Saturday, October 31, 2015

#1,902. Seventh Moon (2008)


Directed By: Eduardo Sánchez

Starring: Amy Smart, Dennis Chan, Tim Chiou





Tag line: "The Gates of Hell are Open"

Trivia: Premiered at the 2008 Austin Fantastic Fest








Instead of relaxing in the Caribbean, Mel (Amy Smart) and Yul (Tim Chiou) decided to spend their honeymoon in China, in part so that Yul (Chinese by birth) can introduce his new wife to members of his extended family. With Ping (Dennis Chan), a professional driver, as their guide, the newlyweds have thus far been having the time of their lives. Things start to go south, however, when, during the long trip into the country to visit Yul’s grandmother, Ping tells the couple he’s taken a wrong turn, and that he needs to walk to a nearby village to ask for directions. When he’s gone for over an hour, Mel and Yul head out into the darkness to find him. What they don’t realize, though, is that this particular evening marks the festival of the Seventh Moon, when, according to legend, the dead roam the earth looking for living sacrifices. With nowhere to hide, Mel and Yul find themselves on the run from a group of bloodthirsty ghouls, who, before the night is out, must claim one of the living as their own.

Seventh Moon was writer / director Eduardo Sanchez’s third feature film, and like The Blair Witch Project and Altered, this 2008 movie works its way under your skin fairly quickly. Left alone in the middle of nowhere, Mel and Yul (well portrayed by Smart and Chiou, respectively) have no choice but to leave the comfort of Ping’s car and walk down to the village, which, aside from a dog and a few farm animals, seems to be abandoned. Their confusion soon gives way to fear, however, when they hear voices coming from the boarded-up homes calling out to someone (or something), welcoming them. From here on out, Seventh Moon is a pretty intense motion picture, with nerve-racking scenes (the leads spend half the film a short step ahead of whatever it is that’s chasing them) and effectively spooky monsters (we don’t get a good look at the creatures until well into the movie, but what we do see early on is enough to tell us they aren’t your everyday spirits).

Though at times a bit too jittery for its own good (the majority of the film was shot using a hand-held camera, which bounces around a little more often than it should), Seventh Moon is a supernatural ghost story and creepy monster movie rolled into one, and is yet another feather in Eduardo Sanchez’s already crowded cap.







Friday, October 30, 2015

#1,901. Bloodsucking Freaks (1976)


Directed By: Joel M. Reed

Starring: Seamus O'Brien, Viju Krem, Niles McMaster


Tag line: "Only Once in a Century Can Such Evil Live..."

Trivia: Troma had the film cut to gain an "R" rating, then shipped the unrated print to theaters telling them it was the R rated version







At first glance, Bloodsucking Freaks seems to have a lot in common with the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis, most notably The Wizard of Gore, with which it shares some thematic similarities (a Grand Guignol-style stage show featuring so-called “fake” tortures that are actually all too real). But Bloodsucking Freaks takes things much further than Lewis ever did. In fact, this 1976 film is so scandalous and misogynistic that it makes The Gore Gore Girls look like Fried Green Tomatoes!

Situated in New York’s SoHo district, The Theater of the Macabre, which is owned and operated by the mystical Sardu (Seamus O’Brein), specializes in ultra-violent entertainment, most of which involves torturing beautiful women. What its patrons don't know, however, is that the violence is 100% real! Even when he';s not on-stage, Sardu, with the help of his dwarf assistant Ralphus (Luis De Jesus), lures unsuspecting women into his lair, then beats and humiliates them for his own warped pleasure. Yet despite his unique “cravings”, Sardu dreams of becoming a genuine entertainer. To that end, he kidnaps ballerina Natasha de Natalie (Viju Krem), then tries to convince her to dance in his upcoming show. The girlfriend of renowned football player Tom Maverick (Niles McMaster), Natasha naturally refuses But Sardu has ways of getting exactly what he wants.

It’s easy to see why Bloodsucking Freaks was targeted for protest by such organizations as Women Against Pornography; in the opening scene, a naked woman is hung from a chain, then tortured with finger screws. The film then transitions into one of Sardu’s stage shows, during which this unfortunate girl, still fully naked, is tortured to death (side note: not a single female cast member in Bloodsucking Freaks keeps their clothes on. In fact, most never wear so much as a pair of mittens). When the crowd is unimpressed, Sardu ups the ante by having Ralphus cut off the hand of another poor girl with a hacksaw, then orders him to gouge out one of her eyes (which Ralphus then pops into his mouth and eats).

The film’s gore, though clearly fake, is nonetheless stomach-churning, mostly because the majority of it plays out on-screen. Yet even in its most nauseating moments, it’s obvious that Bloodsucking Freaks was intended to be viewed as a dark comedy (I admittedly laughed at the scene where Sardu eats his dinner off the back of a nude girl, the wax from a single candle dripping down her back and onto her buttocks). The problem is that, more often than not, director Joel Reed crosses into such unsettling territory that we can only watch with our jaws agape; Sardu himself is appalled by the actions of “The Doctor” (Ernie Pysher), who’s brought in to tend to his prisoners from time to time (before performing what he calls “neurosurgery” with an electric drill, the doctor fondles the breasts of his “patient”, clearly sexually aroused by her agony). 

The film was distributed by Troma Entertainment, a studio that itself is no stranger to sex and gore. And yet, during his introduction on the 1999 DVD release of Bloodsucking Freaks, Troma’s frontman, Lloyd Kaufman, the man behind such flicks as The Toxic Avenger and Tromeo and Juliet, warns that this 1976 movie is excessively disturbing, and says that, were he and partner Michael Herz given the choice today, they probably would have passed on it.

Yes… Bloodsucking Freaks is that shocking!







Thursday, October 29, 2015

#1,900. Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)


Directed By: Robert Fuest

Starring: Vincent Price, Robert Quarry, Peter Cushing




Tag line: "Flesh crawls! Blood curdles! Phibes lives!"

Trivia: This movie's desert sequences were filmed in Spain







One year after The Abominable Dr. Phibes, everyone’s favorite mad doctor returned in Dr. Phibes Rises Again, but instead of exacting revenge this time out, the good doctor travels halfway around the world in an effort to cheat death once and for all.

For those who thought he died at the end of the first movie, think again: Dr. Phibes (Vincent Price) is back, and more sinister than ever! Alas, the same cannot be said for his beloved wife Victoria (an uncredited Caroline Munro), whose body he’s kept under glass since her untimely death years earlier. But if all goes well, Phibes and Victoria will soon be reunited… 

Aided by his beautiful assistant Vulnavia (played by Valli Kemp), Phibes sets sail for Egypt, hoping that the country’s fabled River of Life will not only bring Victoria back from the dead, but also grant her (and himself as well) eternal life. Unfortunately for Phibes, he isn’t the only one seeking the River of Life; wealthy socialite Darrus Biederbeck (Robert Quarry) is also in need of its healing waters, and is trying to beat Phibes to the punch by finding the river first. Meanwhile, Scotland Yard’s Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey), doing his damnedest to track down the elusive Phibes, journeys to Egypt with his boss, Superintendent Waverley (John Cater), in the hopes of bringing the fugitive doctor to justice.

