June 28, 2017


I used to play bass. Hell, I still can if I want to. It's not like I forgot how. I just don't play anymore. I got my first bass guitar back in 7th grade as a birthday present. My friends were all taking guitar lessons, dreaming of being front and center, standing like rock gods in a sea of wet panties. But me? I wanted to be different. So I got myself a bass, a slightly used Fender Precision. I remember my uncle watching me pluck away on the strings, desperately trying to learn how to play Hangar 18 by Megadeth, the first song I would ever learn to play on my newfangled parent annoyance device. “It makes sense”, he quipped. “He's a fat kid, after all”.

Since that time, I've owned four bass guitars and dropped a lot of weight. I sold that old Fender Precision and bought a shiny new Ibanez four stringer. It was more angular in design and a slightly bit heavier too. The neck was slick, much slicker than my old Fender, with frets closer to the wood, less abrasive to my fingertips. The third bass I would buy would be a Peavey. I don't remember the exact product line. It was the worst of the four basses, glossy and easily scratched up with a neck that felt as comfortable in my palm as an old baseball bat. A few weeks later, I would trade that Peavey in for the last bass I would ever own, a brand new Fender Precision. It felt like coming home after a long journey.

Honestly, I've never been able to figure out just what it was that I loved about the Fender Precision so much. They're nice looking, sure, and they feel great, but they didn't sound all that much better than any other bass guitar I played. They sure as shit cost a bit more though, mostly because of the brand name, I suppose. But again, YYZ on my Fender didn't sound noticeably better than it did when I played it on my Peavey. I remember when my mom and I went to the mall way back when on my birthday. I tried about 12 different bass guitars while my mom stood and grilled the guy behind the counter. What was the best bass for a learner? What is the best brand? What is the value? Etc. Etc. I remember distinctly, clear as day, what the guy behind the counter said to her. 

He said, “What matters most is how it feels”. And he was right. 

That Fender Precision was a bit like BLOOD RAGE, John Grissmer's 1987 (though filmed in 1983) Florida slasher movie. It's not much different from any other slasher movie. It has the same kind of wanton bloodletting and gratuitous T&A. It has the same kind of illogical narrative and amateurish production values as most other slasher films. But it also has this weird, almost intangible, quality to it, something that can't quite be quantified, like the way that Fender Precision neck felt sliding across my palm. Something about BLOOD RAGE just clicks with me, pushing all the right brain buttons in a way that other slasher films, no matter how similar, simply do not.

The story is rather simple. In 1974, Maddy, a single mom raising two identical twin boys, is out on a date at a local drive-in. She's a bit apprehensive about making out with her boyfriend, which is completely understandable as Todd and Terry, her boys, are currently sleeping in the wayback. But a woman has needs and all that jazz, so the couple gets on with their vigorous face sucking. All the lip smacking wakes the boys. They sneak out of the car, careful to not make a sound, and wander around the drive-in for a bit. Terry finds himself a nifty hatchet just lying in the back of a truck. He also finds something a bit more interesting than the cheapo horror flick playing on the screen. A young man is screwing his girlfriend in the backseat of his car, the perfect entertainment for a young boy. The young man catches Peeping Terry and tells him to get lost. Instead of running away, Terry buries his new toy right in the young man's face. Before help can arrive, Terry smears blood all over his brother, placing the hatchet in the shocked child's hands. And just like that, Todd becomes the fall guy.

10 years later, Maddy visits Todd in the nut house. His shrink, Dr. Berman, claims to have made a breakthrough with Todd. His memory is slowly coming back, including the memory of Terry framing him for murder. Berman believes Todd's story but Maddy… well, Maddy doesn't want to hear about that. While the years following the murder have not been easy on her, things are looking up for Maddy now. She's engaged to be married to her boyfriend Brad, the man who manages the housing complex she lives in. And Terry? Terry's doing great. He's a standout student at his school, good at sports and popular with the ladies. He's an ideal son. Or so everyone thinks.

Terry's son of the year facade is beginning to slip a bit. He's clearly not happy about his mother's engagement and even worse, Todd has recently escaped from the asylum, an event that ruins Maddy's perfectly planned Thanksgiving day dinner. With Todd on his way home, Terry goes into bloody action. But Terry isn't a lunatic of the raving variety. He's the cool under pressure kind of wacko and with a whole lot of self assurance and more than a little glee, Terry begins enacting a bloodbath, because if you're going to frame your brother a second time, you might as well do it in grand fashion.

BLOOD RAGE is not a scary movie, but it doesn't try to be. BLOOD RAGE is not a funny movie, but it doesn't try to be. There's a long list of things BLOOD RAGE is not, because it doesn't try to be. So what the hell is BLOOD RAGE? I honestly don't know how to answer that question. It defies easy categorization. Sure, there are some rather nasty murders in the film (including a bifurcation, some dismemberment, a decapitation and more than a few stabbings), but they're sandwiched between individual scenes of almost avant-garde weirdness. You can't shake the feeling that the film knows something it's not telling us, some great secret that would lift the haze from the narrative.

For example, look at the character of Maddy. She's clearly a broken woman, unlucky in love and life. Just before the drive-in massacre, Maddy is told point blank by her boyfriend that he doesn't see a future with a woman who has to take her kids everywhere. When Todd is institutionalized, it was probably more of a weight off Maddy's shoulders than it was a burden placed upon them. She dresses like a slightly sleazy baby doll, her hair in pigtails, cleavage exposed in a frilly pink dress, the kind you would see a child wearing to Easter mass. She reacts negatively to Dr. Berman's news yet quickly succumbs to guilt avoidance behaviors like obsessive cleaning and heavy drinking. She even sits in front of an open refrigerator shoving handfuls of corn and green beans into her mouth. Unaware that Brad has been killed by Terry, Maddy desperately tries (in a very long scene that extends over three or four edits) to get a telephone operator to connect her to her finance's office. Why doesn't she just walk down the street to his office? Is it because she knows full well that he's dead? Does she believe Dr. Berman or not? Does she suspect Terry? She clearly ladles on the love to him, treating him as if he were still just a boy. But is it because she really thinks he's innocent or is it because accepting the truth about Terry would cause her little house of cards to crumble down?

The film doesn't offer up an answer. Truth be told, the film isn't much interested in answering that question or any other question. The film gives us multiple instances of twins. The murderous sociopath Terry and the innocent Todd. Terry's sexually frigid blonde girlfriend Karen and the sexually promiscuous blonde neighbor Andrea. Maddy, a woman desperate for a man to love her, and her redheaded floozy neighbor, a woman desperate for a man to pay her bills. The film is full of twinning and mirror images and id/ego confrontations, but the film never really does anything with them. The most interesting bit of the film centers around Todd's eventual face-to-face with his murderer brother. You would expect such a key dramatic element of the narrative to be given a large amount of attention, but again, the film just doesn't even bother. Like I said, you can't shake the feeling that the film knows something it's not telling us. Because all of the twin elements, all of the hazy character motivations, all of the conversations that never get finished… that can't all be accidental, right? There has to be a reason for all of it.

But as the film doesn't want to give me anything more than a middle finger, the final piece of the puzzle eludes me, leaving me with nothing much to do except watch the rest of BLOOD RAGE unravel in glorious fashion. And this movie is glorious to watch.

You remember how much fun it was to watch Eric Freeman's parade of violence in SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 2? That's exactly the kind of experience you get here with BLOOD RAGE. Terry's massacre is equal parts sadistic and gleeful. You get the feeling that Terry isn't just doing this to frame his brother (again), he's doing it because it's so much damn fun. Wandering through the complex, killing random people for no damn reason at all, Terry is as joyful as a kid in a candy store. His cheerful demeanor clashes entirely with the rather disgusting acts of carnage he's carrying out, a juxtaposition that actually makes the violence on display here far more effective than it would have been otherwise. He's a loathsome, disgusting creature, for sure, but his devil may care attitude also makes him a surprisingly endearing sociopath.

On the flip side is Todd, a jumbled mess of hair and nerves. Both Todd and Terry are played by Mark Soper and while Soper's work doesn't come anywhere close to Jeremy Irons, his dual performances are actually quite remarkable. He resists the urge to go full ham with Terry, keeping him just enough in reality for the character to never descend into unintentional comedy. His portrayal of Todd is very quiet and understated, perhaps the most human character in the entire film. I would have loved to have seen more interaction between the two or maybe just a few more scenes with Todd and a few less with Terry, but that's a minor problem. 

And then there's Louise Lasser, TV star and all around good girl, whose performance as Maddy is easily the best performance this film offers up. She's a complex character, full of aspiration and warmth, but so deeply and completely flawed that she becomes borderline pathetic as the film goes on. There's something unsavory about her in the way she seems to be creeping back down the ladder to childhood, but there's also something in Lasser's performance that makes you feel profoundly sorry for her. BLOOD RAGE is, in the end, a tragedy (seriously, the ending is pretty damn dark) and that is where Maddy fits in. She's a victim of tragedy, shaped and defined by it, condemned and consumed by it.

There's a lot going on in BLOOD RAGE. There's the slasher angles, all well done, nasty and bloody. There's the family drama stuff. There's the psychoanalytical stuff. There's the darkly comedic stuff. There's the borderline sexploitation moments. All of this stuff, all of these bits and pieces that would, in lesser hands, combine to make an intolerable cacophony of tonal inconsistencies comes together here to make a film that is, despite it's unoriginality, quite idiosyncratic. For some reason, all of this shit just works.

I've ranted about films that commit the same sins as BLOOD RAGE. Some of the things I love most about this film (and I do really, truly love this film) are the things I hate most about other films. I don't really know what to say about that. I don't really have an explanation for it. All I know is that this film feels great to me. Every time I've watched this film, I have come away with a new appreciation for it. Because it's weird without being off-putting. It's corny without being stupid. It's nasty without being mean spirited. Every note of this film is perfectly tuned for me. Your mileage may vary, but I would highly recommend seeking this film out. It's an undeniable gem, a movie made during the heyday of the slasher film, but released when the slasher film was in its death throes. As such, it was denied an audience at the time when it would have been most appreciated. When it was finally released, there was no audience for it. People had moved on. 

I don't normally even mention DVD or Blu-ray releasing companies, but thanks to the fine folks at Arrow Films, BLOOD RAGE can be easily purchased in uncut form. So spend some goddamn money on something good for a change. BLOOD RAGE deserves to be seen, at least once, by every slasher film fan around. Maybe it will hit the same lovely high notes for you as it does for me.

June 23, 2017


Robert J. Emery's 1974 film MY BROTHER HAS BAD DREAMS begins peacefully enough with 20-something Karl doing a relaxing bit of fishing off an idyllic Florida pier. As a thunderstorm rolls in, Karl packs up his belongings and heads off home, unfortunately not making it back before the rain starts pouring down. He enters his home, saying a nice hello to his wheelchair bound mother. He apologizes for getting the floors wet, dutifully offering to clean them right up. Upon entering the kitchen, Karl comes across a stray cat that has somehow made its way into the house. His feline phobia raging, he chases the cute little bugger away. Frazzled and upset, he confronts his mother. When she refuses to answer him, he beats her to death with a fireplace poker.

Only he doesn't. His mother isn't there, just a dime store mannequin sitting in his mother's dusty old wheelchair. Karl's mother died well over a decade ago, beaten to death by her husband with the very same fireplace poker Karl now has in his hands. Karl collapses in fright and anguish, his emotions going haywire. The arrival of his older sister, Anna, soothes his nerves. She asks him to go change his clothes and lay down, sensitive to the fact that her brother is clearly having another one of his regular episodes, the unavoidable fallout from witnessing the brutal death of his mother all those years back.

Karl complies, changing and resting in bed. But then he hears his sister in her room. Sneaking into the hallway, Karl masturbates as he watches his sister sit nude at her vanity. An accidental bit of noise draws her attention and Karl quickly makes his way to his bedroom, pretending to be asleep. After his sister checks on him one last time, Karl finally calms down enough to catch some shut-eye.

The next day, Karl decides to do a bit of skinny dipping at the ocean. That's where he meets Tony, a handsome, motorcycling drifter. The two become fast friends. Tony even gives Karl a few motorcycle lessons. Despite his obvious mental issues, Karl is every inch the polite, personable fellow. He invites Tony back to his home for dinner. Though their initial meeting is rather tense, Tony and Anna finally hit it off, with Anna explaining the history of her family and why her brother, polite though he may be, can sometimes be a bit erratic. The night ends with Tony and Anna making love, an act that does not escape Karl's attention. 

Later that night, Karl has another episode, a horrible bit of night terrors that leaves him all but catatonic. When Tony tries to calm him, Karl attacks, only stopping when Tony knocks him out cold. In the morning, Tony wants to leave, but Anna convinces him (practically begging him) to stay. She's lonely and over her head. Tony, who is actually quite the decent guy, gives in, offering to stay not only for Anna's sake but for Karl's as well. But Karl isn't as pleased with this turn of events as Anna is. In fact, Karl is reaching a breaking point. Tony is beginning to act more like a father than a friend and for a guy like Karl, that means trouble. 

MY BROTHER HAS BAD DREAMS was not the original title of this film. Emery's little shocker was released under the title SCREAM BLOODY MURDER, only receiving a title change when it came time for VHS releasing. By that point, Marc B. Ray's SCREAM BLOODY MURDER, a cheapo exploitation flick about a father-killing creep with a hook where his hand should be, had already been released to market. If you ask me, MY BROTHER HAS BAD DREAMS is a much more suitable title, even if does promise a clumsy bit of hokum. And a clumsy bit of hokum is not what this film is. Not by a long shot. 

It's rare that I find myself utterly knocked out by a relatively unheard of 1970s horror film. Not to sound like a braggart, but I've been watching horror movies with a devout fervor since childhood. Chances are, if I haven't heard of a film, it isn't going to be worth hearing about in the first place. MY BROTHER HAS BAD DREAMS is a film I never saw on the shelves of my local video rental store. It isn't a film I ever heard talked about at conventions, or on podcasts, or, well, anywhere. A rudimentary search online turns up relatively few mentions of the film (though to be fair, there might be more out there, but they're getting lumped in with the other film titled SCREAM BLOODY MURDER) and even my die hard exploitation loving friends had no recollections of ever seeing it in the wild. And that's a damn shame. We live in a day and age where absolute garbage is getting sparkling 2K remasters and deluxe Blu-ray home releases. Yet MY BROTHER HAS BAD DREAMS is relegated to VHS rips floating around private trackers, robbed of any real chance to earn the following it so goddamn well deserves. 

Now I understand that what I just said might come across as a bit hyperbolic. You might think I'm simply exaggerating to make up for two straight weeks of bad reviews (which is all bad movies deserve, damn it). But no. I'm not exaggerating. MY BROTHER HAS BAD DREAMS is a damn fine little film, one that desperately needs to be rediscovered and released back into the wild in a form that doesn't look like dog shit.

It reminds me a bit of Pete Walker's FRIGHTMARE. It's a film about a family poisoned by a violent past, all but condemned to repeat it. It's a small film with a small cast, perfect for a more intimate, psychological affair. The family dynamics are spelled out within the first 15 minutes. A boy unable to get past his mother's death. A sister who tries to fill that motherly role. A sick boy who is one step from spiraling downhill. A passive aggressive enabler who refuses to get him help, if only because that would mean losing what little purpose she has in her life. The introduction of Tony exasperates both Karl's possessive desire to keep Anna (the friend, the mother, the sex object) to himself and Anna's self destructive martyr complex. The fact that the film ends in disturbing, entirely devastating violence is a given, but the film is far more concerned with psychological violence, both self-inflicted and other-inflicted, than the physical.

It's the kind of film armchair psychologists would have a field day with, loaded with symbolism both Jungian and religious. It flirts with guilt, with repression, with co-dependency, with lust and psychosis, and it does it all with a straight face, only descending into the land of hamfisted cheese during a few brief dream sequences (gelled lights and dutch angles galore). This is not a film you half-watch with distracted bemusement, eagerly awaiting the next bit of histrionics. This is a film that unravels slowly and deliberately, imperceptibly crawling deeper under your skin with every passing moment. The bloody finale packs a punch, not because the violence is unusually strong or convincingly portrayed, but because it was avoidable. Like FRIGHTMARE, there is a real, tangible sense of tragedy running though the film. Karl and Anna are both victims of a single crime, locked in perpetuity, endless victims and victimizers, forever repeating a cycle of self-flagellation and mutual abuse.

No, this is not a cinematic classic. It is cheap, rather dull in terms of direction, with a score that sometimes sounds like it was pulled straight from MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE. The acting however is quite good, especially from Nick Kleinholz, here starring as Karl. In my review of THE THIRD EYE, I talked a bit about Franco Nero's performance as the mad, murderous Count and about how an over-the-top performance of movie madness can ruin the tone of an otherwise serious film. Karl is not your stereotypical movie madman (well, in motive he is but…). Looking a bit like Jeffrey Donovan crammed into Eddie Deezen's body, Kleinholz's performance is far more subtle than you would expect, especially from a cheap 1970s psycho-horror film with the title MY BROTHER HAS BAD DREAMS. His performance is just the right mixture of sympathetic and overbearing, the perfect flavor of wacko. It's comparable in both texture and technique to John Amplas' performance in MARTIN. That's how good it is.

The rest of the cast is uniformly fine as well, though no one was going to be winning an Oscar. But the real star is Emery, a director I only knew from his action schlock fests RIDE IN A PINK CAR and THE FLORIDA CONNECTION, two films I didn't really like. I have to give the man all the credit in the world. With MY BROTHER HAS BAD DREAMS, Emery created one of the finest low budget psycho-thrillers I've seen in a very long time. I really was blown away by just how effective this film was, how it worked its way into the back of my brain and just started pushing buttons. When the film was over, I felt a mixture of sadness, disgust and genuine fascination. MY BROTHER HAS BAD DREAMS is a film I will definitely return to over the years, quite possibly in another review. There's a lot to chew on here, but unlike most low budget films of its kind, this one won't leave a horrible taste in your mouth.

June 21, 2017


Truth be told, there isn't much giallo in Mino Guerrini's THE THIRD EYE. Or at least not much of what is commonly thought of as giallo. The film fits comfortably into the Poisoned Past narrative type. It deals with a young, rich man driven to insanity and murder by a woman under his employ. It's the kind of giallo that wasn't made much in the 1970s, with the decade all but consumed by the Amateur Detective narrative. There is no mystery to be solved in THE THIRD EYE. The killers are out in the open, their motives crystal clear. Guerrini trades the more common murder mystery tropes for those of the Freudian psycho-sexual thriller, swapping the antagonist/protagonist roles to give us a movie about a murderer, rather than a simple thriller about murder.

Franco Nero stars as Mino, a twenty-something Count living in a large villa somewhere in the Italian countryside. Around him orbits three women. There is his mother, a woman who seeks to control him, Marta, the maid who secretly loves him, and Laura, the woman he will soon be marrying. Laura wants Mino to move away with her, away from his domineering mother, but Mino refuses. Frustrated, Laura heads off home, unaware that Marta has severed the break lines on her car. Mino takes off after her, leaving Marta and his mother home alone. While he is gone, the two women have a bit of a spat, one which ends with Marta pushing Mino's mother down a flight of stairs before strangling her to death. Things don't end well for Laura either. Unable to stop her speeding car, she plummets down the side of a ravine, dying in the crash.

Mino returns home to grieve over Laura's death only to be faced with the police. They inform him of his mother's “accident”. And just like that, Mino begins his downward spiral. As time goes on, Mino becomes more and more unhinged, eventually bringing a burlesque dancer home with him just so he can strangle her in his bed, a bed also adorned with the preserved body of Laura. Overhearing the racket, Marta investigates. She finds Mino in shock and comforts him, even offering to help him clean up his mess. Maybe a bit of hydrochloric acid would make this all go away. But in exchange for her silence, Marta demands that Mino marry her, placing her at the top of the food chain where she feels she belongs. After all, her father damn near ran the estate for decades. But an unspecified amount of time (and an unspecified amount of victims) later, a new complication arrives in the form of Laura's identical twin sister, Daniela. With that, the film descends into bloodshed.

It's obvious within the first 15 minutes that Guerrini's main inspiration for his film was Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO. All the signs are there. The dead father. The domineering mother. The peephole in the wall used to spy on sexual proclivities. The poisonous codependency. Mino's taxidermy hobby. All ripped from Hitchcock (also, the arrival of Daniela on the scene is as much a nod to Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac and Hitchcock as it is a useful device for drawing the film to a close). But it isn't just visual and narrative homages. Along for the ride is the same kind Freudian psychobabble, the kind most modern psychologists laugh at, that Hitchcock loaded into PSYCHO. As a result, the psychology side of things sometimes feels a bit too corny and simplistic. Mino doesn't really go mad. He goes movie mad, with his insanity revealing itself through laughing fits, bulging eyes and periodic sobbing. When these moments happen, its almost as if THE THIRD EYE becomes some other film entirely. 

And that's because THE THIRD EYE is actually a damn fine bit of calculated filmmaking. It's a somber, almost hypnotic film, one with a subdued, borderline claustrophobic atmosphere. For a film made in 1966, some of the more darker moments, like the gutting of a bird or a last act fatal stabbing, are really quite disturbing, easily matching some of the more memorable horror-esque moments from the best of the 1970s gialli. Nero's wide eyed theatrics whenever he has to slip into Mr. Hyde mode run so counter to the environment they're set in, that they just come off as, frankly, quite idiotic.

But then you have Marta, played by the wonderful Gioia Pascal. She is every inch the monster Mino is, directly responsible for the murder of Laura, indirectly responsible for every woman Mino brought home with him. Pascal's performance easily places her among the top giallo villains of all time. While Nero goes ham with his mannerisms, Pascal chills the blood with little more than an unblinking stare. Her performance is understated and controlled, delivered with a diamond cutter's level of precision.

And really, you could extend that praise to both Guerrini and his creative team. Outside of Nero's movie madman moments, there isn't a single missed beat in THE THIRD EYE. Not a single misstep. At 98 minutes, the film is paced perfectly, never wasting its running time on half thought through subplots or extraneous characters (I believe there are only eight or nine speaking roles in the entire film). If you're looking for a model of efficiency, look no further.

THE THIRD EYE did well at release, probably bolstered by Nero's quickly rising star power. The same year Guerrini's film hit the theaters, Nero landed a box office hit with DJANGO. THE THIRD EYE would go on to inspire more than a few gialli of the 1970s, most obviously Emilio Miraglia's THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE, a film which uses enough of Guerrini's narrative that it probably should be classified as a rip-off (though a damn good one). But the oddest film THE THIRD EYE influenced was Joe D'Amato's nasty vomitorium, BEYOND THE DARKNESS.

You could probably go as far as to label D'Amato's film a remake. Very little was changed. All the core narrative developments are there, as is the Freudian psycho-nonsense. The subtleties have all been gutted though (pun intended) and replaced with nauseating violence, and the overall experience is more blackly comedic than quietly disturbing, but… It's all there. Just don't mistake BEYOND THE DARKNESS for a decent substitute. THE THIRD EYE is a damn fine film, one of the best gialli of the 1960s, and is not to be missed by serious fans of the filone.

(Il terzo occhio)

Director: Mino Guerrini
Writer: Mino Guerrini, Piero Regnoli
Starring: Franco Nero, Erika Blanc, Gioia Pascal, Olga Solbelli, Gara Granda
Production Location: Italy; Panda Societa per L'Industria Cinematografica
1966, 98 minutes

Narrative Variety: Poisoned past
Murderer(s): 1 Male, 1 Female
Murderer(s) Role: Count (Male), Maid (Female)
Murderer(s) Motive: Madness, jealousy
Victims: 1 Woman (strangled), 1 Woman (automobile accident), 1 Woman (strangled), 1 Woman (strangled)
Murderer(s) Death: Female (stabbed)

June 17, 2017


Two fishermen, middle aged Hamp and his elderly father, land on the shores of Snape Island, a rocky outcropping home to a towering, rundown lighthouse. As they make their way to the lighthouse entrance, they come upon a grisly discovery. A naked male corpse lying face down in a puddle next to a disembodied arm. And the discoveries keep coming. A decapitated nude woman lying in a stairway. A hippie pinned to the wall by a golden lance. Hamp's father, however, finds something entirely different in a small closet upstairs, a nude woman, screaming in hysterics. She stabs the old man to death before running full speed out of the lighthouse, only stopping when Hamp delivers a sharp blow to her forehead.

The woman's name in Penny. The man in charge of her care at the hospital tells us that she is completely catatonic. Utilizing a strange hypnosis machine, he is able to pull some information out of her regarding the deaths of her friends. Penny tells us about an “evil” they encountered on the island. The cops write it off as hogwash, eagerly awaiting Penny's coming about so they can nail her with murder charges.

A short time later, a small team of researchers and antiquarians head to Snape Island. Hamp offers to take them. Truth is, he's the only person in the area willing to take the journey. Hamp has a history with the island. It's where his brother, his sister-in-law and their child all died, disappearing into the sea, never to be found. Along for the expedition is Brent, a private investigator unconvinced of Penny's guilt. The rest of the party includes Dan, Nora, Adam and Rose, four archeologists, all of whom are romantically entangled. They're heading to the island to find out why that hippie was found with an ancient Phoenician artifact rammed through his abdomen. They theorize that a Phoenician sailing vessel must have crashed or been stranded on the island sometime in the past, leaving behind a treasure trove of golden artifacts and maybe even a temple devoted to the Phoenician god of fertility, Ba'al.

Within a couple of days, things start to go south. Brent vanishes for hours at a time. Someone destroys their boat and wrecks their radio. Hamp's sob story of a missing brother begins to spring leaks. A withered, messy corpse turns up in the living area. Clearly, they are not alone on this island. Meanwhile, back on the mainland, Penny is beginning to remember more and more...

For half of its running time, Jim O'Connolly's TOWER OF EVIL is great, gory fun. Released in 1972, the film is a proto-slasher, a mixture of sex and violence built on a shaky foundation of horror movie logic. Fans of the sub-genre will no doubt delight in the constant “let me go investigate this strange noise alone” moments, the juxtaposition of naked flesh with spilled blood, and its willingness to push rationality aside for a good gory gag. The first chunk of the film also has a definite giallo influence to it. The question of who committed the murders is very much an open question and the way the film cuts between the expedition party on the island and Penny at the doctor's office, her memory slowing returning, seems to set up a mystery thriller in which we learn that someone on the island is not who they say they are.

Alas, that isn't the case here. Penny's story is dropped less than half way through the film. Yes, we do in fact find out who committed the murders and no, it isn't someone in the expedition group. It's some random third party, a man who looks a bit like the world's worst Eegah cosplayer. So why do we even bother cutting back to Penny? Why do we even need to see what happened on the island before our expedition party assembled if it doesn't have any impact whatsoever on the story? Everything related to Penny and her friends should have been cut together as a pre-credit sequence, not spread out through the first half of the film. It's misleading, damn it, because all of its gruesomeness promises not only an impact on the narrative, but also a third act bloodbath the likes of which you have never before witnessed.

But in the same way that Penny's misfortunes are really just one big MacGuffin, the bloodshed that occurs within the half is just a big tease. Once our expedition party settles in for their first night, the film becomes a long, dull slog devoted entirely to relationship squabbles and sexual frustrations. I'm not sure why the filmmakers think we would rather watch intolerable 40-somethings smoke weed and screw instead of watching likeable 20-somethings smoke weed and screw, but that is literally what the film offers up in lieu of slasher movie theatrics. Oh, and melodrama. Tons and tons of melodrama. And call me crazy, but I honestly didn't give a damn that Adam and Rose used to date and want to date again but Nora won't give Adam a divorce even though she clearly loves Dan who is currently dating Rose but Rose is unhappy with Dan because Dan isn't like Adam and BLAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

I don't give a shit.

But there really isn't anything else to give a shit about in TOWER OF EVIL until just after the one hour mark. At that point, the slasher movie stuff kicks back in with folks biting it left, right and center. Unfortunately, the producers blew their effects budget filming the opening murders so every attack by our hairy, drooling killer is a bloodless exercise. You can actually feel the movie running out of energy as it goes along. The pacing gets slower and slower. The acting gets less and less precise. The score becomes more and more subdued. Even the finale, a chase and fight between a woman and a deformed maniac amid a fiery inferno, feels like a yawn.

There are things I appreciate about TOWER OF EVIL. For example, I'll take a naked Candice Glendenning any day of the week. The presence of Jack Watson is always welcome, too. I love the set bound environments. I love the concept of a madman wandering through a vast network of underground caves on an island mainlanders consider haunted. But for every one thing TOWER OF EVIL does well, there are two things it does poorly. There are simply too many bad decisions being made, like the trading of mystery for melodrama or not properly utilizing its dual narrative set-up. It's an “almost” film, the kind of movie you watch and then wince about after. Not because it was terrible, but because it was all going so well before BOOM it just fell right on its face. And there's really very little to do afterward except shrug and sigh. You almost made it, TOWER OF EVIL. Almost.

June 15, 2017


Dusty Nelson's NECROMANCER is a perfect example of an average horror movie. In fact, I could just end the review right there. "A perfectly average horror movie". That's it, folks. Pack it up. We're done here.

But I can't end it right there. After all, I have a snarky reputation to live up to. Honestly, I don't quite feel like this movie deserves to be torn to shreds. Despite it being a rape/revenge film, it's surprisingly inoffensive. I would even go so far as to label it “fun”. And that makes NECROMANCER a bit of an oddity. A fun rape/revenge film is an uncommon find in the distasteful land of exploitation movies.

The lovely Elizabeth Kaitan stars as Julie, a college student/aspiring actress who is dating a hunky rock keyboardist named Eric. While spending some after hours time in the drama department, Julie is assaulted by three fellow students who have broken into the building to steal the answers to an upcoming drama class test. When the thugs discover an old, revealing letter written by Julie to the drama professor, Charles, they decide to escalate things from simple assault to something much worse. Paul, the lead thug, rapes Julie while his friends watch. Paul then tells his victim that if she goes to the cops, the college board will receive the letter they found, the one that reveals Julie's past sexual relationship with her teacher.

Understandably distraught, Julie turns to her friend Freda, who in turn takes her to see a mystic named Lisa. Lisa asks Julie if she wishes to engage in a rather shady ritual, asking her to say “yes” three times (demons understand enthusiastic consent better than most college aged males). The ritual begins and before you can say “I can see the damn wires”, things start flying through the air. Julie and Freda, again understandably distraught, run like hell. They laugh it off later, thinking it was just a stupid sideshow gag.

But then Julie's rapists start dying, killed off by some supernatural force that takes the seductive form of our sweet, blonde protagonist. And because Julie is a woman with a conscience, she decides to try to stop doppleJulie from killing even more people, specifically her well meaning but dumb as a bowl of shit boyfriend. Perhaps Ernest, the weirdo Wiccan boy with green hair highlights, can be of some assistance? Or maybe it's simply too late to put this particularly sexy genie back in it's bottle?

Man, there is a lot of man flesh on display in this film. Lots and lots of asses, accidental ball sacks and crotch bulges, enough to fill at least two David DeCoteau films. The requisite female nudity is all there too, with nary a 15 minutes going by without Kaitan stripping off her wardrobe. There's also plenty of scenes featuring shower heads and sinks spewing blood all over the place. The demon, when we finally get a glimpse at it, is obviously little more than a puppet head with animated eyes clumsily superimposed over it. The climatic showdown between Julie and doppleJulie is an awkward and deeply hilarious mess, one in which a super powerful demon is bested in an unconvincing cat fight.

In other words, this movie is everything you want it to be. It's often a bit sleazy, unapologetic in it's flaunting of meat, both female and male, and so ropy and lovingly cheesy that I couldn't help but smile my way through it. Well, most of it. The first 35 or so minutes are actually rather disarming and somber. The rape scene is quite troubling to watch, primarily because it's filmed in entirely the opposite fashion as the rest of the movie. It is handled with care, rather than being a quick and simple excuse for showing some tits (for the record, the rape scene here is actually filmed with the actors more or less clothed, with less emphasis on the male pleasure and more on the woman's trauma). The aftermath of the rape is handled carefully as well, as are the scenes in which Julie wrestles with her inability to share the news of her trauma with her boyfriend.

Of course, the more serious dramatic side of the narrative is just a preamble to the weird excesses of the last hour of the film. Don't walk into NECROMANCER expecting MS .45. Expect lots and lots of cheese, as this movie starts flinging gouda all over the place at the 40 minute mark. From that point on, the movie is non-stop, tearing through its remaining running time with exploitation aplomb. I will admit that the murder set pieces are outright disappointments with nary a drop of blood to be found, but the film offers up more than enough weird shit to make up for its anemic shocks.

For example, have you ever wanted to watch Russ Tamblyn strut around with a Jheri curl while groping college girls and mangling Shakespeare? I know I never did, but after watching NECROMANCER, I think more films should have cast Tamblyn in the lothario role because he is goddamn great at it. As this film is set in and around a college drama department, we get to watch horrible actors pretend to be horrible actors, which ironically makes their performances hands down the best performances in the whole damn movie. And then there's Kaitan, an instantly likeable, sweet as candy screen presence. Even though she's working with Z grade material, she ably carries the entire film on her shoulders. She really is the deciding factor for me here. Her presence turns NECROMANCER into something I wouldn't mind watching again.

Plus, when you think about, all this bloodshed and weirdness only happens because three preppy sociopaths didn't want to study for their drama class test. That easily takes the top spot for Most Ridiculous Inciting Event. Hell, even FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING can't match that and that film featured over a dozen people getting murdered because some asshole didn't want a chocolate bar.

June 9, 2017


I distinctly remember being the odd man out among my friends when this film was finally announced. It had been in the works since fucking forever, well before the ending of JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY ever graced the silver screen. Back in the mid-80s, this film would have made sense. There would have been a purpose to even making it in the first place. Jason and Freddy were at the peak of their popularity back then, but by the time this film hit theaters in 2003, fortunes had changed quite a bit. The FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise was basically dead. JASON X, released just two years prior, was a box office bomb and the last of the mainline Freddy films, WES CRAVEN'S NEW NIGHTMARE, wasn't just a commercial flop, it was also released damn near a decade before this crossover was even filmed.

So why even bother? That was my opinion back in 2003. The idea sounded absurd to me. Sure, these two characters were constantly sparring at the box office every goddamn summer in the late 1980s, but they were two different beasts altogether. The (later) A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET movies were cartoons, dumb but visually inventive bits of horror comedy. The FRIDAY THE 13TH films, while no less dumb, were redundant, largely mean spirited, routine slasher films. There is no way to mix the two and have it turn out palatable. You might expect peanut butter and jelly, but you're really just going to get Vegemite and ass.

And then the film came out and I saw it opening day with my friends. They all loved it. I hated it. The end.

And I still do hate it. I hate it quite a bit actually. It's pretty much everything I hate about the two franchises rolled up into one. The characters are terrible, especially our Final Girl, some useless shithead with Dead Mom Syndrome that won't stop moaning about how she lost the love of her life at the ripe old age of fucking fourteen. Or how about the stereotypical sassy black best friend, the kind of character that could only be written by white people? I'm also fairly certain that the only reason the characters Freeburg and Shack are in this movie is because someone at New Line overheard their kid say that MALLRATS and SCHOOL OF ROCK were like the best movies everrrrrrr. But as New Line either couldn't get or couldn't afford Jason Mewes and Jack Black, we essentially have cosplayers in the roles.

So to sum up the plot, Freddy is having a hard time finding a job ever since the parents of Springwood, Ohio, started force feeding their kids dream suppressants and locking up any teen who had ever heard the name Freddy Krueger. So Freddy (somehow) resurrects Jason and sends him on his merry slashing way in hopes that Jason's handiwork will (somehow) make people remember him. But before all this can occur, Jason, who resides at Camp Crystal Lake in goddamn New Jersey, has to walk across the entire state of Pennsylvania to reach Ohio. Unfortunately, we don't get to witness any of that because (again, unfortunately) we have to spend time with our gaggle of absolutely hideous “teenagers”.

The only two “teenagers” worth mentioning by name are the Final Girl, named Lori (wink, wink), and her boyfriend, Will. The rest are useless, disposable faces just lumped together in the victim pool. There's some nonsense storyline about Freddy killing Lori's mom, but that's really only in there as a callback to the end of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. There's also an asylum where the parents of all the Springwood children keep their offspring locked up so they can't spread the knowledge of Freddy and… Well, that's the best thing about this movie. I like that bit. The treatment of Freddy is actually quite fascinating, reducing him to a meme with the ever present threat of the Streisand Effect looming in the background. That could have been great. That would have been interesting.


Along comes Jason to kill a bunch of kids at a rave and even though eyewitnesses report that the killer was a hulking dead guy wearing a hockey mask, Freddy's plan goes into action. The kids all start dreaming of Freddy and little by little, he regains his power. But as Jason is a single minded killing machine, Freddy has to put that dog to sleep ASAP before there aren't any damn kids left to kill.

And this is where the film begins to display a rather selfish desire to retcon both franchises just to make its stupid script work. For example, even though Jason has never shown any compunction towards drowning people or even the slightest bit of bother at spending years at the bottom of Crystal Lake, the screenwriters decide to make him terrified of water. Freddy suddenly gains an ability to control individuals that are completely awake. I mean, I get that this is just a stupid slasher movie and no one in the mainline franchises ever seemed to give a shit about continuity anyway, but come on now… Did you think no one would notice?

People other than myself probably did, but I doubt many cared. At this point in the series, Freddy wasn't even remotely like himself anymore. The Freddy of Wes Craven's original was a dark, scary child murderer. The Freddy of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS was a wise cracking buffoon. Freddy Krueger was meant to be a dark mirror image of 1980s suburban life, the ultimate "fuck you" to the kind of repressive denial that turned “Don't Worry, Be Happy” into a goddamn national anthem. Like the Indian burial ground in POLTERGEIST, Freddy was the dark soil suburban life was built on. There's a reason so many horror films of that time feature families with secrets, parents with hidden pasts, and outside horrors slowly encroaching upon the so-called American dream.

When Nancy drags Freddy from the dream world, when she faces what others have repressed, she is granted (or so we think) closure and freedom. It's a plot device that exists solely to fit the underlying analogy. But by the time we get to the first sequel, that analogy is forgotten and so are the rules that tied it all together. Suddenly, Freddy can manifest in reality and crash a pool party. We have John Saxon duking it out with a Harryhausen skeleton in an auto salvage lot. So maybe I'm just being a bit too hard on old FREDDY VS JASON. After all, it isn't the first film to flip the bird to years and years of thematic and/or logical continuity.

Perhaps I'm just being a grumpy prick for even daring to point out just how enormously stupid this film is? Am I expecting too much from film franchises that feature, among other things, Freddy bouncing Breckin Meyer all over a house using a Power Glove and a demon baby thingy crawling up Erin Gray's snatch? Maybe I'm asking too much for Jason to not have eyeballs 90 seconds after Freddy stabs them out. Maybe it shouldn't bother me that Freddy, who is supposedly human after being yanked from the dream world, is every bit as invincible as the uber-zombie Jason. Maybe the fact that the film contains date rape as a visual gag, several not-so-vaguely racist bits of humor, and a character trying to insult Freddy by calling him a “faggot” (because I suppose you can't really call the guy a “dirty pedo” as an insult because well…) shouldn't bother me.

But fuck it, it does. Because again I have to ask, what the fuck is the point of all of this? We know Jason can't die because a) he's supernatural or b) because he's really a demon puppet slug monster that can infect other people's bodies. We know Freddy can't die because if anyone even so much as hears the name “Freddy”, he regains the ability to invade dreams. And as we see, plain as day, in this film that Freddy isn't above slashing adults to death in their sleep, I don't know why he just doesn't do that instead of being an obstinate little bitch living in self imposed retirement because boo hoo I can't kill kids wahhhhh

Sure, it's kind of amusing to watch Jason being pinballed around Freddy's dream palace (though it would have been even more fun had we not already seen someone lob shit at Jason using the power of their mind back in 1988) and the idea of kids weaponizing Jason against Freddy was neat. And yes, it was kind of entertaining to watch Freddy throw elbows after Jason rams him through an entire walls worth of windows, but everything else about the film is just painfully, horribly, absolutely, dreadfully terrible. It's like they had a good idea for a standalone Freddy film and then someone came along and said “you know what this film needs? Shit. It's needs shit. Tons and tons of shit. Shitty everything. Shitty visuals, shitty acting, shitty characters, shitty exposition filled moments of hamfisted puke, shitty heavy metal music, shitty dialogue, shitty shitty shit”. 

And then someone else said, “well, the last few FRIDAY THE 13TH movies were shit”. Then the glorious sound of cash registers opening rang loudly through the air, like a chorus of sweet, stupid angels, and the rest was history. 

Shitty, shitty history.

June 7, 2017


David Michael Hillman's 1985 snoozefest THE STRANGENESS begins with two idiots attempting to surreptitiously blast open a sealed over entrance to the Golden Spike Mine, a long abandoned gold mine located, well, somewhere in America. The fact that they've been instructed to do this in the middle of the night by some mysterious, unnamed individual is our first clue that something not quite kosher is going on here. Our second clue is that a few minutes after achieving their goal, some snarling, unseen beastie drags our two idiots into the darkness, silencing their horrible line delivery once and for all.

An unspecified amount of time later, Myron Hemmings, a seemingly well off corporate type, leads a small group into the mine on a bit of an expedition. Along for the ride is Dan, a writer interested in the supernatural tales of monsters and death that have sprung up around the mine since its closing years back, and his hot blonde photographer wife, Cindy. There's also Angela, a geologist whose work equipment consists of nothing but a magnifying glass and a ball-peen hammer, and Morgan, a heavy drinking prospector with an ever-changing accent. Rounding out the group are two spelunkers, Tony and Geoff, the latter being a bit of a creeper who takes a shining to Dan's hot wife.

So why was the mine closed all those years back? Was it a labor dispute? Was it ghosts? Was it a giant penis-headed vagina monster that spews acid?

If you guessed it was because the mine is indeed home to a giant penis-headed vagina monster, pat yourself on the back because you guessed right. After a cave in traps them deep inside the mine, our cast of do-nothings find themselves wandering in the dark tunnels while the pecker-faced pussy beast bumps them off one by one. Oh, and the person that paid our two pre-credit sequence idiots to open up the mine? Yeah, that was Hemmings, adding one more threat to the mix. Will anyone survive the night in the mines, or will they all end up dead, either at the business end of a pickaxe or in a puddle of corrosive vaginal mucus spermy stuff?

Let me get this out of the way first. This movie is horribly paced. Not counting the pre-credit fodder, we have to wait approximately 60 minutes before a single person kicks the bucket. That's 60 minutes of characters wandering in the dark doing absolutely nothing. We get to see Angela knock a rock off the wall and sniff it. We get to watch Geoff throw multiple passes at Cindy. We get some terrible moments of humor from both Dan and Morgan, and that's really about it. Sure, there are some attempts at building atmosphere by having characters talk about Native American legends surrounding the mine or about how dozens of people have died in the tunnels they're now walking through, but that doesn't really add much to the film. In fact, it makes the long wait worse. It fills your head with all these great possibilities.

Ghosts! Monsters! Evil Native American gods! Wow! 

And then nothing. Just people walking and talking, shining flashlights, periodically lighting flares. It becomes clear as the film goes on where Hillman and Co. took their inspirations from. There's quite a bit of ALIEN here. There's more than a little John Carpenter's THE THING here. But the slow start of Ridley Scott's film is justified by the atmosphere of LV-426 and the mystery of the crashed alien space ship. THE THING gives us the destroyed Norwegian camp full of charred corpses. There's nothing like that in THE STRANGENESS. It's just rocks and darkness. No attempt at building a mythology. No finding a room full of bones or weird, alien-like constructs. Just nothing piled on top of nothing.

When the monster stuff finally kicks in at the 60 minute mark of this 90 minute movie, things perk up a bit, if only because the stop motion monster is absolutely, awesomely hilarious to behold. It's a mess of tentacles with a body that looks like it's made of brains. It's phallic head has a vagina shaped mouth that spits goo everywhere. Unfortunately, most of the kills occur off screen, robbing us of any kind of gruesome pleasures. There is however one showstopper of a death that actually made me cheer out loud. It's a scene this film desperately needed (actually, it needed about four more scenes like it) and when that moment happened, I felt genuine love swell in my cold, dead heart. But that scene had the unfortunate side effect of also amplifying my disappointment with the film. THE STRANGENESS could have been a great time. It could have been so much better.

I suppose it was a mix of budgetary constraints and lack of resources that killed the film. The pieces are all there. As evidenced by MY BLOODY VALENTINE, a mine is a great setting for a horror film. I loved the way the film was primarily lit using nothing but diegetic light sources like flares and flash lights. I love the absurdity of the monster. I even love the obvious Carpenter inspired soundtrack. But the film doesn't do much with those elements. The Hemmings subplot (another clear nod to ALIEN) goes nowhere, the monster is never explained, the setting is never properly utilized, and the lack of on screen violence feels like a cop out. It is just a bland, forgettable experience from start to finish. 

Wait. Make that “from start to 60 minutes”, because even though the final 30 minutes are not particularly great, they at least contain a glimpse of just how entertaining this film could have been had the filmmakers had a few more bucks in the bank. If you just skip to the one hour mark and ignore everything that came before, THE STRANGENESS might just do the job for you. But even that sounds like the faintest of praise. Because let's face it, if you have to throw out two thirds of a film just to enjoy it, maybe it isn't even worth consideration in the first place.