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Sweet Sixteen

This Birthday's A Killer
Melissa, a boy-crazy teenager, becomes the lead suspect in a series of murders and it's up to a sleuthy classmate to figure out if it's really Melissa or someone else killing all these random men around town.

This cast has an impressive pedigree with the likes of Patrick Macnee, Susan Strasberg, and Bo Hopkins among the cast, but the story feels a little underbaked even if it does touch on some interesting concepts such as shaming and racial injustice. The identity of the killer will definitely surprise you if you're able to make them out in all that underlit darkness.

Close Calls

Both Interesting and Frustrating
A gorgeously photographed fever dream of a movie that unfortunately has too many ideas floating around and competing for the spotlight to do any of them justice. You have a teenage "bad girl" forced to stay home and care for her ailing grandmother while her father and wicked stepmother-to-be go out to dinner. She gets really high and things start getting progressively weirder as she receives mysterious phone calls and her grandmother turns into a grotesque monster.

Nothing is ever really explained and the grandmother seems to only be there to give the lead a reason to stay home. She doesn't figure into any of the main action at all and is only really good for a few interesting shot moments of surrealism.

There's some obvious talent in front of and behind the camera, but the script isn't as flawless as the visual elements and it can make Close Calls feel a bit like a chore to sit through during certain moments, but when it comes to life, it can be really interesting. At least the filmmakers were going for something different and it's not another boring slasher movie we've seen a trillion times.

The Prowler

A Savini Showcase
It's been years since a jilted soldier stuck a pitchfork into his girlfriend and her lover and this small town has decided to bring back their big spring dance, but the killer is still in town and he's not too thrilled about this.

The Prowler is basically just My Bloody Valentine, but with huge chunks of boredom thrown in. There's about 30 minutes of good movie here and the rest should have been scrapped and re-tooled completely. It's hard to find fault with the first 25 minutes or so. There's some atmosphere, a good set up, characters who don't completely annoy you, and some of Tom Savini's nastiest effects work, but the film shoots its load early on and just barely manages to gather enough energy to give the audience a decent finale.

For most of the film, it's mainly people walking around dark houses without a true threat in sight with a couple of isolated murder scenes thrown in to keep us awake.

If you're into Savini's work, The Prowler is still a must see and he's the true star of the show.


Two sisters are put through the ringer when a pair of psychos hold them hostage and torture them in their secluded home. It's nothing shockingly brave or daring, but Ghostland does have a few memorable moments throughout and a real sense of sadness for what's happening to these girls. The acting is pretty good, too.


Excellent Effects and Not Much Else
Gutterballs gets the sleazy element of the slasher down, but forgets to give us any characters to root for. The whole thing takes place in a bowling alley the night after a woman was raped by a mob of terrible men and someone begins killing the people responsible (and everyone else unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time).

There's a heavier emphasis on sex and nudity in this one with a surprising amount of male nudity and it includes what must be the most sexually explicit death scene in slasher history. The special effects makeup stands out as well with a few horrifyingly well executed murder scenes. It's just a shame that the rest of the film can't compete thanks to a pretty generic and uninteresting script.


A Campy Delight
I'm aware that Mausoleum might not be considered a good or respectable movie, but it has such a great "can-do" attitude and sense of fun that really won me over slowly but surely throughout. Y'see, a woman named Susan has been haunted ever since she stepped into a mausoleum as a little girl and this demon picks the present day (well, 1983 present) to fully possess her and turn her into a wonky faced, tooth-breasted succubus. She starts having really yellow teeth, killing gardeners, and throwing random people off of the top floors of malls because she couldn't get a painting she wanted.

Mausoleum is total camp and it's better if you just turn off your brain and embrace the fact that this movie has nothing important to say about the world or human nature. It just wants to show a woman getting really mad and using her powers to kill all the people who make her mad. It's perfect for a drunken movie party with friends.


Kevin Tenney hit horror gold when he delivered the one-two punch of Witchboard and Night of the Demons. While the first was more Hitchcockian in approach and the other was a wild, anything goes thrill ride akin to walking through a funhouse, they've both gone on to rightly become 80's horror classics. Surely, Witchtrap would either supply the Hitchcockian thrills or the funhouse chills, but it doesn't really do anything and it's hard to imagine that it was even made by the same guy as it's almost entirely devoid of personality or style.

The film is about a group of paranormal investigators and some policeman who show up at a reportedly haunted bed and breakfast after the house claims yet another victim. The setup isn't unlike The Haunting, but Witchtrap is certainly no haunting. Pretty soon, one of the lead characters starts getting uncontrollable shakes (that never really stop and that's about all she has to do in the entire film, but it does keep her from delivering her flat line readings) and people start dying in a variety of odd ways like shower nozzles impaling them through their necks.

There's some attempts at humor here and there with the two policeman who trade barbed quips every so often, but it doesn't feel like the movie itself is going for spoof or parody and, since the horror scenes fail to chill or excite, this leaves Witchtrap in an odd, uneven place. There are some great special effects, but they can't save a movie that's stuck telling an unremarkable story. Even the usually spunky Linnea Quigley can't bring the film's slacking energy up (though, to be fair, she is only in a tiny bit of the film).

Witchtrap is, unfortunately, a straight up bore and an almost total waste of time.

It's My Party

Deeply Moving
It's My Party got off on the wrong foot for me, but it ultimately builds into one of the most heartbreaking, yet life-affirming movies I've ever seen. It chronicles the relationship between Brandon and Nick, a gay couple who fall apart at the seams when Nick reveals he's HIV positive. Brandon moves out as Nick's condition deteriorates over the next few years until his doctor finally tells him that he has some choices to make before he becomes a vegetable. He decides to gather all his friends and family to his house to throw one last party before he decides to take his own life to spare himself from the agonizing pain he knows is coming his way. When Brandon shows up, drama ensues.

For most of its run time, I couldn't help but think that It's My Party could have benefited from a few trims here and there. Once the final 30/40 minutes happen, though, I started questioning that initial reaction. The film builds to such an effective emotional fever pitch that I started thinking we probably needed all those early scenes to really get to know these characters and to feel something when tragedy strikes.

The acting is absolutely wonderful and I don't think Eric Roberts and Gregory Harrison have ever been better. Lee Grant's harrowing sobs as she realizes her moments with her son are numbered will forever be etched into my mind and heart.

It's Alive

Parenting Can Drive You Nuts
Lenore and Frank are a happy couple with one young child already thriving and another on the way. When Lenore goes into labor, the baby claws its way out, killing all of the doctors and nurses in the operating room and disappearing into the night. Suddenly, the couple is on the news and everyone's talking about what bad, irresponsible parents they are for unleashing this crazed, mutant child upon the world as their monster son continues to wreak havoc and bloodshed around town.

It's Alive has a few pacing issues during its second act, but it builds to a fairly satisfying finale and the film's low budget is much to its advantage, keeping the demonic baby in the shadows most of the time or switching to its P.O.V. to built tension much like the shark in Jaws. Bernard Hermann's score roars with intensity.

Sharon Farrell and John Ryan are excellent as the worried parents who begin to slip into a delicious madness by the film's finale. It's never a very scary or intense film, but it's not a total waste of time either.

The Wisher

I Wished For This One To Get Better
Spliced (or The Wisher as it goes by in some circles) is an average addition to the straight to video horror glut of the early 2000s. It's no better or worse than its contemporaries, but does have a decently creepy looking villain if that's any help.

A young woman goes to see a horror movie called The Wisher against her parents - ahem - wishes due to her nightmares (involving bleeding birthday cakes) and she suddenly starts seeing the villain from the film lurking around every corner and, every time she makes a wish, bad things happen to the people closest to her.

Spliced can't quite make up its mind if it wants to be a traditional slasher or a supernatural one. Even at the end, we're never quite sure if there's something more cosmically sinister at foot. The acting ranges from passable to shrill, especially from the lead who the audience can never warm up to. She seems seconds away from a mental breakdown before the horror even starts.

The whole thing looks and feels like a slightly bloodier feature length episode of Nickelodeon's Are You Afraid of the Dark?, which isn't always a bad thing, but there aren't many thrills or interesting twists here to make it rise above the pack. It's ok for putting on in the background when you're cleaning house.

Hello, Dolly!

Well Done Movie Musical
Anyone who's seen Hello, Dolly on stage knows that it's known for its breakneck pace, farcical plotting, and toe-tapping songs. Thankfully, a lot of this has remained in the movie adaptation which doesn't suffer as much as many other stage musicals do during the transition to film. The entire score has been left intact besides a new opening number for Dolly, an extra reprise of "It Takes A Woman" for Dolly, and a completely brand new song for Dolly at the film's midpoint entitled "Love is Only Love" which, while lovely and well sung by Streisand, does little to keep the plot going and stops the film right in its tracks.

It seems as if the makers of Hello, Dolly are trying so hard to make every musical number a show stopper that they let many of the numbers go on way past their expiration dates which leads to tedium. A number like "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" or "Before the Parade Passes By" are great vehicles for opening up the picture and bringing in hordes of extras to fill the scene, but a small, intimate number like "Dancing" simply doesn't need the entire city of New York joining our 4 leads at that point.

Some of the wittier elements of the first half of the script have been dropped or rearranged for seemingly no reason, which kills a lot of the comedy, but the performers are all game with Streisand leading them all with a spirited and committed performance that seems to get better and more assured with every passing scene. By the time she shows up at Harmonia Gardens and delivers her rendition of the hysterical dinner scene, she'll have you in the palm of her hand.

Some of the other performances are a little too big for the screen with Michael Crawford coming across as especially grotesque at times. Even so, the spirit of Hello, Dolly (though dimmed) manages to come out on top in the end.

New Year's Evil

A Wasted Premise
As far as holiday horror goes, a few holidays have gotten the shaft, such as New Years. With that holidays love of parties and new beginnings, it seemed inevitable that, somewhere, an exploitation maven would craft a horror film about a bunch of party-loving teenagers or college kids who are terrorized by a crazed madman wanting to make a clean slate for the next year. Besides maybe Terror Train, there aren't a whole lot of horror films that take place on this holiday.

Here comes New Year's Evil to help us out. It's not the usual teen or young adult oriented slasher film and, instead, focuses on mostly adults and the seedier side of adulthood. It feels much more Maniac than Friday the 13th with it's big city locations, slice of life plotting, and mostly adult cast.

A radio DJ keeps getting mysterious phone calls from some psycho with a voice box who says he's going to kill someone in every time zone where it turns midnight. He's a lofty fellow.

New Year's Evil deserves some credit for remaining fairly entertaining in spite of it's wacky plotting, uninteresting characters, and surprising lack of gore. It's not one of the 80's slashers that you'll remember much about after seeing it, but at least it's not one you'll never be able to forget because how much much of your time it wasted.

Friday the 13th

It's Got A Death Curse!
As much as I love this movie, I'll be the first to admit that it doesn't really set out to do that much. It has no lofty ambitions of being an emotional psychodrama that wins awards. It's a down and dirty exploitation flick and it's proud of it. Aesthetically, it might borrow aspects of films like Psycho and Halloween but it can only dream of being as polished and, dare I say, classy as those films. What Friday the 13th does offer is a gritty slasher flick with a bit more suspense than expected.

A group of attractive young counselors have been hiring to clean up the cursed Camp Crystal Lake so that it can have its grand reopening. Before they get much work done, they start to get killed one by one and it becomes obvious that the camp's infamous death curse is real.

It's bare bones Agatha Christie material with more blood and guts. It even takes place on an appropriately dark and stormy night, which does add a look of creepy and hokey atmosphere to the film that a lot of the subsequent clones never possessed. Even the acting isn't as bad as one might remember with all the young people turning in very capable performances with a great last act surprise visit by Betsy Palmer as a former cook at the camp.

Harry Manfredini's psycho inspired string score excites and Tom Savini's gruesome makeup effects stop the show on multiple occasions.

Toys Are Not for Children

Incredibly Bizarre Psychodrama
Toys Are Not For Children and this movie isn't for everyone. Aesthetically, it looks like it was scrapped together with a child's leftover lunch money, but the story, while sleazy, seems to have higher aspirations than low budget sleaze.

A young woman has an unhealthy obsession with her father whom she never sees since her mother separated from him due to his various infidelities. She lives in a stunted kind of existence, still playing with toys he bought her. This infuriates her husband whose upset that she doesn't want to have sex with him. Unhappy with her life, she runs away and ends up befriending a middle aged high class prostitute who gets her into the world's oldest profession where she meets men who are old enough to be her father and...well...let's just leave it at that.

If one were to read this script, I'm sure it would practically ooze sleaze, but the film itself feels more like a slightly more edgy after school special with precious little actual nudity or sexual content. Performances are spirited in that grand old low budget film way and one could almost believe they were brought over from the John Waters or Andy Milligan flick filming a few states away.

Toys Are Not For Children does a great job of balancing true drama and sleaze.

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