Appointment With Fear (1985)

If there’s one adage that watching slasher films teaches you, it’s to never judge a book — or VHS tape — by its cover. Any time you see the words “from the man who brought you” or “from the people behind” you may not be getting the whole story.

Appointment With Fear is “from the man who brought you Halloween…”

Dear reader, if you were anything like me in the video store days — or now, as I grab a movie and try to convince my wife to watch it — you might read that legend on the cover and think, “Well, I never heard of this John Carpenter movie!” That’s when you realize that if you want to watch these kinds of movies, you need to learn what that line means.

Here, the man is really Moustapha Akkad, the producer of every single Halloween film up until 2002’s Halloween: Resurrection. In fact, other than four other films — this would be one of those four — that’s his complete output. So one assumes that if anyone wants to be the “man who brought you” it would be Moustapha.

Before introducing the world to the man with the darkest eyes, he produced and directed the film Mohammad, Messenger of God, a movie that he hoped would bridge the gap between the Western and Muslim worlds. Seeing as how Muslims dislike any image being made of Mohammad, even making this film was near-impossible, necessitating him needing to finish it in Libya, as Muammar Gaddafi allowed him to film the final six months of the picture there. The vilified world leader would also fund Akkad’s 1980 film Lion of the Desert.

Sadly, Akkad died in 2005 along with his daughter, the victim of the 2005 Ammad bombings. Today, he has streets in Syria and downtown Beirut named after him, as well as a school in his hometown of Aleppo.

Appointment With Fear was directed by Alan Smithee, who again if you haven’t learned a lot about movies, you’d think was the worst director ever. But the name was a pseudonym created in 1968 by members of the Directors Guild of America. It was to be used whenever a director, dissatisfied with the final product, proved to the satisfaction of a guild panel that they’d lost creative control of the film. The director was also required by guild rules to never discuss their involvement with the film.

Here are a few examples of Alan Smithee’s filmography:

Student Bodies: This 1981 slasher send-up was directed by Mickey Rose and produced by Michael Ritchie, who  used the Alan Smithee name to hide his involvement.

The Twilight Zone: The Movie: Second Assistant Director Anderson House used the pseudonym for the first segment of the film, a rare example of a second unit director taking the name. He was distressed over his involvement in the scene where actor Vic Morrow and two children were killed.

Bloodsucking Pharaohs In Pittsburgh: The Alan Smithee here was Dean Tschetter, who was the art director of The Wraith and has gone on to be an illustrator for Disney films such as Mary Poppin’s Returns and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

The Birds II: Land’s End: Even though Rick Rosenthal asked for his name to be stricken from this film, when Showtime put it out on VHS, they left his name on the box art. Whoops. Tippi Hedren was even less lucky, as she was in the film yet doesn’t play anyone connected to her role in the original. She said of the film,  “It’s absolutely horrible. It embarrasses me horribly. I’d hate to think what he {Hitchock) would say!”

Hellraiser: Bloodline: After completing his vision of the film, original director Kevin Yagher (yes, the very same special effects expert of movies like Child’s Play and the second through fourth Freddy Krueger films, as well as the TV series) quit the movie after Miramax demanded new scenes, reshoots and a happy ending.

The Alan Smithee behind Appointment With Fear was Ramzi Thomas, who worked with Akkad on several films, including being a script consultant on Lion of the Desert and a producer on Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers. This film was originally called Deadly Presence, but after Akkad saw the first cut, he fired Thomas, re-shot a considerable amount of new footage and then re-edited the movie himself.

This is the only film Ramzi would ever direct. And strangely, this is a slasher that no one discusses. Well, get ready. 

A lot of this movie can be traced back to 1974’s Psychic Killer. Except here, the killer is a comatose man in a hospital bed who has been possessed by the Egyptian tree god Attis. You have to love a movie based on a god who was raised by a he-goat before he was set to marry the daughter of King Midas. As their wedding song was being sung, she became transcendent with power and he was so moved that he cut off his penis. Any priest that follows Attis must do the same and become a eunuch before gaining the title of Galli. And oh yeah — he’s also the Phrygian god of vegetation, as his act of cutting off his John Thomas is seen as a representation of the fruit which dies in winter, only to be reborn in spring. I’m certain he was honored, but seeing as how his disco stick never grew back, I’m not sure exactly how much.

I told you all of that for basically no reason, as none of this mythology figures into this film. But hey — at least we all learned something today.

The film begins with a man getting of his van and stabbing his wife, who gives her baby to Heather (Kerry Remsen, Pumpkinhead and Ghoulies II) a punk rock babysitter with crazy blue Jem and the Holograms makeup. Yes, I realize this movie already makes little to no sense.

Detective Kowalski is on the case, though. He discovers that the man who stabbed his wife (known only as “the man” in the credits and played by Garrick Dowhen, who is also in Land of Doom) is in a mental facility but is able to astrally project himself. He’s under an Egyptian curse which forces him to kill his baby so that he can continue being King of the Forest.

Heather’s friend Carol (Michele Little, Radioactive DreamsMy Demon Lover) is a snoop who loves her crazy parabolic microphone and records everyone and everything. She’s kind of like Negativland’s The Weatherman, who recorded nearly every single moment of his life and transformed it into bursts of music. Except, you know, her recording makes her into a detective.

The ancient spirit gets busy, blowing up the detective’s car, killing a vagrant, sending evil dreams to Heather and then killing one of their friends named Samantha (Pamela Bach, one-time wife of David Hasselhoff) in the jacuzzi.

James Avery — Uncle Phillip himself — shows up, as does Debi Sue Vorhees, who was Tina in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, which was made the same year as this movie. In this movie, all she does is eat cheese, show a little side boob and then get killed.

The ending is nonsensical, as the killer finally gets the baby and tries to sacrifice him near a tree. Carol keeps shooting the killer to no effect before piercing him with a pole. Her boyfriend Bobby saves the baby, whose eyes soon glow green. Is the baby the killer now? Why didn’t the psychic force just go into the baby from the beginning?

I have more questions. So many questions. Why does Bobby keep a mannequin in his sidecar? Why does Heather put on mime shows for her senile grandparents? Why is there no gore? Why do Carol and Bobby play hide and seek before they have sex? Why does the homeless man live in the back of Carol’s truck? Why would he act as a servant for these kids? Why did they go to that big mansion? Why did the makers of this film stage an elaborate dancing scene just as the action was heating up?

I fear that in writing so much about this movie that I’ve made it sound like a pretty solid affair when it’s anything but. It’s a slow, plodding and boring mess that only rewards you with insane bursts of strangeness, as if it were made by aliens from another planet who had no innate knowledge of how human beings speak, act or exist with one another. It’s the kind of movie only I could fall in love with. And that’s why I won’t recommend it to you, because it’s much like the baby in this film, a strange green eyed monster that must be protected from the coma-induced no cock having Egyptian gods of the world that only want to give this movie one star on IMDB and say that it’s a horrible film.

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