For me, the most entertaining aspect of The Abominable Dr. Phibes was its creative kill scenes, with Phibes evoking the seven plagues of the bible to take out the men and women who let Victoria die on the operating table. Not to be outdone. Dr. Phibes Rises Again also has its share of inventive murders; hoping to retrieve an ancient papyrus that Biederbeck had stolen from him, Phibes and Vuivania, with the help of a couple of snakes (and a neat little gizmo), quickly polish off Biederbeck’s valet (Milton Ried). The real fun begins, though, when the action shifts to Egypt, where several more people working for Biederbeck meet an unusual end (we’re given a hint what’s going to happen to one of them when we spot the doomed employee reading a copy of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw).

While the kill scenes, coupled with some elaborate set pieces (the best of which is Phibes’ Egyptian lair) and a few inspired comedy bits featuring the bumbling duo of Trout and Waverley, make Dr. Phibes Rises Again a memorable experience, it’s Vincent Price who makes it a fun one. Right from the get-go, it’s obvious Price is having the time of his life (as with the first film, Phibes is unable to talk, meaning all of the character’s dialogue had to be recorded off-set), and his exuberance spills off the screen, making Dr. Phibes Rises Again a worthy follow-up to its very enjoyable predecessor.







Wednesday, October 28, 2015

#1,899. Garden of the Dead (1972)


Directed By: John Hayes

Starring: Philip Kenneally, Duncan McLeod, John Dullaghan




Tag line: "Death was the only living thing..."

Trivia: Originally distributed as the second feature on a double bill with Grave of the Vampire







Garden of the Dead is the kind of micro-budget horror film they used to run on UHF stations, playing as part of their late-night “Creature Feature” movie show. I have fond memories of staying up late just to see these films, and while I’m positive I never saw Garden of the Dead before, the fact that it’s as shitty as some of the flicks they used to run gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.

This 1972 horror movie is set in a prison work camp that specializes in manufacturing formaldehyde. The warden (Phil Kenneally) is a hard-ass, and rules the camp with an iron fist, but that doesn’t prevent some of the prisoners from occasionally sneaking out back to get high on the fumes. Led by the volatile Braddock (Virgil Frye), these addicted inmates attempt to escape late one night, only to be gunned down before they could slip away. Per the Warden’s orders, the dead prisoners are buried in a shallow, unmarked grave just beyond the fence. But thanks to their steady diet of formaldehyde, they won’t stay buried for long. Rising out of the ground as zombies, they descend upon the camp, intent on killing everyone inside so that they can have the precious green fluid all to themselves. But with the guards and the rest of the prisoners joining forces to stop them, these undead addicts may be in for a fight they can’t possibly win.

With its low production values and poor performances, Garden of the Dead may, at first glance, seem like your average, run-of-the-mill ‘70s horror cheapie. Hell, it probably looks like that at second and third glances as well, because that’s exactly what it is! As a living dead flick, though, it does distinguish itself in a few key areas. For one, the zombies can talk; soon after clawing his way out of the ground, the now-undead Braddock shouts “We must have the liquid in back of the camp. We will destroy the living!” Which leads me to yet another of Garden of the Dead's unique aspects: instead of brains and human flesh, these zombies need formaldehyde to survive. Oh, and they can also run, which gives Braddock and his crew a constant advantage over the camp’s inept guards.

As for their weaknesses, these marauding zombie prisoners have three: bright light (which causes them to disintegrate), shotguns (which blow them away), and…

…wait for it…

Women in night gowns! That’s right, these once-dead criminals freeze in their tracks whenever a pretty girl strolls into view, and are especially taken with Carol (Susan Charney), wife of “good” prisoner Paul Johnson (Marland Proctor).  In one of the film's better scenes, Braddock and his zombified posse surround Carol's RV, gawking at her until she drives away in a panic.  

Considering it's a zero-budget movie, the make-up in Garden of the Dead is fairly good, even if it is a bit overdone (these prisoners were only dead a day or so, yet look as if they’ve been underground for years), and a scene in which one zombie is exposed to light and starts to melt looks pretty damn cool. Of course, none of this is enough to save the movie, and I can only recommend it to die-hard genre fans in search of something new. Odds are, with the recent glut of low-budget living dead films they’ve been subjected to over the last 10-15 years, Garden of the Dead won’t be the worst they’ve ever seen!







Tuesday, October 27, 2015

#1,898. The Rhoads Opera House Fire: The Legacy of a Tragedy (2008)


Written By: Jaccii Farris

Narrated by: Jaccii Farris



Line from the film: "It was a tragedy that tore families apart, and devastated a town"

Trivia: It took a year's research to produce this 40-minute documentary








Keeping in tune with the Halloween season, I thought I’d take a look at a real-life horror story, one that occurred right in my own backyard.

If I hop in my car, I can be in Boyertown, Pennsylvania in a matter of minutes. I know, because I’ve made the trip many times since we moved to the area a dozen years ago. Both of my sons attended Boyertown Area High School, and for the last decade or so, my youngest has been active in Boyertown’s Little League Baseball program. Both the High School and the ball field are a stone’s throw from the corner of S. Washington St. and E. Philadelphia Ave., which, at the start of the 20th century, was the site of the Rhoads Opera House, the scene of a tragedy that decimated the entire town and made headlines the world over.

It was January 13, 1908, and all of Boyertown was abuzz about a new play opening that night at the Rhoads (which took up the entire second floor of the building, just above the town's bank). Written by Mrs. Harriet Earhart Monroe, the play, titled “The Scottish Reformation”, was scheduled to run for several nights. According to some reports, as many as 300+ people crowded into the tiny Opera House to see its debut.

Then, something terrible happened. Per eyewitness accounts, a bulb slipped from the Magic Lantern, which was brought in to project slides onto the stage curtain during intermission. As a result, hydrogen was released into the air (everyone remembers hearing a loud hissing sound). Then, someone on stage moved closer to see what was causing the noise, knocking over a kerosene lamp in the process. Within seconds, the curtain had ignited, and some claim the air itself caught fire. The building was equipped with fire escapes, which a few lucky people used, while others rushed down the back stairs. Most of the patrons, however, ran for the main doors, pushing forward frantically in an effort to escape the growing inferno. But the doors opened inward, and with the force of a hundred or so people against them, they wouldn’t budge. The fire spread quickly, killing 170 men, women, and children. In the blink of an eye, 10% of the town’s population was gone.

