There’s no shortage of odd entries in the Italian Eurotrash genre, but Antonio Margheriti’s 1980 thriller Cannibal Apocalypse has some unique selling points. The central one is John Saxon, always a strong performer, and doing great work as a Vietnam veteran who develops a desire to bite women. He’s not alone; there’s a plague of cannibalism brought back to urban USA by returning soldiers, and one of the men under his command has the virus. Margheriti’s film was somewhat ahead of its time with the Vietnam angle, but there’s no pretentions here, as Cannibal Apocalypse develops a somewhat rabid style through motorcycle chases, shoot-outs and occasional gore. While not exactly a cinema classic, it’s a tasty little B movie that managed to do something original in a moribund genre; the shotgun and flamethrower action scenes are to be commended to hardened horror and action veterans.
Dario Argento’s Deep Red is a clever riff on Blow Up, featuring the same star David Hemmings, and working a fresh variation of the idea of a man who witnesses a murder and has to put together the fragments of memory to unmask the killer. Marcus Daly (Hemmings) is a jazz pianist in Rome who sees a famous psychic struck down; he embarks on a search for the killer with the help of a reporter (Daria Nicoldi), and gets more than he bargained for. With an aggressive score by Goblin, Argento demonstrates why he’s the giallo master; clockwork toys, tinkling children’s songs, and brutal, bloody murders make Deep Red a genre classic.
You probably have to be in just the right mood to enjoy a menstrual horror film, but if it’s getting to that time of the month, writer/director Richard Bates Jr’s Excision has plenty of pent-up angst to get out. AnnaLynne McCord is Pauline, whose negative relationship with her mother Phyllis (Traci Lords) manifests itself in graphic bloody nightmares. Her dad Bob (Roger Bart) struggles to understand, and instead dotes on her younger sister Grace (Ariel Winter) who has cystic fibrosis. Pauline’s alienation is astutely conveyed, while an accomplished supporting cast, including Ray Wise, Marlee Matlin, Malcolm McDowell and director John Waters, add to the otherworldly atmosphere. With strong warnings about the bloody content, Excision lives up to the surgical promise of the title.
Some way before creating The Sopranos, writer David Chase contributes to the screenplay of this nasty horror film from 1972. In the 1930’s, immortal vampire Kroft (Michael Pakati) rapes a young woman who gives birth to a half-human son. Growing up to be James Eastman (William Smith), the hybrid decides to track down his father, who now works as a college professor, and take revenge. Grave of the Vampire has a typically grungy early 70’s feel, and even if nothing in John Hayes’s film matches the tension of the opening kill, there’s much for horror fans to enjoy.
Phillip Kaufman’s remake of the celebrated Don Siegel film turns away from the any-communist hysteria that provided the original subtext, and instead focuses on the impact of psycho-therapy on the San Francisco community of 1978. Donald Sutherland plays the health inspector who begins to notice that the people around him are changing, with Leonard Nimoy as renowned doctor David Kibner and a literate script from WD Richter from Jack Finney’s novel. Kaufman makes good use of city locations, and doesn’t shy away from some memorable shock scenes, namely the dog with the human head, gruesome pod destructions and the final twist, the kind of downbeat clincher that only the seventies were allowed to make. Don Siegel and original star Kevin McCarthy both have cameos, as does Robert Duvall.
The painterly eye of Peter Greenaway created many memorable images in service of elusive, original narratives; The Baby of Macon is one of his most striking achievements. The Italian city of Macon circa 1600 is shocked when a woman (Julia Ormond) claims to have conceived a virgin birth, and she and the child come to the attention of a greedy church in the form of a bishop (Phillip Stone), with Ralph Fiennes as the son. The result that the town’s prosperity turns to despair, and a heavy revenge is taken on Ormond’s character. The Baby of Macon is presented more like a masque or a tableau than a film, but the elaborate staging and costumes are profoundly cinematic, as it Greenaway’s treatment, with a climactic eight minute tracking shot through the various strata of the society on trial
Most horror films only walk the line of believability for twenty minutes or so; Christopher Smith’[s medieval thriller manages to keep the ambiguity going for its entire running time. Eddie Reymayne plays Osmund, a young monk who joins forces with Ulrich (Sean Bean) as they investigate a plague-hit settlement where the inhabitants may or may not be coming back to life. A great supporting cast (Tim McInnery, Carice van Houten, David Warner) and taut direction from Smith make the best of the conceit, which works as a downbeat alternative to Game of Thrones. The clever use of voice-over in Dario Polini’s script is one of a number of unusual features that make Black Death worth seeking out.
Pete Walker’s horror-thrillers are usually loaded with nasty gore, but he restrains himself to a couple of gruesome killings in this odd little music-business melodrama, originally planned to star Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry and Melanie Griffith. Something presumably went awry in the casting, since The Comeback’s solace-seeking rock singer is easy-listening king Jack Jones, with support from Pamela Stephenson, both of whom do quite nicely in the roles. Jones plays teen idol Nick Jones, who retired to an English manor where Sheila Keith and Last of the Summer Wine’s Bill Owen are the surly staff. Murder and madness are not far away, and the scripts assertions that Jack Jones’ singing performance are the devils work are not borne out by the rather sunny performances by the star. The Comeback is quite compelling in its own small way; Jones kept the pace with music and film, appearing as a lounge singer in 2013’s American Hustle.
One of the few sequels that merit comparison with the original, Richard Franklin’s 1983 thriller returns to the Bates Motel with Anthony Perkins returning after 22 years in a mental institution and Vera Miles returning as Lila Loomis, and Meg Tilly as her daughter. Norman’s troubled mind is immediately disturbed by the surroundings, but Tom Holland’s script ingenuously reworks many of the tropes of the original Hitchcock film, with the local people keen to knock Norman off his stride by driving him mad. Jerry Goldsmith contributes an excellent score, and Psycho II’s twists and turns make for a stylish entry in the series, strong on suspense and light on gore.
An also ran in the early eighties glut of werewolf movies (The Howling, An American Werewolf in London), Michael Wadleigh’s only non-Woodstock film was barely released, with John D Hancock being brought in to complete the film. Miscast as New York cop Dewey Wilson, Albert Finney takes the lead in this adaptation of Whitley Streiber’s 1978 novel, with Edward James Olmos and Gregory Hines supporting. Wolfen is a muted and occasionally bloody affair, featuring one nasty decapitation, but its earnestness belies the silly subject matter, and the subtext about Indian legends makes it very much of its time (The Shining, Altered States, Poltergeist) Featuring a small cameo from Tom Waits.