Tag Non-Slasher Psychos

Psycho II (1983)

Psycho II (1983)

It’s 22 years later, and Norman Bates is finally coming home

After twenty two years in an institution, Norman Bates is finally deemed sane and released back into the wider world, much to the disconcert of Lila Loomis, the sister of Marion Crane who was brutally stabbed to death in the shower. However due to budget cutbacks, Norman isn’t sent to a halfway house and instead finds himself returning home to the Bates Motel, where a social worker pops in to see him from time-to-time. He gets a job working in a local diner and befriends a young waitress who agrees to move in with him. But it isn’t long before he starts getting mysterious phone calls and notes left for him by ‘Mother’ and homicidal feelings that he had managed to suppress begin to resurface.

 

How do you follow up one of the most influential films of all time? Well you wait until the original director has died before you tackle the material. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is one of the most critically-analysed films ever made but a sequel whilst the director was alive was never going to get off the ground – Hitchcock would never given the green light to a sequel for any of his films. So out of respect, it was only after Hitchcock died in 1980 that attempts were made to follow up his landmark Psycho with a sequel, a daunting task for anyone.

Psycho II was made at the height of the slasher era where Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees and soon-to-be Freddy Krueger and their numerous copycat killers were slicing and dicing their way across hordes of the teenage landscape. So what better era in which to bring back the original slasher himself, Norman Bates? Psycho II could have pandered to the masses and turned Norman into a bodycount maestro but director Richard Franklin resisted the urge to cash-in on the current trend and instead crafts together a masterfully-conceived horror film which does Hitchcock’s original huge justice.

Right from the start (well technically not true as it recaps the shower scene from the original but you know what I mean), Psycho II never once pretends to be aping Hitchcock. This is its own film, not designed to recapture the artistic talents of Hitchcock but to further on the story of Norman Bates, nothing more. With this mindset in place, Psycho II then proceeds to deliver a gripping story which continually asks the question of whether Norman has slipped back into his insanity or whether he is being played for a fool by someone who wants to see him back in the asylum. Wisely constructing the film around another standout performance from Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, the film weaves an intricate tapestry of questions which don’t leave you with the answers until late in the day. One minute you think he has snapped again but the next minute you’re not so sure. The film keeps pulling the rug out and introducing new evidence for and against both scenarios and isn’t happy until the final reel. It will keep you guessing right until the end and even then, you’re not so sure.

This said, there are plenty of nods to the original. The homecoming scene where Norman finds himself coming face-to-face with the creepy house on the hill for the first time in years is fantastically spooky. Seeing the motel again, that shower, the stairs where Martin Balsam was murdered….it all brings back powerful memories of the original for not only Norman but the audience. The running shots of various knives around the diner and the house keep our expectations firmly at the forefront of our minds. We expect Norman to go crazy at some point and use them. In a perverse twist of logic, we the audience actually want Norman to be turn out to be crazy. It’s a fine line between protagonist and antagonist that the film keeps skirting over by reflecting on our memories of the original and our preconceptions of what is going to happen here.

Psycho II is  a character-driven film which avoids capitulating to the 80s requirements of over-the-top splatter and gratuitous nudity. Whilst Psycho II resists the urge to turn Norman into another Michael Myers, the success of the slasher film during this decade didn’t go unnoticed here and so the film is slightly more violent and graphic than the original but nothing overly gory. The time lapse between the original and Psycho II really help the authenticity of this one to shine through. Though the original would have been replayed countless times on the television over the years, the gap between cinematic releases (and thus allowing for the natural aging of Anthony Perkins and returning actress Vera Miles) keeps the film feeling fresh – this isn’t just a rush-job sequel made two years later.

Anthony Perkins owns the film. Whilst his Norman Bates isn’t the fresh-faced, seemingly-innocent young man he was in the original, he has managed to retain the nervous stutter, twitchy eyes and general sense of likeability. Norman has been through hell in the asylum and goes through hell as he tries to readjust to normal life. Perkins’ performance has the uncanny ability to draw sympathy from the viewer. We know he’s guilty of the horrific crimes he committed in the original yet we can’t help but feel sorry for him as his fragile mental state breaks and he slowly slips back to being a complete fruitcake.

Helping him along the way is the immensely likeable Meg Tilly who plays the waitress who moves in with him. For all intents and purposes, she is the audience for the film. At first she’s apprehensive of Norman after finding out about his past. But then as the film progresses, she grows to like him and feel sorry for him as he seems like a decent guy deep down. But then towards the end, she’s not so sure whether it’s all an act or not. Tilly’s character arc travels the same way as the audience and it’s effective in eliciting a response from us.

