31 Days of Halloween- Day 21- The Last Shark (1981)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 21- The Last Shark (1981)

The opening scene of this opus shows us what could almost be a kind of commercial of a windsurfer doing his thing on the water. However, suddenly he is attacked and killed by a shark. Following this, successful horror novelist Peter Benton teams up with wizened shark hunter Ron Hamer to try and find and kill the shark which could very well attack again now that it has gotten a taste for human flesh. They want to cancel the upcoming windsurfing regatta but the local mayor doesn’t want this as it may harm his election campaign for becoming the new state governor. 

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. This is basically the plot of Jaws. And you’d be right for thinking that. This Italian film is a blatant Jaws copy made on a millionth of the budget of the original but herein lies something great about the film and about cult cinema in general. Whilst it’s easy to dismiss a film like this, it’s harder to dismiss that The Last Shark is also fantastic and very cheesy fun. There are great kills, a groovy soundtrack and a feel that is more reminiscent of an early 80’s Euro porn movie as well as a horror rip-off.

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In fact, the film seems to want to be a ‘homage’ (ahem) to not just Jaws but also its sequel judging by the ‘shark vs helicopter’ scene which is as genius as it is laughable. 

But whilst you may get mainstream Hollywood films that have budgets of millions of dollars and earn back much more at the box office, they may be completely soulless, forgettable and mediocre. And these are three words that could never be levelled against The Last Shark. It has character and charm coming out of every pore even if most audience members will choose to laugh at proceedings rather than fully suspending their disbelief at what is happening in the film’s running time.

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Give me this film over the myriad of boring, bland and beige Hollywood films made to run in any number of worldwide multiplexes any day of the week. 

Grade- B-

31 Days of Halloween- Day 20- Terror Train (1980)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 20- Terror Train (1980)

A prelude shows a prank in which a socially awkward and sexually inexperienced student is lured into having his first sexual encounter. What he doesn’t know is that the woman waiting for him in bed is actually a corpse stolen by medical students. On discovering this, Kenny becomes unhinged and is rightly traumatised.

Three years later the same students sans Kenny travel together on a train that doubles as a costume party. They start to be picked off one by one. Who could the killer be?

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It’s pretty obvious who it is but y’know…

This is one of the horror films that starred Jamie Lee Curtis that helped cement her status as The Scream Queen after Halloween in 1978. Of all of her horror vehicles from this time, I have to say Terror Train is my least favourite. It’s beautifully lit, with a gorgeous colour palate but remains strangely cold for me. A cross-country on a sleeper train could have been the perfect locale for a horror film but for me, the movie is surprisingly suspense free and not very atmospheric at all.

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Slasher films in those days offered more than just kills for their audiences and there’s plenty of teen drama between the characters and even a magician in the guise of David Copperfield to add something different to proceedings.

But Terror Train is certainly substandard when compared to Halloween 2, Prom Night, The Fog and, of course, the first Halloween.

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A far too mediocre entry in the slasher sub-genre.

Grade- C-

31 Days of Halloween- Day 19- The Boogey Man (1980)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 19- The Boogey Man (1980)

This film begins with the vile abuse of a small boy and his sister after they spied on their mother getting it on with her boyfriend. After Willy is tied up and gagged on a bed, his sister Lacey grabs a huge butcher knife, cuts the ropes that are holding her brother to the bed and then hands him the knife. He then stabs his abuser repeatedly.

The film then flashes forward as we see Willy (now dumb after what had happened that night) and Lacey who is now married with a son. Lacey is also still traumatised from past events as she regularly has nightmares and night traumas. Lacy receives a letter from her mother in the mail who is writing as she doesn’t have long to live and wants to see her children again.

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She goes to see a psychiatrist (played by John Carradine) to try to fathom out how to overcome her past traumas. A visit to the old childhood house where the past traumatic events occurred is suggested. Lacey’s husband finds that the house is up for sale and so looking around inside it should be easy. It’s here that Lacey sees a vision of her mother’s abusive lover in a mirror and so smashes it with a chair. The mirror and its broken pieces are all taken back with Lacey and Jake to the farm they live on. Unbeknownst to them however is that the mirror and its broken fragments hold a malevolent evil for anyone who comes into contact with it as we see with very gory results throughout the rest of the film.

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Even though there are loads of references to other more famous horror films (I counted bits pinched from Halloween, The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror, Carrie, Nightmares…) The Boogey Man is still a really entertaining horror film. It would earn its own notoriety in the UK as it would earn its own place on the DPP List and would forever be known as a Video Nasty. It was actually passed uncut for its initial cinema release in 1981 but was then banned in 1983 after being issued on the VIPCO label. It was issued on video in 1992 but only after being cut by 44 seconds. This was the release I watched when I saw the film for the first time.

Seeing it today I’m glad that it’s now looking fantastic on Blu ray and completely uncut. It has a great feel to it, even though it steals from many other films. Check out Tim Krog’s score for the film. It’s early 80’s slasher movies personified.

In fact, the poster for the film is hanging on the wall of the exploitation production company that John Travolta works at in Brian De Palma’s movie Blow Out. I bet De Palma referenced The Boogey Man when he was making the starting sequence of his film (cheekily called Co-Ed Frenzy within Blow Out) as there are many nods to The Boogey Man- the POV shot, the ultra sleazy analogue synth soundtrack…

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Grade- B

31 Days of Halloween- Day 17- How Awful About Allan (1970)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 17- How Awful About Allan (1970)

Allan (Anthony Perkins) wakes to find the family home is on fire. The fire kills his father and burns his sister. The trauma also makes him go blind. It was Allan who accidentally caused the fire as he placed cans of paint thinner too close to a heater making him take on a huge burden of guilt over such disastrous proceedings.

Allan returns home after being resident in a mental hospital. His sister explains that they will have to take on a boarder as the house can’t be upheld any other way. The man who takes the room instantly makes Allan suspicious. Add to this the blurry figure he sees who appears to be haunting him (Allan can now partially see the world but everything is distorted and blurred). Is this figure real or the imaginings of his fragile mental state?

There is paranoia and ennui seeping out of every pore of this made for TV movie from 1970. This was actually produced by Aaron ‘Charlie’s Angels’ Spelling and goes to show how fantastic horror made for TV was at one period of time.

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I could watch Anthony Perkins all day long. Not only was he a great actor but there’s something about his mannerisms and body language that makes him perfect for the screen, especially in horror ventures. He is in cracking form here as are all of the cast. Allan’s vulnerable state due to his impaired vision is fully exploited by the film and it works amazingly well as a device.

This was directed by Curtis Harrington who of course made the excellent Ruby starring Piper Laurie and Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?

Watch out for the sting(s) in the tail. This film manages to have more than one trump card up its sleeve which it delivers expertly for maximum chills.

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As I’ve said in so many reviews thus far, this release deserves a fantastic Blu Ray release preferably on Scream Factory seeing as they are resurrecting other fantastic horror-themed TV movies such as John Carpenter’s amazing Someone’s Watching Me!

Grade- B

31 Days of Halloween- Day 16- Lonely Water aka The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water (1973)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 16- Lonely Water aka The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water (1973)

One of the fantastic things about growing up as a child of the ’70s and 80’s and being a horror fan were the Public Information Films that were shown at random times both day and night on British TV. These could convey any burning issue from the dangers of abandoned old refrigerators on rubbish tips through to the importance of not using different kinds of tyres on your car.

Some could be quite humorous in tone. But some were the stuff of nightmares. They set out to scare the living bejesus out of you. And by Christ, they worked. Everything from the dangers of Rabies, how you could be maimed if you misuse fireworks and, as you will see, what can happen to the show-off children who play near water.

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Lonely Water aka The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water was made in 1973 and directed by Jeff Grant. The jewel in its crown was that Donald Pleasance was used to voice the ghostly monk who appears when a child is about to come a cropper near a river or stream.

The eagle-eyed will also see Terry Sue Patt aka Benny Green from Grange Hill as one of the kids.

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This Public Information Film scared a whole generation from even thinking of going near their local river. This would also have been the generation who would later see Jaws either at the cinema (if they were old enough) or when it was first shown on TV. I wonder how many of my generation actually have hydrophobia as a result of this double whammy.

Lonely Water is a masterpiece of horror that was permitted to be shown at any time pre and post-watershed on British television. Generation X has never gotten over it.

Grade- A+

31 Days of Halloween- Day 14- Intruder (1989)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 14- Intruder (1989)

A convenience store is stalked by a killer after it has closed and the staff are restocking the shelves. Could the killer be the ex-boyfriend of one of the checkout workers who we saw earlier in the film making trouble? Or is it someone else?

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This film has links to the team who made The Evil Dead and even stars Sam Raimi, his brother Ted and Bruce Campbell. Intruder was originally titled The Night Crew.

I’ve always found large supermarkets to be creepy, especially at night. Dawn of the Dead furthered this feeling and Intruder furthers it even more.

I remember seeing pictures of the gore effects from Intruder in the issues of Fangoria and Gorezone I used it buy. I couldn’t wait for it to finally be released on VHS in the UK. When it was I eagerly rented it and even though it was cut by the BBFC (of course), I still loved it.

Low budget but innovative with fantastic directorial flourishes and well rounded quirky characters, Intruder is still great fun after all of these years. It’s also fantastic to see the film fully uncut here in the UK with all previous cuts being (rightly) waived. And boy, those gore effects! You’ll never look at a bacon slicer in the same way again.

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Look out for the workprint version that was made available recently. I’ll be reviewing that soon.

Grade- A-

31 Days of Halloween- Day 13- The Wasp Woman (1959)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 13- The Wasp Woman (1959)

Janice Starlin sees that the sales of her cosmetics company are slumping as her customers see that she appears to be (shock horror) getting older (!) Dr Eric Zinthrop, a scientist, finds that he has been able to extract chemicals from royal jelly that can reverse the ageing process. Starlin agrees to become a human subject regarding this but when progress is too slow for her liking she takes additional doses of the chemical. This has disastrous results as she starts to transform into a half-woman, half-wasp type hybrid.

This 1959 film is a fantastic piece of Roger Corman goodness. It’s also a film that I had seen the poster for many many times but had never actually seen. Until now.

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I’m pleased to say that it was worth the wait. Not only is it a fantastic piece of 50’s horror that must have truly shocked and astounded audiences when it was released but it also has some perceptive things to say about the role of beauty, youth and cosmetics, particularly regarding women who are held up to more stringent standards regarding these issues than men.

The film’s commentary reminded me of Georges Franju’s masterpiece Les Yeux San Visage and also the episode of the TV show Tales of the Unexpected and the episode called Royal Jelly.

A brilliant time capsule of 1950’s drive-in Americana that tackles wider issues that are more than still relevant today.

Grade- B+

31 Days of Halloween- Day 12- Cape Fear (1962)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 12- Cape Fear (1962)

Sam Bowden is a lawyer who finds that a criminal, Max Cady who he prosecuted resulting in him going to jail (he had attacked a young woman) has been released from prison. Cady starts a harassment campaign against Bowden and his family and is seemingly hellbent on making Sam suffer for his incarceration.

I knew of this film from when the Scorsese remake came out. I was in the midst of my love of all things Scorsese and thought his version of Cape Fear was very good. But that was until I saw the original.

For all of the visual frills, the over the top performance of De Niro as Cady and scenes that weren’t in the original (the thumb sucking scene instantly springs to mind as does the attack that resulted in the cheek biting gratuity) the remake isn’t as good as the original film. Sometimes, less is more as is the case with this film.

The 60’s version of Cape Fear is more understated, character-led and directed (by the underrated J Lee Thompson) with more restraint and is a much better film because of it.

The original feels less forced, more organic and features some much better performances from truly great actors such as Gregory Peck as Bowden and the great Robert Mitchum as Cady. Whenever Mitchum plays crazy he always excels and his portrayal of Cady is up there with his star turn in another fantastic shocker of a film, Night of the Hunter.

This isn’t to take away from the ’90s remake which is still a great film in its own right. But one great thing about it is that it might make more people aware that it is indeed a remake and so hopefully they may seek out the original. And they have a treat in store when they do.

Grade- A-

31 Days of Halloween- Day 11- Misery (1990)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 11- Misery (1990)

World-famous author Paul Sheldon crashes his car whilst driving in a blizzard but is rescued by nurse and super-fan Annie Wilkes who has read everything he’s ever published as well as reading and viewing every interview he’s ever given. Sheldon finds himself trapped with multiple injuries including compound fractures to his legs meaning that he is immobile and dependent on Wilkes to care for him. She also tells him that the telephone lines are down and roads closed, both of which are lies. Things take a darker turn still when Wilkes goes and buys the latest book by Sheldon which has just been published (yes the road to town has mysteriously been reopened but there’s no mention of Wilkes taking Paul to a local hospital) only to discover that her favourite character Misery has died during childbirth. Wilkes isn’t happy about this. This is bad news for Sheldon.

Misery explores the obsessive, irrational fan devotion that was explored in very different circumstances in Scorsese’s meisterwerk The King of Comedy, a film that bombed at the box office whilst Misery was a huge hit but is inferior in comparison. Oh, the irony.

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The dangerous side of fandom. The King Of Comedy (a much better film)

Before seeing Misery for the first time I had read and thoroughly enjoyed Stephen King’s masterful novel of the same name. The film adaptation feels like the finer nuances of the novel have been erased to make a big-screen shocker that contains great performances by Kathy Bates (Wilkes) and James Caan (Sheldon) with Paul’s literary agent being portrayed effortlessly by the ever divine Lauren Bacall.

But the film also feels like some kind of TV movie that lacks not just the depth of King’s novel but also the cinematic grandeur that might have been envisaged and realised by another director other than Rob Reiner.

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Misery feels like an attempt to hit big at the box office by creating two-dimensional characters and cheap shocks rather than delivering anything with real intelligence. And it worked. Misery brought in the money and earned Bates an Oscar. But watch Misery next to other, better King adaptations such as The Shining and Carrie and you’ll see what I mean. There’s no comparison.

Grade- C

31 Days of Halloween- Day 10- The Entity (1982)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 10- The Entity (1982)

Carla Moran is violently raped by a seemingly invisible force. She tried to tell the people around her about what has happened but finds only resistance as her family and friends don’t believe her as she didn’t see who assaulted her especially when she says that her house was locked up when it happened and the assailant seemingly vanished into thin air.

Frank De Felitta’s bestselling book based on a true story (the case of Doris Bither) translates very well to the big screen with Barbara Hershey cast as Carla doing a phenomenal job in invoking the terror of a woman going through something very real but undertaken by someone or something very unreal. Apparently, Bette Midler, Sally Field, Jane Fonda and Jill Clayburgh were all offered the role but declined.

Sidney J. Furie’s film stands alone as a one-off film of a one-off case that most people will have thought of as too much of a tall story to be true.

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The quad poster for The Entity

Carla not being believed can also be seen as an allegory of something that far too many women (and men) go through when they find the courage and strength to report a rape or sexual assault- that their horror isn’t over yet as they try to seek justice whilst being met with an unfeeling and cruel judicial system that views their account with scepticism and disbelief. If it actually makes it to a court of law they will be made to relive their trauma. Those opposing them will try to disprove and belittle the magnitude of what they’ve been through. Or they will try to convince a jury that it didn’t happen at all.

The film all too harrowingly shows the full horror of what Carla goes through when she is raped and does a great job of showing the trail of very disturbing signs when the spirit or entity is approaching (objects shaking, a certain odour that permeates the surroundings Moran is in, a very sudden drop in temperature). Hershey’s performance, just like the film in general, never slides into TV movie melodramatics or sensationalism.

There needs to be a special mention to Charles Bernstein’s insistent, pulsating and truly shocking score that is perfect for the movie and its subject matter. There are also echoes of the music he would write three years later for a new film called A Nightmare on Elm Street.

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Also, the special effects for the scenes in which Moran is molested by the invisible force are very effective indeed. For one sequence a body cast of Hershey was made that was manipulated by currents of air to make it look like the invisible entity was touching her. It succeeds eerily well. Stan Winston supervised the practical effects.

The effects also come into their own when Carla meets professionals who actually believe her story and work in the field of parapsychology. But to tell you more about this would make me tiptoe into spoiler territory…

When the film opened it was met with protests from those who thought that such a film was exploiting such a serious topic as rape. Hershey actually defended this claim and voiced that herself and the filmmakers had actually worked hard not to make the film exploitative and to display the true horror of sexual assault and rape.

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The film was shown with another 20th Century Fox movie in the UK, Alien.

All in all a terrifying film that still feels underrated and excluded from serious writings regarding 80’s horror.

Grade- A-