Tag Archives: 1981 Movie reviews

On Golden Pond-1981

On Golden Pond-1981

Director-Mark Rydell

Starring Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn, Jane Fonda

Scott’s Review #1,297

Reviewed September 8, 2022

Grade: A

A beautiful and quiet family drama, On Golden Pond (1981) is a brilliantly acted and written story about life and specifically aging and dying. It tells one lovely story arc after another, involving the relationships between its principal characters.

With heavyweights like Katharine Hepburn, Henry Fonda, and Jane Fonda signed on to star how could the film not be a success? It was not only a blockbuster in the summer of 1981 but accumulated ten Academy Award nominations and tons of other awards showing that sometimes subdued stories about human relationships win big.

The anticipation of legendary stars Fonda and Hepburn, golden icons of Hollywood, finally appearing opposite each other in a film must have made film lovers salivate back in 1981.

Norman Thayer (Fonda) is a grumpy old man trying to enjoy his golden years. He and his nurturing wife, Ethel (Hepburn), spend summers at their New England vacation home on the shores of idyllic Golden Pond.

Norman is experiencing memory problems and frets about dying while Ethel makes the most of it and enjoys the beautiful loons on the water and chats with the local mailman.

One year, their adult daughter, Chelsea (Jane Fonda), visits with her new fiancée (Dabney Coleman) and his teenage son, Billy (Doug McKeon) on their way to Europe. After leaving Billy behind to bond with Norman, Chelsea returns, attempting to repair the long-strained relationship with her aging father before it’s too late.

The greatest part of On Golden Pond is that it is believable. The tender love that Norman and Ethel share, the tensions between Norman and Chelsea, and the burgeoning friendship between Norman and Billy Jr. feel so very real and poignant.

Beautiful scenes emerge between the old man and a young man when Norman turns Billy Jr. on to literary classics like A Tale of Two Cities and Treasure Island. The viewer can easily see themselves in real-life situations like this or when Ethel and Chelsea discuss a strained relationship.

Years and years of memories and situations between the characters spring to life making the dialogue rich with flavor. Moving sequences like when Norman suffers a heart attack and is involved in a boating accident are teary and sentimental but fresh with emotion.

They do not feel manipulated.

As if the richly acted scenes are not enough, screenwriter, Ernest Thompson, who wrote the film based on his play provides credibility. He felt the passion the story would bring to the big screen and he was right.

As I grow older I appreciate the characters of Norman and Ethel. They stick together through thick and thin, sometimes quarrel, but love each other with a bond that can never be severed.

We all know and love couples like them.

The cinematography bristles with sweet nature. From the loons to the other sounds of summer, the camerawork elicits the light of late summertime. I constantly had to remind myself that I wasn’t really in the countryside but was in my living room.

A tearjerker that carefully combines heavy drama with comical moments that lighten the load, On Golden Pond (1981) is a truthful and emotional extravaganza about death that never feels sad or downtrodden. It’s much too clever for that and instead is an uproarious crowd-pleaser.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Mark Rydell, Best Actor-Henry Fonda (won), Best Actress-Katharine Hepburn (won), Best Supporting Actress-Jane Fonda, Best Screenplay-Based on Material from Another Medium (won), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound

The Cannonball Run-1981

The Cannonball Run-1981

Director-Hal Needham

Starring-Burt Reynolds, Farrah Fawcett, Roger Moore

Scott’s Review #1,204

Reviewed December 4, 2021

Grade: B-

The Cannonball Run (1981) is someone’s idea of collecting big film and television stars of the time and throwing them into a film with a pointless plot about cross-country road racing.

Truth be told, it’s a pretty bad film. But, it’s a fun and entertaining way to spend ninety minutes just to see the multitude of celebrities in both cameos and leading roles. Otherwise, The Cannonball Run should be skipped.

Taking a glance at the list of players we have Burt Reynolds, Farrah Fawcett, Roger Moore, Sammy Davis Jr., Dom DeLuise, Peter Fonda, Dean Martin, Jamie Farr, Jackie Chan, Peter Fonda, Adrienne Barbeau, Bert Convoy, and Terry Bradshaw.

Hopefully, the actors had a good time making the film.

The acting is not stellar and one wonders if many of the cast simply phoned it in or even read much of the script. The out-takes look like everyone was having one grand old time.  And whether some were even sober during the shooting is debatable.

The film is loosely based on the 1979 running of an actual cross-country outlaw road race in the United States, beginning in Connecticut and ending in California.

It was one of 1981’s most successful films at the box office which is a scary realization. It was followed by two forgettable sequels- Cannonball Run II (1984), and Speed Zone (1989).

Feeling very thrown together, director Hal Needham is most known for collaborations with Burt Reynolds involving cars and car chases so the plot, if one wants to call it that, is right up his alley.

Race teams gather in Connecticut to start a cross-country car race. One at a time, teams drive up to the starters’ stand, punch a time card to indicate their time of departure, then take off.  The reward to be given to the winner is one million dollars. A representative of the “Safety Enforcement Unit” tries to stop the race because of its environmental effects and safety issues.

Various teams are shown either evading law enforcement, most of which deal with talking their way out of a possible ticket or concocting crazy schemes to outmaneuver their opponents.

The winner of the race is rather unimportant.

It’s all silly and not to be taken seriously. There are plenty of stereotypes like Jamie Farr’s Middle-Eastern wealthy sheik driving a Rolls Royce and the inevitable scantily clad females in tight wear.

Despite The Cannonball Run being riddled with enough negative aspects to make me hate the film, it’s kind of fun. The bevy of different vehicles like an ambulance, an Aston Martin DB5 (driven by Moore’s James Bond imitating the character of course), a Ferrari, and a Chevrolet Malibu are all entertaining.

There is no character development nor any characters with any depth so the only reason to see the film is for the speedy cars and the competition.

And to see which celebrity will appear next.

A slapstick film that makes even the similarly penned Smokey and the Bandit (1977) seem like high-art, The Cannonball Run (1981) is a must-see only for genre fans or those who are willing to watch and perhaps even be entertained by any type of movie.

I haven’t seen the film in eons but can imagine it’s a film only meant for its time and now would feel incredibly dated.

