The Slayer aka Nightmare Island (1982)

directed by j. s. cardone
the international picture show company

For a flick with a ridiculously uninspired setup – two couples go to a remote island, where someone or something is bumping them off one by one – this small-time production winds up delivering a lot more than one would expect. I don’t think I’d go quite so far as to believe the claim that cineastes have long debated the manifold interpretations available to the ambiguous ending – how many people have even heard of this picture? – but although one’s immediate reaction to the final scene might be to feel a bit cheated, further reflection possibly may assuage such a response. It could also exacerbate it, of course, and hey, now I’m merging with those ca(s)hiers du cinéma(rt). Better than it should have been.


why did i watch this movie?

It’s called “The Slayer,” and it’s from 1982. Quod erat demonstrandum.


should you watch this movie?

It’s really more  of a character study than you’d be excused for expecting from a 1982 film called “The Slayer,” and kept reminding me of The Mutilator – which it predates – most likely because of the beachfront property.

highlight and low point

As Kay, Sarah Kendall gives audiences a pretty good indication of why they would never see her in anything ever again, but either her blank stares and flatness of affect eventually begin to seem more suitable or the dramatics of the rest of the movie overpower the urge to keep laughing. Kay’s an artist, which makes for an indefensibly inane analogy: though the plot here is akin to a paint-by-numbers kit, the end result is pleasing to the eye. The relationships between and among the couples are convincingly natural, and the final two minutes of this feature are a veritable tour de force.

rating from outer space: B+

Skinner (1993)

directed by ivan nagy
cinequanon pictures international/5 kidd productions

Hey, betcha can’t guess the pathology of this movie’s title character …

Get this: he skins people! Like, no way, right!? Now, with that out of the way, it’s time to admit that despite some obvious shortcomings, this is a strangely effective independent horror, with a cast that includes Ted Raimi, Ricki Lake and Traci Lords. Right, it’s very ’90s – that’s one of the shortcomings. But there’s very little of significance to gripe about here, even if some of the picture’s more potentially symbolic fascinations go more or less unexamined. The ending really could’ve used a better (and less derivative) concept, and like execution, but after the title character has finally shown his inner self, so to speak, that’s forgivable. I cannot stress enough, however, that even were you initially unaware, you’d immediately be able to peg the era of release.


why did i watch this movie?

As a longtime scourer of budget bins of all stripes and a onetime video-store regular, I felt as though I’d neglected this title too often. And Ted Raimi, of course.

should you watch this movie?

After some thought, I’d have to classify this picture as being of the sort you’d likely find fairly interesting and enjoyable should you happen across it, but not one worth any arduous journey to experience.

highlight and low point

Ricki Lake is delightful, per usual, and David Warshofsky’s bootleg rendition of post-1987 Anthony Michael Hall amused me for no particular reason, as did the fact that his character is named “Geoff Tate.” (It’s irrelevant whether that was intentional.) The explicit scene where a prostitute is flayed is technically astounding. Traci Lords plays a character who for no
pertinent reason is perpetually underdressed. SHOCKING, I know.

rating from outer space: B

Bits & Pieces (1985)

directed by leland thomas
created and written by michael koby
trans world entertainment/the celluloid conspiracy

We may have discovered a new unintentional comedy champion. For a while, said unintentional comedy is confined mainly to the ridiculous attempt at portraying the schizoid tendencies of our deranged Maniac killer, and oh yes, those responsible for this film obviously saw that one. Then romance blossoms! With a particularly unwarranted and superficially crafted meet cute that sees our unlikely love connection detour on a date to the beach to the jacuzzi to the fireplace in what could be a Time Life infomercial … while a citywide manhunt is going on, mind you, with bodies of nubile bleach-blondes piling up. Patently amateurish in most aspects, that sense of dizzy irresponsibility saves this picture from total ignominity. Credit must be granted for skirting several of many possible cliché endings.

why did i watch this movie?

Maybe it reminded me of this. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I did, as it made for a nice mother-themed double feature with our antecedent selection (which, by the way, was often teamed with La novia ensangrentada in a dubious double feature of its own).

should you watch this movie?

An unattributed factoid on this picture’s IMDb page claims it was written in five days and shot in 10, and I’d be inclined to believe those were concurrent spans. Plus, it features naturalistic dialogue:


Rosie
: “Tanya! The psycho! She’s dead! Murdered!”

Rosie’s mom: “Let’s call the police.”

highlight and low point

I would be remiss not to mention the original songs that highlight some key moments here, such as one of the male strip club scenes and the aforementioned romantic interlude. Unfortunately, these incredible numbers receive no attribution in the credits of this production. You should be dismayed.

rating from outer space: D

American Nightmare (1983)

directed by don mcbrearty
mano films limited/manesco films ltd.

Like the preceding selection, this movie features a lot of footage of strippers, but this Canadian picture manages to do so without it feeling particularly sleazy or exploitative. (Of course, the synopsis “mysterious killer preys on strippers” probably didn’t hurt with potential investors.) There’s more of a working-class focus, really, but portrayed within usually seedy locales. This viewpoint may be especially evident in contrast with the moneyed interests represented across a wide family divide. Our moody pianist protagonist doggedly pursues faint clues until he uncovers a terrible secret, which ultimately serves to mask a sociopathy masquerading as altruism. Along the way, two damaged people learn a little bit about love. WILL they survive the experience.

why did i watch this movie?

