Here is a sampling of reviews of horror and suspense films that have been cropping up like rodents since the onslaught of DVD madness. Most of these are available, quite cheaply, on DVD – though two were reviewed off of old video rentals – and if you are not expecting too much, like me, you just might have a ball watching these, occasionally creepy, but mainly creaky, things. Hell, you, also, might find some old childhood favorites!
-Brian Kirst

Bay Coven . 1987
I picked this up, cheap, $5.99 at Best Buy, because I have been going through a Pamela Sue Martin (Dynasty, Nancy Drew Mysteries) phase. This 1987 television flick arrived too late – I was already almost 19 and in college- to have a childhood nostalgic reaction for me upon re-viewing it. This one – about an urban couple buying a home on a mysterious island- is pretty goofy, as you might assume, and it truly makes no sense to me why Martin would remain on an island she, obviously, dislikes, from the start, when the screwy things – like her best friend’s death- start happening. That being said the bit of atmosphere and the few chills that occur in this flick happen because she stays and starts to inquire about the strange goings on (and I just loved watching Martin skulk around and do her investigative thing), but not even the interesting cast which includes Leave it To Beaver’s Barbara Billingsly going bad, Woody Harrelson as the above mentioned best friend, L.A. Law’s Susan Ruttan, Taxi and B-movie staple Jeff Conaway as Ruttan’s husband (The two, as a couple, are scarier, in fact, than the rest of this tame thriller put together) and Soap’s Inga Swenson without the accent, can quite give this, in my book, the oomph or camp value it needs to survive as a minor television movie classic. Still, once the assembled cast gather, together, in their dark red hooded robes and begin to hunt down Martin, there is a sense of priestly creepiness and, as a point of interest, Tim Matheson plays Martin’s lover and it is role that is very similar to that of his in the 1984 feature film Impulse. Impulse is a childhood nostalgic favorite of mine and offers a bit more violence, suspense and nudity (Matheson’s bare ass, for anyone that cares) than this timid exercise- and that should be sought out by anyone looking for “B” – and make sure that you’re aware that “B” is the operative word - suspense movies about mysterious goings on in rural, isolated areas.

 

 

Deadly Game . 1991
This 1991 USA Movie version of The Most Dangerous Game pretty much reads, from the box cover alone, “Don’t expect much from me, I’m Just a Little Time Waster!” and if you go into this with that expectation, you should have a pretty good time with this fast paced action-thriller. The people whom you expect to survive, do – and the people you know will die, do, too. The antagonist is easy to figure out pretty early on, but it is a hoot to see the 30-plus Marc Singer, of too many genre films to mention, and Knots Landing’s John Pleshette, a friend of scream queen Lynn Lowry, play high school football players in a flashback scene. In a nice change of pace, the perpetually hero-playing Singer is an annoying pompous ass that you hope will expire, quickly, while Jenny Seagrove, villainous star of the bizarre –and, henceforth, a favorite- horror flick The Guardian, puts on her good girl clothes here, and along with Michael Beck, attempts to defeat the baddie. Roddy McDowall, a current favorite, is along for the ride and part of a neat surprise reveal at the end. There is some nice violence including death by Doberman and a fantastic exploding head – which I am assuming was added to the video release to spice it up for its R rating. All in all, this dirty gem is a hoot and a holler, if you’ve got the quarter to spare.
 

 

Deadly Invasion . 1995
There is a lot of build-up and background information given in this, at first, thoughtful, but occasionally slow moving killer bee flick. But, once the bees truly start attacking the main family, headed by Airplane’s Robert Hays and Matlock’s Nancy Stafford, then this becomes a worthwhile and rather suspenseful “nature gone wild” horror television movie offering. The producers try too hard to make us take the threat of killer bees seriously, but Fade to Black’s Dennis Christopher gives a truly amazing performance as an incredibly eccentric bee lover and pretty boy Ryan Phillippe “glams” way down as a frumpy haired, goatee sporting local hood whose anger causes the penultimate attack of the nasty, killing stingers. A pre-Jeepers Creepers Gina Phillips appears as the eldest daughter of Stafford and Hays and while she commits, totally, to her performance, the role allows her none of the spunk and wit that were so engaging in Creepers. Still, I was actually surprised a number of times in this effective presentation and would, especially, recommend it to anyone who loves their horror and suspense laced with seemingly true-to-life catastrophes of science and nature.
 

 

Don't Look Down . 1998
I had been debating about picking this up for awhile because it looked interesting and starred Megan Ward whom I have loved since her appearance in early 90’s genre films like Crash and Burn and Amityville ’92. I, finally, found it used and it wasn’t until I brought it home that I realized it was a 1998 made for television film. I truly got swept up in this one, though. I was going to view it slowly over a handful days, but wound up watching it much more quickly because I was enjoying it so much. Honestly, the ending severely let me down, though, turning what was an effective suspenseful and emotional drama with serious supernatural overtones into a very routine made for television thriller. But until then- I truly loved this, in name only, production of Wes Craven’s. Ward, effectively, plays Carla, a woman who develops severe acrophobia and begins having haunting visions after her sister’s death from a great fall. She joins a radical support group, led by Steppenwolf Theater’s Terry Kinney, to get to the bottom of her problem. Of course, murder and mayhem ensue. Kinney and the actors who play his patients – Angela Moore, William McDonald, Kate Robbins and Aaron Smolinski (Wishmaster 3)- all give amazing performances and they bring this production to much greater heights –no pun intended- than it, otherwise, might have reached. This 85% effective - in my estimation - production, also, features Billy Burke from Komodo and Tara Spencer-Nairn, as Ward’s sister, whom went on to appear as the heroine in 2002’s Wishmaster 4: Prophecy Fulfilled.
 

 

The Glow . 2002
I picked this up because I have been amazed by the number of direct to DVD suspense and horror flicks that Dean Cain has done since Lois and Clark folded and I had decided to collect them all to do a feature. Unfortunately – or more, realistically, fortunately- this telefilm with Scream 2’s (and Ally McBeal and Arrested Development star) Portia De Rossi, Barney Miller’s Hal Linden and Dina Meyer is the only one that I have watched so far. This is a decent timewaster with a great performance from De Rossi and a pretty good one from Cain about a classy apartment building full of energetic senior citizens who drain the energy from their younger tenants to live, eternally, young. While this does have classic echoes of such films as Rosemary’s Baby, The Sentinel and Burnt Offerings, there is little creepiness or suspense on display here – mostly just a lot of style and solid performances. I had a great time watching the classy Meyer be devious and if you like that mysterious urban house milieu of horror, this might be a nice – and cheap, $5.99 at Best Buy- bet for you.
 


Invitation to Hell . 1984
This was a huge horror television event when I was a freshman in high school because it marked All My Children star and daytime drama legend Susan Lucci’s entrance into primetime television. Directed by horror maestro, Wes Craven, I, finally, caught up to this flick this Fall. It probably wasn’t worth over 20 years – can you believe it!?! – of waiting, but still there are enough cool moments and crazy Lucci hairstyles, make-up and fashions to make this a minor horror camp classic. The opening, with Lucci being run over by a limo driver, popping, immediately, cardboard figure style, back up and then frying the poor guy to death with a sizzling stare and a out raised hand, has got to be the best opening of any television movie I have ever seen and makes the movie worth it’s existence for that scenario, alone. The plot deals with eternal loser, Robert Urich, finally, scoring an important job in a small town with a buddy’s help. Of course, when he arrives with eager to be successful wife, Joanna Cassidy and kids, he finds everyone pushing him to join The Club in town run by Lucci, whom appears to be a close friend of Satan’s. For horror film fans, besides Craven’s involvement, there is a supporting appearance from original Bad Seed and Mommy, Mommy 2, Bug and Saturday the 14th Strikes Back Again star Patricia McCormack and Punky Brewster’s Soleil Moon Frye (whom pre-Sabrina, the Teenage Witch had a mini-Scream Queen career with roles in the Piranha remake and Pumpkinhead 2) does a Linda Blair impersonation at one point, that is off-the-wall and just might freak you out and leave you laughing. There is, actually, a decent bit of plotting and build-up in this, but it is all blown apart by a ridiculous and out-of-the-blue ending that not even the sight of Cassidy in a fright get-up, pounding the keyboards of a piano, relentlessly, in Hell – her character is a musician- can quite make up for. Yes, folks, in true TV style, it seems that love, alone, lambasts Lucci’s luscious lasciviousness. (Still, this is definitely worth it, if this was a childhood favorite or if, like me, you’ve never seen it before - because this is another “cheapy” selling for $5.99 or 2 for $10 in many drugstores.)
 


Memories of Murder . 1990
I absolutely love and adore Nancy Allen, but sometimes she is not the most effective actress in every role that she is cast in. In this Lifetime television movie from the early 90’s, she is quite believable as a respectable single mom whom wakes one morning remembering only her past life of sleazy bars and low life con jobs. It seems, wandering, aimlessly, with amnesia from a traumatic event landed her in the ‘burbs with a new husband, Robin Thomas (from Amityville: Dollhouse) and his daughter. As she fights to remember her past and balance out her present, she re-encounters Vanity as a ruthless and betrayed hit woman whom has been searching for Allen for years. Vanity’s character begins to murder people from Allen’s past and threatens to take over her present life with Thomas and kid. I don’t know what it is, but Vanity actually chilled me to the bone in this thing. She has ice and fire in her eyes and is truly menacing and scary. Thomas, also, does admirable work as a confused and, alternatively, supportive and angry man. There are some typical TV movie ticks and quirks de lame, but overall this was a captivating timewaster and perfect for those seemingly endless 2 a.m. insomnia freak-outs when, in frustration, you just need to escape. 
 


Murder on Flight 502 . 1975
This is an extremely outdated, but thoroughly enjoyable early 70’s television movie murder mystery. Anyone who loved shows like Love Boat and Fantasy Island and/or the Airport movie series, should get a nostalgic kick out of this. Besides, Polly Bergen is pure “hoot” as an acerbic mystery writer paired with Latino superstar Fernando Lamas, who may or may not be a suave, and at large, crook. Truthfully, I revisited this mainly because of Farrah Fawcett’s participation - and because of the $1.99 price tag at a local Walgreens Drugstore – but it’s not a bad timewaster and anything that features a very young Brooke Adams (Shock Waves, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Unborn), an overacting and over serious Robert Stack, a prepubescent Danny Bonaduce (Partridge Family) and a hard to take realistically, but still sexy (believe it or not!) Sonny Bono can’t be too unworthy of a B movie fan’s time. Besides, this is fast moving with a lot of suspects and a few surprises along the way.
 


Power, Passion and Murder . 1987
I picked up this incredibly cheap DVD –part of a 2 for $3 deal from Treasure Box Collection- after my work shift on Thanksgiving Day, got myself a turkey sandwich and collapsed on my couch in front of the TV. This has been repackaged from, I’m assuming, a short lived 1987 series or a pilot called Tales from the Hollywood Hills, to look like a crime drama or mystery thriller. In fact, it’s a quite well done treatise on the price of fame and success in Hollywood- from an actress’s and a Studio Head’s standpoints. The main story – of the two episodes included- is based on a John O’Hara story and features an excellent performance from Michelle Pfeiffer as a spoiled actress on the rise who learns a tragic lesson of the heart. Supported ably by Brian Kerwin, Holland Taylor and Hector Elizondo, Pfeiffer proves why she has gone onto superstardom and award nominations. In the second scenario of the two, which in this re-imagined concept, are melded together, genre vet Darren McGavin plays a studio head on his way down. This is the weaker story, but the amazing cast makes up for it. Moonraker’s Lois Chiles, Scarface’s Steven Bauer, Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and Hellraiser: Bloodline’s Kim Myers, T and A and exploitation goddess Stella Stevens, performance artist Ann Magnuson, Twin PeaksSherilyn Fenn, my favorite Broadway Darling and Spiderman 2, Star Trek Insurrection star Donna Murphy, soap actor Frank Runyeon and It’s a Living (a pre-high favorite) co- star Earl Boen, all, appear in this segment, making it a feast for the queer – and otherwise- star lover’s eyes. This may not be what you expect from the cover art, but for $1.50, it might well be worth your time, especially if you are a fan of Old Hollywood, to purchase the next time you are wandering around at your local drugstore or mini-mart.
 


Snowbeast . 1977
This 1977 flick was a favorite as a kid. This is campy, semi-violent fun, riding high on the 70’s fascination with the legend of the Bigfoot monster, featuring scared ski bunnies flying down dangerous slopes, a winter beauty queen collapsing in the snow upon finding her recently decapitated “momma” and the penultimate performance from the powerful, gruff voiced and still sexy screen icon, Sylvia Sydney. My favorite moment is when a trampled upon Sydney howls out, for her only concern, “The Crown, the crown!” reserved for the above mentioned carnival queen, as people stampede across it, trying to get out of a crowded gymnasium where the Snowbeast has attacked. There are great shots of a huge puffy white hand with claws bearing down on the faces of it’s victims as the screen fades to splattered red, heartfelt and committed performances from Walking Tall’s Bo Svenson, Yvette Mimieux (from my ultimate childhood favorite, Devil Dog: Hound of Hell) and Robert Logan, who starred in a series of kid oriented adventure movies that I loved and who’s finest screen moment has to be forcing a sobbing Christopher Atkins to strip at gunpoint in 1983’s A Night in Heaven. There is not a lot of explicit violence shown – but what’s done is pretty gruesome and effective, especially considering the era it was produced in – and I get still get chills every time I watch the scene where Logan tells sheriff Clint Walker that he’ll be able to identify a female victim once he sees her face and Walker replies, solemnly, “She doesn’t have one.” This is available on a single disc with 3 other flicks on Platinum’s Horror Classic series. Its not great quality, but it gets the job done well enough.
 


Tru Calling . TV Series . 2003-05
It’s a time investment, but I truly enjoyed the first season of this often creative, sometimes incredibly floundering Fox T.V. series. I truly felt there might have been another year or two left in this thing, but it looks like the plug has been pulled before the 6 episodes, filmed for the Second season, will even air. That’s too bad. There is a lot of potential here especially with the villainous addition of Jason Priestly toward the end of the season. The brilliant Eliza Dushku plays Tru, a med student who finds herself, by a twist of fate, working in a morgue where she discovers that the dead can ask for her help to save their lives. Her day rewinds and she must race against time to carry out the dead person’s request. Dushku is wonderful, but part of the problem might have been the fact that “Tru”, while plucky, soulful and resourceful is nowhere near as interesting or unique as “Faith” the character she created on Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Obviously, Dushku can’t play the same character forever, but look at how hard it is for many actors to reprise a previous television success- especially immediately after the cancellation of the show one is best known for. Still, the show had a lot going for it and features many suspense and horror movie-like situations – the dorm party gone deadly, the bloody high school reunion and the Valentine’s Day serial killer. There are many interesting guest stars including television genre icon Hudson Leick –whom, as the first victim, was featured every episode in the opening credits – a cushy weekly gig if I ever saw one, Freddy Vs. Jason’s Jesse Hutch, Melrose Place’s Laura Leighton, American Idol’s Tamara Gray, Port Charles hottie and current commercial king Eddie Matos, former Bold and the Beautiful regular and important final season of Buffy guest star Courtnee Draper and Halloween H20 and Devil in the Flesh 2 star Jodi Lyn O’Keefe. I, also, loved the regular cast which included new genre icon A.J. Cook ( Wishmaster 3, Ripper and Final Destination 2), Loving sweetie, Lois and Clark villain and Leprechan 4 star Jessica Collins (whom many ripped apart as the series ran – and she does leave the cast about halfway through the season- but, let it be noted, that I LOVED her), Guiding Light’s humpy Matthew Bomer and newcomers Shawn Reaves – amazing as Tru’s trouble prone brother – and the outstandingly unusual Zach Galifianakis as Tru’s perceptive and concerned employer. As noted above, this was a first year series, so there is some stumbling along the way, but, overall, this is definitely worth a look- even if the show, unfortunately, is not returning for a second go around.