Monday, October 31, 2022

#2,854. Hell Night (1981)


The opening scene of 1981’s Hell Night could have been lifted straight out of Animal House; a wild party, ushering in the start of an annual Halloween tradition known as “Hell Night”, is raging at the Alpha Sigma Rho fraternity, complete with drunken dancing, window smashing, and frat president Peter Bennett (Kevin Brophy) trying to bed every sorority sister he meets.

It’s a wild start to what will prove an even wilder horror movie, a slasher filled to its breaking point with suspense, surprises, and plenty of scares.

To close out Hell Night, Bennett and his cohorts Scott (Jimmy Sturtevant) and May (Jenny Neumann), along with the rest of Alpha Sigma Rho, drive their four new pledges - Jeff (Peter Barton), Marti (Linda Blair), Denise (Suki Goodwin) and Seth (Vincent Van Patten) – to an abandoned estate known as Garth Manor.

Legend has it that, 12 years earlier, Raymond Garth murdered his wife and three of his four deformed children on the grounds of the estate before taking his own life. The fourth child, a mute dwarf named Andrew, was never found, nor were two of his sibling’s bodies, and there are those who believe all three continue to live inside the remote, decrepit mansion.

To pass their initiation into Alpha Sigma Rho, Jeff, Marti and the others must spend the rest of the evening locked inside Garth Manor. Naturally, Peter has no intention of letting the night pass by quietly, and has planned a few practical jokes to keep the pledges on their toes. But as they will all soon discover, the legend of Garth Manor is more than a fable designed to scare fraternity pledges, and a few of them may not survive until morning!

Directed by Tom DeSimone and produced by Irwin Yablans (the man who also brought John Carpenter’s Halloween to the big screen), Hell Night is, pardon the pun, one hell of a horror flick! The real fun begins the moment everyone arrives at Garth Manor, at which point Peter relates the sad story of Raymond Garth and his progeny. Brophy does a masterful job telling this tale, keeping us poised on the edge of our seats as he does so. The characters are also well-defined, to the point that, unlike the usual victims in early ‘80s slashers, we actually care about them, and the performances are a big reason why; even Van Patten, whose Seth seems to be little more than a sex-starved surfer at the outset, brings depth to his character as the story progresses.

As for the horror, Hell Night delivers it in large doses, whether it be the pranks pulled by Peter Bennett and his team (everything from random screams to spectral manifestations) or the actual terror that eventually makes its presence known, often in brutal fashion (the first victim is dragged into a pit and beheaded). And if all this wasn’t enough, DeSimone and his cast do an amazing job of keeping the tension level cranked as high as it will go; even something as simple as scaling a fence will have you nervously biting your nails.

All this, plus a batshit crazy ending, are why Hell Night has become a cult favorite, and is one of the most entertaining slashers of its era.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Sunday, October 30, 2022

#2,853. Peeping Tom (1960) - The Films of Michael Powell


Before I launch into my review of Peeping Tom, I want to take a moment to discuss proto-slashers. In a nutshell, proto-slashers are movies that predate the slasher films of the late ‘70s and ‘80s - Halloween, Friday the 13th, My Bloody Valentine, etc - that feature elements which would eventually become synonymous with the slasher subgenre.

In fact, two of the finest proto-slashers ever produced were released in 1960: Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom. Both are considered spiritual ancestors of the slasher film, with many of the tropes that would come to define that particular subgenre, yet each informs the slashers that followed in a very different way.

Mark (Carl Boehm) is a troubled young man. Subjected as a boy to experiments conducted by his scientist father, who was studying how fear affects children, Mark is himself now fascinated with fear, to the point that it has turned him into a killer.

And his weapon of choice is a movie camera! A cameraman employed by a London-based studio specializing in low-budget films, Mark turns his camera (a gift from his father) on his targets, filming them in what would prove to be the final moments of their lives, then heading home to develop the film and watch it back. His secondary job – shooting risqué photos of scantily-clad girls for the owner of a local news agency – provides him with potential victims.

Mark’s life takes an unexpected turn, however, when he meets and falls in love with Helen (Anna Massey), a tenant who lives on the first floor of his building (Mark is the landlord, actually, though he usually keeps to himself). His newfound feelings for Helen inspire Mark to seek treatment for his “condition”, but can he cure himself before the police catch up with him?

Directed by the great Michael Powell (Black Narcissus, Age of Consent), Peeping Tom is as much an exercise in voyeurism as Hitchcock’s Rear Window; Mark (played superbly by Carl Boehm) uses his beloved camera to shoot and capture for posterity the murders he commits (his tripod is equipped with a knife, which he uses to stab his female victims in the neck, all as his camera is rolling). More than the actual killing, he gets enjoyment out of watching the murders on film (it’s in this particular fascination that the movie gets its title; Mark is a Peeping Tom after the fact).

In addition to its similarities with Rear Window, Peeping Tom has quite a bit in common with another Hitchcock film, released the very same year: Psycho. Besides being proto-slashers, both feature main characters who have been damaged by their parents; Mark’s father is the cause of his disorder, while Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins, has some definite mommy issues. What’s more, we like both Mark and Norman; they are shy and socially awkward, yet we connect with them on an emotional level, and understand, even pity, the predicament they find themselves in.

Yet it’s in this very aspect that the two films also differ from one another. We like Psycho’s Norman Bates before we know what he is; there is a major reveal at the end of the movie that casts Norman in an entirely new light (and even though Psycho is over 60 years old, I won’t spoil it by saying anything more about the ending). We like Norman up to the point of that reveal.

In Peeping Tom, we know what Mark is in the first 10 minutes. The opening scene features the murder of a prostitute (Brenda Bruce), and though it was shot in POV (another slasher trope), the very next scene has Mark sitting in his apartment, watching a film of the murder we just witnessed. Right off the bat, we realize Mark is the killer, and yet we like him anyway! Even as the film progresses, and Mark continues to stalk and murder innocent girls, we find ourselves hoping he can get help and live happily ever after.

In this way, Peeping Tom is more of a proto-slasher than Psycho. In the ‘80s, audiences went to see the Halloween and Friday the 13th films not to root for the final girl, but to see the creative ways in which Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees would finish off their victims. Viewers connected with the killers, not the prey, much like we connect with Mark in Peeping Tom.

The fact that it is also a masterpiece, made by an immensely talented filmmaker at the top of his game, puts Peeping Tom on a level that few movies - slashers and proto-slashers alike - ever reach.
Rating: 10 out of 10

Saturday, October 29, 2022

#2,852. Dr. Giggles (1992)


Our town has a doctor
And his name is Rendell
Stay away from his house,
He’s a doctor from hell
Chopped up his patients
Every last one
And cut out their hearts
Purely for fun

Having effectively played mentally challenged characters in Dark Night of the Scarecrow and TV series L.A. Law, Larry Drake gets to mix things up a bit in 1992’s Dr. Giggles, portraying a psychotic genius who fancies himself a heart surgeon.

After murdering three staff members, Evan Randell (Drake) escapes from the mental institution where he was being held and makes his way back to the town of Moorehigh, where, years earlier, his father, the local doctor (played in flashbacks by William Dennis Hunt), murdered seven of his patients before himself being dragged into the streets and killed by a gang of vigilantes. Following in his father’s footsteps, Evan now believes he, too, is a doctor, using everything from hypodermic needles to reflex hammers to murder those unfortunate enough to cross his path.

