Category: Slasher Films

Twitch of the Death Nerve

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Video Nasty #5 of 72

Year of Release: 1971
Directed by: Mario Bava
Run Time: 84 minutes
Alternate Titles:  Originally titled Reazione a catena (Chain Reaction), also released as A Bay of Blood, Blood Bath, Bloodbath Bay of Death, The Antecedent, Ecology of a Crime, Last House on the Left Part II, and New House on the Left. Since this might be the most re-titled film in history, I’ve probably missed quite a few.
UK Censorship Status: Released with 43 secs cut in 1994. Re-released uncut in 2010.

Although he’s a pretty well known figure among hardcore horror movie nerds, Mario Bava isn’t quite as well known with anybody else.  In fact, when I was trying to find a decent download of this movie, I mentioned his name to my wife and she just kind of shrugged her shoulders.  So if you haven’t seen Black Sabbath, or Kill, Baby, Kill or even Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (good lord) then all you really need to know is that Bava was a very stylish director that worked in a variety of “low” genres. Everything from science fiction to sword and sandal flicks.  There was a lot of junky Italian movies that came out in the 70’s and 80’s, it was kind of the heyday for that kind of thing there, but you can always pick Bava’s work out because it’s well, decent. I mean, not usually great story-wise but visually it’s usually pretty boss. Lots of stylized camera work and neat use of color and lighting. The other really interesting thing about Bava is that even though he’s not quite as good as the great Dario Argento, his work might just be more influential.  This film, for instance, pretty much kick started the whole freaking slasher genre!  That’s a pretty tall order for something that was pretty much totally critically dismissed on its original release. But then the critics never seemed to like this type of movie anyways….

Bava’s style is clearly evident in the opening scenes where we get long lingering moody shots of the bay where the entire film is set.  There’s an air of melancholy and loneliness that’s very well established even before we get to the sad old lady in the wheelchair, sadly staring out through the rain soaked window.  It’s kind of beautiful, in a depressing way….and then someone puts a noose around the old lady’s neck and hangs her from the ceiling. Then the man that did that gets brutally stabbed by somebody and left bleeding on the floor.  This opening, with it’s one two punch of brutality that’s also a sick joke, pretty much let’s you know two things: this is going to be quite a bit different from Bava’s other work and he ain’t going to hold anything back so you’d better buckle your seat belts.
Getting into the plot of the movie proper is a bit tricky because it’s an incredibly muddled story. Even reading a synopsis of it after I just watched the movie doesn’t really help much.  The basics of it go as follows, as best as I can sort out: The old bitch that died in the opening owned the bay (of blood?) and was strangled by her husband, who was in turn slaughtered by someone else. A real estate agent and his mistress plot to take the bay from the husband, who they have no idea is dead.
Also involved in this is the old woman’s daughter and her husband, who travel to the bay and are essentially after the same thing. They also have no idea the old man has kicked the bucket.  They met up with a kooky fortune teller and her unpleasant bug collecting husband where from they learn that the old lady had an illegitimate son named Simon that makes a living as a fisherman of sorts.  The couple plans to murder Simon to make sure that the land will be theirs.
Got all that? To make matters even more clear and well structured, there’s a bunch of random teenagers that wander into the movie and a couple of kids that the real estate agent left behind to go gallivanting off in search of ill gotten money.
Now have you got all that? I sure hope so, because I’m still a bit lost….

