Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Back for More?

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

Why are small villages in the British Isles so creepy? There’s a particular sense to them of a deep and disturbing evil over the layer of small-town goodness, I think. Those pious neighbors are actually ready to go all pagan sacrifice at the drop of a hat. It’s spoofed in Hot Fuzz, but there are plenty of British horror movies that have this kind of vibe to them. You don’t have to go further than The Wicker Man for the sense that this evokes, and while it’s not Brit horror, Midsommar has a lot of the same feeling. Wake Wood is essentially a British version of Pet Sematary, and in some ways, it’s a bit more disturbing.

Veterinarian Patrick (Aiden Gillen a year after The Wire and a couple of years before Game of Thrones) and pharmacist Louise Daley (Eva Birthistle) lose their daughter Alice (Ella Connolly) to the attack of a vicious dog in Patrick’s practice. Heartbroken, the pair move to the small village of Wakewood where they each set up shop. We learn eventually that Louise cannot have any more children. One night, their car runs out of gas and Louise witnesses what looks like a disturbing pagan rite performed by Arthur (Timothy Spall), who is essentially the town leader.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Fish Food

Film: Piranha (1978)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

In 1975, Jaws created the summer blockbuster and became one of the greatest real-world horror movies in history. And, naturally, it spawned a lot of low-rent knock off “man vs. nature” variations. Orca was just Jaws with a killer whale; Grizzly was just Jaws on land. There were many of these movies in the years that followed Jaws, but Piranha from 1978 was perhaps inevitable. Piranha is what you get when you want to make Jaws, but you have a very inexperienced Joe Dante as your director.

To put this another way, Piranha is what you get when you take Jaws and remove the vision and attempt to add comedy. Into the mix you stir a couple of B- and C-list movie stars, some of whom deserve better than this film and some who don’t. Toss in some terrible logic, a clear knockoff version of the mayor from Jaws, two very disappointing boob shots, characters who disappear, and one of the weirdest endings I have ever seen. Piranha is a clear attempt to cash in on a better movie, and my guess is that it was at least partially successful.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Not in Her Right Mind

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

Typically, I write up a movie right after I finish watching it, or at least on the same day. Sometimes, more rarely, I write it up the next day. That’s certainly not the case with Possessor, which I watched last week. I’m not entirely sure why it’s taken me this long to get to writing this film up. I don’t honestly know if I’m feeling a little burned out (highly possible) or just don’t feel like I have a lot to say about this.

Possessor is a science fiction film with clear horror elements. We open with a murder; a young woman (Gabrielle Graham) stabs a man to death for no apparent reason. Despite using the knife, it’s apparent she has a gun. She appears to want to kill herself, but seems unable. It’s eventually a moot point when she is gunned down by the police.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

What I've Caught Up With, April 2021

Well, another month where I didn’t actually watch a great deal off this list. There are times when it feels like I’m burning out, but I think it’s just COVID hangover. I’m tired of feeling like all I do is sit, and with spring here, I’ve been spending a lot more time outside. Expect that to continue.

What I’ve Caught Up With, April 2021:
Film: Game Night (2018)

Sibling rivalry between the highly competitive Max (Jason Bateman) and his allegedly successful brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler). Max and his wife Annie (Rachel McAdams) have game nights every week with friends. When Brooks shows up and hosts, things get real—Brooks ends up kidnapped under the guise of a murder mystery party. Turns out he’s actually a smuggler and in a lot of trouble. It’s a fun premise but requires a lot of willing suspension of disbelief. I’m supposed to like this a lot more than I did, but I honestly find a lot of sibling rivalry stuff mildly triggering. That’s more the fault of my life than it is the movie’s.

Film: Mystery Men (1999)

I don’t know why Mystery Men didn’t end up with a bigger following. A group of underpowered and bizarre super heroes find their city without protection from its chosen savior with the return of an arch criminal. Lead by the Shoveler (William H. Macy), the Blue Raja (Hank Azaria), and Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), they face off against bad guy Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush) and his many, many minions. This has one of the better casts for a movie of this vintage and there’s some humor that really works. Good performances here top to bottom with fun turns by Eddie Izzard as a disco-loving bad guy and Wes Studi as a hero whose main ability is being “very mysterious.” Also features Tom Waits in one of his more fun roles. This should have more fans.

Film: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Remember when The Hunger Games was everywhere and then suddenly nobody cared anymore? Yeah, I remember that, too. Based on the classic tradition of kids slaughtering each other like Battle Royale and other kid-centered death competitions like Stephen King/Richard Bachman’s The Long Walk, Catching Fire continues the story from the first Hunger Games movie and intensifies things. We’ll get the same sort of to-the-death competition, of course, but this time things are becoming more political. This was a popular enough series of books and films that the third book was divided into two films. I managed to struggle through the final two films, but this one did feel like what passes for a high point.

Film: Thank You For Smoking (2005)

The main lobbyist for the tobacco industry (Aaron Eckhart) is in the position of defending cigarettes against all comers. With a Vermont senator poised to make his job harder and a tell-all newspaper article being written about him, life is about to get a lot more complicated. Thank You for Smoking is one of those movies with an all-star cast. Even roles that have just a scene or two give us actors like Rob Lowe, Robert Duval, and more. It’s funny, but this is the kind of funny that you laugh at so that you don’t put a fist through the wall. Watch this with movies like The Big Short to really ramp up your ire.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

You've Seen This Before

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

I’m not a huge fan of the slasher subgenre. I mean, I recognize that there are some classics that are worth watching, but slashers are at least potentially the most brain-dead part of the genre. All you need to make a slasher is a backstory to give you a maniac and a series of dumb teenagers (usually) to walk in front of the blade. Slashers don’t get points for cool camera work or for interesting plots. The only thing that distinguishes one slasher from the next is the amount of blood and the inventiveness of the kills. Yes, there are exceptions. The Prowler is absolutely not one of those exceptions.

