The Cursed (2021)

FEBRUARY 20, 2022


The other day I tweeted about movies where it's very important that the "The" in the title is included, because sometimes it's the only difference between it and a much lesser movie. For example: THE Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a terrific film, whereas Texas Chainsaw Massacre is... not so much. Or THE Eclipse, a wonderful ghost drama (fans of Mike Flanagan's work should be tracking this one down) that should not be confused with Eclipse, aka Twilight 3. Well now we have The Cursed, which was originally titled Eight for Silver, but was changed to something that might get it mixed up with Cursed, the 2005 film technically directed by Wes Craven. And worse, both are werewolf movies! I sure would like to deliver a swift kick to the shins of whatever dumbass exec decided, out of all the words in the English language, to change their werewolf movie's title to one that's already been used by an unrelated, largely hated werewolf movie. Dumbass.

Anyway, THE Cursed is a pretty solid film that harkens back to Hammer style monster movies, which is a great idea for a modern horror movie because, as Hammer enthusiasts know, the studio only ever made one actual werewolf movie. So this kind of spiritually fills in a gap in their library, in a way? I mean it's too long (just under two hours), but on a narrative level it's got all the hallmarks of those old flicks: the local tavern of suspicious types, a curse, a gypsy camp, and - most importantly - lots and lots of fog. I don't think the actual sun appears more than once in the movie; it is consistently (beautifully) overcast and foggy throughout most of its runtime, and was even shot on film - I hope like hell I can see it on 35mm someday.

It's also got a pretty good hook for a werewolf story, in that the gypsies (note: their word, not mine - I know it's not the PC term) are actually keeping the werewolf curse at bay, but when the local landowners decide to chase them off their land (read: murder them all), the curse is set free, and the first victim is actually a young boy (son to the landowner himself), who can change others just as quickly as a vampire or zombie might add to their numbers. No, this doesn't result in dozens of wolves running around by the end, but instead allows a slight sense of mystery to the proceedings, as there are moments where we know *a* wolf has been put down or is elsewhere, but doesn't necessarily mean the other characters are safe wherever they are. Bonus: there's an evil scarecrow that pops up from time to time (albeit in dream sequences, though they are effectively done).

It also invokes the Beast of GĂ©vaudan, the story best known here for inspiring Brotherhood of the Wolf. The film's hero, a pathologist named John McBride (Boyd Holbrook), lost his family to the Beast and has been tracking it ever since, ending up in this out of the way locale. The landowner, Seamus (Alistair Petrie) and his wife Isabelle (Kelly Reilly) believe their son to be missing, perhaps taken by the beast - neither they nor McBride are aware that he has become the beast himself. It's the rare instance of being ahead of the characters actually working in the movie's favor; if they all knew the kid had become a monster, they'd be doing dumb things to protect it when the chance arose to kill it. Instead we get to feel Isabelle's untainted grief, so we're also hoping that maybe a cure can be found without constantly rolling our eyes at their "stupid" actions.

There is also a surprising amount of gore, even on a child; an early victim is seen having his arm torn apart and later we're given more than a quick look at his maggoty corpse, the sort of thing we have gotten used to filmmakers avoiding (especially for a film that ended up showing next to Spider-Man at the multiplexes). It's possible that there are other gnarly gags, but unfortunately the director and editors make a terrible call and employ what looks like a broken projector effect over nearly all of the attack scenes. Some have said this was to hide some bad CGI and/or practical FX (apparently the film didn't just get a new title since it debuted at Sundance over a year ago - it was also reworked a bit), but I'd rather just look at an abysmal rendering/see the zipper on the monster suit than see anything presented like this, where the image gets doubled and shifted around so you can't really focus on what is happening.

The effect is even worse when you consider the masterful early scene where the gypsies are massacred by the landowners' mob. It's presented in one wide master shot that runs probably two minutes or more, as the mob rides up, has some words with some kind of town elder, shoot him and then proceed to torch their tents/wagons and shoot/slay the rest of the group. It's the sort of thing that is not only impressive to watch, but also to consider how much careful planning it had to have taken to execute properly; if something went wrong, they'd have to reset everything and start all over. I know those epic long shots that find their way into a lot of movies over the past few years are also difficult, but it's also easy to hide a cut somewhere (someone going through a door or passing a black/blank wall) - here, with something like forty people moving around fire, horses, etc, it seems like it'd be impossible to combine takes. And even if so, that's the actual magic of movies working on me again, after 20-30 years of just assuming they used a computer effect to pull something off!

