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Let Us Prey

now having thought about it a bit ...
... I've decided this was quite good. I'm hovering between a 7 and 8.

At first my main thought was "Meh. So Judaeo-Christian-specific that this atheist cannot find a thing scary about it." However, even if it is within that tradition, it does some surprisingly daring and fresh things inside of it. This is a movie with ambitions, and it is stylish enough and solidly-acted enough to pull most of them off.

I particularly liked the performances by the two leads. Both roles could have easily led to lots and lots of scenery-chewing, but neither Cunningham nor McIntosh go this easy and tired route: they are both subtle, varied and positively aces, as is Douglas Russell as the feral Sgt. MacReady (his role does call for some scenery chewing, and he does it well).

I absolutely adored the ending. Kudos.


I can't figure out why I didn't like it
Watchmen, the graphic novel, was dark, brutal, and frequently thrilling.

Watchmen, the movie, is dark, brutal, and ultimately flat and boring.

For the life of me, I can't figure out why I feel this way. On a surface level this film seems to have done everything (well, almost everything) it could to be faithful to the universe Moore and Gibbons created. Obviously, a lot of people worked very hard to make this movie what it is.

Perhaps it's the fact that none of the actors (with the exception of Jackie Earle Haley, pitch-perfect as Rorschach) seem to be doing very much. In their defense, it must be hard to breathe much life into these characters: who, for example, can find a connection with and breathe life into a god-like glowing blue guy, one of whose chief qualities is that he's feeling disconnected from humanity? I don't know, I confess.

Still, they should have (says the former actor) found some way to do it ... and only one of them (Haley) did.

I also have an irrational dislike of Patrick Wilson ... so that limits my appreciation of any film with him in it.

As has become cliché: the book was so much better. Sigh.


Please don't feed the boogers
I'd like to sincerely thank the makers of this film, for showing that this type of thing can still get made.

Is Bacterium great art/cinema? No. But I like to imagine that the filmmakers may well have said, when it was all edited and done and the last booger flicked away, "No, we didn't have a kerjillion dollars, but we made this with all the love we have, and now we offer it to you. Have a blast." Yes -- that is corny. I'm getting old.

If you watched Deadly Spawn and loved it, give this a try.

Obviously low budget? Check. Acting that veers wildly from watchable to really bad? Check. Kind-of-cheesy score that harks back to the 1970s or (brrr) 1980s? Check. Script that has giant holes, couldn't really be called "well-crafted," but is occasionally quite clever? Check. Distinct lack of flawless, soulless CGI? Check. Other distinct lack of Keanu Reeves or Kevin Costner standing around being out-acted by the cinematography? Double check.

Friends, I didn't think this was even possible any more. Okay, Bacterium has longeurs, especially early on, but once the booger monsters get going, watch out! And these brave, brave actors: they may not rise to the levels of your Olivier or your Carrot Top, but -- they not only do fierce battle with big balls of half-dried snot, they sometimes roll around in them.

In the end I love Bacterium 200,000% more than any given product of multi-million-mega-McDisney-wood, if only because it ISN'T all about the money.

The Conjuring

no spoilers -- just a quick snark, unfortunately
Will you think _The Conjuring_ is scary? And by "scary" I mean something beyond jumping at loud and/or sudden things -- because those kinds of "scares," the amusement park kind, are easy to accomplish. There are plenty of those in this movie.

Sadly, whether or not this movie finally scares you ultimately depends on whether or not you buy into the Judaeo-Christian mythos. It depends on whether or not you are a traditionally religious person ... because the makers of this film did not leave the "evil" in this film as some vaguely-defined "entity" ... noooo, this is a real live demon from a real live Christian Hell who doesn't like crucifixes and holy water a-tall, thank you very much.

As a result, this movie scared me about as much as the story of Noah and the Ark scares me.

_The Conjuring_ is professionally-made entertainment, but so are recordings by Elton John -- and I don't like _those_, either.

House of Bones

by now, I should know better
I often watch horror movies when I want ... well, er, entertainment. Even though that (entertainment for entertainment's sake) is a fairly low bar for many, for me I will positively NOT be entertained if the execution of the movie (story, acting, effects, etc) is poor -- instead, I will be annoyed.

In this case I was highly annoyed.

Exhausted from a couple of days of driving, I lay back to scrape the sides of the online barrels (Netflix, Google Play) to see if anything decent was left. I found House of Bones, and -- gaack! -- purchased it before sidling on over to IMDb to check out reviews. Bad idea. Even though it was only a couple of dollars, I felt ripped off.

It is difficult to know whether to chiefly blame the acting or the writing or the direction or the concept. All are poor -- but it takes an extraordinary actor to light up material that is so poorly written as to make no sense, and that is what we have here.

I'll just point out one small example of why -- or rather how -- this movie is a steaming pile of thrown-together crap, and then I'm going to quit, because House of Bones has already wasted enough of my time. This should serve as an example of the manner of slapdashery you'll find here.

The 'haunted house' crew has, it's made fairly clear, NEVER (before visiting the "Wicker House", that is) seen anything scarier than a woman who tried to pick up one of the crew members in a bar, ha ha ha hee ha my sides are splitting. That is, they've NEVER seen anything "supernatural". And YET ... not only do they all seem to know what "ectoplasm" is, THEY'VE ENCOUNTERED IT BEFORE (the previous encounter was with something green -- the ectoplasm here is yellow, and "smells old").

Hunh? Which is the case? Neither is the case, because this movie wasn't developed, it was stitched together, and the pieces fit badly.

There is no focused plot, there are no coherent characters (there can't be in a Mulligan Stew like this) and the majority of the effects are really terrible. Things just happen, and then they stop happening.

Congratulations! You'll never get that hour and a half back.

Grave Encounters

not bad at all -- how's that for vague? :^)
The following short review is a thought experiment. You must suspend your disbelief and believe that 1) movies can have sex with one another and that 2) more than two movies can have multivariate sex and produce a single child.

The movies The Blair Witch Project, Session 9, and the 1999 remake of The House on Haunted Hill all three had a little too much to drink at a Hollywood party one night and wound up sleeping together.

Their love child? This movie.

It's most like its mom, The Blair Witch Project, but indoors.

I suppose I shouldn't be so snarky ... this film does its job and delivers scares (if no real lasting creep-outs, which are far more interesting to me) and entertainment, and the performances are pretty good for this sort of movie. You will keep watching, and have fun getting to the end.

That said, there's only one woman, and she screams a lot. But I mustn't expect too much ... or must I?


I should have known better
I recently watched The Descent, was really enthusiastic about it, and therefore almost immediately cued up The Descent 2. Big mistake. The sequel, while not truly awful, wasn't even a patch on the first film.

Likewise here. I had a pretty positive reaction to V/H/S, even if it was a little too "overloud soundtrack and lots of obnoxious young people" for my 51-year-old head. But the film had heart, and some good scares.

Then along plods V/H/S 2. One episode is an ostensibly "funny" zombie featurette, another is a near incomprehensible mish-mosh about kids getting abducted by aggressive but ludicrously stereotyped "greys," and the most interesting segment, the Indonesian-language one, ends with a crappy joke voiced by a very, very unconvincing puppet. I suppose I should be grateful it wasn't bad CGI.

I suppose I should admit I don't much like my horror "funny" except in spots, although there are exceptions (Shaun of the Dead, for example). I find myself incredulous that there are people who prefer this to the first film -- but there's no arguing about opinions, after all. I'll stick to my contention that the only sequel better than the film that preceded it was The Godfather, Part Two and that that may remain true for all eternity.

Did I mention that I'm an old fart?

Cell Count

laudable effort, but why didn't anyone say "*cough* ... it makes no sense"?
I was predisposed to like this film. I like to support independent efforts, because on the whole I think Hollywood movies are pure sh*t, ridiculously expensive bags of empty spectacle made for an audience accustomed to equating an actor's ability with his or her being "hot." Plus, I love horror / science fiction fare, and telling me something is somewhere in the neighborhood of Cronenberg "body horror" almost gar-on-tees I will watch it.

This film fails, however. It is incoherent.

I will touch on only a few points, because there are so many.

1) Another reviewer has mentioned this, but the "cure" creature seems to have no fixed form. At one point it appears to be a large cockroach, at another point it's kind of like a really big meat slinky with teeth, at a third point it flops out of your mouth and wraps itself tightly around your head (for what benefit to itself, I ask?) and fourth, it makes you explode like a grenade.


2) Also huh: is there any conceivable point, even given the admittedly chaotic mental regions that "mad scientists" inhabit, for the sudden release of the psychopath characters to "integrate" with the others? A sudden uncontrollable burst of sadism (S.U.B.O.S.)? Please help, I am lost.

3) Aaaaaaand ... then there is the ending. Our doughty characters gun their way out of the facility (there's one guard. Wow), to find a bus driven by Smilin' Daniel Baldwin ready to take them to freedom. Well, er, okay, lucky them, but ... how did it get in in the first place, if the place is so heavily guarded? Meanwhile, weedy young "Mason," who has been left to die because he's been gut-shot, injects himself with ... something ... and is, gosh, suddenly okay, so he gets up and boards the bus. It's all right -- he's just a little bloody, plus (!) he keeps seeing someone who may or may not be there. He can see the future! Or not. Characters "Billy" and "Abraham" are staying behind, because Billy's "cure" is too advanced to be extracted ... oh, no, wait, Billy and Abraham are getting on the bus. Never mind. Then there are some explosions, I think, and someone at the entrance to the facility who looks like a melted Nazi but is apparently an old friend of the mad German scientist. He shoots at the bus. Then ... a ... thing ... runs squealing by in the foreground, and the bus exits the facility.

If someone can "explain" all this to me, I'm all eyes.

Beast from Haunted Cave

something nameless in the mountains
Interesting mix of comments here - people seem to see this as one of those "it's not perfect but it has ... something" kind of surprises, or just don't get it at all.

I'm of the former people. This movie makes me happy in a way that is difficult to quantify: pleasingly creeped out, intrigued, something.

The first time I watched it the main selling point was the monster, and that remains a strong feature after multiple viewings. Like another poster here, I have to give some serious props to Chris Robinson, who built and performed inside this, uh, thing (it is interesting to me, too, that a lot of people identify the monster as a weak point). Its strength for me lies in its lack of full definition (e.g. is that a _face_ in there or just some kind of spiky _hole_) and its marionette-like herky-jerkiness, which may have been dictated somewhat by the low budget. But overall this beast is sufficiently freaky to me to make me want to search out Chris Robinson today, sit him down with a couple of beers, and find out what it was he was trying to work out back in the 50s. Some serious issues, looks like to me ... and I mean that as a compliment! I think I watched it again because something about it itched me in a "there's more to this film" sort of way. And a second and a third viewing confirmed that there is not only a weird, doomed Lovecraftian kind of feel about the whole story, but that there are sufficient weird little details and touches that make it worth watching carefully IN SPITE OF (as I found) occasionally muffled sound, filler, and some wooden performances (not that those bother me much, as I am a B movie fan). It's easy to say in hindsight, but I think if you watch carefully, there is ample evidence here of what was to be an interesting career in film for Monte Hellman.


naturalistic explanation of the supernatural?
While I found Rob Zombie's "recast" of _Halloween_ to be entertaining, I did not find it as effective as the original. This is probably a "default" reaction to a remake of a beloved genre classic, but in this case the reason for me is fairly clean-cut, and that is what I will focus on here.

In a nutshell, I think the problem here is that this revised and extended "with backstory" version clamps a psychological base onto a supernatural tale, and in so doing robs it of the oomph that supernatural tales want to have. In this way it is similar to the "Gothic" novels of Ann Radcliffe: there'd be hauntings and spectres galore, but in the end they would all be given explanations. In this version of _Halloween_ that order is reversed, and we have a dreadfully unhappy and "tortured" childhood offered as the psychological "explanation" for someone growing up enormous and impervious to repeated blasts of .44 Magnums.

As many have pointed out, Carpenter's original was chilling because Myers was never "explained." One of my favorite moments in the original is when, in reaction to a policeman's wondering what kind of a man would do such things, the Loomis character snarls "This isn't a _man_." Zombie insists both that he is, and that he isn't, and because this is kind of incoherent, it fails to make as much impact.

I for one don't want my horrors "explained."

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

star wars I: the phantom acting
The spoiler for my _comment_ is that you probably won't read anything in it you've not read in the myriad of other comments on this film ...

... with the possible exception that I for one don't think the other installments of _Star Wars_, e.g. the 70s-80s ones, were all that. If that offends you beyond belief, you should probably stop reading right now.

In 1977 I was 16 years old and had been reading science fiction for years. I'd heard about _Star Wars_ and had read all the criticisms coming from the "real science fiction" camp (simplistic plot/philosophy, spectacular but physically impossible -- that is, impossible via the laws of physics -- effects, etc etc etc), so I knew what to expect. I went, turned off my brain and had fun.

HOWEVER. Even at that time I did not think I was seeing something "great." A lot of people use the word "epic" to describe these movies and I think that is stretching it - I use the word "epic" to refer to things that have considerably more, well, _gravitas_ than these large, expensive, moving comic books (don't get me wrong, I love comic books).

And so, with that out of the way ... I guess my confusion is not so much about what Lucas has "lost" or "forgotten" as about what he ever had to begin with. For example, I agree that Jar Jar is intensely annoying, but I found C3PO annoying, too, in a kind of "less nefarious Dr. Smith" kind of way.

I'd say the big problem with this film is that it is completely unfocused: unfocused story, unfocused acting (good lord, the acting), unfocused visuals): it just keeps throwing brightly colored, ill-thought-out stuff at you and expecting _that alone_ to keep you entertained. Several fine actors are completely and utterly wasted. Most "epics" have at least one character you can follow and care about - do we really care about any of these people? My own answer is no, and the reason I do not care is that I have no idea what makes any of them tick, what drives any of them. It isn't really the actors' faults, because they are given nothing memorable to do (apart from the brightly colored crap with light sabers and so on) and very little memorable to say. Did any of what transpired in this film come as a surprise? as a revelation of character? This is the complete triumph of spectacle (in an Aristotelean sense) over any other of the six dramatic elements: no plot, no character, no diction, no thought, no music.

I'm being somewhat hyperbolic there. Of course there is a plot. A plot ... exists. It's just that here -- as with the other items in that list -- we don't care about it, because it is not made to be intrinsically interesting. The point here is simply the brightly colored crap. Again and again and again and again and again. It is supposed to entertain the kids and keep them quiet, not make them ask questions, for gosh sake.

2+5: Missione Hydra

dreadful, but fun dreadful
When you are a science-savvy person, watching science fiction films is often a painful experience: whether it is completely unrealistic (but in a way dramatically understandable) gaffes like loud roaring sound effects in the vacuum of outer space, or the unbelievable idiocy of people who think "backup engines" are there to make a rocket go, well, back up ... one just never knows what offenses filmmakers will slap up on screen.

Unfortunately, there is little one can do to prepare for something like _Star Pilot_, or however one wants to reference this particular Italian "science fiction" mess. The creators of this thing not only did not have a scientifically literate person on set, they all seem to have skipped every science class that was offered in their school careers! Other reviewers have pointed out the film's startling revelation that -- contrary to what science tells us -- it is actually quite comfortable beyond the confines of any planetary atmosphere whatever, and you can just twirl around between spaceships without the benefit of a helmet or any other bulky garb. Truly amazing. I was also amazed to note that when "Bellsy" was out in the balmy vacuum repairing the ship's antenna, gravity just seemed to switch on and off without warning - since the damaged antenna he removed visibly fell down and out of sight, no matter how much bouncing around (on a trampoline, apparently) Bellsy did himself!

I could go on forever. I could cite the space chart / screen two characters stared at that appeared to have standard N-E-W-S compass directions on it. Future generations of Cub Scouts will no doubt be relieved to know that there is a North in outer space, and that their compasses will work.

And yet ... this film is so stupid on so many levels (despite pretensions to ... uh, something at the end) that it manages to be quite entertaining at times. It's THAT kind of bad. It would have made a good MST3K target. It's garish, incomprehensible, nonsensical, giddy, idiotic. Furthermore, some of the actors make okay eye candy, if you are into that kind of thing. "Leontine" alone is worth the price of admission, as she is some kind of cross between Angelina Jolie, Barbarella-era Jane Fonda, and something I can't quite name. Her costumes made me believe that Western culture does indeed have a basement, a hard rock floor beyond which nothing can possibly go. And yet ... no matter how often I wanted to turn away, I just ... could not.

Shadow of the Vampire

Well, sure, I can see how ... huh??
I should preface my comments by saying that I tend towards film snobbery. I -- yes, shudder -- _like_ artsy stuff. I enjoy films others find impossible to endure. And yet, when I ejected the disc of _Shadow of the Vampire_ last night, all I could think was that I had just watched a film that was far too artsy (whatever that means) for its own good ...

Or maybe it wasn't artsy enough. A few people have mentioned the "wandering accents" from some of the actors. I must admit that I wondered as I watched this film "come on, do German people speak with German accents when they are speaking German?" I mean, I assumed we were to assume the characters were "really" speaking their own language. To have an English language film about German characters in their own milieu _but with German accents_ feels a bit dunderheaded (Udo Kier, of course, is exempt here). Why any accents at all?

My overall opinion is that the film strains hard for effect and fails badly, partly because of the evident strain. Perhaps the ground-level problem is that the basic "what if?" of the film is essentially a character-based one, a "what if?" that can really only engage and affect the viewer if the characters involved are three-dimensional or (and here I shudder) realistic. "What if" you were an actor in a film about vampires and found out that the lead vampire really was a vampire? "What if" you were an obsessed director who had made a deal with that creature in order to deliver a film? The premise all but demands that the script, production and actors let us get close to these characters, and yet because of the artsiness, the self-consciousness, we are constantly pushed away and know nothing about them, and don't care (well, I didn't) when they die. The actors push hard at times (Malkovich especially) but it feels like Master Thespian-styled ACTING! rather than anything that has its source in the script and the scenes.

_Shadow of the Vampire_ also suffers because, with the film-about-a-film nature of the project, one can't help but compare the film one is watching with the film it is ostensibly about: a comparison in which _Shadow_ suffers.

_Shadow_ has a wonderful premise, a lot of visual beauty, a couple of very good performances (one can't get away from Willem Dafoe here, and I thought Udo Kier was fine in this film) and ambition. These are all things I admire. I may need to watch this one again, because if nothing else it has made me think. BUT (and this is a big but) I have a hard time getting past a scene where an already-intensely-strange-seeming person grabs a small animal (a bat?), half-eats it or sucks its blood, all while his companions just sort of sit there and stare, then mutter "what an actor!"

They _couldn't_ get up, couldn't scream. The script wouldn't let them. I felt their pain (or thought I did), but I felt the pain of the actors, not the characters.


has some issues, but solid and enjoyable - SPOILERS
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!!! DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN'T WATCHED THE FILM. SPOILERS!!! I got this for a number of reasons: I have enjoyed many of Stuart Gordon's Lovecraft outings; I'd seen a snippet of video from it online and it looked good-n-atmospheric; and I'd heard about a notorious gore scene. :^) I am sorry, I know it's crude but I can't help this last - I'm a sucker for prosthetic effects, having been warped by Carpenter's /The Thing/.

This is really a fine film. The first time I watched it I was a bit underwhelmed and found the ending unsatisfying (the gore scene, on the other hand, was WELL worth the price of admission!). I watched it again with the DVD commentary on and found a lot more to enjoy. This is carefully crafted stuff, with dozens (probably hundreds or more) of nice touches that make it a self-contained little cinematic world. I am especially fond of some of the Spanish actors: Paco Rabal (of course - even given the comprehensibility problems), Ferran Lahoz (awesome, creepy), Macarena Gómez, and José Lifante (he plays the hotel desk clerk - only on screen for a few minutes but he's fabulous).

The faults you've read about are there, of course - Rabal /is/ difficult to understand (but see below), the CGI runs to the unconvincing, not everyone appreciates Ezra Godden's performance (I've got no problems with it, but ...) and so on. Oddly enough, however, the main question hanging over my head after I watched it the 2nd time was: "okay, so Paul has these gill-shaped welts up and down the sides of his stomach, and no one ever says 'say, Paul, uh, what happened to you here?'" It wasn't until I watched the 2nd time that I noticed you get sly hints of Paul's "gills" in the opening sequence on the boat. Perhaps this is assumed to have been addressed in the past, I don't know.

Now, that gore scene ...

The sacrifice scene really is darned near unwatchable. The effect is superb and Gordon mounts it wonderfully, shying away from not a damned thing. However, my chief kudos for making this piece a shining example of excruciating cinema must go to the actors involved. Lahoz does the awful deed just right, and Paco Rabal ... well, folks, without such a fine actor (say what you will about his enunciation of English) doing the suffering for you, this scene would just not have been what it undeniably is. I recall "Psychotronic" guy Michael Weldon saying of the early gore classic /Blood Feast/ something along the lines of "if the acting had been as good as the effects it would have been impossible to watch." And now we can see graphically (ahem) what he meant. Great stuff (I am afraid I am coming off a trifle disturbed).

This film should be a treat for fans of Lovecraft, Stuart Gordon, gore f/x, what have you. Worth digging into.

The Last House on the Left

"masterwork" is an overused word
There are certainly effective moments and even sequences in LHOTL, but I really think words like "masterwork" and "masterpiece" and so on are overused -- sort of like the standing ovation.

The extreme violence in this film was nothing really new. It's hard for me to believe that Craven and Cunningham were unaware of Herschel Gordon Lewis, who had been marketing intestine-yankers like /Blood Feast/ to rural drive-ins since the early 60s. If LHOTL goes beyond Lewis and other exploitation filmmakers, it is in the relative realism of the performances: David A. Hess is far more believable (and scarier) than anyone in /Blood Feast/. I believe it was "Psychotronic" magazine's Michael Weldon who said of the Lewis film "if the acting had been as good as the effects it would have been impossible to watch."

In the end, /Last House/ is a cut above most exploitation movies, but it is still very much of that family: the humor is awkward, the exposition sometimes nonsensical and crude, and everyone in the movie looks as though they are covered with a thin film of lubricant. But then the 70s were an ugly, ugly decade.

When Worlds Collide

how white was my future?
I read Wylie and Balmer's novels (there was a sequel, /After Worlds Collide/, as well) when I was young and thought they were great, but had only ever heard about the movie.

Whooooo-eeee. I suppose I knew I was in trouble from the first frame, which showed an ornate-to-the-point-of-tacky and enormous HOLY BIBLE opening, and a voice intoning ... well, I forget what: the rest of the movie was even more painful. Really.

I'm an amateur astronomer, so it's difficult for me to be fair to the science in Hollywood movies, but this one was more than usually inept. The characters kept referring to the body Bellus as a "star," when it is quite obviously a planet. No attention is paid to realistic units of time or space. The wonderful spaceship on which a few dozen humans escape at the end has a gas gauge exactly like an automobile's! There is no attempt to determine whether the planet Zyra (to which these humans escape) has a breathable atmosphere, even though this could have been done quite easily from an enormous distance: the humans simply decide to point their rocket at Zyra, land, and start breathing.

I could forgive some of the science stuff if the main sub-plot had not been a horrible re-tread of the "two men, one woman" thing that Hollywood has thrown us in a hundred cheap guises.

Finally, you will never see a better reminder of just how Caucasian America in the 50s was. There isn't a face in the seats of that spacecraft, nor in the much larger group who work on the spacecraft, that isn't white white white white white. At the end, as the very white survivors of the human race stare off into a colorful cartoon landscape and tacky angelic music plays, you might wish for another rogue planet to come along and target Zyra ... because it's quite obvious this brave new world has nothing in its future but Wal-Mart and strip malls.

Perhaps the upcoming remake will correct the racial balance of the story. Given the director on that project, however, I don't hold out much hope in other areas.

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?

I have to disagree with most of you - I love this movie
I'm not sure how to articulate it ... I guess most of the commenters here would accuse me of simply having poor taste! ... but I have a real soft spot for this film. Yes, there is plenty that is "wrong" with it on a technical level, I guess, and no, there are no "stars" in it. And so on.

Perhaps it's simply that today you just /can't/ find films with this kind of ... cough, innocence. And no, I don't mean "innocence of basic film-making techniques," either, smartass. What I mean is you either can't find, or would spend a great deal of time looking for, another movie that is so obviously set a world apart from the financed-out-the-wazoo, massaged, plastic, Fun Factory-d, corporate "have your girl call my girl" and above all SAFE world of H-wood today. I don't say this only because Ray Dennis Steckler has pretty much confirmed his contempt for Hollywood in interviews (though that has endeared him to me even more).

Plus for gosh sake Steckler was 24 years old when he made it (on a shoestring). Relax and have fun. I'd much rather watch this a 10th or 20th time than ever subject myself again to a Robert Zemeckis "film." I just kinda picked 8 stars at random. The whole rating system falls apart for me here.

Invaders from Mars

scattered moments of cool
I had long wanted to see this film. I endured the 80s remake on a first date that ultimately led to a disastrous first marriage, but I didn't hold that against the story! Anyhoo, the entry in the /Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film/ made it sound like this was at least a visual treat ...

... and, to be honest, there are many nice things (pointed out by other reviewers here) to look at. But these do not add up, in my mind, to anything like a satisfying movie -- even given the date.

For one, certain of the visuals are unbearably cheesy. The bubbly, "melted" appearance of the Martian corridors is completely ruined by the fact that the dopey-looking, shambling "mutants" repeatedly brush up against the hanging condoms and make them swing lazily back and forth. And the costumes (zippers included) on the mutants ...! Also, the same little clips of film are repeatedly 3, 4 and even 5 times. Was this supposed to add to the "dreamlike" quality of the film? Given the presence of all that stock footage of tanks (a sure hallmark of a lazy filmmaker), I'd be inclined to say that it was cheapness instead, and a reliance on the audience being too stupid to notice. Final note: that telescope! It looks like a paper towel roll painted white and is way too small for the dome it was in -- not to mention the fact that it was very strange to see an astronomical telescope being used /during the day/ to look at things on the horizon.

The film suffers from a wooden child performance, as well. I'd guess that the fond memories many people have of this movie would mostly dissipate if they were to see it again as adults. Some 50s genre films hold up really well - I don't think this one does.

Pitch Black

all in good fun
I first saw _Pitch Black_ when I worked at SCIFI.COM. Attended a pre-release screening, which was a lot of fun.

The movie was far better than I anticipated. Sure, in some ways it is a rip-off of _Alien_, but then _Alien_ was a rip-off of _It! The Terror From Beyond Space_ (and much more explicitly, too).

Acting is across-the-board solid, though Radha Mitchell has some trouble covering her Aussie accent (it doesn't affect her performance). The effects are good: in a way I have to admire a "little" film that simply processes various scenes in different-colored light -- to suggest the light of different stars -- as a "special effect." :^) I won't say anything about David Twohy's direction except to note that I have a very strong feeling he has a desperate crush on actress Radha Mitchell. The camera quite literally caresses her body, and especially her rear end, in a way that someone (not me) could describe as "near pornographic." Or maybe it's just my liking of short-haired blondes.

That said, there is no nudity in this film. Lots of blood and cussing and nerve wracking suspense, though. You could easily spend 106 minutes in a less entertaining way. _Pitch Black_ has more surprises and unique twists than a half dozen Hollywood films.

Lost Highway

wow, bob, wow
I just watched this and ... damnation. What a film! One thing I love about David Lynch is that, while some of his obsessions (thematic and visual) appear over and over again in his films, he doesn't seem to repeat himself or to be in a rut (as opposed to an artist like, say, Laurie Anderson, who I think made her best statements in the 70s and has been doing the same thing ever since).

Lost Highway features some of the same elements as the later _Mulholland Drive_: the structure that "turns itself inside out," the blonde vs. brunette woman thing ... you'll even notice the trademark red curtains (familiar from M.D. and also _Twin Peaks_) and the white picket fences of _Blue Velvet_.

But there is much here that is unfamiliar and completely terrifying. I'd go so far as to say that David Lynch is the only effective director of the horror film that we have. I just posted a comment on the lousy 1999 remake of William Castle's _House on Haunted Hill_ & lamented there what I saw as Hollywood's complete inability to frighten anyone, any more. I take it back ... in a way. Of course, _Lost Highway_ is not a "genre" horror film, but ... is there anything in _House on Haunted Hill_ that is as terrifying as Robert Blake is in this movie? Not to me.

I may be posting prematurely, since I just finished watching this film for the first time and am still sort of flushed with it. I highly recommend that people who love good film see this one again and again.

House on Haunted Hill

about as scary as muenster cheese slices
This movie will fill a little over an hour and a half, and is fitfully entertaining. Geoffrey Rush is always fun to watch. However ...

... while the 1959 version was not exactly nightmare material, this updating and remake reminds me of a cross between an alternative music video and a video game (_Silent Hill_, anyone?). This is not exactly a surprise since Hollywood seems capable of little else when attempting to make a genre film, especially in the genre of horror.

Although I should be used to this by now (?) it never fails to tick me off: in the past few years there have been numerous remakes of what were for the most part "B" pictures. The remake of _The Haunting_ is a possibly even more disgusting exception: a CGI-lousy remake of a perfectly terrifying and high-class 1963 rendition of a classic horror novel by Shirley Jackson. The "B" remakes, which include this film, _13 Ghosts_ (another William Castle gimmicker) and _House of Wax_ (Paris Hilton counts as CGI, I think) positively destroy the fun spirit of the originals and are absolutely not scary in the slightest. What is the point, apart from moneymaking?

Perhaps it's me. There is one "remake" I absolutely love: John Carpenter's _The Thing_. Perhaps it's that I not only admire the grotesque nature of the images in that film, but the fact that the effects are all prosthetic/mechanical keeps it more ... real somehow. CGI just has a particular "look" to me & that robs from the fright. And CGI used for cheap shock effects will, yes, make me jump but that is not the same thing as really scaring. True fright, which I'm having a difficult time trying to define, I'm sorry, is far more complex.

This remake of _House on Haunted Hill_ has the "head-whipping-around" effects from _Jacob's Ladder_ & _The X-Files_, and actually uses the spotlight-through-big-fans lighting effect (over and over and over) that _Saturday Night Live_ made so popular in its musical spots, etc.

Oh, and there are no characters in this film. Just video game characters. Truly an awful experience, one to inspire even more hatred for the American entertainment machine.

UPDATE: Despite the negativity of the above review, I have to say that director Malone's entry in the _Masters of Horror_ series, "The Fair-Haired Child," is really quite good. See it!

...E tu vivrai nel terrore! L'aldilà

quite stylish, gory, worthwhile
After having heard all the "oh, Fulci is just a hack" comments, I finally got around to watching one of his films. Perhaps it was luck that I chose to start with the one many consider his best: _The Beyond_.

I wound up watching it three times.

OK, OK, OK. This is not _Passion of Joan of Arc_ or anything like that -- but it wasn't meant to be. I found _The Beyond_ to be immensely enjoyable, full of first-rate grue and set pieces, atmospherically shot, and even decently acted. It was a really pleasant surprise.

The expected Fulci gore effects are variable in their believability, ranging from almost-excruciating (the painter character being whipped with chains in the Prologue) to nerve-wracking but (thankfully!) obviously-fake: the scene where tarantulas chew up a man's face in the library mixes shots of real tarantulas with (creepy, sorta) fake ones and a real face with a (very) fake one. When one of the tarantulas pulls off a chunk of the fake nose the skin stretches in a very un-skin-like way. Still, if you are afraid of spiders this scene will probably do what it was supposed to.

My favorite set piece involved a horrified young woman backing away from the frothy wave of acid mixed with blood/flesh pouring off her mother's face as a huge bottle of acid (where did that come from?) empties itself onto her. Only Fulci would do this! Although I overall found the Fabrio Frizzi score effective, there were a couple of times when it definitely had that synth-heavy 80s sound that made me feel as though I was watching a porn film. This is especially true when the music kicks in in the Prologue, after the quicklime is thrown into the painter's face and he starts melting down. One almost expects wah-wah guitar effects to start.

The film is very image heavy and light in the "plot that makes seamless sense" department. There are any number of holes in the story that never seem to be addressed. Not a perfect movie, by any means. But has Hollywood delivered as fun a horror movie as this in the last 30 years?

Everyone Says I Love You

what is it woody has lost -- or is it me?
As fond as I am of Woody Allen, his recent films (to be fair, I have not seen many of them) absolutely drive me up the wall. And none of them has turned me off like _Everyone Says I Love You_.

It has NOTHING to do with the by-now familiar plaint that "oh, Woody _used to be_ so funny." Rather, I am ashamed to admit it is really all about what another (apparently very conservative) poster typed about this film being all about neurotic, upper-crust New Yorkers and their problems.

Me = big capital L Liberal. No problem here with being in love with the Big Apple, either. The thing is, I _live_ in New York. But not on the Upper West Side -- I live out in South Brooklyn, where life can be truly bizarre, just like a movie, but in a completely different way from the way things are in Manhattan. Check the dinner scene in _My Favorite Year_ for details. It's an exaggeration ... but not that big an exaggeration!

Woody began to make me itch and squirm somewhere around the second time I saw _Hannah and Her Sisters_. Clever, yes. Well written and acted, absolutely. But no more something I could remotely relate to than any given episode of "Sex And the City." I fear sometimes that this indicates a limitation in me: that I am unable to stretch as a viewer and identify with characters who are not like me. I don't _think_ this is the case, so what is the problem here? Is it my newly found "class consciousness," my sneaking feeling when I walk through tony neighborhoods in Manhattan in my crummy shoes that I am looked at as "riff-raff" even though I am highly educated, etc? I just don't know!

What it feels like, to me, is that Woody no longer reaches out to speak to anyone but people exactly like him. That leaves me unable to account for the fact that plenty of other people seem to have found this film entertaining, big time. Me, I found it excruciating. There was one line that made me chuckle -- the Alan Alda character saying "Bring me my will, & an eraser."

Otherwise, I found it intensely annoying, off-putting, self-consciously clever, shallow, self-satisfied, smug and dull. Which made me very sad.

The Undertow

i wanted to like this movie
I read the reviews and really wanted to like this little movie; however, a promising idea goes nowhere here, derailed by unbelievable (poorly-drawn) characters and god-awful dialogue. Believe me, I was _not_ expecting _Citizen Kane_, but if a film like this is going to work at all it can't just be thrown together to hang limp on a few showstopper gore effects. A lot of the dialogue (especially that of the ill-fated campers) seems improvised ... and poorly improvised, at that. Furthermore, there is simply no atmosphere. I'm guessing it was for lack of a budget, but the few interior scenes in this movie look like something from a Larry Buchanan effort. There's no sense of terror or dread: just miles of limp talk, then *smack* another head is cracked open.

Hoping the next indie movie I watch has more heart than this one.

The Quatermass Xperiment

Richard Wordsworth is extraordinary
Horror/science fiction films have rarely been singled out for the quality of the acting in them. Over the decades, a couple of "monsters" have been tapped for praise: Fredric March won an Oscar for his turn at Jekyll and Hyde, & Jeff Goldblum was rightly seen as an example of "inspired casting" in David Cronenberg's remake of _The Fly_.

But I think Richard Wordsworth has them both beat.

I enjoy _The Creeping Unknown_ overall, but it is Wordsworth's performance as Victor Caroon that lifts it into the stratosphere for me. I mean, sheesh, _look_ at him! This is an incredibly painful and, yes, passionate portrait of a man whose _body_ is being taken over and is changing into something else, even as he fights to retain possession of it. What might such a battle _feel_ like? Wordsworth lets you know, and in doing so anchors an almost cliché science-fiction "what if ...?" in raw human nerve endings. Watch him battle the frightening desires that overcome him; watch him try to stay ... human. He's first class, and why his career never really took off ...

I am probably all alone on a windswept plain in this, but I think Wordsworth's acting here is as frenzied and solid as that of Klaus Kinski in any of the great movies he did with Werner Herzog. So shoot me! :)

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