Nova Scotia! Come to unravel dark family secrets. Stay for the beauty of nature...
To my knowledge, this is the first film I've seen that is entirely filmed in Nova Scotia, Canada, or at least the first one that puts forward the region so prominently. I must say I'm deeply impressed by the beauty of this area, and that alone made "Sweet Angel Mine" worth viewing. One the other hand, one could state that, if the filming locations are the best part of a thriller, there's something seriously wrong with the film itself.
"Sweet Angel Mine" is a bizarre and semi-ambitious mix between coming-of-age, occult thriller and feminist drama. A young Londoner on a motorcycle cruises across the woods and small towns of Nova Scotia, hoping to unravel the mystery of what happened to his father, who disappeared here many years ago. The answers he seeks might be found in an isolated farmhouse run by a family of women (spooky grandma, enigmatic mother, pure daughter), but the boy is more interested in diving into the haystack with the daughter; - and maybe also the mother. The script isn't great, but nevertheless compelling enough to keep you interested. Also, whenever the story tends to get boring or overly pointless, director Curtis Radclyffe effectively inserts a bit of sex or macho bar fights. The ending is foreseeable, at least if you are into this sort of cinema, but it's pleasingly grim and mean-spirited. Decent performances, too, most notably from the gorgeous Alberta Watson ("The Keep", "The Soldier")
I always feel like ... somebody's eavesdropping on me! And I got no privacy...
Francis Ford Coppola is (righteously) praised as one of the most brilliant and gifted directors in history thanks to immortal classics, like "The Godfather"-trilogy and "Apocalypse Now", but his most intelligent and undoubtedly most personal film is "The Conversation". Disturbingly accurate around the time of its release - shortly before the Watergate scandal - the plot fundamentally deals with the increasing threat of electronical surveillance. Gene Hackman is genius as professional bugger Harry Caul, and he's widely acknowledged as the best in the business. And just because he is so aware of the possibilities of electric monitoring, he himself lives an extremely private and secluded life. Caul is also very strict in not interfering in the assignments he receives, but his last job causes him to grow increasingly paranoid. "The Conversation" is not exactly the most action-packed and exhilarating movie ever made, but the suspense level is incredibly high. Especially the scenes during which Harry Caul obsessively adjusts the recordings are unique highlights. Truly fascinating to witness how the couple's voices are gradually emerging from the rest of the crowd voices and the background noises. The final third is nothing less than amazing, with an unforeseeable plot-twist and a great downbeat ending.
Sabotaging vaults isn't art. And turn off that annoying music!
Behold the plot synopsis of "Thief": A former ace safe cracker is trying to go straight, if he can score one last big heist for the mob. Ah, the good-old and derivative "one last job before retirement" premise! If I had put aside a nickel every time I watched an action/thriller movie with this exact same plot, I ... could probably buy a cup of coffee or two by now! But hey, many movies do very creative things with this ancient concept, and judging by the rating and praising reviews, "Thief" was going to be a great film as well. Why wouldn't it be, in fact? Since it's one of the first movies written and directed by Michael Mann; - creator of milestones like "Manhunter", "Heat" and "The Insider".
Unfortunately enough, "Thief" was a massive disappointment for me. James Caan is a Chicago car salesman by day and a jewel thief by night, the silent professional type. He - Frank - wants to life a traditional life and raise a family, but then his breaking-and-entering talents are noticed by the sympathetic mob boss Leo. The plot is basic and easily summarized, but for whatever reason Michael Mann finds it artistic to film sabotaging vaults, for 15 minutes straight, to the horribly irritating tunes of the massively overrated Tangerine Dream. Personally, I never liked James Caan, even though he appeared in several movies that are right up my alley ("Rollerball", "Misery"). According to all the reviews, he puts down his best performance in "Thief", but I just found him barely tolerable. Luckily, there are some really enjoyable elements as well, like very violent and bloody executions and terrific supportive roles (sadly in the shadow of Caan) by James Belushi, Robert Prosky and Dennis Farina.
I guess, after having seen 140 genuine gialli and another 40 giallo-ish thrillers, I have to accept that all the really good ones are discovered already. The only ones that occasionally still float to the surface are obscure, low-rated and forgotten for a reason. The omens for "The Police are Blundering in the Dark" were quite negative from the start. Filmed in 1972 but not released until 1975? 1972 was THE most productive year for the Italian giallo ever! Dozens of gialli were released in this year, some of the best but also many mediocre ones, so how bad must it have been not to receive a release in '72? Three years later the gialli was as good as extinct, but this film still had to be released. You know what? The Poliziotesschi replaced the giallo in terms of popularity, so let's give it a new title with a reference towards the police. Minor problem, maybe... there isn't a police officer in sight throughout the entire film.
And yet, I'd lie if I said I didn't enjoy "The Police are Blundering in the Dark" at all. The script is really poor and hardly makes any sense, but the film features three extended and gruesome murder sequences, during which the female victims are largely naked before getting sliced with scissors, knives or letter openers! Isn't that the essence of gialli?
Moreover, and I just discovered this (thank you, Wikipedia), the name of writer/director Helia Colombo is a pseudonym of Elio Palumbo, and he happens to be the songwriter of - hands down - one of the most beautiful songs ever made; - namely "Tornerò" by the band "I Santo California". If you don't know it, look it up! Fascinating how the creator of such a pure and heavenly song, also made this sleazy and misogynic thriller.
The rating 5/10, which I awarded to "Junior", is far too generous. I'm well aware of that. And yet, I can't help being mild for this insane and severely inept piece of Canuxploitation! The film is a bit of a mishmash between "Porky's", "I Spit on your Grave" and "Psycho". Interesting combo, to say the least, but it roughly just translates as juvenile (but welcome) nudity, tough chicks extracting vengeance, and a driveling maniac with a mommy complex. Although entirely filmed in ice cold Québec, the story supposedly takes place in the deep South. Two buxom babes, freshly released from prison, settle themselves in a lakeside town where seemingly only male hillbillies live. The craziest redneck of the bunch is named Junior, and he makes it his mission to terrorize the girls so that he can impress his mother. The scenes with "momma" form the most hilarious highlights of the film. She just sits there, on her porch, with a pair of binoculars in her hands and cheers for his idiot son from a distance. Momma can't be seen properly, but I strongly suspect she's played by a male actor, probably because the director couldn't find an old lady crazy enough to appear in his film. She/he isn't listed in the credits, neither. Despite the buzzing chainsaw on the VHS-cover, "Junior" doesn't contain much gore, suspense or action. Gratuitous sleaze, on the other hand, there is plenty! And jolly good, brainless fun as well.
The Sci-Fi movies that living legend Roger "King of the B's" Corman made during the 1950s may always have looked cheap and insignificant, but they are still standing strong and proud today! And some of them were genuine pioneers as well, like "The Day the World Ended". With the exception of "Five" (1951) and maybe "Things to Come" (1936), this is the oldest film - that I know of, at least - dealing with survivors of a nuclear holocaust and it's mandatory themes of menacing dangers outside of the safe haven, and mounting tensions between the survivors mutually. In Corman's film, 7 people that somehow escaped the deadly impact of the H-bomb gather in a remote country house. The owner only foresaw shelter and food supplies for three people, so there's hostility and edginess from the first moment, especially since two macho men battle over the same girl and because another survivor got exposed to radiation (he's got a wound on his face shaped like a starfish) but keeps on living without food or water. The first fifteen minutes, as well as the last twenty or so, are very absorbing and tense. The middle-section is, understandably, somewhat slow an dull but nevertheless worth watching thanks to the decent performances (notably from Adele Jergens and Mike Connors) and Corman's tight direction.
In between the fantasy and romance, there's a grim horror film hidden...
"Ghost" isn't the usual type of movie for me to review, since it's a mainstream classic, and primarily a romantic drama. Yours truly almost exclusively reviews horror, thriller and cult movies; - the more obscure, bloody and shocking, the better! And yet, ever since I saw this film for the first time - I was barely 10 or 11 years old - the one thing that intrigued me the most was how dark, unsettling and violent several crucial parts were! The thin line between fantasy and horror shouldn't come too much as a surprise, since writer Bruce Joel Ruben (who righteously won an Oscar for this great film) previously wrote a couple of solid genre movies already, like "Brainstorm", "Deadly Friend" and "Jacob's Ladder".
The story, the performances, the soundtrack and the beauty of "Ghost" have been applauded more than enough already, so please allow me to only focus on the dazzling horror highlights for a change. Three notable aspects in this department are: #1 - the pure hatred and violence in Sam Wheat's eyes when he pushes around his foes and basically hunts them into death. #2 - the nifty detail that the spirits of "bad people" are taken away by grim and pitch-black shadows when they die. #3 - the great (late) Vincent Schiavelli, as the nameless subway ghost, depicts one of the most petrifying and enigmatic supportive characters of 90s cinema. His naturally menacing looks and charisma, his rage, his unrevealed background story... The subway ghost should have received his very own (horror) film.
Few things are as fun as an ingenious and far-fetched heist movie. And a good old-fashioned disaster movie is always a total blast, as well! So, just imagine how awesome a combination of the two genres must be. Actually, we already know it's a great combo ever since the underrated and sadly almost forgotten "Hard Rain", but another similar film is most welcome. "The Hurricane Heist" is enjoyable enough while it lasts, but thoroughly unmemorable. It's competently directed by Rob Cohen ("xXx" and the original "Fast and the Furious") and benefices from a cast full of adequate actors/actresses, including reliable veterans (Ben Cross, Ralph Ineson) and younger talents (Toby Kebbell, Maggie Grace). So far so good, and also the script is straightforward and compelling. In rural Alabama, in a little town where the government shreds paper money reserves in a highly secured facility, a well-organized gang plots to use the Category-5 hurricane Tammy as a distraction to steal 600 million dollars. Cohen films a few creative and impressive stunts, but the script contains too many dull clichés. Of course, did the meteorologist lose his own father in a hurricane, and of course he must reunite with his estranged brother. Also, and this may just be my own imagination, the bad guys seem modelled after the terrorists in "Die Hard". Ralph Ineson's character is a poor man's Hans Grüber, while James Cutler depicts a secondhand type of Karl.
Doctor, doctor! I'll give you the news... You've got a bad case of mistress blues!
There exist two types of Italian gialli. The coolest type of giallo handles about masked psycho-killers with black gloves butchering people - preferably pretty young models - with sharp objects. The slightly duller but usually more stylish type of giallo handles about convoluted murder conspiracies complete with sexual intrigues, betrayal and triangular relationships. "The Flower with Petals of Steel", belongs in the second category. Even though the plot is wild and wickedly far-fetched, the film contains too many dull moments. The story revolves around Dr. Valenti. Although a busy surgeon, Dr. Valenti still has time to entertain several mistresses. He accidentally murders one in his apartment, with a hideous type of plant-statue, but is cold-blooded enough to professionally dissect her corpse and make it disappear. The girl's sister (played by giallo-regular Carroll Baker) and a sly homicide inspector are on the doctor's tail, and then he's also getting blackmailed. The film has one or two unforgettable sequences (most notably a lesbian scuba-diving highlight) and the bizarre plot is intriguing enough to keep you gazing at the screen until the finish, but overall it's disappointing and not at all recommended to anyone (except giallo-completists)
This downright genius film-noir is almost 70 (!) years old, and yet it's still far more intense and suspenseful - according to me, of course - than any thriller made nowadays. Watch and take notes, aspiring scriptwriters! The immeasurably talented cult siren Joan Crawford puts down one of her greatest performances ever, as the wealthy middle-aged playwright Myra Hudson. For her latest stage play, she decides to sack the robust actor Lester Blaine because he lacks the right romantic personality. I can relate to that, since Lester is played by the one and only Jack Palance, and even in his early thirties he pretty much looked like the human version of a demolition hammer! And yet, Lester later succeeds in wooing Myra during a train journey and shortly after they live as a married couple in picturesque San Francisco. At the peak of her marital happiness, however, Myra coincidentally discovers that Lester and his mistress are plotting to murder her. After recovering from the initial shock, Myra uses her playwright skills to turn the tables around. Should you choose to watch "Sudden Fear", prepare to witness near-perfection in every cinematic department. Both Joan Crawford and Jack Palance are amazing, and were righteously nominated for an Academy Award. Add to this a super-intelligent script and Charles Lang's dazzling camera work, and you've got yourself a guaranteed film-noir masterpiece.