Evan takes a special interest, however, in pretty teenage neighbor Jennifer (Holly Marie Combs), who, like his late mother, suffers from a heart condition. Determined to perform a heart transplant to save her, Evan kidnaps Jennifer, only to be confronted by her boyfriend Max (Glenn Quinn) and police officer Joe Reitz (Keith Diamond), neither of whom has any intention of allowing Evan Randall - aka “Dr. Giggles” – to go through with the procedure.

Larry Drake delivers a bravura performance as the psychotic Dr. Giggles (so named because he’s constantly giggling under his breath), and always has a one-liner at the ready when he’s dispensing his own warped brand of healthcare. After killing one poor girl by forcing a sharpened thermometer into her mouth, Evan looks at her and says “Leave it in for at least a minute”. And like most villains in a slasher film, Dr. Giggles has a knack for turning up when you least expect him, resulting in some violent confrontations that also double as effective jump scares (especially prevalent in the film’s final act).

As for the supporting characters, Combs delivers a solid performance as Jennifer, though I found the scenes with Officer Reitz and his partner Hank Magruder (Richard Bradford) even more compelling; a flashback related by Magruder, set 35 years earlier inside a police morgue, leads to what is easily the film’s most unnerving sequence.

That said, Dr. Giggles is, from start to finish, the Larry Drake show, and the veteran actor does not disappoint.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Friday, October 28, 2022

#2,851. Ice Cream Man (1995)


Low-budget schlock with an a-list cast is just one of the many facets that make up director Norman Apstein’s 1995 horror / comedy Ice Cream Man, an entertaining movie that nonetheless suffers from multiple personality disorder.

But if it’s any consolation, a few of those personalities are… kinda cool!

Clint Howard stars as Gregory Tudor, who as a child (played in flashback by Matthew McCurley) was traumatized after witnessing a drive-by shooting that claimed the life of his beloved ice cream man.

Having spent years in the Wishing Well sanitarium undergoing psychiatric treatment (involving needles to the head), Gregory now wants nothing more than to make children happy by selling them delicious ice cream… mixed with cockroaches, mice, and the occasional eyeball!

Yes, Gregory, along with selling ice cream, also dabbles in murder; at one point he even kills a dog belonging to his landlady / caretaker, Nurse Wharton (Olivia Hussey), and uses its remains to concoct yet another “flavor” of ice cream.

When Gregory abducts a young neighborhood boy known as “Small Paul” (Mikey LeBeau), the kid’s pals –Johnny (Justin Isfeld), Heather (Anndi McAfee) and Tuna (JoJo Adams) – decide to expose the ice cream man for the deviant psychopath he is. But will the three tykes survive long enough to save their friend, or will they too end up as toppings on an ice cream cone?

The strange tale of Ice Cream Man starts with its director, Norman Apstein, whose professional name was actually Paul Norman. Specializing in bisexual-themed adult films, Norman helmed some 130 pornographic movies between the years 1985 and 2000, and was even married for a few of those years to adult film star Tori Welles (she actually makes a cameo in Ice Cream Man, playing a customer in a local supermarket that’s managed by none other than Doug Llewelyn, host of the TV series The People’s Court). Then there is star Clint Howard, brother of actor / director Ron Howard (Night Shift, Apollo 13), who brings tons of personality to the role of Gregory, the titular Ice Cream Man. At times sympathetic (yes, he’s disturbed, but seems genuinely interested in making kids happy with his various “flavors” of ice cream), Gregory also takes some major risks, at one point selling Police Detective Maldwyn (Lee Majors II) a Rocky Road cone with an eyeball shoved in the middle of it! Howard’s manic turn is one of the best things about Ice Cream Man, and the actor does an exceptional job throughout. Also good are the film’s child actors, whose various adventures give the movie a Goonies vibe (while all of the youngsters deliver fine performances, the standout is Anndi McAfee as Heather).

And then there’s the supporting cast… and what a cast it is! Along with Olivia Hussey (Black Christmas), Ice Cream Man features other veterans of the horror genre, including David Warner (The Omen), who plays Heather’s dad, Reverend Langley (in one very bizarre scene, Reverend Langley looks on as his wife, played by Jeanine Anderson, “speaks in tongues”, allegedly channeling the Archangel Gabriel). Also along for the ride are David Naughton (An American Werewolf in London) as Tuna’s dad; Sandahl Bergman (Conan the Barbarian) as Tuna’s mom; and Jan-Michael Vincent (Big Wednesday) as Detective Maldwyn’s partner, Detective Gifford. Oh, and Steve Garvey, the all-star first baseman of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the ‘70s and ‘80s, makes a brief appearance as Johnny’s father. Now, THAT is a cast!

Of course, no ‘90s horror film would be complete without its share of blood and gore, and Ice Cream Man, despite its low budget, features some impressive effects. There are a few gnarly kills, but even more memorable are the severed heads – three to be exact – that make an appearance in the film’s second half (two of which Gregory uses to put on a macabre puppet show while chasing the kids).

Where Ice Cream Man suffers is in its overall tone; the Goonies vibe and the adolescent cast (which has more screen time than everyone except Clint Howard) would lead you to believe Ice Cream Man is geared towards younger viewers, but the blood and gore put it in solid R-rating territory. It’s hard to say what director Norman Apstein was shooting for: a kid-friendly film or a straight up horror / comedy (and truth be told, he might not be too sure himself; during his director’s commentary for the Vinegar Syndrome Blu-Ray release of the movie, he didn’t remember a whole lot about its production). Yet regardless of what his ultimate goal may have been, Ice Cream Man is, at the very least, a fun, funny, batshit crazy movie that you absolutely MUST see!
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Thursday, October 27, 2022

#2,850. Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys (2004)


It seemed a natural pairing: the Toulon puppets from Puppet Master against the crude, abrasive toys of Demonic Toys, and while director Ted Nicolaou’s mash-up is ultimately more goofy than it is frightening, there’s no denying Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys is also a lot of fun!

Robert (Corey Feldman) and his daughter Alex (Danielle Keaton) are the last surviving members of the Toulon clan, and as such are the only two people in the world who can bring their ancestor’s puppets, namely Blade, Jester, Pinhead, and Six-Shooter, back to life.

But someone else is also interested in the Toulon legacy: millionaire Erica Sharpe (Vanessa Angel), the chief executive of Sharpe toys. With the help of her family’s longtime assistant Julian (Nikolai Sotirov), Erica plans to kidnap Toulon’s puppets and add them to her collection of living toys.

With Christmas just around the corner, Erica has made a deal with the demon Bael (Christopher Bergschneider). Having flooded the market with her company’s dolls, Erica intends to sacrifice a virgin when the sun rises on Christmas morning, after which her millions of dolls, being enjoyed by countless children around the world, will spring to life, killing everything, and everyone, in their path.

With the help of police officer Jessica Russell (Silvia Suvadova), Robert and Alex try to stop Erica Sharpe from carrying out her evil plan. But will they and the Toulon puppets defeat Sharpe’s demonic toys in time to save Christmas?

Feldman and Angel are both over-the-top as the dueling toy masters, but truth be told, their less-than-subtle performances add to fun of it all. And while there’s a large section of Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys that is story-driven (which is an issue when the story is as trite and predictable as this one), both puppets and toys are given ample screen time in the final act.

