Witchboard (1986)

Directed by Kevin Tenney [Other horror films: Night of the Demons (1988), The Cellar (1988), Witchtrap (1989), Witchboard 2: The Devil’s Doorway (1993), Pinocchio’s Revenge (1996), The Second Arrival (1998), Endangered Species (2002), Brain Dead (2007)]

I’ll be honest, this was a bit of a disappointing rewatch. I saw this film once before quite some time back, and I remembered having a good enough time with it. Seeing it again, though, I struggle to exactly capture why I felt that before. Some of the movie was interesting, but overall, I can’t help but see Witchboard as moderately underwhelming.

As far as leads go, Tawny Kitaen, Todd Allen, and Stephen Nichols are fine. Both Nichols’ and Allen’s characters can be dicks, but hey, it’s the manly competition to get the girl, so why not? As it is, their story is decent, as they used to be friends, fell apart, and through the course of the film, begin to again get on friendly terms. If there’s any performance here that’s really memorable, though, it’s Kathleen Wilhoite as a medium Zarabeth, who’s wacky but decently entertaining.

Some of the creepy scenes here, including dream sequences, are solid, and the special effects throughout, while nothing amazing, are still certainly decent. It’s just that the story isn’t necessarily my favorite thing, and though elements are sort of interesting (such as the mystery behind the spirit that’s going after Kitaen’s character), all pulled together, it doesn’t do a lot for me.

Witchboard isn’t as good as I remember, which is a shame, because, as I said, I recall having a solid time with this one. It’s still an okay movie, and for a supernatural flick from the latter half of the 1980’s, it’s decent, but unless my view drastically changes the next time I chance this one, Witchboard, for what it does right, is probably a bit below average.

6/10

Aliens (1986)

Directed by James Cameron [Other horror films: Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1981)]

While it’s true that it took me until my most-recent viewing of Alien to fully appreciate it, Aliens is a movie I loved from ‘hello,’ and it’s probably the best horror/action/science fiction movie in the history of the moving pictures.

Let’s dispense with the problems first, though:

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the myriad of great performances (it’d almost be easier to talk about those who didn’t make a positive impression, but that didn’t strike me as fair).

I loved Sigourney Weaver in the first movie, but she’s even better here. Once she takes control, she really takes control (the scene in which Ripley usurps Gorman is fantastic), and though she’s all bad-ass, she still has a sensitive side, as seen when dealing with Newt (Carrie Henn) and Hudson (Bill Paxton). She is the exact right person in that situation, and I enjoyed watching her kick ass throughout (especially in regards to Paul Reiser’s character).

And speaking of Reiser, boy, does he cause some whiplash. At first, he seems a decent guy, one of the few trying to back-up Ripley’s experience and get her back into a suitable profession, but then we find out something later on that shines a whole new light on him, and he quickly becomes one of the most hated characters in the whole of cinema (perhaps an overstatement, but man, I utterly abhor this guy, and I definitely thought he should have been killed just as soon as his secret and actions were discovered). Reiser does a great job playing a terrible character, so kudos.

It’s Gorman, played by William Hope, who at first seems to be the main antagonist. Very quickly, though, we find out that he’s not so much a bad man as he is just under-experienced. He certainly thought he had control of the situation, but when Ripley shoves him aside, he takes it gracefully, and I always low-key appreciated him for that. Another individual who takes a little while to really make a place for themselves is Hicks, played by Michael Biehn. To be honest, I barely noticed him until he retained command, but I loved him as soon as he sided with Ripley, and from there on out, he gave it his best to protect everyone.

Others who merit a positive mention are probably obvious, being Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, Bill Paxton, Mark Rolston, and Al Matthews. Henriksen as the android Bishop really did well here. Being an android, he didn’t need to have much in the way of emotions, so Henriksen was a perfect fit, and I definitely enjoyed him throughout (especially towards the end). Goldstein kicked ass about as much as Weaver, and her comeback to Hudson near the beginning was cuttingly brutal.

Paxton’s Hudson lost control past a certain point, but he was still a solid character to the end, and though Rolston’s Drake didn’t last near as long as I was hoping, he too was a character I really found myself enjoying. Of everyone, though, it’s Al Matthews, who, as soon as he awakens from cryofreeze, the very second, he has a cigar in his mouth. Love that guy’s dedication. I also rather liked Colette Hiller, though she appeared for only a short time.

As far as the special effects go, everything here looks great, and though at first glance it might look like the movie runs a little long (as it’s around two-and-a-half hours), I think everything feels smooth and well-paced throughout the film. The setting is a nicely deserted alien world, and there are some absolutely fantastic scenes of suspense here (such as Ripley and the kid being trapped in the room with the facehuggers).

Let’s face it – Aliens is a fantastic movie, and this is probably one of my least controversial movie opinions of all time. The movie currently sits in IMDb’s top 100 movies, and I’m very much mistaken if I think that’s going to change anytime soon. It’s an action-packed ride with with a ton of suspense, scares (that locked room with Ripley and Newt gets my heart racing every time), action, and I can’t recommend the movie enough.

10/10

Sorority House Massacre (1986)

Directed by Carol Frank [Other horror films: N/A]

For a somewhat lower-budget, mid-80’s slasher, I think that Sorority House Massacre has quite a bit going for it. While the killer certainly leaves something to be desired, the film often carries with it a rather more artistic feel (especially during the dream sequences), and helps the film stand out positively.

What really sets this one apart from more lackluster slashers around the same time (some that come to mind include Blood Hook, Killer Workout, and Open House) were the more artistic portions of the film, most often the dream sequences. It’s not uncommon that I feel dream sequences in films turn me off, but the ones in this movie are done pretty well, and occasionally provide some creepy imagery (the picture that starts bleeding, for instance).

On the other hand, no one in the cast really bowled me over. I did like the main actress, Angela O’Neill, well enough, but the other girls and miscellaneous guys were pretty much just the generic bunch you’d expect. Luckily, that doesn’t really harm the film much, as the body count insured that most of them are dead by the end of the film anyway. One performance that did bother me was the killer, played by John C. Russell. He just didn’t seem that frightening (though I did like how they portrayed his insanity, what with hallucinating the college-aged girls as his little sisters). I think they could have done a better job with him, though.

The story was pretty standard with no real surprises, but it was pleasant enough, and the special effects were competent to nonexistent, but really, for a 70 minute slasher, I wasn’t complaining. I did like the tepee kill, and there were a few solid painful looking stabbings, but nothing over-the-top. One scene I did like the was montage of three of the girls changing clothes. Some hot, nude bodies changing clothes to 80’s synth music is just what the doctor ordered…

Obviously, I’m a rather large fan of slashers, especially 80’s slashers, so it might not come as a shock that I thought Sorority House Massacre worked out for the best. Honestly, though I’d seen this one before, I forgot just to what extent I enjoyed it, so while it doesn’t have the same name recognition of The Slumber Party Massacre or The House on Sorority Row, I’d give this one a go. It may not be amazing, but I do think it was very competently made, and even had a few surprisingly creepy scenes.

7.5/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. If you’re interesting in hearing Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one, check out the video below.

Camping del terrore (1986)

Directed by Ruggero Deodato [Other horror films: Ultimo mondo cannibale (1977), Cannibal Holocaust (1980), La casa sperduta nel parco (1980), Inferno in diretta (1985), Un delitto poco comune (1988), Minaccia d’amore (1988), Vortice mortale (1993), The Profane Exhibit (2013, segment ‘Bridge’), Ballad in Blood (2016), Deathcember (2019, segment ‘Casetta Sperduta in Campagna’)]

This Italian film (most commonly known as Body Count) was a bit of a muddled, scatter-shot mess. It was certainly still enjoyable as a slasher fan, but boy, you’d hope that Ruggero Deodato would have been able to make a more stable slasher than what this shows.

