Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fool's Views (3/15 – 3/21)

Greetings, troops!

See, this is what happens when I go without watching movies for weeks on end: the BINGE. Took in 19 movies in one week (plus 17 episodes of the Twilight Zone) and still felt like I could have done more. Anyone else out there relate to this condition?

You may also notice that the horror titles range entirely from the letters A to F. The reason for this is simple: Months ago, I had gone through my DVD collection, pulled titles to put on the “to-watch” shelf and have now committed myself to slashing my way through them. Happily, most of them were well worth the wait.

By the way, the "anthology horror double feature" was my assignment for the Kitley’s Krypt Army which, if you haven’t joined up for, you are definitely missing out. Go to and get in on the fun. NOW.

As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.


Alien Raiders (2008)
(1st viewing) d. Rock, Ben
Despite being saddled with a supremely silly and lackluster title (or perhaps because of it), this scrappy little sci-fi/horror flick is a hell of a lot better than one would expect. Borrowing and twisting a wealth of classic genre tropes (in particular John Carpenter’s The Thing), Rock’s film centers on a team of scientists-turned- assassination squad lay siege to a supermarket, hoping to quell a mutating parasitic uprising. Well shot, well acted, well played, well done – with the minor caveat that the “twist” ending isn’t much of one.

Angst (1983) (1st viewing) d. Kargl, Gerald
Amazingly ambitious cinematography and a mesmerizing central performance from Erwin Leder elevates this low-budget Austrian serial killer flick well beyond its slasher brethren. Preceding John MacNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer by three years, Kargl’s close-up identification with a recently released from prison psychopath is chilling, especially when the murder scenes do not go as planned. No teleporting masked psychos – here, things get authentically messy, clumsy and terrifying. Difficult to find on VHS or DVD, but relatively accessible via streaming links such as this one: Highly recommended.

Carrie (2002) (1st viewing) d. Carson, David
Having passed it by myself a million times on the video shelf before finally deciding to take the plunge, this TV-movie remake of Brian DePalma’s classic 1976 feature is not nearly the redundant or inferior experience one might anticipate. Angela Bettis is marvelous in the title role (her breakthrough role in Luckee McKee’s May was released the same year, making for one of the more impressive one-two punches in recent memory), bringing a palpable anger that feels so appropriate that one wonders why we didn’t see more of it from Sissy Spacek’s original wallflower. Equally impressive, Patricia Clarkson’s version of the religiously overbearing matriarch is more subdued than Piper Laurie’s histrionics, making her a villain with a soul rather than simply a tyrannical ogre. While it does feature some deplorable CGI effects and everything following the classic prom sequence goes more or less off the rails – significant changes were made to Stephen King’s original ending as producers were apparently angling for a TV series spin off (!) – it remains a relatively satisfying view and worth your time.

Dead Pit, The (1989) (2nd viewing) d. Leonard, Brett
With a decidedly manic Evil-Dead-meets-ReAnimator vibe crossed with expressionistic Italian-style lighting schemes, there’s a lot to like from this low budget/high energy zombie flick. The film sports creative gore f/x, zombie hordes and a leading lady (Cheryl Lawson) who spends a goodly portion of the movie running around in a crop-top and undies (her idea, as revealed in the DVD extras!). Ms. Lawson, it should be noted, is one of the few horror babes who bucks the trend of stick girls with boobs – she’s got some meat on her bones and looks mighty fine, especially when being hosed down during a nightmare sequence. Nicely done.

Don't Deliver Us from Evil (1971) (1st viewing) d. Séria, Joël
French parochial horror more effective in its concept – a pair of rebellious young Catholic girls consistently play at being sinful, ultimately trapping themselves into actually being sinful – than in its execution. While undeniably well-shot and performed, it plays much more like a drama than a horror feature and only really delivers with its jaw-dropping pageant finale. Felt like I should have appreciated it more than I did, considering its high regard amidst the community, but it just didn’t do it for me.

Jaws (1975) (5th viewing) d. Spielberg, Steven
From its harrowing opening sequence to its breathtaking climax, Spielberg’s hugely successful masterpiece of suspense scared audiences out of the water and into theaters in record-breaking numbers. The plot itself is simplicity enough: The locals of the northeastern island town of Amity start turning up as fish food when an enormous great white shark materializes, leaving fear and body parts in its wake. Armed with a top-notch cast of Roy Scheider as the local sheriff with a healthy fear of water, Richard Dreyfuss as a feisty oceanic expert, and the brilliant Robert Shaw as the gnarled shark hunter Quint, there is nary a wasted onscreen moment. By focusing equally between its engaging, likable human protagonists and the monster’s mayhem, a modern horror classic emerged that still holds up 35 years later. One would be remiss to not mention John Williams’ Oscar-winning score, one of the most famous in screen history.

Flavia the Heretic (1974) (1st viewing) d. Mingozzi, Gianfranco
An intriguing mix of historical drama, exploitation and feminist political diatribe, Mingozzi’s effort is frequently lumped into the “nunsploitation” subgenre. However, there is a lot more going on narrative-wise than one would expect, which may surprise and/or frustrate some viewers. While there is gore, it is primarily presented in a realistic, dramatically resonant fashion (though the flaying scene at the end is so realistic one cannot help being impressed with the effect) – likewise, the scenes of rape and torture are handled with genuine sympathy for the victims, leaving the viewer troubled rather titillated. Florinda Balkin (of Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling fame) is terrific as the titular protagonist, with the film well worth watching for her turn alone.

Flesh Eaters, The (1964) (1st viewing) d. Curtis, Jack
Looking every inch an average Corman sci-fi cheapie on the surface, director Curtis nonetheless delivers quality kitsch entertainment thanks in no small part to Arnold Drake’s surprisingly sassy dialogue and Roy Benson’s imaginative, low-tech special effects. Island-dwelling creepy scientist Martin Kosleck (co-star of Universal’s Rondo Hatton vehicle House of Horrors) develops a microscopic flesh-devouring parasite, which subsequently takes to stripping a crew of trapped shipwreck victims of their soft nibbly bits. And a big rubber monster shows up in the final reel – what’s not to like? Euro-cult and occasional hardcore director Radley Metzger performed editing duties.

Dead of Night (1977)
(1st viewing) d. Curtis, Dan
Director/producer Curtis re-teams with scribe Richard Matheson in an attempt to recreate the success of their 1975 anthology Trilogy of Terror. However, much like their previous effort's Prey (aka "the Tiki Doll episode), it is only the final chapter, "Bobby" (a variation on the classic "Monkey's Paw" story), that really registers in the memory banks. The preceding two stories - one concerning Ed Begley, Jr.'s fascination with a time-traveling car, the other showcasing Patrick Macnee as he attempts to prove the existence of vampires to a doubting friend – are capable if undistinguished.

Fear(s) of the Dark (2007) (1st viewing) d. Various
French animated anthology flick (how's that for a sub-sub-subgenre?) with six stories...only three of which really work. Charles Burns' nightmarish depiction of an insect-lover's ill-fated romance is easily the cream of the crop, with Blutch's effort (the 18th century guy with the dogs) and Richard McGuire's final chapter about a man trapped in a house during a snowstorm not far behind. But the pseudo-anime piece never quite makes it - ditto the killer crocodile chapter. And the less said about the interstitial shifting shapes with existential voiceover whinings, the better. All in all, a very mixed bag.

Blast of Silence (1961)
(1st viewing) d. Baron, Allen
Portrait of a low-grade, low-class sociopathic hit man whom love might have saved…if he could only love. With its stark black and white photography and audaciously robust voice-over narration, writer/director/star Baron seems determined to push noir trappings to their breaking point – a delicate balancing act that succeeds in never crossing the line into camp. Rough-edged, but thrillingly so.

Electra Glide in Blue (1973) (1st viewing) d. Guericio, James, William
Robert Blake is superb as an Arizona motorcycle cop with aspirations toward a detective’s shield. When a local old tramp apparently commits suicide, the diminutive law enforcement officer seizes the opportunity to investigate further, determined to solve a murder case. Guericio’s script, emphasizing idiosyncratic characterization over action, along with its downbeat ending, is independent 70s cinema at its textbook finest.

Five (1951) (1st viewing) d. Oboler, Arch
Significant for being the first serious cinematic representation of a world decivilized by nuclear war, Oboler (creator of the classic radio drama Lights Out) holds a stark mirror up to society and the results aren’t pretty. Unfortunately, like On the Beach and other post-apocalyptic dramas to follow (including last year’s The Road), it’s almost too much of a bummer to qualify as “entertainment.”

Karate Kid, The (1984) (4th viewing) d. Avildsen, John G.
A few observations from my first revisit in over 20 years: 1) Ralph Macchio’s teen idol status never struck me as truly odd until I witnessed just how annoying he is here. (Authentically high school, but annoying as hell.) 2) The late Pat Morita, on the other hand, is sublime as the aging Okinawan karate master who schools young Daniel-san – good on the Academy for noticing and giving him an Oscar nod. 3) The 80s song score is awful on an epic level, with “The Best Around” given a passing grade for sheer nostalgia’s sake. 4) Has a movie’s climax ever felt so rushed nor so reminiscent of the original Rocky (which Avildsen also directed)? Seriously, the credits are rolling 45 seconds after the classic crane kick is delivered, with a freeze-frame on Morita’s smiling face. 5) Did we really need the rich girl/poor boy subplot? Feels really superficial and tacked on. 6) Elizabeth Shue remains too cute for words. 7) The guy who yells, “Bring him a body bag!” deserves his own movie.

Moon (2009) (1st viewing) d. Jones, Duncan
Sam Rockwell, Sam Rockwell, and Sam Rockwell star in this should-have-gotten-more-press sci-fi epic, perhaps the most intelligent and thought-provoking cinematic response yet to its obvious 40-year-old precursor, 2001: A Space Odyssey. To say more would be to rob any viewer of the joy of discovery on their own – just see it.

Notorious Bettie Page, The (2005) (1st viewing) d. Harron, Mary
Gretchen Mol was supposed to be the next big thing way back when she co-starred with Matt Damon and Edward Norton in Rounders. Her charming turn here as the smarter-than-she-seems, wholesomely-naughty ’50s pin-up queen should have signaled her comeback and/or true arrival, but as we’ve not seen much of her lately, I fear she may be lost to us. While we don’t get to really know much more about Page as a person, Mol comes very close to capturing the icon’s indefinable mix of innocence and decadence.


Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974 (2009) (1st viewing) d. Jarrold, Julian
Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1980 (2009) (1st viewing) d. Marsh, James
Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1983 (2009) (1st viewing) d. Tucker, Anand
Epic three-film series following events in and around the police force in northern England before, during and after the “Yorkshire Ripper” slayings of the early 80s. The great ensemble, including Sean Bean, Paddy Considine, Andrew Garfield, Peter Mullan, Mark Addy and David Morrissey all get their deserved moments in the sun and shine they do. Having not read David Peace’s four novels upon which Tony Grisoni’s screenplay(s) are based, I can only guess to their faithfulness, but there is a distinct feeling of authenticity throughout. Which unfortunately makes the final reel of RR:1983 all the more disappointing – after investing over five hours with these characters and situations, viewers deserved far better than the rushed, clichéd, convenient and mawkish ending provided. Seriously, having watched all three in one sitting, the climax feels like a true, pardon the expression, cop-out. (For the record, if I had to choose a favorite of the three, it would be RR:1980.)

2010 Totals to date: 63 films, 55 1st time views, 29 horrors, 7 cinema

TV: The Twilight Zone – 17 episodes (45 total for 2010)


  1. Making up for lost time, eh? I only saw nine films in the same time-frame, but that's because I'm able to pace myself. (Of the films I saw, the ones that would probably be of the most interest to you are John Boorman's The Tiger's Tail, which deserves much better than its direct-to-video burial, Sydney Pollack's The Yakuza, with its meaty script by Paul Schrader and Robert Towne, and Peter Medak's The Changeling, which I'm sure you're no stranger to.)

    As for your civilian selections, I would like to echo what you said about Moon. Definitely one of the best films I saw last year. And Blast of Silence was an unexpected gem. Now if only The Red Riding Trilogy had seen fit to play anywhere near me...

  2. You know it! Although, it's less about pacing myself and more about the fact that with the amount of time I've been spending out of town (without access to the DVD player) these days. Gotta feast while the food's on the table, y'know?

    I'm interested in both the Boorman and Pollack films you mentioned, and yeah *love* THE CHANGELING. Cool spooky PG ghost story.

    I highly recommend both ALIEN RAIDERS and THE FLESH EATERS to satisfy your low-budget sci-fi yen, both old and new. Neither are *great* movies, but they're fun thrills on a dime.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Sorry about that. Found an error in my comment and figured I'd delete it and re-post.

    Anyway, speaking of Alien [Something] movies of recent vintage, one of my last acquisitions (which I haven't gotten around to watching yet) is a film called Alien Trespass, which had a brief run in theaters last year and is apparently a spot-on approximation of a '50s "alien invasion" movie (but without the self-conscious winking to the camera of, say, Lost Skeleton of Cadavra). It got mixed reviews, but I'm still curious to see how it turned out. I'll let you know when I do.

  5. Ha! ALIEN TRESPASS is what I *thought* I was going to be watching when I threw in ALIEN RAIDERS. Glad it turned out to be as enjoyable as it was. I still need to see AT, as I've heard good stuff about it.