Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Children (1980) review



THE CHILDREN 1980

Martin Shakar (John Freemont), Gil Rogers (Sheriff Billy Hart), Gale Garnett (Cathy Freemont), Shannon Bolin (Molly), Tracy Griswold (Deputy Harry Timmons), Joy Glaccum (Suzie MacKenzie), Jeptha Evans (Paul MacKenzie), Clara Evans (Jenny Freemont), Sarah Albright (Ellen Chandler)

Directed by Max Kalmanowicz

The Short Version: Silly but creepily potent zombie horror featuring small fry that cook whoever they touch after a school bus travels through a toxic cloud--turning them into mindless, black-nailed, radioactive killers. The film has a gruesome streak in that the children kill their parents; while the only way to destroy the contaminated kids is to cut their hands off! If the chilling score sounds familiar, that's because Harry Manfredini used it with slight modification for the same year's FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). Undeservedly obscure and largely forgotten, THE CHILDREN certainly needs a wider audience watching them.
 
 
A school bus drives through a radioactive cloud after a leak at a nearby chemical plant. The toxic mist turns the children into mindless zombies that burn anyone they touch. With corpses piling up in the small town of Ravensback, the sheriff and a family hole up inside a house to fend off attacks from The Children.

 
Plucked from obscurity by network television, if you ever saw Commander USA's Groovie Movies or Saturday Nightmares on the USA Network in the 1980s, you surely saw THE CHILDREN; where it likely reached more viewers than it did during its theatrical run. 
 
 
It's difficult to watch Kalmanowicz's unusual killer kid flick and not be reminded of Romero's iconic farmhouse-set tale of the living dead from 1968. The screenplay by Carlton J. Albright and Edward Terry melds much of Romero's NIGHT narrative using its radiation-infused zombies and further inspiration seemingly being drawn from the living dead girl of the finale--wherein a small child returns to kill and consume her parents. 
 
 
In another nod, Kalmanowicz's CHILDREN surround a house and lay siege to it in an attempt to kill everyone inside. Using kids as murderous antagonists is a sub-genre unto itself; and an unsettling one that's ripe for horror. THE CHILDREN has some queasy moments in it even if the premise is a bit too absurd to prevent a snicker or two from getting out.

 
The plot device of the irradiated zombie kids burning people into bloody pulp is outrageous; and the gory, acidic body burning FX are believably gruesome. Something else that's crazy is the disposal method of the terrible tykes before they turn you into extra-crispy KFC. Much like the "kill the brain, kill the ghoul" of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), you separate the hands from the body to snuff out these pint-sized zombies.
 
 
Reminiscent of vampirism, when the hands are severed, the nails return to normal and the kids let out this demonic scream like something has left their body. Elsewhere, the undeniable creep factor collides with silliness when the kids approach their victims--arms extended with big smiles on their faces.
 
 
The one moment in the movie where this works at instilling goosebumps is when three of the children are outside a general store and we see them through a window, with big ole grins on their faces. The lady is relieved to see them so she goes outside. The POV changes to the outside and we see the kids reflection in the window. They stretch their arms out like they're waiting for a hug and the lady is killed off-camera. It's a very effective sequence.
 
 
Shot mostly on Massachusetts rural locations, the country setting is perfect for the atmosphere of isolation the movie creates. Kalmanowicz and his crew devise some mildly tense moments of fear and dread that are made all the more palpable by Harry Manfredini's nerve-jangling music.
 
 
Later that year, you'd hear those same stinging chords, with some modifications, in the slasher sensation, FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). There's approximately a year and a half gap between the time the film was completed and released. Considering the wild popularity of FRIDAY THE 13TH, it's easy to think the zombie picture recycled the music, but in actuality it's the other way around. Without Manfredini's score, THE CHILDREN would be a lot less noticeable.
 

If you've seen SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977) you'll recognize lead actor Martin Shakar. He played Travolta's brother in the smash disco drama. It's his best known role, but if you're a Chuck Norris fan, you'll possibly recognize him in INVASION USA (1985) as well. Shakar carries THE CHILDREN in the leading role, giving the film one of a few serious performances it needs.

 
Co-written by Carlton J. Albright and Edward Terry, the latter started out as the movie's director but was replaced by Kalmanowicz shortly into filming. Terry does have a small role in the picture (see above at left). Several years later, Albright and Terry would reunite for the slasher flick LUTHER THE GEEK (1989). Albright directed while Terry steals the show as the title lunatic with metal chompers he uses to cannibalize and or rip the throats out of his victims.
 

Alternating between generating moderate suspense and schlock, this 80s TV staple emerging on blu-ray brings back memories from a great decade for horror. The finale is particularly grim and the last shot is a shock moment that's foreshadowed near the beginning of the movie. With its unusual premise and spin on the zombie mythos, THE CHILDREN are worth watching.

This review is representative of the Vinegar Syndrome DVD/Blu-ray combo. Specs and Extras: 1080p 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen; newly scanned and restored in 2K from a combination of the original 35mm negative and best surviving theatrical prints; new audio commentary by director; archival commentary by producer/co-writer; new interview with Carlton J. Albright and production manager David Platt; locations then and now featurette; Memories of the Children featurette; Making the Children featurette; The Children: The Musical interview with Stan Richardson; audio of a lost scene; reversible cover art; running time: 01:33:39

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Monster Kid Movie Memories: Growing Up With Horror



Growing up on late-night monster movies and the last several years of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, the video boom of the 80s and Fangoria magazine opened up new doors of genre fare. These became a natural progression from the safer climbs of Universal and Hammer horror to more extreme examples; particularly from Italy. During this time, special effects makeup artists like Tom Savini (see insert) became as big a star as the monster or slasher killer on-screen. These are my memories of seeing some of the scariest, most controversial and gruesome movies ever made. Some made for uncomfortable situations; some are early, goosebump-raising memories from childhood; and others are stomach-turners or just downright silly. There were two major video stores in town. One was called Action Video and the other was The Video Station. Both were my pre-teen, one-stop shops that eventually opened the door to mail-order horror where even more ghastly delights awaited. Possibly some of you had similar experiences growing up with horror and movies that either sickened your stomach or stimulated your imagination.

1. BLACK SUNDAY 1960 (original Italian title: LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO, 1960)

I don't recall the year that I saw BLACK SUNDAY, but it was around 1977 or 1978. I was two years old in '77 but remember fragments of things. One example being a recollection of my parents going to see ROCKY (1976) one evening. I recall looking at the newspaper advertisement as my mom was on the phone calling a babysitter. I used to peruse the papers just to look at the ads for the horror movies that I assumed I'd never get the chance to see. I'd often cut them out and keep the ads in a folder. When I'd ask to see one the answer was always no, but seeing them on television was fine. On the weekends, my parents would go to bed and let me stay up and watch TV all night if I could stay awake. There was a local version of Shock Theater on WSET-13 out of Lynchburg, Virginia. When the show came on, it was a blue background with a silhouette of a spider web laid over it. You'd hear this heart beating and the camera zooming in and out in synchronization. Then a woman would scream and the show would begin. There was a host, although I cannot remember who he was. This opening was scary to me as a kid. I would pull the covers up to my eyes waiting for it to finish--when it was safe to watch again. 

On this particular night, Mario Bava's BLACK SUNDAY was airing. I only recall getting as far as the spooky opening sequence where Barbara Steele and her vampiric lover are executed. At some point I went to bed and had a nightmare where I'm lying there playing with a watch case. Suddenly, an enormous, hairy arm reaches out from under the bed and snatches it away from me. I raise up and there sitting in the doorway is Dracula's severed head cackling at me. I wake up screaming till my mom comes in the room and I realize it's all been a bad dream. I didn't learn my lesson as I was back in front of the TV again the following weekend, with more years of nightly frights to come.

 

2. BLOOD OF DRACULA'S CASTLE 1969

You ever see a movie in your youth and for years can't recall what it was? Probably the most elusive example for me was this awful movie from director Al Adamson. It was on the same Shock Theater program mentioned above, and around the same time frame in the late 1970s. For years all I could remember was a woman driving to a graveyard and being kidnapped by a deformed man; chained in a dungeon and fed slop on a plate. I recalled nothing else. I asked multiple people and posed the question on forums and nobody knew what it was. It got to the point that I thought maybe I'd imagined the whole thing. Fast forward to an evening in 2013, I'm trying to figure out something to watch. I see this box set of horror movies an ex-girlfriend had bought me a few years earlier. I'd never opened it till that night. For whatever reason, something told me to watch BLOOD OF DRACULA'S CASTLE. As soon as it began I realized it was the film whose title had eluded me for as long as I could remember. I could barely make it to the end, but this decades-long memory had now been put to rest.

 

3. BLOOD FEAST 1963

Much like Herschell Gordon Lewis's infamous trendsetter was the first gore movie, it was my first experience with horror movie splatter. I'd briefly seen gory images in Fangoria magazine before my mom would remove the periodical from my hands and place it back on the magazine rack. Once my parents divorced in 1983, the floodgates were opened to a degree. I came home from school one day in 1984 and my dad was watching this on TV; having just rented BLOOD FEAST and PIECES (1983). The movie had just started. I walked in as the lady gets her eyeball cut out in the bathtub. I dropped my school bag and was entranced by this new type of horror picture; new to me, anyway. 

I'd seen FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980), but this was beyond that. I immediately became fascinated with this type of on-screen mayhem. I found the music spooky but the rest was unintentionally comedic. I remember getting a good laugh during the scene where the lady dies in the hospital and when she falls back onto the bed, it sounded like her last words was a fart. I was 9 years old at the time, and was cognizant enough to know this was all make-believe; the terrible acting helped too. For a time, I was intrigued by Lewis's "blood n' mannequins" type of special effects and wanted to see more of his work. While I passed one hurdle with my mom's ever-watchful eye, that didn't stop my nervous grandparents from becoming alarmed at what I had been watching when they found out for themselves a couple years later.

 

4. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 1968

The night I saw this horror classic, it was paired with Q (1982) and CREEPSHOW (1982). The year was 1984. My dad was out on a date and I was all alone in the house tasked with recording the tapes he'd rented (everybody was a pirate back then). As much as I loved horror movies, it ended up being one of the most terrifying nights of my life. This was possibly the night I called my mom sometime early in the morning around 1am crying that my dad hadn't got home yet. This bit of news that I'd been left alone all night would creep up again in court some time later. Still, I loved being left alone like that, even at 9 years of age. 

We had a split level house and when I was left by myself, I had the run of it; only the triple threat of terror I'd been watching left me a nervous wreck, with the NIGHT effectively scaring the hell out of me. My parents had a king-size bed and if I had to go to the bathroom, I'd leap as far off the bed as I could to keep any monsters from reaching out to pull me underneath into the darkness. I also couldn't stand directly in front of the bathroom to turn on the lights, so I'd reach around and quickly flip the switch. Upon finishing, I was like the Flash--cutting the light off and sprinting for the bed.

 

5. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 1974

I had a curious experience with Hooper's classic. By the time it had come out on video, I'd already been exposed to extreme gore. Up till then, I'd only read about it, and heard stories from my mom how she and my dad had went to see it at the theater just before I was born. She told me it made her so nervous she walked out halfway through. A few minutes later, she attempted to go back into the theater. She got to the part where Grandpa was sucking the blood from Marilyn Burns' finger like a baby drinking milk from a breast and decided she'd had enough. She went out to the lobby and waited for it to be over. Hearing this and reading about how it was a "Splatter Movie" --from what little I could glean from Fangoria magazine's advertisements for John McCarty's influential Splatter Movies book--it was high on my list of must-see horror flicks. 

The title by itself was rowdy, with a primal savagery about it. As a kid I had the image of Texas branded into me as an incredibly hot state where everything was larger than life and machismo was legendary. Chainsaws were loud, terrifying power tools that could sever limbs with ease. Then there's the word 'massacre', leaving imagery of a vast expanse of tortured and mutilated corpses laid across a viscera-strewn landscape. I remember being in awe of the video store poster at Action Video--just standing there looking up at it on the wall. I told my dad I wanted to see it and his response to me was, "Why would you want to watch something like that?" When you were a kid, the forbidden nature of something only increased your interest in wanting to see it. This was in 1984, although I believe it may have been 1985 when I actually saw the movie.

TCM was arguably the single most hyped movie of my childhood. When my dad finally rented the Media videocassette it was one of the most anticipated experiences of my young life. Unfortunately, at that time, I was vastly disappointed. After the pictures I'd seen, and the descriptions and reviews of the movie, I'd expected an extreme gorefest. After I'd grown into the teenage years, I saw the film again, and my appreciation for it grew. It eventually became one of my favorite horror movies that only gets better with repeat viewings. A couple years ago I traveled to Texas and visited The Gas Station; the original farmhouse that is now a high class restaurant; and the original location of the farmhouse in Round Rock, TX. You can read all about the experience, with photos of then and now HERE.

 

6. FACES OF DEATH 1978

Basically the horror genres version of a Pro Wrestling show, this wildly exaggerated franchise made with Japanese financing was all over the place back in the 1980s. It had a geekshow quality about its promotion that even those in the anti-horror brigades were curious to see just how extreme FACES OF DEATH was. In school, all the kids were talking about it; whether their parents let them watch, or they had to sneak around to see it. When we talked about FOD, the discussion was in whispers; and anyone that hadn't seen it wanted to. It was occasionally in the news for various reasons, or video stores not stocking it, or critics calling it"a piece of trash". The controversial, docu-style endurance test purported to show real scenes of executions and dying bodies mangled, crushed, and consumed in a variety of ways. 

