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The Silence of the Lambs

A classic - the best filmed version of any of Harris's works
After watching both "Red Dragon" and "The Silence of the Lambs" back-to-back, I can't help but compare them, especially since "The Silence"'s brilliance is only further illuminated by this comparison. With "Red Dragon", the mediocre, dependable Brett Ratner seemed to choose to highlight the silly aspects of the story by going for a fairy-tale like approach, even down to an overwhelming score by Danny Elfman, who is most famous for his collaborations with the master of the urban fairy tale, Tim Burton.

"Red Dragon", though I liked it when I saw it back in 2002, just seemed crass and unconvincing when I watched it yesterday, like watching actors attempting to navigate a bathetic minefield.

Jonathan Demme took the right approach to Harris's material. He plays it straight, gritty and realistic, with subtle direction that reminded me of Friedkin's work on "The Exorcist". Howard Shore was a much better choice to score Harris also; he provides the kind of brilliant film score you aren't supposed to notice.

The movie has at least three brilliant scenes that are among the best thrillers have to offer. These are Starling's first meeting with Lecter, Lecter's escape from his cage, and the final confrontation with Buffalo Bill.

About that Buffalo Bill. Anthony Hopkins - and Hannibal Lecter - are household names. Ted Levine is not. He was undeservedly overshadowed by Hopkins, and deserved an Oscar nomination.

Red Dragon

Does not stand up to further viewings
Having just read the (also underwhelming) novel that this was based on, I suppose I am obliged to compare the two, but I think I would rather contrast it with "Silence of the Lambs", its sequel. You see, therein lies a certain clue as to the real difference between a pretty good movie and a great one.

Let me explain. I first saw "Red Dragon" back in '02. I knew it wasn't a perfect movie then, nor as good as its forebear, but I was still impressed and enjoyed it a lot. Now, rewatching it an unbelievable almost twenty years later, I just never really got into it, was put off by the silliness and artifice of it, and was particularly bothered by the Mickey-Mousing on the soundtrack from the great, yet misused, composer Danny Elfman.

Elfman is most famous for his collaborations with Tim Burton, one of the consummate masters of the urban fairytale. His work here just highlights the movie's lack of realism. The "Silence" soundtrack was one of the brilliant soundtracks you don't notice, and shouldn't. Here the score merely distracts.

Although the book managed a genuine shock with the re-appearance of the bad guy, here that is wasted and it doesn't land. Nor were there really any tense or scary parts.

Dolarhyde was a fascinating character in the book with a tragic backstory, but here the movie seems to ladle on information about how he became a killer too thick and fast. All big budget serial killer fare features a moody detective piecing together the murderer's damaged psyche with scintilla like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. If Dolarhyde were a jigsaw puzzle, I realised, he would be one of those ones with over a thousand pieces.

The big screen really laid bare some of the silly aspects of the novel. I guess Ratner was no Johnathan Demme, and now he's been #MeToo'd, he may never be.

The Bourne Identity

Worth watching for its scenes of action
"The Bourne Identity" is like a more serious James Bond movie. Although its premise is certainly not realistic, it does seem to take place in the real world. The movie also doesn't really have a villain. It uses the enigmatic and amoral world of statecraft as its backdrop. During one great chase scene, the ones being chased are driving a decrepit old Mini, not a sports car with gadgetry like Bond would have.

The thing is that this more serious approach leaves you short-changed in regards to the plot. I never really understood why its protagonist had been tasked with killing Triple A. It's one of those movies that hints at a bigger plot going on behind the action, but the action is obviously the movie's main selling point. The hyperkinetic fight scenes are entertaining, and there are some fleeting moments that might cause the pulse to quicken, but what plot there is only serves to string these scenes together.

Unfortunately, though, a comparison to the cardboard cut-out villains of 007 leaves you realising that the so-called villains here come up short; they're not cardboard cut-out, they're barely sketched. Clive Owen could have been a great bad guy, but he's barely in the movie. The same goes for Triple A.

"The Bourne Identity" is, therefore, only really worth watching for its fight scenes and chases, which are impressive.


Heavy-handed misery porn appals but fails to engage
"Donnybrook" is one of that undefined subgenre of movies which uses working class misery the same way Michael Bay's movies use explosions. It also has a similar level of depth. It reminded me of "Hick" and the (marginally superior) "Devil All the Time". Those movies were also at pains to confront you with dead-end misery, violence, drug abuse, and desperation.

