As Little Children (Dolls, 1987)

Dolls_PosterCharles Band really loves his little monsters. Sometimes you get Skull Heads. But other times? You get Dolls.

Young Judy is on a road trip with her father and step-mother.  Neither seem to thrilled to have young Judy along and they constantly belittle her for…well being a kid. After their car breaks down, a sudden storm forces them to seek shelter.  They come across a remote house occupied by an elderly couple. The storm also brings in two young punk chicks and a driver who had offered them a ride. He is a bit of a doofus to all the adults, and the girls accuse him of being a sex creep.

The couple give everyone a place to sleep that night, and that is when it all gets strange for them. Each room is packed full of dolls. Now, Judy is thrilled when the old man offers her a doll for the night to take the place of her lost teddy bear.  But the adults show the dolls no respect. And that leads to mayhem.

Playing off a certain creepiness of the uncanny valley with dolls, director Stuart Gordon effectively plays the story out making the most of the creepy ambience of the setting. Ed Naha has written a story that manages to be both fun and creepy.  The old couple are doll makers with a dark secret, while the supposes sex creep turns out to be a decent guy (which is definitely to his benefit as they try and survive the night).  But the reveal of the truth behind the toy makers doll is good old creepy fun. It also leads to a darkly happy ending.

Dolls is a great little 80’s supernatural horror film and worth a watch.

Dark Places (Cellar Dweller, 1988)

cellar_dweller_vhs1988’s Cellar Dweller is a direct to video horror flick that remain pretty largely forgotten.  I actually remember seeing it on video store shelves, but never got around to renting it.  And when DVD exploded, among the many films that made the transition, this was not one.

It tells the tale of a young art student, Whitney Taylor (Debrah Farentino), who is attending an art institute that is located in the former home of her favorite comic book artist.  30 years prior, Colin Childress (Jeffrey Combs) realized his imagination was coming to life…as he drew horror comics, this could be bad news.  He set fire to cellar to destroy what his mind brought forth.

Whitney discovers his work in the cellar and begs the woman running the institute, Mrs Briggs (Yvonne De Carlo) to set up shop in the seller.  Briggs seems to not care for Whitney and sends her rival Amanda (an aspiring journalist) to spy on her.

As people start to die at the hands of the monster in Whitney’s and Childress’ art, Whitney confronts Mrs. Briggs, certain that she has it out for her (and rightly so).  But soon, the demon in the comics seems to take over, beyond the control of Whitney’s imagination.

The film relies heavily on comic art, which frankly is not that impressive.  Also, watching Jeffrey Combs in the beginning inking already fully inked art makes it pretty obvious he was not an artist…he moves his hands like someone pretending to conduct music.  The jumps between Whitney drawing and the monster killing victims is awkward, because there is no way she would pencil and ink at the pace of the monster’s killing.

There is also an odd choice to use cartoonish sound effects during scenes where the monster is killing people.  It detracts from the moment.

The monster is pretty decent looking considering when the film was made.  This is not to surprising, as director John Carl Buechler started as an effects guy, and a pretty solid one.  The monster actually was recognizable as a Buechler creation (and looks not unlike something from his films Ghoulies 3: Choulies Go to College or Troll).

The films biggest downfall is in the story.  It is an interesting concept that gets downright confusing in the end.  Did she create her fellow students?  Is she killing them? Is it the monster feeding off her imagination?  With a better script (the film is written by Chucky creator Don Mancini) that put the concept to stronger use this might not have been a film that fell between the cracks of horror history.

Shout! Factory has released the film on Blu-Ray and DVD as part of a double feature set.  There are no bonus features for the film.  The HD transfer came from a single remaining print from a private collection, so the picture is not perfect, but it still looks quite good.

Let’s Go Camping Part 7 (Friday the 13th: New Blood, 1988)

friday_13th_7_poster_01There was only one year the entire decade without a Friday the 13th movie released.  1987.  But 1988 sure fixed that problem!  Well, I gotta give them points for trying something a little different. Instead of a bunch of teen victims with nothing to help them, we get a girl with telekinetic powers.

