Thursday, December 31, 2020

End of Year Eleven

Year 11 and still going strong, or at least limping along.

It seems that even with a pandemic I can’t quite hit that 400 movies in a year goal. I came closer this year than the previous two, however. As I write this, I stand at 395 movies on the year with a little bit of time left to get there, but I think it’s unlikely. This has, of course, been a terrible year in almost every aspect. My father and one of my sisters have dealt with cancer, one of my brothers spent a week or so in the hospital with COVID, my other brother was hit by a car while on his bike, my niece shattered her knee falling off a ladder, and my wife was out of work for seven months. But we’ve made it through—everyone survived, and my wife is employed once again. Still, I’m happy to see this year in the rearview.

As lousy as this year was, I hit some milestones. Until the new Oscar nominations are announced in March, I’m done with the Oscars. I’ve also got only 11 more Oscar Got It Wrong! posts before I’m complete. There are also only two more movies left on the latest 1001 Movies list. So, while I didn’t hit all the milestones, I got very close to many.

So what’s next? Horror movies, certainly—there’s a lot remaining on the They Shoot Zombies list. And, I’ll be tackling a lot more of the suggested movies and likely reviewing a lot of them in full.

In other words, I’m not done yet. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Miss Jackson if You're Nasty

Film: Shirley
Format: Streaming video from Hulu Plus on basement television.

When I watched The Invisible Man earlier this year, I said that Elisabeth Moss should be nominated for an Oscar. Having seen Her Smell this year, I think Moss was snubbed a couple of years ago for that performance. And now, with Shirley, I think I’ve seen the performance that gets her the nomination she’s deserved for some time. Moss is the title character of Shirley, playing mercurial author Shirley Jackson, but it could be argued that she’s not really the main character of this film. Regardless, she haunts every frame of it, and any acclaim she has received for it is absolutely deserved.

We start not with Jackson but with Fred and Rose Nemser (Logan Lerman and Odessa Young) heading by train to Vermont. Fred has taken a job as a lecturer, working with Stanley Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg), who happens to be married to Shirley Jackson (Moss). Fred and Rose are going to stay with the couple until they find their own place. What they soon discover is that Stanley and Shirley have a contentious at best relationship. Shirley is antagonistic evidently to everyone, and while Stanley seems to take this as a joke, it’s clear that he bites back just as hard.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Soul Mining

Film: Soul
Format: Streaming video from Disney Plus on basement television.

Pixar makes interesting choices with their films. We’re not going to see Oscar nominations until March in 2021, but that gives me a lot more time to find potential nominees early. With two Pixar movies this year, it’s pretty likely one or both will make it in. Soul, released at the tail end of 2020, is almost certainly going to be a nomination (and I think Onward is likely as well). Soul, though, is interesting because it might be the first Pixar movie that is legitimately made for adults.

Soul is the story of Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a musician who, while dreaming about gigging professionally while marking time teaching middle school band part time. He’s clearly not happy teaching band, and when he’s told that he’s being given the opportunity to work the job full-time, he’s not really sure how to react. Sure, a regular paycheck and benefits are important, but it’s not really what he wants. It is, however, what his mother wants for him and what she has always wanted for him.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Hello, Yes, No, Goodbye

Film: Witchboard
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

There are some movies that scream out from the decade in which they were made. You can often tell a ‘70s movie by the fashion, for instance. For the ‘80s, there’s something harder to define yet no less obvious and clear. ‘80s horror movies especially have a particular look and feel about them. I’ve seen a lot of horror movies from that decade; as someone who graduated from high school in 1985 it is probably my most formative decade. Of all of them, there may be no more a film of its time than Witchboard.

If you guessed that this was going to be a movie that focused on a Ouija board, you’d be right. If you also thought there was going to be an actual fight over the pronunciation of the board, you’re more prescient than I thought. We are told in no uncertain terms that it’s pronounced “Wee-jah” and not “Wee-jee.” This isn’t ever going to be important to the plot in any meaningful way, but a lot is going to be made of this.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

An Early Present

Christmas falls on an Oscar day this year (note the order there—Oscar day does not fall on Christmas), so I’m putting up my yearly list of ten suggestions for the 1001 Movies list a day early. I’ve done this before, so it’s not that strange, but it’s different enough that it’s worth noting. This has been a difficult year, but I've completed a milestone or two on this blog. I'm done (for now) with my Oscar movies and am almost done with the Oscar posts. And so, this yearly list of suggested films comes at an interesting moment in this blog's life.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Hair of the Dog?

Film: Hangover Square
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

There are plenty of sand and tragic stories in Hollywood. Tragic stories recently would include actors like Chadwick Boseman, taken by terrible illness and Anton Yelchin, killed in a freak accident. Heath Ledger and Brittany Murphy would rank high. Of all the tragic stories, that of Laird Cregar might be the most tragic. Trapped in a hulking frame of 6’3” and more than 300 pounds, Cregar had something of the soul of a poet. Upset at the possibility of being forever cast in the role of heavies, Cregar wanted to be cast in romantic leads.

Desperate to be seen as a true leading man instead of a villain, Cregar went on a crash diet that involved, among other things, massive amphetamine use. For Hangover Square, Cregar more or less needed to be filmed in order because of his massive weight loss. Additionally, the amphetamine use caused him to become erratic as he dropped to 200 pounds. His heart couldn’t take it, and while his final role—in Hangover Square--had him still in some respects the role of the heavy, he finally got some of the romantic moments he wanted. And it killed him.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Open the Door and Let 'em In

Film: The Gate
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

It’s always a mixed bag when you’re watching films based on a list. That’s especially true when the list (like the They Shoot Zombies list) is a very big one. You’re going to get some good stuff, some bad stuff, and a lot of stuff that falls in between. I can’t say that the first 15-20 minutes of The Gate had me very excited, and that was an opinion I had a good half hour or so into the movie as well. But once things start going, this turns into exactly the sort of mid-late 1980s horror movie that I grew up on.

This is going to be a “we summoned a horde of demons on accident” movie, and it’s going to involve some pretty good stop-motion Claymation effects in the second half. We start with young Glen (Stephen Dorff, yes really, in his first big role, and his only theatrical role pre-1992), whose treehouse is torn down in the family back yard. When the tree is torn up, Glen discovers a geode. Exploring the hole with his friend Terry (Louis Tripp), Glen finds an even larger geode. Extracting it gives Glen a splinter, and he puts a drop of blood or two into the dirt surrounding the hole.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Lords and Ladies of the Flies

Film: Monos
Format: Streaming video from Hulu on rockin’ flatscreen.

The last set of additions to the 1001 Movies list felt a little non-English heavy this year, but that’s probably a good thing. For a list of this size, there are a lot of significant gaps. It’s still pretty West-centric in a lot of ways. There are only a couple of Bollywood movies on it, for instance, and it’s still unforgivable that there’s not a single instance of Ray Harryhausen’s work to be seen. Anyway, Monos is a rarity on the List in that it is Colombian. There aren’t a lot of South American movies that made it to canonization (at least this version of canonization), which makes this one particularly interesting.

That said, this is not a happy or fun film. This is a film about child soldiers fighting in an unknown battle for one side or another of a conflict. We are given remarkably little information, which is a part of the point. Monos happens without a great deal of context. We have no idea what the conflict is, although it is likely that it is based on the Colombian conflict. A group of young people, ranging in age from probably 12 to about 16 known exclusively by nicknames are camped in the mountains where they are trained as a paramilitary group by a man referred to as the Messenger (Wilson Salazar).

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Hell on Wheels

Film: The Car
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on The New Portable.

The Car is one of those movies I had heard about for years. Imagine my surprise when I found the dang thing at a library. It’s always a little bit of a shock to me when libraries have this kind of weird horror movie. I like to think that libraries are a little classier than movies about a car demon that drives over people. But hey, it’s nice to be proven wrong about that.

Anyway, that is literally what this movie is about. We have a gigantic car that suddenly appears in the middle of nowhere and starts killing people. In a very real sense, The Car is the natural cinematic child of a film like Duel. In fact, the biggest difference here is that in Duel, we know that there’s a man behind the wheel of the truck. While the truck is scary and a behemoth, it’s the driver who is the real monster. In The Car, we eventually discover that there is no driver, or at least not a driver of flesh and blood.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Happy Birthday, Satan!

Film: The Day of the Beast (El Dia de la Bestia)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

I love it when a movie has a completely insane premise but sticks with it completely, continually doubling down until we get to the end. That’s absolutely the case with The Day of the Beast, better known as El Dia de la Bestia. This is much more a black comedy than it is a horror movie, a sort of comedy of errors where everything that happens is horroresque, painful, and darkly funny. It also concerns the apocalypse and the birth of the Antichrist, so there’s plenty of comedy there, too.

We’re going to start with a Basque priest named Angel Berriartua (Alex Angulo). Father Angel has discovered a code in an apocalyptic text. He has determined that the text is actually a code that leads to a number. That number, translated into days, reveals the birthdate of the Antichrist, which happens to be Christmas Eve, 1995. Father Angel determines that his only course of action is to sell his soul to Satan, find the location of the birth (he has narrowed it down to somewhere in Madrid), and murder the Antichrist, saving the world even if it means his own soul.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Oh, Lynch

Film: Lost Highway
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.

What are you going to get when David Lynch writes and directs a neo-noir? Well, you might get Blue Velvet, a film I find I have been able to watch exactly once every 10 years or so and not more. You might also get Lost Highway, a film that tells a story but also seems to go out of its way to not make any sense to anyone.

I honestly don’t even know where to start with this one. I like Lynch well enough in general, but Lost Highway is the sort of film that offers a narrative, but also wants to make about as much sense as Eraserhead. I tend to focus on plot and narrative on this blog, but Lost Highway is the sort of film that has a narrative built like a pretzel. I’m not going to try to follow the narrative here, but I’ll talk in broad sweeps.

Monday, December 7, 2020

By the Pricking of My Thumbs...

Film: Something Wicked This Way Comes
Format: DVD from Somonauk Public Library through interlibrary loan on the new portable.

I am publicly not a religious person, but there are a few people who I refer to as “saints.” Musically, for instance, there is St. Warren of Zevon, and the trio of St. Bobs—Dylan, Geldof, and Mould. In the literary world, there is St. Ray Bradbury, who didn’t teach me to read, but taught me to love books and stories and to love dark tales. Bradbury was prolific, but few of his works have been successfully translated to the screen. There’s a part of me that will always love the Disney production of Something Wicked This Way Comes despite its many faults, because it so desperately tries to be everything that Bradbury wanted it to be.

The truth is that Bradbury’s prose doesn’t translate well to film. No one really speaks like a Bradbury character, and when they try, they just sound florid and strange. On the page, the work is evocative and beautiful, but when you actually hear someone speak his words, it simply doesn’t sound like a real person. That’s even true of this adaptation, both despite and because of the fact that Bradbury did the adaptation himself.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

The Organ Grinder's Monkey

Film: Mank
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on basement television.

Long-time readers of this blog (and let’s be honest—that’s most of you) will know that I’m usually behind the times. Oscar nominations come out in January and I’ve usually seen no more than two and I don’t get them all watched until late September, and sometimes not until the following January. The pandemic, for as terrible as it has been, has changed the way films are released. This gives me the opportunity to watch a few likely contenders early. One of those contenders is Mank, the story of Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), the man who wrote Citizen Kane for Orson Welles. More realistically, it’s the story of how that screenplay came to be. It’s a likely contender for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Gary Oldman, possibly Best Original Screenplay, and it might turn up a nomination for Amanda Seyfried for Best Supporting Actress, and a Best Supporting nod for Arliss Howard.

It will not come as a surprise, or should not at least, that Mank takes its cues from Citizen Kane itself. We’re going to get a series of vignettes that show us the history of the players as well as the story in the film’s present of Mankiewicz actually writing the script while convalescing from a serious car accident. We’re going to go back and forth in time, learning the backstory of the screenplay and then the actual creation.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

What I've Caught Up With, November 2020

There were a few movies that came off the giant list of suggestions that I watched in November that I did full reviews on--His House, for instance, was one that I figure will eventually show up on one list or another, and even if it doesn’t, it was worth the space and effort. I also put up full reviews of Her Smell and Vampires vs. the Bronx. Otherwise, there a scant five that I managed to watch. A busy work month combined with holiday planning, Thanksgiving, and more meant that I wasn’t really able to see a lot of these movies this month.

