The Prey’s The Thing: THE PROWLER (Sandhurst Films 1981)


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While flipping through the channels late one Saturday night, I came across a title called THE PROWLER. It was not a remake of the 1951 film noirdirected by Ida Lupino and starring Van Heflin and Evelyn Keyes, but a slasher shocker with a couple of noir icons in the cast, namely Lawrence Tierney and Farley Granger. Intrigued by this, I decided what the hell, let’s give it a watch! And though Tierney and Granger are in it, their screen time is limited, and I discovered the real star of this film is makeup/special effects wizard Tom Savini.

The plot is your basic “psycho-killer on the loose terrorizing coeds” retread, but the backstory was enough to hook me. We begin with newsreel footage of the troops returning home from WWII in 1945, and a graduation dance at a California college. Pretty young Rosemary Chapman, who wrote her soldier boy…

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The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Deathdream (dir by Bob Clark)


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The 1974 film Deathdream opens with American soldier Andy Brooks (played by Richard Backus) on patrol in Vietnam. When he’s suddenly shot by an unseen sniper, he hears his mother’s voice calling out to him, telling him that he promised to come home. With the voice filling his head, Andy closes his eyes.

Sometime later, back in America, Andy’s family has been informed that Andy was killed in action. His father (John Marley, who you might recognize as the man who played Jack Woltz in The Godfather) and his younger sister (Anya Ormsby) have managed to accept the fact that Andy is dead but his mother (Lynn Carlin) remains in denial. Oddly enough, his mother is apparently proven to be correct in her doubts when Andy suddenly shows up at the front door.

The family (and, eventually, the entire community) welcomes Andy home but it quickly becomes apparent that Andy has returned as a far different person than when he left. Now pasty and emotionless, Andy spends most of his day sitting around listlessly. It’s only at night that Andy seems to have any energy and he spends those hours wandering around town and hanging out in the local cemetery.

It quickly becomes apparent to his father that Andy is no longer quite human. However, his devoted mother continues to insist that nothing is wrong with Andy and, once it becomes apparent just what exactly Andy is doing in order to survive, she becomes just as fanatical about protecting him as his father is about destroying him.

Not surprisingly, Deathdream is more than just a zombie film.  When Andy suddenly shows up on his family’s doorstep, he’s more than just a decaying monster.  He’s also a metaphor for the unease that viewers in the 70s would have felt about the state of American society.  (Of course, in many ways, contemporary viewers share that same unease.)  Andy goes off to war and it literally robs him of his humanity.  I would also argue that, in its way, Deathdream serves as a satire of the type of complacent society that sends young people off to fight for their lives and then expects them to come back exactly the same as they were before they left.  No matter how strange Andy’s behavior becomes, the people around him are willing to either ignore it or make excuses for it.  Andy’s mother emerges as a stand-in for everyone who willfully refuses to acknowledge the human consequences of war.

Deathdream is one of those wonderful horror films that deserves to be better known than it is. Deathdream was an early credit for the legendary effects artist Tom Savini and, while the film itself is not especially gory, Savini’s work can definitely be seen in the scenes where Backus’s body slowly decays. Screenwriter Alan Ormsby and director Bob Clark (who later went on to direct the far different A Christmas Story) perfectly creates and maintains a deceptively low-key atmosphere of perpetual unease while the cast elevates the entire film. Backus makes for an all-too plausible ghoul and Marley is great as a man struggling to understand what his son has become. The film is totally stolen, however, by Lynn Carlin who is both poignant and frightening as Andy’s devoted mother.

If you haven’t discovered Deathdream yet, this Halloween is the perfect season to do so.

The Daily Horror Grindhouse: Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (directed by Romano Scavolini)


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I once read about a low-budget horror film that was released in the mid-70s.  The film was advertised as being “a film that could only have been made in South America … where life is cheap!”  That little bit of advertising hyperbole has always stuck with me and sometimes, when I see a particularly nasty exploitation or horror film, I find myself saying, “They must have made this movie somewhere where life is cheap!”