The only thing that is missing is the infamous Bernard Herrmann score. It is like having the Jaws sequels without John Williams’ infamous shark theme, the Star Wars sequels and prequels without the Imperial March or the Halloween sequels without John Carpenter’s trademark theme. Granted there is no replication of the shower sequence for it to re-appear but you’d have thought they would have found somewhere to put it, even for posterity.

 

Psycho II is perhaps the most underrated sequel of all time and really deserves more critical acclaim than it has had. When it’s only major flaw is that it isn’t Psycho, then you know you’ve got a great film on your hands. A worthy successor to Hitchcock’s film which stays true to its spirit, Psycho II continues the story of Norman Bates with delicious menace and skilful delight.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Christmas Evil (1980)

Christmas Evil (1980)

You’d better take care…Santa is coming to town!

After witnessing his mother getting a little too friendly with Santa when he was a kid, Harry grows up to be obsessed with Christmas. Working in a toy factory, he keeps a record of which children in the neighbourhood have been naughty and which have been nice. Eventually he is driven over the edge after seeing his company’s disregard for the quality of the toys they make and he goes around town dressed as Santa, killing those who don’t believe in the magic of the festive season.

 

Often thought of as a slasher flick that latched onto the nearest free holiday-themed day that writers could find in the wake of Halloween and Friday the 13th, Christmas Evil is not THE film about a killer Santa which got American parents picketing cinemas, despite the similar poster featuring Santa about to pop down a chimney holding an axe. That, my friends, is Silent Night, Deadly Night. But by the time Christmas Evil has finished, you’d be wishing that you’d put that one instead to get your fill of foolish festive frights.

I think part of the problem here is the way in which Christmas Evil has been marketed, clearly painting itself as a slasher film and hoping to attract the blood-thirsty audiences. It isn’t anything of the sort though, ending up as some second-rate loner-turns-into-psycho movie which just so happens to be set at Christmas. I don’t know where the blame lies – the title was even changed from You Better Watch Out into Christmas Evil so whether it was a director’s thing or a producer’s decision remains to be seen. Whatever it’s called, the fact remains that it’s a dull affair. Like Christmas, you spend way too long waiting for it to happen and then it’s all over in the blink of an eye.

Christmas Evil is certainly, well, Christmassy. The theme is in full effect here – festive music, decorations, trees, snow and lots of guys in red suits and white beards. In many respects it does a better job at recreating this time of the year better than most mainstream schmaltzy Christmas films try to do. Shot on a low budget, one-time only director Lewis Jackson gives the film a decent polish, never once belaying it’s lack of cash. Along comes the mean-spiritedness of the film which, surprisingly enough, isn’t  aimed at the main character but at others around him. For all of his murderous moments, Harry  isn’t the Norman Bates of the holiday season – he’s a nice guy who loves Christmas and is sick of the way others treat it with contempt. He just wants to bring the true spirit of Christmas back to the masses. For this reason, the film tries to earn your sympathy for the character and it does a reasonable job of getting it. But it’s hard work getting there. Boy is Christmas Evil slow, arduous work.

The only redeeming factor to Christmas Evil is Brandon Maggart who jumps into the role of Harry as if he’s going for an Oscar. His slow turn into a psychopath is believable enough but it’s a shame that not much is done with it in the end. It takes too long for him to snap and when he does, he doesn’t really do anything that he wasn’t doing before – well with the exception of a few murders! This isn’t a body count film but when it’s bandied around in the ‘slasher’ sections I expect more than four deaths, three of which happen within thirty seconds of each other. I’m sure that it would take more than four people to die before the delusional Harry was satisfied that he’d got his message across.

Despite the film trying to play itself off as a serious character study, there are too many silly moments strewn throughout which beg the question of why the writers didn’t go for the black comedy approach from the get-go. From a bunch of kids making a human shield around the killer Santa to ward off a group of torch-wielding adults to seeing a load of guys dressed as Santa in a police line-up to an ending which presages the most famous scene from E.T. by a couple of years, the film plants its tongue firmly in its cheek when it deems it necessary. But then in the next breath we’re expected to take Harry’s human drama seriously. It’s an uneven line crossing an one which could have been made clearer at the start.

 

Like an unwanted pair of socks or a Christmas jumper, by the time Christmas Evil has finished, you’d wish that Santa had skipped your house completely. There is more character work in here than a dozen slasher flicks but there’s little else to go on and in the end, it’s so slow that you won’t need the glass of wine to doze off on Christmas Day afternoon – stick this on instead and watch the Zzzzzs start to fly.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Death Trap (1977)

Death Trap (1977)

He’s out there and he’s got murder on his mind!

