Dark Ride, Razorback, Man of a Thousand Faces, and The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh

DARK RIDE (2006) Tacky gore job about a group of lifeless college students on a spring break road trip who run into an escaped killer who’s hiding out inside an old boardwalk funhouse attraction where he murdered two young girls years earlier. Unimaginative dreck that’s stiffly directed by Craig Singer and really just a lame rip-off of Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse, but minus any creativity and suspense. Only Final Girl Jamie-Lynn Sigler (The Sopranos) offers the movie any ounce of energy or character. D

MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES (1957) A melodramatic biopic of actor and make-up artist, Lon Chaney (James Cagney), the successful vaudeville actor who grappled with a doomed marriage to a jealous, self-centered wife (Dorothy Malone) and eventually became the silent movie star legend we know him as today. The film kicks into gear in its second act when Chaney, desperate for roles in film, transforms himself via make-up into whatever character the studio needs, ultimately starring in classics Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Cagney is excellent, and the recreations of the famous movie monster moments fun, but the script favors Chaney’s real life dramas over his more exciting (and interesting) horror movies and revolutionary make-up work, focusing on a subplot that paints Lon as an unnecessary villain. C+

RAZORBACK (1984) Australia’s answer to Jaws is this energetic adventure/horror about a giant killer boar stalking the Outback and making mincemeat out of anyone it comes into contact with. When an American journalist (Judy Morris) goes missing in the area, her husband (Gregory Harrison) travels to Australia to investigate, teaming up with a big game hunter (Chris Haywood) hellbent on destroying the “razorback” that killed his grandson years earlier. A quick pace and vibrant direction from famed music video helmer Russell Mulcahy (Resident Evil: Extinction), plus a brilliant use of widescreen photography, help to create a fun Ozploitation flick. Harrison’s dull performance and an overall lack of sympathetic characters are the film’s weak points, but Bob McCarron’s animatronic FX work – which, like Jaws, are only glimpsed here and there – are highly inventive. Most of the gore footage was cut prior to release, but it’s included on the Blu-ray release from Umbrella. B

THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH (1971) Stylish giallo about a series of slashings in and around Vienna after the arrival of a diplomat and his wife, Julie (Edwige Fenech), who carries with her a “Fifty Shades of Grey” relationship with a past lover (Ivan Rassimov). When people close to Julie become the killer’s next target, she begins to suspect it might be one of the many men in her life, including her sadomasochistic boyfriend. Flashy direction from Sergio Martino, a good cast, and an excellent musical score by Nora Orlandi (later sampled by Tarantino in Kill Bill Vol. 2) help shape a better-than-average slasher/thriller. A shorter runtime would have benefited the pacing, but that’s a small complaint. B

The Child, Homebodies, Sole Survivor, and Without Warning

THE CHILD (1977) A weird mix of Dark Shadows gothicism and George Romero zombie mayhem, this period piece centers on the strange Nordon family, who’ve hired young nanny, Alicianne (Laurel Barnett), to look after their youngest daughter, Rosalie (Rosalie Cox), in their isolated, hilltop house. Little does Alicianne know that Rosalie has Carrie-like powers and uses them to raise the dead from the nearby cemetery in order to act out revenge against those she feels wronged her deceased mother. A thick atmosphere and intriguing premise are hampered by terrible acting and one of the most useless and annoying Final Girls in horror history. The 1940s aesthetics and somewhat lively climax are not enough to recommend this. The musical score sounds like it was recorded inside a washing machine. C

HOMEBODIES (1974) Kooky but charming horror-comedy about a group of old-timers who are being evicted from their crumbling apartment building to make way for a new string of modern skyscrapers. Refusing to be relocated to a nursing facility, the sprightly residents take matters into their own hands and resort to murder in order to stay where they are. Wonderfully acted, daftly funny, and refreshingly original, the film works from beginning to end because of its good cast, including Paula Trueman, who could be Minnie Castevet’s twin sister. B+

SOLE SURVIVOR (1984) A sorta-kinda reworking of Carnival of Souls, this version has young TV exec, Denise (Anita Skinner), being the only survivor of a plane crash and subsequently being stalked by the reanimated corpses of people who’ve recently died. Good, slow-building, suspenseful direction from Thom Eberhardt (Night of the Comet) and an eerie atmosphere help create a nice little movie that’s much less predictable than you’d think. Skinner’s Denise isn’t the warmest protagonist and the script plods here and there, but this is still a solid film and with a very satisfying, and appropriately grim, ending. The Christmas holiday setting isn’t important to the plot, but the change of scenery is nice. B

WITHOUT WARNING (1980) Goofy and entertaining crossbred of Alien and Friday the 13th about a group of friends on a woodsy excursion who’re pursued by an alien hunter that uses bloodsucking, flying leech-like parasites to subdue its victims. Good direction from Greydon Clark and a likable cast of characters help keep this moving even when the plot doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, something a faster pace might have helped with. Jack Palance, and especially Martin Landau as a war vet who believes he’s still in Vietnam, are good. Look for David Caruso as an early victim. Slight but amusing. B

Haunted Honeymoon, Home Sweet Home, Post Mortem, and Terrifier 2

HAUNTED HONEYMOON (1986) An underrated horror-comedy (or comedy-horror?) about 1920s radio stars, Larry Abbot (Gene Wilder), and his fiancée, Vickie Pearle (Gilda Radner), who are invited to spend a weekend at Larry’s childhood home for a pre-wedding family gathering. Unbeknownst to Larry, the weekend is actually a set-up by his psychiatrist uncle (Paul L. Smith) to put Larry through a fear experiment in order to cure Larry’s phobias, which resulted from an incident at his mother’s wedding when he was a kid. That plan provides someone in the family the perfect opportunity: to use the ruse to murder Larry in order to alter the family will. There might also be a werewolf running around. Charming and funny, this works mainly because of its wonderful cast, including Dom DeLuise, and real-life couple, Wilder and Radner, both of whom had incredible romantic and comedic chemistry. Silly fluff that goes down like candy. B+

HOME SWEET HOME (1981) A ranting maniac (Jake Steinfeld), locked up for killing his parents, escapes from an institution, steals a car – running down an old lady in the process! – and heads to a nearby house, where a dysfunctional family is celebrating Thanksgiving. Not nearly as bad as its reputation suggests, this is goofy fun, but bogged down by limp direction and massive predictability. Colorful characters and splashes of humor help move the sometimes mundane story along, but don’t expect any surprises or suspense. Recommend only for fans of silly ’80s slasher flicks, and perhaps “Body by Jake” enthusiasts. Best scene: the electrocution of an annoying, rock guitar-playing mime. B

POST MORTEM (2020) A truly unique horror film, Post Mortem is also a bit of a frustrating one. Set in Hungary after the first World War, the story follows Tomás (Viktor Klem), a former soldier whose near-death experience on the battlefield has given him an uncanny eye for post mortem photography. Asked to take photos of recently deceased persons at an isolated village ravaged by the Spanish Flu, Tomás encounters several unexplained incidents that lead him to believe the place is haunted. A good cast/likable characters and its early 20th century Central European setting create a nice atmosphere, which helps project its somewhat by-the-numbers story to greater heights. Ultimately, all of this gets swallowed in a very confusing plot that is, at times, very hard to follow and is further hampered by too many character hallucinations that are really just artsy, metaphorical, cinematic tricks detouring from the more simple haunting subplot. A beautiful-looking, but ultimately empty film, this gets extra points for several good scares. C+

TERRIFIER 2 (2022) Art the Clown is back in this overindulgent sequel. Teenage Sienna (Lauren LaVera) and her kid brother, Jonathan (Elliot Fullam), still reeling from their father’s recent death, are anticipating a harmless Halloween night of partying, but end up fighting for their lives against supernatural serial killer, Art (David Howard Thornton), who’s got a new bag of grotesque tricks up his sleeve. Stylized after the grindhouse flicks of the ’70s and 80s, Terrifier 2 offers the same geek show thrills that the movies of Herschel Gordon Lewis and Lucio Fulci brought to theaters over 50 years ago. As with the best of H.G., the ultra violence of Terrifier 2 is heightened by its obvious black comedic touches, specifically a scene where Art showers a maimed victim in bleach and salt for absolutely no reason. But, as with the worst of Lewis, when the gore isn’t dripping, Terrifier 2 is quite dull, with uninteresting characters filling long stretches of runtime, saying mundane dialogue – heck, even Jason got more personality out of his camp counselors in the majority of the Fridays. The film’s confusingly long 138 minutes is a big detractor. Maybe they’ll get it right with Terrifier 3? C

Fright Night, Hatching, and More Guest Reviews

By Frank Pittarese

FRIGHT NIGHT (1985) Suburban teen Charley Brewster discovers that his neighbor, Jerry Dandridge, is a vampire. Worse, Jerry knows that Charley knows. When no one believes him, Charley desperately turns to cowardly TV horror host Peter Vincent for vampire-killing help. But then Jerry sets his hungry eyes on Charley’s girlfriend…

Total fun from start to finish. There are no real surprises here, and the movie includes every vampire trope you can imagine (including the “girl looks like the vampire’s long-dead lover”), but that makes it even more terrific. Everything familiar actually feels energized and fresh. Everyone — literally everyone — in this movie is wonderful. With a fair share of mild frights, and character-driven humor providing plenty of lighter moments, it’s never silly enough to be a legit horror-comedy (which is good for me; I’m not big on horror-comedy). The script by director Tom Holland is smart and self-aware, and the haunting, sometimes sexy, score by Brad Fiedel (The Terminator) is outstanding. The visual effects by Richard Edlund (Ghostbusters) and makeup effects by Steve Johnson are also memorable. This movie really fires on all cylinders. There’s some queer subtext, however unintentional, which — if you’re into subtext — gives the whole story a metaphorical boost. Three of the lead actors (Roddy McDowell, Amanda Bearse, and Stephen Geoffreys) were/are gay, Chris Sarandon’s ever-suave Dandridge has a interesting dynamic with his “roommate,” Billy, and Evil Ed’s journey is more powerful and touching if viewed through an LGBTQ lens. Or, ya know, they’re just a vampire, a henchman, a nerd… Taking everything at face value doesn’t make the movie any less perfect or fun. Followed up with a lukewarm direct sequel, a pretty great 2011 remake (with darker, more contemporary values), and sequel/reboot of that remake (which erases the events of the 2011 film), but this is the one to see. Every time I finish it, I want to immediately watch it again. A

HATCHING (2022) Tinja, a 12-year-old gymnast, lives with her well-to-do family in a Finish suburb. Her brother is obnoxious, her father is emotionally impotent, and her mother is a selfish, demanding adulteress, more concerned with her social media presence — and Tinja’s success — than her family’s well-being. One day, Tinja takes home a strange egg she finds in the woods, which quickly grows to a massive size. A horrible, unsightly creature hatches from it, and soon bonds with Tinja in more ways than one, becoming her fierce protector — and a deadly threat to everyone in her orbit.

I went into this with very low expectations, expecting a dull, pretentious, metaphor-heavy experience. I’m happy to say that’s not the case at all. While not the fastest moving flick in the queue (and there is a metaphor under its creepy skin), the film’s deliberate pace constantly builds a feeling of dread. The hatchling (which I won’t even describe here except to say hooray for practical effects), as it evolves, takes the film in surprising, if occasionally repulsive, directions. The film initially seems like a by-the-numbers creature feature, but it turns into something else completely, with an ending that (in a rare reaction from me) was totally chilling. Avoid spoilers going into this one — and be ready to want to throw bricks at your screen because the mother is horrible. Strong and disturbing stuff, with fantastic acting by young Siiri Solalinna. Currently streaming on Hulu (with subtitles). A

SLUGS (1988) Toxic waste disposal leads to hordes of slugs killing the citizens of a small town. Based on a pretty decent novel by Shaun Hutson, this…snail’s-paced (I’m sorry) movie has little to offer. The characters aren’t a bit engaging and the script is lazy. The slug “attacks” (such as they are, because they don’t really do anything proactive on-camera) are adequate thanks to some gruesome makeup effects, but only one scene — in which a guy is eaten from the inside out — has enough unsettling tension to keep me from checking my phone. Currently streaming on Tubi. F

TORSO (1973) A masked madman is murdering women in a small, Italian college town. To avoid potential danger, Dani and three of her friends take off to a remote villa. But the killer has followed them, and things take a very bad turn.

This 1973 giallo is chock full of women, nudity, and nude women…but very light on characterization (I couldn’t tell several of the girls — and two of the guys — apart). For the genre, the violence is subdued…mostly implied. But what feels like a rather soft proto-slasher takes a big turn in the third act when the suspense suddenly cranks up. I went from “this is okay” to being fully invested in a blink. The vibe of the last 20-30 minutes is almost a precursor to Dean Koontz’s Intensity (infamously ripped off as Alexandre Aja’s High Tension), and it’s that thrilling close-out that elevates the movie. I watched the original Italian edit, but there are several cuts out there. Currently streaming on Tubi and Shudder. B

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The Bad Seed, Blackenstein, The Pit, and Wolf Creek

THE BAD SEED (1956) One of the most famous movies about a killer child, this classic features a remarkably sinister performance by Patty McCormick as Rhoda, an amoral, malicious eight-year-old who goes about harming those who get in the way of her needs. When Rhoda’s mother (Nancy Kelly) slowly comes to realize her daughter is a murderer, she must both confront her child as well as her own anxieties and confusions about her real biological parents. Slickly directed by Mervyn (Wizard of Oz) LeRoy, this is at times a bit too polished and stiff, creating a vacuum of overly stylized acting and situations. None of that really matters because whenever McCormick is on screen the film comes to life and builds to a shock ending that actually works. B

BLACKENSTEIN (1973) Those expecting a classic in the vein of Blacula will be sorely disappointed in this cheap howler that’s an echo of the worst (best?) of Edward D Wood Jr. After losing his arms and legs in war, Vietnam vet Eddie (Joe DeSue) is granted an experimental limb transplant by Dr. Stein (John Hart), who’s been using a special DNA serum in the reconstruction of dead human flesh. When Stein’s jealous assistant intentionally sabotages the serum, it turns Eddie into a limb-tearing monster complete with cro-magnon brow and flattop. A lack of substantial characters and situations, Blackenstein is just a series of stiff acting, terrible editing, and lackluster but graphic gore. This could be viewed as a parody, if it weren’t trying for serious scares, which, sadly, it is. C

THE PIT (1981) This Canadian turkey is so batshit out of control you can’t take your eyes off it. 12-year-old Jamie (Sammy Snyders) is an alienating brat with no friends, has conversations with his teddy bear (which talks back!), and occasionally feeds the neighborhood bullies and old bats to the carnivorous creatures that dwell in a hole in the woods. A structural and tonal mess, the screenplay (by Ian A. Stuart) is all over the place, with a beginning that has very little context to what’s happening and feels like it should be the middle of the movie – this is mixed with moments of slapstick humor that comes out of nowhere. Yet, from beginning to end, The Pit is undeniably entertaining, with moments of such bad decision making one wonders how in the world this movie ever came to light. Add to the mix bad acting, inane dialogue, and monsters which look like cheap throwaways from Land of the Lost and you have a demented, cringe-inducing, and highly illogical flick with a confusing but satisfying ending. C+

WOLF CREEK (2005) Suspenseful Australian variation on the Texas Chainsaw mold about a trio of friends driving through isolated backcountry and unknowingly fall into a sadistic killer’s trap. Based on real events, Wolf Creek works because its basic plot is handled with care by director and writer, Greg McLean. Instead of plopping brainless characters in front of the camera and slicing them up, McLean understands the story gets more chills out of having likable, realistic people put into a pot of slowly boiling water, and in doing so creates an extremely effective little film. A surprise box-office hit, this was followed by two sequels (the third is currently in pre-production), and a television series! Good stuff, but if you’re easily rattled, this is an easy skip. B+

Demonia, Jeepers Creepers, Studio 666, and White of the Eye

DEMONIA (1990) Demonia is Lucio Fulci at his creative worst. A dumb American archeologist/psychic (Meg Register) uncovers a tomb buried beneath an ancient Sicilian monastery and releases the malevolent spirits of demonic nuns who were crucified in the 1400s for Devil worship. The naughty nuns immediately go about killing the locals who’ve been keeping their murders a secret, plus a few of the dumb psychic’s friends, who’re constantly singing really annoying and badly dubbed songs around a campfire. An unimaginative plot, ugly cinematography, and lame gore sink this one. D

JEEPERS CREEPERS (2001) Jeepers Creepers offers a good monster and concept, both of which get lost in an overly complicated plot. Siblings Darry (Justin Long) and Trish (Gina Phillips) find themselves trapped in a nightmare during a spring break road trip through some backwoods when they see a mysterious figuring dumping bodies down a well. Not being very smart people, the two meddle and discover a lair full of corpses that are the food source for an ancient demonic being that must go on a feeding frenzy when it awakens every 23 years. The first hour is terrific stuff, a mix of Texas Chainsaw horror and Hitchcockian suspense. The story takes a turn with the introduction of a psychic (Patricia Belcher) – who exist solely to spew forth needless exposition – and the last 25 minutes or so turns into a rather dull shoot ’em up at a police station. Still, this is a fun movie. B

STUDIO 666 (2022) Horror. Comedy. Gore. Foo Fighters. If these ingredients are attractive to you then you’ll want to check out Studio 666, a fun little tribute to ’80s horror. Looking for much-needed inspiration to record their 10th album, legendary rock band Foo Fighters rent a large house in Encino with a violent past to get their creative juices flowing. When band founder, Dave Grohl, discovers a strange piece of recorded music in the basement left by the previous owner – who just happened to have been possessed by demonic forces – he becomes influenced by the music’s evil presence and goes all Jack Torrence (with fangs) on his bandmates. The Evil Dead homages are loud and clear, and Grohl and gang are clearly having fun with the silly premise, wisely invoked in the screenplay (by Jeff Buhler and Rebecca Hughes, based on a story by Grohl) that sits on the same self-referential shelf as What We Do in the Shadows. Tony Gardner (The Lost Boys, Lord of Illusions) handled the gore FX and they are very inventive, with the decapitation-by-drum-cymbal a highlight. Go in with low expectations and you might be pleasantly surprised. Look for John Carpenter in a cameo. B

WHITE OF THE EYE (1987) A visually impressive, well directed thriller in the same vein as Michael Mann’s Manhunter, which, like that film, also gets lost in its own overambitious aesthetics. Someone is killing woman within a wealthy desert community outside of Tucson, the prime suspect being an audio expert and repairman (David Keith) who had previously installed sound systems in several of the victims’ homes. Keith is excellent, and the murder scenes attain an Argento-like madness to them. However, the film fails to achieve much suspense or muster much interest towards characters who are all too cold and passive to feel sympathy for. C+

Bloody New Year, Daddy’s Gone a-Hunting, Killer Party, and More

BLOODY NEW YEAR (1987) Enormously stupid British slasher about a group of wankers left stranded on a small island after their boat capsizes. Seeking shelter from the chilly July sunshine, they find an empty hotel that’s seemingly stuck in time, specifically New Year’s Eve, 1959. The gang is eventually dispatched by all manner of supernatural creatures and ghosts, apparently the products of a failed government time-travel experiment. None of this is the least bit interesting thanks to very incoherent storytelling, terrible direction, and shoddy FX. The acting and dialogue are also banal, with colorless characters not being killed off fast enough for my taste. A bloodless borefest that will test your patience – from the director of the equally wretched Inseminoid. D

BUTCHER, BAKER, NIGHTMARE MAKER (1981) Offbeat psychodrama about crazy old Cheryl (Susan Tyrrell) and her teenage nephew, Billy (Jimmy McNichol), who Cheryl has been raising since he was a baby and trying to keep from going to college by sabotaging his life. After Cheryl kills a gay repairman because he refused her sexual advances, Billy is blamed for the crime by a homophobic cop (Bo Svenson) who thinks Billy murdered the man in a fit of homosexual jealously! Um… Sure, why not? The police investigation, along with Billy’s bubbly girlfriend (Julia Duffy), slowly turns Cheryl’s screws until she snaps and goes on a killing spree. This gets points for doing something different with the slasher formula, but it’s so hysterically melodramatic it comes off as an unintentional comedy, especially a catfight between Cheryl and Billy’s girlfriend that ends up in the middle of a swamp. Tyrrell’s performance is unhinged and makes Joan Crawford seem downright subtle. A goofy howler with an unbelievably happy ending. C

DADDY’S GONE A-HUNTING (1969) Arriving in San Francisco, British transplant Cathy (Carol White) thinks she’s met Mr. Right in the form of Kenneth (Scott Hylands), a handsome, carefree photographer, who also happens to be an abusive nut job. When Carol becomes pregnant, she decides to leaves him and has an abortion, turning Kenneth into an obsessive psychopath who makes Carol’s new life a living hell. A compelling, pre-Play Misty for Me psycho-stalker that was obviously influential to future films like Fatal Attraction, this benefits greatly from a good, controlled performance by Hylands and a suspenseful climax. A tighter script and shorter runtime could have made this a classic, but as is this is an effective shocker. B

KILLER PARTY (1986) Sorority pledging is literal hell for a trio of friends in this spirited romp that feels like an early companion piece to the equally humorous Pledge Night. College freshmen Phoebe (Elaine Wilkes), Vivia (Sherry Willis-Burch), and Jennifer (Joanna Johnson) are forced into setting up pranks and practical jokes for their pledging sorority’s annual April Fool’s Day costume party, conveniently being held at the campus haunted house, where years earlier a frat brother was accidentally killed. Fun and games turn to horror when Jennifer becomes possessed by the malevolent spirit of said dead bro and begins picking off her fellow classmates one-by-one. Although unfortunately saddled with a sluggish first half, Killer Party is never dull and kicks into gear during its creative and fun climax. The cast is good, and the tipping-of-the-hat to the slasher genre a welcome addition to the screenplay, written by Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter‘s Barney Cohen. The pre-credits sequence parodying Michael Jackson’s Thriller is charming. B