The Video Nasties #133 – The Aftermath (1982, Steve Barkett)

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‘Look pal, it’s been no big secret to me.

You’ve hated the world in general for a long time.’

The Aftermath is another one of those odd duck movies that crop up from time to time on the Nasties. It’s more Planet of the Apes than I Spit on Your Grave, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a watch for horror fans.

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Steve Barkett plays Newman, the stoic captain of a spaceship returning to Earth. Mr Barkett also wrote, produced, edited and directed the movie, so it’s no surprise to see that any woman he meets instantly wants to bed him.

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Newman and his co-pilot crash land back on Earth, only to find that civilisation (well, Los Angeles) has been wiped out by a nuclear war.

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Despite being seemingly the last two men on Earth, Newman decides to forge off on his own, which is a bit of a slap in the face to his co-pilot. Maybe it’s a personal hygiene thing?

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So it’s a pretty depressing story so far, and it’s about to get worse for Newman. Not only does he discover that mutated humans roam the streets looking to kill, but he finds a small child and has to look after him too. Bet you wish you were back in space now, huh Newman?

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To make matters worse, a gang of murderous rapists led by the one and only Sid Haig are also knocking about, kidnapping women and killing men by blowing their heads apart with shotguns.

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Sid Haig steals the show, mostly by being the only real actor in the cast. Steve Barkett makes the dreadful mistake of casting his own real life son as his onscreen pseudo-son, and the results are as poor as you can imagine.

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Eventually Newman and his kid hook up with a woman who’s nipples are permanently stiff, and the three become a tight knit family unit. Newman teaches the boy how to shoot, and it’s all very Dawn of the Dead until they decide to take on Sid Haig’s merry band and everything goes to Hell.

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The Aftermath is a weird cross between Star Wars, Mad Max, Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Dead, but oddly, the thing it most resembles is The Twilight Zone. This is mostly due to long stretches of no dialogue, soundtracked by Barkett’s voiceover and a wonderful orchestral score that is pure Bernard Herrmann. It’s by a guy called John Morgan, and it sounds like it’s been torn straight from the 1950s, in a good way.

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The music is sometimes incongruous next to the 1980s violence on show, particularly a brutal rape and several kids being gunned down.

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I guess it’s the latter that got The Aftermath in trouble with the DPP. Regardless, it’s a pretty fun Saturday afternoon movie – it all ends with a big Indiana Jones style raid on the bandit camp, with shootouts, fist fights and stunts. Director Barkett makes sure every cent of his budget is up there on screen, and he himself displays a lack of fear for heights, performing several stunts on the edge of buildings.

You could do a lot worse than The Aftermath.

 

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The Video Nasties #132 – Zombie Lake (1981, Jean Rollin)

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‘Why of all things, are you interested,

precisely, in the Lake of the Damned?’

This one really hurts. A Eurocine film that started out with Jess Franco at the helm, then became a Jean Rollin film when Franco vanished; what should be a meeting of minds between two of the greatest Euro art horror directors is actually a totally insufferable bore that will try the patience of anyone but the most undiscerning sleaze fans.

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Rollin – with two weeks to shoot a movie from a script that was given to him on the day of filming – eschews his usual painterly eye for surreal beauty, instead opting for the next best thing – girls in short shorts and underwater POV shots right up skinny dippers’ assholes.

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Fans of Rollin’s vampire movies  should look elsewhere for their fix, as this has more in common with his porn career. The horror scenes are truly feeble, with embarrassed looking actors in green face paint groping women’s breasts and drooling fake blood over their necks. There’s no special effects to speak of, which explains why the green paint on the zombies is not even waterproof; you can literally see it washing off their faces and hands.

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It’s the zombie movie equivalent of a leisurely stroll with your senile grandparents – slow; boring and making very little sense. A reporter turns up to investigate, and the Mayor, played by Franco regular Howard Vernon, tells her about the lake through the medium of a fifteen minute flashback that explains nothing. Apparently there were some Nazis, and one of them saved a woman from a bomb, and then they fell in love, and then they had a baby, and then he was shot, and then she died in bed, and he was thrown in a lake to hide his body (because as we all know, Nazis don’t float). His daughter is now about ten, so I’m assuming he waited in the lake for ten years before rising with his buddies to seek revenge, which would mean this film is set in the early 1950s, which is such a nonsense I’m not even going to talk about it.

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The best scene comes in the middle, when the 1955 French Girls’ Basketball Team pull up by the lake for a mass skinny dip in their hippy van, before some soggy soldiers drag them under and the film gets back to doing what it does best, which is boring the tits off you. The rest of the film is mostly concerned with the preposterous exploits of the zombie dad and his daughter, which would make a great sitcom (My Dad is a Nazi Zombie!) but does not, sadly, make for a thrilling Video Nasty.

