The Video Nasties #89 – Forest of Fear (1980, Charles McCrann)

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‘Holy shit, it’s a woman!’

Oh brother, this is one hell of a dull movie. Despite a sure-fire premise (bloodthirsty hippies!), writer-director-producer-editor-lead actor Charles McCrann fails to do anything interesting with it. In fact, the whole idea was done much better ten years prior in the 1970 film I Drink Your Blood, which had rabies-infected hippies wreaking havoc on a small town.

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We at least get off on the right foot with a cheap-ass Mellotron score soundtracking a topless hippy girl being shot in the throat by the world’s most unlikely ‘federal agents’.

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These agents are themselves despatched by more hippies seconds later to hide their crop of marijuana. However, the government orders an experimental crop dust to be sprayed over the area, which turns the hippies into homicidal blood freaks. The film’s sole good idea is having the dust remain on the zombies, giving them an eerie all-white appearance, at least for a few minutes anyway.

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I was sad to see John Amplas slumming it as one of the government agents. Amplas played the titular character in George Romero’s Martin, one of the finest films of the 70s and here is reduced to laughable tough guy posturing and stilted line deliveries. They decide to use the experimental spray for the same reason the hippies chose to grow drugs there – because, as we are told, the area is deserted. Though for a deserted area, there seem to be an awful lot of folk kicking about. A park ranger, his wife and his half-brother are there fishing. There’s also a vacationing family, an old hermit, a creep in a pick-up truck etc.

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The holidaymakers are a particular favourite. There’s the dad, who in a genuine comedic moment actually knocks over his wife in an attempt to escape the zombies. As for the kids, just…wow. There’s Jimmy, wearing dungarees and described by his father as ‘retarded’, as well as young Amy, who’s meant to be no more than 16 but is played by 36-year-old Judy Brown!

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There are some occasional bursts of feeble gore, but it’s mostly of the blood-splashing-on-rock variety, and lots and lots and lots and lots of walking through the woods. There’s a funny scene where the zombies are trying to get into a car which sees them punching the roof, the doors, everything except the windows. Then it turns out the door wasn’t even locked in the first place! Later, our imbecilic heroes get a flat tyre, and instead of just following the road all the way home, wander off into the forest to, ummm, look for the road! Guys, you were just standing on it. Like, two seconds ago! Jeez, some people deserve to be eaten by zombie hippies.

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It’s such a dull film. By simply going outside and wandering through your local woods, you could experience about 90% of what Forest of Fear has to offer and get some fresh air while you’re at it.

Just be sure to watch out for hippies.

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The Video Nasties #88 – Eaten Alive! (1980, Umberto Lenzi)

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‘You’ll see worse before this is over.’

Eaten Alive is like a cannibal movie supergroup, the Travelling Wilburys of gut-munching schlock. We’ve got Cannibal Holocaust‘s Robert Kerman. We’ve got a reunion for Ivan Rassimov and Me Me Lai from Deep River Savages and Cannibal. Not only that, but a fair portion of the film – mostly scenes of animal slaughter – is taken from Mountain of the Cannibal God.

If you think that this is going to contribute to Eaten Alive being a choppy, haphazard mess, then you are dead wrong.

Actually no, you’re right. You’re totally right.

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Like so many of the Nasties, Eaten Alive starts strongly, only to completely drop the ball halfway through. The opening is jarring and unexpected, with a series of assassinations carried out across America by a mysterious killer armed with darts dipped in cobra venom. It reminds me a lot of the start of the James Bond voodoo caper Live and Let Die, but with the added advantage of being shot in New York at Christmastime. That’s right, just like Jess Franco’s Cannibals! How exciting it must have been to be in New York, Christmastime 1979. You’re walking down the street and there’s Umberto Lenzi filming Janet Agren for a cannibal movie. You turn the corner and there’s Jess Franco and Lina Romay shooting their cannibal film! Only in America, eh?

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It’s a wildly intriguing opening, and mystery piles upon mystery as Janet Agren sets off to New Guinea to find her sister, who has disappeared with a sinister Jim Jones-like jungle cult. She teams up with grizzled Vietnam vet Mark to find the missing girl, and sure enough they find her within about 20 minutes of looking and then things get very boring very fast.

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The normally off-the-chain Rassimov is strangely restrained playing a crazed cult leader, and though the sight of mad cultists singing hymns in the middle of the jungle is striking, it’s not enough. Agren doesn’t really do much apart from strip naked and let herself be painted gold, in another James Bond reference.

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No, it’s Robert Kerman who steals the show here, particularly with a grim monologue that ends with a hysterically inappropriate final line – ‘Boy, I’ve seen some pretty bad things in my life. Decapitated women, burned babies, old men’s eyes burnt out with gas. But this takes the cake.’

Ummm, it sure does Robert. It really takes the cake.

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If you’ve come here looking for kerrazee cannibal thrills, you’d be better watching next years Cannibal Ferox. Eaten Alive is more like a cult deprogramming movie, though there are of course the expected rapes and mutilations. Hell, it’s a Lenzi movie, y’know? Also released in 1980 was Lenzi’s Nightmare City, which we’ll be covering in a bit. It shows that Lenzi could direct a really good fast paced action movie – so why are his cannibal films so tortuously drawn out and tedious?

Answers on a postcard, please. Just don’t address it to me.

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The Video Nasties #87 – Don’t Answer the Phone (1980, Robert Hammer)

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‘Get up or I’ll tear your tit off.’

Before we begin, we must first ponder an important question that Don’t Answer the Phone raises. In the opening scene, a nurse comes home and begins to get undressed. The first thing she does? Takes her underpants off. Then, and only then, does she start to take off her dress.

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Ladies, would you not surely take the dress off first? It just seems so much easier? I mean, if you were just changing your panties then fair enough, but if you’re taking it all off, who starts with their underwear? If the scene had continued, would she have pulled her bra out of her sleeve and then taken the dress off? She must be a real non-conformist. What if she’s wearing trousers though? And does she get dressed that way in the morning? What an oddball. Anyway, before we get any answers, she’s murdered by a psychopath and Don’t Answer the Phone starts.

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Don’t go in the house, near the park, in the woods, answer the phone…like a nagging, overprotective mother, these Nasties just never stop telling us what to do! In this case it’s good advice because on the other end of the phone is a greasy, sweaty rapist-murderer.

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The film splits its time equally between the killer, excellently played by Nicholas Worth, and the inept cops on his tail. It’s one of the sleazier Nasties, with grubby scenes of topless women being strangled.

Even the dialogue is revolting – ‘Was she sexually assaulted?’ asks a cop. ‘Every orifice she’s got!’ replies the other. Ugh. Worth spends a lot of time either giggling or lifting weights while topless, while the cops race around town getting things completely fucking wrong.

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They search Worth’s apartment, until the owner comes home and they realise they are in the wrong house. Earlier they accidentally killed their only witness. The tough guy cop says things like, ‘I want this bastard.’ They pay a visit to a brothel to look for clues and awe get a humorous scene of men and women in lingerie jumping out of the window and running down the street. It’s a moment of humour that the film urgently needs, as the oppressive sleaze of Worth ripping women’s clothes off to the doom-laden synth score will be too much for most people to handle. Did I mention the sweaty topless weightlifting? I did? Oh, okay, cool.

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Halfway through, the cops call in a psychic to help them, who gives them a perfect description of the killer and his methods. I don’t believe in psychics, and if one of them had told me that Don’t Answer the Phone was a pretty good, nasty little stalker movie I almost certainly wouldn’t have believed them. But they would have been right! The point is, don’t believe a psychic, even if they are right. Anyone can guess.

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The Video Nasties #86 – The Devil Hunter (1980, Jess Franco)

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‘I hate the jungle, and its humidity,

and these shadows, and this heat.’

Oh, another Jess Franco cannibal film. This time he seems to have a slightly higher budget than was the norm for his 80s work – there are even some actual tracking shots! I know, I know, we’ve really hit the big time now. But even for me, an unashamed Franco celebrant, this one is pretty hard going.

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It’s a shame, as we get off to a cracking start with one of the most bizarre openings to any movie ever made – a woman being chased through the jungle by cannibals, intercut with a model in a swimsuit waving to people from an open top car by the beach, while a melancholy acoustic track plays. The woman turns out to be Laura Crawford, who is some sort of star of stage/screen/modelling/whatever. At her press conference, she states, ‘I have no opinion of men – I just love them,’ while intrigued looking pedestrians stare right at the camera. Sadly, as played by charisma vacuum Ursula Fellner, Laura is one of Franco’s most uninteresting heroines, although she’s required to do little more than run around screaming in the buff, which she certainly does with aplomb.

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She’s soon kidnapped by a pair of men wearing stockings on their heads who do the only smart thing and take her to a remote jungle inhabited by deranged natives who sacrifice beautiful women to their Devil God. Research, guys. Research. Did we learn nothing from Cannibal Terror?

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And much like Cannibal Terror, this film does not know when to stop. Rituals go on for what feels like days, with every second shot being a close up of the eyes on that damn totem pole. People walk and walk and walk some more. Honestly, there’s more walking in this film than the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Franco, who usually has a good eye for locations, seems as lost as his characters in this jungle setting, failing to find any interesting shots or compositions. It doesn’t help that the man sent in to rescue Laura is the blank slate Al Cliver (which arguably makes him The Model Hunter rather than The Devil Hunter, but I suppose we shouldn’t quibble). I guess Franco wanted someone just as dull as his heroine. No one is helped by the lackadaisical dubbing, particularly Cliver’s ‘nam vet friend, who sounds like he’s been dubbed by the village idiot (just wait for his delivery of the line, ‘Ouch.’)

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Things pick up slightly when the horror element of The Devil is introduced, at least until we see him and discover it’s a naked black man with papier maché eyes. The eyes clearly make it impossible for the poor actor to see, so he walks very slowly, gingerly stepping through the undergrowth and grabbing onto tree trunks to avoid falling. Later, Franco has him walk up a hill while carrying a nude Laura, which just seems cruel.

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While The Devil Hunter lacks the atmosphere and strange beauty of Franco’s best films (or even his mediocre ones), it does sometimes deliver a good solid laugh. There’s a scene where Cliver punches a topless woman and knocks her out cold; when she wakes, he tells her to rest, to which she gratefully replies, ‘Thank you.

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There’s also the world’s most tepid fist fight, and a staggering scene where Franco films Cliver climbing up a hill by turning the camera on it’s side and having Al crawl along the ground like in the 1960s Batman tv series.

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There’s a smattering of gore (the usual animal intestines type gags) and an almost nonstop barrage of bare flesh, both male and female. At 80 minutes it might have been a fun party movie, but running over one hundred minutes renders it more of an endurance test. The whole lazy endeavour is best summed up with this piece of dialogue, which shows the complete lack of effort that went into the script –

‘Tell your friend that if he doesn’t reply within 30 seconds, I’ll blow your head right off.’

‘And if I don’t do it?’

‘I’ll blow your head off right now.’

‘Alright.’

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The Video Nasties #85 – Demented (1980, Arthur Jeffreys)

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‘I hope I never have to go through anything like that again.’

If you enjoyed I Spit on Your Grave but felt that we spent too much time getting to know Jennifer and sympathising with her, then have I got a film for you. Demented begins with a nameless woman walking past a barn. Four thugs jump her and rape her. Then she is released from a sanitarium. We are three minutes into the movie, folks.

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It’s okay though, because Demented then gives you about an hour to catch your breath as we are finally introduced to our heroine, Linda. It might have been better to do this before she was raped, but Demented is a bad boy and don’t play by no rules, you square. Linda is picked up from the sanitarium by her husband, played by porn actor Harry Reems, who gives a pretty good performance, in and out of the sheets. The same cannot be said of Sallee Young, who plays Linda as a shrill woman-child.

