Hands of the Ripper (1971)

Hands of the Ripper

Anna! ANNA!

As a kid Anna sees her father murder her mother and is, obviously, traumatized by the event. To make matters worse her father was Jack the Ripper. Yeah, I know, but keep going. Fast forward fifteen years and adult Anna has deeply troubling flashbacks triggered by flickering lights coupled with a kiss that bring her father’s evil tendencies to the surface, turning her into, er, Jackie(!?) the Ripper. Yeah, I know, but keep going. A forward thinking psychiatrist sees Anna as the patient he’s been looking for to prove his theory (of something or other) and takes her under his wing and into her home to cure her. Oh dear. Clever people can be quite stupid, can’t they?

And with that we’re off on a rollicking ride through prime Hammer territory. Or are we? Most people have never heard of Hands of the Ripper and the plot does sound a bit poo, doesn’t it? Yes it does, but on rare occasions a movie gets made that falls apart on paper but once viewed is way better than it has any right to be. Hands of the Ripper is one such movie. The plot sounds daft but this is where one needs to peek under the hood (bonnet for us Brits) to understand how and why it all purrs along so well.

Hands of the Ripper is the sum of it’s parts and what top class parts they were. Starting at the top of tree we have director Peter Sasdy. Not only was he the geezer who have previously given us Taste the Blood of Dracula (1969) and Countess Dracula (1971), he then went on to direct Welcome to Blood City (1977), and three episodes from the greatest horror television series of all time, IMHO, Hammer House of Horror. He did Visitor from the Grave, Rude Awakening, and The Thirteenth Reunion (all in 1980). To top it all he gave us two other superb TV standouts, The Stone Tape (1972), and Doomwatch (1972).

The cast is lead by Eric Porter (he of The Heroes of Telemark, The Lost Continent, The Day of the Jackal, and The Thirty Nine Steps) and while the other actors are all top drawer and play their parts perfectly it is Eric’s Dr. John Pritchard that really keeps the whole movie in focus. He is driven to fix Anna, regardless of how out of control things might get, and things do get deliciously out of control.

Talking of delicious there is also Anna played by Angharad Rees who is great as the confused waif with violent tendencies. Kudos too for the delightful Jane Merrow as Laura. Jane is a one-woman Brit cult TV heroine having appeared in Danger Man, The Saint, The Baron, The Prisoner, Gerry Anderson’s UFO, and The Avengers. Crikey! Also worth a mention is the mustache twisting bad guy Dysart wonderfully realized by Derek Godfrey (he of The Vengeance of She and The Abominable Dr. Phibes).

Hands of the Ripper has everything a Hammer fan could want. Okay, everything apart from Chris Lee and Pete Cushing, but it has blood, glorious Victoriana, boobs, blood, Brits chewing scenery, cobbled streets, gas lamps, it’s all there. Also, without spoiling anything, the movie is decidedly true to the inevitability of the tragic plot and doesn’t end by being all Hollywood, or even all Hammer-ish.

It is no surprise that most people haven’t heard of Hands of the Ripper. In the same year that it was released Hammer also gave us Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, Countess Dracula, Creatures the World Forgot, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, Lust for a Vampire, On the Buses (Brit Com), and Twins of Evil. They were really cranking them out. It was all boobs, vampires, boobs and more boobs in 1971. Hands of the Ripper has some cleavage but not nearly as much as some of their other tit-les released in 1971.

There are a couple of times when the budget, or lack thereof, makes it all a bit clunky, but overall I was willing to overlook this as the story is defiantly well scripted, told, and acted. Okay, there are a couple of photos zoomed in on instead of real live scenes, whatever, I’ll live. Random as anything: It also has Molly Weir from the cult UK TV series for kids, Rentaghost as a maid.

If you are interested in what made, and makes, Hammer films so addictive and enjoyable, or already know Hammer but may have missed Hands of the Ripper, I implore you to give it a watch. It delivers. I’ve watched it a few times now and every time I love it more.

PS. I chose the less well-known poster above as nothing like this scene occurs anywhere in the movie. Ah, old skool bait and switch posters, how I love them so.

8 out of 10

Heroes: Eric Porter and Angharad Rees.

Two word review: (G)ripping stuff.

The Beyond (1981)

The Beyond

WARNING: This review makes no sense (which will make perfect sense).

The Beyond is a movie from Italian madness merchant Lucio Fulci that divides horror fans into two distinct camps; there are those who love it as much as I do and there are complete muppets who don’t know what they are talking about. Depending on how I am feeling on any particular day The Beyond is occasionally my favorite horror film of all time. Yes, I know how mental that is but, you see, The Beyond is very much like life itself. It is both glorious and tragic following a plot that rarely makes sense, it’s fun while it lasts, and it all ends rather abruptly.

As a movie The Beyond is an easy target for critics and horror fans alike because, quite simply, it doesn’t really make much sense even at the best of times. To add spice to an already spicy mix, and despite Fulci being at the helm, The Beyond has some special effects that are less special effects and more specious defects.

To describe the plot of The Beyond is not easy. Due to the surreal nature of the movie there was a lot that was left unexplained by Fulci, even in the years after the movie was released. If I had to waste your time trying to describe the plot I think the most honest explanation would be this; pretty much everyone dies. Oh, and there’s a hotel as well, and a book that isn’t there sometimes, and a dog, and lightning striking inside a library.

What of the terrible special effects? The tarantula scene has some of the most completely pants spider effects ever committed to celluloid. Ever. No, really. Ever.

So how can The Beyond stand head and shoulders above ‘insert your favorite horror film title here’ for me? It is the bravado and sheer “we don’t give a bollocks” attitude of the whole production that keeps it rattling along at a cracking pace, pausing only for awesome gore, groovy images, and bizarre shit to explode in glorious techniwow all over the screen. For full enjoyment please ensure your PCT is set to HIGH.

Having taking a dump on the special effects of the dodgy spiders from a great height I must balance things out and talk about the goretastic madness of the eye gouging, chain slashing, acid burning, zombie attacks, and of course, child exploding (yes, you read that correctly) insanity that we also get in The Beyond. It’s glorious, unrestrained insanity lovingly lensed by unrestrained insanity loving Lucio Fulci.

There are also two other parts of this production that make this movie completely watchable. The divine Catriona MacColl and David “in need of a shave” Warbeck, both of whom are certified solid gold cult movie Horror Heroes playing it straight and looking awesome. Catriona MacColl always looked awesome, nuff said. The Beyond is Catriona’s personal favorite celluloid madness so clearly I am in extremely good company. You can come join Catriona and myself in the basement of the hospital whenever you like.

10 out of 10

Heroes: Catriona MacColl and David Warbeck.

Two word review: Bloody. Insane.

Frightmare (1974)

Frightmare

I need to start by declaring that for me Frightmare is a top ten movie but I understand that it may not be to everyone’s tastes. This is also probably a good point to talk about vibe and style.

Some horror movies have a vibe and style. Krampus is a glorious example of a great horror movie with wonderful vibe and style. Friday the 13th (1980) is a glorious example of a great horror movie with NO vibe and style. Sure, we all love F13 but if take out the deaths it is filmed like any other Eighties comedy, drama, or thriller, except that every so often someone dies. Frightmare, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that was released about the same time, has a decidedly grim vibe and it looks gritty.

Genre-wise I’d guess I’d call it a “British cannibal psycho horror exploitation drama” movie from the Seventies. I’m going to do my best, and no doubt fail, to be vaguely critical about this love of my life. Here’s the basic set-up, see what you think …

In a black and white flashback we see the climax of the trial of Edmund and Dorothy Yates, a couple charged with cannibalism in 1957. As the final sentence is read out the Yates hold hands and we fade to black. Cut to full color modern day and it’s seventeen years later. Jackie is a twenty something working girl in 1974 London trying to keep her job, have some kind of a love life, and keep her wild-child stepsister Debbie under control. Things appear to be looking up when Jackie starts dating Graham, a medical student studying to become a psychologist. Unfortunately for Jackie the police making inquiries after Debbie gets involved with some bad boys and does some bad things. To add to her drama Jackie has to sneak out at night to meet her dad, the recently released Edmund Yates, and her step-mom Dorothy, to keep tabs on them while trying to keep the truth of their murky past from her young charge Debbie. It all starts to unravel for Jackie when Edmund shares with Jackie his fears about Dorothy’s behavior and Debbie demands to know what Jackie is being so secretive about.

So the stage is set for some fun times but before you hit “Play” I should point out that the foundations of this movie are planted firmly in B-Movie territory. I would suggest that in order to enjoy it one needs to be prepared to cut it a little ‘expectational slack’ going in. It is an indie film made with no massive budget, no state-of-the-art special effects, and no star power. What Frightmare does offer though is a sharply written and paced script and a delightfully deviant career defining role for Sheila Keith.

Before director Pete Walker offered her the role of Dorothy Yates, Sheila was a respected but unassuming TV character actor best known for playing people’s friendly Aunt, Nanny or Grandmother. She blew all her previous roles into oblivion with her depiction of wicked, conflicted Dorothy. Being a classically trained actor she didn’t lower herself to just wild eyed scenery chewing, but instead offered an accomplished portrayal of someone who is able to feign soft insecurity when needed while being able to instantly flip into a cold and deadly predator. No serious critic of horror films has ever anything less than praise for her performance, and with good reason. She owns every scene she is in and plays ever second for all it’s worth.

As Frightmare was set in the current day in London in 1974 it also has the added bonus of being a wonderful time travelogue of the more realistically lensed sights and sounds of London in the Seventies. It’s retro-tastic.

Frightmare is also interesting historically because it was a UK horror film from the Seventies not released through Hammer. By 1974 Hammer was in decline. It was churning out cheap and cheerful movie versions of successful Britcom TV shows of the day while desperately trying to find success with retreads of past glories (Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell) and hopeful crossover attempts like the patchy martial arts horror movie The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires which is only good when Peter Cushing graces the screen with his presence. Hammer simply had nothing much to offer after the cinematic on-two sucker punch of The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Frightmare was released one short month after TCM was released on the other side of the globe so cannot be viewed as a quick attempt to cash-in. Cannibals aside further comparisons with TCM would be unwise as this was not the UK’s answer to TCM, rather it was a take on similar themes released at a similar time. This is not the nerve straining rollercoaster ride that TCM delivered. Frightmare is deviant, gritty, and decidedly British.

Is Frightmare gory? Hmmmm. A better question may be is Frightmare gory enough to work? In the same way that TCM suggested far more than it showed, and was really successful with it, Frightmare suggests a lot and also shows what it needs to.

So Frightmare is not for everyone but for those who dare Frightmare has the wondrously warped Sheila Keith as Dorothy Yates plus a fantastic performance from Rupert Davies as Edmund Yates. Both Deborah Fairfax (Jackie) and Kim Butcher (Debbie) are incredibly easy on the eye, especially wandering around in their undergarments in the privacy of their London flat … as you do. The script fairly zips along and the violence is lean and mean when its on the screen.

I unapologetically give Frightmare top marks because, for me, it’s everything I want from an indie British horror film made in the mid Seventies. I’ve watched it a bunch of times and it’s always a pleasure. In fact, after all this typing about it, I think I’ll watch it again.

10 out of 10

Hero: Sheila Keith (of course).

Two word review: Frightfully good.

We Are Still Here (2015)

we Are Still Here

Believe the hype.

We Are Still Here is a great story well told. It is a movie best approached knowing as little as possible beforehand. It is also the kind of movie we horror fans hope to see every time we sit down to watch something new. That is no easy feat in this day and age where every genre and sub genre of horror movies has more and more requirements, tropes, and unspoken rules with every passing year.

We Are Still Here is a ghost story so right of the bat there is a list of must-haves that the audience is expecting. Things like spooky atmosphere, jump scares, twists and turns, “look out, he’s behind you”, noises in the house, a cellar or attic where you really don’t want to go, dark secrets, mystery, and ghosts. Without wishing to spoil all the fun and games of We Are Still Here suffice to say that it delivered on all my expectations and also added excellent acting by all concerned, great FX, insane gore-gore-gore, and behind the camera there is solid direction, editing and cinematography.

It is 1979 and Anne and Paul Sacchetti (perfectly played by Scream Queen Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig) are a couple of months down the road from losing their adult son in a car crash. Hoping a change of pace might help heal the wounds they move into a “nice old house in the country” known to the locals as “the Dagmar house”. As a welcoming neighbor explains the house is so-called because back in ye olde dim and distant past some the Dagmars were run out of town after some scandalous “troubles” occurred. You get the picture. Anyhoo the Dagmar house has been vacant for thirty years, they got it for a steal, so what could possibly go wrong?

I loved We Are Still Here so much I watched it twice in two days. The first time I was just pulled along on the rollercoaster. The second time I got to sit back and enjoy how well written, directed, filmed, and paced this movie is. It is a joy to behold. Kudos to director Ted Geoghegan, cinematographer Karim Hussain, and editors Aaron Crozier and Josh Ethier.

I am loathed to single out any one actor as they are all pitch perfect for me so here goes some kudos all round. Barbara Crampton is awesome. As a horror community we need to appreciate what a stellar actress this Scream Queen is. Andrew Sensenig plays the doubting everyman perfectly and I look forward to more from him. Lisa Marie, Michael Patrick, and Kelsea Dakota did not act like they were from the Seventies, it was as if they were teleported through time to appear in the movie. They rocked. Monte Markham, Susan Gibney, and Connie Neer were sublime as the archetypal “locals” who you don’t know if you can trust or not. Finally it was so much fun to see Larry Fessenden give in to his inner Jack Nicholson and let it all hang out. Top, top cast.

We Are Still Here delivers.

8.5 out of 10

Heroes: Everyone involved. High fives all round.

Two word review: Scary good.

The Brood (1979)

The Brood

Oh no, a classic! The word classic does get thrown about quite a lot in horror circles. Everything it seems can be a classic. “Lake Eerie, the classic tale of some good actors caught in a crap movie” etc.

However, when it comes to this wonderful Canadian production I believe classic is appropriate for a few different reasons. It tells a classic story with classic characters portrayed by some class actors. It also has a classic old skool vibe or sensibility about it.

Regarding the story, as this is a spoiler-free zone I will spill very few of the narrative beans. Everyman Frank is the husband of somewhat troubled Nola and father of cute lil’ daughter Cindy. Nola is undergoing an intense form of therapy called “psychoplasmics” under the watchful eye of psychotherapist Hal Raglan. Due to the demands of the therapy little Cindy only sees her mother on weekends at the remote Somafree Institute. After one such visit Frank notices some bruises on Cindy’s body and while he starts to investigate their origin people around him start to die.

There’s all the plot you need to get going, especially when the actors involved are Art “calming influence” Hindle as Mr. Normal, Samantha “up for it” Eggar as Mrs. Troubled, and Oliver “force of nature” Reed as Dr. Hal Raglan. All three play the roles straight down the line up to the hilt of intensity that the roles require. Some of the scenes are freaking creepy. For those who are not aware of Mr. Reed and his place in the celebrity-verse he is mentioned in the same breath as Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole and any other old skool rebel-rousing, hard drinking actors you care to name. He was best mates with The Who drummer Keith Moon and his antics, both alone and with Moonie, are the stuff of drunken legend. He was, in short, a diamond geezer legend hero amongst men lunatic.

The vibe of The Brood cannot be overstated. Despite what one may think in this fatuous day and age where everything at the movies is breathlessly exciting and new, before Star Wars came along cinema in the Seventies dared to get down and dark. Coming in at the tail end of that great decade, there is something dark, dirty, and dangerous about The Brood. There are kids in peril, brutal death, and unspoken family secrets. The waters this movie navigates get deep and murky but, unlike films of today, The director doesn’t tell you what’s going on. He leaves room for personal input and interpretation.

This is where The Brood gets people divisive. Despite the intense emotional impact of what you see and the logical progression of the superb and tightly written story, it is all shown in such a detached way that it allows you to decide the “why” of everything. It’s as if Cronenberg just said, “Here’s what I saw, you figure it out.” As a consequence theories abound as to various meanings behind The Brood. I can’t be arsed with any of them. I don’t need a post-viewing theory to tell me I just saw a disturbing, shocking, work of well-told fiction.

Cronenberg followed The Brood with his Eighties offerings of Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), The Dead Zone (1983), The Fly (1986), and Dead Ringers (1988). While the horror community can argue all day long about which was Cronenberg’s “best” horror movie it is hard to find a leaner, meaner offering than The Brood.

Cronenberg had a lot going on in his personal life at the time of making The Brood, fighting for the custody of his daughter, and there is no doubt that perhaps much of his internal anger, fear, and anguish made its way into the script. Ultimately though all the theories about what it all means are irrelevant. Ultimately this is a work of fiction in the horror genre so, I ask my one simple question, does it deliver? Yes, completely. As a husband and a father I feel that the reality The Brood drops the audience into is bloody … terrifying.

10 out of 10

Heroes: Samantha Eggar. Oliver Reed.

Two word review: Bloody brilliant.

Dracula (1979)

Dracula 1979

The good, the bad and the giggly.

There are so many great talents involved here one needs to delve a bit to understand why horror history has somewhat overlooked it. We have Frank Langella as Count Dracula IMHO effortlessly eclipsing the sensuality of Christopher Lee (but I’m not a woman so don’t take my word for it). We have Sir Laurence Olivier as Professor Abraham van Helsing, an actor justifiably called “The greatest actor of his generation”. He is ably assisted by Donald “Usually Perfect” Pleasence, and Trevor “Brit Cult TV hero” Eve. Also stellar are Kate Nelligan, Tony Haygarth, and Jan Francis (more on her later). For Whovians we even have Sylvester “7th Doctor” McCoy playing a doctor’s assistant. Clearly we have solid actors.

Most of the sets look exquisite and the locations are just as Bram Stoker would have wished them. The film is set twenty years after Stoker’s original story, around about 1913, so we have the cool pre-cyberpunk inclusion of cars and technology. It works well. What about the music? John Williams. So far so good.

Behind the camera we have some serious titans of horror and film in general. Roy Arbogast provides the special effects (he of Jaws and a ton of John Carpenter movies). Albert Whitlock does some truly gorgeous matte-paintings (John Carpenter’s The Thing). The film also looks beautiful most of the time, no doubt because of the cinematographer Gilbert Taylor (The Omen). John Bloom, Academy Award winner for Gandhi, does the editing. Hmmmm. What could possibly have gone wrong with John Badham’s Dracula? Perhaps John Badham? AHA! I think he was the problem.

Despite his little string of post-Dracula hits (WarGames, Short Circuit, and Stakeout) all he had done on the big screen before Dracula that made any noise was Saturday Night Fever. It would take brass balls to suggest the director made Saturday Night Fever a hit. John Travolta and the Bee Gees might have something to say about that.

It is also clear that Badham never touched horror again. As enthusiastic as he was to succeed with Dracula it generally takes a love and an understanding of the genre to work well in it. It also takes a delicate hand to craft scenes of dread, tension, and horror, especially with a classic such as this. I think Badham got the gig off the back of his disco super hit and, high on the Seventies, he thought he was up to the task. He wasn’t.

Badham’s directing in Dracula show his lack of understanding of what makes good horror work and this is also where the aforementioned ‘bad and giggly’ stuff comes in. Some of his choices as a director range from baffling to just plain, bloody awful. For most of the movie we have Frank Langella oozing sex appeal all over the place. Then, when Dracula and Lucy are about to finally get down to it Badham has Langella enter through open patio doors surrounded by appallingly staged dry ice like he’s entering a disco. I half expected to hear the Bee Gees More Than A Woman start to kick in. This was where I forced myself to stop laughing reasoning that I should give the movie some slack, I mean look at all the talent we have here. So I stopped laughing …

Until the actual big deal love scene a few seconds later. Having almost erased Saturday Night Fever from my mind the director suddenly throws them both into some bizarre horizontal, laser beam disco-esque scene where, unless I’m much mistaken, the two are filmed standing up next to each other in a wind tunnel and then the film is flipped on its side so they appear lying beside each other in the air (ooh, aaah) … and then … and then … he superimposes a bat flapping about. No, really … It makes the scene about as sensuous as chewing rivets.