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The Video Nasties #131 – Terror Eyes (1981, Kenneth Hughes)

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‘Our friend really has a taste for the bizarre –

the old head in a fish tank routine.’

Terror Eyes, a title that is hopelessly irrelevant to the movie, is brought to you by the director of beloved children’s classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and that is sadly the most interesting thing I have to say about it. A stupefyingly generic slasher movie, Terror Eyes plods along towards its predictable conclusion without ever raising a pulse, and all the pretty cinematography in the world (from frequent Cronenberg collaborator Mark Irwin) can’t save it.

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A maniac in motorcycle gear is chopping off pretty co-eds’ heads across Boston, and only Judd Austin and his intensely irritating sidekick Taj can put a stop to it. Taj is, I think, meant to be a sort of comic relief character. He delivers every one of his lines in a smug way that suggests it’s meant to be funny, but without the benefit of actual jokes they fall flat.

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His coup de grace is dressing up as the killer and pretending to attack Austin in the final shot of the film. Taj pulls the helmet off to reveal his grinning visage and as the two burst into hysterical laughter at the hilarity of it all, Taj says, ‘So who’d you expect, the headhunter?’ In a perfect world, Austin would’ve pulled out his gun and blown Taj away, but in a perfect world Terror Eyes wouldn’t exist. I guess we’ll just have to make do.

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With its murder mystery element and black-clad killer, Terror Eyes sometimes feels like an American version of the old Italian giallo mysteries, particularly Andrea Bianchi’s unabashed exploitation romp Strip Nude For Your Killer, which features an identically dressed killer. Whereas that film positively oozed the basic tenets of the gialli, namely style, sleaze, savagery and sexuality, here we have to make do with a bickering couple and a boring investigation. And really, for a mystery to work, we kinda need more than two suspects, only one of whom has an obvious motive. Seriously, if you can’t guess the killer within the first 10 minutes, then you’re doing it all wrong.

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The nail in the coffin is the presence of British actress Rachel Ward, who delivers her lines like a robot trying to understand human emotions. She is in the film’s silliest scene though, in which her professor boyfriend draws symbols on her naked body with red paint, while she coos orgasmically at the eroticism of it all. I suppose I shouldn’t knock it ’til I’ve tried it, but I ain’t trying it anytime soon.

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There are a couple of moments I enjoyed, like when a severed head is thrown into an aquarium and hits a poor turtle on the noggin, and a couple of kills towards the end have a bit more go in them, especially the slow motion murder of a waitress. But at the end of the day, it’s not enough. This is the kind of film that makes me yearn for the idiosyncratic films of the 70s, like Axe or even Island Of Death, films that were resolutely unpredictable and wilfully obtuse. What we have here is a film that with minimal cuts could play on afternoon tv straight after Murder, She Wrote.

And while you’re at it guys, why not just cut Taj out too?

Seriously.

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The Video Nasties #130 – Scanners (1981, David Cronenberg)

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‘We’re gonna do it the scanner way. 

I’m gonna suck your brain dry.’

Telepathy was a big deal in the late 70s/early 80s, and Scanners joins Carrie as one of the most well known films to tackle the subject. It’s a film that is best known for one particular show stopping scene, the outrageous exploding head. It’s certainly a highlight, and while the rest of the film isn’t bad at all, it’s almost certainly the weakest of David Cronenberg’s early pre-Hollywood movies.

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You can’t accuse Scanners of sitting twiddling its thumbs though. Within ten minutes, we’ve had our hero, Cameron Vale, almost kill a woman, followed by a chase through a mall, a psychedelic lab experiment and the aforementioned exploding head. It feels like it’s going to be as fast paced and exciting as Cronenberg’s previous Nasty, Rabid.

Not so!

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While there are exciting scenes aplenty, there’s also an over-reliance on stuffy looking men in stuffy looking suits sitting in stuffy looking rooms delivering portentous dialogue. It sometimes feels like a telepathic James Bond movie, with our hapless spy getting involved in car chases and gunfights while the villains sit brooding in their lair. It’s not helped by the ‘scanning’ scenes themselves, which, until the big payoff, always consist of two people grimacing at each other, pouting and jutting their chins out for minutes on end.

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But the worst thing about Scanners is the central performance. In the role of Cameron Vale, Stephen Lack is a charisma void. With his flat monotone and expressionless voice, he’s one of those actors who always sounds like he’s being dubbed, even when he’s not. Compare Lack with Jeff Goldblum in Cronenberg’s later film The Fly to see how different this film could have been with a sympathetic central performance.

