A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987)

directed by larry cohen
larco Productions/420 demons

As this picture began to unspool, I didn’t know if I’d be able to stand it, because once we reach the town of Jerusalem’s Lot, the production quality (acting, costumes, props, makeup) takes a severe nosedive – and it was iffy from the get-go. I persevered, however, and was amply rewarded by general weirdness. (I also greatly enjoyed the credit “Based on characters created by Stephen King,” as the only way in which that is true is if one considers the town of “Salem’s Lot” itself to be a character.) Okay, look, in terms of actual credibility, this flick is nowheresville; it plays more like a made-for-TV movie than the 1978 Tobe Hooper-directed Salem’s Lot CBS “miniseries” and is chock-full of several stripes of bad acting that run the gamut from half-baked to hammy. Throw in a Nazi hunter to save the day, and you’ve got everything you always wanted in a fear, and less! This is where sequencing can be important: after watching Scarecrows, this flick wound up being highly enjoyable.

why did i watch this movie?

As acknowledged, I am a bit of an S. King obsessive, so I’ve wanted to investigate this one for quite a while, especially after having viewed Cohen’s Special Effects.

should you watch this movie?

It depends on how SERIOUSLY you take “Salem’s Lot” to be a “gripping masterwork of horror,” or whatever people consider King’s (or Hooper’s) Dracula redux to be, because this is a tongue-in-cheek treatment of the (purported) source material.

highlight and low point

The last time I watched a vampire flick I learned how to revive a bloodsucker; this time I found out a mortal can impregnate one and that its ashy remains may spontaneously combust. This is the terrifying leader of the hemovores:

rating from outer space: D

Bride of Re-Animator (1990)

directed by brian yuzna
wild street pictures/re-animator iI productions

Even before the extravagant reprise of the first film’s opening credits sequence, I feared that this picture would be too obviously a sequel, as all the signs were there. Indeed, moments of one-upmanship pertaining to certain effects, scenarios and locations are present throughout, but the director mostly manages to evade scenes of blatant repetition and also avoids the cardinal sin of reductionism. Even so, at moments it threatens to get a little too cutesy, the parallelism to Bride of Frankenstein doesn’t quite work, and the inclusion of Dr. Hill’s head at times feels forced (and for a while appears to have been forgotten). When things really get dicey near the ending, however, it is about as uncomfortably eerie and threatening as one could reasonably hope from a Lovecraft adaptation, and it succeeds, humor and all. I did not expect this one to be this good – and maybe it isn’t – but Jeffrey Combs delivers enough of a tour de force to make fine assessment meaningless.

why did i watch this movie?

The original was terrific, and I’m still catching up on the 1990s.

should you watch this movie?

Respectable or not, it IS a sequel.

highlight and low point

The portrayal of Herbert West, as noted above, is splendid, and one observation he deadpans in the latter portion of the flick is laugh-out-loud funny.  Bruce Abbott and Claude Earl Jones also deliver worthy performances. Strong motivation is lacking on behalf of many of the characters, though, and if you’re not caught up in the zaniness, you might begin to see right through the flimsy premise.

I mean, presuming you’d be of a mind to take a production of this nature that seriously.

rating from outer space: B+

the credits thank “Mary Wollenscraft Shelly”

(and Tenzing Norgay)

The Runestone (1991)

directed by willard carroll
hyperion pictures/signature communications

The rare piece of schlock horror whose major problem may be too much ambition, this farcical saga of a Viking werewolf wreaking havoc in the Art world of Manhattan – while being tracked by not only a dogged police detective but an archaeologist – is often sidetracked by vignettes of Alexander Godunov grimly portraying some sort of watchmaker. These sketches may be dream sequences related to a teenage boy’s legacy, which may never materialize, but it’s hard to tell. See what I mean? Oh, and at a certain point I realized it was maybe supposed to be a comedy. This is never a good sign, when the filmmaker’s intentions are that unclear. Really, as the action continued to spiral further out there, I began to wonder if I had just missed some important tells in the beginning stages. That’s definitely possible, as it certainly wouldn’t be the first time, but it points to the clumsy nature of the flick’s construction, and circles back to that aforementioned problem of overreach.

why did i watch this movie?

I noticed that this blog is severely deficient in movies from the 1990s, and this is the first title I happened upon that seemed to fit the modus operandi around here.

should you watch this movie?

While it has its charms, it doesn’t deliver enough for even its straight-to-VHS realm.

highlight and low point

A bunch of sight gags and deliberately cheesy shots dominate the latter half of the picture, and the interplay between the police and the archaeologist and the artist and the teenager and … where was I going with this. (See what I mean?) Old hands Peter Riegert and Laurence Tierney do the standard cop shtick, and the burlesque of the Art scene is pretty tired.

rating from outer space: D+

yes, i laughed

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

directed by charles e. sellier, jr.
slayride, inc.

Okay, cancel your bets and shelve your arguments, because this is officially the greatest Christmas movie ever made. Notorious for its long career of being protested, reviled, censored and blackballed, this picture hardly deserved the denigration. So what if it portrays a murderous Santa who shoots dad and cuts mom’s throat after ripping her blouse open on the side of the road, in full view of one of her kids, after having already killed a store clerk, and why get all hot and bothered that one of those orphaned kids who witnessed the highway carnage grows up to be so traumatized by the very idea of old Saint Nick that he embarks on a Christmas Eve killing spree highlighted by impaling a topless Linnea Quigley on a stag’s head in her living room before gifting her little sister a boxcutter and leaving her with the mess? Man, people are sensitive sometimes. Ironically enough, the parental complaints lodged against the film upon its original release were that their little moppets would be traumatized by such a depiction of K. Kringle … which is, not to put too fine a point on it, exactly what the movie depicts.

why did i watch this movie?

Why did I wait so long? I remember admiring the box for this classic back in the good old days at the neighborhood video rental (which was actually the storefront of the TV repair shop).

should you watch this movie?

highlight and low point

Well, I guess Lilyan Chauvin’s portrayal of the orphanage’s humorless Mother Superior is a bit much, but why niggle. Robert Brian Wilson’s turn as confused, deranged Billy – kudos to the writers for their sagacious choice of names – is nearly perfect. The flick’s nerve, daring, gall, chutzpah – whichever you prefer – confers it its panache.

rating from outer space: a−

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

Skinned Alive (2008)

directed by james tucker
savage roses productions/lost angeles films

I was more or less suffering my way through this at times excruciatingly hackneyed low-budget independent feature originally titled “Eat Your Heart Out” when an unexpected thing occurred – one of the funniest scenes I’ve enjoyed in a movie in quite a long time. This got me thinking about a number of concepts. One was why I stuck with this video production despite its obviously amateurish sheen, when with many others I never bothered to outlast the opening moments; another was why I wasn’t interested in panning the outcome. The simplest and most honest answer is to admit I’m not sure, but maybe it comes down to the fact that though this film is often hampered by scenes and dialogue that seem to be included mainly because such scenes and dialogue are what you get in a “movie” – often the case with this sort of picture – it isn’t held back by attempts at lowbrow appeal. Neither is it too self-conscious of being a friends-and-family kind of affair. Plus, the storyline is fairly creative. I was surprised, however, to find that the director has helmed a long list of projects.

why did i watch this movie?

I read a brief mention that not unreasonably hailed the spirit and execution of this story of a prostitute with what one might term unusual tastes.

should you watch this movie?

It’s the kind of feature you’d find at smaller independent film festivals, if that’s your bag.

highlight and low point

I mentioned the high point of the movie above, but other touches of humor were equally effective. On the other hand, not enough was done to disguise that some of the locations were obviously not what they purported to be – a casualty of minimal financing, to be sure.

rating from outer space: C+

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1997) aka The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1994)

directed by kim henkel
ultra muchos, inc./river city films, inc.

All right, so retconning this flick to be the sort-of “sequel” to the 1974 original makes sense. It’s at least half great: the first 45 minutes of this black horror comedy work well as a pastiche of the first go-round, with the added amusement of more modern horror motifs … which are basically updates of the original’s template anyway. Both unsettling and darkly humorous – much as the debut was meant to be, and Part 2 purported to have been – first-and-only-time director Henkel outdoes his former writing and production partner Tobe Hooper’s juvenile second chapter with a bit more sophistication. The latter half of the picture, meanwhile, spirals wildly out of control, plot-, production- and performance-wise. Becoming kind of a mashup of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The X-Files, with a passel of other film references tossed in haphazardly, it retains a tinge of the on-edge emotion of the original. It lacks in the hazy, disturbed intensity, of course, and also for any slaughtering on behalf of whoever these people are and however they’re allegedly related to the clan this time around. Oh, and this time around, Leatherface is a cross-dressing (wo)manchild.

why did i watch this movie?

Gawd, I made it this far, I had to.

should you watch this movie?

C’mon, now.

highlight and low point

Once again, there isn’t any real reason “Leatherface” even needs to be in this movie, especially as he doesn’t do much of anything except throw an extended hissy fit. And he’s the only plausible link to the first film! (Well, okay, Bernie Lomax Grandpa’s at the table, too.) Strange continuity note: In Leatherface, the generic third installment, “Bubba” has an unexplained leg brace, and in this picture, Matthew McConaughey’s character has a remote-operated battery-powered lower appendage. Yep.

rating from outer space: B