Crucible of Terror (1971)

directed by ted hooker
glendale film productions

A daft look at the capital demands of the post-heyday Swingin’ London art scene – no, really, that’s the initial setting here – this British suspense flick takes a significant turn for the weird after little over an hour. By which I mean, a secret hidden passage that cannot possibly exist is discovered by a character who should find it incredibly disturbing, but neither she nor anybody else reacts strangely. (That our two protagonists accept a great deal of eccentricity may be another nod to their milieu.) From that point on, you expect to be surprised whenever it’s finally revealed who’s doing the killing, and you just may be, because the explanation comes out of absolutely nowhere. Then again, by that point, since the event around which the film revolves occurs before the opening credits roll, your only reaction may be a shrug.

why did i watch this movie?

The title of this one beckoned me with the throwback 1970s cinematic experience I was seeking.

should you watch this movie?

While it sounds as though at the very least it might provide some campy fun, or be a forgotten classic of taut suspense (or something), it’s really just a fairly boring low-budget flick with some extremely annoying characters.

highlight and low point

The absolute absurdity of the secret-passage sequence definitely qualifies it for one of these categories, if not both. Once the insufferable antagonist really finds his groove, he’s responsible for splendid pronouncements such as “The power of EVIL is always stronger than that of good.” The way a key detail eventually proves to be related to the mysterious goings-on is patently ridiculous. Oh, and Han Solo’s fate in The Empire Strikes Back is reminiscent of this picture’s underlying motif.

rating from outer space: c−

The Road Builder aka The Night Digger (1971)

directed by alastair reid
yongestreet productions/tacitus productions

Based on a novel with the unwieldy and unpromising title of “Nest in a Fallen Tree,” with a screenplay by Roald Dahl and starring his wife, this tale of suspense is very British, a study of drawing-room manners for the most part. Oh, but there’s a twist! Here we have a festering sense of resentment within the familial relationship that anchors the picture, a kinship upset and altered by the arrival of a young stranger. Now, some of what then occurs is basic dark British fodder; murders are perpetrated, suspicions are raised, and the village folk get to enjoy more of their favorite pastime (gossip, of course). Later, though, a murkier and more disturbing subplot develops, emotions are exploded, and the setting abruptly shifts entirely. An ambiguous ending completes the affair, which manages to entertain despite its lack of sensationalism.

why did i watch this movie?

I needed to balance out the recent spate of ’90s flicks – and I’ve lately covered a bunch of modern productions as well – so I sought a picture from the seventies, and this was the one I found.

should you watch this movie?

This is the sort of film that TV stations used to show on lazy weekend afternoons, as very little of it is at all lurid. It’s good, if understated, and definitely of a different era.

highlight and low point

The action takes off when a mysterious young man named “Billy” enters the tale, and I think we can all agree that’s a momentous circumstance. Actually, though, some displays of splendid acting, mainly concerning liminal expressions of emotion, are what impress most. Oddly, it appears this was an edited version of the movie, but I’m not sure any other rendition is readily available.

rating from outer space: B

Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978)

directed by curtis harrington
landers-roberts-zeitman productions

Man, I do NOT remember there being any made-for-TV movies like this when I was a kid – though admittedly, in 1978 my parents most likely would not have let me stay up late enough even on Halloween night, when this aired. (They weren’t that restrictive on content, for the most part, although how they would have felt about a possessed dog is anybody’s guess.) For such an offbeat premise, unfortunately, the product can be a little underwhelming. True, I didn’t expect the main character to wind up going to Quito, Ecuador, to consult a shaman in order to defeat the Barghest his family’s unwittingly adopted, because why would anyone mix up their various mythologies that way. Ultimately, the picture is saved by suchlike casual idiocy, managing to be thoroughly entertaining despite its limitations.

why did i watch this movie?

The power of Zoltan compelled me.

should you watch this movie?

You know, I’ve often thought of the made-for-TV horror picture as kind of a lesser creation, figuring it couldn’t possibly compete with its large-screen brethren and sistren, but it turns out this isn’t always the case.


highlight and low point

“It’s a monstrous thing, a goblin dog,” the occult bookseller tells Richard Crenna’s Mike Barry – “A man … hounded by his dog,” as he described himself to her with an abashed chuckle – and boy, she ain’t kidding.

The climactic and climatic final battle between Mike and Lucky the hellhound is a marvel of multiple-exposure imagery, and the portrayals of Betty, Bonnie and Charlie Barry as they slip toward infernal fealty are quite amusing. Unfortunately, we aren’t treated to nearly enough Satanic goings-on, especially given the promising opening.


rating from outer space: c−

Dracula’s Dog aka Zoltan, Hound of Dracula aka El perro de Satán (1977)

directed by albert band
vic cinema productions

So, “Dracula” as the world knows him doesn’t really appear in this movie – but an “Igor Dracula” does, along with one last descendant, a modern family man named “Michael Drake.” The story, such as it is, is a cockamamie concoction about a canine that I. Dracula long ago enlisted for some reason or another, along with its former owner – this picture’s Renfield, essentially – a quasi-vampire that can wander around in the daylight to do his bidding. Here, having been revived and in need of a master, these servants want to deliver M. Drake to his legacy. (Did you know that if you remove the stake from the heart of a vampire or near-vampire in its coffin, it comes back to, uh, “life”? I didn’t.) I cannot possibly convince you how preposterous this film is. I would like to point out, however, that relying on dogs to be your lead actors is not the world’s greatest idea.


why did i watch this movie?

