TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE SENTINEL (1977)

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THE SENTINEL (1977)

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Flick is a prime example of the type of big studio, all star cast, horror films that came out in the 70s after the success of films like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby. It tells the story of emotionally troubled model Alison Parker (Christina Raines), who moves into an old building in Brooklyn with a group of eccentric neighbors, including an old blind priest (John Carradine) who lives on the top floor and constantly stares out the window despite his handicap. No sooner does she movie in, that strange things start to happen. She begins to suffer headaches and strange dreams and she’s even told by the realtor (Ava Gardner) that, aside from the old priest, there is no one else living in her building. Despite these developments, Alison continues to live there and her nightmarish visions continue to worsen. It appears that the apartment is a gateway to hell and the old blind priest is it’s guardian. It’s time for a changing of the guard, though…and guess who has been chosen to watch the gateway next?

Film is written and directed by British filmmaker and frequent Charles Bronson director, Michael Winner from Jeffery Konvitz’s book. It has some genuinely creepy and disturbing moments, thought they are inconsistent in their delivery and the film takes about halfway through for stuff to really start getting spooky. Winner has a very straightforward style, so the film has a very by-the-numbers feel, though he does manage some legitimate chills here and there. There is some good gore and makeup FX from the legendary Dick Smith and the film did receive some harsh criticism for it’s use of actual deformed people as demonic minions in it’s unsettling climax. The pace is a moderate one and we get a very ominous conclusion, as was common with 70s horror flicks. It’s not a bad flick, but one that could have been a lot better with a more stylish director behind the camera to give it some life and intensity…though, again, Winner does create a memorable and atmospheric climax and some chilling moments along the way. It’s just a little stale at times.

Christina Raines is fine as the emotionally scarred young woman thrust into a nightmarish situation. She is a little wooden in her performance, but she does alright. As stated there is an all star cast in support of lead Raines. Chris Sarandon plays her high profile, lawyer boyfriend who doubts her at first, then does some investigating which changes his mind and gives us needed exposition. He is a little uncharacteristically bland in the role. Carradine has little to do as the blind priest Father Halliran and has no dialog. We also have Ava Garder as a realtor, Burgess Meredith as one of Alison’s spectral neighbors, Eli Wallach as a hard-nosed cop and Martin Balsam as an eccentric professor. We also have some rising stars such as a young Christopher Walken as a detective, Jeff Goldblum (who starred as a thug in Winner’s Death Wish) as a photographer and Tom Berenger as a new tenant.

This is a moderately entertaining 70s horror flick from a director more known for his Bronson headlined action flicks. It has some legitimate creepy moments, but takes awhile to get started. It’s basically all a set-up for it’s disturbing climax which came under fire, in the day, for using real deformed and handicapped individuals to portray it’s demonic creatures. Regardless of how one feels about that, it is very spooky and makes up for some of the film’s somewhat staler aspects. Some feel it’s a classic and while I’m not one of them, I respect that opinion as it certainly has it’s moments. Worth a look.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 spooky specters

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 (1988)

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FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 (1988)

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Fright Night Part II might be one of the most under-appreciated sequels…at least by it’s distributors, as it does have a cult following…of all-time, as the film got an under-the-radar limited release back in the day, despite the success of the original and even worse treatment with sub-par full-screen VHS and DVD releases. A proper release is still eagerly awaited.

The sequel takes place 3 years after the original Fright Night. Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) is now in college and finishing up years of therapy that has him believing Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon) was only a serial killer and the delusion of him being a vampire was all created in Charley’s head to cope with the horrible events. Charley also has a hot new girlfriend, Alex (80s flick cutie Tracy Lind) and hasn’t talked to Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) in years. As for the Great Vampire Killer, all the attention has gotten Vincent his Fright Night TV show hosting job back and all seems well when the two finally get together to bring closure to their horrible experience…until Charley sees large boxes being moved into Vincent’s very apartment building and gets a chilling feeling of familiarity. And his deja-vu is certainly warranted as Jerry Dandrige’s vampire sister Regine (a smoldering Julie Carmen) has come to exact revenge with her ghoulish entourage, the androgynous Belle (Russell Clark, who also choreographed Carmen’s performance art sequences), lupine shapeshifter Louie (Jon Gries, who also played the werewolf with nards in Monster Squad) and hulking, insect eating chauffeur Bozworth (genre favorite Brian Thompson). Regine’s plans are simple…turn Charley into one of the undead, murder those he loves and take over as host of Fright Night for good measure…then torture Charley for all eternity.

