The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Victor Crowley (dir by Adam Green)


“Hey, did I mention that I recently watched Victor Crowley as a part of the Last Drive-In on Shudder?”

“Who’s Victor Crowley?”

“It’s a movie! About a killer named …. well, Victor Crowley. He’s played by Kane Hodder and he kills people in the swamp in various gruesome ways.”

“Oh, is that the guy from the Hatchet films?”

“Yes, the same.”

“And aren’t those the slasher films that are really bad but you’re not supposed to care because they wink at the audience and acknowledge that the suck?”

“Yep, exactly. Victor Crowley is the latest installment in the Hatchet series. It came out in 2017. An airplane crashes in a swamp. All of the passengers are in some way connected to the previous Hatchet films. Victor kills them all one-by-one.”

“Was it any good?”

“I personally didn’t care much for it.”

“What as wrong with it?”

“It took forever for the action to actually get going and the humor often felt forced, even by the standards of the Hatchet films. Some of the deaths were creative but since the characters were all pretty much just cardboard figures, it was hard to really care about it. Kane Hodder was an imposing killer, though. He’s definitely the best thing about the film.”

“I like Kane Hodder.”

“Me too. It’s funny. He’s always killing people but he seems like such a nice guy in real life. To be honet, the best thing about watching Victor Crowley on The Last Drive-In was that Joe Bob Briggs would interrupt every few minutes and share his thoughts on the film. Joe Bob, I should mention, liked the film far more than I did.”

“So, do you or do you not recommend Victor Crowley?”

“Well, it’s funny. I didn’t like it but I can understand why some people do like it. Because it’s over-the-top and intentionally silly and it doesn’t make any apologies for being what it is. It’s kind of like the slasher version of a good Lifetime film. So, I can’t really sit here and totally trash the film. It wasn’t for me but if you’re a fan of the Hatchet movies, it’ll give you exactly what you’re expecting — i.e., blood, humor, and Kane Hodder ripping off Felissa Rose’s arm.”

“So, you’re recommending the film?”

“To fans of the Hatchet series, yes.”

“I hope they enjoy it.”

“Me too. Isn’t that what life’s all about?”

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Edge of Fury (dir by Robert J. Gurney Jr. and Irving Lerner)


Damn, this is a dark movie.

The 1958 film, Edge of Fury, opens with a man standing on the beach.  It seems like it should be a pleasant opening but instead, the entire scene feels threatening.  The man, Richard Barrie (Michael Higgins), is a veteran of the Korean War and he’s working on a painting with what appears to be an almost possessed intensity.  Thanks to the film’s black-and-white, noir-like cinematography, the beach does not look inviting.  Instead, it looks dark and cold.  A voice over informs us that Richard once asked to be confined for not only his own good but also the good of society.  However, the authorities could not intervene because Richard had yet to commit a crime.

Suddenly, the police arrive.  They arrest Richard and take him away, suggesting that Richard has finally proven just how much of a threat he actually is.

The rest of the film is told in flashback.  We watch as Richard, who works in a bookstore, comes across a beach house that he quickly rents.  It turns out that he wants to stay there with the Hacketts, Florence (Lois Holmes) and her daughters, Eleanor (Jean Allison) and Louisa (Doris Fesette).  Somewhat improbably, Richard and Florence are friends, having met in a grocery store.  Florence trusts Richard because he’s so polite and nice.  Eleanor has a crush on Richard because he’s handsome and brooding.  And Louisa just thinks that Richard is kind of a loser.

The Hacketts move into the beach house and Richard sets up an artist’s studio in the shed.  He paints a lot of pictures of Louisa, despite the fact that Louisa has a boyfriend and wants nothing to do with him.  Though the three women don’t realize it, Richard is growing increasingly unstable and obsessed.  He wants the three women to be his new family and when he realizes that he’s not going to get his way, he turns violent….

And certainly, this is not the only film to be made about a mentally disturbed man who becomes obsessed with what he considers to be the perfect family.  It’s also not the only film to end with an act of shocking violence and to leave the audience feeling as if they’ve just taken a journey into a waking nightmare.  What does set Edge of Fury apart from some other films is that it was made in 1958 and, in many ways, it’s the exact opposite of what we expect a 1958 film to be.  This is a dark, dark movie that suggests that the universe is ruled by chaos and that kindness will be rewarded with pain.

