Tag Archives: Horror

Black Christmas (1974)

black christmas 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s in the attic.

It’s Christmas time at the sorority house, but as the girls celebrate the season they continue to get harassing phone calls from a strange man who speaks in different and frightening voices. Unbeknownst to them the man has snuck into the attic of their house and the calls are coming in from another room. As the night progresses the girls begin to disappear forcing the lone survivor to fight off the killer by herself.

I have not seen the remake of this film and due to negative response that I have heard I don’t think I want to either. This review pertains to the original only. If you have seen the remake and disliked it you should still give this film a try.  Despite its low budget it is quite effective and it slowly builds up the tension in a nice compact style with a great twist ending.

Of course one of the things that make this movie so good is the humor. I loved Marian Waldman as the alcoholic house mother Mrs. McHenry who stashes bottles of whiskey in all sorts of goofy places. The vulgar Santa who swears even as the kids are sitting on his lap is a hoot and a nice precursor to Bad Santa, but my favorite is the poster of a sweet old lady giving the finger.

One of the best moments on the terror end is the part where the killer’s eyeball can be seen looking through a small crack in the doorway, which is memorable. The scene where the camera pans from each girl’s nervous and frightened face as they listen to the weird voices emanating from the phone receiver is very well done although it would have been even stronger had the Christmas music not have been playing in the background.

The performances are top rate and I liked the fact that the girls all have distinct personalities from one another. Margot Kidder as the vulgar and obnoxious sorority sister Barb is a scene stealer and I’d say this is the best performance of her career. I loved when she calls one of the more conservative members of the group a ‘professional virgin’, or has the audacity to call her own mother a ‘gold-plated whore’. The part where she gets a young kid drunk and even swears in front of him is also funny as is her conversation about a species of turtle that can have sex for three straight days without stopping. Yet through all of her outrageousness director Bob Clark still manages to create a three-dimensional character by showing her as also being lonely, moody, and suffering from asthma, which is good.

Olivia Hussey as Jess is terrific. She is poised, confident, intelligent, and sweet and the type of character the viewer can immediately connect with and care about. Her face has a wonderful fragility about it as well a natural beauty. The look of terror coming from her eyes seems genuine and the horror is made more effective because she responds to it in a believable and relatable way.

Keir Dullea is good as Jess’s high strung boyfriend Peter. I had to chuckle a bit seeing him here as it brought back memories of what playwright Noel Coward once said about him “Keir Dullea gone tomorrow”, which seemed to have some credence since he was starring in the masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey just a few years earlier and now delegated to a supporting role in a low budget horror film. I always felt that his reserved and emotionless delivery can work when given the right role and for the most part it clicks here despite the fact that he was pushing 40 at the time and not quite looking college age.

I read one review where the critic complained that he did not feel it was believable for a killer to be hiding in an attic and no one else in the house aware of it, but the house was a big old building and for me it seemed possible especially since it was only for a short period of time. Overall I felt this was a very plausible premise that is handled in a realistic fashion without all the glaring loopholes, which is one reason I continue to enjoy it no matter how many times I’ve seen it.

However, there are a few quibbles. One is the policeman who gets his throat slashed while sitting in an unmarked police car just outside of the sorority home. I would think a seasoned office would be able to spot someone sinking up on him while he is inside a car especially since it was otherwise not a busy street and since it was wintertime I think it would be highly doubtful that he would be sitting there with the driver’s side window rolled down. I also had to roll my eyes at the scene where Jess is trying to get out of the house as she is being chased by the killer and yet for some inexplicable reason the front door conveniently jams even though no had a problem with it before.

Bob Clark shows what a talented director he is and it is too bad his career and life was cut short in a car accident in 2007. It is one thing to have a big budget and access to all the state-of-the-art special effects, but it is another to make a memorable movie on a shoestring. Despite its low budget it doesn’t seem hampered by many of the limitations that other similar films suffer.

