What makes a good Satanic Panic flick? Is it the urbane, dark humor of Rosemary’s Baby (’68), perhaps the outsized biblical insanity of The Omen (’76), or the insidious paranoia that infuses Race with the Devil (’75)? The answer for me is all of the above, and what a treat it is to come across another that brings something a little different - The Brotherhood of Satan (’71) offers a sense of quiet displacement before unleashing a torrent of blustery brimstone and hellfire.
Shelf sitters aren’t always bad news in my eyes; take for instance Superstition (1982). This Canadian curiosity was filmed in ’81, released abroad in ’82, and finally washed ashore in North America in early ’85; it is by turns goofy, gory, dumb, and creative in its kills, and is a great addition to a sub-genre I’m just going to call Italiadjacent, where films from this side of the pond look to that side for aesthetical inspiration and end up with nonsensical storylines. And while Superstition tries to keep it together, it can’t help but let loose and summon up its inner Argento from time to time. (Okay, most of the time.)
While some directors learned their craft through thrift bare independent features, others came up through the TV divisions of studios; one such fellow, Steven Spielberg, would go on to have a fairly successful career with big screen projects. Before he would make that leap however, he started with episodic shows, and then onto TV films like Something Evil (1972), a fun ride that shows the kid knows his way around a camera. I’m glad things turned out okay for him.
To say that Spanish director Jess Franco’s filmography is daunting is an understatement. With over 200 directing credits and nearly the same as a writer, he was a cinematic shark who always kept moving, from the early ’60s until his death in 2013. Often making up to five or six films a year, Franco remade, recut, and redefined certain pictures for certain markets, tailoring material to fit the needs at the time. (I’m not a scholar, but I’m guessing there’s a lot of overlap in his IMDb credits.) At least for one project, the cutting stops with Severin Films’ terrific release of The Sadist of Notre Dame (1979), an interesting character study in depravity, sin, and redemption that Franco considered his most personal film.
I truly believe, that in this vast universe, we are not alone. I also believe, that for whatever (perhaps the very same) reason we don’t always get what we feel we deserve. Such is the case with Search for the Gods (1975), a cracking good yarn and failed TV pilot with Kurt Russell and Stephen McHattie as a couple of adventurers tracking down ancient astronauts.
Curtis Harrington’s Ruby (1977) is a perfect example of what I like to call a or something film, to wit: Piper Laurie follows up her Academy Award nominated turn in Carrie (’76) to headline as a former gun moll haunted by her dead ex while she runs a drive-in and her 16 year old becomes possessed by said dead ex. Or something. Fractured and scattered but a whole lot of fun, Ruby is positively littered with or something’s and I kind of love it for that.
In the grand tradition of Deliverance (1972), Rituals (‘77), and Up the Creek (1984) comes Hunter’s Blood (’86), a backwoods hicksploitation actioner that more than gets by with a cast handpicked by the B movie gods and a script wittier than it has to be. Who says the outdoors hold no charm? (Well, normally that would be me.)
I sure love me some witches. I especially adore the satanic kind, pentagrams, candles, and the whole shmear. Welcome to Bay Coven (1987), where the tropes are oh so familiar yet warm and snuggly like a quilted comforter.
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!
The Cannibal sub-genre usually divides the viewer in to one of two camps: horror fans who deem it “necessary” as part of their schooling to watch the gut munchers of the decade from the early ‘70s to early ‘80s, and those who completely stay clear after hearing stories of real life animal mutilation and on screen rape, not to mention an anatomical eye for grisly (and gristly) detail in that uniquely unsubtle, very Italian way. If you choose to wade through the jungle, there are simply no better guides than the denizens at Severin Films, who offer up a superb new disc of Umberto Lenzi’s Eaten Alive! (1980). If you’re new to this fascinating facet of horror, you might as well jump in here – there is no shallow end.
There aren’t a ton of absolutes in life, but among a laundry list of things I enjoy whilst spinning around the sun, here’s three: Christopher George, private dicks, and mad scientists. And so imagine my delight when I stumbled across Escape (1971), a failed TV pilot about an ex escape artist turned P.I. who investigates, in his words, “the unexplainable.” And while the pilot doesn’t dip its toes too much into the pool of the unusual, it sure feels like that’s the way they were planning to go.
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.
A whimper or a bang. Does it really matter if we snuff the match with our fingers, or a blast of air from our lungs? And when that bomb drops, is that really it for the human race, or will it “rebuild” as we’re so optimistically told in countless disaster flicks? The correct answers are: “bang” is very bad, and if your idea of “rebuild” is devastating nuclear winters and forlorn dirt crops, build away. This bleaker than bleak view comes courtesy of a legendary and sobering BBC Two TV drama from 1984 called Threads, and Severin Films’ stellar Blu-ray shows a new generation what would really happen in the event of a nuclear attack. Spoiler slert: nothing good. At all.
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.