A psychotic redneck runs a dilapidated hotel in the backwater swamps of Louisiana, killing people who upset him or his business and feeding them to his giant pet crocodile that he keeps locked up in the swamp.

 

Tobe Hooper’s follow up to The Texas Chain Saw Massacreis this? Boy, the dude really fell from grace quickly didn’t he? Shot in the same grainy, low budget style that made The Texas Chain Saw Massacresuch a grim classic, Death Trapcomes off as wanting to be a Leatherface and co. follow up but never really does anything worthwhile to achieve that goal. It’s almost as if Hooper caught lightning in bottle with his previous film and attempts to replicate that success, simply substituting backwoods Texas for rural Louisiana. Whilst Death Trap isn’t a particularly well-made film, there’s no question that it’s got a strangely perverse quality which warrants at least a look.

Death Trap’s main problem is that the narrative is all over the place. The story here doesn’t follow any major plot threads and meanders between the numerous random strangers who end up at the hotel before being offed by crazy Judd for whatever reason. There is the underlying search for the missing hooker from the beginning but most of the characters who visit the hotel aren’t involved in this search so it begs the question of whether it is actually the main plot or not. We never really know what pushes Judd over the edge to kill either so by the time he’s taken care of another stranger, you’re just happy to sit back and believe that the guy is just a total fruitcake. The script really needed some serious work here.

As expected for a low budget film, the crocodile doesn’t look too hot (or an alligator as some characters in the film claim) and has limited movement. But thankfully Hooper realised this and keeps it mainly covered in the swamp, only using it sparingly for a few shots where actors try and free themselves from the jaws of the model monster. No one and nothing is spared from this croc, even a poor dog!

But the croc isn’t the main source of violence from the film – that comes from Judd himself who is a dab hand with a scythe. Hooper shoots the death scenes here with gritty realism. Too often in horror films, one blow is enough to kill someone. Here, Hooper strings the death out, causing victims to bleed or gasp for breath as they hit the floor, trying in vain to escape or defend themselves. Death isn’t instant and this is where Hooper earns brownie points. As with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, you know that the victims here are suffering and going through hell before they eventually die. There’s a reasonably smattering of blood and Hooper even throws in some T&A to try and liven things up. But Death Trap is slow going and excitement is in short supply. The scenes drag out way longer than needed, the exposition takes for too long and there are only a handful of half-decent set pieces which are few and far between.

As for the cast, well it’s a pretty decent bunch of performances given the craziness around them. Neville Brand is great as Judd. I don’t think he had much of a clue where the character should be heading so he went for it and it works though Hooper could have cut back the amount of time he gave to his rambling monologues. Robert Englund, looking very young and pre-Freddy Krueger fame, appears as a horny redneck that uses the hotel as a meeting ground for hookers. Marilyn Burns, fresh from screaming her lungs out in the finale of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, is also in the film.

 

Death Trap is far too similar to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to work, given that it’s not a patch on its predecessor and seems content in trying to replicate its success without knowing why it has become a classic. Death Trap has got a few decent moments but there’s very little to stop the craziness, an incoherent script and lack of solid direction from ripping it up.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Amusement (2008)

Amusement (2008)

It’s Funny… Right?

Three girls who used to be best friends back in school are kidnapped and put through horrific ordeals at the hands of a psychotic ex-classmate.

 

Amusement was originally scheduled to go to theatres and you can see why it was canned at the last minute. It’s so badly made that it’s hard to explain why anyone ever thought it could be a hit on the big screens, let alone the straight-to-DVD market. I don’t usually like calling films stupid but that’s exactly what Amusement is. Featuring one of the most incomprehensible scripts ever, the film stumbles from scene to scene, desperately trying to link everything together. I was lured by the front cover with the evil clown and by the blurb on the back of the DVD cover which talked about a completely different film to the one on display here.

Amusement is like a ‘best of’ horror compilation featuring many derivative plots and scenes lifted out of far superior films. It’s best described as a series of interlinking vignettes along the lines of Creepshow. Or at least that’s the theory because the script is a complete shambles, the logic is out of the window and the editing seems to have been done by a ten year old. One only needs to look at the writer, Jake Wade Wall, to see that his previous writing credits include the remakes of The Hitcher and When a Stranger Calls and you can see the similarities here. The film shifts suddenly from these vignettes without little explanation and continues to pile us with set-ups that get really confusing. The framing plot isn’t revealed until the last ten minutes so for the majority of the film, you’ll be scratching your head just wondering what the heck is going on and who all of these people are.

The eventual reveal about the reason for the guy to kidnap the trio and put them through hell is ridiculously silly. Give me the “you all spurned my advances when I was a dork, now I’m a psycho” spiel, the “you all played a horrible trick on me back at school and it really messed with my head” angle….anything except this absurdly weak excuse for someone to snap and go psycho. He’s got the inevitable horror villain abilities to be in numerous places at once and be able to construct an elaborate lair of traps and nastiness hiding under a tiny cabin. Quite how he managed to afford such high maintenance real estate isn’t explained either.

The creepy-looking clown from the front cover appears in one of the scenes and it’s arguably the best moment of the film both visually and atmospherically as one the girls sleeps in a room full of clown dolls, including a giant 6ft clown doll. If you’re afraid of clowns, then this will really give you the shivers. However the clown doesn’t stick around for long and once he’s managed to capture his next victim, the costume is consigned to the scrap heap and not seen again in the film. It’s a pity because despite the clown scenes being so stuck in slasher lore, they at least manage to keep you entertained for a few minutes. Ironically it’s the part of the film that is the least original.

Amusement does at least look good with top notch production design throughout. There are some kick ass locations and some decent sets which all give off that horror vibe, it’s just a shame that nothing is done with them except waste them. Finally, at least the cast can at least hold their heads up and say they tried as it’s not their fault Rome is tumbling down around them. Katheryn Winnick is hot. In fact she has to be my future wife. I’ve been a fan of hers since Satan’s Little Helper and not only is she stunning but she’s a good actress.

In fact the three main actresses here all do pretty reasonable given the material that they are given and the fact that their characters all make silly decisions on a regular basis. Their individual scenes all probably made sense when they filmed them, it’s just when everything is brought together with a limp story that they fall flat. None of their characters are fleshed out in the slightest and given the confusing nature of the timeline of the film it’s hard to figure out just where they all fit into the grand scheme of things.

 

The trailer for Amusement makes it look like some kick-ass torture porn-style slasher but it’s nothing of the sort. The psycho is called ‘The Laugh’ but I don’t see anyone laughing after shelling out hard-earned cash to watch this. There’s nothing amusing about this almost highlight reel-like collection of horror.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Shuttle (2008)

Shuttle (2008)

Never ride with a stranger.

Mel and Jules are two young women who return home late at night from a holiday and take a shuttle bus back from the airport along with a couple of young men who have been flirting with them and another older male passenger. The journey seems fine at first but when the driver begins to take them through deserted back streets, they realise that something is up.

 

If you can handle the silly notion of a single man simultaneously driving a shuttle bus whilst managing to keep five other people hostage without cuffing them to the seats, then you may enjoy Shuttle. The film has received a lot of negative reviews, scathing in fact. It clearly dresses itself up as ‘torture porn on a shuttle bus’ so with the sight of two hot chicks and a sinister-looking driver, you’d be expecting the film to go off in all manner of depraved routes. It doesn’t though and I guess this is what is upsetting a few people. It helps to view the film as more of a thriller with horror elements. Although this doesn’t make the film any more engaging or entertaining, at least your expectations will be lowered so you won’t be as disappointed.

Let me state one thing – the film is based around one daft premise and it milks it for every single penny. Most of the film is set aboard the shuttle bus so get used to it. It’s not the most interesting place to set a film and it soon seems stale. The film also becomes quite repetitive once the driver has revealed his intentions as the characters make continuous efforts to escape, all of which fail, backfire horribly or result in one less hostage. The script seems pretty messy for the majority of the film as the driver forces the passengers to complete weird tasks. A lot of things don’t make sense or have a purpose but after a while a picture begins to emerge and the whole big reveal at the end about what the driver really wants makes everything clear. Reality seems to go out of the window as the script clearly forgets where the film is being set – aboard a small shuttle bus! Sometimes the people inside act like they’re on a plane and the film’s concepts of physics and chemistry have a lot to be desired at times.

It’s got an awesome ending though. I won’t give too much away but rest assured it’s not the nicey-nice ending we’re all so used to. Highly original, extremely downbeat and like a sucker punch to the gut, I’m surprised that it got the green light as a lot of studios like to make sure the audience are happy when the film finishes. When films finish with strong, unexpected endings like this, I always give them an extra half star. It makes the rest of the film make so much more sense and also worth sitting through. You actually appreciate that the film, whilst painstakingly slow at times, was building itself up to this final reveal.

The characters aren’t particularly well written. The two young men seem to have walked off the set of a teen comedy such is their one-dimensional attitude to sex and life. The driver seems to have come off the set of a Terminator flick as he takes a lot of damage but like all clichéd villains, seems indestructible and keeps on coming. At least there are attempts to give him some humanity towards the end of the film so that he isn’t just a psycho. Tony Curran is menacing enough in the role but as I stated earlier, quite seriously how you’ll be able to take him holding these people hostage when he’s driving remains to be seen.

As for the females, well the characters are poorly written, managing to turn the tables around on their captor but not killing him when they have the chance. I guess there wouldn’t have been a story if they did but it’s extremely annoying and frustrating. Scripts need to find ways to avoid this pitfall but it’s an easy copout for the writers to have the hero/heroine be unable to take a life. Peyton List looks like she could be one to watch for future though as she brings the right amount of attitude, sympathy and basically looks hot enough to care about.

 

Shuttle is a serviceable horror-thriller with a killer ending which will leave you reeling and make the rest of film make sense. It’s not the greatest film out there and there’s a ton of things wrong with it but this is one bus journey worth getting on….just don’t be prepared to go to the destination you expect to!

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

How to Make a Monster (1958)

How to Make a Monster (1958)

See the Ghastly Ghouls in Flaming Color!

Acclaimed monster make-up man Pete Dumond has worked for American International Film Studios for years and loves creating new monsters to scare people. But he is soon sacked when new bosses take over and tell him that they are not making any more monster movies, focusing on musicals instead. Pete decides to extract his revenge using the very monsters they have condemned to the scrapheap.

 

I first saw the‘re-imagined’ version of How to Make a Monster as part of a modernised collection of some of Samuel Z. Arkoff’s most famous B-movies. Despite not being great, it made me want to go back and check out the original films to compare the two. This was the first of those films I decided to check out and to date, the last one! The similarities between the two end in title only. Surely a case of a story which sounds better on paper than it does in execution, How to Make a Monster is a cult film but one which is hardly exciting or entertaining.

What we have here is clearly a story that was conceived and made whilst other films were being filmed. Saving on sets, props and even actors it seems, How To Make a Monster contains so many things ‘borrowed’ from other films it almost becomes a ‘guess the film’ piece where you have to name the film from where the items have been taken. Spot one of the aliens from Invasion of the Saucer Men. Or the creature from It Conquered the World. I can understand the logic behind it – Hammer used to do it in the UK and shoot two films back-to-back using the same sets and principally featuring the same actors. Financially it makes perfect sense. But from a critical point of view, it gets annoying to the point where you wonder how many more references they’re go throw towards their films and whether or not this is just a long plug for some of their more famous work.

How To Make a Monster is pretty rubbish. It’s got a feeble running time of seventy three minutes which means that the film is over almost as soon as it gets going. Not a great deal happens in that time and, although the idea of Pete’s creations killing people off is novel, you have to remember that in reality it’s just a couple of hypnotized teenage actors wearing his masks strangling people. The monsters don’t come to life or anything. They don’t go on a bloody rampage. It’s all very low key and very dull. This is what I mean about the story sounding better on paper than in reality. A couple of murderous teenagers with cheap Halloween masks on does little to scare the viewer.

Robert R. Harris is good as Pete Dumond but his sudden transformation from mild-mannered make-up artists to a snarling, devious psychopath is a bit unbelievable and it spoils the final act in the film. You never buy this character change for a second. There are a lot of unnecessary characters floating around the film too and the police investigations are pointless – it wouldn’t take a brain surgeon to spot the link between a disgruntled ex-employee and murdered old bosses. Another point is that around an hour into the film, it suddenly bursts into glorious Technicolour! There seems to be no point to this whatsoever except to sell a few more tickets with colour stills from the film gracing the promotional posters.

 

How to Make a Monster is pretty poo but given that it was 1958 and garbage like this sold seats back then, I can tolerate it to a certain degree. Almost.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Death Proof (2007)

Death Proof (2007)

A White-Hot Juggernaut At 200 Miles Per Hour!

Stuntman Mike is a former Hollywood stuntman who uses his “death proof” stunt car to kill women. He has just finished off his latest victim when he targets a new group of girls he meets at a diner. Unfortunately he doesn’t reckon on them being tougher than his usual prey and they begin to turn the tables on their tormentor when his attempts to kill them fail.

 

Quentin Tarantino is an enigmatic director whose work I’ve never been a major fan of. Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction are classics but the rest of his films are sketchy, self-indulgent and seem to wallow in homaging older genres to which someone like me has never seen or simply has no interest in seeing. Tarantino and his best friend, fellow director Robert Rodriguez, came up with the idea of Grindhouse, a double-bill homage to trashy 70s exploitation films, in which both would direct a feature film, place them back-to-back and then throw in a load fake trailers in the intermission to add to the authenticity (some of which are now being made into feature films themselves including Machete, the pick of the fake trailers). The films were scratched and muffled to give them an ‘old school’ feel and some reels have purposely been cut out to again make it look like it was from the 70s. I have to laugh when I read reports that Americans walked out of the cinema after the end credits of the first film had finished because they thought that the film was over. Do they not read reviews or previews of the films they’re going to watch? The two films were then split up and released separately. Death Proof was the first one and received more commercial success than Planet Terror, which failed to ignite at the box office but, in my opinion, is the far superior flick.

Death Proof has very little story and that could easily have been set up as a short story. Instead the film is padded out to one hundred and fourteen minutes of pure boredom and it’s basically the same hour repeated again. Stuntman Mike comes across a group of girls, gets to know them, they talk about sex and drugs and all that stuff and then the girls leave before being pursed by the ‘death proof’ car with Mike at the helm. Once he kills off the first group of girls, you wonder where the film is going to go but Mike simply walks into another bar and meets another group of girls. It’s almost exactly the same routine as the first half with the same sort of self-indulgent dialogue tripe from Tarantino before the end chase.

Tarantino’s biggest fan is arguably himself and he loves to go to town with his script. He’s making a film not for the rest of the world but for himself. He seems to think that because he loved this type of film, then everyone else is going to be in the same boat. The characters talk like they’re straight out of a 70s exploitation flick with lots of F-bombs and N-bombs thrown around left, right and centre and he throws in plenty of self-referencing to films he clearly adored as a teenager. I admire the guy for being able to write scripts like this but I just don’t have any interest in them in the slightest. I find them dull, off-putting and eventually in the end they just turn me away from the film. It may have been fresh and original back in his earlier days but now it just seems like it’s the only trick he can pull off.

The highlight of the film is the extended chase sequence towards the end in which Stuntman Mike tries and fails to kill the second group of girls, only for them to turn the tables on him. It’s lively, energetic and well shot and it makes you wonder just what the wait to get to the good part was all about. And the best thing is that it’s all done with stunt men – not a CGI car in sight. Its how car chases used to be and should still be. Nothing beats the thrill of knowing that these chases are real. The head-on-crash in here is one of the most impressive and brutal every shown on film. They need to show this instead of crash test dummies ploughing into walls!

If there is one thing which I love about Death Proof is that it gives Kurt Russell the chance to star in his own major film for the first time in what seems like an eternity. Tarantino has a knack for reviving flagging careers of older actors and although it seems that Russell hasn’t been able to capitalise on this, it was at least a pleasure to see him headline a major film. He’s having a blast as Stuntman Mike and reminded me of just why John Carpenter frequently cast him back in the 80s.

 

I think you can tell that I’m not a massive fan of Death Proof and that’s an understatement. It’s talky and long-winded, delivering only minor thrills and an awesome performance from Kurt Russell. I admire Tarantino’s passion for the old grindhouse films and the love he has for them is clear to see in the intricate steps he’s taken to make it look as close to the 70s exploitation genre as possible. He has managed to bring back a forgotten age into the mindsets of today’s cinema goers and must at least receive recognition for doing that. But as a modern motion picture, Death Proof is extremely flawed, bordering on the terrible at times.

 

Coroner, The (1995)

The Coroner (1999)

Pray you’re dead before you meet…..

A female lawyer, who defends low-life prostitutes in their court cases, is knocked out by a tranquiliser on her way home one night. She awakens to find herself strapped to a table in a dingy house. It turns out that a recent spate of murders in the city has been committed by the local coroner. He ha seen singling out suicidal people and finishing the job for them – and she is his next victim.

 

Back when I was able to start buying my own films with my own cash, I would frequent the local video stores to see what low rent rubbish they’d have on offer. The walls were full of trashy horror films, low budget romps designed to lure unsuspecting punters like me into parting with their hard-earned cash. Every now and then I’d come across a little gem –The Dentist springs to mind as one of my earliest finds. But more often than not, I’d come across a right old turkey and The Coroner is one of them.

