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

Possum (2018)

directed by matthew holness
The FYZZ Facility/british film institute

About as bleak and humorless a film as you’d prefer to imagine, this trudge through the disordered mind of a miserable and tormented middle-aged Britisher will definitely affect you. I’m not much of an abstract thinker and I don’t do too well with symbolism unless it’s really obvious, but even if you’re similarly ill-inclined, that shouldn’t get in the way of your following what this picture is on about. Now, I occasionally bemoan productions in these pages for not being “scary,” which of course does a disservice to a great many movies made in differing horror styles, being far too reductive a criterion. This is a good old-fashioned horror, in that what’s so bothersome about it all comes from within – and I don’t mean viscera. It’s all inside this guy’s head, as it will be in yours. The flicks from the UK I’ve seen all seemingly have that heavily psychological bent, and it works just about every time.

why did i watch this movie?

It, uh, sounded good: “a disgraced children’s puppeteer is forced to confront the secrets,” etc. I like the tendencies in British films of this ilk, where it’s always gloomy.

should you watch this movie?

If you can relate to the journey to the end of the night, surely.

highlight and low point

As this film has minimal personnel, the acting had better be good, and it is. Sean Harris is frankly magnificent as Philip, his mental anguish playing itself out not only on his wretched visage but in his increasingly constrained carriage and the abnormal movements of his limbs. The skillful deployment of the film’s major prop, which is displayed on the poster, is also a major asset. At times I found some of the circular action a bit nettlesome, if cavil I must.  Oh, and the sound design is excellent.

rating from outer space: a−

Prey aka Alien Prey (1977)

directed by norman j. warren
tymar film productions limited

I’ll admit it, I enjoy it a little too much – trotting out the jejune sally that “the REAL horror here is blah blah blah” and so forth – but dig it, man, that foolishness is perfectly suitable for this bonkers English presentation. Oh, don’t get me wrong, this film is for the most part shoddy and boring, but holy cats does it contain some absolutely bizarre goings-on. For one thing, it’s only around 84 minutes long, but it manages to contain a four-minute-plus lesbian scene that is frankly a lot more explicit than I would’ve supposed. For another thing, at a certain point – for no discernible reason – everything goes slo-mo as the soundtrack suddenly becomes extremely psychedelic and discordant. And no kidding, even though the story concerns a space alien who’s on Earth scouting for new “protein sources” (“spoiler”!), heavens to Murgatroyd but that isn’t the REAL horror here. I watched the climactic action of this picture jaws literally agape.

why did i watch this movie?

This is the film Mr. Warren made right after the widely acclaimed cerebral exercise Satan’s Slave.

should you watch this movie?

I don’t think I really have an answer for that question. You’re on your own.

highlight and low point

The makeup and/or “FX” are, uh, minimally invasive, shall we say.

But seriously, one thing I did find laudable about this very strange flick is that it contains all of six actors. This film’s shortcomings are not a result of its minimal casting or financing, though the latter probably doesn’t help. ’Tis a pity they never made the sequel.  ’Tis also a pity some critics have identified all sorts of subtextual sociological signifiers that were almost certainly tangential to this preposterous undertaking. Sure, sure, I get it, “microaggressions,” I hear ya. [Backs away]

rating from outer space: C−

that’s a switchblade, would you believe

Satan’s Slave aka Evil Heritage (1976)

directed by norman j. warren
crown international pictures/monumental pictures limited

Oh, Satan’s Slave, where have you been all my life? Sure, I’ve recently watched a movie with that very title, as well as one dubbed “Satan’s Slaves,” but as I accidentally stumbled into the oft-overlooked category of British exploitation horror, I finally found the REAL DEAL. All right, actually, for about the first hour this burlesque is akin to a rambling and mundane country-house tragicomedy of (ill) manners, spruced up here and there with wildly graphic, explicit inserts of sex and murder, and murderous sex, and sexual murder – allegedly for profitable rerelease in the Asian market, which I am unsure ever actually occurred. (Similary, Crown Int’l Pix ostensibly was responsible for this film’s domestic theatrical run, with the secondary title, though the version I watched retained the original handle.) Such chicanery lends itself to rather glaring differences in film stock, exposure and so forth in some of the edits. At one point, too, the action appears to advance ahead of our understanding for a few moments, as though we’ve missed something. But hoo boy, once Frances the secretary reveals the sinister plot, it gets real good real fast. The SHOCKING twists that comprise the ending follow one another in rapid succession and all the tawdry, lusty mania comes to fruition as the diabolical cult approaches its goal. Highly recommended!

why did i watch this movie?

We have now learned that if it’s titled “Satan’s Slave,” your man Peppers is interested.

should you watch this movie?

(click to enlarge)

Why WOULDN’T you.

highlight and low point

Yeah, OK, this is a dour and unlovely flick, I’ll grant you that, and I reckon some of the more gratuitous and arguably extraneous scenes are worthy of scorn and/or derision, but it’s the little things, you know?

rating from outer space: B

The Descent (2005)

DIRECTED BY NEIL MARSHALL
CELADOR FILMS

A harrowing exercise in psychological terror, coupled with an in-depth examination of the fight-or-flight response, this British spelunking picture convinced me that I lack a certain sense of adventure, that I am not equipped with derring-do. (I frequently used to be reckless or foolhardy, but those are not equivalent.) Oftentimes claustrophobia-inducing, it at other times reminded me of 2014’s The Pyramid, which is unfortunate, but as it predated that flop by almost a decade, the blame lies with my tardiness. Similarly, I couldn’t help but relate this picture – featuring a group of friends with some relationship issues being picked off one by one – to others with like themes that I’ve watched of late. To be completely straightforward, this flick lacks somewhat for credibility, but it’s executed so well it’s not an issue. Dubious though I was when the cavers first encountered the resident humanoid danger, the troglodytes’ existence and demeanor felt circumstantially logical. (Indeed, I’d be hard-pressed to imagine how ravenous cave-dwelling mutants might not provoke some disbelief.) Seeing it with its original ending also helped, I think, ambiguous though it remained.

WHY DID I WATCH THIS MOVIE?

Having intended to have seen this movie long ago, it seemed like a good idea to finally do so, once I again remembered I still hadn’t, if you follow.

SHOULD YOU WATCH THIS MOVIE?

If you, like me, have yet managed not to experience it, sure, though I wonder if, like me, you will then perceive it through a somewhat tarnished prism.

HIGHLIGHT AND LOW POINT

Some of the gruesome touches were of course welcome, my favorite being the veritable, uh, lake of blood. This film has a sequel, to my dismay – but not to my surprise. We wouldn’t expect the film industry to leave well enough alone, after all.

RATING FROM OUTER SPACE: B+