Dark Faith (Deadly Blessing, 1981)

Taking on religious zealotry, Deadly Blessing focusing on a couple who live in a farming community of Hittites. Jim was a Hittite, but left the faith when he married Martha. When Martha becomes pregnant, they seek the help of a local midwife who is also not a part of the Hittite community. When Jim is murdered one night, two of Martha’s friends come from the city to help and comfort her.

The women find themselves at odds with the local Hittite leader Isaiah who is certain they are a threat to his community, seductresses who tempt the men. When his son is murdered, things begin to escalate.

There are some pretty good frights in the film, especially some nightmares involving spider. Ernest Borgnine chews some scenery. The nightmare imagery hints at what was yet to come. But the storytelling just barely rises above the level of a TV movie (one of the writers was also a writer on Craven’s Summer of Fear). I never found myself feeling invested in the characters.

This is not a Wes Craven classic, and that is too bad. Seeing Craven explore religious and secular conflict feels like it would be fertile ground for him. But in the end, Deadly Blessing is fairly mediocre.

Replacement (Summer of Fear, 1978)

Wes Craven’s career took a detour into the world of TV movies. His first was the Linda Blair thriller Summer of Fear.

Blair plays Rachel, a teenager living in rural California with her loving family whose life gets shaken up when her recently orphaned cousin Julia comes to live with the family. As Julia seems to become accepted by the family and locals, Rachel starts to believe Julia is a menace out to replace her.

Rachel sees a series of misfortunes that convince her that Julia is a witch and sets out to convince her skeptical friends and family.

As TV movies go, this is… okay? There are no standout performances or anything. It is also not a very special effects heavy film. It is pretty forgettable and not particularly exciting. It certainly lacks Craven’s voice.

The Hills Are Alive With Blood (the Hills Have Eyes, 1977)

After some uh, detours, Craven returned to the horror scene. His return was a violent fight as a family finds their RV Camper breaking down in the middle of the desert. But the family does not realize that they are not alone. Somewhere in the seemingly barren hills around them there are a threat greater than the sun or scorpions.

Inspired by the Scottish legend of Sawney Beane and his family of robber cannibals. Adding to this was Craven’s appreciation for Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And the results? Unlike Last House on the Left, I find the Hills Have Eyes to be a film far easier to rivisit.

A focus on class warfare, or more civilized versus feral, the story follows the Carters. The family is on a road trip. They decide to take a shortcut, in spite of warnings against it from a local gas station owner. When their RV seems to blow a tire, the Carter assume nothing to be wrong. But as the hours pass, they start to become aware that they may not be alone. As things escalate, the Carters find themselves in a place of fear.

Not understanding what or who they are dealing with, the struggle becomes one for survival…which family walks away? Are the Carters bound to be a statistic of people who disappeared in the desert?

The central conflict of the Jupiter clan and the Carter family is an intense one. The Carters have clearly never had to fight tooth and claw, and so they have a steep learning curve.

This is a stronger narrative and Craven keeps a strong and oppressive tone through out the film. This is, in my opinion, the real start to showing what Craven was capable of and worth a watch.

Death of the Maiden (The Last House on the Left, 1972)

In the beginning of the 70’s Wes Craven was a college professor looking to transition his life. With the help of future Friday the 13th producer Sean S. Cunningham, Craven set out to write and direct his first film, a loose adaption of Ingmar Bergman’s the Virgin Spring.

The young Mari and her friend head off to see a concert in anticipation of her 17th birthday. But on the trip, the two young women end up crossing the paths of a sadistic group of escaped criminals. They proceed to rape and murder Mari’s friend, but Mari runs and falls into the river. Leaving her to die the crew seek a place to hide. They come across a remote house and convince the family to let them enter. The thugs are unaware that they have actually happened upon Mari’s family.

But later Mari appears at the house, on death’s door. Enraged, her parents set about bringing angry retribution up the criminals.

To be honest, the Last House on the Left is a movie I originally saw over 20 years ago.  It left me nauseous and I really doubted I would ever watch it again.  But I recently got the blu-ray incredibly cheap and decided to get it for the special features.

But I chose to watch the film once more to reassess the work.  And honestly, most of the film would be a workable crime thriller.  It has scummy bad guys lead by David Hess who is scary beyond words.  But the film also suffers from some tonal inconsistencies with the cops appearances in the film almost being comical.

But the thing that keeps me from recommending the film is not the rough edges of a new writer and director. It is the long and lingeringly graphic rape and murder sequence. Certainly, Craven does not play it for entertainment. It is excruciatingly gritty and uncomfortable to sit through. It makes this a film I just have no desire to return to.

In Dreams

Welcome to the month of October. Our theme this month is looking back at the films of Wes Craven. I have always been a fan of his work. Wes was a film maker who wanted to explore things in his stories. Social problems, family conflict, politics…he came from a religious background, as I did. And we both found ourselves leaving that faith…but drawn to storytelling.

Wes Craven

I won’t be cover Nightmare On Elm Street, New Nightmare or People Under the Stairs as I already have written about them. I will be covering the rest of his horror and thriller releases right on up to Scream 4. I will also be including his TV movies and the remakes of his work.

Tomorrow we begin with the Last House on the Left.

Holy Land Hell (Jeruzalem, 2015)

Found Footage films always feel like an attempt to make a movie on the cheap with a hope for big returns. Ghosts are common because they are easy to fake. Sometimes you can strike gold…but frankly, a lot of times you have a forgettable film with wide hollow eyed ghosts in asylums.

This film tries to be something a bit different. At times it reminded me of Cloverfield, but with a religious bent. the film opens with footage and voiceover referring to three gates from hell and one that was discovered. There are glimpses of winged demonic looking creatures being detained by the military.

The film then jumps to two friends planning a trip to visit Isreal. On the plain they meet a handsome archeologist and decide to follow him to Jerusalem. But what they expect to be a fun party time suddenly is shook when the military starts flooding the city and bombing areas. They find themselves locked in the city and along with others seek to avoid the the monsters that seem to be infesting the city and get outside the city walls through tunnels.

The winged demons attack people and then those people start to exhibit behavior not unlike a zombie. It is a race against time to survive.

Like a lot of found footage, the film struggles to justify keeping the camera running. The film has decent looking monsters, even if the early stage is just “black eyes”. But I did find myself curious to get a better idea of the creatures and their motives. There were glimpses of large creature that the Israeli military is firing on, but we never really find out the nature of that.

The film never devolves into a preachy, God’s Not Dead take on religion and really plays up the mystery of the even. Even at the end it is left unclear what brought this all on.

As I noted, the film struggles to justify the main character constantly filming and honestly, they start adding “battle damage” to the picture which is meant to give more realism (hey the lens is cracked!)… but honestly is become kind of annoying.

This is a pretty middle ground found footage film. It will not leave you frustrated…but it is not likely to be one you are talking about long after watching it.

The Antici-(The Rocky Horror Picture Show, 1975)

I had never seen the Rocky Horror Picture Show until 2020. Like, I have heard many of the songs. I have seen pictures and heard about the midnight screenings. I am fully aware of Tim Curry’s fame largely being inspired by this role. I know of the film and it’s legend. But I have never, simply sat down and watched it.

And so now I have watched the the legendary film and…uh…

I did not hate it…it has it’s charms. But I don’t know that I loved it.  Maybe this is because the film made its cult status through being an interactive audience experience…and sitting in my living room alone is not the same.

The story feels largely like an inconsequential mess. But there is no denying that when Tim Curry comes on screen, he is just an absolute delight.  Curry is reckless in his enthusiastic performance and I really enjoy every moment he is on screen. This is not to downplay the other performances, as the central characters are all memorable and fun. But Curry has a habit of outshining people in films for me.

I am glad I finally took the time to watch the film for the music and the performances, feeling like I have filled in one of the most beloved midnight films of all time.

 

 

A Wrench In Time (The Terminator, 1984)

The_Terminator_PosterIn 1984, James Cameron was a genre vet, but not quite the guy we think of.  He had no mega-hits…yet. Cameron came up out of the Corman school and made his names with technical and special effects….especially stretching the low budget effects.

His one theatrical film before the Terminator is Piranha II: the Spawning, and then his next film is…

In 1984 a mysterious massive stranger appears in a crackle of lightning in an alley.  He has a singular aim and will.

Elsewhere, another man appears in an alley (less gracefully). Disoriented he asked when he is. He, like the more ominous stranger has a goal…in fact they are both here to locate Sarah Conner, a young woman of immense importance to the future.

Both men are from the future, one where there is a war between man and machine. When the machines realize they are about to lose, they send back a Terminator, a large massive robot covered in human flesh to allow them to infiltrate human encampments and kill a target. The Terminator’s target is the mother of the man who will rally humanity together to defeat the robot oppressors.

Kyle Reese has been sent back to protect young Sarah Conner from the Terminator.

The Terminator is a shockingly good second film, showing that Cameron had a real vision as he made the film.  It is a sci-fi horror film that keeps everything simple.  By the team it ends, we have a perfect circle of time, so it is not confusing or asking you to make any bigger stretch than accepting time travel.

Cameron is as committed to his characters as much as effects and action.  Sarah is believable and sympathetic as an everyman finding herself in an impossible situation and rising to occasion.  Considering the biggest ask is that we believe she falls in love with Reese overnight, and Hamilton and Biehn have enough chemistry to make it work.

Arnold Schwarzenegger had already made a mark as Conan, but this time he has a real menacing charisma that sells the notion that a massive cyborg is walking the city.

The effects remain an outstanding achievement. Sure, you can see the stop motion models and the rubber heads…but they are such well crafted effects, you do not mind and they are downright pleasing to watch.

The Terminator is a film that has withstood the test of time and such an incredibly impressive effort for someone’s second film.

Open House Pt 5 (House: the Collection)

For a long time, it was hard to come by the films in this set, outside of the first two which were more well known. Until Arrow came along, a complete blu-ray set seemed an unlikely scenario.

House_Box_set

Each disc comes in its own case with reversible art, one side newly created artwork for the Arrow Releases and the other side the original poster or VHS art. I admit, my preference is to the original art.  The paintings are really nice, but the disembodied hand ring the doorbell is iconic.

The Box itself is sturdy, allowing for safe storage.

Each disc is loaded with extras, including bonus interviews, audio commentaries and all new documentaries for three of the films. I wish they had one for the third film. However, the Horror Show includes the American and European cuts in HD.

This is a good set, full of really good extras to let you immerse yourself in the history of each movie.

Open House pt 4 (House IV: The Repossession, 1992)

House_4_posterAfter the massive departure with the Horror Show (including abandoning the “House III”) Sean S. Cunningham worked with a new team to bring out House 4.

This film is an attempt to return to something closer to the first two films.  This film features the “return” of Roger Cobb, again played by William Katt. Cobb and his wife are being pressured by his step-brother to sell their old house.

Roger is killed an accident that also leaves his daughter wheelchair bound.  Roger’s wife Kelly wants to keep the house, but also senses a presence and sees visions.  Roger’s Step Brother is in league with a sleazy business man who is looking for a place to unload his toxic waste and they want the land on which the house sits.

The odd thing with this film is that it really does not connect to the original film at all.  In that film he was divorced and had a son. This film has a wife and daughter and it appears they have been happily married for over a decade.  There is really nothing that indicates there is any connections between the Roger Cobb of the first House and this film.

This one has an uneven feel.  There are a few instances where they aim for humor, but it still stays closer to a serious tone for most of the film.  And it moves at a slow pace. Having William Katt return as Cobb is just kind of confusing.

Overall, this film has a very early Fox TV movie feel (lie, the early days of Fox when they were trying anything to make it work…like the Omen IV). This never matches up to the heights of fun absurdity of the first two films, nor the gory seriousness of the third film, and it is just a bit lackluster.

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