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Look, maybe my dislike of her acting stems from my oft-repeated hatred of actors playing ‘crazy’ – see Don’t Look in the Basement for more evidence of this. She’s not helped by some appalling dialogue courtesy of The Incredible Melting Man himself, Alex Rebar. Get a load of this, which sounds like something out of a kids’ tv show – ‘He sure was a trickster, my father. He always had a good one up his sleeve.’ Later, as Linda is about to be assaulted again, she dully intones, ‘Oh no, this can’t be happening. Not again,’  sounding like she’s just slept in again. It’s like a spoof. There’s also a funny scene where Harry is talking with the doctor, who is explaining how fragile her mental state is after being raped. ‘I suppose sex is out of the question?’ asks Harry, visibly disappointed.

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The plot crawls along, as we learn that Harry is cheating on Linda with a young woman who’s after his money. The scenes between those two are among the best in the film, particularly an intentionally funny interrogation during sex.

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Meanwhile, Linda fears she may be being stalked by her young neighbour and his friends. They attack her in her home, wearing effectively creepy gargoyle masks, and for a while it’s unclear whether it’s all in Linda’s mind.

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It’s an interesting idea that is unceremoniously dropped when we discover that no, it’s not her imagination. This leads to the last third of the film, when she finally snaps and murders the four boys, including an eye-watering testicle garrotting. It makes a change to see a woman sexually humiliating men in a film like this, and the violence is brief but savage – for a short while the film is relatively entertaining. But not for long! The film crashes to a halt with an extended dinner table one on one between Linda and one of the boys, in a scene that goes on and on with a limp payoff, before the even more pathetic final moment.

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I’m surprised this never made the Section 2 list, as it can be quite nasty and rather dehumanises its female lead from start to finish. It’s a meandering journey, and honestly not really one worth taking, especially when you see what the Italians were doing with the rape/revenge format around the same time. You’d be better off taking a trip on the Late Night Trains than going Demented, I’d say.

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The Video Nasties #84 – Contamination (1980, Luigi Cozzi)

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‘You must know by now that National Security is at stake…

and possibly even more than that!’

They just don’t make movies like Contamination anymore, and I’ll let you decide whether that’s a good or bad thing. A very silly sci-fi-adventure-horror, Contamination is apparently ‘Based on an original story by Lewis Coates’ which I believe is Italian for ‘Based on Ridley Scott’s Alien’.

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A mysterious boat floats into New York harbour (are we watching Zombie Flesh Eaters again?) and when NYPD’s finest go to investigate they find the hold full of mysterious alien eggs. The eggs burst and force the men’s chests to explode for reasons that are never explained other than the director really, really liked Alien.

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If you came here for the gore, then you might as well just go home now, because that’s about it. There are a couple more exploding chests, but you know what they say – if you’ve seen one chest explode, you’ve seen ‘em all.

But have you ever seen a rat explode? If not, then stick around.

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The surviving cop, Lieutenant Tony, teams up with the icy Colonel Stella to investigate. A few more bodies explode and then Zombie Flesh Eaters alumni Ian McCulloch turns up as a disgraced former astronaut who claims he saw alien eggs when he, ummm, landed on Mars. So yeah, that happened. No big deal.

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Stella goes to visit Ian, and the meeting does not go well. After all, she was one of the officers who thought he was crazy. McCulloch, wearing a shirt that perfectly matches the fabric of his sofa, demands to know why Stella is here. ‘Come on colonel, what is it you want to know – how many times a week I screw?’ he demands.

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It turns out that’s not why she’s here. Ian has a flashback to when he investigated Mars’ Polar ice caps, which really made me laugh until I googled them and found out they are real. The flashback is great, making good use of a typically strong Goblin score and some cheesy but fun miniatures. He tells Stella that he saw hundreds of the eggs in a cave, and that, ‘They were green, just like the one in your photograph.’ Would now be a good time to mention that the photos were in black and white…?

