Return to Horror High (1987)

Directed by Bill Froehlich [Other horror films: N/A]

In all honesty, Return to Horror High could have been something special. I don’t know what it would have needed to get there – maybe better direction, a more serious approach, something else – but with the meta nature of the film, along with the nonlinear plot (not to mention the plot twists), this had potential. The problem is it didn’t land at all.

And I don’t just mean the finale – I mean all of it. Certain scenes were interesting – the first time they had a scene break for us only to discover it was part of the filming threw me for a loop (I honestly thought it was a flashback), and there were a few decently artistic scenes (such as the love-making sequence, what with flashing lights from welding outside and the 80’s styles of Wendy Fraser’s “Man for Me”), but for the most part, very little in this film made an impact on me.

When I first saw this years ago, I suspect I might have found it somewhat convoluted, and while things generally make more sense this time around (aside from the “Daddy” ending), that cohesion doesn’t really benefit my views on this much. I just found it an interesting concept that was executed somewhat woefully, and not much in the way of performances save it.

Many might mention George Clooney when bringing this one up, and I guess I have also, but even knowing he was in this, I didn’t recognize his face (it doesn’t help that I know very little from Clooney – I’ve only seen two films with him in it, being Batman & Robin and From Dusk Till Dawn). More noticeable by far were Maureen McCormick (who was one of the few elements of comedy I consistently appreciated), Alex Rocco, Brendan Hughes (Howling VI: The Freaks), and Lori Lethin (who had three separate roles here).

There wasn’t much in the way of kills whatsoever. Pretty much all of them are weak save for perhaps the take on a human dissection. Everything else was forgettable, though, but that’s okay, because it fits well with the rest of the movie.

Which may have come out more unkindly than necessary, but Return to Horror High, like I said, had potential. Almost none of it really did anything for me though – not even the mystery of the killer, and that usually at least garners some mild interest from me. I found this utterly underwhelming, and despite some potentially clever ideas, I don’t think I’m going to give this one a third viewing.

5/10

Blood Harvest (1987)

Directed by Bill Rebane [Other horror films: Monster a Go-Go (1965), Invasion from Inner Earth (1974), The Giant Spider Invasion (1975), The Alpha Incident (1978), The Capture of Bigfoot (1979), Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake (1980), The Demons of Ludlow (1983), The Game (1984)]

It’s been some years since I’ve last seen this one, and though I enjoyed the film the first time around, I’d be lying if I said that I remembered a lot about it, because I didn’t. Aside from Tiny Tim’s presence and a few scenes revolving around him, I went into this without too many memories, which probably helped a bit with the enjoyment factor.

Obviously Blood Harvest is far from perfect, and it may ultimately wind up around average, if not below, but Tiny Tim (who is a singer most known for his falsetto voice and such hits as “Livin’ in the Sunlight, Lovin’ in the Moonlight” and “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”) gives a fantastically emotional performance as he plays a mentally-handicapped man who recently lost his parents and is deeply struggling with it. Some of his antics might seem a bit much, but from the scene of him singing and sobbing in the church, I was hooked. An odd, but great, performance.

Aside from Tiny Tim, though, much of the movie comes across as a bit pedestrian. They throw in some occasionally interesting elements, such as the local farmers being unhappy with someone due to the bank’s recent foreclosures, so much so they vandalize the house of the bank’s spokesperson, and certainly there were creepy moments when someone drugged the main character, played by Itonia Salchek, and then stripped her naked to take pictures of her, because that’s the type of stand-up guys we need in the world.

As far as Salchek goes, this was her sole movie, and amusingly, her IMDb profile states that, to this day, “people are still trying to find or find out what happened to her.” I don’t know if it’s as serious as all that (the profile also says that after filming this movie, she either “disappeared or died” which seems dramatic to me). Regardless of what happened with her, Salchek gives a decent performance, and is no stranger to providing some quality nudity, so kudos for that.

I’ve already mentioned that Tiny Tim is the best performance here, but I’ll reiterate that I really felt an emotional punch at times throughout the movie due to him. He may look silly with clown make-up on, and his “Gary and Jill went up the hill” song that pops up here and there, but what a performance. The sheriff, played by Frank Benson, was occasionally amusing, and while Lori Minnetti (who was also in the odd 1984 film The Game, or The Cold) didn’t add a lot, I did like her appearances on-screen. Dean West didn’t really leave an impression either way.

