Poltergeist (1982)

Directed by Tobe Hooper [Other horror films: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Eaten Alive (1976), The Dark (1979), Salem’s Lot (1979), The Funhouse (1981), 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), Crocodile (2000), Shadow Realm (2002), Toolbox Murders (2004), Mortuary (2005), Djinn (2013)]

Very much a classic of the genre, Poltergeist isn’t my go-to when it comes to horror, but it’s a fantastic film that has a lot going for, and well-worth a look if, for whatever reason, it’s gone under your radar.

Honestly, there’s very little that I could say about this film that hasn’t been said already. Along with such films as Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Alien, and Iced, this is one of those horror films that has reached such a mainstream status that virtually everyone who has existed has likely heard of the film.

The cast is pretty solid. While I’m not deeply moved by Heather O’Rourke’s performance (don’t take it personal – very few child performers impress me), much of the central cast is fantastic, from Craig T. Nelson to JoBeth Williams, Beatrice Straight to Zelda Rubinstein (Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and Anguish), though I have to say, she did a shitty job cleaning that house.

While not particularly a large part of the story, I did enjoy Dominique Dunne in the film. As many know, she was killed in late 1982, and this was her only feature film. Though far from any focus, it was nice having an older kid in the house, and I think it’s a shame that, while giving a solid performance, she wasn’t used that often (though certainly, one can understand her character’s desire to get out of the house).

The special effects were generally solid, but there were a few scenes that just didn’t look great, such as the first time we see things flying around the room (and while sort of funny, that scene just struck me as too playful, too whimsical), or the delusion Martin Casella’s character has. Certainly the latter was decently violent (and really, about the only violence in the whole of the film), but boy, it looked a bit on the fake side.

Despite that, most of the movie provides a fun time. We never really know too much about exactly why this is going on (sure, they moved the tombstones but left the bodies, but why not strike out before this?), but it doesn’t really take anything away, especially given how great some of these sequences are.

As decent as the clown scene toward the end is, I personally have to rank the night of Carol Anne’s abduction higher. You have a tree attacking a kid, a horrendous storm (which included a charming tornado), and general chaos. The finale was great too, with skeletons and tombs popping out of everywhere, with that pool scene in specific a highlight. Hell, even that early table scene is A+. When this film went all out, it certainly went all out.

It is accurate to say that some of the movie felt more whimsical than I’d maybe hope for, such as Rubinstein’s “You’re right. You go” line. Other scenes felt more on the fantasy realm than they did horror, but given Steven Spielberg’s involvement, I think that can be expected, if not condoned.

Also, on a small side-note, I do love the parents in this film. Though firmly in the middle class, they have time to enjoy the pleasures life has to offer, and I’d definitely smoke some joints with them, as they seem a chill couple.

Regardless of the small flaws the film has, Poltergeist is a very solid film for plenty of good reasons. It’s not my usual jam, as the kidz say, but it’s a movie I’ve always enjoyed, and despite almost being two hours, it’s always worth the watch.

9/10

Shiryô no wana (1988)

Directed by Toshiharu Ikeda [Other horror films: Ningyo densetsu (1984), Yudono-sanroku noroi mura (1984), Ikisudama (2001)]

While generally a movie that’s well-worth the watch, this Japanese film, commonly known under the title Evil Dead Trap, is a bit of a mixed bag. While no doubt there are plenty of fantastically gory sequences and decent slasher-esque fun, the problem is that the conclusion, and in fact, the final twenty minutes, just don’t do a lot for me.

Certainly ending fatigue is a problem that some movies suffer, but I’ve not seen a case quite as bad as this in a while. Honestly, if the last twenty minutes were cut and the story tied up around 85 minutes in, Evil Dead Trap might have felt a decent amount more consistent and thusly an easier film to recommend.

Aside from the failures of the conclusion, though, I think the movie has a decent amount to offer. The plot itself feels like an almost-more coherent Videodrome (and while we’re on potential inspirations, some of the quick-moving camera shots are reminiscent of The Evil Dead), and follows, for the most part, a typical slasher set-up in a beautifully-deserted factory.

Miyuki Ono made for a decently strong lead, and especially toward the end, I definitely got the sense that her character regretted getting her friends mixed up in such a deadly and dangerous scenario. The other women (Aya Katsuragi, Hitomi Kobayashi, and Eriko Nakagawa) all had their strong points. While of iffy character, Masahiko Abe was decent too.

