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Tales from the Hood

Zombies, closet-monsters, voodoo-dolls, ...and more shizzle!
Whilst enjoying "Tales from the Hood", my horror pal and I concluded that good 90s horror does exist; you must only look for it. Granted, decades like the 70s and 80s brought forward a lot more genre classics and fan-favorites, but there's also great stuff from the nineties. This is one of them, and - moreover - every self-respecting horror fanatic loves anthologies!

"Tales from the Hood", produced by none other than Spike Lee, is "Creepshow" meets "Boyz 'n the Hood", with four segments that are pure horror but nevertheless feature heavy racial themes and relevant social topics. The first story is even painfully recognizable, as it revolves around racist white-trash coppers beating a black political activist to death! He - Martin Moorehouse - comes back as a zombie to extract his bloody vengeance; - now that's how a Black Lives Matter stories should end! The plot is a bit derivative and predictable, but the over-the-top performances (especially from Wings Hauser as psychotic cop) are terrific. The second story is maybe the weakest of the four, but still enjoyable and featuring a rare villainous role David Alan Grier. The third story is - hands down - the coolest, with Corbin Bensen as megalomaniacal Southern politician who provokes the black community by moving into a former plantation mansion. Many slaves died at the house, and their souls transferred into little voodoo dolls that come to life. Great stuff, this short tale, with excellent stop-motion effects and Bensen as the ultimately loathsome racist. The fourth and final story is more experimental, has a storyline like "A Clockwork Orange", and is most remarkable for its montage of shocking and disturbing photographs from the Ku Klux Klan era. The last story also neatly links back to the wraparound, in which Clarence Williams III is having the best time of his life as flamboyant owner of a funeral home.


The Palme d'Or has lost its value and significance
What does "Titane" have in common with films like "Parasite", "Amour", "Elephant", "The Pianist", "Pulp Fiction", and "Barton Fink". You guessed right; they're all winners of the Palme d'Or head price at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. What else does "Titane" in common with the other films? Well, absolutely nothing, because all the others are genuine cinematic masterpieces that deserved to win a great price, whereas this film is nothing but a confusing, chaotic, and pretentious mess.

I honestly can't figure out why the Cannes' jury decided to let "Titane" win. Maybe because it's a French film at a French festival? Maybe because the director is a woman? Maybe because it's hip to pretend liking so-called elevated horror movies? Or maybe - and this is the likeliest option - those jury members saw a true masterpiece and I'm missing the point entirely once again.

"Titane" feels like David Cronenberg meets Takashi Miike, but then times infinity. It's body horror to the extreme, with the lead girl - Alexia - having a severe fetish for dancing sensually on rooftop of vehicles, and actually having sex WITH cars. We can only assume her weird fetish originates from a terribly car accident she was involved in as a child, which also caused for her to go through life with a metal plate in her skull. She's also a relentless serial killer, and to remain at large she takes the identity of a boy that went missing a decade ago. She moves in with her new father in his fire department station and must desperately conceal she's pregnant from a rusty old car.

In case this summary already makes you go WTF, just wait until you witness the full film. There's plenty of more senseless and incoherent nonsense where this came from. Admittedly, there are a handful of very powerful and genuinely shocking moments in "Titane", as well as good performances and a thoroughly uncanny atmosphere. Still, the good moments cannot compensate for the overload of pompous guff. I can't stand movies in which none of the characters can act or reactive rationally or even half-normal, nor wannabe art-house flicks that don't properly finish storylines or provide any sort of explanations.

In all fairness, the Palme d'Or should have gone to Paul Verhoeven's "Benedetta".

The Twilight Zone: A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain
Episode 11, Season 5

Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm six or four!
The fifth and final season of "The Twilight Zone" is beginning to look more and more like a farewell tour, in which the legendary writer/creator Rod Serling recycles his personal favorite themes one last time! Here we have another short story of a man longing for his own younger years and seeking for a magical solution to rejuvenate. It's a common theme in TZ, but it's made slightly more interesting because of the motivation of protagonist Harmon Gordon. He wants to be young again to keep up and please his forty (!) years younger wife Flora. Flora's character and personality is what makes this otherwise derivative and predictable episode worthwhile. She's the ultimate gold-digger; stunningly beautiful but mean, selfish, and foul-mouthed. People like her don't usually see a happy ending in ...the Twilight Zone!

The Twilight Zone: The 7th Is Made Up of Phantoms
Episode 10, Season 5

Cowboys and Indians ... and Soldiers!
"...And the past and the present will collide. In the twilight zone!". It's one of Rod Serling's hobbyhorses to put characters of the present time in a setting of past times; whether their own past or a completely different one. Sometimes this results in legendary great episodes, like "Walking Distance", but sometimes also in mediocre ones, like this "The 7th is made up of Phantoms". Despite starring one of my favorite actors of all times (Warren Oates), it's an unremarkable episode from every angle. Three soldiers performing exercise tank-maneuvers near Little Big Horn suddenly find themselves in the middle of the infamous battle between George Custer's troops and the Sioux Indians. Interesting idea, but very little is done with it.

The Twilight Zone: Probe 7, Over and Out
Episode 9, Season 5

In the intergalactic Gadda-da-Vida!
As much as it breaks my heart to write this, I'm afraid that some of Rod Serling's favorite themes and subjects are beginning to get a little bit rusty after four and a half seasons of "The Twilight Zone". Here we have another tale about yet another lone astronaut crash-landing with his ship on yet another forsaken planet (where there's nevertheless oxygen and vegetation). I can spontaneously think of a handful of other TZ-episodes that used the exact same basic premise, and surely many fans with me. Luckily, Mr. Serling has two reasonably innovative twists in store for "Probe 7, Over and Out". The desperate space traveler begs for help from the crew on Earth, but they can't do anything since there's a nuclear war about to break out. And, secondly, there's a dreamy biblical twist that attentive viewers should be able to figure out approximately halfway the episode.

The Twilight Zone: Uncle Simon
Episode 8, Season 5

Sir Cedric! You evil but awesome old man!
Call me vicious, call me sadist, but my personal favorite "Twilight Zone" episodes (favorite movies in general, in fact) are the ones where the protagonists are pure evil. Not just committing evil deeds, but evil to the bone, with rotten personalities and deliberately dedicating their lives to mentally torment others. Someone like Uncle Simon in this TZ-episode with the same name, for instance, and I couldn't think of an actor more fit to depict him than Sir Cedric Hardwicke ("The Hunchback of Notre Dame", "Ghost of Frankenstein")

The idea behind "Uncle Simon" is preposterous, but delightfully entertaining. Old and sickly Simon Polk is a loathsome tyrant to his niece Barbara, who lives in with him and spends her days acting as a nurse and taking care of the household. Uncle Simon continuously insults and humiliates her, but the woman literally awaits his death and the inheritance. Still, only after his passing, it will become clear to Barbara why Uncle Simon spent so much time in his laboratory in the basement.

You could easily state that writer/creator Rod Serling intended this story to be a complaint towards typically human vices like greed and selfishness, but I prefer to see it simply as a pitch-black comedy and a showcasing of Sir Cedric Hardwicke's amazing talent for playing ultra-villainous roles.

The Twilight Zone: The Old Man in the Cave
Episode 7, Season 5

And the people bowed and prayed, to the Caveman God they made...
This must be the first episode in the entire "Twilight Zone" series where I can't really figure out whether I liked it or not. In fact, it left me stone-cold, and that obviously also isn't the kind of emotion or sentiment you seek for. What is good (albeit familiar) about "The Old Man in the Cave" is the post-apocalyptic setting, and mankind's realization that - ten years "after the bomb" - they only brought misery, suffering, and despair upon themselves. What I didn't like at all is the exaggerated preachiness of the script. Now, many TZ are preachy, but this is - to my knowledge - the only episode in which Rod Serling blatantly suggest a tragic outcome for people who don't listen to the preaching.

Sounds confusing, I know, but I promise it makes more sense when you watch the episode. The preachy aspect can be summarized as: you need to believe in something, and you simply must hang on to your belief no matter what. The inhabitants of a small town managed to survive reasonably well during ten horrible years in the aftermath of a nuclear disaster, primarily because they blindly followed the advice of an unseen deity. The so-called "Old Man in the Cave" spread messages via the community leader, like "the radioactive wind is blowing from the North" or "the canned food is also contaminated", and they adapt. With the arrival of a skeptical and brute military squad, the townsfolk begin to question the almightiness of the wise Cavemen, and suddenly their chances for further survival deteriorate.

So, what are you implying, Mr. Serling? That you can never question or challenge the things you always believed in before? That you must always follow the masses like sheep? I don't feel cozy with morals like these, despite the episode benefiting from an uncanny post-apocalyptic atmosphere, and the presence of James Coburn.

Mean Dog Blues

But I still... Got the blues... For my Dobermann!
Hey kids, if nothing else, at least let this film be the ultimate reminder for you to never step into a car with a driver who has been drinking! You always end up paying for his/her mistakes and stupidities, one way or another!

In "Mean Dog Blues", the poor aspiring musician Paul Ramsey even sees his life turning into a living hell, as he takes the blame for a hit-and-run accident he didn't cause and gets sentenced to a rural prison farm that answers to every possible cliché or stereotype you can think of; - including sadistic wardens, viciously hungry Dobermann guard dogs, and rapist fellow inmates! While the production values are good, the basic plot is compelling, and the film benefices from several strong performances, the typical prison drama situations are overly familiar. There are too many dull and repetitive sequences, and I honestly think the film would have been more impactful if it was 15-20 minutes shorter. George Kennedy is a fantastic actor, and I'm a big fan, but his character of obsessive doggie-loving head-warden certainly isn't the highlight of his career.

Odio mi cuerpo

Man, I feel like a woman!
Although this wondrous website lists "horror", "Sci-fi", and "drama" as genres to classify "I Hate my Body", you rapidly realize the emphasis primarily lies on the drama, just a little bit on the science-fiction, and practically not at all on the horror. But hey, what else do you expect from a tale about an experimental brain transplant, in which a successful and macho male engineer wakes up in the body of an attractive young female after a tragic road accident. He/she is painfully confronted with the discrimination and sexist behavior he was also guilty of in his previous life, and he badly suffers to determine his sexual orientation.

It's hardly horror-material, obviously, but veteran-director Léon Klimovski nevertheless manages to insert a handful of exploitative and sleaze-laden sequences. The actual transplant, for instance, is performed by a questionable surgeon named Adolphe who apparently experimented with similar stuff during World War II. Dr Adolphe doesn't like to be reminded of the concentration camps, though. There's plenty of gratuitous sex and nudity, as well as the mandatory sadist rape-sequence. Alexandra Bastedo, known from "The Blood-Spattered Bride", is a talented actress and an immensely beautiful woman, but even she can't rescue the film from sheer tastelessness and boredom.

The Twilight Zone: Living Doll
Episode 6, Season 5

Ha ha, Kojak can't handle a doll!
Out of the 156 episodes included in the original "The Twilight Zone" series, this "Living Doll" has always been the one I've been looking forward to seeing the most! I mean, who doesn't want to witness a showdown between the almighty Telly Savalas (one of the most robust and testosterone-pumped male performers in history) versus a seemingly cherubic but menacing and downright petrifying little play doll?

Savalas delightfully portrays - like he did so often in his career - a horribly mean and loathsome person, namely a stepfather so frustrated about his inability to father a child of his own, that he interprets his stepdaughter's new and fancy talking doll as an insult to his manliness. The doll, however, quickly turns out to be Chucky's great-aunt, and whenever nobody else is around to hear it, she says stuff like "My name is Talking Tina and you'll be sorry", or even "My name is Talking Tina and I'm going to kill you".

Even though I'm biased, "Living Doll" truly is one of the best entries in the series! The suspense is incredibly well-mounted. The doll's lines are genuinely creepy, and Savalas is excellent in illustrating his character's downwards spiral of madness. Great team behind the cameras as well, with director Richard C. Sarafian ("Vaninshing Point") and the fabulous writer Charles Beaumont. They also made the wise choice not to show the Tina doll moving around the house. She escapes from garbage cans and pops up in bed, but we don't see how. Many horror films about murderous dolls, even the "Child Play" series, are often almost ruined because a running doll is a clumsy sight.

The Twilight Zone: The Last Night of a Jockey
Episode 5, Season 5

The dullest 25 minutes in the entire dimension of sound, sight, and mind
Do you also love the intro-sequences of "The Twilight Zone" so much? Rod Serling's stern and ominous narrating voice saying stuff like: You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension - a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind... Well, in "The Last Night of a Jockey", all three the dimensions apparently fit into one single and utterly DULL room!

As much as I love Rod Serling and the wonderful Sci-Fi/fantasy universe he created with "The Twilight Zone", this must - hands down - be the most boring and uninteresting script he ever penned down. I never cared much for Mickey Rooney as an actor, so he's well cast as the whiny and self-pity-sick jockey (he is short, after all) who's banned from professional horse-racing. As if one Rooney isn't enough yet, he starts talking to his own conscience that appears as another Rooney in every reflecting object. And that really is all they do... talk. Knowing Rod Serling, I'm sure there's a valuable life-lesson hidden somewhere, but the dialogues were just too dull to listen to.

The Twilight Zone: A Kind of a Stopwatch
Episode 4, Season 5

You think about that now!
Your humble reviewer is a tremendous fan of "Twilight Zone" episodes in which the protagonists are utterly insane, megalomaniacal, and hyperactive... And preferably all three at the same time! The best examples I can give are Oliver Crangle in "Four O'Clock" and Somerset Frisby in "Hocus Pocus and Frisby", both featuring in the third season. McNulty, the (anti-)hero in "A Kind of Stopwatch", would form the perfect trio with these other two loonies.

McNulty the type of guy who never - literally never - stops talking about his own opinions and ideas to improve the world, while constantly using irritating stop-phrases like "isn't that something?" or "you think about that now!". His mania costs him his job and all his friends at the local bar. What do you expect when you make suggestions such as making hotdogs flatter, so they look more like hamburgers, when you actually work for a company that sells women's underwear? I love this man! McNulty's life changes when he comes in possession of a stopwatch that literally freezes the world around him.

The plot itself is of lesser importance, especially because McNulty doesn't do anything useful with his magical device and ruins it as soon as he figures out the true power of it, but the episode is more than enjoyable if only for Richard Erdman as the hopeless McNulty. I sure hope he improvised most of his lines, otherwise it would have been a tough job memorizing everything.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Playtime is forever finished at Hogwarts!
If you consider the Harry Potter franchise a coming-of-age film series, which I'm sure J. K. Rowling imagined it to be next to being a fantasy and adventure series, then "Order of the Phoenix" represents the dawn of a new era for young wizard Harry and his friends. Out with the innocence and playfulness, in with responsibilities and the everlasting battle for the right of your existence in this cruel and harsh world. The childhood era of "The Sorcerer's Stone" and "Chamber of Secrets", during which fooling around and making mistakes was allowed - and even encouraged - is long gone. The puberty phase of "Prisoner of Azkaban" and "The Goblet of Fire", when it was still okay to discover oneself and revolt against the rules without too many consequences, is forever over and done with as well. Harry and C° enter adolescence in "The Order of the Phoenix", and with it comes the confrontation with injustice, the frustration of bureaucracy, and the foundation of life-long relationships; - whether friendships or vendettas.

Perhaps I interpret the Harry Potter series far too much as a metaphor for the (mental) evolution of the first twenty years of any human life, but that's exactly also one of the main reasons why I think these films are so phenomenal. "The Order of the Phoenix" is a turning point in the franchise for several reasons. From here onwards, literally everything links back to the battle of good (Harry and friends) versus evil (Lord Voldemort and his army of darkness), but there are still plenty of significant sub plots. The loathsome and downright insufferable character of Dolores Umbridge is brilliant, for instance, since she so accurately represents every tiny but discouraging obstacle in life. Or: life is basically a long list of theoretical instructions and rules, but it just doesn't function like this.

The fifth film also contains a lot more hectic action, uncompromising violence, realistic disillusions, and defeat. Well, such is life as well. But there's also stability to be found somewhere, like reliable old friendships and unexpected new support. The series itself finds its own stability, with director David Yates taking place in the director's seat and remaining there until the end of the series (plus spin-offs). I didn't think it was possible, but the ensemble cast just keeps getting better, with as most noteworthy new arrivals Imelda Staunton, Helena Bonham Carter, and Evanna Lynch.

The Mad Room

It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad Room! But still not mad enough!
Alright, prepare for some weird and seemingly illogical reasoning... "The Mad Room" certainly isn't complete failure, or even a terribly bad film, but considering the wasted potential and the people and source material involved, it was a bigger disappointment to me as than it would be just another bad film. Makes sense? No, didn't think so...

What I mean is that I'm 200% convinced "The Mad Room" easily could have been a lot better, and the only thing it accomplished is make me curious about tracking down the original film entitled "Ladies in Retirement", starring Ida Lupino and released in 1941.

Legendary dame Shelley Winters stars as the wealthy and eccentric widow Mrs. Armstrong. The almost equally legendary Stella Stevens stars as her secretary, and future daughter-in-law, Ellen Hardy. Troubles arise when Ellen's younger brother and sister need Ellen as their custodian and need Mrs. Armstrong's fancy big mansion as place to live. Why is this a problem? Well, because the siblings - George and Mandy - were just released from a mental institution, as they are suspected of butchering their parents at the tender ages of 6 and 8 years old!

The supposedly shocking denouement is hopelessly predictable, especially in the context of this being a late 60s horror/thriller flourishing on the tremendous success of Hitchcock's "Psycho", but that really isn't the problem. What bothers most is that "The Mad Room" is completely devoid of creativity, excitement, and sardonic humor despite all the opportunities for it! Even though featuring psychotic women aplenty, theatrical murders, and a dog wandering around with a severed hand in his mouth, the script is unfathomably dull and strictly routine.


Tonight we'll grindhouse like it's 1979!
"X" perhaps isn't the gritty and uncompromisingly gore slasher/exploitation-homage I hoped it would be, but nevertheless a very solid and enjoyable new horror flick, and a good return to form for writer/director Ti West. He impressively debuted with "The Roost" in 2005, and then continued with a handful of remarkable horror movies in a relatively short period ("The House of the Devil", "The Innkeepers", "The Sacrament"), but then surprisingly somewhat vanished for several years to do low-profile TV-work. West is now back with "X", which seems like a very successful move since there are already a prequel and a sequel in the making.

The film starts out slow, with an overly patient and slightly too pretentious introduction of the lead characters and the setting. Everything takes place in the year 1979 (always a good excuse to avoid nowadays nuisances like social media and mobile phones), in rural Texas, where a group of aspiring filmmakers rented a farmhouse location to shoot their very own independent adult movie entitled "The Farmer's Daughters". They keep their work secret for the elderly couple next door, but the old folks - and particularly the wife - are not as prudish and loveable as you'd expect.

The plot-twists during the second half are implausible, even borderline preposterous, but there's suspense and brutality aplenty to keep us, grindhouse/exploitation fanatics, entertained. The most pleasant surprise comes from the atypical lead characters. They seem like a bunch of annoying twenty-something jerks, but they are not. Even the most stereotypical ones (the sleazy producer, the blond bimbo, the black stud) turn out to be helpful, above-average intelligent and sympathetic people! A healthy dose of female beauty and a bit of nudity (provided by Mia Goth, Brittany Snow, and - to a lesser extent - Jenna Ortega), as well as a fitting late 70s soundtrack (including "Don't Fear the Reaper" and "Bad Case of Lovin' you) also contribute to a fun viewing experience.

The Twilight Zone: Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
Episode 3, Season 5

The one! The only! But the ultimate?
If there is one "Twilight Zone" episodes that represents the entire series, and truly epitomizes the popularity, influence, and force of Rod Serling's wonderful TV-creation, it inarguably must be "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet". Everybody has seen this episode or knows it thanks to one of the hundreds of homages or parodies. Who doesn't know the famous spoof in "The Simpsons", for instance, where Bart sees a critter on the side of the school bus, and nobody believes him? The question whether the installment is the absolute best one in the entire five-season series is, and fully earns the dazzling 9.1 out of 10 rating, is debatable. Personally, I don't find "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" the greatest tale of them all, and to me that honor goes to either "The After Hours" or "The Shelter". This is, however, a powerful and unforgettable episode, with a terrific building up of suspense and a unique claustrophobic atmosphere.

Just released from a mental institution following a six-month period of mental breakdown, and suffering from a tremendous fear of flying, family man Bob Wilson finds himself inside a plane during a storm, and suddenly sees how a strange creature attempts to sabotage the wing-motor. Nobody else sees the "gremlin", and obviously doesn't believe him due to his recent condition. Not the stewardess or the pilot, and not even his loving wife by his side. William Shatner gives away a stellar and intense performance, and I think it's quite significant that his role here is still as famous and well-known as his work in "Star Trek". It was also one of the first major directing accomplishments of Richard Donner. Perhaps, and definitely by today's standards, the creature on the wing doesn't come across as very believable or menacing, but the suspense generated aboard the plane remains unequalled.

The Twilight Zone: Steel
Episode 2, Season 5

Mr. Steel! First name: Man Of. But not quite so anymore, I'm afraid...
The basic premise behind this TZ-episode is quite brilliant, or at least I thought so. In the sooner-than-you-think future, boxing as a physical sport is forbidden by law, and the human fighters had to be replaced by battling mechanical androids. The whole surrounding circus (boxing promotors, illegal gambling, tournaments in sleazy underground clubs, etc.) remained in place, though. The idea, based on a short story by the almighty genius Richard Matheson, is really fascinating and comes quite close to the concept of "Westworld", which is one of the coolest Sci-Fi stories ever. It's also a quite atypical entry for "The Twilight Zone", because - unless I'm mistaken - Rod Serling's series doesn't usually deal with borderline-dystopian subjects (except if the stories take place in a very distant future and are really exaggerated, which "Steel is not).

Matheson's story also got turned into a long-feature film in 2011, named "Real Steel", but I haven't seen that one.

Even though many reviewers apparently tend to disagree, I thought the episode is fantastic overall and captivating from start to finish. Not just the rudimentary idea is great, but also the unfolding of how ex-boxer Steel Kelly (the awesome Lee Marvin) struggles with his hopelessly outdated B2-model Battling Maxo, and how he painfully must accept that even a former heavyweight champion cannot beat technology. The episode is a bit too talkative, perhaps, but Lee Marvin is phenomenal to behold. The android fighters, including Steel's own transformation) form a creepy and unsettling sight; perfectly fit for a nightmarish vision of the near future.

The Twilight Zone: In Praise of Pip
Episode 1, Season 5

Poor start of the 5th and final season
Said it before and I'll say it again, "The Twilight Zone" tales are at their weakest when they are overly sentimental, melodramatic, and dealing with themes such as repent and atonement! Harsh, dark, and disturbing Sci-Fi; now that is what we want to see! Well, correction, that is what I want to see. Unfortunately, it seems like one of writer/creator Rod Serling's favorite topics, together with the sappy theme of returning to one's childhood. "In Praise of Pip" even has a bit of both, and thus I personally found it a dull, eye-rolling, and forgettable episode. Two notably elements are the strong performance by Jack Klugman (as an alcoholic and arrogant, but grieving father) and one of the first and earliest inclusions of the Vietnam War in a movie/TV-show.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Better than the original? No way! A masterpiece in a totally different league? You bet!
Believe it or not, but yours truly is always very tolerant and respectful when it comes to the cinematic opinions of other people, regardless of how dumb and crazy they seem. There are, however, a handful of fan-statements that literally make me cringe, and that I simply cannot accept. One of those is the (sadly) often-read statement that the sequel "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" is a much better film than the original "The Terminator". How can anyone say a thing like that, or better yet, use that specific wording? It would be like parents claiming their second child is a vast improvement compared to their first-born. It's just not done.

Okay, rant-modus out. What I'm sure people mean to say is that "Terminator 2" is the film James Cameron always wanted to make ever since he imagined the whole Terminator concept, but couldn't accomplish before due to budgetary restraints, lack of name status, and quite simply because the technology of most of the exquisite hi-tech special/digital effects didn't exist yet. The original 1984 "The Terminator" is - and will always remain - a genuine masterpiece of raw and petrifying Sci-Fi, and it paved the way for this hyped sequel, as well as for a long-running franchise and many imitations, homages, spin-offs, and blatant knock-offs. In terms of influence and impact, I easily daresay "The Terminator" is much more important. It also hasn't dated, and it's still as disturbing, foreboding, nihilistic, and overwhelming as it was nearly forty years ago. A low-budget landmark, period.

"Termintor 2: Judgement Day" also hasn't dated in 30 years, and that is possibly even a bigger achievement, since computer-engineered effects have evolved tremendously throughout this period. T2 is still as visually astonishing as it was during its première and remains one of the most spectacular and adrenalin-rushing Sci-Fi monuments of all times. On top of that, and more so than the original, this movie is the ultimate crowd-pleaser. The plot is convoluted but easy to follow, the soundtrack is pounding, the script is full of legendary quote-material, the cast-members are having a blast, and Cameron finds a perfect balance between gore, sentiment, humor, suspense, and action. Everything that came after "The Terminator" and "Terminator 2" (Rise of the Machines, Salvation, Genisys, Dark Fate) is entertaining, but simply cannot compete with this duo, whether it stars Schwarzenegger or other great names (like Christian Bale).

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Wizard kids ... They grow up so fast!
What I love and admire most of all about the Harry Potter franchise - yes, even more than the constant featuring of evil wizards, dragons, and menacing creatures - is that these are perfect "coming-of-age" stories at the same time. Here we have Harry and his friends in continuous mortal danger and facing the utmost difficult ordeals imaginable, and yet some of their most pressing concerns include finding a date for the Christmas dance or worrying whether their friends are keeping secrets from them. It's truly stupendous how, in each of the four films I've seen thus far, the events and dialogues are adjusted to the lead characters' ages and emotional maturity stages. Credit for this primarily goes creator J. K. Rowling, of course, but even for every individual film instalment, the right tone and director seem carefully selected.

That said, and although an excellent film overall, "Goblet of Fire" is probably my least favorite of the series thus far. This mainly has to do with the scope of the plot and absence (or much smaller roles) of a few characters. Whereas the previous entries had a lot of storylines and sub-plots zigzagging and merging into each other, here almost everything revolves around the wizard-tournament to which Harry was reluctantly appointed by the titular Goblet of Fire. I reckon it's an important event, but does it really last the entire fourth year at Hogwarts?

Personally, I found this entry less dark and unsettling as the almighty "Prisoner of Azkaban", and this in spite of the actual and long-awaited featuring of Lord Voldemort himself. The tournament rounds guarantee a handful of intense and fabulously exhilarating sequences, though. Particularly the underwater challenge is nail-bitingly tense and visually beyond impressive. And with a climax such as this one, I cannot wait to see the next in line; "Order of the Phoenix".

I vizi morbosi di una governante

What's for supper? Italian Giallo-stew ... with eyeballs!
This may seem like a very bizarre and silly statement, but bear with me. If the Giallo sub-genre is one big and joyful family, then "Crazy Desires of a Murderer" would be the weird and creepy uncle! He's unreliable and always involved in some sort of trouble, but his stories and lifestyle are utterly fascinating. Nobody openly appreciates his perverted remarks or his twisted sense of humor, but secretly everybody loves him just a little bit. And, finally, the family party or reunion simply isn't complete without him.

What I basically mean with the above gibberish is that "Crazy Desires of a Murderer" is a very atypical and experimental Giallo, but nevertheless one that keeps you intrigued and amused even though the overall sentiment at the end is disappointment. Arriving quite late at the party (the giallo's heyday ended around 1974-1975; while this was released in 1977), the script incorporates various other non-giallo styles, genres, and story elements.

The rudimentary plot of a spoiled rich girl and her eccentric friends being stalked by a sadist killer is pure and unhinged Giallo, obviously, but the setting at the remote old family castle with its mandatorily sinister inhabitants (a crippled patriarch, a spooky amateur-taxidermist son, a cold-blooded housemaid...) also makes the film an authentic gothic-horror effort. There's also a crime/thriller angle, since one of the guests at the castle is up to his neck into drug-smuggling and plans the theft of a valuable family jewel. As soon as the police inspector enters the scene, played by the eminent Corrado Gaipa, "Crazy Desires..." even almost turns into an Agatha Christie novel, since he's a sort of Poirot who draws all the attention to him and sets traps for the potential culprits. Last but not least, the film also shares the contemporary Italian fetish for eyeball-violence. There's a regrettably low number of kills in this film, especially considering the expanded cast, but the poor girl who gets it first suffers tremendously as her eyes are literally spooned out of the sockets and put in a bag.

As said, a very strange flick full of gratuitous sex and shocks, but also one that is ultimately unsatisfying. Director Filipo Walter Ratti has enough material here to fill at least two full-length movies, but stuffing everything into one script made it hectic and unnatural.

Violación fatal

Forgotten, but not righteously
Another "Trauma"? If I put aside a dollar for (horror) movie I watched with as title - or as a.k.a. Title - "Trauma", I could at least treat myself to a lunch at McDonalds or something. It's incredibly how many movies have this title!

Anyway, this puppy is included in the fancy Blu-Ray DVD collection "Forgotten Gialli" (*), and boy does it ever belong there! It's obscure and unknown, but undeservedly so, because it features all the juicy and delicious trademarks we worship so dearly. Beautiful women, gratuitous nudity, and blood-soaked murders committed by an unseen assailant wearing black gloves and using a razorblade. The plot is thin and borrows heavily from Hitchcock's landmark "Psycho", but true Giallo-fanatics see right through that. "Trauma" is actually a Spanish Giallo, not an Italian one. Writer/director Léon Klimovsky frequently collaborated with horror icon Paul Naschy, and previously made other giallo, with "A Dragonfly for Each Corpse".

Daniel, a struggling writer with personal problems, arrives in a very remote and isolated Spanish guest house owned by the beautiful Veronica. She's often distracted by her disabled husband in the attic, but Daniel loves the place and the female owner, so he books for several nights extra. Other clients check in as well, but their stay is brutally interrupted by a vicious killer with a razor. The plot is basic and very simple to figure out, but there's enough weirdness to keep you fascinated. Although not a very handsome man, the women throw themselves at Daniel, but he seems more interested in a 14-year-old local boy. The sequence where he dries off the boy after a swim felt quite uncomfortable. All women in "Trauma" (Agatha Lys, Irene Foster, Isabel Pisano, and Sandra Alberti) are exquisite and unpretentiously show off their bodily assets.

(*) I'm probably not supposed to make publicity around here, but the "Forgotten Gialli" collection is a fantastic series! Most people know the classic gialli by acclaimed directors like Dario Argento, Mario Bava, or Sergio Martino, but this series highlights many unknown titles from equally unknown directors. "Trauma" was the only one I hadn't seen yet, but the (thus far) five volumes contain some dazzling titles, like "The Killer is one of Thirteen", "The Police Are Blundering in the Dark", "My Dear Killer", "Nine Guests for a Crime", and others.


Thirty-one, thirty-two, zombie's coming for you...
Do you know that lazy and languid feeling after you have just eaten, or have made a heavy physical effort? You just want to be left alone and chill. Well, writer/director Gustavo Henández apparently thought it was a good idea to make a zombie-movie revolving solely around this little and insignificant gimmick. In "Virus:32", the zombies (or infected people, or whatever) remain in an inactive state of trance for 32 seconds after they devoured some brains or killed a living thing. If you're quick, you can use this period to escape. If not, you're their next supper.

There's very little else to write about this otherwise lame, uninspired, and derivative zombie flick from Uruguay. The film almost entirely takes places in a back-alley sporting complex, where the lead actress is a night security guard. You'll seriously wonder why the place needs security because it's old, ramshackle, and infested with rats. She's trapped inside with her young daughter and a man who insists on delivering his wife's baby, even though she's already infected with the virus.

"Virus: 32" is a non-stop spitfire of the genre's most overused and dreadful clichés. Many things don't make the least bit of sense, the lead characters take dumb decisions, the music score is blatantly stolen from John Murphy's work for 28 Days/Weeks Later, and the climax is beyond pathetic. Did you know you can kill a zombie with a stapler?!?

Mad Heidi

Yodelay Heeeeeeeee-AAAAaaaaaaaaaaaah
The story behind "Mad Heidi" is almost as interesting - if not MORE interesting - than the film itself. The project started more than 3 years ago as the crazy dream of a bunch of Swiss horror/cult film-buffs. The mission: make the first-ever Swiss exploitation movie, preferably as insane and over-the-top as humanly possible. The challenge: they didn't have any money, only a lot of devoted enthusiasm and energy.

What followed is probably one of the most impressive and respectable crowd-funding campaigns in history. Via Internet and various social media channels, the "Mad Heidi" hype slowly but surely increased. Funds were raised via merchandising (you could even buy a cuckoo-clock) and the pre-order DVD sales of a movie that didn't exist yet! The campaign was incredibly successful, and the film was made with more than enough budget for excellent special effects, and even the involvement of a relatively well-known B-actor; - Casper Van Dien.

But then came Covid-19 ... Just like everything else in the world, the release of "Mad Heidi" was put on hold, and the patience of the cast, crew and thousands of co-funders got tested immensely. Now, and finally, the movie had its world-premiere at the Brussels' International Fantastic Film Festival. It was a real party.

Inevitably, the festive ambiance before, during and after the screening of "Mad Heidi" heavily influenced my experience and rating. I'm sorry for that, but it's simply impossible to get euphoric when you are surrounded by hundreds of people yodeling in a theater, wearing fake Swiss Nazi-uniforms, and drinking beer.

Most importantly, though, "Mad Heidi" is exactly what it promised to be ever since the beginning of production; - namely a massively entertaining and absurdly eccentric exploitation movie with copious amounts of splatter, twisted humor, demented characters, self-parody, deliberately dumb quotes and catch-phrases, and non-stop vitality. The tone, style and content of the film isn't new or innovative. The plot is comparable to crowd-pleasing flicks like "Inglourious Bastards" or "Iron Sky", and the script pays tribute to approximately three dozen of cinematic treasures varying from "The Sound of Music" to "Lady Snowblood".

The story is of lesser importance, but it neatly follows the structure of a textbook revenge-thriller. If I tell you Casper Van Dien stars as the tyrannical and megalomaniacal President of Switzerland, and simultaneously CEO of the only authorized company to produce and export cheese, you already know enough. He wants to obtain world-domination via genetically altered cheese, but a heroic girl from the Alps is determined to get revenge for the murder of her boyfriend and the downfall of her beloved Motherland.

Of all the great fun and splendid gimmicks, what I most appreciated is how the makers wonderfully inserted every possible Swiss cliche and national symbol into their film. There's the Matterhorn and cheese bowls in the film-logo already, but everything else you could possibly associate with Switzerland features as well: idyllic mountain paths, Alp horns, cuckoo clocks, cheese fondue, watches, pocket knives, Toblerone chocolate, ... There's so much lunacy and mayhem happening that Heidi's character and her quest for revenge is even pushed to the background sometimes, which is a minor default.

Self Defense

Respect your local law-enforcement!
Where's Robocop when you need him, right? Paul Verhoeven's classic Sci-Fi masterpiece revolves around a half-man/half-machine law enforcer that was tested for the first time during a police strike in the grim streets of a futuristic Detroit. But in 1981 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, there apparently also was a massive police strike, and this underrated exploitation/cult gem illustrates what happens if the cyborg-alternative doesn't exist!

Okay, admittedly, my intro paragraph sounds a bit degrading, but "Self Defense" truly is a great film and a must-see for fanatics of US/Canadian exploitation flicks of the 70s and early 80s. The plot is fresh & original, albeit slightly inspired by "Assault on Precinct 13", the tone and atmosphere are (unexpectedly) very dark and disturbing, and the violence on display is extreme, uncompromising, and relentless. This film even shocked me a couple of times, and that's the best thing an experienced and skeptical horror/cult freak like me could hope for.

The Halifax police inactivity seems like the ideal time for a local posse of middle-aged, frustrated, beer-gulping, and fascist suburban rednecks to go out and "cleanse" the streets. They invade a gay bar and intimidate the customers, but obviously it goes wrong, and they accidentally kill the owner. Their leader, a genuinely menacing creep named Cabe, decides to execute all the witnesses. One person escapes and eventually finds shelter in a ramshackle apartment block where the residents help to protect him.

Straight from the opening credits, you notice that "Self Defense" means serious business. The music and credits are uncanny, and the first couple of sequences showing the abandoned streets of the city are quite ominous. I also very much admire how writer/director Paul Donovan took the effort to give some well-illustrated background to the leading "good" guy and the leading "bad" guy. It's extremely significant how the fascist protects his property with barbed wire, and even more so how he treats his wife. The poor woman clearly knows what'll happen if he goes out with his drinking buddies, and it even costs her a precious pottery collection. The intro of the helpful Horatio neatly indicates how he's always the right guy in the wrong place. There are many fantastic supportive characters, including the sadistic creep-leader, but also a sort of amateur-MacGyver and two blind blokes with super-hearing powers in the good camp. It sadly doesn't happen too often that I get pleasantly surprised and overwhelmed by a newly discovered gem, but "Self Defense" is a real winner!

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