Retro Wives and Witches, Oh My!
By Kristin Battestella
These eighties wedded dames and old school widows face ghosts and cult forces when not dabbling in a little something something black magic on the side themselves.
Beyond Evil – A one hundred year old ghostly possession interferes with John Saxon (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and Lynda Day George's (Mission: Impossible) tropical marital bliss in this 1980 tale complete with fine villa interiors, spiral staircases, and that seventies Spanish Gothic mood. The non-English prologue is a little hokey thanks to the cheap production values – the sound is poor and the picture often too dark – and though intense, the fire ceremonies and native rituals end up mostly irrelevant before the jet setting rich white people restart provides the phantom winds, killer accidents, and help too afraid to stay in this surprisingly affordable jungle castle. The shady BFF with suspicious loans, backdoor construction, and intrusive voiceovers also undercuts the Portuguese flashback detailing the past arraigned marriage, black magic, and pacts with the devil. Let the murdered mistresses, poisons, chanting, and creaking doors speak for themselves alongside the blue haze, green smoke, sinister music, nighttime whispers, and zooms in the bedroom. The pace falters when away from the scary, and the tense is better when the no electric, falls, and dangerous pointy statues are allowed to blossom with apparitions at the dinner table, sharp knives, household accidents, and candles that light by themselves. Our husband is not a disbelieving asshole as so often seen in horror – he knows there is something wrong with his sleepless wife and suspects a shady doctor with missing medical files calling the haunting merely mental or womanly over-emotional. However, he doubts the local healer and his hocus pocus as well, and the past horrors merge with the present strain as The Mrs. is violated by the demonic spirit and used to cause fiery vehicle crashes or building accidents. Despite neon eye laser beams and sound effects that stray into a more science fiction look rather than a haunting and crypt explorations that only somewhat explain the killer powers; the fatal kisses, premonitions, bruises, and blackouts create a foreign giallo horror eerie culminating in a fun spectacle and fittingly ghoulish finale.
Macabre – It's murder and passion via New Orleans in this atmospheric 1980 Italian swanky from director Lamberto Bava. The colorful locale is part of the plot with river boats, historic architecture, street corner jazz, and romantic melodies. The lush décor is both tacky seventies with velvet curtains and tawny patinas as well as of old thanks to gilded wallpaper, candelabras, and cluttered antiques. Cigarettes, cocktails, and pearls set off the easy to slip out of satin as illicit phone calls make mom leave the kids to babysit themselves during her dalliance. Moaning and heavy panting overheard by the white knuckled blind neighbor are intercut with child terrors, bathtub horrors, shattered glass, bloody beams, and vehicular shocks before an institution stay and return to the love nest becomes suspicious self love with altars to the deceased, ghostly footsteps, and unseen phantom encounters. Through the banister filming, windows, mirrors, and similar posturing add to the naughty mother and creepy daughter duplicity while our blind virginal musical instrument repair man must listen to the saucy and toot his own horn, so to speak, as the silent awkwardness and martini music provide emotion with little dialogue. The narrative may over-rely on the score, meandering on the pathetic situation too much, but there's enough weirdness balancing the mellow thanks to the cruel temptations and nasty bedroom suggestions as white negligees become black sheers and candlelit interiors darken. The effortless jazz switches to pulsing, scary beats as some serious unexplained ghost sex, undead voodoo, or other unknown witchcraft escalates the decapitation innuendo and like mother, like daughter warped. Our blind audience avatar hides to not be seen, others unseen can sneak passed him, and we're all unable to see behind closed doors – layering the suspense, voyeurism, and two fold bizarre amid bedroom shockers, ominous tokens, overcast cemeteries, and one locked refrigerator. The saucy, nudity, and gore are adult sophisticated without being vulgar in your face tits and splatter a minute like today, and tense toppers don't have to rely on fake out scares. Granted, there are timeline fudges, some confusion, and laughable parts. It's probably obvious what's happening to most viewers, yet we're glued to the screen nonetheless with ironic puns, turnabouts, kitchen frights, and titular twists. I guess edible and sexual horrors don't mix!
Play Dead – Furs and black veils help Lily Munster herself Yvonne De Carlo raise these dated television movie designs along with organ music, classic autos, antiques, and talismans in the casket. Our Aunt Hester stirs up the funeral before sipping her cordial by the fireplace with her rottweiler Greta – who is said to be a rare breed brought special from Europe to match the lanterns, candles, potions, Latin rituals, and animal sacrifices. Kind and never said to harm anybody Greta is sent to dog obedience school before being giving as a gift to Hester's grieving niece and nephew, but their father was Hester's lover before marrying her sister and Greta is really her Murders in the Rue Morgue revenge. However, the slow motion maulings, solo dancing, and shattered mirrors are unnecessary – mere filler slowing the picture down rather than helping create atmosphere. The supposedly tender sex scene is also ridiculously slow, and poor Greta's stuck watching amid the boobs, belt buckles, steamy shower, and ritzy elevator music meets porno melody. Understandably, there's a lot of talking to the dog or oneself, but the dialogue never explains the mystical connections as Greta hitches a ride in the back seat to cause hit and runs or opens bathroom doors to drop the hot curling iron into the tub. The strobe dog scenes are perhaps by animal filming necessity, but the intercut crimes, remote spells, pulsing heartbeats, and pentagram dog tags aren't used to full sinister advantage despite unique strangulations, poisons, and kills that don't immediately incriminate the canine. It's odd then that the crusty cops do suspect the dog because the plot says so – when our no alibi, stands to inherit everything niece has count 'em six people die in her vicinity. Some of the frazzled witness questioning also drags, detracting from De Carlo with some amateur over the top and poor procedurals. Viewers can see why this 1981 release was delayed and this giving the rottweiler a bad name is not for dog lovers, yet this can be laughably bemusing if you accept it for what it is.
Witchcraft – Period torches, hoods, cackling crones, and burning at the stake mobs open this 1988 eerie before a modern birth, a stay with the mother-in-law at her 300 year old Massachusetts mansion, and a woman sitting in the front seat of the station wagon holding the baby in her arms for the trip. That was how we rolled! Indeed, the bad music, shoulder pads, and hectic visuals are Made for TV dated, but the fiery effects are well done amid lightning, windswept nightgowns, rituals in the backyard, animal sacrifices, and suspicious tea. Grandma's taking over the nursery alongside red candles, blood, dark clothing, and old phones contrasting the yuppie fashions and big hair. Cobwebs, dust, covered furniture, and a mute butler add to the foreboding while blurry, distorted camera angles reflect the hazy dreams and drugged stupor. Our husband is giving the cold shoulder and mom's off exploring, but I'd never let that kid out of sight with these mysterious house fires, bloody bandages, and good old fashioned gaslighting about what's happening. The omnipresent movie music springs up just in time for the evil visions, because of course, but the ominous mirrors, boils, and fatal retributions set off the up close cutlery and meaty chewing in one eerie dinner table scene. The bloody flashbacks, dream cop outs, and shock vignettes, however, are disjointed – there are pieces of suspicion and frights, but the plot isn't anything new in the cult wants my baby sub-genre. Despite a lot of quality individual spooky scenes, not a lot actually happens and the audience knows what's going on even if the plot is somewhat eponymous lite before rushing into a heady finale. This is fun for the cheesy midnight movie that it is, but I can't image how there are sixteen of these movies, my word!