Final Exam (1981)

Directed by Jimmy Huston [Other horror films: My Best Friend Is a Vampire (1987)]

If there’s anything Final Exam did, it solidified my hate of fraternities.

This is a decently classic slasher that took me until now to finally sit down and watch, and while the kills were decent, I will admit to being disappointed by some aspects of the movie (especially in regards to the killer).

Generally, I enjoy the atmosphere here, which feels not too dissimilar from other slashers of this time period. It’s not great, but it’s decent, especially since we have a few positive characters here (mostly Lisa and Radish, but Janet was okayish also).

Cecile Bagdadi only has this movie in her IMDb credits, which is a bit sad, as I think she does decent here as the main girl, if not maybe a bit generic. Still, her conversations with Joel S. Rice (Radish) were somewhat touching, and held a bit of depth. Otherwise, there wasn’t much in the way of characters that inspired me.

The whole frat thing just bugged the hell out of me, though. I know that this is from an entirely different era, but that prank at the beginning (which was entirely beyond the pale) should have gotten them thrown in jail at the very least, and they never get better, and harassing pledges (stripping one down and tying them to a tree, while shoving ice down their underwear, is another act that should get them thrown in jail), which is done to this day, is just disgusting.

I can ignore the stupid frat guys, though, and get to my real problem, which was the killer. Having never seen this before, I was expecting something with a bit more mystery as opposed to The Slumber Party Massacre, but even that movie gave a lot more explanation of the killer than we got here. We literally got nothing – not a name, motive, nada. Obviously, if the kills are decent and the characters are fine, maybe I could let that slide, but it’s not like the movie was stellar in either of those departments.

I’m not going to go as far as to say Final Exam was a failure, just that I was expecting a slasher of a higher caliber, and this seemed to bring little worth mentioning to the table.

6.5/10

Hide and Go Shriek (1988)

Directed by Skip Schoolnik [Other horror films: N/A]

This one might seem unassuming, what with being a slasher from the late 80’s, but I’ve long thought that Hide and Go Shriek was a bit of a hidden gem. I’m not saying it’s perfect by any means, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable slasher that’s always entertained me.

Cast-wise, most of them did decently. I don’t think there are that many memorable characters, though, aside from those given to us by Brittain Frye and perhaps Bunky Jones. Frye’s character, Randy, was just out there, and had a wildly fun personality, where Bunky Jones provided me with my favorite nude scene in the film (three of the four ladies here show off a little something, so if that’s what you’re into, you’ll enjoy this). Still, Ria Pavia, Sean Kanan, Annette Sinclair, and Donna Baltron all did reasonably well.

The setting here goes a long way to make the film enjoyable also. An after-hours excursion into a furniture store doesn’t sound too thrilling, but it’s a pretty big (and multi-layered) store, with a lot of mannequins and hiding places. It even comes with a freight elevator, which comes into play throughout the film (and provides a very solid death sequence). Also, a favorite scene of mine has always been when the group is trying to get the attention of a homeless man and some police officers across the street, but due to the shatterproof glass, they’re doomed to keep fighting for their survival.

As far as twists go, I wouldn’t say Hide and Go Shriek is amazing, but I was still pretty happy with it. It pretty much comes out of nowhere, but there is a bit of emotion during the finale, so I can easily excuse the seeming randomness.

I say this pretty much every time I review a slasher film, but as a fan of slashers, I’m not really that difficult to please. Hide and Go Shriek had solid tension, decently fun characters (that ridiculous ‘Walk this Way’ scene at the beginning a case in point), and good gore when it ventured in that direction. I’m sort of surprised there was never a sequel to this, but that makes this all the better, in my view.

Having seen this one somewhere from four to five times now, I can say I greatly enjoy this, and recommend it to fans of slashers.

8.5/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. To listen to Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one, check out the video below.

Pet Sematary (1989)

Directed by Mary Lambert [Other horror films: Pet Sematary II (1992), Strange Frequency (2001), Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005), The Attic (2007), Mega Python vs. Gatoroid (2011)]

I first saw this film before reading the book, so I couldn’t really judge it much against the source material. It didn’t really matter, because I didn’t care much for it, but when I read the book and discovered I didn’t care much for that either, I was interested in seeing this again. And guess what? While I admit it follows the novel pretty close, I still don’t feel much an affinity toward it.