Besides the dumb "glitch effect", the only other issue I had with the movie is a pair of wraparounds set during WWI (the bulk of the movie is set in the late 19th century). The first one is fine enough, but the return to it at the end, in order to sell a twist of sorts, felt very rushed and incomplete, as if there was supposed to be more to it and it got cut short (I don't want to spoil the particulars, but if you've seen it: after the _____ was removed, shouldn't that character... do the thing?). There's also a cursed character who is shot with the appropriate silver bullet and is cured - which I THINK is due to where the bullet was beforehand, but again it's not particularly clear. It was one of those things where I looked at my watch and knew how many minutes were left in the movie, thinking "How can they possibly wrap everything up in the bookend story with x number of minutes left?" only to then discover that, you know, they couldn't.

Alas I don't think I know anyone who saw it at Sundance, so unless a restored version comes to Blu-ray (or someone from Sundance wrote a particularly spoilery review) I won't know if this was always the case or if it was hacked down a bit to get it under two hours. Luckily, it wasn't enough to kill the movie for me - just a blemish on what was otherwise a welcome return to slower paced horror that wasn't "elevated". The A24 version of this movie would have the first (only?) wolf appear in the final 20 minutes at best, and replace all current shots of people on fire or dreaming of freaky ass scarecrows with more shots of people quietly eating dinner. It was invoking a kind of movie that wasn't roller coaster paced itself, but still delivering the goods at an even clip (also, the wolf design, while unusual, is pretty good). Hell even I stayed awake for the whole thing, and I was tired when I arrived at the theater (I didn't get an afternoon nap in as I hoped). That's gotta mean something, right?

What say you?

P.S. Part of the silver stuff invokes Judas' silver, specifically, which makes the title change to one of Wes Craven's movies even more amusing, as Dracula 2000 (which he produced) proposed that Dracula's fear of silver was due to the fact that he was in fact, Judas himself.


Deadly Games (1982)

FEBRUARY 18, 2022


If 1981 is the golden age of slasher movies, then 1982 is the "weird" era, as there were a lot of movies like Deadly Games that were marketed as slashers but often don't really feel like them in the slightest. If one were to describe the film in the most general way possible - a masked killer is offing women in a small California town - then yeah, it'd fit right alongside Halloween or whatever. But I'd guess only about 10 minutes or so of the entire movie (which is 95 minutes long) involve such elements, and the rest just focuses on the would-be victims, most of whom aren't even concerned with the killer.

In their defense, the opening kill (a pretty great sequence on its own) is chalked up as a suicide since the woman went out her window and it looked like a jump to the cops. But since we know it wasn't, this is one of those things where a plot point needs to be believable to the audience as well as its characters in order to have the correct effect, because it's hard to keep remembering, over and over, that as far as everyone in the movie is concerned, there's nothing to worry about. Not that it matters much, because even after a second victim is killed - from the same friend group no less - most of the others don't seem overly concerned about it. And then there's a long stretch before anyone else is attacked, so even the audience might forget what kind of movie they were being sold on by then.

Instead it's more of a soap opera, as these women (six of them in total) are friends but also have little issue with sleeping with one another's husbands. Even our heroine, Keegan (whose sister was the opening victim) is fine with openly carrying on with a married cop, who is also banging one of the other women anyway. And when one guy is caught with another's wife, his apology is about as sorrowful as one might be if they mistakenly took the last beer in the fridge or something. It's almost kind of charming in its way...

...especially because the film seems to be a minor influence on Scream. In that film, we learn that Sidney's mother's transgressions (and that it was an "open secret") were actually a big part of the plot, but here such behaviors are not only shrugged off, but seemingly expected of one another. That said, the Scream DNA is undeniable at times, as both not only have the opening kill with creepy phone calls, but it even has the same "the heroine goes to *make* a call for help only to be startled by the phone ringing again" gag, not to mention the victim's early playing along with her mystery stranger. And there are not only mentions of horror movies, but Psycho in particular, with Keegan being warned not to use the shower and her saying that there aren't any Norman Bates around. Also (spoiler, I guess), there are two killers, though it's not as overt about it.

