The Slayer aka Nightmare Island (1982)

directed by j. s. cardone
the international picture show company

For a flick with a ridiculously uninspired setup – two couples go to a remote island, where someone or something is bumping them off one by one – this small-time production winds up delivering a lot more than one would expect. I don’t think I’d go quite so far as to believe the claim that cineastes have long debated the manifold interpretations available to the ambiguous ending – how many people have even heard of this picture? – but although one’s immediate reaction to the final scene might be to feel a bit cheated, further reflection possibly may assuage such a response. It could also exacerbate it, of course, and hey, now I’m merging with those ca(s)hiers du cinéma(rt). Better than it should have been.


why did i watch this movie?

It’s called “The Slayer,” and it’s from 1982. Quod erat demonstrandum.


should you watch this movie?

It’s really more  of a character study than you’d be excused for expecting from a 1982 film called “The Slayer,” and kept reminding me of The Mutilator – which it predates – most likely because of the beachfront property.

highlight and low point

As Kay, Sarah Kendall gives audiences a pretty good indication of why they would never see her in anything ever again, but either her blank stares and flatness of affect eventually begin to seem more suitable or the dramatics of the rest of the movie overpower the urge to keep laughing. Kay’s an artist, which makes for an indefensibly inane analogy: though the plot here is akin to a paint-by-numbers kit, the end result is pleasing to the eye. The relationships between and among the couples are convincingly natural, and the final two minutes of this feature are a veritable tour de force.

rating from outer space: B+

Nightmares (1983)

directed by joseph sargent
universal

Allegedly produced for NBC TV, though for what, or which anthology series, seems to be in dispute – you can’t trust Wikipedia and I’ve noticed IMDb is far from infallible as well, but let’s ignore for the moment any debate about notions of authority in this exciting modern age – this set of four short vignettes isn’t bereft of effective moments, even if nothing gets visceral or even very threatening, in keeping with its origins. (Aside from the third segment, “The Benediction,” which features some intense moments courtesy of its classic tale of a “duel” on the highway with an unidentified motorized antagonist.) Otherwise, the first segment is piffle, and too short to build any momentum, the second features Emilio Estevez echoing notions of Tron with a ripping punk soundtrack, and the final chapter – which further makes use of Black Flag’s “Louie Louie” – is capped with wild-kingdom FX highly reminiscent of the end of Devil Dog. Strictly for nostalgists.


why did i watch this movie?

It’s one of the “roles” on Lee Ving’s dossier.


should you watch this movie?

The renditions of classic FEAR tunes heard during “The Bishop of Battle” are not the versions from The Record. That’s what I thought upon hearing them, anyway, and the end credits appear to bear out my impression.

highlight and low point

This picture really isn’t that bad, but even for episodic horror it feels slight. None of the tales have any kind of staying power, regardless of content or execution. Honestly, it would have worked far better delivered by cathode ray tube. Estevez is pretty good, Lance Henriksen is solid, Richard Masur is convincing, and the late Bridgette Anderson turns in one of the better
performances you’re likely to see by a 7-year-old.

rating from outer space: C−

C.H.U.D. (1984)

directed by douglas cheek
bonime associates, ltd.

Well, it’s obviously a disgraceful admission on my part that I didn’t see this the way it was clearly meant to be seen, on videocassette rented from the mom ‘n’ pop (actually, it was just “pop”) establishment down the street from where I lived as a kid. Or anytime since. Somebody should’ve told me it was this rewarding. Honestly, I’m not even sure why I never saw it, except that as a young person I didn’t actually watch many horror movies at all, and maybe because the title eliminates any suspense? Whatever the case, this is low-budget, low-grade horror at a peak, a Reagan-era relic of nuclear panic. Shot under the streets of NYC and laden with intransigent officials, it’s the gritty story of one plucky little guy’s quest to find out why everyone’s disappearing and a truly terrible battle plan hatched far too late to eradicate a horde of deadly mutants. And more! (It’s actually several guys.) Just today I had to defend my pronouncement that this flick is “good.” People, man.

why did i watch this movie?

