Day 31 of the Halloween Countdown: Saturday the 14th!

By Shawn Robare

Well, this Halloween season has buzzed by so fast I feel like I could use a whole second month to celebrate.  As per usual, we haven’t yet heard the pitter patter of tiny trick-or-treater’s feet at the door, and again we’ll have a ton of candy to try and eat over the next month.  One of these years we’re going to get at least one kid and I’m telling ya, the whole candy bowl is going in that bag (and trust me, it’s always the good stuff!)  Anyway, I hope everyone has enjoyed my countdown, as well as visited the other fine blogs doing their creepy part to keep this month chock full of spooky goodness.   Heck, I’ll probably still be catching up on all the Halloween craziness for the next few months.  Also, before I get into the meat of this post, I just want to give an official Happy Halloween to everyone out there.

So on to the last countdown post for this season (barring any leftovers I might throw up tomorrow.)   Before I broke down my mother’s will and her kibosh on watching horror movies, there were only a handful of flicks that I was allowed to catch that fell into the horror vein.  One of these was a favorite rental throughout my childhood, though for the life of me I didn’t remember 90% of the film when I re-watched it this past month (after picking up an out-of-print copy from a local Hollywood Video that was closing its doors), Saturday the 14th (circa 1981)…

I think I remember the film’s 1988 sequel (Saturday the 14th Strikes Back) a bit more, though after watching the trailer for that film as well I’m not so sure.  All I know is that for awhile growing up Saturday the 14th and the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown seemed like the only seasonal fare on TV.

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting when I plopped this flick in the DVD player, but it sure as hell wasn’t what I ended up watching.  Fluttering between god awful silly slap stick, bad pun comedy, and a pretty pedestrian horror film spoof, Saturday the 14th just doesn’t know what it wants to be.  Again, seeing as I watched this a few times as a kid, and considering the film opens with a very goofy animation sequence, I figured this film to be kids flick fare…

The film stars husband and wife duo Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss as John and Mary a couple who has just inherited a decrepit and spooky house.  Of course, there are others who want the house, namely a couple of vampires named Waldemar (played with camp by Jeffrey Tambor) and Yolanda (played by Nancy Lee Andrews)…

The flick was produced by Julie Corman (wife of famous B movie producer/director Roger Corman) who also brought us the illustrious trilogy of exploitation nursing films, The Night Nurses, the Young Nurses, and Candy Stripe Nurses, as well as Chopping Mall (a film I’ve been obsessed with since falling in love with the poster art at a young age, but have never actually sat through.)  Howard R Cohen directed and penned the script (as well as writing the aforementioned the Young Nurses, which is where Corman probably came to know him; he also brought us episodes of Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, Rainbow Brite, and Emmanuelle V!)

As I mentioned above, the film opens with Tambor and Andrews lusting after the old creepy house that has been inherited by Benjamin, Prentiss and their two kids, Debbie (played by Kari Michaelson of Gimmie a Break! Fame) and Billy (played with smart-alecky goodness by Kevin Brando…)

It seems that the house is cursed/haunted/possessed, and includes a copy of the Book of Evil, which has the power to unleash evil on the earth.  Billy being the perfectly precocious and curious kid finds the book, opens it, ignores the warning and proceeds to let fly the monsters of evil (which include a rouges gallery of men-in-rubber-suit-monsters such as a mummy, a beastly werewolf, and a goofy looking monster with eyes on stalks that reminds me of the aliens from the Explorers movie.)

There are a million bad puns and jokes, most issued by Richard Benjamin (who delivers the horrible dialogue with a grin and a smile.)  After the 1st third of the film I felt that this was surely a kid’s flick, and was then totally taken aback by the drawn-out stripping-before-a-bath scene that (in the kid’s film context) seemed inappropriately alluring…

I probably wouldn’t have noticed if the scene didn’t keep going and going, with plenty of close-ups on Kari Michaelson removing each piece of clothing slowly, and then continuously getting interrupted by phone calls and the like.  Granted, there was a shark-fin-headed gill monster lurking in the water of the tub, which was supposed to be suspenseful, but was really more of an irritation that kept the camera off Michaelson here and there during her strip tease.  I don’t mind the disrobing scene in the least, it’s just sort of weirdly placed in what I assumed was a kid’s flick.   Also, is it weird that my wife and I freeze-framed the screen to see the breast covering bubble bikini that Michaelson was wearing to keep the movie clean?

The film takes another turn for the weirdly violent after the monster chases Michaelson throughout the house, and it’s finally confronted by a cop (a neighbor of the newly moved-in family who happens to be passing by), who proceeds to shoot the creature in the heard (with large animated blood squirt and all…)

The creature then strangles the cop to death in a very frantically gruesome manner, again propelling the film outside of children’s movie territory and into a b-horror film.  Nothing wrong with this, it just makes for a mighty odd combination.  We then slip back into the goofy kid’s comedy arena after the family calls an exterminator for an owl infestation (actually it’s bats, but the running joke is that they’re owls) and they get a house call from none other than Van Helsing himself (played with glee by Severn Darden.)

The flick then see-saws between goofy and horrific as the wife is turned into a vampire by Tambor, and the family soon discovers that they are in fact trapped in the house by the power of the book (getting whipped in the face by a gust of wind and bright lights whenever they try and open a door, yet newcomers to the house seem to negate this effect.)   It’s all way-too-darkly-lit montages of monster parties, severed heads, and eyeballs in the coffee as the family (and the live-in Van Helsing) decide how they can defeat the book of evil and the house-crashing vampires.

Saturday the 14th has one more surprise up its sleeve, as the plot comes to a head and we discover that the menace is really Van Helsing, who wants the power of the book to take over the world, and it’s Tambor and Andrews who are trying to stop him…

Billy brings the book to the vampires, and a battle of immense strength and wills takes place (e.g. Darden and Tambor make a bunch of silly faces at each other for a few minutes while trying to levitate Billy…)

…and then the real action begins (well not really, but it was fun to type anyway!)  There’s plenty of goofy special effects involving Tambor and Darden throwing lightening and fireworks at each other before Waldemar defeats the evil Van Helsing…

In the end, the family makes up with the vampires and agrees to sell them the house (they end up moving across the street into much nicer digs.)

Honestly, I don’t know what to think of this film.  It’s at times so-bad-it’s-good, but mostly it’s just bad, and I wonder what I found interesting about it as a kid.  You can barely make out what the monsters look like as the majority of the film is shot in darkness, though this is probably for the best as the costumes seemed to be pretty cheap.  All in all it just seemed like one big schizophrenic mess of a film that could only be surpassed by the sequel, Saturday the 14th Strikes Back…

Again, I’ve only seen the trailer, but a lot of the imagery (especially the shot of the blonde girl who is huge inside of the house and you only see her eye from a window) and cast strikes a bell with me.  This will certainly be one for me to track down…

Well, that does it for this year’s countdown.   Here’s to hoping I can find enough material for next year’s.  Happy Halloween folks!

  • John Rozum

    Well Shawn, we survived another one. Great job and such an interesting choice to finish with. I have to say the screen grabs make the movie look so much better than I remember it being. Happy Halloween!

  • Gilligan

    GREAT post… I too am perplexed at the oddly placed bubble bikini scene. Also nice to see that Tambor could fit this movie in to his schedule while starring in The Ropers. I haven’t visited here in a while, and I see I’ve missed a lot of great stuff. Note to self: check in more frequently!

  • Dane

    Happy Halloween! You know, I always liked Richard Benjamin, but your review of this is kind of making me rethink that … :)

  • Bubbashelby

    Great work on the countdown! Looking forward to next year (I’ll need 11 months to rest though!)

  • Paxton Holley

    LOL! I totally remember this movie…actually, like you , I think I remember this movie but after looking at your synopsis and screen grabs I see I remember nothing. Wow, this looks much worse than I remember. I never saw the sequel. It intrigues me.

  • The Sexy Armpit

    shawn…this was a rental favorite of mine as a kid. Til this day Chopping mall remains one of my favorite. Fortunately they showed it on one of my cable channels a couple of years ago and i put it on DVD. good stuff!

  • Kirk D.

    This was one of the first movies we ever rented. As a kid I was so thankful for (and surprised by) the PG rating. I barely remember it now, but I dug the creature in the bathtub and I was jealous that the only show that their TV could pick up was the Twilight Zone. Thanks for the screen grabs, now I don’t have to Netflix it.

  • Evil Dolly

    I remember this! I saw it a bunch of times on tv (and Betamax!) when I was really young, but it was one of those weird movies that later in life became so hazy in memory had me wondering ‘Did that movie actually exist or did I just imagine it?’ I also recall the odd mixture of slapstick and cheesy horror, not sure at the time if it was a movie for kids or adults (and not knowing if I should feel guilty for watching or not). And, strangely enough, I always associated it with the 4th of July instead of Halloween, since the first time I saw it on tv was on a 4th of July weekend. Go figure.

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