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Shriek of the Mutilated (1974)
Primo yeti sleaze
Did you get excited as a child when October came around and cheap Halloween stuff started showing up in the stores? Did you listen to scary sound effects records with the lights out? Did you scour newspaper movie listings to find out what R-rated horror films were showing at the drive in theaters? If the answer to any of these is "Yes", then you will probably really enjoy "Shriek Of The Mutilated", which is the best low budget film ever made for about $15 (plus tax).
In terms of sheer cheapo horror audacity, you can't get much better than "Shriek of the Mutilated", which aspires to bizarre greatness by combining both the bigfoot and cannibal genres. Although there is something to be said for watching a film without knowing the twists and surprises, it really doesn't affect "Shriek Of The Mutilated" if you know its secrets beforehand. In fact, the producers of the movie commissioned a poster that reveals the film's big secret right in the tag line, "A frenzied hunt for a hideous beast uncovers an evil cannibal cult, and death is the devil's blessing!"
The movie is a total 70s time capsule, littered with severed bloody limbs, as four groovy college kids accompany their professor to an isolated estate where Yeti sightings have occurred. Determined to prove the beast exists, the Professor pushes the kids to stay despite the fact that one by one they are being stalked and murdered by an ominous figure covered in furry white shag. In a Scooby Doo plot development, the Yeti turns out to be a ruse: it's the professor and his evil cohorts posing as the Yeti, and they are part of an international cult of cannibals who lure kids into becoming victims, especially one in particular who they want to frighten to death as part of their ritual.
You will enjoy the movie a lot more knowing this twist is coming, as the Yeti looks really fake and the fact that it's SUPPOSED to be fake in the story somewhat excuses this. Somewhat.
What you won't see coming is a stunning double homicide early in the film (the homicide isn't the shocker, it's the method). Also, the 70s fashions and decor will either repulse or delight you. The acting is straight out of an early John Waters film, which the entire movie greatly resembles.
I know a lot of people will tell you "Shriek Of The Mutilated" is a bad film, but they're missing the point here. No matter how the movie looks, sounds, or plays, you will probably enjoy it if you like cheap these kinds of cheap drive-in exploitation movies. Seek it out!
Wonder Woman: Amazon Hot Wax (1979)
Lynda Carter Sings
Lynda Carter performs two songs from her album "Portrait" on this episode, "Want To Get Beside You" and "Toto". Diana poses as an unknown pop singer named Kathy to get the inside track on a record label extortion operation. It seems the label's number one big selling artist has died, and some bad guys who undoubtedly have phones in their cars are trying to blackmail the label by holding the master tapes of his now-final album for ransom. That crazy IADC, you'd think they wouldn't be all that interested in an extortion racket going on at a little ole record label, but....OH MY GOD, is that RICK SPRINGFIELD?? Yes. That working class dog appears in this as one member of far-out rock trio Anti-matter, who appear to have ingested nothing but cocaine for the past five days.
You know what could possibly be wrong with an episode like this? Not enough Wonder Woman. It's ages before we get a transformation in this one. At one point before a commercial break, a man sees Diana's shadow as she twirls, teasing us that her secret is about to be not so secret anymore. But alas, in the middle of what was sure to be the longest twirl in the series, she notices she's not alone and halts, leading me to wonder what the hell that sneaky spy thinks she was doing spinning around in the hall like that. These young musicians these days, with their funny white powder!
So yeah yeah, in the middle of all this Diana Prince action and Lynda Carter singing, there's some obligatory Wonder Woman action, including an amazing sequence where she puts her wonder eardrums to work to turn off a speaker with a serious case of feedback. Who knew she had THAT ability?
With a little more Wonder Woman, this could have been one of the best of the series, but it's still a pretty good ep.
Disco UFOs over Pittsburg! (sic)
Notes while watching "The Starships Are Coming":
- That is one seriously disco UFO. It's totally Michael Zager Band.
- WZAB in Pittsburg? I think they mentioned the Allegheny Mountains, so I'm pretty sure this isn't Pittsburg, California. They spelled the name of the city wrong!
- Diana's scotch vest is DA BOMB.
- We see the IADC Zoom at least THREE times, and in very close succession I might add. Someone wasn't paying attention, or else they were doing lots of coke in the editing room and this made total sense.
- Lynda Carter's delivery when she hears the villain's master plan and says "You really are insane"--BRILLIANT.
- The IADC is at the top of technology. Steve's desk has everything except an espresso machine and the best they can come up with is a 13" TV to watch doomsday on.
- Good god... when the final countdown is halted, it's totally a VHS tape on pause!!
- Is Bobbie the new Eve? What happened to Eve, anyway? Did the aliens get her, too? Or is Eve's disappearance from the show (as well as Joe's) supposed to have taken place during one of those off camera important events that we don't know about? Kind of like when Diana talks about people we don't know as if she has a long history with them, one we've never seen on the show? The "Wonder Woman" universe seems to imply there are numerous adventures we DON'T see happening, and that's just teasing.
- Oh wow that actor playing the General is the same actor who played Andros in a REAL alien episode in Season One! MIND WARP.
- I wonder where this flying saucer battle stock footage came from?
- Diana delivers the freeze-frame smile while implying she's become so intimate with this week's characters that she will be invited to their wedding. Now see HERE is a relationship we see forming! Hopefully they were planning in Season Four for Diana to revisit them and help them work through their marriage problems while facing off against a local supervillain. And staying in constant contact with Steve Trevor by phone.
Mark? Mark, where are you? Mark?? Mark?? Where are you?
Notes while watching "The Girl With A Gift For Disaster":
Diana and Steve seem to know everybody. Mention any given criminal of note and Diana will say something that suggests she knows their crimes intimately. But the show rarely backs this up and shows us a character more than once!
The 1st Transformation is a HUGE deal on any "Wonder Woman" episode. In this one, it happens suddenly, when we barely even knew Diana was part of the action yet. Weird!
Dick Butkus??! ALRIGHT!
OK this plot involves a girl who's bad luck who is so dumb she's being manipulated by every person she comes into contact with. In one scene, she wanders around stupidly repeating "Mark? Mark? Where are you? Mark?" Did this woman escape an institution? Because it seems she doesn't get out on her own very often.
I love when the characters refer to Wonder Woman in the third person. She's not only a legend, she's a real person to them. Steve says "Wonder Woman must have been joking!" HA!
What kind of coffee does the IADC serve? Because it's a focal point of any of the office scenes.
The "IADC Zoom" is conspicuously subdued in this episode. Booooo.
Ira's voice changes too often. Sometime's it's all super robot distorted, and other times it's just someone reading dialogue and sounding bored. Rover, on the other hand, is so tweaked out I can't understand a damn thing he says. It's in some inhuman register. THAT is the voice that needs to change.
Wait, Steve calls Diana "Di"?? When did that happen?
The conclusion goes for comedy, then leaves Diana alone in the office to give the freeze-frame smile in a short monologue! Interesting twist, writers.
Lynda Carter sure is pretty.
Couldn't they have at least written one shower scene for Dick Butkus? Boooo.
Wonder Woman: Anschluss '77 (1977)
In which I discuss tonight's episode with my friend Jeffrey.
ME: I watched the second episode of WWS2. In South America, Diana and Steve discover a secret Nazi encampment who are cloning Hitler. But it's a Frankenstein type of cloning, where someone turns on a machine and 120 seconds later, there's a living breathing clone of Hitler with full intelligence, memories and personality.
ME: The fact that someone has discovered the science of doing this is almost secondary to the plot. By the end of the episode, Steve and Diana are completely unmoved that this has been accomplished.
J: They were still trying to bleed off what worked from season 1. Hmm...how can Hitler show up in 1977...
ME: Human life is changed forever, and instead of being in awe of it, Wonder Woman blows up their lab and ruins it.
ME: Never mind this person conquered physics, science, and medical reality. He only had one leg and his methods allowed him to grow another one. This means nothing to Wonder Woman. It could heal amputees, change the lives of crippled people, even eliminate the concept of being physically handicapped in any way, and Wonder Woman decides this is not good for the human race and destroys it.
J: Did they try to clone wonder woman?
ME: No. If they had, they'd have had a race of cold-hearted, naive megalomaniacs who enjoy wearing costumes and making themselves the center of attention. Diana is clearly not possessed of a sound mind. A highlight of the episode was when Wonder Woman was forced to don a second disguise, as the Nazi doctor's "lab assistant". She removed her tiara and put on a white lab coat. She even got to salute "Heil Hitler".
J: She had to have the rest on underneath or she'd be a normal person.
ME: That's what I thought, too. Well, the belt has to stay on no matter what, or she's powerless.
J: Not to mention prone to sexual assault.
ME: It was rather impressive, Lynda Carter dangled from a helicopter for real. Wonder Woman illogically decided to follow the Nazis by surreptitiously clinging to the bottom of their helicopter, somehow without them ever knowing she was there. She also disengaged from it and circled the clearing where they landed, and they didn't see her do that, either.
J: She probably loved doing that crap, she was young.
ME: But this looks really dangerous, for real. I can't believe she did it. There was one shot where you could really see just how high up she was, they flew between these two mountains and it was significantly high. I was pissing myself, and it wasn't even me hanging from that helicopter.
J: Impressive, and all in that outfit, even.
Keep My Grave Open (1976)
More 70s doom from S.F. Brownrigg
Insanity seemed to be S.F. Brownrigg's greatest interest, as all four of his horror films were about crazy people doing crazy things in some out- of-the-way place where they were allowed to run rampant. "Keep My Grave Open" doesn't have the large cast of his earlier (and better) "Don't Look In The Basement", but what it does have is a great performance by Camilla Carr in the lead role as Lesley, a disturbed woman who carries with her the alternate personality of her brother, Kevin. When Lesley becomes Kevin, she is naturally a murderous psycho, in this case dispatching unwelcome visitors to her rural mansion with a long, sharp sword.
"Keep My Grave Open" is just as beautifully cheap as the rest of Brownrigg's movies. It goes without saying that "Don't Look In The Basement" is the best of his films, but that's mainly because the individual elements (script, concept, acting, direction) were so good. I've never seen "Scum of the Earth", but I did see "Don't Open the Door!", and that one suffered a little in the concept and script. Although "Keep My Grave Open" doesn't have a terrific script either, Brownrigg does better at emphasizing other parts of the production, most notably the cinematography and atmospheric details. Lesley's solitude at the secluded mansion leaves her alone for a lot of the film's lengthy set pieces, such as one sequence that shows her meticulously putting on exaggerated makeup and attempting seduce Kevin, whom she believes lives with her. Brownrigg does this weird point-of-view camera shot where "Kevin" starts to make love to Lesley, the camera getting on top of her and getting right up against her face for these intense closeups.
I could see many viewers being turned off by all of this and finding it dull, but honestly I thought it was unusual and surreal, even disturbing. Carr really brings Lesley and her fragile mental condition to life, and that makes these sequences work very well. There are only a few overt horror sequences in the film, which will definitely turn some viewers off. The gore factor is very low, and the death scenes are not particularly explicit.
I liked this one way better than "Don't Open the Door!", and now I can't wait to see "Scum of the Earth" to complete my quest to see all four of the horror films from Brownrigg's short career as a director.
The House of the Devil (2009)
Astonishing work here from all involved.
"The House of the Devil" emulates horror films from an era of filmmaking that has come and gone, and that's why it rules. It also made me think a lot about what makes people say that movies from a previous decade are better than current films. Were horror movies really better in the 70s than they are now, or do older audiences just find it hard to relate to stylistic changes in cinema?
"The House of the Devil" is set in the early 80s, and has one of the most authentic looking recreations of that time period that I've ever seen in a film. When making a movie set in "the 80s", the temptation might be to cram too many obvious things into the same film, like pervasive day-glo fashions and outrageous hairstyles. Instead, the hair and clothes really do look a lot like the early 80s, which were simply a slight evolution of earlier 70s styles.
Too often when a director sets out to make a movie like this, it ends up being a case of style over substance. Ti West's previous film, "The Roost" is one of the first things that comes to mind. It was an awkward collage of ideas, combining a disjointed zombie movie with a wraparound horror host gimmick that resembled no horror host show I ever lived through. It was an interesting concept though, and it was clear that West was developing his craft.
In "The House of the Devil" he gets the balance right in an amazing slow burn. It's obvious that West is a really big geek for exploitation films from the 1970s and 1980s, and he also understands how to create an atmosphere for his films through a careful manipulation of everything from lighting and framing to sound design. What strikes me the most about this film seems to be the dividing factor among viewers--there are long, drawn out passages of the film where there is no dialogue and we only see the main character of the film in isolated situations. West also uses soundtrack music sparingly in these segments, which is so far removed from what contemporary audiences have come to expect from entertainment in general. Sensory overload has become so ingrained in our culture that people freak out when it's not there. Modern horror movies have fallen victim to this, too, and it's almost mandatory now that a film constantly has ominous music rumbling behind every scene whether it's called for or not. The same concept demands that when a knife is picked up on screen, there is the metallic sound of two blades rubbing together even if there's only one.
