31 Days to Scare ~ Sleepaway Camp (1983)

The Facts:

Synopsis: Angela Baker, a traumatized and very shy young girl, is sent to summer camp with her cousin. Shortly after her arrival, anyone with sinister or less than honorable intentions gets their comeuppance.

Stars: Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tierston, Christopher Collet, Mike Kellin, Karen Fields, Katherine Kamhi, Paul DeAngelo

Director: Robert Hiltzik

Rated: R

Running Length: 84 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  Though I combed the shelves of my local video store for all the horror goodies I could find, it took a while for me to get to Sleepaway Camp.  I’m not sure what kept me from it for so long but when I finally did I walked away a bit shell-shocked (more on that later).  I’ve revisited it several times over the years and each time I forget how relatively well made it was considering its budget and where it fell in the slasher genre.  Things were just reaching a fever pitch with every possible holiday and location providing fodder to pit a deranged killer against horny teens.  To have a film released in 1983 about a killer at a camp (hello, Friday the 13th and The Burning) didn’t seem all that interesting…until you get to the end.

After a creepy credits sequence that moves across the abandoned Camp Arawak, we enter a prologue that sees a tragic boating accident befall a family.  Years later, Angela (Felissa Rose), a survivor of the accident, is shipped off to summer camp with her cousin, Ricky (Jonathan Tierston)  A quiet girl with large eyes, she instantly runs afoul of Judy (Karen Fields), the queen bee in her cabinand catches the eye of Paul (Christopher Collet), a friend of her cousin.   While Paul gradually coaxes Angela out of her shyness, strange accidents start to happen around camp and bodies begin to pile up.  The reveal of the killer in the final seconds of the movie is a genuine shock, not just because of who it is (which isn’t much of a puzzle) but how they are introduced.  I’ll say no more because you have to see it for yourself.

Instead of hiring a bunch of twenty-somethings for his film, writer/director Robert Hiltzik wisely cast actual teens to play the campers…which has its pros and cons.  That these kids actually look like people that would be attending this camp gives the movie some authenticity, that is until they start getting killed and then it begins to feel a tad sleazy.  The casting also dictates that the movie isn’t built around copious nudity or exploitative situations which is one way this movie sets itself apart.  The kills are well staged but budget restrictions force Hiltzik to get creative and imply more than he shows, to generally effective results.

Another drawback to casting younger actors is that they haven’t developed much technique by this point and many performances are too broad which becomes grating as the movie goes on.  Even the adults seem to be gnawing on every piece of scenery they can find, many gaining laughs for their line readings that don’t seem to make total sense.  Add to that some thick New Yawk accents from several actors and it almost becomes an unintentional farce.

Still, the movie plays quite well for an 84-minute low-budget horror movie.  The music is sinister and Hiltizik feels like a director with good ideas.  Take the opening credit sequence in the empty camp.  As the camera pans over the vacated cabins, tennis courts, and activity center, Hiltzik overlays ghostly sounds of when there were people in these areas.  It sets a spooky tone right away and one he largely maintains over the course of the film.  Leading to its boffo ending and through the closing credits, the movie has a strong atmosphere throughout.

Spawning three increasingly ludicrously comic sequels that, while maintaining one specific character, feel like films that exist in another universe, Sleepaway Camp is an above average selection from the mass of similar genre films that were released in the early ‘80s.  It has a cult reputation and deservedly so – even if you know what happens at the end it doesn’t diminish your enjoyment revisiting it a second or third time.

31 Days to Scare ~ The Monster Squad (1987)

The Facts:

Synopsis: A small town is disrupted with the arrival of Dracula to retrieve an amulet controlling the balance between good and evil.

Stars: André Gower, Robby Kiger, Brent Chalem, Tom Noonan, Duncan Regehr, Ryan Lambert, Stephen Macht, Mary Ellen Trainor, Jack Gwillim, Jon Gries, Stan Shaw, Leonardo Cimino

Director: Fred Dekker

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 82 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Few films bring up such rich retro memories for me than 1987’s The Monster Squad.  I can still see it now.  I’m nervously biting my lip standing next to my dad at Home Video, our local rental haunt.  He’s holding the box for a movie he and my mom are checking out and I’m clutching the cardboard case (stuffed with a perfectly fitted Styrofoam rectangle) for The Monster Squad. I’m 10, it’s PG-13…I’m anxious.  I’d already asked about getting this and my dad agreed…but would he change his mind?  Will I get to take this home and see what looks like a rad flick filled with monsters, cool kids, and, best of all, Dracula?  Or will I be denied at the last minute and wind up empty-handed?  My dad turns to me, looks at the VHS and says to the clerk, “And my son is joining The Monster Squad.”  Score.

Aside from being a great memory of my dad and I, this evokes the kind of excitement that came with physically going to a store and renting movies which has become a lost art.  Being able to browse just the boxes of numerous movies without access to IMDb.com or watching the trailers on YouTube was the chance to create your own narrative as to what you thought the movie was going to be about.  With The Monster Squad, what you see on the box is definitely what you get.

Taking place in a small town that suggests mid-America (actually filmed on the back lot of Universal Studios…look for the Back to the Future clock tower in certain scenes), The Monster Squad doesn’t waste an iota of its short running time.  After an establishing prologue in Transylvania where we are introduced to a powerful amulet that Van Helsing desperately wants to use to send monsters into a black hole, we jump forward a hundred years to meet Sean (André Gower) and Patrick (Robby Kiger).  Typical high school teens, they just want to be able to talk monsters and not worry about silly things like school and chores.

At the same time, a plane carrying the remains of Frankenstein’s monster is hijacked by Count Dracula and winds up in the pond behind Sean and Patrick’s clubhouse.  When Count Dracula uses his power to resuscitate Frankenstein it also awakens The Mummy, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and The Wolfman.  Dracula is after the same amulet we see at the beginning of the film which he hopes to use to unleash hell on earth.  The only problem is that he needs Van Helsing’s diary to locate the stone and unlucky for Sean, his mom just picked it up for him at a garage sale.  It’s up to Sean and his gang to vanquish the evil without getting picked off in the process.  So begins a battle between monsters and teens.

Co-screenwriter Shane Black would go on to become one of the highest paid scribes in the business (he wrote Lethal Weapon and was behind the recent reboot of The Predator) and his writing partner Fred Dekker sat behind the camera.  You can tell the two of them had a ball writing this and, though a lower-budgeted film, they make the whole thing look like a high class affair.  It has a ton of fun inside jokes that any classic monster fan will eat up and since most of the special effects are practical and not shoddy computer generated (thank you, Stan Winston), it has aged gracefully.  Admittedly, while the film has stood the test of time visually, it does have a few cringe inducing homophobic phrases that are hard to excuse away even in the most charitable sense.

I love that during the Halloween season instead of pulling the film back from free steaming services someone has allowed The Monster Squad to be readily available to any and all that want to revisit their childhood memories or introduce their kids to the fun.  Though nowhere near a hit when it was first released, it has rightfully gained a cult status over the last three decades.  It’s a bit scary for younger kids but instead of a few off-color potty mouth moments and the aforementioned regressive dialogue it’s fairly family friendly.

31 Days to Scare ~ Creepshow and Creepshow 2

31 Days to Scare ~ Creepshow (1982)

The Facts:

Synopsis: An anthology which tells five terrifying tales based on the E.C. horror comic books of the 1950s.

Stars: Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Leslie Nielsen, Carrie Nye, E.G. Marshall, Ed Harris, Ted Danson, Viveca Lindfors, Stephen King

Director: George A. Romero

Rated: R

Running Length: 120 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: I’ve gone on record multiple times with my affinity for anthology horror films. I like their compact nature and how the sometimes smaller-budgeted movies can attract decent stars because they don’t need to commit to a laborious production schedule. With a good through line, these nasty nuggets can be a whole lot of fun and movies such as Tales from the Crypt, Asylum, After Midnight, Tales of Halloween, Cat’s Eye, and From Beyond the Grave are great examples of how to do anthology horror and get the most bang for your buck.

You can’t very well mention anthology horror and not include 1982’s Creepshow in that list. Just the people behind the camera are alone worth noting. Directed by legendary horror maestro George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead) and written by Stephen King (Carrie, Thinner), Creepshow is a nifty little package of five stories that may not scare the wits out of you but will likely give you a few shivers up your spine. A big studio film from Warner Brothers, this was the first time Romero was given the kind of budget to do some work on a larger scale and was also the first time King wrote a script directly for the screen.

There’s a morsel of a framing story introduced and that follows a young boy being taken to task by his father (Tom Atkins, Halloween III: Season of the Witch) for reading his trashy horror comics. The young boy (played by King’s son Joe) doesn’t take too kindly to having his hobby tossed away and between the five main courses we get tiny bites into the boy’s developing a plan to payback his father for throwing away his magazines. Much of these moments are animated in a crude but playful style and there’s a few good visuals when the Creeper (seen on the poster) makes an appearance.

As for the five stories, I’d almost line them up in order of favorite in exactly they way they are presented. ‘Father’s Day’ introduces us to a stuffy family awaiting the arrival of their aunt who offed her father years earlier. Watch for a young Ed Harris (The Abyss) pop up as an unsuspecting newcomer that learns the hard way that family bonds are hard to break. King himself pops up as the star of ‘The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill’, which sees his country bumpkin discovering the deadly effects of a meteor that landed on his property. ‘Something to Tide You Over’ focuses on Leslie Nielsen taking a watery revenge on Ted Danson who has been carrying on an affair with Nielsen’s wife only to have his own crimes come back to haunt him. Hal Holbrook and Adrienne Barbeau lead the cast for ‘The Crate’ playing a meek college professor and his nagging wife who get tangled up with an artic beast that’s emerged from a long-forgotten wooden box. The final tale is a one man show with ‘They’re Creeping Up on You’, with sanitary freak E.G. Marshall finding his penthouse overrun by thousands of cockroaches.

At two hours, the chapters drag a bit more on repeated viewings and you wouldn’t be blamed to wonder when Romero and King will get to the point. Once they get to the scares, though, the movie becomes a wicked treat for fans of the genre that don’t need their terror served with a side of blood and guts. Aside from some gore (courtesy of Tom Savini, Friday the 13th), it’s a relatively mild film and might have just scored a PG-13 rating had it been available at the time it was released. Romero and cinematographer Michael Gornick have worked up some nice visuals that add to the enjoyment and play with the campy vibe that bubbled right below the surface. It all adds up to an enjoyable film with a throwback quality that has aged pretty well, considering how long ago it was made.

 

 

 

31 Days to Scare ~ Creepshow 2 (1987)

The Facts:

Synopsis: Three more bone-chilling tales that include a vengeful wooden Native American, a monstrous blob in a lake, and a hitchhiker who wants revenge and will not die.

Stars: Tom Savini, George Kennedy, Lois Chiles, Don Harvey, Stephen King, Dorothy Lamour

Director: Michael Gornick

Rated: R

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: With the success of Creepshow in 1982 it was probably too much to hope that lightning could strike twice. Even if this sequel isn’t quite as electric as it’s predecessor, it’s got a few good jolts to it that make it a nice companion piece to it’s more skilled big brother. Much of the same behind-the-scenes people reunited, though in one key role there was a shuffling around that saw original director George A. Romero sit out directing the follow-up and instead passing the reins to the original cinematographer, Michael Gornick. While Romero wrote the movie based on work by Stephen King, you can feel the absence of his guidance in the director’s seat. The result is a good film, but no where near as fun as the first. Instead of five stories we are treated to just three and none truly land the way anyone intended. They’re either flimsily written, badly acted, or both. Technically, they look great but once again the same problem that haunted the original is a factor,: it takes far too long to get moving.

