Dominique (1979)

Directed by Michael Anderson [Other horror films: Orca (1977), Murder by Phone (1982)]

I think I’ve seen this movie before under the title Les diaboliques (1955), or maybe it was House on Haunted Hill (1959). Or perhaps it was The Screaming Skull (1958). Wait, Lo spettro (or The Ghost, 1963)?

The point is, Dominique’s plot is far from unique. It’s not a bad story, but it’s been done before many times. It helps a little that the movie’s British, which gives it maybe a little more flavor, but at the same time, despite the plot being competent, Dominique feels stuffy.

Cliff Robertson and Simon Ward were both fine as central characters, but they didn’t really add much to the film, and it’s certainly not on them that the movie falls flat. In fact, I did rather like Simon Ward, so without him, it’s possible the film wouldn’t be that engaging, not that it’s overly engaging to begin with.

As it is, the story Dominique boasts is okay. There’s a few suspenseful scenes, though not that many really thrilling scenes (save one), and pretty much all the scenes are okay, but nothing special. The best I can say is that the sequences that take place in the conservatory are solid.

I think that’s the best way to describe this movie, really: okay, but nothing special. It’s a bit stuffy, but it’s competently made. Dominique’s just not really that great, though, and I certainly understand why I’ve never heard about this one until I watched it.

6/10

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

The Brood (1979)

Directed by David Cronenberg [Other horror films: Shivers (1975), Rabid (1977), Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), The Dead Zone (1983), The Fly (1986), Dead Ringers (1988), Naked Lunch (1991), eXistenZ (1999)]

I’ve seen this Cronenberg film once before, and it wasn’t quite my thing. That didn’t really surprise me, as I was similarly lukewarm toward Videodrome (despite it’s classic status). I’ve not yet seen many of Cronenberg’s other movies, but only one (Shivers, or They Come from Within) was something I actually liked.

All this said, I enjoyed The Brood a little bit more than when I first saw it. It still seems all over the place, and doesn’t quite get close to reaching an average rating from me, but it’s still an unique experience that’s perhaps worth seeing at least one time around.

At times, the story here seems muddled, and it’s not always clear where exactly the plot is going. At first, I thought there was going to be a big issue made of the grandmother abusing Frank’s (Art Hindle) daughter, but instead, the old woman gets killed by a mutant child, who then kills another character, and eventually kidnaps the daughter herself. All this is going on while Hindle’s character is investigating a controversial therapy method that his wife is undergoing, and it doesn’t necessarily seem to all fit together, even by the ending.

Performance-wise, Art Hindle is okay as the lead character. I think that psychologist Oliver Reed made more an impression, but I wasn’t moved much by Samantha Eggar whatsoever (even during the somewhat surprising and very odd finale). Susan Hogan played a nice character addition, but aside from a solid death sequence, she wasn’t that relevant to the story. I think a surprising stand-out, as far as performances go, is Henry Beckman. There’s a scene in which he’s drinking and reminiscing about his recently deceased ex-wife. That was somewhat emotional in itself, but the conclusion of that scene just ensures it’s one of the better sequences in the film.

There were some aspects I liked about this movie. Hindle’s character encounters a mutant child-type thing, and informs the police, who actually proceed to have an actual useful autopsy on it, which points out what an odd mutation this kid is. Just seeing the authorities actually having no choice but to believe a bizarre claim is a nice change of pace, though ultimately, I don’t think it really leads anywhere.

The conclusion itself is decently suspenseful, regardless of the fact I didn’t much care for where the story went. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the ending validates the rest of the movie, or makes it worth watching alone, but it’s solid. Even so, the whole of the movie doesn’t impress me (a big part of this, aside from the flaws in the story, stem from the fact I’m really not a fan of body horror), and while I did enjoy it more this time around, I doubt that I’ll grow much fonder of this one down the line.

6/10

This is one of the film’s covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. If you’re at all interested in the hidden mysteries of the world, listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this film.

Cardiac Arrest (1979)

Directed by Murray Mintz [Other horror films: N/A]

What could have been a promising early slasher of the 1980’s was ultimately little more than a rather dull crime/drama flick with elements of horror sprinkled in far too sparingly.

Cardiac Arrest, what with it’s feel, had the sensibilities of a 70’s flick, and while I don’t have an issue with 70’s crime flicks (The Laughing Policeman and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three are both films I enjoyed), I can’t say that much of this wasn’t utterly dry. I liked the main detectives well enough, but that wasn’t enough to keep the story interesting.

