Horrorfest 2021 Presents: Just Before Dawn (1981, Jeff Lieberman)

Going forth with my wilderness adventure horror movie viewings, I watched Just Before Dawn on Shudder. Gregg Henry and George Kennedy both star in a movie that more than lives up to it’s title and the whole “Murder in the woods” aspect. A bunch of college kids go up into the mountains and discover all too quickly that murderous lunatics dwell amongst the lovely foliage and pretty outdoor shots. In fact the movie opens with a gruesome murder that drives the survivor insane. Deborah Benson also stars and is one of the best characters in the movie.

Kennedy’s forrest ranger warns the young folk that going up into the woods is a bad idea, so of course they ignore him. The murders in this movie are pretty brutal and the film takes itself rather seriously, which helps. Sometimes a movie like this should have very little humor, and the final confrontation is very suspenseful and well done. I think Just Before Dawn is one of those 1980s flicks that could become a favorite of mine, and it’s easily a film that would be great to view in a drive in setting.

Horrorfest 2021 Presents: Cannibal Ferox (1981, Umberto Lenzi)

Every negative thing people said about Cannibal Holocaust applies instead to Cannibal Ferox, which is a wretched piece of trash. I didn’t mind the poor acting or the low budget, nope that wasn’t an issue. The problem is I didn’t care about what happened to any of the characters and the plot is really dumb. It’s all just an excuse to feature lots of gore and horrible things being done to people.

I’m reminded of Roger Ebert calling movies geek shows, and I sometimes felt he was being too harsh or getting up on his moral high horse. Yet I think he had a point at times and geek show definitely applies to Cannibal Ferox. This is a repulsive, lame excuse for a movie that I’m glad I saw on a streaming service instead of in theaters. I’m also maybe a little unnerved that I wasn’t affected by this movie. Perhaps I watch too many horror movies every year.

Horrorfest 2021 Presents: The Church (1989, Michele Soavi)

Hey I wanted to like The Church. I’m usually a sucker for goofy, outrageous 1980s crazy foreign cinema. I just wasn’t feeling this one and by the end I was ready for it to be over. This is how I imagine most people feel when sitting through giallo movies that I enjoy a lot. This is a flick that maybe could have used less plot, or more plot, or I donno, something. By the time really cool things start happening I had already fallen asleep and it took me two days to finish this movie.

None of that is a good sign. Alright the subway train death was neat, and hey look the Devil or some demon shows up near the end to do evil things! Yey! The opener promised a much cooler movie than what I watched, and I’m left frustrated that I didn’t like this movie. I bet if I had seen this in theaters I would have felt ripped off, and I saw it for free on Tubi and I still feel ripped off. Sigh…

Horrorfest 2021 Presents: Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (1981, William Asher)

This movie starts out with a scene that would be right at home in a Final Destination movie, then moves on to a young man, Billy (Jimmy McNichol) and his way too loving Aunt Cheryl (Susan Tyrrel). She finds out that Billy is planning to leave for college, and oh boy does that drive her insane. Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is one of those odd horror melodramas that only could have existed in the 1980s.

Add a scumbag cop played by Bo Svenson and Julia Duffy as Julia, Billy’s girlfriend and you’ve got a pretty solid cast. It’s Susan Tyrrel that steals the movie and runs away it as the crazed aunt, who does everything possible to keep Billy from leaving. Even murder!

The final act is beyond outlandish and yet it works in the context of the movie. Also this movie is very notable for being one of the few 1980s slashers to have a gay character in Coach Tom, played well by Steve Eastin. Who is presented as being supportive to Billy, which is nice. While there are better 1980s slashers I still rather liked this one and it will definitely stick out in my mind for a while. Also known as Night Warning, which is a better title that makes more sense.

Horrorfest 2021 Presents: Black Roses (1988, John Fasano)

Black Roses is one of those 1980s cult movies that you either think is fun or you feel is really dumb. I thought it was sort of both, and even though I can’t say I recommend this movie at all I still enjoyed it here and there. The movie has a goofy charm that makes it watchable at least, and the songs are actually pretty decent for a silly horror movie.

The Devil’s music comes to a small town, causing the kids to all go insane and murder the adults. I watched a dad get killed by a record player, and also witnessed the most ridiculous gun kill in the history of cinema. Plus one kid runs his own mother over and another tosses a guy out a window!

The main teacher, Matt (John Martin) ends up having to fight one demon monster and then battle the evil rock band on their own stage near the end. I can honestly say I have now viewed a movie that only exists thanks to 1980s Satanic panic and people thinking rock and roll is, well, the Devil’s music. Stay in school, kids!

Horrorfest 2020 Presents: Blood Tide (1982, Richard Jefferies)

A movie called Blood Tide doesn’t have to do much to win me over or get me to see it. The title is cool enough, plus this is one of those lost 1980s movies that bombed. The fact that it almost became public domain is depressing and I thank Arrow Video for them releasing it on a nice restored Blu-ray that has bonus features. It helps that the movie is a pretty good Jaws in the Greek islands type movie with a really good cast.

