Vampire Circus (1972)

directed by robert young
hammer film productions

“Better no mother than a mother that worships the devil!” proclaims a vindictive villager as this picture comes out with all guns blazing. (Torches, actually.) I immediately wondered if I needed to start watching everything with the Hammer name from this time period. Child slaughter, nudity, lust, arson, mayhem … and that was all in the first 15 minutes, before the credits ended. Things settle down after that, once the gypsies show up with the “Circus of Nights,” although a hearty massacre of three members of a family – by a panther – does find its way in there. (The panther is rather amusingly animated and exaggerated by the FX of the day.) Despite getting a bit bogged down in the villagers’ struggle to understand what has befallen them, however, enough eldritch touches recur to keep things moving along nicely toward the expected ending.

why did i watch this movie?

Look, I try my best to keep my motives pure and my intellectual pursuits respectable, but this damn flick is called “Vampire Circus.”

should you watch this movie?

terrifying muppet gore

If you don’t find the title “Vampire Circus” deliriously fetching, then probably not.

highlight and low point

The Circus has an attraction called “Mirror of Life,” and it is within this enclosed tent that nefarious truths are revealed, of course. One of the scenes that takes place in said location is pretty impressively intimidating. Some of the moments when the main vampiric henchman Emil brandishes his fangs verge on silly. Oh, and if you’re keeping track, herein it is once again revealed that removing the stake from the undead’s heart will allow it to return to its imitation of life. So apparently I forgot that bit of mythology somewhere along the way.

rating from outer space: B−

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+

Lake Placid (1999)

Directed by steve miner
phoenix pictures/fox 2000 pictures/rocking chair productions

Only tenuously a “horror” picture – and only because it features a monstrous crocodile in an otherwise tranquil rural setting – this thriller/comedy/slapstick mashup is simultaneously way better than it should have been and much less than it could have been. It starts out with a ton of promise, with a witty showcase of screenwriting that manages at first to tiptoe with aplomb the extremely fine line between playing dumb and exposing banal inanity. This can’t last, of course, but it never devolves into lowest-common-denominator stupidness, even as it invests Betty White with a foulmouthed gimmick that exemplifies the law of diminishing returns. Not unlike Airplane! or, say, The Naked Gun, what it does best is wink at the tropes of several film genres, but unlike those broad farces, it generally avoids beating them into the ground. Unfortunately, the overall effect is slight and forgettable … though it somehow spawned FOUR sequels and a reboot (!), trailing in its wake the absurdist fare of SyFy and its ilk.

why did i watch this movie?

I’ve wanted to see it for a long time, and following the new Pet Sematary, it seemed apt. Plus, I wasn’t in the mood for any of the other crap terrific offerings in the pipeline.

should you watch this movie?

Despite boasting top-shelf attributes almost across the board, in the end it’s a little too disposable, a little too redolent of the brainless summer cinema it’s presumably lampooning.

highlight and low point

Brendan Gleeson is splendid as the Sheriff and Bridget Fonda’s fish out of water (sorry) is disarmingly ingenuous, highlighting the clever wordplay by TV veteran David E. Kelley. (That the parodic elements never exceed homage is another testament.) Momentum lags at times, and a few moments of unwarranted crudity surface.

Rating: B+

30 Miles From Nowhere (2018)

directed by caitlin koller
film camp productions

I’ll admit I’m biased, but good writing has saved many a movie, and if you can add good acting on top of that, well, then you can get a lot of mileage out of a well-worn scenario. This quirky, offbeat indie comedy thriller is really more about its ensemble cast than its afterthought plot or minimal scares. Which is not to say it doesn’t keep one in suspense; it does, albeit mildly, but what this movie does better than anything else is establish one long setup for a sucker punch. Slight though the overall effect of this picture may be, it will impress you with its panache. A worthy diversion whenever you need a break from whatever the hell TV programming you watch.

why did i watch this movie?

I rather randomly wound up on some dubious streaming site and this title was hanging out there and I looked at the description and thought what the hey. An insight into my procedures: Six or seven flicks in toto were selected initially; only this and one other survived.

should you watch this movie?

I really wanna say this is a horror picture for the NPR crowd, without being able to define that very strictly, and not wanting to make this some sorta cultural football. But it concerns research psychologists, for crying out loud.

highlight and low point

Everyone in this film apparently is some stripe of known television personality, but as I pretty much only watch horror flicks and baseball, I did not recognize any of them. As hinted above, I greatly enjoyed the snappy dialogue writing, which managed the tricky feat of being highly literate without sounding forced or overly theatrical. And the performances were excellent across the board.

rating from outer space: B+

insignia found on film’s website

 

Splatter University (1984)

directed by richard w. Haines
richard w. haines productions/aquifilm co.

I guess I gotta admit that this objectively terrible movie is right in my wheelhouse, because although it’s completely, laughably awful, I can’t bring myself to pan it outright or consign it to the trash heap with some of the others I’ve slagged around here. But make no mistake – it’s not good, at all. The murder scenes are almost all exactly the same: character opens door, character sees knife brandished by unknown attacker, character gets stabbed in the abdomen, character dies. (The identity of the killer is easy to deduce, as well.) Many if not all of the characters are ridiculously exaggerated stereotypes, and attempts to portray “campus life” are in a similar vein. The only reason I imagine anyone would want to watch this movie is to remember a bygone era of moviemaking. The DIY ethos that the seventies made necessary in many areas of the arts was of considerable value … even if the artifacts it produced may not have been.

why did i watch this movie?

Hey, man …

should you watch this movie?

This picture was largely filmed in 1981, the credits at the end seem to read “1982,” and Troma eventually released it in 1984. Its entry on Horrorpedia includes the director’s explanation that to make it feature-length and “marketable,” a new beginning and ending were grafted onto it along with the abysmal attempts at wacky collegiate humor.

highlight and low point

As the credits rolled, I noticed the name “George Seminara” and thought, wait, the George Seminara? Yep, that one. The names of the Three Stooges are borrowed for character monikers, which amused me. Oh, and the lead role is played by “one of the most sought after female keynote speakers in the country.”

rating from outer space: d−

Kolobos (1999)

directed by daniel liatowitsch and david todd ocvirk
armitage pictures

This indie flick started off terribly and I was all set for major disappointment, but it picked up fairly nicely after that – until a certain repetitiveness of a key theme began to wear on me during the middle of the action … and ultimately led into an unfortunate, cut-and-dried resolution. But although that end result felt compromised and was more than a bit of a letdown, getting there turned out to be pretty interesting anyway – despite the fact that not very much about this production could be called “original.” Some strangers agree to live together in a house for some reason or another, carnage ensues, and so forth. There’s a supernatural element, or IS there. Which character(s) can’t be trusted, and why. Did it really happen. You get the idea. At times, however, it’s very nearly professional, and with a little more ingenuity could’ve been pretty special.

why did i watch this movie?

When I was compiling my list of 1990s features, this one stood out because of its unaffiliated nature and a description that made it sound a lot more challenging than it proved to be.

should you watch this movie?

If you enjoy very independent horror pix, sure, why not.

highlight and low point

After the excruciating opening scenes, the writing got a lot better and the characterizations matured. Despite some stock setups – oh, hey, the power went out, imagine that – effective tension was maintained for the majority of the runtime. I enjoyed a bit of a Killbots vibe that unexpectedly surfaced (perhaps probably unintentionally). The overly predictable cop-out ending didn’t help matters much, but the fake horror movie series embedded within the storyline (“The Slaughterhouse Factor”) was a nice touch.

rating from outer space: B−

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−