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Die Hinrichtung (1976)
The title's right on the money, I'll give them that.
Though the architects of Naked Massacre clearly approached this saga of brutality and depravity with a message in mind, any lofty moral they were striving to put across becomes mostly muddled by the almost gleeful savagery it's framed in. This grim and sleazy little snuff flick is neither pleasant to watch nor particularly entertaining, and the result is a movie that boasts some remarkable qualities but nevertheless resonates overall as a cheap excuse to trot out a sequence of graphic sexual murders.
The bulk of the film is offered as a character study, tracing the depressing descent of an American serviceman named Cain who becomes stranded in Belfast after his discharge from Vietnam and finds himself thrust into the middle of yet another war. Much of the opening act is spent exploring the mundane facets of his miserable circumstance--people-watching in the park, negotiating to procure a sandwich at a pub on credit, sleeping in a homeless shelter, trying desperately to connect with anyone in a place he is utterly disconnected from. While this slow-burning exploration causes the first half of the movie to drag on at times, the approach does demonstrate ample promise, particularly for those who have seen how effectively John McNaughton later channeled a similarly immersive methodology into his masterful Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer. However, this film's ostensive motivations are immediately amended when Cain's aimless wandering leads him to a residence shared by eight nurses, who show him kindness and give their penniless visitor food, an act of charity that unfortunately seals their doom.
Mathieu Carriere's lead turn is notably excellent, and he gets an able boost from the rest of the cast. There isn't much in the way of suspense (when an insane man enters the lair of eight attractive women and brandishes a knife in a movie called Naked Massacre, we pretty much know exactly what's about to transpire), but because the performances are all strong, the happenings are infused with a heightened sense of tension and realism. There are even bouts of near-brilliance, such as the nerve-wracking sequence that occurs after Cain guides one of his prisoners, delirious with shock, through the house past the littered bodies of her dead friends; their ensuing exchange at the kitchen table may be the most chilling scene in the film, and the measured interchange between future victim and smoldering killer is riveting to behold.
The name of this outing was originally slated to be Born For Hell--a reference to the tattoo that adorns Cain's forearm, and perhaps a reference to the greater parable the filmmakers were intending to weave. One can only assume it was the picture's exploitation-minded distributors who favored the title Naked Massacre to secure their product a prime slot on the thriving grindhouse circuit. They evidently knew their audience; the ghastly cycle of rape, torture, and murder that unfolds when Cain returns to the house to abuse the ingenuous nurses one by one will only be palatable to viewers already acclimated to such displays after seeing films like (the far more effective) Last House On The Left and (the far more explicit) I Spit On Your Grave. Naked Massacre is nowhere near as tautly-crafted as the former, yet while the rape scenes here never venture into the gratuitously repugnant realms of the latter, those sections are executed with enough unsettling detail to make them wholly uncomfortable to watch. The most horrific sequence arrives when Cain attempts to force two of his captives to engage in lesbian sex, and the outburst of barbarity he exhibits when one of them refuses to comply marks the apex of monstrous behavior in a film already laden with it.
These events are loosely based on the killing spree perpetuated by Chicago mass murderer Richard Speck (one character helpfully breaks the fourth wall to reference those crimes, just to make sure everyone in the audience gets it). The change of setting to Belfast during that city's infamous conflict is ostensibly meant to further the filmmakers' assertion that violence begets violence, and recasting the killer as a Vietnam vet fresh from a front-row seat to unspeakable atrocities is surely intended to augment that lesson. Nevertheless, while the inclusion of contextual commentary about the dangerous desensitization we all become susceptible to when the violence all over our television screens and in our daily lives is prevalent enough to render it almost commonplace is--I presume--propounded with noble intentions, that observation ends up resonating as sort of a pot-kettle-black proclamation amidst a panorama that meanwhile offers up seven attractive and virtuous women being slaughtered in unflinchingly-sadistic ways. Since so much of the film is centered around Cain's despondent reality (bluntly underscored when he subsequently identifies himself as "someone who wants to die"), what this chronicle actually solicits, however inadvertently, is for us to show a little sympathy for him. Which is, you know, decidedly misguided. Maybe my heart just isn't big enough, but "awh, poor guy, look at how much his life sucks" never factored into my thinking while I was watching Cain terrorize, assault, and assassinate seven sweet and likeable nurses.
Don't get me wrong, I've loved grindhouse films my entire life and have a lot of fun watching them. But Naked Massacre isn't very fun, and as a meditation on what drives human beings to commit inhuman acts, there's not nearly enough food for thought here to satisfy that objective. In the end, this flick certainly lives up to its name and is as disturbing as its content dictates, so there's a degree of success in that. But if the film-makers' intention was indeed to elevate this chronicle beyond a pure exploitation vehicle, they seem to have missed their own point.
I kept hoping this movie was going to morph into something less ridiculous.
Hamstrung by stiff acting, an incongruous musical score that belongs in a Golan-Globus cop flick, and a flimsy concept better suited for an episode of Tales From The Darkside than a feature-length film, this bland but serviceable thriller probably won't resonate with too many horror fans as a classic. Metamorphosis isn't a particularly original or exciting movie, it's just kind of there, and none of the ideas on the screen here seem to suggest any loftier ambitions than those this release ultimately realized as a prototypical late-'80s/early-'90s direct-to-video offering. Nonetheless, there's just enough meat here to keep forgiving genre fans engaged--and a burst of roaring unintentional comedy awaiting those who stick things out until the final act.
The plot owes a large debt to David Cronenberg's masterful take on The Fly, the only novel alteration being that this film's protagonist-slash-antagonist is fixated on a scientific innovation intended to stop humans from aging rather than molecular teleportation (though please don't read that comparison as an equivalency; neither the action nor the effects in this flick are anywhere near as breathtaking as the material Croneberg summoned a few years earlier). When Dr. Peter Housman is faced with the threat of having the funding for his genetic research cancelled, his desperate need for results drives him to act as his own guinea pig and inject himself with his experimental serum. Obviously, since this is a horror flick, that turns out to be a terrible idea. Rather than making his cells invincible to the ravages of time, the inoculation instead imbues him with supernatural strength (hey, that's not such a bad side effect) and causes him to unconsciously prowl the night beating up prostitutes (okay, yeah, that one's bad). Once you factor in the unpleasant matter of his subsequently turning into a deformed monstrosity that feasts on human flesh , it becomes pretty clear that Dr. Houseman isn't nearly as brilliant a scientist as everyone else in the movie keeps saying he is.
Since this tale could easily be told in thirty minutes of screen-time, the film is padded with unnecessary passages that accomplish nothing more than stifling whatever momentum the scenario builds. Houseman's romantic entanglement with a single mom who is sent by the university's money-men to assess his work is ostensibly intended to mirror Geena Davis's presence in The Fly, but this subplot adds virtually nothing to the story other than the opportunity for a dimly-lit and wantonly gratuitous softcore sex scene. Other space-filling mechanisms include needless interludes informing us that the young son of Houseman's inamorata doesn't like him very much (which makes sense, since he isn't especially likeable) and numerous tedious vignettes of the Doctor doing science-y stuff on his computer (to remind us he is in fact a scientist, I suppose). There's also far too much time spent squandered on secondary characters who supply jargon-filled extrapolations on the biological causality of the titular transformation; though probably meant to clarify Houseman's plight for the audience, their accounts only serve to make the entire affair seem more implausible, particularly when the explanation the peanut gallery settles upon is that the professor's serum has activated cells that have lain dormant in the human body through millions of years of evolution--in other words, mankind's distant ancestors were evidently homicidal reptile-faced blood-beasts, too.
The gore effects are far from spectacular, but handled capably enough, and despite some other criticisms I've read, the various stages of Dr. Houseman's grotesque makeover are executed about as effectively as the budget allows. Unfortunately, the same can't be said about the penultimate phase of his progression, when he mutates into what appears to be a strobe-lit dinosaur puppet. This monumentally silly reveal renders what's supposed to be the gripping culmination an exhibition of pure slapstick which completely upends the possibility of anyone taking this outing seriously--though the characters who encounter Houseman's climactic monstrosity gasp with shock and horror, any seasoned genre fan will undoubtedly deem laughter a far more fitting reaction. And the chuckles are bound to keep on coming when you get a load of the goofy tacked-on "twist" ending, too.
Ultimately, despite the absurdist heights the film reaches in its last reel, the sum total of Metamorphosis as a whole is merely decent. Whether or not that moderate result and a couple of giggles is worth 90 minutes of your time is up to you.
La campana del infierno (1973)
A fantastic and effective obscurity that deserves inclusion in the Eurohorror canon.
Bell From Hell owes far more of its presentation to the tradition of gothic melodrama than grand guignol, so viewers seeking a purely visceral horror tale are apt to find themselves disappointed by what unfurls on the screen here. However, anyone seeking a taut and fantastically crafted thriller will find a whole lot to like in this under-seen Spanish production that utilizes excellent performances and deft directorial flourishes to forge a truly memorable gem.
The plot involves a young man named John who is released from an extended asylum stay and returns to the home of his aunt and her three lovely daughters, the devious quartet who conspired to have him falsely committed after the death of his mother to gain control of his inheritance. At first, John seems content to stage macabre pranks and shamelessly bed his buxom cousins, but soon enough his machinations become more firmly focused on revenge, which he summarily sets into motion with malicious and decisive precision.
The film's pace is deliberately measured, favoring atmosphere and sustained tension over a rote cycle of vengeance, and the orchestration of this slow-burning approach is superb. Director Claudio Guerin inhabits his reels with splashes of genuine brilliance, wringing maximum suspense out of even the most seemingly mundane scenes, and his sure-handed guidance elevates this well-worn thriller scenario into something far more engrossing and surprising. This is a beautifully shot piece, resplendent with fog-shrouded locales and somber lighting that summon a credible miasma of dread over the happenings, while grim little touches like the superimposing of the characters' childhood home movies over the bloodcurdling screams of one of John's victims add immeasurably to the potency of the film's more savage sequences. Additionally, Guerin's inspired decision to largely eschew any sort of musical score for his opus allows natural sounds and silence to punctuate his occasional forays into abject brutality to chilling effect; as a result, several scenes--such as the film's most indelible moment, a vicious attack committed with the assistance of hundreds of riled bees--are rendered all the more stunning because of their stark and realistic presentation.
Still, the movie wouldn't work nearly as well as it does without the manic, brilliant performance of Renaud Verley, whose portrayal of John essays one of the most nuanced psychopaths in screen history. Throughout the film, John demonstrates that he is capable of vacillating between serpentine charm and animalistic fury in the blink of an eye, and Verley is right there with him every step of the way. Even into the saga's midpoint, when every exchange between him and his impending victims is rife with potential violence, the actor's restraint and subtlety is gripping to behold, and the disarming affability he exudes makes his sudden eruptions of violence all the more staggering and unsettling. Though Guerin's bleak vision lends Bell From Hell its sepulchral aura and the excellent supporting cast ably populates his dark world with richly-drawn and engaging characters, it is Verley's malevolently charismatic performance that handily steals the show.
The climax is particularly strong, delivering a series of unexpected twists that wrap a pitch-black bow around the entire package. A tale this artfully crafted is well-served by a final reel that never settles for the obvious, and in that sense Bell From Hell's last toll is deeply satisfying. Even better, the story is left with plenty of dangling threads for viewers to puzzle over, which is a decidedly fitting outcome for a picture whose nimble composition leaves such a lasting impression.
Sadly, as of this writing, the film has been largely consigned to public domain limbo. The Mill Creek print I viewed was woefully murky and the sound elements were of such poor quality that some of the dialogue was virtually inaudible. Bell From Hell is surely an offering that would benefit greatly from a more vivid presentation, so here's hoping one of the top-tier genre-focused Blu Ray imprints will get around to giving this title a loving restoration--certainly, far worse movies than this have received far better treatment. But no matter how you see it, Bell From Hell is most assuredly worth seeing. Recommended.
Scream Bloody Murder (1973)
Matthew's doctors should have probably kept him at the asylum a little longer.
This alternately grim and goofy curiosity doesn't offer a ton to distinguish itself among the crop of essential low-budget horror films birthed in the 1970's. However, for fans who have already made their way through all of the era's genuine classics, Scream Bloody Murder does feature enough effective moments to render it a worthy use of 90 minutes.