Legendary actor James Earl Jones chews scenery, dives for treasure, quotes Shakespeare and has a beach bunny for a girlfriend. Naturally he awakens this ancient evil sea monster that of course the locals fed virgins to centuries ago. Deborah Shelton steals the movie as a haunted woman living with nuns who makes the mistake of uncovering her destiny, or so she thinks. José Ferrer is the local mayor who knows way more than he’s telling, of course. Martin Kove of Karate Kid fame is Shelton’s sister and Mary Louise Weller is his wife, both who go looking for her.

The monster effects are solid enough yet it is the gorgeous scenery shots that are truly captivating. Also the score is quite good in that 1980s way, done by Shuki Levy and Jerry Mosely. Unfortunately I can’t find it anywhere so that sucks as I would love to share the opening theme. This is one of those cheesy movies that I fully embrace simply because it is my kind of cheesy movie. Oh and I’m probably going to watch it again.

Horrorfest 2020 Presents: Firestarter (1984, Mark L. Lester)

Drew Barrymore has always been a good actress, and she got her start as a young girl appearing in multiple famous 1980s movies. One of them was Firestarter, which I think was really great even though the critics didn’t like that one. I bet they compared it to Carrie, and while it’s not as good as that film it is certainly a well done effort in its own right. Imagine a girl with the ability to cause fires with her mind. I wouldn’t want to anger that person, and the people who are after her find that out all too well.

Charlie and her dad Andy (David Keith) are on the run from The Shop, a quasi-CIA style organization that wants to harness her powers. Leading the group is Hollister (Martin Sheen played two evil characters in Stephen King adoptions), who sends George C. Scott’s creepy hit man Rainbird after them. What happens next is both violent and shocking, as Charlie’s full powers are revealed. I was reminded of The X-Men films, and while the comics existed before Firestarter the modern film adaptations clearly borrowed some elements from this movie.

I liked the flashbacks, which outline both Andy and his wife Vicky (Heather Locklear)’s powers, and how they try to deal with Charlie’s struggles to control her abilities. The Tangerine Dream score for this film is also unreal, and the final act is pure escalation, to put it mildly. Despite being a tad dated I really loved this movie, and I eagerly recommend it. Maybe one day I’ll read the book, too.

Horrorfest 2020 Presents: Hack O-Lantern (1988, Jag Mundhra)

I only saw Hack O-Lantern thanks to The Last Drive In With Joe Bob Briggs. I had no idea this movie even existed, and guess what: I liked it. Is it a good movie? Hmm…probably not. Is it my kind of bad trash that I embrace during each fall season? Absolutely. This film has goofy yet awesome one liners, breasts, gore, strange music videos and nasty kills. Plus cemetery sex, on top of a recently killed guy no less.

The opener makes clear that Tommy is a creepy kid who grows up to become a moody goth teenager. His murderous psycho grandpa wants him to embrace the ways of cult hood and become one with his destiny, or something like that. I love how this movie manages to rip off a majority of the Halloween series. They should have made a sequel that covers the rest of the franchise. Oh and the Halloween party scenes are a blast-I miss those times.

Although the last act is a bit too rushed for my liking, I enjoyed this flick. The characters are solid enough and this film achieves its goals and closes up shop rather quickly. I can admire a film that is businesslike and doesn’t need to mess around. “The power is in the blood…” or something like that. Spooky.

Horrorfest 2020 Presents: Trick or Treats (1982, Gary Graver)

Speaks for itself

Ah, Halloween. My favorite holiday currently, or at least high up there anyways. I love this time of year, and I reflect on how because of horror movies I will never take a baby sitting job as long as I live. Slasher films have taught me that when you watch kids, a maniac wielding a knife always shows up every time. Without fail. Trick or Treats adheres to that formula and never waivers the entire time, which is admirable.

Jackelyn Giroux plays Linda, who gets stuck watching the kid from hell while his step-dad played by David Carradine and his wife leave her with their little brat over the Halloween weekend. Does her psycho ex husband played by Peter Jason show up to try and get his revenge for being committed? You bet! Does the kid drive Linda to the edge of her sanity with evil tricks? Oh yes. This movie more than lives up to its title.

While the death count is a bit low for a slasher movie, the ending was pretty good. Giroux is likable and you root for her to win against a demon child that would be at home in a The Omen sequel. Also not enough horror movies are set on Halloween, although perhaps it is a result of not wanting to be compared to a certain famous franchise starring one famous slasher villain. Too bad.

Horrorfest 2020 Presents: Mausoleum (1983, Michael Dugan)

Mausoleum was one weird ass movie, ranging from being creepy to very goofy. This is the only type of movie that could be made in the 1980s, when Fulci was still making horror movies and the Italians were doing whatever they wanted. Yet this is an American film, ripping off Bava and Fulci instead of the other way around, while being its own fairly unique film that oddly works. Either you enjoy Mausoleum or you think it’s awful, there is no in-between here. Some elements do not work, other parts are really cool.

The mall death scene is perhaps the film’s highlight, although there are several other memorable death scenes. Bobbie Bresee is great in the main role as Susan, and her demon transformation scenes are really freaky and awesome. The final act is really weird even for a demonic possession movie, and a scene between Susan and her psychiatrist (played by Norman Burton) is nightmare fuel.

However I kind of wished that Michael Dugan, the film’s director, had further explored Susan and her husband Oliver’s (Marjoe Gortner) marriage issues a bit more. I think in better hands this could have been a great film instead of a solid one, yet I still enjoyed it. Perhaps I’m just a sucker for a good old demonic flick.

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