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Shadows of the Mind (1980)
An obscure effort from the director of the infamous "Last House on Dead End Street", I expected more from "Shadows of the Mind" than what I wound up getting. As a child, Elise witnessed the drowning deaths of her father and stepmother. Racked with feelings of guilt, she's been institutionalized ever since. That is until Dr. Lang decides she's ready to return to the outside world. Hesitant and alone, Elise heads back to the old family estate. Before long, her estranged stepbrother stops by to visit and various murders begin to occur.
For the first 40 minutes or so, this is a mostly dull and repetitive affair. Elise wanders around the estate as the same lines of dialogue replay over and over and over in her mind. I'm a very patient individual, but this was a bit much. For a film with such a short running time, they sure padded it out. It doesn't help that Marion Joyce (who co-wrote the picture) is pretty annoying in the part of Elise. Fortunately, the proceedings are enlivened considerably by G.E. Barrymore's smarmy portrayal of Leland, the scheming stepbrother. When he arrives on scene, things finally pick up a little. Another plus is the gorgeous Bianca Sloane as Dr. Lang's fiancée, Diana.
The run down estate makes for a moody setting, and there's an effective scene of a body being discovered in an elevator shaft. However, the plot developments are as predictable as they come, including the twist that the film ends on. Combining that with a grating lead performance and the ridiculous amount of padding, "Shadows of the Mind" never comes off as anything above mediocrity. Worth a one time watch for curiosity's sake, but that's about it.
Rock-A-Die Baby (1989)
Downhill after the first story
Late 80's anthology that has a woman telling scary bedtime stories to her young daughter. The first story follows a small platoon in the jungles of Vietnam as they encounter a horror other than the war. The second tales involves a group of college friends who decide to play a prank on a prudish girl they know from school. The third has the woman telling her daughter about what happened shortly after she and the girl's father were married.
The Vietnam segment is easily the best. It boasts a strong atmosphere and solid performances from it's four principle cast members (including Glenn Morshower of the cult comedy, "Drive-In"). It ends on an anticlimactic note, but is quite enjoyable otherwise. The second story starts off with a game of strip poker. That's pretty much the highlight, though the hottest of the girls isn't the one who gets naked. The séance prank the geniuses come up with is poorly thought out and wouldn't fool even the most naive of people. As expected, the gag goes wrong, but in a really lame way. Bad special effects and a ridiculous ghostly voice help to sink this segment. That said, the third bit is the weakest of the lot, as it tries it's hand at silly comedy. All of the jokes are incredibly obvious, and you'll see them coming a mile away. The finale is laughable, though not in the way intended.
Overall, a lower tier anthology effort. Not horrible, just nothing special. The first story had potential, but the ending hurts it. The film itself starts with a rock band being approached to do the music for a horror movie, and we get various annoying musical interludes throughout, as well as that old cliché, outtakes during the end credits.
A different take on the story
Direct-to-video sequel is actually more of a re-adaptation of Stephen King's original story. Michael Gross plays a psychiatrist who goes back to his hometown following his mother's death. Accompanying him is his teenage daughter, Michelle (a young Hilary Swank). Gross soon realizes that they're being targeted by the men who sacrificed his sister in a satanic ritual 27 years earlier, only they're no longer human.
In some ways, this is better than the first film. For one, it features an overall darker tone. It doesn't get all sappy either, and the idea to have the gang return as demons instead of ghosts works well, also tying into a ritual from the original story that the first adaptation omitted. I preferred the father/daughter dynamic over the family one, and the addition of side characters, Maria and Jules, was certainly welcome.
On the other hand, even as demons, Alexis Arquette and company didn't come off quite as menacing as the gang from the previous flick. I think that had to do with some lame one-liners. There's also the fact that I recognized one of the gang, Glen Beaudin, from the silly 90's TV series, "Superhuman Samurai Syber Squad", so it's hard to take him too seriously as a threat. The priest character is way over the top as well, and the annoying lawnmower idiot couldn't get off my screen fast enough.
Still, this is a fun take on the King tale, and we get some interesting imagery such as death by flying tarot cards and Swank getting it on with a demonized Arquette. It's far from great, but it makes a nice companion to the first, as both have their qualities and misfires.
Sometimes They Come Back (1991)
Sometimes they need a better ending
Along with his wife and son, a man reluctantly returns to his hometown years later to take a teaching job. It isn't long before ghosts from his past come back to haunt him and do much worse. Tom McLoughlin, director of the most overrated film in the "Friday the 13th" franchise, directed this made for TV adaptation of the Stephen King short story.
Tim Matheson stars as the man tortured by memories of his brother's death and the men responsible. The film is strong on mood, successfully bringing to life that sense of time, place and small town atmosphere that King's stories thrive on. The film's best quality is it's villains. Robert Rusler is particularly intimidating as leather-clad gang leader, Lawson. The scene where Matheson first sees him again, posing as a student in his class, makes for a potent moment. Another great scene takes place in the gang's phantom car as they show their true forms to a jock victim.
Unfortunately, the film doesn't keep it's momentum going as we head toward the finale. The climax is a bit of a mess, and the ending gets overly schmaltzy. The ending to King's original tale would have worked a lot better than what we get here. As it is, this is worth seeing for the villains and overall mood, but it's definitely flawed. Brooke Adams doesn't get a lot to do as Matheson's wife.
Blood and Lace (1971)
Blood and sleaze
After her whore of a mother is murdered by a hammer-wielding nutjob, teen Ellie Masters is sent to live at the rural Deere Orphanage. She immediately begins plotting her getaway, as she wishes to track down the father she never knew. What she doesn't realize is that Mrs. Deere and her handyman, Tom Kredge, won't let anyone leave under any circumstances. If it comes down to murder, so be it. As she deals with this sadistic twosome, Ellie also realizes that she's being stalked by a masked creep with a claw hammer.
Often referred to as the sickest PG film ever, I had wanted to see this for years. After finally happening upon a VHS copy, I was disappointed when I quickly came to the realization that it was a cut print. The opening hammer murder wasn't as explicit as I'd heard, and the scene where Bunch seduces Walter in the barn was really chopped up. Thankfully, not only does the print on Netflix look incredible, but it's also fully intact. This is such a great, truly warped little nasty. The twists just keep on coming, getting sicker and more twisted as the film progresses. The ending is a real kick in the balls.
Gloria Grahame and Len Lesser own the film as the pair of crazies who will get those welfare checks at any cost. Melody Patterson is an arrogant bitch as Ellie, so I never felt much sympathy for her. Vic Tayback is the perverted detective who takes more than a passing interest in Ellie's predicament. His character made my skin crawl.
"Blood and Lace" is pure, untarnished nihilism on film. There's nary a sympathetic character in sight as the sleaze and melodrama run rampant. One also has to wonder if Wes Craven was inspired by this film's masked freak when he came up with the look of Freddy Krueger. The only thing I don't care for here is the music. It's overwrought in several places where something more subdued would have added to the overall effect. This is a gem that deserves a stronger reputation.
Screams of a Winter Night (1979)
Superb regional horror film about a group of friends who go on a weekend excursion to a lakeside cabin in the wilds of Louisiana. Once there, they start telling each others various "true" stories of the macabre. The place they're staying happens to have a morbid history of it's own, but is it really true? I had been wanting to see this film for many years, but with the tape being exceedingly rare, it took a good while before I got the opportunity. After finally checking it out, it rapidly became my new favorite anthology.
The first story, "Moss Point Man", is a combination of bigfoot tale and old urban legend. It's the weakest of the lot, but it's short. The second bit, "The Green Light", is the best as three fraternity pledges must spend the night in an old building where a mysterious green light has been seen emanating from the upper floors. This one has a unique ending and some creepy moments with the guys hearing sounds from the floors above them. The third and final tale, "Crazy Annie", involves a girl who goes crazy after an attempted date rape. The story is typical, but it's well-acted by the main girl.
That said, this is the only omnibus I've seen where the wrap-around segment is actually the strongest aspect of the picture. The area our characters are staying is said to be plagued by an Indian wind demon. The opening credits are very effective as one family's encounter with the malevolent entity plays out via sound only. Once our main group arrives, John, the one guy who know about the place's history, shows another guy the old house and graves of the family. This is another unsettling scene, one that gave me a "Blair Witch" vibe.
As the film plays out, the wind builds and builds, culminating in a terrific ending. There's also some intriguing subtext about the nature of scary stories and the basis behind them.
The Disappeared (2008)
Don't let it disappear from your radar
After suffering a mental breakdown following the disappearance of his younger brother, Matt is released from the hospital and tries to get back to a sense of normalcy. However, his father blames him and Matt's own guilt continues to haunt him. Before long, visions of his brother begin to plague him as well. Is it just Matt having another breakdown, or is his brother really appearing to him?
This interesting British horror works as a sort of old school mystery by way of ghost story. The overall feel of the film is very ominous from the start. Matt, previously a happy teen, is now alienated and deeply troubled. He meets a girl who lives next door, herself a rather distant sort. Some of the ghostly encounters with the brother are typical. Other bits, like a scene with a psychic, are eerie and add to the intrigue of the picture. One major aspect of the story is easily telegraphed. Another, not so much. The climactic scenes are strong, the ending suitably somber. While the film falls back on certain clichés at times, it's still an effective slice of ghostly horror that packs a nice bit of emotional resonance.
A Reflection of Fear (1972)
Sondra Locke stars in this obscure gem as Marguerite, an odd, but very intellectual teenage girl who is kept isolated by her vindictive mother and grandmother. When her father comes to visit with his new fiancée, a perverted love triangle develops with Marguerite as the other woman.
Directed by famed cinematographer William A. Fraker, this is a solid psychological horror film with an ending that took me by surprise and adds a whole new layer to everything seen prior. The relationship between Marguerite and her dad, played by Robert Shaw, is quite uncomfortable, especially when he does nothing to discourage her attempts to court him right in front of his fiancée. Marguerite, clearly unhinged from being raised by her man-hating mother, also has hateful conversations with one of her dolls, believing it to be a real person. This, along with Marguerite's fears of being left in her hell, of her father abandoning her again, eventually leads to a murder mystery.
There's strong acting across the board, especially from Locke, who I just saw recently in a similarly off-kilter role in "The Shadow of Chikara". She definitely had a knack for playing creepy. As for the aforementioned ending, it's definitely a stunner. I can think of at least two later slashers that may have been inspired by it.
The film was apparently edited by the studio for no apparent reason, and this shows in the latter half, as scenes seem to end before they've really even begun. It can be a little confusing, and one hopes that the cut bits will be restored some day.
Next of Kin (1982)
An undiscovered classic from down under
Following the death of her mother, Linda inherits the retirement home that she ran. Once there, reading through her mother's diary sets off a series of unsettling memories. Bizarre occurrences begin taking place as well, almost as if someone were toying with her.
I've seen this Aussie gem referred to as a slasher film on more than one occasion, though I wouldn't necessarily call it a slasher myself. It's more of a slow-burning mood piece, one that's quite ambiguous at times. It's also effectively creepy, one of my favorite scenes involving a figure watching Linda just out of her eye range as she roams the woods in search of her boyfriend. Said boyfriend is played by John Jarratt, a mainstay in Australian horror, and his presence here is a welcome one as always. Jacki Kerin is Linda, and she's solid as the isolated heroine who doesn't feel completely at home back in her old stomping grounds.
Naturally, the filming locations are gorgeous and the cinematography does a fine job of catching them in all of their glory. The film is complimented by a unique score and some stylish sequences, such as one terrific slow-motion bit where Linda is rushing down a flight of stairs. The ending gets really wild, leaving the film's more subdued nature behind for an extravagant finale.
I first discovered this film back in the early 90's when I stumbled across the VHS in H.E.B.'s video rental section of all places, that memorable cover art catching my eye. Even now, the film is just as effective an experience as it was way back then. All said and done, this is one of Australia's finest contributions to the genre. In fact, only "Long Weekend" is on the same level.
Fatal Pulse (1988)
Brainless bimbos on sorority row
A late 80's slasher with a depraved psycho who seems fixated on the women of one particular sorority house.
Mainly remembered for the infamous kill via record, this one has never had a good reputation. No doubt, there's some stupid stuff here. For starters, the sorority bimbos are dumb enough to keep staying in the same house despite the fact that they're obviously in danger. Joe Estevez has a ridiculous role as the resident red herring, a Vietnam vet who owns the house and enjoys spying on the girls as they undress. He also has one of the more amusing flashback scenes you're likely to witness. The main character is a bland douchebag who whines for the majority of the film. His rival looks like someone who stepped out of the 50's. The cops are idiots who don't even appear to be paying much attention to the investigation.
With all that said, "Fatal Pulse" is fun to watch if you're a lover of cheese. This is a bad movie, no doubt, but I had a good time with it. Certainly more so than I did with overrated slasher trash like "Halloween II" or "Prom Night". There's an ample amount of nudity on display, too. For no apparent reason, the killer strips the women before each murder. The explanation behind the killings is certainly different, though the identity of the culprit comes as no surprise.
Oh, and no review would be complete without mentioning the lead's obnoxious friend who acts like a complete moron and is even accompanied by his own signature sound effect whenever he enters a scene. At one point, he dresses up like a superhero to fend off a mob. Yep, this is a weird one.