Showing posts with label '80s. Show all posts
Showing posts with label '80s. Show all posts

Nov 13, 2020

WHITE FIRE (1984): THE DEFINITIVE INCESTUAL JAMES BOND RIP-OFF


 [Contains spoilers.]

Considering how often Hollywood stumbles upon a great idea and lays the groundwork for turning that great idea into a great movie, only to subsequently revisit that idea over and over with terrible sanctioned sequels or straight-up rip-offs, it’s amazing there aren’t more American-made James Bond imitations out there trekking the globe, neutralizing espionage, and generally making the genre more mediocre. It seemed filmmakers and financiers were a little less willing to borrow liberally from the imagination of author Ian Fleming and long-time Bond producer Albert Broccoli, so except for the Blaxploitation movement, which eagerly borrowed the character’s archetype of working undercover, bedding women, saving the day, and being a total bad-ass, resulting in some of the silliest movies of the sub-genre like 1977’s Black Samurai with Jim Kelly or 1973’s gender-swapping Cleopatra Jones with Tamara Dobson, you’d be hard-pressed to find many American productions riffing dangerously close to the concept. (Get Smart doesn’t count.) As usual, to find a bevy of borrowed concepts executed to shameless degrees, you’d have to go across the pond to lands near and far – and when I say far, I mean far, far from Hollywood’s trademark owners and rights-holders – to get a sweet, sweet taste of that Bondsploitation.

The Philippines had Weng Weng, a little person with a max height of 2’9” who starred in his own series of Bond-inspired spy spoofs, Agent 00 and its sequel For Your Height Only. (These are real.) If you follow cult movies with any regularity, then it won’t surprise you to know that India, too – alongside their own versions of Superman and even Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” – had ripped off the Bond series, this one flagrantly rubbing their unauthorized use of the brand in Hollywood’s faces with the aptly titled James Bond 777, described as “the adventures of Kishore, a ‘James Bond 777’ CBI agent, as he and heroine Sopa battle criminal mastermind ‘Boss’ and his gang which includes whip-cracking Jamilla and a trio of highly trained dogs.” Australia got in the game with the action caper The Man From Hong Kong in 1975, co-produced by Chinese financiers, and starring, ironically, Australia’s own native son George Lazenby, who famously took over for Sean Connery in the earliest days of the Bond franchise after the Scotsman demanded more money than producers were willing to pay. (Lazenby is the subject of a tremendous and unexpectedly hilarious documentary on Hulu called Becoming Bond – I can’t recommend it enough.) But leave it to Italy, king of the counterfeiters, in addition to their own versions of JAWS (Great White aka The Last Shark), Escape From New York (The Bronx Warriors), and Mad Max (The New Barbarians) to make not just their own Bond rip-off, but to actually have the audacity to cast – wait for it – Neil Connery, younger brother of Sean Connery and very much a real human being you didn’t know existed until just now. Known, hilariously, as O.K. Connery, Operation Kid Brother, and Operation Double 007, it even includes a handful of actors who had appeared in earlier James Bond films like DR. No’s Anthony Dawson and Bernard Lee to establish that the Italians were really going for it. (Interestingly, Connery’s character isn’t called James Bond or a remotely similar pseudonym, but rather “Dr. Neil Connery.”) Years later, in 1984, Kid Connery also appeared in China’s unrelated Mad Mission 3: Our Man From Bond Street for celebrated cult director Hark Tsui (Van Damme’s Knock Off and Double Team), in which “a master thief is duped by lookalikes for James Bond and the Queen of England into stealing a valuable gem from a heavily guarded location, then must help the police recover it.” Six of these movies were made between 1982 and 1997, released in China and America under the monikers Aces Go Places and Mad Mission, respectively, and while they were all spoofs of the Bond franchise, only one of them featured a Connery. Guess which brother.


Meanwhile, somewhere over in Turkey, a Frenchman named Jean-Marie Pallardy, director of softcore films like Erotic Diary and Hot Acts Of Love, was prepping his own take on the Bond concept, only this time with a twist. Buoyed by a pretension and grandiose self-importance of which only European filmmakers are capable, White Fire (aka Vivre Pour Survivre) takes the concept of an undercover superspy (Robert Ginty, The Exterminator series) and gives him…a sister (Belinda Mayne, from another Italian rip-off, Alien 2: On Earth), who gets involved with her brother’s missions. Our characters’ fates are written in the film’s very strange prologue, which feels like something James Glickenhaus would’ve directed while being Italian, as our young brother and sister witness the assassination of their parents by anonymous soldiers (one of which includes a pretty gnarly death by flamethrower, allowing for a fiery cameo from the director himself). Young Bo and his sister Ingrid (sometimes accidentally called “Inga” by people who should know better) grow up under the care of Sam (Jess Hahn, The Trial), “the American” who saved them as children on the beach. With his guidance, they become Turkey’s go-to brother-and-sister superspy team straight outta MI-6.

Just kidding! They become JEWEL THIEVES.

I know, I know, hang on – we’re getting there.

The siblings – the both of them, mind you, at least I think – inexplicably work at a diamond mine in the middle of a desert in Istanbul (which is misspelled on the opening title card). Apparently, I think, Bo and Ingrid have been stealing diamonds from their company for years and selling them to your usual collection of bad guys, only a higher-up at their company, Yilmaz (Gordon Mitchell), is both aware of this and in on it for reasons never explained.


Soon we meet the bad guys, headed by Sophia (Mirella Banti, Tenebrae), sometimes called “Sophie” by people who should know better, a fierce Italian crime lord. Or is it Barbossa (Benito Stefanelli), sometimes accidentally called Barbarossa by people who should know better, who is actually the one in charge? Or is it Paydin (???), a man who definitely exists in the movie but who doesn’t appear on IMDB or anywhere on the Internet? Yilmaz, it seems, is in cahoots with this shady trio, and has a deal to sell them the diamonds that Bo and Ingrid have been pilfering from the diamond mine. Say, why bother with all these extra steps? Why wouldn’t Yilmaz just steal the diamonds himself and cut out the middlemen? What in the good gravy of Turkey is going on in this movie?

White Fire throws an awful lot at you during the first five minutes of its present day, and frankly, if you’re not already lost at that point, I’m impressed. Is this entire diamond operation good or bad? Hell, are Bo and Ingrid good guys or bad guys? Is this one of those crime/caper flicks born from the era where you rooted for the thief, like Charley Varrick or The Getaway, or does director Pallardy fail to understand characterization? No justification is ever offered for why Bo and Inrid have chosen this line of work, but White Fire definitely wants us to sympathize with them regardless of how they ended up there.

Now, about that incest…


At some point during the movie’s making, Pallardy made the baffling choice to portray his two heroic siblings as being closer than normality allows. Adult Bo seems…a little too preoccupied with his sister. Mainly, her beauty. Mainly, her naked beauty after she climbs out of the pool following a skinny dip session, at which point he rips away her towel to get a glimpse of her fine flesh. “You’re not anybody’s kid sister anymore,” he says, his eyes trained on her naked form. “You know, it’s a pity you’re my sister,” he adds.

And boy, it’s weird.

Really, that’s just the beginning – merely a single instance that, if you wanted to, could be dismissed as one of those unfortunate translation hiccups that happens every so often in European/American co-productions (similar to how Liam Neeson’s Brian Mills seems overly possessive of his daughter in the first Taken, with his dialogue at times more appropriate for an eager young lover than his own progeny). On paper, there’s nothing “wrong” with this. American culture has always been more buttoned up than our European counterparts, right down to how we interact with our own families. They kiss their relations on the mouth; we don’t. Third generations see their grandparents with regularity and even live with them in greater numbers; we don’t. And, I guess, they leer at their naked sister and opine about how the only thing keeping their libido in check is their DNA; we…definitely don’t. (Insert typical redneck joke here.) Just the fact that most European statues and artwork portray naked subjects and ours have on thirty layers of stuffy clothing tells you everything you need to know about the difference in our cultures.


Because of how truly insane White Fire ends up getting, I don’t know if it’s a spoiler to tell you that Ingrid is attacked and killed by the flick’s requisite bad guy (well, gal) during the first act, and after Boris’s entire life ends emotionally, Sam does the only responsible thing he knows to do: he chooses a prostitute who looks like Ingrid (Diana Goodman), gets her plastic surgery, and trains her to mimic Bo’s departed sister, eventually – basically – replacing the departed Ingrid with this new model named Olga. Why Sam assumed that Bo’s fragile, compromised mind would be able to handle such a casually cold doppelganger switcheroo is part of what makes White Fire so goddamn fascinating. This isn’t Sam acting as the covert snake in the grass for some shadowy crime group; he’s not some mind-fuck genius like Hannibal Lecter putting the mental whammo on an already delicate target. This was just Sam being Sam because he honestly thought this was an okay and helpful idea; i.e., “Ah, jeeze, Bo’s sister died. I better get him a new one.” In fact, the closest to real, actual human that Sam gets with respect to his plan is that Ingrid had already been immersed in the shady goings-on of these bad guys (you know, the ones who KILLED HER), and they could use Olga, her replacement, by re-inserting her right back into the scheme and none of their progress would be wasted. Sam really wants to get rich! And I’m not postulating here, because he caps off the breakdown of his weirdo plan to Bo by saying, “We’d be rich!” Oh sure, Sam wants Bo to get over his pain, but he also wants them out of the smuggling game for good, and the fabled white diamond could be their ticket to retirement. It all hinges on Sam’s well assembled scheme (and I’ll paraphrase to make a point):

Bo: “The bad guys definitely shot a nail into Ingrid’s brain and she’s dead.”

Sam: “Let’s go for it anyway.”

So, are Sam and Bo calling the bad guys’ bluff, or do they think some other unrelated group of bad guys are the ones responsible for Ingrid’s death so it wouldn’t be weird when she came back from the dead? And, to sound as callous as Sam for a moment, why the hell do they need Ingrid or Olga at all? Are they incapable of working directly with the bad guys to offload their cache of stolen diamonds? White Fire, in its ongoing theme, never makes that clear.


At first, Bo is understandably dismissive of this plan – and not because Sam, his longtime father figure, could be so uncaring, but because his plan relies on a lazy sleight of hand no one would ever possibly believe: the bad guys would see the newly transformed Olga, believe her to be Ingrid, and think, “Huh…I guess she survived getting her brain shot with a nail…and also forgot about that time we shot her brain with a nail.” Piss off with that emotional turmoil: logistics – this is where Bo’s main focus lies. And he’s not wrong.

Things only get worse once the scheme is underway and Bo starts treating his replacement sister pretty poorly – again, not because he’s still mourning over Ingrid’s death and how dare this impostor think she could replace her, but more because Olga initially fails to know the things that Ingrid knew and do things in the same way that Ingrid used to do them. She is a poor student behind on her studies and he is the teacher who’s had it. During one pivotal moment, Olga loses her cool while trying to be Ingrid and rattles off a sarcastic remark about how she’ll never be as perfect as Bo’s “saintly sister,” leading Bo to slap her very hard in anger. (This is your reminder from me, your host, that we’re still supposed to be rooting for Bo in spite of this – that, at this moment, White Fire, almost offensively, wants us to throw our full emotional support behind the girl-slapping, sister-replacing, sex-pervert diamond thief.) It’s that moment in every romantic dramedy where the main couple, with their own traditions and rituals, break up in a highly dramatic manner, and then later, after one or both of them have met someone new, they see in real time how their replacement lovers fail at being the same person they’re trying to replace. That’s exactly what Bo experiences during the second act of White Fire, only this time, the former lover he’s trying to replace is his sister, and yep, we’re still in increasingly weirder and weirder territory, but things, somehow, get weirder still – and much, much cringier.


When Olga returns from her successful plastic surgery (which also sees the return of Belinda Mayne), Bo falls in love with her immediately. “I love you, Ingrid,” he says, holding her tightly…and Olga is totally fine with this – totally fine with throwing away her entire identity and serving as understudy to a dead girl she’s never met with whom her own brother seems to be in love. Moments later, Bo and Olga are on a boat where she is straddling him. He slowly undoes the straps on the front of her dress and caresses her bare breasts…as flashback scenes of an underage Ingrid play in his mind. (Sam’s just a few feet away in the hull during all this, by the way.) Whether Bo is being intentionally portrayed as someone finally able to embrace the realization that he’s in love with his dead sister, or through necessary movie machinations lacking those deeper implications that exist simply to drive the narrative forward, White Fire never specifically clarifies. (In real life, director Pallardy has been angrily dismissive of the incest theory, trying to pass off this conspiracy as puritanical Americanism, even pointing the finger at those who believe such a thing and insinuating maybe they’re the ones with sexual hang-ups. Granted, it’s ingrained in our culture to be weary of open sexuality, even though we use it to sell everything – from gigantic hoagies to kids’ clothesbut I’d like to think we’re on the ball enough to know what incest looks like.)

