Sometimes great little oddities will fly under the radar. And sometimes they barrel roll out of the sky and blast through the earth never to be seen again. The Flesh Eaters (1964) is a prime example of digging through the filmic wreckage and dredging up a low budget winner. Sure, it’s not Citizen Kane, but it’s probably the Citizen Kane of Killer Microbes Versus Buxom Blondes On An Island With A German Scientist movies.
Any horror movie that starts off with a Serlingesque voiceover has my attention. And when you make your antagonist a hulking alien who looks like an eight foot tall Gene Simmons sans Botox with a proclivity for ripping off people’s heads AND shooting laser beams out of his eyes, you are granted permission to take all my money. Welcome to The Dark (1979), a fun throwback to a time when audiences weren’t beholden of such things as logic and coherence to have a ripping drive-in experience.
Some films are built from WTF moments. Case in point: I have finally seen The Mutilator (1984), an unnaturally entertaining hack ‘em up from a period when the dirt had all but covered the coffin of the overworked subgenre. And this film has more than its share of WTF – in fact, it acts as a Viking funeral for slashers of the era, an absurd catalogue of tropes transmitted with an ‘80s sitcom aesthetic and just as eager to please. What a sight to behold.
Presenting murderous moppets on screen is always a dicey proposition. For every The Bad Seed or The Omen, there is always The Good Son or Mikey skulking about. It’s all about the fear – making a five or ten year old believably frightening is hard to do. As audience members, we put our faith in filmmakers to produce tension, conflict, and danger in a palpable (but not necessarily plausible) way, and when it’s tested we end up wading through Children of the Corn. But when our faith is rewarded, we find ourselves in the Village of the Damned (1960), a seminal killer kid chiller.
Director Greydon Clark is not a name thrown around a lot. Horror fans will know him (probably) for 1977’s Satan’s Cheerleaders. The rest of filmdom need not apply. However, his best film, Without Warning (1980), would end up resonating in such a way as to inspire Predator (1987), Schwarzenegger’s Alien in the Jungle box office smash. And when I say inspire, I mean they stole the concept. But what Without Warning lacks in testosterone and Hollywood bankrolls, it makes up in B movie charm and a winsome personality. You can’t help but fall in love with the damn thing.
“the first film rated V for violence”
“Positively the most horrifying film ever made”
“Guaranteed to upset your stomach”
THIS is how you market a film, folks. All of the above (and more) is found on the poster for Michael Armstrong’s Mark of the Devil (1970), a particularly nasty bit of Witchploitation that surprisingly manages to shine a provocative light on religious hysteria and hypocrisy.
It’s very exciting to see ambition in the world of horror. Yes, pleasure can and always will be derived from one more well formed slice of the blade or swing of the axe. However, occasionally a filmmaker comes on the scene overflowing with imagination and verve, a need to spew forth fresh ideas, or at the very least, a new take on a haggard trope. And then you have Fred Dekker, who decided for his first feature to include everything he loved about exploitation, horror and sci-fi, into one glorious, hearty stew that bafflingly flew under the radar at the time of its release. And like a good stew, the more it simmers, the sweeter the taste. 30 years later, Night of the Creeps (1986) will fill you up and have you begging for more.
A haunted house film is a tough sell. No masked stalker, no creatures that eviscerate and certainly no zombies lurching down those shadowed halls. A single setting, a dark secret, a group of people terrified by something is usually your standard template, and even the best haunted house flick doth not stray from the formula. So the trick is to convince the viewers once you get them inside – something that the low on budget, high on conviction, and seldom talked about The Evil (1978) accomplishes admirably.
Movies dealing with witchcraft are usually lumped in with the supernatural, so they’re sometimes unfairly shoved to the back of the horror line. However, I truly believe they should have their own category. With supernatural horror, forces are typically thrust upon a protagonist, revenge for misbegotten deeds perpetrated upon the deceased, or righting of wrongs from beyond the pale. Where witchcraft sets itself apart is in the approach – yes, it does deal with the unseen, unkempt and unwanted from beyond – but these forces are usually conjured by a human, for good or nefarious purposes. It’s definitely a case of “don’t call us, we’ll call you”, and you won’t find a finer example of filmic witchery than 1962’s Burn, Witch, Burn.
When one looks back at mid ‘70s to early ‘80s horror, it’s quite surprising to see how many Canadian made films are nestled among fan favorites. Titles such as Black Christmas, Shivers, Prom Night, Happy Birthday to Me, and My Bloody Valentine continue to delight and shock veteran horror lovers or those just starting their jagged journey down the terror path. There is one, however, that due to a troubled production and poor distribution, seems relegated to the discount bins of time. Today, we’re pulling back the curtain on, uh, Curtains (1983), an unsung slasher weirder than a sack full of rabid beavers.
Zombies. The damn things are everywhere now, the last 12 years filling the screens big and small , carried on the rotting backs of Shaun of the Dead and the Dawn of the Dead remake (both 2004). The Walking Dead is one of the biggest shows on TV, and films ranging in quality from great to Netflix saturate the market. But let’s go back to a time when the zombie film as we know it (the Age of Romero) was in its infancy. Jorge Grau’s The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974) acts as a bridge between two seminal George Romero films, Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (‘78), and rightly stands as one of the finer Euro horrors. If you haven’t seen it, it’s definitely worth the trip.
The late ‘80s signaled the end of my first golden age of horror. Which is to say two things: adulthood beckoned, and horror films – especially slashers - were running low on inspiration (remember the early ‘90s wasteland? Brr.). However, looking across the waters, some veteran Italian filmmakers weren’t throwing in the towel yet. Michele Soavi’s Stage Fright (1987) stands apart from the crowd because it proved that not only was the beaten and flogged sub-genre alive, it was still capable of surprising fans with enough fresh blood pumping through its weary veins to make you sit up and notice. Just when you thought you couldn’t survive another hack ‘em up, Stage Fright made you a believer again.
Blaxploitation films burst onto the scene in 1971 with the huge success of Gordon Park’s Shaft. By 1972, audiences were clamoring for more, and filmmakers and studios were keen to jump on the bandwagon. While most of the majors were focusing on the Shaft formula of hot chicks and cool Dicks, American International Pictures saw a void that no one had filled yet: the black horror film. And so, with as little money as they usually invested, they sent forth into the world Blacula (1972), and wouldn’t you know it? Audiences loved it.
By the early ‘80s, Roger Corman was firmly entrenched in the public’s eye as THE low budget wizard, always cranking out movies like a reliable sausagemeister. However, to the more discerning trash hound, his films were fertile ground for up and coming filmmakers, a place to learn the craft and hopefully develop one’s own style. And while Galaxy of Terror (1981), a crossbreed of Alien with a strand of Forbidden Planet DNA, does boast one James Cameron among the crew, its most notable feat is being highly entertaining regardless of a decimated budget and convoluted plot.
It’s one of those fears I never think about until someone brings it up - being buried alive. Just saying it makes my skin crawl, and not in a scary movie kind of way. Waking up in total darkness, unable to really move, hearing the sound of my heart beating wildly in my chest and this is before the true panic sets in. Check please, and bring the car around, won’t you? This is why I will be cremated, thanks (and save the comments about waking up engulfed in flames – it’ll be quicker, at least). Roger Corman’s Premature Burial (1962), based on the short story by Edgar Allan Poe, taps directly into this fear and mines that vein for 81 entertaining minutes.