I dare to once again travel back to that awful transition period between the end of the awesome 80s horror era to the resurgence of good horror post-Scream. So let’s see how this smorgasbord of varying styles and subgenres holds up today. We carried none of these in the video store I worked at during this period of time, so I’ve never seen any of them before.
PAGANINI HORROR (1989)
The director of Demons 6 gives us what starts as a delicious 80s Euro horror mess but eventually fizzles out.
Paganini Horror, which has recently come to Blu-ray, begins with horrible electrocution effects (that make an encore appearance near the end), then we meet an all-girl band that sounds like it ripped off Bon Jovi’s biggest hit ever. The girls are are told the song sucks and they need a new one—how dare they give that rockin’ Bon Jovi song a bad name!
They end up buying a song from a mysterious and barely present Donald Pleasence (whose voice is also dubbed over like all the other actors).
Donald claims it’s a lost song of violinist Niccolò Paganini. Actually, it is literally a copycat of ELO’s overlooked kick ass song “Twilight”. I can’t imagine how the filmmakers got away with this.
Anyway, the girls decide they want to make a cool video for the song, even better than “Thriller”, so they hire a horror director and go to film in a creepy old house.
The genuine surreal Euro horror feel kicks in quickly (lighting, music, etc.), with characters going off on their own and being killed by a sort of Phantom of the Opera character playing a violin…with a built-in blade for slicing up victims.
Unfortunately, there aren’t enough victims. Most of the movie has the girls running around the house acting scared, with very little else happening. What a letdown.
SCARY MOVIE (1991)
It’s Scary Movie, but it’s not one of the Scary Movie movies. Also recently released on Blu-ray, Scary Movie came ten years before the Wayans’ films. Made by a 19-year old director and released in 1991, it feels like a direct-to-video movie of the mid-80s, which is one of its strong points. In fact, the opening dream sequence is possibly the best scene in the film if you love that 80s vibe.
The geek having the dream is a mess and afraid of his own shadow. He goes to a local Halloween haunted attraction in his small town, gets cozy with a girl, gets pranked by a gang of dudes, and hears that a psycho is on the loose.
A chunk of the film features the main characters goofing around while going through the haunted attraction—a plot that wouldn’t become a trope for years. Unfortunately, this isn’t the most impressive attraction put to film.
The only thing that makes it interesting is that the geek becomes convinced the actual crazy killer is in the attraction, and his delusions—or are they real?—begin to escalate. He keeps seeing a phantom skeleton killer stalking him, but no one believes him. It’s kind of weird how long these kids just hang out in the attraction. In real life, that shit costs like 30 dollars, lasts about ten minutes, and you’re constantly being forced to keep moving towards the exit.
The cat and mouse is entertaining enough, but honestly, the trippy feel of it all pretty much tells you exactly what the outcome of the film is going to be.
THE SPIRIT GALLERY (1995)
The epitome of the low budget, shot-on-video horror that flooded the market in the 80s and 90s after the advent of VHS, this film, written, directed, and produced by John Strysik, has recently made its way to independent DVD release.
The story focuses on a young woman who takes a job for an art dealer because she is in pursuit of a mysterious artist who is MIA. Being a bit of a religious nut, she believes this artist’s work is heaven sent and she wants to be a part of it. Unfortunately for her, when she learns the truth of how he gets his inspiration for his works, it’s quite the opposite.
Heavy religious themes and imagery are juxtaposed against dark, nightmarish scenarios that the viewer may either consider unimpressive because of the lack of budget, or may find to be more realistic due to the home video feel of the presentation.
Unless you were around for the SOV era, you might not find this style of movie compelling. Lacking the usual chills and CGI kills, it borders on being an art film since it isn’t created with a checkbox of mainstream horror demands on hand. It’s more about the plot than cheap thrills, which inevitably causes it to run out of steam as it is stretched out for the duration of a full-length feature. As a novel writer, I always feel that these types of stories are probably more engrossing for readers. After all, when fiction like this is adapted into a movie, it’s often shredded by fans of the book.
Speaking of horror fiction, despite budget restrictions and film quality, The Sinister Gallery does have a notable Lovecraftian feel that was all the rage in that period of horror history. Most SOV horror tended to be exploitative to the point of disgusting with its presentation of gore and nudity back then, yet this film is surprisingly restrained for a majority of its running time.
However, if you can hang in their long enough, the budget seems to be saved up for the ultimate money shot, when the artist and his model finally do…um…come together. Not going to spoil it with a still shot, but this fantastic horror moment alone is perhaps indicative of the kind of horror John Strysik and his makeup effect artist could have brought us if he’d had the backing and wasn’t trying to bring horror to the screen during the black hole of horror that was the mid-90s.
Because I’m a fan of Mike Mendez horror flicks post-2000 (The Convent, The Gravedancers, Don’t Kill It, Big Ass Spider!, The Last Heist), I had to go check out his earlier film Killers from 1996. And it is sooooooo 1996. I’m glad he found his own voice in the new millennium, because here he’s jumping on the Tarantino bandwagon.
As Iron Butterfly’s “In A Gadda Da Vida” plays, two brothers with faces painted like skeletons do a Ronald DeFeo on their parents on Christmas.
Next, we meet a family—dad, mom, two daughters—hanging out at home watching the news story about the two brothers having escaped from prison. Guess who shows up at their door…
The meta movie and pop culture dialogue Tarantino made so famous in the biggest decade of his career is hammered into our heads as the brothers speak all pretentiously to the family to show just how much cinema means to them.
It turns out the older daughter is a big fan of the brothers, so while she’s busy getting busy with one of them, the mom cozies up to the other. It’s really not all that interesting until the movie suddenly pulls a From Dusk Till Dawn and turns horror.
Cannibal creeps to be exact. One of them is apparently even gay and takes a shine to one brother. That was about as interesting as this got, and it didn’t even go very far. Although, when it turns into a gunfight, there are a couple of kills worthy of 90s exploitation.
I just wish the gay cannibal love story had been exploited a bit more, because Killers really is just a poor man’s Tarantino flick when all is said and done. I’ll stick with The Convent.