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.