Film Review: The Last House On the Left (1972)

Also known as: Bad Company, Grim Company, Krug & Company, Night of Vengeance, Sex Crime of the Century (working titles)
Release Date: August 30th, 1972
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Wes Craven
Music by: David Alexander Hess
Cast: Sandra Peabody, Lucy Grantham, David A. Hess, Fred Lincoln, Jeramie Rain, Marc Sheffler, Martin Kove

Sean S. Cunningham Films, The Night Co., Hallmark Releasing, 84 Minutes, 64 Minutes (heavily cut), 91 Minutes (original cut), 82 Minutes (R rated cut)

Review:

“How’d we get into the sex-crime business anyway? My brother Saul, a plumber, makes twice as much money as I do and gets three weeks vacation, too.” – Fred “Weasel” Podowski

I’ve never liked this film. To be honest, I’m not a huge Wes Craven fan, even though A Nightmare On Elm Street is one of my favorite horror films of all-time. Outside of the Nightmare series, Craven just hasn’t resonated with me.

This isn’t a good film but hardcore exploitation and grindhouse fans like to convince people that this is some sort of masterpiece. While I don’t mind gore and horrible things and I actually like grindhouse movies, I’ve never been a fan of gore for the sake of gore or shock just to shock. These are cheap parlor tricks and without substance surrounding them to give them purpose or more meaning, these tricks really don’t mean anything.

The Last House On the Left is a rather pointless film that just uses its time to try to disgust you for no other reason than it came out in a time where filmmakers could really do anything that they wanted and young filmmakers, especially, had to push the bar as high as they could just to get noticed. But when everyone is doing the same thing, you’ve got to push the bar so high that the average person on the ground will never see it.

The film is comprised of two halves, which completely ignores a three act structure but hey, Wes Craven is the king or something.

The first half is a long drawn out torture and rape sequence that takes up more than half of the film. The second half is the parents of one of the victims getting revenge on the psychos. Somehow, these parents turn psycho themselves, instead of just calling the cops when these evil people are actually just squatting in their house.

Nothing in this film makes much sense. It’s supposed to freak you out by showing people just being psychotic for no other reason than psychos gonna psycho.

The acting is terrible, the camera work is worse than terrible and the film’s music almost made me go psycho.

Some people think that this is a classic. It’s far from a classic. It’s gratuitous and even then, I’ve seen much worse in that department. Most of all, the film is really fucking slow and boring. Maybe it was effective in 1972 but considering it only appealed to an audience of miscreants jacking off in rundown Times Square porno and grindhouse theaters, this probably was just a regular Tuesday for them.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: Other exploitation films of the era with a high emphasis on gore and horror: I Spit On Your Grave, Cannibal Holocaust, The Hills Have Eyes, Cannibal Ferox.

Film Review: Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Also known as: Les lèvres rouges, Erzebeth (original titles), Blood On the Lips, Children of the Night, The Promise of Red Lips, The Red Lips, The Redness of the Lips (alternate titles)
Release Date: May 28th, 1971 (New York City premiere)
Directed by:  Harry Kümel
Written by: Harry Kümel, J.J. Amiel, Pierre Drouot
Music by: François de Roubaix
Cast: Delphine Seyrig, Danielle Ouimet, John Karlen, Andrea Rau

Showking Films, Maya Films, Ciné Vog Films, 100 Minutes, 87 Minutes (edited cut)

Review:

“Love is stronger than death… even than life” – Countess Bathory

I was surprised to find that this is the first Belgian film that I’ve reviewed. I better start showing Belgium some more love.

Daughters of Darkness was one of the thirteen films featured on the recent horror marathon Joe Bob Briggs did for Shudder. This is streaming on Shudder, by the way, for those of you that have the streaming service.

This is a pretty artsy horror movie but the director was a bit of an uppity self-important tyrant that liked to slap his actresses around and take himself and his “art” way too seriously.

That being said, this isn’t in any way a great or memorable picture except for in one regard: cinematography.

This film is beautifully and magnificently shot. It would have made a spectacular music video had the scenes been used for that but as a motion picture, this falls pretty flat in every other way.

This was made in a time when lesbian vampire movies were all the rage. Okay, maybe not “all the rage” but they were at the height of their popularity, especially in Europe.

The story follows a young newlywed couple that stays in a creepy hotel on a Belgian beach. They are then preyed on by a gorgeous vampire woman and her vampire lesbian lover. The guy starts acting out of character, beats up his new bride and eventually everyone is banging everyone and then everyone dies. It’s predictable and derivative. It might not have been derivative for 1971 but by 2018, we’ve all seen this story a dozen times or more.

This isn’t so bad that it isn’t watchable. It did keep me engaged and the cinematography, especially the outdoor stuff, was genuinely captivating. But I can’t recommend it unless you’re just really into visuals.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: MalpertuisThe Blood Spattered BrideVampyresVampyros Lesbos and Vampire Lovers.

Film Review: Phantasm (1979)

Also known as: Morningside (working title), Zombies (Pakistan), The Never Dead (Australia)
Release Date: January, 1979 (Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival – France)
Directed by: Don Coscarelli
Written by: Don Coscarelli
Music by: Fred Myrow, Malcolm Seagrave
Cast: Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Reggie Bannister, Kathy Lester, Angus Scrimm

New Breed Productions, AVCO Embassy Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“You play a good game, boy, but the game is finished. Now you die.” – The Tall Man

I watched a lot of horror movies as a kid. I saw a lot of scary shit that I probably shouldn’t have for my age demographic in the ’80s. But I was pretty desensitized to it all at a young age and most horror films didn’t scare me, they just amused and entertained me. Phantasm, however, was one of the few that terrified me to the point that I remembered the details of it.

I had pretty vivid memories of certain scenes in this film and their effect on my psyche. Once I revisited it in my early teen years, I was still creeped out by it but I was fine and no longer scared. But something about it just resonated with my soul. It’s not a perfect movie but it has this dark mysterious quality that taps into your mind and takes it on a bizarre and incredible journey of sheer terror.

Phantasm, is one of my all-time favorite films and in my top five for the horror of its era. It is light years ahead of anything being pumped out in modern times.

What’s really damn cool about it, is that it has a very solid classic horror vibe to it, while being very ’70s in style. It’s not a slasher picture but in people’s minds, because of the time of its release and having such an iconic monster, it is often brought up in slasher conversations. Really, it is more of a dark sci-fi/fantasy film with an antagonist that would make a formidable slasher but why get your hands too dirty when you have midget minions from Hell and killer spheres to do your bidding?

What makes this so compelling is the story. It is hard to describe without spoiling too much but it is really original and well crafted. Don Coscarelli has a hell of an imagination and nothing else is quite like Phantasm. It’s world is strange, mysterious and even after five films, you still want to understand it. All you ever really get is glimpses and clues to help you connect some dots. But honestly, not fully explaining it is probably why it is so terrifying and effective. Peeking behind the curtain too much would ruin the experience.

Apart from the story, this motion picture has an incredible atmosphere, which is the product of a stupendous score by Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave, as well as incredible cinematography and set design. The mausoleum feels otherworldly and the rest of the funeral home is visually vivid and surreal.

The special effects are top notch for their time. The flying killer spheres still look fantastic today and even though I know a lot about practical effects from this time period, I’m still amazed at how well Coscarelli pulled these shots off. Also, the scene with the guy getting his head drilled and then the blood spurting out is also masterfully crafted. Then that moment where the guy dies and you see urine pool out near his feet was just great attention to detail and realism that didn’t need to be there but Coscarelli still put the time in making that subtle effect.

I can’t praise Angus Scrimm enough for how well he played the Tall Man. Granted, we’ve never seen another actor step into the role but he just has this brooding presence and a real gift at being able to speak with nothing more than facial expressions. It reminds me of some of the great horror actors of the silent film era.

