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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Summer Of Fear aka Stranger In Our House

     Wes Craven followed up his infamous LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and his controversial THE HILLS HAVE EYES with the superbly entertaining made-for-TV horror flick SUMMER OF FEAR, based on the young-adult mystery novel by Lois Duncan, and stars the one and only Linda Blair. Of course it sounds irresistible, and well, it is.

     Rachel, perfectly played by Linda Blair, is your typical, free-wheeling teenager who loves horseback riding, has a major crush on a boy, and pretty much lives a golden life. However, her world is shaken up one sunny morning with the stunning news of the death of her aunt and uncle, who along with their housekeeper, died in a car accident in the Ozark Mountains. As a result of this tragedy, their teenage daughter Julia, played by Lee Purcell, is coming to live with Rachel and her family. And suddenly all hell breaks loose.

     Rachel likes Julia at first, who comes across as rather mousy and scared of her own shadow.  But Rachel soon realizes there is something mysterious going on with dowdy Julia, as she seems to be taking over Rachel's life, her family, her crush, and her friends- which by the way, is played by none other than Fran Drescher from "The Nanny"! Soon Julia starts dressing like Rachel, even copying her hair, as the whole thing builds to a completely satisfying catfight showdown of a climax.

     Now even though this is a Wes Craven production, don't expect a brutal exercise in horror. However, it's a nifty little nail-biter that's solid and campy and all-around entertaining. Craven knows what he's doing here and doesn't disappoint.


        SUMMER OF FEAR is one of the best known made-for-TV thrillers of the 1970's and 80's, and there's plenty of reasons why. Check it out, kids.

Monday, January 28, 2013


     John Baxter (Tony Roberts), is a skeptic who works for Reveal Magazine.  His job is to debunk ghost stories and claims of haunted houses.  In a questionable case of real estate, recently divorced Baxter decides to buy the infamous house in Amityville, Long Island.  Why not?  Well, to solve the mystery of 112 Ocean Avenue and see it it's legit, or a bunch of bunk.

     Turns out his daughter Susan is none other than 80's icon Lori Loughlin, who would go on to a different house in a few years. The wonderful Candy Clark plays Melanie- John's faithful photographer assistant and who does not think any of this is a good idea.  Baxter's grumpy ex-wife, played by Tess Harper, is also vehemently against this arrangement.  And surprise- spunky Meg Ryan shows up as Susan's best friend. Don't you just love the 80's.

     This was the second sequel to the hit classic THE AMITYVILLE HORROR.  Cashing in on the hot but very brief 3-D craze of the time, AMITYVILLE 3-D, along with FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 in 3-D and JAWS 3-D, all made a memorable 3-D horror trilogy of the early 80's. Is it any good?  No... yet I find it irresistible all the same. This was the first sequel in the series not to continue the existing storyline, and it plays with the idea that maybe the house itself is infamous, but could still be seen as a hoax. This is a curious entry in the AMITYVILLE series. It was the last movie before the series turned to utter shit, for one.

      I'm reviewing it because it's included in the fabulous box set with the first two films, and anyway it's not terrible. There are lots of things I actually like about AMITYVILLE 3-D. It's damn weird, for one, and oddly entertaining.

     This sequel really does kinda veer off into Crazytown, and that's part of its charm. We're treated to Meg Ryan wanting to hump a ghost, flying swordfish, ouija boards, purple floating mists, more flies, and a freaky demon that comes out of the well right at the end and burns a guy's face off (Jim from DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN)!  It builds to a rousing climax that literally brings down the house, and ends on an ominous and mysterious note. While nothing memorable, it's still a totally enjoyable slice of 80's b-movie camp heaven and part of a pretty strong haunted house trilogy. And don't go any farther than this installment. Trust me.

        I think it's kind of cool that for whatever reason, AMITYVILLE 3-D, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 in 3-D, and JAWS 3 IN 3-D were all third sequels, and all in 3-D.  These movies were a huge fucking deal deal back in 1982 and 1983, and a lot of memories are attached to them. That alone give this movie cool points. Another golden HBO staple right here.

      It's definitely the odd man out of the original trilogy, but that makes it sort of endearing to me. The first two AMITYVILLE films were serious attempts at scary movies. I think they were going for that with the third, but it somehow came out rather campy and curious instead.  It should have truly ended here though.  It would have been a respectable horror trilogy and that would have been that. But no.


Monday, January 14, 2013


     Based on the best selling novel by Peter Benchley, JAWS tells the story of a Great White shark terrorizing resort island Amity, New York.  It starts off with an amazingly scary opening scene.  A woman goes for a midnight dip in the ocean, alone.  She is brutally attacked and killed by some unknown creature in the water.Turns out to be a shark attack, and that shark is hungry.  The beaches happen to be packed as it's the middle of summer, and it's a regular smorgasboard for the shark.  Chief Martin Brody, of the Amity Police, soon finds himself on a quest to find this elusive beast and destroy it before it destroys the entire town.  This is classic nature run amok, man versus monster stuff.  

         A conversation came up the other day, concerning  JAWS and whether or not it was a legitimate horror movie. It got rather heated. There were a handful of people who honestly thought JAWS was cookie-cutter Spielberg fluff that just wasn't scary. The arguments against it being a true horror film were that it was rated PG for one, that sharks weren't scary, and that it was more of a mainstream action/adventure movie with some scary overtones.  Now for the arguments concerning JAWS being a deserving horror classic.

      It undeniably and legitimately scared the living shit out of pretty much the entire world in the mid-70's, and made an entire generation afraid to go in the water. And in the process forever tainted the reputation of the Great White shark, and sharks in general. Our fear of sharks today all stem from JAWS.  Now granted, humans have always feared the creatures of the deep.  But it was Spielberg's masterpiece that truly created a worldwide terror of sharks that is as strong today as it ever was. If that's not a horror film, then I don't know what is. On Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments, JAWS was awarded the #1 spot, which apparently surprised many.  But if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. It created a massive cultural fear that lingers to this day, and that's pretty remarkable, if you ask me. It terrified people about going into the ocean like PSYCHO scared people from taking showers.

       JAWS  kicked off a wave of knock-offs, including PIRAHNA,ORCA: THE KILLER WHALE, ALLIGATOR, GRIZZLY (substitute shark for bear...), and countless others. Not to mention a slew of its own sequels. It truly was a phenomenon, and one of the biggest blockbusters of the decade. Recent horror flicks OPEN WATER and THE REEFall owe a nod to JAWS.  Spielberg's classic is still influencing filmmakers almost 40 years later.

     This film boasts a score that's every bit as recognizable and iconic as HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13TH, and PSYCHO, and forever made Great White sharks a monster in our eyes. It's most deserving of its status not only as a classic film by Steven Spielberg, but a classic horror film as well. The handling of the suspense, the looming dread, the frightening sense of the unknown... all handled perfectly here. Horror means scary, and JAWS has certainly scared enough people.  It's a genuinely entertaining and immortal creature feature that easily ranks among the classics of horror.

It's one of the biggest films of all time, kids.  It's aged remarkably well, and looks downright sensational on blu-ray.  An enduring classic!



     The Jonathan Elias score from the 1984 classic "Children Of The Corn" is a chilling and superb piece of work that owes a great deal to the scores of "The Amityville Horror" and "The Omen".  However, "Children Of The Corn" is a completely original piece of work, with its own mood and tone. It's dark, 80's synth all the way,  and it's now available in a 25th Anniversary re-issue from Varese Sarabande, and sounds better than ever.

     It's a spooky and ominous piece, and it perfectly captures the menacing mood of the film. The film, along with the score, has settled quite comfortably into cult classic status over the years.  It's a must-have for horror score lovers, and is generally easy to find.  And definitely worth the hunt.  It's honestly one of the stronger horror scores to come out of the great 80's, and probably the most known score from an 80's Stephen King production.  I'm actually listening to it now.  Creepy stuff.  Here's a sample.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Night School

     NIGHT SCHOOL is a super-fun lost slasher from that most rad year in horror, 1981- and it's got everything a slasher fan could want. Okay, so not much in the gore department, but stick with me here. Boy, did I have fun with this flick last night.  An absolute blast from start to finish!

It seems a series of brutal beheadings are terrorizing students at all-girl Wendell College in Boston, and baffling police as well.  The victims all happen to be students of the womanizing Professor Millet's night classes, and he's sleeping with them behind the back of his girlfriend, played by Rachel Ward (in her film debut).  It appears the heads of the victims are all being found near or in water, and police can't seem to make heads or tails of the case. Did I mention the killer rides a motorcycle?  And that Professor Millet also owns a motorcycle?  And that the lesbian headmistress of Wendell College is determined to protect her students and school at all costs, including possibly bedding a few nubile beauties in the process?  I'm not making this shit up.  All this and more awaits you in NIGHT SCHOOL.  

     It's a peculiar slasher. While it does incorporate many of the classic early 80's slasher characteristics and plot devices, it sometimes leans more toward mystery/thriller territory, which certainly isn't a bad thing. It fits in well with films such as EYES OF A STRANGER or VISITING HOURSThere are many things I liked about NIGHT SCHOOL.  The killer, for one. Some scoff at this murderer, but I don't know, I found him kinda cool. He reminds me of Maxwell Caulfield from GREASE 2 gone berzerk.

     There are some creative murder sequences in NIGHT SCHOOL, and I also liked the Boston locations used in the film, and the mood it gives the film.  It was totally believable, and I'm a sucker for the college slashers of the 80's anyway. NIGHT SCHOOL also has some pretty good production values, some decent acting for once, a rather menacing score, and genuine suspense and chills to boot. There's not much blood, but the killings are quite vicious and disturbing.

     I think it's a somewhat underrated slasher that's finally finding not only an identity, but an audience as well.  It's a fun and engaging murder mystery that despite its shortcomings, still manages to be thoroughly entertaining and a hell of a lot more fun than the 'slashers' being passed off today. Great, cheesy  fun all around.

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