Maniac Cop (1988)

directed by william lustig
shapiro-glickenhaus entertainment

One does not decide to watch a flick with a title like “Maniac Cop” thinking he or she is in for a deep, thought-provoking vehicle for highly skilled thespians featuring a trenchant, thinking-man’s script. And if one did, he or she would most likely be disappointed by this feature produced by the estimable Larry Cohen (and directed by the same guy behind the camera for Maniac, Lustig, a man clearly in need of a thesaurus). In all honesty, this feature is of a slightly higher quality than I’d expected, which probably does it a disfavor. With a sense of restraint belying its name, it never feels like anything more than what it is: a tossed-off cheapie thriller, made for off nights on off-brand cable channels. It’s dumb, occasionally amusing, and doesn’t care a whit about conveying any realism whatsoever – a picture drawn in such broad strokes it may as well involve fingerpaint. The ending is beyond banal.

why did i watch this movie?

After experiencing the previous couple Cohen productions, and having enjoyed my first exposure to Lustig’s work, and wondering why I’d never before bothered to watch this succinctly titled pic, it just seemed an obvious choice.

should you watch this movie?

Do you feel as though there’s a void in your life that can only be filled by the incisive philosophy that must buttress a filmic exploration entitled “Maniac Cop”?

highlight and low point

So, this production makes a point of focusing on Maniac Cop’s mutilated left hand, to identify the character and also reveal his … condition. In one such shot later in the film, the hand looks completely normal. Such utter disregard for continuity is always amusing. Tom Atkins plays Resolute Cop, Bruce Campbell plays Bruce Campbell Wrongfully Accused Patsy, and the script plays dead.


rating from outer space: C−

The Invisible Man (1933)

directed by james whale
universal pictures

Although hampered at times by a bit of slapstick and what feels like leftover vaudeville attributes, and a little too enamored of the photographic trickery by which the effects of the invisible antagonist are achieved – though it’s hard to fault them for that – this SF tale of the inexplicable manages both to convey more tension than you might figure and to be downright creepy at times. When the title character first reveals his condition, it’s pretty disturbing, even as you are obviously prepared for it 85 years later. And at least one other scene along the way provides more than a bit of a shock, albeit tempered a bit by the fact that it is unmistakably done with miniatures. Claude Rains gets top billing for a role which he performs mostly by voice alone, and his dialogue ratchets up the intensity and insanity as this picture progresses. All in all, this one rather deservedly can be called a classic, and remains a significant precursor to more than one film genre.

why did i watch this movie?

The Invisible Man occupies the second slot on Johnny Ramone’s top 10.

should you watch this movie?

In discussing classic horror with others, it repeatedly arose that most had never seen this picture. I hadn’t, either, and honestly never had much interest, figuring I was familiar with the story – despite the fact that I’d also never read the novel. I’m glad I’ve now rectified this oversight.

highlight and low point

As alluded above, a few too many shots here feature things flying around by themselves and people reacting in astonishment or fright. The representation of malevolence by the title character reaches the pinnacle, highlighted by curt pronouncements such as “At 10 o’clock tomorrow night, I shall kill you.”

rating from outer space: B+

a poignant deathbed scene

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

 

Christmas Evil aka You Better Watch Out (1980)

written and Directed by lewis jackson
edward r. pressman productions

One thing I hadn’t expected from this movie (or, to be fair, any movie) was to see Santa Claus being chased by an angry mob bearing torches. As for that horde, it was as though the townspeople were suspiciously well prepared for such a situation. An opportunistic rabble, however, is just one small oddity in a film chock-full of strange events and ideas. Befitting the Yuletide theme, the picture plays out like some sort of twisted fable. A repressed middle-aged man identifies a little too much with Saint Nicholas, his obsession seemingly brought about by a desire for Santa to be real. Of course, he works in a toy factory. He also spies on the neighborhood kids, and his brother’s family, but this may be expected since his pathology was borne of a bit of childhood voyeurism. His Claus then becomes a sort of Robin Hood, sabotaging the company at which he’s become middle management and killing a couple people in the process. The saga ends with an impossible scene paralleled four years later in Repo Man, would you believe:

why did i watch this movie?

It was Christmas Eve, and I’d just watched the Silent Night flicks the preceding two evenings.

should you watch this movie?

It perverts the iconography a bit, sure, but it essentially reinforces classic holiday-movie themes. Get the whole family together!

highlight and low point

A scene where our protagonist gets pulled into a neighborhood Christmas party and dances with the attendees is pretty interesting, particularly as at this point, he should be on the lam. Luckily for him, it appears to be surprisingly hard to follow the trail of a guy dressed as Santa Claus driving around in a big white van with a garish sleigh painted on both sides.

rating from outer space: B+

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−

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

 

Rocktober Blood (1984)

directed by Beverly sebastian
sebastian international pictures

Featured in this astounding straight-to-video accomplishment: Blatant lip-synching, awesomely generic hard rock, a mustachioed dude in a ZZ Top “Eliminator” raglan sleeve shirt, a guy in a gorilla mask breakdancing, a station named “MVTV,” chicks doing aerobics very intensely, multiple Jacuzzi scenes and one regular bathtub scene, a villain that’s a budget Mike Reno of Loverboy, a song (and character) called “Rainbow Eyes.” NOT featured: logic or reason, professional actors, any attempt whatsoever to present a plausible scenario, any original ideas. It does, however, answer the question of what Eddie and the Cruisers would have been like as a barrel-bottom slasher flick. Somebody was asking that question, right?

why did i watch this movie?

1984. “Rocktober Blood.” The claim that it was also known as “Rockill” (true, in Belgium). And THEN I find out its working title was “Trick or Treat”! Really, though, it may have been fate: Over the opening shot of recording studio gear, the first words spoken in this picture are, “‘K, Billy, time to rock and roll – here we go.”

should you watch this movie?

If you are currently a teenager living in the early-to-mid-1980s, you will love it.

highlight and low point

The real nadir – besides the banal reveal, that is – is that the above clip omits the movie’s inspirational one-handed hammer-on guitar intro.

rating from outer space: C−

the aerobics scene has the Let There Be Rock film poster