Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Halloween Havoc: OCCULT DIMENSIONS (1988) aka DON'T PANIC

The late '80s was a lot of things, but no matter who you were, you knew who Freddy Krueger was, which meant that if you were in the film business, you wanted to cash in on the world-wide success  of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchise. Even if you were in Mexico.

Ruben Galindo Jr, (aka Ruben Galindo Ubierna) son of famed, prolific filmmaker Ruben Galindo (aka Ruben Galindo Aguilar), was born in 1952 in Mexico City, but at a young age was enrolled in a Canadian boarding school in Victoria. After moving back to Mexico, Galindo Jr. did some of his collegiate general ed before moving to California and graduating UCLA with a film and television degree. He then returned to Mexico, yet again, and began making genre oriented films on 16mm. Galindo Jr.'s second film on 35mm was the hugely successful (by Mexican standards) CEMETERY OF TERROR (1985). This was actually a break-out film for Mexican genre pieces as it received distribution the likes of which hadn't been seen since the days of K. Gordon Murray in the '60. There was a major difference however, Murray's imports were reworked for American kiddie matinee screenings, CEMETERY OF TERROR was straight-up teen horror fare with zombies and bloodletting in the vein of the Italian horror films of the era. It would only make sense then, that Galindo Jr.'s follow up would be the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) inspired OCCULT DIMENSIONS.


Poodle mulleted rich kid, Michael Smith (Jon Michael Bischof, who also provided the score) has been transplanted from Beverly Hills to Mexico by his snobby parents who promptly got a divorce after relocating. Michael's mom (Helena Rojo) has become an alcoholic to the point of leaving a bottle of silver tequila on the stair banister for those times when actually walking to the liquor cabinet is just too much of an effort. Sure, we've all been there. Stairs can be such a bitch. Speaking of bitches, Michael is having a drunken birthday party and decides everyone needs to go home. Everyone does except for a handful of his closest friends who decide to pop out from behind furniture and insist that they have a "game" of ouija. Michael, in a whiny way that will start to wear thin really quickly, doesn't want to play as he has had a bad experience before. His friends are pretty much total assholes, particularly Tony (Juan Ignacio Aranda), who contacts a spirit named Virgil. When Tony starts speaking as Virgil, Michael then flips out, as he is prone to do, and tells everyone that it is the devil! Tony, who is a total prick, laughs it off and dumps a bottle of tequila on the board before walking out. Damn these kids are spoiled brats! When I went to high-school no one would dream of wasting a drop of the precious fluid known as "alcohol". Not even for our dead homies.

After an obligatory romantic interlude with the new girl at school, Alex (Gabriela Hassel, who went on to appear in 1989s VACATION OF TERROR), Michael starts having weird visions of his classmates being killed by a burn-victim wielding what appears to be a sacrificial dagger, or a prop used by an '80s metal band, I'm not sure. When he has these visions of these stabbings, his eyes turn red and he has trouble seeing, leading to a lot of pantomimed stumbling about... during which Michael freaks out. I told you, Michael's emotional state is like that of a five year old. I guess it is only appropriate that he spends half of the movie in some awesome dinosaur pajamas, reflecting his child-like state of mind. Galindo was doing some thinking here.

While his mom freaks out in an over-the-top latin way, suddenly the news starts reporting these deaths that he has been having visions of. The homicide detective on the case Lt. Velazco (the ubiquitous Jorge Luke) seems a little lackadaisical about the whole thing, but maybe later in the movie he will start taking things seriously right? I mean, it's only been two murders with the same M.O. It's not like in the US where we have to have a dozen dead before anyone decides to not give a shit.

Michael's next freak out is Christine (Mindie McCullum, better known after a lot of unnecessary plastic surgery as Scottie Steiner's WCW valet Midajah). Michael suddenly decides instead of letting his friends get killed, that - and this is a stroke of genius - he will warn them! Of course we all know how this is going to go. Running out of his house (yes, still wearing his dinosaur PJs), Michael heads over to Christine's place only to run into her blow-dried jock brother Juan (future soap star Roberto Palazuelos), who understandably wants to kick his ass. He then runs over to the hospital where Christine works, but apparently nobody is allowed into the hospital. Maybe it's just because they can't take him seriously in those pajamas. Of course, due to all of the interference from hospital security, he is too late and can't save Christine. Still, it was a good plan, so maybe next time, he'll be able to save someone! Or not. The bodies pile up, but after a VIDEODROME (1983) inspired moment in which a face pushes out of the TV and tells Michael and Juan that it is Virgil who is doing the killing, the boys team up and, more importantly, Michael puts on some real clothes.

I'm probably going to sound like an apologist here, but while I've seen a lot of people saying that it is a NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET rip-off, it is definitely riding Freddy's coattails, but it really isn't fair to dismiss it as plagiarism. At the same time it is not wholly original as it borrows from Dario Argento as well as NIGHTMARE and the aforementioned VIDEODROME. In one scene our deteriorating villain (no backstory is given for his condition), shoves the dagger under someone's jaw allowing the audience to see the blade twist inside of his mouth. This is an obvious and direct lift from Argento's OPERA (1987). I think it is safe to say that Galindo is a fan of the Italian stuff as this feels like it would be right at home in the Filmirage line-up of the same era.

While the budgetary short-comings are a given, Galindo works in some good low-rent latex effects and some impressive camera set-ups. He also borrows Craven's use of horror movie film clips playing on the TV (technically not Craven's invention), though here instead of Galindo throwing a tip of the hat to a fellow filmmaker, he mostly uses clips of his own CEMETERY OF TERROR. Quite frankly, if I was the guy who had made CEMETERY OF TERROR, I would have clips of it in every movie I made afterwards, too.

The only real thing that strains the entertainment factor is Galindo regular Jon Michael Bischof. Bischof is such a wimpy man-child that, coupled with the pajamas (what was Galindo thinking?), he quickly goes from amusing to irritating. But then again, there are plenty of other things to keep your attention. Plus, I learned that Mexican schools are really strict. Michael has to bribe a security guard with a men's magazine to allow him to enter the campus late. Apparently not showing up for class on time is punishable by expulsion! Obviously they couldn't do that here in the US, because A: The schools would be empty, and B: Someone would get shot.

My favorite moment is the very end (minor spoiler) when the killer gives up his dying breath, Michael is laying in a broken heap on the floor, and Alex is sobbing over him, Lt. Velazco who you would expect to finally show some interest in the case, looks rather bored and simply turns around and walks off! I guess it's not his job to clean up the mess, right? I can't tell whether Luke is phoning in the role, to previously unknown degrees, or whether he is supposed to be such a hard-bitten cop that a possessed, evil killer with psychic powers doesn't even phase him.

This is definitely one of Galindo's easier films to track down as it was successfully marketed around the globe. It appears to have been shot almost entirely in English, presumably to make an inroad into a what was then a very lucrative home video market, but for unknown reasons, the Spanish dubbed version is the most commonly available print these days. Ironically, while quite successful in foreign markets, Gallindo's hybrid of US and Italian horror was not really popular with Mexicans which is why his directorial efforts of horror films only number a mere handful.

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