The Dead Walk! A Short Guide to Zombie Movies

For a review of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead please click here!

DAY OF THE DEAD (1985) George Romero’s concluding entry in his original Living Dead trilogy (1968-85) might lack the excitement of both Night and Dawn of the Dead, but the unfairly maligned Day of the Dead is actually a solid film filled with inventive storytelling and some truly knock-your-socks-off FX. The living dead now outnumber humans 40,000 to 1. A group of survivors made up of doctors and military personnel have turned an underground missile silo into a laboratory where they can experiment on the undead and figure out a way to coexist. The scientists are led by the maniacal Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty), whose knife-happy dissection of the zombies grants him the nickname “Frankenstein.” The soldiers are commanded by the hot-headed Rhodes (Joe Pilato), who believes the only good zombie is a permanently dead one. Romero was forced to scale down his script when the film’s budget was cut in half, resulting in a chapter that feels incomplete. Despite its budgetary restrictions, Day of the Dead is an intelligent and intense movie featuring good acting—Sherman Howard’s Bub is a zombie for the ages—and some of Tom Savini’s most complex and realistic make-up work. Much better than Romero’s later and much-praised Land of the Dead. B+ (Currently streaming on Hulu, Peacock, and Shudder.)

OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES (1982) (AKA: Oasis of the Living Dead) Third Reich soldiers come back from the dead to protect their Nazi gold in this lousy French/Spanish Romero/Fulci clone. The movie uses the same template as previous zombie films: a group of people stranded in an exotic locate is pursued by hordes of the living dead. The difference with a production like Oasis of the Zombies is the inclusion of nondescript characters not worth giving a damn about. The characters in question are imbecilic treasure-seekers looking for lost gold in North Africa. Their arrival revives the decomposing corpses of German soldiers who take their sweet time killing the dolts. Those hoping for a gore-soaked zombie apocalypse will be sorely disappointed in director Jesús Franco’s handling of the material—too many uninteresting subplots take center stage, with the majority of the zombie action saved for the last ten minutes. Even Francophiles will most likely give this one a wide berth. Absolute dreck—this makes Zombie Lake (1981) seem good by comparison. F (Currently streaming on Tubi.)

SHOCK WAVES (1977) A group of tourists on a boat cruise are rammed by a ghost freighter and seek shelter at a nearby island. Unfortunately, the place is overlorded by a former Nazi commander (Peter Cushing) who’s been living on the island since the war with a squad of undying SS super-soldiers experimentally designed to adapt to their environment—in this case it’s water, which makes the perfect hiding spot for the zombies to attack their prey. The first of the short-lived “Nazi Zombies” subschool of Night of the Living Dead-influenced films, Shock Waves utilizes its claustrophobic atmosphere by offering a story with more suspense than violence; a rarity within a subculture of movies usually made with the sole purpose of delivering extreme bloodletting. Cushing is on hand to provide backstory but only appears in a few scenes, while the lovely Brooke Adams (The Dead Zone) makes an appealing and smart damsel in distress. This film was later ripped off as Zombie Lake, which according to numerous horror and zombie film scholars is one of the worst zombie movies of all time. How’s that for accolades? Director Ken Wiederhorn would go on to make another zombie movie (to lesser results) with Return of the Living Dead II. B (Currently streaming on Peacock and Prime.)

RAIDERS OF THE LIVING DEAD (1986) 1986 might be the date with which this movie is stamped but it was obviously filmed years earlier. A terrorist sporting Converse Chucks and a Sherpa jean jacket (severely dating this film in the process) tries to sabotage a nuclear power plant but ends up electrocuting himself and dying. A would-be journalist (Robert Deveau), investigating an abandoned farm where a mass grave was discovered, stumbles upon zombies controlled by a fiendish doctor (Leonard Corman). A Christmas Story‘s Scott Schwartz plays a suburban teen who transforms a LaserDisc player into a ray gun, which becomes a handy bully- and zombie-repellent. Boris Karloff’s costar in The Mummy, Zita Johann, is a local historian who informs Deveau about the unsavory activities happening at the nearby prison involving Corman. This cheap hodgepodge of half-baked ideas and seemingly unrelated subplots has the feel of having been stitched together from the remains of two unfinished movies. The title is supposed evoke the excitement of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Night of the Living Dead, but in reality Raiders of the Living Dead has more in common with a dead body: it’s stiff and lifeless. A real bore, with Schwartz giving a singularly terrible performance as the kid hero. D(Currently not streaming.)

