The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: The Flesh and Blood Show (dir by Pete Walker)

I had a few reasons for watching the 1972 slasher film, The Flesh and Blood Show.

First off, the film was directed by Pete Walker.  Though Pete Walker may not be as well-known as some of his contemporaries and his overall cinematic output is dreadfully uneven, he was still responsible for enough memorable films that I will always give him a chance.

Secondly, it’s a British film and the British were responsible for some of the best horror films of the late 60s and early 70s.

Third, speaking as a horror fan, that title is just irresistible.  The Flesh and Blood Show?  Well, there’s nothing subtle about that!  Looking at that title, you find yourself wondering, “How much flesh and how much blood is actually in this film?”

Well, having watched the film, I can tell you that there’s very little blood and a good deal of flesh.  The Flesh and Blood Show was Walker’s first horror film.  Before moving into the horror genre, Walker specialized in making sexploitation movies and it’s kind of obvious that, when he directed this film, he was still more comfortable asking people to undress than asking them to play dead.  As opposed to other slasher films, the majority of the young cast survives and the almost all of the murders occur off-screen.  Every couple of minutes or so, someone else is getting undressed.  The constant nudity actually starts to get pretty funny after a while.  One could very easily use The Flesh and Blood Show to construct a drinking game.

As for the film’s plot, it deals with a group of actors who receive invitations to an abandoned theater.  An unseen producer apparently wants them all to perform an infamous play, perhaps the same play that is rumored to have led to tragedy back in 1945.  If it seems rather odd that the film’s characters would willingly go to an abandoned theater in the middle of nowhere and perform a possibly cursed play, no one is ever going to accuse anyone in this film of being smart.  Why ask why when there’s so much dancing and undressing to do?

There’s also an elderly major (Patrick Barr) hanging out around the theater.  He was actually one of my favorite characters in the movie because he approached everything with this very British, very stiff upper lip attitude.  Of course, the major himself has a secret.  That said, the secret isn’t that surprising.  I figured it out as soon as he showed up.

Naturally, all the murders at the theater are linked back to a tragedy in the past.  The final 15 minutes of the movie are made up of an extensive flashback to that tragedy and I will say this: it’s the best part of the film.  The flashback was originally filmed in 3-D and Walker uses this as an excuse to indulge in some surreal flourishes.

There are a few positive things to be said about The Flesh and Blood Show.  Pete Walker was a talented director and that talent comes through in even his weaker films.  There are a few scenes where Walker manages to maintain a properly ominous atmosphere and the movie’s score is so melodramatic and over the top that it’s kind of hard not to love it.

But, for the most part, The Flesh and Blood Show is a rather forgettable film.  If you want to see a good Pete Walker film, track down Frightmare.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: The Banana Splits Movie (dir by Danishka Esterhazy)

The Banana Splits Movie takes viewers behind the scenes of a children’s television show and shows us the sordid world that nobody knows about.

The stage manager is overworked.  The new head of the network is a jerk.  The star of the show is a drunk.  The lovable Banana Splits, who play silly games and all play music instruments, are all actually robots who are looked down upon by their human coworkers.  When Stevie (Richard White), the star of the show, learns that the show is being canceled, he makes the mistake of telling the robots and, before you know it, all Hell is breaking lose.  People are getting stabbed to death with lollipops.  Network executives are getting dismembered.  One unfortunate person gets slammed in the head with a giant hammer.  You gotta be careful who you piss off, folks.  Robots are ruthless.

To me, the most shocking thing about The Banana Splits Movie was the discovery that it was based on an actual show.  Apparently, the Banana Splits were real and they had their own show in the late 60s and early 70s.  I’m going to guess that the Banana Splits were played by people in costumes as opposed to just being big robots.  At least, I hope that’s the case because, after watching The Banana Splits Movie, I’m kind of over wanting anything to do with robots.

I will say this.  If I imagine the characters from this movie not killing people, I can kinda understand why they would have their own TV show.  I mean, they’re all really cute, except for when they’re covered in blood and brain matter.  My personal favorite was Snorky, who was a big elephant and was a bit less murderous than the other three members of the Banana Splits.  In fact, I have to admit that the film kind of left me feeling a little bit depressed because all of the robots are so cute that you really don’t want to see them murder people or get damaged themselves.  The film actually does a pretty good job of contrasting the adorableness of the Banana Splits with the pain and carnage that they caused.

