Tag Archives: Margot Kidder

The Amityville Horror (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their house is haunted.

Kathy and George Lutz (Margot Kidder, James Brolin) move into a large home that just a year earlier was the place of a gruesome homicide of six people. Though the idea of living where these murders occurred is unsettling they cannot beat the home’s price, so they take the offer. Soon there are bizarre occurrences and George begins to behave like he is becoming possessed convincing the young family that the place is haunted and they need to move out before it is too late.

The film is based on the Jay Anson novel, which was centered on the supposedly true events of the Lutz family who moved into a home known as ‘High Hopes’ that had previously been occupied by the DeFeos who were slaughtered at the hands of their oldest son Ronald in November of 1974. The Lutzs lived in the home from December of 1975 until they ‘abandoned’ it in January of 1976. Since that time many other people have lived there and none have reported any paranormal activity. The home, which was built in 1924, had no unusual events occur in it for the 50 years previous to the DeFeo tragedy either making me and many others speculate that the Lutzs made it all up because why else would they be subjected to the hauntings and none of the others.

(The actual house as it appeared in 1974)

In either case the movie isn’t very good and at many points is quite laughable. The film would’ve worked better had it been structured as a pseudo-documentary where interviews with the characters could’ve be spliced into the reenactments, which would’ve avoided it from seeming so mechanical and coming off like a formulaic scare-a-minute like it does here. The so-called frights are over-the-top from the start and there’s such a barrage of them that by the time you get to the finale, which should be the scariest point of the film, it becomes almost anti-climactic.

The overblown facial reactions of the actors had me laughing out loud at many spots particularly Brolin’s feeble attempts to channel a Charles Manson-like persona and Amy Wright getting locked in a closet. She plays a teen babysitter who walks around wearing one of those garish dental headgears and made me believe that the spirits locked her in there simply because they felt she looked too stupid. Kiddor’s constant shocked expressions at Brolin’s increasingly edgy responses becomes tiring and the part where Brolin shouts at the evil spirts that “This is my house!” had me thinking the spirits should’ve responded with “No it isn’t, it’s the banks!”

Rod Steiger’s priest impression is the Achilles heel. I realize there was a priest in the book, but since then that same priest as disputed the events described in the story, so it should’ve gotten downplayed. I didn’t like the supernatural events occurring outside of the home like when Steiger and Don Stroud are driving in their car and having it mysteriously breakdown. The house is the centerpiece and all scares should take place there otherwise it ceases to be a haunted house film at all and instead just another pedestrian story dealing with evil spirits that can manifest anywhere.

How some could find this scary is a mystery. I first watched it 30 years ago and thought it was tacky then and consider it even more so now. Just because it has managed to spawn a lot of sequels doesn’t make it ‘a classic’ and I feel it would be better suited for rifftrax of Mystery Science Theater.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: July 27, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Stuart Rosenberg

Studio: American International Pictures

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

The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975)

the reincarnation of peter proud

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Reliving a past life.

College professor Peter Proud (Michael Sarrazin) starts having reoccurring dreams where he sees himself living a past life somewhere in a small New England town and killed by a woman (Margot Kidder) while out on a lake. The dreams become so strong that they interfere with his job and even his relationship with his girlfriend Nora (Cornelia Sharpe). He travels to Massachusetts in search of the place and finally finds it and even starts a relationship with Ann (Jennifer O’Neill) who may be his daughter from the previous incarnation. He also meets her mother Marcia who is the same woman who he sees killing him in a past life during his dreams. As the three get to know each other tensions and dark secrets eventually begin to surface.

The idea has some potential, but director J. Lee Thompson gives the material a very standard treatment making it seem almost like a pedestrian drama. The dialogue is dull and corny, the characters cardboard and the storyline is predictable and formulaic. For what is supposed to be a horror movie/mystery it is not very compelling or intense. The visions that Peter sees in his dream are quite ordinary and generic and eventually become redundant. In fact the film’s only twisted moment, which is when Peter makes love to Ann, who is technically his daughter from a past life, gets treated like a sweet romantic scene instead of the underlying perverse act that it really is.

The story also gets farfetched including having Peter drives through every town in Massachusetts until he finds the one he is looking for. The character of the dream researcher, which is played by actor Paul Hecht, gets overly enthusiastic about Peter’s statements regarding experiencing reincarnation and becomes almost wide-eyed at the idea of writing a book about it and making millions even though a true researcher would be much more reserved about what Peter was saying and realize it would entail much more years of study before it could even be termed a reality. I also thought it was strange that when they put Peter into a sleep study the machine is unable to read the dreams that Peter is having about his past life. Supposedly this is because they are not dreams, but ‘visions’ of some sort, but wouldn’t that still create brain activity in order for Peter to see them and thus still get recorded on the machine?

Jennifer O’Neill is always great to watch simply because of her beautiful face and Cornelia Sharpe has a few choice nude scenes as Peter’s sarcastic girlfriend, but Margot Kidder is miscast as O’Neill’s mother. For one thing she is the same age as O’Neill and although they try to make her look older by putting some gray streaks in her hair her skin is still quite smooth and in need of some age lines in order to look more authentic. However, the scene where she masturbates while naked in a tub isn’t bad.

The ending is terrible and makes having to sit through this thing a complete waste of time.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 25, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated R

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Studio: American International Pictures (AIP)

Available: VHS

Gaily, Gaily (1969)

gaily gaily

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Naive fellow becomes wise.

Ben Harvey (Beau Bridges) is a sheltered young man who decides to leave the safe confines of his humble little town and make a go of it in the big city of Chicago in 1910. However, soon after arriving he is robbed of all of his money and then taken in by Lil (Melina Mercouri) a Madame at the local brothel. Ben then gets a job at the city newspaper, but finds corruption at every turn and when he tries to stop it he ends up falling victim to its allure like everyone else.

The first hour is engaging. It features just the right mix of Americana and whimsy. The pace is quick with a wonderfully quirky sense of humor that comes flying fast and furiously. Opening the film by having Ben dreaming of topless women and featuring some very old turn-of-the-century black and white porno pics is funky. I also liked the scene where Ben manages to make all the prostitutes at the bordello he is staying at teary-eyed after reading them a sad story that he had written. The look at Lil’s face when he tells her that his life’s ambition is to ‘change the world’ is a hoot.

Unfortunately the second half deteriorates badly. The scenes become stretched out too long and the attempts are farcical humor lack any cleverness. The side-story about the attempts of a mad scientist Dr. (Charles Tyner) at using a serum he has invented to revive the dead is stupid. The slapstick like chase sequence gets overblown and the whole thing ends on a flat and boring note, which is a shame. The sets and costumes recreating the period atmosphere are wonderful, but put to waste by the silly script. I felt the film could have been more interesting had it taken a more realistic and dramatic route.

Bridges is actually pretty good. He has played the wide-eyed idealist so many times that it becomes a bit annoying, but here he seems to be making fun of it and it works to an extent. However, his extreme naivety at not catching on that the women he is living with are prostitutes is just too over-the-top and makes you almost want to hit him on his head in order to drive some sense into it.

Brian Keith does well playing the type of gruff, brash character that he excels at. George Kennedy though seems stiff and out of place in the setting and does not appear to be particularly adept at comedy.

Mercouri looks to be having a lot of fun here and her singing isn’t bad either. Margot Kidder is fantastic in her film debut and one of the best things about the film. She plays one of Lil’s prostitutes who takes a liking to Ben and I enjoyed how her character goes from being jaded to idealistic and rather naïve. Melodie Johnson is great simply because she is gorgeous to look at. She is now a successful novelist and judging from the pictures on her website is still looking quite attractive.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated R

Director: Norman Jewison

Studio: United Artists

Available: Amazon Instant Video, Netflix streaming

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