Dead of Night aka Deathdream (1974)

directed by bob clark
Quadrant films/impact films

The first thing I noticed about this movie, the sophomore effort from Bob Clark following Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, is how vastly improved in every aspect of filmmaking it is in comparison to that initial offering. Script, lighting, camerawork, acting, pacing, makeup effects – everything is better. It’s as though Clark and head writer Alan Ormsby made a serious study of their inaugural production in order to make a more professional showing with their next film. Whatever the explanation – the budget was almost 400% larger, nearly $240,000! – it worked, because altogether this little horror picture is nearly excellent. The emotional impact of the small-town boy returning from a foreign war and the many repercussions of his impaired condition – to describe it as benignly as possible – are powerfully depicted, and the creeping sense that something is very wrong is deftly developed. Inspired by the W. W. Jacobs story “The Monkey’s Paw,” this saga sure seems to have been bastardized within S. King’s 1983 novel Pet Sematary in the tale of Timmy Baterman. (PERHAPS coincidentally, late in this flick, the action veers into a graveyard identified on its iron gates by a sign bearing the misspelling “Cemetary.”)

why did i watch this movie?

As mentioned when I reviewed Children, I had previously seen Clark’s third opus, Black Christmas, and I wanted to complete the trifecta.

should you watch this movie?

Yeah, I think any fairly serious horror fan probably should.

highlight and low point

Appraisals of the thespians amply cover both extremes. As the returning soldier “Andy,” Richard Backus does an overly intense Anthony Perkins impersonation, and as his mother, Lynn Carlin is often grating. John Marley as the father is absolutely perfect, however, and the various smaller roles are also done to a turn.

rating from outer space: A−

The Silent Scream (1979)

directed by denny harris
denny harris inc. of california

Set in a boarding house, this film is a pretty decent example of the derive-the-killer’s-identity plotline, the basic premise of which was repeated a few years later by Unhinged, to name at least one imitator. Whereas many such films may cause one to roll his or her eyes at the revelation of the killer and how he or she relates to whomever else, the backstory eventually provided herein – though convoluted, to be sure – is at the least internally consistent. With only a few actual scares and not much onscreen killing to be had – plus some fairly obviously fake blood – this flick makes do largely with the strengths (or weaknesses) of its characters. Not enough time is given for the development of a certain psychosis that shows at the conclusion, but overall it’s an estimable effort … which apparently was a miracle of extensive post-production, as the original was deemed unreleasable. Perhaps that’s why the director remains an unknown, with no other credits to his name.

why did i watch this movie?

The lead actress played “Carol David” on Soap, one of the greatest shows in the entire history of television, and I noticed her name in the cast list.

should you watch this movie?

I feel as though I’ve said this sort of thing before, but if you’re in the mood for a throwback horror experience, it’ll ably fit the bill. It also seems to be pretty obscure, if that interests you.

highlight and low point

Some of the characters are either broadly drawn or transparently disposable, and a few minor impossibilities may nag at you. The climax is admirably suspenseful and relatively novel.

rating from outer space: B+

Wild Beasts (1984)

directed by franco e. prosperi
shumba international corporation

When was the last time you saw a cinematic character killed by a rampaging elephant? Like, by strangling. Yeah, that’s what I thought. Wild Beasts is the kind of dubbed foreign flick that makes me wonder what the original dialogue was, although I’d be willing to bet not a whole lot of nuance is lost with translation yielding “She’s not crazy, she’s being chased by a cheetah!” and “What the hell is that! Elephants!” The production did a pretty good job with the scenes involving people being mauled by various wildlife, given obvious limitations. I’m glad I watched a murky VHS upload, however. That made the scenes featuring animal cruelty a bit easier to handle. The one in which a cat is ravaged by rats I could even believe was faked. Others, such as when lions and hyenas attack cattle and pigs inside a stockyard? No such luck. The film ends abruptly, without explaining how the zoo animals and a group of children – but apparently no one else – got dosed with PCP, despite wrapping up with a screenful of gibberish.

why did i watch this movie?

Well, I somehow didn’t even consider the implications of inhumane practices given when, where and by whom it was made.

should you watch this movie?

Despite the many unintentionally funny moments – there’s a “Stop the presses!” scene, the runaway elephants cause a plane crash and resultant blackout, and so on – and the absurd pseudo-ecological message, it’s hard for me to recommend a picture that claims circus animals and trainers among its cast and crew.

highlight and low point

Some intriguing orchestration accompanying the animal attacks is unexpected … as is the animal control officer wielding a flamethrower against hordes of rats, exemplifying this picture’s major problem.

rating from outer space: c−

Apartment 212 (2017)

directed by haylar garcia
unreal media/wrecking ball pictures

Originally titled “Gnaw,” this indie flick had me wondering for much of its first hour or so if it was actually a parable about domestic violence. Whatever the case, the last 40-odd minutes took it into supernatural horror territory and were quite fraught with tension, although also quite evocative of The Babadook. That connection was only strengthened for this reviewer by its oddly casual, offbeat resolution, which interjects a cutesy element to the proceedings along with a tinge of humor. Indeed, after all the buildup, the way our heroine ultimately triumphs over the totemic manifestation of her adversities is completely anticlimactic – cleverly acknowledged onscreen by the character’s reaction. This production doesn’t seem quite sure how to blend its disparate elements; it also verges on clumsiness at times.  Additionally, some of its generic characterizations seem little more than ciphers. Overall, though, I usually tend to champion efforts of this sort, which both show ambition and demonstrate a level of skill to match. A bit more deftness in future endeavors, and this director may really have something. A touch more originality wouldn’t hurt, either.

why did i watch this movie?

At the very moment I was browsing for some title or another, I noticed this festival-circuit breakout coincidentally enjoying a limited theatrical run.

should you watch this movie?

It’s available on all kinds of streaming platforms at this very moment.

highlight and low point

A few minor subtleties in this film provoke a splendid sense of heartrending empathy, and a couple of the key roles are performed with real depth. A certain level of ambiguity in the ending is unfortunate, the soundtrack is misplaced (and atrocious), and a montage runs way long.

rating from outer space: B+

Chopping Mall (1986)

directed by jim wynorski
concorde pictures/trinity pictures

It’s a shame SPACE RATS has this capsule format, because the old me could’ve written thousands of words on the sociocultural implications of this classic. (The old me was a blast at parties.) That being said, it must be allowed that this is very nearly the perfect schlock horror creation. It’s a little too knowing, but it was produced by Julie Corman, husband of Roger, and if your producer’s last name is synonymous with the genre – having more or less invented it – that may be hard to avoid.  To be clear, this isn’t really much of a “horror” picture, either, and the revamped title (it was initially called “Killbots” for theatrical release) is wildly misleading, as no “chopping” occurs. The rogue security robots, however, are a delightful mixture of Battlestar Galactica Cylons and the Stern Electronics arcade game Berzerk, and a clear precursor to elements soon to be seen in RoboCop as well. The acting is wooden at times, the dialogue obvious and stilted, the continuity questionable and the FX often hilarious, but when the day is saved by … explosive paint? Well, you’ve got a cult smash on your hands, and deservedly so.

why did i watch this movie?

I’ve had it for at least a decade, so it seemed overdue.

should you watch this movie?

By all means.

highlight and low point
  1. Festooning the restaurant with Roger Corman movie posters and having two of the characters watching Attack of the Crab Monsters might have been a bit much
  2. As a former janitor, I couldn’t get over the fact that the mall is partly carpeted, as that is a terrible idea
  3. “House of Almonds” is a hilarious retail concept
  4.  The Sherman Oaks Galleria also starred in Fast Times at Ridgemont High
rating from outer space: b

L’occhio nel Labirinto (1972)

directed by Mario caiano
transeuropa film/tv13 filmproduktion/filmages

First off, this picture has the most swingin’ soundtrack you’re likely to hear for some time, vast amounts of fusion-era Miles Davis electrobop courtesy of composer Roberto Nicolosi. It also has pretty great examples of breathless, stentorian dubbing for the dialogue. (The title translates as “Eye in the Labyrinth,” if you’re wondering, but the version I watched didn’t bother with all that.) And I spent the early portion of the movie deciding to describe the heroine as “sylphlike,” before discovering at length that she’s not the heroine. Ergo, as is usual for a giallo, nothing much is coherent for most of this flick. Unusually for this type of film, however, eventually everything is explained, and even makes some sort of sense – at least in terms of the story being presented, that is, not in any identifiable reality. Unfortunately, it mostly translates into a mundane mystery. On occasion, it appears as though the cameraman (Giorgio Aureli? Maurizio Maggi?) loses control of his equipment.

why did i watch this movie?

I … really don’t know, but my speculation is that I was transfixed by the baffling cognomen, a promising sign for a production of this type.

should you watch this movie?

Only if you’re really hung up on early ’70s Italian trash cinema and its cultural signifiers.

highlight and low point

At a certain point, once the killer has been outed, we’re treated to a re-creation of a key murder, which is suffused with the most obviously overdubbed sound effects you could ever hope to hear, tremendous gristly sounds of butchery, louder than anything else in the film. This is repeated, more minimally, at the expected conclusion.

rating from outer space: c−

previously issued as Atmosfera (Fontana, 1973)

The Initiation (1984)

directed by Larry stewart
georgian bay productions, ltd.

Let me say right up front, there’s no morgue or mausoleum in this picture, so I clearly had not paid careful enough attention during my film search. Thus prepared to be disappointed, I instead was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this slasher flick – especially as it wasn’t very promising at its onset. The sophomoric sorority subplot dissipates, however, and the family intrigue heightens, all while an amusingly amateurish sidebar screams out that the action is set in the mid-eighties. What really recommends this film, however, is the joyful overkill of the death scenes, replete with extra stabbings, copious blood, and a lot of screaming that is hysterical in whichever sense you prefer. To top it off, the SHOCKING ending is disguised cleverly enough that right as you’re about to put your finger on it, it’s standing right in front of you. And in addition, I’d bet the makers of Hide and Go Shriek enjoyed this movie, as their entertaining film bears certain similarities to this one.

why did i watch this movie?

As hinted above, I thought this was of the “characters have to spend the night in a morgue or mausoleum” line of horror, a category I’m eager to continue exploring.

should you watch this movie?

This is a fun horror film from the 1980s, nothing to take too seriously … but engaging enough that you won’t regret the choice, either.

highlight and low point

The subplot featuring the Psychology TA and his graduate assistant trying to unravel what’s behind Daphne Zuniga’s nightmares is completely ridiculous on any number of levels, just one of a handful of overcooked ideas presented here. Come to think of it, the whole feature is a collection of subplots. Parts, sum, whole, greater, etc.

rating from outer space: b