If necessity is the mother of invention, as the saying goes, then Roger Corman is the dad of opportunity; swooping in and throwing around minimal coin but expecting maximum return (or at the very least, something in focus). But the King of the B’s has always attracted the hungry and talented, and so it was when a youngster by the name of Francis Ford Coppola was afforded the chance to helm his first (soft core flicks aside) official feature, Dementia 13 (1963). Part Psycho, part semi-Gothic psychodrama, it served as a stepping stone between Hitchcock and Bava, eventually leading to a slasher formula that is still impossible to kill.
When does a slasher slip over into the surreal? Usually when you start with a boy emerging fully dressed from a lake, who catches a bus to a church, where a priest laments on the nature of sin while cross cutting to a group of six 20-somethings from all walks of (okay, North American) life? This is the first 15 minutes of The Redeemer (1978) folks, and you will get your bearings as the group of six gather for a high school reunion where they’re given a bloody TED talk on sin and redemption from a multiple-masked killer in the spirit of Terror Train (1980) - if that spirit had been around two years previous. Not only is it a touch prescient, it’s surprisingly creepy as hell through not only the killer’s various guises, but an insidiously Christian treatise on what it deems modern society’s “ills”. But, you know, in a fun way!
What’s the sign of a good horror sequel? Is it adherence to the things that made the original work? Is it branching off in a new direction while still paying respect? Or is it having a rockabilly-quoting Greaser (big G) with a drill attached to the end of his guitar killing every pastel wearing teen in his wake? The answer is possibly all three, but today we’ll focus on the last one with Slumber Party Massacre II (1987), Deborah Brock’s ridiculously fun (and delightfully odd) follow up to Amy Holden Jones’ cult classic.
The world of cinema has always been filled with dreamers, and a lot of those dreamers start out with nothing more than a Super 8 or 16mm camera, all the way up to the latest iPhones; little backyard excursions with friends and sisters or parents to fill out the cast for a monster on the loose or a super sleuth flick. Every once in a while there’s genuine talent to back up the enthusiasm; our Raimi’s and Coscarelli’s bear this out. But before them a group of enthusiastic teens actually had their vision realized, and eventually a mutated form of it invaded drive-ins as Equinox (1970), an inspirational and energetic full blown monster mash.
“The boundaries which divide life from death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends and where the other begins?” This is a quote of course from Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Premature Burial, but ends up in the end credits of The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), Roger Corman’s final film in his Poe cycle for AIP, an eerie and fitting conclusion to a beloved series. (And doesn’t starting with a poetic quote make me sound fancy?)
Nunsploitation is definitely not a strong suit of mine; going through a list to see which ones I’ve viewed has left me feeling ashamed and repentant. So after three Hail Mary’s and four Our Father’s I knelt down and witnessed The Other Hell (1981), Italian grimemaster Bruno Mattei’s take on fervid religiosity, rabid dogs, satanic offspring, and enough Catholic iconography to set a priest on fire. Which is a thing that also happens.
The Women’s Liberation Movement, or more commonly known as Women’s Lib, was in full swing by the mid-’70s. The fight for equality raged on from the late ’60s until…well, what time have you got? It was only natural for the arts to comment on the growing and vocal discontent within the feminist community, and so it was that The Stepford Wives (1975) hit the screen (based on the Ira Levin novel) with a resounding thud. Regardless, it plays as a witty indictment of male morals and suburban blandness.
As a child, the notion of romance to me was distant and adult, and frankly I wanted no part of it – especially in movies; I was the comedy and horror kid, with the occasional foray into fantasy. (Okay, I kissed Bev Peters on the cheek under the schoolyard tire when I was seven, but that fizzled out quickly.) I did however make my way to my small town’s Orpheum theatre at the age of nine to see what looked like a promising horror/sci-fi blend, Nicholas Meyer’s Time After Time (1979), and stumbled out into the darkness with a new understanding of what romance meant to me.
Ever since seeing Creepshow (1982) when it first arrived on video, I’ve been enamored with anthology films; reaching back to Amicus’ ‘60s and ‘70s treasures like Tales from the Crypt (1972) all the way up to Epic Pictures’ Tales of Halloween (2015), omnibuses scratch a very particular itch for this viewer. Falling somewhere in the middle of my terrorline is From a Whisper to a Scream (1987), a proud and nasty addition to the sub-genre. This bugger does not mess around.
If you were a kid or teenager in the ’50s or ’60s and dug horror and/or sci-fi, the chances were astronomically good that you were watching something from American International Pictures, aka AIP, home to hormonal werewolves, monsters, and other adolescent dilemmas. Add in British comedy makers Anglo-Amalgamated Productions (the Carry On series of films) to the mix, and you probably ended up watching Horrors of the Black Museum (1959), a wry and dry romp highlighted by Michael Gough's (Sleepy Hollow) delightful performance.
The clock is ticking down, the party’s getting started, and no one is prepared for… New Year’s Evil (1980). Okay, I just made up that slogan, but it encapsulates the spirit of this Cannon release; perhaps not in execution, as its perspective is definitely from an earlier era at odds with the then current slasher boom. This is its strength, as it dares to be different from the masked forays of the day. (Fine, he wears a mask once - but that’s all, I swear!)
All hail Film Ventures International. Long-time purveyors of cinematic sleaze and genre enchantment, they’ve produced or at least distributed some of my very favorite low budget wonders: Beyond the Door (1974), Grizzly (’76), The Incubus (1981), and Pieces (’82) are only some of their titles that have provided hours of entertainment, from the goofy to the sublime (which in their case, is often one and the same). One of their final releases, The Power (1984), is a good example of their often heady mix, and a solid springboard for directors Stephen Carpenter and Jeffrey Obrow on their way to their demented mutant mash The Kindred (’87).
While us horror lovers revelled in the ripped bodices and cobwebbed corridors of another vampire plagued castle, Hammer was busy trying to clear the halls and make their way into the modern world. Take Nightmare (1964), an effective black and white thriller that shows you don’t need fangs to be fearsome.
Cults and their leaders have always equally repulsed, fascinated, and terrified me. The repulsion and terror are obvious markers for any sane person, but some would rather not have it in their lives at all, thank you very much. This is also a lucid and healthy response. But in horror we look for the cathartic in the carnal; and while Bad Dreams (1988) spends a great deal of effort mining a very similar vein as A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), it succeeds in carving out its own modest slice in the late ‘80s landscape.
Spanish horror superstar Paul Naschy has always been on my radar, yet for whatever reason, I’ve never taken the shot. (And sunk the ship? Metaphors are the worst.) So it is with great shame that I’ve spent far too long ignoring this international treasure as my inaugural Naschy, Javier Aguirre’s Hunchback of the Morgue (1973), is a cheeky Frankenstein riff that offers up its own twisted charms.