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

Magic (1978)

Directed by Richard Attenborough [Other horror films: N/A]

Certainly a well-known film, and for good reason, Magic is a fantastic psychological horror film with some solid actors, a good story, and great tense scenes.

Obviously, Anthony Hopkins here is just amazing. When it comes to high-caliber actors, he’s not really at the top of my list (though I’ve loved him in plenty of movies, from the action-adventure The Edge to the court-based thriller Fracture), but he does fantastic here, and his tense character is both uncomfortable to watch yet almost impossible to look away from. Burgess Meredith (here two years following a small appearance in Burnt Offerings) is great too, in his chummy agent way.

The scene the two share in which Meredith’s character confronts Hopkins’ about his mental problems is pretty fantastic from beginning to end, and within possesses one of the tensest scenes in the film, where Meredith challenges Hopkins’ to shut up the dummy, Fats, for five minutes. We pretty much know he’s going to break at some point, but even so, it’s a great scene, and Meredith looks like his heart breaks when he sees just how far gone Hopkins is.

Ann-Margret is good here too, of course, and I’ll even give some kudos to Ed Lauter, but really, Burgess Meredith and especially Anthony Hopkins steal the show.

Because the film is based more around the mental decline of a character than anything else, there’s not a whole lot of gore here, but the few murders we get are all decently solid (though I don’t think any of them are really all that memorable, as little as that really means). Certainly the highlight of the film works out great, and even the conclusion is oddly emotional given the situation.

I don’t think that Magic will ever top my list of the 1970’s, because there were so many fantastic and enjoyable films from the decade, but this is definitely a film that’s worth seeing, especially if you want a little something different in your horror, and more so, if you’re a fan of Hopkins.

8/10

This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I find the magic in Magic, brahs.

Rabid (1977)

Directed by David Cronenberg [Other horror films: Shivers (1975), The Brood (1979), Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), The Dead Zone (1983), The Fly (1986), Dead Ringers (1988), Naked Lunch (1991), eXistenZ (1999), Crimes of the Future (2022)]

Given this was a David Cronenberg film, I went in with mild apprehension. I’ve not seen a ton of his films, but out of the ones I have seen (Videodrome, The Brood, The Fly, and Shivers), I’ve only really liked Shivers. Rabid isn’t quite as enjoyable as Shivers is, but I did find it a pretty satisfying and almost time-relevant film.

It took a little while to get going, and at first I thought that most of the mayhem would be centered around the plastic surgery clinic in a localized fashion, but as the movie went on, the battleground against a mysterious virus became the whole of the city of Montreal, which I thought led to some pretty tense scenes. Just seeing multiple scenes of a city under martial law in order to combat the growing virus was great, and gave a great sense of urgency, and it was all so natural in the film.

Perhaps one of my favorite scenes is earlier on, though, right after one of the characters goes crazy at the plastic surgery clinic, and police are investigating the crime. There’s something about it that seems real, organic, with a lot of moving people and some characters walking in and out without even being stopped by police, getting separated and seeing the extent of the craziness.

I have to admit that the two main performances, those of Frank Moore and Marilyn Chambers, left something to be desired. Certainly toward the end, Chambers had some good moments, but neither of the two really did that much for me. Joe Silver (who was also in Shivers, but I forget to what extent) played a fantastically nice guy, and we got our eye candy with Susan Roman (most people would think that Chambers, who has a handful of nude scenes was more attractive, but Roman and the glasses she wears does something to me). No one else in the cast stands out one way or the other.

Like I said, Rabid started out a bit slow to begin with, and it does deal with body horror which is a sub-genre I’ve never much cared for, but during the second half of the film, the larger focus seems to be on the pandemic spreading across Montreal, and the horrors it brings (armed guards standing around the mall, innumerable garbage trucks to pick up dead bodies, people forced to wear Ids identifying them as getting a preventative vaccine), and it just hits harder given that I’m writing this in October of 2020, with COVID still very much a concern to most people.

This movie isn’t at all perfect, but for a Cronernberg movie, I enjoyed it far more than I’d have expected, and it’s definitely worth checking out if you’ve not already.

