Death Machine (1994)

Death Machine

Directed by Stephen Norrington [Other horror films: Blade (1998)]

Generally speaking, Death Machine is both a well-made and moderately fun movie. My main question is, did it really need to be two hours long?

The story was good, the gore, when it popped up, was solid also. However, since the movie goes more an action route than it does horror, there’s not as many gory scenes as I would have liked to see, especially considering how dangerous and sharp Dourif’s Warbeast looks.

Brad Dourif was, of course, the stand-out here. His character was wacky, yet quite deadly and amoral, and I have to admit, his portrayal here reminds me a lot of Heath Ledger’s Joker. Dourif was just fun in every scene he was in, and his voice was always a pleasure to hear. The two others who really stood out to me were the main actress Ely Pouget and William Hootkins. Pouget does a solid job as the lead character, and Hootkins, though he didn’t have that much screen-time, had a good presence.

There were aspects of this film that didn’t do much for me. The battle suit was a bit too science-fiction for me, and I could have done without all of the fighting sequences. In a related note, this movie runs for just over two hours, and I really think that was ill-conceived. The movie can be fun, but at two hours a pop, who would take the time to rewatch it? I know I probably wouldn’t.

Death Machine is a decently solid piece of 90’s cinema, despite it being more an action science-fiction flick than a horror (make no mistake, though, there are many horror aspects within). But the length strikes me as rather uncalled for (the movie never feels as epic, for lack of a better word, as the length might lead you to believe), and there were a bit too many fight scenes. As it is, it’s a fine movie, just nothing overly special, despite Dourif’s strong personality.

7/10

2019 – Dopo la caduta di New York (1983)

2019

Directed by Sergio Martino [Other horror films: Lo strano vizio della signora Wardh (1971), La cado dello scorpione (1971), Tutti i colori del buio (1972), Il tuo vizio è una stanza chiusa e solo io ne ho la chiave (1972), I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale (1973), Morte sospetta di una minorenne (1975), La montagna del dio cannibale (1978), L’isola degli uomini pesce (1979), Il fiume del grande caimano (1979), Assassinio al cimitero etrusco (1982), American risciò (1989), La regina degli uomini pesce (1995), Mozart è un assassino (1999)]

I’ve never seen either Mad Max or Escape from New York (non-horror films are not really my thing, generally speaking), but I have to imagine this Italian movie, known in the US as 2019: After the Fall of New, is quite a bit like those films. A fantastic action/science fiction/horror medley, this film is a lot of fun, and comes highly recommended.

Post-apocalyptic movies can sometimes not quite work out, but this one does, due to multiple factors, being the fun cast of characters, the soundtrack, the heavy gore, and just general fun of the action. Primarily, if you’re looking for an action-filled flick, this is it. Plenty of brawl sequences, some gun play, interesting weapons, and further helping this along is the strong gore throughout the film. Two of my favorite instances being a rather brutal eye-gouging and a multiple-person decapitation – those aside, other sequences of splatter can be found, and the special effects are decent enough to back up the ambitious gore.

A small note on the soundtrack – it’s filled with a bunch of fun Italian electronic tracks. It’s a funky soundtrack, and certainly added a little something special to the film.

Michael Sopkiw does pretty damn good as the main character, and he has a fun presence also. The same can be said for most of the cast, but in particular, Valentine Monnier, Romano Puppo, Louis Ecclesia, and George Eastman, brought most of the fun to the film. I do wish that there had been more scenes of the three central characters (Sopkiw, Puppo, and a Paolo Maria Scalondro) in what was left of New York, but what we got was still action-packed amusement.

Brought to us by well-known director Sergio Martino (if I tried to list his better-known additions to the genre, this paragraph would be at least three lines longer, so lucky, they’re listed above), 2019: After the Fall of New York is a lot of fun, and if you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic films, gory Italian movies, or just having a good time, this is a movie I’d recommend looking into.

8.5/10

Stickman (2017)

Stickman

Directed by Sheldon Wilson [Other horror films: Shallow Ground (2004), Kaw (2007), Screamers: The Hunting (2009), Carny (2009), Mothman (2010), Red: Werewolf Hunter (2010), Killer Mountain (2011), Scarecrow (2013), Shark Killer (2015), The Unspoken (2015), The Hollow (2015), The Night Before Halloween (2016), Neverknock (2017), Dead in the Water (2018)]

Generally speaking, this is one of Syfy’s better attempts at an original film. It’s not as fun as previous enjoyable efforts (such as 2010’s House of Bones), but it’s still pretty decent for what they were aiming for.

The story isn’t really dripping in originality, but I do think it was pretty okay for a Syfy production. The “ten years later” epilogue was absolutely horrible, and it’s possible that scene alone lost the movie a whole point, but honestly, I’m hard-pressed to find endings of modern horror films I actually care for to begin with.

The Stickman, a CGI atrocity, isn’t the scariest thing I’ve seen. While the elongated fingers/claws are decently menacing, the creature as a whole is pretty weak. It doesn’t help that every other time it popped up on screen was meant as a jump scare. There were some subtler scenes, sure, but for the most part, just jump scare following jump scare.

Our main actress, Hayley Law, was more-or-less decent throughout the film, though her hysterics at times got a bit much (which can truthfully be said for most of the cast). I expected more out of Zoe De Grand Maison’s character, but the actress herself was fine. Same with Sara Garcia – expected more would come from her as the movie progressed, but we got nothing. Really, though, for a bunch of mostly limited-experienced actresses, I’d say most of these young women did adequate.

Director Sheldon Wilson has directed a handful of movies in the past I’ve enjoyed, such as 2015’s The Unspoken and 2017’s Neverknock. Others, such as 2007’s Kaw, 2009’s Carny, and 2011’s Killer Mountain have been the more generic Syfy fair. The Hollow, from 2015, was downright dreadful.

Stickman isn’t amazing, and the overuse of plenty of horror clichés gets old, but it’s still one of his better attempts, and for a Syfy film, I’d even say it’s worth a watch. Just don’t expect too much.

6.5/10

Encounter with the Unknown (1972)

Encounter

Directed by Harry Thomason [Other horror films: So Sad About Gloria (1973), The Day It Came to Earth (1977), Revenge of Bigfoot (1979)]

Narrated in part by Rod Serling, this early 70’s film is actually a lot of fun if you’re into the feel and low-key style of 70’s horror. No gore, no nudity, no jump scares, just three moderately spooky tales that are varying degrees of entertaining.

Of the three stories, only the final one is a bit closer to average, in part because much of it are flashbacks of a tragic love story, complete with a three-minute montage of the two love-birds frolicking in the fields, running hand-in-hand, to a slow 70’s love song. I’ll be honest, the third story, which is a rendition of the vanishing hitchhiker legend, can be boring, and you see the ending come long before it gets there, but it has its charm.

The first two stories are damn good, though, and though I utterly loved the first one and it’s moderately complex plot-layering, the second’s ominous feel and inconclusive conclusion really made it one that stood out. A low ground-fog, unearthly howls emitting from a hole in a field, townsfolk trying to decide what to do, it was a lot of fun, again, in that low-budget, low-key way.

I’m hard-pressed to name anyone who did an out-of-the-world job, though it was nice to hear Serling narrate the beginning and end of each story (book-ending the movie as a whole was a different, uncredited narrator). Really, everyone did pretty well in all of the stories, and no sore thumbs stick out. Acting wasn’t the high point of the film, but everyone pretty much handled themselves competently.

The main problem, aside from the issues I had with the final story, is that the final ten minutes of this movie are simply a lesson on the unknown – history of witchcraft, for instance, and questions of coincidence versus supernatural causes, and just a lot of rambling. It showed clips of the previous stories while a narrator (not Serling) just kept talking and talking, again, for ten minutes. This easily could have been removed, leaving the movie at eighty minutes, and I think it would have felt just a bit more fresh.

If you love 70’s horror, and are okay with slowing things down a bit, Encounter with the Unknown might be what you’re looking for, because it certainly worked for me.

7.5/10

Don’t Go in the Woods (2010)

dont go in the woods

Directed by Vincent D’Onofrio [Other horror films: N/A]

I probably like this film more than I have any right to, especially looking at what many others say about it. But after having seen it twice, Don’t Go in the Woods is still a movie I could see myself watching again down the line.

Let’s get this out of the way first, as I think it’s rather important: if you’re looking for a new horror favorite, don’t look here. Make no mistake, some of the kills are brutal in this one (the main weapon is a sledgehammer – could you imagine them being anything but?), but it takes about an hour to really start throwing out some solid horror, and in an eighty minute film, that might not do it for most, even if they’re fans of the genre. The story’s not dripping in creativity either, and if you didn’t see that plot twist from a mile away, I wouldn’t even know what to say.

The selling point of this movie is that it’s part-musical. As a fan of the occasional musical myself, I don’t think it’s a bad idea, and really, I think the fact that I like most of the songs in the film leads me to enjoy this movie more than most people seem to (the rating on IMDb, as of this writing, is 2.6/10). There are scenes of the band sitting around a campfire singing songs that last ten, fifteen minutes. No horror, just music. And I think that wouldn’t sit well with many. What can I say, other than I didn’t have a problem with it?

There were some decent kills, as I alluded to, and while there was some occasional gore, and a little splatter, I wouldn’t say that it was anything special. A sledgehammer to the head, along with a somewhat fun sleeping bag butchering, were probably my two favorite kills. That said, given the story’s not really that amazing, I don’t think it’s enough to recommend the film to hardcore horror fans.

Matt Sbeglia is really the only one in this movie who is noteworthy. Everyone else, for the most part, is either a generic cut-out or just okay. Many of them can sing pretty well (if that was indeed the actors actually singing), but as for a stand-out performance, Sbeglia gets the closest, and to be honest, he wasn’t that amazing.

Directed by well-known actor Vincent D’Onofrio, Don’t Go in the Woods, due to it’s being almost more a musical than horror, probably wouldn’t do it for many fans of the genre. How many good musical horror movies are out there anyway? Maybe 2014’s Stage Fright? So if you go in expecting a horror film, I think the long, drawn-out musical portions will disappoint. But like I said, I think most of the music is decent, so despite the bland story and terribly cliche twist, even after two viewings, I think this movie’s somewhat decent. Still below average, but decent.

6.5/10

Murder by the Clock (1931)

Murder by the Clock

Directed by Edward Sloman [Other horror films: N/A]

I have to admit, while this early 30’s flick is still pretty good, and a much overlooked classic, I didn’t quite love it as much as did when I first saw it.

The atmosphere of the film is great, and what with a graveyard, a mausoleum, and a pretty decent old house, there was a rather Gothic feel about this whole affair. Plot-wise, I think it was pretty fun too, with a young woman turning men into killers by just her wiles and intellect. It’s fun, really, seeing her trying and consistently being able to outsmart the police, and funner still to see her plans in action.

As you can imagine, a lot of this movie is driven by the characters. First-and-foremost, Lilyan Tashman (who died just three years after this movie at the age of 37 from cancer) did amazing as the villainess, and you couldn’t help but hate her character upon seeing her trying to emotionally manipulate four different men into doing what she willed. It was an impressive and somewhat captivating performance. William ‘Stage’ Boyd (who, oddly enough, died just four years after this film at 45) did decent as the main protagonist, though I don’t think we really saw enough of him to make that much a positive impact. Another individual who didn’t get a bunch of screen-time was Blanche Friderici (who died just two years after this film; Murder by the Clock seems more like Murder by This Movie), but I immensely enjoyed her as a miserly old woman. Lastly, Walter McGrail (who, gasp, lived until the year 1970) played a convincing mentally-challenged man, and was consistently solid throughout.

As fun as both the cast and story are, though, and even though the movie is just around 72 minutes long, I couldn’t help but feel that it was dragging a bit in the middle. We got some great sequences at the end, but building up to them was a longer process than I remembered it being. Murder by the Clock is still a good movie, and an overlooked highlight of the early 30’s, but it’s not amazing. Still, it may be worth a watch if 30’s horror is your cup of tea.

7.5/10

King of the Wild (1931)

King of the Wild
Poster for Chapter 8 of this 12-part serial

Directed by Richard Thorpe [Other horror movies: Murder at Dawn (1932)]

Prior to touching upon my thoughts on this serial, I first wish to discuss why I included it on this site.

As those who spend a lot of time on IMDb know, there are many films that are listed as ‘horror’ half the time, the other times not. Jaws goes back-and-forth as if it’s a feature of the film. And plenty of movies that should be listed as part of the horror genre aren’t (Stripped to Kill from 1987 wasn’t listed as horror when I first saw it, but is now).

My point being that ‘horror’ is a very malleable genre. The 1918 German film Die Augen der Mumie Ma has been called a horror film so often that, despite it’s more thriller-feel, I think it’ll forever be branded horror (and more so, forever disappoint those expecting horror). Right now, one of the three main genres for King of the Wild is horror on IMDb, so even though horror makes up maybe ten percent of the serial, I still feel it’s worth talking about, and touching upon what horror aspects there were.

With that out of the way, let’s get the obvious done with first – because this is a serial (12 episodes, totaling about three hours and 47 minutes), and because this is a pretty low-quality serial, this does feel as though it drags and drags, pulling out new cliffhangers at the end of each episode to easily be overcome at the beginning of the next one, repeat and repeat. I liked much of it, but boy, did it drag.

There’s a bunch of moving pieces in this serial, which, if you’ve ever seen a serial, you would probably expect. Only a few really stand out, though, including the main character, played by Walter Miller, and a villainous Arab played by *get ready* Boris Karloff. Karloff playing a stereotypical Arab character throughout this serial was something of a treat. It felt utterly ridiculous at times. The other main antagonist, played by Tom Santschi, was a bit more believable. Everyone else did moderately fine, but no one really stood out, aside from maybe Nora Lane, who played Miller’s love interest.

Most of the horror, or what people back then may have seen as horror, comes from Bimi, an ape man controlled by Santschi’s character. He’s powerful, prone to violence, and attacked multiple characters on the orders of his master, and a few episodes ended with his hairy hands reaching down to strangle an unsuspecting member of the cast (in typical 30’s horror fashion). There were some pretty threatening scenes with him, so I’m not too bothered by the inclusion. Though far more adventure in feel, leopards consistently jumping out at characters too was a legitimate worry throughout the serial.

And that’s mainly what this serial is, to be sure – adventure. I’ve never seen anything fit that genre more appropriately than this in my life. You get multiple locations, altercations with savage African tribes, not to mention criminal Arabs (this serial had the racial sensitivities of The Birth of a Nation), leopard attacks, sinking steamers, jungle action, some lava, and a mysterious diamond mine. Action, too, as the ape man and animals were rather fierce, along with constant brawling between characters, and more than a few deaths by gunshot.

There were some fun sequences throughout, such as escaped leopards prowling a ship at sea, causing it to sink, and a great scene with a skeleton and a burning sword, but let’s be real – in total, this serial runs for three hours and 47 minutes. No amount of fun sequences or likable characters can make up for that, especially when it’s primarily an action and adventure serial with horror on the back-burner.

The most widely available version of this serial is beat up. The audio quality isn’t great, nor, for that matter, is the picture quality, and it definitely feels like it’s on the lower end of productions, even for the time. If you know what you’re getting into, though, I think, for the most part, those aspects can be overlooked.

King of the Wild can be an enjoyable ride, but it’s a long and tedious one, and some of the characters don’t quite get the viscous ending you may hope for. I’ve seen this whole thing twice now, and while I still found it an okay experience, unless I’m watching this with a group of friends, it’s probably nothing I’d sit through for a third time.

5.5/10

Friday the 13th (1980)

Friday the 13th

Directed by Sean S. Cunningham [Other horror films: Case of the Full Moon Murder (1973), A Stranger Is Watching (1982), The New Kids (1985), DeepStar Six (1989), XCU: Extreme Close Up (2001), Trapped Ashes (2006, segment ‘Jibaku’)]

While nowhere near the greatness of classics such as Halloween or A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th is a wholly enjoyable film with very little going wrong for it.

Some of the best portions of this film are due to both Tom Savini (special effects) and Harry Manfredini (who composed the music). The gore isn’t necessarily that graphic, but there are some fantastic death scenes, such as the arrow slowly being pushed through the neck, or the ax to the face (a personal favorite). The music within the film assisted in creating a decent atmosphere for the film, and at times even had sort of a Psycho feel.

Without a doubt, Betsy Palmer gets the highest praise in terms of acting in the film. Her ending scene is legendary, and I feel it’s for good reason. Adrienne King did fantastic as the final girl, and it’s a shame she never really had that many other big roles in the genre. I also really liked Robbi Morgan (who had a fun personality with her short screen-time), and Jeannine Taylor (she was quite easy on the eyes). Most of the others sort of blended in with each other, but I did sort of like Peter Brouwer also.

I’ve heard some call this film boring – maybe it’s a nostalgic thing, but I don’t see it at all. Running around in the rain, wearing slickers, looking for people who have gone missing, only to get killed, with the body being found later by another character – God, it’s a fun time. Made better by the fact that one of the characters who could possibly help out is trying to make his way back to camp, but hindered by the rain, a broken-down truck, what-have-you. I thought much of the tension toward the finale was great.

Honestly, when you’re talking about the first five Friday the 13th films, there’s very little to dislike about them. All five are varying degrees of fun, and all five are easily above average. This first film, with that iconic score and great ending (solid decapitation), is a lot of fun, and I always get a kick out of it, though with the second, third, and fourth films, elements certainly improve. Still a horror classic, despite the unfortunate existence of some mediocre sequels.

8/10

This classic was covered on Fight Evil’s seventh podcast by Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and myself, so give it a listen if you’re interested.

The Attic (2007)

attic

Directed by Mary Lambert [Other horror films: Pet Sematary (1989), Pet Sematary II (1992), Strange Frequency (2001), Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005), Mega Python vs. Gatoroid (2011)]

This is a rather cheap-looking film, which is obvious from the camerawork, some of the performances, and even the music. Still, if you’re looking for a somewhat interesting and psychological movie, this might be it.

First thing I noticed when I started this up was the main character’s played by Elisabeth Moss (who is known for a variety of things, but I know best as Zoey Bartlet, the youngest daughter of the president in The West Wing). When I first saw this film years back, I hadn’t really seen many West Wing episodes, so watching it now, knowing Moss, it was a funner experience. She doesn’t do too bad, either, and really pulls off the “is this real or am I going insane” type scenario.

Unfortunately, she’s probably the best-cast in the film. Tom Malloy, did pretty well as an autistic brother, but Catherine Mary Stewart (of Night of the Comet and Nightflyers fame) and John Savage (he’s been in a ton of things, but nothing I’ve really seen) sort of sucked as their parents. Their performance just didn’t jibe with me. Jason Lewis and Thomas Jay Ryan also didn’t really do anything for me in their respective roles, though admittedly, Lewis did come across as charming on occasion.

Because it’s a straight-to-video movie, there’s not much in the way of special effects. Most of the time, it’s just a figure quickly walking by the door-frame, or in the mirror, that leads to most jump scares. There was a single throat-slitting that wasn’t shabby, but aside from that, little to no gore is to be found here.

The draw here is the story, and whether or not what’s happening is the result of some supernatural incident or a conspiracy to drive a young woman insane. Or a cult. Or a twin sister separated at birth who wants revenge. Really, this movie played with a lot of options, and I’m perfectly fine with the more downbeat direction the conclusion took.

If there are any downsides that need to be discussed, it’d come from a few directions. Firstly, I get that this family is moderately dysfunctional, but the constant drama got a bit tiring as the movie dragged on, which wasn’t made easier by the fact both parents were pretty unlikable. There was also a very stagy feel to this movie – at times, I felt like I was watching Guiding Light all over again, or another one of those soap operas of the bygone era. It’s nothing that too negatively impacted the film, but it was noticeable. Lastly, I wanted fewer jump scares and more wholesome horror, but until the end, we never really got that.

The Attic is a cheap movie, straight-to-video, and it definitely shows. That said, at times, this film can be pretty suspenseful, and I do think the story is intriguing enough to pull in most audiences. There’s little here that’s fully original, but especially if you’re familiar with Moss, this might well be worth looking into. As for myself, I definitely enjoyed it more this time around as opposed to when I first saw it.

7.5/10

Tourist Trap (1979)

Tourist Tra[

Directed by David Schmoeller [Other horror films: Crawlspace (1986), Catacombs (1988), Puppet Master (1989), The Arrival (1991), Netherworld (1992), Possessed (2005), Little Monsters (2012), Puppet Master: Blitzkrieg Massacre (2018), Death Heads: Brain Drain (2018)]

I’ve wanted to see this one for years, and while it certainly had that odd vibe I was sort of expecting, with a really interesting story, ultimately, I didn’t end up loving it.

With little gore or nudity to add to the film, Tourist Trap got by on the unique feel of the story. There were some intense and creepy scenes throughout, though it’s not without dull moments from time-to-time. The atmosphere was solid also, but unfortunately it doesn’t make up for the drawbacks of the film.

These drawbacks come mainly from the acting and the antagonist. None of the performances here were particularly stellar – if I’d have to name the best, I’d probably give it to Chuck Connors (and given his vast IMDb filmography, especially compared to the others in the film, that’s probably not much a surprise). Jocelyn Jones didn’t do that poorly, and toward the end, gave off a “this situation is driving me crazy” Marilyn Burns feel, but her overacting rubbed me the wrong way. To be fair, Connors’ was a bit much at times also. Nobody else in the film really stood out one way or the other.

The antagonist was a bit of a surprise, but aspects of the character didn’t do it for me, mainly the voice. It’s beyond me to explain exactly what I didn’t like about it, but suffice it to say that while he looked creepy, his voice sort of ruined much of the effect for me. If he had just not spoken, been more the silent killer like Jason or Michael, I think he’d have been quite a bit more menacing.

Tourist Trap is an interesting movie, and certainly has its place as a cult classic. It’s not surreal or anything, but I did occasionally get a Phantasm vibe (which came out also in ’79) – that said, given how there’s nothing similar whatsoever in the plots or stories, that may just be me. The creepy vibe is solid, and the opening sequence pretty freaky, but overall, I don’t think this is one that I’d go out of my way to revisit. It’s not a bad film, just sort of ehh.

6/10