Iced (1989)

Iced

Directed by Jeff Kwitny [Other horror films: Beyond the Door III (1989)]

I’m not ashamed to say that I find Iced an enjoyable slasher. Of course, since I like 3/4’s of all 70’s and 80’s slashers, perhaps that doesn’t come as a surprise.

Iced is a low-quality late addition to the slasher genre, and doesn’t really have much to add. The kills vary in quality (weakest, by far, was a hot tub electrocution, but both the icicle kill, along with the bear-trap death, were quite fun), but for the most part, they were all good fun. The setting, a secluded cabin in the snowy wilderness, was delightful also (reminiscent, almost, of 1984’s Satan’s Blade).

None of the cast did particularly amazing, but I will say, many of the folks in this flick have been in other classic (and not so classic) films around the same time. Debra De Liso (Trina), who did, in my opinion, pretty decently throughout, was in The Slumber Party Massacre (1982). Doug Stevenson (Cory) was briefly in The Prowler (1981). Ron Kologie (Carl) was in the mess Cards of Death (1986). Joseph Alan Johnson (Alex) was also in The Slumber Party Massacre, along with 1987’s Berserker (a slasher I’ve not had the pleasure to view yet). Lastly, Lisa Loring (Jeanette) was in Blood Frenzy (1987).

So while not great, those actors and actresses certainly got around the horror genre, and all things considered, no one really did terribly in Iced (the nudity certainly didn’t hurt matters). Oh, the conversations were often awkward or stilted, but isn’t that half the fun? And don’t get me started on that utterly ridiculous ending…

Iced is one of those flicks that would probably only appeal to slasher fans. It’s not the bottom of the barrel, as far as quality goes (1986’s Night Ripper! might get that accolade), but Iced is certainly no Friday the 13th. That said, I enjoyed the hell out of this movie, legitimately. Not an A+ slasher, but an all-around solid viewing.

(One last side-note: this movie has no DVD or Blu-Ray release currently – it’s on VHS only. Damn shame).

8/10

Dead & Buried (1981)

Dead & Buried

Directed by Gary Sherman [Other horror films: Death Line (1972), Mysterious Two (1982), Poltergeist III (1988), 39: A Film by Carroll McKane (2006)]

I’ve now seen this film twice, and it has thoroughly been cemented into my favorite horror flicks of the 1980’s.

Dead & Buried is a moody and atmospheric classic, one that I think every horror fan should give a shot. The plot takes you for a ride – you might think you see what’s coming, but you may be in for a surprise. The atmosphere is wonderfully tense and mysterious, and like the main character, Sheriff Dan Gillis (played by James Farentino), you’re wondering what the hell is going on.

Dead & Buried is an innovative movie that is held back only by leaving a few too many unanswered questions at the end, along with some moderately hokey acting by Farentino later on in the flick. But the positives far outweigh the downsides.

James Farentino and Jack Albertson (playing a very memorable coroner/mortician) did amazing throughout the film, and although, like I said, Farentino got a bit iffy toward the end, he still did a damn fine job. Also worth noting: while he didn’t appear much, Robert Englund was also in the flick, playing one of the townsfolk. Always fun to see him, no matter how unsubstantial the role.

The gore level isn’t all that high, but there are amazing special effects throughout (Stan Winston did so well here), and really, just for those alone, it’s worth watching.

It’s hard to overstate how amazing this film is, even with the drawbacks. It may feel like a Twilight Zone episode at times, albeit a violent one, but that just adds to it’s charm. A fine movie in any horror fan’s collection, Dead & Buried has been overlooked for far too long. This movie certainly did it for me, and that ending is not one I will be forgetting anytime soon.

9/10

Isle of the Dead (2016)

Isle of the Dead

Directed by Nick Lyon [Other horror films: Species: The Awakening (2007), Zombie Apocalypse (2011), Rise of the Zombies (2012), Foreclosed (2013), Bermuda Tentacles (2014), They Found Hell (2015), Titanic 666 (2022)]

A military squad is sent to a scientific island base to battle zombies and discover horrifying truths. Now, that’s a terrible description of the film, but as Isle of the Dead is an atrocious movie, it only seems fair. Almost all of the military individuals were interchangeable, and it doesn’t take a palm reader to tell who the survivor of the film is going to be. Predictability aside, though, this movie has a lot of flaws.

Chief among them are the uber-zombies. These super-zombies can speak, hold grudges, and brawl in fist fights. And some characters even inject themselves with a serum to also become uber-zombies to fight against the other zombies. There’s normal zombies too, though. And actually, I’m pretty sure there was even another class of zombies mentioned. Which brings me to another point: this movie, despite having what one might think is a simple plot, got moderately convoluted about half-way through the film.

Why the bazooka launched a nuclear weapon at the end, I didn’t catch. Perhaps they explained it, but the audio quality seemed lacking (which, for a movie on Syfy, was odd). The CGI gore was intolerable (though there was one scene, with a bug crawling out of someone’s eye, that I got a kick out of). The characters were unremarkable (for the most part), and the plot, at least insofar as it could be followed, was just your run-of-the-mill zombie movie.

And don’t get me started on the final thirty minutes of the film; as soon as the uber-zombies started appearing, the movie got much worse. The one highlight of this movie is D.C. Douglas, who played a manic scientist. His sometimes over-the-top acting was deeply amusing, and I rather enjoyed his character (and in fact, he reminded me of Kyle MacLachian’s performance as Cal on Marvel’s Agent’s of S.H.I.E.L.D.). Douglas was a fun character, and I appreciated that, but overall, it couldn’t save this movie. An utterly generic and atrocious film, Isle of the Dead is a movie I’d not at all recommend.

4.5/10

Some Kind of Hate (2015)

Some Kind of Hate

Directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer [Other horror films: Holidays (2016, segment ‘New Year’s Eve’), Daniel Isn’t Real (2019)]

Throughout the first thirty minutes, I was deeply enjoying this movie. A bullied kid finally strikes back, and gets sent to a new-age type anger management camp in the middle of the desert. Alas, he can’t escape bullies there either, as three alpha-male dicks start picking on him. It’s when he runs into a restricted portion of the camp, angry at the bullies, wanting them dead, when the spirit of a former patient begins to get revenge for the both of them.

Partially, this might help explain my overall lukewarm opinion of the film as a whole. Most of the people who were killed were bullies, or covered up for bullies, and thus, I had little to no pity for them. An alpha-male dick that makes people feel miserable gets killed, and the audience is supposed to care? Why? Like, good riddance, right?

That’s just part of it, though. The movie really feels as though it’s unraveling once you get past the thirty minute mark, and while the rest of the film isn’t entirely horrendous, it reeks of mediocrity. I didn’t much care for the design of the ghost, nor did I care for much of the story past a certain point. Honestly, it felt like Friend Request (2016) all over again, only (and here’s the bad part) a little bit worse.

The production quality was good all around, and while the gore wasn’t anything special, I don’t think it was horrible either. The main characters, played by Ronen Rubinstein and Grace Phipps, did a really good job, and hell, there are rather moving scenes and discussions of bullying throughout the film. If they threw out some of the elements in the second half of the film, I think it could have been a lot better. As it is, Some Kind of Hate doesn’t live up to the potential the beginning of the film promises. While it’s a somewhat interesting story, the approach didn’t work for me, and overall, it’s just a below average flick.

5.5/10

Der Student von Prag (1913)

Student

Directed by Paul Wegener [Other horror films: Der Golem (1915), Der Golem und die Tänzerin (1917), Die Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (1920)] & Stellan Rye [Other horror films: N/A]

One of the earliest full-length horror movies ever made (despite also being a self-described “romantic drama”), Der Student von Prag (The Student of Prague) is a true piece of horror and cinema history, and while that doesn’t mean that the film is utterly amazing, this movie still has a lot of charm, and is worth seeing.

While certainly tame by today’s standards, the story is still pretty fun, and occasionally even creepy. Making a deal with the devil-morality tales have never been high on my enjoyment list, but this movie makes it work out pretty well, despite the age of the film.

Certainly, drawbacks are present – while we do get some good action toward the third and fourth acts, the first two are muddled with, well, romantic drama sequences. It is worth noting, though, that despite this, even at an hour and 22 minutes, generally speaking, Der Student von Prag doesn’t feel as though it drags at any point. Sure, these melodramatic scenes are a bit much, but you’re still invested enough in the characters so that it doesn’t really come across a burden.

There are also some scenes that don’t feel believable (for instance, the ease in which multiple people can break into the mansion of a Count strikes me as a security threat), but it’s a small thing. Believe it or not, though, there are a few creepy scenes, especially one toward the end when the main character, Balduin, realizes he has no reflection. That was well-shot, as was the downbeat ending (though, without a doubt, you can see it coming from a mile away).

Three actors stand out above the others, being Paul Wegener (Balduin), John Gottowt (Scapinelli), and Lyda Salmonova (Lyduschka). Wegener (also the director of this film) gives an incredibly expressive performance throughout, and sure, it’s occasionally over the top, but what else would you expect from a silent movie? Gottowt does a damn fine job playing the sinister Scapinelli, and has an engaging screen presence. While Salmonova doesn’t have much to do in the last few acts, she’s fun throughout her appearances early on.

Germany was, as far as I’m concerned, the undisputed king of horror from the release of this film (1913) to around the mid-1920’s, and while this certainly isn’t Germany’s most memorable silent horror flick, or their most enjoyable (plenty of others come to mind), having watched this three times now, I can say that it does stand the test of time despite it’s flaws.

7.5/10

The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

Directed by André Øvredal [Other horror films: Trolljegeren (2010), Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)]

Directed by André Øvredal, who was behind the cult favorite Trollhunter, this movie has a high quality production, great actors (Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch playing the main characters, father and son), and pretty suspenseful scenes. A moderately unique plot, also.

Prior to beginning the film, I didn’t much know what to expect. I was thinking maybe it’d be a murder/mystery-type thing playing over the course of a month or so. What it actually is happens to be a supernatural journey over a single night, culminating in a downer of an ending, for the most part. Truth be told, I think the film, as good as the first 2/3 of the movie was, ended up being a mixed bag.

The good: Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch play a very compelling father and son. Their scenes together, for the most part, are very solid, and some even moving. It feels as though there’s a real relationship there, and I loved that. Also, some of the implications of the ending are cool. I’d rather not say any specifics, but things that happen in the film aren’t as obvious as they may otherwise seem. Also what has to be praised is the tense, claustrophobic feel of the first 50 minutes. Were there jump scares thrown in? Yes, and those bothered me, but the core of the first 2/3 of the film were great.

Onto the bad, we have a few elements, one being the aforementioned jump scares. I wish that mainstream horror films didn’t rely on these paper-thin jump scares in order to rev up the audience. Now, this film wasn’t nearly as bad as others, perhaps because Øvredal’s not been responsible for many mainstream flicks, but it was still prevalent throughout the film (including the last split second, which I find increasingly annoying).

There’s also the character of Emma, who was Austin’s (Hirsch) girlfriend. Now depending on your perception of the film, her actions seemed rather foolish. And the aftereffects of her actions didn’t seem all that important, in truth. I just don’t think she added much of anything, and that’s not a great thing. At the same time, given the fact she had less than 15 minutes of screen time, perhaps that can be excused.

The last thing, though, is arguably debatable. In my opinion, I don’t think enough, if any, concrete answers were provided. There were some potentially accurate conjectures, but one theory (according to IMDb, the most credible one) just doesn’t make sense to me. I will say, though, that the antagonist in this film was quite unique, and I certainly didn’t expect it to go that route. The Autopsy of Jane Doe was an interesting supernatural horror film – it had some great elements (the relationship between father and son) and interesting choices.

The movie didn’t fall flat at the end; if that’s the impression I’m giving, it’s unintentional. But the final thirty minutes are certainly more an average path than the first fifty. For it’s flaws, the movie’s not atrocious by any means, and is, when all is said and done, above average. Not by a lot, but it is.

7.5/10

Almost Mercy (2015)

Almost Mercy

Directed by Tom DeNucci [Other horror films: Self Storage (2013), Army of the Damned (2013)]

Almost Mercy isn’t your typical horror film. Narrated by our main character Emily, it chronicles her life growing up with her best friend Jackson, the difficulties they’ve both had, and how messed up they become.

It’s an interesting mix of real-world drama and sarcastic, almost manic at points, narration by Emily, as she lets the audience know about how she first meant Jackson, or how, after being raped, the authorities did nothing because the rapists were “important to the community.” While the first forty minutes has Emily focusing on Jackson and what he went through, it turns more toward Emily after an aborted school shooting.

Honestly, there’s not much horror going on for the first fifty minutes of so, save an instance or two of blood spill. It’s more a dramatic comedy, with Emily, while going through a shitty, disconnected life, goes on about Jackson, her screwed up mother, and the creeps who make the town they live in a terrible place. I can imagine that some would call a majority of the film both meandering and boring, not to mention disjointed in tone. One second, a boy is mocked and terrorized by bullies, the next, Emily’s joking about some aspect or another of her life. That said, I rather liked how the film played out.

While at times I thought the narration was a bit too comedic, I thought we really got to learn about and even care about Emily and Jackson. When Jackson is expelled from school, you can feel for him. When Emily’s mother attempts suicide, you can feel her disdain for her father, as he walked out on them. It felt real, in short. The film takes a turn in the final thirty minutes or so, and it was a logical, satisfactory one.

Let’s talk actors and actresses. Young Emily, played by Eva Senerchia, did a really good job, being as young as she is, showing us the dispassionate life that sometimes a young kid can go through. Danielle Guldin, who played grown-up Emily, did a fantastic job in her role and narration. Grown-up Jackson, played by Jesse Dufault, did pretty good also, though more focus was spent on Emily (which makes sense, as the film was through her point-of-view). Kane Hodder and Bill Moseley, playing a high school coach and a church pastor, respectively, are good in their roles.

Though it takes a while to get there, the gore is also quite solid, and the killing spree at the end was on point, if not occasionally riddled with unnecessary comedic commentary. Almost Mercy seems to be the type of film that will turn off some horror fans. It’s not conventional, it’s a bit enthusiastic in it’s presentation, and the “twist” might not do much for some. Personally, though, despite it’s few shortcomings, I thought it was a great quirky film. It’s not for everyone, but it was for me.

8.5/10

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

Stung (2015)

Stung

Directed by Benni Diez [Other horror films: Galaxy of Horrors (2017, segment ‘Kingz’)]

What could have been a moderately enjoyable comedic horror romp, Stung came out far more stale than I’d have expected.

Giving credit where credit is due, the two main actors and actresses, being Matt O’Leary and Jessica Cook, were cute, and moderately adorable, together. They had some decently awkward exchanges that are always fun (well, not for those participating, anyways), and for the most part, felt real to me.

About everything else fell flat, though – even before the atrocious shift an hour or so into the movie, plenty of parts felt far more filler than substance. Hell, some parts even felt boring, which isn’t quite what I feel this movie was aiming for. Other portions felt generic, and I’m not entirely clear whatsoever on what Lance Henriksen’s purpose was, insofar as his character was concerned.

But then you hit the hour mark, and it just gets worse, culminating in the two characters making love in the back of an ambulance when, surprise surprise, hundreds of giant wasps start attacking. And cut to black. So not much of a conclusion, and honestly, pretty underwhelming all-in-all. I also didn’t care whatsoever for Clifton Collins Jr.’s character, but the less said about that aspect of the film, the better. I’d take Mosquito (1994) over this any day.

4.5/10

Prom Night (1980)

Prom Night

Directed by Paul Lynch [Other horror films: Humongous (1982), Mania (1986, segments ‘Have a Nice Day’ & ‘The Good Samaritan’)]

I’ve seen this movie around five times now, and I can finally appreciate it more than I’ve been able to in the past. My main problems stemmed from the fact that many of the characters seemed interchangeable – the difference between Kelly and Jude and Vicki and even Jamie Lee Curtis’ Kim never stuck with me, and so I lost track of who’s who and what relationship between everybody was as the movie dragged on, which wasn’t helped out by the fact Nick and Alex didn’t look all that different from each other either. With this most recent viewing, though, things were cleared up, and while it doesn’t save the film, it goes a long way in increasing my rating.

Aside from Jamie Lee Curtis (who, by the way, had some fantastically cheesy dance scenes toward the end), there weren’t a whole lot of stand-out performances. I liked Nielsen well enough, along with Eddie Benton (mega-bitch Wendy), Michael Tough (Kim’s brother, Alex), Joy Thompson (Jude), and Sheldon Rybowski (Slick, a deliciously fun character), but none of them blew me away. Which is sort of a shame, because for the first two acts, next to nothing horror-wise occurs to keep us otherwise occupied.

Which is my biggest gripe of the film – it’s drags on too long at the beginning. Once we get an hour in, I start having a great time (that decapitation is still a favorite of mine), but getting there is, more than anything else, a chore. It feels like Carrie (1976), in many ways, actually, as it just drags on and on until we finally get to an epic finale.

I did like the end, which was actually rather somber. There were plenty of attractive ladies throughout, and while nudity wasn’t high, it was still a nice plus. Again, Jamie Lee Curtis did a good job (even though that disco dance is so dated), though her role in Terror Train, also from 1980, stuck with me more. Lastly, the song that bled into the credits, ‘Fade to Black’ by Gordene Simpson, was beautifully sung, and though I didn’t notice it during my first viewings of this flick, it really is a nice song that I’ll not forget.

Prom Night, despite the problems I have (not mentioned, but I feel the killer’s absence would have been noted, for instance), has a lot of charm. It drags, but it is still a decently well-done slasher that is just outclassed by others from the same time (such as My Bloody Valentine, which came out a year later). I still don’t love this flick. But I’m closer than I have been before.

6.5/10

This was covered on Fight Evil’s second podcast, so you can listen to Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this.