Nightmares (1983)

directed by joseph sargent
universal

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−

C.H.U.D. (1984)

directed by douglas cheek
bonime associates, ltd.

Well, it’s obviously a disgraceful admission on my part that I didn’t see this the way it was clearly meant to be seen, on videocassette rented from the mom ‘n’ pop (actually, it was just “pop”) establishment down the street from where I lived as a kid. Or anytime since. Somebody should’ve told me it was this rewarding. Honestly, I’m not even sure why I never saw it, except that as a young person I didn’t actually watch many horror movies at all, and maybe because the title eliminates any suspense? Whatever the case, this is low-budget, low-grade horror at a peak, a Reagan-era relic of nuclear panic. Shot under the streets of NYC and laden with intransigent officials, it’s the gritty story of one plucky little guy’s quest to find out why everyone’s disappearing and a truly terrible battle plan hatched far too late to eradicate a horde of deadly mutants. And more! (It’s actually several guys.) Just today I had to defend my pronouncement that this flick is “good.” People, man.

why did i watch this movie?

I owed it to myself.

should you watch this movie?

Act now – don’t hesitate!

highlight and low point

Though this picture is ostensibly about hideous freaks coming outta the sewers, having been spawned there due to government negligence, what makes it enjoyable are the various interactions the normal people have. The scene where The Reverend initially spots the C.H.U.D. participating in what appears to be some sort of rite is intriguing, if scant. (More could have been done with it.) And as a former resident of New York City, I swear, when characters first start winding through the subway tunnels, I could conjure the smell. Now that’s olfactory memory.

rating from outer space: B+

Die, Monster, Die! aka Monster of Terror (1965)

directed by daniel haller
american international pictures/alta vista film productions

For the first half-hour or so, this sumptuously appointed fable seems as though it’s going to be a vastly rewarding romp through B-movie silliness, complete with Boris Karloff adding plenty of dramatic intrigue. Unfortunately, it soon descends into choppy pointlessness, though the inane and repetitious dialogue might bolster things for a while if you’re in the right mood. The story kinda feels cobbled together as it goes along, and even the requisite expository scenes don’t much help to clarify matters. A few startling moments crop up here and there, though only the first earns its reaction, and it goes nowhere. Based on “The Colour Out of Space” by H. P. Lovecraft, though how or why Arkham, MA, is transplanted to England is a question best left to others.

why did i watch this movie?

I found it under the title “Monster of Terror,” which … I mean, what more do you need? The presence of Boris Karloff and some glowing (pun definitely intended) nostalgia offered by commenters sealed the deal.

should you watch this movie?

I will table that question until I’ve watched a couple other filmed interpretations of the classic story.

highlight and low point

Boris Karloff’s clearly dissembling patriarch and his myopic assistant Merwyn are a hoot, and our hero Reinhart’s difficulties with the locals in Arkham set the picture up rather nicely. By far the best effects are achieved when Stephen and Susan are creeping downstairs in the dark guided by one lighted candle … which brightly illumines absolutely everything in the vicinity, and looks suspiciously like a spotlight trained right on them. Again, there are a few genuinely unsettling moments, but they’re wasted  – along with the lavish set dressing – by a flimsy screenplay.

rating from outer space: C−

Baby Blood aka The Evil Within (1990)

directed by alain robak
partner’s productions/exo 7 productions

Not many of these movies tend to wow me, because let’s be honest, not a whole lot of them bring much of anything particularly new to the table, but you can go right ahead and put this deranged romp into its own category entirely. Simultaneously dismal, brutal, grotesque, and somehow funny as hell, this French meditation on the pains and perils of impending motherhood is a delightfully distasteful monster movie of sorts, although nearly every moment in the picture belongs almost solely to Bianca (or “Yanka,” according to the credits), played with élan (et plus que un peu je ne sais quoi) by Emmanuelle Escourrou. Farcical at times, and on an occasion or two somewhat predictable, la ciné nevertheless is never overtaken by what nearly becomes complete overkill. Est-ce formidable? Absolument.

why did i watch this movie?

The title called to me as I once again sought for ’90s material. I made sure not to spoil the plot by reading any synopses, though I figured I was in for some sort of tale of demonic possession or devil worship or witchcraft or what-have-you.

should you watch this movie?

