Coma (1978)

directed by michael crichton
produced by martin erlichman

Man, did the ad campaign for this novel and movie combo strike very young me as eerie back in the day. And this film is well creepy enough, though what seemed to be the most troubling aspect when I was 6 or whatever pales in comparison to the REAL HORROR to be found in this science fiction medical thriller from the lens of noted bestselling author and petulant crank Michael Crichton. (The novel was penned by Robin Cook, however, and that was not a Crichton pseudonym.) Genevieve Bujold plays a Boston Memorial hospital resident surgeon who becomes Suspicious of inexplicable goings-on, which she doggedly investigates at her own growing peril. Michael Douglas plays her unsympathetic boyfriend who seems enmeshed in the machinations. Conspiracy, malpractice, Brahmin rants, technological obsession, it’s all there. Credulity may be strained.


why did i watch this movie?

Basically, because I’d never seen it. I was in an indecisive mood, came across this title and thought, yeah, seems like the right time.


should you watch this movie?

Why not enjoy a blockbuster hit of yesteryear? I myself “like” being reminded of how wonderful the U.S. healthcare industrial complex was, is, and always shall be.

highlight and low point

I’m told the mysterious “Jefferson Institute” is an example of “Brutalist” architecture, but I was distracted by debating how certain 1970s visual aesthetics in this picture related to those in cinematic adaptations of Crichton material that he didn’t himself film. Along with presumed similarities between Crichton material and this production’s source. (I haven’t read the Cook novel.) It was hard not to contemplate the fact that Crichton was, of course, trained as a medical doctor. Michael Douglas is really good playing a jerk, no big surprise there.

rating from outer space: B+

The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue aka Let Sleeping Corpses Lie aka No profanar el sueño de los muertos aka Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti aka Don’t Open The Window (1974)

directed by jorge grau
star films s.a./flaminia produzioni cinematografiche

So, after multiple examples of movies not living up to whatever (fair or unfair) expectations I had, here we have one that wildly exceeded them. This Spanish-Italian production sets its eldritch tale of the undead – rejuvenated by a newfangled agricultural invention utilizing radiation for pest control – in the British countryside, and boasts some truly intimidating zombies. They can’t be stopped, and they waste no time in disemboweling their prey, to dine with zeal and relish. Of course, no self-respecting story of the unexplainable would be complete without the dismissive lead investigator and obstructionist local gendarmes, and for a special bonus, these immediately pin the blame on those damn longhaired kids and their drugs and free love. Stupendous.

why did i watch this movie?

Not totally certain, but I was looking for 1970s product and the title I found announced this one as “Let Sleeping Corpses Lie.” So I gave it a whirl.


should you watch this movie?

“Couple of drug-crazy maniacs.”
“Oh, worse than that, sergeant. Have you ever come across any of these Satanists … in your investigations?”

“No, but I’ve heard about them. Here, you don’t think –”
“They vandalize cemeteries. They profane tombs. And, you know, hold black masses … that’s why you’ve got your cross. Looks to me like a pretty typical case.”

highlight and low point

The  plot here takes a while to unfold, which proves to be gratifying. The experimental agronomics are tremendously unconvincing. The doctor is remarkably placid. Nearly everyone hates the youthful on sight. But Arthur Kennedy‘s Inspector can’t be topped. Seriously: “You’re all the same, the lot of you, with your long hair and faggot clothes … drugs, sex, every sort of filth. And you hate the police, don’t ya.”

rating from outer space: A−

The Killer Snakes aka 手 殺 蛇 (1974)

directed by kuei chi hung
shaw brothers

Unusually wistful for an exploitation movie with multiple rapes and plenty of animal abuse – plus more than one guy slapping around more than one woman – this product of the Hong Kong studios of Runme and Run Run Shaw certainly provides plenty of fodder for your rumination. That doesn’t much excuse most of what goes on here, but at least there’s a plot and a story, more or less, to provide some underpinning. And oh man, the snakes. SO many snakes, so often very clearly being hurled across the length of the shot so as to emulate leaping or springing. The secondary plotline concerns what we now call “human trafficking” but just used to call “prostitution.” Plus probably the relationship between greed and rapacity. Boy howdy, is that reading too much into a picture called “The Killer Snakes.”

why did i watch this movie?

