CULT CLASSIC CUTIES: LEAH AYRES as MICHELLE in THE BURNING!

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Cult Classic Cuties are characters from some of our favorite cult classics and midnight movies who captured our hearts and/or actresses who got our attention, but sadly never returned to these type of flicks. They’re femme fatales and final girls whose sexy stars shined only briefly, not quite achieving scream queen status. And this installment’s cutie is…

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LEAH AYRES as MICHELLE in THE BURNING!

This installment of Cult Classic Cuties, goes back to it’s usual format and focuses on an actress who starred in only one horror flick in her two decade long acting career and it is a cult classic for sure! Leah Ayres worked steadily in movies and TV for almost twenty years, between 1979 and 1998, yet starred in only one horror flick, The Burning! In Tony Maylam’s summer camp set slasher, drunken camp caretaker Cropsy is pranked by some teens and when it goes horribly awry, he’s critically burned and disfigured. Five years later, Cropsy returns to the area for revenge and stalks the occupants of Camp Stonewater, where the lovely and feisty Michelle is a counselor!

(You can read my full review for The Burning by clicking the highlighted titles or on the poster below)

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As sexy, camp counselor Michelle…

Campfire stories may prove all too true when Cropsey targets Camp Stonewater.

Maybe the only peaceful sleep Michelle gets after a vengeful killer stalks the camp!

Michelle gets the heads up that a killer is on the loose!

Can the brave and feisty Michelle bring help in time?

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Leah Ayres, now Leah Kalish, still keeps busy with a family and working with Yoga and fitness for kids by creating health oriented videos and programing for children. We will always remember her for her feisty and brave Michelle from her one cult classic horror, The Burning! A Cult Classic Cutie for sure!
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Be sure to check out our Cult Classic Cuties (click right here for the link) section to see more crush worthy ladies from cult films and midnight movies!

-MonsterZero NJ

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: MARTIN (1978)

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MARTIN (1978)

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

This George Romero film made in 1976, before Dawn Of The Dead, tells the story of Martin (John Amplas), a young man who thinks he is an 84 year-old vampire. Despite his belief, he knows he can’t change into a bat, the sun won’t turn him to dust and crosses and garlic won’t harm him either. He does however feed on blood and uses a syringe and razor blades to do so. He is forced to live with his extremely religious uncle Tateh Cuda (Lincoln Maazel) in Pennsylvania, who thinks Martin is an actual vampire. Now Martin must be more careful in finding victims as his uncle would just as soon put an end to his vampiric habits the old fashioned way.

As written and directed by Romero, Martin is a somber and disturbing tale of a young man acting out some deep issues under the guise of vampirism. Martin’s obviously has more grounded psychological problems such as being socially inept, homicidal and fearful of normal sexual contact. Romero daringly portrays the latter by showing Martin disrobe and lie with his unconscious female victims implying the need for far more than blood. Sadder still, is that his uncle knows of his homicidal tendencies and is so backwards in his thinking that instead of getting Martin professional help, he fills the house with garlic and crosses. Even when Martin enters an actual affair with a lonely housewife (Elyane Nadeau), he still seeks other victims for his needs. Romero creates a character that is tragic and creepy in Martin, yet also makes the young man underneath the pseudo-vampire oddly likable. The director also cleverly uses black and white flashbacks to portray Martin’s ‘memories’ of being a vampire, pursuing his victims and being pursued by angry mobs from some past time. It shows how deep-rooted Martin’s belief is as he has created his own backstory in his head. The film has a deliberately moderate pace and despite Martin’s heinous acts, the not too unexpected climax comes across as tragic and a bit sad. Martin, after all, is not a monster just a very deeply disturbed young man.

