John McTiernan's debut NOMADS bridges past and present— a Gothic horror set in LA, where evil spirits/bikers lurk.
Underrated, underseen, Kevin S. Tenney's 1986 horror WITCHBOARD helped make the Ouija popular again.
TerrorVision. 1986. Directed & Written by Ted Nicolaou.
Starring Diane Franklin, Gerrit Graham, Mary Woronov, Chad Allen, Jon Gries, Bert Remsen, Alejandro Rey, Jennifer Richards, Randi Brooks, Sonny Carl Davis, Ian PAtrick Williams, & William Paulson.
Empire Pictures/Altair Productions/Lexyn Productions
Rated R. 83 minutes.
It’s ultra disappointing when a horror movie feels geared towards something bigger than the sum of its parts, because there’s a sense of loss, that you could’ve gotten more, and it might’ve been awesome. Plenty of movies, of any genre, end up that way. They’re lost in their ideas, muddled in a less than competent screenplay, then often actors giving sub-par performances can truly put the nail in the coffin of even halfway decent writing.
TerrorVision has a fun concept, centred on a family who’ve recently installed a new satellite system, so they can enjoy new programs, from fitness to MTV to all the dirty movies they can fathom. But instead of that they get a hungry space monster, yearning for tasty humans to gobble.
In an age where technology was beginning to skyrocket at an unbelievable pace, like never before and in wildly new directions, this movie holds so much more than it gives us, unable to allow it to flow correctly. It’s fun enough for a group of friends to put on and laugh along with, sadly it’s more disappointing than it is enjoyable when all’s said and done. I’ll forever curse it for not expanding on its exciting themes, not even giving us top notch horror, or comedy, or anything it’s aiming to accomplish.
Can’t get enough of the awesomely weird opening scene, a science fiction start on a distant planet before we get a glimpse of a satellite signal bounce around space; one that’ll surely cause shit on planet Earth. Immediately then, Earth. Including the uber-80s clothing, the hair, the workout program fad the wife is into, an MTV-loving daughter, conspiracy theorist grandpa an artefact of the ’70s lingering. The family consists of a less likeable human cast of The Simpsons, a quintessentially media obsessed American household.
Satellite, the new technology of the age, is used as a thematic device for the unknown, as if their signals reaching into outer space were inviting extraterrestrials and creatures from other dimensions not only to our planet, but directly into our individual homes. Sort of a horror movie allegory about an era of new technology in terms of national security, only rather than the Russians as the baddies, it’s alien lifeforms crawling right into the U.S. citizen’s living room.
Likewise, there’s a whole commentary on television and technology, in which aliens are literally coming out of the TV set through the satellite, devouring people. Just as the programs on television devour brain cells, at least supposedly, if you ask an old guy like grandpa who’s still waiting for the Viet Cong to knock down his door. This feels specifically ’80s, satirising the whole concept and making fun of peoples fears, decades ago, of new media rotting the brain of the youth, of everybody. Today, it’s smartphones, computers; then, it was TV, the boob tube (a sexist nickname for TV that fits right in with TerrorVision). Satellite must’ve felt akin to a figurative bomb dropped on the collective societal consciousness for some folks.
Ultimately, none of these big themes develop any further than these initial thoughts. It’s all cheese, cheese, wrapped in more cheese. Some is good, in that so-bad-it’s-good-type of horror way. But lots of it is plain bad. This would’ve been a brutal, great satire if it weren’t so intent on being as sleazy and gross in the wrong ways. Beneath the shit are relevant themes, even today, not put to proper use, wasted on a near slapstick horror-comedy. Fun now and then. Mostly the bad cheese, lame acting, and more ’80s catchphrases than you could ever anticipate in a million years.
I’ll admit, I cracked up when the father changed the satellite to channel 69, blatantly repeating the number in front of the whole family as some porno flickers (after all they’re a swinger couple). And the greasy alien monster effects are campy, with a glee that’s admirable. To think, they almost had Frank Zappa scoring this, which definitely makes odd sense; better off he didn’t, after seeing the final product.
