bettyconway

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Reviews

Let's Scare Jessica to Death
(1971)

Like A Bad Dream
There's something to be said about these horror films from the 70's. With the studio system dismantled in the 60's, filmmakers were free to experiment and try new things and Let's Scare Jessica To Death is one of those wonderful experiments.

Jessica has just been released from an asylum after a nervous breakdown and she goes on vacation to a secluded town with her husband and friends. There they meet a friendly hippie girl and Jessica is struck with feelings of dread. She's hearing voices, sometimes her own and sometimes other people's. She sees strange women in white dashing through graveyards and all the locals seem really strange. Could she being slipping back into insanity or is there something more sinister afoot.

The best part about this film is how it never gives the audience an easy answer. Jessica could easily have just gone insane or maybe this town really does have a deep, dark secret. We're never given a definitive answer and that makes it all the more creepy. It's best to sit back and let the fantastic atmosphere envelop you.

Mrs. Doubtfire
(1993)

Hilarious and Moving Family Comedy
In the 90's, the divorce rate in America was becoming larger and larger and it made sense to try and tackle a tough issue like this in a way that the whole family could enjoy. Mrs. Doubtfire might just be the best film about divorce since Kramer Vs. Kramer.

In the film, Robin Williams stars at Daniel Hillard, a voice actor whose freewheeling lifestyle angers his straightlaced wife, Miranda. After one extravagant birthday party for his son, Miranda has had enough and decides she wants a divorce. This leaves him with little time for his children thanks to a strict custody agreement, so he poses as an elderly female housekeeper in order to see his children more often.

While Mrs. Doubtfire is often hysterically funny, what sets it apart from being just another man in drag comedy is the enormous amount of heart and real human emotion on display throughout. The filmmakers don't sugarcoat the anger and resentment that goes along with a divorce and how it affects the children in the family. It also doesn't sell out in the end and offer the audience a cheesy, sitcom-ready ending where everything goes back to the way it was. It's refreshing and all the better for it.

Matilda
(1996)

A Perfect Film For The Whole Family
Every person that's born has some sort of special gift, but some might be more special than others. Case in point: Matilda Wormwood who was born with a freakishly genius IQ that goes completely ignored by her trashy family who are more interested in jacking up the prices of crummy used cars and watching TV all day. Matilda spends her days and nights reading alone in her room until she begs her parents to enroll her in school.

Once there, she quickly finds a kindred spirit in her teacher, Miss Honey, who recognizes the brilliant gift Matilda has. It's a shame that the principal, Miss Trunchbull, has a similar view on life as Matilda's horrible parents and enjoys making life as tough as humanly possible for all the children under her care. With the help of Miss Honey and her powers, Matilda sets out to rid the world of authoritarian dictators like Miss Trunchbull.

Matilda is an absolute delight from beginning to end. It's just real enough to be moving and relatable, but heightened enough to serve as a wonderfully wacky fantasy. Danny DeVito is not only wickedly funny as Matilda's father, but he does a terrific job directing the film as well.

The Craft: Legacy
(2020)

Should Have Been Better
A sequel to a film over 20 years old sometimes work as with something like Psycho II. Sometimes, the filmmakers have an important story to tell and a way to expand upon the original, bringing it into a new generation and continuing the story in a smart, thoughtful way. The Craft: Legacy isn't one of these movies.

A young girl moves with her mother to a new town, a new house, and a new school. She's immediately branded on outcast by everyone in her class except for three girls who practice witchcraft. Before long, she's joined their coven because she's a natural and they're casting spells on their fellow classmates to make them better people.

For something branded as a horror film, there's not really any horror at all. There's not really anything even approaching horror. The spells the girls cast don't come with any particularly damaging side effects which leaves the entire film feeling anemic and lacking punch and urgency. For a horror film, that's deadly.

