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+

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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

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 18- Watch Me When I Kill (1977)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 18- Watch Me When I Kill (1977)

This prime slice of Giallo starts with us witnessing the murder of a pharmacist. A woman sees the murderer leave the premises which places a target on her own head. Her boyfriend undertakes some amateur sleuthing to try to find out who could be her would-be assassin. Many twists and turns ensue with a few very stylish murders thrown in for good measure.

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This is a really interesting film as the emphasis is on the whodunnit aspect of Giallo (the original pulp novels were actually crime novels that incorporated a whodunnit aspect as well as gruesome murders. These books had distinctive yellow pages with yellow being ‘Giallo’ in Italian) rather than the murders although these are fantastic in this film.

What more can I say? Beautiful direction, gorgeous locales, style coming out of every pore- this is Giallo, baby!

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You’ll never guess the ending in a million years.

Grade- B-