The design of the killer is pretty top-notch, feeling a little bit like the Fisherman from I Know What You Did Last Summer. Of course, this movie is a lot more off-the-wall (which shows most during the finale), but at least the killers’ designs are in somewhat similar veins.

And related, the special effects are quality. Just in the first five minutes of the film, we see a woman get one of her eyeballs slit open, with liquid gushing out. We see another woman impaled multiple times, and another gets a blade swinging down, colliding with the side of her face. You have a few people shot with crossbows, to be sure, and someone else gets garroted, which wasn’t particularly violent, but when the movie went that direction, it could be plenty gruesome, and I think it stands out well for that.

I also have to give a shout-out to the fantastic music here. It’s as decent as you’d hope from an 80’s horror film, and combined with the often stylish shots this movie went with, Evil Dead Trip, despite the ending, had a beautifully 80’s vibe.

After seeing this again for the first time in what has to be ten years, I had a pretty decent time with Evil Dead Trap, but I can’t pretend that the ending isn’t a let-down (and not just a small let-down, but a pretty big flop). Without the shaky conclusion, this movie could have been a rather high-rated piece of foreign cinema, but as it is, it’s probably just around a high average.

7.5/10

Vampire Chicks with Chainsaws (2006)

Directed by Carlos Don Diego [Other horror films: N/A]

A couple of Octobers back, at the time of this writing (February 2021, for the record), I first saw this film, and from what little I remembered, it struck me as a joyless experience. After seeing it again, I can confirm, indeed, that ‘joyless’ is a pretty good description of this movie.

Certainly the quality is, at best, iffy. A lot of times, lower-budget films don’t bother me, and I like to think that this one doesn’t bother me due to the budget itself, but I won’t say that the evidently low budget wasn’t problematic, mostly in terms of the pitiful camerawork, some of which was downright painful to watch.

The story also isn’t my cup of tea – basically a group of vampires are warring with aliens referred to as “Outlanders” and there’s a traitor vampire who loves a human hillbilly, and this guy in question has a first-person narration thing going on. But it’s not just normal first-person narration, it’s sometimes goofy, ‘humorous’ first-person narration said in a serious tone, because that makes it better.

And that, of course, was a joke, as it just makes the dialogue throughout the film painful. Not that the movie wasn’t already painful (even at 80 minutes, Vampire Chicks with Chainsaws feels quite a bit longer), but the script was laughably inept, which is a shame, as I think that’s where this movie was trying to provide most of the ‘fun,’

Which is another interesting thing, now that I think about it. Despite the almost-fun title, this movie just feels drab and bland. Even the color palette seems drained and muted. I don’t know where this was filmed, but the landscape just seemed so bleh. If the story and script had been better, that probably wouldn’t matter, but as it is, it just adds another weakness to the film.

I was not wowed by either Adam Abram or Jenna Lisonbee. I certainly don’t blame either one’s performance for how the final product turned out, but at the same time, I can’t say that they were great. What I can say is that they’re the only ones who really stand out in any conceivable way. Their growing attraction to each other didn’t interest me, nor did the end, nor did anything else, but at least they stood out.

There was also a dearth of quality death scenes. It wasn’t helped by the fact that the Outlanders had green blood, but even with that in mind, and even with plenty of chainsaws and hideous fight sequences, there was almost nothing here. Most of the blood came from vampire chicks biting their wrists, so that’s grand.

Vampire Chicks with Chainsaws was a painful movie the first time I saw it, and seeing it again, I can fully say that it’s an experience almost-entirely void of joy, which is something I don’t say lightly. This was a poor film, and definitely not one I’d care to experience again at any point.

1/10

Eraserhead (1977)

Directed by David Lynch [Other horror films: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces (2014)]

I think I’m somewhat forthcoming about my dislike of more experimental films, and many of them I see (with a few exceptions, such as Hausu) I end up disliking. I’ve seen Eraserhead once before (hated it), and seeing it with fresh eyes, I still hated it.

This isn’t something I want to spend much time on, mainly for the same reason I didn’t want to spend much time on My Boyfriend’s Back – this film isn’t aimed at me, and I knew that going in, so I don’t feel particularly great about giving it a low score (and believe me, Eraserhead is getting a low score). I know it’s not my type of thing, but it’s also a movie that I had seen before, and as such, had to rewatch, so here we are.

