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Chilling movie about contagion
An early David Cronenberg film, "Rabid" showcases the director's skill at unsettling his audience with themes of disease transmission and infection. The plot sees the heroine Rose (Marilyn Chambers) suffering a road accident and receiving emergency treatment at a plastic surgery clinic (due to it being the closest place to the accident site). The treatment she receives is experimental, and the results are unexpected to say the least because Rose develops some very unnatural eating habits, leaving a string of victims behind her, who go on to spread a fatal infection to other people.
The character development is better than it might have been. Rose is oblivious to the chaos she is causing. She is scared and confused by her own physical condition, but unaware that her victims are becoming something far worse than she is. Marilyn Chambers does a good job in the role. Wavering between frightened, nauseous, sexually alluring and bewildered, she successfully carries the movie. Some of her ambiguous expressions may be a result of the actress's inexperience but I think this makes Rose a complex character. In some of her scenes she has an impassive, almost sleepwalking demeanour but for me this works too, and I was able to imagine the many layers of inner dialogue going on inside her mind.
Chambers is surrounded by an excellent supporting cast. All the acting is all very natural, and the people who get ill really do look horrible. The film goes a lot further with it's spread of the rabies-like disease than I expected, skilfully hiding it's low budget. Scenes of attacks on subway trains and in shopping malls are chilling and realistic. The special effects are very good. My only niggle is the amount of time Rose spends naked in the film, in many scenes where it is simply not relevant, and it seems like Cronenberg exploited Chamber's past movie career by asking her to do this and boost box office takings. The role would have worked very well without it. One other issue is that all of the men Rose meets after she leaves the hospital seem to be slimeballs who only want one thing. Like his previous film "Shivers", the movie seems to warn of the perils of sexual contact. It does it well, and the result is effective and memorable.
Goodbye, Norma Jean (1976)
This cheap and tawdry disaster of a movie appears to be the re-telling of the Marilyn Monroe story in some kind of parallel universe. A universe where documented facts don't matter, and where the fashions, music and sensibilities of the1970s were somehow alive and well 30 years too early, as Marilyn grew from abused teenage orphan to casting-couch victim, to Hollywood star. Along the way she is raped by multiple men (and a woman), gets mixed up in the porn and snuff movie business, slashes her wrists, shacks up with some Hugh Hefner producer type, speaks to people with the filthiest mouth imaginable, and ends the movie with the immortal line "That's the last cock I'll ever have to suck!". Hooray for Hollywood.
Apart from all the misery and abuse, the film seems to suggest that the transformation from Norma Jean into the blonde bombshell Marilyn is very sudden - just the addition of a new hairdo and a figure hugging silver dress seem to do the trick, and the story ends soon afterwards.
Poor Misty Rowe does her best, and I really mean that. Although she gives it a go, she plays the part with the dumb blonde act and constant kittenish whisper right from the start, which I don't think is how Monroe acted off camera, and I think this was pretty ill advised. The script is the reason she comes across so poorly, it's diabolical. The rest of the cast is a lot worse, and the attention to period detail is all but absent. The movie's lighting, sound and general quality are all rock bottom, and there's really nothing here for anyone to enjoy
Less of a sequel, and more of a remake, this 2nd movie about the Blind Dead re- hashes the whole scenario including the "origin" story, and just remakes the first movie all over again with not very many new ideas.
This time it's a whole village that is terrorised. Due to the actions of an imbecilic villager, the log dead Templars are fed with blood and come out of their graves to wreak more havoc. The village suffers an invasion during a night of celebrations, and many deaths occur before the Templars are defeated.
The recycling of material from the first movie is very lazy. We have the same gory flashback to a sacrifice of a young girl (rubber boobs being cut up with a knife again), we have the slow motion clip-clopping horses, the moaning and clanking soundtrack and the macho fights over women by several boorish male villagers.
Luckily the film benefits from very real settings of the village and ruined abbey/castle, and the look of the ghouls themselves still packs a punch. The effects are not very good. In the "crowd" scenes, it's very obvious that some of the zombies are just immobile skulls on sticks with a tatty robe thrown over them - especially when they are beaten down and collapse immediately like a pile of cardboard tubes and coat hangers.
A few set pieces however really do work: firstly when the evil major uses a small child as bait (!) in order to selfishly escape from the monsters. This is a very effective sequence and the poor girl looks convincingly unhappy upon finding herself among the skeletal mob. Don't worry, the evil major pays heavily for this craven behaviour! The second effective sequence is the climax when the survivors attempt to creep past the blind dead as dawn breaks...this is great film making and works despite the rest of the films cheap effects.
On the whole, though, it's only a remake of the original, which has so many original touches it was a hard act to follow. But follow it they did, and then again, two more times after this one!
Burnt Offerings (1976)
"Burnt Offerings" is a haunted house movie, not reviewed very kindly among horror fans, and it does kind of lay itself open for this by being a bit daft. Basically, a not-so happy family rent out a HUGE empty mansion for the summer, from very kindly caretakers and for next to nothing (Why is it so cheap? What's the catch? Oh please...). Soon, they are turning on each other and terrible things are afoot. Will they escape alive?
I won't reveal the secret of the house in Burnt Offerings, just in case a handful of people wish to find it out first hand, but be aware that the title is completely meaningless! What you should know in advance, though, is that Karen Black, Oliver Reed and Bette Davis (plus small boy) have to be the most unlikely family unit ever in existence - they are all nothing like each other. I know this is supposed to be a dysfunctional family, but there isn't an ounce of screen magic between any of them, they all act like they are not even on the same screens as each other, let alone in the same film. Without this important chemistry, you may find you don't have the slightest interest in the fate of this unlikeable bunch, as none of the characters are even particularly nice people: Black is a whiney drudge, Reed is a thug, and Bette Davis plays almost no important part at all.
Apart from the quite picturesque looking house at the centre of all the trouble, there isn't really a lot of on screen excitement to get carried away with either. There are very few shock or horror scenes, and the very low level of evil atmosphere marks this down as more of a "made-for-TV" chiller rather than the big budget theatrical release it is supposed to be. Mind you it was created by TV veteran Dan Curtis, who has a very impressive TV success legacy to his name, but maybe that is exactly what seems to be keeping it rooted in this understated territory. Now I can enjoy a low key thriller, but with all the rather grand presentation, I felt let down that nothing really dazzling ever actually happened.
There are however, some good moments. All the characters seem to be menaced in ways that seem tailor made to prey on their personal fears (Reed's visions are of a creepy hearse driver which actives painful memories of his mother's death). This personal manipulation is a nice idea, but it's not new, as characters being preyed on by something that "knows what scares you the most" is an old horror staple, already used a decade earlier in "The Haunting", a film which this movie often draws comparisons with. Still, some of it works. Reed has one good scene when he appears driven to quite roughly (and realistically) drown the young son in the swimming pool - I wondered for a moment whether the boy's struggles were actually acting or not! Black's fate is a bit more whimsical, she appears to drift into reveries that connect with the former residents of the house and ends up moping over old photos and spending all day in the attic. And as mentioned, Bette Davis has an insult of a role that simply sees her fall prone to some degenerative affliction and become bed-ridden and unintelligible.
The main problem (and it's one that the film is not alone in), is that there is no reason why these people don't just pack up their stuff and leave. The script still gives us all the various excuses, but surely when lives are very obviously at risk, they would just get out? And when they finally do manage this, the script STILL engineers a way to get them to follow each other back inside, i.e. "She's been gone too long, I'll just go back inside too and check on her...arghhh!"...Groan!
Sorry, it's just not exciting or horrifying enough to satisfy horror or haunted house fans. The house is elegant rather than creepy, and the scares are thinly served. Watch it only if bored, or if any of the cast are favourite actors of yours.
Un delitto poco comune (1988)
Lame and limp
A successful pianist, surrounded by beautiful female admirers, is dogged by a string of murders that seem to follow him around. The movie follows him as his life begins to unravel. I admire Shameless for bringing these movies out for us to experience, but this is not a good film. It's badly made, and it looks AND sounds horrible. The sound quality is really bad, the volume leaps between low muffled spoken dialogue one minute, to heavy, blaring orchestral music the next. I was playing with the TV remote to whole time to compensate for this. And when stars Michael York and Donald Pleasance speak their lines, the audio quality is appalling - totally different to the person they are having a conversation with. Donald Pleasance in particular speaks in every scene (no matter where he is) with the tonal quality of being in an echoey, tiled chamber, while everyone else's vocals sound really close and flat. There's no way to get immersed in the performances with sloppy dubbing like this.
The editing and flow of the various scenes is also really bad. Case in point, the scene when one victim is knifed at a train station, the scene carries through her death scene to the police arriving, body being covered up and Michael York watching in anguish, with the same intense score, as though these thing are all happening at the same time. That's not artistic, thats bad movie crafting. Michael York (as the main character) seems to dash all over the place with no sense of any real time passing. You'd think that with the experience that director Deodato has under his belt, there would be a bit more polish than this.
So what are we left with? Some splashy but cheap gore (who has a bedroom lampshade with a 2ft spike on it?), some attractive ladies who's appeal is sadly ruined by terrible late 1980's fashion disasters. The acting is dire. The killer seems to have no motive for the way he is behaving. Donald Pleasance looks troubled and unwell the entire time. Michael York is shrill and hammy.
Sorry, but I'd give this one a miss. You are very likely to lose interest before the whole sorry thing limps to a close.
The Balcony (1963)
I watched this film out of curiosity and came away very unsatisfied. This probably worked as a play, but even as that it must have been hard work to sit through. Serious and pompous, with a lot of long, long scenes of talking, it's definitely a piece about words. I'll take it that this is the style of the Jean Genet source material.
The story tells of a brothel that is still in operation while the country outside is falling into chaos due to a revolution. People from the brothel are persuaded to use their skills in role play to pose as various heads of power and calm the panicking masses.
The film contains many lengthy vignettes where characters just read heavy and pretentious dialogue to each other in small rooms/stages, or make speeches in cheap and unconvincing "interaction" with stock footage of crowds outside. It's barely using the medium of film to all to any advantage when things are as threadbare as this. Even the music is nasty and discordant.
There's nothing here that takes advantage of the switch from stage to screen. It's little more than an earnest group "reading" of the script. All of the cast look like they are acting, nobody realistically inhabits any single one of the characters. I guess this movie is considered "art" because of the pedigree of the literary source material, but as screen entertainment, this is dismal.
The Haunted House of Horror (1969)
The Haunted House of Horror is a boring and dated horror movie from England about a group of "swinging party goers" who spend a night in an empty house for fun, only to find that a murder is committed. There are spoilers in this review, but as the film is no classic, I feel like you might as well know what you are going to be in for if you are remotely interested in seeing it.
You could imagine this film building to some kind of sustained suspense as the group arrive and begin exploring the house with candles, but once the murder is committed, the film spirals into all sorts of baffling red herrings and pointless dead ends. The group immediately decide to hush up the murder rather than call the police. Next, they all leave the house without further incident and go back to their lives. So much for the "horror"! The middle chunk of the film then shows us some very boring police investigations over the missing person, and the friends meet up to discuss what they should do - you're in for a laugh when you hear what they agree on - to go back to the house again and search it from top to bottom. Sounds reasonable enough, except that rather do it in daylight, they deem it necessary to do it in the middle of the night, and also to follow the exact same actions as they did on the night of the murder. WHY?? God knows. But off they troop again, and there is another portion of screen time allotted to creeping about with candles AGAIN, and a really dismal attempt at suspense in a ridiculous "who-is-holding-the-knife?" scene with two characters, in a scene which generates absolutely no tension at all. The film even does a double-take of a female character getting her shoe caught in the same staircase twice, adding no real dramatic effect (either time). The story isn't very strong at all. If all the action had taken place on a single night there could have been some tension but having everybody leave and then come back again a month (!) later to "solve the mystery" is ludicrous.
The film also doesn't look great. There are many day-for-night shots which look very obvious. The exterior shots of the house look like they are of a different house each time. Character seem to swap having affairs with one character to another for no reason. One of the women has a rich "sugar daddy" boyfriend who spies on her throughout the whole thing, again this has nothing to do with the rest of the story. The special effects are terrible, with blood that looks like tomato soup being smeared on the outside of people's skin or clothing to simulate shocking gore. The main entertainment comes from seeing the awful fashions of the period being liberally unleashed across the proceedings, but that alone does not make this movie worth watching! So...no chills, or thrills, and a ridiculous plot.
