31 Days of Halloween- Day 31- Are You In The House Alone? (1978)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 31- Are You In The House Alone? (1978)

Gail Osborne is a 16 year old who starts dating Steve Pastorinis who goes to the same school as her. It’s also around this time that she starts to receive abusive notes stuck in the grills of her school locker and also abusive telephone calls.

For a film, let alone a TV movie to deal with an issue such as stalking in 1978 was very brave indeed as it hadn’t entered the public consciousness yet and was largely an alien concept. But Are You In The House Alone? deals with the subject very intelligently and exposes it for the vile, terrifying and horrific practice that it actually is.

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But the movie also deals with other issues such as Gail’s parents struggling with their marriage following her father losing his job. This again is dealt with brilliantly and feels integral to the plot rather than just feeling like padding to fill up the running time.

But Are You In The House Alone? also deals with rape, another taboo topic for 1978. It deals with it amazingly well with discussions regarding getting the rapist to court and obtaining a conviction against him being seen as being very difficult indeed.

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I love doing 31 Days of Halloween as it’s a great chance to revisit horror films that I have seen in the past but also to watch films that are completely new to me. Some of these I’m really glad I took the time to watch. A small minority bowl me over as they are just so powerful and brilliant. Are You In The House Alone? is one such film. When it ended I literally had to just sit and digest what I had just experienced and think about just how trailblazing the production was especially for that time and for the topics it depicted without any sugar coating or saccharine gloss.

Are You In The House Alone? is a very unsettling experience as it worms its way into your head and will stay with you long after it has finished. And it’s a rare instance of a TV movie rightly finding its way onto Blu Ray (thank you Vinegar Syndrome!)

Grade- A

31 Days of Halloween- Day 30- Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

31 Days of Halloween- Day 30- Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

I remember I actually had the poster for Halloween 4 which I seem to remember came free with either Fangoria or Gorezone which I used to buy religiously back in the day. This was way before the film would actually be released here in the UK. The poster looked so cool and I was intrigued to see what the film would be like with Mr Myers returning to the fold. The imagery of the poster was very evocative of the original film and so I was moist with anticipation.

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The first Halloween film I ever saw was Halloween 3: Season of the Witch which I loved and continue to love to this day. The fact that Myers wasn’t in the film never even occurred to me until I started to read angry fanboy reviews years later.

In fact, fans of the franchise were so incensed by Myers’ exclusion from H3 that it bombed at the box office even though it’s a great film. But this points out something very telling about horror sequels. Fanboys of the Halloween series are happy as long as a) Micheal is featured and b) he’s killings loads of people in really gory ways. And that’s it. The fanboys don’t care about a fantastic plot, a brilliant soundtrack, gorgeous cinematography and amazing direction. They just want to see The Main Man killing anyone he crosses paths with.

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And this is exactly what the makers of Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers sought to accomplish. And do they? Yes. The film is a series of kills with the odd reference both plotwise and through the soundtrack to the original.

But all of the dare I say, art and style of the first two films (the first especially) has been gotten rid of. Halloween 4 feels like a TV movie that feels nothing like the first two films and is instead an exercise in giving the fans what they want.

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The loose plot involves Myers being transferred to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium but disposing of the ambulance workers escorting him on his journey so that he can return to Haddonfield and wreak more havoc. Stop me if you’ve heard any of this before…

The subject of his ire, in this case, is his niece Jamie who is the daughter of Laurie Strode and must be done away with because of this. And what an irritating character she is. In fact, she’s one of the most unlikeable characters I think I’ve ever had to endure in a horror film.

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Everything the Myers fans wanted from Halloween 4 was delivered on point. Everything that fans of decent, suspenseful horror movies wanted and expected after the first three Halloween movies were left disappointed.

But the film was a huge hit at the box office which is all that matters when it comes to cynical and stale filmmaking. The budget for the film was $5m (it looks like it had a budget of a fraction of that) and it made $17.8m at the box office. Kerching!

In a parallel universe, Halloween 3 made a ton of money at the box office and the Halloween franchise was reinvented as an anthology series with different stories, different and interesting characters and all of the brilliance of H3. Now, how do I get to this parallel universe?

The Halloween franchise died for me after Halloween 3. And with Halloween Kills being as abysmal as it was, it’s in rapid decline. But hey, it made lots of revenue at the box office!

Grade- E+

31 Days of Halloween- Day 29- Ants (1977)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 29- Ants (1977)

A hotel complex where a new building is being constructed is infested with killer ants.

I love the TV movies that featured a special guest star who was slumming it as work had dried up. Ants stars Myrna Loy as well as Suzanne Somers (!) and Lynda Day George (yes, the actress from Pieces!) so you know you’re in for a special time.

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I actually remember watching this on UK TV in 1980 when I was the tender age of 5.

I love the fact that whenever the ants appear on screen we get discordant violins on the soundtrack.

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This is surprisingly bright and breezy in tone until the ants become more prevalent within the storyline and then it becomes a lot more apocalyptic in tone (which is always welcome for cult film fans). The whole production is a triumph in camp however dark it tries to become.

Ants aka It Happened at Lakewood Manor holds up very well though. The TV movie was also issued on DVD in 2014. This might not be some kind of classic uncovered from the vaults but it’s nice to see it has a life after being shown on TV all those decades before.

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Grace- C+

31 Days of Halloween- Day 28- Madman (1981)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 28- Madman (1981)

This slasher movie starts in the most obvious seting for a film of this ilk- a campfire! We hear of Madman Marz who was a vile man by all accounts. Abusive to his family until he decides to kill them with an axe. He then casually goes to his local tavern to have a drink or ten but not before he’s placed the bloody axe on the bar. He’s then jumped by a posse of men who bury the axe in his face and attempt to hang him for his crimes. When they go to cut down his body the next day they find that it isn’t there anymore.

Three guesses where he is and that he’s still murdering people.

I watched this film on the same day that I watched another film I had heard plenty about- Pieces. How’s that for a double bill?

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My first thought on watching Madman was ‘Oh my God! That’s Gaylen Ross!’ Yes, Fran from Dawn of the Dead is one of the cast members. Why wasn’t she in more films? She’s a legend.

The other prevailing thought I had was that Madman kicks ass royally. This is far from your bland and cliched summer camp based slasher film. The kills are amazing, it’s gory as hell and the killer is fantastic.

Madman plays with the tropes of the early 80’s slasher film and feels like a breath of fresh air in much the same way as Jeff Lieberman’s Just Before Dawn. There is deft and innovative direction by Joe Giannone which places this head and shoulders above similar fare.

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Add to this an excellent and very effective electronic score by Steve Horelick and you have one hell of a ride.

Madman also went under the alternate title of Slaughterhouse.

Grade- B

31 Days of Halloween- Day 27- Eyes of a Stranger (1981)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 27- Eyes of a Stranger (1981)

Lauren Tewes stars as Jane, a Miami newsreader who suspects her neighbour of being a murderer who’s crimes she reports on with shocking regularity. She lives with her blind deaf-mute sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh’s first starring role).

This was another example of a film I had been meaning to watch for the longest time (since about 1989 when I read about the film in Kim Newman’s seminal book Nightmare Movies) and sought it out after one of my friends was talking about it online (see, Instagram isn’t all bad).

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And my! What a film it is! The film doesn’t shy away from the violence the women characters are subjected to. Rather than being titillating for the sicker audience members, it feels like it depicts realistic portrayals of the kind of abuse some women are subjected to. The camera doesn’t flinch away from these even though most audience members will do.

I liked how the film played with genre expectations regarding the violent episodes. The first victim Debbie asks her boyfriend to come over and this lulls viewers into thinking that this instantly makes her safe from the killer’s advances. This couldn’t be further from the truth as Stanley instead just dispatches of the boyfriend (Tom Savini carries out the special effects for this movie and as usual does an absolutely fantastic job. Debbie’s boyfriend is beheaded and his head placed in her fish tank) and then moves onto her.

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This sequence is also very perceptive as Debbie rings the police and complains about the awful abusive phone calls she has been getting from the killer. The policeman she speaks to is far from sympathetic and complains that whenever violence against women is reported and warned against on the news this creates a huge spike in abusive phone calls from other sickos. He then says he will send out a phone officer to see her but during the next day and when it’s too late! The police’s inactivity and scepticism are portrayed and are still an issue today towards women who report similar behaviour. There is a story in the news at the moment about a young woman who was being stalked and sent abusive messages which she sent to the police who failed to act. She was eventually killed by her stalker.

The film also shows how the telephone as an appliance can take on sinister connotations. A victim who is being telephoned in her office late at night can’t even get away from her stalker contacting her when she steps into a lift to go to her friend’s house for safety as there is a phone in the lift that he calls her on. The threat of the killer is shown to be omnipresent and inescapable.  Again, the film led us to believe that this would-be victim would be safe after she had arranged to leave her workplace and venture out to safety.

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A film that Eyes of a Stranger reminded me of was the TV movie written by John Carpenter in the ’70s, Someone’s Watching Me! starring Lauren Hutton and Adrienne Barbeau. Both take place in the same time period with the primary action taking place in apartment complexes. There’s an element of surveillance within both films, with Jane watching her accused’s apartment which is opposite hers and Hutton’s character doing the same in the TV movie.

One sequence that made me perch on the edge of my seat was when Jane enters Stanley’s apartment when he is out but is unaware that he is returning. The execution of this scene was expertly handled and the outcome handled with real aplomb and without any filler or unnecessary padding whatsoever.

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I also loved the scene whereby the killer meets Tracy for the first time and surmises correctly that she is deaf, blind and mute. The sequence in which he moves the objects she has placed down just out of reach is almost like some kind of gaslighting as if he wants her to question her actions and let her know that he is there. The rest of this scene is also stellar but to go into that would ruin the film’s ending which I’m not going to do!

Eyes of a Stranger is a fantastically powerful film that depicts the violence endured by women that never slips into being some kind of misogynistic or moralistic vehicle. Any woman could have fallen prey to Herbert and the full horror of this is shown even if these scenes are rightly uncomfortable to watch. A sobering thought is that as the film was being made The Yorkshire Ripper was still at large and blighting the lives of not just his female victims but ALL women as they had to adjust their lives accordingly because a woman-hating psychopath was at large and had been for several years.

Grade- B+

31 Days of Halloween- Day 26- White Zombie (1932)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 26- White Zombie (1932)

We see the soon to be wed Madeleine and Neil being driven by horse drawn carriage to the house of plantation owner Charles Beaumont. They pass by a man named Murder (a red flag) Legendre played by the one and only Bela Lugosi. His evil face is another red flag. This isn’t a good man as is obvious for any sane person. Beaumont is also in love with Madeleine and goes to see Legendre to enlist his services so that Madeleine will marry him instead of Neil as Murder is a master of voodoo. He even has zombies that he has created as workers at his sugar cane mill. Legendre states that the only way for Charles to get Madeleine to love him is to turn her into a zombie also. But will his dastardly plan work?

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Lugosi in White Zombie. Just an average looking kinda guy

White Zombie was one of the films on the list I have labelled in my head as ‘Horror Films That I’ve Heard Are Really Influential But Haven’t Gotten Around To Watching Yet’. That is until now.

And I’m so glad that I finally have. It’s a fantastic film that still holds up as an experimental piece of cinema with superimposed images, the use of shadows and is perfectly framed. It’s a joy to watch. And the plot and subject matter is far from conventional for horror in the 1930s.

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But best of all is to see horror maestro Lugosi at the top of his game. He can say more with his eyes than most actors could even dream of. I’m so glad that someone who was destined to star in some of the genre’s very best works actually ended up doing just that. And by the time he starred in White Zombie he was already a star of the genre through his starring in Dracula and Murders in the Rue Morgue.

If I had to compare this film to any other it would be to the equally experimental (and brilliant) Vampyr. This is compliment in itself.

Grade- B+

31 Days of Halloween- Day 25- The Toolbox Murders (1978)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 25- The Toolbox Murders (1978)

This infamous film from 1978 starts with an anonymous man wearing a balaclava and going on a killing spree. He uses a different  tool for each murder such as an electric drill, a screwdriver and nail gun.

But then events take a bizarre twist as we get to see who the killer is and…to tell you anymore would ruin several surprises that the movie has in store. And it has plenty of surprises to shock us with!

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This film has such a notorious reputation and none so much as in Britain where it was firstly cut for its initial cinema release but then banned outright on video as it was then labelled as one of the more shocking video nasties.

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The UK video artwork

There is an authenticity to the killing spree we witness and with the film in general. The balaclava motif felt all so real as it was a staple of killers such as Ted Bundy who was prolific during this era. Also, The Yorkshire Ripper was killing women with the implements used in the film around this time which gives it an extra layer of horrific realness.

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The Ted Bundy murder kit. Notice the balaclava

Your jaw will hit the floor when you watch Cameron Mitchell’s central performance. It truly is demented genius.

I’m so glad that The Toolbox Murders is now appreciated as the fantastic piece of psychotic art that it truly is. Watch out for the 4K scan on Blu Ray. The film looks and sounds amazing and has finally gotten the treatment it so rightfully deserves.

Grade- A-

31 Days of Halloween- Day 24- No Place To Hide (1981)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 24- No Place To Hide (1981)

Amy leaves her art class late at night and goes to her car. However, she then finds a man dressed all in black resplendent with a black balaclava and shades waiting for her in her backseat. She gets away but isn’t taken seriously by the police when she goes to report the incident. Apparently, the same man has been following her on previous occasions but has always gotten away. The police think she is a crank and that this mysterious man who is threatening and stalking her is a figment of her imagination.

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Soon afterwards she receives a funeral wreath from the same man. Realising that this is the first tangible piece of evidence that there is that in fact someone stalking her, she goes with her stepmother to the florists to ask who placed the order and what he looked like. The florist is amused as he says that it was her, Amy who walked in and placed the order just hours earlier.

Is Amy mad? Or is there really a man stalking and threatening to kill her?

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No Place To Hide is another example of an excellent made for TV horror movie. Tense, suspenseful and very well written not to mention perfectly acted.

In fact, it has so many twists and turns that it would make a great episode of either Tales of the Unexpected or Thriller.

Grade- B

31 Days of Halloween- Day 23- The Case of the Hillside Stranglers (1989)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 23- The Case of the Hillside Stranglers (1989)

A pretty faithful account of The Hillside Stranglers starring Dennis Farina as Angelo Buono and Billy Zane as Kenneth Bianchi. Richard Crenna is cop Bob Grogan who is hunting them. This made for TV movie is based on the book Two of a Kind: The Hillside Stranglers By Darcy O’Brien.

I love TV movies based on true crime cases especially those made in the 80’s ever after I saw The Deliberate Stranger starring Mark Harmon as Ted Bundy.

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This movie has chilling reverberations to the recent Sarah Everard case as it depicts the killers using a police badge to get their potential female victims’ attention so that they would go with them.

The film also has its fair share of tense moments such as Grogan’s girlfriend going to see Buono just to see what he’s like after she had discussed him with her cop boyfriend for so long. Obviously, this was a really foolhardy thing to do!

A solid TV movie.

Grade- C+

31 Days of Halloween- Day 22- Crowhaven Farm (1970)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 22- Crowhaven Farm (1970)

Maggie and Ben inherit an old farm by default (the man who it was actually left to had to inhabit the farm within 30 days but we see him attempt to move in in the dead of night but runs his car into a tree after swerving to miss a mysterious girl who intentionally caused the accident which results in the car exploding on impact). 

Maggie has a strong feeling that she’s been at the farm before and wonders if a phenomenon such as reincarnation actually exists as she remembers cooking in the farm kitchen, living on the farm and more sinister episodes. This freaks her out as she tells her husband Ben that she doesn’t want to move in even though he is excited at the prospect.

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There are quickly established links to witch trials that took place at the farm in years gone by. 

For a 1970 horror TV movie, Crowhaven Farm pulls no punches. There are some very taboo aspects to the plot that are just as taboo now as they were back then. With the short running time, the action zips along which adds to the quickly developing insanity of how the plot develops that lends a surreal aspect to proceedings.

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As I’ve said before, I hope a Blu ray company invests more in these made for TV gems and releases them looking and sounding as good as they possibly can with tons of extras. There are plenty of these movies to mine into and a horror audience who would gladfully lap them up. 

Grade- B