Edgar Wallace was British himself, and the vast majority of his stories take place in central London, and yet the film-adaptations of his stories primarily come from Germany. So many even, that they received a very own term in German; - the "Krimi". Wallace is as British as afternoon tea and pie with custard, is what writer Jimmy Sangster and director Freddie Francis must have thought, so let's bring him home! Although miles and miles out of their comfort zone (Sangster and Francis are best known for their horror accomplishments for the Hammer Studios) the duo delivers one of the finest Wallace adaptations I've seen thus far!
"Traitor's Gate" is a crime caper/heist thriller, with many characters and ingenious plot aspects. The rich businessman Mr. Trayne schemes a wicked plan to steal the valuable Crown Jewels from the heavily guarded Tower of London, but there are many tricky factors, including the role of a doppelganger and the escape via a vessel on the Thames. The film benefices from a solid and fast-paced script, without unnecessary sub plots and dull sequences, and splendid acting performances. Although he isn't really one of the lead characters, the unsurpassable Klaus Kinski once again steals the show as the cold, relentless and arrogant hired killer. His character also constantly nibbles on his fingers, which is undoubtedly something that Kinski added himself. Krimi-regular Eddi Arent is also present as the comic relief, but luckily he isn't even half as irritating as usual.
In theory, "Wonderland" has everything to be an absolute favorite of mine. The plot revolves around a notorious (and bloody disgusting) true-crime murder case, the cast is full of familiar but non-obvious B-actors/actresses (Val Kilmer, Tim Blake Nelson, Ted Levine, Carrie Fisher, Eric Bogosian...) and the lead character is one of the most controversial anti-heroes of 70s exploitation cinema. Unfortunately, though, the film is a desperate cult-movie wannabe, and the fairly unknown James Cox directs with an arrogance and pretention as if he's God's gift to cinema.
John Holmes was a pioneer of the adult film industry - and proud carrier of an enormous member - throughout the 70s, but by the early 80s he was constantly broke and under the influence of drugs. The further downwards spiral even led, in the summer of 1981, to Holmes getting linked to the brutal Wonderland murders. Fascinating, for sure, but the script is poor and incoherent, and the overload of supposedly cool techniques (blitz editing, split screens, etc...) is quite annoying. Personally, I doubt this film would have even existed if it wasn't for the success-hit "Boogie Nights".
Perhaps fellow horror fanatics know what I'm talking about when claiming that I miss the clichéd and straightforward slasher-plots from the golden days. Slasher movies always continued to exist, but - and yes, I do realize I sound like an old geezer - were so much simpler in 70s and 80s! The concept of bullied kids, whether or not mutilated after a prank gone wrong, extracting blood vengeance against their tormentors, was a familiar formula that gave us semi-classics like "Evilspeak", "Horror High", "The Burning", "Sleepaway Camp", "Fade to Black", "Carrie", ...
"Tormented" revives the kill-the-bullies concept, but unlike the vast majority of post-2000 slashers, this isn't a throwback/homage to 80s horror, or at least it didn't feel like one. The joyful 80s clichés and stereotypes, on the other hand, are very well-represented. We're talking people in their mid-twenties depicting high-school teenagers, nerdy kids receiving wedgies or getting locked up in closets, pathetic goth-kids and ignorant teachers/principals.
The film opens at the funeral of Darren Mullet, who was driven to suicide by the school's coolest macho Bradley and his gang of followers. But the bullies rapidly discover that Darren returned from the grave to do what he never could when he was still alive: stand up for himself. The plot doesn't make much sense, and never even properly bothers to clarify how Darren became a zombie, but I didn't let it bother me too much. The bullies are delightfully obnoxious and dumb, the heroine is cute (and somewhat looks like Nathalie Portman) and - most importantly - the massacres are vile, imaginative and bloody sadistic. Too bad there wasn't any nudity, but fun enough for me!
Together with "You Only Live Twice", I always considered "License to Kill" my favorite James Bond movie. For you see, I rank my Bond movies based on the villains' level of evilness, and the charisma of the actors/actresses depicting them. Donald Pleasance (as Blofeld) and Robert Davi (as Sanchez) are the utmost evilest Bond villains.
And there's another, perhaps even more important reason, why this one is a favorite. In the long list of twenty-four (and counting) James Bond movies, "License to Kill" is a sort of outsider; - an underdog, in fact. I always cheer for the underdog. Bond doesn't work on an assignment for the British Crown here, but goes on an obsessive quest for personal vengeance and even sees his titular license to kill revoked. On the day of his wedding in the Florida Keys, CIA-agent Felix Leiter - with the help of his British buddy James Bond - spectacularly captures the notorious Latin-American drug lord Frank Sanchez. The powerful and extremely corrupt Sanchez promptly escapes again, also quite spectacularly, and demonstrates his dominance by mutilating Leiter and murdering his bride. Needless to say, Bond disobeys M's order to return to Europe and goes after Sanchez and his cartel, with the help of feisty female CIA-informant and a British tourist specialized in gadgetry.
The fact that James Bond is out on a personal vendetta already makes "License to Kill" an underdog in the series, but there's more. Given the subject matter, the film is much less comical/gimmicky, and far more violent than all the other Bonds. Timothy Dalton, in his second and immediately final appearance as 007, depicts him as a cold and relentless killing machine, which is unusual but fantastic! The script is very compelling and intelligent, notably how Sanchez' drug imperium is built up is genius. The film also excels in terms of locations, from the exotic Florida Keys (including the Ernest Hemingway house), over the breath-taking Villa Arabesque in Acapulco, to the Sonoran Desert. The action and excitement highlights are also numerous (like fuel truck chases, shark feedings, death-by-decompression-chamber, ...) and Gladys Knight sings one of the top-three finest title songs. Robert Davi, as Sanchez, has an impressive army of equally immoral henchmen, like a very young Benicio Del Toro, the always-menacing Everett McGill, Milton Crest and Don Stroud.
Who is it for? Well, for weird children of all ages; - duh!
The most frequently encountered criticism, here on the website as well as elsewhere in external reviews, is that "The House with a Clock in its Walls" doesn't have real target audience! Supposedly the special effects and spooky moments are too frightening for children, whereas the story is said to be too childish for adult audiences. Nonsense! You want to know who it's for? For weird and moderately twisted children of all ages; - like your truly!
Today, at age 40, I am a hardcore horror fanatic. As a 7 to 12-year-old, I was already hooked on dark & macabre children's movies, and preferably those with long and imaginative titles, like "The Watcher in the Woods", "Island at the top of the World" or "Something Wicked this Way comes". "The House with a Clock in its Walls" would have fit perfectly among my childhood favorites. Correction! It STILL fits perfectly among my favorites, and now also my own children (aged six and eleven) show a fascination. Perhaps the target audience for films like these isn't very large but we are devoted fans, to say the least.
"The House with a Clock in its Walls" was a more than pleasant surprise! The story, neatly adapted from John Bellair's novel by Eric Kripke, is playful and compelling. There is suspense, comedy, family sentiment, valuable life-lessons (most notably: it's okay to be different), and the special effects are top-notch. I never was much of a Jack Black fan, but he's tolerable here, and he's formidably supported by Cate Blanchett and Kyle McLachan. With this film, Eli Roth demonstrates that he evolved a lot since "Cabin Fever", and that he's capable of more than repulsive torture-horror.
There will always be someone who's bigger than you
My sweet old grandma, may she rest in peace, taught me a couple of valuable life lessons when I was young. Particularly her lesson in modesty is one I'll always remember. She taught me to remain humble whenever I'm good at something, or when I'm are more privileged than others, because someone bigger and better than you will always come along at one point or another. This "Twilight Zone" tale instantly reminded me of that lesson, and in more ways than one.
After running adrift in space, astronauts Fletcher and Craig land on an unknown planet, but quickly discover it's inhabited by a race of miniscule people. Navigator Craig abuses his towering height and plays for God, while the modest Commander Fletcher attempts to temper his dictatorship against the little people. Very good, although unremarkable and predictable "Twilight Zone" episode, mainly saved by the strong performances of the two leads and the respectable references towards Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels". The climax is really cool, but fairly easy to predict if you're slightly familiar with the legendary TV-series.
