The Horrible House on the Hill aka Devil Times Five aka Peopletoys (1974)

directed by sean macgregor
barrister productions incorporated

When setting out to watch this ’70s obscurity, I had no idea the sort of sleazefest I’d be enjoying. In one especially enlightening sequence, a bored and oversexed housewife emulates Of Mice and Men with the mentally challenged handyman, after which she is confronted by her daughter-in-law – the current paramour of an ex-conquest – and a breasts-exposing catfight ensues. The daughter-in-law subsequently goes to bed with the disputed boyfriend. Meanwhile, the other adult female on the premises is drinking heavily and badgering her shlump of a husband, played by Sorrell Booke. As this is happening, five deranged children who have survived a bus accident break into the secluded lodge-style home in which all of the above are weekending, and beat to death their pursuant erstwhile handler – in slow motion. This movie becomes quite unsettling as it unspools … but its creepiest component lies behind the scenes. Mid-seventies flash in the pan Leif Garrett plays one of the murderous kids (“Charlie”), as does his younger sister Dawn Lyn (“Moe”), and their mother (Carolyn Stellar) plays the sexpot, “Lovely,” who eventually is killed off, topless in the bath, by Moe. Hollywood family values – now that’s chilling.

why did i watch this movie?

With its focus on preteen sociopaths, it sounded pretty intriguing, and the multiplicity of names helped. (It’s also known as Tantrum/s.)

should you watch this movie?

Hey, it’s freely available courtesy of the Internet Archive.

highlight and low point

Before it hits its stride, Peopletoys seems as though it’s going to be as regrettable as that moniker, but once the obviously strange children are introduced to the mix, it gets a lot better. The killings are not very convincing and the blood is extremely fake, but the level of invention is pretty good. The kids seem strangely impervious to cold, though.

rating from outer space: B

The Woods (2006)

directed by lucky mckee
United artists/cinerenta/furst films/cinegreen

I am not altogether certain that this flick accurately portrays some of the nuances of its setting, that being 1965 New England. For that matter, I do not know why this flick is set in 1965 – or what, really, was its intention. A meandering and not particularly interesting tale of presumably ancient witchcraft involving – you’ll never guess – the forest surrounding a peculiar school for girls, this film helmed by Lucky McKee plays out like just another teen-drama conflict, with Problems With Authority to boot. Following a main character named “Heather,” which is probably not a coincidence, and overplaying the mysterious and potentially threatening nature of certain faculty members, it never becomes too frightening and doesn’t provide nearly as much intrigue as was probably intended. Part of the problem may be that there’s a whole lotta nothin’ where the story’s supposed to be. Several clumsy subplots and possible false flags don’t help, and neither does the CGI. A completely unremarkable movie that even manages to waste a rare underplayed appearance by Bruce Campbell.

why did i watch this movie?

The other McKee pictures I’ve watched were good, and reviews of this one were largely positive. (Personally, I didn’t think it sounded all that interesting, however.)

should you watch this movie?

If you feel like watching something and don’t much care what it is, it’ll fit the bill, as it doesn’t seem to care much, either.

highlight and low point

Too hackneyed and constructed by half-measures to supply any memorable peaks, this movie also boasts an anticlimax that is markedly weak.

rating from outer space: c−

Cementerio del Terror (1985)

directed by rubén galindo jr.
dynamic films inc./producciones torrente s.a.

So, when you and your pals have tricked your girlfriends into accompanying you to a spooky abandoned house on All Hallow’s Eve – and boy are they MAD, having expected a “jet set party” – naturally, what you next propose is to bring a dead person back to life. Oh, sure, they’re doubtful, until you reasonably explain that the first step is to acquire a dead body from the morgue, at which point you all pile into the car. Does a downpour stop you from performing the ritual, i.e. reading from “the black book”? Of course it doesn’t. But once you’ve successfully revived Devlon – Devlon! – HE sure stops you, i.e. kills you. Up until this point in this generic Mexican flick, it’s reasonably entertaining, but once its focus switches to a group of children stranded in the graveyard, it becomes reminiscent of any random Scooby-Doo episode – then turns into the most blatant ripoff of the “Thriller” video imaginable, albeit with a much smaller budget. So blatant one of the kids sports a jacket with M. Jackson’s famous visage painted on the back. (Also spotted: “Pepsi Free.”)

why did i watch this movie?