For Your Eyes Only-1981

For Your Eyes Only-1981

Director-John Glen

Starring-Roger Moore, Carole Bouquet

Scott’s Review #1,185

Reviewed October 10, 2021

Grade: B+

Following the outrageousness of 1979’s Moonraker, a film I nonetheless find enjoyable, the decision was made to bring James Bond back to earth in the next chapter. For Your Eyes Only (1981) has matured well over the years and is an above-average entry among my all-time James Bond list.

The main Bond girl and the villain are not as top-notch as other Bond films but the action, suspense, and nods to Bond history are fantastic as is the grittier look and feel. And, the locales of Italy and Greece are breathtaking.

The title song, a sleek and syrupy love ballad performed by Sheena Easton, is a favorite of mine and is instantly recognizable in association with the film. It charted at number one on the charts and sold a gazillion copies.

The plot is typical of a James Bond film. After a British ship is sunk in foreign waters, the world’s superpowers begin a feverish race to find its cargo: a nuclear submarine control system. And 007 (Roger Moore) is thrust into the middle of the action as he aligns with Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet), Milos Columbo (Topol), and others to thwart the fiendish plans of the villainous Kristatos (Julian Glover).

The story is rather secondary to the enjoyment of the film and I quickly stopped trying to follow every plot point or detail. It’s not that important to know who every bad guy is or their motivations. There is a plot to take over the world and there you have it.

I adored the opening sequence when Bond visits the gravestone of his deceased wife Teresa. This tender moment immediately made me reflect on the goodness of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) and the humanistic tone that the film brought. Bond then engages in a thrilling helicopter chase with arch-rival Blofeld which parlays into the opening credits with the title song as a backdrop.

Admittedly, this first sequence has nothing to do with the rest of the film but fabulous is the London shots of Big Ben and other historical treats. And it’s just desserts to see Blofeld dumped into a massive chimney and presumably to his death.

Bond historians will love this.

The film is recommended to be watched in the winter months since the snowy and icy scenes fare better in the appropriate calendar months. It could be a warmup act to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or From Russia With Love (1963) also cold-feeling Bond films.

I didn’t perceive much chemistry between Moore and Bouquet but neither did their lack of chemistry ruin the film for me. The thirty-year age difference didn’t help matters but at least James Bond had the decency not to bed the horny underaged figure skater, Bibi Dahl (Lynn-Holly Johnson). Her character is played for laughs and her schoolgirl crush on Bond is cute.

Kristatos isn’t the most memorable villain either. His true colors aren’t revealed until late in the game and his motivations are a stretch. I didn’t buy him as a former war hero and ally turned smuggler. Nonetheless, Glover plays him straightforward and a compelling sequence occurs when he attempts to kill Bond and Melina with his massive boat and hungry sharks.

Topol, well-known for his role as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof (1971) is great to see as one of Bond’s allies. The actor’s distinctive voice is tough to miss though I half-expected him to break into “If I Were a Rich Man” at any moment.

The final sequence atop the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, and Eastern orthodox monastery in Greece is terrific and quite justifiably the highlight. Bond dangles for his life as a henchman slowly breaks each of Bond’s rock climbing stakes is a nail-biting and suspenseful scene even though you know that Bond will find his escape.

Flying under the radar, For Your Eyes Only (1981) is delightful for the locales and action sequences alone. Dragging slightly midway and not featuring a memorable Bond girl or villain, it offers a darker story and contains less cheeky moments. This is refreshing following a silly trip to the moon. The villains are more dangerous than cartoonish and the extreme locales and throwback to history make this an appreciated effort.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Song-“For Your Eyes Only”

Ragtime-1981

Ragtime-1981

Director-Milos Forman

Starring-Howard E. Rollins, Brad Dourif, Mary Steenburgen

Scott’s Review #1,183

Reviewed October 1, 2021

Grade: A-

Milos Forman, most famous for directing 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and 1984’s Amadeus, creates a relevant period piece drama with a moving racial storyline. Set in the turn of the twentieth-century New York, Ragtime (1981) mixes an important message with gorgeous costumes and a peppering of romantic intrigue.

The film was honored with an astounding eight Academy Award nominations but came away empty-handed.

The cast is enormous and I love that aspect of the film. At two hours and thirty-five minutes, the experience nearly felt too short since there was plenty of stories left to tell, mainly with the sub-plots. Some resolutions are not clearly explained but of course, the central story ends tragically.

A fun fact is that initially Robert Altman was signed on to direct the film but was replaced by Forman. My mind conjures up endless juicy moments that Altman likely would have added. As good as Forman is Altman certainly would have been even better.

There are also a few real-life people sprinkled in with fictitious characters which may cause some confusion, especially with the high volume cast. Newsreels of Theodore Roosevelt, Houdini, and architect Stanford White are featured.

A flurry of juicy tales based on E.L. Doctorow’s eponymous novel dissects life in pre-World War I New York City. The haves and have-nots see their lives intersect in many different ways.

A lavish party in Atlantic City is a fabulous highlight of Ragtime.

One day, a rich white family living in New Rochelle, New York, finds a black baby in their yard and takes on the mother (Debbie Allen) as a maid. A black pianist, Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Howard E. Rollins Jr.), returns for his woman and child after finding success in a Harlem jazz band.

A group of small-minded firefighters, irritated to see a successful black man own a Model-T Ford, deface it, and Walker demands retribution. This sets the main chain of events in the film as a war rages between Walker and his friends and the white firefighters.

There are more stories presented in a lesser form that I would have loved more from like the interesting friendship between the black Walker and the white younger brother played by Brad Dourif.

In a strange scene, millionaire industrialist Harry Kendall Thaw (Robert Joy) makes a scene when White unveils a nude statue atop Madison Square Garden, modeled after former chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit (Elizabeth McGovern), Thaw’s wife. Convinced White has corrupted Evelyn, Thaw publicly shoots him dead.

From an acting perspective, the film belongs to Howard E. Rollins. I immediately treasured the character he plays and rooted for him to win. Intelligent yet put upon he goes through several incarnations of the character and twice as many emotions. He was by far the richest character of all as far as substance.

Other characters intrigued but to dissect them would be impossible since there were so many of them. McGovern, Mandy Patinkin, and Mary Steenburgen play my favorite characters.