I owed it to myself.

should you watch this movie?

Act now – don’t hesitate!

highlight and low point

Though this picture is ostensibly about hideous freaks coming outta the sewers, having been spawned there due to government negligence, what makes it enjoyable are the various interactions the normal people have. The scene where The Reverend initially spots the C.H.U.D. participating in what appears to be some sort of rite is intriguing, if scant. (More could have been done with it.) And as a former resident of New York City, I swear, when characters first start winding through the subway tunnels, I could conjure the smell. Now that’s olfactory memory.

rating from outer space: B+

Vultures (1984)

produced, written and directed by paul leder
star world productions inC.

An almost interesting exercise in what I imagine an Agatha Christie novel to be like – I must have read at least one, right? – this forgotten flick mainly suffers from a poorly established cast of thousands and a tendency to drag things out for way too long. This is particularly noticeable as it nears the ending but detours a few times before relenting and taking the exit. If they hadn’t been so damned serious here, they had the grounds for a terrific farce, at least, though I suppose that’s been done to death (sorry) as well. At a certain point, if only for just a bit, the mystery almost takes control, but it gets a little lost in the confusing welter of names and faces. The red herrings and the detective’s shaggy-dog pursuit wear on you after a while as well. But you probably won’t see the twist coming, exactly, even once you’ve noticed that something’s clearly awry.

why did i watch this movie?

Paul Leder directed I Dismember Mama, and that coerced me to try another one. Not sure why THIS one, though. (Neither can I recall where I found it.)


should you watch this movie?

Little information about this production exists. It’s often not unlike a madeforTV affair and it may have had more than one videocassette release. But I’m grasping at straws, really. Scant information is offered here. (Article contains spoilers.)

highlight and low point

Some (sorry to say) washed-up Hollywood also-rans pop in here, and Aldo Ray‘s appearance tops that list, as it’s barely a cameo. Yvonne De Carlo has a more substantial role. And why neglect Kipp Whitman. This film may possibly remind you of 1970s television.

rating from outer space: C+

Bits & Pieces (1985)

directed by leland thomas
created and written by michael koby
trans world entertainment/the celluloid conspiracy

We may have discovered a new unintentional comedy champion. For a while, said unintentional comedy is confined mainly to the ridiculous attempt at portraying the schizoid tendencies of our deranged Maniac killer, and oh yes, those responsible for this film obviously saw that one. Then romance blossoms! With a particularly unwarranted and superficially crafted meet cute that sees our unlikely love connection detour on a date to the beach to the jacuzzi to the fireplace in what could be a Time Life infomercial … while a citywide manhunt is going on, mind you, with bodies of nubile bleach-blondes piling up. Patently amateurish in most aspects, that sense of dizzy irresponsibility saves this picture from total ignominity. Credit must be granted for skirting several of many possible cliché endings.

why did i watch this movie?

Maybe it reminded me of this. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I did, as it made for a nice mother-themed double feature with our antecedent selection (which, by the way, was often teamed with La novia ensangrentada in a dubious double feature of its own).

should you watch this movie?

An unattributed factoid on this picture’s IMDb page claims it was written in five days and shot in 10, and I’d be inclined to believe those were concurrent spans. Plus, it features naturalistic dialogue:


Rosie
: “Tanya! The psycho! She’s dead! Murdered!”

