From The Pile: Fangs Of The Living Dead (1969)

AUGUST 25, 2021


The title seemed familiar, so I checked twice to make sure I hadn't already seen/reviewed Fangs of the Living Dead (aka Malenka) on the site before I opened the still wrapped disc from the endless "Pile" (now an overfilled box) with the intent of watching it, reviewing it, and - unless it was great - sending it to the *other* box, the one full of discs that are waiting to be traded in on a literal rainy day*. "I don't want to have another Killer Nun situation on my hands," I thought, before starting the film and discovering that it actually starred the Nun herself, Anita Ekberg. I found that pretty amusing.

Most things are more amusing than the film, as it turns out, as it's pretty much a total snooze. It was the first horror film for Amando de Ossorio, who found success a few years later with the Tombs of the Blind Dead films but hadn't quite found his groove yet (some would argue he never did; his name is certainly not one that inspires me to watch his entire filmography), though he's not entirely to blame for the film's lapses. Apparently no one could decide whether to make a fully serious horror movie or a lighthearted one with comedy akin to the recent (and successful) Fearless Vampire Killers, but even if they did settle that before shooting began, de Ossorio is no Polanski, so I don't think that switcheroo was the only reason the movie doesn't really work.

It's also far too chaste compared to what else we had at the time; it's nearly bloodless, the women don't show off a lot of skin (forget about actual nudity), and the ending can't even bring itself to kill off the hero's horny pal - a character who seemingly only exists to be pointy teeth fodder. Nothing wrong with dialing things back and aiming for a more atmospheric and suspenseful take on the subject matter (which is more or less just Dracula), but de Ossorio isn't exactly delivering on those fronts either, so it's just kind of sitting there like a wet fart for large chunks of its runtime. The only time it really comes to life is in the last half hour, when the town's doctor (Carlos Casaravilla) takes a more active role in the proceedings as a sort of Van Helsing type, but one who has looked the other way on the vampire villain's evil deeds.

As for the villains, well... their whole story doesn't make any sense really, as part of the plot reveal (spoiler for 50+ year old movie ahead) is that they're not actually vampires, though the main one's demise is straight up vampire stuff. So were they lying about lying about being vampires? And why wait until the end of the movie to tell us this when nothing much has happened? Do it earlier and then spring something more interesting on us for the finale instead of an endless scene of the guy's body turning into a husk after being staked. To be fair though, there's another ending where that doesn't happen, and it's presented on the disc as a bonus feature, but it's in the original Spanish language so his not-dying monologue is a mystery to my ears. That ending also gives everyone a happy ending, except for perhaps the hero's buddy, who is now a vampire himself (huh?) and sends us off while comically chasing after a frightened woman. Hilarious!

Honestly the highlight of the disc is the commentary by Troy Howarth, who thankfully doesn't think too much of the movie himself and spares us 90 minutes of defending it. Instead he runs through the filmographies and careers of its players as you'd expect, but also gives some interesting historical background on Spain at the time, operating under Generalissimo Francisco Franco (at that time, *not* dead), as this was one of the first horror films produced by the country. He also notes a few interesting tidbits, such as the fact that a character's name of Vladis was NOT a little nod to Vlad the Impaler, as I assumed while watching, as the connection between Vlad and Dracula was not introduced until a few years later. That sort of stuff is why I always listen to the historian tracks even if I don't like the movie; might as well learn something rather than write the whole thing off as a loss.

But hey, sometimes the discs from the pile end up being worth keeping, which doesn't help me in my never-ending attempt to pare the collection down. I have no desire to keep this one, so thanks for kind of sucking, movie! That's a quarter inch of horizontal space I don't have to find on the permanent shelf!

What say you?

*I started taking walks on my lunch break in an attempt to shed a few pandemic pounds, so that eats up the time I have to go across town and give the box to some weird dude at a CD/movie store and come up with some random amount of cash to give me for it. But if it rains? I will stay dry, and RAKE IN THAT TRADE-IN CASH!


The Night House (2020)

AUGUST 20, 2021


There is a moment in The Night House that shook me to my core, but it wasn't a particularly scary moment. No, it's a bit where Beth (Rebecca Hall) is having a dream that her dead husband is texting her, and when she looks at the message, we can see that there are other, older ones (from when he was presumably alive), unlike most movies where a new text is the only time this person apparently ever texted their loved one. Then, they double down on the surprises - when she wakes up and checks to see if the text was real, her phone is plugged in! Movie characters are always just leaving their phone right there next to them, unplugged, because these people never have to worry about a dead battery I guess. But Beth does!

Granted this is just me clapping for a weird pet peeve, but it does tie into one of the things that makes the movie work as well as it does: it feels very natural and our protagonist is relatable, allowing the ghost-y stuff to really get under your skin. Having just lost her husband to suicide, Beth's grief is manifesting in many ways: she drinks, she watches their home videos, she packs up his toiletries to toss them, and she ultimately starts going through his personal things trying to find answers for why he suddenly took his own life. And (thanks in part to Hall's terrific performance) we understand perfectly that, even though we never met her prior to this tragedy, this is all unusual behavior for her, and also that he was her "rock" despite never having seen them together. It's a balancing act that the script and director David Bruckner (and again, Hall) walk expertly.

It's also surprisingly funny at times. There's another great scene where Beth (a teacher) is confronted by a parent of a student who got a C in class, and while she's trying to be delicate at first and chalk her recent absence (in the mom's eyes, the reason for the lower grade) to "a personal matter", the mom keeps harping on it, so Beth just trys the blunt approach and tells her, mid-sentence, that he blew his brains out. Dark as it is, the woman's stunned reaction is a hilarious bit of comedy, and there are other moments like it throughout the film, even as Beth's grief enters the anger portion and she confronts one of the women she finds photos of in her husband's phone.

I can't get too much into that because spoilers, but I will say that part of the mystery involves these women, all of whom somewhat resemble Beth and may be connected to a mirrored version of their house that he has built across the lake from theirs. His suicide note was a cryptic message about Beth being safe now, and we learn that she once died for a few minutes after an accident before being revived, and if you think all of these things might be connected, you'd be correct, though exactly what is something Bruckner and co. thankfully do not feel the need to spell out with dialogue, trusting the audience to piece it together on their own. It's not a puzzler by any means; it was just refreshingly free of hand holding. With Hall being in just about every frame of the film (I think the final scene is the only time we ever see anything from anyone else's perspective) and often alone except for the possible ghost, it would mean a lot of talking to herself to convey exposition in a more traditional (read: dumbed down) manner, and I was pleasantly surprised to see they trusted their audience enough to not do that.

It's also light on traditional scares, something that will likely annoy any younger audiences who were hooked in by the trailer (which shows almost all of them), as they probably won't be able to connect to the drama either (though maybe they will in Covid times? Possible they've lost someone close recently). At times you feel the creative team would rather just focus on Hall working through it than deal with the haunting element, which is fine by me since I don't really get scared anyway, but I feel I should say it as a bit of a warning for anyone who might be heading out for some good ol fashioned "let's go scream together with a big crowd" horror movie viewing. Not only will the crowd be small and muted, but blah blah blah Delta, etc (you've heard it all by now), so if you want to wait for home, I would only sigh with how it relates to the theatrical success of a solid, ORIGINAL horror movie. As a human, and movie fan in general, I'll admit this one might actually work better at home anyway, even without the health risks being a factor.

I know this is a relatively short review for me, but that's part of what makes the movie work: its simplicity. Yes, Beth finds out things about her husband that ultimately has her looking at weird old books and even taking a mini road trip for info, but it never gets bogged down in this stuff; her working through it is the driving force, and unless you want multiple paragraphs about praising Hall's performance, there isn't much to write about without diluting the experience (I can also vouch for the score by Lovett, quite good!). If you were a fan of (HMAD book recommendations*!) Absentia, The Eclipse and/or The Presence, I think you'll enjoy this, and if you found them "boring" or whatever, then there isn't going to be much here to change your mind, though I still encourage you to see for yourself when you feel comfortable doing so. At the very least, it might give jealous spouses a reason to not be so quick to fear the worst when they see their partner looking at other men/women!

What say you?

*I was gonna just write a note here but made it a whole ass post instead of burying it in a review for a movie apparently few have seen. Click here for something cool re: my book!


HMAD Has Gone Global!

Since my email address is public, I get a lot of weird (often automated) offers for ad space, running sponsored content, etc., all of which I ignore. Yes, it would be nice if HMAD was an actual revenue source, but if it means clogging up the site with things that aren't reviews, I'm not interested - I'd rather you guys got the same "clean" experience you've had for almost 15 years now (Christ...).

But a while back I got one inquiry that did warrant a little more attention: a representative from a Japanese publishing company who wanted to have the HMAD book translated and published under their label. Exciting enough on its own, but even better: I wouldn't have to do anything besides provide them with the original files, which are naturally still sitting in the same folder on my desktop, five years later. I send them that stuff, sign a tax form or two, and then several months later (covid stretched it out, of course) I got a little check for the privelege. It is the easiest job I've ever had.

And now it's out! They sent me a few copies as a complimentary gesture, and I gotta say: it's actually better designed than the real one (which was designed by me, not a professional). Not only is it smaller, but each entry has a thumbnail graphic of the poster, so something can catch your eye when flipping through each month (which are also given that little black square on the right side of the page so you can flip right to a particular month if you want, kind of like how a dictionary breaks down the lettters). And the index is far more robust than mine, noting not just the 366 titles but also movies that are mentioned at all! Apparently I mentioned Waterworld once, and now if you want to know why/where, they got you covered.

Of course you need to be able to read Japanese, something I can't do. In fact the only thing I'm still not sure on is the translation itself. I used an app to scan some certain parts (like, obviously, the Cathy's Curse entry) and it's definitely close enough to what I'm saying, though those differences I can't tell if they are a limitation of the app or the translator not being able to come up with something that would work in a different language. They did email at one point asking for clarification for a few things, mostly just a few examples of my own bizarre sense of humor not really coming across, but it's possible there are many more that didn't trigger anything. Long story short, I hope I don't unintentionally insult any Japanese readers by using a word or phrase that means something very different to them, or even simply confuse them with one of my lengthy asides that not only is unrelated to the movie, but also may have no significance to them in their country.

So if you, or someone you know is interested, you can head HERE for Takeshobo's official page for the book, which has links to buy it through them or other retailers. Not sure if there's a digital version, if that's your preference, but I guess if you can read the page you'll be able to figure it out soon enough. And if you are able to read it, please reach out and tell me how the translation is! I would really feel bad if anything came off as confusing to the reader due to my own less than graceful approach to the written word, especially given how my sense of humor doesn't often translate that well even in English when you can't hear the sarcasm in my voice.

And to everyone who has bought the original English version: thank you again! Something must have put the book on their radar, so anyone who bought a copy only helped get it to that point. You're all in my good graces, even the guy who gave it one star because I'm Irish (?).

Sincerely, ブライアン・W・コリンズ (that's how to write my name, apparently).


Skinned Deep (2004)

AUGUST 17, 2021


Gun to my head I would have guessed that Skinned Deep was an early '90s movie more or less produced for the VHS market, something that would have gotten coverage in Fangoria during those pre-Scream years where big screen horror was so intermittent that the mag had to noticeably step up its coverage of smaller films (the '80s rarely afforded them the opportunity). But nope, it was actually released in 2004 (by Fangoria, natch) and started shooting in 2000, long after the heyday of both the film's subject matter (Texas Chainsaw-esque demented backwoods killers) and the home video market it was chasing. DVD had taken over by then, as had the video chains over the mom and pop types, leaving these sort of things in the dust as Blockbuster would rather stock another copy of The Ring than devote shelf space to more than one copy of something like this.

No, this was clearly just a labor of love from writer/director Gabe Bartalos, making his debut as a director after years of makeup and FX work. His resume dates back to the mid '80s, and I swear I've seen him on at least a dozen DVD/Blu bonus features over the years thanks to his work on Frank Henenlotter films and Charles Band productions. Needless to say I was curious what kind of film he'd make on his own, and I was happy to discover it wasn't just a bland slasher that gave him an excuse to show off his FX skills every ten minutes, but instead offered a singular vision of a filmmaker who cared about every frame in the film, regardless of whether or not it had anything that would excite gorehounds.

The basic story is nothing new; a family of four is traveling, their car gets a flat, and the nearest place for help is run by murderous weirdos. But there's something "off" about the proceedings that should tell even the most jaded viewer (including me, at first) that this isn't going to be a run of the mill affair. The actors (heroes and villains alike) are all very bizarre and exaggerated, as if they stepped out of a David Lynch music video, and when the killing starts, Bartalos saves the most gruesome death for the young boy of the family, i.e. something most wouldn't dare to do at all. After everyone else in the family is dispatched, the focus falls squarely on the teen daughter, who catches the fancy of Brian aka Brain, so named because... well, he has a giant brain on his head.

Yes, this enters into sci-fi territory, as our villains have seemingly been created by, er, The Creator, a mysterious puppet master we meet later. Brain/Brian is seemingly sympathetic and longs to run naked through Times Square (a vision we see for real; Bartalos obviously didn't have permits and just shot the sequence guerilla style - the actor was subsequently arrested, but they got the shot!). His "brothers" are the more murdery ones, one is called Plates after the sharpened dinnerware he uses as weapons, and the other is the Surgeon General, the machine-mouthed guy on the cover. A few actors played him based on availability and what not (it was a long production, as noted) but Plates is played by Warwick Davis (Bartalos did his makeup for all of the Leprechauns), painted to look like an albino and dropping off kilter line readings into most of his scenes.

Heroine Tina runs afoul of them and other baddies over the course of the film's (slightly overlong) 97 minutes, but they take out others on occasion, like a group of elderly bikers who seek revenge after one of their number is killed trying to help the girl. Bartalos is seemingly well aware that this sort of movie can feel "samey" to the astute horror fans who will undoubtedly make up the majority of his audience (there is zero attempt at making this thing mainstream friendly, I assure you), so he keeps things forever lively by keeping Tina on the run, allowing the production designer enough of a showcase for an entire demo reel. When Tina ends up in a room that is covered ceiling to floor in newspaper, you truly get the sense of how much work went into the movie to keep it engaging. He could have thrown the girl in a typical bland basement room with a few pipes in the background, but instead you get this strange, claustrophobic visual that had to have taken dozens of man hours to put together.

It's that attention to detail that makes the film stand out where it could have been another 90 minute chase flick. Again, yeah, it could have been tightened in spots, and you need to forgive some wonky ADR and the like, but there is almost never a moment in the film where you can't pause it and say "Look at how much work they put into creating this scene", between the complicated makeup (Brain's took four hours to apply, and he's in it quite a bit), crazy set designs, and yes, the gore, which is mostly practical but Bartalos also knew better than to institute a ban on CGI. Any good FX artist knows that utilizing the best of both worlds is the way to get the most ideal results, and so some sneaks in here and there, and only a fool would complain about it.

Severin's blu has two featurettes, one a vintage piece from (I assume) the first DVD release back then, and a new retrospective where Bartalos and a few others answer fan questions. There's also a commentary track with pretty much the same people as the later retrospective, which is kind of annoyingly out of sync with the movie so there are times where Bartalos is saying "OK this shot coming up right..... HERE was (tech talk)" but from context we can tell he is referring to something we saw 15 seconds earlier. But otherwise it's chockfull of production info and anecdotes, with occasional ball-busting and self deprecation, i.e. an ideal track for both fans of the film and also for detractors who assume things like this can just be slapped together in a weekend. Even if you're not down with all of the movie's choices, no one can deny that it is the result of a hard working filmmaker that wanted to put his own spin on classic horror movie material, one who made sure to put every dollar of his (not large!) budget on the screen instead of blowing half of it on a pointless cameo by someone who didn't happen to have a horror convention on his schedule that weekend.

It's sad though, because I kept having the "They don't make em like this anymore" thought for a movie that was only a couple years old when I started doing Horror Movie A Day. I mean yeah it's depressing to think I'm that much older, but in general the idea of anyone doing this sort of thing (on film no less, though there are a handful of well-matched digital shots) is practically unthinkable nowadays. Indie horror exists of course, but the things that find distribution are mostly A24 lite affairs, with gonzo stuff like this being "underground" fare that probably costs less than I spend on electricity every year. It's rare I come across anything that the filmmaker spent years of their life tinkering with to get just the way they liked it, shooting when they could instead of shitting it out over a week and trying to salvage something from what they shot (on their iPhone). Oh, and doing it before he could ask people on the internet to pay for it, reducing their own interest in making sure it got done right. I'm sure those sort of productions still exist, but they don't come across my desk as much as I'd like. Hopefully that'll change.

What say you?


Don't Breathe 2 (2021)

AUGUST 13, 2021


The existence of Don't Breathe 2 is an odd one for many reasons, chiefly that it doesn't even bother to go with the thin premise established at the end of the first one, in which the Blind Man would follow Jane Levy and her sister to California to finish the job. Perhaps Levy couldn't be coaxed to return, or they realized they couldn't fake Los Angeles in Serbia, but either way they opted to do something else. But that they bothered at all is another puzzler; it's been five years, which is an eternity for a budding genre franchise, and before you say "it was delayed because of covid" - nope! They actually shot it last year; it's one of the very few movies to come out in 2021 that wasn't bounced around the schedule.

That said the action skips ahead eight years, so if Levy ever wanted to come back after all, they could go the prequel/midquel route and slot it in that sizable period. This film is pretty standalone; Stephen Lang's Blind Man mentions having lost a daughter but otherwise there's no real connection to the first film even as far as the first film's character goes, let alone its events. As long as you know he's a blind guy who isn't all that great of a human being (i.e. something you can glean from the trailer) you have all the context you need. In fact I actually wondered if they were attempting to retcon some of his lesser qualities or hope that we simply forgot them, but he actually refers to himself as a rapist at one point, which surprised me. He's wisened up from the original! (Where he specifically said he was NOT a rapist as he merely wanted to artificially inseminate someone - the ickiest gray area of all time?)

Anyway, the plot this time is that eight years ago he stumbled on a house fire (burning down from a meth lab explosion) and found a little girl who survived when her family presumably did not. So he takes her under his wing (kidnapping, essentially) and teaches her how to fight, read in Braille, etc. But he also won't let her out of the house much, or play with other kids, or anything like that, so naturally now that she's 12ish she's starting to question her world and how lonely it is. One day she attracts the attention of some lowlifes who may or may not be kidnapping people to take their organs, and so Lang has to spring back into action to protect her. But... does he?


The wrinkle here is that the head lowlife, Raylan (Brendan Sexton III from Session 9), claims to be her actual father, having NOT died in the fire as we've assumed. The mystery of whether he is lying or not is part of the suspense, and I won't spoil that much here, only to note that the script's attempts at curveballs and misdirection never really pan out. Ultimately, everything happens pretty much exactly how you will probably expect it to, which is kind of a weird thing to be saying about an R rated thriller that dared to make the murderous villain from the first film into an antihero. Rather than lean into the fact that he's bad, they simply make the other people worse (and have him save a dog for good measure), which I found to be kind of a cop out. And it doesn't help that the characterization for the quintet of villains is pretty underwhelming; for this sort of "vigilante gets revenge against scummy dudes" kind of thing it's easy to think about The Crow, and how that film gave each of those guys some color and scene-stealing antics, but you get next to none of that sort of thing here. Two of them are actually brothers and we don't even learn this information until one of them is dead, nor did I manage to catch most of their names.

They also could have really surprised us and just killed The Blind Man off halfway through or something, letting the little girl (Madelyn Grace) to save herself using the survival skills he taught her. Sometimes they come into play, such as the film's highlight sequence (an early long shot in which she evades her would-be captors throughout the house), but for the most part she's gotta wait for Lang to come along and spring her loose from whatever predicament she's currently in. But given her age, we know she's gonna be just fine (same as with the original; we knew Levy would survive because she had to save her little sister from their over-the-top awful home life), so there really isn't much suspense to the proceedings once we know the truth of her parentage.

I was also curious why the script (again by Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues, with the latter taking over the director's chair this time) waited so long to move the action from Lang's house to a decaying hotel where the bad guys have set up shop. The trailer made it look like it was an even split, but honestly I think there's only about 25 minutes left of the movie by the time Lang makes his way there. The new locale, and Lang's unfamiliarity with it, could have given the movie more room to play, but with so much of it at his house, it comes off as a retread for far too long, another crippling blow for a suspense film of this type. Apart from the aforementioned long shot sequence, and another bit where Grace has to choose between electrocution, drowning, or capture, there's precious little nailbiter kind of stuff here, which was the original's calling card.

That said it's an easy enough way to burn off 95 minutes (nothing worth risking a theater for though, if you're Delta-phobic or what not). Lang, pushing 70, gives a great physical performance, producer Sam Raimi gets some of his splatter in there (not as much as there seemingly should be though, considering how despicable the villains are), and it thankfully avoids any of the ickiness that dampened the fun of the original (as much as I laughed at the pubic hair sight gag there). I honestly think it'll play better to people who haven't seen the original, but if you were a die hard fan of that one I'm sure you won't mind watching Lang do his thing for another round. Still, if they make a third, I hope they think outside the box a bit; I noted in my review for the original that I would probably never bother watching it again because the suspense factor would be gone, but at times here I felt I was doing just that.

What say you?


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