BC's In Fangoria!

As you should know, Fangoria was revived last year and so far has been pretty spectacular, bringing back the things we loved about the glory days of the mag while moving away from the sort of instantly-dated things that sunk the mag in the advent of the internet (i.e. news we already knew and reviews of films that had already come and gone). It only comes out four times a year now, and while the price seems hefty (20 bucks an issue) you get plenty of content for it - it takes me quite a bit of time to get through an issue compared to other genre publications. And they have subscription deals all the time, so it usually ends up being around 15 bucks an issue, which is only a few dollars more than it was when it wasn't really worth reading.

They're on issue #6 now, and if you ask me it's the best one yet, though I must admit I have a bias: I have an article in it! I know I'm not alone when I say that getting published in THE Fangoria is a longtime dream/goal of mine, and while I did some stuff for the website over the years this is the first time I've landed in the print version*. And I am proud to say that I didn't use my slot to gush over one of my known targets (Cathy's Curse, Shocker, etc) but instead wrote about Black Xmas and how it was hated upon inception but has been reappraised over the years, just in time for the new remake which seems like it'll end up in the same boat.

I'm not sure where you can buy the issue in stores; I know some local shops that specialize in horror (i.e. Dark Delicacies) probably have it but there's obviously not one of those in every town. But hopefully you're already a subscriber and can check it out! I'm very proud of it and I wanted to make sure you guys - especially longtime HMAD readers, since they're the reason I made it as far as I did in the first place - were aware of the BC-fied content that might already be sitting on your desk or toilet. And if you're NOT subscribing, I recommend it - they're getting lots of exciting contributors (the previous issue had Jordan Peele interviewing Ari Aster!) and making sure you get your money's worth (subscribers also get access to the website, which like the mag eschews the same stuff you can read anywhere in favor of more interesting content), plus mailing it out in high quality envelopes that won't leave your issues all messed up like those black bags used to. Viva la Fangoria!

*I contributed a very short capsule description of Halloween for their special Scream Factory tie-in issue, which doesn't really count.


Haunt (2019)

DECEMBER 23, 2019


For as long as I can recall going to haunted houses and "horror nights" theme park makeovers in October, I've thought that they should make a movie where people got killed for real at one. Well, now that we've had a few, I don't think we need any more for a while. Haunt is a perfectly decent slasher, and more mainstream than most of the Shudder exclusives that they tout a lot, but it's too silly/thin a premise to sustain being done several times in such a short period. Over the past few years we've had Hell Fest, The Houses That October Built (and its sequel), Blood Fest... not to mention things like 31 that change up the setup (those folks were kidnapped and forced to run through the maze, as opposed to voluntary ticket buyers) but otherwise play out the same. We get it! We should stick to the normal houses in our own towns!

In Haunt's case, even some of the dynamic is the same as Hell Fest's, as our skittish heroine Harper is coaxed on by her roommate and partially willing to go along for the ride because of her burgeoning crush on a nice guy. And while there's no proving anything, it's worth noting that the Hell Fest script floated around for quite a while before finally being produced only a few months after Haunt was shot, and from what I understand they quickly put it together to get it out for last year's Halloween season. So it's not too farfetched to assume that Hell Fest's long development process got the script into the hands of people who'd go on to make Haunt instead, and once the HF holders caught wind of it, barrelled their version through whatever the holdups were to get it done and out first so that they wouldn't be seen as the ripoff, which would just be twisting the knife considering how long it had been in the works (it has been around at least as far back as 2011, when Neil Marshall was attached to direct it).

There are two key differences though, both of which can explain why I ultimately preferred Hell Fest to this one. One is that in that movie, they were being stalked by a sole killer in an open, normally running park, opening it up to different possibilities and adding the always fun "no one will believe our hero" scenario. This meant that the action was rather backloaded, yes, but it was something different, and the tradeoff that they had no real reason to be cautious or confused about the situation, allowing them to hurdle over a number of the logic issues. But here, our group drives to this place in the middle of nowhere and there's no one else around and it's very creepy i.e. they should have had warning bells go off in the first place, so it's not as interesting - it's just "yet another", instead.

Also, Hell Fest's sole killer kept it firmly within the standard slasher template (which I love, warts and all). Here there's like a half dozen murderers working for this place, some of which you only see for the first time moments before they attack one of our heroes. I guess the idea is to make the odds feel insurmountable for our protagonists, but it just felt closer to cheating to me, as they could just keep throwing new killers at the kids until the 90 minute runtime was reached - I think it's only fair to establish just how many villains they had to get past in order to escape. It got pretty repetitive by the last half hour, I gotta say, and it denies us any real mega villain that we can really fear, as they're all kind of equal (and not particularly memorable). Like you know in Hellraiser III when they bring out those new Cenobites even though it's pretty much a Pinhead vehicle? Imagine if the movie was just those guys, and every time another one got killed a new, equally generic one would come along a few minutes later. That's what this is like.

All that said, it more or less gets the job done in a basic, no-frills kind of way. Our heroes are thankfully not obnoxious and have no in-group fighting to annoy me; I think the biggest drama is that the roommate loses Harper's mother's ring - when she's attacked! Harper is also a pretty great Final Girl - she's normal without being a wallflower (she actually makes the first move on the guy!) and doesn't need fifty attacks to finally fight back. I also liked Evan, the would-be boyfriend's best brah, who is introduced as kind of a dick (he spills a drink on Harper) but when they realize they're in real danger he's the most proactive about getting everyone out - he doesn't sell them out or leave them behind to save himself (which is what I expected him to do as soon as they arrived).

Indeed, the best thing about the movie is how it occasionally circumvents traditional cliches; the absolute highlight of the film is when Nate (the would-be boyfriend) does that thing where he reaches into a hole and pretends to get grabbed to scare his friends - a tired horror gag we've seen a million times, but then there's a fun twist to it that works really well. The final scene also does something like this, though obviously I won't be spoiling any details, and in this day and age I guess it also counts as a "twist" that our group doesn't all hate each other (indeed, later on I tried a random Christmas slasher on Prime and sure enough, the heroine's boyfriend had fooled around with one of her sorority sisters). The second best thing is that they don't waste too much time on the "is this actually happening or is it part of the act?" stuff, though perhaps if they HAD stretched that out a tad they wouldn't have had to run in circles (literally, at one point) to pad the rest of it out.

Considering it was from the writers of Quiet Place, and produced by Eli Roth, I guess I was expecting a little more from it, so I'd probably like it more a second time around if that were to happen. Again, it's an enjoyable enough movie, but it's not particularly novel or memorable either - the occasional "let's pull a switcheroo with this generic scare type moment" beats only make up a few seconds of a 90 minute movie, after all. But as I mentioned, a lot of Shudder's exclusive stuff tends to fall on the less mainstream side of things (like Prevenge and We Are The Flesh), so I think it's a good thing that they'll be the home to easy recommendable stuff like this in order to woo more casual horror fans. And if means more people might check out Hell Fest, even if just to compare, that's a good thing too!

What say you?


The Black Cat / Horror Island (1941)

DECEMBER 16, 2019


Earlier this year, Scream Factory released a volume of old Universal films that happened to star both Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, which I had a lot of fun with. I somehow missed the second volume, but the third one is now here and while it doesn't seem to have any theme as far as actors go, it has so far been just as entertaining, with both The Black Cat and Horror Island being among the better of the non-Monster films from the era that I've seen, with Black Cat in particular being a total winner, one I could see myself throwing on again during the Halloween season when I want something light and fun to doze off to after a grueling day.

Amusingly/confusingly, the first volume had a movie called The Black Cat and it also had Bela Lugosi, so I want to be clear that this one is from 1941 and Lugosi is not one of the primary characters. It's actually a bit of an uncredited remake of their Cat and the Canary update from 1939, which added Bob Hope (read: comedy) to the story as it was a remake itself. Broderick Crawford plays the Bob Hope-y role, though he's actually got a Costello kind of demeanor as he makes his way through the usual story (inheritance, killer, secret passageways, etc.). His flirty material with Anne Gwynne are rather sweet and genuine, and she wasn't just a damsel in distress; if anything she was helping him out just as often, if not more so.

Naturally, it's not particularly scary or anything, though at least they don't try to suggest supernatural forces when we all know it'll just be a person; it's actually closer to a traditional slasher (!) than most other Old Dark House stuff I've seen. Likewise, for once the mystery was actually somewhat engaging for me! It wasn't until a few minutes before the big reveal that I finally pegged the killer, which is rare as I'm usually well ahead of them in these older movies and thus find it harder to enjoy. Not like, "Oh man I need to rewatch this to see what I missed" kind of stuff, but certainly better plotted than I was expecting all the same.

Only bummer is Lugosi being a throwaway character; his career was already in decline so bit parts weren't uncommon, but I figured since of his association with the title he wouldn't have accepted such a thankless role. They give him a good entrance though, with those great eyes staring out through the cast-iron fence that surrounds the property where the entire movie takes place. Basil Rathbone is top billed, but it's really Crawford's movie as he's in nearly every scene and gets all the best laughs (there's a hilarious bit where the phone goes out and he keeps duping one of the less-intelligent family members to try to call for help). Apparently he usually played authoritarian figures and the like - what a waste! He's got great comic chops.

The same year's Horror Island was pretty similar, except not as fun. Dick Foran played the hero, and while he's got a certain charm his comedic stuff fell flat for me (and to think he was originally cast as Larry Talbot!). But the story is fine, it's like an Old Dark House movie on an island, as Foran takes a motley group out on a fake treasure hunt only for a Phantom to show up and start offing people in order to claim the real treasure. The body count is slightly higher than normal for these things, but the pacing is weird - the movie is only 60 minutes long (bless!) and it takes almost half that time just to get to the island. The mystery is kind of amusing though, because the killer keeps reminding everyone how many people are left alive by writing the number in chalk on the wall - I wish Jason or Michael would do that, it'd be funny.

The commentary made me more forgiving of the movie's lapses though - per historian Ted Newsom, the movie was shot, edited, and released in a span of about three weeks, which is less than some television shows are given. They apparently overworked the actors (Foran eventually fell ill) and violated union rules, all to get the movie out for whatever reason. They also used leftover sets from other Universal productions (including Tower of London, also included on this set but I haven't gotten to it yet), so the whole thing is like an early prototype for Corman productions like The Terror and Little Shop of Horrors, but without anyone as fun as Jack Nicholson or Dick Miller to make up for the shoddiness. But again it's breezy enough to be a decent time-killer, and even though it has nothing to do with the movie itself I like Newsom's style of commentary, as he largely avoids rattling off the actors' filmographies and instead focuses on the production itself, while also providing context for where Universal was at at the time. He also mocks a few of its narrative choices, but in a loving way - as with me and Cathy's Curse, he's a genuine fan that just happens to be fully aware of its questionable moments.

Scream Factory will always be known for their 70s and 80s fare, but I am excited that they are continuing to put out solid editions of these older, somewhat forgotten films. Instead of ending up on a Mill Creek set or something, they get nice transfers, a commentary track, and - perhaps best of all - the backing of a label that has earned the trust of horror fans, which means it's more likely that people will be checking them out. Universal itself has always done right by their Dracula, Frankenstein, etc. movies, but it's these "B" entries that really give you a sense of what genre fare was like back then - it'd be like someone now only seeing Scream and Blair Witch Project when they wanted to see what 90s horror was like. No, those were the highlights! You gotta watch Hellraiser: Bloodline and Hideaway to get an idea of what we were usually being offered! Here's hoping they can continue to get access to Hammer films so they can do the same for their unheralded minor gems as well.

What say you?


Black Christmas (2019)

DECEMBER 13, 2019


As the world's biggest (but not lone, as I've recently discovered! Was such a relief!) fan of 2006's Black Xmas, the only thing that annoyed me about another remake is that when Black Christmas (2019) was announced earlier this year, it was met with a lot of optimism and excitement that was never afforded the previous incarnation. Where were you all in 2006, when even Bob Clark's blessing couldn't keep horror fans from raising their pitchforks and torches about that one? So that irked me a bit, but then again, there's a big difference between this one and the other two: this time, women were writing and directing, which meant not only a different perspective on the usual story, but a timely one as well.

As with Glen Morgan's version, Sophia Takal, directing from a script she wrote with April Wolfe, wisely borrows only the basic concept of Bob Clark's original and changes just about everything else. So while yes, this is indeed the third version of a movie about a group of sorority sisters who stay on campus during their holiday break and are menaced by a killer, it's in many ways even more removed from Clark's film than Morgan's was, and that's a good thing. There's the usual animosity online about them "ruining" the story or whatever, but as always I feel this is the best way to go, as I can forget about the film(s) that I love and focus exclusively on this one, judging it on its own highs and lows instead of how it compares to the others. They don't even really reference the others that much; the cat's name is "Claudette" (a variation on the male "Claude" from the original), a sorority house's number is 1974 (heh), and some of the kills are influenced by the others (a plastic bag and - yes! - an icicle), but that's it. No house mother, no creepy phone calls (texts instead), no Billy or Agnes... it's its own thing.

Our hero this time around is Riley (Imogen Poots), who embodies the usual Final Girl template but with a grim addition: she was sexually assaulted as a freshman (she's a senior now), with the attacker more or less getting a slap on the wrist. So she's become not only a bit more hesitant than you'd expect from a sorority girl, but also protective of the younger women who have pledged since, hoping to keep the same thing from happening to them at the hands of fraternity brothers. It's not long before things start weirding her out, but at first she is unable to tell if it's just the frat guys messing with her for spreading rumors about their "bro", or if it's something more sinister and dangerous. Of course, we know it's the latter thanks to a (pretty solid) opening scene kill and another one later (which plays out as an homage to another horror "3"), so thankfully it doesn't take too long to get her up to speed with us.

In fact I was kind of surprised when the shit really hit the fan. Rather than follow the usual slasher template and pick everyone off one by one before our final girl is even aware that she is in immediate danger, the killer attacks all three of our main heroes at once at around the halfway mark or so, allowing them to work together and fight off their attacker. It'd be too spoilery to talk specifics, alas, so I'll just say that it's very satisfying to watch Poots, Aleyse Shannon, and Lily Donoghue take on the killer together as sisters, rather than bog the film down with pointless in-group bickering or backstabbing as so many modern films do (even the 2006 one had some of this, though thankfully not much). These women really care about each other and have each others' backs, and it's incredibly refreshing to see.

(ALERT! If you haven't seen the trailer yet, please skip the next three paragraphs!!!)

And I say that as a white man, i.e. the type of person being targeted by the script. As you've seen in the marketing, it's not just one or two killers this time - it's a whole group of dudes in masks and robes, and yes they are obviously part of a fraternity. The how's and why's I'll leave to your imagination until you see the movie for yourself, but I don't think anyone would deny that this film was written as a response to the Brett Kavanaughs of the world (just to make it clear, one of the film's male characters even plainly says "I like beer"). So naturally, as a man, it's not always a fun watch, being reminded repeatedly that I might be perceived as a threat by one of its makers should they happen to be walking past me at night or sharing an elevator or (name literally anything you do during the day and there's a woman who has been made to feel unsafe doing it).

There's a scene right at the beginning that hit home; one of the girls is walking alone at night when she starts to suspect the guy behind her is following her and meaning to do her harm. After a few tentative looks behind her she starts to panic, grabs her keys and holds them out as a claw, ready to strike, and then... the guy just walks across the street into a house, having no intentions for her and presumably having no idea she was even scared of him in the first place. It's something that's happened to me; I am a rather fast walker and one day while walking on an otherwise empty side street I noticed a woman in front of me noticeably tense up and repeatedly look over at the store front window parallel to us, presumably to see my reflection and gauge my intentions. I felt horrible about it - but I also wondered how many times I've been in that same situation but *didn't* notice that someone in front of me was terrified to hear my lumbering steps behind them. As I am not a killer or rapist, I naturally don't walk around with the slightest notion that anyone would have a reason to be afraid of me, but ever since that day I keep it in mind, and either intentionally slow down or sit down if necessary and let them get the distance they want (seems like a better solution than yelling "Don't worry, I'm just trying to get to the movies so I have time to order a hot pretzel!", which, let's be honest, accounts for roughly 75% of the times I am putting a little extra spring in my step).

But that is just scratching the surface of the shit women have to deal with on a daily basis, and naturally I'll never even begin to understand even half of it. Why do I bring this up in a slasher movie review? Well, because I think the filmmakers are tired of men not getting it, and using the slasher as a vessel to spell a few things out, with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to make sure no one misses the point. In a genre filled with films that were read into (cue Carpenter laughing at Halloween having an anti-sex attitude), Sakal and Wolfe make it abundantly clear that this is about toxic masculinity, literally spelling it out in their own way (again, no specific spoilers beyond what's in the trailer), having grown tired of men like Kavanaugh getting away with what they do while women are harassed and labeled as "hysterical" when they call such men on their deplorable behavior. Ideally, the movie would be incredibly dated in ten years (sooner?) because these problems have finally been dealt with, but sadly I fear that it will continue to be relevant for a while.

Luckily, even if those issues are a thing of the past, it'll still largely work as a slasher, especially for younger crowds who might not be ready for the likes of Freddy or Jason just yet. Yes, it's a PG-13 film, but I rarely remembered that during my viewing, and in fact at one point the rating actually HELPS, as something happens off-screen that you might assume is because of its rating but ends up being a clever misdirect. The characters are all engaging, with no standard cliches - there's no "snotty girl" or "weird girl" or whatever; they're all just normal friends with believable, amiable chemistry. I wouldn't have minded more chase scenes, especially since they're not confined to the house (nor is the timeframe as compressed as the others - it takes place over several days), but they instead focus on moving things along and keeping the runtime from getting out of hand (it's barely over 90 minutes with credits, bless), so it's easily forgivable.

That said, I wouldn't have minded a little more time explaining, or at least building up to, the... thing. I can't say what it is, but you'll know exactly what I mean when you see the movie. It's admirably kind of an insane idea and introduces an element I certainly wasn't expecting (even from the spoiler-y trailers), but it's somewhat jarring in its execution; I liken it to watching Halloween and then skipping ahead to the final 15 minutes of Halloween 6, as it offers the same sort of "Wait, WHAT?" kind of reaction one might have if they were to do that. I assume it's part of the "let's skip being subtle" approach, and if so I can certainly appreciate the effort, but the idea itself just didn't really land for me. It's kind of like Us in that I'd rather know less, because once part of it is explained it opens the floodgates to other questions, ones for which there is no seeming answer. Plus, if they introduced it earlier, it'd give the chance a movie to get even weirder and more inventive - as it stands, there's so little left of the film it feels more like a deus ex machina. With the ads giving so much away, it's kind of the only surprise the movie had left, and there's not enough time to do it justice.

Otherwise, I, the white male enemy, enjoyed this new take on the basic story. I don't know if it'll be thrown into my Blu-ray player as often as the others, but I can easily recommend it to horror fans with open minds, and women who will appreciate the cathartic moments in the third act (in fact, this may be the only actual place where the PG-13 rating hampered the movie, as it would have been great to see the antagonists get gorier demises). The heavy handed way they go about delivering their message may be a turn off for some men (and self-loathing women, who are also represented here), but I found it fair game and very much justified - the last thing anyone should be complaining about is a modern horror movie with a point of view, especially one that differs from your own, as you should think of it as a fun way to maybe learn something. But even if you somehow are able to ignore its message, it's still an enjoyable holiday slasher; its missteps aren't enough to derail the whole thing, and its heart's in the right place, so overall I call it a win.

What say you?


FTP: Undertaker (2012)

DECEMBER 5, 2019


I have no idea where Undertaker came from - I assume I won it at trivia since it's from a company I don't often receive review copies from, but it's a perfect movie to restart the "From the Pile" reviews. And that's because if someone were to ask what an ideal "pile" movie was, it'd be this: a reasonably entertaining but forgettable movie that I won't ever need to watch again, and certainly won't need to make room on my permanent shelf for. It'll go to a good home, I won't have to reorganize my collection to make room for it (though as a "U" film it wouldn't take long; it's those "A" and "B" films that REALLY need to win me over to be kept), and I get a little bit of quick HMAD content for you all. Everyone wins!

The concept is pretty interesting, one I'm not sure I've seen before in the other 8,000 zombie movies I have seen. Our hero isn't a mortician per se - he's a zombie hunter who is hired by families to locate their loved ones (who have since become zombies) and put them to rest, so that they don't have to live wondering if their beloved son or daughter is out there being a monster. Having been watching Mandalorian on Disney+, it's an interesting parallel to that guy's MO for bounty hunting - there's something kind of compelling about him tracking a specific zombie in a world overrun with the damn things. I could easily see this being an ongoing series, or perhaps a comic.

A comic would also carry the benefit of not being restricted by the budget, something that was clearly an issue here. It's all well done for what it offers, but it just doesn't really offer that much. After a really good opening sequence and setup, the movie suddenly feels like a real time account of one particular mission - with almost no dialogue (let alone other characters) to boot. The movie is only 65 minutes long with credits (and the pre-title sequence is 16 of those minutes), and nearly half of it is basically one long sequence of Ryouichi wiping out an area's supply of zombies (not a lot of them, mind you - a half dozen or so) until he finds the one he's looking for. It starts to feel like there were loftier ambitions at one point and they had to just draw out what might have been the first act of a more engaging story. Maybe that isn't even remotely the case, but that's how it came across.

But again, for what it is, it's well done. Ryouichi doesn't use a gun to kill zombies, preferring a sharpened shovel that he wields like a blade, and he puts on a show for the audience more often than not - when you don't have thousands of zombies, you gotta make the kills count! There's some decent splatter to go along with the kills, and the zombie makeup is solid to boot. But there's also an animated butterfly that looks pretty goofy, however, so I feel I should warn you about that. Synapse's disc comes with a making of piece that runs almost as long as the film, some deleted scenes, and the original short film "On Your Back" that director Naoyoshi Kawamatsu made earlier and, amusingly, actually has a more complicated story despite running less than a third of the time of the feature.

Basically if you like Japanese zombie movies, there's enough here to recommend, but the brevity of the film and its threadbare narrative might be hard to get past, especially on a purchase, and this doesn't seem like something you'll find at Redbox. Hopefully director Kawamatsu can expand on his ideas someday if he hasn't moved on - the concept deserves something with a little more meat on its bones.

What say you?


Mary (2019)

NOVEMBER 26, 2019


I planned to see Mary at Beyond Fest last month, but my ulcer issues had me being a bit choosier with my outings, as I was still unsure if I was completely back to normal (every minor gas pain *still* causes me to briefly panic). But now that I've seen it, I'm glad I waited to watch at home; it's a smaller film that wouldn't benefit all that much from a big-screen viewing, and as it gets a bit repetitive in the middle I probably would have nodded off anyway and missed some stuff. Plus, I would be denied the making of featurette on the blu-ray, where the little girl playing Gary Oldman's daughter gushes about how excited she was to meet someone from the Harry Potter movies - I love when kid actors are actually, you know, kids, and not precocious (read: annoying).

Oldman plays David, a family man who captains a charter boat some other guy owns, taking tourists out for fishing and whale spotting or whatever - but he longs to own his own ship so he can get a bigger piece of that tourism pie. When a salvaged sailboat turns up for auction at a price that's too good to be true (uh oh) he jumps on the opportunity, which pisses off his wife (Emily Mortimer) because it's a lot of money and he didn't consult her first. But he has a pretty good trump card to win the argument - he forgave her for an affair she had a few months earlier, so she's like "Ah ok, touche" and drops it. But that's enough strife to inform us studied horror movie fans that their personal demons are going to manifest once they're out at sea with nowhere to hide/run.

So yeah, it's basically Shining or Amityville but on a relatively small boat, which is an intriguing concept for a film. Sure, we've had the likes of Death Ship and Ghost Ship, but the keyword there is "ship" - this is a sailboat, not much bigger than the Orca in Jaws. That limits the kinds of scares that director Michael Goi and writer Anthony Jaswinski (who wrote The Shallows, so he knows from minimized settings) can execute - there's no "sneaking off to explore the ship" kind of stuff, nor is anyone able to "split up" in any reasonable manner - the furthest they can get from each other is about forty feet. I assume this is the reason for the framing device, in which Mortimer's character is telling the story of what happened to her now sunken ship and seemingly dead husband - it botches a hefty chunk of the suspense, but it also allows them to break up the action every now and then by cutting back to the police station for a couple minutes.

But even with that helping, it doesn't change the fact that the characters keep putting up with a lot of unexplained events without ever considering returning home. Perhaps in real time it would have worked, as they COULD make that call and then keep running into ghostly occurrences anyway as they tried to make their way back to the mainland, but it takes place over a few weeks, making Oldman seem kind of idiotic. The "we can't afford to go back" excuse never quite lands, because all they're doing is basically testing the boat out before they start putting it up for hire - there's no ticking clock, just misplaced pride. I remember hearing that the family of Billy Tyne sued the makers of Perfect Storm because George Clooney's version of the man was presented as reckless and foolhardy (since they were all lost at sea, the events that led to his and his crew's death are of course, made up), but I think the movie did a great job of making his decision to try to get through the storm (their ice machine broke and they'd lose all of the valuable fish they caught), so I never thought he was a moron. Oldman's character in this movie though? Come on man, go home.

That said, the scary stuff offers a few good chills, in particular a moment where the youngest daughter smashes a glass on her sister's face out of nowhere - it has no real buildup, so it works as a shock just as well to us as it does to her family. And if you, like me, consider drowning and choking among the worst possible ways to die, "enjoy" the scene where one of the influenced characters ties a rope around someone's neck and tosses them overboard, because that's just doubling up. Also, even if the backstory is rather muddled, I kind of like the idea that the thing that haunts the ship and starts turning them crazy is the siren figurehead, because that means Goi can cut to it every now and then all ominously and I can just hum a few bars of Meat Loaf's "Sailor to a Siren" to amuse myself. But also it helped me think of the movie as another one of those '90s Amityville movies where haunted objects from the house went elsewhere and did its thing - maybe the Lutzes had a figurehead for their little getaway boat and it ended up here!

Back to Oldman though - what's with these newer films where the male lead is clearly much older than the role was written for? We see it with Nic Cage a lot (rumored to be originally cast in this, in fact) too; it's not just "he married a younger woman", it's that they have kids and never once does anyone say anything about it. I mean, the guy is in his 60s, but he's talking about how he still wants to run his own business as if he was hitting forty or so - shouldn't he be about to retire? I know having him in the movie makes people more excited to see it than they might be for, I dunno, Michael Sheen or someone that would be more appropriately aged (I am assuming that for whatever reason the filmmakers wanted two UK actors to play the American parents), but can they at least do a quick rewrite to acknowledge his age? It's not so much "he can pass for 45" or whatever - it's that they're banking on our affinity for an actor who has been around for decades. He wasn't 18 when he played Lee Harvey Oswald, you know?

As mentioned, the disc has a making of featurette, where Oldman notes that it's his first water movie (Hunter Killer wouldn't count since his character wasn't on the sub), though at first I thought he said "horror movie" so I was momentarily insulted on behalf of the respective cast and crews of Dracula and Hannibal (if he wants to forget The Unborn, that's perfectly fine). It only runs about six minutes, so there's not much of substance (ditto for the other, even shorter featurette that focuses on the family cast members) but I appreciate them putting SOMETHING on there in this era of "screw it people are streaming anyway". Ironically, that's probably the ideal option for this movie; it's watchable but not particularly great, with a backstory that's too underdeveloped to require your full attention, so I suspect some "let me check my phone while this umpteenth "something is WRONG here" conversation plays out" will be happening.

What say you?


The Fan (1981)

NOVEMBER 21, 2019


It's bad enough when there are two movies with the same name but otherwise have nothing in common (like Alone in the Dark or Crash), but it's even more annoying when they have the same basic plot. You are reading a review of The Fan, a film from 1981 that stars Michael Biehn as an obsessed/psychotic fan of a celebrity (Lauren Bacall), NOT the 1996 film where Robert DeNiro was an obsessed/psychotic fan of a celebrity (Wesley Snipes). For added "fun", they're both based on separate novels of the same name, and there's the 1982 German film where Désirée Nosbusch was an obsessed/psychotic fan of a celebrity (Bodo Steiger). Therefore, allow me to take a moment to do something I never thought I'd do: thank Fred Durst, because his recent film about an obsessed/psychotic fan of a celebrity (John Travolta and Devon Sawa, respectively) is called The Fanatic so we can at least not get that one mixed up with these too often.

Anyway, THIS Fan has been kind of forgotten over the years, as it was not a theatrical hit (it was unfortunately timed for release shortly after John Lennon was murdered by a deranged fan of his own) and is only now hitting Blu-ray (the DVD, released in 2002, has box art so ugly I can't imagine it inspired too many blind buys). It was also disowned by Bacall, as the film she signed up for was more of a psychological drama but thanks to the success of Dressed to Kill the producers decided to add some bloody violence, lumping it in with the slasher films of 1981. I wouldn't qualify it as slasher by any means - Biehn's character Douglas has an even lower body count than Michael Myers in the first Halloween, let alone the many masked maniacs that were playing in theaters by the time this was released. That said, it's more violent than the book for sure, as the movie has a sequence where Douglas kills some staff at the theater where Bacall's Sally Ross is performing her play, and earlier he murders a maid who doesn't appear in the book at all.

The book also takes an epistolary form like Dracula, as it's presented in a series of letters and telegrams between the characters. This means some awkward means of exposition (these folks sure do write a lot, no matter how trivial) but is otherwise an interesting way of telling a stalker story, as Douglas' letters get more and more unhinged while everyone else's world goes on without even noticing him (the secretary who actually reads the letters eventually just ignores them, so we're the only ones seeing their content). The movie obviously can't do that, so while Douglas still sends letters, it's only about a fraction of what he did in the book, and in turn that means we learn a lot less about him. The book offers plenty of background info - stuff with his parents, more with his job as a record store clerk (and his hatred of a new coworker, played in the film by Dana Delany), and, naturally, more about his obsession - to the point where he is telling old friends that he is Sally's boyfriend and promises them autographs, as well as booking hotel rooms to take her to celebrate the opening of her play. It's legit unnerving after a while, something the film can't quite capture in the same way.

Instead we get a solid performance from Biehn, whose menace is evident from the first scene. He doesn't chew the scenery as well as some of his other villains (like The Abyss), but - perhaps because I've seen a few "Douglas" types over the years of moderating Q&As here in LA - he doesn't need to be gnashing his teeth and such to come off as a threat, as his demeanor alone will leave you uneasy. As for Bacall, she's fine - her best years were behind her and that was part of the role, but I wouldn't say she was exactly diving into the material. I assume it's because the script changes left her cold about the whole production anyway, but for every moment you see her really coming to life (putting the film into camp territory, especially when she's arguing with her secretary), there are others where she just seems bored, and since the character is kind of a tyrant it gets a bit hard to really sympathize with her. Faring better is James Garner, whose ex-husband/now best friend character never joins her in NY in the book (he's in LA with his new wife; the two never share a "scene" there, only corresponding through their weekly letters) but is around all the time and eventually rekindles his relationship with her. It's kind of sweet to watch!

But alas, the book offers a consistent tone that the movie can't match due to its producers switching gears after they already had a cast in place. Again, it doesn't quite qualify as a slasher, but these scenes are violent and grim, a tonal clash with the somewhat campy feel of the Broadway scenes, not to mention Bacall's character's melodrama of getting old, reconnecting with her ex, etc. It's also erratic when it comes to resolving things satisfyingly; Garner's character disappears for the climax, as do the police who have been shadowing her through half the movie, making their characters feel useless in the long run. And while we see Sally's ongoing struggle with a particular dance move for her play throughout rehearsals, they don't bother showing us its finished form on opening night, making me wonder why they spent so much time on it earlier only to deny us the triumphant moment where she finally nails it. So it feels a bit scatterbrained, making it one of those movies that doesn't have any particularly bad scenes or plot threads, but they never quite gel in a way that makes the film fully satisfying as a whole. It's an easy enough watch, sure, but I can't say it's one I'll feel like revisiting much - which for me is rather insane for a "1981 slasher".

Scream Factory has certainly appeased to its fanbase with the Blu-ray though; there's a new interview with Biehn, another with director Ed Bianchi, and a third with editor Alan Heim, all of which are interesting and fairly candid (it seems Ms. Bacall did not get along all that well with anyone). But the real treat is a commentary with David Del Valle, David DeCoteau, and (Scream Factory guru) Jeff Nelson, who have a grand old time showing their appreciation for the movie (they often sing along to the Raspberry-nominated musical numbers) while also discussing the film's production, the climate of the time (re: violence after Lennon), other films that are in the same vein (Cruising comes up a few times), etc. It's a terrific and funny track, the kind I wish Scream would put out more often - genuine fans of the material who also have something to say.

What say you?


Suspiria (1977)

NOVEMBER 19, 2019


Despite this being the third time I've gotten a copy of it, and seeing it on the big screen at least three times since I started the site, I've somehow never reviewed Suspiria in any form. Usually I do "non-canon" reviews for such things (i.e. movies I've already seen but are worthy of being written about, i.e. all of the Halloweens and other franchise films I covered over the years), but for whatever reason I somehow never got around to putting pen to paper (finger to keyboard) about Dario Argento's iconic classic. What do I pay you people for if you're not going to point these things out to me?

(And we still need to discuss how I managed to review Killer Nun a few weeks ago without ever once realizing I already reviewed Killer Nun.)

My only guess as to why I kept letting it slide: I have fallen asleep every time I've seen the movie, and thus I probably had some sort of "Let me pull that DVD or Blu-ray out and see what I missed first" plan that fell through when the 90 other things I need to do every day took priority. But I don't want you to take that as me being bored with the film or whatever - on the contrary, the last time I watched it (on the big screen, from the same 4K remaster that was used for this very disc) I finally realized *why* the film always knocked me out cold: the first 15-20 minutes are just too goddamn intense. The storm, Suzy's dread-inducing walk through the airport, her struggles to get inside, the murders... the film doesn't let up for an entire reel (more?), so when it does... well, I know it's crass but it's the only thing I can think of to compare, it's basically the same thing that happens after a good orgasm: I feel "spent" and nod off.

And of course, during a theatrical viewing that just means I miss things, but luckily at home I can rewind and see what I was dozing through. And trust me, on Synapse's long-awaited 4K restoration, you do not want to miss a single frame, as this is one of the best remasters of an older film I've ever been blessed enough to see. For some background; I have a 4K TV (from Sony, if you're wondering) but not because I'm much of a gearhead - my previous TV died and I figured I might as well get the shiniest new toy (albeit one within my budget). And so far most of my 4K disc purchases (or review copies) have been of newer films; my only "I've seen this on Blu-ray and now I'm watching in 4K" experience has been Halloween, which looked good but didn't blow me away or anything. The jump from VHS to DVD, and then DVD to Blu-ray, were like night and day differences to my eyes, but so far Blu-ray to 4K has been more like the difference between 4 and 5 o'clock at best, so upgrading my collection once again isn't anything I plan to do.

The Suspiria restoration made me a believer though. The last time I watched at home was on one of the older Blu-rays, and it looked good, but this was a revelation. Some details just pop more than ever, such as the blue iris behind Suzy as she tells Miss Tanner about how Pat mentioned an iris, or the glowing eyes that appear behind Sara before she falls into the razor wire room. (Oh, and never before has it been more clear that it's razor wire and not barbed wire, so there's something, too.) Yes, this means that the off-color fake blood puddle around Pat's roommate looks even more, well, fake, but for every blemish like that there are a dozen examples (such as the detail in all the stained glass that CAUSES that fake blood puddle) that will have your eyes popping throughout. This took them a few years to complete, and the evidence is right there on the screen.

Oh and the movie is still great. I think this is my first time watching the original since the remake, which I enjoyed parts of but overall found it to be too indulgent and sprawling for my tastes, so it was nice to go back to my preferred take on the "a lady goes to a dance school run by witches" story (which also clocks in at nearly an hour shorter). There are a few pacing issues (like when Udo Kier delivers an info dump, then introduces Karl from Exorcist, who gives yet another info dump), but that's an issue that plagued a lot of Argento's earlier stuff, and given that this was his first foray into the supernatural after a string of gialli, it's easily forgivable. The mystery is engaging, Harper's Suzy is an easy protagonist to care about, and the big scare scenes - like the aforementioned razor wire scene - haven't lost an ounce of their effectiveness, even after multiple viewings.

It's also just nice to go back to a time when Argento had the money and time to make the kind of films he excelled at. Especially in this gorgeous restoration, you can just soak in Giuseppe Bassan's production design and the cinematography by Luciano Tovoli, skilled artists who had four *months* to bring Argento's vision to life. Nowadays he gets as many weeks, with budgets that are probably less even without factoring in the inflation. It's easy to say that he got old/tired and that's what brought about the decline of his work, but then you see things like The Irishman and The Mule and realize that maybe the actual difference is having the resources to still work to the best of their abilities. Hopefully someday he (and Carpenter, De Palma, etc) will find themselves with the same kind of freedom that is still afforded to their fellow '70s cinema gods.

Synapse released a thorough special edition on standard blu-ray last year and has ported over all of the bonus features from that release, so supplements wise there's nothing different here: it's got the commentaries, the retrospective, the video essay (which is quite good), interviews, alternate opening title sequence, etc. The real draw here is the actual 4K disc (as opposed to the 4K restoration on standard blu), so only those who have made the leap to the format need apply with this particular release. But I have to say... if there was a film to sell me on the legitimacy on 4K and perhaps get me thinking about upgrading other older films that have been given actual restorations (Die Hard is a possible option since I hate the existing Blu-ray anyway), this is it. Maybe it's just because I've suffered through a faded film print (noooo) and thus have something "bad" to compare it to, but outside of Criterion's Night of the Living Dead release, it is quite simply the best looking legacy release I've ever seen with my own eyes. Enjoy!

What say you?


Unmasked Part 25 (1989)

NOVEMBER 8, 2019


I remember reading about Unmasked Part 25 (aka Hand Of Death) in Fangoria as a young teen, wanting very much to see it but not being able to find it at any of my video stores. So over the years I kind of forgot about it, until Vinegar Syndrome announced they would be releasing it on Blu-ray for the first time, accompanied by a DVD copy since it never hit that format either (at least not in the US). And it had been so long that I had forgotten everything that Fangoria article (or review?) said that made me want to see it, so it was a nice blend of "I really want to see this movie" and "I have no idea what this movie is" - a pretty rare feat.

Luckily it's not a "go in blind" type so I can tell you what it is: a satirical take on the masked slasher movies of the '80s, in particular Jason Voorhees. Our killer, "Jackson", wears a hockey mask that doesn't really resemble Jason's (it kind of looks like the one on the *poster* for New Beginning though) but it's quite obvious he and he alone is the chief inspiration for the character here. They even set the events of the climax on Friday the 13th to hammer it home, ignoring whatever potential jokes they could get out of taking the piss on Freddy or Leatherface. Anyway, he's a Jason-like guy doing his Jason-like thing, but he's getting bored with it - he feels like he's in a rut and only killing randos because that's what is expected of him. But during his latest murder spree he meets a blind woman named Shelly, and rather than kill her (since she can't see, she's not instantly frightened of him) he strikes up a conversation with her and the two fall in love.

From then on it's kind of like Red Dragon's scenes with Reba McClane, as you're left with the rather uneasy feeling of kind of wanting this guy to find peace at last while also constantly worrying that he's going to kill this innocent woman we've gotten to know as opposed to the all-but anonymous jerks he usually offs. But the key difference is that director Anders Palm and writer Mark Cutforth find the humor in the concept, such as when she asks him to engage in rough sex with her and he's quite prudish about it, or when they go to a costume shop and he gets insulted by the idea of her wearing a mask (liking it to how she'd feel if he was pretending to be blind). Eventually his murderous urges start coming back and he feels compelled to do his thing, but for the most part, it's like a weird rom-com bookended by gory slasher scenes.

And yes, GORY. This was notoriously when the MPAA was at their worst for the slasher movies, leaving the likes of New Blood and Jason Takes Manhattan virtually bloodless, and this one was edited for release as well, but the difference is, the producers/studio didn't lose everything like they did for those F13 flicks, allowing Vinegar Syndrome to restore/release the film completely uncut. It was almost kind of disorienting to see how bloody it got at times, because I'm so used to everything from this era being sanitized, and as a bonus the splatter is actually quite well done for the most part, with lots and lots of prosthetics and blood bags doing their heroic duty as Jackson lays waste to two separate groups, with the occasional isolated murder here and there for good measure.

To be fair, the comedy is a bit dated, but it's important to keep in mind that the whole "meta horror" thing hadn't taken off yet. It's not a "spoof" of the films - there are no sight gags or even direct references to the movies we love (even the name Shelly is probably a coincidence, since it was used for a male character in F13 3 - wouldn't they go with Alice or Ginny?), it's closer to a "What if?" kind of scenario, one that might have worked even better if they straight up licensed the Jason character and used him this way. One thing that didn't quite work is that it takes place in London, with Jackson stalking someone's flat in the opening sequence, as opposed to the woods or an isolated home (he does go to one of those at the end, however - though it's more like "we have a really big yard" as opposed to "no one is around for miles"). So it throws off the "let's imagine Jason is getting tired of doing his thing" when he's completely out of his element - he should be kind of excited about the change of pace!

Basically it's a sillier version of something like Behind the Mask, where your love of slashers - and familiarity with their tropes - plays a big part in how much you're enjoying the film. I mean if you absolutely hate "body count" movies (or worse, never saw one) you'd probably find this unbearable, unlike something like Scary Movie which can appeal to a wider audience - this is as niche as it gets. Even the lo-fi look (it was shot on Super 16, swoon!) and plentiful gore lend it credibility that even some straight slashers (especially modern ones) don't bother to earn, and yet it's all in service of a funny (if slightly worn thin by the end) joke. Vinegar's Blu looks fantastic and comes with a pair of commentaries, one with Palm and the other with Cutforth (both moderated by writers), plus the trailer that kind of misleads what the film is ("it's a movie, within a movie, within a movie!" - huh?) and also spoils the ending for some reason - below is a scene instead so you can get an idea of the humor without having the story spoiled. At any rate, it's a nice package for a film that fans - and the curious - would have been happy to finally have at all. No, it won't be for everyone, but if you're a fellow slasher enthusiast like me you'll certainly appreciate the effort.

What say you?


Doctor Sleep (2019)

NOVEMBER 7, 2019


When Michael Crichton wrote The Lost World in 1995, he made the unusual choice to write it as a sequel to Jurassic Park, the film, as opposed to his novel, as Spielberg allowed Ian Malcolm to live whereas he was killed in the original text. Crichton waved away the discrepancy with a half-assed explanation of Malcolm being revived, and the resulting film was able to use the same basic plot of the novel (with some big differences), thanks to Crichton essentially saying the movie version of Jurassic Park was canon, not his own novel. Well, I haven't read Doctor Sleep, but I wouldn't need to in order to correctly assume that Stephen King made no such concession for Stanley Kubrick's version of the events of The Shining, leaving Mike Flanagan in the unenviable position to adapt King's sequel novel (published in 2013) in a way that honored the text but also the iconic Kubrick film that - let's be honest - is the version more people would know nowadays.

And no, that's not me dismissing the book or its own popularity: it's still huge and it holds up quite well (I re-read it earlier this year, in fact), and while it's not my favorite King novel, it is certainly one of his most essential. But in pop culture, the mental image of The Shining is Jack Nicholson saying "Here's Johnny!", it's the hedge maze, it's that damn (overused, now) carpet pattern, etc - all things that are specific to Kubrick's take on the material, which King has famously and repeatedly criticized over the years (me personally? I quite like both versions, though I agree Jack being nuts from the beginning does hurt the story of the movie itself, not just compared to the novel). The best compliment he's ever afforded it, until recently, is that it's a good horror movie but a terrible adaptation, and so his Doctor Sleep novel didn't pay it any mind; it takes place in a world where the Overlook had burned to the ground and Dick Halloran was still alive.

How Flanagan gets around these discrepancies is part of the fun of his film, so I won't get into them all. And in fact, I CAN'T, since again I haven't read it and thus cannot speak for every change or "blend" Flanagan makes in the movie version. All I know is from what I learned on the book's synopsis on the wiki page, and I can sum up with "he keeps the basic plot but changes things as necessary to fit within the Kubrick order of events". For example Dick is indeed accounted for, but as a ghost that acts as a sort of conscience for Danny (Ewan McGregor) as opposed to a living human being as he was in the novel, and (spoiler for those who haven't seen the trailer) while the book climax took place on the grounds where the Overlook once stood, Ewan is able to walk around and revisit all those classic spots: the elevator that gets flooded with blood, the axe-damaged door, etc.

It's an interesting approach, but I ultimately can't help but wonder if Flanagan would have ended up with an even stronger film had he just gone with one or the other instead of trying to serve both masters. From what I understand, Doctor Sleep is not one of King's best works (though that might be due to enhanced expectations for following up one of his masterpieces more than the quality of the book itself), but the plot is quite interesting: a grown up Danny, now fighting his own demons (i.e. booze) has his "Shining" reignited by a young girl named Abra who also shines and has drawn the attention of a group of, well, vampires of a sort, ones who find shiners and feed on their "steam" (think of it as the midichlorians to the Force, easy enough with Ewan around!). Children tend to provide better "steam" as they haven't used up their powers or allowed them to become tainted by the drudgery of the world, they only go after youngsters, so the girl is rightfully terrified and reaches out to Danny to help her. Can he overcome his demons and his own horrific past to stop these monsters?

Well, if you got two and a half hours, you'll find out. I must admit, while the length (only a few minutes longer than the original Shining film, in fact - and certainly shorter than the King-approved miniseries version) didn't scare me off when I heard it, I found the film a bit overstuffed, and couldn't help but wonder if some of its subplots/characters couldn't have been streamlined. It doesn't help that the trailer (again, spoiler if you haven't seen the marketing) sells the movie on "Danny returns to the Overlook" and that doesn't happen until the final 20 minutes or so, meaning you're spending two hours and change on what feels like a lot of pieces being put into place. We have to meet the "True Knot", the name given to the vampire-like villains and see how they operate, we have to catch up with Danny, we have to meet Abra and see her whole deal, etc, etc. And Flanagan tries to give them all equal balance, so the movie feels like it lacks momentum at times, as we cut from Danny getting a new job to the vampires getting a new recruit to Abra trying to block out the sounds of her schoolmates' thoughts, and then back to Danny working his OTHER job (yes, he has two), and so on - it's about an hour in before their worlds start to collide.

And not for nothing, but the completely recast group keeps it from feeling like a sequel the way it might on paper - Ewan is terrific but I never quite bought him as the grown up version of that kid I've watched race around the Overlook hallways so many times. The other returning characters are played by essential look-alikes, and with one exception they are quite good/not distracting, but they're also minimal presences in the film - it's mostly a Danny we don't recognize interacting with entirely new characters, so it lacks that "it's nice to catch up with them" element that can allow something like Force Awakens or Halloween '18 to dilly dally a bit. Hell it barely even feels like a horror movie for the most part, and Flanagan has seemingly toned down some of the story's more supernatural elements - something in the book that is accomplished with shining powers is done with a shootout here.

That said, there is one horrific sequence that is downright disturbing to watch, when the True Knot tortures a young boy before murdering him (pain causes better "steam", apparently). The kid's cries for help are downright gutwrenching, far more than anything in either of the It movies - I've been pretty good lately with my "Now that I'm a dad I get bothered easily" issues but this ramped them right back up again. And it's made "worse" by the casting of Rebecca Ferguson as Rose, the leader of the True Knot, because she's such an inviting presence (this is a woman who has stolen two Mission Impossible movies away from Tom Cruise, mind you) that you're not in any rush for her to be killed or imprisoned for her crimes - she's so captivating I almost wish the movie had just focused on her entirely at times, taking a sort of Lost Boys/Near Dark kind of approach where they attempt to recruit Danny (or Abra) into their number and after a while he decides he wants to break free from them, if only so we didn't have to go stretches without seeing her (or her crew, which for the most part is left underdeveloped) and allowed them to interact before the two hour mark.

Luckily, the dramatic elements work well, so I also found myself wishing that the movie was stripped of its supernatural elements entirety and just focused on the survivor of a horrific event (his father trying to murder him in a snowbound hotel) trying to put his life back together. Again, McGregor is quite great in the role, and I was quite taken with his scenes of hitting rock bottom (a brief drunken hookup has a horrific outcome) going to AA meetings, working as an orderly in an old folks' home, etc. It's very much in line with Flanagan's Hill House series, which also wasn't afraid to put the scary stuff on the sideline for a while in order to work on character development and drama - I just think he found a better balance there than he did here. There's nothing particularly bad or even "just OK" about any one element* in the film - it just never really congeals as a full narrative until it's almost over.

Because of that I suspect I'll like it more on a second viewing, and perhaps with a reading of the book in between. Those who did read it already seem to agree Flanagan improved on it, so perhaps I did myself a disservice going in so blind - they were prepared for its somewhat wobbly structure, whereas I barely even knew what it was about. Flanagan gets a lot right: the casting (a lot of his regulars, plus welcome additions like Ferguson, Cliff Curtis as Danny's best friend, and Jocelin Donahue as Abra's mom), the recreated Overlook, the music, etc, and it's gotta be worth something that I didn't doze off even for a second despite feeling tired during the trailers. The filmmaker has yet to disappoint me, but he's not God - perhaps there's only so much he can do when trying to live up to forty years of our love of The Shining, through an adaptation of a book that by most accounts was a bit of a letdown. Ultimately it's one of those movies where I feel guilty for not liking it more, because there's so much to enjoy/appreciate but it also lacks that je ne sais quoi that sends me racing to social media to encourage everyone to see it.

What say you?

*OK, there is one that's kind of bad, but it requires spoilers, so I'll just be vague and say it involves one of Flanagan's regular actors showing up at a crucial moment during the third act. On paper it was probably fine, but on-screen... sorry, it just didn't work. People were full on laughing at it, and it wasn't supposed to be funny. It's quick, thankfully, but it definitely damages the climax a touch.


Two Evil Eyes (1990)

NOVEMBER 4, 2019


Should movies do away with opening credits, and let people watch them "blind" (granted, the internet and the like would have already revealed the same information, but let's pretend) so that the movie can be judged on its own merits without the big names behind the camera adjust their expectations or biases? It could only help Two Evil Eyes, a film that's perfectly fine and easy enough to recommend to those who enjoy Edgar Allan Poe adaptations and/or anthology style films, but unfortunately doesn't come close to living up to the potential established by its opening titles, which tell you it's from George Romero and Dario Argento. The only other movie that can boast a partnership between these two titans of horror cinema is Dawn of the Dead, aka one of the greatest horror films of all time. Two Evil Eyes, on the other hand, might not even be one of the best horror films of 1990.

Hell, it's not even the best Romero-related film of 1990, as he wrote a segment of Tales From The Darkside as well as the script for Tom Savini's Night of the Living Dead remake, both of which are superior. And he doubles down on reminding us of his legacy by populating his segment with a number of actors from Creepshow, which will likely leave audiences wondering why this film didn't follow suit and have four or five tales that ran shorter instead of two that run about an hour (with no framing device). To be fair, that was indeed the original plan: Romero and Argento were originally going to be joined by John Carpenter and Wes Craven, but when their other commitments got in the way and dropped out, the two men decided to just split the film in half, though why they never decided to add some kind of framework or "host" is beyond me.

So it makes for a strange viewing experience - the closest example would be Grindhouse, I guess, but at least that offered two complete features, plus the fake trailers to sell you on the overall "double feature" experience. There's no such frills here; the movie starts with Romero's "The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar", then shifts to Argento's "The Black Cat" without any segue or intermission. And while I suppose it's possible some people prefer Romero's, the vast majority agree that Argento's segment is superior, so to sit down and watch this as a movie means you wait an hour for it to get good, or skip past it entirely to get what amounts to a Masters of Horror episode length experience that will leave you unfulfilled if "watching a movie" was your plan for the evening. There's not even any real connection between the two to make it fun; I was hoping some supporting characters would appear in both segments (both take place in contemporary Pittsburgh), but no dice.

Anyway, as I mentioned "Valdemar" isn't exactly up there with the best of Romero's work, which makes sense when you learn on the bonus features that his heart wasn't really in it (Romero wanted to do "Masque of the Red Death" but his ideas proved to be too costly for the production, forcing him to find a different story). "Valdemar" is a strange consolation choice; the original story doesn't have much of a plot, so Romero invented one around the basic idea of a guy caught in a limbo between life and death thanks to a form of hypnotism called mesmerism. Unfortunately, his story isn't all that exciting or unique: it's the ten billionth "woman and her lover kill her husband to get his money" tale, one you could have seen - in half the time - in any number of episodes of HBO's Tales From The Crypt series, which had debuted the year before and was becoming a minor powerhouse for the genre. It picks up in its final 10 minutes (mostly thanks to Tom Atkins showing up as a cigar chomping cop) but by then it's too late to save this from becoming one of Romero's least interesting productions.

Luckily, Argento's fares much better, to the extent that I wish they simply turned his into a traditional feature sans Romero at all (except for maybe as producer). In fact it's a bit longer than Romero's segment as is, so it'd only take another 15-20 minutes' worth of footage to qualify as a feature, which they could have easily added in without really padding things since it has a rather underdeveloped subplot about a local serial killer (played by Savini himself, another Dawn holdover that might enhance your expectations for the film) and a somewhat rushed climax, as if they were making sure the film didn't cross the two hour mark (it comes in literally seconds under, in fact). And it benefits from a better story; Argento updated Poe's classic tale for a modern setting, changing the protagonist into a crime scene photographer - allowing him to work in other Poe references, such as a "Pit and the Pendulum" inspired murder scene - but otherwise stuck fairly close to the narrative Poe wrote nearly 150 years prior.

Plus it's fun to see Harvey Keitel going through the horror movie motions, as he didn't exactly dive into the genre all that often. And he's one of those guys who never phones anything in, so he's fully committed as the drunken asshole murderer who repeatedly kills a cat (and others along the way), but taking it seriously instead of hamming it up - it's a great performance from an actor who I wish embraced the genre more often. And Argento clearly didn't have trouble adapting to working in America - it's got a number of his nutty camera shots (a falling key being one notable example), splatter, and out of nowhere plot turns - come for the contemporary Pittsburgh setting, stay for the nightmare scene set in medieval times! Any fan of the filmmaker can tell you that his decline was about to start, so having missed the film for so long it was great to see "new" Argento that more or less lived up to his talents, before declining budgets and changing studio politics forever handcuffed his abilities, resulting in sub-par efforts.

However you feel about the film, it's inarguable that Blue Underground has put together a fantastic package for it, starting with a new transfer that looked pretty fantastic to my eyes (though I have nothing to compare it to, having never seen it before) and a mother lode of bonus features old and new that require their own disc. The film was previously released on special edition DVD, and it seems they have carried over all of those supplements (including interviews with Romero and Argento) while adding several new ones, including interviews with Madeline Potter (who plays Annabel, Keitel's wife) and composer Pino Donaggio and a very fresh commentary by Argento biographer Troy Howarth, which must have been recorded in the past few months as he notes the death of actor Bingo O'Malley (Valdemar), who only died in June. He's perhaps a bit too enthusiastic about Argento's segment, claiming it's among his best work, but he gives plenty of background on the production, the two filmmakers' careers as a whole, actor bios, etc - he barely ever stops to breathe. The limited edition release also includes Donaggio's score on CD as well as a booklet with an essay by the great Michael Gingold, so if you plan to go through everything on the set, you best take a day out of work.

Ultimately, it was an intriguing and noble experiment that didn't quite stick the landing due to the compromises on participants (a TV show concept was even floated, which would include American AND Italian maestros contributing episodes) and - in Romero's case - story selection, but is still worth a watch thanks to Argento's segment and the sheer novelty of the whole thing. Plus, if you've followed the careers of its two directors, you'd know that this was at the end of their glory years - Romero would only make five more films over the next 27 years until his death, none of them exactly great, while Argento would make one more attempt at breaking into American filmmaking with Trauma before going back to Italy and doing what he could with their own declining film business. Maybe the film itself isn't a classic, but it's from a time when that was still a possible outcome for these masters.

What say you?


Thank you!!!

Hey folks, just wanted to send out another big THANK YOU to everyone who bought a "coffee" (i.e. Ko-Fi) to help out with my medical bill as a result of my bleeding ulcer/two day stint in the hospital. Believe me, I tried making STX pay for it since the stress of them delaying The Boy 2 *again* is probably to blame, but alas they wouldn't accept responsibility. I truly appreciate everyone who donated, and I also hope that you got my personal reply to your donation - because apparently some went into spam! I feel awful about the idea of someone thinking I didn't even say "thank you" so I sincerely hope those instances were few and far between. At any rate I seem to be OK now, and since the doctors couldn't really pinpoint a cause, I'll just keep doing what I'm doing and hope it doesn't come back! Viva la BC!


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