Rosie’s mom: “Let’s call the police.”

highlight and low point

I would be remiss not to mention the original songs that highlight some key moments here, such as one of the male strip club scenes and the aforementioned romantic interlude. Unfortunately, these incredible numbers receive no attribution in the credits of this production. You should be dismayed.

rating from outer space: D

The Lamp aka The Outing (1987)

directed by tom daley
written and produced by warren chaney
h.i.t. films/skouras pictures

Cheezy hack work, to be sure, but ultimately a witless good time, this preposterous time capsule of best-forgotten ’80s fashions and quick-buck hucksterism boasts a confused mythology, brutal edits, continuity issues, and a general lack of coherent purpose. What it does have are some ridiculous stock characters and flimsy FX, including the always welcome glowing eyes of the possessed. But in the great tradition of films in which terrible things happen in museums because of ancient relics – such as in, oh, say, The Relic – once the dubiously vengeful evil genie is conjured, it … well, actually, that happens a bunch of times, isn’t confined to the museum, only vaguely seems to involve the LAMP and, uh, see …


why did i watch this movie?

When I see a title mentioned more’n once on lists with names such as “Worst Movies Ever,” I usually gotta know more.

should you watch this movie?

Oh, absolutely. The heights of absurdity you will scale will reward you immensely.


highlight and low point

The fetching ensemble worn by our lead actress, Andra St. Ivanyi, as the “teenage” Alex Wallace, is itself enough of a marvel to demand viewership. (Don’t discount the “new wave” getup preferred by major human antagonist Mark Mitchell as privileged baddie Mike Daley, however.) For my money, it’s hard to top the scene in which one of the girls is taking a bath in the specimen room at the museum (don’t ask) and is set upon by what appear to be revivified cobras, although the computer sequence when our heroes search for their salvation is also top-notch. And the genie itself – sorry, “Jinn,” we need to remain historically accurate here – is incredible, in the truest sense.

rating from outer space: D+

 

American Nightmare (1983)

directed by don mcbrearty
mano films limited/manesco films ltd.

Like the preceding selection, this movie features a lot of footage of strippers, but this Canadian picture manages to do so without it feeling particularly sleazy or exploitative. (Of course, the synopsis “mysterious killer preys on strippers” probably didn’t hurt with potential investors.) There’s more of a working-class focus, really, but portrayed within usually seedy locales. This viewpoint may be especially evident in contrast with the moneyed interests represented across a wide family divide. Our moody pianist protagonist doggedly pursues faint clues until he uncovers a terrible secret, which ultimately serves to mask a sociopathy masquerading as altruism. Along the way, two damaged people learn a little bit about love. WILL they survive the experience.

why did i watch this movie?

I wanted to throw another ’80s picture into the mix, and I’d been putting this one off.

should you watch this movie?

It doesn’t especially stand out, though its sociological perspective on affluence (or the lack of same) is pretty interesting, given that it actually was produced in 1981. Plus its disdain for the American ruse, of course.

highlight and low point

As is often the case in this genre, after the big reveal, you’d be best served not to think about any of the ramifications of what you’ve learned. Canadian film fans might enjoy another pairing of Michael Ironside and Lenore Zann, though the former’s role is surprisingly unimportant in the long run and the latter’s only serves to propel a plot device. And for a flick in which the main character inquires, “Did your reports tell you that she’s living in a SLUM? Surrounded by DEGENERATES?” the treatment of its sex workers and other assorted misfits or marginal types is in large part nonjudgmental.

rating from outer space: C

The Funhouse (1981)

directed by tobe hooper
a mace neufeld production
in association with derek power

Opening with a predictable Psycho pastiche isn’t the most promising gambit, but Hooper’s fourth horror picture overcomes its penchant for paying homage to the classic monster films of yore. Set almost entirely within the grounds of a traveling carnival, at times nodding its head distinctly in the direction of Freaks, the film slowly builds suspense while tossing out the odd and unexplained hint of premonition here and there. Withholding most of the film’s real frights until after a surprising secret look behind the scenes pays off. Film buffs can probably play count the references here, but c’mon, there’s a carny with a Frankenstein getup working the nominal attraction. Overall, a polished, professional production.

why did i watch this movie?

Having just taken yet another trip to the TCM well, I thought I should check this one out, to see if it deserved its good reputation.

should you watch this movie?

It is very good at being what it intends to be. That’s not a knock; at a certain point, it really takes on a classic feel. (Kevin Conway is a big part of that.)

highlight and low point

I was actually hoping that the Frankenstein character either would stay in costume or actually look like that, because that woulda been quite the surreal monkey wrench, but alas. Rick Baker’s makeup FX, which seem silly at first … well, they still seem silly later, but remain effective enough. I don’t think I’d call this a brilliant piece of work by any means – nor would I suppose that was its aim – but it’s a clever and finely attuned work of evocation. The carnival grounds, provided by a real-life purveyor of such attractions, feel quite authentic.

rating from outer space: a−

Daddy’s Deadly Darling (1984) aka Pigs (1973), etc., etc.

produced and directed (and likely written) by marc lawrence
safia s.a.

Untangling which of the many edits or releases this particular edition represented of what was intended to be called “The 13th Pig” took me some sleuthing, as this oft-rejiggered should-be cult classic’s tangle of different owners and distributors practically redefines the term “exploitation.” The picture itself wasn’t what I’d expected, either, even if I’d be hard-pressed to explicate exactly what that might have been; instead, this little oddity is a somewhat insightful meditation on mental illness, child sex abuse, codependency, and other fun, happy stuff. Oh, yeah, and multiple bodies get fed to (or are “turned into”) pigs, hence the ostensible original title. Nothing terribly graphic occurs herein until just before this version’s tacked-on coda, but a creepy, unsettling vibe sustains itself via many little details. One big detail: the two main actors were father and daughter, only enhancing the oddity. Ah, the movie business.

why did i watch this movie?

The title – “Pigs,” that is – and given year (which in this case was ’72), along with a brief synopsis, granted me visions of misbegotten bloody backwoods savagery, thematically aligning with whatever tangent I was pursuing.

should you watch this movie?

Well, now that I think I’ve tracked down the director’s preferred version of his movie, I’m planning to watch it again, if that tells you anything.

highlight and low point

As “Zambrini,” Lawrence portrays a cunning expediency in a manner suggesting a deranged hybrid of Michael Richards as Kramer and Christopher Lloyd’s Jim Ignatowski from Taxi. His daughter Toni seemingly perfected the oblivious affect of the dangerously disordered mind. Charles Bernstein’s ridiculous period-perfect pop ditty is a marvel.

And: “It seems as though dead people just don’t have any civil rights at all.”

rating from outer space: C+

Slaughterhouse (1987)

written and directed by rick roessler
american artists

From the very beginning of this picture, I was pleasantly surprised. Well, scratch that – the very beginning of this picture is actual footage of a pork-processing plant, complete with pig massacre, and your faithful correspondent is a vegan animal lover – but once the movie proper began, it outdid my expectations. It hadn’t sounded promising, from the overly obvious title to the mentally challenged hillbilly character to the billing as a “horror comedy,” but it’s a fairly well-made slasher pic. As it turns out, the deranged Bacon scion (uh-huh, I know) is effectively unsettling, the humor is … well, “subtle” isn’t the right word, but there’s no mugging or slapstick and no awful punmanship, either. The kids are just regular kids, it doesn’t quite follow the usual trite template, and even the gore is reasonably presented, and fairly minimal. Color me impressed.

why did i watch this movie?

This one’s been in the queue for so long I have no idea. I saw a reference to it somewhere and thought, that sounds as though it could be terrible, I should watch it.

should you watch this movie?

With the acknowledgment that it wasn’t ever gonna win too many awards for originality, you could make much worse choices for overlooked ’80s numbers.

highlight and low point

That this picture could have degenerated into a cartoonish farce but didn’t ranks as among its best features. It does include the widely lampooned “let the villain talk long enough for help to arrive” shtick, though, along with the timeworn device of a freeze-frame ending – which here proved doubly pointless, as a sequel never materialized because this production failed to attract a lucrative distribution offer. The delightfully generic synthpop tunes contribute sporadic bonus contemporizing.

rating from outer space: B