It’s really the confusing story and the fact that so many characters just kind of wander in and out of the narrative that keeps this movie from really achieving classic status.  That’s kind of sad because otherwise this thing is fucking great.  If you’re looking for brutal onscreen murder, this is one you need to watch.  I’ve seen a lot of nasty movies in my time and even I was shocked by not just the sheer amount of fatalities, but the sheer visceral nature of a lot of them as well. On top of that, most of them are just really creative and cool!  The gore films that came before this one on this list, like Blood Feast and The Ghastly Ones, had grue that was cheap and incredibly fake looking.  This might have been one of the first films to try and make its gore as realistic as possible, which it admirably succeeds at, even by today’s standards! Check out that head chop late in the film or the infamous hatchet to the face! No wonder this thing was so influential!  There’s even a couple of scenes that the Friday the 13th films outright stole, including a  buxom woman skinny dipping and a rather awesome spear thrust through a couple of copulating teenagers.  I guess they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Gore aside, what really sets this film apart is that it’s both a more stylish film than it’s many rip-offs and a smarter one as well.  A lot of critics have dismissed the film as unintelligent but if you’re paying attention, there’s a lot of very clever and subtle things you can catch.  Like a bug pinned to a board that’s strikingly similar to a character’s death later on or a bell tolling before another one bites it (Get it? For whom the bell tolls?)  It’s just so damn cool, even when you’re scratching your head over the impenetrable story.
Death Nerve (or one of its many many other titles) is also a film that actually has an underlying message that gets spelled out in what might seem like a bit of throwaway dialogue early on.  That message is that humans are essentially animals that will do anything to survive and/or get what they want. They’ll think no more of ending another person’s life for their own gains than shoving a bug in a jar of ether.  It sets a remarkably cynical and morbid tone, but in the end it all finishes up with a sick, and quite funny, joke that all of a sudden makes you look at what came before in a different light. Were we supposed to be finding all of this violence and unpleasantness amusing? The director and writers obviously did!  How remarkable…

Death Nerve ends up being a film that has a lot of flaws but it somehow ends up being better than the sum of its parts. Isn’t it weird when that happens?

Watch the trailer here (And get a sample of that groovy score!)

Random Things

  • Oh man, that jazzy score! Italian horror pretty much set the standard for horror movie music for decades to come and it’s in full force here.
  • I liked this one a lot but sometimes it feels like you’re watching a template for future movies rather than an actual movie itself.  Which is kind of an odd feeling…
  • Horror movie legend Sir Christopher Lee, a Bava fan at the time, reportedly walked out of a screening of this film in disgust.  I wonder what he thinks of it now?
  • This film would make a great double feature with 1960’s Peeping Tom, another film that’s hugely influential to the slasher genre, but also a much more coherent experience.
  • I don’t think I’ve seen a film before where every single fucking character is a scumbag out for their own ends and they all get what they deserve! Bava deserves some kind of award for that, for sure.

Next Time: The rather notorious Last House on the Left

Terrified (1963)

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Gorehouse Greats Collection #3

So this is a Lew Landers film. In fact, it was his last film before he died of a heart attack in 1962. I’m not sure what the 1963 date on this means, if he died before he could finish it or what but there you go. For those not in the know, and I’d assume it would be most of you, Landers (real name Louis Friedlander) started out acting in film pioneer D.W. Griffith’s films in 1914 and started actually making films in the 1930’s.  By the time he passed away he had over 170 film and TV productions under his belt, most of them made quickly and cheaply. Despite the chintzy nature of most of his productions, there’s some real gems in his filmography, most notably The Raven (1935) starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff and Hot Rod Gang (1958) which features an appearance by rockabilly star Gene Vincent.
So for those of you that are interested in obscure b-movie lore (lord knows I can never get enough) Terrified at least has that going for it.  I’m kind of on the fence on if it has anything else…