We’re going to start with the tragic backstory that leads us to the twisted murderer. In the waning days of World War II, a young woman named Rosemary sends a Dear John letter to her unnamed boyfriend. A few months later, Rosemary is out with her new boyfriend at a college dance when the two of them are murdered with a sharpened pitchfork. We get to see that the killer was dressed in full WWII military regalia. We also get to see that the killer leaves behind a single rose, almost certainly for Rosemary. It would seem that anyone with half a brain would suspect Rosemary’s jilted boyfriend, but evidently that never happens (and we’re not told his identity) and the murder is somehow unsolved.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Wait Until Totally Dark

Film: Julia’s Eyes (Los ojos de Julia)
Format: DVD from Bradley Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve said any number of times that I’m not a gorehound. I accept there are plenty of moments in horror movies that are really disturbing and disgusting. I don’t mind when that happens when they are relevant to the plot. Guillermo del Toro is very good at this—having moments of real body horror that are necessary for where the film wants to go. Same with David Cronenberg. I say that because there is a moment in Julia’s Eyes (or Los ojos de Julia if you prefer the Spanish) that for me was unwatchable. Don’t take this to mean that the movie itself isn’t worth seeing. There’s just a moment I can’t watch.

While the film is named after Julia, we’re going to start with her sister, Sara (Belen Rueda). Sara is clearly blind, and she is clearly panicked. We see her go to her basement, stand on a stool, and put her head in a noose. The stool gets kicked away, and while Sara dies, we see that someone is evidently taking photographs of her struggles. We then cut to Sara’s sister Julia (also Belen Rueda), who, in the manner of siblings in horror movies, is suddenly aware that something terrible has happened to Sara.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Ceno-Bite Me

Film: Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

There are ten movies in the Hellraiser franchise. Arguably, that’s about eight too many. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is the third in the franchise and probably the first one that didn’t need to be made. There are certainly plenty of places that the Hellraiser film series could have gone. A trashy nightclub and a collection of very disappointing Cenobites wasn’t the right choice.

At the end of the previous movie, main Cenobite bad guy Pinhead (Doug Bradley) was split into two beings—Pinhead, which represents all of the evil impulses and cruelty of the Cenobites and his former human identity, Elliot Spencer. Spencer is trapped in a sort of Limbo while this new version of Pinhead, completely devoid of any humanity, is trapped in a warped statue called the Pillar of Souls.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Why Was the Amish Girl Disfellowshipped?

Film: Deadly Blessing
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on basement television.

There are three great horror directors whose last names starts with “C”: John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, and Wes Craven. Of the three, Carpenter, thanks to Halloween and The Thing, has the highest points on his filmography. Cronenberg, by virtue of his filmography, is almost certainly the most consistent, and also has the added gravitas of expanding his filmography away from the horror genre. But it’s Craven who will always be my favorite of the three. Perhaps no one has created more iconic horror films and series than Craven, who is responsible for The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, The Serpent and the Rainbow, and of course both the Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream franchises. Fun fact—Craven graduated from the ultra-conservative religious college in the town where I grew up.

Deadly Blessing is one of Craven’s sequel-less films, and, honestly, that’s probably a good thing. There’s some interesting possibilities here, but not really anything that’s worthy of a sequel. This is still pretty early in his career, so the fact that there are things only partially set up and not fully developed is perhaps expected. Deadly Blessing has some really good ideas without really managing to get many of them to pay off.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

On the Road

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

I’m going to spoil Dead End because it’s a movie that desperately needs to be spoiled. It’s a film that desperately wants to be edgy and original and it really, really isn’t. In fact, it goes somewhere that you’ve certainly been before in a movie like this. There aren’t a lot of surprises in Dead End. As a movie, it’s really not that interesting. It purports itself to be at least kind of a gore film, but there’s really only one gore moment in it. It wants to be a horror movie desperately, but aside from an attempt to go somewhere kind of dark, it’s really just some jump scares. But where it succeeds is in giving us a really believable family.

I’m going to give you the very basics of the plot in the next paragraph. I’m going to spoil the movie at the end of this review, or close to the end of this review. However, I’m going to guess that not a single person is going to be surprised by the ending. In fact, if you read the next paragraph I’ll lay better than even money that you can guess the ending long before you get to it here.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Alan Tudyk Should've Played the Pants

Film: Onward
Format: Streaming video from Disney on bedroom television.

I knew from the first moment I saw the first trailer for Onward that it was going to be nominated for Best Animated Feature. Most Pixar movies get a nomination even if they don’t win. 2020 was screwed up enough that it almost makes sense that Pixar snagged two of the five nominations. My gut tells me that Soul is probably going to be the winner, but of the two Pixars, I like Onward a lot more.

Onward takes place in a fantasy realm, kind of. This is a world of elves and monsters and fantasy creatures, but it’s also fallen into the mundane. Years before, it was a world of magic, where the very forces of nature were harnessed for the good of others. But magic was hard, and technology was easy, and so magic slowly gave way to electricity, gas power, internal combustion, and the like.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

I Hate Eli Roth

Film: Cabin Fever
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on the new portable.

I don’t swing the word “hate” around that often, but I hate Eli Roth. Of all of the films I have seen and all of the various directors whose work I have dealt with, none have made me want to punch someone more than Eli Roth. I’m constantly and consistently disappointed in Rob Zombie, Tarantino’s self-indulgence bothers me, and Zack Snyder doesn’t deserve what reputation he seems to have earned, but none of them make me go into full-on punching mode like Eli Roth. I’ve put off watching Cabin Fever for as long as I felt I legitimately could. I just wanted it in the rearview mirror. So here we are.