The story opens with a backstory, in case this is your first Friday. And old man tells us that Jason is still down there…waiting. Then we meet a little girl whose parents are fighting. According to what we hear, daddy hits mommy. The little girl runs to her family’s doc and jumps into a boat with dad running out after her. He gets to the end of the dock, making all the apologies abusive dads do. But the little girl will have none of it and her super powers kick in…see, she makes water bubble…and that bubbling trail is deadly…it goes back the fancy dock. It starts to shake and then collapses, taking Daddy with it. He sinks to the bottom and dies.

Fast forward to when the girl (Tina) is older and apparently suffering from years of therapy. Her mother is driving her back to Crystal Lake, to confront her demons with the help of her psychiatrist. The actor playing the psychiatrist is none other than Bernie of the weekend of Bernie films. It’s pretty obvious early on he has sinister intentions, the film makes no attempts to hide that. Really,it would have been far more interesting if he was a good and caring doctor. Next door are a bunch of partying teens. Thankfully, we get a realistic portrayal of a group of teens this time around. Everyone knows that in each group of friends you have one rich, hot, bitchy girl. You have one geek. One dope smoking fiend. One or two “plain girls” who compete for one guy. And at least one really horny couple (this film gives us two glory hallelujeh!). And finally, you have the one guy who does not really like the others, a bit of a rebel, but with a heart of gold.

When Tina’s luggage bursts open, the rebel tries to help her, and she rudely brushes himself off. The obvious reaction is to be intrigued and assume it was your fault she was rude to you…and that’s exactly what he does. She ignores his attempts to give a shirt back to her, storming off into her house. So he WASHES it and gives it back to her. And invites her to the birthday party they are all there to celebrate. So she goes. Of course, hot, rich bitchy girl humiliates her and she runs outside. She stands on the dock, crying about her abusive dad. Wishing she had not killed him. She concentrates on the water and frees Jason. That makes two movies where Jason is set upon the world by the people who stop him. Good going.

She faints, Jason looks around, decides killing unconscious people is not very fun and goes off to kill awake people. We have death by fist, tree, tent spike, tree pruner, axe and the old fashioned head crush. There is even an homage to Jaws…which the director makes all about the T&A. This film actually has some of the most offensive “victims see Jason and wait for him to kill them” moments. This homage is the worst of them. Because when Jason bursts from the water about ten feet away, the girl’s response is to scream and tread wildly. Pretty soon Tina and her love interest, the Rebel with a Heart of Gold are all that’s left. But supergirl Tina and the Rebel with a heart of gold fight back. Well, supergirl Tina fights back, the Rebel with a Heart of Gold just gets thrown around…a lot. Finally, supergirl Tina makes the house blow up (will, it’s a bit more nuanced than that, but I don’t feel like giving a blow by blow account) with Jason inside. But Jason is not so easily dispatched and walks from the burning rubble out onto the dock where supergirl Tina and the Rebel with a Heart of Gold are resting up. Jason tosses him aside-yet again-and Tina starts to panic…suddenly something bursts from the dock and grabs Jason. Apparently, nobody thought it was a good idea to removed the body of her dead father all those years ago, and he actually looks quite good. He wraps chains around Jason and pulls him into the deep. The firemen and paramedics come along and everyone is safe. I love a happy ending.

There is a lot of fun in the fact that Tina is able to fight Jason, and there is a nice juxtaposition with her powers being mind based and Jason being a pure physical force.  The special effects are quite strong for their time.  This is not terribly surprising since Director John Carl Beuchler came from an effects background.  This is one of the more energized films in the franchise.

This is Kane Hodder’s first time as Jason and he brings a lot of presence and physical character.  His run in the Franchise is one of the high points.

BTW, Seven is the first film where the titles do not literally explode onto the screen. 1-6 all featured the words “Friday the 13th” which were then obliterated by the subtitle flying up from behind.

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