Released in 2008 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the fire, The Rhoads Opera House Fire: The Legacy of a Tragedy is a documentary produced by WFMZ, a television station headquartered in Reading, Pa. Written and narrated by Jaccii Farris, the movie delves into all aspects of this terrible event, from the stories told by survivors and grieving family members to the trouble the county’s coroner had identifying the badly charred bodies of the deceased (many were burned beyond recognition). News of the fire spread far and wide (U.S. Pres. Theodore Roosevelt passed along the condolences extended by the President of France), and resulted in several safety reforms that have become the standard ever since (all doors must open out, all exits must be clearly marked, etc.). Though it runs a scant 40 minutes, The Rhoads Opera House Fire is extremely informative; researchers spent a year collecting photos, court documents, and eyewitness accounts for this movie, and their hard work certainly paid off.

What hits you the hardest are the personal stories, some of which are quite heartbreaking. Hoping to surprise her husband Douglas, who was playing the piano for that fateful show, Olivia Romig traded her second-night ticket with her niece, who in turn gave her a pass to the ill-fated premiere (the only surprise poor Douglas got was when he heard that his wife, who he thought was home at the time, had perished in the fire). Then there’s 13-year-old Lulu Fegley, whose parents allowed her to attend the show unsupervised. Joined by her cousin, Franklin Leidy (who was the same age as Lulu), the two youngsters, getting their first taste of freedom, walked to the theater by themselves. Their loved ones would never see them alive again. It would be weeks before the full extent of the carnage was known; A few days after the fire, someone was walking past the Taggert farm when they heard their animals, nearly starved, making all sorts of noise. It wasn't until that moment that the neighbors realized none of the Taggert family made it out alive.

One area the documentary doesn’t touch on, though, is how the town and many of its citizens believe, quite strongly, that the spirits of the dead are not at rest. In his book Haunted Boyertown, Charles Adams III makes the boastful claim that Boyertown is the most haunted small town in the United States, and the Rhoads fire is the reason why (my wife recently went on a ghost walk, sponsored by the local Historical Society, and the person guiding it talked a great deal about the 1908 tragedy).

Though 100 years have passed, the Rhoads disaster is still very much a part of Boyertown, and in all likelihood, it will continue to be for decades to come.







Monday, October 26, 2015

#1,897. We Are Still Here (2015)


Directed By: Ted Geoghegan

Starring: Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, Lisa Marie



Tag line: "This house needs a family"

Trivia: Numerous characters in this film are named after characters or people associated with the Lucio Fulci film The House by the Cemetery







I do love me a good haunted house film, which is what I thought I was getting when I popped 2015’s We Are Still Here into my DVD player. What I got, though, was something else altogether. Written and directed by Ted Goeghegan, We Are Still Here is as much a tribute to Lucio Fulci (notably the maestro’s 1981 film The House by the Cemetery) as it is a ghost flick, taking the standard formula in an unexpected, and fairly terrifying, new direction.

It’s the winter of 1979, and middle-age couple Paul (Andrew Sensenig) and Anne Sacchetti (Barbara Crampton) have moved out of the city and into a secluded house in the small New England town of Aylesbury. Not long after their arrival, Anne begins to sense a presence is there with them, which she believes is the spirit of their son Bobby, who was killed in a car accident two months earlier. Hoping to communicate with him, Anne invites her spiritualist friend May (Lisa Marie) and May’s pot-smoking husband Jacob (Larry Fessenden) to spend the weekend. But as they’ll soon discover, the presence Anne is sensing isn’t that of her late son; it’s the house’s original owner, funeral director Lassander Dagmer (Guy Gane), who, along with his wife and daughter, was allegedly run out of town in the mid 1800’s. According to local legend, an angry Dagmar and his family return every 30 years to claim the lives of the house’s newest occupants, and unfortunately for the Sacchetti’s, the 30 year wait is just about up...

Setting the tone early on, director Geoghegan opens We Are Still Here with a stylish, snow-filled pre-title sequence, which establishes just how isolated the former Dagmer house is; it’s so far off the beaten path, in fact, that it takes two weeks for the nearest neighbors, the McCabe’s (Monte Markham and Connie Neer), to realize someone has moved in. From there, the movie settles into what seems to be normal haunted house territory, with noises emanating from the dank, eerie basement and the odd shadow scurrying across the floor. But rest assured: things don’t stay quiet very long, and by the movie's halfway point, it’s clear that We Are Still Here isn't your typical ghost flick (even the séance scene, which comes standard with movies of this ilk, is more intense than you’d expect).

As mentioned above, We Are Still Here has a lot in common with The House by the Cemetery (Fulci's third entry in a trilogy that included 1980’s City of the Living Dead and ‘81s The Beyond). Not only are the stories similar (both have basements that act as a portal for an evil spirit), but We Are Still Here also features plenty of Fulci-esque gore (especially in the final act), making it one of the more entertaining recent entries in the supernatural subgenre.

If you’re a fan of ghost movies, ‘80s Italian horror, or both, We Are Still Here should immediately jump to the top of your “must-see” list.







Sunday, October 25, 2015

#1,896. Last Shift (2014)


Directed By: Anthony DiBlasi

Starring: Juliana Harkavy, Joshua Mikel, J. LaRose




Tag line: "Fear the ones left behind"

Trivia: In The UK, this film was released as Paymon: The King of Hell








Take John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 and replace the marauding gang members with a trio of Charles Manson-like apparitions, and you have 2014’s Last Shift, an uber-creepy ghost flick about a rookie cop whose first assignment may well be her last.

Officer Jessica Loren (Juliana Harkavy), the daughter of a career policeman who was killed in the line of duty, is ordered to stand guard at a soon-to-be-abandoned precinct. Left entirely on her own, Officer Loren makes her rounds through the desolate building, and passes the time reading her police manual, waiting patiently for 4 a.m. to roll around, at which point she’ll be relieved by her superior, Sergeant Cohen (Hank Stone). But what she thinks will be a peaceful assignment takes a turn for the worse when a vagrant (J. LaRose) breaks in and starts trashing the place. This proves to be the first in a series of terrifying events, all of which suggest that the spirits of cult leader John Michael Paymon (Joshua Mikel) and two of his followers, who hung themselves in their cell exactly one year earlier, have returned, and are laying claim to the precinct. Though frightened and confused, Officer Loren remains at her post, determined to do her duty. The question, of course, is how long will she hold out?

With loud bangs, creaky pipes, and locker doors that open by themselves, many of the early thrills in Last Shift may not look like much on paper, but put them inside an abandoned police precinct and they’re enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand at attention. Each noise that Officer Loren sets out to investigate carries her deeper into the building, which, with its barren, sterilized appearance (save some random equipment scattered about), would be damn spooky even without the ghosts. In addition to its setting, Last Shift features a strong performance by Juliana Harkavy, as Officer Loren, the lone cop on the scene. Shifting back and forth (convincingly, I might add) between brave and frightened out of her mind, Harkavy carries a fair portion of the film on her shoulders, and does so quite well.

