More 70s Horror!
By Kristin Battestella
Don’t you just love those dated, scary, and spooky old retro 1970s horror movies? I sure do! Here’s a quartet of period stars, twists, and mayhem to whet your winter appetites.
Night Drive – Valerie Harper (Rhoda and The Mary Tyler Moore Show) stars as a pursued murder witness in this 1977 television thriller – though I’m not sure about the Night Terror and Night Drive title switch a roo. The supporting cast is very after school special dry, yes. Everyone is a non-believing idiot or ass, and it’s tough to accept Harper as a fearful, neurotic, absent minded, non-funny housewife. For an under 80 minute movie, the pacing is also slow to start with a lot of seemingly nothing happening – most of the scenes are silent and solitary, too. Fortunately, things get interesting when the highway horrors hit, and who can’t feel for a mom we love in peril? Sure, the filmmaking is a little dated or unintentionally comical – I think the station wagon has a lot to do with that! However, desolate roadways and abandoned curbside locales keep things atmospheric. Today we take for granted how easy it is to get from one place to another thanks to GPS, Bluetooth, cell phones, or cars that can dial 911 or tell us where to go. As a result, some basic suspense sequences here have the viewer holding one’s breath or shouting at the television, and it all makes for an entertaining little show.
The Sentinel – A big name cast and lots of familiar faces- including Chris Sarandon, Eli Wallach, Jerry Orbach, Beverly D’Angelo, Burgess Meredith, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Walken, John Carradine, Ava Gardner, Arthur Kennedy, and hey look its Tom Berenger and Nana Visitor- appear in this 1977 pseudo satanic thriller. Although I’ve never heard of model turned actress Cristina Raines and her undefined training is apparent in some scenes, her confused woman is very likeable and holds the picture together as the unexplained events, bizarre dreams, suspect mental issues, and suicidal baggage intensify. Complex blends of religious iconography, nighttime scares, and plenty of twists and twisted-ness create some fine subterfuge. The fantastic NYC locations mix wonderfully with a suspiciously unsuspicious Old World look and feel, too. Yes, some scenes are silly and there might be some iffy plot holes. However, toss in some kinky, nudity, and devilish debauchery with the evil plots and the demented atmosphere here remains entertaining throughout.
The Severed Arm – Any fan of horror film simply has to enjoy a movie that opens with the titular appendage going thru the U.S. Mail! The dangerous cave action and taut first half hour work- hearing another human being beg like that is probably the scariest thing anyone can witness. These wicked but seemingly necessary and desperate horrors are intense! Although some bad acting hampers the premise’s good scares and suspense, the gruesome subject matter and demented early seventies music help in forgiving the low budget feelings and unpolished flaws. Red lighting makes for a good atmosphere, but at times it’s tough to see the juicy cave-in and butchery scenes. The solid pace and editing also dwindles down to some slow and obvious crimes; it isn’t easy to tell who is getting killed as the victims become unimportant and interchangeable, either. There are a few different versions on DVD, too, with varying degrees of gore, but I’m not sure why this ditty isn’t better known. Despite its middle troubles, the opening terrors and a very cool ending keep this one worth the hunt.
What’s the Matter with Helen? – Debbie Reynolds – America’s fifties sweetheart, the mother of Princess Leia – in a scary movie? Oh yes! I’m not exactly a Shelly Winters (A Place in the Sun) fan, for she always seems so frumpy and annoying. However, that stuffy works for writer Henry Farrell (Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane) and director Curtis Harrington (Games) here. We know it is wrong, and these broads aren’t exactly kosher, yet there’s something about watching old ladies get terrorized onscreen. The diverging juxtapositions of the toe tapping, Hollywood star struck Reynolds and increasingly reclusive, paranoid Winters is quite genius. Simple delights such as early newsreels, radio broadcasts, and early prank phone calls add an extra accent to gruesome crime scene photos, great Depression era cars, and stunning styles to enchant any fashionista. Sweet jazzy tunes like “Goody Goody” are surprisingly perfect for a horror picture; recitals and almost musical sequences further pull the viewers out of the expected scary genre comfort zone, too. Although “Oh, You Nasty Man” performed by a little girl is just a bit too creepy. It’s funny to see vintage crazy stage moms- dolling them up in great hats and frocks doesn’t change their stripes! The photography is a rich, classic, almost antique or patina palette of colors, and the Depression period really makes this 1971 picture stand out. Today’s teen slashers-fed audiences don’t expect to see sophisticated scares in this time or place, and it adds to the unsettling feelings onscreen. Classic audiences, fans of the period, or those just looking for a unique, subliminally scary picture will be entertained here.