BA_Harrison

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Cameron's Closet
(1988)

Even Monster in the Closet (1986) is better than this.
The '80s is quite possibly my favourite decade for horror, with iconic characters, practical effects, and a sense of fun. Of course, they're not all winners. Cameron's Closet is a messy supernatural horror that piles on the silly demonic mumbo jumbo with a disregard for narrative cohesion, as though director Armand Mastroianni expected viewers not to care about a decent story or logic, just so long as he delivered the occasional death scene and a scary monster. This approach might have worked better if the direction was more stylish or if the special effects were a whole lot better, but Mastroianni isn't Argento and FX guy Carlo Rambaldi's work on the film is particularly weak: he might have given us the Xenomorph in Alien and E. T. The extraterrestrial, but he was either having a serious 'off day' with Cameron's Closet, or he didn't have a decent enough budget to work with.

Cameron (Scott Curtis) is a kid with telekinetic powers. He's encouraged to use his ability by his father Owen (Tab Hunter), and scientist Ben Majors (Chuck McCann), but in doing so Cameron unleashes an ancient demon that sets up camp in the boy's closet. After his father is decapitated while poking around Cameron's room, the boy is sent to live with his mother Dory (Kim Lankford) and her boyfriend Bob (Gary Hudson), but the demon follows and kills off anyone who goes near the closet. Cop Sam Talliaferro (Cotter Smith) and psychologist Nora Haley (Mel Harris) investigate the case.

The film delivers dream sequences (so popular after A Nightmare On Elm Street), ridiculous special effects scenes (Cameron dragged up his bedroom wall towards a ceiling fan), and daft deaths (Bob has his eye's burnt out and is thrown out of a window) but it's so random and lifeless that it's hard to remain invested until the end, which sees Sam enter the closet to battle the demon, none of which makes any sense. The best moment comes when Sam's cop friend Pete (Leigh McCloskey) discovers the zombie-like Bob in the closet, the appearance of the grinning, eyeless corpse being an effective scare (although its presence amongst the clothes hangers is never explained).

3.5/10, rounded down to 3 for Rambaldi's dreadful monster.

Schock
(1977)

Add another kid to the list.
Why are children in Italian horror films always so irritating? Marco (David Colin Jr.), the kid in Mario Bava's final film Schock, rivals the legendary Peter Bark in Burial Ground (1981), Bob from The House by the Cemetery (1981), and the brother and sister in The Sweet House of Horrors (1989) as one of Spaghetti horror's most obnoxious little brats.

Marco, his mother Dora (Daria Nicolodi), and her new husband Bruno (John Steiner) move into the house that was once home to Dora and her first husband Carlo, who suffered from depression and is believed to have committed suicide. Soon after, Dora suffers from unusual, unnerving and inexplicable experiences, and Marco starts to behave very strangely. Dora comes to the conclusion that Carlo is haunting the family - is she losing her mind or is there really a supernatural reason for the bizarre occurrences?

Schock was written by Lamberto Bava, who is rumoured to have had a big hand in directing the film as well, which might go some way towards explaining why the film isn't up to Mario Bava's usual standard, lacking his sense of style, but having his son's . Instead of stunning visuals with bags of atmosphere, we get Nicolodi looking scared and bewildered for most of the time, accompanied by an annoyingly repetitive music box style score that has no connection with the plot.

After lots of random spooky happenings, with the kid being extremely grating throughout and Nicolodi becoming more and more hysterical, Bava finally reveals what really happened to Carlo, and why the house is haunted, but it's really not worth the wait. Bava does, however, save one really good visual shock for his final act: a clever on-camera trick that sees Marco running into his mother's arms, turning into her dead husband at the last moment. If only there had been more creative moments like this, Schock would have been a fitting swan-song for Mario, instead of a disappointment.

The Survivor
(1981)

First the worst, second the best, third the one with the gory deaths.
In 2000, Final Destination saw Death catching up with a group of passengers who narrowly avoid being killed in an air disaster. In 1984, Sole Survivor saw the only survivor of a plane crash being haunted by the ghosts of the dead. And four years before that, The Survivor centred on a pilot who miraculously walks from the wreckage of his downed passenger plane, only to be menaced by the spirits of those who weren't so lucky. Each successive film was inspired by the previous one, with The Survivor being based on a James Herbert novel. Rather surprisingly, the first film is the weakest of the three versions, having neither the creepy atmosphere of Sole Survivor, nor the imaginatively gory death scenes of Final Destination.

The film stars Robert Powell, whose face and curly hair upsets me; it also features Jenny Agutter, who makes me feel all funny in a good way. Unfortunately, the lovely Jenny really doesn't make up for Powell's presence (I'm still angry at having wasted time watching him in Harlequin, made the previous year), or for the fact that the film becomes incredibly slow and very boring once the airplane crash is over. The Survivor meanders aimlessly for an hour and a half, culminating with a twist ending that is more than a tad confusing: has Powell's character been dead the whole time? Have the dead returned to claim the only survivor? Is Jenny Agutter's character a ghost as well? I don't really have the answers, and I doubt you will either.

NB. The name of Powell's character, David Keller, is remarkably similar to David Kessler, the name of the protagonist in Agutter's next film, An American Werewolf in London. It doesn't end well for either man.

Eyes of a Stranger
(1981)

And I raise my head and stare... into the eyes of a stranger!
Heralding from the golden age of the slasher, and featuring the lovely Jennifer Jason Leigh in her movie debut, plus gore by make-up effects legend Tom Savini, this one already ticks several boxes. The well-executed opening murder sequence is also very promising, director Ken Wiederhorn achieving maximum tension with what is essentially a routine slasher set-up: a waitress at a titty bar walks home alone, but is followed by an ominous figure. Once indoors, she locks the door, but is menaced by several creepy phone calls, the caller threatening to rape and kill her. After calling the police, the woman's boyfriend turns up (wearing a plastic mask for a cheap scare) and suggests that she stays at his place. However, the psycho has already made his way into the apartment (via an open window). While the waitress packs a bag, the killer hacks off the boyfriend's head with a meat cleaver, dropping the severed noggin into a fish tank. When the woman re-enters the room, she sees her man's body gushing blood from his neck stump and fish swimming around his head. The murderer appears and assaults her before strangling her with his belt. It's a mean-spirited, gory, suspenseful way to kick things off, which makes it all the more disappointing that almost nothing that follows is as good.

