Coventry

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Reviews

Give Us Tomorrow
(1978)

Give us tomorrow? Give us a break!
"Give us Tomorrow" is quite a theatrical and exaggeratedly dramatic title for what basically just is a cheap, sleazy and uninspired hostage thriller/exploitation effort. Two masked men invade the upper-class suburban mansion of a bank director and keep his family hostage, while their accomplices rob the bank. The heist goes awry, an employee gets killed and within the chaos the robbers "forget" to inform their buddies that the heist is finished. Hence, the two remain stuck in the house while the police surrounds the house and escape becomes impossible. I usually love British horror/exploitation cinema from the 70s, but you'll have to admit that Italians and Americans simply dealt with these themes a lot better. Everything in "Give us Tomorrow" feels forced, implausible and fake. The supposedly innocent 16-year-old daughter turns into an unscrupulous nympho in the blink of an eye, the young hostage taker is naïve and clueless, the uptight mother revolts against the vulgar lead-kidnapper Ron, the idiot son is obsessed with guns, etc... It's all very cliched and predictable, to be honest. The film then becomes unintentionally funny because, even though he ought to realize that his situation is hopeless, Ron gets more relaxed and even comfortably sits down with a beer to watch horse racing on television. Still, I'm happy to state that "Give us Tomorrow" never gets dull or intolerably dumb. Derren Nesbitt gives a stellar performance as the chauvinistic kidnapper-pig and Donna Evans, although a woeful actress, look extremely hot and sexy in her girl-school uniform (as well as without). She also seemed to realize acting wasn't her greatest talent, so she became an extremely successful stunt-double with many famous titles on her resume.

Audrey Rose
(1977)

About reincarnation. That's it...
I once read in a review that "Audrey Rose" marked director Robert Wise's return to the horror genre after a good fifteen years. Although admittedly I always found it difficult to believe that one and the same director was responsible for opposite landmarks like "The Haunting" vs. "The Sound of Music", or "The Day the Earth Stood Still" vs. "West Side Story", this particular film is certainly NOT horror. "Audrey Rose" is a harrowing family drama (and abruptly even turns into a sort of courtroom drama) with a few supernatural and eerie edges, but I'm convinced it never was Mr. Wise's intention to aim cheap scares or gratuitous shocks. Evidently, it's easy to see why this film mistakably gets categorized as horror. Throughout the 1970s, quite many horror (semi-) classics dealt with demonic, possessed or supernaturally gifted children, like "The Exorcist", "The Omen", "Carrie" and not to mention their countless imitations. "Audrey Rose" seems to fit right in, but this tale revolves around reincarnation instead. Little Ivy Templeton is allegedly the reincarnation of the 5-year-old Audrey Rose Hoover who tragically died in a car accident at the exact same time that Ivy was born. Her eternally grieving father Elliot (Anthony Hopkins) desperately tries to persuade parents Bill and Janice Templeton that their daughter is, in fact, his daughter. Mother Janice slowly realizes this would explain the horrible nightmares Ivy suffers from, because the poor girl re-experiences her own death every night, but father Bill stubbornly wants Elliot Hoover out of their lives, even if via a courtroom order. I can write many things about "Audrey Rose", but not that it was a pleasant viewing experience. The reincarnation-philosophy isn't something I believe in, personally, but the film also doesn't necessarily undertake a noteworthy effort to convince the viewer about the possibility hereof. However, being the father of a 4-year-old daughter myself, I found it very confronting and uncomfortable to repeatedly witness Audrey Rose's horrendous death-struggle. Also, I thought the "fatherly" methods that Elliot Hoover uses to supposedly calm down his daughter rather brutal, since he practically yells at her as if she was a dog. The ending is terribly misjudged, and underlines even more that "Audrey Rose" is an empty bubble and an unpleasant film.

Lights Out
(2016)

You *might* be sleeping with the lights on tonight...
If you want to make it in Hollywood's horror industry nowadays, you have to make a scarily good short movie with one terrific idea and a handful of spooky images, and then simply hope that it'll go viral on the internet. If it works, influential producers will undoubtedly offer you a big sum of money to turn the short into a full-feature film and, with a bit of luck, your career is launched. It worked for Andy Muschietti with "Mama", and now he's helming the massively popular "It" remakes. It even worked for James Wan in 2003 already, with "Saw", and he's now so successful that he can act as influential producer to launch the careers of new arrivals, like he did for David F. Sandberg and his splendid "Lights Out".

I'm honestly happy to state that "Lights Out" is - at least in my own personal and humble opinion - the first mainstream horror movie in a very long time that is truly good and genuinely frightening. As cliched as it might sound, "Lights Out" is the type of fresh new film that restores hope and faith in in the horror genre for old and narrowly cynical fans like myself. The story is simple but highly effective, the lead characters are sympathetic and identifiable for a change, and the special effects (or even the lack thereof) definitely rank the most unnerving ones of the decade. Yes, it's another tale of an eerie ghost terrorizing a poor family, and admittedly several of the jump-scare moments are foreseeable, but the Diana character is authentically nightmarish and for me it was quite exceptional that I hoped for all these likable lead characters to survive instead of to die a quick & painfully.

Mark il poliziotto spara per primo
(1975)

Mark shoots first, which is probably why he doesn't solve many cases...
Well, the title certainly doesn't lie... There are at least 2 or 3 instances in the film where Commissioner Mark Terzi bluntly guns down a suspect rather than arresting or lightly wounding them, which easily could have been the other option. If he had made the arrests instead, the crime cases Mark was working on perhaps would have been solved much quicker. But hey, then it naturally wouldn't have been a genuine Italian Poliziotesschi!

Apart from this minor footnote, I actually regret admitting that I found "Mark Shoots First" a rather disappointing and thoroughly unmemorable sequel. The first film, "Mark il Poliziotto", was an unexpected but tremendously pleasant surprise. Although reasonably obscure and unknown today, it must have been successful at the Italian box office in 1975, because it spawned two sequels in a period of barely one year. Number two, however, isn't half as compelling or stylish as the original film. The plot comes across as chaotic, unstructured and utterly implausible, as the storyline of a serial sniper killer overlaps with that of corrupt businessmen and organized crime networks. Mark Terzi moves from Milan to Genova to solve two cases; - the bizarre murder of bride (fantastic opening sequence, by the way) and the kidnapping of a wealthy businessman. Mark finds the latter very quick, but he turns out to be his powerful enemy Benzi from the previous film. Apparently the serial killer, calling himself The Sphinx, is after Benzi too, but I never fully figured out why the poor bride had to die. "Mark Shoots First" contains a couple of exhilarating car chases and tense showdowns (including in a theater were "La Polizia ha le Mani Legate" is playing) but it's much less spectacular than what I'm used of seeing from Stelvio Massi. Also, I didn't see the added value of Terzi having a St Bernard dog and still can't believe that Elly Galleani kept her clothes on the entire time!

