By Kristin Battestella
We’re dwelling in the bowels of seventies horror again – because there are that many creepy, brooding, psychological scares, monsters, and period panache to be had in this quivering quartet alone.
The Asyphx – The red colors, tinted camerawork, and film effects hold up well for this lavish looking British paranormal tale from 1973. Sunny landscapes, bright interiors, period costumes, early gadgets, deathly photography, and Victorian flair set the macabre mood, but the volume is soft and there doesn’t seem to be as much creepy scoring as there could be. The cast is also a little uber British and much too dry, and the interesting premise feels flat as a result – like an overlong anthology episode. The investigation is slow for the first half, and the tone becomes more like watching a science experiment rather than something scary or ominous. Granted, a lot of the plot holes and inferior acting make much of this simply laughable. This isn’t as good as one might expect, and the steampunk Ghostbusters jokes are apparent. Thankfully, the spiritualism, deadly Greek harbingers, and primitive paranormal deduction intensify for the latter 45 minutes and spearhead toward mad scientist desperation, tombs, and immortality. I’d like to have seen this yarn with the horror spectacle and Hammer star power it deserves, but it’s played serious with enough twisted entertainment and a fittingly ghoulish ending.
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death – This hour and a half from 1971 doesn’t feel PG-13 thanks to askew camera angles, bent up-close shots, bizarre suggestion, tension, and innuendo. The simple tunes and steady beats make for a quiet, eerie orchestration – toss in a Hearst, fall leaves, grave rubbings, female apparitions, empty rocking chairs on abandoned porches, hippie vagrants, and séances and the mood is set! The narration, however, is a little dry. The immediate unreliability and suspect nature is fine – she was “away” veiled mental institution talk and all that – but the inner monologue feels redundant thanks to the sleepy inlet setting and already established atmosphere. Early 70s stylings and more historical decor and accessories accentuate the fear and isolation far better, even if the brief yuppie sing-along is dated. Zohra Lampert (Splendor in the Grass) is a little annoying and flaky as our titular would be victim to start, but her fears become a worthwhile anchor as the proverbial plot thickens and the jump scares increase thanks to freaky townsfolk, evil history, and morbid antiques. No one wants to say things like crazy, supernatural, ghosts, or vampire, which makes for some confusion or deduction that today’s spoon fed audiences might not be used to doing. Granted, the title is also misleading; the scares here may seem like all the obvious, cliché staples, too. Thankfully, the lack of nudity, little blood, and disturbing water scares make for a very effective, well-paced, thinking person’s serious horror picture.
Moon of the Wolf – Bayou townsfolk David Janssen (The Fugitive), Barbara Rush (Peyton Place), Bradford Dillman, and Geoffrey Lewis (Thunderbolt and Lightfoot) have a case of lycanthropic crimes on their hands in this 1972 TV movie based upon the book by Les Whitten. Though the picture is dang dark and tough to see and the dialogue often soft, the Louisiana swamp scenery and period isolation and fears add to the mystery – only one person in town has a phone! There’s no gore, poor wolfy designs, and the old country dialogue may annoy some. However, the good old-fashioned Southern Gothic murder mystery mood balances the slower rocking chair on the front porch pace, and the south meets paranormal investigation, scandals, and quirky players remain realistic even when the hairy hits. Despite a few nice zooms and killer perspective camerawork, this 75 minutes is played for the quality monster suspense and French twists before scares. While I generally prefer Pub D Hub where available, the Instant Watch streaming quality here was far better, with a brighter picture, subtitles, and no buffering.
Piranha – Speaking of Bradford Dillman, he returns for more backwoods infestation scares along with Barbara Steele (Black Sunday) and Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) in this 1978 Roger Corman (House of Usher) produced and Joe Dante (Gremlins) directed aquatic horror parody. This one is packed with cheeky nudity, awkward seventies kids in peril, government experiments, military clichés, Vietnam fallout, pollution, idiot law enforcement, bad video game graphics, dated teen power lingo, car crazies, boat action, and lots of inner tubes springing a leak, whew! Fortunately, subtle horror references and a sardonic, self-referential banter make the campy and dated creature effects forgivable. Halloween haunters can also delight in this hour and half of icky tanks, jars full of creepy crawlies, ominous waterworks, and resorts gone horror. The predatory piranha plot is of course preposterous, but the desperation and watery foundation can still scare anyone with fears of what lies beneath. The tainted isolation and run amok atmosphere ups the blood and gore; the scoring keeps things period innocent, dangerous, or ironic as need be. Nice kill scenes with up close drownings and bloody bubbles provide a whiff of sinister as a parade of people fall victim – not just outrageous teens with a lot of sex, drugs, and rock n roll like today. Sure, it’s hokey and one must be able to laugh here, yet there’s some well-edited suspense pacing and can’t look away action at the same time. This humor before horror may be a little uneven in deciding what’s played for serious or spoof, but the blend of wit and scares certainly provides a scary good time.