I wanted to throw another ’80s picture into the mix, and I’d been putting this one off.

should you watch this movie?

It doesn’t especially stand out, though its sociological perspective on affluence (or the lack of same) is pretty interesting, given that it actually was produced in 1981. Plus its disdain for the American ruse, of course.

highlight and low point

As is often the case in this genre, after the big reveal, you’d be best served not to think about any of the ramifications of what you’ve learned. Canadian film fans might enjoy another pairing of Michael Ironside and Lenore Zann, though the former’s role is surprisingly unimportant in the long run and the latter’s only serves to propel a plot device. And for a flick in which the main character inquires, “Did your reports tell you that she’s living in a SLUM? Surrounded by DEGENERATES?” the treatment of its sex workers and other assorted misfits or marginal types is in large part nonjudgmental.

rating from outer space: C

Mardi Gras Massacre (1978)

written, produced & directed by jack weis

It takes a special kind of vision to make a tribute or hommage to a notoriously fly-by-night production such as Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast by seemingly attempting to replicate that movie’s infamously wooden acting, but such is the attention doted upon this awesomely ’70s affair. I mean, one of the characters obviously reads his lines from the important papers he carries, just as one did in the original. Now that’s dedication. This picture is also replete with practically nonstop boogie music, a lot of which kinda sounds not unlike disco variations of Steely Dan’s oeuvre. Oh, and buckets of sleaze, don’t forget that. Practically every other scene features strippers or naked prostitutes; if the latter, they’re subject to the sacrificial ritual that is deliberately repeated, step by step, each and every time. Now that’s dedication.

why did i watch this movie?

This is yet another title that I’ve thought about checking out many, many times; this time around I just decided to finally go ahead with it.

should you watch this movie?

I’m not sure how to respond to that. On one hand, it’s fairly fascinating for a number of different reasons, but on the other hand, none of those reasons correlates to anything particularly admirable.


highlight and low point

As the lead weirdo, credit must be given William Metzo for never deviating from his modulated speech and mannerisms, a performance truly reminiscent of Mal Arnold as “Fuad Ramses” in the 1963 precursor. (Did I unfairly discredit the 2016 version, or was it jumping the same claim?) The scenes of heart removal are pretty gnarly. A significant sequence takes place during an actual Mardi Gras parade, and it’s amusing to watch the people who notice the camera mugging for it.

rating from outer space: c

The Funhouse (1981)

directed by tobe hooper
a mace neufeld production
in association with derek power

Opening with a predictable Psycho pastiche isn’t the most promising gambit, but Hooper’s fourth horror picture overcomes its penchant for paying homage to the classic monster films of yore. Set almost entirely within the grounds of a traveling carnival, at times nodding its head distinctly in the direction of Freaks, the film slowly builds suspense while tossing out the odd and unexplained hint of premonition here and there. Withholding most of the film’s real frights until after a surprising secret look behind the scenes pays off. Film buffs can probably play count the references here, but c’mon, there’s a carny with a Frankenstein getup working the nominal attraction. Overall, a polished, professional production.

why did i watch this movie?

Having just taken yet another trip to the TCM well, I thought I should check this one out, to see if it deserved its good reputation.

should you watch this movie?

It is very good at being what it intends to be. That’s not a knock; at a certain point, it really takes on a classic feel. (Kevin Conway is a big part of that.)

highlight and low point

I was actually hoping that the Frankenstein character either would stay in costume or actually look like that, because that woulda been quite the surreal monkey wrench, but alas. Rick Baker’s makeup FX, which seem silly at first … well, they still seem silly later, but remain effective enough. I don’t think I’d call this a brilliant piece of work by any means – nor would I suppose that was its aim – but it’s a clever and finely attuned work of evocation. The carnival grounds, provided by a real-life purveyor of such attractions, feel quite authentic.

rating from outer space: a−

Texas Chainsaw 3D aka Texas Chainsaw (2013)

directed by john luessenhop
millennium films/main line pictures

I’ll say this much: before you figure out where this picture is heading – which is about when you might want to stop watching – it’s a fairly worthy successor to the debut, even if its opening completely rips off that of The Devil’s Rejects. Not unlike every other film bearing any relationship to the title “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” – checkered as that past is – it also leaves way too many questions unanswered, questions which needn’t ever have been raised in the first place. Oh! And as it lurches through its climax, it also borrows an extended scene (and attendant manner of grisly demise) from Slaughterhouse. For all that – and I’m including the ludicrous backstory and character development of the newest family member – it’s a gripping watch … at least until our poor heroine gets “helped out” by the police, anyway. After that, it’s just more of the same hot garbage churned out in the name of the TCM franchise by those who won’t leave bad enough alone.

why did i watch this movie?

A clip from it posted somewhere led me to the trailer, which twisted my arm.


should you watch this movie?

Hooper and Henkel’s 1974 success was a serendipitous feat, and nobody seems willing or able to countenance that fact – including them. (They’re two of approximately 137 “executive producers” here.) It’s less perfunctory than the 2003
reboot, for whatever that’s worth.

highlight and low point

This film does not skimp on sickening gore, presented for the most part with exquisite care, so if that happens to be your bag, one indelible scene in particular is calling your name. The resolution of the storyline is a mess, the loopholes and oversights mount alarmingly, and the scattered signifiers of the original seem desperate.

rating from outer space: c−

Uncle Sam (1996)

directed by WILLIAM LUSTIG
gable productions

You kinda have to admire the chutzpah of a flick that doesn’t even bother to give any sort of reason how or why the titular dead soldier is wandering around killing “America’s” enemies – that’s just how it is. And, really, when you are as uninspired as this picture, why bother going that extra foot. When I stumbled across this title, I found myself wondering how I’d never previously heard of it. Having watched it, I now know: it’s terribly bland. Proceeding in a kind of somnolent daze, everything feels mistimed or disjointed, as if every scene was shot separately and then assembled in postproduction. (It’s doubtful a deeper, more complex story fell victim to budget constraints.) A couple of the killings are relatively imaginative, I guess. From the creative team behind the equally humdrum Maniac Cop.

why did i watch this movie?

The title. Plus, from all appearances it appeared to be a chintzy production with a paint-by-numbers concept. I didn’t even know Larry Cohen was involved until the credits rolled. (He “wrote” it.)

should you watch this movie?

Assuredly so, presuming you have a predilection for really bad acting and general inanity.

highlight and low point

My preferred moment was when it was clearly obvious that multiple Sams were lined up to produce the EERIE effect in a scene where the local teenage lout has gotten wildly off course from the Independence Day town festival sack race but for some reason continues hopping along in the sack instead of taking the damn thing off and, you know, walking or running or something. The prepubescent burn victim in the wheelchair who establishes some sorta psychic link with Undead Sam (also horribly charred) is a close second.

rating from outer space: D−

NOT Joe Biden

Slaughterhouse (1987)

written and directed by rick roessler
american artists

From the very beginning of this picture, I was pleasantly surprised. Well, scratch that – the very beginning of this picture is actual footage of a pork-processing plant, complete with pig massacre, and your faithful correspondent is a vegan animal lover – but once the movie proper began, it outdid my expectations. It hadn’t sounded promising, from the overly obvious title to the mentally challenged hillbilly character to the billing as a “horror comedy,” but it’s a fairly well-made slasher pic. As it turns out, the deranged Bacon scion (uh-huh, I know) is effectively unsettling, the humor is … well, “subtle” isn’t the right word, but there’s no mugging or slapstick and no awful punmanship, either. The kids are just regular kids, it doesn’t quite follow the usual trite template, and even the gore is reasonably presented, and fairly minimal. Color me impressed.

why did i watch this movie?

This one’s been in the queue for so long I have no idea. I saw a reference to it somewhere and thought, that sounds as though it could be terrible, I should watch it.

should you watch this movie?

With the acknowledgment that it wasn’t ever gonna win too many awards for originality, you could make much worse choices for overlooked ’80s numbers.

highlight and low point

That this picture could have degenerated into a cartoonish farce but didn’t ranks as among its best features. It does include the widely lampooned “let the villain talk long enough for help to arrive” shtick, though, along with the timeworn device of a freeze-frame ending – which here proved doubly pointless, as a sequel never materialized because this production failed to attract a lucrative distribution offer. The delightfully generic synthpop tunes contribute sporadic bonus contemporizing.

rating from outer space: B

Graduation Day (1981)

directed by herb freed
ifi/scope iii

Sure, there are hundreds of movies just like this one, but this example manages to be more fun than a lot of them, even if it pushes some of the faults and foibles of its type to the extreme. As an example, the roller-skating scene, with the band “Felony” playing in the center: their song, “Gangster Rock,” goes on and on and on … and on, and on … and on, and we’re treated to the same shots of band members miming and the same closeups  of feet shod in roller skates over and over and over. (Although there are plenty of extras in the scene who don’t even bother with the skates!) And then there’s some of the frankly ridiculous methods of victim dispatch, the belabored attempts to draw attention to the wrong suspects, the fact that absolutely everybody repeatedly has to use the all-too-convenient woods path, and so forth. But for all that, what this flick really did for me was spur thoughts that #MeToo should probably have happened a loooong time ago.

why did i watch this movie?

I’d been contemplating checking this one out for a long time, as it’s from an estimable era for these types of flicks, and also because opinions of it seesaw.

should you watch this movie?

You were just saying how you needed to flesh out (sorry) Linnea Quigley‘s incipient scream-queen career. Or perhaps you’re an aficionado of “horror movies with generic rock bands.”

highlight and low point

Seriously, the unnecessary T&A in this picture is kind of … depressing. The depictions of women’s roles in the home and the workplace might be worse. And since the overall feel of the production is kinda skeevy besides, that’s all kinds of unappealing.

rating from outer space: b