April 26, 2017


Imagine how much more fun the short lived hospital themed horror films of the early 1980s would have been had THE MANITOU served as their inspiration. Imitators often attempt to one-up the object of their imitation. More blood, more boobs, more everything! THE MANITOU ends with a topless Susan Strasberg having a nice laser beam shootout with a small, greasy Native American shaman and his best buddy, the Prince of Darkness. Man oh man, I would have loved to have seen someone try to outdo that.

But no, the movie everyone was ripping off wasn't an out-there sci-fi/horror cheese fest. It was HALLOWEEN 2. The two best known imitators were VISITING HOURS, a great psycho-thriller that earned a spot on the DPP Video Nasty list, and this movie, X-RAY (aka HOSPITAL MASSACRE). X-RAY is notable for starring Playboy Playmate Barbi Benton. In fact, that's pretty much the only reason anyone even remembers this film. It is 89 minutes of pure hell.

Rushed into production to capitalize on the slasher craze, X-RAY tells the tale of Susan, a divorcee and mother of a young girl. Susan has to go to the hospital one day to receive the results of a standard check up (her work won't give her health insurance until she gets cleared). She tells her boyfriend to wait in the car and heads on in. What follows is a whole lot of nonsense involving a masked killer trying his best to keep Susan inside the building. He shuts off the elevator while Susan is still inside, hacks her doctor to bits, then fucks around with her charts, swapping her clean chest x-ray for one riddled with abnormalities. When Susan finally gets off the elevator, she is forced to wait around while someone locates her doctor. But as her doctor is currently in pieces someplace else, that never happens.

Susan meets two more doctors, the friendly Harry, and the creepy, almost rapey, Dr. Saxon. Harry steals Susan's file, showing Susan that someone is clearly playing games with her medical records. However, Dr. Saxon isn't buying it, believing Susan to be deathly ill. Against her wishes (and probably against the wishes of the hospital attorneys), he forces her to stay for mandatory observation. And while all of this is going on, the whack job in the surgical mask is laying waste to miscellaneous hospital employees left, right and center.

Might any of this have to do with Susan's childhood? When she was real young, maybe around ten, a young boy named Harold left a Valentine's card outside her front door. Watching from the window, Harold saw Susan laugh about it with her little boyfriend, David. Susan left David alone while she went into the kitchen to get some cake. When she returned, she found David hanging dead from a coat rack. She then saw Harold by the now open window, laughing menacingly.

Now if you've been paying attention, I probably just spoiled the ending of the film for you. Sorry, not sorry. Like I said, this film is pure hell, one of the worst slasher films I've ever seen. It's a film that doesn't know what it's doing. Instead of trying to be scary, it just plays scary music over every single scene. Little Susan cutting the cake in the kitchen? Scary music. Susan talking to the receptionist? Scary music. Susan in the elevator? Scary music. Susan getting her blood pressure checked? Scary music. I mean, I get that we're supposed to feel uneasy as Susan sits and/or putzes around the world's most under-lit hospital, but come on now. It screams amateur home video. And worse, when the killer does show up to do some killing, he's the most hilarious character in the entire film, all bug eyed and sweaty, his arms constantly held out 'menacingly' as if he were a kid playing Bela Lugosi's Dracula.

It's also padded to hell and back. Every single thing, even the most simple of actions, takes whole minutes in this film. At one point, because this IS a movie with Playboy Playmate Barbi Benton, Dr. Saxon orders Susan to undress and lay on an examination table. We watch in excruciating detail as Saxon listens to her heart, checks her breathing, takes her blood pressure, fondles her feet, squeezes her legs, taps on her sternum. I understand that “Barbi Benton takes her clothes off” is how this movie was sold to teenagers back in 1982, but there's very little nudity during this otherwise nude examination. So I have to wonder just why in the hell the director thought watching mundane medical assessments, all in nudity-defying close ups, needed this much on-screen attention. Might it be because there is really only about 35 minutes of actual movie in this 90 minute dumpster fire?

Do I really need to answer that question?

That happens to be the single biggest issue with X-RAY. I can forgive the idiocy of it all. I can, despite appearances to the contrary, enjoy dumb shit. But X-RAY makes it really difficult to enjoy anything. It's so lifeless and meandering that getting to the chuckle worthy moments of sheer stupidity feels like an eternity. This isn't a “so bad it's good” kind of awful. It's a “so bad it makes jumping off a building look good” kind of awful. In their attempt at ripping off better slasher films (and not just HALLOWEEN 2 either, but MY BLOODY VALENTINE as well), they left out all the things that make those films better slasher films. We have no character moments here. No suspense or intrigue. No real applause worthy moments of mayhem. X-RAY feels like it is composed of forgotten minutiae, just stitched together from material better filmmakers would have left on the cutting room floor. No scene feels important, just trivial, and the scenes that actually made it into the film feel like botched takes or hastily improvised pick ups.

