Pale Blood (1990)

Directed by V.V. Dachin Hsu [Other horror films: N/A] & Michael W. Leighton [Other horror films: N/A]

I knew pretty much nothing about this film prior to watching it, aside from, of course, the fact it appeared to be a vampire movie. After seeing it, I have to say I’m somewhat torn. It’s a lower-budget film that can clearly be seen in some aspects, but it also has a decent sense of heart, and I think it shows.

What’s somewhat impressive, even, is that the film manages to throw in a few unexpected surprises, and while none of these deeply shift how the movie goes, I was happy that the story had a bit more depth than I had initially suspected, especially once things really start going toward the end.

George Chakiris isn’t a name I know, but I liked what he was going for. You can sort of tell early on about the route his character takes, but it doesn’t make it any less enjoyable a journey. Wings Hauser (who I best know from the oddball 1988 The Carpenter) hams it up beautifully in this film, and I got a kick out of his character. A little more hard to get a grasp on was Pamela Ludwig (Rush Week), who had an interesting switch-up at the end I don’t fully understand, but I did rather like her performance.

I’m not deeply familiar with the music of Agent Orange, but I think it works well with the film, though it does end up somewhat repetitive. Still, it has almost a Bauhaus gothic vibe to it, which works well as the movie throws in references to past vampire films (such as a few scenes from Nosferatu playing on a television to posters of The Kiss of the Vampire and The Return of Dracula being pinned up on one of the character’s walls). The movie is often dim and somewhat grungy, made more obvious by the lower-budget, but it all fits together in a way that works, and goes to a solid atmosphere.

At times, Pale Blood can come across as a bit annoyingly artsy, unnecessarily so, mostly in regards to the first club scene and the multiple visions seen throughout the film. I don’t think it really harms the movie, but it did get a bit jarring at times, and it never really added much.

Ultimately, I didn’t have a bad time with Pale Blood. I didn’t have a great time either, but that’s life. If you’re into vampire films, this might be one to check out for something a little different, no matter how cheap it is, but I doubt it’d make a big impression on most who see it. As for me, I think it’s somewhere around average.

7/10

The First Power (1990)

Directed by Robert Resnikoff [Other horror films: N/A]

I knew next-to-nothing about this film before going in, so much so that, upon learning that Lou Diamond Phillips was starring, I was pleased that I’d have something to look forward to (I don’t even particularly know Phillips from much, but a familiar face is a familiar face). It’s good that it did, because while The First Power started out reasonably strong, it sort of fizzled out halfway through.

The film does have it’s moments. For instance, the opening, when the Pentagram Killer (Jeff Kober) is attacking a female police officer, or that scene when a guy gets trampled to death by a horse, or even those after-effects of that one kill, with the body hanging in the sky. The First Power isn’t a movie without promise – I just think the promise failed to fully pan out.

Story-wise, it was interesting enough. Having a psychic help an atheistic officer feels a little bit stereotypical, but Phillips worked well with Tracy Griffith, so I don’t think it came out too poorly. Where the film starts to lose me, though, is when the nun (Elizabeth Arlen) joins in on the fun, especially because I don’t think Arlen was given much of a character to work with.

Lou Diamond Phillips (who I mainly know from the CBS show Numb3rs, of all places, where he was a character that popped up here and there) was decent in his role, and I don’t usually see him looking this young. Tracy Griffith was good – she had a serious, yet occasionally playful personality, and I thought her performance was actually better than I expected.

Jeff Kober was okay as the Pentagram Killer. I didn’t think he was great – I would have preferred a more serious Satanist as opposed to a killer concerned purely with screwing with someone, but to each their own. I enjoyed Mykelti Williamson, and sort of wish he appeared a bit more. Like I said before, Elizabeth Arlen’s character didn’t cut it for me, but as usual, that’s more on the script than on the actress.

