Cheerleader Camp (1988)

Directed by John Quinn [Other horror films: The Secret Cellar (2003)]

Though certainly a flawed movie in some obvious ways, I found Cheerleader Camp (sometimes known as Bloody Pom Poms) an enjoyable experience, which I think is where this movie excels, though whether that makes up for the failures, well, that’s an interesting question.

The tone of this movie seems all over the place – the opening sequence is a dream, complete with a nice dream-like atmosphere and unique angles. It’s not a particularly silly dream either, but once the character awakens, and we meet the cast, there’s plenty of silly scenes to come. A few other dreams pop up throughout, to be sure, though I think they qualify as more ridiculous than they do atmospheric.

Betsy Russell made for an interesting lead. Russell (who later went on to play Jill Kramer in some of the Saw sequels) doesn’t really have a lot of agency herself, and generally reacts to her nightmares and the horrors surrounding her at camp without fighting back, but hey, she tries. I don’t know Lucinda Dickey (aside from this, she was only in five other films), but I did like her low-key style, and toward the finale, she became even more fun.

Leif Garrett (a singer that apparently my mother listened to in her youth) didn’t make much an impression. He did okay as a dickish character, I guess, but I preferred him in the underrated Peopletoys (better known as Devil Times Five). Lorie Griffin was fun as the sterotypically dumb blonde, Travis McKenna was extremely fun as the likable weighty boi, and George ‘Buck’ Flower (who has appeared in quite a handful of random horror films, such as Skeletons, Spontaneous Combustion, Pumpkinhead, and The Fog) got a bit more screen-time here than he usually does, and I enjoyed it. Lastly, while her character was #awful, Vickie Benson was decent.

I called the conclusion pretty early on (and to be fair, I have seen this movie before, but it had been so long that most of the story and mystery was unfamiliar to be), but it was still an okay surprise, especially since a few red herrings were strewn throughout. On the flipside, the kills here are mostly weak (I think the best one was a pair of scissors stabbed through someone’s mouth), but if you’re having fun already, that may not make too much of a difference.

Personally, I don’t think Cheerleader Camp is great, and I definitely think the movie had potential to be more than what it ended up. That said, I did find Cheerleader Camp a pretty fun movie, and while I do think it ultimately ends up below average, it’s not a movie I’d consider an altogether bad time at all.

6.5/10

Shiryô no wana (1988)

Directed by Toshiharu Ikeda [Other horror films: Ningyo densetsu (1984), Yudono-sanroku noroi mura (1984), Ikisudama (2001)]

While generally a movie that’s well-worth the watch, this Japanese film, commonly known under the title Evil Dead Trap, is a bit of a mixed bag. While no doubt there are plenty of fantastically gory sequences and decent slasher-esque fun, the problem is that the conclusion, and in fact, the final twenty minutes, just don’t do a lot for me.

Certainly ending fatigue is a problem that some movies suffer, but I’ve not seen a case quite as bad as this in a while. Honestly, if the last twenty minutes were cut and the story tied up around 85 minutes in, Evil Dead Trap might have felt a decent amount more consistent and thusly an easier film to recommend.

Aside from the failures of the conclusion, though, I think the movie has a decent amount to offer. The plot itself feels like an almost-more coherent Videodrome (and while we’re on potential inspirations, some of the quick-moving camera shots are reminiscent of The Evil Dead), and follows, for the most part, a typical slasher set-up in a beautifully-deserted factory.

Miyuki Ono made for a decently strong lead, and especially toward the end, I definitely got the sense that her character regretted getting her friends mixed up in such a deadly and dangerous scenario. The other women (Aya Katsuragi, Hitomi Kobayashi, and Eriko Nakagawa) all had their strong points. While of iffy character, Masahiko Abe was decent too.

The design of the killer is pretty top-notch, feeling a little bit like the Fisherman from I Know What You Did Last Summer. Of course, this movie is a lot more off-the-wall (which shows most during the finale), but at least the killers’ designs are in somewhat similar veins.

And related, the special effects are quality. Just in the first five minutes of the film, we see a woman get one of her eyeballs slit open, with liquid gushing out. We see another woman impaled multiple times, and another gets a blade swinging down, colliding with the side of her face. You have a few people shot with crossbows, to be sure, and someone else gets garroted, which wasn’t particularly violent, but when the movie went that direction, it could be plenty gruesome, and I think it stands out well for that.

I also have to give a shout-out to the fantastic music here. It’s as decent as you’d hope from an 80’s horror film, and combined with the often stylish shots this movie went with, Evil Dead Trip, despite the ending, had a beautifully 80’s vibe.

After seeing this again for the first time in what has to be ten years, I had a pretty decent time with Evil Dead Trap, but I can’t pretend that the ending isn’t a let-down (and not just a small let-down, but a pretty big flop). Without the shaky conclusion, this movie could have been a rather high-rated piece of foreign cinema, but as it is, it’s probably just around a high average.

7.5/10

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

Directed by Dwight H. Little [Other horror films: The Phantom of the Opera (1989), Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004)]

Giving us the first Myers since Halloween II, I always personally found this movie a lot of fun. God knows I watched it a lot when I was a kid on AMC, and it’s not impossible that I even saw this movie before I laid eyes on the first. Because of this nostalgia, let’s just admit that the movie’s almost perfect.

I mean, it’s not perfect, but honestly, what is there to really dislike about this one? I find the atmosphere of the finest quality, a good example being the opening, which showcases Halloween decorations in rural farmland. There’s something quite creepy about it, and it just seems a fantastic way to open the film, and always struck me as somewhat unique.

Another of my favorite portions of the film would be when the group tries to protect Jamie from Myers, and shut themselves in the Sheriff’s house, and so you have Jaime, Rachel, the Sheriff, the Sheriff’s daughter, Loomis, Deputy Logan, and Brady all there. One-by-one, though they’re locked in tight, they get picked off (and that battery-powered radio in the dark of the basement was creepy in of itself) slowly. It’s just a great sequence, and I also loved it.

Though focusing on Myers’ niece, Jamie (played by Danielle Harris) keeps some of that family element, it’s fair to say I think I liked the cast of the first Halloween more. That said, I think most of the central performances here, including Danielle Harris, bring a lot to the table.

I’m not usually fond of most performances from children, but I think Danielle Harris was fantastic. She has a strong emotional range, and it’s just impressive, especially as the movie carries on. Ellie Cornell was strong too, and worked well and believably with Harris. Beau Starr is no Charles Cyphers, but he makes for an okay sheriff. Michael Pataki (who I’ve recently seen in Graduation Day) was nice to see for his scenes, Kathleen Kinmont and Sasha Jenson make for okay side characters, and George Sullivan looked great sitting in a chair in the dark.

Of course, one of my favorite performances is that of Donald Pleasence. It’s in this movie that he gives one of my favorite quotes (calling Myers “evil on two legs”), and I love every time he’s on screen, from his certainty at the ambulance crash site that Michael escaped to the gas station to his conversation with the drunk religious guy to his approaching the Haddonfield police, asking for Brackett. He’s just such an engaging character, no matter what Pataki’s character might have to say about him.

Another thing I rather enjoy about the film are the kills. None of them are particularly gory (save maybe one toward the end when someone gets their throat ripped open), but they’re all well done, from someone being stabbed through the gut with a shotgun to heads being crushed. There’s solid suspense here, such as the opening dream of Jamie’s to the scene in the general store (itself another favorite scene of mine), and that’s to be commended.

Something about Halloween 4 also works in it’s favor, but it’s hard to put into words. The general store scene I mentioned above is part of it, another being Rachel looking for Jamie on the dark empty streets. That is a strong sequence – she briefly sees Myers, but gets away by climbing over fences and cutting through backyards – before she finds Jamie. Then the sheriff and Loomis find the pair before escaping a bunch of fake Myers and the real one.

It’s almost a sense of closeness, which isn’t quite right. I’m reminded of The Prowler, where I got a similar feeling. Some of the action took place only blocks away from a major party, and yet it was a private affair. You know there were people in their houses when Jamie and Rachel were both screaming for each other, and yet it was like they were the only ones in existence. It just gives the film a vibe I can’t quite explain, and I love it.

The ending of this one (and in fact, the main background of the next couple of movies, being the Curse of Thorn) might be a bit atypical, but I personally dug the final scene. It’s foreshadowed a few times, and I never had an issue with it, especially since Loomis loses it and goes for his gun, screaming “NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!” I mean, in my mind, that’s how you end a movie. It’s nowhere near as good as the first movie’s conclusion, but it’s still worth it.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved this movie. I love the vibe, the story, many of the characters, the opening rural Halloween decorations, the gas station sequence (which always reminded me of another favorite from childhood, being Children of the Corn) – this movie is one that I can’t say no to. I always have fun with it, and it’s a solid addition to the series.

9/10

The Carpenter (1988)

Directed by David Wellington [Other horror films: N/A]

There are some movies that I’ve known about for a long time, but haven’t yet seen. I first heard about The Carpenter back in 2009 (I’m writing this review October 2020, for a frame of reference), and I was captivated as soon as I learned about it. As it was, the movie didn’t turn out anything like I expected (as so often happens), but it was still certainly an enjoyable film.

To be sure, if you could do without melodrama, then maybe The Carpenter isn’t for you, as the horror portions are sandwiched by a lot of drama that isn’t exactly the pinnacle of enjoyable. I didn’t find it that problematic, as I found it hilarious when the titular carpenter did pop up (generally at night, because that’s how ghost carpenters do) with his suave, hard-working man charm, but I can imagine some people finding a good portion of this boring.

And to an extent, maybe they’d not be far off. It does take the film a bit to really get to the point (the first time the carpenter pops up, and actually, most of the times the carpenter pops up, he’s more a guardian angel than anything), but the kills here, when they occur, are still fun, and I didn’t find myself struggling to get through this.

Part of that is because the main actress, Lynne Adams deeply intrigued me. It’s not that her character was overly interesting (though to an extent, she did have a somewhat unique story), but I couldn’t see her for two minutes without thinking of Mary-Louise Parker (who most people might know from the show Weeds, but I’m most familiar with through her role on The West Wing). Adams really looked like Parker to me, and I even double-checked half-way through the film to see if they were sisters or something (they don’t seem to be). So that was fun.

Also, Wings Hauser had a hell of a lot of charm. I mean, he was totally goofy, don’t get me wrong, but I really liked his performance. His delivery was perfect, and who doesn’t like seeing him kill people and then act bashful about it afterward? Pierre Lenoir was solid as an unlikable and often dull prick, so kudos there, I guess.

What I expected with this movie was a more violent Toolbox Murders, with creative kills and all-out onslaught (or maybe that’s more what I was hoping for), but what I got instead was a drama-laden film with this ghostly carpenter popping up to charm the missus and protect her from the evils around her, which was still fine, but not what I pictured.

Regardless of expectations that fell through, this movie had some hokey charm to it, and I did find myself enjoying it. It just wasn’t as fun as I was hoping for.

7/10

Return of the Living Dead: Part II (1988)

Directed by Ken Wiederhorn [Other horror films: Shock Waves (1977), Eyes of a Stranger (1981), Dark Tower (1989)]

Having never seen this sequel before, I could imagine that it’d be a favorite if I had watched it when I was a kid. There might have been a chance for this to possess a lot of nostalgic charm if this had caught me when I was young. As it is, watching it for the first time now, I just found it regrettably more goofy than the first film, and nowhere near as good.

It’s not an utter waste of time, but almost everything that was great about the first film is somewhat muted here. The story itself is okay, and the setting is decent, but the music isn’t as memorable, the characters are nowhere near as good, and the fact that humor is more at the forefront was a choice that I sensed was coming but didn’t care for whatsoever.

For a young actor, Michael Kenworthy gave a pretty good performance, and it made it a bit easier to like his character when he was about the only one who knew what he was doing. This kid was pretty clever, and I appreciated his initiative. Playing his sister, Marsha Dietlein can yell at me anytime she wants, as she was foxy as fuck here. Dana Ashbrook was decent as an action-oriented guy, but he felt somewhat stereotypical come the conclusion.

James Karen and Thom Mathews (who played similar characters in the first film, which is even alluded to here) were okay, but seeing Mathews in the first movie was enough, as half his dialogue here once he falls ill is the same stuff from the first film. And playing his girlfriend, Suzanne Snyder was extraordinarily irksome. She wouldn’t shut up. Snyder played the character well, but what a terrible character.

With it’s focus more on the humor, Return of the Living Dead: Part II wasn’t near as enjoyable and (ironically) fun as the first movie. It has some okay scenes toward the end (even those terrible electrocution effects have their place), but it was an underwhelming experience throughout, and while I know some out there enjoy this one, I just couldn’t get into it.

5.5/10

Spellbinder (1988)

Directed by Janet Greek [Other horror films: N/A]

There are some movies that I really enjoy the first time I see them, but then, upon revisiting them years later, fall a decent amount from my favor. Two good examples of this would be Witchboard and, more dramatically, Nightwatch. My reaction to seeing Spellbinder again isn’t nearly as negative, but I do think I enjoyed this quite a bit more when I first saw it.

It’s still a quality film, don’t get me wrong. The atmosphere is appropriately tense throughout much of the second half of the film, and the whole Satanic cult thing really works out in the movie’s favor. The special effects are great at times, and there’s an element of creepiness too that’s hard to deny. Oh, and there’s Tim Daly as the star, which is fantastic. All of these are great elements, and to be sure, I find the film above average without a doubt, but it’s missing something that I must have seen my first time through.

Tim Daly isn’t a giant name, but he did star in one of my favorite Stephen King works, the 1999 mini-series Storm of the Century. It’s sort of fun seeing a ten-year younger Daly, especially since it flew over my head the first time I saw this that I had previous experience with the actor. The other performances are all decent, such as Kelly Preston, Diana Bellamy (Stripped to Kill), and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Ghost Voyage, of all things), but Daly was, at least to me, the clear stand-out here.

Once we get toward the finale of the film, some potential surprises pop up, and even though I’ve seen the film before, I still found the ending decently satisfying, though I think that past a certain point, many people could correctly surmise where exactly Spellbinder is going. Related, I enjoyed how they tacked on an epilogue of sorts, because it gave the thing a cyclical feel that worked well.

In the end, I didn’t enjoy Spellbinder quite as much as I used to, but I still think it’s a decent movie. It’s just not a movie that blew me away at all. Still, for the late 80’s, Spellbinder is a pretty unique film, and if it’s gone under your radar, it may well worth be checking out at least once.

7.5/10

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

Fright Night Part 2 (1988)

Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace [Other horror films: Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), It (1990), Danger Island (1992), Vampires: Los Muertos (2002)]

Despite being a big fan of the first movie, I’ve never once really wanted to see this one, partly because I am such a big fan of the first. I knew that this had returning characters, but I wasn’t really sure where this one was going to go, and I just knew that while the first movie was fantastic, the second probably couldn’t compete.

After having seen it, I can sort of say I was correct, because I did find this film below average, but to my surprise, I did find this a bit better than I thought it would have been.

A big reason for this is the return of Roddy McDowall in the role of Peter Vincent. He’s just as fun here as he was in the first movie, and it’s obvious that he really cares for the well-being of Charley (William Ragsdale, also returning from the first movie). The two of them share some solid scenes, and while nothing is really too emotionally-moving, it was nice seeing the pair of them again. As far as love interest is concerned, Amanda Bearse was dropped entirely in favor of Traci Lind, which was a move I was okay with, as Lind has a very attractive look (especially wearing those glasses – hubba hubba).

One move I didn’t much care for was having the antagonists being a group of vampires (as opposed to just a single vampire and his assistant, as the first film had). Having four vampires here, led by Julie Carmen’s Regine, wasn’t something that really interested me, and led to most of the more comedic scenes (such as that pointless bowling sequence, and the whole of Jon Gries, a character I really didn’t like). In relation, Ernie Sabella’s character was another one that, while a twist was present, I thought was unnecessary. The best I can say about these antagonists is that Brian Thompson was there, who I know as the Alien Bounty Hunter from The X-Files.

Story-wise, Fright Night Part 2 is decent. It’s not great, but I liked Charley seeing another vampire attack, alerting Vincent, and then finding out that it happened during a vampire-themed party. Vincent in particular during that sequence seemed to be having a fun time (at least until he pulled out his trusty mirror). Lind’s character development throughout was somewhat fun, and the scene in which she goes to the state institution was perhaps her highlight.

I’ll give the movie a few mores props for both the music and special effects. The music they use here isn’t too far removed from the first film, and has that wonderfully 80’s synth feel to it. Definitely brought with it a solid vibe. The special effects were pretty solid throughout too, and though I didn’t care for some of the vampire characters, I can admit they did some cool things with them toward the finale.

All-in-all, though, Fright Night Part 2 isn’t anywhere near as good as the first film. It’s still okay, and it’s not nearly as much a degrade as I was honestly expecting, but I much preferred the story of the first movie to this one. The antagonists here were probably my biggest issue, and I think the best thing this movie did was drop Amy for Traci Lind’s Alex. Not a great film, in my view, but certainly not a disastrous one.

6/10

This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss Fright Night Part 2.

The Unnamable (1988)

Directed by Jean-Paul Ouellette [Other horror films: The Unnamable II: The Statement of Randolph Carter (1992)]

I’m not entirely sure why this one has such a bad rap. I mean, it’s not a stellar film, but I’ve seen this around three times now, and I consistently have a fun time with it.

It’s true that the setting is somewhat stagnant, as most of the movie takes place in a dilapidated house (and what doesn’t occurs on a generic college campus), but I thought that, despite the obvious low-budget, they did well with what they had.

To be honest, a lot of the reason I find this worth watching is due to Mark Kinsey Stephenson’s character, Randolph Carter. His attitude, which is somewhat aloof yet very knowledgeable (almost arrogantly so), just cracked me up. He’s not really the main character (as Charles Klausmeyer’s Howard was involved in most of the action), but he was enjoyable every single time on-screen. I suspect some would be turned off by his demeanor, but I really respect what he was going for.

Certainly, Klausmeyer was decent too, but his character was nowhere near as interesting, and truth be told, perhaps that’s the one big issue, as any scene without Stephenson is automatically less engaging by the sole fact he’s not in the scene. I did like Alexandra Durrell in her role, though I wouldn’t have minded a bit more depth. Laura Albert stood out during her nude sequence, but otherwise, her character was pretty awful. Really, as far as performances go, no one really comes close to Mark Kinsey Stephenson.

As for the design of the titular Unnamable, I thought it was decent. Not mind-blowingly so, but effective, and the little backstory we got on the origin of the creature was fun. Related, while there wasn’t a lot of gore, there were a few note-worthy scenes so one doesn’t walk away empty-handed, which is nice.

On a final note, after the finale, when the credits start rolling, we’re graced with a beautifully somber song titled ‘Up There‘ by Mark Ryder & Phil Davies, a song that really ends the film on a good note, and has been on my iTunes ever since I first saw this movie. Definitely a quality piece of music.

Mark Kinsey Stephenson is a big reason I like this movie, but even ignoring his deeply amusing character, you still have a somewhat fun story good setting, and all-around solid, low-budget, horror story. Having seen this three times now, I can say that it does indeed hit the right spots.

8/10

Hide and Go Shriek (1988)

Directed by Skip Schoolnik [Other horror films: N/A]

This one might seem unassuming, what with being a slasher from the late 80’s, but I’ve long thought that Hide and Go Shriek was a bit of a hidden gem. I’m not saying it’s perfect by any means, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable slasher that’s always entertained me.

Cast-wise, most of them did decently. I don’t think there are that many memorable characters, though, aside from those given to us by Brittain Frye and perhaps Bunky Jones. Frye’s character, Randy, was just out there, and had a wildly fun personality, where Bunky Jones provided me with my favorite nude scene in the film (three of the four ladies here show off a little something, so if that’s what you’re into, you’ll enjoy this). Still, Ria Pavia, Sean Kanan, Annette Sinclair, and Donna Baltron all did reasonably well.

The setting here goes a long way to make the film enjoyable also. An after-hours excursion into a furniture store doesn’t sound too thrilling, but it’s a pretty big (and multi-layered) store, with a lot of mannequins and hiding places. It even comes with a freight elevator, which comes into play throughout the film (and provides a very solid death sequence). Also, a favorite scene of mine has always been when the group is trying to get the attention of a homeless man and some police officers across the street, but due to the shatterproof glass, they’re doomed to keep fighting for their survival.

As far as twists go, I wouldn’t say Hide and Go Shriek is amazing, but I was still pretty happy with it. It pretty much comes out of nowhere, but there is a bit of emotion during the finale, so I can easily excuse the seeming randomness.

I say this pretty much every time I review a slasher film, but as a fan of slashers, I’m not really that difficult to please. Hide and Go Shriek had solid tension, decently fun characters (that ridiculous ‘Walk this Way’ scene at the beginning a case in point), and good gore when it ventured in that direction. I’m sort of surprised there was never a sequel to this, but that makes this all the better, in my view.

Having seen this one somewhere from four to five times now, I can say I greatly enjoy this, and recommend it to fans of slashers.

8.5/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. To listen to Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one, check out the video below.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)

Directed by Renny Harlin [Other horror films: Prison (1987), Deep Blue Sea (1999), T.R.A.X. (2000), Mindhunters (2004), Exorcist: The Beginning (2004), The Covenant (2006), The Dyatlov Pass Incident (2013)]

Ah, The Dream Master, when the Elm Street series starts going bad. It’s a mild deterioration at first, though, because while The Dream Master is a far cry from Dream Warriors, it’s still a decently fun movie, but then it veers to some really goofy stuff that doesn’t really work for me, and leads to a conclusion that just wasn’t great.

Disappointingly, Patricia Arquette decided against reprising her role as Kristen, and instead Tuesday Knight played her. Knight’s perfectly fine, but given that the others from Dream Warriors returned (Ken Sagoes and Rodney Eastman), it felt like a loss. I do think Alice is a solid character, played by Lisa Wilcox, but more interesting was her brother, Rick, played by Andras Jones (though he had one of the weakest kills in the series). I didn’t care much for any of the side-characters though, such as Toy Newkirk (Shelia), Danny Hassel (Dan), and Brooke Theiss (Debbie). Nice seeing Robert Shaye (long-time producer of the series) as a teacher, though.

Robert Englund is about as good as he always is, though some of his material is a bit questionable. I didn’t think he needed to wear sunglasses, or suck someone’s soul out by kissing them, or much of what he did here. My favorite kill is probably one toward the beginning, with things kept simple as he just gut-stabs a character with a killer line. He’s not as cheesy here as he later becomes, but it’s in this film where it’s more noticeable (no doubt, he was a little silly in the third, but that just felt darker overall than this one did).

Some of the finale here doesn’t really work for me. I thought the time-reversal was a bit weak, and overall, things felt a bit more disjointed toward the end. Also, Freddy’s demise here didn’t wow me, largely because I don’t believe for a second he’s never encountered a mirror since becoming the lovable dream demon he is. Unless it only works if he’s in a church, or some stupid thing like that. The whole final confrontation here lacked the special feel that was present in the first three movies (yes, even the second), and Alice sort of had easy sailing. Flash a mirror, and boom, she’s pretty much fine.

Of course, I can’t help but feel a bit nostalgic in regards to this film. Obviously, I was born in the early 1990’s, so I never saw this in theaters, but I saw portions of this when I was a kid, and some of the scenes I liked then, I still think are special (such as the last moments of Kincaid, where the whole of the Earth seems to be a junkyard, which looked so fake, but still held appeal). Even so, this is when I believe the series starts losing it’s grasp on the subject, and if they had ended it here instead of embarrassing themselves with The Dream Child, perhaps that would have been ideal.

The Dream Master isn’t a bad film, but I do think it feels a lot more average than the three previous entries, and overall, I just find the film about middle of the road.

Just remember, tell ’em Freddy sent ya!

7/10