In his effort to defeat Erica Sharpe, Robert equips his ancestor’s puppets with a few modern weapons, the coolest of which are six-shooter’s lasers, which come in handy more than once in the final showdown. As for the toys, the standout (as it was in the 1992 original film) is Baby Oopsy Daisy, voiced by Rendan Ramsey. Talking more like a gangster this time around, Baby Oopsy Daisy not only has a foul mouth, but also uses its unique flatulence to fly through the air! Of the other toys, Jack Attack (a devilish jack-in-the-box) proves a formidable foe, using its screeching voice to deafen its opponents. But, like always, Baby Oopsy Daisy steals the show.

So while Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys is a horror / comedy that focuses more on laughs than it does scares (and if I’m being honest, it’s really not that funny), fans of either series are sure to find something here to their liking.
Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

#2,849. The Invisible Man Appears (1949)


Produced by Japan’s Daiei Film studio, 1949’s The Invisible Man Appears follows in the footsteps of Universal’s 1933 film The Invisible Man, relating the same basic story of a scientist who, after taking a formula for invisibility, slowly loses his mind.

Segi (Daijiro Natsukawa) and Kurokawa (Kanji Koshiba) work in a laboratory as assistants to renowned scientist Dr. Nakazato (Ryunosuke Tsukigata). Both Segi and Kurokawa have been working, independently from one another, on a way to make living creatures invisible, and have a friendly wager that whichever one succeeds first will win the hand of Dr. Nakazato’s daughter Machiko (Chuzura Kitagawa), who both men love.

What neither of them realize is that their boss has already concocted an invisibility potion, and while it does, indeed, work, he has yet to master the antidote, meaning anyone who drinks it will remain invisible for the rest of their lives.

Nakazato tells his good friend Kawabe (Shosaku Sugiyama) about his groundbreaking elixir, not realizing that Kawabe is, in reality, a jewel thief. Seizing an opportunity to steal a valuable diamond necklace known as the “Tears of Amour”, Kawabe secretly kidnaps Nakazato and hides him away. He then convinces the gullible Kurokawa that the best way to impress Machiko would be to track down her missing father.

Jump to a few days later. News breaks that an invisible man is terrorizing the area, and after attacking several people tried to swipe the Tears of Amour necklace. Who is this invisible man, and can the authorities stop him before he strikes again?

Aside from its subplot about a diamond heist, The Invisible Man Appears has a lot in common with the 1933 movie, right down to its special effects; there’s even a dramatic “unmasking”, where the invisible man, bandages covering his face, slowly peels them away to reveal there is nothing underneath. These effects work just as well here as they did in the earlier movie, and its tale of a brilliant scientist who drinks a formula and goes insane is just as effective.

It may lack the dark humor that made James Whale’s The Invisible Man a classic, but The Invisible Man Appears is well-acted, crisply directed (by Shinsei Adachi and Shigehiro Fukushima), and entertaining enough to make it worth a watch.
Rating: 7 out of 10

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

#2,848. A Ghost Waits (2020)


Directed by Adam Stovall (who also co-wrote the screenplay), A Ghost Waits is a low-budget film that works as both horror (its story of a haunted house results in some effective supernatural scares) and comedy (the ghost in question is not so much an angry, vengeful spirit as she is an employee, who punches the clock and has to deal with meddlesome bosses). But it’s the romantic subplot that makes this 2020 film so unique, not to mention a joy to watch.

Jack (co-writer MacLeod Stevens), a down-on-his-luck handyman, is hired by a property manager to inspect a house that has been nothing but trouble. It seems that everyone who rents this particular dwelling ends up breaking their lease, with some tenants so anxious to flee that they leave their possessions behind.

It isn’t long before Jack stumbles upon the problem: the house is haunted by a seemingly angry spirit named Muriel (Natalie Walker). Though frightened at first, Jack eventually strikes up a friendship with Muriel, and before lone he even falls in love with her. Muriel, in turn, develops feelings for Jack, but is a romance between the living and the dead even possible?

Shot in black and white, A Ghost Waits gets off to a creepy start. In the film’s opening scene, Muriel chases off “her” house’s newest occupants, using every trick in the book to scare the bejesus out of them. Muriel soon realizes, however, that it’s going to take more than the usual parlor tricks to get Jack to leave. He has a job to do, and ghost or no ghost, he’s going to see it through.

Muriel is taken aback when Jack refuses to run for his life. Being a spirit for well over 200 years, she is considered one of the all-time best “spectral agents”, and while both she and her supervisor, Miss Henry (Amanda Miller), are none too happy that Jack can’t be scared off, the lonely Muriel eventually discovers that she likes talking to Jack almost as much as he likes talking to her!

Treating a haunting as if it were a job (Muriel didn’t die in the house… she was assigned to it) and featuring a genuinely sweet relationship that develops between its two main characters, A Ghost Waits is, without a doubt, one of the most original haunted house movies I’ve seen in years.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Monday, October 24, 2022

#2,847. The Fan (1981)


Despite being its top-billed star, Lauren Bacall wasn’t too keen on 1981’s The Fan. “The Fan was much more graphic and violent than when I read the script”, Bacall told People Magazine in June of 1981, adding “The movie I wanted to make had more to do with what happens to the life of the woman – and less blood and gore”. Her co-star, James Garner, was even harsher in his critique, saying that, aside from working with Bacall (which he enjoyed), this 1981 thriller was one of the worst pictures he ever made.

The critics were no kinder to The Fan. Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune called the movie “nothing more than a cruel shock show”, while The Los Angeles Times deemed it a “terror-filled but hollow effort”.

Were they all watching the same movie I just saw? The Fan is not a disappointment, not a cruel shock show, and certainly not a bad movie. It is a tense, well-paced thriller with solid performances from its veteran cast and one hell of a creepy turn by Michael Biehn (The Terminator, Aliens), playing a stalker whose obsession with a famous actress leads to violence and even murder.

Sally Ross (Bacall), star of stage and screen, has a legion of adoring fans, though one in particular has taken his admiration for her to a new and frightening level. Record store employee Douglas Breen (Biehn) writes to Sally almost every day, declaring first his respect, then his undying love.

Sally’s longtime secretary Belle (Maureen Stapleton) intercepts many of Douglas’s letters and answers them on Sally’s behalf, but that doesn’t make Douglas very happy. He believes that Sally is the love of his life, and won’t let anyone, especially a secretary, stand in the way of what he feels could be a beautiful romance. Though unconcerned at first, Sally soon realizes just how dangerous Douglas can be, and turns to her ex-husband, movie star Jake Berman (Garner) for support.

The police, led by Inspector Raphael Andrews (Hector Elizondo), are doing everything in their power to keep Sally safe, but with nobody quite sure where Douglas is, or when he may strike again, Sally, in the midst of rehearsing a new Broadway musical, has to stay on her toes.

One of the things I really liked about The Fan was how it handled Douglas’s growing infatuation; much like Travis Bickle, Robert De Niro’s character in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Leonard acts as the film’s narrator, reciting aloud the letters he writes to Sally on a regular basis. At first, these correspondences seem harmless enough; he says he wants to make sure that she is always safe, and tells Sally that he is her biggest fan. But when Sally doesn’t reply to his letters personally, Douglas first blames Belle (who he thinks is deliberately trying to keep them from Sally) before finally turning his anger towards Sally herself, for not seeing how perfect the two of them would be together.

As with Travis in Taxi Driver, we recognize early on, before everyone else in this movie, that Douglas is a very disturbed young man. Bacall, Garner, Stapleton and the others are excellent as well, but it’s Biehn’s strong portrayal of a man whose grip on reality is loosening by the minute that makes The Fan such a chilling motion picture.

