The bookends were terrific surprises as I didn’t even know they existed a week ago: Next Of Kin, Just Before Dawn, Deathdream and Don’t Deliver Us From Evil.
Next Of Kin (1982 – Tony Williams)
Psychological horror? Ghost story? Giallo? Slow burn thriller? Why yes, yes it is. This little known Australian flick about a woman who returns to run the family rest home after her mother passes away not only covers a variety of stylistic and thematic horror approaches, it does so wonderfully well through an extremely well-orchestrated story. Containing some lovely & creative shots, a fantastic score by Klaus Schulze (did my day ever brighten up when I saw his name in the credits) and some deft changes of pace, this is easily one of my best horror finds in a very long time.
Just Before The Dawn (1981 – Jeff Lieberman)
This “young people in the woods” slasher had been on my list for awhile due to many reviewers claiming it as one of the gems of the genre (and also because Lieberman did the spiffy Blue Sunshine a few years earlier and the also spiffy Satan’s Little Helper a few decades later. Somehow it both equals its high praise and completely dilutes it at the same time…One of its most impressive angles is allowing its prim and proper “final girl” to become more feminine and sexy as the movie goes on – though perhaps not necessarily for the best reasons, it was at least refreshingly different. It also has a nice little plot device which is implied quickly early on and never overplayed so that its reveal was quite satisfying. Unfortunately too much of the film suffers from some amateurish pacing, acting and script. The film simply never achieves any consistent or long-lasting sense of tension and ends up falling flat.
Deathdream (1974 – Bob Clark)
How could I be a Canadian fan of horror and not have seen this early Bob Clark feature until now? I could claim a lack of availability, but I’ll admit to never really putting much effort into finding it due to some claims that it was more statement on Vietnam vets than true horror. Turns out you can actually mix both into an effective stew. Young Andy is killed in Vietnam at the outset of the film, but his desperate mother’s wish for him to return is granted – except he’s just not quite the same…Apart from his desire/need for human flesh, the biggest issue with Andy (and the one that begins to crumble the nice wholesome family framework) is the complete collapse of his personality and ability to communicate with others. The parallels of his zombie-like state with post traumatic stress disorder are obvious, but still very well expressed. His mother’s over-the-top maniacal need to ignore anything wrong gets a bit tiresome, but as part of the greater whole, it’s easily forgiven.
Don’t Deliver Us From Evil (1971 – Joel Seria)
Another fun and surprising find – this time of the French variety. Though its tone is often that of a soft-core bit of tease and erotica, the film never quite follows that path (apart from some nudity) and always seems on the verge of careening into something far more sinister. The two young school girls at its centre hover between naive and far-too-worldly for their age, but their interest in satanic rituals (its implied the hypocritical nuns of their school have driven them towards it) slowly lead them to commit acts of increasing evil. The unsettling aspect of the film is how these two girls continue down their path when they clearly don’t understand what they are doing and how it affects them. Though in truth not much happens for much of the film, it always feels like something is about to.