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.