If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking 1-2x a week, and it's better late than never! Before reading any of the "reviews", you should read the intro, the FAQ, the MOVIES I HAVE ALREADY SEEN list, and if you want, the glossary of genre terms and "What is Horror?", which explains some of the "that's not horror!" entries. And to keep things clean, all off topic posts are re-dated to be in JANUARY 2007 (which was before I began doing this little project) once they have 'expired' (i.e. are 10 days old).

Due to many people commenting "I have to see this movie!" after a review, I have decided to add Amazon links within the reviews (they are located at the bottom), as well as a few links to the Horror Movie A Day Store around the page, hopefully non-obstructively. Amazon will also automatically link things they find relevant, so there might be a few random links in a review as well. If they become annoying, I'll remove the functionality. Right now I'm just kind of amused what they come up with (for example, they highlighted 'a horror movie' in the middle of one review and it links to, of all things, the 50 Chilling Movies Budget Pack!!!).

Last but not least, some reviews contain spoilers (NOTE - With a few exceptions, anything written on the back of the DVD or that occurs less than halfway through the movie I do NOT consider a spoiler). I will be adding 'spoiler alerts' for these reviews as I go through and re-do the older reviews (longtime readers may notice that there is now a 'show more' which cleaned up the main page, as well as listing the source of the movie I watched, i.e. Theaters, DVD, TV) to reflect the new format. This is time consuming, so bear with me.

Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.


FTP: Full Moon High (1981)

APRIL 17, 2019


Like any good horror fan, I was sad to hear the news that Larry Cohen had passed away a few weeks back. Not because we would be denied more films, as he seemed to have retired from filmmaking anyway (his sole directorial effort in the past 20+ years was his Masters of Horror episode, thirteen years ago), but because he was such a fun storyteller for Q&As and commentary tracks, and it's sad knowing he won't be able to contribute one again. Luckily he was still in good spirits and health when he sat down (with King Cohen director Steve Mitchell) to talk about Full Moon High, and it's one of his better tracks - his memory is vague on a few things (naturally; I mean, it's been 35+ years) but he's got plenty of fun anecdotes and "from the trenches" tales of indie filmmaking, making the track just as entertaining as the film.

Or perhaps more so? It's not a BAD movie, but for a comedy it's oddly low on big laughs until the last twenty minutes, when Alan Arkin shows up as the world's worst psychiatrist. Until then, it's got a sort of breezy charm that keeps it watchable, but overall it lives up to the standards set by the other early 80s glut of spoofy horror movies (Class Reunion, Student Bodies, Saturday the 14th, etc), i.e. you're better off rewatching Young Frankenstein than tracking them down. Unless, of course, you're a particular fan of their individual filmmakers or stars and are seeing them out of curiosity - indeed, the only reason I bothered with this was because I hadn't seen it yet and wanted to listen to Cohen tell some stories to celebrate his life (and also because it's been in the pile for well over a year now so it made a good candidate for this column).

The weirdest thing about the movie is that it's a PG-rated sex comedy. Adam Arkin plays a high school football star who is bitten when traveling with his horndog father (Ed McMahon!) and becomes a wolf with a penchant for biting victims on their butt. He also becomes a conquest of sorts for a few of the local women, including Happy Days' Roz Kelly, so we are treated to more sex scenes than I've ever seen in a PG movie (hell, it technically has more sex than Basic Instinct). Add in the coach (who seems to have designs on his players as opposed to the cheerleaders) and some other supporting characters' own inhibitions, and you have a super horny movie that is also hamstrung by its rating, which makes it feel neutered, never getting as outrageous as it often feels like it should be.

One thing that does work is the time jump; as an immortal, Arkin's character leaves town and does his thing elsewhere for 20 year or so before coming back, posing as his own son and re-enrolling at school. Some of his friends (including Kelly and the coach, played by Kenneth mars) are still around and aged up, and his school has gone to total shit over the years, so Cohen does a pretty good job at establishing the two time periods despite his usual low budget and some iffy actors. One of my favorite gags was during this passage of time montage, which was partially explained by replacing the photo of the current President: Eisenhower to Kennedy, Kennedy to Johnson, etc. After just swapping the photos for a bit, Cohen tosses in some gags: Nixon's photo is angrily shattered first before being replaced, and Ford's is placed but not actually hung, letting it instantly drop to the floor - heh.

That and a few other inspired gags are spread out between what for me was just a lot of mild smiling. If this was a straight up horror comedy, that might not be such a big deal - as long as the horror element was working, the dud jokes wouldn't hurt all that much. But this is a full on comedy with a werewolf in it, much closer to Teen Wolf than American Werewolf in London, so the jokes need to land more often than they do, even when taking into account that some of the humor is no longer in vogue. I suspect it has a number of fans who saw it for the first time in the early 80s, but seeing it for the first time now, sans nostalgia? It doesn't quite hit the mark. Still, Cohen ropes in some of his regulars, and Alan Arkin's performance is right in line with the stuff Michael Moriarty was doing in his best collaborations with the filmmaker, so it still at least satisfies on that level. Cohen's made worse movies, certainly, so as a tribute viewing I guess it turned out OK. But I'll miss him more than I'll miss this disc when I trade it in, for sure.

What say you?


FTP: The Witches (1966)

APRIL 10, 2019


Maybe from now on I'll stay away from anything Hammer made in 1966. I like Plague of the Zombies OK but it's partially my nostalgia driving that one (first one I saw), but The Reptile was possibly my least favorite and now The Witches gets pretty close to that territory as well. On paper it sounds fine (incidentally, it's adapted from a book), telling a Wicker Man-ish story of a lady taking a job as a schoolteacher in a town where everyone is "off", but the movie never has a pulse until its final ten minutes, and that stuff isn't scary or thrilling - it's just ridiculous, which is an improvement over "plodding", sure, but certainly isn't what anyone would probably want when they sat down for a Hammer movie about witches.

Things are amiss almost instantly. The film begins in Africa, where our protagonist Gwen (Joan Fontaine) is desperately trying to escape from some approaching witch doctors, due to events we're not fully privy to. The masked doctors crash through the door and approach her, seemingly to kill her, and then the movie fades to credits, only to come back in England where she's meeting about the schoolteacher job - she's apparently just a bit rattled by her experience that seemed to suggest she was about to be murdered. I actually spent a chunk of the runtime thinking maybe she was dead and this was some kind of Jacob's Ladder kind of deal, but as the movie dragged along I realized that would be too exciting a conclusion for this particular story.

Oddly enough, the most fun I got out of the disc was the historian commentary by Ted Newsom (the package says he'd be joined by Constantine Nasr, but while Mr. Nasr is mentioned a few times he's not there). I tend to find most of these a bit too dry for my liking when they're solo, but Newsom doesn't seem to think too highly of the movie either, so instead of rattling off filmographies and mildly amusing anecdotes from the production he's actually just kind of complaining about it half the time. He rightfully lambasts the inexplicable decision to include an amnesia detour at around the film's 50 minute mark (tellingly for how dull the movie is, Newsom says it happens 90 minutes in - clearly it just felt that way, since the movie is only 90 minutes long entirely), notes how "dowdy" everyone looks every few minutes, and laughs at some of its rare attempts at suspense. He also doesn't seem to be reading from notes the whole time, another thing that made it more lively than some others.

I should note that this is a recent "pile" acquisition; it only came to disc like three weeks ago. The problem with this new experiment is that more stuff keeps coming in, so I'm trying to balance it between newer arrivals and ones that have literally gotten dust on them because they've been there so long. I hope you guys don't mind the shorter reviews, but honestly for movies like this I don't think I could find enough to say to make it standard length, so I'd probably end up saying nothing and this site would be a ghost town that much longer. It took me five attempts to watch it because I kept dozing off; it was only the allure of the Hammer brand that kept me going because I was sure it'd get better. And technically it did (the climax is truly goofy), but too little too late. Oh well.

What say you?


The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)

APRIL 9, 2019


My attempt to go through the entire Hammer Dracula series in the old days of the site (can you believe it's been six years since I "quit"? That's as long as I ran it in the first place!) was not successful - I am only just now catching The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, and I *still* haven't seen Scars of Dracula. But I chalk this up to seeing them all out of order (not as much by choice as by availability); it makes it hard to remember which ones I was missing, and in at least one instance I obtained one I thought I had missed only to discover not only had I seen it, I already reviewed it! I vow though, come hell or high water - I will see Scars this year! Or at least in less than six years from now.

Anyway I knew this one was kind of the black sheep of the series due to having someone else play Dracula besides Christopher Lee, and also for making it a hybrid between vampire movie and kung fu flick, as the latter was very much in vogue at the time. So I was surprised to discover it was actually quite a bit of fun; the plot is nonsense, yes, but it's never dull for a second - if there's ever more than maybe five minutes of plot stuff, a fight will break out and last an equal (or longer) amount of time. And it's good fighting too - although uncredited, Cheh Chang brought his considerable experience (The Flying Dagger, The One-Armed Swordsman) to make sure the fight scenes were authentic, with Hammer stalwart Roy Ward Baker's team giving them the lighting/editing polish the kung fu flicks often lacked, so it's like a best of both worlds kind of scenario more often than not.

Of course, in the usual martial arts films there would be a bunch of normal humans fighting, whereas here we have undead vampires on one side of the battles, making it look more than just a little goofy at times. As is always the case, you'll see bad guys waiting their turn to get their ass kicked by the hero because they never think to rush him as a group, but it's far more ridiculous a sight when he's got a skeleton face and (as vampires tended to do in these things) is jumping up and down while he waits. But the choreography and stunt work doesn't seem to be much affected by their costumes, making all of the battles exciting (if somewhat repetitive) and in turn giving the entire film a pulse most Hammer films only really reach in their final reel.

As for the Hammer part of the equation... well I can see how the die-hard purists would be disappointed. Even if it was Lee in the role I can't imagine too many folks would be satisfied with his use here - he's only in the film's opening and closing scenes, seemingly thrown in just to tie it into the series as opposed to anything particularly necessary to the story. And it's hard to even think of it as a sequel anyway - not only does the timeline throw off what passes for continuity in these things (in a prologue set before any of the other films, Dracula takes the form of a Chinese man and isn't reborn in his usual form until the end - in a scene that takes place after most of the other entries), but Peter Cushing is playing a different Van Helsing than he played in the others. In AD 1972 it made sense that he'd be playing his own descendant, but that doesn't seem to be the case here - he's just a generic "Van Helsing" (no first name) that does the same things but doesn't appear to have any connection to the one we knew from the previous films. Unless it's like a Halloween (2018) thing where they were ignoring some of his entries? If so it's not made clear.

Anyway, like Dracula Van Helsing's role in the proceedings isn't particularly necessary - he's a professor who tells his class that vampires are real, and are terrorizing a village somewhere, but only one of them believes his story. And for good reason: he's the grandson of a man who killed one of the vampires (leaving six), and is planning to head there and kill the rest (excellent timing for the syllabus on Van Helsing's part!), inviting the professor to come along. They're joined by Van Helsing's son (an obligatory handsome young man, interchangeable with the ones who appeared in other Hammer films of the era), a rich lady (read: Hammer Glamour) who funds the trip, and lots of redshirts who help make the fights more epic. Why Helsing is needed is unclear; it's only in the final few minutes that he does much beyond watch the fights, maybe waving a torch around every now and then.

But on the other hand, it actually does offer plenty of legit horror stuff - the scene where the undead vampires rise from their graves is actually pretty effective, and it's got some surprising (at times even gratuitous) bloodspray if that's your bag. And there's even a surprising death or two in the climax, so I found myself continually surprised that while the kung fu aspect was clearly the focus, Baker and his team weren't dropping the ball when it came to the genre elements. As with AD 1972, they clearly realized audiences wouldn't be much interested in another "Dracula rises and seduces a lady in his castle" kind of movie, so the change of scenery (and in this case, faster pace) gives it an adrenaline shot most franchises would die to have in their 9th installment.

Alas, it was also the final installment - while another "exotic" sequel was planned that would send everyone off to India, it was never made, due to both the film's mixed reception and Hammer's own problems as a whole. So at least it went out on a high note - it may not be the best of the series, but it's an exciting and memorable entry all the same, which is more than I can say for what ended up closing off the likes of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Paranormal Activity series. And Scream Factory gives it a proper Blu-ray; in addition to the fine transfer, it's got a solid historian commentary, which is loaded with anecdotes about the film's tense shoot (the two crews didn't mix well together; Baker is actually referred to as a "racist" at one point) and some context for the period that will help explain why Dracula is palling around with martial arts gurus for the unsuspecting viewers.

It also has the incomprehensible US cut of the film (under the title The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula, which isn't even accurate), which chops at least fifteen minutes out and rearranges key scenes, while also reducing Cushing's role even further - it reminded me of certain Dimension productions of the 1990s, in fact. Even having seen the proper version the day before, I often found myself baffled as to what was going on, and can't imagine how it would play to a fresh viewer. I love when they include this sort of thing - there's no real use for it anymore, but it's fun to try to put yourselves in the shoes of a ticket buyer in 1974, who didn't have the internet or a Blu-ray commentary to explain why things were the wacky way they were. I try my best to go in blind to every movie I see, but in this era it's too easy to find out what went wrong - how long did the US audiences (those who cared anyway) have to wait until they found out who anyone was, since this cut omitted most of their full introductions? What a time to be alive!

What say you?


FTP: Midnighters (2017)

APRIL 5, 2019


In many ways, Midnighters is an ideal "pile" movie - it's a decent watch, but also the sort of film that I'd never want to watch again as its greatest strength is watching loyalties between its primary characters continually shift as it inches its way toward a conclusion that leaves very few of them standing. So I've made the pile that much smaller, but also don't need to clear any room on my permanent shelf for it! Hurrah! And also because it's a fairly simply plot that largely relies on springing those twists on you, so if I was giving it a traditionally lengthy HMAD review I'd probably end up spoiling some things, and that wouldn't be very good.

Here's as much of the story I'll give away (i.e. the first 20-30 minutes or so): a couple (Alex Essoe from Starry Eyes and Dylan McTee from this week's The Wind) who are facing some issues (financial ones, mainly) but still seem to be in love are on their way home from a New Year's Eve party when they accidentally run someone over. He appears to be dead, and as they've been drinking they don't want to call the cops just yet, so they bring the body home so they can cover up a bit before bringing him to the hospital. But it turns out he's not actually dead, and a couple of people stop over with their own motivations, so things just keep getting dicier. A (pointless, but thankfully not too crippling) flash forward opening tells us that Essoe's character will end up tied to a chair at some point - it's to the movie's credit that until it happened it could have been anyone that put her in there.

Of course that also means that everyone but her is an awful person, and she herself isn't a saint at times, so while it's not easy to guess who will end up siding with who, it's hard to care all that much either; kill the whole lot of them for all it matters. In something like Game of Thrones, everyone being an asshole isn't too much of a big deal because there's such a big tapestry playing out before you (and dragons!), but here it's just a bunch of jerks in a house arguing about what to do next - it's hard to get as invested in the proceedings. As a result, my favorite scene in the movie was probably when a pair of cops come over, because they keep catching them in their lies (they say they hit a deer with their car) and clearly know something is up but can't really do anything without a warrant or even much probable cause. So unlike most such scenes, where you're biting your nails hoping your heroes are able to outsmart the suspicious cops, I was starting to get nervous for the cops, fearing they'd finally find something they couldn't shrug off and end up being kidnapped or killed by the couple as well (it occurs too early in the film for it to lead to a conclusion).

But for what it is, it still mostly works; like a Coen thriller without any of the humor (a deleted scene on the disc offers its only real levity - a bit where some friends stop by and can't seem to get the hint that it's not the best time). Despite the flash forward, the most torture-y violence is saved for a male character (its most despicable, at that) so it's not a "tough watch" or anything like that; some of the harsher moments occur off screen entirely. Suspense and tension are the order of the day here, with director Julius Ramsay using graphic violence sparingly/effectively, so there's another check in the "pro" column for the film. The deleted scenes are the only feature on the disc, so if you opt for streaming you're not missing much in that department. Ultimately, the only real shame is that it's not really a horror film - we can use more New Year's set ones!

What say you?


FTP: Devil's Gate (2017)

MARCH 31, 2019


I'll give Devil's Gate this much: I never in a million years could have guessed its final moments from its opening ones, in which a guy's car break down and he is promptly killed by a booby trap on the grounds of an ominous looking farm nearby. This would lead me, you, and anyone else who had ever seen a horror movie before to think they were in some kind of survival horror territory; a mix of Saw and Texas Chainsaw that would pile up the bodies and not have anything else to say or offer, but at least scratch an itch you might have if you were in need of some brainless carnage. However, the plot gets more and more complicated as it goes on, and while I can't spoil the particulars (or even list all of its sub-genres) I can say that at a certain point, the filmmakers switched gears one too many times and lost me.

The farm belongs to Pritchard (Milo Ventimiglia), who doesn't seem to be too concerned about the dead stranger on his property and also has someone/something chained up in his basement. Meanwhile, an FBI agent (Amanda Schull) arrives in this small North Dakotan town to investigate the disappearance of a woman and her son - Pritchard's family, as it turns out. Defying orders from the sheriff to leave him be, she grabs deputy Shawn Ashmore and heads out to the farm, where Pritchard attacks them and force them into cuffing him - at which point things start getting freaky. It's obvious that whatever he has locked up is more of an "I want to protect everyone from this thing" move than a "I'm a crazy man kidnapping innocent people", but that doesn't explain why his family seems to have vanished, so Schull can't fully trust him - only accept that he's not a clear cut villain.

The twists and turns that follow, mostly regarding the nature of what he has in the basement and what he wants to do with it, are hit or miss when it comes to how successful they are. I appreciate that the filmmakers wanted to spin their generic opening into something unexpected, but it's almost like they wanted to keep chasing that high and pulling the wool over our eyes again and again. The problem with that is that it gets hard to really get a firm grasp on the proceedings; it's like getting three serialized movies' worth of information and retcons all at once. One in particular, involving Pritchard's own backstory, comes so out of nowhere (and explained quite awkwardly to boot) that it not only derails most of the rest of the movie, but seemingly renders many of his earlier actions inexplicable as well (which they cover up with a "I didn't realize" kind of hand-waving excuse). It reminded me of that one season of Supernatural where Sam lost his soul in between seasons, but only after we learned that (several episodes in) did he start actually acting soulless, making us wonder why he couldn't keep up the act or why he ever bothered keeping the act in the first place.

But again, at least it was never generic. Milo was clearly embracing the villain/crazy guy kinda role, something he used to get to do often in his earlier career (Gamer!) but not so much these days since he's practically playing God on This is Us (this came out around when Season 2 was kicking off) and scoring other nice guy roles as a result of that show's success. As a fan of it (leave me alone, it's good) I was delighted in seeing him get all bug eyed and holding shotguns on people, something Jack Pearson rarely does (even in Vietnam the dude was all peaceful!). I just can't help but wonder how many middle aged houswives rented this from a Redbox after seeing him on the cover, only to discover it ended up closer to Heroes territory than his current hit. Ironically, an impulse Redbox rental is about all it's good for, and as it's been on disc for almost a year now it's probably not IN those clunky red kiosks anymore, so I'm not sure who this review will be enticing or warning. Oh well.

What say you?


Us (2019)

MARCH 25, 2019


One of my favorite (for lack of a better word) things to do when watching movies is to scan the characters' bookshelves/ entertainment centers to see what movies/books/games/etc they own, usually for my own amusement and also to test my "skill" at recognizing something from a blurry spine. However, in Jordan Peele's Us, this habit is actually rewarded - the five VHS films that are seen on the shelf next to a television in the film's opening scene are all referenced later in one way or another, and help unpack some of the clues that this puzzling film offers about its ambitious (borderline insane) concept. It's a film that I felt I needed to see twice before writing this review (I first saw it last week at an advanced screening), partly because I had some issues with its third act reveals that I thought might work better a second time, and partly to double check that my own theories as to what Peele was *really talking about* weren't contradicted by information I was conveniently forgetting (i.e. what 90% of fan theories end up being).

But also partly just to enjoy the film on its surface level, which is a perfectly fine way to watch the movie - it's not like everyone who loves Dawn of the Dead has picked up on its satire, to name one example. If you've seen the trailer you know the concept: a normal family of four, led by Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) and Gabe (Winston Duke) finds themselves menaced by mirror images of themselves, and the first 80ish minutes are essentially a freakier version of a home invasion movie as a result. There's a lengthy chunk in the middle where it's easy to forget that this movie has any real ideas and just enjoy the cat and mouse stuff, with clones substituting for the usual people in masks or whatever. Our heroes don't stay in the home for as long as you'd expect from a traditional entry in the sub-genre, but it still offers the same kind of thrills. There's a bit where the clone of the daughter chases her to a car and then seemingly disappears, leaving our hero daughter to wonder if she's gotten on the car's roof or gone under it - that's just a straight up suspense setpiece, no politics or message required.

However, eventually these sort of beats are discarded in favor of explaining where the clones came from, what they want (sort of), and why Red (Adelaide's double, who she first encountered as a child and was traumatized as a result) seems to be the only one that can talk. And that, my friends, is where we get into heavy spoiler territory, so after I say "This movie is really good if somewhat messy in spots" for those who came here to see if it got my seal of approval, you need to close this tab right now if you haven't seen it yet.

Still with me? OK, so Peele could have just let the clones do their thing for an appropriate horror movie runtime, have our family (or just SOMEONE) survive and maybe give us a grim ending with the reveal that they weren't the only ones being menaced by duplicates, without ever explaining where they came from. It'd frustrate some, of course, but it'd follow suit with horror classics (including Peele's beloved Night of the Living Dead) to not explain why it was happening and focus more on who will survive it, letting audiences draw their own conclusions. Instead, Red delivers not one but two lengthy monologues that lay most of it out, plus there's a Saw-like "OK here's all those things that happened earlier, quickly flashing by now that you have new context" montage for good measure. Red's first info dump is vague enough to still fit into a "it just IS" kind of explanation since it focuses more on her own personal motivations, but the second (much longer) one inches into "Someone's about to draw a diagram on a chalkboard" areas of making sure the audience is completely brought up to speed.

(In fact there is a chalkboard behind her, but she doesn't use it in the scene, so I guess we dodged a bullet there.)

It's not that the explanation itself is bad - on the contrary, it's kind of fascinating, and I'd happily watch another movie (even - gasp - a prequel) that explored it even more. The problem is, like The Purge (also from Jason Blum, notably), the concept is so good that it's natural to ask questions about the logistics, and the way the information is presented invites itself to these questions. I won't spoil everything, but I'll say that the clone people come from underground subway tunnels and such and apparently have a Dharma Corporation-like entity making sure they are supplied with water (food is explained via rabbits, eaten raw) and materials to make clothing (and also lots of golden scissors, for some reason). If we only ever saw the clones wearing red jumpsuits, no one would think "where did they get their clothes?" but instead we see them dressed in generic normal clothing and then actually make their jumpsuits - and it's very difficult to see this and not start wondering how that worked. Did they have enough red material to make 320 million suits? Why? The concept is huge, but it feels like Peele realized if he answered one question about the nitty-gritty he'd have to answer all of them, so he had to just ask us to go with it, but perhaps he should have been scaling back what he showed us so we never thought to ask.

One benefit to this is that you are free to come up with your own theories as to what he's really getting at, as there's not a lot of hard evidence that can contradict it. One thing that keeps popping up is "Hands Across America", a charity stunt that was held in 1986 where people would hold hands in a line (ideally from one end of the country to the other) while raising awareness/money for hunger. It didn't really pan out; they didn't make all that much money and more than half of what they did went to paying for the operating costs. This concept - for spoiler-y reasons I won't divulge - speaks to the clone folk, and stage two of their uprising (stage one being "kill our others") appears to be recreating it, only more successfully. Now, while the film isn't as overtly racially motivated as Get Out, this interpretation (and others that I've spoken to) about these people, with their affinity for red clothing and mission to form a wall, certainly recalls some unfortunate racial biases - but that whole idea might just be my own reading and not what Peele intended at all.

And there's a trickle down effect to this that can drive you batty if your mind is engineered to decode/analyze what you're seeing, because you're not sure where it ends. The VHS tapes are obviously very carefully chosen (otherwise they'd just be fellow Universal movies), as is the "I got five on it" song that the family sings along to (it's about sharing something that traditionally is barely enough for one, like a dimebag, or your time on earth). But where does it stop? The son wears a Jaws shirt throughout the movie - is Peele drawing a parallel between the shark and the clones, because they're both coming to the surface because they need to survive but seen as monsters to the people above? Or does he just like Jaws and could save a couple bucks on licensing if a character wore a shirt from a Universal movie? This sort of thing can be fun (see: The Shining documentary Room 237), but it can also be distracting, as you start looking around for clues and end up missing the larger point of a scene. And since some information is indeed conveyed in a subtle manner (Adelaide's father walked out on the family shortly after her incident, but that's never spelled out - we just have to notice that he's not in any of the pictures that we see of her growing up), it's hard to know when you're allowed to just get caught in the moment of a scene or if you still need to have your thinking cap on.

Of course, he has something he wants to say, and is using a horror film to make that point because he's good like that. Naturally, your reading of these elements will play a big part on how you look at the film as a whole, so on one hand it's good that he confined the bulk of it for the film's final 20-25 minutes, so you could at least enjoy the ride until then. On the other, it gives the film a strange pacing, as it almost literally stops dead to have someone explain everything that's going on, at a point where things should be at their most exciting. And it's stuff I'm not sure we needed explained anyway, so it'd be like if the original Halloween carried on as normal and then Dr Wynn came back and explained all the cult stuff from H6 right then and there. In interviews, Peele has gone out of his way to combat the "it's a psychological thriller" kind of shit by insisting that it's a horror movie, but the lack of tension in its final reel is odd to say the least. The crux of the finale involves Adelaide trying to rescue her son from Red (who has taken him back to the tunnels), but he's practically forgotten once Adelaide gets down there and confronts her doppelgänger - he's not in any perceivable danger, and even if he was, most audience members would probably be thinking about the implications of what they just learned instead of getting worked up in the present threat.

That said, Peele's horror cred is never in doubt throughout the rest of the film; a clever in-joke early on reminds us that he knows his shit ("They're filming a movie by the carousel," says Adelaide's mother in a 1986 flashback set in Santa Cruz - you get it, Michael?) and while one of the two horror films in that aforementioned VHS collection is a classic everyone knows, the other is more obscure and will excite only Peele's fellow Fangoria readers. But more importantly, he uses horror cliches smartly - in particular an early bit where Gabe and Adelaide chide their daughter for wanting to quit the track team because she says it's pointless. This is a standard bit of foreshadowing shorthand; they want to establish that this character can run fast because later on they'll be required to do that for plot purposes, and that is indeed what happens. BUT, the real point to it is to lay out another example of how the "above" people are wasting the life that has been denied to the clones in the tunnels, hammered home when the clone daughter has to chase the real one and is clearly relishing the ability to use her skill, even letting the real one get a bit of a head start so that she can give herself more of a challenge. That's the sort of thing that Peele really excels at, and why the genre is lucky to have him.

But it's his intelligence and skill that also makes the film somewhat frustrating, because it's so close to being an all-timer. I don't know if he chose to convey as much info as he did (and WHEN he did) or if a producer/test screening dictated he do so, but either way it lacks the finesse that earned him an Oscar last time. An opening text crawl also seems to exist only to clarify something people might wonder about, and it too is ill-timed, as it foreshadows information that seems like it should be a total surprise when introduced ninety minutes later (it reminded me a bit of the theatrical cut of Dark City explaining who the strangers were right off the bat). We also have to take a large leap of faith that Adelaide has seemingly never realized that their summer home is so close to the beach where she had her childhood trauma, which is another thing that Peele could have easily avoided by removing the references to having been there before in the first place.

However, even with its minor missteps, it's another exciting film from a one-of-a-kind modern filmmaker, one I'll enjoy revisiting down the road to pick up on more little details and see how my own continued privileged existence has me interpreting certain things. Peele even said he'd be open to going back to this world (more optimistic than he sounded when asked about a Get Out sequel), so it's possible there are things we're not meant to fully comprehend yet but will later. If that doesn't happen, then what we got is intriguing and ambitious, and overall worthy of its praise (and box office fortunes) despite its few flaws. Since I could say the same about the original Twilight Zone, we can consider this movie a $20m advertisement for his upcoming revival, and CBS should send Universal a gift basket for all the extra subscriptions they'll be selling as a result.

What say you?


FTP: The Return of the Vampire (1943)

MARCH 17, 2019


When Scream Factory announced they were releasing The Return of the Vampire, I didn't think much of it, because I thought I saw it already and didn't love it all that much. Turns out I was thinking of Mark of the Vampire (which also had Bela Lugosi), and had never actually seen this one! He didn't play a vampire as often as you might think (in fact, in Mark he was only pretending to be one), so getting to see him, still more or less in his prime, don the Dracula-ish guise again in a film I didn't even really know existed was a real treat. As a bonus, the movie has a werewolf too, and the makeup isn't far off from Wolfman's, so it's like getting the "Dracula vs Wolfman" movie we were denied since Universal never actually made one.

It's hard not to think about the Universal films when watching it; even discounting the makeup and Bela's appearance, the other characters are cut from the same cloth (professors, doctors, young ladies who catch the eye of Drac- er, "Armand Tesla") and has the same general vibe from start to finish. The biggest difference is the setting; while the Dracula (and Wolfman and Frankenstein) films take place in the 19th century, this one - apart from a lengthy prologue - takes place in the (then) present day of 1943. World War II (specifically bomber planes) even plays a part in the proceedings, something I'm not sure I've seen before in this particular brand of monster movie, which I found kind of fascinating and wish it was a bigger part of the film (perhaps because I'm still disappointed by the underutilized horror element of Overlord). I suspect the low budget forced them to keep it to a minimum, but still - you get to see a vampire vs werewolf climax interrupted by a Nazi bomber!

I also liked how the werewolf was used, as a sort of slave to the vampire. As with Larry Talbot, the cursed guy (Andreas) is a sympathetic monster, forced to do evil deeds by his master but struggling to break free of his control. Naturally, the cops think he's the real villain, and there's only one guy who suspects Lugosi's character of being up to no good, making it engaging even though we in the audience are always a step or two ahead of everyone. There's a real villain to take down and a relatively innocent man to redeem - Wolfman had no real villain and Dracula had no anti-hero, so it really does kind of offer a perfect mix of the two hoscenarios.

Also if you prefer Frankenstein, they got you covered there too - a guy talks to the camera and throws you out of the damn thing.

Since it's 70+ years old everyone involved is dead but that didn't stop Scream Factory from offering a special edition with a whopping three commentaries by film historians, including Troy Howarth who I'm rapidly becoming a fan of (they use him a lot). The others are fine; one focuses more on werewolf movies and the other on Lugosi in general, but if you want something more specific to this film than Howarth's is the one to go with. The transfer is also quite nice; it looks better than some of the genuine Universal ones if you ask me. Here's hoping SF puts out more of the under-represented flicks from the classic era; I know they've been stepping up their game with the 1950s monster movies (I just got Deadly Mantis, in fact) and they'll obviously always be dishing out the 70s/80s fare, but there are a number of interesting gems from the 30s and 40s that fell through the cracks (or are indeed in public domain) that deserve the polishing.

What say you?


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