Category Archives: Slasher/Gore

The Toolbox Murders (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Handyman targets female tenants.

A man, haunted by memories of the death of his young daughter in a car accident years earlier, begins systematically killing-off women residing in an apartment complex who he believes are living sinful lifestyles. Laurie (Pamelyn Ferdin) is a teen who lives in the same complex just a few doors down from where the murders occurred. One evening while alone the killer sneaks into her place and kidnaps her. Since she resembles his deceased daughter he does not kill her, but instead ties her up to a bed where he talks to her as if she’s his daughter come back to life. As she remains imprisoned her brother Joey (Nicolas Beauvy), unhappy with the sloppy job done by the police, decides to do the investigating of his own with the help of Kent (Wesley Eure) who’s he nephew of Vance (Cameron Mitchell) who owns the building where the murders have been happening. Joey unearths clues, which leads him to believe he knows who’s responsible, but finds opposition in Kent, who wants to block him from finding out who the culprit is.

This film was just about the final word in graphic exploitation fare that permeated the era where every horror film competes to see how they could be gorier and more explicit than the others. This one is unusual in that it starts out right away with the killings, but then during the second and third act it slows way down and becomes a talk-feast with very little gore at all. I did though find it interesting where instead of intense, creepy music that usually gets played when a killer stalks his victim we instead hear laid-back country songs, which would’ve been even more inspired had they not all been by the same artist.

The identity of the killer is given away early, which is also different from other slashers that try to keep it a secret until the end. In a lot ways this makes it less intriguing though Mitchell’s performance still keeps it interesting. What I didn’t like was the stupid police inspector, which is poorly played by Tim Donnelly who was the brother of the film’s director, and his inept ability to figure out who the killer might be even though the viewer and other characters catch-on very quickly. I know some policemen aren’t always the smartest, but even the dumbest would’ve been able to pick up on the obvious clues that this one unbelievably overlooks.

The fact that none of the women scream, at least not during the first act, was rather bizarre especially when one of them (Evelyn Guerrero) walks into the crime scene sees her friend (Marciee Drake) lies in a bloody mess, but she doesn’t respond in a shocked way and just stares as if gazing at a picture on the wall. Having the police interview the neighbors directly over the nude, dead bodies of the victims, was a bit ridiculous too as the victims in most any other crime scene would’ve been covered in a blanket and taken away to a coroner and the scene secured before anyone else could be let in that could potentially tamper with the evidence.

The biggest thing that bugged me was that it’s never shown how the killer is able to so easily get into the apartments. I realize it’s because he has a master key, but that actually needs to be shown with a shot of a key going into the lock. The film though never does this, so instead we just see the door knob turning like these people have been dumb enough to leave their doors unlocked even as a killer lurks about.

The performances are the one thing that holds it together. I especially liked Ferdin and the genuine look of fright in her eyes and tears rolling down her face as she’s been held hostage. Her sincere expression of terror connects with the viewer and makes them even more concerned for her welfare. I’m also friends with her on Facebook and she’s posted about the final scene where she’s wandering around a parking lot barefoot and in her nighty, which was apparently shot in cold temperatures, so having her dressed like that in such freezing conditions and remain professional is commendable too. It’s also entertaining seeing Wesley Eure, best known for his work in the TV-show ‘Land of the Lost’, playing a psycho, of which he’s surprisingly effective.

While the denouncement states that this was based on actual events it really wasn’t. It was loosely inspired by some cases of serial killers using tools to kill their victims, but the characters and overall scenario was largely made-up. The story was remade in 2004, but much of the violence and explicitness of this one was taken-out and toned down while also making major changes to the plot.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 3, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Dennis Donnelly

Studio: Cal-Am Productions

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

Deadly Games (1982)

deadly games2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who killed her sister?

Clarissa (Jo Ann Harris) travels to where her younger sister Linda (Alexandra Lawrence) lived before she was inexplicably murdered inside her home by a masked intruder. Clarissa hopes to help with the investigation, but finds herself initially at odds with the lead investigator Roger (Sam Groom) though the two eventually become romantic partners. Clarissa begins to suspect that Billy (Steve Railsback), an eccentric loner who manages the nearby theater, may be the culprit. Billy and Roger are longtime friends from their Vietnam days and regularly hang-out in the basement of the theater to play a board game. Clarissa tries to devise a way find out if Billy really is the killer, or if it might actually be Roger.

The most shocking thing about this would-be slasher obscurity is just how lame and uneventful it really is. The film starts out right away with a killing, which is poorly lit and the viewer can’t really see what’s going-on, and then proceeds for the next hour and a half to have a bunch of lightly dramatic moments that aren’t scary, or intense at all. Clarissa seems to be not upset about her sister’s passing and spends most of the time worrying more about getting together with old friends, or her dating life. She lives in her sister’s old house while openly stating that she’s not afraid to be there, which lessens the tension. If the protagonist has no concerns about if there’s a bad guy lurking about then why should the viewer?

There’s way too many scenes, like watching the group of friends take part in a backyard football game, or having Clarissa, Roger, and Billy watching an old movie together, that doesn’t propel the plot along in any way nor have much to do with the main story. There’s even a sappy song that gets played during the middle part that has absolutely no place in a horror movie, or any other film for that matter.

I also didn’t get where all of the ‘in-jokes’ were, which Leonard Maltin states in his review comes at you ‘fast and furious’. I came away feeling that this was yet another example where he, or whoever wrote the review for him, was seeing a completely different film altogether. In fact the only thing that is truly deadly here isn’t the ‘games’, but just the movie itself.

Spoiler Alert!

The twist ending is a big letdown as the killer turns out to be Roger, but since he acts so strangely all the way through even entering young women’s apartments and homes unannounced that makes him seem like a genuine creeper, this revelation comes as no ultimate surprise.

Maltin states that the final plot explanation is ‘really stupid’ and reviewers at IMDb say essentially the same thing. It ends with Clarissa killing Roger, who she thinks is Billy until she takes the mask off of him. She then goes back into the theater where Billy shouts our from somewhere that Roger was his best friend and he was now going to avenge his death. He then seems to fly out of nowhere towards Clarissa. I took it that he was hanging onto some sort of prop rope, which they do have in theaters, but it also looked like he was intended to be some sort of ghost that was literally floating towards her and this is what viewers felt was stupid. I don’t know as it’s not clear either way. What I did find frustrating is that the film freezes with Billy coming towards Clarissa and then cuts to the credits, so we never see what happens. Did he kill Clarissa, or did she fight him off? Either way this is the type of thing that needs to be shown, so for it to cut away when it finally gets exciting is ridiculous and if this is what they meant as being ‘stupid’ then I wholeheartedly agree.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The movie really deserves 0 points, but the one thing I did like was the music score. So many other slasher films from that era tried to replicate the score in Halloweenor Friday the 13thbut this one doesn’t sound like either of those. It’s has an acoustic quality that is quiet and subtle yet still effectively creepy. It’s the coolest thing about the movie especially as it gets played over the closing credits, but this production is otherwise so inept that you justifiably might not make it that far.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: March 5, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Scott Mansfield

Studio: Great Plains Films

Available: VHS

The Redeemer (1978)

redeemer2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Murdered for their sins.

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

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

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

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

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

Spoiler Alert!

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

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

Released: October 25, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Constantine S. Gochis

Studio: Dimension Pictures

Available: Blu-ray, Tubi, Amazon Video

Slaughter High (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: High School reunion horror.

Marty (Simon Scuddamore) is a social outcast at his high school. On April Fools Day the other students decide to play a prank on him by inviting him into the girl’s shower were they mock his naked body. This gets the students into trouble with the coach (Marc Smith) so they decide to play another joke on him by adding a chemical to his science project that causes it to explode, which topples a bottle of nitric acid off the shelf and it splashes onto his face which disfigures him. 5 years later the students reconvene for a  reunion, but find the school has been closed and in disrepair yet they still go in and have a party anyways, but soon they begin getting killed off one-by-one in violent ways. Is Marty lurking in the shadows and doing it for revenge, or is it somebody else?

I enjoyed the way the film works against the formula by having a linear narrative where the horrible accident happens right away instead of using flashbacks, or having it discussed through dialogue like in other slashers. The killings are expertly handled including one where the victim has his intestines blow directly out of his stomach, which is graphic and caught me completely off guard. The tension is good too and had me riveted at the end as Caroline Munro gets chased around the darkened building almost endlessly, which was intentionally prolonged by the filmmakers to give it a longer runtime, but in the process helps make the scenario even scarier by making it seem like the victim is stuck in a nightmarish maze that she can’t get out of.

