Desert Island Castaways

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Suggested Audio Candy:

The Police “Message in A Bottle”

 

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As the Keeper of the Crimson Quill it is my responsibility to know my horror and, with well over thirty-years of experience in the field, I’ve pretty much got that covered. Precious few movies have flown beneath my radar during that time and I have watched thousands upon thousands of genre efforts, some of which have been great, some so-so, and others downright abysmal. If ever it was required to take the rough with the smooth, then horror pleads that we do so more than most but it’s worth every last dud for the moments when a film truly catches us off-guard in the right way. One of my favorite pastimes is to signpost others towards the crème de la crème and not necessarily the household names that go without saying either. Occasionally a film bears its teeth, only to vanish without trace for infinity, where it lurches around in limbo until much later on down the road. The following are a clench of lesser-known horror flicks from my upbringing which, for one reason or another, were simply obscured within the multitude of more fashionable efforts surfacing at the time. If you’re a purist and haven’t yet had the exclusive pleasure of exposure to the following delights then you owe it to yourselves to seek them out post-haste. So then, on with the cavalcade.

The Sender (1982)

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Roger Christian’s captivating psychological thriller was far too highbrow for many when it surfaced back in 1982 and, despite garnering decent reviews, endured a torrid time and got utterly lost in the vacuum. This is unfortunate as it’s actually a well-written and played chiller that explores the inner-workings of the human psyche, building an ominous tone which it maintains right through its 91 minute duration. Zeljko Ivanek excels as an apparantly suicidal young man who is offered sanctuary amongst like-minded mental cases and Kathryn Harrold is similarly notable as the doctor assigned to his case who fears there is something far more sinister to this John Doe than meets the eye. The Sender is a piece of scientific fine art which cultivates progressively toward its crescendo, all the while forcing you to marinate in the menace. It’s two parts One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and one part Scanners (complete with a splash of bloody psychic acrobatics) but, in the same instance, very much its own entity.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

 

Other Asylum Seekers: Patrick (1978), Maniac (1980), Visiting Hours (1982), Psycho II (1983), Combat Shock (1984), Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

 

Alone in the Dark (1982)

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Whilst on the topic of mental health, Jack Sholder’s early slasher simply wasn’t considered hip enough to compete with the big guns, consequently only enjoying restrained spotlight. In truth, I wouldn’t class it as slasher per se, as to typecast it would be to completely miss the intellectual intent. The cast need little introduction: how’s Donald Pleasence, Martin Landau and Jack Palance for an entrée? Dwight Schultz of The A-Team fame pops his head up and plays it straight as Dr. Dan Potter, whose family are increasingly tormented by the aforementioned trio (complete with their meat-headed henchman) who, having fled their maximum security reformatory, wreak bloody murder on them. There is much insight into mental health as it explores theories of the bridge between psychological dysfunction and existential philosophy, although Sholder’s work is known more to any slasher buffs for its steadily mounting tension and peril. There is a dash of grue on exhibit, but for me two instances stand out for entirely different reasons.

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A hapless postman being bumped into a different area code is darkly delightful and affords our resident nutbags chance to let their hair down (excluding Pleasence who simply didn’t have the locks). This demonstrated Sholder’s objective in studying how these psychotic minds adapt to the outside world and also demonstrated his wicked sense of humor. The result? Sheer hilarity, think of demented grinning Marx Brothers with devilish glee in their eyes, only minus the ridiculous disguises and you’ll be within range.

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The second marvellous moment contained the imagery Alone in the Dark would eventually become known for. A terrified and scantily clad vixen shuffles about her divan tentatively, attempting to elude the pinch of a razor-sharp blade being fed from beneath teasingly. Moments such as these may well stand out, but I assure you, as an overarching piece of scientific craftsmanship, this pleads for your time. Just make sure that you don’t pick up Uwe Boll’s 2005 travesty inadvertently, as the two are clay and cheddar.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

 

More Hidden Slasher Delights: Just Before Dawn (1981), Eyes of a Stranger (1981), Madman (1982), The House on Sorority Row (1983), The Final Terror (1983), Evil Dead Trap (1988)

 

Galaxy of Terror (1981)

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The wondrous sleeve artwork for the rental unveiling of Bruce D. Clark’s lo-fi sci-fi triumph was nothing short of masterful. And that was critical to producer Roger Corman’s customary triumph. Ridley Scott’s Alien had done its extensive rounds leading the way for lesser-funded outfits such as this to flourish on far lesser resources. Not that Roger was exactly strapped, he just knows precisely how to maximize his return on a far more intimate scale. Shrewd I believe is the word. A fresh-faced Robert Englund had a decent run-out, our ‘Willy’ fits hand-in-glove with works like this, such is his over-abundance of charisma. Sid Haig popped up as Quuhod but he never seems to look any different. Meanwhile, Erin Moran from TV’s Joanie Loves Chachi also put in an appearance and pobably wished she hadn’t as she came to a decidedly sticky end. Not one of her happier days.

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Speaking of which, one standout explicit scene involving the molestation of a naked and well slimed Taaffe O’Connell at the feelers of a humongous extraterrestrial maggot incensed censors with its senseless exploitative nature and I love nothing more than the smell of misogyny in the morning. The splatter, in true Corman form, was as diverse as it was bountiful, the wonderful sets evoked those low-rent sci-fi flicks from the seventies, and it was more nostalgic than 81 minutes in a space grub’s pulsating womb. Galaxy of Terror did exactly what it said on the tin and when, packaged as delightfully as this, I’m all in!

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

 

Auxiliary B-Movie Bravura: Humanoids from the Deep (1980), Nightmare City (1980), Contamination (1980), Inseminoid (1981), Forbidden World (1982), Titan Find (1985)

 

Xtro (1983)

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I’ll never grow weary of vocalizing my unfathomable affection for Harry Bromley Davenport’s E.T. antithesis. Indeed, aside from Steve Martin’s L.A. Story it’s possibly my all-time most watched movie and was the very first VHS I ever rented. Xtro sends me back to an era where everything was so much simpler. No worldwide recession (or at least not that affected me directly), no cyber-bullying, no reality TV, no Harry Potter or Twilight, and most crucially no Justin Bieber. He hadn’t even been hatched in 1983 when Xtro was doing the rounds and the world was a far less troublesome place as a result.

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As I was saying before rudely interrupted by that little dick squirt, the old days were just one long cycle ride across the moon. Most of my classmates favored E.T. in a burka, perched in a basket, and doing none of the legwork. Not I, for me it was all about the truly unnerving stunted clown and full-scale bayonet-wielding Action Man. It featured the world’s first father and son Martian hickey, a polite black panther who let himself in and out of buildings with minimum fuss, an enormous gestating phallic Pez dispenser which distributed its own exclusive Kinder eggs into a bathtub filled with alien spunk, hypnotic airborne yo-yos, remote-controlled tanks on auto-pilot, blood-soaked wet dreams, and gratuitous nudity courtesy of Maryam d’Abo. It was all in profusion in Xtro. Most nonsensically and gloriously offensively, an impregnated fishwife gave birth to a middle-aged Philip Sayer who promptly chowed down on his umbilical cord.

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As the crow flies, it’s simply light years from any experience you have ever been made privy to, that I can state with utter conviction. Will you take it to your heart like I did Grueheads? Well that depends on two key factors. Are you able to relive those wonder years like poor old Kevin Arnold (who seemed predestined to never actually bone Winnie), and can you lower your bar, go in without pretense, and welcome the sheerest of insanity into your lives for 81 minutes? Should you answer these two entry-level posers correctly, then you are primed to venture towards that glowing blue light. I’ll see you there.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

 

Similarly weird and wonderful: Phantasm (1979), Basket Case (1982), Anguish (1987), Brain Damage (1988), Santa Sangre (1989), Uzumaki (2000)

 

Martin (1976)

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Martin is my personal darling George A. Romero movie. I hear many gasps at my proclamation, but ignore it achieves the seemingly impossible by pipping both Dawn of The Dead and Day of The Dead to that accolade. It is edgy, clinical, insightful and delightful in equal measures and in John Amplas a suitably restless leading man who claims to be an 84-year old vampire, and teases out the crimson not with incisors but razor-blades.Indeed, the performance of Amplas is so staggeringly committed that it inspired me to one day try out my acting chops myself and there’s an almost feline-like quality to Martin that makes him incredibly endearing to a self-confessed cat lover such as myself. The violence is fleeting and far more jarringly effective as a result; one instance depicting a twig tracheotomy is deeply uncomforting, and it makes this list principally because it’s so easy to overlook. Once viewed however, it will remain close to your heart with a bloody stake.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10

 

Sink your teeth into these too: The Hunger (1983), Vamp (1986), Graveyard Shift aka Central Park Drifter (1987), Near Dark (1987), Innocent Blood (1992), The Addiction (1995)

 

Evilspeak (1981)

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One of the more bloodthirsty video nasties on the DPP’s naughty list, whilst not in any way exploitative like more deserving trash such as SS Experiment Camp, Eric Weston’s Evilspeak is more in-line with the more conventional horror flicks evocative of its era, albeit a fair deal more splatter filled than was customary at the time. Think Carrie only with a great deal more meanness of spirit and you won’t be too far off. She’d need all the tampons she could have tossed her way to stem the flow here once the shit finally hits the fan in full oscillation.

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Ron Howard’s younger brother Clint has fashioned a career, not from his looks, but as the ideal odd-job man. As Stanley Coopersmith he was enabled the rare opportunity to take central stage and lapped that shit up like a mutt with a placenta. Evilspeak was the epitome of a slow burner but, when the deep red began to flow, was as grue-filled as a slaughterhouse drainage system with oversized King Arthur-like swords splitting heads like ripened melons and famished pigs making shower time more than a little uncomfortable. It saved the most delectable grue for its climax, in which Stanley turned the tables on his aggressors with spectacular gore-sodden chic to the rousing cheers of the long-suffering audience.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

 

Additional lesser-known Nasties: A Bay of Blood (1971),The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974), Don’t Go in the House (1979), Inferno (1980), Anthropophagus the Beast (1980), Possession (1981)

 

The Alchemist (1983)

A true rarity, this mesmerizing low-budget chiller from B-Movie extraordinaire Charles Band has been all but lost in the sands of time. I was fortunate enough to snatch up a rare DVD print many moons ago and it is perched proudly within my Savage Vaults alongside suchlike low-rent obscurities. Robert Ginty is best remembered for his Exterminator antics but this and Scarab offered him passage into our eternal horror archives. As a fable about necromancy, and a film with its own distinctive flavor, there are few other treasures in the trove as worthy of note as this. A brief mention of grue as, while there was no great requisite for spraying crimson, when necessary it supplied unfussily.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

 

Surrogate necromancers: The Mask of Satan (1960), Race with the Devil (1975), Superstition (1982), Witchboard (1986), Night of the Demons (1988), The House of the Devil (2009)

 

Blood Tracks (1985)

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Okay so Mats Helge’s slasher was by no means a great movie, neither was it even close. It was however a wildly congenial guilty pleasure and impossible not to enjoy the hell out of. Centering on a Swedish film crew kicking back at a derelict industrial works in the mountains as they shoot their new rock music video, this is a trashy delight especially if you’re lucky enough to track it down fully uncensored. The bloated air-headed cast lined up for their impending encores suitably gormlessly and its brisk pacing served it well, allowing us to chill-out as, one-by-one, they succumbed to their cannibalistic pursuers’ hideous castigation. The Hills Have Eyes it most certainly wasn’t but sometimes it’s just nice slumming it with the heathens.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10

 

Fellow Foreign Legion: Shock (1977), The Grapes of Death (1978), Nekromantik (1987), Amsterdamned (1988), The Church (1989), Anatomy (2000)

 

Saturday the 14th (1981)

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On the lighter side of terror, how can we possibly forget Richard Benjamin, Paula Prentiss and Jeffrey Tambor hamming it up for Howard R. Cohen’s preposterous spoof primarily of Friday the 13th, but ultimately any horror flick with a pulse? Grey matter was never a requisite, just challenge yourself not to snigger at least once and I assure you, such an endeavor will be fruitless. Nowadays spoof is of the lowest common denominator in my eyes but in 1981 it was categorically fair game, and this was far too kind-spirited to ever bear grudge against. Remember kids – no brain, no shame.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

 

Substitute Rocky Horrors: Pandemonium (1982), Wacko (1982), Big Meat Eater (1982), National Lampoon’s Class Reunion (1982), Hysterical (1983), Blood Diner (1987)

 

Shivers (1975)

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Most mortal men have a forehead, whilst rare advanced prototypes have eight heads. David Cronenberg possesses one such cranial cliff-face. How many filmmakers can you say, with hand on bloody hearts, have been aware of their career trajectory so intimately before they even commence. Shivers was the first in a trilogy of body horror flicks inaugurated by this man’s meticulous spam. Rabid and The Brood were no less unforgettable; however Shivers is perhaps the most unhinged and sexually depraved of the bunch.

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It focused on an apartment block filled to bursting with a bouquet of swinging seventies socialites, all going about their affairs in repetitive fashion, until things turned decidedly for the bizarre. There was an ever-present sexual undertone, as Cronenberg’s works have habitually and exhibited with refreshing openness throughout his long radiant courtship with the macabre. A true one-off, this is one of my most cherished slabs of seventies cinema and builds to one helluva crescendo come the tail-end.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

 

Corresponding Seventies Chic: Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1973), Seizure (1974), Frightmare (1974), Demon Seed (1977), The Incredible Melting Man (1977), The Legacy (1978)

 

So there we have it Grueheads. Ten rather glorious buried treasures which every self-respecting horror aficionado owes it to themselves to track down post-haste. They may not be big, neither are many of them particularly clever, but they did play a fundamental part in my filmic development and deserve far more credit than they ever received. As a matter of fact, I think I’m well overdue another shift with Xtro and, if that makes me a sucker, then I’ll wear that hat gladly.

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Click here to read Eighties Slasher: The Definitive Cut

 

 

 

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3 Comments

  1. This is an excellent post, thanks for sharing! Shivers is an absolutely glorious Cronenberg film is actually one of my all-time favorites of his also; I’ve never owned it on DVD but I do have a VHS copy thankfully. You’ve got quite a collection there too – my compliments!

    1. Thank you so much for your enthusiasm towards the article, I really love championing the stuff less people know about. It fills me with cruel delight. Thanks too for the compliments for my collection, I’ve been a crazy collector since I was a mere kid and OCD has always been my friend. Really good to hear feedback, it all makes me stronger as a scribe as I just love giving joy through my art. Sin-cerely, Crimson Quill

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