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This isn’t to say there’s not a lot of great stuff going on. The special effects are snazzy, the action brisk and there’s a fun scene that takes place inside a giant sculpture of a head. The twist at the end is a little bit The Empire Strikes Back, and the climax is for the most part a total washout, but with so little competition, Scanners is easily the best sci-fi action movie on the Nasties. It’s just that coming in between The Brood and Videodrome, it feels like Scanners is lacking something. Stephen Lack-ing something, you might say…

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The Video Nasties #129 – Rosemary’s Killer (1981, Joseph Zito)

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‘I’m here for my date, Rose.’

Joseph Zito directed possibly the greatest slasher movie of the 80s in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, and Rosemary’s Killer is the film that landed him the gig. At times, it’s very easy to see why – together with special effects man Tom Savini, he sure knows how to stage an effective and grisly murder scene. The difference between the two films comes down to one thing – pacing.

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Rosemary’s Killer is an awkward movie, the kind of film where I can imagine someone dropped the script and then just randomly shuffled the pages back without checking the order. We kick off with a ten minute prologue before the credits. Then, we meet our cast, get ten minutes with them, then two are killed and suddenly, twenty minutes in, we’ve got our two protagonists wandering around in the dark for almost half an hour looking for clues. It’s so early!

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So much of the fun of a slasher is the stock characters, but here we’ve spent scant minutes with them before we are launched straight into what feels like the third act. It doesn’t help that the kills at the twenty minute mark are by far the best in the film – a ghastly bayonetting through the skull and the pitchfork impalement of a nude, showering woman. It’s incredibly nasty, and I will never understand how this film escaped section one and two of the nasties, while innocuous fluff like The Funhouse made it on.

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The remaining kills are also among the most violent of any slasher, and there are some great chase sequences, especially an early one where it seems like every single fire exit in the dormitory is locked, which is very unsafe. It’s lucky that it was just a maniac and not an actual fire, or else everybody would be dead.

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The killer himself is an imposing figure, though his GI fatigues and pitchfork make him rather conspicuous strolling around campus. As for the mystery element – well, unlike Friday the 13th, at least this one is possible to guess, though the lack of any suspects makes it a tad easy. Is it the invalid in the wheelchair? Or is it the sheriff, played by a proper name actor in Farley Granger, who disappears on a mysterious fishing trip in the first five minutes? Well, who do you think?

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As a final note, having sat through innumerable dreadful prom bands watching slasher movies, I think that this is one of the very best. Coming from a time when you didn’t have to be young or handsome to be in a band, the first song these losers play is a really good one, though some of their more rockin’ material is a bit hard to swallow. Anyway, Rosemary’s Killer misses out on being a great slasher, but it is a very good one. If only there weren’t quite so many extended scenes of people shuffling about in absolute silence in the dark…

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The Video Nasties #128 – Possession (1981, Andrzej Zulawski)

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‘I know a man who loved everything and

he died in a flood of shit.’

A few minutes into Possession, I had to turn the volume down for fear that my neighbours were going to call the police. By the hour mark, when Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani are still screaming at each other, and Neill starts to beat her, I gave up and put my headphones on.

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Possession is one of the most cutting, vicious movies on the Nasties, and yet for the most part the violence is emotional, and the wounds are inflicted with words rather than knives. For the most part, I said. Because when the violence hits, shit gets real.

It’s easily the most unconventional Nasty, and its inclusion on the list is pretty inexplicable. A two hour long European arthouse drama about a crumbling marriage, watching Possession is like watching your parents go through a divorce. Everything is at an insane fever pitch – the performances go so wildly over the top it sometimes feels like you’re watching a filmed stage play, and the restless camera constantly swoops and circles like it couldn’t slow down even if it wanted to.

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There is a plot, if you want. Mark (Sam Neill) returns from abroad to find his wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani), has taken another lover, Heinrich. Unbeknownst to both Mark and Heinrich, Anna has another lover, except this one may not be quite human…

But there is much more to it than that basic synopsis. As the film progresses, the surreal aspects begin to take over, and we get dopplegangers, questions of mortality and the soul, tentacled creatures and a murder in a filthy toilet cubicle that might just be the most disgusting thing ever. I absolutely do not claim to understand at least half of what is going on, but the film doesn’t have to make sense to elicit a powerful emotional reaction from the viewer.

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Reportedly, director Zulawski had been through a divorce shortly before he made Possession, which is very, very apparent in every frame and every aspect of Neill’s alternately brilliant and baffling, hand wringing, fidgety performance. It’s hard to say whether it is a film about misogyny or simply a misogynistic film. Knowing the circumstances under which it was made, I would be more inclined to say the latter, with an unfaithful wife being driven mad while sleeping with a revolting monster, and the scene where Adjani miscarriages in the subway, after screaming and dancing around like she’s auditioning for the Thriller video, feels for all the world like some kind of extended humiliating punishment.