Once the malevolent spirits hit the scene, Last Shift kicks into high gear, and while I’m still not certain what I think of the twist at the end, I give it credit in that I honestly didn’t see it coming.

While a fair number of supernatural thrillers have hit the scene in the last five years, Last Shift still manages to distinguish itself, and proves to be one of the more entertaining entries in this already crowded sub-genre.







Saturday, October 24, 2015

#1,895. The Exorcist III (1990)


Directed By: William Peter Blatty

Starring: George C. Scott, Ed Flanders, Brad Dourif



Tag line: "Dare you walk these steps again?"

Trivia: William Peter Blatty offered directorial responsibilities to John Carpenter, who backed out when it became clear that Blatty really wanted to direct the movie himself







Georgetown, 1990. A college rowing team practices in the early morning hours, while miles away, an unseen force breaks through the front door of a church, causing such havoc that the eyes on a Jesus statue, which is hanging from a crucifix, open up wide. Then there’s the dream sequence, in which an unnamed narrator walks a darkened street, then falls down a long flight of stairs. Suddenly, we switch to an ocean view, with several search helicopters flying overhead, a scene enhanced by the inclusion of the now-familiar tune, Tubular Bells.

These are a few of the images that dance across the screen during the opening credits of writer / director William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist III, and what amazed me was that in less than five minutes, this 1990 film was already more intriguing than the entirety of Exorcist II: The Heretic!

It’s been 15 years since the exorcism that claimed the life of Father Karras (Jason Miller), and two of his good friends, Police Lt. Kinderman (George C. Scott) and Father Dyer (Ed Flanders), haven’t come to terms with his death. To make matters worse, a killer is on the loose, one who seems to be copying the murders of the Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif), who was executed for his crimes a decade and a half earlier. With no eyewitnesses to the latest killing (a young African American boy is found beheaded) and no real evidence to go on, Kinderman and his associates are baffled, to say the least.

Over the course of several days, more people are murdered (including a person very close to Lt. Kinderman), and while investigating the latest killing at a nearby hospital, Kinderman has a conversation with Dr. Temple (Scott Wilson), the head of the facility’s psychiatric unit, who reveals something quite astonishing: a patient currently being held in solitary confinement, who is prone to fits of rage, was first found wandering the beach 15 years ago, with no memory of who he was or how he got there. Not only does this mysterious patient bear a striking resemblance to the late Father Karras, but he also claims that the spirit of the Gemini Killer lives within him, and that he is responsible for the string of recent murders. Lt. Kinderman, whose faith abandoned him years earlier, finds his story impossible to believe, but a meeting with the patient in question quickly changes his mind.

Like most of the world, William Peter Blatty (screenwriter of The Exorcist) was not a fan of Exorcist II: The Heretic (talking years later of how he turned down an early offer to work on the follow-up, Blatty conceded “I wish I’d done it now. Then at least we would have never had The Heretic”). So, to set things right, he published a new novel in 1983 titled Legion, which continued the story set forth in The Exorcist while ignoring everything that happened in its ill-advised 1977 sequel. Seven years later, Blatty himself brought it to the screen as The Exorcist III, and even though it doesn’t quite reach the level of greatness that The Exorcist currently rests upon, The Exorcist III does, at times, match the dark tone and ominous mood of the original while also featuring moments of genuine horror.

The Exorcist III has a few things going for it, starting with its crisp, believable dialogue (some of the early exchanges between Kinderman and Father Dyer, where they discuss everything from a carp in a bathtub to the mysteries of life and death, are positively engrossing). In addition, the film’s story (though admittedly far-fetched) is well-told, and the performances of its leads are top-notch. No stranger to horror thanks to his turn in 1980’s The Changeling, George C. Scott is tremendous as the grizzled Kinderman, whose doubts about the supernatural are soon answered, while Jason Miller is downright diabolical as the allegedly possessed priest. Yet, for me, the most memorable performance in The Exorcist III is delivered by Brad Dourif, who plays the personification of the Gemini Killer that lives within Father Karras. An actor of immense ability, Dourif has the uncanny ability to scare the hell out of you (his take on the killer doll in Child’s Play helped make that movie, as well as the entire series, what it is). Delivering lines that will chill you to the bone (“A decapitated head can continue to see for approximately twenty seconds”, he tells Kinderman during one of their talks, “So when I have one that's gawking, I always hold it up so that it can see its body. It's a little extra I throw in for no added charge”). In every scene he appears in, Brad Dourif is as fascinating as he is horrifying.

Then, of course, there’s the film’s famous jump scare, and let me tell you, it’s a doozy! For me personally, there have been a handful of cinematic jump scares that truly shocked the hell out of me: The jailhouse scene in 1979’s Salem’s Lot; the ending moments of Friday the 13th; the “blood test” in John Carpenter’s The Thing; and the final scene of 1976’s Carrie are but a few. More than just making my list, the moment in question in The Exorcist III ranks towards the top of it! Not to worry: I have no intention of describing it, or telling you where and when it occurs. Those who’ve seen the film already know, and those who haven’t shouldn’t be robbed of the experience.

A smart, often intense horror flick, The Exorcist III is an impressively strong sequel, and at some point during a future Halloween season, I recommend watching The Exorcist and The Exorcist III back-to-back in a single sitting. They make for a terrifying one-two punch.

As for Exorcist II: The Heretic, save it for April, which is National Humor Month, because compared to the original and Part III, that movie is an absolute joke.







Friday, October 23, 2015

#1,894. Deadly Blessing (1981)


Directed By: Wes Craven

Starring: Maren Jensen, Sharon Stone, Susan Buckner



Tag line: "Pray you're not blessed"

Trivia: Ernest Borgnine had to be taken to the hospital to be treated for a head injury following a mishap involving a horse and buggy







After the visceral brutality of The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, director Wes Craven cooled things down a bit with 1981’s Deadly Blessing, a psychological horror movie in which a recent widow finds herself caught between a religious sect and an unknown evil that’s terrorizing her small community.

Though happy on their farm, Jim (Douglas Barr) and Martha Schmidt (Maren Jensen) occasionally have run-ins with the Hittites, a deeply religious society that owns most of the land in the area. Jim himself was once a Hittite, and his father Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine) is the group’s spiritual leader (Jim was shunned by his family when he married the “outsider” Martha, who he met in college). Then, one night, tragedy strikes: while out in the barn, Jim is crushed to death when his tractor inexplicably rolls forward. To console Martha and help her get back on her feet, her best friends from college, Lana (Sharon Stone) and Vicky (Susan Buckner), come to stay with her for a few weeks. In addition, Louisa Stohler (Lois Nettleton) and her daughter Faith (Lisa Harrtman), the only other non-Hittites in the area, offer to help Martha any way they can. As for Isaiah, he tries to convince his “heathen” daughter-in-law to sell the farm back to the Hittites, but Martha refuses.

