I don't pretend to be any better versed in this genre than the average bear, so I've been getting a head start on this list since mid-October… sorry for the thumbnail dump, but it feels good to finally purge these little thumbnail reactions. Please, for the love of God, engage me or someone else in discussion about some of these films, I've been talking to myself for a month and a half. Titles in red
are in contention for my final list, though I'm still getting my feet wet so who knows by the end of this project!
A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven 1984)
I watched all seven of the "original" films in one looong all-day marathon, so I feel I got the whole immersive Freddy experience in one gulp. Seeing so many variations on the same idea in close-quarters does give an appreciation for just how clever the initial scenario for the first film is, though-- it is an ingenious plot device. In a way the series never tops that first on-screen death, protracted and horrible as the poor bloody girl is dragged literally all over the room. It's a serious and unnerving moment that contrasts harshly with the later light tone the series temporarily adopts.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (Samuel Bayer 2010)
Thoroughly unpleasant remake that confuses a negative tone and borderline-black blood (thanx lens filters!!!) with making the original concept "scarier." Try "exploitative," instead, as now Freddy's victims are… already his victims, as he molested the kids he's now eliminating years later. Beyond the repellent premise, the movie falls flat when cribbing the two best sequences from the original, both of which look faker
now than they did then! The stuff that's added isn't much better-- I'm not sure why Freddy Krueger now looks like cat rescued from a housefire, or why no one has two parents, or how being killed in your dreams wasn't enough of an idea that the filmmakers had to invent the absurd concept of "micronaps" to workaround their own laziness in the script. It's not like the original series couldn't be bettered, but I didn't think it could be worsened either!
A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge (Jack Sholder 1985)
Repressed gay teen moves into Lagencamp's old house and turns into a Freddy Krueger werewolf in this awful awful sequel. I know it has its defenders, but just because it does have a pretty obvious homosexual subtext doesn't change the fact that this is a lousy film devoid of any sort of internal logic (Freddy-faced dogs, anyone?)
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (Chuck Russell 1987)
Easily the most effective of the films at marrying the promise inherent in the premise with a sense of imagination and novelty without devolving into extremes on any side. When people praise the series as a whole, I assume they just mean this one.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: the Dream Master (Renny Harlin 1988)
And in contrast, what an utter crock of vile shit this film is. Disgusting, mean-spirited retreads of old ideas mix with repellant "kooky" death scenes and the end result is mutilation as wacky sitcom. And of course this was the most financially successful of the original films. Figures!
A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: the Dream Child (Stephen Hopkins 1989)
I can hardly criticize the producers for going in the opposite direction with this one, which despite its low reputation is far from the least of the series (which seems to be on a sequel taste-qualifier: even numbered sequels suck, odd numbered ones are tolerable at worst), and the grimmer approach makes inventive sequences like the comic book slaying work without becoming a big joke (though the rather grotesque elimination of the aspiring model really does seem like a tonal redux of the previous film's faults)
Alone in the Dark (Jack Sholder 1982)
Jack Palance and Martin Landau are just two of the crazies who escape a mental institution and proceed to terrorize the Bruce Dern-aping protagonist and his family. I'm torn about this one as with two exceptions the characters are rendered sympathetically (I particularly liked Lee Taylor-Allan as the cute side ponytail sporting older sister who drags her older brother and his wife to a Sic Fucks show
!) and their plight is slickly expressed-- but it's those exceptions that make me a little uneasy. Obviously the film is a deeply 80s Republican sick joke against the idea of criminal rehabilitation, and so the protagonist and Donald Pleasance's goofy mental hospital head are made foolish and frankly act like every stupid liberal cliche you can imagine (so does the wife and sister with their nuclear energy protesting, pot-smoking, etc, but the film treats them with kid gloves) so that you're half cheering for Palance to shoot the dumbass doctor with the crossbow at the end. However, that said, the very amusing ending makes its conservative political point in a much more palatable and amusing way than the main thrust of the story and is maybe just enough to push this into the Yes column.
--And Now the Screaming Starts! (Roy Ward Baker 1973)
This period supernatural revenge tale gets a lot of mileage out of Stephanie Beacham's corseted cleavage and a seemingly never-ending march of victims as the mystery remains a mystery for some time, only to be paid off with a rather distasteful rape sequence. Once it takes that unpleasant turn, it's hard to stomach what comes next, however inevitable.
And Soon the Darkness (Robert Fuest 1970)
Generic xenophobic thriller about bicycling Brits in France who have the misfortune to be murdered and/or almost murdered by a mysterious killer, the identity of which may or may not be obvious. Among other ailments, the film suffers from a blindingly obvious twist ending that makes the last half rather painfully dull to sit through. Quite surprised to learn this pic has any cachet at all.
