Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Horror High (1974) review


Pat Cardi (Vernon Potts), Austin Stoker (Lt. Bozeman), Rosie Holotik (Robin Jones), John Niland (Coach McCall), "Mean" Joe Greene (Policeman)

Directed by Larry N. Stouffer

The Short Version: This low budget horror revenge movie is a sleazier version of the 'Jekyll & Hyde' story about a tormented boy and his guinea pig. Stouffer's movie paints the world as a dirty place filled with uncouth and vile people that deserve everything they get. The proceedings are dubious and unrealistic, yet the film has some imaginative camera angles and some despicable villains. Exploitation lovers take note.

Vernon Potts is a nerdy outcast at his high school and the target of cruel pranks and bullying by not only his classmates, but the teachers as well. Working on some peculiar serum for his pet guinea pig, Mr. Mumps, the liquid turns the tiny rodent into a wild animal that kills the janitors cat. Discovering his animal dead, the janitor forces Vernon to drink his own potion turning him into an enraged and incredibly strong half human monster in the process. The put upon young man then proceeds to massacre those that have wronged him while the police attempt to find and take down the killer stalking the hallways.

Yet another off the wall sleaze picture has made its way to a legitimate DVD release in America with more extras than some more recent mainstream fare. Another semi lost oddity from Code Red, it's a shame if they go the way of the dinosaur as there's still far too many intriguing and enjoyably bad movies left to unearth. Aside from the conviction the actors put forth when getting killed onscreen, HORROR HIGH has mostly mediocre acting across the board. That's why it's most strange to see Austin Stoker (Carpenter's ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13) in this. He seems to have wandered in off the set of BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (1973) and decided to hang out for a while and play the lead detective.

He's good, too, and stands out from all the amateurishness around him. The violence and vicious characters in the picture is what holds it together. It would seem that the makers of EVILSPEAK (1982) were inspired by this film as it contains many similar elements. Not only are Vernon's classmates bullies, but his teachers are tormentors, too, and very cruel. Also like that later devil movie, Vernon's one true friend is an animal; Mr. Mumps, the guinea pig. One girl, named Robin, does seem to have some friendly affection for him, though. That she dates one of the jocks doesn't make things any easier for our four eyed friend.

Aside from resembling 50's monster flicks like I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957) and HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER (1958), the film's main forebear would be DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE. Students in a classroom are even watching a version of it at the outset of the film. When Vernon gets a dose of his own serum, he turns into something resembling a less hairy werewolf with super strength and murder on his mind. The school appears to reside in an alternate universe. The victims seem to be inside the building after hours for whatever reason and violence occurs during daytime hours yet no one is ever around to put a stop to it. There's even a gigantic barrel of sulphuric acid in the chemistry classroom.

The score is also a strange stew of various musical styles. On one hand you got these ear piercing symphonic stings, bizarre sounds, melancholy ballads and funky beats. Believe it or not, there's even an instrumental piece that sounds like the 1972 hit, Loggins & Messina's 'Your Mama Don't Dance'. The gore is passable if rudimentary, but plentiful and in some instances, brutal and shocking. Fingers and heads are sliced off, faces are melted with acid and chest is crushed into pulp are among the bloody bits. In addition, the film frequently features odd camera angles and unusual lighting for added spooky effect. Also, you'll find NFL football stars John Niland and "Mean" Joe Greene among the cast. Reportedly, the 1987 movie-within-a-movie mishmash, RETURN TO HORROR HIGH, was supposed to have been a sequel to this picture.

Although wholly improbable, this sleazy stew has an alluring charm that allows it to go down easy. Maybe it's the nasty characters and the desire to see them get their comeuppance? Whatever the case, this grim and graphic revenge cheapie is recommended viewing for rabid 70's horror buffs. Code Red strikes yet again offering the complete and uncut version with some welcome extras including commentary and interviews. It's not a great movie, but does have some nice touches that belie its meager budget. It's a movie that will be best appreciated by the most hardened 70's horror enthusiasts.

This review is representative of the Code Red DVD

Doctor Death: Seeker of Souls (1973) review


John Considine (Dr. Death), Barry Coe (Fred Saunders), Cheryl Miller (Sandy), Stewart Moss (Greg Vaughn), Leon Askin (Thor), Moe Howard (Volunteer), Florence Marly (Tana)

Directed by Eddie Saeta

The Short Version: Thoroughly enjoyable obscure horror rarity featuring an infinitely memorable grand guinol style lead villain. Saeta may have never directed another movie, but he makes this sole entry deliciously memorable and fun. Without John Considine as Dr. Death, it's unlikely the film would be as good as it is. A hidden gem of 70's horror.

Fred Saunders, unhealthily distraught over his wife's death tries various avenues to bring her back from the dead. When seances prove false and a ghastly Brotherhood of the Dead proves deplorable, Fred learns of a man who professes to be able to transfer souls from one body to another utilizing a magical serum. Named Dr. Death, Fred seeks his assistance. After realizing the devilish doctor isn't above murder, Fred decides against the procedure after the first attempt fails. However, the thousand year old Dr. Death must learn why the corpse refused the soul. With no intentions of going away, the bodies of beautiful women begin stacking up.

This rarity from the swinging 70's perfectly captures that decades swanky style and flamboyantly colorful outfits. Director Saeta had never directed a horror film before, but makes his debut outing count. This also appears to have been his sole movie directing gig (outside of numerous work as an AD). Apparently, the COUNT YORGA films were very much an inspiration on this motion picture. Dr. Death has a brutish assistant named Thor that recalls Brudah from the YORGA movies and there's definitely a PHIBES vibe present, too.

Considine is a really far out freaky dude decked out in his flashy duds. He's got a comically memorable look about him and some of his lines, while healthily delivered, are worthy of a Grand Cheese Award (I command you! Get into that body!!). There's also a nice smattering of gore including a poor woman who's cut in half in suitably gory fashion. This scene reminded me a lot of H.G. Lewis's THE WIZARD OF GORE (1970). Moe of THE THREE STOOGES, Moe Howard, has a small role during this sequence so the Stooge lovers in the audience will get a kick (and a finger in the eye) out of spotting him in the crowd.

Moe Howard, formerly the head STOOGE, lends his ear to this dead woman's breast...more than once...he has to make sure, you know

The movie is occasionally all over the place, but this works in its favor as Considine manages to maintain audience attention at all times. His suave demeanor commands it. There's virtually no one to root for as the character of Fred Saunders (at first at least), seems to be a bit unhinged himself, which leaves things soul-ley (haha) in the court of Dr. Death to carry the movie. But again, the movie works best when Considine is onscreen which is the bulk of the picture. Frequently resembling a gory TV movie of the week, this, too, aids the production lending it a quirky charm. There's also some genuinely light funny moments present. One wonders just how this entertainingly garish horror film managed to stay under the radar for so long.

Adding layers to this lovingly chintzy movie is a nifty back story about Dr. Death and how long he's been around told with inspired voiceover from Considine and visualized through tinted flashbacks and a smoke enshrouded sequence showcasing the various bodies Dr. Death has occupied throughout the centuries. This bit also reveals Dr. Death to possess (haha) a twisted sense of humor throughout his torrid and lustful existence.

"This child kisses better when she's dead than Tana did when she was alive!"

There's also an unmistakable air of necrophilia involving the character of Fred. At the beginning after his wife has died, he demands her tomb to never be locked. Moments later, we see him preparing to kiss her corpse as the screen fades to black. Over halfway through, Saunders begins to exhibit something resembling normality as he begins a relationship with his beautiful blonde secretary.

Stewart Ross (right)

Fans of STAR TREK (the original series) will recognize Stewart Moss as Greg. He was an ill fated crewman in 'The Naked Time' and one of the ruthless aliens in 'By Any Other Name'. The score by Richard LaSalle is boisterously Hammeresque in places and adds to the enjoyment of this gloriously silly romp.

This little discussed low budgeter will hopefully garner some new fans and also attract the attention of those who may have seen the film at some point over the years. A ton of fun, horror lovers searching for some undiscovered cheap thrills would do well to seek out DOCTOR DEATH.

This review is representative of the Scorpion Releasing DVD

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