Why is that? Well, I found the book well-written (as is mostly anything of King’s, even the stuff I didn’t like), but the story itself wasn’t really doing it for me at all. Jud was an interesting character, as he is here, but that’s not enough, and some cool imagery (such as the graveyard and the burial ground) don’t make up for that.

The main performances (Dale Midkiff, Fred Gwynne, and Denise Crosby) were all fine, but if the story’s not interesting to me, then I’m not biting. Perhaps the coolest aspects of the book (being the history of the burial ground which Jud delves into, along with the story of Baterman) are really neutered, and the tall shape Louis sees while walking to the burial ground in the book, along with the accompanying insanity, is nowhere to be seen.

At least the ending was moderately unchanged, but I still think the novel did it better, ending on a more open-ended note than did the movie. Another small thing that bothered me was Pascow’s character. At first, it’s fine, but he keeps popping up with the wife near the end, and it bordered on comedic, which really didn’t fit the dark themes of the movie.

I’m not a fan of this movie, I don’t think it’s horrible, but both before and after reading the novel, it does little for me (and to be fair, the same can be said for the novel), and that’s problematic. I know that many out there enjoy this, but Pet Sematary doesn’t work for me.

5/10

B.O.R.N. (1989)

Directed by Ross Hagen [Other horror films: Reel Horror (1985), Click: The Calendar Girl Killer (1990)]

I wasn’t really expecting that much from this movie, mainly because I thought that if it had been one of the unsung films of the 1980’s, I’d have heard about it by now. Well, either I’m listening in the wrong places, or I got a lot more out of B.O.R.N. than others did, because I found this movie superb.

Better known as Merchants of Death (which is the title it can most commonly be found under, it seems), B.O.R.N. (which stands for Body Organ Replacement Network) is a pretty damn dark movie for being a Troma release. When I heard that Troma jingle at the beginning, I was batting down the hatches for another Frostbiter or Blades, but instead, we have a pretty somber movie, with the appropriate soundtrack to boot.

For a movie that’s as low-budget as this one, the soundtrack is really impressive. It beautifully encapsulates the 1980’s, and helps the movie push a darker feel. The one vocal track in the film, a song by Jenifer Smith Meisner called ‘How Do You Begin,’ is a depressing ballad which first plays as a father muses over his three recently-abducted daughters, and boy, is it effective.

Obviously, the story itself isn’t really special, what with a father and a retired police detective trying to track down some missing girls, who were kidnapped by a black market organ syndicate, and you can sort of tell some things were rushed, but the performances here really pull a lot of it together.

I’ll get this out of the way first, though, because I hate to say it: Of all the performances, the one that did the most damage was P.J. Soles (of Halloween fame, totally), because of all the characters here, she felt the most overly and unforgivably evil, not to mention hammy. If we had maybe gotten a little background on her, it might of helped, but no such luck.

Everyone else was generally commendable, though. Playing the bereft father, Ross Hagen was great, and you really felt for his character as he was put through the wringer (and then some). Hoke Howell, who played the aforementioned retired detective, didn’t move me at first, but over the course of the film, I grew to appreciate him.

As much as I liked Hagen, it’s Russ Tamblyn’s character who really got to me. Much like Soles, his character is a bit over-the-top in his sinister nature, and he does abominable stuff in the film, but toward the end, when another character is beating him, he sort of breaks down, though he doesn’t cry, because his father didn’t want him to cry when he beat him. God, for a movie like this, you wouldn’t expect an emotional suckerpunch like that, but we got one.

Two others I wanted to briefly mention are William Smith and Clint Howard. William Smith is a big name, and his IMDb credits boasts nearly 300 appearances, and while this certainly isn’t one that he’ll be remembered for, playing the black market doctor, Smith is decently fun, though he doesn’t matter quite as much as many other characters. Related, while it was nice to see Clint Howard (Ice Cream Man has long been what I’ve best known him for), his character didn’t add much to the film, though had the story went a different route, he could have.

B.O.R.N. is a hell of a lot more somber than I ever expected, and there are some surprising and heart-wrenching deaths and scenes in this film that seem entirely inappropriate for a movie made on as small a budget as this was. I loved the whole vibe of this one, and while I wish there were a few changes, I think to Tamblyn and Hagen’s performances, and I forget them. Maybe it’s just me, but this was very much worth watching, and I’d definitely do so again.

