Movie Review – Burnt Offerings (1976)

Okay let’s finish up horror in the attic week here at Screamzine with a movie from one of my Burnt_offerings_movie_posterfavorite directors and starring a couple of actors who I really dig.  Time to dig into Burnt Offerings.

The Rolf family can’t believe their luck.  Quite by accident is seems that they have stumbled on a great bargain and have rented an estate for their summer vacation for a pittance!  All it took were the approval of an elderly brother and sister, who decide the family is perfect.  The only catch is that the mother of the brother and sister is going to stay in her room in the attic.  All they have to do is bring her food during the day.  So they pack themselves up with their son and Aunt Elizabeth and head off for the summer.  But not long after arriving the father, Ben, begins to act strange and almost kills their son by drowning him in the pool.  But is he really acting strange or is there something going on with his wife and her obsession with the house.  It almost seems as if she is changing into someone else.  When Aunt Elizabeth dies things really go to hell.

This is a very entertaining movie that could have been one of those plodding and boring supernatural themed films that were common in the 70s.  But director Dan Curtis (The Night Stalker, The Night Strangler) allows the story to unfold without allowing it to go sit too long.  This alloBurnt Offerings Housews the movie to build some tension and dread as we watch the characters slowly change and wear down.  Of course having an excellent cast only helps to keep the movie interesting and easy to watch.

The parents are played by Oliver Reed (The Brood) and Karen Black (Trilogy of Terror), both of whom do a wonderful job.  I’m a big fan of Reed’s work and of course what can you say about the woman who did battle with the Zuni doll in Trilogy of Terror?  Hell Burgess Meredith even shows up in a minor role, and despite his lack of screen time makes a memorable impression.  Finally this movie boasts a true legend with the casting of Bette Davis as Aunt Elizabeth.  It is amazing how easily she can slip into the persona of the beloved Aunt.  As good as Allen and Reed are she manages to steal every scene from them.  Her demise is heartbreaking and the most powerful part of the movie.

There isn’t much to Burnt Offerings couplebe said about the effects in the movie.  Other than adding some grey to Karen Black’s hair there isn’t much in the way of makeup.  If you pay close attention several times thru the movie you can see wires moving things around.  But this doesn’t really bother me, especially given how great the story and cast are.  That said I do think that director Dan Curtis had some obsession on this movie to shoot some of the scenes in soft light, creating an effect that makes the screen appear to be slightly out of focus.  Perhaps this was done to cover the fact that Karen Black was pregnant, which I honestly never would of guessed after watching the movie.

I’m a big fan of Dan Curtis, Oliver Reed, and Karen Black so I really wanted to like this movie.  Luckily Burnt Offerings is a really good movie that delivers the goods.  I recommend it.

 

Jacob Mulliken’s Meltdown Now On VOD Internationally

Poster

Meltdown is a feature length Zombie/Sci-Fi/Comedy from writer/director Jacob Mulliken(RAWartists’ 2013 Pittsburgh Filmmaker of the Year).  It’s a stylistic mix of Clerks, Shaun of the Dead and the Road Warrior. Meltdown follows Zeke, Callie, Les and Hunter on the eve of Hunter’s 29th birthday as they share in a few drinks on a seemingly dull day in their hometown of Somerset, PA. The day takes a turn for the worse as everyone they have ever known are suddenly transformed into aggressively murderous flesh eating freaks. The four comrades are forced to hack and slash their way through the reanimated corpses of their closest friends and loved ones, only to find themselves on the precipice of a post-apocalyptic wasteland littered with monsters and the looming threat of their fellow survivors.

Gravitas Ventures picked Meltdown up and has released it internationally on VOD.  You can find Meltdown at Roku, i-Tunes, Amazon, Amazon Prime, Youtube, Google Play, Verizon, Insight and a bunch more.

Movie Review – Black Christmas (1974)

 

Black-Christmas posterWelcome to Horror in the Attic week here at Screamzine.  So when I was given the theme for this week I thought long and hard about it.  Well okay I didn’t because the first thing that popped into my head was Black Christmas.

