[Note: Rankings are subject to wild swings based on the randomness and intensity of my movie moods]
1. Candyman (2021)
Consider me an instant fan of Nia DaCosta. She shows a superior eye for color, composition, and movement, and she had my rapt attention for 91 straight minutes. Her work is meant to be seen on the big screen.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Teyonah Parris struck the right notes in the lead roles, and most of the supporting performances were larger-than-life enough to suit the material without becoming campy.
Candyman isn’t without its flaws. There’s a little too much plot coming at the audience a little too fast, which rendered the final 20 minutes of the movie confusing. I would love to see a cut in which the finale plays out at a more deliberate pace.
2. The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)
An hour into watching this film, I wouldn’t have imagined I’d end up ranking it so highly. The story is almost impenetrable and even frustrating as we follow the overlapping lives of three characters, all of whom have secrets they aren’t inclined to share with anyone, including the audience.
But as the truth reveals itself over the final act, we begin to realize the true extent of the horror that’s unfolding, and the payoff is a shocker. The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a film that will stick with me.
3. The Severed Arm (1973)
What this cheap and nasty 1970s slasher lacks in polish, it makes up for in grisly nihilism. The Severed Arm is not FX-driven like a classic 1980s slasher, though it does feature some rather bloody violence. What stands out most is the unrelenting bleak tone. It looks like a slasher movie but feels like survival horror.
The acting is hit or miss and the dialog is clunky, but, hey, it’s a grindhouse movie. You know what you’re getting. Be sure to watch the uncut version (available from Vinegar Syndrome).
4. Mountaintop Motel Massacre (1983)
The deranged proprietor of a rundown motel takes advantage of a power outage to start picking off her unsuspecting guests.
[That’s not a spoiler. We know from the opening scene.]
After watching this film again—my first revisit since the VHS era—I’m revising my opinion upward. It’s not a great movie. The acting ranges from passable to amateurish and the editing is choppy and awkward. However, the persistent griminess and gloom lend it a nice, greasy drive-in vibe. The use of doorways to symbolize the killer’s warped mind is a stylish touch in an otherwise straightforward piece of trash horror.
5. Vampira/Old Dracula (1974)
Man, this movie is embarrassing. Dracula revives his long-dead bride, Vampira, with a blood transfusion from a black woman, which has the inexplicable effect of turning Vampira black. Dracula, portrayed as a stiff-upper-lip Englishman by David Niven, is politely distressed by the situation and decides he must do whatever it takes to turn her white again.
Had Vampira been conceived and filmed as a bawdy, bad-taste, trash comedy, it might be appallingly funny on some level. Imagine a collaboration between John Waters and Rudy Ray Moore! But aside from one comedic supporting character, it plays more like a drama with Dracula depicted in a sympathetic light, despite the character being a snob and a bore.
As a Linda Hayden completist, I had to give it a watch, but the 5 minutes she’s on screen are the only bits I enjoyed.
6. Girls School Screamers (1984)
My bar for slasher movies is pretty low. I like a trash film that embraces its trashiness, and a slasher delivering on its lurid promise is usually enough for a passing mark.
Girls School Screamers starts off well enough: 7 young women at a Catholic college head to an old mansion, bequeathed by a dead benefactor, to spend a few days cataloging the valuables inside. When one of the students discovers that she bears a striking resemblance to a 45-year-old portrait on the wall, she and her classmates decide to hold a séance to contact the now-dead subject of the artwork. Which, of course, results in unintended consequences.
Except the consequences are barely coherent. Something about a killer, a ghost, ghost possession, incest, and dead people who sit upright with their eyes open. The kill scenes are tame (except for one over-the-top electrocution, which, now that I think about it, isn’t even a murder. It’s more of a bad-wiring accident). The film’s melodramatic story pretensions, revealed in the second half, do not befit the genre or its miniscule budget.