Devil Fetus aka Mo Tai aka 魔胎 (1983)

directed by lau hung-chuen
lo wei motion picture company

So what’s in a name? You think you know what you’re gonna get from a flick called “Devil Fetus,” but maybe you overlooked the fact that it was made in Hong Kong in the 1980s and you didn’t realize you were actually going to get one of the most inexplicable and incoherent pictures you’ve ever “enjoyed.” But what about the devil fetus, you demand. I wish I could tell you. Somehow, despite being sealed within the coffin of the dead woman whose uterus spawns it, eventually – many years later – the demonic spirit of the DEVIL FETUS (which does not have anything to do with, you know, “the devil”) inhabits the family dog … whose name, naturally, is “Bobby.” That’s all I’m going to tell you. You can figure out for yourself what in the hell Grandma was doing with that eagle blood.

why did i watch this movie?

Those of you familiar with my blathering on these pages know the reason.

should you watch this movie?

Well … it probably offers you a unique viewing experience. Sadly, it’s actually a little too restrained given the outsize expectations provoked by the title.

highlight and low point

You know, there are bad FX and unconvincing FX … and whatever the hell these FX are. Most of director Lau’s career credits are in cinematography (such as his work on 1980’s We’re Going to Eat You), and given that many of the “tricks” used here are double exposures and “substitution splicing,” that isn’t the greatest endorsement. At least one flying possessed person sports a noticeable wire. Oh! I almost forgot to mention the birthday dance party and the evocations of Beyond the Door! “You’re too proud, man,” as a friend once advised. “People slip.”

rating from outer space: ?

Nightmares (1983)

directed by joseph sargent

Allegedly produced for NBC TV, though for what, or which anthology series, seems to be in dispute – you can’t trust Wikipedia and I’ve noticed IMDb is far from infallible as well, but let’s ignore for the moment any debate about notions of authority in this exciting modern age – this set of four short vignettes isn’t bereft of effective moments, even if nothing gets visceral or even very threatening, in keeping with its origins. (Aside from the third segment, “The Benediction,” which features some intense moments courtesy of its classic tale of a “duel” on the highway with an unidentified motorized antagonist.) Otherwise, the first segment is piffle, and too short to build any momentum, the second features Emilio Estevez echoing notions of Tron with a ripping punk soundtrack, and the final chapter – which further makes use of Black Flag’s “Louie Louie” – is capped with wild-kingdom FX highly reminiscent of the end of Devil Dog. Strictly for nostalgists.

why did i watch this movie?

It’s one of the “roles” on Lee Ving’s dossier.

should you watch this movie?

The renditions of classic FEAR tunes heard during “The Bishop of Battle” are not the versions from The Record. That’s what I thought upon hearing them, anyway, and the end credits appear to bear out my impression.

highlight and low point

This picture really isn’t that bad, but even for episodic horror it feels slight. None of the tales have any kind of staying power, regardless of content or execution. Honestly, it would have worked far better delivered by cathode ray tube. Estevez is pretty good, Lance Henriksen is solid, Richard Masur is convincing, and the late Bridgette Anderson turns in one of the better
performances you’re likely to see by a 7-year-old.

rating from outer space: C−

American Nightmare (1983)

directed by don mcbrearty
mano films limited/manesco films ltd.

Like the preceding selection, this movie features a lot of footage of strippers, but this Canadian picture manages to do so without it feeling particularly sleazy or exploitative. (Of course, the synopsis “mysterious killer preys on strippers” probably didn’t hurt with potential investors.) There’s more of a working-class focus, really, but portrayed within usually seedy locales. This viewpoint may be especially evident in contrast with the moneyed interests represented across a wide family divide. Our moody pianist protagonist doggedly pursues faint clues until he uncovers a terrible secret, which ultimately serves to mask a sociopathy masquerading as altruism. Along the way, two damaged people learn a little bit about love. WILL they survive the experience.

why did i watch this movie?

I wanted to throw another ’80s picture into the mix, and I’d been putting this one off.

should you watch this movie?

It doesn’t especially stand out, though its sociological perspective on affluence (or the lack of same) is pretty interesting, given that it actually was produced in 1981. Plus its disdain for the American ruse, of course.

highlight and low point

As is often the case in this genre, after the big reveal, you’d be best served not to think about any of the ramifications of what you’ve learned. Canadian film fans might enjoy another pairing of Michael Ironside and Lenore Zann, though the former’s role is surprisingly unimportant in the long run and the latter’s only serves to propel a plot device. And for a flick in which the main character inquires, “Did your reports tell you that she’s living in a SLUM? Surrounded by DEGENERATES?” the treatment of its sex workers and other assorted misfits or marginal types is in large part nonjudgmental.

rating from outer space: C

The Deadly Spawn aka The Alien’s Deadly Spawn aka Return of the Alien’s Deadly Spawn aka Return of the Aliens: The Deadly Spawn (1983)

written and directed by douglas mckeown
filmline communications

“A real meteorite! It’s red hot!”
“I gotta get a picture of this!”
“Don’t forget the flash attachment.”

Now, THIS is how ya do the independent lower-budget horror film thing, people. Cheesy, knowing, and with a surprisingly interesting screenplay, this magnificent homage to space-invader creature features of days of yore is a total winner. From the classic gambit of the opening scenes that set the tone by employing characters unrelated to the action that follows, to the legitimately SHOCKING moment at film’s end, this production flirts with excellence throughout. True, the acting skills on display may not show much polish, the monstrous alien marauders are very obviously puppets and rubber props, and some of the fatal injuries inflicted are unconvincing, but the purity of intent delivers with delightful effect.

why did i watch this movie?

I’m not certain, but I think I came across this fetching title when I was randomly browsing through horror compendia, as I periodically do.

should you watch this movie?

With the stipulation that you need to be in the mood for a picture of this type, I do recommend viewing this inspired presentation.

highlight and low point

Truthfully, I greatly admired the lengthy, lively discussions about the scientific method amongst the college students, and the detailed attention paid to the décor of monster aficionado Charles’s bedroom. Too, the fact that the filmmakers did not shy away from exposing – nay, flaunting – their extraterrestrial creation is to their ultimate credit. The only real gripe I have is that the identity of some of the characters is a bit confusing initially, but that’s quickly resolved. Oh, and the camera lingers a little too long on some shots, particularly of Charles, to no discernible purpose.

rating from outer space: A−

Zhǒng guǐ aka Seeding of a Ghost aka 种鬼 (1983)

directed by Yang chuan
shaw brothers

I think this flick must have been intended to be a horror-comedy, but as it’s a Hong Kong production I couldn’t honestly say. If Shaw Brothers didn’t intend for it to be humorous, then something was definitely lost in the translation, whether linguistic or cultural. Granted, one wouldn’t presume that a film with a rape as its central action was meant to be funny, but certainly some elements of even that particular scene don’t seem to be played completely straight. Plus, I mean, a mouldering reanimated corpse copulates with a wraith while levitating during part of the black magic ritual that adds the “revenge” component to this business, and the company that brought the DVD to the U.S. market bills it as the “mind-melting Asian answer to The Evil Dead.” The picture also features a kung fu fight scene, an exploding pregnancy, and some kind of evil spawn that looks something like Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors, only as a crawling, tentacled Lovecraftian nightmare. So you tell me.

why did i watch this movie?

I was reading somewhere about how over-the-top Hong Kong cinema can be, and then elsewhere saw similar references to a variety of its horror films. This was one of them.

should you watch this movie?

The next time you’re in the mood for something outrageously ridiculous, Ghost will fit the bill nicely.

highlight and low point

Almost every character reacts with incredulity to something or another at some point or another in the course of this movie, which neatly aligns with the viewing experience. I suppose any number of questionable sequences or developments could be assessed unfavorably, but let’s be realistic here: this is exploitation-level trash, the foreign equivalent of a Troma venture.

rating from outer space: c+


Mausoleum (1983)

directed by michael dugan
western international pictures

Wow, to say this is not what I was expecting from this movie might be the understatement of the year, at least in terms of this blog and its content. And while you’d think it would be hard for a horror flick to go wrong with demonic possession, this one manages to do so, repeatedly. No, it’s not without its charms – it’s so relentlessly absurd that it’s actually quite enjoyable, though presumably not as intentioned. Terminally silly, with a wafer-thin plot, Wikipedia claims this movie was granted a “special jury prize” by a Paris film festival, which as near as I can tell appears to be some completely fabricated bullshit. I will grant that the solution/cure for the demonic possession in this story is rather original.

Given the ludicrous FX and its overall tasteless nature, I could see this one being a “cult classic,” presuming anyone would ever want to watch it more than once.

why did i watch this movie?

Do I gotta say it again? I keep thinking there’s this clutch of films out there where characters gotta spend the night in a MAUSOLEUM or some such, and –

should you watch this movie?

You look like you could use a good laugh.

And don’t much value your time.

highlight and low point

An utter lack of shame and limitless pandering are more or less the selling points here, though if you can figure out how or why the MAUSOLEUM becomes critical to this picture in the first place, you’re doing more work than Roberts Barich and Madero did when they wrote it. My favorite detail in this production is that the wallpaper and curtains in the psychiatrist‘s office match – and they’re a galling beige plaid.

