TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: STRANGE BEHAVIOR (1981)

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STRANGE BEHAVIOR (1981)

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1981 slasher flick has the youth of Galesburg, Illinois being murdered by their peers for no apparent reason. Cop and widower John Brady (Michael Murphy) thinks it has something to do with experiments being conducted at Galesburg Univesity and might link back to a man he’s investigated before, Dr. Le Sange (Arthur Dignam). Not only has Le Sange been dead for years though, but Brady blames him for the death of his wife. Now with his own son, Pete (Dan Shor) in danger, Brady must solve the mystery of why some of his young citizens are being murdered and by their own classmates.

Flick is the directorial debut from Michael Laughlin from a script by Bill Condon. it is atmospheric and has some spooky scenes and while advertising pushed the slasher element, it is equal parts sci-fi as it does deal with mind control experiments years before Disturbing Behavior. There are some gory moments and the kills have impact, but if there is anything that holds this chiller back is it’s pace. Laughlin guides the proceedings with a dreadfully slow pace and it really doesn’t help as, much like his Strange Invaders two years later, it makes this 90+ minute flick feel much longer. That and once we get our big reveal, it’s not really anything we weren’t expecting. Still, it tries to be something a bit different than the slasher flicks of the time and the cinematography by Louis Horvath and music by Tangerine Dream do add a lot of atmosphere.

The cast are fine. Murphy isn’t really all that convincing as the cop type, but he is a suitable working class hero. Dan Shor is likable as Pete, who is lured into the sinister experiments by the need for quick cash. Fiona Lewis makes a fine femme fatale villainess as Dr. Gwen Parkinson, who was Le Sange’s protegeé and is now continuing the experiments. Arthur Dignam is suitably creepy as Le Sange who appears in recorded lectures and Dey Young is feisty and cute as Pete’s love interest and our heroine. Louise Fletcher also appears as a local waitress with eyes for Murphy’s widower cop, who gets pulled into his obsessive investigation.

Overall this is an OK flick that could have been better with a healthier pace and maybe a few red herrings to throw us off the trail we eventually find ourselves on. Obviously there is a reason these experiments are leading to murder and we can pretty much see what is coming before it does. There are some effective moments, the plot is a bit more involved than the slashers of this era and there is some nice atmosphere to make it worth a look. Laughlin would use quite a few cast members again in his Strange Invaders.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 knives.

 

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: STRANGE INVADERS (1983)

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STRANGE INVADERS (1983)

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

In 1958 a ship from another world lands in Centerville, Illinois and the entire town’s population disappears. Twenty-five years later, entomologist Charles Bigelow (Paul Le Mat) travels to Centerville to find his ex-wife Margaret (Diana Scarwid) who traveled there for the funeral of her mother. When Charles gets there, he finds the citizens don’t seem to like strangers, they’ve never heard of his ex-wife or her mother and he is chased out of town by something that can only be described as otherworldly. But whatever inhabits Centerville has followed him back to NYC and has targeted his young daughter, Elizabeth (Lulu Sylbert). Now Charles teams with a tabloid reporter (Nancy Allen) to try to save his daughter from these beings from another world and whatever purpose they have in store for her.

Fifties alien invasion movie homage is written and directed by Michael Laughlin and does have the feel of an old school sci-fi flick, though is also still very eighties. It’s a bit goofy at times, though that seems deliberate and the FX are delightfully cheesy, which gives it a certain charm. There are some amusing sequences of otherworldly action and Laughlin does capture the flavor of what he is paying homage to. If the film falters in any respect it is in that, much like his Strange Behavior, the flick is very slow paced and feels much longer than it’s 90+ minute running time. Strange Invaders could have used a bit more steam in it’s stride, though wisely plays it straight and doesn’t make an outright joke out of the proceedings, which fondly evokes camp classics like Invaders From Mars and Invasion of the Saucer Men. A fun enough movie that doesn’t quite hit the mark straight on but gets enough of the target to be an entertaining time.

The cast all perform in that fifties sci-fi flick dramatic monotone, on purpose of course. Le Mat makes a fine every-man hero and plays the nerdy scientist type well. Nancy Allen makes a spunky, sexy leading lady as the tabloid reporter who at first scoffs at Bigelow’s tale, but slowly starts to believe him…and fall for him as is tradition with these flicks. Louise Fletcher is fine as a government official that knows more than she’s letting on, though Scarwid is a little unconvincing in her role as ex-wife and extraterrestrial. Maybe she didn’t get the material. There are also appearances by Michael Lerner as a man who years ago encountered the invaders and femme fatale Fiona Lewis and fifties sci-fi flick legend Kenneth Tobey are appropriately campy as aliens in human form.

