Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fool's Views (9/17 – 9/23)

Howdy, lords and ladies,

Keeping this short, as I actually have a pile of films that I’d like to knock out before the October Challenge kicks into full gear next month – a mere 7 days away. Suffice to say, I had to settle for the mere essentials: completing my monthly Kryptic Army assignment and polishing off a few more of the Danny Peary flicks I brought with me to West Virginia. Oh, I had such intentions of drowning myself in civilian cinematic bliss during September, but other, slightly loftier plans have since emerged from the creative ether and they’ve been keeping me busy in between Crucible rehearsals at Greenbrier Valley Theatre. More on that in future installments – oh, yes, you will be hearing about them.

In the meantime, don’t forget to leave us your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.



Army of Darkness (1992) (3rd viewing) d. Raimi, Sam (USA)

I must admit that this third installment in the Evil Dead trilogy never really hit my sweet spot, too preoccupied with doling out one-liners to star Bruce Campbell and parading puppet soldiers across the landscape to manage anything nearly as genuinely inspired as its predecessors. Sure, there are some moments of charm, such as the battle with the pit hag, the riddle of the three Necronomicons and, in spite of dodgy effects, the horde of miniature Ash assailants laying siege to their oversized doppelganger. In expanding the Dead-ite universe (and its budget) beyond the cabin in the woods, Raimi manages to tell a new story in a different way, and it’s fascinating how each of the trio of films appeals to a different audience – a horror litmus test, if you will. (In case you were wondering, my favorite used to be the slapsticky second installment, but my appreciation for the first has grown exponentially over the years and it now reigns supreme.)


Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957) (1st viewing) d. Ulmer, Edgar G. (USA)

Betrothed lovebirds Gloria Talbott and John Agar visit her guardian Arthur Shields to tell of their upcoming marriage, but it turns out that he has a surprise in store for them as well. Seems that the bride-to-be is actually the descendant of the notorious Dr. Jekyll, although Stevenson’s source material has been tweaked more than a little – instead of mysterious elixirs, the good doctor’s alter ego is nothing short of a werewolf, complete with the full moon’s transformative effects. Sure enough, the first night that Talbott spends under the old roof, she is plagued by homicidal nightmares awakens with blood on her hands and dirt between her toes. Can it be the family curse has struck again? Very much a low budget programmer, but the always interesting Ulmer manages to spin a few straw segments into gold, particularly the dream and monster change-o sequences, the latter of which hark back to the groundbreaking in-camera effects from the Fredric March-starring 1932 version. Juvenile but fun.

Son of Dracula (1974) (1st viewing) d. Francis, Freddie (UK)

Ringo Starr co-produced this not particularly silly nor scary musical sequel to the Stoker classic. On the 100th anniversary of the death of the grand old bloodsucker (depicted in an intriguing opening sequence that shows Dracula off as a bald, clawed Nosferatu-like monster), undead offspring Harry Nilsson is poised to take his place as the supreme leader of the underworld. Only problem is he’s more inclined to pound the piano keys and romance lovely Suzanna Leigh than dive into a vein. As “Count Downe,” Nilsson seems to be in a catatonic stupor throughout most of his dramatic scenes, only coming alive during the bizarre, barely justified musical numbers. (“I like music” is pretty much as close as we get to an explanation for the Count’s spontaneous rock proclivities.) Starr is his usual avuncular self, buried beneath a giant white wig and beard as the old Arthurian wizard Merlin (don’t ask), though he’s pretty much the straight man here. Old pros Freddie Francis and Dennis Price seem to enjoy nibbling the scenery in their supporting roles, as power-hungry Baron Frankenstein and sage alchemist Van Helsing respectively. A curiosity to be sure, with a few memorable Nilsson Schmilsson musical numbers (“Without You,” “Down,” “Jump into the Fire”) with the singer backed by an impressive array of musicians including Peter Frampton, Keith Moon, John Bonham, Leon Russell and others, but ultimately its relatively forgotten status seems perfectly justified.


Crucible, The (1996) (2nd viewing) d. Hytner, Nicholas (USA)

In adapting his classic American stage drama – ostensibly about the Salem witch trials but allegorically to address the HUAC communist red scare of the 50s – for the screen, Arthur Miller splinters his compact and powerful dramatic scenes into scores of smaller, geographically varied sequences in an attempt to “open up” the piece. This approach, unfortunately, dissipates the power of the play by literalizing many offstage moments (the opening dance ritual, Giles Corey’s tragic fate, etc.), and the dramatist also makes some bewildering alterations to his characters’ dialogue, stripping the richness of the language. Hytner also seems intent on heading off any criticisms of the piece’s “two planks and a passion” origins, so preoccupied is he with whirling tracking shots and bizarre camera angles that he loses sight of the claustrophobic elements that make the play work. It’s not a total disaster and the performances by an all-star cast featuring Daniel Day-Lewis, Joan Allen, Winona Ryder, Paul Scofield, Bruce Davison, Jeffrey Jones, and George Gaynes are entirely watchable. But those who’ve seen the drama in its true environment cannot deny the hollowness the change in medium brings.


Burn! (1969) (1st viewing) d. Pontecorvo, Gillo (Italy)

Marlon Brando stars as a professional English mercenary charged with aiding a revolt of the black slaves against their Portuguese leaders in the Carribean Antilles. Of course, once the Portuguese are overthrown the English find their new leaders to be not as cooperative as they’d hoped over the ensuing years, and so Brando is recruited again to destroy the very rebellion he helped start in the first place. Not hard to see the Vietnam parallels – or the Iraqui or the Afghanistan or the (fill in the blank) – here, and the message is still as resonant now as it was 40-odd years ago. History will teach us nothing.

Shooting, The (1966) (1st viewing) d. Helleman, Monte (USA)

Breathtaking in its spare plot and character exposition, this brazenly independent Western throws together taciturn former bounty hunter Warren Oates, his good-natured if lunkheaded sidekick Will Hutchins, mysterious and strong-willed female Millie Perkins and cold blooded assassin Jack Nicholson (who also co-produced with Helleman) and lets them fry together under the desert sun. The viewer’s curiosity and frustration is mirrored by Oates’, who accepts Perkins’ lucrative offer to lead her through the mountains to a distant town but answers and information prove continuously elusive and increasingly dangerous. Absolutely worth tracking down.

Woman in the Dunes (1964) (1st viewing) d. Teshigahara, Hiroshi (Japan)

An amateur etymologist (Eiji Okada) is stranded in a deep sand pit with a lonely widow (Kyoko Kishida), performing the endless and inexplicable task of digging out buckets of sand for their inscrutable masters. An absolute stunner from start to finish, Toru Takemitsu’s stinging musical score punctuating Teshigahara’s meticulously crafted black and white imagery. The biggest shock was that I had never heard of the film before, in spite of its being nominated for Best Foreign Film in 1964 (and its director being nominated a year later for Best Director for the same feature – surely an Oscar first, though I have yet to confirm this). A film clearly in need of rediscovery by a new generation.

2012 Totals to date: 426 films, 367 1st time views, 225 horror, 156 cinema

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

[REC]3: GENESIS (2012) movie review

[Rec]3: Genesis (2012) (1st viewing) d. Plaza, Paco (Spain)

The most refreshing thing about this third [Rec] installment is that co-creator Plaza seems to be as tired of the “found footage” trend as the rest of the horror crowd (this in spite of being partially responsible for two of the strongest handheld entries thus far). And so, after setting up a justifiable premise for recording the mayhem to come – the action takes place at a wedding, with a professional and an amateur cameraman on hand – he abandons the concept shortly after the proverbial excrement hits the fan. Thereby answering the one question that always plagues the milieu, “Why are they still shooting?” with the ballsy reply, “They wouldn’t. I’ll take it from here.” Plaza understands his audience, knows what they will accept, and this proves to be his secret weapon throughout.

Following this abrupt but welcome shift in POV, the writer/director delivers an enjoyable and suspenseful horde movie, with undead/infected wedding guests chasing down their fellow revelers with splattery results. The noble groom and plucky bride (Diego Martin, Letecia Dolera), separated during the initial confusion, spend the rest of the feature finding their way back to one another – it’s again to Plaza’s credit that when things start sliding into the realm of the fanciful, he simply embraces the silliness, knowing that there’s never a wrong time to introduce a chainsaw into the proceedings. All the performances are energetic without edging into camp, and Dolera makes for a lovely and spirited heroine. I’m unsure as to whether this is intended to be an origin story for the first two films – the title would seem to indicate so, but the onscreen action doesn’t exactly bear this out and my memory isn’t clear enough on its predecessors to pick up on potential references. But when you’re having this much fun, who cares? Three for three, boys!

Fool's Views (9/2 – 9/16)

Howdy troops,

Greetings once again from the wild and wicked woods of the dark forest, where Fall and Summer actively battle for superiority, with the latter slowly losing ground. Kids are heading back to school, yellowing leaves are softly plummeting, the days are growing shorter and rehearsals for Greenbrier Valley Theatre's production of The Crucible are well underway. Meanwhile, in the Doc’s office, we’re loading up on civilian fare in preparation for the regularly scheduled October onslaught (our lone scare pic being an impromptu screening of the latest [Rec] film at HorrorHound Weekend Indianapolis after the Game of Werewolves Blu-Ray experienced technical difficulties).

Even though the chills weren’t as prominent over the past two weeks, we whacked out a septet of winners, including a trifecta featured in Danny Peary’s Cult Movies books. Over the past decade or so, I’ve been steadily whittling away at the 200 highlighted movies and, shameless completist that I am, the aim is to knock out another dozen or so before the month is out. (My pal Craig J. Clark has followed a similar trajectory over the years; visit his LiveJournal blog and type in the search word “cult movies” to sample his eminently readable musings. You won’t be sorry you did.)

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


Monday, September 17, 2012

STOP ME BEFORE I KILL (1960) movie review

Stop Me Before I Kill! (1960) (1st viewing) d. Guest, Val (UK)

This early Hammer's b/w thriller centers on Ronald Lewis' (Mr. Sardonicus, Scream of Fear) race car driver who, after suffering a near-fatal crash, finds himself entertaining murderous impulses toward his fetching new wife. Guest's spirited direction is commendable; ditto Diane Cilento's (The Wicker Man) lively French-accented turn as Lewis' devoted if increasingly frustrated bride. But the whole thing takes WAY too long to get where it's going (at 107 minutes, it's one of the longest Hammer films out there; apparently the original UK cut is a full 120), especially considering the "twist" is telegraphed miles and miles ahead such that only those who dozed off halfway through would be surprised by the outcome.

FOUR SIDED TRIANGLE (1953) movie review

Four Sided Triangle (1953) d. Fisher, Terence (UK)

Surprisingly underrated pre-Quatermass Xperiment sci-fi effort from Hammer and its most prolific director concerns itself with two young scientists (Stephen Murray, John Van Eyssen) who collaborate on a fantastic new invention – a device that can replicate simply anything. (I absolutely loved the simplicity of this fanciful notion, hearkening back to a more innocent era of sci-fi when you could chalk up pretty much anything to this mystical thing called SCIENCE.) This astonishing innovation also provides an interesting solution to an ancillary problem between the two brainiacs: they're in love with the same woman (Barbara Payton). With her affections blowing Van Eyssen's way, Murray decides to reproduce his l'amour, which his succeeds in doing… with unexpected side effects. Certainly a trifle, but interesting enough to merit your attention. (If Van Eyssen seems familiar, it's probably from his turn as Jonathan Harker in 1958'S Horror of Dracula.)

THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012) movie review

Woman in Black, The (2012) d. Watkins, James (UK)

Hammer’s latest offering envisions Daniel ("don't call me Harry") Radcliffe’s legal beagle as an epically grieving widower (which works quite well considering the cloud of death and pain that hangs over the Crythin village populace), and the hostility he encounters from both the locals and the estate’s long-dead vengeful spirits only increases our empathy toward him. Screenwriter Jane Goldman offers a worthy riff on Susan Hill's novel, complemented by director Watkins’ solid atmospheric work, although the most effective moments are not the ones seemingly designed to appease a modern day audience (now you see ‘em now you don’t CGI ghosts, big aural jump scares) but the "classic" slow burn spooking sequences (gazing down long hallways, silent climbs up and down foreboding staircases). Ultimately, I admired the period effort more than loved it, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. Is it likely to leave lasting memories and have you looking under the bed? Probably not, but it's among the better studio-based genre efforts and ranks just below Let Me In and Wake Wood as far as Hammer's recent output. (I'd rank them 3 for 4, with The Resident being the only true disappointment under Simon Oakes 21st century stewardship.)

THE WOMAN IN BLACK (1989) movie review

Woman in Black, The (1989) d. Wise, Herbert (UK)

BBC version of Susan Hill’s engrossing ghost story follows Adrian Rawlins’ young, family-man solicitor called to handle the legalities of a recently deceased mansion owner in a remote English village. Upon arriving, he finds himself uncovering far deeper mysteries and secrets, ones that seem to link the hamlet residents’ tragic rash of children’s deaths with the vengeful spirits populating the mansion's shadowy confines. But the real magic is accomplished via the haunting spectral presence of Pauline Moran’s titular character – her fierce, hate-twisted visage providing more bona-fide chills than any number of computer-generated century phantoms. (The truly terrifying scene where she visits Rawlins in bed is worth the price of admission alone.) Thanks to solid performances, a superb adaptation by the legendary Nigel Kneale and Wise’s crisp direction on a presumably meager budget, this is one of the most underrated cinematic ghost stories out there, though the recent Hammer effort will hopefully raise some awareness.

ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968) movie review

Rosemary’s Baby (1968) d. Polanski, Roman (USA)

The blockbuster adaption of Ira Levin’s bestselling occult novel still maintains its punch 44 years after its initial release, but what struck me on this most recent viewing was just how easily it could have become just another schlocky “fun” horror film in the hands of producer William Castle. Having acquired the rights to Levin’s story, everyone’s favorite celluloid showman had hoped for this to be his entryway into directing studio-funded A-films, but Paramount head honcho Robert Evans instead gave the reins to hot new European import Polanski.

Obviously, this proved to be a wise decision as the young auteur proceeded to imbue the outlandish story – Mia Farrow’s young expectant mother’s growing paranoia of a conspiracy surrounding her unborn child – with a grounded, soap opera realism, subverting expectations of genre without sacrificing an iota of tension or dread. Ruth Gordon won the Supporting Actress Oscar for her slyly fussy turn as Farrow and husband John Cassavetes’ intrusive neighbor, with able support from Ralph Bellamy, Sidney Blackmer, Maurice Evans, Elisha Cook, Jr., Hammer’s dinosaur-lovin’ glamour gal Victoria Vetri and baby-faced Charles Grodin in his first major screen appearance. Watch (and listen) closely for cameos by Castle and Tony Curtis.

CHRONICLE (2012) movie review


Chronicle (2012)
d. Trank, Josh (USA)

I know it’s early in the year, but this sci-fi winner has already emerged as one of the most pleasant surprises of 2012 and it’s clear by its box office superiority over the higher-profile Woman in Black redux that I’m not alone in my appreciation. The story is fairly standard stuff – three teens encounter a strange vessel interred deep below the ground and subsequently find themselves endowed with ever-increasing telekinetic powers – but it is director Trank’s handling of Max Landis’ material that surprises time and again with its emotional heft and legitimacy. The “found footage” angle requires substantial suspension of disbelief (and also seems to be abandoned completely in the final reel), but the performances by the trio of young performers (Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan) and the fantastic subject matter eases the load considerably.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

NAILBITER (2012) movie review

Nailbiter (2012)
d. Rea, Patrick

A family of women (mother and three daughters) is forced to take refuge in a storm cellar as a wicked tornado descends; they survive the natural disaster from above, but find themselves trapped below with a mysterious, bloodthirsty something. Sadly, this terrific high-concept premise well-served by excellent production design and cinematography is undone by illogic run wild and characters that run out of juice and thesping skill about halfway through. Deserved props to co-writers Rea and Kendal Sinn for the twist on the old lycanthrope full-moon mythos, but it would have been nice for him to flesh it out a bit more. (The group I saw it with seemed to be left with a sense of, “now, what exactly happened?”)

RAGE (2010) movie review

Rage (2010) d. Witherspoon, Chris

When philandering novelist Rick Crawford snatches the parking spot of a masked motorcyclist, it sparks an ever-escalating asphalt-based jousting match. Writer/director/editor/cinematographer/co-star Witherspoon whips up a pretty terrific riff on Steven Spielberg’s Duel, but sabotages himself, first by having a minor character literally reference the film out loud (come ON, Chris) and then taking the show off the road for a home invasion/rape sequence that feels needlessly cruel as well as gratuitous. Even so, I’ll be happy to see what future tricks Witherspoon has up his sleeve, as he clearly knows how to navigate the high tension ropes.

THE WORLD, THE FLESH AND THE DEVIL (1959) movie review

World, the Flesh and the Devil, The (1959) d. MacDougall, Ranald

Harry Belafonte stars as a mine worker who, thanks to a freak cave-in, is spared the fate of an atomic holocaust that wipes out 99.9% of the world’s population. When he finally emerges, he sets up camp in Manhattan, avoiding madness through industry, but of course things get more complicated when he discovers comely 20-year-old Inger Stevens; even more so once lascivious sailor Mel Ferrer sails into port. Unfortunately, in spite of the effective use of deserted metropolitan locations, Harold J. Marzorati’s stark black and white cinematography, Miklos Rosza’s evocative music score and the trio’s capable performances, the film (based on M.P. Sheil’s novel) lacks a much-needed dramatic urgency while the melodramatic love triangle rings particularly pulpy. (Roger Corman and screenwriter Robert Towne cribbed the basic plotline for their 1960 quickie The Last Woman on Earth at a fraction of the price.)

DEATH STOP HOLOCAUST (2009) movie review

Death Stop Holocaust (2009) (1st viewing) d. Russell, Justin

The debut feature from writer/director Russell, whose 80s slasher homage follow-up, The Sleeper, is currently making big waves in the festival and home video markets. The Ohio auteur is proving himself an adept purveyor of style, as he perfectly captures the 80s Italian vibe when they moved from giallos to full-on spaghetti slashers. Sadly, the giddy mozzarella energy peters out about a half hour in, leaving us with a rather standard, torture-centric “gritty” indie flick that goes on much longer than it should. (The weak performances from the non-professional cast prove especially grating when we’re expected to empathize with them.) Even so, there are glimpses of promise here – Russell’s animal-mask wearing antagonists are memorable, and the sloppy gore scenes often impress. I’ll chalk this up in the “loss” column for now, but I’d keep my eye on this guy – I think we’ll be hearing good things about him down the road.

BLOOD RIVER (2009) movie review

Blood River (2009) d. Mason, Adam

I was one of the few who genuinely appreciated Mason’s 2006 two-hander Broken, as it managed to pull off the difficult task of “torture porn with a point.” I’d been curious what he’d been up to, but in looking at his filmography, I’m the one who’s been slacking, as he’s cranked out four films since then with a fifth in post-production as we speak. Again employing a small ensemble, Blood River starts off on a very promising path: a husband and wife (Ian Duncan, Tess Panzer) traveling across the southwest encounter Andrew Howard’s mysterious charismatic drifter en route. But what seems to be a simple cautionary tale about not talking to strangers evolves into something far more mystical and/or metaphysical – it’s just too bad that Mason and co-screenwriter Simon Boyes aren’t willing to be a little less obtuse in revealing just what the hell is going on.

Truthfully, this probably should have been about 20 minutes shorter because it travels the same ground over and over, with characters hitting the same histrionic notes until they lose their potency, and when the big reveal is no reveal at all, the viewer can have two reactions: They can say, “oh, wow, man, I didn’t get it so it must be really deep, man…” or they can say, “Um, **** you, pal.” There’s no denying the strength of the performances (Howard is the poor man’s Michael Rooker, and that’s meant as a compliment), the terrific cinematography or the compelling nature of the first half of the film – Mason just needed to deliver more steak with all that sizzle.

BLOOD BATH (1966) movie review

Blood Bath (1966) d. Hill, Jack/Rothman, Stephanie

Like several other Corman quickies, the story behind this b/w flick is more interesting than the muddled one that unfolds before us. Apparently writer/director Hill was fired by exec producer Roger Corman midway through the shoot, whereupon Rothman took over. (It’s not readily apparent who shot which parts, especially since footage from a Yugoslavian film, Portrait in Terror, was also employed.) William Campbell stars as a tortured artist who believes himself to be a vampire, so much so that he runs around murdering young lasses to appease this fantasy. On the other hand, the question is whether it really is a fantasy, since we see him fang out on several occasions. On the other other hand, the question is who really cares? The whole thing only takes an hour, but I’ll be darned if I didn’t keep nodding off and having to rewind. I’m not sure if the Netflix streaming print is wonky or what, but the opening couple reels are shot in this weird jerky style that is surprisingly atmospheric at times. There’s a pretty nifty swimming pool attack, you get to see Jack Nicholson’s ex-wife Sandra Knight as the pretty young damsel in distress, Little Shop of Horrors’ Jonathan Haze, and a youngish Sid Haig (with hair). Other than that, it’s pretty slim pickings.

KILL LIST (2011) movie review

Kill List (2011) d. Wheatley, Ben

A wild little Brit flick, one that takes one of the more extraordinary third-act left turns in recent memory – even though the actions are more or less justified, you’ll never see it coming. Needing to pay the bills, hit man Neil Maskell comes out of his shell-shocked semi-retirement for a new assignment that proves to be a dark Pandora’s box that threatens to consume him completely. The viewer is immediately drawn into Maskell’s plight and presenting the assassin as a regular family guy with everyday problems (paying the rent, arguing with the wife, picking up their kid from school) allows us to connect with our protagonist in spite of the thick accents and frequent emotional outbursts. The doughy-faced actor is not a typical badass, which is why when his violent side explodes to the surface – which it does in several vivid blood-soaked sequences – it proves doubly shocking. While the WTF factor of the last reel may alienate some, director/co-writer Wheatley has earned our respect to that point and there’s no denying its bold narrative gutpunch. Recommended.

DOLLS (1987) movie review


Dolls (1987) d. Stuart Gordon (USA)

“They Walk. They Talk. They Kill.” Following the success of Re-Animator, Gordon’s second directorial feature shot for Full Moon (though released a year after From Beyond due to the extensive post-production special effects work) was this dark fairy tale of murderous children’s playthings combined with the “motley crew of rain-drenched travelers taking refuge in old dark house” horror staple. While her parents (Carolyn Purdy-Jones, Ian Patrick Williams) are portrayed as over-the-top unfeeling monsters, little Judy (Carrie Lorraine) provides one of the few sympathetic turns as the plucky youngster who appeals to the kindly, mysterious dollmakers (Guy Rolfe and Hillary Mason) who reside therein.

BLACK ROSES (1988) movie review

Black Roses (1988) (1st viewing) d. Fasano, John

One of a slew of ’80s rock n’ roll/horror features released in the latter half of the decade (none of which particularly lucrative, artistically or financially speaking), but there’s enough goofy charm and insane wardrobe choices to keep kitsch-loving viewers occupied. When the titular “bad boy” band rolls into the sleepy town of Mill Basin to launch their new album, the kids rally against their stodgy elders in support of their sonic messiahs, inadvertently falling under the group’s dark spell. Before long, the little burg’s youth are turning into hairsprayed, leather-clad, sex-obsessed murder machines, offing their parents and authority figures with wild abandon.

Oddly enough, the reason this fell off the “I’ll get that sometime” shelf into the player was that it represents one of Creature from the Black Lagoon star Julie (Julia) Adams’ very few other genre credits (even though she only briefly appears at the beginning as one of the teen’s moms and then disappears for the rest of the film) and I wanted to be able to ask her about it during the HorrorHound Weekend festivities. There’s some fun monster action, horrible pop rock tunes masquerading as heavy metal, the occasional glimmer of no-name female nudity, and a smattering of cheesy gory goodness. It’s not good, per se, but it ain’t boring.

THE BIRDS (1963) movie review


Birds, The (1963)
d. Hitchcock, Alfred

Following Tippi Hedren’s appearance at HHW (and discovering that my lovely femalien had never seen the former starlet’s most famous film), it was pretty much a no-brainer to program this classic, groundbreaking “nature strikes back” epic. Once again, we see what separates the Master of Suspense from the rest of the clubhouse – instead of a standard programmer about flocks of killer birds, Hitch spends the first hour developing Hedren and Rod Taylor’s engaging characters, as well as the impressive supporting cast, with only a single aviary attack toward the peak of said hour. When the unrelenting feathered mayhem finally explodes, we are deeply invested in the fate of the residents of Bodega Bay, the tension accented by the extraordinary visual effects and the lack of any background musical score. Another magic trick is while we never learn what sparks our winged friends’ rebellion, this proves more ominous than frustrating, more chilling than cop-out. An undeniable high point in the annals of eco-horror. Based on Daphne du Maurier's short story.

THE CLUB (1994) movie review

The Club (1994)
d. Brenton Spencer

During their high school prom, six diverse students and a lecherous teacher find themselves cast into a nightmare dream world where they are subjected to demonic mirth and menace in this relatively obscure ’90s offering. Screenwriter Robert C. Cooper weaves an engaging if not wholly original Breakfast Club meets Night of the Demons comedy/horror scenario, populated by Spencer’s not-bad cast (which includes a younger Rescue Me’s Andrea Roth and an older A Christmas Story’s Zack Ward) and veteran Brock Jolliffe’s intriguing array of special effects. Expectations for a flick of this sort to challenge one’s intellect are low; even so, a more satisfying narrative and conclusion would have been appreciated. As it stands, Cooper and Spencer don’t really offer more than a parade of flashy, forgettable visual set-pieces.

HAUNTED (1995) movie review

Haunted (1995) d. Gilbert, Lewis

Aidan Quinn stars as a 1920s English college professor moonlighting as a charlatan-busting paranormal skeptic. Beckoned to allay the spectral fears of an aging country spinster, he finds himself embroiled in Kate Beckinsale’s bizarre incestuous family dynamic alongside his own troubled childhood memories. This is a handsomely mounted haunted house tale, with ample amounts of sexual tension and ghostly imagery to go around. It should be noted, however, Gilbert tips his hand a few too many times as to the true nature of the situation, such that the climactic reveal is foreshadowed approximately halfway through. To keep us distracted/occupied, there’s a healthy amount of sexy skin on display, although the majority of it appears to be courtesy of body doubles (whose faces are even seen at a couple points! Um, what’s the point, guys?). Not an unsung classic, but worth your while. Based on James Herbert’s novel.

HUNTER'S BLOOD (1986) movie review

Hunter's Blood (1986) d. Hughes, Robert C.

Cut from the same “city folks vs. the vicious locals” cloth as Deliverance, Southern Comfort and Rituals (although using a much duller pair of shears), this schlocky violent survival yarn – based on Jere Cunningham’s novel – pits weekend warriors Timothy Bottoms, Clu Gulager and Ken Swofford against a nasty band of backwoods bad boys led by Billy Drago, Bruce Glover, Lee de Broux and, in his film debut, Billy Bob Thornton. Played exclusively for cheap thrills and gory gags (including a wow of a shotgun-meets-face splatter moment), Hughes’ flick doesn’t prompt the same Vietnam allegory discussions as its elder, wiser brethren, but still has its own sleazy, low-grade charm. Kim Delaney puts in an early film appearance as Bottoms’ blushing bride.

RABID GRANNIES (1988) movie review

Rabid Grannies (1988) d. Kervyn, Emmanuel

From the land of beer, chocolate and waffles comes this enthusiastically low-budget high thrills effort from Belgian writer/director Kervyn, whose whirling dervish cinematography and multicolored grue gags serve as the European counterpart to Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson’s early efforts. A bevy of greedy family members descend upon their aged aunts’ remote country estate to celebrate their birthday (and to stay in their good graces come inheritance time), with one branch of the family tree sending a mysterious box in his stead. Said gift contains an evil misty presence that transforms the old biddy duo into a pair of wrinkled, red, fanged and clawed demons who then proceed to messily devour and decimate their assembled obnoxious bloodline over the course of the evening. The over-the-top performances are matched by frenetic camerawork and gore geysers – in other words, it’s a Troma film (who eventually picked up the film for worldwide distribution) with an accent all its own.

THE REJUVENATOR (1988) movie review

Rejuvenator, The (1988) d. Jones, Brian Thomas

Ably assisted by underrated ’80s makeup madman Ed French, director Jones and co-writer Simon Nuchtern revive the ol’ Wasp Woman plotline, as vain Hollywood actress Vivian Lanko’s attempts to harness the scientific engines to revive her aging looks. Her local mad doc and lover John MacKay seems to have tapped into the fountain of genetic youth via a serum distilled from human brain tissue; the downside is that the results are only temporary and each backslide is more horrifying than the last, with Lanko (earning major props by donning the extensive latex jobs herself) spiraling into a bloodthirsty hag-like existence, cracking skulls open like so many walnuts to get her fix. The simple formula – injection, followed by a few hours of flawless beauty until the serum wears off, then it’s monster time – works like a charm as long as you’re not expecting anything more than simpleminded splattery fun, which it delivers by the bucketful.

SCREAMING IN HIGH HEELS (2012) movie review

Screaming in High Heels: The Rise and Fall of the Scream Queen era (2011) d. Collum, Jason Paul

The three most influential, successful and beloved actresses ever to bear the title of “scream queen,” Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens and Michelle Bauer, are given their rightful due in this insightful, good natured documentary which examines the ladies’ distinctive charms and the circumstances surrounding their respective rise to cult stardom. Assembling a startling amount of video clips and interview footage, Cullom (aided immeasurably by Derrick Carey’s pitch perfect editing) celebrates the charming femmes alongside various players in the direct-to-video 80s boom (Fred Olen Ray, Jim Wynorski, etc), granting these artists some long overdue respect. Far from bimbos, the trio of top-popping thespians reveal themselves to be congenial, intelligent, well-spoken and self-aware women with no regrets about the legacy they’ve left behind. If you weren’t under their spell already, you will be come the final credits crawl.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A LONELY PLACE TO DIE (2011) movie review

Lonely Place to Die, A (2011) (1st viewing) d. Gibley, Julian

In spite of the fact that I’ve never been able to quite get over Melissa George’s too-short upper lip (seriously, this bothers no one else?), this thriller concerning a group of mountain climbing chums who stumble onto a vicious kidnapping plot turns out to be an extremely well-assembled piece of machinery with effective plot twists and surprises. John Boorman’s Deliverance meets Ron Howard’s Ransom comes close to capturing the vibe (coming from someone who is a big fan of both).

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

SOCIETY (1989) Blu-ray review

EDITED 5-18-2015 

Society (1989) d. Brian Yuzna (USA)

Despite being one of the most popular kids in school and from one of the most affluent families in Beverly Hills, Bill (Billy Warlock) never feels like he fits in. His parents (Charles Lucia, Connie Danese), his sister Jenny (Patrice Jennings), his hot cheerleader girlfriend Shauna (Heidi Kozak), and his shrink (Ben Slack) all assure him he’s perfectly normal, but after Jenny’s ex-boyfriend (Tim Bartell) shows up with a mysterious audio recording of Bill’s family discussing abnormal practices in association with her upcoming "coming-out" ceremony, suspicions escalate. As resident teenage dream Clarissa (Devin DeVasquez) zeroes in on Bill, intent on luring him into her web, the situation grows more tangled, culminating in a climax quite literally beyond anyone’s imagination.

THE RAVEN (2012) movie review

Raven, The (2012) (1st viewing) d. McTeigue, James

“John Cusack is Edgar Allan Poe” isn’t really that great of a tagline, but when you couple it with “from the director of V for Vendetta” and a reasonably thorny narrative following a serial killer who seems to be both taunting and drawing inspiration from the infamously troubled scribbler, well, things get a little more appealing. Screenwriting team Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare’s fanciful and fictionalized telling of Poe’s final days does have its memorable moments of suspense and grisly payoff, particularly when focusing on the murders themselves as Cusack throws himself wholeheartedly into the role of amateur detective, especially once his lovely fiancée Alice Eve becomes a pawn in the game. Purists be damned, I thought it was all right.

THE MAGNETIC MONSTER (1953) movie review

Magnetic Monster, The (1953) (1st viewing) d. Siodmak, Curt

Clever little egghead programmer about a newly invented radioactive element that plays havoc with local machinery and, to make matters worse, continually drains the energy around it in order to double in size every 12 hours. In spite of brainiac Richard Carlson’s incessant voiceover, things definitely take off in after all the exposition is out of the way and the path is clear for he and fellow lab coat King Donavan to chase the mysterious property down and find a means of arresting its growth before it (all together now) wipes out life on Earth as we know it.

Strange that this nifty sci-fi curio has flown under the home video radar this long (now finally available through MGM’s Limited Edition Collection), especially considering its pedigree: Carlson (Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space), Donovan (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), co-writer/director Siodmak (The Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein), producer/co-writer Ivan Tors (TV’s Sea Hunt & Flipper) and an early appearance from character actor extraordinaire, Strother Martin.

DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK (2009) movie review

Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2009) (1st viewing) d. Soska, Jen / Soska, Sylvia

As one might guess from the title and lead characters dubbed “Badass,” “Geek,” “Druggie,” and “Goody Two Shoes,” subtlety is not the order of the day when approaching the Soska Sisters’ feature debut. On the one hand, there is truth in advertising, since there is in fact a deceased prostitute in a motor vehicle’s posterior storage facility, and much outlandish and surprisingly gory comedic mayhem ensues from said situation. That said, it also seems to be born out of the same tired ready-made neo-exploitation cauldron that has worn out its welcome (at least in this Fool’s eyes), and so I watched with quaint amusement as opposed to the shock and awe presumably intended. Continuity, quality sound, and production value in general are gleefully pitched to the wind, with a sense of “Hey, we’re making a low budget exploitation movie - !#$!#@ off!!!!!” and that’s all good and fine. But I’m more than a little interested in seeing what the twisted twins can come up with for their next service with a net actually in place.

LAO MAO aka THE CAT (1992) movie review

Cat, The (aka Lao Mao) (1992) d. Lam, Ngai Kai

My deepest appreciation to Gert for foisting this one on me. If you’ve ever wondered, “What would it be like if an extraterrestrial cat and his humanoid compatriots were forced to do battle against a crazy blob-like creature, and you didn’t quite know if the furry feline was on the side of nefariousness or righteousness?”, this is the off-the-charts wacko celluloid fever dream for you. To properly celebrate Lao Mao’s giddy vibe defies my feeble powers of description, but for a glimpse into Blisstown, this link to the film’s mid-act rumble between the titular meow-meow and a government-sanctioned hit-dog should serve the turn. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tc2nfqqjb5A

ABSENTIA (2011) movie review

Absentia (2011) d. Flanagan, Mike

Seven years after the disappearance of her husband, grieving widow Courtney Bell is in the process of legally finalizing his “deceased in absentia” status when he begins to appear to her in increasingly disturbing visions. At the same time, her drifter sister Katie Parker has a number of strange encounters with individuals (including genre fave Doug Jones) in and around a creepy underpass tunnel. Writer/director Flanagan conjures an intriguing horror story with some serious smarts and well-conceived characters going for it, mostly balancing out any obstacles that accompany its clearly diminutive budget.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Wicker Tree, The (2010) (1st viewing) d. Hardy, Robin

Seriously, I don’t even know where to start in trashing of Hardy’s long-muttered-about follow-up to his occult masterpiece, The Wicker Man. Reaching unimagined levels of face-palming idiocy, it may even trump the notoriously misguided Neil Labute/Nicolas Cage remake of 2006 – one of the more laughable horror efforts in the last 10 years – in sullying its predecessor’s good name.

Even for those not familiar with the 1973 Christopher Lee vehicle (who pops here up in a pointless, fruitless cameo), the presumably mysterious set-up for the sequel is so mustache-twirling obvious that we know EXACTLY what’s going to happen within the first 10 minutes. Even worse, our Texan pair of fresh-scrubbed born-again hicks (Brittania Nicol, Henry Garrett) sent to save the lost heathen souls of Scotland are so dunderheaded and two-dimensional that they generate no sympathy AT ALL. What the original’s protagonist Edward Woodward had going was in spite of his bullheaded Christianity, he was attempting to solve a heinous kidnapping case and therefore commanded viewer alliance regardless of religious persuasion – here, we can’t wait to see these ministerial morons slapped on the barbie.

In addition to the head-scratching use of “crow-cam,” Hardy also attempts to replicate the use of songs interwoven within the narrative fabric; a fascinating device in the ’73 film, but here only a clumsy gambit that settles for hokey hymns and laughable music videos from Nicol’s “scandalous” Faith Hill-like country-pop past. Honeysuckle Weeks shows up in the requisite slatternly top-popping role, but even the fetching (and fetchingly named) Welsh actress’ fine flesh can’t save the day. While undeniably handsomely mounted, this remains a failure of cosmic proportions.

JULIA'S EYES (2010) movie review

Julia's Eyes (aka Los ojos de Julia) (2010) (1st viewing) d. Morales, Guillem

An incredibly atmospheric Spanish horror flick (“presented” by Guillermo del Toro) that ultimately tacks on a few too many unnecessary red herrings and plot contrivances for its own good. Director/co-writer Morales presents a refreshingly original premise about a pair of twin sisters afflicted with a degenerative eye disease – both played by The Orphanage’s remarkable Belén Rueda – one of whom dies in a tragic suicide (or, just maybe, murder). The surviving sibling attempts to retrace her sister’s final days, only to find herself drawn into a web of secrets, lies and well, more murder.

Suspenseful and well acted, it’s only in the third act where things got a little excessive for my tastes, with giallo-like camera machinations intended to obscure the killer’s identity resulting in an eventual Scooby Doo reveal that leaves the viewer asking, “What? Who? Why?” Things come a little back to center for the sentimental denouement, but only after an extended session of being off the rails. Worth seeing, but with reservations.

THE HOLE (2009) movie review

Hole, The (2009) (1st viewing) d. Dante, Joe

After being relocated from NYC to a sleepy suburban burg by struggling single mom Teri Polo, sullen teenager Chris Massoglia and pesky little brother Lucas Gamble chance upon a padlocked trapdoor in their new basement, under which lies a mysterious bottomless abyss. Unfortunately, their discovery serves as the uncorking of an evil genie’s bottle, with their individual greatest fears appearing in shadowy but all-too-corporeal form around them. Alongside plucky (and cute) neighbor Haley Bennett and Bruce Dern (in full-on crusty codger mode), they endeavor to vanquish the dark forces, all in superb poke-yer-eye-out/whoa-I’m-falling 3D.

Vacancy screenwriter Mark L. Smith’s sharp script skillfully captures the frustrations of uprooted youth as well as the intangibilities of waking nightmares, and Dante’s splendid onscreen ensemble and f/x teams weave a terrific chill-thrilling spell. In a day and age where solid offerings for juvenile horror fans are a woefully rare commodity, it only makes the current distribution hell that has befallen Gremlins director Dante’s latest effort all the more tragic and frustrating. Seriously, Spielberg, get in there and throw your old pal a Dreamworks release bone, wouldja?

UNCLE SAM (1996) movie review

Uncle Sam (1996) d. Lustig, William

After his body is returned home, KIA Desert Storm vet Sam Harper (David Shark Fralick) rises from his coffin confines on July 4th to wage war against the citizens of his American-as-apple-pie hometown, to the disbelief of his idolizing nephew Christopher Ogden. Turns out “Uncle Sam” wasn’t such a good guy in life, and in his inexplicably resurrected form, he’s twice as nasty, bumping off former friends and neighbors right and left wearing a – you guessed it – red, white and blue top-hat-and-white-goateed costume.

Working from a script by noted rabble-rouser Larry Cohen, Lustig paints a cartoonish and violent paean to the supernatural slasher subgenre, with all the nutritional value and culinary daring of a cinematic cheese dog on a stick. Wants to be good, dumb fun, but mostly just ends up being dumb and dull, despite the game efforts of Isaac Hayes, Timothy Bottoms, Bo Hopkins, and Robert Forster.

THREADS (1984) movie review

Threads (1984) (1st viewing) d. Jackson, Mick

For American viewers growing up in the 80s, the 1983 TV-movie The Day After was the ultimate in nuke scare flicks. Little did I know that the Brits had returned fire with an even more impressive response over their own airwaves the year following, as if to say, “No, this is how you do grim, bleak, apocalyptic terror and desperation.”

With a superb cast of relative unknowns and a documentary style approach, director Jackson and writer Barry Hines unflinchingly portray the days leading up to a nuclear holocaust and its effect on the working class city of Sheffield, England. But it’s after the electrifying and devastating blast sequence that the real horror begins, as beloved characters disappear unexpectedly or suffer agonizingly slow deaths from radiation, starvation or exposure to the nuclear winter that befalls civilization.

The long term effects extend 15 years into the onscreen future, with mankind reduced to a mumbling, fumbling, hobbled species; the children of the bomb inheriting a barren and fruitless landscape. One can only suspect that world leaders moved their hands a little further away from the red button upon seeing this. An undeniably impressive effort, available in its entirety on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MCbTvoNrAg