Review- Alice Sweet Alice (1976)

Review- Alice Sweet Alice (1976)

I love the horror films that are unlike any other films in the genre and stand alone with their quirks and idiosyncrasies. One such film is Alice Sweet Alice.

The film was actually called Communion when it premiered at numerous film festivals but was then retitled Alice Sweet Alice when it was picked up by it’s distributor and then released in 1977. With one of it’s stars, Brooks Shields becoming a star in Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby even though she only appears in this film for all of about 10 minutes, it was then released again in 1981 under the name of Holy Terror. The film also received the ultimate seal of approval in the early 80’s when it was banned during the Video Nasty moral panic in the UK.

Not many horror films revolve around the issue of Catholicism but Alice Sweet Alice does and to horrific and chilling effect.

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We see Karen who is preparing for her first communion and her older sister Alice at home. It seems that whatever Alice does Karen whines about to their mother as is the case when Alice puts on her communion veil. This first scene seems to expand into a deeper theme within the film and that is what psychologists talk about regarding family relations when one child is treated as a ‘golden child’ (in this case Karen) and when another is treated as a ‘scapegoat’ for anything wrong that happens or any misdemeanour (Alice). The film expands on this further later in proceedings.

As revenge for Karen being such a brat, Alice lures her to an abandoned warehouse and scares her before locking her in a separate room and then threatening her if she tells anyone.

We see Alice wear a transparent (and very creepy) mask and bright yellow raincoat to scare their housekeeper Mrs Tredoni. Later on during the communion service we see someone wearing the same mask and raincoat bump off Karen by strangling her and then placing her body in a compartment within a bench then placing a lit candle inside for good measure. Could the person who did this be Alice who we had seen wear a similar mask earlier in proceedings?

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The film is very much a whodunnit as to whether it is Alice who is carrying out the murders and also if it isn’t her, then who is it and why?

Alice Sweet Alice is a proto-slasher movie and a fantastic one at that. Not only do we get the storyline regarding whether Alice is the murderer or not but also a brilliant character study regarding this character that goes into family dynamics that have only started to creep into public discussions recently.

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Add to this the very unexpected supporting characters who are as out-there as they are unexpected (check out the character of the bald, fat neighbour Mr Alphonso and you’ll fully understand what I’m talking about) and you have another demonstration of why this film really is a one-off and all the more brilliant because of it.

There are also moments of near hysteria within the narrative that feel like they’re straight out of a John Waters movie. In fact, when I first saw the sequence in which the character of Annie is stabbed I instantly thought of when the shopper has her feet stomped on by Dexter aka The Baltimore Footstomper from Polyester. The acting is unhinged and utterly genius because of it.

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Add to this some very inventive kills (check out the sequence in which Annie is killed in the hallway and when a later victim is thrown from a high building to land on broken mirrors down below) and one of the creepiest killer’s disguises I’ve ever seen (the director was influenced by Don’t Look Now in his choice of the raincoat).

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The look of the film is just as striking with a gorgeous muted colour palate that I’ve never seen in a film before and beautiful photography that means that this is so much more than just your average 70’s horror oddity. In fact it’s just one reason as well as the ones mentioned previously why this film is a complete and utter gem. The way to experience this flick is by going for the US Arrow Video Blu Ray. Their restoration of the film is a revelation and really something to behold.

Grade- B+

Review- He Knows You’re Alone (1980)

Review- He Knows You’re Alone (1980)

This 1980 slasher movie concerns a jilted lover who kills his ex prior to her wedding day. He’s now been released from prison and intends on repeating history as he’s after a soon-to-be bride.

The film borrows heavily from Halloween (the piano score, the autumnal street shots etc etc) and even the title card for the movie uses the Friday the 13th font. But for what it is, it’s actually really enjoyable.

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The look of the film captures early 80’s small town America in all it’s soft gaze, wood panelled glory. The kills are actually well executed, inventive (watch out for the fish tank scene) and the killer is very scary indeed. He needs to work on his non-psycho face though as he looks like a serial killer even when he’s just out and about. It’s a bit of a giveaway.

The opening ‘film within a film’ scene is also fun. The kind of self-referential quality that the film possesses could in part be because renowned future film academic Vera Dika worked on the film as script consultant and as part of the editorial department. She would go on to write about the slasher genre and it’s conventions in her book Games of Terror.

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This film will never be a shining beacon of the genre but it’s a great way to pass an hour and a half. It’s also my favourite Tom Hanks movie.

Grade- B

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Visiting Hours (1982)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Visiting Hours (1982)

Some of my favourite childhood memories involved me being in a local video shop (and there were quite a few in my area) and poring over the lurid and sleazy artwork for the horror movies. In the 80’s video shops were like art galleries for weirdos and I was (and proudly still am) one of these freaks.

One of the video artworks that I was obsessed with was for the Canadian movie Visiting Hours.

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When I rented the movie I wasn’t disappointed.

I love horror movies based in hospitals especially if they’re made in the early 80’s and are really nasty. Another example is of course, Halloween 2 which is a peach of a movie. But Visiting Hours is also a great movie. And the hospital the film is set it in seems to be a hundred times bigger than Haddonfield Memorial Hospital and has more than ten people in the whole establishment (staff included).

Visiting Hours concerns Colt Hawker (no, his character isn’t a gay porn actor even though his name sounds like he should be) who is obsessed with Deborah Ballin, a TV journalist who campaigns for female victims of domestic violence at the hands of their partners. She is shown defending one such woman who was driven to murdering her husband after he had abused her. Hawker is triggered by this because of a childhood memory he has which recalls his mother throwing a pan of boiling oil in his father’s face after he had tried to beat her.

Hawker invades Ballin’s home and sets out to kill her. After a really nasty confrontation Ballin is injured but survives and is taken to the local General Hospital. Colt learns where she is and starts to stalk her.

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What a double bill!

It’s in the hospital that most of the film’s action now takes place. It’s interesting to see that Colt will adapt any variety of aliases and roles to get to his quarry- nurse, orderly, surgeon and finally, patient.

Deborah seems to be so hated by him that even those who sing her praises or sympathise with her now being a victim of male violence become a target for Hawker. Nurse Sheila Monroe becomes one such with Hawker following her home to find out her address and later in the film invading it. Any strong woman is an enemy of Hawker’s and needs to be dealt with accordingly.

Of course, with such a villain and his repugnant views, the film was labelled as ‘misogynistic’ on it’s release. But several things make me think it’s actually a very conservative depiction of the kind of violence some women are subjected to. Yes, we get to see the sheer horror of Hawker and the crimes he carries out against the women he sees as assertive and liberated. But we also have the film’s final act in which the balance is reset and, without giving the ending away, a levelling of the playing fields with an ending that sees Hawker getting the justice he deserves and at the hands of one of the people he wanted to dish it out to. Ballin gets to experience first hand what she’s only ever had to talk about regarding other women’s lives. There is more retribution by female characters in the film but I’m not going to ruin the film with spoilers here.

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Loving this Turkish poster for the film sooo much! A sex scene starring Andrew Stevens whilst Jack Torrence watches outside with a knife. Needless to say, none of this happens in Visiting Hours. But it would make a kickass sequel. It’s not too late.

Also, Visiting Hours doesn’t titillate with it’s depiction of violence against some of the female characters within the film. And that’s a huge reason why I don’t think it’s misogynistic. It feels like the film has serious things to say about violence against women rather than making a trashy and extreme shocker.

Visiting Hours feels utterly serious and is almost devoid of any kind of humour or lighter moments. It’s also nasty and mean spirited in tone. In other words, it’s perfect for an early 80’s slasher movie. Unfortunately, the BBFC didn’t agree and the film suffered several cuts for it’s cinema release. These cuts were sustained for the eventual video release and the film was also (albeit briefly) put on the Video Nasties list.

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The casting of the film is also pinpoint perfect which is a major part as to why the film succeeds so brilliantly. Michael Ironside is just as amazing here as Hawker as he was in Scanners as Daryl Revok. He really was fantastic at playing psychopaths. In fact, when I see Ironside’s name on a cast list I know that it will be well worth a watch. Lee Grant is fantastic as crusading feminist Ballin and Linda Purl hits just the right tone as nurse Munroe. On top of that we get star power through William Shatner being a cast member and we even get to see the guy with the bald head and moustache from Cagney and Lacey.

But the hospital setting is a major part of why this film is so damned effective. Hospitals have always struck me as macabre places and this film feeds into this further. It’s why I love hospitals and this film so much.

Review- Humongous (1982)

Review- Humongous (1982)

The pre-credits sequence for Humongous involves a woman being raped but then rescued by her German Shepherd dogs.

The film then moves forward to a bunch of kids going sailing and becoming stranded on an island supposedly populated by the woman featured earlier and her dogs.

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This film is a massive borefest. Unlikeable teens, a non-existent plot, a complete absence of tension and a picture that is wayyy too dark (although I’m wondering if this is just the print used for the DVD. Also, the sound was really bad. Maybe that was also the result of a bad print. If not, why film a movie that’s too dark and sounds like the sound recordist is having an acid trip? If it is just the print, I’d actually sit through a Blu ray restoration if a decent print was found and both sound and vision were cleaned up. I’m curious to see a version of the film where you can see and hear what’s actually happening).

There’s even a sequence that is a complete rip-off of part of Friday the 13th Part 2 (a much better film).

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An ad featuring three great films. And Humongous.

But the real shocker here is that this film was made by Paul Lynch who directed Prom Night, a movie that is as great as this is terrible.

Also, Janit Baldwin from the much better movie Ruby is underused as part of the cast here and she’s made to have possibly the worst hairstyle I think I’ve ever seen in a horror movie. In fact, if they filmed her getting this brown bird’s nest of a ‘do’ instead of what we see on the island, it would be more suspenseful and horrifying.

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The real horror of this movie- Janit Baldwin’s hair-don’t.

Watch Prom Night, Ruby or Friday the 13th Part 2 instead of this turkey. If you want island shockers also check out Island of Death and Anthropophagus The Beast. But avoid this film. It’s an hour and a half you’ll never claw back.

Grade- E

Review- Children of the Corn (1984)

Review- Children of the Corn (1984)

I first saw Children of the Corn when it was first shown on UK TV in the mid 80’s. The following day it would appear that most of my school friends had seen the movie too as we all recalled the events of the film in grisly and lurid detail.

On watching the film again recently I can say that it holds up very well indeed. The plot involves two characters called Vicky and Burt taking a roadtrip and happening upon a small Nebraska town called Gatlin. A major red flag goes up when the couple notice that on approaching the town the radio now only plays content that appears to be Baptist ‘fire and brimstone’ style sermons.

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What Burt and Vicky don’t know is that three years earlier the town’s adultfolk had been slaughtered on the wishes of 13 year old Isaac who has set up his own religious sect with ‘He Who Walks Behind The Rows’ as their god, the rows being the huge cornfield which is central to Gatlin. A failed harvest had prompted the uprising with Isaac asserting that his new god needs human sacrifices to be appeased and so that there are bountiful harvests as a result. Young child Job wasn’t involved as his father didn’t like Isaac and so wasn’t allowed to go to a gathering organised by Isaac for all of the town’s children. Job’s sister Sarah also wasn’t there as she was severely ill with a fever. She is shown to have some kind of psychic powers and depicts what she sees from the future in the pictures she draws.

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Things go from bad to worse for the adult couple who have now stumbled across the town which has been run by Isaac and his henchman deputy Malachi for three years now. When they hear about the adult trespassers they demand for them to be captured and then sacrificed to their cornrows deity. Poor Burt and Vicky. They discover Job and his sister who assist them in not becoming human sacrifices.

This film has a great premise which is based on a short story by Master of Horror Stephen King. The film also taps into one of the last taboos especially in film which is that of the killer child. And here we have scores of them. The milleu of the religious sect and the small details connected to this like the children being made to change their names to more biblical monikers also adds to the utterly sinister tone of the film. It also shows what can go wrong when a setback or downturn of fortunes can be taken as an opportunity by a charismatic person with sinister motives to come to prominence and give the downtrodden and disillusioned someone to believe in even though he/she is up to no good.

The opening scene takes place in a diner in which the children present (after being given the nod by Isaac) poison and violently slaughter the adults in attendance. I remember being utterly shocked by this scene in particular when I first saw the film and I can reliably report that it’s hasn’t lost any of it’s power to shock decades later.

But this isn’t the only sequence which has the power not just to shock but also to worm it’s way inside your head. The sequence in which Vicky is placed on a cross with it then being hoisted up, the shot showing the weapons hanging from the hands of the children as they descent on a house which has one of the couple in it and the gruesome scene in the church as we see what happens to the children who come of age are such examples.

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The casting of the movie is also excellent with Sarah Hamilton as Vicky and Peter Horton as Burt. But the attention to detail regarding the casting of the children is just as impressive. The casting of the freakishly sinister Isaac and his horrifyingly hillbilly deputy Malachi are inspired. In fact, it seems they cast every child with unconventional and unique looks.

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Another great quality that the film possesses is whether He Who Walks Behind The Rows is actually a real supernatural force or just completely fabricated by Isaac.

There are also some 80’s visual effects in the film which are still extremely pleasing to the eye and have aged very well indeed.

In fact the same can be said about the whole film. In lesser hands, this could have aged terribly and been forgotten about. Instead we get a film where thought and innovation were used to fully bring to life King’s great plot idea and which still has it’s own rabid fanbase. However the film still doesn’t get enough praise or recognition when films are talked about which were adapted from King’s novels. This is a real shame. Maybe this will change.

***and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 31- Onibaba (1964)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 31- Onibaba (1964)

A mother and daughter in law (named in the credits as ‘older woman’ and ‘younger woman’ respectively) are waiting for their son/husband to return from the war he’s fighting in. A soldier named Hachi who fought alongside him comes back to tell them that in fact he saw him killed. He then starts having a torrid affair with the daughter against the wishes of her mother in law. This is going on in secret although the mother in law knows all about it and is jealous. All of this continues until…well, that would be telling!

Breathtaking cinematography, a great plot, amazing acting and imagery that will stay with you well after the film has ended!

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This film was banned outright when it was first submitted to the BBFC and then released heavily edited. It’s now acknowledged as a classic with it being on the Criterion collection.

A classic.

***** out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 29- Carnival of Souls (1962)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 29- Carnival of Souls (1962)

A teenage drag race goes dreadfully wrong with one car being forced off a bridge and into a river. From the car a woman, Mary manages to escape and clamber ashore.

However, Mary’s life after that isn’t the same. She seems to see ghostly figures when she seemingly disassociates herself with everyday life that is going on around her. One example takes place on a bus when she sees seemingly dead people coming for her. The film very creepily plays with space and time and does so without warning. The film is just as disconcerting and disorientating for the audience as it is for Mary.

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The ghostly figures she sees seem to be led by a man (in reality, the film’s director Herk Harvey) who seems intent on somehow coming for Mary to take her somewhere as yet unknown.

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Mary is a church organist by occupation but even this is affected now with her only playing the kind of funereal pieces that in the future The Cure would be playing in 1981. Yes, they’re that bleak! One priest who hears her playing stops her and deems her playing as ‘Profane! Sacrilege!’

Add to this a very sleazy and creepy housemate who gets off on perving on her as she gets out of the bath and won’t let up.

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The action builds up to an ending that actually takes place in an abandoned fairground. This all adds up to a truly great cinematic experience. There are sequences of this film that are far removed from anything I’ve ever seen in a motion picture before or since. The haunting photography, the use of some sequences such as a dancing scene in the carnival being sped up, the way the film takes the audience with Mary as she enters her limbo world where the dead walk and stalk her.

The idea of a limbo world between life and death was also brilliantly explored later on in the classic movie Don’t Look Now. Carnival of Souls went on to influence George A Romero who said that it was a huge influence on Night of the Living Dead as did David Lynch on Blue Velvet. The influence of the film can also be seen within the better parts of the Goth movement. The sequence where the undead run after Mary on the beach feels like a fantastic Goth version of something from a Fellini film.

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Carnival of Souls is an anomaly in cinematic terms, a one-off which is like no other. It’s also a masterpiece. I’m so glad it wasn’t forgotten. It was restored and released cinematically in 1989 after it’s original 1962 release and is now on the Criterion collection on Blu ray alongside the best of cinema. And rightly so!

***** out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 28- Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 28- Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)

As soon as I saw that this 1965 Amicus film was directed by Freddie Francis I knew that the direction and photography would be beautiful. And I was right! I was also excited as I knew that this was a horror anthology film and starred two heavyweights of the genre, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

As well as Cushing and Lee the cast also includes Alan ‘Fluff’ Friedman, Donald Sutherland and Roy ‘You’re a Record Breaker!’ Castle. We even get Kenny Lynch appearing in a cameo role.

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Travellers in a train compartment are joined by the very sinister Dr Schreck who whips out his deck of tarot cards and tells each of his fellow traveller’s fortunes. Each fortune told is a separate episode in this anthology.

The separate stories involve vampirism, a vine seemingly related to a Triffid that comes to life, lycanthropy, voodoo and black magic and a severed hand. I want to give more details away about each segment but there are so many brilliant twists and turns that writing any more would be like trying to tiptoe through a field full of landmines.

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Each episode is completely different from each other, taking place in a real breadth of locales and circumstances which keeps the film as a whole really varied and interesting.

This film has all the ingenuity of five separate mini episodes of Tales of the Unexpected. Each concept is unpredictable, genuinely ingenious and likely to surprise most viewers.

A joy from start to finish with perhaps the biggest twist coming after each of the characters fortunes has been told.

****and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 27- Beyond Evil (1980)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 27- Beyond Evil (1980)

A few things about this film should attract cult film aficionados. Firstly, it stars John Saxon and Lynda Day George. It was also released on the infamous video label VIPCO (home of Zombie Flesh Eaters and Shogun Assassin in the early 80’s). It’s also features some of the cheapest special effects I’ve ever seen which have aged incredibly badly. In other words, it’s great fun and has plenty of things going for it.

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A couple move to a tropical island and find a mansion that is so cheap that they have to buy it. But it then becomes apparent that Barbara (George) is showing signs of being possessed by the evil spirit of the wife of the previous owner who was practising the occult before she ended up killing and being killed by her husband.

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This is kitsch cult cinema at it’s purest- bad effects, bad acting, bad plot. BUT, very enjoyable because of it. This film has, erm, character! This movie would be perfect if you stumbled upon it on an obscure cable channel late at night.

*** out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 26- Diary of the Dead (2009)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 26- Diary of the Dead (2009)

George A Romero’s 2009 zombie flick and a concept that involves the found footage of a film student assembled into a movie by one of the film’s other characters. All of the movie is shot on camcorders and other similar devices available at the time commercially.

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This found footage chronicles a group of film studies students who are travelling home across country. They witness firsthand and record the apparent dead coming back to life as zombies.

The film gets the balance right between narrative for the casual film viewer, gore for the purist horror fans and metaphor/soul searching content for the serious cineaste (there are plenty of issues raised about what the truth actually is, the suppression of the truth by the mainstream media, the truth being conveyed by bloggers and those not working in the corporate media. The idea of what the truth is is also relevant regarding filmmaking in general as the ‘truth’ you are seeing is in fact the truth of the person who has shot the footage and also the person who has edited it).

The film never lags and feels like a fresh perspective on the zombie genre and Romero’s Living Dead series in general. The characters are interesting with the audience fully engaging with them and wanting to see what will happen to them. Most importantly, they’re not irritating.

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But for the horror fans there are also new and innovative kills concerning how to kill a zombie. The scene involving a pickaxe being used whereby a freshly bitten human kills both himself and the zombie who has just taken a chunk out of him at the same time has to be seen to be believed.

We even get Romero’s take on if zombies should run or not after the Dawn remake and the undead’s speed and athleticism therein. A character says that zombies would never run as their ankles would break as (duh) they’re dead. And he’s right.

***and a half out of *****