Obsession: A Taste for Fear (1988)

Pathos: Segreta Inquietudine, the original Italian title for this movie, means Passion: Secret Anxiety. That pretty much sums it up, as this giallo feels closer to one of those Cinemax After Dark films that mixes up murder with softcore sex. Well, this movie also has Lou Gramm’s “Midnight Blue” in it, which is a first for any giallo I’ve seen.

This is the only movie that writer/director Piccio Raffianini’s ever made, which is pretty astounding, because the guy obviously had talent.

Diane (Virginia Hay, The Road Warrior and also the blue skinned Pa’u Zotoh Zhaan from Farscape) is a photographer whose favorite model — and lover — Tegan (Teagan Clive, who was also The Alienator) shows up bound and dead, just like the adult photos that our heroine is famous for. Imagine — a Skinemax The Eyes of Laura Mars and you’re not far off.

Lieutenant Arnold (Dario Parisini) is on the case and suspects both Diane and her ex-husband, particularly after other people close to her are tied up and stabbed, as if they were doing some knifeplay and then gave their lives up.

Eva Grimaldi, who was in Demons 5 and Ratman, is in this. And look out! There’s Kid Creole, from Kid Creole and the Coconuts, probably the last dude I expected to see walk on to a giallo film. What is happening?

I love the first club that shows up in this film, with little people dancing, muscular folks dancing, mirrors covered with coke, quick cuts and improbably synth Gershwin songs.

Obsession: A Taste for Fear is a completely deranged film, one that supposes a world where everyone wears sunglasses at night, where colors come straight out of the brainstem of Dario Argento, where softcore porn photographers are huge celebrities, cops shoot laser guns, hovering cars are a dime a dozen and no one bats an eye.

Imagine if Rinse Dream made a giallo and had the money to get legitimate recording artists to appear on the soundtrack. Now, do some lines. And then, you will have just some of the strangeness that is this movie, which demands to get a release from a botique label so that maniacs other than just me can obsess over it.

The Unholy (1988)

Yes, at one time, Vestron actually released movies into theaters, like this late 80’s occult offering, directed by Cuban-born Camilo Vila and starring his roommate at the time, UK actor English Ben Cross (Chariots of Fire). It’s all about priests in New Orleans being confronted by quite literally a scarlet woman who leads them all to damnation. Oh yeah — it also has a great set up for the ending ruined by a very puppet-like final monster. As much as we love practical effects, we realize when they fail, too.

There used to be a priest named Father Dennis who was killed by that demonic woman. Now, Father Michael (Cross) is taking over for him. On one of his first nights in New Orleans, he’s launched out a window and survives.

Turns out that there’s this S&M club — look it was 1988, alright? — and the owner Luke is pretty much the devil, owning the souls of the women who work there like Millie, who confessed to Father Dennis right before his death.

It all leads up to all manner of demons attacking a church and attempting to kill our hero, who somehow has the power to send them all to Hell. There’s also a blind priest straight out of The Sentinel, Ned Beatty (contracturally obliged to be in any movie set in the American South), the kind off full frontal nudity that upsets your wife, Hal Holbrook as a priest in a movie with plenty of fog that isn’t The Fog and a Virgin Mary statue that weeps tears of blood.

This is the kind of movie that wants so desperately to be art, as director Vila claimed in interviews that it was not a horror film. Guess what? It’s totally a horror film.

It was written by Philip Yordan. Yes, the same Philip Yordan who won an Oscar for writing the movie Broken Lance, a movie that was actually written by the blacklisted Joseph L. Mankiewicz. He also wrote two of the most bonkers films I’ve ever seen, Cry Wilderness and Night Train to Terror

Trust me when I say that this movie is no Night Train to Terror.

You can get the Vestron Video collector blu ray at Diabolik DVD.

Through the Fire (1988)

Also known as Gates of Hell Part II: Dead Awakening — while having nothing to do with Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead, which was released in the U.S. with that title — is at least dedicated to the Italian director who is referred to as the Godfather of Gore.

This is the lone directorial effort from G.D. Marcum, who worked on the camera crew for films like Interface and the Fred Williamson movies South Beach, Steele’s LawThee Days to a Kill and Night Vision.

After some mysterious disappearances in Fort Worth, Texas, Sandra Curtis — the sister of one of the victims — hires Nick Berkley to find her lost sibling. They soon learn that a cult that worships Moloch — so they’re going to Bohemian Grove? — is behind everything and that there’s an amulet that can stop them. Also — a cat gets killed and put inside Sandra’s refrigerator at one point.

Tamara Hext, who played Sandra, also appeared in the TV movie Frequent Flyer and was on Dallas for one episode. She was Miss Texas and the fourth runner up to the 1985 Miss America pageant. Since Texas is pretty much the pageant capital of the world, she had to have been pretty tough. She’s also the mother of Colorado Rockies outfielder Sam Hilliard.

There’s plenty of cool artwork for this movie, but I love that some of the VHS boxes ripped off the artwork from Funeral Home.

You can watch this for free on Tubi and Amazon Prime.

Edge of the Axe (1988)

Al Filo del Hacha, or Edge of the Axe, is a very late in the slasher game film directed by José Ramón Larraz, who also directed Estigma, a movie that I’ve been obsessed with for some time. Other films from him include SymptomsVampyres and The House That Vanished, which was also released under the titles Scream… and Die!Please! Don’t Go in the Bedroom, Psycho Sex Fiend and Psycho Sex. The posters for that movie are great, as they shamelessly steal from The Last House on the Left’s ad campaign.

The crazy thing about this film is that it’s set in the rural Northern California mountain community of Paddock County, yet it’s a mixture of scenes shot in Big Bear Lake, California and Madrid, Spain. Most of the exteriors are in the U.S., while the interiors are a world away. For example, the car wash killing that starts the movie is split, with the signage and cars in America and the actual killing in Spain. It’s a seamless transition, which makes it even more interesting.

Before the credits even roll, nurse Mirna Dobson dies at, well, the edge of the axe at the aforementioned car wash. Just from this first incredibly shot scene, you realize that this is anything more than your basic stalk and slash.

Our hero is Gerald Martin (Barton Falkes, Future-Kill), whose cabin is filled with computers and video games, in direct contrast to the natural world all around him. This puts him at odds with his landlord, a hermit named Brock.

Gerald hangs out with Richard Simmons — no, not the guy who danced with the oldies, but instead a wanna-be lady killer — who works as an exterminator when he’s not acting as a kept husband to his much older wife. He’s played by Page Moseley, who was in Girls Nite OutOpen House and The Jigsaw Murders. And his much older wife? None other than Patty Shepard, who was Hannah Queen of the Vampires and appears in Assignment: TerrorThe Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman, and Slugs).

Gerald and Richard check out the smell coming out of a bar, which ends up being the corpse of one of the barmaids, who it appears has killed herself. As this is a small town, the police ask them to keep it quiet, kind of like how they ignored someone slaughtering pigs and leaving their heads in the bed, as if these California farmers were Jack Woltz.

Paddock County is a lot like my hometown. All that’s there are bars. Lillian Nebbs is the daughter of the owner of another of those many bars and she’s home from school. She loves technology and video games as much as Gerald, which makes this movie into some sort of science fiction story. Of course, she does wonder why he has a list of all of the dead women on his computer. He replies that he loves making lists of data, you know, as you do.

This is one of my favorite tropes of all movies — a computer that does more than computers in 1988 were actually able to do. This is a pre-Siri world, but the personal computers in this movie are able to speak in a very understandable voice. Trust me — I had a computer in 1988. It was a six-year-old Commodore 64 that took an entire evening to download less than a megabyte of info.

The killings haven’t stopped, as Rita Miller (Alicia Moro, Exterminators of the Year 3000Slugs) is stalked and killed by someone she seems to recognize before her body is placed on the train tracks and torn asunder. Poor Rita — she has the best slash job I’ve heard of: beautician/prostitute.

This finally puts Officer Frank on the case. He’s just in time, because the farmer’s wife who found the pig’s head is killed and Richard finds the severed head of a nurse while out on the lake cheating with his wife. And oh yeah — yet another woman finds her dog murdered before the killer chops her fingers off and then chops her to bits.

Lillian tells Gerald her family secret — her cousin Charlie has just been released from a mental hospital. And he was there because she pushed him off a swing set and caused the injury. She feels that he’s the one behind the killings. She uses his computer to do research, attempting to learn more about the psychiatrists who treated Charlie.

Later that night, Richard’s wife learns that she’s bankrupt and gets wasted with local drunk Christopher (Jack Taylor, who was in everything from Pieces and Eugenie… The Story of Her Journey into Perversion to The Ghost GalleonThe Ninth Gate and The Vampires Night Orgy). On their way home, she drunk drives into a tree, only to be further inconvenienced by getting killed by the masked axeman.

At the scene, the cops find a pin from the Lillian’s father’s tavern — the same one she pinned on Gerland at one point — which leads them to question her and her father.

So who is the killer, in this movie that feels just as much American/Spanish backwoods giallo as slasher?

Lillian accuses Gerald of being Charlie, which seems like a stretch. He responds by telling her that she is Charlie, as he’s learned that she had a head injury at one point and spent plenty of time in the hospital. It also turns out that all of the victims were either people who cared for her or women interested in her father. So Lillian attacks Gerald with an axe.

As the two fight, the cops arrive and shoot our hero. As Officer Frank tries to help Lillian, we notice that she’s smiling like a maniac.

Larraz considered Edge of the Axe his worst feature film, but it has more quality in it than ten slashers. Seriously, I’ve been holding off watching this for a while, as I had always loved its poster art and felt it could never live up to it. Good news. If anything, it exceeds it.

Unlike most slashers, which are content to ape from Halloween and Friday the 13th, this film spends more time making us care about every character, even the side ones like Richard’s wife. This isn’t kids in the woods screwing around, making us count the seconds until they’re decimated. These are real people caught up in the web of a killing machine.

The killings themselves are bursts of the unreal that intrude upon the problems that all of these characters face — money woes, marital infidelity, family secrets — and that makes each of the very creative death scenes even more effective.

There’s a new Arrow Video blu ray release of this movie, which features a beautiful 2K restoration from the original camera negative. You can choose to watch this in English or Spanish (which also has newly translated English subtitles). There’s also commentary by lead actor Faulks and The Hysteria Continues podcast. Plus, there are interviews with Faulks and make-up artist Colin Arthur.

You can buy this from Arrow Video.

DISCLAIMER: This movie was sent to us by Arrow Video.

Hellbent (1988)

Director Richard Casey made one of the most bonkers movies I’ve ever seen, Horror House on Highway 5. I’m pleased to report that this movie — which melds Faust — no, not that Faust — and the Los Angeles music scene in mix of the first two Decline of Western Civilization films to create a blast of pure strangeness. Imagine if the Dark Brothers or Rinse Dream made one of their films with no pornography, but after doing even more drugs and never sleeping. It’s that good.

Lemmy (Phil Ward, who shows up Horror House on Highway 6, as well as being the art department for Space Mutiny, if you can believe that) is the lead singer of a band that’s not going anywhere until he meets Mr. Tanas — pronounced tannis, like the root or spelled backward like…oh you get it — who offers him fame in exchange for his soul.

That’s the basic story, but this cough syrup drinking, drug abusing, machine guns in the recording studio affair is unlike any movie you’ve watched before.

David Marciano, who plays Mr. Tanas, would go on to appear on the show Homeland. Phil Therrien, who was Dr. Mabuse in the two Highway films, is also in this.

If you’re looking for a movie where a hobo screams “Black Betty,” where a mother looks for her son by killing everyone she comes near, where sound engineers act like jerks to everyone near them, where singers proclaim that they are Satan’s son, a gang shows up called Satan’s Cheerleaders and a cursed establishment is named Bar Sinister, well, look no more.

It’s not great, but it’s awesome. If you understand that sentence, you’re going to love this movie.

You can get the blu ray of this from Vinegar Syndrome or watch it on Amazon Prime.

Slugs (1988)

Known in Spain as Slugs, Muerte Viscos, this movie is based upon the novel Slugs by Shaun Hutson. You may think, do I really want to watch a movie about slugs? And then you see who directed it: Juan Piquer Simón, the director of Pieces, one of the most insane pieces of cinema ever filmed.

Trust me, you want to see this. You want to see it right now.

When a rural town discovers that black slugs spawned from the disposal of toxic waste have infiltrated their water supply, all bets are off. Only a health inspector named Mike Brady has a chance to save any of them, but the authorities ridicule him at every turn.

You’re not watching this for the story. You’re watching it for the moments when slugs come ripping their way out of human bodies, like the guy who has them come out of his nose while he’s toasting a client or the unfortunate couple whose post-coitus comes with a nasty case of murderous mollusks.

Slugs don’t have teeth and certainly don’t kill people like they do in this film. Screw that — these slugs are awesome. This is the kind of movie that I will force you to watch when you visit, yet I’ll be jealous that this isn’t my first time watching it.

You can watch this on Tubi and Amazon Prime.

Paperhouse (1988)

Based on Catherine Storr’s book Marianne Dreams — which was also the inspiration for the early 1970s British TV series Escape Into Night — Paperhouse was an early film from Candyman director Bernard Rose.

11-year-old Anna Madden is dealing with mono and the fever she endures is giving her horrifying dreams in which the house she’s drawn during the day becomes a real place. After drawing a face at the window, she meets someone else, a boy named Marc who is suffering from muscular dystrophy.

Sadly, Elliott Spiers, who played Marc, suffered a negative reaction to an anti-malaria medication that he never recovered from. He dies at the Royal Free Hospital in London just before the second film he appeared in, Taxandria, was released.

Anna’s father is an alcoholic who has been away from his marriage. She draws him one day in the hopes that he can carry Marc away to safety, but her true feelings emerge and she draws him with an angry expression. That drawing becomes an angry ogre who chases the children whole brandishing a hammer.

To top that off, Charlotte Burke — who played Anna — never acted after this film. Years after it was made, she called Rose and told him how much she loved the movie. In fact, she loved it so much that she never wanted to do another film afterward.

This movie is pretty astounding — a dream world where children’s fears become living and breathing monsters. Sadly, it was never released in the US on blu ray or even DVD. Luckily, it is currently available on Amazon Prime. Please check it out while it’s still streaming. It’s so worth your attention.

Iced (1988)

Sometimes, slashers go into the winter. This would be one of those times.

This was directed by Jeff Kwitny, who also directed Lightning In a BottleIllegal Alien and Beyond the Door III, which is also known as Death Train and has nothing to do with any of the other Beyond the Door films. I mean, that’s par for the course. Bava’s Shock was also sold as Beyond the Door II. If you want to see that one, Vinegar Syndrome has just released it.

We’re here to talk about Iced.

A group of teens watch one of their friends die while skiing. Yeah, that was a crazy idea — Jeff and Cory were racing to see who would get Trina. Cory was in love with her, Jeff was a jerk, he catches the two of them in bed together and then, you know, he goes off the trails and crashes into the rocks.

Five years later, they have been invited to the opening of a ski resort, but there’s someone in ski gear that starts to kill them one by one.

Normal people wouldn’t recognize a single actor in this one, except that I’m not normal and can tell you that lead actress Debra De Liso was in Slumber Party Massacre. Janette is played by Lisa Loring, who in addition to being married to adult star Jerry Butler, was Wednesday Addams on The Addams Family. Rodney Montague, who played Biff, went on to be a visual effects artist. And that’s pretty much it.

If you’re wistful for 80’s movies with bad interior design and worse hair, good news. This movie has all of that and a Casio synth soundtrack that is at odds with every single scene that it plays behind. That’s pretty much a good review around here.

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.