Welcome back to Terror Tapes; the weekly feature that would have served us well had we launched Horror Squad back in 1981. Each week I fly in the face of modern technology and submerge myself in a sea of videotape. My goal is to see any and all horror titles that were abandoned in the great format upgrade...for better or for worse. Sometimes I will discover gems whose relegation to forgotten formats represents a true tragedy of technological advancement. Conversely there will also be occasions when I wonder why anyone bothered to recommend a given title for home viewing in the first place; as audiences would have surely been adequately assaulted by the film in theaters.
Today's tape: Saturday the 14th, 1981
For this week's edition of Terror Tapes, I thought it might be fun to counter all of yesterday's Friday the13th hoopla with an equally reverent observance of the subsequent day. Well that, and Horror Squad Maestro Scott Weinberg demanded that I watch/review the 1981 horror/comedy Saturday the 14th. As I never back down from a challenge, and like my job here at Horror Squad, I took Scott up on his...edict. I was all the more elated when I discovered that the DVD for Saturday the 14th is out of print and my recent ransacking of my grandmother's video collection meant I owned a copy on VHS. So, on this least ceremonious of occasions, enjoy a my take on Saturday the 14th with the security of knowing Jason Voorhees will not be mentioned once in this article. Dammit!
The story of Saturday the 14th is pretty basic; bordering on classical. A young couple inherits a house from an eccentric uncle much to the chagrin of the rest of the greedy relatives. They are ecstatic until they find out the house is also cursed. Unabated, this couple quickly moves into the house along with their two children. Also interested in the home are Dracula(ish) and his wife who are determined to make sure the cursed house provides enough frights and freaks to drive the family out. What follows is a series of extremely unfortunate events...unfortunate for the audience.
Remember those horror movies that were on cable a lot when we were kids that we were so excited to watch because they were way more adult and scary than we should have been allowed to view? This is not one of them. I don't know if it played a lot on cable or not, but had I seen this on cable as a kid, I would have happily switched over to Scooby-Doo for something a bit edgier. It's about as scary as French toast, as amusing as foot fungus, and as charming as an Amber Alert. And don't give me that garbage about how it's PG and therefore already limited in its effectiveness as a horror film. I have two words for you: Joe Dante. I saw Gremlins (also PG) when I was a wee lad and it scared the proverbial feces out of me. But I will buy that this is more of a comedy than a horror film so let's judge it as such shall we?
The jokes in this film are recycled, bargain-basement Vaudeville gags that wouldn't have gotten more than a chuckle at the turn of the century. But you have to admire the persistence of Saturday the 14th. It doesn't matter that a joke doesn't work the first time it's given utterance, they are still going to run with it and repeat it 17 times! For example, a woman calling a bat an owl when it is clearly not an owl is half-amusing in an absurd way once. When she keeps doing it for three minutes straight, it borders on mentally-challenged. But at least it gave them the material they needed to rip off, shot for shot, a seminal scene from The Birds in a way that was completely incongruent to the lighthearted, if moronic, tone of the rest of the scene. There were also jokes so bad, that fell so hopelessly flat, that if not for the actors ham-fisted indicating, I wouldn't have even recognized them as jokes.
This movie is for people that liked The Monster Squad, but found it too vulgar and extreme. We have one or two actual archetypes of the Universal monsters, led by Dracula, mixed in with a bunch of rejects from the wardrobe department masquerading as "horrifying beasts." We have kids forced to use a magical object to save the world because the adults are completely oblivious. We even have a creepy German dude who, for no explained reason but nevertheless deviating from the Monster Squad comparison, turns out to be the evil one while all the monsters turn out to be good guys. Jeffrey Tambor is completely wasted as Dracula and the ending is so corny that I am thinking of microwaving it to eat while I watch a better film later.