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II
(1987)

The Best of 80's Horror
After the success of Halloween cash in, Prom Night, it's surprising that it took the producers 7 years to consider a follow up. It makes sense considering that film ended rather definitively with the killer's identity revealed and most questions answered. Someone decided that a completely unrelated supernatural horror script might do better business if it cashed in on the Prom Night name and so we get Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II.

Mary Lou, a fun-loving tart of a 50's prom queen gets really upset where her jilted boyfriend accidentally sets her on fire before she can get her tiara and she spends the next few decades fuming until an unassuming religious student named Vicki unleashes her vengeful spirit and it takes over her body, making sure she'll get her tiara this time and that anyone who tries to stop her will die.

The visuals in Hello Mary Lou borrow a lot from the then-current Nightmare on Elm Street series with our heroine undergoing several elaborate daydreams and hallucinations once Mary Lou's spirit tightens her grip on her. Innocent rocking horses turn obscene, severed heads show up in chicken soup, water fountains turn to blood, and Vicki gets trapped in a vollyball net turned huge spider web. It's an enjoyable mix of Nightmare on Elm Street-esque rubber reality moments, Carrie-inspired prom mayhem, and Exorcist-style religious overtones and possession imagery.

Dark Waters
(1993)

Atmospheric, but Narratively Confusing
It's best to walk into Dark Waters knowing that it's going to be an exercise of style over substance. As great and moody as the atmosphere of this movie is, the story itself is murky and hard to pin down. As best as I can tell, it's about a young woman whose father dies and she visits a strange island monestary that her father had been sending money to for years. Once she gets there, she gets the feeling that she's very unwelcome and she might unearth some truths that are better left buried.

One thing Dark Waters gets right is the atmosphere. If I didn't know any better, I'd truly believe this was a film shot in the mid-70's by some Italian horror master. It's beautifully shot with so much attention to detail. It's just a shame that the script didn't seem to have as much thought put into it. At one point, the lead character is attacked by a psychotic nun and she reacts to this as if she's just stubbed her toe. There's no sense of urgency at all. Wouldn't someone who'd just been attacked want to get out of there as soon as possible?

Ready or Not
(2019)

A Good Time
Samara Weaving musters all the charm she has to make for an exciting and smart heroine in Ready or Not - a dark comedy with a good deal of bite. She's not givne much in terms of character development or backstory, so it's to Weaving's credit that her character comes across as well as she does.

She plays a young bride who has just gotten married to the son of a wealthy board game mogul and they have a strange wedding night tradition - a game of hide and seek where the bride must hide and the rest of the family tries to catch her and kill her. Unfortunately for the family, this new bride isn't one to just sit there and take it and she's going to put in the fight of a lifetime.

Ready or Not mixes humor, slasher flick tropes, and old dark house creeps to great effect with wonderful performances and a few funny zingers throughout. It's hard to imagine horror fans not having a good time with this. It offers enough gore to keep them happy while giving more mainstream audiences a good dash of humor to keep things from getting too relentlessly dark.

Scissors
(1991)

Sharon Stone Loses Her Marbles
Before Sharon Stone hit big with Basic Instinct, she made Scissors - another thriller than gave her what was easily her best role at that time. In it, Stone plays a repressed 26 year old virgin who repairs broken dolls and sees a psychiatrist (Ronny Cox) who keeps trying to free her of her repressed childhood memories. Things take a bizarre turn when she's attacked in the elevator by a red headed man with a beard and she stabs him with a pair of scissors. He leaves, but not before taking her purse and keys. She begins living in fear that, one day, he'll return and finish the job.

Enter a kindly actor neighbor and his invalid creep of a brother who both take a liking to our heroine as her mental stability takes a turn. She's eventually called on to interview for a job at a fancy new loft and ends up locked in, further complicating her already fragile mental state.