Though attracted helplessly by the witless title, I’m not sure, as the undead generally are not my preference.

should you watch this movie?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t deliver much more than a few guffaws, and not nearly enough to justify itself.

highlight and low point

The nonunion equivalents of what are maybe supposed to be recognizable rock songs are pretty interesting, and I sure wasn’t expecting the scene in which the “professor” steals the police chief’s car in order to track down “Devlon.” You probably have a friend who creates better zombie makeup than this film’s FX department.

rating from outer space: D+

it is easy to access the morgue

Demonoid aka Demonoid: Messenger of Death (1981)

directed by alfredo zacharías
zach motion pictures inc./panorama films

Some – okay, most – reviewers are going to tell you this movie is terrible, but I must point out that Macabra: La mano del diablo and its similars just may be the raison d’être of this website (not to mention a significant contributing factor to its proprietor’s joie de vivre). Following a prefatory flashback scene, the story proper begins in an old mine complete with self-propelled skulls and tremulous native workers. Then it’s off to Vegas, baby! Before consulting a priest, of course, which naturally involves the police. Yes, the devil’s (left) hand has many functions, which does not prepare us for when it has been lopped off the arm of the cop whose arm it has commandeered, grabs his gun and shoots a nurse in an extremely tight and low-cut uniform. “The Hand will kill again!” intones our female lead. Can THE HAND be stopped? Will THE HAND be destroyed? Could I not stop giggling while enjoying this presentation? A must-see.

why did i watch this movie?

I discovered this gem via its poster when I was scouring some website or another for vintage horror ephemera. It looked … incredible.

should you watch this movie?

Aside from its obscurity and the possible difficulty of securing a good quality version, you have no excuse for not viewing this masterpiece.

highlight and low point

It’s been posited that certain things just cannot be made scary on the big (or small) screen, and that, say, a disembodied crawling hand may be one of these things, but watching what is clearly a rubber hand being thrown, dropped or otherwise propelled from or to various locations is a gratifying experience nonetheless. I cannot say any more lest I vitiate any of this picture’s manifold delights.

rating from outer space: B+

Island of Death (1976)

directed by nick mastorakis
island films/omega pictures

One of the more perverse films you’re ever likely to see outside of niche porn, this notorious Greek exploitation picture revels in sadistic glee – often focusing directly upon said glee on the protagonists’ faces. One can only wonder the distasteful levels director (Nico) Mastorakis could have reached had this film been lensed in modern times. As it is, however, more than a few of the catalogue of murders depicted here may be somewhat difficult to stomach – literally, in the instance of the victim forced to drink paint. Honestly, as the perpetrators’ acts escalate, it sometimes feels as if the director had a list of moral or criminal offenses that he wanted to portray. [Editorial note: I just found this on IoD‘s official website: “After listing the most depraved sexual acts he could conceive, Mastorakis wrote the script in a week.”] The movie does have a working framework, however, along with an admittedly dark sense of humor, and never relents. All told, an accomplished feature debut. (Being reviled internationally IS an accomplishment.)

why did i watch this movie?

Obviously, I have difficulty ignoring such succinct nomenclature, and the blurbs promised an outré spectacle. Little did I know.

should you watch this movie?

It depends how much you appreciate what the exploitation genre has to offer – decapitation by bulldozer, anyone? – unless you’re in the mood for a travelogue of Mykonos.

highlight and low point

For such a lurid, low-budget creation, the zest infused in the characters by the cast is noteworthy. On the other hand, while this production flaunts to dramatic effect incest, rape, drug abuse, homosexuality, urophilia and other delights, this reviewer detests the thought of animal cruelty, so the scene involving the young goat’s molestation and slaughter was to his mindset unfortunate.

rating from outer space: c+

it’s Artistic, too!

