Top Gun (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Student pilot proves himself.

Pete Mitchell (Tom Cruise), who goes by the nickname Maverick, gets accepted into an elite fighter school for Navy pilots known as ‘Top Gun’. It is here where his flying skills impress his instructors, but his daredevils ways also get him into trouble. He starts dating one of his instructors (Kelly McGillis) and everything seem to be going fine until during a flight training exercise that he is piloting his partner Goose (Anthony Edwards) tragically dies, which shatters his confidence and makes him believe that maybe he is not cut out to be a pilot after all.

This film was a giant hit at the box office, but mostly ravaged by the critics and with good reason. The story is shallow, but Cruise’s performance manages to hold it together. Some have criticized his acting ability by saying he can play only one type of character namely the cocky type, but here he mixes in a lot of hidden vulnerabilities with it making you feel for him during his dark times of self doubt and cheer when he finally overcomes them.

I also enjoyed the romantic angle at least initially. In a lot of movies the side romance can get in the way of the story, but here it helps keep the plot intriguing especially when you factor in their contrasting personalities and temperaments. I liked the fact that she was also one of his instructors and therefore had to keep a professional distance and how this caused tensions in their potential relationship, which I wanted explored much more and was disappointed when this plot point fizzles out already in the first act and they become instead a generic ‘happy couple’ the rest of the way.

The mysterious death of Maverick’s father years early was another subplot that gets poorly handled. I was expecting this to work into being a heightened mystery complete with a big reveal at the end, perhaps coupled with a flashback, but instead it gets treated almost like a throwaway bit where the Tom Skerrit character explains what occurred in passing and then by the time the ending finally comes it’s pretty much forgotten. The same goes for Val Kilmer who is excellent as Maverick’s rival, but his part is woefully underwritten and like with a lot of other things not pushed to its full dramatic potential.

Director Tony Scott hurts the realism by implementing too much of a music video approach with literally every scene smothered with a loud, booming rock tune, which cheapens the story by making it more about mood and image than a character study. There’s even issues with the sky color, which outside of the aerial footage, looks to have a bright golden color that does not replicate any sky I’ve ever seen on this planet.

The stunt work involving the flying jets is certainly impressive making this a movie you definitely need to see on the big screen in order to get its full effect, but eventually it gets redundant and for a layperson not familiar with piloting technique even a bit confusing. The ending in which Maverick and his fellow pilots are ordered to provide air support to a stricken ship that has drifted into hostile waters really jumps the shark when jet planes from a foreign country attacks theirs, which would be considered an act of war and a major international incident, but instead after the skirmish is over it all gets written off saying that the other country simply ‘denied that they did it’, which only in the movie world is good enough to make everyone else forgive and forget about it too.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 12, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Tony Scott

Studio: Paramount

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

Alligator (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Reptile in the sewer.

In 1968 a young girl (Leslie Brown) brings home a baby alligator, which she stores in her small aquarium, but her father decides to flush the thing down the toilet where in the sewer it feeds off the carcasses of dead animals which were given an experimental growth formula from a nearby clinic. 12 years later the alligator having ingested this formula for years has grown to massive lengths and escapes from the sewer where he now terrorizes the citizens of the city.

The screenplay was written by John Sayles and has a nice blend of comedy and scares. In most other horror films there are usually some long boring segments in between the shocks that get filled with awkward drama or banal dialogue, but here these same segments convey a playful sense of the absurd and are some of the best moments in the movie including showing all the street vendors who come out and try to cash in on the alligator scare by selling alligator related merchandise at the river where the police are searching for the beast. I also enjoyed the ad-libbed lines by the supporting characters mentioning Robert Forster’s receding hairline, which become the movie’s running joke.

The scares are still present and for the most part effective although the scenes inside the sewer work best. I liked the way the beams from the flashlights reflected off of the tunnel walls and created a surreal look as well as how quiet it would get when the police and S.W.A.T. went into the underground caverns, which helped accentuate the tension.

When the gator breaks out of the sewer is when the thing starts to go south especially when it attacks guests at a dinner party, which is too graphic and ghoulish and destroys the film’s otherwise playful tone. I also didn’t like when the alligator breaks through sidewalk having the camera shake, which is something directors would do in old movies to create an earthquake-like visual effect, but comes-off as quite tacky looking. Having the gator roam the city for as long as it does and not get caught seemed implausible as something that big would attract lots of attention no matter where it went and most likely would get cornered by the authorities a hell of a lot sooner than it does.

The film also suffers by not effectively conveying the size of the beast visually. We see a lot of quick shots involving its open mouth, but not much else. An animatronic one was built, but it malfunctioned and was little used and then later donated to the Florida Gators as their mascot. An actual gator got used in some shots, which they superimposed onto a miniature set to make it look bigger, but the final result of this looks awkward.

The truth is alligators are by nature very timid towards humans and will usually swim away if approached by one and only attack if they feel threatened. They prefer much smaller prey that they can eat with one gulp and thus avoid people altogether. It’s actually the crocodile that  is much more dangerous and in fact the saltwater and nile crocodile kills hundreds of people each year, which for the sake of accuracy should’ve been the species that got used.

I also thought it was a bit bizarre that someone could keep an alligator as a pet like the young girl does at the beginning. Now don’t get me wrong watching them flush the baby gator down a toilet is one of the best parts of the movie, but what would’ve happened had the gator been allowed to grow into an adult? How would they be able to house or control him, which only makes the father, who gets portrayed here as being obnoxious, look smart by getting rid of it when it was small and he still could.

The cast though still makes it worth watching. Forster is great in the lead as he plays against his stoic tough guy image by conveying vulnerabilities with his finest moment being the horrified expression on his face when his partner gets attacked and he’s unable to save him. I also liked Jack Carter as the corrupt Mayor and Dean Jagger, in his last film role, as the nefarious animal clinic owner. Angel Tompkins can be seen briefly as a news reporter as well as Sue Lyon in her last film appearance to date.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 14, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Lewis Teague

Studio: Group 1 International

Available: DVD

Razorback (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giant boar terrorizes outback.

Jake (Bill Kerr), who lives in the Australian outback, gets attacked one night by a giant razorback who takes off with his infant grandson. Jake is later accused as having made up the story as no one can believe that there could be a razorback of such mammoth proportions and yet Jake spends the rest of his life hunting after it and determined to get his revenge for what it did to his grandson. During his quest he meets up with Carl (Gregory Harrison) whose wife Beth (Judy Morris) was also killed by the same wild boar.

The film was directed by Russell Mulcahy, who rose to fame by directing many influential music videos and his unique visual style is what sets this film apart. The way he captures the vast, flat outback is stylish and the dream sequence out in the desert is both creepy and surreal. I also really enjoyed the part where the razorback tears apart a man’s house forcing him to helplessly watch as the part of the home with the TV, which he was watching, goes literally gliding away in front of him, which  may not be realistic, but a very funny image nonetheless.

The story though, which is based on the novel by Peter Brennan, is too indicative of other better known movies. It starts out with Jake going to trial over the death of his grandson and no one believing his account, which is loosely based on the Azaria Chamberlin incident who was an infant that got taken away by a dingo in 1980, but the public didn’t believe the story and accused the parents of killing the child instead. However, in this instance the razorback creates a giant hole in Jake’s house, which should be enough for most people to think that there might be something to what Jake was saying and makes the opening court room bit seem both protracted and unnecessary especially since he quickly gets acquitted anyways.

The second act resembles the film Wake in Fright as Carl and two other men go on a nighttime kangaroo hunt. It also examines the poor way Carl adapts to the rough nature of the outback men, which again seems too similar to the plot of the other film and really wasn’t needed since it slows up the pace, which needed more scares and appearances of the giant razorback that are completely missing during the middle part.

The third act comes off too much like Jaws, with Jake channeling Quint, which might’ve been alright as I found Jake’s rugged individualistic ways to be both endearing and amusing to the point that he could’ve been made the main character. However, is untimely demise is both graphic and cruel and gives the film an unnecessarily mean tone.

Having Carl single-handidly take on the razorback at the end while inside an abandoned warehouse is boring as it rehashes the man vs beast theme that’s been done many times before. I was actually more interested in seeing the townspeople work together to hunt down the boar, which is an idea that the film teases, but then ultimately sells-out on.

