Sisters (1972)

Directed by Brian De Palma [Other horror films: Phantom of the Paradise (1974), Carrie (1976), The Fury (1978), Raising Cain (1992)]

Brian De Palma’s first real movie of note (shortly afterwards overshadowed almost entirely by the immensely popular Carrie), Sisters is a rather interesting and somewhat decent film, though it’s not necessarily altogether as enjoyable as I remember it being from my first experience viewing.

For the longest time, pretty much everything works out. You’ve a journalist (played by Jennifer Salt, an actress often used in De Palma’s earlier films) investigating a murder she witnessed (which the police don’t have enough evidence to look into) with the occasional help of private detective (Charles Durning). The murderer, Margot Kidder’s potentially psychotic character. For the first 50-odd minutes, I think Sisters is an enjoyably immersive movie.

There comes a point, though, about in hour in when there’s a bit of a turn taken that I didn’t entirely care for. Instead of a more clear-cut investigation, it turns more into a trippy, drug-fueled flick for ten, fifteen minutes, and that transition I didn’t care for. Also, while I really love the final shot in the film, I find the overall conclusion somewhat unsatisfactory.

Honestly, I’m not a big fan of Kidder’s performance here, but I did really enjoy both Charles Durning and Jennifer Salt. William Finley (who later appeared in such films as Hooper’s Eaten Alive and The Funhouse) also appeared, but much like Kidder, neither his character nor his performance, especially toward the end, did much for me at all.

Sisters does have a few positives going for it, of course, perhaps most notably a rather fun sequence involving split screen (which was also used briefly in De Palma’s later film, Carrie). The split screen sequence was really enjoyable, and brought with it a solid vibe. Also, the gore, while not a highlight of the film, by any means, is decent. Lastly, like I said, I really love the final shot of the film – not sure exactly why, but it always has a somewhat ominous feel to me.

I enjoyed Sisters a lot more the first time I saw it than I did this time around. Certainly aspects are well-done, and for a majority of the movie, I find myself having a good time, but the conclusion really didn’t work out for me, and while it’s likely still worth seeing, I actually find the film somewhat below average, at least this time around.

6.5/10

Terror House (1972)

Directed by Bud Townsend [Other horror films: Nightmare in Wax (1969)]

Perhaps better known under the (admittedly more memorable) title Terror at Red Wolf Inn, Terror House is an interesting, though ultimately somewhat forgettable, little movie.

The plot is of mild interest, what with young women being lured to a remote inn for a vacation, only to eventually be killed and consumed by the elderly cannibalistic owners, and it’s that cannibal aspect that I find most unique. Two years before The Texas Chain Saw Massacre hit the scene, we have a movie with a cannibalistic family going after people, which makes me wonder why this one isn’t mentioned a bit more.

Truth be told, there’s not a whole lot I wanted to touch upon on Terror House, but a few things stand out, such as the peacefully catchy opening song (credited as ‘My Dream’ by Marilyn Lovell), a folk-county piece that pulls you into the movie. Okay, it’s not that good, but it was a nice, somewhat cheesy, song, and it looks like I’ll have to rip it from the movie itself as no other videos seem to exist of it online.

Within the film, two scenes stand out, both of which are amazingly ridiculous. In the first scene, our main character Regina (played by Linda Gillen) finds out she’s won a vacation to the mysterious Red Wolf Inn, and excited beyond comprehension, she runs out of her dorm room to tell her neighbors, or anyone, that ‘I’m a winner! I won! I’m a winner!’ Such exuberance has nary been witnessed before on screen. It’s just hilarious.

Also hilarious is when a somewhat off man named Baby John (played by John Neilson) sees a shark swimming near the shore, and he freaks out, screaming ‘SHARK!’ and then mercilessly beating it to death on a rock, then once done, turns to Regina, only to say that he loves her. He walks away. Regina’s confused. Cue end scene.

Despite what these two scenes might otherwise suggest, like most 70’s horror, Terror House generally took itself seriously. The older cast members (Arthur Space and Mary Jackson) were both seemingly sweet, but turned out rather sadistic, and while there’s not much in the way of gore here, there were a few solidly suspenseful sequences that weren’t too shabby.

