Dead Heat (1988)

Directed by Mark Goldblatt
Helpern/Meltzer

A movie starring Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo that somehow failed to set the box office ablaze – it grossed under $3.6 million – this action-horror about two cops who don’t let being killed in the line of duty stop them from avenging themselves on the criminal schemers plaguing L.A. with a rash of undead perps is, uh … yeah, YOU try ending that sentence, chief. This picture might’ve worked, but something about it never quite connects. A strictly B-level feeling prevails despite the simulacrum of a big-league budget. Like, Piscopo gets the meathead bro dialogue – go figure – but the patter is too ill-timed to generate buddy cop vibes. Meanwhile, the Williams character (“Roger Mortis,” ho ho) has so little charisma he could be sleepwalking – and that’s before he dies. Also, the extensive FX are a little too glitchy, etc., etc., and so forth. Instead of the cult classic its best future self could’ve become, it’s instead a nearly forgotten obscurity, as far as I can tell.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

This doesn’t answer the question, but I’m pretty sure I read a minor blurb about it around the time it came out.


Should You Watch This Movie?

Do the inner workings of Hollywoodland nag at you? Do you obsess over who gets the plum roles, and why? Are you driven to distraction trying to puzzle out how some projects ever got the nod? Buddy, have I got a story for you.

Highlight and Low Point

Obviously, they never figured out how to market this – and it’s hard to blame them, even if reasonably expecting that problem to have been considered beforehand. But generic cinematic police trappings aside, this film mainly evokes the previous year’s Dragnet and Real Men. Remember those?

(Exactly.)

Rating From Outer Space: B

The Nesting aka Massacre Mansion (1981)

Produced and Directed by Armand Weston

For the most part, this is a straightforward old-haunted-house yarn, but it has a couple peculiarities that are gonna leave you wondering. The basic story is, well, basic: successful novelist rents a country home for rest, relaxation and writing, but wouldn’t ya know, something’s amiss. For one thing, she keeps having these weird dreams. For another, she’s agoraphobic, which isn’t the best trait when your residence starts frightening you. Then there’s the small matter that the house itself was depicted on the cover of one of her previous novels. Throw in a threatening drunken handyman, various oddball locals, and intrusive hallucinations, and you’ve got your hands full. Pretty good overall, but oh, those few production quirks …

why did i watch this movie?

To reiterate: I selected some of these titles quite a while ago, and haven’t the foggiest notion about many. I don’t even know where I came across this one, it turns out.

should you watch this movie?

Though it wears out its welcome here and there – the visions get a bit repetitive, and Robin Groves gets a little too hysterical a little too often – it’s a bit better than you might expect.

highlight and low point

Not only are there a few moments of supernatural activity that more or less just produce giggles – they seem superfluous and silly, even in what is essentially a ghost story – but there’s a car chase featuring fake car-chase sounds! And other ersatz automotive audio effects! I honestly cannot recall ever experiencing such a thing before; it’s extremely obvious, and it’s hilarious. Aside from this mainstream foray, producer/director/co-writer Weston worked almost exclusively in the adult-film world. Despite that, this venture is not particularly sleazy, even with a “house of ill repute” subplot.

Rating From Outer Space: B−

 

The Majorettes (1987)

Directed by Bill Hinzman
Major Films/Ross & Hinzman

Oh, MAN, there is so, so much wrong in this picture that it’s instantly vaulted into a vaunted echelon of that peculiar cinematic realm endemic to the underfunded independent horror picture. I mean, holy cow, John Russo – whose name I immediately recognized, attached as it was to the splendiferous delights of Midnight – was almost 50 when he wrote this screenplay, but that incidental fact doesn’t come near to excusing how incredibly out-of-touch he was with certain aspects of what he apparently thought was “youth culture.” But let’s ignore that for the nonce. After all, there’s the spurious dialogue to command our focus! Plus, as has been noted elsewhere, a bizarre tonal shift (think “Rambo”!) occurs at a certain point. I might tip my hat to the iconoclastic ending, I suppose – were it not distressingly pedophiliac.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I don’t know – I mean, I almost forgot I watched and wrote a “review” of it – but I was just thinking today about how a certain stripe of ’80s flicks are like comfort food … the lasting effects of which, of course, often range from                                                                              forgettable to unpleasant.

Should You Watch This Movie?

This one’s more akin to eats you decided to pick up at a gas station. They may be bad for you, but at least they don’t taste good!

highlight and low point

The depiction of the “high school” students is beyond compare. The “majorettes” themselves are a spectacle. I don’t think there’s a single character in this movie that isn’t a one-note self-parody, but I’m not about to go back and check. Everything in this absurd spectacle, with the possible exception of the buildings and trees and such, strains credulity to such an extent it astonishes.

rating from outer space: D

Girls Nite Out aka The Scaremaker (1982)

directed by robert deubel
anthony n. gurvis/concepts unlimited

Jeez but the “girls” in this flick got some foul mouths on ’em, buddy. Although a copycat movie about a copycat killer – or IS it – WHOMEVER it may be – some surprisingly nuanced characterizations give this slasher ripoff a bit of its own personality, at least. The actors are all too old (of course), but I gotta say, those writing for ’em captured that peculiar tinge of collegiate life, where personas can get a little cloying and foibles are more apparent than their wielders probably ever dream. You will recognize elements exhibited in Graduation Day and replicated by Happy Death Day, and maybe even recollect The Prowler, if you’re that unlucky. Plus many more! All told, it’s passably entertaining, though.

why did i watch this movie?

Uh … yeah, I watched some of these pictures I’m now posting so long ago that I’m gonna hafta guess my motives in some cases. This one I think was because it’s an early-’80s slasher that was unknown
to me and the screenshots looked interesting,
maybe.

should you watch this movie?

If, like me, you remain fascinated by just how many different ways people could think of to make essentially the same movie, many during the exact same time period – and you’re also enamored of the
ongoing permutations of same – well,
possibly you already have.

highlight and low point

There’s a kind of lost-in-time aspect to this film’s setting, where you can kinda glimpse all manner of pop-culture references endemic to its era … but that don’t seem purposeful. By which I mean, as the ’70s was transforming into the ’80s, there was a lot of bleed between period-specific touchstones. Can these productions serve as literal depictions of life-as-lived? Or is it cinematic artifice?

rating from outer space: B−

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−