Saturday, September 29, 2012

Fear the Reaper: "The Grim Reaper" (1981)

Joe D'Amato produces a creepy film that will scare the willies out of you...if you do not dwell on the proceedings too much.

Tisa Farrow hitches a ride with a group of tourists to a mysterious, isolated Greek island. The group includes a pregnant woman, her husband, a psychic and her boyfriend, and the leader (and Tisa's love interest). On the island, the village is completely deserted. They arrive at Tisa's employer's house and find their blind teenage daughter, who has been hiding from a psychotic monster who has cannibalized everyone on the island. The group then spends the rest of the film fighting off the killer, and discovering the gruesome reasons behind his killing spree.

This is the R-rated version released by Monterey Home Video, but it is still very effective and scary. The killer is one ugly, ticked off dude. D'Amato does not resort to planting a mask on him, just to be unveiled in the climax. He lets natural lighting reveal the killer's features. The creepy abandoned village (save one crazy blonde) also works well. The editing here is very crisp, adding to the suspense. The dubbed English voices are also adequate. The film plays like good Lucio Fulci.

The minuses here are also a little scary. Because this is edited from the original version, there are a few loose ends here and there. The infamous "fetus scene" is trimmed, and it is obvious. The rest of the cast, save Farrow, go through the motions of being victims. There are not very many memorable scenes for the actors to work with to create any sort of sympathetic characters.

The screenplay will often take incredible leaps in logic, as cast members wander off by themselves, or forget to defend themselves when they are getting murdered. The special effects are also hot and cold, with one memorable scene with an obviously fake severed head in a bucket of water. I have seen more realistic papier mache heads in children's puppet shows. The ending is also abrupt, possibly the result of more post production tampering.

D'Amato, never my favorite director, does some very good things here. He uses locations to the fullest extent, making for a very believable abandoned island. His direction is over the top, but manages to scare at the same time, much like Wes Craven's direction in the first "Scream." Actually, this might be ripe for a Hollywood remake, with better effects and a cast of recognizable faces...nah, they still would not get it right.

I do slightly recommend this film, but it is not for the squeamish, and this is not for those who are looking for a "fun horror film." "The Grim Reaper" is grim, and pretty good. (* * * *) out of five stars.