I won’t lie, it promised to be both lurid and somewhat preposterous. I may have expected more sheer lunacy and less slice-of-life grittiness, however. With the sadism confined to humans.

should you watch this movie?

Although it’s kind of amusing when our protagonist, “Keto,” urges his serpent friends to bite and kill his enemies or oppressors, this is a largely downbeat and depressing feature. Who’d’ve guessed that from a tale of a (literally) beaten-down loser who enlists an army of ophidians to avenge him, and even to perform what he claims is a mercy killing?

highlight and low point

Snakes get mutilated, tortured and killed. Maybe I need to vet these pictures better, potential spoilers be damned. Keto’s one outfit keeps reassembling itself, Hulk-like, no matter what happens to him. At one point, he springs monitor lizards on his victim. Those aren’t even snakes, man.

rating from outer space: c−

Horror High (1973)

directed by larry n. stouffer
jamieson film company

What great fun this cheap little ripoff drive-in picture is! Not even making any bones about deriving its plot from (the Strange Case of) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this no-budget quickie for some reason features several then-NFL stars in cameo roles, mainly as cops. A few skulls are bandied about, along with copious amounts of very fake blood, the makeup FX are even more minimal than in The Prey, and I’m a little abashed that I didn’t recognize Rosie Holotik from Don’t Look in the Basement. Groovy soundtrack song – “Vernon’s Theme,” so earnest and so redolent of its era I laughed out loud – and a whole lotta folks WAY too old to be playing high schoolers round out this gritty drama, devotedly infused with as much pathos as could conceivably be concocted … in a Chemistry lab, say. Put it on your list of overlooked cut-rate gems, it’s worth it.

why did i watch this movie?

I confess, I have no idea. Maybe the fact that I’ve seen 1987’s completely unrelated (and also quite enjoyable!) Return to Horror High played a subconscious role. WHO can say.

Should you watch this movie?

While offering the usual caveat that semipro flicks like this played a major rôle in this blög’s very genesis, I must answer that query in the affirmative.

highlight and low point

A certain economy of scripting is something of a marvelous feat. Why or how can Vernon always be sneaking into the school building at any hour, one wonders … well, see, his mother’s dead and his dad travels for work a lot. The studying vignette with Robin, a bunch of books and a bowl of ice cream, is affecting. The paper cutter demanded more usage, though.

rating from outer space: B+

Terror (1978)

directed by norman j. warren
crystal film productions

I swear, I didn’t even realize when I selected this picture for review that I’d previously seen and written about this director’s two immediately preceding numbers – Satan’s Slave and Prey. The display of a “Satan’s Slave” poster in the office suite of this flick’s film-producer character tipped me off, though. Closer in feeling and execution to “Slave” than “Prey,” there isn’t really a whole lot of the title condition represented here, except as experienced by a victim or two, maybe. Additionally, there’s neither much rhyme nor reason to the goings-on, but there IS a moment that appears to be a direct progenitor to S. King’s novel Christine. I mean, portions of the scene are lifted lock, stock and barrel. Another fanciful depiction later turns up in Christmas Evil (and eventually Repo Man). Other than that, this saga of an accused witch haunting and/or hunting her descendants sees the seemingly indiscriminate slaughter of a bunch of people, and then ends in a puff of smoke.


why did i watch this movie?

Probably because it’s called “Terror.” So succinct!



should you watch this movie?

