MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: EQUINOX and THE EVIL DEAD

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MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature is back! For years horror fans have discussed the similarities between the 1970 low budget flick, Equinox and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead. Was this flick an inspiration for Raimi’s classic, or was it all a coincidence? We may never know exactly, but we can watch both films together and decide for ourselves…

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EQUINOX (1970)

Four college students (Edward Connell, Barbara Hewitt, Frank Bonner and Robin Christopher) venture into the woods to meet a professor (Fritz Leiber) who, unknown to them, has discovered an ancient book of evil. They find the cabin destroyed and once acquiring the book from a creepy old man (Irving L. Lichtenstein), find the devil himself is after them to get it back.

While this does sound like the plot of an Evil Dead film, it is actually the plot of the low budget horror, Equinox which was released in 1970. Over a decade before Raimi’s classic, the film does share a lot of plot elements, such as the students being possessed, here by the park ranger disguised Satan, and even the book itself is quite similar to Raimi’s Necronomicon. It’s never been stated that the film was an influence on Raimi’s flick, but Evil Dead effects artist Tom Sullivan admits seeing the film and it inspiring him to make movies. Draw you own conclusions.

Equinox is campy by today’s standards and is slow paced, unlike Raimi’s roller coaster ride, but there is some fun to be had and some nice SPFX for such a low budget flick. Equinox started out as a low budget short film, put together by three future FX legends, Dennis Muren, Jim Danforth and Dave Allen in 1967. It was made for about $6,500, from a story by Mark Thomas McGee and directed by Muren. So there is some great FX work for the time and budget, including some very cool stop-motion animated creatures, representing the Devil’s minions and Old Scratch himself in winged demon form. Producer Jack H. Harris saw their film and hired writer/director Jack Woods to film some new footage and expand the 70 minute short film into feature length and re-edit it. The film was finally released in 1970 as Equinox, shortened from the original title of Equinox…A Journey Into The Supernatural. I saw this as a kid and must admit it creeped me out back then. I watch it now and it’s more campy fun than scary, but it’s no denying that it is a valiant low budget effort, despite some very amateurish acting from the cast, including director Jack Woods, who also appears as The Devil in park ranger form.

This film, like Raimi’s, is now considered a classic. Whether it inspired Evil Dead or not, both films represent the achievement that future filmmakers can make on a micro-budget, if their hearts and talent are in the right place. Evil Dead fans should check it out for the interesting similarities, even if we may never know if Raimi indeed saw and was influenced by it, or if the familiar elements are just coincidence. It’s been released in a wonderful restored edition by the Criterion Collection, which includes the original short film and effects work that didn’t make the final cut. A campy, fun horror that gave the world, Dennis Muren, Jim Danforth and the late, great David Allen…and maybe…just maybe, Evil Dead.

Rated A campy fun 3 (out of 4) blue giants!

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The original Evil Dead is one of my all time favorite horror movies, if not the all time favorite. I was fortunate enough to see it in a theater when it was released in 1981 and it changed how I looked at horror movies. This one was furiously paced, wildly inventive and delivered buckets of blood and gore, all on a shoestring budget. It launched writer/director Sam Raimi’s career and made a cult legend out of star Bruce Campbell.

The film opens as Ash (Bruce Campbell) and girlfriend, Linda (Betsy Baker) are traveling to vacation in a remote cabin with another couple, Scott (Hal Delrich) and Shelly (Sarah York), along with Ash’s sister, Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss). When they get to the rundown cabin they find an old book and a tape recording, in the creepy cellar, that claims it is the book of the dead and wrapped in human flesh. Thinking it’s all a joke, they play the recording, which includes someone reading from the book and find out the hard way that it’s all too real, as they unleash horror beyond their imaginations. The quiet Cheryl is the first to be possessed, as she is attacked and literally raped by the trees during one of the film’s most talked about scenes, As the panicked bunch lock her in the cellar, it is only the beginning as they are soon possessed one by one by an ancient evil that can only be stopped by total bodily dismemberment. Let the fun begin!