We open with a great scene of a guy getting buried alive in cement in the middle of a spooky graveyard. The is actually pretty intense and kind of graphic for the time. The one who is doing the burying is a man wearing a suit and a black sock over his face. He proceeds to laugh and torment the poor guy until he appears to die of shock!
After a very cheap opening credits sequence we get to spend time with a befuddled old couple that are traveling…somewhere in the middle of the night and almost get run off the road by a lunatic going the wrong way. After that shock (although they don’t seem all that rattled)  they stop off at a roadside diner to scam free drinks off of the manager with their sob story. This is where we meet the actual stars of our picture. Other than a pointless scene later on where they report the incident to the police, we never see the old couple again.  Our first main character is Ken, the brother of the dude that we saw getting offed (maybe) in the opening.  Ken is played with a seemingly misplaced conviction by Rod Lauren. Lauren is an interesting bit of b-movie lore himself. He’s probably most famous for starring in the notably crappy The Crawling Hand (1963) which also featured Alan Hale Jr. of Gilligan’s Island fame.  He was also a one hit wonder in 1960 with If I Had a Girl that he actually got to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. In 2001 he was charged with the murder of his Filipino wife and fled back to The States to successfully avoid conviction. He committed suicide in 2007 by jumping from a second story balcony.  He seems to be taking this whole cheap little film way too seriously but it makes for interesting viewing.
Our two other heroes are Marge and David, played by Tracy Olson and Steve Drexel, both stalwart b-movie regulars. Marge is dating both Ken and David but this doesn’t really matter. It’s there to make us care about the characters but…yeah. No. It mostly leads to a lot of pointless dialogue. Urg.
In what’s probably the thinnest excuse for a plot jump-start that I’ve ever seen, all three of them decide to head out to where Ken’s brother was murdered to ask “Crazy Bill” if he knows anything about what happened.  “Crazy Bill” is the local town bum that lives in the middle of nowhere in a decaying ghost town. He seems to be a bit of a celebrity as well, just about everyone in the film knows who he is. I can kind of understand this. Where I grew up there was this dude that was a bit soft in the head that used to hitchhike around town all day and he got to be pretty infamous (One time he got mad at a local restaurant for something and attempted to pay for his coffee with a bill that he had wiped his ass with).  I’m guessing “Crazy Bill” is something like that. It doesn’t matter anyways because when they head out to the old western set…I mean ghost town, the find him impaled on a bunch of spikes! Pretty gory for the time, I’d say.
Now they know something is up but instead of running away, they decide to poke around the dust and cobwebs. Marge and David take off for a bit but they leave poor Ken behind. Not their fault, he wanted to stay. It has something to do with a paper he’s doing on fear for a college project or something. I don’t know. Whatever.  This leads to a loooong sequence where the killer plays mind games with him, knocking him senseless, torturing him by putting him in near death situations, and letting him think he’s getting the drop on him when the killer is in control the whole time. Hey, this feels like a proto-slasher film! Yes, I think it is. It’s a long way off from Jason hacking up campers in the woods but the way the killer just pops up randomly all the place feels really familiar.
And that’s pretty much the entire rest of the movie. You can probably figure out who the killer is right when he first appears onscreen but that’s pretty much a given. It was old man Jenkins! He wanted the land for real estate development! Yoinks, Scoob!

I really wish this movie was better. The sets are all pretty cool looking, most of the acting is better than you’d expect, and the direction is solid (Landers was a decent enough director). There’s even some rather creepy scenes that are aided rather than hindered by the film’s obviously low-budget. But the whole thing is dragged down by scenes that go on for way to long with nothing happening, a lot of long pointless shitty dialogue scenes, and some massive plot holes (If the killer murders people with fear, why did he impale “Crazy Bill” on a bunch of spikes? Is Marge’s brother dead or in an insane asylum? Where are all the teenagers having beer parties in this cool ghost town?)
From what I’ve read online, there’s a lot of people who really dig this movie. Most of them seem to have been scared senseless by it when they were kids, which kind of explains a lot. *cough* nostalgia goggles *cough*
Me? I think that if it was either a lot better or a lot worse, it would be a cult classic instead of the trivial bit of time-wasting drive-in filler that is. That’s a damn shame. I want to like you, movie! Why won’t you let me like you?!!!

Rating: D-

Random Things

  • I really do like the sets for this movie. The empty old town by itself is quite spooky and it looks properly decayed. Too bad they couldn’t have made a better film using it.
  • There’s a scene where David is running along one of those old timey wooden sidewalks they always had in old westerns, his foot goes through a board, and he lands flat on his face. Judging by Nancy Olsen’s reaction, I don’t think this was scripted.
  • The guy I was talking about that used to hitchhike around my hometown got a moped one time but got it taken away by the state because he drove it on the sidewalk and almost ran a few people over.  He also got bored another time and started hucking rocks at the sides of passing semi trucks. Somebody should make a movie about that guy.
  • If you want to see a film that really prefigures the type of horror movies that would get made in the 1970’s, check out The Sadist (1963) starring Arch Hall Jr and Marilyn Manning (who were both also in Eegah in 1962, which is a hilariously terrible film that you should also check out).

The Landlady (1998)

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The mid 90’s to the early 2000’s were this weird time when low-budget film producers decided it would be a really good idea to make a bunch of movies where innocuous professions were being filled by psycho murderers. I’m totally serious, this was a legit genre. We got movies about cracked in the head paperboys,  knife wielding mailmen, and even androgynous creepos that wanted to kill the world with boredom (and Ween).  It was a great time for horror fans….no, actually it wasn’t. Most of these films are terrible. (Although It’s Pat has Ween. Everybody loves Ween, right?)
Into this pile of muck and over simplified plot structures was thrown The Landlady, a movie about the problems of starving orphans in Siberia and how their unwavering loyalty to the fallen Communist regime effects their futures. Nah, I just made that up. Or did I? I could end the review here and you’d have no idea if I was bullshitting or not, forcing you to track down this 5 cent piece of bargain bin trash to find out!
Eh, whatever. It’s about a killer landlady. Are you happy? I hope you are…

Talia Shire is a good actress. You might have either seen her in a little something called The Godfather movies or a little something called the Rocky movies, which are two of the highest grossing movie franchises in history. She was also nominated for Academy awards for both. Talia Shire is a good actress, what the Hell is she doing starring in a movie about a killer landlady? I…have no idea, really. Maybe she spent all her earnings on coke? Like most high-profile actors starring in total tripe she at least seems to know that the movie she’s in is a load of dump and plays it as over the top as she can, making her the only really interesting thing onscreen.  That’s a good thing because everything else pretty much goes exactly how you think it will.

Shire stars as a frumpy Christian woman married to total sleazeball who she quickly dispatches by feeding him crab meat. No, really, that’s the first kill of the movie. Dude was allergic.  She then moves into her recently deceased aunt’s apartment building and takes over her management duties.  She also immediately falls in love with bland hunk Patrick Foreman (Jack Coleman from Days of Our Lives and Dynasty).  Yeah, you know exactly where this is going to go. She’s going to become obsessed with him and people are going to die. First up on the plate is her aunt’s nosey former assistant who gets a freezer door to the face, which is a totally weaksauce way to die if you ask me.  Most of the kills in this thing are Lame with a capital “L.”  The violence is kept to a discouraging minimum and the blood is almost non-existent.  I also get the strange feeling based on some of the really stupid dialogue in this thing that it was supposed to be satirical but that might just be Shire’s over acting because everything else is played disappointingly straight.
When the movie isn’t being stupid or boring, it’s being, well…awkward. There’s quite a few scenes that suck every little bit of fun right out of everything (not that it was really all that much fun in the first place). It’s not really enjoyable to watch a former junkie forced to kill herself with pills, it’s just very very depressing.  It’s not fun to watch a middle-aged Shire tie up her obsessive love interest and then possibly rape him off-screen, it’s just awkward and hard to watch. Throw in a bunch of not very erotic sex scenes featuring people who were probably porn stars in real life, and you’ve got a big ball of “can I just scrub my eyeballs clean now?”

About 5 minutes in I really thought I had this thing pegged as either a made for TV movie with added nudity or a straight to  Blockbuster space filler but according to IMBD, it’s neither. This totally got a legitimate theatrical release.  How is that possible? It couldn’t have been based on Talia Shire’s name value alone.  Maybe Francis Ford Coppola had something to do with it, damn him!

To put it bluntly, The Landlady is a failure. It’s predictable, it’s not very fun, and it’s production values are about on the level of something from The Lifetime Channel.  It does, however, have one of the funniest closing lines I’ve ever heard. After Shire has finallly been offed and bland movie hunk #2873 has saved the day, our former junkie mom that was trying to get her kids back for the whole movie, another bit of uncomfortable seriousness, goes “Who the fuck was that?” And they both walk out and the credits roll. Genius. Pure unfiltered genius.

Rating: D-

Random Things

  • I’m not sure two-way mirrors are foolproof like that. Wouldn’t he hear her drooling over him on the other side?
  • Oh god, please keep your clothes on! Phew! We were spared the sight of Adrian’s breasts.
  • There’s a large plot point in this movie that involves what looks like your grandmother’s wicker chair. I know you’re excited to watch this now.
  • One thing I did take away from this bottom of the bin pile is that if you’re going to make a movie where characters in an apartment get offed, make sure they’re interesting. A nosey old lady and a hooker don’t really count. Jesus, even the morons that made Troll could come up with a bunch of wacky tenants, how hard can it be?

Sorry for my remarks about Ween earlier, they’re kind of awesome. To wit:

You’re Next (2011)

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Hey, let’s get a few token views by doing a new movie release! That’ll bring my stats up! Actually I’m doing this because it’s my blog and I’ll review whatever I want so, nah!

First of all, I honestly think the trailers for this are a bit misleading. I mean look at this thing:

You’d think you’re in for some seriously scary shit, right? Well, you’d be wrong. I didn’t really find You’re Next scary or disturbing at all. In fact, I found it quite funny.  And I got an inclining that this was the film’s intention since it’s almost a throw back to the cheesy slasher films of the 1980’s, right down to the loud synth chords randomly thrown in at certain places and how over the top the gore is.
Remember when gore was fun? When Saw was just a stunted sperm cell in James Wan’s ballsack? Pepperidge Farm remembers.

So we’ve got these characters, but who they are isn’t really that important. Basically they’re a spoiled rich family that are having a get together at mommy and daddy’s mansion. All you really need to know is their all either boring or irritating and most of them will be dead by the end of the movie thanks to a band of psychos in creepy animal masks.  There’s a few twists, of course, but not much more too it than that.  It’s not really going to spoil anything either by pointing out that it all ends in pretty kick ass but otherwise typical “final girl” fashion.

Your enjoyment of Adam Wingard’s festival darling (it got accolades at several festivals in 2011, but hasn’t gotten a wide release until now, for some reason) is going to depend on how you come into it. I get the feeling that horror fans are going to love it and that snobby pretentious critics are going to hate it.  It’s not very original or stylish or all that deep but if it’s a fun blood soaked time all the same.  And…that’s pretty much all it is.

Those critics that are calling it “The Next Scream” can suck a fart.  Seriously.

Rating: C

Random Things

  • We caught this at the cinema this afternoon and man, there was nobody in that theater! I guess it was an odd hour but you’d at least expect a few more people than just a couple of bored teenagers and some dumb ass twenty-somethings that kept making out the whole movie.
  • My wife got a kick out of the Australian girl and her “outback survivalist” training.  She is Australian and found it quite silly.
  • RANDOM ACT OF VIOLENCE AGAINST A HIPSTER! You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to type that.
  • The filmmakers missed out on a huge opportunity to use this song. Good shit.
  • It’s been kind of a crud year for movies in general but a decent one for horror, even with World War Z stinking up the place with its bloodless zombie murders and overpriced CGI. Nah, I kid. I didn’t find it that bad. Just pointless.

Matinee (AKA Midnight Matinee) (1989)

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A Canadian made for TV horror movie? Oh joy. Yes, it’s about as fun as it sounds. Oddly, there’s a tiny bit of nudity and some not quite safe for prime time gore present here that makes me think that maybe it got an actual theatrical release some time down the road and that stuff was added in. And that’s awful because this thing would be even more miserable to sit through in a theater than it would be at home…

Essentially a murder mystery/slasher film set around a small town theater, the film pretty much jettisons any notions of “fun” or “watchability”  after a blood soaked first five minutes (which features a re-creation of Kevin Bacon’s death in the first Friday the 13th!) and settles into a mind numbing combination of impossibly slow moving character development and painfully boring dialogue. Rise above the flaws of your average TV movie Matinee does not. In fact it rolls in them like a dog that’s just found something rotten.
Not even the occasional death scene can really make this interesting or worth watching because even those (aside from the first one) are so tame and poorly filmed that they don’t have a reason to exist. The whole film doesn’t seem to have one either. It seems like writer/director Richard Martin either didn’t like horror movies and their fans or didn’t understand them. He seems to be saying “those slasher films are gory and stupid, why don’t you watch my film? It’s a serious murder mystery and It’s got actual characters! Come and try to figure out who killed who! You simpletons.”
But we watch those movies because they’re stupid fun and we’re not under any delusions that they’re high art. Your movie, however, is an acceptable substitute for Valium, So you can stuff it, Richard Martin. Stuff it up your butt.

Rating: F

Random Things

  • There’s two future X-Files actors in this! Scully’s dad, Don S. Davis, plays a gay theater owner and The Smoking Man himself, William B. Davis, plays a horror movie director! That’s not a reason to subject yourself to this, but there you go.
  • There’s a scene in the middle of the movie where the teenage rebel (who looks about 30) tries to impress his girlfriend by breaking into…a building. It’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen and feels like a bad late 80’s soda ad. Again, it redeems nothing!
  • Did I mention that this film is Boring with a capital “B”? BORING!!! Sorry, still smarting over this thing, even though we watched it last night.
  • This is the first film off of this 10 horror movie set we found at The Reject Shop for five bucks. Doesn’t bode very well for the rest of it…