Then, all at once, strange and horrible things begin to happen to the residents of this small town, some of whom are murdered in cold blood. Isaiah and the rest of the Hittites are convinced these mishaps are the work of “The Incubus”, an evil deity sent to destroy their Christian way of life. Is the sinister force that’s plaguing the area supernatural, or are these killings the work of a madman?

Considered one of Craven’s lesser works, Deadly Blessing is not as frightening as the director’s first two films (unlike The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, most of the violence occurs off-screen). But it’s a decent enough horror movie, with a setup that’s inherently creepy (an out-of-the-way farm surrounded on all sides by religious zealots) and several scenes that are sure to get your pulse pounding (most of which feature a young Sharon Stone, who, as Lana, experiences terrifying nightmares involving a spider, and at one point is locked inside a barn with the killer). And while Ernest Borgnine was nominated for a Razzie (as Worst Supporting Actor) for his portrayal of the fanatical Isaiah, the veteran actor did a fine job bringing this one-note character convincingly to life (he’s especially spooky when, during a prayer meeting, he punishes a young Hittite boy by beating him on the hands with a stick). Also good in his brief supporting role is Michael Berryman as a nosy, somewhat unhinged Hittite named William (who, it turns out, isn’t as crazy as we first think).

The final twist may seem far-fetched to some, and the movie’s very last scene, though eerie, will likely leave you scratching your head. But even still, Deadly Blessing is better than I was led to believe (it currently holds a 20% “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes), and a lot more intriguing than I would have guessed.







Thursday, October 22, 2015

#1,893. Psycho II (1983)


Directed By: Richard Franklin

Starring: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Meg Tilly



Tag line: "Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the shower!"

Trivia: The reflection of young Norman Bates in the doorknob when he flashes back to his mothers' poisoning is Osgood Perkins, Anthony Perkins' son







Psycho II was one of those movies I used to watch every time it played on cable TV (the month it premiered, I’m betting I saw it 6 times all the way through, and at least that many more in bits and pieces). Being a Hitchcock fan from an early age, I had already seen Psycho when this 1983 sequel was released, but for a while there, I was a lot more familiar with Psycho II than I was the classic original.

After two decades in a mental institution, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is declared mentally sane by the courts, and despite the protests of Lila Loomis (Vera Miles), sister of Marion Crane (one of Norman’s last victims), he’s released back into the world. To confront his demons, Norman returns to the scene of his crimes, namely his creepy house on the hill (where he once kept his mummified mother’s remains) as well as the tiny, out-of-the-way motel he used to run, which, to his horror, has been turned into a sex-and-drugs safe haven by its current manager, Warren Toomey (Dennis Franz).

To get his life in order, Norman takes a job in the kitchen at a local diner, where he meets Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly), a waitress whose boyfriend just kicked her out of his apartment. Seeing as she has nowhere else to stay, Norman invites her back to his house, an invitation she reluctantly accepts (she knows Norman had been locked away, but doesn’t know why). At first, Norman is happy to have a little company, but his joy soon gives way to fear and confusion when he starts receiving hand-written messages and cryptic phone calls from someone claiming to be his deceased mother. His psychiatrist, Bill Raymond (Robert Loggia), tells Norman that it’s the work of a sick prankster trying to drive him crazy again. Then, people start disappearing, and all at once, Norman’s mind begins to warp. Is someone playing a cruel joke on him, or has Norman Bates returned to his murderous ways?

Released 23 years after Hitchcock’s Psycho, Psycho II is much more brutal than the original (the kills are often graphic, and there’s plenty of blood). But what makes this film such a worthy follow-up, apart from its intriguing story (the screenplay was penned by Tom Holland, who in later years would direct Fright Night and Child’s Play), is how easily Anthony Perkins slips back into the role of Norman. While more down-to-earth than he was in Psycho, Norman is still awkward around women (he babbles on incessantly while talking to Mary), and, when he thinks mother has returned, he begins to slip into his “old” ways (some of the film’s eeriest moments involve Norman flashing back to his violent past). A seemingly kind-hearted character through most of Psycho, Norman Bates is even more sympathetic in Psycho II, and we can’t help but wish that everyone would leave him alone so he can just get on with his life. There are other strong performances as well, including Dennis Franz as the slimy motel manager and Robert Loggia as the psychiatrist who’s taken a special interest in Norman, yet the ultimate fate of Psycho II rested on the shoulders of Anthony Perkins, and the seasoned actor showed time and again that he was up to the challenge.

Making a sequel to a classic film is never easy, but thanks to its engaging mystery and a solid performance by its lead actor (not to mention one hell of a surprise ending), Psycho II took the story of Norman Bates to its next logical step, and remains, to this day, one of the cinema’s most underrated horror sequels.







Wednesday, October 21, 2015

#1,892. Frankenstein 1970 (1958)


Directed By: Howard W. Koch

Starring: Boris Karloff, Tom Duggan, Jana Lund




Tag line: "The One...The Only KING OF MONSTERS as the new demon of the atomic age!"

Trivia: This film was originally going to be titled Frankenstein 1960 but it didn't sound futuristic enough







Frankenstein 1970 marked the first time in 14 years that Boris Karloff appeared in a movie with “Frankenstein” in the title (the last being 1944’s House of Frankenstein, in which he played Doctor Niemann). In fact, it was the last Frankenstein he’d ever make, and as I sat watching this movie, I couldn’t help but wish he had turned the part down.

In need of some quick cash, Baron Victor von Frankenstein (Karloff), a descendant of the man whose “experiments” led to disaster 230 years earlier, agrees to allow a film crew to shoot a movie in and around his family’s ancestral home. Directed by Douglas Row (Don ‘Red’ Barry) and starring the lovely Carolyn Hayes (Jana Lund), the film is (naturally) a horror flick, but the true terror lies hidden underground in the Baron’s secret laboratory. With the money he’s getting from the production crew, Baron Frankenstein intends to buy an atomic reactor, which he believes will help him succeed where his ancestor failed. Yes, Baron Victor Frankenstein is trying to reanimate a dead body he assembled from scratch. And should he find himself in need of an extra body part, he can always harvest it from the movie’s cast and crew, who are staying just upstairs!