Even the Golden Raspberry awards joined in on bashing The Fan, nominating it for Worst Original Song (for "Hearts and Diamonds", one of several tunes that Sally performs during her Broadway musical), but don’t let that sway you. The Fan is, indeed, quite violent (growing more so as the movie progresses), but it is also a tense motion picture that, thanks to Michael Biehn, is a lot better than its reputation would lead you to believe.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Sunday, October 23, 2022

#2,846. Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice (1992)


Released eight years after the original Children of the Corn, Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice takes us back to Gatlin, Nebraska, which, as the movie opens, has been invaded by the national media.

After discovering the remains of the community’s adults, authorities whisk the remaining children to the nearby town of Hemingford, where they are taken in and cared for by some of the locals.

Reporter John Garrett (Terence Knox), who just happened to be traveling through the area with his estranged son Danny (Paul Scherrer), hears about what happened and decides to stick around Hemingford to write a story for his tabloid paper. Talking with locals like Dr. Frank Red Bear (Ned Romero) and Angela (Rosalind Allen), who owns the Bed and Breakfast where he and Danny are staying, Garrett tries to get to the bottom of things, while Danny spends his time befriending Micah (Ryan Bollman) and having a fling with a pretty blonde named Lacey (Christie Clark).

But when Micah falls under the spell of “He Who Walks Behind the Rows”, the troubles that started in Gatlin make their way to Hemingford. And people start dying.

Whereas the opening moments of 1984’s Children of the Corn were a bit of a letdown, the first five minutes of this 1992 sequel are stellar; the scene where a group descends into a basement and locates the decaying corpses of Gatlin’s adult population gets the movie off to a grisly start. The violence is also kicked up a few notches, with more gore than the original and a couple of memorable death scenes (an elderly pair of sisters, both played by Marty Terry, meet particularly gruesome ends).

That said, the performances in Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice fall well short of those in the first film. Terence Knox and Paul Scherrer are more annoying than sympathetic as the bickering father and son, and their strained relationship is never fully explored (they spend the first 2/3’s of the movie shouting at one another), while Ryan Bollman is a major step down from John Franklin, playing Micah as more of a whiny brat than a charismatic leader.

The story itself also feels less structured than that of the first film (which wouldn’t have won any awards itself, if we’re being honest), while an early scene in which a news van gets lost in the corn field, only to fall victim to “He Who Walks Behind the Rows”, added nothing to the overall film. And like the original, the special effects in Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice are woefully inadequate (Micah’s “transformation” scene is just plain bad).

Children of the Corn may not have been a masterpiece, but it deserved a better follow-up than this movie.
Rating: 4.5 out of 10

Saturday, October 22, 2022

#2,845. Benny Loves You (2019) - Spotlight on England


In an early scene from writer / director Karl Holt’s Benny Loves You, the lead character Jack (played by Holt himself), who still lives at home, is celebrating his 35th birthday with his parents (Catriona McDonald and Greg Page). Unfortunately, mom and dad have a little… accident. Actually, it’s not so little; when Jack finds them, Dad is lying dead on the floor and Mom, her entire face impaled on toothpicks, is about to draw her final breath.

Played for laughs, this is nonetheless a gruesome scene, but by the time the movie is over, we’ll realize mom and dad got off easy! Filled to its breaking point with blood, guts, and gore, Benny Loves You is as gross as it is funny.

Ten months after his parents’ demise, Jack, a talentless toy designer, is on the verge of losing both his house and his job. His humorless boss Ron (James Parsons) demotes him, cutting his salary by 33%, and the rep with his bank (Greg Barnett) tries to “help” Jack… by demanding he pay four times his usual amount to catch up, or risk foreclosure on his childhood home.

Determined to finally grow up and take control of his life, Jack throws away all of his old toys, including his beloved stuffed animal Benny, who has been his best friend since he was a kid.

But Benny isn’t going to take this lying down. In an amazing turn of events, the stuffed creature springs to life, and starts tormenting Jack night and day. What’s more, Benny is determined to kill anyone who stands between him and his “best pal”, usually in as grisly a fashion as possible!

A goofy but oh-so-fun horror / comedy, Benny Loves You will have you howling at Benny’s antics. Repeating “Benny loves you” over and over, the foot-and-a-half tall stuffed toy brings the pain, butchering his victims in a manner that would impress Jason Voorhees. David, the bank rep, is the first to incite Benny’s wrath, and when the smoke clears, Jack has to dispose of entrails and a severed head before mopping up gallons of blood.

Yet as violent as Benny can be, watching him bounce around the house, a smile plastered on his face, will have you in stitches. In fact, Benny, despite being a homicidal maniac, is arguably the film’s most endearing character! With its story of abandoned toys getting their revenge on the owners that discard then, Benny Loves You gets crazier by the minute, and it’s the film’s human characters - Jack included – who feel more like caricatures than real people. Jack’s arch-nemesis at work, the kiss-ass Richard (George Collie), is an insufferable prick throughout the movie, and two policemen investigating the rash of recent disappearances aren’t even given names; they’re simply listed in the credits as “Good Cop” (Darren Benedict) and “Bad Cop” (Anthony Styles).

If you’re a fan of gore and don’t mind comedy with your horror (and in this movie, the comedy takes center stage), then Benny Loves You is sure to bring a smile to your face.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Friday, October 21, 2022

#2,844. Edge of the Axe (1988)


Director José Ramón Larraz (here credited as Joseph Braunstein) gets his 1988 horror film Edge of the Axe, a Spanish / U.S. co-production, off to a quick start. In the opening scene, a nurse is attacked by a masked assailant while sitting in the front seat of her car… which at the time is going through an automatic car wash! It’s a violent, shocking intro to an ‘80s slasher that features many of the strengths, and plenty of the weaknesses, of this specific subgenre.

Computer nerd Gerald Martin (Barton Faulks) has just moved to the picturesque California community of Paddock County. When he’s not tapping into a mainframe, Gerald is either helping his exterminator pal Richard (Page Moseley) wipe out pests or chilling with new girlfriend Lillian Nebbs (Christina Marie Lane). Gerald even goes so far as to give Lillian one of his old computers, so that they can stay in touch night and day.

But instead of flirting with each other via their keyboards, Gerald and Lillian spend their time researching a string of recent murders - the handiwork of a masked, axe-wielding maniac - that has all of Paddock County in a panic.

While Sheriff Frank McIntosh (Fred Holliday) is busy trying to get to the bottom of these killings, Gerald and Lillian are looking for a possible connection between the victims, hoping it might shed some light on who this violent psychopath might be.

Though released late in the slasher cycle (a full decade after John Carpenter’s Halloween), Edge of the Axe features copious amounts of the blood and gore that fans of the subgenre have come to expect. Along with the opening car wash sequence, the town prostitute (played by Alicia Moro) is hacked to death in a back alley, and another unfortunate victim loses both her beloved pooch and the fingers on one hand when the killer comes calling.

There are other creepy moments as well, like when Gerald and Richard are called to a local bar to find the source of a strange odor and instead make a shocking - and very grisly - discovery. As for the final reveal, where we learn the killer’s identity, I must admit it surprised the hell out of me (even if it didn’t make much sense).

Where Edge of the Axe falters is in its characterizations. The film’s main character, Gerald, isn’t the most likable protagonist; along with the fact he’s clearly hiding something from his past (he refuses to talk about his parents when Lillian asks about them), he’s also a chauvinistic pig, a character flaw that may not have been as detrimental in the 1980s but which stands out like a sore thumb nowadays (he and Richard discuss the physical attributes of damn near every woman in town).

