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
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