The Video Nasties #149 – Unhinged (1982, Don Gronquist)

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‘What is the proper wine for a public execution?’

Unhinged is the cinematic equivalent of taking ketamine and then falling down a well.

It begins as it means to carry on – with a vast chasm of nothingness. After the director’s credit, the screen remains pitch black for a full fifty seconds before the movie properly starts. Seeing as how the film barely scrapes 80 minutes, I can only assume that this is a desperate ploy to boost Unhinged to a feature length running time. Oh, but I wish they hadn’t bothered.

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Unhinged follows the boring misadventures of three girls on their way to a music festival. It’s unclear what festival they’re going to, but judging from the awful psychedelic rock they play in the car, I’d venture they’re on their way back in time to Woodstock. Luckily for everyone, the car crashes (well, rolls off the road) and they wake up to find themselves in a creepy old house. I say creepy, but it’s really more of a nice stately home that you would visit whilst on holiday with your parents.

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The build up to the crash is one of the best parts of the film, as the girls drive for several minutes through attractive woodland scenery, with occasional cutaways to a helicopter shot(!). In the background, ominous rhythmic synthesiser music plays, aping John Carpenter to a respectable degree.

Then everything turns to shit.

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We get our first awkward dinner scene, and our first lengthy monologue from Marion, who lives in the mansion with her domineering mother. It’s almost impossible to pay attention during this scene, and when it ends and one of the characters says ‘The more time I spend in this joint, the less I like it,’ I find myself nodding vigorously in agreement.

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This is followed by a girl wandering in the dark for a while, then another dinner scene, another monologue and another wandering in the dark scene. The repetition is mind numbing, as time itself seems to erode around you. How long have you been watching the film? An hour? Three days? Can this really be another monologue? It’s like Mardi Gras Massacre, without the gore, boobs and propulsive disco music.

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The actresses sound like English is their second language and they’re reading the lines phonetically. Nothing makes any sense. The village doctor claims that some women have recently ‘turned up missing,’ a phrase that makes absolutely zero sense. Marion talks the girls out of walking to the village because it’s so far away. Three miles! That’s an hours walk, tops. And my goodness, turn some fucking lights on, please! Even on the DVD I watched, it’s impossible to see what’s happening most of the time.

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Eventually, the film reveals itself as a Psycho wannabe, with a voyeuristic cross dresser murdering the girls. Of course, this being the early 80s, he spies on two women showering together. Isn’t progress a wonderful thing? It’s almost worth sticking with for a great moment of herky-jerky slo mo near the end as our bland lead discovers a gruesome charnel house of body parts in the shed, but by then it’s too late.

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Instead of watching Unhinged, I would suggest the following – invite an old person round to your house, make them dinner and then switch off all the lights. At least then, while sitting in the dark in a confused and bewildered state, you’ll be able to enjoy the hearty meal you’ve made rather than simply looking at your watch and wondering what you’re doing with your life, as I did throughout Unhinged.

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The Video Nasties #148 – The Thing (1982, John Carpenter)

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‘I know you gentlemen have been through a lot, but when you find the time, I’d rather not spend the rest of this winter TIED TO THIS FUCKING COUCH!’

We’re getting near the end now, with only a few Nasties to go. 147 movies watched and reviewed, and now I’m expected to come up with some new, hot take on one of the most famous and well respected horror movies ever made?

Fuck.

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No need to. If you’re reading a blog about the Video Nasties and you’ve never seen The Thing, then you’ve been doing it all wrong. John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of the finest horror films ever made. Most people will focus on the extraordinary special effects, which still hold up to this day.

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But there’s also the masterful script and Carpenter’s direction, which expertly juggles multiple characters and maintaining a mystery as to who exactly is The Thing.

Then there’s the excellent performances, and the nerve jangling score from Ennio Morricone and Carpenter himself (along with collaborator Alan Howarth).

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So sorry gang, no new insights here. The Thing is a flat out masterpiece, and one of the darkest studio films ever made.

But then, you already knew that, didn’t you?

 

 

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The Video Nasties #147 – Tenebrae (1982, Dario Argento)

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‘Once you have eliminated the impossible,

whatever remains, no matter how improbable,

must be the truth.’

Tenebrae is an odd film for Dario Argento. Coming off the back of two of his most wildly supernatural and colourful movies, it would seem natural for this film to be the third part of the trilogy, particularly as the title seems like an obvious reference to the third mother, Mater Tenebrarum. Instead, Argento returns to his giallo roots with an ingenious thriller that foregoes most of the stylistic excesses of the previous movies in favour of a more naturalistic filming style reminiscent of television cop shows of the period.

