Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Become a Bloody Pit of Horror Patreon Saint.

Just a heads up, horror f(r)iends. Been struggling to keep this place going due to some major medical issues we're currently dealing with. On the suggestion of a friend, I've decided to open up a Patreon account on the off chance that will help enable me to post here with more frequency. In case you're unfamiliar with Patreon, it's a content subscription service for artists that enables supporters to pledge monthly support or pledge per content created starting at 1 dollar a month. I've been running The Bloody Pit for a solid decade now (damn, time flies!) and would love more than anything to keep going at a steady pace. This is one conceivable way to accomplish that with the hurdles I'm currently facing. Whatever I can raise there will go toward helping to free up time so I can create new content. I've written a full explanation about what's been going on over on the Patreon page. I have also added a donation button through Paypal (right hand column) for anyone wanting to make a one-time donation or sporadic donations. And you can always click on an ad on two while you're here, which will throw a few pennies my way. I'll be leaving this pinned to the top for about a month to see what happens and go from there. Irregardless, I'll continue to post here whenever time allows. Thanks for hearing me out and thank you for your continued support.


And, hey, I just created a new Twitter page after a decade on the air, so if you're a supporter, please do follow RIGHT HERE or @BloodyPit. New review notifications will be posted there.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Umezu Kazuo no Noroi (1990)

... aka: The Curse of Kazuo Umezu

Directed by:
Naoko Omi

A creepy man sitting on a swing warns against playing puerile pranks and tells us not to toy with the supernatural to preface this two-part anime. The first tale is “What Will the Video Camera Reveal?” The mysterious Rima Ogawa has just returned to Japan from Mexico and is starting at a new school. Everyone (particularly all the guys) seem interested in the beautiful young girl, but she has a strange, unnerving effect on another female student named Masami. Simply by looking at her, Masami feels electricity coursing through her body, passes out and has to be taken to the nurse's office. Later that night, she has a nightmare so disturbing she can't even remember it and awakens to discover her bedroom window open and a small, unexplained mark in the middle of her neck. She puts a band-aid over it and goes about her business. The following night, she makes sure to lock her window but has another nightmare and awakens to discover the mark on her neck is larger and bleeding. She also has a clump of black hair in her hand...

Now convinced the new girl in school is a vampire who's out to get her, Masami tries to tell others but her concerns are brushed off as her being jealous of Rima's beauty. She turns to her friend Umezu who gives her a video camera and tells her to tape herself sleeping. That way if someone is indeed sneaking into her bedroom to feast on her blood at least she'll have proof. Masami goes through the same nightmare routine as before. Umezu watches the tape and sees something so frightening he immediately leaves; only telling Masami that if she wants to see what it is, to watch the tape herself. But Masami is too scared. She does however notice some strange changes in herself; namely that her neck wound has healed and that she seems to be getting more beautiful. This is particularly strange considering suspected vampire Rima is no longer in town and has transferred schools.

Our second story is “The Haunted Mansion.” Horror movie obsessed Nanako invites her friend Miko over for a slumber party where the two eat junk food, drink beer and watch horror videos. Getting a bit tired of movies, Nanako decides it'd be even scarier to go to a nearby abandoned mansion to see if rumors that it's haunted are actually true. Because the place is going to be demolished soon, she manages to talk her apprehensive friend into going to at least look at the place. Once they arrive, two other curious neighborhood girls show up and the four break in. As soon as they enter through the door, it slams shut. And their flashlight dies. And they discover the portrait of a mysterious and beautiful woman. Always good signs. After stumbling into a child's room, the horrors begin.

Miko has a hallucination involving a music box, a teddy bear and toys bleeding and then the room filling up with blood. And then a hideous ghost in a blue flowing gown shows up. Simply by staring at someone, the ghost can make their body completely fall apart, as three of the girls soon find out. The squeamish Miko is the only one who remains as the ghost slowly approaches. She suddenly wakes up in bed, thinking everything was a nightmare. The next day at school, Nanako and the other three girls who were with Miko in her dream all have unexplained scars around their limbs and necks. In order to see if all that is connected to the mansion, the four girls decide to go there and see for themselves. Needless to say, that turns out to be a big mistake.

Running just 43 minutes, the animation here is cheap and crude when it's compared to – say – Disney movies made around this same time. But ask yourself: Do Disney movies feature a face-sucking, spider-spewing, tentacled mutant creature and dismemberments and decapitations galore? That's a lot of the appeal of something like this. Though more recent anime has certainly improved technically, this is still a lot of gory fun and both of the fast-paced stories are clever and surprising in spots. The brief bookmarking segments are also pretty amusing. 

This is based on stories by horror / manga / comic writer Kazuo Umezu. As an inside joke, one of the horror videos the girls in the second story almost watch is titled “The Curse of Kazuo Umezu,” which promises “Ultimate terror!” and to be “A masterpiece of horror!” After I looked this guy up, I realized I'd already seen something based on his writings: the live action SNAKE GIRL AND THE SILVER-HAIRED WITCH (1968), which seems to be the very first adaptation of any of his work. After years of writing, Umezu made his directorial debut (at almost 80 years old!) with the autobiographical Mother (2004). He also is a noted inspiration behind the work of Junji Ito (Tomie, Uzumaki).


Friday, April 6, 2018

Night Terror (1977) (TV)

... aka: Night Drive

Directed by:
E.W. Swackhamer

Having just enjoyed Valerie Harper's hilarious OTT screaming at anything horrific in THE PEOPLE ACROSS THE LAKE (1988) I was led straight over to this earlier TV movie hoping for more of the same. Whether or not she performs as I'm hoping has yet to be determined. Harper is a famous actress I have no recollection of from my childhood, though she's a major TV icon. Before my time, she found critical success on Mary Tyler Moore playing Rhoda Morgenstern from 1970 to 1974. That character was so popular she even got her own spin-off series titled Rhoda that lasted five seasons. Work on those two shows alone landed her four Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe. Afterward, she attempted to transition over to the big screen but the films, like 1980's The Last Married Couple in America and 1984's Blame It on Rio, were flops. So back to TV she went. After starring in the very good Don't Go to Sleep (1982) and some other TV movies, she finally got to headline another sitcom, Valerie, in 1986, but salary disputes going into the third season saw her getting kicked off the show bearing her own name. It was then re-branded as The Hogan Family with new star Sandy Duncan. Now I actually DO vaguely remember Duncan and the Hogan offshoot from my childhood. Had Hartman kept the part I'd probably have some nostalgic connection to her today instead of the Wheat Thins lady everyone said has a glass eye.

In this one, Valerie has a similar role to what she had later in both of her other genre TV movie appearances, that of a stressed out and frazzled mother. Here, she's married to  “corporate nomad” Walter Turney (Michael Tolan), whose job moves him, her and their two young children, Nancy (Quinn Cummings) and Buddy (Damon Raskin), to another state every couple of years. As the family is packing and preparing for another of these moves from their current home in Phoenix to Denver, Valerie's fidgety character Carol is involved in a few comedic bits where she keeps misplacing and forgetting things and has to be kept straight by pretty much the entire rest of the family. Along with their Aunt Vera (Beatrice Manley), the kids are flown out to Denver a few days early, while Carol and Walt stay behind and plan to drive their car up, giving them a little private time for their “second honeymoon."

Things don't go according to plan when Walt gets caught up at work and Carol is stuck waiting for him at a hotel. Carol then gets word that in Denver her son has fallen ill, is at the hospital and in need of emergency surgery. After finding that out, she can't get ahold of her husband and an attempt to get plane tickets also fails because the Denver airport has to temporarily shut down due to a blizzard. Carol has to make a quick decision and decides to check out of the hotel and make the sixteen hour drive up to Denver all by herself in the middle of the night. And that's when she has the misfortune of encountering a psycho on the road, and witnessing him shooting a cop dead, which prompts a chase that lasts almost the entire rest of the movie.

Richard Romanus, notable as one of the only graduates of an Andy Milligan film to go on to any kind of film career (he co-starred in Scorsese's Mean Streets just five years after appearing in The Ghastly Ones), gets to play the crazy guy, who's only identified as “The Killer” in the credits. He's such a mean SOB he shoots holes in a No Littering sign with a rifle, pours coffee all over a counter then spits money at a diner waitress, destroys a soap dispenser in a public restroom and (gah!) drinks Pepto straight out of the bottle (Is this where that cliché comes from?) His mode of transport is a yellow Mustang and, oh yeah, he's also mute and can only speak with the aid of an electrolarynx, which he barely uses in the film. We learn next to nothing about this guy but hints are dropped he's a war vet now working as some kind of professional assassin.

While much of this movie impressed me, it ultimately led to a place of disappointment. The opening twenty minutes of character and plot set-up is merely adequate but once Carol hits the road at night this does a wonderful job establishing a sense of isolation and building suspense, which starts with our protagonist simply attempting to find an open gas station late at night with a near-empty tank and is cranked up from there. Even scenes of Carol stumbling across a few other people - a mentally retarded derelict (John Quade) and an obnoxious drunk yuppie (Nicholas Pryor) - during her nightly travels are fairly well integrated into the plot. Cinematographers Frank Beascoechea and Vilis Lapenieks do a stellar job with these scenes. This manages to capture the loneliness, quiet and all-enveloping darkness of night yet you can always tell what's going on; something not so easy to pull off.

What sadly happens as the pursuit continues into the following day is that this not only loses its dark, tense atmosphere but the script also runs out of ideas and then starts getting repetitive and sometimes downright silly. Carol implausibly runs out of gas for a second time out in the middle of nowhere simply to put her in another vulnerable position. And after getting her hands on the killer's empty rifle, she just throws it at him so he can pick it up, load it with shells and start shooting at her.

As far as Harper is concerned, this is neither a strong dramatic turn like in Don't nor her cranking her hysterics up to an 11 like in the silly Lake. She's passable yet pretty forgettable here, sometimes even a bit annoying with her little squeak-and-moan reactions to the events. As the killer, Romanus is likewise OK but isn't given a fleshed out character he can do much with. Less than a year after appearing in just two scenes in this as Hartman's daughter, Cummings would become one of the youngest Oscar nominees in history spouting Neil Simon one-liners in The Goodbye Girl (1977), though that did little to actually help her career and she was out of films for good a decade later. The director also made Death at Love House (1976), Vampire (1979) and Terror at London Bridge (1985); all TV movies.

After debuting on NBC, this Charles W. Fries production was regularly shown on TV for awhile and then received a U.S. VHS release through WorldVision Home Video, who released many other TV movies.


Saturday, March 10, 2018

Blood Frenzy (1987)

... aka: Bloody Frenzy
... aka: Frenesia sanguinaria (Bloodthirsty Frenzy)
... aka: Sede de Sangue (Bloodlust)

Directed by:
Hal Freeman

In stark contrast to all the fun stuff, another thing that helped define the 80s era was the Moral Majority, which began in 1979 with multi-millionaire minister Jerry Falwell and eventually infected all manner of politics, law, art and culture. The organization set goals that included all the usuals like overturning Roe vs. Wade, making sure gays remained second class citizens, opposing equal rights measures and affirmative action, censoring or trying to ban things they didn't like, trying to force prayer into schools and saturating the media with propaganda / scare tactics in an effort to convert people over to conservative Christianity. They also really had a bone to pick with all manner of popular entertainment that didn't propagate the Christian lifestyle and their vision of “values” / the “traditional” family. The Moral Majority were extremely successful in helping to shape the minds and goals of many in the following decades, as well as influencing those at the top in politics. They sunk millions of dollars into eventual president Ronald Reagan's campaign, with 10 million going solely toward slanderous ads falsely stating his opponent was a traitor and not really Christian like he claimed. Morals indeed.

As you can imagine, the Moral Majority were given quite a bit of power in the Reagan administration because, frankly, they were owed as much for helping him get in there. What followed was downright bizarre to those of us who try our best to keep overzealous religious wackos at arm's length most of the time. There was a sudden rash of "Satanic Panic" in the media with "rumored" (bullshit) stories of small town Satanism run amok, animal killings and impressionable teens falling into Satan's grasp. Many murders were falsely attributed to Satanic cults despite zero evidence. Actual murderers and criminals used Satanism as a scapegoat to try to skirt heavier prison sentences. Covers of heavy metal albums and lyrics were endlessly criticized, with some musicians being dragged into court to defend themselves after being blamed for the criminal activity of others. There were countless stories speculating about child sexual abuse in Satanic cults while a blind eye was turned to real child sexual abuse being committed by Christian and Catholic religious leaders. All of this went on well into the 1990s and even spread to other countries like the UK.

Not content with just spreading fake stories, the Moral Majority and the politicians who pandered to them were also suddenly having hissy fits over things like horror movies, rap music, fantasy RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons and, perhaps most of all, depictions of people seeming to (gasp!) actually enjoy having sex. The "Porno Chic" of the 70s quickly did an about face into our government starting an all-out war on sex films. That resulted in laws twisted to trap pornographers under the pandering and prostitution umbrella. Porn sets were raided, many were arrested and lives were ruined in the process. Director Hal (Harold) Freeman was among those targeted. In fact, he was one of the very first people to ever be arrested for making porn when the set of his film Caught from Behind 2 (1983) was invaded by authorities. After being convicted of five counts of pandering by a lower court, he was thrown in jail, put on probation for years and had to go through numerous costly appeals and court battles. Freeman's case finally went all the way to the Supreme Court; a case that ended up effectively legalizing hardcore porn for good in the state of California. Freeman was acquitted by February 1989, but the damage had already been done by that point. His savings were depleted and he passed away in October of 1989.

In the midst of all that, and like many others during this unsure time when the government was coming down hard on the adult industry, Freeman was attempting to go mainstream. He even created an offshoot of his X-rated Hollywood Video label called Hollywood Family Video for the sole purpose of releasing non-hardcore films. Their first effort was Blood Frenzy, filmed in the deserts around Barstow, California. It was shot on 35mm, had a budget of around 100,000 dollars and was completed in just 12 days. Most of Freeman's adult film crew also worked on this, including writer Ted Newsom, who was given a story titled “Warning – No Trespassing” written by Ray Dennis Steckler to base his script upon, and cinematographer Richard Pepin, who'd shot most of Freeman's adult films under the name “Rick Christopher.” Pepin would soon join up with Joseph Merhi to form City Lights Entertainment Group, which would later turn into direct-to-video action specialists PM Entertainment Group.

Psychologist Dr. Barbara Shelley (Wendy MacDonald) is into something called “confrontational therapy” and decides to take six of her nuttiest patients into the Mojave desert to a secluded location to try out her techniques over the course of three days. Among her patients are Rick (Tony Montero), a Vietnam vet prone to zoning out, hallucinations and sudden bursts of violence and anger, Dory (Lisa Loring), an extremely angry, abrasive, loud and bitter lesbian fashion model, passive aggressive instigator Dave (Hank Garrett), pretty blonde nymphomaniac Cassie (Lisa Savage), drunk Crawford (John Clark) and neurotic Jean (Monica Silvera), who doesn't like being touched. Going by the opening sequence, one of them had an abusive drunk for a father... until they decided to rip out his throat with a garden claw.

Doctor and patients arrive at their desert location around some old abandoned silver mines and hours from the nearest town. There, they set up their tents and immediately get to work on their intense therapy sessions, which usually end in screaming and crying. However, this time one of the sessions goes beyond that and starts a physical confrontation between Dave and Rick. Later that night, someone takes it upon themselves to put on a pair of gloves and slash Dave's throat. Not only that, but the killer also throws out all of their food and most of their water, steals the microphone to their CB radio so they cannot call for help and swipes the distributor cap from their RV so they can't leave the desert. Since they're 50 miles from the nearest highway, they're pretty much screwed as someone starts picking them off one by one. A jack-in-the-box playing “Pop Goes to Weasel” ties together the murder seen in the opening sequence with the new series of killings.

A mixture of slasher and mystery, Blood Frenzy is utterly average in execution with extremely static camerawork not alleviated any by direction that's both unimaginative and thoroughly uninteresting from a visual standpoint. That said, this does have a few entertaining perks. For starters, there's a decent amount of latex gore and, after much slogging around in the middle, a lively enough finale. And then there's Newsom's script, which may poorly disguise the identity of the killer but does offer up some hilariously crass dialogue. Finally, most of the actors really throw themselves into this thing. Freeman wanted to avoid porn connections so he didn't hire any adult actors for the film and instead opted for a mixture of pros, friends and decent newbies from a local theater program. Even the blonde bimbo in this one really isn't too bad of an actress.

I'd be remiss if I didn't single out Loring's contributions. A former child actress best known as Wednesday from the original The Addams Family TV series, Loring goes wayyyy over the top in her portrayal of an incredibly unlikable character who seems to scream out every other line of dialogue. This is one go-for-broke performance which could be deemed either brilliant or awful depending on how you view it. Either way, she's very entertaining and makes the slow-moving mid-section more watchable. Loring landed the role because she had porn connections of her own as she'd worked behind the scenes on a number of them (like Traci's Big Trick) and was dating porn actor Jerry Butler at the time. The two eventually married but divorced five years later.

A few other trivia notes: According to a producer, former model Savage had agreed to do nudity when she was hired but, with a lot of footage already in the can, refused to do her nude scenes when the time came. Not only that, but she reportedly locked herself in her hotel room, called her lawyer boyfriend and threatened to sue them or walk off the set if they kept pursuing the issue. Being the pro she is, Loring stepped in and did the topless scene for her. * Clark was married to (and the agent of) Lynn Redgrave when he appeared in this and Redgrave actually visited the set on several occasions. * Chuck Rhae, who appears in a small role as Lonnie, was the husband of X actress Danica Rhae.

Freeman, Newsom and producer Claire Cassano planned a second horror film to be titled Judgment Night, a slasher set in a courthouse, that was never made because of Freeman's death. The only other video produced under the Hollywood Family label was the documentary Earthquake Survival (1988), a tape sold at grocery stores that was written by Newsom and Brinke Stevens and hosted by Shelley Duvall. Like Blood Frenzy, it reportedly made a lot of money.

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