The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

directed by tobe hooper
vortex, inc.

To paraphrase Chuck Eddy on Motörhead, “If you don’t know by now, you’re sure as hell not going to learn from me.” That’s more or less how I feel about this devastating picture, which retains its deeply unsettling effect with every viewing. No, it’ll never be the way it was the first time, when it felt the way a nightmare does – everything confounding, elements changing without rhythm or reason, with no apparent end to the confusion and tension – but it doesn’t need to be. This movie still gets my vote for terror champion of all time. Tobe Hooper never came close to matching it, but you don’t catch lightning in a bottle more than once.

why did i watch this movie?

It’s a personal favorite, but this time I watched it because Johnny Ramone ranks it third on his list. Only third, John? (Johnny also thought that “loud guitars” were what made the Ramones great, so … )

should you watch this movie?

Of course, but again, I’m a bit biased. Not only is this the pinnacle of horror in my opinion, it’s also one of my three favorite movies of any sort. (Trivia! The other two are Fargo and Repo Man.)

highlight and low point

The moment when film audiences first meet Leatherface is one of the greatest moments in scare cinema, and Sally and Pam variously exploring different rooms of the house are highly disturbing moments, but the scene that begins as Sally seeks refuge in Drayton’s gas station barbecue outpost does it for me every time. Some of the vaguely suggested parallels between the teens and the family of killers are never explored, and Sally escaping the remote farmhouse twice in the same manner might be a bit questionable (although the first time is astonishing).

rating from outer space: A+

Zhǒng guǐ aka Seeding of a Ghost aka 种鬼 (1983)

directed by Yang chuan
shaw brothers

I think this flick must have been intended to be a horror-comedy, but as it’s a Hong Kong production I couldn’t honestly say. If Shaw Brothers didn’t intend for it to be humorous, then something was definitely lost in the translation, whether linguistic or cultural. Granted, one wouldn’t presume that a film with a rape as its central action was meant to be funny, but certainly some elements of even that particular scene don’t seem to be played completely straight. Plus, I mean, a mouldering reanimated corpse copulates with a wraith while levitating during part of the black magic ritual that adds the “revenge” component to this business, and the company that brought the DVD to the U.S. market bills it as the “mind-melting Asian answer to The Evil Dead.” The picture also features a kung fu fight scene, an exploding pregnancy, and some kind of evil spawn that looks something like Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors, only as a crawling, tentacled Lovecraftian nightmare. So you tell me.


why did i watch this movie?

I was reading somewhere about how over-the-top Hong Kong cinema can be, and then elsewhere saw similar references to a variety of its horror films. This was one of them.

should you watch this movie?

The next time you’re in the mood for something outrageously ridiculous, Ghost will fit the bill nicely.

highlight and low point

Almost every character reacts with incredulity to something or another at some point or another in the course of this movie, which neatly aligns with the viewing experience. I suppose any number of questionable sequences or developments could be assessed unfavorably, but let’s be realistic here: this is exploitation-level trash, the foreign equivalent of a Troma venture.

rating from outer space: c+

 

Death Dorm aka The Dorm That Dripped Blood aka Pranks (1982)

directed by jeffrey obrow and stephen carpenter
jeff obrow productions

Sloppy and unfocused, this run-of-the-mill affair struggled to hold my attention. The debut offering from Obrow and Carpenter, made a few years before their much more accomplished The Power, it reminded me why I find The Evil Dead so interesting as a filmmaker’s initial effort – its conceptualization. Here, all we have is a rather standard story about a small group of people being picked off one by one, with the usual false clues and misplaced suspicions. Many hallmarks of an essentially amateur production are also present, such as ragged editing and poorly paced and redundant scenes. I’m not saying I could do better; for a prospective script written by film students and shot on-campus during break, it’s more than good enough. Impressively, the ending contains an unexpected wrinkle.

why did i watch this movie?

As is often the case, as I was writing my review of The Power, I decided I should probably give this one a look.

should you watch this movie?

Aside from a cast of actors you’ll largely never see again, there’s nothing too interesting here aside from the opportunity to muse about the instincts of those who produce horror features. So very often the writers opt for set pieces and pat themes that conform to genre conventions. I suppose if you’re trying to sell investors and backers on your first attempt, this approach is reasonable, but it often just seems to be business as usual in this arena.

highlight and low point

Though it’s fairly easy at times to observe that these people had never made a movie before, they did a pretty convincing job with at least one of the death scenes.

Rating from outer space: c−

boy, that looks official

 

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

directed by george a. romero
image ten

This being one of the more influential and critically assessed horror flicks of all time, I’m not going to waste a whole lot of words here, though I do find it highly amusing that I’d never seen this picture. (I’ve seen Day of the Dead, the completely irrelevant Return of the Living Dead, and such variants as Zombi3, but never the foundation film.) Having previously watched Romero’s Season of the Witch (“aka Hungry Wives”) and The Crazies, I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with his work, but I wasn’t prepared for the early going of this picture to emulate a silent movie, nor the workaday nature of the living dead themselves. The social commentary can be a bit heavy-handed, but that’s kind of a Romero calling card, at least in his auteur guise. A few quibbles: One, the film lacks for a certain logical consistency in how the zombies – er, I mean “ghouls” – act; two, and this just occurred to me during the latter portions of this film, why in the hell do zombies have to eat? They’re dead!

why did i watch this movie?