This is going to end up being a short review, because Cabin Fever doesn’t deserve more than that, and neither does Eli Roth. This is the story of five people who, despite the fact that two of them are women, are the most frat brother assholes you have ever encountered. They all go to a (sigh) cabin in the woods for a week-long getaway where they all contract a horrible flesh-rotting disease and die terribly. The end.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Vampires, Ho!

Film: Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter
Format: Streaming video from Hulu Plus on laptop.

When a particular monster or monster sub-type has had a lot of play in books, television, and movies, it gets harder and harder to do anything really new with them. It does happen, though. 28 Days Later, while not technically being a zombie movie, certainly took the concept of zombie-like creatures in a new direction. Return of the Living Dead was so different from the Romero zombies that the whole “brains” narrative comes from those films, not Romero’s originals. When it comes to vampires, the differences between one version and another tend to be a lot more subtle. Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter goes for a version of vampires that evoke the classic tales but have some significant differences as well.

It’s probably first worth noting that Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter was intended as the first film in a proposed series of films featuring at least the two main characters. It failed in part because of the overt sexual content and in part because Hammer Studios was very much starting to falter.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Traveler, Indeed

Film: Sputnik
Format: Streaming video from Hulu Plus on laptop.

One of the classic tropes of science fiction is the idea of people going into space and coming back with something from out there. It’s a minor variation of the more prevalent trope of something from out there coming here. Sputnik puts us in the early ‘80s with a pair of cosmonauts circling the globe. To set the stage, our cosmonauts, while on the mission, experience something moving outside their capsule. Things malfunction on re-entry, and of the two, only Konstantin (Pyotr Fyodorov) survives. But, let’s put it this way—there are still two living things coming off that ship.

Tatyana Yuryevna Klimova (Oksana Akinshina) is a neurophysiologist who is somewhat controversial in her methods. In the middle of a scandal, she is pulled away and taken to the steppes of Kazakhstan, where Konstantin is being held. Her job is to investigate what is happening to him, including his partial amnesia as well as his surprisingly rapid recovery from the accident of his landing in the damaged capsule. She is given the run of most of the facility (which turns out to be a prison) by Colonel Semiradov (Fyodor Bondarchuk), and works at least in part (and often in opposition to) Yan Rigel (Anton Vasiliev).

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Three Poes in a Row

Film: Tales of Terror
Format: DVD from personal collection on basement television.

One day in the past, Roger Corman probably did metaphorical backflips when Vincent Price decided to work with him on a number of Edgar Allen Poe adaptations. The Masque of the Red Death is still one of Corman’s best movies. That doesn’t say much at first when you realize the kind of movies Corman makes, but Masque is actually a lot of fun. Corman doing Poe stories is his natural wheelhouse, so I’m always interested in this kind of film. Tales of Terror is a Corman-lead troika of Poe stories (actually there are kind of four stories here) that feature the horror movie legends of Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Basil Rathbone.

Tales of Terror runs a spare 90 minutes, which gives us a skosh under 30 minutes for each of the three stories. The first, “Morella”, is probably not a story with which you are familiar, but when you hear the set-up, you’ll know immediately that it’s Poe. A young woman (Maggie Pierce) arrives to visit her father (Vincent Price), who she has not seen for years. He sent her away as an infant, because her mother, Morella (Leona Gage), died just after childbirth. Since this is a Poe story, he’s naturally kept the body. The daughter reveals that she is dying, and this somehow brings the corpse of Morella back to life.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

What I've Caught Up With, March 2021

Well, I managed seven in March. Actually, I didn’t watch a lot of movies in March in general. I felt like I had a lot going on otherwise, so rather than cram forty or so movies into the month, I watched fewer than twenty. Still, this was a good, random selection of what’s on the list of suggested films—I went in a lot of directions.

What I’ve Caught Up With, March 2021:
Film: A Shot in the Dark (1964)

I genuinely held out hope that A Shot in the Dark would be funnier than The Pink Panther and it genuinely wasn’t. Somehow, Clouseau (Peter Sellers) has managed to get out of prison and is somehow back on the police force. This time, he’s investigating an open-and-shut murder case involving a maid (Elke Summer), who he has immediately fallen in love with. The bodies continue to pile up and everything points to the maid. Clouseau, as per the character, is clumsy and only ever correct by accident. It’s mostly unfunny slapstick, and I don’t know why it doesn’t work or why other people think it does.

Film: Robot Monster (1953)

A good filmmaker can do a great deal without much of a budget. A terrible filmmaker can’t do much regardless of the budget. That being the case, it’s probably a good thing that no one really funded Phil Tucker more than the $16,000 he got for this (although the damned thing grossed $1 million). The eponymous robot monster—a space helmet mounted on a gorilla suit—destroys all life on Earth, save eight people. He attempts to kill them, possibly aided by a bubble-making machine. This is as ridiculous as you’re going to find, but it’s fun in spite of itself, and it sports an Elmer Bernstein score, which is like having Alton Brown show up and make food at a really embarrassingly tacky wedding.

Film: Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

I didn’t love the first M:I film, and liked the second one less. Since then, though, they’ve only gotten better and better. M:I Fallout brings back a lot of the crew from the whole series and continues to build on the Ethan Hunt mythology. It’s a smart series, since each film is very much its own contained thing, but there are continuing stories that tie them all together. The action pieces are solid, and the characters are continuously engaging. The Bourne movies may seem like an American James Bond franchise, but M:I is the real deal. Say what you will about Tom Cruise being a nutter, he makes a damn fine actioner.

Film: This Gun for Hire (1942)

This is a solid little noir with a damn fine cast that could really stand to be another 10 minutes or so longer. Alan Ladd plays a heartless assassin hired to steal a chemical formula for a high-powered executive played by Laird Creegar, who double-crosses the assassin. Meanwhile, a singing magician/entertainer (Veronica Lake) gets mixed up in all of this and does what she can to assist her cop boyfriend Robert Preston. Toss in the possibility that the chemical company is actually working with the Axis powers, and you’ve got something that hits on a lot of cylinders. It’s a lot more clever than expected, and a dandy role for the always under-used Lake. Loved seeing Ladd playing a straight-up killer as well, and Laird Creegar is always a welcome sight.

Film: Fort Apache (1948)

Movies of this era seemed to want to shoehorn a romance into everything. Ship a martinet officer (Henry Fonda) from the American Civil War out west with his almost-adult daughter (Shirley Temple) and, despite any potential trouble from the Apaches, we’ve got to have her immediately fall in love with one of the officers, played in this case by her real-life husband, John Agar. There’s also some comic relief from a quartet of drunks. The real story, though, is John Wayne acting on behalf of the natives while Henry Fonda demonstrates his acting chops by playing against type. It’s a good Western, but it’s not going to match up with the true greats of the genre.

Film: The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977)

Essentially, 90 minutes or so of sketch comedy from the guys who made Airplane! and directed by John Landis. There’s enough talent here (including weird cameos from George Lazenby, Donald Sutherland, and Henry Gibson) that some of it is going to work, but far from all of it does. The centerpiece is actually a pretty good parody of Enter the Dragon with Evan C. Kim as the Bruce Lee stand-in. While this has its moments, parts of it have not aged very well. Undoubtedly, this was a lot funnier 40+ years ago, and it’s not really worth a second watch.

Film: The Hateful Eight (2015)

It’s not going to be a surprise when I say that yet another Quentin Tarantino movie is ridiculously self-indulgent. For many a year, Tarantino has not told a movie in two hours when he could tell it in two-and-a-half instead. The Hateful Eight is Taratino going full Western instead of halfway as he did with Django Unchained. The cast is good, and I’m always happy to see Walton Goggins in anything. As usual, this would be better with 20% trimmed from it. This write-up is shorter than average as an example.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

I Don't Practice Santeria

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

One of the problems that can crop up in horror movies is that minority cultures, or at least non-dominant cultures, can be shown in less than favorable lights. They can, for instance, be shown as savages, either noble or otherwise—as sort of “wannabee Westerners” who are still culturally children. It’s easy to show other cultures as backward, or as somehow evil because they aren’t normalized. That’s the significant problem with The Believers, a film that is otherwise a really sold horror/thriller with a great cast.

Be warned—that’s the drum I’m going to be beating here, because there are films that demonstrate that minority cultures and “exotic” cultures can be shown in films in much fairer and more nuanced ways. The Serpent and the Rainbow, for instance, uses Voodoo as the foil, but the majority of the characters who are a part of that culture are either neutral on the good/evil dynamic or are actively positive characters. Something as old as I Walked with a Zombie shows Caribbean culture/Voodoo practices as just as valid as anything more culturally American. Even something as odd as True Stories sees less-practiced religions as meaningful and deserving of respect. The Believers, admittedly based on a book that may have this same problem, fails in this aspect.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Now Hear This

Film: Sound of Metal
Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on rockin’ flatscreen.

There are certain general things that make for good movies. Sports, at their best, are inherently dramatic, and so make plenty of good movies (plenty of bad ones, too, but that’s not the point). This is also why there are a lot of courtroom dramas—it’s naturally going to create a great deal of drama. Music is hypothetically a lot more interesting, because it has great potential for drama but doesn’t always pan out. This is precisely why there are four versions of A Star is Born of varying quality. And so we come to Sound of Metal, where the drama is going to be baked in from the very beginning.

Ruben (Riz Ahmed) is the drummer half of heavy metal duo Blackgammon. The other half is singer/guitarist Lou (Olivia Cooke), who is also Ruben’s girlfriend. The two travel around the country to gigs in an RV, living what can only be described as a sort of hard rock Bohemian idyll. Their basic needs are met, they have everything they want, and they are touring and performing their music for fans.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Steal this Review

Film: The Trial of the Chicago 7
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on basement television.

There’s something very special about a really good courtroom drama. It’s absolutely one of the reasons a television show like Law & Order and its multiple variants have lasted as long as it has. Aaron Sorkin writes a good courtroom drama evidenced by A Few Good Men, which ranks near the top for the subgenre. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is only the second film Sorkin has directed, and the first that has gotten a Best Picture nod; he’s two-for-two in getting screenplay nominations for films he’s directed. I went into this expecting it to be very good, mainly because I have a tendency to like Sorkin’s writing.

This is very much a courtroom drama, covering as the title suggests, the trial of seven (and eight for some time) defendants accused of starting a riot in Chicago in 1968 around the Democratic National Convention. We don’t actually get a great deal of the convention; we get a nice introduction to the various players and then we’re straight into the beginning of the trial.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Uncanny Plot Valley

Film: Xtro
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

Every now and then, I come across a movie that I have no explanation for. It’s not that the movie is weird (They Live and Bad Taste are weird); it’s that the movie has literally no explanation. Like it was written by two different people, one in the middle of a psilocybin overdose and the other screaming into a tape recorder while in a sensory deprivation tank. Liquid Sky was an experience like this. I know it was a movie and things happened, but I have no idea what actually happened by the end. It’s been a while since I’ve had that experience, but Xtro brought me right back. There’s a story here, but it really feels like pieces of multiple stories inexpertly glued together.

We start with Sam Phillips (Philip Sayer) and his son Tony (Simon Nash) at their farm when, without warning, there is a flash of light and Sam has vanished. Three years later, the light returns. An alien has returned with it. It kills a couple in a car and then impregnates a woman, who soon gives birth to a fully-grown Sam Phillips, who appears none the worse for wear, aside from that rather disturbing birth. Clearly, Sam has undergone a few changes in his three years of alien abduction.

Monday, March 15, 2021

The Night He Came Home...Still

Film: Halloween II (1981)
Format: DVD from Nippersink Library through interlibrary loan on basement television.

There’s a part of me that is very leery of sequels. This is evidenced by just how many sequels I haven’t seen, even of movies I like a great deal. It’s taken me this long, for instance, to get to the first sequel of Halloween. Halloween II picks up immediately from where the first movie left off. We’re still on that same Halloween night and what we’re going to see is not merely the aftermath of the rampage of Michael Myers, but the continuation of it.

I’m going to assume you remember the details of the first film. If you don’t, that’s on you. The details that are important here are that Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has managed to survive; Dr. Loomis, who treated Michael, has put six bullets into him; and finally Michael, despite being shot multiple times, has vanished.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Space Junk

Film: The Deadly Spawn
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

I saw an interview with Sam Raimi once, probably the extras on the Evil Dead II DVD, where he said something about the benefits of working with a very low budget production. Essentially, he said, not having a budget forces you to be creative in a way that having money to throw around doesn’t. If you have thousands to spend on a single shot, you can find a way to spend those thousands. If you have to do it on what’s currently in your wallet, though, you’re going to find a way to make it work. This brings me to The Deadly Spawn, a movie that seems to have found its budget dropped out of somebody’s pocket in a parking lot. This apparently came from the Maya Deren school of, “They spend on lipstick what I spend on my whole film.”

The Deadly Spawn is a monster movie, as the title would indicate. It’s also a sort of alien invasion movie in the sense that the creature in this case arrives on a meteor. A couple of campers investigate a meteor and are quickly devoured by the critters that emerge from the meteor in question. The critters then slither off to the basement of a nearby house. They appear to be big fans of damp, so the fact that it’s raining is going to be a problem. And, of course, the people who own the basement in question are going to have a very interesting story to tell the exterminator.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

School's Out Forever

Film: The Faculty
Format: DVD from Peru Public Library through interlibrary loan on basement television.

Some tropes are bulletproof enough that they can take a lot of different forms. The basic story behind The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, both the Jack Finney novel and the various incarnations of the movie, are one such trope. The Faculty, produced in the late ‘90s, is one such version. This is very clearly a take on the idea of pod people, and more specifically the idea of aliens coming to Earth and taking over the bodies and minds of the people in a small town with an eye toward grander conquest. In fact, as should be expected, The Faculty explicitly references Finney’s work, albeit incorrectly (but we’ll get to that later).

I’m going to assume that you at least know the broad strokes of the basic story. Alien critters arrive on Earth and, through one means or another, start to take over, control, or otherwise dominate the minds and bodies of the locals. We’re more or less led to suspect that high school football coach Willis (Robert Patrick) is the first victim. He quickly infects fellow teacher Karen Olson (Piper Laurie), and the pair then turn the school principal (Bebe Neuwirth).

Saturday, March 6, 2021

What I've Caught Up With, February 2021

There are six movies I managed to scratch off the giant list of recommended movies. I probably added that many last month as well, so I feel like I’m treading water. Five of those movies appear here; the six was Ready or Not, which received a full review. I genuinely am hoping for more than half a dozen off this list for March, but my intentions are always good in that respect.

What I’ve Caught Up With, February 2021:
Film: Beatriz at Dinner (2017)

I’m predisposed to like a movie that stars a Spanish actress like Salma Hayek (or Penelope Cruz, or Macarena Garcia, or Paz Vega…), but Beatriz at Dinner is one of those movies that applies its message with the subtlety of a meat tenderizer. Beatriz (Hayek) is a “healer,” in quotes here because most of it is spiritual woo. She gets stranded at the house of an obscenely rich client and ultimately sits in at a dinner party of the ultra-rich. Look, my political position is “Bernie Sanders should move left,” but this kind of allegory is embarrassing. Hayek is great, and John Lithgow is a standout as the real estate billionaire, but this is as artful as a knee to the crotch.

Film: October Sky (1999)

I am very much a nerd when it comes to stories about space exploration, especially when they are based on real stories. October Sky is the story of Homer Hickam, Jr., who wanted nothing more than to escape from the West Virginia coal mining town where he grew up. He finds his outlet in rocketry at the beginning of the space race. This is a damn good story about what he manages to overcome—and good because it’s not necessarily what you think it’s going to be. Jake Gyllenhaal is very good as Hickam, as is Laura Dern as the teacher who inspires him. But it’s the always-excellent Chris Cooper as Homer’s dad who makes the movie.

Film: Bernie (2011)

Jack Black plays Bernie Tiede, a slightly effeminate assistant mortician in an East Texas town. Bernie befriends a widely disliked wealthy woman (Shirley MacLaine), who slowly becomes more and more possessive of him and his time. Bernie, at his wits’ end, shoots her in something like a fugue state, then hides her in the freezer. When the truth comes out, local DA Danny Buck Davidson (Matthew McConaughey) sets out to prosecute him, but the locals seem more set on having Bernie’s back. This is based on a true story, and it seems that the movie doesn’t do a lot to make the story juicier or sexier. McConaughey is good, as is MacLaine, but this is Jack Black’s defining moment on camera. He’s clearly Jack Black, but he’s never done work like this before.

Film: Run Silent, Run Deep (1958)

For my money, the best war movies take place in submarines. There’s something about a sub—the close quarters, the claustrophobia—that ramps up the drama. Submarines, especially in World War II, are a fascinating combination of raw and deadly power with surprising vulnerability. Run Silent, Run Deep is, essentially Moby Dick told with subs and destroyers. A solid cast is led by Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster, ably supported by Jack Warden, Brad Dexter, and Don Rickles, among others. I’m not a huge fan of jingoistic military movies, but I am a sucker for a good sub drama. The drama here is good, but the effects are straight out of the bathtub, which is a downer.

Film: The Pink Panther (1963)

While the cartoons that were spawned from the titles of this movie are more famous, this remains a classic comedy of its era. The truth is that the heist aspects of the movie are still a good amount of fun, but the comedy hasn’t managed to hold up very well. Inspector Jacques Clouseau is perhaps the most famous cinematic creation of Peter Sellers, but he’s really just clumsy. The whole thing revolves around a large pink diamond (the “panther” of the title) and, like many a Blake Edwards film, is really just an excuse for a sex comedy. There’s a lot of drinking and everyone seems to be hot for Clouseau’s wife (Capucine). David Niven, Robert Wagner, and Claudia Cardinale round out the cast. I expected this to be a lot funnier than it was. Bit of a disappointment.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Tales from the Cryptid

Film: The Abominable Snowman
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

I have a friend who loves cryptids and cryptozoology. Her penchant is much more for Mothman than for anything else, but name a cryptid around her and she’s going to know the lore. The Abominable Snowman (sometimes given the longer and more impressive title of The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas) is a movie with her in mind. Not only is there the titular cryptid beastie at the center of this, it also features the great Peter Cushing as the sort of gentleman adventurer/scientist that he was born to play.

Dr. John Rollason (Cushing) is a botanist working in the Himalayas along with his wife Helen (Maureen Connell) and their assistant, Peter Fox (Richard Wattis). They are guests of the local lama (Arnold Marle) when a second expedition appears. This expedition is lead by Dr. Tom Friend (Forrest Tucker), who brings with him a trapper named Ed Shelley (Robert Brown), a photographer named McNee (Michael Brill), and a native Sherpa named Kusang (Wolfe Morris). This expedition is geared to find, capture, and bring back a yeti to display to the outside world. Not realizing the full corporate greed of the expedition, John Rollason agrees to join, motivated by a desire to know about the creature. He goes, despite the protests of both Helen and the lama.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Return of the Giant Hogweed

Film: The Day of the Triffids
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

A good storyteller can make just about anything scary. Some things are certainly harder than others; Night of the Lepus demonstrated that. So what about killer plants? Invasion of the Body Snatchers sits on one end of the “scary plant” continuum with probably Attack of the Killer Tomatoes on the other end. Somewhere in the middle is Little Shop of Horrors, and right along the same line is The Day of the Triffids (sometimes called Invasion of the Triffids. Our creatures are killer man-eating plants from outer space, more mobile than Audrey II, and without the luxurious singing voice.

The film opens with a little backstory on carnivorous plants and introduces us to the triffids, which (in the movie, not the book) crash landed on Earth on a meteor. Triffids can grow to seven feet high or so, and are capable of uprooting themselves and “walking.” This characteristic is interesting, because it brings up something that’s important to talk about before we get into the story aspects of this: influence.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Return Trip

Film: Peninsula (Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula)
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.

There was a time when you know what you were going to get with a sequel. You were going to get some of what you liked from the first movie, but in general, it wasn’t going to be quite as good as you wanted it to be. Then, we got some sequels that managed to at least play in the same ballpark as the original film. Movies started to follow the video game rule of being at least more than just more of the same. So, naturally, when I saw that Train to Busan had a sequel, I was interested. I honestly should have been a little worried at the title. While you can find this under the name Peninsula, the official title is Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula. That seems like a title that is trying too damn hard.

Peninsula (and this is the title I’m going to use for the rest of this review) takes place four years after Train to Busan, which is convenient, since this was released four years after Train to Busan. What we learn, from a very stilted opening interview that is made up entirely of exposition, is that Korea has been blocked off from mainland Asia. The outbreak, which evidently started in a lab, was contained to South Korea.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Dig It!

Film: The Body Snatcher
Format: DVD from LaSalle Public Library through interlibrary loan on basement television.

There’s something very special about the films that were produced by Val Lewton. With Lewton as the producer, a film needed to work with a negligible budget but still deliver some thrills and scares. The enduring power of Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie are indicative of just how good Lewton was at his work. The Body Snatcher is perhaps less well-known, but it comes with a hell of a solid pedigree. It’s another Karloff/Lugosi film (although Lugosi’s role is quite small and Karloff is the real star), and it was directed by no less a luminary than Robert Wise.

The Body Snatcher falls directly into the Burke and Hare realm, the snatching here being (at least initially) grave robbing for the benefit of the medical profession. We have a poor medical student named Donald Fettes (Russell Wade) who is looking to give up the practice because of financial difficulties at home. This revelation comes just after he demonstrates good bedside manner with a crippled young girl named Georgina Marsh (Sharyn Moffett). His teacher, a respected physician named Dr. MacFarlane (Henry Daniell), offers Fettes the position of being his new assistant.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

It's Cicada Time Again

Film: The Beast Within
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

Probably since horror movies have been in existence, one of the classic scenes is the transformation. There are plenty of classic transformations. Jekyll to Hyde, man to wolfman, vampire to bat, and plenty more. The Beast Within, for a film that has plenty of plot problems, has one of the greatest transformations in horror film history. That the film itself has a plot that makes zero sense doesn’t change the fact that the transformation that we get to witness is one for the ages.

We start close to two decades before the film’s present. Eli (Ronny Cox) and Caroline MacCleary (Bibi Besch) experience some car trouble in the middle of nowhere in Mississippi. While Eli goes back to the last town for help, Caroline waits in the car. Meanwhile, a creature breaks out of captivity nearby and finds Caroline. Naturally, the creature rapes her, then vanishes.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Not Fade Away

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

There are some hard truths when it comes to films. When we talk about great horror movies, for instance, the classics of the mid-‘80s and before (and perhaps well into the ‘90s) come from men, generally speaking. That’s not shocking when you consider that most movies of that era were directed by men. But these days, a lot of the more interesting and vital work in the horror genre is being done by women. In fact, if you remove white men from the horror genre right now, you’re not losing a great deal with the exception of Leigh Whannell. I’m sure I’m forgetting someone—use the comments for that.

Anyway, that brings me to Relic, which is the feature-length debut of director Natalie Erika James. I’d heard good things about Relic and was interested to see it. This is a pared-down film, one that works well as a directorial debut because of the scope. James’s work is ambitious in the sense of what she wants to convey with the story, but is limited in the places where she can limit it without damaging that story. There are only a handful of characters here, for instance, and really only three we’re going to spend a lot of time with. While we’re going to move around a bit, most of what we’re going to do is stay put in a single (admittedly disturbingly convoluted) house. Relic runs about 90 minutes and dismisses a lot of frills. It sticks to the story, the characters, and the meaning, and because of that, it works pretty well.

Edna (Robyn Nevin) goes missing from her house. Her daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcoate) travel to her secluded home to help look for her. Her house is locked from the inside, and there is evidence of a disturbing black mold growing in parts of the house. There are signs that Edna is slipping mentally; primarily this comes in the form of handwritten Post-It notes around the house. Kay and Sam spend a difficult time in the house, plagued by nightmares, spreading mold, and strange noises from inside the walls.

Eventually, Edna shows up again, unaware that she was missing. She appears mentally and physically whole, aside from a large black bruise in the middle of her chest. This bruise looks suspiciously like the mold growing in the house. But Edna is clearly fading. Kay considers putting her in a nursing home. Meanwhile, she has a tender moment or two with granddaughter Sam, but also suddenly turns on her. More and more, Edna’s actions are incomprehensible. Kay finds her behind the house tearing photos out of the family album and eating them, and then burying the album. I’ll stop here. What follows is really the point of the movie, and probably needs to be under a spoiler tag.

* * * BUT WHAT IS THE RELIC? * * *

It’s not hard to see Relic as a sort of allegory about dealing with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, it’s hard not to see it that way. If someone told me Natalie Erika James and/or her co-writer Christian White had dealt with either of those conditions in their families, I would not be remotely shocked. The rot that infests the house is an outward manifestation of the rot going on in Edna’s mind. Her own physical deterioration mirrors the same process.

Much of the third act involves Sam being lost behind the walls of the house. These hidden corridors appear to loop around themselves, and even when she back tracks, she can’t find her way out. They are also filled with the same mold and with piles and piles of junk. These hidden corridors are, metaphorically, Edna’s deteriorating mind. Ultimately, the complete physical deterioration of Edna and the possibility that the same might happen to Kay may mean that Kay will go through this same terrible degradation.

What’s the relic? Possibly this terrible genetic curse handed down from generation to generation. At least that’s my read.

* * * SO THAT’S THE RELIC * * *

This is a story that could have been (and has been) told in a much more straightforward way, assuming my read on the deeper meaning is correct (and, honestly, I can’t see how it’s not). So why make this as a horror movie? Because there are some real horror moments here—some ugly and gruesome moments. The true horror of what’s happening to Edna needs to for the ultimate impact.

This is a smart movie. It’s a little dark in places, but it’s a movie like Get Out that seems far too mature for a first-time director. I’m hoping we see great things out of Natalie Erika James, because based on this, she’s got some chops.

Why to watch Relic: A solid debut from a director I hope gets more work.
Why not to watch: It’s a little dark (physically, not emotionally) in places.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

The Prodigy Song Not Included

Film: Firestarter
Format: DVD from Kankakee Public Library through interlibrary loan on Sue’s Mother’s Day present.

I’ve jumped on this train before and I’m going to keep jumping on it—Stephen King doesn’t always translate to film well. Some of the movies based on his work are tremendous, all-time classics. Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, and others certainly lead the pack. But a lot of his work just doesn’t make the transition very well. Maximum Overdrive comes to mind. And then…there’s a big, squishy middle area with films like Firestarter.

I’d seen Firestarter before, although it had been much more than a decade since my last watch. I remembered enough to be able to recall the basic story. I remembered that this is one of the few King stories that features The Shop, a shadowy government agency that deals with the paranormal, mental abilities, and the like. The people at The Shop would love to have gotten their hands on someone like Carrie White, for instance. The Shop is one of those world-building things that really should have been used more in King’s work.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Lizard Brain

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

I foresee this is going to be a shorter review than normal. For starters, Gorgo is a shorter movie than normal. It is also a movie that appeared in the ninth season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, either fairly or unfairly. The big reason that I think this might be a shorter review than normal is that there isn’t a great deal to say about Gorgo. This is, honestly, nothing more than Godzilla with British accents.

“But Steve,” I hear you say, “how can you be that dismissive? Shouldn’t you give the movie a fair shake?” Yes, and I’m not saying I didn’t give the movie a fair shake. But I am completely serious when I say that this is just a British Godzilla. It’s not a point-by-point remake, but the basic idea is the same (there’s even a monster child). Honestly, it’s more like the plot of King Kong being run with a Godzilla-like monster. Kong software on Godzilla hardware, if you like.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Happy Valentine's Day!

Film: Ready or Not
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.

A lot of people recommended Ready or Not to me, so when I saw it on the New Arrival shelf at one of the local libraries I use, I figured I should grab it. I’m not surprised that this library had it; they have a fantastic movie collection, something well north of 5000 discs. I go at least once a week just to see what new has arrived.

Ready or Not is classified as a horror-comedy and it sort of is. It’s definitely a horror movie and it very much has some comedic elements, but there are parts of this that are absolutely deadly serious. There’s also a specific moment in this that is—without guts, grue, or hitting any of my specific triggers—one of the most stomach-turning moments I’ve seen in a movie in a long time. This is not a complaint. It’s just a statement of fact.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Going Out for Italian

Film: Innocent Blood
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

Of all of the basic monster types, vampires are probably the ones who have the most movies about them. Most of them make a few changes to the basic idea of vampire lore, anatomy, or what have you, but they all follow the basics. One thing that a lot of vampire movies have in common is the existential dread that vampires seem to feel about being predators. While there’s a little of that in Innocent Blood (also known by the awesome title of A French Vampire in America), the film does away with a lot of that by having the main prey of the vampires be the criminal underworld.

That right there would set apart Innocent Blood from virtually every other vampire movie going. Our bloodsucker, a French vampire named Marie (Anne Parillaud), survives specifically by preying on the worst elements of society. As the film begins, we find ourselves dealing with the mob. She overlooks a potential meal in Joe Gennaro (Anthony LaPaglia) and settles instead on another crime figure (Chazz Palminteri). When she’s done feeding, she shoots the mobster in the face to prevent him from coming back.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Poe's Law?

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

While I like a lot of modern horror movies (when they aren’t just gratuitously gory), there’s a part of me that truly loves the old school stuff. The Raven is from 1935 and features both Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, so it’s very much in that wheelhouse. It’s also a movie that manages to offer only a very tangential connection to its source material. The connections are that one character likes Poe a lot and at one point there is an interpretive dance while someone reads the poem. No, really.

We start with a car accident. Jean Thatcher (Irene Ware) crashes her car and lies at the brink of death. Her father (Samuel S. Hinds) pleads with noted but retired doctor Richard Vollin (Bela Lugosi) to come out of retirement to save his daughter. Vollin is eventually persuaded to do so, and naturally his skill is what pulls Jean through. Shortly thereafter, Jean performs the aforementioned interpretive Raven dance.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

The Louder the Better?

Film: The Relic
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.

Sometimes I dread writing these reviews. It’s great when I feel like there’s a lot to say about a movie, and most of the time, that’s most movies. There’s almost always something worth picking apart or getting into. With The Relic, I feel like there’s not a hell of a lot to talk about. There’s a very basic monster plot, we have good guy and bad guy scientists, there are a few gruesome deaths and a few unexplained deaths, and there are some Stan Winston creature effects. And, after well over 100 minutes, the credits finally roll.

We start with a scientist (Lewis Van Bergen) undergoing a ritual with a South American native tribe. Something goes wrong for the scientist, at least we believe, when he tries to retrieve what he is shipping back to his museum in Chicago turns out to not be on the ship. Jump cut to Chicago about six weeks later, the ship evidently having gone directly from the Amazon rain forest up through the Gulf of Mexico and up the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan (in the original novel, the ship docks in New York) to reveal a dead crew, many of whom have their heads discovered in the ship’s bilge.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

What I've Caught Up With, January 2021

It was a slim month in terms of catching up with movies on the big list (and it is a big list—still well over 1000 movies on it). I almost completed my rewatch of the whole James Bond filmography, though, getting through all four of the Pierce Brosnan Bonds and the first three of the Daniel Craigs (I’ve finished Spectre by now, just not in January). Naturally, that took up a lot of my movie watching time. Happy Death Day was on the unwatched list as well, but I did a full review of that one—it deserved it. I also finally watched the final movie on the latest 1001 Movies list. For movies that weren’t on the recommended list that I watched anyway, I heartily recommend Behind the Curve, especially if you are feeling good about humanity in general. This one will wake you up to the fact that we are a failed species.

What I’ve Caught Up With, January 2021:
Film: North Dallas Forty

I hadn’t seen this in probably 15 years, and it’s a worthy rewatch. Nick Nolte plays a battered professional football player in the era where the fame and glamour was there, but the money wasn’t. Nolte’s wide receiver Phillip Elliott drinks too much and takes too many drugs, and then takes more to keep playing. This is not a film about the rigors of football, though, at least once you get below the surface. It’s kind of a buddy film between Nolte and Mac Davis, who plays the team’s quarterback. But how good can buddies be when they are mercenaries? While a comedy in many ways, North Dallas Forty is pitch black in the lessons we take away from it. This is among Nolte’s best work on camera.

Film: Dolores Claiborne

Stephen King doesn’t always translate to film well, but sometimes, he really, really does. Dolores Claiborne is an interesting King story in the sense that there is no supernatural element here. No, the horrors are more prosaic, and because of that, a lot more real. Kathy Bates plays the titular role about as well as possible, and she is ably assisted by Jennifer Jason Leigh as her estranged substance abuse-riddled daughter. A good supporting cast helps here as well. The story is a good one, and the reveals are surprising and dark. It’s too long, though. Cut 20 minutes from this, and this is a much tighter and better movie.

Film: Batman: The Movie

When it’s done accidentally, camp can be a lot of fun. Most of the time, intentional camp feels forced and doesn’t work. Batman from 1966 is the exception that proves the rule. This is a completely ridiculous movie in almost every aspect, but it contains so much of what made the original television show fun. Seriously, Cesar Romero gave so little of a shit that he just put the Joker’s white greasepaint directly over his mustache. I’d have loved to have seen Eartha Kitt here instead of Lee Meriwether as Catwoman, but Frank Gorshin was absolutely the best of the Batman villains as The Riddler. This is dumb, but it’s the right kind of dumb. Shark repellent bat spray? Genius!

Film: Easter Parade

Like many a classic musical, Easter Parade is essentially plotless and in this case serves as a vehicle almost a dozen and a half songs from Irving Berlin. Oh, there’s a romance or three involved and some love triangles that all eventually get sorted out in the end, but we expect that going in. Easter Parade is an excuse to watch Fred Astaire dance and listen to Judy Garland sing, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything more or less than that. And, honestly, it doesn’t really need to be anything more or less than that. Plot would just get in the way of Fred doing a tap routine with a drum kit. It’s nice when studios realized where their money came from and gave us films like this one in vivid color, too.