Dracula: Hammer Edition 🩇

The Brides of Dracula – 1960, UK, 86m. Director: Terence Fisher. Streaming: Prime

Dracula A.D. 1972 – 1972, UK, 96m. Director: Alan Gibson. Streaming: Max

Dracula: Prince of Darkness1966, UK, 90m. Director: Terence Fisher. Streaming: N/A

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave – 1968, UK, 91m. Director: Freddie Francis. Streaming: Max

Horror of Dracula – 1958, UK, 82m. Director: Terence Fisher. Streaming: Max/Prime, Max/Hulu

The Satanic Rites of Dracula – 1973, UK, 87m. Director: Alan Gibson. Streaming: Shout! TV, Tubi

Scars of Dracula – 1970, UK 95m. Director: Roy Ward Baker. Streaming: N/A

Taste the Blood of Dracula – 1970, UK, 95m. Director: Peter Sasdy. Streaming: N/A

HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) (AKA: Dracula) The first, and best, in the Hammer Dracula series, which, along with The Curse of Frankenstein the year earlier, made international stars out of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. After arriving at Castle Dracula in Romania, Harker (John Van Eyssen), under the guise of a librarian, reveals himself to be a vampire hunter, with a mission to destroy Count Dracula (Lee). Overcome by the Count and his vampire bride (Valerie Gaunt), Harker is ultimately turned into one of the undead and later vanquished by friend and colleague, Dr. Van Helsing (Cushing). Returning to his village, Van Helsing finds himself too late as Dracula has already taken a bite out of Harker’s fiancĂ©e, Lucy (Carol Marsh). The first adaptation of Dracula to be shot in color, this lean, robust film is filled with excellent performances, tight direction, and terrific action, including a spectacular demise of the Count in sunlight. Horror of Dracula is simply the best version of the Stoker tale after the 1931 Bela Lugosi classic. A

THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960) A loose sequel to Horror of Dracula that’s a continuation of the Van Helsing character played wonderfully in both films by Peter Cushing. The destruction of Count Dracula in the earlier chapter may have left Transylvania free of the monster but the land still crawls with vampires. While traveling through the decrepit countryside, a French school teacher (Yvonne Monlaur) is welcomed into the home of a kind Baroness (Martita Hunt), unaware her son (David Peel) is a vampire. Monlaur manages to escape and is aided by Prof. Van Helsing (Cushing) to protect a nearby all-girls’ school, which Peel has target to select his new brides from. This lacks the punch of its predecessor but delivers an intriguing story and good, well-written characters. Peel is no Christopher Lee but is charismatic enough to carry most of the film—he’s foiled by the scene-stealing Hunt in a rare role usually occupied by more youthful, bimbo-esque actresses. A colorful Hammer vampire epic with a corker of an ending. B+

DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966) It’s been ten years since Dracula was destroyed by Van Helsing at the end of Horror of Dracula. The nearby villagers still live in fear of vampires and stake the recently deceased through the heart as a precaution. This doesn’t stop a group of British travelers from spending the night in Castle Dracula where they’re greeted by Klove (Philip Latham), who claims to serve Count Dracula even after his death. The family are eventually dispatched by the servant, with their blood used to bring Dracula (Christopher Lee) back to life—the scene where one of the party is strung up feet-first, has his throat slit, and bleeds out over Dracula’s ashes is particularly gruesome. The survivors of Dracula’s return find refuge in a monastery, which houses a Van Helsing-like monk (Andrew Keir) whose knowledge of vampires is useful in sending Dracula back to Hell. Lee’s return to the role of Dracula after an eight year absence is both welcoming and underwhelming. That’s not to say Dracula: Prince of Darkness isn’t good, because it is, but to a fault. The plot essentially becomes a repeat of both Horror of Dracula and the Dracula-less (and superior) Brides of Dracula dressed up in more blood and shot in beautiful anamorphic widescreen. The climactic battle on a frozen lake is excellent. B

DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968) A small village trying to put the pieces back together after Dracula’s reign of terror a year earlier is visited by the Monsignor (Rupert Davies), who discovers the place still lives in fear of the Count. The village is now spiritually defenseless after the local priest (Ewan Hooper) has become disillusioned, a matter made worse when Monsignor, in an act of holy authority, ventures to Castle Dracula to exorcise it only to accidentally resurrect Dracula (Christopher Lee). This being a Hammer movie, the Monsignor is supplied with a busty niece (Veronica Carlson), who Dracula sets his blood-shot eyes on, but not if her square-jawed, atheist beau (Barry Andrews) has anything to say about it. There’s a bit more character development in this one, with an interesting subplot dealing with Dracula’s betrayal of a barmaid (Barbara Ewing, who’s excellent) who’s not only thrown under the bus by the Count but by society. Lee gets more screen time here and he’s foiled nicely in Freddie Francis’s slick direction, which is handsomely mixed with vibrant, Mario Bava-esque lighting/coloring. Good stuff. B+

TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1970) A traveling salesman (Roy Kinnear), who’s witness to the destruction of Dracula (Christopher Lee) at the end of Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, takes it upon himself to take a vile of the Count’s blood. He later sells Dracula’s blood, along with cloak and ring, to a mysterious Lord Courtley (Ralph Bates) who’s promised three disinterested fat cats excitement in the form of a Black Mass. When offered to drink Dracula’s blood, the trio cower and kill Courtley out of fear, but not before Dracula is resurrected and goes about seeking revenge. Dracula immediately bewitches the beautiful daughter (Linda Hayden) of one of the wealthy gentlemen to kill her father not before she becomes Dracula’s love servant, helping him take a bite out of the local lasses. It’s evident here the Hammer Draculas were starting to show some wear and tear with recycled subplots and characters from previous films in the series. Lee gets less screen time than in the other movies and doesn’t have a whole lot to do—the boring Hayden isn’t much help. In the end, Taste the Blood of Dracula is well-made and entertaining enough, but it never achieves the heights of its predecessors. Peter Cushing is sorely missed. C+

SCARS OF DRACULA (1970) A drop of blood from a bat brings Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) back from the dust, so to speak. A mob torches Dracula’s castle after the discovery of a village girl with bite marks on her neck, only little do they know Drac has escaped and wiped out an entire congregation in gory fashion—one poor barmaid has her eye gouged out, which dangles from the socket in gruesome detail. On the run from an angry aristocrat, whose daughter he recently bedded, a young man by the name of Paul (Christopher Matthews) stumbles upon Castle Dracula and is invited to spend the night by the Count. In an interesting twist on the Bram Stoker novel, Paul becomes the Jonathan Harker character as Dracula’s prisoner, and Paul’s disappearance subsequently sparks an investigation by Paul’s brother (Dennis Waterman) and his fiancĂ©e (Jenny Hanley). A lot gorier than the previous films in the series, and Lee gets more screen time (and dialogue). The characters are likable, which helps to generate some suspense along the way. There’s also a clever bit where Dracula’s resting place can only be accessed through a window on the cliff side of the castle. Scar of Dracula may be imperfect but it’s a solid entry in the series and much better than Taste the Blood of Dracula. B

DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972) To appeal to a more youthful audience, Hammer transported its most prized film series to the swinging seventies by introducing the viewer to a group of mod youngsters dabbling in black magic. Persuaded by Johnny Alacard (Christopher Neame) to perform a black mass using the ashes of Dracula (collected by Alacard’s ancestor, a follower of Dracula, in 1872), his friends become witness, and ultimately victims, to the Count’s (Christopher Lee) return. But it’s the great granddaughter of his arch nemesis whom Dracula wants, Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham), which Alacard helps Dracula in achieving in hopes of immortality. Peter Cushing’s return to the series after a 12 year hiatus is a sight for sore eyes, although here he plays the grandchild of his Van Helsing character from the earlier films. He gets more screen time than Lee, who’s pushed to the back-burner from the result of Dracula not being able to leave the church grounds he was resurrected from because of deconsecration. A shame considering the sight of Dracula walking about Piccadilly Circus and other famous London landmarks would have given the film the pop it was so desperately striving for—something the next chapter, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, does better. That shouldn’t prevent fans from enjoying this bit of schlocky entertainment. B

THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973) (AKA: Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride) The British Secret Service have infiltrated a secret Satanic sect, which several prominent members of upper crust London society are involved in. After an Agent witnesses the murder and resurrection of a woman by the Satanists, the government calls in Prof. Lorrimore Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), a descendant of Abraham, to help them with their supernatural head-scratcher. Van Helsing discovers the Satanic sect is working for Dracula (Christopher Lee)—disguised as a wealthy agoraphobic named Denham—by blackmailing scientists into developing a new strain of deadly virus that’ll wipe out most of humanity, but not before the Count makes Van Helsing’s granddaughter (Joanna Lumley) one of his brides. Although this wasn’t Hammer’s last Dracula film, it was Lee’s final appearance in the series—Lee later returned to the role of the Count in the unrelated French comedy Dracula and Son. The plot is a whole lotta hubbub, but director Alan Gibson moves the action at a fast pace and delivers several savory scenes of mayhem, including a cellar crawling with Dracula’s hungry wives. As always, Cushing and Lee are in fine form. The Satanic Rites of Dracula might not be the best of the Hammer Draculas, but it’s by far not the worst. B

As of this writing The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is unavailable for viewing.

🎃 Some Vampire Movies for Halloween 🎃

Bram Stoker’s Dracula – 1992, US, 127m. Director: Francis Ford Coppela. Streaming: N/A

Count Yorga, Vampire – 1970, US, 92m. Director: Bob Kelljan. Streaming: N/A

Dracula – 1979, UK, 110m. Director: John Badham. Streaming: Peacock

House of Dark Shadows – 1970, US, 97m. Director: Dan Curtis. Streaming: N/A

Innocent Blood – 1992, US, 116m. Director: John Landis. Streaming: N/A

Stake Land – 2010, US, 98m. Director: Jim Mickle. Streaming: Peacock

Subspecies – 1991, US/Romania, 84m. Director: Ted Nicolaou. Streaming: Tubi

Vampire Circus – 1972, UK, 83m. Director: Robert Young. Streaming: Tubi

Vampires – 1998, Japan/US, 108m. Director: John Carpenter. Streaming: AMC/Prime

BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992) It’s not clear whether Dracula author Bram Stoker would have approved of this inaccurate but lavish adaptation of his classic novel. In an effort to bring audiences a more “modern” take on the century-old tale, director Francis Ford Coppola and writer James V. Hart borrowed heavily from the speculative 1972 book In Search of Dracula: The History of Dracula and Vampires, which suggests Dracula was a real person—a 15th century Romanian ruler called Vlad the Impaler. In the film, Vlad (Gary Oldman), after returning from war and discovering his wife dead from suicide, curses himself and his family line by swearing off God for all eternity. Hundreds of years later—now a hideous creature of the night known as Count Dracula—Vlad travels from Transylvania to London, where he falls in love with Mina Murray (Winona Ryder), who Drac believes is the reincarnation of his wife. (Reincarnation is not a plot point from the Stoker novel, but the majority of post-sixties Dracula-inspired films used it as a major subplot, which as far as I’m concerned is a Dark Shadows creation.) Despite the flaky approach to the material—and the questionable casting of Ryder, who often seems out of her depth—this is an undeniably entertaining film filled with rich visual trickery and spectacular makeup FX by Greg Cannom, and Anthony Hopkins nails it as a spirited Van Helsing. The movie’s massive box office ultimately helped with the release of Interview with the Vampire (a better film) two years later. B

COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (1970) (AKA: The Loves of Count Iorga, Vampire) After arriving in Los Angeles, European transplant Count Yorga (Robert Quarry) tries to woo his new upscale friends with his old-world charm by hosting a sĂ©ance. Unbeknownst to those involved, Yorga is actually a vampire who’s looking for a third bride to add to his collection of undead wives. Yorga successfully seduces and bites Erica (Judith Lang) and, to the horror of her boyfriend (Michael Murphy), slowly transforms her into a cat-eating creature of the night. Originally conceived as an idea for a porno, Count Yorga, Vampire is a surprisingly intelligent and handsome retelling of the Dracula legend—a wealthy Count takes residence in a foreign, freethinking country, victimizes the local women, and keeps others imprisoned with the help of his Renfield-like assistant—for more modern, New Age audiences. The characters are smart, the pacing is excellent, and the suspense plentiful. In an iconic performance, Quarry is first-rate in one of, if not the best vampire films of the early seventies. Followed by The Return of Count Yorga. B+

DRACULA (1979) John Badham’s lavish but ultimately disappointing update of the Stoker tale moves the action to 1913, but at its core it’s just a remake of the popular stage play and the 1931 film. Ironically, as with Bela Lugosi in the original adaptation, Frank Langella revisits the role of the Count, which he undertook in the stage production revival a year earlier (Langella was nominated for a Tony for his performance). Ignoring the Transylvania scenes entirely, Badham’s Dracula opens in the midst of the creature’s journey to England. After arriving at the picturesque coastal village of Whitby, Dracula takes up residence at Carfax Abbey and makes his move on the neighboring Seward family, lorded over by Dr. Seward (Donald Pleasance), who runs the local sanitarium. After turning Mina Van Helsing (Jan Francis) into one of the undead, Dracula seduces Seward’s daughter, Lucy (Kate Nelligan), into being his new eternal bride of the night, but is thwarted by Lucy’s fiancĂ©, Harker (Trevor Eve), and good old Prof. Van Helsing (Laurence Olivier). A tight script and an undeniably seductive performance by Langella help the film rise above the familiar story—as does the incredible set designs and beautiful country locations. Pleasance is warm, but Nelligan is too cold to muster sympathy for, and Olivier phones in his silly one-note performance. Renfield (Tony Haygarth), here downgraded to an unimportant supporting character, is missed. B

HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (1970) The drunken groundskeeper (John Karlen) of the great Collinwood Estate believes he’s found hidden treasure, but instead unearths 200-year-old vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid). Disguising himself as a cousin from England, Barnabas sets up shop at Collinwood where he bewitches the family, turns young Carolyn (Nancy Barrett) into a lovelorn vampire servant, and falls in love with governess Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott) whom Barnabas believes is the reincarnation of his lost love. House of Dark Shadows is essentially a truncated version of the Barnabas storyline from the classic sixties television show, Dark Shadows—a daytime soap opera that used famous horror movie motifs as its central structure. Directed by the show’s creator, Dan Curtis, the film is handsomely photographed—a nice departure from the washed-out look of the series (the show was recorded live on videotape)—and well-acted, including Frid who stands out in a role that didn’t give him much to work with on TV, but here delivers a terrific performance. The climactic “vampire wedding” finale is both gorgeous and gruesome. Followed by Night of Dark Shadows. B+

INNOCENT BLOOD (1992) Marie (Anne Parillaud) is hungry. As Innocent Blood opens, Marie informs the viewer through voiceover narration—and in nothing but her svelte birthday suit—that she hasn’t eaten in six days. And by eating I mean drinking blood. Marie, you see, is a vampire—but she’s a good vampire who only feasts on those she feels deserves to die. Luckily for Marie, she finds an unsavory individual named Sallie “The Shark” Macelli (Robert Loggia), a high-up mob boss Marie targets for her next meal (“I’m in the mood for Italian,” she declares). Marie is interrupted by Sallie’s goons while feasting on him and ultimately ends up transforming Sallie into one of the blood-sucking undead. Soon Pittsburgh is overloaded with goodfella bloodsuckers and it’s up to Marie and cop/love interest Anthony LaPaglia to stop them. John Landis’s splattery follow-up to An American Werewolf in London is not as good as that classic, but does offer the viewer several merits of gruesomeness, including countless torn-off limbs and chewed up throats that erupt like geysers—all expertly handled by FX artist Steve Johnson. The cast is excellent, but their characters feel mostly like stale leftovers from The Godfather. Parillaud is charming but vapid, and LaPaglia doesn’t have the chops to pull off the “big city tough cop” act. Even at its worst, Innocent Blood is harmless fun. C+

STAKE LAND (2010) In an interesting twist on the vampire movie, Stake Land presents its fanged subjects as more of an end-of-the-world plague, in vein of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, but by way of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Vampires have taken over the world and turned America into a war zone; militias run large patches of land and don’t take kindly to strangers. Because vampires aren’t enough to contend with, there are also murderous cults and cannibals running amok. At the center of the story is roughneck Mister (Nick Damici), who takes on newly-orphaned Martin (Connor Paolo) as a sidekick. Much like shooting zombies in the head, Mister teaches Martin the importance of a stake to a vampire heart, along with several other fight tricks. In their search for salvation, Mister and Martin come across several other survivors, including a pregnant country girl (Danielle Harris) and a former nun (Kelly McGillis). There’s more of a focus on character than gore, and for most of the time it pulls the viewer in. Scenes of desolate landscapes and rampant death give the film an authentic apocalyptic vibe, despite the small budget. A voiceover narration supplied by Martin comes off as unnecessary and conspicuous, and an unresolved ending leaves one feeling a little lost. But that was most likely the point of this bleak but honest movie. Followed by The Stakelander. B

SUBSPECIES (1991) In present day Romania, an old vampire (Angus Scrimm, in an oversized fright wig) is murdered by his evil son Radu (Anders Hove) in order to obtain his father’s precious Bloodstone. Radu’s plan is hampered by his brother, Stefan (Michael Watson), who not only wishes to take rightful ownership of the family castle but keep the murderous Radu away from the Bloodstone, which can grant special powers. There isn’t a whole lot of plot happening in Subspecies, as a good chunk of the script is focused on Radu’s stalking and feasting on three grad students. This is intermixed with the centuries-old battle between Evil Radu and Good Stefan, which because of the film’s low budget means we get a lot of talky scenes of Radu taunting Stefan and then running off into the night. Subspecies does have the distinction of being the first American-produced movie to be shot entirely in Bucharest, and the place’s Old World atmosphere helps pull the viewer in, even when the story isn’t working, which unfortunately is quite often. There’s a dull romance between Stefan and one of the American students that never feels believable. Two female victims of Radu inexplicably have their breasts exposed, with one woman tied up in a dungeon and tormented by Radu’s pint-sized minions. The make-up effects by Greg Cannom (Bram Stoker’s Dracula) are really the only noteworthy things about this film. Unless you’re a die hard vampire completist, Subspecies is an easy pass. C

VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1972) Fifteen years after vanquishing a vampire (Robert Tayman) and burning down its castle, a plague-ravaged village is visited by a mysterious traveling circus. The village, which seems to be occupied primarily by dolts, believes the attraction to be nothing but a welcoming distraction from the disease—the witnessing of an animal transforming into a man does little to persuade the villagers into thinking there’s something supernatural afoot. The circus, you see, is actually a family of shapeshifting vampires, seeking revenge for the destruction of Tayman by sacrificing the townsfolk’s children in order to bring the vamp back to undead life. Slick and slightly entertaining, but a lack of a sympathetic protagonist keeps a lot of the film from reaching the heights of earlier (and better) Hammer productions. Filled with bared breasts, blood-dripping fangs, and overwrought melodrama. In other words, a typical seventies Hammer flick. C+

VAMPIRES (1998) Killing vampires is not an easy job. It’s such hard work that supreme vampire slayer, Jack Crow (James Woods), and his merry team of badasses throw a big celebration after their destruction of a vampire nest in the New Mexico desert. Having failed to secure the crime scene, Jack and his posse are attacked by the nest’s Master vamp (Thomas Ian Griffith), who takes a bite out of a hooker (Sheryl Lee) and turns her into a half-vampire, half-human with a psychic link to the Master. This proves useful to Jack when he discovers the Master might be the original source of all vampires and is searching for a tool called the Black Cross that can allow all vamps to walk in the sunlight. John Carpenter’s first and only vampire film is an enjoyable, if not fully successful, variation on the modern western; Wood’s gunslinging “cowboy” works in conjunction with Griffith’s outsider, threatening to take over the land of the good people. Although, it’s the horror/vampire elements that make the film work—and when they do Vampires delivers exceptionally good splatter from the fine folks at KNB EFX—the gruesome dispatch of Mark Boone Junior is a highlight. B

The Curious Case of the Howling Sequels

Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf – 1985, UK/US, 90m. Director: Philippe Mora

The Howling III – 1987, Australia, 94m. Director: Philippe Mora

Howling IV: The Original Nightmare – 1988, UK, 91m. Director: John Hough

Howling V: The Rebirth – 1989, Hungary/UK, 95m. Director: Neal Sundstrom

Howling VI: The Freaks – 1991, UK, 101m. Director: Hope Perello

Howling: New Moon Rising – 1995, UK, 90m. Director: Roger Nall, Clive Turner

HOWLING II: YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF (1985) The brother of Karen White (played by Dee Wallace in the first Howling) is told by “occult investigator” Stefan Crosscoe (Christopher Lee) that Karen was a werewolf—and the removal of the silver bullet that killed her, prior to her funeral, has reawakened her. Big bro, Ben (Reb Brown), doesn’t believe Stefan—I guess he didn’t see the live newscast at the end of the Dante film—until he witnesses Karen’s hairy resurrection at the church. Ben then joins Stefan, along with Lois Lane wannabe, Jenny (Annie McEnroe), in a quest to destroy all werewolves. Luckily for them, the next full moon marks the tenth millennial birthday of Stirba (Sybil Danning), the Werewolf Queen of Transylvania, at which point all the were-people of the world will be revealed. Why this event happens and how Stefan plans to wipe out the entire werewolf population is never explained—one of the many plot holes that make Howling II the Swiss cheese of bad werewolf flicks. The movie ignores the plot points of the first film and creates a confusing mythology of werewolf lore that never makes sense, such as why garlic works at warding off werewolves, and what Transylvania has to do with anything. One has to wonder if the Old World atmosphere of the Prague filming locations was more convenience than any show of expertise on the part of the filmmakers. Truly terrible, this is an easy contender for the Worst Sequel award. Not even the sight of Chris Lee in punk rock sunglasses is worth sitting through this howler. D

THE HOWLING III (1987) Werewolves are being sighted around the world—well, mostly in Australia, where a sociologist (Barry Otto) is trying to prove their existence. Meanwhile, a young woman (Imogen Annesley) escapes from a backwoods Outback clan of inbred werewolves and ends up in Sydney, where she’s immediately cast in a horror movie called Shapeshifters Part 8! But that’s not all—there’s also a trio of werewolf hitmen nuns, and a defected Russian ballerina who transforms into a wolf while performing on stage. Ignoring the first two Howlings, this third entry in the series is so set in its weird and wacky nature that when the story tries for real drama—werewolf/human relations, anyone?—it descends into overt silliness. Having nothing to do with Gary Brandner’s book, The Howling III: Echoes, this Howling III is stupefyingly dull and loaded with uninteresting characters, chintzy werewolf FX, and lots of plot padding. Only slightly better than Howling II, but what isn’t? D

HOWLING IV: THE ORIGINAL NIGHTMARE (1988) As the title suggests, this fourth entry goes back to the original source material of Gary Brandner’s first Howling novel, and ends up being a remake of the 1981 film. Writer Marie (Romy Windsor) lives a busy life in Los Angeles—that is, until she begins having terrifying visions of a nun turning into a demonic wolf. Marie’s husband, Richard (Michael T. Weiss), decides she needs a rest away from city life. He takes her to a cabin in the wilderness, which just happens to border a small, dusty town with a grumpy sheriff who speaks in a Southern accent—in a little bit of foreshadowing, he dismisses Marie’s concerns of howling in the middle of the night. Marie’s constant paranoia turns Richard into a hotheaded jerk, which sends him into the bed of the town’s Marsha-like vamp (Lamya Derval), but by that point it’s too late, as the werewolves begin crawling out of the woodwork. The straightforward plot is refreshing after the incoherent Howling II and III. Unfortunately, Original Nightmare is so steeped in a subplot about the mysterious town that the word “werewolf” is not even mentioned until an hour into its 90-plus minutes. Windsor makes a likable protagonist, and Steven Johnson supplies the climax with some impressive makeup FX, but this is just another cut-and-paste sequel to a superior film. The silly freeze-frame ending—a staple of many eighties horror movies—is a drag. Filmed mostly in South Africa. C

HOWLING V: THE REBIRTH (1989) A medieval Hungarian castle with a mysterious past reopens to the public in present day Budapest, and a group of specifically selected tourists are the first people to step inside the building in over 500 years. It isn’t much of a surprise when a werewolf arrives and makes lunch out of the guests. The situation worsens when a snowstorm traps everybody inside the castle overnight, and the movie turns into a hairy version of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. In terms of production value and acting, The Rebirth is one of the better of the Howling sequels, and with a good performance by recognizable character actor, Phil Davis. But too many cutaways from the wolf, mixed with stiff editing, leave the viewer wondering if the filmmakers were intentionally trying to cover up their low budget. This does get points for its whodunit (or, whodawolf?) storyline, and the good cast helps with the slow pacing. Sadly, there isn’t enough meat on these bones to sink your fangs into. This takes more from The Beast Must Die than any of Gary Brandner’s Howling books. C

HOWLING VI: THE FREAKS (1991) Gary Brandner must have made a good chunk of change off these Howling movies. Despite the fact Howling VI: The Freaks is about as far removed from Brandner’s novels as it gets, this film still credits the author as being the inspiration. The plot this time involves a traveling carnival of morbid curiosities, run by the flamboyant Harker (Bruce Payne), whose sideshow includes the typical human oddities like the alligator man and the chicken-head-ripping geek. When Harker discovers mysterious drifter, Ian (Brendan Hughes), is actually a werewolf, he captures the young man and forces him into his menagerie of human creatures. It turns out Harker is actually some sort of vampiric monster himself, who frames Ian for a series of vicious murders—thereby turning the local redneck town against Ian and keeping him chained up as a sideshow freak. Character and story take center stage, and, along with good FX work by Steve Johnson and some actual suspense, Howling VI ends up being the best of the sequels. But, in the end, it’s just another lackluster, albeit above average, Howling, with not nearly enough wolf action. C+

HOWLING: NEW MOON RISING (1995) The title might sound like a new chapter, but this is another incredibly lame sequel connected to the previous films in the never-ending series. A cluster of cattle-slaughters in a small town seems to be the work of a wild animal. The decayed body of a woman is discovered close by and is identified as the werewolf character from Howling V. But more animalistic mutilations follow, with a nearby priest/occult expert believing the spirit of the deceased werewolf has body-jumped into another person. Suspicion falls on a mysterious drifter who’s taken a job at the local redneck bar—but if you’ve seen one or more of these movies you know it’s probably not him. Because of her experiences in Howling IV, the priest thinks the author, Marie (Romy Windsor), can help with the case, but she ends up getting thrown off a balcony and dies. Her connection to the current werewolf plot is never explained. The werewolf reveals themself during the last five minutes, but by that point you won’t give a shit. The werewolf transformation scene is a joke. All of this is intermixed with mundane dialogue and endless scenes of line dancing to really atrocious country music. Lowest common denominator filmmaking—this makes Howling II look good by comparison. F

All the Howling sequels are currently streaming on Tubi. For my review of Joe Dante’s original, The Howling, please go here!

Cannibal BBQ Sloppy Seconds

Please check out the first part of my series on cannibal horror – Summer BBQ: A Short Guide to Cannibal Slashers

BEYOND THE DARKNESS (1979) Young taxidermist Frank (Kieran Canter) lives in a large manor with his demented housekeeper, Iris (Franca Stoppi)—who jerks off Frank when he needs calming down—and steals the corpse of his recently deceased girlfriend, Anna, from the nearby cemetery. Indulging in his aforementioned hobby, Frank embalms (in a very graphic scene) Anna and turns her into another of the stuffed animals he has scattered in the basement. When a hitchhiker comes snooping around, Frank and Iris dispatch her, chop her into bits, and dissolve the parts in an acid bath, but not before Iris saves the remains and adds them to her stew. Frank’s bloodlust and taste for cannibalism rise, and more gruesome murders ensue. A brutal and unpleasant film, Beyond the Darkness is too bleak and depressing to really enjoy, although maybe that’s the point. It is nonetheless a well-acted and directed (by Joe’D Amato) piece of Italian gore cinema, and as graphic a film you’ll likely see—but there’s not much fun to be had in any of it. Terrific score by Goblin. C

CANNIBAL FEROX (1981) No implied blood and guts here. No editing away and leaving the red stuff to the imagination of the viewer. In Cannibal Ferox, people are chopped, gutted, dissected, decapitated, castrated, tortured, and in the end are turned into a hot meal for an Amazonian jungle civilization—all in colorful close-up. As for the plot, it’s basically a rerun of director Umberto Lenzi’s previous cannibal epic, Eaten Alive!, with white men invading a “savage” forest society and getting their much-deserved comeuppance. Those being served as the buffet are a grad school student (Lorraine De Selle) doing a thesis on the myth of cannibalism, her airhead friend (Zora Kerova), who’s looking for the next party, and the source of our protagonists’ problems, a coke-fueled drug dealer (the late Giovanni Lombardo Radice), who’s lost any sense of social grace after discovering emeralds in the riverbed of a nearby village. Character and story are jettisoned for gore, and it’s all surprisingly effective—when the bubbleheads are ripped apart you can’t help but flinch. A sleazy semi-classic originally released as Make Them Die Slowly. B

CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980) Dubbed “the one that goes all the way,” and for good reason. Cannibal Holocaust is a film that doesn’t have any pretenses about its grisly subject matter, so if the title alone makes you wince, it’s a safe bet this is not the film for you. Four up-and-coming documentarians set out to make a film deep within the Amazon. When they fail to return home, a New York anthropologist (Robert Kerman) agrees to help lead a rescue mission, venturing into the uncharted rainforest to find the missing filmmakers. Instead, he finds their skeletal remains and the film they shot before their deaths—a plot device famously revisited in The Blair Witch Project nineteen years later. The final thirty or so minutes of Cannibal Holocaust is composed of the footage the four filmed, revealing the truth of what really happened. Despite its rough-around-the-edges demeanor—overwrought acting mixed with lousy dubbing kill the impact of certain “serious” scenes—the movie has the uncanny ability to get under your skin, building an air of claustrophobia and intensity that most other Italian gut-munchers of the era lacked. As with the best of horror, Cannibal Holocaust is grim and unforgiving in its portrayal of psychological terror and can be a tough watch even for the most jaded viewer. B+

EATEN ALIVE! (1980) Southern Belle Sheila (Janet Agren) finds herself in the jungles of New Guinea, where she believes her sister was last seen before disappearing. There she hires American expat Mark (Robert Kerman)—who likes his Jim Beam a bit too much—to help locate sis, but ends up running afoul of snakes, crocodiles, and cannibals. The crocs gobble up a local guide, while the cannibals make a feast of a nearby villager (after raping her, of course). Sheila and Mark eventually discover the sister (Paola Senatore) has joined a cult which worships a man named Jonas (Ivan Rassimov), who teaches the way of purification. In other words, rape, torture, and cannibalism are all part of Jonas’s periodic table of “enlightenment.” Despite such a sensational title, Eaten Alive! is fairly tepid, lacking the gritty gruesomeness of its predecessor, Cannibal Holocaust, which this film is clearly emulating. That would explain the overuse of animal cruelty, and the casting of Kerman, who played a similar role in the earlier movie. Lots o’gore, but not much else. Friendly cannibal Me Me Lai’s death scene (in which her abdomen is cut open and loaded with burning hot rocks) is actually older footage lifted from Ruggero Deodato’s 1977 movie Jungle Holocaust. C

THE GREEN INFERNO (2013) The upper crust students of Columbia University are hellbent on organizing protests, mostly likely so they don’t have to go to class. This is good news for freshman Justine (Lorenza Izzo), whose father just happens to work for the United Nations—a connection that gains Justine entrance into a snotty activist group lead by the charismatic Alejandro (Ariel Levy), who’s putting together a trip to Peru. Alejandro and gang—including Justine—head there to prevent Big Business from tearing down the rainforest and to protect the Amazon’s natural resources, which apparently includes cannibalism. They quickly learn White Man is not welcome in the “green inferno” and are eventually dismembered by an indigenous jungle tribe and served for dinner, eliminating any chance for extra credit. A tribute to the Italian cannibal movies of the seventies and eighties, The Green Inferno is a competently-made piece of splatter filmmaking, which by the 45-minute mark basically becomes a remake of Cannibal Ferox. It lacks the claustrophobic intensity of Cannibal Holocaust, but it’s still an undeniably (if uneven) gruesome experience. Ignore the monumentally stupid mid-end-credits twist. B

JUNGLE HOLOCAUST (1977) Also known as Last Cannibal World. A small plane crash-lands on the remote Philippine island of Mindanao, where the survivors encounter a tribe of people that never left the Stone Age. After half of the survivors are killed and eaten by the locals, oilman Robert (Massimo Foschi) is captured, stripped naked, and kept as a sort of pet/plaything by the savages—the tribe’s children delight in pissing on the poor guy, but not before Robert is served human remains for dinner. Robert is eventually awarded sympathy by one of the society’s more “civilized” members (Me Me Lai), who sets him free. The two flee into the jungle to face even more horror, natural and unnatural. The obvious blueprint for future Italian cannibal movies, Jungle Holocaust features the appropriate amount of meat-eating, but that’s just background dressing in the film, which is written as more of a jungle survival adventure, albeit a very brutal one. That’s not to say the movie is without its gory delights, because it’s not: a sequence in which Robert must feast on the innards of his vanquished enemy to prove his dominance and gain ultimate survival is quite nasty. Director Ruggero Deodato learned a lot from this little bit of (enjoyable) exploitation, as his next film, Cannibal Holocaust, would top the gore and suspense aspects in almost every way. B

If you haven’t yet, please follow my new podcast channel The Video Verdict, which I cohost with friend and fellow movie nerd Frank Pittarese. The episodes are available on Podbean. Our latest is all about cannibal jungle movies!

Summer BBQ: A Short Guide to Cannibal Slashers

For a review of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) please click on the titles!

ANTHROPOPHAGUS (1980) The population of a small island off the coast of Athens declines substantially after its newest resident, psychotic killer Klaus Wortmann (George Eastman), arrives and devours most of the islanders. You see, Klaus’s sanity completely cracked when he and his family were lost at sea—an experience Klaus survived by eating the flesh of his dead son and wife. Sometime later, a boatload of vacationers are directed to the island by an American (Tisa Farrow) and end up getting hacked to pieces (literally) by the cannibal. The acting and writing are all subpar, but it’s the splatter that matters in a movie like this, and Anthropophagus delivers in true Italian fashion. Such is the case when the madman rips out the fetus of a woman and takes a bite of the entrails, a gruesome detail that lent the film notoriety upon its release—but the scene was removed from most prints, including the original American release dubbed The Grim Reaper. Director Joe D’Amato (a.k.a. Aristide Massaccesi, also the co-writer) builds a feeling of menace throughout the movie, with excellent use of atmospheric, old-school gothic lighting and some actual suspense towards the end—in a weird twist of fate, the killer’s slow stalking speed makes him appear even creepier. A worthy entry in the Italian-cannibal-gore sweepstakes that was followed a year later by a semi-sequel, Absurd. B+

LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III (1990) As the film opens, our heroine drives down a dusty patch of backwoods Texas road and passes a sign which reads, “Don’t mess with Texas.” Wiser words were never written within the context of a horror movie. The woman in question, Michelle (Kate Hodge)—a pacifist who can’t stomach the sight of roadkill—turns off the main highway and runs smack into Leatherface (R.A. Mihailoff) and his shiny chainsaw, which is nearly as big as he is. Returning to the gruesome nature of the original, Chainsaw Massacre III ignores the events of the satirical Part 2 and acts as a direct sequel to Tobe Hooper’s 1974 film. Leatherface lives with a new family of demented cannibals—they mostly refer to Bubba as “Junior,” suggesting this different set of characters are extended family from those in the first movie. Grandpa is long dead, but that doesn’t stop the family’s little girl (Jennifer Banko) from feeding his desiccated body the blood collected from victims. Not many liked this third Chainsaw outing when it was originally released. True, it lacks the suspense and intelligence of its predecessors. But I think Texas Chainsaw III is a decent entry in the series and offers good acting, a couple of scares, and a lightening-quick pace. Dawn of the Dead‘s Ken Foree is excellent as a survivalist who steps in and gives the Leatherface clan a taste of their own medicine, so to speak. B

LUNCHMEAT (1987) This backwoods meat movie must have been made by people who just really love The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; its story, characters, and motivations are all similar to that 1974 classic in more ways than one. A family of sadistic cannibals—who make the cast of Duck Dynasty seem classy by comparison—make ends meet by selling their “leftovers” to a nearby burger joint. When the redneck family isn’t engaging in entrepreneurialism, mean ol’ Paw is beating his oafish son (who growls like a dog) while the other brothers act as if they’re auditioning for a revival of Three Stooges. Fortunately for the family, a carload of California yuppies runs smack into their lair, ensuring a well-stocked pantry for the coming winter. Luckily for the viewer, none of this zero-budget production is to be taken seriously; Lunchmeat is an obvious parody of its Texas Chainsaw inspirations and even offers several laughs throughout. The movie is also quite gruesome, with some particularly gnarly FX thrown in for good measure. The story runs out of ideas about 40 minutes in, which is a shame since the movie is 88 minutes. C+

MOTEL HELL (1980) Fifties western star Rory Calhoun is Vincent Smith, a seemingly gentle farmer who also runs the adjacent Motel Hello with his younger sister, Ida (Nancy Parsons). In between praising the Lord and helping strangers out of traffic accidents in the middle of the night, Farmer Vincent smokes his own meats, which he sells to the tourists—tourists?!—who happen by his backwoods business. The secret ingredient to his meat recipe is, of course, humans. Vincent’s victims are an assortment of unsavory individuals—mostly bikers and punk rockers—whom Vincent keeps alive for a short while by performing Dr. Moreau-style vocal cord removal, then burying them up to their necks until the meat is prime for pickin’. Taking a cue from Piranha, Motel Hell is more of a parody of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (with a splash of Sweeney Todd), and wisely so. The touches of black comedy give the film a sense of originality that many of the seventies meat movies didn’t have, with the exception of maybe Terror at Red Wolf Inn. That’s not to say Motel Hell isn’t also an effective horror movie, because it is, especially during its buzz-fueled chainsaw-fight climax. In a way, Motel Hell is a homage to a bygone era of horror films, and predicted the impending revival of the splatter movie. And remember: It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent Fritters! B+

TERROR AT RED WOLF INN (1972) Happy-go-lucky college student Regina (Linda Gillen)—who’s got a poster of Jean-Paul Belmondo in her chic hippy dorm—believes she’s won a weekend getaway at a bed and breakfast-type hostelry called The Red Wolf Inn. Along with two other women, Regina arrives at the country inn and immediately takes a liking to the owners’ handsome but child-like grandson (John Neilson), unaware that his grandparents (fifties sci-fi/horror vet Arthur Space and The Waltons‘ Mary Jackson) are actually cannibalistic psychos—and Regina is next on the menu. This well-acted little oddity predates Texas Chainsaw Massacre with its “meat movie” overtones, although Terror at Red Wolf Inn is less about the gruesome and is sprinkled with black humor—a scene of Regina and her fellow companions unknowingly chowing down on human meat to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance” is particularly amusing. The original title, The Folks at Red Wolf Inn, is much better. The end credits are a delight, with most of the cast listed under “main course, ĂĄ la carte.” B

THREE ON A MEATHOOK (1972) A bleach-blonde, California-tanned sexpot and her three equally buxom gal pals find themselves stranded in some Kentucky backwoods while on a weekend excursion. It doesn’t come as any surprise to the viewer when the four are brutally butchered while spending the night in a strange farmhouse occupied by seemingly good-natured Billy (James Carroll Pickett), who’s repeatedly told by his suspiciously foreshadowing father, “You know how you get around women, son.” But is Billy really responsible for the heinous crimes? This Ed Gein/Psycho-influenced shocker predates Texas Chainsaw Massacre by two years and delivers plenty of bloody delights for the gore enthusiast. Pickett’s Norman Bates-ish performance is good, it’s all competently directed by William Girdler (Grizzly), and it has more character development than you’d expect from a film with such a sensational title (which won’t make sense until the last five minutes). B

WRONG TURN 2: DEAD END (2007) Contrived sequel/remake about the return of the backwoods cannibalistic inbred clan from the superior 2003 movie—this time there are about ten hillbilly cannibals versus the original three from the first film. I guess backwoods cannibalistic inbred families breed much faster than non-cannibalistic inbred families? A group of self-centered douchebags filming the pilot for a reality television show in the wilds of West Virginia are set upon by the murderous, deformed cannibal family, who this time all look like Tweedledum and Tweedledee by way of Ren & Stimpy. The assortment of macho jerks and bimbo TV contestants are deservedly splattered down to size—one woman is split down the middle with an ax, her guts spilling onto the ground as the left and right sides of her body separate. It all comes to a gore-drenched head in a showdown between the remaining contestants and what’s left of the cannibal family, many of which were bumped off Rambo-style by the TV show’s ex-military mastermind (Henry Rollins). The gore delivers, but the film itself is too gimmicky and cheap to amount to much. C

My Top 20 of the ’80s

AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) John Landis followed up his one-two punch of Animal House and Blues Brothers with this superlative horror-comedy about American backpacker, David (David Naughton), who, while hiking the English moors, is cursed with turning into a werewolf. Funny, touching, and scary, American Werewolf set the standard for the modern werewolf movie, and has yet to be matched. Rick Baker’s Oscar-winning special FX still pack a wallop.

THE BLOB (1988) Before he was handling Hollywood heavyweights Jim Carrey and Schwarzenegger, director Chuck Russell was one of horror’s most visually successful filmmakers, going from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 to this first-rate remake of the 1950’s cult classic about a man-made WMD gone horribly awry. Seamlessly mixing excellent special effects into its story and populated by well-written characters, The Blob is that rare remake that’s ten times better than its source material.

THE BURNING (1981) One of the best of the Friday the 13th rip-offs, The Burning is that rare slasher that presents both a fascinating killer arc and a satisfying protagonist story that converge at the end. An immensely likable cast of campers are terrorized by the creepy Cropsy, the former summer camp caretaker who’s seeking revenge for the prank which, five years earlier, left him a fire-scarred monster. A bleak atmosphere, some good scares, and ultra-gory splatter by Tom Savini make this a shining example of low-budget ’80s horror.

CREEPSHOW (1982) The teaming of George Romero and Stephen King paid off with this spirited tribute to the EC Comics of the ’50s. Spinning five tales of terror, Creepshow perfectly balances its scares with laughs, and each story delivers excellent acting and a sense of love for the subject matter. Hal Holbrook, Leslie Nielsen, E.G. Marshal, and Viveca Lindfors are all first-rate, as are the Savini make-up effects, including the ultimate bug rampage.

DAY OF THE DEAD (1985) Zombie King George Romero’s last great film, and the pinnacle of Tom Savini’s stomach-churning gore FX, Day of the Dead might lack Dawn‘s epic sense of story and character arcs, but this strong entry in the Living Dead series is filled with good acting, intelligent story structure, and some truly suspenseful set pieces. Lori Cardille’s Sarah is perhaps the most underrated heroine of the ’80s.

DRESSED TO KILL (1980) Brain De Palma has often been criticized for imitating Hitchcock, and although Dressed to Kill is essentially Psycho turned inside out, De Palma here proved he’s a genuine filmmaker in his own right. From its opening shower dream sequence, to its mesmerizing tracking shots, to the shocking final twist, Dressed to Kill is a slasher fever dream wrapped in a blanket of visual trickery that only De Palma—and, well, Hitchcock—could get away with. It’s a film that’s always one step ahead of you, and it’s as polished and slick as they come.

THE EVIL DEAD (1981) The original cabin-in-the-woods movie, The Evil Dead single-handedly created a sub-school of demonic possession/zombie flicks that made up half of the horror titles of the 1980s. The simple premise of college students accidentally summoning ancient demons that possess them into disfigured zombies is taken to groundbreaking heights thanks to Sam Raimi’s brilliant handling of the material—especially the whiplash-inducing, guerrilla-style camera work that’s since been copied to death, and the wink-wink black comedy thrown in with the outrageous gore. Bruce Campbell’s Ash is the anti-hero of ’80s splatter.

THE FLY (1986) Cronenberg’s masterful remake of the 1958 Vincent Price film is the kind of “re-imagining” Hollywood can only dream of making these days. Jeff Goldblum gives a star-making turn as the doomed Seth Brundle, whose teleportation science project turns him into the titular monster. Equally devastating is his blossoming relationship with journalist, Veronica (Geena Davis), who’s forced to make the ultimate sacrifice. Thoughtful, shocking, and sad, The Fly works because we ourselves fall in love with the characters, and they’ll stay with you after the movie ends.

FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) Initially looked at as nothing more than a Halloween clone, Friday the 13th has proven itself its own beast and is still one of the best slashers of all time. Set at the quaint, woodsy Camp Crystal Lake, New Jersey, an attempted reopening of the place is interrupted by a shadowy killer who bumps off most of the bubbly twenty-somethings until remaining counselor, Alice (Adrienne King), is the Final Girl standing. The murderer turns out to be the camp’s previous cook, Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer), who’s taking revenge for the tragic drowning of her son, Jason, neglected by horny counselors years earlier. With a likable cast, terrific location, and an enjoyably memorable killer, Friday is, in many ways, the perfect slasher.

HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982) It’s ironic that the best sequel in the Halloween franchise doesn’t feature the masked maniac Michael Myers. Instead, this colorful entry spins a supernatural tale of witchcraft and robots in the small hamlet of Santa Rosa, where maniacal Irishman, Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy), uses the powers of his ancestors to create Halloween masks that will kill all of America’s kids. Fast-paced and with a genuine comic book vibe—and a terrific score by Alan Howarth and John Carpenter—Season of the Witch is pure ’80s cheesy gold that works wonderfully.

THE LOST BOYS (1987) The best MTV movie MTV never made, The Lost Boys is possibly the quintessential horror movie—one that completely encapsulates the late 1980s. With a pounding rock soundtrack, flashy and colorful fashions, a first-rate cast (Corey Feldman, Corey Haim, Jason Patrick, Jamie Gertz, Kiefer Sutherland, Dianne Wiest), and terrific make-up effects, The Lost Boys took the dusty vampire movie into the roaring ’80s and infused it with exciting, fast-paced filmmaking. Sutherland makes for a seductive and scary vamp, while Wiest, Haim, and Patrick have a wonderfully affecting mother-and-sons subplot.

MANIAC (1980) The polar opposite of the post-Friday the 13th slashers, William Lustig’s brutal Maniac is perhaps the most unforgiving horror film of the decade. It also happens to be suspenseful, ugly, shocking, and packaged in a nearly-claustrophobic atmosphere that gets under your skin. Joe Spinell’s Frank Zito is a composite of the many types of serial killers that were predominant at the time, giving the movie a creepily authentic feel.

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) You can’t write about ’80s horror and not mention Wes Craven’s brilliant take on the slasher. With Freddy Krueger, horror had a new iconic killer, brought to life by Robert Englund’s perfect handling of the material. Unlike Michael Myers or Jason, Freddy has a disturbing, unmasked, fire-scarred face, which Englund uses to his full potential. And with Nancy, Heather Langenkamp’s brainy, strong Final Girl, Nightmare delivers a rousing roller coaster ride of scares, laughs, and some spectacular FX set pieces—including the shocking murder of Nancy’s BFF, Tina (Amanda Wyss). There’s also a touching mother/daughter relationship rarely seen in ’80s horror, which is just another wonderfully written addition to a great film.

POLTERGEIST (1982) The film that brought the big budget special FX horror movie back into fashion, this influential Spielberg production became the blueprint from which all future haunted house flicks copied. The All-American Freeling family think they’ve bought their dream home, not realizing the California tract house in question harbors the vengeful spirits of the dead, whose graves were desecrated by the neighborhood’s development company. Despite its masterful special effects showcase, Poltergeist works because of director Tobe Hooper’s handling of the characters, who are always treated more importantly than the supernatural activity, making the film a first-rate thrill machine. It also reminded us why we’re scared of clowns.

PSYCHO II (1983) Unfairly criticized upon its original release, Psycho II is finally receiving the praise it deserves. Paying respect to Hitchcock, as well as updating the story for a modern slasher audience, the film shows how Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) has been declared sane by the state and released. Good ole Mama’s Boy Norman returns to the Bates Motel to find the place has been turned into a sleazy hangout for drug addicts and prostitutes, managed by a slimeball (Dennis Franz) who keeps referring to Normal as “loony.” It isn’t long until Mother starts beckoning (this time on the phone) Norman to do her dirty work and eliminating the sluts and weirdos who deserve it—including the beautiful Marion Crane-ish Mary (Meg Tilly), who’s shacking up with Norman and who might have a secret of her own. Conceived as a whodunit—is Norman really the killer, or is someone out to drive him crazy again?—Psycho II works wonderfully, mostly thanks to its cast (especially Tilly’s sympathetic Mary) and director Richard Franklin’s suspenseful set-ups and sequences.

THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985) Taking all the rules of the Romero school of zombies and turning them on their heads, Return offers a wholly different take on the zombie movie by infusing its story with characters who’ve actually seen Night of the Living Dead—so when the dead crawl from their tombs, the survivors already know you gotta shoot ’em in the head. When an army-secured vat containing the remains of a corpse is accidentally opened by a couple of lunkheads, it releases a toxic green mist into the nearby cemetery, causing the neighborhood to overflow with the walking dead. And these zombies don’t just walk, but run and speak! Oh, and the whole “destroying the brain” thing doesn’t work in this universe. Written and directed by Dan O’Bannon, Return of the Living Dead is a film that’s pulsing with energy from beginning to end. It’s also extremely funny, and scary.

THE SHINING (1980) The perfect example of an artistic filmmaker at his prime, The Shining is Stanley Kubrick’s definitive work as both a master storyteller and a brilliant director. Wisely excising a large portion of Stephen King’s mammoth novel, Kubrick sets up the basics of the book and delivers a chilling story about Jack Torrence (an unforgettable Jack Nicholson), a man struggling in life and with art; his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall); and young son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), all of whom become victims of the sinister Overlook Hotel. The cast is excellent—especially Nicholson in a performance that would be mimicked for years to come—and Kubrick’s haunting tracking shots and use of wide open spaces gives the film a genuinely bone-chilling feel. An unsettling psychological slow-burn with a powerhouse climax, The Shining is in many ways the perfect horror movie.

SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983) An absurd slasher masterwork, Sleepaway Camp is the only rip-off of the 1980s to accidentally becomes a work of genius. In an attempt to mimic the success of Friday the 13th, the movie’s plot—about the gruesome murders of campers and counselors at a summer camp in upstate New York—becomes secondary to the larger-than-life characters and the overwhelming atmosphere of pure, unadulterated ’80s nostalgia. It shouldn’t, yet everything about the movie works, including Felissa Rose as Angela, who, in the film’s infamous twist ending, is revealed to be a teenage boy.

THE STEPFATHER (1987) Before he starred in the popular TV show, Lost, Terry O’Quinn gave a scarily realistic performance of a mentally unhinged serial killer in this nail-biting chiller. Both charming and unsettling, O’Quinn is Jerry Blake, a seemingly mild-mannered businessman whose recent marriage to single mom, Susan, (Shelley Hack), doesn’t sit well with daughter, Stephanie (Jill Schoelen), and for good reason. Jerry has a nasty habit of marrying into families and killing them when they don’t meet his Leave It to Beaver worldview. It builds to an incredibly intense finale between stepdad and stepdaughter. An underrated gem.

THE THING (1982) Much like The Blob remake, John Carpenter’s rebuffing of The Thing From Another World is a shining example of a remake done better. Kurt Russell gives one of his best performances as MacReady, the headstrong helicopter pilot stationed at Outpost 31 in the Antarctic. The U.S. research spot becomes a hotbed of paranoia when an alienoid parasite defrosts from its crashed spaceship and begins replicating and picking off the Outpost staff. Intense and claustrophobic, Carpenter not only builds suspense, but pushes it into your face when you least expect it. Added to the mix are some jaw-dropping Rob Bottin creature FX, which still hold up today.

Honorable Mentions: Friday the 13th Part 2, Fright Night, Hellraiser, The Howling, Humanoids from the Deep, Near Dark, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, Re-Animator, Silent Night, Deadly Night

’80s horror-com Girlfriend from Hell is a treasure

There were a lot of horror comedies in the ’80s and ’90s. For me, none attain the charm, likability, and pure laugh-out-loud moments like 1989’s Girlfriend from Hell. Although it had its premiere at the Houston Film Festival in April, 1989, it wasn’t officially released (on video) until 1990. I first noticed it—sadly—in a sale bin at the local mall’s Saturday Matinee video store, circa 1993. Intrigued by the colorful VHS box art of star Liane Curtis with wild ’80s devil-hair, her oversized hand reaching to grab one of the men scrambling to escape, I immediately scooped it up and have since been a fan.

Cute preppy couple, Diane (Lezlie Deane) and David (James Daughton), decide to fix up their respective friends, Maggie (Curtis) and Carl (Anthony Barrile), on a blind date. The thing is, both Maggie and Carl suffer from extreme self-esteem issues and are unbearably shy. Carl’s shyness is so crippling that it prevents him from getting ready for his date—at which point his father (James Karen) tells him to “give up and go get it from the neighborhood slut,” like he did. Moments later, Carl’s enlightened dad is punched out by his loving, hair roller-wearing mother.

Only slightly more outgoing, Maggie is so nervous about meeting Carl that she’s constantly on the verge of puking. She, Diane, David, and Carl converge at a birthday party for Rocco (Ken Abraham), boyfriend and punching bag to Alice (Hilary Morse). While Alice and Rocco throw food at each other—admittedly, I named a goldfish after Rocco!—the Devil himself arrives and slams right into Maggie, along with devil-bounty hunter, Chaser (Dana Ashbrook). Maggie becomes possessed, sheds her shy, good-girl act, and becomes a busty, big-haired party woman who knocks Chaser out and hides him in the closet.

It isn’t long until Maggie/the Devil becomes the life (and death) of the party by drinking all the booze (“Maggie, when did you start drinking?”), playing loud rock music, and seducing all the men. The comedy gets amped when Freda (Sarah Katie Coughlan) and Teddy (Brad Zutaut) arrive after having been at Bible camp for two weeks. Everyone watches slack-jawed while Maggie breaks out into a diatribe against Jesus and Christianity. “I doubt the Lord would find that amusing,” remarks Teddy. Moments later Maggie possesses a baby to viciously attack its mother.

Maggie eventually (and literally) sucks the souls out of most of the men at the party before Chaser awakens and informs Diane that, decades earlier—when he died—he was awarded the role of Devil-chaser by God to atone for his sins. With his handy transporter device, Chaser teams up with Diane to capture Maggie and send the Devil back to Hell. Unfortunately, Diane breaks the transporter, sending the two through time while Maggie continues to collect souls—including Teddy’s, who’s turned into a zombified sex-fiend after Maggie, in the words of Freda, touches his “pee-pee.” (Maggie later turns Freda into a goldfish.)

The reason Girlfriend from Hell works is mostly because of the cast. Deane and Ashbrook play well off each other, while Abraham and Morse have some truly gut-busting moments together. Coughlan steals most of her scenes as Freda, who comes off as a sort of nerdy Daryl Hannah. The entire film rests on the shoulders of Curtis (Sixteen Candles, Critters 2), whose comedic timing is pitch perfect; her scenes with Barrile (Vinnie from Friday the 13th Part V) are some of the best in the movie, particularly in a moment when, after nearly running over gun-carrying nuns named Sisters Franks and Beans, Barrile states, “I like her! I really do!”

Having finally gotten a Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome, Girlfriend from Hell is alive and well, and ready for rediscovery!

Summer Camp Slashers Part 2: Cheerleader Camp and Sleepaway Camp

This post contains spoilers!

Summer camp has long been a traditional place for deformed, masked killers to do their slicing ‘n’ dicing. Thanks to Friday the 13th, the slasher film found a home away from home, an isolated location where there would be 1) plenty of nubile young people roaming the area, 2) separation from any sort of protective adult authorities, 3) forest terrain in which the mysterious killer could massacre a handful of pretty, bikini-clad cheerleaders and their horny boyfriends without anyone catching wise—until it’s too late.

One of the most (in)famous summer camp slashers is undoubtedly 1983’s Sleepaway Camp. Several years after witnessing her father’s death in a boating accident, mentally damaged teenager, Angela (Felissa Rose)—now living with her kooky aunt (Desiree Gould)—is, along with her cousin, Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten), sent to Camp Arawak for a summer of fun and sun. Once there, Angela is introduced to an assortment of characters: Judy (Karen Fields), the camp tramp; Meg (Katherine Kamhi), the eternal sourpuss; Paul (Christopher Collet), the love interest; Mel (Mike Kellin), the camp owner; and Artie (Owen Hughes), the cook-slash-pervert.

Most of these lively characters exist to make the severely shy Angela’s time at camp a living hell, especially the bitchy duo of Judy and Meg. But when those who are mean to Angela—which seems to be just about everyone—begin turning up mangled and dead, all fingers point to Ricky, Angela’s protector. It’s no surprise to anyone reading this that the assailant is Angela, who’s actually a boy named Peter, a secret revealed in the film’s shocking twist ending: Angela, standing butt-naked on the moonlit lake shore, bloody knife in one hand, a decapitated head in the other. . . dick and balls out. The shot has become the stuff of slasher movie legend. (Interesting tidbit: Sleepaway Camp might be the only ’80s slasher to feature exclusively all-male nudity.)

Sleepaway Camp is in a category by itself. It took a theme Friday the 13th introduced—a killer at summer camp— which SC mirrors, but elevates it to the level of absurdist masterpiece. No other slasher flick of the time period captures the wonderfully ostentatious essence of the pure, unadulterated ’80s like Sleepaway Camp. The movie doesn’t try to be another Friday, yet it’s obviously aware of the footsteps its following. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime work of genius that can’t be replicated. Director and writer, Robert Hiltzik, wisely handed over the Felissa-less Sleepaway Camps 2 and 3 to Michael A. Simpson and Michael Hitchcock, possibly with the realization that he wouldn’t be able to top himself—and he didn’t. Hiltzik returned in 2008 to direct the “official” sequel, Return to Sleepaway Camp, which is, despite Rose’s participation, an unfortunate failure.

Coming on the tail end of the Golden Age of slashers is 1988’s Cheerleader Camp. Set at an isolated, pom-pom-waving getaway called Camp Hurrah, a competition for the upcoming state finals is interrupted by the apparent suicide of popular Suzy (Krista Pflanzer), which is followed by a series of murders. Could the killer be Pop (George Flower), the creepy camp custodian? Or maybe Pam (Teri Weigel), the jealous, booby-flashing Queen Bee? There’s also Brent (Leif Garrett), the horny cheer coach whose advances were turned down by Suzy hours before her death. But what about Alison (Betsy Russell), the nightmare-plagued, emotionally fragile protagonist who just happens to be Brent’s girlfriend?

The story crescendos during the crowning of the Camp Queen when bodies start piling up, including amateur videographer, Timmy (Travis McKenna), whose disemboweling is recorded over his homemade porn. The major red herring is Brent, but the killer is actually Cory (Lucinda Dickey), the dowdy team mascot who, in the final scene, frames Alison for the murders before donning a cheerleader uniform and breaking into a cheer, asking the audience to, “Give me a C-O-R-Y!”

Filmed as Bloody Pom-Poms, Cheerleader Camp is a cheesy good time. Never taking itself seriously, the movie functions as a whodunit, all the while being playfully humorous—this is a flick that knows it’s silly. All the characters are fun and likable, and the plot moves quickly. Russell (Saw III-V) makes a sympathetic leading lady, and McKenna is a lovable horn-dog. It’s not going to be remembered in the annals of slasher movie history, but for us hardcore ’80s slasher aficionados, Cheerleader Camp is a cheerfully trashy delight. Cheerleader Camp: B Sleepaway Camp: A

Please check out Part 1 of Summer Camp Slashers

And, let’s not forget the Sleepaway Camp sequels…

SLEEPAWAY CAMP 2: UNHAPPY CAMPERS (1988) The years after the massacre at Camp Arawak have been enlightening for Angela, a.k.a. Peter Baker, the 14-year-old who killed all those who made his/her life hell at camp. Having seen the errors of her ways, Angela is now more of a Puritan killer, bumping off teenagers who indulge in swearing, drinking, fornicating, drug-taking, and generally bad behavior. Moments after cutting out a girl’s tongue, Angela cheerfully tells someone, “There’s plenty of good kids. You’ve just got to weed out the bad!” Having had gender reassignment surgery and using the surname Johnson, Angela is now a counselor at Camp Rolling Hills, where the usual assortment of foul-mouthed campers become fodder for Angela’s array of weapons, including knives, drills, battery acid, and a guitar string she uses to garrote a poor girl who talks too much. Tonally different from Sleepaway Camp, Unhappy Campers is a straightforward parody of ’80s slasher movies—and of itself—right down to its jokey, self-referential nature; in order to give Angela a scare, two boys dress up as Freddy and Jason, but end up on the wrong side of Angela’s Leatherface-inspired chainsaw. And it all works extremely well, offering plenty of laughs and some juicy deaths. The cast is first-rate, with RenĂ©e Estevez (Emilio’s sis) a sympathetic Final Girl, but kudos goes to Pamela Springsteen (Bruce’s sis), whose adult Angela is both likable and nasty. B+

SLEEPAWAY CAMP 3: TEENAGE WASTELAND (1989) Having “slummed it” in the year following her bloody escape at Camp Rolling Hills, Angela (Pamela Springsteen), runs over a city girl on her way to camp with a Mack 10. The eternal moralist, Angela impersonates the dead girl and immediately goes to work eliminating those she feels are a bad influence, including a drug-taking news reporter to whom Angela gives a gram of Ajax while informing the TV correspondent, “It’ll really clean your pipes!” The camp in question is an experimental program mixing inner city and suburban teens, operated by a stingy layabout (Sandra Dorsey) and her lecherous husband (Michael J. Pollard), whose fling with one of the camping bimbos sends Angela into a tizzy—so she mutilates him with a tree branch. One of horror cinema’s most prolific serial killers, Angela wipes out the entire cast until a showdown with Last Woman Standing, Tracy Griffith, sends Angela off in an ambulance. Even more of a comedy than Part 2, Teenage Wasteland doesn’t contain the magic of its predecessors—the exhausting back-to-back shooting of this film with Sleepaway Camp 2 results in a clear disintegration in quality—with a majority of the characters being too imbecilic to care about. Most of the gore FX were trimmed, making the death scenes less enticing than Angela’s post-kill quips, the best of which comes after she rips the arms off an S&M enthusiast who plans on running for office: “Thank God there’ll be one less idiot in politics.” B

Impulse is an Overlooked ’80s Chiller

When Jennifer (Meg Tilly), a young ballet dancer, receives a distressing phone call from her mother that results in an attempted suicide, Jennifer and her doctor boyfriend, Stuart (Tim Matheson), head back to her hometown to visit her family. Upon arriving in the small Midwestern town, Jennifer and Stuart begin to notice several of the residents acting strangely, including her younger brother, Eddie (Bill Paxton), and an old friend who, one night at a bar, breaks his own fingers after being rejected by Jennifer when asked for a dance.

The town’s situation continues to get weirder when the next day Stuart’s car is intentionally, repeatedly smashed into by a disgruntled driver. While Stuart and local doctor, Carr (Hume Cronyn), try to figure out what’s causing the mass hysteria, Jennifer visits her childhood friend, Margo (Amy Stryker), only to be almost killed when Margo’s children trap her inside their garage and set it on fire.

Jennifer’s mother eventually dies, but Stuart is under the impression it wasn’t natural. Trying to escape and seek help, Jennifer, Stuart, and Carr discover the bridge out of town has been intentionally destroyed, trapping them. The townsfolk become more agitated, and it isn’t long until Stuart begins showing signs of violent tendencies. When some strangers in “official use only” trucks begin poking around, Stuart, still maintaining some self-control, discovers a leak from a nearby toxic waste vault has seeped into the soil and contaminated the dairy farm owned by Jennifer’s family, where the local milk is manufactured.

What sounds like a remake of George A. Romero’s 1973 cult classic, The Crazies, is apparently based on an idea by Stephen King. And while there are extreme similarities to Romero’s film, Impulse contains enough original material to set it apart as its own work. The biggest difference between the films is that, here, the infected characters retain some of their original mindset, whereas the victims in Crazies turn into mindless psychopaths. This makes the stakes higher for the survival of our heroes, especially when Stuart, after having threatened Jennifer with lustful violence, sees the error of his ways and tries his best to discover the cause of the contagion before his mind breaks completely.

The cast is good, especially Tilly, who maintains a sense of vulnerability and toughness throughout most of the film. Matheson is sympathetic as the love interest and eventual antihero, while Paxton gives off good evil-sibling vibes. The screenplay (by Nicholas Kazan and Don Carlos Dunaway) keeps the pace moving while being mostly unpredictable, with plenty of sustained tension. There’s also a hinted backstory involving Eddie’s incestuous desires for Jennifer, and the turbulent mother/daughter relationship between Jennifer and her mom.

Impulse might not rank high on the classics mantel, but it’s a good, suspenseful little movie that deserves rediscovery.

Made-for-TV Monster Movies

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, 1973

by Frank Pittarese

The ‘70s were the golden age of made-for-TV horror. It was a decade that gave us The Night Stalker, Trilogy of Terror, and Steven Spielberg’s adrenaline-filled Duel. It was also prime-time for monsters, as seen in these three creature features

GARGOYLES is one of the most memorable monsterfests of the era. When Dr. Mercer Boley (Cornel Wilde) and his daughter Diana (Jennifer Salt) visit the deserts of New Mexico to research his book on demonology, the two inadvertently come into possession of a bizarre animal skull. From that moment on they’re hunted and attacked, as hordes of reptilian gargoyles relentlessly try to reclaim the skull. When one of the gargoyles is killed, the creatures abducts Diana and the monsters’ master plan of global domination is revealed.

Originally airing in November of 1972, this short-length TV classic features unforgettable make-up work by Stan Winston (for which he and his partners won an Emmy). Their designs for the gargoyles are beautifully crafted — especially the creatures’ leader, played to demonic perfection by the late Bernie Casey. These “gar-things,” as biker James Reeger (Scott Glenn) calls them are truly eerie as they creep around in slow motion, stalking their victims (in one shocking moment that haunted my childhood, a gargoyle appears at the foot of Dr. Boley’s bed).

The cast is great. Wilde takes the material very seriously, giving the whole affair some gravitas. Salt — best known for her appearance in Brian De Palma’s Sisters and as Eunice Tate on the sitcom Soap — is full of personality. As the (possibly lustful) focus of the gargoyle leader, she carries the weight of the movie with energy and charm. Grayson Hall, most famous for her run on the original Dark Shadows, gives a brief but delightfully hammy performance as an alcoholic motel manager. But the make-up is the real star here. The gargoyles are entirely believable and nightmarish, even 50 years later. Seek out and enjoy this unique little gem. Often airing on Svengoolie, Gargoyles can also be found streaming on Tubi and IMDB-TV.

For cheesy, Bigfoot-runs-amok thrills, look no further than 1977’s SNOWBEAST. Olympic champion Gar Seberg (Bo Svenson) and his wife, Ellen (Yvette Mimieux), visit a ski resort in the Colorado Rockies just as the annual Snow Carnival is getting underway. But wouldn’t you know it? There’s a killer Bigfoot on the loose (which, not to split hairs, looks more like a Yeti), tearing people to shreds on the slopes. Despite the attacks, resort owner Carrie (Sylvia Sidney) is determined to keep Amity Beach open for the Fourth of July — whoops â€” I mean keep the resort open for the carnival. That is until the Snowbeast attacks the festival, creating a mob riot and slaughtering some poor woman in her car. The only solution is kill the furball, so Gar, Ellen, Carrie’s grandson Tony (Robert Logan) and the Sheriff head into the woods to bring it down.

This Jaws-by-way-of-Grizzly ripoff isn’t as tense or thrilling as it could have been. The script by Joseph Stefano (Psycho) is serviceable — and there are some tense moments, particular the carnival attack — but the pace is slowed down by long stretches where people…just
ski. They ski for fun, they ski because they’re searching, they ski because Snowbeast is coming. A mild love triangle between the three young leads provides enough characterization to hang your hat on, and Sidney is perky as the tough-as-nails grandma. The monster itself is kept off-camera for the bulk of the film, with the kills and chases shot POV-style. We do see his face a few times, and he sometimes sticks an arm through a window, but the “less is more” execution (probably dictated by the low budget and/or a cheap suit) sort of works here. It’s not the best killer Bigfoot movie out there, but it’s enjoyable. Notorious for appearing in every public domain horror boxed set known to mankind, Snowbeast can be found on Tubi, Amazon Prime, and IMDB-TV. (Not to be confused with 2011’s similar Snow Beast.)

DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK was a made-for-TV highlight of 1973. A young couple, Sally (Kim Darby) and Alex (Jim Hutton), move into a large house that Sally inherited from her late grandmother. But when persistently curious Sally unseals a bricked-up fireplace in a locked room, she accidentally frees a host of whispering, gremlin-like creatures. They only come out in the dark
and they want Sally’s soul.

Creepy and memorable — so memorable that Guillermo del Toro produced a big-screen remake in 2010 — this slow-burn really gets under your skin. We know something is up, but everyone, even Sally herself, begins to question her sanity as the raisin-headed little freaks stalk her unrelentingly. Handyman Harris (played by wonderful character actor William Demarest) seems to know the truth behind the house’s dark secrets, but the doubtful Alex won’t hear any crazy talk. The final act, in which Sally desperately tries to save herself from the creatures, are truly tense, and it all leads to a haunting ending. Smartly directed by John Newland (best known for the paranormal anthology series One Step Beyond), Don’t Be Afraid features fantastic creature make-up and vivid mood lighting whenever the little beasts appear. It’s not streaming at the moment, but it’s available on Blu-ray. Watch this version before viewing the less-effective remake.

Gargoyles: A
Snowbeast: B
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark: B+