Some viewers had issues with the cast looking too old for high schoolers, which included star Munro who was already 35 at the time. However, what really impressed me was that it was filmed in England with a mostly British cast, except for Donna Yaeger who plays Stella and a couple of others, and yet all of them with the exception of Munro were able to successfully disguise their accents to make it sound like they were genuinely American.

My only two complaints were the music score, which sounded too playful like it was intended for a comedy instead of a horror and didn’t help add to the tension and in many ways worked against it. The scene were two of the characters (Donna Yeager, Billy Hartman) have sex is ridiculous as this occurs after they had just witnessed two graphic murders and the ongoing threat of a killer lurking about, so for most people sex would be the last thing on their minds nor would they be able to perform even if they tried due to the psychological stress, so having the guy become baffled when he can’t get an erection under those circumstances was laughable as I would’ve more surprised if he had.

The twist ending is cool and even if it had been a letdown I would’ve still given it 7 points as the rest of it is highly entertaining either way. The original working title was going to be April Fool’s Daybut this got changed when the filmmakers became aware that another movie with that same title was set to be released in the US, but this movie is far better than that one.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 14, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Directors: George Dugdale, Mark Ezra, Peter Mackenzie Litten

Studio: Vestron Pictures

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

Girls Nite Out (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Scavenger hunt turns deadly.

After the DeWitt university basketball team wins the championship the female students go on an all-night scavenger hunt using clues given to them at regular intervals by the DJ at the college radio station, who they listen to via portable radios. During the event many of the participants turn-up dead having been murdered by a killer dressed in a bear costume. No one knows who it is, but many suspect it might have something to do with Dickie Cavanuagh who murdered his girlfriend Patty, the daughter of the school’s security guard Jim (Hal Holbrook), in a jealous rage years earlier and has ever since been locked away in a mental hospital.

The plot is similar to Midnight Madnessbut the scavenger hunt in that one was done in a much more vivid way and a had a wider variety of locales while this one occurs in a limited setting making it visually quite boring. Much of the reason for this was because Upsala College gave the producers only one weekend to film forcing them to cram the entire shoot into a 3-day period and causing much of the cast to work 24-hour shifts in order to get it done while Hal Holbrook did his part separately and only interacts with the cast once in a scene where he has a brief exchange with his real-life son David Holbrook, who plays one of the suspects.

Given that it’s actually quite impressive how good the performances are, but everything else, including the poor pacing, is rock bottom. Way too much time gets spent on the set-up including boring scenes at a campus party that aren’t engaging. The actual hunt doesn’t get going until almost 40-minutes in even though it should’ve begun with the hunt right away while nixing the early conversations and characters that add little to the suspense.

The film also suffers from a musical soundtrack made up entirely of bubblegum bands from the 60’s like The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Ohio Express, and 1910 Fruitgum Co., which all had a sound that was by the early 80’s completely out-of-touch and something no self-respecting college kid would be caught listening to. Especially at a college party where the idea is to play recent hits that are trending and not dancing to songs that sound like jingles from a commercial. Personally I like The Lovin’ Spoonful, but their style was dated by that time, so it seemed weird that was the only band that the college radio station ever played, which would’ve had none of the students listening to them if that was all they were going to hear.

Things do pick-up once the murders get going. Some critics complained that the killings are unimaginative and are handled in a routine way, which they are, but I did like the killer’s weapon that’s fashioned to look like a bear claw using knives in place of the paws and similar to what Freddy Krueger later used in Nightmare on Elm Street. The identity of the killer is also a surprise, so it scores a few points there, but overall it’s still no better than the hundreds of other slashers that were released around the same time.

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Alternate Title: The Scaremaker

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 3, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Deubel

Studio: Independent-International Pictures

Available: DVD

The Fan (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Obsessed fan stalks actress.

Douglas Breen (Michael Biehn) has become obsessed with aging film actress Sally Rose (Lauren Bacall) and wants to meet her. He begins by writing her fan letters, but Sally’s secretary Belle (Maureen Stapleton) intercepts them and sends an autographed picture of Sally in return, which gets Michael seething as he wanted a personal response from Sally instead. His letters become more frequent and threatening. Eventually he decides to injure Belle in order to get her out of the way as well as kill anyone else in Sally’s life, so that he can meet with Sally unimpeded and have her all to himself.

One of the quandaries that I had was the casting of Bacall who I felt was too old for the part. I realize that in the Bob Randall novel of the same name, which this film is based, the actress character was also an aging Hollywood star, but as stalking has become more prevalent since this film was released, it’s been shown that stalkers prefer younger, more attractive women with a ‘virginal’ appeal and who they feel they can better control or ‘possess’. With Bacall, and her very feisty personality, you don’t get any of that. She’s also supposedly playing someone who is 49, but looks more like 60 and was actually 56 when it was filmed. While I got more used to her as the film progressed, the script doesn’t take enough advantage of her patented bitchy side, and except for one brief spat with her secretary, her presence is too benign.

The real waste though came from James Garner, who’s given a bland part that doesn’t help propel the story in any way. Originally when the film was first released and I saw his name in the credits I thought he was the stalker, which would’ve been interesting as he’s rarely ever played a bad guy, so it would’ve been intriguing seeing him thrown out of his comfort zone, but unfortunately that ends up not being the case.

Biehn is certainly a good actor although his psycho character in the TV-Movie ‘Deadly Intentions’ is far more interesting than the one he plays here. His weapon of choice, a shaving razor, is not visually intimidating enough and the victims die too easily by slumping over dead after just one quick cut across the chest. The scene where he stabs and kills a guy by swimming underneath him in a public pool is well shot, but implausible as there were so many other people around, including in the pool that it seemed hard to believe that Biehn would’ve been able to escape undetected.

Director Ed Bianchi, who directed a lot of award-winning commercials before doing this, reveals a stylish flair and I enjoyed the way he captures New York particularly the urban cafes and city streets, but the plot itself offers few surprises. Ultimately it would’ve worked better had the identity of the killer been left a mystery until the very end. This way the tension would’ve mounted as the viewer would remain in the dark as much as Sally as to who actually was after her.

Spoiler Alert!

The climactic sequence has Bacall confronting Biehn all by herself while trapped inside an otherwise empty theater. Bacall doesn’t respond to things the same way a conventional female might by screaming, which is great, and she also literally tells the guy off right to his face just as he’s about to stab her, which is great too, but the way she props up his dead body into a theater seat seemed bizarre. Why would she bother doing this? Just leave the dead body lying on the floor and run for help. Seeing the bird’s-eye shot of the killer lying there would’ve looked creepier and instead of a voice over of him reading the first letter he sent her have another letter written by another obsessive fan read and thus creating the double-ending famous in a lot of 80’s slasher flicks where you think the threat had been defeated, but was actually still out there in another form.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 15, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ed Bianchi

Studio: Paramount

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

Fade to Black (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: A cinephile becomes homicidal.

Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher) is thoroughly engrossed in movies to the extent that he watches them all day in his bedroom and does little else. Aunt Stella (Eve Brent), whom he lives with, nags him constantly about what a loser he is as does Richie (Mickey Rourke) who he works with at his job inside a film distribution center. One day he meets Marilyn (Linda Kerridge) who looks exactly like his favorite actress Marilyn Monroe. The two agree to go out on a date to see a movie, but when Eric shows up at the theater and Marilyn is nowhere to be found he becomes unhinged. All of his pent-up rage gets released and soon he goes on a killing spree by slaughtering all of the people who have made fun of him in the past.

Writer/director Vernon Zimmerman has insisted in interviews that this wasn’t meant to be a horror film, but then what exactly was it supposed to be? I admit initially it has some intriguing elements, but like with Zimmerman’s other directorial efforts it misses the mark. Ultimately despite the offbeat touches it  devolves into a mechanical slasher flick by the second act, but in this case a really bad one, as the killings are handled in a very unimaginative way with the victims dying way too easily to the point that the segments become boring and very predictable.

Some felt that this was an odd follow-up project for Christopher to take after his critical success starring in the acclaimed Breaking Away, but I’ll give him credit for not playing it safe and taking a role outside of mainstream Hollywood. He actually plays the part pretty well, but that’s actually the problem as his skinny, geeky build makes him seem too Norman Bates-like and falls into the lonely stereotypical psycho mold too easily and thus witnessing his eventual melt down is neither surprising nor revealing. His attempted impressions of  famous characters/stars are quite poor too and makes these moments very annoying.

Having a cinephile only into classic old movies didn’t seem realistic. You’d think someone like him had seen films others hadn’t even heard of, so referencing obscure flicks and lesser known actors should’ve been added into the mix. I was also confused where he was able to get the money to pay for all the elaborate costumes, make-up, and props that he uses during the killings as at the beginning he was so broke he had to beg people for money just to fill-up his bike with gas, or go out on a date. Some may argue that when his Aunt died she willed him the money, but this is never mentioned or shown.

I did like Rourke and I felt he would’ve been more interesting in the lead role as he plays a movie fanatic as well, but also didn’t fall into the tired nerdy cliché like Christopher. Kerridge though as the love interest proves to be a dud. She certainly is easy-on-the-eyes, but seems uncomfortable playing the Marilyn caricature and her presence ultimately is rather transparent.

The production values are slick and the climactic sequence that takes place both in and on top of the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theater has some pizazz, but everything else falls flat. It’s just not offbeat enough, scary enough, nor darkly humorous enough to ever catch its stride, or sustain any consistent interest.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 17, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Vernon Zimmerman

Studio: American Cinema Releasing

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

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

The Comeback (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Singer hears weird noises.

Nick Cooper (Jack Jones) is a successful singer trying to revive his career after a 6-year hiatus. He travels to London to work on a new album under the guidance of his manager Webster (David Doyle), where the two share a hot-and-cold business relationship. Meanwhile his ex-wife Gail (Holly Palance) goes to their former apartment to collect her things, but is attacked by someone dressed as an old lady and brutally killed. After the murder Nick begins to hear noises at the mansion he is staying in that is owned by an older couple (Bill Owen, Sheila Keith) in which he hears the sound of a woman crying, but can’t detect where it is coming from.

This is another Pete Walker production who has in recent years received a strong cult following for the long line of British horror films that he directed during the 70’s and early 80’s before leaving the profession in order to start up a business where he bought and refurbished old movie theaters. While I’m not a big fan of some of his early work, which seemed kind of hooky, I felt this horror outing managed to deliver for the most part.

What impressed me most was the brutality of the murder where Gail not only gets stabbed many times, but has her hand cut off, which goes flying down the stairs. This was in the era of the Video Nasties, where the British government was banning all sorts of horror films brought in from other countries, so I was surprised why this one got a pass. What made it even more gruesome is that the camera keeps cutting back to the dead body at different intervals where the viewer vividly sees the decaying process. It starts by showing a close-up of the dried blood that covers the victim’s face, real blood was used that had been donated from a local hospital, then later on it cuts back to show maggots’ inside her eye sockets and mouth  and eventually even rats eating away at her face.

Having singer Jack Jones, who’s best known for crooning the theme song from the TV-show ‘The Love Boat’, cast in the lead seemed an odd choice. Apparently Walker was determined to get a singer for the part and first approached Cat Stevens and then Ringo Starr who both declined, so he had to settle for Jones, who isn’t bad. It’s refreshing to see a protagonist in a horror flick that isn’t a teen or college aged and instead in his 40’s, but since there is an element of teen idol worship in the story it would’ve made more sense having a younger singer cast that would’ve appealed more to the youth of the day.

David Doyle, best known for playing Bosley in the TV-show ‘Charlie’s Angels’, is surprisingly effective too and given a big role. Usually he would be relegated to small supporting parts in comical films, but here does well in a dramatic one and even seen at point putting on women’s make-up and wearing a dress, but the film never follows-up with this potential story thread, but should’ve.

The murders aren’t too prevalent, there’s only two and spread far apart, but they’re gory enough to leave a strong impression. The story moves a bit too slowly and while there is tension at times it’s not consistent. The wrap-up though is a complete surprise and pretty much comes out of nowhere, but I didn’t mind.

Spoiler Alert!

While the script is satisfactory there were a couple of moments that didn’t make much sense. One has Nick returning to the mansion after he’s seen the decapitated head of his ex-wife in a box there and tormented each night by her cries and screams, which is enough to send him to the mental hospital for awhile. If it were me I’d never go back to that place again and yet Nick does and just casually turns up the music on his radio when he again starts hearing the ghostly cries instead freaking out like anyone else would’ve. The scene where he takes an ax out of a victim’s body, who had been killed by someone else, and then is seen holding it over the dead body as someone else enters the room, made me believe he was going to be accused of committing the murder, but it doesn’t work that way, but probably should’ve.

Alternate Title: Encore

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 16, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Pete Walker

Studio: Enterprise Pictures Limited 

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video