From Beyond the Grave (1974)

Directed by Kevin Connor [Other horror films: Motel Hell (1980), The House Where Evil Dwells (1982), Frankenstein (2004)]

I’ve not seen nearly all of the Amicus anthology horror films yet, but this being the final one they released, I was expecting something more. Unfortunately, this felt like leftover stories from previous films, and I hate to say that almost nothing here was up to the standards that I really expected.

None of the stories here were on par with the best stories from, say, Tales from the Crypt or Vault of Horror, or even The House That Dripped Blood (which was a bit more average than the first two listed). I guess that, if I had to pick a favorite story, I might go ‘An Act of Kindess,’ but even that one didn’t really hit the spot.

Of the five stories, that’s a common complaint. I don’t think any of them are actually bad, but all of them feel like they’re missing something, which is unfortunate, given that, like every Amicus anthology I’ve seen, this one possesses a decent cast.

Peter Cushing (who is a favorite of mine, with the various horror films he’s been in) was solid in his role, and I liked his corny finish, as he’s speaking to the audience. David Warner (The Omen and Nightwing) was fine, but his character didn’t really have much depth, and the story he was featured in (‘The Gate Crasher’) was the definition of average. And as for Donald Pleasance, I loved seeing him here, but I didn’t really get what his character was supposed to be, which isn’t on him, but just the nature of his story ‘An Act of Kindness.’

Only a few others really stand out, such as Ian Carmichael, Margaret Leighton (who was by far the funniest performance in the film) and Ian Banner, which isn’t a problem, as I doubt that more solid performances would have really helped when the stories were all varying degrees of lack-luster.

From Beyond the Grave, being Amicus’ final anthology horror outing, was a disappointment, and more of a disappointment than I’d have really believed possible from Amicus. I wasn’t a fan of Torture Garden, but that was early on for them, and it seemed that by Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror that they found a good balance with their stories. This one didn’t cut it, though.

5.5/10

Sugar Hill (1974)

Directed by Paul Maslansky [Other horror films: N/A]

I’ve known about this movie for some time now, but it never sounded like something I’d really care to see (especially having such a limited experience with blaxploitation). After seeing it, though, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. By no means an amazing movie, Sugar Hill is a decent amount of fun.

Seeing a wronged woman get revenge is a good set-up. It’s quick, too, and it doesn’t take long for her to approach an old voodoo priestess and gain the power of Baron Samedi (who was one of the best characters in all of cinema, let’s be honest). After that, she uses her army of zombies to strike against those who killed the man she loved, and it’s a fun ride.

Marki Bey (who was really never in that much) did a great job playing the titular character, and you can definitely feel sympathy for her character and support her revenge. Don Pedro Colley did great as the hammy Baron Samedi – he spent a good portion of his screen-time laughing evilly at the revenge that Sugar Hill was getting. He seemed quite supportive of her, and the two of them made a quality pair.

Robert Quarry (Count Yorga, Vampire and Madhouse being two of his more well-known roles) and Betty Anne Rees made for some solid antagonists. I sort of felt bad for Rees’ character at the end, but at the same time, I think of the racist things she said throughout the film, and just shrug it off. I expected a little more from Richard Lawson’s character, but he was somewhat limited as far as the plot went, so that’s okay.

As far as the zombie design went, it was moderately simple, but I was happy with it. I could have done without the bulging eyes, but I did like how some of their faces were covered with webs – that lent them a creepier look. They were also used to good effect, and reminiscent of what you might see from the voodoo zombie horror films of the genre’s yesteryears (such as White Zombie).

It’s somewhat true that Sugar Hill felt a little shallow, but it was still a pretty fun time, knew what it was going for, and gave us the hammy and delightful performance from Colley, which I just loved. Certainly a surprise, I won’t regret watching Sugar Hill.

