Multiple Maniacs (1970)

Directed by John Waters [Other horror films: Pink Flamingos (1972), Female Trouble (1974)]

Before going into this one, I knew that I was almost certainly going to dislike it, and I did. This really isn’t my type of movie at all, and while it’s not entirely void of entertaining portions, Multiple Maniacs was just torturous for me to sit through.

Primarily a gritty, almost counterculture crime/black comedy, with some horror thrown in toward the finale, this movie had a vibe I just couldn’t dig. There were certainly some amusing lines, and it was funny listening to the terrible dialogue at times, but more often than that, I was bored.

Take this, for instance: after the main character, Divine, is raped, there’s a 15-minute sequence of her going to a church, meeting some random lesbian, becoming seduced by said lesbian in the church, all while Divine’s rambling about religious crap and the other woman is giving a long speech over the Stations of the Cross (which, if you don’t know, and I didn’t, it’s a sort of spiritual pilgrimage following the path of Jesus’ supposed moments prior to the ending of his life).

Hearing about this via some random lesbian as she’s anally pleasuring an overweight drag queen with rosary beads wasn’t quite the spiritual experience for me, though.

Certainly this type of tasteless humor has it’s place, and I can imagine that, if I had been a practicing Catholic, that scene would have mortified me, but as I’m not, I was just bored, and found the whole 15 minutes tedious.

Divine was an interesting character. Despicable, unlikable, and pretty much all-around awful, it was close-to-impossible to care about her, even when she’s getting attacked by a giant lobster. David Lochary was sometimes amusing, but terrible. Mink Stole and her extreme unction’s just annoyed the hell out of me. Cookie Mueller was also awful, but at least had respectable politics. The worst of the bunch was probably Mary Vivian Pearce, who played Lochary’s girlfriend and she too, like Stole, just got on my nerves.

I don’t really think I’ve ever seen a film as intentionally tasteless as this one, which isn’t a bad thing, but when that’s coupled with amateur camera-work (I’m guessing that a tripod was either outside of their budget or outside of their intended “artistic style”) and a plodding story that randomly throws in a giant lobster, followed by ten minutes of the worst conclusion I’ve ever seen, it’s not a good time.

“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” made an appearance at one point, which I will admit to finding amusing, especially given the context, and the film ends with “America, the Beautiful” in an almost parodic way, which I certainly can respect, but aside from that, most of the music and other dialogue is either so mind-numbingly repetitive or just off that two okay moments can’t off-set it.

I’m not sure the intended demographic for this movie, but I do know that I’m not it. I taped this off TCM because, at the time, I was recording any and all horror movies TCM played that I’ve not yet seen and reviewed, and so, like anything else, despite knowing I’d likely dislike this, I recorded it.

And of course, I hated it. It has a high rating on IMDb (currently a 6.7/10 at the time of this writing) and a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes (not a site I ever really pay attention to, but this score just blew my mind). If you’re into John Waters or shock cinema, it may be worth a look, but this is a mug of steaming coffee, to be clear, and not my cup of tea.

2/10

Martin (1976)

Directed by George A. Romero [Other horror films: Night of the Living Dead (1968), Hungry Wives (1972), The Crazies (1973), The Amusement Park (1975), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Creepshow (1982), Day of the Dead (1985), Monkey Shines (1988), Due occhi diabolici (1990, segment ‘The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar’), The Dark Half (1993), Bruiser (2000), Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007), Survival of the Dead (2009)]

Easily one of George A. Romero’s most well-known films I’ve not seen until now, I felt somewhat mixed about Martin come the credits. On one hand, it’s a pretty engaging look into potential mental illness with an interesting backdrop and occasionally solid scenes, but on the other, it’s drenched in the almost hopeless, gritty aura that 70’s films are so good at as to almost take any fun out of the experience.

Certainly I think the movie does some things really well. The attacks Martin perpetuates against multiple individuals throughout are all decent, the opening train attack being wonderfully claustrophobic, the later murders being good also. There was just enough gore to get the point across, and even more note-worthy would be the setting, a rather poor-looking city in bad condition (much of this was filmed in Braddock, Pennsylvania, which has suffered greatly since the steel industry disappeared in the 1970’s). Though never the focal point, I think the decaying city added something a little special to the film.

John Amplas (who played Martin) did a fantastic job with his role. He was often awkward, but given what his character’s gone through, that can be expected. Aside from Amplas, it’s hard to really pin-point other great performances – I think that Lincoln Maazel had potential, but I don’t really feel like we get a good enough grasp on him. The same is true for both Christine Forrest and Tom Savini (making this Savini’s earliest work with Romero).

To be sure, the focus of the film is Martin, so the fact that no one else really stands out doesn’t really hurt the film. I did enjoy Martin at least trying to experience a normal relationship with Elyane Nadeau’s character, and that little story had a pretty sudden and somewhat surprising conclusion, which is also true for the movie itself. It’s not as though it comes out of nowhere, but the build-up wasn’t really all that (which, it can fairly be said, makes the ending all the more sudden).

From my point-of-view, I think it’s fair to say that Martin dealt with a lot of mental illnesses, which wasn’t at all helped by the religious mania that seemed to surround him much of his life. Certainly Martin was sympathetic, and those segments which he’s speaking to a radio host on a call-in show really give him additional depth that I found welcomed. Being a 70’s film, there’s no hope for cooler and saner heads to prevail, though, and pretty much from the beginning, everyone in this film was screwed.

Martin makes for a pretty interesting movie, some of the more memorable scenes (such as the creepy foggy playground sequence with Maazel or Nadeau’s final on-screen appearance) coming across as really striking, but at the same time, I can’t really say I had an enjoyable time with this (in a somewhat similar way that I experience The Texas Chain Saw Massacre).

I don’t doubt that, for the smaller budget they had, Romero did a pretty good job with a story that goes beyond what the average vampire movie might attempt, and I think both the setting and aura goes to help with that, but it’s not a movie I wholly loved. I’d recommend it still, but for my personal take, I think there are plenty of other 70’s films I’d rather watch.

6.5/10

When a Stranger Calls (1979)

Directed by Fred Walton [Other horror films: April Fool’s Day (1986), I Saw What You Did (1988), Trapped (1989), Homewrecker (1992), When a Stranger Calls Back (1993)]

This film is one of those classics that I think, especially in recent times, has been re-evaluated a bit. Not that When a Stranger Calls is a poor film, but that tonal shift it takes twenty minutes in can come across as complete 180, and I’m not sure if the film ever 100% recovers from that.

I do think the finale, let’s say the final 15 minutes, are pretty solid, and while not quite as suspenseful as the opening, still enjoyable in it’s own right (and not to mention, the ending possesses an extraordinarily effective scare, so kudos there). Of course, everyone pretty much knows how fantastic the beginning is, and it really sets the film up nicely with strong suspense and quality atmosphere.

When the film switches gears, though, and falls into an almost procedural crime-drama, following a private investigator’s (Charles Durning) attempts to find the escaped killer of the opening (Tony Beckley, in his final role before his death the following year). These sections aren’t without merit, but it doesn’t give much in the way of horror that you might expect following the stellar opening.

Durning is definitely solid in his role, though, and is an actor I’ve enjoyed in the past, having been in films such as Dark Night of the Scarecrow and Sisters (Sisters isn’t a movie I really care that much for, but I did find his performance in that film certainly a positive aspect). Here, you can really get the sense that his character wants revenge, and has some mildly amusing conversations with Ron O’Neil’s character about the nature of this justice.

Though only focused on in the opening and finale, Carol Kane gave a great performance, and I sort of wonder how she’d do if given more screen-time than she had. The aforementioned Beckley was pretty solid, though I do wish we learned a little bit more about why he is the way he is, but who’s to say the unknown causes aren’t more terrifying?

I think the film drags a bit once it takes a more detective/crime route, which I think is the moderately common consensus. It doesn’t devastatingly harm the film, but it is very noticeable, so while I’d definitely recommend checking out When a Stranger Calls, if you leave thinking the opening and finale far outshine the middle of the film, I wouldn’t be deeply shocked.

6.5/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. If you’re curious as to what Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I think about When a Stranger Calls, listen below.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

Directed by Piers Haggard [Other horror films: Venom (1981)]

While this British film certainly possesses some elements that are, on the whole, enjoyable, after seeing it twice, I have to admit that it feels somewhat aimless in it’s goal, and though I do enjoy good portions of this, overall, I’m not sure it’s as strong as it could have been.

The rather small setting – a little hamlet in jolly Olde England – works well with this story, and the production is decent enough to give everything a viable enough feeling of that time period. That doesn’t help the movie feel any more focused, but it does ring true, and that counts for a lot given this is a period piece.

I think much of the meandering tone can be best explained by the fact that originally, the movie was supposed to be three separate stories, an idea that was dropped to just a singular story, but I get the sense that, while things are still connected, they didn’t entirely lose that original mindset. And in a way, this is sort of unique, but even so, it doesn’t always make for the most enjoyable viewing experience.

Patrick Wymark (The Skull and The Psychopath) takes a little to grow on me, but he eventually does, especially when he comes back toward the finale. Linda Hayden (of Taste the Blood of Dracula and Madhouse) was fun to see anytime she was on-screen. Not too many others stood out, though, aside from perhaps Simon Williams (of Remembrance of the Daleks, perhaps on of Sylvester McCoy’s most memorable stories during his stint as the Doctor) and James Hayter.

The special effects, when they pop up, are decent. You get some quality claws, a dismembered hand, and a few other surprises, but despite the title of the film, it’s not as though there’s a lot of gore to be had here. Think any average Hammer movie, and that’s pretty much what you’re in for (though to be clear, this is from Tigon).

The Blood on Satan’s Claw isn’t a bad movie, and those in the horror community know that it’s generally well-respected. It’s a movie I’ve seen twice now, though, and as much as I wish I could like it more, elements just fall flat for me, and the quasi-disjointed nature of the story irks me. It’s not bad for a watch every five years, maybe, but it’s far from a preferred 70’s film of mine.

6/10

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1972)

Directed by Curtis Harrington [Other horror films: Night Tide (1961), Queen of Blood (1966), How Awful About Allan (1970), What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971), The Killing Kind (1973), The Cat Creature (1973), Killer Bees (1974), The Dead Don’t Die (1975), Ruby (1977), Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978), Usher (2000)]

I didn’t know a lot about this before I went into it, so it mostly came as a nice little surprise. Though it’s more subtle in it’s approach of horror, I thought the film had a decent amount to offer, so even though it’s not a classic, per se, it likely won’t be an easy movie to forget.

The plot here was so original, which helped a lot. Following a pair of orphans (brother and sister) as they encounter a mentally-unstable woman who thinks the girl is a reincarnation of her deceased daughter, plus it’s British? This movie was original and a decent amount of fun despite the somewhat dry feel.

For younger individuals, Mark Lester and Chloe Franks (The House That Dripped Blood and Tales from the Crypt) did a great job. Franks was probably more forgettable, but Lester got more screen-time anyways (plus he was marginally older), so that just makes sense. Shelley Winters (Tentacles, The Initiation of Sarah, The Devil’s Daughter, A Patch of Blue – guess which one doesn’t fit in?) was also superb in her role, and you felt sympathetic for her despite the fact she was bat-shit insane. Michael Gothard (Lifeforce) played a dick, and I loved it, and Ralph Richardson popped up again (I saw him earlier the very day I watched this one in The Ghoul from 1933), which was fun.

