While on Christmas break, I found myself perusing the archives and found some guilty pleasures that should bring a smile to any genre fan’s face. Not the best example H-town has to offer, but certainly some of the best times I’ve had spent in front of a television. For what they are, they do the job.
Motel Hell 1980
The least known and recognized is first on the list. A vastly underrated gem that needs rediscovered. This sick, twisted little bugger was played constantly on HBO late night rotations back in the day around 1981 or so is when I saw it and it always struck me how clever it was able to slip in some decent jokes along with the macabre setting. Even as a kid, I got most of the jokes and knew it was working on slightly altered wavelength. Released right at the zenith of the slasher/maniacs on the loose flicks in 1980, it unleashed sometime terribly original and in need of a good laugh. We don’t laugh outright at the material, but we do get a near constant smirk at the wit and occasional irony; this film as dark as it’s trappings suggest, could have been a brilliant parody of horror films, but the actors take their jobs very serious and walk that fine line that moves closer to just satire, (yes, there is a difference). This is as close to parody as horror needs to get, it walks that razor thin line. What they do here is brilliance done with affection and tact with their tongues buried deep in their cheeks. B movie western star, Rory Calhoun, one of my Dad’s favorites, chews the scenery as if it were loaded with strawberry bubblegum, he not only enjoys his role, but he injects it and becomes Farmer Vincent who makes his Famous Fritters in the back of his Motel business that doubles as the family farm cultivating their secret ingredient that everyone constantly asks him about. Helping him run “the farm” is his younger sister Ida, played by wacko zeal Nancy Parsons, who would gain iconic fame a few years later as Coach Beulah Ballbreaker in the “Porky’s” series. Sporting pigtails, but appearing about age 45, she seems stuck in an arrested development, disinterested in social norms, dedicated only to her older brother’s passions. Both actors bring a surprising amount of professionalism that might otherwise be weighed down in campy, over-the-top evil or Johnny Depp-like “quirkiness.” Both characters at first are strangely likable; the film finds the right stylistic note for its central characters, who are simple, cheerful, smiling, earnest, and resourceful… cannibals.
This film couldn’t be done today or it would go bad at least two ways. The first being it would be dark, depressing with the washed out sepia-toned look, drop-frame editing, Directed like a TOOL music video with young nubiles looking to get high and or laid and then knocked off every 4 minutes after the 30 minute mark, overloaded with gore porn, paper-thin forgettable characters, performances and as dull as a silent fart. The other way is it would be campy feel, over-the-top, loaded with stupid jokes or at least none with any style or irony whatsoever. The performances would be self-aware, wink-wink, grinning from ear to ear morphing into a bad SNL sketch that wouldn’t be able to find the balance.
On top of the jokes, MH provides several ghoulish moments; like the field loaded with victims, throats slashed to keep them quiet as they squirm making a croaking noise, who are fattened up before they are lead off to the slaughterhouse. It also has a social conscious as well, poking at the industrialized food production and over population. Vincent having no qualms at all that people are his secret ingredients. Calhoun plays up his ego and God complex as food provider that has a great pay-off near the end with the dueling chainsaws and Vince going creepy wearing a Pig’s head. “There are too many people in the world and not enough food. Now this takes care of both problems at the same time.” His final line in the film is classic. The movie proves horror doesn’t always have to be scaring the shit out of you or gross you out with torture porn, but it does have to keep you engaged with a brain and Motel Hell does it with style, wit and plenty of well-placed humor and we need more, much more of that today.
Humanoids From the Deep 1980
A classic from the grindhouse days of Producer/schlock-meister Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. This is one B movie that has earned its grimy reputation; I adore it simply because it knows what it is, makes no invention, no pretense; it’s pure, utter exploitation and wallows in its sleaze like a pig in mud!
Taking its cues from better, serious pictures of the previous decade, something evil is happening in the Pacific Northwest sleepy fishing village of Noyo. Fish-like humanoid creatures, spawned by mutant DNA, begin rising from the ocean looking to mate with the local women. Scientist Susan Drake (Ann Turkel) along with local fisherman Jim Hill (Doug McClure, The Land That Time Forgot) seeks to investigate the cause of this invasion of creatures from the ocean floor. But when the annual Salmon Festival begins, some unwanted guests are about to crash the festivities. It’s never really explained why the fish mutants want to mate with human women, why not other fish mutant females? But if you are watching a movie with “Humanoids” in the title and ask such questions, you need to check your snooty pretense at the door. Complaining about science in a movie like this is akin to the drooling retards who complain about the science in “Star Wars,” – WHO CARES?!
The three leads are some genre favorites, Doug McClure known for his early tv westerns, but later in genre stuff like, “The Land that Time Forgot and its sequel, The People that Time Forgot, At the Earth’s Core and a lesser known, but a favorite of mine, “Warlords of Atlantis“; is his usual square-jawed hero persona as Jim Hill, a boring guy with a boring name. Ann Turkel is Dr. Susan Drake, who is investigating these strange murders. Not well known outside genre films, (junk like, 99 and 44/100% Dead) Turkel does her best, although she speaks some very bad science. In one of his final film roles before his tragic death, (he was killed on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie), Vic Morrow plays Hank Slattery, the town bastard; the type of role he had been great at and became typecast in since the early 70’s. All do a decent job, even when things go into idiot mode, but normal actors are not the reason we care, we want to see nudity, violence, destruction and gore and we get it- plenty of it!
A wonderful schlocky mash-up between “Creature from the Black Lagoon” and “JAWS,” this glorious dung heap knows the real stars of the show are the mutants themselves; some impressive suit work headed by the legendary Rob Bottin, who was just getting his start and would set the world ablaze with iconic imagery two years later for John Carpenter’s masterpiece, “The Thing.” The creatures and their enormous bald-brainy heads are an original creation, just as cool as the xenophobe from ALIEN. Although, I’m not a fan of their elongated arms, the suits are impressive as they are full of great detail and craftsmanship, never looking like a rubber “suit” especially at the end during the raid on the Salmon festival, when the mutants come out at night and inflict monster Fu.
Another surprising aspect is the look of the film, surprisingly competent and handsome for a movie of such a high sleaze factor. Composer James Horner, working with Corman here and a year later in “Battle Beyond the Stars,” and a year after that in “Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan,” delivers a chilling, effective score that surprisingly doesn’t rip anything off…
For a film that’s nearly 34 years old and coming from a low-budget, the gore is inspiring, the make-up is flawless; one great effect after another. It’s almost as good as all the gratuitous nudity, a revelation for a an impressionable 8 year-old, watching this for the first time going out of my mind. Not just for the mammary surprise, but the gore too- such extensive and realistic lengths; it’s hard to not get the urge to spew.
A fine slab of cheese and the gratuitously high mammary count doesn’t hurt, to be sure, particularly since these are the old-fashioned kind unseen in this Silicon Age. It also shares an odd noteworthy distinction as one of the few entries in the sub-genre known as “Rape horror,” “Galaxy of Terror” followed a year later with a similar scene only it was rape by a giant maggot; a year after that, “The Beast Within” had rape from giant Secada humanoid- Roger Corman produced the first two flick, who must have been a weird kinky fetish at the time.. Enormously ironic considering the movie was Directed by a woman, Barbara Peters, who claims the gore and rape scenes were added after she left the project by second unit director James Sbardellati. Sure, honey, sure…the rape scene is not all that horrifying anyway so I’m not sure why she dumped this like yesterday’s garbage. it’s a bit impossible to connect to a rubber suited mutant trying to mount a heavy-chested beauty, its more comical than menacing, but ultimately genius as we are talking about it all these years later. I’m certainly not advocating this sub-genre, but in the context of both films, it’s strangely effective and a lot easier to handle than say in something more serious and realistic. Although Ridley Scott’s superb, “Alien,” came before, it’s “rape scene” was very subtle and far more restrained and tastefully done, as well as something like that can be done. Strangely enough, it would not be made today with the same memorable impact for two reasons; CG effects in horror look like video game garbage and nudity is not nearly as prevalent today, (very odd!) as it was in those days. It’s very sad how technology can do anything in movies today except for the most part, make them memorable. Horror movies are in a weird phase now where anything is off limits, really, yet no one seems to take advantage of that. Not sure why or how practical effects lost out, but they are superior in every way, having a perceptible look and feel that ugly CG cannot match.
Humanoids from the Deep is a fast-paced and peppy camp classic that should please horror and sleaze fans with its graphic gore, copious female nudity, and sardonic humor. It may very well be genre trash, and the snooty negative nimrods may cast their clueless aspersions thus, but it’s my kind of trash and I love it long time. The film is not without flashes of humor; a young couple are in a tent on the bench ready to get down. In a strange method of foreplay, the guy has a ventriloquist doll dirty talking to the young woman. The creatures attack, going for the young beauty, then a strange thing occurs- the dummy, unconnected to the guy’s hand does a double-take all by itself as the creatures attack the female and ravage the male. It’s very funny in a bent sort of way.
A remake was produced for and aired on Showtime in 1996, during the horror resurgence, for some strange reason, the violence and nudity was toned down producing a very lazy, forgettable turd; I guess people only wanted story- YEAH right! Avoid it.
Amityville II: The Possession 1982
This strangely good entry in what should never have been a franchise, is a helluva lot better than it deserves to be; this sequel/prequel takes on the similarities of real life story of the Defoe’s who were murdered by the eldest son in November 1974. The REAL horror story has yet to be told accurately and completely, if it was, Hollywood would be ashamed of itself for every humoring George and Kathy Lutz. Despite this being a lame sequel, this works slightly better than the predecessor despite the flashes of absurdity and the eventual aping of “The Exorcist” in the film’s final act. The sequel, for legal reasons was unable to tell the true story of the Defeos, but the film goes through the bullet points of the tradgedy. Instead of Defoes, its Montellis. Burt Young would have made a great Ronald Defeo Sr. (Paulie from Rocky series) the loud-mouth, bully father who beats his wife and kids, just as the real Defoe was notorious for, but the clothes, music, hair styles and cars clearly show it’s set in the (then) present of 1982…
George and Kathy Lutz continued to try and make money from their idiotic lies, but their idea for this movie was dumped in favor of what we see. They of course sued and lost. Names are changed, but the beats are there, but unlike the first film, the creep factor is turned up to 11 and makes for one spooky watch. For all the BS that proceeded and follow, this film KNOWS how to create a scary mood.
The film follows one spooky element instead of several seen in the first. The singular entity haunts the Montelli family, concentrating on the eldest son who goes berserk one night and guns them all down. Even though it feels a bit exploitative, it helps the film in the long run. The sequence leading up to the son’s possession is one of the most inventive of any horror film of the time or of recent memory and it’s a shame it was stuck in such an uninspired franchise. Director Damiano Damiani working from the screenplay by Tommy Lee Wallace, based on the novel Murder in Amityville by the parapsychologist Hans Holzer, takes the creepy milieu and employs inventive camera work, using POV shots as the evil presence There are times when Damiano never knows when over-the-top is enough as the camera does a 180 vertical roll over a character’s head and then another horizontal 180 roll to right itself and come face to face with him; in another shot, Sonny Montelli, (Jack Magner) lies on a bed pinned down by the demon while the camera wildly zooms up and down on him like the cameraman was jumping up and down on a trampoline, it sounds absurd, but is highly effective and no it’s not shaky cam like that crap they would use today- the scenes that follow Sonny chasing his family down, especially his little brother and sister with a high-powered rifle is horrifying in every way possible- extremely uncomfortable that will leave anyone shaken. I made the mistake of watching it alone in the middle of the night- bad idea. Didn’t sleep at all!
The film’s budget was modest at the time and makes use of their gadgets and tricks. Lighting is used to great effect to show Sonny getting possessed and to show him talking as the demon and to show the Demon’s presence, we don’t get flashy, ugly CG creations, just simple techniques. Very simple, but creative and effective. The evil spirit casts a spell over the family as they slowly begin to turn on each other; a screaming melodrama becomes an uncomfortable exploitation flick. The brother seduces his sister, the parents beat and scream at each other while the little kids get slapped around, it’s not always easy to watch, but for some strange reason it works and has more oomph than ghost stories from the lying Lutzes. MIA actors Diane Franklin and Jack Magner, her seen in several other cult 80’s flicks (The Last American Virgin, Better Off Dead), and him all but disappeared after Amithyville II- as the seduced sister and the seducer brother- both do admirable work of not making it too disgusting and ultimately sad. Of course, Lalo Schifrin delivers another great creepy score. Avoid all the sequels that followed.