Spasms aka Death Bite (1983)

DIRECTED BY WILLIAM FRUET
CINEQUITY CORPORATION/CANADIAN FILM DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION
serpent’s theme composed & performed by tangerine dream

For those unfamiliar with the Oliver Reed performance model, particularly in a lurid monster-shouter such as this, picture a brawny, English roughneck version of Wm. Shatner … who happens to be out of his goddamn mind. Reed brings such an intense and palpably amok sense of hyperreality to affairs of the silver screen that I daresay it can buoy even the flimsiest of vessels. (I understand some folks feel much the same about Nicolas Cage.) So pairing that factor with this story about a giant friggin’ serpent that may be a servant of Hell sounds truly special. Unfortunately, this mediocre B-movie can’t deliver on that promise, mainly because as ludicrous as things get, the production team never really casts off the ropes. They also rush through the falling action here, shrugging aside some fanciful notions, haphazardly tossing in unexplained phenomena, and entirely dispensing with an actual conclusion. The supposedly monstrous serpent is good for a laugh when finally shown in its full … glory.

WHY DID I WATCH THIS MOVIE?

I would have watched it regardless, given its astounding nomenclature, but with O. Reed heading the cast there was no question.

SHOUlD YOU WATCH THIS MOVIE?

If you wish to see killings happening, in B&W, through the vision of a man with a telepathic link to a giant snake (instead of, say, that of Laura Mars), sure. As noted, however, this film does not live up to its potential. The credit “Based on the novel by Michael Maryk & Brent Monahan” certainly must lend one some hope, though. 

HIGHLIGHT AND LOW POINT

(To the police chief) “I woulda thought you’d seen everything by now.”

(The chief) “Hm. Monsters from Hell is something new.”

RATING FROM OUTER SPACE: C−

The Clown Murders (1976)

DIRECTED BY MARTYN BURKE
MAGNUM PICTURES

Based around a rather dubious proposition – kidnapping an acquaintance’s wife to prevent him from making a business deal at, uh, the stroke of midnight, or something along those lines – the REAL horror here is in the breakdown of the characters’ shared relationships, man. Oh, and in the revelation of the ugly truths underlying their established personas. Or something along those lines. Only intermittently interesting for some of the glimpses at the dynamics of the power structure within this group of former school chums, events eventually take a dramatic and unexpected turn for the somewhat perverse once the action tips toward and past the climax. (Literally! In at least one sense.) It’s not too hard to figure out the mystery-of-sorts as regards the killer clown(s), but another mystery proves more elusive: what the hell?

WHY DID I WATCH THIS MOVIE?

The title caught my eye, but wouldn’t have convinced me without the summary promise of intrigue, which never developed. A caper undercut by duplicity it did turn out to be, but alas not nearly as interesting as it sounded.

SHOULD YOU WATCH THIS MOVIE?

I’m fairly certain you can find better examples of the basic motifs at work here, albeit probably without the clown costumes.

HIGHLIGHT AND LOW POINT

What really sold me on this flick was that it was one of John Candy’s first major film roles, and not a comedy. Unfortunately, he predictably played a heavier-set gentleman, one of whom’s friends constantly ridicules him about his size; throughout the film, his character is quite often seen eating. Since Candy reputedly had a lifelong struggle with his weight and self-image, and died at 43 because of related health issues, this was kind of a bummer. The turning point in the film, which involves his character, is itself extremely distressing for myriad reasons.

RATING FROM OUTER SPACE: C

Blood Feast (1963)

DIRECTED BY HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS
BOX OFFICE SPECTACULARS, INC.

Here is where we should begin our disquisition on the ephemeral nature of what constitutes art vis-à-vis garbage, and engage in deep contemplation on the revealed substance and its relation to the Ideal, and how mere imitation or re-creation can only hope to further distance us from the knowledge of this state of perfection. We should, but we won’t, because gore impresario, auteur loon and marketing maven Herschell Gordon Lewis would probably laugh and point at us. His frankly ridiculous tale of catering a Society party with an “authentic Egyptian Feast” as a hopeful means of reviving the goddess Ishtar via cannibalism features some impossibly wooden acting, hilariously half-assed set dressing, excessively expository dialogue, indubitably fake blood, transparently ersatz makeup and FX, rudimentary cinematography, et cetera et cetera et cetera et cetera. (And in the midst of life we are in debt, et cetera.) Blows the doors off the insipid remake I panned a few weeks back, ably demonstrating the difference between a “bad” movie and the truly wretched.

WHY DID I WATCH THIS MOVIE?

Well, I watched the other one, didn’t I. You know, years back, I toiled at a mail-order company, the offbeat small-business-owner of which enjoyed visiting Lewis’s marketing website. He also enjoyed pointing out Lewis’s track record of proven “pull.”

SHOULD YOU WATCH THIS MOVIE?

It’s barely over an hour long!

