Night of the Creeps (1986)

nightofthecreeps_1Starring Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow, Tom Atkins, Wally Taylor, Bruce Solomon, Vic Polizos, Allan Kayser, Ken Heron, Alice Cadogan, June Harris, David Paymer

Directed by Fred Dekker

Expectations: Super high.

fourstar


Horror comedies are definitely a lost art these days, but in the 1980s filmmakers had the perfect grasp on what made a great one. Night of the Creeps is easily one of the genre’s best, managing to be hilarious yet frightening, delightfully gory, and reverential of past horror films while also being original. It often feels like a whole bunch of horror movies all smashed together into one, and that’s kind of exactly what it is. But while a multitude of ideas usually leads to a muddled story that trips over itself in its effort to entertain, in Night of the Creeps it’s just a total blast.

We open in space as fat, pink, naked aliens with monstrous heads chase after one of their own who’s apparently carrying some kind of highly dangerous experiment of theirs. But they can’t stop him, and his escape pod rockets towards this wonderful little planet we call Earth. The film now shifts to black & white, and we find ourselves in 1959. This shift is not only visually interesting, but it also sets a mood. Director Fred Dekker is not trying to accurately represent the 1950s here, just the movies of the 1950s. He does so flawlessly, even right down to the fun/scary tone that many ’50s B-Movies have.

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Quick Takes: Ganja & Hess, Fright Night, The House on Skull Mountain

ganjaandhessposterGanja & Hess (1973)
AKA
Blood Couple, Double Possession, Black Evil, Blackout: The Moment of Terror, Vampires of Harlem, Black Vampire

Starring Duane Jones, Marlene Clark, Bill Gunn, Sam Waymon, Leonard Jackson, Candece Tarpley, Richard Harrow, John Hoffmeister
Directed by Bill Gunn

Tasked with creating a Blacula-type blaxploitation vampire movie, director Bill Gunn instead made an allegorical arthouse film that’s about as far from blaxploitation as possible; a bold move you just have to respect (although one look at those alternate titles above will show that the distributors definitely did not). But while I respect the balls that a move like that took, I can’t say that I liked Ganja & Hess much. It’s got an interesting vibe, and there are some real standout scenes (the ones featuring Bill Gunn himself in a supporting role, for instance), but for the most part I was bored. To be fair, though, I generally have this kind of reaction to arthouse movies, so I think it’s more my fault than Gunn’s. This is why I can’t bring myself to rate Ganja & Hess. Even though I didn’t really like it at all, it’s an incredible achievement of black cinema for the time. I simultaneously felt both impressed and bored. In this circumstance it would be wrong to assign a rating based on either of these feelings, and some arbitrary concoction of the two would only further obfuscate matters. So it’s just the kind of movie you’ll have to see on your own and decide for yourself. Just make sure you like arthouse-style movies. Oh, for those who care: Spike Lee’s Kickstarter film, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, is a remake of this.

fright_nightFright Night (1985)
fourstar

Starring Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall, Stephen Geoffreys, Jonathan Stark, Dorothy Fielding, Art Evans
Directed by Tom Holland

Four stars, you say? Yeah, maybe I’m overrating it but — aw hell, no I’m not! Fright Night is the type of ’80s horror blast to the brain you crave if you’re one of those people, like myself, who’s lamented the painful death of the horror movie over the last 25 years. Hell, it’s such a great example of an ’80s horror movie that modern directors should examine it and learn the great and simple truths contained within. It’s rare that a film can effectively convey multiple tones, but Fright Night manages to be a truly funny comedy that builds from the ’50s paranoia genre format (while also parodying them), that then morphs as the film progresses into one hell of a gory and tense thrill ride. The FX work is exceptional, with Richard Edlund, fresh off of Ghostbusters, bringing out all the stops. Fright Night is an intensely fun vampire movie. I haven’t seen it since I was about seven or eight years old, and a movie this great really should be seen more than once every 25 years or so. Highly recommended.

houseonskullmountainThe House on Skull Mountain (1974)
threestar

Starring Victor French, Janee Michelle, Jean Durand, Mike Evans, Xernona Clayton, Lloyd Nelson, Ella Woods, Mary J. Todd McKenzie
Directed by Ron Honthaner

I sought out The House on Skull Mountain after I saw it on a blaxploitation horror list, but it’s not really a blaxploitation movie at all. Unless a predominant black cast and a production year in the ’70s is all that defines a blaxploitation movie. This movie actually had black characters from varying socioeconomic backgrounds, and the jive talkin’ guy is clearly the butt of the joke, not the ass-kickin’ hero. Anyway, The House on Skull Mountain is a fun “people going to an old house for the reading of a will” movie mixed with a lot of voodoo and dope African drums. Since I’m such a fan of black magic films, I suppose it stands to reason that I’d also greatly enjoy a good voodoo movie! It will definitely be too dated for some, but I was suitably unsettled by many of its tricks and treats. Unfortunately, the intriguing mystery it sets up never pays off in any satisfying way, but it’s far too enjoyable a film for even something like this to diminish the fun.

Hex After Hex (1982)

HexAfterHex_1Hex After Hex [邪完再邪] (1982)

Starring Lo Meng, Nancy Lau Nam-Kai, Lau Dan, Cheng Siu-Ping, Lo Yuen, Yeung Chi-Hing, Lily Chan Lee-Lee, Lau Siu-Kwan, Law Ho-Kai, Yue Tau-Wan, Chow Kin-Ping, Wong Ching-Ho

Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: Moderate.

twostar


Hex After Hex is the final film of the Hex trilogy (which isn’t actually a trilogy), and it’s surprisingly related in a very small way to the previous film in the series, Hex vs. Witchcraft. Like that film, Hex After Hex is more comedy than horror, but here the ratios have been further adjusted so that it’s almost all comedy for most of the movie. A lot of this comedy comes by way of ghost shenanigans, but there’s also a heavy dose of strange and wacky natural occurrences — for instance: Lo Meng lotioning up his nipples, or saving his blow-up doll from a building’s demolition. There’s so many quick little moments like this that I’ll need another run through the film to really appreciate them.

As you might expect in a film featuring such madcap energy, the story in Hex After Hex doesn’t matter much (to the viewers or the filmmakers). The film opens with Ma Su (Lo Meng), the muscular neighbor of the main character in Hex vs. Witchcraft, finding the same bag of golden jewelry that kicked off the supernatural hijinks in that film. Once again, the bag also contains the spiritual tablet of Liu Ah Cui, but this time Ma Su flatly refuses to marry the spirit. He has no interest in marrying a ghost and money does not persuade him. Not to be thrown out in the cold, the spirit of Liu Ah Cui decides to take over the body of a different neighbor’s girlfriend, Yeung Suk Yi (Nancy Lau Nam-Kai), and seduce Ma Su. It works, and they spend a good portion of the film moving from one problem to the next, the ghost graciously getting them out of harm’s way as only she can. A series of hijinks with a flimsy plot isn’t such a bad thing because it’s all fun, but I have to admit that without any sense of purpose it does get a little tiresome after a while.

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The Nest (1988)

thenest_1Starring Robert Lansing, Lisa Langlois, Franc Luz, Terri Treas, Stephen Davies, Diana Bellamy, Jack Collins

Directed by Terence H. Winkless

Expectations: Moderate.

On the general scale:
twostar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


Who likes cockroaches? Or better yet, who likes swarms of cockroaches invading every facet of small-town life? Not enough? Well… these cockroaches eat flesh! That’s the basic pitch for The Nest, which honestly could be even shorter: It’s Piranha with cockroaches (and less humor)! But while it may be based on a tried-and-true premise, The Nest delivers enough B-Movie thrills to make it creep, crawl, and endear its way into your heart.

Sheriff Richard Tarbell (Frank Luz) wakes up with a small roach problem. Not the best “How do ya do?” to start the day, but he’s got other things on his mind so it doesn’t faze him much. Elizabeth (Lisa Langlois), his high school sweetheart, is coming back into town after a four-year absence and guess what? A lot has changed since she left! A building or two have been demolished, the sheriff is kinda seeing someone else, and oh, there’s now a base just outside of town run by a nefarious corporation called Intec. I’ll give you one guess what they were experimenting on in this mysterious base…

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Quick Takes: City of the Living Dead, Night of the Demons, Not of This Earth

gates_of_hell_xlgCity of the Living Dead [Paura nella città dei morti viventi] (1980)
AKA The Gates of Hell
twohalfstar

Starring Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, Antonella Interlenghi, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Daniela Doria, Fabrizio Jovine
Directed by Lucio Fulci

Take a moment to consider the film’s title along with its poster art. Zombies, right? Wrong. City of the Living Dead really isn’t much of a zombie movie. Not in the traditional sense anyway. I’m somewhat unsure what the actual plot was, but the gist is that a priest kills himself and becomes a zombie mage, which somehow also opens the gates of Hell. These gates being open doesn’t really lead to the zombie hijinks you might expect, though, as City of the Living Dead is dreamy, haunting and supernatural where other movies would just go for your standard horror shocks and zombie kills. The plot is so nonsensical and chaotic at times that it makes it hard to get through, but I still enjoyed it for the most part. By far my favorite aspect of the film is the incredible gore, which really must be seen to be believed. There’s not much of it overall, but boy do they make up for lost time! I don’t want to spoil anything, but I definitely won’t be hankering for any pig guts and organ meat any time soon!

nightofthedemonsNight of the Demons (1988)

Starring Cathy Podewell, Amelia Kinkade, Linnea Quigley, Alvin Alexis, Allison Barron, Hal Havins, Billy Gallo, Lance Fenton, Philip Tanzini, Jill Terashita, Harold Ayer
Directed by Kevin S. Tenney

Despite its legacy and name recognition, I wasn’t really feeling this one until the 2nd half (which is pretty much non-stop entertainment). Demons in a haunted house chasing a girl dressed as Alice in Wonderland is as fun as it sounds. Dope Steve Johnson FX work too. The lack of any likeable characters is what made the first half kind of slow and boring, and I was surprised just how trashy a movie it was overall. If I didn’t know this came from the same director as Witchboard, I’d never have guessed it in a million years. Witchboard feels like solid, classic horror filmmaking, while Night of the Demons feels amateurish and naive in comparison. Two completely different types of movies, though. I really should hunt down some more of Tenney’s movies to see which style is the more prominent in his career.

not_of_this_earthNot of This Earth (1988)
onehalfstar

Starring Traci Lords, Arthur Roberts, Lenny Juliano, Ace Mask, Roger Lodge, Rebecca Perle, Michael DeLano, Becky LeBeau
Directed by Jim Wynorski

Man, Not of This Earth is some high level B-Movie shit. You need nerves of steel, forged through hundreds of horrendous B-movies, to make it through this one. Bad acting, bad writing, bad everything abounds, although Traci Lords — in her first “mainstream” acting role — is actually really good and easily the best actor in the film. There’s also some stock footage from other Roger Corman-produced films, and even though I haven’t seen the movies they came from, the sections stuck out as being completely unrelated to anything else in the movie. The behind-the-scenes story is great, and without a doubt more interesting than the movie itself. Notable low-budget director Jim Wynorski bet that he could remake Corman’s original 1957 film with the same budget (adjusted for inflation) and the same 12-day shooting schedule, and he did it (in 11 days)! As a low-budget experiment, it’s interesting, but as an actual movie it’s kinda boring. It’s not without its delights, though most of them come from Traci Lords and are prurient in nature. I also got a kick out of seeing Roger Lodge, the host of Blind Date, playing Lords’ love interest. Watching this makes me really curious to see the original, as this one is so trashy and ’80s that I have a hard time understanding what the ’50s movie must be like.

Hex vs. Witchcraft (1980)

HexVersusWitchcraft+1980-3-bHex vs. Witchcraft [邪鬥邪] (1980)
AKA Evil Fighting Evil (Literal Translation)

Starring James Yi Lui, Jenny Leung Jan-Lei, Booi Yue-Fa, Cheung Miu-Lin, Yeung Chi-Hing, Lam Fai-Wong, To Siu-Ming, Shirley Yu Sha-Li, Wang Lai, Chan Shen, Ng Hong-Sang, Yeung Hung, Fong Ping, Chan Lap-Ban, Lau Yat-Fan, Lo Meng

Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: Moderate.

twohalfstar


The Hex series is an interesting one, mostly because it’s not really a series in the traditional sense. The tone in Hex is nothing but serious spooks and specters, so the shift to wacky ghost comedy in Hex vs. Witchcraft is a bit jarring and unexplained. And if my information is correct, the final film, Hex After Hex, is even more wacky (which means, based on Hex vs. Witchcraft, it’s going to be VERY WACKY). If this holds true, it seems the Hex series kinda resembles the Evil Dead series’ approach to tone, with the exception that only the second and third Hex films share actors or relate to one another in any way.

Hex vs. Witchcraft is set in modern Hong Kong and our “hero” is Cai Tou (James Yi Lui), a man as unlucky as they come. He’s a compulsive gambler, but like most movie gamblers that aren’t the God of Gamblers, Cai is in deep debt to the local gangster, Brother Nine (Chan Shen). Without going into detail, eventually Cai finds himself married to Liu Ah Cui, the dead daughter of an old man who came to his door after Cai found a bag of gold jewelry that also contained the woman’s spiritual tablet. If I didn’t cut to the chase a bit I’d have to use two or three paragraphs to have the story progression make sense, and that’s neither necessary or fun.

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Hex (1980)

Hex+1980-2-bHex [] (1980)

Starring Tanny Tien Ni, Wong Yung, Chan Si-Gaai, Shum Lo, Lee Sau-Kei, Hon Gwok-Choi, Yue Tau-Wan, Chan Lap-Ban, Lau Yat-Fan, Wong Ching-Ho, Yau Chui-Ling, Wong Siu-Ming

Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: High.

twohalfstar


Hong Kong horror films hold a special place in my heart, so it was with uncontainable glee that I started Kuei Chih-Hung’s Hex. But there were two flaws in my basic knowledge of the film that hampered my enjoyment a bit. First, I had assumed it was a black magic film set in the modern era, and second, Hex is way more laid back and reserved compared to some of Kuei’s other films (notably Bewitched and The Boxer’s Omen). Knowing these things would have helped get me into the right frame of mind for what is ultimately a Hong Kong version of the French classic Diabolique with a bunch of ghost hauntings and the parade of variously colored bodily fluids normally associated with the Hong Kong horror genre.

The film opens with a first-person camera introducing us to the setting of our film: a mansion owned by the illustrious Chan family. The narrator explains that when hard times fell on the Chans, they were forced to arrange a marriage for their daughter Chan Sau Ying (Tanny Tien Ni). Her new husband, Yeung Chun Yu (Wong Yung), comes to live at the family mansion, but prosperity does not follow. Soon they are down to one servant, and the marriage between Chan and Yeung is equally threadbare. They are locked into it, though, due to the marriage being drawn up under the feudal laws which do not allow for divorce. Chan has become horribly ill, and Yeung takes out all of his aggression on Chan and their servant. He’s an incredibly violent dickhead of a character, which always gets me excited for the tables to turn so that he can get his comeuppance.

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