The first Evil Dead did not have the heavy comic elements of it’s two sequels or recent series and what follows is a gore soaked roller coaster ride, when Ash finds himself the last man standing against his demon possessed friends. Raimi uses some fantastically inventive camera work and low budget gore effects to bring us Ash’s battle to survive against the people he once loved, in all it’s gory glory. The film is fast paced and once it starts, it never stops, as this classic turns the screws on it’s viewing audience with a barrage of scares, jolts and suspense, all bathed in buckets of blood. This was the first of it’s kind to use such a relentless and merciless attack on it’s viewers where most films at the time, like John Carpenter’s Halloween, or the original Friday The 13th, used a bit of a slower burn and more of a methodical pace to present it’s suspense and scares. Raimi paces this like an action flick. Carpenter did crank things up in the last act of The Fog, a year earlier, but it was still nothing like Raimi’s final act, as the outnumbered Ash refuses to “join us”, as his demonic assailants constantly taunt.

Evil Dead revolutionized horror to a degree and inspired some of today’s best young horror directors. Without it, we may not have a Blair Witch, Dead Alive or Martyrs. While we still get the occasional slow burn horror like Paranormal Activity and the films of Ti West and Stevan Mena, which is just fine, Raimi opened the door for horror filmmakers to take a far more aggressive approach and showed us horror can be deliriously scary, delightfully gory and just plain fun. A true classic that placed Raimi amongst the likes of George Romero and John Carpenter!

Check out our review of the remake!

A solid 4 (out of 4) Ash salute!

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ALSO…

If you’ve got time, add Evil Dead II as a third feature, which also shares some amusing similarities with Dennis Muren and Jack Woods’ 1970 cult classic!

-MonsterZero NJ

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3-DREAM WARRIORS (1987)

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A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS (1987)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Third Elm St. flick is a marked improvement over the misfire that was ANOES2. It also saw the return of Wes Craven to the franchise as a writer and the return of Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon in their original ANOES roles. This installment finds Freddy haunting the dreams of a group of teens all under psychiatric care at an institute. Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) is now an intern there with a vested interest in the nightmares these kids are having. As Freddy starts to claim the young lives, Nancy and Dr. Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson), try to figure out how to stop the dream demon once and for all.

Clever second sequel is directed by Chuck Russell (The Blob 1988) from his script co-written with Frank Darabont, Bruce Wagner and Wes Craven. It was a great return to what made the first film work so well and also started the series in the direction it would go till it ended. It felt far more like an Elm St. movie that it’s predecessor, too. ANOES3 made very inventive use of the dream segments and was the film that gave Freddy his twisted sense of humor and proclivity for witty one liners, that would accompany the demise of his intended victims. It was also the film that introduced the character of Freddy’s mother, Amanda Krueger (Nan Martin), a nun accidentally locked inside an insane asylum, who is violated by the inmates and thus gives birth to Freddy, “The Bastard Son of 100 Maniacs.” The film does have a moderate pace, but there are some gory and innovative death sequences, with some great prosthetic make-up effects. ANOES3 is today thought of by many as the best of the sequels in this classic franchise. It was a success and paved the way for five more appearances by Freddy and an eventual remake in 2010.

Film is supported by a good cast that make for memorable and mostly likable characters. Obviously Robert England is at the top of his game here as Freddy. He gets to do a bit more and have more fun with the role, which really helped keep this franchise afloat. He was still scary, but now imbued with a dark and mean-spirited sense of humor. Heather Langenkamp is good as an older and more mature Nancy. She cares for these kids and is one of the only people who believes their claims about a scarred man haunting their dreams…a man Nancy knows all too well. Craig Wasson is solid as Dr. Gordon. He’s desperate to save these kids, even if it means reluctantly believing there is a malevolent supernatural entity after his patients. Saxon is really good as Nancy’s father, who is now a security guard and a drinker. Classic John Saxon. A good cast of young actors play our kids, with Patricia Arquette as Kristen, Bradley Gregg as Phillip, Ken Sagoes as Kincaid, Penelope Sudrow as Jennifer, Ira Heiden as Will, Rodney Eastman as Joey and Jennifer Rubin as Taryn. All the cast members make their characters memorable and helped establish the template of a diverse, colorful group of kids for Freddy to stalk in the future installments.

In conclusion, this flick got the series back on track and headed in a direction that would carry it till it’s end. It’s fun, still has some scares and is very inventive with it’s dream-set deaths. While not as vicious as the first two, it still has the blood and gore, not to mention some outrageous make-up effects. The cast are all good and it also contains the now classic theme song Dream Warriors by the 80s metal band Dokken. Solid entry in this classic horror film franchise.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) Freddy Kruegers .

