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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade- A+

31 Days of Halloween- Day 6- House III: The Horror Show (1989)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 6- House III: The Horror Show (1989)

I read about this in Fangoria and Gorezone in the late 80’s and it looked so demented and gory that I didn’t know if it would actually be released in the UK. But, quelle horreur, it was released and uncut as House 3 part of the House franchise.

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On being fried in the electric chair, serial killer Max aka Meat Cleaver Max promises revenge on the cop who sent him there, Lucas McCarthy. Max means it too after making a pact with the Devil which means that he can wreak havoc from beyond the grave.

Two of cult cinema’s biggest icons Brion James and Lance Hendriksen star as Max and Lucas making this unmissable entertainment. The effects have to be seen to be believed. They pushed the boundaries regarding how far they could go in those days when it came to taste and decency. The effects are gross which is music to the ears of any discerning horrorhound. There’s also a depraved and sick sense of humour at play within the movie which makes it even more likeable.

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This film has nothing to do with the House series of movies but was just given that moniker in the UK so that more people would rent the movie. It was actually released as a stand alone movie in the US called The Horror Show.

A great movie that history has treated very well with the ever excellent Scream Factory releasing it all spruced up. And it deserves that kind of release.

Grade- B

31 Days of Halloween- Day 1- Threads (1984)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 1- Threads (1984)

What would happen if nuclear war actually broke out? What would that look like?

If you’ve ever asked these questions, fear no more! Threads was made in 1984 for UK television and shows exactly what life would be like after the bomb dropped.

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Written by Barry Hines (Kes) and directed by Mick Jackson this drama sent shockwaves (pun not intended) across the UK when it was transmitted.

The action takes place in Sheffield and follows a core of characters and how they fare before, during and after nuclear war breaks out.

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This is one of the toughest watches I’ve ever endured but is executed brilliantly with the full horror being captured with the action never slipping into melodrama or amateur dramatics.

I watched this recently with a friend. Events got so dark that I mentioned that it must be over soon as it couldn’t get any darker or more dystopic. I discovered that we were only halfway through our journey into hell. And yes, it could and did get a lot darker! Wait until the end for one of the most shocking endings EVER!

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This is all of the Protect and Survive pamphlets and Public Information Films becoming a reality rather than just being a sample in a Frankie Goes To Hollywood song. It’s horrifying stuff.

If you want to watch the devastation in HD, there’s a Blu Ray issued by Simply Media here in the UK which utilises the BBC’s original negative which wasn’t the source for Severin’s U.S. Blu Ray and it shows! The UK Blu Ray is infinitely better and the one to buy. Dystopia has never been this detailed or chilling before.

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And you thought the 80’s was all Rubik’s Cubes and Club Tropicana by Wham! Think again. This is one of the most powerful and brilliant pieces of television ever produced.

Grade- A+

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- Clash of the Titans (1981)

Review- Clash of the Titans (1981)

I have a strange history with this film. As a 10 year old boy I had to have 6 (count em- 6!) teeth removed in one sitting with my dentist due to my mouth being ‘overcrowded’. As a treat after having these extractions (‘He made no noise whatsoever! I could have taken out his teeth all day!’ the dentist said to my Dad. My father looked suitably proud) I was taken to Granada TV Rentals to rent a movie. I rented Clash of the Titans to watch whilst the gas wore off and the pain started.

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Watching the movie again almost forty years later, it fares very well indeed.

The film is based on Greek mythology and revolves around Perseus and his exploits. I love the fact that the film doesn’t sugar coat the darker aspects of these tales that are being depicted with the more gruesome aspects of Perseus’ adventures being shown in all their gory glory. Hence, we get Calibos’ hand being cut off, the full on horror of Medusa and the three blind witches (one of whom is played by acclaimed actress Flora Robson which leads me to think that once a woman in the acting profession hits a certain age she is instantly cast as a ‘grotesque’).

The film had an all star cast that the studio was quick to publicise in it’s promotional material.

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And a fine cast it is with Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith and plenty of other esteemed stage performers lending serious gravitas to proceedings. Harry Hamlin who was cast as Perseus and was largely unknown at that time does a great job after being pushed centre stage and having to compete with such lovey heavyweights.

Fun fact- this film was written by Beverley Cross who was married to Maggie Smith who is cast as Thetis. Cross is written about extensively in Kenneth Williams’ Diaries.

Talking of the promotional material for the film, check out the poster artwork. It’s high art.

Clash of the Titans also brought in Ray Harryhausen for his use of stop motion effects for the depiction of such mythical beasts as The Kraken and Medusa. These sequences are a distinct highlight of the film and also hark back to other sandal and sorcery classics like Jason and the Argonauts.

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In fact, most of the effects depicted in the film work well and have aged very well indeed. But, there are a few that look a bit stagey and unreal. These involve back projection with figures being superimposed over the top of this- and it looks like it! Thankfully, these sequences are few and far between. The film was made at a time where special effects were in transition with films with much bigger budgets being able to stump up for the effects they required. One obvious example is that of Superman which showed that a man really can fly…but especially when millions of dollars are pumped into the illusion.

Clash of the Titans received the ultimate honour on it’s release in that it was awarded a Look In Special. For those of you unlucky to not know, Look In was a kids magazine that was billed as a Junior TV Times and featured TV stars, musicians and other pop culture figures. It was popular in the 70s and 80s. I’m guessing that the front cover of this special edition wasn’t illustrated by a professional artist.

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***1/2 out of *****

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Pieces (1982)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Pieces (1982)

For the longest time I didn’t get around to seeing Pieces. Just like the movie Madman, I had seen the poster and video artwork numerous times but hadn’t got around to actually investigating the film.

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But rather than being the average cookie-cutter slasher movie that I imagined it to be, it was a different beast altogether.

J. Piquer Simon’s shocker of a movie is actually a Spanish/American/Puerto Rican production with Valencia in Spain being used instead of Boston where the film is based.

Right from the opening scene we get to see how crazy, extreme and violent this film is going to be. We see a young boy putting together a jigsaw. This is seen by his mother who smiles until she sees what the jigsaw is actually of- a naked woman. She scolds and strikes the child whilst demanding that he brings some bin bags for her as she is going to burn everything he owns. She then starts going on a hunt to see if her young pervert of a son has any other filth stashed anywhere else.

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Before she can find anything though she is struck in the head by her young son who has found an axe rather than disposal bags. With Mother safely disposed of the young boy then deflects away from the fact that he was the one to have dismembered Mama by being found crying and whimpering for his mother in a closet by the police who have been called to suggest that he was hiding whilst his mother was being axed to death by someone else. It works.

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And this is only the film’s opening scene. It then flashes forward forty years with the action happening on a university campus. Someone is killing students but who could it be?

We see the killer wearing a fantastic Giallo-esque disguise which perfectly covers his identity therefore providing us with another Giallo trope- the whodunnit. Who could the killer be? Thankfully we’re provided with possible candidates and possible red herrings. The film does this with relish with one shot involving the campus gardener Willard lovingly cleaning his chainsaw.

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There are so many reasons to love this film whether it’s the kills (the hint is in the film’s tagline ‘You don’t have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre!’ Whereas TCM actually cut away from the camera seeing the murders, this camera in Pieces sticks around so that the audience gets their money’s worth. The murders seem to have been dreamt up in a pre-production brainstorming session. I can imagine the makers of Pieces proclaiming ‘What would happen if someone with a chainsaw got into a lift with a victim. Or what if a girl is rollerskating but then runs into a full length mirror?!’), the VERY quotable one-liners that beggar belief (‘The most beautiful in the world is smoking pot whilst fucking on a waterbed!’) right through to the sequences that are so over-ripe and overly dramatic that they are ensured a place in the hearts of the most ardent horror fan (one such sequence is the ‘Bastard’ scene that is so unbelievable that once it’s seen it can never be unseen. I think of this scene as my message to the world).

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Pieces is the gift that just keeps on giving. A stone-cold classic.

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

Review- Southern Comfort (1981)

Review- Southern Comfort (1981)

A team of Louisiana Army National Guards venture into a local bayou. After getting lost they take three small boats belonging to local Cajuns. When they fire blank bullets at the men the Cajuns return this gesture with real bullets, killing one of the soldiers. From here on in things get worse and worse for the soldiers as they must fight for their own survival.

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Look at this ultra rare V2000 edition of Southern Comfort! Video 2000 lost out to Betamax which in turn lost out to VHS as a video format.

I remember seeing the last act of this film on late night TV in the 80’s and it was one of the most paranoid and chilling sequences I think I had ever seen in a film. Seeing the full film, this sequence remains taut and utterly unnerving.

In fact the film as a whole is yet another gem from director Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hours, The Driver) with amazing cinematography from Andrew Laszlo.

This film reminds me of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in that we have a slow tension-filled buildup until a massively violent incident comes out of the blue and shows us that the film means business. I’m certainly not going to disclose this genuinely shocking moment but it’s a gritty, uncompromising incident in a gritty and uncompromising film.

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A fine all-male ensemble reminds me of the same dynamic as John Carpenter’s The Thing which can’t be bad. In fact, it reminded me of The Warriors also, but minus another Mercy type character. Again, this comparison is no bad thing.

On it’s release the movie drew inevitable comparisons to Deliverance but this feels rawer, leaner and more suspenseful. This has the sensibilities of an edgier independent film. And there are no cringy scenes involving banjos.

A cracking film.

4 and a half out of 5

Review- Christmas Evil (1980)

Review- Christmas Evil (1980)

I first heard of this Yuletide horror flick as John Waters spoke about it as being his favourite seasonal cinematic shocker. With such high praise from The Prince of Puke I later heard it was being shown at a local cinema in Sydney, Australia where I lived for a year (it was actually shown as part of a double bill with Black Christmas which is possibly the greatest duo of films I’ve ever seen on the big screen).

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This film was also seized during the raids on video shops that happened in the UK during the video nasties furore. After it was seized it was then banned by the BBFC. Hence, why I wasn’t allowed by the powers that be to see this masterpiece in the 80’s.

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The film centres around Harry Stadling who we see first as a child as he sees Santa pleasuring his mother. After seeing Old Nick being so naughty he goes upstairs and self harms with a broken ornament from a Christmas tree.

The film then flashes forward to Harry as an adult working in a local toy factory. He seems to be completely obsessed by Santa Claus and even dresses like him, sleeps in his outfit and orientates his whole being towards becoming him. We even see him applying way too much shaving foam to his face so that it resembles a white beard to make the likeness even more apparent. He has also starts to make notes regarding the neighbourhood children as to who has been ‘good’ or ‘bad’ whilst jotting down examples of why he has arrived at his decision.

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Harry is told by his boss that the factory will donate toys to children at a local hospital but only if production at the factory increases and employees chip in with their own money. This angers Harry who sees this as an indication that his boss only cares about production rather than genuinely caring for the local unfortunate kids.

Harry’s Santaphilia reaches new heights on Christmas Evil when he seems to truly believe that he is Father Christmas. He starts to travel around in his equivalent of a reindeer led sleigh- a van with a picture of a sleigh on the side of it. He creeps into his brother’s house and leaves bags of presents for his nephews and then leaves a bag of dirt to one of the other neighbourhood children he has noted down as being ‘bad’.

After he is mocked by three men who are leaving church, he stabs one of the men in the eye with a sharpened Christmas ornament and then kills all three with an axe. After then entertaining people at a local Christmas party who mistake for just some harmless Santa impersonator and after telling the kids present that they should be good, he breaks into his co-worker Frank’s house (who we saw earlier in the film after he asked to swap shifts with Harry so he could be with his family only to be then spotted by Harry in a local bar drinking with his pals much to Harry’s chagrin) and murders him but not before leaving toys for his kids.

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To tell you much more would ruin the film for everyone and disclose some genuinely unexpected and quite brilliant twists. Without giving too much away I love the fact that even though he’s a murderous Santa, the neighbourhood’s kids protect him from an angry mob who have formed to capture or even kill him. The kids will save Santa even he is to Christmas what Michael Myers is to Halloween.

The final scene will fully ignite the magic of the Yuletide season in your soul. Seriously! Did Steven Spielberg steal it for possibly the most iconic scene of E.T? Quite possibly. I’ll take this movie over Spielberg’s saccharine family favourite any day though.

A genuine oddity and a film unlike any other, Christmas Evil was worth the wait for me and John Waters is completely justified to have taken this to his heart. Perfectly acted, beautifully photographed and with some fantastic insights regarding ‘this most wonderful time of the year’. These include those who are permitted to buy into the whole illusion of Christmas whilst others aren’t, the vileness of capitalism masquerading as being caring and charitable (but only if production is increased) and how in-crowds and groups judge others as ‘one of us’ or not.

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Waters said that if he had kids (and that would be quite something) he would sit down and watch this seasonal shocker with them every year. And if they didn’t like it they would be PUNISHED! That’s fair enough in my book.

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

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 *****