Mark of the Devil, Night Train to Terror, and Seytan

Mark of the Devil – 1970, Germany, 93m. Director: Michael Armstrong. Streaming: Prime, Tubi

Night Train to Terror – 1985, US, 93m. Director: John Carr, Philip Marshak, Tom McGowan, Gregg G. Tallas. Streaming: Roku Channel, Tubi

Seytan – 1974, Turkey, 101m. Director: Metin Erksan. Streaming: Shudder

MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970) As stated in the opening text crawl, this German shocker depicts historically accurate moments from documented cases about the brutal murder of “eight million” people during Europe’s heretical inquisitions—an exaggeration created by exploitative filmmakers for the benefit of sensationalism, which is all this Witchfinder General rip-off seems to care about. The arrival of notorious witch-hunter Cumberland (Herbert Lom) in a small 16th century Austrian village brings to the stake several local people accused of witchcraft. It’s mostly women in various stages of undress who are graphically tortured by way of infamously archaic devices—the stretching rack seems to be a favorite of Cumberland’s, to which a poor woman is strapped before having her tongue ripped out. Unfortunately Mark of the Devil puts so much energy into its death sequences that when it’s not mutilating victims the film is plodding and dull, with much of the English dubbing so hysterically anxiety-ridden it comes off as comedy. Infamously released in theaters handing out “barf bags” to audience members, although the movie is fairly tame by today’s standards. C

NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR (1985) A scattershot anthology that’s actually comprised of scenes stitched together from several unfinished feature-length horror films. While aboard a train heading towards destruction, God and Satan discuss the fate of three individuals, representing three tales of murder, greed, and other distasteful acts of sin. The first vignette features a drunkard (John Phillip Law) committed to a mental hospital, which is actually a front for a business trafficking human organs. The second story is about a struggling musician (Merideth Haze) who joins a secret society called the Death Club that subjects its members to weird experiments, at which one member is randomly killed. In the final segment, a medical doctor (Faith Clift) stumbles upon a several-hundred-years-old plot involving the immortal henchman of Satan. A bizarre hodgepodge of ideas, Night Train to Terror is often too brash and ridiculous to be taken seriously. Yet at the same time, it’s fairly inventive and fun, creating a rough but enjoyable experience for the adventurous viewer. If you expect anything more out of this offbeat cult fiasco, you’re in for a world of hurt. B

SEYTAN (1974) There are remakes, and there are rip-offs. A remake strives to acquire the same quality of production of a film and its story for a new generation. A rip-off ditches quality for quantity by exploiting a popular movie for the sole purpose of making money. Seytan is the latter, a bargain-basement plagiarization of The Exorcist that not only tries to copy that movie’s tone, but also steals entire scenes and dialogue from the William Friedkin film. A literal shot-for-shot clone, Seytan poorly depicts the slow possession of the 12-year-old daughter (Canan Perver) of a single parent (Meral Taygun)—but unlike Ellen Bustyn’s personality-infused movie star mom from The Exorcist, here the mother is a colorless high society rich lady who emits very little emotion besides hysterically bad overacting. A monotonous bore with absolutely no redeeming qualities aside from the unintentionally funny moment here and there. D

The Thing From Another World, The Thing ’82 and ’11

The Thing From Another World – 1951, US, 86m. Director: Christian Nyby. Streaming: Tubi

The Thing – 1982, US, 108m. Director: John Carpenter. Streaming: Peacock

The Thing – 2011, US, 103m. Director: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. Streaming: Peacock

THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) An American scientific research team, isolated in a remote outpost at the North Pole, discover an alien crash site. The ship—and the frozen body of an extraterrestrial—is buried under layers of ice. The creature is quickly exhumed by members of the U.S. Air Force. But bringing it back to the compound proves to be a big mistake when, once thawed, the Thing comes back to life, hungry for human blood. The tall E.T. has a penchant for stringing its human victims upside down and draining them like pigs in an abattoir—a plot point subsequently used in many sci-fi/horror films, including Predator—and its murderous rampage seems unstoppable. A fifties classic, this Howard Hawks production (it’s rumored Hawks himself directed many scenes) was one of the blueprints for the “visiting alien” subgenre (and a subtext for McCarthyism) so prevalent in that decade. The sparse on-screen use of the creature (played by James Arness) plays into the overall effectiveness of the simple story and helps build an atmosphere of tension. The robust score by Dimitri Tiomkin and a fiery finale help to make this Thing a highly memorable scare show. And remember: keep watching the skies! B+

THE THING (1982) Considered a failure upon its initial release, John Carpenter’s modern take on John W. Campbell Jr.’s story, Who Goes There? (and reworking of the 1951 film), is now viewed as a masterwork in eighties special effects storytelling. A more faithful adaptation, this Thing pits a crew of doctors, scientists, and pilots against a parasitic, alien beast at a remote Antarctic research station. Unlike James Arness’s creature from the original, the alien in Carpenter’s film is a nasty and scary creation that can shapeshift into people or animals, ensuring a tense atmosphere of paranoia—and itself inspiring a whole generation of films with a similar theme. Rob Bottin’s jaw-dropping practical FX are the real star of The Thing, but screenwriter Bill Lancaster took care in delivering a tight screenplay with rich, complex characters not usually found in eighties splatter flicks, including Kurt Russell’s antihero, MacReady. Darker in tone (’51’s happy ending is jettisoned here for a bleaker, Reaganesque one), Carpenter’s movie works on all levels and is the rare remake that’s superior to the original. A must-see for any pulp horror aficionado. A

THE THING (2011) Acting as a prequel to the 1982 film, the story centers on the disastrous encounter between the neighboring Norwegian science team and the shapeshifting alien—before Kurt Russell and gang find out for themselves. After discovering the spacecraft and its occupant buried in the ice, the science division brings in American paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to identify the creature. Lloyd comes to realize her role is irrelevant to the science team when research leader—and all-around asshole—Dr. Sander Halvorson essentially tells her to speak only when spoken to. The audience comes to a similar conclusion when the film disintegrates into a remake of the earlier movie, in the process becoming a nearly pointless endeavor. It doesn’t help matters much that the filmmakers forgo the two most important elements from Carpenter’s version: the overwhelming atmosphere of paranoia, and Rob Bottin’s masterful make-up FX (here replaced by overused, cheap digital effects that make the creature look too cartoonish). Winstead makes a likable protagonist but unfortunately she doesn’t have much to do besides run and scream. As with the victims in these Thing movies, one can’t help feel this film itself got thinged, and is just a pale imitation of Carpenter’s classic. C

Please follow me on Podbean at The Video Verdict! Our latest episode is on The Thing From Another World and Carpenter’s remake!

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

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