Unfriendly Family Frights!
By Kristin Battestella
Put the kiddies to bed for these old school sociological scares, freaky families, and creepy couples of decades yore.
Brain Twisters – A shattered walkman, neon, bad techno graphics, giant microphones, and lots of old time televisions add nostalgia to this 1991 sci-fi scary. Did I mention the bad denim, pink, phones with cords, and phone booths? The dated design is certainly noticeable but feels more bemusing than unwatchable. The opening fifteen minutes have a nice underlying ominous – we know something spooky is going to happen to these coeds thanks to the bevy of dorky dudes, a creeper professor keeping a student’s brain on ice, and you know, nasty corporations doing brain experimentations. The eerie bathroom scenes are fun, but the female characters are cliché and distinguished only by their stereotypes: the smart virgin, the dark haired slut, and the chubby best friend. This low grade, late night Cinemax feeling increases thanks to some hokey and a seriously testosterone trying wooden detective. The flashing lights triggering brain aversions are also lame; movies today have a lot more dizzy inducing strobe than a blinking pinball machine! While it’s nice that you can see what’s happening without any in your face special effects, the straightforward filmmaking was probably a by budget necessity, so the lack of camera bells and whistles or flashy editing feels like things are taking too long to escalate. Nobody really figures out what’s going on, and this nothing spectacular but not a disaster style could have been punched up a lot more. This is better than I expected it to be and remains entertaining, but the premise and ultimate statement are a bit dumb. If there’s supposed to be some kind of message about the static on the TV brainwashing the next generation, that ship done sailed!
Crucible of Horror – Alfred he is not! Michael Gough is deliciously wicked in this 1970 familial twisty brimming with mirrors, then upscale décor, country cottages, a spooky attic, and a suspicious stiff upper lip gentility. This dad's sexist ideals are so sadistically strict that he feels up his 16 year old daughter's bicycle seat – no, this dinner table isn't going to be awkward! Old phones and out of order receivers add to the deceiving protocol, lack of privacy, and oh so polite manner. Pour us a drink and kindly don't interrupt while we try to kill you, jolly good. Guilty hands are constantly rewashed, intercut secrets up the suspicion, and whether it is shown or implied, the disturbing violence somehow keeps us guessing who is in the right and doing what to whom. Classical music keeps the murderous plotting, well, classy amid the well edited escalation and bumbling crime. How many times has this caper been foiled? Our thieving, traumatized teen sucks her thumb, and wife Yvonne Mitchell (Nineteen Eighty-Four) is both dead behind the eyes yet surprisingly lucid. The volume, unfortunately, seems very low here, and some scenes veer too far toward nonsensical psychedelic dreams. Not a lot happens to start either, but the creepy 90 minutes is allowed to simmer and build discomfort – not to mention how misogynistic brother Sam Gough (Shelley) and sister in need of discipline Sharon Gurney (Women in Love) are real life husband and wife! Despite some predictable twists, we don't quite blame anyone for taking matters into their own hands, and the retribution, fishy neighbors, and body afoot make for plenty of who did what to whom and how suspense.
The Evictors – This 1979 AIP spooky opens with a neat 1928 sepia flashback complete with cool coops, a rural siege, and tommy gun shootouts before moving to Louisiana 1942 for more pretty country, fedoras, candlestick phones, and operators at the other end! Jessica Harper (Suspiria) unknowingly settles into that prior deadly house, and it's a familiar premise with red herrings, lusty realtor Vic Morrow (Combat!), and an old lady busybody recounting a 1939 killer flashback. There's also an expendable mystical negro stereotype sharing a 1934 flashback, and the expected horrors may build too slowly for audiences wanting shocks a minute. I'm not sure if I like the separate flashback actions or not, for they take away from the present mystery a bit too much. However, seeing how the murderous actions went down rather than just telling it in a typical research montage is different and allows for additional scares amid the more commonplace damsel in creepy house horrors. Fortunately, the flat picture fits the seventies meats forties revisit, and the cast matches the wartime look and colloquialisms. This was an idyllic time with unlocked doors, friendly neighbors, a lone woman walking in red pumps to the country store – and carrying back the groceries! The sentimental introductions, picnics, and king of the castle era creates a quaint safety before suspicious notes in the mailbox, eerie ticking clocks, creaking floorboards, and simmering thunderstorms. The behind closed doors screams, cut away violence, and killer camera perspectives add to the predatory suggestions – even if the finale gets somewhat humorous. Wise viewers may see the same old same old gun twists coming and the ending is a bit confusing. However, there are enough surprises and period flair accenting this puzzler. So why aren't more horror movies set in these eras?
Nomads – Although the eerie editing, slow motion, and stilted camerawork carries a dated movie of the week feeling, the black and white photographs, darkroom splicing, frizzy perms, and limp ladies bow ties ironically accent this atmospheric 1986 supernatural thriller. Los Angeles hospitals, violent patients, grimy vandals, and French flavor set off the bad dreams and strung out ER as the memories between fair doctor Lesley-Ann Downe (North and South) and bearded anthropologist husband Pierce Brosnan (GoldenEye) blur. The wrong reflections are in the mirror, and the intercutting between our avatar and the retraced action is well paced and mature but no less bizarre. While I can do without the music montages and oooo badass silent but supposedly sinister punks, the gender reversals, possessions, titular pursuits, and cryptic history remain intriguing. Granted, the unique Inuit myths aren't made completely clear and these desert spirits gone wild aren't as menacing as they should be. However, the viewer knows there's something suspicious amid the concrete jungle threats, spooky nuns, and abandoned creepy. Where some tribes fear the camera capturing one's soul, these evil spirits don't appear in the developed frame. It's freaky and foreboding considering how many more gangs and urban nomads there must be today. How often do we pass by rowdy, stray, or seemingly innocuous people without really noticing them? Whether they are supernatural or desperate, maybe it's better if we don't catch their eye and loose our soul. Head down and keep moving! It might be interesting to see this notion revisited, as once you get over some of the eighties silly and wild, over the top finale, this 90 minutes makes for a scary sociological study.