The Evil (1978) Psychologist C.J. Arnold and his wife Caroline (Richard Crenna and Joanna Pettet) begin renovations on a decrepit antebellum mansion with the help of some volunteers. Before long, it becomes clear that the house wants them dead or at least prisoners. Meanwhile, a spectral visitor appears to warn Caroline. Most of the story is predictable, with the usual assortment of things that go bump in the night, followed by the requisite disbelieving husband (she’s a medical doctor, damn it!). What pushes this over the top from a pedestrian haunted house movie is the climactic confrontation with Satan, played with gusto by Victor Buono. Give it a try.
Rating: ***. Available on DVD and Amazon Prime
The Bells (1926) Director James Young directed this filmed version of a stage play, which in turn was based on Edgar Allan Poe’s poem. Mathias, a tavern owner (Lionel Barrymore) who’s deep in debt, murders a traveling merchant with an axe. He profits from the merchant’s gold, but his troubles are just beginning. While the police and the merchant’s brother search for the murderer, he’s pursued by a mesmerist, played by Boris Karloff, who claims to have the power to discern between lies and truth. Barrymore is convincing as a man haunted by his conscience as he confronts the merchant’s ghost. Unfortunately, the film’s execution is a little too straightforward for the subject matter, which could have benefited from a more dreamlike approach. Despite the uninspired visuals and a tepid conclusion, it’s worth checking out for Barrymore and Karloff’s performances.
Rating: ***. Available on DVD
Mausoleum (1983) A woman possessed by a centuries-old family curse (Bobbie Bresee) becomes a lusty demon, and an ancient* crypt (adorned with green lights, fog and multiple rats) appears to hold the secret. No one seems to question when the people around her start dying, and her bland, patronizing husband (Marjoe Gortner) remains clueless about the strange occurrences in their house. It’s up to her psychologist (Norman Burton) to set things right. Don’t try to make any sense out of it – you’ll probably end up hurting your brain. It’s good dumb fun, and not much else. Sometimes, however, that’s all you need from a movie.
* How this centuries-old crypt ended up in an L.A. cemetery (judging from the palm trees) is anyone’s guess.
Rating: ***. Available on DVD (out of print) and Amazon Prime
The Corpse Grinders (1971) This cheapie from Ted V. Mikels is basically Sweeney Todd for cats. As a cost-saving measure, the owners of Lotus Cat Food (a poster advertises “For cats who like people”) decide to find a new cheap source of meat (cue the ominous music), dead people. The cans are flying off the shelves as fast as they can manufacture it, and cats dig the stuff, but the felines develop a taste for human flesh. A burned out, alcoholic MD and his nurse-girlfriend (Sean Kenney and Monika Kelly) decide to investigate the dastardly goings-on at the Lotus plant. Bad movie fans will find lots to love, with the cheap sets (we never see more than one room of the “hospital,” and the pet food plant consists of an office and a small basement), bad acting and unbelievable plot. The Corpse Grinders is more fun than it has a right to be, even if it isn’t “good” by most sane definitions.
Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray, DVD, Amazon Prime and Tubi
Grace (2009) Writer/director Paul Solet’s debut feature recalls early Cronenberg (The Brood) and Larry Cohen (It’s Alive) with its subject matter and squirmy scenes. After suffering injuries in an automobile accident that kills her husband, mother-to-be Madeline Matheson (Jordan Ladd) fears that her baby is also dead. The child isn’t stillborn, although something’s not quite right. Madeline soon discovers that the infant thirsts for blood, and flies keep gathering around the crib. The film toys with themes of enmeshment, loyalty, and how a mother’s love conquers all, but doesn’t quite reach the heights it aspires to. The ending does little to wrap things up, suggesting a sequel that never occurred. It’s a rough sketch with some interesting moments, but it could have been so much more.
Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray and DVD
Death Bed, the Bed that Eats (1977) I’m not sure how (or why) this movie was made – Is it a joke or is the joke on us? Narrated by a dead artist whose spirit resides behind a painting, we learn of the titular monster’s (I’m using the term “monster” loosely) beginnings, as a demon’s tears seep into a bed, creating a cursed piece of furniture that (ahem) eats anyone who dares to get too close. It’s a decidedly absurd premise for an absurd movie. Since the bed can’t run after anyone, the script must provide contrived reasons for people to end up in compromised positions. The results are about as good as you could expect, although it’s never boring.
Rating: **½. Available on DVD and Kanopy
The Vineyard (1989) This oddity from co-writer/co-director James Hong feels like it was cobbled together from several other (better) flicks. Hong stars as Dr. Elson Po, a wealthy vintner who’s discovered the secret to longevity through a jade amulet (combined with some bloodletting). A group of vapid 20-somethings are invited to his island enclave/winery under the auspices of a movie audition. Naturally, they don’t know they’re about to be harvested. Some of his victims, past and present, reside in a dungeon, while others squirm in the ground as zombies (how they got to be that way is never satisfactorily explained). The scattershot story is all over the board, filled with incompetent henchmen, and guests doing stupid things. Hong seems to be enjoying himself, though.
Horror fans, take note: Dr. Po’s estate is none other than the Dunsmuir House in Oakland, California, which featured prominently in Burnt Offerings (1976) and Phantasm (1979).
Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Tubi
Blackenstein (aka: Black Frankenstein) (1973) Eddie (Joe De Sue) returns from Vietnam, missing his arms and legs. All is not lost, however, when his fiancée, Dr. Winifred Walker (Ivory Stone) consults with her colleague Dr. Stein (John Hart), who’s developed a DNA-infused serum (don’t ask me how this is supposed to work). Dr. Stein successfully grafts new arms and legs (the film never addresses how Dr. Stein acquires the limbs) on Eddie, but the doctor’s jealous assistant tampers with the serum, turning him into a deadly, unstoppable monster. No one seems to notice the nightly rampages or bothers to keep him secure. Also, except for his assault on a sadistic hospital orderly, there’s no rhyme or reason to his attacks. With its bad acting, bad makeup, and awful story this probably isn’t the blaxploitation horror you’re looking for. My advice: steer clear, and see Blacula instead.
Rating: **. Available on Blu-ray, DVD, Amazon Prime and Kanopy