I just wish as much emphasis had been placed on making a decent film as there was with the tag line “Pray you’re already dead before you meet…The Coroner.” The Coroner is low budget drivel at its most, well, low budget. It is a complete mess from a story and structural point of view – hell I tried to make sense of the plot but it just doesn’t add up. I can’t reveal anymore to the story other than the simple outline above but there’s a lot more to it than that. Somehow it manages to fill out eighty minutes but most of it is the same thing over and over again – the coroner captures the lawyer, the lawyer escapes, the coroner catches her again, etc. Talk about padding out a film. There are plenty of flashbacks and flash forwards throughout the running time which is filled with footage culled from other films (though which films I don’t know as there is so little information about this film hanging around on the internet).

Barring the two main leads it seems that every other character in the film is pointless. The idiotic boyfriend, the two cops, the man and woman making out at the party, etc. They are just there to fill up screen time with some moments of dialogue and provide an extra body count. You won’t see the coroner actually kill anyone either – all of the action happens off screen. He doesn’t even dress like he does on the front cover and there’s no sign of any of the surgical equipment that he uses for autopsies. Maybe it is his day off or something. You’d never guess that it was his job if the film hadn’t been called what it is. Most of the action takes place in the coroner’s dingy house too and this set looks every bit as two-bob as it is, with cardboard walls vibrating a the slightest noise and looking ready to blow over if one of the actors got a bit carried away.

Jane Longenecker can’t act to save her life but she looks ok, is dressed in a school girl uniform by the coroner for whatever kinky reason and then at least gets naked in one of the scenes. Sometimes sins can be forgiven. Dean St. Louis isn’t too bad as the evil coroner of the title (and sports a bit of an off-beat Will Ferrell about him) but as I’ve said, he doesn’t kill anyone on screen – in fact he doesn’t do much at all except act like a pervert. He displays homosexual tendencies throughout the film, making his pursuit and torture of women seem a bit bizarre.

 

As far as pointless films go, The Coroner must rank up there at #1. It’s got little plot, little character development, little action, little excitement – little anything. You’d be better off taking this film to a real coroner and getting it dissected to find anything of note.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Dentist, The (1996)

The Dentist (1996)

From the Creators of Re-Animator…

Doctor Feinstone lives a perfect life. He has a beautiful wife, a huge house with an outdoor pool and a very successful job as a dentist. However one day comes along where everything goes wrong for him. He discovers his wife is having an affair with pool attendant and the I.R.S. are closing in on him for tax problems. He snaps and begins to take out his frustration on his patients, inflicting all manner of horrific dental torture on them.

 

Warning: The Dentist is not a film for everyone. If you have a fear of the dentist then this isn’t the film for you. In fact, even if you don’t have a fear of the dentist, you might after having seen this. Admittedly The Dentist does opt for the cheap shock treatment of utilising a lot of people’s worst fear to its advantage but it’s much more than just a tacky slasher. The Dentist turns itself into a gripping and horrific thriller in which every last dental cliché is going to be thrown at the audience in the hope that something strikes a chord with them. We’ve all been sat in that chair. We know what it feels like to be helpless with someone prodding dental implements in your mouth. Well this plays upon that but not before we’ve been given a master class in character build-up.

Corbin Bernsen is simply brilliant as the deranged Dr Feinstone. He’s not exactly 100% sane to start the film with his obsession with cleanliness but when he snaps, you can almost sympathise with him. He loves his wife dearly and takes pride in his job but when his marriage falls apart and his job causes problems, there’s nothing else for him and you can only feel sorry for him. Feinstone’s descent into total madness takes it’s time to come to fruition and it’s good to see director Brian Yuzna spend so much time in building the character up. It may be a little slow but it’s like that for a good reason. Bernsen may have slummed around in many cheap B-movies but his performance here is the right mix of scene-chewing silliness and scary seriousness. He knows when the push the right buttons towards the audience especially during the torture scenes and displays a perfect balance of humour and horror. Linda Hoffman has the supporting role as his wife and looks fantastic, providing the more-than-ample nudity factor. Both Ken Foree and Earl Boen are wasted in small roles.

So let’s get down to the real notoriety of the film – the scenes in the chair. These scenes of dental torture are brutal, there’s no two ways around it. There are plenty of close-ups so you get a good first-hand look at all of the damage he causes. I’ve seen everything from people being eaten alive, heads chopped off, intestines ripped out, limbs severed and the like but I haven’t grimaced as much as I did when the dentist destroys a woman’s tooth to dust with the drill. It’s stomach-churning material because it looks so real. It’s for this reason that the film has the high 18 rating in the UK. There’s not much gore elsewhere in the film but these dental torture scenes are pretty horrific because they look so realistic.