I have no idea why this sequel has been treated so badly over the years. It’s not quite as good as the first flick, but is actually a pretty solid follow-up and a good deal of fun. The film is directed by John Carpenter alumni Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III, Stephen King’s It) who co-wrote the script with Tim Metcalfe and Miguel Tejeda-Flores. Wallace delivers a good looking film, having learned a lot about shot framing from Carpenter, and while it’s not quite the fun-house that the original chiller is, it mixes horror with humor well and has a number of fun/spooky scenes with plenty of action. The plot also works in giving us a second installment that isn’t forced and provides us with enough elements from Fright Night to feel like a continuation, but also does it’s own thing. Regine is a known personality, recognized as a performance artist and she moves around out in the open, as when she takes over hosting duties on the Fright Night TV show. If the film falters a bit, it’s that it’s momentum slows down somewhat in the middle act as Regine continues to seduce Charley and Vincent is institutionalized for attacking Regine on the show’s set. The film does pick up for it’s final confrontation, though it is not as bombastic and fun as the first film’s. Overall, the movie seems to have a slightly lower budget and thus the action is a bit scaled down, but I think Wallace makes up for it with some very clever bits and by having some ghoulish fun with his premise and characters such as Regine’s thugs having a gruesome bowling night while she is off premiering on TV. The make-up FX can be a bit rubbery at times, but that adds some charm now and Brad Fiedel returns to score, so it feels like a Fright Night  film. Not sure why all the disrespect from it’s labels.

The cast are having a good time, too. Ragsdale and McDowall pick up right where they left off in the original, but with Charley being a slightly more mature character three years later and Vincent seems to have developed a bit more of a backbone since he last battled bloodsuckers. The two actors seem to really enjoy working together and their on-screen chemistry is infectious. Lind makes a welcome addition to the team as adorable and smart Alex. In a turn of events, it is she who comes to Charley’s rescue and proves herself a resourceful and spunky heroine in true 80s fashion. I liked her better than Amanda Bearse’s whiny Amy. Julie Carmen is smoldering-ly sexy and conveys a definite lethal quality as Regine. It is completely believable she can seduce Charley…and those scenes are hot…despite his dealings with her kind and it is a little disappointing the actress wasn’t given an opportunity to put up a bigger fight in the scaled-down climax. As her eccentric undead thugs, Clarke (whose character is mute), Gries and Thompson all seem to be having a good time, especially the nice touch of Thompson’s Bozworth reciting the Latin genus of his insect meals before consumption. Creepy fun! A good cast who all get the tone of the material and their individual characters.

So, in conclusion, I like this sequel a lot and will never understand the terrible treatment it continues to get. It is not as good as the first film, but is a worthy enough second go around and the cast is charming as always, as is the 80s nostalgia it now carries with it. It succeeds far more than it fails and despite a slow mid-section and a slightly less exciting ending, it is a solid sequel and left me wanting to see a third installment back when I first saw it and McDowall was still with us. This film is crying out for a Scream Factory special edition, but apparently the label who owns it (I believe it’s Lionsgate) won’t budge in allowing it (so I am told), or do anything with it on it’s own. With it’s cult following, I don’t see how a release wouldn’t do well. The film also stars Merritt Butrick (Kirk’s son in Wrath Of Khan and Search For Spock) in one of his last film appearances before his AIDS related death in 1989.

Rated 3 (out of 4) fangs.

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: FRIGHT NIGHT (1985)

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FRIGHT NIGHT (1985)

Fright Night is a fun 80s horror flick written and directed by Child’s Play‘s Tom Holland. The story is simple…teen and avid horror movie fan Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) gets a new neighbor next door, the charming and handsome Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon), who Charley quickly comes to believe is a vampire, but obviously, no one believes Charley. As he tries desperately to convince his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse) and weird friend “Evil” Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) of his neighbor’s deadly nocturnal activities, he also turns to horror movie actor Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), who is the closest thing he knows to a vampire killer. But even if he can convince them, can this motley bunch stop a real vampire before he turns his fangs on them? Obviously it’s no spoiler to say that Sarandon’s Dandridge is quite the bloodsucking fiend and Charley and Co. are in for the fight of their lives…and a fun and suspenseful fight it is.

As with the 1988 Child’s PlayHolland takes his story seriously, but gives us plenty of humor to go along with the chills and thrills, of which Fright Night has plenty, as we watch Charley first trying to out the fiend then incurring his wrath. This movie is so delightfully 80’s now, too, with it’s clothing, hairstyles and synthesizer filled music, but it is still a lot of spooky fun under Holland’s guidance and his cast is one of the reasons. Ragsdale plays the lead role perfectly, he’s a nerdy teen with the same urges and active imagination as most boys his age, but he finds the hero within when faced with a horror from out of one of his favorite films. The legendary Roddy McDowall couldn’t be better as cowardly horror star, Peter Vincent, who is forced to overcome his fears and become the vampire killer he’s played for years, to battle a frighteningly real monster and save himself and his new friends. Chris Sarandon makes a delightfully sinister, yet charming villain as the vampire next door, playing the role with equal parts sexy and scary. He is very convincing as a powerful and lethal predator, but you also have no problem believing he can charm Charley’s single mom, or his girlfriend Amy right out of Charley’s protective arms. And while on the subject, Bearse is fine as Amy being virginal and sweet at first and then getting to vamp it up under Dandridge’s influence. And Geoffrey’s is amusing as “Evil”  though he does go a bit over the top at times in a flick that’s played mostly straight. He does provide some comic relief and the character is endearing despite his overeager performance and by no means disrupts the film. The SPFX in this decently budgeted flick are top notch, as far as the abundant make-up and visual effects go and while the end is a bit overblown, it is in a Halloween spook-house kinda way and is an entertaining, if not slightly bombastic finish.

An entertaining horror flick that’s become a bit of a classic and now has some added 80s nostalgia to bring to the spooky mix and is a Halloween season favorite of mine as well. Spawned a Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III) directed sequel in 1988 featuring Charley and Peter Vincent battling Dandridge’s vengeful sister, played by Julie Carmen. The sequel is pretty entertaining on it’s own, though, for some reason, was shown little attention by the studio and audiences when it was given a limited release before going to VHS and later DVD.

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) fangs!

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: CHILD’S PLAY (1988)

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CHILD’S PLAY (1988)

Child’s Play is a fun 80s horror thriller that proves that a talented director can turn even a silly premise like this into an entertaining movie. The film opens with psychotic killer Charles “Chucky” Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) being hunted and shot by police. The mortally wounded maniac finds temporary solace in a toy store long enough to use his skills in Voodoo to transfer his soul into a Good Guys doll before his body expires. Enter widowed mom Karen (Catherine Hicks) and her 6 year old son Andy (Alex Vincent) who is a huge Good Guys fan and wants nothing more then an expensive talking Good Guys doll for his birthday. But when gal pal Maggie (Dinah Manoff) finds a street peddler selling one, she alerts Catherine who buys one for Andy. The doll announces itself as Chucky and no sooner is the doll in the apartment when bad things start to happen like babysitting Maggie taking a dive out of the apartment window. When Andy is found at the scene of another death, that of a former associate of Charles Lee Ray, the police begin to expect something is wrong with Andy, but the boy insists it was Chucky’s doing and his mom starts to investigate the doll’s origins, refusing to believe her son is a killer. But the more she investigates the more she starts to believe the impossible, that the soul of a killer inhabits the doll and she, her son and anyone that crossed Ray are in mortal danger… but who will believe her? Worse still is that Ray must transfer his soul into Andy’s body as his doll body becomes more human and thus vulnerable as time goes by.

Directed and co-written by Tom Holland, who also gave us the 80s classic vampire flick Fright Night, Child’s Play is a fun thriller despite it’s silly premise and the fact that the killer is a 3 foot tall doll with the voice of Brad Dourif. Holland and his cast, including Fright Night‘s Chris Sarandon as Det. Mike Norris, take the proceedings seriously and not making a joke out of it helps us to go along with it to enough of a degree that it entertains us. As a child with a pretty demanding role, Alex Vincent is quite good as Andy, which also goes a long way in making this flick work. Holland crafts some suspense which is an achievement since our villain is a plastic doll in overalls. He imbues Chucky with a lethality that, along with Dourif’s vocals, which give him quite the personality and some excellent FX to bring him to life, also help make this work far better then it should. The film moves very quickly which gives us little time to question plot holes or the sheer audacity of what we are watching. Once the film is over, you’ve had a good enough time to not really care that you just spent 90 minutes watching a homicidal maniac possessed doll killing people.

The film’s not perfect, the story moves a little too quick for it’s own good and it basically get’s it’s principles believing there is a killer doll on the loose far too early and easily when it was far more intriguing to have Chucky let Andy take the blame and having his mother deal with the possibility her son is a killer. The Terminator-like finale is borderline ridiculous, but somehow works and works well. But by the time the credits roll, you’ve let Holland and Co. convince you to take this nonsense seriously enough to enjoy yourself, so you can forgive the film some of it’s flaws and enjoy the fact that you’ve spent the last 90 minutes in fear of a kid’s toy.

Fun flick that created a horror icon and inspired a franchise that got more twisted and outrageous as the series when on… and mostly in a good way.

A solid 3 killer dolls!

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