Looker (1981)

Written and Directed by Michael Crichton
The Ladd company

This Michael Crichton picture had me musing during its latter portions that Michael Crichton was also responsible for the 1984 Tom Selleck-Gene $immon$ vehicle Runaway. Such a reminiscence is probably not a great endorsement for this production, but overall, this forgotten flick has its merits, even if they’re mainly historical rather than artistic. (It presages CGI, for one thing.) A lot of stuff here doesn’t make a whole lotta (or any) sense if you stop to think about it, but you’re supposed to be enraptured by the futurism and, probably, struck (dumb?) by the ironies and therefore not get around to asking such perplexing questions. It’s probably not a great sign, however, that IMDb claims some of those pertinent details are included in the made-for-TV edit, in scenes left on the theatrical version’s cutting-room floor … but since this film hinges on a plastic surgeon and his work with a bevy of commercial models, I suppose that’s perfectly appropriate.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I found it accidentally, hooked by the existence of a heretofore-unknown Crichton venture.

Should You Watch This Movie?

Maybe, if you’re also considering taking in Runaway.

Highlight and Low Point

Speaking of harbingers, this project allegedly arose because Congo was at the time unfilmable, what with its “gorilla” problem. In a nutshell: large corporation is engineering models to exacting specifications for use in adverts employing secret technology to mesmerize viewers (and killing them off – the models, that is – for some reason). Ooh, and they’ve got a flashlight gun! Susan Dey plays one of the “perfect” models. She has a brief scene with her parents that implies TV destroys family bonds. Dey is of course largely known for The Partridge Family and L.A. Law.

Rating From Outer Space: C−

Wolfen (1981)

Directed by Michael Wadleigh
A King-Hitzig Production

For years, I managed to remain confused as to whether I’d seen this (werewolf) picture, because in my mind I eternally conflated it with The Howling. (It didn’t help that both were released the same year.) Usually, I managed to clear up my confusion by remembering that “Howling” has Dee Wallace in it, and that’s the one I’d actually seen. Yet I still wondered if I’d ever watched this flick, so I decided to lay that question to rest. Turns out I’d never seen it. Turns out it isn’t even about werewolves! Turns out it’s a bit unclear exactly what kind of movie it is, but I can tell you it involves “Indians,” hotchpotch Native American mythologisms, wolves, some prescient Homeland Security-type apparatus, domestic and international terrorism, an NYPD detective who’s British and pairs up with a heavily armed police psychologist, a weirdo who works at the zoo, and I’m probably forgetting some other stuff. To sum up: if you’re not sure you’ve seen it … you haven’t.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I just “explained” that!

Should You Watch This Movie?

Not if you’re looking for werewolves.

ighlight and Low Point

The main “Indian” character is played by Edward James Olmos, which is at least somewhat curious given that many Native Americans are employed in bit parts or small supporting roles. The terrorism subplot seems really incidental. The wolves wind up being arbitrarily selective about their victims, and the alpha is pure white, although if that was explained, I missed it. Allegedly, the ruined church was built and destroyed just for this production, which seems insanely wasteful given what’s revealed by the actual footage of the South Bronx environs. The “wolfen,” uh, POV segments are … idiosyncratic.

Rating From Outer Space: C

Jaws Of Satan (1981)

Directed by Bob Claver
A Bill Wilson Production

This entertaining incompetence spotlights an endearing and enduring theme enrapturing schlock filmmakers since time immemorial – the Giant Deadly Snake that strangely resembles … an ordinary snake. (Decidedly not a giant one, either.) By the end of this ridiculous romp, we are supposed to believe the snake – a defanged cobra whose subordinate serpents get to be represented by blatantly superimposed hissing on the soundtrack – is actually Satan Himself. We are never told why, just as we never learn anything about the supposed familial curse dogging our beleaguered priest. But at least we get an analogue for our current times, as the local business big shot and his mayoral pal do their damnedest to circumvent a curfew that local health officials try to impose. “There have always been snakes in this area,” the dog track proprietor grumbles. But when his daughter, Christina Applegate, is bitten, well, his wife changes his tune tout de suite. Longtime TV producer/director Claver (Charles in Charge! The Munsters Today! Small Wonder!) applies his small-screen acumen to what appears to be his only feature-film directorial credit.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

A picture about a GDS that invokes Satan ain’t getting ignored around here.

