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!

Dreamcatcher, The Evil, and Srigala

Dreamcatcher – 2003, US, 134m. Director: Lawrence Kasdan. Streaming: N/A

The Evil – 1978, US, 89m. Director: Gus Trikonis. Streaming: Tubi

Srigala – 1981, Indonesia, 90m. Director: Sisworo Gautama Putra. Streaming: N/A

DREAMCATCHER (2003) Dreamcatcher is proof that not all books can be—or should be—translated into film. This is especially true with Stephen King novels, specifically Dreamcatcher, a novel King wrote while admittedly high on pain killers (and which explains this movie’s convoluted plot). Basically a Frankenstein’s monster of bits and pieces from other King stories, Dreamcatcher focuses on a band of lifelong friends, all of whom share a psychic link formed during childhood after encountering a strange young boy (Andrew Robb) with supernatural powers. During their annual log cabin get-together, the gang is terrorized by vicious, snake-like creatures that like to burrow inside people’s guts before ripping out of their backsides (played out in a scene that may have read as horrifying in the book but here comes off as unintentionally funny). There are also enormous bipedal aliens running amok, which the military have been secretly at war with for twenty-five years. Again, all this might have been engaging on paper, but on film Dreamcatcher is confusing and hollow, with too many ideas thrown into an overflowing, nonsensical pot that never gels. A good cast overacts on trite dialogue, but Thomas Jane wins in the end by giving the film way more legitimacy than it deserves. A movie that supplies more douche chills than the dreaded “ass weasels.” D

THE EVIL (1978) Psychiatrist Richard Crenna purchases a massive hilltop manor with plans to turn the place into a drug rehabilitation center. Soon after moving in, the doctor’s wife (Joanna Pettet) begins seeing a ghostly apparition walking about the place, which is followed by a series of bizarre incidents, including the fiery death of the groundskeeper. Things worsen when a trap door in the basement opens, unleashing pure evil and trapping Crenna and his students inside the house with the Devil himself (Victor Buono). A surprisingly good little flick, The Evil doesn’t contribute anything new to the cinematic haunted house realm, and most of the characters are boneheads, yet the film is well-paced, contains several inventive SFX set pieces, and is never dull. Buono, in a small part, is devilishly charming. Just don’t expect much. B

SRIGALA (1981) Treasure hunters seeking lost riches at the bottom of a backwoods lake are stalked by a killer in this Indonesian Friday the 13th rip-off, but the arrival of fun-seeking teenagers creates a high body count for the Jason-like menace, who goes about hacking and slashing their way through the cast of mostly amateur actors. After a pre-credits disemboweling, the movie is slow to get to any more sanguinary activities, with a whole lotta filler focused on skin diving, a boat chase, an elaborate dream sequence, and a completely ridiculous kung-fu catfight between two of the female campers. Once the killer is back in action, Srigala becomes an efficiently-made bloodbath, with the last 30 minutes being an almost shot-for-shot remake of Friday the 13th, right down to the “shock” ending. It’s slightly amusing, but in the end one can’t help feel cheated. C

The Crawlers, The Devonsville Terror, Prey, and Who Can Kill a Child?

The Crawlers – 1990, Italy/US, 91m. Director: Fabrizio Laurenti. Streaming: Tubi

The Devonsville Terror – 1983, US, 82m. Director: Ulli Lommel. Streaming: Shudder

Prey – 1977, UK, 85m. Director: Norman J. Warren. Streaming: N/A

Who Can Kill a Child? – 1976, Spain, 112m. Director: Narciso Ibáñez Serrador. Streaming: N/A

THE CRAWLERS (1990) Another bargain basement Italian loser from the makers of Witchery (a.k.a. La Casa 4), this was shot in Porterville, Utah, where the equally atrocious Troll 2 was filmed. Toxic waste dumping—a plot device in so many of these movies—turns the trees of the nearby forest into mutated killers, the roots of which drag people off to their (mostly) off-screen demise. As with the stalking scenes in Jaws, we’re greeted with lots of POV shots of the tree roots roaming the woods looking for victims, because we all know roots have eyes. Yikes. The zero-dimensional characters are a mix of country bumpkins, rednecks, a doofus sheriff, and a feather boa-wearing town prostitute whom two of the male leads confide in! Filmed as Contamination .7, The Crawlers is dumb stuff. Very dumb, with second-rate acting, feeble make-up FX, and incoherent writing (e.g. when questioning an old fart about a victim, the sheriff gives a completely different description of the actress who portrayed said victim). This might have been the result of new scenes written and shot by producer, Joe (Anthropophagus) D’Amato. A bungling bore. D

THE DEVONSVILLE TERROR (1983) The title suggests a retread in the Amityville Horror realm, but The Devonsville Terror is more of a Dark Shadowsesque tale of witchcraft and reincarnation. In 1683, three women branded witches are brutally murdered by the puritanical villagers of Devonsville, New England—one poor woman is tied to a loose wagon wheel, set afire, and rolled down a hill, her face repeatedly splattering against the ground. Present day (well, 1983) Devonsville isn’t that much better. The townsfolk are still religious bigots and most of the men are misogynistic brutes who don’t take kindly to outsiders. This hateful ignorance escalates with the arrival of new schoolteacher, Jenny (Suzanna Love), a red-haired beauty who makes the mistake of telling her students God could be a woman. When two more female outsiders (an ecology student and a radio talk show host) move into the area, the superstitious Devonsvillians believe the new female transplants are the reincarnations of the trio killed in the 1683 inquisition and take deadly matters into their old-fashioned hands. It turns out Jenny is the reincarnation of the witch who cursed the family line of her executioner—and unleashes head-exploding powers (literally) in the movie’s gory climax. With an emphasis more on character and story than exploitative violence, The Devonsville Terror turns out to be a surprisingly subtle—but engaging—study in sexism, religious paranoia, and xenophobia. It’s also taut and tightly paced. Highly recommended. B+

PREY (1977) A vicious, flesh-eating alien arrives in the lush English countryside, where it immediately kills (and eats) a couple before taking the human form of the man (Barry Stokes). Calling himself Anders, the being roams the land in search of more food until he comes upon an estate occupied by scaredy cat Jessica (Glory Annen) and her man-hating lesbian friend/lover, Joe (Sally Faulkner). The fragile Jessica, who’s grieving the recent loss of her parents, takes a liking to the seemingly polite Anders, which sends sourpuss Joe into a rage, thinking the man is “contaminating the house” and out to steal Jessica away from her. In a plot to protect and manipulate Jessica, Joe’s psychopathic side comes out, proving she’s just as dangerous—and predatory—as the alien. A grim and, at times, unpleasant, little film, Prey is nonetheless interesting and works best as a character study, especially since most of the movie centers on just Jessica, Joe, and Anders. A lot of the characters are selfish and unlikable, but that seems to be the point, with the film building to an appropriately bleak ending. B

WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (1976) The titular question is meant to represent the metaphorical allegory within the plot, but don’t let that fool you—this is just a cheap exploitation flick wrapped in quasi-intellect. A married British couple (Lewis Fiander and Prunella Ransome) on vacation in Spain find themselves stranded on an island seemingly devoid of adults. That’s because all of the children have turned into psychopathic killers and have disposed of most of the 18-and-above crowd in gruesome fashion. After a good first half, the film meanders aimlessly with endless scenes of Fiander and Ransome (who looks like Amy Steel) wandering the island in a daze. There are some nice touches, such as a group of kids using the body of an old man as a piñata. But the movie is too slow to build much suspense, and the script plays fast and loose with the supernatural aspect—the kids are smart enough to trick the adults into their traps but dumb enough to allow themselves to get mowed down by a machine gun. The ending rips off Night of the Living Dead, which this Spanish shocker more than resembles. C

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, á 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

Creature from Black Lake, Curse II: The Bite, and Vacation of Terror

Creature from Black Lake – 1976, US, 94m. Director: Joy N. Houck Jr. Streaming: Tubi

Curse II: The Bite – 1989, Italy/US, 98m. Director: Frederico Prosperi. Streaming: N/A

Vacation of Terror – 1989, Mexico, 81m. Director: René Cardona III. Streaming: Tubi

CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976) Two University of Chicago students—one of whom is named Pahoo!—travel to some Southern boondocks to investigate claims of a Sasquatch-type monster. After arriving in Oil City, Louisiana, they’re greeted by scared and hostile locals, including the sheriff (Bill Thurman, who also played the sheriff in the drive-in classic, ‘Gator Bait), who tells the two men to forget about looking for any swamp creature. The students soon come across a friendly redneck (Dub Taylor) who informs them of his encounter with the hairy beast, leading Pahoo (Dennis Fimple) and friend right into the claws of the Bigfoot. At first glance this Legend of Boggy Creek exploit seems like just another rip-off, but Creature from Black Lake is too effective to ignore, with a surprisingly witty screenplay that sustains both humor and scares throughout. The cast is good, with Fimple giving a charming and often quite funny performance, but it’s veteran character actor Jack Elam who steals the show as a paranoid drunken swamp rat. Definitely worth a look for the seventies Sasquatch fan. Released on VHS as Terror in the Swamp, which is not to be confused with a 1985 film also called Terror in the Swamp. B+

CURSE II: THE BITE (1989) Beware the sequel that has nothing to do with the original. Actually, Curse II is superior to 1987’s The Curse in almost every way. That is not to say Part 2 is good, because it’s not, exactly—but it is completely watchable hokum and sports some wild Screaming Mad George (Nightmare on Elm Street 4) make-up FX. While traveling through a defunct bomb testing site in the middle of the desert, a man (J. Eddie Peck) is bitten by a radioactive snake and slowly begins to mutate into a bizarre snake creature—the poor guy’s right arm basically transforms into a python. This proves bad news for the assortment of rednecks and backwoods cops the man’s deformed serpent-arm makes snake chow out of. Luckily, snake expert Jamie Farr (M*A*S*H) comes to the rescue, but not before love interest Jill Schoelen watches as her boyfriend’s body deteriorates into a puddle of gore, pus, and snakes in a scene that feels like a homage to Cronenberg’s The Fly. Filmed as just The Bite, this is a fairly well-executed movie with a simple plot, good acting, and an assortment of disgusting snake effects. B

VACATION OF TERROR (1989) This Mexican haunted house vehicle was probably made by people who’d rented The Amityville Horror and Poltergeist one too many times. A family man (Julio Alemán) takes his wife and children on a weekend excursion to a spider-infested, dilapidated house in some backwoods, unaware the place was cursed by a witch before she sizzled at the stake. Soon after arriving, the youngest daughter begins talking to a toy doll, which is actually a conduit for the witch to enter the world of the living. The child’s interaction eventually releases the witch’s powers, making the pregnant mother sick and terrorizing the teenage niece and her boyfriend (Pedro Fernández)—who happens to be in possession of a talisman that will send the witch to Hell and restore order to the place. All of this could have been fun had the filmmakers bothered to pump any energy into the lifeless screenplay, which they didn’t. The film ends up feeling like a lazy carbon copy of its American counterparts. Naturally, Vacation of Terror was followed by a sequel. C

Cruising, Dark Tower, Day of the Triffids, and Inn of the Damned

Cruising – 1980, US, 102m. Director: William Friedkin. Streaming: N/A

Dark Tower – 1987, Spain/UK/US, 91m. Director: Ken Barnett. Streaming: Tubi

The Day of the Triffids – 1963, UK, 93m. Director: Steve Sekely, Freddie Francis. Streaming: Tubi

Inn of the Damned – 1975, Australia, 117m. Director: Terry Bourke. Streaming: Tubi

CRUISING (1980) Al Pacino’s rookie NYPD cop, Steve Burns, is finally promoted to detective—via an undercover assignment to flush out a slasher targeting the city’s gay-leather community. This proves an endurance test for Burns as he completely immerses himself within Manhattan’s seedy underworld of sex and drugs. When more murders ensue, Steve delves deeper into a world he’s unfamiliar with and begins mentally unraveling. As with his earlier work in The Exorcist, director William Friedkin applies his knowledge of psychological horror to Cruising, which at its core is really about humanity at its darkest. While the plot is about the hunt for a serial killer, the film is more interested in how society, relationships, and interactions can shape one’s mind and motivations. Haunting, bleak, but never disingenuous, Cruising has been accused of being homophobic in its portrayal of gay lifestyles. This seems presumptuous as the film’s true focus is on death and how it affects people differently—a theme corroborated by the script’s use of multiple killers. A complex and suspenseful film that gets under your skin. B+

DARK TOWER (1987) A nearly-constructed Barcelona high-rise is the target of a malevolent spirit, which starts picking off the building’s many maintenance workers. The first to go is a window washer, who plummets twenty-nine floors to his death—his body is clearly a dummy—but not before landing on one of the building’s fat cat investors. A security guard is next, pulverized when the elevator malfunctions. Site inspector Michael Moriarty thinks it’s all a coincidence, but architect Jenny Agutter believes there’s supernatural shenanigans afoot, especially after someone seemingly becomes possessed and tries to murder her. Could it all have something to do with Agutter’s husband, who died under mysterious circumstances years before? Moriarity wears a sour mug and Agutter is wasted in a one-dimensional role. Director Ken Barnett is actually Freddie Francis, who disavowed the film shortly before its release. A wise decision, Freddie. The participation of Kevin McCarthy is the most shocking aspect of this bloodless bore. D

THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (1963) When most of the world is struck blind after a strange meteor shower, a handful of survivors in London must not only navigate through a collapsing society, but fight off a breed of man-eating, walking plants grown from meteor spores. An effective adaptation of the popular novel, this is slightly hampered by stiff, unconvincing acting and an obvious lack in technological advances in special FX. Yet this first in a series of filmed adaptations of John Wyndham’s 1951 novel is undeniably fun and contains some impressive sequences of empty London streets that were perhaps inspiration for the opening shots of 28 Days Later. A subplot involving two scientists in a lighthouse was added later and directed by Freddie Francis. B

INN OF THE DAMNED (1975) Bob Young’s soundtrack to Inn of the Damned is lively and exciting. It’s a shame the movie itself is so lifeless. An unfocused western-horror melodrama filmed in Australia, the film stars the great Dame Judith Anderson (Rebecca, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) as one half of an elderly married couple who, at the turn of the 20th century, operate a small inn in the Victorian outback. What the inn’s guests don’t realize is Anderson and hubby (Joseph Fürst) have gone completely nutty after the murder of their children years before and seek retribution by bumping off their clientele. It’s an intriguing idea bogged down by slack direction and a dull subplot involving an American bounty hunter (Alex Cord) and his very uninteresting interactions with slimy criminals. Anderson delivers an affecting performance, which gets repeatedly swallowed in a dopey plot that never successfully mixes its drama and horror elements. C