TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE CHANGELING (1980)

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THE CHANGELING (1980)

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Film opens with a tragic accident that takes the life of the wife and child of composer John Russell (George C. Scott). To get away from the painful memories, he moves out to the West Coast and rents a large, old, vacant house in Seattle. After staying there for just a short time, strange occurrences begin to happen and Russell starts to believe there is something inside the house with him. Upon investigation, Russell begins to realize that the house is haunted by a little boy…a boy who may have been murdered there.

Haunted house tale is directed by Peter Medak from a script by William Gray and Diana Maddox, that is supposedly based on real events. Though released in 1980, it still has a very 70s look and feel and is filled with more mature aged characters than the teens or college co-eds of other horror films of the time. It’s very atmospheric, especially it’s old, dark mansion setting and has some creepy cinematography by John Coquillon. Those elements are enhanced by an effective score by Rick Wilkins and Medak gives the film a moderate pace to let the story gradually unfold. It’s a somber film, though one that never really gets all that scary. One of the main reasons is, that Scott’s John Russell is never really afraid of the spooky goings on. He actually seems intrigued by it all and more than willing to investigate the history behind the house and it’s spectral guest. It makes it interesting, as John unearths a conspiracy that some would like to remain hidden, but scary it’s not. It’s just as much mystery as spook-fest. Even a seance sequence is presented very matter-of-factly and doesn’t provide the chills it should. The film does have a few spooky moments, but not nearly enough to make this ghost story consistently chilling. Not to mention that for a murder conspiracy that some want hidden, amateur detective Russell seems to find evidence very easily. The climax finally kicks things up a few notches and gives us a little of the over-the-top haunted house activity that we hoped for and does give a satisfying and more intense conclusion, after being fairly laid back for most of it’s 107 minute running time.

The cast is good. George C. Scott is a legendary actor and he plays Russell as a strong, but emotionally wounded man. While surrounded by a solid supporting cast, it’s very much his show. The film has some other very familiar names and faces from this era. Trish Van Devere, plays a historical society member who likes John, rents him the house and assists him with his paranormal investigation. Van Devere was not only Scott’s real-life wife, but is a Jersey girl as well! Rounding out the cast is Melvyn Douglas as a senator with ties to the house’s history, John Colicos as a detective, Barry Morse as a doctor and Galaxy of Terror’s Bernard Behrens as a friend of John’s. A classy cast in support of the veteran actor.

In conclusion, The Changeling is a film that has a following and is on many a favorite haunted house flick list. It is spooky at times and very atmospheric, though fails to get really intense or very scary until the last few minutes. It does work as a mystery, as well as, a supernatural thriller, albeit a more sedate one. It has a strong cast and some creepy Canadian locations, substituting for Seattle, but may be a little too by-the-numbers to truly chill. It has a reputation as a classic and while that status is respected and understood, it may not quite live up to that reputation depending on what scares you, or your personal tastes in haunted house flicks. Still entertaining and certainly worth a look.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) bathtubs.

 

 

 

 

 

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COOL STUFF: SPOOKIES on BLU-RAY!

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SPOOKIES on BLU-RAY!

Spookies (full review HERE) is an 80s haunted house horror that has been one of the most sought after titles for a decent release, after only being available back in it’s day in bad quality VHS tapes and for years as a bootleg or on Youtube. Now, thanks to the great folks at Vinegar Syndrome, this guilty pleasure is finally available in a special edition 2 disc Blu-ray set. Spookies is not without controversy, as the extras portray. Originally shot as Twisted Souls, the film was taken over by it’s producer who brought in a new director for extensive re-shoots. Was a great movie destroyed by an overzealous producer?…or an un-releasable mess saved by a new director? Without seeing the original cut of Twisted Souls we may never know.

As for the disc itself….

The transfer of this 80s horror rarity is absolutely beautiful. It’s finally shown in it’s original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, possibly for the first time since it’s brief theatrical release in the 80s. It is over three decades old, so there is some grain in the picture, but the colors are bright and vibrant. The sound is in crisp Dolby Digital and DTS 2.0 and considering it was a low budget 35mm production filmed in the 80s and previously only available on VHS, it probably sounds better than it ever has. This Blu-ray release was initially available with a choice of 2 different slipcovers and a reversible case cover, so, either way, you’ll have both versions of the artwork. The presentation alone is worth having this for.

 

Now on to the generous extras….

The first disc extras include some fun stuff and are also where we see there is still, decades later, animosity between the original cast and crew and producer Michael Lee, along with his replacement writer/director, Genie Joseph. We first see it in comments during the two intros from a 2015 Alamo Drafthouse screening by original co-director, the late Thomas Doran and co-writer Frank Farel. Following that is a Q & A from a 2015 Hudson Horror Show screening with actors Anthony Valbiro, the late Peter Iasillo Jr and production assistant Tom Sciacca. This segment certainly illustrates not only the fond memories of making the project, but the bitterness of the post production events. Rounding out these extras is a fun location featurette at The Jay Estate with Iasillo, an outtakes and bloopers reel, a production still gallery and the theatrical trailer.

The second disc is where the real meat of the Spookies controversy lies. There is a lengthy documentary, Twisted Tale: The Unmaking of Spookies, with the original cast and crew, where we are painted a story of some passionate film nerds wanting to make a horror movie, the journey of its production and of a first time producer/financier interfering and eventually, in their opinion, destroying what they set out to do. As producer/financier Michael Lee and writer/director Genie Joseph could not be found, or refused to take part, we only get one side of the story. Unfortunately, it’s a story filled with bitterness and anger, still brewing three decades later, as Twisted Souls was taken away from it’s makers in post production, after rough cuts failed to satisfy Lee, and the film was turned over to Joseph to “fix” and thus became Spookies. There are also deleted scenes included for the documentary, too. Unmaking is followed by Vipco: The Untold Story, Jason Impey’s documentary about British film pirate turned video nasty distributor, Michael Lee, who was Spookies infamous producer. The documentary features extensive interview footage with the elusive Lee, who is surprisingly candid and unapologetic about his nefarious operations as a movie bootlegger. Was he really the bad guy, or just wanting to make money back on something he thought was unreleasable? Watch both documentaries and draw your own conclusions.

Whether you love Spookies as the curiosity it is, or yearn to see Twisted Souls in it’s intended form, is up to you. Either way, Spookies is finally getting the respect and release it deserves…a release that all flicks like this should get.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: ONE DARK NIGHT (1983)

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ONE DARK NIGHT (1983)

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One Dark Night is a rare PG rated 80s horror featuring 80s movie icon E. G. Daily (billed as Elizabeth Dailey) and legendary “Batman” Adam West. The story finds pretty high school student Julie (Meg Tilly) wanting to join an elite club and having to spend the night in a mausoleum to do it. “The Sisters” (Daily, Leslie Speights and Robin Evans) plan to scare her, but that is the least of her troubles. The corpse of Raymar, who studied the occult, has recently been laid to rest there, but the man suspected of “psychic vampirism” may not be quite at rest at all.

Flick is directed by Tom (Friday the 13th part VI: Jason Lives) McLoughlin from a script by he and Michael Hawes. With it’s kid friendly rating this is obviously a fairly tame flick, though PG films did get away with a lot more back in the day. No better example of this than a face melting that comes later in the film. It can be atmospheric and has some spooky moments and the material is played straight, even by West. Legendary FX man Tom Burman made the legion of corpses levitated by our undead villain and filming is said to have taken place in an actual mausoleum which terrified a then 19 year-old Meg Tilly*. On the downside, it is a bit slow moving and takes till it’s last twenty minutes or so for burial chambers to start popping open and Raymar and his army of corpses to make their appearance. The 80s nostalgia helps and watching Adam West pretentiously roll his eyes to the term “psychic vampirism” is worth watching for alone.

Not a great movie, but it is fun at times, especially in a nostalgic sense. It’s very tame, considering most flicks were gore heavy at the time, and there is none of the sex that was also a staple of 80s horror. Meg Tilly makes a fine enough heroine, before The Big Chill and Psycho II got her more mainstream attention later that year, and Raymar is effective even if entirely made of rubber and plastic. It is refreshing that someone made something other than a slasher at this point in the 80s and being suffocated under a pile of corpses is a creepy way to go.

*according to Wikipedia

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 Raymars (out of 4).

 

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: MAUSOLEUM (1983)

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MAUSOLEUM (1983)

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Early 80s horror finds young Susan (Julie Christy Murray) running from her mother’s funeral and finding her way to a creepy mausoleum. There she becomes possessed by a demon which remains dormant until she becomes an adult. Years later, with Susan (Bobbie Bresee) now grown up and married, the demon emerges when men get aggressive with her and, as a result, are gruesomely murdered, as is anyone who stands in her way. Can her husband Oliver (a somewhat restrained Marjoe Gortner) and her psychiatrist Dr. Andrews (Norman Burton) free her of the demonic curse which has plagued her family for generations?

Gory flick is directed sadly with a very by-the-numbers style by Michael Dugan from a story and script by Katherine Rosenwink, Robert Barich and Robert Madero. Despite all the supernatural hi-jinx, the flick is very slow paced and doesn’t nearly use it’s B-movie premise to the fullest. It is saved somewhat by some cool monster make-up by John Carl Buechler, some very graphic and abundant gore and some generous nudity from the shapely Ms. Bresee, who was a former Playboy Bunny. There are some wonderfully cheesy visual effects to go with the terrible dialogue and entertainingly bad acting and some always welcome added 80s nostalgia. It’s amusing for all the wrong reasons and there is nothing wrong with that. Hard to hate a movie featuring a female demon equipped with two creature heads as boobs.

Not a great movie by any lengths, but it is a fun one. The acting and dialogue is terrible and the directing is disappointingly pedestrian. The flick needed a director, like Jim Wynorski, who could milk the premise more, but it does have a cool monster, a lot of graphic gore and plentiful nudity from it’s beautiful leading lady. Not a classic, but a cult favorite that mixed with your favorite brews can be part of any cheesy 80s horror night.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 Marjoe Gortners (out of 4) in one of his less restrained moments.

 

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE UNNAMABLE (1988)

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THE UNNAMABLE (1988)

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80s horror is based on an H.P. Lovecraft story and finds some college students relating the tale of an old house and the creature that supposedly is imprisoned inside…a story we are treated to in an opening flashback. As college students in 80s horror movies were wont to do, they find reason to enter the old house only to discover the legend is gruesomely true.

Late 80s horror is directed by Jean-Paul Ouellette from his Lovecraft based script. Lovecraft’s story is used as a starting point to which the flick then turns into a more formula 80s slasher with the creature of the title stalking and killing the coeds within the old house, one by one. There are some bloody kills and it is fun, though it never gets really scary. The creature itself is well rendered in prosthetics and make-up and the gore is also well done and quite abundant. The characters are typical 80s horror types with a few characters from the original story as part of the group, such as Randolph Carter (Mark Kinsey Stephenson). Today the film has a bit of a following and while it could have been better, as we continually wonder why they don’t just simply leave the house, it is still bloody and fun. Add in some 80s nostalgia and that it does deliver on the boobs and blood and it is certainly an entertaining enough watch.

The cast, including leads Stephenson and Charles Klausmeyer, are all suitable enough, though no awards will be given out. Katrin Alexandre performs an imposing creature with Alexandra Durrell and Laura Albert making suitable eye candy as Tanya and Wendy.

Maybe not a great flick, but a fun one with some nice gore and a cool monster. It is just as much a creature flick as it is a routine slasher, though one that’s not particularly scary. It’s based on a classic H.P. Lovecraft story and tries hard to provide some atmosphere. While it has it’s flaws, it succeeds in being a good time, especially if 80s flicks are your thing.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 Unnamable’s.

 

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: SCARECROWS (1988)

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SCARECROWS (1988)

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80s horror has a group of heavily armed thieves robbing a military base and hijacking a plane to escape. One of their number betrays them and parachutes out with their cash. The group lands in pursuit, along with the hostage pilot (David Campbell) and his daughter (Victoria Christian) and trace the traitor (B.J. Turner) to a deserted farmhouse. Lost money and traitorous partners become the least of their worries as the farm is home to an evil presence and it uses the ominous scarecrows that guard the cornfield to gruesomely slaughter anyone who trespasses.

Flick is a somewhat lesser known 80s slasher, but one that has earned a bit of a following all these years later. It’s directed a bit by-the-numbers by William Wesley from a script by he and Richard Jefferies. It’s not all that scary, but it has some spooky visuals and when the scarecrows begin to hunt crook and captive alike, there is some very effective and abundant gore. Obviously having our thieves carry the latest technology and weaponry was taking a cue from Aliens, but it doesn’t help against something so supernatural and so there is little question that most of this gang isn’t going to make it out to count their money. Wesley doesn’t built much tension or suspense and the acting from the cast isn’t going to win any awards. In it’s favor, the action is plentiful once it gets going and there is some nice 80s nostalgia, too. It could have been a little more atmospheric considering it’s setting, but at least the scarecrows are effective villains.

Overall, Scarecrows is not a great movie, but not a bad one either. The film is never very suspenseful or scary and the acting won’t impress from any of it’s cast. The titular title characters are effective and their carnage is quite gruesome and abundant. A middle grade horror when all is said and done, but one that time has been kind to in terms of fan appreciation. Also stars, as our remaining gang of thieves, Ted Vernon as Corbin, Michael David Simms as Curry, Kristina Sanborn as Roxanne and Robert Vidan as Jack.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 scarecrows.

 

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: SILENT MADNESS (1984)

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SILENT MADNESS (1984)

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Part of the 80s 3D revival, Silent Madness has an error at a mental hospital releasing psychopathic killer Howard Johns (actor and stuntman Solly Marx) back onto the streets instead of inmate John Howard. Johns returns to the scene of his original slaughter, a college sorority and begins killing again. Pretty Dr. Joan Gilmore (Belinda Montgomery) refuses to be part of the cover-up and heads to the sorority house to stop him. This all occurs conveniently while the girls are leaving on holiday, so no one notices when his victims start to go missing and everyone thinks Gilmore is the crazy one.

Lesser known 80s slasher is directed by Simon Nuchtern from a script by Bob Zimmerman and Bill Milling, who also co-produced with Nuchtern. The result is a very tame slasher with a good deal of it’s kills happening off-screen and those we see, being rather underwhelming. You can count on one hand the times the film throws something at the screen to take advantage of the 3D and one wonders why they even bothered except to take advantage of a current craze. Belinda Montgomery does make for a perky and pretty heroine. She’s both final girl and damsel in distress and, of course, no one believes her that Johns is on the loose, including the lazy town sheriff (Sydney Lassick) and the sorority house mother (Viveca Lindfors). There is little suspense or scares and the ending big reveal isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, as the slasher craze was running out of gas at this point. Even Solly Marx’s silent killer (hence the title?) is kind of dull. Most of the usual 80s slasher tropes are present, so there is that, though not very effectively used by the by-the-numbers direction of Nuchtern. One curiosity is that some of the shots look like they are attempting a Suspiria/Argento look here and there, but even that is handled lamely.

Overall, this was a very pedestrian slasher and one that seemed to be made solely to take advantage of the 3D and slasher crazes of the era. It has the feel of a lazy production and only veterans Belinda Montgomery and Viveca Lindfors put any real effort into their performances. There is very little blood, much less gore and the kills are unimaginative and lame. If you are an 80s completest, it’s worth a look, but definitely a lesser known slasher for good reason. Also stars 80s scream queen Elizabeth Kaitan as a skateboarding babe who winds up one of Johns’ earlier victims.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 mistakenly released psychopaths.

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: RAWHEAD REX (1987)

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RAWHEAD REX (1987)

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Rawhead Rex is a 1987 British horror based on a short story by Clive Barker. It has a pagan demon (Heinrich von Schellendorf) being unleashed from his tomb in Ireland when a farmer removes a protective stone. The creature goes on a killing spree, claiming victim after victim, till he murders the son (Hugh O’Conor) of an American researcher (David Dukes), who vows to find a way to destroy the monster once and for all.

Flick is lamely directed by George Pavlou from a screenplay by Barker himself. The director fails to bring any scares or intensity to the tale, even with Rex reigning bloody terror on Ireland’s trailer parks and tourists. You’d think that with this local legend being so well known in a small town, to the point of being included in a church stained glass window, that a local farmer would known better than to remove the stone that has imprisoned the beast for centuries. The creature himself is extremely rubbery and when it roars, you can see actor Heinrich von Schellendorf’s own mouth inside it’s maw. The monster is dressed like he’s a member of a Danish heavy metal band, complete with mohawk and there seems to be little rhyme or reason for his killing. It’s very random. There is also little explanation as to why or how Rex gains control of a local priest (Ronan Wilmott) by pissing on him. The acting from a cast of basic unknowns is quite underwhelming and despite the amusement of abundant gore, the make-up and visual FX are all quite cheesy. The climactic confrontation with Rubberhead Rex is also silly and we get little explanation as to why things work out the way they do. It seems made up as they go along…like the rest of the movie, to be honest.

I never understood the love for this flick. It has a decent fan-base and is fondly remembered, but I am not a fan. A recent revisit didn’t change my mind, even with laughably cheesy FX and a lot of 80s nostalgia. It’s not scary. It’s not intense. It has a very thin story that really doesn’t go anywhere and it’s creature is too rubbery and silly looking to be the least bit effective. There is a lot of bloodshed and heads ripped off, but otherwise, little to recommend. For it’s fans only.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 rubbery Rexs.

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: BAD DREAMS (1988)

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BAD DREAMS (1988)

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1988 horror tells the story of Cynthia (Jennifer Rubin), who has been in a coma for 13 years after being the sole survivor of a mass suicde at the Unity Fields cult compound. She suddenly awakens and immediately begins treatment by her psychiatrist, Dr. Alex Karmen (Bruce Abbott). As her memories slowly return, she finds herself haunted by cult leader Franklin Harris (Richard Lynch) who appears to her in her dreams. As the dreams persist, Cynthia’s fellow patients start dying in horrible ways and Cynthia believes Harris is somehow killing those around her from beyond the grave.

Dull Elm Street retread is directed by The Craft’s Andrew Fleming from a script by he and Steven de Souza. It replaces dream demon Freddy Krueger with cult leader Harris, and is a lot less inventive with it’s dream sequences. The film is neither scary nor suspenseful, though, at least there is some well orchestrated and plentiful gore to amuse us. The pacing is very slow and feels longer than it’s 84 minute running time and we question why patients with emotional problems have such easy access to things such as knives and poison. There is a big reveal in the last act, too, that fizzles, as it is even sillier than a phantom cult leader killing from the great beyond.

The cast is a mixed bag. Jennifer Rubin makes a good heroine and performs some silly scenes very straight, which helps. Lynch is an almost legendary movie bad guy and he gets the most out of the thinly written material, making Harris a creepy specter. Abbott is a dull hero and would have been better served as a second banana like he was in Re-Animator. Dean Cameron is completely annoying as patient, Ralph, though veteran Harris Yulin is fairly solid as a stereotypical doctor with a secret agenda. 80s icon E.G. Daily also appears, with a small role as the first victim of Harris’ supernatural hi-jinx.

This film has a following and thus it’s fans. I am not one of them. I didn’t think much of it when I first watched it on VHS back in the day and the revisit didn’t change things, even with some added 80s nostalgia. It’s dull, slow paced and despite some good gore, is devoid of any thrills, chills or inventiveness. A unsuccessful attempt to clone the success of Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors including stealing actress Rubin.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 scalpels because it takes place in a hospital and that’s all I could think of.

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: RETURN TO HORROR HIGH (1987)

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RETURN TO HORROR HIGH (1987)

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Ho hum horror/comedy is most notable for having future A-lister George Clooney in a small role and being a good example of how silly and self aware a lot of horror flicks got at this point in the decade. (for more on that subject click HERE). Flick tells the story of a film crew filming a movie about a series of murders that occurred a few years earlier at the now abandoned Crippen High School. They are filming at the actual site of the murders, despite that the killer was never found and now someone stalks the cast and crew, killing them off in gruesome ways.

Directed by Bill Froehlich from a script by he and three other writers. It’s understandable that to be a parody of slashers you kind of have to basically be one but this flick fails at both. It’s fractured narrative doesn’t help, going back and forth between the aftermath of the murders and back to the killings as they happen, letting us know right off the bat who survived and who didn’t, eliminating any suspense, if they were even attempting any. The deaths are bloody, yet nothing really special and the comedy mostly falls flat. Even the 80s nostalgia can’t really help other than seeing a very young Clooney and The Brady Bunch’s Maureen McCormick, as a female police officer who seems to love her job a bit too much. The acting overall is deliberately over-the-top and even the big multiple reveals at the end don’t really shock or surprise. It’s hard to tell just how much it was supposed to be horror and how much it was supposed to be a parody as the mix is uneven and it goes back and forth between the stale jibes at traditional slasher film tropes and it’s attempts to actually be one. All that criticism aside, it’s also simply kinda dull and predominately unfunny.

As much as I love 80s slasher/horror/sci-fi flicks, this one did little for me. Clooney doesn’t last long enough to really make it worth sitting through and the jokes fail far more often than not. The attempts at being a real slasher mix unevenly along with the satire and aside from abundant bloodshed and a multiple reveal ending, Return To Horror High is a horror/comedy which one may not feel the need to return to, even with the 80s nostalgia. Also features a small role from 80s flick babe Darcy DeMoss as…no surprise here…a cheerleader.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 knives

 

 

 

 

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