In addition, screenwriters Joaquin Amichatis, Javier Elorrieta, and José Frade toss far too many people into the mix. Gerald’s friend Richard is unhappily married to the much older Laura (Patty Shepard), who has been seeing both Lillian’s father and church organist Christopher Caplin (Jack Taylor) on the side. As for Richard, he hits on Lillian’s sister Susan (Joy Blackburn), and the two spend an afternoon making out on a motorboat. There are also an inordinate number of potential suspects; aside from Lillian’s dad, Christopher Caplin, and even Gerald himself, there’s the town’s priest, Father Clinton (Elmer Modiling), and to further complicate matters, Sheriff McIntosh finds the dead prostitute’s schedule book, which contains the names of damn near every guy in town! Though intended to keep us guessing as to who the killer might be, this constant stream of new characters only manages to confuse us, and we quickly lose track of who is who.

Though ultimately a mixed bag, Edge of the Axe offers up plenty of ‘80s slasher goodness, and as someone who unapologetically loves the subgenre (see my review of Blood Hook), I admit I had a great time watching it!
Rating: 6 out of 10

Thursday, October 20, 2022

#2,843. Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978)


With 1978’s Mountain of the Cannibal God, director Sergio Martino dipped his toes into the Cannibal subgenre, which was growing in popularity at the time.

Truth be told, he did more than “dip his toes”… he jumped in headfirst! Mountain of the Cannibal God is a violent, shocking, sometimes sleazy Italian horror film that’s also damned entertaining.

Susan Stevenson (Ursula Andress) and her brother Arthur (Antonio Marsina) travel to New Guinea to search for Susan’s husband, an archaeologist who disappeared during an expedition. With the help of Professor Edward Foster (Stacy Keach), who agrees to act as their guide, they journey deep into the jungle. Their destination: a mountain off the coast of Roka that the locals believe is cursed.

Along the way, they meet Manolo (Claudio Cassinelli), a friend of Foster’s who agrees to accompany them. The group encounters one danger after another as they draw closer to the mountain, yet it’s a run-in with the dreaded Puka tribe, an ancient people still practicing cannibalism, that may be their undoing.

Mountain of the Cannibal God features all of the goodies you’d expect to find in a solid ‘80s Italian horror film, from the superb score composed by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis to Martino’s stylish, occasionally flamboyant direction (the scenes set on a river are especially engaging).

Every bit as impressive as the technical aspects is the film’s international cast. The always-strong Stacy Keach (Road Games, The Ninth Configuration) does a fine job as Foster, who is battling demons of his own; while Swiss sex symbol Ursula Andress (Dr. No, Clash of the Titans) proves she’s just as tough as her male counterparts. At one point, she even fights off a python! Also solid is Claudio Cassinelli as the heroic Manolo and Antonio Marsinal as the slimy Arthur, while Sri Lankan actor Dudley Wanaguru makes a brief but memorable appearance as a government official who warns Andress’s character not to undertake the expedition.

Like all good Italian horror films from this period, Mountain of the Cannibal God is loaded with blood and gore, from stabbings and beheadings to a gruesome castration. Sadly (and in keeping with the norm for the cannibal genre of this era), Martino and his crew also include some real-life animal violence. A scene in which a python devours a monkey is tough to watch, but pales in comparison to the slaughter of a lizard, which is cut open, skinned, and carved into pieces as part of a jungle sacrifice, performed by natives to ward off evil spirits. Equally as unsettling is the film’s final act, set in the cave dwelling of the Puka Tribe, which features, among other things, soft-core porn, an attempted rape, and a (thankfully) brief moment of bestiality!

Whether or not Mountain of the Cannibal God is as shocking and upsetting as Ruggero Deodato’s notorious 1980 film Cannibal Holocaust is up for debate, but there’s no doubt that Martino’s opus of the extreme has, at the very least, earned its spot in the conversation.
Rating 7.5 out of 10

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

#2,842. The New Kids (1985)


Sean S. Cunningham, producer of 1972’s The Last House on the Left and director of 1980’s Friday the 13th, stepped behind the camera once again for 1985’s The New Kids, a suspense / thriller that might not be as strong a gut-punch as those previous two movies, but has a few things going for it all the same.

When their parents (Jean de Bear and the great Tom Atkins) are killed in a car crash, army brats Loren (Shannon Presby) and Abby (Lori Loughlin) are taken in by their uncle Charlie (Eddie Jones), who owns a rundown amusement park in the small town of Glenby, Florida.

While the teens do manage to make a few friends in their new school, including Mark (Eric Stoltz) and Karen (Paige Price), Loren and Abby nonetheless find themselves tormented by a nasty drug dealer named Dutra (James Spader) and his gang of backwater thugs. Taught by their father to never back down from a fight, the siblings stand up to Dutra and the others, kicking off a battle of wills that will turn bloody before it is over.

Written by Stephen Gyllenhaal (father of actors Maggie and Jake), The New Kids is your typical revenge thriller, with good kids being bullied, then taking the fight to the baddies. Not exactly original, I know, and while Presby and Loughlin are likable as the tormented siblings, their performances are average at best.

Still, I give The New Kids points for its unique setting (Uncle Charlie’s amusement park, which looks more like one of those traveling carnivals that make the rounds in the summer months) as well as James Spader’s intense portrayal of the despicable Dutra, a truly loathsome character. This, combined with a nail-biting (and effectively bloody) finale, makes The New Kids worth a watch.
Rating: 7 out of 10

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

#2,841. The Vigil (2019)


For thousands of years, religious Jews have practiced the ritual of ‘The Vigil’. When a member of the community dies, the body is watched around-the-clock in shifts by a Shomer, or watchman, who recites the Psalms to comfort the deceased’s soul and protect it from unseen evil. This watchman is typically a family member or friend, but there are paid Shomers… Hired to sit the vigil when no one else can

The above, which appears just before the main titles of writer / director Keith Thomas’s 2019 horror film The Vigil, sets the stage nicely, clueing us in on what its story will involve. As for the thrills and chills we’ll experience over the remaining 88 minutes, the movie earns them on its own.

Disillusioned with a faith he can no longer embrace, and dealing with the guilt of a recent family tragedy, Yakov (Dave Davis), an ex-Hasidic Jew, is trying to start a new life outside of the Boro Park, Brooklyn neighborhood where he grew up. But Yakov is having a difficult time making ends meet, so when Reb Shulem (Menashe Lustig), a member of his former Orthodox community, offers to pay him cash to sit as a Shomer for the night, Yakov agrees.

The recently deceased is a Holocaust survivor named Rubin Litvak (Ronald Cohen), who lived alone with his wife (Lynn Cohen) and rarely, if ever, went outside. But what seems like an easy payday becomes a living nightmare when Yakov is tormented by a Mazzik – an unseen demon that feeds off his fear and pain. What’s more, according to Mrs. Litvak, the Mazzik will not allow Yakov to ever leave their house again!

Frightened and confused, Yakov must act quickly to break free of this most unusual entity, which, once it takes hold, will never loosen its grip on him.

The idea of spending an entire night with a corpse is itself enough to give me the willies, but it is what director Thomas conjures up during Yakov’s stay at the Litvak abode that carries The Vigil to a whole other level of creepy. Already troubled by the death of his younger brother (which he feels was his fault), Yakov (wonderfully played by Davis) experiences a series of visions during the vigil, and receives calls from both his physician Dr. Kohlberg (Fred Melamed) and potential girlfriend Sarah (Malky Goldberg), only to find he may not have actually been talking to either!

