Critters (1986)

Critters, like all great monster movies, can be summed up in a few short lines. Crites- small alien monsters- steal a ship and escape to Earth. Two shape-shifting alien bounty hunters are hot on their trail. Meanwhile, the Brown family children are going around engaging in small town mischief. It's probably only a coincidence that this movie came out two years after Gremlins, with its small humorous monsters and PG-13 violence.

First of all, the Critters are much scarier overall than the Gremlins are. There is some pretty graphic violence here, pushing the PG-13 rating as far as it can go. Second of all, this movie is extremely funny. I hate little kids in movies but the kids in this one are great. Finally, there are some amazing effects going on here. The introduction, which takes place on a spaceship, features a great set and some fantastic alien costumes. Then there is a really outstanding effect at the end of the movie that was probably not too difficult to pull off but still ends up looking great.

As a sort of mash up of Gremlins and your typical monster movie such as The Blob or what have you, it's a mixture that works very well and it would definitely be a mistake to skip it over thinking it's a cynical cash-in on Gizmo-mania.


Above the Law (1988)

Edgy cop/Aikido master/Special Forces guy/Mafia guy/Firearms Expert/Family Man Nico Toscani is investigating some drug goings-on in his neighborhood, along with his partner Jax. Jax is just about to retire from the force or something and Nico protects her the only way he knows how: by constantly putting her in danger by bringing her along on his illegal surveillance missions. I guess she finds that preferable to the constant sexual harassment she is subject to from the gross old fat guys she works with.

Soon, Nico finds mysterious connections between the drug pushers he is investigating and the CIA and he is put on leave and thus has no choice but to further endanger Jax by going on even more illegal reconnaissance missions.

Being as how I have an interest in Japanese martial arts, it was only a matter of time before it came to this: an investigation of Steven Seagal. I have chosen to do this the only way that makes sense; that is, by buying all his movies on DVD (except the direct-to-video ones), watching them, and passing judgment on them (and him).

As is clearly stated on the movie poster, Steven Seagal is a master of Aikido. Aikido is the martial art famous for being used by Steven Seagal in his movies. So we take that as exhibit A. Less importantly, Aikido is also the martial art created by Ueshiba Morihei, who was a badass guy who went around dojo storming until he found religion and decided that the key to victory was not badass fighting, but love. And then he died and so here we are. Exhibit B.

Above the Law begins confusingly, with made up nonsense about what an amazing guy Nico is, mixed with shots of actual authentic Steven Seagal photographs. Then we flashback to Nico being a hero back in some special ops mission in Cambodia and wouldn't it be totally weird and ironic if the bad guy in this movie- the one responsible for the drug dealing in Nico's hometown- and the bad CIA guy torturing some Cambodian guy were one and the same!

We finally finish our whirlwind tour of Steven Seagal- I mean Nico Toscani's life and now here we are in present day 1988 watching cop Nico busting up some guys with no warrant or anything. But it's okay because those guys were scumballs. They even give you some bizarre exposition in passing about one of them being a child molester so you don't feel uncomfortable in the slightest that Nico is just walking into bars and murdering guys for sassing him.

This basically sets the pace for this movie. The Aikido is pretty cool in that it's brutal and violent when in reality Aikido is the opposite of both brutal and violent. I am surprised Aikido didn't become the next Karate after this movie (instead, Tae Kwon Do became the next Karate).

So overall it's not bad as far as later 80s action films go, though not nearly as violent as true classics like Rambo and Commando. There is still hope though because there are like seven more of these to work my way through.

Friday the 13th Part 3 (1982)

A bunch of kids go to a campsite for the express purpose of being stalked and killed by Jason until there is only one girl left who has special Jason killing abilities. I know this sounds like every other Friday the 13th movie, and that's true. When it comes to Jason movies, you have to put that aside and criticize them based on the ideas they contain. Or, failing that, you rate them by whether or not they have a bunch of scenes of people spinning yo-yos towards the camera in 3d.

The only way you can tell these movies apart- especially after the first two and before they started adding psychic girls and trips to Outer Space- is by the cast of characters who will be killed. This entry in the series does not disappoint. Besides the boring heroine and her equally boring boyfriend you've got:
  • a chubby guy that constantly plays annoying pranks
  • token "minority" girl
  • the guy that goes around walking on his hands all over the place and his girlfriend
  • the pot-smoking hippy couple that look a good 20 years older than everyone else
  • the multicultural street gang just hanging out in some small town grocery store
Historically this is an important film, because this is where Jason gets his iconic hockey mask. And it is also the only entry shot in 3d. The 3d effects are not great and you have to wear those red/blue glasses so god help you if you have to wear glasses or one of your eyes is stronger than the other. Luckily the latest disc has both the 2d and 3d versions of this movie and once you get tired of subjecting yourself to headache torture you can switch to the 2d version, and then the 3d effects go from painful to goofy.

Overall it's not a bad chapter in the Friday the 13th saga and even a bad Friday the 13th is better than most slashers.


Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (1967)

Count Regula is tried for the torture and murder of twelve young virgin women. He is sentenced to be quartered but before he dies he curses the presiding judge. A generation later, a big beefy guy and some lady are looking for Count Regula's castle and they coincidentally happen upon each other. A totally insane priest who carries a pistol will be their guide.

When you hear the "quirky" dialog that sometimes doesn't match with what the lips are saying and see the surprisingly graphic violence you might think that this is an Italian horror movie. Close, but you are wrong. It's German, which is close so you get partial credit. Which is fine because going by my "movie title is a plot summary" review criteria this movie only gets partial credit since while there is a Torture Chamber in the film (several even) there is no character named Dr. Sadism.

This is a very stylish movie, like a cross between Bava's horror films and, I dunno, Bloody Pit of Horror and I guess some Hammer stuff since Christopher Lee is in it. The hero, Roger Mont Elise, is your typical tall and beefy guy who has the same facial expression throughout the entire picture (it's the one on the poster to the right). The heroine, Lillian von Brabant, does a lot of hysterical screaming. Christopher Lee hilariously refers to the both of them by their full names every single time so you will have no trouble remembering them by the time the movie is over.

The pace is great and the lengthy carriage ride to the castle is exciting with plenty of action and some great shots including one particularly beautiful shot at sundown. The sets are absolutely fantastic throughout, though I had trouble figuring out what time period this movie is supposed to occur in as the soldiers appeared to be dressed as British red coats and everything else suggested we were back in the 1600s or so. Other than that this is was a great movie.


The Devil's Sword (1984)

1984 was a memorable year. Not only was it the year in which much of the West switched over to a hellish dystopia as prophesied by George Orwell back in 1949, but also this movie came out. In a lot of ways The Devil's Sword is a reaction to the founding of this nightmarish society and so in hindsight we can attribute the restoration of the Free West solely to stars Barry Prima, Advent "Advent" Bangun, and of course Belkies.

The movie begins like many others before it, and many others since. An old crazy man is relaxing in his mountain shack when a meteorite falls to earth. He does what anyone would do in such a situation- forges a sword with no real benefits but with the power to destroy all of humanity should it fall into the hands of absolutely anyone. And then his shack collapses.

Later on, the evil Crocodile Queen sends out her beefy man servant Banyujaga to steal some effeminate looking guy for her. But little does Banyujaga realize that his sworn enemy Mandala is in town searching for The Devil's Sword! Who will get the sword and what will he use it for?

The many parallels between 1984 and this movie are so obvious I won't even go into them. Instead I want to talk about how awesome everything in this movie is. You know how when you were little you'd catch these crazy movies on Kung Fu Theater or whatever on the weekends, and the perfect storm of hilarious dubbing and stupid wire effects converged over the tranquil sea that was society before the Matrix came out and overexposed wire kung fu to the point where it is a groanworthy punchline? And now you are grown up and you hunt down some of those movies in a fit of nostalgia and they just seem boring and tame with your sophisticated adult tastes, what with your iphone and your animes and your hospital dramas? What a disappointment!

Well I am telling you right now that if you watch this movie you will be transported- magically and without warning like in one of those "adult turns into a kid overnight and realizes that there is more to life than money and success and power" movies- back into the age of footie pajamas and sugary cereal on Sunday morning.

Because this movie is totally out of control and your ability to handle it is dubious at best. The violence comes suddenly and without mercy as limbs are shorn like wool from a sheep. Heads are severed and then the fight begins. Mandala is forced to crawl through a "spooky cave" that looks like something a bunch of kids put together under a sheet in the backyard for a Halloween project. I won't even get into Laser Crocodile.

I was going to wrap this up by saying this is by far the best movie to have come out this year, but I checked and a lot of really great movies came out in 1984. But since you've probably already seen all those, watch this one instead.


Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

A mysterious guy gripping a Halloween mask and raving about how someone is going to kill everyone is admitted into a hospital. Shortly after that, some other guy comes in and pull his skull apart with his bare hands. From there he does the only thing one can do after doing something like that- he soaks himself in gasoline in his car and blows himself up.

The attending physician, Dr. Challis, decides to figure out what is going on, possibly because of natural curiosity (unlikely), possibly because the dead man's beautiful daughter is around (likely). They eventually track the single lead down and hilariously this leads them immediately and directly straight to the heart of an evil conspiracy involving magic Halloween masks.

This is the third of fourth time that I've watched this movie and my opinion keeps changing. I remember being disappointed the first time around because Michael Myers is not in the movie. Then after watching all the awful Halloween sequels that did have Michael in them, I thought Halloween III was a pretty decent change of pace. I liked it even more this time around; Halloween III is a pretty awesome 80s horror flick.

The absolute best thing about his movie is the character of Dr. Challis. This guy is totally sleazy, flirting with any woman who he comes into contact with. And he is a hilariously incompetent and uncaring father, blowing his visitation period with his kids to go investigate this spooky mystery like some kind of sleazy divorced version of the Scooby gang, except just one guy and no dog.

It's got a great synthesizer soundtrack by John Carpenter and it looks fantastoc, with plenty of wonderful shots (including the scene the totally awesome poster art was taken from). And the out-of-nowhere gore effects don't feel nearly as out of place as they did in Halloween II. One of the best Halloween movies, if not second best.


Incubus (1965)

Marc and his younger sister Arndis are spending some time in the woods of Nomen Tuum, where Marc can recover from his war injuries by drinking from the convenient fountain of youth thereabouts. Unfortunately for them there is a couple of succubi around who spend all their time corrupting men and they are hungry for the challenge the incorruptible Marc presents to them. Also, Arndis really enjoys staring at eclipses to the point of blindness, which only makes things more difficult for the siblings.

You can't talk about this movie without mentioning that it was filmed in the imaginary moon language of Esperanto. This is a language that was developed to be a sort of second universal language, though the fact that it sounds pretty much like various European languages all stuck together would have made things difficult for 20% of the world population, who speak primarily Chinese which has absolutely nothing to do with Esperanto. So why come up with a whole new manufactured language? Just use Chinese or something and write it with the roman alphabet so people don't have to learn those squiggly characters. This way you would start with 20% coverage! Esperanto dreams of 20% population coverage.

So Esperanto is a miserable failure of an idea, but how is Incubus? It's better in a lot of ways. For one, it has the only successful international manufactured language in it- that is, William Shatner. Whether it's because it is in the totally nonsensical fever dream language of Esperanto, or because Shatner hasn't developed his style fully, we can watch a toned down Shatner, who calmly and assuredly delivers honeyed words of poetry for us for the entire duration of the movie.

It's not a particularly interesting story. It's basically a medieval morality play on film, but the atmosphere is other-wordly and the goat that shows up at the end is really creepy. Goats are scary, what can I say. The cinematography is really outstanding as well, with nice shadows and an overall moody presentation. Unlike junky 50s scifi flicks, movies like Incubus really play to the strengths of black and white film making.

If you watch this movie with a bunch of pals you are going to be making Star Trek jokes all throughout at poor Mr. Shatner's expense so I would recommend instead to watch it on a rainy, gloomy morning when you have nothing much going on. Take a trip to Nomen Tuum and you might be surprised at what you find.


Blood Feast (1963)

Fuad Ramses, crackpot Egyptian caterer and occultist, is a man of many talents. Besides maintaining his catering business, he also has written a book about ancient weird religious rites ("Ancient Weird Religious Rites"), and runs a specialty beans and cans store. In his time off he mistakenly worships the goddess Ishtar, who is not Egyptian but Babylonian but hey close enough, right? He has a statue of her in the back of his store (it's a mannequin painted gold).

So this is what we are dealing with when we sit down to watch Blood Feast. It's only sixty-seven minutes long, but it is filled to the brim with awful acting, totally inept cinematography (most of the time the upper half of the screen is taken up by walls, with the actors down in the bottom half), and a script that was seemingly written by people who have never interacted with other people outside of hearing bits and pieces of conversations floating through the bars in the door of their padded cells.

Technically this movie should be absolutely unwatchable, but this is another one where every time I watch it I like it even more. It has a lot of things going for it. First of all, the gore shots are unbelievable considering the vintage of this movie. It's stuff you wouldn't expect to see until at least six years later. So this is an interesting mix of an early 60s thriller with the extreme gore that would become popular a decade later. Also, the colors are amazing: extremely saturated and lively the movie jumps off the screen at you. Finally, the soundtrack is awesome and sounds like a sixty-seven minutes jam session by the lady at the church on her organ.

So that's a recommendation I think.


The Revenge of Doctor X (1970)

Dr. Bragan is working on some important research for NASA when he is stricken down due to stress. To recover, he takes a trip to Japan to work on his insane theory: that humans evolved not from monkeys but from plants. He will prove this by turning a plant into a man, because science tells us that if one thing can be turned into another thing then we must conclude that the second thing necessarily used to be the first thing! The math is solid and so our movie begins.

Helping out Dr. Bragan is his lovely assistant Noriko and her hunchback, and some dogs. Dr. Bragan is basically the worst person ever. In every scene he is either hitting on Noriko in that creepy old-guy-who-thinks-he's-hip way, or he is totally flying off the handle for absolutely no reason at all. The movie even opens with him completely tearing into these guys and I never understood why he was so angry about everything.

This is pretty much your typical 1950s monster movie, complete with mad science and a final confrontation with a guy in a rubber monster suit at the end. And much like 1950 monster movies, you have about one hour of boring talking with everything that happens in the movie occurring in the last thirty minutes. Really the only thing differentiating this from, say, The Wasp Woman, is that The Revenge of Doctor X has a couple scenes of exploitative nudity.

Also, this movie takes place in Japan and surprisingly it has actual Japanese people in it speaking actual Japanese, and not a bunch of white folks squinting their eyes going "ahhhh sooooo domo arigato."

Other than the (comparatively) exotic setting, however, there is not much to recommend about this movie. The acting is bad all around and the movie is pretty lifeless all around. Also of concern is the fact that the title is a filthy lie. I don't think you could come up with a more inaccurate title for this movie, a movie which has neither a character named Doctor X nor any kind of revenge whatsoever in it. So this movie is lying to you right out of the gate, before you have even started watching it. That's like showing up for a first date and the person has not only lied to you about their name and also she isn't a human but is actually a robot dog.

The monster is cool, but you have to wait until nearly the end for the inevitable rampage and even then it's too brief and you end up feeling like you wasted an evening on a movie that would have been pretty unremarkable back in the late 50s, never mind 1970.


Happy Birthday to Me (1981)

1981. The world has run out of holidays on which to have murders on. The horror movie industry is on the brink of extinction... and then! A guy suggests that birthdays are technically, in a way, holidays too. Horror is saved! That is how this movie happened. Shortly after that the same guy realized horror movies can happen for any reason on any day, and then they all made zombie movies until the end of time.

I ordered this along with My Bloody Valentine and I enjoyed that movie quite a bit so it was a happy coincidence that, according to the DVD case, Happy Birthday to Me is "from the producers of My Bloody Valentine." Could it be? Another amazing Canadian horror movie from the 80s? Well, according to wikipedia, this is an "American slasher movie filmed in Canada" which I guess counts.

Ginny is a member of the Top 10 at Crawford Academy, which is a nasty group of elite jerk kids. How bad are they? They hassle old guys at the bar, they race over bridges... there is basically nothing these rotten to the core thrill-seekers won't do! Ginny seems like a nice girl, regardless of her vaguely unprofessional relationship with her psychiatrist, but I guess she is desperate to be seen as elite so there you go. Meanwhile there is a killer stalking everyone.

This movie is a little hard to follow. It keeps trying to throw you for a loop because much of the film is from Ginny's perspective and she is an unreliable narrator, since she is crazy. But instead of feeling awe at being expertly manipulated, you just feel kind of confused and then, at the end, let down. But at least they didn't just pull the old "the killer is this kid they picked on!" thing that so many other, weaker, slashers have.

I guess my problem with this movie is it isn't Canadian enough. Where is the insanity of something like The Pit, where you are constantly on the verge of losing your mind as you watch? Where are the macho low-key Canadian guys drinking beer and getting into polite brawls from My Bloody Valentine? The twist at the end that invalidates the entire movie like in Rock 'n Roll Nightmare? None of that stuff is in this movie and it suffers for it.

The murders are not even bizarre enough to remember really, regardless of what the poster claims. I can come up with more bizarre murders just looking around the room! Eating a television to death! Buried alive in pens! A bunch of bookcases combine into a giant mummy and then roll you up like a tube of toothpaste, causing your brains to explode from the top of your head!

In conclusion, exhaust the library of Canadian horror movies until you tackle this one. It's a good way to cleanse the palate before watching some good old American slashers.


My Bloody Valentine (1981)

Two miners go into a mine, one of them takes off her miner suit (surprise! she's a lady) and gets ready to get intimate with her coworker but he sees a heart tattoo on her chest, flies into a rage and kills her! Happy Valentine's Day!

Some time later, a bunch of manly men come back from the mine and are doing various manly things in a bar: playing that game where you put your hand on a table and stab the spaces between your fingers with a knife as fast as you can, drinking beer, sexually harassing waitresses, and planning Valentine's Day dances! The old bartender warns them not to, as there is a crazy miner that really hates Valentine's Day dances- or anything resembling a dance, like a party or a hoedown or a get-together- and if you have one, he is just gonna kill you. All the miners laugh off his advice and drink more beer and let's PAR-TAY!

Why does the miner hate Valentine's Day dances so much? Well, there was a dance and his supervisors left him and his crew out in the mines and there was an explosion and everyone died, except this miner!

This is probably the worst setup for a slasher movie ever. I mean, Jason was left to drown by uncaring camp counselors. Freddy was burned to death. The guy in the Burning... was also burned, but only really badly and not to death. The miner should probably be thankful really. He wasn't even hideously burned!

But you know, this is slasher and it's a really good one, so that is all the setup you really need. All the miners and their women seem to be in their late 20s at the very least, though that doesn't stop the sheriff from referring to them as "bunch of kids" a few times. The main character is extremely obnoxious- he apparently just left one day to try to make it out in the city or whatever and failed miserably and now is back doing backbreaking mine work and just expects the girl he abandoned to come back to him, regardless of the fact that she has moved on to some other manly guy. So the first guy spends most of the movie sulking and finally starts a fight with the new boyfriend and gets totally wrecked, which was surprising and awesome.

There are two things that separate this from any other slasher from the early 80s. First, it is extremely brutal! I got to watch the uncut version and I was a little shocked. There is even some totally out of nowhere and unlikely Italian exploitation eyeball violence! Second, the small mining town setting is really interesting. The last part of the movie was shot in an actual mine and it's a really great location for a slasher movie final chase.

Overall a really great horror flick and well worth seeing if you've seen all the Friday the 13th movies and are looking for something around the same time, but really violent and from Canada.


Country Blue (1973)

Bobby Lee Dixon has just been released from prison and after doing some accounting he figures there is no way he can, on his meager auto mechanic salary, escape brutal Southern life with his girlfriend Ruthie, especially considering she is married to a rich guy. So he does the only thing you can do in that situation- he gets an education and becomes an astronaut. Just kidding, he robs a bank and things go from bad to worse. Can Bobby Lee and Ruthie escape the mind-rending terror of the Country Blue?

Sadly there is no monster in this movie, just a bunch of poor people and one monkey in a cage in the middle of nowhere for no reason at all. Maybe the people shooting the last movie on the set they used here forget their monkey when they cleaned up.

It's not a bad way to waste ninety minutes, but it is basically what you'd expect. You get some nice nature photography of swamps and stuff and the movie doesn't really pick up until nearly the end where is suddenly gets really exploitative really suddenly, filled with shootouts and corrupt sweaty cops and tough as nails ladies.

The ending totally comes out of nowhere, so that is something to look forward to depending on how you feel about sudden twist endings. When it comes to drive-in fare like this, it only makes the movie better so I was cheering the whole way.

I couldn't find a poster for this (was it even released in the theaters?) so I made my own. Judging from this drawing, you might think the movie looks a little bit like Southern E.T. in a convertible. If so, mission accomplished.


Super Mario Bros. (1993)

Two plumbers, Mario Mario and Luigi Mario, jump into a parallel dimension (The Mushroom Kingdom, where everyone has evolved from dinosaurs instead of monkeys) to save Luigi's girlfriend Daisy. But they will have to contend with King Koopa (Dennis Hopper!!), who rules the Mushroom Kingdom with an iron fist and has plans to merge his dimension with the human Earth, thus taking over the world!

There's not much that can be said about this movie. It's a dark movie for kids who like Mario and dinosaurs, so of course all the hip gamer adults hate this because Mario doesn't hit blocks for coins and doesn't jump on a flagpole at the end of each scene, his height on the pole determining how many points are added to his score. So yes, this movie has very little to to with the painstakingly detailed mythos of Super Mario Brothers and if you are looking for a 100 minute film about your memories of playing Super Mario Bros. when you were eight years old, you should probably watch the end of The Wizard instead.

But here in cave of newtmonkey I don't review movies based on how close they are to video games. I review movies based on how violent they are, or how much exploitative nudity there is. In other words, the ideas they contain and what they say about the human condition.

Super Mario Bros. is interesting because of how dark and crazy the dystopia ruled by Koopa is. There is mucous-like fungus growing over everything, and society is slowly being driven insane, possibly by genetic deterioration. There are no resources left so everything is dirty and awful and all the cars are hooked into some kind of electric grid. The entire planet except for one small city is a barren wasteland. People eat bug sandwiches. I could go on and on. It's a pretty well-developed world, much more developed anyway than any of the Super Mario Bros. games.

So this could have stood up there with Return to Oz and The Neverending Story and The Goonies as a classic dark fantasy for kids that we in our 30s would all be flipping out for all the time in fits of nostalgia, except for the fact that they paced it for the video game generation. Scenes last mere seconds, just long enough to build up a quip-worthy situation. Mario and Luigi's relationship is just a means to deliver groan worthy sarcastic one-liners back and forth. It's never funny, just distressing.

On top of that, the ending sets us up for a sequel. I found it a little arrogant but in hindsight I could laugh while seeing what they were trying to do. Yeah, good luck with that guys. This movie will surely be a hit! Maybe in the dinosaur dimension.


Shaolin Deadly Kicks (1977)

Eight guys (the "Dragons") steal a "treasure map" that looks kind of like a novelty chocolate bar and then split it up among them and go their separate ways, vowing to come together again when the time is right to claim the treasure. Unfortunately for them, super-kicky policeman Fong Yee is on the case and he definitely does not want these guys to get their treasure! So in other words, this is your typical police movie, if your typical police movie was one where the cop went anonymously around kicking people utterly to death unless they give him some treasure map.

This seems like a pretty good kung fu flick, but I don't really have the depth of experience yet to say for sure. It was certainly technically a lot better than Kung Fu Arts (even though there is no Uncle Monkey in this one), and the fight scenes were pretty excellent although there were some cases of ridiculous looking wire work acted in reverse and several of the fights were way too stop-and-go and overly choreographed for my tastes. But man, can that one guy kick really well!

The version I watched was of course dubbed in English and that made much of the movie hilarious so it was hard to take parts of it seriously. All the women sound like Beaker from the Muppets, and most of the guys end up sounding like guys from black and white gangster flicks, since they have to often breathlessly fill out long stretches of dialog. There is one absolutely hilarious part where one of the Dragons, who is living a quiet life of retirement with his young daughter, is trying to assassinate Fong Yee, but every time he pulls out his assassinatin' knife, no matter where he is, you hear his daughter shout out "FONG YEE! OH FONG YEE!" and she runs over and he has to go hide.

So between all of that kicking and the funny voices there is a lot to recommend about Shaolin Deadly Kicks! One of the better cheapo dubbed kung fu flicks I have seen.

*poster downloaded from kungfucinema.com

Army of Darkness (1993)

At the end of Evil Dead II the hero, Ash, was pulled into some kind of time portal along with the monster he was trying to banish. He ends up back in the 14th century, surrounded by men of King Arthur (obviously not the King Arthur, since that guy- if he existed- lived and died centuries before this), who mistake him for a soldier of their sworn enemy, Henry the Red. Ash and Henry's men are chained up and sent to their deaths in a pit where Arthur keeps some zombies, but since Ash has developed godlike battle skills thanks to his hour of training he got back in the cabin in the previous movie he is able to pretty easily destroy the zombies and escape. People begin to trust him and he is told that there is a formula in the Necronomicon, the book of the dead, that can send him home. Not really concerned with anything other than going home, Ash heads off to retrieve the book!

Army of Darkness is a very entertaining movie. It's funny and ridiculous and has some very charming old-fashioned special effects, like adorable stop motion skeleton warriors and trick photography.

But what kind of movie is it exactly? It is the third Evil Dead movie, but shares little in common with either of the previous films. If anything, it feels a lot like an adventure or sword & sorcery movie. And not a particularly brutal one at that. It's certainly not scary. In fact, cut some scenes a little short and you could show this movie to children, who would definitely find the skeletons cool rather than creepy.

Stylistically, you won't see any of the amazing camerawork from the first movie in this one. Honestly, the movie looks a little cheap overall, which is surprising considering the budget this movie had compared with Evil Dead. Between the lack of violence/gores/scares and the somewhat cheap look, watching this movie often feels like watching a really good made-for-TV feature, which is a huge letdown considering how epic Evil Dead II felt.

Bruce Campbell's Ash is an interesting character, but as a character he is turned up to 11 this time around, and although most of the time he's hilarious, sometimes you feel like they were trying way too hard to make him into this kind of sarcastic superhero. I think the best version of this character was definitely from Evil Dead II, where he was played more subtly. The subtle humor mixed with the gross-out gore scenes hit the mark exactly and worked so well, so it's a bit of a shame that they had to go so over the top with Army of Darkness.

Make no mistake, it is a worthy sequel. It's just quite a step down from two excellent films and I couldn't help but feel let down by it. Some of the jokes fall flat and without the edge provided by the suspense and absolute terror from the first film, or the gross out gore gags from the second, I was left kind of feeling a little awkward about the whole movie.


Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968)

I've been tricked! Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women is basically the same movie as Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet but with some added scenes of Venusian women swimming and sitting on rocks.

A bunch of astronauts go to Venus to look for some other astronauts. Along the way they run into lizard monsters and a plant monster, but their robot, John, helps them out when he can. Until the robot complains about having to carry their worthless hides across the lava river and then they disable his circuits. Later on, the guy that made the robot feels bad about it but not for long because this other guy won't shut up about this noise they keep hearing and he is positive that it is a beautiful Venusian woman. One of the other guys brings up the more likely scenario that it is a space monster, but nothing will kill this guy's fantasy!

These are the most carefree astronauts ever. When they are not droning on and on endlessly about imaginary space babes, they are laughing off killer plant attacks, or dressing up in alien costumes to scare each other.

Whereas Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet leaves the decision of whether or not there are girls on Venus to the viewer, Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women has a bunch of hokey scenes of women that look exactly like human women and it sort of ruins the scene where one of the astronauts finds a plate with a carving of a human looking face on it, which is probably one of the best parts of Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet. They also added a completely unnecessary but constant voice-over, which is almost like listening to a really boring commentary track. The guy will describe what he is doing on the screen in the most boring way possible:

Guy is swimming
"While swimming I encounted something."
Sea monster swims out from behing rock
"But it was just a harmless octopus."
Sea monster looks dejected and swims back behind the rock

The only purpose this movie serves, other than providing the hilarious voice overs, is to make you realize that Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet in hindsight is not so bad. And that is my review, of both movies.


Evil Dead II (1987)

Evil Dead II is a remake/continuation of the first Evil Dead. The first twenty minutes or so summarize the first movie, and then the rest of the movie takes place directly after the events of Evil Dead.

Ash and his girlfriend Linda drive out to a deserted cabin in the woods for some peace and relaxation. Meanwhile, the daughter of the couple that owns the (now abandoned) cabin is on her way, meaning to help her father translate the Book of the Dead (a common enough family activity back then). Her boyfriend and a hillbilly couple are along for the help. But before that can happen, Ash plays a recording of the father speaking aloud verses from the book and suddenly there are demons all over the place!

The effects in this film are pretty amazing, from the fantastic introduction with a great stop-motion effect of the Book of the Dead writing itself overlayed across an image of a roaring sea of blood to the final battle with a giant demon head in the woods.

Also amazing is Bruce Campbell as Ash. It's almost like it's a different person playing Ash this time around! Every scene without Ash suffers in comparison.

However, although Evil Dead II is a much better film when it comes to effects and acting, it's not really scary at all. On top of that, the movie has pacing issues. Once the other characters arrive at the shack, the movie kind of drags and there are a couple of scenes where Ash is possessed and it just really doesn't work well. And there are too many scenes of people creeping over to doors to check out some noise. In a straight horror movie those scenes work to build suspense, but since Evil Dead II is more of a slapstick gore comedy they feel out of place and just end up killing the momentum.

Regardless of its status as a horror movie, Evil Dead II is a fantastic way to spend ninety minutes, assuming you don't mind a little bit of red karo syrup with your slapstick.

Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965)

A bunch of guys land on Venus for exploration, with their awesome robot. Like most cheap scifi flicks, they are attacked by plant monsters and lizard monsters for about seventy minutes and then they escape. But before escaping they find proof that the Venusians are humanlike (or at least were at some time) when they find a plate with a creepy carving of a human face on it.

The problem with this movie is that it is so slow. When the astronauts get to Venus it is pretty awesome- the surface of the planet looks relatively like the real thing (rocky and volcanic) and the only thing that causes modern man's sense of disbelief to crumble is that, well, people are walking around on Venus in these flimsy space suits. One guy gets a tear in his suit after fighting with some lizard men but this just kind of leaves him winded. 400+ °C will tend to do that to you. Oh, also there are lizard men.

So after an awesome ride on their robot across a lake of lava our heroes go home, without even really trying to investigate the singing voice they hear that just might be a woman! Or a monster. We will never know thanks to these cowards.

The part where they find the disc or whatever with the image of a human looking face carved in it is actually done pretty well and is even a little chilling. Just be prepared to go through what seems like an hour of boring talk on the spaceship before anything cool happens.


The Creeper (1977)

A bunch of doctors get together in the woods to do some manly camping and fishing but what they do not know is that someone or something is stalking them! First, their boots are taken from them! And then they get picked off one by one. It doesn't take many words to summarize this movie. You could summarize any number of slashers from the 1970s and 1980s thusly, but The Creeper is a very special slasher.

First of all, the characters, while not likable, are interesting and interact with one another in a realistic way. These guys don't like each other so much as they tolerate one another, and the burden of dealing with a psychotic killer or killers in the woods stalking them only irritates this.

Second, they are all doctors and it is interesting how they react to the attacks. They generally know how to deal with injuries, but in a way this can often make things worse because instead of leaving someone to die, they will treat his wound and carry him along, making everyone an even bigger target.

Finally, the attacks are really subtle. This isn't "harpoon to the groin" kind of stuff Jason from Friday the 13th might pull. This is, steal all the boots leaving people unable to cover much ground, or throw a beehive into camp. It's really clever how they do this, because every step of the way you can imagine yourself in a similar situation. "What would I do if my buddy were to be caught by a bear trap while we were trying to escape from a psycho in the woods?" This is the kind of movie The Creeper is.

I think a big part of how scary you will find this movie is, how comfortable are you in the woods? I went camping with a friend only once in my life and I remember very clearly waking up in the middle of the night having to go to the bathroom and once I left the safety of the tent I was positive that a gang of crazy bears was watching my every move, waiting for me to slip up. Needless to say I was able to survive, but that is only because I was able to intimidate the bears with my cocky high school swagger. The guys in The Creeper, several years past high school, sadly cannot say the same.

Look, you can either appreciate the difference between a good movie where a bunch of people are stalked to death in the woods, and a bad one, or you can't. Possibly, this depends on how many "stalked-to-death in the woods" movies you have seen. But I am telling you that The Creeper is fantastic and if you can trust me- a simple man who just really enjoys a good film where people are stalked in the woods until all of them but one dies- then you should watch it too.

The Evil Dead (1981)

Ash and his friends decide to stay at a cabin in the woods. Therein they find a sinister recording and a book bound in human flesh. They decide it would be a great idea to play the tape one night, which is a sort of audio journal of some guy who had stayed in the cabin previously, who had been researching the history of the book and how it was used in resurrecting demons. Unfortunately for Ash and crew, the man is fluent in demon language and reads aloud the demon summoning ritual from the book. Soon, friends start being possessed by demons and all hell breaks loose.

The Evil Dead is an amazing horror masterpiece written and directed by horror virtuoso Sam Raimi, now famous as the director of the Spiderman movies. The quality of the direction is frankly unbelievable. This is basically the second movie the guy had ever done, if you include the low budget and rarely-seen Within the Woods. I usually don't like to get into histories of people involved in the movies I review, but you need to understand that Sam Raimi, on his second attempt, made a movie that outclasses nearly every horror movie of its time. It is that good.

It is absolutely packed with memorable shots and scenes. I especially like the scene where Ash attempts to escape with Cheryl and they find the bridge to the town to have been uprooted by some unknown force, steel girders curling up like the fingers of some demonic hand. The scene was shot with both the car and the camera on a slope. So when Ash exits the car and then passes between the car and the camera it appears that he is walking at a 45-degree angle to the ground. It's a simple but amazing effect, but when you see it it really makes you feel uneasy. And then when Ash discovers that the bridge is no longer an option, the scene is framed so that all you see is him and Cheryl in the headlights of the car, surrounded by total darkness. And the movie is filled with these kinds of amazing shots.

The sound effects are equally impressive, from the deep rumbling noise the demon presence makes as it glides through the woods, to the horrific voices the characters speak in when they are possessed.

Unlike its sequel, The Evil Dead is pretty much a total horror film, with very little (if nothing) to laugh at. It's a little amusing how much abuse Ash has to put up with, but even then it is more gross than funny. It's an extremely violent and gory film, but that is all part of the ride and as far as I am concerned this film is a perfect horror movie.


Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

Oh God, Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis are back again. Years have passed since the events of the previous film, and little Jamie has grown up and is now pregnant. In fact, we open the film with her giving birth in some basement in a hospital, begging the doctors not to take her baby. But they do. And then a kind nurse manages to get Jamie her baby. Jamie thanks her by running away and leaving the nurse to a horrible fate at the hands of Michael Myers, who is really angry now that he has a baby to worry about.

Later on we meet a bunch of awful people living in Michael's house, and living across from them is grown up and crazy Tommy Doyle, who was one of the little kids Laurie was babysitting during the first Halloween movie. Tommy has been obsessively researching the whole Michael Myers phenomenon, and has connected Michael with ancient druid lore and he starts explaining something about how the druids would curse one of their children with the mark of Thorn, and then that kid would grow up and kill his or her next of kin, saving the tribe from Dracula or something. Look, Tommy Doyle is obviously insane so it's up to you if you buy this druid nonsense.

The Man in Black from The Revenge of Michael Myers is back and you can look forward to his identity being revealed. And while all this is happening, Loomis is still around though sadly not nearly as out of control as he was in Halloween 5. He's just a little crazy in this one.

The whole druid/Thorn thing is pretty interesting but it really takes away from what made Michael Myers scary in the first place- he was just a kid that snapped for no reason and killed his sister and then came back ten years later or whatever and killed again. It's just not as scary when he's being controlled by draculas or druids or space leprechauns or whatever. Although one thing that is done well with Michael this time around is that he doesn't really do a lot of slow stalking. He's just really angry and you can see that in how brutal he is this time around. Michael has trouble with feelings, so he must express himself through the universal language of killing you with whatever tools he has within reach at the time, no matter how unlikely they might be as weapons.

There are a ton of stupid things going on in this movie, but apparently the movie had a rough production so it's understandable (but not forgivable!!). At one point the plot depends on Tommy tracking the location of a phone call he has recorded to a bus station, then following a trail of blood left from the phone booth in the station into the bathroom where he finds a loud crying baby hidden in a little cabinet, all in broad daylight at least a day after the incident occurred there. You mean no one but crack detective Tommy noticed the massive pool of blood on the floor of the public telephone booth in the bus station? And no one heard the loud baby in the bathroom?

So this is what we are dealing with, when we sit down to watch The Curse of Michael Myers, but it's okay. It's got the worst cast of any of the movies (though Paul Rudd as Tommy Doyle is pretty cool, especially his reaction when he first meets Michael face to face in a hallway), but it sure looks good with some excellent colored lighting straight out of 1970s horror Italy. This is also definitely the goriest of all the Halloween movies.

I thought about this really carefully and I am fine with that. Halloweens 2 and 4 tried so hard to do the same thing as the excellent first movie, but they just couldn't manage it and ended up being extremely boring. Halloween 5 threw its hands up in the air and just started cracking jokes. And The Curse of Michael Myers doesn't try any of that, instead it's just a really violent, weird, and pretty decent looking slasher movie with light occult elements. I'd rank it the third best Halloween.


Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)

Michael Myers is back again! Halloween 5 takes place directly after the end of that miserable failure of a movie, Halloween 4. Michael's little niece Jamie has been rendered speechless after Michael somehow made her kill her foster mother using Halloween magic. Dr. Loomis is still around, and Jamie's adoptive big sister Rachel is also (momentarily) around to help out. There are some new annoying kids played by thirty-year-olds who have existed up until now merely to act as fodder for Michael to massacre so we can get a ninety-minute movie. Complicating all of this, Jamie has developed some kind of psychic bond with her uncle and can sort of track where he is going. And also there is some guy in a black trenchcoat following Michael around!

This is an amazing movie. It is definitely the second best in the series, behind the first movie. That's not saying much since parts two and four are absolute garbage, but seriously this is a great addition to the series.

First of all, it is absolutely hilarious. This was obviously meant as a black comedy. Loomis is an absolute madman this time around. When he is not sneaking into Jamie's hospital room multiple times to terrify her into using her psychic link to track Michael ("Today someone dug up a coffin of a nine-year-old girl, Jamie. Jamie, you're nine years old. What do you think he's going to do with that when he finds you?"), he is treating the local cops as the buffoons they are.

It even pokes fun at the ridiculous scene in the second movie where one guy is killed because he just happens to be wearing the same exact costume as Michael Myers!

Normally, I am not interested in horror films that exist solely to make fun of how all us losers like horror movies. Scream, for instance. Luckily, Halloween 5 is way better than that. First of all, it is a lot more subtle. The guy who wrote Scream felt like he had to include a character to actually explain to you how stupid horror movies are, since you are so dumb. And on top of that, it was no better than some garbage 80s slasher movie! In other words, they made a piece of trash 80s slasher, threw in a guy saying "you guys if you go in the basement alone you're gonna get killed," sat back with a cigar and called it a day. Little did they know that we had subtler, more intelligent slasher parodies like the masterful Halloween 5 or the seminal Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI.

And not only is Halloween 5 a hilarious masterwork of unrelenting comedy hijinx, it's also a really good horror flick! Instead of trying to stupidly ape the slow suspense of Halloween, like all the others did, Halloween 5 is quick and stylish, with plenty of attention paid to gorgeous shots and excellent use of color. It looks a lot like the beautiful Italian horror movies of the late 70s and early 80s, but manages to be compelling with very little blood or gore.

You really can't go wrong with this one. It certainly doesn't deserve the poor reputation it has.

Deep Red (1975)

Music teacher Mark witnesses the murder of psychic Helga and decides that he needs to investigate this case on his own. Meanwhile, the killer goes around killing people. A character introduced out of nowhere ends up being the killer and there is an epic struggle at the end.

This movie is awful. I watched the censored American version, which omits twenty minutes of the most brutal violence, but even so is way too long with a running time of 100 minutes. Nothing happens in this movie! All I can remember about this movie is nearly 100 minutes straight of footage of Mark slowly walking in houses looking at things, punctuated with completely over the top and convoluted murder scenes.

There is simply nothing in this movie to merit a recommendation. The characters are dull, the dialog pointless, the pacing so slow that any attempt at suspense results in boredom. It doesn't even have the wonderful sense of color that Argento's Suspiria boasts. I really can't see how this movie is seen as a classic, when horror masterpieces like Martin and A Bell from Hell were being released around the same time (give or take a few years). Even trash like Scream Bloody Murder or Blood Freak is more entertaining than this poorly-paced film. And the title is dumb! Deep Red... you know, like blood and also like strawberries. And putting a doll on your poster isn't scary! Even if it is transcending the boundary between posters and reality and cutting the title on the poster to death. And also I hate your dog, movie, and your face is stupid!

A Bell from Hell (1973)

A young man named John is released from a mental hospital, his doctor ordering him to report back every week or so for a check up. John burns his documents first chance he gets and heads home, where his vaguely sinister aunt Marta and three beautiful cousins are waiting. Apparently Aunt Marta had John committed to the mental hospital and it is up in the air whether or not he was actually crazy enough to merit this treatment, especially considering the fact that by doing so Aunt Marta has taken control of the family fortune that John was meant to inherit. Complicating things further, John has had some kind of intimate relationship with at least two of the cousins, and there is still some kind of lingering tension between them.

This is an amazing movie. First of all, although the title does not act as a concise plot summary ("John vs. his Aunt and Cousins" would have been a pretty cool title I think), it does show up on the screen with an image of said bell, and that is always worth bonus points in my book. If Halloween 4 opened with a shot of four calenders, all with October 31st circled in red... well, I'm not saying that would have made the movie any good, but it certainly wouldn't have hurt.

Second, this is an amazingly paced thriller that doesn't insult you by explaining everything and takes its time in developing the story it wants to tell. Roughly an hour goes by before you really even realize anything is going on, but the characters and atmosphere are all so captivating you won't care. You reach a certain point where you start to piece together what is going on and from that point on you are glued to the screen.

There is no black-and-white morality presented here. The script is very vague about whether or not John is really crazy. It is also vague regarding whether or not Aunt Marta was acting in John's best interests in having him committed. So basically it is up to you to figure out who to believe, and depending upon which side you choose this movie will turn into either a "crazy guy menacing a houseful of women" story or a "wronged guy getting his revenge" movie.

A Bell from Hell is really indicative of the very best that European horror from the 1970s had to offer. The atmosphere is phenomenal, the direction skilled, and the script clever and intelligent. Finding treasures like this is what watching horror movies is all about.


Scream Bloody Murder (1973)

A young boy named Matthew watches his father doing some generic purposeless farm work. The boy slowly gets onto a tractor and- just when the timing is right!- he purposefully runs his dad over, leaving a broken, bloody ruin of a man that looks a lot like a mannequin. Then Matthew leaps off the tractor and seemingly against the laws of physics he manages to run over his own hand! In other words this kid is a psycho and also incompetent, and if that is not a recipe for hilarity I don't know what is.

Matthew is sent to a mental hospital, his hand replaced by a hook! Then one day adult Matthew receives a letter from his mother. Turns out she has met some guy named Mr. Parsons and is getting married! Matthew looks at the paper with hatred in his eyes. "...Mr. Parsons!"

Mr. Parsons is a great guy and is trying his hardest to bond with Matthew but Matthew will have none of that and the only bonding Parsons will be doing in the near future is the very special kind between his chest and an axe. Mom finds out and in the ensuing struggle she falls and hits her head on a rock, dying instantly. Matthew runs away, killing people as he goes, until he meets Vera who is a part time painter and part time prostitute... and who Matthew decides he must protect from all the men who want to touch her.

Scream Bloody Murder is a fine little exploitation shocker. Matthew is annoying as hell and every time he tries to talk to someone you just want him to shut up. This is a slasher from before the 80s, so not all the victims are instantly detestable which means you do feel bad for them when Matthew flips out on them. This is really a key point if you are trying to make a slasher but don't have the budget of a Friday the 13th or an A Nightmare on Elm Street. The latter Nightmare on Elm Street films can get away with annoying characters because they are primarily special effects flicks. Scream Bloody Murder was made for less than I spent on my dinner last night, so having sympathetic characters helps a lot.

Scream Bloody Murder is unfortunately not an Italian gore movie from the 70s, so it doesn't really have any really crazy stuff in it. Though at one point towards the end Matthew develops teleportation powers! He corners a woman in a room upstairs and she escapes, makes a mad dash for the front door, but when she opens it Matthew is there waiting for her outside the house. I guess coming from the guy who managed to fall backwards off a tractor, landing in front of the tractor so his arm could get run over, this is not too surprising. If only you had used your powers and your claw for good, Matthew!