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Prophecy (1979)

prophecyposterProphecy (1979)
Director: John Frankenheimer
Writer: David Seltzer
Cast: Robert Foxworth, Talia Shire, Armand Assante, Richard Dysart, Victoria Racimo

After the monumental success of Jaws in 1975, the Man vs. Nature genre exploded. It wasn’t a new genre by any means – King Kong in 1933 was essentially a nature run amok film and the 1950’s was a massive decade for the genre, with 1954’s Them! (a horde of giant ants attacking Los Angeles) being Warner Brothers biggest earner of that year. The 1960s and first half of the 70s saw less entries, but they were still a good, quick way for an exploitation producer to get butts in seats and make that lettuce. However, Jaws turned the genre from B-movie fodder to big time event picture, and the late 70s saw a glut of rip-offs rivaled only by the stampede of Star Wars rip-offs a short time after.

The knock-offs didn’t just concern themselves with water-based beasties (though plenty did.) There were arachnids (Kingdom of the Spiders, Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo), bears (Grizzly), farm animals (Food of the Gods), even worms (Squirm). In 1979, acclaimed director John Frankenheimer had some bills that needed payin’, and Prophecy was born.

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Meet Dr. Robert Verne (Robert Foxworth, Airport ’77). Turn-ons include social justice, fishing, and having a gorgeous multi-layered beard. Turn-offs are rat bites, poverty, and being a potential father. When we first meet the good doctor,  he is treating a small child in a Washington, DC tenement building. Seems the lad has been a snack for local vermin and not suffering from chicken pox like the scumbag landlord claims. Verne, visibly angered by this, vows to the kid’s mother that he will do something about it.

Before he can get to suing the slumlord (or beating him with a wrench, which is more likely given the level of rage he exhibits), a friend offers him a job working with the EPA. Seems the Pitney Mills paper company in Maine is in dispute with the local Native Americans over some logging land. All Verne has to do is investigate the goings-on, then submit a report. He’ll be making a difference! Seeing as he is a medical doctor and probably has no experience or qualifications to take on such a task, he accepts the gig and heads to the Androscoggin river with his wife Maggie (Talia Shire) in tow.

You mean to tell me I look the same upside down as right side up?
You mean to tell me I look the same upside down as right side up?

Maggie, a cellist, is secretly pregnant with Verne’s child. She’s understandably nervous to spill the beans to him, as he’s previously told her he doesn’t want to bring a child into a world already full of starving children (weak, Doc). Talia still has her Rocky II haircut here, which is a nice reminder during this movie how awesome that one is. I might have turned off Prophecy halfway through and watched that instead. Anyway…

The head honcho at the paper mill, the amazingly named Bethel Isley, greets Verne and Maggie and proceeds to drive them to the mill. Before they can arrive and get their complimentary Sticky Notes, they hit a roadblock in the form of John Hawks (Armand Assante) and his posse. Hawks is the no-bullshit leader of the “Original People,” the Native Americans who live in that area and don’t want any goddamn loggers messing with their land. Isley refers to them as “O.P.’s” throughout the film, which is a nice reminder of Naughty By Nature’s 1991 hit “O.P.P” which I might have stopped this flick to listen to on Youtube. Anyway…

The O.P.’s don’t want to let them pass, so Isley calls on his accompanying employees (one who carries a chainsaw because…logger) to hack down a couple trees on the side of the road so they can get past. This leads to Hawks brandishing an axe and there’s a small axe vs. chainsaw battle! Verne, stick in the mud that he is, jumps out and stops the fight before anything really awesome can happen. The O.P.’s retreat.

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We’re naughty by nature…not cuz we hate ‘cha…except for loggers. Definitely hate loggers.

Later Verne goes fishing and sees an abnormally huge salmon. He tells Maggie about it as they dine on the small wimpy fish he caught. After dinner, Verne attempts to make socially-conscious love to Maggie but is interrupted by a scratching at the door. He opens it to find a raccoon losing its mind. It runs in and attacks them both. Heroically, Verne is able to catapult the beast into the fireplace and save the day, but the mood is spoiled.

The next morning Verne and Maggie are coerced into meeting with Hawks and his lady Ramona (Victoria Racimo, the nurse from Ernest Goes to Camp), who take them to a pond the river is connected to. There they find a tadpole the size of a cat and meet Ramona’s Grandfather, who speaks of all the giant things that come from that area. He also mentions a monster he calls Katahdin.

Verne and Maggie tour the paper mill and grill Isley on the chemicals they use. The pulp magnate denies the use of any and dares Verne to test the river water near the mill. Verne, remembering he’s a doctor and not a water testing expert, sulks away until he notices some mercury on the bottom of Maggie’s boot. Using a few books back at the cabin, he realizes the mill has been using this mercury in their operations, which has infected the wildlife and fish in the area, leading to all the mutations the O.P.’s have experienced. Maggie, terrified that her fetus will be born with two heads due to eating the fish earlier, has a breakdown.

That night, a father camping with his son and daughter are attacked and killed by a guy in a giant mutant bear suit!!!

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Boo!

The following morn, Verne goes to the O.P.’s village to test their blood for mercury poisoning. Isley shows up with some cops and accuses Hawks of murdering the campers. Hawks, more rational than earlier, jumps through a cabin window and disappears into the forest. Verne, Maggie, and Ramona charter a helicopter to check out the attack site.  While investigating the area, they find Hawks as well as some deformed Muppet Baby in a poacher’s net. Verne, still dead set on making a difference, takes the disgusting animatronic toy with them on the chopper. The weather turns to shit and the gang is forced to land at Ramona’s Grandfather’s place. Verne takes the squealing, awful hand puppet into a tee-pee to do CPR or something. Maggie, horrified at the sight of the creature, confesses to Verne about the pregnancy which causes him to stare ahead intensely. If things weren’t awkward enough, Isley and the sheriff show up and get their asses chewed by Verne for the whole mercury-making-monsters snafau.

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This is what you get when the director spends the effects budget on Old Mil.

The Man in the Mutated Bear Suit (MIMBS) comes outta fuckin’ nowhere and starts clawing the cast. Verne, Maggie, Isley, Hawks, Ramona, the pilot and the sheriff (whew!) take refuge in some unexplained underground tunnels on the land. Antsy to split, and thinking MIMBS is gone, the sheriff pokes his head out and is instantly decapitated. Lesson learned, the rest of them decide to stay put until morning, where they hop in a truck and haul huge handfuls of ass to get to safety. Isley, feeling guilty, decides to run for a radio tower to call for help. When he gets there, MIMBS is waiting and guts him off-screen. The silly beast then tracks down the truck, knocks it over, chews off the pilot’s head, and chases the gang through the woods.

They reach the river and, assuming MIMBS can’t swim, dive in and head for a cabin on the other side. Unfortunately for them MIMBS has one hell of a breaststroke. Once ashore, Verne grabs a shotgun from the cabin and blasts the costumed stuntman while Hawks uses his bow and arrow (seriously?) This proves unfruitful as our would-be hero takes a claw to the face, which hilariously launches him through the air and kills him. Verne, in desperation, grabs an arrow and begins stabbing MIMBS over and over until it falls dead. Overcome with rage at his futility at making a difference, he leaps onto the carcass and continues to stab it…which was fun as it reminded me of Corey Feldman doing a similar thing to Jason in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, which I might have opted to watch on Netflix instead of finishing Prophecy until the next day. Anyway…

The movie ends with a shot of an airplane whisking Verne and Maggie back to safety. Then another Chuck E. Cheese monster head pops up, letting us know that there’s lots of scary shit still in those woods. Fin.

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The Good: For a movie of this genre, Prophecy has some outstanding photography. I particularly dug the split diopter shots Frankenheimer used in the tunnel scene. I’ve always loved the use of deep focus and it works beautifully in the sequence. The aerial shots of the landscape, rivers, and paper mill are gorgeous.

The acting is well-handled. Nobody stands out as cringe-worthy. Robert Foxworth’s character kinda sucks but its not a fault of his performance that he isn’t given a lot to do.

The scene in which the campers are killed…I would consider it the main reason to see the movie. Its actually a terribly handled scene that proves why Frankenheimer was never cut out to be a horror director. Its hilarious in its ridiculousness: the son, completely zipped up to his chin in a bright yellow sleeping bag, attempts to hop away from the monster but is swiftly sent flying into a tree in an explosion of feathers. Absolute gold.

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The Not-So-Good: There are two massive problems with Prophecy. The first being how dull and serious it is. The one thing that most nature run amok films are is fun. Its fun to see Joan Collins running from giant ants in Empire of the Ants. Watching Ray Milland stalked by amphibians in Frogs is a good time!These movies are the height of absurdity and are pure B-movie entertainment. Prophecy wants to be both a thoughtful meditation on the dangers of man to nature and a violent monster movie…but it fails at both. It covers cliched ground but operates like its offering something thoughtful and new. You can feel that it wants to be so much more than a horror film, but the reality is there’s not much there to say other than “Don’t use shady chemicals because its wrong for man and beast.” I mean, that’s a great place to start from, but Frankenheimer should have also remembered that no one is watching Jaws of Satan or Day of the Animals for a heartfelt message about being good to the Earth. Give us the horror stuff proper and maybe we’ll also swallow your moral.

The other massive issue is the mutant bear. Its awful.  Really awful. Its a man-in-suit, which isn’t a bad thing when its a well-designed suit or the movie is silly enough that we expect and want the monster effects to be cheese. This is not one of those suits. This is Halloween City home haunters corn maze shit. Whats worse is the movie carries itself in such a straight, serious manner that I expected a whopper of a monster to go with the tone, not this Spencer’s clearance rack thing we got.

Dr. Robert Verne is a pretty unlikable character. His social justice warrior schtick, his reasons for not wanting kids, and the pompous, prissy way he questions Isley at the mill just rubbed me the wrong way. Kinda hoped he would have gotten killed instead of Hawks. That beard, though…

There’s no prophecy in the movie. There’s a couple legends, a fable or two, but not one mention of any prophecies. Cheated.

So, who’s in for Prophecy II?

Final Thoughts: As Man vs. Nature movies go, Prophecy is pretty forgettable aside from the sleeping bag kill. Its worth a look if you like the genre or need to see everything John Frankenheimer directed, but average viewers will be bored.

Droppin’ Knowledge: The man in the suit was none other than Kevin Peter Hall, who would go on to being the man in much better suits in Predator and Harry and the Hendersons.

Trailer

Leprechaun: Origins (2014)

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Leprechaun: Origins
(2014)
Director: Zach Lipovsky
Writer: Harris Wilkinson
Cast: Dylan “Hornswoggle” Postl, Brendan Fletcher, Stephanie Bennett, Andrew Dunbar, Melissa Roxburgh, Garry Chalk

In 1993, writer/director Mark Jones gifted the world Leprechaun, a fun little gem that imagined the beloved Irish folklore character as a malevolent monster. The movie starred a then-unknown Jennifer Aniston (with her original nose) and Return of the Jedi and Willow star Warwick Davis as the titular foe. More comedy than straight horror, it was a modest hit, spawning five sequels (most of which were direct-to-video), each one more absurd and ridiculous than the one before it. As the series continued, the Leprechaun found himself traveling to Las Vegas, outer space, and in the last two films, the “hood.” By 2013, the brain trust behind the franchise decided a reboot was in order and handed the reigns to the WWE (naturally), who quickly cast their little person wrestler Hornswoggle in the lead.

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After a quick opening in which a couple are killed by something unseen in a field of tall grass (Isla Sorna?), we are introduced to Sophie,  her boyfriend Ben, David and his girlfriend Jeni. Sophie has wanted to be a history teacher since she was a little girl and has dragged her friends to Ireland so she can look at old monuments and similar boring junk. One of these statues rests in the field of tall grass from the opening scene, which causes the old man who’s driving the truck they are riding in to stop in his tracks and refuse to go any further. Shrugging their silly tourist shoulders, the group beats their feet to an olde Irish pub to enjoy some olde Irish libations.  While being loud about their plans, they attract the attention of Hamish (Garry Chalk, A Christmas Story 2), who lives in the village. He tells the group about the “Stones of the Gods” that are located in a nearby cave and, of course, aren’t found in any tourist literature. This gets Sophie hot and bothered and they agree to spend the night in Hamish’s guest cabin in order to get up bright and early to see the stones.

“No, none of us read the script. Why do you ask?”

On the ride to the cabin, David makes a big to-do about Hamish having a gold Rolex watch. The humble Irishman brushes it off, but his orange son Sean acts very nervous and foreshadowy.  Once at the cabin, Hamish sees something lurking in the weeds and shoots at it with a shotgun, claiming it was a wild boar. Thinking that sounds plausible enough, the gang settles in for the night. Hamish and Sean split, but not before the suspender-loving drunk leaves his gold watch hanging from a peg on the porch.

The cabin has no power (what?), but that’s no bother because Sophie and Jeni are both looking to get laid. Unfortunately, David is too drunk and Ben would rather read his book on being a limp-dick than engage in any of that messy business. There’s also some dialogue alluding to Sophie wanting to follow Ben to Harvard and him not being into it.

“Babe, you’re in my light…”

Meanwhile, something is watching the cabin from outside. Director Zach Lipovsky treats us to his rip-off of Predator-vision, just in case we haven’t figured out that its a monster and not any fuckin’ wild boar. No sooner do our leads settle in for a long Irish nap does the monster grab the watch from the peg and start banging on windows and what not, waking everyone up. Unnerved, the group tries to leave but find out THEY’VE BEEN LOCKED IN BY HAMISH!!!! Jeni, terrified, takes a seat by the fireplace, which is convenient as the creature is now hiding in it. An enterprising beast, it seizes the moment and tears out Jeni’s golden earring (lobe and all.) David runs to check out the sitch and is also attacked by the creature, who chases the friends into a bedroom.

The gang eventually sneaks out of the house via some backdoor built into the fireplace(!), but in the process David’s leg is torn to shit which makes him a hobblin’ crybabyin’ pain in the ass for the rest of the flick (whoops, spoiler!)

Luckily, there’s a house down the road about 30 feet for them to break into. They do, and having never seen Night of the Living Dead (goddamn Millenials), seek safety in the basement. This turns out to be fortuitous as there just happens to be a book laying open to a chapter about evil Leprechauns and blah blah blah they figure out the whole lame plot…Hamish stole gold from a cave…unleashed a Leprechaun…and now must sacrifice strangers to it so it wont eat the villagers as revenge. They also learn that the Leprechaun can’t go past the tall grass statue, so if they can make it past that, they out this bitch.

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Meanwhile Hamish, Sean and some random new guy named Ian discover their offerings to the Leprechaun have escaped, and through some Sherlock Holmes level deduction, figure out they’re probably hiding in the house next to the cabin. Sean decides he’s really not hip to this whole scenario and argues with Hamish while Ian goes outside and gets killed by the Lep. This awkward family feud gives our fearsome foursome time to escape and hitch a ride with a kindly old woman they stop on the road. Leaving no terrible cliche undone, the old broad is in on the plot and drives the group right back to Hamish, who knocks Sophie out and ties them all to a tree.

As if scripted, the Leprechaun shows up, rips the gold stud out of Jeni’s tongue and eviscerates David. Sophie, Ben, and a now-mute Jeni get free and decide to run…right back to the goddamn cabin! They hatch a plan to kill the green bastard by hanging a gold necklace by the fireplace, the idea being when the Leprechaun comes through the outside crawlspace to retrieve it, Jeni will lock the door and Sophie will kill it, while Ben just watches. This well-conceived plan goes hilariously awry and Jeni ends up with an axe to the face.

“A kiss? With the tongue? The glossa with the bumps and papillae? I don’t think so.”

Ben and Sophie leave the cabin for the second time and decide to run…right back to the goddamn house! Thankfully, Ben gets his spine ripped out, which is satisfying to see. Sophie hides until Sean and Hamish show up, still arguing the moral implications of what they are doing. This time, Sean knocks Hamish down the stairs, where he’s killed by the Leprechaun. Sean weeps at all they have wrought.

Sophie, alone and filthy, hops in dead Ian’s truck (that explains his inclusion in the script) and heads towards the field of tall grass to get past the statue to safety. The Leprechaun apparently sprouts fuckin’ wings and lands on the windshield, smashing it and causing Sophie to crash. She gets out and sprints until she trips over a knapsack full of doubloons or some such bullshit. She grabs a handful, causing the Leprechaun to pause for a moment, which is enough time for Sophie to use the machete she found in the truck to decapitate our grunting villain. Exhausted and traumatized (how do you like history now!), she reaches the statue only to discover there’s a lot more Leprechauns chilling in the grass, who presumably eat her to death.

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The Good:  Oh, boy. This is is a tough one. The best thing I can say about the movie is the acting isn’t bad. For as paper thin as these characters are, all of the leads are at least believable in whatever emotion they are tasked to show in a given scene.

The Not-So-Good: Everything else. This movie is a colossal failure on nearly every level. Its hard to even know where to start in detailing all the ways it shits the bed.

First, the title – Leprechaun: Origins. We are led to believe, this being a reboot and all, that its an origin story of the Leprechaun character from the previous six movies. But its not. It has absolutely nothing to do with that franchise. Aside from that, its not even an origin story of its own character! When the movie begins, the Leprechaun has already been eating interlopers for a long time. Sophie and co. are just dropped into this ongoing situation. If it were an origin story, it would have been about Hamish finding the gold and letting loose the Leprechaun. A huge crock of shit and the most misleading title since the 1995 Vietnam drama The Walking Dead.

Dylan Postl as the Leprechaun. Now I admit I haven’t watched the WWE since I was a teen. I wouldn’t know goddamn Hornswoggle if he kicked me in the ankles. But I assume, since pro wrestling is really just theatre, that Postl is a talented and charismatic performer which is why the WWE would choose to cast him. So why the hell didn’t Lipovsky and Wilkinson give him any lines or anything to do?! Literally anyone of a small stature could have played this “character.” All he did was growl and attack. Postl was under heavy make-up and unrecognizable, so whatever his character does in the ring is nowhere to be found in the flick. Complete waste.

Then there’s the character itself. Aside from the script telling us he was after stolen gold, this could have been any generic monster in any horror movie of the last thirty years. What was fun about the original franchise was not only Warwick Davis and his performance but how each movie used some aspect of the Irish/leprechaun/Lucky Charms iconography to horrific and hilarious ends. Twisted wishes, shamrocks, magical flutes – things that made a Leprechaun movie different from a Child’s Play or  A Nightmare On Elm Street. The leprechaun of Origins might as well be one of the things from The Descent. Perhaps it doesn’t matter anyway as we barely see it. Lipovsky and his DP made sure the scenes involving ‘swoggle are out of focus and poorly lit. Maybe they knew their creature design sucked and this was a way around it.

“Nope, you won’t even see me in this piece of blarney.”

Once the group arrives at the cabin, the film falls into the same pattern: the Lep attacks, they run to a house, Hamish shows up and threatens them, lep attacks, they run to a house, Hamish shows up and threatens them, lep attacks, they run etc. That’s it. Basically one series of events repeated three times until only Sophie is left.

Finally, the run time. The movie clocks in at 90 minutes…technically. It actually ends around the 77 minute mark followed by 13 minutes of end credits!! And its not because it takes 13 minutes to list all of the people who worked on the film – this isn’t Titanic. The powers-that-be obviously wanted a 90 minute movie so they padded the fuck out of the end titles to get there. If that isn’t some laughable shake-your-head kinda horseshit…

Final Thoughts:  Leprechaun: Origins is a cliched, sloppy cash grab that isn’t even so-bad-its-good. It fails as a horror film, as a reboot, and as mindless entertainment. Embarrassing.

Droppin’ Knowledge:  Zach Lipovsky was a featured contestant on the 2007 filmmaking reality show On The Lot, where his shorts were praised by both Carrie Fisher and Garry Marshall.

Trailer:

April Fool’s Day (1986)

AFDposterApril Fool’s Day (1986)
Director: Fred Walton
Writer: Danilo Bach
Cast: Amy Steel, Ken Olandt, Deborah Foreman, Clayton Rohner, Deborah Goodrich, Thomas F. Wilson, Jay Baker, Leah Pinsent, Griffin O’Neal

By 1986, the “Golden Age” of the slasher film was winding down. Paramount released a sixth Friday the 13th, New Line was soon to release a third Nightmare On  Elm Street, and nearly every holiday or school event had been used to gory effect (My Bloody Valentine; Silent Night, Deadly Night; Prom Night; New Year’s Evil; Final Exam; Bloody Birthday.) Friday the 13th sequel producer Frank Mancuso Jr, not content to exploit just one calendar date, gathered many of the folks he had on the Friday payroll and came up with a new way to sucker teens out of their hard earned dollars.

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Rich college gal Muffy St. John invites a gaggle of her college buddies to her secluded island home for a weekend of sex and beer in honor of Spring Break. These friends include Kit and her man Rob (an wannabe med student), Chaz (who I presume is a film student due to his always carrying a camcorder), Nan (bookworm who says shit like “This is just like in Agatha Christie”), super-horny Arch, super-horny Nikki, Muffy’s alkie cousin Skip, and a preppie business major who sounds like JR Ewing named Harv.

On the ferry over, Arch and Skip play a game where they toss Skip’s switchblade into the floor of the ferry and try to reach it without falling over…or something…the rules aren’t really explained. Its just one of those made-up movie games like “stand-off” in Jaws 3 or the Jason card game in Jason Lives. Arch, apparently the most competitive person of all-time, gets angry at his inability to reach the knife and haphazardly throws it at Skip, where it accidentally finds purchase six inches in his stomach. He falls into the water, causing everyone to panic and the deckhand (Buck) to jump in after him. Of course, its all an April Fool’s joke. But the joke’s on them cuz Buck ends up getting his face run over by the boat and his eyeball yanked out and what not, which puts a damper on the beginning of the weekend.

If anyone's going to the mainland, I could use some Claritin.
If anyone’s going to the mainland, I could use some Claritin.

Once at Muffy’s house, the gang finds themselves on the receiving end of many standard gags, like chairs with collapsible legs, whoopee cushions, and lamps that turn on when another is turned off. Skip, feeling guilty about what happened to Buck, decides the best way to cope is to ditch dinner, drink lots of booze and wander off alone in the dark.  Meanwhile, Muffy thanks her friends for coming with a nice formal dinner, complete with Barbie doll replicas of each of them as party favors/place cards. The guests settle into their rooms for the weekend, where each of them stumble across strange items, such as S&M gimp masks, drugs and old newspaper clippings of unexplained deaths on the island. Intelligently, most of this is ignored in favor of smoking cigars and bonin’.

The next day Arch, Chaz, and Nikki practice their soccer skills while Nan nerds around on the porch with her books. Kit and Rob escape to the boathouse to have some sex, but before Rob can even get off his Guess jeans, Kit sees what appears to be Skip’s lifeless corpse float by under the floorboards. The moment ruined, Rob and Kit run to tell  the others. Thinking it must be another prank, Arch goes into the woods to find his friend, but his foot gets caught in a snare trap that leaves him hanging upside down. If that’s not enough, the commotion pisses off a snake chilling nearby, causing it to coil up and lunge at him. Luckily, an unseen person comes to his aid, but Arch makes a terrified face when he sees them and the scene cuts abruptly, which in the world of the slasher film means he’s a goner.  So long, Arch.

Say hi to your Muffy for me.
Say Hi to your Muffy for me.

Meanwhile, Harv eavesdrops on a mysterious argument between Nan and Muffy, which forces Nan to go for a walk in the woods to clear her mind. Looking to make Ramen or something, Nikki tries to get water from the tap but the line is clogged. Muffy tells her and Harv to get some water from the well…which of course is deep in the woods. After accidentally dropping the bucket and the flashlight down the well (what?), Nikki tries to climb in to retrieve them. She falls, of course, and discovers the bodies of Nan and Skip as well as Arch’s decapitated head!

Arch said he could get me wet, but this is ridiculous...
Arch said he could get me wet, but this is ridiculous…

Assuming it’s Buck trying to get revenge for having his face turned into hamburger, Rob calls the Constable (they got a Constable?) for help. He informs Rob that it can’t be Buck, as he’s been with him in the hospital all day, and that he will get to them as soon as he can. Nikki and Chaz help Kit, Rob and Harv lock the windows and doors as they await the cavalry. Chaz tries to cheer Nikki up by putting on one of the S&M masks and talking about his weener, but it doesn’t lead to sexin’. She leaves the room only to come back and find that Chaz has been murdered. A pair of feet emerge from behind the door and Nikki meets her maker (I presume, as again all we get is a look of terror and a quick cut to the next scene. Man,  April Fool’s Day, you sure hate on-screen kills!)

While securing the upstairs, Rob and Kit  come upon Harv, hanging from a noose. Losing their collective shit, they start  yelling for Muffy so they can all get out together. Unable to find her, the lovers head out to the boathouse where they stumble upon some evidence suggesting Muffy has a twin sister named Buffy (groan) who’s a fuckin’ nutbag. This evidence becomes more plausible a minute later when they find Muffy’s disembodied head.

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Almost as if she could sense the pieces in this macabre puzzle had been put together (but more likely due to a contrivance in the script), Buffy shows up with some sort of Elvish-made curved blade and chases Rob and Kit around the house for awhile. Rob gets stuck in a closet while Kit runs into the living room, where to her horror she finds…

(Spoiler for a 30-year-old obscure horror movie ahead)

Chaz, Nikki, Harv, Nan, Skip, Arch, Buck, the Constable (they got a Constable?) and the old ferryman…alive…relaxing with some beverages. Kit, in mid pant-shit, turns just in time to see Buffy enter and exclaim “April Fool’s.”

Seriously?!! April fucking Fool’s?!

The reveal is followed by a lot of laughing and backslapping and telling Kit and Rob what dumb shits they are for believing their friends had all been murdered. Buffy…er, Muffy, I guess…pulls a Dr. Richmond and explains the whole movie…how she wants to turn the house into a murder mystery weekend getaway or something and this was a test run. The friends, totally cool with this fucked-up stunt, get drunk on champagne while Three Dog Night plays on the soundtrack (no joke).

There’s one last scare right before the credits, but it also turns out to be a bullshit prank, so I’m not even gonna bother.

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The Good: The best thing I can say about April Fool’s Day is that it tries to do something different. By the time of the film’s release, every trope, cliche, kill-method and twist had been done, and done more than once, by dozens of previous slasher films. So Fred Walton and Danilo Bach decided to play with horror fans’ expectations, going so far as to ape some of the previous villain motives seen in the genre, such as the prank victim on a mission of revenge (The Burning; Terror Train) and the crazy sibling (Happy Birthday To Me). The opening credits even hint at a childhood trauma being a precursor to a murderous rampage (Prom Night). But until the twist at the end, none of these will seem clever, so most of the movie feels reheated, bland and colorless.

I did like the scene where Kit (Amy Steel) flees into the living room, where we anticipate her finding the bodies of all her friends (this is a common scenario for the “Final Girl” to stumble upon during the climax of  a slasher film.) Of course instead of them being torn and gouged, they are alive and calmly relaxing. This twist is made all the more fun in that Steel had already done this once before in her role as Ginny in Friday the 13th Part II, though in that case they were the standard stacked bodies.

I’m glad the filmmakers utilized the concept of the title as far as they did. Not only was the entire movie an April Fool’s joke (on both the characters and the audience), but the film is full of various pranks and gags. Paintings with moving eyes, water faucets that spray up when turned, dribble glasses. Unlike many other slashers that barely made reference to the themes in their titles, April Fool’s Day really embraces the spirit of the “holiday.”

The cast is a roster of familiar 1980’s faces, many of which had already been in some soon-to-be classic movies. Previously mentioned Amy Steel, Deborah Foreman (Valley Girl and Real Genius), Clayton Rohner and Deborah Goodrich (Just One of the Guys), Ken Olandt (Summer School) and, of course, Thomas F. Wilson (Back to the Future). They all seem to be having fun, despite some atrocious dialogue.

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The Not-So-Good: The film’s biggest asset (the twist) is also its biggest flaw. Because the entire thing ends up being one big prank, there are no on-screen kills. There can’t be because no one dies! Everything is either a cut away or a case of a character discovering a body, and that’s a major problem for a film in this genre. Arguably the only reason anyone went to these movies was to see the elaborate, graphic, and often times improbable ways characters were sliced-and-diced. Make-up effects guys like Tom Savini became goddamn rock stars in the 80’s thanks to the skills they displayed in these films. Its important. These aren’t intense dramatic pieces, they’re exploitation movies! Set-up and pay-off. So if you’re not going to have gory death scenes you better be a talented enough director to build suspense and dread…which this film has neither of. What we get is a plodding 85 minutes of no violence, no real suspense, and only a dash of  the usual sex/alcohol/bad behavior, all so they can have this big OMG twist at the very end that, while cute, isn’t enough to justify the snooze I just sat through.

Final Thoughts: April Fool’s Day is a movie that exists solely for the twist at the end. Most of the film feels like an incredibly tame run-of-the-mill slasher with the benefit of a good looking cast and some clever pranks. I don’t think there’s enough comedy to consider it a spoof, though many critics have. For die hard slasher fans only.

Droppin’ Knowledge: Two months after the film’s release, Griffin O’Neal was involved in a real boating accident, resulting in the death of his friend Gian Carlo Coopola (son of Francis).

Trailer:

Blacula (1972)

blacula_poster_02Blacula (1972)
Director: William Crain
Writer: Joan Torres and Raymond Koenig
Cast: William Marshall, Vonetta McGee, Thalmus Rasulala, Denise Nicholas, Gordon Pinsent, Charles Macaulay, Elisha Cook Jr., The Hues Corporation

When I was a kid, the Fox affiliate out of Chicago would run back-to-back episodes of Small Wonder every Sunday afternoon. Not having a lot of TV stations in those days, I would usually sit through whatever shows aired before it (Star Trek and Mission: Impossible were the norm). Sometimes they’d run a movie – The Black Stallion, Krull, and My Bloody Valentine were staples. One afternoon, as I anxiously awaited the adventures of the Lawsons and their robot daughter, the station aired a promo for something called Blacula. The only thing that stuck out in my 9-year-old mind was that it had the King of Cartoons from Pee Wee’s Playhouse in it and he was a vampire. I immediately looked it up in my trusty Video Movie Guide and searched for it in the local video store, but they didn’t carry it. As the years went on, it faded from my mind…until one magical night, my friend Sean (https://seanofthebeer.wordpress.com) gifted me an old VHS tape of…Blacula! I was finally going to see this Blaxploitation gem! At that point I was well versed in the genre, yet I still hadn’t laid my eyes upon this sure-to-be-ridiculous nugget. It was with trembling hands that I inserted the tape into the VCR…

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The movie opens in Transylvania, 1780. African Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) and his much younger bride Luva (Vonetta McGee) are enjoying a couple of cocktails with their buddy, Count Dracula. Seems the good Count has some influence over the slave trade, and Mamuwalde wants him to abolish it. What interest the King of the Vampires would have in slavery is anybody’s guess, but apparently he’s up to his fangs in it. A touchy subject, the conversation quickly goes south and Drac ends up knocking Mamuwalde unconscious and biting him, cursing him to be a vampire forever. If that wasn’t drastic enough, he also locks him in a coffin, so he will spend eternity craving blood that he can’t get to. As for Luva, she is left to die and rot in the dungeon next to her husband’s coffin. Before the Count leaves, he gives Mamuwalde his new name…Blacula…and the opening credits roll.

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Cut to Transylvania, 1972. Bobby and his lover Billy, a pair of stereotypically flamboyant interior decorators, are in the process of acquiring a bunch of old furniture from Dracula’s castle. The owner tells them how it used to be the property of the undead, but the two laugh it off as camp and forge ahead with the ill-advised purchase . Back in California, they excitedly look over their choice finds, which include the coffin containing Mamuwalde. Attempting to break the lock on the coffin, Billy cuts his arm. While Bobby tends to his wound, the coffin lid rises…and awakening from a slumber of 200 years…OMG it’s motherfuckin’ BLACULA!! Except for some silly mutton chops, a fuzzy unibrow and a small afro that comes to a widow’s peak, he looks like the same old Mamuwalde from the opening scene.

Without taking a moment to acclimate himself to standing up for the first time in two centuries, Blacula attacks the couple and drinks their blood. He then gives a hearty laugh and retreats to his coffin. Not a bad day’s work for a new night stalker.

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Let the cartoon…er…bloodsucking BEGIN!

A few days later, Bobby’s friends Tina (Mina?), Michelle, and Dr. Gordon Thomas gather to pay their respects at the funeral home. Gordon is a police pathologist, and becomes suspicious when he realizes there’s no blood in Bobby’s body, despite not having been embalmed yet. At the same moment, we find out Blacula is just hanging out at the funeral home, peeking out at folks from behind a curtain like a goddamn weirdo. Spotting Tina and realizing she looks exactly like his late wife (because it’s the same actress) he follows her out into the night. He tries to explain to her that he’s a vampire and she’s obviously a reincarnation of Luva. For some reason this scares her, and she hauls ass to her apartment, accidentally leaving behind her purse for Blacula to use at his convenience for further stalking. Then he gets hit by a cab.

The cab driver jumps out and sasses the hell out of him for standing in the street. He takes umbrage to this and kills her. Don’t fuck with the Blacula!

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The following evening, Tina, Michelle and Gordon gather at a nightclub to celebrate Michelle’s birthday. Blacula, using some sort of vampire GPS, arrives on the scene with the intention of apologizing and returning her purse (and to maybe smoke that ass). Gordon is annoyed by this, as is their friend Skillet (!), but Tina is quickly enveloped in Blacula’s 200-year-old scent and becomes smitten. Unfortunately, some pain-in-the-ass cocktail waitress takes their picture, which enrages Blacula (he doesn’t want everyone to know he is a fiendish ghoul). He excuses himself and follows the waitress to her house…which is conveniently located right next to the nightclub. While she develops the pics in her darkroom/kitchen, the unholy prince sneaks in and drains her of her plasma. Don’t fuck with the Blacula!

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Weeeeell..one quick peek won’t hurt…

Gordon, still puzzled by Bobby’s death, begins investigating the murders of the cab driver and the waitress. He then takes a scientific leap of faith and concludes that these are being perpetrated by a vampire (don’t worry, he researched it. There were a couple books at the local library on the subject). He tells his friend Sam, who runs the morgue, to keep an eye on the cab driver’s body. Sam fucks up that simple instruction and meets his doom when she wakes up, thirsting for sweet blood. Don’t fuck with the Blacula’s minions!

Gordon convinces Michelle to help him dig up the grave of Billy to prove his theory. No sooner do they get the lid open when Billy springs up, with a mouth full of plastic fangs! Gordon quickly dispatches him with a stake to the heart, which causes Michelle to have a nervous breakdown for a few minutes. After consoling her, Gordon heads over to Lt. Jack Peters office and tells him that he can relax – he has solved the case! It must be the new dude in town with the cape and widow’s peak! Jack is relieved, but…how do they stop this ancient evil?!?!?!?!?!

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Baby, they hadn’t even invented latex the last time I did this.

While Gordon and Jack rack their brains to come up with a plan of action, Blacula is racking up a little something of his own with Tina at her place. I guess you can fuck with the Blacula!

Gordon and Jack decide to check out the warehouse where Bobby and Billy were killed (and where Blacula chills in his off-hours). Once they arrive, they are swarmed by a horde of blue-faced vampires! The fellas use some old gas lamps like molotov cocktails and destroy them, but Blacula lap dissolves into a joke-shop bat and awkwardly floats away. He swings by Tina’s place and tells her they need to get the fuck out of town…so naturally they go to the big water plant to hide out until it all blows over.

Why so blue, Mr. Simmons?
Why so blue, Mr. Simmons?

Gordon and Jack, along with a bunch of faceless cops, track Blacula to the plant. He kills most of the officers, but before he can dispatch the meddlsome Gordon, Tina is accidentally shot. Blacula puts on his thinking cowl and decides he must turn her to save her, so he bites her neck, making her a fellow creature of the night. He places her in his coffin until he can find more permanent digs. Jack and Gordon come upon the coffin, expecting to find Blacula, but end up staking Tina instead. This proves to be the last indignity for Prince Mamuwalde, and he decides to end it all by going out into the sunlight, where he sorta melts. Gordon and Jack then enjoy a couple of ice cold Coors (they don’t show this, but I presume that’s how they celebrated).

Well played, sign.
Well played, sign.

The Good:  You might look at the genre and silly title and assume it’s just gonna be a bunch of soul music, funny trash talk with pimps and caddies, and a tenuous plot involving a vampire, but thats not the case at all. Blacula tries its best to be a legitimate horror film, keeping the traditional mythos and tropes in tact. It stays pretty true to the spirit of the Universal version of the Dracula story, with eternal love being Blacula’s motivation (and not just evil for evil’s sake).

While its bargain budget definitely shows (in the case of the make-up and the bat transformation, painfully so), the professionalism of William Marshall’s performance really keeps the movie afloat. Matter of fact, I’d say the film drags the most when he isn’t on screen. He was a Shakespearean trained stage actor, and its evident in his grand gestures and line delivery. I read somewhere that when Marshall read the script, he thought it was a piece of shit, which makes his performance all the more admirable. Regardless of what he thought of the project, he treated the part with respect, and that’s the mark of a true talent.

Thalmus Rasulala also gives a pretty solid performance in the hero role. He has that sort of smooth Billy Dee Williams-Fred Williamson charm that works really well. Plus he sports a fuckin mustache that would make Burt Reynolds crawl into a bawl and weep.

I really liked Charles Macaulay’s brief turn as Dracula. He plays it like Vincent Price, but a little…I don’t know…sleazier? He also cries blood after he bites Mamuwalde, which is cool. Oh! And when he gives Mamuwalde his new name, he throws up the metal horns. Well, look at you, Blacula! Ahead of your time!

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Elisha Cook, Jr, who plays the ill-fated Sam, has a hook for his right hand. Not explained…not utilized…its just there.

Skillet. Let’s talk about Skillet. He looks a little like Michael Strahan. He enjoys hitting on waitresses…Tina…Michelle…basically anything female. He repeatedly refers to Blacula as “one strange dude,” when he’s not trying to buy his cape off him. He is only in two scenes, but he should have been Gordon’s sidekick. I hope he shows up in the sequel. The guy just loves hanging out in nightclubs.

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The Not-So-Good: My biggest gripe with the movie is the missed opportunity regarding Blacula’s resurrection. As far as we know, Mamuwalde is a great, respected man. He makes the trek from Africa to Transylvania to end the atrocity of slavery, and what does he get for it? His entire life taken away from him and a cursed existence as a bloodsucker. I would have loved to see how he adjusts to this new world of 1972. The clothes, music, cars, basically everything. But he doesn’t. He wakes up and its like he’s been rockin’ in LA his whole life. How  much fun would it have been to see him walk into a McDonald’s or a movie theatre? I don’t mean turning the movie into a comedy akin to Love At First Bite, but I think a scene or two dedicated to his confusion with a new world would have been tremendous fun. And what about his emotional angst and despair at losing the last 200 years of his life? That’s some heavy shit that could have been explored. Maybe that’s asking too much from a flick called Blacula, but the opportunity was there and I’m sure William Marshall would have been game.

When Gordon and Jack show up at the warehouse, they are attacked by a half dozen vamps. When did Blacula have the time to do this? We’re with him for a lot of the movie and only saw him kill Bobby & Billy and the two women(and one of those newly-turned women attacked Sam…what happened to him?) Besides that, why was he building an army in the first place? His whole reason for being was to hook up with Tina, not prepare for a war. He winds up needing them, but how would he have expected Gordon to come after him…he’s only been an upwardly mobile vampire for a few days!

The two fuckin lap dissolves when Blacula turns into a cheap plastic bat…those were terrible. We were getting better transformations in the 1940’s on less money. They could’ve come up with something better.

Blacula’s demise. He just gives up! I know he feels he can’t go on without his reincarnated wife, but come on! You, sir, are the King of the Vampires! You’ve only just begun to explore your powers! Before you throw it all away over a broken heart, try enjoying some nightlife. You live in Hollywood and its the 70s! Party, have fun, get some of that disco ass! Or if you’re adamant about dying, go out in a blaze and kill Gordon and Jack before you toss it all away. I’m disappointed in you, bud.

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Final Thoughts: Blacula kicks ass. It hits all the notes I expected from it. Obviously its not for everybody, but if you love vampire movies, blaxploitation movies, or just the low-budget programmers that American-International routinely put out, you will have a great time with this. I don’t wanna go so far as to call it a classic of the genre, but its something a serious horror geek should see, if not own. I mean, the Count Dracula Society declared it the Most Horrifying Film of the Decade…in 1972…

Droppin’ Knowledge: Thalmus Rasulala’s real name was Jack Crowder. Guess he wanted to change it to something a little easier to pronounce.

Trailer:

Amityville II: The Possession (1982)

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Amityville II: The Possession (1982)
Director: Damiano Damiani
Writer: Tommy Lee Wallace
Cast: James Olson, Burt Young, Rutanya Alda, Jack Magner, Diane Franklin, Andrew Prine, Moses Gunn, Leonardo Cimino

Everyone knows the story: In 1974, a whack-a-mole named Ronald DeFeo shot and killed his family, claiming that some spooky voices told him to. A few months later, the Lutz family moved into the DeFeo house and consequently experienced a bunch of scary ghost shit. Their experiences were documented in a bestselling book that was then made into a hit movie starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder. For decades people have debated whether or not the Lutz family were telling the truth, but ultimately, the truth didn’t matter as the story became a pop culture phenomenon,  spawning a ridiculous number of sequels (mostly DTV) and a remake.  People who’ve never seen a single entry in the series know what “Amityville” means.

After the massive success of the 1979 film, a sequel was quickly commissioned, based loosely on the book Murder In Amityville, an account of the DeFeo murders. So does this make the movie a sequel or a prequel? Does it matter? The answer is no, because be it a prequel, sequel, reboot, reimagining, relaunch, rehash or soft reboot (the fuck?) Amityville II: The Possession is a ridiculously entertaining slice of 80’s horror sleaze that has to be seen to be appreciated.

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Hard drinking Anthony Montelli (a sweaty Burt Young) and his family have just moved into their new house at 112 Ocean Ave. The house, of course, is the infamous Amityville Horror house. We know that,  but they don’t. Or do they? Again, being based on the DeFeo murders, perhaps this takes place before the first movie, in which case, this isn’t the scary Amityville Horror house yet. However, the clothes and walkmen mean this is set in (then) present day, which means they should know about the DeFeo murders…and the subsequent Lutz hauntings…unless the realtor didn’t disclose all of that info and old man Montelli didn’t do any of his own research…okay, this is all unimportant…point is they have no idea of what they are getting into…moving on…

What, no robot?
What, no robot?

Right away, we know all is not well in the Montelli clan. Teenage daughter Patricia (Diane Franklin) refers to her dad as a creep and 17-year-old Sonny (Jack Magner) is threatened with a beating within seconds of arriving on the scene. The rest of the family (mother Dolores and children Jan and Mark) walk on eggshells around the old fucker.
Based on real-life people or nay, its an unusual dynamic for sequel to a hit studio movie to have. Burt Young, still best known for playing Uncle Paulie in the Rocky saga, really lays it on thick. This guy is such an unpleasant monster of a human being that the Montelli’s are living a horror show of their own before they even step foot in the house.

While placing some boxes in the basement, a mover discovers a hidden crawlspace of sorts. Investigating it further, he finds its full of feces and flies and various squishy nasty things, which end up all over him. Instead of vomiting or fleeing in disgust, he calmly tells Dolores that she probably shouldn’t go in there and heads to the bathroom to do a quick clean up.

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Meanwhile, Sonny and Patricia engage is some creepy flirting…

As night falls on their first day in the new house, the family sits down for a nice dinner. Unfortunately, a demon or something causes a newly-hung mirror to fall, which causes Anthony to attack Sonny (he hung the mirror in the first place). Later, the same demon makes a bunch of toys fly around Poltergeist-style in Jan and Mark’s room and draws a monster selfie  on their wall. Anthony presumes the kids did this and beats them with a belt, causing Dolores to attack him. A big Summerslam brawl breaks out and is finally ended when Sonny points a shotgun at Anthony. The Waltons it aint.

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Nobody writes “dishomor” on Tony Montelli’s walls and gets away with it!!

A few days later, Dolores invites local priest Father Adamsky over to bless the house. While there, he is witness to another dose of Anthony Montelli parenting and tries to intervene, only to be kicked out. Dolores, mortified, forces him and the children to go back to church that night to apologize to him.

While they are out, a voice-hearing Sonny finally becomes possessed by the steadicam…er…demon that’s been following him around the house. This sequence uses lots of spook-show lighting and air bladder prosthetic effects to convey the takeover of his soul, and its pretty cool if you like that sorta thing.

When the family returns, Sonny pays a visit to Patricia. He creepily tells her she is the most beautiful girl in the world and asks her to take her top off to model for him. She does, they have sex, and…

Wait, whaaaaa?!

Yeah, so… about this relationship between the eldest Montelli siblings. From their first exchange there was a disturbing sexual tension between the two. Had I just walked into the movie during their first scene, I wouldn’t have thought they were brother and sister, with the longing gazes and flirtatious wordplay. Its an incredibly uncomfortable scene and not at all expected in a by-the-numbers horror movie.

Now, there are those who might say that it isn’t really Sonny who has sex with his sister, its the demon. While that is true to a certain extent, what about Patricia?! She isn’t possessed at all! She barely puts up much resistance to Demon-Sonny’s advances. Its only the next day, when she goes to confess her sins to Father Adamsky do we get the sense that she’s bothered by the incest.

In looking up information about the DeFeo case, the rumors of incest existed among them in real life, so its inclusion isn’t totally unwarranted after all, but fuck if it ain’t salacious as Hell.

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Where you been all my life? Oh, wait…

Disturbed by Patricia’s confession, Adamsky returns to the Montelli home to finish the blessing he promised Dolores. While there, he witnesses the sorts of hallucinations people experience in these types of movies, such as blood that isn’t really there, etc. He also tries to talk to Demon-Sonny, but is rebuffed.

That night, Demon-Sonny takes a rifle and kills the family. This sequence is surprisingly well-done, if exploitative. The stalking of the youngest child, while a terrified Patricia hides and watches, helpless, is pretty horrifying.

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The cops show up and arrest Demon-Sonny, who seems to have snapped out of his possession just long enough to realize what has happened. Adamsky, convinced that Sonny has been taken over by an evil spirit, tries to get his priest boss (Scary German Guy from The Monster Squad) to grant him permission to perform an exorcism, but due to some past behavior that is never explained, is refused. Bad ass man of the cloth that he is, he throws up deuces to the church and decides to do it on his own.

At the precinct, Demon-Sonny is sporting some Dick Smith-ripoff Exorcist make-up and talking a lot of shit in his monster voice. Adamsky explains to Det. Turner (Moses Gunn) that Demon-Sonny is full of Satan and needs to be taken back to the Amityville house where a proper exorcism can be done. Turner is cool with that (!) and helps them escape by telling the good father where to hit him to make the break-out look convincing (soul-saving or no soul-saving, Turner’s got a pension to protect).

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Anyone got some Emergen-C?

The big showdown is full of vomit, make-up effects, flying, scary noises and monster contact lenses as Adamsky battles the demon for Sonny’s sister-lovin’ soul.

The Good: Goddamn (no pun intended), this is a shameful little movie. When I first saw it, I only caught the last act and had no idea I was watching an Amityville sequel – I thought it was just another demonic possession movie riding The Exorcist‘s cassocks (Beyond The Door; Evilspeak). I think that’s what I like the most about it. The first half of the movie, you expect that Sonny will slowly be taken over, like George Lutz in the first one, and the climax will either be him offing everyone or his soul being saved from its evil confines at the last minute. Instead, writer Tommy Lee Wallace just said fuck it and had Sonny not only kill everyone at the midpoint, but then gave us a straight-up demon vs. priest movie for the rest of it. An interesting approach to the DeFeo inspiration (a psychological thriller this is definitely not).

  • Burt Young. One wonders what sort of decision-making process was involved in him taking on such an unpleasant role in a sleazy horror sequel, particularly at that point in his career (other than obvious financial reasons). Whatever they were, I’m glad he did. He’s played a lot of bastards in his time, but Anthony Montelli has got to be the feather in his asshole cap.
  • Make-up effects. Now, they certainly didn’t try to do anything that hadn’t been done before in terms of the look of Demon-Sonny, any everything was pretty much just aped from Dick Smith, but it was good aping.
  • Andrew Prine only shows up for a few scenes as Father Adamsky’s priest buddy, but any appearance from him is a good thing.  Same goes for Moses Gunn.
  • In one of the strangest product placements I’ve been privy to, in Demon-Sonny’s little room at the jail (he’s not in a cell),there’s an empty KFC box. Basically, even though he has a pulsating face, lizard eyes and has just killed his family, the cops figured he could use some of the Colonel’s eleven herbs and spices.
  • At one point early in the film, the two youngsters are horsing around and the girl places a plastic bag over the boy’s head for a few seconds. This is fucked up in the fictional world of the film and its fucked up in that the director really had a child actor with a plastic bag on his head for a scene. I stand by it.

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The Not-So-Good:  The Montelli’s. From the very moment we meet them, they are a dysfunctional, troubled clan. Even without moving into a haunted house, there was no happy ending in their future. I would have preferred to see a relatively happy family descend into such violent madness; it would have carried more weight when Demon-Sonny went on his rampage. On the whole, none of the characters in the movie are fleshed out. For example, we hear that Father Adamsky has a bad reputation, but we never see it. A little more time spent humanizing these people we are being asked to watch would have went a long way in getting me to invest in the story beyond my desire to watch the horror shit.

Final Thoughts:  Amityville II: The Possession is not only the best of the entire Amityville series, but an unsung gem of 80’s horror. Its nasty, mean spirited, exploitative, sleazy, violent, and tasteless…but in all right ways. The first half is a creepy haunted house flick punctuated with scenes of depressing domestic violence while the second half is a fun, sloppy make-up effects test reel. It a batshit insane little monster/ghost story that deserves a cult following.

Droppin’ Knowledge: Ed and Lorraine Warren were the “demonology advisors” on the project.

Trailer:

Fraternity Vacation (1985)

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Fraternity Vacation (1985)
Director: James Frawley
Writer: Lindsay Harrison
Cast: Stephen Geoffreys, Tim Robbins, Cameron Dye, Leigh McCloskey, Matt McCoy, John Vernon, Amanda Bearse, Sheree J. Wilson, Max Wright

When I was in fifth grade, I got hit in the balls. I don’t remember why it happened, but it was probably a case of mistaken identity, as I was an angelic child. Either way, I had never experienced such pain, and have never since. In an effort to make me feel better, my Dad let me go to The Video Store (that was the store’s proper name) to pick out any tape I wanted. This was a huge deal as I was never allowed to rent movies on a school night. He would come home some weeknights with different videos (mostly low-budget DTV stuff like Protoype X-29A or Crash & Burn – he always fell for the box art), but for me to get to choose my own movie in the middle of the week…well, it was almost worth the hit to the Captain and his mateys.

As I scanned the seemingly endless shelves, one box caught my eye: Fraternity Vacation. Now, I had already seen the movie a few Saturdays prior on USA, but I wanted to see it again. Not because it was particularly awesome, but because it starred two actors from My Favorite Movie Of All Time:  Fright Night.  My Dad took a look at the cover art (see above) and asked if it was appropriate for me to watch. “Oh yes,” I said.  “I saw it before and there’s nothing bad in it.”  Of course, the version I had seen was a heavily edited broadcast version, but he didn’t need to know that. So he agreed, and I went home with my tape, grinning like a goddamn toucan.

Not fifteen minutes into the movie, two large-breasted beauties drop their tops. I did NOT expect that (thought on some level I did, as by the age of nine I had seen dozens of silly sex comedies thanks to HBO). I looked over at my Dad, certain he was gonna shut it off. But he didn’t. What he did do was clear his throat. He continued to clear his throat every time there was a bad word or a shot of nudity for the duration of the movie. But he never turned it off. For that simple memory alone, Fraternity Vacation has a soft spot in my shell of a heart.

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Iowa State University freshman Wendell Tvedt (Stephen Geoffreys) is heading to Palm Springs for vacation, accompanied by frat brothers Mother (pre-Howard the Duck Tim Robbins) and Joe (Cameron Dye). Wendell’s dad is a rich pig farmer or something and is treating the boys to the trip. Unbeknownst to Wendell, he asks Mother and Joe to show his son a good time (get him laid). If they succeed, he will buy them a jacuzzi for their frat house. Now, say what you will, but I stand by that parenting choice. Max Wright plays Wendell’s father, and if you’re a fan of his work on ALF, you will be pleased by his small role.

Now, about Mother and Joe. They kinda don’t like Wendell because he’s a gigantic nerd, but at the same time, they aren’t complete assholes. They recognize a cockblock when they see one, but they can’t afford the trip without Wendell’s dad paying for them, so they go along. Normally, this would be a huge mistake, making two of your three leads heartless jerk-offs who use a naive geek for a free vacation, but Robbins and Dye are incredibly likable in their roles, so you kinda forget about it as the movie progresses.  Besides, they never treat Wendell poorly, they just make fun of him behind his back and roll their eyes at the ridiculous stuff he says/does, which is totally cool in my book.

Shortly after arriving in Palm Springs, director James Frawley treats us to one of my favorite movie  editing techniques: the montage. In this case, its a “trying-to-make-the-nerd-cool” montage. A new haircut, some sharp threads, bright blue man panties…you know…standard stuff.

Brings out the color of your eyes!
You really think it brings out the color in my eyes?

After the shopping trip, our horny heroes settle into their condo for the weekend. The condo is a family vacation home owned by Wendell’s cousin, and as such, it only has one master bedroom and one kiddie bedroom with bunk beds. While a disappointed Mother and Joe try to decide how they are gonna bang chicks in this living scenario, Wendell sets up the big telescope he brought with him.  Why did he lug this monstrosity from Iowa to Florida for a three-day getaway? Because he’s a nerd, and in the 1980’s, telescopes were par for the course if you were a nerd (or an Engywook).

It is through this telescope that Wendell, Mother, and Joe see the beautiful, aloof Ashley (Sheree J. Wilson) frowning on her balcony. Fearing it would be a waste of time trying to go after a classy broad like her, Joe and Mother decide to hit the pool where they will have a better chance of gettin’ some strange.

While at the pool, the two fellas gawk at lots of scantily clad extras. Wendell eventually shows up, carrying a bunch of dumb pool shit and does a Sgt. Fackler from Police Academy number, accidentally knocking people and tables into the pool because he can’t see over his inflatable raft thing (just like in the poster art). Distancing themselves from the slapstick, Mother and Joe hit it off with two sexy ladies. Genre fans will recognize these boobs..er..faces as Barbara Crampton (Re-AnimatorCastle FreakBody Double) and Kathleen Kinmont (Halloween 4 Bride of Re-Animator).

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I can’t remember, which one of you was naked in From Beyond?

After a sliver of flirtation, the girls indicate that they want to have some sex, so the quartet rush up to the condo. Upon seeing only one real bed, the girls suggest a four-way. Mother and Joe find this idea satisfactory…

1666671…and the girls go to the bathroom to get prepared. Unfortunately, the boys overhear them talking about a hopeful cure for the herp, and they understandably decline the offer. Turns out, the whole thing was a big prank pulled on them by rival frat guys Chas and JC, who also happen to be looking for genital warts in the Palm Springs area.

Chas is played by the other 1980’s blonde asshole, Leigh McCloskey (Just One of the Guys). I guarantee he and William Zabka ran into each other at every audition during the decade. There’s a reason he played this kind of part over and over: he’s fantastic at it. Chas is the kind of smug, attractive, rich motherfucker you hate, while at the same time, kinda like because he’s so smug and attractive. You wanna hang out with him , hopefully as his friend. Matt McCoy (Steve Guttenberg-lite from Police Academy 5 and 6) is Chas’ faithful sidekick JC. His function is primarily to laugh at the mean shit Chas says and to smirk when delivering his own zingers. That’s all he is tasked to do, and he does it admirably.

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Did you say something? I was distracted being handsome.

Without getting into the intricate and complex nuances of the dialogue between the characters, basically, Chas and Joe end up entering into a gentleman’s agreement: the first guy who can bang Ashley-from-the-balcony, and provide proof, gets a thousand bucks.

While Mother & Joe try to devise a plan of action, Wendell meets a lonely rich girl named Nicole (Amy from Fright Night, known to some people as Amanda Bearse). They hit it off immediately (he asks her for a blowjob, unaware of what it means thanks to some advice from Mother. She thinks he is being funny). They spend their first date eating ice cream, singing Wayne Newton songs and other virgin crap.

You really brought a telescope with you?!
You really brought a telescope with you?!

As the weekend continues, Joe and Chas each try different ways to get Ashley-from-the-balcony to notice them, including fake suicide attempts and parachuting into the pool. Nicole asks Wendell to have lunch with her parents, warning him that if her old man doesn’t like him, its over.

Joe gets a date with Ashley-from-the-balcony, pretending to be a broken-hearted guy just needing a friend. When he tries to get her into bed (with Mother watching with the telescope across the way), she smells a rat and kicks him to the curb. Chas doesn’t fare much better with his ruse of being a fitness instructor giving a private lesson. He throws himself on her and receives a knee to the dick.

Wendell ends up in jail (long story) and makes an enemy in the Chief of Police (legendary John Vernon). Of course, Wendell doesn’t find out until its too late that the Chief is also his new squeeze’s father, which makes for an awkward lunch date and Nicole giving him the boot. Then he cries 😦

Eventually Ashley-from-the-balcony finds out about the bet and gives our heroes a stern talking to. The movie ends with Chas and JC storming the Palm Springs police station in an effort to get Mother and Joe out of jail (longer story). Its very reminiscent of Revenge of the Nerds, with large groups of extras dressed up as college kids, hollering shit and basically becoming the 80’s sex comedy equivalent of the angry villagers from the Universal classics. The pair are released and begin partying with their new BFF’s Chas and JC.

Oh, and somehow Wendell loses his virginity to Ashley-from-the-balcony. Only in the movies, folks!

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The Good: First off, if you’ve never heard of the flick, its perfectly understandable. It didn’t make much of a splash and doesn’t contain any scenes, moments, or classic characters to make it stand out from the dozens of identical sex comedies of the decade. Its more of a nostalgic thing for me. Of course its notable for an early performance from Tim Robbins and the above-average cast of familiar 80’s faces.

Early in the first act, the film separates our trio into two storylines. You got Joe & Mother and their terrible bet, and Wendell’s burgeoning romance with Nicole. We kinda get two movies for the price of one, at least until the very end. I like that.

Stephen Geoffreys. As Evil Ed Thompson, his face and voice is an indelible part of my childhood. I’ve seen Fright Night more than any other movie ever made.  The derailment of his mainstream film career, be it self-imposed of not, has always made me a little sad. I’m not saying he was gonna be the next Brando, but he was unique enough, and charming, that I truly believe a bigger career awaited him, at least as a cool character actor. He is the absolute best thing about Fraternity Vacation. Wendell isn’t a deep character. He’s not Travis Bickle. But Geoffreys’ amiable and honest all-in performance is what makes the film worth watching. The heartbreak he infuses in the scene where Nicole dumps him is terrific stuff, much better than a movie like this deserves. In lesser hands, Wendell could have been an incredibly annoying character, but Geoffreys handles him in such a way that  you not only like him, but he feels more real than your typical 80s nerd stereotype.

Or I could just be biased cuz Hey, look, its Evil Ed!!!!!

The Not-So-Good: Ignoring the usual cliches and trappings of this genre, there’s not a lot for me to dislike. The most egregious problem is the music, which pains me to admit. The composer is Brad Fiedel, another Fright Night alum and the man behind the iconic score for The Terminator. His music for Fraternity Vacation is a super cheesy, standard synth thing that could have been written by any number of guys. If that wasn’t weak enough, the end credits song (which Fiedel wrote and sings) fits easily in my Top Ten Worst Original Songs Written For a Movie. Is it as bad as Michael Franks’ “Comin’ Home to You” from Author! Author! Fuck, no. There are few end credit songs as bad as that. Don’t believe me? Take a listen…

Final Thoughts: Again, its undoubtedly my childhood memories and the Fright Night connection that make Fraternity Vacation a genre favorite of mine, but I do think its elevated by its 1980’s who’s who cast. There are a few genuinely hilarious bits and even a moral at the end. If it weren’t for the nudity, language and irresponsible plot involving a bet to screw an innocent woman, it’d be great for elementary schools!

Droppin’ Knowledge: Britt Eklund shows up for about two minutes as a bar waitress.

Trailer:

Mischief (1985)

poster

Mischief (1985)
Director: Mel Damski
Writer: Noel Black
Cast: Doug McKeon, Chris Nash, Kelly Preston, Catherine Mary Stewart, Jami Gertz, Terry O’Quinn

Teen sex comedies were all the rage in the 1980’s. Much like the slasher films of the era, they were a perfect way for an independent company to make a quick buck. They were cheap to produce and didn’t need any star power. The ingredients were simple: attractive young actors, a generic setting (spring break, college, bachelor party, summer camp), booze, and boobs. If you had some extra cash you could throw in a pop song or two to get on MTV. Whip up a double entendre title (Joysticks; Oddballs) and voila – instant profit. Cable and pay TV, as well as the new home video market, provided a hungry audience for these types of movies and, boy howdy, did they thrive.

Like slashers, many future movie stars got some of their earliest work in this genre, including Johnny Depp (Private Resort), Tom Cruise (Losin’ It), and Tim Robbins (Fraternity Vacation). And like their blood-splattered cousins, the teen sex comedy branched off into sub-genres. There were sex comedies in the military (Basic Training), sex comedies in the snow (Hot Dog: The Movie; Ski Patrol), supernatural sex comedies (School Spirit; Zapped) and even fast food sex comedies (Hamburger: The Motion Picture)! But none were more prolific than the 1950’s teen sex comedy. Probably due to 80’s filmmakers being kids and teens in the 50’s, there were quite a few  of these Eisenhower-era flicks, one of the first being the hugely popular Porky’s in 1982. Thanks to that smash hit, and its sequels/imitators, we got Mischief.

Sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, boner, french fries, sex, sex, communists, sex, sex...
Sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, boner, french fries, sex, sex, sex, communists, sex, sex, sex…

The story begins in Nelsonville, Ohio circa 1956. We know this because it opens with a title card that says “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…Ohio, 1956.”  Waaaaait a minute, what? A Star Wars reference? I know in 1985 the trilogy was still very much in people’s minds, but what does any of it have to do with a T&A comedy set two decades before anyone heard of Darth Vader?!

Hey, remember Star Wars?! That was awesome! Anyway, here's a movie about a guy trying to get his beak wet. Enjoy!
Hey, remember Star Wars?! That was awesome! Anyway, here’s a totally unrelated movie about a guy trying to get his beak wet. Enjoy!

The movie centers around 17-year-old virgin Jonathan (Doug McKeon). He enjoys many leisure activities, such as looking at old-timey skin mags and cruising around town in his dad’s Studebaker (which he slams into a fire hydrant in the first five minutes thanks to his creepin’ on Kelly Preston on the street). Preston plays Marilyn, Jonathan’s big crush. He will do ANYTHING to get a date with her…except ask her out, of course.

Luckily for him a new kid from Chicago named Gene moves in next door. Right away we know Gene is a bad ass thanks to his hair pomade and motorcycle. Nobody else in Nelsonville has hair pomade and they sure as shit don’t have motorcycles! Due to the convenience of their being neighbors, Jonathan and Gene start hanging out before, during, and after school. Gene explains that he was kicked out of his last school because he “fucked two girls.” This blows Jonathan’s mind, revealing to Gene that he’s still pure, prompting the problem child to take him under his wing.

“You never dipped your wick?”

Gene develops a crush of his own on Bunny (Catherine Mary Stewart). Unfortunately, she is dating a bag of douche named Kenny, played by the same guy who was the meatball sandwich-and-a-medium-coke statutory rapist in Fast Times At Ridgemont High. He is very good at playing buttholes and deserves a spot in the William Zabka Hall of Fame.
Meanwhile,  Jami Gertz is nerdy Rosalie, who has her own thing for Jonathan.

Gene begins to teach Jonathan a few tricks, like stuffing handkerchiefs in your pants to mimic a huge member and ways to look cool standing against a wall. He never gives him any of his pomade, though. Can’t give away all the good secrets, I guess.

One hilarious scene involves rascally Jonathan using the classic dropped pencil trick to get a peek up Marilyn’s skirt. He ends up achieving “a boner that won’t quit.”  Of course its at this moment that his pickle-faced teacher demands he stand up to answer a question, and Jonathan tries to feign double leg-cramps to hide his erection. It doesn’t work.

I wonder if Jonathan has a date to the social?
I wonder if Jonathan has a date to the social?

Gene does some Jedi shit (a-ha! There’s the connection!) and wrangles up a double date with himself, Jonathan, Bunny and Marilyn to the drive-in to see Rebel Without A Cause. Kenny is there too, and his jealousy leads to a game of chicken, which ends with both cars beat to shit. Gene’s always-pissed-off father (Terry O’Quinn) smacks him around a little in front of his friends for it.

Beat
That’ll be the last time you ask me about that fuckin’ LOST finale!!

Even though Gene is grounded, he finds a way to be a part of a fantastic “falling-in-love” montage with Bunny. It mostly consists of them laughing, gently kissing, riding horses and other silly shit. Jonathan gets one, too, and with Marilyn no less! Theirs is mostly dry-humping in different cars and on porches.

All this lovin’-touchin’-squeezin’ leads to Marilyn inviting Jonathan over to finally do the deed. I don’t want to spoil what happens as its the best scene in the movie, but things don’t go quite as planned.

old school bangin'
I can’t believe I feel for the handkerchief trick AGAIN!

There’s some standard back-and-forth stuff involving Bunny’s parents inviting Kenny over and Gene misunderstanding which leads to a gigantic brawl at a burger joint. This thing is a hell of a lot more violent than you would expect in the middle of a lighthearted romp like Mischief. People thrown into glass, bloodied faces, broken arms. Of course, this makes Gene’s dad kick him out of the house and he disappears for awhile.

Bunny’s sad, Jonathan’s sad, Rosalie’s sad (cuz she’s a nerd) and Marilyn is looking for other guys. This all comes to a head at the Prom, when Gene returns from his new job as a stable boy (huh?) and gets Bunny to elope. Rosalie takes off her glasses and shows that she is actually a babe, and Jonathan gets revenge on Kenny once and for all.

The movie ends with our new friends receiving medals at a grand ceremony!

(Just kidding.)

No love for Kenny? :(
No love for Kenny? 😦

The Good: Director Mel Damski pulled together a solid cast, which is the film’s greatest asset. Doug McKeon is perfect as Jonathan. He is likable right off the bat and is able to make us still like him even after he does some incredibly irresponsible stuff (his revenge on Kenny is ridiculous, if you think about what would happen in real life). There is really none of the over-the-top hijinky sort of acting that is normally seen in these types of movies, and that goes a long way into getting us to invest in such a paper-thin story.

The period-appropriate soundtrack is top shelf. Elvis, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly etc. You might take for granted that a film set in 1956 would have these artists, but trust me, that is not always the case. They didn’t skimp on the music licensing budget and its comparable to the stellar Stand By Me soundtrack a year later.

The Not-So-Good: Truthfully, the only issue I have with the movie is some of the really off-the-wall choices these otherwise level-headed characters make. There’s absolutely no consequences for anything they do. Matter of fact, the only time someone in authority shows up is when Jonathan and Gene are doing some drunk motorcycling. A cop pulls them over and after a few questions says, “I’d haul you in myself but I don’t like snitches.” What are you talking about?! You are a police officer! Snitching is kinda the bedrock of law enforcement, is it not?

Final Thoughts:  As 80’s teen sex comedies go, Mischief is one of the better ones. Its not groundbreaking or as uproariously funny as Porky’s, but its…pleasant. I enjoyed spending time with these characters. It doesn’t carry the raunch or mean-spiritedness a lot of its brethren do. While its no lost American classic, its a well-made example of the genre.

Droppin’ Knowledge: Speed director Jan DeBont was on the camera crew.

Trailer:

The Funhouse (1981)

posterThe Funhouse (1981)
Director: Tobe Hooper
Writer: Larry Block
Cast: Kevin Conway, Elizabeth Berridge, Cooper Huckabee, Largo Woodruff, Sylvia Miles, Shawn Carson, Miles Chapin, William Finley

Growing up in a small town, the county fair was a big deal. It would seemingly sprout up out of the ground over night. Sunday night, there was nothing. Then Monday afternoon after school you’d walk by the fairgrounds and there it would be! The Tilt-A-Whirl, Zipper, Ferris Wheel, and what seemed like endless vendor stands selling overpriced curly fries and lemon shake-ups. My neighborhood would instantly be filled with the unmistakable smell of fried batter and livestock. As a kid, I loved it. Not just for the attractions and junk food, but the atmosphere. It always felt off…a little seedy…with weird tattooed guys, pissed and sweaty, running rides with one hand, a stained Parliament in the other. The great greasy underbelly of Mom’s apple pie, a little sleazy but no less American. It is that world that Tobe Hooper aims to immerse us in The Funhouse.

“They wiggle and they dance.”

The set-up is fairly basic. Virginal Amy has a date with local bad boy Buzz (Cooper Huckabee), who works in a filling station (much to Amy’s hard drinking mother’s chagrin). Its implied that Buzz is out of high school and has experience…you know…screwin’…so Amy is understandably nervous. The pair is accompanied by friends Liz and Richie, who are not at all convincing as a couple.  There’s some tension in the car en route to the carnival due to Buzz talking shit about Amy’s old man, but a few jokes and some reefer alleviate most of it by the time they arrive at their destination.

gang
$8 for a corn dog?!

Meanwhile, Amy’s little brother Joey sneaks out of the house, determined to go to the carnival against his parents’ wishes. On his way, he’s stopped by an old bastard in a truck, who ends up threatening him with a shotgun for no reason other than he is a weirdo and this is a Tobe Hooper film. Joey’s side-story is not at all pivotal to the main plot, but it provides the best moments in terms of capturing the tone and spirit of a small-town carnival.

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As the night wanes on, the two couples enjoy your standard fair activities, such as a magic show (William Finley, who had previously made faces in Hooper’s Eaten Alive, plays the Dracula-costumed magician in an amusing bit) and laughing at deformed cows in the Freak Show. They also pay a visit to Madame Zena (Sylvia Miles), a fortune teller who threatens to “break every bone in your fuckin’ bodies” when they make fun of Amy’s palm reading.

Awesome character actor Kevin Conway also shows up here, playing three different carnival barkers, one of which is Conrad. He runs the titular ride with the help of a hulking, silent man in a Frankenstein’s Monster mask. Its this ride that Amy et al. embark on which leads to Richie having the bright idea of hiding in the funhouse after the carnival closes and spending the night. Amy is hesitant due to her anticipation of…you know…screwin’…but decides to correctly give in to peer pressure and go along.

While enjoying each others wedding tackle inside the now-closed funhouse, the four wholesome friends witness Madame Zena picking up a little extra cash by giving the big dude in the Frankenstein mask a handie. Unfortunately for Frank, he gets too excited too quickly and implies (through grunts of course) that he wants another try.  Zena refuses so he kills her.

20 bucks for the five tugs, 5 additional dollars per tug. So that'll be...uh...25 bucks.
20 bucks for the first five tugs, one dollar for each additional tug.

The friends, suitably scared, decide to cancel the sleepover and get help. But first, Richie steals Frank’s cash box. Conrad stops by and finds out about the murder and the missing money. He gets pissed and riles up Frank to the point his mask falls off, revealing that he is a malformed mutant.

What's the matter? Do I have something on my face?
What’s the matter? I have something on my face, don’t I.

Oh yeah, Conrad is also Frank’s pop…

Through some typical horror movie happenings, Conrad and the Monster find out that there are interlopers hiding in the funhouse and it turns into a standard stalk-and-kill story.

Oh hey, wait, remember Joey? While his sis and her friends are watching deformed murderers prematurely ejaculate, he gets caught hiding out after hours. This leads to what is perhaps the most unsettling scene in the film. Joey’s parents come to pick up the kid, who passed out at some point after capture. As he rests on a cot in a trailer, an incredibly creepy carnie talks to the folks, all the while wiping Joe’s forehead and gazing at him with a mixture of awe and love. Now I don’t know what the fuck Hooper was implying happened between the carnie and Joey, but the sleaze just drips off this scene. The soft voice and facial expressions of the carnival employee are disturbing and have a strong molester vibe. Its a character moment that has absolutely nothing to do with the movie, but enhances the creep factor of the overall piece (much like the razor blade-in-the-lip bit in Halloween II).

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The climax of the film involves Amy vs. Frank in the bowels of the funhouse. Its nothing spectacular, but the colorful lighting and cinematography enhance a pretty run-of-the-mill final battle. Who will emerge from the funhouse with their life? I wouldn’t spoil that for all the funnel cakes in the world.

“Pay to get in. Pray to get out.”

The Good: Atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere. To be honest, the monster part of the film is the least satisfying to me. The whole first third of the movie, the carnival experience, the freak show, the bums, carnies, and creepers is what makes The Funhouse work for me. There have been multiple horror films set in the carnival world, but none of them have felt quite as authentic.

Kevin Conway is terrific as the barkers, specifically villain Conrad. He strikes a perfect balance between evil huckster and genuinely concerned father, trying to protect his deformed offspring from the consequences of his violent actions.

John Beale’s music is outstanding! He weaves traditional circus-style melodies and flavors with a contemporary bombastic  horror film score. So, so great.

The Not-So-Good: The very first scene of the movie. After the opening titles, we are thrown into a POV scene right out of Halloween that ends with the scaring of Amy in the shower with a rubber knife. Whose eyes have we been looking through? Little brother Joey…

Okay, this scene sucks for two reasons. First off, its a deliberate homage to both Halloween and Psycho, which is fine, but not at all necessary to set up a movie that has nothing else in common. The Funhouse isnt a slasher movie, its an old-fashioned monster movie. So the homage doesnt work in my opinion. Its like if Terminator 2 started out with a Missing In Action homage. Other than both being action films, they have nothing in common to warrant the upfront reference.

Secondly, to do the prank, Joey had to stand in front of his naked, soapy sister for several moments. That’s just fuckin’ weird, man. I have a sister myself, and no gag in the world is worth the insane awkwardness of seeing her nude. It introduces Joey as a real creepy asshole, which is in stark contrast to his innocent portrayal in the rest of the flick. Apparently, the scene was shot and added in after the movie had been screened by producers who wanted a scare scene up front. I think it was a terrible idea and would have been better left in the trim bin.

Final Thoughts: Next to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, I think The Funhouse is Tobe Hooper’s best film.  It looks beautiful, has an authentic sleazy vibe, and solid acting from top to bottom. The production design, music, creature effects, and script are all above average for an early-80s horror film. One of my faves.

Droppin’ Knowledge:  Wayne Doba, who plays the monster, also played the mime who gets gunned down in the nightclub in Scarface (1983).

Trailer:

Motel Hell (1980)

motelhell
Motel Hell (1980)
Director: Kevin Connor
Writers: Robert Jaffe & Steven-Charles Jaffe
Cast: Rory Calhoun, Nancy Parsons, Paul Linke, Nina Axelrod, Wolfman Jack, John Ratzenberger

If you watched any late-night cable television in the 80’s and 90’s, you no doubt came upon a strange little horror flick called Motel Hell. Whether it was USA network’s Saturday Nightmares, their Up All Night programming, or Joe Bob Brigg’s Monstervision on TNT, this movie was always on the tube. I watched it dozens of times growing up. It had an atmosphere that, as a movie-obsessed kid, confused and unsettled me with its mix of absurd comedy and horrific imagery.

The story concerns brother and sister Vincent and Ida Smith. For thirty years, “Farmer Vincent” has sold his regionally-famous smoked meats and jerky to tourists and patrons of his motel (Motel Hello – the “O” on the sign is perpetually burned out, making it read Motel Hell). He is a simple, kind man who believes his work is divine. He uses no preservatives and only the finest ingredients. The only problem is one of those fine ingredients is human flesh.

Coca-cola's slogan
Coca-cola’s slogan “Coke is it!” came out a year later. Coincidence?

One night, while using the ol’ chain-across-the-highway trick to ensnare some jerky-fixins’, Vincent causes a motorcyclist and his old lady to wreck. Excited by his new meat, he is unprepared to be struck by the beauty of the unconscious Terry (Nina Axelrod) and decides to nurse her to health instead of feed her to the grinder. When she comes-to the next morning, Vincent informs her of the accident and that her much-older boyfriend has given up the ghost. Distraught by the news, she demands to see the body, which Vincent says is impossible as he already buried him.

Of course, what Vince fails to say is that he only buried him up to his neck in his secret garden, and that he is still alive (albeit with his vocal chords slashed to keep him quiet). I’ll talk more about this “secret garden” in a bit.

motelhell2big
Get SAMCRO on the line.

Other than sister Ida (the criminally underrated Nancy Parsons of Porky’s fame), Vincent has a kid brother named Bruce, who happens to be the town Sheriff. Bruce, played by lispy Paul Linke, is totally oblivious to how his siblings make their meaty treats. He also gets ridiculously horny upon meeting the brassiere-hating Terry, which causes him to start stopping by the motel more than necessary. Unfortunately for him, Terry starts catching the vapors for Vincent (she likes her men like she likes her jerky, I guess).

My eyes are up here, Bruce. Bruce?
My eyes are up here, Bruce. Bruce?

Meanwhile, we are introduced to the local health inspector, Bob (E. Hampton Beagle…yes, that’s his real name). Bob makes the error of doing a surprise inspection of Vincent’s farm and stumbles upon the secret garden, which of course leads him to being brained by the good farmer and given his own spot in the soil.

The secret garden, in my not-so-humble opinion, is the most nonsensical and ridiculous (see: awesome) aspect of the whole movie. I can buy the idea that Vincent & Ida have been able to kill strangers and make them into salty snacks for years and no one ever becomes suspicious. But keeping a garden, which contains living, drugged-up people buried up to their necks without anyone getting wise is the stretchiest stretch of an already stretched thin genre. Also…what’s the point? The pair keep their “animals” in the ground, with their vocal chords cut, feeding them corn via funnels only to break their necks a short time later. How does this make for better beef jerky? Don’t get me wrong, I think its fantastic imagery and unlike anything else done in the realm of the 70s backwoods-rural-horror flicks (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Eaten Alive, Tourist Trap to name a few). But it doesn’t make any sense to me. Perhaps screenwriters Jaffe & Jaffe thought it a great example of just how insane and, by insanity, innocent Vincent and Ida are. They truly see this as just another form of livestock.

Then again, at one point Vincent says “I can’t help but wonder about the karmic implications of these actions,” so he is fully aware that what he is doing could maybe possibly be a teensy-weensy bit wrong.

Its a living!
Its a living!

As the film continues, we are treated to several other hapless folks who find their way into the garden, including a punk band called Ivan & the Terribles (their drummer, who gets no lines, is future Cliff Claven John Ratzenberger) and a couple of swingers named Edith and Guy. They mistake Motel Hello for Vincent’s Hotel, which is a spouse-swap hot spot. Vincent and Ida go along with the ruse in an effort to score some extra livestock, and the scene is a goddamn riot.

Is that a smoked sausage in your pocket or are you just Farmer Vincent?
Is that a smoked sausage in your pocket or are you just Farmer Vincent?

Eventually, Ida grows jealous of Terry and tries to drown her, only to be saved by Vincent.  This causes Terry’s lust for the old geez  to escalate and she throws herself at him.  A pious man, Vincent declines, saying they gotta get hitched first. The news doesn’t sit well with Bruce’s 24/7 boner and he and Vincent exchange words. Bruce embarks on a quest to uncover dirt (PUN!!!) on Vincent while he, Ida, and Terry prepare for the nuptials. But not everyone in the garden is as knocked out as others….

The Good: There’s a lot to love about Motel Hell, starting with Rory Calhoun as Vincent Smith. He plays everything completely straight, and is marvelous to watch. Calhoun, who had a long career in westerns, is the most charming and kind-hearted murderous cannibal you’re likely to find on the silver screen. His Vincent is like the perfect Grandfather, even-tempered and always sporting a great big smile. Never for a second do you get the sense that he’s a bad guy, which is what makes the movie so much fun. You like Vincent and Ida, despite watching them lure people to their deaths. None of the other characters are half as likable as the siblings. And (spoiler) his final line is perfect.

Nancy Parsons gives her career best as the rotund, always-hungry Ida. As an actress, she did quite a few small roles in TV and film throughout the 80s, her most famous role being Ms. Balbricker in the Porky’s trilogy. Its a shame she didnt have any meatier (PUN!!!) roles like Ida. She is both innocent and devious, pathetic and psychotic.

This!!!!!!!!! pighead

Lance Rubin’s music is a stand-out. A lot of the scores written for horror films of the era were just tired variations on Bernard Herrmann’s music for Psycho, but Rubin crafts a whimsical, mysterious score that really complements the curious and unconventional vibe of the movie. I love it. Speaking of music, the end credits song, credited to somebody named Kregg Nance, is awesome.

The Not-So-Good: Sheriff Bruce Smith. For being the “hero” of the piece, he is incredibly lacking. Paunchy and silly, his final fight with a pighead-wearing Vincent is unconvincing. There’s a bit where he comes swinging into the room on a meat hook that is suppose to be a big heroic moment, but just looks lame. I don’t blame Paul Linke so much as just the character itself is unlikable. At one point he actually forces himself onto Terry during a date, and that’s a little too uncomfortable to forget about just because he saves her in the last reel.

This may be nitpicking, but the gurgling sound effects dubbed in to mimic the planted people’s attempt to speak with cut vocal cords is like fingernails on a chalk board for me. Easily my least favorite thing about the movie, but more of a personal annoyance than a flaw.

Final Thoughts: Like I stated earlier, I grew up loving this movie and still do. Unlike the slasher films that were starting to explode off the screen at the time, Motel Hell is a witty, satirical, wholly original entry in the genre. There’s a charm and an imagination throughout that, despite its unsavory (PUN?) subject matter, makes it always fun to throw on.

Droppin’ Knowledge: Before becoming an actor, Rory Calhoun spent a number of years in prison (including San Quentin) for robbing jewelry stores and stealing cars.

Trailer:

Without Warning (1980)

Without_warning_1980_movie_poster

Without Warning (1980)
Director: Greydon Clark
Writers: Lyn Freeman, Daniel Grodnik, Ben Nett, Steve Mathis
Cast: Martin Landau, Jack Palance, Christopher S. Nelson, Tarah Nutter, Neville Brand, David Caruso, Kevin Peter Hall

There’s a moment in Without Warning where Sarge, played by a paycheck cashing Martin Landau, declares out loud that “Aliens ain’t human, you know.”  Its the kind of dialogue, delivered in such an earnest fashion, that us fans of low-budget horror live for. We quote it with our friends, reference it on movie nerd message boards and yell it out at screenings. Some of us even find ways to work it into everyday conversation (or with the ladies, if you’re hip). For us weirdos, these movies provide a rich tapestry of amateurish performances (or incredibly over the top), odd pacing, ridiculous character choices, and cheap but well-meaning effects work. For everyone else…this stuff is probably best left in obscurity.

This particular potboiler opens in the woods, by a stream, in an unspecified region of California. A grumpy father (B-movie king Cameron Mitchell) is on a hunting trip with his sensitive hippie son, Randy. We know Randy is a sensitive hippie thanks to his gloriously thick mustache (which belongs in the pantheon of great horror mustaches, right next to Jameson Parker’s Prince of Darkness soup-strainer) and his knapsack is full of books.  Books!! He also has been sleeping all morning while his dad has already been up for an hour.  A whole goddamn hour!
Eat your heart out, Steve Christy.Eat your heart out, Steve Christy.

Through some  dialogue we find out Randy is a staunch anti-hunting advocate (makes sense in light of the vacation…), so much so that he empties his shotgun shells on the ground while Pops is grumping in the other direction.

For all of Randy’s silly opinions on the sanctity of life, Dad is the real nutjob. In one unsettling scene, he hides in the bushes, points his weapon at Randy and gets visibly excited at the thought of blowing his son’s head off. I wonder what Christmas was like at their house?

Before Dad can act out his homicial fantasies, a slimy starfish-like creature frisbees out of nowhere, attaches to his face, and begins to drain his blood.  Randy tries to help him, but alas, his shotgun is empty and he, too, succumbs to the flying vaginas-with-teeth. And so begins Greydon Clark’s Without Warning (aka It Came Without Warning aka The Warning aka Alien Shock).
Is that a Mynock?
Is that a Mynock?

Now that we’ve gotten that opening shocker out of the way, its time for the meat-and-potatoes. We are introduced to a friendly foursome made up of three unknowns and one very pink-looking David Caruso. His character, the imaginatively named Tom, along with his ladyfriend Beth have invited mutual pals Greg (Peter Barton lookalike Christopher S. Nelson) and Sandy (non-actor Tarah Nutter) out for a fun-filled day at the lake. While Tom and Beth are squirming to get into each others short-shorts, Greg and Sandy play it very innocent, having just met.

Who wants a Nehi?
Who wants a Nehi?

Needing to fuel their van, the gang decides to stop at Taylor’s Gas, one of those gas stations that has a stuffed bobcat hanging by the door and dozens of animal heads mounted on the walls. You know…one of those types of gas stations.

The girls decide to use the john, and finding the door locked, use the men’s room instead, where they are startled by a crazy-eyed looney tune named Sarge. Turns out Sarge has some wicked PTSD (we know this because he references everyday civilian things using military terms, such as latrine instead of john and runs around wearing old army fatigues) that will come into play later.

If being spooked by one character actor wasn’t enough, the kids are then approached by another crazy-eyed looney tune named Joe (these are the sorts of inventive monikers that only a team of four screenwriters can conjure). Joe, portrayed by the oft cheery Jack Palance, proceeds to explain how he runs the gas station and loves killing/eating random animals, which annoys animal empathizer Sandy (too bad she couldn’t have met Randy before his eyeballs got sucked out). Palance finishes up his day on set by warning the kids to not go to the lake. His reasoning? Why its hunting season of course!

Ever had chicken-fried bobcat?
Ever had chicken-fried bobcat?

I know what you’re thinking. How can the movie be called Without Warning when Joe clearly warned them not to go to the lake?! Its best to not over think such trivial things.

Our heroes eventually make it to the lake, but not before auteur Clark brings the movie to a screeching halt by cutting to a goofy-looking cub scout leader and his pack of kids. Other than trying to up the body count and give former F-Troop star Larry Storch a day’s pay, this scene isn’t funny or scary. The scout leader stumbles upon Randy and his dad’s winnebago, attempts to light a cigarette by striking rocks together, and gets a sucker-snatch to the face. The scouts, many of which keep looking right into the camera lens, see the shadow of a large figure and scream (not all on cue, either).

You heard of F Troop? No? What about Love American Style, you heard of Love American Style haven't you?
You heard of F Troop? No? What about Love American Style, you heard of Love American Style haven’t you?

When we finally get back to Tom, Beth, Greg, and Sandy, they are frolicking in the lake and have forgotten all about the silly warning. Eventually Tom and Beth decide to make the beast with two backs (on a Star Wars blanket no less), leaving Greg and Sandy to awkwardly go for a walk. After roughly five minutes (apparently they have little faith in Tom’s skills as a lover), they return to the van to find that their friends are nowhere to be found. Greg decides this would be a good time to have a snack and change into a Marty McFly life-jacket vest, but his good cheer is short lived and he throws a tantrum at his pals’ disappearance. Spurred on by corpse-like Sandy, they go looking for the couple.

I suppose it should also be noted that all of the scenes above are punctuated by endless steadicam shots of someone or something lurking in the woods. Not that suspense is really a priority for Greydon Clark.

Anyway, after a detour involving some sort of foxhole (that wacky Sarge), Greg & Sandy come upon a shack FULL OF DEAD BODIES!!!!!!! Randy, his old man, the cub scout nerd, Tom and Beth, each in a different state of putrefaction. Realizing shit just got real, they haul ass and wind up seeking help in the town’s only bar. Luckily, the joint is full of cool old-school stars like Neville Brand and Ralph Meeker, suckin’ oat sodas and being generally grizzled.

This is by far the best scene in the film, as Sarge (a part-time pool shark it turns out) is also there, and upon hearing Greg’s story, finally loses his nut and decides that the young would-be lovers are really aliens in human form. Joe shows up before too long and lots of fun grouchy dialogue is had amongst the old stars.

“Aliens don’t need doctors.”

Eventually Joe rasps out that he has known all along that an alien has been hunting people in that area (!) and convinces Greg and Sandy to help him kill it. Having nothing else to do, they go along, being pursued by both the alien and his killer bagels as well as bug-eyed Sarge.

The final reveal of the alien is quite disappointing. He is basically a tall dude draped in a hammock with a generic (though well constructed) Grey Alien head, which, according to the film’s producer, was created by Rick Baker in his kitchen for the princely sum of $19,000.

Wait, stop laughing....seriously, stop it.
Wait, stop laughing….seriously, stop it.

The movie’s big climax won’t be spoiled here, but it involves Jack Palance rhino-charging a seven-foot extraterrestrial while screaming “ALLLLLIIIEEEENNNNNNNNN!!!”  It has to be seen to be appreciated.

The Good:  While the pacing is incredibly slow and the acting from the teen leads pretty poor, the movie is still a lot of fun for fans of the genre. Landau and Palance make a solid scenery-chewing team, and the inclusion of guys like Neville Brand give the proceedings a sense of prestige that many genre films of this ilk don’t have.

The film was shot by a young Dean Cundey, fresh off Halloween. He had already cut his teeth on several exploitation flicks helmed by Greydon Clark, and his eye is very sharp here. The bar scene in particular has a terrific sense of composition, especially the shots of Landau being lit only by a lantern.

Christopher S. Nelson, while not a strong actor, is very likable and gives it his all. He also has a “Greg” belt buckle.

The Not-So-Good There is an awful lot of filler in this thing, particularly during the third act when the story should be moving a lot faster. Its not a fast paced movie to begin with, but when our heroes are being pursued by crazy vets and aliens, they shouldn’t stop to take a nap in an old farmhouse. Less patient viewers are liable to check out long before Palance takes on the spaceman with the Spencer’s mask.

The music, credited to Dan Wyman, doesn’t know if its in a horror movie or Ice Castles. Sometimes its a loud, buzzing electronic score (that will often just stop completely to allow an actor to speak) and other times its a little piano suite straight out of As the World Turns.

Final Thoughts: Without Warning is a slight but very fun little horror movie that fans will suck up like puffer fish alien discs.  I can totally understand why it has been so loved by genre aficionados. It has that unmistakable late-70s early-80s independent feel that I adore. Unavailable on home video for decades, Shout Factory imprint Scream Factory has released a gorgeous blu-ray of the film that includes a commentary from director Greydon Clark as well as several interviews with Christopher S. Nelson, Tarah Nutter, Dean Cundey and producer Daniel Grodnick. Highly recommended.

Droppin’ Knowledge: One of the four credited screenwriters, Ben Nett, is actually future Saved By The Bell producer Bennett Tramer (whose name is often used for characters in friend John Carpenter’s films).

Trailer: