Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Buddha Man's Tricks or Treats!


Scream  (Calendar International Pictures, 1981)  Fifteen years before Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson's first collaboration glommed onto this title, there was another horror movie yelling for your attention. But just as the 1996 movie came to Scream as a second title - changing from Scary Movie - so did this earlier slasher flick - starting out as The Outing - but seeing release with the more vocal appellation.

I know, right? And you're in this movie!
The story here gives us a group of people taking a white water rafting tour. However, despite a rather lengthy opening sequence, the filmmakers squander every opportunity to actually introduce these people or their relationships to each other. They are just some folks we're forced to assume were randomly thrown together on this tour. Then they reach their destination, which turns out to be a deserted ghost town - I hope this was the economy tour, considering -and they make plans to stay the night. Then, waaaaay into the running time, one of the rafting enthusiasts wanders off by himself and is brutally murdered, only without the common decency to do it onscreen. Then our Nondescript Rafting Club find out that their rafts are damaged or gone and what with being out in BFE, they are now stuck. Eventually a couple of rather mysterious motorcyclists appear and agree to take one of the men to get help. But are they on the up and up? And finally, an old sailor (Woody Strode - The Professionals), appears from nowhere with a black dog and black horse, and gets all Crazy Ralph on the survivors, warning them that they are doomed. Who will survive and what will be left of them?

Woody Strode in and gave out with what might be termed a
Scream-of-consciousness monologue. Then he was gone, and
the movie resumed tanking.

This is another one of those rare movies from back in the day that I never got to see. Finally, decades later, it showed up on disc from Netflix in a newly restored special edition DVD. Having seen it - what was all the fuss? The movie starts off fairly well, with the credits running over some weird doll-like figures in a room filled with weird headless bric-a-brac.  
Weird bric-a-brac. There, between
this and Woody Strode, you've seen
the best this movie has to offer.

Then the plot begins and the movie starts a slow but steady decline. The characters appear on screen - I word it that way to again point out they were in no way "introduced," a common and even dare I say expected occurrence in most movies. Here we just start watching them, and it is quickly obvious that none are particularly likable, smart, or easily identified with, which starts the viewer off at arm's length and then keeps them there. The arrival at the ghost town is okay; seems like it will be a creepy place later; movie is still tolerable at this point. The first murder is fine - a little suspense, fairly spooky. Then, the rest of the group find the body of the victim, who'd made the mistake of wandering off on his own. There is much panicked discussion, but not much is done. Night falls. And what happens? Another character develops a mighty thirst that demands to be slaked, even if the beer cooler is in one of the other light challenged buildings. The guy sneaks over on his own to get his brew - and SPOILER ALERT - he is promptly knocked off. Well, the first guy was unlucky, the second guy was stupid. Okay, it's a little iffy, but I can buy that. Then the movie does the exact same thing not once but twice more! This makes every person onscreen look stupid at best. The last of these embarrassing moments gets even bigger in its WTF-ness - somebody wakes up and finds they are completely alone - no one else is in any of the sleeping bags scattered around the dark communal sleeping area. It's actually an eerie scene and would have served as a clever dream sequence, but no! After several minutes of watching this poor sap wandering around the town alone suddenly everyone else comes walking in together from out of the darkness, completely blase and matter of fact despite the fact they left this poor guy sleeping alone in a town where three people have already been hacked to death within seconds of finding themselves sans companions! Was the entire group trying to get this guy killed? At this point the script's stupidity caused the whole movie to hit bottom for me, but I went on and rode it out to the end. Here's what I gained from my stick-to-it-iveness: I got to see the great Woody Strode show up for a useless cameo that achieved nothing except allowing the filmmakers to use his name on the poster; and I got to see the ending, which comes off as smug despite the few answers to the many questions in the minds of the viewers being inadequate at best and nonsensical at worst. I was then left with a much bigger question in my mind - are there truly so many fans of this half-assed movie that it deserves to be resurrected on DVD? I bet you know my answer...


Witchcraft  (20th Century Fox, 1964)  This is a pretty good little scareflick from Great Britain which gave Lon Chaney Jr. his last quality horror hurrah before he slid into the junk that marred the end of his career.

Lon Chaney Jr. moments before Warren Zevon
saw him walking with the Queen...
 Lon plays Morgan Whitlock, the elder paterfamilias of a family descended from a witch named Vanessa. When a construction project buys out the land Chaney's family has been buried in for centuries, Lon gets plenty upset and refuses to have the remains moved. The more unscrupulous business partner desecrates the graves, and wouldn't you just know it? A mysterious woman suddenly pops up at the Whitlock house, and shortly after people start dying in bizarre accidents.

This is old school horror, with no gore, but some good chills. Lon is in fine form, though he attempts no

No, she's not Barbara Steele, but she does play
her on TV...
 British accent and so stands out a bit among the British cast, all of whom are solid if not familiar (the male lead - Jack Hedley - was in For Your Eyes Only 17 years later). Still in all, it's good to see one of the old horror greats in something with some production value, and it's too bad Lon couldn't have gone out on a note like this 9 years later instead of Dracula vs Frankenstein. Check this one out!

That completes our mission, which we chose to accept. And always remember, Warren Beatty may have been quite the ladies' man back in the day, but he never romanced Shirley MacLaine.

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