Wolves at the Door
(2016)

Like the actual Manson Family murders, this film is cruel, meaningless and disgusting...
In the Trivia-section for this film I read - and I quote - "Loosely based on the Manson family murders in the late 1960s". "Loosely", are they serious? That's like stating "Saving Private Ryan" is loosely based on World War II. "Wolves at the Door" EXACTLY attempts to re-enact the events of the fatal night of 9th of August 1969, including the usage of the victims' real names (Shannon Tate and the four others) and horrific but accurate little details (like the writing of the word "pig" in blood on the wall). Heck, the film even ends with actual footage of Charles Manson and a written description of the murderers' trials, so "loosely based" quite isn't an appropriate term to use here. Now, I certainly don't have anything against thriller/horror movies based on factual murder cases, but "Wolves at the Door" is really, really poor. John R. Leonetti, also the director of the mediocre-at-best "Annabelle", doesn't undertake the slightest effort to create atmosphere, generate tension or bring depth to the lead characters. Particularly this last default is horrendous, because it displays a serious lack of respect for the victims and the families they left behind. If you are going to use their real names, don't raise the impression they simply were whiny, spoiled and empty-headed slasher-movie stereotypes. Or at least have the decency to display the murders a bit more subtle instead of exploitative, for the relatives' sake.

Before I Go to Sleep
(2014)

Kidding around with Mrs. Kidman
In my beloved home country - the beautiful Belgium - there's a channel that is officially named Five-TV, but it's commonly known as "Wife-TV" because it's exclusively targeted at women aged 15-65. All day long they air shows like "Sex and the City" and "Grey's Anatomy", and the movies they program are either feelgood romantic comedies or heart-breaking TV-movies inspired by true stories. Once every two months or so, Wife-TV also programs thrillers/wannabe horror movies, but of course only if the female lead is a famous and respectable Hollywood actress. Since my own darling wife is a fan of this particular TV-channel, I already had the pleasure of watching stuff like "The Premonition" (starring Sandra Bullock), "The Forgotten" (starring Julianne Moore) and "Gothika" (starring Halle Berry", and last weekend it was Nicole Kidman's turn with the kitchen-bedroom thriller "Before I go to Sleep".

Mrs. Kidman depicts the 40-something Christine who suffers from a dreadfully annoying condition. Every morning she wakes up not knowing who she is, who the man next to her in bed is, or what happened in her entire life thus far. Each day, her loving and caring husband Ben (Colin Firth) has to calm the hysterical Christine down and re-explain to her they are married since several years and that she lost her whole memory due to a terrible accident. Thanks to a secret therapist and a tape recorder, however, Christine gradually discovers more about herself, as well as about Ben and the so-called accident which actually was a brutally aggressive attack in a hotel room.

The plot is incredibly far-fetched and quite implausible (I can't picture myself anyone who could or would want to live like this) but I'm also not too ashamed to admit that "Before I go to Sleep" remains reasonably entertaining and compelling throughout the entire running time. This is definitely thanks to the engaged performances of Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth, with strong support from Mark Strong and Anne-Marie Duff. It's a small but very professional cast, to say the least, and Mrs. Kidman is obviously very familiar with this sort of troubled and mentally tormented characters. The plot comes across as predictable and derivative, but it does have a very surprising and unforeseeable plot-twist in store at the end; - one that I certainly appreciated being a fan of mysteries, whodunits and Gialli.

Maltese - Il Romanzo del Commissario
(2017)

There exists no such thing as "mafia" in Sicily...
It's been several long years since I've seen a gritty realistic and genuinely good Sicilian mafia epos, hence I was really enthusiast when finding out about the "Maltese" mini-series! Also, the series is set in the year 1976, which incidentally means that it features all the trademarks of my beloved and utmost favorite Poliziotesschi genre, namely: rough macho cop-protagonists with mustaches, savage car chases with fragile Alfa Romeo Giulias and exaggeratedly heavy smoking in concealed spaces! Add to this a fantastic contemporary soundtrack, a compelling plot, strong performances and per episode a few bits of harsh violence, and you've got yourself an absolute must of a euro-crime series.

Roman police commissioner Dario Maltese travels back to his hometown Trapani, in Sicily, to attend the wedding of his oldest friend who's the head of local police. Dario left Trapani when he was sixteen, following the suicide of his father (again, a police commissioner) who got involved in a sex-scandal with a minor. Barely arrived in Trapani, Dario's friend and his fiance are brutally executed in their car. Maltese discovers that his friend was attempting to clean up the mafia practices in Trapani and began to make good progress. Fed up trying to run from his past, Maltese promptly arranges his permanent transfer to Trapani to continue his friend's work and capture his assailants. Needless to say, Maltese rapidly runs into typical mafia obstructions, like utterly corrupt authority figures, key-witnesses getting murdered, money laundering and cover-ups. His persistence as well as his unorthodox methods are nevertheless successful, as he manages to revitalize the team of fatigue inspectors and even uncover some dark secrets surrounding the death of his own father.

The first episode of "Maltese" is extremely powerful and immediately establishes that we are dealing with an intelligent and qualitative series here. Admittedly, the next 3-4 episodes are slightly less absorbing and memorable, but for comprehensible reasons. The plot is thickening, Commissioner Maltese faces dead ends or useless leads in his investigation and there naturally also are the mandatory sub plots, like the romance with the beautiful press photographer. The last three episodes, however, are so suspenseful and fast-paced that I bench-watched them without interruptions. The coastal filming locations are astounding, and likewise are the performances of the entire cast. Throughout the series, there's quite a lot violent content, like stone-cold executions, but evidently several eminent characters in Trapani continue claiming that the Sicilian Mafia is nothing but a fable. Great stuff, highly recommended if you are into Italian exploitation cinema of the 70s (Umberto Lenzi, Stelvio Massi, Fernando Di Leo, ...)

Die Sister, Die!
(1978)

Die, live, whatever! Just do something, Sister!
Like most people, I reckon, I got enticed by this film's awesome-sounding title as well as by the sinister poster image (yes, the one with the arms coming out of concrete walls and the creepy old mansion in the background). But then - and also like most people, I presume - the disillusion quickly became apparent, because "Die Sister, Die" simply is an extremely slow-paced, dull, cheap and unsurprising little mystery/thriller! Usually I love low-budgeted exploitation movies of the 70s, as they are often grim and shockingly nihilistic, but unfortunately this one isn't. "Die Sister, Die" starts slow and uninvolving and remains that way throughout. The only somewhat noteworthy moments are the rants of lead protagonist Edward Price (Jack Ging), in which he frustratedly complains how badly he wants his sister's suicide attempts to succeed for a change! And so, Edward hires a private nurse for the completely wrong reasons, namely to ensure that Amanda dies so that he can inherit the family estate and fortune. Instead, however, nurse Esther stumbles upon a few dark family secrets where Edward and Amanda were both involved in. There's hardly any suspense or creepy imagery, except during one dream/hallucination sequence and a brief shot in the finale. The rest of the film exists of endless dialogues in which the characters keep repeating the same things. The production values are poor; - even poorer than most contemporary made-for-TV thrillers, and this probably also explains why the film spend several years in the post-production phase. The director didn't even live long enough to see the release of his work.

Kraftidioten
(2014)

Norwegian Native Art!
Warning/disclaimer: you are not likely to find a very objective review here. The author is tremendously biased because he loves everything that has to do with Scandinavian countries; - and Norway in particular. He loves the country, the people, the language, the culture and most notably everything they did in the domain of cinema and television. When he found out about a vigilante/revenge thriller set in the snowiest regions of Norway, the high rating and favorable comments already were as good as established...

Still, even when trying to remain skeptical, I can't find anything negative to write about "Kraftidioten", a.k.a. "In Order of Disappearance". The plot may be simplistic and quite derivative, but this gets massively compensated for via the sober atmosphere, the stoic tone of narration, the subtle dry humor, the genius character drawings, the astounding filming locations, ... Let's see, what else is great? Oh yes, the phenomenal performances of the ensemble cast, with Stellan Skarsgard in the lead. Nils Dickman, a calm and introvert plow driver with an unfortunate last name, has just been awarded with the title of "Citizen of the Year" in his quiet and peaceful community. But then tragedy strikes, as his 19-year-old son Ingvar is murdered - by mistake, in fact - by the local drug cartel. Since they made it look like a simple overdose, Nils is the only person (including his wife) who believes Ingvar's death wasn't accidental and sets out to avenge his son. Rather amateurishly but efficient, Nils begins at the bottom of cartel's hierarchy ladder and works his way up. The killing Nils does unwillingly ignite a gang war between the Norwegian drug lord and their Serbian associates.

Admittedly, we've all seen this plot numerous times before, but the simple fact that it's Norwegian makes it unique and refreshing! Also, writer/director Hans Petter Moland adds a few splendid little gimmicks, like displaying the name (and nickname) of each newly deceased person on a black screen with a cross. "Kraftidioten" is also really, really funny in case you like your humor pitch black and dry as the desert. Personally, I laughed very loud with the dialogue about snow and bad weather being the reasons for a country's prosperity. That scene could have come straight out of Quentin Tarantino's pen, actually. The constant battling and bickering between the merciless gangster and his ex-wife, principally about the custody of their son, is fantastic as well. You don't immediately expect this type of situations happening to relentless criminals, but it's very original and downright hilarious. "Kraftidioten" often gets compared, especially around this wonderful website, with the work of the Coen brothers (evidently with "Fargo" in particular) and the aforementioned Quentin Tarantino. I believe Moland's film stands entirely on its own, but obviously there are far worse people to get compared with in the film industry. And, for once, I'm also really looking forward to the Hollywood remake, because Moland remained the director and because Skarsgard's role is reprised by none other than the amazing Liam Neeson.

Shut In
(2016)

Watts Naomi doing in this dull thriller?
"Shut In" is a very mundane, predictable and derivative thriller, so the only noteworthy thing to wonder is why a classy and multi-talented actress like Naomi Watts agreed to star in it. She appeared in horror movies/thrillers before - like "The Ring" or the remake of "Funny Games" - but that was quite a long time ago. The times and the competition must be rough in Hollywood these days, I guess. Sure, "Shut In" remains a watchable and competently made little film, but it isn't the least bit memorable and you honestly have to be pretty naïve NOT to see the principal plot-twist coming. From quite early in the film already, in fact. Watts is a great actress, and if there still are a few atmospheric and intense moments to enjoy, it's undeniably thanks to her performance. She just deserves better than to depict a so-called "damsel-in-distress".

Horns
(2013)

Talk to the horns, 'cuz the face ain't listening!
The career of French horror prodigy Alexandre Aja is a fairly odd and uneven one, to say the least. The downright phenomenal "Haute Tension" that he made in his native country in 2003 granted him a one-way-ticket to Hollywood, but since then he has some issues establishing himself as a director of either light-headed gore flicks or serious atmospheric horror tales. His first Hollywood pic "The Hills have Eyes" was fantastic, and actually even one of the sole remakes that can claim superiority over the original, but since then there were a few misses ("Mirrors") and hits ("Piranha"). With the more ambitious "Horns", Aja attempts to blend several genres at once, since the film qualifies as comedy, love-story drama and horror, but the end-result is also very much a mixed bag.