It’s a pretty tense story, and though you sort of know where it’s going to go, there’s still a level of uncertainty. Heck, I expected the kids to get out of it using a far different method from what actually happened, which goes to show that, to some extent, Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? can keep you guessing.

There’s also the occasional passages from Hansel and Gretel that Lester’s character reads during some voice-overs which really helps set the tone and give us some insight as to how, as a young kid, he sees this situation (not that Winters’ is simply insane, but also a witch). It’s a dark film in some ways, as you would expect a movie where kids are held against their will to be, but it’s not near as bleak as it could have been, which is probably a positive (I was even smiling at the end, happy with the conclusion).

I doubt this movie is going to make a big impact on many people, but it was a pleasant viewing, and even occasionally held a nice Christmas charm to it.

7.5/10

From Beyond the Grave (1974)

Directed by Kevin Connor [Other horror films: Motel Hell (1980), The House Where Evil Dwells (1982), Frankenstein (2004)]

I’ve not seen nearly all of the Amicus anthology horror films yet, but this being the final one they released, I was expecting something more. Unfortunately, this felt like leftover stories from previous films, and I hate to say that almost nothing here was up to the standards that I really expected.

None of the stories here were on par with the best stories from, say, Tales from the Crypt or Vault of Horror, or even The House That Dripped Blood (which was a bit more average than the first two listed). I guess that, if I had to pick a favorite story, I might go ‘An Act of Kindess,’ but even that one didn’t really hit the spot.

Of the five stories, that’s a common complaint. I don’t think any of them are actually bad, but all of them feel like they’re missing something, which is unfortunate, given that, like every Amicus anthology I’ve seen, this one possesses a decent cast.

Peter Cushing (who is a favorite of mine, with the various horror films he’s been in) was solid in his role, and I liked his corny finish, as he’s speaking to the audience. David Warner (The Omen and Nightwing) was fine, but his character didn’t really have much depth, and the story he was featured in (‘The Gate Crasher’) was the definition of average. And as for Donald Pleasance, I loved seeing him here, but I didn’t really get what his character was supposed to be, which isn’t on him, but just the nature of his story ‘An Act of Kindness.’

Only a few others really stand out, such as Ian Carmichael, Margaret Leighton (who was by far the funniest performance in the film) and Ian Banner, which isn’t a problem, as I doubt that more solid performances would have really helped when the stories were all varying degrees of lack-luster.

From Beyond the Grave, being Amicus’ final anthology horror outing, was a disappointment, and more of a disappointment than I’d have really believed possible from Amicus. I wasn’t a fan of Torture Garden, but that was early on for them, and it seemed that by Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror that they found a good balance with their stories. This one didn’t cut it, though.

5.5/10

Sugar Hill (1974)

Directed by Paul Maslansky [Other horror films: N/A]

I’ve known about this movie for some time now, but it never sounded like something I’d really care to see (especially having such a limited experience with blaxploitation). After seeing it, though, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. By no means an amazing movie, Sugar Hill is a decent amount of fun.

Seeing a wronged woman get revenge is a good set-up. It’s quick, too, and it doesn’t take long for her to approach an old voodoo priestess and gain the power of Baron Samedi (who was one of the best characters in all of cinema, let’s be honest). After that, she uses her army of zombies to strike against those who killed the man she loved, and it’s a fun ride.

Marki Bey (who was really never in that much) did a great job playing the titular character, and you can definitely feel sympathy for her character and support her revenge. Don Pedro Colley did great as the hammy Baron Samedi – he spent a good portion of his screen-time laughing evilly at the revenge that Sugar Hill was getting. He seemed quite supportive of her, and the two of them made a quality pair.

Robert Quarry (Count Yorga, Vampire and Madhouse being two of his more well-known roles) and Betty Anne Rees made for some solid antagonists. I sort of felt bad for Rees’ character at the end, but at the same time, I think of the racist things she said throughout the film, and just shrug it off. I expected a little more from Richard Lawson’s character, but he was somewhat limited as far as the plot went, so that’s okay.