There is no reason to recommend this film at all, let alone recommend it over any of the other half dozen slasher films it rips off.

April 22, 2017


Elio Scardamaglia's THE MURDER CLINIC marks a first for the still growing filone. It's a period piece, set in the late 1800s. While watching the film, the time period seems apropos. It is every inch a Victorian Gothic melodrama, steeped in madness, repression and guilt, tied loosely together with a nice yellow ribbon. Pretty women skulk around dark corridors lit only by candlelight in search of answers to dangerous mysteries. Scenes like that exist in the more modern gialli of the 1960s, but THE MURDER CLINIC seems to be purposefully trying to recreate the Victorian Gothic rather than merely calling back to it, if not outright parodying it.

A good example of that sort of thing would be the opening scene of Mario Bava's THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, widely considered to be the first proper giallo film. We see Nora sitting on board a plane heading to Italy while a voice over informs us that Nora has an addiction to reading murder mysteries, a peculiar addiction that later calls into question whether or not Nora really did witness a murder and is now targeted for death. It might just be her murder mystery fueled imagination at work. Jane Austen's popular parody of Victorian Gothic melodrama, Northanger Abbey, likewise features a heroine with a particular obsession with a certain type of literature (in Catherine's case, Gothic novels). But in Austen's novel, Catherine's Gothic literature fueled imagination turns out to be fantasy. In Bava's film, Nora really is being hunted by a killer. Regardless of the difference, both Austen's novel and Bava's film use Gothic tropes to flesh out the backbone of their narratives, only to turn distinctly more modern as their stories unfold.

THE MURDER CLINIC however stays comfortably within the realm of the Victorian Gothic throughout, even as a straight razor wielding killer wreaks havoc on the narrative. The film concerns a small clinic somewhere in the English countryside. The man in charge is named Robert Vance. He has a wife named Lizabeth who has a frail heart and little patience for her husband's flirtations with some of his patients. Staying at the clinic are a bevy of interesting faces. There's Fred, a man prone to psychotic breaks, an elderly woman whose only friend is a stuffed cat, and Janey, a recently arrived mute. One night, Janey is chased from her room and slashed to ribbons by a killer. Vance discovers her body and buries it somewhere off the property. Unfortunately, someone knows about Vance's clandestine body disposal.

As all of this is going on, Gisele, a bitter, cheating wife, is being escorted back east by her husband. When their carriage breaks down, Gisele attempts an escape, clubbing her husband over the head. This spooks the horses and off they go into the distance, but not before trampling her husband to death. It is Gisele that sees Vance burying poor Janey's corpse. Gisele fakes an illness, taking advantage of Vance's lustful eye, and is brought back to the clinic where she proceeds to blackmail Vance into giving her an awful lot of money.

Vance has no choice but to pay up. You see, many years back, Vance was charged with attempted murder. Lizabeth's younger, prettier sister, Laura, had been visiting the couple at their soon to be constructed clinic when she suffered a horrible accident, falling into a pit filled with lime. The accident left her horribly scarred and Vance was brought to trial. Witnesses at the scene swore that they saw Vance push Laura into the lime, but a lack of physical evidence set him free. His reputation as a doctor ruined, Vance abandoned his dream of owning his own clinic and took the lead job at the nuthouse in the English countryside. If Gisele goes to the police, what little life Vance has will be over.

And amid all of this melodrama is Mary, the good-hearted nurse, madly in love with Vance. What about those strange noises that we hear coming from the attic? The noises that sound like footsteps? That would be Laura, the mad woman in the attic (the films very own Bertha Mason), kept there in seclusion as Vance works on curing her of her deformity through radical skin grafting experiments. Oh, and we can't forget about the killer, can we?

Except that the film does, because it doesn't quite feel like THE MURDER CLINIC was designed to ever be a straight forward murder mystery. The film was co-written by Ernesto Gastaldi, one of the great giallo screenwriters. THE MURDER CLINIC, in many, many ways, feels a dry run for Gastaldi's later giallo masterwork, YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY. Both films are built on the backs of Victorian Gothic literature tropes and both films are loaded with poisonous relationships, characters stuck in seemingly inescapable personal hells, and are rife with potential violence. Both films feature typical giallo killers slashing women to shreds, but neither film ever really commits to being a proper giallo film. 

YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY is (more of less) an adaptation of Poe's The Black Cat, with the black gloved killer angle of the first half treated as a massive red herring, something that appears to have been included just to throw us off the films true motive. The killing scenes in THE MURDER CLINIC are more directly tied into the narrative, but they come off as afterthoughts, like they were given more and more emphasis as the script went through revisions.

That might be because the murder mystery angle of the film feels far less thought out than the more melodramatic angles. For example, it's a bit difficult to believe that Gisele would so brazenly attempt to blackmail Vance, especially when she believes him to be a cold blooded killer. The idea that Vance is keeping Laura in the attic isn't well thought out either. The film could have taken the more interesting EYES WITHOUT A FACE tactic of having Vance killing young women for their skin, all so he could carry out his guilt ridden experiments in skin grafting. I suppose we're meant to think that Laura is responsible for the killings, but the film never bothers to give her a proper motive. Fred is the only likely suspect the film offers up. There's a short scene of Fred attacking Gisele in her bedroom, a scene that only exists so the film can conjure up a believable guilty party.

THE MURDER CLINIC spends an awful lot of time (nearly 40 of its relatively short 87 minutes) just getting all of these characters under the same roof. It then spends another 15 or so minutes getting down to business working out the love triangles, the blackmail angle, telling us of Vance's troubled past and Laura's accident… It is one hell of a busy hour and through much of that hour, I was really engaged with the film. I was enjoying trying to figure out just who was playing who, why no one seemed all that bothered by Janey's first act murder, or where the film was going to take the characters as all these personalities began to clash and crumble.

Unfortunately, the film never really hits that high note of drama. It descends into slasher territory with characters dying left and right before petering out with a tired, easy resolution. However, I would say that the first hour or so more than makes up for the deficiencies of the final act. The murder mystery may not be the strongest, but the range of characters and the dramatic interplay between them is surprisingly delicious. I would have preferred the film to be longer. I would have preferred to have had the drama between the characters reach a boiling point and THEN have the killer step in to bring that drama to a bloody end. I think the film would have been better served that way. If THE MURDER CLINIC had more effectively tied the bloody business into its very well done melodramatic material, I would not hesitate in calling this film one of the best 1960s gialli out there. As it stands, I still recommend giving the film a watch, but I can't deny that it is, at the end of the day, kind of disappointing.

(La lama nel corpo)

Director: Elio Scardamaglia
Writer: Ernesto Gastaldi, Luciano Martino
Starring: William Berger, Francoise Prevost, Mary Young, Barbara Wilson, Philippe Hersent
Villa Parisi, Frascati, Rome, Lazio, Italy; Ci. Ti. Cinematografica, Leone Film, Orphee Productions
1966, 87 minutes

Narrative Variety: Poisoned Past
Murderer(s): 1 female
Murderer(s) Role: Wife
Murderer(s) Motive: Jealousy
Victims: 1 woman (slashed to death with a razor), 1 man (run over by carriage), 1 woman (slashed to death with a razor), 1 man (dies off screen, presumed suicide), 1 woman (throat slashed)
Murderer(s) Death: Falls to her death (suicide)

April 19, 2017


We open in the New Mexico desert sometime in the early 1950s. Two coppers, Ben Peterson and Ed Blackburn, find a young girl wandering near the road, shell shocked and unable to speak. Further up the way, they find her family's trailer torn apart. There are no signs of survivors, only a strange indentation left in the sand by some unknown animal. As the men survey the wreckage, they hear a strange sound, like a whistling. Writing it off as just the wind, the men call for backup.

After forensics arrives, Peterson and Blackburn head a mile up the road to a local home supply store, hoping the owner can give them some kind of lead. They find the place in shambles, the owner lying dead in the cellar. Blackburn stays behind to wait for forensics while Peterson heads off back to the station. That's when the strange whistling sound comes back and Blackburn is killed by something fairly large (and fairly hungry) off screen.

The case goes nowhere, even after Robert Graham, an FBI agent, joins the investigation. Their big break comes with the arrival of Doctor Harold Medford and his daughter (also a doctor) Patricia. Employees of the Department of Agriculture, they had been assigned to examine the plaster cast of that strange indentation found in the sand near the trailer. The Medfords have a hypothesis. The presence of sugar at the crime scenes... The abundance of formic acid in the body of the store owner... The footprint that looks distinctly like that of an ant... There's also the business of the atomic tests that took place in White Sands back in 1945, a stretch of desert not too far from the sleepy town our characters call home.