Some may prefer lots of gore, which this one has very little of, and a bigger-than-life monster or bad guy, but the reason this is a classic is because they go with the philosophy that less is more. Any self-respecting horror fan should see this film and most likely appreciate it.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 11, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bob Clark

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD (Special Edition), Blu-ray

You Better Watch Out (1980)

you better watch out

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: This Santa isn’t jolly.

As a young boy Harry Stadling (Brandon Maggart) witnessed his mother being groped by Santa Claus, which was apparently his father in the disguise, but it nonetheless created a disturbing image in his mind that shattered the ideal he had for the mythical man. Years later as an adult working a thankless job at a toy factory Harry starts to believe he is Santa Claus and even spies on the neighborhood children to see which ones have been naughty or nice and keeps meticulous records on each. Then on Christmas Eve he dresses up as Santa and delivers presents to some needy kids at a hospital, but also comes into contact with a group of condescending people outside of a church who he then kills. This sends out a police alert where everyone in the city including the regular townspeople is on the hunt for him and Harry tries to avoid them while continuing to deliver his gifts.

For some reason this film never created the controversy of portraying Santa Claus as a killer like Silent Night Deadly Night did even though this film came out 4 years earlier.  Critic Leonard Maltin came down hard on that one in his book, but seemed to like this one, which is the whole reason I gave this one a chance 25 years ago, but I remember disliking it. Since this film has managed to inspire a small cult following I decided to give it another chance, but I didn’t like it any better.

Part of the problem is that it is very slow and plodding with the majority of the film focusing on Harry as he goes through the daily routines of his pointless and lonely life. Nothing that he does is compelling and sometimes it is even confusing. It is hard to call this a horror film even though that is what it is considered because there are really no scares at all and the gore is at an extreme minimum. Maggart gives a solid performance in the lead, but as my acting teacher in school once said a good actor cannot save a weak script, or as he put it ‘you can’t shine shit.’

There are only two killings and neither of them is effective. The killing done outside a church is captured in a choppy editing style with bloody special effects that look fake and it is carried out by Harry while using a toy ax, which seemed ludicrous. I also didn’t think it made a lot of sense for the victims to have such a snarky and sarcastic behavior especially when they were just coming out of a church service. What is worse is that when the victims are killed no one comes to their aid to see if they can save them they just stand on the church steps and stare at their lifeless bodies. An APB is also put out which is broadcast on the TV news stating that the killer escaped in a white van with Christmas sled painted on its side, which is distinct enough that somebody somewhere would have spotted it and yet Harry continues to drive around unheeded.


The ending is the weakest part. For one thing some townspeople recognize Harry as being the killer Santa and chase him down through the neighborhood streets while carrying torches, but just where in this modern day and age are people going to find torches? Some fans of the film insist that this is homage to the film Frankenstein, but to be clever it still has to make sense and this doesn’t.  There is also the issue of when Harry drives his van off a bridge instead of going into the river below it instead flies off into the sky like Santa on his sled. Now, since the majority of the film was done from Harry’s perspective this might simply be his last delusional moment before he dies, but the film needed to confirm this and doesn’t, which makes it more annoying than anything.

Writer/director Lewis Jackson has stated in later interviews that he got the idea for this movie while smoking a joint and I think he was still smoking them when he made this thing. The majority of people come away from this thing feeling the same way about it that I did, but I know there are a few that insist it is ‘brilliant’ and if you are one them feel free to leave your comments below and let me know what it is you think I am missing because after two viewings I just don’t see it.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: November 10, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Alternate Title: Christmas Evil

Rated R

Director: Lewis Jackson

Studio: Edward R. Pressman Productions

Available: VHS, DVD (Special Edition and in 3D), Amazon Instant Video

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Where is Michael Meyers?

Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) is an emergency room physician treating a patient (Al Berry) who arrives in the facility clutching a Halloween mask and stating that someone is out to kill him. When the man does end up being killed Dan becomes suspicious that it may have something to do with the mask. He teams up with the victim’s daughter Ellie (Stacey Nelkin) and the two find that the trouble began when her father visited the Silver Shamrock factory. It is here that they meet the company owner Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) who turns out to be a maniacal man who has created Halloween masks that have a computer chip implanted in them that will kill the children wearing them.