Welcome to Arrow Beach (1974)

directed by laurence harvey
brut productions

With all the makings of a cult classic, it’s a shame that this plodding soap opera can’t deliver the horror equivalent of, say, Reefer Madness. It does have a dippy drug subplot, though. This turgid melodrama also is in possession of outlandish, dated dialogue that probably felt just as forced and inauthentic then as now, along with a Californian Korean War vet with a British accent and an incestuous relationship, a runaway hippie chick, an Afro-sporting reporter for an underground newspaper called Young People’s Press, a steadfast law ‘n’ order sheriff and his deputies, an aging stripper and a death scene featuring a meat cleaver. Oh, and presumable cannibalism. Despite such an enviable list, this curio fails to keep one’s attention for long. One surmises it may have been intended to Make a Statement about Issues of the Day. The tearjerker ending is unexpected.

why did i watch this movie?

The artwork I first saw made it look a bit more lively. The (as it turns out, somewhat inaccurate) description wasn’t quite so fetching, but all right. Come to think of it, it listed the wrong year as well.

should you watch this movie?

Since I would guess that the major attraction would be how completely out of touch this production seems with its zeitgeist, and any residual retro appeal contained therein, I also must propose that you could find a much more entertaining example of same.

highlight and low point

The wondrous contents of the Air Force vet’s medicine cabinet add a touch of intrigue and the corny slang is amusing throughout, but the utter charade of the sheriff’s reelection stump speech and reception is ineluctable.  As hinted above, the pace is glacial.

rating from outer space: d+

Deadly Intruder (1985)

directed by john mccauley
channel one productions

By almost any reasonable measure, this straight-to-video extravaganza isn’t any good. And yet it manages to project a kooky kind of charm, possibly because some aspects of it are just so … off. Unlike some of the other bad films I’ve denigrated herein, the filmmakers involved in this venture seem to have known what they were doing, but just do not appear to have been very proficient. Take the editing: the cuts interspersing glimpses of the characters’ domestic lives with the mounting terror, etc., are so ham-handed it’s jarring. The dialogue, meanwhile, continually interjects minutiae into random conversations. And then there’s the music, which at a certain point reaches a kind of lunatic insistence that is sorta breathtaking. On top of all that, the SHOCKING twist almost could work, but for anyone who for some reason is paying careful attention, one line rings a few too many bells, even with the painstaking misdirection involved. Classic ending, too. Oh, and one extremely minor character disappears during the climax, never again to be glimpsed or mentioned.

why did i watch this movie?

I could not ignore the creative and descriptive title.

should you watch this movie?

Probably not on purpose, but it is a good way to contemplate the Platonic ideal of straight-to-video.

highlight and low point

I really don’t want to ruin the fun for anyone who might theoretically watch this, but the scene in which an assailant takes his victim on a picnic obviously is unparalleled in cinematic history. The blatantly obvious use of a body double in the nude bathing scene is also top-notch. An early scene in a “police station” that is a glorious example of why-bother set dressing features an extended, juvenile scatology gag.

rating from outer space: C+

The Ritual (2017)

directed by david bruckner
entertainment one features/the imaginarium

I suppose I can understand the urge some filmmakers get to adapt scary novels into (allegedly) scary movies. But since this compulsion has failed so many times and produced so many risible examples of lousy cinema, it becomes a lot more difficult to understand why some choose the projects they do. Such as, oh, I don’t know, The Ritual. Adapted from a taut, tension-filled book by Adam Nevill that describes a series of psychological ordeals, onscreen this Norse saga becomes a generic monster movie stuffed full of timeworn gestures and set pieces. (And filmed not in Scandinavia but Romania, which amuses me no end.) Often too rushed to develop any of its themes enough to produce any impact, details from the source text are tweaked, omitted or altered with varying degrees of success. A puzzling recurring theme that is wholly the movie’s invention is an error, however, and although the second movement of Nevill’s story isn’t any great shakes, what it becomes on film is not only completely different but far less useful or comprehensible, its intended climactic finale instead ridiculous and nonsensical. Perhaps I shouldn’t have read the novel first.

why did i watch this movie?