7.5/10

The Toolbox Murders (1978)

Directed by Dennis Donnelly [Other horror films: N/A]

Certainly a movie that’s steeped in the 1970’s, The Toolbox Murders has a pretty fun idea and I think it does an okay job with it, but it’s possibly not the type of movie that people might be expecting.

At first, much of the film follows a standard slasher route, what with a  killer dispatching multiple women in bloody ways. The killer’s wearing a ski mask, and it almost seems a mystery as to who he is. But The Toolbox Murders isn’t that type of movie, and before long, we find out who the killer is and why they do the killing, with the rest of the film being a brother investigating the disappearance of his sister.

That might not sound like a great tonal shift, but honestly, I think it works out fine. We got some pretty solid kills in the first thirty minutes or so, so when it switched over to a girl being held captive by the killer, it felt natural enough. The killer was certainly pretty well-acted, and his religious mania was nicely laid out (in fact, he has a five minute dialogue – just him rambling on – which really shows where his mind’s at).

Not all of the acting is that great, though. I thought that Nicolas Beauvy and Wesley Eure were reasonable, and Eure added something a bit unique toward the end of the film, but neither were going to win awards over this. Cameron Mitchell (who starred in many horror films, such as Blood and Black Lace, Haunts, and The Demon) was pretty solid throughout, of course, but playing the abducted woman, Pamelyn Ferdin didn’t really feel alive until the finale.

The finale itself was interesting, though, with a few story shifts added in. I wouldn’t call any of them terribly shocking, but it did give the movie a bit of a jolt following twenty or so minutes of somewhat dry drama. Certainly, being this is a 70’s film, everything here is played straight, even the sillier stuff in the end that maybe shouldn’t haven been, but you have to appreciate the decade for sticking to it’s guns.

One notable thing I really liked here was the music, much of it of the country vein, but still pretty good. “Pretty Lady”, a duet sung by George Deaton and an unidentified woman, worked beautifully during a scene in which a woman was about to be killed off. It lent the film something special, especially given how cheap much of the movie feels anyway.

I know that some people out there find The Toolbox Murders a classic, and though I wouldn’t go that far, I do think it’s a pretty good movie, and it stands up about as well as it did the first time I saw it years back. Some quality gore, an interesting conclusion (and in fact, that lengthy, final shot of someone walking was actually quite moving in a way, believe it or not), nice music – I’m definitely a fan.

7.5/10

This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss The Toolbox Murders.

Communion (1976)

Directed by Alfred Sole [Other horror films: Pandemonium (1982)]

Certainly a proto-slasher classic, at times almost feeling like an American giallo, Communion (more commonly known as Alice, Sweet Alice) is definitely a worthwhile and interesting film, and worth the watch if you’ve not yet seen it.

Like many 70’s films, there is a chance some of the material could come across as dry, but personally, I think the story here was interesting enough to combat some of those inclinations. It also helps that the mystery of the killer is an engaging one, and though we happen to find out who the killer is with around thirty minutes left to go, the mystery still holds up.

Another aspect that I can’t help but give kudos to is the gritty setting. This isn’t a high-budget film, and it really shines due to it. The broken down city, what with empty factories and other industrial constructs, really gives the movie additional feeling. Assisting with the gloom is the heavy rainfall, and I think it does wonders to the atmosphere of the film.

With plenty of competent and compelling performances all around, it’s hard to point to any one actor or actress as the best here. Certainly Linda Miller and Rudolph Willrich work well together, and Willrich’s scenes with Niles McMaster (of The Incredible Torture Show) positively stand out. Mildred Clinton gives a great performance of a character with quite a lot of emotional punch, and you can’t forget Alphonso DeNoble, who’s atypical physical appearance and sleazy behavior really allows him to stand out.

Oh, and of course, playing Alice, there’s Paula E. Sheppard, who, amazingly, despite playing a 12-year old girl, celebrated her 19th birthday during the shooting of the film. She certainly doesn’t look it, and I think she gives off a great performance, especially early on when there’s still some mystery surrounding the mysterious deaths of those around her.