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The chemistry between these two morons is what makes this film tick. In one scene, Stella tells Ian he isn’t a real man, so he slaps her hard across the face, telling her, ‘That’s just so we understand one another.’ Then they smile at each other and Stella says, ‘Now, what about that little trip to South America?’, presumably happy that Ian has asserted his masculinity with a good hard slap. Ah, sexual politics in 1980s Italy…

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From here on in, the horror elements fade away leaving, unexpectedly, a sort of James Bond adventure film. We meet the baddie, Ian’s old astronaut pal, who has been taken over by a martian and is planning to distribute the eggs around the world. He is dressed in a ridiculous suit like Bond’s arch-nemesis Blofeld, and has a tough blonde henchwoman. Not only that, but he has ample opportunities to kill our incompetent heroes, but always fails through his overcomplicated schemes. In one hysterical scene, he sends a hitman to kill Stella in the shower. Instead of just shooting her, he locks in her in the bathroom with an alien egg. 20 minutes later it’s still not hatched and Ian rescues her. We never even see the egg hatch – for all we know, it’s still there! I pity the poor maid who goes in to clean that bathroom up…

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When the baddie captures Stella and Lt Tony, he ties them up and they share a tender moment worth repeating verbatim.

You’re the first woman I ever went after that I couldn’t get past first base with,’ says Tony.

I’m sorry,’ says Stella for some reason.

Well, imagine how I feel,’ sulks Tony like a big fucking crybaby. To make up for…I dunno, making Tony feel bad by not jumping into his arms, Stella gives him a little kiss on the lips, to which Tony responds, ‘It’s the most fantastic thing that has ever happened to me in my whole life.’ Alright big man, calm down!

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Continuing the Bond theme, our villain decides to dispose of Stella and Tony with his version of the pool of sharks – a giant alien cyclops called…The Cyclops,  a charming special effect that looks like a disgruntled mushroom. Will Ian get there in time to save them? Well, what do you think?

Contamination is a fun but inessential time-waster that has no place on the Nasties list, a fact borne out by the re-release many years later that not only got through the BBFC uncut, but passed with a ’15’ certificate!

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The Video Nasties #83 – Christmas evil (1980, Lewis Jackson)

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‘If you’re bad boys and girls, your name goes in the

‘Bad Boys and Girls Book’, and I’ll bring you something…horrible.’

John Waters has called Christmas Evil, ‘The greatest Christmas movie ever made,’ but even John waters gets it wrong sometimes. Christmas Evil has the greatest ending of any Christmas movie ever made, but getting there is a real struggle.

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Another one of those totally inexplicable Nasties, Christmas Evil is a slow-moving drama about one man’s mental deterioration. In that respect, it’s similar to films like Maniac and Don’t Go in the House, but without the frequent horror scenes of those films. All three feature an adult male who experienced some kind of childhood trauma, in this case young Harry seeing his father dressed as Santa squeezing his mother’s thigh.

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Harry has grown up obsessed with Santa and the festive season, and the film does give good Christmas atmosphere, a constant parade of yuletide songs and imagery. What a shame it refuses to do anything interesting with it! Near the start there’s a good scene of Harry spying on the neighbourhood kids through binoculars to see if they’re ‘good’ or ‘bad’, drawing attention to how creepy the idea of Santa actually is, some magical paedophile who spends all year watching children. The idea is never really followed up. Instead it’s mostly scenes of Harry rocking back and forward, looking through windows, humming Christmas songs and breaking into factories. Maggart is really good in the role, but he needs more to do.

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There are some funny touches in here, like a police lineup of Santas, but so much of the film just feels like navel-gazing. Even as a character study there’s not much here; Harry wants to be Santa – Harry becomes Santa. End of.

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I can’t even fathom why Christmas Evil is on the Nasties. The only reason I can think of is that it was mistaken for highly controversial Santa slasher Silent Night, Deadly Night. There are two very minor gore shots and no nudity – hell, I don’t even think there was any swearing!

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The thing is, it’s almost worth watching for the very last shot of the entire movie, which I absolutely will not spoil for you. If only the rest of the film had some of the imagination, fun and magic of this moment. As it is, I have no choice but to put writer/director Lewis Jackson on my naughty list.

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