It’s my brother’s fault (no, not that one, the other one).

should you watch this movie?

Read the book instead.

Highlight and low point

I usually find the “characters bonding in difficult circumstances” motif enjoyable, even though here I thought it suffered from pacing or abridgment. I guess the cinematography was pretty good. Rafe Spall’s acting in the lead role didn’t do it for me, however, and the silly attempt at a terrifying pagan-god-beast thing … no. Get that weak stuff outta here.

rating from outer space: d

Exposé aka Trauma aka House on Straw Hill (1976)

directed by James kenelm clarke
Norfolk International Pictures

FINALLY, a movie that will permit me to use the term “amanuensis” correctly. One that is basically a softcore flick with a few dodgy killings thrown in the mix, along with some largely meaningless flashbacks. Linda Hayden plays Linda Hindstatt, the amanuensis to a bestselling author, and it seems somebody has some shady secrets, or something. (Also, sex.) Various characters get “murdered” by a knife slashing at the camera or eliminated via shotgun; neither method is convincing. This potboiler was nearing its portentous conclusion by the time I realized the amanuensis was being portrayed by the very same actress who appeared as the naked teenage consort of the demon in The Blood on Satan’s Claw – which I probably shoulda realized sooner – so that was pretty exciting. The ending of this picture is not only a letdown and a cop-out, but uncreditable for various reasons, not the least of which being the immediately preceding action.

why did i watch this movie?

Now that I think about it, I first must have encountered the tale of this tawdry affair when writing my review of “Satan’s Skin,” and the title resurfaced when I was browsing through the “Stalking and Harassment” section at the, uh, video store.

should you watch this movie?

Supposedly, Ms. Hayden rues the final version of this romp, differing wildly as it does from what she had expected during its production. Given her scenes, you’ll have a fine time imagining just what kinda film she thought she was making.

highlight and low point

I found myself enjoying some of the random camera shots a little too much; along with several cliché elements, the effect produced is the cinematic version of a paint-by-numbers kit. The key characters are very dramatic.

rating from outer space: c−

Home Sweet Home (1981)

directed by nettie peÑa
intercontinental world distributing corp.

Yikes. Given this dreck, your intrepid movie guide is almost inclined to reconsider his grades for some of the other terrible films in this compendium, because this disaster is so awful that it makes duds such as Blood Harvest and Island of Blood seem like minor missteps. This stinker comes across like the result of an experiment: take components one normally associates with horror movies, blindfold somebody, and have him, her or it try to assemble said parts into a coherent whole. Hint: It “helps” if the actors cannot act, the vast stretches filmed in darkness are unlit or poorly lit – a “technique” one may remember fondly from “Scared Alive” – and the so-called “script” … may or may not exist. (Sample: Character leaves house, gets killed. Repeat with next character. ) Speaking of things that may or may not exist, this putrid mess has an honest-to-Pete score that disappears for much of the second half, making me wonder if the filmmakers forgot about it along with pacing, continuity, editing and cinematography. Body By Jake is the inexcusably aggravating PCP-addled killer in this terrible waste of time, and wow, I haven’t even mentioned the (presumably) KISS-inspired character appropriately named “The Mistake.” An embarrassment.

why did i watch this movie?

You know, in retrospect, I guess I shoulda gone with Deadly Intruder.

should you watch this movie?

Lordy, no. Have some self-respect.

highlight and low point

Early on, the crazed madman flagrantly kills an old lady with his car in a scene audacious enough for Troma. It’s all downhill from there. The Mistake is an unforgivably bad character, but his offense pales in comparison with the depiction of hopeful songstress Maria, a crude Latina stereotype.

rating from outer space: F−