A Stranger Is Watching (1982)

Directed by Sean S. Cunningham [Other horror films: Case of the Full Moon Murder (1973), Friday the 13th (1980), The New Kids (1985), DeepStar Six (1989), XCU: Extreme Close Up (2001), Trapped Ashes (2006, segment ‘Jibaku’)]

Perhaps most-known (when it’s known at all) for being directed by Sean S. Cunningham (DeepStar Six and more famously Friday the 13th), A Stranger Is Watching isn’t the easiest movie to categorize. It’s primarily crime, but certainly strong slasher elements persist, and while the film doesn’t end up a great movie, there’s enough here to at least recommend a single watch.

It should be said that this film is not your traditional horror movie. I think that some people see it’s directed by Cunningham, and get the idea that it’ll be another 80’s slasher. And let’s not be coy – when I say ‘people,’ I mean myself. It’s based on a novel by Mary Higgins Clark from 1977, though, and as someone who’s read a little bit of her work, once you realize it’s based on a novel, you’ll know it’s probably more influenced by mystery/crime.

Rip Torn (Dolly Dearest and Coma) did pretty great as the rather mentally-unstable killer here. He had that grimy style (which was certainly accentuated by the fantastic setting, which I’ll touch on shortly) that you have to appreciate, and a good sense of violence. This is a somewhat early role for Kate Mulgrew (who I don’t know, but see starred in Star Trek: Voyager, for any Trekkies who happen to be reading), and I thought she did a solid job, and her opposition to the death penalty was acceptable also.

And it’s on that topic I wanted to take a few moments. Part of this film deals with a potentially innocent man being sent to death based on a single witness, and I think that points out just how atrocious the death penalty is. Aside from being barbaric for a state to sentence someone to death, the very idea that an innocent person could be killed because they’re poor (because let’s be honest – how many wealthy men and women have been put to death in the USA?) shows what a terrible policy it is. Unfortunately, it’s a terrible policy that has always had over 50% approval in recent decades, which is just ridiculous.

I don’t know what Cunningham was aiming for specifically when he threw in this plot point about the death penalty (and it’s possible it’s a point straight from the novel), and it may be that he shared some of the same reservations as I do, but regardless, it did bring in a more realistic and socially-relevant subject into the film, which I appreciated.

What I also appreciated was the fact this movie wasn’t quite typical, as I mentioned earlier. As stated, while certainly horror, quite a bit of this felt like a crime film, a beautifully gritty one, at that. Once two of the characters are abducted, there’s a few sequences of them trying to escape, and while occasionally horror elements find their way into these scenes, it mostly feels more suspenseful with, of course, a dash of crime.

A Stranger Is Watching wasn’t a bad watch. I didn’t really know what to expect, but it wasn’t bad. At the same time, I can understand why I don’t really hear too much about this one, and if it had been more of a straight horror film as opposed to a crime film with strong horror elements, that may not have been the case. Still, it’s not bad if you want something a little different, or want to see what Cunningham was up to following the massively popular Friday the 13th.

7.5/10

This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss A Stranger Is Watching.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace [Other horror films: Fright Night Part 2 (1988), It (1990), Danger Island (1992), Vampires: Los Muertos (2002)]

There seems to primarily be two vocal camps about this film – one camp finds it a pretty enjoyable film, the other camp despises it for multiple reasons (from no Michael Myers to a silly story). Far be it for me to say that film is perfect, as it’s not, but I find myself firmly in the first camp, and Season of the Witch is a definite favorite of mine when it comes to Halloween-themed movies.

Plenty of reasons exist for this. I find the cast pretty solid, the story (though somewhat undercooked at certain parts) intriguing, the mystery and setting pretty fun, and that finale is literally excellent in every way.

Tom Atkins (of The Fog and Night of the Creeps) isn’t the most likable lead I’ve ever seen in a movie, but he does a good job at coming across as your every-day average man. Stacey Nelkin was cute in her role, and sort of fun, but ultimately not all that crucial. I think that Dan O’Herlihy was great, though, in his role of Cochran, and I sort of loved how Santa Mira treated him as a God – it made his character even more fun.