None of the kills here are stellar, but I do sort of enjoy that oppressive mystery that surrounds Itonia Salchek’s Jill – she gets back home, but her parents are missing, and with no way to contact them, she’s just sort of lost. What’s even creepier is that some of the action is taking place at a barn pretty close to home, and yet she’s not aware of it. The violence here was certainly okay, but I think the mystery is probably the moderately more interesting aspect (aside from the fact that most of the red herrings fail pretty miserably).

Sometimes it can feel like not that much is happening, though, and in that aspect, I think Blood Harvest fails to fully engage the audience (which is a bit of a shame, because the director Bill Rebane also directed The Demons of Ludlow, from 1983, which, despite it’s current 3.4/10 rating on IMDb, is a pretty fun movie), and though the movie is by no means long, I do think it drags at parts.

None of this is to say the movie is bad. For a late 80’s slasher, it can provide an okay time, and though there are plenty of others I’d prefer to watch, such as Iced, Moonstalker, or Intruder, I could see myself watching this one again, even though I find it a little lacking.

6.5/10

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

Opera (1987)

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), Inferno (1980), Tenebre (1982), Phenomena (1985), 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 (2003), Ti piace Hitchcock? (2005), La terza madre (2007), Giallo (2009), Dracula 3D (2012), Occhiali neri (2022)]

Sometimes considered one of the last great Argento films, Opera is a movie that I’ve long been aware of, and given my love of some of his previous work, a movie I’ve wanted to see for some time, and overall, while I thought a few changes here and there might have worked, I found the film quite solid.

A big part of this would be the gore and quality special effects throughout the film, and there are some really spectacular scenes here. Perhaps the most remarkable would be the slow-motion headshot sequence, in which a bullet exits the gun, shoots through the peep-hole, and, as one can imagine, pierces a poor soul in the head. Also quite solid is a kill with a knife through the jar, and a woman forced to watch lest she lose her eyebrows via needles taped near her eyes (as the poster demonstrates).

For a late 80’s giallo, over ten years since the heyday of the sub-genre, Opera did a pretty good job as far as the gore goes. The mystery isn’t quite great, but you’re left wondering who exactly is committing the crimes, the answer for which isn’t entirely satisfactory, but the showdown between the mysterious killer and Cristina Marsillach is pretty solid. I don’t love the final scene – I can see why some wanted it removed for the US release – but that’s not too much a deterrent.

Cristina Marsillach isn’t the best lead I’ve seen, because her character (and this isn’t just her – this could be applied to multiple characters throughout the movie) made her fair share of somewhat questionable decisions. Ian Charleson was a character I wanted to like more, as he struck me as potentially interesting, but I felt he wasn’t entirely fleshed out.

In fact, I think this is a complaint I have with most of the characters, so not only do many of them make some foolish decisions (Marsillach not going to the police after witnessing the murder, or Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni not getting help for Marsillach as soon as she saw her in the glass, etc.), but they make those bad decisions while feeling like somewhat shallow characters, and though that didn’t make the film terrible, by any means, I definitely noticed it.

Of course, I did enjoy seeing the occasional Argento addition of odd lighting at times (the two women being trapped in the apartment may have been the best example of that), but the film, as far as stylistic endeavors went, seemed quite a bit more tame than Argento’s previous works. I also could have done without the somewhat jarring heavy metal music during the kills, but I can understand why they’re there.

So though the mystery wasn’t great, and honestly, the characters weren’t great (Urbano Barberini being one of the few shining lights, as far as dim shining lights go), the kills were pretty solid, and I can say that I did enjoy the film. I just didn’t enjoy it as much as Deep Red or even Suspiria.

7.5/10

Uninvited (1987)

Directed by Greydon Clark [Other horror films: Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977), Without Warning (1980), Wacko (1982), Dance Macabre (1992)]

So I’ll give the poster credit for being decent, but boy, this movie definitely has some issues. That doesn’t make Uninvited any less entertaining, but I suspect that this film, while somewhat fun once around, might suffer deeply with revisits.

Even seeing it once doesn’t lead to the best time, but the dialogue and acting is so awful, it’s almost good. The cat itself is fine, but the ill-defined creature that exists within the cat that does most of the killings doesn’t look particularly impressive whatsoever.

I do personally appreciate that this film takes place mostly on a yacht (and a few years before Jason Takes a Long Boat Ride), because more enclosed spaces theoretically should increase the tension. Of course, it never really did, but being lost out at sea without a working engine did hold with it a certain despair.

Alex Cord was appropriately campy here, and his character, of course, quite a dick. He did have a slimy charm at times, but by the end, he got somewhat hard to appreciate. Clu Gulager (The Return of the Living Dead and Freddy’s Revenge) was sort of nice to see, but he didn’t have a heck of a lot of screen-time. Better was George Kennedy (Just Before Dawn and Death Ship), who was Cord’s serious-minded right-hand man.