That’s especially the case in the first segment, ‘Old Chief Wood’nhead’. Living in a poor town that’s dying on the vine, a kind old couple (George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour) are terrorized by a trio of thugs who wind up paying for their actions when a statue comes to life. The pay-off of the film, however, doesn’t equate with the long slog it takes to get there. Severely iffy political correctness aside, there’s nothing fun about watching old people get knocked around and it winds up setting the tone for the rest of the film which features unlikable characters getting their just reward.

I admit when I first saw Creepshow 2 as a youngster I was most looking forward to the second segment, ‘The Raft’. At that age I was obsessed with swimming, water, and everything scary below the surface. This tale of four friends that swim out to a raft on an isolated beach and are stalked by a horrific floating monster has a great concept but is torpedoed by dreadful acting from all involved. Employing the most gore, it’s a feast for the eyes but loses impact every time one of the hokey actors opens their mouth. Based on a Stephen King short story, I could see this being extended to a longer film or possibly being re-done in an anthology series that could give it more attention. The final segment, ‘The Hitchhiker’, has the most action but is as hollow as Old Chief Wood’nhead himself. An adulterous wife (Lois Chiles, Moonraker) mows down a hitchhiker on her way home from her lover’s house and then can’t shake the man as he keeps popping up. Though she tries again and again to kill him, he comes back for more. There’s not a lot going on here (or in Chiles’ acting) and while it finishes up nicely there’s no real point to the whole affair.

The wraparound segments in Creepshow 2 are relayed by more Saturday morning cartoon animation following another boy who stands up to local bullies who tease him for his love of scary comics. The boy has a plan to get back at the guys tormenting him and I almost would rather have seen this one play out as a live action segment than have it be relegated to animated interludes.

Far from perfect and often not that involving, Creepshow 2 has a nostalgic kick to it that makes it worth coupling up with the original. It’s a solid combo for a double feature and with everything in easy segments you can pop it in Halloween night and pause it whenever you need to hand out candy to the kids stopping by.

31 Days to Scare ~ Anna and the Apocalypse (2018) – Trailer

Synopsis: A zombie apocalypse threatens the sleepy town of Little Haven – at Christmas – forcing Anna and her friends to fight, slash and sing their way to survival, facing the undead in a desperate race to reach their loved ones.

Release Date: November 30, 2018

Thoughts: In all honesty, zombie movies are just so not my thing. You can keep your walking dead and brain loving slow walkers for all I care unless you’re going to do something different with the material.  Zombie movies like Warm Bodies gave us a unique slant to a familiar story which is another reason why the zombie musical Anna and the Apocalypse looks like it might be one to keep an eye (and ear) out for.  Anytime a movie is compared to Shaun of the Dead and La La Land well, you have to take notice.  With a nice buzz coming out of the early fall festivals, this might be a bloody brilliant movie or another non-starter that played better with festival audiences geared toward this kind of material.  I’m thinking it looks like a riot…but I’ve been fooled before.  For now, count on my attendance to this apocalypse.

31 Days to Scare ~ The Haunting (1999)

The Facts:

Synopsis: When Eleanor, Theo, and Luke decide to take part in a sleep study at a huge mansion they get more than they bargained for when Dr. Marrow tells them of the house’s ghostly past.

Stars: Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson, Lili Taylor, Bruce Dern, Marian Seldes

Director: Jan de Bont

Rated: PG-13

Running Length:

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review:  Boy, The Haunting sure brings back a lot of memories for me.  It’s 1999 and I’ve finished my first year of college.  I’d been a hardcore movie fan all through high school and middle school but with my growing independence I was able to pick what movies I wanted to take myself to and involve friends with.  The net was still in its relative infancy so to watch trailers outside of a movie theater you had to go on the web and hope your connection was strong enough to keep the preview from buffering forever.  I remember watching the original teaser trailer for The Haunting on TrailerPark.com about a hundred times because it had everything going for it.  Scary movie? Check. Famous director? Check. Popular stars? Check. Prestige producers? Check.  It was all there.  Then the movie came out.

Here’s the original teaser to jog your memory:

Speaking of memories, I remember seeing The Haunting on its opening day and being more than a bit baffled by what was going on with my sure-fire sure thing.  I mean, I had spent $20 to have the glossy double sided theatrical one-sheet poster sent to me so I could display it in my room – I didn’t spend that much money on a turkey, did I?  At the time, I felt I had.  The audiences were laughing at moments meant to be scary and the effects felt like a let-down considering the budget and who was involved.  I was so frustrated I think I saw the movie once more when it came out on DVD but hadn’t seen it in probably a decade and a half.

We’re in the season of scary movies so I figured now would be better than ever to revisit this remake of Robert Wise’s undisputed 1963 classic.  Also, seeing that the original novel by Shirley Jackson has received another remake in the form of a 10-part Netflix show, I wanted to give this one another look before diving into that new production.  Produced by Steven Spielberg’s (JAWS) studio Dreamworks SKG, aside from a few admittedly cheesy bits and those same iffy effects, I was amazed to discover that The Haunting wasn’t the corny mess I remembered it to be. Not by half.

The same day her sister announces plans to sell the apartment she shared with her recently deceased invalid mother, Nell (Lili Taylor, The Conjuring) receives a call inviting her to participate in a sleep study at a secluded mansion.  She’ll be paid well and room and board is provided.  It seems the perfect solution to her dilemma.  Arriving at the ominous Hill House, she’s transfixed by the large estates beauty and ornate interior design.  Joined by bisexual vixen Theo (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Side Effects) and all-American dude Luke (Owen Wilson, Inherent Vice), Nell settles in far easier than her fellow test subjects, seemingly unfazed by the house’s nighttime activities which involve strange noises and ghostly apparitions.

The study is being conducted by Dr. Marrow (Liam Neeson, The Commuter) and, unbeknownst to the three, the study they are participating in has less to do with their sleep patterns and more to do with their fear reflexes.  He’s chosen Hill House for its storied history of being haunted and before he knows it the ghosts truly do come out to play in increasingly aggressive methods.  Soon, Nell comes to realize there are two sets of ghosts at work in the house.  One group is steering them all to a mystery hidden within while another more malevolent force wants to make sure Nell never leaves.

The first hour or so of The Haunting is a well-constructed vice grip that continues to tighten as the people explore the house and its impressively crafted rooms.  The production design here is out of this world, rich and detailed with no two spaces looking exactly alike.  Much of the huge budget must have been devoted to these playing spaces because while you sort of always know they are sets and not practical rooms in a real mansion the overall illusion is a wonder.  From the large ballroom to a panic inducing revolving room of mirrors, each door opens up to a new feast of the eyes.  Even nearly twenty years later it’s remarkable.

Where the film tends to run off the rails (and was then savaged by critics) is in the visual effects which look one step up from Casper the Friendly Ghost-style floating images. Some of them are downright laughable, especially the wooden cherub faces that decorate Nell’s room.  One moment they are giving you the creeps as their dead eyes bore into you, the next you’re giggling when their expression changes to horror with wide eyes and their mouths forming an “O”.  The final sequence is nearly all CGI and it fails to captivate you, though cinematographer turned director Jan de Bont (Flatliners) does stir up some good camera work during the final act.

Yet for all these problems which do play a part in diminishing the overall effect The Haunting was going for, I still found myself enjoying this re-watch all these years later.  It’s well-intentioned and largely well-made with a great cast (more Lili Taylor in everything, please) and is a masterpiece of set-design.  I went in thinking it would still be that cornball loser I had written it off as being all those years ago but found myself invested in the material and characters.  Sadly, this hasn’t been released on BluRay (why the heck not?) but do yourself a favor and find an HD streaming copy to rent.  It’s worth another look.

31 Days to Scare ~ Summer of Fear (1978)

The Facts:

Synopsis: A teenage girl’s life is turned upside down after her cousin moves into her house, and as time goes by, she begins to suspect that she may be a practitioner of witchcraft.

Stars: Linda Blair, Lee Purcell, Jeff East, Fran Drescher, Jeff McCracken, Carol Lawrence

Director: Wes Craven

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: I’ve said it before but man, I really miss the classic made-for-network-television movie that has long been extinct. I remember looking forward to all those Moment of Truth movies on NBC as well as the domestic thrillers, wacky comedies, and disease of week flicks that would show up anytime you were ready to change the dial. Without a movie studio behind them, so many of these films have been lost to time with many found only on YouTube in various degrees of quality.

There is the occasional TV movie that drew the kind of viewership that allowed the movie to live on (often being released theatrically in Europe) and one such example is Summer of Fear from 1978. Originally broadcast as Stranger in Our House, the title was officially changed once the movie was granted a run in overseas theaters. It then made it’s debut on DVD before getting a nice treatment on BluRay in 2017. While it’s relatively vanilla for today’s horror audiences, it’s a fun little time capsule that has several impressive names attached to it.

Star Linda Blair was a hot, if troubled, commodity when the movie went into production. An Oscar nominee for The Exorcist, she was also the lead of several notable TV movies which garnered her good notices. At the time, Blair was coming off of the much maligned The Exorcist II: The Heretic and some personal struggles when she signed on to star. Did I mention the film is an early effort from legendary horror director Wes Craven (Deadly Blessing, Nightmare on Elm Street)? Craven had directed a few intense adult horror movies before this and his overall restraint in the confines of television censors here is admirable.

Based on the popular YA novel by Lois Duncan (who had a run of creepy books that were adapted into movies on TV and in theaters), Summer of Fear follows Rachel, a horse-loving teen in California that goes through hell when her orphaned cousin comes to visit and turns her life upside down. After her parents die in a car crash, mousy Julia (Lee Purcell, Valley Girl) leaves her Ozark home to come to live with Rachel and her family in their ranch house. Soon, Julia gets a make-over and starts to ingratiate herself into the lives of her family…to increasingly deadly results. Most of this comes at the expense of Rachel who loses her friends, her boyfriend, and her horse to Julia’s increasing grip over her life. Is Julia just a master manipulator or is there something more sinister going on?

With her big perm and sometimes baby-ish line readings, Blair (Hell Night) is campy fun as the paranoid Rachel. You often can’t blame her for being amazed that people are falling over themselves around Julia, everyone in her life seems so terrible to her you often wonder why she just doesn’t pack a bag and find a new family. It’s nearly hilarious how her loved ones turn on her the moment Julia arrives. Even her father starts to make moony eyes over his niece from the start (ew) and I can’t believe no one has mentioned how gross it is that Blair tries to set her older brother up with Julia…his first cousin! That he turns into a lovestruck puppy over her earns another ‘ew’ from me. I actually shouted out loud more than once, “She’s Your Cousin!!”

At 92 minutes, it feels like a full film meal and Craven often gives us a heaping plate of over-the-top moments. Blair has a knock down, drag out fight with someone and the stunt people look like they are wearing the exact same style wig. It looks like twins are fighting eachother. Purcell is also notable as the mysterious Julia.  She’s evil, no doubt, but you aren’t quite sure if it’s just teen angst or if she’s harboring a darker secret. I’m surprised that this hasn’t had a remake, actually, as the story seems to be prime material to reexamine or reinterpret. As it is, the film manages to locate more than its share of creepy moments within it’s TV trappings and is quite worth seeking out.

31 Days to Scare ~ Escape Room (2019) – Trailer

Synopsis: Six strangers find themselves in circumstances beyond their control, and must use their wits to survive.

Release Date: January 4, 2019

Thoughts: Even if Escape Room has a concept that feels like a less extreme version of what was first cooked up in the Saw films, I have to say this teaser trailer definitely has me intrigued.  Over the past few years escape rooms have popped up all over the country to growing popularity so it seems natural that sooner or later someone would play off of the confusion and frustration of these diabolical rooms.  I’ve been in several and if there was a horror movie made of my experience it would just be 60 minutes of me growing frustrated while trying to unlock a safe that has nothing in it.  I have confidence in director Adam Robitel who gave us the freaky gift The Taking of Deborah Logan and helmed Insidious: The Last Key, and Escape Room feels like it could be the jumping off point for a clever new franchise.

31 Days to Scare ~ Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966)

The Facts:

Synopsis: Dracula is resurrected, preying on four unsuspecting visitors to his castle.

Stars: Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Andrew Keir, Francis Matthews, Suzan Farmer, Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell

Director: Terence Fisher

Rated: NR

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  After the rousing success of Horror of Dracula in 1958, Hammer Studios moved forward with a smashing sequel, The Brides of Dracula, in 1960 without one key ingredient…Dracula himself.  While the sequel had all the right stuff, gorgeous costumes, lavish production design, a solid plot, and committed performances the absence of our titular creature of the night was felt.  Yet it took the studio another six years to get Christopher Lee back in his fangs and cape for another round as the world’s favorite bloodsucker.  And the wait was worth it.

A prologue recaps the ending of Horror of Dracula which was modeled after Bram Stoker’s classic tale.  Van Helsing vanquishes Dracula by exposing him to sunlight, turning him to dust.  The credits for this film play over the dust being blown away leaving just his ring as a reminder of the evil.  Jumping ahead ten years and we find the tiny European town where Dracula’s castle resides continues to harbor superstitious locals that attribute every strange death to Dracula’s curse.  Early on, a visiting priest (the gruff yet jolly Andrew Keir) stops a band of mourners from driving a stake through the heart of a beauty that passed away from an unknown ailment warning them that not every death is the result of a vampire’s bite.

The priest runs into a sightseeing foursome (Barbara Shelley, Francis Matthews, Suzan Farmer, Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell) and advises them to steer far clear of Castle Dracula.  Even though he believes the count to be long gone, there are things better left alone.  Of course, curiosity gets the better of the men in the group and when the coach bringing them to their next destination refuses to drop them near the castle they are left to fend for themselves…until a strange coach appears and takes them right to the castle where a gruesome fate awaits them all.  They arrive to find they were somehow expected, with a creepy manservant (Philip Latham) ready to serve them dinner…or does he intend to serve them as dinner?

When Lee finally does appear, resurrected through a fairly gory ritual, he’s all silent malevolence that works like a charm.  With no dialogue, Lee’s performance rests on his physicality and wild bloodshot eyes alone and it’s a highly effective performance at that.  Shelley is a hoot as a tightly-wound shrew that nags everyone so much you kind of hope she gets bitten first.  There’s nice work from Farmer, too, as another blonde beauty Dracula sets his sights on.  If the men fade a bit into the background it’s only because Lee is such a dominating presence they can’t really compete with him before or after he returns from the grave.

Movie monsters weren’t anything new when this film went intro production but this is a seriously high class affair.  The ending may be slightly rushed and not as satisfying as the preceding 80 minutes but there’s a reason why Hammer Studios was known as the prestige horror factory of that era.  While they reused many of the same sets, costumes, and actors throughout their history they manage to make every film feel unique and special.  The Dracula property was one they held in high regard and it shows in every single frame of Dracula, Prince of Darkness.  While Lee would return to the role for five more sequels of lessening impact, Dracula, Prince of Darkness as well as Horror of Dracula are timeless classics, and with good reason.

31 Days to Scare ~ He Knows You’re Alone (1980)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A young bride-to-be is being stalked by a serial killer.

Stars: Don Scardino, Caitlin O’Heaney, Patsy Pease, Elizabeth Kemp, Tom Rolfing, James Rebhorn, Dana Barron, Tom Hanks

Director: Armand Mastroianni

Rated: R

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  For years all I had heard about He Knows You’re Alone was the tiny trivia factoid that it was the screen debut of Tom Hanks.  Over the years it’s become a footnote to his resume and not much else, falling into the forgotten pit of early slasher films.  Usually, these movies earned their place on the bottom of the heap so when I finally caught this one I was pleasantly surprised to find He Knows You’re Alone to be a competent, if not outright totally entertaining, bit of ‘80s nostalgia.

It’s almost impossible to watch the movie now and try to bear in mind just how early it arrived on the scene.  Released in August of 1980, it came out three months after Friday the 13th and two years after Halloween.  Sequels to both these lasting franchises hadn’t been released and the clones and copycats hadn’t reared their low-budget heads yet so He Knows You’re Alone was still a newcomer to audiences looking for some scares.  Also, the focus on guts and gore hadn’t become de rigueur yet which is why the film is curiously absent of grotesque make-up and buckets of blood.

Leading with a strong opening that’s meta before it became a cliché, we quickly get down to business as a killer dispatches of a young lass at a movie theater.  This killer (creepily played by Tom Rolfing) doesn’t wear a mask so we always know who’s behind it all, but screenwriter Scott Parker has fleshed out the maniac and through flashbacks shows him to be a jilted lover triggered by any female ready to walk down the aisle.  While heading out of town, the killer happens upon a woman (Caitlin O’Heaney) saying goodbye to her fiancé as he departs for his bachelor weekend.  She’ll be spending time with her bridal party so they’re all vulnerable to the killer stalking them over the next few days.

While it draws comparisons in hindsight to Friday the 13th (even though it was filming at the same time) the movie obviously follows the rough outline set out by Halloween, the granddaddy of all slasher films.  The three women each have their own agenda for the weekend; one is going to get some (the delightfully slutty Patsy Pease romping around with her married professor lover played by the late, great James Rebhorn, I Love Trouble) one wants to get some (Elizabeth Kemp, looking to hook-up with a jogger played by Hanks, Saving Mr. Banks), and our bride still isn’t sure her fiancé is the man for her and entertains leaving him for a former flame (Don Scardino).

Director Armand Mastroianni plays it relatively cool for the first hour or so, peppering the film with the occasional suspense sequence but focusing a large amount of time on character development. They might be one-dimensional creations but they sure do get time to talk!  With a lack of blood and gore the film can feel a bit “soft” for the genre but I for one appreciated not seeing every last person disemboweled or sliced up.  I’m sure budget had everything to do with it but the restraint shown here is admirable.

Performances are strong and O’Heaney is a steely lead.  With her beady eyes and pointed features she comes off as an ordinary woman caught in an extraordinary circumstance.  I appreciated that when she starts running from the killer she doesn’t stick around the house to be picked off but instead runs as fast as she can into town and, admittedly, into the protective arms of her ex.  Kicking into high gear for a finale set inside a cavernous mortuary that stretches ever so slightly longer than it should, there is a nice wrap-up that allows our final girl to get up close and personal with her stalker.  For what it’s worth, Hanks is nice enough to have around even though he doesn’t play much of a part in the grand scheme of things.  Not making an appearance until the film is more than half over, rumor has it his character was supposed to be killed off but producers felt like the audience would find him too likable to be killed so he just kind of disappears near the end.

This is one that’s too good to be totally forgotten.  Though other movies would come around that would be scarier and gorier, there’s some fun stuff going on.  It may be too slow for audiences weaned on numerous jump scares and too tame for those with a bloodlust but I feel the film holds up nicely even when you do compare it to other films in the genre.  It may sit alone on a shelf during this time of year as more intense films are dusted off, but give this one a go if you have the chance.

31 Days to Scare ~ The Curse of La Llorona (2019) – Trailer

Synopsis: Ignoring the eerie warning of a troubled mother suspected of child endangerment, a social worker and her own small kids are soon drawn into a frightening supernatural realm.

Release Date: April 19, 2019

Thoughts: It appears that director James Wan is creating his own cottage industry (not to mention an expanding horror universe) in horror films like The Curse of La Llorona. Wan was behind The Conjuring and all it’s various off shoots (most recently represented with the box office smash The Nun) which have been gigantically profitable even though they were made for very little. After going outside his neighborhood for Lights Out he returns with this spooky tale based on a story from Mexican folklore. This first teaser has some spiffy moments in it while not giving away so much (take a page from the Warner Brothers marketing team, Halloween) that further scares will be spoiled.