Communion (1976)

Directed by Alfred Sole [Other horror films: Pandemonium (1982)]

Certainly a proto-slasher classic, at times almost feeling like an American giallo, Communion (more commonly known as Alice, Sweet Alice) is definitely a worthwhile and interesting film, and worth the watch if you’ve not yet seen it.

Like many 70’s films, there is a chance some of the material could come across as dry, but personally, I think the story here was interesting enough to combat some of those inclinations. It also helps that the mystery of the killer is an engaging one, and though we happen to find out who the killer is with around thirty minutes left to go, the mystery still holds up.

Another aspect that I can’t help but give kudos to is the gritty setting. This isn’t a high-budget film, and it really shines due to it. The broken down city, what with empty factories and other industrial constructs, really gives the movie additional feeling. Assisting with the gloom is the heavy rainfall, and I think it does wonders to the atmosphere of the film.

With plenty of competent and compelling performances all around, it’s hard to point to any one actor or actress as the best here. Certainly Linda Miller and Rudolph Willrich work well together, and Willrich’s scenes with Niles McMaster (of The Incredible Torture Show) positively stand out. Mildred Clinton gives a great performance of a character with quite a lot of emotional punch, and you can’t forget Alphonso DeNoble, who’s atypical physical appearance and sleazy behavior really allows him to stand out.

Oh, and of course, playing Alice, there’s Paula E. Sheppard, who, amazingly, despite playing a 12-year old girl, celebrated her 19th birthday during the shooting of the film. She certainly doesn’t look it, and I think she gives off a great performance, especially early on when there’s still some mystery surrounding the mysterious deaths of those around her.

Of course, what would a review of Communion be without talking about the deeply religious nature of the film? I was raised Roman Catholic, and though much of that is far behind me, I did enjoy seeing much of this carnage play out around parishioners of the Catholic church. Some see this film partially as an attack of the church, but that needn’t be the case. Some of the mayhem occurred due to religious reasons, to be sure, but there are good and bad people throughout the film with Catholic leanings, so I think some calling this an indictment upon the church may be over-reacting.

Like I relayed in my review of Children of the Corn, among other films, religious mania, leading to violence, is especially horrifying because, at least in the USA, it’s very much a possibility. In Children of the Corn, Isaac and his peeps thought age inevitably led to moral corruption, and so logically made the move to kill them before reaching that age. Here, the killer has a perfectly logical reason, at least in regards to their beliefs, for the actions they take, and when such atrocities can be defended due to religious beliefs, and there’s no chance to possibly break through to them, that’s a good show of the real world coming into the film.

Communion, or Alice, Sweet Alice, isn’t a perfect film, but I do think it’s an exceptionally strong one, and really fits in with the gritty and serious nature of 70’s horror. In fact, had this been made even five years later, I think it would have been a significantly different film, so I’m happy that this was made when it was, as it encapsulates much of what I love about that time period. The kills aren’t the focus, but they’re solid when they pop up, and I love the mystery here. Definitely a classic that’s worth a watch.

8/10

This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss Alice, Sweet Alice (or Communion, if you’re partial to original titles, brah).

Burnt Offerings (1976)

Directed by Dan Curtis [Other horror films: House of Dark Shadows (1970), Night of Dark Shadows (1971), The Night Strangler (1973), The Norliss Tapes (1973), The Invasion of Carol Enders (1973), Scream of the Wolf (1974), Dracula (1974), The Turn of the Screw (1974), Trilogy of Terror (1975), Dead of Night (1977), Curse of the Black Widow (1977), Intruders (1992), Trilogy of Terror II (1996)]

Ah, good ole’ Burnt Offerings.

I can imagine that to a modern-day audience, Burnt Offerings can come across as overly drawn out and unnecessarily lengthy. At almost two hours long, one could almost see their point, were it not for the fact that Burnt Offerings is fantastic from beginning to end.

Ever since I first saw this one, it stuck with me long after I saw it. To be sure, a large part of this was due almost singularly to the character of The Chauffeur (Anthony James), who has been my Twitter banner, and occasionally my avatar on various sites, since seeing this, but even ignoring what a great character James was, the story’s slow pacing and steadily increasing unease is some of the best slow-burn I’ve seen in a long time.

Another thing that can’t go unmentioned is the stellar cast. Karen Black and Oliver Reed (Paranoiac) do phenomenally, Reed in particular during the pool sequences. Of course, Burgess Meredith was nice to see in his brief scenes, and I’ll talk more about Anthony James’ performance shortly, but I think the real star here, once you get past Black and Reed, would be Bette Davis.

Though close to 70 at the time this movie came out, Davis was just fantastic as a strong, older woman full of energy only to find that, the longer she stayed at the house, the more she felt drained. She became forgetful and fearful, and her youthful exuberance dissipated almost entirely. The argument she had with Black’s character about whether or not she turned the heat on in the room of Black’s son was a tense one, and really showed the strength of both actresses present. Davis, of course, also starred in both What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, both of which are very much classics themselves.

Anthony James’ The Chauffeur didn’t pop up that often, but pretty much every time he did, talk about tense scenes. It’s amazing that a character with no dialogue and so few on-screen sequences can make such an impression, but James managed it, and managed it beautifully. His scenes are great, and whenever he pops up, you’re in for a heart-racing time.

Are there some unexplained questions? Sure, and even the ending, while pretty solid, probably could have been cleaned up a little, but at the same time, I thought it gave a fantastic element of suspense, and though I didn’t end up loving the conclusion, I definitely felt that it was still worth the wait.

All-in-all, Burnt Offerings is probably one of my favorite of the more traditional haunted house films, beating out great films (The Innocents, though to be fair, this is more of a tie) and others (The Legend of Hell House, 1963’s The Haunting) to really stand out solidly for both the decade of the 1970’s and the genre overall.

8.5/10

This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I review Burnt Offerings.

The Clown Murders (1976)

Directed by Martyn Burke [Other horror films: N/A]

While there are some horror aspects to The Clown Murders, fundamentally, this is a melodramatic flick with far too much talking and far too little killing.

As for the positives, there was a cool shotgun blast through the chest. Also, someone’s hand got stabbed in what was probably one of the most action-packed scenes in this otherwise kill-me-now-I’m-so-bored movie. I mean, this movie was just dull. It had potential, but it meandered and just entirely blew it.

Oh, I’m supposed to be talking positives? Well, I did like William Osler and his character, who had a thick Irish accent. He didn’t appear much, but he was consistently the most amusing thing in this dull piece of tripe.

The Clown Murders is strictly a drama movie for the first hour and five minutes or so. About fifty minutes in, once the group got to the farmhouse, things really could have picked up and gone a more traditionally slasher-esque route, but that’s not what happened. Instead, we got – more talking.

I didn’t get Susan Keller’s character or how exactly she was hoping the prank pulled on her and her husband would go. Half the time, she seems entirely complicit in everything, so when tensions start really rising toward the end of the film, I found myself getting incredibly frustrated.

Pretty much everyone besides Osler is rather annoying in this film. John Candy is probably the worst offender, but Gary Reineke and John Bayliss were pretty bad too. Because of the situation, there’s really no character to particularly root for, and half the time, you just want the characters to shut up and just think through how to best get out of the situation they got themselves into (which shouldn’t be too hard, because as I said, the woman they ‘kidnapped’ seemed to be fine with everything).

There were some slasher aspects for a few minutes, so sure, The Clown Murders is a horror film in my eyes. Many don’t believe it to be, and I entirely understand where they’re coming from. Does a drama that lasts an hour and 35 minutes become horror with just six minutes of horror scenes? Damned if I know, but I thought there was enough to count.

Unfortunately, just because it actually felt like a horror movie at times only makes this atrocity that much worse, since it was obviously marketed as a horror film. And while there are aspects of the genre, it’s really a stretch. I have long-heard this would be a boring movie, and it really is. There’s really nothing here to go out of your way to find this movie for. John Candy was horrible, the film overall was a mess, and there’s nothing to boast about when The Clown Murders is concerned.

4/10

Grizzly (1976)

Directed by William Girdler [Other horror films: Three on a Meathook (1972), Asylum of Satan (1972), Abby (1974), Day of the Animals (1977), The Manitou (1978)]

More than anything, this 70’s rip-off of Jaws, while occasionally charming and certainly possessing a beautiful setting (forested Clayton, Georgia), is ultimately a sluggish experience, and though not without positive aspects, ends up only an okay film.

The main issue here is how sluggish the film is. Sure, the setting is indeed beautiful, and there are a few solid scenes here (bear vs. kid, and bear vs. ranger tower being two of my favorite), but otherwise, Grizzly is just drier than the wood of the trees that make up the forest (horrible analogy, sure, but Grizzly’s still dry).

A few of the characters are decent. The main character, played by Christopher George (who went to later appear in plenty of horror films, including Whiskey Mountain, Day of the Animals, Mortuary, Pieces, City of the Living Dead, Cruise Into Terror, and Graduation Day) was perfectly solid, and I liked the differences in personalities between Andrew Prine’s gruff Vietnam vet character (this is just a few year following the conflict, so he’s still young man) and the scientific viewpoint of Richard Jaeckel. Honestly, none of the three add anything that special to the film, though, which is a bit of a problem.

Oh, and Joan McCall (who had a role in Peopletoys, more commonly known as Devil Time Five) was pretty much useless in this. I don’t really know what the point of her character was, because past a certain scene, she pretty much loses what limited relevance she had to begin with.

I don’t know. Grizzly isn’t that poor of a film, and as far as Jaws rip-offs go, it’s not bad. Like I said, it occasionally possesses a little charm here and there, and there are a few decent scenes, but overall, I think it’s a pretty underwhelming experience, and I’ve seen this twice now, so I think I’m somewhat firm in that stance.

6/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast, so if interested, listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss the film.

Carrie (1976)

Directed by Brian De Palma [Other horror films: Sisters (1972), Phantom of the Paradise (1974), The Fury (1978), Raising Cain (1992)]

For many reasons, Carrie has never been a favorite of mine. I generally enjoy the novel (and the rather unique, journalistic approach the novel takes to the events), but the story itself isn’t really my cup of tea. I enjoy movies that include revenge as much as many horror fans, and the prom sequence here is pretty spectacular, but in terms of enjoyment, the prom sequence (along with the finale as a whole), is about all the movie has to offer.

Don’t get me wrong – many of the main cast members here shine beautifully, such as Sissy Spacek (her performance, especially during the emotionally-tumultuous prom scene is fantastic) as Carrie, and she definitely does a great job. Playing her mother, a religious nutcase (more so than usual), Piper Laurie does amazing. I really liked William Cobb (who later starred in the horror-comedy House), and he too shone, especially during the prom sequence. John Travolta was more a curiosity than anything, and the three actresses Betty Buckley, Nancy Allen, and Amy Irving didn’t really do much for me. It was nice, though, to see P.J. Soles (Lynda from Halloween), despite her character being utterly irredeemable.

That’s one of the big problems for me in this movie – save for Spacek’s Carrie and Buckley’s character, and perhaps Cobb’s, there’s virtually no characters in the movie worth liking. As far as I’m concerned, Carrie never should have been left with a mother so utterly insane, period, and should have been moved out of the house. Related, if the school had done the proper thing and expelled each and every girl who heinously humiliated Carrie at the beginning, like they should have, things may have gone better instead of spiraling out of control.

Carrie didn’t do anything wrong in the movie, as far as I could tell (which is why, near the end, when there’s a spray-painted comment ‘Carrie White burns in hell’, I shake my head in frustration), and the sole blame of the incidents falls squarely and solely on Chris, Billy, and Norma. I think this is my biggest frustration, because none of those actually responsible for this really get the death they deserved, which was not at all satisfactory.

Parts of the movie just piss me off (such as the principal not having every single student who mocked Carrie expelled as his first reaction to the incident), and it’s hard to really enjoy a movie when there’s few characters to root for. I love the 70’s vibe (though that really odd comedic scene in the tuxedo shop, I could have done without), and I know that many 70’s films are a bit on the slower side, but very little of much interest happens before the prom scene, and that’s a problem.

The prom sequence is amazing. I loved the muted dialogue during the laughing, I loved the split screens, and even before the prank got pulled, I loved how Katt’s character really seemed to be enjoying his time with Carrie, and tried to get her to come out of her shell some. It was masterfully done, and if the rest of the movie was done as well as the prom was, then this would easily be in my top horror films for the decade.

Here’s the issue: I can think of at least 25 other horror films from the 1970’s that I’d rather watch again over this one. In fact, I will list ten horror films from the 1970’s that I find infinitely superior and far more enjoyable than Carrie: 1) The Wicker Man, 2) Deep Red, 3) Phantasm, 4) Halloween, 5) The Omen, 6) Burnt Offerings, 7) Theater of Blood, 8) Don’t Torture a Duckling, 9) Rituals, and 10) The Hills Have Eyes. And I can name many more than that, if need be.

Carrie is a classic to so many people, but a single, albeit fantastic, sequence, doesn’t make something a classic to me. Obviously, if Carrie is one of your favorite 70s flicks, by all means, hold onto that. But it’s nowhere in my Top 50 horror flicks of the 1970’s, and it’s not a movie that I find myself going back to. Overall, there are some great performances here, and some really solid content, but the movie is clearly below average in my opinion, and it’s not something I particularly enjoy much.

6/10

This is one of the films discussed on Fight Evil’s podcast, so if you’re interested in hearing Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss and somewhat debate this one, by all means, listen below.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

Town that dreaded

Directed by Charles B. Pierce [Other horror films: The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972), The Evictors (1979), The Barbaric Beast of Boggy Creek, Part II (1984)]

My opinion on this crime/horror hybrid hasn’t much changed since I last saw it. It’s a great little 70’s flick based off a real-life series of murders, and the dry documentary-style the movie partakes in (complete with the great narration of Vern Stierman) really does the story justice.

I think what I enjoy most about this is how focused it is on the procedure the police officers go through in order to capture the killer. Of course, we see many of the kills the police aren’t privy to at the time, but for most of the movie, we’re following Ben Johnson’s Captain J.D. Morales. The spotlight on the attempted detective work (truth be told, evidence was pretty much non-existent) was also helped out by the aforementioned documentary-style of the film. It really felt at times like I was watching an episode of Dragnet (which certainly isn’t meant in a negative way).

I suspect that my main complaint with the film is somewhat similar to many others’ views, and that’s that The Town That Dreaded Sundown is, at times, tonally inconsistent. Charles B. Pierce (the director of the film, as a matter of fact) played a character Patrolman Benson, or Sparkplug, who was almost entirely utilized as comic relief. In a 70’s documentary about savage crimes that have shrouded a community in fear, I thought that Pierce’s character was just too inconsistent. He just felt so out of place. Luckily, that’s one of the few flaws, as both Ben Johnson and Andrew Prine did quite well.

While this next comment isn’t necessarily a fair criticism, I have to say the kills, for a movie often considered a proto-slasher, were somewhat lacking. Much of it was death by gunshot, and the only really unique kill was with the trombone. Now, given this is based off true events, I understand how those comments could come across as tasteless, but there you go. The design of the killer, though, with the awesome hood, certainly stood out as a positive.

Many people have called this film somewhat dry, but I think that’s somewhat the point. The killer of the original crimes in the 1940’s was never caught (many people believe it to have been suspect Youell Swinney, but that’s certainly nowhere near proven or conclusive), which means that the movie doesn’t answer all the questions someone may want. It does, however, lead to the ending, which was just great.

Personally, as a fan of 70’s horror films and their often drier auras, I really like this one. I did when I first saw it, and that’s not changed. I think it’s a rather interesting movie, and while the tone is admittedly inconsistent at times, I definitely think this is a fine film, and probably made for a great drive-in experience.

8.5/10

Squirm (1976)

Squirms

Directed by Jeff Lieberman [Other horror films: Blue Sunshine (1977), Doctor Franken (1980), Just Before Dawn (1981), Satan’s Little Helper (2004)]

With a surprisingly somber tone (though perhaps not too surprising, given both the decade it came out and the strong influence The Birds had on this), Squirm actually stands out pretty well despite the plot initially sounding somewhat silly. Worms don’t particularly bother me, but during some sequences near the end, even I felt a bit uncomfortable.

Honestly, I think a lot of things worked in this film’s favor, from the local Georgia setting (complete with some nice, southern small-town scenery), to the performances throughout, and even the special effects. What otherwise could have been a somewhat ridiculous killer worm tale instead felt at times rather depressing, so Squirm did something right.

Don Scardino makes for a somewhat interesting lead, as he doesn’t really have the typical physique of a hero, but I generally liked his character, and he seemed pretty efficient. Patricia Pearcy was also solid, despite the somewhat annoyingly strong southern accent (she was born in Texas, so it may not have been that much an exaggeration). She later appeared in a little-known slasher called Delusion (or The House Where Death Lives), and stood out there too, so it’s a shame that she’s not done much else.

Many of the others did well also, especially Jean Sullivan (her character added much of the rather dreary atmosphere to some of the scenes), R.A. Dow (this is his single role, which is amazing, as I thought he did damn good here), and Peter MacLean. Fran Higgins (who played Pearcy’s younger sister) wasn’t amazing, but as this was her sole role, and she doesn’t seem a traditional actress, I can excuse that.

The worms themselves added a lot, of course. Like I said, I’m not particularly squeamish in regards to worms, but during the final 15 minutes when they started popping out everywhere (which was pretty well-done, in my opinion), they certainly grossed me out. It felt a little fake, just the sheer amount of them during some scenes, but given they were real worms, I’ll let some of that fly. When the worms were in one of the individual’s face, under the skin, that wasn’t pleasant either.

Another small thing I wanted to mention was a scene in which a tree falls onto a house, which was apparently done in a single shot with the actors/actresses actually present. They tied it into the movie, but given the strong damage the town had taken during the previous night’s storm, to me, it felt like a rather human element thrown in, something that seemed more real, and I rather liked that.

If Squirm has any faults, and it does, I’d say that they probably could have cut the film down a bit. The first half has a lot of running around, which, while adding a sort of ‘solving a mystery’ vibe, felt somewhat dry in the way that many 70’s movies tend to feel. I did appreciate the entirely serious way the story was handled, though perhaps the opening text was a bit overboard.

While director Jeff Lieberman didn’t do a lot for the genre, the movies he did direct (including this one, Blue Sunshine, which I’ve yet to see, Just Before Dawn, and Satan’s Little Helper) certainly had some flair. I think that this film has a lot going for it, and while it didn’t leave much an impression on me the first time I saw it (probably because it was during October, and remembering individual movies during that month is always hard), it definitely did this time.

8/10