Shari Shattuck and Clare Carey never really caught on with me (they were cute, sure, but they weren’t winning any IQ tests). Likewise, neither Beau Dremann nor Rob Estes (Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge) blew me away, but I did really like both Eric Larson (Demon Wind) and Toni Hudson. Hudson was maybe a bit more generic, but Larson’s character was pretty interesting, and one of the only ones on board to really root for.

Toward the end, once the surviving characters get into a lifeboat, the cat-creature-thing attacks them twice, with this ridiculous music playing. The sequence was a good example of what to expect from this movie. It’s not overtly silly (though like I said, some of the performances are more than a little camp), but it almost reaches into the realm of comedy with as bad as some of these scenes are.

When it’s all said and done, Uninvited isn’t anywhere near a great movie, but it can be entertaining, and if that’s your main concern, I think you could certainly do a lot worse than this, as bad as this can get.

5.5/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. If you want to hear Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one, then look no further.

Criminally Insane 2 (1987)

Directed by Nick Millard [Other horror films: Criminally Insane (1975), Satan’s Black Wedding (1976), Doctor Bloodbath (1987), Death Nurse (1987), Cemetery Sisters (1987), Death Nurse 2 (1988), Dracula in Vegas (1999), The Turn of the Screw (2003)]

The 1975 Criminally Insane would never win any awards, but I liked it well enough for it’s pure grind-house aesthetic. This sequel, though, has to be among one of the worse straight-to-video horror flicks of the late 1980’s (and no doubt there’s plenty of competition).

Partially, this is due to the fact that a third of the film is made up of flashbacks from the first film (mostly in the form of Ethel’s dream sequences). I enjoyed the first film, but just reusing various scenes (sometimes multiple times) in order to pad the already short running time (this clocks in at about 70 minutes) is just weak sauce. It’s not as bad as Puppet Master: The Legacy, but it is definitely weak.

With the story we’re given, though, of Ethel being moved into a halfway house following budget cuts to mental institutions, it’s okay. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s really, really dry, boring as all hell, and leads only to a collection of weak kills and stilted conversations (the tea conversation between Ethel and some guy she was trying to kill, for instance), but hey, they tried.

As it is, the movie actually could have been fine if only they had cut back on the amount of flashbacks they inserted and instead added a bit more story and maybe character background (also, there’s a scene here which indicated there are four patients at this halfway house, but we only ever see three). I mean, Priscilla Alden came back for this, and the least you could do for her is give her a script worth shooting.

Honestly, this film is pretty much an insult. Some of the conversations here are amusing (for all the wrong reasons), but there’s really not much charm at all to be found here. The quality is that of a homemade movie from the 1980’s, and the very dull sets and stilted dialogue just make the whole affair laughable.

I can’t think of any good reason to go out of your way to seek this out. The first movie, as I said, was pretty enjoyable for it’s time, but this one is just beyond pathetic, as the IMDb rating (a hefty 1.9/10 at the time of this writing) can attest to. I don’t rate it quite that lowly, if only because I was personally amused at some of this, but boy, talk about a poor film.

4/10

Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

Directed by Joseph Sargent [Other horror films: Nightmares (1983)]

Before touching on any details, I want to get this controversial viewpoint out of the way: I actually like this movie more than the first Jaws. Not that it’s a better movie, necessarily, just that I had more fun with this. It occasionally drags, and there’s not near enough action, but hey, Michael Caine is fun here.

Caine appeared in few horror films, among them a starring role in The Swarm, which is perhaps his most notable one. His role here isn’t mind-blowing or anything, but he has a consistently fun personality, which melds nicely to most others’ rather somber attitudes. I’m glad that Lorraine Gary came back as Ellen Brody, but the fact that neither Dennis Quaid or John Putch return as Mike and Sean (instead, there’s Lance Guest and Mitchell Anderson) was disappointing.

Not that Guest is actually that bad here, though he does have a few moments of mediocrity. That’s probably more the film than his acting abilities, though. Mario Van Peebles was decently fun as Jake, but really, Caine held most of my attention, which is fine, because he was probably one of the most interesting people here.

I get a lot of why this movie gets a bad rap – the idea that a particular shark is specifically going after the Brody family (why is never made clear – perhaps the sharks killed in the first and second movies were it’s parents) is pretty laughable, especially coming to an environment that isn’t ideal for it. More so, the movie’s goofy at times. The seemingly-psychic way Ellen knows that the shark is hunting her and her family is pretty bad, and that finale wasn’t near as dramatic as you’d hope (in fact, the whole the finale had an improbably positive outcome for all involved).

Still, though there isn’t nearly as much action as there should be (the shark chasing Michael was decent, but aside from that, there weren’t many action sequences of note), I think Jaws: The Revenge is reasonably fun. If it’s only because of Van Peebles and Caine, so be it, but it undeniably had more life than the often-dull Jaws 3. I’m not saying that this film is great, but I can’t deny that I enjoy it more than I probably should, and probably find it somewhere just below average.

6.5/10

Creepshow 2 (1987)

Directed by Michael Gornick [Other horror films: Stephen King’s Golden Tales (1985, segment ‘The Word Processor of the Gods’)]

The first Creepshow is an interesting one, because while most of the stories aren’t great, the package as a whole is a fairly enjoyable anthology. Creepshow 2 isn’t that far removed from the pleasures of the first movie, but it’s certainly nowhere in the same league.

I’ve always thought the best story here was the first one, ‘Old Chief Wood’nhead.’ It’s not perfect, mainly because Holt McCallam’s character is so damn unlikable (can he not shut up about his hair?), but it does have George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour as a wonderful couple who you can’t help but feel for. The deaths aren’t that special, but they do have just a dash of charm to them, and it’s a story that always made me feel good.

The other two are somewhat lackluster, though. ‘The Raft,’ based off a Stephen King short story from Skeleton Crew, is an okay story, a somewhat interesting premise, but entirely unmemorable characters. Also, as well-known as the ending is, I just feel meh about the whole thing. And as for ‘The Hitch-Hiker’? Sorry, but though I’ve seen this many times in my life, I’ve never really liked the story at all.

With only one story that’s really that good, what helps Creepshow 2 out a bit is the animated framing story, in which an odd kid gets back at his bullies with the help of his love of the Creepshow comic book. The animation is a bit rough (this is the late 80’s, what more would you expect?) but I always loved the conclusion to the movie. Just brings a smile to my face. It’s not quite as memorable as the framing story for the first movie, but it’s still decent.

Like I’ve said, I’ve seen this one multiple times in my life. And through it all, I’ve always thought Creepshow 2 was just an average movie. I wish they had more than just three stories (which was apparently originally the plan), but as an anthology flick, it’s not bad. Just nowhere near as enjoyable as the first.

6.5/10

This is one of the films covered by the Fight Evil podcast, so if you want to hear Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one, check out the video below.

Frenchman’s Farm (1987)

Directed by Ron Way [Other horror films: N/A]

This Australian mystery/horror/romance/drama is rather interesting. Not necessarily good, mind you, but interesting. Calling it horror is probably fine, but the film is definitely more focused on the mystery aspect than the multiple killings, which is a bit of a shame, really.

With Frenchman’s Farm, there’s a lot of exposition in a lot of scenes. There’s quite a few names and dates that you’d best try to remember, or otherwise you may get lost along the way. As it was, I actually missed something somewhere, so there’s something that didn’t make sense to me come the end (regarding the ghost of the farm), but I suspect that if I watched closer with a more attuned ear to the Australian accents, everything would be clearer.

As it is, because so much of the movie relies on understanding the mystery, I will admit to feeling it dragged past a certain point. To be fair, given the movie’s a hour and forty minutes, perhaps it would have felt like it was dragging anyways. There are some horror aspects that certainly pop up throughout the film (some rather effectively creepy, too), but I don’t know if it’s really enough to sate me given the total time spent with the film.

Being an Australian film, I don’t really know any of the actors here, but everyone involved did a reasonably good job, such as Tracey Tainsh and David Reyne, who play the main characters. Their relationship feels authentic, and I appreciate the both of them. Others who do well include Norman Kaye and Andrew Blackman. I want to give a special mention to John Meillon, who played Riley in the first two Crocodile Dundee movies. I didn’t even recognize him when watching the film due to his character having a mustache, but looking back, it’s definitely him, which is sort of cool.

While there was a lot I enjoyed about the film, I find it a hard one to really recommend to fellow horror fans, given that, while no doubt in my mind horror, that others would be inclined to disagree. Given the focus of this is far more the mystery the two main characters are trying to uncover, the horror portions (as great as some of them are, especially near the end) are overshadowed. Might be worth a look if you’re into Australian cinema, but otherwise, I suspect many would be disappointed, especially given some of the posters for this one.

7.5/10

Deliria (1987)

Directed by Michele Soavi [Other horror films: La chiesa (1989), La setta (1991), Dellamorte Dellamore (1994)]

Perhaps it’s due to the fact that, at the time of this writing (4/23/2019, should anyone be interested) I’m drunk off my fucking ass, but this movie was excellent. Great death scenes, damn good suspense, fantastic movie, and just overall a fun movie.

I saw this before, and I enjoyed it, but this time around, I get the sense I enjoyed it a lot more. I have virtually no complaints about Deliria (as that’s it’s original title), and it really has a lot of things going for it.

The funky Italian music is especially fun throughout the film, and toward the ending, there’s a great sequence on the catwalks with the music playing that was just a delight. The special effects were great, and pretty much every kill was enjoyable (favorites including the dismemberment and decapitation, along with the drill and chainsaw). My all-time favorite kill, though, was one of the earlier ones, when a character gets stabbed on-stage. The way that scene was filmed was great, and it had such an epic feel to it (music, of course, played a large part in that). It’s not necessarily an overly gory kill, but it was my favorite in the film.

Most of the main performances are pretty decent. Barbara Cupisti and David Brandon in particular impressed me, but I also rather enjoyed Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Loredana Parrella, Martin Philips, James Sampson, and Ulrike Schwerk. Clain Parker played the killer wearing the owl headpiece (which, by the way, was a rather random yet fun addition to the film), and I really loved Parker’s calm style, especially the sequence when he’s just sitting around all those he’s killed, stroking a cat (which, on a side-note, was a fantastically suspenseful sequence).

While I sort of wish the film had gone the giallo route (by attempting to hide the identity of the killer, or throwing in some type of plot twist where there were multiple killers), I sort of appreciate how the movie kept things simple. We know who the killer is from the beginning, and the body count rises and rises in generally gory and satisfying ways.

Truth be told, I don’t think there’s any really big issues with the film. If you’re a fan of slashers, I really don’t see where this film would do you wrong. Pretty much everything’s solid about it, and there’s even a little humor provided by two cops sitting outside the studio while all the mayhem’s taking place (the younger cop played by the director, Michele Soavi). Whether you know this movie as StageFright, Aquaris, Deliria, whatever, this Italian movie has the goods, and was a fantastic rewatch.

9/10

Stripped to Kill (1987)

Directed by Katt Shea [Other horror films: Stripped to Kill 2: Live Girls (1989), Dance of the Damned (1989), The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999)]

I first saw this one about two years ago at the time of this writing, and I thought it was decent. I think the flaws here are pretty easy to see, but at the same time, Stripped to Kill does possess some of that 80’s charm that makes the experience feel a bit better.

The main problem here, in my opinion, is a lot more time is spent on strippers’ dances then on the kills. What kills we do get are pretty decent, such as a woman being doused in gasoline and lit ablaze, or another one garroted and drug under a truck for some time. But instead of additional interesting kills, we get strippers stripping, which has it’s minor appeal, but gets a bit old, especially mixed with generally generic 80’s pop and rock.

What makes the movie stand out regardless, though, is the somewhat interesting mystery and conclusion. Admittedly, a female cop going undercover as a stripper (which has got to break at least some police codes, I’d think) is an interesting enough plot, but throw in a mysterious killer, a few red herrings (Mr. Pocket was a very decent character, and I really liked how that played out), and a generally fun finale, and you have my interest. I enjoyed the mystery here, and with the decent characters, it did make the film worth watching despite the repetitive strip sequences.

Kay Lenz was fantastic here. She’s not an actress I really know (though she was in the classic horror-comedy House), but I loved her character. Instead of looking down on the strippers, walking in their shoes shows her that they’re just people, and some rather pleasant. She was cute too, and I’d watch her strip sequences anytime. Lenz also had a very solid performance toward the end, a very emotional one, so she certainly brought something to this movie.

Greg Evigan’s (from DeepStar Six) character was another story. His sexist nature (and the way he looked down on the profession of stripping despite enjoying the performances) was difficult at times to deal with, and while I admit he was pretty fun, his character sometimes rubbed me the wrong way. It doesn’t help that, as a police officer, he harassed and was physically violent toward multiple people. A few other performances I liked include Pia Kamakahi and Diana Bellamy (who’s character, while only getting a few appearances, never failed to crack me up).

Stripped to Kill isn’t a great movie. As a slasher, it pretty much fails, but at the same time, I can’t deny I really like the mystery here, and while some stripping scenes got repetitive, I didn’t really mind rewatching this one, and what’s more, I could see myself giving this another viewing in the future.

7/10

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