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Kind of a mish-mash of ideas here that comes across as something of a
vanity project by the always surprising Shelly Winters, who not only
steals the film, she produced it. She plays the most forceful
personality in a trio of women who have bonded while spending time in a
mental ward. When their case psychiatrist dies the three hatch a scheme
to bust loose, return to Winters' abandoned & condemned former home in
the country, and resurrect their good doctor through witchcraft, which
Winters developed a knack for between setting fires as a youth. Or
something like that.
See, the film has so many "Or something like that" moments that its hard to keep track of. The film is competently made with some great photography and a winner of a location in the dilapidated old country house that serves as the main setting. Writer James Orr just had so many ideas that he couldn't quite decide which ones to leave out when formulating his screenplay. The lengthy subplot about the hunter and his son out on a bonding trip of their own with the specter of the father's divorce lending tension goes nowhere, other than to provide a male surrogate for their doctor when the hunter stumbles upon the ladies quite by accident.
See, that's because he was looking for his son, who went running off after getting backhanded for voicing disapproval over his father's current sexual affair with another woman other than mom. All moving stuff, but it doesn't contribute much to the story. The guy could have been out hunting without his son and the film would have been over ten minutes earlier. He's later forced to have sex with the pretty one of the women who thoughtfully wore a sexy bra to wander around in when the plot required some sensuality. Which was good, by the way, and the scene plays out interestingly for a change. Quite provocative without being graphic, the film refuses to cater to the sleaze factor while still having some decent steam for a few minutes.
There are some other interestingly played out scenes in the film but are kind of lost in a whirlwind of batty characterizations, offbeat supporting characters, and displays of acting histrionics by Ms. Winters, all of which fortunately work. She's over the top and quite convincing as a shotgun toting maniac & appears to have been enjoying herself immensely. Her performance is the glue which keeps the film's busy edges together, though I'd say about 15 minutes could have been jettisoned for a tighter form.
The film's tone is also a bit unfocused. At times its a thoughtful drama about mental illness, then its a story about endearing lost souls in search of themselves, then it becomes a family drama about the pain of divorce on children, then a bizarre hostage drama, a bit of humans hunting humans in the woods (always a favorite!), before returning to a theme of supernatural manifestations that are thoughtfully left unexplained. Any two, maybe three of which would have made a fine little movie. A good re-write could have tightened it up, and as-is it's still an interesting low budget quasi-horror film that will probably appeal to female viewers more than the guys, but hey! I liked it.
5/10; A twisted Chick Flick, perhaps? Nothing wrong with that at all.
Kind of hard to see at first how this low budget rehash of ROSEMARY'S
BABY spawned a thirteen chapter series of sexy horror skin flicks, but
there you go. The WITCHCRAFT series direct-to-video films have always
intrigued me because of their honest approach at giving its viewers
what they wanted: Sex and horror elements combined into cheap,
disposable entertainment aimed squarely at the video rental crowd.
To a degree they and the Seduction Cinema type productions mixing over eroticism with community theater caliber horror movie trappings can be seen as an offspring of the erotic horror genre films that came out of Europe especially during the 1970s. Which were also low budget independently distributed alternative forms of entertainment to mainstream cinemas. If they'd had access to video distribution they would have utilized that too. The only difference between the bulk of the series and something like a Paul Naschy Waldemar Daninsky potboiler are the addition of more frequent sex scenes, less emphasis on gory shock sequences, and a lot less pubic hair.
The WITCHCRAFT films were also more aimed at couples, as far as I can tell, with a sexy story of intrigue and gorgeous actresses & actors to keep the ladies interested with a few horror scenes now and then to reassure the guys they weren't suckered into watching a chick flick. There's nudity, sex, and objectification galore to be sure, but its not just limited to the female characters. Everybody is objectified by the WITCHCRAFT films, with careful attention to casting for both genders to make sure that fans of the human form of any persuasion will find them entertaining. The stories may be stupid and the execution hokey, but they deliver the goods and their effectiveness is reflected by the twelve sequels that followed this one.