Seriously, it’s dark.

That said, it’s definitely a flawed film.  You never buy that Florence would trust Richard as much as she does.  Michael Higgins is frighteningly intense as Richard but the rest of the cast often seems to simply be going through the motions.  That said, it’s definitely a film that sticks with you.  This isn’t a story that you just shrug off and forget.

Probably the best thing about the film is the cinematography.  This film was an early credit for Conrad L. Hall, who later went on to become one of the great cinematographers.  He fills the film with ominous shadows and hints of the madness to come.  As filmed by Hall. the beach looks like some alien landscape, as twisted as the inside of Richard’s mind.

Edge of Fury took me by surprise.  It’s nowhere close to being perfect but it’s worth tracking down on YouTube.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Chopping Mall (dir by Jim Wynorski)


This 1986 film tells the story of what happens when one local mall decides that it’s had enough of thievery and vandalism.

First off, automatic locks and shutters are installed.  What that means is that, at a certain hour, anyone who is inside the mall is going to be trapped there until the morning.  Secondly, three robots are used as a security force.  They’re called Protectors and they roll around, looking for thieves and keeping people safe.  Don’t worry about getting mistaken for a thief, of course.  As long as you’ve got a badge, the protector will just say, “Thank you and have a good day.”

It all seems perfect but …. what if the robots malfunction?  What if they ignore the badges and just start killing anyone unlucky enough to be trapped in the mall for the night?  Surely, that could never happen, right?

Of course, it does happen.  Thanks to a freak electrical storm, the Protectors come to life and set out to keep the mall safe from intruders.  First, they kill the technicians that are supposed to keeping a watch over them.  Then, they kill a janitor named Walter Paisley (played, of course, by Dick Miller).  Then, they set off after the six attractive people who were having a sleep-over in one of the stores.

So, what did I learn from Chopping Mall?

Well, I was tempted to say that I learned not to shoplift but actually, no one in the movie gets in trouble for shoplifting.  I guess the main thing I learned is not to walk around the mall in my underwear because that definitely seems to be something that will cause the Protectors to blow up your head.

I also learned that, if you’re tapped in the mall with a bunch of killer robots, the best place to go is the sporting goods store because that store not only has a lot of automatic rifles but also an unlimited supply of ammunition.  Of course, I already learned that from Dawn of the Dead but it’s always good to be reminded….

Anyway, Chopping Mall is a lot of fun.  It’s undeniably dated.  Just the fact that everyone’s life revolves around a mall tells you just how dated it is.  I guess if they made the film now, it would have to take place at an Ikea store or maybe an Amazon warehouse.  But the fact that the film is dated is a part of what makes it so much fun to watch.  Seriously, it’s amazing all of the stuff that apparently used to go on at the local mall in the 80s.

Despite the fact that they have a bad habit of killing people, the Protectors are actually kind of cute.  If nothing else, they’re unfailingly polite.  You have to love the fact that they’ll wish you a nice day even after they’ve killed you.  Surprisingly enough, the humans are just as likable as the Protectors.  For a film about killer robots, Chopping Mall is surprisingly well-acted by a likable cast.  Russell Todd, who was the best-looking man to ever be killed by Jason Voorhees, is in this film and he’s as broodingly handsome here as he was in Friday the 13th Part II.

Chopping Mall is a good mix of humor and thrills and robots and exploding heads and Dick Miller.  This is 80s mall horror at its best!

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: The Alien Dead (dir by Fred Olen Ray)


This 1978 film takes place in Florida.

No, not in Miami.  Not Jacksonville.  Not Ft. Lauderdale.  Certainly not Orlando.  No, this film takes place off the back roads of Florida, where people are honest country folk and some folks live in a houseboat and you should always be careful when walking around the bayous because there might be some alligators lurkin’ about.  Of course, in this part of Florida, they call them gators.  Anyone who says alligator obviously thinks they’re too good for downhome country living.

Anyway, it turns out that there’s more to worry about in Florida then just alligators.  There’s also the chance that your houseboat might get struck by a meteor.  And then, everyone on the houseboat might be transformed into a zombie and, after they’ve eaten all the alligators, they might start eating all the humans.

