The Cat from Outer Space (1978)

Norman Tokar only directed one non-Disney film — Where the Red Fern Grows — and also made plenty of episodes of Leave It to Beaver. But he’s best known for his run of films at Walt’s place, including The Apple Dumpling Gang and Candleshoe.

A UFO has made an emergency landing, which leads to the U.S. government taking it to what we can only assume is Area 51. It’s pilor, Zunar-J-5/9 Doric-4-7, escapes because he looks like an ordinary Earth cat. The major difference between this cat and mine is that the majority of my feline friends like to throw up hairballs at all hours while Zunar-J-5/9 Doric-4-7 has a special collar that gives him telekinetic and telepathic abilities.

Franklin “Frank” Wilson (Ken Berry) soon takes the cat in and names him Jake. He’s the key to getting the cat back home, even if no one in the Energy Research Laboratory believes in him. He also has a girlfriend named Elizabeth “Liz” Bartlett (Sandy Duncan) who loves her kitten Lucybelle so much that she brings her along on dates.

This is the kind of movie where an alien cat raises the money for gold by betting on sports and playing against pool sharks. I guess that’s what happens when you crash land on our mudball and come up against bad guys like Roddy McDowall.

Ironically, this film pairs McLean Stevenson with the man who replaced him on M*A*S*H*, Harry Morgan. Plus, Dr. Wenger is an actor who knows all about animals who can do magical things. That’s Alan Young, who was Wilbur on Mister Ed.

SHARK WEAK: Jaws 2 (1978)

Jaws 2 wasn’t going to make anyone happy.

How do you recapture the magic of a film that took so many by surprise, even if it was calculated to do exactly what it set out to accomplish? Then again, until Rocky II came out, this was the most successful sequel in history.

Producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown realized that if they didn’t make this movie, someone else would. You know who wouldn’t be coming along? Director Steven Spielberg, who referred to sequels as “carny tricks” and had such a bad time making the original that there was no way he was getting back on the boat.

John D. Hancock, who wrote and directed Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, was the pick to make it instead but after execs saw the dark movie he was making, they let him go. Of course, the fact that he didn’t want Universal President Sidney Sheinberg’s wife Lorraine Gary (Ellen Brody) to be on the boat rescuing people may have had something to do with his firing.

There’s also the matter of what his version of the movie was going to be about. Taking the idea that the town of Amity was in debt to organized crime, the film would open with a boarded-up ghost town with no tourist economy — and the mob coming to collect — being saved by a new resort being built on the island before a second shark appears.

Strangely enough, this is when Spielberg considered returning, planning a movie based on to direct Quint’s Indianapolis speech. However, the sequel would have to wait a year until he could make Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Production designer Joe Alves and Verna Fields proposed co-directing the film, but the Directors Guild of America objected to one of their members being replaced by a crew member who was not in their union. Jeannot Szwarc, who made Bug and eventually Santa Claus: The Movie and Supergirl, came in.

You know who wasn’t all that happy at this point? Roy Scheider.

The actor had quit The Deer Hunter two weeks into production due to creative differences, so Universal offered to just let him out of his three-movie contract if he made Jaws 2. He claimed that there was nothing new to do in the movie. He went so far as to act mentally deranged so they would fire him, but his new deal made him 400% more than the first movie and got a percentage of the film’s net profit.

However, he pretty much got along with Szwarc like a human and a shark. He felt that the director ignored the principal actors and was wasted time with extras and technical shots. In a mediation meeting, talks devolved into physical violence and then letters were exchanged.

You have to love that the very day a new hotel opens on Amity Island, a new great white shows up and starts killing divers and water skiers before surviving a boat explosion to murder even more people and a killer whale. Take that, Orca!

Police Chief Brody knows it’s a shark. He tells Mayor Larry Vaughn again and you’d think Larry would learn by now, but he claims there’s no way a second shark could come to Amity. And you’d think that Brody’s son Mike would know by now that sharks are out to kill you and all of your teenage friends, but if people weren’t stupid, we wouldn’t have a movie.

Return from Witch Mountain (1978)

In the second Witch Mountain movie, Ike Eisenmann, Kim Richards and Denver Pyle all come back as Tony, Tia, and Uncle Bené, a family of extraterrestrials with special powers. How could they make this even better, you wonder? How about by having Bette Davis as the film’s villain, a woman named Letha Wedge, who is financing the mad science of Dr. Victor Gannon (Christopher Lee).

Just imagine how many bad movies I’ve enjoyed just because Ms. Davis or Sir Lee appeared in. Both of them in the same film? You know that I jumped up and down for most of the run time of this.

It’s funny because the bad guys have such cross purposes: Gannon wants recognition and power, while Letha merely wants to achieve better ROI. They see Tony using his power, kidnap him and turn him into a robot that steals gold for them.

This movie also has kids living in a destroyed mansion — the Earthquake Gang — and Jack Soo from Barney Miller as Mr. “Yo-Yo” Yokomoto, an adult on the side of the good guys. Sadly, Soo was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in the autumn of 1978, several months after the film’s release. He’d die just a few months later, making this his final appearance.

While John Hough would return to direct, the script for this was written by Malcolm Marmorstein, who wrote 69 episodes of Dark Shadows, the incredible Juan López Moctezuma-directed Mary, Mary, Bloody MaryPete’s Dragon and wrote and directed Dead Men Don’t Die and Love Bites.

Magic (1978)

William Goldman — who pretty much owns cinema when you think of it, between writing HeatThe Princess BrideButch Cassidy and the Sundance KidMarathon Man and so many other great scripts — wrote the book and screenplay for this one, which concerns the relationship between Charles “Corky” Withers (Anthony Hopkins) and his foul-mouthed dummy Fats.

You’ve seen it before with The Great Gabbo, but have you seen it with Ann-Margaret hooking up with a mentally ill man who channels his rage through a wooden doll? Or a scene where Burgess Meredith is killed by being bludgeoned with said inanimate person and then drowned?

Richard Attenborough may have directed this, A Chorus Line and Ghandi, but did he get an action figure made from any of those movies? Many kids will know him only as the man who welcomed us to Jurassic Park, John Hammond.

When asked what role he’d always wanted and didn’t get, Gene Wilder revealed that it was the role of Corky. Attenborough and Goldman wanted him for the part, but producer Joseph E. Levine said that a comedian would take away from the emotional story.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Norman J. Warren Week: Terror (1978)

ABOUT THE AUTHORJennifer Upton covered this movie for our month long February blowout of Mill Creek box sets on February 1, 2021, as it appeared on their B-Movie Blast set. You can learn more about Jenn’s writing at her official website, We’ve brought back the review as part of our “Norman J. Warren Week” of reviews.

I knew very little about this film when I chose to write about it. I knew even less about director Norman J. Warren. Terror, was produced and released independently in the United Kingdom. It starts out as a standard witch’s revenge film, with an opening sequence set 300 years in the past.

In the present, the witch returns in spirit to take revenge on the ancestors of her executioners. Not a new premise at all. Until the stalk-and-slash sequences begin. “Okay,” I thought, “So, it’s a witch movie that’s also a slasher movie.” Then I began to notice small clues both within the story and visually as to the creative intentions of Mr. Warren. The red herring eccentric characters (both male and female) that might or might not be the killer. The soft purple and green gel lights that draw the eye away from the primary action. The close-ups of mascara-clad eyeballs and gory murders where the victims bleed a hue of red patented by the Crayola corporation. The electronic musical score. A torrential downpour with drenched characters bathed in blue and white light. POV shots of the killer’s knife moving relentless towards its prey. A finale that comes out of nowhere and leaves no closure for the audience. Sound familiar? 

Released in 1978 at the beginning of the American slasher craze ushered in by the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween, Terror owes more to the Italian Giallo thrillers than any stalk-and-slash offering. A quick search on internet confirmed my suspicions. Warren was a big fan of Dario Argento’s Suspiria, released one year prior to Terror.

Paired with Warren’s Satan’s Slave.

While not a complete rip-off by any means, Warren manages to inject his own style into what is ultimately a wildly entertaining film. It’s much more grounded in terms of acting and story than anything Argento or Bava ever made, making it much more “British” in tone. While the Italians are much more given to fits of artistic abandon, with very little attention paid to story, most British directors – even the most creative ones like Ken Russell or Michael Reeves – never stray too far outside the bleak reality of Great Britain as a backdrop and generally adhere to a three-act structure. The acting is solid and the story engaging. Terror gets the point quite quickly in terms of action. There’s never a dull moment. Eagle-eyed genre-fans will likely feel the same warm fuzzies I got when I noticed posters for both Warren’s own Satan’s Slave (1976) and Bo Arne Vibenius’s Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1973) in the background of one scene. A scene very clearly shot in the film’s actual production office.  

By combining elements of classic British period horror and Italian Giallo, Warren has done what no British director had done before or possibly since. Terror could be considered the first and only true British Giallo. The fact that it was all shot in real locations (including a BDSM strip club) on a shoestring budget makes it all the more impressive. I look forward to exploring more of Mr. Warren’s work. Anyone who apes the Italian masters while still managing to make a movie that feels fresh deserves further scrutiny. 

Lemon Popsicle (1978)

Welcome to yet another movie that got me in trouble when Becca came down and saw a scene out of context, 1978’s Israeli coming of age movie Lemon Popsicle/Eskimo Limon.

This takes place in the Israel in the 1950s, a time when most of this film’s budget is spent on the music. The poster claims it has 24 different artists, including Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent and Chuck Berry. Producer Menahem Golan — one of the saints of scummy cinema who ran Cannon — claimed that the music rights cost more than making the rest of the movie.

Nili or Niki in the American edit is the new girl at school who meets three boys whose whole lives revolve around sex. They are Benzi/Benji, Momo/Bobby iand Yudale/Huey. Of course, nice guy Benzi falls for her, but she’s into the bad boy Momo, who tells his friends that he plans on taking her virginity and will soon get rid of her. Benzi is such a nice guy — we’d call him an incel today — that he doesn’t warn her or tell his friend to maybe not treat her so poorly. And before we know it, she’s pregnant. He becomes her emotional friend and even takes her to get her abotion, which should lead to them as a couple yet just means that she gets back with Momo.

If you’re reading this and saying, “Sam, are you describing The Last American Virgin?” Congratulations. Writer and director Boaz Davidson remade this movie four years later in the United States, destroying minds and reaping souls.

Unlike that movie, there’s no scene where all the boys line up to measure one another’s members or all sleep with the same older woman one after the other. For all the very foreign feeling in The Last American Virgin that don’t really translate, those moments would really stick out.

Since the release of Lemon Popsicle, there have been seven official sequels: Going SteadyHot BubblegumPrivate PopsicleBaby LoveUp Your AnchorYoung Love and Summertime Blues. There was also a spin-off, 1983’s Private Maneuvers, and the 2001 reboot, The Party Goes On. That’s because this series was huge in Germany and Japan.

The Manitou (1978)

“Evil does not die…it waits…to be reborn…”

Yet sadly this would be the last movie for William Girdler, who died in a helicopter crash while scouting locations for his next movie.

It’s a shame because Girdler had a talent for taking cheap movies with big ideas and making them beyond entertaining. This movie features a wild cast for him, including Tony Curtis as psychic Harry Erskine, Michael Ansara as shaman John Singing Rock and Susan Strasberg as our heroine Karen Tandy — who is suffering from a gigantic growth in her neck that ends up being the reincarnation of Misquamacus, a wonder worker of the Wampanoag tribe.

Misquamacus comes from the book of the same name by author Graham Masterton, who brought the villain back in his novels Revenge of the Manitou, Burial, Manitou Blood, Blind Panic and Plague of the Manitou, as well as the short story “Spirit Jump.”

Plus, there’s Stella Stevens, Burgess Meredith, the “First Lady of Radio” Lurene Tuttle, Ann Sothern and Jon Ceder on hand for this body horror by way of possession films by way of Native American hoodoo bit of lunacy. I also kind of dig how the posters would say, “In the grisly tradition of Alien” when it was made a year before that movie.

Damien: Omen II (1978)

David Seltzer was asked to write this movie but refused, as he didn’t believe in sequels. Producer Harvey Bernhard outlined the story himself and Stanley Mann was hired to write the screenplay. Mike Hodges — Flash Gordon‘s director! — started the film but was replaced with Don Taylor (The Final Countdown). It was decided that the music of Jerry Goldsmith was the one thing that could not change.

A week after Robert and Katherine Thorn are buried, an archaeologist tries to convince a colleague that Damien Thorn is the Antichrist and he wants to get the means to kill him to his new family. Taking the unbelieving man to a series of ruins that has Damien’s face on several murals, the two are soon buried alive and killed.

Fast-forward seven years and Damien is living in Chicago with his uncle Richard Thorn (William Holden, who passed on the first film because he didn’t want to be in a movie about the devil) and his wife Ann (Lee Grant). He gets along with his cousin Mark, his classmate in a military school. Basically, Damian’s life is awesome, except that his aunt Marion hates him. Well, the night after she makes that known, a raven shows up and she’s dead.

In this movie, if you see a raven*, someone is about to die horribly. Where the first film had some aspirations to art, this film has aspirations to being a supernatural slasher of sorts. And I am more than fine with that.

There are people who fall under the ice and drown, reporters whose eyes are pecked out before they’re run over by a truck, an entire class gets gassed, trains impaling folks and so much more outright decimation of human beings. This is a movie unafraid to wipe out every single person in its cast in abject glee.

I mean, when they analyze the bone marrow and blood of Damian, they figure out that he has jackal DNA. That’s the type of plot twist that I demand that more movies pull on me. The fact that it’s Meshach Taylor and that he’s soon torn in half makes it even better.

*In the novelization of the film, the raven is actually Damien’s subconscious and the murders that it carries out come from Damien’s id.

Faces of Death (1978)

I’ve discussed the video store of my youth often, but no movie in Prime Time Video inspired such dread as Faces of Death, its gigantic clamshell package covered with a note scrawled in sharpie: YOU MUST BE 18 TO RENT.

This feels like a movie made from VHS, as where were people going to see this in 1978?

Written and directed by John Alan Schwartz (using the name Alan Black for the screenplay and Conan LeCilaire for directing, as well as Johnny Getyerkokov for second unit and appearing with no screen name for his role as the leader of the cannibal cult), this film made $35 million at the box office, despite being outlawed in the UK and made a video nasty. It was not banned in forty countries, no matter what the box art may scream at you, and it really doesn’t contain all that much real death either.

Try telling that to the kids in my hometown in the mid-80s.

They believed that pathologist Francis B. Gröss — actually portrayed by Michael Carr — was a real doctor who was using video to explore the phenomena of death itself. They spoke breathlessly of the moments in this movie and it was another torture test film, one people bragged about surviving.

As this was a non-union film, there weren’t many credits, so it could have seemed real. But today, so many people have come forward discussing how they were involved in the movie. Estimates are that 40% of the film is fake, but the death scene of the female cyclist is real and the alligator scene also shows up in Naked and Cruel.

In today’s world, we have the internet, which has non-stop access to the kind of footage that Faces of Death could only dream of having access to getting. As such, we are numb to the kind of panic and worry that one would have with this movie staring back at them from the shelves of a mom and pop video store.

Is it any wonder that Legendary is rebooting this film series but making it friendlier? Here’s the logline for the film: “A female moderator of a YouTube-like website whose job is to weed out offensive and violent content and who herself is recovering from a serious trauma, who stumbles across a group that is re-creating the murders from the original film. But in the story primed for the digital age of online misinformation, the question is: Are the murders real or fake?”

Nobody is going to have nightmares about that movie.

Howard Avedis Week: The Fifth Floor (1978)

Editor’s Note: This review ran on December 4, 2019. We’re bringing it back for our “Hikmet ‘Howard’ Avedis Week” of reviews.

Growing up, the Saint Francis Hospital would always send people with mental issues to the fifth floor. I’ve had certain family members who would have semi-regular vacations to the fifth floor. It got to the point that whenever someone would discuss whether or not someone was acting strangely, they’d say, “Well, they’re on the fifth floor.”

This was going to be part of slasher month, except that it’s in no way a slasher. Of course, the poster work and other marketing makes it seem that way. It’s not. It’s much stranger.

Kelly McIntyre (Dianne Hull, cryonics enthusiast and an actress in Christmas Evil) is a disco dancer who gets dosed, probably by her boyfriend. This brings her to the fifth floor fo Cedar Springs Hospital, where her boyfriend refuses to help her, accusing her of being suicidal.

Kelly’s attractive, which means that she soon becomes the target of Carl the orderly. He’s played by Bo Hopkins, who I have had the fortune of watching several films with him in them of late. Here he’s out of control, a non-stop erection determined to ruin everyone’s life.

This movie is packed with faces you’ll remember, like Don Johnson’s ex-girlfriend and Warhol movie star Patti D’Arbanville, Cathey Paine (Helter Skelter), horror icons Michael Berryman and Robert Englund, Sharon Farrell (It’s Alive), Anthony James (the chauffeur from Burnt Offerings), Julie Adams Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie and The Creature From the Black Lagoon), Mel Ferrer, John David Carson (Creature from Black Lake), Earl Boen (the only actor other than Arnold Schwarzenegger to appear in the first three Terminator films), Alice Nunn (Large Marge!), rock and roll photographer Chuck Boyd (who is also in the sexploitation film Dr. Minx and The Specialist, both from the same director of this movie), Machine Gun Kelly (who was the announcer in UHF), disco singer Patti Brooks (whose song “After Dark” was on the soundtrack of Thank God It’s Friday! and recorded two duets with Dan Aykroyd for Dr. Detroit), Milt Kogan (Barney Miller), 1961 Miss Universe Marlene Schmidt (who is in nearly every movie this director did) and Tracey Walter. Yes, Bob the Goon from Batman.

This star-studded journey into mental illness comes straight out of the mind of Howard Avedis, who brought us all manner of literally insane movies like Mortuary and They’re Playing with Fire, two movies that I recommend highly. He knows how to take a salacious topic and make it even smuttier, which I always adore. Well done, Howard (or Hikmet).

It might seem like a TV movie for a bit, then there’s full frontal nudity and you’ll feel safe, like a warm straitjacket has been put on you, allowing you to just lie back and enjoy the magical exploitation within.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime.