Saturday, January 4, 2020

Fool's Views (12/16 - 12/31)


All right, last lap, everyone!

The back half of December was actually quite a treat, since I knew I had done pretty well in terms of total films and having finished up several projects, but I also knew that I had a few loose ends I wanted to tie up before the final bell rang. I was one film away from completing The Omen franchise, two films away from completing the Silent Night Deadly Night franchise, I had several gaps from the 1940s that I wanted to fill, and so on. I would find myself waking up and thinking, “Oh, yeah, that would be a good thing too…” and, even though I didn’t quite finish all the items on my wish list, I still did pretty well.

In short, it’s been a hell of a year (in many ways), and I was often reminded how lovely it can be to be transported to a different time, different place for a few hours and come back home, feeling just a little richer for the experience. Thanks to everyone who shared with the ride with me in one respect or another.

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



A Chinese Ghost Story (2011) d. Yip, Wilson (China/Hong Kong) (1st viewing)

Solid enough remake of the 1987 classic as directed by Ip Man mastermind Yip, with a healthy combination of wire-fu martial arts combat and supernatural romance/shenanigans.

Edge of the Axe (1988) d. Larraz, Jose Ramon (Spain) (1st viewing)

Hadn’t planned on getting another Larraz viewing in this year, but then this showed up on my doorstep over the weekend and I figured why not. There’s nothing too remarkable here, other than picturing Larraz shooting a slasher on U.S. grounds, and some surprisingly prescient commentary on how these newfangled “home computers” are starting to become a bit of a sensation with the younger set. Available now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.

Rabid (2019) d. Soska, Jen / Soska, Sylvia (Canada) (1st viewing)

This reworking of David Cronenberg’s sophomore effort about an experimental plastic surgery procedure giving way to a rage-virus plague is not the disaster that it could have been, but the Soskas’ approach is one of heightened, occasionally cartoonish excess in place of creepy and uncomfortable atmospherics, so it’s definitely going to be a matter of personal tastes. It’s certainly watchable and, with the exception of a few gory images, just as forgettable.

Omen IV: The Awakening (1991) d. Montesi, Jorge / Othenin-Girard, Dominique (USA) (2nd viewing)

It’s a TV-movie reworking of the original 1976 set-up, i.e. a young couple gives birth to the suspected offspring of the Antichrist and spend the rest of the movie surrounded by tragic “accidents” befalling anyone who suspects the truth. Due to its small screen restrictions, we aren’t even treated to any excessively gory or creative deaths, although there is that one hilariously over-the-top wrecking ball sequence to take home with you.

Triangle (2009) d. Smith, Christopher (UK/Australia) (2nd viewing)

Melissa George stars in this haunting, challenging, rewarding, and shockingly overlooked puzzle film. While there are some sticky plot elements (as is often the case with parallel universe/time travel features such as Primer, Coherence, and Timecrimes), they never prove so troublesome as to distract from the overall power of the plot. To say more would be a disservice to writer/director Smith’s (Severance, Black Death) tight script and moody direction – just check it out and thank me later. (And thank Jon Kitley for writing about it for his HorrorHound column, which prompted my rewatch.)

X the Unknown (1956) d. Norman, Leslie (UK) (2nd viewing)

Hammer’s second sci-fi outing (following the previous year’s The Quatermass Xperiment) is an equally dark and sinister affair, involving perhaps cinema’s first “blob” monster, as it predated Jack Harris’ eponymous drive-in sensation by two full years! The premise, as scripted by Jimmy Sangster (Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula), centers around a strange radioactive substance bubbling up from a deep crevasse and it’s up to American scientist Dean Jagger and local badge Leo McKern to keep the rural populace from being burned to cinders. Lean and efficient storytelling, stalwart performances (including Michael Ripper making his Hammer Horror debut), and none-too-shabby special effects make this well worth tracking down and/or trotting out.

Arriving on Blu-ray next February from Shout! Factory and available for pre-order HERE:


Initiation: Silent Night Deadly Night 4 (1990) d. Yuzna, Brian (USA) (1st viewing)

With the first three SNDN movies faithfully following the story arc of a deranged killer in a Santa costume, it was a radical move on fledgling producer Richard Gladstein’s part to abandon the central premise entirely and instead give viewers a bizarre L.A.-based gyno-centric cult led by former Bond Lady Maud Adams! Seriously, outside of a random scene with a Christmas tree in the background and a cutaway to SNDN3 playing on television, there is nothing remotely seasonal about this flick, which makes Gladstein’s decision a little puzzling – exactly what audience was he going for? That said, there are some worthwhile elements to be explored, including fetching lead actress Neith Hunter and some “surrealistic special effects” courtesy of Screaming Mad George, as well as a typically weirdo turn from Clint Howard as the witches’ dunce-like familiar and a cameo from Phantasm’s Reggie Bannister. (Two ice cream men for the price of one!) Can’t say I loved it and I was saddened by the bait-and-switch, but it was definitely diverting. (Gladstein would go on to produce Quentin Tarantino’s first three movies, The Bourne Identity, and the Oscar-winning The Cider House Rules, so what the hell do I know?)

Silent Night (2012) d. Miller, Steven C. (USA) (1st viewing)

Billed as an official remake of the infamous 1984 holiday slasher, it’s curious that screenwriter Jayson Rothwell would completely dispense with the time-honored backstory of a young boy seeing his parents murdered by a Santa suit-wearing killer – turning him into a killer himself in later life – and instead put the focus on a group of small-town cops (led by Jamie King and a scenery-chomping Malcolm McDowell) trying to figure out the identity of a Santa-suited psycho wiping out the locals. My completely uninformed guess is that they wanted to use the title and there was some kind of legal rigamarole that required them to acknowledge the 1984 film, or maybe they were just looking to drum up some more business by hooking the suckers. Either way, the film itself delivers the desired Christmas-themed diversion, with some satisfyingly splattery murders and an extended topless scene from the Sushi Girl herself, Cortney Palm, in the plus column.


An American Werewolf in London (1981) d. Landis, John (UK/USA) (5th viewing)

Like many modern classics, I had more or less taken Landis’ groundbreaking horror film (with comedy!) for granted; revisiting it, it’s just as remarkable on every level, and not just as Rick Baker’s landmark special effects achievement that it so rightly is. The balancing of giggles and gore has rarely been handled as nimbly, and Arrow Video has lavished plenty of care on this high-def release, bursting with supplements (multiple commentaries, tons of interviews, two feature-length documentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and so on). A must-have for fans, and a must-see for everyone else.

Assignment Terror (1970) d. Demicheli, Tulio (Spain) (1st viewing)

The third of Paul Naschy’s appearances as his doomed lycanthropic hero Waldemar Daninsky sees a band of rogue extraterrestrials (led by The Day the Earth Stood Still’s Michael Rennie) making plans to – what else? – take over the world. But the added bonus for creature features fans is that the intergalactic interlopers are using classic monsters to make it happen! With Dracula, the Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster, and good ol’ Wolfy Waldemar in the mix, and gorgeous gals Karin Dor and Patty Shepard keeping it easy on the eyes, it’s still hard not to have a good time despite the fact that it’s a bit slow and doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Beware the Moon: Remembering An American Werewolf in London (2009) d. Davis, Paul (UK) (1st viewing)

Davis’ celebrated documentary on the lasting legacy of Landis’ love song to lycanthropy is but one of many reasons to pick up the new Arrow Blu-ray release listed above. Among the talking heads assembled are the writer/director himself, FX master Rick Baker and his cast of all-stars, actors Griffin Dunne, David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, John Woodvine, David Schofield (“You… made me miss.”), cinematographer Robert Paynter, art director Leslie Dilley, and costume designer Deborah Nadoolman (aka Mrs. Landis and creator of Michael Jackson’s red “Thriller” jacket), providing historical context, artistic vision, problem-solving, and pure celebration in equal measure.

Silver Bullet (1985) d. Attias, Daniel (USA) (2nd viewing)


Werewolf in a Girl's Dormitory (1961) d. Heusch, Paolo (Italy/Austria) (2nd viewing)

Originally released the same year as Hammer’s Curse of the Werewolf, this extraordinary combination of monster movie and whodunit didn’t reach American audiences until two years later, when the geniuses on MGM marketing team decided to swap out the original title (Lycanthropus) for the eye-catching exploitation moniker it sports today. Shortly after handsome new instructor Carl Schell turns up to fill his new position at a girls school, the students and faculty start showing up mauled to death by a mysterious beast. Wide-eyed Barbara Lass leads the charge of figuring out who (or what) the murderer could be, and while giallo master Ernesto Gastaldi’s script often smells overly fishy due to the abundant red herrings, things move along at an impressive clip. Heusch (billed here as “Richard Benson”) previously helmed the 1958 space opera The Day the Sky Exploded. Available now on Blu-ray from Severin Films.


Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) d. Anderson, Wes (USA) (3rd viewing)

What a delightful little flick this is. Based on this and Isle of Dogs, I would like to mandate that Anderson be required to make an animated film for every two live-action ones.

High Life (2019) d. Denis, Claire (UK/France) (1st viewing)

Good god, people. I was keen to see Robert Pattinson continue his winning streak, but this was a huge swing and a miss (although not on his part). This is the kind of art-house twaddle that gives “cerebral sci-fi” a bad name.

Randy Writes a Novel (2018) d. Warrington, Anthony (Australia) (3rd viewing)

Third time seeing it in nine months and it just keeps getting better. I actually sent out the YouTube link with our holiday letter this year. Probably my favorite discovery of 2019.

The Razor's Edge (1946) d. Goulding, Edmund (USA) (1st viewing)

Humble Tyrone Power decides he wants to see the world, worldly fiancée Gene Tierney gets annoyed and gets married to someone else, cute Anne Baxter drinks herself stupid, and nobody ends up having what they want. The End.

The Ref (1994) d. Demme, Ted (USA) (6th viewing)

“Caroline, why don’t you eat something?”
“Lloyd, why don’t you eat… ME.”

We like to watch this movie at Christmas. A lot. It’s got a great cast saying great lines within a great set-up. So, who the hell is Marie Weiss and why is this the only things she’s written? Granted, it’s co-written by Richard LaGravanese, but outside of The Fisher King, there’s nothing on his resume (Bridges of Madison County, The Horse Whisperer, Beloved) that showcases this level of comic verve. Honestly, I don’t get it. But I’m glad it happened somehow.

The Searchers (1956) d. Ford, John (USA) (3rd viewing)

Sooooooo, apparently Turner Classic Movies recruited Bruce Springsteen to serve as guest programmer for a couple features and he chose Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd and this legendary teaming of director Ford and frequent star John Wayne. I thought it was a fine pick, since it’s more or less accepted as a classic of the Western genre. Then we sat down with it and… Huh. It’s actually pretty racist and sexist and clunky and the acting is all over the place. It’s real purty to look at, but I don’t think it holds up very well, which was surprising to discover (and disappointing for the femalien who would have never bothered with it if The Boss hadn’t told her to). Curious to hear Bruce’s take on it at some point.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012) d. Russell, David O. (USA) (2nd viewing)

Hadn’t seen this since its Oscar run back in early 2013, but I think my review still holds:
“Another big winner in the nominations race, there’s a lot to like here from Bradley Cooper’s manic obsessive lovelorn to crazed sexy widow Jennifer Lawrence, to Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver as Cooper’s co-dependent parents (De Niro actually shows up here, a pleasant surprise for the master thespian-turned-coasting paycheck grabber), to Russell’s whizbang cracking dialogue and swirling, whirling camera. However, while I enjoyed it mightily in the moment, the further away from it I got the more troubled I was by its perceived ‘love is all you need’ ruling on mental illness. As many can attest, all the love and understanding in the world doesn’t fix a broken mind.”

Since You Went Away (1944) d. Cromwell, John (USA) (1st viewing)

Claudette Colbert stars as the matriarch of a formerly well-to-do family fallen on hard times due to Daddy being off at the war. At nearly three hours, it definitely tests one’s capacity for schmaltz and melodrama, but the fine cast (Joseph Cotten, Jennifer Jones, Shirley Temple, Monty Wolley, Lionel Barrymore, Robert Walker, Hattie McDaniel, and Agnes Moorhead) keeps things watchable.

Spectre (2015) d. Mendes, Sam (UK/USA) (2nd viewing)

During last year’s spin through the Pierce Brosnan/Daniel Craig Bond entries, I hadn’t gotten around to revisiting this one, but this being the Year of 007, it only seemed fitting that I should sneak it in under the wire. I remembered not being very taken with it on first viewing but on a second encounter, I’m able to articulate a few things:

1) Several of the action sequences are among the most stunning of the franchise (the opening helicopter sequence over the Day of the Day proceedings, the train fight between Bond and Dave Baustista’s silent superassassin Hinx, the car chase through Rome, the plane chase/crash, and so on).

2) With Judi Dench’s M character gone, we’re back to it being more or less a boy’s club, with Craig, Ralph Fiennes, and Ben Wishaw’s Q saving the day while Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny is left in the dust with literal damsel in distress Lea Seydoux.

3) Christoph Waltz delivers the absolute minimum anyone could expect from a portrayal of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. We deserved better.

4) Bautista is wildly underused, having already proved himself in Guardians of the Galaxy as more than just a muscular presence. To give him a single line, and a crap one at that, is an insult. Plus, the scene where he kills the guy at the big meeting just to prove that he’s a more ruthless killer? STOOOOPID.

5) Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall” is like an unironic parody of previous Bond theme songs. I found myself wondering how this won the Oscar, so I went and looked at the other 2015 nominees – um, other than Fifty Shades of Grey, I haven’t even heard of these movies!!!! What a shock they didn’t best Bond. GAHHHHHHHHHH.

Swiss Army Man (2016) d. Kwan, Daniel / Scheinert, Daniel (USA) (2nd viewing)

Co-directors Kwan and Scheinert shared the Best Director prize at Sundance for their singularly bizarre yet supremely accessible fable about a stranded young introvert (Paul Dano) who finds companionship and salvation in the form of a corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) that washes up on the island shore. What could have simply been a headier updating of Weekend at Bernie’s emerges as an eye-opening examination of madness, loss, grief, and friendship through a hilarious body function-centric filter. Both stars are marvelously invested in their physically demanding roles, playing off one another with the timing of a classic comedy team. This one will stick with you.

Uncut Gems (2019) d. Safdie, Benny / Safdie, Josh (USA) (1st viewing)

I hadn’t heard of this one prior to my Kicking the Seat pal Ian Simmons clueing me into its existence, but I’ve been a fan of the Safdie brothers since their debut Heaven Knows What at the Chicago Film Critics Festival in 2015 and Good Time was one of my favorite movies I saw last year, so I was primed and ready. Even so, I was wholly unprepared for the energy and intensity that the next 135 minutes had in store. As flim-flam jeweler/chronic gambler Howard Ratner, Adam Sandler explodes off the screen and the Safdies and co-screenwriter Ronald Bronstein have given him such a wild ride. It’s absolutely magical. I’ve heard complaints that it’s two hours of shouting – sorry, folks, it’s not. There are well-modulated highs and lows, all handled with the frenetic pace, pace, pace of a Bourne movie or a championship basketball game. It may not be for everyone, but it’s undeniably great (as is Sandler and everyone around him).


The Song of Bernadette (1943) d. King, Henry (USA) (1st viewing)

Jennifer Jones was “introduced” in this film by future husband David O. Selznick, despite the fact that she’d made three previous films as “Phyllis Isley,” and it’s entirely possible that it was due to his influence that the newcomer won the big prize that year because her performance – while lovely and pure – is extremely limited, all radiant smiles and sincere looks as a simple country girl whose vision of the Virgin Mary turns her small French town into a pilgrimage site.

The Farmer's Daughter (1947) d. Potter, H. C. (USA) (1st viewing)

Loretta Young plays a young woman of Swedish descent whose dreams of becoming a nurse are quashed when she is bilked by a lascivious drunk en route to the big city. Desperate for work, she takes up employ as a servant in the household of a prominent senator (Joseph Cotten) where her knowledge of local affairs proves surprisingly handy, then complicated. Young is immensely likeable in the role, and the fact that 1947 also saw her opposite Cary Grant in The Bishop’s Wife probably didn’t hurt matters when it came to Oscar voting time.

The Heiress (1949) d. Wyler, William (USA) (1st viewing)

Adapted for the screen by playwrights Ruth and Augustus Goetz, this sizzling and deliciously ambiguous tale of a plain young woman (Olivia de Havilland) being wooed by a charming but destitute suitor (Montgomery Clift) while her suspicious father (Ralph Richardson) does all he can to poison the match delivers heartfelt dialogue and chewy social issues by the score. One of the great unhappy happy endings of all time.


Stony Island (1978) d. Davis, Andrew (USA) (1st viewing)

In the scrappy and funkalicious indie effort that launched Davis’ career, a funky young guitar player (brother Richard Davis) from Chicago’s south side hopes to form a rhythm and blues band with his pal (Edward Stoney Robinson). Seeking out the guidance of an aging sax legend (“Daddy G” Barge), they set out to make their dreams a reality. There are numerous memorable musical numbers, including an impromptu funeral bash, and the authenticity of the Chicago locations and vibe keeps the beat thumping. Produced by Tamar Hoffs (Bangles lead singer Susanna Hoffs' mom), which makes it slightly less surprising when we see her soon-to-be famous daughter pop up as Richie's girlfriend.

The Final Terror (1983) d. Davis, Andrew (USA) (4th viewing)


2019 Totals: 467 films, 222 1st time views, 247 horror, 41 cinema


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