ZOMBIE (1979) (AKA: Zombi 2, Zombie Flesh Eaters) A New York harbor patrolman is murdered by someone with a bad case of dermatitis. Local journalist Peter (Ian McCulloch) investigates and, along with a woman named Ann (Tisa Farrow), travels to an Antillean island called Matul, the last known whereabouts of Ann’s scientist father—who might have ties to the crime. They find the place crawling with voodoo-spawned zombies, which give new meaning to the term “chowing down” as they devour anything in their path—even sharks aren’t immune to the zombie mayhem. Along with a couple of vacationers, Peter and Ann search for her father’s colleague (Richard Johnson) but instead stumble upon his eviscerated wife being eaten by the living dead. In a bad move, Peter and Ann stop in a cemetery for some afternoon delight but are put out when a Spanish conquistador emerges from his musty grave and tears apart their friends—despite its advanced age, the zombie still drips goo and other bodily fluids. More people are chomped and turned into zombies during the apocalyptic ending, but it’s too late as the walking dead have already invaded civilization. This Italian splatter epic is essentially ripping off Dawn of the Dead—it was promoted in Italy as a sequel to Romero’s film, there known as Zombi—but in recent years has secured respect and admiration from critics as a genuine work of atmospheric horror, and deservedly so. Lucio Fulci’s direction is slick and the pacing quick, leaving very little time for the viewer to recover from one gory extreme before the next strikes. Fulci followed the success of this with several more zombie-infused bloodbaths before making a legitimate (and ill conceived) sequel in 1988. B+ (Currently streaming on AMC+, Shudder via Prime.)

Stay tuned for Part 2 of The Dead Walk!

Empire of the Ants, Night of the Demon, Prison

Empire of the Ants1977, US 89m. Director: Bert I. Gordon.

Mardi Gras Massacre – 1978, US, 95m. Director: Jack Weis.

Night of the Demon 1980, US, 96m. Director: James C. Wasson.

Prison1987, US, 100m. Director: Renny Harlin.

EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977) A group of people on an island property tour conducted by a crooked land development company run smack into mutated ants, made oversized by a leaking canister of toxic waste. After the ants feast on a perspective buyer and his wife, they destroy the tour boat, trapping the remaining characters on the island. Unfortunately for the survivors, the island is home to a small town overlorded by the evil sugar refinery responsible for the chemical leak. Do I smell an anti-big business message here? Actually, this is one of many sci-fi-horror films to use revenge-seeking insects/sharks/birds/fill-in-the-blank to propel its story of humans striving for ecological co-existence within a man-made disastrous environment. But unlike Hitchcock’s The Birds, in which the animals win and the characters must learn to live (and respect) their new surroundings, the people in Empire of the Ants exist within the confines of a Bert I. Gordon movie and must fight to the death. It’s all a bunch of cheap but enjoyable malarkey made in the same mold as Mr. B.I.G.’s Food of the Gods. B (Currently streaming on Tubi.)

MARDI GRAS MASSACRE (1978) Shades of Blood Feast flow through this cheap splatter flick shot in New Orleans. The murder of a prostitute—her heart was removed—causes a stir within the nearby police precinct. Straight-laced detective Curt Dawson believes the killing has ritualistic overtones and more women will turn up slaughtered. Dawson gets involved with a hooker (Gwen Arment) who was an eyewitness to the victim’s interaction with the suspect, but ultimately drops the ball when another woman is slain while Dawson and Arment are screwing. But the viewer already knows the killer (Bill Metzo) is sacrificing his victims to some sort of Aztec god and the hearts are being used as a sacrificial offering. Metzo’s territorial imperative is eventually overcome—and he’s plunged into a river and drowns. Plodding and dull. D (Currently streaming on Tubi.)

NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1980) Bigfoot is running amok in Southern California and tearing people to pieces (while fornicating with others) in this enjoyably salacious splatterfest. A camper gets his arm ripped off in the opening credits, the blood pooling in a large footprint left by the beast. The love-making of a couple is interrupted when Bigfoot drags the man off into the woods as his hapless girlfriend watches in horror. The creature plays helicopter with a man in a sleeping bag and impales the poor schlub on a tree trunk. An anthropologist (Michael Cutt) takes several students into the forest to capture evidence of the hairy man-beast and discovers a backwoods cult of Bigfoot-worshippers. The gore was added later by the film’s producer, including the scene where a motorcyclist gets his cock torn off—a realistic detail that got the movie banned in the UK. This is director James C. Wasson’s only feature film credit, which he followed by making several gay porn movies under the aliases Jim/Clinton West—explaining Night of the Demon‘s unusual amount of exposed male buttocks. B (Currently not streaming.)

PRISON (1987) Irwin Yablans, the producer of Halloween, came up with the story for this jailhouse supernatural slasher filmed in Wyoming. Prison overcrowding leads the state to reopen the once-closed Wyoming State Penitentiary. This doesn’t sit well with a bleeding heart liberal board member (Chelsea Fields), who’s more concerned with prison reform, or with prison warden Lane Smith, who’s been haunted by nightmares ever since witnessing the execution of an innocent man at the penitentiary back in ’64. The warden has every right to feel uncomfortable, especially when a malignant presence begins massacring several of the inmates and guards, using all manner of creativity to turn victims into meat pies. Has the spirit of the wrongly executed prisoner returned for vengeance? The first and best of the prison-set horror films of the late eighties, Prison‘s story is aided by a good cast, interesting characters, and some wild special effects—many showcased during the explosive finale. This was given a limited theatrical release, but eventually found a much-deserved audience on videocassette. B (Currently not streaming.)

Cat O’Nine Tails, Revenge of the Dead, Spider Labyrinth

The Cat O’Nine Tails1971, Italy, 112m. Director: Dario Argento.

Frankenstein ’80 – 1972, Italy, 85m. Director: Mario Mancini.

Revenge of the Dead1983, Italy, 89m. Director: Pupi Avati.

The Spider Labyrinth1988, Italy, 87m. Director: Gianfranco Giagni.

THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS (1971) A break-in at a genetics research facility doing experiments on criminal behavior might have something to do with a blackmail scheme overheard by a blind man (Karl Malden). When the blackmailer is tossed under a train, Malden seeks the help of a journalist (James Franciscus) to investigate the crime. More murders ensue, with anyone who’s connected to the blackmailer ending up on the wrong end of the killer’s blade. Not as sharply plotted as director Dario Argento’s debut film, Bird with the Crystal Plumage, this is still an effective story filled with the filmmaker’s visual flair and some suspense—including a scene where Franciscus’s girlfriend plays with a full glass of milk, unaware it’s poisoned. The movie runs too long and is often plodding, building to a lackluster conclusion that in more ways than one is a warm-up to the better executed climax of Deep Red (1975). C+ (Currently streaming on Plex and Tubi.)

FRANKENSTEIN ’80 (1972) The highly regarded Dr. Schwartz (Roberto Fizz) invents a serum (naturally called the Schwartz Serum), which prevents the body from rejecting organs during transplants. Unfortunately for Dr. Schwartz, his miracle serum is stolen by the fiendish Dr. Frankenstein (Gordon Mitchell), whose sense of self-importance is just as high as his disregard for his colleagues. Dr. Frankenstein uses the serum to create a monster called Mosaico (Xiro Papas)—once you see its face you’ll understand. Mosaico has a penchant for prostitutes (something the nearby town seems to be rife with), and after having sex with one he strangles her to stifle her screams of terror. More women turn up mangled, but the police are on the case. Will they put an end to Mosaico? Do you really care? Lots of T&A and crude gore effects abound in this Italian monstrosity. Funniest scene: Mosiaco using a beef bone to bash in the brains of a butcher. Director Mario Mancini was once a camera operator for Mario Bava. Judging from Frankenstein ’80, Mancini learned nothing. D (Currently streaming on Tubi.)

REVENGE OF THE DEAD (1983) (AKA: Zeder) In 1956, a young psychic girl is used to find the grave of a man named Paolo Zeder, a pseudoscientist who was researching the theory of “K-zones,” hidden spaces where time doesn’t exist and the dead can come back to life. Years later, a writer named Stefano (Gabriele Lavia) is given a used electric typewriter as a gift and discovers on the ribbon Zeder’s written account of his search for K-zones. Stefano believes this would make a great subject for his next book. He investigates, only to end up getting involved in the cover-up of a disgraced priest whose obsession with Zeder’s work possibly led him to the location of a K-zone. The title sounds like a typical Italian zombie gut-muncher, but Revenge of the Dead is more of a supernatural chiller. The plot never truly makes sense, but this is an eerie film with a foreboding atmosphere (especially during the first and last acts) and some imaginative imagery—including a scene where the floorboards above a makeshift grave pulsate. Subtle but effective. B (Currently not available.)

THE SPIDER LABYRINTH (1988) American professor Whitmore (Roland Wybenga) is sent to Budapest by a research company to locate a man named Roth, who had been working on an important project before he stopped communication. Whitmore meets the usual assortment of bizarre locals who warn him of impending doom, but it’s too late, as Roth is found hanging by a cobweb-strewn noose in his study. Later, a chambermaid who tried to help Whitmore is fatally knifed in the head by a woman with sharp teeth and in serious need of a hairbrush. After more murders, Whitmore is told by a hermit about an ancient cult of supernatural beings that worships a spider-like creature living within the city’s sewers. This conglomeration of Argento-like visual flare and giallo-inspired mayhem has a good pace but Wybenga is a bore and the plot is too convoluted to muster much excitement over. The silly “shock” ending will most likely leave viewers with a case of the giggles. C (Currently not streaming.)

Classic ’80s: Poltergeist I-III

POLTERGEIST (1982) The Freeling family are living a blissful existence until their California tract home is invaded by malevolent spirits, turning their American dream into a nightmare. In a clever twist, the ghosts use the family’s television sets to enter the world of the living, snatching their youngest child, Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke), and releasing a hideous barrage of incidents involving monstrous tree demons, spectral hell hounds, and a devilish clown doll. The desperate parents (JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson) enlist the help of a parapsychologist (Beatrice Straight) and her team of paranormal investigators, forming a template for the modern haunted house movie that would be replicated for decades to come. The relatively simple premise is elevated thanks to elegant direction by Tobe Hooper—no doubt under the close supervision of producer Steven Spielberg—and the use of fantastic special effects, many of which still pack a wallop. But Poltergeist‘s real strength lies in its characters, all of whom are sympathetic and grounded in reality, making the horror that’s happening to them all the more suspenseful. An excellent cast gives it their all, but it’s Zelda Rubinstein who steals the show in a memorable turn as psychic Tangina. “This house is clean.” A (Currently not streaming.)

POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE (1986) Many fans find this sequel to Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist disappointing. I don’t. Yes, it lacks the original’s story structure and characterization, but Poltergeist II: The Other Side is extremely well made and has plenty to offer. The year after the events in the first film has displaced the Freeling family—their house was sucked into another dimension—and they’ve taken up residence with Diane’s (JoBeth Williams) psychic mother (Geraldine Fitzgerald). The peace and quiet of life anew is interrupted by the arrival of a malicious entity known as Reverend Kane (Julian Beck), a 19th century doomsday preacher who killed his followers by burying them alive in an underground cavern. As shown in the opening credits, Kane’s skeletal remains still reside in the cave, which is located directly under the Freeling’s old swimming pool. Since Zelda Rubinstein’s participation as Tangina is sparse, the Freelings place their trust in Native American medicine man Taylor (Will Sampson), who teaches Steve Freeling (Craig T. Nelson) how to protect his family from Kane’s onslaught of ghostly activity—the most impressive being a grotesque semi-humanoid creature regurgitated by Steve (initially designed by H.R. Giger). The writers throw logic out the window by having every female member of the Freeling family being clairvoyant (a slick way of delivering plot exposition), and creating a ridiculously contrived climax taking place on the “other side.” Yet Poltergeist II is a lot of fun and manages to overcome most of its problems thanks to good acting, faithful character arcs, and some powerhouse special FX sequences that rival anything in the first movie. B (Currently streaming on Cinemax via Prime.)

POLTERGEIST III (1988) After battling otherworldly creatures twice before, little Carol Anne Freeling (Heather O’Rourke) is once again stricken with a bad case of ghostitis. Now attending a school for gifted children in Chicago while living with relatives, Carol Anne is pulled into another ghostly nightmare by Reverend Kane—who’s inexplicably returned after having been banished to Hell at the end of Poltergeist II. Kane (Nathan Davis) can enter our world through the use of mirrors and reflective surfaces, which conveniently cover the walls of Carol Anne’s new home in a posh high-rise managed by her Aunt Pat (Nancy Allen) and Uncle Bruce (Tom Skerritt). In a repeat of the first film, Carol Anne is snatched by Kane and taken to the spirit dimension—where Pat and Bruce must go in order to save the young girl. Kane also abducts Carol Anne’s cousin (Lara Flynn Boyle), who returns from the other side as a murderous demon that gives Carol Anne’s disbelieving psychiatrist (Richard Fire) a taste of his own medicine. Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) senses danger but has less to do here than she did in the previous movies. Kane continues to step up his game by creating the world’s first Demonic Car Crash Derby in the building’s underground parking garage in a scene that’s both ridiculous and spectacular. Pat keeps referring to Carol Anne as a “little brat” and losing sympathy votes with the viewer, while Joe Renzetti’s themeless keyboard musical score makes one miss Jerry Goldsmith’s memorable orchestral work from the original. But I’m carping. Poltergeist III is actually a fairly entertaining film filled with inventive and complex FX work. One of the smartest moments in any of the three movies happens here when Tangina realizes she’s just as capable as Carol Anne of giving Kane what he seeks. The makeup effects were supervised by Dick Smith. B(Currently streaming on Cinemax via Prime.)

Cat People, Nightmare, and Tales from the Quadead Zone

Cat People 1982, US, 118m. Director: Paul Schrader.

Nightmare1981, Italy/US, 98m. Director: Romano Scavolini.

Tales from the Quadead Zone1987, US, 62m. Director: Chester N. Turner.

CAT PEOPLE (1982) Virginal Irena, orphaned as a child, travels to New Orleans to meet her brother Paul. Irena is immediately put off by his strange behavior and the unnatural way in which he touches her. That’s because Irena is played by Nastassja Kinski, one of cinema’s great beauties, and Paul is played by Malcolm McDowell, whose frightening performance in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange pegged the actor as the go-to psychopath for years. A prostitute is nearly mauled to death by a black leopard, which—after being captured and caged at the local zoo—rips off the arm of an employee. Through this bloodshed, Irena learns the leopard is actually Paul—and she, like her brother, belongs to an ancient race of incestuous people who transform into felines when sexually aroused. This bit of news spells doom for Irena’s budding romance with zoologist Oliver (John Heard), who hopes to bed the woman before movie’s end—and to supply moviegoers with titillating scenes of Kinski in various stages of undress. Cat People is by no means a mindless exploitation vehicle, but a thoughtful reimagining of Jacques Tourneur’s classic 1942 scare show. As with the original, the on-screen violence is played down in favor of suspense, although there are a couple of brutal deaths. The screenplay (by Alan Ormsby) drops the ball by offering a needlessly detailed historical account of the cat people, turning the mystery into a bunch of malarkey. Good, nonetheless. B (Not currently streaming.)

NIGHTMARE (1981) (AKA: Nightmares in a Damaged Brain) Schizophrenic psychopath George Tatum (Baird Stafford) suffers from lurid and violent night terrors but is released from an institution after being declared cured. George subsequently goes to a Times Square peep show and is triggered by the sight of sexualized women because, as a boy, he saw his parents having sadomasochistic sex. George ditches his court-appointed psychiatric meeting, steals a car, and drives to Florida with the intention of murdering his high-strung ex-wife (Sharon Smith) and children. When he isn’t graphically slicing people up, he’s sniveling on the phone to his shrink. In a completely unbelievable scene, the police try to bully George’s nine-year-old son (C.J. Cooke) into admitting his involvement in the brutal death of a woman George himself killed hours earlier. Why the cops or George’s doctors (who’ve been frantically looking for him since his disappearance) don’t connect the dots is just one of many glaring plot holes in the scattershot screenplay. But Nightmare wasn’t made with logic in mind. Director Romano Scavolini focuses mostly on George leering at his soon-to-be victims and the gory aftermaths, which are gruesome and convincing. Tom Savini admitted to having been a consultant on the film but is credited on-screen as Special Effects Director. How’s that for false advertising? Ugly and dumb, but entertaining in a sleazy train wreck way. Perhaps the only slasher movie in existence to reference Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up. B(Not currently streaming.)

TALES FROM THE QUADEAD ZONE (1987) A woman (Shirley L. Jones) entertains her invisible ghost child by reading two bizarre stories from a book called “Tales from the Quadead Zone.” The first tale centers on an impoverished religious family that solves its hunger issues by eliminating family members with a rifle. In the sophomore segment, a bitter man (Keefe L. Turner) steals his brother’s dead body and humiliates the corpse by dressing it in a clown costume. This is followed by an endless monologue in which Turner expresses his childhood woes of playing second fiddle to his sibling, with predictably gruesome results. The movie circles back to Jones, who’s forced to kill her abusive husband after he pitches a fit over her obsession with their deceased child. At times it’s difficult to tell what’s going on because most of the dialogue is inaudible. That’s not unusual with shot-on-video films, but it’s especially bad in Tales from the Quadead Zone. Other examples of poor production quality are the muddy picture (the movie was shot on a camcorder), sloppy editing, and dollar store special effects. The worst part of this mess is the closing credits, which tells viewers, “Tales from the Quadead Zone will return!” Luckily, audiences were spared this promise. Because of its ultra-rare availability on physical media, the film has become a collector’s item within the VHS circuit. D(Currently streaming on Tubi.)

Contamination, Death Ship, and Fatal Games

Contamination 1980, Germany/Italy, 95m. Director: Luigi Cozzi.

Death Ship1980, Canada/UK, 93m. Director: Alvin Rakoff.

Fatal Games1984, US, 88m. Director: Michael Elliot.

CONTAMINATION (1980) (AKA: Alien Contamination) A cargo ship filled with egg-like spores drifts into New York harbor with its crew dead. A government-sanctioned science team is brought in to study the bacterial eggs, which react to heat by releasing an acidic fluid that—when in contact with people—makes them explode (scenes of flying intestines and viscera are all shown in gloriously gratuitous slow motion). While viewing a video of what looks like the inside of a lava lamp, the scientists come to the conclusion the eggs are not from this planet and might have something to do with a failed Mars expedition two years earlier. With the help of astronaut Ian McCulloch (Zombie), the scientists discover a conspiracy of brainwashed humans being used by an alien intelligence to move the eggs around the world. This Italian trash epic is such a blatant rip-off of Alien that trying to take it seriously will result in a poor experience for the viewer. The film is more of a showcase for some spectacularly awful writing and acting—Louise Marleau’s unconvincing performance as a scientist makes a piece of wood seem lively by comparison. With that in mind, Contamination becomes a harmless bit of cheesy entertainment that won’t disappoint fans who like their gore served with high levels of camp. B– (Currently streaming on Pluto TV and Tubi.)

DEATH SHIP (1980) A cruise liner is sunk by a rogue ship, leaving a small group of survivors adrift in the Atlantic. Their only chance for help is the appearance of a derelict, unmanned German war vessel—the same ship that caused their plight to begin with. Unfortunately for them the boat is haunted by the angry ghosts of its former Nazi occupants, which don’t waste any time in terrorizing the new passengers. One of the survivors is caught in rope and dunked into the freezing water within minutes of boarding; another develops pustules on her face after eating candy she finds in a cabin. The situation is made worse when an American sea captain (an anemic George Kennedy) becomes possessed by a Nazi specter and turns into a psychopath. This sounds like the product of someone who saw The Poseidon Adventure and The Amityville Horror on a double-bill, yet Death Ship isn’t nearly as exciting. The film has a brooding atmosphere and excellent set design, but weak characters and utter predictability sink it into the bowels of mediocrity. Nick Mancuso’s demise in a slimy pit of bones and rotting corpses is a highlight. C (Currently streaming on Prime and Tubi.)

FATAL GAMES (1984) The young athletes of Falcon Academy are being systematically slaughtered by a javelin-throwing psycho. The first to feel the killer’s wrath is impaled so hard her body is thrown and pinned against the gym wall. More people are run through with the extra-sharp spear, leaving the remaining survivors trying to figure out who has the motivation to bump off their friends. The obvious suspect is the hotheaded javelin trainee (Nicholas Love) who spends most of the film scowling, but like the majority of early-to-mid-eighties slashers, Fatal Games has a twist up its sleeve—one that Final Girl (and Elisabeth Shue lookalike) Lynn Banashek figures out all too late. Similar in theme to Graduation Day (1981) but not nearly as gratuitously violent, although there is ample nudity—nearly every central character is at some point without clothes. Olympics fetishists will rejoice! A tacky but harmless post-Friday the 13th slasher melodrama that tries more for suspense than outright gore, and mostly succeeds, especially during its fast-paced climax. Look for Linnea Quigley’s derrière in a brief scene. B(Currently streaming on Shudder.)

Beast of the Yellow Night, Demon of Paradise, and The Thirsty Dead

The Beast of the Yellow Night – 1971, Philippines/US, 87m. Director: Eddie Romero.

Demon of Paradise – 1987, Philippines, 87m. Director: Cirio H. Santiago.

The Thirsty Dead – 1974, Philippines/US, 88m. Director: Terry Becker.

THE BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT (1971) In 1946, soldiers are deployed into a Filipino forest where killer Joseph Langdon (John Ashley) has been hiding from authorities. On his deathbed, Langdon is confronted by Satan (Vic Diaz), who promises the murderer eternal life as long as he becomes Satan’s henchman. The next twenty-five years has Langdon possessing several different men in an effort to fulfill Satan’s intention to bring out mankind’s “inner evil”—but Langdon’s humanity begins to seep through with his latest host, an engineer married to a friendly but unhappy homemaker (Mary Wilcox). When Langdon rejects Satan’s plan, his master turns him into a deformed monster. Langdon goes about the streets ripping off the limbs of unlucky passersby and feasting on their glistening innards. It’s hard not to enjoy this camp semi-classic from the ceaselessly imaginative but financially strapped Eddie Romero (Beast of Blood). While not worth writing home about, the man was churning out one to two movies a year on shoestring budgets, and could always be relied on to make colorfully moronic epics. C+ (Currently streaming on Prime.)

DEMON OF PARADISE (1987) A beast-fish concoction created from toxic pollution emerges from the waters off a Hawaiian island—actually the Philippines, which would explain the consistently murky waters. The creature begins eating the island’s fishermen, which the owner (Laura Banks) of a Club Med-type resort uses as publicity to attract tourists, ensuring a ready-made buffet for the watery terror. Luckily, the island paradise has its very own herpetologist (Kathryn Witt) who’s hot on the case. This film’s lunchbox budget is rather obvious considering how often (or how little) we see the monster, which is intermixed with endless scenes of two-bit characters spouting mundane dialogue. The writers were clearly not inspired to create any sense of originality as Demon of Paradise borrows heavily from Creature from the Black Lagoon, Jaws, Piranha, Humanoids from the Deep, and even Bog! Witt deserves a better role, and the viewer deserves a better film. D (Currently streaming on Tubi.)

THE THIRSTY DEAD (1974) A bikini-clad go-go dancer is kidnapped from a strip club in Manila by men in ceremonial robes. The Keystone Cops think her boyfriend is responsible, despite a city-wide news bulletin about a wave of disappearances in the area. The women were abducted by a cult of New Age flakes who live in some jungle caves and worship the disembodied head of a man named Raul. One of the abducted (Jennifer Billingsley) is chosen as the new High Priestess, while the others are bled and used in a ritual that grants immortality. Enlightened cult member John Considine falls for Billingsley, and the two escape but face the inevitable when Considine passes the “Ring of Age” and withers into a winkled prune. The abundance of beehives and flipped bob hairstyles gives the film a dated feel, as do the gaudy costumes and a musical score that would sound more appropriate in an episode of Dragnet. The lush green wilderness gives the film an exotic backdrop, but that’s not enough to make it worth sitting through this nondescript American/Filipino co-production. C(Currently streaming on Tubi.)

Curse of the Crimson Altar, I Dismember Mama, and Zombie Holocaust

Curse of the Crimson Altar1968, UK, 85m. Director: Vernon Sewell.

I Dismember Mama 1972, US, 82m. Director: Paul Leder.

Zombie Holocaust1980, Italy, 84m. Director: Frank Martin (Marino Girolami).

CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR (1968) (AKA: The Crimson Cult) In search of his missing brother, antiques dealer Manning (Mark Eden) drives to a posh country house called Craxted Lodge, which just happens to be located in Manning’s ancestral hometown. Upon his arrival, Manning meets the place’s owner, Morley (Christopher Lee), who insists he’s never heard of Manning’s brother. He eventually learns the place was once ruled by a witch called Lavinia Morley (Barbara Steele) who was burned at the stake but now dwells in some dusty dungeon/torture chamber and surrounds herself with bare-breasted women and a half-naked man adorned in chains and bikini underwear. No, this isn’t an Ed Wood film but a half-baked attempt at trying to create a serious (and unofficial) adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft story, “Dreams in the Witch House,” by Doctor Who writers Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln. You’d be better off sticking with the original Lovecraft tale. Boris Karloff makes brief appearances, but even his presence can’t save this movie from descending into complete boredom. C(Currently streaming on Tubi.)

I DISMEMBER MAMA (1972) Within the first few minutes of I Dismember Mama, mother-fixated Albert (Zooey Hall, who’s awful) tries to strangle a nurse at the mental hospital he’s locked away in. Albert is a psychopathic nut job who believes his Mommy Dearest is nothing but a whore who, according to him, “would have been stoned during the Middle Ages.” Albert’s doctor can no longer give him the kind of help he needs and wishes to send the madman to a maximum security facility. It doesn’t matter because Albert kills an orderly, escapes the hospital, and murders his mother’s housekeeper. In a completely tasteless subplot, Albert kidnaps the woman’s young daughter, Annie (Geri Reischl), and grooms the child to be his bride. Annie ultimately realizes Albert is a creep and serves him a much deserved comeuppance by tossing him out a window. An unpleasant and leering film, I Dismember Mama‘s best trait is its bogus moniker—the movie’s real title is Poor Albert and Little Annie, which was most likely changed by thirsty distributors who paired it on a double bill with the equally lifeless Blood Spattered Bride. Director Paul Leder is the father of Hollywood filmmaker Mimi Leder (Deep Impact). Tacky and trite. F (Currently streaming on Tubi.)

ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST (1980) (AKA: Doctor Butcher, M.D., Zombi Holocaust) A hospital orderly responsible for a series of cadaver mutilations is caught red-handed (literally) and throws himself out a window—the dummy’s arm flies off on impact. New York anthropologist Lori (Alexandra Delli Colli) believes the maniac stemmed from a remote Indonesian island where cannibalism and human sacrifices are still culturally accepted. Joined by a health inspector (Ian McCulloch), Lori travels to the island, where they discover a backwoods doctor is turning the locals into brainwashed zombies which—along with the jungle cannibals—offer the viewer ample amounts of blood and guts. One of Lori’s porters is impaled on a bamboo bed of spikes and then eviscerated by the cannibals who stuff their faces with the viscera as if they just sat down to a bowl of spaghetti and meat sauce. This film was clearly not made for vegetarians. Other barf-bag delights include a man getting his eyes gouged out and a zombie’s face getting pulverized by an outboard motor. While obviously fake, the gore effects are grisly and nonstop. For most of its length, Zombie Holocaust looks like an exact copy of Zombie (1979), but maybe that’s because director Frank Martin (a.k.a. Marino Girolami) used the same sets, locations, and even the same actors as the Lucio Fulci film. Being under the tutelage of Fulci definitely served Girolami well, as Zombie Holocaust is a crude but highly entertaining piece of Italian splatter. B (Currently streaming on Plex.)

Blood Feast 2, City of Blood, and Spontaneous Combustion

Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat2002, US, 92m. Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis.

City of Blood1987, South Africa, 93m. Director: Darrell Roodt.

Spontaneous Combustion1990, US, 97m, 127m (rough cut). Director: Tobe Hooper.

BLOOD FEAST 2: ALL U CAN EAT (2002) Nearly forty years after he “revolutionized” the modern splatter movie with Blood Feast, Herschell Gordon Lewis returned with this absurd sequel about the grandson (J.P. Delahoussaye) of Fuad Ramses—the psycho killer from the 1963 film—aptly named Fuad Ramses III. How’s that for continuity? Young Fuad resurrects his grandfather’s catering company and, naturally, becomes possessed by the diabolical spirit of Ishtar, the Egyptian god to whom Fuad the First was sacrificing most of Miami’s nubile young women. Lewis manages to capture the overzealous spirit of the original and offers up several gore-drenched laughs throughout. Unlike the first Blood Feast (which was unintentionally campy), this sequel packs on the gaudy splatstick with such vigor audiences can’t help but view it as nothing more than enjoyable garbage. Despite its poverty row production values, Blood Feast 2 would make a fun double feature with the equally ridiculous Blood Diner, which itself is a send-up of Lewis’s work. B(Currently not streaming.)

CITY OF BLOOD (1987) After a brief and confusing prologue—a man is pursued by the malevolent spirit of some sort of masked tribesman in a scene that was obviously inspired by The Evil Dead—we’re introduced to rundown medical examiner Henderson (Joe Stewardson), who gets involved in the investigation of a series of prostitute murders in Johannesburg, South Africa. Those victims were also stalked and slaughtered by ghostly tribal persons in masks and wielding spears. Meanwhile, a prominent Black activist is accidentally murdered by the police. To keep protestors from rioting, the government uses Henderson’s death certificate to suggest the man died of a heart attack—but Henderson would rather be bedding a hooker he’s been pursuing as part of his investigation. What all of this has to do with anything is something you’ll have to endure 93 minutes to find out. The question is do you really want to? If I have any say in the matter, I would highly recommend not wasting a minute on this interminable snoozer. D+ (Currently streaming on Tubi.)

SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION (1990) All-American couple Brian and Peggy Jones participate in a government atomic weapons test project circa 1956—”Only You” by The Platters is playing on a background radio. But there’s a hitch: Peggy (Stacy Edwards) was pregnant during the last test and, come nine months later, produces a baby boy who can send nearby persons up in flames when he feels threatened. Thirty-something years later, the child is now a college teacher (Brad Dourif) who somehow doesn’t see a connection between his temper, constant migraines, and the fact people around him are burning to death under mysterious circumstances. Dourif eventually realizes he’s a ticking human time bomb when his rage culminates in his arm erupting in a geyser of blood and flames. Aside from a good performance by Dourif, there’s nothing particularly special about this Firestarter clone—the characters aren’t interesting, the story goes nowhere, and the pyrotechnical FX aren’t anything you haven’t seen a million times before. Another in a long line of disappointing post-Poltergeist films by Tobe Hooper. C (Currently not streaming.)

Confessions of a Serial Killer, Dawn of the Dead, and Late Night with the Devil

Confessions of a Serial Killer1985, US, 89m. Director: Mark Blair.

Dawn of the Dead – 1978, Italy/US, 127m, 156m (extended cut). Director: George A. Romero.

Late Night with the Devil2024, US, 93m. Director: Cameron Cairnes, Colin Cairnes.

CONFESSIONS OF A SERIAL KILLER (1985) Daniel Ray Hawkins (Robert A. Burns) is a prolific killer driving through Texas. After slashing a woman’s throat on the side of the road, Daniel is captured by police, interrogated, and confesses to murdering over 200 victims. Daniel’s first is a prostitute he bludgeons to death after she turns him down for sex—this charming scene is followed by the requisite childhood trauma prologue, in which little Daniel is forced to watch his mother have sex with strange men. The majority of the film’s nonlinear flashbacks offers the viewer a possible account of real life murderer Henry Lee Lucas, who Confessions of a Serial Killer is modeled after. This is especially obvious when Moon Lewton (Dennis Hill), a gay hillbilly, participates in Daniel’s killing spree. Despite having been made and released a year before Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Confessions of a Serial Killer has been unfairly criticized as a rip-off. It’s by no means a good movie and it lacks Henry‘s brutal intensity (as well as Michael Rooker’s charisma), but the film is undeniably well made and acted, and its depiction of violence is treated with a little more realism than your typical slasher flick—a sequence in which a teenager stumbles upon Daniel’s and Moon’s living quarters as they slice up a woman with a chainsaw is both suspenseful and horrific without being graphic. Not nearly as exploitative as the much-ballyhooed miniseries, Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. B(Currently streaming on Tubi.) 

DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) Civilization has collapsed in the weeks after the initial zombie outbreak in Night of the Living Dead (1968). The last remaining TV news stations are going off the air, with a Philadelphia-based network falling apart at the seams. One of the employees discovers the station was knowingly airing false information on local rescue shelters just to keep the panicked viewers tuned in and the ratings high—a darkly humorous bit, one of many that underlines George Romero’s partially satirical screenplay. In an effort to escape large cities, a quartet of people steal a helicopter and fly to a more secluded part of the country. The gang eventually comes upon a massive indoor shopping center, which becomes a haven of food and shelter once they secure the place from the walking dead. As time goes by, the survivors find the mall too ideal to leave, ultimately making the place their private “island paradise,” a self-contained bubble of false security and happiness. That is until a murderous society of bikers crashes the party. Replacing the nightmarish atmosphere of Night with more of a black humor vibe, Dawn of the Dead encapsulates Romero at his prime as a filmmaker. The script works as both a social commentary on consumerism as well as a colorful comic book adventure, mixing comedy and suspense extremely well—despite its two-hour run-time, the film is breathlessly paced and delivers almost nonstop action. Add to the pot well-written characters, Tom Savini’s trendsetting gore FX, and a pounding score by Dario Argento’s favorite rock band, Goblin, and you have one of the defining horror films of the 20th century. Followed by Day of the Dead and a remake. A+ (Currently not streaming.)

LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL (2024) Seventies television personality Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) becomes a national celebrity with his quirky late night talk show but fails to garner Johnny Carson-like numbers. Taking time off after the untimely passing of his wife, Delroy plots his comeback by hosting a live 1977 Halloween Night special in which his guest, 13-year-old Lilly (Ingrid Torelli), is the sole survivor of a demonic cult that kidnapped children and committed mass suicide. The less you know about the plot the better, which makes it all the more disappointing to discover the filmmakers spilling nearly whole story details within the film’s brief prologue. The TV-show-within-the-film angle gives Late Night with the Devil an authentic and fun vibe, yet whenever the Jack Delroy show (named Night Owls) cuts to commercial, the actual movie switches gears (too often—perhaps to pad out the running time) by offering behind-the-scenes exposition that viewers could have easily assessed themselves. An enjoyable but ultimately missed opportunity. C+ (Currently streaming on Shudder.)