Magic (1978)

Directed by Richard Attenborough [Other horror films: N/A]

Certainly a well-known film, and for good reason, Magic is a fantastic psychological horror film with some solid actors, a good story, and great tense scenes.

Obviously, Anthony Hopkins here is just amazing. When it comes to high-caliber actors, he’s not really at the top of my list (though I’ve loved him in plenty of movies, from the action-adventure The Edge to the court-based thriller Fracture), but he does fantastic here, and his tense character is both uncomfortable to watch yet almost impossible to look away from. Burgess Meredith (here two years following a small appearance in Burnt Offerings) is great too, in his chummy agent way.

The scene the two share in which Meredith’s character confronts Hopkins’ about his mental problems is pretty fantastic from beginning to end, and within possesses one of the tensest scenes in the film, where Meredith challenges Hopkins’ to shut up the dummy, Fats, for five minutes. We pretty much know he’s going to break at some point, but even so, it’s a great scene, and Meredith looks like his heart breaks when he sees just how far gone Hopkins is.

Ann-Margret is good here too, of course, and I’ll even give some kudos to Ed Lauter, but really, Burgess Meredith and especially Anthony Hopkins steal the show.

Because the film is based more around the mental decline of a character than anything else, there’s not a whole lot of gore here, but the few murders we get are all decently solid (though I don’t think any of them are really all that memorable, as little as that really means). Certainly the highlight of the film works out great, and even the conclusion is oddly emotional given the situation.

I don’t think that Magic will ever top my list of the 1970’s, because there were so many fantastic and enjoyable films from the decade, but this is definitely a film that’s worth seeing, especially if you want a little something different in your horror, and more so, if you’re a fan of Hopkins.

8/10

This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I find the magic in Magic, brahs.

The Toolbox Murders (1978)

Directed by Dennis Donnelly [Other horror films: N/A]

Certainly a movie that’s steeped in the 1970’s, The Toolbox Murders has a pretty fun idea and I think it does an okay job with it, but it’s possibly not the type of movie that people might be expecting.

At first, much of the film follows a standard slasher route, what with a  killer dispatching multiple women in bloody ways. The killer’s wearing a ski mask, and it almost seems a mystery as to who he is. But The Toolbox Murders isn’t that type of movie, and before long, we find out who the killer is and why they do the killing, with the rest of the film being a brother investigating the disappearance of his sister.

That might not sound like a great tonal shift, but honestly, I think it works out fine. We got some pretty solid kills in the first thirty minutes or so, so when it switched over to a girl being held captive by the killer, it felt natural enough. The killer was certainly pretty well-acted, and his religious mania was nicely laid out (in fact, he has a five minute dialogue – just him rambling on – which really shows where his mind’s at).

Not all of the acting is that great, though. I thought that Nicolas Beauvy and Wesley Eure were reasonable, and Eure added something a bit unique toward the end of the film, but neither were going to win awards over this. Cameron Mitchell (who starred in many horror films, such as Blood and Black Lace, Haunts, and The Demon) was pretty solid throughout, of course, but playing the abducted woman, Pamelyn Ferdin didn’t really feel alive until the finale.

The finale itself was interesting, though, with a few story shifts added in. I wouldn’t call any of them terribly shocking, but it did give the movie a bit of a jolt following twenty or so minutes of somewhat dry drama. Certainly, being this is a 70’s film, everything here is played straight, even the sillier stuff in the end that maybe shouldn’t haven been, but you have to appreciate the decade for sticking to it’s guns.

One notable thing I really liked here was the music, much of it of the country vein, but still pretty good. “Pretty Lady”, a duet sung by George Deaton and an unidentified woman, worked beautifully during a scene in which a woman was about to be killed off. It lent the film something special, especially given how cheap much of the movie feels anyway.

I know that some people out there find The Toolbox Murders a classic, and though I wouldn’t go that far, I do think it’s a pretty good movie, and it stands up about as well as it did the first time I saw it years back. Some quality gore, an interesting conclusion (and in fact, that lengthy, final shot of someone walking was actually quite moving in a way, believe it or not), nice music – I’m definitely a fan.

7.5/10

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

The Evil (1978)

Directed by Gus Trikonis [Other horror films: The Darker Side of Terror (1979), She’s Dressed to Kill (1979), Dance of the Dwarfs (1983)]

I’ve seen The Evil once before, but to be entirely honest, it’s been so long that almost all of this seemed new to me. There was only a single scene I even marginally remembered, which was perhaps one of the better scenes in the film, but otherwise, I don’t think The Evil really turned out that great a movie.