I’ll give this film props for a dark atmosphere, banging background score, unsettling imagery, and befuddling ideas. I found much of it repulsive and didn’t enjoy almost a second of it, but it was certainly trying something different, which is something I guess you can trust Lynch to do.

Of course, I can imagine that there are a hell of a lot of interpretations for this movie out there, and I’d guess that most of them are equally valid. I have no idea what this movie was trying to say, if anything, but as to not be left out in the cold, I’d just argue that it tries to expose what working-class isolation in a post-industrial society, following the results of an Atomic bomb dropped by a Western African nation in the grips of an unending civil war, can do to a man’s fragile psyche. Sounds close enough.

Jack Nance had an interesting look to him. Charlotte Stewart (who later popped up in Tremors, of all places) was certainly something. Allen Joseph could smile creepily with the best of them. And that’s pretty much it for the cast.

The story was disjointed and moderately confusing, including dream sequences about pencils and some hideous mutant child and a woman who lives in a radiator, which is also Heaven, maybe, or something like that.

Yeah. Eraserhead has a 7.4/10 on IMDb as of this writing, and I just don’t understand it. From my perspective, while elements of this surrealistic film are interesting, it doesn’t make it good, and I had a thoroughly unenjoyable time with this, and if I’m lucky, I’ll never have to sit through this trash again. It’s not my type of movie, which is good riddance, as far as I’m concerned.

1/10

The Entity (1982)

Directed by Sidney J. Furie [Other horror films: Doctor Blood’s Coffin (1961), The Snake Woman (1961)]

The Entity is a decently strong film with somewhat harrowing subject matter, and while I think a case could be made that it runs a tad long, it may well be worth a look.

Based on a novel by Frank De Litta from 1978, I’ve seen this one once before, at least eight years ago (at the time of this writing), and I think my views are pretty consistent. The special effects are impressive when they pop up (Stan Winston’s involvement may have something to do with that), the story has its strong moments, and some scenes have fantastic suspense.

On the flip-side, it’s probably longer than it needs to be (at two hours and five minutes, it’s not a quick walk through the park), but for the most part, I think the content awards it if you can deal with it’s run-time.

Barbara Hershey (who pops up quite some time later in the Insidious series) does fantastically as the central character, and the scenes in which she’s raped are actually somewhat hard to watch. Though little is ever shown, save a specific scene or two, the performance is so real that it feels legitimately uncomfortable. I don’t know Hershey from many other things, and aside from the aforementioned Insidious, she hasn’t really been in many horror films, but her performance here is top-notch.

Most interesting to me was Ron Silver. Firstly, his character was entirely wrong about the situation that Hershey’s character was going through throughout the whole film, and yet he’s arguably one of the few who legitimately cares for her (though, I think, to the detriment of her mental well-being). On Silver himself, though, ever since I finally watched through all of The West Wing (a show in which Silver occasionally pops up on), I’ve been intrigued when I see him in other places, such as the made-for-television horror Shadow Zone: The Undead Express. His performance here is the best I’ve seen, and it’s quite riveting stuff, especially since his character is quite interesting.

No others really stood out all that much. I liked Margaret Blye, and how her character was one of the first to really believe what Hershey was going through. As much as I wished otherwise, neither of the parapsychologists stood out that well, though their superior, played by Jacqueline Brookes, wasn’t too shabby. Also, though not that relevant to the story, Alex Rocco (Moe Greene in The Godfather) randomly popping up was interesting.

The story does get a bit iffy around the hour and twenty minute mark – it’s around this time that the central character has parapsychology students swarming her house, and seems more invested in getting evidence of the entity on camera or pictures as opposed to her own well-being (though I don’t doubt that validation too would be helpful). It does lead to a somewhat interesting debate, though, between the harder sciences of psychology versus the pseudo-science of parapsychology, and those debates are always fun.

I don’t think The Entity is a great movie because elements of the conclusion could have been tightened up a little (I like much of the mock-house experiment, but I wanted more out of it), but it is a decent movie, and if supernatural phenomena is your thing, and you’ve not seen this movie, treat yourself.

7.5/10

Multiple Maniacs (1970)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2/10

Hillbillys in a Haunted House (1967)

Directed by Jean Yarbrough [Other horror films: The Devil Bat (1940), King of the Zombies (1941), House of Horrors (1946), She-Wolf of London (1946), The Brute Man (1946), The Creeper (1948), Master Minds (1949)]

When I recorded this off TCM (gotta give TCM props for playing something like this, on a side-note), I had no delusions that it’d somehow be a good movie, and boy, what a quality prediction that was. Hillbillys (which isn’t even a proper plural version of the word) in a Haunted House was something I’ve never really experienced before, and never really want to again.

