Horror Film Review: The Devonsville Terror (dir by Ulli Lommel)


Who is the world’s worst director?

That’s a question that can really lead to lot of conflict.  First off, it’s a deceptively simple question.  The more you think about it, the more you realize how fragile concepts like good and bad truly are.  Some of the greatest films ever made were critical flops.  Some of the films that have been embraced by contemporary critics will definitely be less acclaimed by future viewers.  There’s a lot to take into consideration when it comes to determining whether or not a filmmaker is good, mediocre, or one of the worst of all time.  It’s something that requires a lot of careful thought and consideration and research.

Of course, if you don’t have time for all that, you can just say that the world’s worst director is Ulli Lommel and save yourself the trouble.

This German director has been making movies for longer than I’ve been alive.  He got his start in the early 70s, as an actor who frequently collaborated with the great German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder.  With Fassbinder as his producer, Lommel made a few surrealistic (and, it should be stated, critically acclaimed) films in Germany and then, in 1977, he moved to the U.S, and became friends with Andy Warhol.  He also married Suzanna Love, an actress who was the heiress to the Standard Oil Fortune and who starred in a handful of Lommel’s early films.

Today, Lommel’s reputation for being the world’s worst director is largely the result of an endless series of low-budget, straight-to-DVD films that he’s made about various real-life serial killers.  I’ve seen quite a few of these movies (and I reviewed Lommel’s Curse of the Zodiac three years ago) and they are truly bad.  Normally, I can find something to love about almost every movie that I watch but Lommel’s serial killer films are beyond terrible.  They’re so bad that they are almost impossible to review.  I mean, how many different ways can you find to say that a movie sucks so much that it will make you question whether Eadweard Muybride should ever have filmed Sallie Gardner at a Gallop in the first place?

But here’s the thing with Ulli Lommel and this what makes it especially so frustrating to see him currently doing a thousand variations on Curse of the Zodiac.  His first two horror films — both of which were filmed in the early 80s and starred Love — are not that bad.  Don’t misunderstand me.  They’re not particularly good but they still feature enough hints of genuine talent and inspiration that you have to wonder just what the Hell happened.

The first (and best known) of Lommel’s horror films was 1980’s The Boogeyman, an incredibly stupid film that still featured some good atmosphere and a few memorable deaths.  Lommel followed The Boogeyman with 1983’s The Devonsville Terror.

The Devonsville Terror may not have the same cult status as The Boogeyman but it’s actually a far more interesting film.  The film opens in the 17th Century.  In the Massachusetts town of Devonsville, three women are executed for being witches.  After the final witch is burned, her spirit appears in the sky and announces that the town is now cursed.

We then jump forward 300 years.  Dr. Warley is researching the Devonsville curse.  By researching, I mean that he continually invites citizens in Devonsville into his office and hypnotizes them, which leads to them having flashbacks to 1683 and those of us in the audience having to continually rewatch the first few minutes of the movie.  The spirit of the witch curses Dr. Warley and soon, he’s having to pull maggots out of his arm.  It doesn’t add up too much but Dr. Warley is played by Donald Pleasence so he’s at least entertaining.

Meanwhile, a new school teacher, Jenny (played by Suzanna Love), has moved into town and she’s teaching the kids to think for themselves and even goes as far as to suggest that God might be a woman!  The town leaders are shocked and more than a few of them start to suspect that she might be a reincarnated witch…

At the same time, a loser named Walter (Paull Wilson) has just murdered his wife and soon finds himself having nightmares where Jenny allows him to drown in a swamp.  “The legend’s true!” Walter shouts in his dream, “You are a witch!”

On top of that, two other liberated women have recently moved into town, which leads to a panic as the townfathers realize that their town — best known for executing three witches — is now home to three feminists!

Of course, it all leads to an attempt to duplicate the executions of 1683.  Heads explode.  Faces melt.  Don’t mess with the witches, y’all.  That’s all I’m saying.

The Devonsville Terror is a huge mess but, much like The Boogeyman, the film has a lot of atmosphere and features a good performance from Suzanna Love.  (As well, just as The Boogeyman features John Carradine not doing much of anything, Devonsville Terror features Donald Pleasence not doing much of anything.)  But the main thing I liked about The Devonsville Terror was its feminist subtext, which is not something you would typically expect to find in a horror film from the early 80s.

You have to ask yourself — how did the director of The Devonsville Terror ends up becoming the guy who directed Curse of the Zodiac and Mondo Americana?  One huge clue is probably found in the fact that Suzanna Love is nowhere to be found in any of Lommel’s later films.  According to the imdb, Lommel and Love divorced in 1987.

With Suzanna Love, Ulli Lommel was an occasionally interesting, if uneven, filmmaker.

Without her, he’s just the guy who directed Curse of the Zodiac.

Horror on the Lens: The Norliss Tapes (dir by Dan Curtis)

Today’s Horror on the Lens is The Norliss Tapes, a 1973 made-for-TV movie that was also a pilot for a television series that, unfortunately, was never put into productions.

Reporter David Norliss (Roy Thinnes) has disappeared.  His friend and publisher, Stanford Evans (Don Porter), listens to the tapes that Norliss recorded before vanishing.  Each tape details yet another paranormal investigation.  (Presumably, had the series been picked up, each tape would have been a different episode.)  The first tape tells how Norliss investigated the mysterious death of an artist who apparently returned from the grave.

For a made-for-TV movie, The Norliss Tapes is pretty good.  It’s full of atmosphere and features a genuinely menaching yellow-eyed zombie monster.



Horror Film Review: Rockula (1990, dir. Luca Bercovici)


I hate to say it, but I think Monster High is better than Rockula. For all of Monster High’s problems, stuff happened in it. This movie has some memorable characters and a funny setup, but then it just devolves into a series of musical numbers. Most are performed onstage so they have an in film context, but there is at least one that is done like you would expect from a music video. On the other hand, this does have Bo Diddley, Thomas Dolby, and Toni Basil in it. However, while we do see Diddley with his square guitar, never is Toni Basil dressed like a cheerleader and nor does Thomas Dolby become blinded by science.


The film opens and we are introduced to our lead named Ralph (Dean Cameron). He lives with his mother Phoebe (Toni Basil). They are both vampires. We are also introduced to the Ralph in the mirror.


In this movie, Ralph has another version of himself that is trapped inside every mirror he looks into. This is one of the highlights of the movie because his mirror self is quite funny. Like when he finds that a fun house mirror that stretches him out has increased more than just the length of his body.

Next we go to the exposition dump bar and learn about the setup of this film. Let me see if I can get this right. Sometime around the 17th century he met a girl named Mona and fell in love with her. But she had a boyfriend who was a pirate. Ralph and Mona were going to slip off and get married, but the boyfriend found out. Ralph and the boyfriend get in a fight. The boyfriend loses his sword and Mona gets killed by a hambone to the head. Ralph tried to save her, but since there were 20 pissed off pirates, he fled. Since she was killed before he could lose his virginity to her, she is now reincarnated every 22 years until they get it right. The day after the bartender tells us this story Ralph is going to meet Mona once again. And he unless he falls in love with her and saves her, a crazed pirate with a rhinestone peg leg will kill her on Halloween. Got that? Well, as you can imagine, Ralph is a little depressed. Or as Bo Diddley says.


Oh, and the sun doesn’t do anything to Ralph. Also, he has a similar scheme to Robert Sean Leonard in My Best Friend Is A Vampire (1987). The Red Cross Blood Mobile makes deliveries to him. Crosses don’t do anything to him either. Basically take everything you know about vampires and throw it the window. Well, he can turn into a bat. Just not a very impressive one.


All you really need to know is that he must lose his virginity to Mona otherwise a peg leg pirate will kill her leaving him sexless for another 22 years. Remember, this came out in 1990. The 1980’s were still going on in the heads of many people.

In short order, he runs into Mona. Mona is a singer. To be honest, I’m not sure how Thomas Dolby’s character is related to her other than that they are close and he sells really bizarre things for dead people.


To win over Mona, Ralph becomes ROCKULA!


Unfortunately, this did come out in 1990. So this happens to:


That is Bo Diddley on the right doing what I really hope was the least dignified thing of his career. If there was worse, then I don’t want to see it.

I could stop here and say I don’t want to spoil the ending of Rockula so I have an excuse to stop writing. But who cares about the ending and you already know what happens, so here it goes. Thomas Dolby gets really jealous and Toni Basil helps him to become the pirate with the rhinestone peg leg.


They duel, and Ralph wins. Dolby is knocked into a cryogenic pod that is conveniently there and drifts off to sleep thinking that a nine iron is an extension of his penis. No, seriously, the machine keeps telling him that as he drifts off to sleep.


Ralph and Mona live happily ever after. But wait, there’s one loose end. What about the Ralph in the mirror? That Ralph breaks the mirror on his end and emerges as this.


No explanation given for this at all. He just goes out on stage and sings while the credits roll. Who needs explanations? Ralph lost his virginity, Dolby will never be hyperactive again, Toni Basil is fine after getting hit by a hambone during the duel, and Bo Diddley is dead so he doesn’t have to worry about me reminding people this movie exists. Everyone’s happy.

Well, let’s leave Bo Diddley with a little dignity.


Horror Trailer: Handjob Cabin

I don’t think anyone knew this horror film was even being made let alone being thought of being made. Well, it looks like someone thought it was a good idea and set about trying to do their own take on the “cabin in the woods” horror film.

Raimi did it with his first two Evil Dead films. Sean Cunningham took it to a campground level with the Friday the 13th series. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard went all meta on it with the Cabin In the Woods.

Now, it’s Bennet Silverman’s turn on the seat with his interestingly titled Handjob Cabin.


Horror on TV: Buffy the Vampire Slayer 3.18 “Earshot”


In this episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy gets infected with the blood of a demon and develops the ability to hear other people’s thoughts. Along with allowing her to discover that Xander is obsessed with sex (like she needed telepathy for that) and that Giles and her mom did it twice on the hood of a police car, it also allows her to discover that one of her classmates might be planning on doing something violent.

This is one of my favorites episodes of Buffy, largely because it uses the paranormal as a way to expose a very real issue and to explore everyone’s shared humanity. Plus, I’ve always felt that, even after playing Buffy and starring in the wonderful guilty pleasure Ringer, Sarah Michelle Gellar remains a sadly underrated actress. This episode features her at her best.

The Daily Horror Grindhouse: The Devil Times Five (dir by Sean MacGregor and David Sheldon)


Initially released in 1974 and also known as Peopletoys, Tantrums, and The Horrible House on the Hill, Devil Times Five is one of a handful of films made about murderous children targeting and killing adults.  In the case of Devil Times Five, the children are five escapees from a mental hospital and the adults are a group of largely unlikable people who have gotten snowed in at a ski lodge.

(In a film like this, it helps that the victims are all too unlikable to really care about.)

When watching Devil Times Five, it helps to know a little something about what went on behind the scenes.  Apparently, original director Sean McGregor was fired when it turned out that, after several weeks of filming, he only had 38 minutes of usable footage.  Several weeks later, a second director, David Sheldon, was brought in to reshoot a good deal of the movie.  Unfortunately, by the time that Sheldon arrived, the majority of the cast had moved onto other projects and the main killer kid (Leif Garrett) had gotten his hair cut for another movie, meaning that he had to wear an ill-fitting wig for the reshoots.

And the end result is a truly weird movie, one that is full of odd continuity errors and strange scenes that were obviously only included to pad out the film’s running time.  Among the most obvious of the continuity errors is the insistence that the characters are snowed in despite the fact that there appears to be hardly any snow on the ground outside.  (This, of course, was largely due to the fact that the reshoots were done in sunny California.)  As for the padding, perhaps the most infamous example is the scene where the five children attack and beat to death their doctor.  This entire scene is shown in slow motion.  It lasts five minutes.

Seriously — and if you doubt me on this, be sure to read Stacie Ponder’s review of the film over on Final Girl — five minutes is a really long time.  It’s certainly a long time to watch someone get beat to death, especially when the scene is underlit and sepia-toned.  It starts out as disturbing but, after the 2nd minute or so, it just gets boring.  And then about 4 minutes in, you start to laugh because you’re just like, “How much longer can this crap go on?”  And then, at the 4:30 mark, you start to get bored again.  Around the 4:55 mark, I realized that I had forgotten who they were killing or why.  And then it was finally over.  Yay!

Incidentally, this is one of those films where, whenever one of the kids is going to kill someone, the kid suddenly starts moving in slow motion.  It was kind of like the music in Jaws.  If the kid picked up an axe but was still moving at normal speed, you knew not to worry.  But the minute that slow-mo started, you knew someone was about to die.

Of course, it takes a while to get around to the killings.  Devil Times Five clocked in at about 88 minutes.  I would guess that roughly 65 of those minutes were pure filler.  We spend a lot of time getting to know the adults at that ski lodge and, for the most part, they’re loathsome.  The oldest and grumpiest of them is even called Papa Doc, perhaps after the infamous Haitian dictator. (And let’s not even start on the film’s nominal hero, Rick, who has a pornstache, a comb over, and an extended nude scene.)  All of the adults spend a lot of time talking about their crumbling marriages and their dying dreams and it’s all very angsty for slasher film about a bunch of killer kids.  There’s even an extended cat fight between Julie (Joan McCall) and Lovely (Carolyn Staller), which involves a lot of rolling around on the floor while the 70s “wah wah” soundtrack plays in the background.

Once the killings do start, however, Devil Times Five actually starts to live up to its potential.  These are some mean little kids!  Once they start their rampage, we get axes in the back, spears to the throat, immolation, death by swing, and one really disturbing scene involving a bunch of bear traps. However, Devil Times Five is probably best known for the piranha scene.  You can legitimately wonder why someone would keep piranhas at a ski lodge but there’s still no denying that you don’t want to take a bath with them.

(Making the piranha scene all the more icky that the victim in the bathtub is played by the mother of two of the actors who played the killers.)

Devil Times Five makes for a strange viewing experience.  It starts out as nothing but filler and then suddenly, almost out of nowhere, the entire film goes batshit crazy.  Devil Times Five has slipped into the public domain, so you can watch it for free on YouTube if you want.  But I suggest tracking down the Code Red DVD, which comes with a fascinating commentary track and an entertaining and candid interview with several members of the cast.


Halloween Havoc!: THE ROBOT VS THE AZTEC MUMMY (1959)

Originally posted on crackedrearviewer:


I first saw this movie when I was maybe 12 or 13 at a second-and-third run neighborhood theater. I remember thinking, “Boy, does this suck!”  After watching it again recently on TCM, my opinion hasn’t changed. THE ROBOT VS THE AZTEC MUMMY is a terrible film. Fortunately, I’m a connoisseur of terrible films, so I enjoyed it!


The opening narration is Straight Outta Ed Wood (“How far can the human mind penetrate the mysteries of the great beyond…”) We meet Dr. Alamda (Roman Gay) and his wife Flora (Rosa Arenas, who’s kinda hot). They’ve gathered some scientists and the story unfolds in flashbacks. Actually, I think it’s more like stock footage from the previous two AZTEC MUMMY series entries (yes, this silliness was a series!) Flora is the reincarnation of Xochtl, an Aztec princess who had a forbidden love with a warrior. For this trespass, Xotchl had her heart cut out, and loverboy…

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