The campus at a small college is emptying out over the holiday break.  There are just a few people still at school, including a few girls still at their sorority.  What we the audience know that they don’t is a very strange man has crawled into their attic.  When he comes out it is only to do away with one of the girls or to make obscene phone calls to them.  One of the girls, Jess, complains to the police.  But they don’t take her seriously until one of her sorority sisters disappears and a little girl shows up in the park murdered.  From there on out the police start searching the town and make sure that the girls are locked safely in the sorority house.  Yep the same one where the killer is lurking in the attic!

Black Christmas is such a good movie.  The story grabs you right from the start and never let’s black-christmas OHgo.  There are enough suspects and it plays out in such a way that you will be guessing who it is until the end as well as who lives.  And the ending is one of the best that I’ve ever seen in a horror movie.  Just when you think you have things figured out you get one final disturbing twist.  I can’t say much more without spoiling the movie.

The cast is headlined by Olivia Hussey who is stellar here in the role of Jess.  She is good in everything that I’ve seen her in and Black Christmas is no different.  We also get some fun turns out of John Saxon (who doesn’t get nearly enough screen time), Andrea Martin of SCTV fame, and the always fun Art Hindle.  On a side note I’ve always been fascinated by Hindle’s “pimp” coat.

Black Christmas MKDirector Bob Clark really knew how to make a movie.  Here he uses some excellent tricks to build tension.  The lighting is very dark which allows for shadows to play a big role.  If you pay attention closely on more than one occasion the killer is lurking right around the corner because you see his shadow or he blocks the light from the other room.  Best of all Clark uses doorways and furniture to draw your eye to it so the audience can’t miss it.  This is one of those movies where you will want to be yelling at the characters to turn around.

Black Christmas coat

 This coat is da bomb!

If I had a complaint about Black Christmas it would be the lack of gore.  We get five kills in the movie and two of them are only known after the fact when Jess finds the bodies.  Of the other three the first is the best kill and the only we get a good look at while it is happening.  While I was a bit disappointed the rest of the movie is so good I can’t really complain.  I mean if you look at contemporary movies other than the movies coming out of Europe gore wasn’t really a factor.  So while many might want to consider this an early slasher movie I don’t.  I think it is more of a thriller/mystery and a damn good one.

If you haven’t seen Black Christmas, you need to rectify that right now!  Go buy yourself a copy to watch every holiday season, it is that good.  Oh and avoid the crappy remake at all costs.

Trailer Tuesday!

Silent Scream (1980)

Trailer Tuesday!

The Visitors Aka Besökarna (1988)

Trailer Tuesday!

The Attic (1980)

Movie Poster Monday!

Burnt Offerings (1976)

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Movie Review – Abby (1974)

 

Abby_posterWell I’ve saved the best for last to finish off possession week here at Screamzine.  Today I’m reviewing director William Girdler’s classic bit of Blaxploitation and possession cinema Abby.  Time to jump into the review.

William Marshall of Blacula fame stars here as Bishop Garnet Williams.  We see that in addition to being a Bishop he is also a professor and perhaps an archaeologist.  He heads off to a dig where he unknowingly opens a box containing a demon.  To get its revenge on Bishop Williams the demon zips on over to American, specifically Louisville Kentucky where it takes over his daughter in law.  Of course no one realizes that right away until poor Abby (the daughter in law) starts to act oddly and attacks everyone in sight!  The Bishop eventually makes it to Louisville and with the help of his son and Abby’s brother does battle with the demon to save her.

I love this movie.  The story is paced well, interesting, and a nice change from your normal Abby Bishopdemon possession flick.  They establish the characters quickly and waste no time getting to the action.  This also saves enough story for us to get to like the Abby character and then feel bad for her when she starts to change.  I thought that the revenge angle was a nice twist that makes it different from the other movies in this popular horror subgenre.  The demon isn’t doing evil for the sake of evil, but is in fact doing it to torture and hurt the Bishop character.  This makes the big showdown at the end even more fun.

In the course of defending this movie I have heard people complain that it is a bit silly at times.  I can’t deny that fact.  Why would that detract from the fun?  This is an early ‘70s movie that is exploiting the success of the Exorcist and tapping into a black audience by the use of a mostly black cast.  It also is a lower budgeted movie that has to be more creative and frugal to get the finished product to the screen.  If some of the scenes or situations are goofy I’m good with that.  Heck isn’t that part of the reason to watch a movie like Abby?  If you want a big Hollywood movie, then you shouldn’t be sitting down to watch this or any other movie made for this audience.  Just my two cents.

Abby the guysI would be remiss if I didn’t mention the cast.  We get a regular all-star lineup here.  I’ve already mentioned the great William Marshall.  In addition to him we get Austin Stoker, who is another familiar face (Assault on Precinct 13, Horror High).  Terry Carter (Foxy Brown, Battlestar Galactica) plays Abby’s husband.  Abby herself is played by the legendary Carol Speed (The Mack, Black Samson, The Big Bird Cage, many more).  You know I test people who claim to be big Blaxploitation fans.  If you don’t know Carol Speed you don’t know what you are talking about.  All of these actors do great jobs in their roles and make the so much better just by being on screen.  If I had a complaint it would be that the professional cast is surrounded by amateurs that stumble over their lines and deliver them woodenly.  But I consider this a necessary evil when making a low budget movie and the stars more than make up for it.

Finally we need to chat a bit about the director William Girdler.  In my opinion he doesn’t get Abby herselfnearly the credit for his work as he should.  Here he manages to do a whole lot without the unlimited resources a bigger budget movie would have.  To convey the demon possession he uses a lot of classic movie making tricks.  We get loud sounds, shadows, slamming doors, furniture dancing across the screen.  He also uses camera lenses to give close up shots of Abby’s face a distorted look which are punctuated with a full on demon face that is flashed on the screen to great effect without lingering enough for the eye to pick out defects.  This is a very technically well-made movie.  I often wonder what we would have gotten from him had Girdler not died so young.

Just in case you haven’t been reading my reviews here at Screamzine I should let you in on a few secrets.  I love drive-in movies, regional cinema, and Blaxploitation movies.  So obviously I was inclined to like Abby before the movie began.  The fact that it is well made and entertaining was a bonus.  I doubt given the first line of my review that it is a shock that I’m recommending everyone check this out but you really should.

Well that is it for possession week.  What do we have planned for next week?  Check out the posters Monday for a hint.

Movie Review – Manhattan Baby (1982)

Possession week continues here at Screamzine.  This time around I review the Fulci effort Manhattan Baby.  I think this is my first Fulci review for Screamzine, wish it would have been a better one…

The movie is about an archaeologist named Hacker studying ruins in Egypt.  After triggering a Manhattan Baby postertrap he comes face to face with an idol that shoots laser beams into his eyes and blinds him.  At the same time his young daughter is given a necklace that allows an ancient evil to inhabit her body.  They all end up back home on Manhattan island where using he girl the evil is able to open portals to the past, bring stuffed birds back to life, and in a strange bit of not evilness restore the father’s sight!  The good doctor, with the help of a creepy bird stuffing antiques dealer manages to save his daughter, but not until after they inexplicably lose their nanny in the walls of the apartment.  Oh and while the evil is gone from the daughters the man’s snotty little son is still a bastard!

Now most Fulci directed movies that I’ve ever sat down to watch have had some plot issues to some extent.  That is part of the charm to his movies, because they are always a bit off and strange.  But buried inside most of them is a kernel of something that makes sense for the audience to grab a hold of.  Not so much here with Manhattan baby.  The story makes little sense and feels as if it was written with bits and pieces of other movies in mind.  There is a little bit of Poltergeist mixed in with the Exorcist, all topped off with a bit of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Unfortunately none of it mixes well together and we end up with a movie that is painfully boring and difficult to get thru.  In defense of the cast there are some familiar faces that have been pretty good in other movies, I just don’t think there was much they could do to help this one.

Manhattan Baby amuletThere are some neat visual tricks that I enjoyed.  The camera work is top notch and is really the most interesting part of the film.  But until the last 5 minutes there is an obvious lack of gore, which has always been a cool trademark and saving grace of even the most uneven of Fulci films.  Also this movie makes the same mistake as many others and uses adults trying to speak like children to dub the kids in the movie.  This is a terrible idea that only further distracts from a plot that is struggling to hold the audience’s attention.

Like I said there are some neat visual tricks and the movie is well made from a technical Manhattan Baby kidsstandpoint.  But the movie suffers from a story that never establishes a narrative that makes sense.  Even after watching it I wasn’t sure what happened and why.  This one is for hardcore Fulci fans only and even then I doubt it will get a second look.

Movie Review – The Possession of Joel Delaney (1972)

Possession

Time to kick off my reviews for Possession week here at Screamzine.  The head nerd in charge gave me some pretty specific rules.  Before 1983 and not the Exorcist.  I think I can handle that.  Plus it gave me a chance to check out The Possession of Joel Delaney which predates the Exorcist by a few years.

Joel Delaney seems like a nice guy from a nice family.  Other than his eccentric habit of living in bad neighborhoods when he has the means not to everything about him seems normal.  Except of course for the fact that he is possessed by the spirit of a Puerto Rican serial killer who likes to cut the head off of women that is.  Only his sister Norah realizes this, while everyone else just thinks he is crazy.  After unsuccessfully trying the services of a voodoo witch doctor to remove the man’s spirit Norah grabs her kids and leaves town to hide from the now homicidal Joel.  I think heading to the family’s beach house might not have been such a great idea though.

Possession2If you can’t tell yet I wasn’t really thrilled at all by this movie.  By no means is it a bad film, but I did find it a bit slow and at times unintentionally comical.  The movie takes far too long to introduce the characters and establish the background of Joel and what might have happened to him.  The movie is an hour and forty-five minutes long and could have used some serious cuts to speed things along.  Also the first time I heard the dubbed in “evil” Puerto Rican voice over Perry King’s (who plays Joel) dialogue I almost fell off of my couch I was laughing so hard.

There are some disturbing scenes with the children at the end of the movie, but they just feel sort of exploitive and cheap.  I don’t mind that in itself, but it just doesn’t fit with this sort of big budget Hollywood movie.  Paramount gets a lot of heat for burying some great titles, but with this movie I can sort of see why they did it.  Additionally the ending is also predictable and absurd, though Shirley MacLaine (as Norah) gives it her best to pull it off.  Honestly one of the reasons this movie isn’t worse than it should be is the fact that the two leads, MacLaine and King, are wonderful actors and thru their performances manage to drag the movie into worth watching once territory.Possession3

This is a well-made professional movie.  While not spectacular the camera work is solid and captures a gritty side to NYC that I did get a kick out of.  The costumes are glamorous for the early 70s and the music is cheesy pre disco fun.  There aren’t any on screen kills, but there are a couple severed heads that are okay, but nothing special (pun not intended).  If they had cut some of the inane dialogue and tossed in a few more kills this movie might have been pretty cool and an early 70s classic.

I don’t dislike this movie but I wouldn’t spend any money on it.  Lucky for you guys it is available to watch for free on several sites on the Internet.  The easiest one being YouTube.  I’d say it is probably worth a single viewing, but doubt it will appeal enough for repeated ones.

Trailer Tuesday!

Ruby (1977)

Trailer Tuesday!

The House of Exorcism (1975)

Trailer Tuesday!

Abbey (1974)

Movie Poster Monday!

Audrey Rose (1977)

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Movie Review – Graduation Day (1981)

PosterThe movie opens up at a high school track meet.  We see a young girl being pushed on by her coach and teammates to win a race, which she does.  But as she crosses the finish line she drops dead of a heart attack.  After this tragedy some one runs around in a tracksuit and a fencing mask killing off the members of the track team.  Is it the girl’s sister returned from the Navy for the funeral?  Or perhaps the creepy music teacher, or the overbearing track coach?  Heck it might even be the obsessive boyfriend!  It really doesn’t matter who it is, only that the bodies are starting to pile up and it could ruin graduation.

