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February 16th, 2017

MURDER BY PHONE (1982) **

Some thugs run wild through a subway station and knock over a homeless person. A college student steps in and helps the bag lady to her feet. As she’s about to walk away, she hears the pay phone ringing behind her. Cautiously, she approaches the phone and works up the nerve to answer it. When she picks up the receiver, the phone sends a jolt of electricity through her body, causing her to shake and convulse until her eyeballs bleed. Then the force of the shock sends her flying through the air and onto the up escalator.

If you’re too young to remember pay phones, the appeal of the opening scene of this movie might be hard to explain. Back in ye olden days, pay phones were everywhere. Occasionally, one would mysteriously start to ring. Your natural inclination is to pick it up. However, who’s that on the other line? Is it just a wrong number? Or maybe a heavy breather? (Man, if you’re too young to remember pay phones you probably don’t know what a heavy breather is. I only have so much space here. Google it.) Or perhaps a stone cold psycho who will use electricity to kill you when you answer it?

Richard Chamberlain was the young girl’s science teacher. While attending an environmental symposium with his mentor (John Houseman), he decides to investigate her death. He eventually uncovers a devious plot by a disgruntled phone company worker who has figured out a way to fry people alive by using a telephone.

If you’ve ever been put on hold by the phone company, you’ll know how it feels to watch Murder by Phone.

Michael (Logan’s Run) Anderson’s direction is flat and uninspired. The scenes of Chamberlain playing detective feel like they came out of a TV show. If it wasn’t for his terrific performance, these scenes would be a total bore. Chamberlain and Houseman class up the movie way more than it deserves and their commanding screen presence helps to anchor the plot whenever it begins to get listless.

I will give this to Anderson: He gives each death its own unique kick. One guy starts glowing and goes flying out the window in his swivel chair. A lady drops the electrified phone while washing dishes and she gets blown across the room. Another woman leaks blood all over her Mickey Mouse phone. Some guy’s glasses shatter and his eyeballs explode. Unfortunately, the villain’s eventual comeuppance is weak. If he had a real show-stopping death, this might’ve squeaked by with ** ½.

It’s slow going in between the phone murders. The 89 minute running time feels a lot longer than it actually is. Whenever the telephone’s ringing, the movie is off the hook. Otherwise, you might feel like hanging up.

AKA: Bells. AKA: The Calling. AKA: Hell’s Bells.

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THE SLAYER (1982) * ½

An artist is having weird dreams about a monster. She tells her boyfriend about it, but he doesn't believe her (or care). They plan a trip with another couple to a remote island to get away from it all. Of course, the house just so happens to be the one from her dreams. Before long, people start dying one by one.

The Slayer belongs in the subgenre of horror films I like to refer to as a Looking movie. It is almost exclusively filled with long scenes of people wandering around darkened hallways looking for other people. After an extended period of looking (which may or may not be interrupted by a false scare), they are eventually killed.

It also belongs to the Pitch Black subgenre. No, this has nothing to do with Vin Diesel. It means that the cinematography and lighting are so bad that whole scenes are filmed in near darkness. Often, it’s hard to tell just what the hell is going on, which makes matters even more frustrating.

The Slayer is also a 3 Second movie. No, I don’t mean that it’s so quickly paced that it feels like it’s over in three seconds. Quite the opposite. No, what I mean is that it features a pretty cool monster, but you only see it for literally three seconds in the whole 86 minute running time. Talk about a complete rip-off. On the plus side, the monster is shown prominently on the video box, so if you looked at the box for more than five seconds, you’ve already seen the monster more than you will in the entire film.

Adding insult to injury, The Slayer is also one of those It Was All a Dream movies. That’s right. You get jerked around for an hour and a half only to find out the chick had been dreaming the whole time. I could’ve been asleep this whole time too, lady.

The good news is that the kills are rather gory. One guy gets his head bashed in pretty good. There are also deaths via fishing rod, pitchfork, and flare gun. The coolest scene though happens when our heroine wakes up next to her boyfriend and begins kissing him, only to realize he’s nothing more than a severed head. This of course is revealed to be nothing but a (you guessed it) dream, which kinda sucks.

Writer/director J.S. Cardone later went on to write the Prom Night and Stepfather remakes.

AKA: Nightmare Island.

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BLINDMAN (1972) ***

Sometimes you just have to hear a couple of key phrases that make you want to see a movie. With Blindman, all I saw were the words “Spaghetti Western” and “Ringo Starr” and I immediately knew I wanted to watch it. Fortunately for me, it’s actually pretty good. It’s a terrific vehicle for Tony Anthony, who would go on to reunite with director Ferdinando Baldi for the equally great Comin’ At Ya! a decade later.

Anthony plays the blind man was about to escort fifty mail order brides to their rightful owners when his partner stole them under his nose (he is blind after all) and sold them into white slavery. The blind man then has to go find the girls and get them back.

Tony Anthony is awesome as the blind man. His rifle doubles as a walking stick and he uses his horse like a seeing-eye dog. There’s a fun scene where he gets all fifty women back and as he’s making his getaway on a train, he’s mortified to touch their faces and discover that they are the wrong women (and old and ugly to boot).

Like all the great Spaghetti Westerns, there’s a scene where our hero gets the snot kicked out of him by the bad guys, but comes back tougher than ever. It also contains a memorable score by Stelvio (Twitch of the Death Nerve) Cipriani and some great cinematography by Riccardo (Lady Frankenstein) Pallottini. The fifty women in the cast also provide a heck of a lot of nudity, so the flick is almost always easy on the eyes (sorry, blind man).

The only reason I wanted to check it out was for Ringo. He actually does a good job playing the villain’s hotheaded brother. I also liked the scene after he got killed where his grief-stricken brother tried to force a woman to marry Ringo’s corpse!

The real reason to see it though is for Tony Anthony. It’s a shame he didn’t make more movies because he’s a total badass in this. I wish this had been an ongoing series, kind of like the Zatoichi films. It would’ve also been cool seeing him go up against John, Paul, and George at some point.

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PUNK VACATION (1990) *

A punk kills a store owner when the soda machine won't pay him back his forty cents. His gang also assaults his youngest daughter, leaving her in a catatonic state. When the oldest daughter goes out for revenge, she is kidnapped by the punks and her deputy boyfriend has to rescue her.

Punk Vacation is a long 90 minutes. It moves at snail’s pace and isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds. After it’s all over, you’ll feel like you’ll need a vacation.

The back and forth between punks and the cops is especially dull. There’s no tension whatsoever and the punks never once feel like a legitimate threat. It also doesn’t help that the cops are pretty much completely useless. (The boyfriend only catches the ringleader of the gang because he accidentally runs over his motorcycle.)

Also, there’s not nearly enough violence and absolutely no sex. I don’t think it’s rated, but it could’ve easily gotten a PG-13 rating, if not a PG. It desperately needed more exploitation elements to keep it afloat.

The third act is the worst. It’s here where a bunch of rednecks join the pursuit. Now the audience has to follow three groups of idiots traipsing around the wilderness instead of two. The ending is a total bust. They couldn’t even afford to show the villainess getting shot, so they just freeze frame a picture of her on her motorcycle, add in the sound effect of a gunshot, and fade to red. It’s the pits.

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