PURE TERROR MONTH: Frankenstein ’80 (1972)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bill Van Ryn is the man behind the website Groovy Doom and the zine Drive-In Asylum. He’s the inspiration for me to write more about movies.

I’ve seen the movie Frankenstein ’80 a number of times already, and I still can’t point to any reason that it carries this title. If there is an explanation somewhere in the movie, then I missed it about seven times. It’s an Italian film originally released in 1972, and the sole directorial effort from Mario Mancini, better known as a camera operator and/or DP for a number of films, including Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace and Black Sabbath

Frankenstein ’80 shows us what we assume to be a descendant of the good doctor operating out of a secret laboratory in his clinic. A rival scientist, Professor Schwartz, has created a serum that prevents the rejection of transplants. Despite the life-changing implications of a substance like this, Schwartz has only made a single bottle of the stuff, which makes it rough when the bottle goes missing, resulting in the death of Schwartz’s latest transplant hopeful.

Of course the bottle has been stolen by Dr. Frankenstein, or rather, Frankenstein’s emissary, a hulking man that Frankenstein calls Mosaic, sewn together from stray body parts. Frankenstein is obsessed with the idea of perfecting Mosaic, and Schwartz’s formula will do nicely in helping achieve this. Dr. Frankie in this movie is played by American actor Gordon Mitchell, a former bodybuilding champ who followed the example of Steve Reeves and other muscleheads like Mickey Hargitay and Brad Harris in forging an acting career in European-lensed movies. He looks a little svelte in this movie for a bodybuilder, so this must have been after his lifting days. The beef in this movie is Mosaic, played by a hulking actor named Xiro Papas (who, rather ironically, died in the year….1980). Mosaic has the nasty habit of rampaging through the local village, murdering random women and making off with one of their internal organs, which he takes back to Frankenstein to use as his own. Frankenstein scolds the creature for these brutal murders the way a parent would scold a child for eating cookies before dinner (“Mosaic, you must stop this killing!”), but he does use the organs after all, which only reinforces Mosaic’s bad behavior. Although we see the monster kill men, we only see him steal organs from women, so there’s no explanation as to where Dr. Frankenstein gets the “gonad” transplant that he uses to increase Mosaic’s sexual potency. Maybe it’s better that way.

Dr. Frankenstein sure is a stupid dick, too, because -duh- this turns the monster into a sexual predator as well. In a movie full of disturbing murders, one of the hardest to watch is a scene where Mosaic rapes a prostitute who seems to be somewhat overwhelmed by the size of his “external organ”, then strangles her during the afterglow. Frankenstein has been trailing Mosaic during this episode, but arrives too late to prevent the murder, ushering Mosaic into his clothes and out of the apartment with barely more than a “naughty, naughty.”

By now you should understand that Frankenstein ‘80 is completely absurd. It actually predates Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein in its blending of broad comedy with visceral horror, and it comes close to matching that film’s gut-churning violence. Mosaic’s murders are sudden and brutal, and they often are prefaced by the victim being kind to him; a female butcher gives him some friendly customer service before he rudely follows her into the freezer and beats her to death with a large femur. Even the hooker is nice to him, sort of, until she gets a good look at him naked and sees that he’s all stitched together. I don’t know if I’d call it camp, it’s not easy to gauge the movie’s own self-awareness since the English audio track is one of those dodgy dub jobs, but some of the scenarios do seem intentionally over the top, such as the subplot of the local law enforcement vainly trying to keep up with Mosaic’s murders. 

What really could have helped Frankenstein ‘80 would have been at least a fraction of Paul Morrissey’s style or wit, not to mention his budget. There are no real serious moments in Frankenstein ‘80, no commentary on the decadence of the wealthy nobility, no pondering of the human condition by considering the liberties taken by these reckless practitioners of so-called medicine, and an almost total lack of suspense. What it does have is sleaze, in great gory buckets, and a disturbing partiality for the brutal murder of beautiful women, who are usually stripped of their clothing before being throttled or clobbered by the hulking monster. Lest we accuse the filmmakers of being sexist, I must point out that male victims suffer greatly as well, including one guy who is killed in a public men’s room. He’s just taking a piss, minding his own business, when Mosaic moves on him like a sex addict in a truck stop – except he doesn’t want to give the guy a quick blowjob in a stall, he takes the guy’s head and smashes it against the tile wall, resulting in an explosion of gore. Now that’s just plain rude.

All of the 2019 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge movies in one place

We did it for the second year in a row! The Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge is a great way to discover new movies and expand your mind. R. D Francis and I spent plenty of time watching some awesome movies, which you can discover below.

Check out Scarecrow Video and donate some money to their fine efforts! There aren’t many video stores left, so please support them.

You can also see this list on Letterboxd.

Want to see what we watched in 2018? We have that, too!

DAY 1. SLIP INTO SOMETHING CHALLENGING: Ease into 2019’s list by watching something with a lot of slime, body goop or questionable muck in it. Wiggle your toes in the gooey glory. Mermaid In a Manhole

DAY 2. SOMEBODY’S GOTTA DO IT: Something involving a less than desirable job must be done. A Talking Cat!?!

DAY 3. SPORTS AND FITNESS: All pain, no gain. A workout watch out! Deadball

DAY 4. BLACK FRIDAY: A rough day at the shopping maul. The Initiation

DAY 5. MUMMY’S DAY: An ancient woman wrapped in linen has resurfaced with new purpose. Dawn of the Mummy

DAY 666. THE DEVIL’S WORKSHOP: A mass, ritual or summoning scene celebrating the Dark Prince. Necropolis

DAY 7. DAIKAIJU: The bigger the better. Who needs a city anyway? War of the Gargantuas and Kaiju Mono

DAY 8. AFTER THE DISASTER: Will we rebuild, adapt or move on? Rollerblade

DAY 9. DIGITAL S(T)IMULATIONS: A pre-2000 movie using computer-generated “special” effects. The Last Starfighter

DAY 10: ANALOGUE MANIPULATORS: Practical effects are the truth. No CGI will be tolerated. An American Werewolf In London

DAY 11. THE OLD WAY. Watch a classic from 1959 or before. A Bucket of Blood, I Was a Teenage Werewolf

DAY 12. THE FRACAS AND THE FUZZ: Something revolving around cops and criminals. Live Like a Cop, Die Like a ManManiac CopManiac Cop IIManiac Cop III, Psycho CopPsycho Cop Returns

DAY 13. DO YOU FEEL LUCKY, PUNK?: A film about luck; good, bad or ugly. Lucky Ghost

DAY 14. S.T.D. MADNESS: No, not syphilitic symptoms! Science, Transformation & Dabbing; a cracked scientist’s creative palette. Blue MonkeyThe Neptune Factor

DAY 15. PICK YOUR POISON: One with some drugs in it. Turn on, tune in…and freak out! SkidooBlue Sunshine

DAY 16. ROCK ‘N ROLL MISCREATS: Give some screen time to the punks and/or metal heads. Stunt RockDu-beat-e-o, Thunder Alley, Second Time Lucky, Goodbye, Franklin High, Hanging On a Star

DAY 17. EVIL IN BROAD DAYLIGHT: Scary stories aren’t just for the night time. And Soon the DarknessIn the Line of Duty: The F.B.I. Murders

DAY 18. ONLY ON VHS DAY: Watch something on true psychotronic format. If you don’t have access to a VCR then watch a movie with a VCR/VHS theme in it. Beyond the GatesOutside OzonaA Matter of Degrees

DAY 19. VIDEO STORE DAY: This is the big one. Watch something physically rented or bought from a video store. If you live in a place that is unfortunate enough not to have one of thee archival treasures then watch a movie with a video store scene in it at least. #vivaphysicalmedia Bloodsucking Freaks

DAY 20. SUNDAY DINNER: From exceptional eating scenes to full on foodie fodder. Come hungry! Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?Ed and His Dead MotherCodependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks SameIce Cream Man

DAY 21: POWER PLANTS: One where the vegetation fights back. Swamp Thing

DAY 22. SEASON OF THE WHICH?: A film set around a holiday. No Halloween though, it’s a challenge! The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman

DAY 23. A DAY AT THE BEACH: Be sure to bring your trunks and your tanning butter. Nightmare Beach

DAY 24. SHORT ATTENTION SPAN THEATER: Watch some shorts or anthology things. From a Whisper to a ScreamUgetsuKwaidan, Pink Plastic FlamingosProject Skyborn

DAY 25. VANISHING CITIES: One with gentrification or real estate development as the setting. CandymanOpen House

DAY 26. THERE’S SOMETHIN’ IN THEM THAR HILLS: Twangy cringers from the backwoods and by-waters. Rituals

DAY 27. SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS: Made for TV movies from the ’70s, classic era of the bronze screen. Someone’s Watching Me!The Case of the Hillside Stranglers

DAY 28. A LORELESS YARN: One based on a true story. The Case of the Hillside Stranglers

DAY 29. COMEDY OF TERRORS: A matter of laughter at the splatter of the matter. A funny one, duh. Pandemonium

DAY 30. IT’S YOUR SPECIAL DAY: Brutal birthdays. Don’t Panic

DAY 31. THE GOLD WATCH: One set in a retirement home or elderly community. A fitting wrap-up, eh? American GothicHomebodiesThe Brotherhood of Satan

2019 Psychotronic Scarecrow Challenge: Day 31: Option 3: (Another Take on) The Brotherhood of Satan (1971)

Day 34 The Gold Watch: One set in a retirement home or elderly community (or elderly Satanic coven)

You’d think I would have learned by now to research a film on B&S Movies before I write a review. Hey, it’s an L.Q Jones project and you can never, ever get enough of the very cool L.Q Jones (1975’s White Line Fever). My only quibble with L.Q: Why didn’t you write and direct more films, bro? The Brotherhood of Satan (Sam’s take) and 1975’s A Boy and his Dog (see Sam’s 2017 “Fucked Up Futures” review) are finer than any other demon cult-horror or post-apocalyptic film out there.

Before we came to see him on a weekly, weekend basis courtesy of the perpetual TNT cable replays of Martin Scorsese’s Casino (he’s the western-styled Vegas Commissioner Pat Webb; his dweeb nephew was played by Drive-In guru Joe Bob Briggs), and as Sam Peckinpah’s go-to actor (Major Dundee, The Wild Bunch, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid), the man that Justin Humphreys chronicles in his book, Names You Never Remember, With Faces You Never Forget (2006), L.Q Jones, augmented his prosperous television and film acting career that began in 1955 with writing and directing assignments.

During the course of his TV acting endeavors, Jones befriended TV western writer Claude Hall to direct (under the Justus McQueen nom de plume) Hall’s western-dramatic feature film, The Devil’s Bedroom (1964). (As far as I can tell: L.Q’s directing debut has never aired on cable television or seen a VHS release. And it seems no one else has seen it either: there’s no reviews posted on the IMDb and other web resources only offer a cut ‘n pasted synopsis that traces to the TV Guide (so, maybe it did air on TV at some point in the pre-cable universe).

Seven years later, Jones sat behind the camera again as a producer, and as a screenwriter, on the Albuquerque, New Mexico-shot (doubling as a small California town), The Brotherhood of Satan, directed by another one his old western TV director-friends, Bernard McEveety. (Bernard’s career goes from Clint Eastwood’s Rawhide to The Dukes of Hazzard. He also co-directed the 1958 cult horror, The Return of Dracula.) And, get this: L.Q’s other TV buddy, Alvy Moore, the ditzy Mr. Kimball from the ‘60s TV series, Green Acres, co-produces and stars.

“Okay, but what’s this got to do with the elderly theme for today’s Scarecrow Challenge? You hinted about an old people’s coven?”

The Brotherhood of Satan begins as most horror tales do: a family on vacation stumbles into the wrong town at the wrong time where the aloof local sheriff (L.Q Jones) and his hick deputy (Alvy Moore) are investigating the murders of several people and multiple child kidnappings.

. . . Ah, old Doc Duncan (Strother Martin), who may be Satan incognito, is the head of an elderly Satanist coven stripping the children’s bodies of their souls so the crusty curmudgeons are “reborn” in the children’s bodies. And long before Chucky and Charles Band made a career in the creepy toys market, these elderly Satanists can “mobilize” toys to do their will. i.e., a knight-on-horseback wielding a tiny sword becomes a murder weapon.

Caveat: This is a film where evil triumphs. So if you’re not into the souls of innocent children becoming eternal, spiritual fang-chum for Satan, then you best rent something else. But if you do: You’re missing out on one of the creepiest, underrated low-budget horror films of the ‘70s, one of the best made to cash-in on the horror boom ignited by George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (although BoS’s geriatric-cult is more likely influenced by Roman Polanski’s 1968 signpost, Rosemary’s Baby). Pair The Brotherhood of Satan with Necromancy (1972) and Messiah of Evil (1973, review, review) and you have yourself a night of surreal, creepy viewing.

And . . . pop quiz: Can you name the actress who starred as “Jan Brady” (Eve Plumb’s replacement) in the mid-‘70s variety-show sequel to The Brady Bunch and the splatter classic, I Dismember Mama (1974)? It’s Geri Reischi, who stars as K.T in The Brotherhood of Satan, the kidnapped daughter of the bumbling travelers who fall into the lair of Satan’s Geriatric Rehabilitation and Soul Re-Implantation Clinic of Albuquerque. (One of the cult’s victims is Judith McConnell, later of The Thristy Dead, who was making a career out of being a cult victim until she got smart and started taking roles in U.S daytime soaps.)

“I knew I should have taken that left turn at Albuquerque (that small California town).”

As with Rob Zombie utilizing dialog from 1966’s The Undertaker and his Pals (reviewed as part of B&S Movies’ upcoming November “Pure Terror Month” tribute to the Mill Creek 50-film box set namesake), the twenty-something grungers of the Gen-X world came to rent-out The Brotherhood of Satan as result of My Life with the Thrill Kill Cult sampling lines from the film—“Blood, Blood” and “Drown our useless age in blood”—for “Rivers of Blood, Years of Darkness” from their second album, 1990’s Confessions of a Knife.

Oh, and while we are on the subject of movie lines sampled in songs—and I have Strother Martin (1973 snake-horror Sssssss) on the brain—his classic line from 1967’s Cool Hand Luke was used by Guns N’ Roses. You can watch the song-film comparison on the Who Sampled database. (Mr. Zombie? It’s time to sample Strother from his two horror offerings in your own songs.)

L.Q Jones eventually adapted The Brotherhood of Satan into a 1980 paperback, while the VHS found its way into the home video market in 1986 through RCA/Columbia, and on a 2002 Columbia TriStar DVD. If you’d rather a Blu-ray: Mill Creek Entertainment issued a 2013 double-pack with Mr. Sardonicus. You can stream or download The Brotherhood of Satan from Amazon and Vudu. Sorry, there’s no free online VHS rips.

Clint Eastwood, Green Acres, The Brady Bunch, My Life with the Thrill Kill Cult, Guns N’ Roses, Martin Scorsese, and Bugs Bunny? Referenced within the frames of one film?

It can only happen on the Drive-In and video fringe. And it’s only on B&S Movies.

We bow to you, Mr. L.Q Jones. We bow. So much so that, in addition to myself and Sam, Horror and Sons‘ proprietor Dustin’s Fallon took a January 22 take on Brotherhood of Satan as part of B&S About Movies’ “Satan Week” (well, three weeks!). Yes. Three reviews for one flick. That’s how good it is!

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

2019 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge: Day 31: Option 2: Homebodies (1974)

Day 31 The Gold Watch: One set in a retirement home or elderly community

For next year’s 2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge, one of the days should be “H.B.O Exposed: Movies you first saw in the ‘80s on H.B.O.”

Where would I begin: A Little Romance, Breaking Glass, The Great Santini, Hot Stuff, One Trick Pony, Over the Edge, Zoo Radio. . . . I could go and on with those days of cable television’s infancy as my flesh became one with the shag carpet in front of the TV watching movies on H.B.O and The USA Network. Another one of those never-heard-of-it-and-saw-it-first-on-H.B.O movies was the “geriatric” dark-comedy Homebodies, a film that effectively brews horror with black humor to convey a depressing story regarding the harsh treatment and ignorance the dismissive youthful express to the old. I can’t think of another film that is so cold, yet so warm, in its recognition of the real, heart wrenching problems associated with aging. It’s a case of coming for the horror and leaving with a newfound respect for the elderly.

Homebodies is the tale of quiet, lonely pensioners who have no one to rely on but each other. When they discover their apartment building has been condemned to make way for a new apartment complex, they spring into action to save their “Home, Sweet Home.” Then we’re treated to deliciously devilish, cleverly executed murders as these underestimated, geriatric Jasons hide their grim exploits knocking off real estate agents and developers, social workers, and construction workers for the common good of preserving their dignity of what little time they have left.

I have a deep, nostalgic connection to this movie, as it reminds me of my late father. We watched Homebodies as a family on a Friday evening on H.B.O. The scene when construction foreman Kenneth Tobey (1951’s The Thing from Another World) is disposed of in a concrete form and encased in cement became a family “in joke” for many years. When the form is filled and the deed is done, the “Homebodies” discover part of Tobey’s foot sticks out of a cutaway in the form. “Well, there’s only one thing left do to,” says Ian Wolfe’s matter-of-factly character . . . and WACK! goes the axe and off goes the peeking appendage. And with that . . . any time something went off-the-rails in the household, my dad would say with a swipe of hand, “Well, there’s only one thing left to do, WACK!” So, Ian, if you’re up there listening: I love you, man. You did one hell of a job in your only leading man role. Your delivery of that line of dialog created a lifetime memory. Oh, and Mr. Tobey? No offense. I’m sorry you had to lose a foot over it. I watch The Thing with my dad too, and your movie scared the crap out of me.

While Embassy Pictures issued the poorly distributed and promoted theatrical in 1974, it found an additional theatrical life in Sweden and a few other European countries in 1978. And while it found its way into the overseas home video markets through Embassy Home Entertainment in the early ‘80s in Australia, Europe, and East Asia, the film never appeared in the U.S until a 1994 VHS issued by Sony Pictures Entertainment. Thus, for U.S audiences, their first exposure, and only exposure, to Homebodies was on Home Box Office.

According to a 1974 report in the industry trade Variety, the shot-on-location in Cincinnati, Ohio-film’s cast was composed of veteran actors and actresses who appeared in a collective “nine hundred films,” but were receiving their first top-billing for the first time in their careers.

B&S eyes recognize Ian Wolfe right way from his role in THX 1138 (1971), while we remember Peter Brocco in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). As for William Hansen and Ruth McDivitt: Just wow. Pick a U.S TV Series from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Paula Trueman, who started her career in the ‘30s (and is seemingly always mistaken for the great Ruth Gordon), was Grandma Smith alongside Clint Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) and was Mrs. Schumacher alongside Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing (1987).

Director Larry Yust made his debut with one of the lesser-known films in the Blaxploitation cannons, Trick Baby (1972). After the theatrical failure of Homebodies (it deserved to be a box office hit, it’s so well-made and acted), he reverted into TV work. He eventually returned to film with the rich-man-leaves-his-son-an-interitance-if-he-marries-within-24-hours plot in Say Yes (1986) starring Jonathan Winters. It was Yust’s final film.

Unfortunately, there are no free or PPV online VHS rips available. And caveat emptor those grey market DVD-Rs polluting the marketplace. Buy them if you must, but know your regions before you finalize the cart. Courtesy of this review, hopefully you know what you are in for with this movie; however, let me caveat emptor you once more: Regarding the artwork tomfoolery of those bogus DVD-Rs (one of two of variations) that illustrates a modern, high rise skyscraper surrounded by three, very large and ethereal, elderly heads swathing the building. While you do get a definite Michael Winner’s elderly-Exorcist inversion with his The Sentinel (1977), there is nary a vapor of wraith of the Poltergeist III (1988) supernatural variety in Homebodies. So, if you want to add this to your home movie collection, you are best to wait for the fine folks at Kino Lorber to finalize their upcoming 2020 Blu-ray.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

Psychotronic Challenge 2019 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge: Day 31: American Gothic

DAY 31. THE GOLD WATCH: One set in a retirement home or elderly community. A fitting wrap-up, eh?

John Hough quietly has become one of my favorite directors to seek out. His Hammer effort, Twins of Evil, is one of the best late era films that the studio would make, the perfect blend of Hammer’s sumptuous glamour and style mixed with the coming need for more violence and nudity in their films. There’s also Legend of Hell HouseThe Incubus and Biggles, all very interesting and unique efforts.

Here, Hough brings together Rod Steiger and Yvonne DeCarlo to tell the tale of two old folks and their insane daughter. In fact, everyone in this movie is crazy.

Cynthia (Sarah Torgov, Meatballs) has been destroyed since her baby drowned in the bath. Five of her friends — Jeff, Rob (Mark Lindsay Chapman, who played John Lennon in Chapter 27, which is somewhat ironic, no?), Lynn, Paul (Stephen Shellen, The Stepfather) and Terri — take her on a vacation trip that ends up crash landing on a deserted island. Luckily — but not really — they find a cottage.

The cabin is owned by an elderly married couple known as Ma and Pa (Steiger and DeCarlo). Their weirdness comes out when Pa flips out at Lynn for smoking and gives them the rules, such as no swearing and boys and girls being seperated. Oh yeah — they also have a middle-aged daughter Fanny (Janet Wright, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains) who acts like she is 12 years old.

They also have a son named Woody (Michael J. Pollard), who somehow turns swinging into a death sentence for Rob. And oh yeah — they have another brother named Teddy (William Hootkins, who shows up in everything from Burton’s Batman to Dust DevilHardware and Raiders of the Lost Ark. You’d probably know him best as Porkins from Star Wars).

Fanny has a doll that’s really a mummified infant. And she wants Jeff all to herself, so she uses a statue to stab out his eye and kill him. Actually, everyone dies but Cynthia and then even worse things happen to their corpses, if you can imagine that.

By the conclusion, Cynthia has joined the family as yet another child before the sins of her past cause her to freak out all over again, killing the entire family one by one. This is one of the few slashers I’ve seen where the final girl becomes the killer. This is definitely unlike any other film you’ve seen.

You can get it from Shout! Factory.

2019 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 30: Don’t Panic (1988)

DAY 30. IT’S YOUR SPECIAL DAY: Brutal birthdays.

It appears like director and screenwriter Ruben Galindo Jr. wanted to make his own version of A Nightmare On Elm Street but somewhere along the way he decided to he’d like to make a Mexican version of an American teen sitcom, too. Honestly, if you told me Ruben came from another dimension, I’d believe you just as much. This is one of the strangest movies I’ve ever seen — I’ve watched it three times just to try and get my thoughts together — and if you take a look through the films on our site, you can see that that is no idle boast.

Our hero Michael is going through some stuff. His parents are fighting so much that his dad sends him and his mom to Mexico City, where his mother decides to drink herself into oblivion. While trying to fit into his new school, he turns seventeen and his frien Tony gives him a Ouija board.

Now, unbeknowst to us, the viewers, Michael and Tony had a past session go wrong with a Ouija board, so this really was a bad idea. Virgil — what a name for a slasher villain — is released and begins killing people.

Now, up until this point in the film, this has felt like a teen coming of age movie, filtered through the lens of a Mexican filmmaker trying to create a movie that would make sense for American audiences. But just like how huge chunks of The Last American Virgin seem to make no sense to Western eyes, this movie also feels like it was beamed down directly from space.

How else do you explain the fact that our hero — who appears to be in his late 20’s playing a high schooler — wears dinosaur pajamas for nearly the entire film? This isn’t some Troma movie trying to play it all for laughs. This is a serious movie with such lunacy inside it that you can’t take it seriously.

It does, however, have awesome special effects courtesy of Screaming Mad George, including a face that emerges from a TV years before The Ring and huge chunks of gore, like a person stabbing through the chin and the blade emerging inside their mouth.

This film was a total surprise and delight to me. I’m shocked that Mondo Macabro or Severin hasn’t picked this up yet, because this is the kind of movie that would sell for them. I found it heartwarming just how insane and inane and odd this all was. Now pardon me, I’m about to watch this movie for the fourth time.

2019 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 29: Pandemonium (1982)

DAY 29. COMEDY OF TERRORS: A matter of laughter at the splatter of the matter. A funny one, duh.

There was a time, let’s call it 1983, where we couldn’t just sit down and instantly find any single movie from anywhere in the world and any point in time. You might think that that would have been a dreary existence, but it was actually kind of awesome. You were at the mercy of the HBO Guide, whatever was on TV that day and whatever new releases were in your video store. Now, it’s all very robotic.

Pandemonium is exactly one of those movies, a film that would just show up on HBO to my delight and one that I’d often stare at on the video shelves. Did it belong in horror? Did it belong in comedy? What kind of maniacs would make this?

Alfred Sole, that’s who. It’s the last movie he’d direct. If anyone knew what slashers were — and had the timing to make fun of their conventions — the director of Alice, Sweet Alice was more than up to the task.

Welcome to It Had To Be, Indiana. It’s a place where football is king and Blue Grange (Tab Hunter!) wins the 1963 National Championship before he goes on to professional glory. As the game ends, Bambi the cheerleader (Candy Azzara, who played Rodney’s wife in Easy Money and was almost Carol — she was in the second failed pilot — on All In the Family) tries to win his heart before the rest of the cheerleaders kick her out. Seconds later, they’re all skewered together by a javelin.

Almost two decades pass and the cheerleading camp remains closed due to this tragedy, but Bambi comes back to town to start it back up. I just love how the words EXPOSITION and STILL MORE EXPOSITION flash on the screen while she explains her backstory to Pepe (David Landers, who was Squiggy on Lavern and Shirley) and his mother, Salt.

As each student arrives at the school, they’re labeled VICTIM #1, 2, 3 and so on and so forth. The first is Candy (Carol Kane!), who is basically Carrie as she gets into a fight with her mother about dirty pillows at the bus station.

Then there’s VICTIM #2: Glenn Dandy (Judge Reinhold), who comes from a strange family made up of Kaye Ballard (who was in Spike Jonze traveling group of musicians and would use her catchphrase “Good luck with your MOUTH!” on shows like The Patty Duke Show and The Perry Como Show) and Donald O’Connor from Singin’ In the Rain. And VICTIM #3: Mandy, whose dad (James MacKrell, who played Lew Landers in both Gremlins and The Howling) introduces her as if he were Bert Parks (look for Victoria Carroll from Nightmares In Wax as her mom).

VICTIM #4 is Sandy (Debralee Scott, Cathy Shumway from Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, a show that probably will elicit blank stares from, well, anyone), who gets a ride from Ronald Reagan. And then there’s Andy and Randy, VICTIMS #4 and #5, played by Mile Chapin (Richie from The Funhouse) and Marc McClure (Jimmy Olson himself!).

“Candy, Mandy, Sandy, Andy and Randy,” they all shout.

“And me, Glen.” Everyone stares at Glen.

“Glen Dandy!” This line makes me laugh like a maniac. Look, I was 11 when I first saw this.

After meeting all of these folks, we get to know Sgt. Reginald Cooper (Tommy Smothers), a mountie who is the U.S. for some reason. He’s on the trail of a convict named Jarrett (Richard Romans, who provided voices for Heavy Metal), who killed his family with a drill and turned them into bookshelves. Perhaps he can meet up with The Breather from Student Bodies and they can discuss bookends. Anyways, he’s escaped and Warden June (Eve Arden, Our Miss Brooks and Principal McGee from Grease) has no idea where he’s gone.

This is where I should mention that Johnson, Cooper’s assistant, is played by Paul Reubens in an almost proto-Pee-Wee Herman mode. In fact, much of the cast are Groundlings, so you get appearances by a young Phil Hartman and John Paragon as a prisoner.

The movie turns into a slasher as the killer makes his way to campus and Cooper falls in love with Candy. Glenn gets blown up on a trampoline. Mandy is trying to brush her teeth for hours when she gets drilled.

But it’s not Jarrett or another killer named Fletcher or ever Dr. Fuller from the mental hospital that’s behind it all. The real killer is still at large, with Bambi getting drowned in a tub full of milk and cookies. Randy, Andy and Sandy are killed after a game of strip poker. And now the killer is after Candy, revealing that he’s…

Well, don’t you want to watch this for yourself?

Other notables that show up are Alix Elias (Coach Steroid from Rock ‘n Roll High School), Pat Ast (Edna from Reform School Girls), Don McLeod (T.C. Quist from The Howling), Edie McClurg (who was in, well, any role that needed a funny redhead mom in the 1980’s) and former pro wrestler Lenny Montana (who was most famously Luca Brasi in The Godfather).

Will you like it? Well, I know some people that love Full Moon High and Wacko, while I dislike those films. And I’ve read plenty of folks online who have negatively compared this film to those. But this is just so much better, in my eyes. Sole has a great eye for a gag and some innovative camera movements. And despite the racism of the Japanese Airlines scene, having Godzilla as a stewardess that uses atomic breath to warm up coffee is still hilarious to me.

2019 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 28: The Case of the Hillside Stranglers (1989)

DAY 28. A LORELESS YARN: One based on a true story.

Based on Two of a Kind: The Hillside Stranglers by Darcy O’Brien, this was the first Hillside Strangler movie to ever be made. It stars Dennis Fraina, acting against type as Angelo Buono and Billy Zane in an ill-looking hairstyle that one suspects is a wig as Kenneth Bianchi.

It was written and directed by Steve Gethers, who pretty much made message movies throughout the 70’s and 80’s, like Billy: Portrait of a Street Kid and A Circle of Children.

Opposing the duo are the heroic men and women of the LAPD, foremost amongst the Sgt. Bob Grogan, played by Richard Crenna. I must confess that every time Grogan did something smooth within this movie or, well, really anything, I’d yell, “Crenna!” Watching movies with me would probably drive you insane.

It originally aired April 2, 1989 on NBC and probably upset a fair share of people. The principals are pretty wonderful, plus seeing James Tolkan from Masters of the Universe and Back to the Future is always a welcome thing.

Matthew Faison, one of the rare actors that was in both of the major slasher franchises of the 1980’s (Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives and Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare) shows up as a judge.

This isn’t the best made for TV movie ever, but man. I miss the days when these things just randomly aired.

You can watch this for free on Amazon Prime.

2019 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge: Day 27: Option 2: (Another Take on) The Case of the Hillside Stranglers (1989)

Day 27 Special Presentations: Made for TV movies from the ‘70s, classic era of the bronze screen

The writing is so fast n’ furious at B&S Movies for “Slasher Month” and the “Scarecrow Challenge” that Sam and I had a communication snafu and we both ended up writing reviews for this fantastic TV movie. He reviews it for “Day 28: A Loreless Yarn: One based on a true story.”  It’s a slasher. It’s a TV Movie. It’s based on a true story. And it’s a friggin’ Richard Crenna movie . . . all rolled into one!

My three-for-one review of Gene Roddenberry’s post-Star Trek series pilots Genesis II, Planet Earth, and Strange New World (1973 to 1975) would have been perfect for “Scarecrow Challenge Day 27,” but I reviewed them for B&S Movies’ “Post-Apocalypse Month” (see our September “Dustbin” roundups Part 1 and Part 2). If you’re a frequent visitor to B&S Movies, you know we’re always jonesin’ for a fix of the “Big Three” over-the-air U.S television network movies from the good ‘ol days before the VHS and cable television boom. B&S Movies’ love for the now network-eschewed format is obsessive to the point that it took three tribute weeks: “Lost TV Week,” “Week of Made for TV Movies,” and “Sons of Made for TV Movies Week,” to contain it.

I’ve chosen a movie for Day 27 that was on my shortlist for “Day 17 Evil in Broad Daylight” (I reviewed 1988’s In the Line of Duty: The F.B.I Murders with David Soul and Michael Gross as serial-killing bank robbers) that, in my opinion, is one of the finest TV movies ever made. And it stars Richard Crenna. And, as with the entire In the Line of Duties series, this was also made by NBC-TV, the undisputed kings of TV Movies. So, double bonus. Now, let’s get on with the show.

As with ex-Army Rangers Bill Matix and Mike Platt terrorizing the streets of Miami, Florida in 1986, with their eventual murder of two F.B.I agents, Angelo Buono (Dennis Farina of TV’s Law and Order) and Kenneth Bianchi (Billy Zane of The Titanic and The Phantom) were blatant, cruel, and just didn’t give a fuck as they cut a swath through Los Angeles between October 1977 to February 1978 with the murders of 10 women. It wasn’t until a disagreement between the two cousins that led Bianchi to go out on his own, that their spree began to unravel.

While I’ve watched this telefilm every time it pops up on TV, the same can’t be said for the two tried-to-be-grittier direct-to-video attempts trying to improve upon what the Richard Crenna-version did to perfection.

It was the tutelage of C. Thomas Howell (The Outsiders) and Nicholas Turturro (brother of John, the current on-the-air U.S TV series Chicago P.D) starring as Bianchi and Buono that led me to rent The Hillside Strangler (2004). Regardless of its claims of being “a more accurate portrayal,” the stellar quality of Crenna’s 1989 TV movie left me feeling this Howell-fronted version worked as a fiction piece plotted around two (dark) historical figures.

The second attempt was the even lower-budgeted Rampage: The Hillside Strangler Murders (2006). It starred the very competent and always deservingly working character actors Tomas Arana (The Dark Knight Rises) and Clifton Collins (Pacific Rim, HBO’s Westworld) as Buono and Bianchi. I’ve seen the DVDs tossed in the $5.00 bins at Walmart, and it’s never been on cable, as far as I can tell; so I’ve never seen it. However, based on its 4.2/10 IMDb rating, it sounds like Rampage’s use of the ‘ol killer-tells-his-story-in-flashback-to-a-prison-psychologist (female, natch) didn’t work out so well.

The scribe behind the Crenna-version: Steve Gethers, writing in television since the mid-‘50s for The Kraft Theatre and The DuPont (Network) variety shows, along with a Jackie Kennedy TV movie and LaVar Burton’s (Star Trek: TNG) Billy: Portrait of a Street Kid (1977) amid his long list of credits.

Gethers intelligently took the high road from the flinching reality depicted in true crime novelist Darcy’ O Brien’s best-selling non-fiction document of the case, Two of a Kind: The Hillside Stranglers (1985), and decided to go for the psychological and not the shocking. It is Gethers character-subjective approach to the material that allows us to see inside the minds of the killers instead of being objectively-bludgeoned to numbness watching their deeds—and that makes Buono and Bianchi ‘s deeds all that more shocking. And it’s accomplished without any blood or actual murder or rape shown.

Also replacing the bloodshed: In addition to seeing into the minds of the killers, we see the affect the killers not only have on the families of the victims, but the personal affect it has on Crenna’s Sgt. Bob Grogan (and that’s a personal touch you don’t see in the big-studio cop vs. serial killer romps Cobra and D-Tox). And that’s what this 1989 telefilm version has that the 2004 and the 2006 direct-to-videos do not: Showing us the “humanity” of those affected by the “inhumanity” of others is what heightens the fear and dread.

Do you need more Richard Crenna TV movies? In addition to his work as Sgt. Bob Grogan, he portrayed Frank Janek in a series of films: Double Take (1985), Internal Affairs (1988), Murder in Black and White (1990), Murder Times Seven (1990), Terror on Track 9 (1992), The Forget Me Not Murders (1994), and Janek: The Silent Betrayal (1994). You can watch The Case of the Hillside Stranglers, which looks like they’re the post-VHS DVD rips issued by MGM, on You Tube HERE and HERE.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.

2019 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 27: Someone’s Watching Me! (1978)

DAY 27. SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS: Made for TV movies from the ’70s, classic era of the bronze screen.

John Carpenter was hired by Warner Bros in 1976 to write a script based on the true story of a woman who had been spied on inside her Chicago apartment. The script, High Rise, ended up become a TV movie that Caroenter was also given the chance to direct.

“I thought it was a really, really good idea,” said Carpenter. “So I had my first experience with television. And my first union experience. I got into the Director’s Guild through that. I had a real good time on it, I have to tell you. I met my wife.”

This eighteen-day shoot allowed Carpenter to test many of the techniques that he’d use weeks later when he started work on Halloween.

Originally airing on November 29, 1978 on NBC, this movie concerns Leigh Michaels (Lauren Hutton), who has moved to Los Angeles to escape New York City. As she begins her new career at television startion KJHC with new friend Sophie (Barbeau) and a relationship with college professor Paul Winkless (David Birney, who went on to be quite the reader of audio books).

However, she’s soon dealing with phone calls and strange gifts from Excursions Unlimited. She calls the police, but there’s nothing she can do except wait for the voyeur to come to her.

Fans of Halloween take note: Charlie Cyphers shows up as a cop.

Shout! Factory released this on blu ray last year, replacing the four movie multipack that I used to watch this on, where it sat alongside Eyes of a StrangerDeadly Friend and The Hand.