Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Spectre of Edgar Allan Poe (1974)


Cinerama Releasing
Directed by mohy Quandour
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, Unicorn Video)

A young Poe is struggling in his job as a newspaper reviewer when his girlfriend appears to unexpectedly fall ill and die. However, during her burial she comes back to life. She is committed to an insane asylum run by an unethical doctor who experiments on the patients. Attempt to dramatize the early, influential events in Poe's life falls flat due to dark, murky photography and low budget.

The Midnight Hour (1985)


ABC
Directed by Jack Bender
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

Teens partying on Halloween night in a cemetery accidentally wake up the dead when they recite a curse on an old parchment. Their house party is crashed by ravenous zombies, a werewolf and a witch. Meanwhile, a cheerleader from the 1950s wanders the streets in search of her first love and finds it in heartthrob Lee Montgomery. Soundtrack of horror-themed oldies on the radio with Wolfman Jack helps set a nostalgic atmosphere, but the comedy relief gets out of hand, not to mention the dated homage to Michael Jackson's thriller in an ill-advised dance scene.

Rose Red (2002)


ABC
Directed by Craig R. Baxley
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Trimark)

A psychology professor at a Seattle college gathers a group of psychics together for a summer experiment at the sprawling Red Rose mansion. They encounter ghosts from the past and fight to stay alive. Stephen King's screenplay throws in every haunted house cliche possible in the hope of generating some scares in this long, episodic mini-series.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Dark Water (2002)


Toho
Directed by Hideo Nakata
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, ADV Films)

As a woman struggles with a divorce, she moves into an apartment with her young daughter. Water dripping from the ceiling is only the start of their problems. She catches fleeting glimpses of another young girl in a raincoat who turns out to be the same girl reported missing several years ago. Drawn to the girl in the creepy apartment above her own, she sacrifices her own happiness, and that of her daughter, for the sake of the stranger. Some truly creepy moments, but also occasionally overwrought with music that tends to overwhelm everything else.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Curtains (1983)


Jensen Farley Pictures
Directed by Richard Ciupka
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Synapse)

Actresses gather at a remote country house in the dead of winter for an eccentric director's casting call. Samantha Eggar seems to have the inside track since she has spent considerable time with him, even committing herself to a psychiatric ward as training for a part. When the dead bodies start showing up, she is the prime suspect, but since the murders are committed by someone wearing a mask anyone could be killer. This has more in common with Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None than the slasher genre in which it is generally lumped. The location shooting in snowy Canada gives it plenty of atmosphere and the creative set designs, especially the finale in a basement filled with theatrical props, only add to it.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Day of the Animals (1977)


Film Ventures International
Directed by William Girdler
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Scorpion Releasing)

The ozone layer is eroding and animals are going crazy in the mountains of southern California. The first victims are a group of hikers lead by Christopher George, who are attacked by vultures, hawks, mountain lions, wolves, snakes and a grizzly bear. The survivors split off into groups, including one lead by Leslie Nielsen who also becomes effected by the unfiltered sun rays. Others make their way to an abandoned town for a final stand off with the animals. A companion piece to Girdler's Grizzly from the previous year, with many of the same actors and locations, it's just as cheesy, and just as enjoyable.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Full Circle (1977)


Cinema International Corp. (UK)
Directed by Richard Loncraine
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

After the death of her teenage daughter, Mia Farrow leaves her husband and starts over in London. Before long she catches fleeting glimpses of a girl who looks like her daughter and hears strange sounds in her house. More dead children start cropping up after she holds a seance. Atmospheric but slow and convoluted, ultimately unsatisfying ghost story.

Killdozer (1974)


ABC
Directed by Jerry London
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

An asteroid crashes on a remote island off the coast of Africa where it possesses a bulldozer and proceeds to kill the members of a construction crew. Clint Walker is the foreman who tries to stop the killdozer and save his men. Poor imitation of Duel with a preposterous story and the usual wooden acting by Walker.