Among Norman J. Warren spectaculars, I’d recommend “Satan’s Slave” over this one. Mind you, I haven’t tried “Inseminoid.” Yet.

highlight and low point

Given Norman J. Warren’s oeuvre, it’s probably ridiculous to lament lost opportunities potentially glimpsed herein, but there’s a whole angle about the world of cinema that’s touched on but dismissed, even given the “film within a film” opening scenes. A gaggle of hopeful actresses live together in a hostel, an arrangement allegedly modeled after a real-world nurses’ colony. Hey, why not. Most of those slain in the course of this production come across as being targeted solely because some action is necessary.

rating FROM OUTER SPACE: C−

Sisters (1972)

directed by brian de palma
pressman-williams enterprises

I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a film buff, so all Brian De Palma’s tedious re-creations of vintage Alfred Hitchcock themes and scenes do for me is make me think that he should try writing his own material once in a while. Seriously, man, making movies to show off your fascination with your own taste in movies does not impress me. (Ahem, Tarantino, cough.) Neither am I much taken with utilizing the cinematic medium to heavy-hand some tendentious social theory of your own device – or perhaps to encourage navel-gazing critics to make the argument for you, so powerful is your erudite composition. This picture is a murder mystery of sorts, except that we know who the culprit is all along, and much of it comprises escapades that wouldn’t pass muster for a cop-show farce. Margot Kidder’s convincing as the primary sibling and Jennifer Salt plays the uppity early-’70s New Career Woman to the hilt. The remainder is mostly balderdash that you literally have seen before.

why did i watch this movie?

As a “horror-movie critic,” I was duty-bound. And Jennifer Salt played Eunice Tate on Soap.


should you watch this movie?

That might depend on how you feel about De Palma’s work. I wouldn’t regard this one as any sort of necessity, frankly.

highlight and low point

Kidder’s outredgeous Frunch acksont is fascinating, accomplished and musical, and Salt portrays her character’s frustrations believably. (“Are you on diet pills again?” her mother inquires at one point.) Many of the other characters strive to attain replacement level, and the plot is at once intricately detailed and slipshod, painstaking to a degree yet managing to trail off anyway. The extended scene containing the bulk of the revelations is protracted, tedious and silly.

rating from outer space: C

Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly aka Girly (1970)

directed by freddie francis
ronald j. kahn productions/fitzroy films ltd.

Crikey, guv’nor, but I was completely unprepared for this daft family affair. A madcap mansion full of boarded-up rooms and determinedly whimsical antics, this glimpse of roles assumed and roles played trips merrily along almost without stopping to take a breath. It’s difficult at times to decipher just which character is the maddest or the most amusing: arch and imperious Mumsy; stolid, staunch Nanny; mercurial and vindictive Girly; or resolute, sadistic Sonny. Sonny and Girly’s arrested adolescence romps uneasily under the deliberately blurred depiction of Mumsy and Nanny’s relationship; meanwhile, the whole lot is murderous. Acquiring and discarding “new playmates” is the order of every day, and just what comprises the Rules that must be followed is up for debate. A certain sense of propriety – strange, considering the preoccupations – guides the engagements.

why did i watch this movie?

If I could recall the path I followed to this picture, I might be able to answer that question. Maybe it just sounded … different.

should you watch this movie?

It struck me as something like Alice’s trip to Wonderland as conflated with Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, represented in a stately British country manor house.

highlight and low point

As “Mumsy,” Ursula Howells is utterly charming and clearly disturbed in equal measure, while Vanessa Howard’s “Girly” eventually betrays much more depth of character than meets the eye … given that she spends almost the entirety of the film wearing a schoolgirl outfit several inches too short in the skirt. Once some of the mayhem starts clearing up, well along in the adventure, comes the intimation that the relationships betwixt the denizens of the house may be more fluid than one theretofore had guessed. It’s the merest hint, but potent.

rating from outer space: A

Beware My Brethren aka The Fiend (1972)

produced and directed by robert hartford-davis
world arts media (uk) Ltd.

Allegedly expurgated of at least 10 minutes of footage, this not very convincing religious psychodrama actually gets better as it goes along, which I’ve found is often a rarity in this field. Then again, it couldn’t have gotten much worse without being rejected, so that’s maybe not such a compliment, all told. Often reminiscent of a stage play in its dialogue and blocking and static cinematography, there’s a paradox at work here. Before the script opens up to encompass more than the stultifying world of the religious cult at its center, it’s tiresome, but without focusing more clearly on the dynamics within that cult later in the picture, it wouldn’t have been able to reach any sort of definitive point. Taken altogether – the proof of the pudding, perhaps, as regards the purported excisions – it’s a feature with a few loose ends and not a whole lot to say. Middling, at best.

why did i watch this movie?