And make no doubt about it.  There’s a lot of blood spilled in this movie.  The Banana Splits are ruthless murderers and they don’t care how nice you are or if you paid money to see the show or if you’re just trying to make your daughter into a big star.  If they see you, they’ll kill you.  In fact, I have to admit that it sometimes got to be a bit too much for me.  I got a little bit tired of all the violence but, at the same time, I also appreciated the film’s satiric intent.  In a world gone mad, why wouldn’t the stars of a children’s TV show turn out to be a bunch of killer robots?  When you think about all of the once beloved celebrities that have fallen from grace over the past 10 years, it makes an odd sort of sense.

Anyway, The Banana Splits Movie is well made splatter film with a satiric vein running through all blood and guts.  It was a bit much for me but I respected it for sticking to its subversive premise and I do think it will be appreciated by a lot of other horror fans and pop culture fanatics.

I’m just hoping that the sequel features more Snorky.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: The Children (dir by Tom Shankland)

Poor Casey (Hannah Tointon)!

As 2008’s The Children opens, all she wants to do is celebrate New Year’s with her friends.  Instead, her mom and her stepfather are dragging her off to some stupid house in the middle of nowhere, where she’ll have to hang out with her aunt and her dorky uncle and she’ll also be expected to look after not only her two much younger cousins but her two half-siblings as well!  Even worse, once they arrive at the house, all of the young children start to complain about feeling sick.  One of them even throws up.  Everyone assumes it’s just car sickness but could it be something worse?

(Of course.  There’s always something worse!)

In fact, perhaps the only positive thing about the holiday is that it’s snowed!  All of the snow sure does look pretty and it’s a lot of fun to play in.  Once the kids get over being sick, they can’t wait to go outside and have some fun!  One of the adults accompanies them.  While he’s sledding, the kids use a garden rake to kill him.  They even disguise it to look like an accident…

Yep, there’s definitely something going on with the children.  At first, Casey is the only one who understands that the children have turned evil.  (Of course, her first clue comes when they attack her in the woods.)  All the adults are either in shock or denial.  At first, they refuse to even consider that their children are trying to kill them.  Of course, once the children lay siege to the house, the adults are in for a rude awakening…

This is actually the second film called The Children that I’ve reviewed for this site.  The first one was a film from the early 80s that featured a school bus driving through a toxic cloud with the end result being a bunch of homicidal, radioactively-charged children.  In the second version, it’s left a bit more ambiguous as to why the children have suddenly turned homicidal.  While it’s established that that they’re suffering from a virus, the film never tells us where the virus came from or even how it was contracted in the first place.  In fact, until the film’s last few minutes, the audience is never quite sure just how far the infection has spread.  That ambiguity is what gives this film its power.  There’s nothing scarier than not being sure what’s going on.

The Children is a grim and disturbing horror film, one the features very little humor and which ends on an ominous note.  It’s a film that exploits something that we all know but rarely want to admit, which is that children can be incredibly creepy.  We tend to idealize children, which is exactly what the children in this movie use to their advantage.

The Children is also a very well-acted horror film.  Hannah Tointon is sympathetic in the lead role while all of the killer children are played with a proper combination of savagery and innocence.  This may very well be the best killer children film ever made.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Blood Cult (dir by Christopher Lewis)

Oh no!  There are bad things happening!  On a small college campus, co-eds are being stalked and killed by a masked murderer who carries a cleaver.  With each murder, the killer chops off a limb and carries it off with him.  He also leaves behind a mysterious gold medallion, one that appears to feature an etching of a dog on it.  It’s a bit of a mess, really.

Early on, in the 1985 film, Blood Cult, a narrative crawl informs us that the events that we’re watching occurred during the previous winter.  These murders, we’re told, were “the strangest crimes in recent recorded history.”  The film opens with one of those crimes.  In an homage to Psycho and every other slasher movie ever made, the first murder occurs in a shower.  The showering victim looks straight at the camera during her scenes.  When she delivers her lines (“Is that you?  Did you get the pizza?  Did you get my anchovies?”), she does so in a flat, Oklahoma accent.  In short, these scenes proudly announce that we are watching an amateur, regional production.

