Friday, September 21, 2018

Worth Mentioning - Classic Horror Films from the 1980s

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody tries to make up for missing a marathon by having a quadruple feature of 1980s horror movies.

Last Halloween season, the Springmill Drive-In in Mansfield, Ohio hosted six weekends of horror quadruple features, the theme of most of those marathons being the decades in which the films were released. Unfortunately, I could only make it to two of them - the "Classic Horror Films from the 1940s" marathon and the "Classic Horror Films from the 1970s" one. As Halloween draws near once again, I decided to watch the films I missed at the drive-in last year for a series of Worth Mentioning articles.

Most of the movies picked for these drive-in marathons were ones I had seen before, and if there was ever a decade where I would expect to have seen all of the movies previously, it would be the 1980s. So I was quite surprised to see that, Oasis of the Zombies aside, the films that made up last years '80s marathon were ones so obscure that I was unfamiliar with them. Bloodtide, Panic, Monster, I couldn't tell you what any of them were. So other than the '50s marathon, the '80s marathon was the one I most regretted missing. Getting the chance to see a trio of '80s horror movies for the first time at the drive-in would have been a great experience.

Instead, I watched them for the first time while sitting on my sister's couch. Oh well.

7:10pm - OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES (1982)

The theme of the sixth and final marathon the drive-in held last year was "Classic Zombie Movies", so it's somewhat surprising that they didn't save Oasis of the Zombies for that one. Instead it was programmed to kick off the marathon of '80s movies a week earlier - which means it would have been perfectly fine to arrive at the drive-in late on the '80s nights, because if you missed Oasis of the Zombies you wouldn't really be missing anything. Regardless of which line-up they stuck this one in, it's pretty definite proof that they had a very loose definition of "classic".

Directed by exploitation filmmaking icon Jess Franco, Oasis is widely considered to be one of the worst movies ever made, largely because it's incredibly poorly paced. Scene after scene, it's packed so fully with worthless filler - mind-numbing conversations, lingering moments of absolutely nothing going on - that it feels like Franco was purposely trying to make this an endurance challenge for the viewer.

It should be much better than it is. Broken down into a basic description, it sounds pretty cool: back in 1943, a Nazi convoy was ambushed in an oasis while transporting $6 million in gold across the Sahara, and now treasure hunters have located the oasis only to find that the gold is guarded by the flesh-eating, zombified corpses of the Nazi soldiers. Unfortunately, the flashbacks we get to that 1943 battle are just stock footage from the 1971 film Heroes Without Glory, and the uninteresting zombie attacks we see are carried out by some of the goofiest looking zombies you could ever hope not to see. So Oasis of the Zombies' selling points are underwhelming, and to get to those underwhelming moments you have to slog through the maddeningly dull filler in between.

The worst movie ever made? I wouldn't go so far as to call it that, but I wouldn't defend it to anyone who did. I don't get much enjoyment out of it.

8:40pm - BLOODTIDE (1982)

Bloodtide is a film that had somehow slipped under my radar despite being co-produced by popular filmmaker Brian Trenchard Smith (a favorite of Quentin Tarantino's) and starring James Earl Jones and Martin Kove. Directed by Richard Jefferies from a script he wrote with Nico Mastorakis, the film is set in a country that ranks high on my "must visit" list, Greece, and I hope my eventual visit to Greece won't be anything like the events of Bloodtide.

The main characters are a bunch of Americans who are staying on a Greek island - Jones is a treasure hunter named Frye, he has a pair of companions named Barbara and Madeline (Lydia Cornell and Deborah Shelton), and Madeline's newlywed brother Neil (Kove) has brought his wife Sherry (Mary Louise Weller) along with him to visit her. During Neil and Sherry's first night on the island, Frye goes diving into ruins that were dropped into the sea by a long-ago earthquake, blasts open a bricked-up door, and inadvertenly unleashes a sea creature that the locals used to sacrifice virgins to. As soon as that door is open, a sleeping Madeline has nightmare visions of those ancient virgin sacrifice rituals, seeing herself taking part in them. Madeline was drawn to the island in the first place because she had a "strange interest" in it, a "particular curiosity", so there's some kind of supernatural destiny at play here.

That sea creature has been trapped for a long time, but once it's free it doesn't seem to be in any hurry to cause trouble. Bloodtide may be best to watch as a travelogue movie that allows you to look at some beautiful island and ocean footage, because it very rarely registers as a horror movie. The idea of an ancient monster being set loose in Greece seemed pretty cool, but most of this languidly paced film's running time consists of characters boating and chatting. And fascinating people they are not.

The locations were eye candy enough for me to not be too put off by Bloodtide, but halfway through this marathon there has been a lot more wasted time than there has been pure entertainment. Watching Oasis of the Zombies and Bloodtide back-to-back is not an experience I can recommend.

10:25pm - PANIC (1982)

I've just sat through two uneventful movies, and as the third begins my first reaction is to groan at the sight of the opening credits, as I realize this movie Panic was an Italian production... If you've read any of my previous write-ups on Italian horror films, you'll know that I'm not generally a fan of them. Not even of ones widely regarded as classics, like The Beyond. So an Italian movie (or Italian/Spanish as this actually is) was the last thing I wanted to sit through at this point.

Panic was something of a relief, though, because at least it manages to have more going on than its predecessors, even while being excessively talky. It begins with a scientist disappearing after some kind of accident in a laboratory that was messing around with viruses and genetic modifications, and within the first twenty minutes we've had the rampaging mutant doctor attack a couple while they're fooling around in a car and a woman while she's taken a shower. Plus there's the discovery of a body in there and within the next 15 minutes we get a ridiculous looking shot of a giant guinea pig that also escaped from the lab, followed by a sequence in which the hideously disfigured Professor Adams goes rampaging through a movie theatre. Yeah, Panic makes up for all the nothingness that Oasis of the Zombies and Bloodtide were filled with.

The hero of the film is The Beyond's David Warbeck, playing an investigator that director Tonino Ricci/Anthony Richmond felt free to call Captain Kirk. Kirk is on a desperate mission to stop Adams and save a lot more lives than Adams would be capable of wiping out on his own - within hours, the military is planning a "cleaning up operation" to kill every living thing in the area Adams has been roaming around in to make sure the virus he's infected with won't spread. They'll kill a thousand to save a million they say, and Kirk is out to save that thousand.

Panic is a poorly written, poorly made film, but it looks significantly better than it would otherwise when you watch it after Oasis of the Zombies and Bloodtide. This is not a movie I would choose to return to on its own, but as part of this marathon it provided some much needed lively entertainment. That may be the only way to watch it, after two films that were slow and dull, so you'll appreciate the low rent action beats more.

I also appreciated that this was a pretty straightforward "hunt the monster" flick and didn't have the nonsensical dream logic that puts me off of Italian horror movies more than anything else about them.

Midnight - MONSTER (1980)

Apparently also known as Monstroid, It Came from the Lake, The Beast from Beyond, and The Toxic Horror, depending on how and when you saw it, director Kenneth Hartford's Monster is set in June of 1971 in Chimayo, Colombia and claims to be "based on fact". That claim is a little less believable here than it is when movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Strangers say they're based on true stories - and that wasn't even true then. As with Texas Chainsaw and The Strangers, the events of this creature feature didn't really happen, and Chimayo, Colombia doesn't even exist. But in the end this creature feature's claim of being factual is as irrelevant as it was unnecessary. What matters is the quality of the film itself. Which isn't very high.

Well, there is one fact that the core of Monster (or whatever you want to call it), and that fact is that pollution can cause mutations. Chimayo is the site of an American cement plant that freely discharges its waste directly into the local lake. From this lake, which is also said to harbor evil spirits, rises a huge beast that proceeds to tear into almost everyone it comes across - one woman does survive an attack, only to be labeled a witch by her fellow residents. This thing from the lake looks goofy as hell when Hartford chooses to show its face, but it is a pretty cool visual when people are getting smashed by its webbed-fingered, clawed hands, which are about the size of a person. When a movie features a shot of a scantily clad getting dragged along by a monster hand as big as she is, it wins a place in my heart. Or at least that shot from it does.

Monster isn't very interesting overall, and it's doubtful that viewers are going to care about any of the characters, whether they're the kids who were played by Hartford's own children, the Americans who are investigating the monster reports, or the locals who are out to destroy the cement plant. The only character who caught my attention was the priest, just because he's played by the extremely prolific character actor John Carradine, a genre regular who had over 350 credits to his name when he passed away.

This film does have a good amount of activity packed into its running time, which gives it an edge over Oasis of the Zombies and Bloodtide (although I still have a soft spot for Bloodtide thanks to the Greek locations). This lineup might have been better if the slower movies and more eventful movies had been shuffled together instead of two slower ones being followed by two less slow ones. An order like Oasis of the Zombies, Panic, Bloodtide, and Monster would have been more enjoyable. Even better, drop Oasis in favor of something else.

None of the '80s movies in this marathon were particularly good, which is the risk in building a marathon out of obscure, usually public domain movies. They were all definitely perfect movies for drive-in viewings, though. These were the kind of flicks that were made specifically to be shown in drive-ins and grindhouses, so at least Springmill is sticking to their roots when they project movies like this onto their screen, even if they're doing so now from DVD and Blu-ray copies.

If I had seen the '80s marathon at the drive-in last year, it probably would have been a rough time getting through it, but it still would have been fun.

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