Weirder still, this new love isn’t presented as a conflict. This isn’t some kind of psychological malady on which Sam looks back and which forces him to realize he’s made a terrible decision in setting this whole thing in motion. This isn’t a moment where parables about accepting death come into play and shape the rest of the movie, leading Bo to realize there is no replacing a lost love, plutonic or otherwise. If White Fire is successful, then the audience will want this to happen because Bo deserves to be happy, and the romance that blossoms between him and Olga is meant to mirror that kind of surface-level, happy-ending love as depicted in most superficial romances. White Fire doesn’t want its audience to feel conflicted, and it doesn’t want them to think, “Oh, Bo, no! Don’t go down this road!” White Fire wants its audience, instead, to sigh wistfully and say, “Ah…good for them. They deserve love.”


If you think this is White Fire’s sole example of total insanity and reckless incompetence, you’re horribly wrong. All of White Fire is made with this kind of delusion where the siblings’ love isn’t nuts, or the good guys’ Ingrid/Olga-swapping plan isn’t absurd, or the bad guys’ schemes and double-crosses are totally clear, or the lead evil femme isn’t hilariously dubbed and very poorly portrayed, or the sought-after white diamond isn’t a totally useless subplot (considering it explodes at the end for absolutely no reason). Fred Williamson’s Noah eventually shows up as a kind of third-party complication looking for Olga, and he spends so much time in his own subplot that you become convinced White Fire is one of those situations where two unfinished films were edited together as one fully incomprehensible mish-mash. But nope! It was all part of the plan, I guess!

Right around now, you’re probably wondering, “this doesn’t sound like a James Bond rip-off at all.”

Well, strap it on, Moneypenny. The framework for your typical Bond picture is all right there in front of you. Right off the bat, Bo is Bond, and Ingrid/Olga are any number of Bond girls that have perished over the years, leaving Bond to wonder if the superspy world is for him. (In fact, the women in White Fire echo those from the Bond series: really only there to make shit much more complicated for the men, either through emotional sabotage or cloak-and-dagger duplicity, and they are almost entirely disposable.) Sam is “M,” Bond’s handler, mentor, and all-around paternal figure – the one who finds the missions, arranges the plays, sets Bo out into the criminal underworld while he stays behind and reaps the benefits. The diamond mine where the siblings work, only ever called “the organization,” looks less like an industrial mine and more like a post-apocalyptic bad-guy headquarters straight out of John Carpenter’s version of 1997’s New York, containing numerous shady rooms where people are tortured and executed, and where its armed guards have hilariously oversized helmets worn by the likes of Rick Moranis in Spaceballs. You’ve got the international bad guys, the espionage, the double-crosses, the triple-crosses, the sporadic fight scenes, the quippy one-liners. You’ve got the third-party frenemy in Noah, who seems like a bad guy, and possibly is a bad guy, but maybe ends up being a good guy because he helps the “siblings” out of a jam. You’ve got “the mission,” which is stealing the white fire diamond – a diamond so dangerous that it scorches the flesh of anyone who touches it – and you’ve also got what the movie is really about, which is who the hell knows? You guys, there’s a part where a hapless schmuck is tied down to an industrial table saw that inches closer and closer to his balls akin to the infamous laser beam scene from Goldfinger, only this time the poor slob doesn’t make it off the table. And if THAT wasn’t enough, you’ve got the goddamn TITULAR MOVIE’S THEME SONG.


White Fire is a mystery, and for so many reasons, chief among them: where did this movie come from? How is it possible that so many movies, either from the golden era of bad cinema (the ‘80s) like Chopping Mall or Pieces, or from the modern age like Tommy Wiseau’s The Room or James Nguyen’s Birdemic or anything Neil Breen has ever directed, can be celebrated for their turdiness, but meanwhile, something so deliciously stupid as White Fire has gone unwhispered about on street corners like the anti-Candyman? But okay, fine – sometimes movies get lost for a long time and then come roaring back, so we can put that aside and focus on the question that truly matters: WHAT is going ON in this MOVIE? Can anyone tell me? Because I’ve spent three thousand words trying to lay it all out in order and it still doesn’t make a lick of sense. 

White Fire exists in its own world and lives by its own rules, where characters repeat lines of dialogue that should’ve been removed in the editing room, offering the impression that every character has obsessive compulsive disorder. White Fire is the kind of movie where Fred Williamson carries an unlit cigar at all times, even in scenes when he’s shielding himself from gunfire and moments from death (and you just know this was Williamson’s idea: sacrifice a tiny bit more realism in exchange for looking “cool”). White Fire is the kind of movie that depicts a normally icky place like a plastic surgery clinic as a haven for girls to wander around half-naked wearing colored togas like goddesses on Mount Olympus. And oh yeah, White Fire is the kind of movie where the girl-slapping good guy wants to bang his sister but then she gets a nail shot into her brain and dies so he finds a replacement and she gets plastic surgery to look like his dead sister and then he bangs her instead.


Honestly, cataloging and transcribing all of White Fire’s irrationality is an impossible task and I’m doing you a disservice by trying; instead, you need to experience it for yourself, because along with all the crazy, it’s entertaining as hell. It hits the ground running with rampant stupidity and never lets up. From literal chainsaw fights to haphazard car chases to unflinching giallo-like violence, White Fire is non-stop, and if the plot starts to feel like it’s not coalescing in your Bond-proofed brain, don’t give a fuck because it wouldn’t make sense no matter who was looking. If you like cheesy ‘80s action flicks, European curiosities, so-bad-it’s-good trash classics, overly dramatic Italian-style quick-zooms, or another title to watch during your Robert Ginty fan club meetings, White Fire is here to make you say, “Oh, brother – I love you.”

Luckily for you, it’s now available on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.

Jul 20, 2020

THE DEAD NEXT DOOR (1989)


More zombies!

Sick of them yet?

I know I am, and not just because it's Ghouly (say it with me now: Ghoul-Eye) here at TEOS. I've been sick of zombies since the third season of The Walking Dead (the same point at which I quit that show altogether).

But perhaps you remember a time — as I do — when zombies hadn’t breached these pop culture shores beyond the every-decade release of George A. Romero’s revered zombie series. Zombies weren’t emblazoned on t-shirts or kids’ lunch boxes or burned into game apps found on tablets. They were for “weirdos” — ya know, those same “weirdos” who liked horror films in general, and enjoyed seeing heads get cut off or eaten in half.

Made on a shoe-stringiest of shoe-string budgets back over four years, The Dead Next Door finally saw a release in 1989 — another four years after the release of Romero’s own Day of the Dead, which didn’t set the box office on fire. By all accounts, whatever life there had been in the zombie sub-genre was dead. And The Dead Next Door, written and directed by J.R. Bookwalter, wasn’t going to change that.


When compared even against Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, which was made for about the price of a half a pack of cigarettes, The Dead Next Door still comes off incredibly cheap looking, so it shouldn’t surprise you that it was made for $125,000. (Okay, to put things in real perspective, Night of the Living Dead was made for about $115,000, and that was in mid-1960s dollars.) When you watch them back to back, The Dead Next Door suffers even more, but even to watch it on its own and judging it on its own merits, it still looks unbearably cheap. Damn it all if it ain’t charming, though. Lousy acting, directing, writing — nearly everything — aside, The Dead Next Door shoots for the rafters but tears the roof off the place with its impressive and unrestrained gore effects. The amount of gore on display puts to shame any of Romero’s most well-known zombie gags, though Bookwalter is obviously going for the outrageous over the cringe-inducing. Numerous characters are named after legendary horror directors — ie, Carpenter, Raimi*, etc. — so Bookwalter is obviously a genre fan at heart, and is trying to make a film akin to the more visceral from those directors’ career. (*And Raimi had better get a shout-out — he ghost-produced the film and helped fund it with whatever profits he earned from Evil Dead 2.)

Low budget films have their defenders, especially in the horror genre, and The Dead Next Door is a beloved title along the same lines as The Evil Dead and Peter Jackson’s Brain Dead (sensing a theme here?). Though it may lack those films’ directorial flair or legendary status, it’s got an awful lot of heart — and it’s flying just past your head along with all the brains.



Jul 4, 2020

RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 2 (1986)


Like all other horror franchises, Return of the Living Dead eventually lost its way, succumbing to straight-to-Sci-Fi-Channel sequel oblivion stocked with actors you’ve never heard of (and Peter Coyote) and with budgets so low that they made even Night of the Living Dead feel opulent. Some folks who profess to be horror fans don’t actually know there are a total of five films in this franchise. I don’t blame them. After the classic original film, which I consider to be the quintessential example of how to make a horror-comedy, the trajectory of the ensuing sequels were tonally all over the place, vying sometimes for a straightforward horror experience, and sometimes vying for extreme, unmatched, unprecedented stupidity. Return of the Living Dead 2, the only sequel to be financed and distributed by a major studio (Warner Bros.), is desperate to achieve the same magic tonal balancing act as its predecessor but isn’t nearly as successful.

Return of the Living Dead was very much a product of the ‘80s, filled with a bevy of absolutely delightful special effects and make-up, an inspired punk soundtrack, and a gleefully unrestrained Dan O’Bannon, who strived to push both genres to their breaking points. The teenage faction of the main cast were additionally punked out: mohawks, big hair, neon and pastel colors, leather, chains – you name it. It was very ‘80s, but a different kind of ‘80s.


The sequel wisely chose to eschew this particular punky approach (as it would have seemed even more derivative) in favor of another series of ‘80s tropes: the plucky boy hero, aerobics, and Michael Jackson. What results is a movie that feels more like its own entity rather than something sequalizing something else; Return of the Living Dead 2 is part and parcel with many other horror flicks with this sort of tone that pervaded theaters back during this magical decade. Titles like Night of the Creeps, Night of the Comet, The BlobNeon Maniacs, and more offer a very playful tone juxtaposed against creepy imagery, with all kinds of fun violence to boot. I genuinely believe that Return of the Living Dead 2’s reputation would be far more celebrated had it been released under a different title. Compared to its predecessor, it’s not nearly as fun, funny, vicious, or by default, original. But it’s not a totally dismissible effort, either. (That wouldn’t start until Return of the Living Dead 4: Necropolis.) Much of the humor still works, the entire cast is game (including Twin Peaks’ Dana Ashbrook and my longtime childhood crush, Suzanne Snyder), and the gore gags, though somewhat neutered when compared to the original, are still pretty icky/gooey for a mainstream studio release.

In an odd bit of stunt casting and surreal humor, James Karen and Thom Matthews (the doomed warehouse workers from the previous film who most certainly did not survive their encounters with the undead), appear as different characters: Burke and Hare-ish grave robbers who can’t quite put a finger on why their new zombie perils feels so…familiar. It’s a weird gag and sort of groan-inducing in its unsubtlety, but it’s still a delight to have them, and frankly is a joke that should have kept going well into the series.

Return of the Living Dead 2 is an example of a very middle-of-the-road sequel. It harps on all the high points of its predecessor without mastering any of them, but it’s still worthy of attention. I’d even go as far as to call it a highlight of the ‘80s, if you can put aside its lineage and look at it as a standalone brain-munching romp.

Jun 13, 2020

HER NAME WAS PAMELA: 'FRIDAY THE 13TH' (1980) TURNS FORTY


The Friday the 13th series will always hold a special place in my heart, regardless of how dumb it became once Paramount Pictures’ eight-film reign ended and the franchise ended up with New Line Cinema. (Jason Goes to Hell is enough to cement my point, but the remake easily earned my hatred.) As a kid, and once the calendar fell on Friday the 13th, catching a mini marathon of the series on TNT, USA Network, or what was then known as the Sci-Fi Channel was always an event. I’d fire up the VCR, grab a VHS tape from the cabinet to sacrifice, and record as many entries as I could, stretching EP mode to its breaking point. Growing up with an old-school mother, the hammer often came down on the movies I rented, so I worked with what I was given, which were edited-for-content, commercial-ridden airings of the least mother-friendly horror series on the planet. 

Slasher fans seldom point to the first Friday the 13th as their favorite series entry, or even the best, which flies in the face of how these things usually go with long-running franchises: the original is almost always the favorite, and almost always the best, but with the franchise not even introducing infamous masked killer Jason Voorhees until the second entry, nor putting him in his famous hockey mask until the third, and with the overall series also going through an odd metamorphosis that saw entries vying to be murder mysteries (Friday the 13th), grindhouse sleaze (Friday the 13th: A New Beginning), gothic monster movies of the golden age (Friday the 13th: Part VI – Jason Lives), paranormal tales (Friday the 13th: Part VII – A New Blood), or self-aware dark comedies (Jason X), it’s easy to see why certain entries appeal to certain people. Overall, and even extending into the lesser heralded New Line era, the Friday the 13th series is like a Rorschach Test: if you look deep enough, you’ll find something that calls to you.


Though Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is the most popular entry in the series (I won’t argue with that), I often feel that the 1980 original gets overshadowed and dismissed as being that weird entry where the killer is Jason’s mom instead of the marquee maniac we’d all come to love. Even with the maestro of mayhem Tom Savini in charge of the blood and guts, it doesn’t contain the same kinds of outrageous kills that the series would later feature, much like in Savini’s return to the series with The Final Chapter, or 1993’s Jason Goes To Hell, which has nothing going for it except the violence. But there are all kinds of reasons to celebrate the original, even if its own creators still admit to this day that it was a blatant rip-off of John Carpenter’s Halloween.

Friday the 13th offers an honest-to-gosh attempt at creating backstories for its characters, regardless of their superficiality. Alice (Adrienne King) has unknown and unresolved issues in California, Marcie (Jeannine Taylor) had nightmares about raining blood as a kid, Ned (Mark Nelson) is the “funny one,” etc. There’s nothing earth-shattering going on here, and except for some outward capering, their backstories come solely from dialogue and not their performances, as Halloween was so keenly able to do. But that’s okay! Post-Halloween slashers didn’t strive for much beyond a passing resemblance to real life and some nifty kill scenes, and Friday the 13th handles that with ease. Though it’s primarily known as a slasher flick today, putting yourselves into the shoes of an unknowing audience those forty years ago instead reveals a murder mystery at its core, even if clumsily handled. Halloween never played around with “who” the killer was—it’s how the flick opens—and while Friday the 13th is happy to ape Halloween’s slasher aesthetic, it’s also eager to apply a bit of Ten Little Indians, sticking a bunch of characters in an isolated spot and painting several of them as potential killers. Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer), who has a vague romantic history with Alice and seems against her leaving to return home, disappears into town just before bodies being to drop at Camp Crystal Lake, and all while driving a jeep…just like the unseen killer. Crazy Ralph (an incredible Walt Gorney) prophesizes all across town about how the camp is doomed, and how all those who stay there will “never come back again.” These red herrings aside, a cheap final act reveals the killer to be…someone who hadn’t appeared as an on-screen character until that very moment, stepping out of her jeep wearing her best church sweater: Jason’s mother (Betsy Palmer), known only then as Mrs. Voorhees. (She’d be given the name Pamela in The Final Chapter.) Though this reveal is a total cheat, in that audiences couldn’t possibly have guessed that the killer was a character they didn’t know existed (and that the on-screen hands of the killer throughout the flick are definitely a man’s—see the below image), the machinations of the film up to that point were mired in mystery, successfully keeping the audience guessing up until that “oh…” reveal.


Sean S. Cunningham does a commendable job for someone only a handful of films into his directorial career and working in the horror genre for the first time. Prior to Friday the 13th, Cunningham had worked exclusively (and amusingly) in softcore porn and family films, with one of the latter being a Bad News Bears rip-off called Here Come the Tigers. If you’re sensing a disingenuous flair with how Cunningham produced his earlier projects, you’re not wrong, but if we’re being fair, he wasn’t doing anything then that Hollywood’s not doing now.

Cast, director, and special effects aside, the real star of Friday the 13th—and almost every entry produced by Paramount—is the musical score by longtime series composer Harry Manfredini. If there were any justice in this world, the exploitative reputation of the Friday the 13th series would be forgiven and his work would be just as celebrated as the compositions in JAWS, Halloween, Phantasm, and The Omen. During this era, low-budget filmmakers were seeking cost-cutting synthesizers, but Manfredini stuck with real-live strings, giving Friday the 13th a lush and propulsive orchestral score that, if we’re being honest, the sub-genre probably didn’t deserve. (He also scored the 1986 slasher Slaughter High, where he treads much of the same very recognizable ground.)

For the last few months, fans have whispered about the rumored Friday the 13th Complete Collection that seems to be in the works, and seems to be coming from Scream Factory, which stems from a couple series veterans getting a little too loose-lipped on social media. With the series celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year, it’s a ripe time for a new collection. Until that happens, Paramount’s steelbook reissue of the first film will have to do. While its release smacks of the kind of “blood from a stone” pattern of re-releasing the same titles over and over without new content, at least the studio, once ashamed of its affiliation with the series, is acknowledging its place in cinema history and celebrating its impact on the movie-going public. Interpret that as you will.



[Reprinted from Daily Grindhouse.]

Mar 28, 2020

FRIGHT NIGHT (1985)


Cult titles are funny things. Though some film aficionados will tell you they are a genre unto themselves, instead this label reaches across the entire genre spectrum, plucking titles here and there for the requisite amount of devotion, or sometimes obsession, from its fan base. 

Think Hard Boiled, The Big Lebowski, pretty much anything John Waters has ever made, or when it comes to the horror genre, Fright Night - films that don't do extraordinarily well either with critics or audiences during their initial release, but over time begin to accumulate more and more exuberant film fans ready to quote and analyze or just cherish ad nauseam.


Despite receiving a sequel in 1988 - courtesy of Halloween III's Tommy Lee Wallace - Fright Night took kind of a while to catch on, but once it did, and outside of your more established franchises like Halloween or Friday the 13th, there has never been more devotion to a clunky, kind of silly film from the 1980s - the time in which all cinema was seemingly clunky and silly. 

By now, Fright Night has become legendary for all manner of legitimate and accidental reasons, and there are very few horror fans out there unaware, at the very least, of its plot: that of Charley Brewster (Justified's William Ragsdale) and his new neighbor, Jerry Dandridge (Dog Day Afternoon's Chris Sarandon), who wastes no time in letting slip that he's a vampire by biting a chick in front of the open window that directly faces Charley's bedroom. Since his girlfriend, Amy, and best bud, "Evil" Ed (Amanda Bearse and Stephen Geoffreys, respectively) don't believe him, Charley only has one option: to seek help from Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), former horror thespian and host of a late-night spook-show called "Fright Night" to fight this blood-fanged evil that has moved in right next door.


Fright Night is the definition of 1980s horror, and that's okay. The clothes were big, the hair was bigger, but there was also a non-pretentious charm worming its way through the entire proceeding. Writer/director Tom Holland, no stranger to the horror genre with both Child's Play and Stephen King's Thinner under his belt, shows a bit of flare in what was still the early part of his career.

