Don’t Go in the Woods aka Don’t Go in the Woods … Alone! (1981)

directed by james bryan
jbf

This picture is almost breathtakingly incompetent. It features possibly the most ersatz blood I have ever seen, its soundtrack is a wildly inappropriate symphony of treated electronic squawks and bleeps – and it is also a vivid reminder of a time when independent horror features could carve out their own niche at the nation’s “nabes” and drive-ins. As such, despite its excessive documentary-style nature shots, unnecessary scenes, continuity problems, clearly overdubbed dialogue, utterly superfluous moments, endless stream of unidentified cast members, and overly linear “plot,” this flick demands a place at the cult-classic table with the likes of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Midnight movie weekends should definitely feature people screaming nonsensical audience-participation crap at this epic.


why did i watch this movie?

I don’t know about you, but I’m almost always up for a film with a title warning “DON’T GO IN” this, “DON’T GO NEAR” that, and so forth.

should you watch this movie?

If you had a venue where you could screen this as part of some event or other, or project it as a sideline feature or during an interlude or something, it would probably go over pretty well. Otherwise?

No.

highlight and low point

The best part of this adventure, hands down, is the incredible scenery of the beautiful location in which they filmed, which may be Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

This isn’t even one of the good shots

Whatever it is, I wanna go there, even if it’s inhabited by a deranged mountain man or any survivors of related massacres. Honestly, though, I also enjoyed the completely unpretentious portrayals of the members of the sheriff’s department. Managing to stand out even in a completely haphazard production, the bewildering parade of random characters is sui generis.

rating from outer space: D+

The Basement (2017)

directed by laszlo illes
intergalactic productions/pannonia pictures

Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before – a group of friends is harassed and stalked by masked assailants in a confined location, and it might be supernatural in nature. All right, that’s a little bit unfair to this flick mostly situated under the streets of Budapest, because the group are the intruders, even if the entrance to THE BASEMENT was open, so … Atmospheric, on occasion aptly frightful, verging on ominous, this generically likable picture never really overcomes its setup, even if it does expand the parameters a bit. For instance, the members of the group never really agree with each other about what it is they may be facing. Their shared confusion is welcome, as is the fact that one of the characters keeps telling the others they’re being stupid. Also, though one gets the sense that the script may not be playing totally fair, it doesn’t egregiously break the rules, either, always leaving just enough room for doubt. That, however, doesn’t quite suffice, and it never becomes really gripping. It also shares its name with an American film made the same year that doesn’t sound much more inventive.

why did i watch this movie?

It’s Hungarian. I do not think I’d seen a Hungarian film since Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky’s Werckmeister Harmonies … a long time ago. (I think that’s the one that sums up 2.5 hours of misery with the observation “Nothing means anything.”)

should you watch this movie?

“There is no there there.”

highlight and low point

Most of this picture is in English, and though supposedly subtitled, did not translate the random Hungarian dialogue – an intriguing touch. The comically blatant “Vitamin Water” product placement worsts the contorted attempt to avoid revealing the film’s core banality too soon.

rating from outer space: C

 

 

Death Dorm aka The Dorm That Dripped Blood aka Pranks (1982)

directed by jeffrey obrow and stephen carpenter
jeff obrow productions

Sloppy and unfocused, this run-of-the-mill affair struggled to hold my attention. The debut offering from Obrow and Carpenter, made a few years before their much more accomplished The Power, it reminded me why I find The Evil Dead so interesting as a filmmaker’s initial effort – its conceptualization. Here, all we have is a rather standard story about a small group of people being picked off one by one, with the usual false clues and misplaced suspicions. Many hallmarks of an essentially amateur production are also present, such as ragged editing and poorly paced and redundant scenes. I’m not saying I could do better; for a prospective script written by film students and shot on-campus during break, it’s more than good enough. Impressively, the ending contains an unexpected wrinkle.

why did i watch this movie?

As is often the case, as I was writing my review of The Power, I decided I should probably give this one a look.

should you watch this movie?

Aside from a cast of actors you’ll largely never see again, there’s nothing too interesting here aside from the opportunity to muse about the instincts of those who produce horror features. So very often the writers opt for set pieces and pat themes that conform to genre conventions. I suppose if you’re trying to sell investors and backers on your first attempt, this approach is reasonable, but it often just seems to be business as usual in this arena.

highlight and low point

Though it’s fairly easy at times to observe that these people had never made a movie before, they did a pretty convincing job with at least one of the death scenes.

Rating from outer space: c−

boy, that looks official

 

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−

Rumah Dara aka Macabre aka Darah (2009)

directed by the mo brothers
gorylah pictures/merah productions/guerilla visual movement/nation pictures/mediacorp raintree pictures

Good Lord. If you want blood, you’ve got it with this insane Indonesian production. I barely even know where to begin talking about this gonzoid picture, other than to say I’ve got a new entry on my list of favorites. The setup isn’t anything special – a group of friends gives a stranger a ride home, and she invites them in so her mother can thank them – but the direction is. Unrelenting, intense and horrific and bleak and sadistic, it only begins to let in a little air after it reaches a sort of tipping point later in the proceedings and inevitably skews toward the blackly humorous – likely because little other option existed. Be forewarned, however, that before that happens it’s little but a trip through a special hell, with something to appall just about everyone. A masterpiece of the sick and twisted little corner of the film world it inhabits, this one’s gonna stick around the old memory banks for a while.

why did i watch this movie?

When I was reading up on Kuntilanak, I noticed this title, as Julie Estelle stars in both.

should you watch this movie?

I enthusiastically encourage everyone to watch this movie immediately. You will, however, need a strong stomach and an unhealthy appetite for, yes, the macabre.

highlight and low point

Shareefa Daanish and Arifin Putra are ridiculously evil as Dara and Adam, respectively, but picking my favorite aspects of this flick would entail a really long list. So I guess I’ll just say PROJECT: IMMORTAL SNAKE and leave it at that, unless you’d like me to laud the superlative chainsaw usage. The biggest drawback I can think of offhand is that I found myself wondering when I last saw such an excessively blood-soaked celluloid marvel. Dead Alive, maybe.

rating from outer space: a

Atração Satânica aka Satanic Attraction (1989)

directed by fauzi mansur
j. davila enterprises

This picture straight from the Brazilian scrapheap is almost completely incoherent. With less than 15 minutes left, the chief of police exclaims – and not for the first time – “but none of this makes any sense!” He is correct. “Satanic Attraction” rivals Maya with its puzzles about who some characters are and what exactly their role is. (Unlike that headscratcher, however, this one isn’t any fun.) Is that a police boat? Why is the heavily pregnant Reporter always wearing a bikini top? Wait, did they just forget that character’s identity? Who is that guy, and what in the hell is he doing here? Possibly the drollest element of this nonsense is its radio-show narration, part of the convoluted sense of SOCIETAL TERROR and OFFICIAL OUTRAGE that you won’t buy for even a minute. But most amusing is that this picture was filmed in Portuguese in Brazil, and the version I watched was dubbed in English but subtitled in … Portuguese. Which doesn’t appear to agree directly with the dubbed dialogue. Which per the usual doesn’t equal the “drama.”

why did i watch this movie?

Well, I WANTED to watch a different Brazilian picture, Shock, but apparently no subtitles for that one exist. This hot mess was suggested as a fill-in, and rightly so.

should you watch this movie?

I know there’s a lot of fans of bad, bad movies out there … maybe you’re one of them.

highlight and low point

The “police work” in this film is really something. This may be excusable, as the victims’ bodies are never anywhere to be found – though somehow the victims are still identified as such. One such casualty, who naturally is taking a bubble bath, fails to realize that a razor blade has been embedded in her bar of soap.

rating from outer space: D

 

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 …