This, of course, brings us to Nightmares in a Damaged Brain, an Italian film that was originally released in 1981, at the height of the slasher movie boom.  Nightmares is infamous as one of those gore-filled horror films that has achieved a certain amount of immortality by being banned in several different countries.  It’s only been within the past few years that Nightmares has been released on DVD in the U.S.  That DVD is supposedly the “uncut” version of the film but there are rumors of scenes so bloody and disturbing that they have still not seen the light of day.  Usually, it’s something of a let down to finally see a film as infamous as Nightmares in a Damaged Brain.  It’s rare that a film’s reality ever lives up to the rumors surrounding it.  However, having seen Nightmares in a Damaged Brain, I can truly say that, if nothing else, this film had to have been made in a place where life is cheap.

Nightmares in a Damaged Brain concerns itself with George (Baird Stafford), a violent inmate at a New York insane asylum who is given an experimental drug that seems to control his violent impulses.  He’s released from the hospital and, after spending some time wandering around some of the seediest sections of New York ever captured on film, he ends up at a sex club, writhing on the floor and foaming at the mouth.  Apparently, that drug’s not working as well as everyone thought…

Soon, George has stolen a car and he is relentlessly driving across the country.  George, it seems, is obsessed with a young boy who lives in Florida along with his loud, white trash family.  Along the way to Florida, George has several gore-filled nightmares (the majority of which feature him as a bowtie-wearing child, murdering two people with an axe) and kills a few random people as well.

While the film was released to take advantage of the early 80s slasher boom, director Romano Scavolini rejected many of the conventions of slasher genre.  Instead of emphasizing pretty teenagers and slick production values, Scavolini instead emphasized the sordid “reality” of the film’s rather trashy cast of characters.  There’s not a likable character to be found anywhere within this film nor is there a single scene that doesn’t feel as if it’s been drenched in sleaze.  An ominous atmosphere of impending, relentless doom hangs over every second of the film.  This doesn’t necessarily make for an enjoyable viewing experience but it is a film that, once you start watching, is difficult to look away from.

The film’s opening credits (and the poster pictured above) claim that the gore effects were done by the famous Tom Savini.  Savini has always denied having anything to do with the film and, at one point, threatened to sue the filmmakers to get his name removed from the credits.  Regardless of whether Savini did them or not, the film’s gore effects are memorable and rather disturbing.

I had to take a shower after sitting through Nightmares In A Damaged Brain and I doubt I’ll ever watch it a second time.  Still, I’m glad that I did watch it because this brutally effective film is truly a part of horror film history.  If nothing else, I can now honestly say that I’ve seen a film that truly must have been made somewhere where life is cheap.

Horror Film Review: Martin (dir by George Romero)


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When I say “George Romero,” you probably immediately think of zombies.  And why not?  Night of the Living Dead is perhaps the best known zombie film ever made and Dawn of the Dead is perhaps the second best known.  Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead both have their fervent admirers.  Without the work of George Romero, there would be no Walking Dead.  Without the zombie films of George Romero, countless children would have never grown up to become horror filmmakers.  Without George Romero, there would have been no Italian zombie films, which means that I would never have fallen in love with Italian horror and I wouldn’t have been tweeting about it that day in 2010 when Arleigh asked me if I wanted to be a contributor to this website.

Seriously, we all owe a lot to the zombie films of George Romero.

And yet, interestingly enough, Romero’s best film was one that did not feature a single zombie.  In fact, it’s a film that, despite the delusions of some of its characters, does not feature a single supernatural element.  It’s definitely a horror film but the horrors of the 1978 film Martin are the horrors of the human mind.

Martin (John Amplas) is young, nervous, socially awkward, and enjoys drinking blood.  The sun makes him slightly uncomfortable, though it does not make him burst into flames.  He has frequent black-and-white flashbacks, in which he sees himself pursued by villagers carrying torches and pitchforks.  Occasionally, Martin calls up a radio talk show and has actually gained an audience of listeners, who only know him as “the Count.”  Martin believes himself to be a vampire.  Of course, he’s not.  Instead, he’s just a creepy and mentally unbalanced necrophiliac.

Unfortunately, for Martin, his extremely religious uncle Tateh Cuda (Lincoln Maazel) is also convinced that Martin is a vampire.  Martin’s parents have died and Cuda has agreed to allow Martin to live with him in the dying industrial town of Braddock, Pennsylvania.  As soon as Martin arrives, Cuda greets him as “Nosferatu” and tells him that if he kills anyone in Braddock, Cuda will pound a stake into his heart.