The main problem here was that the film was rather dry and none too exciting. I liked the idea behind the plot (as generic as haunted houses tend to be), but when the excitement starts up, very little of it really makes that much of an impact on me. I think that without the saw blade scene and the finale, this would be a lot more forgettable, but even with those two sequences representing, there’s not a whole lot going here.

Victor Buono makes a small appearance toward the end, and I sort of liked him here, but given the short amount of time we spend with him, he can’t lift the whole of the film up. Richard Crenna (who also starred in the similarly dry Death Ship) reminded me of John Ritter throughout the movie, which was nice, but otherwise, I didn’t find him that engaging a main character. Both Joanna Pettet and Mary Louise Weller stood out decently, Pettet playing a strong female lead, and Weller being the eye candy (especially in that red shirt).

Otherwise, there’s a bunch of people here who make virtually no impression, and we don’t really get to learn that much about any of these people. If you can keep their names straight, more power to you, but as most of them die throughout the film (and the exact people you expect to survive do so), I don’t know if that really accomplishes much.

I wish I remembered my feelings toward this one when I first saw it. Personally, I’d guess that I probably found it worse this time around, as the story and setting (a creepy, rather large mansion) do possess a small amount of charm, but I was pretty bored during this one. The Evil had potential, and I think that the film could have been good, but this final product is very much a lackluster one, no matter how fun Buono or the saw blade scenes are.

5.5/10

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

Jaws 2 (1978)

Directed by Jeannot Szwarc [Other horror films: The Devil’s Daughter (1973), Bug (1975), The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1986)]

GODDAMN, SON, THAT’S HOW YOU KILL A FUCKING SHARK!

Personally, I enjoyed this film a lot more than the first Jaws, and I’m not entirely sure why. Whereas the first often felt dry and almost procedural, Jaws 2 generally feels a lot more soulful and tense. This isn’t to say the second half of the first film wasn’t great, but Jaws 2 was fun all-around fun, and the drama was top-notch.

One of the best scenes in the film has to be when Roy Scheider’s character comes home drunk after getting fired as police chief. He’s drunkenly telling jokes and making toasts while his wife and second-in-command have some of the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen. That scene really blew me away with how touching it was, and while there was nary a fin in sight, this was the highlight of the film.

There’s solid shark frenzies, though, especially that first one with the sailing teenagers. Talk about carnage and utter tension. Even when things wind down, the scene of the kids trying to help out the young boy (in-movie, Schieder’s youngest), was rather touching.

And that ending? Read the first line of the review again to see my enthusiasm toward the fantastic finale.

Roy Scheider’s pretty much the only performance that matters here, and he does a great job. From the breakdown on the beach to that city council scene, Scheider did just amazing here, and you really felt for his character. I know I did, especially after he was fired. And while he’s not there a whole lot, Murray Hamilton, who also appeared in the first movie, was nice to see again, though his character, that of the mayor, was pretty atrocious.

Jaws 2 hit the spots in a way the first movie was unable to, and I really got a kick out of this one. Pretty much a fun ride from beginning to end, this is a sequel that did it right.

8.5/10

Day of the Woman (1978)

Directed by Meir Zarchi [Other horror films: Don’t Mess with My Sister! (1985), I Spit on Your Grave: Deja Vu (2019)]

This classic in the rape-and-revenge subgenre of exploitation film, generally known under the far-better title I Spit on Your Grave, is oftentimes a difficult movie to watch. Due to the fact it’s a 70’s film, it has that dead serious, gritty vibe that you would expect, making I Spit on Your Grave an awfully grueling viewing experience at times.

While the rape sequences were a bit much (and probably more disturbing than Last House on the Left from six years earlier), the revenge sequences were a lot of fun (and very well-deserved – if you don’t think those men deserved the painful deaths they got, I’d really question your sense of right-and-wrong), the best being a castration. A strong argument could be made that Richard Pace’s mentally-disabled character should have gotten some mercy, but there you go. Definitely gory when it needs to be, more often than not, I Spit on Your Grave just sticks with a bit of build-up and a quick blow, especially near the end.

Camille Keaton does well as a messed up victim of rape, and there was no point in the film in which I didn’t sympathize with her. The four rapists were all well-played too, and while Richard Pace’s Matthew was somewhat hard to hate, the other three (Eron Tabor, Anthony Nichols, and Gunter Kleeman) were as despicable as you can imagine. The only shame is that their deaths weren’t longer. Worth noting, none of the four male actors have been in any other film, before or after, which I found interesting.

