Shadows of the Mind (1980)

directed by “bernard travis”
production concepts ltd.

How bad must a movie be to be disowned by a pseudonymous director whose only other non-pornographic credit of any note is the notorious Last House on Dead End Street? Should you need to know, you could find out by enduring this obscurity, which earns its nearly unwatchable status due to an amateur lead actress, sloppy production, risible technique, and omnipresent, blaring piano-and-flute soundtrack. Concerned that viewers may not pick up on what it may consider the subtleties of its plot – in a nutshell, the Electra complex – it telegraphs them, resorting at one point to blatantly depicting the manifest symbolism. (For additional emphasis, key dialogue is repeatedly applied to parallel situations.) One whole character is a meaningless red herring, perhaps more than one … which only leaves two characters besides the lead, and one of those seemingly wandered in from one of the director’s works “for mature audiences,” to no particular purpose. This film‘s pointless and atrocious, which is perhaps why the only version of it readily available in the ether is subtitled (poorly!) in Dutch.

why did i watch this movie?

Presumably due to its association with its lousy director, Roger Watkins, and his initial celluloid creation.

should you watch this movie?

To answer that affirmatively,  you’d best possess quite the appreciation for incompetence … unless you’re a masochist.

highlight and low point

The pivotal scene wherein one can see the boom mike for nigh on a minute is pretty special, while the lengthy sequence in a disused greenhouse fairly well encapsulates this haphazard cinematic attempt. The pitiful approximation of a burning body during the climax – superimposed flames with subjacent skeletal image – is an additional howler. Meanwhile, the credits boast “filmed on Location” … with no mention where.

rating from outer space: F

Without Warning (1980)

directed by greydon clark
a greydon clark production/heritage enterprises

The kind of movie that plays as though it was made for TV, this tale of inscrutable attack by unknown airborne sources is likable enough, though it can’t offer very much in terms of thrillng, fast-paced action. Really, this is the sort of eerie offering that would suffer greatly with the advent of the slasher craze. It also suffers greatly from some narrative confusion, although I will be honest and tell you that doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. (You’ll catch on.) As is often the case in films of this ilk, much of the tension and action is generated by the interactions between the townfolk and the kids with the crazy story and the few strange locals who might be inclined to listen and might just know something, and so forth.

why did i watch this movie?

I can’t tell you it wasn’t because the title didn’t make me not think of this number.

should you watch this movie?

Highly redolent of its era, it also seemingly harks back to SF films of the ’50s. It did not have much of a budget. I do not seem to be answering the question.

highlight and low point

Though his character eventually wears out his welcome, Martin Landau invests his PTSD-laden “Sarge” with much conviction, and as “Sandy” and “Greg,” two actors who wouldn’t find much work past 1982 (“Tarah Nutter” and “Christopher S. Nelson,” respectively) do a reasonably convincing job. This is also future NYPD Blue/CSI: Miami star David Caruso’s first credited role, albeit a disposable one. Some of the creatures deployed are more amusing than frightening, though they do lead to the wondrous exclamation, “It’s eating the windshield!”

windshield, being eaten


rating from outer space: C+

Schizoid (1980)

written and directed by david paulsen
golan-globus productions/the cannon group, inc.

Another epitomic Cannon film, this “thriller” meanders its way through a murky cityscape in pursuit of its victims, who – oh, wait, that’s what the villain or whatever does, in between the viewer’s visitations to group therapy sessions and glimpses into the fractured home life of Klaus Kinski’s “Dr. Fales” (seriously) and his angst-ridden daughter Alison. A newspaper advice columnist – “Dear Julie” – is ostensibly the lead, and her husband the editor, a couple grizzled detectives and Christopher Lloyd’s questionable handyman flesh out the additional roles. The murder weapon is a large pair of scissors, the suspicious car is yellow, and the women’s lib is, apparently, a fatal error in judgment.

why did i watch this movie?

It was some combination of the names “Klaus Kinski” and “Cannon Films,” I’m relatively certain. The straightforward nomenclature never hurts, either.

should you watch this movie?

I couldn’t really say there’s anything in particular to distinguish this flick from any of the dozens of similar dramatic chillers. Or hundreds, even.

highlight and low point

Early in this picture, Dr. Fales stares at a nearly nude Alison as she’s preparing to shower, which she induces by disrobing while talking to him, but this scene takes on even more disturbing overtones when one realizes Klaus Kinski’s eldest daughter accused him of years of sexual abuse. Christopher Lloyd plays a jerk rather than an eccentric here, Alison is played by Donna “High School Honor Student by Day, Hollywood Hooker by Night” Wilkes (1984’s Angel), and not one but two scenes take place in a hot tub. A decent job is done concealing the killer’s identity, with some suppositions and declarations thereby proving ironically accurate, and a seemingly irrelevant subplot likewise becomes crucial.

rating from outer space: C

Prom Night (1980)

directed by paul lynch
simcom/guardian trust company

This is kind of an old-fashioned picture, in my opinion, and why shouldn’t it be, you think, it’s almost 40 years old. What I mean, though, is that it seems kind of old-fashioned for 1980. With an almost quaint sense of pacing and development, along with some hilariously questionable plot turns or stratagems, even the brief nudity seems perfunctory. With a quasi-sociological examination of “high school” students, the character development really seemed lacking to me, given that at least one motive’s established for what appear to be revenge killings, yet the culpable characters eventually become somewhat sympathetic. (I briefly debated if this was instead a brilliant gambit before I regained my equilibrium.) Not a whole lot of fun, really, aside from the amusement of the paltry turnout for the “Disco Madness” prom scenes.

why did i watch this movie?

It’s kind of the archetypal ’80s slasher, another Jamie Lee Curtis vehicle, and I’d never seen it.

should you watch this movie?

hey, look, it’s a Plymouth Fury

It really only holds up as an opportunity to enjoy certain horror movie tropes, even if it does try to create a more interesting story, to variable effect.

highlight and low point

Admittedly, there’s a lot to appreciate here, from the KISS poster in the school cafeteria and attendant photos in one girl’s locker (for the sake of argument, this is what KISS was up to at the time), to the aforementioned disco theme, to the inexplicably exploding van, to the half-assed attempt at establishing red herrings, to the ineffectual police procedures, and on and on. Unfortunately, it never gets too interesting and we don’t care much about any of the characters. The first murder scene is unexpectedly horrific.

RATING FROM OUTER SPACE: C−

The Strangeness (“1985”)

directed by david michael hillman
stellarwind

“Strangeness” is deciding to film nearly an entire movie inside an unconvincing “mine.” (Very obviously plaster.) With at least some cast members who never may have acted before, or since. And a creature that is kind of an amalgam of those found in The Deadly Spawn and The Mutations, only less credible. Plus a miraculous exit from deep within the mine that’s completely ludicrous. As to that “strangeness” … they couldn’t come up with a better name for it, you know? And despite the fact that one of the characters is a writer concocting an adventure yarn out of this abandoned gold mine’s backstory, the “strangeness” is never discussed by anyone. As for the other characters … yeah.

why did i watch this movie?

Little-seen pix sometimes end up being called “overlooked gems” or attracting attention for this feature or that one, but … there’s usually a reason nobody’s seen ’em.

should you watch this movie?

That’s really not necessary, unless you want to see an “abandoned mine” that looks even more ersatz than the one in The Boogens. Fun fact: the credits read “Copyright © 1980 By Stellarwind–The Strangeness.” It took FIVE YEARS to find a straight-to-video distributor!

highlight and low point

A final look at the mysterious underground creature, showing it in stop-motion glory devouring what is obviously an action figure purporting to be one of the actors, in a poorly filmed and ineptly edited insert, does not heighten the fear factor and the intimidation level of the monstrous oddity. The stiffly acted characters, most of which are unconvincing or irritating, each bear a significant personal flaw. For a film that largely takes place in dark caverns, it’s usually fairly easy to follow the proceedings – a rarity for such a low-budget undertaking.

rating from outer space: D+

Christmas Evil aka You Better Watch Out (1980)

written and Directed by lewis jackson
edward r. pressman productions

One thing I hadn’t expected from this movie (or, to be fair, any movie) was to see Santa Claus being chased by an angry mob bearing torches. As for that horde, it was as though the townspeople were suspiciously well prepared for such a situation. An opportunistic rabble, however, is just one small oddity in a film chock-full of strange events and ideas. Befitting the Yuletide theme, the picture plays out like some sort of twisted fable. A repressed middle-aged man identifies a little too much with Saint Nicholas, his obsession seemingly brought about by a desire for Santa to be real. Of course, he works in a toy factory. He also spies on the neighborhood kids, and his brother’s family, but this may be expected since his pathology was borne of a bit of childhood voyeurism. His Claus then becomes a sort of Robin Hood, sabotaging the company at which he’s become middle management and killing a couple people in the process. The saga ends with an impossible scene paralleled four years later in Repo Man, would you believe:

why did i watch this movie?

It was Christmas Eve, and I’d just watched the Silent Night flicks the preceding two evenings.

should you watch this movie?

It perverts the iconography a bit, sure, but it essentially reinforces classic holiday-movie themes. Get the whole family together!

highlight and low point

A scene where our protagonist gets pulled into a neighborhood Christmas party and dances with the attendees is pretty interesting, particularly as at this point, he should be on the lam. Luckily for him, it appears to be surprisingly hard to follow the trail of a guy dressed as Santa Claus driving around in a big white van with a garish sleigh painted on both sides.

rating from outer space: B+

Maniac (1980)

directed by william lustig
magnum motion pictures INc.

Can I call this a disappointment if I watched it thinking it would be a scuzzy, nothing exploitation slasher with paper-thin intent and slapdash execution, but instead discovered a well-crafted picture of surprising depth and real pathos made with a skillful hand? Don’t answer that, it’s a rhetorical question. But despite a number of moments that could have turned this flick into a groaner, the poignant portrayal of the title character proves redemptive. Obviously inspired by the Son of Sam killings, with a handful of details provided by other notorious murder sprees, this film’s account of title psychopath Frank’s travails leavens its less credible portions with an intermittent awareness of his humanity. (How self-aware Frank is, however, remains an open question.) Lead actor and co-writer Joe Spinell’s creation is disturbingly credible, and in context, the more fantastic notions are not hindered by their implausibility.

why did i watch this movie?

I’ll reiterate: give the picture a title as blatant and evocative as “Maniac,” and I’ll think about giving it a whirl.

should you watch this movie?

So, you are aware that I like this type of film from this general era, so when I say yes, you probably know how to weight that advice.

highlight and low point

Are you, by any chance, familiar with the cover art for the Big Black EP that came packaged in the “body bag,” Headache? (Careful with that link, Eugene.) Yeah, well, there’s a scene in this movie that is extremely reminiscent of that delightful image, courtesy of makeup guru Tom Savini. One slight drawback is the dubious relationship that forms the core of the plot. Another is that the main character evoked for me Lester Bangs crossed with Lew Zealand.

Lew

Lester

Rating from outer space: A−

Note: Maniac received the remake treatment in 2012. Update to follow …