31 October 2017

Top Ten: Witches!

Welcome to our new Top Tens series in celebration of I Think, Therefore I Review's Tenth Anniversary! These monthly lists will highlight special themes and topics from our extensive archive of reviews.

This time I Think, Therefore I Review presents in chronological order...

Our Top Ten Witches!

Please see our Horror page or our Witches tag for yet magical analysis!

I Think, Therefore I Review began as the blog home for previously published reviews and reprinted critiques by horror author Kristin Battestella. Naturally older articles linked here may be out of date and codes or formatting may be broken. Please excuse any errors and remember our Top Tens will generally only include films, shows, books, or music previously reviewed at I Think, Therefore I Review


20 October 2017

Top Ten: Horror Television!

Welcome to our new Top Tens series in celebration of I Think, Therefore I Review's Tenth Anniversary! These monthly lists will highlight special themes and topics from our extensive archive of reviews.

This time I Think, Therefore I Review presents in chronological order...

Our Top Ten Horror Television Series!

Please see our Horror page and Television guide for more small screen horrors!

I Think, Therefore I Review began as the blog home for previously published reviews and reprinted critiques by horror author Kristin Battestella. Naturally older articles linked here may be out of date and codes or formatting may be broken. Please excuse any errors and remember our Top Tens will generally only include films, shows, books, or music previously reviewed at I Think, Therefore I Review.

18 October 2017

Another Peter Cushing Trio

Another Peter Cushing Trio!
by Kristin Battestella

Whether he's playing the hero or the villain, there's simply no shortage of old school Peter Cushing frights!

And Now the Screaming Starts! – An amorous and surprisingly fertile ghost reeks havoc for Stephanie Beacham (Dracula A.D. 1972) in this 1973 Amicus period piece co-starring Peter Cushing. The 1795 carriages, antiques, riverside scenery, Oakley Court setting, and 300 year old haunted castle combine for a colonial meets medieval foreboding complete with balcony galleries, sconces, waistcoats, and riding frocks. Unfortunately, the bridal bliss is short lived before disembodied hands, ghoulish faces in the window, and doors opening by themselves lead to a largely unseen assault with plenty of implied terror. Despite sunshine and pleasant outdoor strolls, the darkness is felt with cemeteries, fog, storms, and apparitions causing more screams – which is what it says on the tin. Poor Stephanie must have gotten darn hoarse with the titular minute to minute shouts! Rattling frames on the wall, ghostly choke holds, and falls down the stairs can be bemusing, however phantom winds, cracking mirrors, and evil paintings create enough atmosphere to forgive any chuckles as bodies drop one by one amid family secrets, creepy woodsmen, birthmarks, and blood. Maids are fainting, tonics tossed into the Thames reappear on the bedside table, and the sweet library has a hidden copy of the Malleus Maleficarum detailing this demon sex – but leave it to Dr. Cushing to save the day in one terribly and I mean terribly coiffed wig! The staff says they need a priest not a doctor, and anyone who tries to tell of the family legends and their past debauchery ends up dead before a decadent flashback reveals a nasty noble putting on the unwanted wedding night advances. Grave robbing and cradle shockers are morose fun, but the big secret is kind of obvious, the father and son lookalikes could be explained better, and the violence against women used as supernatural revenge doesn't solve any of the male cruelty that started the hereditary curse in the first place. Although the horror should be tighter and overall there is a certain lacking on the scary panache; the cast, setting, and mood are effective enough to see the screams through for one wild topper.

Corruption – Green scrubs, surgery tables, and swanky tunes open this 1968 for love or horror tale, and it's fun to see suave, convertible driving surgeon Peter Cushing cruising with his younger lady. Sadly, he doesn't quite fit in with the swinging parties or stoned blondes in mini skirts, and the hazy visuals and askew camera angles mirror the congestion as our doc objects to a seedy photographer telling his model gal to take off her dress. The fight over his dame leads to crashing studio lights, burns on her beautiful face, bandages, and skin graphs. Radical new plastic surgeries are to no avail until Big Pete borrows glands from the hospital morgue for his home laboratory complete with microscopes, caged rabbits, scalpels, syringes, and precision lasers. His tender bedside manner belies the medical stress, dabbing the sweaty forehead as he works while pulsing beats and sound effects match the miraculous but temporary healing. His unstable patient wears veils and netted hats, bashing mirrors at her perceived ugliness now that she's said to be washed up after a few months off the fashion scene – when in reality her injuries aren't really that severe. Today make up would easily cover her scars, and they are committing far worse horrors just to maintain her beautiful veneer. She buys her doctor a camera to photograph her, insists his oath to her is more important than his medical morals, and forces this older man to kill to keep her because she is so dependent on his expertise. Our doctor strolls the streets for a five pound hooker – a small price to pay for living tissues amirite – but the newspapers are reporting on his messy crimes and headless victims. The bloody parts are in his medical bag, but Doctor Peter misses killer chances as frenetic editing and askew wide angles reflect his dirty, violent deeds. It's all the guy can take as police, robberies, and pointing fingers botch the operation, and the debonair slips as he's unable to justify each death thanks to interfering hooligans and heady reveals. While different versions of the picture have more skin and gore, some of the pursuits are a bit corny. Beatniks in capes, ladies in pink, and the older Cushing bumbling along the rocky coast – how's a man to work in these conditions? Despite some datedness, the out of control extremes remain an interesting commentary on what a classy older gent is willing to do for his love at the first sign of some younger competition.

Land of the Minotaur Meddling priest Donald Pleasence (Halloween) joins innocent looking but creepy little old cult leader Peter Cushing in this 1976 Greek horror movie with varying versions also called The Devil's Men. Colorful hoods, robed figures, fiery rituals, and titular effigies fit right in with the rustic locales, villas, caves, real ruins, and ancient stonework – but our padre is concerned after several explorers in Winnebagos and hot pants go missing. So what if the archaeologists have no gear to climb nor tools to dig, wear platform shoes, and stumble upon their quarry by chance while letters to the US and flights to Greece happen instantly. Evil Baron Pete is chauffeured about town, casually referring to the pagan history of his family title before laughing at his sacrificial victims' pleas. Old world funerals, shady villagers, uncooperative police, and silenced old ladies add to the bathroom scares, falling chandeliers, and nighttime chases. Tense music accents the strangulations, deserted villages, one on one confrontations, and fatal altars when we hear it. However, the scoring seems largely absent, and in a desperate attempt to be ominous, every single scene has a silent zoom – going overboard with the intercut close ups on everyone's eyes. Restarting with several group disappearances also wastes time, giving the cult away when there was no need for anything before Luan Peters' (Twins of Evil) arrival in search of her boyfriend. Interesting priest and PI buddy aspects – one devout in religion and myth, the other solely about the facts – are undercut by knowing who the cult is and where they are the entire time, and the evil fighters spend more time sitting around doing nothing while the whole town in on it island ritual tries to be The Wicker Man. Poor editing and cut away fates don't create mystery but instead make many things unclear amid poor dialogue and uneven sound. Some of the terrorizing happens for the sake of it, with a lot of tossed in filler delaying the quality attacks in the darkness or dragging the sinister, sacrificial mood. This is certainly flawed, needing both more budget and polish but less runtime and a tighter narrative to compensate for some laughably amateur elements. The good versus evil religious pulls and intriguing character dynamics are wasted by time we get to the freaky finale, yet the fun cast and unique cultural horrors add enough late night entertainment to see the bull to the end.

16 October 2017

Tales from the Darkside Season 1

The Tales from the Darkside Debut Still Has Memorable Frights
by Kristin Battestella

The late George A. Romero produced the 1984-85 syndicated debut of Tales from the Darkside, a twenty-three episode anthology of original and short story adaptations with familiar faces and plenty of memorable half-hour frights. The Complete Series DVD set, however, begins with the original 1983 “Trick or Treat” pilot written by Romero and starring Bernard Hughes (The Lost Boys) as a Scrooge-like lender profiting from the ruin of others with his to the penny bookkeeping. His wealth is in money bags instead of banks, and come Halloween, he hides the IOUs from his desperate share croppers for their children to find and thus absolve their family's debt. Parents drum up their scared children to brave the annual house of horrors and the devilish wizard behind the curtain orchestration. Justly, the turnabout on this modern Dickensian spin is fair play when real horrors best our miser at his own game. More businessmen are smoking cigars and offered scotch to celebrate the latest deal in “The New Man.” Unfortunately, when a little boy shows up at the office telling his father to come home, the man doesn't recognize him – unlike his wife and older son, who are appalled by dad's mistake and refer to an alcoholic history of repeated moves and lost jobs. His life spirals back to the bottle in a surreal mix of horror and addiction, and though confusing with distorted timelines and resets, the real life consequences remain relatable. More cocktails, limousines, bribery, and homicide anchor “I'll Give You a Million” as two sophisticated old gentlemen play billiards and raise the stakes to a million dollars for one's soul. Is it tomfoolery to bet on a nonexistent property or is there something to a bad liver, senile behavior, and foul play clauses in the contract? A terminal diagnosis, however, changes the with interest and buy back offers on the deal as storms, power outages, and fatal phone calls set off the Marley-esque visitations. Likewise doctor Farley Grainger (Strangers on a Train) has a radical solution to a laid up husband's back problem in “Pain Killer.” Muscle relaxers, two weeks off from work, and acupuncture are to no avail – but maybe its his nagging wife that's really the constant pain...

Some Tales from the Darkside episodes have similar financial bargains and devilish killers, however such pay it forward macabre creates a connective undercurrent for the anthology, and a mysterious man in a white suit breaks the bookies with his lucky streak in “The Odds.” The back booth seedy and congested, smoky mood forgive the colloquial betting talk as the ticking clock counts down when the fatal stakes are due. In “Slippage,” a graphic artist loses his birth certificate, paycheck, and portfolio. His reunion invitation never comes either, and it's almost as if he doesn't exist at all when his yearbook photo disappears. No one, not even his wife, remembers him – but is it a set up or the supernatural? Horror make up artist turned director Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead) brings the creepy hands, terrible eyes, and ghoulish reveal for “Inside the Closet” as taxidermy and a small locked closet in a rented room live up to the Tales from the Darkside name alongside skeleton keys, mouse traps, and spooky dolls. Slide protectors, atmospheric music, under the bed shadows, and swift editing for the creature attacks elevate this warped twist. Meek out of work writer Bruce Davidson (X2) wishes his late genius nephew was his in fellow Creepshow collaborator Stephen King's “The Word Processor of the Gods,” and the boy's custom built word processor has an execute button convenient for creating Spanish doubloons – as well as one big red delete key that comes in really handy. Retro text, warning phone calls, fearful confrontations, and fiery overloads accent the consequences while Bibles and organ music set the funeral scene in Robert Bloch's (Psycho) “A Case of the Stubborns.” Unfortunately for young Christian Slater (Mr. Robot) and Brent Spiner (Star Trek: The Next Generation), grandpa Eddie Bracken (Hail the Conquering Hero) doesn't recollect being dead and is too stubborn to admit it despite no heartbeat and a death certificate. The too much rouge becomes pasty skin peeling and the Board of Health doesn't like the smell, but the local voodoo woman offers a solution – pepper.

Tarot readings for a deceptive old lady swapping the card decks spells doom for Dorothy Lyman (Mama's Family) in "In the Cards." The desperation increases as thrown away cards reappear and even setting the deck on fire can't prevent the tellings foretold. Are these predictions coming true a gift or a curse? Disbelievers and rival madams combine here for a mystical meets real world darkness. At least nagging wife Alice Ghostley (Bewitched) knows the way to her husband's heart is his favorite stew in "Anniversary Dinner." It's the empty nesters' twenty-fifth, and they take in a young hiker, offering her a celebratory sherry in their hidden room with a hot tub and some taxidermy. Sure, this one is obvious, but Tales from the Darkside serves up a twisted good time nonetheless when a drunken teacher tells off the headmaster because he's going to win the lottery in “Snip, Snip” thanks to the perfect number – 666. Unfortunately, 667 rewards hairdresser Carol Kane (Taxi), and a talkative parakeet named Lucifer interrupts an attempt to steal her winning ticket. Appearances, however, are deceiving, and the tense but sardonic banter questions which spirits truly have the answers – astrology or distilled. Then again, a little horseshoe phone never looked so ominous as in one of my Tales from the Darkside favorites "Answer Me," where subletting Jean Marsh (Upstairs, Downstairs) hears the incessant ringing of her neighbor's telephone. The apartment's been empty since the last tenant died, and the casual, effortless talking to oneself turns into frantic chatter as the noise next door won't stop. Increasingly dark rooms, scary shadows, and twisted telephone cords live up to the series name in this taut one woman play. For “Madness Room,” an older man, his younger wife, and their handsome lawyer uncover tales of murder and treasure maps via a Ouija board, and the sophisticated puzzle builds with a little drywall demolition, secret doors, a one hundred year old diary, and some ghostly gun play on the comeuppance. Likewise “If the Shoes Fit...” puts a political candidate in an eerie hotel on his latest campaign stop where his tactic is to gain votes by making people smile. The charm, of course, is all for show, and he admits the pomp and circumstance is all so the best actor can win. Ironically, this circus commentary on politics, clown suit and all, remains a surprisingly relevant farce.

Though seemingly hokey with carnival magicians and harmless tricks, “Levitation” has a few surprises up its sleeve with fatal magic and foolish teens wanting to know all the behind the scenes secrets. There's a sorrow amid the throwing knives, applause, and slight of hand – but our heckler gets what he wishes for when a little 'Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board' goes awry. The very expensive laundry service in “It All Comes Out in the Wash” guarantees the rinsing of a customer's sin and guilt, leaving pleased with themselves clientele free to divorce or order vendettas while waiting on the latest laundry delivery. Unfortunately, when the prices triple and the order is late, one's soul may be the final cost for services rendered. Quitting smoking has also never been tougher than in “Bigalow's Last Smoke.” This high tech cage has bars on the windows, a television watching you, and punishments for striking a match. The only way out of the full proof program is to stop smoking – making for another memorable and psychologically chilling Tales from the Darkside parable via the most common addiction concepts. “Grandma's Last Wish” also tackles the horrors of reality with ungratefulness, aging, and ageism. When this obnoxious family ignores Grandma, they learn what it's like to be old in this witty turnabout. The bus station at Christmas is filled with superstitious warnings, almost walking under a ladder, tea leaves, and horoscopes in “The False Prophet” season finale. A fortune telling machine predicts a gullible Ronee Blakley (A Nightmare on Elm Street) will meet the love of her life on this trip. However a newer, futuristic male voiced machine wants her to get touchy feely for his advice, warning her to beware of false prophets when a flashy minister arrives with all the platitudes. Which one should she believe? Eerie lighting, personality, and wolf in sheep's clothing subtext top off the unlucky deceptions.

Of course in this lengthy season of old Tales from the Darkside has a lot of hours to fill, and a few meh plots stray into the offbeat or weird rather than fitting the series' spooky theme. The eponymous boy and girl twins of "Mookie and Pookie" address newfangled computer ghost in the machine fears with Justine Bateman (Family Ties) and Tippi Hedron (The Birds) the same way The Twilight Zone addressed spaceflight paranoia. However, the giant old PC, radical programs putting the brother in the network, and a dad not down with the tech times are totally hokey today. Colleen Camp (Clue) and all-star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also can't save Harlan Ellison's (Star Trek's “The City on the Edge of Forever”) “Djinn, No Chaser.” The straight jacket asides and to the screen therapy confessions compete with the flashback recounting a genie lamp, disembodied voices, and silly objects flying about the room. What could have been a cautionary wish fulfillment tale stalls with flat humor bordering on the ridiculous. “All a Clone by the Telephone” boasts agent Dick Miller (Night of the Creeps) and down on his luck writer Harry Anderson (Night Court), but the too cool for school little answering machine with a better life of its own takes itself too seriously to be avante garde bizarre. Likewise, perpetually emotional Jessica Harper (Suspiria) meets the mysterious Victor Garber (Legends of Tomorrow) who can capture her teardrops with his ancient Chinese wisdoms in “The Tear Collector.” The glass swan vessels, tear trophy rooms, and consequences for breaking the collection seem to build toward something, but all the ominous tears and broken glass just end up...happy? Boo, hiss! Fortunately, dark lighting, green hues, and shadow schemes do fit the eerie alongside nostalgic animatronics, old school prosthetics, and classic horror make up. Without a huge budget or today's film making technology, Tales from the Darkside does a lot with less – and the series didn't need anything beyond those smoke and mirrors, thunderstorms, and distorted voice effects creating its sinister mood. Sure, some obvious sets may be cramped or barren, but that lends to a stage-like parable and other episodes make the most of outdoor scenes. Several entries may have a period or old fashioned setting, but the slightly earlier seventies feeling makes it tough to tell what's past or present and no dates are given to break the warped reality. Then again, the boob tubes, rabbit ears, Walkmans, waterbeds, VCRs, and Ma Bell accent the prophetic talk of computers being the way of the future. Forget the diskettes, typewriters, retro kitchens, and dated patterns! I'll take some of those vintage hundred dollar bills though, and look at those eighties yuppies talking a stroll down memory lane with their 1965 yearbook!

While some of the Seasonal DVD releases have music rights issues and the Complete Series set is packaged somewhat plainly, there is a commentary from Romero included with “Trick or Treat,” and Tales from the Darkside is also currently available on Shudder. The series may not be super famous to younger horror fans, but mention Tales from the Darkside to us of a certain age and you hear tell of an opening theme that terrified youngins back in the day. Its pretty sunshine, happy trees, and rustic imagery turn black, white, and red – a negative image with sinister notes to match narrator Paul Sparer's warning of the dark underworld therein where we must doubt all we believe. Such bleak is immediately immersive compared to the dark comedy or more fantastic comic book tone of Creepshow and Tales from the Crypt. This debut is dated, often weird, usually unexplained, and not without hiccups. It hurts the series that audiences today have seen it all and may find the twists boring. However, Tales from the Darkside's First Season makes the most of its old school effects and vintage style for heaps of atmosphere and memorable harbingers.

08 October 2017

Bleak But Decent Chillers

Bleak but Decent Chillers
by Kristin Battestella

Though less than perfect, this recent movie trio provides bitter frights, unexplained angst, and heaps of despair to match the contemporary plagues, Victorian black widows, and Lovecraftian gore.

It Comes at Night – Gas masks, bodies in the wheel barrow, and backyard executions open this 2017 thriller as rough and bearded Joel Edgerton (Loving) does what he has to do for his wife and son. It's excellent to see an interracial family front and center – horror needs to stop being blonde babes all the time – but we know things won't bode well for the family dog! The lone lantern light and shadows traveling through the expansive but boarded up log cabin add a certain sadness to match the sans electricity, long dark hallways, plastic sheeting, and one red door to enter or exit. Pictures of good times line the walls – the days before this unexplained plague necessitated rifles, the defending of one's castle, and shoot first ask questions later mentalities. What do you do when another family of three is in need of food and shelter? Flashlights, outdoor sweeps, and night time blues aide the tense family protection amid gory dream scares, body horror, and tied up intruders. Interrogations provide talk of precious water, sickness in the city, going off the grid, and trading for supplies. Men can understand these desperate measures when seeing to their families, but can they trust each other? A family conference votes to welcome the new trio in their secure homestead, yet the skeptical, suspicious, on guard feelings remain thanks to the desolate roads, car crashes, and gunshots outside. There are rules to the home, too: they eat together, always travel in pairs, and never go out at night. The families bond over chores and even laugh when reminiscing about desserts or liquor, but barking, noises in the woods, and sleepwalking encounters keep everyone on edge. Testy accusations lead to separations and putting others at risk to save one's own family. No one here is a bad person, but such extreme situations make good people do terrible things. This claustrophobic parable remains tense and doesn't overstay its welcome – but it didn't need the extra horrors or double dream fake outs as the social examination scares and siege stress are enough. Although the unexplained elements continue the debate after the picture ends, it also seems like important staples go unclarified. Were they sick all along? Is there something supernatural at work or not? Some audiences may find the lack of answers a waste, but the subdued chills and bleak statements remain intriguing. 


My Cousin Rachel – Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener), Holliday Grainger (The Borgias), Ian Glen (Game of Thrones), and Simon Russell Beale (The Hollow Crown) begin this 2017 Daphne du Maurier mystery with happy strolls on the beach and fun bachelor times be it lovely greenery, carriages in the snow, or reading by the fire. The epistle narration gives a hear tell on the titular marriage via secret letters recounting illness and a wife forbidding correspondence before final, unfortunate news leaves the estates to heir Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games) on his next birthday – not the unseen widow said to be so strong and passionate. She's a suspicious enigma for the first twenty minutes before a cross cut conversation introduces the charismatic storyteller, where the audience isn't sure who is more uncomfortable or telling the truth despite the captivation. Divine mourning gowns, black satin, and lace veils add to the half-Italian allure amid more period accessories, libraries, old fashioned farming, candles, and top hats. Between would be scandalous horseback rides, church whispers, and awkward tea times, our once vengeful youth is smitten by Rachel's progressive charm. Interesting conversations on femininity break Victorian taboos, for childbirth is the only thing a man knows about a woman and if she has a foreign remedy she must be a witch. Is Rachel wrapping her wealthy cousin around her finger? Can she when he is forbidding her work giving Italian lessons? Rachel is dependent on his allowance, and at times they both seem to be recreating the late benefactor and husband between them – the awkward new master wearing the dead man's clothes and she the woman he didn’t think he needed. Such romance and heirloom Christmas gifts could be healing for them both, but viewers except the other gothic shoe to drop amid holiday generosity, seasonal feasts, and group songs. Overdrafts at the bank, raised allowances, a history of previous lovers and duels – Rachel puts on her finest grieving widow pity with a child lost and an unsigned will that would leave her everything. Is she orchestrating a careful seduction or is he a foolishly infatuated puppy despite clauses about remarriage or who predeceases whom? The ominous nib etching on the parchment leads to cliffside shocks, birthday saucy, blundered engagements, drunken visions, and poisonous plants. The suspicions turn with new illnesses and financial dependence, as Rachel goes out on the town and says what she does is nobody's business. After all, why can’t she have a life of her own if the estate is now hers? Why should her independence be defined by a man’s piece of paper? We relate to Rachel, but she can only cry wolf and fall back on her sob story so many times... While this isn't as creepy as it could be – audiences expecting horror will find the pace slow – the drama and mood are well done amid the wrong conclusions and written revelations. Were the suspicions warranted? The finale may not be satisfactory to some, but the unanswered questions and ultimate doubt remain fitting. 


The Void РOrange fire light, blue police sirens, and yellow hospital patinas accent the screams, gunshots, and fiery executions in this 2016 gruesome Рin spite of the opening credits interrupting the radio chatter, hooded figures, and bodies in the road. The cop with daddy issues, his ex the nurse Рsplit over losing a baby, of course Рthe complaining intern, and the pregnant girl in the waiting room are also clich̩, cranky, and too sardonic, which unevenly balances the scares and the snark. Loud music notes are unnecessary thanks to a unique enough setting with an increasingly bleak mood as a nurses stab patients in the eye or peel off their flesh. Fainting, vomiting, handcuffed patients, and state patrolmen create shrewd exposition as questions on what's happening or how many people and where they are set the scene as landlines go down and dispatch remains unresponsive. Cult figures surround the hospital, power's out, and there's blood everywhere. Who's in charge? Where can they go when a hospital should be the safest place to be? The tense is good, but the go for supplies attempt, runs to a car, creepy hospital basement, and cryptic phone calls that don't explain anything become typical. Jerks withhold information because they can, it takes far too long to ask the obvious questions, and the mute character is useless while cult leaders waste time talking vague on fetus swaps and life beyond death trades. Though the esoteric goes on a bit much with outer space, pyramid subtext, and triangle symbolism as it tries to be something deeper, the tropes tossed at the screen become more Aliens meets Silent Hill instead of truly fresh Lovecraft spins. It's easy to forget about several characters amid the confusing slasher and siege splices, and the repeatedly reiterated medical meets undead cult muddles the otherwise fine and entertaining blood, body horror, tentacle monstrosities and creepy crawlies transformations.

06 October 2017

Top Ten: Frankenstein!

Welcome to our new Top Tens series in celebration of I Think, Therefore I Review's Tenth Anniversary! These monthly lists will highlight special themes and topics from our extensive archive of reviews.

This time I Think, Therefore I Review presents in chronological order...

Our Top Ten Frankenstein Adaptations!

Please see our Frankenstein tag for more mad science or the Horror page for further scary analysis!

I Think, Therefore I Review began as the blog home for previously published reviews and reprinted critiques by horror author Kristin Battestella. Naturally older articles linked here may be out of date and codes or formatting may be broken. Please excuse any errors and remember our Top Tens will generally only include films, shows, books, or music previously reviewed at I Think, Therefore I Review


04 October 2017

Campy Eighties Horrors

Campy Eighties Horrors
by Kristin Battestella

Heads will roll for this camp trio of eighties horrors featuring ice skating killers, devilish passengers, dingoes, divas, and feathered hair. Neato. Rad. 


Curtains – An actress attacks orderlies and ends up wearing a straight jacket in this 1983 slasher – but the squeaking wheelchair, crazy humming, cackling patients, and drab hospital stay are merely research to play the perfect wild haired madwoman. Unfortunately, the sleepless hysterics don't impress her director as he auditions new, supple talent. This interesting but rocky premise keeps restarting with hollow introductions, struggling comediennes, angry agent phone calls, and the drive to the spooky mansion auditions while our diva escapes off screen. Despite gory stabbings and creepy dolls, dream shocks and an otherwise well done stalking of an ingenue in the bath and a bedroom attack are just foreplay fake outs. At times the screen is dark or the picture jumps, and it's tough to tell who is who beyond the dancer, figure skater, or slut tropes, which are more for specific kills rather than character development. Some of the menace is slow to get going, even laughable – don't just stand there, make like the wind and skate away from the killer! – and the tone is uneven between the all out slasher and the inside the actresses' heads psychological chills. Radio storm reports, line rehearsals, and steamy hot tubs better set the scene, and we learn more about the ladies once they ask each other who would casting couch, jump through hoops, or kill for this role. A few make friends and respect the more experienced stars among them, but others are cold, dismissive, or eavesdrop for their gain. Arguments said to be scenes from the play made to sound so real add interesting meta on what is reality versus performance amid snowy perils, giant boomboxes, troublesome cassettes, ghoulish masks, and a cutthroat sickle. The Method sessions say don't think, do, be ugly, put on the repulsive mantle for the face is simply another mask while brief lez be friends moments are a nervous rehearsal on vulnerability and forgetting one's sex – leading to calling out the director and pointing fingers as one by one the ladies disappear thanks to fun house mazes, water dripping suspense, and great, heady shocks when we get them. Is the killer among the auditionees? The finale may be too swift and doesn't really run with its surprise, probably because of the behind the scenes delays and production turmoil. However, quick and easy slices, up close or penetrating attacks, and elaborate chases make good use of the theatrical props, lighting, and fatal reveals for a unique slasher spin.

Night Train to Terror – God and Satan are passengers on a speeding train destined to crash at dawn, framing this 1985 anthology with immediate temptations versus eternal betterment debates and a hysterical eighties rock video party in the next cabin car complete with neon headbands, feathered hair, off the shoulder baggy shirts with wide belts, and every other terrible eighties faux pas you can imagine. They're obviously not playing the instruments in these dated segues, but Lucifer admits the music is crappy amid the padded hospital rooms, electric shock treatments, and naked bottle blondes strapped to the table in “The Case of Harry Billings.” This First segment adds hypnosis, hymns, and hatchets to the medical horrors, forgiving the confusing lookalike women and hodgepodge origin of these tales from other unfinished pictures with atmospheric chases, screams, organ harvesting, and poisoned cocktails. Is the victim deserving of heaven and the killer a one way trip to hell? The train porter keeps track of the ticket book as the Second story “The Case of Greta Connors” offers neon lights, carnival rides, and underground western themed smut as the titular ingenue two times her sugar daddy. The narration could have been spoken dialogue and some of the killer bug effects are downright goofy, but gothic castles, spooky storms, and fatal games raise the stakes. Innate stinger suspense, electric chair dares, and Kung Fu thugs wearing bandannas add further midnight macabre – this isn't meant to be taken seriously and embraces the rough around the edges hokey horror. The sound is also poor, but there's vintage slow motion break dancing! “The Case of Claire Hansen” Finale brings the religious parable full circle with trigger happy Nazis, vengeful old men, skeptical televangelists, a satanic apprentice with a killer quota, and the righteous who would stop him. Yes, this is messy. The seventies anthology films are polished, fearful classics in comparison to this yuppie house of horrors fast track. However, a cool scene, the scary mood, and the laughable fun of it all grabs viewer attention perfectly for a zany drinking game or Halloween movie marathon.

Road Games – Stacy Keach (Mike Hammer) and Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween) get right to the big rigs, radio chatter, hitchhikers, meat factories, seedy hotels, and nude strangulations in this 1981 Australian trek complete with rival green vans, dingoes in peril, and ominous coolers in the backseat. Classical music, harmonicas, idle word games, and poetry quotes pepper the boredom of the open road alongside mocking others on the highway – the packed station wagon, a nagging wife passenger, bratty kids in the backseat, and naughty newlyweds. Radio reports about a killer on the loose add to the shattered windows, jamming on the brakes, squealing tires, and suspicious shortcuts while our van man dumps unusual garbage and digs holes in the middle of the Outback. Interesting rear view mirror angles and well done rear projection make up for some of the talkativeness, for all speculation about our mystery driver has to be out loud because we have so few characters amid the cliff side hazards and chases through the brush. Does he have sex with his female victims before he kills them and chops them up? Is this just a bemusing puzzle to occupy the time or is the sleepless sleuthing and overactive imagination getting the best of our truck driver? Down Under road signs, truck stops, and country locales accent the arcade games, cigarette machines, and patchy phone calls to the clueless police as the engines rev up with dangerous high speed chases, motorcycles, decoys, and abductions. Lightning strikes, rainbows, sunsets, headlights, and car alarms set off the tense zooms as the cops accuse our heart on his sleeve driver – and the suspicious banging in the back of his over weight haul. This isn't full on horror as some audiences may expect, but hanging pork and red lighting do a lot with very little. Perilous curves and speeding accidents bring the race right into the city streets with alley traps, crushing vehicles, and a tasty fun finish.