7.5/10

It’s Alive (1974)

Directed by Larry Cohen [Other horror films: God Told Me To (1976), It Lives Again (1978), Full Moon High (1981), Q (1982), Special Effects (1984), The Stuff (1985), It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987), A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987), Wicked Stepmother (1989), The Ambulance (1990)]

It’s Alive suffers from one of the most common problems that haunts 70’s movies, being that it’s dry. It doesn’t help that, like some of Cohen’s other movies (The Stuff and God Told Me To) it has a wider scope, so we’re dealing with more than just the husband and wife of a deadly and murderous mutated child. Because of that, a lot of the movie seems to drag, and doesn’t seem able to ever pull itself out of that.

I certainly enjoy aspects of the film fine, which is the same that I can say for most movies from the 1970’s – I like the vibes they had, and it always interests me to see how far we’ve come in terms of technology. During a scene, the main guy reaches into a refrigerator, and then once he closes the door, there’s what looks like another refrigerator right next to it (spoilers: it’s a freezer). That’s a small thing, and of no consequence whatsoever to the movie, but I like little things like that.

What I didn’t care for was much of It’s Alive, though. It could have ended around an hour and 12 minutes, and I think that would have been welcomed, but it keeps going for another twenty minutes, and I just don’t know why. It’s not like there’s that much here that’s overly interesting anyway, and like I said, it just felt like it was dragging for most of the film.

Never having seen this, I was sort of expecting something like I Don’t Want to Be Born (1975), but you know, as bad a rep as that film has, I thought it was both a lot more fun and a lot more memorable than this one. Here, you have no performances at all that stand out, almost no scenes that stand out, and just an overall lack of interesting content. Maybe I’m missing something, but for the time being, this one just failed hard.

5/10

Black Christmas (1974)

Directed by Bob Clark [Other horror films: Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1972), Dead of Night (1974), Murder by Decree (1979)]

This is a true classic of the genre, and one of the first real slashers, coming out four years before Halloween. It’s a movie that, to be honest, I’ve only seen once before sitting down and revisiting it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t adore Black Christmas and the approach the movie took.

While it could perhaps rightfully be said that the plot here isn’t anything to celebrate that heavily, Black Christmas was one of the first movies to really throw together your typical slasher situation. Sure, a few movies prior had similar ideas (such as the British oddity The Haunted House of Horror, also known as Horror House), but this one cemented many of the core elements (including the final girl finding bodies of deceased friends and a first person point-of-view from the killer). The plot may not read like anything special, but it really is.

And taking a step back from the importance of the movie itself, the cast here holds some rather interesting faces, among them Olivia Hussey and John Saxon. Hussey, I won’t lie, I know purely from the 1990 mini-series It, but she looks pretty much the same, and I just loved seeing her here. Saxon’s been in quite a few horror films, A Nightmare on Elm Street being the finest, and he too brought a lot to the film, though he was far from a central character.

Lynne Griffin was one of the earlier casualties in the film, but given she played one of the main characters of the slasher Curtains nine years later, it was, much like Hussey, fun to see her. Both Margot Kidder and Marian Waldman were solid in this too, though Waldman’s character was mainly for comic relief, which, while funny, did feel off at times.

It is true that there’s not many great kills here – the best one, and I think this is beyond dispute, would be the stabbing with the glass unicorn, which was well-done due to it being spliced in with Christmas carolers blocking out the screams. The death wasn’t amazing, but I think it was still solid. What’s more effective is how an early victim in the film would keep popping up, just a body on a rocking chair with her head wrapped in plastic (which, if it sounds familiar, I’d recommend you check the poster). Not sure why, but that just had a creepy aura to it.

Another aspect that certainly merits mention is the somber finale. It’s not entirely dreary, but it is definitely downbeat, and I think that final scene is one of the more memorable things about the movie. It’s a good cherry on top of an already delicious dessert.

I said at the beginning, though, that Black Christmas isn’t perfect. When I think of 70’s horror I love, Black Christmas doesn’t often make my top ten or fifteen. No doubt it’s a good movie, not to mention an important one, but it’s never been my go-to. That said, if you’ve not yet seen this one, I highly recommend giving it a watch, because it’s well-regarded by many for good reason.

8/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one.

Nightmare Honeymoon (1974)

Directed by Elliot Silverstein [Other horror films: The Car (1977)]

If ever a movie has been marketed to the wrong audience, Nightmare Honeymoon would be a great example. Looking at the poster, you’d expect perhaps a somewhat exploitative grindhouse flick, but instead, you get a drama with a pinch of horror (and that’s if you’re being generous).

This isn’t really the movie’s fault, but more whoever decided to try and pitch the film to horror fans. When all’s said and done, Nightmare Honeymoon is decent, but it’s really not what I was looking for whatsoever, and I can’t help but find a lot of it a waste of time.

It could have been decent, though. This could have been a bloody tale of revenge, but instead, it felt like a subdued action movie at best, and overly melodramatic at worst. It wasn’t without it’s potential, as Rebecca Dianna Smith does well as a tragic victim of rape, and her husband (of a few hours, as they were on their honeymoon when she was attacked) Dack Rambo did good as someone seeking revenge.

But the revenge here wasn’t like what you might think from watching The Last House on the Left or I Spit on Your Grave, but just chasing down the manic rapist (played sadistically by John Beck) with ill intent and a gun.

If this is the type of movie you’re looking for, then it probably works well for you. The movie isn’t bad, like I said, just marketed to the wrong people. As a drama, Nightmare Honeymoon might be worth a watch, and even as a tepid tale of revenge, maybe there’s an audience, but as a horror movie, I think it’s quite weak and very much a disappointment.

4/10

Young Frankenstein (1974)

Directed by Mel Brooks [Other horror films: Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995)]

Perhaps one of the most famous horror spoofs of all time, Young Frankenstein is a great flick with mostly solid comedy and a good feel of classic horror films, especially, unsurprisingly, the 1931 classic Frankenstein.

Gene Wilder is an actor I’ve not seen in many other films, but he is great nonetheless. I particularly love his louder moments, from his outburst at the beginning of the movie (“I AM A SCIENTIST, NOT A PHILOSOPHER!”) to the always-fun “IT COULD WORK!” He’s funny throughout, though, from lines like “That goes without saying,” to “What knockers,” all eliciting solid laughs.

Marty Feldman is the other piece that really makes the film work. His often-sassy attitude (“Well, they were wrong then, weren’t they”) is a lot of fun, and he works well with Wilder, though his charade ability really sucks. Also worth mentioning, playing the Monster, Peter Boyle does a fantastic job, and though his dialogue is rather lacking, he does present some great facial expressions.

In all honesty, Young Frankenstein isn’t really the type of movie that I’d go out of my way to see. Personally, I do happen to consider spoofs of the horror genre a part of the genre themselves, but even so, overtly comedic horror films aren’t my go-to (though I am certainly no stranger to comedy films in general). This one did get a bit silly a few times (such as the dancing scene during the scientific demonstration), but much of it was just as funny now as it was when I last saw it. It’s a classic for a reason, and Wilder certainly makes it a film that’s not forgettable.

8/10

L’ossessa (1974)

L'ossessa

Directed by Mario Gariazzo [Other horror films: Play Motel (1979), Schiave bianche – Violenza in Amazzonia (1985)]

Having not seen this one in what has to be at least six years, I was taken aback by how out there the beginning was, only to be disappointed by the last two-thirds of the film as it went down a predictable route.

Made following the success of The Exorcist, L’ossessa (known under plenty of alternative titles, including Eerie Midnight Horror Show, Enter the Devil, and The Sexorcist), actually starts off in a moderately unique and creepy fashion. Stand-outs sequences include a rather brutal (and weird) crucifixion of the main character, along with quite a suspenseful scene on some stairwells, that sequence perhaps being one of the more tense 70’s scenes I’ve witnessed in a while. The wooden carving coming to life near the beginning was off-putting also.

There wasn’t much gore to speak of (even though the crucifixion was brutal, there wasn’t tons of blood present), and special effects overall were pretty poor, but at the same time, I think they were able to work with what they had to craft the type of movie they set out to.

Stella Carnacina did great as the main character, and you really felt for her at times. Her parents, played by Chris Avram (Bay of Blood perhaps being his biggest work in the genre) and Lucretia Love, both did well, despite somewhat bad dubbing for the pair of them. Luigi Pistilli, who has been in not only Bay of Blood, but other Italian classics such as The Case of the Scorpion’s Tale, The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire, and Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, went all-out as the exorcist priest, and despite not having appeared until near the end of the film, made one of the best impressions. Finally, playing the devil, Ivan Rassimov (Planet of the Vampires, All the Colors of Dark, and Man from Deep River being his best-known films) probably laughed evilly a bit too much for my liking, but still obviously had fun with his performance.

The dubbing, as I touched on earlier, was pretty atrocious (I prefer subtitles when possible anyhow). It wasn’t helped by the fact that the audio quality for the most common print of the film can come across as awfully muddy at times. Still, it didn’t entirely cancel out some great lines of dialogue about how “there’s no such thing as incest,” and “masochistic tomfoolery.” Much of the dialogue was a hoot, despite the poor dubbing (or maybe because of it), and in a way, that added a bit of charm. Nice also were some of the Etruscan tombs, which were rather threatening.

L’ossessa’s biggest problem is that the final two-thirds of the film are pretty predictable and aren’t really all that interesting, especially compared to the wild ride we got for the first thirty minutes. Certainly, once the possession is clear, there’s not really a whole lot to look forward to (trying to seduce the priest attempting to exorcise her was fun, but not enough to cut it). I liked it more this time around than when I first saw it, and it can occasionally be both amusing and creepy, but I can’t see it being one I go out of my way to watch in the future.

6/10

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Directed by Tobe Hooper [Other horror films: Eaten Alive (1976), The Dark (1979), Salem’s Lot (1979), The Funhouse (1981), Poltergeist (1982), 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), The Apartment Complex (1999), Crocodile (2000), Shadow Realm (2002), Toolbox Murders (2004), Mortuary (2005), Djinn (2013)]

Six years after the low budget hit Night of the Living Dead, and two years after Craven’s gritty debut, The Last House on the Left, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre follows in it’s predecessors footsteps as a gritty, violent, unforgettable experience.

My problem has always been, though, that I don’t find the experience altogether enjoyable.

So many things about this movie are amazing: Leatherface’s screen presence is off the charts – all his kills are memorable. And his first on-screen appearance still scares the shit out of me. The room with the bones, feathers, and nightmarish furniture was truly horrifying. The chase scenes are tense, and feel quite real (as virtue to the lower-budget, in my opinion). Marilyn Burns does an absolutely amazing job as a woman who has been thrown off the cliff of sanity. And those final ten minutes? Still stands up amazingly to today’s standards.

So given all of those positives, what’s my problem? It stems basically to the fact that while memorable, I just couldn’t enjoy this. It’s gritty, dark, occasionally uncomfortable, and dreary as hell. And sure, while the first thirty minutes are slow (I’ve never been a fan of the hitchhiker scene), my main issue is that I just don’t find this all that enjoyable.

A masterpiece in it’s own right, I recognize the contributions Hooper made to the genre with this flick. But as good as many of the portions are, and as great an actress as Burns was, this isn’t a movie I find myself willingly re-watching all that often. I’d take Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, hell, even Leprechaun, any time over this. A solid movie that stands out a gritty piece of history, but still, I have to give it just below average, which is what I’ve consistently given this flick every time I’ve seen it.

6.5/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast, so if you want to hear Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one, look no further.