Linda Gillen wasn’t amazing here, but she did have that youthful naiveté that I sort of appreciated, though how she fell for a guy like Baby John (John Neilson), I’ll never understand. She did seem a little bit of a ditz, so maybe she didn’t think too much on it. Neilson, for his part, was sort of interesting, as his character was conflicted between following the family tradition or breaking free of the madness and finding a potential stability. Both Arthur Space and Mary Jackson were fun, all things considered.

As interesting as portions of Terror House are, there’s also a fair share of dull sequences, such as multiple scenes eating dinner (always awkward), or just a general slow-moving plot. Mill Creek Entertainment’s copy of the movie isn’t great, but at least this got a DVD release, however cheap, because otherwise, I suspect this would even more unknown.

The conclusion of the film was questionable, but I did appreciate the layout of the credits (setting things up like an old-fashioned menu, which was pretty cute). Overall, while the goofy scenes are a treat, I don’t think Terror House is a movie that I’d revisit all that often, and can only tepidly recommend it for a single watch.

5.5/10

Tales from the Crypt (1972)

Tales

Directed by Freddie Francis [Other horror films: The Brain (1962), The Day of the Triffids (1963), Paranoiac (1963), Nightmare (1964), The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), The Skull (1965), The Psychopath (1966), The Deadly Bees (1966), They Came from Beyond Space (1967), Torture Garden (1967), Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly (1970), Trog (1970), Gebissen wird nur nachts – das Happening der Vampire (1971), The Creeping Flesh (1973), Son of Dracula (1973), Tales That Witness Madness (1973), Craze (1974), Legend of the Werewolf (1975), The Ghoul (1975), The Doctor and the Devils (1985), Dark Tower (1989)]

This horror film by Amicus is one of the better examples of a solid anthology. Well-known for their various anthology films (including The House That Dripped Blood, Asylum, and The Vault of Horror), Tales from the Crypt is probably one of Amicus’ best, and ends up a rather classic film.

With five tales throughout, only one is particularly weak, being the second story, or ‘Reflection of Death.’ You can see the twist from miles away, and it’s just not all that good. While the fourth story, or ‘Wish You Were Here,’ isn’t that strong, it at least can boast a pretty shocking ending.

Without a doubt, the two best stories are the third and fifth, being ‘Poetic Justice’ and ‘Blind Alleys.’ The third story works amazingly well due to the sympathy that can easily be felt for the character Grimsdyke (played spectacularly by Peter Cushing). The performance Cushing gives is utterly heartbreaking, and he plays such a likable guy. ‘Blind Alleys’ on the flip-side is notable for it’s pretty solid gore (while there’s not much on-screen, that razor-blade wall just looks hella lethal), and shows a desperate revenge by the downtrodden.

Peter Cushing gave the best performance here, but he was far from alone. Joan Collins was pretty good in ‘…And All Through the House’ (while a good story with a fun conclusion, it doesn’t stack up to the better stories presented), if not a little stilted. Nigel Patrick and Patrick Magee, both of whom were in ‘Blind Alleys,’ really worked well off each other, Patrick able to really pull off an intolerable military-minded individual, and Magee the righteous fury that one would feel in his situation. Ralph Richardson pulls it all together playing the enigmatic Crypt Keeper (in a far more somber tone than the character would later be known for).

All the actors in the film have a wide-range of additions of the horror genre (Cushing is, in fact, one of my favorite actors), appearing in films from Dementia 13 (Magee), The Black Castle (Richard Greene, from ‘Wish You Were Here’), Repulsion (Ian Hendry from ‘Reflection of Death’) to The House That Dripped Blood (Chloe Franks from the first story). There’s a lot of quality here, even with the actors and actresses who didn’t do as much for me. Certainly a cast worth watching.

Tales from the Crypt might come across as a bit slow, perhaps dry, in a way that one might expect from 1970’s British movies, and maybe somewhat generic to the modern-day viewer (and there’s no denying it’s not as fun as Creepshow). Personally, it’s a film I’ve seen many times and always loved, despite the failings of a few of the stories. ‘Blind Alleys’ and ‘Poetic Justice’ alone make this movie worth watching, though, so if you’ve passed this up because early 70’s British horror doesn’t do it for you, I’d recommend reconsidering.

8.5/10

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

Night of the Lepus (1972)

Night of the Lepus

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

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

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

7/10

Stanley (1972)

Stanley

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

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

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

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

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

7.5/10