I think the film has a bit of a TV feel to it. That’s not necessarily a negative, of course – there are plenty of fantastic made-for-television horror films (such as The Norliss Tapes from 1973), but for a movie like this, I think it can be a bit of a problem. It’s not as though there were any big special effect screw-ups or anything, but the vibe didn’t strike me as wholly worth theatrical release.

The First Power was a better movie than expected (even though I didn’t know much about the movie, my expectations for 90’s horror isn’t generally that high), and it certainly has it’s place (and it’s fans, as the film, at the time of this writing, sports a 5.7/10 on IMDb), but I think that it started strong and ended weak, at least with this first-time viewing.

5.5/10

The First Power is one of the films we’ve covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this film, if it tickles your fancy.

Non aprite quella porta 3 (1990)

Directed by Claudio Fragasso [Other horror films: Virus (1980), Rats – Notte di terrore (1984), Leviatán (1984), Zombi 3 (1988), After Death (Oltre la morte) (1989), La casa 5 (1990), Troll 2 (1990), Una notte da paura (2012), Italian horror stories (2021)] & Bruno Mattei [Other horror films: Casa privata per le SS (1977), KZ9 – Lager di sterminio (1977), Virus (1980), L’altro inferno (1981), Violenza in un carcere femminile (1982), Rats – Notte di terrore (1984), Zombi 3 (1988), Terminator II (1989), Occhi senza volto (1994), Cruel Jaws (1995), Snuff killer – La morte in diretta (2003), Mondo cannibale (2004), Nella terra dei cannibali (2004), La tomba (2006), L’isola dei morti viventi (2007), Zombi: La creazione (2007)]

This Italian film, originally titled Non aprite quella porta 3, was an occasionally fun, occasionally dry movie, but I don’t think many people could say that it wasn’t entertaining.

Once the film moves away from the random kills and starts focusing on a single woman (Tara Buckman) and her ordeal of being abducted by a mysterious man (Peter Hooten), I think the movie gets in a bit of a lull, but it really doesn’t stay there long, and even though the portions I could have done without, it doesn’t stay too dull.

I’d say that no one really went out of there way to give a great performance, but most of the main actors and actresses were fine, such as Tara Buckman and Peter Hooten (despite his somewhat questionable character). Mel Davis (the police officer) and Lee Lively (the doctor) made for an interesting pair when they were on screen, and I appreciated it. I don’t think we learned enough about Richard Foster’s character to really make a judgment one way or the other.

Being a slasher fan, I did enjoy most of the kills here. None of them are really amazing (most of them end with the killer ramming his razor-sharp claw-glove through women’s stomachs), but that opening scene had some quality suspense and even a painful-looking cut. As for the end – well, I appreciate them going outside the box a little (because if things had ended how it was setting up to, it would have been quite the lack-luster conclusion), but I’m not entirely buying it either.

The masked killer in Night Killer looks silly, but it does possess it’s hokey charm, and certainly if he’s raping and killing women, the silliness of his mask sort of declines over time. I don’t think this Italian movie was necessary, and I wish it felt more like a giallo than a third-rate slasher, but for the early 90’s, in a country where soon horror would be hard to come by, I can appreciate the film. I just don’t love it.

6.5/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. If you’re interested in hearing what Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I think about this Italian film, check it out, brahs.

Sorority House Massacre II (1990)

Directed by Jim Wynorski [Other horror films: Chopping Mall (1986), Not of This Earth (1988), The Return of Swamp Thing (1989), Transylvania Twist (1989), The Haunting of Morella (1990), Hard to Die (1990), Scream Queen Hot Tub Party (1991), 976-Evil II (1991), Ghoulies IV (1994), Sorceress (1995), The Wasp Woman (1995), Vampirella (1996), Storm Trooper (1998), The Bare Wench Project (2000), Raptor (2001), The Bare Wench Project 2: Scared Topless (2001), Project Viper (2002), Wolfhound (2002), The Bare Wench Project 3: Nymphs of Mystery Mountain (2002), Cheerleader Massacre (2003), Bare Wench Project: Uncensored (2003), The Thing Below (2004), The Curse of the Komodo (2004), Gargoyle (2004), Komodo vs. Cobra (2005), The Witches of Breastwick (2005), The Witches of Breastwick 2 (2005), Bare Wench: The Final Chapter (2005), Cry of the Winged Serpent (2007), House on Hooter Hill (2007), Bone Eater (2007), Vampire in Vegas (2009), Cleavagefield (2009), The Hills Have Thighs (2010), Dinocroc vs. Supergator (2010), Camel Spiders (2011), Piranhaconda (2012), Gila! (2012), Scared Topless (2015), Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre (2015), Legend of the Naked Ghost (2017), CobraGator (2018)]