I adore this movie. A year hasn’t gone by in my life, since I was a teen, where I haven’t watched this at least once. I’m reviewing it now because I just had the pleasure of watching the digitally remastered version, which is exclusive to Shudder. If you have Shudder, you need to watch this near masterpiece there.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The Phantasm sequels but this is and will always be the best of the series.

Film Review: Rabid (1977)

Also known as: Rage (alternate title)
Release Date: April 8th, 1977
Directed by: David Cronenberg
Written by: David Cronenberg
Music by: Ivan Reitman (music supervisor)
Cast: Marilyn Chambers, Frank Moore, Joe Silver, Howard Ryshpan

Cinepix Film Properties, New World Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Potato man loves ketchup man.” – Murray Cypher

David Cronenberg has made some of the most disturbing films of the last half century. Well, really of all-time, as there weren’t anything like his films before he found his groove and started cranking out disturbing body horror movies quite frequently.

Rabid is only Cronenberg’s second film and while he hadn’t quite found his groove or style by this point, he was very close to it and nearly everything after this picture is regarded as a horror classic of its time.

Like his other films of the ’70s and ’80s (and several after) this definitely fits into the body horror subgenre. Also, this is kind of like a zombie movie even though the monsters aren’t technically zombies. It’s like how people say, “28 Days Later isn’t zombies it’s people with a virus.” Whatever, all this shit is zombies. If you want to be that fucking technical than none of this shit is zombies unless the monsters are being controlled by voodoo or Bela Lugosi.

Anyway, Marilyn Chambers, the first porn star that anyone cared about, is in a motorcycle accident and burned severely. She is then given this experimental treatment. That treatment turns her into this sex vampire thing where she throws herself at people and a penis looking appendage comes out of her armpit to drink the blood of whoever she’s latched onto. Her condition spreads and pretty much all of Montreal goes under martial law due to these zombie like people that are trying to spread this virus.

Overall, this is a pretty good and entertaining movie. It’s not exceptional and it isn’t Cronenberg at his best but it showed him growing as an artist and a storyteller. His style is apparent even if it hasn’t fully flourished by this point.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Other early works by Cronenberg: Shivers, The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome.

Film Review: Get Carter (1971)

Release Date: February 3rd, 1971 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Mike Hodges
Written by: Mike Hodges
Based on: Jack’s Return Home by Ted Lewis
Music by: Roy Budd
Cast: Michael Caine, Ian Hendry, John Osborne, Britt Ekland

MGM-EMI, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 112 Minutes

Review:

“You know, I’d almost forgotten what your eyes looked like. Still the same. Pissholes in the snow.” – Jack Carter

I can’t believe I never watched this film until now. It’s a cool ass motion picture. Now I did see the remake with Stallone from 2000 but that one left a bad taste in my mouth. This however, was a balls out revenge fest.

Michael Caine plays Jack Carter. He discovers that his deceased brother was murdered by some mobsters. He then spends the rest of the movie on a revenge quest, knocking off the scum that were behind his brother’s death.

There are also a lot of babes and Caine gets to toy around with several, most notably the incredibly sexy Britt Ekland, who gets naked. She would go on to be a Bond girl in The Man With the Golden Gun and would get even more naked in The Wicker Man.

I loved Caine in this and it is so cool seeing him kick serious ass in his younger days. Sure, he kicks ass as an older man too but he just had a presence here that made him debonair, dangerous and pretty fucking sexy, if I do say so myself. I’m not gay but I can appreciate a masculine dime piece through straight eyes.

This film also had film-noir elements to it, which pulled me in right away. This is more of a neo-noir, as it has that sort of style to it. The tone reminds me of Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï.

The plot has noir styled twists and turns and it throws femme fatales into the mix but you never really feel like Caine’s Carter could be outwitted by them.

There really isn’t anything negative I can say about the picture. It was well acted, well directed and had some stupendous camera work and cinematography.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Other old school Michael Caine movies: The Italian Job, PulpThe Ipcress FileFuneral In Berlin.

Documentary Review: A.K.A. Cassius Clay (1970)

Release Date: November 4th, 1970
Directed by: Jimmy Jacobs
Written by: Bernard Evslin
Music by: Teo Macero
Cast: Muhammad Ali, Cus D’Amato, Richard Kiley (narrator)

Sports of the Century, William Cayton Productions, United Artists, 79 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

I wish there were more vintage boxing documentaries floating around Netflix.

A.K.A. Cassius Clay is a damned good documentary. It was made in 1970 and it follows Muhammad Ali while he was banned from boxing due to his refusal of being inducted into the United States Army due to religious beliefs. For those who don’t know, Ali was a member of the Nation of Islam, which at the time, was considered to be highly controversial. Luckily we’ve evolved since then.

The film gave an honest and sincere glimpse into the life of Muhammad Ali as he toured colleges, speaking to the youth about civil rights and other issues that were important to him at the time. Due to his exile from the ring, he wasn’t able to work and his speaking engagements at least allowed him to make money and pay his bills.

The film also goes into his boxing career and gives a lot of insight into the man and what made him tick. There’s lots of good interviews and intimate footage of the great Ali and those who he let into his inner circle. This is a compelling documentary that gives the viewer a sort of backstage pass to Ali’s life at a very interesting time. If you’re a boxing fan and/or an Ali fan, I can’t recommend this film enough.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: When We Were KingsTysonChampsUnforgivable Blackness and The Trials of Muhammad Ali.

Film Review: Shaft (1971)

Release Date: June 25th, 1971 (Los Angeles)
Directed by: Gordon Parks
Written by: Ernest Tidyman, John D. F. Black
Based on: Shaft by Ernest Tidyman
Music by: Issac Hayes, Johnny Allen
Cast: Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t let your mouth get your ass in trouble.” – John Shaft

When I was a kid, two movies introduced me to the blaxploitation genre and black cinema of the ’70s. Those films were Dolemite and Shaft. Since that time, I have gone on to immerse myself in the genre and to try and soak up all it has to offer. While I still like Shaft, it feels like diet blaxploitation, as it is pretty light when compared to some of the edgier and less commercially marketable stuff of the era.

But the thing is, Shaft really kicked the door down and left it wide open for all the other movies to come rushing in right after it. It wasn’t the first film of its kind but it was the first to make a massive impact and to help these films crossover with a bigger audience. Shaft went beyond the inner city theaters and bled into suburban America and eventually, it grew beyond that as well. Today, it’s widely considered to be a classic from its time period.

Shaft is just a really refined picture for what it is. It feels bigger and larger and less grindhouse-y. It was put out by a major studio and when compared to the blaxploitation films before it, it just has a sort of professional touch and a magic about it. That’s not to take anything away from Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, They Call Me Mister Tibbs! and Cotton Comes to Harlem but Shaft had a feel of Hollywood legitimacy to it. Granted, I prefer a lot of the lower budget blaxploitation stuff like Dolemite but I have to respect Shaft for what it accomplished and what that meant for its era in black filmmaking.

Plus, Richard Roundtree is perfect as the super cool, no nonsense, badass John Shaft. There aren’t a lot of men that can stand shoulder to shoulder with Roundtree and have his sort of presence. Okay, maybe Fred Williamson and Jim Brown but you get the picture, Roundtree is one badass MFer.

Moses Gunn is also in this and he has a strong presence as well. Gunn is a well versed actor that can be tough as hell and also quite sweet. He’s great as a domineering gangster in this film yet he was also incredible in The NeverEnding Story, which saw him play a role that was really the antithesis to his role here. I just love seeing Gunn in things and he also has these very powerful looking hands that draw attention to themselves and add an extra bit of mystique to his characters.

Shaft has good action elements to it but not as much as I’d like in an action crime film. Roundtree’s attitude and swagger certainly makes up for the lack of gun play and fisticuffs though.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The Shaft sequels and TV series, as well as the Shaft reboot with Sam Jackson. Also goes well with SuperflyCotton Comes to Harlem and Detroit 9000.