My biggest grievance though is the way the beast gets photographed. Supposedly a  giant animatronic model of the razorback was built at a cost of $250,000, but you never really see it. Shots of the beast are edited so quickly that you only get brief glimpses of the animal and never its whole body and no true idea of how big it really is. There’s also no explanation offered for  how it grew so big.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 19, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Russell Mulcahy

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Blu-ray (Region B/2, A/1), Amazon Video, YouTube

Massacre at Central High (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Destroy the social hierarchy.

David (Derrel Maury) is the new kid in school whose only friend is Mark (Andrew Stevens) because years earlier David helped protect Mark from a group of bullies. Now Mark has befriended a group of elitist friends who pick on the other students at the school and instructs David that he better do the same, but David resists, so the clique turns on him. This causes David to kill  the members of the clique off one-by-one in creative ways, but finds that the students who were once the meek victims of these bullies now become the new ones.

This film is a definite step above the usual horror flick and has managed to create, despite it’s limited availability, a strong cult following. Yet with that said it does have some major drawbacks. One is cinematic quality, which is quite grainy, faded, and dated with every shot reeking of a mid-70’s look. The music score is horrendous especially the opening song sung by Tommy Leonitti. In fact it’s so bad that director Rene Daalder, who had written a different score that better fit the mood of the film, but was rejected by the producer, refused to watch this movie for several decades because of it.

There’s also the issue, like in so many of these high school flicks, were the students look older than they should and in fact all of them were already in their early 20’s when this was filmed. Fortunately the setting was the senior high level, so the more mature body types aren’t quite as glaring as it could’ve been.

I felt though that despite being a bit too old for his part this was Andrew Stevens best performance to date. His career and the quality of the projects he’s been in have been quite erratic, but here he fits the role quite well and I enjoyed seeing his character’s arch go from passive middle-man to a reluctant hero although the scene where he confronts David begging him not to kill him even though David had no weapons at the time, was physically smaller and crippled by a bum leg, seemed a bit too wimpy. Stevens could’ve and should’ve beat up David at that point, or threatened to unless there was some reason why he never wanted to fight, which is never made clear.

I did like the killings particularly the hang glider death, which has a point-of-view shot where the viewer feels like they’re riding on the gliders alongside the characters. The transformation of the students from wimps to oppressors is what I enjoyed the most as it exposes the thin line between good guy and bad and how the circumstances of the situation dictate how people respond to either. It also reveals how behavior is greatly affected by one’s immediate environment and if that environment were to suddenly change different aspects of a person’s personality that have long been dormant, or repressed could suddenly come to the forefront. The fact that no adults are ever seen, at least not until the very end, was a cool touch too as it accentuates how in the adolescent world the adults are completely meaningless and it’s their peer group that’s the only thing that’s important, which makes this quite similar to Heathers of which this is considered a close cousin and even an inspiration to.

When the film was first released it got very little attention and was in and out of the theaters quite quickly and I believe a part of the reason for this is its title, which coneys too much of a mindless teen exploitation flick tone, which this really isn’t. While the film was being shot in went under the working title of ‘Incident at Foxdale High’, which to me was more subtle and intriguing. Whether this is also the reason why it has yet to get a well-deserved DVD/Blu-ray release I don’t know, but at some point one should be coming.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 10, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Rene Daalder

Studio: Brian Distributing

Available: VHS

When a Stranger Calls (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Babysitter receives harassing calls.

Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) gets asked by the Mandrakis (Rutayna Alda, Carmen Argenziano) to babysit their two children, who are already asleep, while they go out for the evening. While Jill is there she starts receiving harassing calls from an anonymous man asking about the children. Jill eventually calls the police who find out that the call is coming from inside the house, but fortunately the police arrive in time before the killer (Tony Beckley) can get to her. She recovers from the incident and moves on with her life by getting married and having two kids of her own only to find that the man has escaped from the mental hospital and coming after her again.

This is an extension to director Fred Walton’s 1977 short film The Sitter with the first 22-minutes almost the same as that one, but not quite. The opening bit is much better handled here with close-ups of a pendulum on a clock swinging back and forth and Jill hearing noises in the house only to find that it’s the ice dispenser in the refrigerator, which are all the scenes that were not in the first film. Kane is also a better actress and her ability to convey fear elicits more tension from the viewer, but I still found it annoying that she reiterates the same line that the babysitter in the first film did where she states to the police that she’s ‘all alone in the house’ when technically there’s supposedly two sleeping kids upstairs.

The second act is where this thing goes off on a wild tangent by focusing almost exclusively on the killer, whose name is Curt Duncan, as he attempts to survive on the streets in the most seedy part of the city while a police investigator named John Clifford (Charles Durning), who worked on the earlier case and is now a private investigator, is determined to kill Duncan for what he did to the two children. To some degree this is a refreshing change of pace as most horror films like to demonize the killer making him seem like a soulless monster who kills people robotically while here the psychopath is portrayed as a vulnerable and confused human tormented by inner demons that he cannot control.

Watching him try to form a bond with a woman (Colleen Dewhurst) that he meets at a bar simply for human contact is interesting because most psychos don’t just murder everyone they meet even though in a conventional horror flicks you’d get the impression that they do. In reality many of them can be married, hold down regular jobs and have what appears to be a normal life only to do their killings on the side and the film scores definite points by examining this aspect that we’re not used to seeing, but it also makes him less scary, which ultimately hurts the tension.

The biggest problem is that Jill the main character completely disappears for a whole hour only to reappear again at the very end, which is too long. If this is a person that the viewer is supposed to care about then she needs to be in the film a lot more possibly cutting back and forth between her recovering from the incident and meeting someone that she will marry while also going back to Duncan and what he’s doing instead of just exclusively concentrating on Duncan as it does.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending in which Duncan tracks Jill down and tries to kill her makes no sense at all. How did the killer, who has no money and is basically homeless, find out where she lived? She has gotten married and most likely a new last name, so just saying he found her address listed in a phone book doesn’t work. How did he know the phone number to the place where she was attending a dinner party and for that matter how was he able to break into her house undetected while squad cars were patrolling it? Better yet how was Charles Durning, who ends up shooting the guy, able to get into the house as just a few minutes earlier he was shown inside a hotel room? Why was the killer so obsessed with tormenting Jill anyways, which are all good questions that never get answered and leaves open too many plot holes to be fully effective.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 26, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Fred Walton

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Sitter (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Please check the children.

This small budget, short film, which was made for $12,000 much of it coming  from the donations of director Fred Walton’s and producer Steve Feke’s friends deals with the urban legend of a babysitter (Lucia Stralser) coming to the home of the Mandrakis (Bill Striglos, Karen Kondazian) to watch over their two children who are asleep upstairs while they go out. Soon after the couple leaves the sitter starts to receive harassing phone calls from a mysterious man asking if she’s ‘checked the children’. At first she dismisses them, but eventually when they continue she notifies the police who decide to trace where the calls are coming from.

The urban legend known as ‘The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs’ has been around since the early 60’s and the story was first filmed in 1971 in the 14-minute short entitled Foster’s Release, but this film was the one that caught the attention of mainstream audiences when it got screened at the Mann’s Theater in Westwood, California before a showing of Looking for Mr. Goodbar and the positive response it got convinced Walton that he should expand it into a feature length film, which he did two years later.

This film is alright, but gets hampered by having a weak actress in the role of the babysitter, who has an androgynous look about her and unable to convey emotions effectively.  Not only does she not check on the children, even though you’d think after repeated calls she would get the inkling to do so, but she then states to the police on the phone that she’s ‘all alone’, which isn’t true and makes you wonder if she completely forgot why she was at that home to begin with.

I did like the part where she raids the refrigerator and starts eating a piece of cake from it as I think a lot of babysitters do this. I also found the catty conversation that she has with one of her friends on the phone, before the harassing calls start, to be rather amusing and very teenage girl-like. I even liked the fact that she pours herself a glass of hard liquor and starts to drink it, but this also made me think that the alcohol should’ve had some effect on her, especially with such a thin body, causing her to slur her speech, or possibly emboldening her in her dealings with the caller, which never occurs.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending of course if you’re familiar with the legend has the police tracing the calls to a man who is upstairs in the same house that the sitter is, which forces the girl to run outside before the killer gets her, but the way it ends is not very satisfying. For one thing the girl’s welfare only gets eluded to by the cops even though she is the main character, so the viewer should see that she is alright and not just be told this. It also leaves open way too many questions like: Why did the killer choose this house? How did he know the phone number to the home? How did he get into the house without being detected? and if the children were already killed several hours earlier as the police stated then were they actually killed while the parents were still there and why didn’t anybody hear anything?

End of Spoiler Alert!

These questions get a little better answered in When a Stranger Calls, which was Walton’s follow-up film to this one that expands the story by analyzing the killer and giving him more of a backstory, which will be reviewed next.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 19, 1977

Runtime: 22 minutes

Not Rated

Director: Fred Walton

Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Photographer sees killer’s perspective.

Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway) is a successful fashion photographer who enjoys putting a level of stylized violence into her photos, which makes her work controversial to some, but evocatively edgy to others. One day she starts seeing visions of people that she knows being murdered from the killer’s perspective. Later, when she finds out that her friends are being killed she goes to the police where the lead investigator John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones) tries to work with her in unmasking the killer’s identity.

Despite having John Carpenter’s name in the credits he never actually wrote the screenplay, but instead did an 11-page treatment that got rewritten by the studio with a completely different ending, which helps to explain why it gets so stupid from the very beginning. What annoyed me most were the segments showing the killings, which aren’t fully the killer’s perspective since they have cutaways showing a hand in the air with a knife in it, which is technically the point-of-view of the victim.

I also thought it was goofy that she sees these visions of the killings as they occur with one happening to her friend Elaine (Rose Gregorio) when Laura is just a few blocks away. When Laura arrives at the scene of the crime, which takes her less than a minute to do, the police are already there investigating, which has to be the fastest response time by any police force in the history of the universe.

Dunaway’s presence unfortunately just makes it worse. I’ve been a big fan of hers for years and in a good dramatic role with competent direction she can be fabulous, but here she overacts making her performance come-off as affected and even laughable. Many believe it was her starring role in Mommie Dearest, which came out three years after this one, that ushered in the downfall of her career, but I actually believe it started with this one.

Critic Leonard Maltin, in his review of the film, complained about Dunaway’s ‘kinky colleagues and their lifestyles’, which he deemed as being ‘ a real turn-off’, but I failed to see anything that was all that shocking or outrageous unless he was referring to the lesbian relationship between the two sexy models (Lisa Taylor, Darlanne Fluegel) that I quite frankly wouldn’t have minded seeing more of. As for the provocative artwork it is by today’s standards quite tame and certainly not something that I or most other people would pay good money to see, which made it hard to believe how Ms. Mars was able to afford such a snazzy luxury apartment, which looks like a place more suitable for a corporate businesswoman than a pad for an artist anyways.

The relationship between Dunaway and Jones is equally ridiculous especially since he gets into a relationship with her while the investigation is still ongoing, which breaks all professional and ethical boundaries. A more intelligent script would’ve had the police dismiss Ms. Mars’s claims upfront and consider her to be total loon, or investigate her as the prime suspect. The film also fails to answer the most pressing question, which is what great cosmic force caused her to have these visions in the first place?

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: August 2, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Irvin Kershner

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Mother’s Day (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rednecks murder for mama.

Trina (Tiana Pierce), Abbey (Nancy Hendrickson), and Jackie (Deborah Luce) are three friends from college, who are now in the adult world but still enjoy getting together one weekend of the year for a ‘mystery trip’ where they go to some place they’ve never been before. This year they decide to take a camping trip into the dense woods of New Jersey. It is there that they come into contact with a redneck family consisting of two grown sons: Ike (Frederick Coffin, but billed as Holden McGuire) and Addley (Michael McCleery, but billed as Billy Ray McQuade) who kidnap the girls and bring them back to their secluded home where they torture and rape them all for the amusement of their twisted mother (Beatrice Pons, but billed as Rose Ross in order to avoid losing her actor’s union membership for starring in a non-union film.)

The film is loosely inspired by the true story of Gertrude Baniszewski, a single woman with 7 children living in Indianapolis in 1965 who got her kids to torture and murder a 14-year-old girl who was boarding at their home while her parents went off to work in a carnival. This same story was done in two other films: An American Crime starring Ellen Page, and The Girl Next Door with Blanche Baker. While both of those movies took a more serious approach this film tries to spin in goofy satire which kind of works and kind of doesn’t.

I enjoyed the graffiti sprayed painted on the walls inside the mother’s home and the silly TV references as well as the two sons arguing over the merits of  whether ‘Punk sucks’ or ‘disco’s stupid’, but the opening bit where the mother attends a weekend encounter group, which was a parody of The Erhard Seminars Training, which was popular during the 70’s, should’ve been cut. For one thing there’s no logical reason why this reclusive old woman would be motivated to attend this group. It also telegraphs too much of the plot by having her car break down and her two sons then jump out of the forest to kill two of the people that she had met at the seminar. Not having the mother and her boys introduced right away but waited until after the girls were kidnapped would’ve created more tension and mystery.

Spoiler Alert! 

The women characters are better fleshed-out than in most other slasher films and a great deal of time is spent showing their backstories. They’re also not made to seem like bimbo party girls, but portrayed more like everyday women who are smart and more average looking, which was a refreshing change of pace.

However, the ending, which consists of them turning-the-tables on their captors and savagely killing them doesn’t work. Had they still been held hostage and forced to kill in order to escape then it might’ve been more believable, but instead they successfully escape and then decide to come back and murder the family for ‘street justice’  after one of them dies. This though was too wide of arch as nothing is shown before hinting at this violent streak that harbors within them. Screenwriter Warren Leight tries to justify it by having the redneck mother remind Abbey of her obnoxious mother back home and thus letting out all of her pent-up frustrations that she with her own mother onto the old woman, but it’s all still too extreme and heavy-handed.

End of Spoiler

Despite all of these issues I still felt this was a step above most other slasher flicks. There’s enough interesting elements to it that I was convinced that director Charles Kaufman, who is the brother of Troma President Lloyd Kaufman and not to be confused with the famous screenwriter with the same name, had the potential of being a good cult film director, but since 1988 he is no longer in the filmmaking business and instead runs the successful bakery Bread & Cie in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 19, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Charles Kaufman

Studio: United Film Distribution Company

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

 

Creepshow (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Five stories of horror.

This film was the collaboration of Stephen King, making his screenwriting debut, and George Romero, who filmed the entire thing in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with many of the scenes done in an abandoned boy’s school. The production was a homage to the horror comics like ‘Tales of the Crypt’ and ‘The Vault of Horror’, which were published between 1950 and 1955 before being shutdown because they were considered ‘dangerous’ to the well being of children and contributing to juvenile delinquency.

The script consists of five stories with the emphasis more on camp than terror and outside of the cool comic book effects fall pretty much flat.  The first story entitled ‘Father’s Day’  comes off more like a one-joke skit and deals with an adult daughter (Viveca Lindfors) who kills her obnoxious father (Jon Lormer) on his birthday with an ashtray and then years later visits him at his grave site where his corpse comes back to life.

The second story entitled ‘The Lonesome Death of Jody Verrill’ should’ve been extended out more as it has some intriguing possibilities to it. It consists of a redneck (played with campy glee by Stephen King) who finds a meteor that’s landed in his backyard, but realizes to his horror that everything it touches grows a greenish foliage including on himself.

‘Something to Tide You Over’ is the third entry and it’s about a man (Ted Danson) being buried alive in the sand and then drowning as the tide rolls in. It’s shot in a way where the viewer sees the water rushing in from the victim’s point of view, which gives it a frightening quality, but suffers from having the victim  too easily lead into the trap and a twist ending that involves a metaphysical phenomenon, but with no suitable explanation for how it could’ve occurred.

‘The Crate’ involves an arctic monster being found inside a crate that was underneath a college stairwell. One of the professors (Hal Holbrook) uses this monster as a way to kill his obnoxious wife (Adrienne Barbeau), but the logic on this one is loopy. First how was the monster able to survive four decades inside a box without any food or water? Having him encased in a block of ice and then unfrozen would’ve been a little more plausible, but the story is further hampered by the casting of Barbeau, who’s too young for the part, which would’ve been better suited for a fat old bitty that was more Holbrook’s age. The biggest question though is why would Holbrook bank on the idea that the monster would kill his wife and not attack him first and why would the wife, or anyone with half a brain, be dumb enough to get tricked into driving all the over to the college campus and then crawling under the stairwell to begin with as the reason he gives her to do it is pretty dumb.

‘They’re Creeping Up on You’ has the most potential and a fun performance by Marshall, but ultimately gets botched. It’s about a rich Howard Hughes-like billionaire (E.G.Marshall) who lives alone in this fancy, hermetically sealed penthouse that gets overrun with cockroaches. Watching the roaches crawl around is creepy and apparently over 20,000 of them were used. Yet having them pile onto each other until they create a roach-like mountain loses the effect, many of them weren’t even roaches by this point but instead nuts and raisins. This segment would’ve been better had it been a fancy penthouse with all the elaborate furniture trappings as King intended instead of a white room with barely nothing in it. This story also features a dead body, which clearly looks like a wax dummy that ultimately ruins the intended effect.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 12, 1982

Runtime: 2 Hours

Rated R

Director: George A. Romero

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

The Final Conflict (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Monks battle the Antichrist.

Damien (Sam Neill) is now appointed the US ambassador to England the position his adoptive father once held before he died. He uses this position as well as being the CEO of Thorn Industries to try to halt the Second Coming of Christ, which happens on March 24, 1981 during the alignment of stars known as the Cassiopeia Constellation, but problems occur when they don’t know which child it is. This causes him to order his assistant Harry Dean (Don Gordon) to kill each child born in England between midnight and 6 AM of that day unaware that Dean’s own child was also delivered between those hours and this secret he tries to keeps from Damien until it is too late.

This third entry is an improvement over the second film as it pushes the plot progression forward and enters in all sorts of interesting new wrinkles. The budget is high and allows for different setting locals including a genuine fox hunt, which I found entertaining. Neill plays the part pretty well and unlike in the first two is sinister throughout with his best part coming when he gives a prayer to the devil in a secret room next to a giant crucifix. The film also has a scene that reveals a secret underground movement of devil worshipers, which is made up of hundreds of ordinary, everyday people who get together at a secret, hidden location and take orders directly from Damien. This helps to explain where these people came from who help Damien in his cause, which is  something that was never shown in the second installment, but should’ve.

It also continues the trend of having novel deaths occur including a graphically brutal one that happens inside a TV studio that apparently due to its complexity took two weeks to film. However, the intended shock effect from these, that was so strong in the first film, gets lost here. Instead of being horrifying they become almost laughable especially since they mainly occur to the monks who are each given one of the seven daggers to kill Damien with, but they are so incompetent  that it becomes more like comic relief.

The killing of the infants, which Damien’s followers carry out, are equally goofy and include a segment where a baby carriage with the baby inside rolls down a hill, which will do nothing but remind cinephiles of the famous scene in the classic Russian film Battleship Potemkin. I was also confused during the baptism scene where the Priest supposedly kills the child while baptizing it with water, but it’s not clear what he does as we only see the shocked expression of the mother when he hands the baby back to her, which only creates more questions than answers. Like wouldn’t the priest get arrested for killing the child since he did it in front of so many witnesses and if so wouldn’t he unravel during the subsequent police interrogation and reveal Damien’s plot to them?

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s biggest letdown though comes with its ending. Initially it seemed that Harry and his wife would be forced to go on the run to hide their infant from Damien, which could’ve involved a very exciting cross-country chase, but the film ruins this potentially interesting idea by having the mother get brainwashed by the devil dog to kill the baby herself.  It then ends instead where Damien travels to some church ruins where the Christ child is being hidden, but we never see the baby and no explanation for how it was able to avoid being killed by Damien’s followers. The novel version explains that it was born to a family of gypsies and therefore no record of its birth was made to the authorities, but this is something that should’ve been stated in the movie.

Having his girlfriend Katherine (Lisa Harrow) stab Damien in the back with one of the daggers comes off as being too easy and ultimately makes the climax seem anti-climactic especially after such a big buildup. It also gives off too much of a happy ending feel. This is after all still a horror movie and therefore the viewer should be left it with a certain unsettling feeling when it’s over, which this film doesn’t do.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 20, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Graham Baker

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube