Films I Saw is a self explanatory monthly column dedicated to cataloging each and every film I saw within that month. Each film will be given a grade and a mini review.
Apr. 1—The Last Blockbuster (2020)
This documentary is so devoid of purpose, the only reason I can think of for why it exists, is for Netflix to rub salt in the wound of nostalgia babies. There are honest to God YouTube videos that are better produced and more entertaining at 1/10th the length. There is no reason for this to be any longer than thirty minutes. The documentarians themselves knew this, that’s why they padded it out with as much filler as they possibly could. Since you can only dedicate so much time to the last blockbuster in existence (it’s really not that interesting a story anyways) and because it only takes twenty minutes tops to cover the history of video rental stores, that leaves you with at least 45 minutes to fill and instead of just making this a short, the filmmakers decided to fill it with every D celebrity who wasn’t busy for ten minutes. Not a single one of their stories, anecdotes and/or musings are interesting and they go on forever. If you even make it past the half way point, get ready to watch, and I’m not kidding, Doug Benson walk around the last blockbuster for fifteen minutes before he rents his own movie. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that they gloss over the fact that Blockbuster killed ma and pa rental stores in its quest for world domination. This movie sucks, Blockbuster sucked and nostalgia is a plague.
Apr. 2—Shock (1977)
The hardest reviews to write tend to be either the best or most average of films. I never have a hard time shitting on garbage but when it comes to something I love, I clam up like a teenager trying to ask their crush to the prom. You want to say everything you’ve ever thought about that person in one giant explosion of affection but since that’s crazy, you end up saying nothing at all. Average films are kinda like that but without the affection. It’s sometimes hard trying to think of an interesting angle to approach a film you literally have nothing to say about. It would be easier if Shock was worse because then I could tear it apart but it’s just good enough that I don’t know what to say. Before the last fifteen minutes, when the film actually starts to kick into gear, the only notable part is the uncomfortable scene of a kid fondling his mother. Before you turn away in disgust, the kid is possessed by the spirit of her dead ex husband and being dead makes one horny. I couldn’t for the life of me remember why he’s possessed or how but he is and he does creepy shit. Until he stops being possessed and then just becomes a ghost that terrorizes the mom. The ghost scenes are far more effective than the creepy annoying kid bits but it’s still not enough to save this movie. This isn’t Bava’s worst but if you’re looking to get into his work, literally pick anything else. Odds are you’ll find a gem worth watching.
Apr. 3—The Cellar (1989)
Since a good amount of horror films are premises and not plots, a lot of them feel like elongated episodes of Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt. Vivarium for example, could’ve easily been whittled down to 45 minutes and made a great episode of Twilight Zone, while something like Brainscan could’ve worked as a Tales from the Crypt episode. The Cellar is an episode of Goosebumps from the director who brought you Witchboard, Night of the Demons, and Pinocchio’s Revenge. A kid, visiting his father who lives in the middle of nowhere in Arizona, discovers there’s a monster living in the basement and no one believes him. The film plays out exactly how you think it would based on that synopsis. His father doesn’t believe him, he starts getting blamed for the disappearances of neighborhood kids and then he has to fight the monster himself because no one else will. The only thing that would separate this from a Goosebumps episode, is the origin of the monster. It was summoned and then quickly imprisoned by a Native American war chief in order to wipeout the white settlers. I love that origin but I doubt a Nickelodeon show would include it.
Apr. 4—Shriek of the Mutilated (1977)
The making of this film sounds like a game of Mad Libs. Take an exploitation producer, team him up with a married couple who make skin flicks and then have them make a bigfoot film and the end result is Shriek of the Mutilated. It’s not the most bizarre confluence of elements but those ingredients do explain the weirdness of this title. And weird really isn’t the proper adjective to describe it. It’s more baffling in its structure and execution than anything. It’s weird in the way a platypus is weird, not weird in the way a David Lynch movie is weird. Its mere existence is confounding. It feels like a film a group of kids trying to imitate adults would make if those kids thought adults did nothing but sit around talking about other adults while drinking wine and were terrified of satanists and bigfoot. Then they kinda structured it like an episode of Scooby-doo. The film is utterly inept to such a degree as to be charming. But, if you can manage to sit through the painfully boring talky bits and the ridiculous bigfoot kills and the glacial pace, you will be rewarded with a genuinely good twist. Just don’t look at one of the posters because it fucking spoils it.
Apr. 5—The Front (1976)
The year is 1953. America is in the middle of the blacklist and writer Alfred Miller (Michael Murphy) can’t produce any screenplays for fear of being arrested. Since pseudonyms hardly work anymore and are too risky, he decides the only way he can find work is if he creates a fictitious writer and has his friend play the part. That way there’s a face attached to the screenplay that isn’t affiliated with any political movement. He asks his friend Howard (Woody Allen) to pretend to be the fake writer and as soon as he says yes, the film almost immediately falls apart. And the thing is, this all happens within the first five minutes. In the span of a three minute conversation, we understand Miller’s problem and why he feels the need to go to Howard but no where in that conversation (or anywhere within the film itself) do we understand why Howard would go along with it. They establish that he has terrible gambling debts but as the film goes on, that excuse gets flimsier and flimsier. They even introduce a love interest around the twenty minute mark but that doesn’t work either. He likes her but he never uses his newfound success to impress her, she seems more like another comedic obstacle than anything. It’s a fantastic idea for a film and the performances are all great (most notably Zero Mostel, who gives his best performance in this) but I think the material would’ve been better served if Allen reworked it to be a comedy instead.
Apr. 6—Marjoe (1972)
At just four years old, Marjoe Gortner was the youngest ordained pastor in the United States. Ten years later, he was one of the most successful religious figures in the world. Almost twenty years after that, he invites a camera crew to document his preachings; not in order to boost his celebrity but to reveal how much of a scam all of it is. A vicious take down on a predatory system, Marjoe is an entertaining hit piece designed to shine a light on how easy it is to fall sway to a charismatic con man. Remove the cutaway segments and the film loses all of its context.
You’d just have footage of a pastor talking to his congregation, and if you’re familiar with that old timey religion, you know exactly what it this documentary is. A lot bold proclamations, energetic hooting and hollering and even the laying of the hands. Its got all the hits but with the added bonus context. Watching him go through the motions knowing he’s only doing it to make some coin, recontexualizes not only this film but Pentecostal preaching as a whole. Everyone knows they’re shysters but to hear it come out of the mouth of one of the most successful pastors, is pretty damning. While I applaud this film for setting its sights on an unkillable target, I wish it would’ve focused a bit more on Marjoe when he’s not scamming the desperate for money. He’s such an interesting character that I want to see him as himself and not as the pastor but that’s a minor quibble.
Apr. 7—The Black Cat (1981)
With all apologies to Edgar Allan Poe but cats just aren’t scary. Of all the animal attack movies, they are easily the least intimidating. Dogs and primates make easy monsters and even pigs and rats, if you have enough of them, can be menacing but a regular ol’ housecat ain’t scary. Even the film Night of a Thousand Cats couldn’t make them scary that movie had a thousand fucking cats in it. Poe was the only man who’s ever existed that was afraid of cats and his ass was almost always piss drunk. Which begs the question, why does everyone keep trying to make that short story work? The Karloff and Lugosi one was great but that had very little cat action. The horror came from the characters being evil, not a “scary” cat. The ’81 Black Cat decided to triple down on the cat kills and it just doesn’t work. They try and explain it away with some psychic mumbo jumbo where someone is controlling the cats with their mind but that doesn’t help sell any of this. They even try and make the cats super smart (they can open doors) with apparent razor sharp claws (the first swipe fucks up your face, the second one rips open your jugular) but even that doesn’t make ’em scary. It’s a cat. I’m not afraid of anything that weighs less than 12 pounds that I can easily kick. The Zuni Fetish doll from Trilogy of Terror is the only exception but that motherfucker had a spear and could carry a knife in its mouth. The worst thing a cat will do to you, is eat your face after you die. Lucio Fulci should’ve adapted the Raven instead.
Apr. 8—Skinner (1993)
Now that everyone has access to damn near every movie ever made, recommending a movie based solely on the strength of one insane scene, is ridiculous. In the video rental days, a scene would be enough to justify a couple of dollars but ain’t nobody nowadays got time for 80 minutes of meh and 5 minutes of holy fuck. But if you’re like me and you make time for trash, Skinner has a scene that might make your jaw drop. The film is about a serial killer (played by Ted Raimi) who finds a room for rent (his landlord is played by Ricki Late) and is being pursued by an old victim (Traci Lords). There’s really not much more to it than that. Lake enjoys his company but slowly starts to suspect he’s a creep, Raimi kills and skins a bunch of women and Lords takes her sweet ass time trying to capture him. It’s the Kmart version of Henry: Portrait of a Serial but what it has that Henry doesn’t, is a scene in which the killer skins a black man and wears his skin as suit while chasing a woman around an abandoned factory. All while shouting horribly offensive stereotypical jive. It’s glorious. It’s a scene that would never happen today and I can’t really say it’s a scene that ever needed to exist in the first place but thank God it does because I ain’t never seen anything like it before. The rest of the film is a big ol’ trash bag of garbage but that scene almost makes it all worth it. Almost.
Apr. 9—Fragile (2005)
Seeing as how there’s only so many ways you can make an invisible threat scary, I believe the haunted house films that are the most effective, are the ones with the best mythology. Fragile isn’t a particularly great ghost story but the location, origin of the ghost and its ultimate motivation are strong enough, that I give it the slightest of recommendations. After the previous nurse dies by an unexplained incident, Amy (Calista Flockhart), a young nurse in desperate need of a job, decides to be her replacement. But what she didn’t know was, that the hospital is about to be shut down, with only one of the wings being operational. The rest are beyond run down and are left to rot. Basically her wing is modern day and the rest is a time machine back to the 50s. But a decrepit 50s were the floors are stained and the paint is peeling. Oh and there’s ghosts. The only way the hospital could be any more of an obvious ghost trap is if it was half abandoned mannequin factory. The location is super cliché but I’m not going to complain. That cliché, as well as the numerous ones to follow, at least add production design. Which is at least something. Fragile, if nothing else, has well designed clichés. Effort was put into them. I can’t say they all work but I recognize the effort and I appreciate it.
Apr. 10—The Wonderland (2019)
The Wonderland feels like an unreleased Alice in Wonderland manuscript that was adapted by Hayao Miyazaki’s son. It has gorgeous animation and is a light and breezy fantasy adventure that almost comes close to capturing that Carroll magic but its slow pace, uninteresting characters and derivative story keep it from being memorable. I just saw it and I’m having a hard time remembering some of the beats in the story. Because it has that same “and then Alice goes over here and does this and then Alice goes over here and does that” type of structure, it’s somewhat difficult to remember what just happened while you’re watching it.
Things just happen and they go from point A to B for seemingly no reason, so when the plot did actually start to focus on one storyline, I was already checked out. I couldn’t care less about the Prince and his water magic or any of it. Since the film had as much urgency as me scrolling through the internet while I’m in the bathroom, I was never invested in the stakes or goal. I’m still not even clear as to what needs to happen, why it needs to happen and what would happen if it didn’t happen. Something something rain something something Prince ceremony. I don’t care. If you’re making a fantasy adventure, you either focus on the lead trying to cope with all the magical shit they’re witnessing or you craft a compelling quest for the viewer to get immersed in. This film does neither.
Apr. 11—Let’s Kill Uncle (1966)
Who would’ve thought that of all of William Castle’s entertainingly gimmicky horror movies, the one I’d like the most is the one he made for kids. Let’s Kill Uncle is an oft discussed horror comedy that feels like a notorious episode of the Wonderful World of Disney that never left the vault. Its far more in line with their sensibilities than Castle’s but with a slight diabolical edge that’s just a smidge too much for their censors. The film is about an annoying 12 year old orphan (Pat Cardi) who, after inheriting a small fortune, is brought to an island to live with his uncle. Immediately after meeting him, he’s told that he is going to kill him for his money and the only way to stop that from happening is for the boy to strike first.
Its a game you see, and the rules are simple: the house where everyone frequents (the chauffeur that brought him to the island and their neighbors) is neutral ground, as is the beach during the day. But at night or not in the company of others, he’s an open target. Since the boy has a tendency to lie, the other adults don’t believe him, so his only ally is the neighbors daughter (Mary Badham). Once the uncle realizes she’s part of the game, he now has to implement every tool in his arsenal to win, which includes: hypnotism, sharks, fire and poison.
Now, that plot may sound like it’s too gruesome for a kids film but it’s no more dangerous than a Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner or Tom and Jerry cartoon. Yes, the uncle is trying to kill two kids but you never feel like they’re in danger. I think a lot of that is due to the performance by Nigel Green. He is utterly delightful as the Snidely Whiplash-esque villain. Since you know the movie isn’t going to kill the kids, you’re looking forward to whatever insane plan he’s going to do next. Tricking kids into a shark infested pool is pretty messed up but that’s part of the fun. Castle balances the goofy and the macabre with a deft hand; an act so difficult to pull off, it might be his most impressive gimmick yet.
Apr. 12—Youngblood (1978)
What starts off as a cautionary tale of a high schooler getting in deep with the wrong crowd, quickly turns into a film about gang warfare. Twenty minutes after the lead is skipping school to hang out at a club, he’s involved in a mini Warriors type stand off with another gang. The film wastes no time throwing him and you in the shit. Now, before you get excited that there’s an action packed gang film you’ve never heard of out there, there’s maybe five scenes of gang related violence in this. And I’d hesitant to call any of them action packed save for the finale. The majority of the film follows Youngblood (Bryan O’Dell), a fifteen year old dropout trying to find meaning and purpose in life and within the Kingsman, a gang he recently joined. Formed by a Vietnam vet (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), the gang is ruthless when it comes to their territory and near suicidal in their plans to rip-off drug dealers. He lives his life like he’s on a bullet train headed to the morgue and he’s going to make as much money as he can before he gets there. Will Youngblood jump ship before its too late or will he be convinced that risking it all in the pursuit of infamy and coin is a life better lived than dying forgotten and destitute? An engaging coming of age story that doesn’t shy away from depicting the harsh realities of a life on the street, Youngblood is an unjustly forgotten entry within the gang sub-genre.
Apr. 13—Boiled Angels: The Trial of Mike Diana (2019)
Florida, 1994. Artist Mike Diana is convicted on an obscenity charge in the wake of an undercover police officer purchasing his limited edition zine Boiled Angel. More than just being a miscarriage of justice, it’s noteworthy for being the first time in America that an artist was arrested for obscenity. His comic was so outrageous, so horribly grotesque, that everyone who saw it thought that not only should the comic be banned, that he should be forced to stop making comics and that he should serve actual jail time. Which is ironic considering that for something to be considered obscene, it has to be deemed artistically useless, but in order to convict him, it had to be proved that the art was dangerous. His controversial art wasn’t artistic enough to be considered art but was powerful enough to convince someone to mutilate, torture rape and/or kill. As you can see, Diana was railroaded and his trial was a farce. This documentary gets into his life story, examines why he tells the stories he wants to tell, the miscarriage of justice that befell him and its aftermath. This is a must watch for anyone interested in underground comics, censorship or wants to see just how easy it is for the courts to strip you of your civil liberties. Prepare to scream at the screen a lot.
Apr. 14—Bloody Birthday (1981)
Each sub genre of horror can be equated to a type of restaurant. There’s the classy four star kind, the cheap fast food kind and then there’s the kind you only want when you’re drunk at 3 am. Yeah, you could go to Denny’s and have “real” food but sometimes you want what only a Waffle House can provide. Now, if you don’t lead the life of a Bukowski Dracula, you probably don’t know that certain foods will help your inevitable hang over better than others. You probably also don’t know that the cure to said hang overs are almost always garbage food. Two for one tacos from Jack in the Box, day old pizza crust or literally anything at a Waffle House. It’s an establishment made to service one specific type of clientele and that’s gutter bums and barflies who have given up on life. The people who eat at a Waffle House just end up at a Waffle House.
No one chooses a Waffle House because like a strip club, you’re not supposed to be there when the sun is out. It’s a trash food establishment for trash people but sometimes you need that trash. There’s a comfort in trash. Bloody Birthday is the type of movie you pick when you want to be comforted by trash. It’s got kids killing a bunch of people and a ton of titties. The quality is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter that it drags for a bit in the middle or that the plot hinges on coincidence and huge leaps in logic. You came for greasy waffles, questionable meat and some sort of slop and you’re going to complain that there’s duct tape on the seats and water spots on your silverware?
Apr. 15—Diamonds of the Night (1964)
It’s amazing to me that this film works as well as it does because this is exactly the kind of film I think of when I think of pretentious art house cinema. There are so many similarly themed independent films I’ve seen with basically this set up. The template has been used so often, that it was actually parodied in Paprika. But the thing is, I don’t think Satoshi Kon nor the thousands of film students that have made this exact movie are intentionally ripping this off. I just think it’s such an obvious idea for a no budget feature. Two Jewish boys are on the run after escaping captivity and while they’re being pursued, the film periodically flashes back to reveal some of their backstory. Due to its structure, there’s very little plot but it makes up for that by being heavy in characterization. Based on minute observations, you can discern their personality types without them ever saying a word.
One is perpetually scared but is driven by pure desperation and the other one would rather be alone but is forced to stick around due to a lack of safety. It forces you to reside within their brains and their thoughts aren’t always pretty. There are a handful of instances where an incident is shown multiple times with multiple outcomes and it’s up to you too decide which version of the event was real. Are they desperate bastards, vicious monsters or terrified cowards? The film provides no answers nor does it imply guilt. They’re doing what they have to to survive and based on your levels of empathy, you either understand their actions, condemn their actions or condone their actions. It’s an interesting narrative device I’d like to see implemented in more movies. That is, once Hollywood stops spending all of its money on remakes, reboots and anything MCU related or inspired by.
Apr. 16—Promare (2019)
The main reason I don’t fully submerge myself in the ocean that is anime, is not because I don’t like to swim but because I don’t know where to jump in. I didn’t use ocean as a reference point for no reason, anime is vast and it’s impossible to know where to start. That’s why anime fans usually stick to anime, once you’re in, there’s no time to dedicate to anything else. And the thing is, I get it. I’ll never find an entrance point, so I’m content with swimming in the kiddie pool but I understand their desire to live the life of a sea loving pirate. I think it’s more than just the never ending stories and the constant flow of new movies, I think anime fans love anime because anime is fucking crazy. Take Promare for example: a film about people who suddenly and inexplicably create fire bombs when they’re upset and the new created fire department tasked with taking them on. Now, I’m betting you’re either picturing spontaneous combustion or an X-men character who can create flamethrowers with his arms and probably a suped up red fire truck to deal with it. That’s because you’re not Japanese and you’re not insane. No, they create fire monsters that look like demons that destroy buildings and the fire trucks are advanced robots that beat the shit out of them. This is why people like anime. Because you would never see this on the big screen. Especially not out of America. We don’t have ideas this cool. Hollywood needs to pivot their remake obsession to an anime adaptation obsession so that we can get cool shit like this on the big screen. But odds are, they’d most likely fuck it up. Sigh.
Apr. 17—Dead Birds (2004)
While watching this, you’d swear everyone associated with this had a massive grudge against the cast. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie so hell-bent on making sure no one ever saw it. Everyone not in the cast is daring you to watch it. From the marketing department (the poster is god awful), to whoever did the SFX (it’s early 00’s so it gets a slight pass but it feels considerably worse than shit released around that time), and let’s not leave out the most egregious criminal of the lot: the writers for naming it Dead Birds in the first place. That title has nothing to do with anything and is fucking terrible. But if you can look past all of that, this is a solid little gem of a haunted house movie. The cast is all great (Henry Thomas, Patrick Fugit, Mark Boone Junior and baby Michael Shannon) and the atmosphere is appropriately creepy. This is the kind of horror recommendation for those who have seen everything and are looking to scratch that itch without gambling on something from Redbox or Tubi.
Apr. 18—Possum (2018)
A disgraced children’s puppeteer returns to his childhood home and is forced to confront his wicked stepfather and the secrets that have tortured him his entire life. Outside of a small handful of scenes involving the puppeteer trying to get rid of his puppet and the final ten minutes, that one sentence plot synopsis is literally all that happens in this film. In terms of plot, more things happen from scene to scene in any of the Friday the 13th films and each of those has the exact same storyline: guy with machete kills promiscuous teens. But Possum isn’t the type of film you watch for the story. It’s a mood piece—every element is designed to fill you with as much dread and despair as possible.
And for the most part, it did. I still would’ve liked to have gotten at least one scene towards the beginning where something, anything happened, but I’m guessing that’s just not the film the director wanted to make. I admire any director who doesn’t bend to peer pressure or feels the need to create fan service. More outright horror scenes could’ve easily been edited in but the director chooses instead to target a much smaller demographic. The group within the sub group who likes slow burn horror over jump scare filled cinematic haunted houses. He wants those viewers to be petrified with fear and doesn’t care if no one else gets it. This film will deliberately test your patience. It’s designed to separate the wheat from the chaff. If you’re not hooked by the ten minute mark, this wasn’t aimed at you. But for everyone else, this is an intense dread inducing slice of delirium that will leave your stomach in knots.
Apr. 19—The Haunting of Julia (1978)
There’s a scene near the beginning of this film that is so hard to watch, so realistically horrific, that it will curdle the blood. It’s the type of scene that informs everything around it. You know exactly who the characters are after that event and it sets the tone for the rest of the movie. It creates a black hole of despair that sucks everything inside and it wouldn’t be until the equally bleak ending that it manages to crawl itself out. The rest of the film concerns Julia (Mia Farrow) trying to unravel the mystery of a ghost that she believes is haunting her. It’s the spectre of a little girl that looks exactly like her daughter, which deepens her resolve that much more. Like the characters in Don’t Look Now, if she can solve what happened to this little girl, she can perhaps rid herself of the other ghost that haunts her—her own guilt. Unfortunately, it suffers from the same problems that a lot of ghost films made around this time do, which is that it’s slow. So slow, that it borders on boring. But if you know that going in and you’re in the mood for a slow burn horror movie with a terrific lead performance, The Haunting of Julia delivers the goods.
Apr. 20—Rammstein: Paris (2017)
Stitching together two concerts that were part of the “Made in Germany” tour of 2012, Swedish director Jonas Åkerlund captures the band at the height of their return but his involvement is the best and worst thing about this concert film. Åkerlund clearly knows how to film a concert, there’s cameras fucking everywhere and you get shots of every conceivable angle but the film never stays on one shot long enough for you to feel the impact of the stage antics or the blinding white hot energy of Till Lindemann. Rammstein isn’t a band you need to goose with camera trickery or edits. Their live shows are notoriously extravagant —they give KISS and Iron Maiden a run for their money—so all Åkerlund really had to do was point the camera at them and get out of their way and I appreciate that he tried to make it more entertaining with fast paced edits but they weren’t necessary. Nor was the CGI and insert shots of models he put in for no reason. I would’ve liked it more if it was less directed but even with its somewhat obnoxious MTV editing, at the end of the day, It’s Rammstein being Rammstein and that’s all I wanted.
Apr. 21—Seven Footprints to Satan (1929)
You would think after making one of the greatest horror films of the silent age that Benjamin Christensen would, at the very least, be a director known within the horror community. Everyone knows Haxan but the director and his films seem to have slipped into obscurity. To be fair, a good chunk of his films have been lost to time but the ones that remain are worthy of rediscovery. I cannot for the life of me figure out why Seven Footprints to Satan hasn’t had a huge critical resurgence. It’s well liked among the people who have seen it but that number is shockingly low. This should be routinely ranked among the best silent films ever, let alone horror. The plot is simple: a young rich socialite is planning a trip to Africa but before he goes, his fiancé asks him to go with her to a party. Everything seems hunky dory until a fight breaks out and everyone scatters. They leave in a hurry but realize they’ve actually gotten into the wrong car and are now being kidnapped by a cult of satanists. The rest of the film involves them running around a mansion filled with a sorts of insane individuals intent on getting them. There’s a little person who lives in the walls, a cripple named “The Spider”, an Asian woman with a penchant for yelling, a Fu-Mancu looking guy and a gorilla. It’s a madcap horror comedy that feels like a live action Betty Boop or Felix the Cat cartoon where they’re stuck in a haunted house and get spooked for eight minutes. It has that same kind of energy and it also has a twist as good as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. It’s a classic just waiting for the right critic to shine a light on it.
Apr. 22—Funny Man (1993)
Before they ran it into the ground, Family Guy was one of the pioneers of the length of the joke being the joke. The first example I can think of was the SNL skit where Will Ferrell stabs a guy with a trident 36 times but I don’t think it became popular until the episode of Family Guy where Peter fights a chicken. Since it’s a joke that has no set up or pay off, it’s really hard to pull off effectively. Literally, your tolerance becomes the punchline. It’s kind of like you’re laughing at yourself at a certain point. You’ve sat through something stupid/pointless for so long, that it circles around to being funny. That’s this movie in a nutshell. It feels like a fucking marathon to get through but at the end of it, you will circle around to enjoying it.
Not because the humor finally clicks (it never does) or because there’s a satisfying payoff (there isn’t) but because you just experienced so much unrelenting awful in one condensed package, you’ll be awe struck. To go back to the Family Guy analogy, it’s like that Peter and the Chicken fight but if every punch thrown was a brand new awful idea. There’s a Miss Cleo sounding psychic, a pointless Christopher Lee cameo, an equally pointless Velma stand in, a cavalcade of annoying characters and a fourth wall breaking demon that looks like Punch. Imagine Leprechaun without the puns and who confuses talking to the camera as jokes and that’s Funny Man. It’s unreal how much of this doesn’t work but at a certain point, its extreme deficiencies start working in its favor. This is not a good movie but I have seen few films that are as aggressively bad. It’s almost impressive.
Apr. 23—Mansfield 66/67 (2017)
This is a documentary made in three parts. The first covers Jayne Mansfield’s life. The second covers Anton LaVey’s life and the third deals with the alleged curse LaVey put on Mansfield that led to her untimely demise. The theory goes that in 1966, years after she was relevant, Mansfield joined the Satanic Church In order to become famous again but after getting into a disagreement with her husband, LaVey put a hex on her and her immediate family. While the doc covers all of the weird coincidences that befell Mansfield, I, for one, don’t subscribe to the theory. It’s based on nothing more than a couple of pictures she took with him at his home. That’s it. It is a fascinating theory but one that involves some major jumps in logic. To the film’s credit, it never posits that it is real, just that it’s entertaining to think about. And they’re right. It’s never not fun speculating on the secret lives of the stars from the Golden age of Hollywood. What they were wrong about however, was the decision to every now and then, cut to a group of dancers reenacting key moments of her life through the power of interpretive community theater dance. It’s cringe worthy and adds absolutely nothing to the film. But the addition of John Waters almost balances it out.
Apr. 24—Hawk the Slayer (1980)
Conan the Barbarian is one of those movies like Rambo: First Blood part II and The Abyss, that was so hotly anticipated within the industry, that it inspired a wave of imitators before it even came out. Everyone in Hollywood that read that script, scrambled to make their own sword and sorcery epic and few, if any made anything good. There is some admittedly enjoyable schlock but you’d have to be blinded by nostalgia to think any of them are on the same level as Conan. While most are fighting for the title of the second best, Hawk the Slayer is content with just being better than most of the Deathstalker and Beastmaster sequels. Since it predates all of them, you would think it deserves at least somewhat of a pass but thinking it deserves anything other than 100% shame and ridicule is its pass. Nothing about this film works. It’s painfully boring, it’s filled with horribly uninteresting characters, the quest is lame as fuck, the action is shot with as much panache as a colonoscopy and then when you’re trying to leave, it threatens you with a fucking sequel. The only thing Hawk slays is your time.
Apr. 25—Kid 90 (2021)
Soon after Punky Brewster ended, Soleil Moon Frye decided to film pretty much every second of her life. Since she was never without her camera, she shot hundreds of hours of footage and then at a certain point, locked it away. Over twenty years later, she decided to edit the footage into a narrative and after four years, she whittled it down to the most important bits. This is the fruits of her labor. While I think it’s an intimate look into the life of a teen in the 90s, I really believe it would’ve been better with a different set of eyes or two. She’s too close to the footage to recognize that what I’m seeing has no emotional impact on me whatsoever, so I’m really just seeing random clips of a memory. When she gets reflective on the friends she’s lost over the years, then you get great footage to go along with her narrative but when she’s just talking about this and that, I have no context to what I’m looking at. It’s just footage of stuff. Sometimes it’s interesting because you see a baby faced version of a huge celebrity (there’s a lot of fucking celebrity appearances in this) but most of the time, it’s just reading a random page out of a stranger’s diary. Which she does as well, by the way. I think it either needed more compelling footage or it should’ve been a mini series.
Apr. 26—The Carrier (1988)
The Carrier proves that the B movies that reach an infamous status aren’t infamous due to their plots but the incompetence of their directors. The only reason this isn’t mentioned on the same league as a Troll 2 or a Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is because it’s only outrageous on a storytelling level, not a filmmaking one. In terms of quality, this is closer to Maximum Overdrive than Birdemic but it’s no less insane. The film is about a man who inexplicably becomes the carrier of a deadly virus that infects inanimate objects and dissolves anyone who touches said object. The first thing that kills someone in this is Dr. Seuss book and it only gets crazier from there. Soon, the entire town is running around in trash bags (you gotta create a barrier between you and the object) hunting anyone they think is the carrier down. Religious hysteria and lynch mob mentality seem to be the film’s targets but the mob aren’t technically wrong.
There is a carrier and he needs to be killed, they just go about it in the dumbest way possible. They rub baby chicks and cats over every surface of the town (yes, many animals get dissolved in this) and target anyone they deem ungodly. The film clearly has a target in mind but fuck does it take aim at it in the most absurd way possible. At a certain point, it actually turns into a war between the black garbage bag wearers and the clear cling wrap wearers over cats. I kinda fucking love how bonkers this is. Going back to Maximum Overdrive, it feels like a Stephen King story (a small town dealing with a Stand like plague filled with religious nutballs like The Mist that isn’t afraid to kill children) directed by a coked up Stephen King. So exactly like Maximum Overdrive.
Apr. 27—Blood Nasty (1989)
Unless you’re a diehard collector, I’m betting hard money you’ve never heard of this title. It was never released in America (neither in theaters or on home video) and the countries that did get it don’t care about it. There are few films that I’ve come across that have been as thoroughly scrubbed from the public consciousness as this one has. The world collectively pretends this movie just doesn’t exist. It’s kinda like that have bullies play on kids they don’t like, where they refuse to acknowledge the target of their disdains existence until they go away except the unwanted child is a movie and the mean kids are everyone. Cult icon Linnea Quigley is in this and I guarantee neither her or the majority of her fan base has seen this. And to be clear, it has nothing to do with its obscurity. There are plenty of obscure films horror fans try and hunt down. This is avoided because the unfortunate souls that have heard of it, try their damnedest to save people from wasting their time like they did.
It’s an alleged horror comedy about a dead guy who comes back to life after getting killed during a grave robbing double cross who is then the target of his terrible family who want to kill him again in order to collect his life insurance. That’s not actually a bad premise for a horror comedy but the filmmakers go out of their way to fuck it up at every turn. First, he’s not just a zombie, he’s a zombie and possessed by the soul of an evil douche bad. Secondly, the family aren’t just money hungry monsters, they’re singularly unappealing and repugnant with the mother being one of the least likeable characters in cinema and lastly, nothing fucking happens. You would think the presence of an almost always naked Linnea Quigley would add some energy to the film but it doesn’t. She’s completely wasted as the ex girlfriend that comes back for unclear plot reasons. You would think the film would be filled with some sort of humorous Rube Goldberg like contraptions made to capture and kill the asshole zombie but nope. They poison his food like once and after that, they don’t try killing him again till almost the end. It’s nothing but scene after scene of horrible people talking about whether or not they should kill the zombie and the zombie yelling at them because he’s a dick. Blood Nasty is bloody awful.
Apr. 28—The Believers (1987)
An uneven mix of Rosemary’s Baby, The Serpent and the Rainbow and a realistic character drama, The Believers greatest strength is also its ultimate weakness — there’s just too much plot. No individual plot thread is bad but when you’re trying to juggle all of them at once, while also making sure everything ties together, it’s impossible to maintain a constant level of suspense. There’s Michael Sheen and his son, Michael Sheen and his lady friend, the satanic cult investigation, Sheen getting targeted by the satanic cult and a couple of other threads I’m almost certain I’ve forgotten about. To reiterate, there’s nothing wrong with any of those plotlines. Some drag a bit more than others but individually, they’re all solid. I really liked Sheen’s relationship with his son, as well as his relationship with his lawyer and the police chief. The characters are all fleshed out and seem authentic, It’s when you add in everything else (trust me, there’s a lot), that things start to get muddied.
Martin Sheen plays a police therapist who moves to New York after the tragic death of his wife. There, he and his son get embroiled in domestic melodrama, grisly animal and human killings, and a some kind of cult plot. The deeper he digs, the closer he gets to hell. His journey into a religious underworld is interesting, especially when the film tips into the voodoo-esque magic and curses. How they work is never explained but the cult has a power and they can use it in a variety of ways. Sometimes they hypnotize you, other times they fill your intestines with snakes and insects. The supernatural elements kind of clash with the realistic tone but I actually think that kind of works. The Believers is, by no means, a bad film. It simply lacks the tension of refined storytelling and atmosphere of effective horror to make it succeed. Engaging and sometimes even entertaining, the film is definitely not a failure. It just misses its mark too many times to satisfy.
Apr. 29—Piranha (1978)
Based on their later collaboration and their work separately, you’d think that any Joe Dante and John Sayles joint would be a winning combination but Piranha didn’t work for me. Which is crazy because this is right in my wheelhouse. I love animal attack movies, especially Jaws rip-offs but there’s something missing that left me cold. It has Sayles’s great dialogue, Dante’s macabre sense of humor, a great collection of That Guy actors and has a decent amount of kills but the pace was just too slow for me to get invested. And that mostly applies to the first thirty minutes. Around the halfway point, things progress a bit faster but by then, it’s too little, too late. Speaking of too little, the fact that the piranha are so small, might factor into my disinterest. In Jaws, you didn’t always see the shark but the fin signaled trouble. In Alligator, you didn’t always see the gator but when you did, it was effective. You never see more than a quick glimpse of the piranha, so it’s more like being afraid of a red cloud of water. I need a tangible thing to look at to be afraid. Piranha isn’t a bad film, it just disappointed me.
Apr. 30—The Houses October Built (2014)
Based solely on the strength of one film, I keep giving films with this exact premise a chance. I love the idea of an extreme haunt actually being real but outside of Haunt, they all suck. Hell Fest was bad, Blood Fest was worse, Trick is meh, Hauntedween is unwatchable and The Houses October Built is somewhere in the middle. Filmed in and around real haunted houses, the filmmakers got insane production value for practically nothing, which you would think would equate to a more eventful third act but you’d be mistaken. Whatever they saved in the first half most have gone to the RV rental (which they use to go from haunt to haunt) or to pay for the strippers in that absolutely essential five minute strip club scene.
I don’t normally bring up a film’s budget as a negative, especially when it comes to low budget horror movies but when the majority of the movie is literally guys going from haunted house to haunted house with the promise that the last one will be truly scary, I expect that my patience will be rewarded. It was not. Like the rest of the film, it’s poorly directed and poorly edited shots of people walking down a hallway and yelling that they want it to end. Which is exactly what I was doing by the time the credits rolled.
What movies did you watch last month?