Even upon its release, it was suspected that some of the sequences were in fact staged; turned out they were. Other than footage of car accident and airplane crash victims, autopsies and animal deaths, a lot of the footage--particularly the sequences the movie was notorious for-- were simulated. These being a monkey clubbed to death in a restaurant for the consumption of its brains; and the electric chair execution. The latter was the film's major selling point in the trailer and on some of the film's promotion. In 1985, word quickly spread around and those two scenes were what everybody was talking about. The VHS tape, with its black cover and a skull labeled with "Banned in 46 countries!" ensured a hot rental item. That was an understatement. 

It was so wildly successful three sequels followed and an incredible amount of imitations that reinvigorated the Shockumentary genre previously dominated by Italian up-chuck epics that began with the moderately nauseating MONDO CANE (1962) and reached its puke-filled pinnacle with ADDIO ULTIMO UOMO (1978), aka THE LAST SAVAGE; and its 1982 sequel, AFRICA DOLCE E SELVAGGIA, aka THE LAST SAVAGE 2. Most of these were all real deaths and or tribal rites and violence towards human and animal alike. To gauge how popular the FOD movies were, in 1992 FACES OF DEATH 4 (1990) played at the theater in my small town. There were radio ads as well. Even today, there are those who believe FOD was entirely real.

 

7. DAWN OF THE DEAD 1978

Romero's hit sequel was significant in that it was my first SP mode tape purchase. My mom bought it for me. After several years of keeping tabs on what I was watching, she finally relaxed the reigns. I assume it was because she knew my father was letting me see whatever I wanted so there wasn't much point fighting it. My dad rented it and made a copy of it so I'd already seen it. When my parents divorced my mom got an apartment and she took one of his four VCR's with her. This was when they were like giant tape recorders. You'd push the eject button, the slot would open, and you'd place the tape inside. One of the tapes I took with me was an Apex videocassette that I'd recorded SAMSON VS THE VAMPIRE WOMEN (1962) off Commander USA's Groovie Movies, CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984) from HBO, and DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978). My mom liked the popular killer kid flick, but wasn't at all high on the zombies eating people. She liked it up to the parts near the end where the zombies were having their Thanksgiving dinner with the biker gang and any of the main characters they could get their hands on. Around 1986 or 1987, we were in K-mart. They had a videotape section with tapes behind a glass case. There were tapes like THE HOWLING (1981) and THE EVIL DEAD (1981) but the one I wanted was DAWN OF THE DEAD. They were all SP mode, but priced at $20 each. I had several LP and EP tapes at that time, but this was the first "real" tape I had and it was my favorite in those days.


8. I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 1979

One of the most sadistic, provocative movies ever made, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE is one of the most divisive as well. Some see it as a legitimate thriller of one woman's vengeance against a quartet of savage rapists. Another camp sees it as crass, sensationalist exploitation whose only aim is to shock. Well, regardless of which side you're on, there's no denying viewing the picture is an experience you'll likely never forget; and some may wish they could. I've two memories--both of which were uncomfortable; and because of the circumstances involved in both viewings. The first time I saw the movie it was with a school friend, his dad and his mother. The year was 1987, and even in this small town, a lot of people knew about the movie. I was 12 years old and was somewhat aware of the controversy but was unprepared for what actually transpired onscreen. I remember feeling embarrassed watching it at a friend's house with his parents in the room. Occasionally, I would turn my head to see their expressions and neither seemed perturbed by the 40+ minute onslaught of rape and degradation perpetrated against Camille Keaton's character. Blood and gore was one thing, but the copious amount of nudity was unprecedented to my young eyes. I recall being perplexed that my friend's parents would be fine with us looking at this movie. So for that reason alone, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE remains one of the most uncomfortable viewing experiences I ever had.

Another time worth mentioning took place in the early 1990s. This occasion was no less uncomfortable, but kind of humorous at the same time. I worked for the Chinese off and on between 1993-2009. When I worked for some Malaysian friends in a neighboring town back in 1995, there was an Action Video there in the same shopping center. One night after work the cooks (none of whom spoke English) walked over to the video store. I went in and was checking out their kung fu movie section. Eventually, Mike, one of my Chinese co-workers that spoke fluent English, told me the cooks got a movie they wanted to see and were ready to go. I happened to glance at the tape they picked up, housed in one of those clear cases and it was I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. I was bewildered as to why they'd want to see something like that and then it hit me it must have been the infamous cover art. They could neither read English nor speak it, but the sight of a half-naked woman holding a knife probably looked like a sex movie to them. So we all go back to their house. 

Upon arriving, the family of those who own the house are all in the living room where the TV and VCR is. The cooks put the tape in and I'm looking around at the two small kids, grandmother and others sitting in the room. I'm thinking, "Oh my God, surely they're not going to watch this in front of everyone." I leaned over to Mike and told him, "There's some things you need to know about this movie they're going to watch. In fact, you may want to stop them."  Movie goes into the VCR and they fast-forward through much of the dialog and once the rape begins, people start leaving the room. It was easily among the most cringe-worthy moments of my life. Finally, Mike spoke to the one cook to turn it off and he did. They had some tapes lying in a pile they'd ordered through the mail and the next one he put in was outrageous in an entirely different way; the Ocean Shores Chinese-language only release of THE SHAOLIN INVINCIBLES (1977). They shut that one off as well; not long after the kung fu-fighting gorillas showed up.

 

9. ZOMBIE 1979

I remember my dad rented this along with A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) in 1985. The Craven flick had just come out and was referred to him by an employee at Action Video. Her excitement in describing how scary it was sold the title to us. It was quite a double feature; but it was ZOMBIE that made the biggest impression on my young ten year old eyes... so much so I didn't close them near all night. The zombie vs. shark sequence; Fabio Frizzi's music; the heavy breathing and shuffling effects of the zombies; the wind-swept apocalypse of the white-sheet wrapped corpses; etc. All this and more in Lucio Fulci's nightmarish vision of a Hell on Earth easily surpassed Freddy Krueger's debut NIGHTMARE; although both together ensured I'd sit up squarely in the middle of the bed with a night light as the only illumination. The astonishing VHS box art (same as the US poster) either makes you want to rent it or retch.


ZOMBIE was my first exposure to Fulci, so whenever I saw his name on a VHS box, I had to see it. I saw the trailer for HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981) one day after school (the Brother Theodore narration was amazing), and it played one of the Drive-in's here just before it closed down.


10. NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES 1980/US release 1983 (original Italian title: VIRUS, 1980)

The night I saw Mattei's ZOMBIES, it was a weekend in 1984. It was a triple bill with THE BEING (1983) and DEATHSTALKER (1983). It was another occasion my dad rented tapes (they were $7 a piece to rent back then) and had me record them while he went out on a date. I wasn't with him when he rented these so I thought DEATHSTALKER was a horror movie due to the title. Little did I know till putting it in the VCR that it was a Conan clone. Being a huge fan of Conan and the color and B/W comics, it did not disappoint. While we're on the subject, years later around 2001, TNT would air DEATHSTALKER for Barbi Benton's birthday. I was a bit stunned they'd show it since editing out all the nudity would only leave about a ten minute movie. However, this airing had a lot of footage not in the release version; additional and extended scenes including dialog and action. There was even one extra gore shot. When Stalker cuts the guy's head off on horseback, you see it hit the ground instead of just flying through the air. The extra action scenes included more Barbi and Lana Clarkson, although these scenes were sloppy looking and made sense to cut them.

The main event was Mattei's notorious zombie favorite. I'd read about NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES in Fangoria and the article they'd afforded it--brief as it was--had virtually all splattery photos that put it at the top of my list of must-see horror titles; and it became an instant favorite. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I saw the NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES label upon opening the VHS rental case. These were dark brown clamshell boxes that had the video store name printed on a sleeve that wrapped around the box. As for the movie, it was literally non-stop lunacy and gore effects. My introduction to the bad movie universe of its director, Vincent Dawn (real name, Bruno Mattei), his distinct style of hackery was unmistakable. For years, NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES has had a bad reputation among horror fans and I never understood why. When I bought Chas Balun's 'The Gore Score' along with 'Horror Holocaust' in 1987, I was stunned to read Balun had given it a terrible review but a 10 on the Gore-meter. I didn't truly appreciate the hysterically dumb dialog till I saw it again as a teenager.


11. HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP 1980

This particular entry is unique in that the viewing was sabotaged. I didn't actually see it till much later when I was 17 or 18. I'm not sure of the year but it was either 1981 or 1982 when I was between 6-7 years old. I was at my uncle's house with my father and one of the reasons we were there was to watch this movie called HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP from Roger Corman's New World Pictures. My uncle recorded it off HBO and he was standing there talking to my dad about it. I was perusing the HBO guide that showed the channels movie listings and there was a photo of the monsters in the booklet; so I was excited since it was a monster movie. I lived, breathed, ate, and slept monsters when I was a kid. So my uncle gets the tape and puts it in the VCR, hits play, and the only thing we see is snow on the screen. We're sitting there stunned and I'm wondering where the movie is. My uncle hits the fast-forward button on the VCR remote and it's snow for minutes on end. He turns it off and starts yelling for my aunt who is upstairs. They begin arguing about the movie which is no longer on the tape. Turns out she had erased it. I suppose she had taken as much offense to it as Ann Turkel did after starring in it. 

Around the same time, I did manage to see Corman's 1981 SciFi gross-out, GALAXY OF TERROR (behind the scenes pic with the giant maggot in insert). I was at my uncle's house on a Saturday afternoon and they'd went for McDonald's. I wanted to see it again so I was in the bedroom I slept in when I stayed over there and as the movie started I got my burgers ready. Whenever a gory scene would happen I'd take bites out of my cheeseburgers to show I had a strong stomach and not get sick. I suppose it was something of a precursor to all those insane internet challenges; only this one couldn't hurt or kill you, just make you throw up.

 

12. DAWN OF THE MUMMY 1981

The first time I saw this curiously underrated gore-fest was in the late 1980s. Me and my dad were up really late. It was a little after 1am and he was flipping through the channels and happened upon this movie playing on WNRW-TV45. It was the scene where the lady rolls down the sand dune and lands right next to a severed head. We immediately began recording it from there. Shockingly, channel 45 was airing it uncut! I'd never seen it before, but the film was so gory with mummy zombies eating people's flesh, gouging out eyes, and ripping intestines from stomach cavities, the station obviously wasn't airing an edited version. I caught up with it again a year or two later on the same channel at 3am and recorded it from the beginning; once more it aired uncut. I recall one scene making me jump in those days. It was when the photographers were leaving the tomb after the mummy has been--unknown to them--accidentally brought to life. They shut the lights off and one of the girls goes back in to get her purse. As she leaves the mummy raises up really fast into closeup. A few years later I found a used VHS tape in a video store and bought it and was shocked at how dark the print was when compared to the much brighter version that had aired on television. Even with its Egyptian locations, an energetic score, ample splatter effects, and a few good jump scares, a lot of horror fans dislike this one. This was the only time I ever saw one of these extreme zombie-type movies on regular TV in an unedited format.


13. DR. BUTCHER MD 1980/US release 1982 (original Italian title: ZOMBI HOLOCAUST, 1980)

I saw the trailer for this on another VHS rental and as soon as I saw it on the shelf at The Video Station, I quickly latched onto it. The trailer was basically a 'Greatest Hits' package of most of the gory scenes in the movie. It looked incredible. Zombies were my favorite at that time; and this had cannibals, too. The only time I'd seen flesh-hungry savages was in 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954); and the modernized human chowhounds in INVASION OF THE FLESH HUNTERS (1981), a drastically cut US version of Antonio Margheriti's CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE that my dad rented and I immediately forgot about. Me and my dad watched DR. BUTCHER one evening on a weekend in 1985 thereabouts. I remember he got a call from his brother and when asked what we were watching he remarked what a bad movie it was and how the music was stupid and annoying. Well, I was enjoying it, anyway. It's arguably the wackiest, most colorful of the Italian cannibal movies.


Several years later when the Video Station was going out of business, I would buy the same DR. BUTCHER VHS for a few bucks. This was my introduction into Euro jungle cannibal territory--later leading into trouble-causing excursions by Lenzi and Deodato.

 

14. PIECES 1982/US release 1983 (original Spanish title: MIL GRITOS TIENE LA NOCHE, 1982)

As stated earlier, I saw this on VHS the same day I saw BLOOD FEAST. Any homework I may have had likely didn't get done till much later in the evening. Exposure to movies like PIECES led to many more in a similar vein. As a kid, chainsaws were a terrifying weapon; even more scary than the atypical butcher knife of all your finer slasher pictures. In my small town, PIECES played here for at least a week. I'd seen the trailer on TV with that unforgettable tagline, "You don't have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre!" I remember one night standing outside this local department store called Roses. The Kingsway Cinema (which is still running) is in the same shopping center on the far end. Looking at the marquee I saw the title listed there and told my mom I wanted to see it. Her response was a stern "NO". When I did finally see it, it was the trashiest thing I'd ever seen up to that time. Had my mom taken me to see this, she'd of walked out in the first five minutes. 

I had not yet seen Hooper's TCM, but had heard so much about it, and saw some photos; so the uptempo level of splatter in PIECES set the benchmark for chainsaw horror. And this was likely why I was initially disappointed in Hooper's movie--years before it eventually became a favorite. As for PIECES, even as a nine year old, the ending was the most ridiculous thing I'd ever seen in a movie. Of course, upon returning to school, I'd tell friends about the insane, splatter-filled chainsaw movie I'd watched; some of whom either had seen it too, or now wanted to see it.

 

15. MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY 1981/US release 1983 (orginal Italian title: CANNIBAL FEROX, 1981)

I've told an abridged version of this story before, so here's the full, uncut version. I got an allowance for helping my grandparents both inside and outside the house; predominantly helping with a few acres of garden. I would often spend my allowance on Fangoria Magazine and movie rentals. At that time and at the age of 11, they were totally unaware of the types of movies I was watching; but that would all change on a Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1986. The day before, my grandfather took me to The Video Station so I could rent a tape or two. He always waited in the truck and I'd go in and get whatever I wanted. Action Video wouldn't let a young kid rent certain things without an adult present, but The Video Station had no such restrictions. They were like a horror fan's Treasure Island of VHS (and even Beta) booty. There were horror tapes for days aligning the shelves. On this occasion, I had it in my head to rent the most disgusting thing I could find; and I did, too. The holocaust of brutality adorning the cover of Thriller Video's tape for Lenzi's cannibal classick immediately transfixed me. I'd not seen a cover like it before. The words "Banned 31 countries!" clinched the deal that this tape was coming home with me. A short distance away was the equally gruesome Midnight Video box art displaying a woman being sawed in half by the WIZARD OF GORE (1970). I picked it off the shelf, approached the counter, and the rotund guy in glasses who never questioned my taste in movies, took my money and gave me the tapes. Hopping back into my grandfather's truck, we headed back home. I watched it by myself that evening and was shocked at what I was seeing. It literally blew away the gore-filled horrors I'd seen up to that time. The animal death scenes packed a wallop more than the violence towards humans. All I knew was, "I have to show this to everybody!" That turned out to be a mistake.


It's the next day, Sunday afternoon and my grandfather is sitting in his recliner while my grandmother is crocheting in her chair. I put the tape in for MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY and the show begins. Everything seemed to be going fine. Then, a friend of my grandfather's comes over. I can't recall his name but everybody called him Santa Claus--because he was fat and had white hair and beard. So now the three of them are talking and I'm watching the movie. At the point where John Morghen is torturing the Indio and gouges out his eye, Santa Claus says, "Good lord, what are you watching?!" And my grandfather replies, "Some shit Brian rented. Turn that shit off, boy!" I recall feeling somewhat astonished at their reactions as it was just a movie to me. But looking back on it all these years later I can see why my grandparents would take issue with eye gougings and castrations.

They seized both tapes and wouldn't let me watch THE WIZARD OF GORE. It was decided they would scrutinize whatever I would see from that point on. Monday comes and my grandmother goes to work and my grandfather is bush-hogging one of their fields across the street. So I took it upon myself to pop the WIZARD into the VCR and take my chances. Every few minutes I'd run from the living room to the kitchen to look outside to see if my grandfather was returning to the house. Near the end, I had to shut it off to avoid being caught. Several years later I was able to see it in its entirety. As for Lenzi's cannibal adventure, a few years later the Video Station would go out of business and I'd purchase the same copy I'd rented for something like $10. 
 
My grandfather passed away in 1987 and my grandmother got lax about the whole investigation into my viewing habits; that is, till the airing of a 15 minute segment from 1987 on ABC's 20/20 news program titled 'VCR Horrors'. An uncle had recorded it and brought it over to my grandmother's house and I had to watch it. I guess they assumed I'd feel shame for each minute of the segment, but they discovered I was elated. "Oh  wow, it's EVIL DEAD 2!", I'd say. A lot of the youngsters in the clips had the same reactions I did. I was particularly enamored when I saw clips of Lenzi's CANNIBAL FEROX being viewed by a group of concerned mothers. The looks on their faces were hilarious! It has to be the only time in history Lenzi's jungle horror--or an Italian cannibal movie in general--has ever made prime time. In a strange twist, I let my grandmother's sister borrow the movie after she wanted to see what it was like. Almost as shocking as anything in the film, she told me she enjoyed it! Granted, some of the violence wasn't to her liking but she told me the story was good. My aunt's sudden and inexplicable interest in horror movies softened my grandmother's stance on banning them. By 1988 I got my Fangoria collection back and, while I'd been buying them in secret during my horror lockdown, the first official issue I was allowed to buy started with #71 from February of '88.
 

16. CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST 1980/US release 1985

When I bought Chas Balun's 'The Gore Score' and 'Horror Holocaust' in 1987, the latter book exposed me to films I'd either only heard the title or never heard of them at all. One such movie was CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980). I'd already seen DR. BUTCHER (aka ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST) and MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY (CANNIBAL FEROX) at this point, and the way Deodato's movie was described in Balun's book it had to be the ultimate experience for cannibal connoisseurs. The title eluded me and I had no idea how to obtain it. None of the local video stores carried it. So when Fangoria magazine advertised Balun's next book, 'The Deep Red Horror Handbook', I had to get it. It came out in 1989 and I splurged the $20 on it with my allowance. Twenty dollars was a lot of money to a 14 year old with a tape and magazine hobby. So I receive the book and it's like the Bible of extreme horror cinema. 

As mentioned in other entries, seeing films like BLOOD FEAST (1963), it opened up mesmerizing avenues to a genre I'd only known primarily for its Gothic pictures; those films being viewed as extreme in their time as well. I think I read nearly the entire book in one sitting. One thing that caught my attention was an ad for a mail-order video outlet called Mondo Video. There was a small list of titles on offer for $20 but if you only wanted a catalog, you had to send off an SASE. One such title was CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST; so I sent off a money order for it. This was my first experience ordering bootleg movies; so when the tape arrived I was expecting a clamshell case with a splashy, gruesome cover. Instead I got a VHS tape inside a generic white box with the title typed on a label. I was a little disappointed so I popped the tape in and there was a non-English trailer for THE LAST SAVAGE 2. The trailer featured, among other things, scenes of children being circumcised without anesthesia; live scorpion eating; and a young lady having a snake inserted into her vagina in what appeared to be some sort of fertility rite; all accompanied by some inappropriately upbeat song with indecipherable lyrics. Deodato's movie begins and after it's over, I felt depressed; like I had been visually violated; it was as if the images had seared by eyes and trampled my soul. It made Lenzi's ultra-disgusting FEROX look mainstream in comparison, which was no mean feat. 

Not long after, my dad wanted to see it. So he's down in the den to watch it; I didn't feel comfortable watching it with him so I went upstairs. About 30-40 minutes later, I heard him cutting everything off so I went to the stairs as he was coming up and asked him what happened. He said, "That movie is evil. You'll never get that back again."  He'd gotten as far as the "adultery punishment" sequence and decided that was enough. I did get my tape back, though. One night I used some stealth ninja tactics to search a large oak cabinet that was in the dining room. Using a flashlight, I combed through the rows of tapes and there it was--at the back in the corner on the bottom. Retrieving my tape and replacing it with a blank, my dad never noticed it was gone. Soon after I came to understand the importance of bootlegs among collectors when there were titles that were not accessible any other way. There were only videocassettes at the time, so pirate culture would largely become obsolete with the advent of DVD and blu-ray. Horror fans no longer have to watch average to poor quality presentations. But in those days, the hunt for the titles that were not easily obtained was half the fun.

 

17. FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V: A NEW BEGINNING 1985

I was 10 years old when Paramount heralded the return of Jason Voorhees. Granted, I hadn't seen THE FINAL CHAPTER nor 3D yet, but had seen the first two movies having slipped the tapes with the HBO recordings from my dad's cabinets, and stealthily watched them in the den; scaring the hell out of myself in the process. Other than some brief glimpses of FINAL CHAPTER pics in Fangoria, I was unaware what had happened to the hockey masked slasher in the fourth, and purportedly last sequel. One of my cousins (who was four years older than me) wanted to see A NEW BEGINNING so we both basically begged our grandmother to drop us off at the theater in town to see it. She gave her permission for us to see it without adult supervision, but if she'd known what was in the movie she would NEVER have allowed us to go in. At the time it was somewhat unbelievable to be seeing my first F13 flick in a theater at just 10 years of age. Compared to the two I'd seen A NEW BEGINNING was far sleazier than anything in those previous movies. Every time breasts were bared onscreen I kept looking back at the entrance where an usher stood; and every time he made eye contact with me; and every time I thought he was gonna throw me out. So I’d slink down in my seat in the hopes I’d remain unseen till the end. My first FRIDAY experience was truly amazing. People were screaming and laughing in all the right places. The big reveal at the end that many fans dump on didn’t bother me. I would later see parts VII, VIII, XI, and X in the theater--sequels that would pit him against a CARRIE clone; take a cruise to Manhattan; go to Hell; and finally into outer space--the final frontier of slasher pictures.

I've had other memories over the years, but these are among the fondest I've managed to hold onto. If you, the reader, have similar memories from your childhood, hopefully you've held onto yours as well; those times in our lives that never fail to bring a smile to our faces when thinking of better times when we were young; when times were innocent, and the movies were not... but what fun we had finding and watching them.

 

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