As it was Garry Goodrow and Michael Paul Chan did fine as the two main detectives, and I sort of liked the way they worked together, but Cardiac Arrest was 80% crime, 15% drama, and 5% horror, and that might be generous. I found the story, for a crime movie, decent, but it was very far from engaging.

Unfortunately, the poster for the film foreshadows a lot more promise than what the film is ever able to deliver, because save one or two scenes, this barely counts as a horror film. It hurts more because this is one that I’ve been interesting in seeing for at least six years – truth be told, past a certain point, I wasn’t expecting much, but I was still somewhat disappointed.

The really sad thing is that, if this wasn’t put out there as a horror film, it would have probably made a decent television pilot, like The Streets of San Francisco’s hour-and-a-half pilot that dealt with Satanism. But as a movie that’s marketed toward horror fans, Cardiac Arrest was just way too dull and meandering.

5/10

This was covered on Fight Evil’s podcast, so if you want to listen to Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss Cardiac Arrest, by all means, enjoy.

Prophecy (1979)

propgecy

Directed by John Frankenheimer [Other horror films: The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)]

I knew next-to-nothing about this late 70’s ecological horror film before I started it. In fact, I didn’t even know it was ecological, so you know I was going in blind. I like a lot of stuff about this film, but a few factors keep it from being an overly solid movie, such as some special effects issues and the run-time.

Robert Foxworth (who has been in a handful of other horror flicks, such as The Devil’s Daughter from 1973, It Happened at Lakewood Manor from 1977, and both Deathmoon and Damien: Omen II from 1978) did great as the main character, and I rather liked most things about him. Talia Shire (Connie from The Godfather movies), playing his wife, rather humanized him at times, and also did well in some emotional scenes. Armand Assante was fun too, playing a Native American of strong conviction. Lastly, Richard Dysart was also solid, though his character wasn’t particularly likable.

There’s a lot going on in this one that needs to be unpacked a bit. A dying Native American community in Maine dealing with the racist attitudes of the management of a paper mill and, of course, the authorities who back the prominent businessmen as opposed to the minority community. Also, ecological damage done by the paper mill to cut the costs of operation, which happens every single day in the USA. This, along with the casual racism (and toward the beginning of the film, poor black communities in rat-infested tenements, and the racist, greedy landlords who owned them was taken aim at also) show this a movie of strong social conscience, which I deeply appreciated.

Problematically, the horror aspects weren’t all well-done. The design for the mutated bear didn’t do that much for me, but worse still was it’s overly jerky, fake movements. When it didn’t move, it was almost tolerable, but in action, I thought it looked rather ridiculous. Also, the movie, at about an hour and forty minutes, feels too long. I suspect some would say the beginning is boring, but I was pretty engrossed in all that went down (including the look into the paper mill, which I found rather interesting). It wasn’t until the horror really started up as the focus that I felt like it was dragging, as ironic as that sounds. If ten minutes were cut, and they shorted the somewhat disappointing conclusion, I think it would have ran a lot smoother.

Kudos to the scenes, though, in which the main characters are searching for clues at a murder scene in a heavy downfall of rain. I really liked that sequence, and though there was no horror present, it did feel rather suspenseful in it’s own way. That, and the paper mill sequence, felt pretty unique to this era of movies in my opinion.

There are a lot of things I find in Prophecy to enjoy, and overall, it’s definitely a film I could see myself watching again, but it doesn’t quite get to the level I wish it did. As the movie stands, I’d probably say that Prophecy is somewhere around average, but depending on your particular tastes, it may waver from below average to just above. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’d get much higher, but you never know.

7/10

Alien (1979)

Alien

Directed by Ridley Scott [Other horror films: Hannibal (2001), Alien: Covenant (2017)]

Perhaps one of the most popular horror films of all time, Alien is a very solid movie, perfectly capable of satisfying most viewers with it’s suspenseful and well-acted story.

It is a wee bit sluggish toward the beginning, but the story is set up nicely, which additionally works out due to the almost-entirely solid cast of the film (the only performance I didn’t love was Veronica Cartwright). The story is appropriately claustrophobic at times, and due to some good lighting and camera-work, there are some damn suspenseful scenes.

Like I said, pretty much every cast-member is worth watching. Ian Holm’s performance is perhaps my favorite of the bunch (especially given his interesting character), but Yaphet Kotto does great, as does John Hurt, Tom Skerritt, and Harry Dean Stanton. Sigourney Weaver, despite being the cast-member with the least acting experience (if you discount Bolaji Badejo, who played the alien), gave the strongest performance, and became a character (Ripley) that is well-respected inside and outside the horror community.

Another reason why this movie really worked would be the special effects, which were amazing. The titular alien really did seem a nightmarish organism at certain times (especially during both the air duct scene and the finale), and even the alien planet the crew landed on possessed a creepy vibe to it. And the face-hugger, with the acidic blood? Fantastic stuff.

All this said, unlike other classics of the genre, Alien isn’t a movie I really grew up on. I’ve seen it only once before, and back then, I didn’t even care much for it. Now, having seen it a second time, I definitely got a lot more enjoyment out of the film, but it comes nowhere close to movies such as Halloween or A Nightmare on Elm Street to me.

Still, this is a classic of the genre, and while nowhere near the first science-fiction/horror hybrid (It! The Terror from Beyond Space from 1958 comes to mind, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers two years before it), it’s definitely one of the most memorable, and is certainly worth a watch.

8.5/10

Tourist Trap (1979)

Tourist Tra[

Directed by David Schmoeller [Other horror films: Crawlspace (1986), Catacombs (1988), Puppetmaster (1989), The Arrival (1991), Netherworld (1992), Possessed (2005), Little Monsters (2012), Puppet Master: Blitzkrieg Massacre (2018), Death Heads: Brain Drain (2018)]

I’ve wanted to see this one for years, and while it certainly had that odd vibe I was sort of expecting, with a really interesting story, ultimately, I didn’t end up loving it.

With little gore or nudity to add to the film, Tourist Trap got by on the unique feel of the story. There were some intense and creepy scenes throughout, though it’s not without dull moments from time-to-time. The atmosphere was solid also, but unfortunately it doesn’t make up for the drawbacks of the film.

These drawbacks come mainly from the acting and the antagonist. None of the performances here were particularly stellar – if I’d have to name the best, I’d probably give it to Chuck Connors (and given his vast IMDb filmography, especially compared to the others in the film, that’s probably not much a surprise). Jocelyn Jones didn’t do that poorly, and toward the end, gave off a “this situation is driving me crazy” Marilyn Burns feel, but her overacting rubbed me the wrong way. To be fair, Connors’ was a bit much at times also. Nobody else in the film really stood out one way or the other.

The antagonist was a bit of a surprise, but aspects of the character didn’t do it for me, mainly the voice. It’s beyond me to explain exactly what I didn’t like about it, but suffice it to say that while he looked creepy, his voice sort of ruined much of the effect for me. If he had just not spoken, been more the silent killer like Jason or Michael, I think he’d have been quite a bit more menacing.

Tourist Trap is an interesting movie, and certainly has its place as a cult classic. It’s not surreal or anything, but I did occasionally get a Phantasm vibe (which came out also in ’79) – that said, given how there’s nothing similar whatsoever in the plots or stories, that may just be me. The creepy vibe is solid, and the opening sequence pretty freaky, but overall, I don’t think this is one that I’d go out of my way to revisit. It’s not a bad film, just sort of ehh.

6/10

Phantasm (1979)

Phantasm

Directed by Don Coscarelli [Other horror films: Phantasm II (1988), Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994), Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998), Bubba Ho-Tep (2002), John Dies at the End (2012)]

In many ways, Phantasm comes across as a mess. There’s not much really explained, and the ending is pretty jarring and confusing. But what it might lack in comprehension, it makes up for in almost everything else. The upsides of Phantasm? Firstly, most of the actors do a great job. Angus Scrimm, as The Tall Man, just dominates every scene he’s in. A truly fantastic performance, despite not many previous roles. Still, there’s more than just Scrimm. The three protagonists, Michael, Jody, and Reggie (played by Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, and Reggie Bannister, respectfully) have a pretty compelling friendship, and specifically, Baldwin and Thornbury are decently believable as brothers. Even when annoyed with Michael’s antics, you can tell that Jody still loves him. And they both share the fear their parents were turned into dwarf zombies, so there’s that.

Which brings us to the creativity of this movie: a seemingly alien being turns corpses into zombie dwarfs and has flying metallic spheres is not something commonly seen, to say the least. So that’s fun. Need I mention the theme? It’s damn brilliant, and up there with the best themes of the genre (Halloween, The House by the Cemetery, and ANOES, for example). And the atmosphere? That dreamy, hazy, disjointed feeling? Nothing does it better than Phantasm. This might not sound like a great movie, but I’ve met very few horror fans who don’t adore it on varying levels. Not everything makes sense, but when the final product comes out this well, that hardly matters. A movie that stays fresh with each re-watch.

9/10