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−

Baba Yaga aka Baba Yaga, The Devil Witch aka The Devil Witch aka Kiss Me, Kill Me aka Black Magic (1973)

directed by corrado farina
14 luglio cinematografica s.r.l./simone allouche productions

Definitely the first film I’ve seen based on the erotically charged comics of Guido Crepax, this Italian tale of intrigue – and, you know, deadly puppets dressed in S&M gear that can manifest in fleshly human form – is, first and foremost, an examination of artful-nude studio photography vis-à-vis commercial filmmaking. And an attempted meditation on taste and the merits of artistic forms. Plus, of course, chic fashion, lots of chic fashion. Events never get very frightening, although the ending scenes contain some interesting and eerie moments, and the big reveal that sets them up isn’t without impact. The way things wrap up renders much of the story really kind of pointless, though because of the multiple erotic death dream sequences, at least you could toss “questions of conscience” into the list up above. Don’t know what to make of the Nazis or the other military imagery.

why did i watch this movie?

I mean, I saw the title “Baba Yaga, The Devil Witch.” I didn’t even know about the Crepax connection until the title cards showed.


should you watch this movie?

It’s amusing in a kitschy way, but apparently impossible to see in its intended form. (Footage that may or may not contribute to the film’s cohesion was excised without the director’s consent.) The version I watched contained some scenes inserted from work prints.

highlight and low point

There are dandy pseudophilosophical musings such as “If you don’t use the means that the system provides, what other possibilities have you got?” Mind you, the characters sharing this exchange are pretty far from revolutionary types. It’s also pretty moving when the pseudo heroine, Valentina, icily exclaims, “I couldn’t care less about … power and riches and your cosmic secrets!”

rating from outer space: C−

And Soon The Darkness (1970)

directed by robert fuest
associated british productions ltd.

The sort of very British suspense film wherein almost nothing is revealed straightaway until very far along in the programme, where events suggest the audience’s guesswork is the main impetus, the most effective thing this production had going for it was that its tale of English ladies touring the French countryside exhibited no translation. Hence, the viewer was not to be informed of what the natives were saying, rendering that viewer as helpless – and perhaps as clueless – as the protagonist. Unless said viewer were to possess some command of the French language, that is, in which case he or she likely deduced where this case of mysterious identities and shifting suspicions would conclude. Pacing presented the major problem – though establishing a setting and a mood is important, those factors probably didn’t need quite so much development, especially in the interminably plodding final third. I mean, here’s the plot: A girl goes missing.

why did i watch this movie?

A while back I was scanning blurbs for ’70s flicks and saw this one described as an atmospheric something something with a chilling blah blah blah, and I was persuaded.


should you watch this movie?

I did not find it particularly noteworthy.


highlight and low point

I’ll tip my cap to the almost completely pointless diversion in the middle of this muddle, where the lead encounters a deaf war veteran in a farmyard of sorts, to no apparent purpose. It was also intriguing that for a movie contrived around birds on a bicycle trip, neither young lady seemed particularly adept at riding. The ongoing attempts to cast doubt as to the perpetrator’s identity eventually approached crisis proportions. A potent moment: when the whereabouts of the missing companion were revealed.

rating from outer space: C+

I Dismember Mama aka Poor Albert and Little Annie aka Crazed (1972)

directed by paul leder
romal films

Although much more of a serious psychodrama than I had expected, this eerie picture contains in the early going some pretty grating moments; later events become tinged with some sobering unease. There’s even a kind of bitter, defeatist humor on the part of the lead detective character, although I suppose that may be projection on my part. At a certain point, this venture nearly goes off the rails completely, and had it done so, it would probably now be much more well known than it remains. But as a friend of mine once admonished, “Notorious is not the same as famous, Billy.” And had the inscrutable relationship that’s established between a twentysomething guy and a nine- or 10-year-old girl proceeded much differently, that discernment would be starkly pronounced. All in all, an effectively unsettling little flick about an institutionalized individual who breaks out and heads home to see his dear mother. Wisely, very little is ultimately explained; those questions, and the perplexing motives, lend an enigmatic nature to the murk.

why did i watch this movie?

Naturally, I found the title provocative. Plus, it was Mother’s Day weekend.

should you watch this movie?

I must warn you, no maternal figures are discerped in the course of this film.

highlight and low point

So, seriously, another one of Leder’s movies (The Eleventh Commandment) bears the following tagline:
“A murderous psycho breaks out of a mental hospital and goes after his uncle.” Now, I wouldn’t want to suggest that this filmmaker is content to revisit old territory – gosh, no – but in 1994 he also produced a sequel to Mama called Killing Obsession. We will of course be screening that one in good time, though I
don’t have high hopes for its credibility.

rating from outer space: B

I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale aka Torso aka Carnal Violence (1973)

regia di sergio martino
compagnia cinematografica champion s.p.a.

When you select una giallo for your viewing pleasure, you might reasonably expect a stylish (and quite possibly stylized) engagement, with at least a veneer of sleek sophistication, plus of course sex appeal and suspense and suspicious activity in some proportion. This offering from “Island of the Fishmen” regista Martino tries to achieve most of these, failing for the most part to derive much brivido, lacking as his film is in that other important category, any actual story. While it’s not uncommon for the whodunit part of these films to conclude with headscratchers, this time around the unveiling of the culprit provokes mostly confusion as to the identity of the character. Once he’s placed, it scarcely suffices to validate the operation. In addition, little is done to asperse alternate potential perpetrators, although at least one other excellent option is extant. È quello che è.

why did i watch this movie?

I’m kinda a sucker for gialli, although they often irritate me. Their air of absurdist mystery always beckons, however.

should you watch this movie?

If you’re in dire need of visions of nubile actresses either in spogliarsi or in vestaglia – or in moda 1970s chic, for that matter – you might appreciate it.

highlight and low point

Well, the title translates to “The bodies display signs of carnal violence,” and that may be my favorite thing about this flick … even though it’s kind of misleading in and of itself. What appear to be squalid ruins host some sort of bacchanal. An extended section where our unknown malefactor decides he needs to hacksaw the corpses of three of his female victims, which action was unimportant to him with prior unfortunates, is typical of this feature’s scattershot approach.

rating from outer space: c−