Category Archives: Obscure Movies

Petersen (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Going back to school.

Tony Petersen (Jack Thompson) is an electrician who decides to go back to school and major in English. He feels people look down on him because he works a blue collar job and hope that by returning to college to get a degree that will change, but instead he finds he’s still not getting the respect that he desires particularly from his stuffy professor (Arthur Dingnam), so he ends up having an affair with the man’s wife (Wendy Hughes),  but things don’t stop there. He has sex with the coeds too including right out in the open on the campus grounds for public display while hundreds of onlookers surround them.

The screenplay was written by acclaimed Australian playwright David Williamson, who’s best known for having penned the cult hit Don’s Party However, this film lacks the fluidity of that one and seems more like a selection of vignettes than a story. The leader character isn’t likable either and comes off as selfish while in Don’s Party we were able to understand the protagonists frustration with his marriage here the domestic situation doesn’t seem as bad and therefore watching him mess around isn’t cute, funny, or sexy and instead just tiring and off-putting.

The biggest problem though is that the film starts right away at the halfway point where Petersen has already been attending school and neck-deep in an affair instead of going back to where it all began. Showing Petersen’s frustrations with his job and income, instead of just being told about it through dialogue, would’ve helped the viewer empathize more with his situation and emotionally invested with his quandary instead of feeling lost and ambivalent in the jumbled narrative.

There are a few good scenes here-and-there including a very ugly moment where a group of obnoxious bikers crash an upscale party and make things quite tense for the guests who are seemingly unable to do anything about it. Later there’s a poignant segment involving a discussion that Petersen has with his father (Charles Tingwell), who works as a reverend at a church despite professing to having lost his faith. Petersen’s public sex act has great potential too and even though it does contain full frontal male nudity, which at the time was still considered shocking to see in a mainstream film, it doesn’t get played-up enough to really being as funny or irreverent as it should’ve been.

Spoiler Alert!

There’s also several moments though that needed more context, which is frustratingly lacking. One includes Petersen getting caught making-out with his friend’s wife by his own spouse (Jacki Weaver) who looks very disappointed in him, but we never get any follow-up almost  like the whole situation just gets forgotten by the next day. There’s another scene where Petersen rapes his lover inside her own office, but without showing any aftermath. Such a violent, disturbing act deserves some denouncement and not treated like a throwaway bit such as it is.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall if you stick with it the characters do have a way of growing on you, but the story needed to be more developed. Too much emphasis on being edgy and provocative, but filled with characters in desperate need of depth and better connecting pieces between scenes.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 25, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Tim Burstall

Studio: Hexagon Productions

Available: DVD (Import Region 2)

Thunder Run (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Aging trucker hauls plutonium.

Charlie (Forrest Tucker) is a former trucker who spends his retirement working an old cobalt mine, but finds few prospects. He’s then given an offer by George (John Ireland) an old friend of his to haul some plutonium from Nevada to a top secret installation in Arizona. George warns Charlie that it could be dangerous as they’re terrorists after the cargo and willing to resort to violent means to steal it, but the $200,000 payout is too much for Charlie to refuse. With the help of his grandson Chris (John Shepherd) and his other teen friends the truck gets fitted with high tech gadgetry in order to fight off the bad guys when they attack.

The film starts out okay although it has all the signs of being a low budget direct-to-video 80’s venture complete with stock characters and generic music. The presence of Tucker, whose last movie this was, really helps. He’s the kind of actor who can give a performance that seems effortless and like he’s not acting at all just being himself and his persona is quite engaging allowing the viewer to become attached to him quite quickly and rooting him on in his challenge. There is some nifty stunt work too with my favorite moment being when a backhoe loader crushes a car that it literally runs right over and then also a trailer office. The scene has little to do with the main plot, but it’s still fun to see visually.

The film though starts to falter when it gets out onto the open-road. What should’ve been excited actually isn’t. There’s just too much high tech nonsense with rig equipped with stuff no other 18-wheeler has ever had. There’s very little intrigue at seeing the bad guys chase the truck when Tucker is able to just blow them all away with a press of a button. The truck seems almost indestructible as the villains aim a flame thrower right at the tires, which should’ve easily melted the rubber, but instead it doesn’t. The film is famous for a stunt that has the truck jumping over a train, but when it came back down onto the pavement it should’ve jostled the intricate parts of the rig in a way that would’ve most likely disabled it and the fact that the truck is able to continue on just fine starts to make the whole thing too ridiculous to be believed.

Having Tucker paired with Shepherd, who was 24 at the time, but looked more like he was only 18, is not interesting. Initially I thought this would allow the story to take advantage of the generation gap, but Shepherd is so squeaky clean and All-American that his presence allows for no nuance. I realize that in order to attract teen viewers a younger actor needed to be cast in a co-starring role, but the film would’ve been far better had Tucker been the sole driver, manning a rig that was just a regular truck without any of the techie jazz and forced to use his wits and cunning to fight off the terrorists instead of stuff dreamed up by a special effects wiz with an over active imagination.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 30, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Gary Hudson

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: DVD (Region 2), VHS

End Play (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Reviews: Feuding brothers hold secret.

Mark (John Waters) picks up a hitchhiker (Delvene Delaney) on a lonely road and then promptly kills her. He then travels to his brother Robert’s (George Mallaby) house for a visit. When Robert leaves to go target practicing Mark brings the dead hitchhiker’s body inside and dresses her up to make it appear that she is still alive. He then disguises himself while taking the corpse to the local movie theater and once there he sneaks leaving the dead body to be discovered by others. Once the news of the grisly discovery hits the airwaves Robert immediately suspects Mark, but decides not to go to the authorities since he is already a paraplegic and at risk, due to lesions on his neck, of losing the movement of his arms, which will ultimately render him under the care of Mark. He also dislikes the police due to a childhood issue that he had with them, so for these reasons he covers for Mark’s actions, but when he realizes that his girlfriend (Belinda Giblin) has cheated on him with Mark he decides to carry out a stern revenge of his own.

The film, which is based on the novel of the same name by Russell Braddon, takes a unique spin on the mystery angle. Instead of delving into the action we get treated to the psychological interplay of the two leads and the many twists and turns their relationship takes where one minute they seem like comrades and the next enemies. Mallaby, who ironically ended up wheelchair bound in real-life after suffering a series of strokes in 1994, gives an edgy performance where his personality is so strong and aggressive that you really don’t notice the handicap at all. I liked the soundtrack by Peter Best too as it has a nice subtle quality that accentuates the creepiness without ever calling attention to itself.

While the film manages to hold interest it is somewhat slow. With the exception of a violent confrontation between the two brothers that occurs near the end there’s no action to speak of, so unless the viewer is really into the psychological aspect they may find the pace to be a bit boring. The two leads aren’t likable either. Normally the tension is created because you care about the protagonist and don’t want to see them harmed or in trouble, but in this case that’s all missing.

Spoiler Alert!

The biggest letdown though comes with its twist ending in which we find that Mark wasn’t the killer after all, but instead it was Robbie. However, director Tim Burstall completely botches this by showing the back of Mark’s head during the opening scene when the hitchhiker enters the vehicle. The two have completely different hair color with Mark’s being brown and Robbie’s being blonde and I even went back to the scene to make sure and there’s no mistaking it, it’s Mark’s head. This could’ve been completely avoided by simply having the camera act as the killer’s point-of-view where we only see the face of the hitchhiker as she enters the vehicle and is then killed. The fact that this wasn’t done was a big mistake and nullifies the intended surprise.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 1, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Director: Tim Burstall

Studio: Hexagon Productions

Available: None at this time.

High Tide (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mother meets estranged daughter.

Lillie (Judy Davis) is living on the very edge of show business life working as a backup singer to an Elvis impersonator (Frankie J. Holden). Her lackluster behavior gets her fired and she finds herself without money or shelter. She moves to a trailer home park and begins drinking heavily and it is here while in a drunken state in the public bathroom that she meets Ally (Claudia Karvan). Ally is a 13-year-old girl living with Bet (Jan Adele) who is the mother of Ally’s father who died when she was just an infant. At first Lillie doesn’t know that Ally is actually her daughter, which she gave up at birth. When Bet realizes that Lillie is in the area she warns her not to go near Ally, but Ally and Lillie manage to find ways to get together anyways and form a rapport, but without Ally knowing the deep, dark secret between them. Once she does find out the two must learn to fight through the awkward and emotional state that the tumultuous new awareness creates.

