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.
Feb. 1—Vice (2018)
Vice is the type of film that doesn’t deserve a well thought out, articulate review. It’s the type of film that inspires the kind of vitriol Roger Ebert made famous in his review for North but unlike Ebert, I won’t be reviewing this film. This is a hit piece with a bunch of bitching thrown in for good measure. How the fuck was this nominated for best picture? Besides the performances (and I’m fucking pissed this film has a performance as good as Bale’s), there’s not a single good thing about this movie. It’s both predictably clichéd and by the numbers and also filled with bizarre non sequiturs that aren’t as funny or clever as they think they are. For example, there’s a scene where Cheney does something uncharacteristically human by picking his lesbian daughter over politics and because of that, the narrator says that he immediately quit politics and he and his family lived happily ever after. Roll credits.
Except this happens at the thirty minute mark, and while I don’t hate this idea conceptually, the execution misses the mark. This type of fourth wall breaking meta comedy happens a handful of times and since they’re so infrequent, they’re jarring every single time. There’s also scenes juxtaposed with clips of nature like someone getting reeled in like a big fish or a lion chasing down a gazelle that are so on the nose, they’re eye rolling. And speaking of eye rolling, the message the film is trying to make is hammered home so hard, that it straight up tells you what it’s about three different times. Through the narration, the text at the end and with a character literally telling us that Chaney is evil and he’s responsible for Trump in a scene in the middle of the credits. Even though it’s one of the least subtle films I’ve ever seen, the director had to go out of his way to make sure everyone got it, which means the audience for this is fucking stupid as shit or he thinks they are. Either way, it’s annoyingly condescending, especially considering how fucking terrible this movie is. Fuck this movie.
Feb. 2—J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs and the Church of Sub Genius (2019)
An inside joke that turned into a prank that turned into an art project that turned into a religion that turned into an underground cult, the Church of the Sub Genius was created by two weirdos (Douglass St. Clair Smith and Steve Wilcox) who were on a crusade to expose the conspiracy of normalcy by using humor as the ultimate weapon. Basically, if MAD magazine became a religion and Alfred E. Newman was the deity, that would be the Church of the Sub Genius. Their philosophy is SLACK (that’s not an acronym. Just take it easy, man), their deity was an image taken from a a public domain catalogue and their moto is “Fuck ’em If They Can’t Take A Joke.” It was a satirical antiestablishment cult that didn’t take anything seriously, so it should come as no surprise that Penn Jillette, The Residents David Byrne, Devo, Paul Reubens and Nick Offerman were devotees. While the constant bitching about conformity and “the man” does get a bit tiresome after a while, the doc does do an excellent job of charting the religion’s beginnings, its inexplicable popularity, the controversy surrounding it and its inevitable end. If you’re into weird shit or have a fascination with obscure pop culture artifacts, this doc might be up your alley.
Feb. 3—Deadly Messages (1985)
Deadly Messages is packed with so many twists and turns and wildly different elements that I can’t tell if it’s accidentally clever or intentionally nonsensical. It felt like they started shooting as the script was being written because there’s no way they would’ve included everything that’s in it in the final cut. The writer started with a Ouija board and from there, he added a killer only the main character can see, some amnesia, potential gaslighting, an overly convoluted backstory designed to pull everything together and an ending that tore everything apart again.
The film is about a bored housewife (Kathleen Beller) who decides to play with her old Ouija board for fun but once it starts to talk back to her, the fun quickly turns turns into terror. The plot doesn’t make a lick of sense and the longer it goes on, the less sense it makes but that’s kind of its charm. After it was over, I had to read a plot synopsis of it on Wikipedia and as thorough as it was, I’m still not 100% sure I know what happens in parts of it but I also like not knowing. It’s like deciphering a young child’s drawing, even if you can correctly guess what each thing is supposed to represent, you’ll never understand why they’re all there in the first place.
Feb. 4—Home for the Holidays (1972)
Eschewing the typical slasher formula for a more classic Agatha Christie whodunit mystery set up that eventually turns into a slasher near the end, Home for the Holidays is about four women who are brought back to their childhood home by their estranged father who is on his death bed. He claims their step-mother is poisoning him and he wants the girls to get the bottom of it. It’s obvious that the step-mother is innocent but if she’s not killing him, one of them is but who and why? Since one of the daughters is played by the impossibly young and ever so lovely Sally Field, you know right off the bat it isn’t her, so you have about a 25% chance of getting it right. Even if you happen to call it (which again, you most likely will), the last third involving a raincoat wearing, pitchfork wielding slasher will more than likely entertain you enough that you won’t care.
Feb. 5—Whistle and I’ll Come to You (1968)
Unlike Americans who celebrate the holiday watching Hallmark garbage, the English instead spend their Christmases watching ghost stories. I don’t know if it originated with A Christmas Carol or if that story was made to capitalize on the existing trend but either way, it’s a tradition that’s been around for a long time and one I wish America would adopt. Because when we’re watching old Rankin Bass cartoons for the billionth time, they’re watching creepy ass M.R. James adaptations and since this is the best and most famous of them, we’re severely missing out. While on vacation, a professor who’s a staunch believer in all things logical and rational (almost to an annoying degree) finds his entire worldview shattered to the core after he becomes haunted by an unexplained entity.
Proof positive that you need next to nothing to create genuine scares, this film has two ghost sequences and both are made using a sheet and some filament string. The effect probably cost the production 1.50 and it’s legit creepy as hell because the director, like Carpenter will more famously prove a couple of years later, knew that creating tension is dirt cheap. You don’t need a huge budget to create a jump scare or some goosebumps, all you need is a sense of dread and some great camera work and the audience’s expectations will do the work for you. Since it’s a a tad slow, this isn’t for everyone but if you’re a fan of ghost stories and you’re looking for one you haven’t seen a million times, Whistle and I’ll Come to You is worth a watch.
Feb. 6—A Warning to the Curious (1972)
An amateur archeologist travels to a small seaside town in hopes of finding one of the lost crowns of Anglia but what he doesn’t know is, that crown is protected by a vengeful spirit. Stalked by a murderous ghost, he must figured out how to rid himself of the curse before he becomes the next victim of the crown. Like all of the BBC Christmas Ghost Stories, this is adapted from a M.R. James story and like all M.R. James stories, this is a slow burn dripping in atmospheric horror. Not much happens in the story in terms of plot or scares and yet there’s a palpable sense of dread. You don’t know what it’s building to or what’s going to happen but you know something is going to happen and it’s not going to be good.
Feb. 7—The Night Stalker (1972)
Duel will forever hold the title as the greatest made for TV movie ever but I’d argue The Night Stalker is a strong contender for the second best. With a teleplay by Richard Matheson and phenomenal performance by Darren McGavin, this movie was so good, it spawned a sequel and a television show. A television show who’s influence can still be seen to this day. There is no X-Files or Supernatural without Kolchak: The Night Stalker and there is no Kolchak: The Night Stalker without this movie. Like the show, the film follows a wisecracking reporter named Carl Kolchak who’s a reporter who follows only the craziest stories, the shit no one wants or believes in. Like a serial killer who drains his victims of blood and leaves behind a bite mark on their next. The police think he’s a maniac, the press think he’s a maniac but Kolchak knows he’s a vampire and he’s going to prove it, one way or the other. Since this is a Matheson story, the vampire is fully realized and never once feels cliché. He feels dangerous, which in turn creates an excellent counter to Kolchak’s quips. He’s a funny character but is serious when the scene calls for it. He’s an interesting, multilayered character that set the template for every supernatural detective that came after him. Duel may have Spielberg thrills but it doesn’t have McGavin’s performance, so which one really is the better movie, really?
Feb. 8—When Michael Calls (1972)
Due to the fact that it’s routinely shit on and ignored by critics, many horror fans detest the phrase “elevated horror.” They consider it pretentious and insulting to the genre as a whole because when you divide up the titles you like and judge them separately, you’re saying everything else (i.e, all of horror) is trash by comparison. While I have mixed thoughts on the phrase, at least part of it is true. For certain sub genres of film, you have to judge on a curve. The best examples of this are regional SOV horror films (no budget movies usually made in someone’s backyard) and made for TV horror films of the 70s. Due to the fact that they’re all made for pennies and couldn’t show anything graphic, explicit or too frightening, they’re almost always slow burn thrillers with a couple of good enough scenes. If you’re lucky, it’ll have either a great actor to carry it or have a solid script to keep things moving but the great ones have both and are scary.
When Michael Calls has three great actors (Elizabeth Ashley, Ben Gazzara, Michael Douglas), a fantastic premise (fifteen years after her nephew died, Helen starts receiving phone calls from him wondering where she is. Is someone gaslighting her, is she going crazy or is she being tormented by a ghost from the past?) and is genuinely creepy. Without giving anything away, the film kept revealing things that made me constantly change my theory of what was happening. It was almost as though it knew what I was going to suspect when I did and then threw a curveball at me to keep me guessing till the third act. Some of the red herrings go no where and the backstory could’ve been tightened up a bit better but overall, I think this is a slam dunk of a movie. Call me pretentious all you want, but when it comes to other made for TV movies of the 70s, this is elevated horror.
Feb. 9—Killdozer (1974)
The first time Stephen King told the story of murderous sentient automobiles, he had the good sense to include a shit ton of them on top of every other electronic device. Even though he was coked to the gills, he knew that one killer car might not be scary enough. He was obviously wrong because the second time he did it, he scaled it down to just one car and it was much more effective. Christine works because it’s a vampire story, a slasher story and a tale of teenager obsession all rolled up into one. But again, he was smart enough to realize that a killer automobile needs a hook and a believable threat. A bunch of cars and trucks taking over a small town is a great threat and an insanely jealous car who will kill anyone who gets close to or messes with it’s owner is a great hook but a killer bulldozer terrorizing five construction workers? That’s an idea even King couldn’t make work.
Since it’s a made for TV movie, certain things need to be overlooked or at least judged on a curve like the acting and budgetary constraints and whatnot but even being as generous as humanly possible, it’s impossible to take this movie seriously. Since any able bodied person could easily outrun a bulldozer, watching these bumble asses get killed by the slowest moving threat in history reminds one of the scene in Austin Powers where a steamroller takes forever to run over a guard but that’s played for laughs, here it’s just ridiculous. The actors are doing their damnedest to sell it, the director is trying is hardest to make you believe it and the score is working over time to make you even remotely scared but again, not even King and five pounds of cocaine could make this work.
Feb. 10—Dumb: The Story of Big Brother Magazine (2017)
Believing all other skateboard magazines were boring bullshit, Steve Rocco decided to start his own and in doing so, he inadvertantly and unexpectedly changed pop culture forever. Big Brother Magazine was founded in 1992 and was an immediate hit with skaters and non skaters alike. While it did feature many pro skaters and had multiple pages dedicated to boards, the best places to skate and how to pull off tricky moves, the majority of the magazine was comedic anarchy. It appealed to the MTV generation but was far more edgy in its humor. There was tons of nudity, insane stories (complete with pictures) and jokes that landed them in hot water on numerous occasions. If National Lampoon almost got cancelled for putting a dog with a gun to its head on their cover, Big Brother received death threats and hate mail for articles covering such topics as what to do when you knock up your sister or a step by step guide to killing yourself. They didn’t just court controversy, they took it out for dinner and then nailed it in the back of the restaurant. If you were around when it was being published, it was the absolute coolest thing on planet Earth and for some, it still is but it’s legacy isn’t directly tied to nostalgia.
There’s a reason why it’ll continue to live on far past its death (which is coming on to twenty years now) and that’s because it’s the origin story of Jackass. Almost every person associated with the show was involved in some way with the magazine. Chris Pontius occasionally wrote articles, Wee Man was an infamous local skateboarder they followed around for a week (he was the defacto mascot for the magazine for a bit), Steve-O was an annoying local amateur daredevil they tried to get rid of, Bam Margera was just a kid they discovered while shooting scenes for one of their videos and Johnny Knoxville was a fan who desperately wanted to be apart of the magazine even though he couldn’t skate. His “demo reel” was actually the foundation of Jackass. He tested self defense equipment on himself, including pepper spray and stun guns but what MTV cut out was what actually got him the job in the first place. He tested a bullet proof vest by shooting himself point blank with a gun. It’s insane and like the magazine itself, could never be replicated. Even though the magazine died a couple of years after the first Jackass movie came out, it was never the same. The glory and edge had worn off and the show basically stole all of its energy but since there’s a new Jackass movie apparently in the works, the soul of the magazine continues to live on.
Feb. 11—My Octopus Teacher (2020)
After years of swimming every day in the freezing ocean at the tip of Africa, Craig Foster meets an unlikely teacher: a young octopus who displays remarkable curiosity. Visiting her den and tracking her movements for months on end he eventually wins the animal’s trust and they develop a never-before-seen bond between human and wild animal. I don’t know who coined the term edutainment but I guarantee it was born out of a pitch meeting in some bullshit corporation for the sole purpose of having another sizzle word to sell garbage to children. It’s a stupid fucking word but it’s also the best word to describe nature documentaries. The best ones need to educate as well as entertain and My Octopus Teacher does that and then some.
I don’t know much about aquatic life, so any nugget of information, no matter how trivial, was new to me but as the title suggests, the subject of the documentary, not the documentarian, is the one taking me to school. I knew octopuses could camouflage themselves and could squeeze into small crevices but I had no idea that they could or would wrap themselves up in rocks or other hard sea life in order to armor themselves against sharks. I also didn’t know that they dance and sometimes play with schools of fish. I also didn’t know that I could form an emotional bond with an octopus but like Foster, I grew hopelessly attached. I needed to know she was safe after a vicious attack, I needed to know where she was when he lost her and more than anything, I needed more time with her. I fell in love with the adorable little cephalopod and you will too.
Feb. 12—Graveyard Shift (1990)
If you cut out 75% of this film and just left the last thirty minutes, you could’ve had a decent segment for an anthology short. That’s how much padding there is in this film. There’s so little to the plot, that I strongly believe they added in Dourif’s character in the midnight hour just to pad the length. He has absolutely no baring on the plot whatsoever, he only interacts with two of the main characters (briefly I might add) and goes on a completely separate rat killing mission that is dropped the second after he dies. He’s in the film for maybe 10-15 minutes and while he’s definitely wasted (as is Andrew Divoff), he’s also the single best thing about it. Why the director didn’t have him be the leader of the rat killing mission ala Aliens or something is beyond me. The film is about a drifter who wanders into a small town, gets a job at a textile mill and soon discovers it’s overrun by murderous vermin. That’s a premise, not a plot and that’s the biggest problem with the film. Nothing happens. Every subplot goes nowhere, every character interaction is useless and there’s nothing propelling the action forward. You’re only watching it to see people get eaten by a giant rat monster and even that isn’t exciting. Besides Douriff, there’s nothing to recommend about this film.
Feb. 13—The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988)
Released six years after the show ended, the film was created on the insistence of the star Bill Bixby (who wanted to play the role again) and acted as a back door pilot for a Thor television show. While the show never materialized, this did prove successful enough to spawn two more made for TV Hulk movies. It makes sense why the network would stick to a proven commodity instead of rolling the dice on a new property but seeing as though Thor is hands down the best thing in this, I’m going to say they fucked up.
When a former student of Banner’s (Bixby) shows up asking for help in regards to his asgardian curse (the Thor origin in this is closer to the older comics in that Thor switches bodies with a doctor, kinda like Shazam), a tussle inevitably breaks out between the Hulk and Thor but after they set aside their differences, they must band together to take on the cajun mafia.
The plot makes just enough sense for you to buy the premise and more than ridiculous enough for you to be entertained through out. The villains are comical in their over-the-topness and Bixby deserves kudos for trying really hard to sell every minute of the absurdity but again, the film belongs to Thor. Played by Eric Allan Kramer, this Thor is a hard drinking, hard fighting son of a bitch who lives to brawl and respects anyone who can hold their own against him. Every second he’s on screen is a delight and the network fucked up not giving him his own adventures.
Feb. 14—Troll Hunter (2010)
While investigating a series of mysterious bear killings, a group of students stumble onto something far more dangerous. The man they suspected of killing all of those bears is, in fact, a troll hunter. Taking a page from Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, the film puts its own unique stamp on the troll mythology by explaining every facet of their biology, diet, weaknesses and so on. The book went to great lengths to ground vampires in reality by describing the ins and outs of vampire lore: why they need blood, why they hate garlic and mirrors, why you have to stab them in the heart or expose them to sunlight, etc. He didn’t create the lore but he is the first to properly explain it and because of that, his explanations are now forever cannon in my mind and the same goes for this film.
I don’t often think about trolls but if I ever do, these are the ones I’ll think about. If that was all this film had going for it, it would arguably be enough but there’s actually a lot more to this film than just it’s excellent lore. In addition to its gorgeous cinematography (shots of this could be used in a tourism reel for Norway) and unique looking troll designs, the most impressive thing about it is its pace. Most found footage films or mockumentaries are a slow build up to a jump scare but this one is a build up to a thrilling action set piece. It’s really impressive what the director was able to accomplish on his modest budget and doubly impressive that it works as well as it does. I’m actually shocked this one hasn’t been remade yet but good luck finding a replacement for Otto Jespersen, he’s amazing in this and every time he’s on screen, he makes everything I just said irrelevant.
Feb. 15—Murder Death Koreatown (2020)
This is a zero-budget found footage LA murder mystery with hints of supernatural horror with a meta narrative keeping it all together. Blurring the line between fiction and documentary filmmaking, the real life director used an actual murder as the framework in which to tell his story and interviewed actual locals who had no idea he was making a movie about the making of a conspiracy theory documentary and not just a documentary about the murder itself. It’s borderline exploitation but the end result is extremely fascinating. Their reactions to his bizarre questions lend an authenticity to the film that actors couldn’t possibly recreate. It starts off as a murder investigation but slowly devolves into the paranoid ramblings of a lunatic. Much like the video diaries of Ricardo Lopez, the horror comes from being stuck in the same room with an unhinged lunatic who’s losing his mind. Gritty, unnerving and tense as hell, Murder Death Koreatown is a singular experience unlike anything else out there.
Feb. 16—The Asphyx (1972)
After deducing that the odd images that kept appearing in pictures taken right before someone’s execution were their souls, a brilliant scientist becomes obsessed with the idea of capturing his own soul in order to live forever. If you ever wondered what a Victorian era episode of Black Mirror or a Hammer produced Ghostbusters would be like, it would most likely be The Asphyx. It’s a self contained horror film (almost all of it takes place in just two rooms) that’s more fantastical than scary but even if it had the best constructed jump scares in the game and had a cast of huge movie stars, it wouldn’t be half as effective. The twists and turns kept me engaged throughout and the ending knocked me on my ass. It’s not a Wicker Man level ending but I certainly didn’t see it coming. It’s a slow moving thriller with a killer hook that delivers big time. Oh and Jesus is in it, so it’s a literal sin to avoid it.
Feb. 17—Mikey and Nickey (1976)
It hasn’t been a cultural punching bag in quite some time, so it’s easy to forget how infamous a bomb Ishtar was. For decades, it was the go to movie to shit on. It was synonymous with bombs and with shitty movies and was the punchline to every home made about Hollywood but those jokes came at a price. Every laugh at its expense kept Elaine May further and further away from a comeback. The two leads were fine; their careers didn’t suffer at all but this effectively killed May’s career. She never directed another movie again which is a crime considering how much promise her first three films showed. The Heartbreak Kid is one of the best comedies of the 70s, A New Leaf, while a bit flawed, is certainly overlooked and underrated and Mickey and Nicky is the best John Cassavetes film John Cassavetes never made.
After stealing some money from the mob, a small-time bookie begs a childhood friend to help him evade the hit-man who’s on his trail. Unlike her previous two films, Mickey and Nicky is solely dependent on the performances of its two leads. Peter Falk and John Cassavetes are the movie. Their chemistry is dynamite, with every interaction feeling real and believable. Even though the characters in the film have a contentious relationship, the duo’s real life friendship bleeds through in every frame. Which makes the ending all the more emotionally devastating. You know where the film is going way before it gets there and even though you know there’s only one possible way the story can resolve, you still hope it doesn’t happen. You grow to like these characters so much, that anything less than a happy ending would be painful, so thank God they went with the downer ending because I’d rather have realism than a safe fantasy.
Feb. 18—Warning from Space (1956)
Based on the posters and promotional materials, you’d think Warning from Space was a kaiju action flick due to the giant alien starfish destroying a city that’s used in almost all of them but that’s a lie. The only factual part of that sentence is that they are alien. There’s no action, they’re not giant (they’re actually slightly taller than human size and you see them in less than a handful of scenes) and they don’t destroy any city. They’re actually coming to Earth to help us. A cataclysmic event is going to destroy both planets and if we don’t team up with them, both species are doomed. It’s very much in the vein of When the Earth Stood Still but far less focused. Too much time is dedicated to scenes with aliens in disguise and the wackiness that ensues from their unfamiliarity with Earth. It’s an earnest attempt to try and get people to stop being such dicks all the time and to learn to work together but since so much of it doesn’t work, I’d wish we had gotten a kaiju film instead.
Feb. 19—A Chinese Ghost Story (1997)
Hark Tsui has written and directed at least one movie a year for the last forty years and in that time, he’s only made a couple of stinkers. That’s an amazing and almost unprecedented filmography but unfortunately, this isn’t one of the good ones. Considering Knock Off and Double Team are nearly unwatchable (who the fuck thought it would be a good idea to put either Dennis Rodman or Rob Schneider in an action movie??), it’s a bit unfair to this movie to lump this in with them but it doesn’t deserve to be with the rest of his filmography, that’s for damn sure. Released ten years after the first A Chinese Ghost Story (this is fourth in a series of live action horror comedies and the only animated one), this retread brings precious little to the table and is a case of too little, too late.
There’s nothing in this you couldn’t get from any of the previous installments and better. The film is about a young man who falls in love with a ghost and must avoid a variety of ghostbusters out to kill her and other ghosts out to kill him. It’s a fun enough premise for a movie but the central romance at the center of the film just doesn’t work. Since the ghost is a hardcore bitch that’s constantly trying to kill him throughout the film, there’s literally no reason why he would fall in love with her and we’re given no reason to care. In addition to that, the plot just isn’t interesting. There’s nothing moving the plot forward and no character to latch on to. Which could almost be forgiven or overlooked if it was at least pretty to look at and/or mindlessly entertaining but it is neither. Skip it and watch the three live action ones instead.
Feb. 20—The Vast of Night (2020)
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a director actively try and impress me with his camera work and I gotta say, he succeeded. There’s a one shot take going from one end of town to the next that passes through a basketball game and that was more impressive to me than anything in Tenet and that movie had a budget of 250 million dollars. Not because the shot was pulled of flawlessly (which it was) or because it’s the best oner since probably Atonement but because the film could’ve worked without it. It’s a film where two characters are either rapidly talking to each other or listening to someone else talk. It’s a performance and dialogue heavy piece; you don’t need fancy camera work to sell that. But that’s why I love it so much, Andrew Patterson wanted to show off what he could do for the hell of it and I love that. That spirit is apparent in every frame. It might be a simple UFO story but his muscle behind the camera and his desire to keep things moving even when nothing is, has made him a director in going to keep an eye on. If he can keep me engaged when literally nothing is happening but a person talking for twenty minutes, then he can do anything.
Feb. 21—Antropophagus (1980)
Before the internet provided gorehounds with all the horrible shit they could ever want with a few mouse clicks, the video nasty guide was the only way to find the very best of blood soaked sleaze. If the UK tried to censor it, destroy it or make it illegal, you better believe every hardcore horror fan on Earth was going to watch it. The ban was a colossal waste of time that lasted way too long, protected absolutely nobody from the evilness of obscenity and actually helped fans discover horror films they never would’ve searched out otherwise. When you tell people they can’t see something, all your doing is making them want to see it more but when it comes to Antropophagus, we should’ve listened. A movie so foul, it could’ve created the ban single handedly, Antropophagus is infamous for a specific scene that I’m not going to spoil but if you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about.
It’s the most memorable thing about the movie and while it’s stomach churning and grotesque, it deserves props for showing me something I’ve never seen before. There’s not a single exploitation movie I’ve seen that has the balls to do something that repugnant and I’ve seen a good amount of Nazi torture camp films and more questionable anime than I care to admit, so that’s saying something. Outside of that scene, the rest of the film is a bunch of boring talkity talk bullshit that feels like it goes on forever. Six people are stranded on a deserted island town who’s sole inhabitant is a killer cannibal. They run to a place, cannibal guy kills one of them, so they run to another place and so on and so forth. It’s long, it’s tedious and becomes so repetitive, you feel like you’re losing your mind but if you consider yourself a fan of extreme cinema, you have to see it for that scene alone. The movie may be trash but that moment is essential viewing.
Feb. 22—The Beast Must Die (1974)
I can think of few films that demand a remake as much as this one does. It’s an Agatha Christie set up where a rich man invites a bunch of seemingly unrelated strangers together for a party but instead of searching for the person who wronged him in the past or trying to solve a murder that inevitably happens when rich people throw a party, he’s trying to find a werewolf. He’s a hunter who’s grown tired of the usual exotic animal and has set his sights on the greatest game of all: werewolves. The film wastes no time setting things up (so much so, that it doesn’t even bother explaining why he believes werewolves actually exist or why he’s certain that one of these guests has to be one), one of these guests is a werewolf and it’s your job to figure it out. Literally, the film even has a 30 second werewolf break at the end where you’re supposed to guess who it is.
Is it the guy who consumed human flesh when he was younger? Is it the young lady who happened to be in the same place where multiple horrific murders happened at the same time? Is it the man with the obscene amount of body hair? The problem with the film, is that it gives you the suspects but not enough clues to piece it together. Or rather, not good enough clues to sustain the mystery. While I did guess who the werewolf was, it did throw a curve ball at me I wasn’t expecting, so it does get points for that. Keep the set up, flesh out the characters, add more clues and this has all the makings of a fantastic remake. As it stands now, it’s a solid, if unremarkable mystery.
Feb. 23—Daughters of Darkness (1971)
Sexier than a Rollin film and as stylish as a Franco film, Daughters of Darkness is the gold standard when it comes to lesbian vampire films. While on vacation, a newlywed couple (Danielle Ouimet and John Karlen) cross paths with a mysterious, strikingly beautiful countess (Delphine Seyrig) and her equally gorgeous aide (Andrea Rau). It’s a standard set up for these types of movies and while it doesn’t deviate much from the Carmilla formula it’s clearly lifting from, you’ll be too transfixed to care. The vampire countess (channeling Marlene Dietrich, Seyrig is on fire as the legendary Elizabeth Bathory) is as alluring as she is dangerous, the sex scenes are hot without feeling gratuitous, the plot moves at a brisk pace and it’s beautifully shot. There’s some questionable editing (I’m still not 100% sure how a certain character dies and I rewatched the scene multiple times) and frustratingly unresolved plot threads (a lot of lip service is paid to the husband’s family, most notably his mother, which leads you to believe that they’re going to have a much bigger role in the film but nope) but those are minor complaints. In short, It’s everything Tony Scott tried and failed to do with The Hunger.
Feb. 24—Nomadland (2021)
Every year there’s at least one Oscar bait movie that critics love that leaves me feeling cold and last year’s was definitely Nomadland. Due to its overwhelmingly positive reception, I was looking forward to it and for the first half of it, I could see what the critics were responding to. It’s a small character study where very little happens and you just spend time watching the lead interact with people. They’re the type of films that you have to time into their frequency for them to work and I was with it. It hooked me almost immediately. Frances McDormand’s performance was captivating, the cinematography was beautiful and the eccentric cast of characters she ran into were authentic and likable. The music was a bit overbearing but that’s a minor gripe.
I really thought I was going to like it until it dawned on me that nothing new was going to happen. I wasn’t expecting a huge change in the narrative or a sudden conflict to arise to create some sort of third act drama but I was expecting something to happen. After the thirty minute mark, you have literally seen everything this film has to offer. After that, the film just starts replaying the cycle (she travels into town, gets a small job, talks to some people, leaves job and leaves town) over and over again. It’s shockingly light on material and while seeing the same shit play out over and over again was tedious, I was never bored. I don’t regret watching it, I just wish there was an actual movie here for me to enjoy
Feb. 25—Dangerous Seductress (1995)
H. Tjut Djalil is so shameless in his cinematic ‘homages’, that he makes Roger Corman look absolutely subtle by comparison. Every film he made after Mystics in Bali (which is too insane to be lifted from anywhere else) is heavily inspired by whatever was popular at the time. Satan’s Bed is a mash up of a Nightmare on Elm Street and Death Bed: the Bed that Eats, Lady Terminator is the Terminator plus black magic voodoo and Dangerous Seductress is just an Andy Sidaris film but with more Indonesian folklore and a smidge of Hellraiser thrown in. It’s a poorly acted action film with a ridiculous script and terrible VFX but all of that just adds to its charms. It’s one of those films that wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining if it was better. It’s just bad enough to be great.
Feb. 26—Laurin (1989)
A young girl is haunted by disturbing visions of frightened children and a man carrying a large sack while kids throughout the village start disappearing under mysterious circumstances. In addition to the works of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm, Laurin‘s biggest influences are the works of Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci. It’s a haunting coming of age fable told by an unreliable narrator, not in the sense that she’s lying or being purposefully deceitful but because she’s a child and children see the world with different eyes than adults. We have no idea whether what we’re seeing is real, imagined or a child’s interpretation of events. It gives every scene an unnerving, dreamlike quality. If you’re a fan of movies like Lemora, The Reflecting Skin or Spirit of the Beehive, I recommend checking this one out.
Feb. 27—Lake of the Dead (1958)
Considered one of Norway’s greatest horror films, Lake of the Dead deals with a group of friends who travel to a cabin in the woods. According to legend, if you go to the lake by the cabin at night, you can hear a man scream for his life. Similarly paced as other ghost stories such as The Haunting and The Innocents, Lake of the Dead is the kind of horror film that’s incredibly slow and considers a loud noise in another room the scariest thing in the world, but while it may suffer from being a product of its time, the stunning cinematography hasn’t aged a day. The film is absolutely gorgeous and although I know that’s extremely low on the list of priorities to a typical horror fan, the fans of films such as Onibaba, Kwaidan and Black Sunday will be in heaven. It’s an opulent feast of bewitching black and white photography that not everyone will attend but the ones that do, will love it.
Feb. 28—The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989)
While in jail for assault, Dr. David Banner (Bill Bixby) is contacted by a blind attorney who’s trying to enlist his help in locating the men he believes are responsible in order to tie them to a crime involving New York’s biggest crime boss. After reluctantly agreeing to help after the only eyewitness is kidnapped, the Hulk and Daredevil must team up in order to take on the notorious Kingpin. Just like The Incredible Hulk Returns, this is also a failed pilot and just like that movie, the superhero at the center of this is the best thing about it. Which again makes the networks fucking crazy for not greenlighting a Daredevil show because it clearly works. I gave them shit in my write up for that film for not making Thor their next monster of a week show (obviously due to budget constraints, he’d most likely fight gangsters and bikers but Imagine him punching out Bigfoot or teaming up with Santa Claus to fight Krampus. Tell me that’s not a show you want to see.) but that’s just wishful thinking on my part. Thor probably wouldn’t work as a show but Daredevil most certainly can. His costume actually looks pretty good, the action choreography is decent enough and Jonathan Rhys-Davies makes a good Kingpin. Just throw in a Bullseye or a couple other comic book characters and you got yourself a show. It wouldn’t be as good as Daredevil season 1 but it would be just as good as Daredevil season 3.
What movies did you watch last month?