Monday, May 31, 2010

Scared To Death (1981) review


John Stinson (Ted Lonergan), Diana Davidson (Jennifer Stanton), Toni Jannotta (Sherry Carpenter) 

Directed by William Malone

The Short Version: William Malone's maiden monster movie is nothing overly special, but it has some good qualities and a nicely constructed, if derivative monster. A few good moments of palpable suspense, a decent score (also derivative) and a good lead performance add up to SCARED TO DEATH (1981) being a minor footnote in 80s creature features.

Something living beneath the streets of LA is killing civilians when night falls. It is soon discovered that a Syngenor, a dangerous creature grown in a lab has escaped and survives off the spinal fluid of its prey. Growing at a rapid rate, an ex-cop and a female scientist familiar with the creature hunt it down before it can claim anymore victims.

The early 1980s was rife with horror movies big and small. If it wasn't slashers, it was monsters either from outer space, or man-made creations. SCARED TO DEATH (made in 1979, but not released till 1981) falls into the latter camp despite a title that would lead one to believe it was a title of the stalk-and-slash variety. In a way, the film operates along those lines, but substitutes an actor in an impressive full-body monster suit for a masked killer.

Akin to slashers, there's a handful of stalking scenes; and a few of them are just as suspenseful as the best of that sub-genre. One of the best involves a woman attempting to crank her car. Once it's cranked, it won't go anywhere. In the background, you can see something standing up at the rear of her vehicle. The music swells and this sets the buildup for when the monster will strike.

Another exceptionally shot sequence is when our two intrepid protagonists discover the monster's nest in the sewer--learning the thing is asexual and ready to reproduce. Inside this dank, self-birthing breeding ground they also find some of the monster's other victims, but have little time for further sight-seeing once the creature puts in a surprise appearance and chases them out of its domain.

The first time I saw SCARED TO DEATH was on Commander USA's Groovie Movies in the late 1980s; then I later bought the Video Treasures tape when you could buy LP mode VHS for $10 in any of your finer department stores. In its original widescreen format, it's a decent time-waster, just not as memorable as I recollected. Interestingly, pop singer/actor Rick Springfield was set to headline the movie but backed out twice--and both times reportedly the night before filming was to begin--citing he'd miss too many acting classes if he starred in the movie.

The acting is what is to be expected in a picture like this. Some of the characterizations are nicely drawn in Malone and Robert Short's script, though. The creature design is ornate and reminiscent of something straight out of an H.R. Giger painting. Comparisons to ALIEN (1979) are unavoidable in terms of the monster's bio-mechanoid design. You only see the thing at night, which adds to its effectiveness. The ending is well done and creative; unlike the typical blow-it-up finales of many monster pictures.

The movie was popular enough to get a sequel in 1990 under the title SYNGENOR (Synthesized Genetic Organisms); directed by George Elanjian, Jr. and without William Malone's participation. That film utilized the now tired plot of the military wanting to use the monstrous creation as a field weapon. There's plentiful splatter effects and multiple monsters this time around; as well as a wacky co-starring role by David "Dr. Hill" Gale. In SCARED TO DEATH (1981), the monster is incredibly strong and gets destroyed in an inventive fashion. In the sequel, the beasts are killed by, of all things, running water.

Like the fearsome-looking monster suit, the musical score succeeds in overshadowing the meager budget. The cues are occasionally derivative of Ridley Scott's ALIEN (1979) and even Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO (1960). Director Malone went on to helm the superior monster movie, the even more ALIEN-inspired CREATURE, aka TITAN FIND (1985). His initial spinal-sucking sewer dweller and subsequent outer space terror film attracted the attention of the makers of the TALES FROM THE CRYPT cable series where Malone would direct two episodes. He would later take the reigns for the 1999 remake of the William Castle-directed, Vincent Price classic, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959).

In his prime, William Malone directed two good monster pictures. It's a shame he didn't make a third for a loose trilogy of slime-dripping, fang-bearing, flesh-ripping entertainment. SCARED TO DEATH (1981) isn't a genre classic, but less demanding viewers, including fans of such low budget monster flicks like SLITHIS (1978) and C.H.U.D. (1984), will find a handful of cheap thrills just below the surface in this Drive-in obscurity.

This review is representative of the Retromedia DVD.

Love Me Deadly (1973) review


Mary Wilcox (Lindsay Finch), Lyle Waggoner (Alex Martin), Christopher Stone (Wade Farrow), Timothy Scott (Fred McSweeney)

Directed by Jacques Lacerte

The short version: A sometimes disturbing, but ultimately unsatisfying foray into taboo territory about necrophilia. The subject matter never becomes too distasteful, but is sporadically unsettling in its depiction of a woman incapable of loving a living man. Some added exploitation value is present with its cult of dead hoppers, but a reliance on flimsy characterization keeps the film from becoming too revolting.

***WARNING! This review contains pics of nudity***

A young woman, traumatized over her fathers death, tries to maintain a normal relationship with living men. Her affinity for necrophilia lures her to a funeral home in her search for fresh dead males. Her activities attracts the attentions of the attendants of the parlor, who belong to a bizarre sect of necrophilic practitioners.

This sometimes surreal, but occasionally boring horror tale about loving the dead a little too much has lots of potential. Director Lacertes squanders much of it on the relationship quadra angle between Lindsay, her various stiff consorts, the man who loves her and another man who is a bit more forceful in his attraction for her. Wedged in between all this are scenes of nudity and all too infrequent nasty business that somewhat betrays the luridness of the films title.

The pacing lags terribly in places and the warbling soundtrack reinforces the romanticism that kind of pushes the grim subject matter to the backseat. Probably more time is given to Lindsay and her "problems", both living and dead than any actual horror elements. That's not to say there's nothing here to interest sleaze fans. The necrophilia angle isn't handled to the extremes of NEKROMANTIK (1987), but it is unsettling and if the acting were better, the film would be far more successful regardless of how much time is spent on the dramatic aspects of the script. There are also a few scenes where dialog is being spoken between the main characters, but we never hear what they're saying. Instead, music plays over the soundtrack.

The most disturbing sequence would most probably be the one wherein the main villain picks up a gay male prostitute and takes him back to the funeral parlor. He then proceeds to get the man naked and coerces him to lie down on the embalming table. From their, the poor transient is strapped down and embalmed alive. There are several other mildy gruesome bits spread throughout and the ending is depressingly grim, but these are few and far between.

Some of the conflict between Lindsay battling with her "addiction" and trying to maintain a normal relationship works well, but it's clumsily handled much of the time. However, there is a fascinatingly morbid twist in the script in that those that love Lindsay, or bear a sexual attraction to her end up dead. That she can now love these individuals the way she couldn't when they were alive is barely explored. There is another rather nasty scene that may, or may not be a dream wherein the cult of necrophiliacs hoist a corpse from a rope, strip away his clothes, strip away their own clothes and proceed to slash the skin from the dead man.

Actress, Mary Wilcox gets undressed a couple of times and does reasonably well with what she has to work with. She had a relatively short lived career in exploitation movies. She did put in small roles in the humorous pimp comedy-drama, WILLIE DYNAMITE (1974) and a strip teasing role as a naughty nurse in the star studded PSYCHIC KILLER (1975). Possessing a rather long face, her body is toned and well proportioned. She's a very nice looking actress.

The most curious addition to this movie is the co-starring role of Lyle Waggoner of all people. Although exploitation movies weren't alien to his resume, Waggoner will probably be best remembered for his ensemble roles on the classic sketch comedy favorite, THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW. I remember him best as Major Steve Trevor on the popular television series, WONDER WOMAN. Horror fans will also recognize Christopher Stone from THE HOWLING (1981) and CUJO (1983) and also his marriage to actress, Dee Wallace.

Sleaze fan-addicts will likely be disappointed in this exercise of sex with the living and the dead. The storyline has so much going for it, but the director wastes far too many opportunities for me to recommend this to anyone other than die hard 70's horror film completists.

This review is representative of the Code Red/Media Blasters DVD

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Cool Ass Comics: Monsters, Ghosts & Other Things That Go Bump In the Night

I figured I'd run off another entry while I had some of the comics out this evening. Most of the books featured here are one's I bought with my allowance when I was a kid and are presented here "uncut", warts and all complete with worn and crinkled covers.


HOUSE OF MYSTERY started out as a horror comic akin to the EC comics of the day. When the controversy surrounding those grim, yet artistic endeavors brought an end to such lurid storytelling, DC's series morphed into a superhero book such as DIAL H FOR HERO. Later on, it returned to strictly terror tales. It lasted 321 issues.

SECRETS OF HAUNTED HOUSE was another DC horror title that ended in 1982. This issue, #43, was one of the last. The run ended with issue #46.


GHOSTS was yet another horror title from DC, the home of such famous characters as BATMAN and SUPERMAN. GHOSTS ran for 112 issues ending in the early 80's around the time some of their other horror titles finished up there runs. Below are two additional GHOSTS covers as well as a look at the back covers for retro reasons.



Below is the back cover of GHOSTS #86 advertising a poster for something called STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (1979).

And then the back cover for GHOSTS #71 features a cool ad for some BATTLESTAR GALACTICA model kits. Anybody have these?

Charlton Comics had their own line of horror titles and they were told in the same style as everyone else's. All seemingly inspired by the trailblazers at EC comics, the Charlton series of spooky stories consisted of titles such as GHOSTLY TALES, GHOST MANOR, HAUNTED and BEYOND THE GRAVE. Below are a series of covers for some of them.



HAUNTED #75 (1984 reprint)

BEYOND THE GRAVE #7 (January 1983 reprint)



Comic book movie adaptations were a regular occurrence back in the day. Here's one for the movie THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1986). Sometimes, movie adaptations would be broke up over several issues and other times, they'd be crammed into one 60 to 80 page comic book. The latter is the case with this one. The comic ends with the theatrical ending and not the original, downbeat ending.

Lastly, it's a couple of horror themed CONAN style comic books. One from DC and the other from Marvel.

This is ARAK, SON OF THUNDER issue #12. This issue obviously took inspiration from CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981; there's also a multi headed dog creature). This series featuring a Native American hero lasted for 47 issues.

This is CREATURES ON THE LOOSE #22. It featured the first of eight appearances by THONGOR, a character modeled after CONAN. This Marvel series frequently dealt with stories about monsters and fantasy characters. The series lasted for 37 issues. There was also to have been a live action movie in the 1970's from Amicus, the lead rival to Hammer Films, but the company went bankrupt before the film could be mounted.


Cool Ass Comics: Zombies, Leatherface and Things From Another World

This is a new column that focuses on various comic books. I figured I'd start this one off by sharing some cool horror comic covers I found while going through a bunch of comics I have in my collection. There'll be other horror comics featured here in addition to Marvel and DC comics from the 60's (my uncle gave me a huge lot of classics from the Silver Age of comics) up to the mid 90's when I ceased collecting. There were so many I never even read. I just bought them and bagged and boarded them.

This is the excellent Dark Horse Comics two part sequel to the Carpenter film. It has surreal artwork by John Higgins. It picks up right where the film ends wherein both Macready and Childs end up aboard a submarine where The Thing continues to wreck havoc leading up to something of a downbeat ending. I also got two or three of the 'Climate of Fear' series from Dark Horse based on THE THING. The cover to issue #2 is below.

This is DEADWORLD number 1 from Caliber Press. It's the first issue of volume 2 since the previous series from Arrow ceased. It's a B/W comic with color cover front and back. Those that like zombies will dig this series. The artwork is really quite nice.

This is Northstar Comics loose version of LEATHERFACE: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3. I only ever got issues #2 and #3. The artists were working from David Schow's original script for this four issue series. These comics are in color and contain spectacularly gory artwork that far outweighs anything seen in the movies.

These two LEATHERFACE comics were my first experience with comic books with such gruesome artwork in color. I used to draw a lot myself, and a lot of the pictures I drew were often kind of morbid not unlike some of the images seen in these books.

Here's FantaCo's first issue of a graphic comic of George A. Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. The stark and brooding B/W art is the work of Carlos Kastro. Unfortunately, I never got around to picking up the remaining three parts to this series.

This is FantaCo's first two issues of the cult comic, GORE SHRIEK. I first seen them in a lot of my Fangoria magazines, but bought these two at an Acme Comics in Greensboro. The artwork is all B/W.

The cover art on this issue reminds me a bit of the space creature featured in the cult gore classic, THE DEADLY SPAWN (1983).

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