Oh boy, this was a fun film.

So, first thing’s first, I guess I have to mention that the flashbacks shown here aren’t from the first Sorority House Massacre (which, in it’s own way, was an enjoyable film), but from The Slumber Party Massacre. Why they just threw that footage here to give this killer an origin is beyond me, but hey, they did. It’s a brave choice, really – instead of footage from the first movie, they throw in clips from an entirely different movie.

This film is on it’s own plane.

I think that I speak for everyone when I say that the VIP here is Mike Elliott, who is pretty much fun in every scene he’s in. He also can’t die, as he’s shot multiple times with a shotgun toward the end, and is still kicking. This is after being stabbed and strangled, so this guy is certainly a go-getter.

The main cast, though, consisting of Dana Bentley, Michelle Verran, Stacia Zhivago, Melissa Moore, and Robyn Harris, are all decent in their own way. This mostly takes the form of nudity and scantily-clad pajamas, but here, everyone plays their parts. I think that Harris (who is on IMDb under the name Gail Thackray) was the most attractive here, but let’s give these women their due and admit all are rather pretty. Some were even in adult films before this, so no doubt that played a part in their casting.

Story-wise, what Sorority House Massacre II comes with isn’t that unique, but it’s not exceptionally poor either, especially when some of the more silly elements (such as Mike Elliott’s red herring status throughout) are intentional. I will admit that they took a route toward the end that I really didn’t care for, so it could have been a bit better, but still, it was decent. I will admit, though, that the addition of Jürgen Baum’s character was pretty pointless, aside from giving us more nudity during the strip club scene (which was funny overall, especially with those two Middle Eastern mens’ catcalls).

None of the kills were great, but most were perfectly competent. Either strangling or death by hook, we did occasionally get some blood splatter, but that wasn’t something they focused on. More than anything, it was half-naked women running around a dark house (they could have escaped easily earlier on, as they could have outrun Elliott’s ploddingly slow character, but of course they didn’t) and trying to survive. In it’s own cheap way, it was fun, save for an element toward the end I could have done without.

The film’s laughable, to be sure, but I don’t think that’s overly damning. As soon as they threw in flashbacks not to Sorority House Massacre but The Slumber Party Massacre, I was in awe. The movie isn’t really played comically, but there were enough goofy things here to make me happy without becoming too overbearingly campy. The first movie is a better film, but this one isn’t a movie I could imagine ever having a problem watching again. It’s not great – and it maybe overvaluing the film to call it average – but that’s what I’m going with, because whatever else you can say about it, it’s a fun movie.

7/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss Sorority House Massacre II.

Tremors (1990)

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

Ever since I was a kid, I loved the Tremors movies. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve seen the first three movies combined, so to say I grew up with them will be the best I can do. The first film isn’t the best horror film of the 1990’s, but I’ve always found it enjoyable, and nothing has changed.

It’s a pretty simple monster movie with a rather small cast, but Tremors keeps us entertained with the quality character building, interesting ideas, and a decent amount of humor sprinkled throughout (though never becoming too overbearing as to distract from the suspense). If one of the many monsters movies from the late 1950’s had been made around the 1990’s instead, this is definitely what they’d hope to be.

Kevin Bacon is one of those big names that I honestly pretty much only know from this movie. I mean, I’ve seen Death Sentence, and of course I’ve seen Friday the 13th, but as far as Bacon individually standing out, Tremors stands alone. He works fantastically well with Fred Ward, and seeing the two of them interact throughout the film is a lot of fun (“Legs that go ALLLLLLL the way up!”).

Of course, it should go without saying that Michael Gross (who I know best from Family Ties) is great here, along with his wife (played by country singer Reba McEntire), as a pair of gun-nuts who are incredibly fun to watch, and Gross himself has plenty of funny lines (deadpan, “For my cannon” is probably my favorite). It’s clear why Gross made such an impression, even more so than the stars that were Bacon, Ward, and Finn Carter.

The monster design here was pretty interesting, even though we’re basically talking about giant worms. They look suitably dull, and seeing them killed in various ways is fun enough, but also the fact that they do learn as the movie goes on gives them a little more of a fear factor, even though they’re never quite terrifying.

Also, let’s speak briefly about the setting, being the (very) small town of Perfection, Nevada. It was indeed perfection, as a population of about 14 people total has always amazed me, just seeing the way that these people would live as opposed to those in a larger town or city. I couldn’t imagine living in such a small place, and maybe due to that, this setting always stuck out to me as something really memorable.

Other films from the early 1990’s combined humor and horror better than Tremors did (I’m primarily looking at Arachnophobia, which came out the same year), but Tremors has been a pleasure to watch since I was a kid, and I still really enjoy the first three movies, and wholly recommend the first two if you haven’t seen them before.

8.5/10

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

Night of the Living Dead (1990)

Directed by Tom Savini [Other horror films: Deadtime Stories (2009, segment ‘House Call’), The Theatre Bizarre (2011, segment ‘Wet Dreams’)]

To be honest, I was expecting something more from this remake of the classic 1968 zombie film, as I’ve generally heard positive things about from fellow horror fans, but after taking the time to finally watch it, I was very underwhelmed, and ultimately find the film a bit pointless.

The original Night of the Living Dead has never been a favorite of mine. Oh, I enjoy the movie well enough, and it definitely changed the trajectory of zombie movies, but it can sometimes feel a bit on the slow side. That said, I found a lot more to enjoy in that movie than I did here, and while this version tries to change some things up (such as the route that Ben takes toward the end), I can’t deny that it somewhat fell on deaf ears.

Tony Todd was perhaps the best thing about this movie. He wasn’t as good as Duane Jones, but he still brought a significant power to his character. Patricia Tallman was certainly a more useful Barbara here than Judith O’Dea was, but that’s one of those changes that I didn’t find myself loving. I pretty much think Tom Towles nails it, but still, compared to Karl Hardman, he’s not nearly as strong a personality.

Unless I’m missing something, I just don’t see what all the hoopla about this one is. It’s an okay zombie movie if you’ve somehow missed the original, or if you wish the original was in color, or if you like seeing a young Bill Moseley, but otherwise, I really don’t get it. Now, I understand that director Tom Savini had some clashes with Romero while working on this, and the remake itself was, in part, made to help Romero recoup his losses from the original film, but knowing all of that doesn’t make the film any better, at least not for me.

The original film is a classic for good reason, but this isn’t really anything I could ever see myself wanting to spend time on again. I went into this one hoping for a lot more than what I got, and I won’t say that I’m not disappointed with this one.

5.5/10

Mirror Mirror (1990)

Directed by Marina Sargenti [Other horror films: Child of Darkness, Child of Light (1991)]

A satanic mirror? Sounds like it has potential. And really, Mirror Mirror did, and I wish that I could have liked it more. For something like the first half of the film, I was enjoying it pretty shamelessly, but then the second half happened, and the route changed, leaving me an old and bitter man.

This same type of plot has been done in later films, such as the Canadian television movie Devil’s Diary, so it didn’t feel that fresh to me (despite the fact this came out 17 years earlier). It’s an interesting idea, what with a teenage girl becoming addicted to the power of an iffy mirror, but it went down a path I didn’t much care for, and while the end redeems a bit of the lost potential, it was too little, too late.

Playing the goth teen Megan, Rainbow Harvest (which is indeed her real name, apparently) really felt like a slightly older Winona Ryder’s Lydia. She had a solid punk/new-wave/gothic look that I sort of liked, so of course she was picked on mercilessly by others in the school. Her mother, the well-known Karen Black, was pretty solid, though I felt somewhat bad about where the movie eventually took her.

One of my favorite sub-plots in the film dealt with a class president election between bitch Charleen (Charlie Spradling, from Meridian, a movie I saw not long before this one) and the one nice girl, Nikki (Kristin Dattilo). I’m a sucker for politics, so seeing an underdog campaign being fought against the establishment bitchery was a solid source of entertainment. It didn’t hurt that Dattilo was an attractive actress, and Spradling had a lovely nude scene later in the film.

It’s when the mirror, which has been causing some distressing incidents in Megan’s life, such as a massive nosebleed suffered by someone during lunch, or a brutal asthma attack a teacher has, starts sharing the power with Megan, and she becomes almost a witch, that I start losing interest. Because at this point, the strange outcast girl becomes the dangerous, school-shooter type (instead of guns, she has an evil mirror, but what’s the diff?), and she loses much of the sympathy she fairly possessed beforehand.

Now, it gets a little better, as Nikki tries to save Megan from herself, but by that point, things are pretty much a lost cause (both Megan and and Nikki have lost loved ones, so any victory at that point would be hollow anyway). Still, we got a solid death by steam in a locker room shower, and someone else gets impaled by glass, so it’s not all bad. The suspenseful garbage disposal scene, too, was worth seeing.

As a movie overall, though, Mirror Mirror fell flat, which was a damn shame, as it really did start off decently well, only to lose it’s way as the movie goes on. It’s a movie that’s probably good for a single watch, but unless my view on this one changes the next time I see it, it won’t become a 90’s favorite of mine.

6.5/10

Arachnophobia (1990)

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

Truthfully, I can’t think of a single thing I dislike about this film.

The cast here is close to flawless. I pretty much like every performance, my favorites being Frances Bay (Happy Gilmore), Henry Jones, Roy Brocksmith, James Handy, Mark L. Taylor (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids), Stuart Pankin, Julian Sands, Harley Jane Kozak, Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom), and of course, John Goodman. Goodman’s character is golden anytime he’s on-screen, and Daniels just does a fantastic job here playing a lead you can definitely feel sympathy for.

With so many great scenes, it’s really impossible to point out where the best portions are, but a scene that always terrified me (and still does today) was the segment in the house when the spiders finally swarm. They crawl on the television, crawl out the vents, crawl out the sink – you name it, the spiders are there. That scene is somewhat hard to watch, but there’s no denying it’s effective.

Also, I want to give a lot of kudos to the twenty minute opening. It’s a fantastically atmospheric opening, what with the rainforests and bugs of all sorts falling from trees. It’s just a great beginning to a film, and sets the tone beautifully in a way that isn’t always common for a lot of movies.

Sometimes when a movie’s good, you can harp on and on about it. I did such with Bedlam, and I’ll likely do so again. But for Arachnophobia, it seems pointless – the cast is great, the story is great, the suspense is great, the music is spectacular, and everything else is great to. Easy top score, and a highlight of the 90’s.

10/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. If you want to listen to Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one, listen below.

A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell (1990)

Directed by Brett Piper [Other horror films: They Bite (1996), Drainiac! (2000), Psyclops (2002), Arachnia (2003), Screaming Dead (2003), Bite Me! (2004), Shock-O-Rama (2005), Bacterium (2006), Muckman (2009), The Dark Sleep (2012), Queen Crab (2015), Triclops (2016)]

Well, with a title like this, how can the movie go wrong?

The sad thing is, while the film is so far from good, it’s actually a somewhat hard movie for me to hate. I certainly think it carries with it a charm that many other lower-budget films lack entirely, and while I don’t love the very fantasy-feel of the film, I can’t deny that they did well with what they had.

I think that, by far, the worst part of the movie is the introduction, which has our lead Nymphoid Barbarian explaining how the Earth got decimated and why society (or what’s left of society, which is very little) lives on a post-apocalyptic planet. It’s cringy, and doesn’t even make sense, as later in the film, the character (who was a little girl when the war started) has no idea what books or lighters are, which leads me to think she should have been born generations after the Event.

Personally, that’s the biggest flaw I found with the film. It just didn’t seem necessary, and might lead people to the untrue conclusion that A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell has some comedy influences, when it really doesn’t. Sure, the title itself doesn’t help battle against that stigma, but the movie and plot itself is pretty straight, if dodgy effects don’t cause one to burst out laughing.

This said, I actually thought that most of the makeup and special effects ranged from tolerably competent to rather charming, in the case of the Claymation monsters. There was a wide-range of terrible creatures, from scaled lizard men, to dwarf-type things, to giant worms (somewhat reminiscent of Beetlejuice, actually), along with giant crab-type things. They often didn’t look great, but honestly, I sort of liked it, and I enjoyed it far more like this as opposed what many modern movies would do, and just CGI the shit out of everything. A guy getting his arm eaten off was good fun also.

The dialogue wasn’t much to be proud of, but the story came across fine. Linda Corwin didn’t strike me as much a ‘nymphoid,’ but whatever. As the main antagonist, Alex Pirnie did fine, and ditto for Paul Guzzi as Corwin’s side-kick. Perhaps my favorite character was Mark Deshaies, who played a rather bad-ass disfigured man.

Another thing that deserves a small mention are the settings, my favorite being a decent-looking castle which held a distinctly evil aura. It might be fantasy 101, and the same could be said for the somewhat threadbare plot, but it was done well despite the budget.

Like I said, A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell is a hard movie for me to actually hate. I was by no means fond of it when I first saw it some years back, but it’s grown on me. I still don’t think the movie’s that great, and I definitely don’t think it’s a film that I’d rewatch all that often, but I will admit to finding the film, despite it’s problems, a charming little addition to the fantasy/horror genre.

6/10

Spontaneous Combustion (1990)

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), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), 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 a shame that this movie, despite the potential I sense, is such a mess. To me, that seems clearly due to the script, which doesn’t really feel right.

I have two big issues with this film. One, as I mentioned, is the story itself. The prologue takes 22 minutes to get through, and once we do, we’re stuck with characters that seem interconnected but don’t know they’re interconnected, a secret plot, some radio psychic, mysteries from the past coming back to haunt a character, some subplot about a nuclear plant that doesn’t seem related at all to the rest of the story, and syringes of glowing green stuff that was never once explained.

The plot goes all over the place, and I don’t think things were put together particularly well. That prologue took way too long to get through, and most of the present-day story isn’t overly captivating either. Some of the special effects (and I really mean some, as there are some really bad scenes here) work out well, but the story itself is just a mess. Maybe I just missed something, but it seems to me there were still quite a few unanswered questions by the end of the film, and it just grated on me. Things just felt disjointed at times.

Secondly, and this may be controversial, but I was deeply underwhelmed by Brad Dourif’s acting throughout this whole film. I know his character is in an odd place, so some of it can be excused, but it wasn’t just the odd scene out where I thought he was just a bad actor. I loved hearing Chucky’s voice, and I get the fact his character’s going through a confusing and emotionally-wrecking period, but his acting didn’t do it for me here at all, which is shame, as he generally is pretty enjoyable (such as his role in Death Machine, which came out four years after this).

I’m not saying that Spontaneous Combustion doesn’t occasionally have charm, but from a personal standpoint, I don’t think I’d watch this again anytime soon, as I honestly enjoyed very little of this film, despite the potential I really thought it had. I could tell from the beginning that the tone just felt off to me, and it pretty much stayed that way throughout, all the way to the ending which also just didn’t do it for me at all.

Tobe Hooper has, no doubt, done a lot for the horror genre, but this one is definitely not one of his better works in my view.

4.5/10