9/10

Cat People (1982)

Directed by Paul Schrader [Other horror films: Witch Hunt (1994), Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005)]

I wasn’t the biggest fan of the original Cat People, which I saw somewhat recently for the first time, but I honestly thought this was a bit worse. I get that some of the special effects are solid, and there’s some great nudity here, but it’s an almost two-hour films, and boy, did I think it dragged at times.

As far as the cast went, I liked most of them. Nastassja Kinski was pretty cute, and did well as the star. Annette O’Toole (who surprised me turning up here, as I know her only from 1990’s It) was also cute, and as both Kinski and O’Toole have topless scenes (though unfortunately not at the same time), you’d think the movie would get a 10. Alas, that’s not the case.

Malcolm McDowell (who I barely even recognized, but was much later in the Halloween remake, not to mention Silent Night) didn’t do anything for me. I didn’t care much at all for his character, and to me, he was one of the low points of the movie. Ed Begley Jr. is a big name, but I know him only from a single episode of The West Wing, along with a short role in Better Call Saul. Here, he was okay, but much like McDowell, I didn’t much care for his character.

It’s not just a handful of characters, though, that was the problem. The story overall leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Kinski did a great job as playing a sympathetic character, but her story arc ends in a way that I really didn’t like. I didn’t love the original, like I said, but even that was a bit more satisfactory than this was.

About the pool scene, on a side-note. I do think the original movie did the sequence better, but, and this is a big but, the original didn’t have a topless O’Toole, so as classic as it was, this might just edge it out insofar as rewatchability goes, amiright?

To be honest, I just found Cat People a generally dull remake. The movie isn’t terrible, but it wasn’t my type of thing, and while it had some solid nudity, which I can’t overstate, that doesn’t make up for the fact that I didn’t care for the story, which is the fatal problem here.

5/10

Jaws 3-D (1983)

Directed by Joe Alves [Other horror films: N/A]

The story here isn’t that great, but it’s 3-D, guys, so we cool?

Alas, the answer is no, and Jaws 3-D, while not necessarily God-awful, is pretty mediocre, especially after the second film, which I found quite a bit more enjoyable than the first.

Here, the idea is interesting, but there’s about an hour-long set-up, and then even once things seem ready to go, we find out it’s another shark that’s cause for concern, not the one we dealt with for most of the past hour-and-a-half. All of that could be excused if much of it was worth seeing, but I don’t believe that’s the case.

It’s no fault of the performances, though, most of which are at least decent. True, Dennis Quaid’s a bit dull and doesn’t really do that much, but Bess Armstrong and Lea Thompson (Back to the Future-fame) were attractive enough to make up for that. I wasn’t feeling John Putch as Sean at all, but I did like the animated characters portrayed by Louis Gossett Jr. and Simon MacCorkindale (I have no idea who MacCorkindale is, but he was really fun here). Lastly, P.H. Moriarty was solid here, and had a fantastic emotional scene toward the end which I really appreciated (although it was likely lost in the shit 3-D).

Truth be told, I don’t know if the 3-D here is really that bad – I opted out of wearing one of the many pairs of 3-D glasses I have lying around the apartment, but it definitely didn’t seem great, or anything to really warrant the format (which can likely be said for most movies made in 3-D during the 1980’s). The ending possessed atrocious 3-D action, along with a laughable slow motion scene, so kudos there.

As mediocre as this is, though, I don’t think it’s quite as bad as the current IMDb score indicates (right now, this movie sits at a 3.7/10, and #77 in the Bottom 100 movies). It’s not good, but is is really that bad? I don’t see it, because as much as the story bored me, some of the performances really brought some life to the film, such as MacCorkindale, Armstrong, Gossett Jr., and Moriarty. Was it sometimes a bit much? Sure, but if any movie needed it, Jaws 3-D did.

Had the story been better written, I think the movie could have had some potential. At the same time, after two somewhat decently successful Jaws movies, I don’t really think they needed to make a third one, especially a 3-D addition. I don’t begrudge the solid performances in the film, but the movie itself isn’t particularly good. In all honesty, though, I don’t think it’s near as bad as many seem to think it is.

6/10

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)

Directed by Renny Harlin [Other horror films: Prison (1987), Deep Blue Sea (1999), T.R.A.X. (2000), Mindhunters (2004), Exorcist: The Beginning (2004), The Covenant (2006), The Dyatlov Pass Incident (2013)]

Ah, The Dream Master, when the Elm Street series starts going bad. It’s a mild deterioration at first, though, because while The Dream Master is a far cry from Dream Warriors, it’s still a decently fun movie, but then it veers to some really goofy stuff that doesn’t really work for me, and leads to a conclusion that just wasn’t great.

