Tuesday, October 9, 2012

31 Nights of Terror '12 #6 - Island Claws

 The cover of my VHS copy of Island Claws

Island Claws (1980)
Director: Hernan Cardenas
Starring: Robert Lansing, Steve Hanks,
Format: VHS (Empire Video)

Plot: A biological experiment in Florida goes awry. The result: 8-foot long land crabs which roar loudly and kill everything in sight.

See that plot synopsis above? Short isn't it? But that's about all there is to Island Claws. Sure, there's a sub-plot about a young would-be couple from two feuding families, and another about Haitian boatpeople who are smuggled onto land near the village, but all you really need to know is that crabs run amok.

According to IMDB, Island Claws is the only credit for Hernan Cardenas, who wrote, directed and produced this movie. Not sure why that is - Island Claws isn't the worst monster flick I've ever seen. But it's also nothing special.

Pete Adams (Steve Hanks, who the same year starred alongside a young Michelle Pfeiffer in the TV show BAD CATS) and Jan Raines (Jo McDonnell, Marilyn Munster in the 1981 TV movie THE MUNSTERS' REVENGE) are the aforementioned young couple. We get to know them and several other characters in a small Florida fishing village.

A few familiar old faces appear in the supporting cast. Barry Nelson (manager of the Outlook Hotel in Kubrick's THE SHINING) is a marine biologist; Robert Lansing (who made something of a living from "giant nature runs amok" flicks in the late 70s and early 80s, also starring in EMPIRE OF THE ANTS and the giant roaches flick THE NEST) is a bar owner and father figure to Pete.

I'm not going to lie. The first two-thirds of this movie are boring. They're full of mundane village life, sprinkled with a couple of crab attacks. Not giant crabs though, regular sized ones. These attacks consist of someone screaming intercut with stock footage of crabs scuttling about. Hardly terrifying stuff.

The giant crab shows up for the closing act and brings good cheesy action fun, but by then it's too little too late. I understand not wanting to show the creature in its entirety for most of the movie, but what we're left with is 75 minutes of boring set up for 15 minutes of giant crustacean shenanigans.

31 Nights of Terror '12 #5 - Nightwing

The cover of my VHS copy of Nightwing

Nightwing (1979)
Director: Arthur Hiller
Starring: Nick Mancuso, David Warner, Kathryn Harrold
Format: VHS (RCA Columbia)

Plot: Cattle turn up dead from mysterious bites on an Indian reservation in New Mexico. Native deputy Duran (Italian-American Mancuso) investigates while a rival chief negotiates for a sacred valley to be drilled for oil. A bat expert (Warner, TRON) is sure vampire bats have migrated north from Mexico, and when people start getting killed it looks like he's right. He, along with Duran and his girlfriend (Harrold) set off to find the bats and put an end to their terror.

Up until seeing this movie, I had never enjoyed a killer bat horror movie. Sadly, after seeing this movie, I still haven't.

There's just something about bat attacks that make them more comedic than terror-inducing. Give me killer piranhas, birds, even insects, and I can buy it, but bats just don't do it for me. I'm sure being attacked by a swarm of bats would suck in real life, but on screen it's yawn-inducing.

Even putting that personal bias aside, director Arthur Hiller (who made his name directing TV episodes in the 50s and 60s) has put together a film that offers nothing new. There's nothing special about the way it's shot, its plot (about the only interesting plot point is when Duran eats a hallucenogenic plant and uses Indian "visions" to help find and beat the bats), or for that matter the acting.

There's barely even anything cheesy to make things fun. The bat effects are hilariously bad (a mix of back-projection and fluffy toys), but everything else is rather boring and the ending ("I'm going to close the circle Abner") is predictable and corny.

31 Nights of Terror '12 #4 - Witchboard

Witchboard (1986)
Director: Kevin Tenney
Starring: Todd Allen, Tawny Kitaen, Stephen Nicholls
Format: VHS (Continental Video)

Plot: At a party, a guest brings out a Ouija board, and they attempt to contact a spirit he knows. The spirit does appear, but it becomes apparent to the one who brought the Ouija board that this is an evil spirit that is impersonating his spirit, and despite warnings not to use the board alone, a woman uses it alone, and becomes harassed by the evil spirit, his goal to possess her so he can walk the earth again.

A year before she became forever embedded in the fantasies of males the world over (including yours truly at age 13) by rolling about on the hood of a couple of Jaguars in a Whitesnake video, 80s hottie Tawny Kitaen starred in this pretty good paranormal horror flick.

Kitaen and her mountain of teased hair are in good form as Linda, the hot babe who falls victim to a vengeful spirit. Todd Allen (who has a roll in the upcoming DJANGO UNCHAINED) is her sceptical boyfriend and Stephen Nicholls (a veteran of several US soaps with Ken-doll looks) is the Ouija board owner and rival for Linda's affections.

Director Kevin Tenney (NIGHT OF THE DEMONS) does a nice job building up suspense and shows some Raimi-esque touches with POV spirit shots. The music makes this feel like a Poltergeist sequel at times, although things never get as batshit-crazy as in those films.

The acting's good across the board, except for Kathleen Wilhoite, whose Cali-speak spiritual medium character is the epitome of grating. You'll cheer as she bites the dust, trust me. Except for a terrible green-screen shot during the climax, the effects are minimal but effective (mostly objects moving by themselves).

The storyline does a good job of building up the characters and their back stories. It might be a bit slow at the start for some, but I found the plot to be engaging enough. Overall this was an enjoyable watch and there's even the pre-requisite Tawny Kitaen shower scene (with full frontal nudity) - my 13-year-old self would have been ecstatic.

31 Nights of Terror '12 #3 - Schizo

 The cover of my VHS copy of Schizo

Schizo (1976)
Director: Peter Walker
Starring: Lynne Frederick, John Leyton, Stephanie Beacham
Format: VHS (Warner Home Video)

Plot: Samantha (Frederick, VAMPIRE CIRCUS) and Alan (former pop star Leyton) are getting married, but William Haskins isn't pleased. He grabs a train south to London and begins shadowing Samantha as she tries to get on with married life. Haskins' attempts to frighten her drive Samantha to desperation, but she's having trouble convincing anyone that she's being stalked. Even her psychiatrist dismisses her concerns as part of her neurosis. As bodies begin turning up, Samantha's story becomes more believable, and her dark secret from the past begins to reveal itself.

English psychological thriller Schizo could also be considered an early slasher, or a British version of a giallo, albeit with a smaller body count than most. Perhaps the best comparison would be Black Christmas, only in that the killer's identity is known from the start. Or is it? I'm not going to spoil anything, but there's a twist that you'll see coming a mile away.

Director Pete Walker (HOUSE OF WHIPCORD, FRIGHTMARE) puts the kettle on the stove and lets it boil slowly. Frederick does an admirable job as Samantha first comes off looking like an overly-paranoid woman but before long is fighting for her life as those around her start dying. It doesn't hurt that she's extremely cute and spends a lot of screen-time in the buff.

The kills offer some good gore (the best being the knitting needle through the back of the head and out the eye) and the acting's pretty good across the board. Jack Watson is suitably creepy as stalker William Haskins.

If you're in the mood for a slow-boiling British psycho slasher, Schizo is worth a watch.

31 Nights of Terror '12 #2 - Blood Beach

Blood Beach (1980)
Director: Jeffrey Bloom
Starring: David Huffman, Marianna Hill, Burt Young
Format: DVD-R

Plot: Something or someone is attacking people one by one on the beach. Some of them are mutilated, but most of them are sucked into the sand, disappearing without a trace. What is the creature responsible? Where does it live, and where did it come from? And is there any chance of it reproducing? Meanwhile, David Huffman and Mariana Hill are once-almost-married old friends, reunited over the death of her mother on the beach, and searching for clues in the abandoned buildings where they used to play when they were young.

When a movie from 1980 fails to get a Region 1 or 4 DVD release, it usually means it's craptacular and only of interest to lovers of bad cinema. That's what I was expecting from Blood Beach (which has only been released on German DVD). Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a damn good low-budget horror flick!

The basic plot isn't exactly genius. One line of Jaws-inspired dialogue from the film sums it up - "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, you can't get to it". But around that writer-director Jeffrey Bloom (who also helmed the anthology flick NIGHTMARES) weaves a nice little story about a Harbour Patrol cop (Huffman) and the woman he let get away (Hill). There's a few clunkers (like how Huffman's developing love triangle quickly resolves itself thanks to the creature), but they're the exception rather than the rule.