The plot is centered around an unhinged moppet named Matthew who is institutionalized after murdering his father via tractor for no apparent reason and then managing to run over his own hand when the deed is done. When he is discharged several years later, now outfitted with a metal hook to replace his lost appendage, he returns to the family farm just in time to discover that his beloved mother has remarried. His already dicey mental state disintegrates completely when he sees his ma (gasp!) kissing her new husband, a scandalous act that prompts him to summarily kill both of them. He wisely decides a change of scenery might be a good idea and hits the road, racking up a couple more victims along the way before eventually making the acquaintance of a prostitute named Vera, who he develops an ardent obsession for after talking to her for a total of three minutes. Determined to "save" her from her line of work, he locates a nearby mansion and slaughters its occupants, then takes Vera to the appropriated home so they can live there happily ever after together. The only thing standing in the way of Matthew's blissful vision is Vera's understandable aversion to being kidnapped and held prisoner by her demented paramour, and her desperate attempts to escape launch the film into its uneven but satisfactory climax.
Splatter enthusiasts will be pleased by a couple of suitably bloody set-pieces, while horror scholars may find the brief appearance of a barely recognizable pre-Phantasm Angus Scrimm of interest. Unfortunately, a nifty story with ample opportunities to flower into an engaging thriller is largely squandered here. The psychological duel between captive and captor is confined to the last third of the film, and moments like one harrowing sequence when Vera attempts to use the phone to call for help while bound and gagged are glossed over far too quickly to generate any true tension. Fred Holbert's Matthew isn't ultimately all that menacing, no matter how many interlopers he kills along the way, so some of the tale's potency is diluted by questionable casting. And while the character demonstrates some adequately disarming sociopathic proclivities while luring other cast members into lowering their guards, his interactions with Vera are basically creepy from the moment he meets her, which makes it a bit baffling to behold this streetwise prostitute who has ostensibly met enough unsavory men to immediately spot one actively nurturing a friendship with some random puppy-dog stalker who wanders onto her porch without preamble and insists on calling her "Daisy".
Still, Scream Bloody Murder does plenty of things right. Though abbreviated, there are several vignettes which adeptly highlight Matthew's maniacal fixation on his unwitting bestie, and his complete sexual disinterest in her is certainly novel given the rape-y mindset of many of the period's more infamous grindhouse offerings. Consequently, the way Vera eventually uses her abductor's intimacy aversion against him infuses the movie with its most suspenseful scene. The spectral images that haunt Matthew throughout his campaign of carnage are orchestrated very well, lending the affair a handful of truly unsettling moments. And the finale is genuinely shocking, putting a ghoulish exclamation point on the story and leaving us in the audience reeling from a display of kaleidoscopic mayhem that appears to have inspired William Lustig when he was putting the finishing touches on Maniac several years later.
A benchmark, this is not. But Scream Bloody Murder is assuredly entertaining and modestly intriguing. I've sat through way worse outings than this, and so have you.
Bloody Birthday (1981)
If you're going to put "Blood" in the title, you should probably put some in the movie too
The set-up for this monumentally useless slasher-lite drivel centers around three children who are born in the same hospital during an eclipse, a serendipitous occurrence which results in them growing up without a conscience. As their tenth birthdays approach, the trio of youngsters apparently spontaneously decide to go on a killing spree, whittling down parents, siblings, teachers, and random canoodling teens in a variety of unimaginative and unimpressive ways.
The clumsy staging of the murders is signaled from the opening scene, when two amorous dimwits meet their ends after climbing into an open grave to have sex (the lass is modest, and while she has no reservations about getting down in a cemetery, she feels exposed out in the open, thus the novel change of scenery). This silly intro sets the stage for the 85 minutes of tedious and ludicrous shenanigans which unfold while we watch the malevolent moppets go about their brutal business without any of the clueless adults in the film ever becoming suspicious. The parental ignorance might be believable if the killer kids exercised any tact, but when they repeatedly smash one of the fathers in the head with a baseball bat and his wife readily accepts their explanation that his (gruesome, one would imagine) injuries occurred when he fell down a flight of four stairs, the plot begins to spiral into absurdity.
Despite the sanguinary bounty advertised in the title, Bloody Birthday may well be the most tepid offering of the era. Only a single arrow to the eye gag even registers a blip on the gore meter, and the majority of the paltry homicidal handiwork occurs off-screen. The overall presentation is so tame and pedestrian that the film is more on par with the After School Specials which were being cranked out at this time, so if your looking for a hidden gem in the '80s slasher canon you most assuredly aren't going to find one here.
Save for a few sequences of gratuitous nudity, the only marginally amusing aspects of Bloody Birthday are the presences of a couple of the decade's semi-icons. Future B-action regular Michael Dudikoff turns up in a couple of scenes to make out with MTV host-to-be Julie Brown and stand in a few funeral assemblies with a blankly morose look on his face. Anyone who actually remembers who Brown is will undoubtedly be delighted to witness the extended strip tease she performs for herself, so if seeing her naked is on your bucket list, this outing admittedly delivers mightily on that front.
The biggest problems here are the prepubescent executioners, who are undoubtedly the least imposing genre villains ever presented. The most vicious of the bunch is a bespectacled sociopath who strongly resembles Skippy from "Family Ties" and even though he seems to possess the inhuman ability to fire a handgun that weighs as much as he does without experiencing any sort of recoil, the goofy grin he displays while he busts his caps offsets any sort of menace his massive weapon conjures up.
It takes no less than three failed murder attempts on the one shrewd classmate who figures out the remorseless bunch is up to no good for our diminutive hero's older sister to finally step up and offer her assistance. This leads us into the film's flaccid climax, where the band of grade-school slayers stalk the interloping duo but merit themselves an epic fail. One of the predators is subdued when a bowl of water is thrown in his face, while Skippy Junior simply runs out of bullets and gets beat up.
Only the lone girl in the crew uses her wiles to escape capture, and her mother (head still firmly inserted into her own backside, evidently) sneaks her away from the scene and flees town with her. The movie's coda reveals that mom and daughter remain at large after changing their names and that the lethal little girl has claimed another victim, thus setting the stage for Bloody Birthday 2, which was fortunately never excreted.
This tripe also loses points for its derivative score, which blatantly lifts music from Friday The 13th in a feeble attempt to give the murders some sort of impact. Good idea, but when the most intense scenes involve a flaxen-haired fifth-grader hiding in cupboards to choke people with a jump rope, screeching violins are a pale substitute for actual shocks.
I don't fault anyone who holds this cheap time-waster in high esteem; after all, I have certainly given pieces of my heart to plenty of atrocious movies. But since the lack of gore nudges Bloody Birthday out of the "Splatter" category and the absence of anything resembling suspense makes even the "Horror" designation a stretch, I'm really not sure how to classify this one. Is "Utter Crap" considered a genre?
Child's Play (1988)
Every horror fan should play with Chucky at least once
If you can get past the charmingly silly proposition of a serial killer transferring his soul into a doll to perpetuate his murderous ways, Tom Holland's Child's Play offers up a tremendously entertaining mix of humor and horror and puts a novel twist on the relatively uncrowded "toys gone bad" sub-genre.
The events in the film revolve around six year-old Andy Barclay, whose mom gives him a coveted animatronic Good Guy doll for his birthday. Unfortunately for him, his new prize is possessed by the spirit of infamous mass strangler Charles Lee Ray, and when the repackaged slayer gets up to his old tricks again, no one believes Andy's insistent claims that "Chucky did it."
The most effective aspect of Holland's execution of the material is how he's able to wring some genuine scares out of a premise that automatically lends itself to unintentional comedy. Though the film wisely acknowledges its own goofiness by peppering the slasher elements with some keenly rendered zingers, the story itself is played fairly straight and the overtly sadistic nature of Chucky's homicidal rampage ensures that the tone remains as dark as the circumstances will allow. We pretty much know going in what this flick will have in store, but the excellently crafted pace generates an admirable amount of tension, and the way each propulsive layer of the plot unfolds makes for an engrossingly taut experience which belies the basic fact that our villain here is a four foot tall plastic plaything.
Holland certainly deserves credit for much of the film's impact, but his accomplishments are handily eclipsed by FX whiz Kevin Yagher, who created the chillingly cherubic Chucky doll and brought him to life. Yagher's orchestration of the mechanical effects that allow Chucky to switch from beaming best friend to snarling psychopath remain captivating even in the modern CGI era, and the level of realism presented with this decidedly unreal character is startling and magical. Though later installments of the Child's Play franchise would replace Yagher's puppetry with whatever technological trickery was available at the time, the Chucky icon would never again be this frightening and primally savage, or look nearly as impressive.
The limited capabilities of the the era actually augment the illusion rather than hindering it, and since the focus of the film is a plastic creation with limited jointing instead of a human being with full articulation, the doll's somewhat stiff and mechanical movements are more fitting than the sort of fluid animated motions you'll see in, say, Seed Of Chucky. The scenes of our blade-wielding antagonist methodically stalking down the hallway of the apartment where much of the action takes place are fearsome and indelible, and the sudden expletive-laden shift which occurs the first time Chucky reveals himself to the disbelieving mother of his "friend till the end" still packs a whopper of a jolt no matter how many times I've seen it. Despite Holland's sure-handed direction, this flick simply wouldn't work as well as it does without the efficiency of Chucky's menacing mien, and even if the notion of a killer doll strikes you as silly, there's no denying how powerfully that device is brought to fruition here.
Our non-robotic cast does an excellent job as well, particularly the always welcome Chris Sarandon, who portrays skeptical homicide detective-turned-intervening hero Mike Norris. Young Alex Vincent is a bit over his head tackling the wide range of emotions his role as Andy requires, but he does a great job considering his age, and the final bitter punchline he delivers to Chucky is a true gem. Brad Dourif seems to relish the excesses he's allowed to indulge as the voice of Chucky, and his witty, mirthfully malicious banter adds as much nuance and actual character to the doll he inhabits as Kevin Yagher's machinery does.
There isn't a ton of gore to be had here, but that dearth is actually pretty crucial to the plot since the initial killings are staged to look like accidents. Things get slightly more gruesome as the film proceeds, but the emphasis here is decidedly on suspense rather than splatter, so bloodthirsty viewers should probably be aware of that before they start imagining what nasty uses Chucky will concoct for the butcher knife he's grasping in most of Child's Play's promotional art.
Some slippery mythology hampers the storyline a bit, and while the introduction of an inner city voodoo shaman responsible for teaching Chucky his Dambala trick is essential to our understanding of the film's rules, the wisdom he dispenses ends up being the lone befuddling portion of this caper. You see, the impetus for Chucky's climactic pursuit of Andy is the necessity of shifting his essence into the body of the first person he revealed himself to, otherwise he'll be trapped forever in the doll vessel he occupies throughout the film. I get that, and I suppose it makes some sort of sense in the realm of Child's Play, but the fact that Chucky's black magic mentor even knows this does not. I'm not intimately familiar with sorcery, but it strikes me as odd that the transference of human souls into talking toys apparently happens with enough frequency for there to be an established course of conduct when that occurs.
This is ultimately a minor complaint, and taken as a whole Child's Play is a thoroughly enjoyable thriller. Though the rest of the extended franchise, with the lone exception of the surprisingly sharp Bride Of Chucky, is essentially useless, this inaugural outing has enough strong moments to make it readily apparent why subsequent film-makers were eager to get more mileage out of the concept (sadly, the foreboding finale suggested by the exit frame here was never explored). Even if the sequels have left a sour taste in your mouth, do the original the justice of giving it another look. Hi-de-ho, ha ha ha.
Terror Train (1980)
Not quite a masterpiece, but it definitely stays on track throughout
This humble slasher entry may seem a bit predictable and tame by modern standards, but it's important to note that Terror Train arrived pretty early in the cycle, so the elements that seasoned audiences will deem predictable were still relatively novel when the film was released. Even if the clever surprises this thriller has in store don't resonate quite as strongly today as they did during its original theatrical run, these reels have held up remarkably well, and while it's debatable whether or not we have a bonafide classic on our hands here, Terror Train most assuredly succeeds as an entertaining offering that deserves its legacy.
The presence of Jamie Lee Curtis at the height of her genre dominance adds immeasurably to the enduring impact of this affair, and as always she proves to be an engaging and resourceful heroine. She is pitted here against a vengeful masked killer stalking her and a group of college friends responsible for a grisly prank gone awry, who set out on the rails three years later for the rousing costume party that encompasses the bulk of the action. Though most of the characters are readily recognizable archetypes, Terror Train spends a bit of time establishing their relationships and nuances, which ultimately greatly assists the whodunnit aspect of the caper since we are provided with a handful of shifty suspects, and heightens the horror of the murders since we actually come to know and like some of the victimized teens.
The narrow corridors and confined nature of the transport greatly bolster the suspense, and as the body count rises the film wisely addresses the obvious question, "Why don't they just stop the train and get off?" The locomotive's course pins the group in the middle of a snow-covered mountain range during the dead of winter, which makes immediate escape from the killer's clutches an impossibility and provides a plausible explanation for the forced inaction of the prey. Once the scenario is established, we aren't inclined to ask too many nagging questions, and this liberation allows the movie to spin its web unencumbered by our skepticism, which it does with admirable efficiency.
Granted, the slasher movie formula doesn't explicitly require much, or any, adherence to logic, but Terror Train handles its material in a decidedly intelligent manner which forges a sense of believability that ends up being one of the film's strongest traits. Our masked madman (or woman?) shows some great cunning and ingenuity in concealing their crimes, donning the costumes of the slain to perpetuate the illusion that everyone is still alive and well, and therefore eluding suspicion for as long as possible. As the mounting unexplained absences become too much to obscure and the enormity of the killer's deadly plot takes shape, the preemptive reactions of the train's conductor and his crew are wholly realistic and sensible, and this refreshing lack of distracting stupidity deeply strengthens our immersion into the mystery.
Despite the evident savvy of the presentation, a few of the death scenes suffer from some clumsy staging that dilutes their effectiveness (the murder of one amorous lass requires us to accept that the killer anticipated the victim-to-be would ask them to remove their glove, so our homicidal antagonist presciently kept the severed hand of the fratboy they're impersonating hidden beneath the shed segment of the costume to perpetuate their ruse). The enactment of the murders reveals a predisposition to suggesting more than showing, but this actually serves the film well since the overall paucity of gore makes the few images of overt splatter far more impressive and memorable as a result.
Vintage Jamie Lee isn't the only time capsule gem here, and older viewers will appreciate the heavy use of throbbing disco tunes and saccharine prom funk during the party sequences. On that same note, the magic displays of a young David Copperfield also figure prominently, and his bag of tricks provides one of the best and bloodiest set-pieces in the film.
The climax, where Curtis finds herself facing the malicious murderer one on one, is excellently orchestrated and their extended and violent battle provides a big pay-off that is a fitting culmination of the tension steadily building throughout the film. The twist ending probably won't catch you off guard if you're a connoisseur of the genre, but it's still a nifty finish which relies on enough clues scattered along the way to warrant a re-viewing to investigate how the film-makers pulled their trick off.
Terror Train may veer off track from time to time, but any fan of '80s-era horror will find a lot to like here, and overall this is a trip well worth taking.
If you ignore the "Halloween III" in the title and accept the film for what it is, this really isn't all that bad
I want to make it clear right up front that I certainly understand why fans of the Halloween franchise roundly dismiss this third entry, and if you're inclined to cry "foul" because Season Of The Witch essentially ignores the events of the first two films and introduces a storyline that has nothing to do with Michael Myers, you should probably consider sitting this one out. In hindsight, I agree it wasn't a good idea to impose this outing as part of the series, but it's worth noting that John Carpenter and Debra Hill endorsed the deviation by producing Season, and while their experiment is deeply flawed because of its inconsistencies and inherently confusing because of its Shape-lessness, when you consider how horrendous the Halloween saga would become a couple of sequels later, there might have ultimately been some prescient wisdom behind their attempt to take their creation in a new direction.
Halloween III definitely has enough macabre moments to qualify it as part of the horror genre, but the nucleus of the film is decidedly anchored in the realm of science fiction. The story itself is a unique and novel yarn about a malevolent toy company that manufactures wide-selling Halloween masks which are outfitted with murderous technology intended to initiate a mass slaughter on Halloween night. A toy store proprietor stumbles across this sinister scheme, but before the panic-stricken man can share his knowledge, a stone-faced assassin in a suit and tie enters his hospital room and silences him forever, then pours gasoline on himself and self-immolates. The effective set-up establishes an intriguing mystery that makes even the dicier elements of the film engaging to uncover, and the deeper we plunge into the intricacies of the master-plan, the darker and more unsettling the movie becomes.
Granted, this material is probably better suited for an episode of The Outer Limits than a feature-length follow-up to a two-flick slasher suite about a ghost-faced serial killer, and the thematic distance between Halloween III and its predecessors becomes more and more pronounced as the film rolls on. But, while the episodic nature of Season is admittedly apparent because the film has trouble maintaining its momentum through its entire run-time, the majority of this oft-maligned excursion is pretty enthralling nonetheless.
Ironically, despite the absence of the Shape's butcher knife handiwork, III is one of the gorier episodes in the series. Better yet, the FX work is relatively solid, so when heads get torn from their torsos and craniums burst open to release wriggling hordes of insects and worms, the film conjures up some enjoyably gruesome tableaux. The fantastic nature of the plot allows for some creative conjurations in this department, and though many in the audience will be disappointed that this outing never ventures anywhere near Haddonfield, those looking for good old-fashioned splattery fun will find plenty of gooey diversions here.
Sturdy and reliable Tom Atkins serves as an excellent everyman protagonist to confront the film's mounting menace, and veteran character actor Dan O'Herlihy sells a convincing portrayal of our deceptively dangerous villain Conal Cochran, so even when the tale veers into oblique obtusity, the quality of the presentation remains high. The isolated community of Santa Mira, where the mask factory is located, is also well-essayed, and the claustrophobic dread generated by the all-seeing surveillance cameras and the omnipresence of Cochran's inhuman henchmen keep the proceedings rooted in a dystopian dynamic that will undoubtedly remind attentive viewers of the enslaved world later portrayed by Carpenter in his brilliant They Live.
There are a few befuddling devices introduced throughout the film that distract from the story at large, the most bizarre being the television screenings of Carpenter's original Halloween that appear along the way. Though this was probably intended as a sly wink to fans, the resulting fictionalization and minimizing of Michael Myers is an incongruous and somewhat insulting twist that falls resoundingly flat since it seems to diminish the inaugural outing of the series while doing nothing to augment this one. The messy climax is particularly troublesome, veering headfirst into hysterical oddity instead of resolving the story and answering very few of the lingering questions it creates. If we take the concluding events literally, the grand scheme of Conal Cochran is to make kids' heads explode, which triggers the release of poisonous serpents from the resulting cranial cavity to kill off their parents. Exactly how this is possible is never explained, and while the ensuing ensemble of bugs and slimy critters is gross enough to produce strong visceral visuals, the familiar and somewhat banal nature of these manifestations doesn't have nearly as much impact as the genesis of some foul monstrosity we've never seen before would. Surely, an evil overlord with the power to replace children's brains with slithering creepy crawlies by merely showing them a television commercial could summon up something more fearsome and exotic than rattlesnakes?
Since it lacks a worthy pay-off, Season Of The Witch ultimately winds up being a promising concept that doesn't really come to fruition. But until the film falls apart, it packs in enough immersive and interesting elements to be a thoroughly enjoyable ride. Halloween III isn't anywhere near perfect, but whether you count it as part of the series or not, it still handily surpasses several of the Michael Myers-led installments which followed it. Give it a fair chance and it just might surprise you.
Halloween 5 (1989)
No one seems to be able to kill Michael Myers, but this movie pretty much kills his franchise
Identifying which installment of the Halloween series ushered in the saga's slide into abject idiocy is a no-brainer (yep, this is the one), and you can also pinpoint the precise moment that irrecoverable shift occurs: roughly 40 minutes into The Revenge Of Michael Myers, when the silver-tipped boots of a mysterious Man In Black step off of a bus and onto the streets of Haddonfield.
Even aside from the introduction of the subplot that ruined the Michael Myers mythos forever, Halloween 5 takes hearty strides to be the worst entry in the franchise up to this point. The story makes virtually no sense, the logic that drives the key components of the plot ranges from flimsy to asinine, vital characters get killed off without anyone seeming to notice that they're gone for the rest of the film, and the ineptness of Haddonfield's law enforcement is presented to us via "send in the clowns" circus music that inexplicably chimes in when they're on camera.
A brief exposition reveals how Michael Myers survived being riddled with buckshot at the end of the previous flick: he was nursed back to health by a man who lives in a shack by the river, and The Shape was apparently somehow able to reside with this clueless samaritan for a full year without being discovered or arousing any suspicion from his house-mate. Danielle Harris reprises her role as Michael's traumatized niece Jamie, but while she was a delightfully spunky young heroine in Halloween 4, she's given very little to do here besides shriek and have seizures. After repeatedly stabbing her step-mom with a pair of scissors at the conclusion of part 4 (a savage act which all of the returning cast members are evidently totally cool with) Jamie has been remanded to a children's psychiatric care facility, where she's in the hands of brilliant and capable doctors who see no problem with requiring a young girl who was stalked and nearly murdered by a deranged killer on Halloween night to participate in a festive holiday costume pageant a mere year later.
The impending anniversary sparks Michael back into action, and he embarks on a mission to wipe out everyone who survived his last killing spree, and several more people who are simply around to be slaughtered (including a dude with a serious Fonzie fixation). Meanwhile, Jamie's psychic link with her uncle allows her to "see" his nefarious deeds while they're taking place, and she sets out to stop his reign of terror (strangely, the impetus for Jamie's intervention is the peril of her stepsister's friend Tina; Jamie's actual stepsister is the first to die, and not only does this fail to spur Jamie on, neither she nor anyone else in the film even mention Rachel again until the very end of this wretched tale).
The action is driven by the requisite stabbings and slicings you'll be expecting, but the death scenes are so dully telegraphed that they have very little impact. When the film-makers attempt to integrate suspenseful elements, the results are generally pretty lame, such as the sequence where Michael uses the Fonzie wannabe's car to pick up Tina, who obtusely thinks our lovable killer is her boyfriend wearing a mask. The Shape, having his would-be victim in his clutches and at his mercy, maximizes her vulnerability the way any sensible murderous psychopath would: he stops at a liquor store so she can go in and buy cigarettes, which allows her to get out of the car and promptly be rescued by the police. That same automobile also plays a pivotal role in perhaps the silliest scene in the film, in which Michael chases Jamie down ostensibly intending to run her over, but is somehow unable to get the souped-up muscle car going fast enough to match the speed of a panic-stricken nine year-old girl on foot.
One of the saddest aspects of Halloween 5 is how it renders Dr. Loomis a hysterical old coot who desperately needs to be put out to pasture. The Doc's climactic master-plan involves using Jamie as bait to lure Michael back to the abandoned Myers house, at which point Loomis essentially waves off a virtual army of policemen and SWAT troopers to face his nemesis all by himself. Worse, his ploy to finish Michael off involves soothingly counseling him and entreating him to let Jamie "make the rage go away." After hearing Loomis expound about Michael being the essence of pure evil and inhumanity for more than 10 years, this pop psychology tactic plays out as a resoundingly foolhardy approach.
However, the most grievous crime against the series committed here arrives during the final exchange between Jamie and The Shape, which results in a close-up shot of a tear running down Michael's cheek. So essentially, according to Halloween 5, the emotionless embodiment of murderous fury we've previously seen mow down a few dozen people in cold blood is actually a sensitive monster whose heart melts when someone calls him "Uncle."
The coda features the true purpose of the Man In Black coming to light when the enigmatic figure uses a machine gun to single-handedly slaughter a building full of cops and busts Michael out of jail. This cliff-hanger guaranteed another sequel would be forthcoming, but considering how awful this one was, that attempt at enticement resonates more like a threat than a promise.
If you're a fan of the series, any movie featuring Michael Myers is bound to offer at least a modicum of entertainment, and this entry certainly has a few moments that will keep you from ejecting the disc. But as a whole, Revenge is an absolute train-wreck. Halloween 5 may not be the worst movie ever made, but considering the unabashed disrespect it demonstrates toward the series that preceded it, it very well may be the most disappointing.
An uneven but overall solid chapter of the Michael Myers legacy
Let's get this right out in the open: John Carpenter's Halloween is probably the best horror film ever made. Keeping that in mind, any sequel is bound to elicit a measure of disappointment simply because matching or exceeding the peerless kickoff to this series is an impossible feat. But despite an extremely spotty track record, the (admittedly over-)extended Halloween franchise has its share of strong efforts, and this fourth installment certainly deserves to be mentioned in that capacity.
The most effective aspect of The Return Of Michael Myers is how closely it adheres to the atmosphere and spirit of the original, and though there is a clear effort made to incorporate some overt bloodshed to please fans of the '80s splatter cycle, Halloween 4 has even more in common with the first "Night HE Came Home" than the hastily made but suitably enjoyable part II. This offering faithfully duplicates the deceptively ominous leaf-strewn streets of Haddonfield, the manic fervor of the returning Dr. Loomis, and, most importantly, the deadly disposition of "The Shape" him(it?)self. At this point in the series, we're still a couple of sequels away from quasi-mystical ramblings about ancient Pagan symbols and "hip and edgy" self-aware contemporary updates, and, thankfully, we're a world removed from Rob Zombie's obtusely trippy white stallion hallucinations. So, the Michael Myers we get here is the same remorseless and unyielding killing machine we were introduced to ten years before, and his purpose is equally singular and inexplicable. That's precisely what makes him the perfect Boogeyman, and Return wisely maintains the air of menace and mystery that later entries watered down by neutering our series figurehead via ridiculous plot elements that were closer to parody than they were to anything resembling horror. Halloween 4 isn't about rappers doing battle with a pop culture serial slayer, it's about a malevolent force stalking and killing anyone who gets in its way, and at least in that sense, the film remains true to its aim.
The impetus for the titular Return is Michael's eight year-old niece Jamie Lloyd, the orphaned daughter of the, we're informed, deceased Laurie Strode (H2O et al. decided differently, but this development works for our purposes here). If you can accept the apparent psychic bond that allows Jamie to have nightmares about the uncle she's never seen before he re-appears in Haddonfield and Michael's myopic fixation on murdering a relative he really shouldn't know even exists, this cat-and-mouse aspect of the plot falls into place rather nicely.
Jamie is played by the debuting Danielle Harris, who delivers an absolutely fantastic performance, especially given her age and lack of experience. Harris was a great find, and even during the film's most harrowing sequences, her acting chops easily rival those of any of her more seasoned cast-mates. Her youth ends up being a major asset because of its direct deviation from the archetypes of the strict slasher formula, and the fact that a relatively defenseless child is at the nucleus of Michael's murderous rampage heightens the tension immeasurably.
Of course, Return does feature its share of goofiness. While the presence of Donald Pleasence is certainly welcome and integral to the story, his occasional dalliances with overblown histrionics create unfortunately cheesy moments out of a few scenes that should be bubbling with intensity. Also, though The Shape is as formidable and sadistic here as fans would hope for, his ability to teleport from an industrial power plant to a suburban neighborhood in the span of one scene, and to apparently hide beneath the chassis of a moving pick-up truck for several miles before climbing into the bed and catching the passengers unaware, strikes a serious blow against the hyper-realism that grounds the most potent terror elements in the series.
But despite the sillier aspects here, the film as a whole hits more often than it misses. Several references to Carpenter's benchmark such as an homage to the POV murder which launched the saga and Jamie's donning of a clown costume identical to the one worn by her uncle when he was her age keep part 4 closely tied to its source. Even better, the utilization of a few subtle shots of the iconic ghostly mask hidden deep in the background while the future victims go about their business completely unaware of their peril re-establish the lurking Shape persona which provided the original Halloween with its most indelible images. There's also a mirthful scene between the hitchhiking Dr. Loomis and a drunken fire-and-brimstone religious zealot that allows Pleasence to crack a smile for a change, which will remind savvy viewers of his endearingly coy grin after the "Lonnie, get your ass away from there" moment from 1978.
You'll have to decide for yourself whether the dicey twist ending really works, but it certainly does finish off the film on a tremendously dark and shocking note, which is in keeping with the fairly serious tone Return maintains throughout. Chalk that at as yet another touch which sets this entry apart from some of the unbearably ridiculous drek that followed it.
I'm not sure if I can definitively state that this is the best of the Halloween sequels, but it is most assuredly nowhere near the worst. I realize that's not a huge endorsement once you've seen how low this franchise proved itself capable of sinking later on, but you can consider it an endorsement nonetheless.
Night of the Demons 2 (1994)
A lot of tricks this Halloween, but very few treats
Though Night Of The Demons 2 tries desperately to inject enough humor and nudity to make up for its overall tedium and incomprehensibility, this slipshod sequel is nowhere near as fun or clever as the delightfully dreadful Kevin S. Tenney Halloween celebration which spawned it.
Amelia Kinkade returns as possessed party gal Angela, but this time the bulk of the action is shifted to a Catholic boarding school populated by a fresh crop of horndog teens who know all about the events in the first Night and eventually decide to throw their own party at Hull House. Of course, their visit sparks another demonic infestation, and thanks to a cameo from Linnea Quigley's lipstick tube, which one of the girls transports back to the boarding school, Angela is provided a fresh ground zero to begin converting members of the fun-loving gang into slobbering, wise-cracking unholy creatures.
It takes a really long time for any of this to transpire, and nearly the entire first hour of the film is spent introducing the characters and establishing the incoherent plot. In addition to the general archetypes (jock, tramp, jerky alpha male, etc.), Night 2 incorporates a few less conventional additions to the squad of potential victims, such as a nerdy scholar whose area of fascination conveniently happens to be demonology (naturally, he's very helpful in explaining most of the ins and outs of the story to us), a timid wallflower who's revealed to be Angela's orphaned sister (and has violent dreams about her sinister sibling which provide an excuse to insert some gore into the early slow spots), and a militant karate expert nun who brandishes a yardstick as if it was a katana and swings her rosary around like a pair of nun-chucks (I wasn't intending to make a pun there, but let's run with it... a nun pun run, if you will).
The film stumbles often and badly because it doesn't have any real focus, and much of what occurs during the course of the movie is sort of arbitrary and pointless. For instance, the set-up seems to leading toward the trip to Hull House, but once we get there, the totality of the excursion is basically a sex scene, a prank, and the death of exactly one ancillary character (thankfully the most annoying member of the cast bites it first). After all that build up, we end up retreating once again to the Catholic academy with the cursed cosmetic in tow, which would seem to provide an opportunity for Angela to whittle down a slew of people. However, the entirety of her visit to St. Ruth's consists of an homage to her seductive dance from the original Night, a prank, and the death of exactly one ancillary character (although we are also treated to a tasteful scene which features a serpentine phallus-beastie slithering out of the lipstick tube and crawling up between one girl's legs to nest inside of her). A couple of newly possessed minions cause a bit of mayhem in Angela's absence, but our leading lady busies herself by luring away her baby sis to either sacrifice her or convert her to the darkness, depending on which contradicting explanatory scene you choose to believe. Of course, Night's wicked antagonist wants her endgame to unfold on her own turf, so after spending two-thirds of the movie trying to figure out what the point of all of this is, we end up going BACK to Hull House, where more people die and Angela turns into a snake for no apparent reason.
The special effects are nowhere near as impressive as what Steve Johnson cooked up for Night 2's predecessor, but Angela's gooey come-uppance is a suitably gnarly set-piece. Elsewhere, gags like a demon playing basketball with his own head fall resoundingly flat, and while this FX crew was able to make Angela look almost the same as she did at her previous party, if you look closely you'll notice that the two most effective shots of her in all her demonic glory are actually recycled outtakes from the first film. This installment saves most of its gore for the climax and relies instead on diversionary nudity to maintain its momentum (the presence of the gorgeous Cristi Harris certainly helps in this regard), but the extended conclusion packs in enough splatter to provide a decent pay-off for the slow road getting there.
However, some of the elements at play here are so utterly stupid that they defy all reason (I'm still trying to figure out why killing a demon causes a cockroach to crawl out of its head). The most readily notable example of the concussed mindset at work here, aside from the incongruities of the plot, involves our previously mentioned kung-fu nun, who gets her head chopped up during the finale... and then promptly sprouts a new one (she explains to Angela that this is possible because of her "faith," which apparently renders her immune to decapitation).
I know we're not supposed to demand too much from a micro-budget horror sequel of this caliber, but considering how effectively Kevin S. Tenney translated these same elements into a tremendously enjoyable outing, it's hard not to be disappointed by the meager results in this case. Night Of The Demons 2 isn't a complete waste of time, but only the most forgiving genre fans will glean much amusement here. I'm not saying you absolutely shouldn't see this, but I would definitely advise those who had a blast at Angela's first party to drastically lower their expectations before they send in their RSVP for this one.
Night of the Demons (1988)
A randy and splatter-filled Halloween party that I still attend at least once a year
Though Kevin S. Tenney's bawdy bloodbath Night Of The Demons is a much different sort of celebration than John Carpenter's eponymous ode to my favorite Pagan holiday, it has likewise become a vital part of my festive preparation every year and I still return to it with the same frequency of of my visits to Haddonfield.
Night is assuredly a B-flick, but the creative production and wealth of delightfully gross gore effects elevate this outing well above its peers. There are enough great ideas here to fill out several like-minded offerings, and Tenney's demented funhouse approach serves the film incredibly well. Once the plot's demonic possession angle takes center stage, the action hums along with a series of dazzling and surreal set-pieces that announce Night's ambition to present itself as the most enjoyable supernatural slasher ever made. I'm not sure if it quite gets there, but it certainly isn't for lack of trying, and even if this joyously gruesome romp misses that mark, it isn't by much.
The story is centered around a group of charmingly crass and obnoxious teens who gather for a Halloween party at the imposing and infamous Hull House, a site with a murderous past and a slew of dark legends surrounding it. When one of their party games inadvertently summons forth a demonic entity that takes possession of a member of the group, the remainder of the horny bunch begins meeting increasingly grisly ends. According to the film's logic, being killed by a creature turns the victim into one as well, so as the ribald cohort's numbers are whittled down, the unlucky survivors find themselves stalked at every turn by a growing horde of their demonized former friends.
It takes a full half of the movie for Night to really get cooking, but despite the judicious pace, since this is one of the most likable collectives of unlikeable kids ever assembled in the genre, even their banal gonna-get-me-some hijinks and juvenile one-liners are genuinely entertaining. The extended introduction also allows plenty of time to immerse us into the dwelling itself, and since the film-makers chose a fantastic location for this fiesta, the intimate familiarity with Hull House's expansive grounds and myriad corridors fostered during the first act adds to the proceedings immeasurably.
When Steve Johnson's FX finally take control of Night Of The Demons, the results are uniformly exhilarating and utterly relentless. The demon make-up is magnificent, elaborate and grotesque enough to impress without relying on distracting rubbery prosthetics, and all of the high-impact splatter sequences are delivered with gusto. However, the most unforgettable effect here doesn't feature even a drop of blood, and if you only remember one thing about Night, it will assuredly be the moment when scream queen goddess Linnea Quigley shoves a tube of lipstick into her nipple for no apparent reason other than because she's a demon and she can do things like shove tubes of lipstick into her nipple for no apparent reason.
Though Quigley handily steals the movie, it was Amelia Kinkade's party hostess Angela who was ultimately flagged as the franchise player for the Night Of The Demons series, and deservedly so. Kinkade is simply awesome here, delegating the nudity and sex scenes to the other ladies in the cast to thrust herself into the role of the black-clad centerpiece for the stygian slaughter. Angela looks creepy even before she's transformed into a toothy temptress, but when Steve Johnson turns her loose, she becomes a fearsome and foul creature whose methodical lurking down the shadow-swept hallways in the decaying mansion provide the film with some of its most unsettling moments. If the image of Kinkade on the original theatrical poster alone isn't enough to convince you that you need to investigate Night Of The Demons, I don't know why you're even bothering with this review.
Elsewhere, there are touches of brilliance all over Night that demonstrate Tenney's artistic flair and his penchant for crafting unique experiences out of familiar material. The animated opening credit sequence deserves special notice simply because it's so freaking cool and establishes right off that bat that this is going to be an engrossing ride. Angela's morbid and wickedly sensual strobe-lit dance scene is a definite high-point, and the choice of "Stigmata Martyr" by Bauhaus as her impetus is particularly inspired (on a related note, I should further mention that the unconventional score by the director's brother Dennis Michael Tenney is also excellent). Additionally, the atmosphere inside the house is utilized for maximum effect, and the film boasts some truly chilling images and a few well-telegraphed scares.
Even if you aren't interested in exploring the subtleties, Night Of The Demons has an abundance of the visceral ingredients any discerning fan of cheesy horror will be looking for, especially when it comes to the graphic bloodshed and ample allotment of gratuitous nudity. Sure, there are a few clunky aspects, as you'd expect given the budget and era. But overall this is a seriously fun movie that delivers the goods on all fronts, and it remains one of my all-time favorites. Do with that information what you will.
"Your Sister" sucks
This dull and toothless example of how far sequels can stray from the greatness of their predecessor is so utterly stupid and incomprehensible that it doesn't even deserve its reference to Joe Dante's masterful gem in the title. The ludicrously lame sub-moniker should give you an idea of the level of intelligence you'll be dealing with if you decide to slog your way through this wretched mess, since the same minds who created this film also thought "Your Sister Is A Werewolf" was a good movie title. Amazingly enough, this isn't the worst name they came up with; their original idea was "Stirba- Werewolf Bitch."
Kind of sort of picking up where things left off, the action here begins at the funeral of Karen White (you won't recognize her because she's played by a stand-in; Dee Wallace wisely opted not to sully her good name by appearing in this), where we learn that she's not actually dead. Your Sister attempts to assert its originality by revising the guidelines of the lycanthropy mythology, and we're informed here that since the silver bullets were taken out of Karen's body during her autopsy, her werewolf super powers kicked in again and brought her back to life (conveniently, this doesn't happen until her coffin lid is closed after the memorial service, so there seems to be a few days of lag time on this go-go-resurrection). So, if we really think about this logically, that would mean that not only does every werewolf whose human body undergoes postmortem examination come back to life, but those who somehow get put into the ground without an autopsy or embalming taking place will have their skeletons rise from their graves after decomposition naturally removes the silver artifact that killed them from their flesh.