This stylistic overkill and unctuous tone is blissfully absent in "The House of the Devil", and it's easy to understand how audiences weaned on having their creepy movies spoon-fed to them would react with hostility and confusion. The complaints about how nothing happens in the film until the final 20 minutes are exactly what I'm talking about. True, there isn't much story here, but something is definitely happening throughout the entire film: we're getting to know a character and her situation, suspense is building, and the anticipation of it is the point of the entire film. Otherwise, why would a horror movie even bother with showing anything other than constant scenes of horror and violence? Ti West understands that it's not the Boogeyman that scares you, it's the anticipation of the Boogeyman.
None of this would work if it wasn't for the able cast. Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov and Dee Wallace are the most recognizable actors, but Jocelin Donahue is the one who truly carries the movie. In the best horror heroine tradition, she is authentic and vulnerable, and charming enough that we care what happens to her. Greta Gerwig is similarly good as the mouthy best friend who knows right away that something's wrong with Donahue's babysitting assignment but can't get her friend to listen to her. Only AJ Bowen seems out of place; as the acting villain of the piece, his character is a little too polished and neatly put together to be truly frightening. Fortunately, this has little consequence to the overall impression of the film, which simmers for the longest time before finally boiling over with a scary explosion of violence, blood and horrific imagery. I feel sorry for people who don't recognize this movie for the treasure that it is, blessed with a director that abandons the trappings of nonscary, dumbed-down horror and creates the ideal atmosphere of dread that a horror movie should have.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
A great concept expertly realized
I can't give this movie anything less than a 10, since I can't remember wanting to see any contemporary horror films more than once (and usually I wish I'd never seen them the first time). The genre has become so overly tired and cliché that it's not fun anymore. "The Cabin In The Woods" gets that, and misdirects the expectations of the audience. If you go into it knowing nothing about it, you might think you see where it's going, but then the movie takes a sudden turn and suddenly you're in uncharted territory. It's not exactly terrifying, but it does show you things you've probably never seen before. For that reason alone, I can't say enough about it. Many of the negative remarks I've read seem to have been from people who wanted a traditional horror movie of the kind that's spoofed here, although I can't imagine why anybody would really want another movie about a group of young people terrorized at a cabin the woods. This movie aims higher and I appreciated that. Even if you hate it, you've got to admit, it was an original concept.
The Intruder Within (1981)
ALIEN on Earth! Well, sort of...
That's what the producers of this film were hoping we'd believe, anyway. It's got elements of "The Thing", as one other reviewer already noted. But it truly is a ripoff of "ALIEN" at heart. Let's see: isolated location? Check. Blue collar characters? Check. Newly imposed, unknown science officer who may be hiding a secret? Check. Discovery of mysterious eggs? Yes. Worm-like larval life cycle phase? Got that. Fatal incubation inside a human host resulting in violent birth? Got that, too.
Even the characters themselves are designed as counterparts to the crew members of "ALIEN", with direct counterparts to Dallas, Lambert, Parker, and Brett. I honestly don't know how the film managed to get away with a story that borrowed so liberally from the original source. Don't expect much from "The Intruder Within" as far as effects, either. The larval creatures, while interestingly realized, are clearly puppets, and the full body monster suit for the adult creature is unconvincing. The director could have taken a few cues from Ridley Scott in disguising the creature's limitations with well placed editing and limited views.
However, the film is not unworthy of your attention. If you grew up with made-for-TV films in the 70s and early 80s, then you'll already be speaking this movie's language, and there's one area where this film scores a strong direct hit: atmosphere. It doesn't pull any punches or provide any easy escape for its characters, and there's a high body count on hand here. Worst of all is the likable female character who is the unfortunate host to the creature's spawn; she gives "birth" to the full grown monster. It's only shown in shadow, and it appears to have been physically impossible, but the way it plays out is disturbing nonetheless.
Mediocre serial killer document
Although the facts surrounding this case are interesting, this film is a meandering attempt to pad out the events into a full length movie. In 1946, a murdered with a white hood over his head commits a series of attacks over the course of four months in Texarkana, causing the area to plunge into an atmosphere of fear and paranoia. The sequences that reenact the murders are chilling in the way they portray the killer as relentless and unstoppable, and you can see the roots of 70s slasher movies in this film.
But it also suffers from an inappropriate level of comic relief, provided by stereotypically bumbling police. A series of voice-over narratives defuses any real tension in the movie between the attack scenes, so all we're left with is a subplot about a police investigation full of stock characters. The historical facts also work against the film, since the audience is likely to already know the killer was never apprehended.