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Mind you, a blog in which Late Night Trains can get a positive review probably isn’t the place to start harping on about misogyny, so let’s get back to the horror. Is Possession a horror movie, in the conventional sense? Yeah, it is. The ‘creature’ that Adjani feeds corpses to and has sex with is wisely kept in the shadows, but what we do see is pretty nightmarish. The two horror films that are closest in tone and theme would probably be David Cronenberg’s The Brood and Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, two films about estranged couples where the wife is harbouring a sinister and deadly secret, although both are more commercially minded than Possession. Interestingly, Cronenberg was also in the middle of a divorce when he made his film, and has freely admitted that when Art Hindle is strangling Samantha Eggar, it was a form of catharsis for him.

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Despite all these arthouse pretensions, the film somehow ends up with multiple explosions, car crashes and even a police shootout, ending on a suitably dark nihilistic note that I won’t spoil here.

It’s definitely not a film for everyone, and anyone watching it expecting an Evil Dead or Bloody Moon is going to be in for a shock, and not the kind of shock they were hoping for. But for adventurous viewers, there’s plenty to sink your teeth into here.

Just make sure and watch it with the headphones on.

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The Video Nasties #127 – Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (1981, Romano Scavolini)

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‘Nanny-nanny noo-noo,

stick your head in doo-doo.’

Children are just awful. From their crappy bowl haircuts and naff colourful clothes to their whiny, high-pitched voices and complete lack of moral compass, kids are just the worst. But few can hold a candle to CJ, the nasty little gobshite at the centre of Nightmares In A Damaged Brain. This pre-teen asshole pulls such rib-tickling pranks as scaring the babysitter while dressed as a monster and, um,  pretending to be stabbed to death by a killer. He then has the temerity to get annoyed when no one believes him later on. I mean, we’ve seen some pretty irritating children so far – Bob from House By The Cemetery springs immediately to mind – but CJ is the absolute nadir.

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Thing is, there’s literally not one single even remotely likeable character in the movie. CJ’s mother is a screeching harridan and her boyfriend is a hippy who wears tiny black briefs. The babysitter screams so much it’s as if she’s auditioning for a part in Possession, and the killer seems to do nothing but foam at the mouth and wake up screaming. It’s a loud, obnoxious film that also manages to be squalid, grubby and sleazy, but never really manages to be entertaining.

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It opens with a mildly effective scene that turns out to be a dream, which is always an irritating technique, and one that the film will use again twice in the first 10 minutes. The dreamer is George Tatum, who as a child may or may not have murdered his parents while they were having sex (clue – of course he fucking did). A dangerous, homicidal, dream-fixated schizophrenic, he is released from the hospital after taking some experimental drugs and promptly embarks on a killing spree, much to everyone’s surprise.

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It’s a simple premise that could make for an effective slasher movie, but is bogged down with so many extraneous scenes that pad the film out to an uncomfortable 98 minutes. It reminds me of some of the earlier Nasties, where whole scenes seem to take place in real time. A simple phone conversation to the babysitter takes forever, and in the post coital scene we watch as the boyfriend crawls around the room looking for his trousers. Eventually he finds them, then crawls around some more looking for a joint, which he finally finds, lights, sits down and smokes. Also like many other Nasties is the presence of a totally superfluous sub-plot involving people looking for the killer who never actually find him, like if Dr Loomis in Halloween hadn’t made it in time to shoot Michael Myers.

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It’s not all bad, though. In fact, the best and scariest moment almost feels like it belongs in another movie entirely, involving a mysterious ghostly figure in a polaroid photograph. The murders, which are a lot less frequent than you would think/hope, are pretty graphic and often quite sexualised in a way that no doubt sent the DPP into a frenzy of moral panic. Just look at the murder where Tatum repeatedly slides the knife into the stomach of a victim, his head back and eyes rolling in orgasmic pleasure as he thrusts away. Or don’t, it doesn’t matter to me.

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Nightamares In A Damaged Brain could have been a great film. It reminds me of Absurd in many ways, being a weird Italian/American hybrid Halloween rip-off. But whereas Absurd put the pedal to the metal from the off and never let up, Nightmares really needs tightening up. I really enjoyed the early scenes showing Tatum walking the streets of New York when it was still a scuzzy cesspit, passing nothing but grindhouses and porn shops, but did we really need it to go on so long?

Still, kudos for being the only nasty that ends with a character smiling and winking at the camera, even if it is that reprehensible little prick CJ.

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