What Became of Jack and Jill? (1972)


Twentieth Century-Fox Film
Directed by Bill Bain
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

Bored youth living with his grandma schemes with his selfish girlfriend to murder her, or at least scare her to death. They re-route a protest parade in front of their apartment, convincing grandma that she is too old and they are coming to forcibly take her away. It works, but it turns out grandma changed her will at the last second writing him out if he married his girl. He somehow convinces her to help him find a new wife which they can use to get the money, leading to new complications. Drab, dreary film with unlikable characters and unrealistic situation.

Grizzly (1976)


Film Ventures International
Directed by William Girdler
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Scorpion Releasing)

Park ranger Christopher George has his hands full when a grizzly starts picking off campers. He enlists the help of bear expert Richard Jaeckel and helicopter pilot Andrew Prine to hunt it down. The plot borrows heavily from the previous years' Jaws, with bear attacks that show plenty of blood and flying limbs, though I'm not so sure bears can explode. Filmed in magnificent Todd-AO 35 with a soaring soundtrack by Robert O. Ragland and immersive sound effects, a must on a big screen.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Changeling (1980)


Associated Film Distribution
Directed by Peter Medak
My rating: 4 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, HBO Video) 

Distraught after the accidental death of his wife and child, composer George C. Scott moves to Seattle to resume his career in academics. He rents an opulent mansion from the local historical society at a bargain. He soon finds out it has sat vacant for a dozen years for a reason when strange sounds and occurrences draw him to a walled-up attic room. This leads him to uncover a hundred-year old mystery involving a powerful politician. A nearly perfect horror film pulled off with a minimum of blood or gore, just good, old fashioned scary with a compelling story. Turn off the lights and turn up the sound...

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)


Twentieth Century-Fox Film
Directed by Jim Sharman
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Fox)

Newly engaged couple Brad and Janet run out of gas in the middle of nowhere and knock on the door of a castle down the road. They soon find themselves doing the Time Warp with a group of weirdos and their transsexual leader Dr. Frank-N-Furter. When not seducing Brad and Janet, ole Frankie lusts after his creation Rocky Horror, a hunky athlete in gold shorts. It all goes wrong when Dr. Frank murders motorcycle-riding Meatloaf and he reveals his true identity as an alien. It's all quite silly, and quite irresistible. Fantastic set designs by Terry Ackland-Snow, including a stage show on the RKO-Radio Pictures logo.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005)


Warner Bros.
Directed by Paul Schrader
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Warner Bros.)

In Nazi Germany, Father Merrin is faced with a moral dilemma that will haunt him all his life. He travels to Africa to become a quasi-archaeologist where he heads a team uncovering an ancient temple. He befriends a young priest and a doctor, while clashing with the British military presence. Inside the temple, they release the demon Pazuzu who promptly possesses a crippled boy. Merrin and the demon square off in another exorcism. Director Schrader somehow manages to make a dull Exorcist film, marred by laughable CGI effects that take the viewer right out of the film.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Exorcist III (1990)


Twentieth Century-Fox Film
Directed by William Peter Blatty
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Warner Bros.)

Police detective George C. Scott search for a serial killer hits home when his best friend becomes a victim while in the hospital. Just down the hall in the psycho ward is a man in isolation who claims to be the previously executed "Gemini killer", and also happens to (occasionally) look like the also long dead Father Karras from the first film. It turns out that the serial killer was allowed to possess the body of Karras just before his death by "the master" as a revenge for his exorcism. It's up to Scott, a professed atheist, and a new priest to perform another exorcism to release Karras. Part police procedural, part horror film, with lively dialogue, especially between Scott and the killer while in the jail cell, but also too many attempts at subtle comic relief and some over-the-top moments of horror.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)


Warner Bros.
Directed by John Boorman
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Warner Bros.)

