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 (1986) and, more dramatically, Nightwatch (1997). 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

The Brain (1988)

Directed by Ed Hunt [Other horror films: Point of No Return (1976), Bloody Birthday (1981), Halloween Hell (2014)]

I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy this film all that much (despite the fact that it’s long sat in a ‘want-to-see’ list of mine), but while I didn’t absolutely love it, The Brain was still a decently fun and enjoyable film, and not nearly as goofy as one might think.

It’s hard to say exactly why the film works better than expected. The story itself is somewhat interesting, true, and most of the main performances are competent, but even so, it lacks that flair that’d truly make it amazing. The fact that the film takes itself more seriously probably goes a long way to explain why I personally enjoyed it more than I initially thought I would, so there’s that.

Tom Bresnahan does well as the sympathetic main character, and Cynthia Preston, playing his girlfriend, does pretty good also. Preston, on a side-note, later appeared in Prom Night III: The Last Kiss, which I’ve yet to see, but thought it was worth mentioning. Otherwise, she’s not done that much for the genre. David Gale, however, well-known for his role in Re-Animator and Bride of Re-Animator, has both done a bit more for the horror genre, and more so, does pretty memorably in The Brain (though toward the end, his plot sort of runs thin). As a threatening presence, George Buza puts up a good performance.

There were a few issues I had toward the conclusion of the film regarding main character Jim’s actions, such as approaching his mother (in hopes, I guess, that she hadn’t been brainwashed somehow), something like ten minutes after criticizing another character for wanting to do the same thing. I was sort of expecting a Halloween III: Season of the Witch twist with Preston’s character, but one was never even hinted at, which felt off. Lastly, I got a slight sense that things were a bit anticlimactic, and while I sort of liked the final scene, it definitely threw me off-guard.

Where The Brain really shines is in their psychedelic hallucination sequences. The one that opens the movie is fantastic, and there are a few throughout the film that really show promise. In a way, it felt like watching some of the more trippy dreams from A Nightmare on Elm Street. It gives a very ‘what the hell am I watching’ feel to the film.

Overall, I don’t think The Brain is amazing, but I do think it’s a pretty fun slice of wild, 80’s horror, and probably worth at least one look-see, because I think that this would make quite a few fans of the genre reasonably happy.

7/10

This was covered on Fight Evil’s podcast, so if interested, listen to Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this below.

Maniac Cop (1988)

Directed by William Lustig [Other horror films: Maniac (1980), Maniac Cop 2 (1990), Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence (1992), Uncle Sam (1996)]

This is a film I’ve seen before, and my initial positive feelings I had after first viewing it haven’t much changed. It’s not an amazing movie, but it’s a very solid late 80’s slasher with supernatural underpinnings.

My biggest complaint with the film is that some scenes strike me as oddly cut, as if there was supposed to be a bit more to them. Nothing story-wise is missing, and it mostly only happened during the first thirty minutes, but it was certainly noticeable. Another thing is story-based – while I enjoy movies focused around revenge, I generally like having some sense of sympathy for the individual seeking revenge, which was entirely lacking here.

I’m not much a fan of police, given the history of their brutality toward various minority communities (at least in the USA), not to mention outright murder and other sickening, indefensible acts, so when there’s a cop who is thrown into prison for police brutality, as the killer cop in this film was, and he ends up getting attacked in prison, I can’t help but cheer for the prisoners. Many cops are bad enough, but the violent, zero tolerance officers, as Cordell seemingly was, are certainly not worth sympathy.

Tom Atkins (Night of the Creeps and Halloween III: Season of the Witch) does well here, though I can’t say I overly care for where his story takes him. More interesting is Bruce Campbell (of The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II fame), who is fun to see here. He doesn’t necessarily blow the roof off the building, but his character was pretty interesting. Laurene Landon isn’t a name I know, but she does fine here, thought she’s nothing overly special. Someone who is special, though, is Robert D’Zar, with his imposing physique that totally makes the character of Matt Cordell the memorable killer that he is. Though he has little dialogue, D’Zar really steals the scenes he’s in.

There are some great death scenes in the film, and also a solid use of flashbacks. For the kills, perhaps the breakout sequence, along with the St. Patrick’s Day scenes, are my favorite, but most of the deaths here, even the strangulations, are solid. I did enjoy the flashbacks, giving us more meat to the story, and certainly never boring (which is something that could really be said for most of Maniac Cop, as it consistently keeps up a good pace). Also, while it was somewhat quick, I enjoyed the conclusion also.

As the movie stands, Maniac Cop isn’t amazing, like I said. It’s certainly a lot of fun, and I love how Cordell’s character has a consistent aura of mystery around him (such as obscuring his face until the finale), but it’s not a film I’d rate nearly as high as some other 80’s classics. This all said, Maniac Cop is a good viewing, and a solid rewatch, certainly one that I’d recommend to anyone interested.

8/10

This was covered on Fight Evil’s podcast, so if interested, listen to Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss it and having fun.

Pledge Night (1988)

Directed by Paul Ziller [Other horror films: Snakehead Terror (2004), Swarmed (2005), Beyond Loch Ness (2008), Yeti: Curse of the Snow Demon (2008), Troglodyte (2008), Ba’al (2008), Iron Invader (2011), Ghost Storm (2011)]

Pledge Night’s not great, by any means, but there’s enough here to keep me entertained, and having seen this one twice now, I can say it’s somewhere around average.

There’s one thing I want to get out of the way first before jumping into this one: I detest and abhor fraternities and their hazings. It’s nothing more than psychological (and sometimes physical) torture, bolstered by nothing but pointless tradition and the psychology behind sunk costs. You can find a list of those who have died during hazing practices, and once you understand that many in Greek life still willingly join organizations that haze, and don’t speak up about it, you may be able to understand my utter disgust with sororities and fraternities.

I bring that up because the first forty minutes of this movie deals with the hazing of six pledges to [insert random Greek alphabet here]. Is some of it harmless? Sure, but almost all of it is psychological torture, and shows that the organization is not one worth being in to begin with. As a few of the pledges say, though, if they hadn’t attempted to pledge to a frat, their fathers would be disappointed (macho men wanting their sons to go through abuse – great parenting).

After forty minutes of this, we get to the horror, in which the zombie/demon of a previous pledge who died during a hazing (which is within the realm of possibility, as to this day, kids are still being killed by Greek life) returns and goes on a rampage. Oh, also another Greek brother also kills a few people, but it’s not entirely clear if that guy was just driven to his behavior by his own mental instability or somehow possessed by Sid, the returning pledge.

Of the six pledges, only James Davies fails to make an impression. It’s true that both David Neal Evans and Robert Lentini don’t add much, but as this is the only acting role from either, I don’t much hold that against them. Dennis Sullivan (who is memorable only due to his hella slick haircut) and Craig Derrick are both fun, but neither really gets that much to do past a certain point.

The two main characters, played by Todd Eastland and Shannon McMahon, are good, though I will admit to McMahon being virtually indistinguishable from the other Sorority girls there (all three had small nude scenes, so kudos there, I guess). Michael T. Henderson is pretty solid in his role, and Arthur Lundquist, who played the potentially possessed Frat brother, really did come across as reasonably insane at times (that cackle was top notch).

I wouldn’t say many of the kills are really good, but there are a few memorable ones here regardless, such as the cherry bomb scene, a strangulation sequence, an okay electrocution, and this dude getting stabbed in the back multiple times. That last kill mentioned was almost my favorite, but then a girl got killed by an electric egg beater, which wasn’t much in the way of gory, but it did have character.

The problem here is that the killer, Sid, spews these one-liners which really lack comedic value. Up until his appearance in the film, one could easily be excused for not seeing this as a comedy-horror, but then Sid comes in and ruins the perception. It’s not as bad as Freddy later got, but it wasn’t really worth it either. Related, there is one scene in which Sid emerges from someone’s body, which reminded me of a much lower quality version of the classic scene from Freddy’s Revenge, so hey, that’s worth seeing.

I will say, though, there was one funny line – ‘Maybe we should turn the light off as a group’ – that cracked me up considerably.

Pledge Night isn’t a movie I loved when I first saw it, but it is reasonably watchable. It’s enjoyable to an extent, and while I wish they had gotten to the horror aspects quicker (forty minutes in seems a bit of a long wait), it’s still okay. If you’re a fan of late 80’s horror, this movie fits the bill, so give it a go. Just be aware that it may not stand out come the credits.

6.5/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen to Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss it below.