In addition to its psychological elements, The Vigil offers up a few visceral thrills as well. After an encounter with the Mazzik, Yakov tries to flee the house, only to experience severe pain the further he gets from it, his bones cracking and distorting the entire way. In agony, he stumbles back to the Litvak’s, where there’s more than just Mrs. Litvak waiting to greet him!

With its unique story, a couple of intriguing mysteries (the movie opens with a flashback to World War II. An unidentified man, with a Nazi officer standing behind him, is forced to shoot a woman through the head) and plenty of genuine scares, The Vigil does more than offer viewers a glimpse into Hasidic culture and folklore; it keeps them poised on the edge of their seats.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Monday, October 17, 2022

#2,840. Unsane (2018)


Always the experimental filmmaker, Steven Soderbergh (Sex Lies and Videotape, Traffic) shot the entirety of his 2018 thriller Unsane with an Apple iPhone. Of course, this alone does not a good film make; if the characters aren’t believable, and the story isn’t engaging, no amount of gimmickry will be enough to keep an audience’s attention.

Fortunately for Soderbergh, he cast one hell of an actress as his lead, and her character’s plight is engaging enough to keep us poised on the edge of our seat throughout.

Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) is trying to get her life back on track. The victim of a persistent stalker named David (Joshua Leonard), she has done everything she can to put that terrifying ordeal behind her. Alas, the memory continues to haunt her.

In an attempt to deal with the trauma, Sawyer visits a psychiatric facility. But instead of helping, they have her sign a few papers, then commit her against her will with the intent of keeping her there for seven days (at which point her insurance money will run out). X Angry and frustrated, Sawyer lashes out at the caretakers, only to see her worst fears come true when her stalker suddenly turns up… as one of the clinic’s orderlies!

Played superbly by Foy, Sawyer is not always a likable character. In fact, throughout the first half of Unsane, we don’t like her very much at all. She is standoffish with her co-workers, mistrusts her boss, and seems to suffer a nervous breakdown during a blind date, inviting the guy back to her apartment then rushing off when he tries to kiss her.

Even when she’s admitted to the facility, Sawyer’s attitude (though understandable) is abrasive, and we soon find ourselves tiring of her tantrums and theatrics. Fellow patient Nate (Jay Pharoah) offers Sawyer some advice, telling her to keep her head down and the seven days will go by much more smoothly. But she ignores him, and argues constantly with nurses, orderlies, and fellow patient Violet (Juno Temple), who occupies the bed next to hers. Needless to say, we aren’t rooting for Sawyer early on, not even when her mother (Amy Irving) gets involved and tries to secure her release.

But then something happens to alter our perception of both Sawyer and her mental state, and we begin to sympathize with her. Sawyer’s personality hasn’t changed in the least; she’s still very aggressive. But a flashback to when David first began stalking her, followed immediately by a meeting with a security advisor (Matt Damon) whose best advice is she “drop off the grid” and go into hiding, helps bridge the gap between character and audience. All at once, we understand Sawyer’s anger and paranoia, and we go from rolling our eyes at her antics to rooting like hell for her.

Joshua Leonard is sufficiently creepy as the stalker who is convinced that he and Sawyer were meant to be together, and both Pharoah and Irving are excellent in supporting roles, but it’s Foy who delivers the film’s finest performance, portraying a frightened yet determined woman who, for better or worse, never backs down from a fight.

Captured so well by Soderbergh’s iPhone (which allowed him to get up close and personal with his lead), Foy’s portrayal of Sawyer goes a long way in making Unsane the riveting, nail-biting thriller that it is, a movie guaranteed to keep you on pins and needles right up to its final scene.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Sunday, October 16, 2022

#2,839. Monstrous (2020)


I went into 2020’s Monstrous expecting a low-budget Bigfoot film. That’s what the poster art promised, anyway. But what I got was something else entirely, and to be honest I kinda dug it.

Hoping to unravel the mystery surrounding her friend Dana’s disappearance, Sylvia (Anna Shields, who also penned the screenplay) answers an online ad posted by Alex (Rachel Finninger), who is looking for someone to drive her to Whitehall, N.Y. (Alex, it turns out, was with Dana the day she vanished).

Dana’s boyfriend Jamie (Grant Schumacher) is convinced Dana may have fallen victim to the elusive Bigfoot, which has been spotted several times in the area. Sylvia scoffs at Jamie’s theory, only to discover there is, indeed, a monster waiting for her once she and Alex reach their destination.

In the DVD commentary for Monstrous, star / writer Anna Shields mentioned that her initial script was for a romantic thriller, and Bigfoot was nowhere to be found. It was director Bruce Wemple who recommended she throw the big guy in there, and while the infamous Sasquatch (played by Dylan Grunn) doesn’t appear very often, he makes the best of what little screen time he gets (there’s an especially tense scene set inside a cabin).

Still, Monstrous is not so much a creature feature as it is a tense thriller with an LGBTQ-friendly romantic twist (Sylvia and Alex fall for each other, and the film features a handful of well-executed love scenes). Shields and Finninger are solid as the lovers who don’t entirely trust one another (Sylvia suspects that Alex may know more than she’s letting on about Dana’s disappearance), and the story takes a few dark turns (Sylvia has several flashbacks to an earlier event, where she allowed her young sister to burn to death).

The film does get a little frustrating in the final act (there are two or three false endings), but the last 10 minutes more than makes up for it, with action and blood aplenty. Monstrous may ultimately disappoint Bigfoot aficionados, but everyone else should give it a chance.
Rating: 7 out of 10

Saturday, October 15, 2022

#2,838. Coming Home in the Dark (2021)


Director James Ashcroft’s 2021 horror / thriller Coming Home in the Dark is a bleak motion picture. Events unravel quickly, and a lot of what transpires is difficult to watch. There was even a moment early on, following a particularly intense scene, that I considered switching it off.

I’ve seen my share of disturbing movies, but right out of the gate I knew Coming Home in the Dark would shake me. And yet, it is so skillfully executed by Ashcroft and company that I couldn’t stop watching.

I wanted to. I really did. But I couldn’t.

School teacher “Hoaggie” Hoaganraad (Erik Thomson) is enjoying a day trip in the country with wife Jill (Miriama McDowell) and her teenage sons from a previous marriage, Maika (Billy Paratene) and Jordan (Frankie Paratine), when two apparent drifters, Mandrake (Daniel Gillies) and Tubs (Matthias Luafutu) crash their party. What begins as an uncomfortable encounter quickly escalates when Mandrake pulls out a rifle and tells the frightened family to lie face-down on the ground.

This kicks off what can only be described as the evening from hell, with Mandrake and Tubs loading their hostages into the family vehicle and driving it at top-speed across New Zealand. But a secret from Hoaggie’s past will soon be revealed, and all at once Jill starts to wonder if their run-in with the sadistic Mandrake was as random as it first seemed.

The entire cast of Coming Home in the Dark is in top form, with Miriama McDowell giving an especially heartbreaking performance as Jill, the wife / mother who finds herself caught up in a nightmare. Yet the standout is Daniel Gillies as Mandrake, whose calm demeanor throughout makes his character’s actions all the more unsettling. From the moment he first approaches Hoaggie and family, we know Mandrake is a loose cannon, and it isn’t long before we despise him.

