The TSL’s Grindhouse: The Vindicator (dir by Jean-Claude Lord)


The 1986 film, The Vindicator, is one of those Canadian exploitation films that doesn’t make much sense but is still memorable just because of how dedicated it is to being utterly incoherent.

Basically, an evil corporate guy named Alex Whyte (played by Richard Cox) wants to design a space suit that will turn people into rage-filled assassins. Or something like that. To be honest, I had a hard time following just what exactly Alex was trying to do. When one of his scientists, Carl Lehman (David Mcllwraith), figures out that Alex is up to something sinister, Alex blows him up. Alex then puts Carl’s charred body into the suit and Carl is transformed into a cyborg who flies into a murderous rage whenever anyone gets too close to him. That’s not exactly what Carl was hoping to spend the rest of his life doing so Carl breaks free from the lab and seeks revenge while also trying to protect his wife (Terri Austin) and his daughter (Catherine Disher). Unfortunately, because of the whole rage thing, Carl can’t allow himself to get close to them but somehow, he figures out how to speak to them through the synthesizer that’s sitting in the living room.

Now that Carl is wandering around Canada and killing all of his former co-workers, Alex decides that he needs to do something to take Carl out of commission so he hires an assassin known as Hunter. Hunter is played by Pam Grier. Yes, that’s right — the Pam Grier! Soon, Hunter and her team are pursuing Carl across Canada and, in the process, they end up killing almost as many people as Carl. And those people who aren’t killed by Carl or Hunter fall victim to the types of accidents that could only happy in a Canadian exploitation film. For instance, in one scene, a truck drives over a guard rail and immediately explodes.

Meanwhile, Carl’s friend, Bert (played by Maury Chaykin because this is a Canadian film), is falling in love with Carl’s wife and plotting to try to take her away from her cyborg husband. At first, Bert appears to be a sympathetic character and then, about an hour into the movie, Bert is suddenly not sympathetic at all. The same can actually be said for just about everyone in the film, which will lead most viewers to wonder just why exactly we should care about whether or not Carl is ever stopped.

It’s a messy film. For a relatively short and presumably low-budget film, there’s a lot of characters in The Vindicator and it’s not always clear how everyone is related. Since Carl kills most of them, I can only assume that they’re all bad but still, you can’t help but wonder if maybe Carl is being a bit too quick to assume that everyone was okay with him getting blown up. Carl is one judgmental cyborg.

Supposedly, special effects maestro Stan Winston was involved with the production of The Vindicator and, to give credit where credit is due, Carl does look like what I guess most people would expect a cyborg to look like. In fact, when I watched the movie, I originally assumed that it was a Robocop rip-off but then I discovered that The Vindicator actually came out a year before Robocop. That’s not to say, of course, that The Vindicator was, in any way, an influence on Robocop. Beyond the cyborg-theme, the two films really have nothing in common. Robocop is a satirical commentary on fascism. The Vindicator is …. well, I’m not really sure what it’s supposed to be.

The Vindicator is a mess. It’s one of those films where no one’s motivations make any sense and it is often next to impossible to actually keep track of who is who. (The actors playing Alex and Carl looked so much alike that it took me a few minutes to figure out that Carl was the one who got blown up.) And yet, like many Canadian exploitation films from the 80s, The Vindicator is also compulsively watchable. The actions move quickly. The entire plot has a make-it-up-as-you-go-along feel to it that’s kind of entertaining. Plus, Pam Grier’s in the film, openly rolling her eyes at just how silly it all is. The Vindicator isn’t exactly good but it did hold my interest. All things considered, maybe that’s vindication enough.

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Omega Doom (dir by Albert Pyun)


Omega Doom!  What’s all that about?

Seriously, don’t ask me.  I just watched this Albert Pyun-directed, 1996 sci-fi epic and I’m stil a bit confused as to what exactly was actually going on in the movie.  This is a movie that opens with a totally blank screen and then, eventually, two red suns appear in the sky.  The film takes place in the future, at a time when humans have nearly wiped themselves out of existence through their endless wars and the planet is now controlled by robots and cyborgs.  Omega Doom (Rutger Hauer) was a cyborg programmed to kill humans until he got shot in the head.  Apparently, taking a bullet to his cranium changed Omega’s programming and now….

Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it?  It’s kind of hard to say what exactly it is that Omega does now.  We do know that he spends a lot of time walking around because there’s a lot of scenes of him doing just that.  Eventually, he stumbles upon the ruins of a town that is now controlled by two warring bands of robots.  Before you can say Yojimbo or even A Fistful of Dollars, Omega is playing both sides against each other and …. well, I don’t know what the preferred outcome here is.  What is Omega Doom’s motivation?  He’s not making any money out of it because robots don’t need money and it’s not like there’s anything left to buy.  And he doesn’t seem to be interested in ruling the town himself because it’s kind of a dead end of a town.  I mean, there’s dead bodies and robotic parts all over the place.  It’s suggested that he might be looking for a secret stash of weapons that can be used to either kill or protect the remaining humans but, at the same time, we don’t ever really see any remaining humans and there’s no reason why Omega would care enough about them to get caught up in a war between robots on their behalf.

So, don’t ask me what’s going on.  I guess it really doesn’t matter because it’s not like you watch a film like this for the plot.  You watch it for the action!  Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of action to be found.  There’s a lot of scenes of robots talking about various exciting things that they could, in theory, be doing but no one ever seems to actually get around to doing any of that stuff.  Instead, all of the robots stay in their separate sections of the town and wait for everyone else to make the first movie.  Eventually, Omega makes a few moves but, even then, they’re not particularly exiting moves.  Omega carries a gigantic sword on his back and how I anticipated seeing what he was going to finally do with that sword.  Well, it turns out that Omega didn’t do very much with it at all.

Actually, the main reason you’re going to want to watch Omega Doom is because Rutger Hauer plays the title role and Hauer was always cool, even when he was appearing in a less than memorable film.  In Omega Doom, Hauer does a passable Clint Eastwood impersonation, delivering his lines with just the right amount of weary condescension.  Though you’re never quite sure why Omega is doing anything, Rutger Hauer is always watchable.

And, to be honest, I actually didn’t dislike Omega Doom as much as it may sound like I did.  It’s a slow movie and not much happens but, at the same time, I did like the look of the bombed-out city and, though the dialogue was largely forgettable, there was still the occasional line that suggested that Omega Doom had existential ambition, albeit unrealized ones.  “God took a vacation,” Omega says at one point and, for a split second, you get a hint of what Omega Doom could have been if it had a bigger budget and a better script.  It’s a film that had potential and it’s somewhat fascinating to consider how little of that potential was realized.

Of course, in the end, it all comes down to this: How can you possibly resist Rutger Hauer as a cyborg?

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man (dir by Ruggero Deodato)


The 1976 film, Live Like A Cop Die Like A Man, takes place during the Christmas season.

We know this because the film opens with a man dressed like Santa Claus standing on a street corner in Rome and impotently watching as a woman is dragged behind a motorcycle by two men who were attempting to snatch her purse.  When she doesn’t let go of her purse, one of the men hops off the motorcycle and proceeds to kick her in the face until she stops moving.  Suddenly, two other men — our heroes, as it were — came driving up on a motorcycle of their own.  A chase ensues, through the streets of Rome, during which a blind man’s dog is graphically run over.  The chase which, it must be said, is very well-shot and directed, lasts for over 10 ten minutes and it ends with the two thieves being executed by, once again, our nominal heroes.

A lot of people are executed over the course of Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man.  That’s because Detectives Fred (Marc Porel) and Tony (Ray Lovelock) have been given a license to kill anyone who breaks the law.  The film is a bit vague on just how exactly the license works and why, apparently, it’s only been given to Fred and Tony.  One major set piece features several dozen cops all waiting outside a house, powerless to get the three criminals within, until Fred and Tony arrive.  Fred and Tony, of course, solve the problem by killing everyone.  Why couldn’t the other cops have done that?  The film doesn’t really make that clear.

Admittedly, Fred and Tony aren’t the first movie cops to get results through unorthodox means.  The French Connection was a popular film in the 70s and it inspired a whole genre of Italian rip-offs, of which Live Like A Cop Die Like A Man is a definite example.  What sets Fred and Tony apart from cops like Popeye Doyle and Dirty Harry is the amount of joy that Fred and Tony seem to get out of killing people.  Early on, they show up at a party and proceed to set all of the cars on fire. They also set two criminals on fire, with Fred doing a happy little dance as the two men go up in flames.  It’s disturbing but there’s also a strange integrity to the film’s shameless embrace of violence.  Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man doesn’t pretend to be about anything other than satisfying the vigilante fantasies of its audience.

And indeed, it should be considered that Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man was released during the so-called Years of Lead, when a combination of political terrorism and open crime had made violence an almost daily part of Italian life.  When you’re living day-to-day with the knowledge that you could be blown up at any minute by the Red Brigade, the Ordine Nero, or the Mafia, I imagine that there would be something appealing about watching two young men who are perfectly willing to just shoot anyone who appears to be up to no-good.  It’s easy to imagine that, for audiences in 1976, the random violence of this episodic film mirrored the random violence of everyday life.  Though Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man was obviously inspired by The French Connection, it perhaps has more in common with the original Death Wish, with the main difference being that Live Like A Cop’s vigilantes are officially sanctioned.

The film also places a good deal of importance on just how close Tony and Fred are supposed to be.  They live together in a ramshackle flat, they apparently spend all of their free time together, and, towards the end of the film, the only thing that keeps the two of them from taking part in a threesome is the sound of someone else being shot.  Unfortunately, Ray Lovelock and Marc Porel did not get along in real life and, as a result, there was never a Live Like A Cop Die Like A Man Part IILive Like A Cop would also be director Ruggero Deodato’s only stab at the polizieschi genre.  He went on, of course, to direct Cannibal Holocaust and The House on the Edge of the Park.  (Interestingly, Tony and Fred’s relationship is mirrored, to sinister effect, by the relationship between the characters played by David Hess and Giovanni Lombardo Radice in House On The Edge of the Park.)  Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man has gone on to become a bit of a cult film and, as offensive as some will find it to be, it’s also so over-the-top in its violence and its celebration of officially sanctioned bad behavior that it becomes rather fascinating to watch.  It’s so without shame or apology that it’s hard to look away from it, even though you may want to.

The TSL’s Grindhouse: The Amityville Murders (dir by Daniel Farrands)


Ronald DeFeo, Jr. may not be a household name but he’s someone who was indirectly responsible for a lot of cinematic schlock.

Of course, that’s the least of DeFeo’s crimes. When the 69 year-old DeFeo passed away in March, he was serving a life sentence in the state of New York. That’s because, back in 1974, the 23 year-old DeFeo grabbed a rifle and killed his entire family while they slept. When he was brought to trial, DeFeo claimed that he heard Satanic voices that urged him to kill his parents and his siblings. His lawyers tried for an insanity defense, though the prosecution successfully argued that DeFeo was lying about the voices and that he was in full control of his actions on the night that he killed his family. After being convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, DeFeo sometimes claimed that he had been possessed by the devil and sometimes said that he committed the murders in self-defense and then other times, he said that he did it because he was hoping to inherit his father’s money. Out of all the excuses that he gave for his brutal crimes, DeFeo’s claims of being demon-possessed were the claims that everyone remembered.

Years later, the DeFeo house — which sat in Amityville, New York — was purchased the George and Kathy Lutz. The Lutzes made a small fortune by claiming that the house was haunted and that they had been forced to leave their new home by demonic spirits. (Their claims were apparently supported by paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren of Conjuring fame.) The Lutzes told their story to Jay Anson, who wrote a book called The Amityville Horror. That book was later turned into a movie and the success of that movie led to a series of sequels and spin-offs. At last count, there’s been at least ten books written about the Amityville case and there have been 30 films that, in one way or another, claim to be connected to the Amityville haunting. Few of those films share much, other than a haunting and the word “Amityville” in the title. There’s not a great deal of continuity to be found in the Amityville films.

One of the latest of the Amityville films, 2018’s The Amityville Murders, deals with the actual murders that supposedly started off the whole cycle of possession and violence. (1982’s Amityville II: The Possession also dealt with the murders, albeit with Ronald DeFeo renamed Sonny Montelli. Two of the stars of that film — Burt Young and Diane Franklin — appear in The Amityville Murders.) John Robinson plays the bearded and withdrawn Ronald DeFeo, Jr. Chelsea Ricketts plays his concerned sister. Paul Ben-Victor plays their abusive father. The film covers the general facts of the DeFeo murders while trying to have it both ways as to whether or not Ronald was in control of his actions. Ronald DeFeo is portrayed as being genuinely unbalanced but, at the same time, potentially demon-possessed as well. The talented John Robinson does a good job of playing Ronald and there’s a few effective shots of his looking unbalanced but, for the most part, there’s nothing here that you haven’t seen in a dozen other Amityville-influenced horror films. As well, since you know from the start that Ronald is going to end up murdering his family, there’s really not any suspense to be found in the film. Instead, the entire movie is just about waiting for Ronald to pick up that rifle and start shooting people, including two children. It’s more than a bit icky, to be honest.

Whenever it comes to an Amityville prequel, the main question is always just how stereotypically the DeFeos are going to be portrayed. It only takes five minutes for DeFeo, Sr. to admonish Ronald with, “Oh! Watch how you talk to your mother!” Every cliché about Italian-American family life is present in The Amityville Murders, from the father hulking around in his undershirt to the mother decorating the house with religious iconography to the superstitious grandmother. Watching the film, I found myself imagining Tony Soprano watching a cheap Amityville film and exclaiming, “Oh! The mouth on this fucking kid over here, like he’s possessed by the devil or something!” The Amityville Murders hints that the DeFeos themselves may have had mafia connections. Indeed, before he decided to blame demonic possession for his crimes, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. claimed that his family had been taken out by hitmen from New York.

This film was directed by Daniel Farrands, who also directed The Haunting of Sharon Tate and The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson. The Amityville Murders is neither as well put-together as the Sharon Tate film nor as offensive as the Nicole Simpson film. It’s somewhere in between, just another link in the endless chain of Amityville films. I will say that I personally think Farrands is a talented director and I’d like to see what he could do with a budget and a decent script. The Amityville Murders has its share of impressive shots, even if the end result isn’t exactly the last word in Amityville horror.

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Schizoid (dir by David Paulsen)


The 1980 film, Schizoid, is all about the things you can do with scissors.

For instance, in the days before email, text messages, and social media, scissors could be used to cut words out of a magazines.  Those words could then be carefully pasted onto construction paper and then sent to an advice columnist like Julie Caffret (Marianna Hill).  Julie is pretty upset when she starts getting the notes, largely because they promise an anonymous reign of terror and murder.  The police, however, say that the notes probably don’t meant anything.  They’re probably just a hoax.  I mean, it’s true that several members of Julie’s therapy group have recently been murdered but the letters all talk about committing murder with a gun.  Whereas the members of the therapy group are being murdered by someone wielding …. SCISSORS!  (Cue that dramatic music.)

Of course, Julie has other things to worry about.  For instance, her ex-husband, Doug (Craig Wasson), is still in her life.  He’s putting up wallpaper in her office.  Or, at least, that’s what he says he’s doing.  It’s hard not to notice that he doesn’t seem to be making much progress with the job.  Plus, he apparently sleeps in the office, which just seems odd.  Then, there’s the building’s creepy maintenance man, Gilbert (Christopher Lloyd), who specializes in making people uncomfortable on elevators.  And then there’s the fact that Julie’s therapist, is played by Klaus Kinski!

Seriously, if you were looking for a therapist, would you go to Klaus Kinski?

From the minute Klaus shows up, it’s pretty obvious that the film wants us to assume that he’s the killer and really, it’s hard not to make that assumption.  We’re so used to seeing Klaus Kinski play evil and villainous characters and, even 30 years after his death, there are so many stories out there about how difficult Klaus Kinski could be to work with in real life that our natural reaction is to believe any character he plays must have a sinister motivation.  In this film, Klaus’s character has an out-of-control teenage daughter (Donna Wilkes) who tries to commit suicide by locking herself in the garage with a running car.  When Klaus takes an axe to the garage door, we’re left to seriously wonder if he’s planning on killing her or if he’s actually trying to save her life.  That said, Schizoid actually makes good use of Kinski’s menacing persona and Kinski himself gives a performance that elevates the entire film.  Kinski actually does manage to keep you guessing as to whether or not the therapist is a monster or if he’s just kind of a jerk.

Schizoid is usually classified as a slasher film, though it actually has more in common with the classic Italian giallo films that it does with any of the Friday the 13th sequels.  The killer’s identity is masked through POV shots and, in typical giallo fashion, the killer wears black gloves while committing his crimes.  We spend a good deal of the film following the police investigation, which is a typical element of the giallo genre but which is usually treated as an afterthought in post-Friday the 13th slasher films.  Much like Fulci’s The New York Ripper, Schizoid is a violent journey into the heart of darkness, a look at a world with no morality and no safety.  Also like Fulci’s film, it’s so shamelessly sleazy that it’s easy to miss the fact that it’s actually rather well-directed and acted.

Schizoid turned out to be a better film that I was expecting.  That said, I still have to wonder why anyone would select Klaus Kinski to be their therapist.

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.