CuriosityKilledShawn

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Dragged Across Concrete
(2018)

Pulled slowly over astroturf
The gritty cop-drama is a sub-genre that has been somewhat absent from the big screen over the last decade, despite every previous decade being littered with them. These days, such stories tend dominate the small screen, especially since the advent of streaming services, which has also resurrected many old shows and given sustained life to The Wire and The Shield. Few of them have the hammer-to-the-face heartlessness of this movie.

S. Craig Zahler is certainly making a name for himself, scoring three significant genre movies in a row with Bone Tomahawk, Brawl in Cell Block 99, and this. In my opinion, he has exceeded the early works of Tarantino and built his own unique trademark style without the forced pop-culture extractions. I hope he can maintain his voice without selling out to the studio system, which I feel will try to recruit and inhibit him soon based on the continuing strength of his work.

Gibson and Vaughn, play two jaded detectives in (not really) New York (shot in Vancouver) who are suspended without pay from duty for trivial reasons to pacify the PC police, who are their ever vigilant, and hypocritical, moral superiors. In need of money, they attempt to spirit away the cash from a forthcoming heist from a gang of beyond evil criminals and their hired help.

It's a very sparse plot, and it takes a long time to build and get going, but if you stick with it, the threads eventually tie together and climax in lots of gruesome, disturbing violence that really isn't for people who have been nurtured on the harmless action of modern blockbusters and endless superhero trash. Violence in the real world is ugly and damaging and this movie makes no apologies.

Shot digitally in 8K resolution with Zeiss Master Anamorphic lenses and edited in 4K, the photography is frequently stunning, with atmospheric lighting and atypical blocking in very wide framing. It's not quite film noir, though it looks far superior to most movies that overdo the post-production filtering. The median shot length is probably a lot higher than the average movie as Zahler usually sets up a master shot and a couple of alternates, cutting between them in long takes. No indulgence. No impatience. No anxiety. It's definitely my own preferred way of shooting and editing dialogue.

Absolutely not a movie to watch if you need cheering up, and it might move too slowly for most people. Lionsgate did not give it a wide release due to the running time and Zahler wasn't willing to surrender his right to final cut. It's so sad that the audience for this movie has been so narrow, but there could have been some compromise with its running time. Build an evening around it, endure the first hour and allow it to get a grip on you.

Death Wish II
(1982)

To Die and Live and Die in LA
Poor (very) old Paul Kersey isn't having much luck in life. After his life is torn apart by the events in the original Death Wish he moves to Los Angeles and starts anew. His daughter has just started recovering from the trauma of the first movie (along with de-aging about eight years instead of getting older) and he has a new girlfriend.

But when a gang of thugs rape and murder his housekeeper and kidnap his daughter because she has seen their faces and "can finger them all" it ends in tragedy when she falls from a window and gets impaled on a spiked fence. Kersey reverts to his old ways and rents a seedy room in Hollywood as his base for his renewed vigilante operation, hunting down the perverts and murdering them.

I first saw Death Wish II when I taped it off BBC1 in 1991 when I was 10 and watched it a zillion times. I suppose you could argue that it's not exactly appropriate entertainment for a child of that age, but I was a little more wordly than the average kid and I could handle it. The raw, brutal violence and action didn't bother me as much as the feeling of utter hopelessness and nihilism that permeates movie. You could condemn Death Wish II in many ways if you hate it so, but I do believe there is significant merit within, particularly in the merciless tone, the lean, fast-moving story, and urgent, documentarian camerawork. Michael Winner really does capture the disgusting filth and grot of Hollywood very well (and, trust me, it's barely improved since then). The score by Led Zepplin guitarist Jimmy Page alternates between lush, orchestral passages and grimy, alienating sounds. It's not a pleasant sound, but I never forgot those haunting notes since I was a kid.

Although Brian Garfield wrote his own sequel novel it was discarded in favor of an original screenplay by money-grubbing exploitation producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, though it was turned in to a disconnected movie of it's own. To this day, I've never seen any of the other sequels. Death Wish 1 and 2 make a decent double bill, and the controversy surrounding this movie that has never seemed to quieten down since its original release is really nothing but hysteria drummed-up by James Ferman during his reign of terror at the BBFC. There's worse movies getting passed uncut these days.

Code of Silence
(1985)

Chucking Hell
I watched Code of Silence on Sky Movies in 1994 and wasn't impressed. I just wanted a mindless action film and what I got was a tough police thriller in the vain of Out For Justice (which, strangely, I also disliked upon my first viewing). Many of Chuck's movies are OTT and stupid, but occasionally he did churn out something hard-boiled and serious and Code of Silence is one of his best.

With muscular direction from Andrew Davis, who went on to direct Under Siege, The Fugitive, and the Guardian, all shot in real, earthy Chicago locations, Chuck plays Eddie Cusack, an incorruptible cop in a force who looks the other way to ignore evil within their own ranks (as Chicago really is to this day). When two rival drug gangs clash it's up to Chuck to rescue the innocents caught in the middle and take down the villains with no help from his colleagues.

In an age of over-produced action movies something like Code of Silence is a breath of fresh air. It's tough and believable and an insight into a fascinating world. A contemporary movie to compare it to would be Dragged Across Concrete, a similar hard-bitten cop thriller. Numerous character actors pop up here, many of which were often featured in most of Davis' movies. The man loves to shoot Chicago and this movie, along with The Fugitive, Above the Law, and Chain Reaction, captures the city in all of its polarizing environments.

The perfect antidote for anyone who is burned out on modern blockbusters. I miss these mid-budget movies and they need to make a comeback.

Amityville: A New Generation
(1993)

Mirror, mirror on the wall, this series can be fun after all
For Amityville Part 7 I'm pleased to say that A New Generation is much better than it has any right to be. Taking yet more leftover cues from John G. Jones' novel this entry has a bunch of young adult struggling artists in an urban Los Angeles apartment block terrorized by a mirror that came from 112 Ocean Avenue.

So now we've had haunted lampshades, clocks, and mirrors, what's next? A bedevilled toilet bowl? A soiled mattress? A shoe buffer that looks at you funny? Was every item from that house filled to the top with spookiness?

Thankfully, the script does allow it to get a bit more complicated than that, with our lead character, a proto-Chandler Bing, having a mysterious connection to said haunted mirror in a mystery that goes back to years before the DeFeo murders, which will likely confuse a lot of viewers.

There's good characters here, especially Terry O'Quinn who plays against stereotype as the investigating cop. As soon as he appeared I assumed he was going to be a close-minded, hard-boiled type but he was a caring, remorseful character which brightened the movie somewhat.

Cinematographer Wally Pfister, who shot The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Prestige, and Inception gives the movie a very slick look with decent atmosphere and interesting practical special effects, though it cannot escape those early 90s aesthetics, which I feel quite nostalgic for. This was a movie made long before Hollywood went "woke" seeing the world through movies in this era feels like a lifetime ago.

It could have been tightened up just a little bit, and the editing during the climax is so bad that I think that they failed to shoot the correct footage and just went with what they had. Other than these mild complaints this is still a creative, competently-written, and well-shot horror film that might be goofy, but I'd rather have goofy imagination than no imagination.

Of all the Amityville movies this one actually has the strongest and most prolific production team and I recommend it for fans of the series.

The Amityville Curse
(1990)

It seems that the curse is the inability to make a good movie
A lot of other viewers seem to be getting a bit mixed-up when evaluating the premise of this movie. The house featured here is NOT supposed to be 112 Ocean Avenue, but a different house in Amityville, Long Island.

For what little is actually coherent the movie opens with a priest murdered in his confessional booth by an unseen killer. Twelve years later a pretentious goofball buys a dilapidated mansion and decides to fix it up to make a profit. He and four of his friends move in for a few days and get to work, experiencing spooky (read baffling) occurrences and an annoying neighbor that make up the bulk of the ninety-minute running time, which feels like three hours.

This is such an odd, confusing movie. There's a strange, unrehearsed feel to it, while nothing we see adds up or connects. Scenes appear to take place in a separate universes from one another. Absolutely none of the elements are ever developed or explained, and narrative logic or sense is completely non-existent.

Probably, but probably not, based on Hans Holzer's book of the same name, the blessing (and curse) of this movie is moving it to a new location. The (fiction) book retcons 112 Ocean Avenue as an old rectory where a priest was murdered many years ago (so that's why it's haunted) and actually IS the house where the story takes place. Obviously, for budget reasons, that would have been a tricky venture for this untalented director so the filming location is shifted from New Jersey/Long Island to Quebec, for a total aesthetic change. In the movie the priest is murdered in a church so they get around the problem of why the church isn't haunted by moving said confessional booth out of the church and dumping in an old mansion.

That is merely the first of innumerable logical problems. I won't even go into how utterly nonsensical this is.

With the exception of Kim Coates, the cast has barely worked before or since, though the director seems to have never honed his skills and has spent the last thirty years making utter garbage.

It's not a complete bust, however. There is some merit in the atmospheric lighting, production design, and orchestral score, even if it breaks the fourth wall with a non-ironic, out-of-place quotation from the shower scene in Psycho.

An obscure oddity that sent me to sleep twice. Neither the worst nor the best in this desperate series of movies.

Amityville Horror: The Evil Escapes
(1989)

Let it escape, there are worst things in the world
Amityville 4 (as it was billed here) was the first Amityville movie I saw. Originally an NBC TV movie from 1989, it was shown on ITV one Saturday night and I remember staying up "late" to watch it on the portable TV in my bedroom. The Amityville movies and the backstory had a weird sort of forbidden mystique to me, and they were always spoke about as if Lucifer himself lived in the film negative. All chills and any sort of dread was instantly washed down the plughole in a whirlpool of utter stupidity when the movie revealed its villain.

This movie is about a haunted lampshade.

Opening with yard sale at what clearly isn't 112 Ocean Ave the movie has some old deary purchase said lampshade and ship it off to her sister in California as a gift. Also arriving at the same moment is the Evans family, who have recently lost daddy. The mommy (played by Patty Duke, once the youngest actress to ever win an Oscar) is struggling with the kids and needs stability of living with Grandma until they get back on their feet. But the haunted lampshade has other ideas and manipulates the youngest daughter, hoping to soon possess her too, but not before infecting the new home.

Using evil ghost powers (or whatever) the new house goes wild. Teapots scald grandma (um?), chainsaws switch themselves on, some idiot putting his hand down the waste disposal plug finds out the hard way that it's a stupid thing to do, doors slam shut and don't open (yet again!) even if they are the type of door that doesn't lock, some poor schlub plumber investigating weirdness underneath the house gets gunged (seemingly to death, and is instantly forgotten about) sandwiches make themselves, dinner eats itself, the movie is about a haunted lampshade!

In a certain outstanding moment of special ghost powers the lampshade/house possesses a van and makes it drive away with no one at the wheel. Where did it go? Did it ever stop? Is it still going now? This is nonsense!

I'm not kidding. I remember watching the scene where the camera first focuses on the haunted lampshade as an ominous chord sounds and loudly, cynically asking "Really?" TV was very different back then and there were only four channels to meet our needs for entertainment. I guess I should have turned over to BBC 2 or whatever stupid opera was playing on Channel 4.

Probably, but probably not, based off the novel of the same name there is a mere smidgen of truth in the movie. When the Lutz family fled 112 Ocean Avenue in December 1975 (absolutely not the timeline of this stupid movie) they only took the clothes that they were wearing, leaving behind all of their possessions (pun intended). Later on (not in 1989) their friends emptied the house and had a yard sale. Presumably a haunted lampshade was not passed on to some old wifey.

What really bugs me the most about this movie is that the house in New Jersey that doubled as 112 Ocean Ave (the owners of the real house want no association with the movies) isn't used. The entire thing was shot in California so they found a house that vaguely-kinda-sorta looks like it. But the angles and editing of this stand-in are terrible. The REAL Amityville house is perpendicular to the road, not parallel to it. Also, the back end faces out onto a boathouse and a canal connecting to the Atlantic Ocean (hence the street name), not another street! ThIs idiotic continuity error should have been avoided, especially since director Sandor Stern was the writer of the original (terrible) 1979 movie.

4/10 only because of the hot teenage daughter, who I wanted to get naked, but sadly doesn't.

Howl
(2015)

A decent werewolf B-movie
A night train from London to the boondocks breaks down as it passes through an isolated area and the ragtag group of passengers must face-off against a werewolf or four, or five, until the sun comes up. One of them is depressed train guard Joe, who is getting no respect from anyone and is unable to stand up for himself. It's thin characterisation, but it's the best the movie has to offer and Ed Speelers handles it well. The rest of the cast have little-to-nothing to work with, but it functions nonetheless.

Taking cues from the Evil Dead, The Howling, From Dusk Til Dawn, Dog Soldiers, and even Resident Evil, which I think I caught a few recycled sound effects from. It doesn't have much of a voice of its own though, and fails to define itself or stand out from the (wolf) pack. For such a low budget the cinematography is pretty good, with some very atmospheric shots and a sense of abandon. I do with the interior of the train was a little better designed as it was a bit ugly to look at.

If only the movie could have done something, anything to make it memorable. The isolated setting of the train is a great set-up, but the budget restricts the possibilities, and the pay-off is weak. A noble effort though.

Amityville 3-D
(1983)

The third dimension is dumb!
In the early 80s a lot of horror franchises tried to jump on the 3D bandwagon, usually for their second sequels. Friday the 13th used this to great effect. Jaws 3 less so. Amityville, sadly, just doesn't have a clue how to utilize it's new extra dimension and the film is a colossal bore.

Seemingly unconnected to the previous two movies, this one has a simian-faced reporter move into the house in order to debunk the rumors and settle the panic. Exactly how he ended up a successful reporter is anyone's guess as he is clearly a very unintelligent man and moves slower than a glacier when he observes anyone is obvious distress. He even moves his hot teenage daughter into the house. That's not going to end well!

The bulk of the running time has people wandering around on their own calling "Hello?" while a door mysteriously slams shut on its own and traps them in a room, even if they are the kind of doors that don't lock. Of all the horror cliches in existence this is the absolute worst and it happens in this movie more times than I can count. It's interesting that this movie was rated PG on release while the others were rated R. I suppose it's fitting that what very little plot there is plays out like an episode of The Real Ghostbusters (which wasn't yet a thing).

To it's credit it does have some nice widescreen compositions and spooky lighting. Director Richard Fleisher was no hack either, having won an Oscar early in his career and coming from a film noir background with several classics under his belt. He even went on to direct Conan the Destroyer a year later. It's just a shame that he has nothing to work with here as the movie has no ideas of its own, instead lifting scenes from The Omen and The Exorcist to give weight to the weak script.

Also, there is a very strange allusion to Annabelle. The Amityville house was investigated by Ed and Lorraine Warren after the Lutz family fled in 1975. Lorraine called it the most evil house she has ever set foot in. The real Annabelle (actually a Raggedy Anne doll) is kept under lock and key by the Warren estate. The filmmakers would have been aware of this, and feature a similar Raggedy Anne doll in several scenes, with the camera lingering on it as if to suggest something.

Had something/anything actually come of this, no matter how stupid, I might have rated the film higher.

By odd coincidence Meg Ryan has a supporting role here while her future beau Dennis Quaid was in Jaws 3D that same year.

Detour
(1945)

Wrong Turn
There's plenty of despair and misery to go around in this film noir quickie. Lowlife pianist Al Roberts is ditched by his woman (it's what they do) when she leaves New York for Los Angeles, hoping to become a star. Unwilling to be alone, he sells up everything and hitchhikes across the country to reunite with her. The plan is going okay until he meets Haskell, a shady blow-hard who picks him up in the desert and treats him, as long as he listens to his stories the rest of the way to the Big Orange.

Haskell somehow dies a bit later on (it's never really explained how) and worried that he might be blamed for the death, Roberts hides the body and continues on his way in the car. Soon he picks up a hitchhiker himself, in the form of Vera, a fiery-tempered woman with blazing, manic eyes, and they spiral down into a inescapable nightmare of deceit. If women ain't leaving you, they are ruining whatever's left.

Often cited as one of the film noir greats, I can appreciate Detour's tightly-written script and fast-talking performances, but it's somewhat thin on atmosphere outside of a few scenes and feels a little too contained. I didn't find there to be much suspense, sadly.

Twisted
(2004)

Straightened
Twisted would have made a fine follow-up for Philip Kaufman if he had made this in 1994 immediately after Rising Sun. But for a 2004 movie this feels very dated. I have a feeling that the script might have been floating around Hollywood for a while before it got greenlit, and it really does feel like TV movie material at this point.

Since the 90s we've been "spoiled" with innumerable cop dramas and police procedural shows and their many spin-offs to the point where any insight into such a world needs to have a major new spin on it to make the grade.

Ashley Judd (remember her?) is an SFPD patrol officer promoted to inspector after arresting a murderer, possibly by unethical means. She's also the spawn of two evil parents, and she worries that she carries their capacity for evil in her blood. When some of her many former lovers start getting offed by a serial killer her colleagues begin to suspect that she might just be a psycho after all, while faithful Andy Garcia sleazes over her as the ineffectual partner.

There's a moderately involving story here, but the direction is flat, and it really needed a burst of action to bring some kind of excitement to the middle act. There is absolutely ZERO chemistry between Judd and Garcia, who is barely in the movie and doesn't do much other than collect an easy paycheck. I just don't understand why he would fall in love with her right away. It's very poor writing. Twisted's big twist is also hardly shocking, and it uses the tired "hero is secretly recording/broadcasting the killer's confession" trope that is also the sign of lazy writing.

The movie really should have been 20 minutes longer if it had the ability to fully explore and exploit its sordid ideas, but it's a 96-minute quickie that will rightfully be forgotten. It's never even been on Blu-ray.

Sudden Death
(1995)

Slow, boring death
In the post-Die Hard and pre-Matrix world almost every action movie was labelled as a Die Hard clone whether or not the term was justified. Passenger 57 is not Die Hard on a Plane, it's an action movie with Wesley Snipes. Under Siege is not Die Hard on Battleship, it's a military/espionage thriller with Steven Seagal. Sudden Death however absolutely IS an utterly shameless Die Hard rip-off and for this reason I will compare the two mercilessly.

Things get off to a sluggish start with long, white text on black screen credits before we finally fade in to a suburban Pittsburgh street where a fire crew is attending a burning house. Darren McCord (Van Damme) is trapped in the basement with a little girl and loses her when the ceiling collapses on him. Haunted by her sudden death, he loses his edge and quits the job.

Flash-forward two years and he's a single man, losing his kids to a wife who clearly couldn't understand that he permanently damaged his psyche in his effort to provide for his own family. For his son's birthday he wants to treat him to a hockey match at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena. It's the 7th game of the Stanley Cup and every seat in the house will be taken (mostly by obvious cardboard cut-outs). The Vice President will even be in attendance. With his adorable, yet bratty, sister in tow (Whittni Wright, by far the best actor in the movie, oddly) they are dismayed by their dad's low-octane fire safety routine as he works around them at the arena.

After what feels like forty years pass, a group of hired guns led by cruel Secret Service man Joshua Foss (Powers Boothe, doing great work with poor material) eventually seize control of the owners box holding the Vice President and his chums, demanding billions of dollars in used 20s and a cab to the airport if their demands are not met. At the point where the movie is about to keel over and die McCord eventually figures out that something is not quite right and sets about saving the Arena and rescuing his daughter who has been purloined by Foss' men.

There's plenty to complain about but I'll start with the very poor editing by Steven Kemper. It's not that the movie is incoherent or anything, but from a narrative and pacing angle this is probably one of the worst edited movies I have ever seen. There is a 20-minute segment where Van Damme just disappears. He's the lead! He should be on-screen about 80% of the time! His tough-guy ultimatum to Powers Boothe over the phone comes way too late in the movie. I refer to his character as Joshua Foss in this review but it should be noted that not once in the movie is his name actually revealed. Can you imagine if they edited Die Hard so that every utterance of "Hans Gruber" was removed and you never knew who Alan Rickman was supposed to be?

The scenes inside the owner's box feel like they belong in a completely different movie. There's nothing connecting Foss' dominance of that location to any other part of the arena. Who is calling the shots? Why do cars in the parking lot suddenly explode? Who is in charge of those detonations? Why does Carla kill Joan to wear her penguin outfit? What good does that do? Why does Carla kill the woman in the ladies room? Who removes Carla's corpse from the kitchen? That is a major plot hole that simply does not make sense. Any villain who removed it off-screen would have known that a would-be hero was in the arena. What happens to the wreck of the first chopper shot out of the sky (in a very bad, awkwardly cut effect). The cops dangling from it land on the cars below but the chopper itself just vanishes.

Foss tells the authorities to transfer one third of the money during each third of the game or he will kill people inside the owners box. An ice hockey game consists of three 20-minute rounds with two 15-minute breaks in-between. This, by default, creates a perfect 90-minute time compression in which Sudden Death should have been edited to real time. But there is simply no physical way that the events seen can take place in that window unless characters have the ability to warp and teleport around the building. By the time McCord learns that there are bombs planted all over the arena (by who and when?) there's already less than one hour left. There's simply no way he'd have enough to time to locate them (by guesswork), diffuse them and fight the bad guys. It's impossible. We only see him diffuse a couple, leaving potentially lots more intact, yet when Foss eventually pushes the trigger there's just one explosion which destroys a water valve.

McCord only offs a small handful of bad guys during the entire movie, leaving many of them either knocked-out or just letting them get away. Wooton, the Sugarman Driver, Brody, Pratt, Briggs (their names are never revealed outside of the end credits) - they all get away. Can you imagine if John McClane allowed Karl, Tony, Franco, and Heinrich to just walk out of Nakatomi Plaza?

One scene has the useless Feds outside find the dead bodies of their undercover men thrown back out onto the street via a Zamboni rig. One Fed says to another "There's something you need to see," then they actually drive out to a location where they see the Zamboni appear on the horizon, driven by a dead body (how?) where it conveniently stops before a barricade of police cars and opens it load (who is operating this?) spilling the corpses onto the ground. How does anything in this scene make sense?

The casting leaves a lot to be desired too. Peter Hyams, if he had any hand in it at all, clearly just hired people from the local area with not much experience instead of employing actually imposing stunt men or Hollywood day players for the job. Many of these villains are horrible, scraggly, ratty little men that Van Damme could easily knock-out with a miss. Faith Minton, as Carla, is the only one who is a formidable opponent for Van Damme, and she's the first one to die. Even supporting characters such as the chef with the completely diagonal mouth are irritating, and the acting is mostly atrocious. Jack Erdie as Scratch is particularly terrible, but the frequently rotten dialogue doesn't help anyone. The phone call between McCord and Foss is embarrassingly bad.

There's a misconception that this movie was written as a comedy before being retooled as an action movie. That is incorrect. Karen Baldwin was the owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins at the time and wrote the story as a way of featuring her own unique location in an action movie (she's actually in the movie too not as herself, while another actress plays the part of her, which is rather odd). Gene Quintano, known mostly for writing comedies such as Police Academy and Loaded Weapon, then turned that story into the script.

For a supposed action film, Sudden Death really only comes to life in the final ten minutes as the clock strikes zero and the game goes into overtime/Sudden Death before McCord scales the dome, swings from the ceiling and storms the owners box. Everything before that is very badly done with Van Damme not even present in his own action scenes. Ever since accidentally blinding a stuntman on Cyborg and getting sued JCVD has never shot fight scenes in the US so we're treated to shots of a very obvious stunt double fighting with jarring inserts of Van Damme falling to the ground and reacting to punches someone else is receiving. It's so bad. There is, what is intended to be, an action scene in a locker room where Van Damme and his opponent fire suppressed micro-Uzis at each other but there's no actual choreography or stunt design, so the bullets just uselessly spark off the weights and gym equipment or shatter the mirrors on the wall. Without these basic effects the fact that they're obviously firing blanks would become all too apparent.

In 1995 CGI effects were beginning to seep into medium-to-big budgeted movies. The effects of True Lies, Forrest Gump, or The Mask still look good today, but Sudden Death has no CGI and features some very bad optical effects. The compositing, especially on the climactic helicopter crash, look absolutely appalling. There's movies from the 1950s that have better opticals than this. Why is Foss even escaping by helicopter anyway when he clearly disguised himself to escape with the panicking crowds.

No one brought their best effort to Sudden Death, other than 7-year-old Whittni Wright who is quite compelling (such an odd thing to say about an action film). There are some merits though. John Debney provides a decent musical score and Peter Hyams (always his own cinematographer) fills the movie with lots of darkness, flares, gloom and anamorphic Panavision compositions that are clearly taking a lot of cues from Jan De Bont's career-defining work on Die Hard.

Though he's terrible here, I do believe that Van Damme can be a very good actor when given the right material. He has charisma and intelligence and deserves to be a movie star, which is more than I can say for contemporaries like Ryan Gosling or Channing Tatum. Sudden Death is no one's finest hour and all the tough guys and technical skills involved are upstaged by a 7-year-old girl.

Pathetic!

Peppermint
(2018)

Butterscotch
Is there anything more formulaic than a revenge thriller? Perhaps a romantic comedy? Jennifer Garner can now call herself a veteran of both, but the romantic comedy has thankfully disappeared over the last decade while trashy action movies still find their way to cinema screens. In the 1980s Peppermint would be a shameless Cannon Films vehicle and star either Cynthia Rothrock or Chelsea Field. In 2017 it's a starring role for the underused Garner who seems to have let her career take a backseat while she raises her ungrateful husband's children.

Still trying to sell herself as 35, the 45-year-old Garner is Riley North, a working class mother doing her best to raise her daughter and keep her household afloat. When her husband and child are killed in a senseless drive-by she wakes from a coma weeks later to find them already dead and buried while the killers are set free on a ludicrous technicality. Riley then disappears off the face of the Earth for five years only to suddenly show up once more leaving a trail of dead bodies behind her.

As purile and tawdry as it is, Peppermint could have been a lot better. Taken director Pierre Morel appeals to our primal desire for bloodlust and payback but damn is this film U-G-L-Y. The setting of modern-day Los Angeles captures the grottiness often unseen in movies that still portray it as a sunny paradise and not the homeless hellhole it has become but there's no need for such dour, static, empty, drab cinematography and epileptic editing. The production values of this movie could have been found in the discount bin at the 99-cent store. Cheap, quick, and nasty, and with noticeably obvious deleted scenes that were likely cut for pacing but leaves a lot unexplained.

This is a lazy, by-the-numbers dumpster fire and it probably would have been better if it were made in 1985 for a quarter of the budget.

The title is also meaningless, btw.

The Last Patrol
(2000)

The Last Viewing
The late 90s were a wasteland of action stars starring in crash-and-burn duds beset by production problems, low budgets, and multiple name changes. I can name ten such movies off the top of my head and The Last Patrol is but another.

Set in California after an earthquake has isolated it from the rest of America (via footage stolen from Dante's Peak) there is a mild allusion to pre-millennium doom before settling in with a ragtag group of survivors in a desert outpost led by Dolph Lundgren. There is a muddled plot about a plague killing off the population while occasionally cutting to a secondary plot involving a heroin farm operated by a death row inmate freed from the electric chair at the moment of the quake. None of it stitches together very well, though the material is more ponderous than I anticipated but it has ideas well beyond its meagre budget. It seems to be going for a Mad Max vibe but with a slightly goofy, oddball tone.

The Last Patrol could have benefited from a re-write by a more experienced writer but the executive producers wouldn't allow their own script to be altered. Director Sheldon Lettich, who was a low-level mover and shaker in many Stallone, Van Damme, and Lundgren movies of the era, capably directs what little action there is with no particular flair. There are a couple of striking shots in there but its mostly all very flat with no thought given to camera blocking or composition. It was actually shot in Israel, and you might recognize a couple of locations from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. David Michael Frank (a once talented composer who seems to have just disappeared) provides an okay score that sounds a helluva lot like Uru: Ages Beyond Myst but precedes it by four years. There's a couple of oddities in the casting too. Sherri Alexander ended up giving birth to her first child at the age of 45 a decade later, and a few months after the death of her husband, who never got to see his child come into the world. That man was Michael Crichton! Also, the actor who plays the villain was assassinated in Palestine for corrupting the local Islamic youth by bringing theatre and and performance art into their community. Pretty heavy stuff! Other than that there's nothing notable here.

I don't think this movie even got released in the UK. It certainly never showed up in Blockbuster during my 5-year tenure in the 2000s. The end credits imply that it was intended for cinema exhibition but it's clearly not marketable any territory. I can't imagine anyone giving this a second viewing and it has rightfully ended up in obscurity.

My Amityville Horror
(2012)

The truth is not in here
A real Amityville horror did occur, that is for certain. Ronald Defeo murdering his entire family did happen. The oddities surrounding the murders been fully understood. Then George Lutz and his blended family came along and moved into the murder house on Ocean Ave and they lasted less than a month, claiming that the house was haunted. The supernatural horror of the Ocean Ave house has never been proven or disproven, but there have been innumerable attempts to cash-in on its notoriety, including (currently) fourteen movies and umpteen novels.

This "documentary" features Daniel Lutz, the ex-treme-ly angry stepson of George Lutz, who has multiple obvious mental health issues. He is selling this 85-minute insight into the supernatural occurrences in the house as "his story". Okay...so when are you going to actually tell your story, Danny? Because you don't tell it here. A window might have slammed shut on your fingers but that doesn't prove anything. This movie is a gigantic nothing burger. He loses all credibility he might have been loaned when he goes on about George Lutz moving things in the garage with newly found telekinetic powers because he read-up on it in a book. Um...it doesn't work that way.

Daniel Lutz is clearly a desperate, confused man with very poor recollection (no matter how much he claims the opposite). Why did he even agree do to this documentary? He says he doesn't like talking about it, mumbles a little bit, then gives us no real information. There's no "his version" of events here. There's almost no content to this movie. The only interesting part is the interview with the late Lorraine Warren.

The phenomenon of the Amityville horror house can be summed up by a few simple components - greed, the public's love for scary stories, and mass hysteria. I do believe something very unusual and likely supernatural happened there, but it's been exploited and misinterpreted into obscurity over the years and the last thing we need is a self-pitying, deeply angry Daniel Lutz muddying the waters with his arrogance and nonsense.

A complete waste of time.

Oh, and the shot of Daniel Lutz trying to look hard-man-cool by lighting a cigarette in front of the horror house at the very beginning is obviously a green-screen effect as the owners of the house do like such attention and I doubt he would return to the scene after all these years.

Bad Boys for Life
(2020)

How to make Good Bad Boys - Subtract Michael Bay
I don't think that the original Bad Boys is a great movie (or a particularly good one) but it WAS lightening in a bottle and the correct mix of talents at the right time. It kickstarted the career Michael Bay and turned Will Smith from a TV star into a movie star. It took an unusual amount of time for the sequel to arrive and by the time summer 2003 came around we were treated/subjected to Michael Bay at his absolute worst with full creative autonomy. Bad Boys II is one of the most utterly repugnant films I have ever seen and I once thought that it killed the series forever. In the nearly seventeen years since its release there has been lots of talk about a Bad Boys III but with the once high-flying, then stalling career of Will Smith and the non-star power of Martin Lawrence there was never a right moment.

Thankfully, the long wait meant that Michael Bay was off the project. Instead Belgian filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah are calling the shots and new writers are involved, and it's far, far superior to either of the previous movies with some truly shocking moments that will have you holding your breath. What a happy surprise.

Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowry are now in their 50s and feeling the toll that their lifestyle has taken on their bodies, though Mike is in denial about it. They know that they are nearing the end of their careers and partnership but are finding transitioning into the next phase of their lives difficult. Meanwhile, a maniacal villainess down in Mexico is planning a series of revenge executions with Mike Lowry as the final target into backstory before the events of first movie and ties them all together.

The bad guys in the first two movies were just cardboard cut-outs with little-to-zero motivation while Marcus and Mike themselves had rather poor character development, relying too much on the ad-libbed chemistry between the stars and the perceived idea of childish "cool" that they were supposed to exhibit. Bad Boys for Life delivers so much, much more than that. Not only is the directing more mature and restrained but the writing is far superior, giving everyone depth, meaningful dialogue, and some really involving conflict and character development.

This movie is "Bad Grown-Ups". Michael Bay makes movies for angry teenage boys, but Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah have superseded him and delivered the absolute best in the series so far. You could call it a million times better than Bad Boys II but a million times nothing is still nothing, though it's better than that. I went in with expectations lower than minus infinity and was quite surprised and taken aback. Lorne Balfe even brings back Mark Mancina's original themes, which Trevor Rabin unwisely ditched for the second movie.

I'd like to see Bad Boys for Life be the success that it deserves. Will Smith's career has been a trainwreck for a long time now, and with the recent bomb of Gemini Man still haunting him it would restore his credibility if Bad Boys for Life did bigger business than Bad Boys II. The theatre I went to was packed for an afternoon showing, so it's looking promising. They've made a silk purse out of a pig's ear and in the process they have, by accident, bigged-up the first two movies. Michael Bay does make a cameo as a wedding announcer, but that's the limit of his involvement, and everyone is better off for it.

Krampus
(2015)

The Real Bad Santa
I've abstained from reviewing Krampus since I first saw it in the cinema four years ago as I could never figure out what the movie's problems and strengths were, but after seeing the movie five times now and feeling the same frustrations over and over I think I've got it sussed.

Krampus is best described as a combination of Christmas Vacation and Gremlins, opening with a satire of mindless Yuletide consumerism before settling in with a middle-class family in the suburbs including German grandma, emotionally distant teen daughter, and idealistic son. Their cheer is soon ruined by the arrival of extended family who bring trashy, redneck values that are at odds with the atmosphere of the household. After mocking the poor son's belief in Santa Claus and his desire for a wholesome family Christmas he decides not to mail his letter to the big man and rips it up, surrendering the shreds to the winter wind.

Someone else is the recipient of that letter. Someone darker and malevolent.

A darkness falls over the neighborhood, town, and world, isolating our disparate gang from any outside saviors while a host of nasty creatures invade their safe space, offing them one by one, and it's at this point the movie begins to come apart as the pacing and structure becomes far too chaotic and annoying. A clever kill every ten minutes with clearly defined rules and building mystery would have resulted in a far better movie, but Michael Dougherty fumbles this all-important middle act, leaving the audience desperate and impatient for a quick ending.

The practical effects in this movie are also quite, quite appalling, especially the actual Krampus creature, which barely has any points of articulation. Even the 1987 Garbage Pail Kids looked better than this. Exactly what are his minions supposed to be? What are the rules here? Some wonderfully devilish elves appear but nothing is done with them and they disappear just as fast. The fight against the demonic toys in the attic is terribly done, with nothing clearly shot, and also confusingly intercut with a ridiculous gingerbread man fight in the kitchen. The cutting back and forth between these events neuters both to the point of irrelevance.

In its favor, Krampus has surprisingly good characterisation, an immense amount of atmosphere and a cold, otherworldly feel that really helps sell this as a dark Christmas alternative. So many movies aim to be the new Christmas classic and become an annual tradition but the majority of them fail. Krampus barely makes the grade. This could/should have been a much better movie and I can understand why less patient viewers would dislike it.

Invasion U.S.A.
(1985)

All the Chuck in the world
Wow! Let's talk about a trailer overselling a movie. I happened upon the trailer for Invasion USA on another Blu-ray and it seemed to be a Christmas siege flick where Chuck massacres invading forces who have unwisely stepped into his neighborhood. That is absolutely not what this movie is.

Chuck is Matt Hunter, a retired CIA heavy who now makes a living capturing alligators while living in his everglades shack. As he attempts to enjoy his quiet life a plot involving a Russian/Cuban/German/Communist/Whatever invasion very, very slowly boils in the background and eventually leads to all-out war declared on the streets of Miami (actually Atlanta). With a handful of ammo clips and grenades Chuck has it all sorted.

The editing of this film is very poor, but not from a coherence angle. The story flounders, starts, stops, starts, stops, hits a dead end, starts again, stops, roll credits. We cut between Chuck being stoic and beardy and heavily-scarred maniacal villain Rostov (Richard Lynch, who looks like a burns victim combination of Rutger Hauer and Christopher Walken) with scenes of police detectives sandwiched in-between who walk around scenes of devastation bluntly repeating to each other what we've just seen happen. The mutual hatred between hero and villain is built up for the entire movie only for it to climax, rather disappointingly, in a generic, unfurnished office building while a full-scale war rages just outside. Another stupid aspect of this scene is that the intense gunfire and constant explosions are happening mere feet away but the sound editor was so lazy he couldn't be bothered mixing them in for the interior shots. My neighbors heard those sounds of war, and I had my volume at a medium level.

Characters come and go without ever feeling important. No sequence of scenes seems to have any connective tissue. Bad guys plot some evil, Chucks appears out of nowhere and stops them, the police walk around and vocally echo what occurred, rinse and repeat. The movie comes across as a series of vignettes instead of a three-act structure. Why is Christmas even featured for five minutes and never mentioned again? What about New Year? That's not brought up days later either.

Jay Chattaway's score is very boring and sounds a lot like leftover material from Silver Bullet only without the melody. Chattaway has only scored two movies since 1990 but he has worked extensively in television, especially in Star Trek. If the producers spent the money on a better composer it would have made up for the rest of the movie's shortcomings, but 1985 was a busy year for all the big names.

For fans of Chuck this movie is a goldmine of ridiculous action, mindless killing, unbuttoned shirts, and macho hardassery. It's well directed by Joseph Zito, with visceral special. Nerds like me might get a laugh out of the sly Friday the 13th in-joke, Richard Lynch is oddly expressive villain despite his extensive scarring, though it's all badly hurt by the choppy structure. Anyone looking for action driven by an actual story going to be quite frustrated.

I don't often say this, but Invasion USA could do with a remake. The themes of the movie seem to be quite ahead of their time and foresaw the worst nightmares of the Department of Homeland Security all the way back in 1985. It could work quite well with a smart and thoughtful script and a similar commitment to over-the-top violence it could work as an exploitative thriller in the vain of Taken and as a gung-ho war flick like American Sniper. I can see the dollar signs already.

The Quiet Earth
(1985)

Quite quiet
There are several dsytopian "downer ending" sci-fi apocalypse flicks from the 70s, usually starring Charlton Heston, that predicted and seemingly longed-for an extinction level event to wipe the scourge of mankind from the Earth. It's not happened just yet, so we're doing just a little bit better than those cynical Hollywood visionaries guessed. The Quiet Earth, from 1985, had the benefit of distance in both time and from the mainstream cycle. There's no zombies here, no nuclear armageddon, no volcanos or plagues. Just a man who wakes up one morning to find that there is no one else around, not even cats or dogs, or birds and bees.

Zack Hobson (Bruno Lawrence - an exact cross between Robert Duvall and Lance Henriksen) is that man, a seemingly ordinary suit who is at first mildly miffed than no one is answering the phone, but becomes more and more alarmed as he drives across town to find empty cars, downed airliners, deserted stores, and vacated streets. Where did everybody go? Where is the animal life? Why was he spared?

It's a captivating premise and the first act has a lot of fun with Zack being able to do whatever he wants in this newly empty world before he eventually becomes despairing and desperate. Then the mysterious Joanne shows up. How come there is someone else? What connects them? Through a series of experiments and observations Zack theorizes that his involvement in the top secret "Project Flashflight" is to blame and that a new tangent universe has been created that may be unstable and about to collapse.

There is loads to consume here. The material goes very far and I guarantee that this movie was a huge influence on Christopher Nolan as there are sci-fi elements and themes here that were very loudly echoed in Inception and Interstellar. The ending is wide open to interpretation and is more "Operation Mindf*" than contemporary shocking endings. Nothing is explained for certain, and none of Zach's theories are proven to be accurate but the movie manages to avoid the usual "silly science" that many horrors and sci-fi flicks of the era resorted to when the screenwriting hit a dead end. The science here are actually quite strong and the script feels more like important Philip K. Dick material instead of b-movie nonsense.

Directed by eccentric Kiwi auteur Geoff Murphy, who only ever made eleven films in his entire career, there is nothing in The Quiet Earth that feels dated. The story is timeless (pun intended) and feels fresh every single time you watch it. Considering how much acclaim lesser movies receive it's a shame that it doesn't get more recognition. Of the eleven films that Murphy directed only four were in Hollywood and three of those were sequels with Young Guns 2 his only Oscar-nominated movie and Under Siege 2 the biggest financial success of his career. All of this was in the 90s, by the 2000s he had returned to New Zealand to work on much smaller projects but he did work as a producer on Dante's Peak as well as being Peter Jackson's assistant director for all three Lord of the Rings movies. A small resume he may well have had but he left a huge impression on science fiction with The Quiet Earth which, with it's low budget and high imagination, manages to stand above many of today's $200,000,000 trash flicks.

Doom Asylum
(1988)

A silly and fun horror comedy
He 80s was the decade of schlock horror at its most earnest and exploitative. The video stores were packed with more cheap trash than you could possibly count, all with vivid cover art and giant 18-certificates. As a kid the 18 logo meant that you were in for the good stuff (and I suppose it still does, to lesser standards). Despite their low budgets the vast majority of these movies were shot on 35mm, often by contemporary cinematographers in the infancy of their career. The gore effects were practical, the filmmakers were hungry, and there was always an earthy realness to them.

However, about 80% of these movies featured a killer-on-the-loose plot that copied the one-by-one falling dominoes structure of everything from Halloween and Alien all the way to present day trash. Doom Asylum is no different and features a thin plot of a crooked lawyer horribly injured in a car wreck that killed his girlfriend stalking the hospital where they brought his body after the accident. A group of teens arrive to explore and waste the day but confront an all-girl punk band using the building to practice their songs. Thirty years after its release these girls are pure alt-left nutcases. Unknown to them, the horrifically scarred lawyer prowls the grounds and offs them in various gory way.

Doom Asylum makes no effort at seriousness, instead embracing the camp and stupidity in much the same way as Lloyd Kaufman did with his Troma movies. Produced on a meagre budget of $90,000 and shot in an actual abandoned insane asylum there's enough here to warrant curiosity. Writer/director Richard Friedman is clearly struggling very hard to make this movie feature-length, but the material just isn't there. The silly sense of humor and gore effects work well, though the jokey villain is no Freddy Kruger, no matter how hard he tries. The acting is broad and terrible, but acceptable given the nature of the movie. A young Kristen Davis shows up as one of teens looking incredibly cute and wearing a very revealing bathing suit. I'm glad to see that modern women's grooming styles were being pioneered by her in 1987.

The cheap, cheap, cheapness of the movie means it all had to be shot during the daylight, which indirectly gives it a bright and peaceful feel. A lot of horrors use rain and thunder as a way to add easy tension to a scene but Doom Asylum takes place entirely on a quiet and sunny summer day, lending it an odd edge.

Had a better writer given the script a redraft and beefed up the story a little then we could have had a fairly decent 85-minute funhouse. It just barely limps over the finishing line though. Not terrible, but not enough redeeming factors to make it a classic, just notable.

House IV
(1992)

Four Closure
And so House IV finishes off Sean Cunningham's secondary horror series (after Friday the 13th) and while it's an improvement on House 3 it doesn't have the maniacal energy of the first two movies, though it's not all bad.

This one has Roger Cobb return and he's inherited another spooky, old house from his recently dead daddy. His brother wants to sell to some evil toxic waste disposal company and cash-in but Roger wants to keep the promise he made to his old man and be a custodian to the house's mysterious past and secrets. After Roger is killed in a car accident his widow begins to experience visions and see ghosts, though they could actually be trying to help her, not scare her.

Original writer Ethan Wiley was not on board for this one, he checked-out after House 2 (still the best one), and a bunch of new writers have all pitched in with their own ideas, and are clearly trying to riff on Twin Peaks at one point, though they don't all add up. House IV was made because Sean Cunningham found himself with a budget for one last movie only he didn't have a script. He owed Lewis Abernathy a favor so allowed him to direct and develop the story. It was only after the script had been through a few drafts and some of the cast had been given their roles that they decided to continue/end the story from the first House by bringing back Roger Cobb. Though they did this very lazily, and I don't think the writing team even bothered to watch the first movie as there is absolutely zero connective tissue. Just a couple of lines of dialogue or a quick reference here and there would have made all the difference.

Shot in November 1990, but not released until 1992 due to marketing issues, House IV has a noticeable drop in production value, mainly down to the naff photography by James Mathers, who's career is all TV drivel and cheap schlock. Mac Ahlberg shot the first three movies with lots of shadow and atmosphere. He understood lighting and mood while Mathers doesn't seem to have a clue or any artistic vision and the quality of the film suffers under his lack of ability.

House 3 killed the accidental tradition of actors from Cheers appearing in this series (a quick cameo from Ted Danson or Frasier himself would have been that movie's saving grace) and House IV does nothing to remedy that, but there are three actors from this rather small cast who went on to appear in Con Air, which is odd.

Harry Manfredini scores all four films, but for budget reasons he's limited to a synthesizer to deliver the music for House IV, much like his terrible score to Jason Goes To Hell, though it's good enough without being the least bit memorable. Trust me, no one is going to be releasing a vinyl soundtrack for this movie.

It still manages to be an oddball horror/comedy and, despite a few shortcomings, holds together just enough to make it a good, if hardly spectacular, end for the House series.

I'm very confused about Lewis Abernathy though. This man has barely any credits at all and House IV is his only venture into directing, with a few other minor credits on smaller films here and there. But he played the significant role of Lewis Bodine (keeping his first name) in Titanic, dropping the movie's only F-bomb if I recall correctly. Who IS this man? I can only assume he became pals with James Cameron from working on Deepstar Six since he's a big fan of deep diving and had a fondness the movie.

The Comedy of Terrors
(1963)

Anyone laughing at this? Anyone at all?
I'm quite a fan of Vincent Price's work and the effect he had on horror and pop culture. The works of Tim Burton, Michael Jackson, Alice Cooper, and even Scooby-Doo owe huge debts to "the master of the macabre". But The Comedy of Terrors does him no favors, and seems like a quick, cheap rehash of Trilogy of Terror from the year before, recycling the same actors, sets, and almost the title.

Trumbull and Hinchley (and Gillie) are undertakers stuck in debt who decide to do a little bit of killing to add customers to their list. Prone to the odd bit of deception, murder doesn't seem like a big deal to make a quick buck. It's almost a rehash of the legend of Burke and Hare. Though when they target the man they owe a debt to "hilarity" ensues when he just won't die.

The best kind of comedy is dark, macabre, and sadistic. The first two could have been enough given the nature of the movie, but instead it's overplayed slapstick and far too broad to really appeal to anyone. The characters have an aggravating knack of screaming (or opera singing, very, very badly) at such a high volume you'll want to smash your foot through the TV. It's not funny. Not at all.

I did enjoy the dark anamorphic Panavision photography though, and I miss movies being shot with this aesthetic. Some of the externals shots seem to be filmed in the Hollywood Hills, and I'm certain I've walk along those paths. Other than this the location of the story is never really defined.

For fans only.

The Horror Show
(1989)

To let: Empty Lot
If you were charmed by the fun and high imagination of the first two House movies then you're in for a shock (pun intended) with this third entry as it plays it straight and grim while never managing to find a real identity of its own.

Condemned serial killer Max Jenke (a larger-than-life, as usual, Brion James) is put to death in the electric chair before an audience who are happy to watch him roast, only it takes a few more volts of juice to finish him off. I'm sure you're all familiar with the scene in Green Mile where Percy neglects to wet the sponge. Before dying Jenke makes a promise to Lucas McCarthy (the always compelling Lance Henriksen), the cop who captured him, that he'll come back to haunt him.

There are multiple Treehouse of Horror episodes that have the same set-up and pulled off way more in 7 minutes than this bore does in an hour and a half. House 3 had a six-week shoot but lost original director David Blyth for unknown reasons after only two. He was replaced by the late James Issac, who appeared in House 2 as a cop and would go on to direct Jason X, but neither of them can find a vision with such weak material. The originality and spirit of the first two movies is long gone, leaving House 3 to build a sequence of scenes out of bog-standard tropes and boring cliches. It never feels like its going anywhere and doesn't have the imagination or moxie to become a send-up, instead digging deeper and deeper into its own straight-faced stupidity.

At the time of release the story of killers executed on the chair coming back to torment the people who condemned them was very popular. Prison, Shocker, and The First Power all used this idea (strangely, MGM funded 3 of 4, so they were really into this) and all of them did it better, even if with average end results, as House 3 just squanders everything.

The spirit of House is still with the production team, but the story is garbage. Writer Allyn Warner removed his name from the movie but Leslie Bohem, who would later write Daylight and Dante's Peak, remains credited. I've no idea what went on between these two at the scripting stage but the fact that neither of them could give this movie a soul reeks of laziness.

Lock the doors and put it on the market. No one wants to live here!

Pánico en el Transiberiano
(1972)

Do the schlockomotion
Of the many horror films Cushing and Lee made together Horror Express is one of the lesser-known vehicles (or trains) and has languished in public domain prints for quite some time. It was only when Arrow made a 2K restoration of the original camera negative that the movie even popped up on my radar. I'd never heard it referenced anywhere or read about it in magazines.

Set in 1906 in a snowy Shanghai/Peking (the movie isn't sure which city it is) the movie begins with Christopher Lee discovering a frozen neanderthal in the mountains, which he promptly carts off to be studied. His mode of transport is the Trans-Siberian and it's loaded with meat for killing. Also on board is Peter Cushing as a rival Doctor who is grudgingly bunked with Lee, a spy, a Count and his daughter, and a mad monk. When the frozen primitive begins to thaw and comes back to life, it goes on a killing spree as the train hurtles through the frozen wastelands.

There's a decent amount of wit and cleverness to the script, but this really is pure schlock that resorts to the usual "silly science" that movies of that era had no shame with. It also takes several cues from John W. Campbell's novella Who Goes There?, which was previously made into The Thing from Another World, and latterly, John Carpenter's The Thing. You can certainly notice a lot of similarities between these movies but Horror Express has enough of its own gumption to stand alone and not be considered a rip-off.

With a gloomy atmosphere and some shocking kills, Horror Express is fine late-night entertainment if you are in the mood for such schlock. Television Savalas even shows up in the third act as an eccentric Cossack captain who owns the movie for a couple of scenes before things start getting silly again. Rightfully not a classic, but not rightfully forgotten.

Arrow Video presents the movie in 1.66:1 1080p with LCPM Mono sound. The entire movie was shot wild (no sound) with the three lead actors dubbing their own voices in later while everyone else is speaking with some unknown uncredited voice. As such, the movie is never going to sound amazing, though it's good enough, if rather unnatural and a little echo-y but John Cacavas' lush score comes through rather well. There's quite a lot of extras included and overall this is the best home video package that the movie ever get, so if you're a fan of this strange 70s oddity it's a must have.

Gekijôban Fairy Tail: Dragon Cry
(2017)

Utter garbage!
So this looked like fun, judging from the box art and all of the extras included. I've never seen the Fairytale TV show but I figured the movie would act as a competent entry into the universe as long as it wasn't too reliant on material I had not consumed. I was both right and wrong. The movie is extremely simplistic in regards to story but it's also a confusing mess of chaos and utter drivel.

There is a magical artefact of a "Dragon's Tear" that gives whoever wields it enormous power, so, naturally, the big bad of the movie wants to get his hands on it. A team of heroes (who all look identical to each other) band together to stop him in several loud, confusing nonsense scenes of supposed "action" that absolutely did my effing head in! There is nothing to recommend this anime, not even the plentiful, bouncing, busty, buxom babes and the crotch shots that followed them around could stop me from falling asleep.

If THIS is what Anime has become then I'm checking out now. Beautifully animated it may be, but Fairytale Dragon Cry is complete trash and the English dub is frequently quite poor.

Steamboat Willie
(1928)

The harmless cartoon that created an unstoppable monster
I expect that it is utterly forbidden to speak of Steamboat Willie unless you are going to praise it with all the usual soundbites of "milestone", "landmark", or "icon" but I'm not going to do that. Despite its historic significance Steamboat Willie is no different to any other "silly symphony" in that animation is drawn to a noticable tempo and outlandish things happen in-sync with the music. This can often be creative in the Silly Symphonies (or not) but that doesn't make them classics or clever, in fact they can get quite tedious and boring, and three minutes in to this eight-minute cartoon I was already becoming quite tired with it.

The sound and image could do with a restoration (which I am sure it has had) as the version I watched with crackly and dirty. Now that I've suffered it I'll never waste my time on Steamboat Willie again.

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