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I don't feel so bad about my family now!, 11 October 2014

Revisited this after two decades since my only recollection of it was that it featured a lot of rain. Family matriarch Benjamin Morgan (Walter Brennan) has his three estranged daughters - Frederica (Jessica Walter, Christine (Sally Field) and Joanna (Jill Haworth) - join him and his fourth daughter, Alex (Eleanor Parker), for Christmas. His reason is simple - he wants them to kill his new wife Elizabeth (Julie Harris), who he believes is slowly poisoning him. This is an effective holiday horror with great performances by all of the leading ladies. The mystery by writer Joseph Stefano might be easy to figure out, but there are still some great moments of suspense. Some of it is pretty shocking for a early '70s TV movie. For example, there is one great bit where Benjamin is dressing down his daughters and he flat out says Frederica was a hussy in junior high. Don't think that would fly today. Director John Llewellyn Moxey does a great job creating the trapped, rainy night atmosphere and gets the most out of their location (which is the same farmhouse where Spielberg shot SOMETHING EVIL).

Freak (1999)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Captures small town America quite well, 11 October 2014

A mongoloid boy in a mask is kept in a dilapidated house by his mother. When she gives birth and tries to burn the child alive, he kills her. Ten years later, the mute boy is in a mental institution and sticking to having his face covered in bandages. He is scheduled to be transferred and, of course, he escapes from his driver Jason (Travis Patton). This is bad news for Staci (Amy Paliganoff) and her adopted 10-year-old sister Jodi (Andrea Johnson), who are traveling from Ohio to Virginia and cross paths with the boy. This is done pretty much in the mold of HALLOWEEN (1978) and doesn't offer anything really new to the genre in terms of plot. There are hints of something deeper going on here (is Jodi the killer's baby sister he killed his mom for?), but Tharpe never really expands on them. I'm not sure if I can credit it to calculated or inept scripting. Where Tharpe succeeds though is in his depictions of small towns, empty fields and isolated farmhouses. Shot on 16mm, the film captures tons of creepy locations and small town life. This would be on even greater display in Tharpe's second film RETURN IN RED (2007).

Return in Red (2007) (V)
Both the film and motive are mysterious and enigmatic, 11 October 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A mysterious white van travels through a small Indiana town and at night it blasts residents with high frequency sound waves that make some residents go crazy. Catching onto the strange things happening are TV repairman Bodecker (J.J. Huckin) and factory worker Katie (Amy Paliganoff), who is seemingly immune to the blasts. Tharpe's second feature film is a decidedly measured dose of small town paranoia that reminds me of Romero's THE CRAZIES (1973). One of the great things about the film is the viewer is never privy to who is behind these small town high frequency attacks. Opening and closing bits imply the U.S. government, but viewers are never given answers. That along with some genuine surprises and a few really creepy scenes made this enjoyable for me. It is very leisurely paced. So much so that Ti West would scream, "Pick up the pace!" Once again, Tharpe captures a small Midwestern town perfectly. There are also some nice recurring shot motifs going on.

Shock (1946)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Good atmosphere and performances, 11 October 2014

Janet Stewart (Anabel Shaw) arrives in San Francisco to meet her recently freed POW husband Paul (Frank Latimore). With his arrival delayed, Janet spends the night alone in the hotel and is woken up around 1am by a dream. In the apartment adjacent to hers she hears arguing between Dr. Richard Cross (Vincent Price) and his wife. She watches as he murders her and it puts her in a state of shock, so she is unresponsive when her husband finally arrives. The doc examining her recommends a preeminent psychiatrist who just happens to be...Dr. Cross! With Janet housed at his institute, Dr. Cross conspires with his lover/nurse Elaine (Lynn Bari) on how to be get rid of this witness.

A excursion into video roulette led me to this fun little horror- thriller that might be one of the first REAR WINDOW-type stories for the screen. Director Alfred L. Werker does a good job of moving things along quickly (the film only runs 70 minutes) and scores best in terms of atmosphere on a rainy night at the sanitarium. The cast is fine all around. Price is very good in his role as the doctor who is very conflicted on what he has done/is doing and seems to be helpless against the will of femme fatal Elaine. It is funny to me to see a time where a doc will suggest all sorts of crazy things to try on a patient and the husband is full blown "whatever you need to do, doc!" The story was completely ripped off for an entry titled "Mute Witness to Murder" in William Gaines' "The Crypt of Terror" in 1950; it was later adapted for HBO's TALES FROM THE CRYPT with Patricia Clarkson in the lead female role and Richard Thomas as the crazed doc. John Boy, how could you!

0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Oh man, that music/radio feed is so creepy, 11 October 2014

Journalist Anne Roland (Katia Winter) gets on the trail of a mind altering chemical developed by the CIA and used in their MK-ULTRA experiments when her old college pal James (Michael McMillian) disappeared after taking it. The journey leads her into the New Mexico desert as she teams with gonzo journalist Thomas Blackburn (Ted Levine, obviously doing Hunter S. Thompson) who was James' source for the drug. Unfortunately, she finds out that the drug doesn't really alter the mind, but makes it a receptor for things from an alternate universe. Writer-director Blair Erickson has the foundation of a great idea here, but it doesn't feel like he has fully developed it. Surprisingly, he also blatantly pays "homage" to his inspiration by having Blackburn bring up Lovecraft's "From Beyond" story. Where the film does excel is in a number of very creepy suspense scenes, most involving ham radio numbers stations that are very spooky to listen to. Unfortunately, the realization of the inter-dimensional ghouls is the same old tired look kicking around the genre since THE RING and THE GRUDGE remakes.

