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July 23, 1980 - Image 8

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1980-07-23

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Page 8-Wednesday, July 23, 1980-The Michigan Daily
long summer of horrors

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By DENNIS HARVEY
To be good, a horror film need only be
scary, though those that meet only this
qualification tend to creak with age
prematurely, left looking tame by the
constant escalation of gore and horror.
To be great, a horror film must be
both scary and funny-aware of its im-
probabilities and manipulations;
gleefully, blackly humorous, as are
Psycho, Carrie and The Bride of
Frankenstein, all of whose terrors may
fade with the years but whose malicious
jokery grows more maniacally enter-
taining with each viewing.
SINCE THE great horror movies can
be counted on the fingers of one hand,.
and the pleasures of the fairlygood ones
are fleeting, those with some affection
for the genre are generally forced to
retreat to the pleasures of a third
category-the horrendously campy.
Unfortunately, these days camp seems
to be a dying non-art. Gore galore too
often takes the fun out of bad scripts,
turning even something as ludicrous as
last year's Prophecy (mutant killer

bears with Silly-Putty faces on the
rampage!) imperfectly awful-lousy,
to be sure, but too bloodiqd to have the
right innocent spark of ineptitude.
An even more wide-spread threat is
simple banality and lack of
imagination. Such oblivious camp
auteurs of the past as Edward D. Wood
(Plan 9 from Outer Space, I Changed
My Sex) and the occasional future
prodigy like Mark I. Lester (Roller
Boogie, a horror film in execution if not
in concept) have at least had the con-
viction, or whatever, to milk all of the
mind-boggling pot6ntial out of their
hare-brained ideas; watching their
films, one waits in tingly anticipation
for the next spectacular idiocy. And one
is rarely left disappointed.
But too many new cheap horror
filmmakers go through their paces as
drably as if they were churning out an
ABC Movie of the Week a few years
ago. They don't have the talent to be
good, and generally they lack the nerve
to be floridly bad. There's no fun in the
ordinary.'

THE CAUSE isn't helped much by of-
ferings as routine as Friday the 13th or.,
Silent Scream. Assembly-line thrillers
without a trace of syle or imagination, }
they don't have the smarts to play
dumb and at least get some laughs.
Scream, made on a budget that
wouldn't do serious damage to Junior's
bank account, lacks the tawdriness that
might have redeemed its cheapness. A
campus housing shortage forces four
nondescript college students to rent
rooms at the nearest Old Dark House on
the California coast.' The residence
comes completely furnished with a
looney family and a mad-dog sister
(horror veteran Barbara .Steele)
locked, not for long, in the attic. Yawn..
Friday the 13th, at least, has a little
surface slickness, though that's about
all it has. It's just another flat-footed
excuse for. process-of-elimination
terror; writer-director Sean S. Cun-
ningham (not exactly a glorious ad-
dition to the list of movie auteurists)
records with a pedestrian eye a line-up
of not particularly baroque gory

deaths. A secluded summer camp with
a history of fatalities is unwisely re-
scheduled for a re-opening, but there's
an evil presence determined to make
sure that the teenaged counselors don't
live long enough to welcome a new
season of kids.
The killer turns out to bea middle-
aged housewife (Betsy Palmer) color-
fully crazed with vengence because her
son had drowned due to counselor
neglect years before. She giggles
homicidally and has schizoid ex-
changes with her son (" 'Kill, Mommy,
kill!' 'I will, Jason, I will! ") before the
last of the forgettable juvenile leads
lops the poor lady's head off. Despite a
not-bad final thrill, the movie is strictly
third-rate derivation, struggling hard
to be a backwoods Halloween with a
dash of Psycho, and falling banally
short of both. It's just nastiness without
fun, dull unpleasantness.
There's a bit more absurdity, but not
enough, in Crown International's $11.99
superproduction Don't Answer the
Phone! Here we have another giggling-
psycho type, this time of the male gen-
der and awfully paunchy as well, with
"scar tissue on the brain" and an over-
powering desire to go around strangling
buxom ydung women for reasons right
out of Psychology .101. This rather
pathetic terror (Nicholas Worth)
finally corners well-meaning female
psychiatrist Dr. Gale (Florence
Gerrish) in order to deliver a whim-
pering confession scene before attem-
pting to dispatch her. After powerfully
commanding her to "Shut up! Or I'm
gonna take your tit off! ," he reveals
that his murderous instincts sprang
from a Freudian loathing for his mean
Ma-"... my mother always-smacked
me around.. . I was a naughty
boy!"-and recounts a particularly
horrible childhood incident in which his
puppy Did It's Business on the oriental
rug.
Unfortunately, this memorably
tragic moment and several others are
held back from the grand campy
silliness they so richly deserve by
Robert Hammer's ploddingly ordinary
direction, which ensures that the movie
evaporates from the viewer's mind
even before it's over.
Fall co-arts editor and film critic
Dennis Harvey is spending the
summer in exile in Grand Haven,
where his movie diet has been
restricted to the local drive-in fare.
His investigation of this summer's
crop of cheap horror movies will
continue in tomorrow's Daily.
Don't miss it.

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ENERGY.
We can't
afford to
waste it.

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