Terror Storm (1978)

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Yeah, I know the poster says Cyclone but I prefer the other title, Terror Storm, because, you know, it’s funnier.  We  have another would be masterpiece from Rene Cardona Jr., who, for some reason, does not know how to edit a movie to a reasonable length.  There is no reason why Terror Storm should be 118 minutes long.

My other beef with the movie is that there is too much humanity in it.  It’s a freakin’ Rene Cardona Jr. picture!  I’ve already seen Tintorera: Killer Shark and Guyana: Crime of the Century so I know this guy’s modus operandi so I don’t understand why they needed to have the touching scene where the woman has the baby and everyone takes turns holding it but hey…

Funny how Terror Storm has more to do with sharks than Tintorera: Killer Shark.  It also would have been a pretty standard disaster film like The Towering Inferno or The Poseidon Adventure but this is Rene Cardona Jr. and only recently he produced his father’s film Survive! about a group of people in the Andes forced to cannibalism.  So, why not make his own movie with cannibalism?

Basically a tropical cyclone causes a plane to crash and a ship to sink and, as a result, the survivors end up on a mid-sized boat that is touring some area in the tropics.  The survivors are forced to ration food and water and to deal with each other.  Among the passengers include Carol Baker who has a pet dog, Olga Carlotos (the girl from Zombie who gets the wood splint in her eye) as a pregnant woman, another Zombie cast member who I forgot, Lionel Stander (who was in a bunch of cool movies including Roman Polanski’s Cul De Sac) and Andreas Garcia (the brawny guy who looks like Elliott Gould and was also in Tintorera: Killer Shark).  Stuart Whitman is in it briefly as well but his role is pretty minimal.

Let’s see; at first people try to act civil to each other and then shit starts to get real.  They kill Caroll Baker’s dog and eat it, cut parts out of somebody to use as fish bait and eventually eat someone.  A couple people die and the Elliott Gould lookalike plays the clear-headed, rational guy who tries to keep everybody in line.  There’s a preacher, there’s a couple angry fishermen, there’s a little girl and there are a bunch of other stock people who are not really worth mentioning.

The best part is near the end where you think the passengers are saved and then the sharks start eating them.  I know I gave away a lot of what happens in this movie but you know damn well you don’t care about story or character development.  You just want to see crazy and sick shit occur.  And it does but just not often enough.  You have to wait long periods of time for stuff to happen.  At least when it does, it’s fairly graphic.  Again, though, Cardona Jr. could have edited this down and sped up the pace.

Night of the Lepus (1972)

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Adorable bunnies grow really large and kill a bunch of people.  There is plenty of blood even though it’s a little fake looking and there are a few cool shots of mutilated bodies with severed limbs scattered about.  Janet Leigh, DeForest Kelley and Stuart Whitman are in it.

Guyana: Crime of the Century (1979)

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I’ve been looking forward to seeing Guyana: Crime of the Century for a while and can say that I was not disappointed.  The only reason I dropped the grade from 4 to 3 iron crosses is because maybe there could have been a little bit more editing and the lighting was incredibly dim.  I don’t know if that’s the DVD transfer or  the way it was shot.  If it was the DVD, then I apologize.

Either way, Rene Cardona Jr.’s film received the hilarious “zero stars” from Roger Ebert when he saw the film at the beginning of 1980.  The version he saw was actually called Guyana: Cult of the Damned (not to be confused with the 1969 film Cult of the Damned) and was edited down to 96 minutes from the unneccesarily long 115 minute version I saw and had a voice-over narration.  That might have been a slightly tighter, more compact film.

But why am I arguing technique when the only reason I watched the movie was to see if it is as tasteless, shocking and repulsive as its reputation?  The Jonestown massacre is officially considered the largest loss of American lives at a single time before 9/11 and what makes it even more disturbing is the fact that the Reverand Jim Jones was such a well respected public figure.  Under a socialist guise, he united people of various ethnicities and races and promoted equality.  He was praised by a number of public figures like Walter Mondale and Rosalyn Carter.

So what went wrong?  Of course no questions are answered in Guyana: Crime of the Century.  If you want a real documentary about the topic, check out Jonestone: Life and Death of Peoples Temple.  Cardona’s film is an exploitation film.

There isn’t much plot to the film really.  Rev. James Johnson (Stuart Whitman) does a bunch of over the top, Hitler-like sermons in spite of preaching against Hitler, tyranny, violence and bigotry.  The people believe and follow him from San Francisco to their tiny, self-constructed colony called Johnstontown in the jungles of Guyana.

At first a few people bitch about not getting any better food than rice and bread.  Soon, three children are brutally punished for petty theft.  This is where the dim lighting really annoyed me.  Was the one kid dipped in tar, hot oil or just water?  One kid had electric shockers put on his balls and one was covered in snakes, I guess.  There’s another scene where a man is punished for having sex with his wife by being forced to do the sexual act with a big black guy.  Unfortunately we don’t get to see this part.  There’s also a scene where reporters go into a giant shack to see a bunch of bodies stowed away like in a “slave galley.”

There are a few scenes that follow the real life narrative, particularly when the movie version of Congressman Leo Ryan along with some reporters visits Jonestown in order to bring back some of its prisoners resulting in their being gunned down.  Also Joseph Cotton and Yvonne De Carlo play toss-aside roles as lawyer and press person, etc.

But, as expected, the true impact lies in the gruesome climax.  It starts with the Jim Jones speech as people line up to drink koolaid.  Then we see people forcing others to drink the substance, we see a horrified woman shrieking that she doesn’t want to die, we see a mother feeding the substance to her baby then to herself and then clutching her baby as she crumples to the floor.  But, above all, we see Rev. James Johnson from the perspective of the dying temple members in a psychedelic sepia tone, which, given this stylistic choice, sorta proves Cardona wasn’t going for a truly documentary vibe with this.  At the end, the camera shows us the sign that says, “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  Yep, it’s a message movie.