HIGHLIGHT AND LOW POINT

It’s barely over an hou – yeah, just joshing, sorry. Scott H. Hall and Mal Arnold, as “police captain” and “Fuad Ramses,” respectively, suffice for shorthand. Hall is so terrible a thespian he shoulda been a “star” for Ed Wood, Jr., and Arnold is an expressionistic delight – the reductio ad absurdum of the Method. (And the sine qua non of any effort like this one.)

RATING FROM OUTER SPACE: B

Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)

directed by jeff burr
nicolas entertainment/new line cinema

In which we find the patient suffering from sequelitis, the disease by which little vestige of the original creation still survives, save for symbols and signifiers … such as the titular bogeyman. Strangely (and unfortunately), this installment’s eponym – known this time around as “Junior” (eyeroll) – takes his characterization from the ill-advised second chapter rather than the archetypal original. Since the chainsaw itself barely plays any real role here, aside from an asinine novelty visual, one wonders why they just didn’t make this flick its own generic vehicle rather than further degrade the “franchise.” Other issues abound, of course, not the least of which concerns the edits the film had to make to garner an “R” rating. A slasher movie that doesn’t actually show any gore – hell, only one character is killed in the first hour – is a curious thing, no? And where in the hell is this backward backwoods family getting a new house and all these new relatives, anyway? The genre equivalent of Mike Love’s “Beach Boys” performing postgame concerts in baseball stadiums for decades on end.

why did i watch this movie?

This time, it’s The Devil’s DVD Bin‘s fault.

should you watch this movie?

Nah, just watch this instead:

highlight and low point

As just one example of how downscale this production is, one of the characters/family members only has one hand … except that he’s clearly got two hands, ya dig, one of them is just, like, inside his sleeve, holding the prosthetic. The highlight, as hinted above, is clearly the rippin’ metal soundtrack, a must for all discerning (i.e. lousy) ’80s slasher flicks. My fave credit is for the band “Hurricane,” featuring the younger brothers of two of the guys in Quiet Riot’s, uh, classic lineup.

rating from outer space: D

Visiting Hours (1982)

directed by jean claude lord
filmplan international/canadian film development corporation

Okay, I imagined this one was gonna be pretty lame, and in fact, I had put off watching it for the past couple years. It kept almost making the cut, but then I’d figure it was gonna be too tame and too much like a soap opera. Instead, it was actually a pretty taut affair, and despite some overly predictable developments, a rewarding choice. (It probably didn’t hurt that none of the other flicks I watched around the same time were much good.) Michael Ironside’s malevolent antihero is an implacable force, ably balancing out the fact that Wm. Shatner kept reminding me of so-called U. S. “president” Don T., through no fault of his own. (Shatner’s, that is.) A few genuinely surprising scenes during the climactic action were a welcome sight. I also found the subject matter, of a female media personality’s taking a stand opposing violence against women and triggering a backlash from a vigilante nutcase, to be very relevant in the current political climate.

why did i watch this movie?

The real question is what took me so long.

should you watch this movie?

It’s a quality choice for a random late-nite viewing when there’s nothing else “on.”

highlight and low point

My choice would probably be one and the same, to be honest: during one scene, the villain, Colt Hawker (!), sports a garment that appears to be leather-look vinyl or something similar. It looks godawful uncomfortable, and is quite apt for the scene, which involves a vicious misogynistic assault. It also precisely contextualizes the film. On a more personal note, I got a kick out of the fact that by coincidence, Lenore Zann plays minor roles in both this and Happy Birthday to Me, as I watched them during the same stretch.

rating from outer space: B

an AMC Gremlin, i believe

F aka The Expelled (2010)

directed by johannes roberts
black robe/capital markets film finance

Only about 75 minutes long, this British production is basically Scream meets The Strangers, minus any meta sensibility or any tinge of humor (or humour, if you will). It does feature the very British touch of having one or more of its characters muttering and whispering his or her dialogue so that it’s virtually impossible to hear, especially if you’re watching it with doors and windows open in a neighborhood like mine. (And a sense of hearing like mine.) Also featured: very little detail. We aren’t told much about motivation, relationships, hierarchies. We do get some brief insights from which inferences may be drawn, but are essentially dropped into the middle of someone else’s story without being given a lot of background. What transpires is effectively unsettling, however – in any number of ways – and the ending is pretty intense. The story REALLY needed some new ideas of its own, though.

why did i watch this movie?

The director helmed The Strangers: Prey at Night, which I’d seen recently, so I thought hey, let’s see what else this guy did.

should you watch this movie?

You have received the caveats. Make of them what you will.

highlight and low point

This film is really well done, especially for a production that obviously didn’t cost a whole lot, so the biggest problem it has remains its lack of originality. Except, again, for the ending, which considers a facet of the human condition not often addressed in these types of pictures. The extremely judicious nature of precisely what is shown and when is exceptional.

rating from outer space: c+