The Attic (1980)

Directed by George Edwards [Other horror films: N/A] & Gary Graver [Other horror films: Trick or Treats (1982), Moon in Scorpio (1987), Evil Spirits (1990)]

Apparently a spin-off of sorts of another horror film titled The Killing Kind (a fact I didn’t know until about halfway through the film), The Attic works fine as a standalone movie. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work nearly as well as a horror film.

Predominately The Attic is a drama, a depressing story of the day-to-day life of an older woman who has little in life but her bitter, wheelchair-bound father, her job as head librarian for 19 years, and a new friend, a young woman who reminds her much of herself from so long ago.

Really, it’s top-notch drama, and there are plenty of really moving scenes showcasing how utterly empty so much of Louise’s (played by Carrie Snodgress) life is. The music helps with this tone, and two songs, ‘Who Cares’ by Kelly Garrett and ‘Come Love Me Again’ by Christopher Callin, really bring out the somber tone of the film.

Because it’s primarily a drama, and dramas really aren’t my thing (no disrespect to the genre), I was moderately bored through a lot of The Attic. The story is perfectly engaging, but not being a drama fan, personally, I felt it dragged and dragged. It didn’t help that the film is an hour and 40 minutes long, and the best part isn’t until the finale, a ten-minute sequence or so.

Performance-wise, most of the main players do well. Carrie Snodgress (who later starred in the somewhat forgettable Trick or Treats in 1982) was great here, and really came across as a woman living with constant despair, beaten down into submissiveness by an overbearing and bitter father. The father, played by Ray Milland, was a rather despicable character, and Milland did really well playing him. Others who stood out include Ruth Cox (who played perhaps the only really good character here) and Frances Bay (the grandmother from Happy Gilmore).

As good as the performances tended to be, though, the fact remains that until the finale, we get so very few horror sequences. Generally, they come in the form of Louise imagining striking out against her father (one such fantasy had a gorilla strangle him, which was perhaps the most fun this movie had to offer). The story’s downbeat and decent, but without the horror elements to pull me in, I just can’t really give this one that good a rating. The conclusion, though without any real big shock, was certainly decent, though.

5/10

Inferno (1980)

Directed by Dario Argento [Other horror films: L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo (1970), Il gatto a nove code (1971), 4 mosche di velluto grigio (1971), Profondo rosso (1975), Suspiria (1977), Tenebre (1982), Phenomena (1985), Opera (1987), Due occhi diabolici (1990, segment ‘The Black Cat’), Trauma (1993), La sindrome di Stendhal (1996), Il fantasma dell’opera (1998), Non ho sonno (2001), Il cartaio (2004), Ti piace Hitchcock? (2005), La terza madre (2007), Giallo (2009), Dracula 3D (2012)]

While I’ve seen Suspiria a few times before, perhaps as many as three times, I’ve not seen Inferno up until the point of this writing. It’s a difficult movie to really get a feel for, but I’ll say that, while it wasn’t as striking and, I suspect, as memorable as Suspiria, there’s still stuff in here to enjoy.

It’s just possible that the movie lacks a certain cohesion. That’s not to say that Suspiria didn’t, but Inferno takes it to a whole new level. There’s a basic plot here, but the movie takes a rather meandering and sometimes disjointed approach to it, especially with Leigh McCloskey’s character not having a clue as to what was going on until the ending, and I’m guessing he didn’t really know then.

Inferno has a rather dream-like quality to it. There are some scenes that just seem off, or riddled with awkward dialogue, or character actions that don’t make a lot of sense. Most of the kills are great, but we never really find out who exactly is the one doing most of them, and generally, portions of the movie strike me as somewhat nonsensical.

None of this means the movie isn’t enjoyable. I will say that it probably went on a bit longer than it needed to, and the conclusion was, well, not amazing (and just brought forth a few more questions that were never even attempted to be answered), but it’s still occasionally fun. The special effects are decent, and the lighting is, of course, rather seductively ambient (though I will say that Suspiria’s lighting was quite a bit better). I think, in terms of enjoyment of the ludicrous nature of the film, the whole eclipse scene was definitely a trip.

Generally, I don’t know if most of the performances are all that memorable. McCloskey sort of had appeal as the lead, given that he had no idea whatsoever that anything supernatural was even going on until the end. He was basically clueless throughout the whole film (which lead to a somewhat amusing line near the end), but I don’t know if that makes him necessarily memorable. That said, the same could be said for both Irene Miracle and Eleonora Giorgi. Daria Nicolodi seemed somewhat pointless, but Alido Valli was rather fun to see again (she was also in Suspiria).

It’s sort of hard to pinpoint what exactly makes this film a little less stellar than his former film in the series. Inferno does meander a bit, and at times feels a bit aimless. The conclusion, especially that skeleton costume, seemed a iffy. The soundtrack was just a bit eclectic. It’s still a decent film, and I do think it’s probably above average, but Suspiria is, in my opinion, better.

7.5/10

Without Warning (1980)

Directed by Greydon Clark [Other horror films: Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977), Wacko (1982), Uninvited (1987), Dance Macabre (1992)]

I saw this alien flick once before, and I recall having an okay time with it. Watching it again, I don’t know what I was on, but while Without Warning isn’t a movie without potential, I certainly felt that the overall experience was pretty dull, bolstered only partially by some big names.

The only two names that are really worth mentioning are Jack Palance and Martin Landau (who, somewhat amusingly, also co-star a few years later in Alone in the Dark). Of the two, I think I preferred Landau’s character, but both were decently solid. I particularly liked Landau here due to the fact his character dealt with P.T.S.D., which led to some low-key emotional moments, and though he’s one of the primary antagonists, I certainly felt bad for him.

As far as the sluggish pace is concerned, though, Palance and Landau can’t really help. Much of the film just follows two kids (Tarah Nutter and Christopher S. Nelson) are they try to flee from an alien species, which look like frisbees, only with teeth and tendrils.

Actually, before I mock the film for the sleep-inducing plot, I will give them kudos for the special effects. The frisbee aliens sort of look silly, but when they latch onto someone, their tendrils sink into their skin, and a mixture of blood and pus is soon visible to all. It wasn’t over-the-top gruesome, but I did think that it was impressive, especially in a movie that really doesn’t have much else to boast about.

Still, watching two teenagers run from these aliens, and encounter dangers from the townspeople (in the form of Landau), it just wasn’t that engaging. The teens themselves weren’t particularly memorable, and overall, I was just consistently bored until things picked up a bit at the end.

For the life of me, I can’t remember exactly why I enjoyed this the first time around. Without Warning certainly had potential, but the final product (which runs at almost an hour and forty minutes) is just too sluggish and void of interest. Might be worth a look just for the famous faces, but as far as alien/horror hybrids go, despite the decent alien design, this isn’t much up there with the best the genre has to offer.

5.5/10

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

Death Ship (1980)

Death Ship

Directed by Alvin Rakoff [Other horror films: Three Dangerous Ladies (1977, segment ‘Mrs. Amworth’)]

Death Ship had a potential that it didn’t at all live up to, which is a shame, as a movie like this really could have been something special. As it is, I just ended up bored most of the time.

There’s plenty of positive things about this film. The setting, an old, abandoned Nazi ship, is creepy, especially a room devoted to all things Hitler. The atmosphere is solid, and showing empty corridors, or the gears grinding, really brings forth a spooky vibe. Heck, there’s even quite a few creepy sequences, such as the net of bones, or the freezer full of dead bodies, or that one torture room. Combine that with a few golden deaths, and all should be well.