There’s a reason this doesn’t get the full marks treatment though and that’s because of the finale. The film was going so well up until the final third inside the dentist’s surgery but its here where it reduces itself to a mess of generic stalk clichés and the pay-off doesn’t pack the punch it should. I guess there’s only so much leverage the script could give a character as deranged as Feinstone before it had to resort to such stereotypical slasher tactics.

 

The Dentist is a totally underrated gem of a horror flick and one of the best of the 90s low budget scene. If you have a fear of the dentist, then DO NOT watch this film as it will reinforce your wildest nightmares. If you don’t fear the dentist, you’ll still think again after seeing it.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Fear in the Night (1972)

Fear in the Night (1972)

Peggy, a young woman recovering from a nervous breakdown, is attacked by a one-armed man in her house but no evidence is found and no one believes her story, merely blaming it on her state of mind. Her new husband is offered a new job at a rural boarding school and she moves with him to the country. There they meet the rather eccentric headmaster and his wife. However things soon take a turn for the worse when she believes that the one-armed man has followed her.

 

Hammer is more famous for their classic Gothic horrors but they did dabble in other genres such as the fantasy genre with the likes of The Lost Continent and One Million Years B.C. What are usually forgotten or glossed over are there numerous forays into the Hitchcockian-style thriller that they did in the early 70s. None of which are particularly memorable but are at least curious companions to their more lavish horror counterparts. It was around this time that Hammer had begun to emphasize gore and nudity a lot more in an attempt to keep their films fresh and get back some of their lost popularity. Fear in the Night was an attempt by the studio to head in a new direction. Ironically enough this ‘new direction’ was to hark back to its golden era where atmosphere and suspense were the name of the game, not blood and boobs.

Unfortunately this one relies a little too much on creating the atmosphere and suspense and forgets to do anything with it. Director Jimmy Sangster was responsible for two of Hammer’s worst horror films but redeems himself somewhat with a solid effort which keeps it’s cards close to it’s chest for as long as it can. This can be a little distracting for the viewer – each character is seemingly hiding some secret which would reveal more about the plot twist but they are kept hidden for as long as possible. Whilst this allows for an interesting pay-off, the route leading to it seems plodding and rather distant from the viewer. Usually thrillers keep you hooked with little tid-bits of information but Fear in the Night refuses to play by the rules. You’re either going to switch off in confusion (or boredom) before the finale or stick with it in the hope that the script will play its cards at some point. Unfortunately, the finale isn’t overly thrilling although there’s a prolonged ten-minute stalking sequence through the creepy, desolate school. Hammer was always great at setting their films in eerie locations and this remote schoolhouse is one of their best complete with empty classrooms and huge white sheets covering over furniture in others. Tape recorders play the noise of children yet there are no pupils to be seen anywhere. And the opening shot of a slow pan across the school grounds to reveal the legs of a man hanging from a tree is a rather startling image.

Can you go wrong with Peter Cushing as a rather nutty headmaster? I don’t think so. This was Cushing’s first film after the death of his wife and he looks rather detached from proceedings but this works in his favour as the character has a lot of sinister secrets to keep hidden. The fact that his character only has one arm isn’t kept in the dark and one of the first encounters he has with Peggy where he stands behind her to help her untie her scarf is excellent – we see that he has a prosthetic arm but she does not.

Joan Collins has made a career out of playing bitchy women in film and television and her role here is no exception. She plays, well a bitch, and is one of the stronger performers on display and it’s a shame she’s not in the film more than she is. Judy Geeson is attractive and likeable in the lead role as the long-suffering woman who no one believes. She’s not the best actress I’ve seen but the role requires more sympathy and support from the audience than it does admiration and she fits this bill. Ralph Bates, the man Hammer tried to groom as their next leading man, is as weak as he was in the other Hammer films he starred in. Bates isn’t a bad actor and delivers his lines well, it’s just that he has little screen presence or charisma to really get into any of the roles he plays.

Whilst the cast are all very well-equipped in their roles, this is arguably the film’s weakness – there are just too few people around! Like the Scooby Doo cartoons where the ghoul/ghost/monster was always the only other person introduced in the episode apart from the gang, Fear in the Night attempts to keep us guessing with the murder-mystery story but it’s blatantly obvious who it’s going to be from the start. It’s the only possible outcome to the film as there are so few suspects lurking around the school grounds.

 

Fear in the Night was a brave attempt by Hammer to go in a new direction but ultimately fails because even in 1972, the plot twists weren’t new or original in the slightest. It’s entertaining enough if you want to stick it out but it will never be regarded as one of Hammer’s better films.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