What's the most valuable possession a person has? You might be tempted to answer something typical like "health", "family" or "friends", but this tale makes quite clear that your most valuable possession is your identity. Without it, you literally are a nobody, with nowhere to go or no one to rely on. Sounds evident, but somehow the short story forces you to contemplate about it. Otherwise it's a fairly formulaic and almost habitual "Twilight Zone" episode, though. It almost feels as if writer Charles Beaumont and director John Brahm, withal two of the most frequent and talented contributors to the series, were becoming too accustomed to the style and narrative structure of "The Twilight Zone".
Yours truly is a Belgian, and was a teenager during the 1990s, so as a matter of course I went through a fanatic Jean-Claude Van Damme phase. "Hard Target" was definitely my favorite! The premise of hunting humans for sport is one of the oldest in action/thriller cinema history, and "Hard Target" is by no means a classic, but the combination of a long-haired Van Damme and excessive violence worked effectively; for sure. I never even realized there existed a sequel, even if it was a cheap and direct-to-video one. Luckily, I have a good buddy who specializes in lousy and obscure sequels, and he assured me that "Hard Target 2" was fun, straightforward, unpretentious, ... and worth a look.
My pal's judgement is reliable, as always. I enjoyed this film, although I'm likely to completely forget about it again in just a few days. I never heard about lead actor Scott Adkins, but he seems to be a regular in the field of meaningless action guff. Some of the people hunting down Scott in the Myanmar jungle are more known, like Rhona Mithra ("Doomsday") and Temuara Morrison ("Once Were Warriors"). The background story of Wes - the prey - Baylor is hilariously dumb. During an ultimate fighting battle, Wes killed his best friend and feels traumatized ever since. How could he not realize that his endless kicks and punches were going to cause irreparable damage? Please, don't go sobbing and mourning that you "accidentally" killed your buddy after you hit him repeatedly in the brains. Anyway, it's not the type of movie where you expect logic or intelligence, merely fast-paced actions, nasty killings and ingenious death traps. "Hard Target 2" does deliver in this particular department.
Could the film have been even more enjoyable? Well, yes, I think so! They should have lobbied to have JCVD appear in a small cameo. He's at a point in his career where he probably had accepted if the paycheck was worthwhile. How cool it would have been if Van Damme starred as an arrogant and eccentric hunter, for instance?
Those who already had the (dis-)pleasure of reading some of my reviews might know that I have a bizarre fetish for the original, almost poetic sounding and native-language titles of Italian cult movies, whereas I have a natural aversion for the commercial, unimaginative and downright irrelevant retitling in English. Quite often, it's really preferable to just literally translate the Italian title rather than to go by the international English title. The theory definitely also stands for Luciano Ercoli's exquisite thriller "La Polizia Ha Le Mani Legate". The film is commonly known as "Killer Cop", but that is - bluntly said - a horrendous title. It makes the film sound like a hyper-violent Poliziotesschi, like Umberto Lenzi or Stelvio Massi usually made them with Maurizio Merli in the lead role, but it's much more of an intelligent and slow-brooding political thriller. Also, come to think of it, the title "Killer Cop" reveals things you're not supposed to know. The original title translates as "The hands of the police are tied" and, as usual, it's a much better and meaningful description of the overall movie.
As mentioned already, this isn't the type of contemporary Italian thriller that thrives on virulent car chases, extreme gratuitous violence or heroic coppers sadistically massacring kidnappers and drug-dealers. Instead, it's a very tense and delicate tale in which a young commissioner (Claudio Cassinelli) and a veteran district attorney (Arthur Kennedy), independently from each other, try to uncover who set off a powerful bomb in the lobby of a crowded hotel full of elite and international guests, and why this act of terrorism was committed. There isn't a lot of action in Ercoli's film, but the plot is unimaginably compelling, and I often found myself at the edge of my seat during the pivot sequences. There are a handful of unforgettable sequences, like shortly after the explosion in the hotel when the camera slowly zooms in one almost all the casualties, or the exhilarating chase in the subway station.
Luciano Ercoli perhaps isn't the most known or prominent Italian cult director from the early 70s, but it's nevertheless already the fourth film of his that I absolutely adored! Sadly, this is his only (sort of) Poliziotesschi, but he did make three wondrous gems in that other favorite Italian sub genre of mine; - the Giallo. These were "Forbidden Photos of a Lady above Suspicion", "Death Walks on High Heels" and "Death Walks at Midnight". That man earned the Nobel price of literature for his titles alone.
This cheap and obscure Italian exploitation effort actually stood on my must-see list, and even quite high, I may add. That probably was because I read something about an infamous and ultimately sadist sequence in which a troop of mercenaries use innocent children as target practice. The scene does exist, as part of a flashback, and the idea is definitely sick and twisted, but - as with everything else in this dud - the execution isn't the least bit shocking or unsettling.
As far as shameless and excessively violent "rumble-in-the-jungle" exploitation goes, our Italians friends made far more entertaining movies, like "Blastfighter", "Strike Commando", "War Bus" and "Striker". All the aforementioned are also bad movies, mind you, but at least they are fun to watch. "Rolf" - what a terrible name for an action hero, by the way - is dull, poorly acted, horribly edited and full of dreadful clichés. Apart from a pathetic name, Rolf also has zero charisma. Poor Rolf only has a lousy childhood trauma (mommy was a heroin prostitute) and a derivative story to tell. When he refuses to transport drugs for his former mercenary buddies, they respond by gang-raping and murdering his fiancée. He strikes back by ambushing and killing them; - end of summary.
Gooey underground rivers of pink blubber that make people cranky
Amazing how opinions can change, and perceptions can even turn upside down, over time! 30 years ago, when yours truly was still an irritating little brat, I thought the original 1984 "Ghosbusters" was brilliant and nearly flawless, whereas I found the 1989 sequel a weak and redundant attempt solely meant to generate cash and organize a cast reunion. Now, upon seeing them both again after many years, the first film seems hopelessly dated and too hectic, while the second one suddenly seems a lot better (or at least on par with the original).
The plot of part II is largely similar to the first. New York is on the verge of doom, this time due to the rapidly strengthening spirit of an ancient & evil Carpathian warrior. It wants to possess Sigourney Weaver's baby, while the rest of the New Yorkers grow increasingly cranky because of pink gunk that feeds on negativity flooding underneath the sidewalks.
The most successful elements of the first are shamelessly copied, like giant statues walking in between the skyscrapers and the skies turning into all sort of ominous colors. On the bright side, there a handful of really imaginative ideas as well, like the arrival of the ghost-Titanic ("Better late than never never" says a still unknown Cheech Marin), Aykroyd and Hudson as entertainers at kids' parties and mayhem in Harris Yulin's courtroom. Also, and admittedly they are five years "younger", but the special effects have remarkably stood the test of time better than those of the original.
Badly dated, but not dated enough to watch the remake
Few things in life are as painful and confronting than re-watching a childhood favorite, only now with your own kids, and having to hear after barely 30-40 minutes from your offspring that the film is boring and looking silly. No wait, I can think of something even more painful and confronting, and that's realizing yourself the childhood favorite isn't at all what you remembered it to be.
I know "Ghostbusters" is pretty much considered a sacred classic, especially among loyal members of this great website, but let's face it ... "Ghostbusters" hasn't aged well, which isn't criticism but actually quite normal for a 35-year-old film! The once state-of-the-art and (deservedly so) Oscar-nominated special effects simply look mechanical and goofy nowadays. That's okay, though. I remember when they were great and how I was blown away by them when I was eight. But that was three decades ago, and I can't expect my own kids - age six and ten - are even slightly impressed. And not only the effects have dated badly. Lead characters like Bill Murray's cocky and exaggeratedly self-confident Dr. Venkman can't exist anymore, unless you aim for a series of #MeToo lawsuits. Everybody smokes, and they literally smoke everywhere, including public building, libraries and hospitals. You can refer to it as nostalgia, but it's stuff from the past, and righteously so.
Still, I hold on to my fond memories and don't have the slightest intentions to ever watch the 2016 remake. That's one for the digital generation, like my own children, while I'll recall the giant Marshmallow-man, Sigourney Weaver's sexy stare, and - duh - the timeless Ray Parker Jr. theme song.
Maybe it's too much of an assumption, or a generalization, but horror fans love anthologies! "Waxworks" (1924) and "Dead of Night" (1945) were the pioneers, and during the 70s in Britain, the Amicus Studios even specialized in them with a couple of classics as results, like "The House that Dripped Blood" and "Asylum". The ultimately popular omnibus came in the 80s, with George A. Romero's "Creepshow". Starting from the 90s, it became somewhat of a gimmick to have the separate segments directed by different - and preferably prestigious - directors. The variety of names usually makes it even more attractive for fans, but the participation of famous directors doesn't necessarily guarantee a brilliant anthology.
The names of the directors involved in "Trapped Ashes" is impressive, to say the least. Joe Dante ("The Howling", "Piranha") signed for the wraparound story, which gathers a group of seven people on a guided tour in an abandoned Hollywood movie studio. Dante, always his jolly self, takes the opportunity to give small roles to his buddies (like Dick Miller and Henry Gibson) but he's not given much material to work with otherwise.
The actual segments vary from extremely disappointing to surprisingly shocking. Sean S. Cunningham, horror-immortal thanks to the original "Friday the 13th", delivers the weakest contribution with a confusing and quite pretentious tale set in mystical Japan. The best story - or, better said, my own personal favorite - is a tie between Ken Russell's "The Girl with the Golden Breast" and John Gaeta's "My Twin, the Worm". The first is tacky but pleasantly deranged variation on the "I'll do whatever it takes to make it in Hollywood" theme, and I particularly love the second because of its rather disturbed premise of a fetus and a parasite developing in the womb together. Monte Hellman's tale is mediocre at best, in spite of the presence of the almighty John Saxon and the ingenious references towards Stanley Kubrick.
Undeniably, the main theme in every short story is sex. In fact, almost the entire film qualifies as pure body-horror, which also means that the sex and nudity is never arousing or even pleasant to look at. All the individual segments may look unfinished, since they all end rather abruptly, but even the lesser experienced horror fanatics can guess the real denouement comes at the end of the wraparound story. "Trapped Ashes" is a decent effort and an atypical anthology. I'm glad that I saw it, but I can't label it as a classic, nor a favorite.
Joachim Fuchsberger present? Klaus Kinski present? Comic-relief guy present? Alright, let's Krimi!
The so-called Krimi-movies based on the books by Edgar Wallace follow a very strict, yet simple and successful formula. They work with frequently returning actors and directors, and there's always minimally one character - usually a police inspector - providing comic relief. The comedy is presumably inserted because the whodunit stories of Edgar Wallace are convoluted, talkative and often requiring a fairly long time to shift into gear.
"The Black Abbott" is slightly atypical in the plotting department, though, since it's not a genuine whodunit/mystery. The story revolves around an ancient gold treasure, hidden somewhere in an eerie abbey, and everybody who unravels the mystery of where exactly it's hidden gets murdered by a killer dressed up as a monk with a black cape. The first hour of the film is overly talkative and confusing, with too many characters to tell apart and the numerous intrigues between them. It's also doesn't help that the only two female characters almost look identical. The last half hour contains a lot of action and excitement, though, and the set-pieces are deliciously grim.
If this is Agatha Christie, then I am Napoleon Bonaparte
The best and most accurate line ever written about this mini-series comes out of the user-comment of a fellow reviewer on this site, and nor me, nor any other professional film critic in the world could have said it better. The line simply states: "why do people presume they can write it better than Agatha Christie herself?". Too true, "The ABC Murders" is the worst and downright ugliest adaptation of Dame Agatha Christie's work I've ever watched, and it's purely because some people - looking at you Sarah Phelps - felt it was a good idea to rewrite a perfectly good story.
Luckily enough, the essence of the genius novel - the murder story - is still largely intact, but the screenplay heavily messes with the characters, and particularly with the untouchable Hercule Poirot. Scrap Hastings, kill off Japp, invent a previous life for Poirot, ... Why do this? You just don't mess with Agatha Christie's creations! If you don't like how she created them, write your own whodunit with your own characters. The TV-film series "Agatha Christie's Marple" also often altered story elements, but at least they did it with a lot of respect. "The ABC Murders" is overlong, tedious, anti-stylish and dark. Not the good kind of dark, mind you. As much as I respect John Malkovich as an actor, he's dull and lifeless as Poirot. His pre-WWI backstory is pointless and features the same old & insignificant flashbacks over and over again. Oh, and if you really must refer to Poirot's years in his home country Belgian, at least have the decency to cast some who speaks proper French.