Should You Watch This Movie?

Do you enjoy laughing at snakes? I’d recommend it if you like laughing at snakes.

Highlight and Low Point

Small Wonder somehow lasted for 96 episodes. The world is a strange and awful place sometimes. This production, meanwhile, features a burgeoning romance between the local doctor and her imported herpetologist as a subplot. The facial snakebite makeup is appealingly grotesque, the priest seems to smirk a lot, and dammit, that dog track means revenue, and it’s gonna open. Whatever scene he’s in, the sheriff is marvelously unconvincing.

Rating From Outer Space: D+

The Nesting aka Massacre Mansion (1981)

Produced and Directed by Armand Weston

For the most part, this is a straightforward old-haunted-house yarn, but it has a couple peculiarities that are gonna leave you wondering. The basic story is, well, basic: successful novelist rents a country home for rest, relaxation and writing, but wouldn’t ya know, something’s amiss. For one thing, she keeps having these weird dreams. For another, she’s agoraphobic, which isn’t the best trait when your residence starts frightening you. Then there’s the small matter that the house itself was depicted on the cover of one of her previous novels. Throw in a threatening drunken handyman, various oddball locals, and intrusive hallucinations, and you’ve got your hands full. Pretty good overall, but oh, those few production quirks …

why did i watch this movie?

To reiterate: I selected some of these titles quite a while ago, and haven’t the foggiest notion about many. I don’t even know where I came across this one, it turns out.

should you watch this movie?

Though it wears out its welcome here and there – the visions get a bit repetitive, and Robin Groves gets a little too hysterical a little too often – it’s a bit better than you might expect.

highlight and low point

Not only are there a few moments of supernatural activity that more or less just produce giggles – they seem superfluous and silly, even in what is essentially a ghost story – but there’s a car chase featuring fake car-chase sounds! And other ersatz automotive audio effects! I honestly cannot recall ever experiencing such a thing before; it’s extremely obvious, and it’s hilarious. Aside from this mainstream foray, producer/director/co-writer Weston worked almost exclusively in the adult-film world. Despite that, this venture is not particularly sleazy, even with a “house of ill repute” subplot.

Rating From Outer Space: B−


Halloween II (1981)

directed by rick rosenthal
dino de laurentiis corporation

One of those movies where I recognize certain scenes but don’t remember much else besides, this once-and-future sequel – for now, it’s been written out of the canon – is mainly notable for introducing Michael M. to the cinematic world of the bored spree killer who begins to get creative in his methods of destruction, along with its clumsy attempt to hang some sort of meaningful framework onto a story better left unexplained. And no, I don’t mean the “Laurie’s his sister” angle, I mean that “Samhain” silliness, a direction which of course reached its apogee in “Season of the Witch.” It’s good enough, I guess – but strictly as a sequel, as its formulaic nature probably wouldn’t have sustained it as a standalone. Not that thousands of its ilk haven’t been churned out anyway, of course. I will give it some credit for taking place immediately following the events of the first feature, as a continuation of the same story; that’s pretty crafty.

why did i watch this movie?

A) it’s the last week of October
B) see the first sentence of the lede

Should you watch this movie?

Dude, it’s not canon. You’re waiting breathlessly for Halloween Kills, correct?

highlight and low point

Though it’s something of a staple in this genre, Mike’s experimentation with different approaches to killing becomes sublimely absurd. Messing with the thermostat? Man, in my house growing up, that’d GET a guy killed, not prove lethal to others. One of his means of dispatch doesn’t even seem as though it’d work! An empty syringe to the temple, quickly in and out? Pshaw. Not to mention, subtleties of slaughter and the aforementioned nod to the rites of sacrificial hoo-haw kinda undermine the big guy’s mythos.

rating from outer space: C

Night Warning aka Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (1981)

directed by william asher
s2d associates

Yeah, “Night Warning” makes no sense as a title, especially for this flick, but look how bad that original title was. Despite the nomenclature, this is a surprisingly chilling, thrilling little affair, though I haven’t heard the word “fag” so much since, like, third grade (which, coincidentally, would’ve been circa 1981). See, the lead detective has a bit of a problem with “fags,” and also appears to be at least somewhat racist, along with being a lousy coworker and a blowhard. Anyway, there’s this kid, Billy – promising scripting – who lives with his aunt, since his parents died when he was but a mere toddler. His aunt, she seems a little off, ya dig. But she sure likes Billy, a whole lot. Maybe TOO MUCH … and she really doesn’t like Billy’s girlfriend. They really coulda used a nocturnal alert or something. Imagine that.

why did i watch this movie?

I was selecting options based solely on title and era, and this caught my eye. That it featured ’70s teen idol Jimmy McNichol in an incestuous storyline sealed the deal.

should you watch this movie?

Not quite suitable for a time capsule due to a seeming lack of universality in some of its particulars, it apparently instead has become a bit of a cause célèbre for its inclusion of non-stereotypical homosexual characters.

highlight and low point

Lest you think I’m exaggerating about Bo Svenson’s Det. Joe Carlson, to Billy’s semi-closeted basketball coach he states, “I suggest you resign … If you don’t, chances are you’re gonna get yourself lynched.” Later, he tells his PD’s officers “I want all these fuckin’ deviants off the street – pronto!” Svenson’s tight-lipped copper and Billy’s histrionic aunt, as portrayed by Susan Tyrrell, are both rather, uh, outsize characters.

rating from outer space: B−

Hell Night (1981)

directed by tom de simone
blt productions

Kicking things off with a wild frat-party scene that seems to promise lusty young-adult hijnks, this flick instead transforms into an old-school closed-room gothic mystery of a sort. Focusing on two quasi-couples (with Linda Blair and Vincent Van Patten among them) and a small coterie of pranks-players, this fairly ambitious feature soon treats its audience to secret passageways, mouldering intrigue and some unforeseen developments – and even finds time for the type of hoary scene wherein disdainful local cops refuse to buy the wild story related by the crazy kid begging for their assistance. Along with providing some of its characters with impactful backstories, this film also offers actually suspenseful moments of pulse-pounding pursuit. A few scenes could’ve been trimmed for the sake of pacing, and it wouldn’t have hurt any for the underlying scenario to have been further elucidated – either along the way or by means of synopsis – but these are petty concerns.

why did i watch this movie?

I’m not entirely sure, but I just read Fangoria’s 101 Best Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen, and it’s in there. (Don’t get TOO excited; so’s Beyond the Door.)

should you watch this movie?

On paper, it may not sound like much, but it’s a pretty good time, really. A few goofy (and admittedly often minor) details add some color, and the core group is resourceful in a reasonably realistic manner.

highlight and low point

Well, there’s a scene with a “ghost” that’s straight outta the Scooby-Doo playbook, which never fails to provide bemusement. Before we discover some of the diabolical secrets of the old house, we’re also treated to a couple of legitimately frightening moments. The grounds of the
estate also provide some valuable settings.
Humor’s occasionally implied, not overt.

rating from outer space: B+

Night School aka Terror Eyes (1981)

directed by kenneth hughes
a resource production

Although it’s a would-be suspense thriller featuring a mysterious, black-clad killer stalking (mainly) lissome coeds in Boston, the creative team behind this picture unfortunately forgot to include any of the suspense, and skimped on the mystery as well. What’s left is the kind of flick where to entertain yourself you can proclaim “He’s the killer!” or “She’s the killer!” just about any time a new character of any import whatsoever is introduced. This is largely because it isn’t very hard to discern who the killer really is, especially after the script completely gives it away with maybe 25 minutes left to go. The oddball police procedural segments are almost interesting enough. The glimpses into local diner life should’ve been a bigger focus. The slashings and killings are staged abysmally, nearly becoming pantomime.

why did i watch this movie?

You know me, I’m a sucker for a billing such as “Terror Eyes aka Night School,” the moniker under which I found it.

should you watch this movie?

It’s … okay, but it’s more like a made-for-TV feature than a theatrical release. Actually, it’s more like a Very Special two-part episode of a small-screen police drama.

highlight and low point

The scene wherein the killer reveals the reasoning behind the string of crimes is high comedy, as the audience theoretically isn’t supposed to know that it’s the murderer speaking. The level of precision involved in the speech leaves little doubt, however. The casually offhand Sapphic shaming presented in an irrelevant subplot invites questioning. It’s not alone, either; this production is not what one might term “progressive” in, really, any of its particulars. So, maybe treat it as a window into the past, I guess. There still isn’t a whole lot to espy.

rating from outer space: D+

The Funhouse (1981)

directed by tobe hooper
a mace neufeld production
in association with derek power

Opening with a predictable Psycho pastiche isn’t the most promising gambit, but Hooper’s fourth horror picture overcomes its penchant for paying homage to the classic monster films of yore. Set almost entirely within the grounds of a traveling carnival, at times nodding its head distinctly in the direction of Freaks, the film slowly builds suspense while tossing out the odd and unexplained hint of premonition here and there. Withholding most of the film’s real frights until after a surprising secret look behind the scenes pays off. Film buffs can probably play count the references here, but c’mon, there’s a carny with a Frankenstein getup working the nominal attraction. Overall, a polished, professional production.

why did i watch this movie?

Having just taken yet another trip to the TCM well, I thought I should check this one out, to see if it deserved its good reputation.

should you watch this movie?

It is very good at being what it intends to be. That’s not a knock; at a certain point, it really takes on a classic feel. (Kevin Conway is a big part of that.)

highlight and low point

I was actually hoping that the Frankenstein character either would stay in costume or actually look like that, because that woulda been quite the surreal monkey wrench, but alas. Rick Baker’s makeup FX, which seem silly at first … well, they still seem silly later, but remain effective enough. I don’t think I’d call this a brilliant piece of work by any means – nor would I suppose that was its aim – but it’s a clever and finely attuned work of evocation. The carnival grounds, provided by a real-life purveyor of such attractions, feel quite authentic.

rating from outer space: a−

Graduation Day (1981)

directed by herb freed
ifi/scope iii

Sure, there are hundreds of movies just like this one, but this example manages to be more fun than a lot of them, even if it pushes some of the faults and foibles of its type to the extreme. As an example, the roller-skating scene, with the band “Felony” playing in the center: their song, “Gangster Rock,” goes on and on and on … and on, and on … and on, and we’re treated to the same shots of band members miming and the same closeups  of feet shod in roller skates over and over and over. (Although there are plenty of extras in the scene who don’t even bother with the skates!) And then there’s some of the frankly ridiculous methods of victim dispatch, the belabored attempts to draw attention to the wrong suspects, the fact that absolutely everybody repeatedly has to use the all-too-convenient woods path, and so forth. But for all that, what this flick really did for me was spur thoughts that #MeToo should probably have happened a loooong time ago.

why did i watch this movie?

I’d been contemplating checking this one out for a long time, as it’s from an estimable era for these types of flicks, and also because opinions of it seesaw.

should you watch this movie?

You were just saying how you needed to flesh out (sorry) Linnea Quigley‘s incipient scream-queen career. Or perhaps you’re an aficionado of “horror movies with generic rock bands.”

highlight and low point

Seriously, the unnecessary T&A in this picture is kind of … depressing. The depictions of women’s roles in the home and the workplace might be worse. And since the overall feel of the production is kinda skeevy besides, that’s all kinds of unappealing.

rating from outer space: b