The Hoax (1972)

hoax2

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

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

Criminally Insane (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: She has to eat.

Ethel (Priscilla Alden) suffers from a eating disorder that has caused her to gain a massive amount of weight. After being sent to a mental hospital she is eventually released into the care of her grandmother (Jane Lambert) with strict orders to keep Ethel away from food. However, her grandmother’s attempts to lock-up the food only gets Ethel hungrier to the point that she goes on the attack and kills her grandma with a knife and then hides her body in an upstairs room. Rosalie (Lisa Farros), Ethel’s sister, shows up and brings along her boyfriend (Michael Flood), but they start to smell the body decay and threaten to investigate what is causing it, so Ethel continues her murder spree in order to hide her secret and have the ability to eat as much as she wants.

These days if even just one person gets offended by something that they see in a movie the filmmakers are obligated to go down on their knees and beg forgiveness while in the 70’s director’s were scurrying to find the next taboo that they could topple. Not only were they unconcerned if they offended anyone, but actually relished the prospect and this movie in many ways goes even further with the shocks than the others. The result, despite the vulgarities, is quite funny and I found myself laughing-out-loud at more than a few places.

The gore is effective too. This was filmed in the Spring of 1973 long before the slasher genre was a thing making this into what’s called a prototype slasher, but the results are the same. In fact I’d say this thing is even gorier than the horror films that play-it straight and I liked the special effects showing the bodies decaying. The second-half also gets rather disturbing including scenes of one victim with a crushed skull still alive enough to try and crawl away while Ethel stands over him and laughs. She even sleeps with her victims, eats in front of them and ultimately does even worse. If you watch this thing for the sick, twisted content you should not be disappointed.

The extremely low budget does create issues though including way too much choppy editing that mainly occurs at the beginning as well as moments where the actors voice is not in sync with their lips. However, Alden’s excellent performance helps and I liked how everything gets filmed in this snazzy house in a nice, sunny neighborhood of San Francisco showing how behind-closed-doors bad things can happen anywhere even in the nice neighborhoods.

In 1987 writer/director Nick Millard and star Alden reteamed for a sequel titled Criminally Insane 2, but this reused a great deal of footage from the first film and was universally panned. Then in 2013 a new director did a remake of this film, titled Crazy Fat Ethel, with a new actress playing the part of Ethel since Alden had already died by that time. That film got shelved for many years when the producer inexplicably died during the production, but eventually it got released in 2016 to genuinely favorable reviews.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 12, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 1 Minute

Rated R

Director: Nick Millard

Studio: I.R.M.I. Films

Available: DVD, 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

Shanks (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mute manipulates dead bodies.

Malcolm Shanks (Marcel Marceau) is a deaf-mute who lives with his cruel sister (Tsilla Chelton) and her alcoholic husband (Phillipe Clay). Malcolm’s puppeteer skills attracts the attention of an aging, eccentric inventor named Mr. Walker (Marcel Marceau) who hires Malcolm to come work with him inside his gothic castle. It is there that he learns of Mr. Walker’s newest invention, which allows him to animate the dead bodies of animals through electronic shocks. Malcolm uses this new found knowledge to animate Mr. Walker himself after he dies and then his sister and her husband when they die by accident, but when a biker gang invades the castle Malcolm is afraid they’ll misuse the invention for bad purposes.

Usually I enjoy offbeat movies, but this film, which was the last one to be directed by William Castle, is never able to catch its stride. It becomes hard to tell whether to even categorize it as a horror movie at all, even though it does have some dark elements, but it’s not inventive enough cinematically to consider it an experimental film either.

Marceau’s presence doesn’t help things. His character never says anything, only when he’s playing the role of Mr. Walker, but even then it’s only a few words. His facial expressions are good, so you pretty much know what he’s thinking, but after awhile his quietness makes him too transparent and he’s just no longer interesting at all and overshadowed by his teen co-star Cindy Eilbacher who does virtually all the talking and could’ve easily been made the star especially since her acting is really good.

The plot is thin and an excessive amount of time gets spent with Malcolm having the dead bodies, which he controls via remote control, dance around and at one point even go shopping, but after awhile this gets one-dimensional and repetitive. Dead bodies can also decay and start to smell real bad, but this reality never gets touched on. I was also confused because Phillipe Clay’s character is killed when he gets attacked by a chicken who bites into his face and makes a bloody mess of it, but when he’s a dancing dead body that injury mysteriously disappears completely.

I thought the introduction of the biker gang, who enter into the story way too late after the film also already become seriously boring, would enliven things, but it really doesn’t. I also didn’t like the visual approach, which is all mixed-up. During some scenes it looks to have been shot in the modern day suburbs and then at other points, especially when inside Mr. Walker’s castle, more of a medieval/gothic look. The inside of Malcolm’s sister’s place is all off too looking like the interior of a home during the 1930’s versus the 1970’s. The title cards that get thrown in at various intervals to help narrate what is going on, much like what you’d see in a silent movie, was not necessary.

I wished I could’ve liked this more, the idea certainly has potential, but there needed to be an added subtext. It’s just too simple and straightforward the way it is and unclear what audience the producers were aiming for.  Children may enjoy parts of it, but will become frightened at other points while adults will find some of it to be clever, but become impatient with the slow pace.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 9, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: William Castle

Studio: Paramount

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

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