Film Review: Dressed to Kill (1980)

Release Date: July 25th, 1980
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma
Music by: Pino Donaggio
Cast: Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, Keith Gordon, Dennis Franz, William Finley (voice, uncredited)

Filmways Pictures, Cinema 77 Films, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Doctor, I am not paranoid. Bobbi was making threats over the phone. She said she’s going to hurt me. My patient was slashed to death. And now my razor is gone. Now you don’t have to be a detective to figure it out, do you?” – Doctor Robert Elliot

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this picture but if Brian De Palma’s early films are any indicator, I knew that this would be bizarre, artistic and intelligent.

And it was those three things but it was also damn compelling and honestly, damn impressive.

I loved this film and it’s a shame that I hadn’t seen it before this. It was intense, melodic, sweet, scary and most importantly, intriguing.

While this picture is very De Palma-esque, maybe the most De Palma-esque of the man’s work, it is also very Hitchcockian, as the narrative and the shot framing displays a young De Palma’s callback to Hitchcock’s style and tropes.

Still, this is very much De Palma’s composition and not a cheap attempt at trying to emulate one of the masters before him. Honestly, it comes off as a respectful homage that creates a familiar framework that De Palma could then artistically build off of.

This is also very much a noir story. It has twists, turns, mystery, secrets that evolve and a shocking reveal when all is said and done. It’s pretty damn impressive that they were able to do some of the stuff they did in the time that this was made.

What really solidifies this as a great movie, aside from the solid direction and story by De Palma, is the cast.

Nancy Allen really carries this movie once she becomes the focus. And honestly, I’ll always love Allen simply for being a huge part of RoboCop but I never really thought much of her as an actress. Not to say she’s bad, she’s perfectly fine. But in this film, she really got to do some daring things. Honestly, it has motivated me to check out De Palma’s Blow Out in the near future as it also features her under De Palma’s direction.

I was really impressed with Keith Gordon and Angie Dickinson as well.

Michael Caine also plays an very important role but it’s Michael Caine, so one should expect a damn fine performance because I don’t think I’ve ever seen the guy not deliver.

I’d love to go deeper into the story and analyze some of it but I don’t want to spoil this for anyone. It’s a film that needs to be seen without knowing much about the plot and a Google search will probably spoil some major details.

If you like De Palma, Hitchcock influenced cinema or neo-noir, than you’ll probably like this picture.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other early Brian De Palma films, especially Blow Out and Body Double.

Film Review: Humanoids From the Deep (1980)

Also known as: Monster (alternative title – racier version)
Release Date: May 16th, 1980
Directed by: Barbara Peeters, Jimmy T. Murakami (uncredited)
Written by: Frederick James, Frank Arnold, Martin B. Cohen
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Doug McClure, Ann Turkel, Vic Morrow, Lynn Schiller

New World Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

“Hold it! We think we know where these things come from, but we have no idea how many there are.” – Dr. Susan Drake

I remember seeing this film multiple times as a kid. Back then, I saw it on premium cable and usually late at night. However, the version I saw back then was tame in comparison to the one I just watched. So apparently there are different cuts of the movie and the one I just experienced for the first time was the “racier version” called Monster.

The big difference is a pretty shocking one, as the humanoid sea monsters in this version not only murder every piece of flesh they come in contact with but they also rape all the hot women in the movie that can’t get away. I had to do a double take each time this happened because I certainly would’ve remembered that detail had I seen it back in the ’80s.

I feel like this version of the film also had a lot more gore. The old cut I saw did have a good amount of blood and violence but this edit seemed to push it to another level. And maybe this was due to the censors circa 1980 thinking that sea-beast rape and clawed off faces were a bit too much.

In retrospect, the “racier version” comes off as a true drive-in classic that would draw the admiration and respect of the legendary Joe Bob Briggs. And frankly, I’d love to see him feature this cut of the film on The Last Drive-In.

Humanoids From the Deep was produced by Roger Corman and his studio, New World Pictures. It seems pretty fitting as this movie is very similar to a lot of Corman’s late ’50s and early ’60s creature features. Granted, this upped the ante in regards to tits and gore; it was a Corman feature for a new generation.

But like Corman’s earlier work, this features dudes in rubber suits and pretty hokey but awesome cheap, practical effects.

Overall, the plot is pretty simple. Sea-men rise from the ocean to rape and kill people in a small coastal town. Everything comes to a big crescendo at the town’s big fair, which happens to be set up right next to the water.

The acting and direction are about what one would expect from a flick put out by New World.

While this isn’t a fantastic film, it’s still a pretty good time for fans of ’80s horror with a good amount of onscreen violence.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Corman produced creature features, C.H.U.D.The Beast Within and Piranha.

Film Review: Contamination (1980)

Also known as: Contamination – Alien arriva sulla Terra (Italy), Alien Contamination (US cut version title), Toxic Spawn (US video title)
Release Date: August 2nd, 1980 (Italy)
Directed by: Luigi Cozzi
Written by: Luigi Cozzi
Music by: Goblin
Cast: Ian McCulloch, Louise Marleau, Marino Mase, Siegfried Rauch, Gisela Hahn

Alex Cinematografica, Barthonia Film, Lisa-Film, Cannon Films, 95 Minutes, 84 Minutes (cut version)

Review:

“Help! Let me out! There’s an egg!” – Colonel Stella Holmes

In Italy, at least back in the ’70s and ’80s, filmmakers didn’t give a crap about copyrights. So this was made as a “sequel” to Ridley Scott’s Alien, even though the only similarity it shares with that film is aliens. But these aliens are pretty much just slimy pods that look like inside out kiwis.

Overall, this isn’t a very good movie but for a 1980 horror picture from Italy, it fits that style and is actually better than a lot of the similar riffraff.

Luigi Cozzi wrote and directed this and it is one of his better films. I thought that the story was decent and I was at least engaged by it. There weren’t many dull moments and even if the aliens were bizarre and hokey, the film had an atmosphere that worked and made them haunting.

I think a lot of what makes this film work is the soundtrack by Goblin. I believe the band had a different lineup than when they worked on the Suspiria soundtrack but they still provide surrealist noise that sometimes has a melody but mostly just sets the tone, generating a sort of uneasiness in the viewer.

My favorite thing about this movie is the special effects. They’re practical, they’re cheap but when bodies start bursting from exposure to alien pods, it all comes off really damn good and it has stood the test of time. That opening scene where the scientists in hazmat suits are exploding all over the place is still effective.

Contamination is Italian horror schlock but it’s entertaining Italian horror schlock with a good amount of fun, explosive gore; the type of gore I like most because it’s not there to gross you out, it’s just there to shock you and catch you by surprise.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other Luigi Cozzi horror films, as well as movies by Lucio Fulci and Lamberto Bava.

Film Review: Hawk the Slayer (1980)

Release Date: November, 1980 (Paris Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: Terry Marcel
Written by: Terry Marcel, Harry Robertson
Music by: Harry Robertson
Cast: Jack Palance, John Terry, Bernard Bresslaw, Ray Charleson, Peter O’Farrell, W. Morgan Sheppard, Patrick Magee

Incorporated Television Company (ITC), Marcel/Robertson Productions Limited, Chips Productions, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Now this must stay a secret between you and me. Not only will I bring back the head of this Hawk, but I’ll have the gold as well. Then Voltan will see who is the lord of the dance.” – Drogo

This movie is equal parts bizarre and funky.

While that may sound like a strange description, it makes this a very unique sword and sorcery tale with a lot of style.

First of all, the movie has an incredibly energetic and cool score. Harry Robertson, who also was one of the picture’s writers, created some interesting music that at first, might not seem like it fits within the genre but once the film really gets going, it transforms it into something otherworldly in the best way possible.

Also, the film’s style is partially defined by the filmmakers’ love of glow-y things. There are a lot of neat lighting effects employed within the weapons throughout the movie, as well as magical items and other majestic things within the picture that apparently needed some sort of neon flourish. This flick looks like a bunch of medieval era people crashing through an ’80s candy store at the mall.

The acting is pretty much at the level one would expect from a film like this but Jack Palance definitely stands out and embraces the madness of his character. He could have looked a wee bit cooler but his performance isn’t too dissimilar to Frank Langella’s Skeletor from the 1987 Masters of the Universe live action film.

Patrick Magee also pops up in this in a minor role but he grabs onto you like he always does. He’s always got a certain kind of intensity and his role here is no different.

This isn’t my favorite sword and sorcery movie but it is still a really cool addition to the genre and certainly stands out on its own.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other sword and sorcery movies from the ’80s.

Film Review: Alligator (1980)

Also known as: El cocodrilo mortal (Peru, Columbia), Der Killer-Alligator (Germany)
Release Date: November 13th, 1980 (Argentina)
Directed by: Lewis Teague
Written by: John Sayles, Frank Ray Perilli
Music by: Craig Hundley
Cast: Robert Forster, Robin Riker, Michael V. Gazzo, Dean Jagger, Henry Silva

Group 1 Films, 94 Minutes

Review:

“How about cats? I got plenty of cats. I also got a parrot I’d like to get rid of.” – Gutchel

Alligator is just one of many Jaws ripoffs. However, this one takes the animal horror carnage and puts it on land. In fact, the killer beast in this movie gets urban, as he terrorizes a city: eating a kid in a swimming pool, eating people at a opulent wedding and snacking on idiots that go into the sewers. The scene where the alligator bursts up through the street while kids are playing baseball is fantastic.

This is one of those movies that used to be on cable almost weekly in the ’80s and early ’90s. I’ve probably seen it a dozen times and well, it still amuses me. Also, it was really my introduction to the great Robert Forster. I mean, I’m pretty sure I saw this before I saw him in The Black Hole. I definitely saw this before Forster’s grittier ’70s stuff and then his resurgence in the ’90s with films like Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. But Forster is a man’s man and he’s no different here, as he makes it his mission to snuff out this giant gator.

I think that this film resonated with me the most out of all the killer animal movies because I grew up in South Florida and this seemed plausible to me. But at that time, I also believed that Cobra had bases in the Everglades and were doing experiments to create weapons to rule the world and destroy G.I. Joe.

Anyway, this film feels very early ’80s but it’s aged well for what it is. The special effects still look good and they are still quite effective. I’d rather watch this any day over some CGI killer gator movie. The practical effects just work so well in this low budget affair and I have to give props to the effects artists that brought the gator to life.

The wedding scene is superb, especially for 1980, and even though a few shots and angles may look a bit hokey, it doesn’t diminish the impact of the scene. I mean, that wedding sequence is batshit crazy but it is better than any big carnage scene from any of the other killer animal movies of the time.

Alligator is just a killer movie, pun intended. You don’t watch these sort of things for acting and stellar directing, you watch them to see people get chomped to bits. This accomplishes that and actually does it better than one would think.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other killer animal movies from the late ’70s/early ’80s: Jaws, Piranha, Orca, Grizzly and Alligator II: The Mutation from 1991.

Film Review: The Changeling (1980)

Release Date: March 26th, 1980 (USA Film Festival)
Directed by: Peter Medak
Written by: Russell Hunter, William Gray, Diana Maddox
Music by: Rick Wilkins
Cast: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, John Colicos, Jean Marsh, Helen Burns, Madeleine Sherwood

Associated Film Distribution, 107 Minutes

Review:

“That house is not fit to live in. No one’s been able to live in it. It doesn’t want people.” – Minnie Huxley

I saw this movie as a kid and it was one of the few that legitimately creeped me out. Although, I hadn’t seen it since I was a kid, so it was cool to check it out now, courtesy of Joe Bob Briggs’ The Last Drive-In.

George C. Scott is a tremendous actor so seeing him in a very serious attempt at a horror film is very interesting. It adds a level of legitimacy to this film, which came out as slasher flicks were becoming the norm in the horror genre. This, like The Shining from the same year, were two solid classic horror movies that wouldn’t go quietly into the night despite the efforts of Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and the soon to debut Freddy Krueger.

This is a classic haunted house/ghost story. But it has a lot of mystery thrown in and Scott’s John Russell must solve this mystery and assist the angry spirit if he doesn’t want to be driven mad or be murdered by the ghost. There are a lot of layers to the story and it’s not as predictable as similar ghost stories.

The movie also starts off really dark, as Russell sees his family killed right before him. Depressed and defeated by life, Russell moves into this haunted mansion in an effort to distance himself from the pain and to get back to his musical work in seclusion.

Scott’s stellar performance makes this entire film work in ways that a lesser actor wouldn’t be able to. Scott had to carry the ball and he is in nearly every scene in the movie. But he commits to the bit and really sells the horror with gusto and passion.

The score by Rick Wilkins was enchanting and set the mood. However, the direction of Peter Medak was impressive and the man let Scott be himself while employing impressive camera work and shot framing.

The Changeling is truly a classic in every sense of the word. However, it seems to be forgotten and not appreciated as much as some lesser horror films.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other “serious” horror films from the late ’60s through the early ’80s: Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The OmenThe Shining, etc.

Film Review: Hangar 18 (1980)

Also known as: Space Connection (France), Columbia 3 (Greece), Invasion Force (Germany)
Release Date: July, 1980 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: James L. Conway
Written by: Ken Pettus, Thomas C. Chapman, James L. Conway
Music by: John Cacavas
Cast: Darren McGavin, Robert Vaughn, Gary Collins, James Hampton, Pamela Bellwood

Sunn Classic Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“This is a Department of Defense operation. You guys couldn’t get outta here with a coffee cup.” – George Turner

This film probably has a worse wrap than it deserves because it was featured in a very early episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, way back before it was even on national television. But if I’m being honest, this is a better movie than what one is accustomed to seeing on MST3K.

I’m not saying this is a good picture, it really isn’t. But it did have some actual ambition driving it.

My biggest gripe about it is that it’s pretty boring overall. Also, the quality isn’t great, as it feels more like a late ’70s television movie than a motion picture that got released in actual theaters.

The story is about a just launched satellite colliding with a UFO. The government tries to cover this up due to a presidential election being on the horizon. An astronaut is killed by the collision and the blame for the accident is put on the two surviving astronauts. So this is basically a political thriller with a UFO cover up at its center.

The film just doesn’t play out as cool as it sounds. It’s drab and slow and the action you do see, isn’t that great.

Some of the little tidbits about this film are actually more interesting than the film itself.

It was one of the few American films released during the Cold War in the Soviet Union. Due to Soviet films lacking action and science fiction, it was hugely popular there, at the time. There was also a version of this with an alternate ending. It was released as Invasion Force but according to super film critic Leonard Maltin, the new ending undermined the whole film.

This could have probably been a better picture in more capable hands or with a better budget but it’s really just kind of an uneventful dud.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other late ’70s to early ’80s low budget sci-fi films.