Death Warmed Up (1984)

Directed by David Blyth [Other horror films: The Horror Show (1989), Red Blooded American Girl (1990), Wound (2010)]

This New Zealand production is such a madcap movie. I don’t necessarily mean that it’s zany or even fun, but it does have a bit of a wild feel to it, and while it’s definitely not what I’d call a good movie, at least Death Warmed Up has flavor.

Luckily, the plot never feels too out there, as we have a good idea of what’s going on from the beginning. Things get a bit hectic toward the end, what with an outbreak of mutated people causing havoc, but the story never gets overly confusing or at any point nonsensical, which I can appreciate.

Also, while it’s hard to say that anyone really stands out as far as performances go in this movie, most of the central actors and actresses were at least decent. Michael Hurst had a pretty unique look to him, and his character was pretty tragic (that opening was just beautiful). Margaret Umbers, William Upjohn, and Norelle Scott all worked well as friends, and I bought their performances. Gary Day did great as the amoral scientist, and as a lesser antagonist, David Letch (who was also in Mr. Wrong, as was Umbers) was notably threatening.

The special effects and gore were never the biggest focus, but there were plenty of mutated patients (though they were never really in focus, so the extent to their mutations weren’t that clear), some gory skull removal during some operations, a few slit throats here and there, aftereffects of a massacre. None of it was great or really memorable, but at least it was there, and more so, at least it all seemed competently done.

One thing that amused me was the fact that some of the scene transitions used what I’d refer to as Powerpoint slideshow transitions – it didn’t take away from the movie or anything, but it just looked sort of funny, and I can’t think of many movies that use transitions quite like this one did.

The opening, as I alluded to earlier, was pretty solid. You have a guy using a shotgun against two people, and the results looked quite gory. Not that the movie dragged later on or anything, but I think the beginning to Death Warmed Up did a good job at making us, as the audience, wonder what’s coming next, because for this movie, it’s not always that easy to tell.

I find the movie amusing, though there wasn’t much in the way of humor actually in the film proper. It just seemed all over the place, and though there was a coherent story, Death Warmed Up just felt weird. I’ve seen this once before (I own it on the Pure Terror 50-movie pack from Mill Creek Entertainment), and the only scene that I remembered vaguely (as it’s been at least ten years since I’ve seen the movie before this rewatch) was the chase in the tunnels, which was a bit dark as far as lighting was concerned, but moderately suspenseful.

Truthfully, I don’t really like Death Warmed Up, but I can’t find it in me to really dislike it. I do think the movie is a bit below average, but at the same time, this is one that I could easily see myself diving into again in the future, if just due to how odd some of it is. If you’re into New Zealand-based horror, give it a look. You could certainly do worse than this.

6/10

The Door with Seven Locks (1940)

Directed by Norman Lee [Other horror films: The Monkey’s Paw (1948)]

Based on an Edgar Wallace novel by the same name, this is a movie that I’ve been wanting to see for some time now. Sometimes known under the title Chamber of Horrors, The Door with Seven Locks is a quality dark house mystery movie, and while it may not be special in many ways, I do adore much of the film.

Lilli Palmer isn’t a name I actively know, but she did a pretty good job as a strong female lead, and worked well with Romilly Lunge. Of course, Leslie Banks (Zaroff from The Most Dangerous Game) comes hard with a very sinister presence, and his gang of criminals (none of whom were that memorable) was occasionally fun to watch scheming. I could have done without Gina Malo, who was used primarily for comedic effect, but David Horne had some strong moments here.

What really makes this movie work, and work better, in my opinion, than The Dark Eyes of London (which was also based off an Edgar Wallace novel), is the strong and engaging mystery. There are a decent amount of moving parts you have to pay attention to, but I don’t think it even gets too bogged down or convoluted, and I think the answers we get toward the end were, while perhaps not too surprising, perfectly welcomed.

The action sequences, from a fist-fight between a masked man and a police officer to a criminal literally getting a rug pulled out from under him (such a classy move), were all pretty solid. Even toward the end, when the last antagonist standing gets trapped in the oddest iron maiden (“Iron Maiden? Excellent!”), there were some pretty tense moments.