The problem is the film is rather slow, and much like a ship anchored at sea, oftentimes doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere. Not all that much really happens, which is a shame, as, like I said, the setting certainly had a lot of potential. George Kennedy’s performance toward the end was suitably creepy, but without a story to really back that up, it felt a bit stale. Richard Crenna is perhaps the only actor who can transcend the mediocre script, and does well for himself, but like Kennedy, it feels his character doesn’t really do all that much.

Unfortunately, the movie’s just slow, and while there are some interesting ideas here (a Nazi ship trolling the waters in search of people to torture/interrogate for eternity is a fun plot), and some creepy scenes, but it’s not enough to make up for the lack of flair. Overall, Death Ship isn’t terrible, but it’s just not that good, and certainly below average.

5.5/10

Friday the 13th (1980)

Friday the 13th

Directed by Sean S. Cunningham [Other horror films: Case of the Full Moon Murder (1973), A Stranger Is Watching (1982), The New Kids (1985), DeepStar Six (1989), XCU: Extreme Close Up (2001), Trapped Ashes (2006, segment ‘Jibaku’)]

While nowhere near the greatness of classics such as Halloween or A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th is a wholly enjoyable film with very little going wrong for it.

Some of the best portions of this film are due to both Tom Savini (special effects) and Harry Manfredini (who composed the music). The gore isn’t necessarily that graphic, but there are some fantastic death scenes, such as the arrow slowly being pushed through the neck, or the ax to the face (a personal favorite). The music within the film assisted in creating a decent atmosphere for the film, and at times even had sort of a Psycho feel.

Without a doubt, Betsy Palmer gets the highest praise in terms of acting in the film. Her ending scene is legendary, and I feel it’s for good reason. Adrienne King did fantastic as the final girl, and it’s a shame she never really had that many other big roles in the genre. I also really liked Robbi Morgan (who had a fun personality with her short screen-time), and Jeannine Taylor (she was quite easy on the eyes). Most of the others sort of blended in with each other, but I did sort of like Peter Brouwer also.

I’ve heard some call this film boring – maybe it’s a nostalgic thing, but I don’t see it at all. Running around in the rain, wearing slickers, looking for people who have gone missing, only to get killed, with the body being found later by another character – God, it’s a fun time. Made better by the fact that one of the characters who could possibly help out is trying to make his way back to camp, but hindered by the rain, a broken-down truck, what-have-you. I thought much of the tension toward the finale was great.

Honestly, when you’re talking about the first five Friday the 13th films, there’s very little to dislike about them. All five are varying degrees of fun, and all five are easily above average. This first film, with that iconic score and great ending (solid decapitation), is a lot of fun, and I always get a kick out of it, though with the second, third, and fourth films, elements certainly improve. Still a horror classic, despite the unfortunate existence of some mediocre sequels.

8/10

This classic was covered on Fight Evil’s seventh podcast by Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and myself, so give it a listen if you’re interested.

The Fog (1980)

The Fog

Directed by John Carpenter [Other horror films: Halloween (1978), Someone’s Watching Me! (1978), 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)]

John Carpenter’s Halloween is a true classic, and one of my favorite horror flicks of all time. The Fog is not far behind.

An almost flawless movie, there’s very little to gripe about when talking about The Fog. The score is fantastic, there’s a plethora of great actors and actresses, you get a fun story, great visuals, and often a feeling of claustrophobic suspense.

It’s amazing how well-done some of Carpenter’s early horror work is (Halloween being his first horror movie, and The Fog being his third, the television film Someone’s Watching Me! popping up between them). This film had an atmosphere to kill for, and the score ranks up there with the Halloween theme as one of the creepiest scores around.

Of course, the highest awards, as far as the cast goes, are awarded to Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Tom Atkins. Barbeau hadn’t really done horror before this (she was in two television horror films, one being the aforementioned Someone’s Watching Me! and the other being The Darker Side of Terror), but she does wonderfully here. Her silky voice is certainly soothing and memorable, and just as memorable, her line, “There’s something in the fog.” Always a chilling scene.

Curtis, of course, was in Halloween (and in 1980, not only was she in this movie, but also appeared in both Prom Night and Terror Train), and does pretty fair here, though it’s worth noting her character doesn’t really have that much to do. Still, she’s a nice presence. As for Atkins (aside from this one, his biggest additions to the genre are Halloween III, Night of the Creeps, and Maniac Cop), his persona is fun, and again, while he’s not all that consequential to the plot, it’s still enjoyable seeing him run around trying to save people from the fog.

Even some of the smaller actors and actresses stand out, though. Janet Leigh (from, of course, Psycho) did her character extremely well, and despite never having much screen-time, was always a pleasure to behold. Nancy Loomis (also from the first three Halloween‘s) got some good lines in, playing Leigh’s sardonic assistant. And Hal Holbrook (who I recognize most from the fantastic, yet underrated, Rituals from 1977, along with a few appearances in The West Wing) does beautifully as the often-drunk Father Malone.

Much like Halloween, gore wasn’t this movie’s strong point, but then again, it really didn’t need it. The atmosphere alone is worth much applause. The slow, creeping fog covering the whole of Antonio Bay is always good fun to view. Combine that with the score, and the lack of gore goes by pretty much unnoticed.

Really, aside from a few of the characters not having much to do, I’m having difficulty finding flaws to this movie. From the atmosphere to the acting, most everything about this movie is solid. Even the story is decently fun. Seen this plenty of times before, and I’ll see it plenty of times in the future.

9.5/10

Prom Night (1980)

Prom Night

Directed by Paul Lynch [Other horror films: Humongous (1982), Mania (1986, segments ‘Have a Nice Day’ & ‘The Good Samaritan’)]

I’ve seen this movie around five times now, and I can finally appreciate it more than I’ve been able to in the past. My main problems stemmed from the fact that many of the characters seemed interchangeable – the difference between Kelly and Jude and Vicki and even Jamie Lee Curtis’ Kim never stuck with me, and so I lost track of who’s who and what relationship between everybody was as the movie dragged on, which wasn’t helped out by the fact Nick and Alex didn’t look all that different from each other either. With this most recent viewing, though, things were cleared up, and while it doesn’t save the film, it goes a long way in increasing my rating.

Aside from Jamie Lee Curtis (who, by the way, had some fantastically cheesy dance scenes toward the end), there weren’t a whole lot of stand-out performances. I liked Nielsen well enough, along with Eddie Benton (mega-bitch Wendy), Michael Tough (Kim’s brother, Alex), Joy Thompson (Jude), and Sheldon Rybowski (Slick, a deliciously fun character), but none of them blew me away. Which is sort of a shame, because for the first two acts, next to nothing horror-wise occurs to keep us otherwise occupied.

Which is my biggest gripe of the film – it’s drags on too long at the beginning. Once we get an hour in, I start having a great time (that decapitation is still a favorite of mine), but getting there is, more than anything else, a chore. It feels like Carrie (1976), in many ways, actually, as it just drags on and on until we finally get to an epic finale.

I did like the end, which was actually rather somber. There were plenty of attractive ladies throughout, and while nudity wasn’t high, it was still a nice plus. Again, Jamie Lee Curtis did a good job (even though that disco dance is so dated), though her role in Terror Train, also from 1980, stuck with me more. Lastly, the song that bled into the credits, ‘Fade to Black’ by Gordene Simpson, was beautifully sung, and though I didn’t notice it during my first viewings of this flick, it really is a nice song that I’ll not forget.

Prom Night, despite the problems I have (not mentioned, but I feel the killer’s absence would have been noted, for instance), has a lot of charm. It drags, but it is still a decently well-done slasher that is just outclassed by others from the same time (such as My Bloody Valentine, which came out a year later). I still don’t love this flick. But I’m closer than I have been before.

6.5/10

This was covered on Fight Evil’s second podcast, so you can listen to Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this.