Shadows of the Mind (1980)

directed by “bernard travis”
production concepts ltd.

How bad must a movie be to be disowned by a pseudonymous director whose only other non-pornographic credit of any note is the notorious Last House on Dead End Street? Should you need to know, you could find out by enduring this obscurity, which earns its nearly unwatchable status due to an amateur lead actress, sloppy production, risible technique, and omnipresent, blaring piano-and-flute soundtrack. Concerned that viewers may not pick up on what it may consider the subtleties of its plot – in a nutshell, the Electra complex – it telegraphs them, resorting at one point to blatantly depicting the manifest symbolism. (For additional emphasis, key dialogue is repeatedly applied to parallel situations.) One whole character is a meaningless red herring, perhaps more than one … which only leaves two characters besides the lead, and one of those seemingly wandered in from one of the director’s works “for mature audiences,” to no particular purpose. This film‘s pointless and atrocious, which is perhaps why the only version of it readily available in the ether is subtitled (poorly!) in Dutch.

why did i watch this movie?

Presumably due to its association with its lousy director, Roger Watkins, and his initial celluloid creation.

should you watch this movie?

To answer that affirmatively,  you’d best possess quite the appreciation for incompetence … unless you’re a masochist.

highlight and low point

The pivotal scene wherein one can see the boom mike for nigh on a minute is pretty special, while the lengthy sequence in a disused greenhouse fairly well encapsulates this haphazard cinematic attempt. The pitiful approximation of a burning body during the climax – superimposed flames with subjacent skeletal image – is an additional howler. Meanwhile, the credits boast “filmed on Location” … with no mention where.

rating from outer space: F

Beyond the Door aka Chi sei? aka The Devil Within Her aka Behind the Door aka Who Are You? etc. (1974)

directed by o. hellman and r. barrett
a. erre cinematografica, s.r.L.

SUCH a ripoff of The Exorcist (and Rosemary’s Baby) that  … oh, God help us, maybe this isn’t fiction at all! Maybe it’s – A WARNING! (In an ordinary horror flick, right about now you’d get some clamorous sounds, maybe piercing strings, I dunno, but herein you get, like, afro-jazz-funk.) You’re not even going to believe this, but I recognized the name of one of the cameraman in the credits, Maurizio Maggi, because he also worked on L’occhio nel Labirinto. Was he the entity responsible for all the double exposures here? How much overtime did the sound guys have to put in to create all the overdubs? That was quite the feat of editing, let me tell you. This foreign-market plagiarism is occasionally almost scary, even.

why did i watch this movie?

Redd Kross is entirely to blame.

should you watch this movie?

It manages to be intermittently entertaining, with scads of bizarre minor details, but mostly due to its utter shamelessness. The dubbed script is of course masterful:

“No doctor can possibly explain her pregnancy.”
“What do you mean?”
“It is not … explainable.”

(Luckily for the devil’s surrogate, her condition arises post-Roe v. Wade, so she is advised by her doctor that she can terminate the diabolic fetus “should we come to the conclusion that your pregnancy creates a definite hazard to your … physical, or mental health.” She demurs, however.)

Oh, and the sound design really is pretty effective.

highlight and low point

When the character named after one of the directors is hassled by a street musician emulating Rahsaan Roland Kirk, well, that’s something you sure don’t see every day. A sequence that transforms the (human) children’s bedroom into a dangerous funhouse is impressive.

rating from outer space: d

Blood Theatre aka Movie House Massacre (1984)

written, directed, produced by alice raley
movie house productions

Oh, my. Technically speaking, this is a terrible movie … the kind in which the authorial credits intentionally may be misleading. (Purportedly, this is the directorial debut feature for Rick Sloane, and Alice Raley allegedly appears in it, but the title screens propose what’s reported up top, and who knows.) Honestly, it’s hard to say if this picture even aspires to being anything more than “terrible,” though it occasionally seems to think it’s attempting to ape the outrageous style of a John Waters film. (Among other factors, however, it lacks the élan of early Waters, along with the incisive writing.) The “acting” is perhaps middle-school level, the “humor” falls extremely flat, pacing is an afterthought, and even at barely 75 minutes it appears to contain an awful lot of padding. (The FX are intermittently effective, I’ll grant it that.) AND YET. Cliché though it may be, this heap transcends its ill-intentioned conception. If you “like” garbage cinema, that is – the standard disclaimer.

why did i watch this movie?

Its reputation preceded it.

should you watch this movie?

