Tag Archives: Movies

Grizzly (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Grizzly bear attacks campers.

Inspired by an encounter that the film’s screenwriter Harvey Flaxman had with a grizzly while on a family vacation, the story centers on park ranger Michael Kelly (Christopher George) and his attempts to kill a giant grizzly bear that is attacking campers at a National Park in Georgia. Unfortunately his efforts are thwarted by park supervisor Charlie Kitteridge (Joe Dorsey) who refuses to close the place due to fear of negative publicity and invites in amateur hunters to find the bear that does nothing but create more chaos.

This is a blatant Jaws rip-off and follows the theme of that story quite closely including having three men team up to go after the bear just like the three men who hunted the shark and the impediment of a local political figure, which was a mayor in the Spielberg film and park supervisor here, whose concerns for lost revenue overshadows the obvious dangers to the tourists. At least in Jaws the characters were multi-dimensional while here they’re cardboard and Kelly’s confrontations with his supervisor are strained to the extreme.

The worst part is the killings which are some of the cheesiest you’ll ever see. A bear will attack someone and then in the next shot you’ll see an arm or leg flying through the air, or in Richard Jaekel’s case the head of the horse that he was riding on and then in the next shot a red paint splattered mannequin with a missing plastic limb. The tacky gore sends the film spiraling to such an amateurish level that the filmmaker’s would’ve been wise to have skipped these scenes altogether and simply kept things from the park ranger’s perspective who comes upon the bodies long after they’ve been attacked.

The story has no beginning, middle or end, but instead is just one long mechanical bombardment of pathetic special effects looped around the exasperated expressions of park rangers in their pursuit of the bear. The film also fails to sufficiently explain why the bear was in the forest when supposedly all had been removed, why he was so much larger than a regular bear or why one from the supposedly Pleistocene era would appear in this day and age and why he was behaving so strangely.

The park scenery, which was filmed in the autumn of 1975 near Clayton, Georgia is picturesque and probably the only good thing about the movie. It’s also nice that they used a real bear although he is clearly not a part of the actual attacks and much smaller than 15 feet, which is how the characters in the movie describe him, or 18 feet as he’s described in the film’s publicity poster. None of this though makes up for the film’s many lame elements, which are so bad it should be considered an extreme embarrassment to all those who were involved in the project.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 21, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: William Girdler

Studio: Film Ventures International

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

Hide and Go Shriek (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer in a warehouse.

Despite the film’s corny title this has rated well with users on IMDB, so I approached it with interest, but whatever it was that they were getting out of it I didn’t. The very basic premise deals with a group of teens who spend the night in a furniture warehouse to party. They play a game of hide-and-seek and soon one-by-one start disappearing only to later turn up dead. The elusive killer puts on the clothing of the last person that he’s killed and some start to believe that he may be Fred (Jeff Levine) the new security guard who is also an ex-con.

The approach is derivative and stays locked in the basic slasher film construct even though by the late ‘80s that formula was wearing thin and getting tweaked heavily by most other horror films that were being released at the same time making this one seem laughable contrived right from the get-go. The characters also reek of excessive ‘80’s fashions while having personalities that lack any distinction.

It was shot in an abandoned L.A. warehouse, but the filmmakers don’t take enough advantage of their setting and seem to only film things occurring in small areas of the place instead of trying to capture the entire inside of the building with long shots and bird’s eye views. The interiors are also quite shadowy and sometimes not easy to completely follow the action. One character, in an effort to look ‘cool’, wears dark glasses almost the whole time even though it takes place at night in an already darkened place making him seem crazier than the psycho killer.

The film has some unintentionally funny moments particularly the overreacting of the teens when they find their dead friend’s bodies especially their revulsion when one young woman (Annette Sinclair), who was tied up on top of a loft elevator, gets decapitated when the elevator goes up and her severed head comes crashing to the floor. I also got a kick at how they rip off the arms and legs from the mannequins to use as weapons, which seems absurd as they are made of plastic, don’t weigh much and would be very ineffective in any type of ‘battle’. I also liked the part where the teens, now locked inside the warehouse, madly pound on a storefront window to get someone’s attention, while a homeless guy, played by the film’s screenwriter Michael Elliot, merely waves back at them.