While the special effects were occasionally questionable, I do think the effect of the masks, what with the insects and snakes, is damn terrifying, and that first test sequence is fantastic, and given the conclusion of the film, you can only wonder exactly how many more slithery bois are now exploring their new lands. Also, while sort of hokey, I liked the electrical storm those computer chips caused near the finale.

The detective work that Atkins and Nelkin do isn’t anything special, but it was fun, if not a bit obvious. Their connection was never really the deepest, but watching them sleuth around a company-ran town, complete with over-surveillance and patrols, not to mention a curfew, really possessed a quality aura.

And as I said, I find the ending spectacular. While the whole android thing was 50/50 (I sort of like how it was partially down-played, and not necessarily obvious at first), the final couple of minutes was amazing. I loved the shots of children trick ‘r treating about an hour and ten minutes in (showing just how wide-spread Silver Shamrock’s reach is, along with showing that they even have vans with loudspeakers reminding kids to get home), and in particular, that Phoenix, Arizona shot, with the silhouettes, just looks amazing.

Silver Shamrock’s commercials have an incredibly catchy jingle, even catchier than The Stuff’s (Can’t get enough OF THE STUFF!), and I just love their brand. I’m not so sure of the pagan rituals and ancient Celtic rites, but with a jingle that catchy, how could they be wrong?

I get it – there’s no Michael Myers in the movie, and this is definitely not a slasher. As a huge fan of the first two movies, I can understand the disappointment. Still, I think this movie has a lot going for it, and were it not connected to the Halloween series, a big part of me says that this would be a bit more respected (though I am seeing more positive views nowadays than I did even five years ago, so it’s a start).

Halloween III: Season of the Witch is not flawless, but it is fantastic in many ways, and I utterly adore it and all of it’s Celtic, pagan joy.

8.5/10

Trick or Treats (1982)

Directed by Gary Graver [Other horror films: The Attic (1980), Moon in Scorpio (1987), Evil Spirits (1990)]

I didn’t much care for this one the first time I saw it, primarily because I thought things were happening way, way too slowly. That hasn’t changed with a revisit, and I have to admit that, despite having potential (I mean, it’s a slasher based around Halloween from the early 80’s, how could it go wrong?), this is an entirely lackluster movie.

So how slow is the film? From my viewpoint, we don’t really see any actual dangerous horror situations until about an hour and ten minutes in. Keep in mind that the film overall is just an hour and a half, so we really only get about twenty minutes of horror, and none of it is really worth all that much, including the ending, which was just ridiculous and included only for what I guess would be shock value.

Before that, we get to watch a babysitter become frustrated with the boy she’s babysitting. And – that’s it. Well, we do get to see the deranged Malcolm, played by Peter Jason, break out of a psychiatric hospital, but he was played far too goofy to possess any type of threatening aura. He also dresses up as a woman for half the film, and yet apparently no one, from cops to homeless people, can tell that he’s a man. Certainly it’s possible that, if done well, these more comedic moments might contrast nicely with the chaos that the babysitter is facing, but she’s not facing anything so exciting, just a dick who likes playing pranks.

I can’t lie and say that the kid, played by Chris Graver (who is the son of the director), didn’t annoy me, because he most certainly did throughout the film, but even if the kid had been marginally more likable, Trick or Treats still wouldn’t have been a good movie. Hell, even if the ending was foreshadowed in some way, it still would have felt as dry as it did. Sure, Jacqueline Giroux did okay, and it was sort of nice seeing David Carradine for a few scenes, but none of it amounts to much when most of the story is just filler.

Trick or Treats isn’t a movie without any enjoyment to be had, but it’s far and few between. I didn’t care for this film when I first saw it, and I really don’t think there’s a huge reason to go out of your way to see this one. You might have an okay time with it, but more likely than not, you’ll just wish you watched They Don’t Cut the Grass Anymore again.

5.5/10

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

Visiting Hours (1982)

Directed by Jean-Claude Lord [Other horror films: The Vindicator (1986), Summer House (2008)]

I’ve seen this perhaps three times now, and I could swear that I enjoyed this a decent amount the last time I saw it. I still think it’s an okay slasher movie, but boy, this isn’t the forgotten B-flick I remember it being.

Hospital-based slashers always interested me, mainly because I just find the idea of a killer chasing someone around a brightly-lit (or rather dimly-lit, depending on the realism) place of healing rather amusing. Halloween II is of course the best one, but Hospital Massacre (also known as X-Ray, which, on a side-note, is a God-awful title) has a little charm too. I enjoy the chase scenes in this film toward the end, but a lot of the time, Visiting Hours just sorta drags.

The cast is solid, for what it’s worth. Sure, William Shatner was pretty much a waste (I think the best horror film I’ve seen him in was Kingdom of the Spiders, and that wasn’t even good because of him), but star Lee Grant was decent, and Linda Purl too. Michael Ironside (Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II) probably made the best impression, as a woman-hating psychopath. He certainly had persistence, I’ll give him that.

Overall, Visiting Hours’ story is okay, but it takes side-tracks that don’t really do it for me (such as Ironside’s character beating up a woman but not killing her, or going after Purl’s character). I enjoyed seeing Ironside’s mostly-silent killer try to outmaneuver the police to finish off his victim, but the extra stuff felt more like filler to me than anything else.

I have no objections to the kills, though I don’t think any particularly stood out. The setting, as I sort of alluded to, is on point, and I think the final twenty minutes are perhaps my favorite in the film (along with the opening attack). Also, I like the little snippets of the killer’s past that show why he’s enraged with strong women who stand up to abusive men (some context: Lee Grant’s character is an outspoken feminist journalist), which made the film slightly more interesting.

In the end, though, Visiting Hours is just okay, and a moderately-below average slasher that does some things well, but might lean toward the tedious side (and it doesn’t at all help that the movie’s an hour and 45 minutes). It’s still worth a watch, but it’s not near as good as I recalled it being.

6/10

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

Friday the 13th Part III (1982)

Directed by Steve Miner [Other horror films: Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981), House (1985), Warlock (1989), Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), Lake Placid (1999), Day of the Dead (2008)]

Following the first two great movies, the third film in this franchise, while still solid, doesn’t stand out quite as much, leaving us with few characters to really remember and maybe just a handful of actually memorable kills.

Throwing Jason a hockey mask halfway through the film, giving him his most classic look, was a nice touch (though I do sort of miss Part 2 Jason), as was starting the film off with the final minutes of the second film, but much of this film just does what you’d expect from a Friday the 13th movie, and like I said, I don’t think it really stands out near as well.

Chris, played by Dana Kimmell, was a decent lead (though nowhere near as good as Amy Steel’s Ginny), though her whole flashback story just felt out of place. So once, after an argument with her parents, she runs out into the woods, runs into Jason, fights him a bit, blacks out, and Jason doesn’t kill her?

Actually, somewhat interesting fact here: Jason is never once referenced by name, so whether or not these people even know this is Jason is in question. Because of this, the fact that Chris has a dream-like experience with Jason’s mother at the end leads me to think that it more likely than not actually happened.

Regardless, the whole “I met this creepy, disfigured guy before, and now he’s killing my friends because he didn’t kill me when he had a perfect chance” thing always felt really, really off to me, especially because Jason seems to realize it’s the same girl (that scene where he pulls his mask down to show her his face displays that). The whole thing’s odd.

I also wish that Vera (Catherine Parks) had more of a role in this one. She doesn’t really amount to much, but I sort of wonder if she wouldn’t have been a better final girl than Kimmell, if for nothing else to throw the audience a loop. Otherwise, aside from Shelly (played by Larry Zerner, himself a shadow of Mark Nelson’s goofball Ned from the first movie), who else here really stands out? Paul Kratka? Nick Savage? As far as memorable characters go, these people are pretty weak.

The kills aren’t that bad, though. I mean, like I said, I don’t think that many stand out, but all of them are pretty serviceable. I liked that upside-down machete slash, along with the pitchfork scene, the harpoon gun, and the guy getting his hand cut off. Heck, the knife going through someone’s throat was solid also. Still, compared to the first two movies, I don’t think there’s too many stand-out deaths here.

Finale-wise was somewhat interesting too, actually. Instead of a rather chaotic rainstorm, we’re instead treated to strong winds. I don’t like it quite as much, but the scene with Chris running into the cabin and trying to seal the wind-swept windows was decently compelling. The fight in the barn was decent, and it was fun seeing Jason sent over the edge of the barn, but the first films certainly have more memorable finales.

Of the first four movies, Part III is probably the weakest. It’s not helped by the gimmicky 3-D (and to be fair, while I started watching the 3-D version on my DVD copy, I switched to the 2-D version before too long), but what hurts it more is the utterly unremarkable characters and kills. It’s still a solid slasher, and I still, if for no reason other than nostalgia, find it above average, but I definitely think the first, second, and fourth movies are better.

7.5/10

This film has also been covered by Fight Evil’s podcast – listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this on in detail beyond imagination.

Cat People (1982)

Directed by Paul Schrader [Other horror films: Witch Hunt (1994), Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005)]

I wasn’t the biggest fan of the original Cat People, which I saw somewhat recently for the first time, but I honestly thought this was a bit worse. I get that some of the special effects are solid, and there’s some great nudity here, but it’s an almost two-hour film, and boy, did I think it dragged at times.

As far as the cast went, I liked most of them. Nastassja Kinski was pretty cute, and did well as the star. Annette O’Toole (who surprised me turning up here, as I know her only from 1990’s It) was also cute, and as both Kinski and O’Toole have topless scenes (though unfortunately not at the same time), you’d think the movie would get a 10. Alas, that’s not the case.

Malcolm McDowell (who I barely even recognized, but was much later in the Halloween remake, not to mention Silent Night) didn’t do anything for me. I didn’t care much at all for his character, and to me, he was one of the low points of the movie. Ed Begley Jr. is a big name, but I know him only from a single episode of The West Wing, along with a short role in Better Call Saul. Here, he was okay, but much like McDowell, I didn’t much care for his character.

It’s not just a handful of characters, though, that was the problem. The story overall leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Kinski did a great job as playing a sympathetic character, but her story arc ends in a way that I really didn’t like. I didn’t love the original, like I said, but even that was a bit more satisfactory than this was.

About the pool scene, on a side-note. I do think the original movie did the sequence better, but, and this is a big but, the original didn’t have a topless O’Toole, so as classic as it was, this might just edge it out insofar as rewatchability goes, amiright?

To be honest, I just found Cat People a generally dull remake. The movie isn’t terrible, but it wasn’t my type of thing, and while it had some solid nudity, which I can’t overstate, that doesn’t make up for the fact that I didn’t care for the story, which is the fatal problem here.

5/10

Turkey Shoot (1982)

Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith [Other horror films: Dead End Drive-In (1986), Out of the Body (1989), Night of the Demons 2 (1994), Leprechaun 3 (1995), Leprechaun 4: In Space (1996), Atomic Dog (1998), Sightings: Heartland Ghost (2002)]

This Australian action/horror mix is generally a lot of fun, sort of in The Most Dangerous Game vein, only gory, which brought quite a bit of additional enjoyment to the film.

Taking place in a fascist government’s ‘re-education camp’ led by, get this, a guy named Thatcher (played by Michael Craig), the camp’s motto is ‘Freedom is obedience, obedience is work, work is life.’ Anyone who disagrees with the far-right government is thrown into this camp, along with ‘deviants,’ such as homosexuals, the poor, and anyone else the far-right hates.

I don’t know anything about Australian politics, but the film certainly seems topical from an American point of view, given the wide swings we’ve taken to the right since the 1980’s onward. I always appreciate when horror films (or, partial horror films, as Turkey Shoot often feels far more action-orientated) tackle politics, and this one did it well.

Ignoring the fascist government, which punishes homosexuality by death yet allows rape by the prison camp’s guards, Turkey Shoot has a lot to offer in terms of excitement and gore. It takes about thirty minutes or so for things to really pick up, but once they do, there’s little breathing room past that point, which I rather enjoyed.

Plenty of gory scenes were to be seen here, such as a great dismemberment sequence, along with decent machete action, crossbow action, a guy getting cut in half with a bulldozer, a spike trap obliterating someone, and a solid scene in which someone’s set on fire. There’s no shortage of violence here, or potential violence (as the scene in which Olivia Hussey’s character is almost raped multiple times), and it’s definitely action-packed.

There were a few elements I didn’t care for, or felt out of place, such as a gorilla-type monster being used by one of the characters. The make-up was decent, but it just felt a bit too outlandish to me. That said, overall, the movie works, and a lot of that is due to the multiple solid performances.

Admittedly, I wasn’t overly excited with Olivia Hussey’s (perhaps best known as Audra from the 1990 television adaptation of Stephen King’s It) character for most of the film, but toward the end, she started becoming useful, and all worked out. Steve Railsback (who I saw just a few days ago in the 1985 Lifeforce) was a rather good leading character. Roger Ward and Michael Craig made a great pair of antagonists, Ward especially with his threatening appearance. Three others I liked include Bill Young, Michael Petrovitch, and Noel Ferrier.

I can imagine that some horror fans may be hard-pressed to consider this in the same genre as Halloween, but horror comes in many forms, and many people see different things as fitting into the genre. I don’t personally have a problem counting Turkey Shoot, or similar movies, such as The Most Dangerous Game or Battle Royale, as horror, but definitely don’t go into this one expecting something in the more traditional vein.

As Turkey Shoot stands, I think it’s a very solid Australian film, and it definitely exceeded my admittedly low expectations when it came to gore. With solid action and plenty of violence, Turkey Shoot was certainly worth watching, and I’d recommend it to fans of action-orientated horror flicks.

8.5/10

Alone in the Dark (1982)

Directed by Jack Sholder [Other horror films: A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985), The Hidden (1987), Natural Selection (1994), Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies (1999), Arachnid (2001), 12 Days of Terror (2004)]

This is one of those films that I first saw so long ago that it came across as mostly new with this recent rewatch. I did remember one of the most important scenes near the end, but that didn’t really impact my enjoyment here, and Alone in the Dark is certainly a movie I enjoy quite a bit.

I’ve heard it said by a few people before that Alone in the Dark is slow-moving, and while that might be true (a bulk of the action doesn’t really hit until the finale), I found it engaging and enjoyable the whole way through, much of it likely due to the surprisingly large amount of worthwhile performances here.

You have three maniacs, played by Jack Palance (Without Warning and Man in the Attic), Martin Landau (ditto Without Warning), and Erland van Lidth, Donald Pleasence (Halloween) playing a rather amusing doctor, Carol Levy as a hot babysitter named Bunky, and a family composed of daughter Elizabeth Ward, mother and father Deborah Hedwall and Dwight Schultz, and Schultz’s sister, Lee Taylor-Allan, who was one of the most fun characters here aside from Pleasence, Schultz, and Bunky, not to mention the maniacs.

I love the cast here, so while the action is a bit light at times, and the gore never comes close to what might expect from an early 80’s slasher, it doesn’t matter a bit, because I’m still having a fun time. That said, there can certainly be strong suspense present, such as the scenes in which the family’s trapped in the house by the maniacs. Also, while I did remember the little surprise at the end, that didn’t make it any less effective.

Alone in the Dark isn’t a favorite of mine, but it’s a very solid slasher from a fantastic period of horror. Pretty easy for me to rate highly, as I really find I enjoy this one.

8.5/10

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

One Dark Night (1982)

Directed by Tom McLoughlin [Other horror films: Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986), Sometimes They Come Back (1991), The Haunting of Helen Walker (1995)] & Michael Schroeder [Other horror films: Out of the Dark (1988)]

I don’t think that this early 80’s entry to the genre is all that special. I’ve seen it twice, and while I rather like the atmosphere and much of the story, I’m not entirely enamored by it. That said, it’s almost certainly worth a look if you’re a fan of 80’s horror, despite it not being amazing.

A good girl needing to spend a night in a mausoleum (because she just has to get into this sorority-type clique) where a recently-deceased telekinetic killer has been interred makes for a fun movie, despite there being a hell of a lot of set up. I don’t think any real action starts up until about an hour into the movie. That said, in it’s 80’s way, One Dark Night is still fun.

Meg Tilly isn’t a name I know (though she was later in Psycho II), but she does really admirably here, and I rather liked her somewhat adorable nature. This can also be said for Elizabeth Daily, who was the most hesitant of the sorority girls. She didn’t do that much past a certain point, but I enjoyed her time on-screen. Most others don’t make much of an impression, including Leslie Speights, Robin Evans, David Mason Daniels, and Melissa Newman. Obviously, Adam West was interesting to see, but he adds little to the movie.

The supernatural killer here is interesting, especially as he uses his powers to raise the corpses of the mausoleum to attack the girls. I’m not really big on the whole telekinetic killer thing, but it was sort of cool seeing him barely move yet able to cause such mayhem and horrific chaos. On a related note, the special effects are decent, especially toward the end, so kudos there.

One Dark Night isn’t really a classic in any sense, but it is harmless fun, despite the long set-up and somewhat shaky conclusion. For fans of 80’s horror, I don’t see a good reason not to give it a shot.

7.5/10

And for more, One Dark Night was covered on the Fight Evil podcast, so if you want to listen to Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one, enjoy.

Creepshow (1982)

Creepshow

Directed by George A. Romero [Other horror films: Night of the Living Dead (1968), Hungry Wives (1972), The Crazies (1973), The Amusement Park (1975), Martin (1976), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985), Monkey Shines (1988), Due occhi diabolici (1990, segment ‘The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar’), The Dark Half (1993), Bruiser (2000), Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007), Survival of the Dead (2009)]

Creepshow’s an interesting movie to me, because while I actually only love two of the stories in this one (‘Something to Tide You Over’ and ‘The Crate’), I think overall the movie’s pretty excellent, and definitely excels in creating that comic book feeling, which so few movies can properly do.

‘Father’s Day’ and ‘The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill’ are both lacking in different ways. I certainly like the revenge aspect of the former, and I do enjoy the final scene, but it just doesn’t do it for me. As for the latter, I love the concept, and think the plant life looks rather creepy (and the ending is pretty good on multiple counts), but the overly comedic style of the story wasn’t something I’m fond of.

The final story, ‘They Creep Up on You’, is my third favorite, my main issue being that I felt they could have added in something along the lines of either the recent widow or the ghost of her husband somehow being connected to the onslaught of roaches (which would have worked well, since three of the past four stories in this movie have been about revenge in some form or another). I think it’s a fine story with solid effects, but it could have been better.

‘Something to Tide You Over’ isn’t a complex story, but I think it’s rather fun, mainly because of Leslie Nielsen’s great performance. His eccentric character is fun, and I love the final line (“I can hold my breath for a looooooonngg time”), and I reference it often. No one in ‘The Crate’ is as fun as Nielsen (though I do rather like Hal Holbrook), but it’s probably a better story overall.

There are some solid performances throughout. Obviously, I love Nielsen’s role, and he stands out as perhaps my favorite character. Hal Holbrook (who appeared in other classics such as Rituals from 1977 and The Fog from 1980) did great in his role also. E.G. Marshall, while his character is despicable, does great, as expected. Others who stood out positively include Tom Atkins, Ted Danson, and Viveca Lindfors. I love Stephen King’s writing, but his acting here, while intentional in it’s campiness, didn’t really work for me.

As far as anthology horror films go, there are better examples than Creepshow, such Tales from the Crypt (1972). Still, Creepshow is arguably much funner, and is a damn good example of a campy anthology done right. It’s not perfect, but there’s a lot to like about it, from the performances, to the animation, from the framing story (with a rather satisfactory ending), to the soundtrack. Not every story hits the mark, but it’s still a movie well-worth watching.

8.5/10

And this was also covered on Fight Evil’s podcast on the very first episode. Listen as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss the film.