The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Directed by Tobe Hooper [Other horror films: Eaten Alive (1976), The Dark (1979), Salem’s Lot (1979), The Funhouse (1981), Poltergeist (1982), Lifeforce (1985), Invaders from Mars (1986), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), Spontaneous Combustion (1990), I’m Dangerous Tonight (1990), Night Terrors (1993), Body Bags (1993, segment ‘Eye’), The Mangler (1995), The Apartment Complex (1999), Crocodile (2000), Shadow Realm (2002), Toolbox Murders (2004), Mortuary (2005), Djinn (2013)]

Six years after the low budget hit Night of the Living Dead, and two years after Craven’s gritty debut, The Last House on the Left, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre follows in it’s predecessors footsteps as a gritty, violent, unforgettable experience.

My problem has always been, though, that I don’t find the experience altogether enjoyable.

So many things about this movie are amazing: Leatherface’s screen presence is off the charts – all his kills are memorable. And his first on-screen appearance still scares the shit out of me. The room with the bones, feathers, and nightmarish furniture was truly horrifying. The chase scenes are tense, and feel quite real (as virtue to the lower-budget, in my opinion). Marilyn Burns does an absolutely amazing job as a woman who has been thrown off the cliff of sanity. And those final ten minutes? Still stands up amazingly to today’s standards.

So given all of those positives, what’s my problem? It stems basically to the fact that while memorable, I just couldn’t enjoy this. It’s gritty, dark, occasionally uncomfortable, and dreary as hell. And sure, while the first thirty minutes are slow (I’ve never been a fan of the hitchhiker scene), my main issue is that I just don’t find this all that enjoyable.

A masterpiece in it’s own right, I recognize the contributions Hooper made to the genre with this flick. But as good as many of the portions are, and as great an actress as Burns was, this isn’t a movie I find myself willingly re-watching all that often. I’d take Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, hell, even Leprechaun, any time over this. A solid movie that stands out a gritty piece of history, but still, I have to give it just below average, which is what I’ve consistently given this flick every time I’ve seen it.

6.5/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast, so if you want to hear Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one, look no further.

Sssssss (1973)

Sssssss

Directed by Bernard L. Kowalski [Other horror films: Night of the Blood Beast (1958), Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959), Black Noon (1971)]

I’ve seen this movie once before, but honestly, I don’t quite recall when. At first, this seemed like a new watch, but about 30 minutes into the flick, it hit me that it was awfully familiar. Which, whether that says something negative about the movie or myself, well, is entirely up to you.

That being said, that seems a moderately good anecdote when talking about this film, because despite some decent tension, solid acting, and a downer of an ending, Sssssss seems like a pretty forgettable affair.

Strother Martin is pretty well-cast as an almost Universal movie mad scientist-type guy, which becomes more evident as the movie drags on. His daughter in the flick, played by Heather Menzies (who, on a side-note, reminded me a hell of a lot of a younger Ellie Sattler from Jurassic Park), was probably one of the most solid actresses of the film, her looks also standing out as a positive. The main character, of sorts (because really, this more feels like the Strother Martin hour than it does Benedict), is played by Dirk Benedict, who did well with what he was given, but honestly, I don’t feel he stands out all that much.

Which is sort of a problem, because this movie tends to drag at the beginning, and even when interesting things begin to happen, it’s not like the flick jumps into hyper-speed. Many 70’s flicks tend to have pacing problems like this. For instance, the 1972 Stanley (another snake horror movie, by the way), had next to no horror for the first 45 minutes. I’d argue, though, that Stanley had far more interesting and deep characters than what we’re given here.

When a movie drags, and the characters can’t really pull the weight the plot’s unable to, then you’ve got some bad problems.

Of course, this isn’t to say the movie is terrible. Dodgy special effects aside, I liked the ending, for the most part, and an earlier scene, the death of a snake, actually elicited a pissed off response from me, which isn’t really what one would expect from a 70’s film. Throughout a lot of the movie, there seemed to be sort of a darker mood, with occasional assistance from the score, culminating in the ending, which was perhaps the most stand-out portion of the flick.

All-in-all, I wouldn’t say that Sssssss is a bad movie. I can name plenty of other movies around the same time that I much prefer to this one, but given the output of 70’s horror, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s just hovering around average, held back by a sluggish pace and mostly uninteresting characters. As far as 70’s snake horror goes, I’ll probably stick with Stanley, as I found it both more consistently memorable and amusing.

6/10

Phantasm (1979)

Phantasm

Directed by Don Coscarelli [Other horror films: Phantasm II (1988), Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994), Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998), Bubba Ho-Tep (2002), John Dies at the End (2012)]

In many ways, Phantasm comes across as a mess. There’s not much really explained, and the ending is pretty jarring and confusing. But what it might lack in comprehension, it makes up for in almost everything else. The upsides of Phantasm? Firstly, most of the actors do a great job. Angus Scrimm, as The Tall Man, just dominates every scene he’s in. A truly fantastic performance, despite not many previous roles. Still, there’s more than just Scrimm. The three protagonists, Michael, Jody, and Reggie (played by Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, and Reggie Bannister, respectfully) have a pretty compelling friendship, and specifically, Baldwin and Thornbury are decently believable as brothers. Even when annoyed with Michael’s antics, you can tell that Jody still loves him. And they both share the fear their parents were turned into dwarf zombies, so there’s that.

Which brings us to the creativity of this movie: a seemingly alien being turns corpses into zombie dwarfs and has flying metallic spheres is not something commonly seen, to say the least. So that’s fun. Need I mention the theme? It’s damn brilliant, and up there with the best themes of the genre (Halloween, The House by the Cemetery, and ANOES, for example). And the atmosphere? That dreamy, hazy, disjointed feeling? Nothing does it better than Phantasm. This might not sound like a great movie, but I’ve met very few horror fans who don’t adore it on varying levels. Not everything makes sense, but when the final product comes out this well, that hardly matters. A movie that stays fresh with each re-watch.

9/10

La bestia uccide a sangue freddo (1971)

La bestia uccide a sangue freddo

Directed by Fernando Di Leo [Other horror films: N/A]

La bestia uccide a sangue freddo, more popularly known as both Asylum Erotica and Slaughter Hotel, is an Italian movie that came as something as a disappointment. What I was hoping would be a decent giallo with good kills turned out to be more a soft-core pornographic flick.

There’s a lot of nudity in this one, folks. Self-fondling, lesbianism, nymphos, a little bit of everything besides male nudity. 😛 The story’s simple enough: at a secluded clinic for women, a killer proceeds to whack off quite a few people. With various suspects and red herrings, will they discover who is behind these heinous acts?

Well, that’s not completely accurate. It’s not until 75 minutes into the movie that anyone knows there’s a killer on the loose, and once the police get there, there’s only ten minutes left in the movie. In fact, the whole ending seemed rather rushed. Not that it’s a bad thing – rushed action is better than no action at all, and to tell you the truth, I got tired of the sex and self-fondling a few minutes into the first sequence. But they keep on coming (wink wink).

And when we do get kills, they’re not overly inspired. Sure, the crossbow kill was pretty cool, and the iron maiden death was decent, but everything else just fell flat. For Pete’s sake, there’s a bloodless decapitation in the movie. We can’t have such an utter lack of gore like this and expect much of the kills to be memorable. For most of the film, I was just bored with the red herrings and consistent nudity, truth be told. While the ending was rushed, along with the explanation of why the murderer is offing people, at least we got some type of payoff for our troubles. A pretty tedious flick, but if a lot of nudity’s your thing, give it a go.

6/10

Cathy’s Curse (1977)

Cathy's Curse

Directed by Eddy Matalon [Other horror films: N/A]

First thing’s first – this is a very low-quality transfer that I watched. I’ve heard better quality versions of this film exists, though they’re in French without subtitles. *Shrugs*. So this is a pretty bad print, and if you’ve seen the most common version of Cathy’s Curse out there (one released on Mill Creek Entertainment’s Creepy Classics), I’m sure you’d agree.

In a way, though, I think it brings the movie additional charm. I’ve never been to a drive-in, but I can imagine this is the exact type of movie that would be great to watch at one, and while the quality has faltered, it’s a pretty fun romp.

Cathy’s Curse is one-part The Bad Seed, one-part Burnt Offerings, and one-part The Omen – in it, a little girl is possessed by her father’s deceased sister, and one by one, people around her start dying or going mad. All things considered, it’s a pretty simple film.

Three things about it stand out, though: Firstly, the music has a charming quality to it. Sometimes eerie, sometimes not, the music stood out and enhanced some of the scenes. The acting too was noticeable. It wasn’t always great – Beverly Murray sometimes went a bit overboard portraying the panic-stricken mother. But both Alan Scarfe and Roy Witham did pretty decent jobs (despite Witham only having been in three other films). And lastly, you had some occasionally creepy scenes (along with, of course, some rather ridiculous scenes, but that’s half the fun).

