Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Maniac (1963)

As an avid movie renter, first on Beta then later on VHS, I noticed that there were three films called “Maniac” available to me. The one that I’d heard of and read about, and was super excited to see, was of course Maniac (1980). This was one of the holy grails of the slasher genre, with groundbreaking, eye-popping special make up effects by Tom Savini. The other two movies were Maniac (1934) and Maniac (1963). When I was a kid, these two Maniacs looked old – I mean, really old. They were black and white for crap’s sake! There was no possible way that they were going to feature groundbreaking, eye-popping special make up effects (I.e. gore). I made it a mission to make sure I didn’t accidentally rent one of them.

VHS of Maniac (1963)VHS of Maniac (1934)VHS of Maniac (1980)

 

Fast forward a few years and I realized that Maniac (1963) was a Hammer movie. This made it somewhat more interesting, although it somehow didn’t look as exciting as any of the Dracula or Frankenstein movies. And it was still in black and white.

Don’t get me wrong. I had loved old black and white monster movies since I was a kid. My dad had also introduced me to movies like The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Casablanca (1942) when I was young, so I had an appreciation for all kinds of black and white films. Not to mention the fact that our first TV was black and white so everything I watched for the first few years was black and white.

Still, when it came to paying money to rent movies – horror movies, in particular – I wanted to see something that I couldn’t see on TV. Something a little more extreme, or R-rated. And I believed that any movie called Maniac should be in blood red colour.

So, I didn’t rent Maniac (1963) until much, much later. And I think my first impression was that it was one of a handful of Hammer films that came out in the wake of Psycho (1960), trying to emulate that black and white, low budget, psychological horror-thriller style. It wasn’t as good as Psycho, and it wasn’t as good as Scream of Fear (1961), another Hammer film in that style which I had seen years earlier. So, I think I more or less dismissed it and went back to watching my VHS copy of Maniac (1980).

Watching Maniac (1963) again now, for the first time in more than twenty years, I can honestly say that I didn’t remember anything about it. I found myself doubting that I had ever watched it before – but I know that I did. I guess this is just another sign of old age creeping up on me. I’ve noticed that a lot of the movies that I only watched once back in the 1990s or early 2000s are completely new to me now. Movies that I watched more than once, I tend to remember. And movies I saw in the 1970s and 80s are far more likely to remain burned into my brain – even if I only saw them once.

I suppose this phenomenon could party be due to the sheer volume of movies that I watch now, which is a trend that started back in the ’90s. I watch at least one movie a day. Some days I watch two or three. Back in the ’80s I probably only saw one or two movies a week.

This could be the old man in me talking, but I also feel that the average level of quality was much higher in the movies that I was watching back in the ’70s and ’80s. So many of them are now certified classics – or #NotQuiteClassics as the case might be. I can’t imagine that very many of the recent movies I watch (and by recent I mean anything made in the past 20 years or so), will be remembered with the same reverence as Halloween (1978), Dawn of the Dead (1978), or even Maniac (1980).

I’m not saying that there aren’t great movies being made today (or within the past 20 years). There are, of course. But there are just so many MORE movies in general, and sometimes the truly great ones get lost among all of the mediocrity. It will be interesting to see which current films get remembered and talked about in thirty or forty years (not that I will be around to find out).

So what does this have to do with Maniac (1963)? Well, it’s an older movie (that was already older when I first came across it) that doesn’t get talked about very much. When people think of Hammer Horror, or Hammer movies in general, I don’t think this is one of the top ten movies that pops into their minds. It’s part of a sub-genre, or sub-category of Hammer films, that includes movies like Scream of Fear (1961), Paranoiac (1963), Nightmare (1964) and maybe Stop Me Before I Kill! (1960). Maniac (1963) is probably the weakest of all of these movies. However…

Watching it again after all these years, I found that quite enjoyed it. Maniac (1963) has enough of the good qualities that make movies like Scream of Fear great, to make it a pretty decent little noirish psychological thriller. It’s a slow burn, for sure, spending a lot of time building up characters and relationships. It’s almost more of a drama in the first half, so hardcore horror fans will need a bit of patience as they wait for the payoff. And that payoff likely won’t be big enough for those, like 12 year old me, who might be looking for some blood red gore.

But if you like black and white suspense thrillers, with likeable characters and a growing sense of creepy dread, you might just find Maniac (1963) to be a pleasant addition to your next #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. While not the best example of its kind, it’s somewhat forgotten #NotQuiteClassicCinema that’s worthy of rediscovery.

Trash Or Terror Tuesday: The Vineyard (1989)

It’s time for #TrashOrTerrorTuesday

…when I examine a film that’s been languishing in my personal library to determine if it is #Trash or #Terror

– or more importantly, if it deserves to stay in my collection.

And so, out from the dusty shelves of #VHS tapes & DVDs comes…

Poster art for The Vineyard (1989)The Vineyard (1989) by #JamesHong & #WilliamRice

w/ #JamesHong #KarenLorre #MichaelWong

A world famous winemaker invites several actors to his estate to audition for a movie he’s financing.

“An island of death fueled by the blood of its victims.”

#Horror

#TrashOrTerrorTuesday

 

The Vineyard (1989) is not a movie that I saw back in the ’80s or ’90s. I had never even heard of it, to the best of my knowledge. I found the DVD for a reasonable price back in 2001 and decided to give it a shot. As I recall, I enjoyed it quite a bit, even though it was clearly a “bad movie”. Looking it up in my review books certainly confirmed this, as it was pretty universally panned. One and a half stars in Terror On Tape by James O’Neill: “A bad hybrid of the mad doctor and stalker subgenres…”. Still, it entertained me so I added it to my personal library…

…and then I never watched it again. So, last week I realized that it was time to put it to the #TrashOrTerrorTuesday test.

I’m going to keep this short. The Vineyard (1989) is a minor trashterpiece, and James Hong is the man to blame/congratulate. He co-wrote, co-directed and starred in it. I could be wrong about this, but it almost feels like Hong was trying to capture some of the same over-the-top energy as Stuart Gordon’s brilliant films Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986). The Vineyard is nowhere near as good as that, but it makes me think of those films. On the other hand, it also seems to channel something much sleazier, like some of Al Adamson’s work, or perhaps SCTV’s brilliant parodies Dr Tongue’s 3D House Of Stewardesses, and Dr Tongue’s 3D House Of Slave Chicks. One of my twitter friends (hello grendelvaldez) referred to The Vineyard as “1 of the Greatest Sleaze Turkeys Ever” – and I think he’s right.

So, what’s the verdict?

The Vineyard (1989) is somehow both Trash and Terror. It’s a whole lot of fun, and more than deserving of a place in my permanent collection. I hope to watch it again before the next twenty years blows past.

Trash Or Terror Tuesday: Frankenstein 90 (1984)

It’s time for #TrashOrTerrorTuesday

…when I examine a film that’s been languishing in my personal library to determine if it is #Trash or #Terror

– or more importantly, if it deserves to stay in my collection.

And so, out from the dusty shelves of #VHS tapes comes…

Frankenstein 90 (1984) by #AlainJessua

w/#JeanRochefort #EddyMitchell #FionaGélin

An obsessed scientist assembles a living being from parts of exhumed corpses.

Sort of based on the novel Frankenstein by #MaryShelley

#Comedy #Horror #SciFi

#TrashOrTerrorTuesday

 

I avoided renting Frankenstein 90 (1984) for years because I had it confused with Frankenstein ’80 (1972), which got one star in my favourite horror movie review book, Terror On Tape by James O’Neill: “…notable mainly for the first-ever Frankenstein testicle transplant.” What the-? Why was I avoiding this movie? It sounds brilliant.

I eventually bought a copy of Frankenstein 90 because it was cheap, and I figured I should see what it was all about. I recall thinking that it was okay – not amazing, but okay – and I put it onto the shelf next to all of the other Frankenstein movies. Years went by, and I never had the urge to watch it again, so…

Time to put it to the #TrashOrTerrorTuesday test.

I had trouble getting into Frankenstein 90 right off the bat. It seemed to start right in the middle of the action, with a character (the mad scientist?) stealing body parts. Why? I didn’t know (but because it’s a Frankenstein movie I could assume it was to complete his monster). There’s some slapstick humour, but it seems a little forced. I just didn’t know enough about the characters, or the situation, to care for the first twenty minutes or so. 

It did eventually improve, and I found myself enjoying it – mildly – for the remainder of the running time. The obvious comparison that kept coming to mind was Mel Brooks’ masterpiece, Young Frankenstein (1974). Both films seem to be about descendants of the original Dr. Frankenstein attempting to repeat his experiments. Unfortunately, Frankenstein 90 is no Young Frankenstein. Mel knew enough to take his time to build up to the character’s decision to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps. We cared about him, and were with him on that journey – and he was played by the charismatic, funny, and Promo Photo from Frankenstein 90 featuring Jean Rochefort and Fiona Gélinlikeable, Gene Wilder. I spent a lot of my time while watching Frankenstein 90 wondering how this schlubby, middle aged scientist (Jean Rochefort, age 54) could have such a young hot fiancé (Fiona Gélin, age 22), when he was actually treating her with indifference (see photo on the left). 

I could go on and on about all the different ways that Frankenstein 90 is inferior to Young Frankenstein, but what’s point? I must judge Frankenstein 90 on its own merits.

So what’s the verdict?

Frankenstein 90 (1984) is a mild Terror, which is to say that it’s mildly amusing and could be an acceptable time passer for those who are curious. It does deliver a certain amount of sleaze (nudity, sex, and some exotic dancing – sort of). Not enough to make it the kind of Trash worth seeking out at all costs, but perhaps just enough to make it a mildly pleasant viewing experience (for those who view Trash with pleasure). I suspect that twice in a lifetime is enough for me, so I will likely pass it on to someone who is either looking forward to their first time – or who perhaps counts it among their offbeat favourites. 

Trash Or Terror Tuesday: Slaughterhouse (1987)

It’s time for #TrashOrTerrorTuesday

…when I examine a film that’s been languishing in my personal library to determine if it is #Trash or #Terror

– or more importantly, if it deserves to stay in my collection.

And so, out from the dusty shelves of #VHS tapes comes…

Poster for Slaughterhouse (1987)Slaughterhouse (1987) by #RickRoessler

The owner of a slaughterhouse facing foreclosure instructs his obese and mentally disabled son to go on a killing spree against the people who want to buy his property.

“Buddy Has An Axe To Grind. A Big Axe.”

You’ll never get out in one piece!

#Horror #Slasher
#TrashOrTerrorTuesday

 

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge fan of slasher films, and that I have a huge collection on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray. At first, I only bought the movies that I particularly liked, but after a while it seemed like any slasher film made between 1978 and 1989 (or so) needed to be in my personal library. Slaughterhouse (1987) was not a movie that I had any particular fondness for, it was simply part of the genre. So, I picked up a VHS copy somewhere on my travels and it’s been sitting on my shelf ever since.

I regularly re-watch movies like The Prowler (1981),  Final Exam (1981), and My Bloody Valentine (1981) – sometimes I even screen them for others to show them off – but I don’t think I’ve re-watched Slaughterhouse since the very first time I popped it into the VCR back in the mid ’90s. The truth is I just never have the urge. So, with that in mind, I decided to put Slaughterhouse to the #TrashOrTerrorTuesday test…

Slaughterhouse is, in some ways, closer to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) than an ’80s slasher film. That’s not to say it’s as good as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (not even close), but it features a fat, “mentally disabled” killer (named Buddy Bacon!) who seems to be a second rate stand in for Gunner Hanson’s Leatherface. His father wants Buddy to kill the townspeople who are trying to take their property from them, but Buddy keeps killing innocent people by mistake (or maybe just because he likes it, I’m not sure). Slaughterhouse plays most of this for laughs – occasionally even getting one – but it’s never really scary or disturbing. It does have some decent gore, but no nudity, which is odd for an ’80s slasher film – or even a ’70s proto-slasher film. The story is okay, but features characters who are, for the most part, not very likeable – although they’re nowhere near as obnoxious as the characters in most modern slasher films.

So what’s the verdict?

I would have to say that Slaughterhouse (1987) is closer to #Trash than #Terror – but it’s not a fun kind of trashy #Trash.  It’s more like a very weak attempt at #Terror. If I was in the mood for an ’80s slasher film about a hulking, overweight backwoods killer, I’d be much more inclined to watch Just Before Dawn (1981). Slaughterhouse is not completely terrible, by any means. It’s just not quite good enough – or bad enough – to be worth multiple viewings. I’ve now seen it twice in 25 years, and I doubt that I will live long enough to get the urge to watch it again. I will be passing my VHS tape on to someone else who might want to watch it a little sooner.

Trash Or Terror Tuesday: Ghoul School (1990)

It’s time for #TrashOrTerrorTuesday…

…when I examine a film that’s been languishing in my personal library to determine if it is #Trash or #Terror

– or more importantly, if it deserves to stay in my collection.

And so, out from the dusty shelves of #VHS tapes comes…

VHS box for Ghoul School (1990)Ghoul School (1990) by Timothy O Rawe

Two thugs in search of hidden treasure mistakenly unleash a chemical into the school’s water supply, causing everyone it comes into contact with to become flesh-eating ghouls.

“Sex, babes and rock ‘n roll!”

#Horror

#TrashOrTerrorTuesday

 

I first found out about Ghoul School by reading J.R. Bookwalter’s B-Movies in the ’90s and Beyond, which was an autobiographical account of making his first 10 features films. Ghoul School was not one of the films that Bookwalter directed, but rather one that he produced for David DeCoteau‘s Cinema Home Video. Most of the films that Bookwalter wrote about were pretty hard to locate – at least at my local video stores – but whenever I found one I made a point of renting it – or if possible, buying it. Ghoul School was one of the ones that I purchased in a bargain bin somewhere, and have proudly displayed on my shelf ever since. 

But, as I mentioned before, movies are made to be watched – and I hadn’t watched this one in many years. So, I decided to put it to the #TrashOrTerrorTuesday test.

No matter how you look at it, Ghoul School is a bad movie. However, it is, at times, entertainingly bad. It features a rock band (and groupies) rehearsing for a gig at a high school, and I have a real soft spot for old horror films about rock bands or “Heavy Metal Horror” as it is sometimes called. There is also some pretty decent low budget gore in the movie. There is no nudity, but there is gratuitous footage of Jackie ‘The Joke Man’ Martling and TV Host Joe Franklin – presumably to try to add some recognizable names or faces to the cast (although I’m not sure how many people would have actually recognized them). Honestly, their scenes are pointless and add nothing to the film. But that in itself is kind of charming, in a campy kind of way. 

So what’s the verdict?

Ghoul School (1990) is not a good movie, but it’s bad in a way that might entertain fans of bad movies. I think it’s safe to say that there’s not a scary moment in it’s entire running time, but I suspect that being scary probably wasn’t the point. All in all, I would have to call it #Trash – but it’s trash that I find mildly appealing. I think I may have to continue displaying it on my shelf – at least until the next time that I wonder it it deserves to be there.

Friday The 13th At The Home Drive-In: Friday the 13th Part III 3D (1982)

As I said in a previous postFriday the 13th Part 3 3D was my very first Friday the 13th movie. I somehow convinced my Dad to take me and friend to see it. My Dad hated it, but my friend and I thought it was great! And that was in no small part because of the 3D experience.

Friday the 13th Part 3 3D was also my very first 3D movie. Well, on the big screen, that is. As I mentioned in that previous post, I had been lucky enough to see Revenge Of The Creature (1955) in 3D on television. For those who may not remember, that was a bit of a thing back then; 3D movies being shown on TV. The first one I remember was a movie called Gorilla at Large (1954) – and it should have been the first 3D movie I ever saw! There was a big ad campaign leading up to the broadcast, urging us all to get our 3D glasses at 7-11. I remember biking over with my brother and buying a spiffy pair of cardboard glasses with red and blue lenses. On the way home, I put on the glasses and urged my brother to “do something”, expecting that the glasses would magically make whatever he did more exciting. But alas, my brother’s actions looked no more three dimensional with the glasses than without.

The unfortunate twist to this story is that my parents suddenly announced that we were heading up to the lake for our summer vacation at exactly the same time as the TV broadcast of Gorilla at Large. There was no way I would be able to watch it. I remember pleading with my parents: “But I bought 3D glasses especially so I could watch this movie! They’ll be useless if I don’t stay home and watch it.”

My Dad said the same thing that he said when I found out that I would miss the TV broadcast premiere of Prom Night (1980): “They’ll show it again.” But they never showed Prom Night again – and they certainly never showed Gorilla at Large after that first time.

When I got back to the city, my friends all told me that I didn’t miss much. “The 3D didn’t work” they all said. I didn’t know whether to believe them or not. Perhaps they were just trying to make me feel better, but it was no use. The 3D glasses I spent my hard earned allowance on were sitting on a shelf, unused for the better part of a year – and I didn’t think I would ever get to use them.

But then a miracle happened. The TV guide listed Revenge Of The Creature 3D one Saturday afternoon. There was no publicity blitz this time. Nobody telling us to buy our glasses at 7-11. I guess they assumed that we already had them – and I certainly did.

I watched the movie at a friend’s house, and I was blown away when someone in the movie threw a rope to another character and it wound up in the middle of my friend’s living room! This 3D was definitely working! And my friend told me it was so much better than Gorilla at Large had been. I still wasn’t sure if I believed him, but I was happy because my 3D glasses had not gone to waste – and the 3D experience had been even cooler than I thought it would be.

It was the same friend that came with me and my Dad to see Friday the 13th Part 3 3D a year later or so. And as I said in that previous post, it was so much more intense of a 3D experience. For us, it was the gateway to many other 3D movies, including Jaws 3-D (1983), Amityville 3-D (1983), and Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone 3D (1983).  Our absolute favourite, as far as 3D goes, was Treasure of the Four Crowns 3D (1983) – not because it was the best movie, but rather because it was an absolutely relentless 3D experience. That movie threw everything out at us. Even in a boring talking scene, people would hand each other stuff and it would hit us right between the eyes. It was amazing!

         

For some odd reason, modern 3D movies don’t seem to do this. They show us 3D landscapes, and plenty of images with depth. But they mostly seem to shy away from throwing stuff right into our faces. I seem to recall Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone 3D being that way as well – and I remember Siskel and Ebert criticizing it for that. They suggested that the filmmakers were trying to prove that they were above that sort of cheap effect; that they had more class than that. But this raises a simple question:

If you’re making a 3D movie, and you’re not throwing things out at the audience, what exactly do you think the point is?

Friday the 13th Part 3 3D is a good 3D movie. It doesn’t go completely over the top like Treasure of the Four Crowns 3D, but it throws enough stuff out at us to keep us on our toes. It was also my first Friday the 13th movie, and my introduction to Jason. It was a tough one to beat, in terms of body count and gore. Even the highly anticipated Pt 4, The Final Chapter seemed a little lightweight to me after seeing Pt 3 a couple of times. In reality it wasn’t, but that’s how it seemed to me the first time I saw it.

For years I longed to see Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3D again. It was out on VHS and Beta in 2D – and it was only ever on TV in 2D. So, I was particularly thrilled when Paramount released the remastered 3D DVD a few years back. It uses the old fashioned red and blue glasses, but that’s okay. It gave me back an important experience of my childhood, and I can confirm that it is a #NotQuiteClassicCinema favourite.

I would still love to see a a 3D Blu-ray version, but until one comes out, I will keep watching my 3D DVD. Probably about once out of every eight times I celebrate #FridayThe13thAtTheHomeDriveIn.