While it’s unlikely to become a favorite unless you’ve some nostalgic connection to it, The Door with Seven Locks still hits many of the right spots, and if you’re a fan of these types of movies, it may be worth checking out.

7/10

Final Destination (2000)

Directed by James Wong [Other horror films: Final Destination 3 (2006)]

While I’ve never had it in me to find Final Destination an amazing movie, I have always held to the opinion that it’s both pretty fresh, in terms of plot, and generally a solid movie. It’s not great, but Final Destination has a lot going for it, and is worth giving a shot.

If there’s any flaw, it could be said that some of the performances aren’t great. Though most of them are okay most of the time, lead Devon Sawa (of Idle Hands fame) was occasionally shaky. That may partially be due to the fact his character was somewhat illogical during portions of the film, so that may just be on me. Others that do well include Ali Larter (House on Haunted Hill), Chad Donella, Kerr Smith (My Bloody Valentine), and Tony Todd (Candyman). Though his character wasn’t that memorable, I also enjoyed seeing Seann William Scott (American Pie) throughout.

The idea of death as an antagonistic force works pretty well here. It seems quite innovative, and definitely something that hasn’t really been seen before. It also makes things tougher for these characters – while it’s not easy, one could feasibly avoid Jason or Freddy, but to avoid death, the lengths one has to take would be quite trying.

I do sort of wish we got more information on Tony Todd’s character, but for a single scene appearance, I guess I was okay with the information that he gave. Well, that and he was also quite quotable (“…and you don’t even want to fuck with that Mack Daddy”), so while I wish we knew more, it’s not all bad.

The elaborate death scenes were all reasonably fun, the most enjoyable probably being the broken mug/alcohol dripping into a computer/computer blowing up/things get fucked sequence about halfway through. Earlier, when someone gets a wire wrapped around their neck and struggles for footing was pretty solid too. Can’t complain about that decapitation; the most shocking, though, has to be the quick hit-by-a-bus scene. Beautifully done.

Also worth mentioning, the opening disaster (being an airplane crash) takes only a handful of minutes, somewhat unlike later films that would add a bit more detail in. The vision of the crash still looks great, and wonderfully frantic and horrifying, but I even noticed when watching it that it didn’t quite feel as involved as later opening disasters did.

One last note, I sort of like the different variations of “Rocky Mountain High” that pop up right before an unfortunate accident befalls someone. It’s a catchy song anyway, and the fact that Death apparently listens to John Denver is okay by me.

Final Destination has never been a movie I utterly loved, but I have always liked them trying something new, and by-and-large, and I think that it worked out well.

7.5/10

The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)

Directed by Peter Cornwell [Other horror films: Mercy (2014)]

When I first saw The Haunting in Connecticut, I got the sense I enjoyed it. I didn’t think it was great or anything, but I remember having a pretty okay time with it, and that surprised me, as I usually don’t enjoy Hollywood ghost movies. Well, now I wish I could go back to those more innocent times, as I really didn’t care for this at all the second time around.

First off, and if you know me, this may not come as a surprise, I have to mention how this movie claims to be “based on a true story.” It’s not. Throughout the whole history of the entire world, not a single ghost or supernatural event has ever been scientifically proven. To our current understanding, there are no ghosts, no demons, no supernatural occurrences (for if they occurred in nature, they’d be natural occurrences), and no God or gods.

Even more so, this particular story seems to have been entirely debunked. So for trying to pass this off as a true story to increase fear, this movie automatically lost three points. It pisses me off when movies do this (found footage are the worst offenders, as you can imagine), and this was no different.

Prove the existence of ghosts first, and then you can say these stories are based on true events. Until then, shove it.

What this movie has going for it is really quick flashes of Hollywood scares and a disjointed origin story that’s told in music-video style flashes. I think the origin is sort of interesting, at least as far as the necromancy aspect goes, but if that’s all a movie has going for it, and it’s not even told in a particularly enjoyable way, that may not mean much.

To be sure, Kyle Gallner (of the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street) did decently, and Virginia Madsen (Candyman) worked well with him to make plenty of emotional scenes. Elias Koteas was okay, though his character was too religious to much care for. Amanda Crew (Final Destination 3) never really got that much time to make any impact, but her one research scene was fine, and she was cute, so whateves.

Of course, the estimated budget of this movie is $10 million dollars, so the fact that some of the performances are decent shouldn’t come as a surprise, and more to the point, it doesn’t really elevate the movie much.

I liked aspects of the origin story, but aside from this, this felt like complete Hollywood clichéd drivel. I’m not sure where I derived my enjoyment from the first time I saw this, but after watching it with fresh eyes, it’s just a waste with very little going for it. I imagine some people out there would enjoy this one, but it’s just not my idea of a good time.

4.5/10

Sea Fever (2019)

Directed by Neasa Hardiman [Other horror films: N/A]

I forget when I first heard about Sea Fever, but from the beginning, I was intrigued. It was partially the poster, partially the title font, and of course, the plot sounded like it had potential. Well, the movie isn’t amazing, but I did find it quite decent, and personally, I found a mostly solid movie.

Never having heard of any of the actors or actresses here, I was impressed by just how quality some of them were, especially Hermione Corfield. She may be younger than me by a month and a half, but boy, what a stellar performance. I actually rather liked her anti-social character, and got a kick out of her being thrown in a situation where she had to interact with others, despite her utter disinterest in doing so.

Of course, most of the cast is strong – though I don’t know the names, the performances by individuals such as Jack Hickey, Dougray Scott, Connie Nielsen, Ardalan Esmaili, and Olwen Fouéré were all worth seeing. It’s also nice that we got a decent amount of personality from each of these characters, which isn’t always a given with movies featuring a smaller cast.

It is true that the story itself isn’t altogether that amazing, but I do think aspects here are there are well-done, such as Corfield’s character diving beneath the trawler and seeing quite a terrifying creature (one of only two full appearances, which is something else I appreciated – they didn’t overdo it), or the argument her character gets in with the others about quarantining themselves off.

As far as violence goes, there’s really only one scene that’s worth talking about, but I think it’s quite a great scene. Of course, any scene that has eyes bursting has to be quality, so I think I’ll leave it at that.

Oh, and during the ending credits, they played a totally thematically appropriate song titled “Shallows” by Daughter. I know Daughter only from a Sound Melody remix of the song “Medicine,” so I’m not really familiar with their untouched music, but this song was a fantastic way to close out the movie, and it’s somber and dark sound fit really well with the conclusion here.

For a movie that doesn’t possess a whole lot of originality, Sea Fever had a strong presence. Partially it’s from the fleshed out characters, and partially it’s due to really nice cinematography and a unique setting, and though it’s not a great movie, and maybe you can see the ending coming long before the movie ends, it was still a pretty fun ride, and I’d suggest giving it a chance if it sounds like it could be your type of thing.

7.5/10

Al filo del hacha (1988)

Directed by José Ramón Larraz [Other horror films: Whirlpool (1970), Deviation (1971), La muerte incierta (1973), Scream… and Die! (1973), Emma, puertas oscuras (1974), Symptoms (1974), Vampyres (1974), Estigma (1980), La momia nacional (1981), Los ritos sexuales del diablo (1982), Descanse en piezas (1987), Deadly Manor (1990)]

Most commonly known as Edge of the Axe, this Spanish slasher was an interesting movie to revisit. I generally thought it was okay, though I have to admit that I think the finale was a bit on the weak side.

For the most part, I find the story here somewhat strong. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing special about it – a mysterious bout of murders is plaguing a small town – but there’s a plethora of suspects and characters, and a decent mystery. Problematically, the conclusion doesn’t use these elements to the best of their ability, but at least the set-up was solid.

Barton Faulks was okay as a central character, and I actually felt his budding relationship with Christina Marie Lane’s character was sort of cute. Fred Holliday as the Sheriff took a little bit to grow on me (especially as he really seems like a dick in the first half of the film), but I ended up enjoying him during his appearances.

I also appreciated most of the potential suspects (not that the Sheriff wasn’t a potential suspect, or Faulks’ character, but these were more ‘appear a few times to arouse suspicion’ types) such as the priest, played by Elmer Modlin, or the random organist Jack Taylor. Joy Blackburn and her relationship with Page Mosely seemed just thrown in there, but both of them were fine. Patty Shepard (who probably has the most experience of the cast) was nice to see.

The kills were honestly just okay. The opening scene in a car-wash was probably the most memorable, but there’s a character later on who gets a few fingers cut off, which may have been one of the better spots of gore in the movie. That said, for being named Edge of the Axe, there’s not a whole lot of violent axing here. Most of the kills were competent, but not really anything that’d come across as too memorable.

Where the movie truly falters, though, would be in the finale. Throughout the film, we’ve been given plenty of different potential suspects who could be the murderer, and when we find out who’s behind the crimes, I have to admit that it just didn’t feel right. I sort of liked the idea of it – I mean, I’ve seen this movie before, but I forgot who the killer was, and I was 100% surprised by the identity – but the execution seemed a bit weak, and it was followed by a conclusion that feels somewhat cliché (at least nowadays; maybe back then, it was fresher).

Despite the weak conclusion, though, I did like a lot of this. It had quality atmosphere, and though the movie definitely takes some missteps, I dug the vibe. It’s not a movie that’s fantastic, nor is it really good, but I liked it well enough, so rating it around average strikes me as fair.

7/10

Die Hinrichtung (1976)

Directed by Denis Héroux [Other horror films: The Uncanny (1977)] & Géza von Radványi [Other horror films: N/A]

Known under such titles as Naked Massacre and Born for Hell (probably the best title for this one, if it were up to me), Die Hinrichtung is a gritty, raw experience. It’s not altogether exciting, but I do find the premise somewhat fascinating, and though the movie isn’t great, I do think there’s a little here to be interested in.

I first saw this film around ten years ago from a cheap print on the Mill Creek Entertainment’s Chilling Classics 50-movie pack. Honestly, while the print has issues, the audio quality is decent, and the movie is still certainly watchable (which is not something that can be said for all the movies in the same collection). I didn’t remember too much in way of specifics about the movie, which partially made this one a movie I was more interested in revisiting.

Following a disillusioned American who fought in Vietnam, and taking place during The Troubles in Belfast, there’s a lot of commentary on violence here. This American (played by Mathieu Carrière) has had a troubled life – a hard upbringing, a wife who left him, and some mental issues – and left one warzone for another. He doesn’t snap in a PTSD type of way – this isn’t Forced Entry (thank God). But he desperately wants to get home, and doesn’t have the money to do so. And what better way to get money than by trapping a house of nurses and torturing them?

Based partially off the Richard Speck murders, this movie has that gritty exploitation feel without really going out of the way to show too much explicit violence. The sexual violence, while definitely present, is toned down, and there’s not that much in the way of gore (and in fact, the bloodiest scene is a self-inflicted cut toward the finale of the film). It does have that gritty atmosphere, and of course a little nudity thrown in, but this movie isn’t really near as grueling as others from around the same time, such as I Spit on Your Grave, The Last House on the Left, or the aforementioned Forced Entry.

I don’t know Mathieu Carrière, but I thought he did a pretty fine job with his character. He’s occasionally charming, always desperate, and his performance is solid. None of the nurses stand out particularly well, but some, such as Carole Laure, Leonora Fani, and Christine Boisson all add a little oomph with their characters and traumatic predicaments.

The movie isn’t exactly quick-paced, but personally, I don’t think I ever really got bored. That said, I can certainly understand the somewhat lukewarm reception this has received (at the time of this writing, the movie possesses a 5.1/10 on IMDb with 696 votes). It’s probably worth seeing if you’re a fan of gritty 70’s exploitations, even if this is a bit tame, but for a casual horror fan, there may not be a lot here to really interest you. It’s worth mentioning that the version I saw was the same Mill Creek copy, though, so the uncut version likely has more to it.

As for me, I can say that I found the setting (Belfast) and the killer’s history interesting. I don’t think that made this a great movie, but I do think it felt substantially different from a more, shall we say, base exploitation flick, and though I do find the film below average (with the conclusion being perhaps one of my favorite portions), I definitely think I’d find it in me to watch again.

6.5/10

The Last House on the Left (1972)

Directed by Wes Craven [Other horror films: The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Stranger in Our House (1978), Deadly Blessing (1981), Swamp Thing (1982), Invitation to Hell (1984), The Hills Have Eyes Part II (1984), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Chiller (1985), Deadly Friend (1986), The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), Shocker (1989), The People Under the Stairs (1991), New Nightmare (1994), Vampire in Brooklyn (1995), Scream (1996), Scream 2 (1997), Scream 3 (2000), Cursed (2005), My Soul to Take (2010), Scream 4 (2011)]

No doubt a gritty and occasionally disturbing debut from Wes Craven, The Last House on the Left isn’t necessarily an easy movie to like, what with the occasional inappropriate comedic influences throughout, for instance, but I think that I tend to enjoy this more than I used to.

For most of the film, it’s not that violent. Though the rape and murder of the two young women is certainly disturbing, this isn’t I Spit on Your Grave, and while watching the two of them get dehumanized by Krug and his compatriots isn’t a walk in the park, it’s not near as bad as some later movies might be. Toward the end, we do get some increased violence, but it’s generally the type we can root for, which gives it a far more palatable taste.

The music throughout the movie sometimes feels a bit out of place, and part of that is due to the comedic influences with the two police officers trying to get to a soon-to-be crime scene, but most of the music works pretty well. The recurring “The Road Leads to Nowhere” is a perfect song for the movie, and during a death scene, we’re treated with “Now You’re All Alone,” a somewhat haunting melody (especially given the placement). David Hess (Krug) performed the music here, which shows a soft side to a rather brutish individual.

For the story, it’s pretty simple, but I do find it effective (and, on a side-note, a bit more relatable to the modern audience than 1960’s The Virgin Spring), and not only that, but I find it generally more enjoyable than what we might see from either I Spit on Your Grave or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Sure, watching Sandra Peabody’s and Lucy Grantham’s characters’ grueling torture isn’t fun, but knowing where it leads does take a small amount of the punch out.

Personally, I love the finale. In some ways, the reaction of the parents (Richard Towers and Cynthia Carr) might seem a bit sudden, but I think it makes for a quality final 15 minutes. Really, the two of them didn’t have a whole lot to do before then, so I think going the direction they did makes the film a bit more special.

Of course, I’d be amiss without mentioning what a quality scumbag David Hess plays. He’s popped up in later films, from House on the Edge of the Park to Body Count, but it’s this role that I think really shows his talents. This is the only role I know of Fred J. Lincoln, but I also found him somewhat fascinating. Neither Jeramie Rain (Sadie) nor Marc Sheffler (Junior) amazed me, but I did think Junior’s regret over the incident was close to touching.

The Last House on the Left isn’t what I’d call an amazing film, but I do think it’s a solid slice of exploitation, and I generally find that I enjoy it a smidge more than Texas Chain Saw Massacre (which may place me in the minority, but I’m used to it). It’s rough, it’s gritty, and it’s amateurish in some ways, especially in regards to that misplaced comedy, but it’s still worth seeing if 70’s horror is your thing.

7.5/10

Cat’s Eye (1985)

Directed by Lewis Teague [Other horror films: Alligator (1980), Cujo (1983), The Triangle (2001)]

This is either the second or third time I’ve seen this King-based anthology, and I’m not any more fond of it now than I was the first time I saw it. Cat’s Eye isn’t without promise, and I appreciate they decided to adapt some of King’s lesser known stories, but the movie is too comedic for me to really fully care for.

The first two stories here (all connected, as the title implies, by being witnessed by a cat) are based off short stories written by Stephen King, “Quitters, Inc.” and “The Ledge,” both published in King’s first collection of stories, Night Shift (a copy of which I’ve owned for years, and as such, it’s quite threadbare, really on it’s last legs). If you’ve read early Stephen King, you know that his writing style, especially in his short stories, can come across as clinical, very matter-of-fact. Not dry, but almost reminiscence of 70’s horror – bleak and without much in the way of hope.