Yet what is truly fascinating about Coming Home in the Dark is how our feelings eventually change, starting the moment Hoaggie, who believes Mandrake and Tubs may have once been incarcerated in a group home for troubled boys, a place he himself had worked at years earlier, tells a story from his time there. From this point on, our emotions, our sympathies, our reactions to what is playing out in front of us shift, and while we still despise Mandrake (whose brutality knows no bounds), we suddenly see both he and Tubs in an entirely different light.

Having watched Coming Home in the Dark less than an hour ago, I have no idea how to go about recommending it. It’s a movie I know I’ll be thinking about for days, and my take on it could very well change a half-dozen times as I replay it in my head.

What I can say is it is an extraordinarily crafted motion picture, beautifully shot (the New Zealand countryside is breathtaking) with performances that approach brilliance. Based on this, you’ll have to make up your own mind as to whether or not Coming Home in the Dark is for you. I’m still not 100% sure where I stand, and it might be for a while before I am.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Friday, October 14, 2022

#2,837. Blind Beast (1969)


The story goes that Japan’s Daiei Studios had, by 1969, seen a decline in box office receipts, and were looking to delve into more explicit subject matter to lure their audience back into the theater. While I can’t say for sure what other films the studio released using this same strategy, I doubt there were many quite as shocking, quite are uninhibited as Yasuzo Masumura’s Blind Beast.

Based on a book by Edogawa Rampo, Blind Beast is considered an entry in Japan’s Ero Guru (aka Erotic Grotesque) subgenre, which, according to Wikipedia, is “an artistic genre that puts its focus on eroticism, sexual corruption, and decadence”. The movie relates the story of fashion model Aki Shima (Mako Midori), who, after posing nude for a famous photographer, finds herself stalked and eventually kidnapped by Michio (Eiji Funakoshi), a blind artist who wants to create a sculpture of Aki’s body simply by touching her.

Dragged to Michio’s warehouse studio, where he lives with his loving mother (Norkio Sengoku), Michio gets to work, and though at first repelled by her captor, Aki soon finds herself drawn to Michio in ways she never imagined.

This synopsis alone is troubling, even misogynistic, and Blind Beast certainly features moments which cross that line. The movie also deals quite frankly with the subject of masochism, which, like its main characters’ affections for one another, grows more intense with each passing minute, culminating in a final sequence that will have you wondering what the hell it is you’re watching.

The three-person cast does an outstanding job conveying the complex emotions of their characters; Michio’s initial intent in kidnapping Aki was for artistic reasons. Having worked as a masseuse, he had sculpted a number of women from memory, but feels Aki’s body is his first “perfect” subject, and the resulting creation will surely be his masterpiece. Michio’s confused mentality is presented perfectly by actor Funakoshi; we don’t agree with his methods, but we understand his motivations.

That changes when, following a violent outburst, he and Aki (also played superbly by Midori) take their warped “professional” relationship to a more intense, even more twisted “next level”, which, as their passions are enflamed, proves there are no depths to which they will not sink to satisfy their desires.

Also quite brilliant is the film’s main set piece; the scene where Aki first wakes up in Michio’s studio, surrounded by hundreds of sculpted arms, legs, ears, mouths, and breasts adorning the walls, with two kong-sized sculptures of a nude man and woman smack dab in the middle, is as “WTF” a moment as you’re likely to experience (there’s even a bit of humor as Aki tries to run away from Mishio by climbing the gargantuan sculptures, scaling buttocks and breasts in her vain attempt to escape).

Blind Beast does slow down in the middle, when it presents a more standard cat-and-mouse scenario, with Aki working on Michio’s insecurities in the hopes it will help her break free (even going so far as to accuse Michio’s mother of harboring incestuous feelings for her son). But the final half hour of Blind Beast is anything but standard or predictable, and while some may not like where the story ultimately goes (I myself have some major issues with it), kudos must be given to Masamura and his cast for delving deep into their characters' dark, twisted psyche, and in the process crafting a motion picture that, at the very least, will inspire plenty of discussion.
Rating: 7 out of 10

Thursday, October 13, 2022

#2,836. Rawhead Rex (1986) - Spotlight on England


Clive Barker, who wrote the screenplay for 1986’s Rawhead Rex, is not a fan of the movie. “Adaptations like Rawhead Rex were deeply disappointing”, he told Fangoria magazine back in 1992, “because the filmmakers didn't give a shit about the story's underlying psychology - they just wanted to make a monster movie."

To be sure, the veiled themes of sexuality that Barker intended were either glossed over or dropped completely, but as a straight-up “monster movie”, I think Rawhead Rex is exceptionally strong.

While researching his newest book on ancient cultures, writer Howard Hollenbeck (David Dukes) and his family, including wife Elaine (Kelly Piper) and their two young children, spend some time in a small Irish village, where Hollenbeck believes the local church sits on what was once, during the pre-roman era, hallowed ground.

His arrival coincides with the reappearance of a primeval creature, an evil entity that slaughters every man in encounters. When their paths cross, a tragedy occurs, leaving Hollenbeck determined to seek out and destroy this monster – known to the locals as Rawhead Rex – before it has a chance to kill again.

Directed by George Pavlou, Rawhead Rex is a bit confusing at times; without Barker’s intended sexuality (he saw the monster as a large phallic symbol, saying “Basically, I wrote a story about a ten-foot prick which goes on the rampage”), we have no idea why the creature attacks only men, and shrinks away from women (these undertones are implied, but not very clearly), and the final scene, though effective, is downright baffling as a result. Also, the creature itself isn’t the most impressive (played by Heinrich von Schellendorf, it looks every bit like a guy in a suit).

Still, Rawhead Rex features a handful of well-shot attack scenes, occasionally shown in their entirety from the monster’s perspective, and the blood and gore is pretty darn convincing for a low-budget creature feature. I also found the religious subtext quite interesting; Hollenbeck occasionally confers with Reverend Coot, played by Niall Toibin, and faces off against Coot’s subordinate Declan O’Brien (Ronan Wilmott), who has fallen under the monster’s spell (the church’s stained-glass window also helps Hollenbeck decipher what Rawhead Rex is, and where he came from).

Rawhead Rex may not be the best Clive Barker adaptation ever committed to film, but it’s a fun horror movie nonetheless, and I had a good time watching it.
Rating: 7 out of 10

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

#2,835. Don't Look in the Basement (1973)


The original title of this 1973 S.F. Brownrigg-directed horror / thriller was The Forgotten, and in the end that makes a lot more sense than Don’t Look in the Basement.

I can’t say for sure, but I get the feeling the title switch happened years after the movie’s initial release, as a way to jump on the Don’t bandwagon of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, when films like Don’t Go In the House and Don’t Answer the Phone were making a splash. And since the basement in question doesn’t even come into play until the final five minutes of this almost 90-minute film, I think I may be onto something!

But never mind, because while Don’t Go in the Basement may be a micro-budget horror film with mostly sub-par performances and a flimsy story, it’s not a total disaster.

Nurse Charlotte (Rosie Holotik) was recently hired to work at a remote psychiatric clinic. Unfortunately, when she reports for her first day, she discovers that the man who offered her the job, the clinic’s chief physician Dr. Stephens (Michael Harvey), was recently killed in a tragic accident, and the person now in charge, Dr. Geraldine Masters (Anne MacAdams), was never informed that a new nurse was on her way!

