Film Review: Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)

Also known as: Communion (original title), Holy Terror (edited version), The Mask Murders (reissue title), Sweet Alice (Sweden)
Release Date: November 12th, 1976 (Chicago International Film Festival)
Directed by: Alfred Sole
Written by: Rosemary Ritvo, Alfred Sole
Music by: Stephen J. Lawrence
Cast: Linda Miller, Mildred Clinton, Paula Sheppard, Niles McMaster, Brooke Shields

Harristown Funding, Allied Artists, 98 Minutes, 108 Minutes (unrated version)

Review:

“She is a weird little girl. Did you notice her tits? When I put the tube around her she looked at me, like she wanted me to feel her up.” – Detective Cranston

Many people try to debate over which movie was the first slasher film. While this one isn’t it, it does predate Halloween by a few years. Although, it did come out after Black Christmas. But to me, none of those are the first and I feel like slasher films were born out of Italian giallo. The reason I even bring that up is that this is considered a slasher movie, and it is, but it has a strong resemblance to the giallo style.

This isn’t an Italian picture though. In fact, it was made in New Jersey. But it very strongly takes its cues from the films of Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and others.

It’s lacking the visual allure of giallo, as it has a more natural and muted color palate but the story structure, the violence and the general tone just fits well with those cool flicks.

The story is about a little girl who is believed to have horribly murdered her younger sister in the church during her first communion. While things aren’t quite what they seem in this movie, the little girl is a real shit and she’s certainly pretty fucked in the head.

However, this seems to be more about tapping into the fear of the nuclear family breaking down in American society. It also might be a critique on the Catholic church. Many people seem to think so. Personally, I think it’s just a story that happens to take place in and around the Catholic church, which has a big presence in New Jersey and the Northeast in general, especially in the ’70s.

All things considered, this is a film that probably shocked some of its audience in its day but it’s hardly as shocking as a lot of the exploitation movies that were at their peak in the same decade. All the things that would’ve caught people off guard all stem from the fact that the title character is a young child.

This isn’t really gory. There’s some blood but the worst stuff is more implied and happens once the camera cuts away. That could also be due to the budget of the production.

Overall, this was a cool movie to check out. It has some cult status among ’70s horror aficionados but it doesn’t really hit the mark for me. At least, it doesn’t reach the heights of the best giallo pictures and I certainly wouldn’t put this above Black Christmas or Halloween.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other ’70s slasher pictures and Italian giallo.

Film Review: The Big Sleep (1978)

Also known as: Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (UK)
Release Date: March 13th, 1978 (new York City premiere)
Directed by: Michael Winner
Written by: Michael Winner
Based on: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Music by: Jerry Fielding
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, Richard Boone, Candy Clark, Joan Collins, Edward Fox, James Stewart, Oliver Reed

Winkast Film Productions, ITC Entertainment, United Artists, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains!” – Philip Marlowe

I never saw this film until now but I had assumed that it was a proper sequel to Farwell, My Lovely, a film that came out three years earlier and also starred Robert Mitchum as the famous literary private dick, Philip Marlowe.

However, this is its own thing, as this takes place in a contemporary setting, as opposed to being a period piece like the previous movie.

Still, this makes Robert Mitchum the only actor to play Marlowe more than once in a feature film.

Overall, this is a star studded affair with James Stewart, Richard Boone, Oliver Reed, Joan Collins, Sarah Miles and Candy Clark in it. And honestly, everyone does a pretty fine job with the material and you do become invested in most of the characters.

This film is pretty harsh, though. Especially when compared to other films about Marlowe, especially the older version of The Big Sleep, which starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. And while this is a modernized noir, it’s grittiness is over the top and it loses some of the luster that the Marlowe movies had when they were traditional film-noir from the ’40s.

I did like this for what it was and it’s worth checking out at least once for fans of noir and Mitchum. However, it seems like it is trying to be edgy while not fully committing to the bit.

This isn’t bad and it has a few memorable moments but it’s far from Mitchum’s best and nowhere near the top of the list when it comes to Marlowe pictures.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Robert Mitchum movie where he plays Philip Marlowe: Farewell, My Lovely, as well as other ’70s neo-noir.

Film Review: Salem’s Lot (1979)

Also known as: Salem’s Lot: The Movie (cable TV title), Blood Thirst (video title), Phantasma 2 (Spain), Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (Netherlands), Salem’s Lot: The Miniseries (Germany)
Release Dates: November 17th, 1979, November 24th, 1979
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Paul Monash
Based on: Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
Music by: Harry Sukman
Cast: David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, Bonnie Bedelia, Lew Ayres, Ed Flanders, Fred Willard, Elisha Cook Jr., Marie Windsor

Warner Bros. Television, CBS, 184 Minutes (uncut), 183 Minutes (DVD), 200 Minutes (TV), 112 Minutes (theatrical version)

Review:

“You’ll enjoy Mr. Barlow. And he’ll enjoy you.” – Straker

The last time I watched this wonderful film/TV miniseries was just before the 2004 remake came out. So it’s been a really long time and because of that, I guess I forgot how incredibly fantastic this was.

While I’ve never read the book, I know about what changes they made in this adaptation and frankly, I’m fine with all the major tweaks.

For one, the vampire is not some Eastern European dandy of the Bela Lugosi variety. Instead, Tobe Hooper gave us a vampire that is more reminiscent of Count Orlok from the 1922 film Nosferatu. And the late ’70s were a great time for vampire movies, especially lovers of F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu between this picture and the Nosferatu remake by Werner Herzog.

Another change that was made is that the final confrontation with the heroes and the vampire took place in the creepy basement of the vampire’s house, as opposed to one of the heroes’ homes. The vampire house was truly a character all its own in this film and it made this movie a mixture of classic vampire fiction and a traditional haunted house story.

What’s really great about the finale, is that the house that was created for the film is absolutely terrifying and enchanting all at the same time. The set designers created an incredibly creepy mansion for the final showdown and it truly brought the dread onscreen to a whole other level. A level that this film couldn’t have reached had they kept the story true to Stephen King’s novel.

The vampire mansion is just one part of this movie’s mesmerizing atmosphere, though.

All the scenes that feature some sort of supernatural element take on a strange life of their own. The scenes where the vampire children come to the windows and float into the rooms at night with fog billowing in are f’n incredible!

Honestly, for its time and maybe all-time, Salem’s Lot takes the cake for creating a perfect ambiance for a horror picture on the small screen. Honestly, I’d love to see this on the big screen, if it is ever showing somewhere near me.

The vampire kids at the window was so well done that it became a bit of a trope following this film. It was used in other movies like The Lost Boys and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Plus, this film has a moment where a character is impaled by deer antlers mounted on the wall. This would go on to be seen in other movies as well.

Additionally, this would inspire vampire movies in other regards. Fright Night borrows from Salem’s Lot in different ways. That film even has a big finale in the vampire’s home and while it isn’t as incredible as the finale of Salem’s Lot, it is still a great sequence that is a nice homage to it. Fright Night is a classic in its own right, which also spawned a sequel, a remake and sequel to the remake. I even heard a rumor that it may be turned into a television show in the future.

But while this film would go on to inspire countless others, Tobe Hooper, the director, also had his own homages to other films in this, primarily the work of Alfred Hitchcock and his masterpiece Psycho. The vampire mansion has a very similar appearance to the house on the hill above Bates Motel. Hooper also employed similar shots.

For a TV movie, this also has some pretty good acting but no one else quite kills it like James Mason. He absolutely owns every frame of celluloid in which he appears. I’ve always loved Mason but seeing him truly get to ham it up while being terrifying was so damn cool. And honestly, Mason looked like he was loving this film, as he was so committed to the role that he breathed life into it that no other actor probably could have.

Salem’s Lot is a bonafide classic and pretty close to perfect. My only complaint about it is the running time. The film does feel a bit slow in parts but it was a two-part miniseries and had a lot of characters and subplots. In fact, those were all greatly trimmed down from the original novel and some characters were combined to simplify the story. But honestly, I’m still okay with the final result and I wouldn’t trim much, as almost every scene featuring the main characters feels necessary.

In the end, I love this movie; more so than I remembered. I’m glad that I revisited it after all these years and I feel like it’s a film that I will go back to fairly often now that I’ve been reminded as to just how damn good it is.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu remake, as well as other vampire films of the ’70s and 2000s Shadow of the Vampire.

Film Review: Harold and Maude (1971)

Release Date: December 20th, 1971
Directed by: Hal Ashby
Written by: Colin Higgins
Music by: Cat Stevens
Cast: Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort, Vivian Pickles, Cyril Cusack, Tom Skerritt

Paramount Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Harold, everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can’t let the world judge you too much.” – Maude

I remember this coming on television when I was a kid and my mum quickly changed the channel and told me that it was some dumb movie about a teenage boy who falls romantically in love with an elderly woman on her death bed. My initial reaction at eight years-old was, “Ew… gross… why?!”

In the years since, I’ve learned enough about the film to know that there is much more to the story than that and in fact, this is sort of a black comedy that doesn’t need to be taken too seriously or looked at in any sort of realistic way. Sure, there is drama here but it’s more about the boy’s journey than it is about having a hard on for one’s grandmother.

Harold is a teenager who is obsessed with death to the point that he often stages violent fake deaths to piss of his mother and embarrass her when other people are around. He meets the elderly Maude at a funeral and is quickly drawn to her. Maude, over the course of time, teaches Harold that life is important and should be lived to its fullest.

Now the film is over the top and Maude is pretty nuts, stealing cars, stealing a cop’s motorcycle and always willing to have some sort of ridiculous adventure. Harold’s love for her grows but in that, he finds out things about himself, shifts and changes into something else and learns to live his life, as he is on the cusp of adulthood.

For those who have never seen this, you’re probably wondering as to whether or not they boink in the sheets. They do and despite getting lured into these characters’ lives, it’s still kind of odd. But it’s also not the real point of the film. And don’t worry, it won’t inspire anyone to want to go out and hunt elderly genitalia.

To some, this is a classic indie film. To me, it was an amusing watch punctuated by fantastic performances from a then young Bud Cort and a solid veteran, Ruth Gordon.

Also, you get to enjoy some great Cat Stevens tunes throughout the entire picture.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Hal Asby films, as well as other indie pictures from the time.

TV Review: Space Pirate Captain Harlock (1978-1979)

Original Run: March 14th, 1978 – February 13th, 1979
Created by: Leiji Matsumoto
Directed by: Rintaro
Written by: Haruya Yamazaki, Shozo Uehara
Based on: Space Pirate Captain Harlock by Leiji Matsumoto
Music by: Seiji Yokoyama

Toei Animation, 42 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This is probably where I should have started with Space Pirate Captain Harlock but I actually started with the prequel film Arcadia of My Youth. So I guess it’s okay that I watched them in chronological order instead of release order but I do often times find it is best to experience things in the order that they came out in like the Star Wars films or The Chronicles of Narnia books.

Regardless, I loved Arcadia of My Youth and it made me want to delve right into the Harlock show, which I was able to, as it is available to stream for free on Tubi.

Now the animation in the show isn’t as fantastic as the prequel film but it is still fantastic for the late ’70s and it reminds me a lot of another Leiji Matsumoto creation, Space Battleship Yamato a.k.a. Star Blazers.

However, unlike Yamato, this takes the space opera genre and adds in a little swashbuckling. In a lot of ways it is similar to Star Wars or at least the early films. It has space exploration, interesting worlds, an epic quest and the type of action you can only associate with proper sword fighting duels.

What I love most about the Harlock stuff I’ve now seen is the tone of it. It’s often times dark and bleak, giving the universe these characters live in the proper setting: the coldness and emptiness of space. Still, it is lighthearted and hopeful and it doesn’t dwell in darkness, in fact, it brings light to it.

In the end, this is just a damn cool anime television show with cool characters, a sweet spaceship and great character and vehicle design. I love Matsumoto’s ability to world build, especially in a visual and tonal sense.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Captain Harlock films and shows, as well as Leiji Matsumoto’s other work: Galaxy Express 999 and Space Battleship Yamato a.k.a. Star Blazers.

Film Review: Cannibal Girls (1973)

Release Date: April, 1973
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Written by: Daniel Goldberg, Ivan Reitman, Robert Sandler
Music by: Doug Riley
Cast: Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Ronald Ulrich

Scary Pictures Productions, 84 Minutes

Review:

Strangely, I didn’t know about this movie’s existence until a few years ago. The reason I find that strange is that I’m a fan of Ivan Reitman’s work and I also really loved SCTV and that group of Canadian comedians.

I also find it odd that Reitman did a cannibal movie that starred two major players from SCTV before any of them had any real notoriety. As one might expect, this isn’t just straight horror and it sort of parodies the cannibal and gore movies that were popular with audiences of exploitation film.

All that being said, this was a cool experiment. It didn’t hit it out of the park or leave much of a mark but it was one of the very first steps in the careers of three talented people.

Now compared to the things it parodies, this is pretty light on gore. It’s more about capturing the same sort of vibe but having some cheekiness thrown in. It still has a gritty and brooding atmosphere that definitely feels authentic to the time.

However, also like the films it is channeling, it’s also mostly dull. While the black comedy sort of makes up for the lack of real exploitation, it isn’t enough to carry the picture or really salvage it.

Although, I liked seeing Levy and Martin play characters that were somewhat serious. They hadn’t quite grown into decent actors by this point but they are the best actors in the picture.

Reitman would go on to make some of the most memorable comedies of all-time but he was very raw as a director here. The film feels very green and there are some noticeable issues but to be fair, this was also better than similar films that lesser directors put out that wouldn’t go on to do anything worthwhile after starting in schlock.

This really isn’t a blip on the radar when looking back at exploitation cinema but this is something worth checking out just to see some of the earliest work by Reitman, Levy and Martin.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: the exploitation films it sort of parodies: Blood Feast, The Organ Grinders and The Wizard of Gore.

Film Review: Eaten Alive (1976)

Also known as: Brutes and Savages, Slaughter Hotel, Death Trap, Horror Hotel, Horror Hotel Massacre, Legend of the Bayou, Murder on the Bayou, Starlight Slaughter, The Devil’s Swamp (alternative titles)
Release Date: October, 1976 (limited)
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Kim Henkel, Alvin L. Fast, Mardi Rustam
Music by: Wayne Bell, Tobe Hooper
Cast: Neville Brand, Mel Ferrer, Carolyn Jones, Marilyn Burns, William Finley, Roberta Collins, Robert Englund

Mars Productions Corporation, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Name’s Buck… and I’m rarin’ to fuck.” – Buck

A film that was directed by a young Tobe Hooper that features both Robert Englund and William Finley is enough to hook me. Now add in great TV legends Neville Brand and Carolyn Jones and you’ve got me hooked even further. Toss in Mel Ferrer, Marilyn Burns and Roberta Collins and this picture is now boasting some serious f’n talent!

But overall, this isn’t a classic and from a historical and cultural perspective, doesn’t hold a candle to Hooper’s previous film: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

However, this was still an awesome experience and even though I know that I had seen it in my youth, I barely remembered anything about it other than it taking place in a shitty bayou hotel where the owner chases people with his scythe until they fall into a pit where he keeps a large man eating crocodile.

But you don’t really need to know more than that. And frankly, that’s all the film needs to be. One doesn’t need to get bogged down by details and an elaborate story. This was ’70s horror. Just throw boobies and blood at the screen every few minutes and consider it a job well done. Granted, this could’ve used more boobage.

This is gritty and pretty brutal but not so much so that it’s a gore festival. But if you like watching people get slashed by a madman and then chomped by a large animal, this should satisfy.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Tobe Hooper’s other earlier films: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Funhouse and Salem’s Lot.