A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987)

directed by larry cohen
larco Productions/420 demons

As this picture began to unspool, I didn’t know if I’d be able to stand it, because once we reach the town of Jerusalem’s Lot, the production quality (acting, costumes, props, makeup) takes a severe nosedive – and it was iffy from the get-go. I persevered, however, and was amply rewarded by general weirdness. (I also greatly enjoyed the credit “Based on characters created by Stephen King,” as the only way in which that is true is if one considers the town of “Salem’s Lot” itself to be a character.) Okay, look, in terms of actual credibility, this flick is nowheresville; it plays more like a made-for-TV movie than the 1978 Tobe Hooper-directed Salem’s Lot CBS “miniseries” and is chock-full of several stripes of bad acting that run the gamut from half-baked to hammy. Throw in a Nazi hunter to save the day, and you’ve got everything you always wanted in a fear, and less! This is where sequencing can be important: after watching Scarecrows, this flick wound up being highly enjoyable.

why did i watch this movie?

As acknowledged, I am a bit of an S. King obsessive, so I’ve wanted to investigate this one for quite a while, especially after having viewed Cohen’s Special Effects.

should you watch this movie?

It depends on how SERIOUSLY you take “Salem’s Lot” to be a “gripping masterwork of horror,” or whatever people consider King’s (or Hooper’s) Dracula redux to be, because this is a tongue-in-cheek treatment of the (purported) source material.

highlight and low point

The last time I watched a vampire flick I learned how to revive a bloodsucker; this time I found out a mortal can impregnate one and that its ashy remains may spontaneously combust. This is the terrifying leader of the hemovores:

rating from outer space: D

Scarecrows (1988)

directed by william wesley
effigy films

I would be inclined to call this picture “comically inept” except for the fact that nothing about it is funny – especially not the hour and a half or so I wasted watching it. Laborious, idiotic and pointless, this film has three characteristics in preponderance:

  1. voiceovers, to the point that it seems as though large swaths of the flick were shot without any dialogue whatsoever
  2. a repeated closeup* of one of the appellative dummies so prevalent it lends itself to disbelief
  3. blatantly obvious continuity problems for roughly the first third of its running time, which also return at the end

The latter involves an aircraft out of which hijackers are parachuting in pursuit of their heist money, for which they’ve been double-crossed. When the paratroopers land – allegedly this flick is known as “Paratroopers” on the German DVD market – they’re in pitch-dark night, but all shots of the airplane flying are in varying levels of daylight (early twilight at worst). As for the narration, one of the voices illuminates the turncoat’s thoughts, except that when he actually speaks, it’s … in a different, accented voice. As to the “action,” you may reasonably inquire why the scarecrows are killing people. Well might you wonder: no one knows. “I think this place is possessed by demonic demons,” one annoying character says to another. And they can’t be stopped! Except for when they can.

why did i watch this movie?

I have lousy decision-making skills, apparently.

should you watch this movie?

Bake a cake. Ride a bike. “Mail” a “letter.” Take a long walk off a short pier. Write poetry, even!

Highlight and low point

Paced as poorly as the rest of this venture, the credits last more than seven full minutes.

rating from outer space: f

*this one

The Deadly Spawn aka The Alien’s Deadly Spawn aka Return of the Alien’s Deadly Spawn aka Return of the Aliens: The Deadly Spawn (1983)

written and directed by douglas mckeown
filmline communications

“A real meteorite! It’s red hot!”
What?”
“I gotta get a picture of this!”
“Don’t forget the flash attachment.”

Now, THIS is how ya do the independent lower-budget horror film thing, people. Cheesy, knowing, and with a surprisingly interesting screenplay, this magnificent homage to space-invader creature features of days of yore is a total winner. From the classic gambit of the opening scenes that set the tone by employing characters unrelated to the action that follows, to the legitimately SHOCKING moment at film’s end, this production flirts with excellence throughout. True, the acting skills on display may not show much polish, the monstrous alien marauders are very obviously puppets and rubber props, and some of the fatal injuries inflicted are unconvincing, but the purity of intent delivers with delightful effect.

why did i watch this movie?

I’m not certain, but I think I came across this fetching title when I was randomly browsing through horror compendia, as I periodically do.

should you watch this movie?

With the stipulation that you need to be in the mood for a picture of this type, I do recommend viewing this inspired presentation.


highlight and low point

Truthfully, I greatly admired the lengthy, lively discussions about the scientific method amongst the college students, and the detailed attention paid to the décor of monster aficionado Charles’s bedroom. Too, the fact that the filmmakers did not shy away from exposing – nay, flaunting – their extraterrestrial creation is to their ultimate credit. The only real gripe I have is that the identity of some of the characters is a bit confusing initially, but that’s quickly resolved. Oh, and the camera lingers a little too long on some shots, particularly of Charles, to no discernible purpose.

rating from outer space: A−

Don’t Go in the Woods aka Don’t Go in the Woods … Alone! (1981)

directed by james bryan
jbf

This picture is almost breathtakingly incompetent. It features possibly the most ersatz blood I have ever seen, its soundtrack is a wildly inappropriate symphony of treated electronic squawks and bleeps – and it is also a vivid reminder of a time when independent horror features could carve out their own niche at the nation’s “nabes” and drive-ins. As such, despite its excessive documentary-style nature shots, unnecessary scenes, continuity problems, clearly overdubbed dialogue, utterly superfluous moments, endless stream of unidentified cast members, and overly linear “plot,” this flick demands a place at the cult-classic table with the likes of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Midnight movie weekends should definitely feature people screaming nonsensical audience-participation crap at this epic.


why did i watch this movie?