A “Dracula” flick without Dracula, but with his … dog …

should you watch this movie?

It will certainly make you laugh – though it’s debatable what kind of laughter it will provoke – but unless you really want to see how NOT to make a movie, it’s not worth it.

highlight and low point

I did mention that this pic relies on dogs to carry a lot of the action, right? Zoltan himself dismantles the roof of a cabin at one point while his comrades compromise the walls. The overdubbed dog noises are also pretty special – barking, howling, growling, you name it. Nothing, however, tops the experience of repeated shots of loyal servant “Smit” staring idiotically into the camera while a voiceover intones “ZOLTAN.”
The family RV interlude comes close, though.

rating from outer space: n⁄a

adorable vampire puppy!

The Mutations aka The Freakmaker aka Dr. of Evil (1974)

directed by jack cardiff
getty picture corporation/cyclone productions

Roger Corman’s name somehow is not attached to this tale of a mad scientist creating hybrid creatures by meshing flora and fauna. “My theory of Total Genetics is all-embracing,” intones the dependably taciturn Donald Pleasence, playing the nutter professor with his hair and beard varying its balance of black and white from scene to scene. Presumably this movie has played countless times on the types of late-night programs that specialize in daffy, misbegotten, or just plain awful cinema. Not merely horror, this flick is equally science-fiction-flavored, all the better for those sorts of showcases. Contents: Plant/human hybrids, plant/animal hybrids, fake deformities, actual sideshow freaks, and a whole lotta stock footage of vegetation. The real star is either the ludicrous monster costume that looks like a deconstructionist Creature from the Black Lagoon (or Swamp Thing, I guess) or the hilarious props in the lab of Dr. Pleasence, a cross between the Little Shop of Horrors and the workplace of Bunsen Honeydew.

why did i watch this movie?

I don’t remember, but probably because it sounded completely ridiculous. And Donald Pleasence.

should you watch this movie?

It’s the kind of presentation you enjoy while wondering how in the world any of the people involved possibly could have been taking their jobs seriously. It’s … definitely amusing.

highlight and low point

Once “Tony” escapes the lab in his hybridized form, the proceedings shift into another realm entirely. It’s almost must-see stuff, almost enough to justify sitting through the rest of it … such as the blatant exploitation of Freaks, for instance. Basically, the plot of Dr. Freakmaker (hmm … ) is grafted onto a rehashing of certain themes of that infamous pic, including an approximation of the “One of us!” scene and an abridged version of the revenge piece.

rating from outer space: C+

that’s not subtle

Haunted aka The Haunted (1977)

written and directed by michael de gaetano
northaire communications, inc.

Wow, I might owe an apology to a few of the other terrible movies I’ve lambasted, because compared to this abysmal folly, some of them look much better. While nothing could make films like Home Sweet Home and Monster look “good,” compared to this debacle, a relative respectability may be easier to obtain. It’s hard for me to precisely describe this fiasco, because the script is a disaster, the acting atrocious, the concept absurd, and the pacing and editing undisciplined and unstructured. You probably couldn’t write dialogue this poorly if you tried, and its recital is akin to unlettered folks reading cue cards with missing words and disorderly syntax. It’s astonishing. Unbelievably, the filmmaker claimed that budgetary constraints robbed his flick of its brilliant philosophical insights, but with what’s in evidence, that very idea strikes one as utterly asinine.

why did i watch this movie?

This intro doesn’t mention a “phone booth,” but the poster does. Details below!

should you watch this movie?

The fact that is even a possibility says too much about this modern world.

highlight and low point

A “phone booth” was a “box-like kiosk containing a public payphone.” A “public payphone” was – I am not making this up – a coin-operated telephone that stood alone in public spaces, so people could use them to make calls.

In this movie, a “phone booth” is erected in a cemetery for some damn fool reason, and it is claimed that this device allows Abanaki’s Indian spirit to inhabit a terrible English actress, but she never uses the structure until far too late for this to have occurred.

Any claim that reincarnation is involved in this picture is spurious at best.

rating from outer space: F

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

directed by tobe hooper
vortex, inc.

To paraphrase Chuck Eddy on Motörhead, “If you don’t know by now, you’re sure as hell not going to learn from me.” That’s more or less how I feel about this devastating picture, which retains its deeply unsettling effect with every viewing. No, it’ll never be the way it was the first time, when it felt the way a nightmare does – everything confounding, elements changing without rhythm or reason, with no apparent end to the confusion and tension – but it doesn’t need to be. This movie still gets my vote for terror champion of all time. Tobe Hooper never came close to matching it, but you don’t catch lightning in a bottle more than once.

why did i watch this movie?

It’s a personal favorite, but this time I watched it because Johnny Ramone ranks it third on his list. Only third, John? (Johnny also thought that “loud guitars” were what made the Ramones great, so … )

should you watch this movie?

Of course, but again, I’m a bit biased. Not only is this the pinnacle of horror in my opinion, it’s also one of my three favorite movies of any sort. (Trivia! The other two are Fargo and Repo Man.)

highlight and low point

The moment when film audiences first meet Leatherface is one of the greatest moments in scare cinema, and Sally and Pam variously exploring different rooms of the house are highly disturbing moments, but the scene that begins as Sally seeks refuge in Drayton’s gas station barbecue outpost does it for me every time. Some of the vaguely suggested parallels between the teens and the family of killers are never explored, and Sally escaping the remote farmhouse twice in the same manner might be a bit questionable (although the first time is astonishing).

rating from outer space: A+