Cheap thrills and kills from the 1950s through the 1990s

It’s a smorgasbord of oddities from a variety of decades dating all the way back to 1958, so let’s see if any of them had any memorable moments.

I BURY THE LIVING (1958)

Albert Band, director of the Prehysteria movies and Ghoulies II, and also the father of Full Moon Features founder Charles Band, began his horror career way back in 1958 with this film that should have been an episode of The Twilight Zone…and still would have been 20 minutes too long.

The concept is cool. A guy takes a job as a cemetery director and begins to notice that whenever he places black “occupied” pins on an empty plot on the cemetery map, the person who owns that plot dies.

He tries to tell numerous people of his odd power, and every time he does, they are skeptical and tell him to prove it. So he jabs another plot with a black pin and kills another person. WTF?

Problem is we don’t get to see people dying left and right. This shit all takes place in one office, making it as agonizingly boring as that Pontypool disaster that so many people inexplicably think is a masterpiece of terrifying horror.

Finally, it seems like the film will be saved. He wonders what will happen if he puts the white “empty” pins on the graves of the people he already killed. Will it bring them back to life?

If it does, we can only hope they return as zombies that come for him, but I won’t spoil it. However, I will tell you this. The truth of what is going on makes this movie even worse. I discovered this one because Stephen King mentions it as the inspiration for a story he wrote in a collection of his I just read…where he also warns readers that the ending sucks.

BERSERK! (1967)

As we all (hopefully) know, controversial and infamous Joan Crawford sold her soul to horror late in her career, and Berserk! was the only one I had yet to cover on my site. It is a pretty sleazy template for the slasher genre.

Joan owns a circus, and in the very first scene, her tightrope walker dies in front of a live audience. The notoriety brings detectives sniffing around…along with a whole new audience in it for the morbidity of visiting the scene of a death. And Joan is all about the money it’s making her.

Meanwhile, a handsome stud shows up to fill those tightrope-walking shoes. Every woman at the circus wants him, including Joan.

He takes his shirt off a lot, women catfight over him, and someone begins killing off circus folk. Specifically, men! Awesome.

There aren’t loads of kills, but they are nicely gruesome for the time period, and there’s a good stalking scene involving Joan. However, there are also way too many looooong scenes with complete circus performances. Ugh. Not to mention, the reveal of the killer at the end is really lame.

THE AMUSEMENT PARK (1973)

Look, obviously if there was a lost Romero film it had to be released. But does it need to be seen by horror fans? Probably, out of obligation. Will they like it? They might praise it as brilliant…out of obligation.

The Amusement Park is a 50-minute movie that looks like a film school project. Not only because of how shoddy it is visually, but because it literally hits you over the head with its points about how we treat the elderly. Romero might as well just have made a documentary instead. There’s nothing subtle here. It’s almost like another movie I saw once from the seventies with a social message that kept slapping me in the face. I think it was called…Dawn of the something or other.

Anyway, the film has an old man going through an amusement park experiencing all the horrible things we must endure when we grow old, including having our licenses taken away, food insecurity, housing insecurity, being considered creepy and perverted, being targeted physically because we’re vulnerable, and inevitably, being targeted because we’re old and need to die.

Most importantly, other than being about the horrors of being old, this isn’t a “horror” movie in any traditional sense.

SHANKS (1974)

Released in 1974 when he was well past his heyday, the final horror movie by legend William Castle really has him moving out of his classic horror comfort zone. The film is really odd, uses silent film title cards during scene changes, has a Punch and Judy vibe, and is scored with very whimsical music.

Shanks is a mute puppeteer who lives with his nasty sister and her husband. His only friend is a young blonde girl. He starts working for a mad scientist who figures out how to bring animals back to life.

Then the scientist dies, so Shanks uses his own experiments on him to bring his corpse back to life and control it like a puppet.

The human puppet starts to kill people. Then those dead people become Shanks’s puppets. Shanks uses them as servants to throw a party for the blonde girl.

And then a motorcycle gang just shows up out of nowhere and starts terrorizing them. WTF? Will the puppets save the day?

This is one weird movie, but in a weird way, it kind of seems like it may have been the inspiration for the film Dolls.

CALENDAR GIRL MURDERS (1984)

Vinegar Syndrome recently released Televised Terror Volume 1, a collection of three made-for-TV thrillers on Blu-ray. I blogged about Are You In The House Alone? a while back since I had the DVD, so I’ll take on the two other films in this blog.

Calendar Girl Murders is appealing simply because it’s so badly eighties that it’s awesome. It is the perfect example of mainstream television trying to cash in on how cool the year 1984 was by combining MTV flash with slasher thrills.

Robert Culp, fresh off his brief time on the TV show The Greatest American Hero, plays the man producing a sexy calendar. When the models start getting killed off by the month they are featured in the calendar, Tom Skerritt is the detective on the case, and Sharon Stone becomes the woman he focuses on protecting.

There are some bad eighties variety show dance numbers (a reminder of how androgynous we could be back then) set to cheesy electronic dance music, and even Rip Torn makes a cameo as a host.

There are a couple of tame kills with an 80s vibe, including killer POV and a shot of a knife, but as was usually the case with made-for-TV “slashers” back then, this turns into a bad detective story with very few death scenes. Honestly, it’s not worth the time.

CHILD IN THE NIGHT (1990)

A young Elijah Wood stars with some horror royalty in this silly slasher thriller from 1990, the third film from the Vinegar Syndrome Televised Terror Volume 1 collection.

It’s my kind of take your kid to work day. Elijah’s dad takes Elijah to his office at night, which is right next to the docks. Before long, Elijah witnesses his dad being hooked by what seems like an early template for the I Know What You Did Last Summer movie killer.

Tom Skerritt is once again the detective on the case, Darren McGavin is Elijah’s grandfather, and because little Elijah has blocked out any memory of what he saw, JoBeth Williams steps in as a psychologist to work with him.

The film focuses mostly on JoBeth dealing with her own past demons and using that to better connect with Elijah to get him to face his fear…which turns into him having visions of Captain Hook while under hypnosis.

Of course Skerritt and Williams get hot for each other, JoBeth gets a good body reveal scene, JoBeth gets a killer spotting, and JoBeth gets a cool chase. Indeed, JoBeth is a 40-year old final girl.

 

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at www.facebook.com/BoysBearsandScares.
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