April Fool's Day (Fred Walton 1986)
Asylum (Roy Ward Baker 1972)
"Thanks" to whoever it was here that compared this to the Game, because that means I figured out the twist, however improbably it plays out, from the outset, which made sitting through this illogical film especially tedious. The premise is so gobsmackingly dumb that I can see why people would be tempted to praise it on principle alone, but it just doesn't work and the entirety of the film leading up to the finish is so dreadful and filled with abrasive college kids I'd cross the street to avoid overhearing. Sorry folks.
One of the better framing devices from a portmanteau film-- a new psychiatric specialist is asked to interview the denizens of a hospital's "hopelessly insane" ward, with the caveat being that one of the patients is actually the previous head doctor who went mad. No points awarded for figuring out who the real Dr Star is, as anyone with half a cheeky bone in his body will figure it out, but it's a fun idea. Less enjoyable, sadly, are the bulk of the stories within the frame: only the amusing, if predictable, drug culture short with Charlotte Rampling and Britt Ekland works, and the less said about Cushing's technicolor dreamcoat and the wrapped body parts, the better. Too bad.
Bad Dreams (Andrew Fleming 1988)
Superb and novel effort that places Jennifer Rubin's impossibly attractive cult suicide survivor inside a mental ward and slowly kills everyone around her. Striking visual images abound (one in particular, involving an air vent, is especially memorable) and just when the film seems like it'll turn out to be one of those ridiculous films you have to apologize for liking, it all comes together quite brilliantly. This is one of the few horror films I can think of where the twist actually causes the film to make more
sense! The end result is especially commendable after viewing the original ending in the DVDs bonus features, which shows how close this film came to going off the rails at the last moment.
the Beast Must Die (Paul Annett 1974)
Silly but fun detective story from Amicus where the audience is asked to solve the question, "Which of these houseguests is the werewolf?" I must admit I guessed correctly, but the key word here is guess: this isn't so much a detective story as a post-production William Castle-esque touch, complete with a thirty second "Werewolf Break" to make your prediction. There's not really "clues" one follows to arrive at the solution-- Encyclopedia Brown Fur
Black Sabbath (Mario Bava 1963)
A mediocre opening segment gives way to that dazzling phantasmagorical folk tale middle sequence, so rich in Technicolor splendor and atmosphere that it overshadows all that comes before or after it. I note that others praise the final tale with as much or more fervor, but the EC Comics-lite tale pales in comparison to "The Wurdalak"-- but then again, so would almost anything.
Blood Feast (Hershell Gordon Lewis 1963)
I held out pretty long, but by the time the mad Egyptian killer placed an urn beneath his victim's tattered dress to collect the red paint pouring off her body, I gave in to the mad fits of superior laughter, and it was hard to stop laughing after that. Unfortunately, I don't derive much pleasure from contemptuously sitting through tortured material like this. Just an incredibly
amateurish film, if you can even call it a film.
the Boogeyman (Ulli Lommel 1980)
If only everyone could marry a heiress qt and get her to star in (and probably fund) their poorly-paced horror flick that somehow makes a killer mirror uninteresting. Minor points awarded for trolling everyone who rented this in the eighties, though.
BrainWaves (Ulli Lommel 1982)
Lommel is given access to actual stars Vera Miles, Keir Dullea, and Tony Curtis and still manages to produce the worst of his films yet-- a clunky, awkwardly constructed tale of Suzanna Love (of course) getting a brainwave transplant (what?) from a murder victim, which of course inspires her and her husband to track down the killer. Why? That's actually a good question for any and every aspect of this film.
the Brotherhood of Satan (Bernard McEveety 1971)
Now where did this gem come from? Descriptions don't do this weird little wonder justice, as its pacing and budgetary workarounds are quite clever: a coven of witches invades a small town and induces the townspeople's young children to kill their parents, freeing themselves up for Satan to fill their vessels with the spirits of his followers. Absurd? No doubt. But the stylish manner in which this plays out, towing the camp line without ever crossing over, puts this into the top tier of films I've seen for this project-- it's all so self-assured, so well-executed, that the more audacious moments (such as the early repetitious car ride through an abandoned winding road, or any of the carefully framed murders) inspire marvel, not mockery.
Chopping Mall (Jim Wynorski 1986)
Preppies versus robots in a mall. This one's just a little better than it needed to be, which in turn makes it seem a lot better than it actually is. Very entertaining and well-made for such ridiculousness. My favorite moment was probably the long tracking shot that takes care of almost all of the film's required nudity in one go, though certainly an unexpected head explosion can't soon be forgotten. Also, it takes a kind of genius to set this film in the mall and make absolutely no attempts at social commentary. Aside from the actual mayhem of the picture, the film really peaks with Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov reprising their Eating Raoul
characters in the film's prologue. I'm not sure why the pair are in the film lobbing snide snipes at the mall's killbot presentation (well, I guess they would be in the area…), but I'm thankful just the same.
Deep Rising (Stephen Sommers 1998)
Man, they just don't make 'em like this anymore. Ridiculous actioner about mercenaries versus mutant squid thing on a dilapidated cruise ship. Oh to think how once Treat Williams could command top billing on a big budget theatrically released monster movie! This is complete trash from start to finish, with jump scenes and gross-out reveals spaced with mathematical accuracy. It's also a lot of fun, with graphic violence being used more for comedic effect (Djimon Hounsou's exit comes to mind) and for a film with such a high body count and gory effects, it never feels prurient or gratuitous. Look, you all can bump and grind all night with the repetitive Aliens
(Here's my Aliens
impression: "We're running out of bullets! BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM" X ten minutes). Me? I'd rather fill my dance card up with Famke Janssen fleeing tentacles while piloting a Ski-Do through various levels of a sinking luxury liner.
the Devils (Ken Russel 1971)
Ken Russel, never in danger of needing to be told to "go big," lays it on nice and thick here with his takedown of religious hysteria / sexual repression / whatever. I won't pretend I wasn't ridiculously entertained by the whole affair, which Russel infuses with a manic energy long before the nuns shave their heads and furiously masturbate each other with religious relics. It's all a bit much though-- and yes, I realize that's the point. So be it.
Dolls (Stuart Gordon 1987)
Going in to revisiting this film, I could only vaguely remember one scene involving dolls crawling under bed covers (an idea that haunted me for much of my childhood-- thanks mom for thinking this R-rated flick was appropriate for a kiddo!), but I had a joyous smile on my face as the weird teddy bear opening sequence played out and that little light switch inside my mind flipped on. This is all grand fun, as a cartoonishly brittle couple straight out of the Little Foxes
drag their little girl through the rain into a dollmaker's estate, where they meet up with a good-hearted fat fella and some no good punx, all of whom come up against the elderly dollmaking couple's volatile collection with predictable results.
Dr Giggles (Manny Coto 1992)
I take it that this late to the party slasher isn't held in much esteem by either the average filmgoer or the horror aficionados, but I enjoyed it far more than most films that are. The direction is intelligent and swift and the novelty of the killer and his never-ending "treatments" is far more clever than I think its detractors will admit: this is a film that ensures against its own sequel by systematically using up every
commonplace item from a doctor's office as an instrument of murder. Good turns by the actor playing the titular lunatic and the only cute girl from Charmed
. Recommended for the endless puns alone!
Eight Legged Freaks (Ellory Elkayem 2002)
Piss-poor Joe Dante imitation with none of the visual wit or heart. Toxic waste meets exotic spiders in a desolate Arizona town. The resultant mayhem is proof that non-practical effects are about as involving as watching someone else play Nintendo64. Did we ever really live in a time when Kari Wuhrer and David Arquette could anchor a big budget monster movie?
the Evil Dead (Sam Raimi 1981)
The small-scale unending terrors popping out of cellars and behind doors are refreshingly captured by Raimi's kinetic, frenetic pacing and oddball mise-en-scene. There is such a delightful and intelligent energy to the film's snowballing calamities that it never looks its budget (and indeed looks far superior to its overrated and much more expensive sequel).
Evil Dead II (Sam Raimi 1987)
Call me a heretic if you must, but I thought this was a rather tedious free-associative "comedy" horror with a blustery false novelty replacing the real thing from the first film. I just don't think Bruce Campbell mugging and screaming over and over and over is funny or entertaining, and the special effects sequences grow quickly tiresome and freewheeling.
the Exorcist (William Friedkin 1973)
Not a bad film by any means, but one doomed to disappointment due to unreasonably high expectations. I reckon the biggest reason this one failed to reach me on the base level it reached most others is that I don't share its religious views, so it's not "scary" in that sense. The film seems highly exploitative of Christian fears to the point that being left out, I can only sit back and observe the craft of the film itself, which is uneven, slow-moving, but occasionally effective. I can appreciate what's done here, but it doesn't go much further than that.
Exorcist II: the Heretic (John Boorman 1977)
I was relieved to learn I wasn't alone in preferring this sequel to the original, as both Kael and Scorsese agree-- there's worse company to be in! Indeed, the lighter touch and lack of self-seriousness (I mean, much of the plot hinges on a fantastical device consisting of electrodes hooked up to magic light bulbs for Christ's sake) combined with the ambitious if foolhardy spiritual viewpoint made for a far more enjoyable experience. Great special effects in the final sequence, as the roof literally gets blown off the joint-- along with the walls, the floor, &c.
the Exorcist III (William Peter Blatty 1990)
isn't the film everyone considers the black sheep of the flock is beyond me. Silly and
pompous, this small-scale trip through the dregs of a serial killer who's embodying the body of the dead mother's boy priest from the first film is ludicrous in the worst way: it has no idea. If hearing horrible descriptions of gory deaths gets your rocks off, this is your horror film. Yet another inexplicable favorite of the forum that left me cold.
the Faculty (Robert Rodriguez 1998)
I know my tastes are often a little to the left or right of general consensus, but I'm struggling to understand the overwhelmingly negative response to a film as fun as this. That it cribs healthily from Carpenter's the Thing
and God knows how many other Body Snatcher-style stories is beside the point-- I'm finding this to be more and more a genre of heritage over innovation anyway. Plainly put, I had more sheer fun watching this than any of its antecedents. The alienation of high school (from classmates, faculty, parents) is utilized to great effect within the familiar invasion trajectory, and Rodriguez does a grand job of keeping one-time wunderkind Kevin Williamson's script moving at a steady clip. The only embarrassment here is of riches when it comes to the great cast.
Fade to Black (Vernon Zimmerman 1980)
Lonely movie lover loses his mind after a Marilyn Monroe lookalike stands him up for a date, proceeds to kill everyone who's ever wronged him via films he's seen-- He Widmarks his elderly aunt down a flight of stairs, Lugosis a prostitute, Cagneys a pompous Peter Fonda-type, &c. The elements are there for this to be a great self-reflexive treat, but then again, the same could be said for Last Action Hero
. And this one's more of that school-- poorly thought-out and not nearly as clever as its premise, this just isn't a very good film. Minor points awarded for the sick joke of the protagonist slipping his Marilyn Monroe lookalike a constant stream of pills in the finale, though.
Fear (Rockne S O'Bannon 1990)
I'm super-dubious of psychics and films which exploit their so-called prowess, so I'm pleasantly surprised at how effective and clever this film actually is. Ally Sheedy's young psychic uses her powers to solve crimes which she can then write into best sellers. Unfortunately, she's caught the mind's eye of a psychic serial killer, who forces her to share his visions, taunts her relentlessly, and becomes more turned on by controlling her than his actual crimes. It's a clever and well-done rape parallel, one that somehow never feels as tawdry as it could thanks to the whole endeavor having a good internal logic about it. It's a premise that also leads to several ingenious set pieces, including one chase sequence where Sheedy gradually realizes the killer's coming up behind her when she sees herself approaching! But aside from the showy moments, I liked the little touches too, like how Sheedy handles day to day events: "You have the wrong number-- no, I know
you have the wrong number!"
Freddy's Dead: the Final Nightmare (Rachel Talalay 1991)
Another return to the wacky side of things, this rather unnecessary "final" sequel walks a fine line with the introduction of the strongest female character's past molestation and rape as material for Freddy's shenanigans, but she is (i think necessarily) left standing at the end, to the film's credit. To its detriment are dumb gags like death by video game and the silly premise of the film itself. The 3-D sequence also fulfills any latent desires on the part of the audience to see Freddy Kreuger's spiritual sperm (or something)
Friday the 13th (Sean S Cunningham 1980)
There's just no accounting for taste, as I haven't a clue what it was about this particular copycat film that inspired countless xeroxes of xeroxes for the remainder of the decade and beyond. Even for a low-aiming slasher film this is a poor picture, with grating characters (if you can call them that) being summarily eliminated for no particular reason or entertainment. And man, it only gets worse once the killer starts "acting" really hard. I have many of these sequels in my unwatched pile, but I can't say I'm exactly itching to explore… maybe some rainy day when I feel like self-abuse.
Gargoyles (Bill L Martin 1972)
Cornell Wilde and Jennifer Salt, armed only with a few guns and Salt's neverending supply of bikini tops, battle desert gargoyles set on taking of the world in this very silly TV movie. Maybe if I was the target age of eight and saw this when it aired eleven years before I was born, I might have some fondness for this now. As it is, all the Jennifer Salt torso-baring in the world can't salvage a picture that comes off exactly as what it is: a disposable low-budget TV flick.
Ghost Story (John Irvin 1981)
The novelty of seeing old fogey Hollywood legacy actors like Fred Astaire and Melvyn Douglas is tempered by the lame material they're saddled into. I have no idea what drew some of these men out of retirement for this unfortunate swan song, and while I haven't read Peter Straub's source novel, I somehow doubt it's as hopelessly mis-paced and mis-constructed as this mess, which at one point turns into a soft core porno via a twenty-plus minute erotic flashback! And a plot thread concerning an escaped lunatic with feral child in tow that somehow gets pushed into the c-story doesn't help any.
the Girl Who Knew Too Much (Mario Bava 1963)
An amusing opening sequence gives way to a far too complicated/ridiculous "mystery" about a touristesse who may or may not have witnessed a murder that took place several years prior. A stylish film in spots, but borderline incoherent and a poor introduction to Bava (whoops!)
Halloween (John Carpenter 1978)
An immensely visual slasher film, one hard to watch without making connections to all of its imitators, but removed from its impact it remains a well-crafted film. It's even good enough to excuse what it did to the cinematic landscape for the next ten years-- and that is the definition of high praise!
Halloween II (Rick Rosenthal 1981)
There are several problems with this film, but none more glaring than the utter unnecessity of its existence. Why does this movie exist? I never once thought or cared what happened after the final moments of the first film, but boy this film'll tell ya. Not every horror movie manages to wipe out an entire hospital ward, but oh that Michael Myers! The cruel violence exhibited in several of his murders is also quite off-putting-- who's idea of a good time is seeing some poor girl boiled alive? Don't answer.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Tommy Lee Wallace 1982)
Infinitely more entertaining than its immediate predecessor, this sequel in name only is exactly as good as a movie about killer Halloween masks can be. Tom Atkins and Stacey Nelkin's Annie Clark doppelgänger investigate a mysterious murder and all signs point to a crazed CEO who plans to sacrifice the nation's children to the Celtic Gods hidden within the rock of Stonehenge. Or something. The movie plays the scenario straight, which helps, and while there's no shortage of logical leaps required, the film has enough confidence to give it enough rope to sit back and enjoy.
Happy Birthday to Me (J Lee Thompson 1981)
Having an old Hollywood stalwart at the helm helps this slasher out immensely, as antiquated notions such as differentiable characters and plot structure bring a gloss to this genre exercise. If nothing else the film certainly preemptively silences some of my usual complaints regarding twist endings, as this one is so off the wall nonsensical and impossible to predict that I will begrudgingly admit my admiration at how it manages to preserve in a sense the "normal" ending while adding a layer of Only In the Movies absurdity.
Horror of Dracula (Terence Fisher 1958)
Early Hammer Horror entry handsomely adapts Bram Stoker's novel. Not a lot of surprises or novelty here, but the resultant film is, as DVDBeaver might say, "competent." The most shocking aspect for me was how despite Lee's Dracula being such an iconic role, his screen-time amounts to probably less than five minutes. I know the source material has something to do with that, but even so, it's an extreme case of less is more for the general public consciousness (unless that rep was helped by the endless sequels?)
the House of the Devil (Ti West 2009)
More fun and better made than most of the films it aspires to be.
I Walked With a Zombie (Jacques Tourneur 1943)
Yes, the voodoo sequences are reference quality and quite creepy (and also proof of the importance of diagetic sound to the horror film), but they are unfortunately surrounded by a dull gothic mystery that effectively sucks the power of these moments out of the film.
the Initiation (Larry Stewart 1984)
Pretty clever to conjure up a sorority of girls and then isolate only a handful inside an abandoned eighties shopping complex instead of, you know, a sorority house. But this is a film that surprises with underwhelming complications, up to and including the ridiculous twist ending, which makes both the most and the least sense possible based on what preceded it. Features an inexplicable sequence wherein a future victim tearfully admits she's a virgin because was abused as a child, which only serves as foreplay for her willing deflowering in a display bed twenty minutes later. Cool sexual politics!!!
the Leopard Man (Jacques Tourneur 1943)
Sports a good opening fifteen minutes or so, full of shadows and scary sounds and a tense unseen attack… but then the film doesn't really seem to know where it's going (never clearer than in the head-scratcher of a reveal at the end), and all my good will was pretty dashed long before the pic finished.
Let's Scare Jessica to Death (John Hancock 1971)
The post studio system cinematography nightmare is alive and well in this protracted bit of weirdness. Is it a vampire film? A ghost story? The imagined hallucinations of an insane woman? Probably all of the above. It's unsurprisingly an uneven lot, but the film has a few good set pieces and does contribute to the small town values versus "hippie" mentality that informed a lot of films of the immediate era (here quite cleverly, as the disapproving good ol' boys turn out to be in league with something far worse than free love-- theirs costs blood!)
Link (Richard Franklin 1986)
Boy do I hate monkeys and movies about monkeys. So it's something of a minor miracle that I enjoyed this as much as I did. Elisabeth Shue's plucky young zoology major volunteers to help Anthropology Prof Terence Stamp babysit his learned chimps. Unfortunately, one of the chimps "goes ape" and kills the stern prof, leaving poor Shue to fend with the murdering monkey. The MPAA seems to have kept it from what would be its target audience, as the film shies away from the gorier moments by flinching before the act and had the film dumped Shue's nude scene it probably could have gotten out of its R rating. But on the other hand, I don't need to finish this sentence. Other eye-opening images from the film include a man's entire body getting pulled through a mail-slot and the sight of a monkey picking up a Rottweiler and slamming it repeatedly against a fence post. An embarrassingly entertaining film.
Man in the Attic (Hugo Fregonese 1952)
Nth adaptation of the Lodger
, here with wooden cigar store indian Jack Palance in the lead. Competently made, but negligible.
New Nightmare (Wes Craven 1994)
Much like the original, this one arrives on an interesting premise and then… doesn't do much with it. The self-reflexive moments are mostly lazy, the scares lazier, and Craven's attempts are Being Taken Seriously just fall flat. Definitely one for the Better In Theory file.
Night of the Creeps (Fred Dekker 1986)
The original poster for this one for once gives you a 100% accurate summation of this horror film's contents and greatest attributes:
Zombies of varying stages of decay, exploding heads, a flamethrower-sporting sorority sister, a crippled comic relief figure, a catchphrase-spouting grizzled detective, and an amusing 1959-set prologue all help make this an amusing (if a bit too "funny" dialogue-wise) and entertaining variation of the same kind of alien invasion story we've all seen a dozen times before. Proof that novelty goes a long way, folks.
Night of the Demon (Jacques Tourneur 1957)
The more Tourneur films I see, the more convinced I become that Out of the Past
was a fluke. Dana Andrews and Peggy Cummins slum around this talky and dry demon conjuring flick-- I can think of few things more
interesting than demon conjuring, so well done sucking any of the fun or interest out of this project! The less said about the stuffed animal demon, the better.
Night of the Demons (Kevin Tenney 1988)
I can think of no better word to describe this inexplicable cult favorite than "ugly." This is an ugly film, filled with grating characters reciting groan-inducingly "clever" dialog left over from a bad Nickelodeon sitcom. From a preteen boy complimenting his sister's "big cha chas" to a disgusting obese character uttering "Eat a bowl of fuck" (when he's not busy calling his girlfriend "Bitch" to the point that I briefly considered it might be her actual name), this movie is never more painful to sit through than when anyone is talking. The plot, wherein a gaggle of twenty-something high schoolers (who all share the same bad plastic surgeon) decide to party at an old funeral home and accidentally conjure up some demons, is just an excuse for an endless series of slow chases down the same corridors over and over and over. There are two sequels, which means there are two fewer films in the world.
Olivia (Ulli Lommel 1983)
Lommel is not much of a director, and Suzanna Love is not much of an actress, but their deficiencies don't work against them here in this strange, scuzzy psychosexual bit of weirdness. One of the film's strengths is its unclassifiable nature-- the pic seems to change its mind every ten minutes about what kind of movie it is, but this leaves more of a desirable "mix tape" effect than anything. Love isn't called upon to do much more than show up and look pretty over the course of the film as she gets reverse-Vertigo
'd and worse, but her distant (let's be generous) approach is ideal for the material. Certainly this is her finest hour, though I would love to have sat in on the dinner conversation where Lommel put this
script in front of his wife! Bonus good will awarded for an ingenious if impractical death-by-toothbrush.
Parents (Bob Balaban 1989)
Childhood feelings of parental alienation get ratcheted up to peculiar levels here, as a weird little boy starts suspecting that his outwardly normal parents might be cannibals. Balaban employs a few novel camera tricks, but the film's tone is stilted and protracted and the picture continuously falls victim to fifties period fetishization (oh how the camera loves to linger on every single product in the kitchen) for reasons which remain unconvincing.
Phantasm (Don Coscarelli 1979)
Weird things happening to ugly people.
Phantasm II (Don Coscarelli 1988)
It's impressive how much good will a bigger budget, more active imagination, and friendlier faces can bring a film like this. Infinitely better than the first film, it copies the only saving grace of the original (the score) and brings along a whole new bag of tricks. This movie doesn't make any more sense than the first, but at least it exhibits an imagination and executes its assorted bad taste segments with vigor and intelligence. And explosions. There are many, many explosions.
Prince of Darkness (John Carpenter 1987)
The stupidest film I have ever seen. Liquid Antichrist. Bugs. Axes. Bodily mutation. Bodily mutilation. "Science." "Religion." "Logic."
Private Parts (Paul Bartel 1972)
The ultra-arch sense of humor Paul Bartel would display in the eighties with his pair of Beverly Hills-set satires is absent in this early exploration of California's weirdos. In its place is a rudderless sense of strangeness, one that comes off as more sloppy than anything else. A clumsy exploration (or is that exploitation) on gender politics somehow ensues as a teenage girl runs away from home and shacks up in her crazy's aunt's boarding hotel, only to catch and coquettishly keep the eye of a creepy photographer-- sad to say, but this one sounds a lot more interesting and tawdry than it is.
Race With the Devil (Jack Starrett 1975)
Peter Fonda and Warren Oates try to go on vacation in a camper, only to run afoul of murderous Satanists in this occasionally exciting car chase-horror film hybrid. The less you try to think about the actual plot mechanics the better works, and its influence can be seen in the underrated and equally silly Drive Angry
Re-Animator (Stuart Gordon 1985)
This film's charms were lost on me, especially since I'd already seen Dead Alive
, which upped the ante to the nth power on this film's bad taste and inventiveness concerning the gory semi-comic exploits of the undead. I know, it's unfair to judge a film based on another film which didn't exist upon its first release but, well, here we are.
Rituals (Peter Carter 1977)
Hal Holbrook leads a charge of flawed doctors who pay for crimes large and small in the backwoods. Very effective film that dares viewers to not compare it to Deliverance
, but in spite of a few too many plot conveniences, this one easily tops its more well-known film brother.
the Sender (Richard Christian 1982)
Zeljko Ivanek, in his debut, has a nasty habit of sending his dreams (and his emotions/thoughts?) to people in his periphery, including his doctor Kathryn Harrold. The film never becomes as silly as it rightfully should, and the ordeal is played out in subdued tones. The shock scenes are quite effective and well-done, and the idea of living dreams predates Wes Craven's more populist approach two years later.
Silent Hill (Christophe Gans 2006)
There are few horror tropes I enjoy less than Crazee Stuff Happenin' For No Reason, and for all its visual sparkle and style, this video game adaptation is essentially good-looking nonsense-- there's some attempt at attacking religious fanaticism or something, I think, and the ending makes no sense, so u kno it's totally deep y'all. Radha Mitchell, armed against a slew of vaguely defined dangers by Vogue
with her thigh-high boots and pleated skirt, progresses prettily through a series of challenges I assume are lifted right from the source-- a debt hilariously invoked when Mitchell must recite a code of "right, left" to reach a desired destination.
the Silent Scream (Denny Harris 1980)
Surprisingly well-made small-scale slasher, at least for a spell. And then that last act creeps around and I started to feel like the poor girl tied to the clothes rack in the closet, forced to witness this parade of ridiculous plot devices performing small-scale absurdist theatre for my benefit.
the Slumber Party Massacre (Amy Holden Jones 1982)
It has a lot of feminist credentials and defenders, but it also runs approximately ten seconds before one of the film's starlets takes her top off. The hilariously obvious phallic symbol employed by the killer helps, I guess. Allegedly written as a satire but then filmed "straight," the resultant film offers up just about every scare tactic trick in the book more or less at face value. Thus while not much of a commentary on slasher films, it does give the genre a very successful archetypal treatment.
Slumber Party Massacre II (Deborah Brock 1987)
One of the survivors from the first film, now played by Crystal Bernard of Wings
, has gone on to join an all-female garage band and unfortunately somehow manifests her fear of sex into a physical conjuration of a supernatural 1950s rockabilly greaser (obviously modeled on Andrew Dice Clay), who then proceeds to kill everyone. Or something. Very few slasher films give their villain a full-on musical number punctuated with the high note of a drill going into a poor screaming girl. Yes, in case it wasn't clear, this film is weird as shit. Unfortunately, the last word's still the key one.
Slumber Party Massacre III (Sally Mattison 1990)
Even the director pretty much apologizes for this film in the DVD extras. Certainly not a sequel in spirit to either of its predecessors, this is a gristly and cruel variation on the same story, this time with a double red herring aided "twist" halfway through that anyone paying attention will figure out first. Interesting to learn that the most vile scene, a particularly uncomfortable rape sequence built on pathetic pleading, was added after filming ended at the request of the producers-- because gosh darnit, there was a danger that someone might come out of this film feeling good!
