Archive for Tom Savini

The Burning (1981) Review

Posted in Burning with tags , , , , on November 18, 2013 by Last Road Reviews


**** Out of 5

Tagline- A Legend of Terror Isn’t a Campfire Story Anymore

Release Date- May 8th, 1981

Running Time- 91-Minutes

Rating- R

Screenplay- Harvey Weinstein & Peter Lawrence

Director- Tony Maylam

Starring- Brian Matthews, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens, Ned Eisenberg, Carolyn Houlihan and Lou David as Cropsey

Released in 1981 the Burning is considered by many to be one of the great slasher films of the 80s (and of all time) and this film came out during the height of the slasher craze and the Burning has stood the test of time as its one of the most remembered slasher films despite being OOP for a long time with the occasional airing on Showtime and IFC that helped keep the film from fading into oblivion like many other films have suffered the Burning remained a favorite among slasher fans and than finally a DVD was released and than a few years later Shout Factory (Scream Factory) gave the Burning a Blu-ray release. The Burning has a few things going for it to help keep it relevant; it was the first film by the Weinsteins, the gore F/X by Tom Savini and than there is the cast. We have Holly Hunter, Fisher Stevens, Brian Backer, Ned Eisenberg and the most notable of the cast being Jason Alexander and for many of these actors the Burning was actually their screen debut. That’s the one thing I love about watching horror films, slashers in particular as so many actors started off in these films and would later find success (Kevin Bacon- Friday the 13th, Tom Hanks- He Knows You’re Alone). The Burning is an excellent slasher film and while I don’t hold it in as high regard as many do it is one of the best slasher films if the 80s. Many have compared it to Friday the 13th with many of those people hailing it as better than Friday the 13th and while I disagree I can however see why some would like this more. Apparently the Burning was written before Friday the 13th was released so if true it isn’t a knockoff as some have said, but regardless the Burning was based off an urban legend and when it comes to slasher films the formula is quite simple so many of these films are a like, but the Burning regardless stands out as its as much a teen comedy as it is teen slasher and outside of the Slumber Party Massacre it’s different than many of its type at this time.

Cropsey (David) is a unpopular caretaker at a summer camp; a few of the campers plan to play a prank on Cropsey, but the prank goes wrong and he catches fire and is severely burned. He spends the next few years in a hospital and when he gets out he heads to the nearest camp looking for revenge.

The screenplay by Harvey Weinstein & Peter Lawrence is one of those revenge themed slashers where the victims didn’t have anything to do with what happened. Plots like this were quite common back in the 80s. The script is actually well written and is far better than the bulk of the 80s slashers. The script doesn’t really focus on any character in particular it sort of jumps around from character to character, which can sometimes sink a film, but here it works very well. The characters do kind of lack depth and in some ways are inter-changeable, but they are however all entertaining and I think the fact there really isn’t a major character really works in the films favor since I’m not sure any were fully strong enough to carry the film, but as a unit they work very well and help elevate the film. This isn’t exactly screenwriting at its very best, but for a low budget 80s slasher film the script is quite strong and the comedic aspects of the script actually work well and lastly about the characters they do seem a bit more real than most other slasher films. Overall Weinstein and Lawrence write a fairly good script that again I found better written than most slasher films of the era.

Director Tony Maylam crafts a very entertaining film and really the only knock I have is it isn’t quite as suspenseful as other slasher films produced at this time. There is some decent atmosphere, but the film isn’t quite eerie as many other slasher films of the time, but what it lacks in those areas it more than makes up for in the fun factor. I think some of the problem I had was too many scenes were in the daylight and while you can have effective scenes during the day just see John Carpenter’s Halloween for proof, but nothing against Tony Maylam, but he isn’t exactly John Carpenter. There are also several day for night scenes and this can also slightly hinder the film since the good portion of the time we can tell its daylight. However with those complaints out of the way the pacing of the film is generally strong and despite the high body count the good portion of the middle doesn’t feature many deaths, but the pace is still strong due to the fun tone established by Maylam. The final act while quite strong is only brought down by being shot during the day and with Cropsey chasing after Alfred (Backer) it does slightly hurt if only because Alfred while sort of sympathetic due to being bullied, but he’s also a little too weird to invoke too much sympathy. With that said the interesting thing about that is there is no final girl something these films were known for.

While again I felt this film did lack some suspense though the first 10-minutes or so does feature some solid suspense and tension it’s just after that while there is some decent suspense here and there it’s not as strong as other films, but the death scenes are very well staged and the gore F/X by Tom Savini are excellent and he actually turned down Friday the 13th Part 2 (also released in 1981) to work on this film. Some have hailed this as his best work, but I’d have to disagree with that, but it’s still excellent and the highlight being the raft scene, which is one of the single greatest scenes in any slasher film or horror film for that matter and with Savini’s F/X and Maylam’s eye for detail that scene alone makes his film a must see. Overall Tony Maylam crafts a really fun film that works as both a teen comedy and horror film and while the suspense is a bit light it never hurts the film and it’s quite easy to see why many hail this as the best slasher flick of the 80s.

The cast also is able to help keep things interesting; most of the performances are pretty good for this type of flick and any scene Jason Alexander is in works great. He simply steals the show. The more screen time Jason Alexander has the better The Burning works.

Overall the Burning is an excellent slasher film and it’s quite easy to see why so many hail this as the best or one of the best slasher films of the 80s. I’m not sure where I’d rate it, but its one of my favorites for sure with just a little more suspense it would have a shot at my top 5. However when all is said and done the Burning is one of the great slasher films.































Maniac (1980) Review

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


**** 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.















Day of the Dead (1985) Review

Posted in Day of the Dead with tags , , , , , on March 4, 2013 by Last Road Reviews


**** Out of 5

Tagline- The Darkest Day the Horror World Has Ever Known

Release Date- July 19th, 1985

Running Time- 102-Minutes

Rating- NR

Writer/Director- George A. Romero

Starring- Lori Cardille, Joseph Pilato, Terry Alexander, Anthony Dileo, Jr, Gary Howard Klar, Ralph Marrero with Richard Liberty as Dr. Logan and Sherman Howard as Bub

Released in 1985 George Romero’s Day of the Dead was seen as the weakest of the trilogy (when it was still a trilogy that is) and it’s not really hard to grasp why. Upon first viewing of Day of the Dead it isn’t as eerie and creepy as Night of the Living Dead and isn’t quite the epic that Dawn of the Dead was; also released the same year was The Return of the Living Dead, which was a fun take on a tired sub-genre and Romero’s Day of the Dead was mostly forgotten about and cast aside and the only things that really kept the movie known was the name George A. Romero, Tom Savini and that it was a sequel to Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead.

I’ll admit I was one of the people that casted this movie to the side as a nice try, but ultimately a failure on the record of George Romero and about the only real positive thing I could say about the movie was the brilliant gore F/X by Tom Savini. But over the years many people were revisiting Day of the Dead and suddenly the feedback was becoming and more positive where some have even hailed it better than both Night of the Living Dead and Day of the Dead. For the longest time the movie sat on my shelf and the only reason I even bought a copy was simply to complete the trilogy, but after collecting dust on my shelf I wiped it away and decided to give the movie another chance and even I had my opinion on the film totally changed; personally I don’t rate this higher than the first 2 films in the series, but it comes close however.

I think the writing in not just Romero’s zombie flicks, but his films in general is often over-looked and fact of the matter George Romero is an excellent writer. Everyone talks about George Romero the director and for good reason, but I really think more attention needs to be put on his scripts; the characters in Night of the Living Dead were interesting and Ben made for a great hero and Mr. Cooper made for a great jerk, but overall the characters may not be the best developed, but due to the plot it doesn’t matter. Even with the dead coming back to life we are still in a comfort zone since the primary setting is a house and all these characters are brought together and we feel the mass confusion with them and therefore we can relate to them and with Dawn of the Dead in my opinion Romero created the best characters as a unit in a horror film or any film for that matter. We the audience get attached to these characters and the mall setting is something that we can all relate to.

I think however this is part of the reason Day of the Dead was dismissed for the longest time since now we are in an underground bunker out of our comfort zone and stuck with characters that aren’t the most likable and the other characters are so close to going over the edge or borderline insane it’s kinda hard to find someone we the audience can root for and relate to. But when you really break things down George Romero creates some of his most complex characters if not his most complex; Day of the Dead relies more on the characters than any of the other Dead flicks. Night of the Living Dead isn’t action packed or anything, but what works is the mass confusion the characters feel and Dawn of the Dead while character driven also has a lot of action in the film whereas Day of the Dead has a little action through the movie, but it’s mostly saved for the final act and seeing as the characters are so different than the first two Dead flicks I can understand why I and so many others originally dismissed Day of the Dead.

Of all the Dead movies I think Day of the Dead just might be the best written and just might be George Romero’s best screenplay in his career. Like I said the characters here may not be as likable as the characters in the past two, but they are again very complex and interesting and Day of the Dead also starts to evolve the zombies as well, which is something a lot of filmmakers have attempted, but it almost always fails, but Romero on the other hand makes it work, which adds a lot of depth to the movie.

When rating the series Day of the Dead would be my 3rd favorite of the series, but there are many aspects I like more about Day of the Dead than Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Many people now rate this as the best of the series so it’s quite a drastic change in opinion on the movie.

As director George A. Romero crafts a movie a movie loaded with tension and a very bleak tone. Of all the Dead movies I’d say this one was probably the darkest. From the very opening scene, Romero establishes a bleak and dark tone with humanity at its final stand. As I stated before the action is mostly confined until the final act, but Romero is still able to keep the movie very interesting; again I think due to the characters and setting so different than the previous two it might be a little harder to get into, which is partly the reason for the longest time this was seen as the weakest. But when all is said and done George Romero creates a dark and ugly world where almost all hope for a normal life is lost. Once again if I’d rate this installment my 3rd favorite I think the writing is possibly the best of the series as well as the directing.

Possibly the highlight of the movie are the gore F/X by Tom Savini, which are nothing short of amazing; if I were to rate Savini’s work Friday the 13th might take my top spot simply due to the simplicity of the death scenes they simple, but effective, and of course the Prowler is nothing short of brilliant, but at the same time Day of the Dead might take my top spot due to how realistic they look for the most part. Not only are the gore F/X top notch, but the zombie make-up is amazing as well. Regardless of how you feel about the movie itself I think we can all agree Savini’s make-up F/X are brilliant.

Overall Day of the Dead is an excellent movie that has finally gotten its respect; the movie may not be perfect, but it’s very much on par with the first two Dead flicks.