Although listed as the third part of the Halloween franchise there is no Michael Meyers here, nor any of the other familiar characters. The idea was to continue the series by having creepy stories with some connection to the Halloween holiday released each year, but this film did so poorly at the box office that the idea was dropped. The original script by Nigel Kneale was meant to be a dark comedy, but producer Dino De Laurentis wanted to play it as a straight horror film and striped the screenplay of the humor. Had it been kept in the humorous vein it might have worked, but the idea is too ludicrous to be taken seriously with glaring plot holes that defy all logic.

One of the biggest ones is the fact that Cochran plans on killing the children by having them all watch an advertisement his company has created and will be broadcast on all the channels at 9:00 Halloween night. Supposedly there is some sort of signal in the ad that will set of the computer chips in the masks, which the children are all supposed to be wearing while they watch the ad that will kill them instantly while also creating deadly snakes and spiders in the process. How a computer chip could create live creatures is ridiculous enough, but the fact that somehow Cochran does this by using pieces of a Stonehenge rock that he has stolen is even more absurd. There is also the fact that if the commercial airs at 9:00 eastern time it would only be 6:00 on the west coast. Therefore the commercial would be delayed by four hours, which would be enough time for the authorities to figure out what was going on and pull the ad before it ever even aired in California and probably have Cochran under arrest by then.

There also the fact that Cochran seems to have no plan B here. The reason for why he is doing this is murky at best, but what he hopes to gain from it is even more elusive. There is also the question of how he plans to escape once it becomes obvious to everyone what happened. None of this of course is ever explained and these are just a few of a myriad of implausibilities that the story spits out. There are so many of them that they aren’t even worth explaining, but clearly any film that expects the viewer to overlook so many glaring loopholes is not good. The film is like a flimsy outline to an idea that no one bothered to think through with the details.

I was also unimpressed with the masks themselves and couldn’t understand why all the children would be so excited to have them. They looked like something one could pick-up at a cheap dime store and had nothing unique or distinctive about them except that they could supposedly glow in the dark. The factory where the masks where is made is equally unimpressive looking like an old, rundown, non-descript building that had no visual presence. I was expecting the building especially from a company that could create such a nefarious technology as these masks to be sleek, modern, and imposing, which would have helped create a more foreboding feeling. The commercial used to advertise the masks is unimaginative and cheap looking. The jingle used in the ad, which was set to the melody of ‘London Bridges’ because apparently that was under public domain at the time, becomes irritating to listen to and gets overplayed.

One of the few things that I liked about the movie was the fact that the protagonist was a middle-aged man instead of teenagers. The gruesome special effects are okay and veteran actor O’Herlihy shows enough sinister mugs to the camera to be fun. I also liked at the end how Ellie for some unexplained reason turns into a robot and keeps on attacking Dan even as he vigorously dismantles it.

Segments from the original Halloween can be seen in this one. The first time it is shown while Dan is watching TV at a bar it is a clever in-joke, but when it gets shown again near the end it becomes a mistake because it reminds the viewer how much better that movie is compared to this one.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 22, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Tommy Lee Wallace

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Halloween II (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Michael won’t go away.

It’s still Halloween night 1978. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is rushed to the nearby Haddonfield Memorial Hospital to have her wounds attended to while Michael Meyers (Dick Warlock) roams the streets. Eventually he becomes aware of where she is and stalks her in the hospital while killing off anyone who gets in his way.

The film starts out okay. I liked the camera closing in on the pumpkin during the opening credits and revealing the shape of a skull inside. A fiery car crash that burns a kid wearing a similar mask to Michael’s is effectively graphic and  showing things from Michael’s point-of-view as he peers inside the neighbor’s homes has shades of Rear Window to it. However, I was confused why it wasn’t shown through the two eye holes of the mask since Michael was still wearing it and that was how it was done in the first film.

