Archive for Caroline Munro

Maniac (1980) Review

Posted in Maniac (1980) with tags , , , , on September 7, 2013 by Last Road Reviews

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MANIAC

**** Out 5

Tagline- I Warned You Not to Go Out Tonight

Release Date- December 26th, 1980

Running Time- 87-Minutes

Rating- NR

Screenplay- C.A. Rosenberg & Joe Spinell

Director- William Lustig

Starring- Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro, Gail Lawrence, Tom Savini, Kelly Piper

Released in 1980 William Lustig’s Maniac was one of the more controversial movies released at the time and was attacked for its graphic violence, which most of the victims were women (however the most violent death in the movie was a man). Maniac was met with people protesting the movie and wanting it banned and the critics blasted the movie for its graphic violence. Many deemed this nothing more than vile trash and looked upon as nothing more than 1 step above porn (but barley at that). Maniac was heavily censored and even banned in many places as well; as I stated there were countless groups out protesting the release and the mainstream media was all over it to further bash the movie (even though most of these people never actually saw the flick).

Maniac came out at a time when the exploitation film were on their way out in favor of slasher flicks and 1980/1981 was in some ways the last stand for these films and while a few were made here and there after this Maniac is one of the last and one of the best of the early 80s exploitation films. The year Maniac was released also so the release of Friday the 13th, which got all the attention and also released that year was Prom Night and due to the success of Carpenter’s Halloween in 78 and then Friday the 13th in 1980 the slasher flick became all the rage and movies like Maniac were pushed aside. But seeing as this film is also a slasher flick even if it differs from something like Halloween, William Lustig was able to crossover to the rising popularity of the slasher film.

Over the years Maniac has built up a cult reputation due to the performance by Joe Spinell the gore F/X by Tom Savini and for the gritty and bleak tone of the movie, but Maniac has also been overlooked by many horror fans and critics that just really see it as a sleazy gore flick with little merit besides the gore. But I have to heavily disagree; Maniac has a lot more going for it than one might think. I wouldn’t rate Maniac as one of the all-time great horror flicks, but I do think it’s a very good movie that again has more going for it than people realize and it does make for a nice character study on a deeply deranged person.

The plot is straight-forward with a killer on the loose in NYC murdering and mutilating people (mostly women). The screenplay by C.A. Rosenberg & Joe Spinell was fairly solid and while nothing here really stands out and the characters are sort of inter-changeable, but the script is actually fairly well written. Frank Zito (Spinell) is the typical serial killer with mother problems. If you look at most serial killers many of them had some kind of psychical, mental or even sexual abuse from their mothers at a young age. Rosenberg and Spinell never really stray from that and don’t really offer anything different, but what they have works well. We actually never fully learn Frank’s backstory, but we get enough info to understand why he’s so messed up.

Frank in the main character and he’s in every scene either at the center of it or somewhere on the side hiding and typically movies like this don’t always work for me since the killer ends up being the only character we the audience can identify with, but there really isn’t anything likable about Frank. He’s actually rather pathetic and whiny, but also wants to stop and in some ways might even feel guilty for the crimes he does. Maniac does make for an interesting character study of a very deeply psychotic person that is trying to fight his urges to kill. Maniac perhaps isn’t the best written horror film, but its far better than one might expect.

Maniac marked the feature film debut for William Lustig (unless you wanna count the porn flicks he made prior under the name Billy Bagg). Lustig is an often overlooked filmmaker who did some solid work, but never really got the attention he deserved. He got his start at the time when filmmakers like John Carpenter, Dario Argento and George Romero were at the peak of their career. Lustig though has built up a following, but he never really reached the success like other filmmakers from his era, which is quite unfortunate since in my opinion he’s an excellent filmmaker. William Lustig is a big fan of 70s exploitation and it clearly shows with Maniac; Lustig manages to create a really gritty and uneasy feel throughout the picture and always keeps the pace moving along even when there is no action. The murder scenes are quite graphic and bloody, but while the gore is great the highlight is the murders are very mean spirited. Starting around the mid-80s and you can even make a case for the early 80s as well, too many movies would have kill scenes that were sort of fun, which is cool, but I prefer movies like this where the deaths give you an uneasy feel.

Like I said Maniac has a lot more going for it than people might realize. The shotgun blast to the head easily rates as one of the greatest murders this genre has ever seen. I’d even go as far to say possibly the best death scene in the genre, but there is far more here than just shocking murder scenes. The scene in which, Frank stalks a young nurse (Kelly Piper) leaving the hospital all the way to the subway and then in the subway is a classic example of suspense and tension; the whole set up is excellent and downright chilling. And this scene would later inspire Alexandre Aja with High Tension.

And the scene when Frank attacks Rita played by Abigail Clayton (under the name Gail Lawrence) was another prime example of a scene filled with suspense and tension. William Lustig again is able to make more than just sleazy exploitation flick and delivers a movie that is quite disturbing and even chilling in many areas. William Lustig in his day was an excellent filmmaker who never really hit the big time despite being very deserving of it. Along with Vigilante, Lustig in my opinion made the two best exploitation films of the 80s and made one of the more entertaining slasher flicks of the 80s with Maniac Cop.

The acting was mostly good and Joe Spinell probably best known as Gazzo from Rocky and Rocky II gives the best performance of his career. Frank Zito is a classic character and far scarier than most horror movie villains since people like Frank are out there. He isn’t the boogeyman who can survive multiple gunshots, stabbings and being set on fire. Spinell is downright chilling in the role, which is a lot more complex than some might realize.

Caroline Munro is very charming in the role of the naive and trusting Ana. A lot of people comment on her relationship with Frank, but I also think people might be missing the point. Even I did at first. First off some people are easily trusting like Anna but more importantly Caroline Munro in an interview mentions her character maybe being a lesbian and it actually makes sense. There really doesn’t seem to be anything sexual between her and Frank plus all her photographs are of women and at the photo shoot she does seem very touchy with Rita. I never picked up on that until the interview with Munro, but it makes sense and I see the film a different way now.

Maniac is a nice piece of 80s exploitation cinema with plenty of sleaze and violence, but again has a lot more to offer than just that. Maniac is one of my very favorite horror films of the 80s and despite the cult status I feel it doesn’t get the credit it deserves.

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Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984) Review

Posted in Christmas Themed Horror Reviews, Don't Open Till Christmas with tags , , , , , on December 9, 2012 by Last Road Reviews

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DON’T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS

** ½ Out of 5

Tagline- T’was the Night before Christmas, and All Through the House, Not a Creature was Stirring, They Were All Dead

Release Date- December, 1984

Running Time- 86-Minutes

Rating- R

Screenplay- Derek Ford

Director- Edmund Purdom

Starring- Edmund Purdom, Alan Lake, Belinda Mayne, Mark Jones, Gerry Sundquist, Kelly Baker, Kevin Lloyd

The 80s was very much the decade of the slasher film and Don’t Open Till Christmas is yet another one trying to cash in on the success of Halloween and Friday the 13th. By 1984 the slasher flick was hitting a bit of decline and I suppose one can say after 1981 the slasher flick started to go down, but there were still enough good ones to keep these films going strong and even after 1984 there were still some good ones, but I think even the most loyal of fans could admit as a whole they just weren’t the same.

Don’t Open Till Christmas has a killer on the loose targeting people dressed as Santa Claus in London and while most of the victims are dressed in Santa suits, but not all. Oddly enough 1-month before this film opened Silent Night, Deadly Night was released and demonized by the public and critics for having a slasher set on Christmas and for having the killer dressed as Santa, but this was actually done before with the setting or killer in the Santa outfit with such films as To All a Goodnight and Christmas Evil, but yet Silent Night, Deadly Night is pulled after two weeks, but nobody batted an eye at the other slasher flicks with a similar idea and nobody commented on Don’t Open Till Christmas.

The film was produced by Stephen Minasian & Dick Randall best known for producing the cult favorite Pieces and Minasian was actually involved with Friday the 13th. With these two guys involved you should know what to expect, but this is one of their weaker efforts. Don’t Open Till Christmas had the right idea, but it’s such a hack job in the end and sometimes that can make the movie more enjoyable, but in this case at times it does have the so bad its good quality and other times it’s simply just so bad its bad.

The screenplay by Derek Ford is a total mess and this mixes the basic slasher flick with the Gialli and truth is there is a thin line between the two; the characters are boring and lifeless even by slasher movie standards and is so poorly plotted you really can’t make much sense out of anything.

Character actor Edmond Purdom who horror fans will know best from his role in Pieces not only has a role in Don’t Open Till Christmas, but he also makes his directorial debut and in a huge shocker he never made another movie. Don’t Open Till Christmas is poorly paced with poor production values; Purdom is unable to create any suspense or any atmosphere and the kill scenes are handled rather poorly with the killer just appearing and killing the victim with no set up and the couple of chase scenes are so boring that you’ll prefer the killer just showing up and dispatching of the victim quickly. However not everything is a total loss since Purdom crafts such a sloppy movie that it can at times be fun and the viewer will get a good laugh or two.

Don’t Open Till Christmas does boast a double digit body count, but the death scenes really aren’t anything special and the gore is at best average. Despite the high body count it really doesn’t feel like there were many since they’re so poorly staged and the pacing is so sloppy, but about 14 kill scenes in 86-minutes helps the movie a little bit. The highlight of the movie was the revelation on why the killer is hunting down people dressed as Santa; it just might be one of the worst motives of the 80s slasher flick.

Caroline Munro who starred in the cult classic Maniac appears in a cameo and one has to wonder how she got mixed up in this movie? My review sure isn’t glowing and my ** ½ star rating isn’t overly high, but as bad as the movie can be and there are times when its downright boring, but it can also be semi-entertaining in how poor it is. If anything it’s sort of fun laughing at the hack job the movie ended up being. The one interesting aspect to the film (yes this is a spoiler, but who really cares?) is the girl who we think will live ends up getting killed and the more promiscuous girl is the one who survives.

Don’t Open Till Christmas surly isn’t one of the better 80s slasher flicks, but it’s not the worst, but it would rate towards the bottom of the pack however. Slasher fans will wanna check this out and will mostly likely find a little something here, but overall everything is rather forgettable.