Trapped (1989, directed by Fred Walton)

A man (Ben Loggins) leaves his home one day, thinks about how his life has recently gone wrong, and then goes to an unfinished office building where he kills not only the people who he considers responsible but also anyone else who gets in his way.  Trapped in the building with him and trying to survive through the night until the doors automatically unlock in the morning are the building’s manager, Mary Ann Marshall (Kathleen Quinlan), and a corporate spy who is only willing to say that May Ann should call him John Doe (Bruce Abbott).

Trapped was produced for and originally aired on the USA network and it went on to become a USA mainstay for most of the 90s.  It’s a surprisingly violent and gory for a made-for-TV film from 1989 and the nearly-empty office building is an appropriately creepy setting.  Director Fred Walton does a good job of creating and maintaining a sense of suspense and he’s helped by three excellent lead performances from Kathleen Quinlan, Bruce Abbott, and especially Ben Loggins.  Loggins is credited as simply being “The Killer” and the film keeps his motives murky.  If you pay attention, you can discover what has driven him over the edge but the film is smart enough to concentrate on the cat-and-mouse game that he plays with Quinlan and Abbott.  One thing that sets Trapped‘s Killer apart from other psycho move stalkers is that Trapped‘s Killer is ambidextrous, carrying a dagger in one hand and a baseball bat in the other, making him even more intimidating than the typical movie psycho.  Kathleen Quinlan, an underrated actress who is probably best-known for playing Tom Hanks’s wife in Apollo 13, is also a feisty and likable heroine.

Don’t let its origin as a made-for-TV film scare you off.  Trapped is a good and suspenseful thriller.

A Movie A Day #276: Bad Dreams (1988, directed by Andrew Fleming)

When she was a young girl, Cynthia (Jennifer Rubin) was a member of Unity Fields, a group of hippies led by the insane Franklin Harris (Richard Lynch).  When Harris ordered the cult to join him in a fiery suicide pact, Cynthia was the only one to refuse.  While all of the cult members when up in flames, Cynthia ended up spending 13 years in a coma.  When she wakes up, she has no memory of the incident and finds herself as a patient in a psych ward.  She has a support group to provide therapy.  She has two doctors (Bruce Abbott and Harris Yulin) watching her every move.  And she still has nightmares and visions of the long-dead Harris, appearing around the hospital, sometimes burned and sometimes not.  When the members of her therapy group start to die, Cynthia is convinced that Harris has returned to claim her.

A year before starring in Bad Dreams, Jennifer Rubin made her film debut in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.  That seems appropriate because Bad Dreams would never have existed if not for A Nightmare on Elm Street.  Franklin Harris is only a few bad jokes and a razor blade glove away from being Freddy Krueger’s older brother.  However, if you can see past the movie’s derivative nature, Bad Dreams is not bad.  Some of the deaths are inventive and Jennifer Rubin shows why she should have become a bigger star than she did.  Though Franklin Harris may have been developed as stand-in for Freddy, Richard Lynch is memorably menacing and makes the role his own.  Bad Dreams may have been a clone of another film but not all clones are bad.

Quickie Review: Re-Animator (dir. by Stuart Gordon)

When one discusses horror films during the 1980’s the talk will ultimately turn into whether one has seen a particular film. The film was a film adaptation of a little-known H.P. Lovecraft short story penned  through chapter installments between 1921 through 1922. While this short story wasn’t considered one of Lovecraft’s finest creations it did inspire one filmmaker to use it as the basis for his own take on the classic “Frankenstein monster”.

In 1985, Stuart Gordon directed what would become one of horror’s biggest cult classics with his adaptation of the aforementioned Lovecraft tale with the film Re-Animator. The film would take certain liberties with the original source material which in the end was the better for it.

Re-Animator is about a young, promising doctor named Herbert West whose research into trying to revive the dead would have him kicked out of the Swiss university where had been doing his research. West would relocate to Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts to continue his research in secret. During his research he would gain a partner in Dan, the medical student whose house he’s renting a room, after a chance discovery of one of West’s experiment’s with the reagent that brings the dead back to life.

The film plays out very much like the lurid EC Comics of the 50’s and early 60’s. From the over-serious dialogue and lurid look of the film, Re-Animator was very much a pulp horror with a sci-fi bent to the proceedings. It was also a film which reveled in the slapstick way gore was used to highlight scenes when the zombie-like corpses injected with the glowing green reagent came back to violent life. It was one of the very few films with zombies in it where the zombies were not flesh-eaters of the Romero variety which everyone had tried to copy to certain degrees of failure.

If all the blood and gore in the film wasn’t enough Re-Animator would cement it’s place in exploitation horror history with a scene involving the character of Megan (played by Barbara Crampton) and the severed, re-animated head of West’s nemesis (played by David Gale) going downtown on a terrified and bound Megan. This scene would go down (no pun intended) as one of the most talked about scenes in all of horror film history.

Gordon’s attempt to make his own “Frankenstein movie” became a major success within the horror film fan community and would spawn two more sequels. Jeffrey Combs would continue to play the role of Herbert West in these follow-up sequels which never reached the same level of success and cult following as the first film. Still, Re-Animator would put both Stuart Gordon and Jeffrey Combs on the horror film map and horror fans everywhere are glad that they made this film.