Stagefight (Michele Saovi 1987)
Gristly live stage-set slasher that employs some novel affectations (gotta love that owl mask) while employing some not-so novel scenes of stalk-then-slaughter. These tactics and methods get increasingly repetitive the more splatter films I get under my belt, and while I wasn't displeased with the film, it did not particularly elevate itself above the great unwashed surrounding it either.
the Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hooper 1974)
High hopes were quickly dashed, as I found this to be a mean-spirited, often illogical geek show that left me far more annoyed than scared/enthralled/entertained/whatever.
They Live (John Carpenter 1988)
Apparently the hardest thing in the world to do is to get someone else to wear sunglasses.
the Thing (John Carpenter 1982)
Well, it's an improvement on Hawks' original (his second weakest feature), and while it's a well-made film with fine effects, I was left indifferent to this one. The utter lack at any attempt at characterization leaves this a collection of ciphers moving from one room to another to battle a creature that has as much personality or human traits as the race we want to "win" (maybe a little more, actually).
Thriller: A Cruel Picture (Alex Fridolinski 1973)
Somehow not nearly as tawdry or seamy as it sounds, this superior Swedish example of the "rape and revenge" subgenre (yeah, I know, faint praise) has an interesting art house approach, with an inordinate attention to details that becomes Bressonian (!) at times. Using sexual slavery as an impetus for revenge is more effective than I'd have guessed, and for an exploitation film, it rarely plays like one. My DVD had the version with the pornographic inserts, but the resultant scenes are still so far removed from erotica that the neutered version probably is a stronger film without them. Worth watching for the harbor fight's ballet of blood alone.
Torture Garden (Freddie Francis 1967)
Any anthology where the segment about an evil, telepathic, decapitation-capable cat is the weakest link is doing something right. Burgess Meredith's carny hack shows a quartet of spectators possible fates borne from personal selfishness, all of which are wonderfully outlandish. It's hard to pick a favorite, but the one where Beverly Adams learns the secret of how Hollywood stars stay looking eternally youthful is particularly clever.
the Unknown (Tod Browning 1927)
A delightfully perverse proto-EC Comics tale of Lon Chaney's escaped con who pretends to be armless and hides out in a traveling circus. He makes the mistake of falling in love with Joan Crawford's damaged girl, who he thinks will only love men who can never touch her. A little unnecessary surgery later and, well, you see where this is going. And it's that creeping sense of the inevitable, of the ironic payoff to the premise, that gave me the same joy I felt thumbing through those great fifties reprints as a kid.
Village of the Damned (Wolf Rilla 1960)
Plays out much like an extended and not particularly interesting episode of the Outer Limits
, as a good premise is presented and then not really explored. The remake, however, proves that even expanding the ideas present here is not enough to make it worthwhile, though.
Village of the Damned (John Carpenter 1995)
There's something to be said for expanding the impact the children have on their host "parents" and attempting to humanize one of the consort, but this film like the original still never seems to be as interesting as the mystery it begins with, and not all of the complications seem worth the effort (Kirstie Alley's entire subplot-- quick, let's do some clumsy anti-government stuff!)
Visitors (Richard Franklin 2003)
Radha Mitchell, looking glamourous as ever despite trekking solo around the world in a small sailing vessel, battles hallucinations brought about by extended isolation deprivation in Franklin's last film. It's appropriate that her mother is played by Susannah York, as this entire film is a more genial variation of Altman's Images
, wherein reality and speculative dangers become indistinguishable. Mitchell's quite good in a series of absurdities, from telepathically communicating with her cat to killing the same charred Indonesian pirate over and over and over.
the Ward (John Carpenter 2011)
I am at the very least beginning to see Amber Heard's appeal. She has a bright screen intensity, and I'd like to see her in a film that has higher aspirations than to just be good trash. No such luck here. The film's biggest and most inescapable problem of course is
the Wasp Woman (Jim Wynorski 1995)
Identity already did this, and better.
Oh brother. One of the many Roger Corman Presents titles that aired on Showtime in the mid 90s, this is a pretty dopey update of the earlier Corman flick with Jennifer Rubin's aging model injecting magic wasp liquid to reverse her aging. The only adverse side effects to this treatment are that it randomly makes you to transform into a giant murderous wasp and also causes you to turn into your hilariously obvious body "double" during nude scenes. And there's also another giant wasp that sometimes pops up to pad the body count and for good measure, some killer bees or something.