Matriarch (2018)

written and directed by scott vickers
new light films

For a picture with nary an original idea, this production set in Scotland ended up being a taut, gripping, well-paced story, with a twist here and there – some interesting, some incredulous, and some superfluous – to differentiate it from the pack … slightly. Overall, however, very little happens in this flick that you haven’t experienced before, except for maybe the nearly impenetrable Scotch accents of a pair of extremely minor characters. (Seriously, I could have used English subtitles for their dialogue.) On the plus side, it’s very well filmed, acted and directed and all that. But c’mon, this is the synopsis: “An expecting mother and husband crash their car in the countryside and are offered shelter by a farmer and his wife. Soon they realize,” etc. I suppose the intense Christianity of the rural family qualifies as an innovative attempt, but let’s face it, twisting the orientation and bearing of religions and the religious isn’t exactly a brand-new concept for a horror movie, either.

why did i watch this movie?

Well, it didn’t seem to involve demonic possession, so that was a plus.

should you watch this movie?

I mean … it has its moments, but it just kinda follows the template, really.

highlight and low point

a tense and gripping moment

The isolated family is very effectively creepy, particularly the taciturn father played by Alan Cuthbert, who expresses malevolence with naught but his baleful silence at times. What could have been an overwhelmingly terrifying sequence was mostly spoiled by a dire lack of acceptable realism, however, and what may have been intended as a SHOCKING twist at the conclusion just falls flat. One minor unexpected revelation manages to be humorously chilling, and the dismal ambience is effectively sustained.

rating from outer space: B

Vampire Circus (1972)

directed by robert young
hammer film productions

“Better no mother than a mother that worships the devil!” proclaims a vindictive villager as this picture comes out with all guns blazing. (Torches, actually.) I immediately wondered if I needed to start watching everything with the Hammer name from this time period. Child slaughter, nudity, lust, arson, mayhem … and that was all in the first 15 minutes, before the credits ended. Things settle down after that, once the gypsies show up with the “Circus of Nights,” although a hearty massacre of three members of a family – by a panther – does find its way in there. (The panther is rather amusingly animated and exaggerated by the FX of the day.) Despite getting a bit bogged down in the villagers’ struggle to understand what has befallen them, however, enough eldritch touches recur to keep things moving along nicely toward the expected ending.

why did i watch this movie?

Look, I try my best to keep my motives pure and my intellectual pursuits respectable, but this damn flick is called “Vampire Circus.”

should you watch this movie?

terrifying muppet gore

If you don’t find the title “Vampire Circus” deliriously fetching, then probably not.

highlight and low point

The Circus has an attraction called “Mirror of Life,” and it is within this enclosed tent that nefarious truths are revealed, of course. One of the scenes that takes place in said location is pretty impressively intimidating. Some of the moments when the main vampiric henchman Emil brandishes his fangs verge on silly. Oh, and if you’re keeping track, herein it is once again revealed that removing the stake from the undead’s heart will allow it to return to its imitation of life. So apparently I forgot that bit of mythology somewhere along the way.

rating from outer space: B−

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

Venom (1981)

directed by piers haggard
morison film group/venom productions limited
based on the novel by alan scholefield

You know, sometimes I decide to watch a movie just because the totality of its promotional efforts entices me. That was definitely the case with this offering, as its poster makes promises and presents plaudits that one figures can’t possibly be true, and the cast includes not only our old friend Oliver Reed but Klaus Kinski. “Oh, man,” I enthused, “I can’t wait to watch that one!” Well, somewhat to my disappointment, Venom is but an above-average thriller that isn’t even spoiled by the fact that as far as scary screen monsters go, your average snake – or even the DEADLY MAMBA – isn’t all that threatening. (This is the second Oliver Reed movie I’ve watched that features a snake, though, which has to count for something.) Frankly, the plot is a bit nonsensical; this international fugitive just happens to have connections in the house of a wealthy banker whose asthmatic kid just happened to order a new imported snake, and …

It did fairly well at the box office.

why did i watch this movie?

Venom! A deadly snake! Oliver Reed! Oliver Reed and a deadly snake! Klaus Kinski! Oliver Reed, Klaus Kinski, and a deadly snake! Venom!

I didn’t realize this when I picked it out, but Haggard is the same director responsible for The Blood on Satan’s Claw, a fact which also would’ve weighed heavily in its favor.

should you watch this movie?

Sad to say, Oliver Reed doesn’t have much of a substantial role to play here, so the film lacks for his usual je ne sais quoi. For what seems as though it should be a fairly middle-of-the-road affair, however, it’s actually pretty interesting.

highlight and low point

Susan George has a pretty overwrought death scene as well.

rating from outer space: B+

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

Scream – And Die! aka The House That Vanished aka Scream and Die aka Please! Don’t Go in the Bedroom aka Psycho Sex Fiend (1973)

directed by joseph larraz aka josÉ ramÓn larraz
a blackwater film production

So many titles and so many threatening adverts for such a tepid plod whose only semblance of tension arises from the wait for occasional actress and future lad-mag model Andrea Allan to disrobe. Who’s the killer, you might wonder for an idle minute, correctly identifying the obvious attempts at misdirection, and also realizing that you don’t much care so long as you’re assured the picture will be ending. When it does reach that ending, full dark night abruptly shifts to very bright daytime. Clearly, the filmmakers wanted to get it over with, too. Perhaps this is why they don’t bother tying up any loose ends … such as letting us in on why our heroine got involved in this affair in the first place, or how some of the action could have occurred unless the culprit read the script, or by what means one of the characters ends up dead during the finale when she couldn’t reasonably have been anywhere near the location in question. This movie also contains an incestuous sex scene, because why not throw that in there, too.

why did i watch this movie?

I must have been lured in by the promise inherent in the lurid early ’70s British cinema I’ve been “enjoying” of late, but to be frank, I have no idea.

should you watch this movie?

It’s not nearly lurid enough to justify that.

highlight and low point

The second murder scene is pretty intense, I suppose, but by that point it isn’t even interesting enough to sustain one’s attention. Some of the leftover mod touches of a foundering Swinging London are amusing. A tangential subplot involving pigeons goes absolutely nowhere. Yes, pigeons.

 

rating from outer space: D