Frankenstein 1970 is a bad film, but a few rays of sunshine do peak through from time to time. The opening sequence, for example, where a frightened woman runs through a forest to escape a tall, lumbering monster, is exceptionally intense (alas, it’s also a cheat: the “chase” is actually a scene from the movie being shot on Frankenstein’s land; soon after the creature corners the girl in a swamp, we hear the director yell “cut!”). The set pieces are also impressive (though released by Allied Artists, Frankenstein 1970 was shot on the Warner Bros. backlot), and a monologue delivered by Karloff, where he recounts the checkered history of the Frankenstein family, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the horror icon still had a spark or two left in him. Unfortunately, this speech is also Karloff’s best scene. Through the rest of the film, he hams it up in a big way, and as a result, his performance is often a distraction.

Of course, Karloff isn’t the only weak link in this chain. There are sequences that drag on way too long (the first time we follow Frankenstein into his basement lair feels like it goes on forever), and the few extraneous subplots there are add nothing to the movie; a love triangle between director Row, his leading lady Carolyn, and Row’s current wife, script supervisor Judy Stevens (Charlotte Austin), falls flat. But, in the end, it’s Karloff’s flamboyant portrayal that sinks the film, and the mere fact that this great actor, who brought such depth to the role of the monster in several 1930’s classics, finished out his “Frankenstein” run with this mediocre ‘50s horror flick is enough to bring a tear to your eye.







Tuesday, October 20, 2015

#1,891. Fright Night (1985)


Directed By: Tom Holland

Starring: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse




Tag line: "If you love being scared, it'll be the night of your life"

Trivia: Charlie Sheen auditioned for the role of Charlie Brewster, but the director decided his looks weren't right for the character






Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) believes in vampires. His favorite television program is the Fright Night movie show hosted by Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), a former film star whose most popular role was that of a vampire hunter; and when he spots some movers carrying a coffin into the basement of the house next door, the sometimes excitable Charley starts to wonder if his new neighbor, handsome bachelor Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon), is actually a Prince of the Undead. 

So obsessed is Charley with the thought of living next to a vampire that he even misses his chance to have sex (for the first time ever, mind you) with his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse), who storms out because Charley refuses to take his binoculars off the Dandridge house.

As it turns out, Charley’s suspicions are spot-on. 

One night, while up late studying, he hears a scream coming from Dandridge’s bedroom. Then, the following morning, the local news reports that the body of a murdered girl, who just so happens to look like the pretty blonde Charley saw walk into Dandridge’s house the night before, has been discovered. Then, while spying on his sinister neighbor, Charley sees Dandridge’s assistant, Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark), load what looks like a dead body into the back of a car! 

Of course, nobody believes Charley when he tells them a vampire has moved into the neighborhood; not his mother (Dorothy Fielding) or Amy, or his strange friend Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys). Even the police laugh at Charley when he tries to have Dandridge arrested for murder (without any proof). 

Feeling he has nowhere else to turn, Charley tracks down his idol, Peter Vincent, in the hopes he’ll know what to do. While the aging actor initially thinks his young friend has lost his mind, Vincent soon sees for himself that vampires are very real, and that Charley isn’t a s crazy as he seems.

One of the things I always loved about writer / director Tom Holland’s Fright Night was the way it depicted the dual nature of its monster. Early in the film, Jerry Dandridge is a suave ladies’ man, much like Bela Lugosi in 1931’s Dracula; one night, while peering out his window, Charley spots Dandridge with a beautiful woman, who has obviously succumbed to his charms; and later in the movie, the urbane bloodsucker even manages to seduce Amy on a crowded dance floor. But if you piss this vampire off, you get something else entirely, as Charley discovers when Dandridge “visits” him in his bedroom. While there, Dandridge transforms into a hideous monster right before our eyes, a vampire uglier even than Murnau’s Nosferatu. Sarandon handles these two extremes wonderfully, and is convincing as both a debonair predator and a feral creature of the night.

Equally as good is Roddy McDowall as Peter Vincent, the former star who has fallen on hard times (moments before Charley approached him at the TV station, Vincent was informed his show had been cancelled). But as bad as things may seem for Peter Vincent at the moment, it’s nothing compared to the terror that awaits him once he agrees to “help” Charley. Watching Peter Vincent’s evolution from a passive onlooker to a frightened participant is an absolute treat, and in the hands of a seasoned pro like McDowall, he quickly becomes the movie’s most sympathetic character.

When it comes to memorable sidekicks, however, it’s hard to top Stephen Geoffreys’ Evil Ed, who, with his bizarre mannerisms and near-insane cackle, is responsible for some of the film’s biggest laughs (though definitely a comedy, Fright Night is not a satire. The guffaws come courtesy of the situations these characters find themselves in). But along with his goofy demeanor, Evil Ed is also the film’s most tragic character, and his final scene is as poignant as they come.

With characters you can really get behind, some awesome (practical) effects, and a truly terrifying monster, 1985’s Fright Night is more than a great ‘80s vampire flick; it’s a horror classic, and if you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and watch it immediately.







Monday, October 19, 2015

#1,890. The Last House on the Left (1972)


Directed By: Wes Craven

Starring: Sandra Peabody, Lucy Grantham, David Hess



Tag line: "Mari, 17, is dying. Even for her the worst is yet to come"

Trivia: This movie was banned for over 32 years in Australia. It was finally commercially available through DVD in 2004






Years ago, a co-worker of mine, a middle-aged woman named Bea, asked me what I thought was the scariest movie of all-time. “The Exorcist” was my immediate response (though I also told her about my love for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and John Carpenter’s The Thing). To keep the conversation going, I naturally posed the same question to her, and while she couldn’t remember the title of her most frightening film, I knew from her description of it (2 teens are kidnapped by rapists / killers and dragged into the woods) that it was Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (a movie that borrowed heavily from Ingmar Bergman’s 1960 classic The Virgin Spring). Bea was a teenager, about the same age as the film’s doomed young lead, when she and a few of her friends saw it in the theater, and the experience was almost too much for her. A brutal, unflinching motion picture, The Last House on the Left undoubtedly had a similar effect on thousands of girls the world over.

Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassel) is about to turn 17. As her parents, John (Richard Towers) and Estelle (Cynthia Carr), prepare for her upcoming party, Mari and her slightly wild friend Phyllis (Lucy Grantham) head to New York to attend a concert. Once in the city, Phyllis tries to score them some grass, and approaches Junior (Marc Sheffler) on the street, asking if he knows where they can get some. Promising to hook them up, Junior leads Phyllis and Mari back to his apartment, where, instead of marijuana, they find three escaped criminals: Krug (David Hess), Sadie (Jeramie Rain), and Weasel (Fred Lincoln), who immediately take the naïve young girls as their prisoners.

The next morning, Krug and company throw their two hostages into the trunk of a car and head out into the country, where, quite ironically, they break down on the very road where Mari and her parents live. Once the gang has “finished” with Phyllis and Mari, they head to the nearest house, which happens to belong to the Collingwoods! Though worried that their daughter hasn’t returned home yet (they even reported her as missing to the local sheriff), John and Estelle invite Krug and the others to stay over for the night. But it isn’t long before the distraught parents discover the truth, leading to a showdown that’s sure to end in more bloodshed.