Things start to decline as it goes on and deviates too much to the standard slasher formula. I forget where I read it, but I remember somebody writing about the perennial characteristics of a tacky 80’s slasher film and one of them was having a scared cat jump out at someone some time during the film. The scene where the hospital security guard (Cliff Emmich) is going through the dumpster behind the building I started to think that this is the part for the proverbial scared cat and sure enough within seconds one jumps out pretty much cementing this for me as a second-rate shocker.

Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis is solid as always. The intensity that he displays is good and seeing him as a good guy for a change since the majority of his career he played dark and twisted characters is refreshing. Curtis is also good in the reprisal of her part, but for the first hour she barely appears at all. I was also confused with the scene where she for some unexplained reason falls into a comatose state and then just as strangely snaps out of it a few minutes later.

The Meyers character becomes a detriment here. Having him constantly getting shot at and then bouncing back up without any rational explanation was irritating. He gets around at too many different places and seems a little too slick. For instance he’s able to cut off the phone lines to the hospital in some unexplained way as well as slashing the tires of every single car in the hospital’s parking lot. Also, where does a guy who has been institutionalized since age six manage to figure out the meaning and origins of samhain, which is a word that he writes in blood on a wall of a classroom?

There are other loopholes as well. For instance the hospital seems extremely dark and shadowy. Most hospitals I have been to are always well lit inside especially the hallways, but here it is almost like there are no lights on at all. The part where Michael stabs a nurse in her back with a thin surgical blade and then is able to lift her from the floor with it is ridiculous because the blade just wouldn’t be strong enough. The knife that Michael steals from an old lady (Lucille Benson) when he sneaks into her house is different from the one that he jams into the desk of a classroom that he breaks into.

The extreme lapses of logic are a big problem. When the film starts to have no bearing in reality then I find it hard if not impossible to get caught up into it. Clearly the screenwriter and director were making up the rules as they went along causing the climatic sequence that should have been suspenseful to be, at least to me, boring and annoying instead.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 30, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Rick Rosenthal

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video 

Halloween (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Michael Meyers comes home.

On Halloween night in 1963 6 year old Michael Myers stabs to death his older sister Judith. He is taken away to a mental institution, but fifteen years later he escapes and comes back to his hometown of Haddonfield to stalk three teenage women (Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Loomis, P.J. Soles) on Halloween night.

I first saw this film 25 years ago when I was in College and thought it was cool, but now on my second viewing I’m not quite as impressed. There are still some good things about it, but also in my opinion some glaring loopholes. I’ll start with the things I liked.

Cinematically it is a well mounted thriller. The lighting is perfect. The dark shadowy interiors create the feeling of menace and the little light that is shown has a bluish tone and resembles authentic moonlight. The music by director John Carpenter is distinct and has an effective up-tempo beat almost like a warning siren. The editing and pacing is great. It builds the tension nicely and has some creepy imagery.

One of the scenes I always found to be the creepiest is when Tommy, the young boy that the Curtis character is babysitting, sees from across the street Michael carrying one of his dead victims from the car to the house. In fact all the long shots showing Michael are the most effective. Somehow it was a combination not only of the way the actor walked in the costume, but his mask as well, which was apparently a William Shatner Captain Kirk mask that was painted all white.

The fact that there is never any reason given for why Michael became the way he did is also good. There are many similar true-life crimes where even after the murderer is interviewed by the psychiatrists they still can’t always come up with a satisfying explanation. Movies that try to show the reason behind why the bad guy becomes murderous usually end up being contrived and clichéd.

The three actresses looked too old for teenagers and in the case of both Loomis and Soles where already in their late twenties. Loomis though is kind of funny in her part especially with the way she interacts with Lindsey (Kyle Richards) the young girl that she is babysitting. Curtis is good and although I respect her right to going natural with the gray hair that she now sports I still felt she was at her most attractive when she had the long red hair like she has here.

On the negative side there seemed to be too many story elements that didn’t make sense. For instance Michael is institutionalized when he is six and then escapes fifteen years later and is able to miraculously drive a car even though he was never trained. The book version of the movie explains this anomaly by stating that when Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) would take Michael to sanity hearings over the years that Michael would watch very closely how Loomis operated the vehicle and thus ‘learned’ how to drive, but that still doesn’t make sense because watching how something is done and then finally doing it yourself are two completely different things. Besides if watching how somebody drives where enough then every child who watched his parents drive could learn it and there would be no need for driving schools. Also, Michael escapes from the asylum without any explanation, which seemed way too convenient.

When Dr. Loomis shows up in town and tells the sheriff (Charles Cyphers) that there may be an escaped mental patient in the vicinity the sheriff comes up with the logical step of warning everybody about it, but Loomis disagrees and his reasoning is ridiculous. Also, when Laurie (Curtis) gets a call from Lynda (Soles) that sounds like she is being murdered Laurie doesn’t do the most sensible thing and that is to call the police and let them investigate it. Instead she decides to go over to the home in the middle of the night and investigate it herself, which not only needlessly puts her in a dangerous position, but also leaves the two kids that she is supposed to be watching home alone in bed, which is something a good babysitter should never do.

I also had some problems with the setting itself. Now of course the town of Haddonfield is fictitious, but the state of Illinois isn’t. It is situated right in the middle of the Midwest and there are no palm trees anywhere within its borders and yet I spotted a few lining the streets especially near the beginning when Laurie is seen walking home from school. I didn’t buy into the idea that the Meyers house would stand vacant for 15 years either. There are a lot of homes that have murders committed in them that do not remain abandoned, or considered ‘haunted’. In some cases the original house is torn down and a new one is built in its place such as the infamous John Wayne Gacy house in Des Plaines, Illinois, which is now being occupied by a new family. The neighborhood in the film looks nice and well-kept. The other homeowners wouldn’t stand for a building being abandoned for that long as it brings down the property values.

When I first saw this movie I got a real kick out of the part where Michael kills a man and then hangs him by a knife on a wall and stares at the corpse in a child-like way. However, on second viewing I don’t think the blade of the knife would have been long enough, or strong enough to go through a man’s body as well as a wooden door.

The opening sequence where we see Michael killing his sister from his perspective didn’t completely work with me either. I liked the idea of seeing the action through the two eye holes of the mask that Michael was wearing, but I think if someone is stabbing someone else that they would be looking at what they are doing, but instead the eye holes remain fixated on the sister’s face during the stabbing that is being done on the lower parts of her body, which looked stilted and unrealistic.

Now, I know this movie has a large legion of fans and some may take umbrage to my negative points, but hey, I take my film criticism seriously and feel I need to say it the way I see it. That is not to say that I ‘hated’ the movie either. I still liked it overall, but when given the issues that I described above I can only give it 6 points.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 25, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Carpenter

Studio: Compass International Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: They were really hungry.

A group of people go into the deep dark jungles of the Amazon looking for a missing film crew. They never find the crew, but they do find some lost film footage of theirs. They bring it back home and play it and what they see is so gruesome that it startles the imagination.

This is truly a gross-out classic. If you have ever watched a horror movie purporting to have gruesome special effects and then walked away disappointed then this one will make up for the rest and everything else in between. No cutaways here and certainly no restraint for good taste. The effects look real and, at times, almost too real. Best of all is the fact that the story is handled in a realistic fashion giving the effects even more credibility. For instance the cutting off of one of the characters legs after he is bitten by a snake looks completely authentic. There is also a castration scene that has to be one of the most vivid ones ever filmed. There is also the cutting up of man’s body into little pieces and some really graphic rape scenes.

The film also doesn’t have that cheap look like with most horror films and it gets you immersed in the jungle atmosphere. It is well paced and builds up some really good tension. The editing is seamless without any of those annoying jump cuts. The music score is melodic, but distinct and effective making it one of the best scores ever made for a horror film. The eventual showing of the lost crew’s footage packs a wallop.

Former adult film star Richard Bolla plays the professor and the leader of the search party. He is credited as the star of the film yet his character is bland and forgettable. His only memorable moment comes when he jumps naked into a river and allows the adolescent girls from a nearby tribe to grope him, which has got to be a cinematic first. My favorite character was Chaco (Salvatore Basile). He is gruff and rough and absolutely nothing seems to faze him. He is so hardened by it all that it actually becomes amusing and I wished he would have stayed on for the duration.

The actual lost film crew is a vile bunch giving the film its main message of just who is ‘civilized’ and who is the savage. Their behavior is so disgusting that most viewers will actually look forward to their eventual gruesome demise.

The same cannot be said for the animals. There are graphic, ugly scenes involving the torture and mutilation of animals and it is not pretty. The animals flail their arms and legs and scream in very real pain and fright. It’s all handled in a distasteful and mocking way with the dissection of a sea turtle making even this jaded viewer feel nauseous. This will certainly be unsettling for animal lovers, but fortunately for those people the DVD release has a version that will cut out these segments while still allowing the viewer to enjoy the rest of the movie.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 7, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated: NC-17

Director: Ruggero Deadato

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Man can she scream.

Four young adults on a summer trip inadvertently come into contact with a mutant family and their chainsaws.

This is the type of horror film most others strive to be, but usually never succeed. The tension builds right from the start. It’s slow but consistent and eventually hitting on an almost unparalleled level. Director Tobe Hooper and cinematographer Daniel Pearl make terrific use of the location shooting. Between the music and visuals you are given an otherworldly sense. The atmosphere literally hugs you with the dementia of the situation. You feel as engulfed with it as our heroine Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns). It transcends most other horror films simply because of its intensity and grotesque perspective. It blends so many unusual things together and yet everything still works. It’s both artsy and raw, moody and exciting, humorous and ugly and a masterpiece in many ways.

If you are looking for gore you may end up disappointed. Despite its reputation there really is very little if any. Apparently they were going for the ‘PG’ rating, but even so certain scenes become almost laughable with their restraint. One scene in particular features Leatherface (Gunnar Hanson) jumping out at a man in a chair. He jams his chainsaw into him and yet only small droplets of blood can be seen coming out.

There is also the problem of Marilyn Burns running. By most crew accounts she was a slow runner. This caused problems because it would allow the assailants to actually catch up to her even though they weren’t supposed to. Both Hansen and Edwin Neal as the Hitchhiker have to do some goofy things to avoid reaching her. This is obvious in the final chase sequence and it hurts the tension a bit.

I still feel though that Marilyn was a good choice for the part. Her face holds an authentic look of terror and her screams reach amazing decibels. The graphic close-ups of her eyes are astounding and memorable.

This film makes its sequels look awful. A good companion to this picture is Hooper’s follow-up film Eaten Alive. It has the same atmosphere and intensity and is interesting in an equally odd way with Neville Brand making a unique villain.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: October 1, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Tobe Hooper

Studio: Bryanston Distributing

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray 

The Prowler (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Just another slasher flick.

A gruesome murder is committed during a graduation dance in 1945. Now, thirty-five years later, the town decides to hold another one and soon the gruesome murders start back up.

The film does have an unusual opening for a slasher film, which consists of actual newsreel footage from World War II. It also nicely recreates a 1940’s dance scene. The presence of veteran’s Farley Granger and Lawrence Tierney help a little, but not much. Neither is seen a whole lot and in the case of Tierney isn’t even given a single line of dialogue. Bill Nunnery comes off best in his brief appearance as a lazy and apathetic hotel clerk. There is also a good moment of juxtaposition featuring the girls dressing up for the dance while cutting away to show the killer dressing up to kill them.

However, the movie is incredibly boring and redundant. There seems to be no point to the murders from before and why it was even put in seems ridiculous. The teen characters are one-dimensional and useless. The scenes that are supposed to be intense and scary become excessively dragged out until they become dull. The much ballyhooed special effects by Tom Savini don’t seem all that gruesome. The killings are pretty much standard stuff with most consisting of just a quick slash to the victim’s throat and then cutting away. The only decent one involves the death of a nude shower victim via a pitchfork. One particular killing seemed hard to believe if not completely impossible. It involved the killer putting a large knife all the way through the top of the victim’s skull and then out the bottom of his jaw with just one swoop. Then somehow the killer is able to easily take this same knife all the way back out, clean if off, and use it on his next victim. The girls are decent looking, but there needed to be a lot more nudity to make it worthwhile.