Four years after the events in the original film, Linda Blair is seeing psychiatrist Louise Fletcher. They use something called "synced hypnosis" to revisit Blair's possession and even further back to Father Merrin's research in Africa. Richard Burton is a new priest assigned to clear Father Merrin but ends up getting more involved than he planned. After entering a trance via the synced hypnosis tool, he travels to Africa to find a witch doctor with power over the demon "Pazuzu" sent by Satan to kill healers such as Blair and Merrin. They have an epic final confrontation at the house in Georgetown where the original exorcism took place. A typical Boorman film overflowing with ideas and visuals, some believable and some downright preposterous. A completely different kind of movie than the original Exorcist and as a result almost universally derided, but boring it is not.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Exorcist (1973)



Academy Awards, USA 1974

Won
Oscar
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium
William Peter Blatty
Best Sound
Robert Knudson
Christopher Newman
Nominated
Oscar
Best Picture
William Peter Blatty
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Ellen Burstyn
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Jason Miller
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Linda Blair
Best Director
William Friedkin
Best Cinematography
Owen Roizman
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration
Bill Malley
Jerry Wunderlich
Best Film Editing
Jordan Leondopoulos
Bud S. Smith
Evan A. Lottman
Norman Gay

Warner Bros.
Directed by William Friedkin
My rating: 4 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Warner Bros.)

Actress Ellen Burstyn concludes that her young teenage daughter is possessed after medical doctors cannot find a reason for her increasingly bizarre behavior. She resorts to asking for an exorcism by a Catholic priest struggling with his faith after the death of his mother. The priest enlists help from an elderly yet experienced Max von Sydow. Together they face an onslaught of profanity, sacrilege and vomit in their epic confrontation with the devil himself. Intelligent, and most of all convincing, portrayal of possession that gets my vote as the best horror movie of all time.

Meatcleaver Massacre (1977)


Group 1 International
Directed by Evan Lee
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, Atlas International)

College students on a joyride in Hollywood break into their professor's house, rape his wife, kill his daughter and leave him for dead. From his hospital bed, he calls on an ancient demon to take revenge. Each of the perpetrators meet a grisly death, with a particularly nasty fate reserved for the last one. Dream sequences add an atmospheric and surreal touch, elevating this above the typical low budget horror affair. A wraparound narrative by Christopher Lee is practically unrelated and completely unnecessary. 

Screams of a Winter Night (1979)


Dimension Pictures
Directed by James L. Wilson
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, VCI Home Video)

Vacationing teens break into an abandoned cabin and try to scare each other by telling stories. A "moss point man" terrorizes teens on lovers lane, a fraternity hazes new members by making them spend the night in an abandoned building and a girl gets revenge for a date rape. The wraparound narrative, though ridiculous in its own right, might be more interesting than the other stories, involving an old Indian legend about a wind demon.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Home for the Holidays (1972)


ABC
Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, Vidmark Entertainment)

The estranged daughters return home at Christmas to visit their dying father who claims in a letter that his new wife is slowly poisoning him. She flatly denies it, but when one of them turns up dead she becomes the prime suspect. A protracted murder mystery with the killer's identity held out to the end is all too obvious and overacted by all involved. A modicum of atmosphere is provided by a never ending thunderstorm.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Keeper (1976)


Lionsgate Productions
Directed by T.Y. Drake
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, Interglobal Home Video)

Christopher Lee uses hypnotism on patients at an insane asylum to commit murders. He plans to wipe out all of their relatives so he can inherit their wealth. A private detective poses as one of the relatives to get inside. He clashes with the local police who are also doing an undercover investigation. Lee is always worth watching, but the other actors are barely adequate and there is bad comic relief from the bumbling police force.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Dead Zone (1983)


Paramount Pictures
Directed by David Cronenberg
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Paramount)

After a nearly-fatal accident leaves him in a coma for 5 years, Christopher Walken awakens to discover that when he touches people he can see events in their future. He is hired as a tutor for a shy boy and his psychic abilities save him from certain death. Through his family he meets an insane presidential candidate, who, if elected, will start a nuclear war. It is up to him to act on this information or let thousands of innocent people be killed. Walken is sympathetic as a man with powers he doesn't want but can't ignore, but Martin Sheen's over-the-top presidential candidate is on the other end of the spectrum. Extremely well-made by Cronenberg from Stephen King's novel, but given the premise something of a wasted opportunity which compares unfavorably to psychic thrillers from the 70s such as The Fury or King's own Carrie.

