Friday, November 7, 2008

Pieces (1982)

It is a warm summer day in Reedley, California. It is 1983 and my parents and I are at the local drive-in theater. Don't hold your breath, though. We're at a drive-in, but it's Saturday afternoon so we're at the drive-in-turned-flea-market on the corner of Alta and Manning Avenues. The day is hot and my mother, sister and I are in line in the concession building, taking in the cool air of the swamp coolers overhead and listening to 80's music over the loudspeakers, something along the lines of Air Supply or Hall and Oates or something in that style. My father is out in the heat trying to find something to buy, or browse, I can't remember which. I'm holding a Pepsi in my hand - ah, some things never change, do they? - and I'm chewing the wax rim off the paper cup and looking around at the movie posters behind the glass casings. Suddenly, this bright red poster catches my eye and has me frozen. The picture of a dead woman strewn on the floor with a large chainsaw hovering over her glares back at me with a force so strong that I can't stop staring at it. I can read the tag line at the top of the poster and the notice that "No one under 17 admitted to this performance" is screaming at me. I remember my mother calling my name to tell me we were going back outside but I couldn't move, my eyes were fixed on that image of the woman. She came to grab me and when her hand touched my shoulder, I remember jumping out of sheer fright. It was something I never forgot.

Several years while living in South Texas, I bumped into this one again while at Valley Mart - a grocery store in the city of Weslaco where I first came into contact with many horror classics - and listening to Kon Kan's "I Beg Your Pardon" as it came over the store's loudspeakers. I recognized the art that I'd seen on the poster and walked over to pick it up. This little wave of fear came over me and I held my breath as I read the back of the box. The premise? A crazed killer is stalking the girls of a local college in an attempt to mutilate them and create his own human puzzle. Sure, it sounded grisly, but it had my attention. With the voice of my mother calling me (again), I put the box down and walked away. Little did I know I wouldn't see this title again until my late twenties living in Independence, Missouri. I was in the local Best Buy and I saw the Diamond DVD release and snagged it without thinking. I ran home, put it in my player only to discover that the disc was a total dud. Man, was I pissed. I was pissed enough to where I didn't take the disc back - I'd only paid about $5 for it - and I didn't look for the film again. About a year or so later, I was shopping with some friends at the local pawn shop and rummaging through the used VHS, as I always do when I visit a pawn shop, I found the Vestron version of this movie and grabbed it. For only 50 cents, you'd better believe that I was walking out of the store with it. But I noticed that there was no label on the tape. No sort of sticker or anything. I wasn't going to fall for it twice so I asked the guy behind the counter to allow me to play it on one of their many VCRs and thankfully, the tape in the box was actually the film itself. I took it and as soon as I got home - and everyone went to bed - I popped this into the player and finally got to watch this one in its entirety.

The opening scene was completely laughable and nothing like what I was expecting. I laughed as I watched the kid put together the pieces of the porno puzzle and listened as his mother called him every name in the book when she catches him with it. What was even funnier was how the kid came back and hacked his mother over the head with axe to get her back. Blood spewing everywhere as the ax literally bounced off her head. A scene like that should have been terrifying and disturbing but it was just the opposite. I knew at that moment that I was in for a treat - especially when the telephone in the house rings and the camera shows us a push button phone. Doesn't the entire opening scene take place in 1942? Wait, there goes the phone again. Low Budget, is that you calling?

What transpires throughout the film is that there is a killer loose on the campus of a local college looking for female bodies to dismember to create his own human puzzle of sorts. We have the late, great Christopher George heading the whole thing and his lovely then-wife Linda Day going undercover as a professor at the college to get to the bottom of the murders. With the aide of the college dean (Edward Purdom) and cute student Kendall (Ian Sera), the four intend to get to them bottom of things. This film is fantastic. It reeks of sleaze and that's it's enduring quality. As a horror film alone, it stinks and not in the good way, but there are characteristics about it that still have it as the classic that it is, still showing in midnight runs throughout the country (I almost got to see it in Dallas, Texas during the fall of 2005 at the Angelika but, just as the time I almost got to see Cannibal Ferox...) and people still sell the show out. There is a sort of humorous touch to the whole thing and some of the scenes are so outrageous that you have to sit back and just laugh to yourself and wonder how the hell this crap fest got greenlit. I guess I can answer my own question on that one: back in the horror heydays of the 70's and 80's, if a particular film became an international smash hit, film distributors would cash in on that particular subject in their own ways to make money. When The Exorcist was released, how many possession films followed? Beyond the Door, Abby....I could go on. This was a film that cashed in on the success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and they were brave enough to admit it on the film's adverts! Only this one gave everyone what they didn't get in that film: Blood and gore!

The Georges are great in this film. They play serious roles but play them in a manner in which they don't have to take themselves seriously. Wait, did that make sense? The best scene in the film is when the killer activates the campus' public address system and the sounds of a marching band blare across the schoolyard. No one can understand why this is happening and everyone tries to find out how it happened and how to shut it off. But when dear Mary Riggs (played by Day) reaches her tolerance limit and begins to scream the word, "Bastard!" at the top of her lungs in hopes of the killer hearing her over the already louder music, without wanting to, you just begin to laugh until you have tears in your eyes. Don't get me wrong, you feel her pain and understand her plight. But If you're a fan of this film, the moment you hear someone say the word, "bastard", you smile to yourself and see Mrs. Day-Greorge clutching her fists and screaming out into the open air. They don't make cheese like this anymore, kiddies.

The gore in this film is fantastic. It holds nothing back and it is what it is. Some of the murders in this film are so gruesome that you have to sit back and smile. They are presented with a loving detail that while you're smiling, you have to admire how these guys pulled them off in the first place. The acting is particularly sub par, but with a film of this nature, can you expect anything more than that? Toward the end of the film, it takes a bizarre twist that you're not expecting, which made the film all the more worth while. With the added treat of Ian Sera's full frontal shot - in front of a poster for Friday the 13th! - the film ended up being more than I would have ever expected, and then some. When the identity of the killer is revealed in the final act and when you realize what the whole thing is really about, you have to put your hand over your mouth and refrain from both laughing and screaming. But, I have to say, though, that the film's final shot remains one of the most disturbing in horror history - especially if you're of the male persuasion. You've got to admire and love a schlock film such as this that can make you laugh and then leave you with an uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach.

If you're a horror fan, get this one. I know that Grindhouse Releasing have just put out a newly mastered version of this film on DVD which I don't have yet. I think it's about time this gem got the proper DVD treatment as this one is really hard to find still in print. I own the Diamond DVD (though it doesn't work), the original Vestron VHS, and the VHS print on a DVD compilation called The Blood Feast Collection released by TGG Direct, grain, noise hiss and all. They'll never make them like this again. Enjoy them while you still can get a hold of them. This one is by far one of my favorites and it belongs in every horror fan's collection. Now that it's widely available, there's no reason why you shouldn't own it already.

I couldn't find a trailer, but here is the opening act of the film. Sleaze heaven if you ask me. for the original Spanish version and for the English version. Notice the difference in the music and dialogue. Wait, did I hear someone say, "Bastard"?

(Update 5/25/12): I have to apologize for the review above. Since I wrote this a few years ago, my writing style(s) have changed and have "grown up" a little. I've been able to get my hands on the new 2-disc Special Edition by Grindhouse Releasing and let me say that it is the definitive version. The picture and sound are great (it can even be watched with the original Spanish-language soundtrack). One of the great special features on the second disc is an on camera interview with director Juan Piquer Simon, giving some insight on the filming of Pieces. But, the best feature of all - which was also done similarly on the Grindhouse Releasing version of Cannibal Ferox - is that you can watch the film with a track from a live audience watching it on the big screen at a Los Angeles theater. I did it only once and though it was oddly entertaining, it was something I will only do once. Then there's an on-camera interview with Eli Roth talking about the film and it's legacy and impact. The film comes with a fold-out replica of the original poster above and a picture of the original Spanish-language title, Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche. But honestly, I still love my Vestron Video VHS version, grain, hiss and all. If anyone knows how the Diamond version is (if it's cut, quality, etc), let me know, since I'll never know how it is; I've never seen it again in any store since I purchased my non-operational version back in 2003. I don't know how limited it is so get it before it goes out-of-print. It's worth having. 

Basket Case (1982)

As I mentioned in a previous post, some horror films are made in the attempt to outright shock the hell out of you. I love to see those old posters with warnings across them and unforgettable tag lines that stayed in your mind. I love to see the uniqueness of the poster art and the thinking behind some of those now-famous and collectible pieces. That's why I miss the horror trash of the eighties - it seemed that every B-horror film maker with the smallest of budgets was just out to see how low they could sink and how much they could gross you out. From horrific styles of murder and gore to stupid plot lines with deranged characters, 80's films hold their spots in history. Before they existed, there was nothing like them. And in today's modern world, there's nothing that could hold a torch to them. Whether it was to establish a reputation is to be argued by some, but Mr. Frank Henenlotter shocked the horror world when Basket Case was unleashed back in 1982. And I know if you're reading this, you're laughing to yourself because you've seen it and love it.

I first saw the VHS of this film at El Chaparral Supermarket in La Feria, Texas about mid 1986. I remember staring at the cover of Belial creeping out of the basket as it looked back at me and for weeks, I wouldn't pick the cover up. Every time I was in the store, I looked at the box but never held it. As stupid as that sounds, I must have been about 13 at the time, but one day I did and when I saw the horrific images on the back of the box, I remember throwing the box back onto the rental shelf, heart beating rapidly, and my imagination raced as to what kind of horror film this must be. I immediately vowed that I would never see it as something this horrifying would mess me up for life. And I held that promise to myself even seeing the box over and over again at various rental places and grocery stores as years went by. That is, until 2005, when the local mom and pop was easing out their VHS inventory to make room for DVD and this was on the seller's block for a measly $2.50. Hey, I was already in my thirties, right? How bad could this really be? I'd sat through atrocities like I Spit on Your Grave and The Last House on the Left, so this should be a piece of cake, right? Right...?

The plot is quite simple: Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Henteryck) makes a trip to New York and checks into the Hotel Broslin with a large basket in his hand. Being questioned by everyone wherever he goes, he keeps the contents of the basket secret and visits several doctors in the area. But there's a reason why he's visiting them. You see, Duane has a secret: In the basket, he carries around his twin brother Belial, who isn't really human per se, but a blob of skin and organs with no legs and two stout arms. They were separated by the evil Doctor Kutter (Diana Browne) and the boys have come to take their revenge on her and Doctor Needleman (Lloyd Pace) for separating them. The twins have a bond, a connection as all twins do, but since Belial cannot speak, he can communicate telepathically with his brother Duane and vice-versa. Belial spends most of his time quiet inside the basket, but when he finds out that Duane has found a love interest by means of the secretary at the doctor's office named Sharon (Terri Susan Smith), Belial wants out, and he'll do what it takes to break them apart.

Filled with humor and some of the sickest murders ever, this film is something you have to see to believe. The boys wreak havoc on those who cross their paths and Belial wastes no time in disposing of them, in rather ultra-violent ways. Some of the murders are so over the top, you wonder how people back them could stomach them. But what I love most are the scenes where Belial 'comes to life' in the form of stop-motion animation. That's right, stop-motion animation. It makes you laugh and creeps you out at the same time to see the little wad of skin and blood move around and it's something I can guarantee that you've never seen before and will never see again in a film of this nature. How this didn't get a slap on the wrist by the MPAA is pretty astounding. At least, I haven't read anywhere that this film was threatened with an X-rating. It should have, though. It pushes so many envelopes, and it pushes them off the table and onto the floor. Most of the film takes place within the Hotel Broslin, which provided the perfect sleazy setting for this kind of motion picture. It's dark, dingy, and you can smell it from a mile away. It reeks of the old days of 42nd Street - and there's even a scene where Duane is walking down the street in front those cheap and dirty theatres while being haggled by a fellow offering him every drug in the book. I always love to see scenes like those. One of the best scenes is is when Duane recalls the day him and Belial were separated. Totally cheap and totally fake, but you can't take your eyes off the screen. And the death of Doctor Kutter remains one of my all-time favorite murders and is one of the highlights you can't miss.

The pinnacle of the film is when Belial finally can take no more and escapes from his basket to roam around New York. Tired of being copped up and tired of living under his brother's thumb - and jealous of the woman Duane has found - he goes missing and the hunt is on to find the missing twin. Where he is finally found and what he is doing when they find him will actually have you saying out loud, "Oh, I think I threw up a little. (gagging noise)" It isn't pretty, kids, and it's something you don't expect. This turn of events causes the brothers to feud until they are hanging off the Hotel Broslin's sign hanging over the street below and end up on the pavement next to each other. 

Not to worry, Basket Case 2 was made several years later, so the story of the Bradley boys doesn't end here. If you're not already a fan of this film, you need to be. Thankfully, Something Weird released this on DVD a few years back and though it's not entirely cleaned up, it still looks damn good. The bonus material is great, especially some of the outtakes and alternate takes. They're worth looking at. Along with the two trailers, there's a radio spot or two. But you've got to take time and see the featurette, "In Search of the Hotel Broslin" in which Frank Henenlotter himself guides us through some of the many areas used during filming. Everything from the apartment building where the hotel stood to the building where the sign hung, to the S&M club that the bar scenes and basement scenes were shot in. And if you watch it, ignore the goof that's tagging around Henenlotter like a sick puppy, with nothing clever to say but emit a grunt here and there. Wait, he's a rapper? I rest my case. The SW DVD is marked unrated and I haven't seen the feature in its entirety to tell you how it compares to the Media VHS version that I also own.

Hands down, get this. I picked this up at Rasputin's new for less than $9. Even if you pay a little more than that, it's worth every penny. There is nothing like a bloody exploitation cheesy film to make a rainy day. And there's no film more bloody, exploitative and outright cheesy than this one. Shocking at times, hilarious at others, this belongs in your collection.
Here's one of the short (but sweet) trailers:

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Undertaker and His Pals (1966)

Every so often, I will come across a film by accident that will completely take me by surprise. Sometimes I'll pick up a film just for the cover art, or I'll pick it up because I've heard about the film, and other times, as in this case, I'm purchasing a film which has another attached to it. Every Halloween, I'll make a round through all the local retail stores and see who has cheap horror films for sale to celebrate the season.

 Every so often, I'll find a good deal on a DVD that I already have on VHS cheap, or something will catch my eye. This year, I got to see a slew of compilations put out by TGG Direct - with some gruesome Rob Zombie-esque cover art - for the nice price of $5. Most of the films they were showcasing were ones I already had in my collection but I picked up one particular set because it had Pieces and I don't have that one on DVD format. At the end of the compilation's second disc was this film, nice and tucked away. I'd never heard of it so I thought I'd give it a try and all I can say is that I was really surprised.

The film opens up with a beautifully sequenced, or should I say, choreographed scene of three motorcycles in the night doing circles on a city street. Three motorcycles head off to a small apartment on the other side of town and end up killing a beautiful girl and hacking her to pieces. Her name? Sally Lamb. There's a reason I mention her name but I'll get to that shortly. Cut to a small funeral home where an undertaker with no name - played by Ray Dannie - is performing the funeral service for poor Sally. The murder is then investigated by a handsome private eye with a beautiful secretary who's trying to get him to marry her. Deciding to talk about it over lunch, they go to a small diner and what do you know? The chef's special is Lamb's Leg. Oh yes, I went there. The diner is owned by two low lives who are trying to strum business by getting the undertaker to supply the meat for the restaurant. Get the idea now? This movie must have caused a sir back in the late sixties. Gore, trash, sleaze, it's all there and yours for the taking. I don't want to give much of the plot away but this was probably one of the funniest slasher films I've ever seen. This was probably the predecessor to future classics such as Blood Feast and Motel Hell as the tongue-in-cheek humor mixed with blood and gore are enough to please. The film has a very dark tone but you don't really don't feel it, mainly because you actually get familiar with the characters and start liking them for the sheer comic value of their personalities. The movie is a laugh riot and before I knew it, I was really into the film and wondered to myself just how many people this film grossed out back in its drive-in heyday.

This took me by complete surprise and it's now in my top list of funny horror films, beating out Motel Hell by a long shot. If you can be patient - even with its very short 63 minute running time - and give this a chance, you'll end up loving it and wonder where it'd been hidden for so long. The best part of this whole film is the treat the producers give you at the end: when all the dead victims 'come back from the dead' to give one last bow and smile to the cameras. I apologize that this review is really short, but seriously, if you've seen the other two films I mentioned, you're already familiar with this type of plot. I've seen this on many of those 'multi-film' compilations and just last week I saw this one alone selling for about $2 in the bargain bin. If you see it, grab it, it's worth the price and worth investing your time in. You'll be laughing at the camp silliness - seriously, some of these scenes are a total laugh and a half - and paradoxical gross out factor - there are some genuine slasher scenes - that this has to offer. Look for this one. You will be smiling at the end during the closing credits and you'll want to see it again, just for the comedic value and you'll sit there wondering just how director T.L.P Spicewood got the nerve to not only write this film, but helm it as well.
Have fun with the trailer!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Other (1972)

In the horror genre, there are films that each have a goal in mind: Some scare you, some shock you. Some gross you out and some make you cringe in your seat. Then, there are those rare few that make you think long after the ending credits have rolled. This is one of them.

The Other is a 70's film that I read a little about back in the late 90's. The plot didn't seem to interest me much then for some reason and I skipped it. Now, this was before I was a more mature horror viewer, when all I wanted to see was how creative slashings and murders could be without ever taking tone, setting and atmosphere into consideration. Many years late, I've learned to appreciate little things in a horror film - or any film for that matter. The combinations of set pieces, locale, music, symbolism all combined to make a film what it is. I didn't get to actually see this film until just this year, which was fantastic because I was able to take this in as a whole and not pass it off as just another suspense film. I unexpectedly found this DVD in the used horror bin at Rasputin's and was immediately furious because the core of the plot - and its famous twist - can all be found on the back of the DVD's cover. Shame on you, 20th Century Fox! But I digress.

The story revolves around a small town in Connecticut and twin brothers, Niles and Holland (played by Chris and Marin Udvarnoky, respectively) who hang around each other and get into trouble. Niles, the good boy has to take the rap for the bad things his brother Holland does and nobody understands why bad things are happening. Niles seeks advice and comfort of his friend Ada (Uta Hagen) whom has taught him to play "the game", a euphemism for psychic telekinesis, in which Niles can become an object, for example, a bird, and become it for a brief moment and experience everything it feels and does. Luckily only they know about "the game".

The basis of the story revolves around a ring that was given to Holland when their beloved father passed away after an accident on their farm. Only the eldest child is allowed to have it, but Holland passes it on to his brother who keeps it in a small tobacco tin and guards it with his life, with another item wrapped in cloth. But, why does Niles have the ring when Holland is the eldest child? And why does Holland keep getting Niles into trouble?

The story is presented well and the acting is by far some of the best I've ever seen. Maybe that's thanks to legendary acting coach, Uta Hagen, who possible lent out her knowledge and skills because everyone just oozes superb acting, even the always wonderful and beautiful John Ritter shines in his minimal role as Rider. The film becomes more than just a suspense film, it becomes a study of a child who has refused to let go of the one thing that meant most to him in the world: his brother. There have been studies conducted across the ages of the mystical bond that unite twins and this film explores that bond and gets the viewer to understand how Niles and Holland are still connected, even though Holland is dead. Niles can still see him. Niles can still hear him. And Niles is the only one that can stop the reign of accidents that have been happening across the farm. But can he betray his brother? Can he use his gift of "the game" to finally put Holland to rest before the worst happens?

The strong point of the film is when the other item Niles has been keeping in his tobacco tin is finally revealed. He keeps a decomposed finger, which the ring he bears was attached to, safely put away in hiding. But where did this finger come from and who does it belong to? How did Niles get the ring from Holland if he died before he was able to pass it on to his brother? That answer will make your jaw drop if you're ever able to see this film. Then, Rider's wife finally has the baby she's been carrying. One night, the baby disappears while sleeping in Niles' room and the entire family, along with the town, goes on a manhunt to find the missing child. Niles has a feeling who's behind it and calls out his brother to return the child. The first time you hear Niles whisper, "Holland, where is the baby?" will give you the eeriest chill to ever run down your spine. You know who has the baby. And you know that nothing good can come out of this. It's even more heartbreaking when an innocent man is taken off to jail whom is suspected of killing the baby by drowning it in a pickle barrel. But who really killed the poor child?

The climax of the film will have you thinking for days. The who, the what, and the why will be constantly running through your mind and when you come to the conclusion of just what happened, you'll close your eyes and smile and wonder why films like this aren't made anymore. Sometimes, it isn't about how much blood can be shed on screen, but what kind of real scares you can give your viewers with the least amount of dialogue and just enough atmosphere to make your skin crawl. While the VHS of this film is long out of print, get the DVD while you can. This is a remarkable piece of film making that shouldn't be skipped or overlooked. And I'd never heard of Uta Hagen until her name was referenced in a Will & Grace episode, which is sad, because she truly made her mark with this film. If you can get your hands on this one, do so.

Here is the trailer so you can see what I'm talking about:

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Last Broadcast (1998)

There are films that are released to the public that are obviously inspired by other films. There are some that are intentionally done that way and there are some that are based on films that sometimes are unseen or had a limited viewing audience. In 1999, the phenomenon known as The Blair Witch Project was unleashed onto a public that was already hungry for the truth about a legend that was started over the Internet months prior. As we all know, the film went on to become one of the top grossing independent films of all time and became a staple in American pop culture. Almost two years prior, a film was released that was it's own milestone in cinema history: The first film shot and broadcasted in theaters by means of one hundred digital medium. The buzz on the film was overwhelming and people flocked to see something that was so different from anything they'd ever seen. And I know this blog is devoted to films out of the 70's and 80's, but every once in a while, I've got to make known some of the more obscure films that are out there. And this is one of them.

The film tells the story of two public access cable figures and hosts of their own show Fact or Fiction, told in flashback, by a documentary filmmaker. With their once popular show plummeting in ratings, the show decides to rely on its viewers for ideas. With the assistance of the new budding technology known as IRC (Internet Relay Chat), a suggestion comes through to do a show on the myth of the Jersey devil, an urban legend about a monster living in the Pine Barrens of that area. The two hosts hire a sound man and a young local with a troubled past, obsessed with magic, and claiming to possess 'psychic abilities'. When the budding magician has a psychic 'revelation', and the suggested date of the when the shoot should take place mysteriously appears on his arm, the crew go out into the cold woods in hopes to make the episode that would put them on the map again. But when three of the four are brutally murdered, James, the 'psychic' and only survivor, is tried for their murders and sent to prison. But who really committed the murders? Or was it something unexplainable, something more sinister?

When I first heard about this film, I did some research and read some reviews by people who had seen it and I was impressed by what I read. So when I dove into this film headfirst - thanks to a wrongly-placed Region 2 DVD at Rasputins that my computer was able to play, luckily - I was expecting this film to terrify me out of my wits. The narration, done by the filmmaker himself, though it was well-paced, drew the story out more than it should have been. The pivotal point in the film is when parts of the destroyed "lost footage" is recovered and is given to a media specialist to piece together and announces that the final piece of the puzzle is about to be revealed, via press conference. Everything is summed up in the closing act, which, to me, didn't pack the punch that I thought it would. Sure, the twist ending was something I didn't expect, but it didn't leave its mark the way it should have. After all the reviews I'd read about what a frightening film this is and after the DVD sleeve boasted, "Incredibly creepy. Don't see it alone", I sorrily - and quickly - had to beg to differ. The film was more talk and story than action and we didn't get to see any of the murders committed on camera, rather quick traces of them, the way I'd imaged they'd be portrayed. There was no real terror in the film itself, which was something it really did lack seeing the nature of the murders and the legend they were researching. The character development was very limited, so there was no feeling of horror when the murders take place and I didn't even feel anything when it was all revealed who the real murderer was and that an innocent man was rotting away in prison.

My question though: When the real murderer shows his face and we discover who really sent the IRC message to the group giving the idea to do the documentary on the devil, one has to ask: So with everything now out in the open and unraveled at the film's close, shouldn't the real killer have been tried for the murders instead? Why wasn't he taken into custody and James set free? There are a lot of questions at the end of the film, which leaves things open for disucssion, which in a way, was good as it probed the mind but with that said, this film shouldn't be labeled as a actual standard horror film. It should have been labeled more as a psudo-documentary or a murder mystery. The film is worth a look, but only if you're into these 'reality' type of movies or like the idea of urban legends being explored. I was disappointed in this film mainly because I expected it to blow Blair Witch right out of the water. As a pseudo-documentary, it holds up well. The style in which the film was made was impressively innovative and it stands out in its own right and still marks as the only film broadcasted to theaters by means of satellite. As a horror film, it fails. Though the DVD has found its way into my collection, I don't think I'll have the urge to see it again. And I know that this review is short but there's not much to really say about the film, honestly. Watch The Blair Witch Project instead.

The Last Broadcast: that's what it should have been. Here's the trailer, but please note it's much better than the film itself. I guess it's the narrator's Gunther-like voice (yes, Gunther from Friends) that gets to me.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Scalps (1983)

Every so often, you will come across a horror film that instantly catches your eye. Maybe because of the way its presented, maybe because of the actors or actresses in it, maybe because the title was something a bit out of the ordinary. And sometimes, one will catch your attention just because the subject matter is far from the "cookie cutter" formula of most horror films - which isn't always a bad thing, but sometimes isn't a good thing, either.

On the left you will see a piece of horror history for me. Just one look at this big box and I'm instantly inside the Valley Mart grocery store in Weslaco, Texas circa 1987. I'm about thirteen or fourteen years old and been given permission to browse the film titles in the video rental spot located in the northern corner of the store as mum and dad did the shopping. Ah, those days of staring at those bright colored big boxes as they each begged me to pick the up and hold them for just a little while. Each one in their own distinct voices calling out to me just yearning to be looked at, read and ultimately, taken home. Of course, I was too young for that and my parents would have never allowed it in the first place anyway. Valley Mart holds a special place in my heart as one of the first places where I was exposed to the many classics I now hold dear to me. It was something forbidden, something I longed to explore even further, and I made myself a promise that when I got older, I'd go back and rent each film at least once. But that was never to happen as the video section of the store was soon phased out at the start of the 90's. Long live its memory.

The first time I picked up Continental's big box boasting the double-bill of this film with The Slayer, I stared at it for a while and read the synopsis on the back. I loved the idea of two films on one VHS - which was something of a rarity then (if you notice, the photo to the left indicates a DVD release which I have yet to find). Every time I was in the store, I made a point of picking this one up just to stare at it longingly. To this day, I've never seen this Continental double-bill cassette again. When I started my collecting hobby back in late 2002, I had forgotten this film existed therefore never searched for it, until I laid eyes on the 20th anniversary edition DVD released by RetroMedia about a year ago. I immediately began doing my research on this one, reading up as much as I could and reading other's reviews and thoughts about the film. Some said it was great, some said it fell flat on its face. What intrigued me most was a blurb across the back of the DVD stating "the most censored film of all time" - I had to pick it up and judge for myself. I first looked up the theatrical trailer on youtube and watched it only to have my curiosity mount. Sure, it looked really low budget, but that didn't meant I couldn't give it a fair chance.

The first thing to grab my attention was the disclaimer notice at the beginning of the film. Actually, I take that back. The psychedelic title card reading "Feature Presentation" that looked an awful lot like the opening title card used by Grindhouse Releasing caught my eye first. Then the notice stating the film was coming from different prints was next. This wasn't the first 80's horror film whose DVD treatment from several masters promised the most "complete version". According to IMDb, this DVD was made with a heavily cut German print, a Canadian print and the U.S. VHS edition - and believe me, it shows. In many places in the film the quality, in both video and audio. goes in and out from clear to dark to grainy and back again. But that's not the worst thing about the film.

From the moment the film commences, it screams - no, it howls - low budget. And it howls with such a furor that all of the dogs that inhabit the block I live in are still following suit. A group of kids takes a trip out into the deserts of California to do an "archaeological dig" to uncover secrets of a lost Native American tribe. The characters are all obviously naive about this sort of thing even though they act like they know what they're doing. Among those characters are Randy and Ben (Richard Hench and Frank McDonald, respectively) - the token "eye candy" of the film leading the expedition followed by the always-present nerd Kershaw (Roger Maycock). They lead a group of three ladies (two of whose performances are so vapid I won't even credit them with their real names) out into the California wilderness to dig up artifacts on an Indian burial ground. Of the three ladies, the only one that stands out is poor, bumbling blonde D.J. (Jo-Ann Robinson), who spends 2/3 of the film trying to warn the group about the possible grave dangers of disturbing the dead. But not before being personally warned by local Indian man Billy Ironwing (George Randall) channeling Crazy Ralph in the Friday the 13th series, except not as overbearing and spooky. She seems to have a premonition about what might happen on the dig, but does she know something that she's keeping from the others? And why is she so insistent about everything?

The storyline itself leaves much to be desired. The exteriors switch from night to day then back again, all within the same scene. The use of the three different prints leaves gaps and jumps in the film's continuity making it all the more confusing. The lighting is poor, especially in some of the darker areas. The acting is just plain horrible - and I'm being gracious. I was really expecting a film with more of a punch, especially with the description that I'd read on the back of the DVD, but the entire thing quickly fizzles and stays that way. I was really hoping a film that explored the idea of tampering with an Indian burial ground and its ghosts haunting the living to carry itself with ease, but it does just the opposite. There are probably less than a handful of horror films with this sort of plot line and this one should have stood out. The gore scenes didn't deliver enough to the point of doing anything but compare themselves at times to scenes in Maniac. The film ends just as I'd predicted: that D.J. was aware of what was going on the entire time and that she would be the only one to survive, carrying the ghost of "Black Claw", the film's ominous villain, within her. The film in its final moment even gives us something I would have never expected: a title card promising a sequel? Oh, pretension, where art thou? I honestly thought the producers were kidding, but no, they were going to give us a dose of Scalps II: The Return of D.J.. Thankfully, the sequel was never made and all of us can now rest knowing that the final shot of D.J. surrounded by all the dead bodies - ala Mrs. Voorhees in Friday The 13th - Part 2 - was just that: the final shot.

If you're really into horror history and/or honestly curious about this film, find a rental copy. Even the small bit of money I paid to get this into my collection was a bit much for such a painful film to have to sit through. The film is cheesy, and not in the good way. It's banal and completely oblivious of itself and the potential it had to be a well-made shocker.

Here is the trailer. Listen as the announcer claims this to be "a film that you might not be strong enough to survive until the end" and "No one under 17 will be admitted without parent"...They were kidding, right?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Friday the 13th - Part 2 (1981)

The true horror-film devotee can easily name you not one, not two, but several different films in the genre that have gone on to not only spawn a sequel or two, but ones that have gone off to become million-dollar franchises, each one as bankable as the next. From mainstream knowns as Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street to the more obscure and lesser-seen titles as Children of the Corn and Hellraiser, the genre as a whole is scattered with plenty of sequels to keep any fan's palette happy. But amidst all the endless titles on the shelves at the local Blockbuster, no franchise stands out more nor has had the impact upon the world that the Friday the 13th series has had. And this was the sequel to begin all sequels.

The movie takes place five years after the events that happened on the shores of Crystal Lake in the first film. All horror die-hards know the story of how Alice (Adrienne King), still trying to free herself from the memory of what happened there, is hiding away in her home away from the outside world. She is quickly killed off by an unknown killer and left to die. Side Bar: Did you know that this movie holds the honour of being one of the few films in cinema history with a pre-credit sequence totalling over fifteen minutes? Not bad for a horror sequel, huh? But, could this be the maniacal Jason whom she told police she'd seen rise up from the annals of the lake itself? We instantly move to Camp Packanack where a new set of young and nubile counselors are setting up to re-open the camp despite the warning from local doom-preacher crazy Ralph. Leading this new group is experienced head camp counselor Paul Holt and his faithful sidekick Ginny (fan favorite Amy Steel) - one dedicated to train the other counselors in the good 'ol ways of survival in the woods, the other to allow the kids to goof off once in a while and enjoy their surroundings, and each other. Seems like the perfect team. But little do we know there is a romantic history behind them.

The problems begin when Paul decides to gather the counselors in front of a roaring campfire and scare them with the legend of Jason Voorhees and his mother and the bloodbath that took place years prior. This not only scares everyone, but it sparks the curiosity of two of the counselors-to-be, Jeff and Sandra (who's brother will avenge her death in The Final Chapter) to take a peek at the now-condemned - and off limits - area once known as Camp Crystal Lake, better known to them as "Camp Blood". When they're brought back by an officer patrolling the area, it also sparks the curiosity of Ginny, who makes her opinions and thoughts known while some of the group enjoys one last night out of the town during a rainstorm. Could the legend of Jason and his mother be true? Did Jason really see his mother killed that night on the lake shore? Is a real maniac hiding in the woods ready to kill to avenge his mother's death? Is that a real KISS pinball machine in the pub's background? Inquiring minds want to know!

Meanwhile, back at the cabins, teen-aged hormones are running rampant. Couples having decided to stay behind are pairing up, enjoying the rain outside form the inside and enjoying each other just the same. Especially Jeff and Sandra, forced to stay behind as their penance for their foray into the wilderness without permission. But, unbeknownst to them, something is lurking outside watching their every move. Sounds like every other slasher film cliche, doesn't it? But Part 2 goes for panache and delivers it well, even though it totally borrows from the Italian giallo shocker Reazione a Catena better known to the U.S. horror-loving world as Twitch of the Death Nerve or Bay of Blood directed by maestro Mario Bava. Almost all the death scenes are alike: The machete across the neck, the machete in the face, and the world-famous double-impalement on a bed. I didn't really believe it until I took both films and played them side by side and there's a lot of truth to it, which surprised me. Was Steve Miner's intention to re-do Bay of Blood by means of a Friday sequel? Or was he secretly paying direct homage to the film itself hoping die-hard horror buffs would get the tongue-in-cheek references? There are horror experts out there who even claim that the original Friday the 13th borrowed from the same film: Simon, the killer in that film and Mrs. Voorhees shared the same blue-knitted sweater! Because of these explicit scenes, the MPAA chopped this one up like a chicken salad, taking the best out and leaving barely enough to savour. If you own the original Paramount VHS version, look on the back and you will see that a still from the cut scene of the double-impalement is proudly slapped on the back of the box! And it was even omitted from the DVD sleeve! Something like that deserves a "WTF"? But more on that later.

The film is the first to showcase Jason, and in my opinion, this is the scariest he's ever been. The sack over his head - again, maybe borrowed from The Town that Dreaded Sundown - to me, is creepier than the hockey mask any day. Especially in the scene where he sits up from the bed when Vicky is looking for Sandra and Jeff. Yowza, that still gives me the heebies. There isn't much to Jason in reality, since he doesn't appear really until the film's closing act. But what we see does deliver and it delivers good. From the moment Ginny delivers the classic line, "Paul there's someone in this fucking room!" the action really begins. And it's one hell of a fun ride. This one for me is the best of the many sequels that would follow the original film, though Jason Lives comes in at a close second. Steve Miner's direction is charismatic and flamboyant and he showed us how much fun being scared to could be. And not many films can do that for me. The film's final minutes in which Ginny dons Mrs. Voorhee's sweater and tries to outwit the son-of-a-bitch - Remember, it's mentioned at the beginning of the film that she has a degree in child psychology - are fantastic and are quite clever if you really think about it. How they got Betsy Palmer to return in the second film is something to think about. She did call the first installment a "piece of shit", remember? But her short performance here steals the show. And I'm glad that the original idea of closing shot was never done. I've read that the original closing shot was going to have the eyes of Mrs. Voorhees' decomposing head open and her smile at the camera. That would have ruined the film for me. What they kept was just perfect.

Now, back to the "WTF" moments and questions posed by this film, and I'm sure I'm not the only one to ask these, but here goes. 1) In the first act, when Ginny and Paul are in the cabin alone - in the seconds before Ralph is killed - she kisses him and says, "Paul, I think there's something I need to tell you." That is never explored in the film and the question is never answered. What was she going to say to him? Was she pregnant? Was she out of condoms? Was her monthly visitor in town for the weekend?** I had never really noticed that question until just the other night when I sat down for my yearly Halloween dosage of this film. So, what was she going to say?! 2) What the hell happened to Paul? Friday history says he was killed off screen, but could this really be true? Maybe when Jason broke through the window, Paul made a run for it, got into his car and disappeared? Paul is the only character in the series who's whereabouts are never explained. Did he really die? And if he did, why did Jason spare Ginny instead of him? She was the one who tried to kill him. She was the one that tried to fool him by channeling his mother. So why him? and 3) What did the other counselors who had been out all night come back to find? We don't see anything but the ambulance and police car at the end of the film. Case in point: Ted, played by Stu Charno, is one of the main characters in the first half of the film, then he just disappears and we never hear anything about him again - why wasn't he brought back at the film's close?

(**Ginny was on her monthly. Remember Paul's line about bears and menses?)

This one remains in my top 10 of all time favorites. I watch this one more than the original film itself, maybe because I have more fun with this one as I'm still creeped out by the first film. This one delivers the scares but it does it on a different level. The first one was gloomier and it had more of a dreaded type of tone. Most horror-fans have this in their collections, I would assume. I own the original Paramount VHS, it's 90's re-release on the Paramount/Gateway label, and the Paramount DVD. I wished that Paramount would have included more in their special features in these films besides the theatrical trailer. Maybe a mini-documentary on how this sequel was contrived would have been a treat for fans. Though there is an uncut version of the original film that can be found on the likes of ebay, I've never heard of an uncut version of this film. I am aware of a television version in which alternate scenes are used that exists and currently, I'm trying to get my hands on a copy of it. Check this one out if you haven't seen it yet. Honestly, if you're reading this, you've seen it more than twice, I just know it. Sadly, the Paramount R-rated version is all we have to go on for now. Maybe they'll change their minds one day and give us a special edition with all the scenes cut by the MPAA in tact. But sure, that will happen. Just like one day Paramount will finally release an uncut version of My Bloody Valentine. But we can all dream, can't we?

Here is the short trailer. The actual full length trailer continues the "counting" where the first one ended. I think once was enough for that. If you are a true Friday devotee, you will notice the hundred-or-so things that are wrong with this trailer

Isn't in fun being a horror geek?

(Update 5/25/12): So Paramount has released a Special Edition of Part 2, as well. I won't be the first one to say that I was very disappointed to see that we still don't have the excised footage that was removed at the request of the MPAA having seen the light of day yet. Now that My Bloody Valentine has been released in a very gorgeous uncut version on DVD, I will now  personally consider Part 2's cut footage the holy grail of M.I.A. footage. I would actually dismiss any talk that any extra footage exists if it weren't for that one still shot that still remains printed on the back of every single VHS box in the United States. You know, the one that copies the infamous scene from Twitch of the Death Nerve? I've read a handful of articles regarding this and from what I've read, it seems that Paramount won't release the uncut footage and some articles claim that Paramount doesn't even acknowledge that said footage even exists. Part 2 looks fantastic in this edition and sounds just as good. I'm even thinking about buying this on Blu-Ray just to see how much better it looks. The total waste of a sequel to Lost Tales from Camp Blood is avoidable on this one, as well. Just skip right past it. Still remains, for me, the best of the bunch. 

Paul, there's someone in this fucking room! 

Monday, October 13, 2008

Girls Night Out (1984)

Back in the early eighties, budding horror fans like myself were either hooked on or curious about a television show called USA Up All Night, a late night cable show that showcased now-beloved slasher and obscure B-films. While some of us fans got to sneak into the living room while mum and dad were sleeping to catch rare glimpses of said slasher and B-films, I was not allowed to say up that late anyway, much less be allowed to watch a program of that nature. And I can safely say that all of us as a collective would give anything to have shows like that back on television, even in syndication.

I've actually spoken to a few horror fans who hold this film in high esteem and one thing we all concurred on was the wonderful memories we have of the television trailer:

"You know what really turns me on?"
The lone naked girl under the sheets in her bed smoking a cigarette in her dorm room as the thunder crashes outside. She narrates most of the plot of the film for us: I can still hear her voice as she tosses her curly brown hair behind her. I can still see some of the scenes of the film. I can still feel my heart beating rapidly and as I'm writing this, I'm smiling. But what we all remember the most fondly is the last spoken line of the trailer:

"But what can you expect...on a girls night out?"

Oh, the memories that come rushing back from my childhood when I think of that sentence. I'm living in Reedley, California on Pecan Street and I'm in the third grade. We'd just gotten cable from Group W and all of us were discovering the joys of USA and WGN. This was the time in my life when the 80's horror boom was well underway and my friends and I would gather inside the jungle gym and try to out do each other with some of the stories we could tell of those horror films we had "seen" over the weekend. It was a great time in my life - the only film I'd actually seen pieces of was the original Friday the 13th and even then it was hard to beat some of the other tall tales my friends were coming up with. The first time I saw the trailer to this one, I was sitting alone after nine o' clock and USA was on the television and as it came on, I realized that I was the only one in the living room. I sat there, terrified and at the same time, ecstatic. I sat through those thirty seconds of wonderful pleasure and as the title card came onto the screen, I wondered if I'd ever see it again. I did, several days later and that was all that remained of it: a memory. Man, do i miss the eighties.

Over the years, I hoped to somehow see this for rent somewhere and I never did. I actually didn't see this again until 1999, when one of the local (and last) mom and pops in Brownsville, Texas was closing and I stopped in to see what I could find for sale. I remember seeing the black cover and picking it up and all those wonderful memories came rushing back to me as I held the VHS cassette in my hands. I asked the owner of the store if he would be willing to part with it but sadly, he declined. I really doubt that he knew what he had and didn't want to sell it to me just because. Little did I know that I wouldn't see it again until 2003.

The age of the Digital Versatile Disc brought to light some of the rarest and most obscure - and forgotten - horror films of the break-dancing era and this was one I was happy to see get the special treatment. I saw this for the first time on DVD at Best Buy in Independence, Missouri and saw it only that one time. Why I didn't buy it is beyond me - I mean, the price tag was pretty reasonable for an obscure title as this was. I have this annoying habit of seeing a movie that's on my "Must have" list and letting it slip only to wait months and months to see it again and finally pick it up. This one was no exception. It wasn't until just last year that I saw it again on DVD at Video Liquidators in Fresno, and I didn't hesitate to take it home. Was I excited? Read the first few paragraphs of this review a second time and ask me again. I rushed home with my cousin and sat down to put this in. The first thing I looked for was the presence of either the original theatrical trailer or the TV spot and to my own surprise, the trailer was on there! And the exact one I remembered! I sat there in front of my cousin, gushing like a Japanese school girl, and watched it over and over again until he asked me *cough* politely to start the film. I was in hog heaven - but I do need to confess that I'd never seen the film in its entirety. Ever. So we pressed 'play'...

The movie has a simple and promising premise: After the big basketball game, some students at a local college participate in a campus-wide scavenger hunt and little do they know that a killer is on the loose wearing the same bear costume worn by Benson, the school mascot. But is the killer really Benson, or is it someone trying to wreak havoc on the school and blame Benson for all the mayhem? As exciting as it sounds, it starts off strong and, sadly, fizzles out as the film progresses, which was a real disappointment seeing as how long I'd waited to actually see it. The film does drag in places and the gore was very tame for my tastes seeing there were only a few on screen slashings. The cast wasn't much to make a fuss about, though it was great to see Laurie Marie-Taylor of Friday the 13th - Part 2 in another horror film. I really would like to sit here and tell you the course of how the events in the film transpire but this one ends up being one of those that you see once and put back on the shelf. The "twist ending" was a little predictable and honestly, it made the film all the more confusing.

I watched this again just last night for the sake of this review and still found it as tepid as it was the night I first viewed it. Even Teddy (James Ratliff) and Benson (Matthew Dunn), the "eye candy" of the film, weren't enough to keep my interest afloat - or anything else for that matter. The DVD print is gorgeous with little or no grain during the dark scenes and the soundtrack was clear. I've never seen the VHS edition so I can't tell you if that particular print was used as master for this release. I would actually only recommend this film to those 80's film purists who have a "Must see/have" list or are curious about the more obscure entries in the slasher genre. Sadly to say that the final verdict on this one is that the trailer has more panache than the actual film itself. Now I'm not saying that the movie is a total bust - I did mention the presence of "eye candy" - I'm only saying not to expect this to be one of those diamonds in the rough. That would just be too far-fetched. Stick to gems like Happy Birthday To Me, Burnt Offerings, or Curtains.

Maniac (1980)

There are a good plethora of films in the beloved horror genre that have their reputation(s) precede them, and for good reason. Some for their blatant exploitative violence, some are known for their mundane use of cheese, and some are known for the genuine horror that they provide the viewer. The first memory I have of this film is seeing the poster up at a mom and pop video store my parents used to rent from in Reedley, California at the start of the eighties. I can still see myself, only about seven or eight years old, looking at the poster of a man's lower body, knife in one hand, scalp of blonde hair in the other. I still have that tagline burned into my memory, I warned you not to go out tonight! And just that was enough to scare the hell out of me, enough to stay away from the possibility of seeing this film ever.

I began reading about this film's notoriety in the early 90's - about its inception, its creation, the backlash behind it and the furor it created upon its release. What most people don't understand is that back in the time this film was unleashed onto the unsuspecting public, it wasn't like modern times where even kids as young as eight and nine years old have witnessed everything in the book regarding violence. Nothing seems to faze this generation's youth, that's why I feel that all the modern horror films that are being churned out by the Hollywood machine are as inept as they are entertaining. Maniac, though, delivers on a totally different scale.

I really don't want to go into this one and review it scene by scene mainly because the whole film can be summarized as a study into a human being's descent into madness and the methods in which he chooses to deal with said madness. The story chronicles the life of Frank Zito, brilliantly played by the incomparable Joe Spinnell who actually wrote the screenplay and helped produce this film. To make up for the loss of his mother as a child, Frank goes on a killing spree in New York City, disposing of young prostitutes and bringing home their scalps to place on the heads of his collection of mannequins he keeps in his squalid apartment. The thing I love most about this film is that it can actually be viewed with two different viewpoints: superficially, it's an effective and genuinely disturbing piece of horror cinema that has moments that have never been rivaled. Anyone can walk away from this film and have it in their mind they've just sat through just that: another slasher film. Then there are those who can say that this piece of work is a look into a mind damaged by years of psychological and physical abuse and how the effects have still lasted so many years later. We see how Frank, the character, plays many parts: the tortured child, the socialite, the demented madman and the victim vying for some kind of help to ease the pain he's been feeling and to somehow surpass the carnal instincts to kill and kill again. From New York City streets and alleyways to subways late at night, Frank relies on his urges to kill to survive day by day and Spinnell does this with such a panache that I honestly think he deserved an award of some sort - Golden Globe, maybe? - for his performance.

One of the film's most terrifying scenes in when Frank and Anna (played by Caroline Munro) visit Frank's mother's grave. Possibly derivative from the final scene in Carrie, this scene could only serve as the perfect moment for Zito's personalities to culminate into once person, therefore allowing his harrowing secret to come through: that he is the New York Maniac that killed her friend. When Frank's mother's hands come up and grab him, I did, honestly, jump out of my seat and scream - but not for the conventional reasons. It was the realization tat every haunting memory ever kept within his mind, every fear that he kept secret and every bit of resentment toward his mother materialized itself for those few seconds, and it drove him mad. And those few seconds were his kiss of death.

I hate to read about the film's feminist backlash and how women's groups - along with other groups - fought to have this film banned here in the U.S. Before I actually sat down and watched this for myself, I'd painted a picture of how this film would be: misogynistic in nature, brutally violent with absolutely no redeeming values. But if you actually sit down and watch this, you'll discover that it's a look at a troubled man with a past so damaged that his own slow demise is eminent. And this film does a fantastic job of of portraying Zito's downward spiral, especially during the film's final ten minutes. You are torn between feeling jubilation for his death or apathy or how his life ended up. Was it his fault his mother was a prostitute who kept him in the closet while hosting trick after trick? Was it his fault he had to listen to so many men abuse her? Was it his fault that he was unable to keep her from the lifestyle that led her to be taken from him at such a young age?

Many people bash this film for its violence and to some extent, I could agree that it is one of the more violent film's I've ever seen. But do people criticize this film just because the violence altogether without even taking a good look at the film itself and seeing just what the story is really about? For example, I've read on many sites that film critic Gene Siskel was outraged with this film and walked out of the theater just after the murder of "Disco Boy" - which I'll get into below - and protested the film on his television program. But did Gene really take a good look at the real story taking place on screen? The psychological downfall of a human being for evens that happened in his life that he had no control over that ultimately mapped out the rest of his adult life? If this film would have starred Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, I fell the overall reaction to this film would have been that much different. It didn't help that this film wasn't even submitted to the MPAA as to avoid the "X" rating it knew it was going to be slapped with. The most horrific point of this film for me was when the tagline, "I warned you not to go out tonight" was uttered by Frank. I think I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand when it hit me that the famous tagline was about Frank himself. This is why I make the constant point hat horror films of today don't even stand up to the ones we grew up with in the eighties. You tell me a recent horror film that has a tagline as memorable as that I can almost guarantee that you won't come up with one.

Yes, the film is reprehensible in some instances. The violence is shocking and over-the-top. The first scalping scene, the murder of the nurse in the subway station lavatory, and the murder of "Disco Boy" (played by the master Tom Savini himself) are three of the high points in the film. It was amazing to see how a make up genius such as Savini could craft and execute his own death scene with such brilliance that it would make it a piece of art. You actually have to watch it a few times to believe that he could get away with something so elaborate, and make it work the way it does. That murder sequence in particular will remain in your mind for days after you've seen the film. And sure, I could agree that violence toward women is a little much, but again, you have to keep reminding yourself why Frank is committing these murders and the motives behind them. He's not killing these women to get any kind of sexual gratification - though if you look long enough at the film's infamous poster art you might not agree - but more to ease his own psychotic mind in an attempt to free himself from the demons that plague him day after day.
The only version I currently own is the original Media VHS version which I believe is the cut R-Rated version. I know that Elite was the first to release this film uncut on DVD before Anchor Bay released it's definitive version. There is a new print on Blue Underground, which, if you don't know, is the new Anchor Bay. I believe the release is the exact same as the original AB version. Hopefully, I will own one of those DVD prints soon. I've never seen the film in it's uncut version and I'm dying to see what was going to become the sequel, Maniac 2: Mr. Robbie, which was a conceived - and partially filmed - follow up until Joe Spinnell's tragic death.

The film is a must see for fans of the genre and it is a monumental film, yet to be rivaled, imitated or duplicated. I usually don't praise a film that's this graphic but you have to watch it and understand the reasoning behind what takes place as a whole to completely appreciate its message. If you're squeamish and can't handle this type of film, avoid it. But if you're the least bit curious, let me say that you won't be disappointed one bit. This is a film that deserves its place in horror history and it deserves to be remembered for Spinnell's tour de force performance.
Here's the amazing trailer: