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Fight for Your Life (1977)
Great entertainment, but certainly won't appeal to everyone
FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE (1977) **** William Sanderson, Robert Judd, Dan Faraldo, Peter Yoshida. If there was ever a movie that could push the audience's buttons, it was Fight for Your Life. During its limited theatrical run, it reportedly caused near riots in theaters wherever it was shown. It's easy to see why. The movie follows three escaped convicts, led by racist hillbilly psychopath Jesse Cain (William Sanderson), who take an African-American family hostage in their home and torture them. Cain spews vicious racial epithets almost constantly as he and his cohorts (who, ironically enough, are Latino and Asian) subject the family to a host of racial and sexual humiliations. Though it's easy to dismiss as mere exploitation, Fight for Your Life speaks volumes about what America had on its collective mind in the late 1970's, reflecting anxieties about the effects of drugs, violent crime and volatile race relations on the country. Of course, it's also great entertainment. Thanks to a strong script from Straw Weisman and Robert Endelson's smart direction, there's never a dull moment in this film, though it certainly isn't for all viewers.
Mediocre Euro-trash fare
NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE, THE (1971) *½ Antonio De Teffé (as `Anthony Steffen'), Marina Malfatti, Erika Blanc, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Roberto Maldera. More giallo than horror movie, Evelyn is the story of a wealthy, slightly insane London playboy who is haunted by images of dead wife. Seeking to inherit the family fortune, his conniving cousin -- teamed with a pair of London strippers -- plots to drive him over the edge for good. If you can suffer through the often tedious first hour and a half, the outrageous ending is good for a laugh or two, but otherwise there's little to recommend here.
One and a half stars out of five.
Great gore effects, but otherwise unremarkable zombie fare
DEMONS (1985) **½ Urbarno Barberini, Natasha Hovey, Karl Zinny, Fiore Argento. Produced by Dario Argento and directed by Lamberto Bava, this hyper-gory Italian film is about a group of people who are all given free tickets to a horror movie. Soon after it begins, the unsuspecting moviegoers, like the characters in the film, start turning into flesh-hungry zombies. It all sounds promising enough, but that's where the originality ends. The audience inexplicably finds itself trapped inside the theater and the rest of the movie is pure formula: a group of anonymous, one-dimensional characters is picked off one by one by the zombies, only to become zombies themselves, who (you guessed it) pick off the remaining anonymous, one-dimensional characters. Of course, Bava knows that it's all about the gore and, on that score at least, Demons really delivers. There's enough gut munching, eye gouging and scalp tearing to satisfy even the most hardened gorehound, and the special effects (courtesy of Argento regular Sergio Stivaletti) are about as good as they come. Thirty-something types will also appreciate the early 80s heavy-metal soundtrack, which features Mötley Crüe (`Save Our Souls') and Accept (`Fast as a Shark'), among others.
Hell Night (1981)
Linda Blair saves this otherwise nondescript horror flick
HELL NIGHT (1981) **½ Linda Blair, Vincent Van Patten, Peter Barton, Kevin Brophy, Suki Goodwin. Linda Blair stars as a sorority pledge who, along with three others (Van Patten, Barton and Goodwin) must spend the night in Garth Manor, an old abandoned house, as a part of her initiation. According to legend, the house's former owner killed his wife and three children there years before, though one of the children (who was said to be horribly deformed) is rumored to have survived and may still be lurking in the labyrinth of tunnels below the house. After Blair and the others start finding the mutilated bodies of their classmates on the grounds of Garth Manor, they begin to wonder if the legend is true. Blair turns in a surprisingly effective performance as a teenager from a working-class background who feels a little out of place among her well-heeled counterparts. She manages to make her character seem almost three-dimensional, which is rare indeed for a slasher flick. It's just a shame she didn't get more screen time. The film has some pacing problems: after a great setup in the first 15 minutes, the film really lags, making the middle third tough going at times. But the intense final minutes of the film feature some terrific scares, and are definitely worth waiting for.
Howard Vernon strikes again!
ORLOFF AND THE INVISIBLE MAN (1971) *** Howard Vernon, Brigitte Carva, Fernando Sancho, Paco Valladares, Isabel del Río, Evane Hanska. In this 1971 French-Spanish co-production, the irrepressible Howard Vernon returns for his second turn as Dr. Orloff. This time, he's created an invisible man who feeds on human blood. It's fairly typical Eurosleaze fare: there's the usual muddled plot, cheap special effects (wait until you see the invisible `man'!) and a fair amount of gratuitous nudity (the rape of the servant girl by the invisible man, with shots of Vernon leering through the whole thing, is especially tasteless). But a good score, nice atmosphere and fairly brisk direction by Pierre Chevalier manage to keep things interesting.
A powerful thriller
VENOM (1982) ***½ Klaus Kinski, Oliver Reed, Nicol Williamson, Sarah Miles, Susan George. Even though this film is called "Venom" and features a snake, this is no "creature feature." Two English domestics (Reed and George), along with an international criminal (Kinski), conspire to kidnap their wealthy employers' ten-year-old son. The plan goes awry after the boy mistakenly receives a highly aggressive, super-poisonous black mamba (originally intended for a research facility), which kills one of the conspirators and transforms the attempted kidnapping into a tense armed standoff. A box-office flop in its day, American audiences were probably turned off by the film's stodgy English production values and thanks to a misleading advertising campaign probably felt duped once they realized it wasn't a killer snake movie. Still, a strong script and Kinski and Reed's explosive performances make this a powerful thriller. Highly recommended.
The Concorde... Airport '79 (1979)
Far better than the critics would have you believe!
CONCORDE: AIRPORT '79, THE (1979) **½ Alain Delon, Susan Blakely, Robert Wagner, Sylvia Kristel, George Kennedy. This fourth and final entry in the Airport series is arguably the weakest of the bunch, but it doesn't deserve the critical thrashing it's received over the years. True, the script is rife with hokey, often saccharine dialog (in one nauseating scene, a television reporter (John Davidson) and his Russian gymnast girlfriend recite wedding vows to each other when they think the plane is going down), and leaves far too many unresolved subplots (thanks mostly to the use of a huge ensemble cast of Hollywood has-beens, a series trademark). But Airport fans won't care, because the action is what matters and on that score, at least, The Concorde delivers. Even with its dated special effects, the movie still packs a wallop, delivering plenty of nail-biting suspense and a spectacular ending. Worth seeing.
A shocking but moving film experience
MAÎTRESSE (1973) **** Gérard Depardieu, Bulle Ogier, André Rouyer, Nathalie Keryan. In this Barbet Schroeder film, Olivier (Depardieu) burglarizes the apartment of a dominatrix named Ariane (Ogier). After Ariane catches him in the act, the two fall in love and Olivier struggles to accept his girlfriend's bizarre profession. In the uncut version, some of the torture scenes (which were purportedly filmed using real-life "slaves" of a real-life dominatrix) are truly painful to watch, and are undoubtedly some of the most shocking ever to appear in a non-pornographic movie. Which leads one to ask: Is Maîtresse an artsy exploitation flick disguised as a love story, or simply a love story that makes legitimate use of graphic (and violent) sexual imagery? Either way, the film is moving, provocative and impossible to forget. Highly recommended.
Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)
Classic '70s sci-fi trash
KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (1977) **½ William Shatner, Tiffany Bolling, Woody Strode, Lieux Dressler. In yet another one of those don't-mess-with-Mother-Nature science-fiction flicks, William Shatner plays a small-town veterinarian who, along with a university researcher (Bolling), tries to figure out why thousands of tarantulas have suddenly descended upon Verde Valley, Arizona. Shatner gives a surprisingly restrained and effective performance, which makes you wonder what he could have done if he hadn't wasted most of his career making all those Star Trek movies. The apocalyptic, supposed-to-blow-your-mind ending is utterly preposterous, but that's part of what makes this film such a priceless piece of '70s drive-in trash.
An embarrassment, even for an Italian sci-fi movie
WAR OF THE PLANETS (1977) ½* John Richardson, Yanti Sommer, West Buchanan, Ely King. In this film by Alfonso Brescia (as "Al Bradley"), astronauts land on an alien planet and agree to help its humanoid inhabitants battle a super-computer that has taken over the planet. Even by 1977 standards, the sets, costumes and special effects look badly dated, the dialogue is often incomprehensible and the performances are uniformly languid. The theme of the film--that man shouldn't become too heavily dependent on machines--simply gets lost in the muck. The Italians were never that good at sci-fi, but this movie is truly an embarrassment.
Horror Hospital (1973)
Slow and pointless
HORROR HOSPITAL (1973) ½* Michael Gough, Robin Askwith, Vanessa Shaw, Ellen Pollack. Patients check in, but they don't check out. This British production is ponderously slow, pointless dreck. Avoid at all costs.
El espanto surge de la tumba (1973)
Mediocre Euro-horror for Naschy fans only
HORROR FROM THE TOMB (1973) *½ Jacinto Molina (as "Paul Naschy"), Emma Cohen, Victor Alcázar, Helga Liné, Besabe Ruiz. A descendant of a medieval warlock (Naschy) tries to locate his ancestor's grave, with predictably disastrous results. Slow moving and formulaic, this movie may be of special interest to Naschy fans, but most others will find it difficult to sit through.
