Saturday, October 25, 2014

Berserk (1967)

Director: Jim O'Connolly

Writers: Aben Kandel, Herman Cohen, Joan Crawford

Composer: John Scott

Starring: Joan Crawford, Ty Hardin, Diana Dors, Michael Gough, Judy Geeson, Robert Hardy, Geoffrey Keen, Sydney Tafler, George Claydon, Philip Madoc, Ambrosine Phillpotts, Thomas Cimarro, Peter Burton, Golda Casimir, Ted Lune, Milton Reid

More info: IMDb

Tagline: The Screen Screams out at a Hundred Horrors!

Plot: Monica Rivers is the owner and ringmaster of a traveling circus, and she'll stop at nothing to draw bigger audiences. When a series of mysterious murders begins to occur and some of her performers die gruesomely, her profits soar. She hires high-wire walker Frank Hawkins, impressed by the handsome and muscular young man. They begin an affair which arouses her previous lover Durando's jealousy. When Durando is found dead shortly afterward, the other performers begin to take alarm, as a mysterious killer is obviously loose in their midst. Many suspect Monica herself of the killings, especially Matilda, who has set her sights on Monica's new lover. At this point, Monica's unruly, sixteen-year-old daughter Angela is expelled from school for being incorrigible, and Monica is forced to take her into the circus, allowing her to become the partner of knife-thrower Gustavo. Meanwhile, the dead bodies continue to pile up.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again? No.

Sometimes it's who's in the picture that makes a big difference for me, people I don't realize at first glance in the opening credits.  Geoffrey Keene's voice is instantly recognizable to Bond fans of the Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton films and then there's Milton Reid as the strongman who looked awfully familiar and it's because he was the guy who's holding on to Bond's tie before he falls in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977).  Yep, those are the highlights for me.  Oh, and the poodle act was really cute.  This picture is an odd bird because there is a good deal of filler in the way of circus acts.  Did they really need to put so much of it in here?  Nope.  Maybe they were catering to the folks who couldn't get out to see the circus but could buy a movie ticket.  Beats the mess out of me but I don't care.  It's an OK murder mystery of sorts set in a circus.  It's harmless and there's nothing all that exciting about any of it.  Near the end you wonder which knife thrown at the spinning girl is going to land where it shouldn't (I won't spoil it) or when someone is going to snuff it during a performance but that's about it.  It's not a bad film but it's not likely to do anything for anyone except for the 68 people on IMDb that gave it a 10/10.  The ending surprised the hell out of me.  Didn't see that one coming.  I dug it. You'd think the circus horror subgenre would be ripe with great ideas for horror but I haven't seen them.  The best of the bunch I've seen is CIRCUS OF HORRORS (1960) which is worth your while over this picture any day. 

Crucible of Horror (1971)

Original title: The Corpse

Director: Viktors Ritelis

Writer: Olaf Pooley

Composer: John Hotchkis

Starring: Michael Gough, Yvonne Mitchell, Sharon Gurney, Simon Gough, David Butler, Olaf Pooley, Nicholas Jones, Mary Hignett, Howard Goorney

More info: IMDb

Tagline: The nightmare never ends!

Plot: A mother and daughter hatch a scheme to murder their family's domineering and sadistic patriarch.

My rating: 4/10

Will I watch it again? No.

There are two things that hurt this picture.  The first is the dreadfully long running time.  91 minutes felt like 120.  The story is more suited to either an hour episode of something like ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS or, better still, it could be a great 20-30 minute segment in an Amicus horror anthology film.  The other thing, the story is very reminiscent of the excellent French horror thriller, LES DIABOLIQUE (1955).   I just remembered how little music is in the film.  The first half hour feels like forever but that could be a good thing.  We get to spend time with the Eastwoods in what must be a painful way to live.  They're boring as hell and Walter (Gough) is a right bastard who's job it seems is to make his family miserable and he's good at it.  If that was the goal, for us to feel like one of them, then the filmmakers succeeded in spades but it's still a slugfest to get through it.  It does pick up when his wife and daughter decide to do something about it...but then it continues to drag.  It's currently on Netflix streaming.  As a side note, the current 1970s horror films on Netflix are pretty piss poor.  There's a great site,, that lets you search what's on Netflix in a MUCH better manner than Netflix's own site. Do a search for horror and then narrow it to just the 1970s and you'll see how little there is (41 films) and how low the quality of them is (not in picture quality but in how good they generally are).  There are a few gems but they're rare.  It's even worse when you're a horror junkie like me who has seen most of them already.  I'm going through them slowly but the ones I haven't seen are boring as hell (usually).

Friday, October 24, 2014

Shrunken Heads (1994)

Director: Richard Elfman

Writers: Charles Band, Matthew Bright

Composer: Danny Elfman (theme only), Richard Band

More info: IMDb

Tagline: They're superheroes from the their necks.

Plot: When three N.Y. kids are murdered, the local Hatiian voodoo priest re-animates their shrunken heads to exact revenge. Complications arise between one of the heads and his former girlfriend.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again? No.

I guess I'm glad I watched it.  The big reason I did was because it was directed by Richard FORBIDDEN ZONE (1980) Elfman (brother of composer and Oingo Boingo god, Danny).  There's A LOT of setup before you get to the shrunken head action.  It's an odd film but it is kinda fun.  The kids look like they're out of a 50s juvenile delinquent picture and the score apes WEST SIDE STORY () which is hilarious.  It's obviously shot on a studio backlot but it moves quickly and it's not boring.  You may be put off (like I was) by the ridiculously broad characters that are meant to bring the funny but don't because it's so over the top.  The big selling point of course is the shrunken heads and their killing rampage.  It's not too gory and the effects are cheap even for twenty years ago but that's not necessarily a detriment to the picture.  It's playful and it's geared toward a younger audience.  My forty-something crowd saw it for the cheesefest it was.  The dialogue is pretty bad.  If you want to make a drinking game out of taking a shot after any character says another character's name then you'll be hammered in seconds.  That's right, seconds.  Incredible, you say?  Watch the movie and find out for yourself.  It's amazing how many times two people, alone, in conversation mention the other person's name.  Who the fuck does that in real life?  It reminded me of THE EDGE (1997) and how insane it was to hear Alec Baldwin say "Charles" a gazillion times.  There used to be a video out there of it but I can't find it. Life is hard.

Race with the Devil (1975)

Director: Jack Starrett

Writers: Lee Frost, Wes Bishop

Composer: Leonard Rosenman

Starring: Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Loretta Swit, Lara Parker, R.G. Armstrong, Clay Tanner, Carol Blodgett, Phil Hoover, Ricci Ware, Jack Starrett

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Peter Fonda and Warren Oates are burning their bridges and a lot of rubber... on the deadliest stretch of road in the country!

Plot: Two couples vacationing together in an R.V. from Texas to Colorado are terrorized after they witness a murder during a Satanic ritual.

My rating: 8/10

Will I watch it again? Yes.

HOKEY SMOKE, BULLWINKLE!  What a fantastic flick!  I loved it!  Hell, all of us watching it did.  The less said, the better.  Hell, don't even watch the trailer.  Read the plot outline and watch it.  It'll keep you guessing until the end and the finale will blow your mind.  Starrett (who you'll see pop up in a lot of early biker flicks) crafted one hell of a great ride.  The performances are solid but it's the writing and the direction that elevate this beyond what a film like this would normally be.  The Anchor Bay DVD looks fantastic and it's got some great extras including an 18 minute making of, a commentary track with producer Paul Maslansky, actress Lara Parker and DVD producer Perry Martin, the anamorphic widescreen theatrical trailer, radio spots, poster & still gallery, behind the scenes photo gallery and trailers for THE ENTITY (anamorphic widescreen), QUICKSILVER HIGHWAY and GHOST IN THE MACHINE (both fullscreen).  This is a great flick and a great release. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

Director: Charles B. Pierce

Writer: Earl E. Smith

Composer: Jaime Mendoza-Nava

Starring: Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine, Dawn Wells, Jimmy Clem, Jim Citty, Charles B. Pierce, Robert Aquino, Cindy Butler, Christine Ellsworth, Earl E. Smith, Steve Lyons, Joe Catalanotto, Roy Lee Brown

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Not Everyone Who Comes to This Lover's Lane Has the Same Thing on Their Mind.

Plot: A Texas Ranger hunts for a hooded serial killer terrorizing the residents of a small town, set in 1946 Arkansas. Loosely based on a true story.

My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again? Maybe.

I've got to say that I would love to see this in a drive-in theater. It's ideal and not only because of the nature of the horror aspect with the killings but because it's centered in and around (and filmed on location) Texarkana, Texas and the outdoorsyness of it all looks like it'd be fun watching outdoors.  I really dig the acting. There seem to be a lot of people who either aren't actors or have little feature credit.  That works great in selling this docudrama.  Ben Johnson isn't doing anything different than he's done before but he brings a lot of gravitas to the production.  He's not too far from playing the same character he did in DILLINGER (1973) but a little lighter and with more fun.  Speaking of fun, Dawn Wells (Mary Ann on GILLIGAN'S ISLAND) is fantastic. I need to check out more of her pictures because she really blew me away with how she handled her part.  It was completely believable. Prine is good, too.  I don't want to leave him out or he'll come kick my ass with that awesome Texas accent.  The one big issue I have with this is the silly slapstick comedy crap that's all from the director who plays Patrolman Benson, the cop who drives Johnson and Prine around.  Benson isn't the brightest bulb on the tree and the stupid shit he does makes you want to cringe.  It's completely uncalled for.  It's like director Pierce wanted to also make this a hybrid drive-in horror and rednexploitatoin picture.  The horror and police procedural aspect is great and the broad comedy really hurts the film.  If you're familiar with the true story (I wasn't) then you'll dig the ending.  I did.  No spoilers here but it satisfies both the ending of the real events and movie making.  I really dug this picture and I can see slapping this in one night on my backyard screen.  I wish I had done it last night. 

My Sweet Satan (1994)

Director: Jim Van Bebber

Writer: Jim Van Bebber

Composer: ???

Starring: Jim Van Bebber, Terek Puckett, Alydra Kelly, Sherri Rickman, Tamara Bell, Michael Capone, Pete Ludlow, Mike Moore, Gregory Charles

More info: IMDb

Plot: Ricky Kasslin hangs himself in prison. Flashbacks and discussions with friends trace his degeneracy into drugs and Satan worship that culminates in the crime that put him behind bars.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again? No.

After watching Van Bebber's short film he made back to back with this one, ROADKILL: THE LAST DAYS OF JOHN MARTIN (which I really dug), I was excited to see this one which runs about 19 minutes.  It's a vastly different horror short with only a little gore and more story.  It's more of a crime horror as it focuses on a young man who pays for his crimes after his stint dabbling in Satanism and the killing of a young follower.  He's ridden with guilt and punishes himself while in jail.  It's not all that bad.  You can tell it's a low budget flick but there are moments of quality that may surprise you.  The voice work could be better but this isn't coming from a studio so I can forgive pictures like this and overlook its shortcomings.  Tonight I'm going to watch one of his few features, THE MANSON FAMILY (2003).  I hope it's good. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ganja & Hess (1973)

Director: Bill Gunn

Writer: Bill Gunn

Composer: Sam Waymon

Starring: Duane Jones, Marlene Clark, Bill Gunn, Sam Waymon, Leonard Jackson, Candece Tarpley, Richard Harrow, John Hoffmeister, Betty Barney, Mabel King, Betsy Thurman, Enrico Fales, Tommy Lane, Tara Fields

More info: IMDb

Tagline: The Devil wanted their souls...She wanted their bodies and more!

Plot: Dr. Hess Green, an archaeologist overseeing an excavation at the ancient civilization of Myrthia, is stabbed by his research assistant, who then commits suicide. When Hess wakes up, he finds that his wounds have healed, but he now has an insatiable thirst for blood, due to the knife carrying ancient germs. Soon after, Hess meets his former assistant's wife, Ganja. Though Ganja is initially concerned about her missing husband, she soon falls for Hess. Though they are initially happy together, Ganja will eventually learn the truth about Hess, and about her husband. Will she survive the revelation? Will Hess?

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again? No.

I don't know.  See the newspaper advertising below?  Don't dare go into this expecting anything as exciting as that.  It's just not that kind of horror film.  It's slowly paced (which works), it's got nice visuals but it's more of a meditative kind of easy going horror drama.  Does it work? I'm not sure how well.  I think it'd take another viewing or two to really soak it all in before I can really say how much I liked it.  I'd like to believe I'd dig it more after another viewing but there are thousands of films I haven't seen and life is too short so that's probably not going to happen.  The acting is quite good.  A lot of the performances feel like you're a fly on the wall and you're hearing real life conversations.  I don't know if there was any improvisation with the script but it works nicely.  Watch the YouTube clip above and that'll give you an idea of what you're getting into before you decide to take the plunge. It's not a bad film but I can't exactly say for certain that it's a great one.  At least not yet.