<Note: This page includes Horror, Thriller, and Psychodrama>
Abby (1974) dir. William Girdler
written by Gordon C. Layne
w/ Carol Speed, William Marshall, Terry Carter, Juanita Moore, Billy Bradford, Elliott Moffitt, Charles Kissinger
Blaxploitation star Carol Speed (The Mack, Black Samson) said of her role in this Exorcist rip-off, “Abby gave me the opportunity to play three different characters. An educated Baptist minister’s wife, a liberated sex-craving woman, and an egotistical demon.” That demon is Eshu, the Nigerian trickster spirit who possesses her. You can tell Speed’s having a good time, despite tornadoes ripping through Louisville during filming. William Marshall (star of Blacula and the King of Cartoons on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse) plays the Bishop who exorcises Abby in a nightclub. And veteran actor Juanita Moore (Imitation of Life) is Abby’s mother. The plot is lifted so directly from the original Exorcist (1973), down to medical exams and puke fits, that Warner Brothers sued Girdler and American International Pictures (AIP). Perhaps they wouldn’t have bothered if Abby hadn’t been a moneymaker. Next up for Girdler was Sheba, Baby (1975) with Pam Grier and the cheapo blockbuster Grizzly (1976).
Afraid of the Dark (1991) dir. Mark Peploe
written by Mark Peploe, Frederick Seidel
w/ Ben Keyworth, James Fox, Fanny Ardant, Paul McGann, Clare Holman, Robert Stephens, Susan Wooldridge, David Thewlis, Catriona MacColl, Hilary Mason
Following up the epic screenplays he wrote with director Bernardo Bertolucci (The Sheltering Sky, The Last Emperor), Peploe directed this darkly stylish film that’s sure to prompt either frustration or loyalty—or both. It’s a necessary spoiler, perhaps, for me to tell you to anticipate a story in two parts. When we first meet 12-year-old Lucas Hardy (Ben Keyworth), he’s a sighted boy living in a neighborhood known for its blind community, in an apartment building that affords him plenty of peeping opportunities. A maniac has been terrorizing blind women, slashing their faces with a straight razor, a plot that seems to culminate about halfway through the movie. The second half of the movie reveals that the first was largely a paranoid delusion of Lucas who his going blind himself. The movie may seem overburdened with its vision-related motifs, from telescopes to stabbed eyeballs, but it’s resolute in how it conveys what’s going on in Lucas’s head. I appreciate more each time I watch it. In English though shot in France.
Alabama’s Ghost (1973) dir. Fredric Hobbs
written by Fredric Hobbs
w/ Christopher Brooks, Peggy Browne, E. Kerrigan Prescott, Steven Kent Browne, Ken Grantham, Karen Ingenthron, Turk Murphy
Our African-American protagonist Alabama (Christopher Brooks) declares, “I ain’t afraid of no white racist ghost!”—a perfect tagline for this ghost-vampire conspiracy tale that mingles elements of horror, comedy, the rock musical, blaxploitation, and sci-fi. Alabama, played with a bravado found only in underground films, goes from sweeping floors at a nightclub called Earthquake McGoon’s to touring the rock circuit as a psychedelic magician. All the while, he’s haunted by the ghost of a magician (Kerrigan Prescott) who warns him about a ring of vampires. Headed up by a grandma-impersonating mastermind named Moxie (Ken Grantham), the vampire conspiracy involves a colossal rock concert featuring Alabama’s evil robot duplicate! The vampires, riding motorcycles, attack the hippie outdoor show and the real Alabama must save the day. An anti-masterpiece on par with one-off obscurities like Ganja & Hess (1973) and The Nightmare Never Ends (1979). Though purchasable on VHS (hosted by Elvira), and on bootleg DVD too if you scout around online, this movie deserves to be remastered. The film website Breakfast In The Ruins says, “What Hobbs perhaps intended as an easy-going supernatural comedy emerges as one of the most puzzling outbursts of chaotic, inexplicable brouhaha ever committed to celluloid.” Rated PG. Hobbs, an established artist, was known for drivable sculptures.
dir. Alfred Sole
written by Alfred Sole, Rosemary Ritvo
w/ Paula E. Sheppard, Linda Miller, Mildred Clinton, Jane Lowry, Niles McMaster, Alphonso DeNoble, Brooke Shields, Rudolph Willrich, Michael Hardstark, Patrick Gorman, Mary Boylan, Gary Allen, Kathy Rich, Louisa Horton, Tom Signorelli
Alice is a bad seed, played with either stoniness or wicked glee by Paula E. Sheppard. Never having hidden her jealousy of sister Karen (a debut for Brooke Shields), Alice becomes the prime suspect when Karen is brutally murdered—and her dead body set on fire—in a Catholic church. Next to be attacked is Alice’s hated aunt (Jane Lowry) in a bloody, dramatic scene that’s as ferocious as it is well-filmed. The most memorable death befalls sleazy, hyper-obese Mr. Alphonso who loves female vocalists and kitty cats (Alphonso DeNoble, at the time a bouncer for a New Jersey gay bar). Mom (Linda Miller, daughter of TV legend Jackie Gleason) just can’t accept that Alice could do such things. All the while, as noted in House of Psychotic Women, Alice “is quietly feeding her own neurosis with the images of death enveloping her.” Set in New Jersey in the 1960s, Alice combines style, sordidness, and plot twists so effectively that I’m tempted to call it a perfect psycho-thriller. It’s drawn comparisons to Hitchcock, Dario Argento, and Brian DePalma. Sole’s only other notable film is the horror spoof Pandemonium (1982) starring Carol Kane. Paula E. Sheppard’s only other role is in Liquid Sky (1982) singing “Me and My Rhythm Box.” 98 minutes.
Anguish (1987) dir. Bigas Luna
written by Bigas Luna, Michael Berlin
w/ Zelda Rubinstein, Michael Lerner, Talia Paul, Clara Pastor, Angel Jove, Clara Pastor, Isabel García Lorca, Nat Baker, Edward Ledden, Jose M. Chucarro, Antonella Murgia, Josephine Borchaca, Georgie Pinkley, Francesco Rabella, Michael Chandler, Vicente Gil, Michael Heat
Born in 1933 to Polish immigrants, Zelda Rubinstein at 25 forsook her degree in bacteriology to pursue acting, undeterred by her height of 4’3”. Now she is instantly recognized as Tangina the medium who ‘cleans house’ in Poltergeist (1982). She was also a human rights activist who fought for AIDS awareness as early as 1984, when it was far from image-savvy. These two factors alone certainly qualify her as a Saint of the Quirky. Other than Tangina, the only role to suit her major talent is Mother in this art-house horror masterpiece from Spanish director Bigas Luna (The Tit and the Moon, Jamon Jamon). Mother’s control over her son John (Michael Lerner in his best role) is absolute even if her hold on reality is not. For instance, she thinks John is a reputed surgeon when he’s merely an orderly. She hypnotizes John and seems psychically connected to him when he’s away from her, egging on his gory hobby of collecting eyeballs—ironic because he’s going blind. “The eyes of the city are mine,” goes the movie’s tagline. If you’ve not already, don’t read anymore about this movie—not even the synopsis on the DVD. Just watch. Unrelenting tension and tightly edited spectacle; the spiral motif is particularly effective at inducing madness. Cinematography is by Josep M. Civit who did Bigas Luna’s Lola (1986) and more recently Shiver and Insignificant Things (both 2008).
Aswang a/k/a The Unearthing (1994)
dirs. Wrye Martin, Barry Poltermann
written by Wrye Martin, Barry Poltermann
w/ Norman Moses, Tina Ona Paukstelis, Flora Coker, Mildred Nierras, Jamie Jacobs Anderson, Victor Delorenzo, John Kishline, Daniel Demarco
A pregnant young woman named Katrina (Tina Ona Paukstelis) signs her unborn baby over to wealthy white adoptive parents from the Philippines (Moses, Anderson). Near her due date, she goes to stay at their sick mother’s (Flora Coker) remote mansion in the southern U.S. She doesn’t know they’re all aswangs. With a l-o-n-g tongue instead of fangs, an aswang is a vampire who sucks blood from the fetus in a pregnant woman. They can also heave up sticky white goo to immobilize victims. So Aswang mingles southern gothic and Filipino vampire Catholicism, its plot pivoting on a fascinating housekeeper named Cupid (Mildred Nierras). Creature effects, by Clark and Kevin Reter, are original and disturbing. The first horror movie ever screened at Sundance, Aswang reportedly incited unrest in the audience. After that, according to the DVD cover, “nervous video chains refused to carry the film and the shocker all but disappeared.” Many of the DVD copies are censored. Make sure you get the copy marked Widescreen Director’s Cut. Not related to the 1992 film of the same name; loosely adapted for a 2010 remake. 82 minutes.
Baba Yaga a/k/a Baba Yaga, Devil Witch
a/k/a Kiss Me, Kill Me (1973)
dir. Corrado Farina
written by Corrado Farina
w/ Carroll Baker, Isabelle De Funès, George Eastman, Mario M. Giorgetti, Ely Galleani, Daniela Balzaretti, Cesarina Amendola, Angelo Covella, Sergio Masieri
Carroll Baker was first groomed to be a Marilyn Monroe type, sucking her thumb in Babydoll (1956), and later got the lead in Harlow (1965) that flopped and so she moved to Italy, starring in kink like this S&M thriller. It’s based on Guido Crepax’s comics about a fashion photographer named Valentina (Isabelle De Funès) who finds herself under the spell of beautiful witch Baba Yaga (Baker). Valentina, a cynical revolutionary in platforms and fur cape, would rather watch Laurel & Hardy than Godard. Fog turns her on. As for Baba Yaga in her perpetual mourning attire, she lives alone in a huge house with a hole in the floor that may lead to hell. She casts a spell on Valentina’s camera, “the eye that freezes reality,” and Valentina’s models subsequently die. A leather-harnessed doll, named Annette, serves as a sort of Golem for Baba Yaga; indeed there’s a clip from the 1920 film Der Golem. Overall Baba Yaga is cool and hot, restrained and unraveling, familiar and innovative. Surely influenced by the lesbian vampire classic Daughters of Darkness (1971). Its high style deserves to be seen on Blu-ray, available from Blue Underground.
Babadook (2014) dir. Jennifer Kent
written by Jennifer Kent
w/ Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Hayley McElhinney, Barbara West, Ben Winspear
Troubled by her troubled son Samuel, and the interminable grief she feels over losing her husband seven years earlier, Amelia is worn thin. Her husband died in a car accident driving her to the hospital the night their son was born, a tragedy Samuel seems to badge himself with—too young to realize how his frankness about it disturbs other people. The film opens with the bedtime rituals of checking under the bed for monsters and reading stories: “Three Little Pigs” first and then a creepy pop-up book called “Mister Babadook” that has mysteriously appeared. “If it’s in a word, or in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.” The looming Babadook resembles the ghost of an Edwardian mortician filtered through German expressionism. As Samuel’s behavior turns more aggressively paranoid, and sleep-deprived Amelia loses her hold on reality, the two become even more isolated together, locked inside their suburban-gothic house with its palette of greys. Samuel is at once a sympathetic child-character and an appropriately tedious one, stridently played by Noah Wiseman, but it’s Essie Davis as Amelia who owns this film. A New Yorker review asks of Amelia, “Is she the sum of all fears, or the root of them?” If you like depth of meaning to horror movies, and a return of the repressed theme, then Babadook is for you, an instant classic. The only flaw is the flawless “Mister Babadook” book itself. To me it seemed less like a supernatural manifestation, or the extension of a working mom’s psyche, and more like the product of someone with a degree in illustration—as it is, of course (his name is Alexander Juhasz). Fans should also check out the original Babadook in Kent’s ten-minute film Monster from 2005.
The Baby (1973) dir. Ted Post
written by Abe Polsky
w/ Ruth Roman, David Manzy, Anjanatte Comer, Marianna Hill, Suzanne Zenor
Ruth Roman of Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951) made three noteworthy films in 1973. The TV adaptation of Go Ask Alice, Curtis Harrington’s magnum opus The Killing Kind with John Savage, and this suburban-gothic thriller. Playing a twisted matriarch with the rather obnoxious name of Wadsworth, she and her sexy daughters (Hill, Zenor) look after their brother “Baby”: a full-grown male whose growth they’ve stunted both physically and mentally. As the tagline insists, “Nothing in this nursery rhymes.” In one scene Zenor uses a cattle prod on Baby, saying to him repeatedly, “Baby doesn’t walk! Baby doesn’t talk!” Baby’s crying is dubbed, heightening the bizarreness. Along comes a social worker (Anjanatte Comer of The Loved One) with her own seemingly noble agenda. There’s a tense party scene and a grisly comeuppance for Roman, followed by a truly perverse happy ending. A male nightmare of female power, it was made the same year that the Equal Rights Amendment managed to pass both houses of Congress. The director followed up with the Clint Eastwood vehicle Magnum Force (1973).
Baby Blood a/k/a The Evil Within (1990) dir. Alain Robak
written by Alain Robak, Serge Cukier
w/ Emmanuelle Escourrou, Jean-Francois Gallotte, Christian Sinniger, Francois Frapie
Bianca a/k/a Yanka (sexy gap-toothed Emmanuelle Escourrou) is not only pregnant with a parasitic fetus, she’s pregnant with a creature that’s never been born before. As the fetus explains in a quiet, male voice, “When the first life forms appeared…all of them started to reproduce. All but one. Me.” Communicating psychically with Yanka, the fetus causes her internal pain when she refuses to kill people for their blood. She attempts suicide and it implores, “I just want to be born like anyone else.” As Yanka aligns her needs with that of the fetus, their dialogue becomes intimate and even playful. In one scene, as a man flirts with her, she laughs at the fetus’s proposal: “You get him in bed and I’ll grab him by the balls!” With a viscera-splattered birth, a Giger-like creature, and a wicked finale, Baby Blood is gyno-horror extraordinaire. And re-watchable, at that. The DVD from Anchor Bay includes a few minutes of not so crucial footage cut from the video release. If you don’t like subtitles, the English dub is good enough.
Bad Biology (2008) dir. Frank Henenlotter
written by Frank Henenlotter & R.A. Thorburn
w/ Charlee Danielson, Anthony Sneed, Mark Wilson, R.A. Thorburn, Tina Krause, Tom Kohut, James Shell, Vivian Sanchez, Ginger Starr
Henenlotter’s most satisfying movie since Brain Damage (1988) and Basket Case (1982) offers Batz (Anthony Sneed), a young man who’s got “a drug-addicted dick with a mind of its own.” Batz is not our protagonist, though, just the answer to her unique needs. Jennifer (Charlee Danielsen) is a kinky photographer whose portfolio includes naked women wearing vagina-masks on their faces—representing the “brutal honest truth about the woman as a sexual being.” Describing herself as a female with seven clits, she tells us: “To some I was a perfect example of permanent sexual arousal syndrome. But to most I was simply the girl with the crazy pussy.” Jennifer tends to kill the men she has sex with and, in a matter of hours every time, she gives birth to mutant babies that she comically discards. Her affair with Batz is of course ill-fated. Consider it the Romeo & Juliet of genitalia. Bad Biology is co-written and co-produced by underground rapper R.A. The Rugged Man and the DVD includes two of his music videos.
Basket Case (1982) dir. Frank Henenlotter
written by Frank Henenlotter
w/ Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner, Diana Brown, Robert Vogel, Joe Clarke, Ruth Neuman, Richard Pierce
Henenlotter is a hero to many of us who love horror with genuine personality. At age 31, Basket Case was his first full-length release and is now considered a cult classic. It’s got one of the best taglines ever: “The tenant in Room 7 is very small, very twisted and very mad.” This tenant is a parasitic twin named Belial; he is composed of deformed head and two big claws and he’s small enough to be carried around in a basket by his brother Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck). The two share a room on 42nd Street, seeking revenge on the doctors who surgically separated them. All the characters are memorable, earnestly gunning every line—especially the African-American hooker (Beverly Bonner, pictured below), Duane’s potential girlfriend (Terri Susan Smith), and appropriately named Dr. Kutter (Diana Brown). Henenlotter himself bemoans how cheap the effects look, combining puppetry and stop-motion, yet the film’s budget-related flaws, as well as Hentenryck’s off-key performance, make for the kind of movie magic a blockbuster could never achieve. Village Voice called fit-pitching, face-clawing, panty-sniffing Belial “not only cruder but more disgustingly human than the loveable E.T.” Avoid VHS copies, which are too dark. The 20th Anniversary Special Edition DVD from Something Weird is clearer and has great special features. Two sequels followed.
Basket Case 2 and 3 (1991) dir. Frank Henenlotter
written by Frank Henenlotter, Robert Martin
w/ Kevin Van Hentenryck, Annie Ross, Dan Biggers, Jim O’Doherty, Beverly Bonner, Gil Roper, Jim Grimshaw, Jeff Winter
Granny Ruth, played by legendary bebop singer Annie Ross (Short Cuts, Pump Up the Volume), shelters “unique individuals,” often saving them from freak shows. The freaks are absurd if not fantastic, thoroughly infantilized and mincing around like New Zoo Revue. As in Tod Browning’s Freaks, however, they turn sadistic when killing those who cross them. In Basket Case 2, fugitives Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) and his deformed twin Belial, who are wanted in NYC for murders committed in the first movie, seek refuge with Granny. Basket Case 3 retains the Saturday morning monsters but it’s over the top in a more satisfying way, offering screwy splatter on par with Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive (1992). Granny Ruth makes the standard tune “’Cause You’ve Got Personality” a freak anthem as she and her freaks sing their way by bus to the home of a freak-tolerant doctor (Dan Biggers). They need a doctor for Eve, Belial’s pregnant girlfriend. She gives birth to ten deformed babies, which must be seen to be appreciated, as with the scene in which Belial becomes a sheriff-battling robot—a nod at Sigourney Weaver in Aliens (1986). Basket Case 3 ends on a talk show called Renaldo where all hell breaks loose. Granny tells the camera: “From now on this is our world. If you see us walking down the street and you don’t like it, then get out of our way. And have a nice day.”
Beware, The Blob! a/k/a Son of Blob (1972)
dir. Larry Hagman
written by Jack Woods & Anthony Harris
w/ Robert Walker Jr., Gwynne Gilford, Richard Webb, Godfrey Cambridge, Marlene Clark, Shelley Berman, Gerrit Graham, Carol Lynley, Tiger Joe Marsh, Burgess Meredith, Larry Hagman, Richard Stahl
Though technically hokier, this second blob movie has more personality than the 1958 and 1987 versions combined. Perhaps because it represents not the clean-cut ‘50s nor the generic ‘80s but the hippy generation. The intro shows a kitten playing in the tall grass as the theme music discourages any inclination one might have to take the movie seriously. The kitten belongs to an African-American couple. The husband (Godfrey Cambridge of Watermelon Man) is a pipeline technician who brings home a specimen of the blob that quickly thaws and devours kitten, wife (lovely Marlene Clark of Ganja & Hess), and hubby too as he sits down to watch the original Blob on TV. The blob also eats cops, pot-smoking hippies, drunk hobos (Meredith, Hagman), and a gay barber (Shelley Berman) doing hippy hair. Look for TV’s Dick Van Patten and Cindy Williams. In the best scene, the now giant blob attacks a bowling alley. Though also titled Son of Blob, it’s more remake than sequel. Video Gems exploited Hagman’s popularity as J.R. on Dallas for a VHS release. Since one year’s cliffhanger made “Who shot J.R.?” a burning question around the world, Video Gems’ tagline was “The movie that J.R. shot.” This has been replicated on the cover for the DVD from Image Entertainment.
The Beyond a/k/a Seven Doors of Death a/k/a And You Will Live in Fear!—The Afterlife (1981)
dir. Lucio Fulci
written by Lucio Fulci, Giorgio Mariuzzo, Dardano Sacchetti
w/ Catriona MacColl a/k/a Katrina MacColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale, Sarah Keller, Antoine Saint John, Veronica Lazar, Gianpaolo Saccarola, Giovanni De Nava, Maria Pia Marsala
Katrina MacColl starred in City of the Living Dead a/k/a Gates of Hell (1980), the first of Fulci’s underrated zombie trilogy. She returns here to play Liza, the heir to a Louisiana hotel. Liza doesn’t know her big fixer-upper comes complete with a haunted Room 36 and a flooded basement that’s really a doorway to the underworld. Plot is somewhat elliptical, jerking us from one unsettling detail or lurid shock to the next, with eye-popping splatter effects by Giannetto de Rossi (High Tension). Characters include a menacing housekeeper (Veronica Lazar, a nurse in Argento’s Inferno), a pretty yet ominous blind woman led by a dog (Cinzia Monreale, the exhumed girlfriend in Joe D’Amato’s Beyond the Darkness), a handyman who looks and sounds like Peter Lorre (Gianpaolo Saccarola, the coroner in Argento’s Tenebre), and a chronically doubtful doctor (David Warbeck, the inspector in Fulci’s Black Cat). At one point this Video Nasty was available only as a bootleg, my copy too dark and with Japanese subtitles, but now Anchor Bay presents us with a beautiful letterboxed edition as part of The Lucio Fulci Collection. The crisp picture makes Fulci’s attention to detail more vivid: indeed, the acid-spill scene in the morgue is not just gore, it’s art. Fabio Frizzi’s piano-driven score adds beautifully to the sense of doom. Next for Fulci and MacColl comes House by the Cemetery (1981). Look for MacColl in the more recent titles House of Voices (2004) and Theater Bizarre (2011).
Beyond the Darkness a/k/a Buio Omega a/k/a Blue Holocaust a/k/a Buried Alive (1979)
dir. Joe D’Amato
written by Ottavio Fabbri
w/ Kieran Canter, Franca Stoppi, Cinzia Monreale, Sam Modesto, Lucia D’Elia
Here’s another movie that got banned in the UK and branded a Video Nasty, prompting what seemed to me believable rumors—one being Michael Weldon’s claim in the Psychotronic Video Guide that D’Amato uses real autopsy and cremation footage. It’s not true (according to special feature interviews on the DVD) but Beyond the Darkness indeed goes beyond mere spin on Gein-inspired movies like Psycho (1960). I first saw it on Thriller Video as Buried Alive, a bad title because no one in the movie is buried alive. Nonetheless it delivered more violence and perversity than any movie I’d yet seen and came to serve as a litmus test with friends who like horror. The central character, Frank (Kieran Canter), lives alone in his villa with a jealous housekeeper (Franca Stoppi, pictured above) who’s more than willing to dissolve his female victims in acid. The most sadistic scene involves Frank plucking off a stoner’s (Lucia D’Elia) fingernails. Her body is burned in a crematorium and the body’s death twitches are, if not real, then masterfully simulated. Guaranteed to make you wince! The score by Goblin is good but it’s the silences that are most effective. Terror on Tape, a great video guide that lists the movie under Buried Alive, declares it one of the sickest Italian gore movies ever. Other D’Amato sickies include Trap Them & Kill Them (1977) and Porno Holocaust (1981).
Black Sheep (2006) dir. Jonathan King
written by Jonathan King
w/ Nathan Meister, Danielle Mason, Peter Feeney, Oliver Driver, Tandi Wright, Glenis Levestam, Nick Blake, Matthew Chamberlain, Nick Fenton, Eli Kent, Sam Clarke
One tagline states: “There are about 40 million sheep in New Zealand. And they’re pissed off!” So another tagline seems to respond: “Get the flock out of here!” It’s New Zealand’s bright and comic answer to the mutant cattle in Ireland’s dark and grim Isolation (2005). Our unlikely heroes are thin-skinned Henry (Nathan Meister), who’s returned home to the farm after many years, and an activist named Experience (Danielle Mason) who’s out to expose Henry’s brother and his plan to genetically modify sheep. All the hands-on, slapstick gore seems a nod to Dead Alive (1992) by Peter Jackson, a fellow New Zealander. Not quite outrageous enough, nor quite relentless enough, but enjoyable. For another kooky horror experience involving mutant sheep, check out The Godmonster of Indian Flats (1973) directed by Fredric Hobbs.
Blood Feast (1963) dir. Herschell Gordon Lewis
written by Allison Louise Downe
w/ William Kerwin, Mal Arnold, Connie Mason, Lyn Bolton, Scott H. Hall, Allison Louise Downe
H.G. Lewis and producer David Friedman went from risqué fare like The Adventures of Lucky Pierre (1961) to this most notorious cult classic, considered the first gore movie and father of the slasher genre. It’s about a wild-eyed caterer (Mal Arnold) who kills women, cooking select body parts for Goddess Ishtar. Mrs. Fremont (Lyn Bolton) hires him to cater a dinner for her daughter (Connie Mason) but she has no idea how authentic the Egyptian feast will be. It’s a pretty slow-moving 67 minutes, with low-gear dialogue, and the blood always seems smeared on, yet it’s got character and deserves its now noble status as a cult film. Allison Louise Downe has a cameo at the Egyptian lecture. She would write, act, or assist-direct for Lewis on several movies. The second and third movies in Lewis’s “Blood Trilogy” are Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964), the best of them, and Color Me Blood Red (1965). The lesser-known Gruesome Twosome (1967) is my pesonal favorite.
Bloodsuckers from Outer Space (1984) dir. Glen Coburn
written by Glen Coburn
w/ Glen Coburn, , Laura Ellis, Robert Bradeen, Big John Brigham, Dennis Letts, Pat Paulsen, Christine Crowe, Wayne Greene, Rick Garlington, Thom Meyers
Seems a typical winter day on a Texas farm until an infected wind blows through, leaving a farmer zombified—the first of many. Though typically cannibalistic, the zombies are actually possessed by aliens and can talk and plan out their attacks. The main character Ralph, played by Glen Coburn, offers self-reflexive quips like “Damn that incidental music is scary!” His cohort is Julie (Laura Ellis) who keeps a nitrous tank in the backseat of her car. Stiff dialogue, ludicrous makeup and special effects, and a nuclear finale anticipating Return of the Living Dead (1985), all these factors combine with a DIY spirit to make for a rousingly silly experience. Look for ‘70s comic Pat Paulsen as the President. 79 minutes. On DVD from Media Blasters.
Blue Sunshine (1978) dir. Jeff Lieberman
written by Jeff Lieberman
w/ Zalman King, Deborah Winters, Robert Walden, Mark Goddard, Brion James, Charles Siebert, Bill Adler, Alice Ghostley
“The ‘70s saw a decline in the use of psychedelic drugs,” according to ReSearch’s Incredibly Strange Films. “But acid had one good film left in it.” This one. Made between Lieberman’s eco-horror debut Squirm (1976) and his stalker flick Just Before Dawn (1981), Blue Sunshine is a satire of the era’s hippy-to-yuppie shift. The title refers to a strain of LSD with a ten-year delay in its full effect, “like a time bomb in the chromosomes.” Those who took a hit in 1968 become bald, disco-hating maniacs in 1978. The first instance we see involves a man shoving a woman into a roaring fireplace. His friend Jerry gets blamed and, though the ‘wrong man’ plot feels too familiar, it’s laced with weird details, laughable shocks, and smart editing by Brian Smedley-Aston (Performance, Girl Stroke Boy). As Jerry, Zalman King adds his usual streak of intensity to the film. He’s like Crispin Glover’s psychotic older brother. Also look for Alice Ghostley, Esmeralda on Bewitched. According to music lore, Blue Sunshine served as a recurring visual backdrop for bands playing at CBGBs, suiting the anti-disco, anti-hippy attitude.
Brain Damage (1988) dir. Frank Henenlotter
written by Frank Henenlotter
w/ Rick Hearst, John Zacherle, Gordon MacDonald, Theo Barnes, Jennifer Lowry, Kevin Van Hentenryck, Beverly Bonner, Ari M. Roussimoff
Henenlotter’s most accomplished film technically, it’s a biting little comedy about codependence. Brian (Rick Hearst) is host to a talking worm-like parasite called Aylmer (pronounced Elmer). Aylmer gets Brian addicted to the blue “juice” he injects into Brian’s brain, causing techno-colored hallucinations. In return Brian, at first unwittingly, finds victims for Aylmer’s diet of human brains. You may well resist the grotesque and goofy Aylmer but just wait until he sings the old Glenn Miller tune “Elmer’s Tune” with the bathroom sink as his stage. Basket-schlepping Kevin Van Hentenryck (Basketcase) has a cameo. As does Beverly Bonner, ever-present in Henenlotter movies. The original uncut version is on DVD from Synapse Films with the tagline “It’s a headache from Hell.” My copy on video still plays fine. Imaginative, gory, and pretty damned funny, Henenlotter calls it a fusion of The Tingler (1959) and The Trip (1967). Quite re-watchable.
BubbaHo-Tep (2004) dir. Don Coscarelli
written by Don Coscarelli
w/ Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce, Heidi Marnhout, Reggie Bannister, Bob Ivy, Larry Pennell, Daniel Roebuck, Harrison Young
Coscarelli fortified his cult status with this horror-comedy based on Joe R. Lansdale’s short story. Set in a Texas nursing home, it centers on two old men: Elvis, who really thinks he’s Elvis, and Jack who really thinks he’s JFK. Grounded performances by Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead series) and Ossie Davis (Purlie Victorious, Do the Right Thing) earned considerable praise. Roger Ebert noted how, “You never catch Campbell or Davis winking at the audience or patronizing the material. They approach their characters with all the curiosity and respect they’d deserve in a serious film.” They battle a soul-stealing mummy called BubbaHo-Tep. Uproarious and incomparable. Ella Joyce rocks as the tough nurse. Look for bald Reggie Bannister from Coscarelli’s Phantasm series. BubbaHo-Tep “has the damnedest ingratiating way of making us sit there and grin at its harebrained audacity,” says Ebert. Made for merely $500,000.
The Butchers a/k/a Maxie a/k/a Murderer’s Keep (1973)
dir. Paulmichel Mielche
written by Paulmichel Mielche
w/ Vic Tayback, K.T. Baumann, Morgan Upton, Ford Clay, Robert Walden, Talia Shire
The DVD cover shows star Vic Tayback not as he appears in the film but as Mel from the sitcom Alice (1976-85), replete with little cook’s hat. He plays a butcher who incorporates into his trade corpses from the local morgue. I can’t tell if his shop assistant is retarded or if the actor (Morgan Upton) is going for slapstick; it’s both the film’s weak link and also, due to a kidnapping scene that develops his character, a key element to the film’s sincerity/perversity. He kidnaps a deaf mute girl named Maxie (K.T. Baumann) who caught sight of the butcher’s human meat. A subplot involves an African-American doctor trying to teach Maxie how to read lips. The Butchers is loaded with dated-in-the-best-way colors, interesting camera angles, good lighting, scenes neatly bridged with overlapping sound, and lively montage. An example of the latter is Maxie getting a haircut edited together with the butcher cutting up meat. Much like Daddy’s Deadly Darling (1972) and Deranged (1974), The Butchers offers a blend of psychodrama, horror, and camp that’s hard to pin down. Available from Troma. The director’s only other credits, by the way, are two TV documentaries from 1970—which I’d love to see!—titled The Weird World of Weird and The Fountain of Groovy.
The Cars That Ate Paris a/k/a The Cars That Eat People (1976) dir. Peter Weir
written by Peter Weir
w/ Terry Camilleri, John Meillon, Kevin Miles, Rick Scully, Max Gillies, Bruce Spence
“The traffic in the Township of Paris was murder.” So declares this movie’s tagline. Its opening shows a dashing couple on a scenic road and seems a blatant example of product placement—Marlboro, Coca-Cola—until their car crashes into a ravine. Thus Weir introduces us to Paris, a small Aussie village populated by scavengers. They cause accidents and strip the cars of sellable parts. The victims are either killed in the accident or made into “veggies,’ i.e. lobotomized. A select few survivors like Arthur (Terry Camilleri) are adopted by the community. I expected it all to pivot on body count alone, much like H.G. Lewis’s similar Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964), but Weir, who says he writes his movies first as short stories, offers a storyline much stranger, more on par with movies about strange towns like The King of Hearts (1966) or Dead and Buried (1981). Veteran supporting actor Meillon is excellent as the Mayor. The local kids rebel against him, driving revamped junk cars (one covered with spikes) and terrorizing Parisians.
Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1973) dir. Bob Clark
written by Alan Ormsby, Bob Clark
w/ Alan Ormsby, Valerie Mamches, Jeff Gillen, Anya Ormsby, Paul Cronin, Jane Daly, Roy Engleman, Robert Philip, Seth Sklarey
Alan Ormsby plays a character named Alan—a variation of himself? He’s a cute tyrant with goatee and neck scarf, taking his acting troupe to a remote estate to enact a necromantic ritual on film. “The magnitude of your simplitude overwhelms me,” he tells the actors who deal in one-liners and hammy yet vague impersonations, as if they’ve been watching a lot of old movies on The Late Late Show. They dig up Orville, a real corpse, and Alan takes it to bed. Meanwhile two gay characters back in the cemetery (Engleman, Philip) are attacked by zombies rising from their graves. It’s quintessential ‘70s b-horror, a persistently fun cheapie. Look for the 35th anniversary special edition DVD from VCI Entertainment. Clark and Ormsby made Children and Deathdream a/k/a Dead of Night (1972) as a two-film deal. They next did the Ed Gein classic Deranged (1974).
City of the Living Dead a/k/a Gates of Hell (1980) dir. Lucio Fucli
written by Lucio Fulci & Dardano Sacchett
w/ Catriona a/k/a Katherine MacColl, Christopher George, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Fabrizio Jovine, Michele Soavi
By hanging himself, a priest (Fabrizio Jovine) has opened Hell’s gates. It is up to a psychic (horror icon Katherine MacColl) and a reporter (Christopher George, fresh from guest roles on Love Boat and Charlie’s Angels) to close them before the dead rise. There’s a maggot storm, a young woman puking up her internal organs, and murder with a drill, plus a gritty, forboding atmosphere and a disorienting sense of place. Along with Argento’s Suspiria (1977) and D’Amato’s Beyond the Darkness (1979), this first movie in Fulci’s super-gory zombie series really set the bar for perversity and violence in Italian horror. My older brother took me to see it as Gates of Hell at a mall theater when I was 12-years-old. He’s a jerk and expected to get a kick out of traumatizing me. I was already a horror fan, however, and wore that trauma like a badge of honor. 30 years later, on DVD from Anchor Bay or Blue Underground, the movie stands the test of time. Giovanni Lombardo Radice, credited as John Morghen, is pure sleaze playing Bob. It’s fun to see him now, so refined in special feature interviews, as he bemoans his prominence in Italian horror. The Beyond is next in Fulci’s trilogy, finishing with House by the Cemetery—both released in 1981 and starring MacColl.
Clean, Shaven (1993) dir. Lodge Kerrigan
written by Lodge Kerrigan
w/ Peter Greene, Robert Albert, Megan Owen, Molly Castelloe, Jennifer MacDonald
An intense debut from the director of Claire Dolan (1998) and Keane (2004) about a schizophrenic’s search for his kid. Lodge Kerrigan traps his viewers in the experience of schizophrenia and its symptoms: auditory hallucinations, heightened paranoia, disassociative feelings, anxiety. The minimal score (Hahn Rowe) combines with sound-montages that resemble the changing of channels on AM radio—or a nightmare version thereof. Though I sympathize with schizo protagonist Peter Winter (Peter Greene) who longs to be reunited with his 7-year-old daughter (Jennifer MacDonald), I’m equally compelled to look away when he acts out in public or mutilates his own body. The question is: Do self-mutilation, former institutionalization, and even rejection by his own mother (Megan Owen) qualify as evidence that he’s the killer of young girls? A detective named Jack (Robert Albert), investigating a series of child murders, seems to think so. But Kerrigan says in an interview for FilmFreakCentral.net that he withholds proof: “There’s no conclusive evidence that he is and if people feel that he’s guilty, I hope that the picture holds them responsible for drawing that conclusion. I hope that it forces the audience to challenge themselves as to why they believe that this man is responsible.” 78 minutes.
Crazed a/k/a Blood Shed aka Slipping Into Darkness (1978)
dir. Richard Cassidy
written by Richard Cassidy
w/ Laszlo Papas, Belle Mitchell, Beverly Ross, Tommy McFadden, Rigg Kennedy, Helen Rogler, James Arone, Stefanie Auerbach, Michael DeLorenzo
People are “quiet” for a reason. This very low-budget psychodrama, one of my favorites from the era, suggests that reason is sexual abuse. We learn from flashbacks how, among other traumas, Graham (Laszlo Papas) as a kid was forced to fellate his dad. Now he lives in a boarding house with its officious yet devoted landlady (Belle Mitchell), typically quirky residents, and secret peepholes. Graham falls for a new resident (Beverly Ross) whose accidental death provides him a body with which he can finally experience physical intimacy. Until his bride starts to rot, of course, the odor arousing suspicion. A one-off for its director and star, BleedingSkull.com calls Crazed “a very effective dollop of dirty secrets and alarming events” and “a downbeat case study that builds slowly, rarely deviates, and dishes out an excess of perversion.” Oddball details throughout will please the observant viewer. And Belle Mitchell, especially in dialogue with her old lady friend (Helen Rogler), is a revelation. Sadly this is her last role in a film career dating back to 1915. Crazed is hard to find, on VHS only, and tends to get lost in the keyword shuffle.
Crucible of Horror a/k/a Velvet House a/k/a The Corpse (1971)
dir. Viktors Ritelis
written by Olaf Pooley
w/ Michael Gough, Yvonne Mitchell, Sharon Gurney, Olaf Pooley
None of the titles truly serve this excellent British thriller, just as the different VHS/DVD covers and plot synopses do not truly represent the plot. Michael Gough, whom many know as Batman’s manservant in the Tim Burton films, began his career in the late 1940s. His stony expression and penetrating gaze make him an ideal villain. Here, in perhaps the quintessential role of his career, he plays Eastwood, an upper-middle-class British patriarch whose tyranny over his wife Edith (Yvonne Mitchell) and 16-year-old daughter Jane (Sharon Gurney) is absolute—bolstered by an older son Rupert (Olaf Pooley) who works alongside him at his firm. Though an icy cold etiquette is practiced at the dinner table, Edith and Jane are constantly humiliated and their despair is palpable. Jane’s meek attempts at rebellion only get her beaten in her room. As Eastwood repeatedly slashes her with his belt, the editing cuts back and forth to Rupert in his room, listening to earphones and mock-conducting an orchestra with similar slashing movements. Even Nicholas Pollock’s editing has a slashing quality, an effect echoed by John Hotchkis’s score. Edith, barely able to hold herself together as her daughter screams, resolves to murder her husband. All this in the first 23 minutes. The movie plays out with a twist that is often attributed to the women’s feelings of guilt over their crime. This is inaccurate and maybe even sexist. Be sure to listen carefully to what Rupert says when he calls his mother from a roadside payphone. The disorienting climax and grievous denouement are riveting.
Curse of the Queerwolf (1987) dir. Mark Pirro
written by Mark Pirro
w/ Michael Palazzolo, Kent Butler, Taylor Whitney, Cynthia Brownell, Darwyn Carson
Homophobia’s never been so hilarious! Made for $10,000, four times the budget of Mark Pirro’s debut A Polish Vampire in Burbank (1985), Curse of the Queerwolf is brimming with pop culture allusions, movie parodies, and political incorrectness. Two straight dudes, Larry Smalbut (Michael Palazzolo) and Dick Cheese (Kent Butler), bring home a couple of chicks from a strip joint. Larry’s chick turns out to be a queerwolf in women’s clothing, a dickanthrope, and his bite transforms Larry into a fag—i.e. what gay meant to typical straight guys during the early AIDS era. The transformation scene limps his wrists (pictured), polishes his nails, plumps his buttocks, and produces various accessories like a back-pocket bandana, earrings, and hosiery. He eventually wakes up in a gay bathhouse. Only a silver dildo and John Wayne can save him from torch-carrying vigilantes. Fun to watch but don’t believe it’s a “gay cult film,” as it’s been pegged, so much as a homophobic cult film about gayness. Rare but it is on DVD, for a usually hefty price; try Amazon Prime instead.
Daddy’s Deadly Darling a/k/a Pigs a/k/a Roadside Torture Chamber (1972)
dir. Marc Lawrence
written by Marc Lawrence, Fanya Foss
w/ Marc Lawrence, Toni Lawrence, Jesse Vint, Paul Hickey, Katharine Ross, Iris Korn, William Michael, Don Skylar, Walter Barnes
This psychodrama opens with a daddy-daughter montage. Daddy is a troll in a leisure suit with a bad toupee. Daughter is soon a toddler wearing a wig of her own (!). When she’s a tennis-playing teen, he pats her butt. We hear “Daddy I’m home” and get a close-up of her tight blouse. Then the title Daddy’s Deadly Darling. This hilarious intro is included on the VHS copy from Paragon Video but not on Troma’s DVD with the title Pigs and a misleading hicksploitation cover. The DVD begins with what comes next: daughter stabbing daddy to death. After escaping from a mental hospital, the daughter, named Lynn, hides out in a small Utah town, working at a roadside café-bar owned by pig farmer Zambrini. My favorite scenes involve spinster sisters (Ross, Korn) who claim Zambrini feeds human corpses to his pigs. The police don’t believe them but it’s true, proving useful once Lynn starts killing again. Zambrini seems genuinely lonely for Lynn’s company, petting her and offering platitudes like “It’s no good to remember something that’s terrible.” Zambrini is played by Marc Lawrence, who was many a tough guy in the 1930s-40’s. Quinlan’s says of him in later years: “His pock-marked face took on a mottled appearance, making him look like an ancient but still very deadly cobra.” Perversely cast as the daddy-fixated daughter is Marc’s real-life daughter Toni. For me the movie’s atmosphere and odd details easily make up for badly dubbed moments and hacksaw editing. Indeed it all achieves a truly psychotronic kind of organic unity. An anti-masterpiece made with love. In Eastmancolor. 80 minutes.
The Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (1972/1977)
dir. George Barry
written by George Barry
w/ Dave Marsh, Patrick Spence-Thomas, Demene Hall, William Russ, Julie Ritter, Linda Bond, Rosa Luxemburg, Ed Oldani
Filmed in 1972 and not quite released in 1977, bootlegs earned it cult status abroad and it’s now on DVD from Cult Epics, garnering lots of sincere reverence from fans of so-bad-it’s-good cinema. On a remote estate, those who sleep in the title’s demonic bed are not so much eaten as dissolved in acid inside the bed’s gastric mattress—goofy more than gory. A flashback-riddled plot ups the body count while detailing the bed’s long and peculiar history. Also helping to make Death Bed more than just a kooky premise is our narrator, trapped behind a painting of the bed that hangs on the wall. Referred to in the credits as The Artist, our narrator (Dave Marsh) witnesses every murder and wears the jewelry of victims. The Artist spouts the infamous Aubrey Beardsley line “If I am not grotesque, I am nothing”; Beardsley was a Wildean-era illustrator who died at 25 of consumption, long-bedridden. Filmed on Keelson Island in Detroit. 77 minutes. Patton Oswalt builds a routine on Death Bed for his comedy album “Werewolves and Lollipops.”
Deathdream a/k/a Dead of Night (1972)
dir. Bob Clark
written by Alan Ormsby
w/ Richard Backus, Lynn Carlin, John Marley, Henderson Forsythe, Anya Ormsby, Alan Ormsby
This lesser known zombie-psychodrama, with special effects by Tom Savini, builds on a Monkey’s Paw irony. A grieving mom (Lynn Carlin, Oscar-nominated for Faces) wishes her son, killed in Vietnam, could come home. Andy (Richard Backus) does return, seeming alive and well, but he’s actually the walking dead. Though supernatural, the initial drama that plays out could’ve been in any family with a shell-shocked son home again. Andy is cold, distant, angry, disoriented. The first full shots of him, from a distance, reinforce this, especially in contrast to the unsettling close-ups of parents and sister. Dad (John Marley, Oscar-winner for The Godfather) loses his sympathy once Andy kills the family dog. Andy kills the family doctor (Henderson Forsythe) too, declaring, “I died for you. Why shouldn’t you die for me?” Andy really starts decaying at a drive-in scene, leading to a graveside finale with crying mom. Clark cut the original last line of the movie, which I think would have made the perfect tagline. Mom says, “Andy came home. Some boys never do.”
Deranged (1974) dirs. Jeff Gillen, Alan Ormsby
written by Alan Ormsby
w/ Roberts Blossom, Cosette Lee, Leslie Carlson, Alan Ormsby, Robert Warner, Marcia Diamond, Brian Smeagle, Arlene Gillen, Robert McHeady, Marian Waldman, Jack Mather, Micki Moore, Pat Orr
The full title is Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile. It’s the quintessential “psychotronic” horror movie, just bursting with personality—in equal parts kooky and creepy. Of course, as Hitchcock did with Psycho (1968), it brings to the screen one of the 20th Century’s most pathological personalities Ed Gein, here named Ezra Cobb. And it immortalizes eccentric actor Roberts Blossom in a performance so eccentric and believably multifaceted that I’m tempted to claim he’s playing himself. Blossom had been acting for two decades, though, and would go on to be an Obie-winning playwright and published poet. Ormsby narrates as a newspaper columnist named Tom Sims, lending a docu-drama dimension to the rural realism. Even before his mother’s (Cosette Lee) death in 1945, Ezra’s farmhouse is rich with grimy, faded details. His exhumation of Mother introduces him to grave robbing, a hobby he develops with innocent glee…until he goes a step further and gets a taste for killing. Produced by Bob Clark (Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, A Christmas Story), with special effects by Tom Savini. It was released to drive-ins by American International Pictures and then lost for years. Look for the 30th Anniversary DVD that includes the short documentary Ed Gein: American Maniac (see Documentary (A-L)). Blossom went on to play memorable parts in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Escape from Alcatraz (1979), Reuben, Reuben (1983), and above all Home Alone (1990).
Don’t Look in the Basement a/k/a The Forgotten (1972)
dir. S.F. Brownrigg
written by Tim Pope
w/ Rosie Holotik, Annabelle Weenick, Gene Ross, Bill McGhee, Hugh Feagin, Camilla Carr, Rhea MacAdams, Jessie Lee Fulton, Robert Dracup, Jessie Kirby
Like the “Whatever Happened To” titles of psycho-biddy movies, the word DON’T constituted its own trend in horror titles, though the various films had little in common. A decade-long string of DON’T movies peaked with the misogynistic Don’t Go in the House (1980) and bottomed out with Santas being killed in Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984). It all began with Brownrigg’s campy anti-masterpiece about a rural asylum where patients are getting away with murder. Charlotte (Rosie Holotik) is a new nurse who uncovers the truth. The residents are familiar crazy-types, yes, but Brownrigg combines them in a maniacally quirky way. The batty old lady (Rhea MacAdams) is hilarious, even with her tongue cut out. Sam the childish giant, a central role, is played by African-American actor Bill McGhee (High Yellow). Camilla Carr (Keep My Grave Open) plays the woman who thinks her babydoll is real. Annabelle Weenick’s forceful performance as Dr. Masters is a lynchpin in the film. For over-the-top wackadoo, though, the award goes to pockmarked Gene Ross as Oliver W. Cameron. He has important roles in four of Brownrigg’s movies. Terror on Tape, a trustworthy video guide, says Basement was “seen by millions of drive-in patrons thanks to saturation bookings throughout the ‘70s on the bottom half of innumerable double bills.” Brownrigg would return to tell us what not to do with Don’t Open the Door.
Don’t Open the Door! (1975)
dir. S.F. Brownrigg
written by S.F. Brownrigg
w/ Susan Bracken, Annabelle Weenick, Gene Ross, Larry O’Dwyer, Rhea MacAdams, Jim Harrell, Hugh Feagin
Amanda (Susan Bracken) returns to her childhood home where her mother was murdered thirteen years ago. Now her grandmother (Rhea MacAdams) lives there, ailing under suspicious circumstances. Right away, Amanda begins to receive phone calls from a menacing whisperer. It’s not as much fun as Brownrigg’s Don’t Look in the Basement (1972) but more gothic in its atmosphere and retaining his stars Weenick, Ross, MacAdams and Feagin, as well as cinematographer Robert Alcott. Brownrigg makes the most of a Hitchcockian widow’s walk and opens the movie quite cleverly with Judge Stemple (unforgettable Gene Ross) and his wife Annie (Annabelle Weenick) arguing on a train…but it’s not a train, exactly. Aside from Brownrigg’s Scum of the Earth (1974) and Keep My Grave Open (1976), plus small roles as lead vigilante yokel in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) and Warden Clements in David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997), Ross did not have the career he might have—on par with supporting greats like Ned Beatty and Charles Durning.
Ed Gein a/k/a In the Light of the Moon (2000) dir. Chuck Parello
written by Stephen Johnston
w/ Steve Railsback, Carrie Snodgrass, Carol Mansell, Sally Champlin, Steve Blackwood, Nancy Linehan Charles, Pat Skipper, Lee McLaughlin, Jan Hoag
Known for his evil-eyed portrayal of Charles Manson in Helter Skelter (1976), Steve Railsback is an ideal choice to play the equally famous Ed Gein. He resurrects the sympathetic, even childlike Gein established by Roberts Blossom in Deranged (1974) yet pushes the transsexual angle more than previous incarnations. Almost all of the performances are remarkably natural: Champlin as a smutty bartender, Hoag and McLaughlin as neighbors, and Mansell as the storekeeper who’ll be found by police hanging in Gein’s barn. Carrie Snodgrass (The Fury, Bartleby) is well-cast as Gein’s fanatical mother, a larger role due to flashback scenes, but her recurring appearances as a sort of ghost feel forced. All in all it’s an honorable addition to a string of Gein-inspired films that began with Hitchcock’s Psycho in 1960. According to Time Out: “As with the best scenes of Deranged [see entry above], the conjunction of colourful case history, odd impulses, gallows humor, low budget austerity and genuinely grotesque iconogoraphy produces a felicitous and engaging variant of American Gothic.”
Excision (2012) dir. Richard Bates Jr.
written by Richard Bates Jr.
w/ AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords, Roger Bart, Ariel Winter, John Waters, Jeremy Sumpter, Marlee Matlin, Malcolm McDowell, Ray Wise, Matthew Gray Gubler
Pauline is sick in the head, an outsider at her suburban high school, with greasy hair and hunched posture. She’s an embarrassment to her pruned rose of a mother (played superbly by pornstar-turned-actor Traci Lords in her most serious role yet) who forces Pauline to attend cotillion classes. The even, almost Hal Hartley-like tone of Pauline’s speaking voice belies the crudeness of her jabs—not to mention the extremity of her blood-drenched sexual fantasies. It’s an unforgettable performance by AnnaLynne McCord, playing opposite her neo-90210 role. Pauline’s dad (Roger Bart) is henpecked though sympathetic and her sister with cystic fibrosis (Ariel Winter) needs a lung transplant. The supporting cast includes Malcolm McDowell (Clockwork Orange), Ray Wise (Twin Peaks), Marlee Matlin (Children of a Lesser God, The L Word), and revered John Waters as the family’s reverend. A nearly perfect debut for Richard Bates Jr., based on his short film from 2008. In an interview with IconsOfFright.com, he claims to have been inspired by a mix of Dario Argento, Alejandro Jodorowski, David Cronenberg, Todd Solondz, and the cult classic Ladies & Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (1982). 81 minutes.
The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) dir. John Boorman
written by William Goodheart
w/ Linda Blair, Richard Burton, Louise Fletcher, Kitty Winn, Ned Beatty, Paul Henreid, James Earl Jones, Barbara Cason, Ken Renard, Dada Plato
Hiring the director of Deliverance (1972) and Zardoz (1974) to make a supernatural horror movie proved unwise. First of all, he insisted that the Exorcist sequel should have a positive message. Blair, however, blames unofficial co-writer (re-writer) Rospo Pallenberg: “He solely destroyed Exorcist II because of the rewrites,” Blair told Femme Fatales magazine. “At one point he had Regan and Father Lamont in a sexual scene! That’s how gross this man was.” The resulting movie has been deemed one of the stupidest ever made. Regan is now sweet 16, just the right age for lip-gloss and synchronized hypnosis. . She goes under with her therapist (Louise Fletcher a/k/a Nurse Ratchet of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and Father Lamont (Richard Burton of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), opening a Catholic version of Pandora’s box that’s full of dogmatic mumbo jumbo, forced symbolism, hokey effects, flashbacks, dreams, subplots, African tribes, and postcolonial racism. The locust horde finale is what I remember most from seeing this on TV as a kid, and how Regan circles her hand overhead like we used to do on skates to Devo’s “Whip It!” Whatever it is, Exorcist II is a nonstop 2-hour ride and fun to watch with friends, be they drunks or druggies.
Footprints on the Moon a/k/a Le Orme a/k/a Primal Impulse (1975) dir. Luigi Bazzoni
written by Luigi Bazzoni, Luigi Fenelli
w/ Florinda Bolkan, Peter McEnery, Klaus Kinski, Nicoletta Elmi
A figure in a space suit is abandoned on the moon and then Alice wakes up. Alice is played by cult siren Florinda Bolkan (A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin). Her recurring dream serves as a motif in this slowly unfolding Italian psychodrama. Alice wakes up and cannot account for the last three days. A torn up postcard on her kitchen counter, her only clue, brings her to a massive coastal resort in its off-season. Way off. The few other guests, including a red-haired girl (Nicoletta Elmi), recognize her—yet she cannot recall them. The clues don’t make sense to her, nor to me for that matter. But I found myself absorbed. The score by Nicola Piovani (Oscar-winner for Life Is Beautiful) definitely helped me get into it. What a tripped-out ending with Klaus Kinski in a cameo role! It’s been categorized as horror, though there’s no gore, and giallo though there’s no detective. It reminds me more of movies like Don’t Look Now (1973) and The Haunting of Julia (1977), each about a woman’s nervous breakdown. DVD available online from Cinema de Bizarre. My somewhat rough copy is dubbed in English and subtitled in a language I don’t recognize.
Found (2012) dir. Scott Schirmer
written by Scott Schirmer
w/ Gavin Brown, Ethan Philbeck, Phyllis Munro, Louie Lawless, Kitsie Duncan, Adrian Cox-Thurmond, Alex Kogin, Andy Alphonse, Kate Braun
A coming-of-age story about a bullied fifth-grader named Marty (Gavin Brown), the film’s narrator, who’s into renting horror movies and snooping around his older brother Steve’s (Ethan Philbeck) bedroom. Right away Marty shows us the bowling bag in Steve’s closet and the human head inside, one in a series of African-American victims. Marty will regret keeping this secret as others pay for his misguided loyalty. Schirmer on his website says this film captures a moment in many boys’ lives when they are forced to sacrifice core parts of their humanity just to compete and survive among peers: “And in the depiction of Steve, the older brother, I think we see how dangerous that sacrifice can be. Because sometimes boys don’t grow into men. Sometimes they become monsters.” The brilliance of Schirmer’s $8,000 debut, based on a novel by Todd Rigney, is that it rewards viewers in two important ways. Marty’s extra-cheesy and ultra-sleazy horror rentals provide Found’s most graphic onscreen violence. While strong performances encourage our emotional involvement with the characters thus making the offscreen violence so much more traumatic. Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, who usually makes fun of the movies she screens, is sincere when she champions Found, declaring it “as Horror as Horror can get.” Shot in and around Bloomington, Indiana, with effects by Clockwerk Creature Company. 105 minutes.
Frightmare a/k/a Cover Up
a/k/a Once Upon a Frightmare (1974)
dir. Pete Walker
written by David McGillivray
w/ Sheila Keith, Rupert Davies, Deborah Fairfax, Kim Butcher
I myself tend to like movies that begin with someone released or escaping from a mental institution. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971), for example, or the classic Strait-Jacket (1964). This one is an odd psychodrama about family, codependence, and cannibalism. The deceptively dotty Mom is played by Sheila Keith, an underground marvel in several Walker films (e.g. House of Whipcord). She gives tarot readings, killing tasty clients who reveal they are alone in the world. Her husband (Rupert Davies) is devoted to her, though their daughters (Fairfax, Butcher) remain wary. Set in London, the color is tawdry and mom’s violence shocking for the time. One murder involves a power drill. Score by Stanley Myers (Deer Hunter, Paperhouse, Dreamchild). Next up for Walker: The Confessional and Schizo (both 1976).
The Funhouse (1981) dir. Tobe Hooper
written by Lawrence Block
w/ Elizabeth Berridge, Kevin Conway, Sylvia Miles, Wayne Doba, Shawn Carson, Jeanne Austin, Cooper Huckabee, Jack McDermott, Largo Woodruff, William Finley, Miles Chapin
The twisted “family honor” theme established in Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1972) is here a keystone of the carnie world. Kevin Conway is brilliant in his three roles, the main one being funhouse operator. No matter what, he protects his monstrously deformed son (Wayne Doba). It’s genuinely moving when he says to his son, “As God as my witness, I do not hate the sound of your voice.” The plot involves four teen-types who decide to stay the night in the funhouse, thinking it a cool place for making out and smoking pot. They witness the son murder fortune-teller Zena (Warhol star Sylvia Miles, perfectly cast) and are killed off one by one (so be it) until the final girl finds herself in one of most original “terrible places” in horror history. The very likable Elizabeth Berridge (who plays Constanze Mozartin in Amadeus) has a distinct presence despite being a walking allusion to Laurie in Halloween (1978). Hooper gets a lot of atmosphere out of the carnie-colored setting and Rick Baker’s creature design is horrific, slobbering and twitching.
Gacy (2002) dir. Clive Saunders
written by David Birke, Clive Saunders
w/ Mark Holton, Charlie Weber, Adam Baldwin, Tom Waldman, Kenneth Swartz, Larry Hankin, Oren Skoog
One of Holton’s first roles was a clown on the family sitcom Webster (1985). How fitting he should be cast as serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Closeted homosexual, general handyman, and clown at kids’ parties, Gacy keeps handcuffs and a dildo in his toolbox. Many of the 29 murders he commits—hustlers and young working-class guys—are done while his wife and mom are home. He buries their bodies in a crawlspace under the floor that becomes infested with bugs, a ‘telltale heart’ motif inducing repeated shivers. A direct-to-video release, Gacy is rated R and worth seeking out if you like serial killer plots. For a really good deal, buy First Look Studio’s ‘Killer 3 DVD Pack’ with Gacy, Ed Gein (2000), and Dahmer (2002). Few killers in the last century had personalities as twisted as these three psychos. Gacy’s last words before death by lethal injection were “Kiss my ass!”
Ganja and Hess a/k/a Blood Couple a/k/a Double Possession (1973)
dir. Bill Gunn
written by Bill Gunn
w/ Duane Jones, Marlene Clark, Bill Gunn, Sam Waymon, Leonard Jackson, Candece Tarpley, Richard Harrow, John Hoffmeister, Betty Barney, Mabel King
Duane Jones played the hero Ben in Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) plays Dr. Hess Green, an anthropologist. We first meet him through his chauffeur, otherwise a reverend, played by Sam Waymon (Nina Simone’s brother). Rev. Williams’ church, with its African-American traditions, functions as contrast to Hess’s white academic world where Africa is not a motherland but a field of study. The first part of the film concerns a visitor to Hess’s mansion (Bill Gunn) who stabs Hess with a ritual dagger that—we learn slowly and unsurely—makes him addicted to human blood. Next to arrive is classy, impudent Ganja played by Clark (Black Mamba, Beast Must Die). She accepts his addiction: “Everybody’s some kind of freak. Everybody I know is into something, you know?” The two become a blood couple, though you should avoid the VHS under the title Blood Couple. Gunn’s original print was considered too slow and symbolic for producers expecting blaxploitation; it was reedited and cut down to an unintelligible 78 minutes. Only 25 years later, with this restored 110-minute version titled Ganja and Hess, is the film’s brilliance accessible. Sam Waymon’s score plays a major role in the film’s impact. Gunn also wrote Hal Ashby’s The Landlord (1970).
Ginger Snaps (2000) dir. John Fawcett
written by Karen Walton
w/ Emily Perkins, Katharine Isabelle, Ann Baggley, Kris Lemche, Mimi Rogers, Jesse Ross, Danielle Hampton, Lindsay Leese, Peter Keleghan
Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) are artsy, death-obsessed sisters, indulged at home but alienated at school. The night Ginger finally gets her first period, she survives a werewolf attack. Cleverly conflating the transformation processes of puberty and lycanthropy, Ginger Snaps is like a David Cronenberg spin on Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Strong lead performances, excellent creature effects, an intelligent script mingling dark humor and emotional substance, plus lots of style make this one of the most rewarding horror movies of its time. But its cult status was hard won. The shootings at Columbine in 1999 stalled production as investors grew nervous about the movie’s gore-dripping teen violence, some of which occurs at a high school. Not until released on DVD did it gain a following—enough to demand two sequels, both released in 2004: Ginger Snaps: Unleashed and Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning. John Fawcett and Karen Walton went on to create Orphan Black (2013-2017).
God Told Me To (1976) dir. Larry Cohen
written by Larry Cohen
w/ Tony Lo Bianco, Richard Lynch, Sylvia Sidney, Andy Kaufman, Sandy Dennis, Deborah Raffin
A sniper climbs a tower, picking off fourteen NYC pedestrians with perfect aim. Sgt. Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco) asks him why he did it. His answer is “God told me to.” This is the first in a series of such shootings investigated by Nicholas. A devout Catholic, he must renegotiate his faith as he uncovers a mind-blowing conspiracy at the center of which is an androgynous Jesus-figure whose face no one can remember. Sylvia Sidney (Dead End, Mars Attacks) and Sandy Dennis (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) get the most out of their minor roles, as usual. More philosophical than other Cohen films like It’s Alive (1974) or Q (1982), this cult classic still has no equal. And I’m glad to say no remake, though its theme certainly resonates in these violent ‘end times.’ On DVD from Blue Underground.
The Godmonster of Indian Flats (1973) dir. Fredric Hobbs
written by Fredric Hobbs
w/ Christopher Brooks, Stuart Lancaster, E. Kerrigan Prescott, Peggy Browne, Richard Marion, Karen Ingenthron, Robert Hirschfeld, Steven Kent Browne
A horror-western from the director of Alabama’s Ghost, also 1973. It’s about a mutant sheep that’s either a throwback to the prehistoric age or a product of phosphorous gas. Stuart Lancaster (known for playing the old man in Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!) plays the mayor of an ‘old west’ tourist town where the beast runs amok—hilarious, especially in broad daylight. The strangest element of the movie is its unaddressed racial tension. An African-American real estate developer (Christopher Brooks) visits the town as a possible investment site, provoking not gratitude but backlash. The white locals never use racist language as they conspire against him, even as they prepare his noose, a factor as conspicuous as it is ambiguous. André Brummer, who’s scored some real stinkers, here jumbles classical, honytonk, and Theremin. The DVD special features include two vintage PSMs (on rats and flies), three vintage short films (recommended!), and a drive-in poster gallery. Brought to us by Something Weird.
Good Neighbors (2010) dir. Jacob Tierney
written by Jacob Tierney
w/ Emily Hampshire, Jay Baruchel, Scott Speedman, Xavier Dolan, Gary Farmer, Kaniehtiio Horn, Anne-Marie Cadieux, Micheline Lanctôt, Pat Kiely
New tenant Victor (Jay Baruchel), nervous and over-apologetic, ingratiates himself into the lives of other tenants: a disabled snob named Spencer (Scott Speedman) and the stoic but likable Louise (Emily Hampshire), owner of two cats that get out to annoy a bitchy Francophone (Anne-Marie Cadieux) across the courtyard. It’s the dead of winter and a series of murders in the area have made Louise afraid to walk home alone at night. Victor is more than willing to play hero, soon claiming her as his fiancée when she’s not. Rex Reed named Jacob Tierney one of Canada’s most original filmmakers: “Mr. Tierney shocks and provokes but leaves no trace of ennui—and you’ll be amazed how much curdled drama you can get out of the contents of a can of cat food.” Based on Chrystine Brouillet’s novel. Emily Hampshire—known for playing Stevie Budd on Schitt’s Creek (2015-2017)—is great as Louise, whose cat obsession reminds me of my neighbor’s bumper sticker: “The more I learn about people the more I love my cats.” It could be this movie’s tagline.
Gruesome Twosome (1967)
dir. Herschell Gordon Lewis
written by Allison Louise Downe
w/ Elizabeth Davis, Gretchen Wells, Chris Martell, Kathy Baker, Rodney Bedell, Ronnie Cass, Barrie Walton, Karl Stoeber, Diane Wilhite, Andrea Barr
The old lady proprietor of The Little Wig Shop (Elizabeth Davis) seems nice but she talks to her stuffed cat named Napoleon as if it were alive. As well, her retarded son (Chris Martell) kills and scalps young females for her. I’d heard of ‘human hair’ wigs before and imagined a kitschy nightmare not too different from this. The filler scenes—like sorority girls sitting around listening to a song on the radio—are unintentionally the best parts. As the movie guide Terror on Tape puts it: “If the acting were any broader, they’d have knocked the camera over.” Set in sunny Florida. 72 minutes. Allison Downe next wrote the H.G. Lewis movies The Girl, the Body, and the Pill (1967) and She-Devils on Wheels (1968).
Happy Mother’s Day, Love George
a/k/a Run Stranger Run (1973)
dir. Darren McGavin
written by Robert Clouse
w/ Ron Howard, Patricia Neal, Tessa Dahl, Cloris Leachman, Bobby Darin, Joseph Mascolo, Kathie Browne, Simon Oakland, Thayer David, Gale Garnett
TV child star Ron Howard has grown up and the title suggests he might be playing an oedipally fixated killer. He is not. This psychodrama is far harder to diagnose. Howard plays an adopted teen with dark hair who’s old enough now to seek out his birth parents, bringing him to a Nova Scotia fishing village where four locals have recently been murdered. Cloris Leachman (Last Picture Show, Mary Tyler Moore Show) may be his mom, but Patricis Neal (Fountainhead, A Face in the Crowd) is the cantankerous matriarch who tells him the answers he needs to know. She also admits to doing everything she could to induce an abortion when she was pregnant with her now troubled teen daughter, a debut for Tessa Dahl whose out of place British accent and overacting kind of suits the manic role. Dahl, by the way, is the daughter of Neal and author Roald Dahl. Directed by Night Stalker star Darren McGavin, Happy Mother’s Day, Love George is strictly for those who like atmosphere, mystery, and that dated yet timeless timeless early-‘70s look. Rated PG despite a castration shot. Hard to find on VHS and impossible to find as a legit DVD.
The Haunting of Julia a/k/a Full Circle (1977)
dir. Richard Loncraine
written by Harry Bromley Davenport, Dave Humphries
w/ Mia Farrow, Tom Conti, Jill Bennett, Robin Gammell, Cathleen Nesbitt, Damaris Hayman, Anna Wing, Edward Hardwicke, Mary Morris, Pauline Jameson
A moody, inward film, it’s so underrated it’s not even on DVD. Like The Haunting (1963), the plot centers on an emotionally disturbed female in a haunted house. Here it’s guilt-racked, grieving mother Julia Lofting played by Mia Farrow, still with her Rosemary’s Baby haircut. The opening scene and the final scene are so sensitively done yet raw and shocking too. All the way through, Peter Hannan’s every shot (in Eastmancolor) is well crafted and perfectly in tune with the truly haunting score by Colin Towns. The supporting players are UK gold, especially Julia Bennett (The Nanny) as the sister-in-law, Tom Conti (Shirley Valentine) as Julia’s protective friend, Cathleen Nesbitt (Promise Her Anything, Separate Tables) in an insane asylum, and Anna Wing as the séance medium. I never tire of this movie. In fact it’s required viewing when I’m feeling depressed. Based on Peter Straub’s gripping, claustrophobic novel Julia from 1975. On VHS though rare. Currently available to rent online at Amazon Video.
Hereditary (2018) dir. Ari Aster
written by Ari Aster
w/ Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne, Ann Dowd, Mallory Bechtel, Jake Brown, Brock McKinney, Austin Grant, Gabriel Monroe Eckert
The Strange Thing About the Johnsons (2011) is a shocking, Todd Solondz-like short film that steadily achieved word-of-mouth cult status online. Munchausen (2013), another short, stars Bonnie Bedelia as a pathological mother. There is a clean line from these Ari Aster shorts to his feature length debut Hereditary, a film that united most critics in acclaim while dividing love-it-or-hate-it audiences. To me its unhurried pace never—or at least rarely—seems drawn out; it unfurls with tension, disorientation, ambiguous significances. The immediacy of its details, like the opening’s conflicted eulogy for the family matriarch, or a bird-faced girl’s clucking her tongue absently, will grab psychodrama fans by the throat. Not that there isn’t horror to come, indeed body horror and a body count, but it is the performances that intensify this film’s slow boil. Toni Collette, with harrowing complexity, plays long-troubled Annie, a self-absorbed artist from a family line riddled with mental illness-related tragedies. Her dollhouse dramatizations of trauma and grief are autobiographical and architectural, confessional and objective. She is not so attentive to her 16-year-old son Peter (Alex Wolff), 13-year-old daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro), and saintly patient husband (Gabriel Byrne). Will the death of Annie’s mother destroy them all? Much like Rosemary’s Baby (1968), including an interfering “biddy” character (superbly played by Ann Dowd), Hereditary bends with apocalyptic fatalism from psychological thriller to supernatural horror. Wolff (son of Thirtysomething’s Polly Draper) and Shapiro (Broadway’s original Matilda) hold their own with Collette, wholly embodying their characters’ distressing extremes. Unforgettable. 127 minutes.
Homebodies (1972) dir. Larry Yust
written by Howard Kaminsky, Bennett Sims, Larry Yust
w/ Paula Trueman, Frances Fuller, Ian Wolfe, Ruth McDevitt, Peter Brocco, William Hansen, Douglas Fowley, Linda Marsh, Kenneth Tobey, William ‘Billy’ Benedict
If Larry Yust is famous at all it is for his 1969 adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” that many kids watched in high school classrooms throughout the 1970s-‘80s. He also directed the blaxploitation classic Trick Baby (1973). In between he made this borderline tour de force with an impressive ensemble cast. Darkly comic and socially conscious, it may appeal to those who enjoy movies from the ‘70s about people in their seventies like Harry & Tonto (1974) and Going in Style (1979). Like the former, the movie opens with the displacement of elderly people from a city apartment building where they’ve lived for decades. Harry takes his cat Tonto on a road trip but the residents in Yust’s film are such homebodies that they take to killing in order to stall demolition. The main saboteurs are Mattie and the building’s superintendent Mr. Loomis, played by Paula Trueman and Ian Wolfe whose careers date back to the early 1930s. Other players with long careers in movies are Frnces Fuller as Mattie’s companion whose dad once owned the building, familiar face Ruth McDevitt (pet shop sales lady in The Birds) as Mrs. Loomis, and Peter Brocco as the blind man. When we first meet Mattie, who moves with chicken-like quickness, she’s observing a new high-rise under construction down the street. A worker falls to his death as she eats from a box of prunes. And so it begins. Delicious! For now hard to find; try YouTube.
House by the Cemetery (1981) dir. Lucio Fulci
written by Lucio Fulci, Giorgio Mariuzzo, Dardano Sacchetti
w/ Catriona a/k/a Katherine MacColl, Paolo Malco, Giovanni Frezza, Silvia Collatina, Dagmar Lassander, Giovanni De Nava
The third and last in Fulci’s Gates of Hell series is more like the second than the first, simply relocated from a Louisiana hotel to a cemetery-adjacent house outside Boston. Actually there’s at least one grave inside the house, that of mysterious Dr. Freudstein (Giovanni De Nava). An academic (Malco), his neurotic wife (horror icon Katherine MacColl), and their badly dubbed little boy (Giovanni Frezza) move in and open a door to the netherworld—i.e., the basement. Giannetto de Rossi (High Tension) achieves some good ol’ hands-on gore effects, splatteriffic enough to qualify for Video Nasty status. Though City of the Living Dead (1980) cannot be topped, and The Beyond (earlier 1981) offers the most style (certainly the most stylish acid-melting-face scene ever), House by the Cemetery can claim the most nail-biting climax in the series—with a somber twist and a beautiful ending shot (all the more so thanks to letterboxing). Avoid VHS copies altogether. There’s a 3D version available on DVD but it’s cut to 84 minutes. Accept nothing less than the full length of 87 minutes. And turn the lights out.
How Awful About Allan (1978) dir. Curtis Harrington
written by Henry Farrell
w/ Anthony Perkins, Julie Harris, Joan Hackett, Kent Smith, Robert H. Harris, Molly Dodd, Billy Bowles, Trent Dolan, Bill Erwin
This forgotten Aaron Spelling production originally aired as an ABC Movie of the Week. Adapted from Farrell’s own novel. He also brought us the novel What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, mother of all psychodramas. How Awful About Allan can be thought of as a male companion to the Harrington-Farrell classic What’s the Matter with Helen? (1972). The original psycho himself, Anthony Perkins, plays Allan who goes hysterically blind when his father and sister are respectively killed and scarred in a house fire. Our story begins with Allan’s release from a mental hospital, returning home—still partially blind—at the same time that his one surviving sister (Julie Harris of The Haunting) has taken in a boarder to help pay bills. Has Allan been released too soon or is this new boarder really out to get him? Most would complain it’s slow but for Harrington fans it’s a must-see. 73 minutes.
The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009)
dir. Tom Six
written by Tom Six
w/ Dieter Laser, Ashley C. Williams, Ashlynn Yennie, Akihiro Kitamura
German actor Dieter Laser, of Volker Schlöndorff’s The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1975) and Ogre (1996), landed the role of his career as Nazi-like mad scientist Dr. Heiter. A surgeon famous for separating conjoined twins, he becomes obsessed with the opposite: conjoining separate bodies. After the film’s clunky opening, Heiter’s experiment begins in the basement lab of his isolated but very modern home. He sews three victims together, lips to anus, thus constructing a human centipede with one long digestive track. It’s not the ultraviolent splatterfest I expected. More conceptual, it relies mostly on suggestion for its shivers. It’s also highly stylized, not to mention sterilized. A loquacious martyr to his own vision, Heiter may never grow more complex as a character but he’s sure quirky with a scalpel. Tom Six in interviews has described Dr. Heiter as a grotesque parody of fascism. Once released on DVD, word of this movie spread rapidly and it became popular enough to be sold at Target.
The Human Centipede II (The Full Sequence) (2011) dir. Tom Six
written by Tom Six
w/ Laurence R. Harvey, Ashlynn Yennie, Maddi Black, Bill Hutchens, Dominic Borrelli, Vivien Bridson, Lee Harris, Hugo Sampson, Kandace Caine, Georgia Goodrick
Tom Six’s sequel defied all expectations and divided viewers. It opens with a parking garage attendant watching the final scene from the first Human Centipede on a laptop. He takes notes in a scrapbook and begins to collect his own victims. With very little dialogue, this sequel combines arthouse and horror to achieve an atmosphere similar to Wedding Trough (1975) or Eraserhead (1977). What is so impressive, though, is how it feels nothing like its original. Instead of a doctor’s chic home in crisp color, we get b+w in a tawdry apartment. Instead of surgeries in a sterile lab by a gaunt but verbose mad scientist, most of which is not shown, we get graphic footage of a retarded obese man connecting three times as many bodies together using box cutter, hammer, and stapler, all in a grimy warehouse without ever saying a word. Laurence Harvey offers a tour de force performance as the bug-eyed psycho, exaggerating the grotesqueness of his every feature—slobbering, sucking on his inhaler, blood-drenched and sweating. It’s a new extreme for Extreme Cinema, banned in the UK. I’m surprised to see that Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman gave it a B+: “The scatological climax would have the Marquis de Sade gagging into his popcorn.” The biggest and least successful production, 2015’s The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence), set in a prison, finished off the trilogy with a five-hundred person centipede.
I Dismember Mama a/k/a Poor Albert & Little Annie (1972)
dir. Paul Leder
written by William Norton
w/ Zooey Hall, Geri Resichl, Joanne Moore Jordan, Greg Mullavey
When I first met film professor Mikita Brottman, I named I Remember Mama (1948) as a sentimental fave. She answered “I Dismember Mama” and I knew we’d be fast friends. Mama is not dismembered, though, in this eccentric if slightly dull psychodrama. Yes hip-looking Albert (Zooey Hall) was committed to a mental hospital for attacking his mother, and it’s assumed he’s escaped to finish the job, but after killing a housekeeper he spends his time seducing a nine-year-old Shirley Temple type (Geri Reischl). Greg Mullavey (Mr. Hartman from Mary Hartman) is the detective hot on his trail. More campy than sickie, more cat-and-mouse by daylight than violence at night, it does offer bold colors and Zooey Hall. His performance stands alongside Roberts Blossom’s in Deranged (1974) and Cameron Mitchell’s in The Toolbox Murders (1978). “Poor Albert” is the theme song.
The Incredible Melting Man (1977) dir. William Sachs
written by William Sachs
w/ Alex Rebar, Michael Alldredge, Burr DeBenning, Myron Healey, Ann Sweeny, Edwin Max, Dorothy Love, Janus Blythe, Jonathan Demme
Astronauts exploring the rings of Saturn are exposed to a radioactive light. All are killed but one (Alex Rebar) and he returns to earth stricken with a disease that transforms him into a putrid, oozing monster who craves human flesh. The only words of admiration ever written about this film refer to special effects by Rick Baker (American Werewolf in London, Hellboy). Rebar drips goop incessantly, losing eyeball, ear, arm—the final meltdown is a must-see. Producers may have insisted on a serious tone but Sachs’ original comedy-horror intentions are frequently evident. Victim #1 is a nurse who runs screaming down a really long hallway in hilarious slow-mo. You can watch the clip on YouTube under the title “The Incredible Running Nurse.” In the most overtly comic scene, the monster kills a bantering elderly couple (Max, Love) out to steal lemons from a roadside grove. Look for Demme in a bit part. Melting Man played in theaters and drive-ins, was released as a novelization in 1978, later aired on TV where I first saw it as a kid, was re-mastered for Orion Video, and is now a Blu-ray with the tagline “The first new horror creature!” Sachs made this memorable stinker between his two documentaries on aliens, Secrets of the Gods (1976) and The Force Beyond (1978).
Invasion of the Blood Farmers (1972) dir. Ed Adlum
written by Ed Adlum, Ed Kelleher
w/ Norman Kelley, Tanna Hunter, Bruce Detrick, Paul Craig Jennings, Jack Neubeck, Richard Erickson, Cynthia Fleming
One of my favorite horror cheapies is Shriek of the Mutilated (1974), written and produced by Ed Adlum and featuring him as a Yeti. This is his directorial one-off, edited by Michael Findlay, about Druids who need blood to resurrect their queen (Fleming). Undercover in overalls, they kill and drain various locals in a New York farming community. James O’Neill’s movie guide Terror on Tape calls it a bad taste classic. If admired, it’s for achieving that dated combo of cheesy content and beautifully saturated color photography. Even my crappy VHS dub has vibrant color so the Special Deluxe Widescreen Version on DVD must be eye-popping. The cast was paid in beer, six-packs to be precise. 84 minutes.
Isn’t It Shocking? (1973) dir. John Badham
written by Lane Slate
w/ Alan Alda, Louise Lasser, Will Geer, Lloyd Nolan, Ruth Gordon, Edmond O’Brien, Dorothy Tristan, Patricia Quinn, Liam Dunn
Alan Alda’s Hawkeye character from MASH (then in its second season) seems to peek out from behind the small town sheriff character he’s playing in this made-for-TV movie. Though Mary Hartman is a few years off for Louise Lasser, she wears her pigtails in the same way for her character Blanche, the police department receptionist. Along with her and Will Geer, famous at the time as Grandpa on The Waltons, the sheriff investigates several not so natural deaths in the town. A curious take on the serial killer, Shocking opens with an old man (Edmond O’Brien of The Love God?) defibrillating some old woman to death. Turns out all the victims graduated from the local high school in 1928. Victims include two Hollywood greats: Lloyd Nolan (his last role was Hannah’s dad in Hannah and Her Sisters) as the deputy and Ruth Gordon (Maude in Harold and Maude) as a dotty taxi driver who never wears a bra. She spouts the most memorable line: “You lose Buckwheat! Get yourself another girl!” 74 minutes. Badham went on to direct Saturday Night Fever (1977), Whose Life Is It Anyway? (1981), WarGames (1983), and a lot of other stuff less worth mentioning.
The Johnsons (1992) dir. Rudolf van den Berg
written by Leon de Winter, Kees Beentjes, Rocco Simonelli
w/ Monique van de Ven, Esmée de la Bretonière, Kenneth Herdigein, Rik van Uffelen, Nelly Frijda, Otto Sterman, Olga Zuiderhoek
Equal parts tension and camp, The Johnsons is an unpredictable gyno-horror flick from the Netherlands that pivots on the troubling genre convention of rooting evil in primitive cultures. Here it’s the ancient Amazonian god Xangadix, an evil embryo encased in crystal. The confusing backstory involves a mad doctor who, while artificially inseminating a young photographer named Victoria (Monique van de Ven) as per her request, steals her eggs to create psychopathic septuplets. At age 14, Victoria’s daughter Emalee (Esmée de la Bretonière) starts having blood-drenched nightmares that she assumes are related to getting her first period. Neither she nor her mom know that, according to prophecy, the septuplets are fated to impregnate blue-eyed Emalee, making her a vessel for Xangadix. An anthropologist (Kenneth Herdigein) and his kooky dad (Otto Sterman) attempt to abort the big, bug-eyed tadpole before it’s too late. 103 minutes.
The Killing Kind (1973) dir. Curtis Harrington
written by Tony Crechales, George Edwards
w/ John Savage, Ann Sothern, Ruth Roman, Cindy Williams, Luana Anders, Peter Brocco, Marjorie Eaton, Sue Bernard
Harrington’s Night Tide (1961) is considered a cult classic, though I find it as dull as it is mysterious. The Killing Kind, if one forgoes horror expectations and accepts it as an offbeat psychodrama, is much more engaging. Terry (John Savage) refuses to participate in a gang rape but his friends literally push him onto the woman, pulling down his shorts. A freeze-frame close-up of him screaming begins the opening credits. The implication is interesting: Does forcing a man to rape make him “the killing kind”? Terry spends two years in jail and this movie focuses on his re-maladjustment to society. John Savage (The Deer Hunter, Hair, Carnivàle) is riveting as the antihero but it’s his somewhat oedipal relationship with mom (Ann Sothern of A Letter to Three Wives, The Ann Sothern Show) that turns mere tension into centrifuge. The supporting cast is also intriguing. Luana Anders (Dementia 13) is a sexually repressed neighbor whose disabled father (Peter Brocco) wears makeup and jewelry. Cindy Williams (Laverne & Shirley) is a boarder, Sue Bernard (the whiny hostage from Faster Pussycat) is a hoot as Tina, and Ruth Roman (Strangers on a Train, The Baby) is Terry’s mature lover. The Killing Kind has a great movie poster with the tagline: “Terry loved soft, furry, little animals. He loved his mother. He loved pretty girls. All dead!” But ineffectual distribution landed it in the vault, unshown for decades. The DVD includes a 20-minute interview with Harrington who started out making avant-garde short films and was friends with Kenneth Anger. Check YouTube for the short docu on him called House of Harrington (2008).
Last House on Dead End Street
a/k/a The Cuckoo Clocks of Hell (1977)
dir. Roger Watkins
written by Roger Watkins
w/ Roger Watkins, Dennis Crawford, Lawrence Bornman, Janet Sorley, Paul Phillips, Elaine Norcross
An antisocial ex-con named Terry (the meth-addicted Roger Watkins playing himself, basically) is gonna show ‘em all, he declares. He hires the perfect snuff film crew: two twisted chicks, a huge thug with a handlebar mustache, and a homely cameraman. The first half of LHODES offers a lot of voiceover footage (slaughterhouse shots and a nudie film) but we also get to see a pervy party involving a pornographer whose wife dons blackface and is mercilessly whipped for several minutes by a seemingly retarded man. These are the kind of unsympathetic characters who will ‘star’ in Terry’s snuff films. Though a woman gets the worst treatment—face sliced up, dismembered alive, then eviscerated—the film crew’s sadism is not so gender-discriminating. As Sleazoid Express explains: “Last House is a film within a film motivated by a hate of pornography and the swingers who create it. What goes around comes around in the porno underworld, and Terry makes this code his law, filming his targets as they take their last undignified breaths. In this sense, ugly as it is, the film is the ultimate sexual revenge movie.” Though the title and “It’s only a movie!” tagline are both lifted from Wes Craven’s sickie Last House On the Left (1972), there are no buffoon cops disrupting the tension. It’s also far quirkier in its depravity. In one scene a man is forced to fellate a deer hoof! Avoid the VHS copies still floating around because they are probably cut versions and too dark. I ordered an uncut bootleg years ago from Shocking Video, now sadly closed. As of 2018, however, an uncut transfer from 16mm materials is available on DVD.
The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972) dir. Charles B. Pierce
written by Earl E. Smith
w/ Willie E. Smith, Jeff Crabtree, John Nixon, William Stumpp
Pure docudrama, this low-budget moneymaker thrilled its initial audiences much like Blair Witch Project did three decades later. But this one, about a Bigfoot in the bottoms of Fauke, Arkansas, is based on actual sightings that date back to the 1950s and features locals in interviews or playing themselves in reenactments on actual locations. Its roughness, especially on VHS, only adds to its sense of authenticity. The creature “always travels the creeks,” the narrator recalls. “That was one of the first things we figured out.” It terrorizes isolated homes on the creek not because it’s hungry but out of a “lonely frustration”—a very 1970s angle that we also hear echoed in the movie’s folksy theme song. Boggy Creek grossed $22 million at theaters and drive-ins, the seventh biggest film that year. I loved it as a kid, inaugurating a lifelong Bigfoot obsession. Nighttime scenes are much clearer on DVD (from CheesyFlix) than on my old VHS. In fact, watching it again I noticed the whole movie is more precisely shot and well-edited than I remembered. A scary treat for the G-rated set from the director of The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) and The Evictors (1979). He did not direct the Boggy Creek sequels, however, which have little to do with the original.
Legend of Hell House (1973) dir. John Hough
written by Richard Matheson
w/ Clive Revill, Roddy McDowall, Pamela Franklin, Gayle Hunnicut, Peter Bowles, Roland Culver, Michael Gough
Richard Matheson’s novel and subsequent screenplay may be ‘rip-offs’ of the brilliant Haunting of Hill House—Shirley Jackson’s novel (1959) and film adaptation (1963)—but it is certainly a fun rip-off. Clive Revill plays the parapsychologist-physicist in charge of the experiment and Gayle Hunnicut his wife. They are staying one week in “the Mt. Everest of haunted houses,” intent on proving or disproving its reputation. Much beloved Roddy McDowall really gets into his role as a physical medium scarred by prior experience in Hell House, when several people died. Pamela Franklin (The Innocents, Our Mother’s House, Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) plays the mental medium, a combination of Eleanor and Theodora for those who know Hill House, bringing much-needed energy, especially in her seance scenes. It turns out the violently angry ghost…well I won’t say, but it involves the amazing Michael Gough (Trog, Crucible of Horror, Batman) in one of the oddest cameos of all time. Made in England and the US for 20th Century Fox, with score by Delia Derbyshire, creator of the Dr. Who theme.
Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971) dir. John Hancock
written by John D. Hancock, Lee Kalcheim a/k/a Norman Jones
w/ Zohra Lampert, Barton Heyman, Kevin O’Connor, Mariclare Costello, Gretchen Corbett, Alan Manson
A windy, autumn day in rural Connecticut. A lingering score of piano and acoustic guitar. Jessica’s introspective narration alluding to time spent in a mental hospital. And so opens this is tenderly unfolding horror movie, its hazy yet measured plot feeling like The Innocents (1961) or Carnival of Souls (1962). Even though some elements are familiar, they combine unpredictably. Zohra Lampert (Angelina in Splendor in the Grass) is beaming with vulnerability as our title character, subtly restraining the psychodrama from her first onscreen moment. With her cellist boyfriend (Barton Heyman) and his pal who drives a hearse (Kevin O’Connor), Jessica arrives at their farmhouse to find a mysterious redhead with blue eyes (Mariclare Costello) squatting there. Unanimously charmed by her, they invite her to stay. Is Jessica really going mad or is this stranger to blame? Jessica was ripped off for Joan Crawford’s last vehicle titled Dear Joan: We’re Going to Scare You to Death (1972) and then itself aired in 1976 as an ABC Friday Night Movie. Thought lost for years, it’s now beautifully restored on DVD (widescreen) from Paramount.
a/k/a Secrets of the Death Room (1973)
dir. Jacques LaCerte
written by Jacques LaCerte
w/ Mary Wilcox, Lyle Waggoner, Christopher Stone, Michael Jacobs, Timothy Scott, Dassa Cates, Bill Quinn
This film can be compared to other psychodramas of the era like Daddy’s Deadly Darling (1972), The Baby (1973), and Deranged (1974). It’s early enough to qualify as genuine camp but late enough to be explicitly perverse and gory. Lindsay (Mary Wilcox) is a necrophile who attends the funerals of daddy-type men she doesn’t know—so she can kiss them goodbye. During the opening credits, a flashback montage reveals her childhood affair with her own daddy: the two rolling around together inappropriately while mom tries not to notice. This somehow translates into necrophilia in her adulthood. She joins a coven of Hollywood necrophiles whose leader (Timothy Scott) is a mortician. In an early scene that shocked even me, he embalms a gay hustler alive. Lindsay’s last-ditch effort to live a normal life prompts her to marry a daddy-type played by Lyle Waggoner, a then regular on The Carol Burnett Show. This springtime-happy interlude serves to heighten the dark perversity of the film’s necromantic finale. The story, compared to many horror films, moves forward instead of circling the drain. Love Me Deadly is available on DVD from Shriek Show.
Luther the Geek (1990) dir. Carlton J. Albright
written by Carlton J. Albright
w/ Edward Terry, Joan Roth, Stacy Haiduk, Thomas Mills, Jerry Clarke,
A geek is a freakshow act who bites the head off chickens. Luther (Edward Terry) is a menacing bald psycho with metal dentures who thinks he is a chicken, actually clucking and crowing. A “bleeding heart” parole board releases him on good behavior. After a funny grocery store scene (pictured), the rest of the movie alternates between cannibal creeps and victim stupidity—culminating in an unforgettable showdown. Allbright and Terry co-wrote a nuclear mishap titled The Children in 1980. They gave up altogether after this second horror feature, though I think it shows promise. 80 minutes.