Five Low-Budget Horror and Sci-fi Gems Deep from the Bloody Heart of Texas
Bloodsuckers from Outer Space: In Texas, family and friendliness are values shared by everyone, even the undead.
Texas has spawned dozens of low-budget horror and sci-fi films since the 1960s. Unfortunately most of them suck, although not in the ways most normal, well adjusted filmgoers would think. B-movie fans are some of the most forgiving audiences in the world and will gladly let glaring deficiencies in budget and plot slide provided the film delivers the entertainment goods, intentionally or otherwise. For the true trash connoisseur the only unpardonable sin is to be boring, and many of these regional nightmares have rightfully been condemned to languish in the hell of obscurity. It's a just sentence for tricking a generation of kids into renting them with their lurid box art and empty promises of entertainment. For every Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Robocop on the shelves of the local video store there were a half dozen horror movies that make Andy Warhol's cinematic oeuvre look positively frenetic in comparison.
Often released only on VHS, many of these films stand on the brink of oblivion thanks to the digital slow death of the mom-and-pop video store. In many instances this is no great loss to the world of cinema. Despite this high garbage-to-gold ratio the occasional forgotten gem still turns up in thrift stores and garage sales waiting to be picked like a psychedelic mushroom in a pile of longhorn manure.
In honor of the 2014 Texas Frightmare Weekend May 2-4 at the Hyatt Regency DFW (2334 North International Parkway) we bring you the best of homegrown horror and sci-fi from the '80s and '90s, the golden age of the VCR so often neglected by regional film historians. Although our standards and judgment may have been severely warped by prolonged exposure to Texas crude, the following films have been deemed worthy of rescue from the eternal cut-out bin, of interest to the discerning cinematic bottom-feeder or anyone curious to see what Dallas or Houston looked like before suburban sprawl fully set in.
The Lamp (1987) aka The Outing
Directed by Tom Daley
Three white trash dirtbags break into an old lady's house in search of a fortune in cash allegedly located on the property. Instead they discover an ancient lamp hidden in a wall and inadvertently unleash an evil genie after brutally dispatching their elderly victim with an ax. As one might imagine this ends badly for everyone involved. The titular lamp eventually turns up at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and falls into the hands of our teen protagonist Alex, the daughter of curator Dr. Wallace who says things like "It's this museum that gets you those Guess jeans you have all the time!" Alex is soon possessed by the bloodthirsty djinn and arranges for her friends and the local bullies to spend the night locked in the museum. In the basement. During a rainstorm. Mayhem ensues.
Ignore the fact this movie somehow managed to have not one, but two of the least frightening titles of all time. Director Tom Daley's The Lamp is an entertaining slice of '80s cheese that actually delivers once it gets rolling. It's definitely the best killer genie movie ever filmed in Houston. Anyone can die at any time and by the end of the film just about everyone has. A toast to script writer Warren Chaney for figuring out how to work a shower scene into a movie that takes place in a museum.
For years The Lamp was only available on VHS but has turned up on a budget DVD set in the last few years as The Outing.
Directed by Cullen Blaine
Authoritarian police Captain J.B. Coldyron (pronounced "Cold Iron") and Dr. C.R. Steele are driven to create the law enforcement cyborg R.O.T.O.R. to save the residents of Dallas from themselves. After the unit is prematurely activated by a janitor's switchblade comb, R.O.T.O.R. (Robotic Officer Tactical Operations Research) escapes from the research facility and promptly shoots a yuppie douchebag in the face for speeding. The remainder of the running time is consumed by scenes of the justice-crazed robot chasing the yuppie's fiancé around Lake Dallas while Coldyron takes his sweet time coming to the rescue. Eventually R.O.T.O.R.'s creators get around to deactivating it and everyone dies. The End.
Director Cullen Blaine gave the late Italian rip-off master Bruno Mattei a run for his money with this no-budget Robocop/Terminator hybrid. Legions of kids were duped into renting it by awesome sci-fi cover art the film couldn't possibly begin to deliver on. Everything about R.O.T.O.R. is sublimely bad, and its charm lies in its decision to soldier on despite being deficient in every possible way. Viewers should just relax and go with it as any attempt to apply logic to the plot or gloriously idiosyncratic dialog may result in hemorrhaging. Witness the elusive point at which parody is rendered impossible.
Yet another film dredged from VHS obscurity and released in a budget DVD set, R.O.T.O.R. would make a great follow up to Frightmare Weekend's Terminator cast reunion on Saturday, May 3.