Trick or Treat (1986)

As I’ve frequently pointed out on this site, it’s usually a bad move to make films based purely on a musical subculture, which is usually just some excuse to get more money for music royalties. This film in particular seems silly, and that’s mainly because it was the product of a time in which there was a silly moral panic over heavy metal music “corrupting the youth”, which films like Trick or Treat cynically attempted to exploit for some easy money. The actual film isn’t bad, and it has its moments, but it’s certainly a relic of time, with much of the cheese that comes with it.

The plot is simple enough. It revolves around a metalhead teenager named Eddie Weinbauer, who is constantly humiliated and treated like an insect in a painfully typical high school setting. The one comfort in his life is the music of heavy metal superstar Sammi Curr, but that’s all torn away from him when he suddenly dies in a hotel fire. His friend DJ Nuke (played by guest star Gene Simmons) gives him a copy of Sammi’s last and upcoming album, which apparently allows Eddie to communicate with the spirit of the dead rocker when he rotates it backwards (a play on the whole “Satanic backmasking” scare). The spirit helps Eddie get his revenge on the people who bullied him, but eventually he begins to get more murderous in his intent, and eventually comes out of the record in order to raise some hell.

The story is pure nonsense, and its based almost entirely on the moral panic, but it’s also another boring teen film setting, which just as well gets you thinking about the terrible state of American teenage life in 1986, which is something a film like this shouldn’t do but it’s so repetitive and stereotypical that it does that anyway. That’s my problem with exploitation films like this – the writers think only in stereotypes. I’m not saying there’s no truth in stereotypes, but it’s just lazy. On the plus side, it is good to see Ozzy Osbourne playing the kind of person that always complains about him being a bad influence. The irony of it is entertaining as it stands.

The acting isn’t really bad, though to be fair it’s rather uncharitable to except fine acting from a low budget horror film. The characters themselves weren’t exactly works of great imagination. I’ve seen more original characters in Future Cops. They may as well be cookie-cutter characters brought to you by the PMRC.

There’s a reason this sort of film ended up in the bargain bin. It’s cheesy, badly written, and it’s much of a horror film, or even a comedy since this isn’t really a serious film. On the plus side, it does have a good soundtrack courtesy of a band called Fastway, and if you happen to be a metal fan anwyay, you’ll probably ignore everything else and just focus on the music. Given some of the reviews on IMDB, some people probably did.

  • Score: 63%
  • Grade: C
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Night of the Comet (1984)

Some films don’t seem like much on the surface, and in that regard Night of the Comet seems like a B-movie very much of its time, with the sole difference being that the main protagonists are women. That is still broadly true, but there’s a certain campy 80’s charm that, far from being a dampener on the quality of the film, is something that can be worn as a badge of honour.

The plot of the film starts out eleven days before Christmas (so December 14th to exact), when the Earth is about to pass through the tail of a comet, an event that supposedly hasn’t happened in 65 million years, when it coincided with the extinction of the dinosaurs. On the night that the comet is supposed to pass, crowds of people across the world gather to watch the comet pass by. Unfortunately the comet crashes into Earth, wiping out most of humanity (except those who hid in steel-lined accommodation at the time of impact) and leaving piles of red dust in its wake and zombies roaming the Earth. No explanation is given for how a comet crash might have that aftermath.

Among the only living residents in Los Angeles are two valley girl sisters, Regina and Samantha Belmont, and a boy named Hector Gomez, and together they attempt to survive in the post-apocalyptic wasteland that Los Angeles become, but apparently the two girls can’t help but go shopping, even with zombies and mad scientists following them around.

The plot is very much a B-movie, but not so much a genre film. It has elements of sci-fi, comedy, disaster film, horror, and even teen films. The result is an entertaining pastiche of pretty much all the genres that it incorporates. My problem is that it’s not entirely believable. First of all, the setting shows a comet wiping out all human life, except that sounds more like an asteroid than a comet. Second, I find it hardly believable to think that a bunch of valley girls who seem more interested in shopping and pep rallies than survival could even have a realistic chance of making it out of this kind of scenario alive.

