National Lampoon’s Class Reunion (1982)

Article 4025 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-6-2012
Directed by Michael Miller
Featuring Gerrit Graham, Michael Lerner, Misty Rowe
Country: USA
What it is: Slasher comedy

A high school class reunion is crashed by a former student, the victim of a cruel prank, who went insane and now seeks revenge.

The most famous movie with the “National Lampoon” moniker on it is, of course, NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE, a movie that is considered a genuine comedy classic. I’m going to confess right now that, despite its reputation, that movie left me cold; I remember laughing twice at it. So if their acknowledged classic left me cold, how do you think I’ll feel about this one, which died at the box office and suffered from horrible reviews? For one thing, I’m not going on any campaign to change this movie’s reputation; outside of a single joke that raised a smile (and, much as I hate to admit, it’s probably the most disgusting joke in the movie), I found it obnoxious and desperate. The script (by John Hughes, who would go on to bigger and better things but had to start somewhere) is a major culprit, but not the biggest one; the sloppy execution and uninspired direction are what really sink this one. It’s almost as if the movie wants to get by on energy and good intentions without taking the trouble of actually trying to get individual moments to work. There’s lots of bizarre characters floating around (including a vampire and a former cripple who overcame her problem by making a pact with the devil), but the only ones I found genuinely amusing were the two stoners. It certainly doesn’t work as a parody of the slasher genre; it makes no good use of the various conventions and cliches of the form. All in all, this is just one big, loud, bad comedy.

Night Terror (1977)

Article 3900 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-8-2012
Posting Date: 4-18-2012
Directed by E. W. Swackhamer
Featuring Valerie Harper, Richard Romanus, Nicholas Pryor
Country: USA
What it is: Thriller

A woman, forced to undertake a long night drive when her son is taken to the hospital, witnesses the murder of a police officer by a criminal. She then finds herself in danger of her life as the criminal sets out after her.

The casting of Valerie Harper as the female lead in this thriller is actually quite clever, though I didn’t realize this at first; I was a little put off by the fact that she played her character as an absent-minded ditz. But the characterization serves a dual purpose; for one thing, it gives us strong character reasons why her decisions during her ordeal are occasionally wrong-headed, and it also plays into a subtle feminist theme hidden in the movie, and which I didn’t realize until the final scene. I’m not sure whether the movie as a whole qualifies as horror or not; a lot depends on how you interpret the actions of the killer. An early scene establishes that he’s involved in some sort of criminal activity (the nature of which is never clearly stated), so his motivations may be purely to cover up a crime. But the movie also establishes that his hot temper causes him to engage in activities that might be termed “psychotic”, and the creepiness involved in the fact that he can only speak through a larynx box (used sparingly in the movie) does give the movie a horror feel as well. The plot itself is heavily reliant on coincidence; in fact, there are times where the foibles and setbacks of both the woman and the criminal give it all a slight air of black comedy. Nevertheless, it doesn’t keep the movie from working as a nifty thriller in its own right, and you’ll really end up admiring the resourcefulness of the heroine.

Next of Kin (1984)

NEXT OF KIN (1984)
Article 3899 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-7-2012
Posting Date: 4-17-2012
Directed by Tony Williams
Featuring Jacki Kerin, John Jarratt, Alex Scott
Country: Australia / New Zealand
What it is: Unusual horror thriller

A young woman inherits an estate that has been converted to a rest home. However, she begins to find that events occurring on the estate are very familiar to those in her mother’s diary… and that the place holds a terrible secret.

I found this movie on YouTube, though I notice that the running time is a couple of minutes short of the time on IMDB. I mention this because this is the type of movie where a couple of missing minutes may actually matter a great deal in the enjoyment of the movie. The movie unfolds very slowly, almost like a character piece; it isn’t until the final third that it becomes a full-blown horror movie. Still, the movie does an impressive job of keeping an eerie atmosphere going even when nothing is explicitly happening; in particular, I like the way it uses water and water motifs to add to the sense of unease. My initial reaction after I finished watching the movie was that the first two-thirds of the movie doesn’t adequately prepare you for the horror of the final third, which initially feels like it comes out of nowhere. However, upon reflection, I sense it isn’t coming out of nowhere, and the user comments reflect that the mystery aspects of the story are as important as the horror aspects. This is why the missing two minutes could be important; since the movie doesn’t hand you information on a plate but makes you pay attention and put the pieces together, those missing two minutes could be crucial. At any rate, I’ll say this; though I can’t say I was totally satisfied with this one on first viewing, it is one of those movies that could indeed get better with a second viewing, and it’s interesting enough that I might just give it one one of these days.

Night of the Cobra Woman (1972)

Article 3832 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-31-2012
Posting Date: 2-10-2012
Directed by Andrew Meyer
Featuring Joy Bang, Marlene Clark, Roger Garrett
Country: USA / Philippines
What it is: Bizarre snake woman thriller

During World War II, a nurse is bitten by a rare snake that gives her eternal life as long as she gets a combination of sex and snake venom to keep her going. However, new problems arise when her snake is killed and her supply of venom stolen…

Though I would hardly call this a “good’ movie (it’s badly directed and some of the acting is awful), the movie has such a bizarre premise and a strange story line that it almost becomes fascinating despite itself. The story eventually degenerates into confusion, but there are some grotesquely interesting moments, such as the scene where the cobra woman sheds her skin like a snake. At times it almost comes across as a comedy, but that may be due to the awkward direction. In fact, the whole movie comes across as awkward in one way or another, but somehow that just adds a bit more to the fascination. And let’s face it; any movie that features an actress named Joy Bang and an actor named Slash Marks (the latter’s only movie) is one to be reckoned with. Probably the most familiar face to me here was Vic Diaz, who popped up in THE BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT. Strange, strange, strange.

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971)

aka La notte che Evelyn usci dalla tomba
Article 3826 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-25-2012
Posting Date: 2-4-2012
Directed by Emilio Miraglia
Featuring Anthony Steffen, Marina Malfatti, Erika Blanc
Country: Italy
What it is: Horror story with twists and turns

A troubled Lord, haunted by the death of his wife, picks up red-headed prostitutes and kills them. Eventually he decides that he can escape the haunting if he marries again. But this starts a whole new chain of horror…

I’ll give this movie a certain amount of credit for continually managing to get more complex as it goes along without giving the game away early on. It starts out looking like it’s going to be like a sixties-style Italian horror movie (only with more nudity than they could get away with earlier), but it doesn’t stop there, eventually having as many twists and turns as a giallo. Still, though I admire the structure somewhat, I’m afraid I really didn’t find the whole journey a lot of fun, and once I think back on the plot as a whole, I start wondering about the purpose or necessity of certain scenes; for one thing, I’m not sure I can find a really good reason for the lord’s second wife trying to establish whether his first wife is still in her tomb. In the end, it’s a movie I more admire than like.

The New House (1972)

Pilot episode of “Ghost Story”
Article 3789 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-18-2011
Posting Date: 12-29-2011
Directed by John Llewelyn Moxey
Featuring David Birney, Barbara Perkins, Sam Jaffe
Country: USA
What it is: A ghost story, of course

A man and his pregnant wife move into a new house. The wife hears strange sounds and believes the place to be haunted. She discovers the house was built on the site of a gibbet, and that the last execution there was from a young woman who was also buried on the site. Could this woman be haunting the house?

So why am I covering an episode of a TV show that isn’t even feature length? According to the John Stanley book, there was a TV-Movie called DOUBLE PLAY, which featured pilot episodes for two series – this one, and the one from the show “Movin’ On”. Why these two shows were combined in a single movie is beyond me; the other show was about two truckers and apparently had no fantastic content. Given that IMDB does not have a listing for DOUBLE PLAY, I chose to represent it in my hunt list by the episode from “Ghost Story”. When the pilot episode showed up within easy reach of me (I found it on YouTube), I did a similar search for the “Movin’ On” episode and came up blank. I made an executive decision; instead of holding up my review to find an episode of a TV show that had no fantastic content and that I wasn’t particularly keen on hunting down in the first place, I decided to watch the one with the fantastic content and be done with it. Yes, I suppose I’m cheating a little, but it’s not the first time.

The show itself was produced by William Castle (and I believe I caught him in a cameo early on) and was an anthology series, with a different story each week. If the ratings on IMDB are a gauge, this one was of average quality for the series. I wasn’t particularly impressed with it myself; the setup of the story seemed pretty rote to me, the attempts to add suspense seemed hackneyed (you know, where they try to make the final scenes scarier by having it take place during a thunderstorm) and the final twist was a little more silly to me than scary. Still, it might be interesting to see a few other episodes of the series just to see if they do something more with the framing sequences featuring Sebastian Cabot. As it is, I can’t place this episode on the same level as William Castle’s better movies.

Night of the Ghoul (1975)

aka The Ghoul
Article 3771 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-29-2011
Posting Date: 12-11-2011
Directed by Freddie Francis
Featuring Peter Cushing, John Hurt, Alexandra Bastedo
Country: UK
What it is: House with a dark secret

A flapper gets involved in a road race that leaves her stranded at a mansion located in a marsh. What she doesn’t know is that the mansion holds a dreadful secret…and it may cost her her life.

There’s a scene in this film where the woman looks at a photograph of a woman who is supposed to be the dead wife of Peter Cushing’s character. According to the trivia section on IMDB, that photograph was of Peter Cushing’s real wife, who had died shortly before filming began. If nothing else, this explains why there’s something terribly moving about Cushing’s performance in this movie; the grief is very real indeed. I only wish it had been in a better movie. Plotwise, this is pretty standard fare; it’s of the “madman in the attic” variety, and there’s not much here that hasn’t been done before. It does, however, have a strong level of unpleasantness, at least partially due to John Hurt’s performance as a truly repulsive character. The biggest disappointment comes at the end of the movie; if you’re going to try to ratchet up the suspense value of not showing a character’s face throughout most of the movie, than you’d better be able to provide a good jolt when you do show it, and the revelation is truly anticlimactic.