I guess the allure of a religious cult leading to madness and death? I seem to recall thinking this flick would be more lurid than it was, though I don’t know where I got that idea.

should you watch this movie?

On websites that cater to low-budget productions that nobody remembers, you may occasionally find testimony to this film’s worthiness. But I don’t know.

highlight and low point

During services, the proceedings occasionally suggest it’s about to turn into a musical, which is definitely a different feel. The Brethren don’t feel all that outrageous to me in their demands, but I myself was raised in a religious cult (the Roman Catholic Church), so my perspective may be skewed. Certainly, ensuing sectarian events would make their actions seem tame.

rating from outer space: C

Diabolicamente… Letizia aka Sex, Demons and Death (1975)

directed by salvatore bugnatelli
b.r.c. international films

An incoherent mess, badly restored from scraps and thus chock-full of abrupt transitions and missing moments – and clumsily subtitled to boot – it’s doubtful this picture could have been any better in pristine original condition. Letizia is supposed to be a boarding school student; she clearly isn’t. She exercises some sort of nefarious mind control, mainly to direct others’ sexual urges while someone takes blackmail photos, but also occasionally to create terrifying visions to torment her prey. Not even a hint of why she may be doing any of this is given until the very end, and it seems made up out of whole cloth. Despite the titillating alternate title, no demons seem to be involved, and the deaths are all extremely unconvincing. Sex there’s plenty of, and we could have a healthy debate about the apparent (offscreen) gangbang scene, how it may tie into the leitmotif of Letizia’s methods of control, and whether it’s related to the climactic niteclub dosing … but that would be giving this rubbish way more credit – and thought – than it deserves, by a long chalk. One may as well have a semiotic debate centered on Bert & Ernie.

why did i watch this movie?

Look, I try to keep things as high-minded as possible around here, given that all I do is scribble out 300-word capsule reviews of the products of a typically lowbrow art form, but you know I’m not ignoring a title like this one.


should you watch this movie?

I mean, I can’t stop you.


highlight and low point

The delicate interplay between Magda Konopka’s overacting and Franca Gonella’s somnambulant performance is a study in contrasts. Fittingly, that sentence means nothing. Oh, I neglected to mention Letizia’s occultist trainer? That’s too bad.

rating from outer space: f

Prophecy (1979)

directed by john frankenheimer
paramount pictures
a robert l. rosen production

Boy, does this one feel like a missed opportunity. Compelling despite itself for the majority of its running time, this cautionary eco-terror tale collapses drastically once the “monster” is revealed. Because it’s a bear. Sure, it’s an ursine that appears kinda acid-damaged (no, not that kind), but it’s a bear nonetheless. Which is quite a letdown, given all the Science-y gobbledygook promising mutations and devastation of the food chain and so forth, and renders this production not unlike a handful of other such endeavors about rampaging animals. Until that reveal, however, it’s an engrossing flick that works pretty well. The usual caveat applies about giving the details of the story too much thought. Especially those that are glossed over in the first place.

why did i watch this movie?

I had just finished the David Seltzer novel and felt it must have been filmed at some point. It turns out he wrote the script first.

should you watch this movie?

If you plan to, I’d recommend reading the novelization beforehand. It helps fill in a lot of backstory. Of course, it may also contribute to a feeling of disappointment with the screen version.

highlight and low point

The bear monster is supposed to be humongous – some of the promotional material specifies “15 feet tall” – and it isn’t. It’s, you know, bear-sized. Except when it’s smaller, because it’s a guy in a bear monster suit. Other than that, this picture’s biggest problem is that it pares away the relationships intended to give events their gravitas. The allusion to Minamata disease is indeed frightening, even if the source material fails to note the outbreak amongst First Nations people in Ontario, Canada, that must have inspired the proceedings.

rating from outer space: C−