The film is an adaptation of the novel by Joe Hill, who's actually Stephen King's son but wisely chose a different family name in order not to get confused and compared with his father. "Horns" has a rather intriguing and original plot, although it does require a large dose of suspension of disbelief, as it's a good old-fashioned whodunit mystery set in a quiet little town, but with unusual supernatural elements. Daniel Radcliffe takes further distance from his goody-two-shoes Harry Potter reputation as Ig Parrish; - a loner whom the entire community and the media believes he's guilty of raping and murdering his ex-girlfriend Merrin. But then something odd happens... Devilish horns grow out of Ig's forehead and, suddenly, all townspeople start confessing their darkest and most depraved sins and fantasies to him. Hey now, this might help him to unmask Merrin's real killer for sure! "Horns" is very well-directed by Aja and benefices greatly from the stellar cast, notably Radcliffe but also June Temple, James Remar and David Morse in supportive roles. Some of the sequences where people are painfully honest and straightforward to Ig are extremely powerful, like the interactions with own mother and father. Sadly, however, the concept also leads to a few dreadful clichés, like the hidden homosexuality confession or Heather Graham's pathetic role as an attention-seeking waitress. The film is also slightly overlong, in my humble opinion, and much of the flashback footage could have stayed behind in the editing room. The drama doesn't always work, and personally I would have scripted a completely different denouement, but I'm not complaining too much because "Horns" is an entertaining movie! For gore and graphic make-up effect, you'll need patience until the final act, but then Aja surely delivers.

Der Name der Rose
(1986)

These nasty monks haunted my nightmares for 25 years...
Only a limited number of films that I watched during my youth managed to leave an everlasting impression on me, but Jean-Jacques Annaud's adaptation of Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose" is one most definitely of them! I forgot for what purpose it was, but I actually watched "The Name of the Rose" in the fourth grade at school. I don't know what my teacher was thinking because this seriously isn't the type of film to show to a bunch of 9-year-olds, but on the other hand I'm strongly convinced the experience contributed a great deal to my current obsession for grim horror movies and convoluted murder mysteries. Even though we are 25 years later, and I've seen perhaps 15.000 films since then, I still remember practically every detail of that wondrously grim and mysterious film in which creepy monks were being killed off in a remote and petrifying old monastery. I found it even more impeccable & effectively disturbing now, especially since the recently released TV-series (produced by and starring John Turturro) was somewhat disappointing and tedious.

The charismatic Sean Connery puts down one of the most stellar performances of his rich career as William of Baskerville; - wise Franciscan friar and Sherlock Holmes ahead-of-time. He and his young novice Adso Von Melk (Christian Slater) travel to a remote monetary in the Italian alps, supposedly to participate in a grand Catholic debate, but the vicious murders quickly absorb all of Sir William's attention. Undoubtedly the #1 reason why "The Name of the Rose" forever kept stuck in my head is the extraordinary casting work. These monks are a dozen times scarier-looking and more menacing than immortal horror icons like Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger, and the image of several of them (like the hideous Malachia, the old & blind Jorge de Burgos, the disgusting Salvatore, ...) appeared in my nightmares for several years. The film also looks simply stunning! The 14th century set-pieces, and most notably the claustrophobic library-labyrinth are downright astounding. The costumes and photography are fantastic, and the script also contains a few fascinating history lessons that are far more educational than anything you'll ever learn in school, like for example the completely opposed interpretation of religion by the Franciscans and the Vatican.

Hatchet III
(2013)

The more (gore) the merrier!
Admittedly I found the first "Hatchet" a bit obnoxious, but it was still the closest thing to a genuine slasher landmark we had in a long time (since the 80s, in fact). For parts 2 and 3, and meanwhile also the fourth part "Victor Crowley", I simply put all possible prejudices aside and became a huge fan of Adam Green's blood-soaked franchise set in the Louisiana swamps and centering around an indestructible 'urban legend' killer with a daddy-complex! The "Hatchet"-series has pretty much everything going for it: a thin but effective plot, a cast full of legendary names (in this entry: Danielle Harris, Kane Hodder, Sean Whalen, Sid Haig, Derek Mears...), hot & humid filming locations, delightful tongue-in-cheek comedy, and - most importantly - copious amounts of insanely OTT gore that is (unlike in other horror franchises) manufactured through good old-fashioned special effects instead of with computers!

The narrative structure is also logical and straightforward. Part 3 begins where part 2 ended, and the plot is thus is quickly and easily summarized. Marybeth, as the sole survivor, stumbles out of the swamp and straight into the nearest police station, still covered in blood and carrying with her Crowley's scalp. Naturally nobody believes her story about the malevolent urban legend killer, and she's put in jail while the local troopers, as well as a forensics team and a SWAT delegation, venture into the swamp. Crowley resurrects once more, because, like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers before him, he cannot be killed with guns or even chainsaws. If you like undemanding slasher movies, you simply must worship "Hatchet". The body count is immense, and the gore-level is extraordinary. Some of Victor Crowley's favorite butchering methods are there (like squishing skulls with his boots or tearing heads off torsos) but there's also room for inventive new methods, mind you. By now you also know, I guess, that generating suspense isn't too high on Adam Green's priority list, and he also doesn't like to waste too much time on character development. He is, however, a master in pleasing the crowd with tremendously amusing horror flicks. If he should decide to make another twenty-seven "Hatchet" sequels, I'll probably watch every single one of them with a big evil smile on my face.

PS: I watched "Hatchet III" in memory of Sig Haig who passed away on 21st of September 2019. His role in this film is small but nevertheless very memorable, and Mr. Haig will surely be missed by all genre fanatics.

Nightwish
(1989)

Beefcake Dean for President!
Stupid as it may sound, I still think the best sequence of "Nightwish" plays rather early at the beginning, when this excessively muscled but dim-witted idiot named Dean deliberately drives over a cute little bunny rabbit with his ramshackle van. The other passengers are shocked and upset, but Dean just laughs hysterically and speaks the immortal words: "The fields is his, the highways is mine". Dean, played by Brian Thompson who previously demonstrated his acting talents in the Stallone vehicle "Cobra", isn't even one of the lead characters in "Nightwish", but he most definitely steals the show! There's more random footage of him sitting at the wheel of his beloved van and laughing out loud for no particular reason, or him toying around with the mentally disabled caretaker Wendall. "Nightwish" is a pretty ambitious and convoluted scientific/supernatural thriller, with decent performances and solid peaks of tension, but the only thing I'm most likely to remember is a beefcake in his minivan. It's sad, really...

For the record, "Nightwish" truly is a more than adequate late 80s genre effort, and I can certainly understand why the film has a fair share of loyal admirers. In terms of atmosphere, structure and script aspirations, it's somewhat comparable to David Cronenberg or perhaps some of John Carpenter's more complex movies (like "Prince of Darkness" or "In the Mouth of Madness"). There is a good amount of genuinely uncomfortable moments, explicit gore and overall absorbing weirdness. Jack Starrett is excellent as the obsessive university professor who lures four of his students to a remote mansion with a dubious past, and subsequently manipulates them to dream their own deaths as realistically as possible. The students are confronted with sadist monsters and ghostly hallucinations, but it's their own damn fault for volunteering to partake in extracurricular activities!

The script is ambitious but makes very little sense in the end, and even though the very last shot is surprisingly clever, the film continuously drags towards a predictable and clichéd finale. The two lead actresses, Elizabeth Keitan and Alisha Das, are stunningly beautiful and show a modest (but nevertheless welcome) bit of nudity.

The Force of Evil
(1977)

"Cape Fear" remains the most forceful evil, but a tense TV-thriller nevertheless
It's always good and useful in case you learn a few things from watching a movie, is it not? I learned two things from "The Force of Evil". Number 1: the basic plot of the classic thriller "Cape Fear" remains effectively disturbing and scary regardless of the setting, characters and production values. Number 2: like with Leslie Nielsen, it has practically become impossible to watch an older and serious role of Lloyd Bridges without being reminded of his slapstick roles in "Airplane!" or "Hot Shots". The second learning might as well be very personal, so I feel it's better to elaborate on the first. "The Force of Evil" is a modestly produced and rather anonymous late 70s TV-movie that also got released as a 60-minute episode in the cult series "Tales of the Unexpected". Although not credited as such, it's a pure imitation of J. Lee Thompson's "Cape Fear" (adapted from the novel "The Executioners" by John D. MacDonald) with a few minor changes in the plot and the adding of a supernatural atmosphere. The villainous, downright evil role put down by Robert Mitchum in "Cape Fear" is obviously unsurpassable, but I'll gladly admit that William Watson also depicts a truly menacing and uncanny monster here in this version. He, Teddy Jakes, is a rapist/murderer on parole and returning to the remote little Arizonan town where he used to live and work in the local clinic. The eminent surgeon there, Dr. Carrington, refused to provide him with a fake alibi 8 years ago, and that's why Jakes ended up in jail. He's back with an intense grudge against Dr. Carrington and his family, but Terry Jakes is smart enough to stalk and terrorize people without leaving any evidence or even doing something illegal. The good and noble Doctor is driven to desperation so badly that he's even ready to take the law into his own hands.

You see, it's "Cape Fear" all over again, but "The Force of Evil" is nonetheless worth tracking down for its tense atmosphere, the strong performances and a handful of noteworthy creep-moments. For example, the home delivery of a box of flowers (or are they?) is quite grim, and so is the first confrontation between Teddy Jakes and Dr. Carrington's daughter on her horse. Oh, and I also want to congratulate the casting director with his/her choices. The odd-faced Watson is perfect and the pairing of Lloyd Bridges and John Anderson as brothers is also really smart.

La polizia ringrazia
(1972)

Fetch a ride on the midnight crime-sightseeing city tour bus!
"La Polizia Ringrazia" is, at first sight, a prototype of an Italian euro-crime/poliziotesschi thriller like there were dozens during the first half of the 1970s. They practically always featured the same recurring themes, like unorthodox coppers, the ever-failing Italian justice system, vigilante squads violently cleansing the streets, corrupt politicians and police superiors, media circuses and liberal newspapers influencing the public opinion. You'd think the audience eventually grew tired of these familiar and continuously recycled themes, but no. Quite the contrary, every Poliziotesschi is unique and, for avid genre fanatics like me, it's almost becoming an obsession to track them all down. "La Polizia Ringrazia" is a downright stellar example of the euro-crime's peak period, complete with a compelling & intelligent script, an intensely raw atmosphere of realism, a few shocking bits of violence, a great soundtrack (Stelvio Cipriani, of course) and brilliantly devoted performances by some of the finest contemporary stars (notably Enrico Maria Salerno, Mario Adorf, Cyril Cusack, ...)

Salerno is truly amazing as the clearly tormented Commissioner Bertone, caught between the frustration of seeing criminals getting released without a proper punishment and the accusations of the press about the police being too violent when making their arrests. Whilst on the case of finding two bank robbers who killed two people during their escape, Salerno is suddenly confronted with another major challenge. A secret group, existing of former policemen and even judges, are hunting down acquitted or fugitive criminals and brutally execute them in true mafia-style. Moral dilemmas aside, Commissioner Bertone must find now the bank robbers before the so-call "clean up squad" does. The material may be familiar, but writer/director Stefano Vanzina (better known as Steno) keeps the levels of suspense, plausibility and originality quite high and steady. I was particularly surprised by this, because Steno is mainly known for his light-headed comedies starring Bud Spencer!

The last thing you can say about "La Polizia Ringrazia" is that it is light-headed! There are a couple of sequences that initially seem very bizarre, but they actually work quite effectively. For example, Commissioner Bertone invites a whole bunch of journalists on a nightly tour bus drive through the city, just to demonstrate how disastrous the crime plague is. The role of Mario Adorf, as the unreliable district attorney, is also quite unusual for this type of film, but the role (and, of course, Adorf's performance) add a great deal of value to an already intelligent film. "La Polizia Ringrazia" is far from being the most explicitly violent Poliziotesschi, but several scenes are nevertheless immensely brutal and gritty. The clean-up squad's cold-blooded executions, for instance, and especially the horrendous fate of a poor woman who's taken hostage and eventually thrown off a driving vehicle. It's the second time in a short period that I've seen such a similarly shocking death, the other movie being "La Legge Violenta della Squadra Anticrimine", starring John Saxon and J. Lee Cob. And no, it's not recycled footage, as I know the Italians were infamous for that.

Dominique
(1979)

Ah, the old trick with the self-playing piano! Does anyone still fall for that?
The absolute most positive comment I can write about "Dominique" is that director Michael Anderson and his entire cast & crew remained 100% faithful to their initial intention of making an old-fashioned convoluted and atmosphere-driven "vengeance-from-beyond-the-grave" mystery thriller/horror. "Dominique" undeniably relies on plot clichés, stereotype characters and predictable jump-scares, but somehow it still stands as a respectable and potent semi-classic of the late 70s, and (correct me if I'm wrong) no true horror fanatic would ever criticize it entirely.

It's quite easy to list all the minor and less minor defaults of this production. Heck, I'm also guilty of jokingly referring to the title as "Dominique is Dull" instead of "Dominique is Dead". The pacing is incredibly slow, often on the verge of comatose even. Almost a third of the footage easily could have been cut as well, notably all Cliff Robertson's snail-paced trips through the corridor and down to the greenhouse to check whether or not his supposedly dead wife is bungling from the ceiling. Most of the supernatural gimmicks and tension builders are pretty weak and transparent (especially the self-playing piano) and the denouement honestly is quite easy to foretell, even if you haven't seen "Diabolique" and its four dozen of inferior imitations.

And yet ... it's utmost admirable, I think, that "Dominique" stubbornly and wholeheartedly persists in trying to disquiet you with minimal resources. Contrary to many other, similarly themed films, this one didn't cause me to go eye-rolling or hit the fast-forward button. A handful of sequences really are effectively uncanny, like the arrogant husband suddenly getting confronted with his own date of death on a tombstone, and some sub plots really are clever, like what's the dubious role of the doctor. It also helps, of course, that the cast exclusively contains extremely professional and experienced names. Cliff Robertson is terrific, and he receives qualitative support from Jenny Agutter, Simon Ward, Jean Simmons and even that lovely elderly Flora Robson. "Dominique" may be routine horror guff, but I daresay that I'm proud to have it in my collection nonetheless!

A Shot in the Dark
(1964)

Terrific comedy, mediocre whodunit
History always repeats itself. When I was young, my father was a big fan of the "Pink Panther" film series, and I remember how I loved sitting next to him for those hilarious animated opening sequences, but couldn't be bothered with the rest of the film. Last weekend when "A Shot in the Dark" came on television, my own 10-year-old son was also delighted with the animated footage, but then voluntarily asked to go to bed because he was disappointed that the rest of the film was with "real" people. Whether you are 10, 40 or 80 years of age, I guess the animated credit sequences of "The Pink Panther" remain timeless and brilliant (even if, like in this case, the animation doesn't even feature the famous theme song and iconic cartoon panther).

Same as me 30 years ago, my own son is still too young to appreciate that the rest of "A Shot in the Dark" is also marvelous comedy-material! Peter Sellers guarantees non-stop chuckles and hilarious laughter as the clumsy and incompetent Parisian police inspector Jacques Clouseau, and the genius lies within the fact that he (as well as his co-stars) remain dead serious and straight-faced regardless what mayhem he unwarily causes around him. In "A Shot in the Dark", surprisingly co-written by none other than William Peter Blatty (author of "The Exorcist"), Clouseau is sent for when a murder occurs in the fancy estate of millionaire Mr. Benjamin Ballon. During the fantastically convoluted pre-credits opening sequence, we are already made clear this is a household full of affairs, betrayal and dangerous liaisons, though. The chauffeur has been shot four times in the chest, and the chambermaid Maria Gambrelli is undoubtedly the culprit because she stood over his dead body with the murder weapon in her hand. When Clouseau sees her, however, he promptly falls in love with her and does whatever it takes to prove her innocence.

"A Shot in the Dark" is, hands down, one of the funniest comedies I've ever seen. The comical highlights are almost too numerous to list, like the game of pool between Inspector Clouseau and Mr. Ballon, the trip to the nudist colony, Clouseau's unsuccessful attempts to shadow Maria whilst undercover, the increasing nervous tics of Commissioner Dreyfus or the collateral damage piling up during Clouseau and Maria's night on the town. I must admit, however, that I secretly also hoped for the actual whodunit plot to be better and more engaging. This film is somewhat the complete opposite of the contemporary Agatha Christie adaptations featuring Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple. In those films, the aspired comedy isn't so great, but the denouements are vintage Agatha Christie greatness, whereas in "A Shot in the Dark", the comedy elements are impeccable, but the end revelation is rather disappointing. You can't have it all, I guess...

The Shallows
(2016)

O-oh, digital shark attack!
Without over-engineering things, let's roughly assume there exist four categories of shark movies. Steven Spielberg's 1975 hit "Jaws" forms a league of its own; - there's hardly any discussion there. The second category, admittedly a guilty-pleasure group of mine, contains all those delightful knock-offs of the late '70s and 80s, like "Great White", "Mako: The Jaws of Death", "Tintorera!", "Cyclone" and even the official "Jaws" sequels. I'll skip the third category for a moment and simply state clear - for the record - that the fourth and final category exclusively contains the numerous dim-witted and infuriatingly horrendous OTT shark-comedies (like "Sharknado", "2-Headed Shark Attack", "Avalanche Sharks", "Sand Sharks", ...)

Coming back to the third category, this one contains, in my humble opinion the "Yeah... but no" efforts. I'm convinced these shark movies were made with the best of intentions, and most of them even are even enjoyable to watch, but none of them hold any potential to ever became great genre classics. There are plenty of titles here as well, like "Shark Night", "The Reef", "The Meg", "Open Water", "Bait", "Dark Tide", "Red Water", and I'm even willing to include "Deep Blue See" and "Shark Attack". Even though it received several good reviews and a relatively high score here on IMDb, "The Shallows" pretty much also sits in this category.

"The Shallows" is a so-called minimalist thriller, meaning it has a very small number of characters and a straightforward plot that can be summarized in one sentence. Nancy, a medicine student struggling with the choices for her future, has finally found the secluded Mexican beach where her beloved late mother went to surf. When night falls, she accidentally disturbs a great white shark during his whale carcass buffet and the massive animal promptly attacks her. With a severe leg injury, Nancy is trapped on a rock, barely 200 yards removed from a safe beach she cannot reach. Blake Lively's performance is forceful and director Jaume Collet-Serra ("Orphan") establishes a handful of notably intense and atmospheric moments. Unfortunately, the entire production is rather, well, shallow itself. Nobody would ever doubt if Nancy survives the ordeal, whereas the Mexican surfer machos are guaranteed to become shark snacks. The predictability of the plot is still acceptable, but it's most regretful that every special effect (the shark, the whale, the jellyfish, ...) is computer engineered again.

Le procès
(1962)

Frustrating enough to drive a perfectly sane person utterly INSANE!
The easiest thing to do when writing a review for a movie like this, I guess, is to lie... Lie about how I was mesmerized by the intelligence of the screenplay, lie about how a such a film stimulates all my senses simultaneously, and lie about how it was - hands down - one of the greatest cinematic experiences of my entire life. The honest truth, however, is that watching "The Trial" meant surviving the most frustrating and infuriating two hours of my life! I hate when a film makes me feel dumb, and "The Trial" made me feel utterly stupid! I'm not the world's biggest intellectual, but I don't consider myself dumb, neither, and certainly not when it comes to film. There were reasons enough for me to watch "The Trial". I'm a giant admirer of German expressionist cinema, to which the film brings tribute. I have a weakness for several people in the cast, including Anthony Perkins (who did so much more in his career than star in "Psycho") and Romy Schneider (who truly was one of the most versatile actresses in contemporary Europe). Most of all, I have tremendous and endless respect for Orson Welles, who directed and/or starred in many of the most influential and original movies in history. I actually can't write anything negative about the film itself. The performances are impeccable, the direction is tight, and the sets & scenery are often stunning. What I most definitely can say, though, is that the oeuvre of the notorious Franz Kafka isn't for me... You can state that it's abstract, intellectually challenging and surreal, but for 99% of this planet's population, it's just impossible, implausible and incomprehensible nonsense.

Pet Sematary
(2019)

That darn, undead cat!
Yours truly often thinks that Stephen King is overhyped and undeservedly praised, but I'm also not too hypocrite to reckon that some of his work resulted in the finest horror movie milestones ever; - especially during the 1970s and 1980s. The original "Pet Sematary" perhaps wasn't on par with the absolute best (like "Carrie", "The Dead Zone" or "Misery") but it still stands as one of his more superior efforts, notably also because King adapted the novel into a screenplay himself. Heck, for what it's worth, I'll always have a weakness for Mary Lambert's version "Pet Sematary" simply because it instantly causes the magnificent song by The Ramones to pop up in my head!

With King's popularity exaggeratedly booming again in recent years (thank you, new version of "It"), another update of the modest "Pet Sematary" was as good as inevitable. Although they hardly ever have an added value, I'm not principally against remakes/re-interpretations and thus approached the 2019 version with an open mindset. The film by upcoming young directors Kölsch & Widmyer ("Starry Eyes") is an entertaining time-waster with an admirably bleak and uncanny atmosphere, as well as a few effective shock-moments and strong performances, but I doubt it'll ever turn up in any "best horror movies" lists in the longer term. The story is still creepy and captivating after nearly 40 years. Most of the story, at least, since personally I never thought the sub plot of the wife's recurring nightmares about her nasty and crippled sister was very plausible. The menace coming from the ancient and mystical burial grounds, and the violent danger coming from the speeding heavyweight trucks, on the other hand, are very real and tangible in this film version!

The rational Dr. Louis Creed moves with his family from Boston to rural Maine, hoping to settle in a quiet and peaceful community. In their backyard, however, they find a grisly burial place for neighborhood pets and the roadside is even grislier, with massive trucks thundering by non-stop. When the family cat Church - short for Churchill - becomes the victim of such a road warrior, friendly old neighbor Jud (the always reliable John Lithgow) is so worried about breaking the heart of 9-year-old daughter Ellie that he takes Louis and the dead cat to a piece of land beyond the pet cemetery. A place where inexplicably supernatural things happen to dead bodies when you bury them here. But Jud should have known better... The resurrected Church isn't the same joyful fluffy cat anymore and, moreover, she indirectly even causes for a much bigger tragedy to overcome the Creed family.

Kölsch and Widmyer undeniably have talent and skills. They are effortlessly capable of making you accept a few drastic changes to the original story and simultaneously keep the 40-year-old and well-known story suspenseful. Several sequences, notably Louis and Jud's nightly excursion to the burial ground and the sudden apparitions of traffic victim Victor Pascow, are tremendously atmospheric. The finale is somewhat gratuitously violent and grotesque, but I don't think any horror fans will complain about that. In the end, "Pet Sematary" largely delivers the shocks and scares that it promises, and the film establishes once again what I already learned from numerous other Stephen King adaptations: don't ever settle in Maine!

The Rezort
(2015)

Haven't you learned anything from the great, late Michael Crichton?
"The Rezort" is one of those movies of which you knew for certain they would be made sooner or later. In fact, it's surprising that it even took until 2015, what with the overload of zombie movies during the past decade and a half, and the oh-so-obvious plot outline of hunting them for sports. The pitch of this film is unarguably one the least original ever. Hunting down and killing other human beings for fun & games is one of the oldest and most copied premises in cinematic history. The magnificent classic "The Most Dangerous Game" already did it in 1933, although admittedly the preys weren't undead back then. Then, 40 years later, the almighty author Michael Crichton invented the ingenious concept of "theme park terror", first with "Westworld" (1973) and then with the commercial mastodon "Jurassic Park" (1993). Put these two gimmicks into a blender and the soup you'll get is "The Rezort"; - an isolated holiday island where, now that the global zombie epidemic is under control since a few years, people pay big sums of money to shoot zombies in the face, but still remain comfortably ensured the monsters cannot attack back thanks to hi-tech safety precautions and strictly controlled perimeters. But, of course, if Michael Crichton taught us just one thing, it is exactly that technology will turn against us.

I don't necessarily mind that the overall outlines of the plot are derivative, but it's most unfortunate that everything else is so damn cliched, predictable and shamelessly mundane as well! Writer Paul Gerstenberger and director Steve Barker add absolutely nothing creative or even remotely fresh, and thus "The ReZort" ends up being one of the dullest and most uninspired entries in the zombie genre, and I personally hate those even more than all those lame and tasteless zombie comedy/slapstick flicks. You can easily foretell the lead characters' profile types without even seeing the movie. All stereotypes are here: the stone-cold business woman, the silent & mysterious battle expert, the empty-headed but trigger-happy gamers, the innocent girl with a trauma to process, the cowardly boyfriend and the ignorant zombie liberation activist. The supposedly shocking end-twist is so evident you'll be rolling your eyes; - of course the greedy corporate executives are ten times more monstrous than the zombies, duh! The massacres and zombie-transformations are miserable CGI effects that neither frighten nor repulse, and Steve Barker doesn't undertake the slightest effort to generate suspense or make you sympathize with any of the characters. If I really do have to mention a positive note, I'll admit that the island's filming locations look very nice.

Nightmare Circus
(1974)

Oh Andre, you're such a big "animal" lover!
The people who made these raw and gritty 70s exploitation movies were a strange bunch. Lead actor Andrew Prine, for instance, indicated that "Terror Circus" was the only film he ever regretted making. And yet, he starred in equally odd and shlocky titles ("The Centerfold Girls", "Simon King of the Witches"), as well as in trashy guff that is far inferior than this film ("Crypt of the Living Dead", "Eliminators"). The people who watch these raw and gritty 70s exploitation movies are possibly an even stranger bunch, though! The majority of reviews I encountered on "Terror Circus" are negative and severe, but I honestly can't fathom why...

As far as I'm concerned, this is one of the most enjoyably straightforward efforts if rancid 70s exploitation is what you seek. Of course it's cheap, misogynic and repulsive, but you only have yourself to blame if you take offense to that. "Terror Circus" is the tale of the young and handsome, but deeply disturbed, Andre who rescues women that are stranded in the Nevada desert (usually because they got lost on their way to Las Vegas), but then subsequently chains and treats them like animals, and trains them to perform as acts in his imaginary circus show! One of the three girls that he captured recently happens to look a lot like the mother who abandoned him when he was still a boy, so Andre becomes even more obsessed with the idea of proving to her that he's a capable circus ringleader. Oh, and if you think Andre is a monster, just wait until you meet his father who lives in a minuscule tool shed in the garden! By the way, did I mention that the US Military uses these parts of the Nevada desert for nuclear bomb testing? See, what's there to complain? "Terror Circus" has everything: a psychotic protagonist with a mommy-obsession, beautiful girls in chains being whipped, bloodthirsty redneck freaks and a delightfully cheesy country soundtrack! Naturally the script is full of goofs and improbabilities. How to explain that Andre behaves like a perfectly reasonable man when he saves the girls, but then transforms into a total nutcase who genuinely believes these women are circus animals? Also, how unlikely is it that the Sheriff never bother to check out the only inhabited farm in the entire desert despite all the missing person cases. "Oh, people get lost all the time around here". There, case closed. But hey, plot holes and continuity errors only make grindhouse better. "Terror Circus" is never boring, the performances of Andrew Prine and most of his female victims are more than adequate, the script at least attempts to insert suspense and plot twists and the finale is fantastically deranged!

Or perhaps certain folks are angry and disappointed because the most prominently used title ("Barn of the Naked Dead") promises sleaze and nudity that the film largely fails to deliver. Well, first of all, misleading titles are the most common thing in the world in the cult cinema industry. You must accept that the producers did everything they could to attract more viewers. Secondly, however, the lack of bare female flesh is really justified in this case. The fact that these women remain clothed and don't get repeatedly raped by their captor only epitomizes that Andre genuinely considers them to be dangerous animals instead of defenseless women.

The Black Room
(1982)

So long, kids! Mommy and daddy are off to play kinky and adulterous sex-games!
Well, if nothing else, "The Black Room" at least deserves a few extra points for originality! In an era where most American horror were derivative and tepid slasher knock-offs, this film comes with a totally creative and unique (albeit utterly grotesque) storyline that is certainly trashier, sleazier and nastier than all those dull slashers. The protagonist of "The Black Room", a seemingly average middle-class guy named Larry, is a heroic role-model for all of use horny males! Dig this: because his sex life with his wife Robyn suffers from routine boredom and children always interrupting at the exact wrong moment, Larry invents a fantasy place - the black room - where he satisfies his sexual need with other women. He shares his lewd fantasies with Robyn in order to excite her, but Larry actually also does rent such a room for real! He picks up horny students and prostitutes like it's the most normal thing in the world and takes them to his secret for sweet-loving, while later that same night in the marital bed his wife whisper: "Tell me again about the black room, honey". Ha! Larry is awesome! What he doesn't know, however, is that the proprietors of the room, a very seductive brother and sister, are sick psychos that murder the lust objects in the black room and transfuse their blood into the brother's body because he supposedly has a rare blood disease! "The Black Room" obviously isn't an Award-winning masterpiece, but it sure is a compelling, unpredictable and darn hot 80s horror oddity! When Robyn discovers Larry's deceitful little secret, and plots her revenge together with houseowner Jason, the film resembles more of an early 70s European sexploitation movie rather than an 80s US horror flick; - especially with that randomly bonkers vampire twist-ending! He may only have made less than a handful of films, but the least you can say about writer and (co-) director Norman Thaddeus Vane is that he tried different things (see also "Frightmare" that was released one year later). Beautiful people in this film as well, both males and females. It's one of the earliest films of Christopher MacDonald and Linnea Quigley never looked prettier in her life.

10,000 dollari per un massacro
(1967)

This spaghetti could have used more Tabasco hot-sauce!
Another unofficial "Django" sequel, with yet another Franco Nero lookalike reprising the role of the silent but deadly gunslinger. It's practically impossible to inventory all the Django spaghetti westerns that were made in a relatively short time span, so it's advisable to restrict yourself to the really good ones. I'm still in doubt whether or not "10,000 Dollars for a Massacre" deserves to be labeled as a good one, though. The film knows a handful of genuinely powerful moments, and the atmosphere is overall very grim and melancholic, but on the other hand the plot is also quite mundane, and I was missing the truly raw & filthy aspects that I so desperately seek in Italian westerns. It's difficult to explain, but my absolute favorite westerns (like "And God said to Cain", "Bandidos", The Big Gundown", ...) have a few things extra that make them unique. In fact, the greatest spaghetti westerns are the ones that make you want to take a shower immediately after viewing them, simply because you can literally also feel the dirt and sweat on the protagonists' faces and necks. "10,000 Dollars for a Massacre" didn't have this effect, but let's not be too skeptical, as all the mandatory ingredients are nevertheless well represented: an unscrupulous and merciless villain, numerous violent shootouts, blood feuds, hostages buried up to their necks in hot desert sand, and poker games that end with killing the cheater who hid extra cards up his sleeve. Bounty hunter Django goes after the ruthless criminal Manuel Vasquez who kidnapped a rich landowner's daughter; - initially for the large reward, but naturally the hunt becomes personal when nasty Manual also kills the dame with whom Django was planning to retire in San Francisco. It's an interesting movie for cult fanatics who are somewhat familiar with the eminent names of the Italian film industry, since "10,000 Dollars for a Massacre" is directed by Romolo Guerrieri, with Sergio Martino as his assistant. Luciano Martino produced and the multi-talented Ernesto Gastaldi is listed as one of the scriptwriters.

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