For the uninitiated, Fright Night is a tough sell, as having a love for 1980s "light" horror is nearly a prerequisite, but the reliance on physical and in-camera effects was a refreshing callback to a less exacting era of cinema (that sounds like a slight, but it's not) where the mindset seemed more to be "let's make a film" rather than "I wonder how far we can push the visual effects." As someone who was always more ambivalent about this title, I was curious to see what a many-years-later viewing of the film would hold for me; while my initial misgivings about the film's uneven tone and (to me) too-long dull stretches remained unchanged, it was refreshing to find myself appreciating certain aspects that I missed the first time for whatever reason: Roddy McDowall as Peter Vincent gives the performance of the film, straddling that line between playing a total forgotten failure, to playing someone genuinely fearful, to then playing someone destined for heroism. He and Ragsdale have fine chemistry and their final fight with Dandridge and his mutant familiar, Billy, is an enjoyably slimy special effects light show. That, and the earlier mentioned charm of physical effects, left me feeling less dismissive and more disappointed that I don't share the kind of love that many, many other individuals share for this film.


Much has been said (and maybe too much) about the gay undertones present in the film: the subtle homo-eroticism between vampire Jerry and the curious Charley, who seems more interested in peering through the window at his new neighbor rather than pouncing on his girlfriend who's waiting in his bed and saying, basically, "Okay, we can sex now." Added to that would be Stephen Geoffrey's surprising foray into gay pornography in his later years, as well as Amanda Bearse's eventual coming out as a lesbian. All of this added together has painted Fright Night as "the gay vampire movie," which may or may not be accurate, depending on with whom you speak that were involved with the making of the film. (The gay theory is a common one for not-at-all-gay cinema.) While it's sincerely doubtful any of this significantly bolstered the film's infamy beyond trivial talking points, it certainly does add another layer to this film's otherwise harmless and enduring legacy.

I guess I'm a curmudgeon, but I don't see the big deal in this beloved cult title. Still, it 35 years later, it continues to climb to the top of most other genre titles released on a yearly basis that come, take a dump, and leave, and no one even remembers they were there. But Fright Night manages to live on, and as I've said before, especially about flicks that aren't my bag, remaining in the discussion this many years later is a triumph. 


Mar 21, 2020

KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988)


Alien clowns from space are packing “deadly popcorn guns and cotton candy cocoons.” It’s right there in the synopsis, people. If you don’t want to watch Killer Klowns from Outer Space based on that line alone — either again or for the first time — then no one can help you.

Lots of horror films are a huge part of my childhood. Killer Klowns from Outer Space was one of them. For a period during my late tens (that’s tens, not teens), it was almost inescapable. It played on television constantly, and the very first time I caught it, I was home from school with a fever and enjoying the rare chance to absorb daytime television. (I also saw Innerspace and The Shining under similar circumstances. If you’ve never watched The Shining while you’ve had a fever, you  haven't lived.)

Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a gas — a slice of ‘80s horror/comedy filled with bad examples of both, but still a fun title and, I’d even argue, a staple of the genre. Written and directed by the Chiodo brothers, known for their practical effects work and monstrous Hollywood creations, it should be no surprise that the most engaging aspect of Killer Klowns are the clowny creations themselves — them, their weapons, their abilities, and eventually, their spacecraft. Whatever you may think of Killer Klowns from Outer Space as a horror film or a comedy, it never fails to impress as a visual delight of imaginative and well constructed practical effects.


Killer Klowns from Outer Space was for years a video store staple and then following that a cable staple (hence my first interaction with it), and its reputation has only grown over the years. It’s very silly, almost too much at times, but goddamn if it’s not exactly as its makers intended. It’s a sly cartoon masquerading as a horror film, and the joy of seeing John Vernon (Dirty Harry, Charley Varrick), of all people, interacting with those delightful clowns from space makes it all worth it. Not hurting is the presence of Suzanne Snyder, who appeared in enough ‘80s fare (Weird Science, Return of the Living Dead 2, Night of the Creeps, Retribution) that my crush on her during a young age lasted at least through the ‘90s.

For years, the Chiodo brothers have been teasing a sequel, and it’s truly a bummer that they haven’t gotten one to materialize. ‘80s nostalgia is huge at the moment and shows no signs of going away; it’s a perfect opportunity for them to resurrect our favorite galaxial clowns for another round of greasepaint mayhem and very broad humor — before someone remakes it.

Jan 31, 2020

EVILS OF THE NIGHT (1985)


Let me set the scene for you.

It’s night. It’s summertime (I guess). The moon is full and high in the sky. Cicadas sing their songs, unseen in the tall wheatgrass.

A handsome young couple begins to softly nuzzle in the woods near a calm lake. They’ll be getting married soon. They’re in love. A big wedding is planned. She wants the big affair. He doesn’t; he wants to elope. Their disagreement threatens to ruin their calm romantic night out.

“Let’s not fight,” says the boy. “I’ve got a better idea: two lips…gathered as one.” A soft Billy Joel-ish ballad begins to play as the camera moves in close on his hand unzipping her pants. In slow motion.

It was during this moment when I realized: Evils of the Night is just the greatest.


Boy, there’s nothing like the perfect bad movie — especially when it’s horror. Blood Rage — a new favorite — comes instantly to mind. There’s also Vampire’s Kiss, Squirm, The House Where Evil Dwells, Troll 2, along with —

I’ve wasted my life.

Evils of the Night is rather simply plotted: teens at a lake become victims one-by-one to a pair of auto repair guys being paid in gold coins by humanoid aliens to kidnap people for their blood. Evils of the Night features a lot of teens. A lot. If you can keep up with all the young people who are introduced, I applaud you. And because we’ve all seen horror movies, we all know what teenagers like to do: kiss, pet, get high, and be naked. Evils of the Night, itself wanting to be different from its ilk, sets off for daring new territory. Now the teenagers, in their throes pf passion, lick each other. Constantly. They lick every part: the neck, the chest, the Adam’s apple, or nipple (man or woman’s). Sometimes they like to lick all around each other’s mouths while kissing; like an eager child learning to ride a bike for the first time, the enthusiasm is there, but the skill is yet to be honed.


This makes Evils of the Night supreme, along with sample dialogue amusingly taken out of context:
  • “Alright! Now we can get high!”
  • “You gonna tease me all night, or can I get a little action this time?”
  • “Where’s my surprise?” “First, let me clean the sand off.”
  • “I’ve got to go see a man about a dog!” “What?” “I’ve gotta go to the john!”
  • “No tongue, it makes me laugh.”
  • “Why are you touching my nipples like that?” (asks a dude.)
  • “Calm down — I’ll definitely call the police! Come on in.” ::a scream::
Even completely innocent lines of dialogue somehow become hilarious within the confines of this utter cinematic insanity:
  • “Do we have any Pepsi left, Eddie?”
If you were to tell your mother that you were about to watch a film starring Aldo Ray, Julie Newmar, Tina Louise, John Carradine, and Neville Brand, she would probably say, “Ooh, can I watch it with you?”

Don’t let her.


Because amidst all the scenes of blood theft, murders, and John Carradine expositing to the other aliens exactly what it is the aliens are doing, even though you’d think they should know by now, since they’re aliens (“Just think, Cora: without these platelets, your bones will eventually grow fragile and break within a hundred years, but WITH them, you could live 200 years or more”), Evils of the Night also features: hilarious doggy style, unwitting necrophilia, teenagers running around in their underwear, hospitals inexplicably taken over by an alien race that no one seems to notice, sexy alien orderlies threatening to seduce each other in the hallway because they’re in between utilitarian alien tasks, suggestive and unsubtle banana consumption, duel lesbian suntan-lotion-rubbing, and finally, a crop of dry blonde hair swirling about in the gentle surface of the lake as she services her man underwater.

But above all of this madness, and all the things that make Evils of the Night so deliciously and ironically transcendent — the budget Cyndee Lauper knockoff soundtrack that goes ♬ “Boys will be boys, they will always be that way, boys will be boys, they just wanna play!” ♬; and the multiple scenes of aliens firing alien lasers from their special alien rings directly into the writhing bodies of underwear-clad teens — there lies the glue that holds all of Evils of the Night together. She is the heart and soul. For every wide-eyed look of shock and surprise levied directly into the camera, or every line of dialogue intended for her cast-mates, but aimed at space itself, you will know you are witnessing something unique, rare, and defining.

She is beautiful. She is blonde. She is…Connie.


Essayed by professional actress G.T. Taylor, Connie is the horror heroine the genre had been looking for since 1978’s Laurie Strode. Someone cunning, intelligent, forthright, and brave. Someone willing to believe that mud and seaweed applied by two horny boys is great for the skin. Someone who daydreams about making love to Prince Andrew. Someone eager to host a hand-burning contest. Someone who shies at the mere idea of a penis.

The performance — one seemingly laden with lithium, helium, and delirium all at once — is one that went on to define the genre. This cinematic portrayal of good, fighting against all this evil, was a butterfly effect with neutron bomb-sized ramifications which would transform the genre, the medium, even the world from thence on, elevating it into the next plateau of awakening. You see, Connie is us; we are Connie. She embodies us all at our most vulnerable, but also at our most resilient. She’s taught us everything we’ll ever need to know about each other, and ourselves. She’s taught us never to give in, never to surrender. We will not go quietly into the night. We will not vanish without a fight. We’re going to live on. We’re going to survive. Tonight we celebrate…Connie.

Please, before we go, let us take a brief detour to IMDB for actress G.T. Taylor’s official filmography:


Very impressive.
  
The day I saw Evils of the Night, my life changed forever.

Because I’d met Connie, the blond-haired, pin-striped, kewpie-doll-voiced angel who proved she’d fight to the death with a power drill to save her friends, all while fantasizing about wanting…you know…an O.

Evils of the Night is not just a gift from the bad movie gods, but it’s one of the nicest times I’ve ever had.

Jan 29, 2020

MICROWAVE MASSACRE (1983)


Have you seen Microwave Massacre?

Jesus. It's terrible, isn't it?

Cut from the same cloth as Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, but with far more classless humor and dialogue, Microwave Massacre is a 76-minute eternity crafted entirely of terrible one-liners and even more terrible special effects. Boasting a healthy 3.6 on IMDB and a too-high 33% on the usually less-forgiving Rotten Tomatoes, Microwave Massacre is one of those films commonly accepted as "the worst of all time." Watching it, it's easy to see why.


Obviously intended as a starring vehicle for Rodney Dangerfield, who wisely said "no" to this thing louder than someone eats popcorn at the movies, your lead maniac is instead played by Jackie Vernon, who apparently existed only to ape Dangerfield's one-liner style but with absolutely none of the pulse.

Within the first five minutes, we get a man unpacking a full, uncooked crab out of his lunch box, an extremely stereotypical gay construction worker, and bare breasts shoved through a hole in a wall (not counting the padded-out opening credits sequence also complemented by a close-up on swaying breasts). And if you think this is just the film finding its footing before embarking on a more traditional, less exploitative path, well brother, you ain't seen Microwave Massacre.


Microwave Massacre is 76 minutes of Jackie Vernon making awful one-liners to himself, with no one else around to hear them, all while wrapping up body parts with tin foil and shoving them into his refrigerator. You'd think I was just exaggerating, but no, that's really all this is. Sure, he kills the occasional girl while making extremely derogatory and misogynistic comments toward/about them, but that doesn't exactly make the film sound any more appetizing. If it does, you're an asshole, and Microwave Massacre was made for you.

For those who have never seen Microwave Massacre and are considering a blind-buy, holy shit, I have no idea how to guide you. Do you like Troma? The Sharknado films? Are you a fool? If so, then I dunno--you might still hate it. But it'll be a good conversation starter when someone begins looking through your collection and inevitably stops on the spine and inquires, "Is this for real?"

As a film, Microwave Massacre deserves an utter zero, but I gave it a half-point because I laughed exactly once (the punchline for the drive-thru gag) and I was feeling charitable. 

Microwave Massacre deserves to be beaten and left for dead in a hole, but fans of terrible humor, DIY gore gags, and hating themselves might find some enjoyment.



Jan 27, 2020

NIGHT SCHOOL (1981)


In spite of the very profitable ‘80s-era boom of the slasher film, Warner Bros. weren’t eager to get into the blood ‘n guts game. While Paramount owned the playing field with the Friday the 13th series, as well as one-offs like My Bloody Valentine and April Fools Day, and New Line Cinema was keeping up with their Nightmare on Elm Street series, Warner Bros. observed all this from afar and decided it just wasn’t their thing. From their point of view, how could the studio that released The Shining and The Exorcist consider greenlighting something like The Prowler or Blood Rage?

However, they would later acquire the home video rights for two notable exceptions — the first being Paramount’s 1980 slasher He Knows You’re Alone!*, which is notable only because it features a very early appearance by Tom Hanks, and the second being 1981’s Night School, originally bankrolled by MGM and United Artists. Both of these titles, ironically, have something very much in common: dullness. 


In keeping with Warners’ then-general distaste for and avoidance of the subgenre, Night School doesn’t exactly play out like your more exploitative and silly slasher titles, such as Slaughter High or The Mutilator. While it certainly features a masked killer literally slashing at his victims until their heads fall off, Night School instead puts a much heavier emphasis on the police investigation aspect, which sees one Lt. Austin (Leonard Mann) chasing down leads and interviewing witnesses and potential suspects. It’s clear throughout that director Ken Hughes is trying to take a slasher script and turn it into an actual bonafide film, and of course that’s absolutely laudable, but when your tagline is “A is for Apple, B is for Bed, C is for Co-ed, D is for Dead, F is for Failing to Keep Your Head!,” well, your audience is going to be expecting something different.

On its surface, Night School should scratch that itch: it features the aforementioned masked killer, several graphic murder sequences, some flying or sinking heads, and a handful of (deeply unusual) sexual trysts, but they’re weaved throughout a too-normal and uninteresting detective mystery that detracts from the ideal slasher flick experience. Night School is a house divided amongst itself and it tries to be more than the sum of its parts (and other things I remember from elementary school), and for that it gets an F haha! No, I’m kidding — Night School was the cinematic version of me in high school: a solid C student. And like me, if you don’t expect too much, maybe you won’t be disappointed.



* Via Wiki: “The film marked the first movie appearance of actor Tom Hanks, who played a relatively small part. In fact, it was said that Hanks’ character was originally written to be killed off with Nancy’s character, but because the filmmakers liked him so much, they omitted filming his death scene for the film.” 

Even forty years ago, Tom Hanks was still too damn likable.

Jan 25, 2020

PSYCHOS IN LOVE (1987)


Right off the bat it’s clear that Psychos in Love is operating on a nearly non-existent budget. Somewhat shot to look like a documentary (sometimes, anyway – director Gorman Bechard seems to play fast and loose with this concept and what’s supposed to be documentary footage vs. narrative gets a little lost), Psychos in Love’s full-screen presentation with basement level audio (high-def presentation aside) complements the mostly true-life nature toward which its striving. Black and white interview segments with its lead psychos lend itself to this docudrama look very well, and also help to set the tone pretty quickly.

Psychos in Love begins on shaky ground as the audience has to take a step back and realize they’re not about to witness an A-list, even modestly budgeted genre flick. Everything is very raw, and there’s an obvious DIY aesthetic throughout, but the performances by our leads are very naturalistic. What might be most surprising about Psychos in Love is how often the comedy works, and that sounds like a dismissive thing to say about a film that bills itself as a horror-comedy, but so very often the words “low budget” and “horror-comedy” only lead to pain. As one might imagine, the comedy often lends itself to the dark and morbid, but sometimes the film takes a step back and rests on older, broader comedy. The marriage scene leans on Abbot and Costello’s most famous routine, but still manages to wrench some honest laughs out of it, and there’s an even better scene set at the bar where psycho Joe is having a duel conversation with both psycho Kate and a random Asian man in the back of the action – one of those “how long are they going to keep this bit going?” kind of things – and it left me pretty tickled.


Above all Psychos in Love does manage to be sweet on top of the murder and mutilations (and there are plenty of those), and leads Carmine Capobianco (also the film’s co-writer) and Debi Thibeault are easily likable, with Capobianco showing off a natural affability.

I have to admit, intriguing premise aside, I didn’t think I was going to enjoy Psychos in Love as much as I did. I’m a self-admitted snoot, and I tend not to go out of my way to see this level of low budget horror — and one that’s billed as a horror/comedy, forget it. Time and time again I’m proven wrong for this when I cross paths with something surprisingly well made like Psychos in Love.

For those of you out there lucky enough to be paired up with a horror-loving partner, Psychos in Love makes for the ideal date-night movie. Just leave expectations for a glossy production at the door.

Jan 23, 2020

DEMON WIND (1989)


I have to wonder why films like Night of the Demons and House are so celebrated, but meanwhile, Demon Wind has remained so obscure. Every bit as silly, gory, teen-douched, and well-intended as those other titles, it should have been destined for the same kind of infamy and video store-stoked adoration. It scratched that VHS-era itch with all the usual stalwarts one would come to expect from the genre: ghastly effects, over-the-top gore, hapless teens in peril, a dash of nudity, and skeletons.

For fans with a love for Night of the Demons or Demons/Demons 2, Demon Wind could be the newest love of your life, thanks to its practical effects, rubber and foam monsters, and lots and lots of blood and goo.

Demon Wind is made with the same kind of authenticity as the original Evil Dead while also borrowing a little of its aesthetic. (And plot.) (And tone.) (And look.) To call it a bold-faced ripoff might be taking things a bit far, but I’d feel pretty confident in saying that Demon Wind probably wouldn’t exist without The Evil Dead. It balances the horror and the drama in the same way, striving to concoct legitimately eerie imagery without the foresight to know that while the filmmakers were hoping to create things from your deepest, darkest nightmares, they were instead creating something that’s going to look just a touch silly.


You pretty much know the caliber of acting you’re going to get with a production of this size (read: not big) and the sub-genre in which Demon Wind exists (read: rubber monsters), but again, this only adds to the flavor of the film’s overall experience. Your lead hero, Cory (Eric Larson), looks uncannily like Emilio Estevez and coincidentally brings about the same kind of sincerity, even doing better here than Bruce Campbell did during his own maiden descent into demonic territory. Everyone after that exists on a sliding scale, with some performances ranking very below average.

Amusingly, Demon Wind just keeps introducing teen characters to the conflict, and after having digested enough of these kinds of films from this era, you can’t help but smile because you know every single one of these kids are going to die gloriously. Even as Demon Wind begins to run out of demon fodder halfway through, it introduces two more characters who were “late” following Cory’s initial invitation and who don’t last for too long once they get out of the car. (Also look for an early-career appearance from Lou Diamond Phillips as one of the many demons.)

If you’re the kind of person who used to wander up and down the horror aisle of the video store during the golden VHS era but Demon Wind has somehow evaded you all these years (as it did me), rectify that. It’s the kind of silly but imaginative (and gory) horror flick you would have stayed up late to watch with friends once your parents had gone to bed. One could never reasonably call Demon Wind good but it is fun, and when you’re dealing with a horde of zombies and animated cow skulls and succubi that leave nothing to the imagination, that’s all you could ever ask for.