The heroine of the film is TV newsreader Jane Harris (Lauren Tewes), who lives in a high rise apartment building with her sister Tracy, who was left blind and deaf after a sexual assault when she was a child. When Jane sees neighbour Stanley Herbert (John DiSanti) changing his clothes in an underground car park, she begins to suspect that he is the Miami Strangler who she has been reporting on in her news programme. The messy double murder of a courting couple only convinces her further. Being an intrepid reporter, she doesn't go to the police with her suspicions, but instead tries to gather evidence of his guilt. In a scene inspired by Rear Window, she breaks into Herbert's home (in the apartment block opposite hers) to look for proof that he is the killer, which is a pretty risky and ill-advised move since she tells no-one of her plan. Of course, Wiedrehorn is no Hitchcock, and in perhaps the film's most ridiculous moment, the man arrives back sooner than expected, forcing Jane to dangle from his balcony by her fingertips, hundreds of feet up. Fortunately, Miami clearly doesn't abide by the usual rules of physics, and rather than falling to her death, she is able to swing herself onto the balcony below.

Having successfully half-inched a muddy shoe that could place the man at the site of the last murders, what does Jane do? No, not send it to the police anonymously, with an explanatory note suggesting they check the man out. What she actually does is give the shoe to her lawyer boyfriend in the hope that he can get someone to examine it, and then phones the killer to tell him that she knows what he did. All credibility goes out the window when sicko Stanley sees Jane on TV and he recognises her voice, and then sees Tracy out on the balcony opposite and decides to make her his next victim. The killer breaks into the sisters' apartment and menaces the poor blind girl; meanwhile, Jane has broken into Stanley's place AGAIN (having not been put off by her previous near-death experience), and sees Tracy being attacked in her apartment opposite. In one final contrivance, this event kick starts Tracy's dormant senses and she is able to see enough to grab a gun and shoot at her assailant. In time honoured slasher tradition, the girl wrongly believes Stanley to be dead and drops the gun, giving the maniac the opportunity for one more attack. Big sis Jane arrives just in time to pick up the pistol and blow Herbert's brains out, a splatterific effect by Savini that ends the film in fine style, just like it began. Shame about some of the not so great stuff in between.

The Oracle
(1985)

Not bad. For Roberta Findlay.
A young woman, Jennifer (Caroline Capers Powers), comes into possession of a spiritualist's planchette, and makes contact with the ghost of a murdered man.

The Oracle is one of director Roberta Findlay's more bearable films, but that's still not saying a great deal given how dire her filmography is as a whole: it's still got a formulaic plot loaded with trite genre clichés that frequently feels like the product of grade school children; it's still directed with zero finesse by a woman who graduated from porn; it still boasts amateurish performances by a cast of unknowns; and it still features laughable special effects. However, it's the sheer ineptitude on display that makes the film easier to digest, the unintentionally hilarious aspects preventing it from being a total snooze-fest like the majority of Findlay's movies.

Caroline Capers Powers is absolutely dreadful, and it's no wonder that this was her only film (she's probably still hiding in embarrassment): Powers spends the entire film screaming hysterically, but never convincingly. Fortunately, she's a good looking gal, so we can be a little forgiving; not so for everyone else, who are as equally untalented but not so easy on the eye. Pam La Testa as hired killer Farkas is the biggest offender (and I mean that literally-she's enormous!): every minute she is on screen is a masterclass in bad casting and wooden acting. Roger Neil, as Jennifer's husband Ray, gives Pam a run for her money though, his lack of acting prowess and porn-star moustache suggesting that he would be better cast in some of Findlay's 'other' movies.

As for the film's most memorable moments, try these for size...

Farkas, pretending to be a bloke, picks up a prostitute, and hacks her up with a knife. This is the one genuinely nasty moment in a film that is primarily schlock. It begins on the streets of seedy '80s New York, establishing a sleazy, gritty tone that, unfortunately, is later discarded in favour of cheesy z-grade horror hokum.

Apartment building superintendent Pappas (Chris Maria De Koron) is attacked by imaginary critters that look like the rubbery finger puppet monsters that I used to play with as a kid. In an attempt to get rid of them, he stabs himself in the arm and the chest (I think I just lost mine).

Unseen forces terrify Jennifer, trashing her apartment, giving Powers yet another opportunity to fail spectacularly at acting terrified.

Believing that a wealthy man has been murdered, Jennifer goes to the dead man's wife with her story instead of telling the police. Someone this stupid almost deserves to die.

As Ray attempts to dispose of the planchette in an incinerator, a pair of rubbery monster hands grab his head and tear it off. Inept gore, but it's too silly not to enjoy.

Farkas pursues Jennifer with axe in hand. Somehow, she manages to keep up with the young woman, despite being three times her weight. Cornering Jennifer, the killer swings her weapon, somehow planting the axe in a cardboard box instead of her intended victim. Her lack of accuracy will be the death of her.

Menaced by the ghost of her victim (a hilariously bad puppet creation), Farkas swings her axe again, this time striking a barrel of toxic waste! The corrosive contents spray into the killer's face, reducing it to a molten mess of gooey flesh and bone. The gore is, once again, bargain basement, but impressively messy.

The ridiculous ending sees the murdered man's wife trapped in her car by her husband's vengeful spirit, and being choked to death by exhaust fumes. Jennifer stops screaming hysterically and takes up being a spiritualist full time.

4.5/10, rounded up to 5 for IMDb. It's garbage, but there's fun to be had.

White of the Eye
(1987)

Sclerratic.
Tucson hi-fi engineer Paul White (David Keith) finds himself suspected of several brutal murders and must convince the cops that he is innocent: hardly an original set-up for a movie, but director Donald Cammell's approach is far from standard, with an experimental visual style, random exchanges of dialogue, unconventional editing, and a narrative that develops in an unpredictable fashion, all of which makes White of the Eye an offbeat, occasionally impenetrable, but undeniably unique experience.

Cammell draws inspiration from the giallo for his first murder scene, which is shot in ultra-stylish fashion, with extreme close-ups of the killer's eye. During a bath-tub drowning, the murderer holds up a mirror to the victim's face so that she can see herself die, echoing Michael Powell's classic Peeping Tom (1960). Other scenes (including several flashbacks to how Paul met his wife Joan, played by Cathy Moriarty) possess an art-house vibe that, coupled with the impressive imagery, give the film a somewhat surreal atmosphere.

In the film's major plot twist, Joan discovers a secret stash of bagged, bloody body parts hidden in a cavity underneath the family bath: it turns out that Paul is the killer after all! From here-on in, the film goes into bonkers over-drive, with Paul displaying his true colours to his wife and young daughter Danielle (Danielle Smith), allowing Keith to give a truly deranged performance. Paul puts his hair into a man-bun, paints his face red, straps explosives to his body, and begins talking complete nonsense, giving Joan serious cause for concern, despite his proclamations of love.

The film also throws in some mysticism regarding the positioning of objects to symbolise the points on an ancient Indian compass, but the relevance of this is never really explained.

It's all a bit weird, but, at the same time, quite entertaining. 5.5/10, rounded up to 6 for IMDb.

Lurkers
(1988)

Another Findlay stinker.
Plagued with nightmares about her troubled childhood, Cathy (Christine Moore) looks forward to a more stable future with her fiancé, photographer Bob (Gary Warner). But how well does Cathy really know Bob?

This is the sixth film I have seen directed by Roberta Findlay and it might be the lousiest yet (even worse the the one that was ostensibly a porno). I think that, by now, it's fair for me to say that she's an untalented hack, and should have stuck to hardcore, where crap acting and a lack of narrative cohesion don't make that much of a difference.

With Lurkers, it feels like Findlay intention was Rosemary's Baby style paranoia-laced horror, where it is unclear whether the protagonist is losing their grip on reality or if something sinister is really afoot. It's a concept that sees the director way out of her depth, Findlay lacking the subtlety and finesse to weave a suspenseful tale of Satanic deception. The script is muddled, and Findlay's cast are terrible (especially the woman who plays Cathy's mother), which makes matters even worse.

The result is frequently unintentionally hilarious, the funniest moment coming as Cathy waits for Bob outside the building where she lived as a child: Cathy is menaced by a man with a sledgehammer, who is chasing a girl covered in blood (played by an 'actress' who can't even run convincingly). Cathy panics and legs it, encountering a stereotypical NY street gang with suitably menacing expressions, before arriving back where she started, in time to witness the man with the hammer squishing his victim's head. All of this is so clumsily handled by Findlay that it cannot fail to amuse.

The confusing ending-which sees Cathy lured to a party at Bob's studio where the guests reveal that they are denizens of hell-doesn't make a lick of sense.

2.5/10, rounded down to 2 for the sign seen in a car park entrance that says 'No Audi 5000's': the unnecessary use of a possessive apostrophe annoys me.

Harlequin
(1980)

Thankfully, Margot Robbie is nowhere to be seen.
For years now, I've been trying to see and review every horror film from the '70s and '80s, as listed in my Aurum Encyclopedia of Horror; I've ticked off the majority of the best known titles, and have now entered the 'mopping up' phase, with just a few hundred less-well-known movies to see before I am done. The problem is that the ones I have left to watch are either extremely difficult to find, are often not very good, or aren't what I consider to be horror. Harlequin is NOT horror in my opinion: it's a strange contemporary retelling of the story of Grigori Rasputin, the Russian mystic who gained influence over the family of Nicholas II in the early 20th century.

Robert Powell plays Gregory Wolfe, who works his way into the life of senator Nick Rast (David Hemmings) after he cures young Alex Rast (Mark Spain) of leukaemia. After performing this apparent miracle, Wolfe becomes companion to Mrs. Rast (Carmen Duncan), but is the man's magic real or illusion? Nick Rast's superiors claim that Wolfe is a fraud, while the magician tells Nick that he is being used as a political puppet. But who is speaking the truth?

The only genuinely scary thing about Harlequin is Wolfe's fashion sense: he wears a studded black leather and silk outfit that wouldn't seem out of place in a Las Vegas show (the ensemble completed with painted nails and glittery eye-brow make-up), and he dons a very silly, padded, multi-coloured harlequin costume for the final act. However, Powell's quirky Bowie-esque outfits are in perfect keeping with the overall tone of the film, which is quite simply bizarre, the film frequently making not a lick of sense (the levitating marbles in Alex's room, the grimy portrait of Wolfe on the kitchen floor, and little Alex's transformation at the very end).

4/10. Just about worth seeking out if cinematic strangeness is your thing. But it's not horror.

The Awakening
(1980)

Seven Stars? More like 5 at a push.
Charlton Heston and Susannah York play Egyptologists Matthew Corbeck and Jane Turner, who uncover the ancient tomb of Queen Kara, who was so cruel that her name was virtually erased from history. At the same time, Corbeck's wife Anne gives birth to a stillborn daughter; however, when the Egyptologist opens the queen's sarcophagus, the baby girl comes to life.

Eighteen years later, Matthew is married to Jane and living in London. Matthew's daughter Margaret comes to visit, but begins to display bizarre behaviour. Meanwhile, Matthew becomes obsessed about performing a ritual that could bring Kara back to life.

Based on Bram Stoker's book The Jewel of Seven Stars, Mike Newell's The Awakening is a big budget horror that feels like The Mummy (1932) crossed with The Omen (1976) and The Exorcist (1973), with the opening of the tomb unleashing an ancient curse, which causes possession, and results in several sudden death scenes. Sadly, the the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts: the plot is muddled, the pace is slow, and the downbeat ending not nearly as shocking as The Omen's.

As expected, Heston and York give solid performances, and Stephanie Zimbalist is fine as the possessed Margaret, but they still fail to bring life into this crusty old tale, which is ultimately buried under the weight of a script that fails to explore its more interesting themes (the incestuous attraction between Corbeck and his daughter) and which becomes increasingly confusing as it approaches the climax.

The death scenes, which happen to those who obstruct Kara's plans, are the film's highlights, but pale in comparison to those in the Omen movies, being less elaborately staged and not as gory (even the 'shard of glass in the throat' moment is relatively reserved).

4.5/10, rounded up to 5 for the Indiana Jones-style booby trap that impales some poor bloke.

The Masque of the Red Death
(1989)

Poe-thetic.
After watching director Alan Birkinshaw's The House of Usher (1989), I wrote that it was probably the worst film to be inspired by Edgar Allen Poe's novel The Fall of the House of Usher (I hadn't yet seen Jess Franco's Revenge in the House of Usher). Birkinshaw's other Poe movie, The Masque of the Red Death, is also a load of garbage. At least he's consistent.

In this totally oddball late-'80s offering, Michelle McBride plays Rebecca Stephens, a reporter for Snoop magazine who crashes a lavish Bavarian costume ball being hosted by eccentric millionaire Ludwig (Herbert Lom). Dressed as Cupid (meaning that she isn't wearing much), and armed with a secret camera in her bow, Rebecca snaps the other guests, but the party doesn't go quite as planned when people start turning up dead, murdered by a mysterious figure in a red mask and hooded robe.

What could have been a fun, trashy, gory slasher is totally undermined by Birkinshaw's dreadful direction, which results in irritatingly quirky performances and bizarre scenes that simply reek of the 1980s, but not in a good way. Battling for the title of worst actor are Frank Stallone as Duke, Brenda Vaccaro as Elaina, and Christine Lunde as Colette: one wonders what Birkinshaw was putting in the water to elicit such strangeness. Runner-up has to be the singer in the godawful pop-rock band who blast out tunes during the mayhem: his acting is even worse than his singing.

The film's best moments (ie. The only parts that are bearable) are the murders: one victim is cut up with an open-razor, a woman is threaded into a loom with needles piercing her flesh, and another finds herself trapped under the razor-edged pendulum of a clock, the blade coming closer and closer to her neck with each passing second. They're imaginative and reasonably well staged, but even though they provide a little respite from the horribly dated craziness, it's not enough to make me recommend this mess other than to dedicated connoisseurs of straight-to-video trash.

Carne de tu carne
(1983)

Turkey.
I watched Carne De Tu Carne so that I could tick it off in my battered Aurum Encyclopedia of Horror, but what it's doing there I really don't know: it didn't really feel like a horror film to me. There's a couple of teenagers who slurp blood and eventually turn into zombies, but there is no attempt to generate an atmosphere of fear or deliver scares. My guess is that the whole thing is allegorical, representing the political turmoil of Colombia during the 1950s, using traditional folklore to tell the story. Or something like that. To be honest, I didn't understand what was going on for much of the time.

It opens in full-on confusing mode: a group of men putting up fences uncover a burial site, while others add corpses to a pile of fresh bodies. Then a bloke places the barrel of his shotgun over a turkey's beak and pulls the trigger (a nasty spot of real animal violence), and a man is given a pot containing severed ears. Colour me confused.

The film then follows members of a wealthy Colombian family who gather for the reading of the will of grandmother Maria Josefa. Two of the beneficiaries-half-siblings Andres (David Guerrero) and Margaret (Adriana Herrán)-listen to rock and roll records and develop an unhealthy incestuous relationship (Elvis has a lot to answer for). An explosion rocks the neighbourhood, forcing the family to head for a house in the country. Andres and Margaret pay a visit to their black-sheep uncle Enrique (Josué Ángel), have sex (while ghostly ancestors look on), shoot someone and drink his blood, and run off with someone's baby. It's all very strange.

Perhaps all of this surreal weirdness would mean more to me if I were well-versed in the history and superstitions of Colombia, but I'm not.

Appointment with Fear
(1985)

From the man who brought you Halloween!
Don't get too excited... this isn't an obscure movie by director John Carpenter, but rather a supernatural slasher from producer Moustapha Akkad, who fails to repeat the success he had with Michael Myers. This movie is such a mess that original director Ramsey Thomas was fired, with Akkad re-shooting and re-editing the film, slapping the resultant cinematic turd with the shameful pseudonym Alan Smithee. When a horror film gets the Alan Smithee treatment, you know it must be bad.

The film opens with a man staking out a house; he leaves his car to place a tracking device on a station-wagon. A woman emerges from a house carrying a baby; she drives off in the station-wagon, the man following in his car. They are followed by another man in a van.

Next we are introduced to Carol (Michele Little), who is using a parabolic microphone to record her ditzy friend Heather (Kerry Remsen), who is across the street, putting on an interpretive dance/mime performance for some old age pensioners (senior citizens love interpretive dance - who knew?). While this is going on, the woman with the baby pulls up at a nearby house; she gets out of the car, and hides her baby in a bush; soon after, the man in the van arrives. He wants to know where the baby is, and when the woman won't tell him, he sticks her in the side with a big knife and skedaddles.

Having finished her dance routine, Heather goes to see what is wrong with the woman, who has slumped on some steps. Barely alive, she tells Heather, 'Don't let him harm my baby', and hands the nipper over. Now, at this point, any rational person would call the police and give the baby to the authorities, but Heather is ditzy, remember? She keeps the kid, taking it to a party where she, Carol, and some other friends are celebrating their graduation. This makes the girls targets for the man in the van, who is actually the physical manifestation of the spirit of Attis (Garrick Dowhen), a patient in an asylum who has mastered the art of astral projection; he is the father of the baby and believes that he must kill it in order to remain being the God of Nature. Are you still with me?

Now this might not seem all that strange to those who actively seek out bizarre horror films, but there's more weirdness - so much more - guaranteed to have you scratching your head in bewilderment. There's Norman the philosophical bum (Danny Dayton), who sleeps in the back of Carol's pick-up truck; Bobby (Michael Wyle), Carol's love interest, who rides around on his motorcycle with a female mannequin in his sidecar, and who likes to play hide and seek before sex; and Cowboy (Vincent Barbour), boyfriend of Carol's pal Samantha (Pamela Bach-Hasselhoff), who, in the film's most oddball moment, appears outside the house where the girls are partying and joins a dance troupe in gyrating to some bad '80s music.

When Attis shows up for the finalé, the dancers vanish as mysteriously as they appeared, but Carol isn't helpless: she has her handy microphone to help locate the villain, and an even handier AK-47 which she uses to shoot the place up. She eventually destroys Attis by impaling him with a very pointy may-pole, the killer disappearing in a cloud of leaves. During all of this, the man with the tracking device, who we learn earlier on to be police sergeant Kowalski (Douglas Rowe), turns up to take the baby into care - but why are the child's eyes glowing green?

All of this nonsense is told in such a disjointed, eccentric manner, with wooden performances and lousy dialogue, that the film might possibly be the worst horror ever; either that or it's a surreal work of misunderstood genius. I'm torn between giving it 1/10 for being totally crap, or 6/10 for being a one-of-a-kind oddity. The only fair thing for me to do average these scores out to 3.5/10, although I am forced to round this down to 3 for only delivering brief side boob from the well-endowed Deborah Voorhees, who happily went nude for Friday the 13th: A New Beginning.

Godzilla vs. Kong
(2021)

Psionic uplinks, anti-gravity craft, hollow Earth and Mecha-Godzilla.
Godzilla vs. Kong opens with CGI Kong chilling in a CGI jungle and splashing around in a CGI waterfall. The mighty ape takes a CGI tree and throws it at the sky, shattering the illusion: he's really in a virtual reality containment area. At least that explains why nothing looked real. As you have probably guessed, I'm not a big fan of movies that rely heavily on never-quite-perfect computer generated effects, however, I am a fan of bonkers movies, and once I had resigned myself to the inevitable glut of digital trickery, I actually had fun with this gloriously silly kaiju blockbuster.

It's possible to pick holes in the preposterous plot until the cows come home: from the moment two kids are able to track down a technology industry whistle blower who doesn't even have the sense to disguise his voice for his podcast, the film shows a distinct disregard for common-sense. But for me, that is the film's greatest appeal-it doesn't give a damn how daft it all becomes, never letting logic or the laws of physics get in the way of entertainment. And entertaining it most certainly is...

Mighty lizard Godzilla is provoked to attack the HQ of high tech corporation Apex Cybernetics, resulting in destruction on a major scale. The company's top dog Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir) convinces Hollow Earth theorist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) to join a mission to the middle of the planet in the search for a power source with which they can defeat Godzilla; in order to succeed, they need Kong to lead the way, and so the ape is released. With Kong freed, Godzilla launches an attack to become the 'alpha titan'.

After a mid-ocean smackdown that leaves Godzilla mistakenly believing that he has won, Kong finally makes it to the Antarctic, where a tunnel leads to the hollow centre of the Earth. Deaf child Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who is able to talk to Kong via sign language, tells the ape that the tunnel leads to where he might find his family; when Kong heads for home, Lind and a team of scientists follow in anti-gravity ships capable of withstanding the perilous journey (and which are clearly a cinch to learn how to operate).

What follows is utterly ridiculous (unless you're a Hollow Earth believer), as the ships arrive in the centre of the planet, which is home to all manner of monsters; ridiculous, but also hugely enjoyable. I particularly liked the bat-parrots that inhabit Kong's throne room (although I'm not quite sure what a throne room, statues and carvings are doing there-perhaps these relics of a once great civilisation will be explained in a future film).

Power source located and secured, the scientists return to the surface (going out being a lot easier than going in), Simmons using his newfound energy to fuel his ultimate creation: Mecha-Godzilla! Unfortunately, all control of the giant mechanical monster is soon lost: cue the destruction of Hong Kong as Mecha-Godzilla attacks Godzilla, with Kong putting his differences aside to help the lizard fight the robot. Budget well and truly blown!

Minor niggles: Hottle's perpetual 'raised eyebrows' concerned expression, and the fact that the kaiju appear to move in slow motion (it's always bothered me in other massive monster moves, but was particularly noticeable here. I understand that it's to give the creatures a sense of mass, but I find their movement a little 'off'). Still, it's a solid 7/10 from me - totally bonkers blockbuster entertainment.

Next of Kin
(1982)

Strewth mate, that was hard going!
Linda (Jacki Kerin) inherits her late mother's estate: a sprawling house that operates as a rest home for old codgers. Full of shadowy corridors, dark rooms, and wrinkly coffin-dodgers who smell like stale biscuits and wee, the house gives Linda the heebie-jeebies, her anxiety increasing when she gradually uncovers a terrible family secret.

A much as I like my horror films to be lively and gory, I have been known to enjoy the occasional slow-burn chiller as well, but antipodean effort Next of Kin isn't just slow-burn... it's sloooooooow-burn. It's slower than a tortoise doing Tai Chi. If it were any slower, it would run backwards. That means for 90% of the film's running time, nothing of interest happens. It's shot lovingly, with creative camerawork and great cinematography, and the accompanying music is wonderful, but boy is it dull!

When the film finally decides to stop being boring and actually get moving (about ten minutes from the end), it rushes the denouement so that matters aren't resolved very clearly, and then chucks in a bit of gore and some explosions - but it's a classic case of too little too late. To be honest, I'd rather climb to the top of Uluru and go ten rounds with Thumpy McBasher the boxing kangaroo than watch this mind-crushingly laborious yawn-fest from 'down under' more than once.

Blood Harvest
(1987)

Tiny Tim in clown make-up: the stuff of nightmares.
'60s ukulele-playing pop-star Tiny Tim's contributions to horror: that disturbing 'Tiptoe Through The Tulips' song featured in Insidious (2010) to great effect, and this late '80s slasher, in which the falsetto singer dons clown make-up and garb to play Mervo, a crazy weirdo who may or may not be a psycho killer.

The film begins with beauty Jill (Itonia Salchek) returning to her hometown to visit her parents, who have been harangued by the locals on account of her father working at the bank that is overseeing the foreclosure of several farmsteads. When she gets home, Jill's parents are nowhere to be found and the walls are daubed with threatening graffiti; the local sheriff does little to investigate. Old childhood friend Gary (Dean West) tries to calm Jill's nerves, but she feels increasingly uneasy, especially with Gary's oddball brother Mervo hanging around and snooping on her. To make matters worse, other people in Jill's life start to disappear, including her boyfriend Scott (Peter Krause) and best friend Sarah. Is Mervo responsible?

Wisconsin-based horror auteur Bill Rebane fails to keep up the brisk pace necessary for such nonsense, and some stretches are duller than watching wheat grow, but he knows well enough to include plenty of nudity courtesy of sexy Salchek, and some decent gore to keep viewers watching, the blood-letting including some convincing throat slashings (the effects far better than I expected). Rebane also makes the most of Tiny Tim, who proves effectively unsettling throughout, singing a few creepy ditties and generally acting convincingly deranged.

It's far from a top-tier '80s slasher (but then few late'-80s slashers are), but there's just about enough fun to be had to make it of interest to fans of the genre. 5/10.

Munchies
(1987)

Makes Ghoulies look good.
If I hot-glued googly eyes onto my rubber oven mitt, it would be a better creature than the cruddy hand-puppets in Gremlins knock-off Munchies, which make the shonky demons in Ghoulies (1985) look positively convincing by comparison. Discovered in a South American cave by archaeologist Simon Watterman (Harvey Korman) and his annoying, wise-cracking, wannabe comedian son Paul (Charlie Stratton), Arnold the 'munchie' (as it is later dubbed) is a foot-tall extraterrestrial that can divide and multiply (no, I don't mean it is good at math... when cut in half, it becomes two creatures). Simon's greedy businessman brother Cecil (also Korman, who gets to be terrible twice) lays his hands on Arnold, leaving his irresponsible stoner stepson Dude (Jon Stafford) to babysit the alien. Before you can say 'With mogwai comes much responsibility', there are mischievous little creatures all over town (or under it, in the caves where Cecil has been dumping toxic waste).

Munchies is so bad, one wonders whether director Tina Hirsch had a beef with the original Gremlins, on which she worked as editor, and found it therapeutic to make a shameless rip-off of Joe Dante's classic. Or maybe it's she's just an untalented hack cashing in on a craze (other Gremlins clones of the time included Critters and Hobgoblins). Whatever the reason for its existence, Munchies is a Z-grade stinker from start to finish, with rubbish special effects, a terrible script, lousy humour, and diabolical acting (cult favourites Paul Bartel and Robert Picardo must surely count this as a career low).

2/10. Narrowly avoids getting 1/10 for the burger joint staffed by dwarfs, and for blonde hottie Traci Huber-Sheridan in a swimsuit (this was her one and only movie: the experience obviously made her reconsider her career choices).

The Watcher in the Woods
(1980)

Disney does horror.
This film from Disney was apparently a lot of children's introduction to the world of scary movies, delivering suspense and chills to unsuspecting '80s youngsters, but for most people these days, it'll come across as rather tame in terms of scares (today's kids will probably scoff at the film's attempts to frighten).

However, it's not Disney's 'tepid horror' approach that scuppers the film, but rather the nonsensical plot: Johnson plays Jan, the eldest daughter of the Curtis family, who move into an old country house owned by the rather strange Mrs. Aylwood (Bette Davis). Almost immediately, Jan begins to notice creepy occurrences, and gradually pieces together a decades old mystery involving Mrs. Aylwood's missing daughter Karen, who vanished during a childhood game. Director John Hough builds a decent enough spooky atmosphere, and delivers a couple of jump scares, but the film's final revelation leaves an awful lot to be desired: it transpires that Karen disappeared because her friends performed a made-up ritual during an eclipse which caused the girl to change places with an extraterrestrial force, and only by performing the ritual again can she be returned home. It makes no sense whatsoever: how does holding hands and saying a few words during an eclipse have such devastating consequences, and and how does doing the exact same thing again reverse the effect?

5/10. It's alright if you don't think about it too much, I suppose.

Revenge in the House of Usher
(1983)

The Fall of the House of Orloff.
Returning to the gothic horror genre that helped launch his horror career, Jess Franco's Revenge in the House of Usher stars Howard Vernon as Dr. Usher, who drains the blood from prostitutes in an attempt to revive his seriously ill daughter Melissa.

It was only yesterday that I described Alan Birkinshaw's The House of Usher (1989) as probably the worst film ever to be inspired by Edgar Allen Poe's novel The Fall of the House of Usher. Having just finished watching Jess Franco's Revenge in the House of Usher, I take it all back - this is the worst.

That said, other than the title, and the surname of Howard Vernon's character, Revenge in the House of Usher has little to nothing to do with Poe's tale: it's more like a continuation of Franco's Dr. Orloff series, complete with disfigured assistant Morpho, and flashbacks to the far superior The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962), which also starred Vernon.

This film is aimless, overly talky, horribly acted, nonsensical, and completely and utterly boring, making it one of the most intolerable of all of Franco's work. And that's saying something. I defy anyone to adequately explain the relevance of the women singing 'Ring Around the Rosie' and 'Three Blind Mice', and who the hell is Adrien?

La bestia y la espada mágica
(1983)

Waldemar Japaninsky.
Paul Naschy's Waldemar Daninsky wolf-man movies were a howling success in Japan, which explains this unusual Japanese/Spanish co-production in which the cursed Count Daninsky heads East to try and find a cure for his lycanthropy.

The film starts in the year 938 A. D., with Irineus Daninsky (Nashy) defeating Hungarian warrior Vulko (José Luis Chinchilla) in a duel to the death, much to the annoyance of the witch Amese (Sara Mora), who curses the Daninsky bloodline. Centuries later, and descendent Waldemar Daninsky (Naschy again) searches for an answer to his problem, his quest leading him to 'the land of the rising sun', where samurai/sorcerer Kian (Shigeru Amachi) tries to lift the curse; in doing so, he angers a rival samurai and an evil sorceress, Satomi (Junko Asahina).

Combining two of my favourite genres - the Euro-horror and the samurai movie - I had high hopes for The Beast and The Magic Sword, but even though the film does deliver several enjoyable scenes, there's also a fair amount of tedium, and with the film clocking in at a massive 115 minutes, it's far from the fast-paced, consistently entertaining genre mash-up I dearly wanted it to be.

While the lupine Daninsky's attacks are schlocky fun (I bet his victims regret having paper walls and doors), the monster's outdated appearance is a massive disappointment: considering this film was made after The Howling and An American Werewolf in London, the design and execution of the wolf-man make-up is very poor, and there's no attempt at a transformation scene (not even a time-lapse effect). To compensate, Naschy provides some exploitative nudity by tearing open the tops of his female victims before chomping on their throats. There's also a ridiculous wolfman vs. Tiger fight that is satisfyingly silly (the tiger is called Shere Khan!), plus an entertaining bath attack on Daninsky and Kian by a topless female ninja.

Unfortunately, the many unspectacular sword fights soon become very repetitive, and the story loses all momentum with a good half-an-hour still to go; by the time Kian locates the magic silver sword that can end Waldemar's curse, I had pretty much lost interest.

4.5/10, rounded up to 5 for the novelty of seeing Japanese actors dubbed into Spanish, and for having the cajones to kill off both of Waldemar's female travelling companions, Kinga (Beatriz Escudero) and blind girl Esther (Violeta Cela).

Jing ling bian
(1992)

Totally bananas!
Produced by Sammo Hung, and featuring HK movie legends Lam Ching-Ying and Richard Ng, horror comedy Banana Spirit opens with a morgue attendant, Chic (Francis Ng), washing the naked corpse of a young woman, and then lugging her body to a slab where he glues her eyes shut and dresses her for reception by her family. It's a startling way to open a movie, and just one of several unexpected scenes in this surprisingly entertaining slice of early-'90s supernatural silliness. There is, of course, plenty of the puerile HK comedy that I find hard to bear (but which comes with the territory), but it's worth persevering for the really crazy stuff.

The plot is totally bananas: Chic and his friend Che (Collin Chou) attempt to raise cash as ghostbusters to pay off vicious loan shark Rabid Hsiung (Kwong Leung Wong). When Uncle Tang (Richard Ng) offers them cash if they can capture the banana spirit that killed his brother, the pair accept the job. In the middle of a banana forest, they invoke the spirit, which possesses the body of a beautiful model called Iris (Josephine Foo). Calling herself Chang, the spirit becomes enamoured with Chic, and uses her powers to help him win a fortune at Rabid Hsiung's illegal gambling den.

Not happy, Hsiung seeks revenge, but during a fight, the loan shark's head catches fire and he falls to his death off a balcony. Still wanting to settle the score, Hsiung's ghost escapes from his cage in hell and goes after Chic and Chang, firing flames of fury from his eyeballs and mouth! In a couple of Terminator inspired scenes, ghost Hsiung patches up his damaged face (a rather shonky animatronic head, but-if truth be told-not much worse than Stan Winston's similar effect in The Terminator) and is blown to pieces, only for his bloody body parts to reform (a la the T-1000 in T2).

Also serving to make the film a fun watch: Josephine Foo naked, frequent use of Enigma's new-age dance hit Sadeness (Part I), Chang proving who she is to Uncle Tang by reanimating a male corpse after giving it breasts, and Chic and Master Chen Sheng (Lam Ching-Ying) sharing a bowl of boner-inducing soup, lifting up a table with their chubbies! Now that's entertainment!

The House of Usher
(1989)

Serious subsidence is the least of Molly's problems.
Soon-to-be-wed American couple Ryan (Rufus Swart) and Molly (Romy Windsor) travel to England to meet Ryan's uncle Roderick (Oliver Reed) at the family mansion, which is slowly sinking into a swamp. Whilst driving to the estate, the couple are shocked to see two ghostly kids standing in the middle of the road, and crash their car into a tree. Ryan is knocked unconscious, so Molly runs to the Usher home for help; convinced that an ambulance has been called for her injured fiancé, Molly rests, but ultimately finds herself a prisoner of Roderick, who wants the girl for himself, to carry his seed and continue his lineage.

Fancying himself as a bit of a Roger Corman, director Alan Birkinshaw tackled two Edgar Allen Poe adaptations in 1989, The Masque of the Red Death (which I have yet to see, but has a lousy rating), and what has to be the worst film ever to be inspired by The Fall of the House of Usher. Not only does the plot bear little resemblance to Poe's original story, but Birkinshaw's handling of the film is lousy, the director commanding hilariously bad performances from Oliver Reed and Donald Pleasence (both slumming it at this point in their careers), and staging the whole mess in some of the cruddiest movie sets imaginable: not just hideous to look at (garish paintwork, amateurish murals, ugly statues) but quite obviously fake, with flimsy plywood and polystyrene constructions masquerading as stonework and marble.

The movie makes no sense whatsoever, so much so that Birkinshaw wraps up matters with one of those cyclical, 'it was all a dream' endings that excuses the script's many flaws by closing the story as it began: with the soon-to-be-wed Ryan and Molly driving to the home of Roderick Usher. The fact that none of what we have seen has really happened means that no explanation is necessary for the two ghostly children that periodically appear, or for the extreme loyalty of the Usher's staff and family doctor, or for why Roderick's supposedly wheelchair-bound lunatic brother Walter (Pleasence) remains a prisoner when he can actually walk and there are numerous passages and secret doors by which he could leave.

Of course, films this bad can also prove to be quite entertaining, and the last twenty minutes are a riot: Pleasence goes kill crazy, hacking off the head of housekeeper Mrs. Derrick (Anne Stradi) and mutilating mute maid Gwen (Carole Farquhar) with his wrist mounted drill, and Reed drops all pretence of being a serious actor and gives one of the craziest performances of his career, which is saying something. The finale sees Reed and Pleasence having a scrap (which is worth the price of admission alone), during which a fire starts, all that plywood and polystyrene going up a treat.

4/10 - It's an interior decorator's nightmare, a film to set Poe spinning in his grave, and an insult to the viewer's intelligence, but I couldn't help but like it just a bit.

Hungry Wives
(1972)

Ruoh tsenif s'oremoR ton.
I'm guessing that the massive success of Night of the Living Dead (1968) gave director George Romero the financial stability and creative freedom to explore whatever took his fancy for his next couple of films: how else can you explain the distinctly unscary There's Always Vanilla (1971), and his next movie, Season of the Witch, which, despite the spooky sounding title, is actually a rather sedate study of a bored suburban housewife looking for kicks through extramarital sex and by learning Wicca? It's hardly guaranteed box-office magic and unlikely to satisfy fans, not that that's problem if the film is exemplary, but on this occasion, George appears to have bitten off more than he can chew. Oh well, so mote it be...

While I wouldn't say that the film is boring, per se - Romero somehow keeps it from becoming a total snooze-fest despite the mundane subject matter- Season of the Witch suffers from an aimless script, and it's hard to see what the director was trying to achieve. It's not witty enough to succeed as a wry look at the feminist movement, and it's not scary enough to... well, it's just not scary, period. Thankfully, after this film's failure, Romero gave fans what they wanted, returning to the horror genre with The Crazies; who cares if you become pigeon-holed if it's what you're good at (and it actually makes money)?

4/10. The crude editing and poor sound doesn't help matters.

El espectro del terror
(1973)

Don't Go In The House!
In a Rear Window-style piece of amateur sleuthing, air stewardess Maria (Maria Perschy), the principal woman-in-peril in El Espectro Del Terror, follows the film's lank-haired, bug-eyed psycho killer Charly Reed (Aramis Ney), entering his home after he leaves (the door conveniently left wide open - a trap, perhaps?); however, Maria hasn't got James Stewart keeping an eye out for her. It's a really dumb moment that is frustrating to watch, but I might have been a little more forgiving had the rest of the film been any good. It's not.

A routine horror/thriller, the film's plot is predictable (the killer even fits that movie stereotype, the mentally unstable Vietnam veteran), scares and suspense are in short supply, and director José María Elorrieta fails to deliver those staples' of 70s Euro-horror, gratuitous nudity and bloody murders: the pretty women keep their clothes on, and Reed's modus operandi is to strangle his victims, meaning that gore is non-existent. The final act is so poorly lit that it's anyone's guess what happens to the killer: I heard a train, so I presume he got squished. Then again, maybe he hopped on board and embarked on a six month rail tour, taking in the landmarks and cities of Europe. Who knows?

Poor Albert and Little Annie
(1972)

And here's to you, Mrs. Robertson, Albert hates you more than you will know.
Ignore the disparaging comments and relatively low score here on IMDb: I Dismember Mama is worth seeing for Zooey Hall's chilling performance as deeply disturbed Albert Robertson, whose deranged actions easily qualify him as one of grind-house cinema's more memorable maniacs. Albert, who looks like a cross between Christian Bale and Derek Zoolander, kicks things off by attacking a female nurse at the institution he has been sent to (after trying to kill his wealthy mother, played by Joanne Moore Jordan). The psycho grabs the nurse, tears open her top, smacks her about a bit, and tries to strangle her with his jacket, but is stopped when a pair of male orderlies enter the room. This brutal assault convinces Dr. Burton (Frank Whiteman) that Albert belongs in a high security hospital, but before the looney can be transferred, he makes his escape (after slashing the throat of an attendant). Having found the dead orderly, the police take Mrs. Robertson to a safe place, but fail to stake out his mother's house, or ensure that housekeeper Alice (Marlene Tracy) is made aware of the situation. So when Albert inevitably arrives home, he is greeted by Alice, who unknowingly triggers Albert's hatred of impure women by revealing that she has an 11-year-old daughter, Annie (Geri Reischl ): to punish her, Albert forces Alice to strip at knifepoint and then kills her. Soon after, Annie arrives home from school, and, unaware that her Albert is a murderous pervert, believes him when he says that her mother has gone to the doctors and that he is to look after the girl. And this is where things start to get REALLY twisted: Albert falls in love with Annie, since she is his idea of absolute purity. He takes her out for the day, plays games with her (including pretending to marry her), and pays for a swanky hotel room for the night. Having tucked her up in bed, he fights his unnatural urges to crawl under the covers with the girl, and so goes out and picks up a pool-hall floozy instead, who he takes to the hotel and strangles - just as Annie wakes up! A tense finale has poor Albert chasing little Annie into a mannequin factory, where he decides that she is just like other women and deserves to die like her mommy. With its perverse themes and Hall's convincingly psychotic turn, I found I Dismember Mama to be quite the sleazy treat: not overly explicit, but grimy and unashamedly tawdry, just the way I like my '70s exploitation. Even when the film is focussing on Albert and Annie's fun day out (a breezy montage complete with theme song), the pair boating and riding on trams, there's an deeply unsettling atmosphere, creepy Albert getting a little too touchy feely with the girl whose mother he has butchered hours earlier. Judging by I Dismember Mama's current IMDb rating of 4.2/10, a lot of people were probably disappointed by the fact that the film wasn't a straightforward gory slasher, but my fellow IMDb reviewers Woodyanders and Falconeer know where it's at, giving the film the very reasonable 7/10 rating it deserves.

Blood Orgy of the She-Devils
(1973)

Z-grade occult mumbo-jumbo.
A powerful witch and her acolytes practice black magic and perform human sacrifices. This being a Ted V. Mikel's movie, I knew to not get my hopes up too high, and sure enough, the titular 'blood orgy', which comes at the end of the film, fails to impress: rather than a room full of naked, entwined, blood-drenched Satanists caught in the throes of ecstasy, we get a half-dozen women in fur bikinis doing a bad Pan's People dance routine to a bongo beat. Furthermore, the trippy opening credits accompanied by weird experimental electronic music, which suggest a wild, psychedelic piece of surreal cinema is in store for the viewer, are totally misleading: Mikel's direction is about as vanilla as it gets. It's lame, but at the same time the film possesses a naive schlocky charm that might make it endearing to fans of low-budget z-grade movies. And that's this film in a nutshell: it ain't going to wow the socks off anyone, but it's good for a few giggles if you're in the right mood. The best part of the whole film is definitely the hilarious seance that sees witch Mara (Lila Zaborin) channelling the voices of the dead, including a native American who speaks in clichéd 'Tonto talk': it's heap load of hokey silliness - me findum funny. Mara also provides sporadic laughs with her oft-repeated catchphrase 'As I will, so mote it be!' - you'll be saying it for weeks afterwards! A flashback to medieval times - clearly designed to cash in on the success of films like The Devils and Mark of the Devil - is clumsily handled by Mikels, his scenes of the burning and stoning of young women not nearly as nasty as those that inspired them. A rushed ending in which practitioners of white magic defeat Mara and her followers rounds off the film in unspectacular fashion.

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