When a sudden zombie outbreak occurs, you have to hope that you’ll get a good law enforcement response.  Unfortunately, law enforcement in these parts means an elderly sheriff and a bearded deputy who is always trying to catch a peek of the local women skinny dipping.  The sheriff, by the way, is played by Buster Crabbe.  In the 20s and 30s, Crabbe was an champion swimmer who won Olympic medals and went on to play Tarzan, Flash Gordon, and Buck Rogers.  At the height of his popularity, he was known as “the King of the Serials.”  In The Alien Dead, the 70-something Crabbe plays Sheriff Kowalski and, if nothing else, it seems like he was enjoying himself.  Really, that’s important thing when it comes to a movie like this.

The Alien Dead is an extremely-cheap looking film and, with the exception of Crabbe, none of the actors appear to have done much before or after appearing in The Alien Dead.  There are some scenes that are so dark that it’s next to impossible to actually tell what’s going on.  Despite being a rather short film, the pace is still slow and there are certain scenes that seem to drag on forever.  There’s a lot of perfectly valid criticisms that one can make about The Alien Dead.

But you know what?

I like the film.

Seriously, in a strange way, the film actually does work.  Yes, the acting is pretty bad and the dialogue is often rather clunky and the plot doesn’t make sense and blah blah blah.  Those are all true facts.  But, there are isolated moments where The Alien Dead achieves a dream-like intensity.  For instance, there’s a lengthy scene where the zombies attack and all of the action is shown in slow motion.  I realize that may have been done to pad the film’s running time but strangely enough, it works.  Even more oddly, the film’s cheap gore effects add to the movie’s already dream-like feel. Finally, if nothing else, the film captures the humid atmosphere of the Florida bayou.  Watching the film, you can feel the sweat and hear the buzzing of mosquitos.  At its best, The Alien Dead works as a piece of outsider art.

Finally, The Alien Dead is one of those films that had been released and re-released a few times on video.  As you can see below, one of those releases was apparently inspired by the success of Evil Dead.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Madhouse (dir by Jim Clark)


In this 1974 film, Vincent Price plays Paul Toombes, a talented actor who, despite his formal training and his distinguished background, is best-known for giving hammy performances in low-budget horror films.

Hmmm …. do you think Vincent Price possibly could have related to this character?  I mean, one thing that people often forget is that Vincent Price did not start his career in horror movies.  Price started his career as a romantic lead and then he eventually moved into character parts.  He was tested and apparently quite seriously considered for the role of Ashely Wilkes in Gone With The Wind.  Price was also considered for the role of Mr. Potter in It’s A Wonderful Life and rumor has it that he would have gotten the role of Addison DeWitt if George Sanders had turned down All About Eve.  Before he became an icon of horror, Price had roles in big-budget Oscar nominees like The Song of Bernadette and Wilson.  He even appeared in the classic film noir, Laura.

It wasn’t until the 50s that Price started to regularly appear in horror films and soon, that was what he was best known for.  Price’s naturally theatrical style made him a perfect fit for the genre and it won him a legion of adoring fans.  The same can be said of Paul Toombes.

Paul Toombes is best-known for playing the role of Dr. Death.  He appeared in five Dr. Death films, the majority of which were written by his friend, Herbert Flay (Peter Cushing).  Unfortunately, the murder of his fiancée put a temporary end to Toombes’s acting career.  Even though Toombes was acquitted of the crime, everyone seems to assume that he did it.  Apparently, having a nickname like Dr. Death doesn’t do much to convince people of your benevolence.

However, Toombes finally has a chance to rebuild his career!  The BBC wants to produce a Dr. Death TV series and they want Toombes to once again play his most famous role.  The only problem?  People involved with the production are getting murdered, one-by-one.  Is Dr. Death responsible or is he being set up?

Madhouse is kind of an early slasher film, though, with its gloved killer and its whodunit plot, it has more in common with an Italian giallo than an installment of Friday the 13th.  The deaths are bloody but not too bloody.  In fact, for a film that’s full of murder and betrayal, Madhouse is surprisingly good natured.  The main appeal of the film, of course, is to see Vincent Price and Peter Cushing acting opposite of each other.  Though they were both known for appearing in horror films, Price and Cushing were two very different actors and each brought his own individual approach to Madhouse.  Price is his usual flamboyant self while Cushing is considerably more reserved and the contrast of their styles actually creates an interesting dynamic between Toombes and Flay.

Madhouse is also full of footage from previous films that Vincent Price had made for AIP.  (Of course, these movies are presented as being Dr. Death films.)  Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff both appear in archival footage, acting opposite Price.  It’s nice to see them, even if neither one of them was actually alive when Madhouse was filmed.  Paul Toombes actually gets a scene where he praises Bail Rathbone’s performance and one gets the feeling that the sentiments were being expresses as much by Price as by the character he was playing.

Madhouse is okay.  The plot’s not particularly challenging and the tone tends to go all over the place, as if the film can’t decide whether it wants to be a horror movie or a Hollywood satire.  However, the film works whenever Vincent Price is on-screen, which is often.  Price is just fun to watch, especially when he’s teamed up with an old pro like Peter Cushing.  For fans of Price and Cushing, Madhouse is an entertaining chance to watch two icons of horror go at it.

 

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Hack-O-Lantern (dir by Jag Mundhra)


Note that actor Hy Pyke’s name is misspelled on the cover of this Blu-ray.

Sometimes, you just see a film that simply cannot be reviewed in any conventional use of the term and that’s definitely the case with the 1988 slasher/Satanist/rock musical Hack-O-Lantern.

On Friday, I watched Hack-O-Lantern on Shudder.  It was broadcast as a part of Joe Bob Brigg’s Last Drive-In Halloween special.  I watched the film in a bizarre sort of daze, trying to figure out just what the Hell was actually going on.  It’s a film that apparently has a plot but good luck figuring out what exactly that plot is.  I do know that that the film is supposed to be taking place on Halloween night but, in the world of Hack-O-Lantern, Halloween is apparently a time when people get together and dance in a gym or something.  Seriously, it’s a weird movie.

As far as I can tell, the film is about Tommy (Gregory Scott Cummings), who I guess is like the local trouble maker or something.  He spends all of his time listening to heavy metal music and having these elaborate fantasies in which the members of a band rip off his head.  Or, at least, I assume they were meant to be fantasies.  Tommy’s brother, meanwhile, is a local cop and his mother is crazy and overprotective …. I think.  As I said, the film’s plot was not always easy to follow and it actually took me a while to figure out that the earnest and innocent-looking cop was also Tommy’s brother.  To be honest, I’m not really sure that words alone can express just how incoherent the plot of Hack-O-Lantern is.  I could tell you that the film appears to have been edited with a chainsaw but even that would not begin to capture just how difficult it is to understand why one scene follows another in this film.

Anyway, Tommy’s Grandpa (Hy Pyke) might seem like he’s a fun-loving old man but actually, he’s in charge of the local Satanic cult.  He wants to bring Tommy into the cult but apparently, Tommy might be ambivalent or Tommy might just not know that the cult exists.  It’s really hard to figure out what exactly is going on inside of Tommy’s head, beyond the fact that it involves a heavy metal band beheading him.  Grandpa’s plot to turn Tommy into a Satanist somehow leads to several murders at the Halloween dance.  The murderer wears a devil’s mask and kills people in a variety of bloody ways.  If you like cheap but effective gore effects, you’ll get something out of this film.  The scene with shovel is especially nasty.

It’s a bit of a strange Halloween dance, to be honest.  For one thing, there’s a stripper who shows up for no particular reason and who appears to be like 70 years old.  There’s also a stand-up comedian who pops up out of literally nowhere and does this long routine that has nothing to do with Satanism, Halloween, or people getting killed with shovels.  Why is the comedian there?  Why does the film spend so much time on him?  Where does he disappear to after he tells his bizarrely long joke?  These are the type of questions that you’re forced to ponder while trying to figure out what the Hell’s going on in Hack-O-Lantern.

The thing is that, as easy as it is to criticize a film like Hack-O-Lantern, there really is no other film like it.  Sure, there are other slasher films.  There are other films about Satanists.  There are even other films that feature a random stand-up comedian and a lot of gratuitous nudity.  But there are few films that mix all of those elements together quite as incoherently as Hack-O-Lantern.  As such, Hack-O-Lantern is an oddly fascinating film.  You watch the film and you wonder, “How the Hell did this happen?”  And for that reason, it’s worth tracking down and watching.

