Day 2- 31 Days of Halloween- The Horrifying Experiments of the SS Last Days (1977)

Day 2- 31 Days of Halloween- The Horrifying Experiments of the SS Last Days (1977)

Is this-

a) A beautifully acted, nuanced and sensitive portrayal of the horror of the Nazis and those unlucky enough to have crossed paths with them?

or b) A badly acted slice of exploitation resplendent with terrible dubbing and almost no budget?

I’ll give you a clue- look at the film’s name! This is also known as The Beast in Heat (it’s on the UK Video Nasties list under that title) and Gestapo’s Last Orgy.

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I’d love to give you a summary of the plot but I don’t want to be banned from this platform.

Be sure to run a bath before watching this. You’ll need it.

But when you know exactly what you’re letting yourself in for this movie ticks all of the depraved boxes regarding lurid and boundary pushing schlock filmmaking. Imagine watching this back in the day on 42nd Street or on VHS in the early 80’s in the UK. Your mind would have been well and truly blown.

And by a weird turn of fate it’s uncut on YouTube! Enjoy (if thats the word).

4 out of 5 stars

Review- Death Wish 2 (1982)

Review- Death Wish 2 (1982)

Due to all of the controversy regarding this film I had to wait until I was living in Australia for a year to see this opus fully uncut. This film still remains cut here in the UK. At the time of the film’s release the BBFC cut over 3 minutes from the film (chief censor James Ferman seemed proud of this and said that it was surely a record) due to two rape scenes contained within the movie.

The vigilante Paul Kersey (played with badass aloofness by Charles Bronson aka ‘The Man’) has moved from New York (the setting of the original movie) and is now practicing his considerable architectural skills in L.A. But after his housekeeper is raped and killed and his already traumatised daughter is subjected to the same treatment Kersey goes back into ass-kicking mode.

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There’s so much to love about this film. Firstly there’s Jimmy Page’s sleazy, unsettling soundtrack. It suits the film perfectly. There are sounds, moods and textures heard that make you want to luxuriant in it’s aural squalor whilst also wanting to run to the shower with a bottle of bleach and a wire brush. Yes, it’s THAT good. The soundtrack was actually nominated for a Razzie in the year of it’s release. As was Ennio Morricone’s score for The Thing. I’m part grinning, part grimacing as I write this…

The movie adores Los Angeles and lovingly shows its sun-drenched beauty but also the rotten underbelly of LA by night. The sequences when Kersey rents a dirty motel room, dresses down and prowls the nocturnal streets to find the scum who killed his daughter are some of the best ever captured on film of inner-city horror and urban decay. They also give the city’s amazing freaks, punks and ‘local colour’ centre-stage. These moments are worth the price of admission alone.

Hell, we even get Charles ‘Sheriff Bracken’ Cyphers thrown into the mix.

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But the thing I love most about this film is that Winner knew what he was directing. He was making an exploitation film and so the core elements of violence, retribution and gunplay are all exaggerated and amplified. Y’know- EXPLOITATION!

And this is what makes the film so enjoyable- and why Winner was so unfazed by the level of criticism that certain (but not all) critics levelled against the film. He knew that the hacks of the day always (and very predictably) slated films that audiences loved in drive-ins and 42nd Street cinemas. And he didn’t give a toss. He knew what audiences wanted and gave it to them. But rather than creating a rushed piece of crap he crafted a polished film that truly delivered but also had enough room for social commentary.

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It’s worth watching the studio debate on the film that was televised before Death Wish 2’s release. Enjoy Michael Winner’s relaxed, considered and educated response to criticism of the film from the hysterical feminist Anna ‘Rabies’ Raeburn and the show’s presenter.

It’s also worth seeking out the TV programme about film violence that Winner took part in with none other than Mary Whitehouse. Yes, the woman who spoke about The Evil Dead as if it was a snuff film EVEN THOUGH SHE HAD NEVER SEEN IT!

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Bore off

This is something that exploitation film fans understand- the actual genre and it’s conventions and tropes. We know that The Evil Dead is the horror equivalent of a dark comedy (in places, anyway) with blood by the gallon load replacing custard pies. We also realise that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is just as darkly comedic. This is because we’ve actually bothered to watch such films unlike the blinkered, elitist journalists or moral panic perpetuating self-appointed public decency crusaders.

And Michael Winner knew about this genre of films also. Enjoy his expertise.

4 out of 5 stars

Day 27- 31 Days of Halloween- The Sadist (1963)

Day 27- 31 Days of Halloween- The Sadist (1963)

Three schoolteachers stop at a garage on their way to a baseball game at Dodgers Stadium. Their car isn’t running properly and so they need to look at it and maybe try to fix it. But thats not their biggest obstacle- they come face to face with Charlie Tibbs and his girlfriend- a couple of killers who are accused of murders in Arizona and are on the run. Charlie has a gun and insists that they work on the car so that he can get away in it.

This film is like a play that has been filmed- there is primarily one main setting (the film reminded me of Cujo in that respect). But this doesn’t mean that the film is static and boring. The one setting is used innovatively and this means that the film is directed with verve. There is also a sense of ‘us versus them’ with the schoolteachers in their Sunday best (shirts, ties or a nice conservative dress) whilst Tibbs is looking every part the juvenile delinquent in his denims and sporting a greasy quiff. Tibbs is obviously based on real-life serial killer Charles Starkweather.

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This film is brilliant- will the teachers get away, when and how? The film ramps up the tension and suspense and never lags- theres no scenes that feel unnecessary. The film is also very extreme for its time. It was even rejected by the BBFC when it was submitted for classification in 1964.

Arch Hall Jr in the lead gives an extraordinary performance as Tibbs- the Sadist in the title. His face and facial expressions are almost other-worldly and supernatural as is his portrayal. Quite extraordinary.

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Watch out for the poignant scene in which the schoolteachers hear on the radio the baseball game they should be at instead of fighting for their lives.

Theres also some innovative direction within the film- it almost feels like Tibbs’ gun in the first half of the film is an actual character.

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I didn’t know about this film until recently. I’m glad I do now. Why isn’t this more widely available on DVD and Blu ray?

Apparently this film is a favourite of director Joe Dante’s- a seal of approval anyone would be proud of.

4 out of 5

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Day 21- 31 Days of Halloween- Patrick (1978)

Day 21- 31 Days of Halloween- Patrick (1978)

A gorgeous slice of Ozploitation that is extremely well made, acted and written. A young man named Patrick is in a coma after killing his parents three years earlier. A new nurse named Kathie has been assigned to tend to him and they strike up a relationship through a typewriter that Patrick can telekinetically control and through the only bodily function that Patrick can control- his ability to spit (one for yes, two for no). Strange things start to happen in Kathie’s life regarding the husband shes recently separated from and the doctor shes just started seeing. Could Patrick be responsible?

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I love a movie in which the lead character is in a coma but strangely gives a great performance in that state. In fact all of the cast are great and if you’re a fan of Australian TV then you should be able to recognise most of the actors. I recognised the actors who played Captain Barton the Salvo Army man, Evelyn Randell and Irene Zervos from Prisoner Cell Block H.

The setting of the sinister hospital wouldn’t be out of place in an early Cronenberg film. The building seems to constitute another character in this film and a very foreboding one.

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This is a favourite film of Quentin Tarantino, fact fans.

4.5 out of 5

Day 6- 31 Days of Halloween- The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971)

Day 6- 31 Days of Halloween- The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971)

Vincent Price’s Dr Phibes avenges the death of his wife by bumping off the culprits with each murder having a biblical connection.

Very camp, very funny and very unsettling- this is one of Price’s best just like Witchfinder General and the Poe films he also made with Roger Corman.

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Check out Phibes’ clockwork band- one of the eeriest things committed to celluloid.

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Also check out the classic art deco decors and groovier surroundings that capture the early 70s so fantastically.

Caroline Munro appears but only as photos of Phibes’ tragic dead wife.

4.5 out of 5

Day 5- 31 Days of Halloween- Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

Day 5- 31 Days of Halloween- Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

Small town vigilantes wrongly accuse a mentally challenged man of attacking and killing a little girl. It turns out he didn’t attack her but saved her from a neighbour’s vicious dog. The vigilantes find this out just after killing the innocent man who is disguised as a scarecrow. Oops. When the local courts offer no justice, the vigilantes start getting bumped off one by one.

This is actually a TV movie and is a cracker. It built up a cult following amongst horror fans and is one of the best horror TV movies ever made.

The film feels authentic and depicts the bloodthirsty lynchmob really well. We see during the course of the film that these people are the true simpletons of the piece. We also see that a group of people who are desperate for violence and maybe more don’t need any justification for it. Its also interesting that the members of the lynch mob are all depicted as being fine upstanding members of the community (the postman, mechanic, farmer etc) whilst being completely hellbent on inflicting their lawless brand of ‘justice’ on someone whos just a bit different.

This film has a great cast that is like a whos who for horror fans. As well as Larry Drake from Tales From The Crypt, Charles Durning who amongst other things was in When a Stranger Calls, John Houseman from the original Hills Have Eyes and Ed Call who played Glen’s (Johnny Depp) father in A Nightmare on Elm Street.

The tension in certain scenes is built up to nailbiting levels and the direction and screenplay are top notch. This is the perfect example of a TV movie that was so great that it transcended its medium and was given a VHS and DVD release. And deservedly so. This is brilliant.

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4 out of 5.

Day 4- 31 Days of Halloween- Piranha (1978)

Day 4- 31 Days of Halloween- Piranha (1978)

One sign that you’ve made a horror classic- your film spawns a slew of imitators.

Sometimes one or two of these imitators are witty, knowing and innovative.

Thats what happened here. Jaws made such a splash (pun intended) that there were plenty of rip-offs. Piranha was one such film but was great on its own terms rather than being a pale imitation.

Director Joe Dante said the original screenplay for this Corman produced film was dire. He worked on it with John Sayles and made Piranha into the hoot it is today. Quirky characters, great scenarios and references to other works such as The Creature From The Black Lagoon abound. One lead character plays a Jaws arcade machine at the start of the film. The movie knows exactly what it is and isn’t afraid to shout it out.

Another great facet of the story- its the heroes of the piece who actually cause the near disaster they have to deal with.

The leads are amazing (Bradford Dillman and Heather Menzies) as are the supporting cast that features Kevin McCarthy, Corman regulars Paul Bartel and Dick Miller and Euro scream queen Barbara Steele.

A cult classic and deservedly so.

4 out of 5.