Some of the quotes are pretty classy too – at the beginning, a father tells her daughter “Your mother’s a bitch – she’ll pay for what she did to you.” About halfway through the film, a drunk Roy Witham (playing the groundskeeper as a kindly older man) and gleeful Cathy scare a medium away from the house, shouting, “Get out you old bitch,” and calling her a “fat dried-up whore.” The delivery of these lines were excellent, in my ever-humble opinion.

Cathy’s Curse can at times be a bit of a mess, that much I can say. But I did enjoy it more this time around as opposed to the first time I saw the film, and really, it’s not all that terrible. It doesn’t really drag on, it’s amusing, and is undeniably a product of the 70’s – what more could you want?

7/10

Night of the Lepus (1972)

Night of the Lepus

Directed by William F. Claxton [Other horror films: N/A]

This film isn’t one of those 70’s classics people often talk about. It’s not an amazing movie. It’s a bit silly, even. But I did have a blast seeing it again. It begins on a serious note, an almost documentary-like feeling, about rabbit overpopulation, and the negative effects it can cause for man. And the somber tone continues throughout (which can only be expected, given this is from the 1970’s). This movie doesn’t have much going for it in terms of gore, as you can imagine, though there is one scene, showing the remains of a mangled body, that gives us something.

But we do have some pretty likable characters here. And we have (amusing) scenes of rabbits attacking people. DeForest Kelley’s role was one I enjoyed, and even the sheriff (Paul Fix) was a pretty decent guy. It’s a bit difficult to understand exactly why the rabbits are so dangerous, but hey, it’s the 1970’s. Truth be told, Night of the Lepus isn’t a great movie, but if you can lay back and enjoy 70’s ecological horror films, you could do much worse. Pretty average overall, but there are some things to enjoy in this one.

7/10

Stanley (1972)

Stanley

Directed by William Grefé [Other horror films: Sting of Death (1966), Death Curse of Tartu (1966), Impulse (1974), Mako: The Jaws of Death (1976), Whiskey Mountain (1977)]

I last saw Stanley back in 2009 for my first October Challenge. In the many years that had passed, I forgot how much I enjoyed it.

Part of this may well be the fact the version I watched back in 2009 was a 90 minute version, whereas what I watched this time around was 105 minutes. Truth be told, I couldn’t tell you what scenes have been added, but the additions did seem to flesh out the main character’s motivations better.

The main drawback this movie possesses is the long set-up time. It takes 45 minutes, thereabouts, for us to really get introduced to the horror elements. Beforehand, we’re meeting various characters, most of whom who are killed in the last hour of the film. While that in itself may seem strenuous, with the 70’s music in the background, and the lack of editing out small things, it just feels grueling. But once it picks up, I think the pace sails along pretty nicely.

The kills are nothing overly special, but I do rather enjoy some of them. The freeze-frame when one of the characters jumps into a pool filled with snakes was overly ridiculous, and I loved it. Truth be told, while it’s slower at the beginning, once the kills come along, Stanley does well for itself. The ending is a bit to be desired, but I don’t fault it all too much. One last note – one of the characters, a pill-popping, cocaine-sniffing ‘psycho’ was consistently one of the funniest around for his short screen time. A sluggish pace, yes, but this movie, I personally feel, was worth it.

7.5/10

Criminally Insane (1975)

Criminally Insane

Directed by Nick Millard [Other horror films: Satan’s Black Wedding (1976), Doctor Bloodbath (1987), Death Nurse (1987), Criminally Insane 2 (1987), Cemetery Sisters (1987), Death Nurse 2 (1988), Dracula in Vegas (1999), The Turn of the Screw (2003)]

I’ve long heard of this one, but I never knew how much of a hoot it’d be. Which is sort of ironic, as, at least in my opinion, there was very little in the film itself that was meant to be light-hearted. But the idea of a morbidly obese woman going on a rampage to ensure she can continue eating food at her own pace is definitely liable to raise some eyebrows and cause a chuckle or two.

The quality was what you’d expect of a grindhouse horror film, but I liked it all the more for that. The death scenes weren’t amazing – the blood is among some of the fakest blood I’ve seen in some time – but at the same time, they had heart. And this movie, with the short running time of an hour and one minute, certainly had the deaths to keep in interesting.

The story’s not particularly deep, and the acting isn’t always amazing (though our murderess, Priscilla Alden, does a very solid job in her role), but it is a very amusing flick. There was a sequel released in the late 80’s, starring Alden also, but I hear it lacks much of what this provided. If you’re a fan of 70’s grindhouse horror, and don’t mind iffy quality, I’d recommend giving this a go. Worst case scenario, you’d out an hour of your life. I found it worth it.

7.5/10