Thursday, September 29, 2022

#2,823. Saturday the 14th (1981) - Paula Prentiss Triple Feature


I spent an inordinate amount of time as a kid thumbing through TV Week, the local television guide that arrived every Sunday with the newspaper. Along with program listings, this modest publication provided star ratings for all the movies set to play that week. I distinctly recall the critic for TV Week awarded 1981’s Saturday the 14th a single star (out of 4), and didn’t have kind things to say in his or her 2-sentence blurb.

I didn’t pay that rating much notice, because this same publication also gave Caddyshack a single star, and in my mind that was a masterpiece. So, when it finally played, my 12-year-old self watched Saturday the 14th, confident it would be an amazing horror comedy.

I mention all this because, while I can remember TV Week’s rating of the film, I retained absolutely nothing from that initial viewing of Saturday the 14th. I mean, nothing! So, this recent watch was like seeing it for the first time.

And twice is enough. I now know why I couldn’t remember the movie; my brain was blocking it out!

That’s a bit harsh, actually; Saturday the 14th is a PG-level spoof with a few moments that work. Alas, there are many, many more that do not.

After inheriting a house from his late uncle, John Hyatt (Richard Benjamin) and his wife Mary (Benjamin’s real-life spouse, Paula Prentiss) pack up their belongings and two kids - teenager Debbie (Kari Michaelson) and pre-teen Billy (Kevin Brando) - and move into their new home. Never mind that it’s old, dusty, and dilapidated. As the realtor (Carole Androsky) tells them, it’s a “fixer-upper”.

But the house is more than just falling apart; it’s cursed! That first night, Billy finds an old book, titled the “Book of Evil”, and opens it, unwittingly releasing into the world a number of monsters, all now roaming feeling throughout the house.

This book, which is 300 years old, is also coveted by a number of others, including a vampire couple (Jeffrey Tambor and Nancy Lee Andrews) and an exterminator named Van Helsing (Severn Darden), who warns the Hyatts that if the monsters aren’t put back in the book by midnight on Saturday the 14th, it will mean the end of the world.

Produced by Julie Corman (wife of Roger) and written and directed by Howard R. Cohen, Saturday the 14th tries its damnedest to make us laugh, tossing out jokes, sight gags, and one-liners at a frantic pace. Unfortunately, about 80-90% of them fall flat. In one early scene, the vampire couple is checking out the house in the hope of buying it. Making conversation, the realtor asks if they have children. “As often as we can”, is Jeffrey Tambor’s response.

Some of the performances are also lacking. Richard Benjamin’s John is a clueless patriarch who tries to find a silver lining in any dark cloud, yet the actor seems bored with it all, as does the normally reliable Jeffrey Tambor. Faring slightly better are Paula Prentiss, whose Mary receives a bite from a vampire and slowly begins to transform (a storyline that had potential, but is inexplicably dropped in the last act) and Severn Darden as the low-key expert of the supernatural (most of the film’s bigger laughs come courtesy of his character). I also thought the monsters looked decent enough. Not great, mind you, but decent, especially the Gill Man, which first appears in a bathtub, easily the film’s most impressive scene.

The sophomoric humor that runs rampant throughout Saturday the 14th might appeal to younger viewers, and is harmless enough that it won’t give them nightmares. But don’t expect their sides to be splitting either.
Rating: 4 out of 10

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