Pete Walker’s horror-thrillers are usually loaded with nasty gore, but he restrains himself to a couple of gruesome killings in this odd little music-business melodrama, originally planned to star Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry and Melanie Griffith. Something presumably went awry in the casting, since The Comeback’s solace-seeking rock singer is easy-listening king Jack Jones, with support from Pamela Stephenson, both of whom do quite nicely in the roles. Jones plays teen idol Nick Jones, who retired to an English manor where Sheila Keith and Last of the Summer Wine’s Bill Owen are the surly staff. Murder and madness are not far away, and the scripts assertions that Jack Jones’ singing performance are the devils work are not borne out by the rather sunny performances by the star. The Comeback is quite compelling in its own small way; Jones kept the pace with music and film, appearing as a lounge singer in 2013’s American Hustle.
One of the few sequels that merit comparison with the original, Richard Franklin’s 1983 thriller returns to the Bates Motel with Anthony Perkins returning after 22 years in a mental institution and Vera Miles returning as Lila Loomis, and Meg Tilly as her daughter. Norman’s troubled mind is immediately disturbed by the surroundings, but Tom Holland’s script ingenuously reworks many of the tropes of the original Hitchcock film, with the local people keen to knock Norman off his stride by driving him mad. Jerry Goldsmith contributes an excellent score, and Psycho II’s twists and turns make for a stylish entry in the series, strong on suspense and light on gore.
An also ran in the early eighties glut of werewolf movies (The Howling, An American Werewolf in London), Michael Wadleigh’s only non-Woodstock film was barely released, with John D Hancock being brought in to complete the film. Miscast as New York cop Dewey Wilson, Albert Finney takes the lead in this adaptation of Whitley Streiber’s 1978 novel, with Edward James Olmos and Gregory Hines supporting. Wolfen is a muted and occasionally bloody affair, featuring one nasty decapitation, but its earnestness belies the silly subject matter, and the subtext about Indian legends makes it very much of its time (The Shining, Altered States, Poltergeist) Featuring a small cameo from Tom Waits.
Although his early career was distinguished by tense Eurothrillers like Perversion, A Lizard in a Women’s Skin, The Psychic and Don’t Torture The Duckling, Lucio Fulci’s name will be forever associated with his embrace of gore in the late 70’s and early eighties. The derogatory description ‘Ful-shit’ was coined, but many of his attempts to follow up the success of Zombi (1979) can be seen to have values beyond just sensation. After an eerie prologue, The Beyond sees Catriona McColl unwittingly opening the gates of Hell in a South Louisiana setting, and that means the undead in various stages of decomposition, but it’s the dreamlike logic and often beautiful visuals that stay in the mind; there’s a strange poetry at work between the gross-out shocks.
The third film in the Omen trilogy is a departure from the usual format, instead spinning a weirdly apocalyptic scenario in which devil’s son Damien (Sam Neill) ascends to the heights of big business through Thorn Industries, and sets his sights on becoming US president. Standing in his way are South Pacific star Rossanno Brazzi and a team of noble but incompetent monks, leading to logic-defying set pieces in a TV studio, at a fox hunt, and a notable conclusion in which Christ comes down from cross and boxes Damien’s ears for his naughtiness. Disturbing elements such as a series of baby murders and a brief cameo from Ruby Wax aside, Graham Baker’s weird and often wonderfully silly film is fun to watch for genre fans.
Coming late to the 70’s zombie party, and too early to be part of the comic-book fad, Michele Soavi’s Dellamorte Dellamorte is a highly unusual horror-romance, with Rupert Everett as Francesco, who keeps watch in an abandoned graveyard for the unwelcome intervention of the living dead. Francesco’s daily routine of dispatching the dead is interrupted when he falls in love with a mysterious woman, leading to complications that have the knockabout tone of, say Evil Dead II, but also have a spiritual and metaphorical means about the thin line between love and death. The rare thing, a thoughtful, lyrical horror film, the story was told again, less effectively and for just a small an audience, in 2008’s Dylan Dog, adapted from the same popular Italian comic strip.
Writer/Director Dario Argento’s reputation sagged after his 70’s and 80’s heyday, but although it doesn’t have the same supernatural thematics as Suspiria, Tenebre brings an equally operatic sensibility to a serpentine thriller. American writer Peter O’Neal (Anthony Franciosa) arrives in Rome for a routine book-signing, but finds himself being stalked by a fan of his work, Argento never met a three minute crane shot he didn’t like, and there’s some vividly bloody set-pieces as O’Neals associates meet bloody deaths. Could the writer himself be the author of his own unhappiness? Tenebre deserves credit for put its post-modern ideas to the fore, and a nightmarish flashback scene set on a beach eventually informs the action to dynamic effect.