The Stand (1994)


ABC
Directed by Mick Garris
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, CBS/Paramount)

Survivors of a plague have dreams which call them either to the "good" side led by an old black woman in Nebraska or the "bad" side led by a dude in boots and a jean jacket in Las Vegas. After a long cross-country trek, the good people found a new town in Boulder, Colorado, where they elect leaders and send spies to Vegas. Meanwhile, the bad guy is having difficulty controlling his rambunctious followers. A rather obvious allegory of good versus evil, with a particularly awful, literal ending, but at 6-hours this miniseries has plenty of room for characterizations from a well-chosen ensemble cast.

The Unknown Terror (1957)


Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation
Directed by Charles Marquis Warren
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

Americans searching for the "cave of death" somewhere in the West Indies (judging by the appearance of "Mr. Calypso" Sir Lancelot, early on) find instead a cave full of zombies feasting on fungi. A scientist experimenting with fungi on locals is to blame, in a sort of variation of the Island of Dr. Moreau. Subpar special effects sink it, particularly the cave of death, which looks more like a cave of soap suds.

Terrified (1963)


Crown International Pictures
Directed by Lew Landers
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

A killer wearing a black stocking over his head stalks teens in an abandoned western ghost town. One teen is a student researching the effects of fear on the human mind. He ends up trapped in a basement filling with water then gets buried alive. Meanwhile his friends go for help, eventually returning with the sheriff, but not before they are also tormented. The big reveal of the identity of the masked stalker at the end will not be too surprising.

Caltiki, the Immortal Monster (1959)


Allied Artists
Directed by Riccardo Freda
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

Archaeologists mistakenly awaken giant blob in the Mexican jungle. One of them is devoured and another nearly loses his arm, taking a bit of the blob with him. It grows to giant proportions when a comet supplies it with radiation. It's up to the military to save the world. Typical late 50s drive-in horror fare is fun if you check your brain at the door.

Terror in the Haunted House (1958)


Howco International Pictures
Directed by Harold Daniels
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

After a whirlwind romance in Europe, a newlywed couple move to a large country house in Florida. It also happens to be the house that the new bride sees in her nightmares and has been seeing a psychiatrist about. After the caretaker turns up dead she begins to suspect her husband or the owner of the house. Imitation Hitchcock (particularly Rebecca) that utilizes a gimmick called "Psychorama" that flashes subliminal images at key moments... detracting from rather than adding to the suspense.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Savage Intruder (1970)


Avco Embassy Pictures
Directed by Donald Wolfe
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
(VHS, Unicorn Video)

A homicidal hippie who likes to dismember his victims takes a job as a servant to a reclusive, retired Hollywood actress. After seducing and murdering a maid, he takes up with his employer. They host lavish parties in her mansion or go out with his friends. When she begins to complain too much he keeps her sedated by injecting her with alcohol. When that stops working he murders her and hides the body from the rest of the staff. He gets lonely and begins sleeping with and talking to a mannequin that looks like her. Uneven mix of bloody horror, old Hollywood and psychedelia doesn't really work. Look for Stooge Joe Besser as a tour bus driver. Shot in the mansion of real life Hollywood starlet Norma Talmedge. 

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1980)


Schick Sunn Classics
Directed by Henning Schellerup
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
(VHS, VCI Home Video)

Wiry new schoolteacher Ichabod Crane, a well-cast Jeff Goldblum, falls for beauty Meg Foster while brushing off the romantic overtures of the daughter of his boss. Local tough guy Dick Butkus also has his eyes on Foster and when threats don't work he resorts to trying to scare him off with nighttime rides disguised as a headless horseman. Nicely shot on snowy Utah locations standing in for New York, but the slapstick comedy relief and made-for-tv acting ruin any pretense of scares.

Curse of the Undead (1959)


Universal-International Pictures
Directed by Edward Dein
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

A vampire posing as a bounty hunter shows up in a dusty western town to claim the reward on a cattle rancher feuding with his neighbor. The town preacher finds some old pictures and quickly deduces the truth about his identity, but it's too late to save his fiance. More western than horror, but it does have the typical shadow-laden photography and eerie music associated with the better Universal horror entries.