But, wait... That's not the most fascinating addition the concussed film-makers cooked up for this feast of foolishness. You see, according to Howling II, the REAL way to kill a werewolf is to, of course, drive a stake through its heart (?!), and this is the method of dispatch which defeats several of the creatures we meet in this film. It gets better. The monstress queen's lair, where our heroes must travel to in order to rid the world of the lycan curse once and for all, is located in the place everyone immediately associates with werewolves: Transylvania (??!!). Once the team of would-be werewolf slayers arrives and our female protagonist makes sure to point out that she brought cloves of garlic with her to protect them from the creatures, we have no choice but to wonder if director Philippe Mora even knew what movie he was making a sequel to.
Oh, and by the way, werewolves apparently also have the ability to suck the souls out of human victims to rejuvenate themselves. And shoot lazers out of their fingers that make people's eyes burst out of their heads. And, yes, I'm completely serious.
The creature FX range from serviceable to atrocious, and most of the monsters we see spend the film in a perpetual state of half-transformation, which is represented by clunky prosthetics that make them look more like puffy-faced apes than lupine shape-shifters; this impression is strengthened by the appearance of several of the fully formed beasts, whose bulbous, over-sized dimensions make it readily apparent that they're running around in modified gorilla costumes. This outing ramps up the gore and eroticism to make up for its sheer baffling inanity, so there is a lot more splatter and nudity on hand here than in the original Howling. If that sounds like an endorsement, go ahead and run with that, because it's the only thing close to one you'll find in this write-up.
The inclusion of the great Christopher Lee should be a point of interest, but his scenes are actually heart-breaking to watch. Ever the gentleman, Lee demonstrates grace and professionalism throughout this farce, but it's patently obvious by his demeanor and general lack of enthusiasm how mortified he is to be tackling such insipid material.
Miami Vice was the hottest show in the world when this was made, and, oddly, Howling II directly models entire sequences after that '80s staple. Any scene which features a car driving at night is shot and edited in a blatantly similar style, and the pulsing synth-rock soundtrack blaring in the foreground cements this homage. Unfortunately, the producers only sprang for one band to appear on the soundtrack and apparently only paid them for three songs; one of them is actually about werewolves, and you will have the dubious pleasure of hearing it over and over and over and over and over and over again throughout the film.
If you find yourself wondering why Sybil Danning was afforded such prominent placement in this movie despite the fact that, as evidenced by her performance, she has trouble even forming a four-word sentence like "Go get the girl," you'll get two reasons during her "check THESE out" scene, in which she tears her top off and exposes her breasts. The vital importance the film-makers place on this epochal shot is emphasized during the closing credits, where Danning's reveal is repeated precisely 17 more times (I counted).
The two stars in my score are solely for Christopher Lee's presence and the film's ample allotment of diversionary bloodshed (okay, we'll throw Danning's boobs in there too). Everything else in Howling II from the stilted introduction to the hokey climax is simply abominable. I love bad movies as much as anyone, but this is just plain unbearable.
The Howling (1981)
A smart, sexy, and genuinely scary horror classic that still has plenty of bite
The werewolf is sort of the neglected middle child of the horror monster hierarchy: gifted, unique, and brilliant, but eternally overshadowed by its dad the Devil, older vampiric siblings, mummified Egyptian stepsons from a previous marriage, and kid brother zombies who are always getting into trouble and keeping the family distracted. Of course there have been great, even legendary, films with lycanthrope antagonists, but that particular sub-genre is rather limited in scope. However, despite the admitted paucity of competition, I can still say with absolute certainty that The Howling is the best movie about werewolves ever made.
It makes sense that the film heavily references The Wolf Man, the eternal Lon Chaney Jr./Universal Monsters staple, because The Howling is executed in a way that clearly reveals its acknowledgment of its roots in the traditions of classic horror. The pace is restrained and meticulous, the atmosphere is a character in itself, and despite the film's utilization of creature effects that weren't even dreamed of in Universal's genre heyday, good old-fashioned ensemble acting is what truly drives the action in the piece. If this description makes The Howling sound like a dry production more suited for the theater stage, don't misunderstand me; this is bloody and ferocious fare that will greatly please fans of visceral horror. But it is the taut and well-crafted story, not merely the FX, that make this such a gem, and director Joe Dante is seasoned enough here to allow a gradual and steady immersion into the film's world before bowling us over with Rob Bottin's peerless set-pieces, which have all the more impact when they take command because of how effectively the movie has teased us with tantalizing glimpses throughout.
Though the creatures are understandably a feature attraction here, the main focus of the plot is on news anchor Karen White, who has become the fixation of deranged serial killer Eddie Quist and agrees to be used as bait as part of a police operation to capture him. Quist is seemingly killed during her harrowing and macabre encounter, and Karen is subsequently haunted by bizarre dreams and fuzzy, repressed recollections of what actually occurred that night. When she heeds a pop psychologist's suggestion that she and her husband should attend a therapy retreat he oversees at a secluded commune, the getaway does anything but assuage her trauma. Instead, Karen encounters odd and subtly menacing locals and the titular unholy moans emanating from the fog-shrouded forests. It doesn't take long for us to learn that the commune is located at the nucleus of the hunting grounds prowled by a pack of malevolent predatory beasts, and after Karen's husband is seduced and transformed by a sultry lady wolf, her and her visiting reporter friend begin to uncover the sinister secret of the commune.
I'll refrain from stepping up on my soapbox to deliver an impassioned soliloquy about how CGI has ruined the art of special make-up FX, but those who appreciate the magic of the wizards who revolutionized the art-form in the late '70s and early '80s will find the work of Rob Bottin here absolutely awe-inspiring. The climactic transformation scene is delivered unflinchingly and in real time, step by grotesque step, and the result is an indelible sequence that remains far more impressive and enthralling than anything modern film-makers handling the same material could ever cook up on a computer. The gore is used sparingly for maximum impact, but whenever it arrives, the results are stunning and gruesome. Perhaps most importantly, the werewolves themselves are a thing of fearsome beauty to behold, monsters that resonate as wholly believable extensions of the established mythology while still maintaining an innovative stroke of originality that makes them belong to this film alone. These creatures aren't merely big wolves, they are eight-foot tall bipedal killing machines with fangs and claws capable of tearing people to shreds, a skill that they demonstrate with acute proficiency during the course of the movie.
The performances are all excellent even when the roles veer into the melodramatic, and the presence of one of the power couples of '80s horror, Christopher Stone and Dee Wallace (later Dee Wallace Stone), as well as a marvelous extended cameo from beloved genre vet Dick Miller, will delight fans of the era. Both the gritty, sleazy streets that open the movie and the isolated location housing the commune complex are perfectly presented and utilized, the clues to the greater mystery are unfolded with the taut grace of a top-notch thriller, and the film as a whole feels like an entirely plausible representation of ancient folk lore-based creatures existing in a modern world.
The denouement falters slightly since Bottin's best tricks have already been displayed, but the sentiment of the finale is striking enough to end the saga on a dark and tragic note. If your love of the genre goes back to its natal days, be sure to stick around after the credits too, where you'll find a nice coda that bookends the homage to The Wolf Man present throughout these reels.
The Howling is, in my estimation, not only the finest and most enduring lycanthropy fable in the canon, it's also quite simply one of the best horror films of all time. Don't skip this one.
Not x-actly as good as the first one, but fun enough to deserve a look
Considering how many tantalizing avenues were suggested but not explored in the surprisingly killer original Xtro, it's initially disappointing that The Second Encounter opts to all but abandon the entirety of its predecessor in favor of a more generic humans vs. alien bug-hunt venture. However, if you can ignore the seen-it-all-before pastiche that drives this follow-up, there are enough entertaining aspects of Xtro II to make it a decent way to occupy yourself for 90 minutes.
This is a film that doesn't just borrow ideas from other movies, it blatantly copies plot elements and even entire sequences from its source materials. The gist of the story is basically a smaller scale version of Aliens, and the references to James Cameron's brilliant monster mayhem extravaganza are so numerous and obvious that The Second Encounter bears more resemblance to that film than it does to the modest creature feature its title name-checks. The grainy video feed images the armed heroes broadcast to their command post and the extended dwelling inside ventilation ducts and dripping smoke-filled corridors during the action sequences are resoundingly familiar, and there's even massive hip-mounted weaponry utilized here that almost precisely mirrors the impressively imposing machine guns Colonial Marines Vasquez and Drake carried into battle on LV-426. Our scientist-turned-warrior heroine is clearly modeled to be an amalgamation of Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor, and this homage is greatly heightened by actress Tara Buckman's often startling resemblance to Linda Hamilton. Hell, even the lurking creature itself looks more like an Alien than the being from Xtro, so there really aren't too many moments in this monument to undisguised mimicry that aren't accompanied by a striking sense of deja vu.
If you can forgive The Second Encounter for all of that, then you'll find plenty to keep you amused in this unabashedly B-caliber sci-fi/horror/action hybrid.
It's curious why this was even pegged as an extension of Xtro, since nothing in the story even remotely draws upon the events of that outing. The happenings here are set in a top-secret subterranean facility called Nexus, where a team of scientists have developed a device which can instantaneously transport researchers to distant dimensions to make contact with whatever alien lifeforms they might find there. After three explorers disappear through the portal and only one comes back, the Nexus team scrambles to organize a rescue party and stabilize the traumatized survivor so that they can learn exactly what happened during her visit to regions beyond (what they don't know is that her close encounter came back with her). To help remedy this snafu, Dr. Shepherd, a disgraced former Nexus administrator, is brought back into the fold, along with a small squadron of heavily armored soldiers, who are mostly on hand to snarl out charmingly inane alpha male dialogue and provide some firepower to combat the unknown alien assailant.
Early on, reference is made to the destruction of an identical installation in Texas at the hands of Dr. Shepherd, who was previously the only one to successfully return from a teleportation into deep space. The chasm between this back-story and the first Xtro film is so wide that at first it seems like a sequel we didn't know about was made in between the two movies, and the establishment of that portion of the narrative gets this outing off to a rather sluggish start. But once the monster tears its way out of the chest of its unwitting host and begins whittling down the cast, the film moves along at a fast clip, packing in plenty of gore and a couple of sturdy jump scares to keep things interesting.
As the battle between man and mucous-covered beast plays out, the movie falters a bit by relying on a few befuddling and corny set-ups for some of the carnage. My favorite of these concerns the fate of one member of the heavily-armed and highly-trained strike force, who's perfectly willing to cross the threshold into an unknown world and confront the mysterious menace there when the mission begins, but later freezes up in utter terror when he's called upon to climb down a ladder, a bout of hesitation that leads to him meeting the business end of the monster's razor-sharp claws.
As before, the creature effects are well-realized, and the expansive sets which bring the interior of the complex to life are especially nicely rendered considering the film's budget. None of the bloodshed rivals the delicious high-points of the first Xtro, but the allotment doled out here is likewise handled solidly.
Granted, this movie does require you to sift through a fair amount of mediocrity and outright stupefying implausibility (I dare you to figure out how one of the soldiers is able to detonate a C-4 charge a few inches away from his face without suffering even a scratch). But if you're in a generous mood and don't mind turning off your brain for an hour-and-a-half, The Second Encounter is an enjoyably mindless romp.
Delving equally into the realms of both sci-fi and horror, this terrifically trippy gem is a wholly unique and fantastic relic from the early '80s splatter cycle that deserves much wider recognition than it currently enjoys.
The film is largely focused on a young lad named Tony, who witnesses his father vanishing into a blinding beam of extraterrestrial light. Three years later, Daddy inexplicably comes back to reunite with his son, but this touching reconnection has obstacles in the form of Tony's mother and her new boyfriend, both of whom are understandably curious why the absentee father was gone without a trace for so long and exactly where he was during that span.
Thankfully, we're let in on the secret early, and we know that the genesis of the proud papa's return involves the arrival of a temperamental alien beastie, which disembowels pesky humans who get in its way and utilizes a decidedly phallic tentacle appendage to impregnate an unfortunate gal and grace her with dicey honor of giving birth to Dad 2.0. In the film's most unquestionably indelible sequence (which we can only assume is the one that prompted Xtro's addition to the "Video Nasties" list), we get to witness the gory and gooey re-emergence of Tony's dad, who actually crawls out of the woman's womb and bites through his own umbilical cord for good measure.
Though the term is never used in the movie, the titular Xtro seems to be a monstrous interstellar parasite of some sort, which Tony's father passes on to him. The transference imbues Tony with the ability to bring his toys to life and set them forth on murderous missions, and to summon a creepy dwarven clown to serve as his henchman. If that last bit sounds silly, okay, it probably is, but I'll be damned if the film-makers don't pull it off, and the hallucinogenic visuals employed during the clown's spells of merry mayhem produce some of the coolest moments in the film.
All of the portions that veer into this territory are equally surreal, and though the plot is a bit disjointed because of the way it weaves between straight creature carnage and more bizarre elements like a life-size plastic solider doll stalking an annoying landlord through her apartment, the sum total of Xtro is an extremely enjoyable caper unlike anything you've ever seen.
Despite the limited production resources at hand, the monster effects are notably impressive, and the movie doesn't skimp on the red sauce either, so in addition to the uber-splattery birthing scene there are several more grisly set-pieces sprinkled throughout. The climax also boasts some memorable transmogrification visuals as father and son begin to assume their gruesome alien forms, and though the ensuing conclusion where Tony's mom makes one final dreadful discovery is built on pretty fuzzy logic, it effectively punctuates the film and ends us on a high note (if you dig Xtro enough to explore the bonus features, take a look at the alternate ending; it doesn't make much more sense than the one that was ultimately used, but it is undeniably nifty).
Elsewhere, the skeletal elements are all well above par. The cast of unknowns clearly took the material seriously, and all of the performances are admirably solid; the presence of the lovely Maryam d'Abo certainly doesn't hurt either. The pace is steady and engrossing, and there are plenty of unsettling touches of suspense introduced along the way. Additionally, since we never actually see any sort of spacecraft, the presentation isn't marked by dated matte effects, so the film has held up much better than many of its contemporaries.
Director Harry Bromley Davenport was wise not to provide too many particulars about the lethal lifeforms which populate the world of Xtro. We do get some graphic glimpses of what they're capable of, but most of their physiology and purpose remains unexplained. This would seem to bode well for future installments in the franchise, since based on what's here there's a lot of promise in the prospect of dipping deeper into the mythology of these creatures. I won't be able to let you know how that turned out until I get around to reviewing parts 2 and 3, but even if the sequels fail to live up to the lofty benchmark that this inaugural outing sets, Xtro works extremely well as a stand-alone venture.
If you share my fondness for the golden age of low-budget splatter and this one has slipped under your radar, do yourself a favor and add it to your list. I'm not sure if Xtro qualifies as a bonafide classic or not, but this evil E.T. flick definitely delivers the goods in a big way. Highly recommended.
Return to Sleepaway Camp (2008)
Here's a good drinking game for you... Take a shot every time Alan does something that annoys the crap out of you; you'll be wasted by about the five minute mark.
For fans of the semi-infamous cheeseball slasher gem Sleepaway Camp who were perplexed why the creators of its two sequels (I refuse to count the unfinished slop bucket of footage that was later turned into a feature-length to bilk a few more bucks out of devotees) largely ignored their source material and handed over the franchise to Pamela Springsteen, a "proper" follow-up which re-teams the original director with a couple of returning cast members is a truly exciting prospect. Regrettably, though Return boasts a few bits of inspiration, this reunion is more irritating than exhilarating.
The trip down memory lane here is by far the most enjoyable aspect of this misguided reprise, and even though the acting chops of the cast members who were present at Camp Arawak actually seem to have gotten worse in the last two decades, it's still fun to see Johnathan Tiersten (Ricky) and Paul DeAngelo (Ronnie) ham it up again. But that where-are-they-now? update isn't enough to build an entire movie around, and sadly little else about the film offers fans much to get excited about here.
The biggest problem with Return is that it blatantly attempts to match the accidentally humorous approach of the previous Sleepaway Camp outings, which isn't something that can be willfully duplicated. The earlier SC's were enjoyable precisely because they were so endearingly dumb, but setting out to make a deliberately stupid movie, which we can only assume was the game-plan here based on the results, doesn't produce that same spark of quirky ineptness. The film tries way too hard to mimic the joyously cheap thrills of a mid-'80s slasher flick, but it is a pale imitation at best, and the evident self-awareness here simply doesn't gel with the spirit the film is desperately trying to conjure.
While the references to the first Sleepaway Camp should be the main focus here, we're instead forced to endure the unbearable saga of a ridiculously unlikeable camper named Alan, who is teased and tormented mercilessly throughout the film and has a "secret place" in the woods where he cuddles with frogs and tells them all about his troubles. Alan's plight is probably supposed to generate our sympathy, but since he's constantly either whining or shrieking and is actually far more unpleasant, hostile, and aggressive than any of the one-dimensional teens who target him, we're sort of left to deduce that he pretty much deserves everything that happens to him. This blubbering sap is relentlessly exasperating, and his virtual omnipresence renders most of the movie nearly unwatchable. The impetus for his placement as the focal point of the plot is allegedly to lure us into believing that he is committing the murders to punish his transgressors for their sins, but even though the killer is concealed by a hooded sweatshirt, the first time we see the perpetrator it's completely obvious that the only way Alan could be under that cowl is if he had the supernatural ability to instantly lose about 150 pounds on command.
A few decent gore spurts liven things up a bit, but there aren't nearly enough of them, and while there are dozens of potential victims on hand, the body count here is woefully paltry. The death scenes themselves strive to be grandiose and original, but most of them are so utterly impractical that they end up being silly. One kid meets his demise after a sharpened pole is thrust up through the floorboards of his cabin; the makeshift weapon misses him the first time, which prompts this obtuse lad to conjure the brilliant hypothesis: "Hey, that deadly spear almost impaled me! If I press my face up against that hole in the ground it came from, maybe I can see what's going on down there..."
A few of the methods of dispatch require such intricate machinations and deft execution that they rival some of the torture devices in the Saw series. The boldest of them would take a least a couple of hours to orchestrate, but our killer is somehow able to rig these sophisticated death traps in a matter of seconds without anyone being the wiser.
Granted, I know something like Return To Sleepaway Camp isn't supposed to inspire deep thinking. However, while I respect the ingenuity that went into, say, the bed of spikes murder, all I could think about when it happened was how long it would take for the killer to hammer what looks to be at least 100 nails through a bed frame to even set the contraption up. I was also fascinated that they had the foresight to predict that the intended victim would come back into the cabin alone despite leaving with a group of girls, and that not only would she immediately lay down on the bottom bunk in a perfect position for the killer to leap onto the overhead mattress and drive the spiked platform down upon her, she would also somehow fail to notice the black-clad lunatic perched up in the rafters about ten feet above her head.
The telegraphed twist ending is so patently obvious that you'll have it figured out the first time the involved character is introduced, which unfortunately happens a few minutes into the movie. Still, if your driving force for seeing this is a fondness for the first film, the finale is a mirthful wink to the original that's worth sticking around for. You should also linger through the credits, since there's a fairly nifty final coda afterwards.
Though I haven't praised too many aspects of Return To Sleepaway Camp, I don't want to leave the impression that it's entirely without its charms. I'm certainly not sorry I watched it, and while it's definitely the weakest of the quartet, the novelty value of the reprised characters is high enough to warrant a look for ardent fans of the series. Just try not to punch your television every time Alan comes on screen.
Ugly, relentless, horrifying, and essential
It's hard to know where to begin evaluating a film like Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer. Buzzwords like "dark," "gritty," and "disturbing" don't even come close to summing up the grueling visceral horror that permeates every frame of this chronicle of depravity. "Shocking" certainly applies here, but a trivial designation like that doesn't even remotely encompass the sheer nihilistic weight of the abominable acts Portrait's audience will be required to sit through when they commit to viewing this film. I could throw out a dozen adjectives in the vain hope of adequately describing why this bleak journey deserves to be unquestionably recognized as one of the most harrowing and powerful horror films ever made, but the word I invariably arrive at to most succinctly essay the brutal brilliance and lasting potency of Henry is actually a noun: "masterpiece."
Though it arrived in the middle of the splatter decade, Henry was and remains wholly unlike any of its genre contemporaries, and while history has since shown us that it's possible for films about serial killers to win Oscars, the audiences of Portrait's era had never been exposed to an unflinchingly realistic study of pure human malevolence quite like this. The fact that it was branded with an X-rating upon its release should underscore exactly how much resonance Henry had at the time, and though there is certainly enough nudity and violence here to push the boundaries of "R", the most objectionable aspects of Portrait, and in my opinion the ones that drew it the "X", are the film's unyielding intensity and its refusal to offer the viewer any sense of pathos or release. Henry is a film that wraps its fingers around your throat and squeezes until it has exhausted its 83-minute run-time, and when its devastating finale fades from the screen, you'll come to the realization that you haven't been entertained, you've been assaulted.
This is certainly extremely bloody fare, but Henry is far from a splatter film. In truth there's only one high-impact gore effect in the entire affair, and its obvious reliance on a rubbery prosthetic head actually renders it the least realistic moment in the movie. Even the most horrendous sequence in Portrait, where Henry and his lunatic sidekick Otis menace and murder a suburban family in their home while Henry captures the whole thing on video, leaves most of the bloodshed off-screen. The majority of our glimpses of Henry's victims are shown to us after the killer is long gone from the scene, presented as slowly-panned, lingering snapshots that resonate like crime scene photos, but the savagery displayed in these images tells the entire tale for us, and this tactic of suggesting rather than showing and requiring our imaginations to paint the broader pictures actually makes the violence in the film far more loathsome and effective.
The repulsively immersive documentary feel and staggering brutality wouldn't have nearly the same jarring impact, however, if not for the stunning performances that bring these ugly characters in this ugly world to life. The minuscule budget director John McNaughton had to work with required him to rely on then-untested actors to populate his reels, but the portrayals here are so impressive that it's hard to imagine a more seasoned cast improving upon the presentation one bit.
Michael Rooker's menacing lead turn is by far the most affecting and multifaceted character study of a serial killer ever committed to film, and the most frightening aspect of his depiction of Henry is his chilling sociopathic ability to be deceptively charming and endearing at times even after we've seen what he's capable of. Yet Rooker always keeps Henry's meticulously masked rage coiled and within reach, which makes a seemingly mundane scene like Henry asking a woman on the street about her dog seethe with suspense. Tom Towles strikes the perfect balance of predatory and pathetic as Henry's tag-along pupil Otis, and his fearless portrayal is also noteworthy. However, the biggest surprise the film has to offer is Tracy Arnold's arresting and heart-breaking performance as Becky, a deeply damaged walking casualty who has the unfortunate distinction of being both Otis's imminently doomed sister and the object of his unsettling incestuous lust. Arnold's emotionally wrenching essay of tragedy here is utterly magnificent, and it's truly amazing that she never built up a substantial post-Henry resume.
McNaughton manages his lean running time perfectly, establishing an astounding amount of nuance and subtext at a whip-crack pace while still staying focused on the heinous deeds of his subject. Yes, these random and remorseless murders are glimpses into the darkest recesses of humanity that are sickening to behold, but one of the most clever and cruel tricks the film plays is forcing us to partially understand what drives these killings and the animal behind them. It's not a pleasant epiphany, but the reinforcement of man as the most sinister monster of all proves to be the nexus of the piece, and McNaughton wisely allows this epistle to bubble to the surface instead of expounding on it, again engaging the audience by urging us to locate the method in the film's madness.
There are too many more superlatives I could bestow here for me to mention in the space I have, but if you get anything out of this write-up, I hope it will be my insistence that Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer is mandatory viewing for anyone who considers themselves even a casual connoisseur of the horror genre. This film isn't fun to watch, but it is absolutely riveting to behold, and even if you only see it once, there are scenes in Portrait that will remain with you forever. If you have the stomach to undertake this haunting and unforgettable journey, you'll find yourself in the callous clutches of an undeniably peerless classic.
This going-out-of-business sale features prices, and most of the employees, slashed in half
Intruder arrived a bit late to cash in on the '80s slasher movie boon, but despite its by-the-numbers formula and some willfully cheesy elements, this is still a vastly effective and entertaining ride.
The plot follows a crew of employees working an after-hours shift at a supermarket, where they are stalked and slain by a shadowy killer lurking in the aisles. The most likely suspect is the parolee boyfriend of our lead heroine, who assaults her and several of her co-workers before finally being subdued and locked outside, but continues to menace her via telephone and window-peeping after he's ejected. As the victims start piling up, our desperate survivors find themselves trapped inside the store and at the mercy of the ruthless madman in their midst, and an absolute bloodbath ensues. I'll spare you the obligatory "clean-up on aisle five" one-liner.
Despite the meager budget, most of the splatter effects are quite impressive, and if you opt for the unrated director's cut you'll get several extra shots of messy mayhem out of the deal. Additionally, since the killer has an entire grocery store at their disposal, the death scenes are creatively staged and well-executed enough to inject some truly memorable moments into the film. Even a fairly standard butcher knife murder gets a nifty boost because of how it unfolds, and with other sequences that boast skulls being crushed in a trash compactor and heads being bisected by a meat slicing apparatus, fans of the red stuff will be pleasantly surprised by how well Intruder delivers on the promise of rousing gore implied by its inclusion in the slasher sub-genre.
To the film's credit, much of the humor seems to be completely intentional, and a few genuinely amusing sight gags are nestled between the bouts of slicing and dicing with great success. There are also some great subtle camera tricks for those who care about that sort of stuff, and as a whole it's clear that Intruder was made with a more imaginative mindset than many of the rote offerings that it references.
Some of the goofier aspects are downright ridiculous, such as the clumsily choreographed fight scene that precedes the ex-con boyfriend's expulsion from the market, which is played out by a group of actors whose wildly ungraceful maneuvers make it clear that they've never thrown a punch in their lives. The boyfriend himself is also a laughable sight, but this is mostly due to the era this film was made in, a decade when film-makers adorned their villains with leather jackets and Don Johnson stubble to make sure we knew what bad boys they were. My favorite tell-tale '80s marker, however, is the tune blaring out of the Walkman headphones of one of the stock-boys. The relentlessly cloying number we're treated to every time he's on screen sounds like New Wave elevator music, and since the soundtrack of his scenes never changes, we're left with the impression that the dude likes the jam so much that he has it on repeat for like 45 minutes straight.
The marvelous climax features a virtual smörgåsbord of dismembered bodies, a prodigiously loony murderer who uses a severed head to bludgeon someone into unconsciousness, and a cameo by Bruce Campbell to boot. There's also one final twist dropped into the mix before the credits roll, which ends the film on a resoundingly high note.
Intruder may not take too many giant leaps away from the genre template it follows, but for a movie this gruesome and this much fun, the textbook approach works just fine. It's hard to imagine anyone who knows what they're in store for (no pun intended) being disappointed, and discerning horror fans have definitely spent 85 minutes in far worse ways than this. This one's a keeper.
Buio Omega (1979)
A touching and heart-warming love story about a sadistic killer and his embalmed girlfriend
Through the course of more than three decades of horror fandom, I've ravenously consumed hundreds upon hundreds of films that cover ever hash-mark on the genre spectrum. Dark and violent cinema has enthralled and entertained me since I was a wee lad, and as such it takes an awful lot to truly shock and unsettle me. However, even if you've been weened on all things blood and guts, every now and then you'll come across a film which strikes an unnerving chord and challenges your notions of exactly how much on-screen ghoulishness you're capable of immersing yourself in without feeling like you need to take a shower afterwards. Beyond The Darkness is one of those rare offerings, and while I am sincerely impressed with the potency of its grotesque machinations and the stark effectiveness of its dreary, pitch-black aesthetic, I'm still forced to conclude that this is some really sick stuff, dude.
The plot alone would be enough to make most viewers squeamish even without the graphic depictions of depravity and butchery on display here, but since almost every unsavory element is shown in clinical, unflinching detail, this excursion will only appeal to a select subset of horror fans who relish in viscerally disturbing and unapologetically fiendish fare. If you consider yourself part of that group, then Beyond The Darkness is absolutely a must see and will probably become one of the barometers that you measure other similarly gruesome films against. However, if torture, cannibalism, and necrophilia aren't in your wheelhouse, then you should most definitely sit this one out and watch one of the Scream movies instead.
The tale is basically about a disturbed young man named Frank who becomes even more unhinged when his lovely girlfriend Anna succumbs to an undisclosed illness and passes away. Determined not to let the inconvenience of death shatter their blissful romantic entanglement, he opts to dig up Anna's corpse and perform an impressively thorough embalming procedure on her. After Frank tenderly places her preserved cadaver in a bed right beside his, their loving courtship continues on almost as it was before, the only notable difference being that now she's, you know, dead.
Ah, but there's trouble in paradise. You see, the repugnantly resourceful Romeo lives with a possessive, overbearing caretaker named Iris. Iris has a bizarre habit of soothing our spunky psychopath when he's upset by breastfeeding him, which is doubly odd considering that she's not his mother and he's well into his 20's. She also assists him in a variety of household chores, including dismembering bodies, dissolving severed limbs in a tub of acid, and scooping up stray bits of viscera with a dustpan. As it becomes more and more apparent that she'll always take the back seat to Frank's deceased main squeeze, the barely restrained madness Iris is harboring morphs into the "hell hath no fury" variety, and the film erupts into a bloody and savage climax.
Along the way, a couple of unlucky ladies stumble across Frank's ersatz trophy wife, both of whom meet their ends in terrible and explicit ways. The most squirm-inducing portion of these murder sequences arrives when Frank uses a pair of pliers to gleefully yank out an intrusive and annoying hitchhiker's fingernails one at a time. Needless to say, this flick probably isn't a good choice for a date night.
Though most films of this vintage utilized their bloodshed in a tongue in cheek way that rendered the splatter mere gross escapist fun, no such approach is taken here. The plentiful violence on hand in Beyond The Darkness is repulsive and deadly serious, and anyone expecting to be treated to the buoying giggles that accompany a solid gore gag will have another thing coming when they see what unfolds on the screen here.
It's hard to pinpoint the most ghastly part in the movie with so many options to choose from, but although the close-up of Iris's mouth as she messily masticates bite after bite of her homemade pungent yellow human mincemeat stew made me extremely glad I wasn't eating anything while watching this, I still cast my vote for the lengthy embalming sequence. My love of zombie movies ensures that I've seen plenty of intestines in my day, but the meticulous attention paid to every messy step of the postmortem process here cements my decision to be cremated when my time comes.
The finale is twisted enough to put a fitting punctuation mark on Beyond The Darkness, but I did find myself perplexed by one aspect of the conclusion. When Anna's sister unexpectedly shows up for a visit, Anna's spirit seems to suddenly find the ability to manifest itself as a spectral voice, which warns her sibling to flee the house before it's too late. I just found it odd that Anna's ghost, if indeed that's what we're dealing with at the end, never found its way back from the other side while Frank was engaged in his heinous handiwork to say, "Hey, sweetie, don't kill any more people, and please stop having sex with my dead body."
That bit of silliness aside, this film is a richly harrowing journey, so if you're in the mood to take a glimpse into the abyssal corners of humanity and looking for something that simultaneously challenges the bounds of good taste and your stomach, try Beyond The Darkness on for size. I can't promise you'll enjoy what you see here, but I can assure you that you'll never forget it.
A kinky and disturbing offering that definitely lives up to its name
Lamberto Bava's directorial debut is a relatively restrained affair compared to the continuances of the Giallo family legacy he would become best known for, but in terms of gruesome and shocking content Macabre is a tough act to follow, and it's a safe bet that even if the heir apparent had never made another movie after this one, his name would still be well-remembered by genre fans today. Though the meticulously measured pace here is more in line with a straight thriller than a horror film, there's no ignoring Macabre's startling potency as an unsavory slice of of repugnant ribaldry, and the deeply erotic underscoring of the main storyline makes the resolution of the plot all the more unsettling when it arrives.
The film follows the morbid journey of Jane Baker, a bored housewife who regards her relationships with her dull husband and two intrusive children as unwelcome distractions from the adulterous embrace of her younger lover, Fred. After leaving her kids unattended at her house so she can steal away and meet her lothario, Jane shares a passionate carnal exchange with Fred while his landlord listens on in the next room. Meanwhile, Jane's in-the-know sociopathic preteen daughter opts to spoil her forbidden visit by issuing perhaps the loudest cry for help ever heard: the lass sadistically drowns her younger brother in the bathtub. When Jane is contacted at Fred's apartment and told about her son's death, her and Fred race to the scene. Unfortunately for her, and more unfortunately for Fred, the duo is involved in a brutal car accident on the way, which results in Fred being decapitated by a metal guardrail that flies through the windshield.
Mind you, this all occurs before the film even hits the ten minute mark, but the bleak opening that launches Macabre only scratches the surface of the grisly tidings in store for us here.
Jumping forward a year, Jane is released from a sanitarium and quickly engages in a course of conduct that reveals she is most assuredly not cured. She moves into the apartment formerly occupied by her deceased lover and promptly sets up a creepy shrine featuring mementos of their relationship, the centerpiece of which is a photograph of him that she stares at while she pleasures herself. Clearly, her desire for Fred has not abated despite his debilitating deadness, and as her madness takes center stage, she begins having conversations with him as if he were still alive and spicing up their postmortem trysting by shopping for lingerie to wear during their special intimate time. Meanwhile, the amorously interested landlord, who's blind but not stupid, starts to grow suspicious about the amount of time Jane spends up in her room moaning in ecstasy and screaming "Fred! Fred!" over and over again, and he begins unraveling the truth of her sinister secret.
If you already know the final twist in store here, I'm not sure how much impact the film's climactic sequence will have for you. I was lucky enough to see Macabre before I had the reveal ruined for me, so I'll refrain from sharing anything about it in the hopes that you'll have the same chillingly rewarding experience that I did. However, in case you have stumbled across the spoiler, I would like to mention that I'm banging out this write-up after watching Macabre for the second time, and I've discovered that knowing how this tale ends does not strip the happenings of their jarring and visceral power.
Bava obviously studied the work of the genre's masters very closely, and the intricately crafted suspense that drives the film makes Macabre a truly engrossing and memorable experience. The director opts to let the story speak for itself, eschewing flashy camera-work and psychedelic lighting in favor of a more straight-forward and wholly realistic narrative presentation, an approach that serves the material well. You can feel free to grumble about the occasionally intrusive dubbing and the overblown performance by the young actress who plays Jane's daughter, but as a whole Bava coaxes impressive and believable performances out of his leads, which greatly augments the assertive "based on a true story" tag at the beginning of the film.
Don't get me wrong, Macabre certainly isn't perfect and its flaws are glaring. While the payoff for the main puzzle is huge, once the revolting facts are revealed and there are still 20 minutes of run-time left to fill, the climax has almost nowhere to go, so the third act spirals into implausible hysterics. There's also the dicey predicament of the blind landlord, who is repeatedly led on and humiliated by Jane, yet still opts not to call the authorities once he discovers she's bat-guano insane. The final frame is a real head-scratcher too, and while the scene injects one last jump into the movie, it also undermines much of our understanding about the events which unfold here.
However, for most of its reels, Macabre sustains an aura of dread and darkness that borders on brilliance, and the measure of absolute sickness the film achieves is thoroughly impressive. Bava would eventually go onto more widely-beloved works than this, but as far as humble beginnings go Macabre was one hell of a way for him to lose his film-making virginity. The emphasis on story over gore may turn off fans looking for a more splatter-fueled excursion, but devotees who have a sincere appreciation for the more subtle shades of the genre will find a lot to like here. Highly recommended.
Don't Go in the Woods (1981)
An absolute piece of crap, and also an undisputed masterpiece if you like pieces of crap
Hapless teens trapped in the woods. A psychotic killer on the loose. A rich array of extras wandering into the vicinity for the sole purpose of being sliced and diced. Buckets of blood on tap. Absolutely no production budget. With all of these things in place, we should be dealing with a classic cheesy C-grade slasher flick here. However, the way these elements commingle in Don't Go In The Woods results in something else entirely: a comically wretched piece of unintentional slapstick that utterly fails to be anything resembling a "horror" movie, but instead handily earns itself a plaque in the "so bad it's awesome" hall of fame. Those of you who appreciate this particular strain of awful cinema will find a certified gem here, and the rare level of shoddiness Don't Go In The Woods achieves handily explains why it has maintained a loyal cult following in the three decades since its release.
The essential plot concerns four hikers who venture into an isolated mountain valley for some camping and exploration and soon find themselves being hunted by a cackling lunatic with an apparent fondness for homemade fuzzy weapons. Of course, four is a pretty paltry body count for a film like this, so thankfully this particular isolated mountain valley is heavily trafficked by bird-watchers, random nature enthusiasts, the most unattractive pair of newlyweds you'll ever see, and even a guy in a wheelchair who's somehow able to navigate his way deep into the forest and to the top of a mountain without any assistance. All of the above meet our busy killer during the course of the film, and their encounters predictably don't end very well for them.
The murderer in question very well may be the silliest and least imposing screen psycho in the storied history of splatter films. Not only does his entire wardrobe look like it was borrowed from the local Renaissance Faire, he also completes the ensemble with a bizarre adornment worn across his face that appears to be a primitive beaded jockstrap of some sort. His love of animal flesh isn't limited to decorations on his cutlery, and the amount of fur prevalent on his get-up coupled with his scraggly beard creates the initial impression that the people in this film are being executed by an obese Ewok.
It isn't important for us to like our ultimately doomed characters, but it's impossible not to love the actors, since they are the most charmingly clueless ensemble of thespians to ever bumble their way through a feature film. The dialogue here is so inane and repetitive that we can only assume the script was written on a cocktail napkin, yet no one in this movie has the capacity to deliver a line without sounding like they're trying their damnedest to remember what the director just told them to say.
The murders are plentiful, and some of them are gleefully graphic (the fate of a female landscape painter is particularly gruesome), but as a whole the gore gags here are staged in such a clumsy manner that they elicit more chuckles than any other parts of the film. When one hapless soul gets his arm lopped off in the opening minutes of the movie, the pouring stump and his goofy reaction immediately reminded me of the indelible Black Knight scene in Monty Python And The Holy Grail. Other sequences are even more obtuse, and a few of the kills are edited together in such choppy fashion that it seems like the film-makers forgot to shoot some scenes. My favorite lapse of this sort also occurs early on, when a braying older woman is shown reacting to a the sound of twigs cracking off-screen and then crawls into the frame drooling blood in the very next scene without us having any idea what happened to her. We also get a great example of continuity when one victim is decapitated while the sun is shining overhead and the next cut is a murky insert of their severed head rolling down a hill in the pitch black night.
The highlights are so numerous that I would run out of space long before I got around to listing them all. Although, I would like to note my absolute favorite part of Don't Go Into The Woods, which is when two of our main campers mosey across a patch of open terrain and somehow fail to see a bloody corpse, sprawled out in plain view and in broad daylight, a mere few feet away from where they are walking... A bloody corpse which, by the way, fell screaming from the bluffs above and splattered to the ground seconds before, while they were standing in that same area, the same few feet away.
The charms start wearing a bit thin about the 50 minute mark, but the climax brings this saga to an especially fitting finish when our survivors are discovered by a posse of deputies who are so engrossed in their search that they don't notice a kidnapped little girl sitting in the bushes by the site of the final showdown; there's even a coda present to inform us that she was left behind out in the woods.
If you have a low tolerance for stupidity, I can assure you that you won't even make it ten minutes into this film, so save your energy. But if any of what I've described sounds enjoyable to you then I strongly recommend watching Don't Go In The Woods, because despite the familiar story-line it really is a one-of-a-kind experience. Those who revel in blood-drenched absurdity will have an absolute blast here, and I want to be clear if that I were grading this offering based on that criteria alone, this trip into the great outdoors would merit an easy 9.
Two camping trips with Angela was probably enough
This third installment of the Sleepaway Camp series attempts to amp up the humor, nudity, and body count to make up for its lack of fresh ideas, but, oddly, the component most slasher movie fans will be eagerly expecting is dialed way down.
By far the least splattery chapter of the franchise, Teenage Wasteland provides the teenagers and the wasteland, but doesn't deliver the gore goods nearly often enough, and despite a few novel methods of dispatch, most of the anticipated carnage occurs off-screen. That approach would work fine if this wasn't a sequel to a charmingly seedy snuff film about a series of brutal murders committed by a pubescent female psychopath with a penis. But, since the film-makers should have been keenly aware that the main reason genre devotees are even showing up for round three is to see what gruesome tidings are in store this time out, the dearth of high-impact gross-out gags seriously hinders the film.
"Tame" is probably the wrong word to describe a movie that features characters being crushed in the compactor of a trash truck, snorting cleaning products that have been passed off as cocaine, getting their heads run over by lawn mowers, having firecrackers explode inside their nostrils, and getting their arms torn off at the roots. However, stripped of the genre's version of a money shot, most of these sequences ultimately fall flat, and what we're left with is a shining example of impressively crappy cinema that's nowhere near as fun to watch as it should be.
The film follows the continuing saga of Angela, who starts our journey off by killing an inner city teenager and stealing her identity so she can attend the rejuvenated Camp Rolling Hills in the dead girl's place. Once she's back in her element, our feisty murderess gets right down to business and racks up a roster of victims that handily matches if not exceeds the overachieving final tally of Sleepaway Camp II. Her adversaries for this installment include lecherous and lazy camp counselors, the police officer father of one of the previous film's casualties, and of course the usual bevy of pricelessly one-dimensional teenage archetypes.
Despite the relatively restrained level of bloodshed, there's enough naked flesh on display to rival the amount showcased in the franchise up to this point, and the same brand of sophomoric humor prevalent in the first two Camps is peppered in throughout, so the sleazy tone is at least consistent with the rest of the series. Unfortunately, none of the jokes are particularly funny and some of Angela's one-liners are real groaners, so this aspect of the movie is ultimately pretty lame in comparison to its occasionally witty predecessors (unless of course you like the idea of Angela recording an a cappella rap song to inform a stereotypical urban youth that she's about to kill him).
In fact, the most amusing moment in this film isn't even from the script; it's the visible displeasure displayed by the buxom lass called upon for a sex scene with Michael J. Pollard, who's easily thirty years her senior here and looks every bit like it. Though the dubbed-in sound effects suggest that she's in the throes of ecstasy, the poor actress actually appears to be repulsed by Pollard's kisses, and movements that are supposed to be writhing come-hither gestures look more like desperate attempts to have as little physical contact with the aged actor as possible.
I'm not honestly trying to take this film more seriously than it warrants, and you can feel free to read my review of Unhappy Campers if you have any doubts about my sincere love for endearingly awful movies like this. But while Teenage Wasteland is assuredly cut from the same cloth as part II (judging by the recycled wardrobe, props, and sets all over the place, I'm guessing they were shot at the exact same time) this third act simply isn't quite as satisfying as the rest of the series that spawned it.
Still, if you enjoyed your last visit to Camp Rolling Hills, you'll probably deem this trip a worthy enough use of 80 minutes too. It's just disappointing that the film-makers apparently used up all their stage blood before they got around to finishing the trilogy.
Cheap, tasteless, and utterly stupid... and I mean that as a compliment
Angela, our murderer/murderess from the original Sleepaway Camp, returns for more merry mayhem in this unabashedly goofy follow-up that eschews the grittier edges and sleazy plot points of its quirky cult classic predecessor in favor of a straight series of splat-stick gore gags, and the result is a slasher movie that openly lampoons its own genre and practically dares you to keep a straight face while you're watching it.
No real plot summary necessary here. Basically, Angela is all grown up for this outing and has returned to her familiar stomping grounds as a relentlessly perky camp counselor, and that's all you really need to know... Well, that, and the fact that she kills a crapload of people.
The film as a whole is little more that a succession of vignettes of teenage campground shenanigans, gratuitous nudity, and frequent displays of bloodshed. If this sounds like I'm slighting Unhappy Campers, don't misunderstand me. This is a film that clearly knows its audience and doesn't waste any time on suspense or character development, and once you see how quickly the film settles into its blood and boobs routine, even the most kill-happy Friday The 13th sequels look like meticulously measured Alfred Hitchcock thrillers by comparison.
Every aspect of the production is cheesy and inept, from the low-grade film stock to the discount rack splatter effects, but since there's never a moment when we think Sleepaway Camp II has any pretensions of taking itself seriously, all of this works immeasurably to the movie's benefit. If you're looking for an exercise in pure, visceral horror, this is most assuredly not intended for you. However, if you just want to have a hell of a good time watching naughty teens get butchered for their transgressions by a cloyingly cheerful psychopath who looks like she would have been right at home in the cast of "Saved By The Bell"... Well, then, you'll probably decide 20 minutes into Unhappy Campers, at which point you will have already seen four people get slaughtered, that you're dealing with a masterpiece of its kind.
Much of the dialogue here is especially priceless, and while it's hard to choose a favorite passage, I'm partial to the post-coitus exchange between the token tramp Ally and one of her conquests. (Ally: "Thanks, that was fun. Say, you don't have AIDS or anything do you?" Guy: "No!" Ally: "Great, see ya.")
The spirit of parody runs rampant throughout the film, but the surreal apex of this arrives when Angela slices up a boy who's dressed like Freddy Krueger with his own razor glove and uses a chainsaw to off another kid who's wearing an imitation Jason mask, all while she is, herself, decked out in a Leatherface costume. The finale, where Angela is confronted about her murderous past and insists "I'm cured" while surrounded by the dozen or so corpses she's racked up at that point, likewise references numerous other classic slasher films that have included equivalent shrine-like tableaux of victims.
The film's murders are impressive in terms of sheer numbers, but if there's one legitimate complaint that can be levied here, it's that most of the kills are pretty by the numbers if you've seen a handful of similar splatter outings before this one. However, this abundance of rote slashings and bludgeonings is reconciled by the most memorable scene in the movie, in which one unlucky lass is forced head first into the pungent reservoir of a port-a-potty and drowned in a pool of leech-infested human waste. That segment pretty much sums up the mindset of the entire film, so your enjoyment of Unhappy Campers will probably depend on how eager you are to see a sequence like that etched into the annals of cinematic history.
A movie like this is clearly its own animal, so comparing it to any of the more serious-minded slasher fare that preceded it is rather pointless. If you require scares, tension, or even general coherence to sate your horror appetite, you can skip this offering and move right along. However, if you find yourself in the mood for a mirthful celebration of the basest elements the genre has to offer, spending 70 minutes with Sleepaway Camp II will definitely make you a...
Nah, too obvious.
Don't Hang Up (1974)
This one won't give you what you're expecting, but the unexpected is not without its charms in this case
If you're willing to forgive admittedly sluggish pacing and have a high tolerance for the natural goofiness of minuscule budget film-making like this, Don't Open The Door has a lot more going for it than its relatively obscure status would suggest.
The film follows the descent of Amanda Post, an unassuming gal in her mid-20's who returns to the house where her mom was murdered 13 years earlier to take care of her ailing grandmother. Once she settles into the home, she starts being plagued by a series of disturbing phone calls from a demented stalker, who she slowly comes to realize is responsible for her mother's death and has now transferred his psychotic fixation on her.
Other figures in this caper include the shady doctor whose "treatment" of the grandmother is gradually pushing her toward her demise, a greedy lawyer who wants nothing more than for granny to die so he can have the house for himself, Amanda's ineffectual and estranged physician boyfriend, and the odd curator of a local museum which preserves artifacts from the estate's deadly past. Most of these unsavory characters are clearly on hand merely to provide the movie with its body count, and the film's major weakness is how much effort is spent following their ultimately meaningless subplots for the first two-thirds of the run-time.
One curious complaint I've read about Don't Open The Door is that the homicidal caller is shown in too much detail early on, so it becomes blatantly obvious who the culprit is before the film even moves beyond the first act. I understand the sentiment, and there certainly isn't any mystery on that front after the second phone call takes place, but investigation of the film's supplemental materials reveals that the identity of the murderer is actually plainly given away in the trailer. Though it's easy to gather why audiences for a thriller like this may assume they're in for a textbook whodunnit slasher, a device which the movie fails miserably at, I wasn't bothered by the missed opportunity. For me, the meat of the yarn is actually the effect the caller's psychological torment and the macabre scenario itself has on Amanda, and the last half-hour, which deals heavily with the killer's mounting menace and the disintegration of her sanity, is by far the most engrossing portion of the film.
The campaign of mental abuse Amanda's stalker wages against her is rendered a tad corny by the way it's presented, but some aspects of his systematic attack are still undeniably twisted. The murders themselves are largely bloodless and ho-hum, so fans looking for a straight splatter outing in the vein of the mid-'70s Giallo offerings which were situational kinfolk to Don't Open The Door will probably want to pass here. But as the supporting players meet their ends one by one, we're gradually led down the rabbit hole until Amanda is left alone with the amorous psychopath, at which point the film concludes on a bleak and chilling final note that defies all of the expectations that seem to be suggested by the girl-vs.-killer premise.
There are plenty of artful images on display here which demonstrate that the film-makers employed some definite imagination while they were crafting this piece. The use of dizzying camera work and psychedelic lighting creates some truly surreal and effective sequences, and the creepy doll images that run through the opening credits are fitting portents for the utter darkness that overtakes the film by its conclusion. The location is also used for maximum impact, and the house that was chosen for the film, which features unique architecture, spiral staircases, and stained glass windows, is a marvelous setting for a horror excursion; it's a real shame no one thought to shoot a ghost story there.
Most of the untested actors deliver about what you'd expect, and our raving maniac isn't nearly as fearsome as one would hope, but the lead turn by Susan Bracken is fantastic. Amanda is obviously the centerpiece of this tale, and while Bracken does an admirable job of bringing her to life and getting us on board with her as a heroine, she's even more impressive during the film's third act, when she's called upon to essay a subtle, gradual, and wholly believable devolving into madness.
Clearly, Don't Open The Door is far from a classic, but in its own modest way the film has numerous strengths that elevate it enough to make it worthy viewing for those who have the patience for it. In the end, I'm not sorry I ignored the titular warning, and while I can't wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone, I will suggest that if you're in the mood to be open-minded you could do a lot worse than this.