As it is, the kills throughout are decent. I particularly liked seeing one character’s fingers getting chopped off by an ax, or another in which a girl gets stabbed through the hand, and the killer twists the knife. There are some painful scenes in this one, and though it doesn’t really compete with the best of the best, the kills were very competent.

A bigger problem, though, is the story and characters. Maybe it’s because the movie’s Italian, but the story here seems a bit on the messy side. It’s true that I had an issue remembering who was who here (though to be honest, I don’t know if that matters much), but starting out the movie, then jumping 15 years later, then later throwing in a flashback of a ‘bear attack’ (that was very obviously a murder, on a side-note) just left me feeling jumbled. The ending, which implied that there was another killer, also didn’t help.

Even once we find out who’s behind the murders (which isn’t a big surprise, but there were a few legitimate suspects here), we’re told that one of the earliest murders (that happened in the introduction, 15 years prior to the core of the movie) wasn’t done by the killer. Wait, I missed something – who killed that first person, then? Maybe it slipped past me, or maybe that wasn’t clarified.

The characters here were all sort of goofy and hard to really feel much for. The worst offender was Andrew J. Lederer (who provided us with some solid male frontal nudity), but to be honest, he did crack me up a few times, and at least stood out, which can’t be said for any of the other teen characters (despite the fact that a handful of the young women weren’t what you might refer to as ‘modest’).

Some of the others here were okay, though. Ivan Rassimov (who starred in a handful of classic cannibal films, such as Man from Deep River, Jungle Holocaust, and Eaten Alive!) brought a solid performance as a sheriff, though I wish the movie did more with him. Ditto John Steiner, who I thought would play a bigger role here. David Hess (Last House on the Left) and Charles Napier were also solid presences, but given the story they’re dealing with, I don’t think either stood out.

I’ll give Body Count kudos for the 80’s score, which I rather liked, but I’ll take the kudos away due to the atrocious lighting at various parts throughout the movie. Maybe if the lighting had made some of the scenes more visible, some of the movie might have been more on the comprehensible side.

The question is, though, did I enjoy Body Count? I did, given all of it’s flaws. I still think this Italian slasher is below average, but hell, it’s an 80’s slasher, and there are decent kills here, so even if the story is lacking, at least we get a little something.

6/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast, so if so intrigued, check out below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss Body Count.

Neon Maniacs (1986)

Directed by Joseph Mangine [Other horror films: N/A]

I’ll be forthcoming and admit that I didn’t go into this one with high expectations. Truthfully, I was thinking that I’d rather dislike it. But as it turns out, not only did I enjoy it, but despite some very glaring problems, I actually rather loved it.

I want to talk about the big problem with the film first before I go into praising it incessantly. We never find out what exactly the monsters are, or where they come from, or what they want, or why they want it. They seem to come out at night to kill, and that’s about all we know about them. Some of their designs are a bit off, but for most of the main ones, I thought they were decent (such as the one with ropes). Also, it could be argued that the film doesn’t have much coherency.

All of that said, though, I had a great time with this.

In a somewhat unique choice, Neon Maniacs plays itself pretty straight for most of the film. With a title like it has, you’d expect endless camp and maybe silly comedy (think Troma), but aside from a few funny lines (and the scene at the turnstiles), the movie’s nothing like that (which goes a long way to explain why I enjoyed it more than I thought I would). The characters know they’re in danger, and there’s a pretty somber tone throughout, especially toward the end (speaking of which, that final line is fantastic).

There’s a lot of great scenes here, such as the really cool pool sequence and much of the battle of the bands finale. That battle of the bands was fun especially because I actually really liked that first song, ‘Baby Lied.’ It was catchy and totally my jam. Even ignoring the fun music, though, when it randomly cut to Donna Locke’s character sitting atop the speakers and cheering, dressed as a vampire, I couldn’t help but laugh.

Donna Locke is perhaps the number one reason I loved this film. Her character’s utterly adorable, and is a lot more interesting and proactive than the actual main character of the film (played by Leilani Sarelle). She directs low-budget horror films, fights off a few monsters single-handedly, goes to investigate and videotape the monsters, and consistently tries to hook up with Sarelle in order to fight against them. Donna Locke’s character is utterly badass, and it’s a damn shame that Locke has never appeared in anything else. I really liked her character, and cheered whenever she was onscreen.

Clyde Hayes and Leilani Sarelle do well too, they’re just not nearly as memorable. Hayes previously appeared in the fourth Friday the 13th, but he was more prominent here, which worked well, as he was decently action-oriented. The scenes in which Hayes, Sarelle, and Locke worked together in order to fight off the monsters were all rather fun, so props to that.

Neon Maniacs surprised me. It has pretty good special effects, some effectively atmospheric sequences (such as Locke traveling in the fog), memorable characters, decent deaths, and enjoyable music, all tied together with a would-be campy plot played generally straight. I will admit to being taken aback, but that was my mistake. A really enjoyable movie, despite the origins of the monsters never being made clear.

8.5/10

This is one of the first movies Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I covered on our Fight Evil, so listen below as we awkwardly discuss it.

Ozone: The Attack of the Redneck Mutants (1986)

Directed by Matt Devlen [Other horror films: Tabloid (1989)]

This low-budget flick is not nearly as fun as the title would lead you to believe. In fact, it’s a pretty damn dry and boring film, and there’s very little here that’d be worth seeking it out for.

Does the movie occasionally boast some solid, low-budget gore? Sure, but it’s pretty sparse, and ultimately not really worth it. In the first half of the film, there was really only one scene worth watching (it was decently gory, luckily), but everything else was just utterly pointless filler (the highlight of which was an old woman chasing a chicken around her kitchen, cackling).

Let me let you all in on a secret: When the height of entertainment in the first half of a movie is an old woman chasing a chicken around a kitchen, cackling, you know that the film has problems.

The pitiful performances didn’t help much. Blue Thompson was the best of the bunch, which really, really isn’t saying anything. Scott Davis whined way too much, and Brad McCormick was just a ridiculous caricature of a hillbilly (though nothing so over-the-top as Redneck Zombies did, thank God).

Of course, nobody’s coming to this film because of the potentially solid acting – it’s for the low-fi gore. And I will admit, for a lower-budget film, the special effects and gore are decently effective. It’s nowhere near as good as Nathan Schiff, but it’s still decent. The problem is, save for the one aforementioned scene in the first half of the film, most of the movie just follows pretty uninteresting characters in extraordinarily dull ways.

We watch this farmer’s wife do some dishes and iron a few shirts as she looks to the window, where her husband’s outside giving water to their dog. We see an older woman knead some dough and chase a chicken. We see a wanna-be country singer (god, was her accent something else) get ready to go to her singing engagement (which takes place at the small general store). All of this is done without dialogue, and it’s more than a little boring.

Ozone: The Attack of the Redneck Mutants is nowhere near as fun as the title makes it sound. It was a painfully joyless experience, and the occasionally good gore (which including a tongue getting pulled out, an eyeball removed, and of course intestines being ripped from the stomach) doesn’t excuse this film’s unfortunately dry feel. Even if you are a gore-hound, there’s almost nothing about this one to recommend. It was just poor movie-making.

3.5/10

Blood Hook (1986)

Blood Hook

Directed by Jim Mallon [Other horror films: N/A]

While I generally enjoy slashers and slasher-like flicks from the 1980’s, something about this one didn’t quite work for me. Dare I say, I wasn’t hooked.

One thing I do appreciate about this film is the story – while they had characters who never really did much, I did like the characterization of some of the main performances, and though it was sort of muddled due to the low-budget quality of the film, I think the backstory on some of the characters here was interesting and a bit deeper than you might expect.

Of course, the movie throws in a bit of humor too, and it’s not too over-the-top, which is another thing I give Blood Hook props for. Oh, it certainly felt silly at times (just an over-sized fishing hook flying out of the dark, with no indication of someone nearby, felt a bit much), and the ‘loon-woman’ was just hilariously ridiculous, but the light-hearted tone, if anything, was far more muted than I expected (especially for a film distributed by Troma).

Speaking on that point, actually, there is a longer version of the movie out there, clocking in around two hours, while I saw the more common Troma release, which cut out quite a bit, from my understanding. Given that I didn’t particularly care for what I saw, I sort of doubt I’ll try out the longer version, but it should be stated that, in all fairness, that I didn’t see the ‘most complete’ version of Blood Hook out there.

For a movie of such a low budget, I will say that much of the cast did decent. Most of them appeared just in this single film (which was filmed on location in Wisconsin), such as Christopher Whiting, Sara Hauser, Don Winters (probably one of my favorite performances in the film), and Paul Drake. Others appeared in a handful of other movies and/or episodes, such as Mark Jacobs, Lisa Todd, and Bill Lowrie. Lisa Todd had perhaps one of the funniest scenes, in which she’s trying to connect on a personal level with the killer – something that I generally wouldn’t care for, but worked well here.

As much fun as the movie can occasionally be (personally, I wasn’t feeling all that invested until around the half-way mark), Blood Hook dragged much of the time. The little gore there was struck me as decent for the budget, and like I said, the story itself was actually pretty solid, but this movie didn’t work on some level for me, which is a shame, as it certainly had potential.

Honestly, this may just be one I need to give another shot a few years down the line – I could see my opinion improving a bit if I gave it another chance. As it is now, though, I find Blood Hook a rather sub-par slasher during a time when so many better horror flicks were being released.

5.5/10

Veneno para las hadas (1986)

Poison

Directed by Carlos Enrique Taboada [Other horror films: Hasta el viento tiene miedo (1968), Vagabundo en la lluvia (1968), El libro de piedra (1969), Más negro que la noche (1975)]

This Mexican film, originally Veneno para las hadas generally known as Poison for the Fairies in the USA, is a lot like a film I saw earlier in the same month, a French movie called Don’t Deliver Us from Evil, albeit in a more family-friendly direction.

Which isn’t to say that the ending isn’t good – it is. Is it worth the build up, though? That’s hard to say. Much like the 1971 French film, two youths are becoming corrupted by their friendship, slowly leading up to a less-than-happy ending. Unlike that film, though, given these girls are just around ten, there’s nothing in the film dealing with their sexuality (which was a big part of Don’t Deliver Us from Evil). Instead, one of the girls is playing a game on the other that grows out of control.

It’s a very insular movie – aside from the two girls, played by Ana Patricia Rojo and Elsa Maria Gutierrez, no other character really matters, and for that matter, while their guardians appear (parents and grandparents), we almost never actually see their faces. Luckily, the story is engaging enough to allow the singular focus on these two girls, though I would have to imagine some would say the film drags deeply because of it.

Throughout the movie, there’s a growing ominous feeling, and it’s held pretty well. If you’re not asking yourself, “Where is this leading,” multiple times, then something wasn’t done right. All this said, though, with any slow-burn horror film, did the ending make up for the somewhat sluggish pace? It wasn’t perfect, but I liked how they concluded this. I didn’t love the film, but I do think it’s a lot more digestible than Don’t Deliver Us from Evil was, and I’d probably recommend this to anyone interested in checking something out with a bit more foreign flair.

7.5/10

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

Directed by Tobe Hooper [Other horror films: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Eaten Alive (1976), The Dark (1979), Salem’s Lot (1979), The Funhouse (1981), Poltergeist (1982), Lifeforce (1985), Invaders from Mars (1986), Spontaneous Combustion (1990), I’m Dangerous Tonight (1990), Night Terrors (1993), Body Bags (1993, segment ‘Eye’), The Mangler (1995), The Apartment Complex (1999), Crocodile (2000), Shadow Realm (2002), Toolbox Murders (2004), Mortuary (2005), Djinn (2013)]

It’s no secret that the original film, while it has it’s merits, has never been a favorite of mine. It is, however, so much better than this piece of trash.

Tobe Hooper took a different approach with this movie, throwing away the bleak and gritty tone of the original for a black-comedy with very little to offer.

There’s not many pros, so I’ll get them out of the way first. Stretch (played by Caroline Williams) was a pretty good character throughout the movie. Not only was she decently attractive, I thought she did a good job portraying how maddening being a capture to that insane family was. Dennis Hopper’s Lefty was a fun character in the beginning, but very quickly became an idiotic mess as soon as soon as Stretch fell down the hole into the Sawyer’s lair. Leatherface, as a character alone, was okay.

Everything else was hideous.

Chop Top (played by Bill Moseley in a very early role) had no redeemable qualities. Any time he was in a scene, the scene got worse. I couldn’t stand him during any portion of the movie, and when he was with his family, he only got more annoying. The Cook (Jim Siedow) was far better done in the first film (played by Siedow still). Here, he is over-the-top (like almost every character) and utterly irksome.

The original film had a demented house, which was gritty and terrifying. While the final setting here was cool (an abandoned theme park or some such), it was lacking the threatening feel of the house in the first movie. It just felt too goofy and extravagant.

This whole movie was too goofy, in truth. I don’t really do comedy mixed with my horror. Very few movies of the sort have really done it for me. You take a good concept and ruin it like this, it just bothers me. If you liked the movie, great. It’s a pale shadow of the original, though, and honestly, having rewatched it twice now, I don’t think I’ll ever desire to see this atrocity again. If I want my fill of a chainsaw massacre, I’ll stick with the superior original, third film, or 2003 remake.

4.5/10

Dolls (1986)

Dolls

Directed by Stuart Gordon [Other horror films: Re-Animator (1985), From Beyond (1986), Daughter of Darkness (1990), The Pit and the Pendulum (1991), Castle Freak (1995), Dagon (2001)]

Seeing this movie a second time really solidified what I felt the first time around: while certainly corny at times, with some overacting afoot, Dolls has a lot of feeling to it.

There were some atrocious characters in the film (Bunty Bailey’s Isabel, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon’s Rosemary, and Ian Patrick Williams’ David), but the heart of the film lie in Judy, Ralph, and the elderly couple Hilary and Gabriel.

Played by Stephen Lee, Ralph was a great character, and while at times he was played up a bit much as the comic relief, I really enjoyed how he was able to connect with Judy (Carrie Lorraine) better than her father or step-mother ever could. And of course, Hilary Mason does wonderful as a witch-type old woman. While Ralph was a great character, though, the true stand-out is Guy Rolfe’s performance as Gabriel.

Charismatic and often kindhearted, Gabriel was a real treat, who spoke with respect to those who deserved it. In many ways, his placement of importance on kids’ and their wonder really reminded me, oddly enough, of a Willy Wonka-type character. Who couldn’t love that?

In relation, this movie had a strong fantasy feel throughout, which, while at times I find bothersome in a horror flick, really worked out well here. Stuart Gordon did a great job balancing the two, and while overall I think Paperhouse (1988) is a better fantasy/horror blend, Dolls is damn enjoyable also.

There were creepy scenes throughout, some subtle, some not so, and the kills were both memorable and, at times, brutal (I enjoyed the dolls attacking one of the characters in waves, but the firing squad death has to be my favorite – the slow motion worked really well there). The stop motion effects were pretty good looking, so kudos to that department also. Lastly, the music throughout the film was deeply enjoyable. Sometimes suspenseful, sometimes fantastical, those who worked on the score did a really great job. High quality all around.

Dolls isn’t by any means the perfect film, but it does possess occasionally poignant scenes and overall comes across as a feel-good movie, despite the violence. It harkens back to the creativity of childhood, and questions why we lost the wonder most of us once had. It’s a pleasant watch, in short, and I’d certainly recommend this to any interested party.

8.5/10