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

The Fly (1986)

fly_posterI did hear about this film many years ago, but I had never seen it until very recently. Needless to say it’s quite unlike any sci-fi horror film I had seen so far, with its unique premise (I say this and the very story had been filmed before in 1958) and its refreshingly visceral horror thrills.

The premise of the film revolves around Seth Brundle, an eccentric scientist working on a set of “telepods”, instant transportation devices which he claims will change the world forever. Documenting this is Veronica Quaife, a science reporter who eventually gets attached to her subject at her peril. Brundle eventually thinks that he’s perfected his experiment, but begins to display signs that he has transformed into a completely different person, and finds out that his last experiment went disastrously wrong.

I honestly thought that it was going to be the horror film that almost immediately started with Jeff Goldblum’s character becoming the fly, but that would have been much too predictable. Instead, the film seems to have taken the path of slowly establishing mood and depth of character, before eventually taking a creepy turn as the eccentric scientist slowly morphs into a savage, grotesque creature. I think this was a well-written film, with its slow, suspenseful pacing building up to a viscerally climactic end.

I think Jeff Goldblum was a good fit for the lead role, even though at times he sounded a bit robotic. His performance was a fine mix of sorts, not too much like the cackling mad scientist, not too much like a bumbling “nutty professor” type. In a way, he’s his own breed of character here. Geena Davis also made for a good supporting character, though it sometimes seems as if she ought to be the main protagonist (taking on the role more heavily towards the end).

Much like any other film made by David Cronenberg, The Fly is very much a visual film, and thus much of its success depended on how it presented itself. On the surface it looks like it would have fitted just as well on television as it did on the silver screen (by which I mean it’d look good on both). However, the real cherry on the sundae would have to be the film’s wildly liberal use of its creative special and make-up effects. Given the film’s gore horror approach (though I must say the film is rather conservative on the gore), the film is replete with such special effects, and it seems to work in the film’s favour. Of course, who could forget how well the make-up was implemented in creating the fly creature? If you’ve seen the film, I don’t think you will.

All in all, The Fly was a very good example of sci-fi horror done right. I’ll admit that it’s not without its flaws, and that there are certainly better films in the same genre, but because of its inventiveness, originality, and good writing, I think there’s a special place for this sadly underrated film.

  • Score: 84%
  • Grade: B

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

original_rocky_horror_picture_show_posterIn a way, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a good example of a cult film that garnered mainstream appeal. Largely dismissed when it was first released (because let’s face it, mainstream film critics were always morons), it quickly became a huge enough hit that people would dress up as the characters (ladies and gentlemen, the birth of cosplay as we know it), and now every year the film is shown close to Halloween, which I guess is why I’ve picked this film. I saw a more recent performance of the play this film was based on (specifically the 40th Anniversary broadcast on Sky Arts), and at that point I didn’t see the film yet, and then wanted to see it more than ever, and when I finally did see it, I liked it, even though I wasn’t entirely surprised by how unapologetically campy it is.

The film’s plot is essentially a silver screen re-enactment of the musical, narrated by a criminologist. The story sees a couple – Brad Majors and Janet Weiss – who find themselves lost in the woods one rainy evening, and stumble on a nearby manor, wherein they assume they can find a phone they can use to call for help. Discovering a cavalcade of strange people with bizarre costumes, they are greeted by Dr. Frank N. Furter, a crazy scientist who, by his own admission, is an alien transvestite from a faraway planet, and apparently he is creating a superhuman beef cake that he wants to have sex with, while simultaneously seducing both Brad and Janet, who find themselves caught in a series of bizarre, goofy horrors set to upbeat music.

The story is in equal parts a B-movie parody and a glam rock opera, and it moves at a rather frenetic, yet enjoyably upbeat pace. It’s mainly the musical numbers that move the plot forward (this literally being an on-screen translation of the original musical), and it’s a pretty effective way to bring attention to the plot, and advantage that Rocky Horror has over the plethora of cheesy sci-fi and horror movies the filmmakers lovingly satirise.

The acting is one area where your mileage may vary, mainly because the acting is very campy. If you hate musicals you might not like it, but it seems to me that the actors perform better when they’re singing rather than simply speaking. I’m probably not the only one who’ll say that Tim Curry is the best performer in the film. I prefer his character to all the others, mainly because of his outlandish and deliciously devious performance. I’m also of the opinion that Tim Curry was the best possible choice for the role of Dr. Frank N. Furter. I’ve seen the trailer for the TV reboot (which looks pretty bad), and I’m sure Laverne Cox isn’t a bad choice, but let’s face it, there’s no beating Tim Curry.

Stylistically, the film has all the ingredients of a film that serves as both a parody and a loving tribute to the Hammer Horror films of the 1950’s and 1960’s. In fact, a number of props and set pieces, including the Oakley Estate (which was used as the setting for The Frankenstein Place), a frequent filming location in older Hammer films. Many of the costumes instantly remind me of the often equally outlandish glam rock scene of the time, but some of the other elements, including dyed hair and ripped fishnets, remind me of the punk movement (where they found a home after the film was released). Of course, I can’t go without mentioning the actual songs, and the songs are actually quite good, though a select few are truly memorable (nobody who’s seen the film can actually forget “The Time Warp”, “Dammit Janet”, or “Sweet Transvestite”).

It’s probably not for everyone, but if you want a wild, unapologetically fun film, then The Rocky Horror Picture Show is certainly for you. It looks, feels and sounds very much like a film of its time, but amazingly enough, its bold, unabashed appeal still holds up today.

  • Score: 75%
  • Grade: B

The Lair of the White Worm (1988)

whitewormKen Russell’s “The Lair of the White Worm” is indeed an interesting breed of film. Made in 1988, this film seems to be calling back to the horror traditions of B-movies from the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Of course, this direction does come across as a bit cheesy, and it seems more like a tame vampire film without a vampire, but it’s the kind of B-movie that, though it’s not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, is nonetheless a playfully entertaining film, even if the actual horror is in short supply here.

The plot of the film is somewhat interesting. Near a bed and breakfast owned by two sisters, an archaeology student named Angus Flint discovers an oddly shaped skull at the ruins of a convent, and he believes the skull is connected to the legend of the Lambton Worm. The site is shortly visited by Lady Sylvia Marsh, and while various people start disappearing, the skull is stolen. With the help of neighbouring nobleman Lord James, Angus manages to find a link between the skull and an ancient cult that worshipped giant worm that lives below the Earth, and finds himself racing to save the Trent sisters from the clutches of Lady Marsh, who turns out to be a snake-like demon with plans to sacrifice them.

The film certainly matches the pace of an old-fashioned gothic horror film, beginning with a slow start and creeping toward a rather surreal and spooky finish. There’s no denying the originality on display, but just because a film has original ideas doesn’t mean that its totally effective in the execution of its ideas. The problem, as I see it, is that the film seems to revel in its kitsch a bit too much, almost as if this was being written as a comedy-horror film, but with few traces of either, and plenty of bizarre psychedelic dream scenes.

The acting isn’t too bad, and I’ve noticed that some of the films’ better performances come from a younger Peter Capaldi. I should also single out Amanda Donohoe as the film’s villain. In a way she sort of reminds me of Catherine Deneuve’s character from The Hunger, but I think she makes for a much better antagonist here, what with her subtle, serpentine demeanour. The other characters perform fairly well too, but they don’t make that much of an impact.

The special effects are quite ridiculous, and the nightmare scenes are perhaps the worst example, as they are littered with cheesy-looking special effects. I’m sure that’s basically just for the sake of abstraction, but it doesn’t work in any way, and just comes across as an accidental joke. While the nightmare scenes are a psychedelic mess, they show up infrequently, and the rest of the film looks alright, with decent production values all the way. It’s just a shame that the film sort of underperformed in terms of actual horror or humour, because I think this film could have been quite a good one. To be fair, it is actually pretty entertaining, but in many ways it fell short of what it could have been.

  • Score: 64%
  • Grade: C

Mr. Vampire (1985)

MrVampirePosterAs far as vampire-related films go, this film is definitely a rare species. Though not as compelling as others, this one is definitely more bizarre than many others, and is certainly a hilarious alternative. Apparently popular enough to spawn a line of sequels and spin-offs, and though its not the first of its kind, the film’s popularity effectively kickstarted a trend of Chinese comedy-horror films. Though it essentially plays out like a genre film, it takes its chosen genre in a creative and interesting way.

The film’s story is themed around the jiangshi – the hopping corpses in Chinese folklore that are sometimes described as vampires. In the film, a Taoist priest named Master Kau is given the task of removing the father of a wealthy businessman and rebury it. However, the exhumed body reawakens as a savage hopping corpse, threatening the safety of the other villagers, so it’s up to Master Kau and his two inept disciples to stop the bloodthirsty corpse.

When I first saw the hopping corpses I thought they were part of the comedy, until I read up about the folklore and this began to make sense. Of course, the way the hopping corpses are depicted is hilarious. The story is pretty much written much like a typical horror film, but in a very irreverent way. I saw a review where this film is compared to one of my more recent picks, A Chinese Ghost Story, where the reviewer say that Mr. Vampire is more demented by comparison, and that would certainly be accurate. The story is a bit muddled, but it’s mainly action-driven, with a blend of slapstick humour and martial arts, and its packaged neatly into a fast-paced film.

Right off the bat, the characters come across as goofy, but then, I think I ought to blame the badly translated subtitles, some of which were hilarious anyway. The acting is already, and the performances are suitably camp, which kind of works for this film for some reason. From what I can tell, the actors weren’t necessarily trying to be serious, and that’s the point. It’s not necessarily a serious horror film, in fact it’s irreverent tone is what makes this film so enjoyable in the first place.

The only thing I criticise would be the special effects, which look pretty cheap, or maybe it aged badly, or maybe its quality I’ve seen the film at (note to self, I should stop using low-quality videos online for too long). In a way, the special effects sort of add to the comedy, but if you’re a fan of the frenetic craziness of Hong Kong action films, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the film’s ably choreographed action scenes, which are very typical of this kind of film. All in all, I’m not as much of a fanatic about this film as others are, I did enjoy the film, if mainly because of its silly take on vampire horror, and the charmingly irreverent way in which this unique approach was executed.

  • Score: 69%
  • Grade: C