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Bonus: The Dokken classic Dream Warriors!…

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THE BLOB (1958) and THE BLOB (1988): A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

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THE BLOB (1958) and THE BLOB (1988): A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

MAJOR SPOILER WARNING! In order to properly compare these two films, I have to give DETAILED SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen The Blob (1958) or The Blob (1988), there are MASSIVE SPOILERS BELOW for each film. You have been warned!

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Comparison In Horror is back!…and in this installment the comparison is between the two versions of The Blob. One, of course, is the classic 1958 original, the other being the 1988 remake. Remember!…In order to discuss these flicks in-depth, the are some very important plot details that will be revealed, so if you haven’t seen one, the other, or both, there are MASSIVE SPOILERS! Otherwise, on to the comparison!…

(Click on the highlighted movie titles to go to the full length reviews and on the photos to enlarge them!)

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THE STORY

The Blob 1958 features a meteorite landing in the woods near a small Pennsylvania town. It carries within it a gelatinous space creature that absorbs anyone it comes in contact with. As it descends upon the town, getting bigger with every victim, teens Steve Andrews and Jane Martin to try to find a way to get the townsfolk to believe them and stop it.

The Blob (1988) takes place in the ski town of Arborville, California. What appears to be a meteorite crashes in the nearby woods and carries inside a gelatinous creature that eats anyone it comes in contact with. While the monster is quietly invading the town, a shady paramilitary containment group arrives, suspiciously soon after. It’s up to teens Meg Penny and Brian Flagg to outwit the military and try to find a way to stop the creature.

The initial story for both films are extremely similar, at least to start. The 1988 remake opens things up adding in the caveat of the military containment group and a conspiracy element about the creature’s origin. The remake also has a larger cast of characters.

 

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THE BLOB

The Blob 1958 is a gelatinous creature from space that comes to earth in a meteorite. The creature is a formless mass that can squeeze in and out of almost any place and gets bigger the more people it absorbs. The Blob in this version seems to be a mindless organism simply in search of sustenance. It retains a somewhat globular shape. The creature is impervious to almost all weapons, except it has a sensitivity to cold, which is finally used to subdue it.

The Blob (1988) is also a gelatinous creature, but though it falls from space, it’s very earth-born in origin. It starts out as a germ created by the military as a weapon, being sent into space in a satellite, as part of an experiment. This mutates it into an aggressive multi-celled organism. The creature is a formless mass that can squeeze in and out of almost any place and gets bigger the more people it absorbs. This incarnation of the creature is given hints of an intelligence and described as a predator. It also seems to be able to form limb-like tentacles, or even a gaping maw, based on it’s needs. This also implies a form of intelligence. Any parts cut off, become it’s own monster, which is not addressed in the original film, but is in it’s 1972 sequel. The creature is impervious to almost all weapons, except it has a sensitivity to cold, which is finally used to subdue it.

 

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Heroes and Heroines 

In The Blob 1958 our hero is teen Steve Andrews (Steve McQueen) and our heroine is his date, Jane Martin (Aneta Corseaut). Steve is a typical teen male of this time period, interested in girls, rock n’ roll and drag racing. He has a sense of honor and of doing the right thing, so when authorities don’t believe him, he sets out to find a way to warn others and stop the invading creature. Jane is more of a damsel here. She is loyal and bravely tries to help Steve, while keeping her too curious little brother Danny (Kieth Almoney) out of harm’s way. She mostly follows Steve around and supports whatever he decides, while playing babysitter to Danny.

In The Blob (1988) writer/director Chuck Russell makes the roles more contemporary and throws us a curve as to our leads. It starts out giving the impression that our hero and heroine will be high school football player Paul Taylor (Donovan Leitch) and his date, cheerleader Meg Penny (Shawnee Smith). Paul is killed off early, however, and instead leather-jacketed, juvenile delinquent, Brian Flagg (Kevin Dillion) becomes out leading man. Flagg is a bit of a troublemaker, but he seems to care more than he lets on and goes up against The Blob and the military authorities to save the town and Meg. As for for Meg Penny, this girl is no damsel. She’s tough, a fighter and while also has a little brother (Michael Kenworthy) that needs kept out of danger, she’s not afraid to grab a fire extinguisher, or an M-16 to go up against the monster.

In comparison, Jane and Steve are the wholesome all-American teens of films of this era. Steve being the hero and Jane the loyal sidekick. Meg and Brian are more representative of movies of their era, with Meg being a spunky fighter and Brian, the rebellious bad boy with a heart. They are equals in the action, with Meg even stealing some of the heroic thunder in the last act, when she rescues Brian from the creatures clutches.

 

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THE SETTINGS

The setting for the classic original is a small, rural Pennsylvania town…the name on the diner implies it’s called Downingtown, which is a real PA town and one of the movie’s filming locations. Whatever the name, it’s the quintessential Norman Rockwell town with quaint houses, small local grocery store, movie theater and diner. The police force is minimal and the worst that usually happens is high school pranks and drag racing. There doesn’t seem to be a medical facility other than the town doctor.

The setting for the remake is the fictional ski resort town of Arborville, California, though it was filmed in Abbeville, Louisiana. Same can be said of this town as Blob 1958’s, in that it is the ideal picture of Americana. It also has a small police force, the whole town shows up for football games and everyone knows each other. Arborville is a town that relies on the ski season and has it’s own hospital, so it might be slightly larger than the home town of Steve Andrews and Jane Martin.

 

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THE OPENING SCENES

The Blob 1958 opens with a silly theme song over an animated background and it’s playful credits are a bit off-putting to the serious and scary tone of the movie. It wastes no time with us meeting Steve and Jane at a local make-out spot and having them witness the meteorite crash land. Within seven minutes, including credits, the old man (Olin Howland) gets The Blob on his hand and Steve and Jane find him and take him to the doctor’s office. Right to the action.

The Blob (1988)  opens with far more ominous credits, with moody electronic music accompanying images of space and then takes us down to earth and introduces us to the streets of Arborville. It takes a few minutes to introduce us to the town and some of our main characters, before homeless “Can Man”(Billy Beck) gets The Blob on his arm at about fifteen minutes in. There’s a few more minutes of character interaction again, before Paul, Meg and Flagg find him and get him to the hospital.

Both openings serve their respective stories well. The original’s goofy opening song is an odd choice for the more serious toned action that follows. The film recovers quickly, as like many films of this era, it’s economical and gets it’s story started right away and the scene of the old man meeting the extraterrestrial invader is very effective. Blob (1988) benefits from setting a mood with more ominous opening credits and giving us a little introduction to the characters and town. It’s equally effective when Can Man gets “blobbed” and the more contemporary (at the time) FX make the scene intense and disturbing. Both films open effectively, though the remake takes a little more time to let us know our leads and setting before starting things up.

 

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THE ENDINGS

Both films end with it’s respective Blobs frozen solid.

In the original, when Steve and Jane are trapped by The Blob in a supermarket, they hide in the freezer. The Blob is repulsed by the cold and thus they discover it’s weakness. Once it engulfs the diner, the fire department and Steve and Jane’s high school classmates, converge on the distracted Blob and freeze it with fire extinguishers. The last scene is the Blob being deposited at the North Pole to hopefully remain a Blob-sickle. The words THE END appear across the screen and a question mark appears after it. There was in fact a more humor-laced sequel Beware! The Blob in 1972 where a polar oil pipeline employee brings home a sample of something he hit with his bulldozer…guess what!?

The remake has Flagg and Meg trapped in the freezer at the diner and learning the creature’s aversion to cold in the same way. The climax here is on a far larger scale as the military and townsfolk are battling the massive Blob in the center of town. Flagg attacks it with a snowmaker and an M-16 bearing Meg straps explosives to the tank, dousing the monster in a storm of snow. The last scene of this version, shows the scarred Reverend Meeker (Del Close) preaching end times scripture in a tent, where it is revealed he still has the frozen Blob samples in a jar he took from the diner, only now they are quite active. Despite the set-up, the remake never got a sequel, though there has been talk recently of yet another remake, that hasn’t materialized yet.

 

 

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MISC

The Blob 1958 is directed by Irvin Yeaworth from a script by Theodore Simonson and Kay LInaker, based on a story by Irving H. Millgate. The remake is directed by Chuck Russell from a script by he and Frank Darabont, based on the original film. They both share key scenes, such as the old man getting Blob on his hand, a diner attack scene and a theater attack scene. While the original climaxes at the diner, the remake has the diner attack about half-way through. The original cost a mere $110,000 to make, while the remake cost an impressive at the time $10 million. The original grossed around $4 million and was a hit, while the remake grossed only $8.5 million and was considered a box office failure. Both films were the second feature films for their respective directors and obviously 30 years of movie FX progress allowed the remake to be far more graphic with it’s Blob carnage and have a much bigger scale to the action. The original opens with an amusing song called Beware of the Blob sung by Bernie Knee (billed as The 5 Blobs) and the remake ends with a very 80s metal song Brave New Love performed by the band Alien. The original Blob was made for general audiences, while the remake was R-rated and quite gory. Would have it been more of a hit with a teen friendly PG-13? Who knows? The original clocks in at around 86 minutes, while the remake is about 95 minutes in length. 

 

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IN CONCLUSION

Both films are very entertaining in their own right. The original is considered a horror/sci-fi classic, while the remake has taken years to develop a well deserved cult following. The original is a perfect example of what films back then were like in terms of characters, settings and story, while the remake is very 80s with it’s hair and clothes styles and characters, most notably it’s female lead getting far more physically involved in the action. Let’s not forget the cheese metal end credits song. The remake also took a little extra time for character and story development, including adding a conspiracy sub-plot, that was not in the original. Story-wise and character-wise the remake has a bit more of an edge, as the original’s bare bones approach, left little development in either area. The original doesn’t even have an appearance by any sort of scientists to at least give some speculation on what this creature is. In the remake we have the sinister Dr. Meddows (Joe Seneca). Budget and technical advancements obviously also give the remake an edge, but the original was and will always be the first version of the story to be filmed. One can love both equally.

-MonsterZero NJ

Check out more editions of A Comparison In Horror here!

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COOL STUFF: THE BLOB (1988) COLLECTOR’S EDITION BLU-RAY!

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THE BLOB (1988) COLLECTOR’S EDITION BLU-RAY!

 

The Blob (1988) (full review HERE) is an 80s remake of the 1958 classic, that sadly underperformed at the box office when it was released on August 5, 1988. The film has gained a strong cult following all these years later and is finally getting the respect it deserves. No more evidence of this is Scream Factory’s recent collector’s edition, which gives this fun flick the proper treatment.

 

As for the disc itself….

The transfer of this 80s monster movie is great and the print looks fantastic. The film is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and as it is over three decades old, there is some grain in the picture, but that is to be expected at this point. The colors are bright and vibrant, which makes the gelatinous creature all the more effective as a colorful beastie it is. The sound is in HD DTS 5.1 or DTS 2.0 and makes this action/sci-fi/horror really come alive, as the sound design on the film is already very strong. Once again Scream Factory gives a film the royal treatment all films deserve and if you are a fan of this flick, the technical presentation is reason alone to have this.

 

Now on to the extras….

The extras included are generous and features some fun stuff. For starters, there is an extensive two-part interview with Chuck Russell. In the first part he describes his journey into being a filmmaker, from his early days with Roger Corman, working on Hell Night, to his directorial debut on A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. In the second part, Russell goes into extensive detail on filming this 1988 remake. A great interview! Other interviews include, production designer Craig Stearns, FX man Chris Gilman, cinematographer Mark Irwin, FX man Peter Abrahamson, FX man Mark Setrakian, SPFX expert Tony Gardner and cast members, Candy Clark, Jeffrey DeMunn, Donovan Leitch and Bill Mosley. That’s a lot of personal insight into the making of this film! Be advised though, the box art also lists an interview with star Ricky Paull Goldin, but it does not appear with the extras. There is also some new commentary on the film, with Russell, Mark Irwin and Tony Gardner with a second solo commentary track featuring star Shawnee Smith. Scream Factory has also included a previous commentary with Chuck Russell and producer Ryan Turek. Rounding out the extras are some behind the scenes footage and, of course, the traditional theatrical trailer, TV spot and still gallery.

 

The Blob (1988) was sadly a box office disappointment when first released. A shame, as this is a fun, energetic and chilling monster movie with a lot of inventive filmmaking done to bring it’s creature to life. Today, the film has finally been recognized by genre fans and now has a well-deserved cult following. Thanks to Scream Factory, that following finally has a great way to enjoy it. Highly recommended!

 

-MonsterZero NJ

TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: RETRIBUTION (1987)

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RETRIBUTION (1987)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

80s supernatural horror opens on Halloween night with lonely artist George (Dennis Lipscomb) trying to commit suicide. He is revived, but begins to have horrifying nightmares of people he doesn’t know, being murdered in terrible ways. His psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Curtis (Leslie Wing) is baffled and cop Lt. Ashley (Hoyt Axton) is suspicious, as George’s dreams are coming true. It appears George was born on the same day and initially died at the same moment as gangster Vito Minelli, who is using George’s body to get revenge on those who murdered him.

Flick is produced and directed by Guy Magar who also co-wrote with Lee Wasserman. Despite some unintentionally goofy scenes, the film has a more serious tone than most horrors of the later 80s generally had. Vito in George’s body is a vicious and vengeful spirit, who murders people in sadistic and gory ways. We follow George’s emotional torment as he is forced to watch and take part in Vito’s gruesome vengeance and it is effective. The gore is pretty good and Magar does bring some intensity to the proceedings. On the down side, flick is about 10 minutes too long and by it’s last act it starts to wear us down with it’s brutality, but it is still an entertaining mix of slasher and supernatural horror. Magar uses some very colorful lighting filters on scenes, something that would become popular again with up and coming directors in today’s contemporary filmmaking. Despite being a malevolent spirit, Magar does earn Vito (Mike Muscat) a little sympathy when we flashback to his brutal death, though the scene also reveals his killers as equally cruel and thus removes any residual sympathy we might have had for them. In contrast, George comes across as a very sweet, if not emotionally troubled man and his romance with hooker with a heart of gold Angel (Killer Klowns’ Suzanne Snyder) adds to our empathy for him. George never really gets a break in the flick and it does resonate. Retribution would have left it’s audience with a lingering bittersweet conclusion, had Magar not opted for the cliché shock ending. Concluding it this way also doesn’t make any sense, as Vito’s vengeance is complete and there is no reason for him to continue to hang around. There was also no reason for him to attack Dr. Curtis either in the last act, other than to set up the climax, as she had nothing to do with his murder. On a production level, the film looks good for a slightly over $1 million budget. Magar uses the L.A. street locations effectively, Gary Thieltges’ cinematography is colorful and the electronic score from frequent John Carpenter collaborator Alan Howarth, adds atmosphere and 80s nostalgia.

The cast is good. Dennis Lipscomb is very likable as the troubled artist George. He’s a lonely guy, but not a creep as most characters like this are portrayed. We do feel bad for him when Vito starts to use him to kill. Leslie Wing is pretty and does a good job as the psychiatrist who seems to legitimately care for George. Axton is solid as the stereotypical cop character and Suzanne Snyder is very sweet as Angel. Snyder and Lipscomb have some chemistry together and their scenes together come across as genuine. It makes Angel and George’s tragic romance really click to the story’s benefit.

In conclusion, not a perfect movie, but an effective slasher. It’s a bit slow paced and maybe a few minutes too long, but it has a more serious tone at a time when horrors in the late 80s were becoming more humorous and self-aware. The cast add some depth to their roles and the scenes of horror are colorful and have some intensity. A bit too brutal for it’s own good at times, but otherwise a lesser known 80s horror worth checking out if you haven’t seen it.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) jack o lanterns as it does open on Halloween.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE PROWLER and FRIDAY THE 13th:THE FINAL CHAPTER

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NYC born Joseph Zito

MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature is back! This time our double feature consists of two 80s slasher classics from director Joseph Zito. Zito made three horror films in his career, including the 1980 Bloodrage, before leaving the genre to make action movies with the likes of Chuck Norris and Dolph Lundgren. Shame, these two are among the best examples of the slasher genre of the late 70s and early 80s.

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THE PROWLER (1981)

This 1981 slasher opens up in 1945 as soldiers are coming home from the war and we hear a young woman reading a ‘dear John’ break-up letter, intended for a boyfriend away on duty. We cut to Avalon Bay which is having it’s annual college graduation dance and a young couple leave the dance for a romantic walk. Their romance is cut short by someone dressed as a combat-ready soldier, who promptly runs the embracing couple through with a pitch fork, leaving a rose in the female victim’s hand. We then pick our story up in 1980 where the Avalon Bay Graduation Dance is being revived after having been halted 35 years earlier by the father of the murdered girl, Major Chatham (Lawrence Tierney). Someone is reviving another activity from that night, as a killer dressed in military gear descends on the partying co-eds with bayonet and pitchfork and starts leaving a bloody trail of bodies and roses behind. Can sweet Pam (Vicky Dawson) and her deputy boyfriend Mark (Christopher Goutman) stop this deranged killer, or will they join his list of victims?