The cast all perform well, especially lead John Amplas who is able to make Martin creepy yet sympathetic and sad. There is a facet of Martin that is oddly likeable and Amplas gives him an offbeat charm despite the character’s homicidal and sexually deviate activities. Lincoln Maazel is imposing and authoritative as Martin’s old world uncle and the Van Helsing of this vampire saga. He is boorish and borderline abusive as he tries to deal with his ‘vampire’ nephew. He exemplifies the outdated thinking that hampers the treatment of the mentally ill, especially at the time this was made. There is also Christine Forrest, the future Mrs. Romero, as Martin’s sweet and sympathetic cousin, Christina, FX legend Tom Savini as her macho boyfriend and a cameo by George Romero himself as a priest.

While not discussed as much as his zombie films, this is still a very interesting film from Romero. It makes commentary on mental illness and the outdated treatment of it through it’s tragic lead character, who thinks he’s a vampire and his old fashioned, narrow minded uncle who agrees. It takes an interesting point of view as Martin is very practical about his vampirism to the point of admitting there is nothing supernatural about it. It has some very disturbing moments and some early examples of Tom Savini gore, but also makes it’s homicidal, sexual deviate a bit sympathetic as with proper care, there might be have been a good kid inside him that could have come out. Another example of Romero’s unique slant on a familiar tale.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 razors.

 

 

 

 

 

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CULT CLASSIC CUTIES: CAROLINE WILLIAMS as STRETCH in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2!

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Cult Classic Cuties are characters from some of our favorite cult classics and midnight movies who captured our hearts and/or actresses who got our attention, but sadly never returned to these type of flicks, or whose sexy stars shined only briefly not quite achieving scream queen status. And this installment’s cutie is…

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CAROLINE WILLIAMS as STRETCH in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986)!

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 is Tobe Hooper and Cannon Pictures’ 1986 sequel to the 1974 horror masterpiece. It features the Sawyer family continuing their murderous, cannibalistic ways, now peddling their secret ingredient in an award winning chili. When Leatherface (Bill Johnson) and brother Chop Top (Bill Moseley) get recorded on a radio talk show carving up a couple of yuppies, leggy DJ Vanita ‘Stretch’ Brock becomes the family’s next target…and the object of Leatherface’s gruesome affection.
Who better to portray a sexy Texas radio DJ than sexy Texas born actress Caroline Williams!  Williams had appeared in a few film and TV roles before being cast in this slasher sequel, but this was her first lead role and she definitely caught the attention of horror film fans everywhere. Her sassy, spunky and resilient Stretch is quite the capable final girl and despite finding herself in the Sawyer family’s clutches, she proves that you should never mess with a girl from Texas…or wear their friend’s faces. Despite a strong and memorable performance, this was the only time Williams would do final girl duty despite appearing in a few more fright flicks over her long career.

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(click on the poster for a full review)

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Long-legged, Daisy Duke wearing Stretch is a texas girl through and through!

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The sexy DJ attracts the wrong attention when she records a murder over the radio!

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Now she finds herself at the wrong end of Leatherface’s attention…and chainsaw!

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…though maybe the cannibalistic Sawyer family picked the wrong Texas cutie to pick on!

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Never piss-off a girl from Texas!

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The actress has kept busy after her altercation with Drayton Sawyer (Jim Siedow) and his demented kin. She continues working in movies and TV and has even has done a few more horror flicks, including an appearance in the Sweet Tooth segment in last year’s ghoulishly fun Halloween anthology, Tales Of Halloween. But it is her one final girl film appearance that captured our hearts, kicking cannibal ass with a sexy smile, long legs and a pair of Daisy Dukes and that certainly earns her the title Cult Classic Cutie!

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Still a beauty 30 years after teaching the Sawyers she can handle a chainsaw just as good, or better, than the good ole boys!

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Be sure to check out our Cult Classic Cuties (click right here on the link) section to see more crush worthy ladies from cult films and midnight movies!

-MonsterZero NJ

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: CREEPSHOW (1982)

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CREEPSHOW (1982)

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

In 1982, horror masters Stephen King and George A. Romero collaborated on this anthology movie that was inspired by the old horror comics from EC Comics. The film, written by King and directed by Romero, presented five horror-themed stories bookended by a segment about a young boy (Joe King) having his horror comic thrown out by his overbearing father (Tom Atkins). Outside in the garbage can, the pages of the book come to life, opening up and allowing the skeletal “Creep” to present it’s tales. Our first is Father’s Day which tells the story of Nathan Grantham (The Boogens‘ Jon Lormer) a rich curmudgeon murdered by his daughter (Viveca Lindfors). As his children and grandchildren gather for Father’s Day, Nathan comes back from the grave for ghostly revenge. Next is The Lonesome Death Of Jordy Verrill which has King himself playing a country bumpkin who has an unfortunate encounter with a fallen meteorite. This is followed by Something to Tide You Over, a story of infidelity, murder and revenge from beyond the watery grave with Leslie Nielsen and Ted Danson. Then we are treated to The Crate, a tale of an old crate discovered in a university basement and the horrific creature that lives within it. Finally we get They’re Creeping Up On You, a segment about a mean, old, germ-fearing, Howard Hughes-like recluse (E.G. Marshall) with a very nasty bug problem.

Back in the day, those expecting a fright-fest of epic proportions from the collaboration of Romero and King were sadly disappointed by this comic bookish and tongue-in-cheek anthology that focuses on ghoulish humor far more than scares. Creepshow is a lot of  fun, though, especially years later with the added 80s nostalgia, but while there are some chills, it is never really all that scary…and it wasn’t meant to be. The film retains the dark humor of the comics that inspired it and is even filmed as a comic book come to life, with comic style frames and scenes filmed like comic book panels, all with a ghostly animated creeper beginning each segment. First story Father’s Day is fun and spooky and features some nice visuals and make-up effects. The next story, Jordy Verrill, is OK. King can’t really act, but his exaggerated style oddly fits with the story. Despite a bit of a goofy amusement factor, as his nimrod Jordy turns into a form of alien plant-life, the story itself really doesn’t go anywhere or have much of a point. Third story, Something to Tide You Over, is the dullest, with Nielsen’s pontificating villain taking up most of the running time, happily laying out his diabolical plot to his captive audience. Creepshow picks up again for the last two stories which are, by far, the best. The Crate is spooky, gory and really works the dark humor as a beleaguered professor (Hal Holbrook) uses the discovery of a vicious and very hungry creature to rid himself of another monster, his overbearing wife (Adrienne Barbeau). They’re Creeping Up On You is fun and will make your skin crawl as the ruthless and heartless Upson Pratt is trapped in his germ-free apartment by a power outage with an army of invading cockroaches. You get three strong stories, two weak ones and a Halloween set bookend segment that is devious fun, too. So, overall Creepshow is not perfect, but is ghoulish entertainment made even more fun by a healthy dose of 80s nostalgia, brought on by it’s charming hand-drawn animation and live make-up and prosthetics…something sadly missing in today’s movies.

With five stories and a bookending segment, we have a large cast with many horror veterans and each seems to get the tone of the material and have a good over-the-top time with it, in the varying degrees their individual roles call for. Stand outs are…Tom Atkins (The Fog, Halloween III) as the bookending tales’ hard-nosed father. Atkins is no stranger to edgy characters and this time he gets to play a real jerk. Leslie Nielsen oozes malice in his segment and while it is the weakest story, the veteran actor makes a contemptible bad guy. Adrienne Barbeau is deliciously overbearing as the wife of her The Fog co-star Hal Holbrook’s meek professor, Northup. Barbeau really makes you hate her and beg for her comeuppance…call her Billie, everyone does! Last, but certainly not least, is E.G. Marshall who is a delight as the modern day Scrooge, Upson Pratt. Pratt is a ruthless and heartless individual and his skin crawling encounter with an army of cockroaches makes us cheer on the bugs! Also good are Viveca Lindfors, Carrie Nye, Fritz Weaver, Ted Danson and there is a fun cameo from make-up FX master Tom Savini and small roles from future Oscar nominee Ed Harris and Dawn Of The Dead‘s Gaylen Ross.

Overall, I like Creepshow and it’s a lot of fun, especially now that it carries such heavy 80s nostalgia. I will admit I was a little disappointed back in the 80s that it wasn’t a more serious horror, considering who was involved, but it has grown on me considerably. It isn’t completely successful with all it’s stories, but the ones that are, really work and provide some fun and goosebumps to keep us entertained. The large cast gets the material completely and is filled with familiar faces to horror fans. An entertaining comic book style horror that sadly gets forgotten when people discuss comic book style films as it does convey the comic book feeling far better than many a superhero movie. Creepshow was followed by a sub-par sequel in 1987, directed by Michael Gornick and written by Romero, based on some Stephen King short stories. A third flick, without the involvement of Romero or King, was made in 2006 and seemed to go straight to DVD with little or no fanfare.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Creeps!

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986)

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THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986)

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

Twelve years after making his classic masterpiece The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper returned to Leatherface and family with a much bigger budget from Cannon Pictures and a script from L.M. Kit Carson. Flick has the Sawyer family still on the loose and right under the authorities noses operating a mobile lunch truck from which they serve their award winning chili…and we already know what the prime ingredient is. They live under an abandoned amusement park and all is well for the cannibals until Leatherface (Bill Johnson) and brother Chop Top (Bill Moseley) get caught on the radio carving up two obnoxious yuppies. Not only does pretty DJ “Stretch” (Caroline Williams) begin to investigate but, it also catches the attention of  Lt. “Lefty” Enright (Dennis Hopper), a retired Texas Ranger and uncle to victims Franklin and Sally from the first flick. He’s been on the trail of the Sawyers for over a decade and now with Stretch’s help, there maybe be a showdown between lawman and cannibal clan with sexy Stretch caught in the middle.

Sequel is a fun flick though it focuses far more on grisly humor and has a far lighter touch than the original classic. Gone is the oppressive atmosphere of dread and disturbing humor that got under your skin. No more evident is Hopper’s ex-cop wearing two chainsaws like six guns as he goes into battle. Hooper and writer Carson fill the sequel with more of this goofy style humor than chills and the impact of the plentiful Tom Savini supplied gore is lessened as a result of it. The body count is also relatively small and half the movie takes place with Stretch trapped in their underground layer while Lefty tears the amusement park above apart, with a chainsaw, looking for the Sawyers. Odd no one goes up there to investigate the racket. It’s a fun movie, but it’s also not scary in the least and the film stops it’s momentum dead about an hour in to do a retread of the dinner sequence from the first flick with the captured Stretch. To be honest, it gets tedious. Having seen it in a theater back in 1986, I had seen Cannon’s 89 minute release which was a result of the studio cutting out about twelve minutes. Now having seen the longer 101 minute cut, they may have been right, as it does go on about ten minutes too long. Still, the movie entertains, Hooper’s visual style works well here as the Sawyers’ underground layer is a visual feast of bones, tunnels and Christmas lights as designed by Cary White. It’s captured well by Richard Kooris’ cinematography and there is a fitting score by Jerry Lambert and Hooper himself.

The cast are having a good time with the gore and giddiness. Caroline Williams makes for a sexy, sassy heroine with her long legs, skimpy Daisy Dukes and raspy voice complete with thick Texas accent. She gives her character some fire and a toughness that make her very endearing…and very hot. Hopper plays Lefty straight and gives us a driven man, who, will stop at nothing to find the Sawyers and make them pay for killing his nephew and driving his niece crazy. Jim Siedow is back as Drayton Sawyer and he hams it up and provides a lot of the fun as he tries to preside over his maniacal offspring. He is not as disturbing as in TCM 1 ,but his performance fits the lighter tone. Bill Johnson plays the silent Leatherface and sadly, he is portrayed with far less menace even to the point of spending a good portion of the film acting like a love-sick puppy around Stretch. The script neuters one of cinema’s most shocking killer’s and is one of it’s biggest flaws. Bill Moseley is having a blast as the demented Chop Top. This underrated actor has a good time with the over-the-top character that has picked…and eaten…the skin off the metal plate in his head. He also carries around his dead brother (Edwin Neal’s Hitchhiker from TCM 1) and talks to him frequently. A good cast that works well with the tone of the film and helps make it work better than it should.

The long-awaited sequel to Hooper’s drive-in classic is a very entertaining horror, but hardcore fans of TCM 1 were disappointed, at the time of it’s release, that it went for laughs over frights. It wasn’t a big hit back in the day. It’s looked back at a bit more fondly now and I’ll say I do enjoy it, despite that it’s uncut edit does seem a bit too long and maybe Cannon was right to pair it down to a faster paced 90 minutes back in 1986. The cast have a good time and Tom Savini does gives us some top notch gore, but the film is a far cry from the disturbing nightmare Hooper gave us in 1974. A fun…and now nostalgic…sequel that disappoints in some ways, but entertains in others.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 chainsaws.

3 chainsaws

 

 

 

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FAREWELL AND R.I.P. TOM TOWLES!

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TOM TOWLES 1950-2015

Horror fans sadly have suffered another loss of a fan favorite. Straight from Rob Zombie himself comes the news that actor Tom Towles has passed away. Tom became a cult favorite with roles in Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer, Tom Savini’s Night Of The Living Dead remake and Rob Zombie’s House Of  1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects. He also has genre TV appearances on Firefly and a couple of the contemporary Star Trek series. He was 65.

Sources: Rob Zombie/ Facebook

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: FRIDAY THE 13th PART 3 and FRIDAY THE 13th: THE FINAL CHAPTER

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As I’ve stated previously, I have been revisiting a lot of 80s horror flicks recently, especially some of the more infamous slashers and have set my sights on revisiting the Friday The 13th sequels. While I’m not the biggest fan of this series, apart from the first film, I have found my revisit has some nice added 80s nostalgia to them and that is adding a lot of fun to this horror series… plus some of these installments bring back memories of long gone theaters and fun evenings with friends. The third and fourth installments fit nicely together as they not only take place right after each other but, Jason now gains his hockey mask and fully becomes the character we all know…
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FRIDAY THE 13th PART 3 (1982)

Friday The 13th Part 3 is a slight improvement over Part 2 but, still a mixed bag though it does hold some nostalgic importance to me as it was another film seen at my cherished Oritani theater in Hackensack, N.J. Released during the 80s 3D revival, sparked by Comin’ At Ya, the film was made and released in 3D and is filled with objects being thrust at the camera which is just plain distracting when watched in 2D and wasn’t that great in pre-digital 3D either. The film opens up the story formula somewhat with this chapter being set at a lake house and not a summer camp. This installment has pretty Chris Higgins (super cute Dana Kimmell) returning with friends for a getaway at her family’s house on Crystal Lake where 2 years earlier she survived an attack in the woods by a deformed man… hmmm, who could that be? It’s no stretch to guess that soon Chris’ friends and anyone else in the vicinity of the house start to be dispatched in gory ways by that same deformed man.

Steven Miner directed again and this time he does get a little intensity going, especially in the last act which is an extended chase with Chris going all final girl with Jason. The film does start out with a bit slower pace and takes awhile to get going but, the last act does kick into gear and having twice the budget then the last film, shows it with a slightly larger scale and more elaborate stunts. Miner also directs with a bit more of a humorous touch in this installment too, which works both for and against it. It gives it a bit different tone but, also keeps the first and second acts a bit light till Jason really gets going and things get serious. It does kinda take the edge off of the impact of the kills and atmosphere till the final half hour when the intensity kicks in. But, this is also the film where Jason (the late Richard Brooker) not only gained his iconic hockey mask and look but, was also portrayed as a bigger and stronger adversary that he remained throughout the series. He has a lot more of an imposing persona and more of his trademark relentlessness here than in Part 2. The kills are a little bloodier too, but, still not as gory as Part 1 and some of them are a little silly such as a character bringing a spear gun to a house on a lake.

The cast are again fine with Kimmel being my favorite of the sequels’ final girls. She is not only adorable but, makes a good damsel who is also feisty and resourceful and fights back with intensity. The rest of the characters are a little more colorful then usual, including a 3 person biker gang and 2 hippie stoners. The young, attractive actors give these characters some added life so, they are more likable and a bit less cliche’ then in the previous entry.

Overall an entertaining enough entry, it still can’t touch the first movie but, it was better then the mediocre sequel it followed. It also was fun enough to keep one interested in the series and awaiting the next adventure of Mr. Voorhees… which would be one of his best.

MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA:  There is a scene where the pretty Debbie (Tracie Savage) is reading an issue of Fangoria and opens the page to a Godzilla article. That is a nod from director Steve Miner who was planning to make an American Godzilla movie in 3D back in the 80s, well over a decade before the 1998 disaster but, the film obviously never got made. Too bad. It sounded better then what we got in 98.

UPDATE 2/8/2015: After a lot of deliberation and checking of release dates, I have come to believe that “Friday The 13th part 3 in 3D” may very well have been the last film I saw at my beloved Oritani Theater. If correct, Friday 8/13/1982 is the last time I was at this great theater and special place…and this, the final film. -MZNJ

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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. But, 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 (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 and it has 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.
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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE PROWLER and THE BURNING

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I have been revisiting a lot of 80s horror flicks recently, especially some of the more infamous slashers from that time so, in the spirit of my look back at one of my favorite eras of horror, I decided to make this week’s double feature a bloody fun double bill of two 1981 slasher cult classics, The Prowler and The Burning which not only both feature the traditional elements we come to expect from these movies, but both have their gory demises courtesy of master make-up FX man Tom Savini! Enjoy the bloody fun…
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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, but 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). But, 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 Joe 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 then 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 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, but 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 isn’t a great film, certainly not in the same league as Friday The 13th or even Halloween II,  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!

A solid 3 pitchforks!

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

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THE BURNING (1981)

The Burning is another infamous slasher of the early 80s mostly because of Tom Savini’s graphic gore effects and the problems his work caused the film when it was released. It’s release was also limited, even in the US and thus the film, especially uncut, became sought after by the horror/gore crowd. The film is also renown for being the first appearances of Holly Hunter, Jason Alexander and Fisher Stevens before they all went on to find fame in there perspective careers and it was one of the Weinstein’s first productions as Mirimax Pictures as well, before going on to become two of the biggest producers and one of the biggest companies in the business. But, does it stand up to it’s reputation? Yes and no.

The Burning starts out in 1976 at Camp Blackfoot where, in slasher era tradition, a group of campers are plotting to pull a prank on the mean and creepy caretaker named Cropsey. The prank goes terribly wrong and Cropsey is burned horribly and hospitalized. We then jump forward to 1981 where the deformed Cropsey is released from the hospital and now dressed completely in black, goes and finds a prostitute whom he promptly butchers when she becomes frightened upon seeing his face. We then arrive at Camp Stonewater which is across the lake from Camp Blackfoot, which was closed after the accident. We see that a figure dressed in black is stalking the campground carrying a pair of garden shears…wonder who that could be? Before you can say ‘Jason Voorhees’ the black clad figure is slaughtering the nubile young campers in quite gruesome fashion with his sharp garden tool. Has Cropsey returned to exact revenge for the prank gone awry and will any of the unsuspecting campers survive?

As directed by Tony Maylam, this notorious slasher flick is actually very by-the-numbers and very slow paced. After Cropsey kills the hooker, it’s almost 40 minutes before he strikes again and the film is only 90 minutes long. There is a lot of time spent with our various campers and councilors, which would be fine on a character development level if any of them were all that interesting. The characters are all fairly generic, the bully Glazer (Larry Joshua… most recognized as the sleazy wrestling event promoter in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man), the harried nerd Alfred (Brian Backer), the wise-ass David (Jason Alexander) and the good looking counselors (Brian Matthews and Leah Ayres) who are in a relationship and too busy to notice campers are disappearing in droves till it is too late. The time spent with them before the killing starts is for the routine camp movie hi-jinx and doesn’t really help to endear us to any of them. Once Cropsey goes into kill mode with his trusty shears, it’s still fairly by-the-numbers and it’s up to make-up FX master Savini to do in young campers in gruesomely effective fashion. Most notable is a sequence on a raft where Crospey takes out half the campers in a few deft swings and chops of his favorite weapon. It’s a good scene and one that this film is famous for. Savini earned his paycheck and reputation as the gore FX are top notch. There is some atmosphere, though some of that is due to Rick Wakeman’s spooky score. The film deviates from the slasher formula a little and seems to focus on Alfred giving us a ‘final boy’ this time instead of the usual female who fights back, though he is not the only survivor, so even this classification is thin.

The cast are pretty wooden for the most part, though Alexander does give us a glimpse of what made him famous almost a decade later on Seinfeld. Backer is fine as Alfred, but he is a textbook 80s movie nerd, a role he would play to perfection in the classic Fast Times At Ridgemont High a year later. As for Ayres and Matthews, they make an attractive couple and are fine as the leads, but they never really rise above their stereotype parts. The rest are just killer fodder and/or there to show their boobs.

So, in conclusion, Tom Savini’s excellent work and the novelty of first time appearances by actors who would become famous aside, The Burning is a slow moving and paced slasher that follows the formula only to deviate slightly with the sex of it’s focal character…though, to be honest, the film never really focuses on a lead character till the last act. That and it robs us of an element of mystery and a big reveal by having our killer’s identity known from the very start. As films of this era go, it’s worth checking out and does have some 80s nostalgia added to it now, but doesn’t quite live up to it’s reputation, as much as, solidifies Savini’s. Worth a look for Savini’s contributions and to amuse one’s self at some of the acting debuts, but it’s not one of the strongest representations of it’s era. Include it as part of a double feature as we have suggested here and you can have some nostalgic fun with it along with your other flicks of choice.

2 and 1/2 garden shears!

burning rating

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: DAY OF THE DEAD (1985)

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DAY OF THE DEAD (1985)

Day of the Dead is George Romero’s third film in the original zombie trilogy and was supposed to be a large scale movie that was to bring an end to the zombie plague and conclude the series. Despite the huge success of Dawn Of The Dead, Romero couldn’t get the financing he asked for and the film was scaled back to what was released in 1985. While it doesn’t quite live up to the first two films in this series, Day still has plenty to entertain for fans of these movies and is actually very underrated once you remove the post Dawn expectations.

Day is the first to be located elsewhere as it takes place in an underground missile silo in Florida where a group of soldiers and scientist are desperately trying to find an answer to the zombie problem which now has the Earth overrun and the last remaining humans in hiding. But as time goes on and desperation sets in, the two groups start to clash especially when the death of their commanding officer puts the tyrannical Capt. Rhodes (Joe Pilato) in charge and he has little understanding or patience for the scientists’ efforts. Even the scientists themselves are fragmented as Sarah (Lori Cardille) wants to find a cure for the rising of the dead and Dr. Logan aka “Frankenstein” (Richard Liberty) feels they can be domesticated…as long as they are fed. As hopelessness sets in, the group disintegrates and they begin to turn on each other with scientists vs the thug-like Rhodes and his soldiers and pilot John (Terry Alexander) and radio man Bill (Jarlath Conroy) caught in the middle….and let’s not forget about Logan’s “star pupil” Bub (Howard Sherman), a zombie Logan has trained and who is given reason to hate Rhodes and his men. It all explodes in a gore filled climax when the team not only battles each other, but the hordes of living dead that a deranged soldier lets into their underground compound. Will any of them survive?

It’s hard to say what Day would have been like if Romero had gotten the budget he had asked for. Zombie Bub is all that remains of the original script’s concept of humans in fortified cities training a legion of zombie soldiers to destroy the other zombies. But this is the film we got and it is a precursor to a film that never got made as the following Land Of The Dead in 2005 presented humans in fortified cities facing zombies who were gaining intelligence on their own. Day is what it is and it is actually a pretty good movie when not compared to it’s two predecessors. The film might be talky at times, but it is faster paced than Dawn and the gore and zombie FX by Tom Savini are the best of the series at this point. There is also a great electronic score by John Harrison that adds a lot of atmosphere.

The acting is a mixed bag with Cardille, Liberty, Conroy and Alexander being the standouts and Sherman doing a nice job giving Bub a personality without dialog and just using limited facial expression. On the downside, Pilato goes way over-the-top as the bug eyed psychotic Rhodes and sometimes is more laughable than threatening and some of the other supporting players are either overacting a bit or are just bland. The uneven performances does hurt the drama somewhat at times, but not enough to sink the film and Romero wisely punctuates the dialog sequences with some action or bloodshed, so the film is far from all talk and keeps us interested till the all out chaotic action/gore finale. It also helps that we like most of the non-military characters and the soldiers are set up as far more villainous than the zombies that lurk above and gives us heroes to root for and villains to boo. This is a theme that runs through all Romero’s zombie epics that sometimes man’s greed and selfishness is more of a danger than the zombies.

So, in conclusion, Day may be a letdown of sorts when compared to the film classics that it followed, but taken on it’s own, it’s an underrated zombie flick and is well directed by Romero and gives us a lot of gore and action despite some long dialog scenes. It may not have been the movie Romero wanted to make, or the one fans wanted, but it is a nice addition to the series and better than the three films that followed and has rightfully obtained a cult classic status of it’s own over time.

3 and 1/2 “Bubs”!

Day rating

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)

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DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)

“When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth!”

George Romero’s sequel to his classic Night of the Living Dead is in itself a classic and much like it predecessor, is considered by many to be one of the all time horror movie greats. The story takes place with the zombie outbreak started in Night Of The Living Dead still occurring or having re-occured and this time we see the signs that the living are losing control of the situation and we are starting to be overrun by the flesh eating dead. The new installment takes place again in Pennsylvania with four survivors, helicopter pilot Steven (David Emge), newswoman and girlfriend Fran (Gaylen Ross), along with S.W.A.T. team members Roger (Scott Reiniger) and Peter (Ken Foree) taking to the air to escape the chaos and finding shelter and temporary haven in a massive abandoned shopping mall…abandoned by the living that is. They battle the dead to occupy their new home, but their victory and solace is short lived as they’ve lost one of their own, they begin to feel more like prisoners in their palace of consumerism and a vicious motorcycle gang arrives who “don’t like people who don’t share”.  This leads to an action packed and blood and entrails soaked climax where the 3 remaining survivors battle the heavily armed bikers and the legions of the flesh eating dead now released back into the mall.

Romero again deftly mixes social commentary with savage violence as the zombie uprising started in the first film has returned (or has it been ongoing?) and is spiraling out of control. Now the living are being overrun by the flesh eating dead and there’s nowhere to run and writer/director Romero paints a bleak and desolate picture of a world being taken over by a nightmare. We get some truly chilling shots of streets, fields and parking lots filled with the walking dead and the meager forces of mankind making a last stand to remain the dominant species on the planet. He paints a grim picture of a human race who are too busy fighting each other over superficial and political reasons to unite and save itself from extinction. Romero takes a satirical look at American consumerism as well, with our survivors battling the dead and the bikers not for survival, but for the spoils represented by the product filled stores in the mall and the notion that the dead return to the mall because “It was an important place in their lives.”. Dawn is presented on a much larger scale than Night and there are literally hundreds of zombies this time and they are everywhere. Again Romero gets good work from his leads and the make-up and gore FX from master craftsman Tom Savini (who also plays the biker gang leader and did stunt work) set a new standard and made him a legend in the film FX world. Add to that a haunting score by the Italian rock band Goblin (Suspiria) and the gigantic Monroeville Mall, which under Romero’s lens becomes a character of the film in itself.

While the flick has a bit more of a satirical sense of humor then the original, it is still horrifying in it’s own way and presented zombies on a scale never seen before up till this time. A sequel that equals and in some ways surpasses the classic original.

A classic 4 zombies!

dawn rating

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