It does not concern demonic possession or devil worship, etc., etc., should that be what your little heart desires. It is, however, a bloodbath.


hig
hlight and low point

You know me, the delirious passion imbued in some (okay, most) of the kill scenes had me at the very precipice of giddiness, but there’s plenty for everyone to appreciate here. Our protagonist’s mostly unobserved ability to jump from situation to situation is quite entertaining, especially as she begins to thrive in any variety of circumstances, and the ongoing, uh, internal dialogue is blackly enjoyable. A sequel is reputedly less ingenious.

rating from outer space: a

The Washing Machine aka Vortice Mortale (1993)

directed by ruggero deodato
eurogroup film/esse c1

Only epistemologically a horror movie until late in the proceedings, this noirish sexcapade does eventually manage to induce a chill or three … but most viewers will hardly care, as the goings-on are so dementedly entertaining. Caveat: the preceding clause may imply traditional male viewers, as this video concerns three maybe-sisters who are attempting to outdo one another in the femme fatale sweepstakes, and who are not at all shy about employing all of their, er, assets. Technically a giallo, the whos, wheres and whats revolve at the drop of a hat – and there are actually plenty of hats, no kidding. A very amusing, very ’90s erotic thriller, filmed in Budapest a little over a year after Soviet withdrawal concluded.

“What’s happened to the people in this country? They used to respect our authority. Hmm, I’m beginning to think political change isn’t always so positive.”


why did i watch this movie?

I was prowling for a ’90s title per some questionable aggregator, and it didn’t occur to me I was stacking up Italian pictures.

should you watch this movie?

I’m not often one to note symbolism, so you might get more out of this flick than I did in that respect. Either way, it’s loony fun, keeping in mind above admonitions.

highlight and low point

This feature builds in intensity and insanity as it rolls along, perhaps culminating in a drugged-dream sequence with melting faces, mixed identities and misinformation … but perhaps not. To wit, this early establishing assessment:

“In a jealous rage, you have a fight with your boyfriend. Then your sister tells us he was violently murdered. It’s to your benefit there’s no corpse to be found … but then again, we’re dealing with the hallucinations of an alcoholic.”

rating from outer space: B+

Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

written and directed by Michael Dougherty
bad hat harry productions/legendary pictures

Taking a cue from what seemed a trustworthy source, I made this pic my Halloween viewing this year and was not disappointed. A hearty romp through four (sort of) interrelated stories, spun out in nonchronological fashion and represented in the guise of a comic book, this seasonal offering has a little bit of something for just about everybody: unsuspected killers, party girls, junior pranksters, misbehaving adults, a sour old man, werewolves. Not terribly beholden of any particular era or genre, it manages to tiptoe between reverence and mockery, retro appeal and modern trappings, and is all the better for it. I suppose some could quibble that it’s a little tame, and while that may be a fair assessment, this is good, wholesome family entertainment, so don’t let it dissuade you. (You’d be advised to have a passably peculiar family, though.)

why did i watch this movie?

I needed appropriate Hallows’ Eve entertainment, and the ebook Schlock Treatment by “Duane Bradley” – whose opinion of many other films resonated with me, and who clearly shares my exquisite taste – singled out this production as an accomplished affair that deserved more attention.

should you watch this movie?

I could find little fault with it; it was thoroughly enjoyable.

highlight and low point

Described as an anthology-style picture, it doesn’t much present as one, to its credit. Several layers of subtle misdirection serve the proceedings exceedingly well, as does the filmmaker’s apparent discretion to avoid cheap scares in favor of slower and more evocative development. The humor, too, is more implicit than upfront. The final major portion of the story we’re shown contains what seemed to me a monumental continuity issue, though it doesn’t bear much actual import.

rating from outer space: A−

Schizoid (1980)

written and directed by david paulsen
golan-globus productions/the cannon group, inc.

Another epitomic Cannon film, this “thriller” meanders its way through a murky cityscape in pursuit of its victims, who – oh, wait, that’s what the villain or whatever does, in between the viewer’s visitations to group therapy sessions and glimpses into the fractured home life of Klaus Kinski’s “Dr. Fales” (seriously) and his angst-ridden daughter Alison. A newspaper advice columnist – “Dear Julie” – is ostensibly the lead, and her husband the editor, a couple grizzled detectives and Christopher Lloyd’s questionable handyman flesh out the additional roles. The murder weapon is a large pair of scissors, the suspicious car is yellow, and the women’s lib is, apparently, a fatal error in judgment.

why did i watch this movie?

It was some combination of the names “Klaus Kinski” and “Cannon Films,” I’m relatively certain. The straightforward nomenclature never hurts, either.

should you watch this movie?

I couldn’t really say there’s anything in particular to distinguish this flick from any of the dozens of similar dramatic chillers. Or hundreds, even.

highlight and low point

Early in this picture, Dr. Fales stares at a nearly nude Alison as she’s preparing to shower, which she induces by disrobing while talking to him, but this scene takes on even more disturbing overtones when one realizes Klaus Kinski’s eldest daughter accused him of years of sexual abuse. Christopher Lloyd plays a jerk rather than an eccentric here, Alison is played by Donna “High School Honor Student by Day, Hollywood Hooker by Night” Wilkes (1984’s Angel), and not one but two scenes take place in a hot tub. A decent job is done concealing the killer’s identity, with some suppositions and declarations thereby proving ironically accurate, and a seemingly irrelevant subplot likewise becomes crucial.

rating from outer space: C

Els sense nom aka Los sin nombre aka The Nameless aka La secta de los sin nombre (1999)

directed by jaume balaguerÓ
joan ginard p.c./sogedasa

Am I DONE with these ’90s movies yet. (No! There’s one more still to come!) Here we go with more metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, this time involving some sorta evil-worshiping cult whose aim is to … uh … to produce a pure evil being. I guess. I kinda wasn’t paying very careful attention, having been distracted by fragmentary flashbacks (à la Haunts) that for some reason made me think of Jacob’s Ladder – while also being discomfited by descriptions of the baddies’ philosophy that veered a little too close to that espoused in Martyrs, a movie of which I do not wish to do much contemplating or revisiting. All the rest of it is police-procedural-horror-mystery mashup, occasionally leavened by the inelegantly dubbed (and somewhat inaccurate) dialogue, and abrupt edits that provoked thoughts of rerelease abridgement. And with all of THAT being said, the end note still is fiendishly sour … but by the time it’s sounded, it doesn’t reverberate enough. Alas.

why did i watch this movie?

Remember when I started my quixotic quest to catch up on scary movies from the 1990s? I made a looooooooong list.

should you watch this movie?

You have seen a lotta pictures very similar to this one.

highlight and low point

Some of the action involves the exciting world of print journalism, so that was a plus for me personally. The conclusion, though fairly predictable, was also a bit more twisted than expected, but also exemplified one of this flick’s biggest problems. The existence of the weirdo title sect is given little attention and next to no development, which robs the production of its best opportunity to strike chills in the hearts of mortals (or equivalent). All the lip service paid to Nazis and theories of EVIL and this-and-that is mundane wasted exposition.

rating from outer space: C−

Haunted aka The Haunted (1977)

written and directed by michael de gaetano
northaire communications, inc.

Wow, I might owe an apology to a few of the other terrible movies I’ve lambasted, because compared to this abysmal folly, some of them look much better. While nothing could make films like Home Sweet Home and Monster look “good,” compared to this debacle, a relative respectability may be easier to obtain. It’s hard for me to precisely describe this fiasco, because the script is a disaster, the acting atrocious, the concept absurd, and the pacing and editing undisciplined and unstructured. You probably couldn’t write dialogue this poorly if you tried, and its recital is akin to unlettered folks reading cue cards with missing words and disorderly syntax. It’s astonishing. Unbelievably, the filmmaker claimed that budgetary constraints robbed his flick of its brilliant philosophical insights, but with what’s in evidence, that very idea strikes one as utterly asinine.

why did i watch this movie?

This intro doesn’t mention a “phone booth,” but the poster does. Details below!

should you watch this movie?

The fact that is even a possibility says too much about this modern world.

highlight and low point

A “phone booth” was a “box-like kiosk containing a public payphone.” A “public payphone” was – I am not making this up – a coin-operated telephone that stood alone in public spaces, so people could use them to make calls.

In this movie, a “phone booth” is erected in a cemetery for some damn fool reason, and it is claimed that this device allows Abanaki’s Indian spirit to inhabit a terrible English actress, but she never uses the structure until far too late for this to have occurred.

Any claim that reincarnation is involved in this picture is spurious at best.

rating from outer space: F

Maniac (1980)

directed by william lustig
magnum motion pictures INc.

Can I call this a disappointment if I watched it thinking it would be a scuzzy, nothing exploitation slasher with paper-thin intent and slapdash execution, but instead discovered a well-crafted picture of surprising depth and real pathos made with a skillful hand? Don’t answer that, it’s a rhetorical question. But despite a number of moments that could have turned this flick into a groaner, the poignant portrayal of the title character proves redemptive. Obviously inspired by the Son of Sam killings, with a handful of details provided by other notorious murder sprees, this film’s account of title psychopath Frank’s travails leavens its less credible portions with an intermittent awareness of his humanity. (How self-aware Frank is, however, remains an open question.) Lead actor and co-writer Joe Spinell’s creation is disturbingly credible, and in context, the more fantastic notions are not hindered by their implausibility.

why did i watch this movie?

I’ll reiterate: give the picture a title as blatant and evocative as “Maniac,” and I’ll think about giving it a whirl.

should you watch this movie?

So, you are aware that I like this type of film from this general era, so when I say yes, you probably know how to weight that advice.

highlight and low point

Are you, by any chance, familiar with the cover art for the Big Black EP that came packaged in the “body bag,” Headache? (Careful with that link, Eugene.) Yeah, well, there’s a scene in this movie that is extremely reminiscent of that delightful image, courtesy of makeup guru Tom Savini. One slight drawback is the dubious relationship that forms the core of the plot. Another is that the main character evoked for me Lester Bangs crossed with Lew Zealand.

Lew

Lester

Rating from outer space: A−

Note: Maniac received the remake treatment in 2012. Update to follow …