Which is what makes this installment stand out from the rest of the series, in that its a genuine attempt to make a supernatural shocker whose erotic content is limited to a couple of underwear scenes. Its actually a pretty earnest if somewhat unimaginative take on its source material, appropriately updated for late 80s yuppie types but relying on the good old archetypes: The menacing housekeeper, the frenetic dream hallucinations, an eerie mystery room holding answers to the secrets, a great decapitation scene, and a decently concocted story about damnation passed down for generations & revenge from beyond the grave.
All standard issue stuff and handled professionally. If nothing else WITCHCRAFT is probably the most technically adept installment from the series, but ultimately lacks the payoff in fleshy goods that the reputation of the series suggests. Which by the way isn't the film's fault, it was the starting point, and its success allowed the producers to come back for another go, where they pushed their idea into what would turn out to be a very marketable form. Respect them in the morning or not the WITCHCRAFT films generated a solid cult following and remain in demand, which isn't surprising considering how direct they were in fulfilling the need for sexy erotic horror movies that you could watch with your squeeze.
This one too, though they kept it pretty much a straightforward spooker, and the result paid off. Its not a particularly bad film for that matter, though I feel that gals will respond to it better than the guys, who can keep quiet & wait politely until part two to get their jollies off. And if you like this movie plus haven't already, please watch ROSEMARY'S BABY sometime. I think you'd like it too.
I'll admit to having a soft spot for TOXIC ZOMBIES, as it will always
be known to me. The film has a legacy behind it that's somewhat bigger
than the final results. Notorious for being one of the "Video Nasty"
titles banned in Britain during a public outcry over gory, sexually
suggestive horror movie videos. Its actually one of the last holdouts
which hasn't gotten what would be a highly lucrative DVD revival, and
there's a tragic, creepy reason for it.
The premise is basic enough to be easily understood on a sort of Urban Legend sort of level: Dumb hippies camping up in the sticks for a summer growing season are waiting to harvest $2 million dollars worth of dope when a team of federal narcotics agents stumble upon their bivouac. They shoot the only good looking woman willing to bare her breasts for the camera and are promptly slaughtered for their efforts by the hippies, who aren't all peace & love after all. After the agents are reported missing cynical federal drug officers decide to dust the crop of weed with an experimental defoliant known to have toxic side effects. I actually remember stories about weed being dusted by the government with paraquat that would make you gag blood when I was a teenage troublemaker, and always wondered if this movie was a source of that urban myth.
So the feds hire a down on his luck loser to do it, planning to off him afterward to cover it all up. The hippies get exposed to the defoliant and mutate into ravenous, bloodthirsty zombie type maniacs. They go on a rampage murdering and partially devouring anyone they come upon and the film does a good job of trotting a regular supply of fresh victims onto the location sets. Meanwhile, the hero (writer/director/star Charles McCrann) and his girlfriend happen upon a young girl and her mentally handicapped brother as they wander through the woods looking for frogs or whatever.
The four flee the toxic zombies and take up with a survivalist hermit living in the woods who must have been Ted Kazinski's next door neighbor (even though the film was made in Pennsylvania). They fight a losing battle against the toxic zombies & find themselves on the run again, only to come face to face with the scurrilous drug agents, who plan to murder everybody and cover up the event. All we need is that cigarette guy from the X-Files and we'd have a nice little modern day post Vietnam era paranoia parable here.
That's the movie in a nutshell. What works are the zombie attacks and the low budget middle of nowhere locations that were chosen. There's also a decent pulsating electronic musical score that suggest somebody had seen a couple of Lucio Fulci movies -- And it turns out, director/star Chuck McCrann was indeed a horror movie buff and sort of made this on his own with some friends & business contacts, one of whom was George A. Romero actor John Amplas, himself a native Pennsylvanian known to work on risky, low budget projects.
There's certainly a "home movie" sort of quality to the proceedings, which I say works in the movie's favor. Mr. McCrann was apparently something of a financial entrepreneur and likely raised the funds for the project himself, giving the film a nice independent/regional edge to it. There are no big stars, the zombie effects and gore makeup are effective yet minimal, and the biggest bill for the project was probably the lab fee for the print. Most of the actors are non-professionals, it was likely filmed on public land with a modest crew, and was indeed apparently so independent of a production that there wasn't anyone to stick up for it when British authorities outright banned the film in or around 1984. Its legend as a barf-bagger epic banned by assorted heads of state grew far out of proportion to anything the movie actually delivers, resulting in some of the confusion amongst the ranks of my fellow reviewers here.
Today the film exists in a sort of limbo. Not public domain but the legal rights to the film are probably undetermined since they likely remained with Mr. McCrann, who it turns out was one of the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center, which is where his offices were located. Until the legalities are sorted out the film will remain slipped through the cracks and overlooked, with only its bizarre legacy to recommend it. The only DVD versions kicking around today are sourced from old home video releases. There's an R rated North American DVD and an unrated print from Japan that shows the complete 89 minute assembly rejected by the MPAA.
One offbeat tangent of intrigue here is that the theme of government conspiracy and indifference to public well-being runs through TOXIC ZOMBIES right up to a paranoid survivalist hoarding guns & MREs up in his cabin. Of course its just a coincidence but it adds to the film's aura of seediness and cynicism. I actually kind of like it too. I adore low budget regional horror and this is probably one of the pinnacle efforts. It deserves to be resurrected and restored, both as a legacy to McCrann's vision and a great object lesson on how to make a cheap, sleazy, endearing little horror movie for peanuts.
Say what you like about the Soviet Union when it comes to
totalitarianism, but they sure knew how to make a science fiction movie
when they put their state employed artists to the task. This 64 minute
film is equally on par with the visionary scope & execution of any
American, British, or whoever's science fiction films from the era. And
doubtlessly influenced generations of filmmakers who managed to see it,
from Mario Bava through Dan O'Bannon, the Skotek brothers & James
Cameron, maybe even yourself.
As chance may have it the film's standout effects sequences are better known than some may be aware of. This was one of three Soviet scifi epics who's American & UK rights were purchased by Roger Corman in the early 1960s -- "Nebo zovyot" (1960), or THE SKY IS CALLING; "Planeta Bur" (1962), or PLANET OF STORMS; and "Mechte navstrechu" (1963), or A DREAM COME TRUE, also known by the more descriptive title ENCOUNTER IN SPACE.
All were high-profile state run projects celebrating the spirit of adventurism & collective pride that the Soviet people took in their somewhat troubled space program. The Soviets couldn't put a crew on the moon or Mars or Venus, so they made movies depicting what their fantasists thought it might be like. One of the most striking aspects of the production is the hardware employed. Not just the highly touted, complex and eye popping model effects -- which put even animation greats Gerry Anderson & Derek Meddings to shame -- but the hands-on hardware of the production designs. The space suits, interiors of the spacecraft, tools, computers, devices and contraptions. They all have a kind of visual authority to them that is quite convincing and far from someone stapling a muffin tin to a foil suit to simulate a respirator.
"Nebo zovyot" (also made by this film's director, Mikhail Karzhukov) took us into space on a sobering, realistic tale of astronauts who put aside the glory of exploration to help the otherwise doomed crew of a rival power's mission to Mars. Pavel Klushantsev's more well known "Planeta Bur" actually managed to put its crew on Venus where they & their robot helper encountered all manner of fascinating adventures, though they never met any of the alien damsels who's haunting presence was only hinted at. Then Karzhukov was brought back for "Mechte navstrechu" where he got to deliver on the promise of alien contact back on Mars. Those Russians got around.
The premise is actually quite engaging: Loyal party scientists intercept a message from outer space sent by an alien race seeking friendly contact & cheap Russian made cars. An alien emissary is dispatched in the form of a fetching, curvaceous woman looking great in a spacesuit who's craft crash lands on the windswept surface of Mars. A highly trained Russian crew is sent on a death-defying mission to save her, with various technical problems creating conflict & loss, with some obligatory heroic sacrfice. There's some flag waving to be sure (though not as obnoxiously as "Nebo zovyot's" proletariat Worker Day parade ending) but its not like our movies didn't do the same or worse. The story is more focused on the human interactions of the crew, one of which is of course a foxy Russian babe who could evoke détente just by fluttering her eyebrows. She must have been a hit at the state owned radio factory she worked at for her day job.
Now, the way Corman imported the films was to chop out some of the dialog sections, re-staging new scenes with American audience familiar actors to tell what usually ended up being a perversion of the original story. Then entirely new English dialog would be dubbed over that often had nothing to do with the original Russian stories. See BATTLE BEYOND THE SUN, VOYAGE TO THE PREHISTORIC PLANET, and VOYAGE TO THE PLANET OF PREHISTORIC WOMEN for the other results, all of which are still quite entertaining. The bulk of this film was used by director Curtis Harrington for a charming little movie called QUEEN OF BLOOD (or PLANET OF BLOOD on the AIP TV print which legions of us remember from Saturday afternoon Monster Movie Matinees) that anticipated ALIEN with a less friendly alien emissary tagging a ride back on a human ship for Earth. Leave it to Roger Corman to find unwholesomeness in the most hopeful of scenarios, though good call on snagging the model effects sequences.
The original unedited Russian version is apparently circulating on an obscure commercial Divex format release from Germany, though I have only been able to find a copy of it so far. Aside from some truly sappy musical segments it is an astounding technical achievement, though I do miss Basil Rathbone imparting dire urgency on the proceedings. The two films couldn't be more different even if they share the same core 45 minutes or so of footage (plus some additional inserts from the other two Russian films in QUEEN OF BLOOD -- it's hard to keep track of them!), and its still a fascinating experience for any fan of science fiction cinema.
The Animated "Star Trek" series from 1973 - 1974 was an odd bird to
begin with, and this may be its most bizarre installment that actually
suggests a few ideas the franchise would later re-visit on a grander
An "unidentified space probe" leaving a swath of destruction in its path is headed right for the Earth, and only James Tiberious Kirk & the crew of his USS Enterprise stand between it and certain doom. The probe refuses to answer any hailing frequency communication attempts and brushes aside any attempts to stop it. The Enterprise engages the ship and finds that it is a ceramic based craft of infinite age, piloted by an equally infinitely old being known as Kukulkan, who had visited Earth eons before to teach humans to evolve into a technically sophisticated civilization patterned on the Mayans & Toltecs who would worship the being as a god.
Pretty heavy stuff for Saturday morning cartoon fare with some really cool art designs depicting a vision of the city that the being had envisioned, made of architectural components from various human civilizations like the Meso Americans, the Khmer people's Angkor Wat, the ancient Egyption obelisks, etc. Which is ironic given William Shatner's own preoccupation with the "Ancient Astronauts" theories he explored in a highly entertaining documentary released on home video under such dubious titles as CAPTAIN KIRK'S ALIEN MYSTERIES and MYSTERIES OF THE GODS. I watched it yesterday and wondered where I'd heard about jungle pyramids + Captain Kirk before. Huh.
The basic idea of an implacable alien space probe on a single minded mission to destroy the Earth because of antiquated events (the Voyager space missions, the near extinction of the whale species in our oceans) would later find greater form in STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE and STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME. Though the concept had been familiar to the Trek universe since the dynamite 2nd season Original Series episode "The Changeling", which also has a mutated alien space probe on its way to apparently destroy the Earth while on some cosmic quest for knowledge.
And the idea of humans coming in contact with ancient intelligences also figured directly into three Original Series episodes: "The Immunity Syndrome", "Return To Tomorrow", and the likewise sprawlingly titled "For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky". By simply shuffling around previously used ideas, writers Russel Bates & David Wise managed to come up with something familiar yet new. If anything the episode is a little overburdened with good ideas and the story feels rushed. I wish we'd been able to learn more about Kukulkan's voyages through space & time.
That lunkheaded 1974 era network television would actually allow such complex ideas to take form in entertainment primarily aimed at children is nothing short of remarkable -- A marvelous fluke, which pretty much sums up the whole Animated Series experience. It's unique stuff that has long deserved a proper place in the Star Trek franchise, and thanks to the DVD age & the internet your own Complete Series box set is only a few mouse clicks away.
Sideplitting fun as William Shatner doffs his Captain Kirk uniform for
a suede shirt with a big collar + bell bottoms and heads out onto the
road with a film crew of six to explore mankind's mysteries. Shatner's
enthusiasm for the material is boundless in energy. You will either be
swept up in the marvel of it all or laughing yourself silly, in either
event its grand entertainment that actually beat crewmate Leonard
Nimoy's far more dignified "In Seach Of ..." out of the pop culture
refuse chute by a year or two.
Seriously though, this was a West German produced quasi-documentary cashing in on the Ancient Astronauts fad of the 1970s ala Erich Von Daniken's ridiculous books of a similar name, who was thoughtfully given a screen credit. The film even boasts a very listenable electronic musical score by "Winnetou" composer Peter Thomas & is fast paced enough for the attention deficit disabled. Then again just watching William Shatner gaze into the empty sockets of the Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Skull while theorizing on the influence of ancient space mariners on human development is worth the effort needed to obtain a copy -- This baby is way out of print, and probably for a good reason.
An additional curious footnote is found in the presence of paranormal phenomenon guru William Dennis Hauck, one of the leaders of the Modern Alchemy movement, who served as a technical consultant and even gives an on screen interview to Shatner in front of a radio telescope they couldn't get the keys for. Hauck wrote up a sort of memoir of his experiences working with Shatner in his 1989 trash expose "Captain Quirk", which paints an unflattering portrait of the actor as a raving narcissist who actually believed he was an alien contactee at one point. Fun reading, you can find a copy for a dollar on Amazon.
I think Shatner is in fabulous form, raising the material from mere proto new age crap into a sort of kitschy exploration of the marvelous quirks that make humanity such a fascinating life form. Only humans would have thought to scrape the top layer of iron oxide rich soil of the Nazca plain away to expose the brighter soil underneath and make pictures best appreciated from overhead. And only humans could read anything more into it than people just making pictures in the sand.
Without someone like William Shatner as our host the proceedings would wear thin, but his enthusiasm for the phenomenon and his own search for an answer to his own alleged contact experience carries it like Sigourney Weaver carrying an ALIEN movie. If it was anybody else we'd be tempted to take it seriously, and the whole thing would be a dreadful bore. I watch not because of the paranormal angle, but because its a William Shatner film from his lost years of the 1970s with Krautrock electronic disco space music. Plus, his shirts all have big wide collars, and he wears matching bell bottoms! And he gets all intense -- sometimes *really* intense -- about UFOs, crystal skulls, native costumes that look like space suits (my favorite part!), drawings of proposed NASA projects that were never made, lost pyramids overgrown by jungles, space aliens, and ESP!
In other words, I've been looking for garbage like this my whole life.
I would easily pick this as my favorite installment from the "Star
Trek" Animated Series from 1973 - 1974. Written by Sam Peeples, the
same chap who penned the 2nd "Star Trek" pilot "Where No Man Has Gone
Before", this one has same authority to its storytelling and plays very
much like a classic era episode in spite of its cartoonish roots:
While on a "routine" star charting assignment the Enterprise finds itself drawn to a dead planet orbiting a dead star. Locked in orbit is a massive, intricate, derelict alien spacecraft that has been trapped there for uncountable eons of time. Kirk leads an away team to explore the eerie derelict and discovers that its not quite as uninhabited as originally believed. After finding a warning message from the ship's long dead & fossilized captain, the away team departs only to find that a formless energy being has come back with them. And it wants the Enterprise for a very specific, horrifying purpose.
The episode is fast paced, serious in tone, introduces us to the Life Support Belt concept that would allow the animators to place the familiar characters in more fantastic circumstances like the vacuum of space, and concludes with the classic stock device of a self destruct countdown of sorts. You can do much worse for "Star Trek" material regardless of how it was made, and I'd actually rank this up there with "Arena" and "The Tholian Web" as one of "Star Trek"'s most effective television adventures. It was a great choice as the installment to introduce the animated series to viewers.
The episode also serves a curious footnote in the development of what would eventually become ALIEN (1979), believe it or not. Or rather I suspect it may have suggested ideas to the late writer Dan O'Bannon, whom I have been thinking about a lot since his sad passing away in December of 2009. First you have the idea of finding a derelict, abandoned spacecraft trapped in the vicinity of a dead planet. Then you have your basic warning message left by a fossilized member of the crew, who's corpse is propped up next to the viewing screen for good measure, both ideas that also harken back to Mario Bava's PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965) and Roger Corman's QUEEN OF BLOOD (1966).
Then you have your standard alien life form sneaking back onto the ship where it does battle with the human crew, ala FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) and IT! TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1959) QUEEN OF BLOOD, PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES, and even THE THING (1952). The creature even lacks a discernible form like the Id creature from FORBIDDEN PLANET and very much like the shape-shifting life form that would evolve into the H.R. Giger designed Alien -- a creature who's shape is defined by genetic mutation based on its host organism's structure.
The episode even concludes with a sequence where the crew has to work themselves into a frenzy to destroy the ship before the creature can use it to get back to civilized portions of the galaxy and eventually take over, reproducing itself by mitosis, a concept that would also find form in John Carpenter's 1982 remake of THE THING, as well as Allan Holzman's overlooked MUTANT (or FORBIDDEN WORLD) which also features a shape shifting genetically mutated life form preying on humans. Heck if the very robot-like Spock had been an android we'd have a working proof here, though the android "Ash" character from ALIEN was a later addition to the screenplay by other hands.
So you know, what ever; O'Bannon certainly would have had a chance to see the show during the period 1974 - 1976 in which he was developing the story idea that would become ALIEN. I can sort of picture O'Bannon and Ron Shusset with their TV on one Saturday morning as they were getting started with the day's writing, and all of a sudden their eyes light up as they watch this cartoonized version of one of their favorite shows. Heck I can even map out Amando de Ossorio pillaging that "Scooby Doo Where Are You?" episode with the ghost pirate ship & the giggling green ghoul for his GHOST SHIP OF THE BLIND DEAD Euro Horror favorite. Inspiration can come from the damndest places sometimes!
Pretty slick little number here, a way low budget zombie voodoo
potboiler filmed on the quick in Florida at the height of the early
James Bond craze. Expect lots of palm trees, swept back wayfarer
sunglasses, a big brassy orchestra with twangy guitars + bongo drums,
boozy bimbos swooning by the pool, and some sort of novel mode of
transportation, in this case an airplane that is destroyed in the
movie's biggest laugh.
The film concerns itself with a swinging playboy writer who is dispatched to darkest Key West to get to the bottom of some wacky voodoo cult and meets a couple of decent looking dames between stops for cocktails. The natives use a powerful narcotic which transforms them into the living dead and explains the jungle being just a mess after all this time. The damndest thing is that Carey Grant would have felt right at home in this movie, even with the ping pong ball zombie monster makeup.
The movie is awful for sure but it works in some miraculous way, partly due to the fact that it was aware it was an awful movie employing awful actors, using awful cinematography, awful music, and awful script, etc. The good news is that everybody participating was apparently briefed before hand lest any sort of sweeping performances or actual cinematic artfulness sneak past the dime store tiki torches, wet bars, and matching salt + pepper shakers. Some good one liners though, I guess that's harmless enough to allow without tempting anybody to take it too seriously. Then again with a title like that, who can?
It's kitsch, bounding with energy and some decent smarmy humor that will either get on your nerves or catch you with a belly laugh when you aren't expecting one. I like another reader's comment when writing that they had enjoyed this film more than the three A list big budget event films they rented at a Blockbuster: PRECISELY! Yes, that's the spirit! They were able to relax and just watch this god awful no-name movie for what it was -- rather than being primed to have the world saved or the universe explained by Leonardo di Caprio -- and ended up having a pretty good time. Caught them by surprise probably. You can buy it on DVD for a dollar, probably less, and keep it for your very own. Try it.
Don't let the low budget and no-name production throw you. This is a
very effective and downright grim little thriller mixing military
themes with horror elements -- always one of my favorite combos. Just
the sheer horror of war itself is guaranteed to conjure up some things
that go bump in the night, my favorites being the British DEATHWATCH
from 2002, Michael Mann's THE KEEP (1987) and of course George A.
Romero's overlooked THE CRAZIES (1973). It's a potent combo when done
right, I'm surprised we don't see more of it.
What DEATHWATCH did turning the trenches of the Western Front into a sprawling haunted death house this one does using the actual former US military bases on Corregidor (I believe part is shot inside Battery Geary itself -- search the name on Wiki sometime) to tell the story of an emotionally scarred veteran who returns to his old garrison's post twenty five years later, after having fled under the stress of combat fatigue as a young soldier. Just seeing the remnants of the old military base is impressively eerie. The director chose his locations marvelously, the whole film is seeped with ill-ease and old rumors or echoes of men in their death throes as they were battered into oblivion.
Or, trapped below to languish & die in claustrophobic darkness. The film uses light as a motif and the darkness of the surrounding ruins is oppressive; You can imagine even the hardiest of men loosing their nerve and fleeing in terror. Our returning veteran finds that the depths of the vaulted keep is not quite as uninhabited as the local Fillipino army officer tour guide may insist. He even links up with a charming, innocent young local hottie who comes along on his voyage, and she's a good screamer. Though ultimately he meets his fate by himself, yet not quite alone. It is a very effective little psychological ghost story that just happens to utilize a setting with a rich history of horror all of its own.
The print I saw was courtesy of Something Weird Video on a VHS, apparently the film was made for television as there were spots for commercial breaks worked into the film's editing. And as a mid 60s television production you can nix anything like graphic violence or sexuality, here's a movie that works without it, with the whole production definitely having a Rod Serling-esquire feel to it. The B&W picture actually added a depth of creepiness to the proceedings though the transfer itself was made from a poor quality 16mm print. The film deserves better treatment.
But I felt enriched for having seen it in whatever form (and good luck finding a copy). Here's a great example of how tight writing combined with a keen sense for location work can result in a gripping little movie for almost no budget at all that can actually result in a well-earned nightmare or two.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Are we all watching the same movie here?? I'll admit that SCREAMS OF A
WINTER NIGHT is a great title for a movie, and a sound premise which
would eventually be put to better use: Nine or ten college aged
acquaintances who don't seem to really like or even know each other
take a road trip to a summer camp cottage closed for the off season
where a gruesome mass murder (oddly heard but not seen during the
opening credits) took place 30 years prior. On the way they stop at a
local hick cracker gas station operated by what appears to be the evil
twins of the Beverly Hillbillies, who try to warn them off to no avail.
