Blessed With a Plot Twist, Cursed With the Main Plot

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Out somewhere in the vast American countryside is a little farming community where the agrarian Hittites – a religious commune with a similar distaste for modern technology and dress sense to the Amish, but with substantially stricter internal rules – live next door to neighbours of a far more conventional and modern bent.

Caught between the two communities are Martha and Jim Schmidt (Maren Jensen and Douglas Barr). Jim is the son of Hittite leader Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine), and inherited from his family the farm and farmhouse called Our Blessing. But he is no longer with the Hittites; the first of the sect to go to the big city (Los Angeles, in this case) to get an education, he learned worldly ways and met and married Martha, an outsider, and brought her back as his wife. That was more than enough to get him expelled by Isaiah – causing greatly conflicted feelings in John (Jeff East), Jim’s brother who stayed at home and remains a devout Hittite.

One day, a nasty incident – I hesitate to call it an accident when there’s so much implication there isn’t – happens in the barn, killing Jim. Martha is pregnant with Jim’s child, and reaches out for support – both to her neighbour Louisa Stohler (Lois Nettleton) and Louisa’s daughter Faith (Lisa Hartman) and to a pair of her old college pals, Lana Marcus (Sharon Stone) and Vicky Anderson (Susan Buckner). Martha wants to at least stick around on the farm until Jim’s child is born, but has to contend with various troubles, the most obvious being the hostility of the Hittites. Isaiah makes it clear that he’ll gladly buy Our Blessing from her at a very generous price – with the unspoken corollary that she go far away back to the big city – but she refuses; tension also arises from Vicky and John being very obviously attracted to each other.

And then there’s William Gluntz (Michael Berryman – perhaps most famous as the iconic lead cannibal from The Hills Have Eyes). William, who won’t stop pestering Faith (who, for her part, exhibits a decidedly unusual view of the world through her painting – one more appropriate to a macabre surrealist than the unsophisticated farm girl she appears to be). William, from whom Martha first hears the word “Incubus” – denoting some evil force that the Hittites regard Martha and much of the outside world to be under the influence of. William, who can’t seem to leave the Our Blessing farm alone. William… whose stabbed corpse is discovered hanging in Our Blessing’s barn, under circumstances which make it clear that someone or something is out to terrorise Martha and her friends. Just what are we dealing with here – a slasher with a grudge against Martha, someone out to hurt both her and her quasi-Anabaptist neighbours, or something outright supernatural?

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George Eastman: Absurd Anthropophage

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Among the various movies added to the so-called “video nasty” list in the UK in the 1980s, few have as as much in common as Anthropophagous and Absurd. Both are projects by expert trash merchant Joe D’Amato, and both have George Eastman in almost identical costuming. And both are incredibly grim, though in mildly different ways…

Trigger warnings would be appropriate at this point: both of these involve cannibalism and murder, one involves violence against a pregnant woman, one involves violence against a disabled person.

Anthropophagous

As with many of the video nasties, this one was released under a whole swathe of different titles; the print 88 Films seems to have used to prepare this high-definition rerelease actually has the title “The Savage Island” appear during the opening scenes. The film kicks off with a young German couple exploring a delightful Greek island, with a lovely old village and decent beaches. As the man sunbathes, the woman spots a boat sitting apparently abandoned just off the beach. She swims over there, only to be shocked by what she finds therein – the occupant being the eponymous anthropophage, who after slaying her makes short work of her blissfully unaware friend.

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Freddy Kreuger’s Forgotten Elder Brother

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Kay Church (Sarah Kendall) is a painter who draws heavily on her dreams for inspiration (the end results being reminiscent of Magritte and his latter-day imitators), and who has a major show coming up. Kay’s mental health has often been rather fragile, and her husband David (Alan McRae) has become deeply worried about her well-being, so he’s arranged a special vacation in a friend’s holiday home on an otherwise-abandoned island just off the coast of Georgia (the US State, not the country). It’s just him, Kay, Kay’s brother Eric (Frederick Flynn) and Eric’s wife Brooke (Carol Kottenbrook)…

…Or at least, that’s how it’s supposed to be. There’s a storm coming in, and worse besides – for Kay’s recurring dream of being stalked by a hideous creature through an opulent house has left her feeling decidedly familiar with the island. For it’s the island she sees in her dreams, where the killings take place – and soon the killings start in real life. Has the monster that has haunted Kay’s dreams for as long as she can remember stepped out into the waking world?

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A Row of Condemned Houses

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

It’s the 1980s, and horror franchises are all the rage, with series like Halloween and Nightmare On Elm Street churning out unfathomable numbers of sequels. Imagine being Sean S. Cunningham, the producer and director of the original Friday the 13th, only to lose the rights to the franchise when you walked away due to your mixed feelings about it, and seeing that franchise rack up sequel after sequel. (As it turns out you’ll eventually get to work with the property again in 1993 for Jason Goes to Hell: the Final Friday and its followups, but you don’t know that yet.) Suppose as a producer you happened to have a portfolio of horror projects which didn’t really have much to do with each other beyond the shared genre. Wouldn’t the temptation to present them all as part of the same series be overwhelming?

Apparently it was, because that’s how we got the House sequence, a disreputable set of films notable mainly for the badass severed hand motif on the movie posters. Arrow Video have actually stooped to putting them out on Blu-Ray. Need they have bothered? Let’s find out.

House

Roger Cobb (William Katt) is a Vietnam veteran turned blockbuster horror author whose personal history is intertwined with the house of his Aunt Elizabeth (Susan French). As well as being his childhood home after he was orphaned at a young age, it’s the place where his own son Jimmy (Erik and Mark Silver) disappeared under mysterious circumstances whilst visiting with Roger and then-wife Sandy Sinclair (Kay Lenz). So, with Roger and Sandy divorced, Jimmy still not found by the authorities, and both Roger’s agent and his fans kind of hoping he’ll give up on this idea of writing a memoir of his Vietnam years to focus instead on turning out the sort of horror stories he’s made his name with, it’s no surprise that Roger’s in a bit of a slump. (The Vietnam book isn’t making much headway either.) Aunt Elizabeth hanging herself is yet another personal disaster.

With everything getting to him just a little, Cobb decides against selling Aunt Elizabeth’s house for the time being, deciding that spending a little while rattling around the big old house, sleep in his racing car bed, and stewing in his memories is exactly what he needs to get things back on track. (Cobb isn’t brilliant at self-care.) It isn’t long before Cobb starts discovering that Elizabeth’s claims that her house was haunted, and the surreal pictures of Hellish imagery she painted, had a bit more substance to them than he ever thought possible. As Cobb’s behaviour becomes stranger and stranger as a result of the weird manifestations he’s faced with, his jovial neighbour (and huge fan of his books) Harold Gordon (George Wendt) starts to worry about him – and soon both Roger and Harold are drawn into the chaos that lurks behind the closed doors of the house.

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Video Clumsy: Don’t Go In the Woods… Alone!

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Intellectually speaking, I know for a fact that director James Bryan and his crew didn’t just grab a bunch of random props and kit, stroll off into a forest in the Rocky Mountains, and shoot Don’t Go In the Woods… Alone! on a completely improvised basis. But fuck me, does it do absolutely everything in its power to convince you that that’s exactly what they did. The plot, such as it is, goes like this: random people holidaying in the mountains get murdered by a killer (some sort of dishevelled wild man played by Tom Drury and credited only as “Maniac”) in little vignettes. Interspersed between these vignettes we get what would, in a conventional movie, be our main plots – a group of young hikers strolling around on a walking holiday, and the local sheriff (Ken Carter) and his deputy (David Barth) investigating the mayhem that’s kicking off out in them hills.

Eventually the hikers, the killer, and the lawmen cross paths and something resembling a plot unfolds itself for the viewers’ benefit, but goodness knows the process of getting there is awkward and haphazard. Whilst some filmmakers have been able to do great things with a $20,000 budget, a cast and crew with more enthusiasm than competence, the best you can say about this one is that it’s an absolutely fascinating disaster, with cheap gore effects and bad acting being the order of the day.

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The Sophisticated Soavi

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Italian horror cinema is generally held to have had a peak of creative accomplishment in the 1970s and a rather sad decline in the 1980s, with the former masters of the genre suffering from diminishing returns and a tidal wave of second-rate material glutting the market.

A happy exception to this critical slump is the work of Michele Soavi. After serving an apprenticeship with a number of small acting parts and stints as an assistant director or second unit director for more prominent directors like Lamberto Bava, Joe D’Amato or Dario Argento, Soavi would direct four movies that are often taken to represent the best in Italian horror of the 1980s and 1990s.

Unfortunately, his career was derailed when he was forced to step back his involvement in the industry to care for his terminally ill son, though in the 2000s he did make some non-genre TV movies, and it’s still possible that – particularly with recent blu-ray releases of his own movies and those projects he assisted on coming out – the stars might align to allow him to produce another horror feature one day. If he does, these are the films that work will be measured against.

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