So basically, going in expecting a typical slasher will do it no favors, but if you want a soapy bit of '80s melodrama with some mild thriller elements, it should amuse you just fine. Jo Ann Harris is a pretty charming Final Girl (well, Final Woman - everyone is in their early 30s, another thing that keeps its slasher status questionable), talking to herself and being silly with her new fella, plus it's simply amusing to have one who is not concerned about potentially being murdered until the movie is almost over (imagine Annie as the heroine of Halloween and you'd be in the right ballpark). And the men are fun to just hang out with as well; Dick Butkus shows up for a few scenes as a guy who has resigned himself to being cuckolded, feeling he didn't have any better options, and the great Steve Railsback plays the most obvious candidate for the killer, a Vietnam vet who is good friends with the cop guy.

(SPOILERS) Those two, who also have a maybe-homosexual love for each other (kind of like Doc and Mo in Terror Train) play this strange board game that is seemingly based on the Universal Monsters, but we also see the killer playing it, which deflates the mystery far too early, though I guess "it's actually both of them!" counts as some kind of twist. The reveal of one of them is so casual I almost started wondering if I had missed an earlier reveal, though rewatching with the historian commentary proved I didn't (though there is a shot of the killer in his mask that leaves very little doubt if you're familiar enough with the actors' faces, not hard since most of the male characters disappear by the halfway point anyway). But the point is: I want that game! I wish this movie was successful, then I'm sure someone would have made a replica by now.

The only two extras of note are an interview with one of the actresses (who later married the director) and with the FX guy, which must have been a pretty easy gig since almost no one dies with any sort of wound, the killer usually just strangles them or buries them alive or whatever. It's no surprise he spends a good chunk of his time talking about other things he worked on (including The Office); I literally wondered "WHAT effects?" when I saw the listing in the bonus features menu. The actress is sadly one of the least memorable characters in the movie, though it's not her fault - her death scene didn't make the cut, so her character just disappears pretty early with no explanation (she also refused to return to the set to play her corpse in the obligatory "find the dead friends" sequence). She's fun to listen to (real Jamie Lee energy), but don't be surprised if you are momentarily confused as to which character she played.

I do enjoy watching these obscuros from the era; I've long since resigned myself to believing that none of them are going to be particularly great (or else I would have heard of them before, if only from other fans begging for something to replace their worn out VHS), but there's a certain charm in seeing how filmmakers were attempting to escape from the standard slasher template. Arrow put out another one in the same vein not too long ago (Death Screams), and Vinegar had Whodunit? (aka Island of Terror), all of which wouldn't be the first, second, or even 20th slasher movies I'd recommend to someone looking for a crash course, but definitely help defend the subgenre against criticisms that they're all the same. Also, even if this lacked those occasional highlights, I STILL might recommend watching this one if only for the baffling/amazing freeze frame ending, which involves what I THINK is supposed to be one of the film's primary characters, but it's not clear because it seems they're using a stuntman, and yet freezing on his face anyway. Bless their hearts.

What say you?

P.S. Confusingly enough, Colleen Camp appears for a bit in this (and looking as lovely as ever), and right now one of the other outlets is heavily pushing their release of the very similarly titled Death Game, which stars... Colleen Camp. So don't get em mixed up if you're blind buying!


Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)

FEBRUARY 18, 2022


This new film is titled Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which you might think "again?" but it's actually the first one by that title, as it drops the "The" and restores the "Massacre" that was left out of Texas Chainsaw 3D, the last one that was allowed to be a box office hit. Its followup and now this film have largely bypassed theaters in favor of a streaming service, which lowers expectations, though in both cases they weren't designed for VOD - one has to wonder what sort of stuff they'll do if not encumbered by the need to fulfill mainstream expectations or the looming threat of the MPAA. Here's hoping that if this proves to be successful enough for Netflix, a tenth film is commissioned where the filmmakers know they can go for broke right from the start.

Once again billed as a direct sequel to the original (same route taken by Return/Next Generation and TCM 3D, and hell even 1990's Leatherface seemed to be ignoring TCM2), this one has Leatherface as an old man who is apparently living a kill-free life with his adoptive mother (Alice Krige) in a different Texas town. But said town is dying, and some internet startup types have apparently worked to buy what's left of it and auction the buildings off with the intent of turning the main street into a gentrified hipster haven; one girl wins a building and says she'll turn it into a brunch spot. "I love brunch!" says her friend, and thus we quickly understand that when Leatherface inevitably starts killing them all, it'll offer the same sort of glee we got when he took on the two preppy jocks in the opening of TCM2.

In fact, we're practically supposed to feel sorry for him, as he enters the story when Krige has a heart attack after the influencers force her to leave her home, claiming they have bought it just like all the other buildings. She claims she settled the matter with the bank and is still the rightful owner, and only a drunk child will be surprised to learn she is correct, and our "heroes" just forced a woman out of her rightful home. She eventually dies from her heart failure, which naturally pisses Leatherface off enough to start killing again, though first he makes a new mask out of his beloved ma (why he uses her face instead of one of the two cops he murdered immediately after, I don't know. Weird tribute, my man). Then he makes his way back to town, digs out his chainsaw from where it's been sealed up (yes, it's basically a John Wick "I'm thinking I'm back!" kind of moment) and starts killing everyone else in the movie.

Honestly, all of that would be enough to give the movie a pass; there are some nice gore gags (he breaks one guy's arm and uses the protruding/shattered bone to stab him in the throat), it's paced reasonably well, and basically it all just feels like a leaner, less obnoxious do-over of TCM3D, complete with the dumb idea to omit the other family members and let Leatherface be a solo act, i.e. just another generic slasher. But because this is a modern franchise movie, we have to have TRAUMA!!! And we get it in the form of Lila (Elsie Fisher), sister to one of the town-buyers who has tagged along for their road trip. As we learn just before Leatherface has his reawakening, she has survived a school shooting and is thus naturally hesitant around guns/violence. This idea isn't terrible in itself, but the filmmakers bungle it so badly it becomes downright distasteful, because when the big lug starts swinging his 'saw around the bus full with all these anonymous influencer jerks (most of them aren't even credited or given names), Lila, crouching on the floor, starts to mentally compare it to her school shooting experience - an incredibly tone deaf idea for a scene where they've gone out of their way to make us more or less root for Leatherface. That, plus the fact that she eventually has to learn to trust and use guns, makes the whole thing just incredibly icky, and I am baffled that no one on the production thought to point out how misguided it is in its depiction.

They also totally screw up their big selling point, which is that this film brings back Sally Hardesty as Laurie Strode. I'm not really joking; the whole franchise horror genre is built on some level of copycat-ism, but this takes it to another level, giving her the same hair that Jamie Lee had in Halloween 2018 and even making her say "I've been waiting for him for 50 years" as Laurie did (and, no surprise, she's obsessed with but he doesn't even remember her). Maybe it'd work with Marilyn Burns actually returning to the role instead of a new actress (as Burns passed away in 2014), but even then I'm guessing that (big spoiler here, fair warning!) it'd still leave us with a big "Why did they bother?" feeling when Sally is killed almost instantly, without really doing much and being such a limited part of the movie that she could practically be removed from it entirely without it making any difference.

Of course, if they did that the movie would be even shorter, as it's only about 75 minutes without credits, so I've basically left nothing out in my four short (for me) paragraphs worth of description. The only thing of note I haven't mentioned yet is Richter, a local redneck type who drives an exhaust-spewing pickup and carries an assault rifle, so we are supposed to look at him as another antagonist, but (big shock here!) he turns out to be not all that bad of a guy at all. He is far more interesting than any of our protagonists (and he looks kind of like Stephen Dorff, which is amusing re: franchise history), so naturally he doesn't last long - yet another dumb decision in a movie that is positively stacked with them by the time its over, nearly all of its goodwill completely undone by said bad calls.

And I looked, but failed to find any nods or connective tissue to the other films, so I am guessing producer Fede Alvarez was merely doing some damage control/spin when he said that while the film is only directly referring to the original, "I wouldn't say it skips everything. I think it's up to you to decide when and how the events of the other movies happen." Well, all due respect sir, but this film posits that after the events of the first film, Leatherface was taken in at this orphanage run by Alice Krige's character and he's been quietly living there ever since, with Sally living not too far away and dedicating her life to finding him. Seems anywhere from one to four other major attacks over the years would have, if nothing else, given her more to work with in order to track him down, no? She arrives on the scene of this incident within about an hour of being called, so it's not like she's let her self apointed avenger duties slide. So how could any of the other films have ever happened? Even if we assume Sally was just lazy, are we to believe Leatherface simply left his ailing mother from time to time to join other random families, do his thing, and then come home? "Ma, I'm back! Killed some kids coming back from prom, god they were annoying. Vilmer says hey!". Re-cementing up the wall to hide his chainsaw again every time must have gotten exhausting!

Basically, it's just a big ol' "It is what it is" affair. I didn't sit down expecting anything even on the level of TCM3 or The Beginning, nor did I receive it. The handful of good gore gags (for what it's worth, it's the first entry in the series that has "Massacre" in its title and an actual massacre in the film), brisk pace, and hilariously mean spirited final scene (which utilizes a Tesla's autopilot mode in a most delightful way) kept me from hating it, but the sheer number of poor decisions, lack of any real suspense, and completely worthless revival of the series' most beloved survivor meant I didn't actually LIKE it either. It's just there, another entry for our most inconsistent and mismanaged franchise, providing another excuse for the next team to hit the reset button again in a few years. It's about the only consistent thing this franchise can offer anymore.

What say you?

P.S. Don't put too much stock in John Larroquette's return - he's actually just narrating an Unsolved Mysteries kind of special about the first film's events that Lila sees on TV. It's about half the length of his others; he probably just recorded it himself at home and attached the .wav to a text.


John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars (2001)

FEBRUARY 7, 2022


Two things certainly didn't occur to me when I made up approximately 12% of an opening weekend Saturday night showing of Ghosts of Mars (which dwindled to 33.3% by the time it reached its finale). One: that it would be the last time I got to roll up to any random multiplex to see a new John Carpenter movie*, and two: that it'd be over 20 years before I finally got around to giving it my long promised second chance. What seemed like a can't miss proposition of Carpenter applying his Assault on Precinct 13 "cops and crooks band together" plot but setting it on Mars and diving even deeper into his western stylings left me feeling cold or indifferent throughout most of its runtime, but after two decades I honestly couldn't remember what I disliked about it.

Or much about the movie at all, really. As it turns out, even my lone memory wasn't accurate (spoiler: all I "remembered" was Clea Duvall and Jason Statham both dying on the train on the way out, but it was actually running TO the train that they got offed), and very little came back as I watched, so it might as well have been for the first time. But it didn't take long to at least zero in on why the movie didn't work for me: the confusing, needless flashback structure that constantly undercuts the tension. It'd be fine if it was just bookend scenes of Natasha Henstridge telling her story to her skeptical superiors, one at the beginning and another at the end, but Carpenter repeatedly cuts back to them over and over, as if we may have forgotten that this was a flashback.

But I mean, would that have been so bad? The fact that she is presented as a "lone survivor" type has already weakened much of the film's potential for suspense, but maybe we could temporarily forget that most of her co-stars clearly weren't going to survive if not for the reminder every ten minutes or so. Worse, Henstridge's character herself arrives on Mars after a lot has happened, so even part of her flashback story is devoted to listening to the flashbacks of the handful of people who have survived thus far. I'm not saying a linear version of this movie would solve all of its problems, but I'd bet good money that it'd be much improved.

The plot also curiously involves the idea that Ice Cube's Desolation Williams (amazing name) may have been responsible for the dead bodies Henstridge and pals find, but by that point we already know it's something much more powerful, so it's a go nowhere plot point. Perhaps this stuff got re-edited some, because it also seems like Cube's introduction is pretty flat, as if there was a bigger entrance at one point that got chopped out and resulted in something less grandiose for the first time we see him. Either way, long story short the first half hour or so of the movie is a real mess, making too much work for the final hour to win us back.

And as you probably know, it doesn't quite succeed. Because the other issue with the movie is that it exacerbates something that hurt Vampires and Escape From LA as well: Carpenter's seeming disinterest in crafting tight action scenes. Rather than stage specific (scripted) action, he keeps doing this thing where he seemingly has each actor just run (or hangglide, in LA's case) around the set tossing grenades and stuff, then films a bunch of shots of stuntmen going flying through the air, and then puts it all together later to give the idea of a big chaotic sequence. Unfortunately, what ends up happening (at least for me) is that I can't really care about what's going on, because there's no real plot point driving anything forward, it's just a bunch of stuff happening for five minutes until they've run out of juice for the stuntmen's air rams. Say what you will about the surfing scene in LA - as dumb as it is, at least there's a cause and effect built into it and, thanks to Snake needing to catch up to Eddie, it does something to move the plot forward as well. Here, there's a sequence where the entire group runs for a train that isn't there, only to run right back to where they were! At least if they went to a different building it'd feel like some kind of plot momentum had occurred, but if not for a handful of minor character deaths during their pointless journey, you could cut it out entirely and it wouldn't even make a difference.

That leads to another big issue - nobody ever cares or even notices when their comrades die. Cube has a little bit of temporary sadness over his brother's death, but it passes quickly, and Henstridge and the others don't even blink when their partners are killed. Not that anyone has a great death; Duvall's is kind of funny because she ducks under a blade only to get decapitated by another as she rises back up, but without anyone else seeing it or having any kind of reaction, it doesn't mean much. It's almost like since we know Henstridge (and maybe Cube) were the only ones to live right from the start that Carpenter felt that there's no sense dwelling on their deaths, but it'd be nice if their friends could at least shout a "Noooo!" or something to give it a tiny bit of meaning. It also undercuts the "enemies teaming up" premise when he kills off all of Cube's guys within about 30 seconds of each other, long before the conclusion, so it's basically Henstridge's team with a rando who happens to be a criminal.

He also frequently employs dissolves to move things along, more than once just chucking out part of a shot. It's a trick that works on occasion (think Desperado with Antonio making his way up a loooong stretch of road) but he does it for someone walking down a short hallway, removing what could only be a second of footage in between. We've all heard him bemoan how slow he finds some of his earlier films when he comes back to do a commentary, and this seems to be the nadir of that kind of thinking - anything to make things move faster, no matter how silly it looks or how much it draws attention to the movie-ness of it all (see also: bad model shots, which he calls out on the commentary track that he recorded before the movie was even released!). Maybe it's part of the point, but if so it doesn't work for me.

Luckily there is SOME fun to be had, mostly in the last half hour. There's a great sequence (thankfully free of the dissolves and other goofiness) where Henstridge and Cube take turns with Statham and Duvall, two taking point and fending off ghosts while the others reload as they back their way down a corridor, offering the sort of Precinct 13 energy that the film often lacks. And while they don't really do much with it, the idea that killing their attackers only leaves them more likely to be possessed themselves (as the "ghost" seeks a new host) is pretty fun, and you almost get the idea that maybe this might have been better if he was reinventing The Thing instead of P13. And, perhaps this is why the film has had some renewed defense recently, I do quite like that it's a matriarchal future and no one is questioning Henstridge's authority (indeed, she replaced another woman who dies early).

In other words, it's not a total disaster, and there's enough Carpenterisms (Peter Jason pops up, the score's pretty good, the western motifs) to make it feel like a genuine entry in his filmography as opposed to the more anonymous nature of The Ward. But it's also only because his name is there that anyone - including myself - is willing to give it that much benefit of the doubt. If this was some music video or TV director who got plugged into the director spot, few would even remember its existence after even five years, let alone twenty. For what it's worth, I put in my dusty DVD (yep, I never even bothered to upgrade to Blu - his lone major film I don't own on the format) after watching the movie on Hulu and he seems pretty happy on the behind the scenes stuff, and his commentary with Henstridge is one of his more engaging ones (if the movie had been a hit, I suspect they would have worked together again, as they seem very chummy), so this doesn't seem to be a Memoirs kind of case where he was just collecting a check. Sometimes things just don't work out like you hope, whether you're sitting in the director's chair or the theater.

What say you?

P.S. I wasn't actually going to write this up, but today is the 15th birthday of Horror Movie a Day! So you get this little treat.

*I did see The Ward in theaters, but it was only playing once a day at a tiny theater here in Los Angeles, where you'd assume it'd be easier to catch any flick let alone the new one from someone like Carpenter.


FTP: An Angel For Satan (1966)

FEBRUARY 3, 2022


One of my New Year's resolutions is to make a serious dent, if not completely obliterate, the dreaded "pile" that has long since become an overflowing box. For those uninitiated (or have forgotten since I haven't done one in a minute), these shorter "FTP" ("from the pile") reviews are derived from this surplus of discs that I've accumulated over the years; unwatched films that I either got for review (unrequested; if I *ask* for them I get to them right away), won at trivia, bought from a clearance sale, etc. The thinking is that these movies aren't *likely* to be ones I'll keep forever, but I can't handle the unknown element of getting rid of them without seeing them - there could be a Cathy's Curse-level treasure in there! So every now and then I grab one at random, such is the case for An Angel For Satan (Italian: Un angelo per Satana), and hope for the best.

And it's an ideal "pile" movie! By which I mean I enjoyed it but probably won't want to watch it again, so I have little need to make space for it on the permanent shelf. It's most famous for being Barbara Steele's swan song in the "Italian gothic" sub-genre that she began with Black Sunday, and luckily for her she went out on a high note with a role that lets her run the gamut. In some scenes she's a sweet, innocent love interest, in others she's devilishly conning every man in town to do her bidding. Sometimes she goes back and forth within a single scene, coming on to a guy and then angrily pushing him away when he responds, but being that this is Ms. Steele in her prime, we never once question why it's so easy for her to sway them or keep coming back after she's been so cruel. We get it.

The mystery of the film is why she is acting like this; sometimes she even identifies herself with a different name entirely, so is she possessed? Is there an evil twin? The answer isn't... too exciting (notice that "supernatural" or anything like that does not appear in the genre listing), but it's fun going on the ride all the same as she systematically turns everyone with a penis against each other or their pre-existing loved ones - a guy who seemingly loves his wife and children is later seen slapping them around in disgust that they're tying him down when he could be with Steele's character, heh.

Whatever the cause for her behavior is, it seems to have something to do with a statue that the hero, Roberto (Anthony Steffen) has been tasked with restoring. A stranger to the area, hired for an artistic task, he quickly falls for the local beauty and even has a lengthy bout of fever, so it unfortunately reminded me more than once of Mill of the Stone Women, which I only watched a few weeks ago. Whether it was a direct influence on this film I have no idea, and this isn't a carbon copy or anything like that, but the atmosphere and general vibe of the whole thing was similar enough to leave me feeling with deja vu more than once, so I wonder if I'd be more into it had it been months or even years between seeing the two films.

Severin's Blu has a pair of commentaries, one with Steele and two moderators (Severin guru David Gregory and historian David Del Valle), the other with Kat Ellinger. Naturally, the former is the more enjoyable; the specifics of what's on screen are rarely addressed but it's kind of hilarious to hear Steele getting increasingly bored with the process, shifting in her seat and seemingly even moving further away from the mic for a while as if she got up to make a sandwich or something. Her recollections are spotty (not an issue; they liken it to trying to specifically remember the first three weeks of 5th grade, i.e. who can blame her for not remembering every movie she did 50+ years ago) but the stories she does offer are a delight, and sometimes it's just funny to hear her interrupt one of their largely unrelated thoughts to actually point out something on screen. As for Ellinger, as I've said in the past I find historian commentaries are more fun when they're paired with someone, so as a solo effort it can be a little too academic/dry for my tastes, especially as she too rarely bothers with what is happening in the movie. There's also an interview with one of the poor sods that falls under Steele's spell in the movie, which is fun because my man hates horror and only did this one because his character didn't get involved with the scary stuff.

This is the sort of movie I think I'd enjoy more as part of a set of Steele's films or something, where the appeal of the whole package makes up for this or that shortcoming within the films themselves. On its own, it's understandable why it's more known as her last go round with this type of movie as opposed to being remembered for its actual plot or other characters. The disc is lovingly remastered, and it has a few hours' worth of extras for those who are so inclined... but all for a movie that doesn't quite have that same kind of pull that Black Sunday or some of the others from that era offer.

What say you?


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