So far so good.
The problem begins when the kids start sitting around telling each other ubran legend-ish scary stories to pass the time. Which would be just fine except that they seem to be telling each other these stories because they don't have anything else to talk about. There is no exposition, no character development, and no visible bonds exist between them except for one couple who don't even have sex on-screen since the movie was only rated PG.
Then there is John, the knucklehead who organized the road trip. To call him annoying is complimentary. He is insufferable. The idea was to try and portray his character as some kind of a nerd or dork whose family used to frequent the cottage. The film unintentionally does a good job as setting him up as a potential lunatic who lured his associates to this setting just to brutally murder them all, but no dice. He's just annoying and we don't even get the satisfaction of watching him die in an amusingly ironic manner after being inflicted with his presence for an hour plus.
The horror anthology angle is interesting though, and all three of the stories shown have effective moments. The CREEPSHOW films are still the modern day kings of the horror anthology tradition, one that stretches back to the 1940s with the incomparable DEAD OF NIGHT, another classic being Mario Bava's fabulous BLACK SABBATH from 1963 and the overlooked H.P. Lovecraft collection NECRONOMICON: BOOK OF THE DEAD from 1992. Usually a horror anthology has some sort of linking story connecting three or four segments that each tell their own twisted tale of the macabre. The unique angle this time is that the stories are actually populated by the people in the linking segments as sort of alternate identities.
Which could have been a great idea except that the people are so unlikeable that the story segments don't serve as a reprieve from their company. There's one really odd part when the "kids" start tapping & clicking out a rhythm which slowly builds into a cacophony that drives one of the females into a rage. I would have cold-cocked them all for being so childishly obnoxious. They don't even seem to be drinking from the empty beer cans they wave around as props, and John's antics of deliberately trying to startle the females in the group quickly becomes unlikely. Somebody would have knocked a couple of his teeth out for being such a dick and split the scene. It isn't funny, it isn't scary, and the tension that builds is not based on fright but a diminishing ability to be patient with him.
Eventually the film does build to a satisfyingly gruseome supernatural climax that apparently took so much of the movies' low budget production cost that the filmmakers appear to have literally run out of money while four of the ten were making a frenzied escape through the woods. The movie ends with a freeze-frame of them running hand in hand, and I can't help but wonder if maybe the last few minutes of intended action was abandoned at the film lab when they couldn't afford the processing bill.
So again I ask, are we all watching the same movie here? I enjoy low budget regionally made horror movies starring no-name talents and have a particular fondness for anthology chillers. But the legends surrounding the film are more interesting than anything which takes place on screen. One of the college dorms used for one of the story segments is rumored to be haunted, and maverick wunderkind Quentin Tarentino has championed the movie, supposedly owning his own print which he screens for people who don't know any better than to go do something else just because it's Quentin Tarentino showing it. He could show old toothpaste commercials and people would watch in rapt awe.
The film was pioneering in the sense that it did beat "Friday The 13th" into theaters by over a year with a story of college kids being menaced at an off-season summer camp. And it also proceeded THE EVIL DEAD with a story of college kids sitting around a disused cabin running afoul of some sort of hyperkenetic supernatural force of evil. But since this evil is never explained and the summer camp angle isn't ever explored as a setting the result is a null-sum gain. They could have been anywhere, the summer camp angle only serving as a device to make it more difficult for them to seek out help when their lamps start running out of fuel. Which might be the most frightening aspect of the movie: Being stuck sitting around in the dark with John and his creepy, disturbing sense of humor & not even having a radio to listen to. A college road trip to a disused cabin with no tunes? Come on.
So I just don't get it. My expectations were perhaps a bit high, especially based on the title which suggested a winter time setting and horror hijynx involving snow, sleighs, rusted shovels, colorful scarves, lost mittens, homicidal Christmas elves, maybe a possessed snowman. If you ask me it looks like they made the wrong movie. Great title though!
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