As far as the zombie design went, it was moderately simple, but I was happy with it. I could have done without the bulging eyes, but I did like how some of their faces were covered with webs – that lent them a creepier look. They were also used to good effect, and reminiscent of what you might see from the voodoo zombie horror films of the genre’s yesteryears (such as White Zombie).

It’s somewhat true that Sugar Hill felt a little shallow, but it was still a pretty fun time, knew what it was going for, and gave us the hammy and delightful performance from Colley, which I just loved. Certainly a surprise, I won’t regret watching Sugar Hill.

7.5/10

Coma (1978)

Directed by Michael Crichton [Other horror films: N/A]

For as long as I’ve known about this film, IMDb has labeled it as a ‘horror’ film (other genres are drama and mystery); of course, today, that label is now missing. It’s a mystery and drama, no doubt, but while there are horror elements, going as far as to call the whole of the film horror is a bit of a stretch, even for someone with as liberal a definition of horror as I do.

I’ll count it though – there’s a sequence, decently suspenseful, too, where a killer is chasing someone (though to be fair, it’s more an assassination attempt than a slasher, but hey, someone’s getting killed, so that counts?), but to be fair, this is much more of a medical-focused mystery dealing with a wide-ranging conspiracy. If people want to label this horror, who am I to complain?

And since it is considered horror by some, it becomes one of the two horror films with Michael Douglas (the other being an early 1970’s TV movie titled When Michael Calls). A few years before this, he was in the cop crime show The Streets of San Francisco, and this may be one of his first bigger films, so that’s somewhat fun. His character is mixed – it’s the typical “I don’t believe in any conspiracy despite the proof, you’re paranoid” type, but his character grows later on.

The main character, though, is played by Geneviève Bujold (would reminded me amazingly of Famke Janssen throughout the film), and she did a great job playing a woman simply trying to get at the truth despite the obstacles in front of her. Rip Torn (A Stranger Is Watching and Dolly Dearest) and Richard Widmark (Blackout and To the Devil a Daughter) were both decent playing the old-fashioned, somewhat chauvinistic doctors of the past.

There are some solid scenes in this film, and also some quite striking scenes (such as the first time we set eyes upon the seemingly-empty Jefferson Institute), but I suspect a lot of people might not find quite the horror they were hoping for. There were some small drops here and there, which is why I personally can see it as such, but if someone saw purely a conspiracy movie, I couldn’t blame them.

Whether or not this is horror doesn’t matter, though, as the movie’s still good. It has plenty of thrilling scenes (when Bujold is climbing the ladder, for instance, or when Douglas is trying to save someone’s life at the end), and it’s a movie that’s recommended. And if it sweetens the deal any, it’s based off a novel written by Robin Cook, and the film’s directed by Michael Crichton.

7.5/10

Trog (1970)

Directed by Freddie Francis [Other horror films: The Brain (1962), The Day of the Triffids (1963), Paranoiac (1963), Nightmare (1964), The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), The Skull (1965), The Psychopath (1966), The Deadly Bees (1966), They Came from Beyond Space (1967), Torture Garden (1967), Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly (1970), Gebissen wird nur nachts – das Happening der Vampire (1971), Tales from the Crypt (1972), The Creeping Flesh (1973), Son of Dracula (1973), Tales That Witness Madness (1973), Craze (1974), Legend of the Werewolf (1975), The Ghoul (1975), The Doctor and the Devils (1985), Dark Tower (1989)]

A frustrating movie that occasionally has the sense of potential, Trog is, more than anything, a somewhat dry drama with a few horror portions sprinkled in (mainly at the beginning and the end), but it’s not enough to keep my interest, especially since I have to suffer through the idiocy of anti-scientific sentiments from multiple characters (one of them a scientist himself, which is just insulting).

The characters were one of the more frustrating things about the film, to be sure. I’m not saying that the story didn’t have problems, because it certainly did (once the troglodyte got to the research center, I certainly felt the movie went into a bit of a lull despite some moderately interesting looks at how scientists would react at such a discovery), but many of the characters (pretty much everyone who wasn’t either a scientist or Jack May) were entirely against the concept of keeping the discovered troglodyte for research, which really grinded my gears.

Of course, the worst of these characters was played by Michael Gough (who was in plenty of horror films in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, from The Skull and Curse of the Crimson Alter to The Legend of Hell House and Satan’s Slave), who did a good job at playing a detestable, anti-scientific individual. That guy was a bigger danger than 80 troglodytes ever could have been, and almost every death and ounce of destruction caused by the troglodyte could be traced back to his character’s idiocy.

And what’s worse is that, most of the community, and the police, seem to blame the scientists more, specifically Joan Crawford’s character. Crawford (who was in the fantastic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? nearly ten years previously) was great here, playing a scientist who was actually interested in doing all she could to both benefit the Trog (as I’ll call it from now on) and the scientific community. She had sound reasons for everything she was doing, and even instilled that ethic into her daughter, played by Kim Braden. She was a great character, and it’s just a shame that people blamed her for the troubles caused almost exclusively by the anti-science bigots in the film.

To be clear, the story here, even without the characters, wasn’t great. I think the opening was pretty solid (three guys running amok of the Trog while cave-diving – it had a solid, claustrophobic feel to it), and the Trog’s rampage at the end was okay (it would have been better if it was actually a wild animal as opposed to a creature that just felt threatened), but most of the film follows Crawford’s character as she tries to ramp up support for keeping the Trog alive and try to train the Trog to do simple tasks (learning how to use toys, catch balls, understand colors, that type of thing).

The design for the troglodyte was somewhat laughable, and I think that, along with it’s admittedly dry plot, is a lot of the reason this has such a poor reputation. There’s also that ridiculous four-minute flashback that the troglodyte has, which uses claymation, I believe, and was overly tedious.

I didn’t really think that Trog would be a movie I’d end up liking, and it wasn’t. I wish there was more rampage here and less science, and more likable characters than just Crawford and Braden, but for the most part, this is a dry British film that, while the color looks nice, doesn’t have near enough to really hold interest for a long period of time.

4.5/10

It’s Alive (1974)

Directed by Larry Cohen [Other horror films: God Told Me To (1976), It Lives Again (1978), Full Moon High (1981), Q (1982), Special Effects (1984), The Stuff (1985), It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987), A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987), Wicked Stepmother (1989), The Ambulance (1990)]

It’s Alive suffers from one of the most common problems that haunts 70’s movies, being that it’s dry. It doesn’t help that, like some of Cohen’s other movies (The Stuff and God Told Me To) it has a wider scope, so we’re dealing with more than just the husband and wife of a deadly and murderous mutated child. Because of that, a lot of the movie seems to drag, and doesn’t seem able to ever pull itself out of that.

I certainly enjoy aspects of the film fine, which is the same that I can say for most movies from the 1970’s – I like the vibes they had, and it always interests me to see how far we’ve come in terms of technology. During a scene, the main guy reaches into a refrigerator, and then once he closes the door, there’s what looks like another refrigerator right next to it (spoilers: it’s a freezer). That’s a small thing, and of no consequence whatsoever to the movie, but I like little things like that.

What I didn’t care for was much of It’s Alive, though. It could have ended around an hour and 12 minutes, and I think that would have been welcomed, but it keeps going for another twenty minutes, and I just don’t know why. It’s not like there’s that much here that’s overly interesting anyway, and like I said, it just felt like it was dragging for most of the film.

Never having seen this, I was sort of expecting something like I Don’t Want to Be Born (1975), but you know, as bad a rep as that film has, I thought it was both a lot more fun and a lot more memorable than this one. Here, you have no performances at all that stand out, almost no scenes that stand out, and just an overall lack of interesting content. Maybe I’m missing something, but for the time being, this one just failed hard.

5/10