Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, Inseminoid, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, and Sphere

BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL (1974) A splattery slasher/psychodrama about a troubled drifter, Gilles (Paul Naschy), who finds work as a handyman – and all-around stud – for three colorful sisters at their hilltop manor in the remote Spanish countryside. When a mystery killer starts hacking out the blue eyes of blonde women in the area, all fingers point to Gilles, but the real identity of the killer is a little more obvious to the experienced viewer. The Italian gialli were clearly the blueprint for this bit of Eurosploitation, which features all of the trademarks of Argento and Bava, including the black-gloved killer and the overly complicated backstories/subplots that add little to the suspense of the murders. A competently made, typically melodramatic early ’70s slice-and-dicer, co-written by Naschy, the Lon Chaney of Spain. I prefer the alternate American video title, House of Psychotic Women, a lot more. C+

INSEMINOID (1981) Abysmal Alien/Friday the 13th rip-off about a group of space explorers excavating a cave system on an uncharted alien planet who, naturally, fall victim to a predatory creature. When one of the team (Judy Geeson, who’s awful) is impregnated with the creature’s baby, she’s turned into a raving maniac and carves up her unlikable costars while playing “Mommie Dearest” to her parasitic offspring. Even by low-rent genre standards, Inseminoid lacks the slightest shred of credibility, with “scientists” who seem barely capable of turning on a light switch let alone operating advanced space-age computers. The movie’s lunchbox budget doesn’t help, neither do the cut-rate gore effects – and brain-dead characters who seem to be in a constant state of annoyance. The shock ending will give you a case of the eyeball rolls. One of the worst. F

SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-O-RAMA (1988) While trying to steal a bowling trophy from an indoor mall as part of a sorority pledge initiation, a group of college students are terrorized by an evil imp hiding inside said trophy. At first the imp (which looks like a hand-puppet leftover from Ghoulies) grants their every wish, until the imp’s real intentions are revealed and several of the group are turned into demons (one whose physical manifestation is the Bride of Frankenstein!) that try to kill the remaining pledge sisters, along with their nerdy (and horny) frat admirers. Sort of a Revenge of the Nerds with a supernatural twist, Sorority Babes is a harmless bit of self-referential, goofy fun that mostly works, until it runs out of steam, which is, unfortunately, before its brief 80-minutes are up. The movie’s saving graces are Scream Queen trio, Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens, and Michelle Bauer, all of whom have enough energy and spunk to make a “Bowling for Dummies” instructional video entertaining. B

SPHERE (1998) A well-intended, but not totally successful, adaptation of the terrific Michael Crichton novel that’s actually much better than its reputation suggests. A team of scientists and doctors are assembled to explore a buried spacecraft discovered at the bottom of the ocean, inside of which is a large, floating orb that has the power to make your worst fears a reality. While it lacks the complexity and suspense of the book (not to mention a fantastic sequence involving a giant squid), Barry Levinson’s film is smart enough to move at a fast pace and creates an environment of paranoia and tension. The cast is good – Samuel L. Jackson is excellent – but the characters often come off as cold and unsympathetic, especially Sharon Stone’s pill-popping marine biologist. As with Outbreak, Dustin Hoffman makes for a warm and likable hero. First-rate production values and effective use of underwater photography. B

Death Warmed Up, Galaxy of Terror, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers

DEATH WARMED UP (1984) An inventive and highly energetic New Zealand splatter flick about a young man named Michael (Michael Hurst), who’s given an experimental mind control serum by fiendish Dr. Howell (Gary Day), which results in Michael killing his own father, Howell’s colleague/nemesis. Seven years later, Michael, along with some friends, travels to a small island for a weekend getaway, but it’s all a ruse so that Michael can exact revenge on Howell, who secretly lords over the island with his army of brainwashed zombie killing machines, plus a couple of Mad Maxish henchmen. A gory bit of fun, this is actually too short, with the viewer wondering what happened to Michael in those seven missing years – and why his hair has turned platinum blond – but the movie moves at such a fast pace you might not care. This gets points for having a male being the protagonist in your typical damsel-in-distress scenario, and for his unnecessarily gratuitous shower scene. B+

GALAXY OF TERROR (1981) A futuristic search-and-rescue team is sent to a distant planet to find a missing spaceship, but instead discovers bloodthirsty creatures with sharp teeth in this Roger Corman quickie. Using the blueprint for Alien, this features a group of space officers – including a smug commander (Zalman King), a tough female captain (Grace Zabriskie), and a scaredy cat novice (Jack Blessing) – who’re systematically splattered down by all manner of tentacled critters, which are the products of a Survival of the Fittest game designed by an advanced alien race, or some such nonsense. What separates cheap junk like Galaxy of Terror from Alien is its inability to get the viewer to give a shit about its Who Cares? characters. The filmmakers understood this and placed all their energy into the gory special FX, many of which are impressive. The downside is when said beasties aren’t on screen the movie is a yawnfest. C

HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986) The infamous slasher biopic loosely based on real-life serial killer, Henry Lee Lucas, who claimed to have murdered over 100 people – a statement that was later disproven. Months after being released from prison for supposedly killing his mother and her lover, Henry (Michael Rooker), and his slimeball roommate, Otis (Tom Towles), go on a murder spree in order to satisfy their bloodlust. Things get complicated when Otis’s naive sister, Becky (Tracy Arnold), moves in and begins a romance with Henry. Due to a never-ending battle with the MPAA over the movie’s overwhelmingly intense atmosphere of violence, it wasn’t officially released until 1990 (and direct to video). To say Henry is more graphic than William Lustig’s Maniac (which Henry borrows quite liberally from), is a credit to Henry‘s more “serious” tone. The real reason Henry is distressing is because its characters are grounded in reality. Rooker is both scary and convincing in the title role, while Arnold is personable and sympathetic as the ultimate victim. Somewhat overpraised by critics (the same ones who snub slasher movies), the film doesn’t contain any transgressive ideas on serial killers. But, its grim, oppressive approach to the subject is honest, and horrific. B+

HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS (1988) While searching for a woman named Samantha (Linnea Quigley) in the seedy Los Angeles underbelly, private detective Jack (Jay Richardson) stumbles upon a group of murderous sex workers who use chainsaws to slice up their male clientele. When Jack finds Samantha, she informs him she’s infiltrated the group to get revenge on the group’s leader, a chainsaw-worshipping cultist (Gunnar Hansen – get it?) who killed her friend months earlier. Perhaps Z-movie auteur Fred Olen Ray’s (Scalps, The Alien Dead) best looking movie, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers is, surprisingly, good. If the title didn’t give it away, HCH is gory, campy horror, but it’s first and foremost a satire on slasher flicks, L.A. culture, and the overt excesses of the ’80s. This isn’t to say the movie is perfect – far from it. It’s at times stiff and amateurishly acted. Yet it’s weirdly charming and often very funny, especially Quigley, who’s comedic timing with Richardson is spot-on. Best credit ever: “Screenplay Drastically Rewritten and Improved Upon by Fred Olen Ray & T.J. Lankford.” B

Beast, Color of Night, The First Power, and Redneck Zombies

BEAST (2022) Idris Elba goes mano a mano with a rogue lion in this well-made but by-the-numbers when-animals-attack thriller. After his wife succumbs to cancer, an emotionally distant father (Elba) takes a getaway with his two teen daughters to the wilds of Africa, unaware that an enraged, vengeful lion stalks the grounds looking for the poachers who slaughtered its family. Shades of Cujo hit once Elba and kin are trapped inside their stalled truck, but, unlike that 1983 classic, Beast never utilizes its dire situation to its fullest potential. Instead, the film relies more on Elba’s father-cum-hero subplot. The screenplay is also a bit lazy when it comes to character consistencies: Elba spends a good amount of time being overly cautious about safety in the early scenes, yet later, while seeking shelter in an abandoned building, he leaves the doors wide open for the hungry cat to walk through. A fun concept that should have gone full-tilt gonzo (á la Anaconda) instead of trying to be something else. Sharlto Copley (District 9) is well cast as the movie’s Quint-like animal expert. C

COLOR OF NIGHT (1994) A big-budget slasher whodunit dressed up as a glossy erotic thriller about arrogant New York psychiatrist Bill Capa (Bruce Willis), who, after the suicidal death of a patient, goes to Los Angeles to spend time with Bob Moore (Scott Bakula), a college friend and fellow shrink. After Moore is knifed to death in his office by a hooded killer, Capa must try to figure out who the killer is (while avoiding the assassin’s blade) while simultaneously having lots of sex with a mysterious beauty (Jane March). If you’ve seen one or more of these films you can see the twist coming a mile away. The screenplay – by erotic thriller expert, Matthew Chapman (Consenting Adults) – is littered with too many red herrings and double-crosses, with the plot usually circling back to a lengthy sex scene between Willis and March. That said, Color of Night is often very entertaining, having the ostentatious, sleazy feel of a giallo, and at times attaining a so-bad-it’s-good quality. Willis does a good job at shedding his John McClane persona (as well as his clothes, especially in the unrated director’s cut), while March is cold but sympathetic. The supporting cast, including Brad Dourif, Leslie Ann Warren, Kevin J. O’Conner, and Lance Henriksen, is excellent. Given the right audience, this could become a trashy cult classic. B

THE FIRST POWER (1990) L.A. detective Russell Logan (Lou Diamond Phillips) is haunted by unexplained visions and incidents after the capture and death of the evil Pentagram Killer, Patrick Channing (Jeff Kober). Logan’s old-school, tough guy mind can’t wrap his head around the seemingly bizarre occurrences surrounding the deceased Satanic serial killer, until Tess (Tracy Griffith), a spunky psychic, informs him Channing has become more powerful after death, and is body-jumping to continue his murderous deeds. Although similar in plot to the later, and duller, Denzel Washington vehicle, Fallen, First Power offers up exciting material for the patient viewer. What starts as a typical cop/serial killer cat-and-mouse game turns into a fun, demonic horror/action hybrid. The film’s unfortunate predictability is silver-lined by its energy and some truly impressive stunts and set pieces, including the water- and fire-filled climax. Phillips and Griffith make a very likable pair of supernatural sleuths. B

REDNECK ZOMBIES (1989) Goofy backyard splatter-comedy that looks like it was made by your brother’s high school friends over a long weekend. A barrel of toxic waste is discovered in the woods by some tobacco-chewing, gun-toting, straw hat-wearing country bumpkins and, after it seeps into their moonshine, turns them into flesh-eating zombies. Shot on tape, this ultra-low budget cheapie has some spirit and energy to (almost) carry its lengthy 90 minutes, but, as with most slapstick flicks, for every laugh there’s whole lotta crickets. A funny concept, but one can’t help feel this movie is a joke without a punchline. Terrific make-up FX, though. C

The Innocents, Needful Things, The Toxic Avenger, and Toxic Zombies

THE INNOCENTS (2021) Moody Norwegian chiller about a quartet of children who discover they not only share a psychic bond but harbor special powers. When sociopathic Ben’s (Sam Ashraf) powers grow stronger, he uses them to hurt those who’ve wronged him, causing a rift in his bond with the others. What sounds like X-Men Meets Village of the Damned is actually a much more complex film. The disquieting, brooding atmosphere keeps the tensions high, and creates a world in which none of the characters feel as if they’re safe. It runs a bit long, but The Innocents is a good and suspenseful little film that goes to dark places most movies wouldn’t dare. B+

NEEDFUL THINGS (1993) Solid Stephen King adaptation about a small Maine town slowly taken over by the demonic presence of its newest resident, Leland Gaunt (Max von Sydow). Leland’s antique store specializes in finding rare items for its costumers — objects for which many are willing to sell their soul, or commit murder, to obtain. A terrific cast (Ed Harris, Bonnie Bedelia, Amanda Plummer, and J.T. Walsh) makes the material work, which is handled in a much more subtle way (by director Fraser C. Heston) than you’d expect from a King book-turned-movie. Sydow wisely downplays his portrayal of the devilish Gaunt, while Walsh, as the bullying, embezzling Danforth “Buster” Keeton, is wonderfully scene-chewing. Good fun, but I can’t help wonder how more effective it all could have been had the screenplay (by W.D. Richter) attained even half of the book’s darker tone. B

THE TOXIC AVENGER (1984) The town of Tromaville has a new hero in the form of a mutated monster who quickly lays waste to the many pimps, murderers, and general douchebags that populate the city. Known as the Toxic Avenger, he’s actually mild-mannered Melvin, a bullied doofus who goes swimming in a vat of toxic waste (the result of a prank gone awry) and is turned into a muscle-bound hero who helps old ladies cross the street — when he’s not bashing in the heads of criminals. Perhaps the ultimate “bad taste” movie (this makes John Waters’s early films look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm), this gets points for its no-holds-barred shock value; children, dogs, and the elderly are all targets of the gory shenanigans of Tromaville. But it’s all done in satirical fun. Best scene: Toxic using industrial kitchen implements (including a milk shake mixer) to kill a group of splatterpunk rapists. Definitely not a movie for the Sensitivity Police. B+

TOXIC ZOMBIES (1980) A group of murderous pot farmers are secretly given a biological herbicide by the government and are turned into bloodthirsty zombie/cannibals in this ultra low-grade Dawn of the Dead clone, shot in and around Pittsburgh. The majority of the movie features characters being chased and chowed down on by the zombies, until a sufficient group of campers manage to escape and hold up inside a dilapidated house, Night of the Living Dead-style. There’s some shoestring charm to this backwoods gorefest, but it only goes so far before the paper-thin plot, like its cast, gets consumed. George Romero regular, John Amplas, has a small role as a corrupt FBI agent who gets his throat torn out. A low-fi howler, this was director Charles McCrann’s only movie; he ultimately died in the 9/11 attacks. C

Blood Salvage, Eaten Alive, The Other, and The Phoenix Incident

BLOOD SALVAGE (1990) A stupid slasher variant about a vacationing family abducted by a religious fanatic hillbilly (Danny Nelson), who likes to perform diabolical medical experiments on his victims. The movie wants to be a parody (I think), but its tone is all over the place, with an uneven mix of gory horror and slapstick comedy that never gels. The screenplay also relies too heavily on its annoying, over-the-top characters to carry the movie, resulting in endless scenes of terrible, hammy acting. Even John Saxon, playing the father of a wheelchair-bound teen (Lori Birdsong) next on Nelson’s operating table, can’t save this. A chore to sit through. D

EATEN ALIVE (1976) Tobe Hooper followed-up Texas Chainsaw Massacre with this entertaining but disjointed shocker about a mentally disturbed man (Neville Brand) who kills and feeds to his pet alligator anyone who upsets him – which is everyone – at his dilapidated backwoods hotel. Shades of Norman Bates are obvious, but Brand’s performance is too hysterical at times, and the tone of the screenplay switches gears once too often. But, Hooper does throw in enough thrills and surprises (including a young Robert Englund’s encounter with the hungry gator) to keep the movie moving at a good pace, resulting in a demented, nasty little oddity. B

THE OTHER (1972) Well-made adaptation of the best-selling book by Thomas Tryon (who also wrote the screenplay) about a series of deaths that surround a small family and its twin boys, Niles (Chris Udvarnoky) and Holland (Martin Udvarnoky). When mild-mannered Niles begins to astral project himself into the minds of others, this sets off a chain of incidents relating back to the psychopathic Holland. Although Robert Mulligan’s direction is at times stoic, this is a good film with excellent performances by the Udvarnoky brothers, and especially Uta Hagen as the matriarch of the family. The sinister, downbeat ending is a plus. Look for John Ritter in a small role. B

THE PHOENIX INCIDENT (2015) A group of friends encounter alien beasties in this meandering found footage story of the Phoenix Lights phenomenon from 1997. A 30-minute concept is stretched to 90 minutes, with a lot of screen time used on boring interviews with government officers involved in a worldwide conspiracy. There’s also a subplot about a sociopathic cult member (Michael Adamwaithe), but by that point I was looking at my watch. Technically well-made, but one can’t help wish this had been trimmed of its fat and released as a short film. The Phoenix Lights has created a tiny cottage industry: so far, this is the first of two found footage movies based on the supposedly real occurrence. C