Certainly the deepest horror”, Wes Craven once said, “is what happens to your body at your own hands and others”. And what happens to Mari and Phyllis in The Last House on the Left at the hands of Krug and his cronies is about as horrific as it gets. Once the actions shifts to the woods near Mari’s house, the two girls are humiliated beyond belief (aside from being forced to have sex with one another, Phyllis is ordered to urinate in her own pants), then tortured, and much worse. What makes it even more chilling is that Craven allows his camera to linger, focusing quite intently on these disturbing events (he doesn’t show us everything, thankfully, but we definitely see enough). Even though I’ve seen the movie several times now, it never gets any easier to watch. In fact, its middle sequence always has the same effect on me: by the time the evil Krug (Hess is absolutely terrifying in the role) and his cohorts have finished with Mari and Phyllis, I’m shocked, disgusted, and mentally drained.

I do have some issues with The Last House on the Left, primarily the characters of the bumbling sheriff (Marshall Anker) and his deputy (Martin Kove), whose scenes would be more at home in a Laurel and Hardy comedy short than in a horror film (while on their way to investigate the abandoned car in front of the Collingwoods, their own vehicle breaks down, forcing them to hitch a ride with a passing chicken farmer). I realize Craven was trying to lighten the mood with some comedy, but to throw these antics in after what is easily the film’s most alarming scene didn’t make much sense (I’m fairly certain the audience wasn’t in a laughing mood at that point).

That said, The Last House on the Left has definitely left its mark on the genre, and as tough as it is to sit through, horror fans should make it a point to do so at least once.







Sunday, October 18, 2015

#1,889. Mr. Jones (2013)


Directed By: Karl Mueller

Starring: Jon Foster, Sarah Jones, Mark Steger




Tag line: "If you see him... Run"

Trivia: Filming took place near Santa Clarita, California, at a movie ranch that had several derelict houses on it







Scott (Jon Foster) is planning to shoot a nature documentary, and convinces his wife Penny (Sarah Jones) to move out to the country with him, where they’ll spend a year living in an isolated cabin. A few weeks in, though, Scott realizes his film has no focus, and begins to lose interest in the project. Then, one day, while he’s out shooting in the woods, Scott’s backpack is stolen by a mysterious stranger, who quickly retreats to a nearby house. When Scott and Penny sneak into this house to retrieve it, they make a startling discovery: the man who lives there is none other than Mr. Jones, a recluse whose unique scarecrows took the art world by storm in the 1970s. Excited that they’re the only two people in the world who’ve seen him in the flesh, Penny talks Scott into abandoning his nature movie to instead shoot a documentary about Mr. Jones. But a follow-up trip to Mr. Jones’ house causes them to realize his scarecrows serve a greater purpose, and by dabbling in things they shouldn’t have, the couple has unleashed a force that threatens both their lives and the well-being of the entire planet.

Released in 2013, Mr. Jones is a unique entry in the found footage subgenre in that it doesn’t limit itself to the conventions of that format. First off, the film occasionally has Scott act as narrator, to clue us in on what’s going through his mind (early on, he laments the fact he dragged his wife into the woods for a movie he no longer wants to make). In addition, the movie seldom worries about justifying why the camera is always running (some scenes, especially one set in a bedroom at night, are framed in such a way that we don’t even know where the camera could have possibly been placed). Most interesting of all, though, is the final act, at which point Scott and Penny find themselves trapped in a nightmare where they’re both the observers and the observed. After seeing dozens of these movies try to explain why their footage exists in the first place, it was nice to experience one that wants you to simply accept it on its own terms, with no questions asked.

Though the movie does flounder towards the end, when jarring cuts and excessive shaky cam are the rule as opposed to the exception, Mr. Jones is an engaging, sometimes creepy film that deserves points for setting itself apart from the rest.







Saturday, October 17, 2015

#1,888. Gravy (2015)


Directed By: James Roday

Starring: Lothaire Bluteau, Lily Cole, Molly Ephraim





Tag line: "You Are What We Eat"

Trivia: This film was written and directed by James Roday, who previously starred on the TV show Psych







Directed by James Roday, Gravy is, thus far, the find of the Halloween season, a horror / comedy that delivers on both counts, and in a big, big way.

Another All Hallows Eve has rolled around, and brothers Stef (Jimmi Simpson) and Anson (Michael Weston) are ready to celebrate it in their own unique way. Joined this year by Stef’s abrasive girlfriend Mimi (Lily Cole), the brothers walk into a Mexican bar / restaurant at closing time, take the entire staff hostage, and announce everyone’s been invited to attend a special feast. Alas, most of the unfortunate employees won’t make it to the dessert course; in what has become a Holiday tradition, Stef and Anson (and Mimi) intend to eat each and every one of their prisoners before the night is out!

Balancing comedy and horror can sometimes be tricky, but Roday and his exceptional cast manage to pull it off. The laughs come courtesy of a smartly-written script (penned by director Roday and Todd Harthen), which gives weight to its characters without the benefit of delving too deeply into their back stories (for instance, we never learn why Stef and Anson carry out this macabre annual tradition). Simpson and Weston are hilarious as the siblings with a palate for human flesh who, unlike their victims, are having the time of their lives (from start to finish, they’re as giddy as kids on Christmas morning). Though a bit more sadistic than her cohorts, Lily Cole’s Mimi also gets in on the “fun”, taunting and ultimately torturing the pathetic Bert (Ethan Sandler), whose girlfriend recently left him for another woman. Also making a brief but memorable appearance is Sarah Silverman as Bethany, a nervous cashier who, in the film’s opening scene, captures Anson’s heart.

As for the horror, Gravy does have its moments of violence and gore (most of which occur in the kitchen), but the true terror lies both in the situation itself (innocent people knowing from the get-go that they likely won’t survive the night), and the fact it’s happening to these specific characters, who, in the handful of scenes we spend with them before all hell breaks loose, seem more like a tight-knit family than a team of co-workers. Funnyman Paul Rodriguez, playing against type, is the boss / father figure Chuy, the one they all look up to, while Lothaire Bluteau’s Yannick is a world-class French chef who, it turns out, is hiding a secret or two of his own. Even more upsetting is that a few of the potentially doomed employees had bright futures ahead of them; Sutton Foster’s Kerry was working her last shift, and about to start a new career as a healthcare professional, while security guard Winketta (Gabourey Sidibe) spent the earlier part of the evening preparing for her final history exam. Rounding out the victim’s list is Hector (Gabriel Luna), Chuy’s nephew who dreams of becoming a cage fighter; and Cricket (Molly Ephraim), an occasionally obnoxious waitress whose bad habits prove useful later on. Each of these ill-fated characters is as well-rounded as their captors, and we root like hell for them to somehow make it out of this nightmare alive.