The film can be quite tedious. After the first horrific rape, Keaton’s character is raped twice more, and it’s only after she begins to get her revenge that I really feel comfortable watching the film, as it goes more into a proto-slasher feel. Otherwise, the rape sequences were, understandably, deeply unpleasant, and possessed a very desperate, degrading quality to them.

Personally, though I’ve seen this film twice now, I think that I Spit on Your Grave is a hard movie to love. I certainly find the revenge satisfactory, but that doesn’t happen until about an hour in, and dealing with the rape sequences is a bit much. I still find the last forty minutes enjoyable, but it’s a grind getting through the first hour. Probably a movie worth watching, but while it’s certainly good at times, it’s not one that I’d watch multiple times for enjoyment.

7/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast, and what coverage it was. If interested, check out below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss and laugh inappropriately at this film.

Mardi Gras Massacre (1978)

Directed by Jack Weis [Other horror films: Crypt of Dark Secrets (1976)]

This is a movie that I’ve long wanted to see, and for the longest time, I’ve pretty much known it wasn’t going to be that great, which is certainly accurate after finally having seen it.

In many ways, I was reminded of the classic H.G. Lewis flick Blood Feast from 1963, from a sacrificial killer to decent gore, only it wasn’t near as engaging (Blood Feast, on a side-note, isn’t really an amazing movie, but in many ways, it blows this out of the water). The main problem was that this was so repetitive, almost to the point of parody.

Step one, the killer enters a bar and asks for someone evil. Step two, the evil woman accompanies him back to his apartment. Step three, the killer offers some wine. Step four, they go to a room where oil is rubbed on the evil woman’s nude body before she’s tied up and stabbed through the hand, sliced on the sole of her foot, and lastly, slit from her gut upward. This happened three times in the movie with minimal variation. The first time was fine, and the gore is decently gruesome (or it tries), but God, is it as dull as it sounds? Is it ever.

It doesn’t help that the main protagonist of Mardi Gras Massacre is a woman-hitting cop (which isn’t surprising, as a rather high amount of cops beat their spouses) with the sympathy level of a KKK Grand Wizard, played by Curt Dawson. None of his investigation was particularly interesting or noteworthy, and when he slaps his girlfriend (Gwen Arment) twice, I hoped for a painful death that he never got. Instead, the girl apologized to him and they got back together. Fantastic character arc – love it. The killer, played by William Metzo, did the best of everyone, and possessed a certain charm, so if you see this one for any reason, do it for Metzo.

Also worth noting, I’m not opposed to disco. I love me some Bee Gees, Tavares, KC and the Sunshine Band, and a handful of others, but when your whole soundtrack is composed of generally generic disco, I’m going to have a problem, which I did. It was sort of funny, but boy, just like the repetitive nature of the plot, the soundtrack got really old.

With a title like Mardi Gras Massacre, I personally think people would expect a movie more wild and fun, but this is neither. It’s not a great film whatsoever, and it’s pretty close to being too dull to classify as a ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ film. The best I can say is that the gore is decent, but even that can’t make up for the unlikable characters or the dull nature of the film.

4.5/10

This was discussed on Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen to Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this below.

The Swarm (1978)

Swarm

Directed by Irwin Allen [Other horror films: N/A]

This two-and-a-half hour epic certainly feels like something unique, and despite some unnecessary sequences, I think the movie overall works out, which may be an unpopular opinion.

Very ecological in message (not dissimilar to films such as Night of the Lepus or Frogs), The Swarm boasts a strong epic feel and a very decent cast. The story isn’t necessarily special, but the almost procedural method the filmmakers employ set it apart from many other killer insect movies.

The cast here is pretty superb. I wouldn’t say that Michael Caine starring in this is the only reason to see the film, but I do think his incredibly strong presence here alone makes a good case for viewing this. Sometimes he’s a bit over-the-top, but he’s never boring. What makes his presence here better is that Caine, despite being very well-known, hasn’t been in many horror films (aside from this one, he’s been in maybe five others, such as Jaws: The Revenge and The Hand), so it’s great seeing an actor of his caliber starring here.

Richard Widmark, despite playing a somewhat unlikable character, stands out pretty well too. Like Caine, he had a strong personality, and it was fun to see where his character would go. I only know Richard Chamberlain from the Shogun mini-series, but he looks virtually identical here, and I enjoyed his character, though he didn’t get enough screen-time. Plenty of other names here stand out, such as Katharine Ross, Olivia de Havilland, Fred MacMurray, Slim Pickens, Cameron Mitchell, Morgan Paull, and perhaps most importantly, Henry Fonda.

The Swarm had some really great sequences, including an attack by bees on a small Texas community (the school scene, which reminded me a little of The Birds, stood out as particularly tragic), a rather thrilling train disaster, and the burning of Houston by the military via flamethrowers. Even toward the end, when a military base is under siege by both bees and fire, there’s a definite action feel to the scenes, and when this movie does well, it really does well.

The problem is that there are more than a few meanderings into the personal lives’ of characters who ultimately don’t really matter. It could be argued that these characters help bring a personal, human element to a film otherwise preoccupied with scientific and military efficacy, but they felt a bit too out-of-place and humorous in this otherwise somewhat bleak and somber story. The love-story involving MacMurray’s, Havilland’s, and one Ben Johnson’s characters didn’t enthrall me, though again, I sort of see the point. Also worth mentioning, there are a few hideously superimposed giant bees that pop up throughout the film that looked laughably bad.

The director of the film, Irwin Allen, played a big part in this movie carrying with it an almost-disaster movie feel, due to the fact he was a producer for classics such as The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure (neither of which I’ve seen, if truth be told). For a more genre-centric comparison, think the military portions of The Stand, and that’s a lot of what you have here. Luckily, most of it works out in a pretty suspenseful way.

Personally, I don’t find a lot wrong with the film, despite the fact that many have more than a few negative things to say about it. Maybe it’s because I’m a decent fan of Caine’s work, maybe it’s because I have a soft spot for bees (on a side-note, being allergic, I really don’t), but this ecological horror-action film is a fun movie, and if you can survive the two-and-a-half hours, hopefully you too will get something out of it. I just know I’ve seen this twice now, and I’ve not been disappointed.

8.5/10

Halloween (1978)

hallo

Directed by John Carpenter [Other horror films: Someone’s Watching Me! (1978), The Fog (1980), The Thing (1982), Christine (1983), Prince of Darkness (1987), They Live (1988), Body Bags (1993, segments ‘The Gas Station’ & ‘Hair’), In the Mouth of Madness (1994), Village of the Damned (1995), Vampires (1998), Ghosts of Mars (2001), The Ward (2010)]

Without a doubt, this classic film is one of the best horror movies ever made, surpassing films such as The Evil Dead, The Shining, Jaws, and A Nightmare on Elm Street with utter ease.

So many factors of the film are great – masterful cinematography, an amazing musical score, pretty good performances, a captivating story, and a fine control of suspense. With little gore, Halloween manages to be the slasher that so many others afterward try to set their standards by, and generally reach nowhere close.

It’s true that Jamie Lee Curtis doesn’t look like a high school student, but she had a great performance here for her first film (her previous appearances were on television shows). I adore her character, the fact that she’s a mostly good girl who’s not averse to good times (the weed scene), and she’s just great here. Donald Pleasence, who has a long history of horror before this, dating back to 1960’s The Flesh and the Fiends, is amazing as Loomis, and while occasionally over-the-top, has some of the best dialogue in the film.

Between P.J. Soles (Lynda) and Nancy Kyes (Annie), I have to say I like Kyes’ character a lot more, though Soles’ does have a great piece of dialogue about the lack of necessity of books. It’s somewhat unfortunate that Kyes didn’t have much of a career (she appeared in the third Halloween, along with The Fog, also directed by Carpenter), as I thought this showed a lot of potential.

If there’s any problem with the film, it could be that Michael seems focused on Laura for absolutely no reason. While later sequels attempt to explain this, as far as this movie goes, it’s random with no meaning behind it. In some ways, though, I think that makes it more effective, and given that Nick Castle (who brilliantly plays The Shape, as he’s called) is fantastic throughout, it’s only an additional positive.

The only other John Carpenter film that could compete with this one, in my mind, is The Fog, and while the Fog is good, few movies could ever reach this level of excellence (on a side-note, many may be outraged I didn’t mention also The Thing, but I’m not as big a fan of that one as others). For this movie, though, whether you watch it with or without the additional television footage, you could only do worse. One of the twenty or so horror films I see as pretty flawless, Halloween is a movie that will never get old, no matter how many times I’ve seen it, and the ending will never not be iconic (focusing on different locations seen in the movie with that music playing – perfection).

10/10

This classic was covered on Fight Evil’s third podcast. If interested, give it a listen as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss it.