The Stuff (1985)

written and directed by LARRY COHEN
LARCO PRODUCTIONS

Here – if you don’t know – is your basic Body Snatchers tale about a, um, parasitic dessert. Well, it isn’t really a dessert, but it’s being sold that way at the behest of a secret business cabal whose profit motive compels it to ignore that it turns people into … something or another, somehow. Unless (or until) it kills them. As it proceeds, this flick rather unexpectedly invokes Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now, while also managing to be evocative of Stripes, which requires a certain deftness. It’s also got some kinda shadow government thing going on, a rogue former FBI agent whose motivation remained unclear to me, a public relations and/or advertising maven as an uninteresting love interest, often laughable FX, a child actor in a lead role, and a strangely laid-back demeanor on everyone’s behalf, considering that, you know, the existence of the human race is being threatened by deliciousness on behalf of Big Confection.

why did i watch this movie?

It’s a Larry Cohen picture, or hadn’t you noticed?

should you watch this movie?

It’s fun, and not notably demanding.

highlight and low point

Satirical moments abound here, and they’re often pretty sharp, but the detritus of the 1980s cultural milieu contributes plenty of its own zest. At times, scenes seem to have been completed well after being shot, with conspicuous use of green screens, superimposed effects, and the like. (Trying to induce terror via a whipped cream-like substance has its perils.) Occasional FX involving body deterioration is actually pretty effective, though, especially in a questionably timed demise during the film’s climax. Superlative is the scene featuring an exploding The Stuff establishment stationed between what resemble McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken eateries from a model train setup.

rating from outer space: b–

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+

Re-Animator (1985)

directed by stuart gordon
empire pictures

“H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator,” the title card proudly boasts, and yes, it IS set at Miskatonic University, so it’s got that covered. Now, have I READ Mr. Lovecraft’s story of the same name? I do not think I have, despite the many times I’ve dipped into his oeuvre to while away some bleak hours enmeshed in his obfuscatory, eldritch and often oddly vague universe. This is a highly professional production, and the assured direction feels like kind of a blessing given what are often the limitations of these genre offerings. Absurdist at times, possibly to leaven the effects of its abundant grotesquerie, this picture nonetheless manages to disquiet, with Jeffrey Combs deserving much of the credit for his effective portrayal of an appropriately deranged Lovecraftian scientist. Although often rampantly silly, this is also undoubtedly a film that understands that horror doesn’t necessarily need to be laden with shocks and starts. It’s definitely not for the squeamish, though, as medical practicum and biological experimentation share screen time with copious bloodletting.

why did i watch this movie?

It’s no. six on Johnny Ramone’s top-10 list, and kind of a must-see in the annals of comedic humor.

should you watch this movie?

While I’m not sure I’d call it “timeless,” this flick still achieves everything it tries – and serves as perhaps the model for its particular brand of deranged horror-comedy, with some of its notes echoed a few short years later by Evil Dead 2, for one.

highlight and low point

The FX are pretty spectacular in this picture, really, especially given how outré some of the concepts are. (I’m thinking of the whole “head in a lab tray” sequence here.) Also, it’s impressive that no matter how ridiculous things get, no one ever really acknowledges that fact.

note misspelled label behind dead cat

rating from outer space: a

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

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 Mutilator (1985)

directed by buddy cooper and john s. douglass
OK productions

More or less what the previously discussed Nightmare/Blood Harvest probably imagines itself to be, this little pic has most of what you want from a kill-crazy 1980s indie feature: actors you’ll never see again, no attempt to hide the killer’s identity from the audience, an offbeat attitude, a rockin’ homemade theme song, and imaginative death scenes. What do I mean by “offbeat” approach, you’d like to know. The theme song I mentioned is “Fall Break,” the original working title for the film. Think about that for a second, while considering that the majority of the action takes place in or around a beachside bungalow. The characters are of a similar bent – they’re caricatured but not generic – and the humorous elements remain subtle and never overwhelm, despite the fact that the entire plot setup is basically absurd. Even that fact is treated with a shrug of acknowledgement. Mutilator sets a reliable template for a successful slasher film, one which was rarely followed so well without becoming repetitious in the countless ensuing rehashes.

why did i watch this movie?

As one among hundreds (or more!) of ’80s-era slasher flicks I’d neither seen nor knew existed, I was lured in by not only the impressive title characterization but the premise: kid accidentally kills his mother while cleaning his dad’s gun; mayhem ensues.

should you watch this movie?

Operating under the premise that you enjoy ’80s-era slasher flicks, I think you’d embrace this exemplar of the genre’s charms.

highlight and low point

The fact that this film doesn’t take itself too seriously while not descending into farcical idiocy is what really recommends it, in my opinion. Who dies when is predictable, as is the climax, but that’s what eventually begat metahorror, after all.

rating from outer space: a-