A close encounter in the desert proves the hypothesis to be true. The atomic age has given birth to a terrifying mutation. Gigantic ants, upwards of 12 feet in length, turned carnivorous from lack of food, are spawning somewhere in the sands. With a small group of military personnel, our band of heroes are able to destroy the New Mexico colony, but not before two queens hatch and fly off to parts unknown. The hunt is now on and the timer is ticking down. Failure to find and contain the ants will lead to mass devastation, if not total human extinction.

THEM! was released in 1954, the same year that saw the Japanese release of the original GODZILLA. While there are a few coincidental similarities between the two (for example, both feature scenes of ships being destroyed by giant monsters and both films stage the reveal of their beasties in practically the same way, with their large heads poking out above rock formations), the real similarity between the two is in their tone. The atomic age sci-fi b-flicks of the 1950s would turn campy a few years later, but THEM! shows no signs of humor, intentional or otherwise, in its presentation. The film plays deadly straight with its subject matter, sometimes even approaching full blown horror movie theatrics.

The first half of the film is the strongest. We begin with a gruesome murder mystery, move quickly into the realm of science fiction, and then swiftly descend from there into claustrophobic horror. The ants, while not particularly convincing, prove to be quite the onscreen spectacle and the descent into the New Mexico formicary is a tense, supremely well executed bit of filmmaking. Unfortunately, Medford's discovery that the nest contained two missing queens signals the transition away from horror-tinged science fiction. From that point on, THEM! becomes more of an action film, complete with the all-too-familiar military worship often found in 1950s b-movies of this sort.

To be fair, although THEM! does become something much more routine in its final half, it's still a great film. The underlying pretense that what we're watching is a serious disaster prevention movie rather than a schlocky cheese fest with big bugs never goes away, and the final ten or so minutes brings the claustrophobic chills back with aplomb. The final attack on the ants takes place in the sewer system of Los Angeles. Tunnels collapse, hordes of giant ants appear from out of the darkness, a lead character we presumed safe bites the dust, and the whole thing wraps itself up in fire and explosions. It's a great, thrilling climax after a shaky second act.

Another departure from the 1950s b-movie norm comes in the final moments of THEM!. Normally when we walk away from films like this, we do so with the comfort that nothing like this will happen again. Nuclear regulatory agencies will tighten their grasp and the military will stand ready just in case the grasp ever slips. But THEM! doesn't have quite the same optimistic outlook. A character mentions the obvious. If the ants were the result of just a single test… what will come of all the other detonations?

Thankfully, the answer to that question was a whole spate of giant monster movies, including IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA, TARANTULA and 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH. THEM! proved to be as influential in the States as GODZILLA was in Japan, although the giant monster craze was much shorter lived here. The film would go on to inspire video games like the Cinemaware classic It Came from the Desert and the Fallout series, whole scores of pulp writers like Guy N. Smith, and even later science fiction films like ALIENS and TREMORS. It's easy to see why THEM! was such a hit back in 1954 and why the film is still appreciated by sci-fi and horror fans today. It really is a genuinely good film, buoyed by terrific performances and snappy direction, held together with clear sighted seriousness. Is it on the same level of genius as THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD? Maybe not, but it most definitely deserves to be remembered as one of the finest atomic age terrors ever to grace the silver screen.

April 14, 2017


GRADUATION DAY comes roaring to life, all montage and disco music. Look at all the college aged high schoolers! Look, there's someone pole vaulting! Look, there's someone jumping hurdles! Look, someone is doing gymnastics! Oh oh oh! Someone is running track! And listen to that slamming disco beat! Man, this is 

Sorry. I had to double check that I'm actually reviewing GRADUATION DAY and not FATAL GAMES.

So anyway, once the montage has tuckered itself out, we get to the grand instigation, the unfortunate death of a track and fielder as she crosses the finish line. The poor dead girl's name is Laura. The cause of death? A blood clot. Her boyfriend, Kevin, is moderately bummed about her passing, but everyone else just moves right along with their lives. It is, after all, graduation week.

Laura's sister, an ensign stationed in Guam, returns home, not for the funeral but to accept her dead sister's diploma in the graduation ceremony. She exchanges pleasantries with Kevin before all but disappearing from the first half of the movie. Meanwhile, the high school coach is on his way out, the blame for Laura's sudden death landing square in his overbearing lap. And the principle is having an affair with his blonde secretary, who is oh so cleverly named Blondie. And there's a pot smoking cop wandering around campus. And the music teacher is having sex with one of his students.

If you're wondering what any of these things have to do with one another, well… I don't have a fucking clue. I mean, there IS an unknown killer stalking and slashing Laura's teammates in hilariously cheap fashion, but the slasher action is so separated from all the other myriad bits of extraneous plot that the murders seem to be happening in a different movie altogether. It takes the film approximately 70 minutes before it remembers that its been offing teenagers left and right. In an attempt to cover that gaping plot hole, another cop makes a sudden appearance for no other reason than to say “yeah so like uhh a bunch of parents just realized that their uhh kids are missing sooooo...”

I would argue that the majority of the events in this film serve absolutely no purpose. Exactly what purpose does the principle serve, or his secretary, or the pothead cop, or the music teacher? None. They serve no purpose in the film whatsoever. Because this is a slasher film, right? So shouldn't we be spending time with the victims BEFORE we kill them off? Shouldn't they have personalities? Shouldn't they be, in some way, large or small, tied into the film instead of just lumped into the body count? I literally finished watching GRADUATION DAY 45 minutes ago. I cannot remember a single character's name outside of Blondie, Laura and Kevin. That's a huge problem.

And really, so is the motive for the killer. Believe me, within a half hour you will guess the identity of the killer. It's Kevin, the boyfriend, the only person who seems to remember (besides the coach anyway) that someone died at their school (and right in front of them, I might add) just a few days ago. But what exactly is the reason for Kevin's murder spree? It wasn't anyone's fault that Laura died of a blood clot. That kind of thing just happens. I mean, you could blame the coach, I guess. So kill the coach and be done with it. Why bother killing Laura's friends when they had absolutely nothing to do with it? I just recently reviewed PROM NIGHT. Watch the two films back to back and you'll see how this kind of thing should be done.

It would be like my 95 year old grandmother dying in her sleep and as a result, I decide to start butchering the employees of my local GameStop. That's how absurd the whole thing is. But even if we just forget the motive, the actual slashing in this slasher film is pathetic. For starters, the film does this weird thing of always having its characters walking along the same path in the woods, like these people are oblivious to the fact that their city has things called “streets”. A character (or two) will be shown walking along then the killer will casually stroll up behind them to put them out of their misery (and sometimes the knife the killer is carrying will literally be shooting blood out of its fake blade well before it even touches flesh). The indoor murder sequences are the same damn thing. The killer walks up behind his victim, the victim turns and says “what are you doing?”, and then BOOM. A piss poor effect will momentarily flash before our eyes and another person we don't care about disappears from the film. I mean, did these filmmakers really think they were being creative by having the killer stick a sword blade inside of a football before tossing it into someone's gut? I don't even need to go down the route of “dude, the ball would just deflate the second the blade ent...”. I don't even need to finish that sentence because the logic of it all doesn't matter. It's simply an idiotic scene. The fact that it is the single most memorable murder in the whole film says it all.

And when you have a slasher full of lazy set pieces, terrible special effects, and non-characters with non-personalities only doing things unrelated to the slasher business at hand, you have a film not worth recommending to anyone. I would love to tell you that there is some camp appeal to be had in GRADUATION DAY or that the cast (which includes Linnea Quigley, Christopher George, E. Danny Murphy and Michael Pataki) makes it all worth it, but I just cannot do that. This movie is terrible, no two ways about it. Stay away. Stay far, far away.

April 12, 2017


PROM NIGHT begins with the Past Trauma. A quartet of kids are playing hide and seek in an abandoned school house. Their juvenile shenanigans end when their friend, a little girl named Robin, takes a tumble out a window, falling to her death. The remaining kids, well aware that their needlessly callous behavior was what caused poor Robin to fall out the window, swear to never tell anyone that they played some part in the accident. The police begin their investigation, eventually targeting a sexual predator named Leonard Merch. When Merch's arrest goes south, the felon ends up badly burned. But no matter, the police have their man and Merch is swiftly institutionalized.

Six years later, we play catch up with our now teenage leads. Our original quartet – Wendy, Nick, Jude and Kelly – have all left the past in the past. Well, not all of them. Nick is still struggling with his guilt, something that is made all the more difficult to deal with as he is currently dating Kim, Robin's sister, and is even friends with her brother, Alex. Kim and Nick's relationship grates on Wendy's jealous nerves so she schemes with Lou, the high school bad boy, to play a naughty trick on Kim during the prom.

If they live that long.

Seems someone has it out for our leads, threatening them over the phone and vandalizing their lockers. Could it be Kim and Alex's father, the school principle? Is it Sykes, the weirdo school handyman? Or maybe it's Leonard Merch, the wrongfully convicted man. After all, he has recently escaped the asylum, leaving a dead nurse in his wake. Whoever it is, he or she is connected to the accident from six years ago. Something awfully bloody is about to go down at Hamilton High on the night of the big senior prom.

Well, moderately bloody anyway.

Time is a gigantic sieve. In the 1980s, slasher films were a dime a dozen, flooding theaters month in, month out at a relentless pace. Plenty of good films were wrongfully derided solely because they too closely resembled films that were rightfully derided. I remember watching slasher films in the 1980s and rolling my eyes the entire time, all because I had finished watching a similar film just two hours before. It's difficult to have perspective when you're bored with formula. I had been rendered numb by overexposure. Too many movies telling too many similar stories released in too short a time frame can add up to a seemingly insurmountable mountain of monotony. But time, that glorious bastard, has a way of taking a mountain of shit and separating out the diamonds. Plenty of slasher films have rightfully faded into obscurity. The ones that haven't are still around for damn good reasons. They're either spectacular trash or gnarly little gems. 

PROM NIGHT is a definite gem of a slasher film. I remember seeing it on TV when I was a kid and thinking about how much it resembled HALLOWEEN and other films like it. But with a little hindsight, it's easy to see that PROM NIGHT is most definitely not like most slasher films. In fact, what really sets it apart is just how little “slasher film” this slasher film has in it.

By the time this 90 minute film hits the 60 minute mark, all of our characters are still breathing. There's a large amount of time given over to not just setting up the story, but purposefully misleading the audience into thinking the film will play out a specific way, only to change course a few scenes later, only to change course again. It relies on popular horror cliches to accomplish this. We have a sinister mystery man making phone calls to our guilty leads. Clearly, the killer will be Someone Who Knows What They Did Six Summers Ago. Then we move on to Merch, the escapee pursued by a cop and a psychologist, a la HALLOWEEN. Then we devolve into more personal thriller territory where our suspicions begin to be directed towards someone in our group of protagonists. While this is all going on, the film works in other bits of plot lifted from non-slasher horror films like CARRIE and more than a few moments lifted from non-horror teenage comedies or dramas.

In a way, PROM NIGHT reminds me of THE BURNING, another 1980s slasher film that spent more time developing the cast of characters than eviscerating them. Both films wait until the final third to really thin out the cast and both films are so much better for it. Simply put, suspense and horror work best when you actually care about the people trapped inside the celluloid, when the characters feel like people and not just bowling pins waiting to be knocked down. The characters on display in PROM NIGHT all have personality. They're all likeable. They might not look like teenagers, but they certainly act and talk like them. They have wants and needs and quirks and charm and the film goes so far out of its way to get you invested in their stupid little lives that when they finally shuffle off this mortal coil, it kinda sucks to see them go.

“But Dave”, you ask, “what about the horror in this horror movie?” Well, it exists. That much is for sure. PROM NIGHT features one or two well crafted stalking sequences, but for the most part, the violence is swift and never really lingered on. Of course, it was chopped to shit by the MPAA (worse, recent widescreen releases rob the film of its nudity thanks to cropping) so don't expect too much in the way of gore. However, there is a rather glorious scene of a disembodied head rolling across a dance floor, one of the all time great scenes in a 1980s slasher film.

But really, PROM NIGHT just is just as effective a slasher film as, say, FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER, just in a different way. It takes the giallo approach of being more character minded and steadily paced, leaving gory body count action for other films to indulge in. The attention to character gives immediacy to the set pieces and the finale is a diabolic downer. Far from being just another “me too” cash grab, PROM NIGHT is a genuinely good horror film, loaded with wit and charm. Depending on what you're looking for in a slasher film, it might come off as a bit long winded and anemic, but hey, it's not like you don't have 500 other 1980s slasher films to watch instead.

April 7, 2017


Break out the hairspray and crank up the Bauhaus, this is NIGHT OF THE DEMONS, the 1988 cult classic from WITCHBOARD director Kevin Tenney. When I first saw this film sitting on the shelf at the rental store, I thought it was a sequel of sorts to Lamberto Bava's DEMONS. I'm sure I wasn't the only person to have thought that. Amelia Kinkade's make-up job on the cover looks a bit like Geretta Geretta's ghoulish visage in DEMONS. The plot description on the back of the box wasn't all that dissimilar to the events of Bava's cult classic, even though this film takes place in a spook house instead of a theater. And really, if THE CHURCH can find itself subtitled DEMONS 3 here in the States… Well, anything goes really.

Even after watching it, I couldn't shake the feeling that Bava's film left quite an impression on the folks behind NIGHT OF THE DEMONS. Of course, I also noticed the homages to movies like THE EVIL DEAD and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, but damn it, DEMONS just wouldn't leave my mind. I never bothered to go back and watch the two films one after the other to do anything like a true comparison. Until today, that is. Oddly enough, it wasn't intentional. The films just happened to be sitting side-by-side on my To Watch pile. I won't bother you with a review of Lamberto Bava's film today (in fact, I may never write one because meh), but in watching both films, the suspicion that Tenney and Co. had, at the very least, seen and enjoyed Bava's flick was all but confirmed.

In a way, you could easily replace every single reference to NIGHT OF THE DEMONS with DEMONS and probably come away with the exact same review. Both films suffer the same problems and both films excel at the same things. They're definitely products of their time, riddled with cliches and stereotypes, but honestly neither film was ever meant to be more than a collection of cliches and stereotypes to begin with. They're both acutely aware of what they are, single minded about what they want to do, and both are far more intelligently put together than most people give them credit for.

Simply put, these films know they're corny, know they're flooded with routine archetypes, are proud of their spook show roots and all too happy to cater to the deviant wants and needs of their audiences. You often hear films referred to as “movies that are made for fans”. Well, NIGHT OF THE DEMONS is just that. This is a horror film made for horror film fans. It might be dumb as a rock, but it's as lovable and as eager to please as a puppy.

The film begins with a great animated credit sequence, the perfect way to introduce a film that is, by and large, a gooey, gross cartoon. We meet our bag of typical horror movie characters, like the virginal Judy, the loudmouth Stooge, the bad boy Sal and the sex pot Suzanne. They've all been invited by their mutual friend Angela to a Halloween party at the Hull House, a supposedly haunted house at the edge of town. There are whispers of the terrible history behind the ex-mortuary-turned-residence, tales of necrophilia and murder. Naturally, it isn't too long before our gaggle of stereotypes perform a séance and just like that, they're taken over one-by-one by something evil.

Like DEMONS, the plot is simple and to the point. The main difference between the two films (beside their settings) is in the way the set-up is paid off. For all its nasty gore effects, DEMONS, more or less, strays into action territory. It feels a bit like a siege movie at times. NIGHT OF THE DEMONS starts off as a ball achingly obvious spoof of teen horror films, descends into soft erotic horror at the mid point, and then resolves itself with a semi-serious attempt at actually being scary. In that regard, NIGHT OF THE DEMONS is missing the balls Bava displayed with his film. What it has instead, is boobs. Lots of boobs.

This is, after all, a film that introduces a main character with a rather inappropriately lengthy shot of her bent over posterior. NIGHT OF THE DEMONS, despite its supernatural underpinnings, relies more on slasher film conventions than it does on head spinning gags. The possessed females use their sexuality to lure their victims into traps, whether it be a nice, long kiss or a seemingly gentle fuck. The “show skin, show violence” formula is intact here. More often than not, a demon possessed individual will show up without warning behind a distracted character or make a sudden, noise accompanied entrance for a good bit of jump scariness. Characters are bumped off one after the other in ten minute intervals before the film settles down for a surprisingly long climactic chase.

And that's where the film basically loses all its forward momentum. Like DEMONS, NIGHT OF THE DEMONS is more fun as its setting up its end game than it is when it finally arrives there. Damn near 40 minutes passes before the demons are unleashed and the film burns through its supporting cast so quickly that we never really get to catch our breath. Sure, the film tosses us a few curve balls in its final act, like a certain male lead's demise and the wink-wink nudge-nudge survival of a certain person of color, but I found myself less interested in the film the more serious it became. Like Bava's film, the fun of it all lies in the self aware camp and the irreverence of its set-up. Both films descend into the territory of the mature as they go along, losing both their charm and their wit. 

NIGHT OF THE DEMONS does give us a nice send off though in the form of an ironic wrap around featuring a bitter old man looking to kill some kids via razor blade-filled apples on Halloween night. It's the perfect end to the film, equally gory and funny. But it comes at the end of a final 30 minutes that strayed into safe territory and never looked back. The first hour of NIGHT OF THE DEMONS is its strongest, witty and funny, morbid and nasty. That hour alone earns this film whatever reputation it still has. Yeah, its final act is a bit of a letdown, but there is no denying that in a sea of horribly dull, terribly made horror films released in the late 1980s, NIGHT OF THE DEMONS remains a largely enjoyable, absolutely essential bit of horror movie goodness.

April 4, 2017


I rented 555 way back in 1988. I saw it sitting there on the New Release shelf of my local A-Z Video, right beside stuff like WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? and THE KISS. Move your eyes an inch or two to the left. Look at that box art! What gore hungry 10 year old wouldn't want to see that movie? But if only I paid more attention… if only I heeded the advertising warning that was printed on the original box art, the one that stated “Caution: Viewing may cause severe damage to your brain cells”… Maybe then I would have known better.

555 is a shot on video slasher film from


Don't you dare click away to go read a review of something decent. I sat through this film again for YOU, damn it. The least you can do is give me a few minutes of your time. Let this review be your advertising warning. Let me spare you my unfortunate fate.

555 is a shot on video slasher film from Wally Koz, a man who thankfully never made another *ahem* movie. It concerns a series of murders, all the victims horny couples. The MO is a bit strange. The men are all decapitated while the women are mutilated, killed then raped. The investigation falls into the laps of Police Sergeant Connor and Detective Haller. Their lives are made a living hell by Susan Rather, a nosy and obnoxious local reporter that just so happens to be banging the city Assistant DA.

As their “investigation” (there's a reason I put that in quotes) continues, they discover that this series of murders closely resembles other murder sprees, all happening every five years on the fifth day of the fifth month (hence the title of the film). The coppers interview, harass and threaten a single witness/
suspect during their investigation, a retired military man they feel is suffering from Crazed Vietnam Vet Syndrome. But keeping an eye on one middle aged man is too much work for our intrepid coppers and their suspect goes missing. All the while, more bodies are being found, mutilated and violated by some nut job dressed as a 1960s hippie.

From the opening credits that look like they were done in Windows Movie Maker to the obviously-dubbed-by-a-man screams of a woman, this film wastes no time in telling you, right there in its opening five minutes, that it will be a rough, miserable experience. Do not be fooled by its ghoulish box art, folks. 555 is NOT a slasher film. It is a police procedural through and through, and if there's one thing you need to know about shot on video police procedural movies, it's this: they suck, long and hard, and without mercy.

Prepare for endless scenes of people sitting around an obviously fake room, reading obviously blank pieces of paper meant to be police reports. Expect no real investigation to be done, just scenes of cops getting phone calls telling them expository facts (which they will repeat out loud for the sake of the audience), all because the filmmakers didn't have money to actually shoot these characters doing something resembling real police work. Expect characters to discuss the same seven or eight things endlessly just to pad the film out to feature length. Expect an ending that features all the action taking place off screen because making a good movie is too much damn work. Maybe they didn't expect anyone to actually watch this film all the way through. Maybe that's why we don't ever get a satisfying explanation for all this idiotic shit, just a lazy ending that barely makes sense.

555 is a boredom parade, only occasionally livened up by the cheapo murder scenes. For as hilariously fake as they are, some of them are really quite nasty. Had the movie been properly budgeted and filmed, it might have even rivaled films like MANIAC in the “needlessly brutal murder scenes” department. Unfortunately, none of the killings work well enough to escape their poverty row production origins. It's difficult to be shocked when the actresses can barely contain their laughter as they're cut to ribbons by a man dressed like Jerry Garcia. I don't know why you would zoom in and hold on the chest of an actress who can't even be bothered to hold her breath as she pretends to be dead. It kinda ruins the mood when a single stab wound causes a tidal wave of blood to splash all over the walls. Moreover, if you're going to use a fake knife rigged with blood tubing, at least instruct your actor not to squeeze the handle when the knife isn't touching the supposed victim's flesh. Still, all problems aside, the murder scenes do at least offer something of interest to slasher film fans, which is more than can be said about the characters.

Simply put, every single character in this film is a shit human being worthy of a slow, painful death. Not only do our three leads argue every single time they're on screen together, they throw histrionic temper tantrums at a moment's notice. They don't just bicker with each other either, they flat out go for the jugular. Our hero cop calls our hero reporter a “cunt” in their very first scene together. Instead of simply sharing information with our hero cop, our hero reporter starts off with “listen to me, you stubborn Irish cocksucker”. Every single character in this film is a fucking prick and their constant bitching and moaning and fighting and whining just made me want to finish watching this ungodly bag of puke with the volume off.

For a long, long time, 555 was my go-to answer whenever someone asked me to name my worst film of all time. Back in 1988, it took me the entire two day rental period to get through the film. I kept stopping it, ejecting it, cursing it, threatening it with violence… But today, I decided to power through the entire film in one sitting. I won't lie, it was rough. I found myself drifting off, getting up, wanting to do anything other than suffer through the tedium of it all. I did it though. I made it from opening credits to closing credits. I even watched the awful trailer for some other awful movie that was attached to the end of the film, another way for the filmmakers to pad out the overall running time.

Is it still my choice for the worst movie ever? No. I've seen thousands of films since 1988, many of which are far worse than anything Koz put on tape. But make no mistake, 555 is a cinematic atrocity. It is dull as dishwater and as appetizing as shit. It is barely competent, horribly written and full of actors less capable of delivering convincing dialogue than a whole Roomful of Tommy Wiseaus. It's no DON'T GO NEAR THE PARK, but man oh man, it ain't no TROLL 2 either.