Man versus Nature, Man versus Beast, Man versus Food; all mythical in status to varying degrees and most represented on the silver screen. Of Unknown Origin (1983) tackles the middle myth with a tongue firmly planted in its giant rat infested cheek and is an obsessive tour through a domestic hellscape.
Sometimes you almost think they don’t want you to watch. I’m not sure a more generic title could be conjured up than Revenge! (1971), an ABC TV movie that sounds like it should sit next to nacho chips and beer on the discount supermarket shelf. But, of course, it’s the ingredients that count, and with a stellar cast and a taut script by Psycho screenwriter Joseph Stefano, Revenge! has enough flavor to entertain the more discerning palette.
1981 was the Year of the Werewolf in horror; An American Werewolf in London and The Howling were easily the leaders of this particular pack, with Larry Cohen’s comedy Full Moon High offering up another unique monster spin. There was one other film that put its own twist on lycanthropy, and that’s Michael Wadleigh’s Wolfen, laden with social commentary writ large in place of silver bullets and gypsy fortune tellers. And it’s all the better for it.
Revenge films have been around for a very long time; one can look to The Virgin Spring (1960), Straw Dogs (1971), or Death Wish (1974) for their rise from serious drama to movies of a more exploitive nature. Psychic Killer (1975) adds a unique twist to the tale by having astral projection as a means to the violent ends. Quirky and laden with creative deaths, it very much embraces its weirdness, providing a fun carpet ride for the whole family (at least according to its mind-boggling PG rating).
Joe D’Amato was a filmmaker that I only knew (other than his reputation for skin flicks and sleaze) from the one movie of his I had seen, Anthropophagous (1980), aka The Grim Reaper, aka "The One Where The Guy Eats The Baby Fetus." And going by that, I had a lot of trepidation upon opening Severin Films’ brand new Blu of Beyond the Darkness (1979), D’Amato’s exploration of necrophilia, icky maternal obsession, and stuffing the ones we love. I needn’t have worried. Beyond the Darkness, aka Buried Alive, aka Buio Omega, is not only vastly superior to Anthropophagous, it gives me hope that the D’Amato catalogue is filled with further gems to uncover. I mean, they’re not ALL porn, right? Right?
In retrospect, Carnival of Souls (1962) certainly cast a long and deep shadow over the horror genre; not for general audiences at the time, where it ended up relegated to the bargain bins of the public domain for decades. But horror frequently pays it forward, and filmmakers find inspiration in the lost and obscure. Take the debut from Thom Eberhardt, Sole Survivor (1983), an oasis of cool originality in a genre that was drying out in the slasher sands.
If anyone wrote the book on complicated parental relations, it’s Anthony Perkins. While Mother is nowhere to be found, this time around Tony is having Daddy issues in How Awful About Allan (1970), an effective, low key TV thriller directed by Curtis Harrington (The Dead Don’t Die). As long as you can leave Norman up in his room, you should have a good time.
The exploitation films of the ‘70s always offered up the goods to everyone. And by goods I mean a whole lot of sex and violence, and if you were so inclined to notice behind fogged up eyewear, pulpy takes on the relevant social issues of the day. Not all were created equal, of course; they can’t all be clever variants of the form such as Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, or Foxy Brown. However, they almost all deal with female empowerment and Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973) more than checks off all the boxes, squeezing every last drop of pulp from its sci-fi fruit.
Weird is a very comfortable word in Jeff Lieberman’s lexicon. From the night crawler nastiness of Squirm (1976) to his mountaintop massacre Just Before Dawn (1981), his films are always a little left of the norm and all the better for it. And in between those two, he decided to take a run at a paranoia thriller nursing a major ‘60s hangover, pulsating with psychotic, Kojakian ex hippies. Welcome to Blue Sunshine (1978), a film more potent than the brown acid your great uncle said he took at Woodstock. (Although he probably wasn’t even there.)
I’ve never been to any of my high school reunions. I went to school in the Caribbean, and getting back there is hard to do, what with life interfering with my ability to reunite with former compadres. In real life, that is; celluloid memories, however, are ever present. And with another school year ending, what better time to revisit that sequel in name only, Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987)—a film that copies all the class notes off of A Nightmare on Elm Street and Carrie, but does it with such charm and gusto that you can’t help but love it anyway. This Canadian graduate from the Class of ’87 still has the moves. (The film that is, not me. My moves are buried in a trunk in the basement.)
It’s easy enough to miss a micro-budgeted film; oftentimes they make the rounds at various festivals and if lucky, are relegated to be buried in a fly-by-night streaming service. And oftentimes, the obscurity is earned. A very low budget requires a high level of talent and ingenuity to survive, which brings us to Feed the Light (2014), Swedish filmmaker Henrik Möller’s riveting, black and white feature length debut lovingly hoisted high on Blu-ray beginning June 27th by those arbiters of the strange and wonderful, Severin Films and its offshoot company, Intervision Picture Corp.
Dan Curtis and Richard Matheson fit together as comfortable as PB &J, warm slippers on a cold day, and the best of TV horror. Dead of Night (1977) is the follow up to their critically acclaimed anthology Trilogy of Terror (1975), in which Karen Black starred in three distinct episodes of small screen mayhem. And much like that one, Dead of Night shall always be remembered for a terrifying final tale.
Known as the King of the Gimmicks, producer/director William Castle will surely be remembered for such B staples as House on Haunted Hill (1959), The Tingler (also ’59) and 13 Ghosts (1960), cheap but fun pictures with added pleasure for the moviegoer by the use of ingenious devices such as Emergo, Percepto, and Illusion-O. It’s only fitting that he ended his career as co-writer/producer of Jeannot Szwarc’s Bug (1975), a nature gone amok flick that becomes a Weird-O halfway through to detail a descent into madness.
Time can be a hell of a drug, especially when it comes to the projected image. There’s an inherent danger in revisiting a film we have fond memories of; is it as good as we recall? Conversely, can a film improve after an initial viewing, one that perhaps was initially dismissed with a shrug and a wave of the hand? Case in point: actor David Keith’s directorial debut, The Curse (1987), a film that inspired nothing in me beyond guffaws 30 years ago. But that was then; now it inspires a sense of awe, because if you’ve ever wondered what an American-flavored Lucio Fulci film would look like, clear a spot in your collection for the class clown of the Class of ’87.
Following the horror juggernaut that was Halloween (1978), major studios were very interested to hop in bed with stalk and slay splatterfests. When the Paramount distributed Friday the 13th (1980) looked to be muy lucrative, the big boys jumped hard on the mattress to see how much coin they could dislodge. MGM was no different, and made their claim with He Knows You’re Alone (1980), a film that ultimately survived the dog pile with winning characterizations over slavish Carpenter imitations.