer to realize they harbor that tendency too since these guys were so vile you actually end-up enjoying seeing their comeuppance.

Alternate Title: La Settima Donna

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 20, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Francesco Prosperi

Studio: Magirus Film

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The Brotherhood of Satan (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Devil worshippers kidnap children.

Ben (Charles Bateman) and his girlfriend Nicky (Ahna Capri) along with Nicky’s 9-year-old daughter K.T. (Geri Reischl) are driving through the New Mexico desert when they come upon a gruesome car accident where the vehicle and people inside it were crushed by some unknown force. When they go into the nearby town to report it they find the people there to be acting strangely and showing an unhealthy liking to their daughter. This causes them to get back into their car and drive away, but a blow-out tire forces them to return and face head-on a secret group of Satanists lead by Duncan (Strother Martin) the town’s doctor.

This movie, with a script written by Sean MacGregor who would later go on to direct another horror movie dealing with children called Devil Times Fiveis interesting in that it gives very little away. The viewer is as confused as the lost family about what is going on, which makes for a refreshing change-of-pace from the conventional horror, which always seems to feel the need to spell everything out instead of forcing the viewer to try and piece things together on their own. It also makes one feel like they’re in the same shoes as the family and more sympathetic to their quandary since you’re essentially going through the same confused state as they are.

Director Bernard McEveety allows the creepiness to take precedent over the plot. I loved the way it takes full advantage of the isolation of the town, filmed on-location in Hillsboro, New Mexico, which sits in the southwest portion of the state. I’ve driven through New Mexico several times and have always found the desert landscape there to be boring, but McEveety puts this to good use especially when the daughter goes missing and the camera does a full 180 degree turn showing how vastly desolate the region is and making the parent’s desperate search even more frantic.

The plot’s drawbacks centers around the unlimited cosmic power that these devil worshippers seem to have where they’re able to kill people through children’s toys without the culprits themselves being physically present. They’re also able to trap people in the town, and not allow any outsiders in, in ways that is never made completely clear. Having limits to the powers and showing how the group is able to implement them would’ve helped fill-in-the-blanks that is otherwise missing. To a great extent I felt it would’ve worked better had there been no magical powers at all and members of the group, the majority of them being elderly, would’ve had to do the evil deeds themselves. Watching otherwise harmless looking old people kill the various parents of the children they kidnap would’ve been far more startling to see then just having people fall over dead after looking at a child’s toy.

The idea that the sheriff and the deputy (L.Q. Jones, Alvy Moore) would be completely in the dark and not know about a satanic group secretly meeting in the town they lived in didn’t seem believable. I was born and raised in a small town, that was slightly more populated than the one portrayed here, and believe me word travels fast in those locations. Rumors and gossip are the way of life. It’s simply impossible to keep any type of secret, especially one as massive as this. The fact that the sheriff and deputy could live there and mingle with everyone and not get some inkling of suspicion is just too hard to believe. Since the group had all these massive magical powers anyways that they used to kill everyone else why didn’t they also then use it on the sheriff to get rid of him and then their problems would’ve been over, but they don’t, which creates a major plot hole.

However, if you approach the film for its creepy atmosphere alone then it’s still a winner. I liked too that very little music gets used and when it does it’s very subtle. Too many other horror films feel the need for a loud, booming score that usually gets in the way. If the atmosphere is done right there should be no need for excessive music in fact one of the creepiest moments in the movie for me is watching a brainwashed young child, played by the director’s young son, walk out of his own home and into the dark stillness of the night, with only the sound of the night breeze being heard.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 6, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bernard McEveety

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Savage Weekend (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The first slasher movie.

Maria (Marilyn Hamlin), who has a very contentious relationship with her ex-husband Greg (Jeff Pomerantz), but who is now in a relationship with Robert (Jim Doerr) a successful businessman, decides to take a weekend trip with some friends to upstate New York. Robert is having a large boat built there and wants to see its progress. The quiet country atmosphere seems like the perfect spot to getaway until a masked killer shows up killing each of them one-by-one.

While Halloween typically gets credited as being the forerunner to the modern day slasher film it’s actually this one that was the first and don’t let the release date fool you. This was filmed in the summer of 1976, a full two years before Halloween came out, but was shelved by its distributors as they thought the concept of a mysterious masked killer was ‘too weird’ and wouldn’t catch on only to eventually release it to theaters once they saw the success of Halloween.

The concept for this came about completely by accident. Writer/director David Paulson was originally hired to write a screenplay for a completely different type of movie, but the investor then retracted the majority of the money he promised leaving Paulson with a mere $20,000 to work with. He decided with such little funds he’d be forced create a story that required a single setting and then came up a scenario that would make the characters stay there and thus the killer-on-the-loose idea was born.

The critics were originally not kind: TV Guide subscribed this as a ‘reprehensible exploitation film’ and ‘the gore effects are extremely gruesome’, which just isn’t true. At best the blood is quite minimal especially when compared to today’s slashers. In fact you’ll find more explicit gore in modern dark comedy films like Shaun of the Dead than you will here.

Critic Joe Baltake criticized the Nicky (Christopher Allport) the gay character stating that he ‘set gay rights activism back several decades’, which I totally disagree with. I actually liked Nicky and was impressed at the way he walked into a backwoods bar and when the rednecks tried to hassle him he single-handedly kicked their asses, which to me worked completely against the gay stereotype.

Through the years critics have become much kinder to this film and its attained a strong cult following and deservedly so. Despite being made 4 decades ago it actually comes off as fresh and inventive because it’s not stifled by the conventional ‘rules’ of the formula, which we’ve become so accustomed to now. I liked how the film opens with a point-of-view shots of our heroine running madly through the forest making the viewer feel they’re the ones being chased.

The fact that the majority of it takes place during the daytime actually makes it scarier especially with it’s weird yellowish tint that permeates every shot. I’m not sure if this was intentional or just a poor film transfer, but it helps to create a surreal look. I also really loved seeing the skeleton of the large boat that was being built inside an abandoned shed. I presume with the low budget this was not made for the story and instead simply worked into the script when the producers came upon it while scouting for locations, but the effect is cool especially when the cast walks around inside it.

The soundtrack is way different from the conventional horror film as well with a country tinged sound and at one point even a classical dance piece, but after watching soooo many scary movies with the same old Friday the 13th-like sound I was more than happy to hear something different. The characters are also multi-dimensional with distinctive personalities. Usually I more than happy to see a cardboard slasher film cast get hacked-up, but here I kind of wanted them to stay around as they were interesting. The murders also don’t work in a mechanical way, but instead start occurring suddenly to the shock of everyone else, which gives it more of a real-time feel.

The only real negative is that despite having a strong beginning and ending the middle part is slow. There’s still enough interactions between the characters to hold mild interest, but there’s no running tension. A good horror movie should be creepy to some degree from beginning to end, but the second act veers off too much making it at times seem more like a soft core porn flick, but overall for the horror connoisseur I’d still recommend this.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 14, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Paulsen

Studio: Cannon Group

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region 1), Amazon Video

Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Tarantulas take over town.

Rack (William Shatner) is a veterinarian residing in a rural Arizona town who gets a call one day from a local rancher (Woody Strode) complaining that his prize calf has come down with a mysterious illness. Rack examines the animal, but can’t come to any conclusion so he sends the animal’s blood sample off to a university lab. Diane (Tiffany Bolling) a arachnologist then arrives telling him that the animal was killed by a massive dose of spider venom. At first Rack does not believe her, but as more animals and then eventually people start to fall prey to the same aggressive spiders the two soon pair up to help try to save the rest of the town and themselves.

Over $50,000 of the film’s $500,000 budget was spent on procuring 5,000 tarantulas for the film’s shoot, but personally I didn’t think it was enough. Shots showing the spiders ‘invading’ by having them lining the town’s roadways weren’t really all that frightening because there was still ample space between the spiders that a person could easily step around them and not get bit. The spiders are also very slow, so a potential victim should have plenty of time to get out of the area once they saw them converging.

The idea that the spiders are doing this is because of the heavy use of pesticides doesn’t logically work. For one thing spiders are not like ants and do not create working colonies. They are anti-social and do things alone. They can even be cannibalistic, which is why the production crew was forced to keep each of the 5,000 tarantulas in separate containers to avoid having them eat each other. With this all in mind why then would they begin behaving in ways that’s so unnatural to their species? Being desperate for a new food source is one thing, but how could the spiders communicate with each other to get them all to work together that are completely alien to their nature? Sometimes it’s very hard to get humans to work together even when they know it’s in their best interests, so suddenly getting an anti-social species to do it is breaking astronomical odds.

Another issue is how do these spiders suddenly get so smart? For instance the spiders sneak onto a crop duster plane and kill the pilot (Whitey Hughes) who was going to spray down a pesticide that would’ve destroyed their spider hills, but how would spiders have the sophistication to know that was what he was doing? Spiders cannot speak or understand English, so it’s not like they could’ve ‘overheard’ what the people were planning to do and then went on the counter-attack though that’s ultimately what the movie tries to convey happened.

The film is too dependent on viewers being creeped out at the sight of spiders and hoping that will be enough to carry through for the entire movie as pretty much nothing else happens that’s genuinely scary. Just a lot of shots of spiders slowly moving around while the actors scream in horror and try to flick them off and that’s about it. The ultimate irony is that tarantula bites are not lethal and will cause only a minor irritation similar to that of a bee sting.

Spoiler Alert!

I did however like the film’s ending which has the spiders covering the entire town with a giant cobweb. While it’s obvious that the shot of the cobweb over the town is clearly that of a painting I still felt it was a cool concept, but this needed to come in to play during the second act. Showing how the people fought through this new dilemma would’ve given the story a more creative direction instead of just waiting to the very finish to introduce it and then abruptly ending just when it finally started to get interesting.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 24, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John ‘Bud’ Cardos

Studio: Dimension Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Fright (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Psycho torments a babysitter.

Amanda (Susan George) is a college student who earns money part-time by working as a babysitter. One night she takes a job with the Lloyds (Honor Blackman, George Cole) who assign her to watch after their sleeping toddler (Tara Collinson) at their isolated wooded estate while they go off to a dinner party. Once the couple leaves Amanda begins hearing strange noises and becomes convinced that someone outside is watching her unaware that Mrs. Lloyd’s ex-husband (Ian Bannen) has escaped from the nearby insane asylum and now looking to attack anyone inside.

While the babysitter-terrorized-by-a-psycho theme may now be considered a cliché with such popular films as Halloween and When a Stranger Calls having successfully done it it’s important to realize that this film did it first and to some extent does pretty well although it does veer off from the formula. I did like the creepy set-up where an extended amount of time is given to building up the atmosphere. Some of the best moments are seeing the shadowy images on the other side of the window and not knowing who it is. The film is most effective when it’s seen from Amanda’s point-of-view making the viewer feel trapped inside the home alongside her, but weakens when it cuts away to the outside, which lessens the tension.

Having Amanda’s boyfriend Chris (Dennis Waterman) arrive doesn’t help. The fear hinges on Amanda feeling that she is all alone in this big strange house in the middle-of-nowhere and entering more people into the mix takes that element away.

The film is unusual in that unlike the other thrillers with a similar plotline the parents here figure heavily into the story. Instead of just focusing exclusively on the babysitter the films consistently cuts between her scenes and the scenes of the couple at the party. In many ways its the mother that becomes the real star, which is fine to an extent, but the part is played by Honor Blackman, a very gifted actress, but at age 46 was looking way too old to be the mother of such a young child.

The film is also unusual in that when the police arrive it doesn’t just end in fact that’s when it starts to get going with the entire third act filled with this long protracted stand-off. To some degree I felt this made it more realistic as real-life hostage situations can happen with long ‘negotiating’ session between the police and the person inside. Police aren’t always able to immediately take control of a situation either and can sometimes be just as helpless as the victim, but in the process this approach takes away the confrontational element between Amanda and the psycho, which would’ve been more interesting at seeing how she could use her wits to outsmart the bad guy that never really gels.

Susan George really doesn’t figuring in as much of the action as you’d initially expect spends most of the time just crying and looking scared. The 3-year-old child, which was played by the daughter of the film’s director Peter Collinson, doesn’t help matters either. I found it very hard to believe that any child could remain asleep such as this one when Amanda and the psycho stood over her crib talking and at certain points even shouting. The child never screams or cries either even when a sharp piece of a broken-off mirror is put to her throat.

Bannen can be amazingly creepy, I enjoyed his work in The Offence where he played a suspected child killer being interrogated by Sean Connery, but here he’s given a bit too much latitude and becomes a caricature. Having him seesaw between being child-like to behaving aggressively comes off as manufactured and more strained than frightening.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending, in which Amanda shoots and kills the psycho, does not work. For one thing Bannen had already handed over the child to the mother and at that point was completed surrounded by the police with nowhere to run, so killing him wasn’t needed. It’s questionable how and where Amanda got the gun, supposedly it was the one that an officer had put down earlier, but how she was able to sneak up and get it from him is never explained. Also, she had most likely never shot a gun before, in Great Britain most people don’t own guns, so she’d probably not have been able to hit him, especially in her shaky emotional state, at a long distance, which makes this scene dumb and unnecessary.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 18, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Collinson

Studio: British Lion Film Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Island of Blood (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer stalks film crew.

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 9, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: William T. Naud

Studio: Action International Pictures

Available: Amazon Video