Goon Review – Madhouse (1981)

(Submited by our Ho-rror Ho-mie, Mr. Andrew W. Peters…Thanks, Madman Magee! 🙂 xoxo)

Ovidio G. Assonitis, like most Italian film directors, had a wide variety of films he’s directed, including the Jaws cash-in Tentacles and the Exorcist cash-in Beyond the Door. Hey, it’s Italy in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s and cash-ins or rip-offs were their thing. He’s also produced a number of films like Piranha II: The Spawning, The Curse, the excellent and often underrated The Visitor, as well as American Ninja 4 and 5. Needless to say the guy knows horror and he also knows movies, so I was psyched when Arrow released Madhouse, an overlooked slasher film from 1981, in a brand new 2K restoration.

However, upon revisiting it, I understood why it’s possibly overlooked. It’s not that I hated, in fact I’m probably one of the few people that rather enjoy it, but I can see why people might find it so underwhelming and that’s because, well, it is. It’s a well made movie and it does have a very interesting premise, but for an Italian made slasher flick, it’s actually kinda tame and falls into cliched trappings and then there’s the reveal of the killer… hoo boy, it’s pretty obvious from the get-go who the killer is and you really hope they don’t “go there,” but, yeah, they do. It’s not only that it’s painfully obvious, but there doesn’t seem to be a clear motivation and honestly it kinda dampers what they were setting up. I gotta say and sorry for sounding like a broken record, but for an Italian made slasher in the early ‘80s, this film feels kinda like it’s playing it safe.

I keep calling it a slasher flick when Italy was more commonly known for suspenseful giallos and while Madhouse toys around with the idea of being a giallo, it doesn’t commit to being one. The same can be said about it being more of a character drama between two twin sisters, one evil and the other good. There’s a fine variety of different ideas here, but the movie can’t seem to decide on which one it would rather be and ends up being a moderate, ho-hum horror flick and for being Italian produced film, a country known for reveling in gore, it’s pretty tame. I don’t know if this was due to budgetary problems or perhaps Ovidio G. Assonitis thought it would make his film more suspenseful and to his credit, it is wonderfully shot and full of dark shadows, so it at least has a very ominous mood.

It opens up interestingly enough; two young girls sit still and silently in blackness as the camera pans in until one starts smashing the other one’s face in with a rock. Alright, movie, you have my attention. I’m interested in finding out what that was about, but unfortunately, we never do. At least, not really. Fast forward years later and the girls are all grown up and you could say they took different paths. One grows up to be a school teacher for the deaf and a stone cold fox, Julia, played by Trish Everly. Who’s Trish Everly and what else has she been in? Exactly. According to IMDB, this is her only credit and she never forayed into the world of acting again which is a shame, because she puts in a terrific performance.

Her sister Mary, on the other hand, has been less fortunate, living her life in a mental institution with a skin disease that has left her disfigured. Talk about drawing the short stick. Mary is under close observation by Father James, a friend of the family who Julia refers to as Uncle. Father James seems a little too pleasant and a little off kilter, so if you know anything about slasher films, I’m sure you’ll be able to see what direction they are taking this character. About halfway through the film, after the reveal of the killer, his character takes quite a silly turn as he’s nonchalantly hauling a body bag into a basement and chasing Julia’s landlady around the her building, skipping and singing children’s nursery rhymes. It’s kind of a whiplash in tone of character and I’m assuming it’s because people are under the impression that just because children’s songs are in a horror movie that makes it’s creepy, but they forget it needs to have context. That’s not the case here. It seemingly comes out of nowhere and I found more puzzled instead of interested and laughed at this reveal. If anything, this dampens the Father character’s motivation for everything happening. In fact when questioned about it, he just giggles and spouts a nursery rhyme that has no bearing or meaning on the situation. It explains nothing or maybe it does. Either way, it doesn’t ever explain why he’s doing what he’s doing.

 

The big red herring or twist of events happens when Julia receives word that Mary has escaped the asylum just in time for their birthday. The birthday doesn’t really play into the main plot, but give a reason for something to happen (I guess), but it just echoes of desperation for the film to take place during a holiday or event to mirror something like Halloween. To the film’s credit, the slasher does have a very interesting weapon of choice; a rottweiler. Yeah, I bet you’d never see the day a slasher film uses an animal as their knife. I was worried for the dog’s health and safety when remembering this is an Italian production, but luckily Ovidio here takes the dog’s well being into consideration. You figure a dog tearing apart the victims would result in a blood bath and mangled body parts, but if there is one thing really disappointing about the film, it’s that it lacks gore. I know gore doesn’t make a horror film, but spectacularly bloody deaths in a slasher makes a better viewing. At most, it’s blood smeared all over someone’s face and the most shocking death in the movie, the death of Julie’s favorite student, takes place off screen, but there I actually feel it gives it more of a punch, especially when she has to break the news to the other students at school. It’s a scene, however, that involves the dog being put into a headlock by Julie and putting a power drill through it’s head that this film is most likely notorious for. Even with a noticeable puppet in use, it’s still a rough scene to watch listening to the dog squeal.

During the finale of the film, I couldn’t help but think of Happy Birthday to Me (a slasher film I like, but find it a tad overrated) and that may be because Madhouse feels like it’s borrowing from other popular slasher movies of that time rather than try to be something original or experimental. That’s kind of surprising for being an Italian horror film, in a way, because while they were more known for ripping a film off, they still took the idea in a wild direction and made it it’s own beast. This feels more of the American cash-in variety where it takes no risks and spends no money on the gore budget. To the film’s credit, it’s the finale where you see what is most likely the goriest moment in the movie where a character takes an axe to the back, spraying chunks of flesh and squirting blood. You can’t help but wonder why this approach wasn’t taken during the rest of the movie. Maybe Ovidio wanted to make not necessarily a classier horror film, but maybe a more suspenseful one with more dignity. It’s unfortunate that’s not what happened.

Along with this being a new 2K transfer, Arrow also includes a new audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues. That’s sort of confusing as to why they would have the people from a comedy/horror podcast do the commentary for the film rather than the original cast and crew when they were able to get new interviews with them. You can also check out the alternate opening if you’d like and the theatrical trailer. I think the show stealer in this whole package is the newly commissioned artwork by Marc Schoenbach. Seriously a talented artist and that’s one hell of a spooky cover.

It’s not boring, but rather predictable and subdued. It is at least pretty to look with some creepy cinematography and it doesn’t hurt that it was filmed in a supposed haunted house in Savannah, Georgia. It’s more upsetting seeing what this movie could have been and what it turned out to be instead of it being an actual bad movie. It showed so much promise with a murderous twin angle and the classic black leathered gloved giallos and the end result is so disappointing. It’s tolerable and worth watching for a typical ‘80s slasher, but don’t expect anything beyond that.

Goon Review: The Bird With The Crystal Plumage

(Submitted by Andrew Peters…Thanks, Mr. Goon-y Goon! 😉 xoxo)


I do believe that Dario Argento, director of such stunning and inspiring movies like Suspiria and Phenomena, gets plenty of recognition, but I’m not sure if he gets all the recognition he deserves. I dunno, maybe he does, but I feel like we should be talking about him a lot more. Some argue that the giallo genre was shaped and molded by Mario Bava and I totally agree with that, but I believe it was when Dario Argento got his black leather gloves all over it, he perfected it.

Before his films were known for being brightly colorful comic book images come to life, Dario Argento worked more with shadows and lights. There’s something so chilling about the way he shoots a black leather glove, outlined by moonlight, tracing the contours of a knife. I could go on forever about how visually impressive his movies are, but I think visually being able to tell a movie is something that is being lost. Ironic, I know, but consider everything we can do to make any frame of a movie you are watching look fantastic. Obviously, it wasn’t always that way and it took creative people with a stylish, artistic vision to bring it to life.

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage is Dario Argento’s directorial debut and the only comparison is Reservoir Dogs and Quentin Tarantino. Coming out swinging and swinging hard, sister. When you look at the core story of The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, it’s quite simple. I believe most of the greatest films are simple stories, but it takes a great director to tell that simple story. When you take a step back and look at it, it’s nothing more than a guy who witnesses a murder and helps with the investigation. Not too complicated, but once you introduce some interesting characters, a few sexy sirens, a killer that not only lurks in the shadows, but has taken an interest in the film’s protagonist who has reluctantly decided to help the police seeing as how he’s a material witness (because, you know, that’s totally acceptable). Argento will also start his notorious trend of the main character solving the murder by recalling clues through memory. It’s interesting how it’s used here, with no sound, playing over and over like a nightmare and seemingly getting closer and closer to the truth. As a viewer, you begin to feel like you yourself are reliving that horrible moment and I found myself on the edge of the seat, leaning in and intently staring at the screening, hoping to find some detail or clue Argento has left for his hero. And for us.

The answer is right in front of you the whole time, but you’ll never see it. When the film ends, it will become so obvious, but until then The Bird With the Crystal Plumage is an energetic thriller that has more than enough surprises and for the most part is easy to follow along. But before the end, you obviously have to start at the beginning, a theme that Argento’s giallos typically follow. Tony Musante plays an American (because that name screams America) ex-writer named Sam living in Italy who accidentally witnesses a murder on his way home one night. I just realized that the phrase “accidentally witnesses a murder” is an oxymoron, seeing as how I don’t think that’s anyone’s intention. And he was two days away from retirement, dammit, or in this case from moving! Seeing as how the inspector has taken Sam’s passport, he won’t be moving in the foreseeable future, so he may as well insert himself in the investigation and solve the case. Because, ya know, that’s something witnesses can do. It’s okay to meddle in police business and put yourself – the material witness – in danger.

By following some evidence, a left handed glove with cigarette ash on it, they connect this attempted murder to three other women that have been murdered, but there must be a bigger connection. Honestly, I don’t think there is between the victims or at least nothing that I recall. Partnering with his hot-to-trot vixen of a girlfriend (played by Torso’s Suzy Kendall, the film that is arguably one of the first slashers), they don’t necessarily connect the dots, but come across an interesting clue; the killer had bought a painting of a man killing a woman from a woman he murdered. Confused? Don’t be, it’s not as complicated as it sounds, but the way it fits into this puzzle as a whole may seem like a bit of a stretch, but I think it’s more of an interesting way to tie it all together. It also helps fill in the gaps when Sam isn’t being stalked by a figure in a trench coat and a fedora, like when he’s walking down a foggy street, totally unaware he is being stalked until he has a meat clever swung at his head! It’s a good scene and a cool shot, but I wouldn’t call it tense seeing as I don’t think the movie would try to kill our main character before is halfway over. This isn’t Executive Decision here.

The closer they get to discovering the identity of the killer, the more threats they receive, which is arguably understandable. At least from the killer’s point of view, anyway. That’s pretty much your movie right there, but like I said, it’s pretty simple at its core, but Argento throws in some interesting pieces to make it seem different or more complicated than it actually is. I do have to say that I wouldn’t say the ending is a twist since that’s pretty standard for giallos, but I will say regardless of the obvious red herrings, I didn’t see it coming and it was a hair raising revelation when Sam recalls the events correctly that night and identifies the killer.

Usually a director’s earlier works are noticeably weaker, but not Argento’s. This film looks just as beautifully directed as his later works, like Deep Red or Suspiria. The Bird With the Crystal Plumage is a strong, solid film that has a moderately suspenseful story with interesting, but not over the top characters (accompanied by great performances), sexy girls and amazing cinematography. The only thing it seems to be lacking is gore, something Argento would later increase with Deep Red and Tenebrae. The film isn’t a violent, bloody mess like you would expect from a murder mystery, in fact there is very little blood. Luckily, this isn’t a Fulci film, so it’s not like you’re expecting it or viewing it simply to watch people get their guts spilled or eyeballs tortured in some way. Then again, that’s where the two filmmakers are noticeably different; Argento was more about mood and style and Fulci – at times – was about atmosphere and gore.

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage joins the ranks of other great giallos put out by Arrow Video and I’m happy the first time in about ten years I viewed this film was on a brand new 4K transfer that looked sharp and colors were vibrant and wild that it was like viewing a catalogue of models and trends in the ‘70s. Being an Italian film, you do have the option of seeing it with its original Italian audio track (with optional English subtitles). This release also features a new audio commentary from Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films, The Power of Perception, a new visual essay on the cinema of Dario Argento by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Devil’s Advocates: Suspiria and Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study, new analysis of the film by critic Kat Ellinger, new interview with writer/director Dario Argento, new interview with actor Gildo Di Marco (Garullo the pimp). This release also features a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Candice Tripp, as well as a double-sided fold-out poster and 6 Lobby Card reproductions. I think the bonus fans will enjoy the most is the limited edition 60-page booklet illustrated by Matthew Griffin, featuring an appreciation of the film by Michael Mackenzie, and new writing by Howard Hughes and Jack Seabrook. Lots of cool information to be found there.


The Bird With the Crystal Plumage is a classic, not matter if you see it as a giallo, horror or even as an Argento film, it perfectly represents all three. It may not be his best or bloodiest work, but it’s a great little thriller that doesn’t try to be bigger than what it is and still keeps you intrigued every step of the way.

Goon Review: House (1986)

(Submitted by Mr. Andrew Peters…Thanks, my Ho-use-lovin’ ho-mie! 🙂 xoxo)

Where have all the good haunted house movies gone to, huh? I’m talking about the ones that are both fun and scary, the ones that are worth a laugh and a fright. Goes back to the old saying, “they just don’t make them like they used to.” I’m not complaining that all haunted house movies are bad, in fact some of them have been pretty darn good in the past few years, but they are horror rather than horror comedy. Well, unless you count those family friendly ones that occupy the Redbox that are neither scary nor funny. Admittedly, it’s a hard combination to juggle without getting too campy, but 1986’s House, while a little campy, nicely balances that fine line of horror and comedy.

Sean S. Cunningham, the producer of 1972’s The Last House on the Left and director of 1980’s Friday the 13th knows a thing or two about horror, so when he was attached to produce House, it may come off as puzzling to some since those films had such dark and serious tones. However, what people don’t know is that Roger Corman was an executive producer, so that could explain the camp factor. Staying with the Friday the 13th connection, Steve Miner, who had directed Friday the 13th Part 2 was at the helm directing a script by Fred Dekker (who would go on to make movies, like Monster Squad and Night of the Creeps) and Ethan Wiley, so this could explain why the movie nearly flawlessly handles the genres. You throw in Sean S. Cunningham’s buddy and composer Harry Manfredini and it’s safe to say that the film was in good hands. Of course, this was before Steve Miner directed terrible films, like Halloween: H20 or that abysmally insulting Day of the Dead remake, so this is before his decline when he was actually making good movies.

The Greatest American Hero star William Katt plays Roger Cobb, a writer who has a few issues (hey, you wouldn’t be a writer if you didn’t, right?). For starters, his kid suddenly vanished one day in the swimming pool and he couldn’t hold it together, so his hot actress wife, Sandy Sinclair (Kay Lenz) leaves him. Then his nutty aunt Elizabeth hangs herself in a big ol’ spooky mansion, the very one where his kid went missing. Roger inherits the house and decides to move in, because what better place to write his book based on his Vietnam experiences than a house he already has numerous traumatic connections with? After all, good writers pull from real life tragedies, but I think he may be overdoing it here. When he’s not pretending he’s throwing big parties while on the phone with his ex-wife, he’s possibly hallucinating his dead aunt marching around the house. So if he’s not seeing dead people, he’s dressing up in his old combat gear to try and having Vietnam flashbacks. I assure you, Roger isn’t crazy, but the film is setting up a rather interesting piece of character development that would be considered ahead of its time.

Norm from Cheers (George Wendt) is his neighbor Harold who stops by to play the comic relief, otherwise we’d have a very down trodden Vietnam metaphor movie on our hands. He may provide us, the audience, with laughs, but he tends to get on Roger’s nerves when he isn’t providing beer or snacks. More often than not, Harold is a distraction from Roger’s writing at convenient times, like when he’s having some serious Vietnam flashbacks about some big ox of a soldier name Ben (Richard Moll). After Ben was wounded in combat, Roger couldn’t bring himself to finish Ben off, so he was subsequently dragged away by the enemy and tortured for weeks. It something that seems to haunt him, but now that haunting may seem to be manifesting physically as one night a monster pops out of the closet and claws at Roger’s torso! Knowing nobody will believe him, he knows that he will need evidence, but only makes himself look nuttier than a Payday in the process, wiring and rigging a number of cameras to go off right when he pulls a string and does the Pete Townsend powerslides on his knees out the front door and then reality kicks him hard in the nards as he’s just sitting there with Harold staring at him. Awkward.

Nobody believes poor Roger that some pugnacious hauntings are happening. Not Harold, not Sandy. Nobody. Could it all be in Roger’s head? That’s what you along with the other characters are starting to think at this point and it’s probably the most brilliant aspect of this movie. Long before it had a name it could be identified with, House was ahead of its time and was bringing attention to PTSD. I have to commend William Katt’s performance, because he really brings emotion of someone losing their grip on reality to the forefront here. As he pleads with Harold or whoever that the monsters are real, beads of sweat roll down his face, his voice cracks and you can see and hear the desperation that he just wants someone to believe him. Even when he is by himself being chased around the house by the specters, you start to wonder if it really is all in his head or if it’s happening. When he imagines his ex-wife stopping by and turning into a weird, blobbish, twisted version of her, he shoots it only to see it may really be his wife, you figure he’s definitely lost it and he killed someone. He breaks down in tears, but all is not as it seems as the monster rears its ugly head once again and this time, he cuts it up and buries it. The scene goes from being boo-scary, to horrifying (in the sense that he may have murdered a person) to funny, so the film wants to not only play with tone, but to also play with your expectations.

Not giving up, Roger is determined to make someone believe him and who better than Harold? After finally witnessing some sort of ghoul, Harold fails at helping Roger who is dragged into the closet and teleported to what looks like the Vietnam war where he comes across his missing son, but that’s not the only one. It seems like a familiar face, as rotten and decayed as it may not be, but familiar nonetheless, was responsible for kidnapping his son and now it wants revenge. Roger is now pitted against an old frenemy as he battles for his son and possibly his own sanity and really if you look at it like the events are all happening in Roger’s head, the film still works as a drama comedy instead of a horror comedy. I think that’s one of the best things about House, is that no matter how you perceive it, the film still works as that genre. Regardless of what was actually happening, it’s still about Roger’s struggle with the effects of war and coping with the loss of his son. It also just happens to be about spoopy ghosts.

Some of these ghosts are downright ghastly, like the closet monster with its many arms or the monster version of his ex-wife that has a high pitched, distorted voice that makes me feel uncomfortable, while others… eh, not so much. The two children monsters that come out of the chimney look dreadful in the wrong way. Their mouths and eyes don’t move, they look cheap and rubbery. In the midst of this fun film with great creature effects, you get these two that looks like the budget ran out, so they had to run to the Halloween store and get some cheap costumes. They aren’t prominently displayed on screen or featured very long, so it’s not very troublesome, but for the brief period of time they are on screen they can be an eyesore. Perhaps the best looking makeup effect is that of Ben all zomb-i-fied. Basically, take the look of Jason from Friday the 13th Part VII and slap some Vietnam garb on on Bull from Night Court and there ya go. He has exposed bones and organs, he looks dusty yet slimey, it’s absolutely fantastic looking.

Some of these effects may look less impressive on the new 2K restoration from Arrow Video. While the film itself looks marvelous, what with edges being sharp and colors being bright and vivid, it suffers a bit from looking too good. Often there were times you could see the faults in the makeup or prosthetics, like being able to see actor Richard Moll’s mouth painted black behind the false teeth of zombie Ben. It’s a minor nitpick and didn’t ruin my experience of the film. If anything, I was happy to finally view the film nice and clean for the first time, seeing as the only viewing experience I’ve ever had is my old VHS copy. The audio commentary by director Steve Miner, producer Sean S. Cunningham, actor William Katt and screenwriter Ethan Wiley is a good listen, providing some insight and memories on the making of the movie. Speaking of making the movie, there’s a great feature included called Ding Dong, You’re Dead! The Making of House that includes interviews with Steve Miner, Sean S. Cunningham, Ethan Wiley, story creator Fred Dekker, stars William Katt, Kay Lenz, and George Wendt, composer Harry Manfredini, special make-up and creature effects artists Barney Burman, Brian Wade, James Belohovek, Shannon Shea, Kirk Thatcher, and Bill Sturgeon, special paintings artists Richard Hescox and William Stout, and stunt coordinator Kane Hodder. Trailers and a still gallery round out the features.

I don’t think House is overlooked, but I think some have forgotten about or others may think it’s just a jump scare horror film, which it is, but it’s more than that. House has a message, something to say about the then unnamed PTSD and how some Veterans are affected by it and struggle. It’s also a charming comedy with plenty of likable characters and funny moments. In the wrong hands, this film could have been a disaster. A lesser cast and crew would have failed at juggling all the themes and ideas, but luckily you had a handful of talented people treating it with care and having a lot of fun that translates on the screen. The film is an absolute riot. It’s witty, charming as well as being scary and funny. I can’t think of many other films that are able to do all of that as well House. The film is packaged here in the states along with its sequel, House II: The Second Story, in a neat little box called House: The Two Stories. Although the UK got all four House films in their boxset (I’m guessing the US couldn’t due to rights issues), I’m happy at least the first film got a proper Blu-ray treatment. Well, maybe the second film too.

Goon Review: Brain Damage (1988)

(Submitted by Mr. Andrew Peters…Thank you kindly, Ho-rror Ho-mie! 🙂 xoxo)

I’ve always said that I feel Frank Henenlotter is one of the most underrated and overlooked directors of the horror genre. His films would often be a variety of a sub-genre, mainly mixing in science fiction, and not to mention for exorbitantly weird and bizarre, but also managing to have some really interesting creatures of some kind. They were often a blend of violence, gore and comedy, a feat most filmmakers can’t seem to accomplish. He showed us his dark and twisted sense of humor and visuals with Basket Case in 1982 and things only escalated from there. I enjoy all of Henenlotter’s movies, even the later Basket Case sequels, but 1988’s Brain Damage will always stick out to me as not only one of his more darker and serious films, but also his most well made.

Like all of Henelotter’s films before it, Brain Damage is sick, twisted and humorous with a bizarre creature and plenty of gory, absurd deaths that follow. However, it’s not just a sideshow of freaky acts of violence, like the director’s previous films, it has an underlining message; this one being about the dangers of drug addiction. No need to worry though, it’s not heavy handed nor is it a PSA. Although, a PSA created by Frank Henenlotter would be the best PSA ever. The dangers of drugs is not the only subtext sprinkled throughout the film, however, it also includes other exploitation goodies, like sex and rock and rock and roll. With all the combined elements, as well as dropping in good ol’ 42nd Street in New York City, it’s Henenlotter’s sleaziest film and that’s a good thing. It doesn’t get lost in trying to shock you or gross you out (even though in less capable hands it could very well have done that), but rather focuses on its characters and the events that quickly unfold resulting in most of the character’s downfalls.

The central character, Brian (played by Rick Hearst, who is a genuinely nice guy in real life) wakes up one even not feeling quite like himself and blows off his date with his girlfriend Barbara (Jennifer Lowry). Brian’s brother Mike (Gordon MacDonald) substitutes for him and right from his very first gaze upon her, there’s a telling that Mike has an affection Barbara, but more on that later, because Brain Damage wastes no time getting into the weird territory. Brian awakes in time to be feeling rather good and stares at the light on his ceiling. It seems to be breathing gently and suddenly blue water fills the room and encompasses him as he embraces it. Colors and sounds seem to come alive for him and he couldn’t be feeling better. He awakes later and notices that the back of his neck is bleeding and his bathtub is full of water and calls out for the intruder, but he – along with the audience – wasn’t ready for what the intruder would be; a black and blue penis looking monster with big, buggy cartoon eyes, but a rather pleasing and trusting voice as it says, “Hi,” named Aylmer. If you’re wondering why Aylmer sounds so familiar, it’s because that beautiful voice belong to the late John Zacherle, who did a few videos as a memorable horror host and not to mention that he also had a bit part in another Henenlotter film, Frankenhooker, as a TV Weatherman.

The scene fades from that back into Brian’s bedroom where he understandably has a few questions about what the Aylmer is and where he came from and why Brian was tripping some serious balls. Aylmer seems to be dodging the questions, but reassuring him that he is all Brian will ever need and if they go for a walk, he will explain everything. This is your first clue that Aylmer is quite the manipulative little devil with an appetite to boot. While out for their walk, Aylmer open his mouth wide, revealing dozens of wiggling, sharp teeth and injects Brian with the drug, who in turn runs into a junkyard to see and hear the colors. If you think Aylmer was doing this to be a nice guy, or um… thing, you’re dead wrong. With Brian distracted by all the sights and sounds, Aylmer uses this opportunity to devour the brains of a security guard. I’m getting the impression that Aylmer may not have Brian’s best interests in mind.

Aylmer’s drug is highly addicting and it instantly takes over Brian’s life, forcing him to end his relationship with Barbara, quit his job and even place a wedge between him and his brother. This is probably the only missed opportunity of the film, since we never really get to know Brian before he becomes addicted to Aylmer’s drug, aside from the brief moment where he is laying in bed sick. There supposedly was a deleted subplot at the beginning of the film where Brian stuck up for his brother in a bar fight, but it was scraped. Luckily, the supporting cast does a fantastic job of bringing up events from the past or their feelings towards Brian, but don’t beat you over the head with it. It’s more subtle and adds a layer to the dynamics between everyone. Brian has moments of his former self and through the other characters talking about their past relationship with him, you do catch glimpses of what he used to be.

By now, you learned that Aylmer needs to feed on human brains and catches another meal after Brian ditches Barbara at a nightclub where a punk rock chick tries to blow Brian outside. Hey, when you need some dick, you need some dick. Rather than getting a mouthful of peen, she gets a mouthful of Aylmer (he’s basically phallic shaped) who eats her brains through her mouth. This scene is notoriously referred to as the “filatio scene” and was cut from the theatrical and original home video releases for obvious reasons. It’s inserted into all following unrated releases, but even today it’s still kinda shocking and definitely oversexualized. Apparently, the crew walked out during the shooting of this scene! Wow, when you sign on to do a Frank Henenlotter film and even you find something that’s offensive… sheesh.

By now, Brian has grown suspicious of what Aylmer is up to while he’s high, especially after finding brains and blood all over the fly of his pants. This is when he’s confronted by a husband and wife who had previously lost Aylmer and we learn some of what he is and what he can do and why he ran away; because the older couple was keeping him weak by feeding him animal brains. After seeing the zombie like state of those crazy, old junkies, Brian heads off to a motel for a few days and tries to detox himself from Aylmer’s drug, who only mocks Brian while he increasingly twitches and doubles over in pain, vomiting and dry heaving until he eventually hallucinates blood pouring out of his ear like a fountain. Kudos to Rick Hearst for really selling the painful image of detoxing as he’s curled up in a ball on the floor puking his guts out and crying. Brian eventually gives in to Aylmer and heads home to find that his brother and Barbara just played a round of ‘hide the weiner,’ but it’s hard to tell at this point if he’s too high or too far emotionally gone as he warns them that they need to leave as he storms out. Barbara chases Brian down and follows him to the subway to try and reconcile things with him even though her breath still has the smell of his brother’s dong. I also want to point out that Kevin Van Hentenryck cameos as Duane from Basket Case, which I think is wild. To think that these two movies exist in the same warped world is a far out thought and how would Aylmer and Belial get along?

With Aylmer’s insatiable thirst for human brains and Brian now dangerously addicted and losing everything, he becomes desperate to cling on to what’s left of him, but can’t seem to chose between the drugs or his former self. He may not have much of a choice seeing as that older couple is just as desperate to get back Aylmer at any cost. The ending is dark and imaginative as any Henenlotter film while fitting with the tone of the rest of the movie. It certainly displays the dangers of drug use, only far more out of this world. It’s like something out of an old science fiction comic, but the film has had an overall comic book tone to it, especially the lighting. Henenlotter uses a lot of magenta against blue to make it really pop and create drastic, black shadows that the images look like they are coming to life right out of a comic book and I think that perfectly sums up Henenlotter’s film; comic books come to life.

I am beyond thrilled that Arrow Video has released Brain Damage with all the love and respect it deserves on Blu-ray and it looks marvelous. There is a whole mess of special features to be found on this two disc set, one of the best being a brand new audio commentary from director Frank Henenlotter, because I could listen to him talk about anything. He’s funny and informative and full of fun loving personality. I actually had the pleasure of meeting him not to long ago and he’s everything I described. The man brought an honest smile to my face. Other features include Listen to the Light: The Making of Brain Damage which is a brand new documentary featuring interviews with actor Rick Herbst, producer Edgar Ievins, editor James Kwei, first assistant director Gregory Lamberson, visual effects supervisor Al Magliochetti and makeup artist Dan Frye.Then there is The Effects of Brain Damage where FX artist and creator of “Elmer” Gabe Bartalos looks back at his iconic effects work on the film as well as a featurette called Animating Elmer. There’s even a bit that revisits the original shooting locations and I love seeing how places from a film have changed since the past. There are a few more along with trailers and still galleries and the newly commissioned artwork by Sara Deck is simply awesome. Oh, there’s even a collector’s book filled with original stills and artwork!

Even if you see only one film by Frank Henenlotter, I have to persuade you to watch Brain Damage. Well, you should check out all of this man’s work and this movie simply because it’s the right amount of far out and sleaze. It’s not overly violent or gory, but the small amount of sex and overall theme of drug use makes this a movie that guaranteed to make you feel like you’re coated in a layer of filth. I’m sure some of you may need a bath after viewing it, but make sure nobody – or nothing – is in there with you.

Goon Review: The Initiation (1984)

(Submitted by Mr. Andrew Peters…Thanks, Mr. Goon-y Goon! 🙂 xoxo)

There’s an old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” which I would use to describe the slasher boom of the ‘80s. Halloween may not have started it, but it opened the doors and after Friday the 13th, these things were coming out by the dozens. They were cheap, quick and easy to make and movie goers were eating it up so much, studios were guaranteed a profit. It was like printing money. However, like too much of a good thing, people grew tired of it and the slasher genre more or less died, at least in the way it was. Slasher films were still made after the crash, of course, but tried to sprinkle in little unique twists and turns or really developing a more psychological idea. Nothing wrong with adding your own ingredients to a pre-existing recipe. After all, it could still be really good. Maybe.

The Initiation comes to mind as an example. It was sold as a slasher film, but having come out near the end of the boom in 1984, it had more going on for it when filmmakers tried to add a little more spice to their films. It attempted to be very psychological, and wanted to add three dimensional characters you could care about with a twist ending that would shock everyone…Unfortunately, it was bogged down by the slasher formula so much that it couldn’t figure out how to pace those ideas and just dumps them all in at the end and expects it to work. It seems there are a handful of movies from that era that suffered from the same fate, as if the writer and director wanted to do something different to avoid becoming another rip off, or something that would become stale.

The film starts in familiar territory; at a campus with some sexy coeds being initiated into a sorority. Well, looks like they are quite serious with that title. One of the pledges, Kelly Fairchild (Spaceballs’ Princess Vespa herself, Daphne Zuniga), has been having a reoccurring nightmare that she is trying to kill her father while he’s going at it with her mom (Vera Miles) when suddenly another man enters the room and is set on fire. As if that isn’t stressful enough, the sorority decides as part of the initiation, they need to break into a department store that Kelly’s father happens to own. Well, what a happy little coincidence. I guess that kinda defeats the purpose of breaking and entering, but rest assured that there will be plenty of shenanigans from the stock characters and trust me, these are some stock characters. The girls get at least get somewhat of a variety with the virgin, the bitch and the best friend, but all of the dudes… they are just dudes. The kind of dudes that make dick and fart jokes and try to fuck everything. Ya know, dudes.

For some originality and depth to the plot, the film has Kelly exploring her nightmares with the help of her psychology class graduating assistant, Peter Adams (James Read). Dreams just so happen to be Peter’s area of expertise and the two explore Kelly’s nightmare and amnesia, which happened because of convenient plot device. I don’t believe it’s ever explained, but really, does it need to be? Kelly’s mother forbids her grown ass adult college student daughter from talking with Peter anymore about the nightmare or the amnesia, but do you think she’s gonna listen? Hell no! In fact, the two explore it even more resulting in an odd outcome where Kelly responds to a different last name… wonder if that could mean that her father isn’t her father? Kelly even shacks up with Peter, but this was in the ‘80s when it was okay for faculty to hook up with students. I don’t think it could hurt her grades.

The movie movie actually spends a good amount of time with Kelly and Peter as they explore the depths of what this dream could mean, but elsewhere there is a generic slasher film waiting to rear its head. At a nearby asylum, a burned up caretaker may be responsible for the escape of several inmates and the murder of a nurse. The framing of the scene sure makes it seem that way, but that would be too obvious. Kelly’s parents are contacted and informed about the escape and murder, so what could their connection be? I’m sure things are starting to become obvious, but before a light is further shed on any of this information, we have a smorgasbord of teens to kill!

Kelly and some of the other pledges along with one of the sorority sisters finally get around to breaking into her dad’s department store and this is where the movie becomes a paint by numbers slasher. One thing very notable about these victims is that this is an early example of all of the characters being annoying and stupid, so it’s hard to care what happens to them. It’s almost as if the film is self aware of this and dispatches them quickly and some what unimpressively. A couple of them are shot with a bow or spear gun, maybe a stabbed a few times. The best death happens early on in the film when Kelly’s father (who I forgot to mention was Clu Gulager) who’s stabbed in the throat and decapitated with a machete, although the latter happens off screen. The number of teens dwindles down until Kelly is all alone with only the killer. Meanwhile, Peter is trying to locate Kelly, stopping by to get information from her mother who seems a little off her rocker. It’s the classic race for survival as the identity of the killer is revealed and not to spoil anything here, but it’s quite underwhelming mixed with a questionable, “huh?” It feels like it’s coming from nowhere, as if it were added at the last moment to try and shock the audience even though nothing has built up to it and nothing indicated it prior. It’s what you would call an “ass pull” or described as “assumingly out of left field.”

The Initiation may be overly ambitious with all the ideas it has and trying to connect them all together with the twists and turns, but ultimately the interesting and creative parts take a seat about halfway through the film so it can get to the slasher tropes. Honestly, I think this film would have worked better if it were one or the other, but as it is I don’t think it’s great. I don’t think it’s bad either. In fact, I think it’s better than okay, just not great. Not to take away anything from the actors’ performances, mind you. They all do a pretty decent job, but Daphne Zuniga feels like she’s not quite there yet, with her performance feeling slightly dialed back. (Maybe slightly elevated since her bit part a few years prior in The Dorm That Dripped Blood.) You would have to assume the bar would be raised with Clu Gulager and Vera Miles on the cast, but both seem to be phoning it in and Clu Gulager is barely in the movie before he’s dispatched with. Everyone else plays their stereotyped role pretty decently, but nothing stands out to make it unique or different. Not for lack of trying, though.

At the time, a film about students spending the night in a department store was relatively original, but once Chopping Mall came along a few years later and did the same thing, you kinda forgot about this film. That’s a shame, too. Even though it may not seem like I enjoyed The Initiation, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s not the best slasher, nor is it the most original or boast some great practical effects and gory kills, it doesn’t really need to be. I think it’s fine just the way it is. Everything that could have been improved with it is still pretty good enough to enjoy on its own.

Arrow Video’s release of The Initiation might be one for the collection if you’re looking for an odd, out of the ordinary slasher. The new 2K transfer makes it look really great. Not perfect, but great enough to where it looks new, but still like an ‘80s slasher flick. There are a few extras, maybe somewhat lackluster, like with the audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues Podcast people that sounds as if it were recorded via Skype. There’s also a theatrical trailer along with a deleted scene and some new interviews with writer Charles Pratt Jr. and actors Christopher Bradley and Joy Jones, but no Daphne Zuniga for you fans out there. Not the greatest features for a movie coming Arrow’s library, but I can imagine finding features or people willing to do features for a movie like this may be a little tricky, especially seeing as it’s not nearly as remembered as most of the other slashers. However, that doesn’t mean you should pass this one up. It may not be as gory or crazy as something like Chopping Mall that does a similar premise, but it’s interesting enough to keep you watching and keep you guessing.