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Naturally, Argento being Argento, he’s unable to shake all his technical skill and the plot occasionally stops dead to allow the camera to perform some flashy moves. The most obvious of these is the famous Louma Crane sequence, where the camera roams around the outside of a house in one unbroken two and a half minute take. It’s a staggering technical achievement for the time, though I wish it had been choreographed a bit better, perhaps following the killer inside the house as he stalks his victims. Instead, a good portion of the scene consists of close ups of roof tiles, and not even a furious, pumping disco score by members of Goblin can disguise the fact that it’s ultimately a fairly pointless moment, albeit a cool one.

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Personally, I prefer a much more simple yet equally extraneous shot that takes place in a hotel room. As Daria Nicolodi leaves the room (wearing an Amazing Technicolour Dream Cardigan), the camera slowly pans away from the door and settles on a metal sculpture as it catches a blinding reflection of light. It’s a small moment, but one that foreshadows some of the action of the climax.

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The plot initially seems like a straightforward mystery, with writer Peter Neal arriving in Rome to promote his latest book to find that a deranged fan is using the book as inspiration for a series of murders. However, Argento’s script is one of his finest, with some unbelievable twists and turns that make the killer almost impossible to guess on a first viewing, and despite the Columbo-esque aesthetic, Tenebrae is unlikely to play on a double bill with Diagnosis: Murder anytime soon, thanks to some inventive and vicious murder scenes.

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Argento goes all out here, staging elaborate and lengthy stalking scenes that always end with the blood flowing. The Louma Crane scene ends in a double murder of a lesbian couple that almost rivals the grandiosity of Suspiria, and a later sequence that finds a girl chased by a dog right into the killer’s house is one of the finest scenes Argento ever shot.

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Moving away from the more phantasmagoric style of Suspiria and Inferno also allows Argento to focus more on sexuality. Tenebrae is dripping in sensuality and decadence, from the frequent flashbacks to a traumatic teenage sexual humiliation to the lesbian couple who both seem determined to get naked for the killer.

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I mean honestly, one of them hears a voice whispering threats to her, so she quickly whips off her top and tries to change into an almost identical white t-shirt, while her partner’s default fashion style seems to ‘at least one nipple exposed at all times.’ The fashion throughout the film is a highlight – pay particular attention to Daria Nicolodi’s outrageous gold karate suit, an outfit that even in early 80s Italy must have raised a few eyebrows.

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Tenebrae is one of the most purely entertaining movies on the Nasties, moving expediently from murder to murder, without resorting to the bonkers supernatural whimsy that overwhelmed Argento’s later films like Phenomena, and another great example of the Italians showing the Americans just how a slasher-mystery should be done.

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The Video Nasties #146 – Superstition (1982, James W Roberson)

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‘Shut your bitchy mouth!’

Superstition is a slasher movie in which – not a spoiler – the slasher is a witch. In a way, it’s similar to Suspiria, a giallo in which the killer is a witch, but don’t stress yourself out asking which witch is which – because that is where the similarities between the two films end.

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In a way, Superstition appears to be an American reaction to the wave of incredible supernatural horror that was happening in Italy. The crazy murders have an Argento-ish feeling to them, and the music – particularly during the climax – has a real ring of Fabio Frizzi’s score to The Beyond.

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But this being American, the absurd dream logic of those films is jettisoned in favour of a plodding mystery and endless flashbacks to 1692.

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It all starts promisingly enough with a couple making out next to a haunted house. They are scared away by some ker-ay-zee practical jokers, who end up meeting their fate in the house in deliciously inexplicable fashion.

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One moron sees a flash from the microwave, which causes him to fly into the air and bump his head(!). His friend goes to find him and discovers his buddy’s severed noggin in the microwave, which of course explodes. In his hurry to leave, this chump is cut in half by a window.

So far so good.

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But then the main story starts, and Superstition takes all the worst parts of previous Nasties and mixes them together into one unholy stew.

We have a bunch of COPS. We have some PRIESTS. And we have a CRAZY OLD PERSON.

It’s like a convention for horror film stock characters, and I wish I wasn’t invited.

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It’s so weird; the haunted house belongs to the Church, so our main priest tries to do it up a bit to let an old alcoholic priest live there. Throughout the entire renovation process, the burly cop is ever-present.

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Then, once the priest and his family move in, the cop is still there EVERY SINGLE DAY. He’s there when they arrive, he’s there when they’re all having fun swimming in the lake, he’s just there. All. The. Fucking. Time.

Don’cha have something better to be doing, Chief?

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The rest of the film is mostly cops and priests wandering through the decrepit house. Walk, walk, walk. I’ve not seen this much aimless sauntering since Cannibal Terror and it all ends in a fairly entertaining climax, where a man tries to set a lake on fire.

If Superstition had just had the courage to go full Italian, it could have been a real Nasty highlight. As it is, it gets bogged down in cops being cops and priests reading ancient diaries and holding up crucifixes at shadows. Remind me please – how much of the running time of Suspiria/The Beyond were devoted to the antics of the police and the clergy?

Ah yes, no time at all…

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The Video Nasties #145 – The Slayer (1982, JS Cardone)

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‘I promise you, this’ll be a vacation

you’ll never forget!’

Did Wes Craven see The Slayer before writing A Nightmare On Elm Street? It certainly came out two years before the Elm Street became a smash hit, though apparently that film was written in 1981. The reason that I ponder this is that The Slayer is about a woman who has nightmares, and if you die in her dreams you die for real. Sound familiar? To be fair, that’s where the similarities end. The Slayer is more about brooding atmosphere than outrageous dream imagery, often to its detriment.

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It starts, as all films should, with a woman in a negligee being menaced by a monster. Of course, it’s all a dream and we are introduced to Kay and her husband David, then Kay’s brother Eric and his wife Brooke. They are preparing to go on holiday to a deserted island, and Brooke is not thrilled by the prospect. ‘A whole week with Kay is not my idea of a good idea,’ she complains, and frankly you can see her point.

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Kay is a truly miserable lead, pouting and grimacing her way through every scene. Mind you, so would you if your brother was Eric, who’s a total dullard. Whether reading Fishing Facts magazine or complimenting the wood in the house (for the record, it’s apparently ‘absolutely beautiful’) he’s as tedious as Kay is grumpy.

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Not a great pair to hang your movie on. At least we have Brooke though, who’s one of the great idiots of horror films, her finest moment being as the plane approaches the island – ‘It’s surrounded by water!’ she exclaims, as viewers around the world slap their foreheads in disbelief.

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Once on the island, the film gets going. The beach setting is suitably isolated and moody, especially once the inevitable storm rolls in and we get our first death. In a pretty unique kill, David somehow gets his head caught in a trapdoor, before being hauled into the air by someone…or something.

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Despite being a bit silly, it’s handled well, a lot better than the second death. Before that though, there’s about 20 minutes of hand-wringing over the disappearance of David, time that could have been better spent establishing a supernatural menace. The film kind of rolls over and dies here, not helped by the second murder being one of the most ridiculous in memory. Eric gets a fish hook caught on his neck and it pulls him away through the surf as he struggles. Presumably the ghoulish Slayer was on the other end, expertly wielding the fishing rod and reeling Eric in. They don’t show it, but I know I’m right.

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True to form, the most outlandish death is saved for the woman. Brooke is menaced by the killer and desperately tries to make her escape through a window before being stabbed through the chest with a pitchfork, the spikes emerging through her breasts, no doubt causing the DPP to start foaming at the mouth in apoplexy.

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With that out of the way, the stage is set for a classic Final Girl confrontation that never really arrives, although the film has a twist or two up its sleeve that, while obvious, are well managed.

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The Slayer is one of those films that populate the mid-tier of the Nasties, films that have great moments and atmosphere but never quite gel due to pacing issues. It’s never more than the sum of its parts, but some of those parts are good enough to recommend The Slayer as worth a watch. Just be sure to bring a copy of Fishing Facts to read during the boring parts.

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The Video Nasties #144 – Pranks (1982, Stephen Carpenter & Jeffrey Obrow)

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‘Boy, it’s creepy down here.’

‘Shut up, Craig.’

Anyone can make a slasher movie, and back in the early 80s, anyone did. Just assemble a bunch of kids in a deserted location, throw in some kills and bam, you’ve got a movie. It’s easy to do, but hard to do well. So what makes a good slasher stand out from a bad one? Well, let’s look at Pranks, which against all odds manages to rise above a lot of the mid-tier slashers that were coming out at the time.

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For a start, it knows not to waste any time. Pranks opens with a completely superfluous scene of a bland hunk being chased. He falls, and an unseen assailant stabs a knife in his hand and tears it in two. Cut to credits! That’s how you open a movie, guys! Who cares if the scene is totally unrelated to the rest of the movie? Unless you’re taking notes and writing a blog like I am, you’ll probably have forgotten the scene even happened by the time the opening credits are done.