Up from the Depths (1979)
"Up From The Depths" belongs at the bottom of any discerning movie-buff's list of "Jaws" relatives, it is truly dire. The plot summary needs no more than one line - a giant monster fish terrorises staff and holidaymakers at a Hawaiian beach resort.
The movie is actually not too badly filmed and a lot of the action takes place on boats and in open water. I say "action", although in fact there isn't really very much. The giant fish attacks are portrayed on screen by means of very fast cutting, and lots of extreme close ups of thrashing, bubbles and red tinted water, so in other words, NOTHING. The fish, when it does make it's fleeting appearances is pretty plastic and immobile looking, although there are almost no clear shots of it anywhere in the entire movie.
What can't be ignored, though, is the unbelievable audio soundtrack. According to another reviewer's comments about the movie on IMDb, this was all added in post- production because the original live recorded soundtrack was lost. This makes for some pretty jaw-dropping viewing, and if you come in expecting to watch the film for laughs. you might even find it hilarious. Towards the end, when a full scale hunt gets underway for the fish, the movie begins to resemble the comedy movie "Airplane!" as all the cast speak the most ridiculous dialogue in rapid fire comedy turns. It makes it look like the film was originally intended to be a comedy...maybe it was? If it wasn't, then the vocal dubbing well and truly destroys it. Maybe the post-dub recording cast didn't give a damn and just decided to enjoy themselves. It's probably the best thing about the movie.
Sadly, the visual disappointment of the fishy menace itself, and the lack of any real special effects in general, mean that "Up From The Depths" is devoid of any tension or drama. But bad movie fans might find it to be worth a look
Wicked, Wicked (1973)
Wicked Wicked is an amusing film about a stalker killing pretty blonde women in a hotel. There's nothing unusual about that except for the movie's gimmick of presenting the entire story in split screen, which is a novelty but it does kind of dilute the suspense rather. Split screen can work in horror - Brian De Palma has used it on more than one occasion and made effective use of it, but here it's rather irritating. What doesn't help is you never really get a good view o anything as the two images are small and not very hi definition (well it was 1973!). For just a couple of very short moments of screen time, the double screen reverts to a single view and seeing this left me yearning for the whole movie to be like this, so that watching it would be less hard work! . Apart from the gimmick, most other aspects of Wicked, Wicked are fun but mediocre. The only DVD release is on the Warner Archive label which is very badly cut! Those archive DVDs are sold at a premium price so pushing an incomplete version of the film is quite an insult to the fans who wish to buy it. For novelty value only
La saga de los Drácula (1973)
A bit wobbly
The Dracula Saga is a rather ragged attempt at a costume horror movie that sadly fails on more levels than it succeeds. The story follows a young couple travelling to a remote castle in central Europe to visit the remaining family relations of the wife, who is pregnant. Along the way villagers warn them that the castle is evil, and dead bodies are found along the way with neck wounds. Nothing very original there! On arrival at the castle, all manner of strange things happen as the truth about the family background is revealed...which should come as no surprise, bearing in mind the title of the movie! There is a fair amount of nudity, with lots of female cast members removing their blouses, and some gruesome action as well, especially at the movie's climax.
Unfortunately the enjoyment of all this is hampered by some very basic shoddiness. Although Deimos Films have found a beautiful clean print, and colours are rich and clear, a lot of shots are out of focus. No amount of remastering can correct badly focused photography, and it really shows. Several shots also have a gauze-like mesh effect overlaid on them, which at first I thought was a technical issue, but in reflection it might have been a failed attempt by the director to add atmosphere. The acting is not very good, the English language dub is truly awful, and in another bizarre lapse of continuity, the heroine clearly wears different wigs in different scenes throughout the story!
I suppose this accounts for why Leon Klimovsky never made it as a big name horror director. Having a stunning authentic castle as a setting and adding lots of bare boobs does not make up for all the other budgetary and artistic shortcomings. Even European beauty Helga Line (in a minor role) is wasted here. I do love Deimos' presentation of these Euro horrors, they do very well with the quality, packaging and DVD features. This is just not one of the better movies.