Chi l'ha vista morire? (1972)
A formulaic but engaging murder mystery
WHO SAW HER DIE? (1972) *** George Lazenby, Anita Strindberg, Peter Chatel, Adolfo Celi. In this engaging giallo directed by Aldo Lado, George Lazenby plays Franco Serpieri, a well-known Venetian sculptor. After Serpieri's young daughter is murdered, he grows impatient with the efforts of the police and tries to find the killer himself, with some help from his estranged wife (Strindberg). The film sticks to a familiar formula: the likely suspects are killed off one by one, and the last man (or woman) standing is revealed as the murderer. But the process feels clumsier than it ought to here, and since the killer turns out to be one of the film's least developed characters, the ending is less than satisfying. Fortunately, though, painterly cinematography and an intriguing score by the brilliant Ennio Morricone help compensate for the weaknesses of the script. Recommended.
Terror y encajes negros (1985)
Worthwhile drama misleadingly marketed as a horror film
TERROR Y ENCAJES NEGROS (1985) ***½ Gonzalo Vega, Maribel Guardia, Claudio Obregón. Misleadingly marketed as a horror film, Terror y encajes negros ("Terror and Black Lace") is more melodrama than anything else. It's the story of Isabel (Maribel Guardia), a young woman suffocated by her jealous, controlling husband (played perfectly by Gonzalo Vega), who keeps her virtually imprisoned in their apartment. The first two-thirds of the film chronicles Isabel's struggle to break out of this extreme isolation. The story takes a sharp turn in the final 30 minutes, when Isabel is terrorized by the psychotic Cesar (played by veteran character actor Obregón), after she witnesses him disposing of a dead body in her building. To the film's credit, though, Isabel's ordeal isn't just horror for horror's sake; it's skillfully woven back into the main story as a way of highlighting both Isabel's loneliness and her husband's irrational distrust. Guardia was nominated for an Ariel Award (Mexico's equivalent to the Oscars) for her performance. Worth seeing. In Spanish with English subtitles.
A must-see for fans of radical underground cinema
I WAS A TEENAGE SERIAL KILLER (1993) **** Kristin Calabrese. Sarah Jacobson (Mary Jane's Not A Virgin Anymore) directs this extraordinary example of feminist underground filmmaking. Shot in gritty black and white, I Was a Teenage Serial Killer is the story of Mary, a young woman who gets fed up with being mistreated by men and decides to take matters into her own hands. The result: an angry, estrogen-fueled bloodbath! Don't believe the superficial reviews you read on this site. Film Threat Video Guide voted this groundbreaking film one of the "Top 25 Underground Films of All Time." I bought this video in college and must've watched it 50 times. I was blown away by it every time I saw it. Trust me, this film is worth seeing (if you can find it). If you're into Hollywood big-budget crap, this might not be for you, but for fans of radical underground cinema, it's a must-see.
Pointless blaxploitation/horror hybrid
BLACKENSTEIN (1973) ½* John Hart, Ivory Stone, Joe DeSue, Roosevelt Jackson. In this film directed by William A. Levey (Wham Bam Thank You Spaceman; Skatetown, U.S.A.), "Dr. Stein" replaces the arms and legs of a black Vietnam vet named Eddie, but something goes wrong and Eddie becomes a murdering, rampaging monster. This low-budget mess is long on phony-looking gore, but short on plot. If you're interested in blaxploitation/horror hybrids like this, check out the vastly superior "Blacula" instead.
L'éventreur de Notre-Dame (1975)
EXORCISME (1974) ** Jesus Franco, Lina Romay. Jesus Franco directs and stars in this story about a crazed ex-priest who witnesses a series of staged "Black Masses." Convinced the participants are possessed by Satan, he kills them in order to "exorcise" their demons. Although this storyline has a lot of promise, numbingly repetitive dialogue and Franco's amateurish acting keep the film from reaching its true potential. It's also padded with numerous sex scenes--featuring suggested autoerotism, bondage, sexualized torture, lesbianism and an orgy, among other things--none of which serve to advance the plot. The result is a film that tries to be both porno and horror film, but doesn't really succeed at either.
Glover shines in this remake of the cult classic
WILLARD (2003) *** ½ Crispin Glover, R. Lee Ermey, Laura Harring. In this remake of the 1971 Daniel Mann film, Crispin Glover stars as Willard Stiles, a lonely, slightly unhinged, loser who trains an army of rats to do his bidding. The movie is a little hard to get into at first because the silly premise, but Glover really sells it and, later on at least, it doesn't seem so unbelievable. Aside from Glover's excellent acting, other high points include Ermey's in-your-face performance as Willard's abusive boss, stylish direction by Glen Morgan and terrific special effects (the computer-generated rats are surprisingly lifelike), all of which combine to make this one of the best horror films in years. Not for the squeamish and definitely not for children.
Le notti del terrore (1981)
More irresistible zombie trash
BURIAL GROUND: THE NIGHTS OF TERROR (1980) *** Karin Well, Gianluigi Chirizzi, Simone Mattioli. As any fan of the genre knows, there are only two plots in zombie movies. One is where humans bring the zombies to life, either intentionally or unintentionally, through evil scientific experiments or toxic chemical spills. The other is where someone unwittingly summons or awakens the dead, as in this film. Here, an archaeologist goes poking around in an ancient Etruscan tomb, and after banging his hammer on one of the walls a few times, the place is suddenly lousy with hungry, flesh-eating zombies. In the film's most notorious scene, "little" Michael (played by twenty-something actor Peter Bark) decides to make a move on his own mother (Mariangela Giordano). Thankfully, mom shoots him down, but when the boy later becomes a zombie (you saw that coming, right?), he lives out his incestuous fantasies in a most peculiar way. You'll have to see it to believe it. Burial Ground is one of the more entertaining zombie films.
L'altro inferno (1981)
One of Mattei's finest
THE OTHER HELL (1980) *** Franca Stoppi, Carlo De Mejo. In this Bruno Mattei film, a young priest (De Mejo), is sent to a convent to investigate a series of bizarre and brutal murders. The nuns think Satan is to blame; the priest thinks the murders are the work of a psychopath. The truth turns out to be something in between. Stylish direction by Mattei, a stunning performance by Stoppi (who was even more brilliant in Joe D'Amato's Beyond the Darkness), and a pulse-pounding score by Goblin combine to make this a solid offering. Recommended.
Zombi Holocaust (1980)
For hardcore zombie-flick addicts only
ZOMBI HOLOCAUST (1980) * Ian McColloch, Alexandra Delli Colli, Sherry Buchanan, Peter O'Neal. Marketed in the U.S. under the title "Doctor Butcher, M.D.," this cheap knockoff was obviously designed to cash in on the zombie movie craze of the late '70s and early '80s. Since much of the plot is stolen from Lucio Fulci's masterful Zombie (1979), you might as well watch that one instead.
The Body Shop (1972)
DR. GORE (1973) ½* J.G. "Pat" Patterson, Jenny Driggers, Roy Mehaffey. This was the second and last film by director and lead actor J. G. "Pat" Patterson. (Mr. Patterson reportedly died a year or so after this movie was made.) It's the story of a "doctor" who loses his wife and then decides to build the "perfect mate." Like a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein, he goes out and kills half-dozen or so women and then sews together the parts he likes best. The resulting "perfect mate" is a blond, well-endowed, empty-headed bimbo. The film is so technically inept that it's more annoying than entertaining, and the few unintentionally funny moments the film provides aren't worth the effort it takes to endure the rest of it. Rated X in its day (probably for violence, since there's very little nudity), the gore is laughably phony by today's standards.
Worthwhile but rarely seen Naschy film
DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE (1972) ** ½ Paul Naschy, Haydée Politoff, Rosanna Yanni, Ingrid Garbo. Four women and a man wreck their stagecoach and must take refuge in a nearby castle. Unfortunately for the travelers, the castle's owner, Dr. Wendell Marlow (Paul Naschy), turns out to be none other than Count Dracula. After Dracula falls in love with one of the women, she must decide whether to live eternally as Dracula's bride or reject him and continue to live as a mortal. Her not-so-surprising choice leads to a strange and surprising ending. Like a lot of '70s European horror movies, the film suffers from slow pacing and a somewhat muddled plot. But there's lots of gothic atmosphere and a few creepy moments here and there to keep things interesting. Worth a look.
La figlia di Frankenstein (1971)
Wacky Italian take on the Frankenstein legend
LADY FRANKENSTEIN (1971) ** Joseph Cotton, Rosalba Neri, Mickey Hargitay, Paul Müller. Fresh out of medical school and eager to prove her abilities as a "surgeon," Dr. Frankenstein's daughter (Rosalba Neri) sets out to build her own monster-to kill the one created by her late father, which is now running amok terrorizing the locals. As if that weren't goofy enough, she decides to construct her monster using the brain of her father's assistant (whom she's just married) and the body of the hunky village idiot. It's a movie that could only be made in Italy and only in the '70s. Euro-horror junkies will love it; all others should avoid.
FANGS OF THE LIVING DEAD (1969) * Anita Ekberg, Julián Ugarte, Gianni Medici, Diana Lorys. In this 1969 film by Amando de Ossorio (Tombs of the Blind Dead) Ekberg plays an Italian fashion model who inherits a creepy Spanish castle, only to learn that her ancestors were vampires. The sets and costumes are beautiful, but can't compensate for the stiff performances, poor dubbing and slow pacing. Avoid the Retromedia DVD version. Even though it purports to be the 88-minute "Americanized" version of the film, it's only 74 minutes and appears to be an edited-for-television version.