So "dark" is the movie that it is mostly shot at night and there are even times where you can't see what's going on. The dialogue is also poorly recorded and unintelligible at times.

The plot: an unemployed veteran has two kids and a wife hooked on crystal meth. Her dealer is a psychopath who is in business with his sister, whom he constantly, distressingly mistreats. The veteran wants to enter a bare-knuckle boxing competition where the prize is a hundred grand. He robs a gun shop for the money to enter the competition, and on the way there, after his car breaks down, he assaults a police officer and steals his. Meanwhile, the dealer's sister is forced by him to commit homicide, and after contemplating turning the gun on herself, shoots the dealer, her brother, instead. He survives and follows his sister, who has followed the veteran, and they all end up at the Donnybrook, the boxing competition, where the dealer signs up to fight as well.

This competition is basically a brawl in which nobody bats an eyelid when somebody is killed. It is obviously completely illegal. And yet, before the desperate, psychotic veterans, crystal meth addicted hillbillies and psychopath drifters attempt to tear each other limb from limb, they all take a dignified moment of silence while listening to the national anthem of the country that forgot them. This seems absolutely implausible and was apparently only added so that the filmmaker could highlight the movie's theme of what that country has turned into, what it's done to its citizens, or whatever.

In case we didn't get the point the movie also inexplicably finishes on the site of a Civil War battle, with some dialogue in which the veteran character states the subtext of the movie out loud, in case we didn't get it the first time: yes, this whole movie was set in a pocket of America's heartland that the country itself has forgotten about, and in those circumstances people will do whatever it takes to survive.

At least, I think that's it. The whole movie is very surface level. There is too much plot, too little characterisation, and "themes" that seem tacked on as an afterthought.


Hard to believe it's "based on a true story"
"Down by Love" is one of those movies where the one or two-line plot description on IMDB tells you everything that happens in the movie. It holds no surprises whatsoever.

In case you missed that description, the movie is about a "forbidden love affair" between a married warden and a new arrival at his prison, a sultry, enigmatic young woman played by "Blue is the Warmest Colour"'s Adele Exarchopolous.

Yes, you know where this is going right from the first frame: they're going to start having sex, the man will fall in love/become obsessed, he will take bigger risks to see the girl, he'll be found out.

The movie is not a romance, as it might have been, and nor is it an erotic thriller, as it also easily could have been. Therefore with this material we are left only with drama, which indicates the movie will have to play it straight, showing the love affair as a staid sequence of events with a conclusion it doesn't even pretend we can't see coming. It features some rather frank sex scenes, but eroticism is clearly not on the cards for such a serious movie, and these are nothing out of the ordinary for a French flick.

The only thing I didn't expect from "Down by Love" came after I had finished watching it. I went on IMDB to write this review, and I saw that the movie is based on a true story. I never would have guessed that: the completely rote plot developments seems to come out of an outline from "Screenwriting for Dummies". If it's really "based on a true story", the filmmakers needed to study that story more closely. They may have come across details that could have set it apart.

I will finish by saying that there was one example of this lack of truth that I found particularly objectionable, and that is the Adele Exarchopolous character. This characterisation is indeed the stuff of erotic thrillers or softcore porn. She is only present to arouse the warden. We see barely anything of her personality, but plenty of her body; the movie doesn't even explain why she's in jail in the first place! And yet this is based on a true story? Did they just skip the bits with her in it?

This is all the more obvious when one considers that the main actor really doesn't evince much sympathy, and nor does his character generate much interest. It's the female lead that gets us thinking, but she seems to be playing a male fantasy, rather than just inspiring one in the protagonist.

Perhaps the filmmakers were more sympathetic to the warden's story than they wanted us to know?

Dorm Daze

Not what I expected
"Dorm Daze" is better than I expected. As anybody who has seen "Pledge This" can attest, the name National Lampoon in association with a college-referencing title is no indication of quality. But "Dorm Daze" never stoops to the disturbing gross out "comedy" of that movie, and nor - phew - does it star Paris Hilton.