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Speaking of the credits, listen to that music. One of the screechiest scores in movie history, it’s composed by Christopher Young, who would go on to write some of the best horror soundtracks of the 80s (Hellraiser, Hellhound: Hellraiser II and The Fly II). His score alternates between standard Psycho strings and a hugely effective pastiche of Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, whos music was heavily utilised in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. So while Pranks is no Shining, the suspense sequences are immeasurably improved by the eerie, occasionally avant garde score.

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After that opening, the film begins properly. We meet Joanne, who is staying behind on campus with three friends to clear out the entire school(!) so that it can be demolished. It’s a premise predicated on the absurd, but what it does is provide a terrific base for the action. A good slasher movie needs a strong location, and directors Carpenter (no, not John) and Obrow make great use of the school, shooting scenes in every conceivable location.

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The end of school Christmas party is a bit of a bust. Despite one character exclaiming ‘Great party!’, all I can see is Joanne talking about her inventory list. I’ll tell you something, it’s no poolside-disco-sex-romp like the party that begins Bloody Moon! But we can’t have everything.

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At this point, about 10 minutes into the film, you may start adjusting the brightness on your screen, as you realise that you can’t actually see anything. Forget it. Even on the remastered Blu-Ray release, some scenes are so dark you may as well watch them with your eyes closed. Sometimes it works, combining with the pleasingly grainy 16mm photography to add a snuff-movie type feel, other times you just aren’t sure what’s happening. Funnily enough, any scenes with blood or boobs tend to be well lit, so at least the directors have their priorities straight.

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The kills are another aspect of Pranks that elevate it above trash like Terror Eyes or safe studio movies like The Funhouse. Apart from a nasty head drilling, there’s a triple kill near the start that is truly, hilariously brutal. A man gets his head battered with a nail studded baseball bat and his wife is garrotted until the wire slices through her throat. Their daughter finds them and faints, so the killer drags her body into the path of a car and drives over her head with a very audible head popping noise! He coulda just stabbed her, but like all good slashers, this guy is all about the showmanship.

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There’s also a kill that takes place in the kitchen, lit only by flashing Christmas tree lights, that has a vaguely Dario Argento-ish feel to it. These directors definitely had talent, it was just a pity they never really hit the big time, their last movie together being the tiresome Dean Koontz tv movie Servants of Twilight.

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The climax to the movie is the best part, with bodies piling up and a very tense chase through some kind of boiler room tunnel. The killer is revealed, and it’s actually not who I expected it to be, although I’ve never been very good at guessing these things. Joanne is an attractive heroine, although she seems determined to undermine her own escape at all times. There’s the usual red herring character who keeps trying to rescue her, despite Joanne running from him, slashing him with a machete, locking him in a room with a corpse, spraying him with a fire extinguisher and clubbing him on the head. Look mate, just give up already! The lady obviously doesn’t want to be saved. As a Final Girl, she’s pretty useless compared to some of the resourceful heroines in slasher movies. I’ll tell you something though – fans of bleak, cynical endings are in for a real treat with Pranks…I’ll say no more.

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It’s well worth a watch for slasher fans, just make sure and try to catch it on Blu-Ray, because if you think it’s dark now, just try and watch Pranks on old-school VHS, the key word being ‘try’…

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The Video Nasties #143 – Parasite (1982, Charles Band)

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‘Don’t you understand? It’s just like the work camps. 

It’s happening to me all over again.’

Jesus Christ, are these films getting worse or have I just seen 143 of them in a row?

Parasite is a real endurance test from that third-rate Roger Corman wannabe Charles Band, it’s one claim to fame being that it stars a pre-fame Demi Moore.

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The thing is, it’s 2018 now, and Demi Moore’s name doesn’t mean jack-shit to anyone, so why are we even still talking about this garbage movie?

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Parasite is a staggeringly tedious post-apocalyptic tale about some guy with some stuff and the people he bumps into and mumbles at.

It’s like The Aftermath but without the heart.

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Set in the far-off distant future – 1992, to be precise – Parasite features a hero who looks like he can’t be bothered being there, a kindly black gentleman with a heart of gold and the worst, worst gang of punks you’ve ever seen.

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Demi plays the daughter of a lemon farmer, obviously, and there’s some dick in a suit driving around the desert, and did I mention that it was all filmed in 3D? That explains shots like this one –

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It’s a real snoozefest, taking forever to go nowhere. Maybe if you can track down a 3D print it might be fun, because there are plenty of goofy gimmick shots, but other than that, give Parasite a wide berth.

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You’ve got better things to do, even if you don’t.

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