Of course, what would a review of Communion be without talking about the deeply religious nature of the film? I was raised Roman Catholic, and though much of that is far behind me, I did enjoy seeing much of this carnage play out around parishioners of the Catholic church. Some see this film partially as an attack of the church, but that needn’t be the case. Some of the mayhem occurred due to religious reasons, to be sure, but there are good and bad people throughout the film with Catholic leanings, so I think some calling this an indictment upon the church may be over-reacting.

Like I relayed in my review of Children of the Corn, among other films, religious mania, leading to violence, is especially horrifying because, at least in the USA, it’s very much a possibility. In Children of the Corn, Isaac and his peeps thought age inevitably led to moral corruption, and so logically made the move to kill them before reaching that age. Here, the killer has a perfectly logical reason, at least in regards to their beliefs, for the actions they take, and when such atrocities can be defended due to religious beliefs, and there’s no chance to possibly break through to them, that’s a good show of the real world coming into the film.

Communion, or Alice, Sweet Alice, isn’t a perfect film, but I do think it’s an exceptionally strong one, and really fits in with the gritty and serious nature of 70’s horror. In fact, had this been made even five years later, I think it would have been a significantly different film, so I’m happy that this was made when it was, as it encapsulates much of what I love about that time period. The kills aren’t the focus, but they’re solid when they pop up, and I love the mystery here. Definitely a classic that’s worth a watch.

8/10

This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss Alice, Sweet Alice (or Communion, if you’re partial to original titles, brah).

Burnt Offerings (1976)

Directed by Dan Curtis [Other horror films: House of Dark Shadows (1970), Night of Dark Shadows (1971), The Night Strangler (1973), The Norliss Tapes (1973), The Invasion of Carol Enders (1973), Scream of the Wolf (1974), Dracula (1974), The Turn of the Screw (1974), Trilogy of Terror (1975), Dead of Night (1977), Curse of the Black Widow (1977), Intruders (1992), Trilogy of Terror II (1996)]

Ah, good ole’ Burnt Offerings.

I can imagine that to a modern-day audience, Burnt Offerings can come across as overly drawn out and unnecessarily lengthy. At almost two hours long, one could almost see their point, were it not for the fact that Burnt Offerings is fantastic from beginning to end.

Ever since I first saw this one, it stuck with me long after I saw it. To be sure, a large part of this was due almost singularly to the character of The Chauffeur (Anthony James), who has been my Twitter banner, and occasionally my avatar on various sites, since seeing this, but even ignoring what a great character James was, the story’s slow pacing and steadily increasing unease is some of the best slow-burn I’ve seen in a long time.

Another thing that can’t go unmentioned is the stellar cast. Karen Black and Oliver Reed (Paranoiac) do phenomenally, Reed in particular during the pool sequences. Of course, Burgess Meredith was nice to see in his brief scenes, and I’ll talk more about Anthony James’ performance shortly, but I think the real star here, once you get past Black and Reed, would be Bette Davis.

Though close to 70 at the time this movie came out, Davis was just fantastic as a strong, older woman full of energy only to find that, the longer she stayed at the house, the more she felt drained. She became forgetful and fearful, and her youthful exuberance dissipated almost entirely. The argument she had with Black’s character about whether or not she turned the heat on in the room of Black’s son was a tense one, and really showed the strength of both actresses present. Davis, of course, also starred in both What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, both of which are very much classics themselves.

Anthony James’ The Chauffeur didn’t pop up that often, but pretty much every time he did, talk about tense scenes. It’s amazing that a character with no dialogue and so few on-screen sequences can make such an impression, but James managed it, and managed it beautifully. His scenes are great, and whenever he pops up, you’re in for a heart-racing time.

Are there some unexplained questions? Sure, and even the ending, while pretty solid, probably could have been cleaned up a little, but at the same time, I thought it gave a fantastic element of suspense, and though I didn’t end up loving the conclusion, I definitely felt that it was still worth the wait.

All-in-all, Burnt Offerings is probably one of my favorite of the more traditional haunted house films, beating out great films (The Innocents, though to be fair, this is more of a tie) and others (The Legend of Hell House, 1963’s The Haunting) to really stand out solidly for both the decade of the 1970’s and the genre overall.

8.5/10

This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I review Burnt Offerings.