What I’ve Caught Up With, November 2020:
Film: Tension

A classic film noir from the late 1940s, Tension gives us Richard Basehart playing a meek pharmacist married to a woman who strays, played by Audrey Totter. When he decides to kill the man she’s run off with, he creates a new identity for himself and plots the deed, but can’t go through with it. When the man turns up dead anyway and the cop on the case has a thing for his wife, well, the tension mounts. Features Cyd Charisse in a non-dancing role and William Conrad as a tubby cop. It’s good, but not quite great. Still, it’s worth tracking down if you like the style.

Film: Sicario

Solid thriller about Mexican drug cartels and the people that are involved in tracking them down and stopping them, sort of. What we learn is that a couple of FBI agents (Emily Blunt and Daniel Kaluuya) find out that the world of the cartels is a lot more dangerous than they could have imagined when thye end up on a task force that includes CIA, Army, and U.S. Marshals. There’s a lot of killing here, and a lot of innocent blood spilled in an effort to get a corner on the drug market or to stop drugs from coming through the border. Except, that stopping the drugs turns out to not really be the issue here—it’s more about controlling who is shipping them.

Film: The Misfits

This was the last film of Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable. It also features Eli Wallach, Monty Clift, Thelma Ritter, Kevin McCarthy, and Estelle Winwood. Hell of a nice cast. This is the story of a group of people come together almost out of necessity to catch wild horses and make a living for themselves. Each of them is broken in various ways by past events, but together, they almost make a couple of functioning people. It’s a fine enough film, but still features that May/December romance issue between Monroe and Gable, when she was clearly better suited to Wallach or Clift. Ah, well.

Film: Point of No Return

This remake of La Femme Nikita, made in the best American tradition, a couple of years after the original version, features Bridget Fonda in the role of drug-addled violence addict turned spy. Truth be told, I love me some Bridget Fonda, and her retirement from films was a sad day for me, but she’s better than this. Point of No Return is the answer to the question, “What do you get when you take Pygamalion and mix it with The Long Kiss Goodnight and then have it filmed by Quentin Tarantino?” Sounds great on paper, but the actual results, despite the presence of Gabriel Byrne, Lorraine Toussaint, and Miguel Ferrer, are less than stellar.

Film: The Flight of the Phoenix

Another one of those mid-1960s movies with a cast that you could kill for, The Flight of the Phoenix includes performances from James Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Dan Duryea, George Kennedy, Peter Finch, Ernest Borgnine, and more. The high concept is pretty simple—a plane filled with oilmen and military personnel goes down in the Sahara. Now they need to rebuild the plane and get out before heat and dehydration kill them. This is the definition of a Boys’ Own adventure. It’s not bad, but it’s overlong, and doesn’t give a great deal to do for a large portion of the cast. Ian Bannen was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in this film, and I’m not sure why.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

This is Why I Ask for Charitable Donations...

Film: Gremlins
Format: DVD from personal collection on the new portable.

Everyone has holes in their viewing history. There are a few movies I’ve never seen that it feels like everyone else on the planet has watched, and I’m not just talking about recent releases, since I’m always a year or so behind the curve. No, I mean movies like Gremlins, which I had never seen until just now. It’s interesting to see this kind of film this late in the game, especially when it’s such a beloved film. I can see exactly why people love it, but I can also see all of the inherent problems with it that its audience missed as kids and is blind to now.

The obvious issue, of course, is that Gremlins evidently started life as a much more vicious film and much more clearly geared toward horror. In fact, it is rumored that the original cut of the film was much more violent and graphic, and would have clearly been given an R-rating. As it stands, it’s one of the movies that made the requirement for the PG-13 rating necessary. It’s not dark or harsh enough to warrant an R, but it’s definitely got elements in it that make it harsher than PG.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Stupid White People

Film: Sinister
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on the new portable.

There are plenty of subgenres of horror movie that I am lukewarm at best on. I don’t love found footage, for instance, and I’m always a little suspect of anthology films. By far my least favorite subgenre of horror movie is what I’m going to call “stupid white people.” This is a varied genre that contains entries from all over the horror spectrum but has in common really stupid white people who act like idiots until they die. The family in The Amityville Horror, for instance, decides to stay even though the walls are bleeding. The couple in Paranormal Activity are happy to hang out and even taunt the demon until the movie ends. And now we get to add Sinister to that genre. (And for the record, Poltergeist doesn’t qualify—Carol Ann gets sucked into the TV early on, and they stay because they don’t want to abandon their daughter.)

Our stupid white people for Sinister will be the Oswalt family, headed by Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), renowned true crime author. As the film opens, after we witness a very disturbing video of a mass murder, we see the Oswalt family moving into a new house. Ellison is confronted by the local sheriff (Fred Thompson), and it’s soon apparent that he’s not a favorite of the police. It turns out that the book that made him famous was not charitable to the police in the murder case, and so many a local officer around the country is not a fan of the work of Ellison Oswalt.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Never Bet Against a Sicilian

Film: Lamerica
Format: DVD from Addison Public Library through interlibrary loan on the new portable.

The story is that when the new version of the 1001 Movies book was created, the movies that were removed left a gap in 1994. This is why, out of the blue, there was a new 1994 entry. While ’94 is already a relatively packed year for The List, there are a few missing films that would have been very nice additions. Speed, for instance, is a 1994 movie. So are Shallow Grave, Leon, Quiz Show, Ed Wood, and Interview with the Vampire. But instead, we get Lamerica.

I’m not going to go off on a rant here, because, for what it’s worth, Lamerica won a few awards. It does seem like an odd pick, though, which is something I feel like I can say about roughly 15% of the full 1001 Movies list. There’s always been an aspect of The List that feels like it’s there to show off a little. There are plenty of movies that certainly belong for one reason or another that are instead ignored for what feels like movies listed specifically for cinematic hipster reasons. “Oh, I’ve seen this obscure film from Cote d’Ivoire. You probably haven’t heard of it.” And so, we get Lamerica instead of the excellent movie-related biopic of Ed Wood, the ridiculous pop goofiness of Interview with the Vampire, or Danny Boyle’s brutal big-screen debut.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Now That's a Winning Smile!

Film: Mr. Sardonicus
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

I am not someone who believes much in the concept of the “guilty pleasure.” No, I affirm that the movies I like are movies that should be enjoyed. Even movies I know are objectively bad--Soldier, Kung Pow: Enter the Fist, Pootie Tang--are ones I freely and happily admit that I enjoy. And so, it’s without irony and without any shame that I say that I love the work of William Castle. Castle’s movies for the most part weren’t that good objectively. What they were, though, was filled with gimmicks. From the electrified seats of The Tingler to the “Fright Break” of Homicidal, Castle was a genius of weird gimmicks and promotions. His greatest may well have been the “Punishment Poll” designed for Mr. Sardonicus. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Our film opens with Castle himself talking to the audience about what they should soon expect from the movie they are about to see. We’re going to be going back in time to the late 19th century in London, where we will meet Sir Robert Cargrave (Ronald Lewis), a skilled doctor assisting a young patient. Cargrave is dedicated to his work, but when he receives a letter from an old flame, he cancels all of his appointments indefinitely and heads to the Continent. Here he is taken to the castle of Baron Sardonicus (Guy Rolfe), who has married Cargrave’s ex-fiancee, Maude (Audrey Dalton).

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

There's Something in the Water

Film: The Crazies (1973)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

Say the name “George Romero” and pretty much everybody is going to think of the zombie films. If you’re not a horror nerd, it can be difficult to think of anything that Romero did that wasn’t awash in the living dead. The Crazies (sometimes called Code Name: Trixie) is one of those Romero films that is easy to forget or, honestly, not know about. There’s a lot here that feels very much like what you’d expect from a George Romero film, though, including some very zombie-like behavior.

I also have to say that the middle of a pandemic is probably not the right place to watch a film like The Crazies. The elevator pitch is that a plane carrying a deadly strain of bacteria (or a virus—they call it both) goes down near a small down in Pennsylvania. The bacteria gets into the water supply, and over the next couple of days, it starts to affect the townspeople. The two results of being infected are either death or insanity, and those who go insane also become homicidal. Of course, the military shows up to try to shut things down, but in George Romero’s world, the military is as incompetent as everyone else, and things quickly spiral out of control.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

This is Why I Don't Trust the Clergy

Film: House of Mortal Sin (The Confessional)
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

I love when a movie or show seems to be prescient. I recently watched the Watchmen television show, which came out in 2019. Everyone in the show wears masks, and at one point, someone literally says the words, “Masks save lives.” So much of that show feels like it actually came out this year. House of Mortal Sin, also known as The Confessional has a bit of prescience in it as well. While it’s not the first film to have a wayward and cruel member of the clergy, it does very much feel like the first film to feature a clergyman who is both the villain of the story and who is clearly motivated by sexual frustration.

The film opens with the evident suicide of a young woman. We then meet Jenny Welch (Susan Penhaligon) almost being run down in the road by her old friend, Bernard Cutler (Norman Eshley). It turns out that Bernard is now Father Cutler and has been placed in this parish. Later that day, Jenny heads to the church, hoping to find Bernard in the confessional. Instead, the confessional is manned by Father Xavier Meldrum (Anthony Sharp). Jenny, unwilling for whatever reason to tell him the real reason she is there, instead confesses to problems with her boyfriend, and also to having had an abortion in months prior.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

They'd Never Try This in Queens

Film: Vampires vs. the Bronx
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on the new internet machine.

While there are plenty of zombie films since George Romero failed to copyright Night of the Living Dead, There is probably no movie monster with more movies than the standard vampire. Because of this, it’s hard to do something really new with the monster. There are particular tropes we expect when it comes to vampires, and then there are tropes we expect for movies that attempt to do something different. Vampires vs. the Bronx is much more of the first variety. This is, essentially, Attack the Block but with vampires instead of aliens.

We’re going to spend most of our time with Miguel, also known in the area as Lil Mayor (Jaden Michael) and his friends Bobby (Gerald Jones III) and Luis (Gregory Diaz IV). The three of them more or less grew up in the local bodega, run by Tony (The Kid Mero). But the neighborhood is in trouble. More and more of the buildings are being purchased by a new real estate company called Murnau. And, it shouldn’t come as a shock that Murnau is actually run by vampires (after all, it’s named after the guy who directed Nosferatu). The vampires are assisted during daylight hours by Frank Polidori (Shea Whigham) while the kids, especially Miguel, do what they can to save the neighborhood.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

All Wrapped Up

Film: The Mummy’s Ghost; The Mummy’ Curse
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on basement television.

I’m continuing to find my way through the Universal monster films, and have now made it to the end of the Mummy franchise, more or less. With The Mummy’s Ghost, we’re going to get a great deal of movie packed into a one-hour running time. We’re also going to get Lon Chaney Jr. playing the title character. It would seem that eventually, all roads lead to Lon Chaney Jr. in the Universal monsters world.

We’re going to start with a lot of exposition, giving us the back story of how Kharis (Chaney) become the undead monster he is. It’s the way all of these movies start, more or less. We learn about Kharis and his love for Princess Ananka. An attempt to raise her from the dead gets Kharis cursed for all eternity, and naturally his tomb was eventually discovered and his body brought to America. Now, his new high priest, Yousef Bey (John Carradine!) must retrieve the body of Kharis and Ananka and bring them back to Egypt.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Marlboros and Sweat, Perhaps?

Film: Her Smell
Format: DVD from Cherry Valley Public Library through interlibrary loan on the new portable.

There are actors who define generations of film. Meryl Streep is clearly one of those actors. I think the same will be said of Saoirse Ronan, but it’s also increasingly something that I think needs to be said of Elisabeth Moss. Best known for her role in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Moss has been putting together a string of performances that demonstrate just how good she is in just about any role she’s handed. I expect her to be nominated for an Oscar in 2020, either for The Invisible Man or for Shirley, but we really should have been talking about her a couple of years ago in Her Smell.

Her Smell is an episodic story about a punk rock star with the stage name of Becky Something (Moss), one of the truly great punk names ever created, along the lines of Jello Biafra, Cherry Vanilla, and John Doe. Becky’s band Something She is formative for punk, and specifically for women-driven punk. Along with bandmates Ali van der Wolff (Gayle Rankin) and Marielle Hell (Agyness Deyn), Something She has become a force in the music world. But, as the film starts, the entire enterprise is starting to break down.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Cheaters Sometimes Prosper

Film: The Guardsman
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Adolysti has come through once again. Just as I was resigned to leaving the Oscar list at “all but 8,” Adol found The Guardsman online. Not only does this get me that one step closer (and almost certainly the final step from these earliest years), it completes both Best Actor and Best Actress for 1931/32 for me. In fact, it completes the entirety of the 1930s for both of those categories.

My initial experience with this was similar to the one I had with Libeled Lady. I went into The Guardsman completely cold. In both cases, my first thought was that the movie was going to be serious. The original picture I had found for The Guardsman looked like it was a serious, tragic romance. It’s not. It’s a farce and a screwball comedy, and it’s a very good one, very much like Libeled Lady in that regard.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Under the Streets of Paris

Film: As Above, So Below
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on The New Portable.

I’m not a huge fan of the found footage subgenre. In fact, one of the only things that makes them remotely tolerable for me is that they tend to be pretty short, so they don’t hurt my brain and eyes that much. As Above, So Below manages to buck that trend, sadly, running just over 90 minutes. It also follows a very different path from the typical found footage movie. This is not going to just be running around with an unfocused camera always getting to what is happening a few seconds late.

In the way the story works, there are a number of parallels I can draw to As Above, So Below. The first and most obvious connection is that it’s very much an escape room. A group of people are put into a terrible and dangerous situation and more or less have to think their way out of it. Naturally, not everyone makes it out. What we’re going to get is a lot of puzzle solving while weird and supernatural things are happening. There are also similarities here to books/movies like The Da Vinci Code in that we are dealing with ancient relics and secret codes designed to keep a particular treasure hidden, which means there’s a touch of National Treasure here as well. There are elements of the Indiana Jones style films here as well—booby trapped passages and weird occurrences make this a natural connection.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Bad Dog! No Biscuit!

Films: The Curse of the Werewolf
Format: DVD from Nippersink District Library through interlibrary loan on downstairs television.

Of all of the monster genres, werewolf movies might be the most interesting to me in a lot of respects. There are dozens of takes on the vampire myth, many different Frankenstein stories, but werewolf stories all tend to have one aspect in common: they are almost uniformly tragic. It’s something we get from The Wolf Man when the old fortune teller says “Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.” That’s the tragedy of the basic story. No one chooses to be a lycanthrope, but is cursed to become a beast beyond their control. This is exactly the ground we’re going to travel for The Curse of the Werewolf.

To get there, though, we’re going to have to take a very strange path. We start with a beggar who shows up in a town just as the local marquis is getting married. The marquis is uniquely cruel and essentially forces the beggar to sell himself to his new wife. Shortly thereafter, the beggar is tossed in the dungeon and forgotten, which indicates that the new marchioness isn’t much better than her husband. The beggar is kept alive by the jailer and his mute daughter. Eventually, the jailer dies and the girl becomes the beggar’s only contact. Eventually, with the marchioness gone, the young girl finds herself serving the marquis, who naturally attempts to assault her (and since she is mute, she can’t object). She refuses him and is thrown into the dungeon where she is naturally raped by the now-insane beggar. She is released, goes back to the marquis, and kills him before running off.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

What I've Caught Up With, October 2020

The end of October was pretty much devoted to horror movies, and since most of those are on the They Shoot Zombies list, they aren’t on the list of movies I need to otherwise catch up with. Because of that, I didn’t actually see a lot of movies in October from the giant list of suggestions. Still, there were a few that I saw early in the month that are worth discussing.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Death Becomes Her?

Films: The Farewell
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on the new portable.

One of the phrases that is becoming more and more popular online and elsewhere is that representation matters. I get it. As someone who has been commonly represented in film, I understand exactly why other people want to be represented as well. I can go back to the very early years of movies and see plenty of cis/het white guys as the hero. But I also see how atheists are typically portrayed in movies. If we’re not the villain, our reasons for atheism are stupid. We always come back to the fold. And when we don’t, we’re portrayed as autistic (Bones from the eponymous show), smug (Sheldon Cooper), or brilliant but assholish (House). So it’s always refreshing when we get an Ellie Arroway from Contact or Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly. A movie like The Farewell, as steeped as it is in Chinese culture, is one that could easily be told about a lot of families. That the characters are Chinese allows for that culture to be used to tell the story. That these characters are Chinese does not (or should not) in any way detract from our ability to empathize with them.

The basic story is this. Billi (Awkwafina) lives in New York, where she and her parents moved years before when they emigrated from China. Billi learns that her parents (Tzi Ma and Diana Lin) are going back to China for the wedding of her cousin. A little bit of prying reveals a deeper and darker truth. Billi’s grandmother Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao) is dying of stage-4 lung cancer. The family has decided not to tell her that she is dying and are essentially staging a fake wedding to get the family back together one last time to say goodbye to their matriarch.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Conclusion

Films: Avengers: Endgame
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on various players.

Well, it was a long time coming. When Jon Favreau directed Iron Man in 2009, who knew that a decade later we’d be ending the huge character arc of dozens of characters in a three-hour epic? I mean, I guess someone might have foreseen this, or decided that this was where we were going to end up, but I doubt it started in 2009. But Avengers: Endgame was the wrap-up of a 22-movie arc of multiple intertwined characters and stand-alone series that make up the MCU. Well, technically, this is the 22nd movie in a 23-movie arc, since Spider-Man: Far From Home is considered part of the MCU Third Phase. Still, the MCU is moving into the next part of its evolution, but Endgame really does feel like the end of something huge, well, because it is.

Much like the Harry Potter series, it feels like half of Hollywood is in this movie. The “let’s show everyone who is in this” scene at the end, which short shrifts a chunk of the cast but gives huge sexy poster shots including the actors’ signatures for the original Avengers, goes on for what feels like five minutes. It’s a lot like the multiple endings of The Lord of the Rings. It’s extensive, but it also feels kind of necessary after all we’ve been through.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Survivors' Guilt

Films: His House
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on the new internet machine.

Recently over on his website, Dell posted a list of new horror movies he’d seen, most of which he recommended. I’ve heard of most of them, but had not really heard of His House, which also seemed like the one that sounded the most interesting to me. Dell and I don’t agree on every movie, but I’ve come to trust his opinion in general. Additionally, right now, most of the best horror movies are being produced and directed by women and people of color. Horror is always a reflection of the fears of the time. In America right now, the fears of women and people who are not white are intense, intensified, and needing expression. And that’s true in the U.K. as well, where many political realities are similar to those in the U.S.

His House follows Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial Majur (Wunmi Mosaku), two refugees from Sudan, as they are brought to London provisionally in the hopes of them staying permanently. We discover that the trip has cost the life of their daughter, Nyagak (Malaika Wakoli-Abigaba). The Majurs are given a house to live in and are presented with a huge list of rules. They have a small amount of money they will need to use to live on. They are not allowed to have jobs or make money a different way. They need to report in every week to their caseworker Mark (Matt Smith). And finally, they cannot move from the house where they are placed. For some reason, their house is quite large, and they are not asked to live with other people.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Space Gremlins

Films: Critters
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on various players.

The order that one sees films in is often important. We will frequently look at one film as being derivative of another when the influence should go the other way. For instance, I would love to tell you that Critters follows the same formula as films like Arachnophobia and Tremors, but this came out four years before both of those films. It also has a lot of similarities to The Hidden, but it predates that film by a year. Instead, Critters is very clearly influenced by Gremlins to the point where it’s very much an adjacent film, a sort of spiritual sequel with a much larger science fiction element. It’s closer to the truth to say that it’s a shuffled deck of cards, half Gremlins and half Buckaroo Banzai, with perhaps an element or two of Ghoulies.

We start in outer space where some prisoners are being transferred to the outer space equivalent of a prison. The creatures, known as Crites or Krites depending on whether you’re looking at IMDb or Wikipedia steal a spacecraft and escape, naturally heading to Earth. A pair of bounty hunters are sent to recapture them.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Ten Days of Terror!: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

Films: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on The New Portable.

If I told you that I was looking forward to watching the fourth Friday the 13th movie, called Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, you'd likely think I was lying. A big part of that lack of desire comes directly from the fact that I know it was nothing like the final chapter of the series. There are some really well-done slasher movies, of course, and the original in this series is a classic for a lot of reasons. The second one introduces Jason Voorhees as the killer and the third introduces his now-iconic hockey mask. What the hell could the fourth one offer?

The answer to that is a hell of a lot of dead teenagers. I mean, that was expected given the nature of the series and the placement of this one in the series. There’s going to be a lot of dead kids by the end of it, mostly killed with a variety of bladed weapons. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is going to follow the standard “plot” structure of the series. We’ll get a couple of initial kills from Jason, we’ll set up all of the cannon fodder (and the final girl), we’ll have some gratuitous nudity for a bit, the kids will more or less pair off for sex, and Jason will kill them for their sins.

Ten Days of Terror!: Ghost Team

Film: Ghost Team
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on the new portable.

I like horror movies, and this is naturally the time of year when just about everyone is watching horror movies. I do get tired of a steady diet of them, though. Putting together this many reviews all at once has me kind of dazed and wanting a little change of pace. Something horror-adjacent would still be close enough, I figure, but not so close that I feel like I’m spinning my wheels. So, Ghost Team looked like it would fill the bill. This is a comedy, but appears to have some relationship with undead things, so it felt like a good choice.

I’ll spoil the surprise—it wasn’t a good choice. Ghost Team commits the biggest comedy sin: it’s not funny. It also commits the biggest movie sin that there is: it’s boring. I like a lot of the cast members here. There are plenty of people I have seen here in other movies and whose work I have enjoyed, but Ghost Team is boring, nonsensical, and a bit insulting to the intelligence of the average moviegoer.

Ten Days of Terror!: Absentia

Film: Absentia
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

One of my favorite bands is a group from Dayton, Ohio called Guided by Voices. While there are several GbV discs that have great production values, there are a bunch that sound like they were recorded in singer/writer/erstwhile guitarist Rob Pollard’s basement. There’s a particular charm in these lo-fi recordings, an earnestness that simply can’t exist in more professional sessions. Absentia is like that. This is a movie made for $70,000, and it’s far better than a great many horror movies made for 100 times that.

Tricia (Courtney Bell), is a pregnant woman living in a seedy neighborhood in Glendale. Her husband Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown) has been missing for seven years, and while her pregnancy is clearly evidence that she has moved on in some respects, there is a part of her that is still wrapped up in trying to finally close that door and tie off that loose end in her life. Her sister Callie (Katie Parker), a former (and possibly current) addict arrives at her house. Callie is there to help Tricia declare Daniel dead in absentia, find a new place to live, and move on with her life.

Ten Days of Terror!: Dead & Buried

Film: Dead & Buried
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

It can take a great deal to surprise me when it comes to a movie, so I’m always pleased when it happens. I put on Dead & Buried today on a kind of whim, since it’s a difficult movie to find. What I expected was a weird little horror movie that perhaps had a decent moment or two, but was likely to be forgettable. What a surprise to discover a genuinely good horror film that has a shock ending that works as well now as it did almost 40 years ago.

We start with a photographer (Christopher Allport) taking pictures somewhere on the Atlantic coast. He meets a young woman (Lisa Blount) and begins taking pictures of her. Thus distracted, he doesn’t realize as other people show up, start taking pictures of him, and then beat him senseless. Eventually, he is tied up and lit on fire while a crowd of people watch.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Ten Days of Terror!: Black Water

Film: Black Water
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

There is a particular style of Man vs. Nature film that, when done well enough, can’t help but work. While they’ve probably been around forever, I tend to associate this style with the back half of Jaws, when the three men go out on a small boat to hunt the killer shark. There’s no help coming and it’s just the man against the creature until the final credits roll. Naturally, this works best for big, scary creatures that eat people. I mean, sure you’ve got films like The Killer Shrews that follow this formula, but it seems popular for sharks and alligators. Deep Blue Sea, Open Water, Rogue, Crawl…all of these are exemplars of the style. That’s also what we’re going to get with Black Water.

Black Water is an Australian film based (we are told) on true events. Like any good Man vs. Nature film, this is a high concept movie. Here’s the entirety of your plot: a woman, her pregnant sister, and the sister’s husband go fishing in the middle of nowhere in Australia with a guide. They are soon attacked by a very large and ferocious crocodile and attempt to survive. That’s it.

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 2017

The Contenders:

Call Me by Your Name (winner)
The Disaster Artist
Logan
Molly’s Game
Mudbound

Ten Days of Terror!: Leviathan

Film: Leviathan (1989)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

Every now and then, someone hits upon an incredibly successful idea for a film and it becomes one of the new defaults. You can see this with a film like Die Hard, which spawned dozens of “Die Hard on a pseudo-sequels and copycats. There was Die Hard on a plane (Con Air, Passenger 57, Air Force One), Die Hard on a submarine or boat (Under Siege, Speed 2), Die Hard on a mountain (Cliffhanger), comedy Die Hard in a mall (Paul Blart: Mall Cop) and more. Alien is a similar film, although it’s roots certainly run deeper to films like The Thing from Another World. It’s easy to think of Alien as a haunted house in space, but it’s more a film about people trapped with a monster. They can’t get out because there’s nowhere to go, either because of weather, inaccessibility, or simply being off-planet. Underwater movies are great for this; Deep Blue Sea is an example of the form. So is 1989’s Leviathan, which also tosses in some elements from The Thing.

The fact that a film is derivative of another film doesn’t mean that it’s not any good, clearly. There are lots of good Die Hard on a…movies and plenty of good people trapped with something nasty movies. Leviathan has the added benefit of a really good B-movie cast, including Peter Weller, Richard Crenna, Hector Elizondo, Daniel Stern, Meg Foster, and Ernie Hudson. It also includes Lisa Eilbacher, best-known to me (at least) as Axel Foley’s friend Jenny in Beverley Hills Cop. So, it’s a tried-and-true premise and a pretty decent cast, which bodes well. Sadly, Leviathan is ultimately a lot more derivative than it could be. It’s equal parts Alien and The Thing and not in the same area code as either of them.

Ten Days of Terror!: Parents

Film: Parents
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

A couple of hundred years ago in subjective time, I did a lot of podcasting. I was a guest multiple times on “The Lair of the Unwanted” with Jason Soto and Nolahn. One of those times—it might have been my first go-‘round with them—Jason made me watch Parents, a horror-comedy film about cannibalism, kinda, that stars Randy Quaid and that was directed by Christopher Guest movie veteran Bob Balaban. Jason was incredibly excited that he was going to make me watch this movie.

I’ll give you the elevator pitch. An all-American family, Nick (Randy Quaid), Lily (Mary Beth Hurt), and son Michael (Bryan Madorsky) move to a new house thanks to Nick’s job for a company with the 1950s-style classic name Toxico. Michael is very much the weird kid and is plagued by strange nightmares. He’s also pretty convinced that his parents are cannibals and the “leftovers” that he has been eating since they moved to the new house are people, perhaps from the chemical Agent Orange-like experiments his father works on.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Ten Days of Terror!: The Driller Killer

Film: The Driller Killer
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine

Every now and then, you find a movie that feels like it comes with its own oil slick. The Driller Killer is that kind of a movie. I’m not going to say this is a bad thing or a good thing, but it is very much a true thing. This might be the grimiest movie I have ever seen, and that includes the lesbian shower sequence. The Driller Killer looks and sounds like it’s straight off the grindhouse circuit; I’m actually a little surprised there weren’t a couple of “scene missing” interstitials.

The Driller Killer is about an artist named Reno (played by the film’s director, Abel Ferrara under the pseudonym of Jimmy Laine). Reno is working on a new major piece, but he and his two roommates, flight attendant Carol (Carolyn Marz) and her drug addict lover Pamela (Baybi Day) are having trouble making the rent and paying their bills. Reno asks for $500 to cover the rent from his art dealer, who reminds him of all of the money he has already borrowed from him. However, the art dealer, Dalton (Harry Schultz II), promises that if the piece Reno is working on is good, he will buy it for the appropriate amount at the end of the week.

Ten Days of Terror!: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

Film: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine

I remember seeing Attack of the Killer Tomatoes when I was a kid and when it was relatively new. I didn’t see it in the theater. I remember distinctly seeing this at my friend Pat’s house. We didn’t pay a great deal of attention to it—it was more or less on in the background. I remember a couple of specific points in the film, but I remembered virtually nothing about the plot. Well…what passes for a plot, anyway.

Look, I’m not going to do the usual plot rundown here, because there isn’t one. Deciding to essentially one-up the ridiculousness of the enemy of a film like Squirm or Night of the Lepus, we’re led to believe that the world is being attacked by rampaging hordes of gigantic tomatoes that eat people. Yes, tomatoes. The title of the movie is not joke, or at least not any more of a joke than the story.

Ten Days of Terror!: We Are What We Are

Film: We Are What We Are
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine

When I first thought about why there seem to be so many cannibalism stories in horror movies, I wasn’t sure why that would be the case. There are plenty of stories about people getting eaten by something, but getting eaten by humans is its own thing. There seem to be a few of them every year, and while we will get some set in exotic locales (Cannibal Holocaust, for instance), in a lot of ways things are more disturbing when the setting is more familiar and current. We Are What We Are is a case in point. Admittedly, the cannibalism is a kind of surprise moment in the film, but it happens relatively soon, so it’s not a huge spoiler.

What makes We Are What We Are different is not that it’s a cannibal movie or that it’s a cannibal movie that takes place in the current day. No, it’s the reason for the cannibalism. Most of the time, it’s about need, or about someone being severely deranged, or (as in the case of a movie like Ravenous) about power. In We Are What We Are, the cannibalism happens for religious reasons.

Ten Days of Terror!: The Burrowers

Film: The Burrowers
Format: DVD from personal collection on basement television

A lot of horror movies are combinations of the horror genre and another genre. Science fiction, for instance, has a lot in common with horror. I think that almost everyone who is a fan of one of those two genres is going to be a fan of the other. That’s less true for other genres, and yet those crossovers exist. There are horror comedies, horror musicals, horror romances, and more. With The Burrowers, we get a horror western, and there really aren’t enough of those. There’s so much potential for the horror western, and many of them (Ravenous, Bone Tomahawk and even movies like Vampire$ and Tremors have some Western flair) are a lot of fun to watch. So I was excited by the prospect of The Burrowers, which is a classic oater and also clearly a horror movie.

We’re going to dive head-first into pioneer territory as the movie begins. It’s the late 1870s, so post American Civil War. Irish immigrant Feargus Coffey (Karl Geary) proposes to his girlfriend, only to discover that she and the family she lives with has been either murdered or captured in the night. Naturally, the local natives, specifically a tribe of Sioux, is blamed for the crime. Coffey, as well as other locals including John Clay (Clancy Brown) and William Parcher (William Mapother) form a posse, and are soon joined by a military contingent led by the racist and condescending Henry Victor (Doug Hutchison). Soon after leaving the local settlement, the group captures a native and tortures him for information. What he provides is not what they expected—he tells of what the posse assumes is a tribe called “Burrowers” that have plagued the area for centuries. They used to feed on the buffalo herds, but since the herds have been mostly wiped out, they’ve switched to human prey.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Ten Days of Terror!: Insidious

Films: Insidious
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on basement television.

I think James Wan is underrated as a horror director. While I don’t love all of his movies, he does have a particular style that genuinely works. Insidious is a good movie if not a great one, but there are moments that Wan demonstrates that he is really good at what he does. In fact, one of the better jump scares in the film comes entirely from the way Wan directs the scene, getting the audience comfortable before dropping the hammer.

The problem is that at times it seems like he’s wasting his talent directing movies like Insidious. It’s actually a decent enough film for what it is. The problem is that it’s also a movie that very clearly telegraphs the story it wants to tell. This is not an original story despite being an original screenplay. If you’ve seen a haunted house or possession movie, you’ve seen Insidious.

Ten Days of Terror: The Addams Family (2019)

Film: The Addams Family (2019)
Format: Streaming video from Hulu Plus on the new internet machine.

I like most of the versions of The Addams Family that I have encountered, with the first two movies (yes, there is a third, with an almost entirely new cast that was considered so reprehensible that it was never released on DVD) being the pinnacle of Addams in non-print media. So I was certainly curious about the animated version that was released last year. Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron seem like good casting for Gomez and Morticia—no one is going to touch Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston—but still, not bad. Honestly, I was curious to see how this would play as a kids’ film, and wondered if the film would bring in more of the traditional elements of the original Charles Addams comics.

And in a lot of respects, The Addams Family is true to at least the concept of the characters. The film starts with the wedding of Gomez and Morticia, which is broken up by an angry mob. The family flees, and our newlyweds look for a new home, eventually finding an abandoned and haunted asylum on a hilltop in New Jersey. We doodley-doo 13 years into the future, and now we have both Wednesday (Chloe Grace Moretz) and Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard). And, as tends to happen in such movies, we have a confluence of events.

Ten Days of Terror!: The Night Stalker

Film: The Night Stalker
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

If you are or were a fan of The X-Files, you should find the time to learn about The Night Stalker. There was a one-season television show from the mid-‘70s that I remember in part. The show followed a reporter who, every week Scooby Doo-like, encountered something strange or paranormal. The difference was that, unlike Scooby Doo, the villain was never Old Man Jenkins who ran the old carnival, but actually were supernatural or otherworldly. I particularly remember an episode that was a play on the Headless Horseman story, featuring instead a headless motorcyclist. What I didn’t know was that the show came from a pair of made-for-television movie, The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler.

There is a certain continuity here. The Night Stalker, the original movie, takes place in early ‘70s Las Vegas, where reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) is working a beat. Kolchak, we learn over time, has been released from large market papers all over the country, with Vegas simply being the latest place he’s decided to ply his gadfly/fly in the ointment brand of journalism. Actually, this only becomes evident after a few minutes. The actual opening of the film is Kolchak sitting in a cheap motel room listening to a tape recording of his own voice narrating the story we are about to hear.

Ten Days of Terror!: Severance

Film: Severance
Format: DVD from personal collection on basement television

If you’ve listened to any of the reviews done by Mark Kermode, you know about Danny Dyer. How exactly do I explain Dyer? Danny Dyer is what you get if you start with Jason Statham and remove all of the physicality, toughness, and lowbrow charm. He’s like someone pretending to be Jason Statham, but having nothing to back it up. What that means is with a movie like Severance, I’m torn. This is a movie I’ve been interested in seeing since I knew about it, but the presence of Dyer in a prominent role gives me genuine pause.

The basic idea for Severance has tremendous potential. A group of people who work for a weapons manufacturing company called Palisade Defense is sent to a remote location for teambuilding exercises. Through a series of planned accidents, they are instead detoured to what proves to be a former asylum about which there are a series of rumors and legends. Soon enough, they discover that there are people in the woods trying (and generally succeeding) in killing them.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Ten Days of Terror!: Bad Moon

Films: Bad Moon
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

I know it’s possible for there to be good werewolf movies, because I’ve seen them. Beyond the originals that created the subgenre, movies like An American Werewolf in London, The Howling, Dog Soldiers, and especially Ginger Snaps demonstrate that it’s possible to create a cool film about a werewolf. Bad Moon would really like to be among that number, and it does do some things right. It’s problem is that if there’s a trope that exists in any werewolf movie that comes before it, you’re going to see it here.

We start in Nepal, where a photojournalist named Ted Harrison (Michael Pare) and his girlfriend Marjorie (Johanna Marlowe) are doing the nasty in their tent one evening. They are caught rather terribly in flagrante by a werewolf that kills Marjorie and wounds Ted. This means, of course, that according to werewolf lore, Ted is cursed to become a werewolf.

Ten Days of Terror!: Fiend Without a Face

Film: Fiend Without a Face
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

The Criterion Collection is odd sometimes. There are plenty of movies that are a part of the collection because they are weird, obscure art films that tend to be fawned over by the beret and clove cigarette crowd. And then you get Fiend Without a Face, a strange little science fiction movie that could have easily been an MST3K film in different directorial hands. This film is loaded with dumb science and magic technology words about radiation, and also features free-range brains with attached spinal cords and eyestalks, so there’s that, too. I mean, I get why this is generally looked at positively, but it’s still weird as all hell.

We’re spending our time in this film in Manitoba around an American air force base put in place more or less to protect Canada and the U.S. from Russian attacks from over the pole. Quite suddenly, there is a rash of deaths in the surrounding countryside. The people in the area naturally blame the radiation coming from the nuclear power plant at the military base. Autopsies on the victims, though, indicate something very different is afoot. The victims all have a pair of holes at the base of their necks. More disturbing, their brains are missing, as are their spinal cords.