Ladrones de tumbas aka Grave Robbers (1989)

directed by ruben galindo jr.
producciones torrente s.a.

A gleefully gory tale of demonic retribution (or something) that somehow keeps a straight face throughout its often surprisingly effective graveyard-campsite-and-church assault, this Mexican extravaganza has a little bit of everything you’d expect: lustful Inquisition monks, young people up to no good, stalwart lawmen, holy writ, and a whole lot of shrill screaming. Despite the obviously unreal nature of the proceedings – we are, after all, dealing with the undead, unless one considers that condition differently when Satanic possession is in play – only a few moments provoke disbelieving laughter, and even the evil rejuvenated monk’s makeup job works pretty well. And for all the hints of or nods to well-worn potboiler themes or tactics, well … I’m not sure where else you could reasonably expect to go with this material. Call it “classically themed” and move on.

why did i watch this movie?

My previous selection was known as “Grave Secrets,” and was released the same year as this one. Plus, a Mexican production felt like a good idea.

should you watch this movie?

Right from the start, it hits all the notes. You more or less know what you’re going to be getting, and you get it. Plus some nifty depictions of attacks from la hacha.

highlight and low point

There’s an interesting twist to the method of dealing with the supernatural fiend, which is especially welcome given the prevalence of so many other standard-issue tropes. Sociologically, you’d have to go with the quartet of young adults who pursue grave robbing as, like, their career choice, because how else are they supposed to earn a living? The occasional melding of diverse genre elements is also fun. A glaring continuity error provoked a literal double take on my part.

rating from outer space: B

Grave Secrets aka Secret Screams (1989)

directed by donald p. Borchers
a donald p. borchers production
in association with new sky communications, inc.

Whew! After the scarifying experience of watching a legitimate piece of cinema, we’re back to the land of good ol’ schlock here, folks. It’s an old-fashioned haunted-house yarn, mostly, dressed up with a parapsychology “professor” and some backwoods types … but, intertwined with the hokey FX – once again either reminiscent of or cribbed directly from Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! – there’s a brief detour into seriously unspeakable horror, at least theoretically. That it’s subsumed within what is mostly a farcical, quasi-slapstick ghost story suggests (to me, at least) there originally may have been a different plan in mind here. I mean, first the backstory alluded to above gets uncomfortable, then tragic, then downright grisly. And then it’s right back to animated FX and goofy overdubs. It’s incongruous, to say the least. Oh – there’s a faux shock ending, too.

why did i watch this movie?

One answer to that question is that the very next film up is known as “Grave Robbers.”
An alternate possibility is that Lee Ving receives third billing.

should you watch this movie?

That’s not necessary.

highlight and low point

Oh, WHERE to begin … The “academic” uses some newfangled “computer” to detect the presence of the spirit, and as per the usual, it’s highly amusing to see just how far the technology has come. The “ghost” also provides some levity once it becomes visible, having been till that point seemingly content just to hang out. (It turns malevolent once the Mystery begins to be revealed, don’t you know.) This also turns out to be one of Mr. Ving’s better (and more competently acted) roles, even if (as per the usual) his screen time is fairly well limited.

rating from outer space: C−

Hack-O-Lantern aka Halloween Night aka Death Mask (1988)

directed by jag mundhra
spencer films

WHAT to say about this affair, other than that it’s off the charts in terms of unintentional hilarity. Although crammed full of cinematic signifiers – by which I mean events and occurrences happening only because a movie is being filmed – there’s so much more to it than shadings of what a defunct magazine of the philosophical arts once dubbed “fake authenticity.” The haphazard approach to various elements of what might otherwise be termed “set design” is also remarkable. Stage direction, there’s another area that inspires a true sense of wonder, as viewers observe one of the lead actors apparently making up his jive-ass “mystical gestures” on the spot. And this is going to surprise you, but the story doesn’t make a whole lotta sense, either – but you’ll still be able to accurately predict things. Really, this tossed-off tale of a family’s twisted involvement in the black arts (for no discernible purpose) is quite the marvel no matter how you slice it. I guess I shoulda said “hack it,” but if I weren’t trying desperately to avoid quack punnery here, I woulda already described this picture as a “hack job” and been done with it.

why did i watch this movie?

My brother “recommended” it, presumably based on … reputation. But I watched it on HALLOWEEN NIGHT, so it fit the bill.

should you watch this movie?

I did NOT expect this flick to slot in so well following Trick or Treat, but the inexplicable sequence comprising a music video for D.C. Lacroix’s tune “Devil’s Son” was an uncanny match. “Grandpa” also appeared in Nightmare in Blood.

Highlight and low point

The décor of Tommy’s basement room cannot be topped, but the presence in the cast of “Angel Rush” was a delight.

rating from outer space: D

Trick or Treat (1986)

directed by charles martin smith
de laurentiis entertainment group

Growing up in the Rust Belt, my older brother and I were metalheads with questionable taste – redundant! – so we saw this picture in the theatre of pain, probably compelled by the presence of Gene $immon$ in the cast. Then as now, my impression of this flick is that it drags something terrible before it finally hits its final note, but I was suitably impressed by at least the first half or so of this ridiculous metal exploitation feature. Marc Price acquits himself pretty nicely in his star turn of “lead role for forgotten character actor from ’80s sitcom,” abetted by Large Marge and a dancer from Solid Gold. All of those things really existed, kids. So did heavy metal!

why did i watch this movie?

I had been contemplating revisiting this film for a while, and the time finally seemed right.

should you watch this movie?

I’d like to say it’s a fascinating look back at a specific era of moral hysteria in American culture, but it doesn’t really make that point especially well … so it’s just more of a nostalgia trip, really. But as a period piece, it isn’t flamboyant enough, either – ultimately it takes itself too seriously.

highlight and low point

Once “Sammi Curr” returns from the dead as an embodied electrical force or radio wave or whatever, the script is well past its peak and mainly delivers equal amounts of schlock and standard-issue shriek fare. This pic does occasionally attempt moments of humor, but they are likely to go unnoticed. The irony is thick, though, especially given that our hero is constantly dumped on because he’s a headbanger, but once the undead metal star returns, everyone likes his catchy song. But who wouldn’t:

rating from outer space: b−


Halloween II (1981)

directed by rick rosenthal
dino de laurentiis corporation

One of those movies where I recognize certain scenes but don’t remember much else besides, this once-and-future sequel – for now, it’s been written out of the canon – is mainly notable for introducing Michael M. to the cinematic world of the bored spree killer who begins to get creative in his methods of destruction, along with its clumsy attempt to hang some sort of meaningful framework onto a story better left unexplained. And no, I don’t mean the “Laurie’s his sister” angle, I mean that “Samhain” silliness, a direction which of course reached its apogee in “Season of the Witch.” It’s good enough, I guess – but strictly as a sequel, as its formulaic nature probably wouldn’t have sustained it as a standalone. Not that thousands of its ilk haven’t been churned out anyway, of course. I will give it some credit for taking place immediately following the events of the first feature, as a continuation of the same story; that’s pretty crafty.

why did i watch this movie?

A) it’s the last week of October
B) see the first sentence of the lede

Should you watch this movie?

Dude, it’s not canon. You’re waiting breathlessly for Halloween Kills, correct?

highlight and low point

Though it’s something of a staple in this genre, Mike’s experimentation with different approaches to killing becomes sublimely absurd. Messing with the thermostat? Man, in my house growing up, that’d GET a guy killed, not prove lethal to others. One of his means of dispatch doesn’t even seem as though it’d work! An empty syringe to the temple, quickly in and out? Pshaw. Not to mention, subtleties of slaughter and the aforementioned nod to the rites of sacrificial hoo-haw kinda undermine the big guy’s mythos.

rating from outer space: C

Night Warning aka Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (1981)

directed by william asher
s2d associates

Yeah, “Night Warning” makes no sense as a title, especially for this flick, but look how bad that original title was. Despite the nomenclature, this is a surprisingly chilling, thrilling little affair, though I haven’t heard the word “fag” so much since, like, third grade (which, coincidentally, would’ve been circa 1981). See, the lead detective has a bit of a problem with “fags,” and also appears to be at least somewhat racist, along with being a lousy coworker and a blowhard. Anyway, there’s this kid, Billy – promising scripting – who lives with his aunt, since his parents died when he was but a mere toddler. His aunt, she seems a little off, ya dig. But she sure likes Billy, a whole lot. Maybe TOO MUCH … and she really doesn’t like Billy’s girlfriend. They really coulda used a nocturnal alert or something. Imagine that.

why did i watch this movie?

I was selecting options based solely on title and era, and this caught my eye. That it featured ’70s teen idol Jimmy McNichol in an incestuous storyline sealed the deal.

should you watch this movie?

Not quite suitable for a time capsule due to a seeming lack of universality in some of its particulars, it apparently instead has become a bit of a cause célèbre for its inclusion of non-stereotypical homosexual characters.

highlight and low point

Lest you think I’m exaggerating about Bo Svenson’s Det. Joe Carlson, to Billy’s semi-closeted basketball coach he states, “I suggest you resign … If you don’t, chances are you’re gonna get yourself lynched.” Later, he tells his PD’s officers “I want all these fuckin’ deviants off the street – pronto!” Svenson’s tight-lipped copper and Billy’s histrionic aunt, as portrayed by Susan Tyrrell, are both rather, uh, outsize characters.

rating from outer space: B−

Devil Fetus aka Mo Tai aka 魔胎 (1983)

directed by lau hung-chuen
lo wei motion picture company

So what’s in a name? You think you know what you’re gonna get from a flick called “Devil Fetus,” but maybe you overlooked the fact that it was made in Hong Kong in the 1980s and you didn’t realize you were actually going to get one of the most inexplicable and incoherent pictures you’ve ever “enjoyed.” But what about the devil fetus, you demand. I wish I could tell you. Somehow, despite being sealed within the coffin of the dead woman whose uterus spawns it, eventually – many years later – the demonic spirit of the DEVIL FETUS (which does not have anything to do with, you know, “the devil”) inhabits the family dog … whose name, naturally, is “Bobby.” That’s all I’m going to tell you. You can figure out for yourself what in the hell Grandma was doing with that eagle blood.

why did i watch this movie?

Those of you familiar with my blathering on these pages know the reason.

should you watch this movie?

Well … it probably offers you a unique viewing experience. Sadly, it’s actually a little too restrained given the outsize expectations provoked by the title.

highlight and low point

You know, there are bad FX and unconvincing FX … and whatever the hell these FX are. Most of director Lau’s career credits are in cinematography (such as his work on 1980’s We’re Going to Eat You), and given that many of the “tricks” used here are double exposures and “substitution splicing,” that isn’t the greatest endorsement. At least one flying possessed person sports a noticeable wire. Oh! I almost forgot to mention the birthday dance party and the evocations of Beyond the Door! “You’re too proud, man,” as a friend once advised. “People slip.”

rating from outer space: ?

Blood Massacre (1987)

directed by don dohler
a don dohler film
don dohler entertainment

For more than half of its 73 minutes, this podunk feature is mired in an extended, irritating look into the lives of murderous, infighting petty criminals whose favorite word is “bitch.” (This latter point never varies.) Eventually, however, this crew winds up at some seemingly random family’s farmhouse – after robbing a video store for 720 dollars, thus firmly establishing their felonious acumen – and though you think you’ve got an inkling of what’s going to transpire, by the time all’s said and done, this production has gone a couple steps beyond your imagination. That alone doesn’t really make this any better of a film or anything like that, but the gleeful overcompensation is worth an approving nod and a smile, at least.

why did i watch this movie?

Having just reviewed a flick whose alternate title purportedly is “Insane Blood Massacre,” it seemed only natural to make the decision to check this one out, at long last.

should you watch this movie?

On one hand, it’s shot poorly and the dialogue is subpar. On the other, it still might be worth it just for the final two-fifths or so. The escalation is that unexpected.

highlight and low point

“Jimmy” sports a Kim Carnes “Mistaken Identity Summer Tour 81” concert shirt. No, really. Later in the action a character is repeatedly violently knifed while hanging from a tree, and as I laughed in appreciation, I wondered what my enjoyment of such depictions might indicate about my psychological well-being. Maybe the fact that it’s not exactly credibly realistic is a saving grace. Among others, an unforeseen plot development is a sequence that emulates First Blood. Unprecedented scripting: “Doesn’t sound like a cop car, it sounds like a … Chrysler New Yorker.”

rating from outer space: C−

Hell Night (1981)

directed by tom de simone
blt productions

Kicking things off with a wild frat-party scene that seems to promise lusty young-adult hijnks, this flick instead transforms into an old-school closed-room gothic mystery of a sort. Focusing on two quasi-couples (with Linda Blair and Vincent Van Patten among them) and a small coterie of pranks-players, this fairly ambitious feature soon treats its audience to secret passageways, mouldering intrigue and some unforeseen developments – and even finds time for the type of hoary scene wherein disdainful local cops refuse to buy the wild story related by the crazy kid begging for their assistance. Along with providing some of its characters with impactful backstories, this film also offers actually suspenseful moments of pulse-pounding pursuit. A few scenes could’ve been trimmed for the sake of pacing, and it wouldn’t have hurt any for the underlying scenario to have been further elucidated – either along the way or by means of synopsis – but these are petty concerns.

why did i watch this movie?

I’m not entirely sure, but I just read Fangoria’s 101 Best Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen, and it’s in there. (Don’t get TOO excited; so’s Beyond the Door.)

should you watch this movie?

On paper, it may not sound like much, but it’s a pretty good time, really. A few goofy (and admittedly often minor) details add some color, and the core group is resourceful in a reasonably realistic manner.

highlight and low point

Well, there’s a scene with a “ghost” that’s straight outta the Scooby-Doo playbook, which never fails to provide bemusement. Before we discover some of the diabolical secrets of the old house, we’re also treated to a couple of legitimately frightening moments. The grounds of the
estate also provide some valuable settings.
Humor’s occasionally implied, not overt.

rating from outer space: B+

Blood Frenzy (1987)

produced and directed by hal freeman
a hal freeman production

At times a completely labored study of character archetypes, enhanced by some incredibly hambone acting, this picture takes a questionable setup – therapy group camps out in remote location – and combines it with a one-at-a-time death count rampantly insulted by a red, red herring, only to wrap things up with a generic SHOCKER at the climax. (A bit of a bait-and-switch, at that.) When it remembers to stop telegraphing its characters’ traits and just concentrates on what passes for its action, this production occasionally approaches entertainment value, almost despite its own shoddy efforts. Being largely unremarkable, it’s nearly interesting that this flick would seem to aspire to a certain level of sleaze, but never goes far enough … although boasting a “nymphomaniac” character. In addition to a PTSD veteran, a drunk, a haphephobic, a he-man woman-hater, a bitter lesbian and, of course, the shrink.

why did i watch this movie?

You know, a name like “Blood Frenzy” just speaks to me, man.

should you watch this movie?

If you find the video in a pile of stuff in a house you’re cleaning out, and you actually still have a VCR, it’s good for a lark.

highlight and low point

What kind of creative genius are we dealing with here, you wonder. The site chosen for the therapeutic camping trip is situated off “the old ghost town road.” A location to which one of the characters leads them. Where abandoned mines abound.  “Some setup,” you think. Precisely. Also, I am not a medical pathologist, but I’m pretty certain that people who are in the process of having their throats cut with large knives cannot actually continue screaming at the top of their lungs throughout the procedure and afterward.

rating from outer space: D+