Cat’s Eye throws that out the window and instead brings a lot of comedic influences into both of these stories. For ‘Quitters, Inc.,” we get an utterly ridiculous hallucination sequence with cigarettes (and quality singing from Alan King’s character), and for “The Ledge,” Kenneth McMillan’s Cressner is a lot goofier, almost a spoof of a classic mob boss.

It’s also worth mentioning that the conclusion of “The Ledge” was far better in the short story than it was in this adaptation, and that’s even discounting the dodgy special effects.

My disappointment with how they choose to adapt these stories notwithstanding, I think most of the main cast was okay. Not great – no one here really stands out exceptionally well, aside from maybe, and I say maybe, Alan King – but passable. James Woods (Videodrome) was a bit dicey, but likely did the best with the role he had. Robert Hays felt a bit uninspired as the lead in “The Ledge,” and Kenneth McMillan had potential. I was sort of surprised to see a young James Rebhorn (The Game and Independence Day), but his character didn’t really do anything, so it doesn’t really warrant this mention.

The third story, about a girl and her troubles with one trolly boi, wasn’t based off a King short story. As far as the special effects went, especially concerning the troll, it was probably the best of the three, but I also felt that it really went on too long. Candy Clark was pretty decent as a somewhat hateable mother, and Drew Barrymore (previously in Firestarter) was okay, but I didn’t care for the story.

Honestly, that sums this up. We get three stories here spanning an hour and a half, and while I like the source material for the first two, I just didn’t enjoy how they brought them to the silver screen. Also, while some might find such references cute, the opening which winked at both Cujo and Christine made me groan. It just felt forced, similar to the reference of Pinhead in Bride of Chucky.

Cat’s Eye has it’s place, and the movie certainly has it’s fans, but I can’t say I’ve ever been one, and I doubt the style they go for here will ever really work for me.

5/10

Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952)

Directed by William Beaudine [Other horror films: Four Shall Die (1940), Lucky Ghost (1942), The Living Ghost (1942), The Ape Man (1943), Ghosts on the Loose (1943), Voodoo Man (1944), Crazy Knights (1944), The Face of Marble (1946), Spook Busters (1946), The Feathered Serpent (1948), Billy the Kid Versus Dracula (1966), Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (1966)]

With a title like this, one could be excused for thinking that the film sounds bad. Of course, given that the movie is legit terrible, that is an assumption that is well-founded.

I can live with horror comedies from the bygone eras. Movies like One Body Too Many and You’ll Find Out both had their strong points, and while this one came out later, I was hoping that maybe something here would work to it’s benefit.

Which didn’t really happen whatsoever.

I’ll give credit to both Duke Mitchell and Charlita, who have a decent chemistry together, and even mild props to Bela Lugosi. Lugosi wasn’t really good in this movie, but with the story they had to work with, he probably did the best with the material that he’d have been able to. Muriel Landers was an okay character, but with as often as she was being fat-shamed (which must be the height of comedy in 1952), it’s not easy for her to really stand out positively.

The fly in the ointment (and to be fair, the whole of the movie may be a fly, but that’s neither here nor there) is Sammy Petrillo. I don’t know Petrillo (apparently he was a stand-up comedian in the vein of Jerry Lewis), and I’m sure he was a good guy, but here, he has to be one of the most obnoxious creatures in existence. From his annoying laugh to shrill voice, not to mention pretty unimpressive lines to work with, Petrillo really tested my patience, and I think that was a test that I failed, though you may be hard-pressed to find many with a passing grade.

As one can imagine, the story here wasn’t really that interesting. Lugosi played a scientist doing experiments on evolution (so basically a rehash of his Murders in the Rue Morgue role), and he eventually turns one of the characters here into a gorilla, who then begins to sing. I was already deeply disinterested when this scene came around, so when the gorilla began singing one of the two uninspired songs in the movie, I was pretty much done.

I don’t dispute that someone somewhere out there could enjoy this for some reason. Maybe the atrocious conclusion felt innovative to them, or maybe they liked the hammy nature of the terrible humor. If someone got more out of this than me, that’s great. For me, I just couldn’t get into this at all, nor did I find most of this particularly good in any way.

2.5/10