The ultimate identity of the killer is somewhat creative and actually even plausible, but his ability to wear the clothes of each of his victims makes no sense since all the teens have different body types so most of the outfits would not have fit. The film needed a killer with a distinct appearance and not just some shadowy figure lurking in the background like here, which is neither scary nor interesting.

If you enjoy original, quality cinema then this film is not for you. However, if you like cheesy, cardboard schlock with all sorts of clichés thrown in then this will be a perfect night of entertainment.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 1, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Skip Schoolnik

Studio: New Star Entertainment

Available: DVD (B/2), Blu-ray

The Killing Kind (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Always a good boy.

Terry (John Savage) is an angry man suffering from the inner torment of being sent to prison for a gang rape he was forced to participate in. Once he gets out he moves back in with his oppressive mother (Ann Sothern) who dotes over him and ignores all the troubling signs that he clearly displays. Instead of getting a job he spends his time exacting revenge on those who wronged him and then sets his sights on an attractive young lady (Cindy Williams) who has rented a room in his mother’s house. When Terry ends up murdering her his mother decides to help him cover it up because in her mind he will always be a ‘good boy’ no matter what he does.

The film is cheaply made with faded color, grainy film stock and an annoying humming sound that is apparent throughout, but Curtis Harrington’s direction gives it life and keeps you intrigued with its offbeat approach. It reminded me a lot of Paul Bartel’s Private Parts particularly with its emphasis on voyeurism especially how Terry secretly watches their tenant while the neighbor lady (Luana Anders) does the same to Terry.

Unfortunately there’s not enough of a payoff. The action is spotty and the gore is kept at a minimum. It starts right away with the gang rape, but then steps back with the shocks and pretty much implies all the other dark aspects of the story without showing it. The characters are molded into caricatures and more subtlety could’ve been used as to their intentions particularly the repressed neighbor lady blurting out her inner desires and thoughts to Terry without ever having spoken to him before.

Sothern is impressive especially since she was from Hollywood’s Golden Age and spent years working with sanitized scripts, so seeing her jump into such tawdry material with seemingly no hesitation is interesting. Savage’s performance I found to be frustrating as he seems to play the role like someone we should sympathize with, which is hard to do when he kills so many people.

Williams is the standout. Her murder scene is memorable as she struggles quite a bit and then forced to stay still in stagnant water with the same facial expression for several minutes. Later she’s shown lying in a junkyard as rats crawl over her, which proves she’s a dedicated to her craft to allow herself to go through that.

The ending fizzles and seems almost like a cop-out while not taking enough advantage of the other offbeat scenarios that it introduces. Had I directed it I would’ve done it differently. In my version the nosy neighbor lady, would threaten to go to the police about the crime, which she sees, but says she won’t if Terry, who had rejected her advances earlier, agrees to have sex with her. She then forces both his mother and her wheelchair bound elderly father (Peter Brocco) to watch, which would’ve given this potential cult classic the extra oomph to the dark side that it needed instead of coming tantalizingly close, but never truly delivering.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 23, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Curtis Harrington

Studio: Media Cinema Group

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Fatal Games (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Javelins can be deadly.

Student athletes with promising futures are suddenly turning up dead at the hands of a mysterious killer who pierces their bodies with a javelin that he is able to expertly throw from a far distance. Authorities fear that time is running out as more of them are killed and no witnesses or clues to identify the culprit.

Many consider this to be a rip-off of Graduation Day and while both films aren’t very good this one at least starts out better. I enjoyed the lighthearted comedy used at the beginning and how a formal dinner meeting turns into a big food fight and then a group tug-of-war. The film also keeps it realistic by showing the athletes actually training and conditioning.

In fact it really doesn’t start to go downhill until it reverts into a horror movie mode and dwells almost religiously in all the formulaic clichés seen in every other ‘80s slasher flick. The killings aren’t as novel as they sound and eventually become quite redundant. They are also lightly sprinkled in-between long, drawn out dramatic segments dealing with the characters relationship struggles and pressures to perform until you almost forget that this is supposed to be a slasher film at all. Most ‘80’s horror movies will have boring extraneous dialogue at the start to help create ‘character development’, but once the killings get going they will usually drop the other stuff and stick just to the scares while also picking up the pace, but this one just keeps the stale drama going, which along with its synthesized music score gives it a very amateurish quality.

The acting by the young cast isn’t as bad as the adult actors who speak like people under a trance. The film’s director Michael Elliot who plays a doctor who secretly gives them team members some ‘retardation shots’ (no joke that’s what they call it) and the movie’s screenwriter Christopher Mankiewicz who plays the coach give the two worst performances in the movie. Even Sally Kirkland, who plays the team trainer is bad and seems to be playing down to the level of the material.

The female cast is attractive and there is an abundance of nudity including one segment where the killer chases a fully nude Angela Bennett down the darkened hallways of the school. However, the film’s cute and perky star, Lynn Banashek, was too shy to take off her clothes and so in the scene where she gets a rub down by Kirkland scream queen Linnea Quigley was used as her body double.

The identity of the killer was a bit of a surprise and something I hadn’t expected and I’m pretty good about guessing these things, so in that regard it’s kind of original, but it’s still not worth sitting through as everything else is by-the-numbers.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: March 13, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Elliot

Studio: Impact Films

Available: VHS

Death Valley (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid tangles with psycho.

Before Peter Billingsley played Ralphie Parker he was Billy Stanton a 10 year-old-kid who gets shipped off to Death Valley with his mother (Catherine Hicks) and her new boyfriend (Paul LeMat) for a vacation. Once there he spots a sinister man (Stephan McHattie) driving around in a creepy old car. The man has just committed double homicide and fears Billy may have been a witness. Now he proceeds to silence the kid who proves to be surprisingly ingenious.

The screenplay was written by Richard Rothstein who later went on to write the script for Universal Soldier as well as producing the HBO anthology series The Hitchhiker. Apparently he came up with the concept for this story after vacationing in Death Valley and seeing a mysterious old car, the first car they had seen in miles, driven by an odd looking man. The story though is quite one-dimensional and offers little intrigue. It might’ve worked better had the killer’s identity and motivations been kept a mystery, or the viewer made to question whether Billy was just making the whole thing up.

Everything seems strangely sanitized particularly the killings which amounts to nothing more than a quick slash to the victim’s throats and it’s over. It was almost like they were trying to make a horror movie that was ‘kid-friendly’ or something that the ‘whole family could watch together’, which was a mistake. Having the protagonist as a kid instead of an adult doesn’t add any interesting perspective and the twist that comes at the end is not clever and something that I had actually predicted.

Hicks, in her film debut, is wasted and LeMat has about as much screen presence as your local garbage collector. Billingsley is cute, but he’s always put into a situation that he can figure his way out making the tension quite minimal.

The film was shot in Death Valley National Park, which allows for a stark ambience that doesn’t get taken advantage of enough. Director Dick Richards who burst onto the movie scene in the ‘70s with The Culpepper Cattle Company seems to have lost his way here. It could’ve been that after the financial failure of March or Die, which lost over 5 million at the box office, he was happy to get any film opportunity at all, but his heart was clearly not into this one and the result is a flatly told Hitchcock-like misfire .

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: January 22, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Dick Richards

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Evil (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Victor Buono is evil.

While cleaning out an abandoned mansion that Dr. Arnold (Richard Crenna) hopes to convert into a drug rehab center he opens up a trap door, which inadvertently spews out evil spirits that locks both him and his wife (Joanna Pettet) inside the place as well as the four volunteers who had offered to help him. Now, all six must find a way out of the place while avoiding getting killed by the evil that lurks about.

The film was directed by Gus Trikonis who was at one time married to Goldie Hawn and spent a decade making humdrum low budget flicks that had tantalizing plots, but only so-so results. This one is no different from his others, which amounts to a flat telling of a very pedestrian ghost story. Although I did enjoy the on-location shooting done at an abandoned hotel that since 1982 has been the home to the United World College of the American West.

The cast of familiar B-actors may interest some although Crenna’s stiff and overly rehearsed delivery is for an acquired taste. The beautiful Pettet is better and since she’s the one who sees the spirits and reacts to them while Crenna simply walks around spewing out platitudes she should’ve been the sole star. The rest of the supporting players weren’t needed although Cassie Yates’ clear blue eyes are always a pleasure.

The special effects are virtually nonexistent and all that gets shown are shots of the characters being physically thrown around by some invisible force, which isn’t exciting or creative. The only times there is a diversion is at the end when Victor Buono appears as the devil incarnate. Some consider this sequence hokey, but whole thing is so sterile anyways that it really doesn’t hurt it. If you do end up watching it the only thing you’ll really have to fear is boredom.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 5, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Gus Trikonis

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD

Amityville 3-D (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Same house, new owner.

John Baxter (Tony Roberts) is a reporter for Reveal magazine that specializes in investigating paranormal activity. He takes on the challenge of moving into the infamous Long Island home to prove that it really isn’t haunted, but when he does strange things begin to occur. At first he ignores them convinced that there must be a ‘rational explanation’ instead, but as the frights intensify he becomes convinced otherwise.

I hate having to give every one of the horror movies that I’ve seen so far this month only 1 point as I would legitimately like getting scared a little, but it’s just not happening. I was hoping this one would be better as some reviewers implied that it was, but it’s just as bad as the other two and actually even worse. At least the first two had some overreacting that I found unintentionally funny, but this lacks even that.

I liked the concept of having a protagonist in a horror flick not behaving like a scared victim, but being more arrogant towards the superstitions. Yet this doesn’t get played up enough. The character’s egotistical side should’ve been stronger and thus making it fun watching the shit eventually get scared out of him.

Candy Clark’s character has the same issue. Initially she partners with Roberts as a fellow skeptic, but shifts into frightened mode too quickly. What should’ve helped differentiate the film from other horror movies by having characters not falling into the hapless victim trap  gets downplayed so badly that by the end it’s completely forgotten and they come off as cardboard caricatures.

There’s also no connection to the first two movies, which creates a lot of discrepancies. The famous red room in the basement, which had been such a big deal in the first installment, is none existent and instead the viewers get treated to some bottomless well from hell. The quarter shaped attic windows, which were the home’s signature trait, aren’t even present at least not from the side facing the road.

The special effects are tacky and the 3-D effects underused. I spent the majority of the time irritated at how slow it was. The buzzing insects are annoying and in the segment where one flies around in Candy Clark’s car you can clearly see that it is attached to a string.

The fact that this film received only a PG rating is a red flag as no self-respecting horror movie should ever accept anything less than an R-rating as it signifies that it hasn’t gone for the gusto, which this doesn’t. Seeing a young Meg Ryan in an early part may be worth it to some, but there’s nothing else to recommend.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: November 18, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Fleischer

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD

Amityville II: The Possession (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their son becomes possessed.

A family moves into the infamous home at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York only to immediately start encountering paranormal events. Their eldest kid Sonny (Jack Magner) begins to display anti-social tendencies that eventually drive him to kill the entire family late one night. The family’s Priest Father Adamsky (James Olson) is convinced that Sonny did it because he was possessed from evil spirits that inhabit the home due to it being built on an ancient Indian burial ground and he takes it upon himself to perform an exorcism on the young man in order to free him of the demon.

The film is loosely based on the events of the DeFeo family, who lived at the residence, and was murdered by their eldest son on the night of November 13, 1974. However, the film deviates from what actually occurred including having the family just recently moved in when in reality the DeFeo’s had lived there for 9 years before they were killed. The film also portrays the family members as being awake and aware of what was going on when evidence had shown that most of them had been asleep when shot. There’s also a side-story dealing with a sexual relationship that Sonny had with his sister Patricia (Diane Franklin) that was only speculated never confirmed to have occurred with the real family.

This movie is only a slight improvement from the first one. Director Damiano Damiani manages to instill more of an atmosphere and uses fast moving tracking shots to create a point-of-view perspective of the demons. Also, James Olson plays the Priest role better than Steiger did in the first one by being less hammy and more understated, which is good.

Yet I still found the whole thing to be quite boring. The first half-hour is just a rehashing of many of the same scares that were done in the first one and we all know from the beginning how it’s all going to turn out, that the son will inevitably kill the family, so there’s no intrigue at all. The final half hour deals solely with the exorcism, which despite some decent special effects, is nothing more than a Grade B rip-off of The Exorcist.

There’s a lot of overacting too just like in the first one. Rutanya Alda, who plays the mother, is the biggest culprit in this area, which includes her death scene that deserves to be in the annals of all-time cheesiest death sequences ever put onto film. I was also confused why such an otherwise normal, well-adjust woman would want to marry a lout like Burt Young and having her show affection to him not more than a couple minutes after he had abused both her and the kids with a belt is misguided.

On the technical end the film seems to be done on a higher budget than the first, but the script is empty-headed and relies heavily on broad generalizations involving religion and ‘evil’. I also found it amusing that, like in the first installment, there’s a scene were the Priest tries to convince his church elders about the home being haunted and they scoff and insist that isn’t ‘rational’ when these same men have dedicated their lives to a profession steeped in supernatural, faith based claims.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: September 24, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Damiano Damiani

Studio: Orion Pictures

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

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

Midnight Lace (1960)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Somebody is stalking her.

Kit Preston (Doris Day) is an American who has just recently married Anthony (Rex Harrison) and moved with him to London. Shortly after her move she begins receiving phone calls from a man who speaks in a strange sounding voice and who threatens her bodily harm. When she goes to the police about it they’re not helpful and soon both her husband and friends begin to question her sanity and whether she is simply making the whole thing up.

The film is based on the stage play ‘Mathilda Shouted Fire’ by Janet Green and for the most part is well-done. I enjoyed the glossiness of it particularly the sumptuous interior design of the large home they lived in. So many times movies with this type of theme are given the low budget treatment, so it’s nice to have one done more on the highbrow level.

The pace is slow and there’s way more talking than action, but I still found myself intrigued. The voice of the stalker though could’ve been done better. I guess it’s nice not having it conform to the stereotype of a madman by having his voice deep and menacing, but this guy sounds like a cartoon character and it’s unintentionally funny. The set-up could’ve also been improved as it starts out right away with her being threatened by him in a park that seems a bit surreal and confusing since we know nothing about this character and a previous backstory would’ve helped.

The villain’s ultimate identity may surprise some, but the film tries so hard to throw in these red herrings to make you think it’s all these other people that a truly savvy viewer will start to consider the one that seems to be the least likely. The plot logistics aren’t particularly well thought out either, but this is clearly not something you’re expected to think about too hard anyways.

The film’s main selling point is Day who’s tremendous. This was a big stretch for her, but she comes away in impressive fashion. She vowed afterwards that she would never do another thriller because it was too emotionally draining and I felt emotional drained just watching her. What I liked is that instead of screaming when she panics she breaks out into a teary-eyed wail that makes her seem quite helpless, but still endearing. She stated that during the filming of these scenes she would think back to the real-life abuse that she suffered from her first husband, which makes her emotions genuine and raw and manages to strongly connect with the audience.

My only quibble and this was probably more the fault of the screenwriter than hers, is when her husband is struggling to fight off the bad guy and all she does is stand there and whimper. This was most likely a product of the era where women were expected to be more ‘dainty’ and not get involved in physical altercations, but when a guy is trying all he can to save his life and hers he might appreciate her offering him some assistance.

There’s another scene where she gets stuck in an elevator that is a bit botched too because in her attempt to sound like a hysterical women she comes off more like a gal having a weird orgasm, but overall she’s great. It might even be her best performance as she far outshines Harrison who looks too old to be her husband and wasn’t a good fit at all.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 13, 1960

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: David Miller

Studio: Universal Pictures

Available: DVD