A long way from the fun first three films of the series, 11 October 2014

Dr. Magrew (George Peck) and his daughter Jane (Emily Harrison) run Magrew's Marvels, a sideshow that features the puppets of Andre Tulon (Magrew simply states that he bought Tulon's trunk of puppets at an auction; we're never shown what happened to them post-parts 4 & 5). They hire a guy named Robert (Josh Green) to work the show and carve some new puppets for Magrew. Naturally, the doc has more nefarious plans for his new hire. CURSE OF THE PUPPTER MASTER finds the series back in the hands of David DeCoteau, who previously made the good part III. Without the help of Paramount's funds though, the difference is quite noticeable. This is the first entry to not feature any original stop motion by David Allen. Even worse, 90% of the footage of the puppets is stolen from the previous 5 entries. There is one genuinely creepy scene where Jane discovers the burnt remains of a human-puppet hybrid in the woods and DeCoteau does have two surreal dream sequences where Robert thinks he is made of wood. But it isn't enough to salvage such a cheap production. It literally just ends with the characters never heard from again as the team went old school with RETRO PUPPET MASTER (1999) after this.

Haunts (1977)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
HAUNTS is haunting, 11 October 2014

Ingrid (May Britt, a long way from Sweden) lives on a small farm with her Uncle (Cameron Mitchell) in a small coastal California town. The town gets turned upside down when a small child is murdered and then a series of rapes take place. Ingrid suspects it is the work of local butcher Frankie (William Gray Espy) and tells the sheriff (Aldo Ray) her suspicions. Naturally, she soon becomes the attacker's latest prey. Chances are you will figure out this psychological horror flick before the film's revelation, but that doesn't deter from this interesting film by Herb Freed (GRADUATION DAY). Britt, the former Mrs. Sammy Davis, Jr., looks pretty rough but having her in this role is pretty clever casting for the stranger in a strange town. The film benefits from the small town location shooting, reminding me a bit of THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (1976). Perhaps the best element of the film is a wonderful score by Pino Donaggio. It really adds to the film's final haunting shot. It should be noted the end credits have a 1975 copyright date for both the film and the score.

Strangeness abound, 23 September 2014

In a land that has never existed, Cord (Jeff Cooper) is a fighter searching for the secrets of a book guarded by Zetan (Christopher Lee). Along the way Cord encounters a Blind Man (David Carradine) who teaches him the art of philosophy through martial arts. This all comes in handy when Cord must face a series of opponents (all played by Carradine). Wow, where has this film been all of my life? Based on an idea by Bruce Lee, this is a really enjoyable flick that is as entertaining as it is outlandish. Carradine shines in all four of his roles and he and Cooper have a nice rapport (they were apparently friends in real life). It is also wild to see a buff guy pushing 40 like Cooper to be cast in the lead role. If this was made today, it would definitely be a kid. There are some quick supporting turns by Roddy McDowall and Christopher Lee, but the film's cameo highlight is Eli Wallach as "The Man in Oil." Yup, he is a guy bathing in a big drum of oil in the middle of the desert with the hopes it will make his genitals dissolve. Seriously! The entire scene unfolds as if they let Alejandro Jodorowsky do one day of filming for kicks. Cinematographer-turned-directer Richard Moore never directed another film after this and it is a shame as he gets some great use out of the locations in Israel.

Watch John Huston's career vanish in THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE, 23 September 2014

Edward (John Huston...yes, that John Huston) charters the Black Whale III to take his family out to some Caribbean waters to search for what he believes is a sunken city. Naturally, they pass into the Bermuda Triangle and strange stuff starts happening (can you guess which actor disappears first, paycheck clenched tightly in hand?). It is up to Capt. Briggs (Hugo Stiglitz) to get everyone to safety. René Cardona Jr. was certainly getting his water freak on during this time period (this, TINTORERA, CYCLONE). The film is slim on thrills but somehow watchable. Cardona throws about every horror cliché at the screen and the crux of the plot rests on a young girl fishing a possessed doll (that may or may not be an old Triangle victim...don't ask) out of the ocean in order for the mayhem to start an hour in. He then throws in some other Triangle incidents randomly like some planes that go missing. There is also some nice underwater footage but Cardona ruins it all with some unnecessary real footage of two sharks being killed. Ugh. On a side note, did something drastically go wrong in John Huston's personal life in 1977? Divorce? Health bills? Loan sharks? Something? Because I can't explain his starring roles that year in this, TENTACLES, and Umberto Lenzi's BATTLE FORCE. We're talking three years removed from CHINATOWN here folks.

So-so "man on the run" thriller, 12 December 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Not to be confused with the PM Entertainment SUNSET STRIP with Jeff Conaway, this is an action-mystery only recommended if you want to see the titular location along with '80s California captured on film. Photographer Mark Jefferson (Tom Eplin) gets wrapped up in a mystery when his buddy who owns a club asks him to photograph an extortion. Sure enough, Mark is knocked out, the guy is killed and Mark left at the scene with the murder weapon. Of course, the police don't believe him so he is on the run trying to figure out who set him up and why. And, naturally, he is rekindling his romance with the club singer, Carol Wyatt (Cheri Cameron Newell). Writer-director William Webb does pretty much everything by the numbers here, so you won't be surprised by anything. As I mentioned earlier, it is interesting to see Sunset boulevard captured in all its 80s glory (look for uncredited Shabba Doo from BREAKIN' in an early scene) and there are some real vintage spots like when a chase extends into an L.A. Gear shop. The action highlight is probably a motorcycle and car chase through a parking garage. Webb would go on to make several more films, including the comedy DIRTY LAUNDRY (1987) and THE BANKER (1989) with Robert Forster and, full circle here, Jeff Conaway.

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