Originally the script called for Lille’s character to be a man meeting up with his lost teen daughter that he had abandoned years earlier, but director Gillian Armstrong felt this had been done before and at her husband’s suggestion changed the lead into a female. In many ways this was a better idea as women are better able to reveal their emotions creating some very strong, heartfelt scenes between them that ultimately makes for a very powerful film.

Many reviewers have expounded on Davis’ performance and she does give a strong one particularly the way her character is put through some very demeaning situations, but still managing to come through them holding her head high and keeping the viewer empathetic to her. Karvan though is quite good too with a beautiful photogenic face that can display an array of emotions with very little effort and who’s likable enough that you’re able to bond with her immediately.

The story progresses casually and at first you have no idea what links these three women as the film intercuts between them in separate situations with no idea where the connecting point is, which to some extent doesn’t grab the viewer in. I did though like the way it captured the nightclub atmosphere showing how for many it temporarily opened the door for their lost and fleeting dreams by having Bet get onstage and sing to a captive audience at a talent contest during the evening only to cutaway showing her back on her drudgery job of driving an ice cream truck the following day.

Once the secret becomes clear the story gets more interesting with the dialogue between the mother and daughter quite compelling. There is however, a long lull during the second act where Lilly intentionally stays away from Ally, which I found frustrating. The main interest of the film is seeing the two working things out together and getting through the guilt and bitterness of the past and at times there’s not enough of that.

Spoiler Alert!

The third act features Ally deciding to go out on the road with Lillie, but to me this thing seemed too precipitous since the two had only begun to get to know each other, why would a young teen, even if she was unhappy in her current situation, want to start living with someone she really didn’t know if she could get along with? This situation also opens up a whole variety of new tangents: like how are the two going to survive with Lillie’s limited job skills and where would they live? I felt this situation should’ve been introduced in the second act and explored much more. Personally I don’t think things would’ve worked out and at the very least brought on, despite their best intentions, a lot of stress and disagreement before it might’ve gotten better. This is something the viewer needed to see though there’s still plenty of nice rewards nonetheless.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 30, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Gillian Armstrong

Studio: Filmpac Distribution

Available: VHS

The Hoax (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-word Review: Hiding H-bomb for ransom.

Cy (Bill Ewing) and Clete (Frank Bonner) are two friends who enjoy scuba diving. One day while at the beach they come upon a missing H-bomb hidden in some shallow water. Cy comes up with the idea of holding it for ransom by sending a letter to the press stating that they have the bomb, which has been reported missing by the military, and will detonate it unless each citizen of Los Angeles sends them one dollar to a specific bank account that they’ve opened in Switzerland. Things go smoothly at first until the police chief (Jacques Aubuchon) figures out who they are and begins tracking them down.

The only reasons that this film is worth catching is to see Frank Bonner, who later became famous for playing Herb Tarlek in the TV-show ‘WKRP in Cincinnati’, in an early role. In WKRP he played a character who wore loud suits and was obnoxious, but here that’s what his buddy does while he is more like a geek. Seeing him play an opposite type of character is amusing, but besides that there’s not much else that’s interesting.

For one thing the viewer should’ve actually seen the bomb, which we never do. We see its sharp metal edge that sticks up above the waterline, but not the bomb itself and since movies are a visual medium it’s important to use that as much as possible. The two also never remove the bomb from where they find it, which seemed dumb because anyone else could come along and take it away and then their scheme would be ruined. It made more sense to move it to a place where it could be hidden and this then would open the door for a lot of comical antics dealing with their difficulties carrying it around and keeping it undercover, but the film doesn’t take this route and becomes quite stagnant in the process.

The two friends share no comical banter either and are also in too much agreement, so there’s never any underlying tension. Sometimes onscreen realtionships/friendships are more compelling when there’s discord. It also seemed odd why they even felt the need to hatch such a scheme in the first place as both were doing okay financially. Cy was living with his girlfriend (Sharon DeBord), who had money, in a nice pad on the beach while Clete had a good job. In order for these otherwise law abiding citizens to suddenly go to criminal extremes there should’ve been a more desperate reason like having them homeless, which would’ve garnered more sympathetic from the viewer instead of just being two doofuses doing something nutty on a lark.

Turning the cops into buffoonish clowns was a mistake too as the humor becomes forced and their ineptness offers no intrigue. The running joke involving a vagabond drunk gets ridiculous as he’s always inadvertently showings up wherever the two men are making it seem like he might’ve been an undercover cop, which would’ve made more sense, but instead his occasional appearances have no bearing to the story at all and just gets thrown in for cheap laughs.

The final five minutes do offer a few unexpected twists, but by then it’s too late. I felt the script had gotten written with the ending as the starting point since that was the only inspired part of the movie, but this just proves that having a novel finish will do you no good if everything that comes before it is a bore.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 19, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 23 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Anderson

Studio: All-Scope International

Available: None at this time.

The Virgin President (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: The President is incompetent.

The current President (Severn Darden) has become too elderly and can no longer handle the job, but because term limits have been vanquished he keeps getting elected anyways. His staff decide he needs to go and the only way to do it is to have him killed, but make it look like an accident, so they set-it-up to where he gets bitten by a poisonous parrot. Once he is gone his young son, Fillard Millmore (also played by Darden) takes over. Fillard has lived a very sheltered life and is not privy to the corrupt ways of Washington and his advisors try to use this to their advantage. To help improve their international relations with China they have him get married to a Chinese bride (L’nelle Hamanaka), but because he’s inexperienced with sex he is unable to please her on their wedding night, which angers the Chinese officials who threaten nuclear retaliation, but the President’s advisors plan on striking China first.

The film is a low budget effort cast with members from Chicago’s Second City Improv group that has its moments, but doesn’t completely come together. One of the main issues is that it was directed by Graeme Ferguson, who specialized in doing documentaries and the opening sequence, which shows the behind-the-scenes footage of the actors getting ready for a scene underneath the credits is quite awkward. It made me feel like I was watching somebody’s home movie and not a feature film and does not in anyway help grab the viewer. It was also filmed in black-and-white and by the late 60’s almost all movies were done in color and this one should’ve been too because it just accentuates it’s amateurish quality otherwise.

Once the film gets going with the plot it does have some inspired moments. Darden is quite funny as the old man especially his death scene. I got a kick out of the little electronic box hidden inside a cabinet at the White House that would allow any American President to dial-up any country he wanted to bomb and pick the number of casualties, including a switch for ‘bonus kills’. Darden’s attempts to ‘make friends’ with the protestors outside the White House who are against his policies is amusing too.

They are unfortunately some bits that don’t work including Paul Benedict’s character who gets sexually aroused watching flowers pollinate. The pacing is off too with some scenes going on longer than they should and too much emphasis on the actors improvising their lines with dialogue that at times veers off from the main story.

The thing though that got me most annoyed, as a person who likes to be very fact oriented, was the scene where the President and his advisors are discussing which American city to nuke, which they hope to make it look like China did it and then give them the excuse to nuke China in return. Darden says they should bomb some ‘insignificant city’ like Fargo, South Dakota, but anyone familiar with geography would know that Fargo is in North Dakota and not South Dakota. What I found even more irritating is that another character instead of correcting the President on his mistake just reiterates the same thing making me believe that the entire cast and crew didn’t know what state Fargo was really in, which I found to be rather pathetic.

While this is clearly not a perfect movie and does have its share of drawbacks I still found it a fun watch simply as a relic of its era. It’s surprising in many ways how little has changed in Washington. The politicians back-in-the-day still had American imperialism on their minds and everything revolved around how to ‘brainwash the masses’ so they could remain in power, which unfortunately isn’t any different from how it is now.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 18, 1968

Runtime: 1 Hour 11 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Graeme Ferguson

Studio: CMB Films

Available: None at this time.

The Spider Will Kill You (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Blind man with dummies.

Jonathan (Robert Palter) is a blind man living alone in a cramped apartment surrounded by two mannequins who he speaks to as if they’re his parents and in his head he hears their voices in response. One day he comes upon another mannequin made in the form of a female, which he names Christine (Shirley Anderson). Christine eventually comes to life and becomes, at least to him, human and the two fall-in-love. Christine though starts to reveal a dark side and begins taunting Jonathan while trying to break into a chest in his apartment that supposedly holds deadly spiders and that Jonathan has been told by his parents never to open.

This was a student film directed by David Schmoeller, which went on to finish in second place at the 2nd Annual Student Academy Awards festival, but ultimately losing out to another student film directed by a guy named Robert Zemekis. The concept for this film was the basis for Tourist Trap, which Schmoeller directed 3 years later.

This film is far better, even at only 30 minutes, than its big budgeted revision. First there’s no annoying generic college kids here just three characters and the setting takes place entirely inside Jonathan’s apartment, which has a really dark and creepy atmosphere. The mannequins also at various times take human form and there’s some spooky effects including having Christine remove her own arm.

There’s also surprisingly nudity and explicit sex. ( I was a bit surprised with the nudity bit since Schmoeller stated that he was ‘too shy’ to ask the actresses to take off their clothes in Tourist Trap, but apparently didn’t have any problem asking the one here to disrobe even though this was done before that one.) The sex is an odd sight to see too since we initially see it from Jonathan’s point-of-view where it appears he’s making love to a human, but then it cuts to the next-door-neighbor’s (Donald Weismann) viewpoint, who peers in from the door, and it’s clearly a mannequin that Jonathan madly humps, which is a freaky sight.

The ending is quite weird and leaves a lasting impression. If Tourist Trap had stayed more inline with this film it would’ve been far more intriguing. I liked the surreal quality and the scenes involving the mannequins are scary it’s just a shame it wasn’t played-up more. Overall though, it’s still an impressive first attempt especially when dealing with the constricted confines of a typical student project.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Runtime: 30 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: David Schmoeller

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

Blood and Lace (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trapped in an orphanage.

Ellie Masters (Melody Patterson) finds herself an orphan after her mother, who worked as a prostitute, is found in bed with a john both dead via bludgeoning by a hammer. Since she’s still a minor she’s required to move into an orphanage run by the corrupt Mrs. Deere (Gloria Grahame) who treats the children as slaves and when any one of them tries to escape they’re met with stern justice from resident handyman Kredge (Len Lesser) who’s in complete charge of all disciplinary functions.

The film was written by Gil Lansky who wrote some interesting cult film-like stuff in the early 70’s including The Night God Screamedwhich had some offbeat touches and worth checking out. This one too has potential, but unfortunately the production values are so bad it gets virtually ruins before it even has a chance. The chief complaint is the music. Since it was produced on a budge of only $200,000 the producers decided, in an effort to save money, that they’d use music from the free library and thus the soundtrack sounds more like something out of an old monster movie from the 40’s and ends up giving the whole thing a very tacky quality. It also gets overplayed making me genuinely consider watching it with the sound turned down especially during the chase or action sequences. Had I been in charge of production I would’ve gladly spent the money to hire a composer who could’ve given it a more appropriately modern sound, which was much needed, and would’ve felt that any money spent to get it would’ve been worth it.

The scenes in the orphanage don’t elicit much tension either and this is mainly because it looks like it would be very easy to escape from it and not as much of a prison-like atmosphere as you’d expect. The kids are able to walk freely about and not locked in their rooms or chained to their beds, which would’ve made more sense. Kredge looks too middle-aged, Lesser was 48 when it was filmed, and not necessarily in good enough shape to physically bully the kids the way he does. There needed to be more guards present who had guns and knives to keep the kids in line. Grahame also looks to thin and frail and I felt Melody, who appears much older than 18, could’ve easily overpowered her and was quite frankly frustrated that she didn’t. Her character is sassy and worldly-wise for the most part, but then also a bit too pathetically complaint to Grahame’s authority when she really didn’t have to be.