Do I recommend Hack-O-Lantern?

Hell yeah, I do.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Haunt (dir by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods)


I just watched the 2019 haunted house/slasher hybrid Haunt on Shudder TV’s The Last Drive-In.

Joe Bob Briggs, who hosts The Last Drive-In and who is, as we all know, one of the patron saints of grindhouse movie lovers, gave Haunt a rating of 4 stars and said to check it out.  Having watched the film, I think Joe Bob was being a bit generous in his assessment.  Personally, I would have given it two and a half stars or maybe, depending on my mood, three.  It’s an undeniably effective film but it’s also a bit on the predictable side.

A group of students meet up at a Halloween party and end up going to a haunted house together.  The haunted house is kind of in the middle of nowhere.  It’s populated by oddly quiet people wearing creepy masks.  There’s a clown.  There’s a devil, who we earlier saw stalking one of the students at the party.  There’s a ghost.  Before anyone is allowed to enter the house, everyone is required to sign a liability waiver and to give up their cell phone.  It’s pretty obvious from the start that anyone who enters the haunted house is going to be stalked and killed by the people in the masks but our partygoers enter the house anyway.  Blood flows and mayhem follows.

As I said, it’s effectively done.  The haunted house is a wonderful location and the masked killers all look properly creepy.  You have to kind of wonder if the killers couldn’t have come up with a simpler way to capture and take out their victims but then again, homicidal psychopaths are pretty much going to do whatever they want.  I mean, are you going to be the one to tell a guy wearing a devil mask and carrying a pitchfork that his ideas don’t make any sense?  You never disagree with a devil holding a pitchfork.  That’s just common sense.  If a devil with a pitchfork tells you that you’re going to travel around Illinois, setting up haunted houses …. well, you don’t argue with him.  Instead, you hop on the next plane to Chicago and you make a deal with the Mafia to keep you supplied with pumpkins.

But, at the same time, Haunt never really took me by surprise.  None of the victims were particularly interesting and, once you got beyond the fact that they were wearing creepy masks and that they all had a messed up backstory, there wasn’t really anything that special about the killers either.  The real star of the film was the haunted house, which was imaginatively designed and full of ominous atmosphere.  I especially liked the escape room, where all of the notes had to held up to a mirror in order to be read.  There’s something under the bed indeed!

Haunt is good enough to serve as a part of your Halloween film buffet but it definitely shouldn’t be the only option on the menu.  It’s effectively creepy but it doesn’t stick with you the way that the best horror films do.  If the best horror movies are like a nightmare that you simply cannot forget, Haunt is more like an amusement par ride.  It’s fun while it lasts but, by the time it’s over, your mind has already moved onto the next attraction.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Ninja III: The Domination (dir by Sam Firstenberg)


This 1984 film is brilliant.

Basically, it tells the story of Christie Ryder (Lucinda Dickey), who appears to have everything that someone could want out of life.  Not only does she have a really nice place to live but she also repairs phone lines for a living!  (That might not sound glamorous but she lives in California, which means that there’s always a nice view when she’s working.)  She also teaches an aerobics class because this film is from 1984 and, in 1984, everyone taught their own aerobics class.  At least, that’s the impression that I’ve gotten from watching movies of the era.

Christie only has one problem.  She’s been possessed.  She hasn’t been possessed by any ordinary old demon, either.  Instead, she’s been possessed by a dead ninja.  Hanjuro (David Chung) came to America because there were some people on a golf course who needed to be killed.  Unfortunately, no sooner had he killed everyone on the back 9 then he found himself surrounded by cops.  It took a lot of bullets to take down Hanjuro but down he went.  However, his spirit went up and entered Christie’s body.

Now, Christie spends her time teaching aerobics, working on phone lines, and murdering everyone who Hanjuro feels has wrong him.  Hanjuro wants to kill all of the cops who shot him.  Unfortunately, one of those cops, Billy Secord (Jordan Bennett), is now dating Christie.  Once Billy finally figures out why Christie is acting so strangely, he takes her to an exorcist (James Hong) who explains that it’s going to take more than just an ordinary exorcism to defeat the ninja lurking within Christie.  It’s going to require the help of another ninja, the noble Goro Yamada (Sho Kosugi).  It’s time to go to Japan!