Just so unhappy with the fact this had huge potential, winding up totally lost.
There’d be further things to discuss about TerrorVision had it played out its themes to a deeper extent. And even if not, the horror – or the comedy – was also capable of lifting this out of mediocrity. Truthfully, it isn’t even exactly mediocre, either. This is close to forgettable, if it weren’t for the first scene, and the alien monster, its creepy eyes.
If you want something solid out of director-writer Ted Nicolaou, check out Ragewar or the unique Subspecies for his better work. He’s good. This film isn’t an example of his talents, though you can admire where he was heading in his screenplay. Unfortunately it didn’t translate to the screen, and if his directing here were better, maybe it’s fate would be different.
If you’re looking for something to laugh along to, this is an appropriate horror movie for the Halloween season. You, a group of friends, maybe drink every time a crude reference pops up? There’s one October night set! Just remember, you’re not going to be blown away, and if, like me, you dig on those themes, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Take it for what it’s worth: mindless, numbing entertainment. If you see any weird aliens talking through the screen at you, though, turn that TV off.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. 1986. Directed by Tobe Hooper. Screenplay by L.M. Kit Carson.
Starring Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Jim Siedow, Bill Moseley, Bill Johnson, Ken Evert, James N. Harrell, Lou Perryman, & Chris Douridas.
Cannon Films/Golan-Globus Productions.
Rated R. 101 minutes.
Horror sequels are often unduly shit on. Many, in my mind, are actually worth their weight in blood. Some are most certainly worse than the originals, or they simply don’t bring enough to merit considering it as even a worthwhile sequel. But a lot are great, such as the often torn down Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, Psycho II, Exorcist II: The Heretic, and I’m sure there are a few more.
One of those oft maligned sequels is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, from the director of the original, Mr. Tobe Hooper. Maybe part of why this sequel strays a little past where the original marked its territory is due to the fact Hooper only directs, and the writing duties are left up to L.M. Kit Carson (he did a great screenplay for Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas). Not saying this movie is poorly written. In fact, it successfully welds together the terrifying steel of Leatherface’s chainsaw with a good dose of backwoods Texas humour. One of the best aspects is the characters. Even Leatherface and his horrific appeal aren’t lost within all the black comedy, but rather we get doses of foolishness which lures us in, then the saw and the family do their work. Certainly not close to as nerve shattering as the original film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 at least tries to do something different instead of emulating the same style, over and over; a technique studios nowadays use too often, trying to capitalize on the money made from particularly successful movies. In straight up opposition, Hooper switches things up and leaves it all on the table. What else would you expect from a Cannon Films production?
On the air during her radio show, Vanita ‘Stretch’ Brock (Caroline Williams) and L.G. McPeters (Lou Perry) overhear what may just be a brutal murder, when two young college age dude-bros encounter – unbeknownst to the DJ – Leatherface (Bill Johnson) and some of his clan.
In town is Lieutenant Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper). He’s investigating yet another possible chainsaw killing. His brother’s kids were killed by the dangerous chainsaw family a decade before. For ten years, he’s searched for those killers. When Stretch finds Lefty at his hotel and brings him the tape that possibly contains evidence of the latest murder, he doesn’t seem too excited. But after awhile, Lefty wises up.
Only it may be a little too late. One of the other Sawyers, Chop-Top (Bill Moseley), goes to visit Stretch at the radio station. And he’s bringing along a nice dose of steel with him.
Can Lefty and Stretch hold their ground? Or will they become yet another set of victims to the killer Sawyer clan?
As I said, this movie is all about the characters. Whereas the original Hooper classic focused on the terror, putting innocent young people in the way of murderous psychopaths, the sequel keeps on with the killing, only it shifts towards giving us more of the demented maniacs in plain view. The original kept things in the dark, sorts of closing the family off from society. In this sequel, Hooper and Carson let the Sawyer family loose into the world, as if they couldn’t possibly be stopped. Therefore, we get to see more of Leatherface and learn different things of his character; for one, he’s a horny bastard, or at the very least sexually frustrated to the maximum. Plus, now he does this weirdly creepy and simultaneously funny shake while wielding his chainsaw; it kills me every time, a crack-up, but still there’s something scary about his enthusiasm. Then we’ve got Chop-Top, played magnificently and to cult status by the ever impressive Bill Moseley. He is always a creepy guy, no matter what character he plays (aside from stuff like Dead Air), but definitely amps up his eerie qualities to play this guy; he seamlessly becomes a part of the Sawyer world, adding eccentricity and further questions about exactly how completely maniacal this family is truly.
Aside from the family, though, we’re treated to both Lefty and Stretch. Hell, even L.G. is a decent character thrown in there. Well the stars of this show, aside from Moseley, absolutely are Caroline Williams and Dennis Hopper. Williams is not only a gorgeous lady, she oozes charisma, and having her play the on-air radio personality here was awesome casting. She really makes the character feel like a DJ, she talks like one and acts like one, so there’s an authenticity to her character, instead of that occupation feeling like a vain attempt at making her interesting. Add in Hopper, channeling both a renegade lawman and also some of his Blue Velvet craziness, and this whole thing is a ton of fun. Hopper’s character is a little campy, a little wild, but always interesting. He makes for a good showdown with the family, Leatherface in particular.
Note: the first scene between Leatherface and Stretch is one of my favourites, in any horror film. Because it’s dark and funny at once, then there’s this extremely disturbing sexual angle to it. Most of all, it brings some of the issues surrounding Leatherface to the forefront. He’s essentially a mentally challenged man caught in a murderous rampage, so he doesn’t know how to talk to girls, or impress them, except with his big, hard, long saw. Genius scene, incredibly well-written.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 contains a hearty dose of nasty blood and violence. One scene is just Chop-Top bashing a head in, over and over, cut back and forth with Stretch trying to get away from Leatherface. Just the sheer amount of blood spurting out onto the floor is enough to make some of the weaker, casual horror watchers uneasy. There’s something else about this though, as it calls to mind the first film where Grandpa tried to use the hammer; here, Chop-Top knows how to use that hammer, and he uses it well. Later, we revisit the Grandpa scene in direct parallel; not as good as Chop, though. Even early on in the film where two of the dude-bros in their car run across Leatherface, we see a nasty, beautifully executed practical effect – a head gets sawed through, a cut going down into the skull and the face. Very nice makeup effects. Not sure how much he did himself, but makeup legend Tom Savini is credited on this picture, so if he supervised this work there’s no wonder much of it looks gruesome, and perfectly horrific. You could never have a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie with bad effects, or if you do then it’s sure to not live up to its predecessors. For all its faults, this sequel to the original at least matches its vicious brutality at certain times.
With a lot to live up to, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a 3&1/2 star horror. Never will it come close to its original. But Tobe Hooper crafts a nice, campy horror romp out of L.M. Kit Carson’s darkly comic, brutal screenplay. On the shoulders of Hopper, Moseley, and Williams, the characters come alive, and they’re able to carry much of the plot themselves. Maybe comedy isn’t exactly suited perfectly to Hooper’s creepy backwoods Texas world. But again, if anything you’ve got to applaud Hooper for not trying to carbon copy what he did previously in the original. If he simply slapped together another rehash, we’d all be complaining about that. Instead, be glad for his dare to be different, no matter the costs. This is still a lot of fun, has a fair share of blood and guts, as well as the fact Leatherface is weirder and wilder than ever. Make sure you toss this on next time you’re looking for a horror with comedy that’s not an outright comedy-horror flick. This can satisfy the need for kills and the need for some laughs in the right sort of way.
Thomas Harris told through the colourful eyes of American auteur Michael Mann.
This John McNaughton classic is pure terror, diving into the semi-real life of a prolific serial killer(/liar).
Psycho III. 1986. Dir. Anthony Perkins. Screenplay by Charles Edward Pogue; based on characters by Robert Bloch.
Starring Anthony Perkins, Diana Scarwid, Jeff Fahey, Roberta Maxwell, Hugh Gillin, and Lee Garlington. Universal Pictures.
Rated 18+. 93 minutes.
If you haven’t yet – read my Blu ray review for Alfred Hitchcock’s original 1960 classic Psycho.
With Anthony Perkins directing a Psycho sequel and also serving as Norman Bates, I can’t imagine anything better. A highly underrated entry into this franchise. This absolutely does not get enough credit. To no surprise from me – I loved the first sequel to the original, and a lot of people despise it, so I guess Norman just isn’t appreciated anymore.
When Norman inevitably kills his new motel clerk Duane (a young Jeff Fahey), we finally see truly for the first time how Norma’s scarred son has been compelled to kill by his dominant mother. He yells at her that he has the same terrible blood in his veins, and it makes him do what he does. Perkins uses Woody Woodpecker on the television interestingly, as Norman cries to his mother to stop laughing at him (which of course is Woody’s iconic laugh), and it’s so very evident more than ever before how his world is a mixture of reality with a heavy dose of surreal experiences; we’ve already known this, but for the first time it’s almost spelled out in front of us, as he can’t even tell the difference between his mother’s laugh (one he no doubt knows all too well), and a cartoon bird on the television.
There are so many little pieces like that which make Psycho III better than its low ratings and generally negative reviews lead on.
Norman finally meets someone to love in a disheartened girl who has left her convent where she was poised to become a nun by the name of Maureen; unfortunately for Norma at first, she reminds him of Marion Crane.
There are two really interesting bits Perkins throws in involving Maureen. The first is when Norman sees her in the diner, and she leans down towards the floor behind the stool she sits on, but he can only picture Marion laying dead in the shower after he and mother killed her. Soon he snaps back to reality, and leaves the diner quickly. Maureen later ends up at the motel, and tries to kill herself by slitting her wrists in the bathtub. Norman is poised to kill her, all dressed up like mother again, but he finds her with her wrists open in the water, and Maureen does not see Mrs. Bates: she sees the Virgin Mary holding a silver crucifix where the knife should be.
One of the best moments come when Norman accidentally nudges Maureen over the stairs in his house, and she slips down over them only to fall against a statue with a sharp object protruding out of it. The statue is of Cupid, and Perkins zooms in on the arrow after it has killed Maureen, which drips blood; Cupid has literally shot her, and in a way it has also pierced Norman by taking away the only woman he ever loved. Here, Cupid shows us how everything in Norman’s world is backwards; especially love.
My only complaint about the film is at the very end when Norman sits in a police car being taken away, and he hauls out a little treat he was hiding to caress, as he gives a look very reminiscent to his final scene in the original Psycho. I find it a little hard to believe the police wouldn’t have found this on him (I won’t tell you what it is), but then again, it’s a horror movie, and a certain amount of belief has to be suspended at times to properly enjoy one. Overall, it didn’t ruin anything for me.
4 out of 5 stars for a great entry into the Psycho franchise. People say that Anthony Perkins tried to imitate Hitchcock in this film, but I frankly cannot see it. There’s a huge difference in visual style, and a very glaring difference in storytelling.
Norman is a little more slasher in this film, but why shouldn’t he be? At the end of Psycho II, we are introduced to someone who could be Norman’s real mother right before he kills her, so naturally the man is going to be even worse off than ever before with shocking information like that. Of course, the story is a long, winding road, and that isn’t every side, but isn’t a family history like Norman’s bound to drive ANYONE a little mad?
After all, we all go a little mad sometimes…