I did though like Patterson’s performance overall, she’s best known for playing Wrangler Jane in the 60’s TV-show ‘F-Troop’, but here shows an edgier side and coupled with her cute face could’ve gone on acting in many more movies, but instead after filming this she married actor James MacArthur and put her career on hold in order to move to Hawaii to be closer to him and this ultimately ended up being the last movie she did. I was also impressed with Lesser. It’s always interesting to see which actors remain professional and put in a strong acting effort even when the production is of a low grade level and in that regard he deserves accolades. I was not however as impressed with Grahame as she comes off a bit too one-note and the part would’ve been better served had it been played by a bigger bodied actress such as Shelley Winters, who would’ve been better able to convey a more imposing presence.

The film has become most famous for its opening bit, which shows a mystery assailant holding a hammer and killing their victim’s with it, but all done from his point-of-view similar to the opening bit from Halloweenwhich came out 7 years later. For the most part I liked how it gets done here, it’s the best part of the whole movie, and in some ways enjoyed this version better. My only caveat would be that I wished it hadn’t shown the hammer striking the victims as too much stop action camera work and fake blood gets used, which makes it look amateurish. The camera should’ve simply focused solely on the hammer going up-and-down and only cutting briefly to the blood-soaked victims for a brief shot after they had already been dead.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 17, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Philip S. Gilbert

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: Amazon Video

The Fifth Floor (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Institutionalized against her will.

Kelly (Dianne Hull) is a young adult just starting out by working at a local disco bar while trying to save up enough money to go to college. While at the disco she sips a drink that was meant for somebody else and in the process ends up going into seizures. After she gets rushed to the hospital it is found that the drink had been laced with strychnine, but the doctors feel she took the drink knowing it was poisoned in an attempt to kill herself, so she is directed to spend 72 hours at the hospital’s psyche ward, which is on the fifth floor. It is there that she can be monitored by the trained staff to make sure she will not try to kill herself again. Unfortunately one of the orderly’s who works there, Carl (Bo Hopkins), takes a sexual interest in Kelly and uses his authority to try and force her into compromising situations.

The film starts out okay, which is mainly due to Hull’s performance, who is able to create enough of a three-dimensional character that you see her as a real person and care about her fate. Although she has not been in anything since 1991 and has since then spent her time working as an acting coach, she did do a lot of good performances in other films during the 70’s including her work in Aloha Bobby and Roseso it’s no surprise that her presence here would help lift up the material. I was particularly impressed with the seizures she goes through on the disco floor, which looked quite genuine, and the way she allowed herself to be put in some very vulnerable scenes that would be hard for other performers to do including where she is naked while her captor isn’t and who then proceeds to carry her around.

Unfortunately once things pivot over to the psych ward it goes downhill completely. Instead of raising the tensions it just gets boring. Sharon Farrell gives a strong performance as one of the other patients, in fact it is her image on the film’s promotional poster seen above and not Hull’s even though Hull was technically the star, but the rest of the people stuck there seem too normal and too nice. It becomes almost like Hull finding a new clique of friends. She actually comes off more frazzled when she’s on the outside then when she’s actually at the hospital where for the most part she bonds well with the other patients. I also thought it was ridiculous that these patients were allowed to go to a zoo and able to mingle with the public with only light supervision. If these people are deemed so ‘dangerous’ that they must be institutionalized then I would think they shouldn’t be allowed out into the public at all.

The film’s biggest failing though is that it acts like what we see here is provocative and shocking when it really isn’t. Too many other films have been done involving the same dark side of insane asylums that what happens here adds nothing new to the discussion. In fact it ends being quite predictable and cliched instead.

The only redeeming aspect is Hopkins who is quite effective. Every time you seem him you cringe, but not so much because he overplays it, but instead by doing the exact opposite. He’s more just your rural hayseed looking too take advantage of the situation to satisfy his basic carnal instincts behaving more like a typical thug you could bump into anywhere than an over-the-top psycho, which is why it works. You feel like there’s probably a lot more just like him out there, some even working in ‘respectable’ positions, who are just waiting to exploit the situation the minute nobody is looking, which in the end is the one true horror you get from the film that actually succeeds.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 15, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Howard Avedis

Studio: Film Ventures International

Available: YouTube