Disappointingly, Patricia Arquette decided against reprising her role as Kristen, and instead Tuesday Knight played her. Knight’s perfectly fine, but given that the others from Dream Warriors returned (Ken Sagoes and Rodney Eastman), it felt like a loss. I do think Alice is a solid character, played by Lisa Wilcox, but more interesting was her brother, Rick, played by Andras Jones (though he had one of the weakest kills in the series). I didn’t care much for any of the side-characters though, such as Toy Newkirk (Shelia), Danny Hassel (Dan), and Brooke Theiss (Debbie). Nice seeing Robert Shaye (long-time producer of the series) as a teacher, though.

Robert Englund is about as good as he always is, though some of his material is a bit questionable. I didn’t think he needed to wear sunglasses, or suck someone’s soul out by kissing them, or much of what he did here. My favorite kill is probably one toward the beginning, with things kept simple as he just gut-stabs a character with a killer line. He’s not as cheesy here as he later becomes, but it’s in this film where it’s more noticeable (no doubt, he was a little silly in the third, but that just felt darker overall than this one did).

Some of the finale here doesn’t really work for me. I thought the time-reversal was a bit weak, and overall, things felt a bit more disjointed toward the end. Also, Freddy’s demise here didn’t wow me, largely because I don’t believe for a second he’s never encountered a mirror since becoming the lovable dream demon he is. Unless it only works if he’s in a church, or some stupid thing like that. The whole final confrontation here lacked the special feel that was present in the first three movies (yes, even the second), and Alice sort of had easy sailing. Flash a mirror, and boom, she’s pretty much fine.

Of course, I can’t help but feel a bit nostalgic in regards to this film. Obviously, I was born in the early 1990’s, so I never saw this in theaters, but I saw portions of this when I was a kid, and some of the scenes I liked then, I still think are special (such as the last moments of Kincaid, where the whole of the Earth seems to be a junkyard, which looked so fake, but still held appeal). Even so, this is when I believe the series starts losing it’s grasp on the subject, and if they had ended it here instead of embarrassing themselves with The Dream Child, perhaps that would have been ideal.

The Dream Master isn’t a bad film, but I do think it feels a lot more average than the three previous entries, and overall, I just find the film about middle of the road.

Just remember, tell ’em Freddy sent ya!

7/10

Sorority House Massacre (1986)

Directed by Carol Frank [Other horror films: N/A]

For a somewhat lower-budget, mid-80’s slasher, I think that Sorority House Massacre has quite a bit going for it. While the killer certainly leaves something to be desired, the film often carries with it a rather more artistic feel (especially during the dream sequences), and helps the film stand out positively.

What really sets this one apart from more lackluster slashers around the same time (some that come to mind include Blood Hook, Killer Workout, and Open House) were the more artistic portions of the film, most often the dream sequences. It’s not uncommon that I feel dream sequences in films turn me off, but the ones in this movie are done pretty well, and occasionally provide some creepy imagery (the picture that starts bleeding, for instance).

On the other hand, no one in the cast really bowled me over. I did like the main actress, Angela O’Neill, well enough, but the other girls and miscellaneous guys were pretty much just the generic bunch you’d expect. Luckily, that doesn’t really harm the film much, as the body count insured that most of them are dead by the end of the film anyway. One performance that did bother me was the killer, played by John C. Russell. He just didn’t seem that frightening (though I did like how they portrayed his insanity, what with hallucinating the college-aged girls as his little sisters). I think they could have done a better job with him, though.

The story was pretty standard with no real surprises, but it was pleasant enough, and the special effects were competent to nonexistent, but really, for a 70 minute slasher, I wasn’t complaining. I did like the tepee kill, and there were a few solid painful looking stabbings, but nothing over-the-top. One scene I did like the was montage of three of the girls changing clothes. Some hot, nude bodies changing clothes to 80’s synth music is just what the doctor ordered…

Obviously, I’m a rather large fan of slashers, especially 80’s slashers, so it might not come as a shock that I thought Sorority House Massacre worked out for the best. Honestly, though I’d seen this one before, I forgot just to what extent I enjoyed it, so while it doesn’t have the same name recognition of The Slumber Party Massacre or The House on Sorority Row, I’d give this one a go. It may not be amazing, but I do think it was very competently made, and even had a few surprisingly creepy scenes.