The kill scenes (victim sucked down into the sand by their feet, rinse, repeat) sound corny but they're actually effective. The concept was used 20 years later in Tremors, albeit in more of an action b-movie way than here. Bloom builds up suspense nicely, so the repetitive kills don't get boring. And the main thing he does right is keeping the monster off-screen until the finale. By then it doesn't matter that the creature effect is pretty bad.

But what really ties Blood Beach together is the acting. The two leads are great and have good chemistry. It's a shame that Huffman (WOLF LAKE) was lost to acting at the age of 39 (he was murdered just five years after this movie), because he's a likeable leading man. Hill's career was waning after earlier starring alongside Eastwood in HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER and playing Fredo Corleone's trashy wife in GODFATHER PART II, but she's also cute and likeable.

The supporting cast is also good. Genre veteran John Saxon is in usual form as a perpetually-grumpy police captain, while Burt Young (ROCKY) offers comedic relief as a loud-mouthed, un-PC detective who's always eating.

Here's hoping Blood Beach gets a legit DVD release soon (my DVD-R is a scratchy VHS-rip), because it's a nice piece of early-80s horror/scifi.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

31 Nights of Terror '12 #1: Rawhead Rex

The cover of my VHS copy of Rawhead Rex

Rawhead Rex (1986)
Director: George Pavlou
Starring: David Dukes, Kelly Piper, Niall Toibin
Format: VHS (Applause Home Video)

Plot: In Ireland a farmer knocks over an ancient stone column, releasing a centuries-old demon called Rawhead Rex. An American history buff (Dukes, GODS AND MONSTERS) and his family on holiday are soon fighting for their lives as the monster goes on the rampage. But what connection is there with the local village church, which has a stained-glass window featuring an image of the creature?

I'm sure you've all heard of this movie and know of its connection to the great British horror writer Clive Barker (HELLRAISER etc), and how he disowned this adaption of his story, mainly because he wasn't happy with the monster effects.

It's pretty easy to see why Clive was so upset, because this is a good movie except for the monster suit. There's talk of a remake being done (what's new), which for once could be a good thing. Ol' Sexy Rexy'll have you chuckling into your popcorn, which I'm sure wasn't the response director George Pavlou intended. In fact, he reminded me of Bebop from the old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, if he'd borrowed Brian Bosworth's classic mullet.

But the monster suit is about the only gripe I have. Well, the name too - my father-in-law's name is Rex and a bald skinny guy in his 60s isn't what I want to associate with a monster flick. Those gripes aside, I enjoyed this movie quite a bit.

I like the fact this movie is authentically Irish (one look at the cast list shows two Nialls, a Ronan, a Cora and a Donal), rather than having somewhere like Vancouver or Toronto standing in for Ireland. The small Irish village setting gives it a nice Lovecraftian/Wicker Man vibe.

Pavlou throws in a few nicely-shot scenes (one where a teen couple run away after finding a dead body uses light and angles effectively), and there's some good gore, mostly courtesy of several beheadings. On the downside there's minimal T&A, just one topless shot when a girl is attacked by Rexy.

While the monster brings plenty of unintentional laughs, there is some intentional humour, most of it very British/Irish in flavour. One exchange of funny dialogue between our main character and a policeman: "In the meantime can I get you a cup of tea?" "Why don't you go fuck yourself?" "I'll pass that suggestion along".

The best thing about Rawhead Rex is it's never too predictable. There are some real WTF moments (like when the monster relieves himself on a priest) and I was shocked when a young boy was killed by Rex (I'm used to the movie convention where kids are never seriously hurt or killed).

It's just a shame about that monster suit.

Announcing... 31 Nights of Terror 2012

It's October, which means it's time for the third annual 31 Nights of Terror movie marathon!

Just like last year, I'll be watching a total of 31 horror movies during the 31 days of October. They will for the most part be movies I haven't seen before. They will be on VHS and DVD and cover all sorts of sub-genres. The only link will be that they're all horror.

 In fact, I started on October 1 and am already averaging one movie a day - I just haven't had time to upload the reviews of those movies.

So, expect a flurry of reviews to be posted in the next 24 hours, and then hopefully I can get up the reviews as I watch the movies for the rest of the month.

Here's to October, my favourite month of the year!