To be honest, I have no idea if Gravy will hold up as well on repeat viewings; the story has its share of twists and turns, and its makers rely heavily on the element of surprise to keep the audience on its toes. What I can say, though, is that, the first time through, this is one of the most entertaining movies I’ve seen this year. It’s a bit early to be talking about a top-10 list for 2015, but if I were a betting man, I’d lay money Gravy will land somewhere on mine.







Friday, October 16, 2015

#1,887. Just Before Dawn (1981)


Directed By: Jeff Lieberman

Starring: George Kennedy, Mike Kellin, Chris Lemmon




Tag line: "The nightmare has begun"

Trivia: Richard Kiel was auditioned for the role of the film's dual killers








While I admit it’s not perfect, I’m a fan of Jeff Lieberman’s Squirm, a horror flick about killer worms (that’s right, worms) attacking a small southern town. Whereas that 1976 film was his unique take on the monster movie genre, 1981’s Just Before Dawn is the writer / director’s stab (pun intended) at the slasher craze, which, thanks to Halloween and Friday the 13th, was growing in popularity at the time.

Five hikers: Warren (Gregg Henry) and his girlfriend Connie (Deborah Benson); Jonathan (Chris Lemmon) and Megan (Jamie Rose); and Jonathan’s brother Daniel (Ralph Seymour) head into a remote mountainous region of Oregon to scope out the landscape (Warren holds the deed to a few dozen acres of land in this area, though he’s never been there before). Despite warnings from both the Park Ranger (George Kennedy) and a wayward hunter (Mike Kellin) who claims a “demon” killed his nephew on the mountain, the friends drive their RV deep into the woods, setting up camp next to a waterfall. Sure enough, as the quintet gets caught up in their picturesque surroundings, they fail to notice someone is lurking nearby, and before long, the peace and serenity will give way to screams of terror.

With its tale of five careless friends who venture into the wilderness and come face-to-face with a machete-wielding behemoth, Just Before Dawn has a lot in common with movies like Friday the 13th and The Burning, putting this 1981 film squarely in slasher territory. But there are elements of 1972’s Deliverance here as well, which Lieberman himself cited as his inspiration for the movie (along with its inbred-style killer, the leads have a run-in with a backwoods family that’s none too happy to have them around). Whatever its influences might be, Just Before Dawn is a nifty little horror filck, with a good cast of characters, some eerie background music (provided by Brad Fiedel, who, in later years, would compose the scores for The Terminator and Terminator 2, among others), and a handful of well-executed scenes, starting with the opening sequence in which the hunter and his nephew (Charles Bartlett) are hanging out at an abandoned church, only to realize, much too late, that they are not alone (the hunter looks up through a hole in the roof and sees someone peering down at him, a shot that Lieberman frames in such a way that it’ll surely send a chill down your spine).

Like the “monsters” in Squirm, this 1981 film is unusual in that it favors atmosphere and suspense over blood and guts, yet while this definitely sets it apart from the era’s mainstream slasher offerings, Just Before Dawn is a movie any fan of the genre will surely enjoy.

Even without the gore, Just before Dawn delivers the goods.







Thursday, October 15, 2015

#1,886. Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)


Directed By: John Boorman

Starring: Richard Burton, Linda Blair, Louise Fletcher



Tag line: "It's four years later...what does she remember?"

Trivia: During the filming, director John Boorman contracted San Joaquin Valley Fever (a respiratory fungal infection), which caused filming to be suspended for five weeks






All these years later, 1973’s The Exorcist still ranks as one of the most frightening films ever made. How it spawned a sequel as bad as Exorcist II: The Heretic is beyond me.

Scratch that: this is more than just a “bad” movie; it’s a disaster of epic proportions.

Though it’s been four years since her brush with evil, Regan (again played by Linda Blair) continues to see her psychologist, Dr. Jean Tuskin (Louise Fletcher), on a regular basis. Saying she remembers nothing about the horrific events that claimed the lives of three people, Regan tries to lead a normal life, all the while knowing that the demon that possessed her still has a firm grip on her psyche.

Meanwhile, the Vatican has assigned Father Lamont (Richard Burton) to investigate the final exorcism performed by the late Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow). Once in America, Father Lamont visits Dr. Tuskin and sits in on Regan’s hypnosis therapy, during which he discovers that his mentor had a previous encounter with the demon that invaded the young girl’s body, a malevolent spirit that goes by the name “Yazuzu”. To further understand the situation, Lamont travels to Africa in search of a man named Kukumo (James Earl Jones), who, as a boy, was also possessed by Yazuzu until Father Merrin exorcised the demon. But the deeper he delves into this terrifying reality, the more Father Lamont realizes that Yazuzu has not been vanquished; he lies dormant inside of Regan, waiting for his chance to return. To save Regan’s soul, Father Lamont is prepared to battle Yazuzu, even if doing so means giving up his own life in the process.

I knew I was in trouble early on in Exorcist II: The Heretic when, while under hypnosis, Regan recalls a confrontation between Father Merrin and the monster that was inside of her. Instead of lifting footage from the first movie for this flashback, director Boorman decided to shoot a brand new sequence, which not only looks bad (the possession make-up worn by Linda Blair is almost comical), but also isn’t the least bit frightening.

And therein lies the problem: there’s not a single chilling scene in the entire movie. In fact, its convoluted tale of experimental hypnosis, ancient demons, locusts (one recurring image of Pazuzu as a locust, flying through the air, is too ridiculous for words), and the eternal struggle between good and evil is downright dull. Instead of fighting demons, Father Lamont spends his time jetting around the world, meeting with anyone and everyone who had the slightest connection to either Pazuzu or Father Merrin, and nothing he turns up is even remotely interesting. Whereas The Exorcist kept you glued to the edge of your seat, Exorcist II: The Heretic is more likely to make you lay back and take a nap.

The real question, of course, is why? Why did the scariest movie ever made inspire one of the worst sequels of all time? It really is a mystery, especially when you look at the talented cast and crew that created this turd. Its director, John Boorman, had turned out Deliverance a few years earlier, and was the man behind my favorite take on the King Arthur legend, 1981’s Excalibur. Richard Burton, though not above hamming it up, was a Shakespearian actor, and Louise Fletcher was fresh off her Oscar-winning portrayal of Nurse Ratched in 1975’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. What’s more, Max von Sydow and Linda Blair reprised their roles from the original, and James Earl Jones. Ned Beatty (as a pilot), and Paul Henried (as a bishop) make brief appearances as well. On paper, Exorcist II: The Heretic looked like a winner.

But it isn’t a winner. It sucks… real bad. And fans of the original should avoid it at all costs.