Night of the Living Dead is no. four in Johnny Ramone’s top 10.

should you watch this movie?

So much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens.

highlight and low point

The very nature of the low-budget presentation aids it immeasurably, lending it an almost documentary feel at times, and the general lack of histrionics on behalf of the risen dead also helps, their implacable multitudes generating an overwhelming sense of dread as the scope of the danger becomes more clear. Romero’s unadorned direction of his actors at times gives the proceedings a distinctly stagy quality, and his statements tend toward the transparent.

rating from outer space: a-

Christmas Evil aka You Better Watch Out (1980)

written and Directed by lewis jackson
edward r. pressman productions

One thing I hadn’t expected from this movie (or, to be fair, any movie) was to see Santa Claus being chased by an angry mob bearing torches. As for that horde, it was as though the townspeople were suspiciously well prepared for such a situation. An opportunistic rabble, however, is just one small oddity in a film chock-full of strange events and ideas. Befitting the Yuletide theme, the picture plays out like some sort of twisted fable. A repressed middle-aged man identifies a little too much with Saint Nicholas, his obsession seemingly brought about by a desire for Santa to be real. Of course, he works in a toy factory. He also spies on the neighborhood kids, and his brother’s family, but this may be expected since his pathology was borne of a bit of childhood voyeurism. His Claus then becomes a sort of Robin Hood, sabotaging the company at which he’s become middle management and killing a couple people in the process. The saga ends with an impossible scene paralleled four years later in Repo Man, would you believe:

why did i watch this movie?

It was Christmas Eve, and I’d just watched the Silent Night flicks the preceding two evenings.

should you watch this movie?

It perverts the iconography a bit, sure, but it essentially reinforces classic holiday-movie themes. Get the whole family together!

highlight and low point

A scene where our protagonist gets pulled into a neighborhood Christmas party and dances with the attendees is pretty interesting, particularly as at this point, he should be on the lam. Luckily for him, it appears to be surprisingly hard to follow the trail of a guy dressed as Santa Claus driving around in a big white van with a garish sleigh painted on both sides.

rating from outer space: B+

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

directed by charles e. sellier, jr.
slayride, inc.

Okay, cancel your bets and shelve your arguments, because this is officially the greatest Christmas movie ever made. Notorious for its long career of being protested, reviled, censored and blackballed, this picture hardly deserved the denigration. So what if it portrays a murderous Santa who shoots dad and cuts mom’s throat after ripping her blouse open on the side of the road, in full view of one of her kids, after having already killed a store clerk, and why get all hot and bothered that one of those orphaned kids who witnessed the highway carnage grows up to be so traumatized by the very idea of old Saint Nick that he embarks on a Christmas Eve killing spree highlighted by impaling a topless Linnea Quigley on a stag’s head in her living room before gifting her little sister a boxcutter and leaving her with the mess? Man, people are sensitive sometimes. Ironically enough, the parental complaints lodged against the film upon its original release were that their little moppets would be traumatized by such a depiction of K. Kringle … which is, not to put too fine a point on it, exactly what the movie depicts.

why did i watch this movie?

Why did I wait so long? I remember admiring the box for this classic back in the good old days at the neighborhood video rental (which was actually the storefront of the TV repair shop).

should you watch this movie?

highlight and low point

Well, I guess Lilyan Chauvin’s portrayal of the orphanage’s humorless Mother Superior is a bit much, but why niggle. Robert Brian Wilson’s turn as confused, deranged Billy – kudos to the writers for their sagacious choice of names – is nearly perfect. The flick’s nerve, daring, gall, chutzpah – whichever you prefer – confers it its panache.

rating from outer space: a−

Silent Night, Bloody Night aka Night of the Dark Full Moon aka Death House aka Deathouse (1972)

directed by theodore gershuny
cannon films/jeffrey konvitz productions/armor films inc.

Mainly filmed in 1970 but not finished or released until 1972, this poorly constructed, many-titled movie shows the strain of its uncertain, prolonged creation. The editing is particularly touch-and-go, as scenes hopscotch abruptly. Plus, early on, plentiful stills and freeze-frame shots dominate, sorta like in a Ken Burns documentary. Eventually the production commences with typical cinematic techniques and practices, but at a critical later juncture turns sepia tone, and subsequently seems to attempt an approach on German Expressionist territory. These latter changes are in service of flashbacks explaining the story, because someone must have realize it wasn’t coherent. Despite that, one of the characters still has to drop more knowledge on the audience more or less out of the blue. The opening and closing scenes appear to have been shot separately from the rest of the picture and appended later, and although their narration also is meant to help tie things together, it doesn’t.

why did i watch this picture?

It’s Christmas season, and the events of this film occur on Christmas Eve, as did a supposedly pivotal event 20 years earlier. (The only evidence of this is occasional background music.)

Should you watch this movie?

I cannot in good faith recommend that course of action.

highlight and low point

Even when crucial plot points are revealed, some of them still don’t make a whole lot of sense. For instance, the fact that the owner of the house around which the film is centered turned it into a mental hospital at some point, then freed the patients – blaming them for mayhem that ensued – and then spent most of the next 20 years living in a mental hospital himself, apparently by choice. Actually, that’s the linchpin of this whole muddle. Now you don’t have to watch it!

rating from outer space: D+