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 The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story).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.


Separation (2021)

MAY 2, 2021


Don't get me wrong, the pandemic has been awful; the sort of thing future writers will use for hacky time travel stories ("What if we went back and gave that guy a hamburger so he wouldn't be tempted by a goddamn bat?"). But there have been a few perks to the whole thing: people have used the (forced) free time productively, taken up new hobbies, gotten in better shape, whatever. And for me personally? I have reached a point where a major new horror movie can come out that I know absolutely nothing about. In fact, I only heard of Separation a week before it opened, when I was looking at the theater's advanced showtimes to try to get a ticket for their revivals of the Fast & Furious movies (which I failed to do).

See, normally I'd be sick of the trailer, probably have gotten my mind made up based on early reviews from people whose tastes I know well enough to know whether or not it'll be something I'd end up liking... but I got to go in totally blind. I honestly can't even recall the last time I was able to buy a ticket for a movie I knew next to nothing about, as that's something I can barely even achieve at a festival anymore. And there are other movies coming along within the next couple weeks I'm just as in the dark about; even the big Statham action movie Wrath of Man is something I feel I only learned about a month ago. With the publicity machine for these things having to take a backseat (probably in part because there's still a chance another outbreak causes theaters to shut down again), us moviegoers get to actually be surprised for once. It's kind of nice.

That said, the only thing I did know about the movie is that it was directed by William Brent Bell, which meant reviews would likely mean nothing to me anyway. Except for last year's misguided (being generous) Brahms: The Boy II, I have enjoyed all of Bell's work, but that sentiment is not shared by my peers. To this day people are still angry about The Devil Inside's "missing ending that you had to go watch on the website," which is not what was actually happening there but after nearly a decade I've given up trying to explain to people that it was merely a poorly placed advertisement for their wannabe-viral site, and the film's abrupt ending was in line with most found footage entries (including, uh, Blair Witch Project - perhaps you're familiar?). So basically, if the reviews were rock solid, THEN I'd be worried!

Luckily (for me, not him, or the studio) the reviews are bad, and once again I'm here to defend Mr Bell's apparently very alienating brand of horror. I wouldn't say it's his best film by any means (should I be the first to rank him?*) and it's clearly been tinkered with (more on that soon), but it takes some wacky swings that I admired, so coupled along with my complete ignorance of its plot or even sub-genre, I found myself having a pretty good time with it. The title refers to a married couple in the standard movie partner dilemma: one is a workaholic and thus doesn't spend any time with their daughter, the other doesn't work at all and thus can't really provide for her. An opening "last straw" kind of argument leads to divorce, and during a heated phone conversation about custody (spoiler ahead if you're equally dim on details!) the mom jaywalks and gets run over, instantly killed.

So now the dad has to take care of the little girl alone, and before long freaky things start happening. The nature of them is of course part of the reveal, so I won't spoil them here, only to say that it harkens a bit back to the original (good) The Boy in that there's a twist to the proceedings that keeps the action to a minimum in order to work. This means that impatient viewers should steer clear, as not a whole lot happens in it (the R rating is basically just for language; the mom in particular loves the F-word) and most of the scares until the climax are of the nightmare variety. I had to wonder if I myself would be bored by it if I wasn't finding connections to the material; the dad (Rupert Friend) is kind of a "kid at heart" type who longs to resurrect a project he created in his younger days, which is something I went through myself and only relatively recently kind of gave up on it for good. So seeing a guy I could identify with go through the horror movie motions AND try to be a good dad suckered me in pretty easily, though that obviously won't be the case for everyone.

However, if you like puppets you should be into it! The aforementioned project was a (stop motion, I assume?) animated project featuring a cast of monstrous puppets, and the designs are quite good - think humanoid versions of the supporting cast of Nightmare Before Christmas and you'd be on the right path. He's got normal puppets of the characters that the daughter (Violet McGraw, because by law every major modern horror movie must have one of the kids from Hill House) uses as dolls, but they are menaced by full-sized versions that creep around, loom over their beds, etc. One is played by Troy James, the contortionist who has been making a name for himself using his impressive abilities to play other monsters that don't need to rely on CGI (he was the Jangly Man in Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark), and his big scene is truly unnerving...

...but partly undone because of Friend's near indifference to his appearance. For whatever reason, the actor barely ever reacts to the creepy things he sees; there's even an example in the trailer (which I saw for the first time today, as I wrote the review) where he just watches a portrait burn after a candle tips over on its own. Some are dreams and can be chalked up to dream logic I suppose, but it's an odd choice and kind of hampers a number of the scare scenes, of which there aren't many anyway. But as I mentioned, the movie was clearly retooled some, so it might just be an odd side effect of moving scenes around. There's a scene between him and their nanny (Madeline Brewer) that was either moved from its original position in the film, or simply had its setup deleted, because it starts with her saying that the daughter hates her now and yet there was absolutely nothing like that in the scene before it. Also, a couple scenes before it, she misread her signals and tried to kiss the guy, which you'd think would cause some awkwardness, but in this scene she's asking him to watch movies and get high (and surprised that he says no), which to me sounds like something that would have come before she made her move, not almost immediately after. Near the end of the film there's a montage of all the dad and the daughter's big bonding moments over the movie, and at first they're all ones we've seen but as the sequences goes on we see more snippets of scenes that were otherwise removed.

Don't get me wrong, the movie still more or less works anyway, but I can't help but wonder if panicked producers hacked away at it and switched scenes around in order to get a scare in every ten minutes no matter what. As is the film runs 108 minutes, so we're talking about 10-15 minutes longer than most movies of this sort, and it's easy to imagine a cut running at around two hours, for a horror movie where the "villain" is pretty passive and the scary movie plot takes a while to even get going. This might also explain why some scenes - like a bizarre hallucination scene in the park - go absolutely nowhere. Perhaps there was a followup scene that justified its existence, but got removed for being too talky?

Still, these things didn't bother me too much in the grand scheme of things. I knew after about a half hour or so that this would be the kind of movie I quietly enjoy rather than loudly keep trying to change people's minds on (like, well, The Boy and Stay Alive), and that's fine. With creepy ass puppets, DAD STUFF, and wacky plot points (the dad's comic book writer partner has him take drugs to communicate with the dead!) it was kind of just hitting my particular sweet spots and not even seemingly all that concerned with impressing a large audience, so for that I have to admire it (also, any time I get to use my "Puppet" tag you've already earned a few points). The pacing and plot reminded me of those 1970's "Paperbacks from Hell" I've been consuming ever since that book came out, where they're always kind of slow paced and weird but somehow entertain me all the same. If you're a fellow defender of Dead Silence (and, again, The Boy) you might find yourself equally charmed by its earnest hokeyness, but otherwise you can wait for Conjuring 3 or whatever.

What say you?

*The Boy, Stay Alive, Separation, Devil Inside, Boy 2. Still haven't seen Wer.


The Resort (2021)

MAY 3, 2021


I wasn't a big fan of In The Earth, the new Ben Wheatley film that is notable for being one of the first theatrical wide release films shot during (and even inspired by) Covid lockdown times, but I was impressed by how they used it to their advantage when the plot could rely on it, as well as how Wheatley used it to establish the tone and characters in its earlier (and best) scenes. And I saw it back to back with The Resort, which I assumed was also a Covid-era production because it was set mostly in/around a closed down hotel in Hawaii. The building is mammoth and clearly abandoned for real, and given the prime tourist location I figured there's no way a place like that would be closed down for any other reason but a pandemic.

But as it turns out, the film was shot in early 2018, long before the world fell apart (at least, in that regard). Turns out the hotel was closed in 2016 and set to be remodeled into luxury condos, though they apparently had some delays (the news article I read about the closure said the work would be completed in 2017) so their loss was the Resort crew's gain. Every day the place sat abandoned (and un-demolished) was another day's worth of overgrown brush, dirtied windows, etc that they didn't have to spend time doing themselves to make it look like something that hadn't been used in years.

Ironically, it's the only thing in the movie that rings true, as the rest is horseshit on a level I haven't seen in quite some time. It's barely even feature length (75 minutes with incredibly slow end credits), but still manages to take forever for anything to happen as our quartet of obnoxious twenty somethings (one's an Instagram star!) decide to ghost hunt in the abandoned hotel and, naturally, get menaced by the very spirit they already knew was there. The main girl, Lex, is writing a piece about the ghost and wants to do research, with the other three just tagging along for support I guess - it's hard to say why exactly because the four actors have such non-existent chemistry and vague backstories that I couldn't begin to guess why they hung out. They don't really fight (just a couple bits of "we have to go NOW!" type bickering), I'll give them credit for that much at least, but at least in other modern horror movies - where there's a cheating subplot or a nerd character they invite just to mock the entire time - I can get the impression that they've had history. These people might have met for the first time when action was called on their first scene together.

And that'd be fine if the horror elements were solid, but nope. Again, it takes a long time for the "Half Faced Girl" (cool name, must have taken them all day to come up with it) to show up and start offing them, and there's precious little suspense and literally zero scares before that point. They take their time getting to the island (a scene with the four of them sitting in one of their apartments, discussing their trip and the ghost's story, eats up a full tenth of the runtime, possibly more), and when they get there they dillydally even more by taking the long route to the hotel so they can stop by a waterfall and let the DP ogle their bodies with his camera. Nothing out of the ordinary for this kind of horror, to be fair, but when the actors aren't great and the characters they are playing are so dull, it's a real drag.

All could be forgiven if the long-awaited terror was aces, but nope, it's not much of an improvement on the walking around. We barely see the villain and her half face, one death is entirely off-screen, and - sigh - the movie has a framing device with the survivor telling the story to a detective, killing even more of the suspense for no reason (other than to attempt a twist that is so confusing I almost admired it. Someone on the writing team is a fan of The Beyond, I guess!). There's a terrific gore effect involving a face bring ripped off, and I liked the low-key way they offered a POV of someone being dragged off into the darkness, but even at a mere 75 minutes, a movie has to come to life for more than a 3-4 minute stretch to even enter "worth watching in the background" territory. Hell I might even resurrect the long dormant "crap" label if not for that face rip bit, and also for how much I laughed when they kept cutting back to the present day as she was telling her story, as if to prove she was telling this guy every part of her boring adventure. "And then we walked down the road a bit, talking about how many Instagram followers Bree has..."

I will give them one tiny benefit of the doubt: maybe the film was better at one point, before being so clearly retooled. The credits list a number of characters who do not appear (including a ghost!), and two additional directors listed under "additional photography" (not "1st assistant director" or something - just "director"), so as easy it might seem to place the blame on writer/director/producer Taylor Chien, it's very possible the movie was taken away from him. So who knows what happened to this thing along its three year journey from when it was shot to now, when it's being dumped out for people like me who are still a bit weary of going to the theaters* and thus being very choosy over what they see, but will take a chance on a drive-in excursion. Alas, I'm not here to review their possible intentions, and at the end of the day this terrible movie is what they chose to put out in the world at 10 bucks a ticket or whatever. Don't make the same mistake I did; there are better and cheaper ways to waste your time. It never gets better than its "Dead Minion" poster, I assure you.

What say you?

* I am fully vaccinated, woo! But it seems people have gotten worse re: theater etiquette after a year of watching everything at home. I've been to three normal screenings since I was all clear and two of them had nonstop chatter among the few other patrons. Since the "crowd experience" I miss is generally a good one (i.e. big applause/laughter when appropriate, shutting up otherwise) I think I'd rather just watch certain things at home until the Drafthouse and New Beverly reopen, where noisy patrons are dealt with by the theater instead of fellow paying attendees who don't want to have their experience ruined even further by someone getting aggro after being asked to be quiet.


Deep Blood (1990)

APRIL 26, 2021


It's gotta be kind of demoralizing to make a shark movie, because you know you're going to get compared to Jaws (a masterpiece) even if you're only aiming for Jaws 2 (an enjoyable film) territory. Certainly there are several that manage to escape Bruce's shadow and work exactly as their filmmakers hoped (Deep Blue Sea and The Shallows come to mind), but then there are ones like Deep Blood (Italian: Sangue negli abissi) which might as well have presented its foreign pre-sale information on screen. There are probably worse shark movies, but those are probably at least more fun than this, which commits the cardinal sin of Italian horror: it's boring.

To be fair it was a late '80s production, so the Italian film production market was already in collapse. But I've seen other movies from this era and while few if any of them are all that great, they're at least serviceable timekillers that more or less get their job done. Deep Blood can't even manage to clear that low bar, and there's a palpable sense of indifference right from the start that never gets any better, to the point where a major character is never even given a name beyond "Ben's Father". Hell there isn't even a "close the beaches" kind of plot; just some very flimsy pushback from the higherups about causing a panic. More often than not you'll feel like you're watching the deleted scenes compilation; you can practically hear the director noting that the scene didn't advance the story and it had to be cut for time.

In fact if someone were to say "Actually that's exactly what happened, oops!" I'd feel better, because that would explain why there's no actual shark in the movie. Ill-fitting stock footage is used to show one swimming around before a character goes underwater while someone explodes a fake blood bomb, and that's all you get for each "attack" - there's barely even any shots of a fin breaching the surface! And no, it's not a "we hide the shark", "less is more" kind of thing - there simply isn't any real presence at all for the thing, which is kind of a problem, wouldn't you agree? The actors don't bother to make up for it by acting scared, either; one guy just casually watches his girlfriend get eaten before he drives away without as much of a "Nooooooo!" Even its demise (kind of a hilarious shot where it breaks in half like a dropped ceramic statue) is cribbed from another movie, per the IMDb. Maybe I should just watch that one.

And it's a shame, because the story is actually grounded on something that might be compelling to watch even if the shark element was lacking. In the opening we meet four kids, who are told of an old legend of a sea creature and even do a blood pact to bond them together, and then we cut ten (?) years later to when the shark has started vaguely menacing the community. The four guys are all in town for one reason or another (never left, back from school, etc) and enjoy catching up, but then one of them is killed, prompting the other three to fulfill their pact. So... yeah, basically IT, but with a shark. As ripoffs go, it's not the worst idea, but with so little evidence of a shark at all, let alone one that's the embodiment of an ancient curse, it never gels. Plus the guys are all dull as dirt, and their conversations with one another are largely along the lines of "We gotta stop the shark!", so there's no sense of their brotherhood OR the backstory in any of their following actions. They even bring another random guy along with them for the climax (in which no one is even attacked, let alone dies), so it's just a waste all around.

The movie's only real saving grace is the dialogue, which is often so bizarrely straightforward that it becomes comical. In one of my favorite examples (there are many contenders), a crowd on the beach is inexplicably all fascinated by the guys (and the aforementioned "Ben's Father") getting on their boat to go after the shark (which is nowhere around, mind you). A cop arrives on the scene and asks what everyone is looking at, and someone helpfully replies "We're looking at three guys and an old man go after a shark." I mean, she's not lying! There's also a hilarious scene where another dad (not Ben's) yells at his son for being sad that his mom was dead, basically saying he shouldn't miss her because she was a drunk. Another dad (lot of dad stuff in the movie!) tells his son he's proud of him and asks for a handshake, but the son comes over and gives him a hug! Aww! It'd be so sweet if it was the resolution for several scenes where the two were at odds or something, but nah.

The music is also quite special. Sometimes it's the synthy Goblin/Carpenter ripoff stuff you'd expect, and that's fine, but the rest was seemingly stolen from a particularly syrupy melodrama. More than once it reminded me of the music that would accompany the overwrought romantic/dramatic flashbacks in (the original) Final Fantasy VII, which isn't exactly fitting for a killer shark movie. Even the part where the dad yells at his kid has curious a soundtrack choice: the dad has to keep yelling at him to turn down his music, which you'd think would be some kind of heavy metal or rap, but nope: it sounds like John Tesh or something.

I know that sounds funny, and it is to a degree, but there's only so much of that you can take in 90 minutes, and also keep in mind I'm cherry picking "highlights". Most of the movie is go nowhere, aimless scenes of people looking at the water, fishing, arguing about things that have no bearing on anything (one guy wants to drop out of college to become a golfer! Does he need his golf skills to kill the shark? Like swing a club to knock a grenade toward it or something? Nope. Means nothing.) The best thing one could do with the disc is to throw it on in the background when friends are over, if only to ensure no one will ever get too distracted by the film and stop socializing. Clearly Severin agreed that this is for completists only; the lone extra is a trailer.

What say you?


Crazy Desires of a Murderer (1977)

APRIL 3, 2021


I felt a tinge of pride when Vinegar Syndrome's third "Forgotten Gialli" set arrived and I discovered I had actually seen one of the movies before (Autopsy, via a revival screening); it's like I'm a hardcore veteran of such fare! But I'm not, and even if I was, I could be forgiven for not having seen Crazy Desires of a Murderer (Italian: I vizi morbosi di una governante) before, as it was never given any kind of home video release in the US until now, which is sadly the case for a lot of these. I mean, that's great that they're rescuing them, but with everyone settling for streaming now, these films are going to continue to be obscure to general fans whether they deserve to be or not.

Anyway I had a lot of fun with this one, though it wouldn't necessarily come to mind if asked to recommend a few titles to someone new to the genre. Not that it's a "for die-hard fans only" affair, but it doesn't seem necessarily beholden to the formula for these things, and for a while it barely resembles one at all. Things start off on brand: there's a murder in the opening scene, then a young woman and her friends, having just returned from China, hang out at her baron father's home and party. One friend is working on some kind of drug deal where he's attempting to screw his partner out of the money, so we have our possible motive established, and there's even a creepy relative for good measure.

But after the centerpiece murder, a detective (Corrado Gaipa, aka Don Tommasino!) arrives to investigate and it basically turns into a Columbo episode for the remainder of the runtime. He takes over lead character duties, leaving our assumed heroes in the background (at one point the drug dealer guy and his partner get into a fight and he knocks the guy out - and then they're not seen again until the final scene, apparently having reconciled) and manages to make things more complicated by coming up with valid theories as to why pretty much every other character could be the killer. Don't get me wrong, it's still enjoyable - it just gives it a different feel than the other gialli of the era, giving it kind of a more throwback feel to the earlier days (where police involvement was more prominent), but also with intermittent gory murders that were the order of the day. It's an admirable attempt to blend the old with the new, for sure, but the blend could have used some fine-tuning.

Speaking of throwback: even though the movie was produced just a year before Halloween, there's a "quickie Psycho ripoff" feel to the proceedings, as the prime suspect for the killer is a mama's boy with a penchant for taxidermy and (black and white!) flashbacks showing him killing his mother's lover. We know it can't actually be him because it's too easy, but it's kind of amusing to think that nearly twenty years after Hitch's masterpiece, people were still brazenly ripping it off. I was also endlessly amused by how indestructible the Baron was, as it seems he's about to be killed in the opening scene, only to appear alive and well a few minutes later. Then he has a heart attack, which we learn is the third he's had and will probably survive this one as well! Weirdly, the actor went uncredited despite having some prominence, and never made another movie again, so perhaps Gaipa's character look into that for a sequel.

Oh, if you like sex in your violen-I mean, in your gialli, you will likely be pretty satisfied. At one point our non-detective main characters play what can only be referred to as a pornographic version of Charades, where two people have sex in a certain way and the others have to guess which movie they're copying (next time someone suggests Charades at a party, I guess I shouldn't be so dismissive). Then after that, they all go to their rooms and have more sex, with different partners than seen during the game. One pair seems to be suggesting a bit of DP via a candle at one point (the male fashions the melting candle into something a little smoother and rounded at the top as the woman turns over on her stomach, so uh...), and there's even a bit of "take sexual advantage of a mentally challenged guy" flair that I haven't seen in quite a while (Devil Times Five fans, stand up!). Like the other elements, the formula is a bit off, as it comes off like someone came along and inserted it at the 11th hour, but in the overall experience it kind of fits; it's like an exquisite corpse movie. It's a giallo, then a softcore comedy, then a '70s detective TV show.

Director Filippo Walter Ratti (for whom this film would be his last; he died a few years later) seemingly tries to apologize for the lull in the murdery parts though, as they are incredibly graphic. Apart from the killer wearing *white* gloves (10 yard penalty, movie!) the big one in the middle is a pretty standard sequence for this sort of thing until the character expires, at which point the killer removes the victim's eyes, which we watch in gnarly (and, for its day, fairly convincing) detail. One would think this meant the start of the killer offing all of the group, but nope -(spoiler for 40+ year old movie ahead) she is actually the only one of the six to die, as supporting characters make up the rest of the body count. The detective even laughs about how they were just red herrings!

The lone extra is an interview with one of those sidelined actors, who talks about arguing with the director and also believes he was never paid for the film. I'm always a fan of these candid takes, but unfortunately either due to lax translation for the subtitles or just his own inability to provide context, it's kind of hard to follow what he's talking about sometimes. He frequently rattles off names of people who don't seem to be involved, alluding to events and other movies as if we're all on the same page, so I honestly couldn't really take much from the chat beyond what I already mentioned. But hey, better than nothing, since even a trailer for the film seems to be elusive.

The last film on the set is the aforementioned Autopsy, which I never reviewed when I saw it as it was part of a double feature with Eyeball and I enjoyed that one more. But I also don't really remember much, so I'll at least give it a quickie review when I get to it. I'm kind of backed up on review discs and there's a bunch of stuff on Shudder and Netflix that I've been wanting to watch, AND I still haven't even gotten to the *2nd* Forgotten Gialli set! So I either gotta be choosier with what I actually review (I'll WATCH everything I am sent, for sure, but can't always justify a writeup) or learn to get the hell off of Twitter. And maybe stop doing so many puzzles. It's a tough life, man.

What say you?

P.S. The set is currently only available through Vinegar Syndrome's site. But here's the Amazon link for the first one, if you want to buy your cat food or household products or maybe even a book at the same time.


The Day of the Beast (1995)

MARCH 31, 2021


I vaguely recall reading about The Day of the Beast (Spanish: El día de la bestia) in Fangoria back in the mid-90s when it was released, but at that time I was still a good Catholic boy going to church every week, so its sacrilegious subject matter would have scared me off (longtime readers know I didn't even watch The Exorcist until I was in college). But now that I have a different view on organized religion, in particular Catholicism (long story short: if it works for you, great! I'm just gonna be the best person I can be and hope for the best), such elements don't phase me. Also, I'm aware that this particular film has been hard to find in the US, with some fans resorting to VHS quality bootleg DVDs, so I am tickled that it jumped a format or two and has been released on 4K UHD by the good folks at Severin.

(While we're on the subject: how about a 4K Cathy's Curse, Sev? Maybe in ultra high def it'll make sense?)

Ironically, after watching the movie I came to the conclusion that had I watched it as a teen, I not only might have liked it more, but it also might have sped up my exodus from committing nearly two hours of my weekend to going to church every week (I'm counting travel time). The plot is wonderfully inventive: a priest believes that the Antichrist will be born that evening (Christmas Eve, in fact) and thus begins committing horrible sins in order to invoke the devil, just so he can kill him and save the world. Along the way he teams up with a metalhead and a phony TV personality who writes about the occult, and the unlikely trio try to find signs and perform the necessary rituals in order to prevent the destruction of mankind in their own roundabout way. It's violent, very funny in spots, and ultimately (spoiler for 25 year old movie ahead) ends with the message that devoting one's life to Christ will leave you with nothing.

I mean, I don't think it's that dire in reality, but the sentiment of how thankless it is definitely rings true. When you add in all of the terrible beliefs they still try to impose on their members (i.e. "homosexuality is a sin") while routinely covering up ACTUAL sins like the sexual assault of children, not to mention the fact that living by their rules more or less confines you to a life of boredom (if you steal your neighbor's newspaper or shout "I hate you!" at your parents if they ground you, and die before confessing, you'll burn in Hell for eternity. Seems reasonable!), you realize that this is not a particularly great organization to revolve your life around when it's the only one you got. Alex de la Iglesia (ironic name!) takes it to the extreme here, yes, but again: the general idea is right on point.

As a movie though, I wish I liked it a little more. It starts off kind of amazing, with our hero Cura (Álex Angulo) telling his plan in secret to a fellow priest, who agrees to help him but is then crushed by a giant cross. We then watch Cura commit several crimes around the city, from petty theft (from a homeless guy) to what might be murder, as he approaches a street mime that is perched on a railing and tips him back, having him fall however far to whatever landing is below. Honestly I could have watched 90 minutes of this, but the damn plot has to get in the way and spoil things, and by that I mean he stops sinning at random and begins actively trying to invoke the devil with a ritual. Some of this stuff works fine (there's a great sequence where he attempts to extract virgin blood from a woman at the same motel, while the lady who runs it tries to stop him with a shotgun), but the film never quite reaches the outlandish highs of its first ten minutes.

It also takes a while to get to one of its best character beats. We know that Cavan, the aforementioned TV guy, is full of shit when we first meet him, but part of the fun is him not only gradually realizing that the Devil is real, but also becoming more assertive than Cura with regards to the "save the world" plan. At a certain point Cura gets disillusioned, but Cavan - who was beaten and kidnapped so Cura could force him to help - keeps fighting the good fight and even figures out the key piece of information on his own. The third guy in the trio, the metalhead who assists Cura throughout, never really does much of anything and is borderline annoying after a while (there's a bit where he keeps laughing and seemingly trying to kill himself, dragging out the sequence for eternity), so I couldn't help but wish it was just a two-hander between Cura and Cazan, giving the latter a little more time to shine.

Don't get me wrong, it's still a pretty good movie (and the transfer is immaculate, should go without saying), but after I saw and enjoyed Witching & Bitching a while back, everyone kept telling me that it wasn't anywhere nearly as good as this, and this was his masterpiece, etc. (even de la Iglesia himself says it's his best film), so maybe I was just expecting a little more. And again, perhaps I waited a bit too long to see it, not only for what it might have inspired in my own personal belief system, but also because I've been spoiled by an additional 25 years of content that also bastardizes these ideas. The Preacher comic (I didn't watch the show), movies like Dogma and mother!, and the aforementioned real world issues have already desensitized me to the idea of bastardizing their ideas. Also, even though this movie barely qualifies as horror in my eyes (the filmmakers call it one, so I follow suit), the pre-Scream mid-90s was hardly a high point for the genre, so it might have gotten a little boost simply for being unique at a time when such things were in perilously low supply, which again won't help it much *now*.

There's a full length documentary called Herederos de la bestia on the included standard Blu-ray (the UHD disc only has the feature, an annoying practice but the one the studios will be going with, I guess) which gets into that stuff a little bit, including the fact that Pedro Almodóvar was asked to produce but he chickened out over the content. But most of it is your standard retrospective documentary, about de la Iglesia's prior accomplishments, the casting, the issues with shooting in Madrid on their budget, the not-great critical reaction it got when it premiered, etc. There's a brief but lovely tribute to Angulo, who passed away a few years ago (in a car accident; unless I missed it the doc doesn't explain how he died), and some insight from other Spanish filmmakers like Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, so it's a well rounded doc and a nice complement to the feature. Severin also offers one of the filmmaker's old shorts titled Mirindas Asesinas ("Murderous Mirindas") that also stars Angulo, as well as a handful of interviews (including one with de la Iglesia), though I should note all but one are in Spanish (as is the doc) so if you're not fluent you better keep your reading glasses handy if you want to go through all of them.

Severin has also released de la Iglesia's followup Perdita Durango (released in the US in a cut form as Dance with the Devil), so fans of the filmmaker should be stoked that they're finally being given a proper presentation here. He's an interesting guy no doubt, and thankfully jumps around genres (sometimes within a single film) to keep things fresh for both himself and his audience, but the tradeoff is that not every movie is going to click. I was hoping to like this a little more, but it was still good enough to keep wanting to see what else I've missed (and no, I haven't watched 30 Coins yet, you don't need to comment! My queue is endless and I'll get to it... someday?). I'll always prefer to not connect to something from a filmmaker who is swinging for the fences than see something completely forgettable that's right in my wheelhouse (i.e. a slasher I can't remember a thing about a day later).

What say you?


Murder Mansion (1972)

MARCH 20, 2021


One valid criticism of the giallo sub-genre is that they tend to get a bit samey; the casual sex, the black gloves, the money schemes... if you take any half dozen at random you're likely to see the same plot points turn up in at least half of your picks. This is partly because they rarely cross with other genres, which can do wonders for what might actually be a fairly generic story; if I were to say "an unseen menace picks off a group of people one by one until there's only one female left" you might think I'm describing Friday the 13th but I'm actually thinking of Alien. So imagine my surprise when I picked a movie called Murder Mansion (Spanish: La mansión de la niebla) from Vinegar Syndrome's latest Forgotten Gialli collection and discovered it was less giallo and more... Old Dark House movie?

Things start off pretty typical for such a "yellow" film; there's a guy on a motorcycle, another guy in a car, and a lovely hitchhiker that the latter picks up and instantly starts rubbing her thigh (with black gloves, of course). Then we meet a guy who tells his wife he's waiting for a notary but he's actually in bed with another woman (a prostitute, maybe? She mentions him spending "all his money on women like her"), so within ten minutes or so we have all the proper ingredients: sex, money, gloves, and motorcycles. But then the hitchhiker, tired of the driver's advances, hooks up with the motorcycle guy as they head toward a town nearby, and things get a little more supernaturally charged.

Turns out everyone is heading the same way (and some are even involved with the same people!), but a thick fog and confusing directions leaves everyone lost. After some atmospheric wandering around in the countryside, everyone ends up at the titular locale (well, it's not ACTUALLY named Murder Mansion, as they probably wouldn't have stopped, but you know what I mean) and it starts to resemble James Whale more than Sergio Martino. I figured someone would just start killing everyone in the joint and it'd be up to our heroes (motorcycle guy and hitchhiker, aka Fred and Laura) to figure it out, but nope! Before long they're full on walking around dusty/spider-webbed basement corridors, and a pair of ancient ghouls seemingly rise from the adjacent cemetery to scare some of them into sounding crazy.

Hell it's even quite possibly the most chaste 1970s eurohorror film I've ever seen, with very little sex and even less violence. It's not until the climax that the body count really rises, and (spoiler for 50 year old movie ahead) it's just mostly bloodless gunshots as opposed to the usual knives and razors. The killer's motive still circles back to familiar giallo themes (money and daddy issues, in this case), but it's kind of remarkable how un-giallo it all is, to the extent that the reveal was the first time in close to an hour I even remembered that this was presented as that kind of film in the first place. If this was somehow the first "giallo" you ever saw, you'd have the weirdest impression of what these movies were like.

That said, I found it delightful all the same. Again, since so many of them are kind of similar, it was great to just get caught up in the spooky shenanigans instead of thinking "They stole that bit from What Have You Done To Solange!" or something like that. There's a great sequence where the two heroes are being shot at in the graveyard, and they think it's the guy from the car (who shrugs off Fred "stealing" Laura from him and hits on someone else at the house, but surprisingly takes no for an answer pretty quickly), but then they discover that his body was just being propped up and he's been dead for a bit - it's the sort of thing that adds to the mystery but without the usual abundance of exposition that usually just ends up complicating these movies. That Fred and Laura are actually pretty likable people is another perk; it's rare to find much sympathy in these movies, as even the heroes tend to be misogynist jerks (you usually end up feeling more compassion for the killer who is often a victim of childhood trauma or something).

The lone extra on the disc (no historian commentary, alas) is an interview with Evelyn Stewart ne Ida Galli, who plays the lady of the house. Fitting for such a PG-ish kind of movie, it's one of the more upbeat actor interviews I've seen from something from this place and time; usually these interviews are hilariously candid about brutish directors, co-stars who couldn't ask, scripts being rubbish, etc, but Stewart is pretty complimentary about the whole affair. She even says something to the effect of "I don't have any bad memories of this one!", and the closest she gets to any kind of dirt is something about the soon-to-be ex-husband of one of her female costars, who she bonded with. It's kind of sweet, though fairly dull if you're used to the more unabashed "I'm retired now so IDGAF" nature of these pieces.

Despite its rather flimsy connection to the sub-genre, I'm super glad Vinegar included it on their set. You can't argue with its "forgotten" status (the IMDb page is pretty bare, and when you click on the title on Stewart's page, it brings you to the page for the '80s adventure game Maniac Mansion, which is another of its titles), and at the end of the day the main goal is preserving these movies and finding them the audience they deserve. Hopefully these volumes will continue; not only are they helping me expand my giallo horizons, but they're also given wonderful packaging that looks great on the shelf. Having survived the shoddy era of cheap cardboard boxes (remember that Omen set? Ugh!), I find myself in awe of how sturdy Vinegar's collections are. I'm all about that deluxe aesthetic!

What say you?


Nosferatu in Venice (1988)

MARCH 14, 2021


I recently revisited the 1979 Nosferatu at a drive-in screening, which is a weird venue for that particular film (it was paired with Ulli Lommel's even more bizarre The Tenderness of Wolves, so... wacky night!) as even after a year of it being my only moviegoing option, I still think of the drive-in as something suited for B-movies, not something one might deem "artsy". If I had known of its existence at the time, I might have wondered why they weren't showing Nosferatu in Venice (aka Vampire in Venice), the Italian produced "sequel" that brings back Klaus Kinski as the title character and absolutely nothing else.

In fact it doesn't even really bring back the same Kinski incarnation, as the notoriously difficult actor refused to deal with the makeup again. So apart from an occasional fang shot, we don't really get "Nosferatu" but simply Klaus Kinski wandering around Venice, doing things like kicking at the fences separating him from angry dogs, taking silent gondola rides just as dawn breaks, and having graphic sex. On occasion he shows off his superpowers, including a great bit where a guy shotguns him and we see through the massive hole (which then closes up), or tricking people into thinking he is someone else (or that they are him), but despite his top billing there are large chunks without him (he only appears I think once in the first half hour). Even if he had donned the makeup, I can understand that a fan would feel pretty ripped off by his limited appearance.

The actual lead of the film is Christopher Plummer (given the "and" credit!) as Catalano, a sort of Van Helsing standin (Plummer would play an actual Van Helsing in Dracula 2000, so this is like a trial run) who has tracked Nosferatu to Venice and seeks to destroy him once and for all. But, best I can tell from his scattered scenes, Nosferatu himself wants to be dead, having tired of immortality. At least that's how I interpreted it, as even by '80s Italian horror standards the movie doesn't make a lot of sense, something that was probably never the case but certainly made worse by the fact that they never finished shooting all of it (it was also shot a few years before finally being released). A documentary about Kinski called Creation is Violent is included on the disc, and it explains a lot about the movie's issues.

In fact the documentary (which is feature length) should be required viewing for anyone who watches the film, as it not only helps explain why it's so "off" but also adds some illuminating context to a few scenes. One key bit of hilarious trivia is that the production team decided to film lots of footage at the local Carnival, which took place months before Kinski was scheduled to arrive. So they used a double in the traditional Nosferatu makeup and created some exciting scenes with all that free production value, but when Kinski decided he would not be donning the makeup again, they had to toss almost all of it out, as it wouldn't match. But they didn't let it all go to waste, so occasionally they just cut to people celebrating in between scenes, even though the majority of the movie takes place in those same streets that are otherwise empty.

Here we also learn that a lot of that random footage of Kinski just sort of aimlessly wandering around Venice was directed by the actor himself, who kept complaining about the revolving directors on the shoot (there were, I believe, five when all was said and done). To get him to shut up for a bit, the producer gave him a camera and an operator and told him to go shoot whatever he liked. Apparently he shot around two hours of footage, of which Kinski handpicked around twenty minutes that could be used and the film ultimately included about 90 seconds or so of it. This caused a drain on the budget since all that film had to be processed and such; you get the idea Kinski would have thrived in a digital filmmaking world, but alas (?) he died in 1991.

So when you take all that information in and watch the movie again, realizing it's not by some unexplained design, it ends up in the "better than you'd expect" category. With Kinski's behavior and the constant change of directors (and again, a shoot that was never actually completed), it's surprising that the movie is even watchable, but it manages to overcome most of its messiness and become kind of mesmerizing in its own way, not unlike the original. Even without the makeup, the film ends up sharing a number of qualities with Herzog's take, and so what if it's accidental? Plummer's intro, for example, lasts several minutes as he rides as a gondola through the canals up to where he's staying (a church run by Donald Pleasence, who is largely kind of subdued here), and the music - by Vangelis! - droning on feels very much like a sequence from the earlier film, even if it was just a necessary bit of padding to make up for missing footage elsewhere.

But it's also got some of that 80s Italian wackiness you'd probably want, including a few ridiculous impalement deaths and out of nowhere things like belly dancers. I also nearly cried from laughing when Plummer just suddenly exits the movie before the climax, and no I don't mean he gets killed off. The character simply decides to leave, so the final showdown with Nosferatu comes down to a few random dudes whose grand plan is to shoot him with holy water bullets and then run away if/when it didn't work. They don't even cut back to Plummer arriving home or something; he just leaves and never looks back with 20 minutes of the movie left to go. It's kind of divine.

The Kinski doc (and a few deleted scenes from it, both of which focus on this film) is the only extra on Severin's disc, but that's not really surprising. And again, it's an essential doc if you're a fan of this film or even Kinski in general, as it mainly centers on his final years (including his sudden death at a time where he had apparently found peace) and features priceless anecdotes from some of his former collaborators (most of whom seem to have forgiven whatever insults/attacks he dished on them, but not all) as well as some interview footage where he's just rambling. I would suggest perhaps reading up on him if you're completely unaware of his transgressions, as they can be pretty ugly, but if you're already aware of what kind of person he was I think you'll find the doc highly engaging, not to mention a solid companion piece to the feature.

What say you?


Silent Madness (1984)

MARCH 9, 2021


As I've said before, someday my quest to see every slasher movie produced in the early '80s will come to an end. But when something like Silent Madness comes along it gives me hope that day will be later rather than sooner, because I never even heard of it! And while that's nothing out of the ordinary for random regional movies like Blood Beat or Satan's Blade, this film was shot in 3D, features a handful of recognizable actors, and even some Friday the 13th connections, all of which suggests it would have come up enough for me to remember hearing of it. If even this sort of thing can escape my attention, there's bound to be dozens more under-the-radar types waiting to be uncovered.

But in my defense, it was never properly released on disc (Amazon has a PAL release that seems... bootlegy), so it makes sense that it never got that same kind of rediscovery that has benefited so many other independently made efforts of the time. When Vinegar Syndrome teased a "3D slasher" as part of their Black Friday sale a few months back, I honestly didn't even have a guess that would make sense (the distributor almost never releases any big studio titles, so something like F13 3 would be silly to guess at; my closest thing to a reasonable answer was the not-great Scar from 2007). I know I sound like a broken record, but I'll keep repeating it until I no longer worry about it: this sort of release is exactly why we need physical media to not only survive, but be a profitable venture for boutique outfits like VS. While people will always be asking (and then buying) the big guns, it's these kind of things that offer the sort of win win situations that expand fans' horizons while also ensuring these films aren't lost to time.

As for the movie itself, it's kind of a weird one. After a delirious first reel that sees the obligatory escaped mental patient killing four teens (including a pair of Sleepaway Camp vets: Katherine "Meg" Kamhi and Paul "Ronnie" DeAngelo) in glorious 3D, the movie basically twiddles its thumbs for the next half hour or so, which means it would be an ideal midnight movie (start strong to give us the jolt we need to stay awake thru the soggy middle, then bring it home for the finale) but can try one's patience when watching alone at home. The script (by director Simon Nuchtern, an adult film screenwriter named Bill Milling, and - of all people - airport thriller extraordinaire Nelson DeMille) curiously spends more time not with the sorority girls our mute maniac is targeting, but a doctor at the hospital he escaped from trying to get to the bottom of the clerical error that set him free in the first place.

I'm not joking, by the way. The switcheroo is easy enough to understand - they were supposed to release a patient named John Howard and accidentally grabbed one named Howard Johns - but for some reason Nuchtern and co felt this simple explanation needed more than half the screentime to be explored. The heroine (Belinda Montgomery) becomes aware of the mistake and brings it to her (male) superiors, who dismiss her findings and then cover up their mistake by claiming the man wasn't released but actually died, prompting her to head to another town to track down the death certificate they claim they have for the man, first to the police station and then to the local newspaper who should have it on file as well.

And all that would be fine if she was pulling a Loomis, trying to find and help her patient, but no! When she finally encounters the killer late in the film the first thing she does is run and ask for help from a security guard. So none of this stuff is particularly involving, as she's trying to solve a non-mystery, taking up time we could be spending with the sorority girls (who get short thrift as a result) or even on random kill scenes that take advantage of the 3D format. The body count is pretty low for a post Friday the 13th slasher like this (and, goes without saying, lower than F13 3D), which would be fine if they were spread out more evenly, but when they're mostly confined to the first twenty and last fifteen minutes it's bothersome.

Luckily those parts are a lot of fun, even in 2D. To be clear, the set actually offers both types of 3D, both the digital kind for those with 3DTVs and the kind requiring the old school cardboard glasses (two pairs included), but I watched most of it in 2D. I have never been able to successfully enjoy watching anything with the cardboard glasses, so I didn't even bother with that, but I do have the Playstation VR system, which allows you to watch movies in 3D even if your TV isn't capable (because your TV is no longer part of the equation, really). And it looked quite good, but it's just not a comfortable way to watch a movie, with the helmet on your head and (in my case at least) sitting awkwardly on the couch because the cord wasn't long enough to get into my preferred position.

That said, for those who can get comfortable, it's a pretty great way to experience 3D at home, especially now that 3DTV's are basically extinct (and were far more expensive than the PSVR, though of course only one person can enjoy it). It also has a little bonus: (relative) total immersion the way a theater can provide, as the helmet covers your peripheral and blackens everything around the screen, just like you were in a theater. So that's pretty cool, especially now when theatergoing is such a risky (and in my case, not even possible) proposition. Nuchtern keeps "Comin at ya!" shots to a minimum (basically just the kill scenes; no yo-yos and popcorn here) and instead plays up the depth, constantly putting things right near the camera (books on a desk, for example) to show off how far away the subject is in the shot. It almost makes me wish he directed Friday 3 himself, as he'd have a more robust script to deal with but also some of the restraint that Steve Miner lacked. Watching F13 3 in 2D can be obnoxious at times due to all the "In 3D!" moments that have zero point when viewed flat, something that rarely occurs here (basically just the weapons flying at you).

And even with its pacing issues (which continue even when the action picks up; the final chase goes on forever), there's a lot to like here. Some of the stuff with the institute staff is so strange you almost wish this was simply an asylum set movie without any of the slasher stuff, particularly when it comes to a pair of attendants who are tasked with hunting down both the killer AND the heroine, and are clearly more deranged than the antagonist. The killer's motivation (which leads to a minor twist) is also one of the weirder ones I can recall, where our guy was humiliated in a spanking ritual by the sorority girls. Also, the house mother is a drunk named Ms. Collins, which (bias alert!) is the greatest thing ever.

In addition to the 3D options, the disc has a pair of commentaries as well as an intro from Nuchtern (which itself is in 3D!) where he thanks the fans for keeping the film alive and expresses his gratitude that it's finally available properly. He also provides one of the commentaries, moderated by the great Michael Gingold, who keeps him talking about the cast, the locations, etc while also offering some of his own observations (including an anecdote about going to see the film at a theater that put "IN 3D!" on its marquee despite showing the film flat), which is an ideal moderator approach in my opinion - it's annoying when they just ask canned questions and make no attempt at an actual conversation. Hopefully Gingold will continue to perform this duty on more releases, as he does a much better job than some others I shan't name here. The other track is from the Hysteria Continues folks, who do the same thing they usually do; if you've heard any of their tracks you've kind of heard them all, at least to my ears. That said, if you're a slasher newcomer they'll certainly leave you with a full list of titles to check out, and they also opine on 3D horror (plus some outliers; one goes to bat for Spy Kids 3-D, of all things), if that's another blind spot for you. So ultimately it's kind of hard to qualify; at times it feels like a "for completists only" affair, but on the other hand, the solid use of 3D and strange quirks in the storytelling make it an ideal film to watch for people who think slashers are sloppily made and/or all the same. I can't say it would exactly change anyone's mind about the subgenre, but it'll at least get them to begrudgingly admit that the people who make them do indeed have to know what they're doing. Long story short: it passes my own unique version of the binary thumbs up/down system: I will keep the disc instead of trading it in! That's gotta be worth something, right?

What say you?


Willy's Wonderland (2021)

MARCH 1, 2021


Since it was announced, Willy's Wonderland seemed like a can't miss bit of B-movie nirvana: Nicolas Cage trapped in a Chuck E. Cheese type place where the animatronic mascots came to life and started murdering people. No, it probably wasn't going to be a masterpiece, but something you could knock a few drinks back and enjoy the silliness of the plot and also what would almost certainly be some choice bits of Cage screaming or delivering a few "Put the bunny back in the box" type howlers. Unfortunately, it seems the people behind the film came up with the concept and then set out with one goal in mind: to misappropriate the budget and make every wrong choice they possibly could in a mere 85 minutes.

The first bizarre choice is that the nameless hero doesn't speak. As a fan of Cage (legitimately, not ironically) I was dismayed to hear that he wouldn't utter a word in the entire film (for reasons never explained; a few grunts proves he is at least capable of some kind of vocalization), because it seemed to be denying him one of his strengths. To his credit, he actually gives a pretty good performance, and even offers a few gems for the people who love to meme him to death; his "Janitor" seems to have an affinity for pinball, and he stops a few times to go play an old machine, dancing and gyrating as he plays while guzzling an energy drink (a running gag in the movie is that he will stop everything he is doing - including fighting the monsters - when his watch alarm reminds him it's time for another break). It also never stops being funny when he stares down the animals, who look back at him in equal silence with their idiotic faces.

But if you're going to have a silent hero, why spend the money on Cage? They could have gotten someone cheaper with some cache in this VOD realm and spent a little more money on the set and creatures, or at least to come up with some variation on the action. Another curious decision is that the animals waste no time making their "alive" status known to Cage, and he kills one of them within minutes of being locked in the restaurant - only to nonchalantly go back to cleaning it (he is hired to do so in exchange for getting his car fixed, more on that soon). Without dialogue to mix it up a bit, this means that after 20 minutes they've kind of already exhausted their movie's tricks when it comes to the one-line premise of "Cage vs Chuck E Cheese". Some local kids who are trying to burn the joint down are thrown into the mix eventually, but when it comes to Cage's matchups, they're all the same: he silently tussles with one of them, eventually subduing it, and then rips out its gears to kill it while getting covered in blood. Then he puts on a fresh Willy's staff shirt and starts cleaning again. Rinse and repeat. It's funny the first time, sure, but when the climax of your movie could be swapped with the very first action scene and it wouldn't matter (as the angle is usually just on Cage's increasingly bloodied face/chest, the animal largely off-screen) there's a big problem.

It also curiously leaves the movie without much of a reason for him to even be there. The premise is that the animals (brought to life from some kind of satanic ritual) were offing people throughout the town until the sheriff, the guy who owned the building, and the mechanic all made a deal of sorts with Willy and the rest of his band: leave the townsfolk alone, and they'll bring strangers to them to satisfy their bloodlust. So the mechanic throws a dragstrip out on the road nearby to disable anyone that passes through, then tells the car's owner(s) that he can only accept cash but will call it even if they clean up Willy's. But the local kids who are tired of hearing the stories (and worrying about Willy perhaps not being satisfied with the random motorists) have decided to burn the place down, and then they get trapped there too. They provide Willy and pals with their kill quota, so not only is there no in-movie reason for Cage to be there anymore, but with him not speaking/not really caring about the situation, he's almost a non-entity within it. Without him, this would be a silly but entertaining time-killer, as opposed to a disappointment.

I mean, I'm sure he's not getting the same paydays he used to, but I guarantee he accounted for a hefty chunk of the film's budget, and I spent most of the time wondering what they could have spent that money on instead (ditto for however much they paid to use "Free Bird" near the end, another weird choice). Maybe they could have improved the set, as despite the fact that most of the movie takes place within the restaurant I never got any kind of good sense of its layout, and more than once the characters were in a room I for the life of me couldn't quite place as being a normal part of this kind of joint. And/or maybe they could have had a few more exterior scenes, which would not only draw less attention to the confused interior, but also mix it up a bit since the movie shows us pretty much everything it has to offer before the halfway point.

Or they could have improved the animatronics, of which there are also too many (eight! The actual Chuck E band only has four or five). The designs are pretty good and in line with the things they're spoofing, but they don't DO much. Their faces have some expression, but their body movements are just as limited as their normal robotic counterparts, which is perhaps part of the joke but never comes off as particularly funny. Worse, it reduces how threatening they can be while also leaving you, the viewer, wondering how it is they've managed to do this for so long and even start to wipe out the town at one point. Once again, this thing that has been happening for years is finally stopped because someone knocked them over and punched them a few times? No one ever tried that? Or did it just need someone as badass as Nic Cage to do it, an idea that would work if he was doing anything more interesting than... knocking them over and punching them a few times. If it's supposed to be part of the joke, why isn't it funnier?

As for the teens, they're, you know, whatever. Each are given one trait and you can probably guess the order in which they'll be killed. And apart from the lead one (Emily Tosta) they rarely interact with Cage, so most of their scenes just feel like the result of someone realizing that their jokey premise could barely sustain a short film, let alone a feature, and added them in at the last minute. It also sadly wastes Beth Grant as the town sheriff (and Tosta's adoptive mother), who allows all this to happen even though it seems pretty easy to stop it since (spoiler) the climax makes no suggestion that Cage's actions had no effect and some supernatural force would keep them coming back again and again. So why did she do it? She even stops Tosta from blowing the place up early on, suggesting a "it's not that simple" type reveal later that never comes.

And the kicker? I could have forgiven so much of this if not for the presence of one of its producers: Grant Cramer. If that name sounds familiar, it's because he played Mike Tobacco in Killer Klowns From Outer Space, a film with a similarly silly concept that works infinitely better. That film found a way to balance the campy ideas with some genuine menace, and after seeing his name among the 45 other producers (including Cage himself) at the top of the film I couldn't help but feel disappointed that they had a bonafide veteran of this sort of thing right there and still kept fumbling. Again, I wasn't expecting a great movie, but I also wasn't expecting them to coast on the elevator pitch and nothing else. Even with a concept as silly as this, you gotta try, and I just wasn't seeing that effort.

What say you?


The House of Usher (1989)

FEBRUARY 28, 2021


I've seen a few adaptations of Poe's The House Of Usher, and the fun thing about all of them is that they're all different, for better or worse. And furthermore, all of them take liberties with the original story; the closest adaptation has been the Corman/Price one because it at least retained all of the characters, even if it changed their dynamic around. This one basically only keeps Rodrick Usher, the character Price played in that earlier (and best) version and is portrayed by Oliver Reed here. His character more or less remains intact to the one you'd know (mysterious ailments, lives in a crumbling house, etc) but everything else about it is so different it almost doesn't even register as an adaptation.

For starters, there's no Madeline here, or any other sister. Instead, Rodrick has a brother named Walter, and he is played by Donald Pleasence, so you get two legandary English drunks for the price of one. In fact it was one of two reasons I was excited when I saw the film was coming out from Vinegar Syndrome, because I had never seen the two together on screen and figured their scenes - whether they were partners or enemies in whatever madness the plot required - would be a hoot. Sadly, Pleasence doesn't appear until the 50 minute mark, and it's only in the last twenty minutes that he features prominently, so his interactions with Reed are pretty brief. It's a delight when it happens though, so it's kind of like Heat in that you might be drawn in by the "two legends together!" appeal but thankfully can find lots to like elsewhere since their time together is so short.

The other draw was because I thought it might be the movie I started watching as a kid because "Loomis was in it", only to be completely baffled and not finish it. I can't recall the title, but it was from around this time; Pleasence made a lot of junk in the late 80s/early 90s so it's not easy to narrow down from his filmography. Though now that I know it's not this, Buried Alive is my main suspect, so I'll pencil that one in and just appreciate that I wasn't confused by this one until the very end, when (spoiler for 32 year old movie ahead) there's a suggestion that the whole thing was a premonition from the main character. Unusual for a VS release, there's no commentary track to discuss it (either from someone who worked on it or some historians), but it's a shame that it has to end on such a weak moment.

Because otherwise, it's actually pretty good! Director Alan Birkinshaw was also responsible for Killer's Moon and even co-wrote some of Don't Open Til Christmas, so I was expecting some sleaze and some total nonsense, and I was not let down. Nor was I ultimately left overwhelmed by it; there's *just* the right amount of said elements, opting for a more slow burn kind of pacing until Pleasence enters the story and things get more murder-y. Our hero is Molly (Romy Windsor, who had a bit part in Face/Off and is therefore royalty), who is enjoying a vacation with her fiance Ryan when he is summoned to the house of his uncle Rodrick. Along the way they get into a car accident near the house (of Usher), leaving Molly relatively unharmed but Ryan in critical condition. Or at least, so Rodrick says. He, along with his creepy butler Clive, don't let her see him in the hospital or leave the house at all, so it only takes about eleven seconds for her to get that classic "something's not RIGHT" suspicion that has driven half of the horror movies ever made.

Though I doubt she ever could have guessed what was happening: her would-be uncle arranged to have his nephew killed so he could take her for himself, planning to plant his seed and continue the Usher bloodline. This is another change from the material, where ENDING the bloodline is Rodrick's usual motive; instead, those duties are assigned to Walter, but he's so crazy and murderous that any nobility of his mission is hidden deep within Pleasence's dialed up to 11 performance. He made this around the same time as Halloween 5, and he comes off the same as he did there (far and away Loomis' most insane appearance) as he wipes out the butler's family and then sets his sights on his brother and Molly, often using this little contraption he has strapped to his arm that looks like a cross between a handheld sewing machine and a bootleg of Freddy's glove.

So it's a movie about a woman who is trapped with one guy who wants to rape her and another who wants to kill her, and it's a shame Pleasence wasn't introduced earlier so she could make efforts to play them off each other while planning her escape, since both mean her harm but also occasionally (inadvertently) are in a position to protect her from the other. As a result it gets a little repetitive in the middle, focused mostly on her half-hearted escape attempts (most of which just involved asking any other party - the butler's wife, a random doctor, etc - to help her leave). Unless their schedules only allowed for a few days of filming (again, a commentary really could have helped here!), I have to assume Michael J. Murray wrote the script assuming two less interesting actors would be hired to play Rodrick and Walter and never bothered to update it to take advantage of these two titans of scenery chewing. I mean, this is a movie about a house that is falling apart - they could LITERALLY devour the sets if they wanted!

Long story short, Poe fans will probably be aghast (the "fall" of the House elements are limited to a few moments), but fans of the two actors are given just enough to enjoy here, and I was charmed by the low-key "erotic thriller" approach to the material. And by "erotic" I mean there's a wedding scene where Reed smashes the cake in his bride's face and then shoved his tongue in her mouth, licks some of the cake out/off, and eats it himself. If that isn't #cinema I don't know is. An interview with Birkinshaw (the disc's lone extra, though the package comes with a foldout poster) doesn't shed too much light on the proceedings, but he does admit that he rewatched the movie as prep for the interview and found it to be better than he remembered. He's right! It's pretty good!

What say you? P.S. This German trailer was the only one I could find, which perhaps explains why the Blu doesn't have a trailer. Maybe they never made one for the US? Also, it's part of Vinegar Syndrom's "Archive" line, and very limited, so the only way to get it is from their site. You can find it HERE.


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