IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: SWEET HOME (1989)

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SWEET HOME (1989)

Hard to find haunted house flick has TV producer Kazuo Hoshino (Shingo Yamashiro) bringing a crew to the supposedly haunted Mamiya mansion that has been sealed for thirty years. It was the home of famed artist Ichirō Mamiya and Kazuo believes his final works rest inside. Along for the production are his daughter Emi (Nokko), reporter Asuka (Fukumi Kuroda), cinematographer Ryō Taguchi (Ichiro Furutachi) and Akiko Hayakawa (Nobuko Miyamoto) his producer whom he has feelings for. Once inside they find that all the rumors are horribly true as a terrible incident decades earlier has left a vengeful spirit lurking inside the mansion.

Film is written and directed very effectively by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. All the haunted house traditions are present with the mansion itself being a very spooky and deserted place. There is a tragic backstory to give our haunting it’s purpose and a group of individuals who refuse to believe the folklore of the house, until it’s too late. Stormy nights, grotesque phantoms and some gory deaths are presented in a very entertaining fashion with Kiyoshi Kurosawa giving us just enough time to get to know the characters before the spooks hit the fan. It even has an old gas station attendant, Yamamura (producer Jûzô Itami), to give the traditional warnings and exposition. It’s a lot of spooky and gruesome fun and the make-up effects are not only nostalgically practical, it was the 80s after all, but done by make-up effects legend Dick Smith. When we finally see Lady Mamiya’s spirit in full view, it doesn’t disappoint. There are some chills, thrills, some blood spilled and a very exciting and suspenseful climax, as our survivors face the angry spirit head-on. You even need to watch through the credits for something extra. It’s a very entertaining haunted house flick that can stand on it’s own up against flicks like Poltergeist which set a standard in the 80s. Atmospherically directed, the house setting itself is great and there is just enough humor to make it fun without offsetting the scares. Despite being a familiar tale, the movie has it’s own creepy identity and likable characters to fear for.

As those characters, we have a solid cast. Yamashiro is good as Hoshino. He’s a likable guy and avoids the arrogance most characters like this carry. His intentions are good. Popstar Nokko is endearing as Hoshino’s teen daughter Emi. She’s rebellious, though not annoying and serves as a damsel in distress in the final act. Nobuko Miyamoto is widower Hoshino’s producer. A pretty woman he has feelings for and a strong heroine when all Hell breaks loose. Ichiro Furutachi and Fukumi Kuroda are fine in their roles, though they serve more as body count. Rounding out is producer Jûzô Itami, who is good in the classic role as Yamamura. An efficient and likable cast.

In conclusion, this flick desperately needs a blu-ray release! It was spooky, gory fun and had a likable group of characters ignoring the classic warnings to suffer the consequences. There were some great practical make-up FX from the late, great Dick Smith and a very creepy house where it’s paranormal action takes place. A very solid and old fashioned haunted house flick from Japan.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 (out of 4) spooks

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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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