Retro Film Report #49: A Look at Six Horror Movies

Here's a mixed bag of horror flicks spanning from the 1960s through the 90s - some good, some godawful: Stage Fright (1980), Terror Express (1979), Evil Toons (1992), Dracula Prisoner of Frankenstein (1972), Stormswept (1994) and Blood and Black Lace (1964).  Enjoy.

Stage Fright (1980) and Terror Express (1979)

Stage Fright (1980)

The story revolves around a stage actress who has severe mental issues regarding sex and can't stop murdering people.  The movie begins with a backstory of Cathy catching her mom getting humped.  Then, later, young Cathy gets upset that her mom is getting groped in the car; she throws a tantrum, causing them to wreck.  Mom is dead... fast forward to the present.

Cathy has changed her name to Helen and is now a hot babe who's taken a career in acting. Helen is very odd - and not an interesting, dark, and mysterious way.  Rather, in a boring, vacuous way.  She's prone to flashbacks - I can't tell you how many times they flash the image of her mom screwing.  It would make a great drinking game.

Helen is played by Jenny Neumann who is the hottest girl in this film by a mile.  Yet, she never gets naked, while all of her much less attractive costars get completely nude.  Very frustrating.

Speaking of nudity, this movie has some surprisingly graphic nude scenes.  The bulk of the film is as tame and lackluster as you can imagine, but it's punctuated by major-league nudity.  But remember - it's not particularly appealing, and everyone nude ends up getting stabbed to death by glass shards... a couple guys even get it in the dick.  Youch!

It's an Australian picture, so I kind of enjoyed the accents.  However, there wasn't much to like beyond that.  The theater director and theater critic are over-the-top, over-enunciating drama queens who I wanted to save Helen the trouble and murder them myself.

Helen's clueless boyfriend, Terry (Gary Sweet), is pretty likeable, but it's not enough to save this film.  It seems like it wants to be a giallo, but it's too lifeless.  The movie plods along, interrupted by graphic violence and nudity, only resume its plodding.  Some humor here and there would have been a welcome relief from the oppressive seriousness from beginning to end.  Not recommended.

Terror Express (1979)

This is 100% The Love Boat meets Last House on the Left.  Just as aboard the Pacific Princess we follow the paths of a select few lovebirds, where we meet the various passengers and learn about their romantic tribulations.  There's the prostitute with a heart of gold (above)...

There's the dad and his daughter (don't ask), a couple having sexual issues (think Mr. and Mrs. Roper, but Helen is hot), and an older couple who I promise you won't care about.

But like Last House on the Left, we also have a gang of thugs who hold everyone hostage...

I must say, they really do create an air of tension and impending violence.  Like Alex's droogs of A Clockwork Orange, they're vulgar and reckless, but also highly dangerous.

The three hooligans commence raping the women once the police officer is handcuffed and out of the way.  I will say, the sexual assault in the film is a bit much; I understand it's a part of the genre, but damn.

The thug leader reminded me of Flea.

Overall, it's a very mean spirited movie.  Unlike Last House on the Left and (House on the Edge of the Park) the tension isn't sustained.  So, despite the plentiful nudity, things get a bit repetitive and I found myself anxious for it to get over with already.

In then end, I'd recommend you watch an episode of The Love Boat instead.  If only Isaac had been on the train.  He wouldn't have tolerated this shit.

Evil Toons (1992) and Dracula Prisoner of Frankenstein (1972)

Evil Toons (1992)

Four girls are tasked by cult star Dick Miller (you'd recognize him if you saw him) to clean up an old abandoned mansion with a dark history for "a hundred bucks".  

Monique Gabrielle plays Megan (at right), the frumpy, dowdy goody-goody no one likes. The other girls from left:

  • 1980s porn star Barbara Dare as Jan
  • Suzanne Ager as Terry: you may know her from Fatal Justice (1994), The Bikini Carwash Company (1992) and Evil Spawn (1987)
  • 1990s porn star Madison Stone as Roxanne

As you can see, we have a stellar cast.  But there's more...

Arte Johnson of Laugh-In must have needed some quick cash.  He makes a brief appearance warning the girls of the murders in this neighborhood.

David Carradine drops by with a delivery.  Obviously, Mr. Carradine was also needing to make a fast buck - possibly to pay off some debts to his drug dealer.  Just a theory.

