The Uncanny (1977)


With the recent passing of author Michel Parry (who wrote the novelization of Countess Dracula, as well as writing for Castle of Frankenstein magazine and publishing quite a few horror anthologies) I thought it was time to take another look at the one movie he wrote a screenplay for, The Uncanny.
Tho it stars several high profile old school horror and sci-fi actors, it is virtually unknown in the U.S. because of it’s very limited distribution (I remember seeing it on a late night horror TV show as a kid, and liking it quite a bit).  It still hasn’t had a U.S. DVD or Blu Ray release.

It’s a three part anthology story of the sort put out by Amicus in the late ’60s and early ’70s (it’s so much like one of them most people probably assume it is one, but tho it was produced in part by Amicus‘ Milton Subotsky, it was actually put out by a small Canadian company called Cinévidéo).
It stars Peter Cushing as a writer who has had several books published on conspiracy theory-type subjects like U.F.O.’s and the pyramids. He is trying to get his new book released by publisher Ray Milland in which  he claims that humans are being controlled and manipulated by cats, who are highly intelligent and in conspiracy with each other to rule the world (if only he could see the internet circa 2014).
He details 3 stories that are supposed proof (and he has all the eyewitness accounts and police records) of this.

The first one is the old chestnut about the wealthy elderly woman (played by Mysterious Island‘s Joan Greenwood) who spurns her family and leaves all her money to her cats.  Her nephew decides to take action with the help of her maid, but the cats have other ideas.

The second story is about a little girl who lost her parents in an airplane accident.  She has a black cat named Wellington that she adores, and together they move in with her cat hating aunt and uncle and their spoiled daughter who enjoys bullying her.  As it turns out, the little girl is a witch, so things turn out bad for her tormentor.

The last story is about a classic hammy horror actor (Donald Pleasance) who rigs an accident to kill his actress wife so he can replace her with his mistress.  His wife’s cat takes revenge.

It is kind of hard to understand  Cushing’s extreme fear of cats and insistence of their malevolence, since in the stories all of the people they hurt were bad people who deserved to be punished in a Tales From the Crypt-type fashion.  The story is simplistic but pretty original overall- there just aren’t enough cat-themed  horror movies around if you ask me.

I guess the main difference between this and the above mentioned Amicus anthologies is that this one doesn’t quite have the style or charisma of those, which is mostly the fault of the fairly bland direction.  To be fair, it is a ambitious project for a low budget movie made in a time before CGI.  All the actors are well trained British character actors and take the fairly silly material seriously (Cushing, in particular, sells his paranoia and fear of cats with a nervous, twitchy performance full of dread).  Donald Pleasance takes the opportunity to overact, clearly enjoying the role of an aging melodramatic horror star.  In fact, I’d say it’s possible that he and his constantly mugging co-star Samantha Eggar might have been competing to see who could overact the most.  And since their segment shows them filming a Poe adaption in 1930s Hollywood, I suppose the fit is right.
There is a multitude of cats in this, which was probably hard to film and control (there are a couple of humorous scenes where an obviously fake cat’s paw appears from off screen to scratch someone’s hand).  The special effects are rough, even for this time period, but they get the job done.
Despite the bland direction and unexciting special effects, it’s all fairly charming and entertaining (the score, composed specifically for this movie,  makes it even more so despite a slapsticky little pratfall number during Pleasance’s segment I could have lived without) mainly due to the delightful actors involved.  By 1977 this sort of quaint little charming horror movie wasn’t really made anymore, so it’s sort of an anomaly.

As previously mentioned it’s all a bit silly but worth watching for fans of cats, Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasnace, or British anthology films.

The Babadook (2014)


I have just returned from “Dismember the Alamo”, an 8 hour horror festival in which they show 4 films in 35mm, but don’t announce what they are until right before they show them.  It was put on at the Alamo Drafthouse and hosted by Barbara Crampton, who was very nice and gracious (and dressed up like a witch for Halloween season), answered questions, talked about the movies, signed autographs, and seemed like a very pleasant individual.

