Top 10 Horror Movies From 1983

Top 10 Horror Movies From 1983

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10. Twilight Zone: The Movie

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An anthology of separate short films from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, George Miller and John Landis.

This homage to the original Twilight Zone TV series much loved by both television and horror fans works really well as the spirit of the series is kept intact but advanced into the 80’s and given the budget afforded to a big Hollywood film. It means the scope of the ideas is expanded immeasureably.

My favourite segment is undoubtably Dante’s ‘It’s a Good Life’ which blew my mind when I saw it as child and still blows my mind now. It’s akin to taking acid whilst watching Looney Toons cartoons alongside The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I will be forever haunted by the girl with no mouth and the giant eyeball.

All of the segments are amazing but there is an added poignancy to the Landis directed ‘Time Out’ as Vic Morrow and two Vietnamese children who weren’t working under acting rules in California were killed in a scene involving a helicopter.

The sequences that bookend the main segments are just as good as the main content of the film.

This film was such a hit that the old TV series was relaunched.

9. The Keep

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Warning- this is a Michael Mann so expect stylisation to be turned up to eleven.

‘Nazis are forced to turn to a Jewish historian for help in battling the ancient demon they have inadvertently freed from it’s prison’ is how the plot for this film is described on IMDB. I was dreading providing a plot summary for this film as, even though I’ve seen it plenty of times, I still don’t know what the fuck is going on during much of it’s running time.

This seems to be a film more concerned with taking the viewer on an incredible journey rather than presenting a linear and clear narrative. And that’s absolutely fine if there is intelligence and substance to proceedings. And The Keep is such a film.

You will never see another film like this again, it truly is a completely unique experience, a feast for the senses and will have your noggin a-joggin’.

This was a very troubled production and apparently a much longer cut exists that would be perfect for a Blu ray release. The film’s detractors would possibly compare this to rolling their eyeballs in grit but I’d love such a release. There are many others who share my view too.

8. Curtains

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This Canuxploitation flick started as a low-key hidden gem that over the years has come to prominence through word of mouth and more and more fan raves. If it wasn’t for the internet this film may still have remained buried.

Method actress Samantha has herself committed to a local asylum to properly research for the forthcoming role in a film in which her character is mentally unstable. However, when she is committed she is left to rot in the nuthouse by the film’s director Jonathan who decides to audition other actresses for the role whilst shes out of the way.

Samantha realises what has happened, wants to enact revenge and so escapes from the mental facility. Five other hopefuls arrive at Jonathan’s mansion to audition for the role. But then strange, grisly things start to happen.

This film is highly original (the plot for one), has some wonderful twists and turns with a keen eye for skillful and quirky direction. The sequence in which the killer ice skates over to her latest victim is both extremely disturbing (the killer’s mask is something resembling a hagged old woman’s face and is a sure entry into the Horror Mask Hall of Fame). The fact that a scythe is being brandished and that the killer is skating emphasises the surreality and nightmarish quality to it. This scene is also a triumph of skilful direction and editing.

A newly acknowledged classic that deserves it’s place in the very best of the 80’s.

7. Psycho 2

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Just like a sequel being made for Halloween, making a follow-up to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho would require balls of steel.

And just like Halloween 2, this movie isn’t as good as the original (naturally) but it’s still a great film. Everyone’s favourite Mother’s Boy and psychologist’s wet dream, Norman Bates is set free from the mental facility he has been a resident of since the end of the previous film. He has been classed as fully rehabilitated and no longer a threat to the people outside the asylum and so is free to go. But Marion Crane’s sister Lila isn’t happy about this and wants Norman to return to his padded cell.

We see Norman take a job as a short-order diner chef after kicking out Dennis Franz’s sleazy creep who has turned The Bates Motel into the kind of place where rooms are rented by the hour and fake names are written in the register.

We then see strange things start to happen like Norman finding notes left by his ‘Mother’ who, of course, has been dead for years. After one of Norman’s colleagues from the diner, Mary moves into the Bates House even stranger and unnerving things start to happen. Is Norman losing his grip on sanity once more or is someone gaslighting him to think he is?

A great cast help this sequel immeasurably, as do great cinematography (Dean Cundey strikes again) and brilliant directorial flourishes care of Tom Holland who took on the job. The film also has a feel to it that feels completely different to the first film but very gritty and claustrophobic.

Theres also one of the most unexpected and brilliant endings I’ve ever seen. Freud would have a field day with this scene and what it represents.

6. The Lift

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This Dutch film is about a killer lift. Yes, really.

The lift in question is checked over by a repairman, Felix after it fails to open up when power returns to it after a storm has caused a power failure and people were trapped inside. When the lift still continues to malfunction, Felix starts to dig deeper and sees that a corporation called Rising Sun are connected with the lift company and suspects that they may be up to no good after investigating them in old back copies of local newspapers.

Lifts have always provoked fear in people and this film fully exploits this. We see people trapped in the lift- and worse! One unfortunate person gets his head stuck in the doors of the lift. But this film also has it’s tongue planted in it’s cheek. Watch the sequence where the lift interacts with the little girl and scares her just for the hell of it.

I also love the fact that the hero of this film is a humble, blue collar lift repairman. I also love that they sought to flesh out his character more. His wife thinks hes having an affair as he’s so obsessed with the lift that he spends inordinate amounts of time there. She even leaves him and takes their children with them.

In the second part of the film we see that the lift develops it’s own mind and so won’t be shut down or will try to kill those who try it switch it off. This is very Terminator-esque.

On top of all of this the film gives us a real flavour as to what Dutch life was like in the 1980’s and it’s beautiful and very conducive to being photographed on film.

The lift itself is also coloured beautifully with the inside of the small space being lit to emphasise it’s claustrophobia and demonic intent. Who would have known that a film that sounds like the most whimsical piece of fluff ever would in fact be this entertaining and well made?

5. Videodrome

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Max Renn (James Woods) is the CEO of Civic TV, a production company making base level, rating grabbing programmes. He is then shown a new show called Videodrome, a show that transmits violent S&M sex and murder of it’s participants. Max starts to transmit the show. He then becomes involved with Nicki (Debbie Harry) who gets aroused by the episode of Videodrome that she sees and goes to audition for it. But then she doesn’t return! Max then investigates further as to what has happened to her and tries to know more about the mysterious Videodrome and learns of someone called Brian O’Blivion who knows all about it. Max then goes to meet him when he learns that he is in a local homeless shelter. Max then finds himself falling down a very strange and warped rabbit hole!

It’s almost impossible to make a synopsis of Videodrome’s plot without thinking ‘WTF?!’ It’s not only the narrative that is extreme with this film, but also the visuals and the themes of just how far entertainment is willing to go and how far the audience is willing to go to satisfy their needs.

The visuals have to be seen to be believed with Max beginning to see hallucinations (a side effect of watching too much Videodrome). One hallucination involves him discovering a mouth like wound appearing on his midriff which videotapes can be inserted into like a VCR. That’s only one far out visual within this extrordinary film.

Is the film a knowing prediction of numerous television and cable channels run amok? A pastiche of how some people saw the video boom as only a short distance away from real sex, violence and murder being able to be seen of anyone’s living room?

One thing is for sure and that is that it’s one of Cronenberg’s very best films with the master being at the top of his game. Videodrome was also, ironically, a huge hit on video and is recognised as a masterpiece that it is now part of The Criterion Collection.

4. Christine

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Stephen King’s brilliant novel about a possessed Plymouth Fury named Christine, a nerdy teenager and how he changes after the car seemingly takes over his life.

John Carpenter directs one of King’s novels for the first time (he was due to direct Firestarter but lost the gig as The Thing had tanked at the box office. We can only imagine how that film would have differed directed by Carpenter) and does an amazing job. The film fully captures the effects of Arnie buying the car and becoming obsessed with it and how this affects his family, friends and enemies alike. Christine is very possessive of her new owner and seeks to punish those who try to hurt Arnie in any way (and hurt her) and any love interest who might get in-between her and Arnie.

It’s a fascinating conceit and it’s great to see the nuances and details contained in King’s amazing book are brought to the screen brilliantly well by Carpenter.

Theres also a great soundtrack by Carpenter and Alan Howarth. Listen carefully and you can hear similarities between the music here and their soundtrack for Halloween 3 that they composed the previous year.

3. The Dead Zone

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Another Cronenberg movie adapted from another Stephen King novel. Christopher Walken plays Johnny Smith, a schoolteacher who awakens from a five year coma to find that he can tell the future by touching someone. The future isn’t set and so can be changed.

This film showed Cronenberg’s versatility as a director as here he made a simple (for him) film that wasn’t overcomplicated (he even ironed out any overly complex issues such as Johnny’s brain tumour that were evident in the novel) and was very straightforward.

A truly startling quality to the film is it’s poignancy. Johnny uses his gift to save the daughter of a nurse in his hospital when he sees a vision of her young daughter in a fire at their home. He later predicts the death of a boy he is helping to tutor at the request of the boy’s wealthy father. Johnny sees that the boy falls under the ice when he is playing ice hockey as he is too heavy. Johnny persuades the father to prevent his son from going to the game and the disaster is prevented.

The film also displays poignancy within the personal life of it’s lead character. Johnny also goes to see his girlfriend after he awakens from his coma to find that she has moved on with her life and even has a family now.

Johnny also uses his gift for massive issues that could potentially affect huge numbers of the public. He helps to identify a serial killer known as the ‘Castle Rock Killer’. Then he turns his attention to politician Greg Stilson, attends one of his rallies but makes sure to shake his hand thereby predicting what will happen in the future. He sees Stilson launching a nuclear war against the Soviet Union as he’s ‘had a vision!’

This isn’t body horror, there is no blood, engorged bodily organs or weird phallic creatures transmitted from body to body in this film. In fact, you’d be mistake for this being directed by someone else but Cronenberg. If any of his films show what a master auteur he is, it’s The Dead Zone. It showed he can stray away from his usual brilliant territory and still make a brilliant piece of work. And not only is this one of Cronenberg’s best films, it’s also one of the best adaptations of a Stephen King novel that has ever graced the screen.

2. Sleepaway Camp

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Shit starts to get weird at a summer camp where some of the campers meet very violent and grisly deaths.

Whilst this could have been the most generic premise for a slasher movie ever, instead we get something off the wall, VERY left field and completely unexpected.

This movie pushes the boundaries and provides something that then and especially now could be seen as extremely un-PC. One of the characters is the camp chef, Artie who is also a pedophile. Whilst his colleagues joke about his vile tendencies I found myself thinking ‘WTF!’ But it would appear that this has been done as a build up to what happens next. After Artie has tried to creep on the young lead character of Angela, he finds his instant karma by falling into a large pan of boiling water after someone knocks over the chair hes standing on.

There are other kills that are extremely well executed and painful to watch- an arrow through the throat of the camp owner, a boy locked into a toilet cubicle and a hive of bees thrown into it with said character (who had pelted Angela with water balloons) getting stung to death, a girl called Meg getting stabbed in death in the shower, four children hatcheted to death in their sleeping bags and the camp bitch, Judy having a red hot curling tong inserted into her vagina whilst she is suffocated with a pillow over her face.

Whilst the kills are extreme, so is Angela’s backstory. She was on a boating trip with her father and his boyfriend (her father comes out as gay after getting divorced) and her brother, Peter when they were run into by another boat after theirs has capsized. Her father and brother are killed instantly.

When another camper kisses Angela she instantly has a flashback to when her and her brother secretly watched her father and his boyfriend having sex. This prompts Angela to run away from him and from the situation. I’m loving that the film asserts that seeing an incident such as two men in bed together could so massively damaging to someone’s psyche. If thats the case, I’m fucked. Whilst some watching the movie at this point will scream ‘That’s homophobic!’ just take a look at the kind of film you’re watching and when it was made. This is a prime slice of exploitation cinema made in 1983. The film doesn’t hold back with any of the topics it covers. It’s reality is heightened, exaggerated massively and if it offends some people then the filmmakers have succeeded.

Which leads us to one of the most shocking scenes in not just horror history, but in film history. And no, I’m not exaggerating. I’ve seen lists within highly respected film magazines, journals and websites name this final scene as being in the same league as Salo and Irreversible. Yes, it’s that shocking and yes, it’s that unexpected. Oh, and no, I won’t be telling you what it is.

1 Cujo

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Yet another adaptation of a Stephen King with 1983 being a bumper year for great films made from his work.

A young mother and her child pull into a mechanic’s as her car is spluttering it’s last breaths of life. What she doesn’t realise is that the area is being terrorised by a giant St Bernard dog called Cujo that is actually rabid. What happens is that they are now stranded with the dog attempting to attack them if they try to leave the car.

The main ‘siege’ segment of this film is like a very intense play with just three players. The clastrophobia is ramped up as Donna tries everything she can to somehow get out of the car to get to the adjacent house and call for help as her son’s health is deteriorating swiftly. The humid weather is also conveyed effortlessly with the viewing experience being just as uncomfortable for the audience as it is for Donna and Tad.

But its also the build up to this scene that is so interesting. Donna is shown not to be the smiling unreal mother from the world of more pedestrian films and advertising. Her marriage is on the rocks and she has been having an affair behind her husband’s back.

There is also interesting characterisation regarding Cujo’s owners with the mother Charity taking their young son to stay with her sister and get him away from her alcoholic husband, Joe.

It’s this characterisation which expands the canvas regarding the film massively and prevents the movie being just a mildly interesting B-movie.

Another plus point is that there are unformly great performances from all of the cast but especially from the ever-brilliant Dee Wallace who rises to the challenge of depicting the trapped mother whose maternal instincts come to the fore as she must escape to save her son and herself. The siege scenes are a masterclass of brilliant acting, fantastic staging and how tension is evoked, heightened and sustained expertly. These scenes are some of the most nerve-racking I’ve ever experienced watching a film.

When I saw Cujo for the first time I felt it was greatly overlooked. Recent times have been kinder to the film with a stunning new Blu Ray release that gives the film the loving treatment it so richly deserves.

 

 

 

 

Review- Psycho 2 (1983) ****

Review- Psycho 2 (1983) ****

The project of Psycho 2 was a poison chalice. On one hand, it provided a director with the opportunity to prove themselves by making a sequel to a bona fide horror classic by a master auteur. It also made available the possibility of continuing a story of one of cinema’s greatest and most complex characters, Norman Bates.

But on the other hand, the film would certainly be met with howls of derision from some cinema purists. Also, some would see a sequel to such a horror landmark as being cheap, an exercise in making a fast buck and the finished film would certainly draw comparisons to it’s superior first film.

Richard Franklin accepted the offer to act as director and does a pretty good job.

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Everyone’s favourite Momma’s Boy Norman leaves the asylum he has been an inhabitant of for the last 22 years as he is judged to be satifactorily rehabilitated enough to be let loose into the wider community. Marion Crane’s sister Lila (Vera Miles returning to replay the role and a definite plus for the movie) vehemently opposes this move however and wants to see him locked up out of harm’s way forever.

Norman takes a job in a small diner near his home and it’s here that he meets Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly) who has just split up from her boyfriend and finds herself homeless. Norman offers her board and it’s here that the freakiness starts. Norman starts to see notes supposedly from his dead mother. Unexpected murders occur. Could Norman be up to his old tricks again? Or is he being gaslighted into lapsing into his old murderous ways?

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Put down the knife, Norman

It’s interesting that for this 80’s sequel the director knew that horror had not only advanced and evolved as a genre but that it was at that point in time enjoying somewhat of a renaissance with the slasher subgenre dominating the box office with seemingly new films being released almost every week. These films relied on gory and (in the best examples) innovative death sequences. Psycho 2 duly notes this and so we get some doozy gore scenes. The sequence involving a victim receiving a knife through the mouth exemplifies this. In this regard the sequel is like another sequel to a horror classic, Halloween 2. In the three years between the original John Carpenter classic and it’s sequel the horror genre had accelerated forth like a cinematic juggernaut with deaths becoming more explicit and graphic. Whilst there is little gore, blood or graphic violence in Halloween, it’s sequel includes scoldings, hypodermic needles in eyeballs and a hammer to the cranium to mention just a few ways as to how victims are disposed of.

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The gorier Halloween 2 (1981)

There is even a nod to the slasher genre within Psycho 2 as we see two frisky teens break into the basement of the Bates House to indulge in atypical slasher teen activities like, y’know, making out whilst smoking pot. Mother wouldn’t have approved.

The film has a great feel and look that I haven’t experienced in any other film. It has a very grimy atmosphere. The fact that De Palma staple actor Dennis Franz is one of the cast playing a sleazeball who has turned the Bates Motel into a ‘rent rooms by the hour’ motel for those of lower morals also helps foster this dirty vibe. Psycho 2 feels like the innocence of Norman and the first film has been (for the audience’s entertainment) been defiled and is irretrievably gone (in a good way). The film is very astute in this way as maybe it was a comment on society in general.

Another major factor that helps establish this sleazy air is the amazing cinematography by the ever brilliant Dean Cundey (another factor that helps lift Psycho 2 from just being a cash-in sequel). Check out the astonishing camerawork that almost levitates and prowls around the outside of the Bates House as we see first the teens and then later Lila gain entry via the basement. In these scenes the camera feels like an ever present supernatural and voyeuristic entity as we see events that only an ever watchful killer would.

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Of course, we’re waiting for Norman to go mad during the course of the film and this is brilliantly shown in the scene in which Norman is seen by Mary talking on the phone to his dead Mother and asking her what he should do next. This scene shows the brilliance of Anthony Perkins in this role. Psycho 2 would have been half the film it is if he hadn’t have returned to reprise a role he made all his own.

Add to all of this a final scene which is one of the most unexpected scenes in horror history (no, I’m not going to ruin it!) and you have a very good 1980’s sequel to a horror classic. No, it’s not as good as Psycho but then few films are. But it’s still well worth investigating.

4 out of 5 stars

 

Day 29-31 Days of Halloween- The Prey (1983)

Day 29-31 Days of Halloween- The Prey (1983)

Healthy horny idiots go camping in the woods (I know, an alien scenario for a slasher film!) The woods they go to were the location of a bloodbath decades earlier as someone from a gypsy camp was falsely accused of rape by a female member of the townsfolk. The townsfolk burnt down the gypsy settlement but one of the younger members of the travellers escaped albeit with massive amounts of burns. The present day campers get the feeling that someone is watching them and then start to be dispatched by You Know Who.

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The Prey was made in 1980 but not released in the States until 1983. Edwin Brown was directing porn movies before he decided to branch out into horror. And it shows! The sex scenes in this movie are a lot more raunchy than in other slasher movies. Theres a longer version of this film called the ‘Gypsy Cut’ which contains a full prologue regarding the traveller characters. This sequence is VERY sexual and feels like the sequences of porn movies that you see before sexual organs get an airing. This includes the kind of flat acting that you could only see in pornography.

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The film feels like it wants to establish the fact that it’s a Hillbillies vs City Folk movie and even has a character playing a banjo!

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But whilst this is a blatant Friday the 13th rip-off theres enough here to hold your interest. The kills are very effective (courtesy of special effects guru John Carl Buechler), the cinematography is stunning (even if scenes shot in a forest are pretty hard not to portray as beautiful. Check out the scale of some of the shots and how the humans are sometimes shown as minuscule in comparison to the woods. Also, check out the abseiling scene). Theres also a very unexpected ending that shows that Ol’ Scarface has other plans for the Final Girl rather than killing her. This reminded me of the backstory to the mutant family in the masterpiece, The Hills Have Eyes. The kill of the Final Girl’s friend before this is also very left-field and takes the audience by surprise (no, I’m not going to disclose what it is!)

Check out the Arrow Films Blu ray. Both cuts are on there along with a gorgeous transfer and plenty of extras.

3 out of 5 stars

Day 21- 31 Days of Halloween- Cujo (1983)

Day 21- 31 Days of Halloween- Cujo (1983)

Adapted from Stephen King’s best-selling novel, Cujo tells the story of a rabid St Bernard dog terrorising and besieging a mother and her son in their broken down car.

This is a wonderful film, not just because of the car/dog storyline but also because of the rich characterisation (a trademark of King’s) which builds up to this scenario. Thank God for horror films that feature characters that are fully fleshed out, realistic and relatable to the audience. And an audience that the filmmakers warrant with having a modicum of intelligence. Thankfully the filmmakers had the good sense to carry over the nuance and eye for detail contained in the film’s source material and not dilute or erase it upon it’s transfer to the big screen.

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The original UK cinema poster

The movie is invested in portraying realistically flawed and multi-faceted characters and showing just how dark and dysfunctional life is for these players. Just as Donna’s husband Vic has created the advertising campaign for a cereal that is later found to have made several young children up and down the country vomit profusely, this is a perceptive peek into the whole ethos of the film. The professor in the commercial eats some of the cereal before showing the bowl’s contents to the audience and exclaiming ‘Nothing wrong here!’ This is a sarcastic and caustic comment on the artificial and ‘too good to be true’ world portrayed in the media (and particularly advertising) and the reality of the characters in the movie.

If the characters in the movie existed within the unreality of a commercial, Donna Trenton (the ever brilliant Dee Wallace-Stone) would be happily married, Charity Camber wouldn’t be in a violent relationship with her garage owner husband Joe and Vic’s advertising campaign would be a roaring success for a cereal that was rigourously tested before it went on sale.

But the film is only interested in depicting the reality for these characters without the sugar coating. Therefore, Donna’s marriage seems completely loveless to her to such an extent that she is having an affair with her high school ex-boyfriend Steve, Charity is trapped in an abusive marriage to her pig of a husband and Vic’s career might be in pieces after such an epic (and very public) fail regarding the cereal hes created a nationwide campaign for.

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A marriage on the rocks

But the movie is also about escape. Charity announces to Joe that she has won the lottery and wants to use the $5k prize to go away with their son to visit her sister. We see her taking clothes and photos for her trip and it’s suggested that this will be a permanent departure rather than just a week away. She seems to pack in a hurry so that her escape isn’t discovered by Joe.

Donna comes to the realisation that she wants to work at her marriage and goes to break the news to Steve that she intends on not continuing with their affair. It’s when Steve races outside to try to talk Donna round that Vic rides by and sees the two of them together. Steve then goes full-on Cluster B throughout the rest of the movie, firstly seemingly trying to violently sexually assault Donna in her kitchen (thankfully Vic comes in at that moment whereby Donna confirms that she has been having an affair to him) and then trashing her family home whilst she is at the garage being held hostage by Cujo.

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The ‘other man’- Steve Kemp

I love that Donna is shown to have some kind of psychic ability or finely tuned intuition. When she first sees Charity sat performing chores in the foreground of the garage her heart goes out to her as if she feels some of the pain that she experiences in her everyday life and purposely goes out of her way to speak to her. Likewise, when Donna sees Cujo for the first time before he’s turned into a rabid killer and is still a lovable St Bernard (albeit with a bite on his nose) shes still unsure and weary of him as if she foresees the horror to come.

Cujo the dog could be seen as a Return of the Repressed, a reminder of the brutal reality of life, a hurdle for Donna to overcome so that she can truly cherish the great things that make up her life and work on the areas (e.g. her marriage) which require more work. In fact, it’s when her son Tad is in a critical condition that her fighting spirit couples with her strong maternal instinct and she decides to become proactive even if it means risking her own life. It’s at this point that she leaves the car, grabs the baseball bat that shes noticed is on the ground and fights back. Cujo being a domestic animal turned rabid could be seen as a manifestation of Donna’s domestic sphere that has been turned upside down by her affair and that she now has to fight to mend and resolve her own situation.

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Donna prepares for a home run

Up until the book and movie of Cujo came out the St Bernard dog was either seen as cuddly or as a dog traditionally utilised as a helper (they are well known for their strong sense of smell and brute force which made them perfect for finding and rescuing those stranded in snowbound conditions) only makes it’s transformation even more extreme and subversive. Sharks were seen as killing machines and predators even before the novel and movie of Jaws were released.

The book differs from the novel is some key ways. I’m not going to go into the main way that they are different as I don’t want to ruin either experience for horror fans but I can understand why the filmmakers chose to conclude the film differently. If the film was ended the same way as the book the entire audience would have been alienated. Thats not to diss the conclusion of the book in any way. But seeing certain events unfurl before your eyes is very different to reading them off the page. Apparently King agreed and said that if he could rewrite any ending to one of his novels it would be Cujo and that it would resemble the film’s ending.

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I find Cujo to be a terrific work. Whenever Dee Wallace-Stone is in a film you know it’s going to be something special. She gives one of her best performances in this film and exhibits a range that is nothing less than astonishing. Her transition from mother and wife into a survivor who is literally fighting for her life and the life of her child is utterly believable and exquisitely acted. It’s another example of the reality portrayed in the film that a character who is seen as flawed and human can also be the main character and ultimately the hero of the piece.

It’s also worth noting that the film portrays the heat and airless conditions in the car in which they are stranded in perfectly and yet apparently the film was shot in winter and it was freezing!

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There are uniformly brilliant performances in the film. There needs to be special mentions to Danny Pintauro as Tad and Kaiulani Lee as Charity. Also, it’s great to see Dee’s late husband Christopher Stone as a such a dark character.

Lewis Teague’s direction is kinetic rather than static which helps the film move along greatly especially with the storyline that involves the dog keeping Donna and Tad in the car. It would have been very easy to have this sequence make the film drag through flat, uninspired direction in a scenario that revolves around one setting. Instead, Teague keeps the camera moving especially in an extraordinary scene whereby Donna ventures out of the car and is promptly attacked. To show her mental state after her attack the camera starts to move in 360 degree arcs. An ambitious idea in a cramped environment like the inside of a car. It works beautifully.

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Donna ventures out of the car. And instantly regrets it.

Donna really suffers in this film which is another nod to the reality of the movie as opposed to other more glossy motion pictures. There is much in common with Donna’s character at the end of the movie and Marilyn Burns at the end of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Both have been thoroughly bloodied, battered and bruised on their individual trips to hell in their respective journeys. TCM and Cujo would make a great double-bill with both being claustrophobic horror films depicting mid-summer madness.

Yet another recommendation for the film was that good ol’ Siskel and Ebert hated it! The kings of the backhanded compliment called the film ‘dumb’, ‘flimsy’ and ‘dreadful’. However, King himself called the movie ‘terrific’. High praise indeed.

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Can your pussy do the dog? No but my St Bernard can do the can-can

I think Cujo is massively underrated and one of the best horror movies of the 80’s.

5 out of 5 stars

 

10 To Midnight (1983)- J. Lee Thompson’s Vigilante Slasher Sleazefest

10 To Midnight (1983)- J. Lee Thompson’s Vigilante Slasher Sleazefest

I remember one of the first films my family rented when we first got a video recorder (VCR to my American buddies) in 1983 was the Charles Bronson sleazefest 10 To Midnight. OK, I know it sounds weird that such a lurid piece of exploitation was hired for a cosy night of family movie watching but (luckily) my Dad thought that the Daily Mail moral panic when it came to film violence and the dreaded ‘video nasties’ was just plain bs. Thus I got to see 10 To Midnight and such fare from the age of 8 and onwards. And I turned out OK. Right?!

10 To Midnight was released on Guild Home Video- ahh, the memories of the Guild introductory pulse theme tune…of the many pieces of music which remind me of just how awesome the 80’s were this is one of them.

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I hadn’t seen this piece of celluloid slime in a long time and so I thought it was well overdue for a rewatch.

The plot involves a homicidal maniac called Warren Stacy (an extrordinary performance by Gene Davis who had starred as a transsexual hooker in the masterpiece Cruising three years previous) who kills women who rebuff his advances and the cop Leo Kessler (Charles Bronson) who is determined to catch him. By a bizarre twist Stacy sees Kessler’s daughter at the funeral of one of his victims (an ex co-worker who gave him the cold shoulder and paid for it) as she was a childhood friend of the deceased.

Is the film as grimy, perverted and kick-ass as I remember? In a word- YES!

One thing that I found particularly interesting about the film on watching it again was how it perfectly mirrors the general moviegoing public’s populist tastes of the time. 10 To Midnight is a perfect hybrid of both vigilante film and slasher movie which was brave as the filmmakers could have just played it safe and churned out another Charles Bronson vehicle starring a functional but uninteresting adversary.

Instead they made a film with a killer who was just as interesting and quirky as Bronson’s character. In fact, Gene Davis who plays Warren Stacy gives a performance that truly goes the extra mile! It’s a freaky turn that is comparable with Betsy Palmer in Friday the 13th or Andrew Robinson as Scorpio in Dirty Harry- performances that are so full-on and brilliant when portraying mentally unstable people that they are utterly believeable but without curdling into camp or pantomimesque theatrics.

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Gene Davis as Warren Stacy

Not only were the vigilante and slasher genres popular at the cinema but also with the home video audiences of the day. The video was rapidly building in stature and earning a reputation as a ‘must have’ piece of technology for every home. Thus video shops started to spring up everywhere with the more extreme genres proving to be the most popular with the general public. Ahh, the golden days when video shop shelves were filled with wall to wall horror, action and kung-fu movies, each with lurid and sensationalistic cover artwork. The makers of 10 To Midnight knew this all too well and so made a movie that perfectly tapped into this creatively and without making some obvious cynical cash-in.

You’re probably thinking that as this is a Charles Bronson movie you know the kind of formula to expect. But this film actually subverts that narrative. Instead of a Death Wish vibe this film actually has a Dirty Harry-type storyline in that instead of being a ‘civilian who fights back’ here Mr Bronson is ‘the cop who bends the law to apprehend the bad guy’ but with a sting in the tail.

This narrative is always problematic. Kessler is only acting on a hunch when he thinks he knows who is carrying out the murders of the women in the film. The viewer has the advantage of the ‘all seeing eye’ of the film to confirm that Warren is carrying out these sadistic homicides but Leo doesn’t. Kessler bends the rules in a number of different ways with regards to Stacey during the course of the film based on this ‘hunch’ which in real life would make for terrible policing.

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Charles Bronson as Leo Kessler

In fact this ‘all seeing eye’ awarded to the film’s audience is something that elevates this movie from just being a stock post-Death Wish Charles Bronson film. We get to see the devilish deeds of Stacy and how much of a depraved, sleazy and warped character he really is. In other words, he’s perfect for an early 80’s exploitation movie.

Stacy’s character points the film firmly towards slasher movie territory. Theres also a nod towards the ‘true crime’ genre of documentaries and pulp paperbacks as the film and Warren’s character seem to be influenced by real life felons and ‘serial killer as celebrity’ culture.

The first time we see him in the film he’s getting ready to go out for the night. He’s very good looking, has a perfect body and is very vain with it. There’s a vibe of Ted Bundy crossed with a proto-Patrick Bateman (American Psycho) about him. Stacy even drives a VW Beetle which was synonymous with Bundy.

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Sharply dressed men- Stacy…
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…and Bateman

We then see him chatting up a couple of young women in a cinema but only to make sure they recognise him and can later vouch for his whereabouts. He’s constructing his own alibi whilst the audience can see what he really does. He sneaks out of the movie theater through a bathroom window once the film has started, stalks a woman who rebuffed him at his work picnic (!) and murders both her and her date at a lakeside location. This scene is very important to the film as a whole. It establishes that this is as much a slasher movie as it is a Bronson action flick. The fact that the young woman and her partner were mid-carnal encounter hammers this home even further with such an act being a sin within the slasher genre.

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‘You come here often?!’ Stacy establishes his alibi by chatting up two women at the cinema

It also establishes a key feature of the killer and the film’s sleaziness as a whole. He likes to strip naked prior to killing his victims. In fact, there were two versions of this film made- one in which Davis is completely naked in the murder scenes and another in which he is only wearing briefs. This tactic would make sure that there was at least one version of the film which could be shown on TV without it being deemed too sexually explicit.

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A still from the ‘briefs’ version of the film

With this first murder, notice the way the woman is killed with the camera invading her body space and the prolonged, almost uncomfortably long time that it takes for Stacy to actually bump her off. This allows the audience to fully see her terrified reaction to her impending fate. The film milks this for all it’s worth especially with the fact that both victim and murderer are naked. You get to witness how twisted and perverted Stacy really is with the audience getting the impression that he is enjoying the build up to the murder almost as much as the actual deed itself. The terror he evokes from his victim is very much the foreplay to the terrible deed itself.

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The all-nude first lakeside murder

When Stacy climbs back into the cinema he flushes down the toilet the rubber gloves he was wearing when he killed the lakeside couple. This is another interesting facet of the film. The movie shows the killer to be forensically minded. This was years before the multiple CSI series brought that aspect of policing and criminality into the sphere of entertainment. We later see more examples of Stacy being forensically aware as we witness him thoroughly washing the knife he uses to kill the roommate of the previous victim whose diary Stacy goes to seize. Stacy even uses rubber gloves when we see him making dirty phone calls from various public phone booths as to not leave fingerprints on the receiver.

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The forensically-minded Stacy wearing gloves when going to steal the incriminating diary

When the diary of one of Warren’s victims (who is also one of his workmates) exposes the deceased’s true feelings towards him (‘a creep’) this makes him a suspect in Kessler’s eyes even though the journal also mentions other men in a less than flattering light. Leo and his partner, McAnn decide to visit Stacy at his apartment. It’s when asking to use the toilet that Kessler has a look around in Warren’s bathroom. He spies some porno magazines (these are shown to be gay porn- is Warren, in fact, a closet homosexual? Has the killer placed these there as a red herring for any potentially preying eyes? Are the filmmakers trying to imply that this is why he hates women?) but more importantly, a device used for masturbation.

A major factor to the film’s overall sleaziness is that theres an equal emphasis on sex as there is on violence. We even got some Freudian film analysis as Kessler exclaims that in this case the knife used in the murders symbolises the killer’s penis. Not bad for an exploitation film.

Warren is interviewed. In one of the most notorious scenes of the film, the sexual aid is brought out with Bronson sarcastically asking what the appliance is used for before roaring ‘It’s for jacking off!’ It’s during this meeting that we find out about an incident from Warren’s childhood that adds to Kessler’s sense of unease about him- he cut a small girl, was reported to the police by the girl’s mother and so as retaliation smashed one of her windows and threw a dead cat inside. Kessler also becomes a bit too ‘hands on’ during his interrogation of Stacy, at one point grabbing his head to make sure he looks at pictures of the murdered women. Leo is firmly from the ‘act first, ask questions later’ school of policing. But, whilst a policeman like Leo may be great in an exploitation film from the 70’s and 80’s, would we really want such authority figures operating in real life?

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A different kind of juice extractor

Kessler is willing to bend the rules and even resort to violence to get a confession. This is extremely problematic and will backfire on Leo later on in the film.

Kessler asks his superior to get Warren brought in on a spurious charge that he didn’t commit just to keep him off the street where he might kill more women (even though Leo doesn’t know for sure that he’s the killer). McAnn has a dual role in the film. Not only is he Kessler’s ‘by the book’ police partner but he also acts as some kind of moral balance to Kessler’s ‘make my day’ gung-ho method of policing.

Kessler’s view on law and order is also extolled when he states that he sees the law as protecting the ‘maggots’ such as Stacy as if they were ‘an endangered species’ after he learns that a lack of concrete evidence would prevent Warren from being arrested and tried in a court of law.

Stacy stalking the nursing apartment complex where Leo’s daughter Laurie lives and making the nuisance phone calls also mines into events that a lot of viewers could relate to that are very much of their time. During the early 80’s these kind of calls were all too commonplace with telephone companies not yet having mastered the practice of tracing where a call was coming from.  Sourcing a call in those days was a laborious task and hadn’t really advanced from the same method so brilliantly depicted in Bob Clark’s masterpiece Black Christmas in 1974.

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Stacy makes nuisance phone calls to his victims. Note the rubber gloves and ‘Equalizer opening credits’ style chic

The houseshare of nurses also points the film towards the ‘slasher’ genre. There have been other examples of this conceit used in stalk n slash films before and since with one of the most innovative being the movie Slumber Party Massacre in which girls are in a confined space which provides easy pickings for the deranged psychopath. Within 10 To Midnight this scenario also echoes real life events, primarily the Chi Omega murders carried out by Ted Bundy after he escaped from jail. Bundy appears to have massively influenced this film and it’s narrative.

But before the film shows this sorority house invasion by Stacy we see more of the corrupted version of ‘justice’ which is engineered by Kessler. He goes into the crime laboratory whereby he sees the lab technician smoking marijuana. He tells the tech that he will turn a blind eye. Obviously this will work both ways later on as when Kessler asks for the tech to retrieve a file for him he sneaks into the DNA evidence room and extracts a sample of Stacy’s blood. Kessler’s thinking is that if he is willing to turn a blind eye then the lab technician will surely do the same for him.

When blood is suddenly found on the forensically fastidious Stacy’s clothes, Warren is informed of this by his crooked lawyer. He doesn’t react to this news well and becomes extremely agitated and violent. We get the feeling that with Stacy taking such pride in being methodically precise with all of the circumstances surrounding his killings, this forensic indiscretion is known to him to be both false and an example of him being framed. This news is a distinct slap in the face for him and the professionalism of his methods.

Kessler meddling in affairs by trying to engineer the justice he desires so much sets into motion a domino effect of events which 10 To Midnight is brave enough to depict. Within a vigilante or rogue cop film we normally only see the positive effects of such law bending rather than what can go wrong.

Stacy’s lawyer, Dave Dante, states to Kessler’s ‘by the book’ partner McAnn that he believes that the blood was planted on his client’s clothes. McAnn follows up on this with the lab tech who mentions that Kessler disappeared to the room where the blood samples are kept. When McAnn mentions this to Leo he confirms that he did plant the blood on Stacy’s clothes.

Because of this Leo confesses during Warren’s trial that he did in fact plant the evidence himself. The film then shows the dire consequences of such actions- the waste of public money for the trial being held, Warren Stacy being set free when he could be guilty of the alleged crimes (something that the audience knows to be true but the film’s characters don’t for certain), the fact that Kessler has snubbed his nose at due process. Leo is then fired because of his actions. Such resultant actions that occurred because of Kessler’s meddling with justice shows that the movie is much more than just 42nd Street and drive-in fare. It’s great to see that the movie is well-rounded enough to show that such tactics can have the opposite effects instead of what was hoped for.

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Stacy is set free with Dante beside him (right)

Dante also tells Warren something very telling during their pre-trial consultation. He advises his client to ‘act crazy’ as a last resort. This could involve saying that he thinks he is in fact two people and hears conflicting voices from both- a ‘bad’ personality telling a ‘good’ personality what to do. It’s a widely held presumption that a criminal can have a cushier time serving their sentence in a mental facility rather than permanently looking over their shoulder in a maximum security prison where a prisoner’s survival isn’t always guaranteed. This view also resonates with similar views held in real life. A prison guard overheard Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe tell his wife Sonia that if he just convinces the jury that he is ‘mad’ and not ‘bad’ then his sentence served in a psychiatric hospital will be a doddle and he could even be released sooner. Another nod to real life ‘true crime’ culture that the film references.

On being set free, Stacey rings Kessler to taunt him about his deeds backfiring. He also intimates that he will continue with his terror campaign. This in turn spurs Leo on to wage war and intimidate Stacey in a number of ways that include breaking into Warren’s workplace and placing crime scene photographs on the staff noticeboard for all and sundry to see, driving next to Stacy to unsettle him, loitering outside Stacey’s apartment block (McAnn again acts as Leo’s conscience and approaches him to tell him that he shouldn’t be there) and breaking into Warren’s apartment and sabotaging his stereo so that it starts playing loud music when Stacy enters. These are deliberate intrusions of Warren’s territory by Leo and a clear indication that Kessler can infringe on Stacey’s private space just like Warren has to countless other women.

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Kessler drives next to Stacy and makes his intrusive presence known to him

Stacey knows that Kessler is watching his every move outside his apartment and so decides to shake him off so that he can deal with a more prescient task- the dispatching of Leo’s daughter as an act of superiority over him and to hit Leo truly where it hurts.

The audience gets a sudden detour into nocturnal downtown L.A. with it’s peepshows, hookers and grindhouse theaters. Stacey picks up a hooker fully knowing that Kessler will follow but then slips out of a window in the motel he has lured Kessler to. He then goes to Laurie’s shared accommodation.

This is where the slasher component of the film comes to the fore again. In an incredible moment of self-reference, the nurses in the houseshare even refer to Stacy as ‘the slasher’ when McAnn is setting up a tap on their phone for when Stacy calls them again.

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Whilst Kessler is on the phone urging one of Laurie’s roommates to not open the door to anyone, another roommate is opening the door to what she thinks is a delivery of roses for Laurie from McAnn. But this is instead Stacy, naked and armed with a knife. He even has his trademark rubber gloves on, forensically aware to the end.

This sequence is quite extraordinary even within the extreme genres of the vigilante movie and the slasher film. Firstly, it’s audacious that a film should attempt a scene with a killer who is completely naked and somehow manage to do so whilst not inadvertently exposing any of the villain’s ‘crown jewels’. In a number of shots this is even done by the filmmakers with tongue firmly in cheek (pun not intended). Witness the scene where the killer’s modesty is masked by the body of one of the roommates being held close to him. In another, Laurie is under a bed hiding from Stacey but watching his every move. His manhood is hidden from view when he steps in front of a bedpost.

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The bare cheek of the film: the nursing apartment home invasion

This scene also goes the extra mile as it feels extremely uncomfortable to watch just like the earlier lakeside murder sequence. The extreme terror of the women going through these traumatic proceedings is there for all to see and feels like a nod of the cap to films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Last House on the Left. This kind of gritty and unflinching capturing of sheer fear was, with this film, transported from the sidelines of drive-in and grindhouse cinema and now made an ingredient within a mainstream Hollywood film with a ‘name’ leading actor. That was a very brave move to make.

Within this sequence it’s obvious Stacy is getting off on the terror he is evoking and so he takes his time before the actual dispatching of his quarry to elicit as much pure fear from them as possible. These scenes feel necessary to the plot because of this rather than being a cheap and very sick device. This isn’t just the pornography of terror.

The end of this sequence is also noteworthy. Laurie evades Stacey’s clutches by hitting him where it hurts- but not where you think with him being naked. As Laurie tries to leave the apartment she is grabbed from behind by Stacy but retaliates by scolding his face with a pair of curling tongs that were being used just prior to Warren’s home invasion. Aside from kicking him in the balls, this is the worst place to attack someone that the film has established as being so vain.

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‘Not the face!’ Laurie hits Warren where it really hurts

We then see the leadup to the final scene and confrontation between Stacy and Kessler. This involves seeing Stacy (still naked!) chasing Laurie outside (thankfully for Stacy the street is very quiet). Warren is catching up with her when we see her run into the arms of her father. When Leo admonishes Warren for his actions, Stacy tries to say that he only did them because of Kessler’s treatment towards him which cajoled him into further action. Warren then adopts the ‘I’m mad!’ narrative that his lawyer prepped him with earlier. The police arrive but Warren momentarily evades their clutches only to be shot dead by Kessler.

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The final scene. Bronson as judge, jury and executioner

This final scene is the perfect meeting point of the slasher and the vigilante movie genres. The bad guy is meeting justice from the gun of the flawed good guy who has assumed the mantle of ‘judge, jury and executioner’. The bad guy is naked. He’s also just exclaimed to the world how insane he really is and that when he gets out he’ll continue his murderous ways.

Apparently Kessler and Stacy were supposed to fight at the end of the movie. However, Bronson objected to this as he didn’t want to roll around with a naked man!

10 To Midnight also has two other distinct advantages that seal it’s ‘classic’ status.

Firstly, it’s a Cannon Film- an obvious seal of exploitation excellence.

Secondly, ‘esteemed’ film critic Roger Ebert despised 10 To Midnight when he reviewed it which, if nothing else, should propel any self-respecting exploitation fan to want to investigate the film further. Did he not know that his review would actually send gorehounds to the cinemas in droves to see it? Tell me if these titbits from his review don’t whet your appetite-

”This is a scummy little sewer of a movie, a cesspool that lingers sadistically on shots of a killer terrifying and killing helpless women…”

”The movie lingers on the faces of screaming women. It revels in its bloodbaths. Gore spurts all over the screen. The final sequence is so disgusting that I wrote the first sentence of this review in my mind while I was watching it.”

Nice job, Roger. I’m there!

10 To Midnight is out now on Blu ray on the ever brilliant Scream Factory

Day 28- 31 Days of Halloween- The Lift (1983)

Day 28- 31 Days of Halloween- The Lift (1983)

I remember this film being on the shelves of all of the local video stores I used to pore over the contents of in the 80s. Amazing cover artwork and a great premise (lifts have always freaked me out) and yet I never got round to renting this movie. Years later I watched it whilst living in Sydney, Australia.

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A lift is trying to kill people. Its up to a lift repairman and his journalist friend to investigate and put an end to this dastardly contraption.

This is a Dutch film and contains more than meets the eye. Its very tongue in cheek and humourous in places. In fact its a delicate line for filmmakers to tread when making a horror film both funny and scary- and it succeeds brilliantly.

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Theres also very perceptive observations of Dutch society at this time and the divide between the haves and have nots. Also, theres a subplot in which the wife of the leading male character has been spending so much time with his female journalist friend that she leaves him. This is no mere farfetched and kitsch possession B-movie.

For horror fans this film delivers the goods. The kills are innovative, nasty and in some cases, funny.

Worth checking out. And coming out on Blu ray via Blue Underground this month.

3 out of 5.

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