Beyond the Door III, Black Demons, and Shadow of the Vampire

Beyond the Door III – 1989, Italy/Yugoslavia, 94m. Director: Jeff Kwitny. Streaming: AMC/Prime, Shudder

Black Demons – 1991, Italy, 88m. Director: Umberto Lenzi. Streaming: N/A

Shadow of the Vampire – 2000, UK/US, 92m. Director: E. Elias Merhige. Streaming: YouTube

BEYOND THE DOOR III (1989) (AKA: Amok Train) A group of American students on some sort of anthropological assignment in Yugoslavia are bamboozled by a backwoods society of Satanists who intend to use most of the youths as sacrifices in an upcoming centennial celebration. Unbeknownst to virginal Beverly (Mary Kohnert), she was marked at birth to be the twentieth century Bride of Satan, and her college chums are to be offered as wedding gifts in the pits of Hell. But that’s not all—there’s also a possessed speeding train, which the teens board in an attempt to escape the clutches of the devil cult. Oops! At this point, you’re thinking what does this stupid in-name-only sequel to a dopey Italian movie from 1974 have to do with anything? But actually, Beyond the Door III is a lotta fun and filled with inventive special effects and a wonderful imagination not typically found in schlocky European horror of the time. It’s rough around the edges and the story makes absolutely no sense, but the characters are likable and the pace is fast, building to an effective climax. Dare I say, this is the best of the offbeat Beyond series. B

BLACK DEMONS (1991) (AKA: Demoni 3) Three moronic college students doing a mix of business and pleasure in Rio drive into the misty hills of some Brazilian backcountry for reasons unknown. The airheads—none of whom seem smart enough to turn on a light switch, let alone attend college—experience car trouble and are befriended by a local douchebag and his girlfriend. Soon, they’re invited to spend a few days at a nearby house—a former plantation that harbors the evil energy of the place’s murdered slaves. One of the travelers (Joe Balogh), who just happens to have a recording of a voodoo ceremony, becomes possessed and summons forth the rotting corpses from the adjacent cemetery to kill his friends. The zombies’ preferred method for death seems to be the removal of an eye, courtesy of a rusty hook. It’s easy to see how Black Demons got lost in the Italian zombie shuffle; it’s dated and unconvincing it its portrayal of Brazilian culture. The acting is bad, the characters are unsympathetic, and the screenplay is uneven. The zombie “rules” don’t even make sense, as some of the zombies remain active during the day, yet others hide from the sunlight. Maybe the writer (director Umberto Lenzi’s former wife, Olga Pehar) got her vampire and zombie lore confused. A good use of foggy graveyards and spider-infested corridors are not enough to recommend this dry rot of a movie. D

SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE (2000) What if Max Schrek, the actor who portrayed the rat-like Count Orlock in F.W. Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu, was in actuality a vampire? That’s the story behind this fiction-based biopic, and the results are a mixed bag. Longing to make the most realistic vampire movie of all time, German filmmaker Frederick Wilhelm Murnau (a miscast John Malkovich) travels to the far reaches of Czechoslovakia, where his unhappy film crew meet their newest cast member, Max Schrek (Willem Dafoe), a mysterious man hired to play the fanged lead. “Where did you find him?” asks Murnau’s producer (Udo Keir). The director points to a dark tunnel and answers, “In that hole.” The twist is Murnau, in his desperation to make art, promises Max he can feast on several people from his production as long as the vampire gives the director his much-desired Expressionistic masterwork—but the vampire really only has eyes for film star Greta Schröder (Catherine McCormick). More of a black comedy, Shadow of the Vampire presents a clever concept and, in perhaps a warm-up to playing the Green Goblin in Spider-Man, Dafoe’s performance is both humorous and villainous. The vampire-in-reality gimmick starts to wear thin about an hour in, and the last act essentially collapses on itself in an ending that doesn’t rings true to the rest of the film. Still, this is fun stuff when seen in the right light. And Dafoe is killer. 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!

Last Voyage of the Demeter, Meatcleaver Massacre, and Prom Night III

The Last Voyage of the Demeter – 2023, US, 118m. Director: André Øvredal. Streaming: N/A

Meatcleaver Massacre – 1976, US, 75m. Director: Evan Lee (Ed Wood). Streaming: Tubi

Prom Night III: The Last Kiss – 1990, US, 97m. Director: Ron Oliver, Peter Simpson. Streaming: N/A

THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER (2023) In what is the umpteenth retelling of Dracula, The Last Voyage of the Demeter separates itself from the pack by expanding on a single passage from Bram Stoker’s novel, in which the Count sails from his crumbling castle in the Carpathian Mountains to the lush English countryside. An interesting take on the story, considering most adaptations of Dracula, including the two most famous, Nosferatu (1922) and Dracula (1931), wisely bypassed the Demeter subplot—mainly because the passage is entirely incidental to the rest of the tale. Last Voyage takes the Demeter section at face value, and by doing so the movie ends up becoming a failed experiment in mundane storytelling. Despite flagrantly stating the film is based on the Stoker novel in its opening credits, the majority of Last Voyage is a creation of the filmmakers, the plot following a struggling medical doctor (Corey Hawkins) who boards the doomed vessel where he and a handful of halfwit characters must fight off the blood-drinking menace of Dracula (Javier Bolet). Unless you’re a complete novice when it comes to the Dracula legend, Last Voyage of the Demeter offers nothing new to the viewer, except a whole lotta “Who Shot John?” explanations as to why it takes nearly two hours to tell a story that barely has enough material to cover 80 minutes. Adding insult to injury, the movie throws integrity out the window by turning the survivor of the Demeter into a Van Helsingesque caricature for the sole purpose of a sequel. A tale best left to sleep with the fishes. D+

MEATCLEAVER MASSACRE (1976) The family of professor James Habif, who teaches occult history, is savagely murdered by a gang of cretinous dullards. When he learns one of the killers is a student of his, Habif summons forth an ancient Gaelic spirit called Morak to avenge his family. We’re then treated to a scene of a gang member being clawed by an invisible force, the aftermath leaving the victim looking like he has a piece of red-painted cardboard glued under his tattered shirt. The next person is smashed under the hood of a car by what looks like a demonic claw. And so forth, ad nauseam. None of this is particularly arresting, considering the lack of creativity and skill that went into this meandering production. It’s not at all surprising to find out director Evan Lee was actually Ed Wood, which would explain the movie’s overwrought melodrama and general insincerity. What meat cleavers have to do with anything in Meatcleaver Massacre is a question never answered. Maybe that’s for the best. D

PROM NIGHT III: THE LAST KISS (1990) Since her reign of terror in Prom Night II, Prom Queen mass murderer, Mary Lou Maloney (Courtney Taylor), has been held captive in Prom Hell. After cutting through her chains with a nail file, Mary Lou heads back to haunt the hallways of Hamilton High, where she immediately begins picking off school employees in comical fashion. “It wasn’t a person. It was a guidance counselor!” Mary Lou then sets her eyes on class nerd Alex (Tim Conlon), using him as a puppet to bring her more souls for her buffet of carnage. In return, she transforms Alex into the perfect student, even allowing him to score a touchdown for the football team. Alex eventually tires of Mary Lou’s bloodshed and wants out of their demented symbiotic relationship, but not before Ms. Maloney steals Alex away to Hell—which is 1957 Hamilton High, the night Mary Lou was crowned Prom Queen. This has nothing to do with the first two Prom Nights and has more of a Nightmare on Elm Street vibe, but it’s not all bad. Taylor is funny, Conlon makes for a likable schmuck, and there are several imaginative set pieces, including a flying football that turns into a metal spike and impales the school bully. Prom Night III ultimately shoots itself in the foot by offering a clever twist ending that it drops the ball on way too quickly, leaving the viewer somewhat dissatisfied. Still, harmless fun. B

The Dark Side of the Moon, Night of Bloody Horror, and The Pack

The Dark Side of the Moon – 1990, US, 87m. Director: D.J. Webster. Streaming: Tubi

Night of Bloody Horror – 1969, US, 77m. Director. Joy N. Houck, Jr. Streaming: Tubi

The Pack – 1977, US, 98m. Director: Robert Clouse. Streaming: N/A

THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON (1990) In the futuristic world of 2022 (oh, boy!) crews of “refabbers” are specialists in fixing nuclear-armed satellites. This line of work is very dangerous; we know this because the text crawl at the beginning informs us of said danger. Anyway, spaceship Discovery and its refab team are sent to work on a malfunctioning satellite but mechanical problems force the ship to drift towards the dark side of the moon. It’s there they encounter a derelict NASA spacecraft, which reportedly went missing near the Bermuda Triangle during an emergency crash landing in 1992. To further the mystery, the crew discover the dead body of the ship’s captain, who might not be as dead as he appears. The movie’s blueprint looks like Alien, but the script’s dense atmosphere of paranoia mirrors Carpenter’s The Thing. Add a splash of The Exorcist and you should get a sense of how The Dark Side of the Moon turns out—but I’m not knocking it. On the contrary: confident direction (by D.J. Webster) and a cast of likable characters make this fairly taut stuff, despite its limited production values. It wouldn’t surprise me if Paul W.S. Anderson was inspired by this to make Event Horizon. Friday the 13th alumni Camilla More (The Final Chapter) and Alan Blumenfeld (Jason Lives) fill out the good cast, which also includes Joe Turkel (The Shining) and veteran character actor John Diehl. Worth checking out. B

NIGHT OF BLOODY HORROR (1969) An arty/psychedelic slasher-drama filmed in New Orleans and really only noteworthy for future Major Dad star Gerald McRaney’s good performance. Affected by the untimely death of his brother and father years earlier, troubled Wesley (McRaney) begins experiencing blackouts, which just happen to coincide with the gruesome murders of two of his girlfriends. Because of his stint in a mental hospital, the cops want Wesley for the crimes, but his doctor believes he can help Wesley and find out the truth. The film builds to a predictable reveal from the Psycho school of psycho-killer plots—the final ten minutes play out like mystery, but it’s very obvious who the murderer is. It’s just a shame the writers didn’t realize this. C

THE PACK (1977) A small island community is besieged by a horde of vicious dogs, which were left to fend for themselves in the nearby woods by their neglectful owners. The hungry dogs devour a whole horse before moving on to people, including a pompous banker (Richard O’Brien) and his nebbish son (Paul Willson) and secretary (Bibi Besch). The dogs make their way through the tiny population until marine biologist Joe Don Baker boards himself and the other survivors up inside his cabin and fight to the death. At first glance this seems like a typical nature-gone-crazy movie in the Birds/Jaws mold, but The Pack has a lot going for it. The cast is excellent, the Northern California location is beautiful, and the script offers several suspenseful moments that could give Cujo a run for its money. Good dog! B