The movie also only has one scene of nudity, in which an appallingly artificial looking woman bares her rubbery chest-missiles. I think this scene is only available in the "unrated" version, and thus that's a version that should be avoided.

So what does this movie have? It's actually kind of funny, for one. Most jokes don't land, but it was able to raise a smile or a chuckle from me on occasion, which puts it ahead of the majority of comedies. The cast is also above average, and keeps the movie afloat. I didn't care too much about the lightweight plot, which is a farce based entirely on a serious of misunderstandings, such as a prostitute and a foreign exchange student both named Dominique and hence confused with each other, and two gossip mavens who falsely assume one of their fellow students is being beaten by her boyfriend.

Of course these misunderstandings only develop and deepen as the movie goes on, whereas they would otherwise be discovered and dismissed, but the movie continually finds some vein of comic potential. It's not as bad as it could have been, though it feels extremely light weight, with little going on aside from the above.

Wrong Turn

Lame reboot that rips off modern folk horror, but can't even approach its forgettable original in terms of quality
Here is a forgettable re-boot of all those "Wrong Turn" movies, a series which is mostly known for the surprise it evinces when people realise how many of them were made. Most were only aware of the first one, which was itself pretty forgettable: oh, so it's "Hill Have Eyes" in the woods, just nowhere near as good.

The treatment of this premise here is so far from the source material that you wonder why they even bothered rebooting it. Why not just make a standalone movie, with a different title? The characters here didn't even make a "wrong turn" - they went too far into the woods.

Furthermore, the movie is clearly inspired by the recent resurgence of "folk horror", ie. "The Witch", "The Ritual", and especially "Midsommar". Evoking these movies only illustrates how far this one falls short of them.

What no folk horror movie has ever had is a sense of humour. This was what enlivened the Wrong Turn franchise, especially the second one, which was easily the best in that it was a splatter-flick that also served up an effective satire of reality TV.

True to its inspirations, this new "Wrong Turn" has no humour whatsoever, but nor is it anywhere near as original. It's the seventh movie in its series, after all. The movie has some quick, throwaway scenes that try to establish its cult as an entity to be taken seriously. Who goes to a Wrong Turn movie for that? And if you're in it for serious folk horror, you've already seen "Midsommar", which raised the bar for depiction of cults in movies into the stratosphere. "Wrong Turn" is lower than worm turds.

Penitentiary II

One hell of a weak link between the classic first and third film
Now here's a weak link. The first "Penitentiary" is a classic of low budget filmmaking, a classic boxing movie and a classic of blaxploitation. The third is a classic of an entirely different stripe, a truly bizarre, off-the-wall cult movie that must be seen to be believed.

This second one, though? Perhaps we needed some kind of bridge between the first and third, so different are they, and so good for completely opposite reasons. It's hard to think of any other reason for "Penitentiary II" to exist.

In this one, Leon Isaac Kennedy of course reprises his role as Too Sweet, now out of jail. The movie has nothing to say about anything this time around and just goes through the motions of a sequel: obviously the first movie ended with a climactic fight sequence, and so too must this. Further we get some of the same characters repeated (aside from Too Sweet) though they are played by different actors and are apparently only in the movie for the call-back. An actor called Floyd Chatman made the character of Seldom Seen a force to be reckoned with in the first "Penitentiary". Here some other actor takes the role, but barely gets any screen time, and barely does anything other than appear for a few scenes.

Half Dead was the big bad guy in the first movie, and so too is he here, though his presence doesn't really make sense and is poorly explained. Now he is portrayed by the beloved character actor Ernie Hudson, whom audiences worldwide know as Winston Zeddimore from the "Ghostbusters" movies, and the cop from "The Crow". It's certainly unusual seeing him in a bad guy role - here he is a rapist and a murderer - but he could have done so much more with the part if they hadn't just made it a lame call-back to the first movie.

The only other actor in the movie I recognized is the immortal Tony Cox, who only has a couple of scenes but steals them nonetheless.

Oh, and of course, there's Mr T, who barely says or does anything, except for a fight scene at the end which follows the climactic boxing match and upstages it in terms of realism.

This movie was, more than anything else, boring. It seems to be running on fumes, like everybody involved knew there was no reason for it to exist, and were all just going through the motions.

Vice Academy Part 2

Lame sequel
This sequel to the original "Vice Academy" is even duller and more incomprehensible than the first. There *may* be more plot here, but it is told so badly that it doesn't involve you at all, and thus you can't even follow it from scene to scene.

The overarching narrative, if it can be said to have one (it really doesn't) seems to involve a bad girl called Spanish Fly who wants to spike the town's water supply with an aphrodisiac. Linnea Quigley and Ginger Lynn Allen, no longer members of the academy (so why does the word "academy" appear in the title?) apparently have to go undercover as strippers to catch the bad girl. That is allegedly the main story, but they only appear as strippers for about one scene, as does the main antagonist. So what is the rest of the movie? Sketches without punchlines? That's as good as I can get to explaining it.

There is a subplot this time about a misogynistic, hunky male cop who looks more like a stripper in his cop outfit than Quigley and Allen. Indeed, he probably spends more of the movie undressed, at one stage confronted by Quigley in the men's locker room, who rips off his towel, exposing his bare butt to the camera, and his groin to her, so that she can mock his lack of manhood. Later on, he is stripped to his bikini underwear and chained up in a BDSM type scenario, ensuring that this movie will only ever be watched or remembered by fans of humiliation themed fetish porn.

Remember how in the first "Vice Academy" there was a feeling like the cast and crew were having more fun making the movie than you were watching it? Like the whole thing was a private joke on their behalf, like they thought the whole movie was so ridiculous as to be funny without needing any jokes? Being a sequel, there's less of that this time around - it was obviously only made to cash in on the first - but this time there is a joke character in the form of female bodybuilder Teagan playing a character called "BimboCop", who is, indeed, supposed to be a kind of robot, complete with a synthesised voice.

I bet their sides split when they came up with that one.

Vice Academy

At least they had a good time making it
"Vice Academy" is purportedly a sex comedy spoof of "Police Academy", which was itself a spoof, I guess. What's funny is that for a sex comedy version of that movie, it probably has less nudity than it, and of course, no sex.

I don't know what those involved were thinking. This one boasts not only b-movie starlet and scream queen Linnea Quigley, who is still most famous for her naked graveyard dance in "Return of the Living Dead", but also a bona fide porn star in Ginger Lynn Allen. So why no sex and hardly any nudity? American sex comedies never show any sex, so it's no surprise that there's none to be had here. But why barely any nudity?

It seems like the filmmakers were having too much fun making the movie to include anything that might make you want to watch. The whole thing has this feeling as though everybody involved thought they were being hilarious. Perhaps they were laughing at us for watching this garbage, expecting a good time?

I might as well summarise the plot, or at least the set-up (there's no plot, really). It's about a class of bimbos apparently learning to be vice cops, which means they have the freedom to go out and play dress-up and pretend to be prostitutes or johns or whatever. Eventually they meet a madam named Queen Bee, with a huge beehive hairdo, who I guess is supposed to be the main bad guy. The dialogue is delivered in this weird stilted way, like every line is a wonder to the ear, and the soundtrack mickey-mouses everything out the wazoo, as though these are jokes that need underlining.

But where are the jokes?

The Lodge

Snowed in and frozen out
"The Lodge" is not unlike the previous movie by the same directors, "Goodnight Mommy", which also featured a battle of wills between two children and a surrogate mother figure. The threat of violence was always under the surface there as it is here, and both were uncomfortable viewing experiences.

"The Lodge" however is more interested in getting inside the head of its mother facsimile. She is a survivor of a cult, haunted and perhaps fractured with PTSD, and swallows pills to maintain her grip on reality. The children are her fiancé's, and their actual mother took her own life when she found out her husband was marrying the survivor. When the husband idiotically takes this utterly unhappy, dysfunctional ersatz family to the titular lodge during a snowstorm, and then leaves them on their own, the stage is set for something we know will not be pleasant.

"The Lodge" is a very well made, well acted movie, and as such is very unpleasant. It's disturbing, shocking, sickening. It's everything it's supposed to be.

I say check it out.

W lesie dzis nie zasnie nikt

The first Polish slasher is also one of the best
The "first Polish slasher movie" is definitely better than most of the others. I can't believe how much better shot this movie was than most slashers, how much better the special effects, make-up and costumes are. Even the acting is better, crafting a few decent characters, and a great final girl.

The movie also has some genuinely suspenseful moments. How many slashers have that? You can watch a hundred without feeling your pulse rise. This one did it to me a few times.

The only real problem is structural. The movie lagged in places, and occasionally I found myself losing interest, and sometimes I had to skip back to see something I had missed. Now I believe this may have been intentional, however: the movie lulls you into a false sense of complacency so that it may shock you.

I say check it out. The rating on IMDB, 4.8 at last count, is ridiculously low.

The Hunt

A few satirical digs amongst a sea of violence
"The Hunt" is a pretty good satire that could serve future generations, if any there may be, as a representation of what America was like during the Donald Trump era. Yes, the country was extraordinarily divided, yes, people did think that those that voted another way deserved to die, and yes, the division did seem to be largely along class lines, as well as coastal cities against the Heartland.

The satire is mostly given the backseat to the over-the-top violence, however, including exploding heads, exploding bodies, sliced arteries, people impaled on spikes.

Most of the satire only comes in during scenes where the "Liberal elites" are shown bickering. Separated from the Trumpists, they have no choice other than to take swipes at each other. How else are they going to stay woke?

I was underwhelmed by the over-the-top violence, and thought it dampened the satire. I was also unhappy that they killed off my favourite actress really early (not naming any names). But "The Hunt" was still an entertaining time-waster.

The Running Man

Unsatisfying actioner with satirical aspirations
"The Running Man" is a strange movie. It seems it was intended as a satire of game shows, corporatism, and perhaps the media of the day. The presence of The Governator obviously also means the movie is an action flick, but there's no reason why it can't be both at once.

But here's where the strangeness comes in: the movie is top-heavy with bizarre, larger than life figures who are both physically enormous and cartoonishly unique. There's The Body himself, and other governor in the movie, Jesse Ventura. There's Erland van Lidth, who as well as being physically massive and terrifying, was also a trained opera singer, and the movie lets him show off this skill. There's Jim Brown, the greatest NFL player in history. There's Richard Dawson, host of Family Feud, here playing a villainous, futuristic version of himself.

But it doesn't stop there. There's also Mick Fleetwood, of Fleetwood Mac fame. Dweezil Zappa, son of Frank, with only two lines. And I can't forget Yaphet Kotto, the only actor who seems miscast, as his reserved, dignified acting style does not fit the movie's titular gameshow, which is like a WWE show in which regular people have to survive attempts on their lives by the wrestlers.

Maria Conchita Alonso isn't so strange, as '80s/'90s action flicks often featured over-talented actresses as the female lead.

What I make of this strange casting is that there were things going on in this movie, perhaps at script or pre-production level, that was not really brought out in the finished product. What we are left with is a movie which is half-baked action and half-baked satire. The parts with Dawson hosting the game show feel totally authentic and remind me of the media satire in "Robocop". Taking something so familiar and thrusting it into a terrifying future world is an effectively unnerving strategy.

The parts in which Arnie goes one-on-one with the bizarre cadre of heavies are less well done. Of particular note is how unconvincing this future world looks, especially by contrast to the gameshow. The movie never convinces you that this is a real time and place. Whenever they go outside, it looks like they're wandering through a parking garage.

"Blade Runner" came out five years before this, and IMDB estimates it had a similar budget. I wonder why it looks so much worse. Was it the inexperienced director's fault?


Great, underrated prison/boxing flick
"Penitentiary" is definitely a superior prison/boxing movie. It has a low budget, but like any good low-budget movie, you don't miss what the money could have afforded. The lack of multiple locations, fancy camera angles and stunt-doubles just brings you closer to the action.

The actors are all superior, as is the direction. Fanaka made creative use of close-ups, slow motion, hand held cameras, and all while still in film school.

The movie is considered "blaxploitation", though I think that great exploitation subgenre was pretty much over by '79. The movie does have a predominantly African-American cast, but the usual themes of the subgenre, such as racism and cynical exploitation of black people by whites, is not really the focus here. The most powerful white guy in the movie, the warden, is even depicted as a good man in the end.

Of all the performances, aside from Kennedy - who carries the movie - the greatest is probably Floyd Chatman as a lifer who has plenty of wisdom but can't face life on the outside. He looks like a black Colonel Sanders, or perhaps a wise koala bear.

The movie also has a sensitive attitude toward one infamous subject - prison rape, which along with everything else, elevates it above simple "prison movie" or "exploitation flick" status.

I say check it out.


Tedious and inert monster flick from effects god Stan Winston
"Pumpkinhead" was the only feature film that special effects wunderkind Stan Winston ever directed, unless you count something called "Gnorman the Gnome", and you don't. For a while there in the '80s and '90s, it seemed as though every movie that came out with great special effects was Stan Winston's baby, ie. Terminator 1 & 2, Jurassic Park, Aliens, A.I...

In some ways "Pumpkinhead" is typical of a movie made by a special effects guy. The movie looks spectacular, with no expense cut from the kind of Southern Gothic type setting, creating an overwhelming atmosphere of middle-of-nowhere type dread.

Surprisingly, though, the creature itself doesn't look that great. It's sort of like a lame xenomorph clone without the fear-inducing presence. Allegedly, Winston was too busy directing the movie to really supervise the creation of the creature.

The movie is mostly inert. There's not really enough story here - and certainly nowhere near enough characterisation - to cover a full-length movie. With an unimpressive monster and thin story, it's mostly just boring.

Adventures of a Private Eye

A cut above
Like its sequel, "Adventures of a Plumber's Mate", "Adventures of a Private Eye" is a cut above the average Brit sex comedy from the same era. There's more going on than just the standard "hapless lad has a job that involves meeting lots of frisky housewives with violent husbands", although there's that, too, of course. There's also a sub-film noir plot our inexperienced hero tries to solve, a gothic horror setting in a manor house with a macabre butler, and a séance.

More comedic set-ups - and the movie has more than you can count - means more jokes, which also means more likelihood that the jokes might land. Unbelievably, this time, a few actually do, and I found myself chuckling on occasion.

For future reference, this is the sex comedy where the other Tom Baker, Jon Pertwee, plays a swinging private eye - though there's certainly nothing about him that would suggest being a babe magnet - who leaves his business in the hands of his young protégé, who ends up taking on one of his cases. He gets a new secretary, and expects a sexy, available "bird" like the one his boss had, but instead gets an odd, ageless woman with round spectacles.

There's also a scene where he ends up dressed as a woman - nothing too special about that - but then has to perform on stage with a burlesque dancer.

Both the actress who plays the dancer, and the one who plays the odd secretary, are superior to the material, especially the multi-talented dancer.

I say check it out.

Adventures of a Plumber's Mate

Slips of paper and a golden toilet seat
"Adventures of a Plumber's Mate" is definitely a cut above the average British sex comedy, and I realise that isn't saying much. Looking at the title you would expect a rip-off of those "Confessions" movies with Robin Askwith, and you wouldn't exactly be disappointed. The set-up is the same: a hapless young man with a working class job has a series of misadventures at work, usually involving loose women and their uptight husbands. There's a lot of nudity and low-brow humour, none of which is really funny, and silly accents and ridiculous characterisations.

However, there's quite a bit more going on in this movie than that. The movie is less episodic than those "Confessions" films, and all the other movies that came in its wake, with generic jobs in the title. The thing is this one has a plot about the protagonist trying to get out of debt that he owes to his landlord and a local bookie who has two henchmen after him. Although his forays into people's homes as a plumber are the typical sex comedy fare, what with women's dresses getting stuck in garbage disposal and torn off, leaving them naked, and a seductress handcuffing herself to the hero when her criminal husband is on his way home from the klink - the overarching narrative is more grounded in reality and thus feels a bit more relatable.

I enjoyed this movie - I say check it out.

Die Säge des Todes

Glad it's over
When I saw that Jess Franco had made a slasher-type flick, I was keen to see it. After all, a US genre done by a European sleaze maestro should at least be more entertaining than the typical American slasher. At least, there'll probably be more violence and nudity.

My hopes that this would be better than the average US flick of similar genre were crushed in only about the first ten minutes. The movie opens with convoluted, tedious scenes that try to set up the movie's central premise, but they are so badly done they only bore and confuse.

The movie's set in a girls' boarding school - such a generic location for Eurosleaze - and has something to do with the nephew of the owner being released from an asylum, and taunting a recent arrival, who thinks she keeps seeing him here and there.

These scenes are repetitive and boring.

Then of course there's the killings, which are violent but unrealistic and impossible to take seriously.

With one exception. Yes, there is a scene of actual animal death in this movie, in which a snake is hacked in half. When I first tried to watch this movie years ago, I quit after that scene, thoroughly repulsed. This time I knew to expect it, and covered my eyes during that disgusting, unnecessary spectacle.

Not only shouldn't it have been done on obvious moral grounds, it also adds nothing to the movie - in fact gorehounds might reflect that it only makes all the death scenes in the movie look even more fake by comparison.

The ending of the movie reveals it is more of a giallo than a slasher, with a twist that may have been a surprise if anything leading up to it had made sense or been involving in the least. I'm just glad it's over.

Greta - Haus ohne Männer

One of the best Ilsa movies - Franco's direction holds out
This outlier in the Ilsa franchise - in the version I saw, the Dyanne Thorne character wasn't even called Ilsa - is certainly one of the best. It is surprisingly light on graphic violence, but still has disturbingly violent scenes in which the carnage is intimated but not shown, and is still hard to watch. It probably has more nudity than all of them, however, and I don't remember much actual sex.

About those violent scenes. At one point, Thorne is torturing her pet slave Lina Romay by inserting needles into her breasts. She pulls covers over Romay and pushes them down, presumably jamming the needles into Romay's flesh and making her cry out. I thought I might join in. At another point, our protagonist (who has a massive bush) gets a douche from Ilsa with a syringe that is apparently filled with acid. Again, we don't see the penetration, but Franco makes it evocative enough to be disturbing. Apparently in the late '70s he still cared about his craft.

There is also a scene in which Romay instructs another girl to lick her "culo" clean. The girl apparently obliges, then runs to throw up. I wondered if I might join her in that also.

Speaking of Franco, the man himself once again inexplicably casts himself in this movie, despite his unphotogenic appearance and lack of acting ability. He plays a dodgy investigator who seems to be on Ilsa's tail, supporting a young woman who goes undercover in her prison-slash-asylum, but then seems to be in cahoots with her.

None of the women in the movie are that attractive except for Franco's exhibitionist girlfriend, the beautiful Lina Romay. One brags about having been a man previously. I never found Thorne that hot, personally. Her face is hard and she always seems older than she is. Perhaps that's how she got this role.

Of course, nobody cares about the plot of a movie like this. Thorne is the wicked warden who tortures her young female charges. They spend the entire movie either naked or only wearing a shirt with nothing underneath. There's some really sick torture, some sex, not much story, and the ending of the movie was the only point where I HAD to look away. The comeuppance is brutal and disgusting.

I say check it out.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow

Good, could have been better
I wanted to like "The Wolf of Snow Hollow" more than I did. It has a lot to like, such as direction, effects, and performances from some of the actors, including an under-utilised Robert Forster.

The problem is that the movie lost my interest too many times. I also was not a fan of the guy who played the protagonist - Forster would have done a much better job, if they had made the character older. The ending twist didn't seem to have much to do with what came before it, and seemed tacked on to provide an ending.

Riki Lindholme gives what should be a star-making turn here as the police character you really root for, instead of the actual protagonist. I know it is unlikely she'll be fronting too many movies, but hopefully there'll be more strong supporting roles for her in movies to come.


A would-be cult flick
I guess all there is now is to wait and see if "Fatman" acquires a cult following. It's bizarre enough, and un-self-aware enough. But is it entertaining enough?

Yes, this is a dark comedy in which Santa Claus is real, is played by Mel Gibson as a man who seems to have forgotten that he is supposed to be fat and jolly, and is targeted for death by a hit-man played by Walton Goggins who is hired by a psychopathic, precocious twelve-year-old, who isn't happy to get coal in his stocking.

There's also some strangely extraneous material in there about Santa partnering with the US military, that I didn't think really added much, and rather, detracted from the pacing of the movie, which has a lot of scenes that feel like baggage.

Probably, this should have been a short movie, but then who would have watched it?

The movie remains notable for the deadly seriousness with which it handles its bizarre, and ill-explained, premise.

Death Wish 3

So here's just more of the same. There's nothing about "Death Wish 3" that makes it worth your time. The violence is subpar and forgettable. So are the "characters", including the villain. Bronson himself doesn't act: in his own words, he "supplies a presence".

I believe Paul Kersey's whole family had been wiped out after the second Death Wish movie? Here, he moves cities and goes to visit an old war buddy, but the Kersey Curse is so strong the guy's dead before he even gets there. Kersey is presumed guilty and arrested, where he is roughed up by the cops, who seem to make a habit of only harassing the innocent. While in jail he makes an enemy of the main bad guy, a tall, pale blonde guy named Fraker, who is played by Irish character actor Gavan O'Herlihy.

The police chief, played by veteran hard-ass Ed Lauter, gives Kersey the go ahead to kill "creeps", what this movie calls criminals. That's a nice blanket term for this type of citizen, who of course all dress in generic street punk attire, meaning leather, boots, ripped jeans, weird haircuts.

Oh, and do I even need to mention the fact that they are every race, creed, gender in the one street gang? You see, if they were an African American or Hispanic street gang, or even a gang of skinheads or bikers, they would be racially homogenous, and then the movie would be left with some questions to answer, such as why this particular racial group is disproportionately involved in crime - could it have something to do with their facing disproportionate disadvantages contrasted with the non-criminal, but still lower class people they are surrounded with and victimise?

The Death Wish movies were never interested in that. The first was a surprise smash hit, catapulting Bronson to stardom when he was already in his fifties. The crime-weary audiences of the mid-seventies lapped up the ultra-right-wing depiction of crime as being a disease that just needs to be blown away. They weren't interested in sympathising or understanding, and I get that. The '80s were more right-wing than the '70s, but I wonder if audiences still wanted to buy what they were selling. The ethnic disparity within the gang seems ridiculous, sure, but then so does the fact that many of the members of said gang don't look like criminals at all when you look past their silly uniforms. And how about the gang hideout, which is just a dingy room where the members can barely even fit? What's the point of being in a gang, having a community on lock-down with no police resistance, when it doesn't even pay off at all? They are essentially homeless. I guess crime really doesn't pay, so why do they do it? Oh, that's right: they're "creeps".

The movie is also poorly directed. In one scene Bronson meets his elderly Jewish neighbours. The man is introduced, and the camera cuts to him. The woman is then introduced, and the camera cuts to Bronson. For a second I thought Charlie was playing a duel-role, and they hadn't even bothered to shave his moustache to make him look more feminine.

I was glad when this garbage was over. Winner was never a very good film director. J. Lee Thompson, who made the original "Cape Fear", also used Bronson a lot (and with Cannon) around this time. His movies with the star, such as "Kinjite" and "10 to Midnight", were much better.


The new Paranormal Activity/Blair Witch Project?
So, here is a pretty fantastic horror movie. I had reservations about watching it because it's filmed entirely through Zoom, which felt like an irritating gimmick, but I got used to it pretty quickly and didn't even notice it after a while.

This could be the newest "Paranormal Activity", or "Blair Witch Project". You know, low budget movie, no-name (but fantastic) actors, get together and make a genuinely scary movie.

The fact that it is only an hour long is a strength, as there is barely any extraneous material in the movie.

I say check it out.


Above average, at times slyly satirical holiday rom-com for every holiday
I didn't expect much from "Holidate". For one thing, it's a romantic comedy with a plot that sounds like it must have been used by at least a dozen other movies. For another, it's a Netflix production, and I have found that movies made straight for the streaming service are usually gaudy and obnoxious. Emma Roberts is great as usual, however, creating a character you believe in and care about, and whereas the movie may be clichéd, there are moments where you can see everybody involved had their tongue in their cheek, and were carefully walking the line between genuine rom-com and satire of same. Take the part where Emma Roberts says Ryan Gosling is too cool to shop for himself, and someone clearly made up to look like Gosling is shopping behind her, and the silly climactic moment where Roberts commandeers a Christmas orchestra's microphone - and they're more than happy to let her have it, which comes straight from the "How to Write a Rom-Com in 7 Days" hand-book, except for the fact that she has to aggressively, dangerously shove past people on an escalator to get there, which amusingly juxtaposes realism with cliché.

The movie also features a scene involving a laxative-related accident. How many rom-coms would have that? How many actresses would be willing to go through that on screen?

It was actually funny at times, too, and I warmed to the Australian guy who played the love interest by the end of the movie.

I say check it out.

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