Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Census Bloodbath: It's THE Five

Year: 1985
Director: Richard Casey
Cast: Phil Therrien, Max Manthey, Irene Cagen
Run Time: 1 hour 27 minutes

Plot: I barely know what Horror House on Highway Five is about, but I'll do my best. Three college students are studying the bizarre experiments of ex-Nazi scientist Frederick Bartholomew, and find themselves in the deadly orbit of the untrustworthy Dr. Mabuse (Phil Therrien), his idiot brother Gary (Max Manthey), and a killer in a Richard Nixon mask, in and around a house that is, if you ask me, rather off Highway 5.

Analysis: Horror House on Highway Five is the reason I don't like to review films by describing the incident of the plot. It's not proper criticism to say "How can you not like a film where a killer in a Nixon mask runs around while college students fight him with rockets and there's a character randomly named after the iconic German expressionist cinema character Dr. Mabuse?" Here's how.

Highway Five is ineptly made to an unbearable degree, presenting dully lit images awash in a reprehensible soundtrack of brain-searing surf rock that doesn't do the least bit to make the film atmospheric or scary. Nearly all of the kills are offscreen or dull, and most of the characters keep refusing to die anyway. 

There are some flashes of good-bad brilliance, especially in the scenes with Gary and his captive Sally (Irene Cagen) refuse to display any level of human brain function; the sequence of him just dropping a full-ass pill into a glass of water, followed by her drinking it and exclaiming that "this beverage is delicious" deeply resonates in my bones. But then there's just a lot of shit that is both nasty and poorly executed, like a scene where a woman is tortured by having a hot iron placed against her breast, a scene that is delivered with absolutely zero foley.

Alas, it's generally a miserable slog that doesn't earn a lot of the praise it might otherwise garner from its tremendous weirdness. 

Killer: Richard M. Nixon AKA Dr. Bartholomew (credited as Ronald W. Reagan)
Final Girl: Louise (Susan Leslie)
Best Kill: If you use a rake in a kill, it's gonna be hard to top it. But Mike falling face first onto a rake is pretty fun, even on the heightened scale of rake kills.
Sign of the Times: The Nixon of it all.
Scariest Moment: The opening pair of kills is kinda OK, if you squint. The part where she is thrown through a glass table is at least squirm-inducing, if not exactly "scary."
Weirdest Moment: Dr. Mabuse suddenly starts exclaiming that there are bugs eating his brain.
Champion Dialogue: “I should be safe with all those little bombs set up around here."
Body Count: 7
    1. Boyfriend is strangled.
    2. Girlfriend is killed out of the frame.
    3. Noo Yawk Guy dies in a car crash.
    4. Noo Yawk Girlfriend dies offscreen.
    5. Mike falls face first onto a rake.
    6. Dr. Mabuse is beaten with a tire iron.
    7. Sally is bludgeoned to death.
TL;DR: Horror House on Highway Five is full of some delirious weirdness, but it's too boring to care all that much about it.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 528

Monday, September 26, 2022

Census Bloodbath: Power Down

Year: 1985
Director: Phil Smoot
Cast: Lash La Rue, Anna Lane Tatum, Cynthia Bailey
Run Time: 1 hour 27 minutes

Plot: The Dark Power, naturally, follows what happens after a Native American mystic dies and his house is sold as dorms to local college girls. The dark forces he was keeping at bay - namely undead evil Toltec sorcerers - emerge one night and wreak havoc, attacking the house, which is now fully inhabited by girls, including Tammie (future Real Housewife Cynthia Bailey), the sole Black resident who is the target of racist ire from one of the other girls.

Analysis: It's really troubling that the Toltec killers, who are depicted almost exclusively using tomahawks and arrows to kill people and being drawn to alcohol in the meantime, is the second most racist thing about The Dark Power. But at least the racism exhibited against Tammie is meant to put us against the white girl perpetrating it. What they're doing with the Native American characters is just crass, but what else can we expect from a decade that also gave us Scalps and The Ghost Dance?

If that kind of screenplay gives you hives, the first hour of The Dark Power isn't going to offer you anything that redeems itself whatsoever. It's a devilishly long and boring setup that introduces as many characters as possible that it can cram into the house to be menaced. So many that it actually forgets to ever kill some of them and lets them wander off with their thumbs up their asses. While the music sporadically farts out 2 to 4 note stings that are then repeated ad nauseam and the camera frequently cuts to exteriors that are blown out by the Southwestern sun, you are treated to reels and reels of absolutely nothing happening, to the point that you almost welcome the racist caricatures when they show up (at the 48 minute mark) because that means something is actually going to happen.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the movie picks up quite a bit in its third act. It's mostly just unfortunate, because it would be convenient to be able to hate every element of this film and dismiss it entirely. But a lot of points in the Final Girl sequence kinda rule, down to the formula-busting fact that there are two main survivors and one of them is a Black woman. But The Dark Power makes a meal out of having two Final Girls, showcasing a siege sequence with both of them fighting off assailants simultaneously in a way I'd never really seen before.

There are also a couple admittedly decent special effects here, especially in the death of one of the boys, who has his face peeled apart by outstretched hands in a tremendously gooey explosion of gore. 

Also, if you didn't know that Lash LaRue was an old Western actor known for his facility with a whip, you sure as fuck are gonna know by the end of the movie. The Dark Power is wall to wall whip stunts, including an absolutely outrageous whip vs. whip showdown at the end. It's not enough to make up for the dismal slog of the bulk of the movie, but it sure is something to behold as long as you're there.

Killer: The Toltecs
Final Girl: Tammie (Cynthia Bailey) and Beth (Anna Lane Tatum)
Best Kill: Let's give Mr. La Rue his due here, because he does pull the head off a Toltec with his whip, which is fucking awesome.
Sign of the Times: When one of the girls is getting gussied up, they joke that she's acting like she's going on a date with Tom Selleck.
Scariest Moment: Holy shit the casual, virulent racism of that character who hates Tammie is bone-chilling.
Weirdest Moment: One girl sneaks downstairs to try to save the silverware.
Champion Dialogue: “As far as I'm concerned, the only gyrating around her is your big mouth."
Body Count: 11
    1. John Cody dies of old age.
    2. Uncle Earl dies offscreen.
    3. Dallas is shot in the chest with an arrow.
    4. Craig is shot in the back of the head with an arrow.
    5. Alan has his face peeled apart.
    6. Lynn is shot in the back with an arrow.
    7. Susan is tomahawked in the throat.
    8. Toltec #1 is stabbed through the back of the head.
    9. Toltec #2 is stabbed through the chest.
    10. Toltec #3 is stabbed in the back.
    11. Toltec #4 has his head ripped off with a whip.
TL;DR: The Dark Power is racist six ways from Sunday, but it does boast a stellar third act showdown.
Rating: 4/10
Word Count: 766

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Census Bloodbath: Goa Way

Year: 1985
Director: Keshu Ramsay
Cast: Rakesh Roshan, Marc Zuber, Aaloka
Run Time: 1 hour 59 minutes

Plot: Haveli follows an undercover policeman following four suspects of a string of murders to a luxury hotel in Goa, India.

Analysis: A Note: This movie was only available to me in unsubtitled Hindi, so obviously my review is to be taken with a grain of salt, though I have made a point of focusing only on visual styling, music, and slasher structure rather than plot or acting.

So, I haven't really found a place in my heart for the early slashers out of Bollywood, as much as I love Indian cinema in general. However, 1985 seems to be the year that they really pulled out all the stops, between Cheekh and Haveli. This entry hails from another member of the Ramsay family, Keshu, whose brothers Tulsi and Shyam previously collaborated on the largely underwhelming Sannata and Saboot.

He clearly saw what his brothers were doing and felt the same way that I did, because Haveli is the most focused, genuinely slasher-y entry that Bollywood has produced yet. For one thing, the killer is actually delivering kills at a consistent pace and wearing a mask the entire time, which seems like a low bar if you haven't seen as many Bollywood slashers as I have. But also the mask is fucking cool, showing a pale face frozen in a hawklike cry, something like a cross between a Japanese oni and the Bride of Frankenstein.

I wouldn't say there's anything particularly substantial about the kills themselves, but there is always something reasonably exciting happening in Haveli, and for an early '80s low budget slasher that's two hours long, that's no small feat. 

Killer: A Man (shocking)
Final Girl: Not applicable, or at least not really
Best Kill: This one guy is "hanged" for all intents and purposes, but the killer uses their own hands instead of a rope. It's a whole thing!
Sign of the Times: Teased hair on the beach seems like a great idea to me.
Scariest Moment: A man is in his car when the killer smashes the windshield.
Weirdest Moment: The film is randomly set at Christmas, and one musical sequence keeps zooming in on a random giant cutout of Santa Claus.
Champion Dialogue: N/A
Body Count: 8
    1. Woman is drowned in a bathtub.
    2. Car Man is garroted. 
    3. Man is killed offscreen.
    4. Man #2 is hanged with hands.
    5. Man #3 is slashed in an elevator.
    6. Constable is stabbed.
    7. Mustache Guy is shot.
    8. Handcuff Man is defenestrated.
TL;DR: Haveli is another solid slasher out of Bollywood from 1985.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 442