It’s quite an effect.

rating from outer space: C−

Mortuary (1983)

directed by howard avedis
hickmar productions, inc.

I’m going to reference it again, so let’s just go ahead with a shout-out to Hanna-Barbera: They knew what they were doing when they produced Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? You see, when viewing productions such as this somewhat lethargic attempt at a murder mystery, tropes commonplace to those cartoons continually arise. Here, dashes of occult nonsense and some bitchin’ early ’80s Southern Cal touches are added to the template. A scare or two possibly may be found somewhere in this tale of (ominous pause) madness, but you’ll most likely be too busy laughing at some of the affectations – or more probably starting to doze off as the plot chugs along repetitiously. It could have worked, I suppose, but there just isn’t a whole lot to work with, to its detriment. Oh – hackneyed freeze-frame “surprise” at the ending. Woo-hoo.

why did i watch this movie?

As I’ve mentioned before, I have this fixation on trying to find movies featuring people who have to spend the night in tombs, sepulchres, crypts and so forth. This is NOT such a movie, as I may have entirely imagined the category, but I couldn’t pass on it anyway.

should you watch this movie?

It does not feature anyone trying to spend the night at any sort of gravesite.

It’s also not very interesting.

highlight and low point

Early in the proceedings, the two leads go to a roller rink (check the year of release) with the enticing name of “Skating Plus.” FUN FACT: A “Skating Plus” currently operates in Ventura, but has only been open since 1984 so it cannot be the same venue. Speaking of the early ’80s, it’s never a good sign when the end credits of a movie give “1981” as its provenance though it didn’t see release until March of ’83.

rating from outer space: D+

proper tool storage

Curtains (1983)


Actually directed by Alan Smithee cinematographer Richard Ciupka, this portentous Canadian romp isn’t dull, as it contains enough quirks to amuse viewers while they’re wondering who’s doing all the killing. It is a bit more restrained – or sedate, both being apropos with the mental health subcontext – than one may anticipate when perusing the plotline: six female actors (or two actors, a comedian, a musician or perhaps model, a dancer and an … ice skater) are summoned to a remote, sprawling manor to audition for a plum role at the behest of a paternalistic, prurient director named – could you believe – Jonathan Stryker, smugly played by John Vernon as an overblown, imperious caricature. Exactly why this desirable role is up for grabs is more or less the driving force behind the inscrutable developments, the explanation of which dovetails nicely with the poignant conclusion. More of an old-fashioned drawing room mystery than a contemporary ’80s slasher, even if it retains many stylistic elements of the latter. All told, it presents (to me, anyway) an etymological quandary: Screwball, or “oddball”?


Wow, have I watched a lotta Canuck films lately.


Somewhat uneven and a bit of a farce (by design, that is, not through ineptitude per se), it would most likely be a change of pace.


The blasé manner with which one of the characters presents her misdeeds is fetching, and the discontinuous structure is noteworthy, as it randomly presents what appear to be two solo performance scenes, but I wasn’t kidding about the ending … and there’s the downside. Troubled throughout its production, the core of a really splendid achievement instead lies strewn about the remnants of its shell.



Spasms aka Death Bite (1983)

serpent’s theme composed & performed by tangerine dream

For those unfamiliar with the Oliver Reed performance model, particularly in a lurid monster-shouter such as this, picture a brawny, English roughneck version of Wm. Shatner … who happens to be out of his goddamn mind. Reed brings such an intense and palpably amok sense of hyperreality to affairs of the silver screen that I daresay it can buoy even the flimsiest of vessels. (I understand some folks feel much the same about Nicolas Cage.) So pairing that factor with this story about a giant friggin’ serpent that may be a servant of Hell sounds truly special. Unfortunately, this mediocre B-movie can’t deliver on that promise, mainly because as ludicrous as things get, the production team never really casts off the ropes. They also rush through the falling action here, shrugging aside some fanciful notions, haphazardly tossing in unexplained phenomena, and entirely dispensing with an actual conclusion. The supposedly monstrous serpent is good for a laugh when finally shown in its full … glory.


I would have watched it regardless, given its astounding nomenclature, but with O. Reed heading the cast there was no question.


If you wish to see killings happening, in B&W, through the vision of a man with a telepathic link to a giant snake (instead of, say, that of Laura Mars), sure. As noted, however, this film does not live up to its potential. The credit “Based on the novel by Michael Maryk & Brent Monahan” certainly must lend one some hope, though. 


(To the police chief) “I woulda thought you’d seen everything by now.”

(The chief) “Hm. Monsters from Hell is something new.”