All the Drafthouses that participated played different movies.  I know other Drafthouses played everything from Halloween III to Ernest Scared Stupid, Friday the 13th Part 4 to Of Unknown Origin, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.
I think our Drafthouse showed one of the best line-ups, with:
1) Rosemary’s Baby
2) Castle Freak (which Barbara Crampton chose herself because she felt it was her most underrated movie)
3) Ginger Snaps
4) The Babadook

Of the four, the only one I had never seen was The Babadook (tho I haven’t seen any of them in an actual theater, so that was a treat).
It has evidently only been shown once, at a film festival, and will be coming out in wide release this December.
The presenters all made a big deal about how scary it is, and I’ve read a few reviews of it that also said it’s incredibly scary, which I figured was a bunch of hogwash (people said that about The Conjuring and many other movies, and it usually turned out to be bunk), but I have to admit, it has some effective moments.

It’s about a single mother (played by Essie Davis, who I only knew from a very small role in the Matrix movies as a medic who gets killed by the Agent who possessed the body of a human) of a little boy with several psychological and emotional issues, presumably stemming from the fact that his father died while driving his mother to the hospital to have him.
The boy finds a book on his bookshelf called Mr. Babadook and asks his mother to read it to him as a bedtime story.  The book tells of a boogyman called Mr. Babadook who feeds on fear and torment, and eventually posses  people, making them do terrible things.
The kid becomes obsessed with the Babadook, and starts seeing him (even tho no one else can) everywhere.  The mother tears up the book and throws it away, but it appears on their doorstep taped back together, and with new depictions of her being possessed by the Babadook and doing terrible things.
What follows is in the highly tread tradition of The Shining, but is so well done and nicely filmed with a lot of very cool and creepy scenes (especially in the mother’s dream sequences.  Now most of you know I generally do not like dream sequences, but these are not cop-outs and fake scares like in most movies) that you may forgive it being yet another ghost/ possession movie in a long line of ghost/ possession movies that have been coming out for the past 10 years (at least it doesn’t look like all the other ones.  It has a very old school and original look and feel to it).

But the main thing to recommend about this movie is the acting.  Every person in it, and particularly the main characters (even  the young boy) do incredible jobs.  The dialogue and direction are fine as well.  I do have a few quibbles- the budgetary constraints are slightly felt, it’s just a little bit too talky (perhaps some small edits might quicken the pace a little)  and I really wish we had learned more of the mythology of the Babadook (mysterious is cool, but I love it when characters discover some engaging mythology about an interesting monster or boogyman).  Also the ending needed… something (it was a little goofy), but these don’t really take away from the overall enjoyment of the film.
In conclusion, this is nothing you haven’t seen before, but the level of character building, believablility, and fantastic acting as well as it’s overall theme of grief, regret, and resentment push it into the ‘a bit above average’ zone.

Island of Terror (1966)


By the time I watched Island Of Terror, around the age of 7 or so, it had become a staple on afternoon sci-fi theater type TV shows.  I had seen many horror and sci-fi movies, from The Fly, Creature From the Black Lagoon, Jaws, and Kingdom of the Spiders to stuff like The Exorcist and Night of the Living Dead.  None of these movies scared or bothered me, but for some reason Island of Terror did.  It actually gave me nightmares, which very few movies have ever done in my life.

Directed by the prolific Terrence Fisher (who directed some of the most notable British horror films of the 50s, 60s, and 70s including a ton for Hammer (such as The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Gorgon, Brides of Dracula, The Mummy, The Earth Dies Screaming, and many more) and starring Peter Cushing, it’s another story of scientific research gone wrong.

On a remote British island, the body of a man is discovered with no bones left in it (“He’s like jelly” remarks the constable).  A couple of specialists (played by Peter Cushing and Edward Judd (from First Men In the Moon, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, and The Vault of Horror to name a few)) are brought in and discover that a researcher who was trying to find a cure for cancer created a new life form which can dissolve bones and suck them out of a person (or animal’s) body.  These creatures are also virtually indestructible and divide into two every 6 hours or so (which means that the island would be overrun by them in less than a week).
After trying to shoot them and blow them up with dynamite, they discover a possible weakness and hatch a desperate plan to destroy them for good.  But with their numbers diminishing and no place to run, the odds of surviving are pretty low.

In contrast to some of his Hammer work, Fisher’s direction here is fairly subdued, making me think a bit of Tod Browning’s style (in which he generally would set up a camera and let all the action happen in front of it, rather than moving around a lot or utilizing a plethora of cuts, zooms and close ups. Of course with Browning this was mainly because of equipment available at the time, but he still seemed to favor a “sitting back and filming a play’ direction style).  He’s never really had the flair or atmospheric touch of fellow Brit director Freddie Francis, but he seems more subdued on this film than most of his others.  The acting is decent, tho the main ‘hero’ (played by the aforementioned Edward Judd) is lacking in charisma quite a bit.  The unnecessary love interest (played by Curse of the Fly‘s Carole Gray) is a fairly annoying character as well, but everyone else plays their parts perfectly.   The setting is used nicely with the remote island and old school feel of everything.  Basically this is like a zombie movie- the creatures move very slow, but keep multiplying and are unstoppable.  The main characters end up barricading themselves (tho not very well) in and under siege.

The monsters are pretty cool looking, kind of like turtle/ snails with a tentacle coming out where their head should be.  They also make a creepy, radioactive synthy sound (and a comical slurping one when they suck someone’s bones out).
The film is a little slow moving by today’s standards, but fairly fast paced by 1966 horror/ sci-fi movie standards.  I found myself getting into the story and enjoying it (tho it didn’t scare me like it did my 7 year old self.  I have no idea why it affected me so).  People these days are so overstimulated I doubt a lot of them could watch a movie like this and get into it.  They would be looking at their phone, texting, filling the chip bowl, doing laundry, looking at the iPad, etc. way before it got going.  I like movies that take their time building to something.  I like to see these small villages and old ways portrayed in detail.  It was a simpler time, and if a movie can show it realistically it often fascinates me (it doesn’t hurt that this movie was filmed not too far into the future from when times were really like this).
So some of me liking it might have more to do with the period setting than the actual plot, but I still found it a good watch after all these years.   It’s never been released in a Region 1 DVD or Blu Ray, so it might be hard to track down, but you can’t consider yourself a classic British horror/ sci-fi film connoisseur, even if you’ve seen all the Hammer and Amicus films, until you’ve seen some of these offbeat titles (this one done by a small company called Planet Film Productions), and this is a good one to start with.

Society (1989)


Here is a crazy, ambitious, and underrated film that mixed the paranoid thriller and body horror genres with a 1980s teen comedy.  It was Brian Yuzna’s (The Dentist, Return of the Living Dead 3, Bride of and Beyond Re-Animator) first film as director, and definitely one of his best.

It starts off as a typical ’80s screwball teen movie- Bill (Billy Warlock, son of Dick Warlock who played Michael Myers in Halloween II) is a typical Beverly Hills teen- he comes from a rich family, and is popular at school, but is seeing a therapist because he feels paranoid and alienated from his family.  He has a standard issue blonde cheerleader girlfriend (played by the girl who Jason kills by dragging under the water in Friday the 13th Part 7), and a typical goofy ’80s best friend, but he feels something is not right with his parents and sister.

When his sister’s jilted boyfriend brings him proof of some twisted, underground weirdness (of the type most normal people imagine decadent rich people do behind closed doors), he begins to suspect that there’s some creepy, foul secrets his family is involved in and keeping from him.  By the end he finds out that there’s much more to it than just a bunch of rich perverts, and most of the influential people in Beverly Hills (and most everyone he knows) is in on it.  It turns out he wasn’t paranoid enough, and by the time it reaches it’s grotesque denouement, the movie has transformed from a coming-of-age teen movie into a full on horror film (tho still a bit screwball) that’s more than a little fucked up.

Yuzna keeps the humor going all the way to the end, and unfortunately some of it is goofy and full of bad puns (another ’80s staple). This makes the horror less effective, but it’s still got enough twisted humor to keep the mood black overall.  The effects are insane, and tho the body count is quite low, it’s still worth watching just for how fucked up it gets.  The first two thirds of the movie, tho mostly a teen comedy, still has a darker edge- like a teen comedy with some weird stuff going on, slowly building from the subtle to in-your-face insanity.  I once saw it described as “Lovecraft as filmed by John Waters”, and tho it’s not quite THAT cool, it still kind of fits.  The effects by Screaming Mad George (of excellent late ’70s punk band THE MAD, who has a very recognizable and bizarre style of twisted latex and slime) are somewhat cartoonish, but that just enhances the freak show.

The social commentary is quite loud and clear, and just a bit heavy handed, but certainly not outdated considering the plutocracy we live in these days.
What’s not so timely is the fashions, hair styles, and setting- this movie is as ’80s as it can get.  This might be a joy for some, and a detriment to others.  It’s also lacking in nudity for a screwball ’80s teen movie (there is just a tiny bit.  That’s an observation, not a criticism.  This movie is plenty entertaining without it).

You cannot defeat the mullet!

You cannot defeat the mullet!

We’d definitely recommend it to anyone into body horror, ’80s teen comedys, freak shows, and grotesqueries in general.  I first saw it by tape trading in 1990 or so (it was released in Europe in 1989, but not in the US until 1992).  Movies like James Gunn’s Slither owe a lot to it, so if you like that a double feature might be in order.

The Pick-Axe Murders III: The Final Chapter (2014)



I’ve just returned from the very first showing of the newest slasher throwback The Pick-Axe Murders III: The Final Chapter.  This means that the movie has not been released widely yet, and is just getting ready to enter some film festivals.  Full disclosure time: I do know the director and several of the actors involved in it somewhat, but I will be as impartial as I can be.

The first thing you should know is that there are no Pick-Axe Murders Part I or II.  In his intro director Jeremy Sumrall explained that with most movies that have sequels, they get worse and worse the more there are, so since this is his first full length film as director, he wanted to start off with the bad one and work his way up to the good one (who knows when Part I will be made, but he promises it will be a masterpiece.  There’s a good chance he was joking about all of that).

This one starts out with a TCM-style title crawl explaining the back story (ostensibly the plots of the first two): In the summer of 1982, a group of campers were horribly slaughtered at Camp Arapaho in the sleepy little town of Woodland Hills. The 10 gruesome murders were blamed on Alex Black, a mysterious man believed to have been the son of Satan himself, whom the townspeople had hunted down and lynched nearly 20 years prior. The only survivors were Adrienne, a camper, and a young deputy named Mathews…

One year later, a series of mysterious killings at the Meadow Falls Sanitarium (where Adrienne had spent the last year as a patient) were once again linked to the mysterious Alex Black. Adrienne made it out again as one of the only survivors…

Part III begins in the summer of 1988 (5 years after the sanitarium massacre), and follows a group of kids going to a typical ’80s hair metal concert.  Unfortunately for them, Alex Black has been resurrected, and returns to spread carnage and death as well as confront the haunted and alcoholic Adrienne and (now) Sheriff Mathews one last time.

The law of diminishing returns states that there is no way this movie could be any good or even interesting in any way.  The reason that people do not like to sit by the highway and watch cars drive by is because it’s something we see every day, and for horror fans, slasher films (of this sort in particular) have been done and redone so often, it’s about the same as sitting by the road watching traffic.  However, every once in awhile a 16 car pile up will happen, and watching traffic might become more interesting.  The question when watching a new throwback slasher has become: is this one like watching traffic, or a 16 car pile up?
Obviously originality is pretty much out the window- everything that can be done with the slasher formula has been done, so what you have left is fun factor and intensity factor.  Few directors have the talent and ability to make an incredibly intense film, much less an incredibly intense slasher, so most go for fun.  The goal is to see how over-the-top crazy you can get.

The good news is that The Pick-Axe Murders III: The Final Chapter is just fun enough to call it a success- it’s funny, occasionally clever, and entertaining enough to not be a waste of time.  The characters are silly and over-the-top in an ’80s movie way (obviously something they were shooting for), the dialog is cringe-inducingly goofy (but also in a good way- it’s obviously purposefully goofy), it has just enough clever humor and subtlety  thrown in to let you know that the bad stuff is done on purpose, and of course it’s so full of old school slasher homages and nods that you could overload a boat with them.  But not a boat on the way to New York.  That would be disastrous.

The acting is much better than in most underground/ low budget horror films- a huge step above 90% of the straight-to-video movies that I’ve watched (and I’ve watched a lot of them).  Low budget/ straight-to-video horror uber-queen Tiffany Shepis does a fine job as Adrienne (and actually keeps all of her clothes on throughout the whole movie- one of the only actresses in it that does), and Phantasm‘s A. Michael Baldwin plays Sheriff Mathews.  Most of the other actors and actresses are locals who haven’t appeared in many larger releases, but they all do an excellent job and look like they’re having a lot of fun, so hopefully that will change.
As hinted at above, there is a lot of nudity thrown in.  More than usual for a slasher.  This is, of course, a key ingredient in a slasher film (however in this day and age when anytime you want to see boobs all you have to is go to Google images and type in ‘boobs’, it’s not as much of a draw as it was in the days before the internet, when most of the classic slashers came out).

Unfortunately, it’s lacking in the other slasher key ingredient: the kills.  That’s not to say that there aren’t a lot- there are as many (or more) as in most classic slashers, it’s just that they are mostly all mundane (with the exception of two or three).  Two of them (one of a main character and one of a supporting character) are even done off screen.  I’m assuming that this is because of budgetary reasons (having a big guy squeeze someone’s head and blood pour out of their mouth is a lot cheaper to film than a spectacular kill like the machete between the legs of the guy walking on his hands in Friday the 13th Part 3).  Not everyone can afford Tom Savini, but still the fact remains that this is a slasher where most of the death scenes are pretty underwhelming.  BUT I do have to give them credit for using all practical effects.  It’s a lot more time consuming and harder to pull off, but looks a lot better than a bunch of CGI any day.  The only other complaint I’d have is the music- sometimes it sounded good, but sometimes it just didn’t fit with the scene it was paired with (tho not as bad as in the otherwise also decent  Sweatshop– in which director Sumrall played the killer).  Music is a big part of a horror film, and sometimes (as proven by Halloween) can make or break it.

But overall it is far above most straight-to-video horror drek coming out these days, and makes a good bridge between the above mentioned Sweatshop and Spirit Camp– both slashers produced in the same area as The Pick-Axe Murders III: The Final Chapter and using a lot of the same people (Kerry Beyer, director of Spirit Camp, even has a cameo in Pick-Axe as one of the hair band members).

I don’t know how much different the finished product will be- it hasn’t been rated yet, and there were a couple of bits that needed clearer editing, but other than that it looked finished, so hopefully everyone else will get to see it soon.

Watch it with a bunch of friends and beer in a marathon with Friday the 13th Parts 1 – 3, Intruder, The Burning, Sleepaway Camp, Maniac, Stage Fright, New York Ripper, and if you want something modern maybe Hatchet (if you want to get a little more low rent and sleazy you could add in Don’t Answer The Phone, Murder Set Pieces and Strip Nude For Your Killer).

Eaten Alive (1977)



With the untimely passing of Marilyn Burns earlier today, I thought I would take a look at one of her best movies (not that there are a lot to choose from- unfortunately, she was not very prolific, and most of her roles were cameos and small parts).

If you ever wondered what the missing link between the Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 is, it’s Eaten Alive.  It has the feel of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but also has the over-the-top, absurd, almost slapstick acting and characterizations of part 2 (which part 1 had a bit of, but they really went all out with part 2).
It is Tobe Hooper’s second movie (after TCM), and was also co-written by Kim Henkle and stars Marilyn Burns.  It’s set somewhere in Texas (close to the Louisiana border, one would assume because of the swamp setting and the continual mentions of cities like Houston and Huntsville), in a small redneck town.  A crazy one-legged scythe wielding hillbilly named Judd (who makes me think of a cross between The Cook and Chop Top (tho mostly The Cook)) runs a motel on the edge of a swamp, where he has a pet gigantic Nile alligator he evidently got from a zoo somehow.
When a young lady gets thrown out of a nearby brothel for refusing to allow Buck (a very young looking Robert England) to do her in the butt, she goes to the motel along with several other travelers (including her father (Mel Ferrer) and sister who’ve come looking for her), quite a few of which are then killed by Judd and fed to his pet.

There’s not much more to it than that.  It has an 18% rating on Rotten (which to those of you unfamiliar with that site, is a very low score), but I really like it.  The only complaint I have is that the acting is a little too over-the-top in places.  One reason that the nuts in TCM stood out so well was that the protagonists were pretty normal kids.  In this movie, almost everyone is batshit crazy or quirky or an outlandish caricature.  It’s not quite as ridiculously unrealistic as a Rob Zombie movie, but it’s still a little much in places.
One thing that balances that out is that it features a lot of classic Hollywood actors, which makes it stand out a bit from other exploitation films (and I think really disappointed a lot of highbrow critics).  Neville Brand (who was also in the TV movie I just reviewed Killdozer, as well as respectable films like  Stalag 17, Tora Tora Tora, and Birdman of Alcatraz) plays Judd as a twitchy, demented redneck  with delicate sensibilities who attacks people who offend them.  Carolyn Jones (House of Wax, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Morticia in The Addams Family TV show) is almost unrecognizable in her small but memorable role as the  frumpy down home good ole gal rodeo queen headmistress of the brothel (who at one point, tells a character that she has some land she wants to get rid of real cheap, which has a large pecan tree in the front yard. This is obviously a reference to the TCM house, which implies that the TCM universe and this one are the same).

Carilyn Jones as Miss Hattie

Carilyn Jones as Miss Hattie

Marilyn Burns plays the wife of quirky weirdo William Finley (Phantom of the Paradise, several other DePalma movies) and mother of shrieky 8 year old Angie (Kyle Richards, who went on to play similarly terrorized kid Lindsey in Halloween the next year).  The cast is rounded out by Roberta Collins (who played Matilda the Hun in the original Death Race 2000 and was in a bunch of other old exploitation films) and another well respected classic actor Stuart Whitman, as the consummate good old boy redneck town sheriff.
It’s a little talky (or perhaps I should say mumbly in the case of Judd) in places, but has a great feel to it; kind of a  creepy, swampy atmosphere mixed with a bit of sleaze and a touch of bizarreness to make a top notch exploitation film with more blood than TCM or the disappointing The Funhouse (the movies he did before and after Eaten Alive) and a lot of cheap thrills.  It also features another weird but cool experimental soundtrack by Hooper, much like TCM‘s.

Supposedly it’s based on a true story, of a man named Joe Ball (just as TCM was partially inspired by Ed Gein).
People hate this movie, but I liked it.  It makes a good bridge between TCM 1 and 2.

The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

purJust a quick one here, to let you guys know about the surprise of the summer for me.

I did not see the original movie The Purge, because it looked fairly typical of modern horror movies, pretty predictable, and (worst of all) was produced by Platinum Dunes.  The overrunning plot, in which all crime in America is legalized for 12 hours (from 7 PM to 7 AM on March 22 every year) was intriguing, but the home invasion story just didn’t appeal to me much.

This new one looked a little more interesting to me, so I took a chance on it and I’m glad I did.
It begins a couple of hours before commencement of The Purge (the event, not the first movie) and the people are preparing in different ways- some are boarding up their houses and arming themselves, some are trying to cash in by selling weapons and security equipment, and others are preparing to go out during The Purge and commit crimes.  We are introduced to three sets of people- a waitress and her daughter and father, who are very poor and live in an apartment; an estranged couple who are going to a relative’s house to wait out the Purge; and a mysterious man who is arming himself with guns and a bullet proof vest, preparing to go out during the Purge on an unknown mission.

Events conspire to bring these people together, as they try to make it through the city in the middle of a warzone, where almost anything is legal.

Tho it is a lot more involved and updated, it brought back fond memories of old urban wasteland movies like The Warriors, Escape From New York, and 1990: The Bronx Warriors, which is a genre you don’t see much anymore (the last one I can think of was Neil Marshall’s Doomsday (2008), and this one is much better).  There are no big actors (the only one I recognized was Frank Grillo, who had a smaller role as Crossbones in Captain America: The Winter Soldier), and almost no CGI was used.  I would have liked there to be just a little more gore and exploitation elements, but this movie still blew away most horror and action movies that come out these days.  There are several ham handed attempts at social commentary (some work well, while others lay it on a little thick), but that doesn’t get in the way of the entertainment (and a lot of it is actually quite relevant and timely).

It is still out in theaters, so you have a chance to go see it if you haven’t already.  We here at PMT recommend it, and we don’t do that with many modern movies.
There was a trailor for the Cannibal Holocaust/ Cannibal Ferox/ Trap Them and Kill Them, etc. homage The Green Inferno before it, which also intrigues us, tho it looks just a bit too clean and modern to these eyes.  Going into it with hopes but strong reservations.

Killdozer (1974)

Oh, man, the TV movie- can anything be more insipid?  Usually with a low budget, bad acting, and bad production values, this doesn’t  necessarily make a bad movie (I love tons of movies made with these detriments) but made for TV movies usually have one thing that can’t be forgiven: they’re boring as hell.  Part of this has to do with television censors not allowing much of anything all that interesting to take place on screen, but mostly it’s because these movies are made in a hurry by people who don’t care, and are designed to do one thing: fill a two hour hole to sell commercials during.  But in the ’70s, there arose quite a few decent ones made with some amount of talent and inspiration.  Gargoyles, Salems Lot, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Trilogy of Terror, and Dark Night of the Scarecrow (which wasn’t released until ’81) are a few examples of ’70s TV movies which actually went above and beyond their job description and entertained (even thrilled at times).

Killdozer is another decent one, perhaps not as thrilling as the best of the ones mentioned above (it is a little slow moving in places), but just the name and overall plot is more interesting than most TV movies (or even a lot of theatrical ones).
Written by science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon (who also co-wrote the screenplay), it’s about six men building an air strip on a remote (and presumably deserted)  island in the Pacific.  When one of them digs up a meteor, a malevolent entity ‘possesses’ the bulldozer and begins attacking and killing them.

Let’s not mince words here- the storyline is ridiculous.  After it kills several of them and they figure out that it is alive, it shouldn’t be too hard to keep out of reach of a slow moving bulldozer (and watching the bulldozer stalk them, hiding in the bush and watching for it’s chance to strike is pretty amusing).  The thing that makes it tolerable is the brisk running time (just 73 minutes) and the absolute earnestness of the cast.  This is a cast of grown men playing no nonsense construction workers, and they sell it.  Every one of them is a typical square jawed ’70s working man, and they play their roles seriously. That includes fighting a sentient serial killing bulldozer.  There’s no cuteness or tongue in cheek winking, they all work very hard at making it believable.
There isn’t much in the way of special effects (mainly a man with radiation burns), but everything looks authentic and realistic and the acting is good (featuring actors such as Neville Brand (Eaten Alive) and a young Robert Urich (The Ice Pirates)).  It’s also shot with a bit more care and artistic flair than your typical TV movie, and looks great- obviously a better stock of film was used to shoot it than your average TV production..

While it probably would not thrill modern audiences in the least, it is still worth mentioning for the ambitiousness of the producers to greenlight such an absurd concept, the dedication of the cast to sell the plot with everything they’ve got, and it’s historical significance (it is one of the very first killer vehicle movies, predating The Car, Christine, Maximum Overdrive, and most any other killer vehicle movie I can think of except for Spielberg’s Duel (1971), which was also a TV movie).  I have to say that if I was a kid  sitting at home in 1974 and it came on TV, I would have thought it was pretty damn cool.

That’s not to say, however, that I don’t wish this was an R rated theatrical production.  I’d love to see a sentient killer bulldozer wreck some real carnage with a bit more money and some gore thrown into it.  Now that would be a true cult classic.
kd 2

Wizards (1977)


Though there were a few examples in earlier decades, the 1970s is the decade when animation grew up.  Movies like Watership Down, The Last Unicorn, and Castle of Cagliostro brought animation out of the realm of kid’s stuff and into the world of PG (and R) rated movies.  Spurred on by the popularity of adult underground comics by people like Robert Crumb and the importation of Japanese anime, more and more adult animated movies began appearing in theaters until it’s zenith with Heavy Metal in 1980.  But before that director/ animator Ralph Bakshi made quite a few adult animated movies, starting off with Fritz the Cat and following it up with several urban adult animated movies (even earning an X rating on a couple).  By 1977, he wanted to make an adult animated fantasy film and developed War Wizards at Fox.

The story tells of a post apocalyptic future in which the Earth was destroyed by nuclear war and covered in radiation for thousands of years.  What was left of mankind either became mutants or evolved into elves, dwarves, and fairies.  Into this was born two children- Avatar, a good elf; and Blackwolf, an evil mutant.  Blackwolf was banished to Scortch, a poisoned wasteland where he gathered other mutants to him and studied black magic, eventually raising an army of demons from hell to join him and his minions.
Still, his evil army could not defeat the elves and fairies, until he discovered a secret weapon.  Technology (which had been banned for thousands of years, because it had destroyed the Earth) and in particular an old film projector, which he infused with his magic to call upon the images of an evil from the far distant past to help him defeat the legions of good.

Avatar sets out on a quest with an elf prince, a fairy princess, and a robot to stop Blackwolf from defeating the forces of good permanently.

The movie starts out with narration by an uncredited Susan Tyrell (Andy Warhol’s Bad, The Forbidden Zone, Flesh + Blood) who later lamented that she wished she had not been uncredited.  Mark Hamill also does the voice of a fairy (and Bakshi actually changed the name of the movie from War Wizards to just Wizards at George Lucas’ suggestion because he let Hamill off filming Star Wars for a few days to do the voice acting), and Bakshi himself does several voices.

Somewhere in the midst of making it, he ran out of money, and Fox would not give him more.  He then started pouring his own money into the project, and in order to keep the costs down he used rotoscoping (in which an animator uses photos or film cels and paints over them).  He painted over several scenes from old movies such as Zulu and The Battle of the Bulge to get the dynamoc battle scenes he wanted, and combined that with more conventional animation.  The effect is pretty original looking, and mildly creepy at times (with the armies of hell descending on the good guys in rotoscoped semi-realism).
The backgrounds are beautiful, and several scenes (especially at the beginning of the movie) are still shots of paintings, which make the movie feel like you are watching a living comic book in places.  He used two different background artists (including Marvel Comics’ Mike Ploog) to create the feel of the gloomy and dark radiation-filled land of Scortch and the bright, magical land of Montagar.


The movie makes a lot of veiled commentary on things like war, technology, propaganda, and religion (which Bakshi apparently considers silly and unhelpful in any way), and is a very strange mix of mildly sleazy and creepy adult scenes and more whimsical and absurd (even goofy) kid-friendly themes and parts (Bakshi actually considered this his first “family picture”).
I really enjoy the offbeat jazzy and mildly psychedelic background music which gives it an otherworldly feel (70’s movies are filled with Moog synths, which make them sound uniquely ’70s, and this one is no exception).
It has been released on both dvd and blu ray with Bakshi commentary, and is definitely worth seeking out for fans of animation, fantasy, or weird ’70s movies.


The Monkey’s Paw (2014)


The story of the Monkey’s Paw has been adapted so many times, one might ask why bother?  If someone told me they were making a new version of it, that’s probably what I would say to them.  But when I walked by it in the video store today, I immediately grabbed it without a second thought.  I suppose it’s because of all the charmless, uninspired modern horror movies that line the shelves, seeing an old friend, even in a new version (just released on disk today, after an extremely limited theatrical run in October 2013), was appealing.

The original story was written by W. W. Jacobs in 1902 and became a big hit. There actually haven’t been that many straight filmatic versions of it, however it’s themes have been coped ad nauseum in many different mediums- movies (Leprechaun, Wishmaster), books (Richard Matheson’s Button, Button), and tv shows from the Twilight Zone to The Simpsons. I was hoping for a newly made sumptiously filmed period piece with lots of creepy atmosphere and an old fashioned chilling plot without all the false grandeur and jump scares of modern horror. What I got was not what I wanted, but still not what I was dreading either (a typical, soulless and predictable modern horror movie).

As old and quaint as the original Jacobs story is, it’s still fairly creepy. In it, a couple (the Whites) are entertaining a friend who tells them of his monkey’s paw, a charm he got in India which grants three wishes.  The wishes, however, are cursed to show that fate rules people’s lives, and that those who interfere with it do so to their sorrow. The couple wish for money, which they receive from their son’s insurance policy when he is crushed by heavy machinery at his job. Then they wish for him to be alive, but he returns from the grave as is, mangled and zombified.
The movie uses the original story as a starting point.  Most of it is set in modern day Louisiana and involves several workers in a factory.  The supervisor (Daniel Hugh Kelly of Cujo) is fired because of the laziness of some of the other workers. As it turns out, he was the Whites’ other son, and has carried the monkey’s paw around with him ever since the incident with his undead brother (who in this movie, evidently killed his parents). When his foreman Jake tries to apologize to him for his part in the firing, he gives Jake the monkey’s paw and convinces him to make a wish on it. It all goes predictably downhill from there.


Director Brett Simmons made a movie called Husk that I watched a few years ago and had completely forgotten about until I looked him up after watching The Monkey’s Paw to see what else he had done.  Husk was competently made and had some interesting ideas, but the execution was bland and the pacing pretty slow.  Overall it was forgettable (which is hard to do with a movie about killer scarecrows possessing people).  The Monkey’s Paw is an improvement in looks- the cinematography is pretty inspired (and benefits quite a bit by being filmed on location in New Orleans) and saves the film from being completely mediocre.  The direction is still just workman like and not too phenomenal.  This could actually be a TV movie.  It has that feel to it, complete with commercial break points and very little gore or nudity.  Made for TV movies just have a certain atmosphere to them, and this one has it in spades.  Having said that, if this was made for TV it’s better than the average TV movie, more along the lines of Dark Night of the Scarecrow in feel and tone than the average 2 hour time waster.  The characters are decent and the acting pretty well done (it includes the reliable Charles Dutton as a cop (per his usual); and Stephen Lang, who played a generic evil army commander in Avatar, stands out as the ill-fated redneck Cobb), but still this is a fairly forgettable effort.
It’s competent, and might be worth a rental to fans of the original story, but it’s slow pace and lack of many thrills will likely grow tiresome to a lot of horror fans.
My fav Monkey’s Paw adaptation is still the one from The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror (Halloween special) #2: