Movies Reviews

Fade to Black (1980) Review: A clever psychological slasher movie.

Fade to Black. Released in 1980. Directed by Vernon Zimmerman and starring Dennis Christopher

Fade to Black, directed by Vernon Zimmerman and released in 1980, tells the story of young movie buff Eric Binford (no relation to Home Improvement), played wonderfully by Dennis Christopher, as he begins to spiral out of control committing murders based on movies that he loves. The movie appears to be a slasher on the surface but is much more of a psychological horror film with a dash of dark comedy.

Eric lives with his Aunt Stella in a cramped house. Stella is confined to a wheelchair and blames all of her woes on Eric, upset that she had to raise him. She despises Eric’s movie obsession and constantly reminds him of what a failure and disappointment he is. Not only does Eric have to deal with a controlling and abusive Aunt, but he is not treated much better at work where he is constantly berated by his boss, and harassed by two other employees Richie (played by a young Mickey Rourke) and Joey (played by Peter Horton). While out running errands for work, Eric meets a young girl named Marilyn who bears a striking resemblance to Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn is played by Linda Kerridge who looks as close to Marilyn Monroe as you can get and gives a great performance to top it off. Eric wins a date with Marilyn and then is stood up by her after he forgets about their plans. After Eric returns home, he kills his Aunt Stella by pushing her wheelchair down the stairs recreating a scene from Kiss of Death, released in 1947. A subplot in the movie features a Doctor named Jerry Moriarty (Tim Thomerson) investigating youth violence and sees a link between movie violence and adolescent violence.

One of the best things about Fade to Black is the callbacks to the classic movies that Eric is inspired by during his murder spree. Scenes from classic films are spliced into the movie to show the audience what is being referenced. Usually, I would dislike the spoon-fed scenes showing you what is being referenced but Vernon Zimmerman makes it work here using the references to let us get a glimpse into the mind of Eric as he goes insane.

The movie, at first glance, seems to be reinforcing the idea that movies cause violence, and at first glance that is what people would think about Eric. Eric is a loner who devours movies constantly and uses what he sees to inspire his foul acts, but the audience sees that his violent tendencies come not only from the movies he watched but from the psychological abuse that he has experienced at the hands of his aunt over the years–there is even some evidence that she is sexually abusive, requesting a back massage from him after she lends him money and requesting it grotesquely. Eric also comes across as misogynistic and entitled. He uses his movie knowledge as a way to hold power over people, thinking of them as idiotic if they don’t understand what he is talking about. His misogyny shows in his violence towards women and his objectification of Marilyn, who he obsesses over due to her resemblance to Marilyn Monroe.

Fade to Black is one of those movies that you know will only improve on multiple rewatches due to its more complex psychological slasher tendencies. This movie takes inspiration not only from the slashers that were being made at the time but also movies like Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and the many characters of James Cagney, whose movies make multiple appearances. Fade to Black is a complex semi-slasher that deals with themes of escapism, violence, and loneliness. Fade to Black was a much more complex movie than I was anticipating and what worth the watch.

Rating 3.5/5

Movies Reviews

The Banana Splits Movie (2019): Review

The Banana Splits Movie: Directed by Danishka Esterhazy

The Banana Splits Movie, released in 2019 and directed by Danishka Esterhazy, is not as fun as it pretends to be. I was far too distracted by the poor acting and terrible script to have fun watching this movie, and that is a shame because I feel like the idea lends itself to be a fun movie. Based on The Banana Splits show from the late Sixties and early Seventies, The Banana Splits Movie takes the characters of Fleegle, Bingo, Drooper, and Snorky and turns them into animatronic killers similar to the creatures in the popular Five Nights at Freddy’s video game franchise. The movie felt like an overly long Funny or Die sketch. Everyone understands that the four animal characters have an eerie appearance, but that joke begins to wear thin throughout the 89 minutes run time.

The story follows a boy named Harley (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong), his mother Beth (Dani Kind), his brother Austin (Romeo Carere), and Harley’s “friend” Zoe (Mariah Nash)-who only accompanies the family out of obligation because it is Harley’s birthday-as they survive a day of terror after the animatronic Banana Splits gang goes haywire and begins murdering people. As negative as I feel about this movie, I will praise some of the practical gore effects that are displayed. The kills are also aided by the comedic reactions of the cartoonish animatronics as they brutally slaughter people. The best kill of the movie features a lollipop being shoved down a man’s throat, and the corpse coming back later for some wacky stunts. 

There isn’t much to say about this movie, it has one gimmick, and it begins to stretch thin by the end of the film. At only 89 minutes, the movie felt a lot longer than it was. I usually enjoy wacky, goofy slashers flicks, but this one doesn’t deliver the goods. The acting, pacing, and script are awful, the only redeeming qualities being the practical gore effects and the goofy reactions of the Banana Splits gang. I would recommend skipping this movie there are plenty of other goofy slasher movies that are more rewarding than this one.

Rating 1.5/5

Movies Reviews

New Year’s Evil (1980) Review: Ringing in the New Year with a bland slasher from the Cannon Film Group.

New Year’s Evil. Released in 1980. Directed by Emmet Alston. Starring Roz Kelly and Kip Niven.

I see that my writing partner decided to review Pixar’s Soul, a movie that sounds quite delightful and probably features complex emotions and stunning visual moments; I went in the opposite direction. My final film review is for New Year’s Evil, a trashy low budget slasher from the Cannon Group, known for iconic classics such as Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.

New Year’s Evil features a misogynistic killer who targets women on New Year’s Eve. He calls into a New Year’s Eve party, entitled New Year’s Evil, and tells the sexy lady host that he is Evil (how he actually refers to himself) and at every stroke of midnight from around the USA, he will kill a different woman. The New Year’s Eve party features zombie-like dancing from the drugged-out punks in the audience and multiple repetitions of the same song that we hear during the opening credits.

You get what you expect from New Year’s Evil, a cheesy slasher that was more than likely trying to cash in on the slasher craze created by John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978). The kills in the movie are not very memorable. The moments that stuck out to me were the awkward exchanges between characters and the incredibly stilted and bland acting. None of the characters seem emotionally invested in the situation at hand. The cops and the people that are harassed seem more bored and inconvenienced than terrified by the crazy slasher going around murdering women. One amazing exchange occurs between one of the killer’s soon to be victims and a normal clerk at a liquor store. As they are exchanging goods and money he wishes her a dramatic Happy New Year; the woman nods her head, almost in lamentation rather than joy for what is to come, and I related to that so deeply and on so many levels. This sequence ends with the woman discovering Evil in the dumpster, which gives us the best shot of the movie with his face being illuminated by his lighter.

New Year’s Evil is nothing special, but the cheesiness and bizarre exchanges between characters made for a slightly memorable experience. Honestly, New Year’s Evil makes a perfect final viewing of 2020; after it starts you kind of want it to end so you can move on to the next thing. Happy New Year!

Rating 2/5

Movies Reviews

Ho Ho Horror: Christmas Evil (1980)

Christmas Evil. Directed by Lewis Jackson, Released in 1980, and starring Brandon Maggart and Jeffery DeMunn

Christmas Evil, directed by Lewis Jackson and released in 1980, felt misleading, but that is not a bad thing. I was fully expecting a cheesy Christmas slasher in the same vein as Silent Night, Deadly Night, but instead, it is more reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. It’s not anywhere near as good as Scorsese’s neo-noir classic, but it made for a unique watch and separated it from the cliche holiday slasher that I was anticipating. Brandon Maggart stars as Harry Stadling, who witnessed the lie that is Santa Claus at an early age after he saw his father, who was dressed as Santa Claus to fool the kids, being intimate with his mother. This yuletide fuckery screwed with young Harry, and years later, he lives alone, works in a toy factory, keeps a good and bad list of local children, and dresses as Santa. He is belittled at work and picked on by his co-workers even though he has recently received a promotion.

Typically, I would expect a movie such as this to dive into the gore and violence immediately; however, this movie pulls back and paints a picture of a mentally disturbed man who is plagued by loneliness. Even his brother, played by The Walking Dead’s Jeffery DeMunn, doesn’t seem to care for Harry. He is more frustrated by his brother than anything. The movie makes you feel sympathy for Harry before he explodes into chaotic violence. It makes sense that this doesn’t feature all the slasher tropes since it came out in 1980, not long after the slasher genre took hold of horror, but I wasn’t expecting a character study that dived deep into the psyche of a lonely and insane man.

Harry descends into complete madness.

I don’t know if I buy the whole concept of seeing Mommy kissing Santa Daddy breaking Harry to the point of derangement, but Brandon Maggart does an excellent job portraying a broken man. The scene when Harry glues the beard on his face and starts weeping, both tears of joy and sadness, is magnificently performed, and moments like these make me wonder why I haven’t seen Brandon Maggart in more movies. The ending of the film is also spectacular and weird, which I immensely enjoyed.

Christmas Evil is an interesting Christmas horror film that ended up being more in-depth than I was expecting. If you go into this movie expecting a Christmas slasher, you may end up disappointed. Instead, this is a character study on loneliness that owes more to a film like Taxi Driver than it does the slasher movie cliches of Halloween.

Rating 3/5

Movies Spooktober

Classic Slasher Review: The Slumber Party Massacre

The Slumber Party Massacre, released in 1982, is a slasher movie written by author and feminist Rita Mae Brown and directed by Amy Holden Jones. On the surface it looks like a typical Roger Corman produced slasher flick; it includes slightly gory kills and copious amounts of gratuitous nudity, but there is more to this slasher than what we get on the surface.

The movie follows four friends, Trish, Kim, Jackie, and Diane, who are spending their night having a slumber party, and two sisters, Valerie and Courtney. Valerie is a new girl at school who lives next door to Trish. She is invited to Trish’s slumber party but opts out because she overhears Diane bad mouthing her in the school locker room. This all acts as a set-up for the killer to attack. The killer, Russ Thorn, played by actor Michael Villella, is sufficiently creepy as the near-silent slasher who without motivation begins killing these poor girls off.

What makes this movie refreshing, despite its cliched plot, are the characters who populate the film. They make stupid decisions but personality-wise they all seem like real teenagers dealing with issues of sexuality and who scored the runs in last night’s baseball game. Amy Holden Jones has spoken about how the movie is a metaphor for a female losing her virginity, and that is obvious in a scene where one of the girls sits helpless in front of the killer as he uses his phallic-like drill to kill her. The scene is even framed with the drill bit between his legs symbolizing this. The movie is often not subtle about this symbolism but that is works to the movie’s advantage steering it away from being a typical slasher and elevating it to something new and original. The ending, without giving to much away, is also something of note showing the surviving girls traumatized by the horror they have experienced.

This is an excellent early 80s slasher that was way ahead of its time. It offers an interesting deconstruction of slasher movie characters and tropes. If you are looking for a fun, cheap, and unique slasher film definitely check this movie out.

Rating 3.5/5


Jalapeno Black Reviews Child’s Play (2019)

Child’s Play. Chucky the doll. Why are people frightened by this doll? I would just punt him across the room. No need to be afraid of him.

The new movie changes the origin of the evil doll. In the past movies, Chucky was possessed by the soul of a killer. In this remake, Chucky is a robot, called Buddi, that is created to help families as well as be a friend to their kids. The dolls are programmed in a Vietnam plant. Workers program the dolls to be nice as well as an observant servant. Well, one worker loses his cool then decides to say fuck programming the current doll he’s working on. The doll, of course, becomes evil Chucky.

Aubrey Plaza and Mark Hamill are tremendous actors. They make this cheesy horror flick at least somewhat enjoyable. Yes, this movie is cheesy just like an ’80s slasher film. No, there’s not any sex or nude people. There are a lot of jokes and predictable kills. The film has plenty of gore, which still doesn’t make kill scenes more entertaining. One kill scene that takes place in a shopping store is so absurd that I laughed loudly in the theater. It involves robotic teddy bears.

This movie could use more suspense. Too much humor hurt this one. I feel as if this should’ve went straight to DVD. Plaza and Hamill were great. They just couldn’t save this movie.