I may not be a huge ninja movie fan (unless, of course, they feature Franco Nero) but I have to say that I absolutely loved Ninja III.  That really shouldn’t come as a surprise.  This film is such an utterly weird mishmash of tones and genres that there’s no way that I couldn’t love it.  It starts out as a typical kung fu film, just to suddenly turn into The Exorcist before then becoming Flashdance before returning to being The Exorcist.  Finally, for the last few minutes of the film, it transforms back into a kung fu film.  As I watched the film, I found myself thinking about all of the other films throughout history that could have been livened up by a demonic or spiritual possession subplot.  For that matter, think about how much more crazy The Exorcist would have been if Father Karras and Father Merrin had been Ninja Karras and NInja Merrin.

Anyway, in all seriousness, Ninja III is exactly what an exploitation film should be.  It’s unapologetically strange and over-the-top and it makes absolutely no apologies for being what it is.  It’s a film that says, “I’m here to tell a story about a woman possessed by a dead ninja and if that’s not good enough for you, you need to figure out what’s wrong with your heart.”  Ninja III is brilliant, wonderful, and definitely a film that you must watch this October.  It’s on Prime so go watch it.  Do it now.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Shriek of the Mutilated (dir by Michael Findlay)


“The shriek of the mutilated!”

Listen, if there’s noting else that can be said about this 1974 film, Shriek of the Mutilated is a brilliant title.  I mean, it’s not only catchy but it’s honest.  The mutilated do tend to shriek.  You see a title like that and how can you look away?  How can you not watch just to see if the film itself lives up to the title?  That’s the genius of the grindhouse right there.  Promise a lot in the title.  Even if the film fails to deliver, people will remember the title.  Let’s be honest — I could say right now, “Shriek of the Mutilated is the worst movie ever made,” and the only thing you would hear me say is “Shriek of the Mutilated.”

Anyway, as for the film itself, it’s an Abominable Snowman film.  There’s a lot of bigfoot films but Shriek of the Mutilated is one of the few films that I’ve ever seen about the Abominable Snowman.  I’ve always wondered what makes the Snowman so abominable.  I mean, did he just choose that name or was it forced upon him?  Abominable doesn’t sound like a compliment so I’m going to guess that the Snowman was named that by someone who he owed money to.  I imagine if the Snowman had his say, he’d prefer to be known as the “The Wonderful Snowman” or maybe “The Triumphant Snowman” but, because he must live his days in hiding, he’s been given no choice.  It just doesn’t seem fair to me.

If it seems like I’m padding out this review, that’s because there’s more to Shriek of the Mutilated than just the Abominable Snowman but if I tell you too much about the plot, I’ll be spoiling the film.  And before you say that there’s no way you’d ever watch this film in the first place so it doesn’t matter if I spoil it, allow me to point out that not only is Shriek of the Mutilated available on Prime but it’s also been included in a quite a few of those cheap Mill Creek box sets.  So, chances are, you will be watching Shriek of the Mutilated at some point in your life.  And I don’t want to spoil it for you.  I want you to watch this film and shake your head and say, “What the Hell was that all about?”

Basically, a professor recruits four of his students to come search for the Snowman with him.  The students agree, despite the fact that one of the professor’s former students warns them against it.  As he explains it, he had a bright future until he joined the professor on one of his quests.  Now, he’s the school janitor and he’s a drunk!  That’s why the Snowman is abominable by the way.  He ruins lives!

Anyway, the Snowman does kind of make an appearance but, far more important than the Snowman, is a plot twist that’s so silly and so stupid and so out-of-nowhere that it simply has to be seen to be believed.  The entire film has a kind of “make it up as you go along” feel to it and it wouldn’t surprise me if someone just randomly thought up the twist in the middle of filming.  And listen — the film looks incredibly cheap and the acting is terrible but that twist is such a “WTF” moment that I recommend watching the film just to experience it.

I also recommend the film just because of the Snowman.  Check him out:

Shriek of the Mutilated was directed by Michael Findlay, who was one of the pioneers of the grindhouse cicruit.  His best films — like the Flesh trilogy — achieve a sort of dream-like intensity.  Even his worst films, like this one, are entertainingly weird.  He also directed a film called Slaughter which achieved a certain infamy when the producer (without Findlay’s input) filmed some extra scenes, renamed the movie Snuff, and then advertised it as being an actual snuff film.  Tragically, Findlay was killed in a helicopter accident in 1978 but his wife, Roberta, continued to direct movies through the 80s.

Shriek of the Mutilated is a frequently inept movie but it’s also strange enough that everyone should watch it at least once.

 

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Disconnected (dir by Gorman Bechard)


Disconnected, an independent and low-budget horror film from 1984, is an odd one.

Actually, odd might be too mild of a description of this film.  It’s about Alicia (Frances Raines, niece of Claude) who works in a video store and who keeps getting strange phone calls.  Alicia has a boyfriend named Mike (Carl Koch) and a twin sister named Barbra Ann (Raines, again) and, one night, she answers her landline phone and suddenly hears Mike and Barbara Ann talking about the affair that they’re having!  She then starts having nightmares in which Mike and Barbara Ann team up to kill her.

At the same time that Alicia is dreaming about being murdered, Franklin (Mark Walter) actually is murdering women all over town.  Franklin also keeps asking Alicia for a date and, after she discovers that Mike has been cheating on her, Alicia finally says yes.  One morning, Franklin wakes up in bed, grabs a knife, and attempts to stab Alicia, just to discover that she’s already left for the day.  Franklin just ends up stabbing a pillow, which is unfortunate because it was a nice pillow.

Meanwhile, Detective Tremaglio (Carmine Capobianco) is trying to figure out the identity of the serial killer.  For some reason, Detective Tremaglio spends a good deal of the film talking directly to the camera, as if he’s being interviewed.  Tremaglio is quick to point out how cheap the police station looks and he also says, at one point, that he feels like he’s in a low-budget horror film.

It creates a rather odd atmosphere.  On the one hand, you’ve got Franklin wandering around town, hitting the bars and searching for new victims.  On the other hand, you’ve got Alicia isolated in her apartment, dealing with the phone constantly ringing and basically having a Repulsion moment.  Who is calling Alicia?  It’s hard to say.  It’s definitely not Franklin.  Is Alicia imagining the phone calls?  Or is it some sort of a supernatural force?  And how is it connected to the mysterious old man who keeps wandering through the film at certain points, popping up like a red herring from the 2nd season of Twin Peaks?

Disconnected raises a lot of questions but it doesn’t answer many of them.  And while it’s tempting to suggest that this is just a case of sloppy storytelling, there’s enough intentionally arty moments in the film that I actually think that Disconnected was intentionally designed to be a riddle wrapped in an enigma.  For instance, there’s a scene where Alicia answers the phone.  For some reason, the camera is placed directly in front of a window.  The sun is streaming in through the window, which leads to an almost blinding lens flare.  The viewer is vaguely aware of Alicia moving around the room and answering the phone but, due to that lens flare, it’s impossible to actually make out any real details.  It sounds like an error in camera placement and yet the scene goes on for so long that there’s no way it wasn’t intentional.  (It should also be noted that the scene itself wasn’t particularly important so, if that lens flare was an honest mistake, there’s no reason why the scene couldn’t have been left on the cutting room floor.)  Obviously, the director liked the effect and just decided to go with it.  And yes, it’s kind of annoying but it’s kind of fascinating too.

The entire plot of Disconnected has a kind of “let’s make this up as we go along” feel to it and it’s hard not to appreciate the film’s enthusiastic incoherence.  At its best the film achieves a sort of dream-like intensity.  In the end, it all means nothing and yet, thanks to Frances Raines’s better-than-average performance, you are invested in what happens to Alicia.  You want to know what it all means, even if it only adds up to the ringing of that cursed phone.

So, does that means I’m recommending Disconnected?  Kinda.  As I’ve said many times in the past, I have a weakness for low-budget, amateur films.  This one was filmed out in the middle of Connecticut and most of the actors were obviously not professionals.  There’s something oddly likable about a film like this, one that makes no sense but, at the very least, was still made and — 36 years later — is still being watched and reviewed.  So …. yeah, I am kind of recommending this film.  It’s weird enough to be worth at least one viewing.