(Of course, what Cuda doesn’t know, is that Martin already murdered a woman during the train ride from Indiana to Pennsylvania.)

Upon arriving at his new home, Martin works at Cuda’s butcher shop and, defying his uncle’s orders, gets to know his cousin Christine (Christina Forrest).  Martin finds himself torn between his fantasy life as a vampire and the chance to lead a normal existence in Braddock.  He meets a bored housewife, Mrs. Santini (Elyane Nadeau), and soon is having an affair with her but he still finds himself driven to search for blood.

Meanwhile, Cuda watches and continues to sharpen his stake…

Martin is a dark and grim (and yet, at times, darkly humorous) portrait of two people living under a shared delusion.  Just as Martin gains satisfaction by imagining himself as being a supernatural vampire known as the Count, Cuda feels that his purpose in life is to protect the community from bloodsuckers like his nephew.  Both of them need the other to function but they’re equally destined to destroy each other.  Amplas and Maazel both give excellent performances and Romero captures a tragic sort of beauty to Braddock’s decay.

Martin may be one of Romero’s less known films but it’s also one of his best.

Horror Film Review: The Prowler (dir by Joseph Zito)


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“A prowler has been seen around the campus and, well … he could be dangerous.”

— Miss Allison (Donna Davis) in The Prowler (1981)

Miss Allison was one of those largely ineffectual authority figures who always seems to turn up in slasher films from the early 80s.  It was easy to be dismissive of her and personally, I can’t get over the fact that she would actually show up for the big graduation dance wearing pantyhose with sandals.  But still, Miss Allison had a point here.  There was a prowler wandering around campus and was he ever dangerous!

Of course, this all could have been avoided if they just hadn’t had a graduation dance to begin with.  Eccentric old Maj. Chatham (Lawrence Tierney) understood that.  He remembered what had happened at the town of Avalon Bay’s graduation dance of 1945, how Rosemary (Joy Glaccum) and her new date where both killed by a pitchfork-wielding maniac.  Chatham had spent the last 35 years protesting any plans to hold another graduation dance.

However, in 1980, one feisty student named Pam (Vicky Dawson) finally convinced the town to allow them to hold a graduation dance.  It probably helped the Pam’s boyfriend, Mark (Christopher Goutman) was a deputy.  The morning of the dance, reports came in that someone had robbed a nearby store, murdered the store owner, and might be heading towards the town of Avalon Bay.

The sheriff (Farley Granger, who played Guy Haines in Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train) reacted to this news by announcing that he was going fishing and leaving Mark in charge.  And, before the viewer could say, “Wait a minute — how does that make any sense?,” the sheriff was gone, the dance was on, and a maniac in a combat uniform was killing people with a bayonet and a pitchfork.

Yes, Miss Allison, the prowler was quite dangerous.

Having read that plot description, you might have a suspicion as to who the prowler actually was.  But you’re probably thinking to yourself, “No, that is way too obvious a solution!”  Well, no — it isn’t.  You will not learn the Prowler’s identity until the final few minutes of the film but you will have guessed it early on.

The Prowler is not going to win any points for originality.  It’s a slasher film from the early 80s, with everything that implies.  For people who know their horror history, it’s a time capsule of that brief period when slashers were still making an effort to be American gialli, before the genre became dominated by loquacious monsters like Freddy Krueger and postmodern snark.  As a character, the Prowler says next to nothing and really has no personality beyond a few questionable hobbies.  But he certainly does kill a lot of people and seems to truly enjoy it.

And, if you hate these type of films, you’re going to hate The Prowler.  But, that being said, The Prowler is actually one of the better examples of the early 80s slasher genre.  Much as he would do with both Abduction and Friday the 13th — The Final Chapterdirector Joseph Zito keeps the bloody action moving and, though they may be playing stock characters, he gets above average performances from his entire cast.  As opposed to a lot of slasher films of the period, you actually feel bad when these people meet their untimely end.

And finally, the Prowler himself is just scary!  The combination of the Prowler’s menacing appearance and Tom Savini’s relentless gore effects sets this film apart from other contemporary slashers, like Graduation Day.  Even by the standards of slasher psychos, the Prowler is cruel and sadistic.  It’s not just that he kills with a bayonet.  It’s that he obviously get so much enjoyment from doing it.  At its best, The Prowler is pure nightmare fuel.

Finally, on a personal note, I have to admit that it kind of freaked me out that one of the Prowler’s victims was named Lisa.  As I’ve said before, slasher films tend to scare me precisely because I know that there’s no way I’d survive one.  We always tell ourselves that people in slasher movies die because they do unbelievably stupid things but honestly, I think we all do a lot of stupid things every day.  After all, we all behave under the assumption that we’re not on the verge of being attacked by a knife-wielding maniac.  Hence, it’s easy to say, “Don’t go in that room!” but why shouldn’t someone go in that room?  After all, they’re not watching the movie.  They don’t know there’s a killer in that room.  Lisa in The Prowler certainly did some stupid things and what freaked me out was that I could easily imagine myself doing the same stupid things.

(True, unlike the film’s Lisa, I wouldn’t go out by myself in the middle of night, strip down to my underwear, and then jump in a pool but I’m planning on conquering my fear of drowning someday soon and who knows what might then happen!)

Seriously, people — be kind to the Lisas in your life.

Back to School #74: The Perks of Being A Wallflower (dir by Stephen Chbosky)


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“We are infinite.” — Charlie (Logan Lerman) in The Perks of Being A Wallflower (2012)

So, here’s the thing.  In general, I try not to judge people.  I have friends (and family) of all races, religion, and political ideologies.  I may not always agree with you but I will always respect your right to disagree.  With that being said, if you don’t love the 2012 film The Perks of Being a Wallflower, then I’m worried about you.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is based on a novel that I read and loved right before I entered high school.  In fact, I loved the novel so much that I had my doubts about whether or not the film could do it justice.  Of course, if I had been paying attention, I would have noticed that the film was directed by the same man who wrote the book, Stephen Chbosky.  Everything that made Wallflower such a powerful book — the honesty, the understanding of teen angst, the underlying sadness — is perfectly captured in the film.

Wallflower tells the story of Charlie (Logan Lerman), a painfully shy and emotionally sensitive high school freshman.  Charlie starts the school year under the weight of two tragedies — the suicide of his best friend and the death of his aunt.  Because he’s so shy, Charlie struggles to fit in and make friends, though he does find a mentor of sorts in his English teacher, Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd, playing the type of teacher that we all wish we could have had in high school).

Charlie, however, does not find a mentor in shop class, which is taught by Mr. Callahan (Tom Freaking Savini!).  However, he does meet Patrick (Ezra Miller), a witty and cynical senior who, because he’s openly gay, is as much of an outcast as Charlie.  Patrick introduces Charlie to Sam (Emma Watson).  Charlie assumes that Sam and Patrick are dating (especially after he sees them dancing together) but later he learns that they are actually stepsiblings and that Patrick is secretly seeing a closeted jock named Brad (Johnny Simmons).  That works out well for Charlie because he has a crush on the free-spirited Sam.

The rest of the film follows Charlie as he survives his first year in school and Patrick and Sam as they complete their final year.  It’s a long but exciting year in which Charlie discovers everything from drugs to the mysteries of sex to the pleasures of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Even more importantly, it’s a year that forces Charlie to confront his own unresolved emotional issues.

Sensitively acted by the three leads and featuring a great soundtrack, The Perks of Being A Wallflower is one of the best films about growing up that I’ve ever seen.  For me, there is no scene that best captures everything that’s great about being young than the scene where Sam, upon hearing David Bowie’s Heroes on the radio, demands to be driving through a tunnel.  It’s a great scene from a great movie that celebrates both just how scary and amazing it is to have your entire life ahead of you and the special friendships that help us survive.

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Trailer: Django Unchained


The last couple days have seen the release of a number of upcoming films that should be jockeying for all those fancy-pants end of season awards. One such film is the latest film from Quentin Tarantino. Django Unchained is his latest trip into the grindhouse world with this film being his take on the spaghetti westerns made popular by Italian maestros like Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci and Enzo G. Castellari.

It’s an ensemble cast that’s headlined by Jamie Foxx in the title role with Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson and Leonardo DiCaprio (playing against the grain as the main villain of the piece). To pay respect to the very genre that this film owes not just it’s title, but theme and tone, Tarantino has even cast the original Django in Franco Nero in the role of Amerigo Vassepi.

Django Unchained is set for a Christmas Day 2012 release date (hopefully the world didn’t end just four days earlier).