Still, Dr. Masters decides to keep Charlotte on, and with patients like the prim and proper Judge Oliver W. Cameron (Gene Ross), the quiet but occasionally violent Jennifer (Harryette Warren), and the kindly, child-like Sam (Bill McGhee) to contend with, Dr. Masters needs all the help she can get.

But there’s more going on in this facility than meets the eye, and Charlotte will soon discover that she’s in quite a bit of danger.

Aside from brief fits of violence at both the outset (we witness the “accident” that took out poor Dr. Stephens) and the end, not much happens in Don’t Look in the Basement. Most of the movie deals with the patients themselves; aside from those already listed, there’s a nymphomaniac (Betty Chandler) who craves love; a former military man (Hugh Feagin) who believes an “attack” (by an unseen enemy) is imminent; and a crazy guy (Jessie Kirby) who gets a kick out of pissing people off.

Watching this unusual group of characters interact with one another does have its moments (a scene where the nympho throws herself at the Judge is particularly disturbing), but not enough of them to keep things flowing at an acceptable pace, and the movie’s “harbinger of doom”, the elderly Mrs. Callingham (Rhea MacAdams), who warned Charlotte that she needs to leave as soon as possible, is neutralized far too quickly (her tongue is cut out before the film’s halfway point, making her essentially mute through the rest of the movie).

Most of the performances are weak, though Anne MacAdams does a splendid job as the enigmatic Dr. Masters, as does Bill McGhee, playing one of the film’s few likable characters. And while things do move along sluggishly for a large portion of the movie, the ending is just insane enough to make it worth a watch (well, almost).

Don’t Look in the Basement is not a great film by any stretch, but it’s not the worst low-budget horror flick you’re likely to see, either.
Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

#2,834. Madman (1981)


It all started during a campfire at North Sea Cottages, a special retreat for gifted children…

A 1981 low-budget horror film, Madman has gained a cult following over the years, and while the movie itself has a few weaknesses that not even die-hard genre fans can overlook, there’s enough here to make it a worthwhile entry in the slasher subgenre.

It’s the final night of summer camp, and everyone is gathered around a fire. Head counselor Max (Carl Fredericks) regales them all with an urban legend, that of a farmer who murdered his family, then was taken into the woods by an angry mob and hanged. But the farmer’s body disappeared the next morning, and there are those who say that, if you utter his name - “Madman Marz” - above a whisper, he will return and start killing once again.

Richie (Jimmy Steele), one of the campers, doesn’t believe this story, and shouts “Madman Marz” at the top of his lungs, only to spot a shadowy figure up a nearby tree as everyone is returning to camp. Unbeknownst to assistant counselors TP (Tony Fish), Betsy (Gaylen Ross), Stacy (Harriet Bass), Dave (Seth Jones), Ellie (Jan Claire), and Bill (Alex Murphy), Richie stays behind to investigate, setting in motion a chain of events that, before the night is out, will result in the demise of a good many people.

Directed by Joe Giannone (who also penned the screenplay), Madman gets off to a great start, with actor Carl Fredericks doing a fantastic job relating the story of Madman Marz; and Paul Ehlers, hidden behind a mask, also has his moments as the title character, a vicious, mindless killer who strikes when you least expect (one early kill, involving a rope, is as shocking as it is brutal).

The rest of the cast is so-so, and a few early sequences back at camp slow the pacing down; there’s a hot tub love scene, set to a schmaltzy romantic tune, that’s especially tough to sit through. Even when the killing starts, there are moments that feel drawn out, as if the filmmakers were trying to pad the runtime.As for the effects, they’re not the best, but are certainly better than what you’d expect to find in a low-budget horror movie, and the sequences set inside Madman Marz’s abandoned farmhouse are effectively creepy.

Topping it all off is the original song that plays over the ending credits, simply titled “Song of Madman Marz”. I absolutely love it, and rank it right up there with the title track from 1968’s The Green Slime as one of my all-time favorite movie tunes.
Rating: 6.5 of 10

Monday, October 10, 2022

#2,833. Inferno of Torture (1969)


I would say the title is all you need to know about this 1969 Japanese erotic horror film, but to be honest it doesn’t even scratch the surface.

Directed by Teruo Ishii, arguably the most notorious filmmaker of the Ero-Guru subgenre (he also helmed Orgies of Edo and Horrors of Malformed Men that same year), Inferno of Torture is an ultra-violent, nudity-laced story set in what I’m guessing is the end of Japan’s Edo period, around mid-19th century, when the country was still being ruled by the military Shogunate and Feudal Lords.

To get a taste of what to expect from Inferno of Torture, you need look no further than the opening credits sequence, which, incidentally, has nothing at all to do with the rest of the movie (story-wise, that is). Several women in white robes are tied to crosses, which are standing upright in either an empty field or an abandoned quarry. A man carrying a spear walks up to one of the women and stabs her in the abdomen (or.. erm... maybe a little lower). As the spear enters her, the frame freezes and titles listing several of the film’s cast and crew appear over top of the impaled woman. The scene then continues, and the man twists the spear until blood squirts into his face. Another freeze frame, and more credits.

From there, we cut to a brand new scene, in which a Shogun and several of his subordinates are watching three women who have been buried standing up, meaning only their heads are exposed. Two men carrying a large saw approach one of the women and saw into her neck. The minute the blood flies, another freeze frame, more credits.

The opening titles alone had me convinced that anyone looking up misogyny in the dictionary would find the definition “see Inferno of Torture”, but the fact is the movie was still just getting started!

Before I delve any deeper into the gore or deviancy, here’s the synopsis: Tattooed geishas are all the rage, with horny guys willing to pay top dollar to spend some quality time with them. Two tattoo artists, Horihide (Teruo Yoshida) and Horitatsu (Asao Koike), compete against one another to win the heart of Osuzo (Masumi Tachibana), the daughter of the local Shogun.

Yumi (Yumiko Katayama) is in debt, and agrees to become a tattooed Geisha for two years to satisfy her obligations, only to discover she has been tricked, and will likely be a Geisha the rest of her life. The same happens to some women serving time at a local prison, who, in exchange for their freedom, signed on to become Geishas, serving as high-priced escorts for Clayton (Osman Yusef) and other wealthy European clients in Nagasaki.

Will the women continue to be exploited, or will someone help them escape their terrible fate?

Inferno of Torture is littered with scene after scene of women being beaten, tattooed (often against their will), and raped. There are several sequences that feature a naked girl tied to a rope and hanging from the ceiling, who is whipped by her “client”, and there is even one poor girl who is forced to wear a chastity belt, to “prevent her from ever becoming a woman”, as the sadistic madame exclaims. Even after discovering said girl is pregnant, she must wear the belt, making it impossible for her to give birth (this girl goes to great lengths to free herself, all in vain).

There’s even a scene in which a guard named Gonzo (Seiya Sato) rapes one of the Geishas. When the Madame finds out, she punishes Gonzo… by mutilating his little sister! The poor, innocent girl loses her sight when the Madame gouges out her eyes, then smiles at Gonzo, who screams for his sister to be released.

Inferno of Torture features scene after scene of violence and sexual content (the sex is never hard-core, but the violence certainly is), and while some may see it as a critique of Japanese society during the Edo period, the truth is this movie is straight-up exploitation. The acting is good and the gore is effectively shocking, and there are even some artistic tattoos featured throughout (especially the ending scene, where a few glow-in-the-dark).

But Inferno of Torture also features moments of misogyny at its most reprehensible. Those who enjoy extreme cinema may find something to their liking. Everyone else, you have been warned!
Rating: a very cautious 6 out of 10