For a movie from the later 60’s, this was very-much steeped in the 1930’s and 1940’s. A haunted house that wasn’t really haunted, but a headquarter for spies who were trying to scare people away (which is pretty much what Ghosts on the Loose from 1943 focused on), a gorilla (right out of The Monster Walks and The Gorilla), even older names that were popular around that time (such as John Carradine, Basil Rathbone, and Lon Chaney, Jr.) – this movie was really late to the game, and the country angle doesn’t really make it any fresher.

And if you’re wondering where the country angle comes from, by “hillbillys,” the movie means country musicians (the film stars Ferlin Husky, who I’m not a particular fan of, but he has the occasionally catchy song). And being performers, much of the film is singing from various different people (a guy watches some television to help him sleep, and sees performances from artists such as Merle Haggard, for instance). There’s a lot of music in this film, some of it decent, some more generic, but always laughable when it pops up.

The best part might be the ending – at around 70 minutes in or so, the haunted house mystery is wrapped up, the antagonists taken care of, and the central trio (Ferlin Husky, Joi Lansing, and Don Bowman) are driving away, not a care in the world. Perfect ending, right?

Wrong.

Because they’re going to Nashville for a concert, and instead of ending the story at a sensible moment, the movie instead finds it necessary to have six songs performed by six different artists to close the film out. And the final song (performed by Husky himself) isn’t announced as the final song – he just sings his song (as Merle Haggard, Don Bowman, Marcella Wright, Joi Lansing, and Molly Bee did before him) and boom, the movie’s over.

Now, to be fair, many of the songs were decent, such as “Heartbreak U.S.A.” by Molly Bee, “Swinging Doors” by Merle Haggard (which is definitely going onto my iTunes), the comedic, spoken (think artists like Red Sovine or maybe even Jerry Reed a la “Telephone Song) “Wrong House” by Don Bowman, and “The Bridge I’ve Never Crossed” by Ferlin Husky, but to end a film with 15 minutes of random country songs with zero relevance or reference to what happened in the previous 70 minutes of the movie – what madness is this?

And you’re probably wondering where the appeal to the film arises from, which I couldn’t blame you for. Sure, I enjoy some classic country (from The Statler Brothers to Waylon Jennings from Bobby Bare to Lefty Frizzell, I dabble a little in the genre), but the real appeal comes from seeing the aforementioned John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., and Basil Rathbone, all three rather large stars (or were at points previously to 1967).

Carradine (Bluebeard, The House of Seven Corpses, and hundreds of other films) and Rathbone (Son of Frankenstein, The Hound of the Baskervilles ‘39, and Queen of Blood among his appearances) worked well together, though to be honest, their characters were somewhat interchangeable. Chaney Jr. provided a more simple-minded character, and while never all that sympathetic, he probably stood out the most of the three. On a side-note, this is Rathbone’s second-to-last film, as he died in mid-1967.

Ferlin Husky was as fine as he could have been, I suspect, given his character. In my view, Joi Lansing was cast more due to her physical attributes as opposed to acting ability (let’s just say that while of course there’s nothing close to nudity in this film, Lansing still provides quite the view), but honestly, for a movie like this, I can’t imagine bad acting being that much a concern. Don Bowman (who was both a country singer and a comedian, apparently) was the generic, cowardly side-character, and his Texas accent (and penchant for saying “weirdwolf” as opposed to “werewolf” for some unknown reason) did annoy me, but hey, that song he sang toward the end was funny, so as the kids say, whateves.

I don’t really know why this was made (perhaps there was a country craze in the mid-to-late 1960’s, as this is technically a sequel to non-horror film Las Vegas Hillbillys). I also don’t know why I spent ten whole paragraphs on it. I enjoyed a decent amount of the music, but the spy angle didn’t really catch my interest at all (and the whole M.O.T.H.E.R. organization just solidified my disinterest), and while it can be entertaining, you have to know beforehand what you’re going into.

As it was, Hillbillys in a Haunted House was something I won’t soon forget, but don’t mistake that for thinking it’s decent. At best, it’s still below average, with the fun musical numbers buoying it against the generically forgettable story, but I don’t think it buoys it that effectively.

5.5/10

My Boyfriend’s Back (1993)

Directed by Bob Balaban [Other horror films: Parents (1989)]

There are some movies out there that use horror elements in movies that are primarily comedy, and I generally call these horror-lite films. Some wouldn’t call them horror at all, but when it comes to defining the genre I love, I’m liberal and highly flexible.

Honestly, though, most of the movies I’d probably throw in this category aren’t movies I’d usually go out of my way to watch and, if I do see them, probably aren’t movies I’d enjoy, and My Boyfriend’s Back is a good example.

To give the film some credit, Andrew Lowery makes for a fair lead, given the type of film this is. Traci Lind (Fright Night Part 2, Spellcaster, and Class of 1999) gave both a decent performance and a cute body. There was a young Philip Seymour Hoffman here (credited as just Philip Hoffman), which I guess was interesting (he’s not really an actor I know, but people seem to talk about him, so I thought I’d mention it).

Everything else is just so far from my cup of tea, though. The movie knew what it was and went for it, which I can respect, but it still wasn’t my cup of tea.

The narration and comic-book style of the film worked to the extent that it fits the light-hearted tone of the movie, but I found pretty much everything here beyond ridiculous. So this kid dies, and he comes back, and mostly everyone’s fine with it. I mean, he gets bullied for being “the dead kid,” but it doesn’t raise any eyebrows, so that’s fun.

I’m trying hard not to hold anything like that against the movie, though, as I’m really not the demographic they were aiming for. It’s a stupid comedy centered around a zombie who’s decaying but still wants to take his dream-girl to the prom, so of course I’d hate it. If you want a quality prom-zombie-comedy, I have four words (and a year) for you: Dance of the Dead (2008).

This isn’t my type of movie, and it’s at this point you’re potentially wondering why I watched it to begin with, in which I’ll reply it was for a podcast I partake in. I get a list of movies to choose from, and for this particular choice, there weren’t that many horror films. My Boyfriend’s Back is labelled, among other genres, as a horror film on IMDb, and so history was made.

I really disliked this film. It’s not my thing. I don’t even feel right being overly critical toward it, but I will be. Certainly My Boyfriend’s Back works for some people, but I pretty much found the whole thing cringe-worthy and painful from beginning to end with little to merit any recommendation aside from Traci Lind’s presence.

4/10

Pale Blood (1990)

Directed by V.V. Dachin Hsu [Other horror films: N/A] & Michael W. Leighton [Other horror films: N/A]

I knew pretty much nothing about this film prior to watching it, aside from, of course, the fact it appeared to be a vampire movie. After seeing it, I have to say I’m somewhat torn. It’s a lower-budget film that can clearly be seen in some aspects, but it also has a decent sense of heart, and I think it shows.

What’s somewhat impressive, even, is that the film manages to throw in a few unexpected surprises, and while none of these deeply shift how the movie goes, I was happy that the story had a bit more depth than I had initially suspected, especially once things really start going toward the end.

George Chakiris isn’t a name I know, but I liked what he was going for. You can sort of tell early on about the route his character takes, but it doesn’t make it any less enjoyable a journey. Wings Hauser (who I best know from the oddball 1988 The Carpenter) hams it up beautifully in this film, and I got a kick out of his character. A little more hard to get a grasp on was Pamela Ludwig (Rush Week), who had an interesting switch-up at the end I don’t fully understand, but I did rather like her performance.

I’m not deeply familiar with the music of Agent Orange, but I think it works well with the film, though it does end up somewhat repetitive. Still, it has almost a Bauhaus gothic vibe to it, which works well as the movie throws in references to past vampire films (such as a few scenes from Nosferatu playing on a television to posters of The Kiss of the Vampire and The Return of Dracula being pinned up on one of the character’s walls). The movie is often dim and somewhat grungy, made more obvious by the lower-budget, but it all fits together in a way that works, and goes to a solid atmosphere.

At times, Pale Blood can come across as a bit annoyingly artsy, unnecessarily so, mostly in regards to the first club scene and the multiple visions seen throughout the film. I don’t think it really harms the movie, but it did get a bit jarring at times, and it never really added much.

Ultimately, I didn’t have a bad time with Pale Blood. I didn’t have a great time either, but that’s life. If you’re into vampire films, this might be one to check out for something a little different, no matter how cheap it is, but I doubt it’d make a big impression on most who see it. As for me, I think it’s somewhere around average.

7/10

Martin (1976)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6.5/10