Amazon has literally thousands of movies available for free to Prime users. Survey after survey indicates most people don’t watch them or even know they’re there. However, to B-Movie fans Amazon Prime has become far more than just a curious add-on to year-round free shipping. As CNet recently discovered, Amazon doesn’t like to advertise this and wouldn’t comment when asked, but its Prime Video content is overloaded with an awful lot of schlock as well as far more classic horror offerings than competitors like Netflix and Hulu. Perhaps its part of a strategy to curate for fans of forgotten cinema. Perhaps it’s simply an indication of what they could buy on the cheap and then use to turn around and brag about having more movies than Netflix. Either way, midnight cinema is never far away on Amazon Prime.

Over the past couple of months, these are but some of the horror titles I’ve encountered on Prime:

Burnt Offerings (1976)

Released four years before Kubrick’s The Shining, Burnt Offerings does ring several familiar bells. A family, in this case Oliver Reed and Karen Black with a pre-teen son and an aging aunt played by Bette Davis, receive a too-good-to-be-true offer to rent a giant, secluded gothic mansion for a season. The offer comes from a rather eccentric landlord (Burgess Meredith, who did more horror films than Rocky fans probably realize) and his sister. The only stipulation: anyone staying in the house must also agree to take care of Meredith’s elderly mother, who mostly stays in her room. As the poster hilariously spells out under Meredith’s picture, “He told them the house would take care of itself. But he didn’t tell them it would take care of them, too.”

No beer and no TV make Homer go something, something.

Except here the corruption isn’t isolated to just the father – this house messes with everyone and in very different ways. Reed goes the way of Jack Torrance, more obviously, but Bette Davis starts to lose her mind and energy and Karen Black becomes increasingly preoccupied with the unseen woman upstairs. It’s mostly up to the son to beg for retreat.

Honestly, the whole thing was worth it for me just to see Reed instantly switch from innocently swimming with his 12-year-old son to violently trying to drown him while Davis screeches for him to stop. It’s one of the many moments where the family’s All-American normalcy is punctured by the house’s corruptive influences and the creeping sense of dread overwhelms everything they do.

  • Recommended: Yes. Occasionally shows its age but ultimately remains a solid haunted house movie with an overqualified cast.
  • Parting Trivia: This marked the re-teaming of Karen Black and director Dan Curtis after the made-for-TV anthology Trilogy of Terror.

Evils of the Night (1985)

Starts out like a straight up porno with legit 80s porn stars with names like Crystal Breeze, Amber Lynn and Jerry Butler (I guess that last one’s fairly normal) engaging in slightly racier than normal sex scenes for 80s horror. Turns into a weird sci-fi thing where people in funny costume (Julie Newmar and John Carradine) appear to be monitoring teens from afar for, um, reasons. Finally settles into a hillbilly horror show with dimwitted mechanics in overalls doing some killin’, including an extra long death scene for one coed who had multiple chances to escape or kill her attacker. By no means is any of it conventionally good, but the odd combination of elements adds to its camp value. Plus, as a kinda slasher there is a fun kick from the various ways the film doggedly departs from the old you-sin-you-die formula. But that also means the film is a real nasty piece of work.

  • Recommended: No. Even the macabre appeal of seeing Julie Newmar in something so lowgrade wears off.
  • Parting Trivia: Writer-director-producer Marti Rustdam only made two more movies after this – 1987’s Death Feud starring Frank Stallone and 1997’s James Dean: Race with Destiny starring Casper Van Dien.

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987)

A sexually promiscuous, late 1950s girl named Mary Lou (Lisa Schrage) is burned alive at her high school prom when her square boyfriend catches her cheating and loses his shit. It’s a real “Eat your heart out, Carrie!” kind of opening with a death so gruesome even her inadvertent killer looks away.

30 years later at that same high school, the boyfriend is now the principle (and played by Michael Ironside!) and his teenage son is dating a sweet, shy girl named Vicki (Wendy Lyon) who has a rather domineering mother.

Wouldn’t you know it, Mary Lou’s ghost comes back to possess Vicki and people start dying.

Fun is had by all.

Well, not all. Most everyone dies, often for no good reason. But, Mary Lou is having the time of her afterlife. This leads to a series of inspired jokes about Mary Lou turning Vicki into the school bad girl but not updating her pop culture references or behaviors for the 80s instead of the 50s.

The Shock Waves podcast crew has been banging the bloody drum for this sequel for quite some time now. I don’t know that it’s really the unheralded classic they’ve argued it to be, but as 80s slasher villains go Lisa Schrage and Wendy Lyon’s combined performance as Mary Lou does deserve more recognition.

  • Recommended: Yes. Be warned, however, the version on Prime is rather low-quality.
  • Parting Trivia: According to the IMDB Tribune, “Written and filmed as The Haunting of Hamilton High. The title was changed to Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II by the Samuel-Goldwyn Company who purchased it and decided to market it as a sequel. The similarities to the original Prom Night (1980), such as the name of the school and the line “It’s not who you go with, it’s who takes you home”, were completely coincidental.”

Saturday the 14th (1981)

This one’s tricky to talk about. If you were of a certain age in the early 1980s, you likely have beloved memories of Saturday the 14th, a kid-friendly, gateway horror movie just looking to take the piss out of haunted house and Universal movie monster tropes. It was on in the background of a many a sleepover, to be sure. That’s why Scream Factory’s recent announcement of a forthcoming, extra features-loaded Blu-Ray release strikes both excitement and fear in certain fan’s minds.

Oh, Saturday the 14th? I haven’t seen that in ages!

Oh, Saturday the 14th? Shit. Does it really hold up?

Um, no. At least not totally. I can’t speak to the nostalgia connected to the film as this is my first time seeing it, but it’s certainly lost a fair deal of its immediacy, similar in that way to 1979’s Dracula parody Love at First Bite.

On the bright side, unlike Love at First Bite it doesn’t have any shockingly casual racism. So, that’s good.

Saturday the 14th does still maintain a mild appeal, though.

Don’t let the title fool you – this has nothing to do with Friday the 13th or slashers. Instead, it’s a haunted house movie where instead of ghosts a family is haunted by The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, and whatever else the studio’s props department threw together. The family caught in the middle is headed by a purposefully lethargic Richard Benjamin (the joke is nothing strange in the house seems to alarm him at all) and increasingly unhinged Paula Prentiss (Benjamin’s real-life wife, I might add).

Jeffrey Tambor lingers as the potentially villainous Dracula stand-in Waldemar, whose own wife (Nancy Lee Andrews) is highly suspicious of his preoccupation with Prentiss. I got a kick out of their bickering as well as the finale where the shit has really hit the fan and yet Benjamin continues on with his Mike Brady act of assuming everything’s fine.

  • Recommended: If you have nostalgic memories attached to it, they won’t be completely destroyed by a re-watch. Otherwise, though, there is an appeal here, but it’s very limited.
  • Parting Trivia: There is a sequel from the same writer-director and crew, 1988’s lesser-seen Saturday the 14th Strikes Back, and even with the passage of time it stuck with its haunted house roots and declined to take aim at the slashers of the day.
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Posted by Kelly Konda

Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

7 Comments

  1. Having sifted through the good majority of their horror dumpster, I feel your pain and can safely say that there isn’t a whole lot better than this available on there, aside from the handful of obvious big name ones that we’ve all seen a million times.

    The closest I ever found to a hidden gem in there was this weird Belgian horror called Cub, which I’d definitely recommend to you.

    Also, if you’re interested in goofy old Italian horror, The Black Cat is a great obscure one that I was surprised to see on there (referring to the 1 hour 29 minute one, not the Fulci movie, or the other one on there, or…the other one on there. Man, there’s a lot of Black Cat movies)

    Reply

    1. “Having sifted through the good majority of their horror dumpster, I feel your pain and can safely say that there isn’t a whole lot better than this available on there, aside from the handful of obvious big name ones that we’ve all seen a million times.”

      Over at Letterboxd, I created a list of Martin Scorsese’s 85 favorite movies. https://boxd.it/1ZmJk

      I’ve only seen 8 of them. I barely even remembered Italian Neorealism and Rossellini from my old film classes, yet here’s Scorsese talking about how important all of that is to understanding film and film history.

      Times like these, I regret spending so much of my time sifting through the dustbin of horror history, yet, dammit, you also need to understand Corman, Carpenter, Cannon Films, and the various other purveyors of cinematic sleaze to understand the underside of film history. That’s where I’m leaning these days, and, dammit, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama is still the most enjoyable film I’ve seen all year.

      Cub. Interesting. Never heard of that one before. Just added it to my watchlist.

      The Black Cat…thanks for the clarification re: not the Fulci movie. That’s what I would have assumed you meant.

      “the other one on there. Man, there’s a lot of Black Cat movies”

      There are at least 9 listed on Letterboxd. Hmm, it’s almost like Hollywood has a thing against black cats. Why not at least one movie called The Tuxedo Cat? Oh, So fancy, but kitty’s got claws! Writes itself, obviously.

      Reply

      1. Well that’s better than my 2. I just don’t have any interest in that 50s-60s stuff at all.

      2. If there’s something truly foundational, like something which was the first to do something and defined the cinematic language we use today, I’m at least interested from an academic standpoint. Man with a Movie Camera, Battleship Potemkin, Birth of a Nation….all of that Intro to Film 101 stuff. By the 50s-60s, however, you had that whole period where, sort of like the history of rock n’ roll, an art form Americans either created or popularized was being digested and improved upon by Europeans who’d known lives of hardship post-WWII. So, while Hollywood damn near imploded and the moguls all got old super fast while TV took off there was suddenly all this great stuff coming out of Italy, France, and Tokyo, but back in college and still today the only stuff I can ever really get into is French New Wave. Give me Godard doing insane camera moves or crazy ass arthouse experiments like Weekend and I’ll at least get off on the “haven’t seen that before” of it all.

        But, Italian Neo-Realism, meh. No thank you. Give me Giallos, please. I had no idea Scorsese was such a fan until now.

  2. I agree, but I’m also loving it. My mom loves any movie where stupid people get horribly killed – bonus points if they get eaten. She is well aware of Amazons midnight fare. And with the Shudder add-on I got her for Xmas, it’s even better, with all the animal mauling, rickety acting, and bad special effects she can handle.

    Reply

    1. It’s certainly an interesting strategy to use to keep up in the volume contest with Netflix, this whole “buy old bad movies on the cheap and use them to goose our numbers.” Often, they even have the cheapest version available, too. I think most of the movies I wrote about have newer Blu-Ray scans which look great, yet the ones on Amazon are all crappy pan-scans.

      Yet, that kind of adds to the charm for me. When I need a mental break from life I’ll just fire up one of these old B movies and laugh my ass off, trying to remind myself the whole time to turn off the overserious film critic voice in my head and look at it more like Joe Bob Briggs would. Through those eyes, Prom Night II is a masterpiece.

      Plus, I, too, have the Shudder extension, and I’m loving it. Halfway through The Gate at the moment. Haven’t seen it since I was 5. Realizing I remember nothing about it other than there’s a hole in the ground that little demons come out of and little Stephen Dorff has to save everyone. His secret weapon?: Model sets of rocket ships.

      Reply

      1. OMG! I loved that movie. I saw The Gate when I was a teenager. I thought it was hella scary at least for me. My mom thought it was hilarious though. I watched it recently and she’s right, it is deeply funny but I can’t put my finger on why. I forgot that was little Stephen Dorff. He’s a horrible grownup actor, but as a kid he seemed alright. Go figure!

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