How much weight is borne by one man’s opinion, one man wonders.

highlight and low point

So this is where assessment gets tricky: throughout this tale of a cut-rate, scruple-free theater chain, several fake trailers – with names such as “Clown Whores of Hollywood” and “Nightmare of the Lost Whores” – are shown … and frankly, these may have been better ideas, even if they betray a certain lack of taste or deportment on behalf of their, uh, auteur. Who had previously screened the trailers. At which point we recall that this production is credited to somebody else. This particular faux film doesn’t have any actual ending or resolution; it just stops.

rating from outer space: D

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+

Boardinghouse (1982)

written and directed by johnn wintergate
blustarr films

A “movie” only in the sense that someone filmed it, this amateur creation plays out like a cheap porno without the hardcore sex, or like an “erotic thriller” without the eroticism or thrills, or like a teen party comedy without humor or teens, or … I’d say you get the idea, but without experiencing this picture, you cannot. Shot on video – allegedly the first-ever film produced in that format and blown up for big-screen release – and beholden to the novelty of that medium in its contemporaneous milieu, the only thing this flick has going for it is the improbably weird story of its co-creators. The dramatic conclusion is akin to an extended Ozzy video – like, Ultimate Sin-era Ozzy, maybe.

why did i watch this movie?

Never mind that! Here’s a TRAILER!

should you watch this movie?

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a warning to protect theater owners and the makers of this HorrorVision™ film. Viewers with nerve or heart conditions are advised to cover their eyes and ears whenever this object appears on the screen.”

“Thank you.”

highlight and low point

So, like, the writer/director/male lead and the female star of this movie (“Jonema” and “Kalassu,” who together are “internationally known as Lightstorm”) are disciples of “the Avatar, Sri Sathya Sai Baba,” and also the musicians behind the film’s soundtrack, which features two versions of their band, one of which performs in the picture under the name 33 1/3. This picture appears to include demonstrations of their lifelong devotion to the “constant practice of controlling and silencing the mind,” albeit in hyperbolized form. Oh, and their daughter is married to the lead singer of New Jersey’s long-running punk act Bouncing Souls. Please do not misuse this crucial information.

rating from outer space: D−

Zhǒng guǐ aka Seeding of a Ghost aka 种鬼 (1983)

directed by Yang chuan
shaw brothers

I think this flick must have been intended to be a horror-comedy, but as it’s a Hong Kong production I couldn’t honestly say. If Shaw Brothers didn’t intend for it to be humorous, then something was definitely lost in the translation, whether linguistic or cultural. Granted, one wouldn’t presume that a film with a rape as its central action was meant to be funny, but certainly some elements of even that particular scene don’t seem to be played completely straight. Plus, I mean, a mouldering reanimated corpse copulates with a wraith while levitating during part of the black magic ritual that adds the “revenge” component to this business, and the company that brought the DVD to the U.S. market bills it as the “mind-melting Asian answer to The Evil Dead.” The picture also features a kung fu fight scene, an exploding pregnancy, and some kind of evil spawn that looks something like Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors, only as a crawling, tentacled Lovecraftian nightmare. So you tell me.


why did i watch this movie?

I was reading somewhere about how over-the-top Hong Kong cinema can be, and then elsewhere saw similar references to a variety of its horror films. This was one of them.

should you watch this movie?

The next time you’re in the mood for something outrageously ridiculous, Ghost will fit the bill nicely.

highlight and low point

Almost every character reacts with incredulity to something or another at some point or another in the course of this movie, which neatly aligns with the viewing experience. I suppose any number of questionable sequences or developments could be assessed unfavorably, but let’s be realistic here: this is exploitation-level trash, the foreign equivalent of a Troma venture.

rating from outer space: c+

 

Special Effects (1984)

directed by larry cohen
hemdale film corporation/larjan

More of a suspenseful meta dramedy than a horror film as such, this flick made me wonder how insufferable Eric Bogosian is in real life, as he was really, really good at portraying a total asshole here in his first cinematic lead role, as he also would prove to be a few years hence in Oliver Stone’s Talk Radio – adapted from the stage play Bogosian himself wrote. It also made me wonder what I would feel if I set foot in New York City again, since it’s been so long and so many things have changed so much since last I felt at home there. This tale of a murder disguised (hopefully) as a movie thinks it’s making all sorts of statements about the film industry and aspirant lives shooting for stardom and, you know, Art, and probably a bunch of other stuff, too, but I’m pretty sure the filmmaker just wanted to be clever about his Art. He sort of succeeds in making everything exponentially self-referential, but ultimately, nothing here really walks up and introduces itself. The exception may be the domicile of artist Lowell Nesbitt, where a lot of the action is filmed. Damn but the Art Scene in New York was a profitable one.

«no entiendes»

why did i watch this movie?

A reference to Cohen’s concurrent release Perfect Strangers opined this was a better option. And I’ve been meaning to watch his A Return to Salem’s Lot.

should you watch this movie?

Cohen has a bizarre and somewhat notorious filmography that may interest you.

highlight and low point

The actress who plays the dual lead female role, credited here as Zoe Tamerlis, dominates this category once you realize she was something of an advocate for heroin. (A bold stance, to be sure.)

She died two months after her 37th birthday.

Rating from outer space: B−

but do they have the Miss Piggy

The Werewolf and the Yeti aka La maldición de la bestia aka Night of the Howling Beast aka Horror of the Werewolf aka The Curse of the Beast (1975)

directed by m. i. bonns
profilmes, s. a.

I learned something important from this movie, which could one day save my life: Chaining a werewolf to a tree won’t control it. In addition, I was reminded of something completely different, which is that movies that have dubbed English dialogue can be a lot of fun. This Spanish offering is so undoubtedly below the level of even a B picture that it’s fairly incredible it’s from as late as ’75; you’d be forgiven for thinking it a decade older than that. Set largely in “Tibet,” it can’t even attempt to disguise the fact that most of the picture is filmed outdoors in Spain. The casting, meanwhile, does proud by that of John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror.

“Tibet”

Whenever he’s onscreen, the werewolf sports a mod outfit he shares with his human self, which no one seems to notice for far too long. The werewolf is also fond of pro wrestling leaps and suplexes and carries and such. Despite at least one of its many monikers, this extravaganza features no yeti until it has fewer than seven minutes left to run. 

why did i watch this movie?

I couldn’t not watch something known as “Night of the Howling Beast,” especially after a brief glance at its particulars.

should you watch this movie?

Really, you owe it to yourself to appreciate this fine, fine feature.

highlight and low point

Expert: “I would say it’s an anthropoid biped, of a powerful structure and characteristics of a man … but at the same time, the thumb doesn’t form a grip with the other fingers as it does with a simian.”

Colleague: “It also has long, heavy claws – which makes me think of some enormous canine.”

Bonus Travelogue: “Here in Tibet are hidden mysteries and secrets, enigmas most profound and indescribable.”

rating from outer space: C−

an enigma most profound and indescribable

Curtains (1983)

DIRECTED BY “JONATHAN STRYKER”
SIMCOM/JENSEN FARLEY PICTURES, INC./CURTAINS PRODUCTIONS, INC.

Actually directed by Alan Smithee cinematographer Richard Ciupka, this portentous Canadian romp isn’t dull, as it contains enough quirks to amuse viewers while they’re wondering who’s doing all the killing. It is a bit more restrained – or sedate, both being apropos with the mental health subcontext – than one may anticipate when perusing the plotline: six female actors (or two actors, a comedian, a musician or perhaps model, a dancer and an … ice skater) are summoned to a remote, sprawling manor to audition for a plum role at the behest of a paternalistic, prurient director named – could you believe – Jonathan Stryker, smugly played by John Vernon as an overblown, imperious caricature. Exactly why this desirable role is up for grabs is more or less the driving force behind the inscrutable developments, the explanation of which dovetails nicely with the poignant conclusion. More of an old-fashioned drawing room mystery than a contemporary ’80s slasher, even if it retains many stylistic elements of the latter. All told, it presents (to me, anyway) an etymological quandary: Screwball, or “oddball”?

WHY DID I WATCH THIS MOVIE?

Wow, have I watched a lotta Canuck films lately.

SHOULD YOU WATCH THIS MOVIE?

Somewhat uneven and a bit of a farce (by design, that is, not through ineptitude per se), it would most likely be a change of pace.

HIGHLIGHT AND LOW POINT

The blasé manner with which one of the characters presents her misdeeds is fetching, and the discontinuous structure is noteworthy, as it randomly presents what appear to be two solo performance scenes, but I wasn’t kidding about the ending … and there’s the downside. Troubled throughout its production, the core of a really splendid achievement instead lies strewn about the remnants of its shell.

RATING FROM OUTER SPACE: B−

 

The Driller Killer (1979)

directed by abel ferrara
navaron films

Abel Ferrara’s non-pornographic feature-length directorial debut, in which he also stars under a pseudonym as the main character, a struggling-artist type in the Big City. With two female roommates – one of whom is apparently married and affluent, the other of which is, like, spaced out, man. (The roommates have a shower scene, because it’s very important to the plot.) Of the plot, it must be said, there is one: Reno, the artist, is working on a painting he hopes to sell to the gay art dealer he dislikes but nonetheless depends on, because Reno has no money. Meanwhile, a band called Roosters moves into his same tenement building and practices their discordant off-key blues-influenced new wave at all hours. Naturally, he starts killing derelicts with a power drill. Then things start to go awry. The best parts of this movie are the Roosters, whose music is chaotic and senseless and not “good,” and the utter zeal with which the drill killings are performed. Abel Ferrara: we need filmmakers like him.

why did i watch this movie?

I actually started watching this movie because I wasn’t sure if I’d already seen it. Was I confusing it with The Toolbox Murders? Maybe.

should you watch this movie?

Personally, I always find it instructive to watch slice-of-life features set in New York City in the 1970s. The gritty realism permeates the glamorous façade.

highlight and low point

A compelling scene involving the three roommates and a pizza pie foreshadows a lot of the movie’s falling action, much as it clarifies the nature of their relationships. (I may be bullshitting you, true, but I did find it fascinating.) Some of the character development stereotypes or is otherwise less than charitable.

rating from outer space: c+