Terry and Jan relax on the couch after a hard day's work.  Terry is reading a Frankenstein book of some sort - anyone out there recognize it?  I'd love to know.

Roxanne performs a striptease for Terry and Jan (isn't that what girls do during sleep-overs?), and coaxes mousy Megan to join the fun.  Megan makes things awkward and runs upstairs mortified.

In her room, Megan takes her glasses off and instantly becomes a super hottie; clearly aroused by her own reflection.  Monique Gabrielle fans will not want to miss this overtly gratuitous topless scene.

Roxanne can't open a bottle, so she thinks outside the box and solves the problem doing what she does best.  This scene has to be seen to be believed...

Director Fred Olen Ray is in rare form with this one, folks.  Fans of B-movies are well familiar with FOR's work: Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (1988) Scalps Scalps (1983) Scream Queen Hot Tub Party (1991), Inner Sanctum (1991), Wizards of the Demon Sword (1991) Bad Girls from Mars (1990)... the list goes on.  Several have been covered right here on Retrospace.

Little do the girls realize, but the gift from the coked up Carradine has unleashed a demon into the house.

Yes, it's animated, and, yes, the animation is terrible.  Were you expecting Pixar?

Roxanne is the first to go.  As you watch the cartoon demon ravage his victim it's hard not to question your own ability to make good film choices.

Anyway, Roxanne gets possessed by the demon from Hanna-Barbera hell and kills her boyfriend.  Meanwhile, Terry and Jan sleep...

Fred Olen Ray is clearly an assman.  The camera is constantly leering at the booty, finding convenient angles for maximum butt shots.

The next thirty minutes of film basically involve Terry, Megan and Jan running around screaming.

Jan is killed next, then Terry is attacked.  In both instances, their tops are ripped off.  If Fred Olen Ray were here, I'd give him a high-five.

You'll note that the primary killer her is the possessed Roxanne instead of the cartoon demon.  I guess fake vampire teeth are a lot cheaper than animation.

In typical Final Girl fashion, she is cornered and at the brink of death, before finally defeating the monster.  David Carradine decides to help out (after a doing a few lines of coke, I'm sure) and the demon is sent back to hell.  It ends with an unnecessary "it was all a dream" finale which leave you shaking your head disapprovingly.

Dracula Prisoner of Frankenstein AKA Drácula contra Frankenstein (1972)

I want to like  Jesús Franco movies, I really do.  I have such a soft spot for 1970s horror, campy B-movies, and copious T&A - all right in Franco's wheelhouse.  Yet, I can barely make it through a single one of his movies.

Like almost every Franco film I've seen, this one's full of obnoxious zooming close-ups illustrating a nonsensical story.  Dracula is being resurrected by Dr. Frankenstein..... seems like a premise that's foolproof.  But in the hands of Franco things get confusing in the most boring manner imaginable.

The highlight is the cabaret singer (Josyane Gibert) who gets abducted to serve as a blood donor to resurrect Drac.  We get to see her entire cabaret performance, which is pretty damn good, before she's carted off to the laboratory.

Her blood is sucked into a glass containing the vampire bat, which slurps it up; thus, bringing Dracula back to life.

There's also a female vampire, a gypsy, a werewolf, Frankenstein's monster, and a Van Helsing type character.  Again, this should be an easy win - but, instead, it's a convoluted mess.

I'm told that Franco's work is like art; so, maybe I'm just not looking at it under the right lens.  I mean, if I can appreciate Evil Toons, surely I can learn to love a Franco film.  But with almost no dialog, no scares, no blood, no humor, and worst of all - no boobs, I don't see much hope in this one.

Stormswept (1994) and Blood and Black Lace (1964)

Stormswept (1994)

I've seen a lot of bad movies in my forty-plus years of moviegoing - so, it takes a lot for me to be blown away by a film's badness.  Stormswept is just such a film.... if it can even be called a film.  It's recorded on a substance called "film" but that's where the similarities end.  There's no plot, no direction, nothing.  It seems like it wants to be a thriller or a horror movie at times, but it just can't muster enough energy to do it.  Instead, it just meanders pointlessly through time.

The only reason ever to watch Stormswept is for boobs, of which Melissa Moore, Kathleen Kinmont and Lorissa McComas provide their fair share.  But it's all pretty tame and nothing too special.

But then there's this one scene.  The only thing worth talking about in this entire movie; and I'll discuss it at length.  It's a scene starring Julie Hughes...

Hughes is known primarily as a casting director, and she comes from a theatrical family. Her father, Del Hughes, was the stage manager of the original Broadway production of "Death of a Salesman." Apparently, he was a beloved figure within the industry and The Del Hughes Award for Outstanding Stage Management is named for him.

Julie Hughes got her start casting Friday the 13th (1980) and moved on to casting over forty episodes of The Cosby Show.  She was also in the casting department for the Cosby spin-off, A Different World for 143 episodes.

Even though Cosby and A Different World were over by 1993, Julie had steady work with her partner Barry Moss in Hughes Moss Casting Ltd.  For over twenty years this company casted hundreds of Broadway productions and can even claim to have played a hand in discovering Tom Cruise, Adam Sandler and Ricky Schroeder.

So, suddenly in the mid-1990s, she pops up in a few adult oriented straight-to-cable movies including this and Deadly Charades, a Playboy Channel movie.

I guess it shouldn't be surprising that a casting director got tired of always being behind the scenes, and wanted to try her hand in front of the camera for a change. What is surprising is her willingness to do one of the most embarrassing nude scenes I've ever witnessed.

Like the rest of the film, this scene is basically random, doesn't move the plot along, and seems like they just winged it.  The cast of characters are lounging in a living room when, out of nowhere, Brianna, Julie Hughes' character, asks a studly guy with a fancy accent named Damon about hypnosis:

Brianna: Damon, I need to ask you something.  It's about hypnosis.
Damon: What about it?
Brianna: How good are you really?
Damon: ...I put myself through college doing it.  I can make a person smarter.  I can even make a woman's breasts grow larger.

WTF?  Anyway, Damon is only too quick to agree to put her under....

Things get immediately awkward.  Brianna starts weeping, going back to her childhood when her mommy told her sex was bad. Cringeworthy, especially considering her friends are in the living room looking on.

And then...

Brianna takes her robe completely off and starts having a wild orgasm, thrusting, grunting and screaming like hell (NSFW screencap).

From the casting director's chair to the dry humping naked on a couch - Julie Hughes has come a long, long way.  I'll let you be the judge if it's a long way up or down.

The rest of the room looks on with uncomfortable silence. Can you blame them? They've just witnessed a successful casting director go from weeping bitterly, to tearing her clothes off and frantically masturbating.  That tends to be a bit awkward.

Not surprisingly, Julie didn't continue with acting more than a year after Stormswept.  And it looks like she returned to where she belonged, back in the casting director's chair.  I'm glad she did.  But I'm also glad she took time out to bravely give audiences this historically cringeworthy nude scene. Thank you, Julie.  Much appreciated.

(Just to be clear: without this scene, Stormswept gets a 1/10)

Blood and Black Lace (1964)

I saw Blood and Black Lace back in the 1980s on VHS.  It was my first introduction into the gialo, Italian horror genre, and quite frankly, it blew my mind.  The colors are so vivid, every scene is framed beautifully, the styles, the music, the mood.... this is art even a lowbrow fella like me could appreciate.

The story involves a bunch of models getting murdered.  I won't go into to it, because I don't want to give anything away.  There are so many twists and turns; you'll suspect everyone and anyone. Admittedly, the story and dialogue could be better; but they're secondary to the visuals, to the haunting mood, to the suspense.

For 1964, it's pretty graphic as well. A woman has her faced burned after being brutally beaten, and a model is drowned in a scene that doesn't flinch, but shows the murder up close, unblinking.

The masked killer reminds me a bit of Rorschach.  And, of course, the police are always one step behind the murderer's trail.

The reflection of two corpses in a mirror tabletop - simultaneously horrific and beautiful.  Mario Bava's macabre genius is evident in every shot, making this my all-time favorite of his works.

A few years later, the giallo movement would take off thanks to the likes of Dario Argento; but it is Blood and Black Lace that lays the foundation.  While fellow Italian giallo/horror director Lucio Fulci, a former medical student, would focus on the blood and gore; Bava, the artist, paints his canvas with lurid colors and eerie glows, keeping the gore to a minimum, yet never shying away from the violence. A masterpiece of the macabre, pure and simple.


  1. The book in Evil Toons is "The Frankenstein Wheel" by Paul Fairman, part of the Frankenstein Horror Series published by New York Popular Library back in the early seventies. Leslie.

  2. Found one you might like. Ghost of Hanley House, available on Youtube