Tag Archives: Movies

The Haunting of Julia (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ghost child haunts home.

Julia (Mia Farrow) leaves her husband Magnus (Keir Dullea) after their child accidently chokes on some food and dies. She then moves into a large home, which also had a child die in it years before. After Julia begins living there for a while she notices the presence of a ghostly spirit and holds a séance run by Mrs. Flood (Anna Wing) where she learns that a child was murdered by a group of other children lead by the mischievous Olivia, who is now the one haunting her home.

The film is based on an early Peter Straub noveI, but seems all mixed up in what direction it wants to take and I couldn’t understand why the first part of the story dealing with her child dying was even needed as the second half goes into an entirely different direction.  It also introduces a solid nemesis in the form of her controlling ex-husband who dies off quickly, which again left me wondering why his character was even put into the story at all.

The choking aspect is another issue and I was genuinely shocked they showed it as it’s hard to effectively pull off without it looking unintentionally comical. Having the child get hit by a train, car, slipping off the side of a cliff, or even drowning is far more dramatic and could leave a lasting visual impact whereas this looks as clumsily staged as it sounds.

The séance should’ve been avoided too since that has been parodied so much in movies that it’s hard to take seriously. The film doesn’t approach it with any new interesting angle so it comes-off as tacky as every other séance you’ve seen in a movie, even the funny ones, and yet this one we’re supposed to take seriously even though any sane participant would be convinced that the woman leading it was simply overacting for affect, which is how it looks.

The backstory involving the female child who was able to somehow control the other boys in the neighborhood to do her bidding had an intriguing element, which made me think that’s what should’ve been played out while the ghost angle dropped completely. Instead it could’ve analyzed the psycho young girl while she was alive and examined how she got the way that she did and what methods she used to convince the other kids to do what she wanted, which is never explored, but would’ve been far scarier than what ultimately gets played out.

Farrow with her super short haircut looks too much like she did in Rosemary’s Baby and a different do was needed to avoid the resemblance. Dullea has potential as the heavy, but then disappears too soon. The only one that does shine is veteran actress Cathleen Nesbit who hams it up as the mother of the killer girl, but overall the rest of it is a big letdown including the non-eventful ending that completely fizzles making it no surprise why the studio left this one sitting on the shelf for 5 years before finally giving a limited release that netted it very little in return.

Alternate Title: Full Circle

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 29, 1981 (Filmed in 1976)

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Loncraine

Studio: Discovery Films

Available: DVD (Out-of-Print), Amazon video, YouTube

Dominique (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dead wife haunts husband.

Dominque (Jean Simmons) is a woman suffering from a fragile mental state who is convinced that her husband David (Cliff Robertson) is trying to drive her insane. She eventually hangs herself and then her ghostly presence comes back to haunt him, which ends up driving him over the edge Dominique (Jean Simmons) is a woman with a fragile mental state who is convinced that her husband as well.

The film was directed by the talented Michael Anderson, but you’d hardly know it as the DVD transfer by Synergy, which is already known to produce some very low grade quality stuff and looks like somebody’s badly lighted, grainy home movie. Unfortunately this is the same transfer that gets streamed onto Amazon, so if you want to see this otherwise rare movie you’ll have to buckle-up and accept the substandard look.

As for the story, which is based on the novel ‘What Beckoning Ghost’ by Harold Lawlor, it’s not all that much better as the plot and characters come off as stiff and one-dimensional. There’s no backstory either, which I felt was needed to help explain why Robertson is an American living in England and what specific job does he do that allows him to be able to afford such a big mansion? There’s also passing mention of Dominique being in an earlier accident that might’ve helped explain her mental state, but it’s never talked about in detail, or better yet shown in flashback.

Initially it’s a mystery as to whether Robertson is trying to drive Simmons mad or if it is all just in her head. Finally towards the end he admits to it and supposedly it’s all just so he can get his hands onto her money, but wouldn’t it have been much easier to hire someone to kill her and make it look like an accident then trying to drive someone insane, which has no guarantee of working and could take years and years to accomplish? Also, if Dominique is already aware of what he is trying to do then why doesn’t she just leave him instead of turning to suicide?

The ghostly special effects consist of shots showing a piano playing by itself as well as a shadowy figure walking from a distance, which isn’t much and gets repeated at several different points, which becomes quite redundant. Both stars are wasted as well. Simmons is good, but she’s only in it at the start while Robertson much spends the entire second-half saying very little and instead relying on his almost constant shocked/scared expressions to help propel the plot along.

Despite all this it still manages to be moderately compelling and may appease those who are in to ghostly tales. The twist at the end is a definite surprise, but it also leaves open a lot of logic loopholes that makes the entire thing seem quite implausible.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 5, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Anderson

Studio: Astral Films

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video

Out of the Dark (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stalking phone sex operators.

Women working at a phone sex hotline known as Sweet Nothings suddenly find themselves menaced by a strange killer wearing a clown mask. One-by-one they start turning up dead and suspicions fall on a regular caller named Bobo, but the police have a hard time tracking him down, so the remaining women take matters into their own hands.

The film starts out with potential particularly the recreation of the call center that was completely on-target and had the film remained exclusively in this setting it could’ve been engaging. I wished though that the operators hadn’t all been single as it would’ve been interesting seeing a married woman working there and how her husband adjusted to it. I also wanted to see some character arcs especially from Camille (Star Andreef) who plays a ‘newbie’ starting out in the business. It would’ve been fun having her reserved and shy at the start and then eventually gotten into it after a few days as opposed to her diving into the unique job demands without hesitation right from the start.

Karen Black as the manager of the place is good and I liked how the film analyzes her different life roles from being a single parent raising a daughter to an amusing moment where she jumps on the phone to help out another operator by playing the part of a ‘three-way’ during a sexual fantasy. Unfortunately her presence is sporadic and the film fails to have any consistent protagonist only to eventually settle on two who are so incredibly dull and generic that is just makes things worse.

Tracy Walters is boring as the detective in a tired caricature of a gruff/crude policeman that doesn’t work at all. Divine plays his male rival, but is only seen briefly during the film’s final 30 minutes when he should’ve been given the lead and if he had the movie might’ve been an interesting curio worth catching, which at this point it’s not.

The killer like everyone else in this failed experiment of a movie has no pizazz despite his creepy mask and the comical comments that he makes after he kills each of his victims are annoying. I realize a lot of slasher flicks were having their killers do this at the time, which was all the more reason why this film should’ve avoided it. Finding out his true identity is a big letdown too and there’s never any explanation as to how he’s able to be at two different places at once particularly during the scene where he is shown talking on a pay phone to one of the sex operators and then almost simultaneously appears at her home where he then strangles are.

Initially it seemed, especially with its eclectic cast, that this was going to be a horror parody and that’s how it starts out, but after the first 10 minutes it careens downhill and never recovers. Instead of being a step above the usual horror flick it actually ends up being even worse and don’t let the cast of cult stars fool you either as this is not worth catching for any reason.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 5, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Schroeder

Studio: Cinetel Films

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video, YouTube

Clownhouse (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Clowns terrorize three kids.

Three brothers (Nathan Forrest Winters, Brian McHugh, Sam Rockwell) find themselves alone late one night in their big house when their parents are away on business. They try to scare each other by telling spooky stories involving clowns, but little do they know that three mental patients (Michael Jerome West, Byron Weible, David C. Reinecker) have escaped from a nearby insane asylum. They kill some men working as clowns at a local circus and then disguised as clowns themselves sneak inside the home where the boys reside and try to kill them.

This film has become better known for what went on behind-the-scenes as writer/director Victor Salva was convicted of having sex with the 12-year-old star Winters (no relation) during the production and ended up serving 15 months of his 3-year prison sentence at which point he was then released and has since gone back to filmmaking. To some extent even without having known this one could almost suspect that idea because, like in the movie Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom where the director featured a lot of underage nudity only to later be convicted of a similar charge, this filmmaker does the same thing by opening the movie with the boys walking around in their underwear and at one brief point capturing the young star’s naked behind, which was not needed and comes off as intentional voyeurism.

If you can get beyond the production’s notorious backstory then as a horror movie it’s not too bad as Salva shows a good ability at building a creepy, surreal-like atmosphere particularly the scenes done at the circus and then later at the large, ominous house. The only problem is that the setting is supposed to be a couple of weeks before Halloween even though all the leaves on the trees are green, which doesn’t exactly resemble fall.

The plot though is weak and it would’ve worked better had it not given away who these men in the clown costumes were until the very end, or maybe not at all. Having lunatic characters escape from a mental hospital is generic and it would’ve been more intriguing had the viewer suspected these clown as being a part of the child’s imagination instead.

Despite the short runtime the pace still bogs down with a premise that builds too slowly and drags out the suspense longer than need be. The mental patients behave more like professional clown performers and never even say anything once their make-up is applied, which is not believable and all the more reason for the film to have taken a surreal turn by portraying the clowns as figments of the boy’s imagination who have inexplicably come to life.

Ultimately it plays itself out too soon and lacks any type of final twist. Winters appears to be the same age as McHugh who was playing his older brother and at age 12 behaved more like a 6-year-old making me feel the the part should’ve been given to a younger performer. It is however fun seeing Sam Rockwell in his film debut and still looking very much like an adolescent.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 28, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 21Minutes

Rated R

Director: Victor Salva

Studio: Zoetrope Studios

Available: DVD

All the Colors of the Dark (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Haunted by her nightmares.

Jane (Edwige Fenech) is plagued by nightmares dealing with a blue-eyed man (Ivan Rassimov) chasing after her. She feels that the memories of the recent death of her child as well as the loss of her mother when she was younger may have something to do with it. Her sister Barbara (Susan Scott) has her see a psychiatrist (George Riguad) while her friend Mary (Marina Malfatti) suggests she attend a black mass, but neither helps and just makes things worse until she can no longer differentiate between her dreams and reality.

The film is a strong tie-in to Rosemary’s Baby and in many ways seems to be playing out the same essential plot, but doing it in a more vivid, graphic way. Instead of implying the horror like that one did this one goes straight to the stuff that was never shown or just briefly touched-on. For the most part I liked this approach as I always felt the Roman Polanski classic was too restrained and talky and could’ve gone farther cinematically with its intriguing premise than it did.

The visuals here are almost in-your-face particularly the surreal opening bit, which is the best moment in the movie. Director Sergio Martino keeps the viewer off-balance by constantly going back and forth between the present day and then to Jane’s nightmares until it becomes increasingly harder to tell the difference between them, which makes the viewer feel locked into Jane’s frightening dilemma right along with her.

Unfortunately rhe plot itself isn’t as creative and there were many times when I foresaw the twists long before they happened and could even predict when they’d come. The protagonist walks into too many traps that anyone else could’ve guessed was coming making her seem a bit dense while the cult-like mass segment had too many clichés making it campy while eroding from the rest of the film’s provocative style.

Fenech doesn’t look like the average housewife either, but more a magazine model and in fact all the women here have too much of that same appearance, which takes away from the authentic feel. Part of the reason why Rosemary’s Baby worked was because Mia Farrow came-off as fragile and vulnerable while Fenech has a detached look in her eyes that doesn’t allow her to emotionally connect with the viewer even though as the film progressed I softened on her more.

The on-going twisting of the dreams and reality eventually overstays their welcome becoming more annoying than intriguing particularly near the finish where too many false endings get played-out. Even though it never matches its first 10 minutes and isn’t as erotic as the film’s promotional poster suggests I was still glued to what was happening and it’s one of the more memorable Italian giallos of all-time.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 28, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sergio Martino

Studio: Interfilm

Available: DVD

Silent Madness (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mental patient stalks sorority.

Due to the similarities in their names a mute mental patient named Howard Johns (Solly Marx) gets accidently released from a psychiatric hospital and returns to the scene of his crime, a college sorority, whose members he slaughtered years before. Dr. Joan Gillmore (Belinda Montgomery) tries to track him down, but finds no help from the staff at the hospital who are more concerned in covering up the error to the extent that they secretly send out two thugs (Dennis Helfend, Philip Levy) to kill Joan so she won’t be able to tell anyone else about it.

It’s hard to tell if this movie wants to be a conventional slasher flick or a parody and the cartoon like opening theme music makes it sound like it’s going for the latter. Either way it’s a one-dimensional, low grade, monotonous excuse of a film that essentially has nothing going for it even when compared to other entries from the genre. Supposedly it was made to cash in on the 3-D craze, but there’s not enough action to justify it. There’s a killing at the start, but the middle drags on with Joan’s plodding investigation as to the whereabouts of the killer that the viewer already knows the answer to and watching these cardboard characters spend 80 minutes coming to the same conclusion that we know from the start is extremely boring to say the least.

This is the type of cheap crap that needs to be approached with tongue firmly in cheek, but Montgomery plays it too earnestly acting like she’s in a serious drama, which just helps to make it more intolerable. The killer is equally dull and for that matter really isn’t scary. I felt that the only reason the character was made to be a mute was because the actor who played him was a stunt coordinator with limited acting experience and therefore the less he had to say the better.

The only bright spot is the presence of Viveca Lindfors a talented and aging star whose career peak was in the 40’s, but who still manages to give this second-rate material here an admirable effort. Unfortunately she appears for only about 5 minutes as the sorority house mother, but then later becomes an integral part to the film’s twist ending, which was enough to earn this thing a measly point.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: October 26, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated R

Director: Simon Nuchtern

Studio: Almi Pictures

Available: DVD

Hell High (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teens regret pranking teacher.

When she is 6 years old little Brooke (Amy Beth Erenrich) accidently kills a couple by causing the motorbike they’re riding on to spin out-of-control. Now, 18 years later Brooke (Maureen Mooney) teaches at a high school where she has a confrontation with one of the students named Dickens (Christopher Stryker). Dickens decides to get his revenge by having him and three of his friends (Christopher Cousins, Millie Prezioso, Jason Brill) terrorize her by going out to her home wearing masks. Things though unravel when the demons of Brooke’s past come back to haunt her, which turns her into a psychotic killing machine right before their eyes.

To a certain degree this film is slightly above the usual cheesy horror flick level. Although the dress that the child wears during the flashback segment looks ridiculously campy I still felt this scene was the best moment in the film particularly the shot of the couple impaled by the fence. The on-location shooting is decent too as I visually got an authentic high school feel both on the campus and during the football game. The kids look like genuine teenagers too and they even manage to have distinct personalities. The spacious, remote home that Brooke lives in helps exude a Straw Dogs tone, but it was weird that she resided in the same place that she grew up in and I presume the only good reason for this was budgetary. The approach is offbeat and initially intriguing even though the tension gets destroyed by going off on a long tangent involving a high school football game that was not needed.

The biggest problem though comes when it tries to connect Brooke’s traumatic childhood experience with what she’s going through now, which is just too much of a stretch. If she is as mentally fragile as the film insists then her inevitable meltdown would’ve occurred far sooner like when she was 8 or 10 instead of having her supposedly lead a normal life and then flip-out like a light switch without warning. It’s also confusing why she doesn’t just call the police right away when the kids first started to scare her.

Once the killings happen it gets boring and mechanical and the plot would’ve worked better had it not been known until the end who the killer actually was. The animosity between Brooke and Dickens, which is well-played by Stryker who unfortunately died before the film was released, needed a better final confrontation that was more drawn-out as Brooke overpowers him too quickly making his transition from bully to scared victim not as ironic as it could’ve been.

For me though the scariest part in the film had nothing to do with the intended ‘horror’, but more with the incredibly disrespectful way Brooke gets treated by her students when she tries conducting her biology class. Teachers don’t get paid enough to be expected to tolerate the snide behavior that she does nor should teens think that is acceptable while in the classroom, which is sad and even a bit disturbing.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 12, 1989 (Filmed in 1985)

Runtime: 1Hour 24Minutes

Rated R

Director: Douglas Grossman

Studio: JGM Enterprises

Available: DVD

Deadline (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Screenwriter alienates his family.

Steven (Stephen Young) is a successful screenwriter of horror movies who’s becoming tired of churning out the same old formulaic schlock. He wants his next screenplay to transcend the genre by delving more deeply into the psychological realm, or as he puts it ‘the ultimate horror’, but his producer Burt (Marvin Goldhar) is more interested in what sells and doesn’t want Steven to deviate from what has already proven to be popular. Steven then takes his frustrations out on his family by ignoring their needs and becoming more indulgent to his own, which eventually leads to tragedy.

I applaud any movie that wants to tweak the horror formula and on that level this movie succeeds and is genuinely fascinating. Too many horror films act like there has to be a madman with an ax, or some ghost or vampire to make it frightening when really some of the darker aspects of life run far deeper and although this one isn’t a complete success it still ends up making a few keen observations along the way.

What I didn’t like is the way it overstates the importance of a screenwriter, which just doesn’t ring completely true. I admit a good script is always a vital element, but the movie world is still a director’s/producer’s medium and if the scriptwriter gets a smug attitude like he does here then he’d be quickly dropped as there are no shortage of other writers around. With the exception of Charlie Kaufman most films do not hinge on the marketability of the screenwriter’s name to sell it, a big name director or star sure, but never the writer, so the fact that the movie here plays like the main character’s presence is instrumental to getting the movie made seemed to me quite dubious and only when it’s examining Steven’s frustrations with the business and his feelings that his talents are being stifled does it then become on-target.

However, the more it goes on the less like a horror film it seems. One could almost categorize this as simply being a drama looking at the personal pressures of the movie world, the challenges of being a working screenwriter and trying to attain the work/life balance, which in that area it’s insightful.  The theme though is too existential and ultimately plays like an experimental film that lacks any scares.

Spoiler Alert!

That’s not to say there aren’t some good moments that the average horror fan could still enjoy. The scene where a woman drowns inside a tub of blood is good as is the twisted sequence where a grandmother gets set on fire by her own grandkids. The segment dealing with a group of old nuns who tie a man up, cut out his heart and then pass it around while taking turns biting into it is memorable too, but the climactic finish where all the writer’s dark creations come to life to attack him gets disappointingly  underplayed, which ultimately hurts the film.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 12, 1984 (Filmed in 1979)

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mario Azzopardi

Studio: Pan-Canadian Film Distributors

Available: VHS

Prom Night (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Accidental death spawns revenge.

In 1974 five children go playing inside an abandoned building, but when one of them falls tragically to her death the other kids agree not to tell in order to avoid getting into trouble. Six years later these same four children are now teenagers and ready to attend the prom, but become terrified by strange phone calls from someone insisting he saw what happened and threatening to kill them to avenge the accidental death of the other one.

As modern day horror movies go this one starts out well especially the abandoned building footage with the rundown interiors helping to give the film a creepy look. The lighting and camerawork are more polished than the typical slasher production and it doesn’t reek of low budget, amateurish values that pervaded just about every other horror flick from that era.

Unfortunately after a decent beginning the pacing then slows to a crawl and except for a few creepy phone calls hardly anything goes on for the whole first hour. At one point it becomes like a sequel to Saturday Night Fever with a prolonged dance segment between Jamie Lee Curtis and her partner that does not propel either the plot or tension and was out-of-place.

The side-story dealing with the police searching for an escaped killer who they mistakenly believe killed the child is pointless and apparently added in at the last minute. I would think a coroner’s autopsy would’ve shown that the child died from the trauma of the fall and not by someone’s knife, which makes the crazy-killer-on-the-loose angle ridiculous and an obvious red-herring put in to ‘fool’ the viewer, which most seasoned horror movie fans would never be dumb enough to fall for anyways, so why insult their intelligence by even trying?

The actual killings don’t get going until 1Hour and 2Minutes in and by then it’s almost too late. The killer also conveys seemingly boundless energy as he busily wrestles a driver for control of a van, which he eventually forces off a cliff while miraculously jumping out of it just before it goes over and then manages just a short time later to chase another victim all around the school where no matter which hallway the young lady chooses to run down the killer always magically is at the end of it ready to jump out at her. The decapitation scene depicting a victim’s head rolling down the stage runway at the high school prom has to be one of the unintentionally funniest moments put on film and had me laughing uproariously.

PROM NIGHT, David Mucci, 1980, (c)AVCO Embassy Pictures

Spoiler Alert!

Normally guessing the killer’s identity is the one fun thing to do while watching these types of flicks, but here that gets ruined by implementing a character at the scene, which was Alex (Michael Tough) the younger brother of the victim who died, even though the viewer didn’t even know he was present when it happened. It’s also hard to believe that any young child could keep a secret for that long as most can’t. I understand why the other 4 kids didn’t tell, but why the younger brother who had nothing to do with the accident and only witnessed what happened? Why would he not immediately run back home to his parents, as most would and tell them about it so they could call the police?

In retrospect having the flashback at the beginning was a mistake as there would’ve been more intrigue had we not known why these four were being targeted. Only revealing the flashback at the very end would’ve then heightened the mystery, which is pretty flimsy otherwise.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 18, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Lynch

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Eyeball (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer targets tour group.

A group of visiting Americans (at least they’re supposed to be American even though they sure don’t seem like it) traveling around Spain on a tour bus find themselves targeted by a killer in a red cape that gouges out the eyes of each of his victims. Suspicion soon centers on the culprit being one of the members of the tour group, but who could it be? Maybe it’s businessman Mark Burton (John Richardson) whose wife (Marta May) was suspected of a similar crime back home, or maybe it’s the elderly reverend (George Rigaud) who’s always spotted at the wrong place whenever the crimes are committed. Inspector Tudela (Andres Mejuto) has his hands full as the list of suspects keeps mounting almost as fast as the body count.

This film is a variation of If it’s Tuesday This must be Belgium, which involved a tour group from America going around Europe, but there it was played for laughs with no killings or mystery while here it tries for horror even though it would’ve worked better had some comedy been thrown as the dialogue gets very soap opera-like. The characters are a problem too as their reactions to the murders gets underplayed, which becomes unintentionally funny, and the way they blissfully continue on with the tour after each killing and acting like it’s no big deal makes them seem cold and inhuman.

The gore is cheesy particularly the fake looking gouged out eye sockets of the victims. In reality eyeballs are more oval shaped, but here they resemble ping-pong balls and the scene where the inspector takes out a small case in his office where he has collected each eyeball from each of the victims to show it to one of the witnesses comes off as being truly twisted.

On the positive end Bruno Nicolai’s bouncy musical score is distinctive and the sunny scenery, which was shot on-location in Barcelona, Spain, is scenic and helps add a visual appeal. The mystery at least on a minor level has intrigue and is full of all sorts of clues, which allows the viewer to play along and try to figure out who did it before the authorities do.

Usually I’m able to guess the identity of a killer long before anyone else does, but in this case I was honestly shocked, so in that regard it was fun even though the motivation for why the individual does it was over-the-top. If you’re looking for 90-minutes of a whodunit, which is ultimately all this thing really is, with just enough tacky gore thrown in for cheap laughs, then it might be worth considering.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 24, 1975

Runtime: 1Hou 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Umberto Lenzi

Studio: Estrela Films

Available: DVD-R (as The Secret Killer)