Directed by Joseph Zito, who is mostly known for directing the fourth Friday The 13th flick and two of Chuck Norris’ biggest hits Missing In Action and Invasion U.S.A., this bloody slasher follows the 80s slasher format very well. We get a bunch of nubile young intended victims being stalked by an unbalanced killer with a grudge, who is dispatching them in gruesome and versatile fashion. We also get a pretty young heroine to serve as our ‘final girl’ and the doomed slutty girls who’ll show us their boobs! Zito also manages to serve up some suspense and some tension, too. He’s not the most stylish director, but his directing here is far less by-the-numbers than his Norris action flicks. And there is some decent cinematography from frequent Zito D.O.P. João Fernandes. The horror genre seems to suit Zito better than his generic action movies. The film has some atmosphere, a touch of Scooby-Doo-ish mystery and it is an entertaining 90 minutes of horror that represents the era well. It’s not perfect, we really aren’t given enough suspects, or red herrings, to make it really interesting, though when we do get the big reveal, it is still kind of a surprise. We never really get to know the victims all that well, so most of their deaths have little impact other than Tom Savini’s still effective gore FX.

The cast are fine, even though we only really get to know Pam and Mark. Actors Dawson and Goutman make them likable enough. The rest are generic horny college kids, who are there to be victims and they serve that purpose well. Vet Tierney doesn’t get to have any lines, despite the film implying he’s a suspect, so not sure why they even hired a name actor for the part.

In conclusion, The Prowler is still one of the better slashers of this era. Maybe not in the same league as Halloween, or the original Friday The 13th, but it is a solid enough slasher and is a fun and nostalgic sample of the type of film made in the early 80s before films like Evil Dead, ScannersRe-Animator and A Nightmare On Elm Street took horror in new directions. A fun, gory example of what made 80s slashers fun. Extra credit for filming in my home stomping ground of New Jersey!

Rated a solid 3 (out of 4) pitchforks!

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WARNING: this trailer does show a lot of plot elements…

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FRIDAY THE 13th: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1984)

Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter is one of my favorites of the sequels and the one that comes closest to matching the original. The film saw not only a return to the more serious tone and atmosphere of the original film, but with the return of Tom Savini to the make-up FX duties, also brought back the more intense and graphic kills and gore.

This entry opens right where Part 3 left off with Jason (stuntman Ted White) and his victims carted off to the morgue from the Higgins place only to have Jason revive and escape, but not before gruesomely murdering two horny hospital employees. We then switch to two houses deep in the woods near Crystal Lake, one occupied by single mother Mrs. Jarvis (Joan Freeman) and her daughter Trish (Kimberly Beck) and young son Tommy (Corey Feldman), the other occupied by a group of partying youths on a make-out and drinking getaway. A certain someone has returned home to his stomping grounds and now has targeted both young partiers and innocent family alike. Will any of them survive his relentless rage?

This installment brought in The Prowler director Joseph Zito and he brings the suspense, atmosphere and intensity to the proceedings that made that 1981 slasher one of the more entertaining of the time period. He comes very close to providing an equal to the original Friday with what was supposed to be Jason’s final film. The kills are brutal, as well, and with Savini’s return, the make-up FX are quite inventive and gory. Zito leaves some of the lighter humor that appeared in Part 3 behind and it keeps the atmosphere taunt and foreboding, as it should be. The film also added an interesting plot element in the character of Rob (Erich Anderson), who at first seems like a hunter/camper, but turns out to be the vengeful brother of a girl murdered by Jason (Sandra played by Marta Kober from Part 2) and he is now stalking the lethal serial killer with the intent of ending his reign of terror. One of the film’s few faults is the confrontation between these two could have been a bit more epic. The character of young Tommy (Feldman) being a bit of a geek/make-up artist also adds a fun twist to the proceedings.

As for the rest of the characters, this bunch are a lot livelier then most of the generic victims and with the inclusion of Crispin Glover in one of his most ‘normal’ roles as a shy teen and 80s movie fixture Judy Aronson as a one of the babes, we get a nice group of likable, horny teens to fall under Jason’s varied weapons. It gives their deaths impact because we like them and the young cast give them life and personality. Also stars Hell Night’s Peter Barton as one of the party goers who meets Jason’s wrath and the score is one again by Harry Manfredini.

A really good entry in the series and by far the best of the sequels.

MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: There is a small mistake here in this installment. When driving past a graveyard, they spot Mrs. Voorhees’ tombstone which has her date of death being 1979. But, as we all know, she actually died on Friday June 13th, 1980 by having her head removed by final girl Alice in the original Friday The 13th.

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) hockey masks

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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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