Then there’s the day for night chase scene. There is a chase scene towards the end where I swear Dracula is running in daylight and his pursuers are running in total darkness, illuminated only by headlights of cars. When I realized where I’d seen this before, it all came crashing down for me. The last time I had seen such bloody awful day for night shots was Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Another crack started to appear when I listened to Van Hesling’s whiny voice. It reminded me of other characters from other movies. But who and where? A quick review of Olivier’s roles at the time revealed all. He had the same whiny voice the year before in The Boys from Brazil when he played Ezra Lieberman. The year after Dracula he had the same whiny voice in The Jazz Singer playing Cantor Rabinovitch. Clearly it was a case of ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’

At one point Sir Larry lets loose with a mammoth scenery chewing wail of woe (or boredom) that was probably heard in outer space but he wasn’t the only one to stumble in this production. Eventually all of the actors succumb to overplaying their hands with much wailing and gnashing of teeth. This was no doubt at the behest of the director looking to get more emotion into his clunky scenes.

However, please note, I cannot talk about acting without offering a massive air-hug to the person who stole the whole movie for me, and actually made it all worthwhile for the brief few moments she was onscreen, namely the beautiful Jan Francis as Mina van Helsing. She was just divine as the innocent, lovely Mina and also drop dead terrifying as a vampire. I could have watched her for two hours walking about house, waiting for kettle to boil, or simply folding laundry. Mina underground is the hands-down best scene of the movie … until Ezra Lieberman or Cantor Rabinovitch or Professor Abraham van Helsing or whatever his name is starts wailing.

One final clue that points to Badham being a bad ‘un (sorry) is that despite the excellent editing abilities of Academy Award winner John Bloom many of the key scenes seem rushed, devoid of tension, or just plain pedestrian, suggesting that there just wasn’t enough relevant footage filmed to do anything with. Perhaps the director thought that like Saturday Night Fever, just showing the action is enough, when in fact how and what you show in horror is key. A good case in point is the climax that is filmed with the rushed air of ‘can we just get on with it so we can all go home, please’.

So Dracula starts really well, has a ton of talent involved on both sides of the lens, but is just being helmed by the wrong person. Was it all crap? By no means. Is it worth watching? Yes, sure, if you’re a vampire fan, a fan of any of those involved, or intrigued to see an almost great patchy effort that just runs out of steam and gets a bit silly. Set your PCT to HIGH.

10 out of 10 (for Mina)
4 out of 10 (when Jan Francis is absent)
Heroes: Jan Francis. Donald Pleasance.
Two word review: Missed Stake.

Dead and Buried (1981)

Dead and Buried

Somewhere on the long list of “Great shames of the world” is the fact that Dead and Buried was not a bigger hit. I’m not upset for any financial reasons, no-one went bankrupt making the movie, and I’m sure the film makers are doing fine thank you very much, but it really deserved to be seen by more people. It was, and is, a great little movie.

Taken for what it is, a spooky little horror movie with solid shocks and scares, Dead and Buried does what is says on the label. The movie had class both on screen and behind the camera. It was written by Ronald Shusett (writer of Alien, Total Recall, Minority Report among others) and directed by Gary Sherman, who gave the horror world the gruesome Seventies (somewhat cult classic) Dead Line.

Among the acting talent involved we had Jack Albertson (Grandpa Joe from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) who himself was dead and buried within a year of Dead and Buried being released. We also had the wonderful Lisa Blount forever fondly remembered by horror fans as Catherine Danfourth in John Carpenter’s woefully under loved Prince of Darkness. Lisa is hardly in the movie but leaves a lasting impression as a nurse in a very eye catching scene. She also goes topless on the beach early on in the movie if the nurse costume isn’t enough. Oh, and finally, there’s some guy called Robert Englund as a not-so-friendly, friendly local. I wonder what happened to him?

Plot-wise, Sheriff Dan Gillis, ably portrayed by James Farentino, finds himself trying to solve the riddle of a number of gruesome, and I mean “Woah, that’s gotta hurt” gruesome, murders of tourists in the typically sleepy, typically small, typically coastal town of Potter’s Bluff. The movie’s tension comes from the fact that we know who the killer is, or rather whom the killers are, from the very first scene; it seems to be everyone else in the town. We sit biting our nails as the Sheriff gets closer and closer to the truth.

As if that wasn’t spooky enough, just as the investigation gets going the sheriff accidently hits someone involved in one of the attacks and finds a severed arm twitching on the grill of his squad car. The owner of the arm attacks the Sheriff and takes off into the night clutching their detached limb. The result of lab tests on the remaining skin tissue on the car shows that the limb was from a person who’d been dead many months. Hmmm, the plot thickens. To go any deeper would spoil the surprises that the film has in store for the viewer.

It’s a sign of the crazy times back in the Eighties that Dead and Buried was banned as a video nasty by the British Board of Film Censors. If the BBFC had actually watched the movie they would have seen that this was a polished little pot-boiler with a bigger than average budget for the genre. Although it does have very gruesome shocks and expertly crafted special effects, the movie was clearly written by successful movie writers and released through a major studio. It was hardly a $100 snuff movie made in a garage. Maybe they just couldn’t get past the shocks and gore. I can understand that, they are pretty darn good prosthetic effects by some guy called Stan Winston. I wonder what happened to him?

All in all, for horror fans in general Dead and Buried is a keeper and deserves its place as part of the cream of Eighties horror goodness. Dead and Buried delivers.

7.5 out of 10

Hero: The Lovely Lisa. RIP.

Two word review: Dead Good.

Lake Eerie (2016)

Lake Eerie

So Lake Eerie looks good. The poster has a couple of festival winning laurels proudly displayed; one for “Best Actor” for Lance Henriksen (despite the fact that he is clearly a five minutes of screen time Supporting Actor), the other laurel there perhaps to balance out the one for Lance. We also have Betsy Baker, AKA Linda from the truly classic 1981 gorefest The Evil Dead. The poster prominently displays a house that begs you to think of The Amityville Horror while a quote from one of those “review anything, review everything” movie website suggests that this film is “chilling”. Most tantalizing of all is the fact that the score is by Harry “Friday the 13th” Manfredini.

So, we have Lance Henriksen, Betsy Baker, and Harry Manfredini. Good to go? No. If this movie had only Lance and Betsy in a big scary house while Harry got jiggy on the keyboards, we’d be off and running. Sadly the film-makers went with Option B, or Z, and the result is Lake Eerie.

This movie is yer typical bait and switch that drives me potty. Anyone who thinks this feature is anything more than a fitfully bloody awful gamble for cash is either high, a friend of the film makers, or broken. Lance and Betsy know how to act and you can tell this because every time they are on-screen the production rises to the level of watchable. Without them, it becomes just laughably amateur. It runs 104 minutes, that’s only 94 minutes longer than it needs to be.

The lead Meredith Majors does look like an actress but appearances can be deceiving. So how is she the lead? Well, it could have something to do with her being married to the director, waddaya think?

While watching Lake Eerie I kept thinking ‘What the…’ and ‘Why…’ so many times I lost count. By the time the ‘creatures’ (borrowed from an elementary school production of Where the Wilds Things Are) appeared, pushing out their lower jaws and going, “Raaaaah” at the camera, I had already been deep in FastForwardLand for an hour. Having said that I was respectful enough to slow down and watch any scenes Lance and Betsy appeared in. It was harder with Harry because you can’t see when the music is playing, although judging from the first 30 minutes the music is used in place of tension, atmosphere, or suspense. Someone opening a door in daylight, Harry on the keyboards. Coffee in the kitchen, Harry on the keyboards. One of the movers scratching his arse, Harry on the keyboards. Another problem with having someone as stellar as Harry on the keyboards is that every time his music came in, it was the best part of the scene. You’re in trouble when a slow pan across an empty yard feels spoiled when the actors appear.

I don’t like to do simply negative reviews and indeed there are good things here; namely Lance, Betsy, and Harry. Any production that gives these heroes some cash and screen time is alright by me. Also, let’s not forget that this movie makes Chris and Meredith Majors happy too. I’m sure they’ll make back enough money to keep on truckin’ and they got to make a horror film with Lance, Betsy, and Harry. So that’s nice.

In closing, it seems to me that if you approach Lake Eerie knowing that it is just a pile of pish with a handful of diamonds thrown in it’s actually fun to watch, albeit with one finger in FastForwardLand.

8 out of 10 (when Lance and Betsy have screen time)
2 out of 10 (all other time, and this 2 only for Harry’s music and unintentional comedy relief)

Heroes: Lance, Betsy, and Harry.

Two word review: Lake Dreary.

The Hive (2015)

The Hive

The action starts immediately with The Hive.

A young man opens his eyes to find himself in a messed up room, looking entirely messed up himself. This is not a relatively normal ‘Wow, how many drinks did we get through last night’ messed up. This is scarred, bloodied, covered in black tar, crazy upstanding dark veins across his skin, glow in the dark, messed up. To add to his woes the young man appears to have no memory of the who, what, were of his situation, including the basics of who he is.  This is an immediate problem because the one clue to his predicament appears to be the word ‘Remember’ scrawled on the wall in chalk. And so it begins as the messed up young man, armed initially only with a piece of chalk and a blank wall to scribble on, begins to recall how he got there…

The plot device of showing stories backwards can be a tricky knot to untie correctly but first time feature David Yarovesky does a great job of revealing just enough of the past before shooting the audience into the present to allow time for the hero, we find out early in his name is Adam, to write of the wall and start working it all out. Clearly with so much screen time being taken up by the lead the actor needs to be good and thankfully Adam is played by Gabriel Basso (one of the kids from Super 8) who it perfect. He is clever, stupid, bullish, and dorky in the right amounts just when he needs to be.  The female lead, and Adam’s love interest, is Katie, is played by Kathryn Prescott. I hadn’t seen her in anything before but I plan to keep an eye out for her in the future. She was just so damn cute as Katie. I loved them both, as actors and as a screen couple.

So that’s two great leads, what else do we get?  Honestly, we get an all round great ensemble cast. Gabrielle Walsh and Jacob Zachar are excellent and it was cool to see Stephen Blackehart, Kraglin from Guardians of the Galaxy as Dr. Baker.  The biggest supporting actor surprise knocked me out of my chair with joy,  Elya Baskin as Dr. Yuri Yergorov.  I have loved Elya ever since he stole the show as the Russian Cosmonaut who befriends John Lithgow’s character in 2010, Peter Hyams underrated sequal to 2001: a Space Oddysey.

So what’s not to like? It seems like a lot of hits here. Are there any misses? Meh, I could be picky about this, that, or the other but overall I’d feel I was being pissy to do so.  This is a well made movie with an accomplished crew and believable cast.  The effects show when they need to and suggest at other times, just as you want in a quality production. I’d like to think that with the make-up of the ‘affected’ the film makers were giving a nod to the afflicted souls as portrayed in Lamberto Bava’s classic Demoni (AKA Demons) from 1985. I think it was the shiny glassy eyes, pronounced veins, and wide, wacky smiles.

The name check to Demoni is a good place to sum up because lovers of the former will appreciate The Hive.  Like Demoni, The Hive is light on actual out of your seat jump scares, but has lots of guts, goo, shocks, and thrills. It’s also nice and twisty-turny too. As I always like to try and rate a movie based on how well I think it scored bearing in mind who the intended audience was and what the film makers were aiming for, I’m happy giving this lubbly movie close to full marks. The Hive delivers exactly what it promises.

8.5 out of 10.

Heroes: Everyone involved. High fives all round.

Two word review: More please!

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