As the ‘60s gave way to the ‘70s, vampires on film were stuck in a rut of crumbling castles and cotton candy cobwebs. It was time for an update; to rid the screen of the stagecoaches and street lamps. It was time for Count Yorga, Vampire (1970), a fun little romp brought into the modern age by a world class turn from Robert Quarry as the titular bloodsucker.
At the turn of the ‘80s, Jamie Lee Curtis was THE face of horror; by this point she had already starred in Halloween (1978), and cemented her position with three releases in 1980 alone – The Fog in February, Prom Night in July, and today’s title, Terror Train, in October. It was a banner year for her, and for horror fans alike – well, apart from that snoozy school picture. Terror Train was a great way to end her 1980, and a fitting way to cap off 2016, as it’s a – ta da! – New Year’s Eve movie. Climb aboard for a fun, surprisingly classy ride.
’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the land
Mommy and Santa, were getting on grand.
This threw little Harry, into such a tizzy
He grew up demented; delusional, dizzy.
What appears on the page is not always what appears on the screen. The screenwriter has most times defined what he/she hopes to see translated, but that’s not always the case (and when it isn’t, it’s usually for the worse). However, sometimes a film will morph from the pen to the multiplex in a post-faithful state that exceeds expectations. One such film is The Pit (1981), a Canadian made, US lensed flick that started out as a psychological breakdown of a delusional little boy, and ended up in B Movie Heaven, where it is personally fanned and fed grapes by Ed Wood and William Castle on a daily basis. There’s no other film quite like it.
I Drink Your Blood (1970) is as old as I am. Unlike me, however, it shows very little wear and tear; a loud and proud exploitation horror diorama from an age when all boundaries of good taste and reason were pushed to the breaking point. If you only have room in your life for one rabies-infested satanic hippies movie, make it I Drink Your Blood.
Cynicism isn’t hard to come by in the horror genre; any Italian cannibal or home invasion flick will satiate your desire for an outlook on man’s worst transgressions. Conversely, it’s even harder to find a film with such a buoyant feel that is at odds with the terror on display. Well, folks, may I present to you The Boogens (1981), an endearing charmer of a subterranean monster movie. By the time it’s over, you may want to give it a big old hug.
When the mood strikes, there’s nothing better than an Atomic Age Monster Movie (B Division). Glorious black & white, damsels in distress, iron willed heroes and rubberized villains never fail to hit all the pleasure centers. The Monster that Challenged the World (1957) is one such film, and better made than most of the era. As the tagline says, “A New Kind of Terror to Numb the Nerves!” Well, you may just feel a tingle, but it’s a blast nevertheless.
Without question, being a stepparent can be rough. It’s a balancing act between wanting what’s best for the child, and the need to ingratiate oneself and hopefully, earn and obtain love. This is a tightrope that Jerry Blake (Terry O’Quinn) has no interest in walking – if he can’t implement his perfect family plan, he switches policies in the most violent way possible. Welcome to the world of The Stepfather (1987), a pretty good thriller elevated to classic status due to a legendary performance by O’Quinn.
Full disclosure: I hate spiders. Like really, really despise them. God’s creatures blah blah blah – save it. They are absolutely, without a question, the most insidious, terrifying things on the planet. Now, horror films about arachnids? Well, that’s different. They have a built in creepiness factor that ensures, at the very least, it will hit the icky button with me – not my go to sensation for horror, but still creating a sensation while I watch – which promises a memorable experience.
But when you add in a level of fun, and in the case of Kingdom of the Spiders (1977), a ridiculously high quotient of it, I pivot from respect to awe in the space of 97 minutes. Not for the spiders – that will never happen as long as I’m gulping air. But the film? I’m in awe each and every viewing. It’s my favorite Animals Attack film, my favorite John ‘Bud’ Cardos directorial effort, and hands down the all time William Shatner performance. It’s a dang gone gem.
Killer kids really started pulsating on the horror radar with The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976). Horrific as these tots were, their actions were explained away by demonic possession and satanic lineage, respectively. Regardless of their cause, the sight of a youngster engaged in heinous behavior was still shocking. Now, roll back the clock a couple of decades and drop a sociopathic eight year old girl in the middle of apple pie strewn Ozzie & Harriet America, and what do you get? The Bad Seed (1956), that’s what; a wonderfully odd ode to li’l murderers and the mothers who love them.
Joe Spinell was a unique character actor in his time. From supporting turns in The Godfather: Part II (1974), Rocky (1976), and beyond, he was never less than interesting on screen; usually playing a mobster, shyster, or cop, his amusingly sleazy demeanour helped him stand out from the crowd. Terror lovers know Spinell from Maniac (1980), the notorious passion project that he also co-wrote. His follow up on the silver scream was The Last Horror Film (1982), a much more lighthearted take on obsession that not only reteamed him with his Maniac co-star Caroline Munro, but jetted them off to The Cannes Film Festival to boot. And while it doesn’t have the gut punch impact of Maniac, it’s the more enjoyable film.
“The boat can leave now. Tell the crew.” With these words, a horror classic was born. Zombie (1979) was the first Lucio Fulci film that assaulted my eyeballs, AND it was the first zombie flick I ever saw. Heady stuff for a quivering ten-year-old, but it proved to be the perfect gateway to the splattery splendors of Italian terror, a door that will forever remain ajar.
With the massive success of Carrie (1976), telekinesis was quickly added to horror filmmakers’ arsenal as a new weapon to terrify audiences. The immense power of the film left some reticent to tackle the subject for fear of falling short; however Brian DePalma stepped up to the plate with The Fury (1978), and that same year fledgling Australian filmmaker Richard Franklin made Patrick, a suspenseful, darkly humorous tale of a nurse and the psychokinetically disposed comatose patient that loves her.
There are few absolutes in life, let alone in the world of horror; but this I find to be true: Herschell Gordon Lewis was appreciated in his time. Beloved, actually. Sadly passing away on September 26th, 2016 at the age of 87, he left behind a slew of grindhouse classics encapsulating everything from biker flicks to sex ed pieces. But HGL will be forever known for a string of unique and groundbreaking horror films including The Gore Gore Girls (1972), his last opus before he took a 30 year sabbatical from filmmaking. And on the HGL spectrum, it’s one of his best.
Blame The Bad Seed (1956) for every murderous moppet that has skipped across the screen in subsequent years. Village of the Damned, The Omen, The Good Son, The Children, and many more have explored the taboo of killer kiddies. One of the oddest of the bunch is Ed Hunt’s Bloody Birthday (1981), a ridiculously fun turn with not just one, but three mini-Mansons on hand to clean up the schoolyard.