7.5/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. If you’re interesting in hearing Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one, check out the video below.

Rats – Notte di terrore (1984)

Directed by Bruno Mattei [Other horror films: Casa privata per le SS (1977), KZ9 – Lager di sterminio (1977), Virus (1980), L’altro inferno (1981), Violenza in un carcere femminile (1982), Zombi 3 (1988), Terminator II (1989), Non aprite quella porta 3 (1990), Occhi senza volto (1994), Cruel Jaws (1995), Snuff killer – La morte in diretta (2003), Mondo cannibale (2004), Nella terra dei cannibali (2004), La tomba (2006), L’isola dei morti viventi (2007), Zombi: La creazione (2007)] & Claudio Fragasso [Other horror films: Virus (1980), Leviatán (1984), Zombi 3 (1988), After Death (Oltre la morte) (1989), La casa 5 (1990), Non aprite quella porta 3 (1990), Troll 2 (1990), Una notte da paura (2012)]

This Italian movie, most commonly known as Rats: Night of Terror, is one that I’ve wanted to see for quite some time. I can’t say I’m overly impressed with the film after seeing it, but I can admit that I was amused throughout a lot of it.

The version I watched was English-dubbed, which I think caused the film to come across as a lot more goofy than it originally probably was. Some of the dialogue here was just really bad, but in a somewhat hilarious way. Related, so much of the acting was over-the-top, and I don’t think that can be blamed simply on the poor dubbing job.

Playing the main character Kurt was Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, who had some of the more ridiculous acting portions. He was pretty fun, though, and I generally thought he was one of the few really stand-out characters. Fausto Lombardi fits that bill also, and he was certainly my favorite in the film. If there’s one character that I wish we got any background on, it’d be this guy. On the other side of things, Ann-Gisel Glass and Moune Duvivier were among the worst performances I’ve seen. Mercifully, Duvivier was one of the first ones dead, but we had to suffer through Glass’ melodramatic, overwrought performance throughout most of the film. Others did about as well, in a cheesy way, as you could expect.

I thought that there was some pretty decent gore here, though I’ll be honest and admit I was expecting a bit more in that department. Still, seeing rats crawl out of peoples’ mouths and jumping onto people was fun enough, so while the film didn’t shine insofar as the gore was concerned, I don’t think it was that big a problem.

How different this film would have been if I saw it in it’s original Italian, I don’t know. It wouldn’t have changed the bad acting, but it probably would have been a bit easier to take seriously. On the other hand, the ending is so ridiculous, it has to be seen to be believed. For a post-apocalyptic film, I didn’t have nearly as much fun as I did with 2019: After the Fall of New York, but Rats: Night of Terror was still a somewhat amusing film, and though it’s below average, I can see myself giving it another view in the future.

6/10

Sweet Sixteen (1983)

Directed by Jim Sotos [Other horror films: Forced Entry (1976)]

While not really a lot better than many other slashers that came out around the same time period, Sweet Sixteen definitely isn’t much worse. Some of the kills are a bit on the repetitive side, but the mystery is solid, and there are plenty of enjoyable characters here.

There’s a few performances that really help out. Dana Kimmell (of Friday the 13th Part III fame) and Steve Antin did well as brother and sister, though Kimmell came across as so much more memorable than did Antin. Bo Hopkins does great as a lead here, and comes across well-casted. Oddly, while Aleisa Shirley was beautiful, and shined in her nude scenes, aside from the conclusion, I don’t think she stood out all that much. Others who did, though, include Don Shanks, Patrick Macnee, Susan Strasberg, and Sharon Farrell (who also starred in 1974’s It’s Alive).

As far as gore goes, it’s definitely lighter than others around the same time, and like I said, the kills themselves are rather repetitive, but I don’t really think it hurt the film too much. Since the story was pretty engaging, and can lead one to suspect any number of potential suspects, I think any misgivings about lack of gore can mostly be forgiven.

Sweet Sixteen isn’t really the most memorable slasher, especially as birthday-themed slashers have been done before (such as Happy Birthday to Me and Bloody Birthday), but it’s still a decently charming movie, and adds in some elements of racism against Native Americans to keep things a little more interesting. Really, this is one that I suspect many slasher fans would be fine with, but I don’t think it’d make most people’s top twenty slashers.

7.5/10

This is one of the film’s covered on Fight Evil’s podcast, so if you want to hear Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I talk this one over, check out the video below.