There's a lot going on in Scissors and most of it doesn't need to be there. The entire subplot with the two brothers could have been dropped completely since the payoff isn't interesting enough to warrant its inclusion in the first place. Stone is good, especially when she finally starts losing her mind. The final twist is far fetched, but does make some sense in the grand scheme of things. It's just a shame that the movie spends so much time on characters and subplots that feel like they're from a different film entirely.

Bordello of Blood
(1996)

More Fun Than Expected
The two Tales From the Crypt movies from the 90's at least got one thing right about the show - the sense of tongue in cheek fun. Bordello of Blood might seem like the kind of movie that's catering to young boys with it's mix of boobs and blood, but the rest of us might find it equally enjoyable if we just leave our expectations at the door and go along for the ride.

The humor is laid on pretty thick here (thicker than Demon Knight) as Dennis Miller's private investigator goes in search of a mega-church worker's brother who was last seen at a bordello (that also operates as a funeral home). Together, they uncover a secret brothel of sexy vampires.

There's a lot of funny material about the rise of mega-churches with Chris Sarandon's overenthusiastic celebrity pastor who broadcasts his church services on TV and is a horrible hypocrite himself. The gore effects are strong and gnarly and, yes, if you're looking for beautiful, bare-breasted women, you've come to the right place. Even better, the pacing of Bordello of Blood is so fast and furious that it's over before you know it, never outstaying its welcome or beating a dead horse for too long.

Judy
(2019)

Not All Rainbows
Renee Zellweger might try her hardest, but she can't overcome the inherent shortcomings of the script she's been handed in Judy. It's a weepy, downbeat, and joyless film to watch as we see legend Judy Garland suffer one career and personal low after another with precious levity in between.

Zellweger commits admirably and even does her own singing in the role, but it never feels like a natural fit and the script does her no favors - flashing back to her days on the MGM lot whenever it feels froggy. Garland, in this film, seems like a miserable person to be around and, for someone unfamiliar with her work, it's hard to tell why she was ever considered such a legend to begin with. We see none of that flair and humor and vulnerability that made her such a shining star to begin with. Perhaps more time with her children would have helped flesh her out a bit more.

As is, Judy is a fairly mundane bio pic that feels more made for TV than the actual made for TV biopic with Judy Davis that, at least, showed a more well rounded version of Garland.

Hustlers
(2019)

Life is A Strip Club
From the moment Jennifer Lopez walks on screen in Hustlers, everyone else might as well pack it in and go home. She oozes charisma, sex appeal, smarts, and charm from her first entrance to her last. This is an actress in her prime who's finally been given something a little meatier and more interesting to sink her teeth into and she doesn't disappoint.

Lopez plays the "old timer" at a strip club where she's still raking in the cash every night (and when you see her act, you'll understand why) who decides to take a younger stripper (Constance Wu) under her wing and teach her the ways of the business. Soon, they've concocted a genius scheme to make more money by drugging Wall Street knuckleheads and using their credit cards to get them extra tips. Of course, this will come with a price.

Both funny and moving, Hustlers is the kind of movie you don't see much of anymore. It's a movie that would have felt more at home in the 70's when movies about interested, but deeply flawed people were more en vogue. Thankfully, everyone involved in the film seems up to make a memorable movie and they do just that. There's a little act 2 sagging here and there, but the film gets back on track and delivers a great, satisfying conclusion.

Silent Madness
(1984)

Maybe It's Better In 3D?
Silent Madness is one of those sad last ditch efforts than came right at the end of the slasher cycle that's depressingly low on creativity or spark. No one involved seems to care much about how the movie will turn out and it gives the entire film a sleepy feeling as if they've given everyone in front of and behind the camera a Xanax.

A mental patient escapes due to some shady behind the scenes dealings at the asylum and returns to a sorority house where he'd murdered a bunch of sorority girls years prior. A idealistic doctor decides to track him down, putting herself in harms way.

It's not a bad idea for a story, but it's told without any style or excitement and every plot twist and development feels telegraphed from the get go. The most interesting thing in the film is Viveca Lindfors more than earning her paycheck as the daffy housemother of the sorority who seems like she might be even more insane than the killer wandering around. She's worth seeing it for and, if you can catch a 3D print of the film, I'm sure that might add a few extra thrills.

Peeping Tom
(1960)

One of the Films That Started It All
I'm remiss to say that last week was the first time I'd ever seen Peeping Tom. As a horror fan, I'd heard about it incessantly throughout the years, but the opportunity to see it never came up. I finally sought it out and I'm not sure if the hype ruined it for me or what, but I found the whole thing a bit underwhelming.

Putting Peeping Tom into the context of the time in which it was made, it's easy to see why it was so controversial. Unlike Psycho, it was shot in color which makes everything more realistic and lurid with the bright red blood really popping off the screen and Peeping Tom even has the added bonus of some light nudity here and there, which I'm sure is what really got it in trouble with the censors.

The film is about your typical, semi-handsome loner who is the landlord for his childhood home which has been converted into apartments. He stays upstairs, watching his home movies that he shoots of him killing random women, focusing on their horrified faces at the moment of impact. Things take a turn when he starts to fall for a young boarder, but will her blind mother cause them some problems?

The main issue I had with Peeping Tom is that the lead character isn't terribly interesting. He's not a charismatic psycho like, say, Norman Bates. I'm not sure if it was the writing or the acting, but it kept me from getting too invested in his plight. Since he's rarely off screen, this was a bit of an issue for me.

It's also a bit on the slower side, pacing wise, and I found myself drifting in and out. It's still worth seeing and the cinematography is outstanding.

The Heidi Chronicles
(1995)

Powerful Story of Human Growth
Jamie Lee Curtis gets a meaty lead role in The Heidi Chronicles, which is based on the hit Broadway play. Curtis plays Heidi, an idealistic child of 60's sexual revolution who ages from a teenager to late 30's career woman by the end. Along the way, she has her heart broken, learns the importance of friendships, and refuses to let anyone dictate how she should run her life.

This should be required viewing for young women everywhere about how you can live you life on your own terms. Just because your friends are getting married, having kids, or getting huge jobs doesn't mean that you have to follow them and be just like them. Things have a way of coming to you when you're ready for them and least expect them.

Curtis is exceptional as Heidi and it's nice to see her headline a true drama and be given something to work with. Many times, she's been typecast as the sexpot, the sassy one, or the woman in danger with a killer scream. She excels at playing an everywoman who just wants to know that she's doing the right things and making a dent in the world.

Tales from the Hood
(1995)

Excellent Anthology
Despite the silly title, Tales From the Hood takes itself pretty seriously. That said, there is a good deal of comedy, but the tales themselves are surprisingly dark and well told with some excellent acting and a handful of unforgettable images.

It all starts when a group of gang members go to a funeral home in the middle of the night without the best of intentions and run into the funeral director (Clarence Williams III at his most hammy) who proceeds to tell them a handful of lurid stories involving all the bodies he's just prepared for burial. These stories deal with police brutality, child/spousal abuse, blood thirsty dolls going after racist politicians, and gang violence.

Tales From the Hood has more on its mind that simple thrills and it takes an admirable shot as hot button issues without ever feeling preachy or obvious. The entire film is effortlessly entertaining from start to finish and there should be a segment for everyone.

All That Heaven Allows
(1955)

Predictable, But Incredibly Well Made
The story for All That Heaven Allows might not be any special or that you haven't seen before, but Douglas Sirk gives the film such great style that you almost forget you're watching something that's fairly safe and by the numbers.

The film centers around a widow who starts dating an incredibly handsome (shock!) gardener which seems to infuriate both her children and the people in her small town who immediately believe that they started having an affair before her husband died.

The story is melodrama at its finest and both Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson giving strong leading performances even if the story itself is sort of silly.

The real star here is Douglas Sirk's stellar direction. He turns this town into a Technicolor paradise.

Poltergeist II: The Other Side
(1986)

They're Back
Those poor Freelings just can't seem to shake those pesky ghosts. This time, the ghosts seem to be personified by the evil Reverend Kane (Julian Beck in a terrifying tour de force performance) who wants Carol Ann back so that she can use her infinite goodness to lead everyone into "the light."

Besides the far too few appearances of the terrifying Kane, Poltergiest II: The Other Side is a mostly goofy affair with fun special effects, but not much else to offer. The cast is still just as likable as ever, but there's not much for them to do besides stand up against a blue screen and have Industrial Lights and Magic do all the work for them.

It's still worth seeing for Beck's chilling performance.

Hiding Out
(1987)

Charming 80's Comedy
Jon Cryer might seem a bit too young to be playing a 30-something, but thanks to his charm, he pulls it off in this pretty decent 80's comedy about a stock broker who hides out in his hometown under a new identity and has to pretend to be a high schooler in order to escape the mob.

It's a goofy, far fetched story, but with the trademark 80's charm, it kinda works. Annabeth Gish and Keith Coogan offer Cryer nice support and the finale gets pretty exciting. Also, look out for a young Joy Behar as a sassy waitress.

Bride of Chucky
(1998)

My Favorite Chucky
Filled to the brim with style and laughs, Bride of Chucky is a highlight of the Child's Play franchise. The addition of Jennifer Tilly as Tiffany, Chucky's bride, adds a delicious layer of camp to the film which makes it endlessly watchable. Katherine Heigl and Nick Stabile are great and likable as the teen lovers and Alexis Aquette gets a fun cameo as a Marilyn Manson-esque weirdo.

Director Ronny Yu keeps the pace moving and a lot of his shot compositions are quite striking. For the 4th entry in a well worn franchise, it's nice to see there's still a little spark and creativity left.

Jawbreaker
(1999)

Not Quite Heathers, But Fun All the Same
It's clear that the creators of Jawbreaker worship at the altar of Heathers. And who wouldn't? However, Jawbreaker is less social satire (anything it's trying to satirize has been satirized before) and more of a story about unchecked power and teenage sociopathy.

Rose McGowan is excellent as the leader of a mean girls pack who accidentally kill their friend on her birthday. Instead of doing the responsible thing and telling everyone (and possibly being tried for manslaughter), they agree to cover it up and make it seem as if their friend died under less savory conditions. It doesn't help that a nerdy girl witnesses the whole thing and they decide to make her over and become one of them so she'll shut her mouth. But will she stay quiet? Will Pam Grier's detective find out the truth?

Jawbreaker is zippy and fun, not spending much time on nuance or intense character development and that might be for the best. It's certainly never boring. All the actors are excellent and seem to be having the time of their lives. It's nice to see cameos from people like Pam Grier, Carol Kane, Jeff Conway, P.J. Soles, and William Katt.

Dèmoni
(1985)

Turn Off Your Brain and Have Fun
Lamberto Bava's Demons isn't a narrative masterpiece. The story itself is pretty simple - a group of unsuspecting sneak preview attendees find themselves trapped in a movie theater as demons from the film they're watching leap from the screen and turn everyone into blood thirsty ghouls.

On paper, Demons isn't anything more than your average zombie flick, but Bava gives the film such wonderful style and flair that it becomes quite a memorable experience, even becoming incredibly nightmarish in places.

Demons boasts great makeup effects, gore, soundtrack, lighting, and production design, but the acting and writing is about what you'd expect from a dubbed Italian splatter film, so if that's what you're interested in, you might want to go elsewhere. Fans of films like Suspiria might really enjoy this one.

The Last Horror Film
(1982)

Quirky Horror Satire
Joe Spinell and Caroline Munro reunite after their pairing in the unforgettable Maniac with The Last Horror Film (known in some territories as Fanatic). While both films center around Spinell playing a greasy NYC weirdo stalking Munro, the tone of both films couldn't be more different.

Maniac was pure early 80's NYC grit and grime and had a general unpleasant feel whereas The Last Horror Film feels more like the cast and crew got drunk or high for a few weeks and improvised something for fun. This isn't a bad thing either. The Last Horror Film is way more fun to watch than Maniac.

The film features a NYC cab driver with big dreams of being a major film director who develops an obsessions with a horror film actress and then follows her to the Cannes Film Festival to persuade her to be in his next film. There's also some madman following her with a camera and killing everyone she's close to. Could it be the bizarre wannabe director or is it someone else?

The Cannes backdrop is unique to slasherdom and provides a fun location for terror and bloodshed. Even funnier, Munro's character - a horror movie scream queen - is up for Best Actress at the festival alongside Meryl Streep, Jane Fonda, and Faye Dunaway. Ah, in a perfect world....

If you're looking for something similar to Maniac, you might want to look elsewhere, but if you're ready to have a good time, The Last Horror Film might be more your speed.

Greta
(2018)

Worht Seeing For Huppert
Isabelle Huppert steals the show at the titular Greta, but the rest of the film isn't quite up to her performance. She's clearly giving her all, but the story rarely has the guts to become something truly unforgettable and stays in most rote Lifetime movie of the week territory (with a larger budget obviously).

It doesn't help that Chloe Moretz seems a tad miscast as our heroine, Frances. She's not quite appealing enough to make us fall for Frances' naive charms. Maika Monroe does wonderful, charming work as Frances best friend and makes one wish they'd switched roles.

There are a few well executed suspense sequences here and there, but besides those and Huppert's performance, it's mostly by the book. It's still entertaining and well-told, but it's nothing anyone should rush out to see. I can see it become a staple of late night cable TV in the years to come.

It Follows
(2014)

Refreshingly Spooky Horror Movie
When was the last time you saw a horror film that didn't need to rely on gore, big name stars, explosions, etc. to keep its audience entertained? It Follows goes by an old school approach of less is more. Half the time, we're not even sure if there's anything threatening in the frame, but we sure feel like there is.

It Follows tells the story of Jay, a typical American teen, who falls for a boy, they have sex, he knocks her out, and she wakes up in an abandoned building where the boy tells her that he's passed a disease on to her. Oh, but this is no ordinary STD - this one carries a death sentence unless she passes it on before it gets her. Pretty soon, she begins to be followed by many different types of people who are the death curse in disguise.

A killer STD is a sort of silly idea for a horror film, but It Follows takes it very seriously and it gets by due to a heavy atmosphere of dread and tension. The score by Disasterpiece helps a lot in conjuring a creepy mood as does the excellent cinematography that calls to mind early John Carpenter.

It Follows is practically perfect for the first half of the film, but it does have a few pacing issues by the middle of the film where the ages old "exposition" aspect starts going. The characters are also not the most well drawn or nuanced, which hurts a bit of the well crafted tension the film has worked so hard to create. Still, the film manages to work in spite of this.

It Follows is an indie film that deserves your attention.

The Prowler
(1981)

Great Effects in A So-So Story
The Prowler features some of the best effects of Tom Savini's career. Truly, these are nasty, disgusting effects that seem so realistic that you'll want to look away. With that out of the way, it's time to admit that The Prowler, as a film, isn't so hot.

The story itself isn't bad. It follows the classic slasher guidelines and even shares a lot of ideas and themes with My Bloody Valentine. For the first act, it works quite well - the pacing is good, the actors are decent, there's some suspense - and then, it slows to a crawl for the rest of the film until the finale.

It's a shame, too, because The Prowler has all the makings of a top tier slasher (many believe it is), but that pesky middle section sure does try one's patience. It's nothing but characters wandering around old houses and trying to find clues with the infrequent murder thrown in.

Stay for the effects work, but don't expect a gripping masterpiece of suspense.

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