This homage to the great alien invasion movies of the fifties may not have fired on all cylinders, but did connect enough to be a fun time. It’s both delightfully fifties and nostalgically eighties and is enjoyable even if it does move a little too slowly for it’s own good. Sadly this film flopped at the box office and Michael Laughlin directed one more movie before leaving the director’s chair to focus on writing.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 strange invaders.

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: CASSADAGA (2011)

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CASSADAGA (2011)

Cassadaga takes place in the real life town of Cassadaga, Florida which is apparently renown as “The Psychic Capital Of America”. And while there is a psychic character in this serial killer/haunting mash-up, it really doesn’t use it’s location to any sort of real advantage other than to add a little atmosphere to the film. Horror flick opens with a young boy being chastised by his mother for dressing like a girl. She tears up his dress and smashes the puppet he is playing with and he responds by mutilating his privates with a pair of scissors. What a way to start! We then move forward years later to focus on pretty, deaf art teacher, Lily (Kelen Coleman) who is traumatized when her younger sister (Sarah Sculco) is killed in an accident outside her school. Distraught, Lily leaves everything behind to return to art school in Cassadaga, her mother’s alma mater and restart her life. She’s staying with the headmistress (Louise Fletcher), who knew her mom, and her strange reclusive grandson Thomas (Lucas Beck) who likes to watch abusive porn and masterbate in his room. When she starts to see a handsome divorcee (Kevin Alejandro), a date finds them at the home of a psychic whom Lily asks to put her in touch with her dead sister. But it is the angry ghost of a missing young woman named Jennifer (Amy LoCicero) who contacts her instead and thus begins an intense haunting that seems to be forcing Lily into solving her death…and a confrontation with the serial killer who killed Jennifer…a serial killer who may be a lot closer to Lily than she realizes.

Under the direction of Anthony DiBlasi, Cassadaga is an atmospheric and fairly entertaining chiller that combines some familiar elements of both the haunting and serial killer sub-genres and has some very spooky scenes. It’s just that Bruce Wood and Scott Poiley’s script starts to crumble a bit in it’s last act when Lily turns Nancy Drew and starts investigating Jennifer’s death which points possibly to Thomas. She learns to pick a lock like a professional in a matter of hours in order to sneak into Thomas’ room to find some sort of incriminating evidence, in the hopes of appeasing Jennifer’s angry spirit. And to be honest, it gets a little silly. When the killer is revealed it is also kind of hard to believe that they have avoided capture all this time, as they appear to be very sloppy at the whole serial killer thing. Perfect example would be that the killer has a lair in the middle of the woods yet, for some reason, has another one on the school grounds where it is far easier for him to be seen or discovered…such as, let’s say, by a pretty deaf art teacher/student. The killer’s identity is also no surprise as the film gives us very few suspects to begin with and since we witnessed him remove his privates as a child, it makes sense to omit anyone who still has use of their’s from the suspect list. Still DiBlasi does create some very effective and disturbing scenes when we are in the killer’s liar and the climactic confrontation with Lily is tense and a little brutal. Another reason the film works well enough with a lot of familiar elements is, not only the director’s use of those elements, but we have an exceptionally likable heroine in Lily. On a technical side, the production looks good with some nice cinematography and solid make-up and gore effects and a spooky score from Dani Donadi.

Overall the cast are all fine, but it is adorable lead Kelen Coleman who gives us a very sweet yet emotional scarred woman, who turns into a strong and determined heroine when supernaturally inspired. She’s very endearing and we let some of the film’s flaws and plot holes slide, because we want to see her get through this and we like her. Sure it’s a bit far-fetched that she’d pursue this dangerous killer alone, when her haunting episodes cause her new beau to walk away from it to protect the visitation rights with his daughter, but we root for her anyway. I also liked that her being deaf was just part of her character and rarely exploited as a plot device.

So in conclusion, we have a horror/thriller with a lot of familiar, but well used elements, a third act where the story starts to fall apart a little, but a really likable heroine played by a very charming actress. I was entertained by Cassadaga, it could have been better with a tighter script, but it was effective and atmospheric enough to keep my interest and the final confrontation had impact. I think director DiBlasi has a lot of potential, as I did also enjoy his previous horror flick the 2009 Dread, an interesting film about a college psychological experiment that spirals out of control in a horrible way. So he is definitely a filmmaker to keep an eye on, just as we shall be keeping an eye out for more of the lovely Miss Coleman as well.

F.Y.I. : Keep watching after it ends as Cassadaga also has a post credits scene that hints we may not have seen the last of Lily’s spooky adventures. And to be honest, even with Cassadaga’s flaws, I liked Lily enough that I’d check it out if she does return in a sequel.

3 sexy and haunted heroines!

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