Despite attaining a cult following I found the film to be unimaginative and formulaic. The killings are boring and there isn’t one single scare or fright in it.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 6, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Zito

Studio: Sandhurst

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

The Car (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: No driver no problem.

This is an expectedly dumb horror film about a driverless car that comes out of the desert and begins to terrorize a small town in Utah.

The film fails to be scary or suspenseful in even the slightest way. It is basically a Jaws rip-off put on wheels, but has no basis in reality and not half as compelling. It takes a weird idea and then submerges it with a conventional narrative. The car attacks are separated by drawn out soap opera style drama making you look forward to the attacks because at least they inject some excitement. The attacks though are pretty sanitized and at times even hokey. The ending is too pat and offers no explanation as to why any of this even occurred. The consistently sunny and picturesque small town scenes are not good at creating a horror atmosphere. The one brief moment where actor James Brolin confronts the car on a lonely desert highway is the only part that offers anything in the way of interesting surrealism.

The car itself really doesn’t look that frightening and resembles a toy car and moves around like it is being run by remote control. Its horn sounds like a cross between one used for a train or a boat and comes off as being more distracting than scary. It behaves more like a thinking animal than a demonic object. It drives away from the police and seems to have a strategy for what it does. The scenes where actress Kathleen Lloyd tries to ‘talk’ to it and its responses to her talking is downright laughable.

For what it’s worth R.G. Armstrong gets one of his better grimy character roles, but Lloyd is completely wasted as usual and Brolin seems as sterile as ever. Ronny Cox must be given credit simply for his wonderfully distressed facial expressions. John Rubenstein is engaging, but then gets killed off too quickly.

Director Elliot Silverstein adds a few nice directorial touches, but it can’t overcome the basic weaknesses of the script. The closing credits features the car seemingly driving around the streets of Los Angeles in apparent attempt to ‘scare’ everyone into believing that it might still be ‘out there’. Of course judging by all the bad drivers L.A. already has this car wouldn’t make much of a difference.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 13, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Elliot Silverstein

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD

The Dark Half (1993)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cure for writer’s block.

Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton) is a novelist who writes under the pen name of George Stark, but then decides to do away with it. Unfortunately this pen name slowly starts to take on a life and identity of its own. When George is ‘killed’ he becomes angry and starts to seek revenge.

Some of the things that I liked about the movie were the theme, which is interesting because it examines the idea that we are all two people. The one we want people to know and the other we repress. It also gives a thoughtful look at just how difficult writing a book can be. The climactic sequence is one of the most unique ‘showdowns’ you will ever see as both our hero and his dark half sit down across from each other to write a book of their own and the first one to finish lives while the other will die. There is also a nice creepy little nightmare segment.

However, there are a lot of things that don’t work in this movie and the majority of it looks like reprocessed stuff you’ve seen before. For one thing the musical score that gets overplayed. It’s like we are back in the silent film era and need it played in every segment just to keep the film going. The use of the sparrows as some symbolic reference seems awkward. They are not scary even when shown in flocks and having to see a shot of them flying around every other scene becomes annoying and redundant. The basic premise itself has potential, but gets stretched too far.

Hutton was not a good choice for this. He doesn’t display enough fear or emotion with the scenario. He approaches everything like a properly trained student of drama instead of as a method actor and playing the character’s dark half isn’t much better. He is supposed to be a creepy southern guy, but instead comes off as a bad, campy version of Elvis. The make-up effects never look realistic. It’s also irritating how these super smart, super clever bad guys always get so gosh darn dumb at all the right moments.

Amy Madigan makes a good non-glamorous wife, but accomplished actress Julie Harris is pretty much wasted although she does get the film’s best line.

Overall this is an offbeat idea that is given routine treatment. Having George Romero as the director doesn’t seem to add anything and he certainly has been slumming for quite a while.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 23, 1993

Runtime: 2Hours 2Minutes

Rated R

Director: George A. Romero

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD