Saturday, August 28, 2010

Eaten Alive (1977)

If there is one thing that I always like to stress to either a horror newbie or a veteran looking to expand his horror horizons: Always know a film's alternate titles and pseudonyms! I can't tell you how many horror fans I've talked to and who have missed out on some great films solely because they didn't know that the film(s) they were looking for were right under their noses at their local video store! (Listen to me, talking like the American Establishment known as the mom and pop video store (or even rental store chain) still exists!)

This film is a prime example, boasting not one but seven different alternate titles. Let me flash back to the mid 80's. It's a stormy night in the Rio Grande Valley and I'm late watching TV on my mother's portable black and white set. The thunder is looming overhead and suddenly the screen goes black and this announcer starts telling the story about a monster lurking in the outback. I see something in the distance on the screen and as the announcer continues, this figure comes closer and closer to the screen. Soon enough, I see that it's the mouth of a creature coming closer to me and I freeze in total fear. The narrator stops and announces what I derive to be a coming horror film. The image you see to the left is now on the screen and as the announcement ends with the ominous voice stating, "Legend of the Bayou. Pray it isn't true.", a bite is taken out of the word "Bayou" and the screen goes black.

You don't forget something like that when you're nine years old.

I'd been looking for this particular film for a while now but never could locate it. For starters, I was looking for it with it's alternate title on the left (insert Price Is Right loser music here). One day I was researching another film on line and I bumped into a description of this film with its original title Eaten Alive. When I read the list of alternate titles and saw Legend of the Bayou as one of them, I think I squealed out of pure delight! And I'm being serious. So my research went in a different direction. I quickly learned that there was a DVD print available from Elite Entertainment. (sigh) Ah, Elite. How I love each and every one of your releases. Sadly, though, I couldn't find anyone that had a copy for sale. That is, until last week. I finally got my hands on said Elite version at Rasputin's (for a very low price! Um, about $3.95?) and I was on top of the world. Now, getting my hands on it was one thing. Sitting through it was going to be something else. I mean, when you direct something as landmark and as influential as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, can your follow-up film measure up?

The answer to that is a simple 'no', ONLY because this is a completely different type of film. But when your follow-up film's opening is a man unzipping his fly and spouting the unbelievable line, "My name is Buck and I like to fuck", you know you've tapped into something ultra-special. The premise is simple: Young girl flees a brothel and checks into a local seedy motel on a creepy swamp lake. Hotel owner has a huge crocodile (yes, a crocodile) that he feeds unsuspecting victims to. Sounds cheesy? Sure it does. But this film executes the idea well.

Ok, let me stop and say something. And I know I'm probably going to get a lot of slack for this but I'm one of your more outspoken and unique horror bloggers so here goes: What is the deal with Mr. Robert Englund in this film? Geez, I've seen him in everything from 976-EVIL to Slashed Dreams and never in any of the films I've seen with him has he looked so damn hot! I mean, this is Freddy Kreuger we're talking about here, right? Lord, have mercy, the man comes out in a wife beater and tighty whities! I will probably never see him in the same light ever again. (Lets out a large heaved sigh).

Okay, with that said, let's move on to the rest of the film. For being what it is, Tobe Hooper did a great job. Great performances by Mel Ferrer, Neville Brand, and of course, Chainsaw veteran Marilyn Burns, which, IMO was hired for this film just because the girl can scream. And boy can she scream! The story itself is a bit drawn out at times, but you get a feel for the characters and their plight to escape the evils of ol' Judd and his killer croc. The special effects are not bad for being 1977.

Now wait a minute, now I'm confused. If I saw the trailer for "Legend of the Bayou" on television in the mid 80's, was it re-released just with a different title? I'm going to have to look that up. I remember a kid that went to my church during that time got his dad to take him and see it and I can remember the jealousy I felt because he was able to see it. And now that I'm older, I'm even more jealous that he got to see it on the big screen. I'm even wondering as to why Elite wasn't able to get the TV spots for this one with their different titles? It would have been really great to re-live that little piece of my childhood again. To see that black screen with the eerie mouth coming closer...and closer...and closer......

If anyone has that trailer, or knows where I can see it, PLEASE let me know.

Hell Night (1981)

Oh "Hell Night", the memories that you bring back. Well, let me rephrase that: Oh the memories that your one-sheet poster art brings back.

Picture it: Reedley, California, the summer of 1982. A small mom and pop video store on the edge of the downtown area - the one place that started it all for me and my love of horror. There's a huge piece of my heart that's still in that store though it's been dead and gone for over two decades, and I look back on those times very fondly. Though my mother and siblings went in for the latest Tom and Jerry videos, little did they know that I was secretly gawking and absorbing the rest that the little video store offered.

"Hell Night" was probably the very first horror image that was burned in my brain for all eternity. Linda Blair screaming out into a dark night, the eerie moon hovering over a dark and chilling house. The hands that reached up for her, pulling her toward the ground. But what I remember most is the film's tagline: "Pray For Day". It was amazing and just looking at the poster art to the left sends a chill down my spine. It reminds me of the days when my naivety about 80's horror would soon blossom into a curiosity that I wouldn't be able to resist.

Sadly, this particular mom and pop was the only place I'd ever remembered seeing the VHS for this. Not sure as to why I never saw it anywhere else (from what I remember) but I didn't come across this one again until I came across the Anchor Bay double-bill edition with "Fade To Black", so of course, I snagged it and took it home with me. But, I put in on my shelf with the rest of my films and there it stayed for a while. Then, I was lucky enough to find a used copy of the solo AB edition and poof! there it stayed on my shelf for a while, as well.

It wasn't until just last week that I came across it while fiddling with my ever-growing collection and thought to myself, "You know, I need to sit down and finally watch this." So I grabbed my cousin and slipped this into the DVD player not knowing what to expect. I had already seen the lovely Ms. Blair in the atrocities known as "Grotesque" and "Witchery" so I was thinking this film would probably go the same route. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised how a well-known and very-used storyline could end up to be so entertaining:

Four fraternity/sorority pledges have to spend one night in the infamous Garth Manor, scene of a slaughter years earlier. But, as the house heads are the one playing the pranks, little to they (and the pledges) know, that they are being stalked by an unknown person. I won't get into much of what transpires in the film because when the credits rolled, I immediately added this to my "essentials" list and was pissed off at myself for not having watched it sooner. I love that the film begins with a slamming frat party complete with good looking men, lots of goils and beer and music. Then the films takes the minimalist approach, having only a handful of characters remain for the duration of the film. The plot has been used before, yes, but I loved how director Tom De Simone took it and ran with it giving us some genuine suspense and great moments of terror. Linda, fresh off her stints in The Exorcist and Exorcist II, looks great as does Peter Barton (before his role in Friday the 13th - The Final Chapter) and the rest of the cast.

For being a slasher, this one was a little bit over the rest of them. Surprisingly, I had a great time watching this one and I loved it's ending even though about a third of the way through, I figured it out. The film's final scene was great and I actually stood up and applauded as the credits rolled. Believe me, it was worth the wait. Now I'm actually thinking of obtaining the one-sheet and displaying it on my beloved horror wall. The version I watched with the AB single version, but I checked AB's double-bill with Fade To Black and it's the same version with the same extras. I just read that the double-bill one is worth some money now that it's extremely out of print. I was lucky enough to find it at a flea market for about 2$! Sadly, I hadn't seen that version beforehand, and I haven't seen it since. I would really like to collect all of AB's double-bills but I've been reading that a good majority of them are already out-of-print. 

A classic slasher from a great era that sadly no longer exists...and never will again. If you see it, pick it up. It's a must see.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Piranha (1978)

Usually when I post up an entry like this into this blog, I like to give a small history of how I came into contact with a particular film for the first time and give a history of the first time I picked up a VHS copy of said film and go from there. For some reason, I can't ever remember seeing this on VHS anywhere in the many places I frequented to gawk at endless videocassette boxes resting on shelf after shelf. I don't remember seeing this anywhere in theaters nor anywhere on cable television.

I learned of this film in my later teenage years and read about it here and there and when I read that it was nothing more than a B-version of Jaws, I immediately dismissed it and that was the end of that. I had already seen that film and frankly, it didn't do anything for me so why was I going to spend time watching something that was blatantly ripping it off?

When I began my quest to become a great horror-collector and future horror-blogger, I began sticking my nose in books and reading website after website to learn more about these films that fascinated me during my youth. My parents raised me very strict, so it was impossible for me at that age to have been the fanatic that I'd always wanted to be. So I told myself then that when I was old enough, I would go back to my horror roots and immerse myself in the splatter goodies that I'd come to familiarize myself with as a kid.

I received the news that Shout! Factory was going to put this out as a part of their Roger Corman Classics banner and immediately, I started my reading. I wasn't too interested at first look, honestly, but once I read that the lovely Barbara Steele was in it (who was fantastic in The Silent Scream, one of my favorites), I couldn't resist. I'm not one to hone directly to B-films though I can appreciate the mere camp and production values these kind of films can offer, but the more I read, the more I was interested in the story of how the character fish, being part of a government military experiment, are accidentally set free by an agent sent to look for two missing hikers. The fish threaten not only a local summer camp, but a water park located at the end of the same river. So when the DVD was released, I went out and purchased it. Let me say right now that I was really impressed with the packaging: Lenticular outer 3-D sleeve, reversible cover boasting both the style A and style B of the poster art. So I pop it into the DVD player and watch.

The film, unfortunately, takes a while to get started, which thankfully is the film's only flaw. SF's transfer is great, with minimal grain and fuzz and for a movie so obscure, it was given a great treatment. The first forty-five minutes are drawn out to tell the story of how the fish originated in the swimming pool at the military facility and were released. We get some good character development and some great f/x. But once the last reel comes in, all hell breaks loose both at the summer camp and at Lost River Lake. The film ends rather ominously and it's a great finale to a surprisingly great story. I shouldn't have dismissed so quickly as a rip-off of that other 70's fish film. This film can actually stand on its own, boasting a character all its own. The great gore f/x weren't so over the top so you actually could believe this could happen to you. The acting wasn't as bad as I was expecting it to be, which was a great relief (I mean c'mon! Paul Bartel is in this film! And so is Melody Scott! You know, Nikki from The Young and the Restless??) All in all it's a great piece of horror history that you need to have in your collection.

Now let me go just a little further on SF's release. Wow, what a great jobs. In all the mass of horror DVD's that are in my collection, I have never actually sat through all the special features included in one disc. This one was a first. Everything between a new behind-the-scenes featurette (with great interviews with Joe Dante and Mr. Corman himself), scenes that were included in the television broadcast version (which were actually quite good), bloopers and outtakes and a great gallery of still photos and poster art. This one was lovingly done. I'm sure that whomever put this DVD for Shout! Factory had to have really loved this film. You can tell that it was a labour of love and honestly, it scores major points for Shout! Factory. They are about to release B-film greats such as Humanoids from the Deep, Up From the Depths and the complete Slumber Party Massacre collection this fall. You can bet that I'm going to buying each of them. I do own its sequel Piranha II: The Spawning on VHS but held off in seeing this until I could screen its predecessor. If only more companies gave classic films this kind of treatment. Yowza!