Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Strange Weather We're Having

Films: The Devil’s Rain
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

Sometimes you just can’t explain a movie. That’s certainly the case with The Devil’s Rain, a low-budget horror movie with substantially goofy special effects that has an absolutely staggering cast list. I have no idea what the budget for this was, but most of it had to be the cast. That said, it’s worth noting that Ernest Borgnine has stated that this was made with Mafia money and that he never got paid for his work on the film.

So let’s talk about that cast for a moment. Ernest Borgnine is a stand-out, but much of the rest of the cast is stellar as well. William Shatner! Tom Skerritt! Ida Goddam Lupino! Eddie Albert and Keenan Wynn! John Travolta in an early role! And arch-fiend Anton LeVay himself as a satanic high priest. I have absolutely no explanation for any of this.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Cold Reception, Too

Films: Cold Prey (Fritt Vilt)
Format: DVD from Earlville Library on the new portable.

There are times when I watch something, get to the end, and really wonder what the hell I’m going to say about it. Cold Prey (Fritt Vilt in the original Norwegian) is one of those films. This is the sort of film that, when it finishes, feels like you haven’t really seen anything at all. It’s almost entirely transparent in that respect. There isn’t so much a plot as there is a series of consecutive events, many of which involve a killer with a pickaxe. And then, a touch more than 90 minutes after it starts, the credits roll, and not a single person’s life is different in any meaningful way.

A group of five young people head out to the middle of nowhere to go snowboarding, because (surprise, surprise) winter sports are a big deal in Norway. Our five are Jannicke (Ingrid Bolso Berdal), her boyfriend Eirik (Tomas Alf Larsen), newly minted couple Ingunn (Viktoria Winge) and Mikal (Endre Martin Midtstigen), and fifth wheel Morten Tobias (Rolf Kristian Larsen). They get to a completely out of the way part of the mountain and start down. And, just like mom always said, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. In this case, it’s Morten Tobias, who takes a bad spill and breaks his leg.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Pardon Me, but Your Teeth are in My Neck

Films: The Fearless Vampire Killers (Dance of the Vampires)
Format: DVD from North Suburban Library District through interlibrary loan on various players.

I didn’t realize how successful Roman Polanski’s comedy/horror film The Fearless Vampire Killers (originally titled Dance of the Vampires and sometimes accompanied with the subtitle Pardon Me, but Your Teeth are in My Neck, hence the title of this review) really was. There’s a musical version of it originally in German that played on Broadway. It’s also, as far as I know, Polanski’s only dip into comedy. That’s honestly probably a good thing, because this is not a comedy that has aged well.

I don’t want to be misunderstood here, though. The comedy hasn’t aged well. The rest of the movie actually has, more or less. The Fearless Vampire Killers is not that funny, and the humor it contains doesn’t translate to the modern age very well. But without the comedy, it’s still not a bad little vampire movie. It’s not great by any stretch, but it’s not bad.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Blood is Thicker...

Films: Ganja & Hess
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on Fire!

Sometimes, you do yourself a disservice seeing things out of order. That’s absolutely the case with me and Ganja & Hess (called Blood Couple in a disowned recut version, and sometimes called Black Vampire). This is very much the second version of this story I’ve seen, and kind of the third. Spike Lee remade this film as Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, not one of his better films. There are also a lot of aspects of this in the film Thirst, which is probably the best version of the basic story. It also came out less than a year after Blacula, which will naturally have some similarities. But Ganja & Hess is the first, but the last that I’ve seen. And so I’m naturally going to compare this to other versions of the same story unfairly. What feels derivative here is only derivative in my own mind.

Ganja & Hess is a low-budget experimental horror film. It’s also the second and final starring role for Duane Jones, most famous for his first role in Night of the Living Dead. There are no zombies in this movie. Instead, this is a kind of vampire film. These are not traditional vampires, but they have many of the characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses we have come to expect from the bloodsuckers of lore.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Home, Not Alone

Films: The Collector (2009)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

I got an Amazon Fire for Father’s Day, which will be one of the ways I end up watching a lot of streaming movies in the future. The Collector may be the first movie I’ve reviewed with this viewing method, but it’s not the first movie I watched on this device. I broke it in with something better and far less odious.

The horror world has a number of subgenres. For instance, there is the torture porn subgenre, of which I am very much not a fan. There’s also the home invasion subgenre, which has a surprisingly large number of films in it. The Collector from 2009 (not to be confused with the vastly superior film of the same name from the ‘60s) is a bit of both. It’s also a film that requires a vast amount of suspension of disbelief. To make The Collector work in your head, you have to make a lot of allowances for what is happening on the screen. This is a reverse of Home Alone, where the home intruder has managed to set up a number of dangerous and potentially lethal booby traps. How? When did he find the time to do this? Shut up and turn your brain off and watch the movie.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Harder Candy

Films: Promising Young Woman
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.

Revenge movies are a very particular thing. Typically, if you have a revenge picture written about a woman by a man, you get something like I Spit on Your Grave--cheap, tawdry, and filled with a lot of gratuitous and unpleasant nudity. Sometimes, you might get something more like Last House on the Left, which is still unpleasant, although with some moral message. Years ago, a woman writing this story might pen something closer to The Girl Most Likely to…, which gets rid of a lot of the gratuitous nastiness and is both darker and funnier. In the “Me Too” era, though, we get Promising Young Woman.

Promising Young Woman feels like the natural extension of the Me Too Movement. While there are moments here that are darkly comic, this is a film that is deadly serious at its core and that is focused not just on the concept of toxic masculinity, but on the reaction to it. Cassie Thomas (Carrie Mulligan) is a medical school drop-out now working a dead-end job in a coffee shop with Gail (Laverne Cox). At night, she pursues her real job. Cassie spends her time in bars and nightclubs pretending to be drunk, waiting to get picked up by predatory men, and then revealing the fact that she is completely sober to them as they try to take advantage of her.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

What I've Caught Up With, June 2021

Well, here we are in July, the year just about half done. This year is going by very quickly, it seems, and as good as my intentions are for putting up reviews (and even watching movies) are always far better than my reality. Only three movies off the list this month. As always, hope for better next month.

What I’ve Caught Up With, June 2021:
Film: The Parallax View (1974)

The middle film in Alan J. Pakula’s “Paranoia Trilogy” is by far the darkest. Where Klute has something approaching a Hollywood resolution and All the President’s Men ends with something like closure on a real-world scandal, The Parallax View is a film that plays into the worst of conspiracy thinking. It is reminiscent in many ways of films like Three Days of the Condor. This is a dark film, appropriate for the time, and playing into those same dark ideas of conspiracy and a dark cabal running the world and committing political assassination almost at will. For some reason, this was overlooked come Oscar time and received no nominations. I have no idea how we live in a world where that is true.

Film: The Dish (2000)

I genuinely like this movie so damn much. When asked to recommend something that people don’t know, The Dish is my go-to. It’s genuinely funny, has great characters and a really good story. It helps that I’m a NASA nerd, and this is about the first moon landing. Specifically, it’s about the radio telescope in a little town in Australia that helped broadcast Apollo 11’s signals, and about the men who run it. Many of the actors didn’t do a lot else, and that actually helps it, because it makes them so believable in these roles. It also has one of the best music jokes of the last several decades. Track this down—you won’t be disappointed.

Film: Bad Boys 2 (2003)

Danny Butterman would be disappointed in me that I hadn’t seen Bad Boys 2 before now (I have seen Point Break), but there it is. And now, having watched Bad Boys and then this, I have to wonder why I bothered. I know that people like this movie a lot, but this is every bad stereotype and every possible cop movie trope shoved into two movies. It’s misogynistic and surprisingly racist for a movie starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. Loosely connected explosions and gun battles matched with anti-gay “jokes” makes for an unpleasant watch, at least for me. Whoosah.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Sloppy Seconds

Films: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on various players.

The argument for “worst sequel” is ongoing, although Highlander 2 definitely has a lot of support. Biggest drop in quality between the first film and the second film probably belongs to The Exorcist/The Exorcist II: The Heretic. But, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge gets to be in the conversation in both cases. Okay, it’s almost certainly not the worst sequel ever made, but the drop in quality between the classic first film and the abysmal second is pretty steep.

The biggest issue here is that the movie completely messes with the Freddy Krueger mythology, which is the entire point of these films. Freddy is the reason to watch. If you’re someone who has lived under a rock and knows nothing of the Nightmare series, allow me to give you a quick primer. Freddy Krueger is a child murderer who was confronted by the parents of his victims. In a moment of frontier justice, the parents burned him alive and then buried the body somewhere he couldn’t be found. But, Freddy lives on in the nightmares of their children. And when Freddy, who wears a glove complete with razor blade fingers, kills someone in their dream, they die for real.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Thirty Pieces of Silver

Films: Judas and the Black Messiah
Format: Blu-ray from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Today, Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22 ½ years in prison for the murder of George Floyd. Frankly, that’s twice as long as I thought he’d get and about five times less than I think he deserved. It makes tonight’s viewing of Judas and the Black Messiah particularly poignant. Fifty, sixty years ago, Chauvin doesn’t get convicted, so in that respect, perhaps we’ve moved a little forward. But George Floyd is still dead, so maybe we haven’t moved that far.

Judas and the Black Messiah is about the life and death of Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), the 21-year-old deputy chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party who was gunned down in his bed by Chicago police the night before he was to go to prison on bogus theft charges. It’s also about Bill O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield), the man who was turned into an FBI asset and was used to take down Hampton.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Beyond and Back...ish

Films: Audrey Rose
Format: DVD from Manteno Public Library through interlibrary loan on the new portable.

It seems like a year since I’ve posted something (and it has been almost two weeks). Daughter’s graduation and last show with her dance school, preparation for college, end of term for me, and a death in the family will do that. It honestly feels like more than a week since I’ve even watched a movie. When life spirals out of control, entertainment and hobbies are the first things to drop off. This hasn’t changed the fact that there is a stack of movies to my immediate right. Now that things are starting to calm down, it’s time to get to them. The one movie from interlibrary loan seemed like a good place to start, thus this review of Audrey Rose.

I remember vaguely when the book Audrey Rose was published only because one of my sisters was intensely weird about it. The basic story is that a little girl named Audrey Rose dies in a car accident and is immediately reincarnated into the body of another girl. Audrey’s father searches for the new vessel of his daughter’s soul and eventually finds her. That’s pretty much the story of the movie as well, just with added Anthony Hopkins and Marsha Mason.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

What Does it Profit a Man...

Films: Faust
Format: YouTube video on rockin’ flatscreen.

Faust is one of those stories that, much like Robin Hood, everyone knows, at least in the broadest of strokes but that pretty much no one has read. At the very least, I don’t think I know anyone who has read Faust (cue my comments filling up with people who have read it. Good on you if you have). It is the classic “deal with the devil” tale, though, so everyone seems to have a passing knowledge of the basic story. The 1926 version of the story directed by F.W. Murnau is probably the definitive film version, although there are certainly others. But this is a classic, crafted by one of the true masters of silent cinema. Sure, Fritz Lang could spin a tale with the best, but F.W. Murnau truly was a master.

We begin the tale much as we would were this the story of Job. The demon Mephisto (Emil Jannings) and an archangel (Werner Fuetterer) make a bet with each other over the fate of the world. Faust (Gosta Ekman) is a true man of science and religion despite his dabbling in alchemy. The archangel agrees that if Mephisto can turn him away from God and corrupt him, he will be given dominion over the Earth.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Darned, Maybe

Films: Village of the Damned (1995)
Format: DVD from Lasalle Public Library through interlibrary loan on the new portable.

Of the horror directors whose surame start with C, John Carpenter clearly has the highest highs. I love Wes Craven dearly, but it’s hard to compete with The Thing and Halloween. Carpenter probably has the lowest lows, though, as films like Ghosts of Mars and Escape from L.A. will attest. His 1995 remake of Village of the Damned (sometimes referred to with his name before the title as John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned) falls between those two extremes. Sad to say, it’s very much on the lower end. Village of the Damned was certainly due for an update (and probably is again), but this wasn’t the update that was needed, fleshed out from the original as it is. The hope that Carpenter could find lightening in a bottle a second time with a remake was unwarranted, sadly.

As it happens, this is also the final theatrical release featuring Christopher Reeve before the accident that left him paralyzed. Reeve struggled a bit with typecasting after his stint as the Man of Steel, so this movie may well have been a further effort on his part to step away from that image.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Fool's Gold

Films: The People Under the Stairs
Format: DVD from Ida Public Library through interlibrary loan on the new portable.

When the conversation turns to horror directors, everyone is going to have their favorite. George Romero is going to be a popular choice just because of his creation of a massively influential subgenre. David Cronenberg, king of body horror, will have his adherents, who will in part point to his success outside of the genre. John Carpenter, by virtue of Halloween and The Thing probably has the highest highs, but he’s got some real lows as well. My favorite, though, will always be Wes Craven. As much as I love Carpenter and Cronenberg, and as much as there are some real weak points in Craven’s filmography, there’s a lot there to indicate just how good he really was. I’m catching up on a lot of his back catalog, which is why I finally watched The People Under the Stairs.

Aside from a couple of the Nightmare films, this was probably the biggest hole in my Craven viewing history. It’s a little hard to place in the Craven pantheon of films for me. Is it a horror movie? Is it a comedy? Is it an adventure just like The Goonies had? It’s kind of all of the above wrapped into a single package. It’s also fairly unusual in the sense that our protagonist is a 13-year-old African-American kid named Poindexter, who goes by Fool (Brandon Quintin Adams). Fool has some elements of stereotype in his character, which seems to be a product of race, the year of production, and the genre. Regardless of this, He very quickly became one of my favorite horror protagonists.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

What I've Caught Up With, May 2021

Well, the pandemic is finally ending, and it feels less and less like I’m spinning my wheels. Not a lot of stuff from this list got watched in May, but I feel like I’m getting in a better place to watch a movie or two a little more often. I’d definitely put Possessor on this list as well if I hadn’t done a complete review. Tenet is probably in the same position, so this is a little more than one movie/week from this giant list.

What I’ve Caught Up With, May 2021:
Film: The Lord of the Rings (1978)

I vaguely remember this film coming out when I was about 10. My older brother was a lot more interested in it than I was. It seems very underwhelming these days. Ralph Bakshi’s animation isn’t bad, but odd in places. It’s also very quick in going through the story Roughly an hour in, and we’re in Moria, and we go from Boromir’s death to the end in Helm’s Deep in about an hour. While the rotoscoping is interesting, it cannot hold up to the epic created by Peter Jackson. It’s also disconcerting to see rotoscoped animation on screen with traditional animation at the same time. At best, it’s a curiosity.

Film: Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)

This is a genuinely decent film, the sort of movie that is simply good. It presents a real-world drama of young Josh Waitzkin (Max Pomeranc) who is discovered as a chess prodigy. It tells the story of him dealing with massive success and what affect this had on him. Much of it deals with the push and pull between Josh and his father (Joe Mantegna), a sports writer. There is also friction between his teacher (Ben Kingsley) and the man who plays in the park (Laurence Fishburne) Through all of this, his mother (Joan Allen) tries to maintain Josh’s dignity and simply decency. This is a fine film, and it holds up very well. A solid cast all around with notables (Laura Linney, Austin Pendleton, Josh Mostel, Tony Shaloub, William H. Macy) even in small roles.

Film: Bottle Rocket (1996)

Everyone starts somewhere and this is essentially where Wes Anderson started. Anderson is known as being a quirky, almost anal-retentive director featuring characters that have the same hang-up. There’s a precision to Anderson’s films that doesn’t merely border on the twee, dives in head-first. Bottle Rocket is his first feature-length film, and it’s the least “Wes Anderson” of any of his full-length movies but contains all of the DNA of what he would become. Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, and Robert Musgrave play a trio of friends who desperately want to be criminals, with Owen Wilson playing the obsessive micro-manager that seems to be Anderson’s hallmark character. It occurs to me that everyone in the Wes Anderson-verse is on the autistic spectrum, and that explains a vast amount of his movies.

Film: Bottle Rocket (1993)

Since I watched the full version of Bottle Rocket, I figured I might as well watch the short film that came first. Essentially, this short is a couple of scenes snipped out of the longer film and done in black-and-white. It covers the initial “heist,” recruiting Bob the driver, planning to rob the bookstore, and then robbing the bookstore. There are no real consequences here for anyone or anything, and it’s surprisingly sweary for Wes Anderson. It’s in a lot of ways the least Wes Anderson of the Wes Anderson films I’ve seen, and I think I have seen all of them--that's even true of the full version of this. It’s cute and harmless, which is both its biggest strength and biggest failing.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Coming to You...Live?

Film: Dead Set
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on the new internet machine.

I’m not sure when zombies became such a “thing.” It was George Romero, of course, who turned “zombie” from being an undead servant created by voodoo into a reanimated flesh-eating corpse, but it took some time before what he created in Night of the Living Dead became such a massive subgenre. Was it Shaun of the Dead? Was it, actual zombie film or not, 28 Days Later? Could it have been the Dawn of the Dead remake? I don’t know. All I do know on this front is that zombie films seem to be everywhere. You can’t swing a cat, dead or reanimated, without hitting one. And in 2008, British television produced Dead Set, a zombie-themed miniseries that has one stand-out premise that makes it initially interesting.

Dead Set posits a zombie outbreak during a season of the television show Big Brother. That’s it; that’s the entire premise. The plague happens outside of the Big Brother house, but most of the story takes place inside the house. What makes this particularly interesting is that the show, at least as far as I know, involves cutting the people off from the outside world completely. And so, the realization that something terrible is going on in the outside world takes some time to settle in. On top of that, also as I understand it, the type of person who tended to be involved in Big Brother was exactly the sort of idiot who would walk directly into a zombie attack. There’s a moment when one of the characters declares that humanity will win because they can still reason, but the contestants are exactly the sort of fame junkies who can’t actually reason.

Monday, May 31, 2021

There Were Never Such Devoted Sisters

Film: A Tale of Two Sisters (Janghwa, Honglyeon)
Format: DVD from Somonauk Public Library through interlibrary loan on the new portable.

Years ago, a friend of mine was working on her PhD in film. I asked her what she was doing her dissertation on, she told me she was doing a comparison of modern horror movies with traditional fairy tales. It was (and still is) a great idea. In her opinion, the two share the same set of morals. A Tale of Two Sisters (Janghwa, Honglyeon, which evidently translates as “Rose Flower, Red Lotus”) could well be exhibit A. This is apparently based on a traditional Korean folktale modernized very effectively.

I don’t want to go into a lot of detail here. A Tale of Two Sisters is a good enough movie that it should be gone into as cold as possible. The less you know about this, the better. The reason for that is that, even if I am careful, there’s a lot that I can give away here without meaning to. I could, for instance, compare this to a couple of movies that would give a very clear picture of the story, but it would also very clearly ruin the story for someone who had seen those movies. I don’t even want to put them under a spoiler tag for fear of someone catching sight of them. A Tale of Two Sisters deserves that.

Friday, May 28, 2021

A is for...

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

Ah, my old nemesis, the horror anthology. If you had talked to me when I started this blog, I would have told you that the style of film I was most likely to avoid would be a musical. I’ve come to appreciate musicals some, even if they still aren’t my favorite genre. It’s the horror anthology that has become the type of film I dread more than any. I tried to watch The ABCs of Death a couple of years ago and got as far as H before deciding I was done. I don’t know why I tried again, because it really wasn’t worth it.

The conceit here is as straightforward as possible. There are 26 short films made by 26 different directors, each selecting a different letter of the alphabet. For each letter, the director(s) pick a word or phrase and create a very short horror film to represent that letter. That’s it—nothing more involved than that. With a run time of just under two hours without end credits (about 129 minutes with them), we’re not getting a great deal of depth in any of these films. Some are no more than a minute or two long while others range upwards of seven minutes or so. As you might expect, this goes in order from A to Z.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Turn to Stone

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

I love how completely insane Horror Studios was in the 1960s. You want horror movies? They’ve got horror movies. Sure, there’s an endless supply of Dracula movies and vampire spin-offs, reboots of the Mummy and Frankenstein movies by the metric ton. But Hammer also went far afield for their horror movie fodder. Sherlock Holmes stories, for instance. And weird Gothic tales like The Reptile. And then there’s The Gorgon. The creature in this movie is…a gorgon, as in the mythical snake-haired creature whose look can turn a man to stone. It’s so completely out of left field. I love how absolutely insane it is.

Our story takes place at some vague time in the Victorian past. An artist named Bruno Heitz (Jeremy Longhurst) is told by his model/girlfriend/fiancée that she is pregnant. He goes off to have the confrontation with her father and she chases after him. But she wanders by the dreaded Borski Castle. She screams, and the scene ends.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

A Different Kind of Catwoman

Film: Cat People (1982)
Format: DVD from Manteno Public Library through interlibrary loan on the new portable.

When someone talks about the movie Cat People, I immediately go to the Val Lewton-produced film from the 1940s. It was made on the cheap, of course, and does all of its work with sound and shadow. It’s a surprisingly effective little thriller. It’s also remarkably sex-filled for a movie of that vintage. Essentially, the main character is scared to have sex because having sex will turn her into a panther. Naturally, forty years after the original we get a remake that touches on much of the same ideas but absolutely ramps up the sex. Cat People from 1982, it could be argued, exists specifically because Nastassja Kinski does full frontal.

Irena Gallier (Kinski) arrives in New Orleans at the behest of her brother Paul (Malcolm McDowell). The two have not seen each other in years, having been raised separately after the death of their parents. While Irena was raised in a series of foster homes, Paul was raised mainly in psych wards. He now lives in the Big Easy with his housekeeper (Ruby Dee), who is literally named “Female,” pronounced “fe-MAH-lee,” and perpetuating an ugly stereotype.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021


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

I wanted to like Tenet. I really did want to like it. The truth is that I didn’t hate Tenet, but I also don’t know that I fully understood it. That’s the major problem with this movie; it feels very much like Nolan made this as confusing as possible for the sake of being confusing. I know there were people who found Inception difficult to follow or confusing, but most people seemed to follow it pretty handily. Tenet feels like Nolan was getting paid by how many people he confused.

Tenet is a time travel story after a fashion. It’s not necessarily people going forward or backward in time to different eras. No, this is one of those Gordian knot movies that loops in on itself. People in the film aren’t traveling through time, but moving forward and backward in time, which is called being “inverted.” Knowing this, it will not be a shock to you that we’ll be watching several scenes more than once, one time in the “forward” direction and one inverted. It will also not be a shock that in several cases we will be following the same character both coming and going.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Between the Devil and the...

Film: Deep Blue Sea
Format: DVD from personal collection on basement television.

Ever since Jaws, directors and producers have tried to recapture that magic. Sharks are a natural choice for this because, as Hooper tells us in the 1975 classic, sharks are a miracle of evolution—all they do is swim, eat, and make baby sharks. Over and over, filmmakers have failed to make sharks as interesting as Spielberg did, but Renny Harlin tried in 1999 with Deep Blue Sea. This film is kind of a genre mash-up. It’s clearly a man vs. nature film with nature in the form of a trio of sharks, but it’s also a science gone wild film and has a lot of similarities with a haunted house movie as well.

Research scientists on an offshore floating laboratory are doing work with sharks to find a cure for (among other things) Alzheimer’s. Why sharks? Because, we are told, sharks are primordial creatures that don’t get cancer or terrible illnesses. Why Alzheimer’s? Because one of our lead scientists has a personal family grudge against the ailment. The problem is that one of the sharks got loose and had to be corralled, and now the really rich dude funding them (Samuel L. Jackson) is ready to pull the plug. Our scientist-in-charge, Dr. Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows) makes the case for needing 48 hours to get results. Our rich benefactor, in all of his Samuel L. Jackson glory, goes back to the lab with her to see what is going on.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

The Cycle of the Werewolf

Film: Silver Bullet
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on basement television.

Years ago, I read a lot of Stephen King. One of my brothers and one of my sisters were also King fans, and we used to trade books with each other. A new King comes out, someone gets it as a gift or just because and then passes it along. And so it goes. I did that with a lot of King books with them. The Cycle of the Werewolf was the loan exception. That one was mine and mine alone. Cycle was essentially a series of twelve short stories about a werewolf, one story per month. The werewolf manages to last a year, and the story is over at Christmas. It was a beautiful book, though, and illustrated by Bernie Wrightson. Not a shock that it was turned into a movie, albeit with the name changed to Silver Bullet.

The conceit of the book was that many of the months had full moons land on or around a specific holiday in that month—Valentine’s Day, Fourth of July, Halloween, etc, with everything winding up on Christmas. Moon cycles don’t work like that, of course, but it doesn’t really matter, and it was a fun way to look at each of the 12 chapters.

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.