I don’t know about you, but I’m almost always up for a film with a title warning “DON’T GO IN” this, “DON’T GO NEAR” that, and so forth.

should you watch this movie?

If you had a venue where you could screen this as part of some event or other, or project it as a sideline feature or during an interlude or something, it would probably go over pretty well. Otherwise?

No.

highlight and low point

The best part of this adventure, hands down, is the incredible scenery of the beautiful location in which they filmed, which may be Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

This isn’t even one of the good shots

Whatever it is, I wanna go there, even if it’s inhabited by a deranged mountain man or any survivors of related massacres. Honestly, though, I also enjoyed the completely unpretentious portrayals of the members of the sheriff’s department. Managing to stand out even in a completely haphazard production, the bewildering parade of random characters is sui generis.

rating from outer space: D+

Ghostkeeper (1981)

directed by james makichuk
badland pictures

Early in this film, the viewer is treated to more than a few meandering shots of nothing in particular that go on for a little too long, in lieu of any action. (Such shots also recur toward the end.) Primarily concerned with mood, the first third of this flick focuses on a subset of what we’re told is a New Year’s holiday group outing in the wilds of Canada, an unsteady troika consisting of a couple plus a third wheel who seems to have more on her mind. Though the tryst we expect never occurs, despite the promising setup of a bathtub scene, two of the smarmy city slickers do rub the small-town folk the wrong way. Meanwhile, hints are made of mental instability in the partnered woman’s past – this is obviously foreshadowing – and as the first victim is claimed, things start getting weird. Though we never get much explanation about what, exactly, is the entity being “kept,” the resolution we expect is preceded by some unforeseen developments. Altogether, this no-budget obscurity is pretty effective and surprisingly enjoyable – even with all the interminable shots of people floundering around in deep snow.


why did i watch this movie?

It tangentially has a “New Year’s Eve” theme.

should you watch this movie?

While I wouldn’t recommend that you race right out to the “video store,” if you stumble across it you’ll probably get a kick out of it.


highlight and low point

Actually, my favorite thing was lead actress Riva Spier’s disdainful attitude. I also enjoyed the scenes involving snowshoeing, as you don’t come across those very often. It was dismaying to find out that had he the budget, the director would have ruined this film completely with an ending that was “a whole lot bigger.”

rating from outer space: b+

Zhǒng guǐ aka Seeding of a Ghost aka 种鬼 (1983)

directed by Yang chuan
shaw brothers

I think this flick must have been intended to be a horror-comedy, but as it’s a Hong Kong production I couldn’t honestly say. If Shaw Brothers didn’t intend for it to be humorous, then something was definitely lost in the translation, whether linguistic or cultural. Granted, one wouldn’t presume that a film with a rape as its central action was meant to be funny, but certainly some elements of even that particular scene don’t seem to be played completely straight. Plus, I mean, a mouldering reanimated corpse copulates with a wraith while levitating during part of the black magic ritual that adds the “revenge” component to this business, and the company that brought the DVD to the U.S. market bills it as the “mind-melting Asian answer to The Evil Dead.” The picture also features a kung fu fight scene, an exploding pregnancy, and some kind of evil spawn that looks something like Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors, only as a crawling, tentacled Lovecraftian nightmare. So you tell me.


why did i watch this movie?

I was reading somewhere about how over-the-top Hong Kong cinema can be, and then elsewhere saw similar references to a variety of its horror films. This was one of them.

should you watch this movie?

The next time you’re in the mood for something outrageously ridiculous, Ghost will fit the bill nicely.

highlight and low point

Almost every character reacts with incredulity to something or another at some point or another in the course of this movie, which neatly aligns with the viewing experience. I suppose any number of questionable sequences or developments could be assessed unfavorably, but let’s be realistic here: this is exploitation-level trash, the foreign equivalent of a Troma venture.

rating from outer space: c+

 

Death Dorm aka The Dorm That Dripped Blood aka Pranks (1982)

directed by jeffrey obrow and stephen carpenter
jeff obrow productions

Sloppy and unfocused, this run-of-the-mill affair struggled to hold my attention. The debut offering from Obrow and Carpenter, made a few years before their much more accomplished The Power, it reminded me why I find The Evil Dead so interesting as a filmmaker’s initial effort – its conceptualization. Here, all we have is a rather standard story about a small group of people being picked off one by one, with the usual false clues and misplaced suspicions. Many hallmarks of an essentially amateur production are also present, such as ragged editing and poorly paced and redundant scenes. I’m not saying I could do better; for a prospective script written by film students and shot on-campus during break, it’s more than good enough. Impressively, the ending contains an unexpected wrinkle.

why did i watch this movie?

As is often the case, as I was writing my review of The Power, I decided I should probably give this one a look.

should you watch this movie?

Aside from a cast of actors you’ll largely never see again, there’s nothing too interesting here aside from the opportunity to muse about the instincts of those who produce horror features. So very often the writers opt for set pieces and pat themes that conform to genre conventions. I suppose if you’re trying to sell investors and backers on your first attempt, this approach is reasonable, but it often just seems to be business as usual in this arena.

highlight and low point

Though it’s fairly easy at times to observe that these people had never made a movie before, they did a pretty convincing job with at least one of the death scenes.

Rating from outer space: c−

boy, that looks official