That said, I like the fact that they at least attempted to make the two main characters into self-reliant, heroic characters. Given the B-movie quality of the film it’s not totally convincing, but it was a noble attempt. The acting isn’t terrible, but it’s not great either. In fact, it’s the kind of acting I expect from an 80’s-era TV show. That’s perhaps one of the reasons I find the film to be so cheesy and unbelievable.

For some reason, however, I can’t quite fault Night of the Comet for being such a B-movie. It has a certain independent charm, having been made on the a quantifiably modest $700,000 budget. It’s also a good film for synth-lovers. Pretty much the entire soundtrack sounds like a Berlin school electronic album, and for the cheesy pop lovers, there’s plenty of campy, synth-laden pop songs for you 80’s nostalgists.

Overall I would say it’s a pretty decent film, definitely one for the independent film enthusiasts, and certainly for those who like some silly fare.

  • Score: 68%
  • Grade: C

Hour of the Wolf (1968)

I’m told that it would be unthinkable for anyone who’s seriously interested in films to not see this. I can’t exactly fathom why. That’s the kind of reasoning I’d except to see with regards to genuine classics like Casablanca. Nonetheless I took a gander at this Swedish art film from Ingmar Bergman, which is purported to be a surreal psychological horror film. It certainly has an experimental feel to it, and is certainly interesting, but it’s not one of the best films I’ve seen, mainly because it’s so quiet and slow. That doesn’t make it a bad film.

The plot of the film is explained in the opening title cards. An artist named Johan Borg lives with his wife Alma on the island of Baltrum where he is taking refuge after an unexplained crisis that took place prior to the events of the film. But he is visited by bizarre and disturbing visions, and approached by suspicious characters, and towards the end he breaks down while confronting some of his repressed desires.

At first I had little idea of what to make of this film, and that’s chiefly because not much happened at all, at least for the first half of the film. The second half of the film was where things truly got interesting, with strange occurrences, and some pretty creepy stuff. My main issue with the film as it stands is the pacing. It’s a slow buildup to the horrors that lie in wait, but before then is some fairly boring conversation. I suppose that’s supposed to reflect on the serenity of the life on a remote island that the main characters live for the first part of the film, but it is a bit confusing because you’re wondering what film you’re even watching.

The acting is actually quite decent, good even. The film is in Swedish, but there are subtitles for English speakers. I feel that Max von Sydow plays the part of the troubled artist rather well, if rather quietly, but as the film’s atmosphere becomes more tensed, he portrays more of a psychotic character, and towards the end he dissolves into a figuartive pool of cinematic madness.

That’s pretty much all I can really say about Hour of the Wolf. It was a good film if you want something that will stimulate your cinematic tastebuds, but to my mind, it seemed to be more suited to the more snobbish cineasts out there.

  • Score: 70%
  • Grade: C

Alucarda (1977)

Some films were so scandalous in controversial content that they were buried for a while until they eventually see the light of day once more. Alucarda was that kind of film, with lurid sexual content, demonic possession and exorcism (which may as well be a form of psychological torture), which you might have seen in other similar Satanic horror films, but this film was a modest cut above most of those other films, even though oftentimes its low budget shows. Given its cheap production values and its pulp fiction plot, you’d be forgiven for thinking this film is a waste of time, but it has a way of surprising you.

The plot of this film concerns two orphaned girls named Alucarda and Justine, who in short order develop a very intimate friendship. They wander off into the woods and met a band of gypsies, and then they accidentally unleash a demonic force that escapes from a casket and gradually consumes the convent. They then get possessed by the Devil, and are driven to wreak havoc on the convent and the nuns and priests that mind it.

The film has been compared to Ken Russell’s The Devils, a film that explored similar themes, but was far more well-made. That being said, some have pointed out similarities between this, and the famous vampire novel Carmilla, with which it shares similar themes. You could call Alucarda the compact, Mexican equivalent of the Ken Russell classic if you want, though that might be a disservice to this film, as it casts the shadow of an unquestionably superior film over it in your mind, and that would ultimately ruin it. That said, I like that the film is confined to a 75 minute runtime, as this makes the film quite straightforward in terms of plot progression, but at the same time, it seems like the story was quite rushed. That being said, it doesn’t take very long for the film to get into gear.

The acting isn’t great. In fact, there’s a tendency to overact, and there’s a lot of screaming that’s more annoying than it is convincing. When they’re not screaming, their performance has a kind of campy, B-movie horror vibe. Even though the film was made in Mexico, the film was originally filmed in English, so we aren’t even dealing with some sort of crappy dub like with most foreign films. The lip movements match the English dialogue.

What the film succeeds in is its evocation of gothic style, albeit in a cheap B-movie sort of way. The set pieces aren’t too bad, and the film’s soundtrack has a weirdly enjoyable prog vibe, and I say this because I swear they used a keyboard in place of a church organ. The film does have plenty of gory violence, but it’s quite tame compared to most films, and the horror scenes are quite cheesy, but the film does have some genuinely creepy moments.

Alucarda is one of those films that’s more for the people who are really into underground horror films, particularly those that have been granted a certain mystique over the years, despite the fact that they are quite mediocre. You could say it’s “so bad it’s good”, but it’s not bad. In fact, it could have been quite good, if only the producers had more money.

  • Score: 65%
  • Grade: C

Mystics in Bali (1981)

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the Indonesian government apparently discovered that films could be a lucrative source of foreign revenue, so a number of B-movies were produced, and then exported them to the West. One of these films was Mystics in Bali, a B-movie that is somewhat notable for its focus on black magic and Balinese mythology, particularly the leyak, a vampiric creature that takes the form of a flying head with hanging entrails. This is one of those low budget horror films that seems to playfully embrace its unbelievable premise to gory effect, and this sort of thing made it a hit among fans of cult horror films, and somehow, this film is in the public domain.

The plot centres on a woman named Cathy Kean, a foreign woman (depending on the dub, she is either American or Australian) who visits Bali in order to write a book on black magic, and therefore sets out to learn Leák magic, which she first heard of through her Balinese lover Mahendra. She takes lessons in black magic from the Queen of the Leák, who takes her in as her disciple and teaches her some powerful black magic, but at the price of turning her into a Leyak that must feast on the blood of newborns in order to give her master power, and it is left to the local holy men of the village to stop the forces of evil from gaining too much power.

I would call it standard horror stuff but it isn’t. The premise is very original, but the writing isn’t very good. It’s very obvious that the writers weren’t taking the film very seriously, and this is shown by the cheesy way in which the witch acts. Another flaw is that you have characters that appear from out of nowhere, and are given little screen time, so when they do appear, you’re wondering “when did they come in?”, which isn’t exactly good writing.

The acting isn’t terrible, but it’s cheesy. In fact, the English dub actually plays into the silliness of the film, which I guess is not the worst thing in the world for something like this. Here’s a fun fact though. Apparently Ilona Agathe Bastian, the actress playing the lead role, never actually acted before this film, and was a German tourist who was chosen at random by the wife of one of the film’s producers to play Cathy. That explains a fair bit.

Given that this is a low budget horror film, except a lot of cheesy special effects, and you’ll notice that the film itself looks drastically more computerised when some of the magical transformation effects happen. It’s not the cheesiest you can get out of special effects, but it can get pretty comical from here. The film isn’t terribly gory, but if you have a weak stomach, I wouldn’t recommend it.

I don’t think there’s much more I can say about this particular film. Other than its unique premise, it’s not very special, but it does have its moments.

  • Score: 57%
  • Grade: D

Daughters of Satan (1972)

I’ve said it many times before on this site, but I find that horror movies tend to be pretty boring, especially the occult-themed horror films of the 1970’s. Daughters of Satan is no exception, suffering the same exact problems as Virgin Witch, which I already reviewed last month. In fact it’s a prime example of what I’m talking about. You have a horror film whose sole purpose is to sell a sultry, cliché infested fantasy by offering whatever people in the early 1970’s considered titillating, whose writers didn’t even bother writing a decent plot that stands out in a crowded market. This film’s story may as well be the story of a glut of other films of its time.

The story of this film revolves around James and Chris Robertson, a married couple living out in the Philippines who become involved with a cult after James brings home a painting that depicts the burning of a witch who looks like wife, Chris. The painting gradually takes over Chris’ personality, and joins with two reincarnated witches in order to destroy James.

I will be blunt, the story is completely daft. How on earth does a painting take over the personality of a woman just because they look alike? To many it screeches of lazy writing from a band of hacks. It also doesn’t help that the film is slowly paced, and most of the plot is actually boring conversation. If they’re going to make some cheesy occult horror film like one that’s already been repeated over and over again, they should have at least put in something interesting to keep you watching, because if I’m being very honest, who honestly enjoys watching this? If you do let me know in the comment section and make your case for why this is an underrated classic.

Most people who’ve heard of this film have probably know this as an early screen role for Tom Selleck, and honestly, he’s not bad in this film, although he does kind of take a backseat to the witches in the film, which doesn’t seem like the mark of a good film. The acting overall is very mediocre. None of the characters were even remotely convincing, and everyone in the film was a bore. Not an intolerable bore, but a bore nonetheless.

The presentation isn’t too bad, but it looks and sounds pretty typical for its time, and it certainly doesn’t get you interested at all, and that’s too bad because the way I see it, it’s basically just another Virgin Witch. They’re marketed the same, and one of the characters’ name is even a variation of Virgin Witch’s Christine. If anyone can help it, they won’t watch the movie because it’s boring. It’s not the worst film you can find. I’ve absolutely seen and reviewed worse on this site, but if you can help, stay away from the film. If you must watch it however, don’t pay for it. It’d be a waste of your hard-earned money, and I’m convinced most films of the genre are.

  • Score: 47%
  • Grade: D

Virgin Witch (1972)

There are some films that you watch, and when you’re done you’ll come to the conclusion that it was nothing special. Given how cinema has essentially become a mass-produced art form, you’ll find that a majority of films are like this, but it really is dependant on your tastes. Personally, I think this a particular problem in horror movies, the quality of which depends ultimately on how edgy and shocking they can be. Like many “occult-themed” horror films, Virgin Witch is neither of them.

The plot revolves around a young model named Christine, who is on the verge of getting her big break when she applies at and is accepted by the modelling agency of Sybil Waites, an older lesbian who has her eyes on her for a peculiar reason. Together with her sister Betty, Christine is invited to an old house in the country for a photo shoot, but Sybil is actually a witch, and she wants to induct her into her coven and is hoping to prepare her for a sacrifice.

Often accurately billed as an exploitation film, it seems like this film in particular was an excuse for the producer to get as many nude scenes with the lead actress as he possibly could. To me, the whole premise of the film seems like it was written by a horny teenage boy. It may as well have been, because those are the only sorts of people who could look past the film’s obvious faults.

What faults am I talking about? For starters, this is one of those slow horror films in which barely anything happens for a while. In fact, there’s barely any actual horror at all. The first half of the film is a boring skin flick seemingly with no plot, and the second half is a mediocre horror flick but it’s slightly better than watching the first film. It seems as if the producers didn’t know what they were doing because they were busy ogling the actresses.

By the way, the acting is pretty dull. The Michelle sisters seemed like a better sort for modelling rather than acting, not that this was a film they care to remember. The other characters aren’t exactly stellar either, but then again, I don’t think anyone had any real enthusiasm for the project. On a side note, am I the only one who thinks that the ritual looked somewhat robotic?

The film isn’t too bad in terms of the way it presents itself. I’d say this was one of those style over substance films, but it wasn’t particularly stylish. In fact, it was boring and banal right down to the bone, but the film itself wasn’t offensively bad. In fact, it might have been quite decent were it not burdened with the misfortune of bad writing, listless acting and lazy producers. It was basically a cheap film with the plot of an even cheaper pulp book. It’s not a very remarkable film even if you stretched the definition of remarkable as wildly as you possibly could.

  • Score: 47%
  • Grade: D

2019: After the Fall of New York (1983)

In the depths of obscure cinema lay the some of the cheesiest, the cheapest, and in an objective sense, the worst among the B movie crowd. In fact, there are many examples of truly terrible knock-off films, and in that respect, this film is one of the worst examples. One of many Italian-made post-apocalyptic knock-offs that came out during the 1980’s, Sergio Martino’s genre flick is a bizarre attempt to somehow rip off Escape from New YorkMad Max and Planet of the Apes at the same time. Naturally, it failed at all of that, and scuppered whatever little potential it had.

The plot of this film is simple enough. It’s the year 2019, and human civilisation has been reduced to rubble in the aftermath of a nuclear war, and society is now ruled by the Euraks, a hybrid race that rules through fear and regularly tortures and conducts experiments on people. Meanwhile in Nevada, a mercenary named Parsifal (who I prefer to call Solid Snek) is asked by the Pan-American Confederacy to go into the ruins of Manhattan with two other men to rescue the only fertile woman left on Earth in order to repopulate mankind.

As simple and unpretentious as it is, it’s muddled and poorly written, and half the cast is pretty much vestigial in terms of the film’s lacklustre plot. Nearly every cliché you could think of is thrown into the film like badly thrown darts. Right off the bat the film opens with an obviously cheap diorama of New York, then lots of meaningless plot turns are jammed between the opening and ending. To the producers’ credit, the film at least started out in “so bad it’s comical” territory, before descending into blatant ridiculousness to the point of having completely broken all sense of immersion.

The characters aren’t great either, and in fact, the acting is quite simply atrocious. It’s worse than you can expect from most 80’s anime dubs, and it’s almost as if the actors were being paid minimum wage. Sometimes you get the occasional moment of humorously hammy acting, but the script had all the life sucked right out of it, and evidently so did the actors’ enthusiasm. I wouldn’t blame them, after all this was a project I’m sure nobody had any enthusiasm for back in the day.

Usually this is when the presentation compensates for a film’s other deficiencies, but not this time. The costumes are extremely ridiculous and seem utterly out of place, as do a lot of characters in this ill-conceived budget flick. The set pieces and special effects look so cheap that the film would have looked brand new in the 1960’s. The choreography is so noticeably awkward that it’s as though they didn’t even try, and not even the music score is exciting. In fact, sometimes the same sound effect is used throughout an entire scene, and it breaks all sense of immersion.

In short, the film was a total bust, but believe it or not, this film still has its fans. Honestly, I find it hard to say anything good about it. There’s films that are cheesy and that’s the whole point, and then there’s films that are simply badly made, and this was one of them. Probably the only cool thing about the film was the poster, and let that be a lesson. Never watch films just because the poster looked nice.

  • Score: 38%
  • Grade: E

Demons (1985)

Demons have been a fairly frequent subject in horror films, and they’re always depicted in roughly the same way, as interchangeable horror monsters but with notably more intelligence than zombies. This film isn’t too different in that regard. In fact, at times it tends to resemble a zombie film. That being said, however, it is better than the vast amount of demon-related horror films out there, and I should give it credit for being the first demon-related horror film I’ve seen that’s actually passable as a horror movie for once, and is much better than that in terms of its execution.

Set in Berlin, the film sees a university student named Cheryl, along with her friend and several other people being handed tickets from a mysterious masked man to the screening of a new film at a recently refurbished cinema. One of the attendants wears a mysterious mask that leaves her with a cut on her face after she takes it off. They watch a film that features a mask like the one they saw in the foyer, and depicts events eerily similar to what would eventually happen in the film. Sure enough, the scratched woman eventually turns into an undead, bloodthirsty demon that can infect the living into one of them. The rest are trapped and killed off and infected one by one, and the survivors are left in the unfortunate position of surviving long enough to find their way out.

The story isn’t bad. In fact, it benefits from a suspense heavy approach. My main problem with the story is the lack of explanations given. The masked man never talks in the whole film, and thus there’s no way of ascertaining why he went through the trouble of trapping a bunch of random people in a movie theatre, so you’re left to use your imagination. Also, there are a few scenes featuring four other characters that don’t become part of the main plot until later, and these scenes are put between the rest of the story, which sort of disrupts the flow.

The characters aren’t the most important thing about the film, though the acting isn’t exactly the best, at least with regards to the English dub. Don’t get me wrong, the acting could be better, but it’s not the terrible kind of cheesy. The thing that really annoys me is that the characters tend to be completely stupid, sometimes ignoring common sense. This seems to be a running trope in horror films, and sadly this film is no different.

But that’s alright. After all, the film is certainly well presented, with an atmospheric music score that sets the right tone throughout the film in the style of its time (along with a range of selected songs from various recording artists). Also, the film sports commendably visceral special effects, and it’s great that the producers opted for practical effects instead of computer generated effects. Most obviously, the film is one of those gore horror films, so if you’re not a fan of incredibly violent horror films, this probably isn’t for you. I’m usually not jolted by most horror films, but evidently most of the other horror films weren’t that good at horror.

All in all, it’s not the greatest of all horror films, but I would put it into the category of the more well-done horror films, and you simply don’t get this kind horror film anymore. Most of today’s modern shock horror films are completely fake, and we all know it. The old Italian horror films, meanwhile, are in a totally different league.

  • Score: 74%
  • Grade: C

Society (1989)

I came across a rather interesting horror flick about a year ago, one in which the premise was that the wealthy overclass literally feasted on the people below them, and I was fascinated by that idea. What other movie took the idea of class conflict and transmogrified it into a surreal, SFX-laden horror film? Alas, though the film’s ideas were solid, it’s not as spellbinding as I had hoped it would be, but it certainly wasn’t boring.

The film’s plot revolves around Bill Whitney, a high school student who’s practically got it made. He has a wealthy family in Beverly Hills, California, a girlfriend in the cheerleading squad, a Jeep Wrangler, and is likely to become class president. And yet, despite this enormous position of privilege, he is unhappy and feels out of place. His sister and parents mingle with upper class socialites, and even his girlfriend is more interested in going to parties than in his pressing concerns.

His worst fears are confirmed when his sister’s ex-boyfriend David Blanchard gives him a tape which seems to reveal his family participating in an incestuous orgy, but when tries to show the tape to his therapist, it appears to have been altered, and Blanchard turns up dead. Each second he keeps digging puts his life at risk, until eventually all is revealed to him at a formal party, and it’s not a pretty sight.

The story itself is a twisted jab at the outward soullessness of the upper class, old money types that still haunt the real world, though it’s worth noting that the film doesn’t necessarily take itself seriously, or at least not constantly. In fact, more times than not it’s a comedy of sorts. The real horror builds up until the end of the film, where the rich socialites turn out to be creatures that melt into alien creatures and suck the nutrients out of them. I might have liked for the film to go in a darker direction, but on the other hand, it’s a decent enough deconstruction of the then-popular 80’s teen flicks that were about as prevalent as Aqua Net. If you want to see a by-the-numbers teen flick being twisted, dismembered and then hung out to dry, this is probably the film for you.

My main problem is with the pacing. For a horror film, there’s an awful lot of time in which barely anything happens, though I think this is probably supposed to add to the sense of paranoia that the film relies on in. It’s a good idea, though the acting is pretty bad, and cheesy to the point of it being comical. This isn’t a rare phenomenon in horror films, particularly ones that rely on visceral SFX-driven thrills, but here I can’t help but think that it ran the risk of somehow undermining the whole message of the film by rendering the characters as stock caricatures.

The film certainly has the spirit of the opulent 80’s, complete with the synth score, but for me, the real highlight of the film is the special effects provided by Screaming Mad George, which greatly added to the bizarre nature of the film. I also like how the writers took advantage of the seemingly elastic effects to deliver a satisfying conclusion.

On the whole, it’s not as great as it perhaps could have been, but it’s not without its merits. It may have been a B-movie, but it had a kind of satirical commentary hidden beneath the layers of cheese. It’s not really for everyone, and if you’re the kind of viewer who isn’t into surrealistic gore or sadistic horror (though there isn’t much of it here), you probably won’t like it. But for the hardier cult film viewer, Society is a film for you.

  • Score: 66%
  • Grade: C