Anyway, the film itself deals with Sheriff Ron Wilbois (Charles Ellis), who must solve the murders before they harm his chances of being elected to the U.S. Senate.  Fortunately, he has some help from his daughter, Tina (Judi Adelman).  Tina is a librarian, which means that she has magical research powers.  All she has to do is open up a book and, thirty seconds later, she will have discovered whatever needs to have been discovered.  Unfortunately, Tina may have some secrets of her own.  She’s also dating an rather dorky guy named Joel (James Vance).  Joel is the type of guy who, when he meets his girlfriend’s father in a diner, lazily props his feet up in the seat across from him.  I mean, come on, Joel!  At least try to impress the old man!  I kept expecting Sheriff Wilbois to yell, “Get the Hell away from my daughter!” and maybe draw his gun but apparently, that was not the Sheriff’s style.  The Sheriff’s a good, honest lawman.  He’s not the type to abuse his powers.  He just wants to solve the murders, go to the Senate, and drink a lot of Coke.  Seriously, there are so many Coke cans in this movie that, if not for the film’s amateur status, one could be forgiven for assuming that the film was produced by the Coca-Cola Corporation.

Can you spot the Coke?

There’s a twist to Blood Cult but it’s not a particularly surprising one.  In fact, there’s really nothing surprising about Blood Cult.  Some of the gore effects are effective in a low-budget way.  One victims gets beaten to death by another victim’s severed head.  That was kind of creative.  For the most part, though, Blood Cult never escapes the constraints of its low budget and its status as an amateur production.  I did feel that Charles Ellis, who was a regional theater actor, gave a fairly good performance as Sheriff Wilbois.  He came across like being a genuinely nice guy.  I would have voted for him.  The rest of the cast was forgettable at best and painfully stiff at worst.

Blood Cult is historically significant because it was actually the first movie to ever specifically be made for the home video market.  Every straight to video movie ever made is a descendant of Blood Cult.  Apparently, it was filmed in nine days, with the cast and crew taking a week off from their days jobs.  To the film’s credit, there are a few atmospheric scenes, largely because Oklahoma is a naturally atmospheric state.  But, for the most part, Blood Cult has a “Grandpa Picked Up a Video Camera And Made A Horror Film” look and feel to it.  I have a weakness for amateur, regional horror movies and the DVD of Blood Cult comes with a likable director’s commentary but, for the most part, this is a film that’s significant mostly as a piece of historical trivia.


The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Psycho III (dir by Anthony Perkins)

Norman Bates is back!

Released in 1986 and directed by Anthony Perkins himself, Psycho III picks up a few months after Psycho II ended.  Norman (Anthony Perkins, of course) is still free.  He’s still got his motel.  He’s still talking to his dead mother.  Of course, at the end of Psycho II, Norman was told that the woman who Norman thought was his mother actually wasn’t his mother.  Instead, Emma Spool told Norman that she was his mother, which led to Norman promptly hitting her with a shovel and then keeping her preserved body hidden away in the motel.  Got all that?  Great, let’s move on….

In Psycho III, business suddenly starts booming at the Bates Motel!  All sorts of people come by to visit.

For instance, there’s the obnoxious tourists who show up at the motel so they can watch a football game and get drunk.  Future director Katt Shea plays one of the unfortunate tourists, who ends up suffering perhaps the most undignified death in the history of the Psycho franchise.  Shea later ends up being stored in the motel’s ice chest.  At one point, the local sheriff grabs a piece of ice and tosses it in his mouth without noticing that it’s covered in blood.

And then there’s Duane Duke (a young Jeff Fahey!), who is superhot but also super sleazy.  For reasons that are never quite clear, Norman hires Duke to be the assistant manager at the motel.  Duke turns out to be thoroughly untrustworthy but he’s Jeff Fahey so he remains strangely appealing even when he shouldn’t be.

Red (Juliette Cummins) shows up at the motel so that she can have sex with Duke and then get stabbed to death while taking off her top in a phone booth.  That, I guess, is Psycho III‘s equivalent of the first film’s shower scene.  Later, Duke comes across Norman mopping up all the blood in the phone booth but he doesn’t say anything about it.  Duke knows better than to ask why there’s blood in the phone booth.

Tracy Venable (Roberta Maxwell) is a journalist whose sole purpose in life is to prove that Norman murdered Emma Spool.  Tracy’s main function in this film is to explain just why exactly so many different women have claimed to be Norman’s mother.  It’s a rather complicated story and you’ll get a migraine if you think about it for too long.

And finally, there’s Maureen (Diana Scarwid), the former nun who has lost her faith and her sanity.  She shows up at the motel and stays in Marion Crane’s old room.  She takes a bath instead of a shower and slits her wrists.  When Norman storms into the room to kill her, the barely lucid Maureen mistakes him for the Virgin Mary and sees his knife as being a crucifix.  Maureen survives and Norman is hailed as a hero for rescuing her.  Later, Norman and Maureen fall in love.  You can guess how that goes.

When compared to the first sequel, Psycho III is much more of a standard slasher film and there’s certainly never any doubt over who is doing the killing.  However, Perkins again does a great job in the role of Norman, making him both sympathetic and creepy.  Fahey, Scarwid, Maxwell, and Hugh Gillin (as the hilariously clueless sheriff) all provide good support.  There’s really not a single character in this film who doesn’t have at least one odd or memorable quirk.  Duane Duke, for instance, is one of the most amazingly sleazy characters in the history of American cinema.  Just when you think that the character can’t get any worse, he proves you wrong.

As mentioned above, Perkins directed this film.  It was one of two movies that Perkins would direct before his death.  As a director, Perkins had a good visual sense, even if he did allow the narrative to meander a bit.  There’s nothing particularly subtle about Perkins’s direction and several of the scenes — like the sex scene between Duke and Red — are so over the top that they become rather fascinating to watch.  That said, there was really no longer any need to be subtle when it came to Norman Bates and his story.

With the exception of the weird Gus Van Sant remake with Vince Vaughn, Psycho III would be the last Psycho film to be released into theaters.  It would also be Perkins’s second-to-last time to play Norman.  (The last time would be in a 1990 made-for-TV sequel, Psycho IV: The Beginning.  Despite it’s title, Psycho IV pretty much ignored everything that happened in the previous two sequels.)  Perkins passed away in 1992, at the age of 60 but the character of Norman Bates would live on, both in his own performances and in the later work of Freddie Highmore in Bates Motel.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Living Space (dir by Steven Spiel)

So, before I talk about this movie, I want to talk about the title.  This is an independent Australian film from 2018 and, when it was originally released, its title was Living Space.  That’s not a particularly exciting title but it’s a title that goes along with the plot of the film and, in context of the story, it makes sense.

The film has since been retitled Nazi Undead.  That’s the title that’s used on the imdb.  That’s the title that’s used when it airs on Showtime and Starz.  When I recorded the film, I specifically set the DVR to record Nazi Undead.  I’m going to assume that it was felt that Nazi Undead was a more “commercial” title and I suppose it is.  For me, I saw the title and I immediately thought of the great 70s zombie flick, Shock Waves.  That said, it’s not a title that I plan on using in this review.  Living Space may not carry the punch of Nazi Undead but it’s still a far more appropriate title for this film, which involves a very evil spirit but no actual zombies.

As for the film itself, it opens with two Americans tourists driving through Germany.  Ashley (Georgia Chara) and Brad (Leigh Scully) should be having the time of their lives but they just can’t stop arguing.  At one point, Brad even calls Ashley a “whore” and it’s shortly afterwards that a house appears in the distance.  They’re having car trouble.  Brad wants to go in the house and get help.  Ashley is haunted by a horrific sense of deja vu and doesn’t want to.  Brad orders her to enter the house.

It turns out that Ashley was right.  The house is not a place you want to enter.  The house was once owned by a Nazi officer (Andy McPhee) who, one night, murdered his entire family.  His spirit is there and it’s still filled with the hatred and the sadism that fueled the Third Reich.  Brad is killed.  Ashley is next….

Suddenly, Ashley and Brad are sitting in the car again.  The house is sitting in front of them.  Ashley again has a horrific feeling of deja vu.  Brad again orders her to go into the house.  It’s a time loop, always starting with them at the car and always ending with a night of torture and death inside the house.  Each time, Ashley’s sense of deja vu grows stronger.  And each time, Brad is insistent that she enter the house….

It’s an interesting idea, really.  The evil of the Nazis, the film seems to be saying, cannot just be forgotten and, due to stubbornness  or willful blindness, we’re destined to suffer through their evil again and again unless people are willing to listen to and heed the warning signs.  The film opens with a title card that explains the idea behind Hitler’s concept of a “living space,” that room had to be made for the Aryan people and, in order to make that room, all undesirables would have to be moved somewhere else.  The house is a living space, one that is dominated not just by the evil ideology of its former inhabitant but also by the officer’s overwhelming hatred of women.  (Both the ghost and Brad use the word “whore,” which suggests that the whole reason the house appeared was because of Brad’s uttering of that word.  Brad and the ghost are in league, whether Brad realizes it or not.)  Every time, it’s Ashley who know what waits inside the house and Brad who insists that she enter it….

If only the execution was as assured as the idea behind it!  Georgia Chara does a good job in the role of Ashley but the rest of the cast is less impressive and, once they enter the house, the film sometimes seems to get so caught up in trying to duplicate other recent “torture” films that it runs the risk of trivializing exactly what it’s meant to condemn.  The film has a lot of ambition and, flaws and all, I do look forward to seeing what Steven Spiel does next.  Hopefully, whatever it is, it won’t get saddled with a name like Nazi Undead.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Broken Ghost (dir by Richard Gray)

Odd film, Broken Ghost.

It opens with two bikers slowly approaching a big house that appears to be sitting out in the middle of nowhere.  They enter the house, we hear gunshots, and then suddenly….

….a new family is moving into the house!  The Day family is full of secrets, some of which we learn about immediately and others of which are only gradually revealed.  Samantha Day (Scottie Thompson) has recently bought the local drug store and is frustrated by the fact that her husband, William (Nick Farnell), is impotent.  William is a moody artist who is struggling to get over an addiction to pornography.  And then there’s their teenage daughter, who insists on being called Imogen (Autry Haydon-Wilson) even though her real name is Grace.  Or maybe she now wants to be Grace and her original name was Imogen.  To be honest, it’s hard to keep track because everyone refers to her by both names throughout the film.  We do know that Samantha occasionally calls her the wrong name because everyone yells at her about it.

Anyway, Imogen is the reason that the Days have moved to a new house.  Apparently, something bad happened at Imogen’s old school and, as a result, she’s changed her name and her hair.  Imogen is an interesting character and Autry Haydon-Wilson does a good job playing her.  Imogen’s moods swing back and forth, between depression and angry, insecurity and defiance.  You’re on her side as soon as you meet her.  Imogen suffers from a severe vision impairment and the film occasionally shows the world through her eyes.  It’s a uniquely threatening place.

As soon as the Days move into their new home, strange things start to happen.  The television turns on at random and it’s usually showing porn.  Imogen starts to hear a voice calling her name.  Samantha finds herself tempted to run off with every strange man that she sees at the local bar.  William, at least, finds himself artistically inspired.  When his wife and his daughter point out to him that the house is obviously haunted and that it might be a good idea to move somewhere else, William replies, “I’m doing my best work!”

It turns out that the house has quite a history, one that goes beyond those two bikers that we saw earlier.  The house was previously owned by another artist, one who murdered his wife and his children.  When William finds the murderer’s artwork, he starts to slip even further into insanity.  Could it be that William is possessed by the murder’s malevolent spirit or is there a twist lurking in the shadows….

Yes, there is a twist.  I won’t spoil it, beyond saying that it was a pretty bad twist and that it didn’t really make any sense.  In fact, it made me want to throw something at the television.  But, oh well.  I guess we should be happy that Broken Ghost tried to do something unexpected.  Still, as a result of the twist, the movie ends on a rather sour note and it’s hard not to feel that one member of the Day household has been excessively punished while another member of the family has basically gotten away with acting like a complete asshole.  And that’s all I’ll say about that.

So, it’s a flawed film that doesn’t really work but there are still some effective moments.  As I said, Imogen’s an interesting character and I almost wish that the film had dropped all of the supernatural mystery stuff and instead just focused on her character and her struggle to move on with her life.  Say what you will about the script but the cinematography is gorgeous and full of atmosphere.  There’s good moments all through Broken Ghost.

It’s just a shame about that ending.