People react oddly to this movie.  I’ve seen way too many fans rip this one up and say that it is one of the worst slasher movies they have seen.  I’ve also seen some fans that love this and think that it is a great movie.  I honestly think that it is somewhere in between.  The story leaves a lot to be desired.  You get the basics of a slasher movie with the premature death acting as a catalyst for the killings.  But in spite of giving the audience several suspects to choose from it also does a terrible job hiding who the killer is.  Not only that but they reveal it way too early which spoils some of the potential fun.  Another disadvantage with knowing who the killer is early on is that it makes the other suspects less interesting when they are on screen.  Toss in some overly comedic characters that really graduation daydon’t fit in a movie that is trying to be serious (think the music teacher) and some awful dialogue (the sisters exchange early on with the girl in the woods) that adds to the pacing issues.  I found parts of this movie to be boring.

Vanna

Is this a worse job then flipping letters?

But as bad as the story is the movie does deliver some of the goods.  We see some good nudity, including the great Linnea Quigley.  For some added fun we get to see a very young Vanna White try to deliver some dialogue as an actress!  Most of the kills are interesting including some fun with a fencing blade.  The movie has a decent body count with the action picking up speed as the movie enters the last 30 minutes.  And one of my favorite actors Christopher George (Pieces) is in it!  So while the story isn’t very good and failed to keep me interested there were enough other things going right to keep my attention until the end.  That said I really wouldn’t want to have to sit thru it again.  Because of it’s issues the movie has zero re-watchability value.

In the end Graduation Day is at best a mediocre slasher flick that will only hold interest to the diehard fans of that subgenre.  If that is you then I recommend checking the movie out, otherwise you should skip it.

Movie Review – Horror High (1974)

Horror HighAnother killer theme week starts here at Screamzine.  This week we are looking at Horror in a High School.  So many ’80s slasher flicks to choose from but I decided to start a bit earlier than those.  Lets check out Horror High.

Vernon is a good student and sort of a nerdy.  He spends most of his time working on his chemistry project with his guinea pig Mr. Mumps.  The other students and some of the teachers are constantly being mean to him and making his life difficult.  When Vernon makes a break thru and creates a formula that brings out the more animalistic side of his nature everyone had better look out.  See Vernon is tired of getting pushed around and is out to settle some scores.  As the bodies start to pile up a detective named Bozeman (played by genre favorite Austin Stoker) is brought in to sort things out.  But how many more will die before Horror High 2Vernon is stopped?

Horror High is just about what I expected and wanted it to be.  The story is really cheesy with some goofy dialogue and characters.  Obviously the movie is “inspired” by Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but they set it in a High School with a nerdy science kid in the lead.  This allows them to set up all the situations that you would expect, including the jocks taking Vernon’s notebook away from him, as well as the cute girl that inexplicably likes him.  Hell the movie has an evil janitor type that beats the hell out of Vernon and a mean English Teacher that tries to force him into a literature club!  Horror High isn’t a comedy, but it is also not a flick that is trying to be serious either.

Horror High 3The cast is surprisingly good.  Obviously Austin Stoker does a great job playing the detective.  He is always good no matter how bad the rest of the movie is, and when he is in a decent movie like Horror High all the better.  I haven’t heard of the rest of the cast, including Pat Cardi who plays Vernon in the movie.  But again they are all pretty good.  And I have to mention (since I’m a big NFL nerd) that a bunch of NFL players have small parts in the movie (mostly Dallas Cowboys) including Craig Morton, D.D. Lewis, Calvin Hill, and Mean Joe Green (a Steelers legend!).  Casting football players is just the sort of thing that I expect in a drive-in movie.

For most of the movie we never get a good look at the creature Vernon after he has changed.  They keep him in the shadows or with his back turned to the camera.  When we finally do get to see him it is a simple makeup job with some black face paint and a couple of appliances.  Totally acceptable for a low budget drive-in movie.  I was surprised with some of the kills, including a bit with a vat of acid (yeah they always keep that around in High Schools!) and some chopped off fingers.  Though my favorite kill involves a coach and a pair of cleats.

Horror High is a lot of fun and I’m glad that I checked it out.  Though after doing my research and finding out that it was written by J.D. Feigelson who also did Dark Night of the Scarecrow I’m not all that surprised.  I recommend checking this one out.

Trailer Tuesday!

Slaughter High (1986)

Trailer Tuesday!

Return to Horror High (1987)

Trailer Tuesday!

Horror High(1974)

Movie Poster Monday!

Carrie (1976)

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