The only slight drawback I perceive is that the film has a glossy look to it and gritty scenes are not powerful enough. As intense a moment as the finale is, for example, I wanted something dirtier. When Walker’s fate is sealed I wanted to be more frightened instead of feeling like I was being fed high drama.

Ragtime (1981) successfully and nearly flawlessly combines artistic style with an enormous social message. It looks polished and representative of the early 1900s and it challenges audiences to take a look at how different cultures co-existed in another time.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor in a Supporting Role-Howard E. Rollins Jr., Best Actress in a Supporting Role-Elizabeth McGovern, Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material From Another Medium, Best Art Direction-Set Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Music-Original Score, Best Music-Original Song-“One More Hour”

Excalibur-1981

Excalibur-1981

Director-John Boorman

Starring-Nigel Terry, Nicholas Clay, Helen Mirren

Scott’s Review #1,108

Reviewed February 4, 2021

Grade: B+

John Boorman, most famous for directing a 1972 disturbing classic film Deliverance returns to the fold with steamy fantasy rich with lavish sets, visual treats, and an incredible atmosphere. This is where the film really succeeds. We are taken to a medieval world where we escape to jealousy, sex, and schemes. Boorman not only directs but produces and co-writes the project along with the screenwriter Rospo Pallenberg.

Excalibur (1981) retells the legend of King Arthur, a British leader from the fifth and sixth centuries mostly told by folklore, and the knights of the Round Table, based on the 15th-century Arthurian romance Le Morte d’Arthur, at behemoth length, by Thomas Malory. The table is symbolic because it implies that there is no head and therefore a democratic forum.

This telling is quite adult and not suitable or comprehensible for children.

Famous legends like Merlin (Nicol Williamson), Lancelot (Nicholas Clay), Queen Guenevere (Cherie Lunghi), and Morgana (Helen Mirren) appear alongside Arthur (Nigel Terry) in a furious battle for control.

In a flurry of handsome European actors who would later become famous, Patrick Stewart and Liam Neeson both appear.

In fact, most of the male cast are masculine, hunky, and very handsome. These traits cascade to how good they look in full body armor, shields, and swords doing bloody battle with each other. Homoerotic scenes exist just as they did in Deliverance. Lest we only focus on the male cast, Helen Mirren is delightful as an evil seductress who oozes sex appeal.

The magical sword of Excalibur actually starts in the hands of a British lord Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne) and then, years later, finds its way to his bastard son, Arthur, who is destined to become king but doesn’t realize why. Merlin helps Arthur fulfill his fate by bringing together the Knights of the Round Table at Camelot and unifying the country.

Years later Arthur faces greater tests ahead in pursuit of love, the Holy Grail, and his nation’s survival as some attempt to steal the treasure for their own advantages.

Excalibur had me with the visuals and I was able to immerse myself in the spectacular style and artistic set design with gorgeous sequences. Several creative and glimmering shots of someone either emerging from or submerged underwater are featured. They are startlingly beautiful. I pretended I had been whisked away to an otherworld of enchantment that I could sit back and enjoy.

The knowledge that the entire film was shot in Ireland captured and enraptured me. The breathtaking greenery and waterfalls are dreamlike. When Lancelot beds Guenevere in the forest they both appear nude. Their pale white flesh against the green is both magical and seductive. And a treat for one’s curious eyes.

The story is overly complicated with reality mixed with either dreams or fantasy and some of the plots confused me. I finally got to a point where the intricacies became too much for me to comprehend especially against the stunning backdrops. The plot became too jumbled and messy so it is advisable to drift off and take it all in rather than trying to make sense of everything.

A visual marvel Excalibur (1981) will delight the apt film fan. I fantasize about how the picture would look and feel on the big screen but I wasn’t that lucky. The story is obviously far-fetched and ludicrous at times, but somehow that doesn’t matter and didn’t hinder my enjoyment of it. I was treated to good-looking people in armor, unique costumes, and various states of undress. And that’s just fine with me.

Absence of Malice-1981

Absence of Malice-1981

Director-Sydney Pollack

Starring-Paul Newman, Sally Field

Scott’s Review #1,055

Reviewed August 20, 2020

Grade: A-

Absence of Malice (1981) is a terrific, slick crime thriller that while compelling and way above average in content, feels like a studio creation and a starring vehicle for its two A-list stars.

There is little wrong with this since Paul Newman and Sally Field are top-notch talents and the resulting project has tension, thrills, and a relevant concept. I loved the Miami locales as the hot and steamy atmosphere helps set the proper tone tremendously with sizzling romance and intrigue. Despite feeling manipulated for the casting, the film nonetheless feels fresh and authentic.

The film compares to 1976’s magnificent All the President’s Men as far as story and looks go, though Absence of Malice is much more mainstream. The former has more grit and dirt while the latter adds some romance that may or may not have been a wise decision and the chemistry between Newman and Field is mediocre, but it’s the story that works. In rock n roll terms, Absence of Malice is the opening act to All the President’s Men’s headliner. They make a perfect double-bill.

Field plays Megan Carter, an ambitious young journalist who writes a scathing article implicating Michael Gallagher (Newman), a successful liquor wholesaler with ties to a criminal family, with the disappearance of a labor leader. When he confronts Megan, she sees his side, and the duo team up to find the truth. Complicating matters is their mutual attraction which leads to romantic interludes.

The initial setup seems like a ploy to have Megan and Michael at odds and then fall madly in love. Fortunately, the story has more depth than that. Any trite 1980’s or 1990’s romantic comedy uses the same trick. No, not only do sparks fly but the characters realize that Megan was duped in order to write the article. This sets off a series of events to figure out who wants to frame Michael and why. And why Megan has been “chosen” to help see this through.

There is plenty of political espionage and other things to keep the audience engaged. Similar genre films would flood movie theaters throughout the decade becoming watered down. If Absence of Malice was released in 1988 or 1989 it would not have had the same effect as it did upon release in 1981. The soggy 1980’s style of filmmaking had not yet appeared, so I like to think of Absence as more of a 1970’s film.

Sally Field is a Nancy Drew type, a sleuth determined to solve a mystery. She is assertive, yet feminine with a trendy hairstyle. Newman is, well, Newman. Aging handsomely with his dazzling blue eyes he can charm the pants off any woman. I didn’t quite buy the romantic element and not because he is at least twenty years older than she. He is suave and charming, and she is so strait-laced that the romance doesn’t work. The film would have been better as a buddy film with a male and a female buddy.

Supporting stars flesh the film out nicely, especially Melinda Dillon who is fabulous in the role of Teresa Perrone, the conflicted friend of Michael’s who serves as his alibi. In a nicely crafted side story, she suffers because her abortion is revealed to the public. Teresa, a devout Catholic must decide between life and death. Admirable is it to give a supporting character a good, juicy story.

Pollack is the right director for the job and he successfully crafts a thriller that is laden with liberal beliefs and serves up a message film without losing the tension. Absence of Malice has snippets of style and tone reminiscent of some of his other films like They Shoot Horses, Don’t They (1969), The Way We Were (1973), and The Electric Horseman (1979). My mind wanders thinking about a potential Robert Redford/Jane Fonda pairing instead of Field and Newman, or some combination of a Barbra Streisand/Newman/Redford/Fonda mix.

I am not sure if Absence of Malice (1981) is still on anyone’s radar, but some forty years later the message couldn’t be timelier. When journalists are regularly attacked by government officials for providing “fake news” or “alternate facts” this film is a refreshing reminder that more often what they seek is to uncover corruption and get to the truth.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor-Paul Newman, Best Supporting Actress-Melinda Dillon, Best Original Screenplay

Raiders of the Lost Ark-1981

Raiders of the Lost Ark-1981

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Harrison Ford, Karen Allen

Scott’s Review #757

Reviewed May 15, 2018

Grade: A

A film that kicked off the tremendously successful and ever-so-fun 1980’s trilogy, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is a treasure in the adventure genre time capsule. Director Steven Spielberg embarks on the journey of one of the most highly visible film heroes in that of Indiana “Indie” Jones, a swashbuckling, aww shucks kind of guy. Harrison Ford is perfectly cast in a role that perfectly fits him and, besides Han Solo, defined him during the decade- the best role of his career if you ask me.

Wonderful to watch in sequence with the even more superb Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), these two films are a pure pleasure as our hero faces dangerous obstacles at every turn while either chased by or pursuing sinister robbers or other undesirables. All the while Indie keeps his familiar sly grin and numerous jokes to entertain audiences.

As a piece of film making Raiders of the Lost Ark has it all with superior writing, editing, cinematography, art direction, sound, and visuals effects. They reaped many Oscar nominations, quite uncommon for an adventure tale, but the merits were warranted. Atypical compared to other films of this type, the film is not overly saturated with phony machismo or unnecessary “guy” stuff, but rather appealing and genuine.

The time period is 1936 and archaeologist Indiana Jones works as a professor at a University. Known for retrieving ancient artifacts he is contacted by Army intelligence officers who ask him to help stop the Nazis from acquiring the Ark of the Covenant which they believe will make their armies invincible, allowing them to conquer the world in a sinister fashion.

Events lead Indie to Marion (Karen Allen), who harbors resentments towards him for a failed past romance. The rest of the film follows the pair throughout Nepal and Cairo in an attempt to recover the Ark before the Nazis do.

Raiders of the Lost Ark contains all of the elements for a successful “hit” movie and has blockbuster written all over it. This is not a slight against the film, but rather a testament to all involved.

Led by successful Spielberg who knows how to connect all the dots, first and foremost Ford infuses charisma into his character so that the audience enjoys his sensibilities and desire for the truth. Indie is intent on protecting humankind so Spielberg carves a “good versus bad” approach- making the villainous Nazis the antithesis of Jones which creates a clear rooting value.

My personal favorite scene in the film concludes. Nicknamed the “face-melting scene” this scene contains then state of the art special effects that compelled and mesmerized me and also led to light nightmares for any kid under the age of twelve. The way that the bad guys see swirling, benevolent ghosts- first beautiful and peaceful, but soon turning deadly- cause their faces to literally melt off or shrivel-the scene is both inventive and dramatic.

Not to be dismissed as trite or fluff are the exciting and memorable scenes dubbed “the snake scene” and “the rolling boulder scene”.  In the former Indie wryly admits his fear and trepidation of snakes as he must traverse a huge pit filled with thousands of them and he comes face to face with a deadly King cobra. In the latter scene, Indie must outrun a speeding boulder as he takes an ancient artifact from a sacred spot inside a cave, causing boulders to collapse around him. Both scenes are enormous fun and the immeasurable edge-of-your-seat sequences.

I never sensed much chemistry between actors Ford and Allen, but writing the characters of Indie and Marion as former lovers adds a good bit of tension and sparring between the characters- this provides for some good fodder and humorous situations. Thankfully the romance between the two is neither the focal point of the film nor all too important, but rather, in the safety that the 1980’s cinema was- merely a necessity.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is a superb adventure film holding up better than it should decades beyond release. The film is rich with good old-fashioned action, a charismatic hero, thrills, intrigue, and a good history lesson for those interested in the build-up to World War II. The accounts are fictional of course, but Spielberg offers a fine 1980’s cinematic experience that’s got it all.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Steven Spielberg, Best Original Score, Best Sound (won), Best Art Direction (won), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing (won), Best Visual Effects (won)

Friday the 13th: Part II: 1981

Friday the 13th: Part II: 1981

Director-Steve Miner

Starring-Amy Steel, John Furey

Scott’s Review #742

Reviewed April 15, 2018

Grade: A-

Hot on the heels of the surprising success of the low-budget slasher film, Friday the 13th, a sequel to the 1980 film was immediately ordered. The film was released merely a year later and is nearly as good as its predecessor, but not quite to the level of that horror masterpiece. Part II is a well above average sequel with a fun style all its own while wisely keeping facets that made the first Friday adored by horror fans everywhere.

Gushing fans must have undoubtedly been chomping at the bit for a follow-up film and with an opening sequence that is quite lengthy.  The heroine of the first Friday, Alice Hardy (Adrienne King), takes center stage, eliciting a clever twist that must have shocked fans as she is offed less than fifteen minutes into the film- think the sequence with Drew Barrymore in 1996’s Scream for comparison.

Regardless of the reasons King would not be the star of the film (money demands or a rumored stalker), the fact of the matter is this improves the overall film adding an immediate surprise.

After this compelling opening number, things become much more familiar and predictable as the viewer is enshrined in the antics of young and horny camp counselors rushing to sunny Camp Crystal Lake (or in this installment, a neighboring camp) to set up for the impending arrival of kids. The young adults are all very good-looking, fresh-faced, and ready to be sliced to ribbons or dismembered in some fashion as the case may be. As any horror aficionado knows, this is a major part of the appeal of slasher films, and Friday the 13th: Part II follows a familiar formula.

Paul (John Furey) and Ginny (Amy Steel) are the lead counselors- a bit more adult and responsible than the others, thus they ignore the authority’s warnings not to re-open the camp since it has only been five years since the original massacres. As the day turns into evening, Paul teases the group with the story of the legend of Jason and how he survived his drowning only to live in the woods fending for himself and avenging the death of his mother. Little do they know that the legend is real and Jason is lurking among the trees ready to off the group one by one.

Besides Paul and Ginny, the supporting characters include sexy Terry, known to wear skimpy attire, sly Scott, who has designs on Terry, wheelchair-bound Mark, sweet and innocent, Vickie, jokester Ted, and, finally, madly in love, Jeff and Sandra, who are curious about the history of Camp Crystal Lake. Delightfully, the character of Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney), the comic relief of the original film, makes a heralded return to warn the youths of impending doom and gloom.

Friday the 13th: Part II mixes pranks and flirtations among many of the characters, but the audience knows full well what is in store for each of them- save for the honorable “final girl”, prevalent in these types of films. With Ginny receiving this title the others meet their fates in bloody style with interesting kills such as a throat slit by a machete while in a rope trap, a duo impaled with a spear as they engage in sex, and bludgeoning with a kitchen knife.

The final twenty minutes is quite engaging as Ginny must flee from the camp while enduring repeated obstacles preventing her safety such as a run through the woods, tripping and falling, and a failed barricade in a cabin. A wonderful touch within this sequence is the return of Betsy Palmer (Mrs. Voorhees) in a cameo appearance as Jason sees a vision of his mother. This move successfully creates a tie-in to the original that works quite nicely as coupled with the opening sequence. The final “jump out of your seat” moment is highly effective as Jason, thought to be bested, leaps through a window for one final attack.

Interesting to note is what appear to be identical camera angles through much of the film, as the camera uses the point of view of the killer numerous times to elicit scares and the viewer serving as the killer- reminiscent of the first film. Additionally, camera shots of the peaceful, sunny camp and lake during the daytime are used, in contrast to the violence occurring at night.  Even the approaching car the counselor’s drive (a truck) is shot the same way as we see them arriving at the camp in full anticipation of a fun time.

Friday the 13th: Part II is a fun follow-up to one of the most celebrated horror films of the slasher generation and is a perfect counterpart to the original. A perfect viewing tip is to watch both films in sequence on perhaps a late-night horror extravaganza. Subsequently followed by a slew of not-so-great sequels as the franchise became dated by the late 1980s, Part 2 serves as an excellent follow-up to the original using a similar style that will please fans.

Happy Birthday to Me-1981

Happy Birthday to Me-1981

Director-J. Lee Thompson

Starring-Melissa Sue Anderson, Glenn Ford

Scott’s Review #621

Reviewed March 4, 2017

Grade: A-

Happy Birthday to Me is a 1981 slasher film that I fondly remember scaring the living daylights out of me as a little kid-clearly too young to be watching a film of this nature, but sneaking into my parent’s bedroom with my brother to catch this film. Certain that the film helped shape my passion for the horror film genre, I hold a fondness for it- critics be damned. My opinion is that the film is a small treasure in the land of 1980’s slasher films, containing a neat whodunit and a grotesque ending.

Melissa Sue Anderson, clearly desiring to break out of her nice television persona thanks to the wholesome Little House on the Prairie, is cast in the lead role. Happy Birthday to Me also achieves some merit since the film is directed by acclaimed British director, J. Lee Thompson (Cape Fear). Anderson carries the film quite well in a challenging part. Glenn Ford co-stars as a Doctor.

Virginia Wainwright is a pretty and popular senior at exclusive Crawford Academy- a school for elite, rich kids. In fact, she is part of the “Top Ten”, the most popular and richest kids in the school. The ten friends meet nightly at the local pub. One night, Bernadette, one of the top ten, is murdered by an assailant on her way to meet her friends.

This murder sets the tone as, one by one, the others are subsequently killed off, sending the school and local townspeople into a frenzy of panic. To thicken the plot, Virginia was involved in a horrible car accident four years earlier, which killed her mother, and caused Virginia to only have sparse memories of the accident. This piece is key to the film’s mystery.

There are many comparisons I can make to slasher classics that heavily influenced Happy Birthday to Me, but the most prominent must be 1978’s Halloween. The character of Virginia is very similar to Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), in their somewhat virginal, good girl characters, and both have an almost identical hairstyle! Also, Happy Birthday to Me successfully uses the killer’s point of view as the camera frequently serves as the perspective of either the killer or somebody lurking around spying on someone else. The film also just “looks” similar to Halloween.

The whodunit aspect is the most effective of all the qualities of the film. There are a multitude of likely suspects and the film does not shy away from this, purposely casting doubt on several characters- could it be the creepy Alfred, who carries around a pet mouse and creates a fake head of the murdered Bernadette? Or the suave French student, Etienne, who snoops in Virginia’s bedroom and steals a pair of her panties? Finally, could it be Head Mistress, Mrs. Patterson, a harsh, no-nonsense woman harboring resentment for the snobbish, elitism that exists at her school?

When the killer has finally revealed a measure of pure shock and confusion will undoubtedly transpire- how can this be? But by the time the ultimate finale is played out all will make sense. The conclusion does disappoint slightly in the implausibility factor, and the original ending is much more logical and compelling than what was actually in the final cut- rumors have run rampant that the screenplay of the film was rewritten numerous times well into the production- never a good thing. So, the motivations of the actual killer are quite weak, but the buildup is amazing.

Not to be outdone by the whodunit, the kills themselves are superlative: a shish kabob to the throat, falling gym weights, a scarf caught in the spokes of a bike, and the traditional fireplace poker are done in macabre and fantastic fashion. We always see the killer’s gloved hands and we are aware that the victim is friendly with the killer, so we continually try and deduce who it could be.

The gruesome “Birthday party” finale is gruesome and gleeful at the same time. Each murder victim is propped up around a dining room table, each with a party hat on and all in various forms of dismemberment or blood-soaked from their murder wounds. It is a grim and hilarious reveal. The murderer parades out of the kitchen wielding an enormous birthday cake, cheerily singing “Happy Birthday to Me”. This is one great finale.

Happy Birthday to Me is a wonderful trip down memory lane and the film still holds up as a key, perhaps overlooked part of the slasher genre that should be rediscovered by fans and followers everywhere.

Blow Out-1981

Blow Out-1981

Director-Brian De Palma

Starring-John Travolta, Nancy Allen

Scott’s Review #574

Reviewed December 31, 2016

Grade: A-

The follow-up to the 1980 masterpiece that was Dressed to Kill, Brian De Palma carves a web of intrigue and mystery with Blow Out, a film starring some of the same cast members from Dressed to Kill and from 1976’s Carrie.

Certainly, comparisons can be drawn to the trio as they are all in the psychological thriller/horror vein- notwithstanding, the predecessors are the superior films. Blow Out is not quite on the level with those masterpieces, but is still a worthy effort and a must-see for fans of De Palma’s work.

John Travolta and Nancy Allen are the stars of the film-recreating their chemistry from Carrie. In that film, the pair are the clear villains, but in Blow Out they are the heroes and have a rooting value.

Dennis Franz appears as a shady thug and John Lithgow is superb as the dastardly  Burke, hired to commit a crime, and enjoying it all too much.

Travolta plays Jack Terry, a sound effects technician, working and living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He works on low-budget horror films and is highly respected for his craft. Alone in a remote park, recording sound, and video, he records a car careening off a bridge into a creek.

He saves Sally (Allen) from the sinking car and this is the point in the film where the intrigue takes off. The driver of the car is a governor and he has died- Sally was having an affair with the governor and his aides are intent on covering this up.

To make matters more complicated, Jack has detected a gunshot on his recording-just before the crash, leading to obvious foul play.

I adore the beginning sequence of the film- my favorite. The film begins as a slasher film, unbeknownst to the audience. A collection of dizzy college girls dance, drink, and shower, as the cameras are placed outside of the dorms.

We see all of the action through the glass windows, then the steady cam is used from the killer’s point of view. This is a highly effective scene and rather humorous too. Inevitably, a creepy killer appears in the shower to butcher one of the college girls until the real beginning of the film starts.

This aspect is clever on the part of  De Palma. Why not trick the audience early and keep them guessing?

Also compelling is the villain of the film- Lithgow. Typically playing sweet-natured characters, it was interesting to see him as a maniacal killer- and reminiscent of the crazed killer from Dirty Harry, in his harried, grotesque facial features.

One particularly chilling scene involves the murder of a prostitute at the train station. I like this scene because the audience gets to know her a bit before she meets her fate- adding a level of empathy for the victim.

Enjoyable are the location sequences of Philadelphia, which give authenticity to the film. Specifically, the train station. Grizzled, dirty, and bustling, the locales set the tone of the film.

The chemistry between Travolta and Allen is decent, though I found more chemistry between them in Carrie. I did not care for Allen’s use of an accent- intended to be a Philadelphia accent, it seemed a New Jersey one to me and simply does not work at all in the film.

This distraction is the only weak point of the film.

All in all, Blow Out is a very good film. It combines mystery, political intrigue, and the famed De Palma stamp- which in itself is worthwhile enough to watch.

Blow Out contains a dream-like element- as Carrie and Dressed to Kill before it did, which only enhances the mystique. The not so happily-ever-after ending is superb.

Halloween II-1981

Halloween II-1981

Director-Rick Rosenthal

Starring-Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence

Scott’s Review #505

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Reviewed October 31, 2016

Grade: A

The follow-up to the surprise 1978 cult classic, independently made Halloween- directed by legend John Carpenter,  Halloween II was made in 1981. In real life, it is three years later, but in the film picking up immediately where the original left off in a chronological sense- the infamous night Michael Myers came home to brutalize the town where he killed his sister years earlier. This is an excellent plot point that makes this film successful as it takes the viewer immediately back to that infamous night. Halloween II is one of my personal favorite film sequels.

Despite not directing Halloween II, John Carpenter, along with Debra Hill, both wrote the script so that they are, thankfully, heavily involved in the production of this film, giving it authenticity and familiarity. So much so that Halloween and Halloween II can be watched back to back- like one long film.

Michael Myers’s path of destruction continues in the sleepy, suburban town of Haddonfield, Illinois. This point looms large in this fantastic sequel and we are treated to a direct transition from original to sequel.

The events switch from babysitter territory to the community hospital as new characters- mostly doctors, nurses, and ambulance people are introduced to the story, Laurie’s friends are sadly deceased.  Certainly, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Doctor Loomis (Donald Pleasence) are the main stars of the film and by the climax take center stage.

As a recap- the determined Loomis shot Michael Myers several times as he tumbled off of a balcony to his presumed death. Spectacularly, the original Halloween brilliantly set the stage for a sequel, as Myers survives and disappears into the night-whereabouts unknown.

Now hours later, Laurie is transported to Haddonfield hospital for treatment.  While there, the hospital staff do their best to protect her but are subsequently offed one by one by the crazed killer, who finds his way into the (conveniently!) deserted hospital.

The great quality of Halloween II is that it is gorier than its predecessor. More characters are sliced and diced in an unceremoniously brutal fashion. One has her blood drained, another is stabbed in the eye with a syringe. Yet another is repeatedly dunked into scalding water. And then there is the traditional knife in the back.

In contrast to many other slasher films, the supporting cast of characters are quite likable and they are given little backstories of their own- a great touch. Bud- the wise-cracking ambulance driver is dating Nurse Karen. Jimmy, a handsome orderly, takes a shine to Laurie.

Mixed in with the clearly heavy horror are nice comic moments, as when Nurse Janet ineptly tries to assist the hospital security guard- the bumbling Mr. Garrett, with a walkie-talkie, or when Head Nurse Mrs. Alves scolds the staff for being tardy. We grow to care for these characters, in their little night-shift family, so that their inevitable demises hit home.

The chilling music- so instrumental to the success of the original- is slightly modernized into more of a keyboard-style sound. This gives a slicker, more commercial appeal. Not to take away from the brilliance of the original score, but it is nice to hear a change- giving a fresher, more contemporary sound, rather than simply copying the same music.

Admittedly, Halloween II is not quite on par with Halloween, but that is asking the impossible. Halloween is a masterpiece, but Halloween II holds its own and is more than adequate as a sequel having large shoes to fill. Thanks to many of the same creators involved, it does not lose its edge nor its relevance all these years later.

My Bloody Valentine-1981

My Bloody Valentine-1981

Director-George Mihalka

Starring-Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier

Top 20 Horror Films-#20

Scott’s Review #367

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Grade: A

Reviewed January 9, 2016

My Bloody Valentine is a perfect slasher film to watch on the romantic holiday of Valentine’s Day or, in fact, any day during the cold and snowy month of February. The film sort of loses something if watched during summer or any other time of the year since the dark and harsh feeling of the film is perfect atmosphere if watched appropriately.

In my opinion, My Bloody Valentine is an underrated gem of the early 1980’s- just as Black Christmas was to the 1970’s- and both ironically are heralded so by directors such as Quentin Tarantino. Other less gritty films of this nature received greater exposure and commercial success, but I am proud to name My Bloody Valentine as one of my Top 100 favorite films. Both are also “holiday-themed” films.

The plot is basic, yet layered, with a unique setting. Rather than a creepy house, a summer camp or some other tried and true device, we have the ingenious coal mine setting- immediately fraught with great potential.

Think about it- a coal mine is dark, suffocating, creepy, with countless secret passages, the fear of being lost, and running out of oxygen. It is also underground where help can easily be unobtainable. The town is aptly named Valentine Bluff (how clever) so Valentine’s Day is a major holiday. The Mayor and police chief figure prominently in the story and the use of town history makes the film engaging.

Typical for the slasher genre we have a bunch of horny teens, partying to the max, who decide that the coal mine is the perfect place to throw a Valentine’s Day party, and they do so with gusto. There are a few middle-aged characters with meaty stuff to do, and the main plot is of the whodunit sort. The killer’s get-up is simply genius. He (or she) is wearing a miner’s outfit, completely dark, with an oxygen mask, which elicits a heavy breathing sound adding to the great atmosphere that My Bloody Valentine contains.

One of my favorite scenes involves the offing of Mabel Osbourne, the earnest, sweet-natured party planner, who excitedly is preparing the annual Valentine’s day town dance. She marvels at receiving a box of chocolates with a wonderful poem until she reads the poem. “Roses are red, violets are blue- two are dead and so are you”! Poor Mabel then has her heart removed and it is sent (gift wrapped naturally) to the Mayor and police chief. The scene is both horrific and comical.

My Bloody Valentine is a favorite of the genre for me and actually cascades that genre with its bloodiness, fun storytelling, and wicked charm.

Escape from New York-1981

Escape from New York-1981

Director-John Carpenter

Starring-Kurt Russell, Adrienne Barbeau

Top 100 Films-#76

Scott’s Review #344

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Escape from New York epitomizes a great action film to me. Too often, action films are filled with run-of-the-mill characters, are plot-driven, and are mediocre stories that lack creativity. I adore Escape from New York, however. The creativity and amazing direction by John Carpenter allows the film to soar high above what is typical for this genre. The unique premise sets things off immediately as we follow the mission of ex-con Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) to save an important figure in peril.

In futuristic 1997, we learn that due to skyrocketing crime throughout the United States, New York City has been fenced off and turned into a maximum-security prison. All of the most hardened and demonic criminals have been isolated on Manhattan island to fend for themselves- free to kill or be killed as they like.

The rest of the country is presumably crime-free- though we never see the rest of the country. The President of the United States (Donald Pleasence) is taken hostage when Air Force One crashes on Manhattan island. Snake is injected with a poison that will kill him in twenty-four hours unless he successfully rescues the president and returns him alive and well.

I love this film because it is strictly Carpenter’s vision. Due to the success of 1978’s Halloween, he was given creative freedom and a big budget to film in St. Louis (doubling for New York). The film contains eerie synthesizer music (reminiscent of Halloween and Halloween II) which sets the tone exceptionally well. The dark and abandoned sets are wonderful and capture a futuristic world oh so well.

The audience will undoubtedly become enraptured as Snake’s mission is literally do or die- if he does not save the president he dies. As Snake arrives atop the World Trade Center via glider, now post 9/11, this scene takes on a haunting quality.

Snake then immerses himself into the gloomy world of Manhattan facing all sorts of dangers along the way. Punk rock-looking creatures scurry around the city- many insane, and Snake meets odd character after odd character in his quest to save the president. His main ally is Cabbie, played by Ernest Borgnine.

The villain of the story is Duke, not well cast nor well developed in my opinion, but this can be overlooked because of his super rad Cadillac and his two fascinating accomplices- Maggie (Barbeau) and Brain (Harry Dean Stanton).

The lavish sets include the New York Public Library and Grand Central Station- I love that there are so many iconic New York City locales featured- the fact that they are not actually shot in the genuine areas does not bother me. The art direction is done so well that I was fooled.

Escapism fare to be sure, but a unique entry in the action genre. Thanks to fantastic direction and a likable star, escape from New York succeeds.

An American Werewolf in London-1981

An American Werewolf in London-1981

Director-John Landis

Starring David Naughton, Griffin Dunne

Scott’s Review #253

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Reviewed July 2, 2015

Grade: B

A melding together of British-American horror and comedy, An American Werewolf in London (1981) provides entertainment while also being a campy and silly comedy.

While two American buddies, Jack and David, traverse the countryside of England with backpacks in tow, a spring break jaunt of sorts, one is viciously attacked and killed by a strange werewolf setting off a series of strange occurrences that play out over the remainder of the film.

From this point, the film is told from the perspective of one of the males as the other appears to him in visions warning of his inevitable demise into a werewolf.

An American Werewolf in London does not intend to mock the genre of horror but is certainly campy and over-the-top.

Despite cult classic accolades being thrust upon the film which I respect, it is not among my favorites.

I would have preferred it tilt more towards the horror classification rather than the comedy because it comes across as some sort of a spoof as the main characters overact.

The film has a silly quality to it. It is light fare instead of dark or morbid and even the kills are meant to be fun, not horrific. In a way, it is almost cheesy and that is not a compliment.

This is not to say that the film is completely subpar. It is decent, but not very believable and I think that is a distraction and a missed opportunity.

However, my favorite characteristics of this film are the makeup/special effects and the musical score which features such fitting treats as “Moondance”, “Bad Moon Rising”, and “Blue Moon”.

Sense an intelligent theme? The makeup, especially during the reanimation sequences is creative and still impressive today considering the film was made in 1981.

Besides, the best scene of the film is undoubtedly the “Slaughtered Lamb” scene when Jack and David stumble upon the aptly named pub filled with interesting, blue-collar-looking locales.

When one of the tourists inquires about a mysterious five-pointed star on the wall the pub dwellers become angry and cold leading the young men to be confused and intrigued.

This scene is filled with interest and I only wish the pub characters had more of a chance to shine as they seem benevolent and filled with potential backstory.

I would have enjoyed learning more about the history of these folks.

Sadly, the focus is by and large on Jack and David and a poorly constructed love interest- Nurse Alex Price, who is not to be taken at all seriously and played for one-dimensional laughs.

A lighthearted, sort of fun late-night flick, An American Werewolf in London is a cult film, though I would not agree with the cult classic distinction.

Oscar Nominations: Best Makeup (won)

Mommie Dearest-1981

Mommie Dearest-1981

Director-Frank Perry

Starring-Faye Dunaway

Top 100 Films-#44

Scott’s Review #195

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Reviewed November 20, 2014

Grade: A

Camp, camp, camp! By this point in film history Mommie Dearest and this description go hand in hand, but when made in 1981, it was meant to be a much more serious film than it turned out to be. Sadly, due to a few very over-the-top lines, it is forever inducted into the halls of cult classic memory.

Based on the scandalous tell-all book written by Christina Crawford (Joan’s adopted daughter), Mommie Dearest tells the story of Joan Crawford, a Hollywood screen legend, from her heyday in the 1930s, until she died in 1977, and mostly focuses on the tumultuous relationship with Christina- played as an adult by Diana Scarwid.

Convinced a baby was missing from her life and unable to conceive after several miscarriages with a former flame, Crawford’s beau at the time, an attorney, wrangles a way for her to adopt both Christina and later, Christopher Crawford.

Dealing with her mother’s demands and abuse, Christina goes from a happy little girl to a rebellious teen sent to live in a convent and later struggling to find her way as an actress in New York City with no financial support from Mom.

The film also wonderfully describes the career of Crawford- from highs (winning the Academy Award for Mildred Pierce) to lows (being cut from MGM and reduced to screen tests). The film also recounts Joan Crawford’s continuing battles with booze and neuroses.

From start to finish the film belongs to Dunaway as she simply becomes Crawford- the eyelashes, the mannerisms, every detail is spot on.

Unfortunately for Dunaway, due to the unintentional comedic view of this film, she was robbed of an Oscar nomination, shamefully so. In fact, the film was awarded several Razzies- a derogatory honor given to the year’s worst films. Dunaway must have put her heart and soul into this performance.

During the infamous wire hanger scene, Dunaway looks frightening as her face, caked with cold cream, reveals a grotesque mask- reminiscent of Batman character The Joker- as she shrieks at her daughter in the middle of the night, during a drunken tirade, after finding beautiful clothes on wire hangers. She then trashes her daughter’s bathroom insisting it is already filthy.

One shrieks with gales of laughter as Crawford berates her maid Helga for not scrubbing beneath a potted plant, only to insist, “I’m not mad at you Helga, I’m mad at the dirt”. In another haunting scene, Joan throws a birthday party for Christina complete with a merry-go-round, balloons, presents, and the paparazzi. Joan’s attire is a little girl dress matching young Christina’s- a morbid foreshadowing of the competition that is to exist between them as the years go by.

The secondary characters are merely an extension of Dunaway’s character and do their best to support her- her harried live-in assistant, Carol Ann, played by Rutanya Alda, both of her love interests, lawyer, Greg Savitt, played by Steve Forrest, and later, Pepsi-Cola mogul Alfred Steele, played by Harry Goz.

The actors do their best with the material given and are neither exceptional nor flawed. None of these supporting characters have any backstory other than to react to Crawford’s drama and, if written better, may have given the film a bit more depth.

The look of the film is pleasing- Crawford’s house is beautifully decorated with lavish furniture and the colors throughout the film are both bright and vivid. The now-legendary lines of “No wire hangers ever!”, “Christina! Bring me the ax!”, and “Don’t f### with me fellas, this ain’t my first time at the rodeo” are hysterical in their melodrama and effect.

Crawford is clearly portrayed as an obsessive-compulsive, demanding, control freak. One may debate the authenticity of the claims Christina made against Joan Crawford until the end of time. Not the masterpiece it was intended to be, the film can be enjoyed viewing after viewing for some campy silliness, with one hell of a great performance by Dunaway mixed in.

The Evil Dead-1981

The Evil Dead-1981

Director-Sam Raimi

Starring-Bruce Campbell

Scott’s Review #144

484369

Reviewed July 31, 2014

Grade: B+

For its time The Evil Dead was a unique, creative, visually impressive horror classic and far different from the wave of mediocre slasher films from this time period (1981). In the story, five teenagers head to a remote cabin in Tennessee for spring break.

From the beginning of the trip, there is trouble- they are almost killed in a head-on collision, their car almost falls into a rickety bridge, and finally, at the cabin, they stumble upon a haunted book. From this point, even stranger events begin to develop and the haunting, crazy action begins.

Director Sam Raimi does an excellent job from a visual standpoint- the camera racing through the woods from the demon’s point of view is very effective and scary. The ambiance is creepy- fog, mist, smoke, and the lighting are great. The film has all the elements- darkness, remote cabin, woods coming alive for a genuinely scary horror flick. Yes, the film seems a bit campy watching it now, but at the time the special effects were brilliant.

My personal favorite is the long shot of the twitching dismembered body and the various, hysterically funny chattering and gibberish among the demons.

The ending of the film is very well done.